- Post quotes ‘experts’ with conflicts of interest big enough for the Taliban to fly a US Blackhawk helicopter through
- Post keeps quoting ‘experts’ from a very biased think tank more interested in demonizing Trump supporters than pursuing serious policy
- Post’s Phillips keeps the context of the source’s credibility problems away from readers, not disclosing they helped craft many of the Afghanistan policies
OUR RATING: Major Negligence. MSNBC-level basic journalistic negligence
The stunning collapse of the Afghanistani government this week, which has included dramatic scenes of airport refugees, people falling from departing US planes, repeated lies from Washington, has upended the news cycle in the mainstream media. The media has an impossible job trying to spin or otherwise cover for Biden’s very public lies at this point, which will undoubtedly cost many innocent people their lives.
But even in their coverage of news they can’t cover-up anymore, the media still can’t resist from using quotes from dishonest Washington elites who helped create the crisis in the first place, and then leave out any context for the reader to understand that the expert being quoted is a very biased and prejudiced source.
Amber Phillips at the Washington Post wrote a story repeatedly quoting two different experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  The two experts quoted are Emily Harding and Anthony Cordesman. The organization, while having a very plain-sounding name that makes it appear like a non-partisan and objective DC think-tank is, in reality, an extreme left partisan hitjob outlet that has referred to everyone on the right as domestic terrorists, and has been lying about its research.
- Bad Sources
- Opinion as Fact
- Misrepresenting a Source
Phillips gets dinged as using ‘bad sources’ because she’s repeatedly using two sources from the Center for Security and International Studies, CSIS. The two people she quotes within the story are Anthony Cordesman  and Emily Harding. 
Here’s how the Washington Post’s Phillips quotes Cordesman:
“What they all realized was almost all the options we had for leaving would ultimately create an unstable Afghanistan where no one could predict what was going to happen next,” said Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East policy expert now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “And the cost of getting out would be that failure.”
And then later she quotes him as saying:
“I just find it amazing to say you didn’t realize you could have a catalytic collapse,” Cordesman said, “to deny a Vietnam-like case as possible … that borders on just plain lying.”
A brief review of Cordesman’s biography would show any reader that he’s not merely a “Middle East policy expert” as presented. That frankly undercuts a long career across government, lecturing, writing a reported 50 books on related topics, and being very intertwined between analyzing policy, and writing policy.
And that’s where the danger really lies for a reporter quoting people whom they present as experts: they may also be guilty parties having helped craft the policies in the first place. When an academic has a long career working within the government on the specific policy in question, then can they truly extricate themselves and their prior policy positions?
Let’s put it in a plainer and blunter way: If Anthony Cordesman gave bad advice to the Pentagon in 2005 about Afghanistan, will he be honest about it and accurately assess and critique his own policies? At a minimum, it’s a major conflict of interest for a source to have worn so many hats on a given topic.
Cordesman and Harding are both ‘experts’ employed by CSIS, and little to no explanation is given by Reporter Phillips on the nature of the organization.
Phillips gives no qualification to CSIS other than to write out its full name.
Part of what’s also likely going on here, is that Phillips, who has an undergraduate degree in International Relations from Texas Christian University, bless her! 
Which probably means that she at least knows where Afghanistan is on a map, within reason. But the ‘experts’ at CSIS likely guided her through the entire structure of this article, if they didn’t write it altogether for her.
Modern journalism affords zero time for reporters to become an expert on topics, they either regurgitate what they read elsewhere, or they copy and paste the pre-written articles from think tanks and enjoy the DC drinking circuit sounding smart.
When 100% of her ‘experts’ from the think tank universe come from one organization, it’s a pretty safe bet that organization not only wrote out their own quotes, but wrote out their own story.
CSIS earlier this year declared that right-wing terrorism was on the rise, and that election-deniers and QAnon proponents were going to reign in a new age of terror upon the peaceful catladies who listen to NPR. The Washington Post lapped up this garbage.  Notably the authors of the study refused to provide this reporter with their dataset despite repeated requests, meaning that it likely contained a heaping load of trash data used to justify their trash analysis.
