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JUST SAYING

A rambling tip to the FBI perfectly explains why “the media” matters

“the press will know you got a tip.”
  • Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Senior reporter based in New York City

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Donald Trump has made “fake news” a rallying cry but distrust in the media is bipartisan: Often, it seems politicians of both parties toss around throwaway sentences such as “despite what the media says,” or “you won’t find this in the media, but… ” as casually as they chat about the weather.

And yet, people still believe in the fourth estate. One of them, for instance, is the anonymous tipster whose email led to the arrest yesterday (March 13) of four men possessing machine guns, three of whom were accused of involvement in a terrorist attack against a mosque in Bloomington, Minnesota.

The court documents report the message received by the FBI on Feb. 19, warning the authorities of a “possible terrorism threat:”

The message, sent by email, reads like a ramble, without punctuation. The tipster speaks about an acquaintance buying chemicals, pipes, nails, and shares his apprehension that “someone will get hurt if someone doesn’t do something.” The message closes by saying “you better check it out because i thin[k] it is bomb stuff for sure.”

But the tipster doesn’t just alert the FBI. After reading about Parkland’s shooting and the police’s failure to follow up on important tips, for fear that the FBI may “blow it off” again, the anonymous source goes to the press:

i also sent something about it to the newspaper so if you just blow if off like you did that school shooter kid in florida the press will know you got a tip so you better check it out just saying you did screw up once

It may not be the most elegant, but it’s certainly a most poignant defense of the role of “the media”—literally there to make sure authorities don’t “screw up.”

📬 A periodic dispatch from the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in NYC.

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