To save us all Media must combat fake news
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.