In trying to find people to call at their organization to determine how to get this dataset, which any reputable organization or think tank would have merely posted online easily for review, it became clear that this organization hired one or two advisors to John McCain and the rest of the politicos were former staffers for Chuck Schumer, among others.
CSIS is run by a board of trustees,  whose current Chair is Thomas Pritzker, scion of the extreme-left Chicago Pritzker family, whose RELATIVE is the current left-wing Governor of Illinois. Other board members include the head of the Bechtel organization, a major government contractor and construction multinational. A banker graces their board, as does Bill Clinton’s former Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles https://www.csis.org/people/erskine-bowles, Obama’s Defense Secretary William Cohen , Former notoriously corrupt Mayor William Daley from notoriously corrupt Chicago , former AIG head and notorious fraudster Maurice Greenberg , the extreme-left former Mayor of Dallas Ron Kirk , the grandfather/godfather/big daddy of the “Deep State” Henry Kissinger himself , Obama’s former CIA Director Leon Panetta , and infamous NeverTrumper Paul Ryan . So, you know, a real ‘balanced’ group of people to comprise your board and oversee operations.
You know your non-profit board leadership is rough when the guy who defrauded $500 million is probably the most impartial and objective one in the group.
But this group is perfectly fine and objective for the Washington Post to quote uncritically, without even giving readers a hint as to the biased nature of the leadership or of the staffers.
The leadership and staff of this organization appear in two flavors: long-time government policymakers who are as close to a perfect definition of “Deep State” possible, and extreme left-wing partisans and hacks.
CSIS’ Seth G. Jones, the Director of the International Security Program, all but takes credit for Afghanistan policy in his biography.  Here are the relevant excerpts:
…he was a plans officer and adviser to the commanding general, U.S. Special Operations Forces, in Afghanistan (Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command–Afghanistan)…
He wrote at least three books arguably related to Afghani policy.
Waging Insurgent Warfare (Oxford University Press, 2016), Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qa’ida after 9/11 (W.W. Norton, 2012), and In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan (W.W. Norton, 2009)
This is someone who both crafted US Policy, and who advocated for it and helped shape it. Now, that might make him an excellent person to quote on one hand, because of his extensive experience, but it is the merger of both the theory with the practitioner that creates the conflict.
In practice it’s common for practitioners to bend the theory in order to defend their views, to justify and apologize for their decisions and their prior policies.
If you want a perfect example of that level of duplicity for a policy maker who tries to cohabit the role of academic critiquing their own work, you need look no further than to CSIS board member Henry Kissinger. 
Especially when it comes to an entire country collapsing like Afghanistan, when the failure is so epic, so dramatic, using people for quotes who were practitioners is dishonest. Their participation in the policymaking, at a minimum, should be disclosed to readers.
Here’s one of the CSIS “Security Fellows”, Tobias Switzer. 
Colonel Tobias B. Switzer is an active duty Air Force officer with over 20 years of expertise as a special operations helicopter pilot, combat aviation adviser, and foreign area officer for Latin America. His operational experience includes tours to Iraq and Central America and, most recently, a year-long command of a NATO special operations forces adviser team in Afghanistan.
If you quoted this person as an Afghani expert, isn’t that giving the readers a serious disservice? Readers deserve to know that a specific authoritative source is fluent in the theory but also a personal practitioner. Readers should know about quoted sources’ potential conflicts of interest.
Here’s how CSIS expert Harding was prominently quoted in the article:
He had the support of Congress and much of the public for his mission, but he was forging a new conflict in a strange land, and that lent itself to plenty of mistakes, said Emily Harding, an intelligence expert now at CSIS.
“I know some of the guys who were in on the first wave,” she said. “And they went in with a pocket knife and a prayer to say: ‘We’re going to try to find somebody we can work with who can help us find al-Qaeda and get rid of them.’ ”
They did. “That mission went extraordinarily well,” Harding said.
Part of this quote is irrelevant, and another part of it is presenting opinion as fact. Indeed, the quote itself suggests it comes from someone who is not just a mere theory person as they relate they personally knew ‘some of the guys who were in on the first wave.’
