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As Trump Adviser Calls Media 'Opposition Party,' ProPublica Journalists Ask For Help


Steve Bannon, President Trump's chief strategist, told The New York Times this week that the media should keep its mouth shut. Mr. Bannon called the media, quote, "the opposition party." Investigative journalism organizations have responded. ProPublica put out instructions on its website for how to leak information to the press. They've expanded the areas of coverage to include conflicts of interest, voting rights and the realities of health care. Eric Umansky is the deputy managing editor of ProPublica and joins us from our studios in New York. Thanks very much for being with us.

ERIC UMANSKY: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: What do you hope happens?

UMANSKY: I hope that we get important information that we can share with the public, and that most broadly the public be informed about whatever the realities are that's happening in Washington and elsewhere.

SIMON: So you're hoping for leaks from government employees, from contractors, from - fill in the blanks.

UMANSKY: We're hoping from - information from anybody who has specific information about what is happening in any of the offices where they think something is amiss and something deserves public attention.

SIMON: Any concern that at least some of this information, let's say, from internal revenue or the military or the security establishment might be confidential for very good reasons?

UMANSKY: Yes. We are quite cognizant of that. And most fundamentally, we are not inducing anybody to commit a crime. We're not asking for somebody to take something that was top secret. People need to make their own choices about what they think inside the government deserves public attention. That's not a decision for us to make. It's a decision for them to make.

SIMON: The Obama administration was accused of invoking the Espionage Act to crackdown on leakers and pursuing whistleblowers more aggressively than any other administration in history. So why didn't you make this call under that administration?

UMANSKY: Well, first of all actually, we have had a page for a long time on our site encouraging people to send us documents and information, including in secure ways. So the answer to that is we have been asking people. Why have we pushed it even farther now? Well, one of the reasons that we've pushed it farther now is because we have been hearing about ways in which federal employees are being told to keep quiet. And if people are being told to keep quiet, well, that means that there's a good chance that relevant information is not coming out that should be.

SIMON: Haven't there been gag orders during the transition of previous administrations too?

UMANSKY: Certainly, every administration tries to control information. That's something, as you said in particular, that the Obama administration was quite aggressive on. And we had put out over many years plenty of not just critical information about the Obama administration but critical information based on inside sources that we cultivated. I will say one of the things that you're seeing with this administration is instances in which various bureaucracies have simply been cut off or shut down. The National Park Service stopped tweeting for a couple of days after they had done a tweet about climate change. And their first tweet after that was an apology for that tweet. That is quite unusual.

SIMON: But do you have some concern that by making this public call under the Trump administration, at least to more notice than under the Obama administration, you're encouraging the view that the press has a liberal bias?

UMANSKY: No, no. Again, what we are encouraging is for people to send information. Now, you can judge us on our stories, if our story may be unfair, if our story may not have enough context. Our job is simply to put important information out there, and we're going to keep doing it. If somebody wants to accuse us of being biased as a part of that, well, there's nothing we can do.

SIMON: Any success yet?

UMANSKY: We have been getting a lot of interesting information from people, and we're going to keep digging.

SIMON: Eric Umansky is deputy managing editor of ProPublica. Thanks so much for being with us.

UMANSKY: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.