To save us all

Me­dia must com­bat fake news

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - BRUCE PLOPPER Bruce Plopper is a jour­nal­ism pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus in the School of Mass Com­mu­ni­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of Arkansas at Lit­tle Rock.

In case you missed it, Rachel Mad­dow, host of MSNBC’s The Rachel Mad­dow Show, on July 6 ex­posed a mush­room cloud that po­ten­tially could have hov­ered over the Amer­i­can jour­nal­ism com­mu­nity for a long time.

The cloud was cre­ated by some­one who sent an ap­par­ently forged doc­u­ment to Mad­dow (and per­haps to other news or­ga­ni­za­tions), with the pre­sumed hope the doc­u­ment would be re­ported and thus, when it even­tu­ally was ex­posed as a forgery, would make Pres­i­dent Trump’s gen­er­ally fan­ci­ful charges of “fake news” a hard-hit­ting re­al­ity.

In turn, what­ever is left of the pub­lic’s faith in news cred­i­bil­ity would be fur­ther un­der­mined, and jour­nal­ism would have suf­fered a nu­clear blast. Mad­dow and her col­leagues dis­cov­ered this plot af­ter The In­ter­cept on June 5 pub­lished a some­what redacted ver­sion of a top-se­cret Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency (NSA) doc­u­ment that had been anony­mously sup­plied to its ed­i­tors. The doc­u­ment con­tained in­for­ma­tion about pur­ported Rus­sian in­volve­ment in the 2016 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

The In­ter­cept, on its In­ter­net “about and con­tacts” page, de­scribes it­self as “an award-win­ning news or­ga­ni­za­tion that cov­ers na­tional se­cu­rity, pol­i­tics, civil lib­er­ties, the en­vi­ron­ment, in­ter­na­tional af­fairs, tech­nol­ogy, crim­i­nal jus­tice, the me­dia, and more.” The page also de­scribes its found­ing as fol­lows: “Af­ter NSA whis­tle-blower Ed­ward Snow­den came for­ward with rev­e­la­tions of mass sur­veil­lance in 2013, jour­nal­ists Glenn Green­wald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Sc­ahill de­cided to found a new me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to the kind of re­port­ing those dis­clo­sures re­quired: fear­less, ad­ver­sar­ial jour­nal­ism.”

Ac­cord­ing to Mad­dow, a few days af­ter The In­ter­cept’s pub­li­ca­tion, she re­ceived what sup­pos­edly was an un-redacted copy of this doc­u­ment, but her staff no­ticed sev­eral pe­cu­liar­i­ties in it. Af­ter sev­eral weeks of anal­y­sis, Mad­dow and her staff de­ter­mined that the copy was a forgery, and she re­ported this anal­y­sis on her July 6 pro­gram.

One of the pe­cu­liar­i­ties in Mad­dow’s copy of the doc­u­ment was in­clu­sion of the name of an Amer­i­can who pur­port­edly was work­ing both with the Trump elec­tion cam­paign in 2016 and with the Rus­sians, the lat­ter of whom, ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ment, were at­tempt­ing to hack into U.S. vot­ing sys­tems. Mad­dow said list­ing the Amer­i­can’s name, which she did not dis­close on her pro­gram, was not some­thing the NSA would do.

Had Mad­dow and her staff not been so vig­i­lant, and had she re­ported the con­tents of this doc­u­ment as news, MSNBC would have been vul­ner­a­ble to a dev­as­tat­ingly true charge of re­port­ing fake news.

This in­ci­dent has huge im­pli­ca­tions for the Amer­i­can jour­nal­ism com­mu­nity. If in­deed more forged doc­u­ments are be­ing sup­plied to news or­ga­ni­za­tions, and if th­ese me­dia out­lets re­port such doc­u­ments as news, the ram­i­fi­ca­tions would be phe­nom­e­nal.

In the face of such fake news re­port­ing, why would the pub­lic trust any­thing the news me­dia re­port? Do mem­bers of the pub­lic then be­gin to to­tally be­lieve what politi­cians tell them di­rectly through un­fil­tered so­cial me­dia (read: Face­book and Twit­ter)?

At the mo­ment, the most im­por­tant ques­tions are “Who anony­mously sent the forged NSA doc­u­ment to Mad­dow?” and “Have other forged doc­u­ments been cir­cu­lat­ing among other news out­lets?”

Both the Amer­i­can jour­nal­ism com­mu­nity and the Amer­i­can pub­lic are in grave dan­ger of a news melt­down of epic pro­por­tions if “fake news” be­comes a re­al­ity.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.