There’s been something of a four-way blame game going on this week between The New York Times, Fox News, President Donald Trump, and officials of the Obama administration. At issue is a foiled 2015 plot by U.S. forces to capture and/or kill ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Baghdadi, as we know, ultimately escaped at that time (although recent rumors indicate that he may have finally gone on to his eternal reward – his eternal fiery reward, if there is any divine justice), and now there are conflicting stories as to why.
In an interview with Fox News’s Catherine Herridge last week, Gen. Tony Thomas of Special Operations Command said that his team was closing in on the ISIS leader in May 2015 after a raid in which another top ISIS chief, Abu Sayyaf, was killed. Special forces took Sayyaf’s wife into custody and began extracting intelligence that provided new insight into the operations and movement of the Islamic State.
Shortly thereafter, The New York Times published a report on the raid, quoting sources inside the Obama administration on background. Those sources, according to the Times, provided the paper with “confidential intelligence assessments” that opened up “additional details about the materials recovered from the house of Abu Sayaff, a nom de guerre for a Tunisian militant whom American authorities have since identified as Fathi ben Awn ben Jildi Murad al-Tunisi.”
In his interview with Fox News, Gen. Thomas said that while the intelligence gathered in the raid was invaluable, giving special forces a “very good lead” on the whereabouts of Baghdadi, that lead “went dead” when the information was leaked to the press. While Thomas did not specifically call the New York Times out by name, the timing of the story was too right to be coincidental.
Thomas’s comments were reported on by Fox & Friends, catching the attention of none other than President Trump, who took the opportunity to bash the Times for their reckless reporting.
“The Failing New York Times foiled U.S. attempt to kill the single most wanted terrorist, Al-Baghdadi,” Trump wrote in a tweet. He subsequently accused the paper of putting their “sick agenda over national security.”
The Times, eager to defend their reputation, fact-checked the Fox report and Trump’s claims the next day in their Sunday edition. In that article, the Times (naturally) excused themselves of any responsibility, instead pointing the finger at the Obama administration. In the report, they claimed “the information in the Times article on June 8 came from United States government officials who were aware that the details would be published.”
In a duel between the Obama administration and the New York Times, we don’t even know which side to take…but it does go to show how leaked information can harm a president’s agenda, even when that president is someone other than Donald Trump.