Need gossip on the Secret Service? A book promo? Read CBS news.

CBS and the NY Daily News transform a one-paragraph news story about 12 Secret Service members recalled from Columbia due to allegations of skimping on the bills with a lady of the night into a full-page book promotion for Ronald Kessler.The United States Secret Service star logo.

The story itself depends on a brief statement from the Secret Service (though CBS doesn’t supply even that much) and plenty from ‘sources’.  Scant information to run with a “biggest scandal” headline (which we later find is quoted from Kessler):

According to CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante, a source in the Secret Service told CBS News that one or more of the officers was involved with prostitutes and that there was a dispute over payment.  One prostitute went to the police, who notified the State Department.

The next several hundred words in the CBS news story become a promotion for Kessler’s book and by extension an implied endorsement of its gossip-style tale.

Whether these quotes were selectively edited for the story, or if Kessler himself pushed the dialogue in this direction, Kessler exploits the opportunity to question the competence of the entire agency: 

“They don’t have enough agents, they don’t even put people through metal detectors sometimes because there’s pressure to let everybody in,” Kessler said. “It’s like letting passengers in an airplane without putting them through metal detectors. They don’t keep up-to-date with the latest firearms. They don’t even do physical tests. So, it’s a culture that leads to this kind of problem.”

Those are a lot of conclusions to draw from one agent accused by local police, from a prostitute’s word, of not paying his hooker bills.

Oh, and don’t forget the requisite shot at Dick Cheney, as if Darth Vader’s daughter is the only one in the history of the country to be accused of misusing the Secret Service, and clearly the most shocking example:

“For example, when {Dick Cheney’s daughter] Mary Cheney was under protection, she wanted her agents to take her friends to restaurants. Well, they’re not taxi drivers.”

Parts or all of the story may eventually evolve enough substance to make a firm determination on the events, but did we learn nothing from the Duke lacrosse case or the soldiers in the Haditha case about publicly convicting people based off hearsay?  Apparently not:

Kessler called this latest incident in Colombia “a very shocking scandal.”

He added the situation may be a sign of a trend because it involved supervisors. Kessler called it “just unbelievable” and a “tremendous embarrassment to the U.S.”

Shocking?  Embarrassing, yes, but according to Kessler, shouldn’t we have seen this coming based on his 2009 book?

“President Obama keeps saying, ‘I have full confidence in the Secret Service,'” Kessler said. “You know, he deals with agents who are very admirable, so he thinks, ‘Well, the Secret Service must be fine.’ But, you know, in my book…I go into dozens and dozens of examples of poor management.

Who needs the specifics of this story when you can just read Kessler’s book?  The CBS story does stop at impugning the entire Secret Service based on a couple sources and a self-promoting author, unlike… the NY Daily News.

To its credit, the NY Daily News makes the minimal effort to confirm beyond ‘sources’ that something is afoot:

“The Secret Service takes all allegations of misconduct seriously,” agency spokesman Edwin Donovan said in a statement. “These personnel changes will not affect the comprehensive security plan that has been prepared in advance of the President’s trip.”

But then it engages in a disappointing game of guilt by association, through carefully sequenced facts, and by hiding behind the Washington Post:

Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, told The Washington Post the accusations relate to at least one agent having involvement with prostitutes in Cartagena. The newspaper also reported that several of the agents are married.

An agent, maybe more, maybe used a prostitute and didn’t pay.  Some of the agents are definitely married.  So…adultery to boot!  Clearly an airtight case that would hold up under cross-examination.  This is a cheap maneuver to force another dramatic layer into the story.  The WaPo story at least bothers to point out that this nefarious insinuation of adultery, even if unworthy of being printed, is the machination of, you guessed it, one Ronald Kessler.

These news stories are good examples of initial drive-by efforts in the media to catch a potentially hot story and get it in print before all the facts come out. They hide behind the supposed legitimacy of each other and the skirts of self-promoting ‘experts’ in order to push an engaging narrative.  It’s a disservice to an elite organization of only 4,400 members that has engaged in the difficult job of protecting the most public, visible, and sought after target in the world for the last 110 years.

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