What is journalism?
For nearly two weeks, Fox News host Tucker Carlson has been claiming on air that the National Security Agency is "monitoring our electronic communications and is planning to leak them in an attempt to take this show off the air," as he alleged on his June 28 broadcast, citing a "whistleblower within the U.S. government." The NSA denied Carlson's allegations in a rare, carefully worded statement.
The NSA spying on an American and a member of the journalism profession would be big news and scandalous behavior by the government, but Carlson's story has some puzzling gaps — what did he say that plausibly threatens to "take this show off the air"? — he hasn't provided any supporting evidence, and Fox News lawyers successfully argued in court last year that viewers shouldn't take Carlson's statements as fact. So reporters have dug around.
Axios' Jonathan Swan reported Wednesday that "Carlson was talking to U.S.-based Kremlin intermediaries about setting up an interview with Vladimir Putin shortly before" he accused the NSA of spying. If Swan's anonymous sources are correct, the NSA might have scooped up Carlson's texts and emails while monitoring a suspected foreign agent he was communicating with. "Of course, the recipients of Carlson's texts and emails also knew about their content," and they could have shared the information, too, Swan notes.
After Carlson said he filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the NSA, BuzzFeed News FOIA ninjas Jason Leopold and David Mack and The Intercept's Ken Klippenstein filed FOIA requests for Carlson's FOIA request. Carlson's three-sentence request "did not contain any detailed information and was extremely broad," Leopold and Mack report, "in effect forcing the massive federal agency to search the communications of every one of its employees to see if they had ever mentioned Carlson in passing" back to "Jan. 1, 2019 — long before Biden was president."
On Thursday night's show, Carlson appeared scandalized that Klippenstein, known for filing FOIAs and exposing government surveillance abuses, would FOIA his FOIA. He called Klippenstein a pro-NSA "stooge" and The Intercept "some joke billionaire-funded website."
"The funny thing," Klippenstein responded on Twitter, "is I was one of seemingly few people who actually thought it was plausible that NSA could have (incidentally) collected on Tucker Carlson, so I FOIA'd his FOIA to find out specifics. But this is all pro wrestling to him so he can't imagine journalistic curiosity."