Never tell a crowd of curious onlookers, "There's nothing to see here."
Those five words frequently turn idle curiosity into genuine concern, and the speaker is often viewed quickly with distrust.
We're seeing that play out in real-time this week, as a few media personalities have downplayed reports that former national security adviser Susan Rice personally requested that the identities of "masked" Americans in U.S. intelligence reports linked to President Trump's transition team and campaign be "unmasked."
Rice's alleged involvement in the "unmasking" was reported Monday by Bloomberg.
She also reportedly ordered U.S. intelligence agencies to produce "detailed spreadsheets" of phone calls made by Trump and his associates during the election, the Daily Caller reported, citing former U.S. Attorney Joseph diGenova.
Those articles came not too long after Rice said unequivocally in March that she knew "nothing" about reports that the intelligence community had incidentally collected information on Donald Trump's transition team following the Nov. 8 election.
On its own, the "unmasking" of Americans is a newsworthy story deserving of careful and meticulous reporting. The discrepancy between what Rice said she knew, and what was reported by Bloomberg and the Daily Caller, raises further questions about what was legal, ethical, etc.
Readers deserve to know how this relates to Trump's very dubious claim that former President Barack Obama had Trump Tower's "wires tapped" during the 2016 election.
Telling people "there's nothing to see here," as CNN's Don Lemon, Jim Sciutto and Chris Cuomo have done this week, only makes audiences more curious, and it deepens the trust divide between viewers and the press.
"Let us be very clear about this. There is no evidence whatsoever that the Trump team… was spied on illegally. There is no evidence that backs up the president's original claim [his wires 'were tapped']," Lemon said Monday evening.
He added, "And on this program tonight, we will not insult your intelligence by pretending otherwise, nor will we aid and abet the people who are trying to misinform you, the American people, by creating a diversion."
CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto suggested elsewhere that the Rice "unmasking" story was a "distraction" from allegations Trump coordinated with the Russians to win the presidential election.
"The idea that Ambassador Rice improperly sought the identities of Americans is false. There is nothing unusual about making these requests when serving as a senior national security official, whether Democrat or Republican," he said, citing an anonymous source who is "close" to Rice.
"This appears to be a story largely ginned up, partly as a distraction from this larger investigation," Sciutto added.
For the sake of full disclosure, it's worth noting Sciutto is a former Obama administration appointee. He served for a time as chief of staff to the U.S. ambassador to China.
On Tuesday, Cuomo said this: "President Trump, right-wing media types peddling a fake scandal. What is it? Well, this suggestion that … Rice improperly unmasked identities of Trump associates is part of what the president calls a crooked scheme."
He added in reference to Sciutto's anonymous source, "An associate of Rice says it's just plain false."
Oh, well in that case.
It may be that the "unmasking" of Americans was perfectly legal, and that the role Rice played was minuscule. Once the facts come out, it may be that the entire story has been overblown, and that nothing unusual or unethical occurred.
However, the facts are still being collected.
Reporters are wrong to blow off the story as a "diversion." There are legitimate questions that need to be answered. Audiences deserve that much. Dismissing the story outright as a "distraction" before all the facts are in rightly raises additional concerns – and suspicion.