President Donald Trump has met his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin in the handshake heard round the world. The two men publicly greeted one another for the first time at the annual G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. They will have a formal meeting behind closed doors later Friday.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., former intelligence officials appear to be using a willing news media to influence the decisions of the Trump administration.

Daily Intel is a space for discussing national security policy, not critiquing the media. But what are we supposed to make of CNN’s “Breaking News” coverage Thursday evening that Russian spies were “ramping up their intelligence-gathering efforts” in the U.S.? Is it “breaking news” when POLITICO reported virtually the same story a month ago?


In recent weeks, CNN has moved more towards making news rather than reporting it. Witness correspondent Jim Acosta’s daily meltdowns over White House press briefings, and the network’s threatened “doxxing” of a Reddit user who superimposed their logo over wrestling executive Vince McMahon’s face in a video where Trump is “fighting” with McMahon.

So it’s natural that those who disagree with the direction of the administration, as much as anyone really knows what that direction is, would turn to CNN to frame the discussion ahead of Trump’s meeting with Putin. CNN’s reporting here is not “fake news.” The facts are solid, the topic valid.

In communications theory, the concepts of priming and framing describe how the media has the ability to dictate the topic of conversation (“priming the pump”) by deciding what stories to cover, and then dictate the terms of the discussion (“framing the debate”). The timing of the CNN story makes it clear that they are trying to influence Trump’s discussions with Putin, as well as the way the public interprets that meeting. CNN’s reporting makes this effort clear.

The web article accompanying Thursday’s on-air report said, “Partisan political disagreements over the Russian activity — and President Donald Trump’s reluctance to accept intelligence conclusions about Russia’s meddling in the election — has slowed efforts to counter the threat, current and former officials say.”

It’s doubtful that the president himself would be swayed by anything CNN says or does. But others in his circle might be.


Both the CNN and POLITICO stories reported that Russian diplomats, who are also suspected intelligence officers, have left the Washington, D.C. area without notifying the State Department as required. But POLITICO’s story was in many respects more alarming, as it detailed instances of counterintelligence officers discovering these diplomats in remote locations far from the capital, often near fiber-optic cable routes. In once instance, the suspected spies were described as “driving in circles” in Kansas.

When one considers that Russia preceded its 2008 invasion of Georgia‘s South Ossetia region with a massive cyberattack, and the fact that Russia is waging an ongoing cyberwar in Ukraine, the discovery of Russian spies attempting to map the U.S. communications infrastructure should concern anyone.

The country needs less sensationalism and more reasoned reporting. It’s time that these “current and former officials” confine their recommendations to their briefings and stop using the media to influence the administration’s decision making process. Espionage is nothing new, nor is Russian targeting of the U.S., recent increases in efforts not withstanding.

So far, the Trump administration has shown no signs of being soft on Russia as many feared after the election. The president deserves the chance to demonstrate his intentions without CNN trying to persuade him.

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Tom McCuin is a strategic communication consultant and retired Army Reserve Civil Affairs and Public Affairs officer whose career includes serving with the Malaysian Battle Group in Bosnia, two tours in Afghanistan, and three years in the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs in the Pentagon. When he’s not devouring political news, he enjoys sailboat racing and umpiring Little League games (except the ones his son plays in) in Alexandria, Va. Follow him on Twitter at @tommccuin