What happens when a journalist who gathers information for a book by speaking to high-level government sources discovers information so huge that it is breaking news that can’t wait? Should the author (s) stay true to their original work as reporters? Or should they remain loyal to their book publishers by contract by keeping that information for a book that could hit shelves months later, even when the information they uncover relates to a national security concern?
A recent example of this conundrum is “Peril,” a new book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of the Washington Post, which includes an explosive tale about the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the General. Marc MilleyMark MilleyOvernight Defense & National Security: US-Australia sub-deal causes break with France Trump praises NH Senate candidate as Sununu weighs own offer Jan.6, panel says panel reviews Milley PLUS actions. According to the authors, Milley was so scared that then-President TrumpDonald Trump Ohio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won’t seek re-election Youngkin breaks with Trump over whether Democrats will cheat in Virginia governor race Trump endorses Michigan challenger AG PLUS could start a war with China during his final months in office as he made “secret appeals to his counterpart in Beijing” on his own behalf without notifying the president.
“The first call [four days before the November presidential election] was motivated by Milley’s examination of intelligence suggesting the Chinese believed the United States was preparing to attack. This belief, the authors write, “was based on tensions over military exercises in the South China Sea, and reinforced by Trump’s belligerent rhetoric towards China.”
“General Li, I want to assure you that the US government is stable and everything will be fine,” Milley told the Chinese general, according to the book. “We are not going to attack or conduct kinetic operations against you.”
The book goes on to say that Milley said he would warn Li if the United States were to attack. “General Li, you and I have known each other for now [for] five years. If we’re going to attack, I’ll call you ahead. It won’t be a surprise, ”Milley said in the book.
Also according to the book: “On the same day, Milley called the admiral overseeing the American Indo-Pacific Command, the military unit responsible for the Asia and the Pacific region, and recommended postponing the military exercises… The admiral s’ is conform.
So, if this is true, the unelected Milley has bypassed the President and Congress – and, by extension, the American people – to conduct his own foreign policy.
Surprisingly, the reaction to this revelation did not clearly unfold by party, as it often does. Enter the retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexandre vindmanAlexander VindmanOvernight Defense & National Security – Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes right-wing lightning rod Former Trump adviser Bolton defends Milley: “His patriotism is unchallenged” MORE – not exactly president of the MAGA fan club, gave his testimony against Donald Trump during the House’s first impeachment hearing.
“If this is true, GEN Milley must step down,” Vindman tweeted. “He usurped civilian authority, broke the chain of command and violated the sacrosanct principle of civilian control over the military. It’s an extremely dangerous precedent. You can’t just walk away from it, “
If this is true, GEN Milley must resign. He usurped civil authority, severed the chain of command and violated the sacrosanct principle of civilian control over the military. It is an extremely dangerous precedent. You can’t just walk away from it. #docorrectlyinthisway https://t.co/izsMMCFPrz
– Alexander S. Vindman (@AVindman) September 14, 2021
So here we have Woodward and Costa, perhaps sitting on knowledge of Milley’s conduct even before the November election, before Biden’s victory. And according to Vindman, this conduct amounted to the leader of the Joint Chiefs usurping civil authority, breaking the chain of command and dismissing a president. Did he do it on his own? Or was he pressured to do so?
Enter the home speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Democrats get to the hard part Biden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week Stefanik in ad says Democrats want “permanent election insurgency” MORE (D-Calif.), Who spoke to Milley on Jan. 8, two days after the Capitol riots, and is quoted in the book as telling the general the following about Trump: “It’s bad, but who know what he could do? He is crazy. You know he’s crazy. He’s been mad for a long time. So don’t say you don’t know what his state of mind is.
“Madam President,” General Milley reportedly replied, “I agree with you on everything. ”
Some Conservatives are calling for Milley’s resignation. And not just for his actions regarding Trump, but also for his handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which polls are seen by a solid majority of the American public as having been poorly executed.
If Woodward’s book sales track record is any indication, “Peril” will remain at # 1 on bestseller lists for some time. Of the 20 political books Woodward has written, 13 have climbed to the top of sales, including his first two books on Trump. And given the amount of news typically taken from excerpts from his books, it’s clear the 78-year-old still has his fastball. His Washington Post colleague Costa is also known for his deep sources, and also serves as an NBC and MSNBC analyst, providing a national platform to promote “Peril” in the process.
Having said that, one has to wonder if the two have stuck to their original work as reporters instead of behaving like writers. Because if these accounts concerning General Milley are true, a good argument can be made that they should have been reported in the pages of the Post in October or January or as soon as the information was known and verified. If Milley was acting inappropriately – even illegally, in Vindman’s perspective – lawmakers and the public had a right to know.
Instead, those accounts have apparently been withheld for almost a year.
Was it good journalism? Or just a good book sale business? More importantly, perhaps, was the denial in the best interests of the nation?
Joe Concha is a media and political columnist for The Hill.