Most large organizations track the reporters that follow them, logging each interaction and carefully noting if the reporter’s coverage is favorable or not. But what happens when the organization in question is the nation’s national security agency, known for its broad powers?
We’re about to find out.
The Department of Homeland Security has put out a request for a vendor to help the agency identify “any and all” coverage about it by compiling a database of nearly 300,000 news sources, including social media influencers.
“Services shall provide media comparison tools, design and rebranding tools, communication tools, and the ability to identify top media influencers,” the request states.
They also want to know the journalists’ political affiliation, how they’ve covered the administration in the past, and “any other information that could be relevant,” like, potentially, whether or not they’re LGBT.
Homeland Security’s database would be relatively small compared to commercially available products. For example, Cision offers a database of 1.6 million media contacts and 300,000 digital influencers.
The real issue is that Homeland Security has tremendous power and virtually no transparency. The agency’s spokesman dismissed worries as coming from “tin foil hat wearing, black helicopter conspiracy theorists.”
Despite what some reporters may suggest, this is nothing more than the standard practice of monitoring current events in the media. Any suggestion otherwise is fit for tin foil hat wearing, black helicopter conspiracy theorists. https://t.co/XGgFFH3Ppl
— Tyler Q. Houlton (@SpoxDHS) April 6, 2018
When Snopes asked him to elaborate, the spokesman, Tyler Q. Houlton, responded with the kind of combativeness against the media that we’ve come to expect from Trump loyalists. “You are embarrassing yourself with these questions and wild conspiracy theories,” Houlton said.
That kind of snarky response is why people are worried, of course.
The Trump administration is less interested in understanding how the Russian intelligence apparatus is fueling political discord in the U.S. and more interested in attacking anyone that disagrees with it as the purveyor of “fake news.”
There’s no reason to think that the LGBT media would be singled out in the new database. But it’s entirely possible to see how it could be folded into a journalistic enemies list.
Trump originally considered appointing Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to head up Homeland Security. Kobach is a hardline conservative with a history of anti-gay and anti-trans rhetoric. It’s not hard to imagine Kobach wanting to follow the boss’s lead and gun for perceived opponents, like the press.
Of course, Kobach isn’t the head of Homeland Security now. But given the revolving door that is the White House, he could be.
Trump apparently hates his current secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, a protege of her predecessor, John Kelly, because she worked for George W. Bush. Kelly’s star is falling in the Trump universe as well, so another shuffle isn’t out of the question as Trump chooses increasingly to surround himself with lackeys, not experts – a description that fits Kobach all too well.
Even without Kobach at the helm, Homeland Security has shown a peculiar interest in gay issues in the past. Most notably, it threw the full force of the agency against Rentboy.com, a site for male escorts, on the hard-to-believe grounds that it was a threat to cyberspace.
And that was during the Obama administration.
In a normal administration, the Homeland Security database may raise some eyebrows. But in an administration that has shown little regard for the normal, it’s cause for worry.