Most Americans cannot name a former FBI director — except possibly J. Edgar Hoover. And then there’s James Comey.
Comey has emerged a household name synonymous with political controversy. And he is now the former FBI director, after being dismissed from his lofty position by President Donald Trump this week.
Comey captivated the country when he released the findings on July 5 from his agency’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s unsecured server. Comey chastised Clinton for her careless handling of classified emails, but absolved her of intentional wrongdoing.
Comey then came back into the public’s eye a few weeks before the November election on another political bombshell after finding classified emails on an unsecured computer belonging to Clinton’s top aid. But a week later, Comey said to disregard his previous statement.
Democrats screamed enough bloody murder to make Truman Capote cringe. Clinton has even blamed Comey for her election loss. President Obama, who appointed Comey, decided against removing him despite the rampant election controversy.
Now, Trump has done just that — and the Democrats are again crying foul, but for a different reason. They contend that Comey’s removal is an attempt to cover up the Russians’ meddling into the election, and Trump’s administration colluding with them (since Comey was investigating this matter).
Meanwhile, stock markets around the world have paused over the sudden development. The concern is that the Comey uproar will stall market-moving initiatives toward cutting taxes, regulations and the bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. And progressing with a massive stimulus bill.
You wonder whether Comey had become so politicized that he could no longer function freely in his role. There were even rumors of dissension within the FBI ranks over some of his decisions. After all, the FBI is supposed to be apolitical and above political persuasion.
Trump must now appoint another FBI director. The new director must then be approved by Congress. He or she may never become as prominent as Comey, or remembered. Or vilified.
Anonymous sources are granted an anonymity, an obscurity.
These sources will go on the record, but refuse to have their names used in news reports. They tell a story, or give their account or opinion of an issue, without fear of retribution.
But this practice is all too common. How many times must we see unnamed sources quoting unnamed sources? And then other media outlets follow their lead and publish or broadcast reports about what the anonymous sources are saying.
The New York Times, the former standard for journalistic excellence, seems to be the worst at using this flimsy, sloppy, unprofessional practice. One of their articles quoted six anonymous sources, all of them saying something controversial — with none held responsible.
It happened again with Comey’s firing. A letter from the president to Comey explained the decision. Recently appointed ??? of the ??? reportedly made the recommendation to Trump. The White House has said it followed ??? decision.
Once again, stepping in are the Times and also CNN. Again, quoting anonymous sources, they contend Trump told ??? and ??? to concoct reasons for Comey’s ouster. Implying it was initiated by Trump, presumably to head off some vague finding about Russian collusion.
Now, other news organizations are quoting these reports, making unsubstantiated reports a bigger news story — and so revolves the journalistic world. It’s alleged that reporters must produce the names of their anonymous sources to their editors, but to no one else. Journalists have even endured prison sentences to protect their sources.
However, the “he said that she said” equation is getting old, tired, trite. Sources will say anything if they are not named or held to account. It’s easy, lazy, messy. It truly could be fake news.
We deserve better, however.
(Steve Nicklas is a financial advisor and a chartered retirement planning counselor with a major U.S. firm. His financial columns appear in several newspapers in North Florida and South Georgia. He has published a book of columns he has written over the past 23 years, titled “All About Money.” The book is available at local stores and on Amazon.com. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)