Is The New York Times Actually ... SORRY ... For Being Bad At Journalism?

There's hope yet, maybe!

There is an excellent, thorough deep dive in the New York Times on just precisely how Russia managed to pull off such extensive hacking over the course of the 2016 election. It's quite a piece of journalism! You might think you basically know the story, but it's worth your time to follow the Times back to the earliest hacks of the DNC, and the FBI's half-assed attempts to inform the DNC of the hacks -- they called them on the telephone a few times, instead of walking a few blocks to the DNC HQ with their FBI badges to help! We learn that the email account of Hillary Clinton's campaign chair John Podesta was hacked in Russian phishing email based on a typo from a Clinton aide that called the email "legitimate" instead of "illegitimate." (OOPS!) (Also, guy who didn't call the FBI back after multiple calls because you had "nothing to report," COME ON.)

We learn about the Russian hacking outfits responsible for much of this -- "Cozy Bear" and "Fancy Bear," they are nicknamed -- and how Russian hacking efforts over the last few years have escalated and become more precise, and we also gain insight to the U.S. government's responses to it. The entire article is worth reading, even if you have to put on your spectacles and use your reading light, as it is fascinating, terrifying, true journalism.

What really caught our eye, though, is when the Times talks about "The Media's Role" in all of this -- in other words, what the American media did when Wikileaks started coughing up all the stuff Russia fed it. Consider these passages:

By last summer, Democrats watched in helpless fury as their private emails and confidential documents appeared online day after day — procured by Russian intelligence agents, posted on WikiLeaks and other websites, then eagerly reported on by the American media, including The Times. Mr. Trump gleefully cited many of the purloined emails on the campaign trail.


Though Mr. Assange did not say so, WikiLeaks' best defense may be the conduct of the mainstream American media. Every major publication, including the Times, published multiple stories citing the D.N.C. and Podesta emails posted by WikiLeaks, becoming a de facto instrument of Russian intelligence.

Is that ... something like a mea culpa? The bolding is ours, of course, but is the Times newsroom slowly starting to come to grips with how the paper of record (and much of the rest of the media!) actually went so far beyond the precepts of good journalism that it literally ended up reporting on location from inside Vladimir Putin's panties?

[wonkbar]<a href=""></a>[/wonkbar]That the Times is publishing this story right now suggests that maybe, just maybe, it is trying to learn from and (just barely) acknowledge its terrible mistakes. Maybe. We'll have to see. It sure is a far cry from the paper's prurient yet content-free obsession with Hillary's emails, its fixation on whatever WikiLeaks vomited onto the internet that day, and oh yeah, that one funny time they rushed out a story saying there were no ties between Trump and Russia, because they were pissed off Slate scooped their story about ties between Trump and Russia.

[wonkbar]<a href=""></a>[/wonkbar]We don't have the highest hopes that the Times is learning, but this is a bit of a glimmer of hope, we guess, that it might try to do real journalism during the Trump years.

The Times isn't the only institution reckoning with this, of course. Over at Slate, Ben Mathis-Lilley has a piece called "I Participated in the Russian Intelligence Plot to Elect Donald Trump, and I Guess I’d Do It Again." (NO, BAD #SLATEPITCH, BAD!) He attempts to grapple with how the leaked Podesta emails were indeed real, and some might say newsworthy. (We didn't think they were that newsworthy over here at Wonkette. It was mostly gossipy he said-she said crap, boring stuff about the inner workings of political campaigns, and the occasional risotto recipe. But hey, one man's "newsworthy" is another man's ... risotto recipe?)

But Mathis-Lilley notes that maybe a line was crossed, by Slate and many others:

Journalists are generally obligated to print stories that are true and about subjects of public interest, and illegal leaks have been the source of some of the most important stories ever written. [...]

But maybe there's an identifiable difference between abetting an idealist whistleblower, or even an anonymous operative engaged in careerist infighting, and abetting a foreign government whose goal is quite literally to discredit the entire concept of human rights. One commonly accepted exception to the true-and-of-public-interest rule is that journalists don't print information about subjects like troop locations that could get someone killed. What happens when the entity at risk isn't a soldier, but a democracy?

We just don't know, but we think when it's Putin's Russia screwing around in our elections, then THAT is the story. Print the risotto recipe and the thing about how some staffer in Hillary's primary campaign thinks Bernie Sanders is a dick in paragraph 25, after the full investigative report on why Russia is trying to hack into and influence our elections.

Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum noticed the same thing in the Times piece that we noticed, and he is also grappling with the implications of the media's role in what just happened to America:

I know: news is news. Somehow, though, that doesn't seem sufficient. I'm still not entirely sure what the right response is to leaks like this, but simply publishing everything no matter where it came from or what its motivation no longer seems tenable. There has to be something more to editorial judgment than that.

"Editorial judgment" -- we think that is the key phrase. And we must, must, MUST abandon the silly notion that we're not being "fair" to one side if we don't act like "Both sides do it!" and "Look, the emails lady has a fuckton of corruption too!" if the story simply does not bear that out.

As we've noted this week, the media is finally zeroing in on Russian interference, the single biggest story of the election. It's just too bad they're zeroing in five weeks after the election.

[New York Times / Slate / Mother Jones]

Evan Hurst

Evan Hurst is the managing editor of Wonkette, which means he is the boss of you, unless you are Rebecca, who is boss of him. His dog Lula is judging you right now.

Follow him on Twitter RIGHT HERE.


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