But Harding is merely presented as a CSIS expert. Harding’s LinkedIn  shows a long career with the government, and within the intelligence community. Notably at the time of the Afghani US invasion, she was a mere analyst with the federal government, which she lists obliquely as “Federal government” which probably in practice means for an intelligence contractor like Booz Hamilton or for a specific intelligence agency like CIA or DIA.
While working for SSCI, she led the Committee’s multiyear investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, which reshaped how the United States defends itself against foreign adversaries seeking to manipulate elections.
But perhaps most troubling is that she credits herself as leading the staff-side of the intelligence community oversight in the Senate.
She oversaw the activities of 18 intelligence agencies and led SSCI staff in drafting legislation, conducting oversight of the intelligence community, and developing their expertise in intelligence community matters.
So on a major case of an enormous intelligence failure, say for instance the instant collapse of a 20-year investment in a foreign country that cost thousands of soldiers’ lives, she would have been the staff person in Congress making sure the intelligence was correct, and ensuring accountability if there was a major failure.
It might be relevant in the article to ask why the US intelligence agencies had gotten the information so incredibly wrong. It would be prudent to ask whether this was a colossal failure of US intelligence to provide leaders and policymakers with the expertise necessary to avoid outcomes like this.
This is such a paramount conflict of interest given the topic that it’s hard to see how the Washington Post could have missed it. The Atlantic is already trying to argue that the failure in Afghanistan is the fault of Americans writ large.  Surely there are plenty of Senators and people in the intelligence community to blame, but if we only source quotes to the person who was in charge of accountability over those sectors of the government, well, you might not end up with the truth.
The rule of thumb that a Reporter should use in a situation like this is: “Would a reasonable reader doubt the credibility of a source if they knew the full details of their background that space does not allow me to provide?”
If the answer is yes, then they should look for another quote. Some stories don’t have easy or ready alternative people to quote, but on a story like the collapse of Afghanistan, there’s plenty of experts out there. The Post almost went out of their way to find one with the most glaring conflicts.
The fast-moving Afghanistan story is tough for a Reporter to keep up with, and it’s understandable that Phillips would call up friends in think tanks to help with her story. But the extent of their involvement, background of their organization, and their personal backgrounds, were major and relevant considerations she clearly overlooked, to be charitable to her motives.
This is major journalistic negligence and readers and editors should demand better.
OUR RATING: Major Negligence. MSNBC-level basic journalistic negligence
1 ] https://www.csis.org/
2 ] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Cordesman
3 ] https://www.csis.org/people/emily-harding
4 ] https://www.washingtonpost.com/people/amber-phillips/
5 ] https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/interactive/2021/domestic-terrorism-data/
6 ] https://www.csis.org/programs/about-us/leadership-and-staff/board-trustees
7 ] https://www.csis.org/people/william-s-cohen
8 ] https://www.csis.org/people/william-daley
9 ] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/aig-maurice-hank-greenberg-accounting-fraud-settlement/
10 ] https://www.csis.org/people/maurice-r-greenberg
11 ] https://www.csis.org/people/ronald-kirk
12 ] https://www.csis.org/people/henry-kissinger
13 ] https://www.csis.org/people/leon-panetta
14 ] https://www.csis.org/people/paul-ryan
15 ] https://www.csis.org/people/seth-g-jones
16 ] https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/10/henry-kissinger-vietnam-diaries-213236/
17 ] https://www.csis.org/people/tobias-b-switzer
18 ] https://www.linkedin.com/in/emily-harding-b105b9126
19 ] https://www.judicialwatch.org/videos/obamagate-exposed-fraud/
20 ] https://www.csis.org/news/emily-harding-joins-csis-senior-fellow-and-deputy-director-international-security-program
21 ] https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/08/afghanistan-your-fault/619769/
Join the conversation
We have no tolerance for comments containing violence, racism, profanity, vulgarity, doxing, or discourteous behavior. Thank you for partnering with us to maintain fruitful conversation.