A Bad Couple of Weeks for the U.S. Press

A Bad Couple of Weeks for the U.S. Press
Image: Washington Post cover screen grab

It’s been a bad couple of weeks for the U.S. news media.  The reputation of the Fourth Estate has long been abysmal and getting worse.  Recent developments did nothing to reverse that trend.

First and least importantly, was the Fox News settlement – a whopping $787 million – with Dominion just minutes before the start of opening statements in court.  News organizations don’t pay out that type of money unless they (a) fear a jury will treat them even worse and/or (b) the information to be publicized at trial is so damaging as to make silence worth the money.

My guess is that both were true in Fox’s case.  Fox anchors and others made statements about the accuracy and trustworthiness of Dominion’s voting machines that they knew or strongly suspected to be false.  Testimony at trial about the process that led to the dissemination of those lies couldn’t have been edifying for Fox, so it paid up.

But, as disgraceful as that episode was, it was the least injurious of the wounds recently inflicted by the press against itself.

I haven’t previously posted on one of the truly remarkable developments in the long history of journalism’s antipathy for the truth, one that not only scrapes the bottom of the ethical barrel, but deepens it substantially.  I refer of course to Hamilton68.

Most amazingly, Hamilton68 was created for the explicit purpose of disseminating false “news,” aka, dis-/mis-information.  Doing so was not a mistake on someone’s part or the result of good intentions gone bad.  No, the whole mission was to deceive the public by feeding false claims to a lazy and incurious leftist media that could be counted on to pass them along to the rest of us no questions asked.  Sure enough, that’s just what happened.

Hamilton68 trawled social media for individuals, organizations, sites, etc. that appeared to question the current progressive orthodoxy and/or Democratic Party policies.  Having identified them, it proceeded to call each and every emanation therefrom the work of “Russian bots” bent on disseminating dis-/mis-information.

Some of those entities – perhaps 10% – like RT (formerly Russia Today) were genuinely Russian backed.  The rest were just everyday folks who had about as much connection with Russia as the man in the moon.  An innocuous remark on social media about, say, Joe Biden’s mental acuity, was, by the alchemy of H68, transmuted into more “evidence” of sinister Russian “interference” in… whatever.

Then, having fashioned “Russian interference” out of whole cloth, H68 then passed the “information” on to news outlets like The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN and of course MSNBC.  Those outlets gobbled up the claims and repeated them in various reports and stories.  Pre-Musk Twitter officials, like Yoel Roth, knew to a certainty that H68 was bogus, but never let on.

In days of yore, reputable journalists wouldn’t have accepted such claims without knowing who was making them.  They’d have asked H68 to identify the approximately 700 entities it claimed to be so threatening.  In fact, two reporters did so, but were told by H68 that the information couldn’t be divulged because doing so would risk alerting the sinister forces ever at work undermining American democracy that they’d been discovered and force them underground.

Of course, no one with normally critical faculties would accept such a dodge.  Editors just a few years ago would have laughed at the idea of publishing stories backed by nothing more than a source with neither corroboration nor a reputation for the truth.  And no reporter would have brought them such a story anyway.

Now it’s different.  Last week, veteran journalist and Twitter Files hero Matt Taibbi published a video of an astonishing 279 instances in which MSNBC cited Hamilton68 disinformation.  And that’s just one cable outlet!  That such a site exists and that leftist media organizations unquestioningly repeated its disinformation, solely because it supported their various causes, is a landmark blow to the U.S. news media.

Perhaps worse is the case of the Wapo and the NYT working as an arm of law enforcement to identify the young man who allegedly leaked 60 pages of secret documents that gave valuable hitherto unreported information to the American people about, for example, our involvement in Ukraine.  We’ve learned from the Twitter Files the extent of media involvement with government to limit both the right of free speech and the ability of American people to know vast swaths of information.  Given the previous denials that any such thing was occurring, that was remarkable enough.  But this is something different, an entirely new level of groveling cowardice.

The lynchpin of journalistic integrity and one of its key roles in our system of democracy is the separation of the press from the government and therefore from state propaganda.  The Founding Fathers understood that vital role and made it abundantly clear.

Now, the Twitter Files demonstrated that separation no longer holds, at least among media outlets that worked hand-in-glove with units of government.  But that alone never struck at the heart of the basic role of the Fourth Estate.  But when the press becomes an arm of the law-enforcement side of government, it ceases to be the press in any meaningful way.

The Times and the Post reversed the proper role of the press as regards those leaked documents.  The news media are supposed to champion the people’s right to know, to get us the facts even when doing so might be dangerous.  It’s what those two very papers did in the matter of the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate revelations.  They did so because their owners and editors had a basic sense that We the People have a right to know what the government is up to.  They did so in furtherance of the role assigned to them by, Madison, Hamilton, etc.

No longer.

What does it all mean?  What is the future of journalism, an informed public, a democratic society when once-respected news organizations announce loudly, clearly and proudly that they’re now on the side of government and opposed to the governed, that they favor censorship and oppose our right to know?  What does it mean when false information isn’t just the result of someone’s screw-up but part of a conscious plan to mis-inform and dis-inform the public?

I don’t know.  But make no mistake; these are certain steps toward tyranny abetted by a once-free press, toward a government that decides what truth and falsity are and punishes anyone who disagrees.

Whither the U.S. of A.?


For your convenience, you may leave commments below using Disqus. If Disqus is not appearing for you, please disable AdBlock to leave a comment.