The most ironic aspect of all this is that it is mainstream journalists — the very people who have become obsessed with the crusade against Fake News — who play the key role in enabling and fueling this dissemination of false stories. They do so not only by uncritically spreading them, but also by taking little or no steps to notify the public of their falsity.
Those interested in a sober and rational discussion of the Russia hacking issue should read the following:(1) Three posts by cybersecurity expert Jeffrey Carr: first, on the difficulty of proving attribution for any hacks; second, on the irrational claims on which the “Russia hacked the DNC” case is predicated; and third, on the woefully inadequate, evidence-free report issued by the Department of Homeland Security and FBI this week to justify sanctions against Russia.(2) Yesterday’s Rolling Stone article by Matt Taibbi, who lived and worked for more than a decade in Russia, titled: “Something About This Russia Story Stinks.”(3) An Atlantic article by David A. Graham on the politics and strategies of the sanctions imposed this week on Russia by Obama; I disagree with several of his claims, but the article is a rarity: a calm, sober, rational assessment of this debate.
Most sentient people rationally accept that the U.S. media routinely disseminates misleading stories and outright falsehoods in the most authoritative tones. But it’s nonetheless valuable to examine particularly egregious case studies to see how that works. In that spirit, let’s take yesterday’s numerous, breathless reports trumpeting the “BREAKING” news that “Edward Snowden now wants to come home!” and is “now negotiating the terms of his return!”
Ever since Snowden revealed himself to the public 20 months ago, he has repeatedly said the same exact thing when asked about his returning to the U.S.: I would love to come home, and would do so if I could get a fair trial, but right now, I can’t.
His primary rationale for this argument has long been that under the Espionage Act, the 1917 statute under which he has been charged, he would be barred by U.S. courts from even raising his key defense: that the information he revealed to journalists should never have been concealed in the first place and he was thus justified in disclosing it to journalists. In other words, when U.S. political and media figures say Snowden should “man up,” come home and argue to a court that he did nothing wrong, they are deceiving the public, since they have made certain that whistleblowers charged with “espionage” are legally barred from even raising that defense.
I questioned the Russian president live on TV to get his answer on the record, not to whitewash him
On Thursday, I questioned Russia’s involvement in mass surveillance on live television. I asked Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, a question that cannot credibly be answered in the negative by any leader who runs a modern, intrusive surveillance program: “Does [your country] intercept, analyse or store millions of individuals’ communications?”
I went on to challenge whether, even if such a mass surveillance program were effective and technically legal, it could ever be morally justified.
The question was intended to mirror the now infamous exchange in US Senate intelligence committee hearings between senator Ron Wyden and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, about whether the NSA collected records on millions of Americans, and to invite either an important concession or a clear evasion. (See a side-by-side comparison of Wyden’s question and mine here.)
Clapper’s lie – to the Senate and to the public – was a major motivating force behind my decision to go public, and a historic example of the importance of official accountability.
In his response, Putin denied the first part of the question and dodged on the latter. There are serious inconsistencies in his denial – and we’ll get to them soon – but it was not the president’s suspiciously narrow answer that was criticised by many pundits. It was that I had chosen to ask a question at all.
I was surprised that people who witnessed me risk my life to expose the surveillance practices of my own country could not believe that I might also criticise the surveillance policies of Russia, a country to which I have sworn no allegiance, without ulterior motive. I regret that my question could be misinterpreted, and that it enabled many to ignore the substance of the question – and Putin’s evasive response – in order to speculate, wildly and incorrectly, about my motives for asking it.