Media, Politics & The Death Of Intellectual Honesty

from the what-just-happened dept

Yeah, so I get that it’s political silly season, and people like to throw around all kinds of arguments of “bias” — especially towards the media. I’ve been on the receiving end of those accusations, but for the most part, I think claims of media bias are silly and over-hyped. What’s true, though, is that it’s all too easy to be sloppy in reporting and to try to hype up a nothing story into a something story. Here’s a story where no one comes out of it looking very good and the end result is a complete mess. It starts with Newsweek reporter Kurt Eichenwald. Last night I saw a marginally interesting story by Eichenwald about how a Russian government connected news website, Sputnik, misread an email leaked via Wikileaks from Hillary Clinton pal Sidney Blumenthal to campaign chief John Podesta. The email contained a link and full text to a much earlier Eichnwald story about Benghazi and Clinton. The Sputnik story incorrectly stated that the text in the email was by Blumenthal, and not by Eichenwald. It took one sentence out of this longer article, and falsely claimed that Blumenthal was admitting that the mess in Benghazi was “preventable.” As Eichenwald notes, this is wrong:

Those words sounded really, really familiar. Really familiar. Like, so familiar they struck me as something I wrote. Because they were something I wrote.

The Russians were quoting two sentences from a 10,000-word piece I wrote for Newsweek, which Blumenthal had emailed to Podesta. There was no mistaking that Blumenthal was citing Newsweek?the magazine?s name and citations for photographs appeared throughout the attached article.

Okay. So that’s actually kind of interesting. This Russian source was so eager to get a story out of the leaked emails that it misrepresented them — either by accident or on purpose. That’s marginally interesting, and certainly a fun thing to report on. What happened next is where things really go off the rails. While Sputnik pulled down its story once Eichenwald pointed out the error, a few hours later, Donald Trump mentioned the story at a rally as if it were true:

At a rally in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, Trump spoke while holding a document in his hand. He told the assembled crowd that it was an email from Blumenthal, whom he called ?sleazy Sidney.?

?This just came out a little while ago,?? Trump said. ?I have to tell you this.? And then he read the words from my article.  

?He?s now admitting they could have done something about Benghazi,?? Trump said, dropping the document to the floor. ?This just came out a little while ago.?

Okay. So we’ve still got a story here, and the story is this: holy shit, Donald Trump is willing to take very, very unreliable sources and broadcast them as fact. But that’s not the story that Eichenwald started pushing. He went on something of a Twitter rampage making a bunch of claims that were not supported at all by the story, claiming variably that (1) the leaked emails were doctored (2) that Wikileaks was responsible for this (3) that the Russians and Wikileaks are in cahoots and (4) that Trump and the Russians are in cahoots. Now, any of these might actually be true. But none of them are actually supported by any actual evidence. Eichenwald just makes the logical leaps from what’s written above, assuming that only the Russians could have given Trump that news — ignoring that the story on Sputnik was getting passed around on social media (again: real story: Trump relies on unreliable sources for news). Here are just a few of Eichenwald’s many, many tweets promoting his own article (and note how most have tons of retweets):

Note that he insists that the only way Trump could have gotten this is from the Russians. But that’s clearly not true. The Sputnik story was up and lots of people saw it, and it was discussed on Twitter and elsewhere. It makes perfect sense that someone who saw it either works for the Trump campaign or knew someone there and sent it over. Again: that’s the real story: Trump relies on sketchy sources found online.

This morning lots of people were pointing out the problems with Eichenwald’s exaggerations about his story, including the Washington Post, NY Magazine and Glenn Greenwald at the Intercept. Greenwald’s account highlights that many Hillary Clinton supporters keep saying that the Podesta leaks include faked emails, but no one has pointed out a single one.

Eichenwald, for his part, keeps insisting that the original Sputnik report involved a “manipulated” email, which implies that the email was faked or doctored. This is flat out wrong. The email was misrepresented. It’s entirely possible that it was misrepresented on purpose to make Clinton look bad. But misrepresented is different than doctored. Here, let me prove it to you: Eichenwald misrepresented who could have possibly seen the Sputnik piece. He did not doctor that information.

I don’t think — as some are claiming — that this is evidence of “media bias” on Eichenwald’s part. I honestly think that he’s guilty of the same thing that probably happened with Sputnik. He saw what seemed to be a really great story, and oversold it. Sputnik did the same. Both look bad.

And, honestly, almost everyone comes out of this looking bad. Eichenwald and Newsweek oversold a story. Various Clinton supporters look bad for buying the claims in the story without reading them or checking them carefully. Trump, of course, looks bad for relying on a Russian government site for unreliable news. And, basically, everyone looks at this story and sees from it what they want. Trump supporters can see more examples of media bias. Clinton supporters believe there’s more support for the idea that Russia is supporting Trump. Wikileaks haters get more ammo claiming that the site is working with the Russians and/or that it’s releasing fake emails (though it does not appear to be doing so). Again: many of these things may actually be true, but this story only supports the single claim of Trump relying on bad info.

But this is the state of things today. 2016 can’t end fast enough. Hopefully 2017 is better.

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Comments on “Media, Politics & The Death Of Intellectual Honesty”

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Anonymous Coward says:

“But this is the state of things today. 2016 can’t end fast enough. Hopefully 2017 is better.”

Yah… I’m going on the side of “getting worse” in the terms of media landscape. They are getting tons of eyeballs from this campaign. Are they really going to drop that once someone wins? Heck no. They need those inflated CPMs!

They will find a way to keep the Trump train going strong well into 2017. At least until Trump and Breitbart start Trump TV.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: How can 2017 possibly be better.

Because it won’t be an election year?

If Clinton gets into office, it may look like the continuation of the Obama administration, which is to say she will have to be pressured to make changes.

But she’ll be open to pressure.

If Trump gets into office, then he’s going to change bunches of stuff, few for the better, and the admin’s going to look a lot like George W’s. And then his advisors and intimates just have to convince him that the policies they want will hurt Trump’s enemies, and he’ll push them.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

We have become the pigs at the trough for soundbites.
We gulp down everything put before us, not wondering where it came from or if it has any truth.
If its the farmer feeding us, we believe… if its the hired hand we saw slaughter our cousin we assume its all poisoned.

We have studies proving that we keep believing things that are false, even in the face of undeniable evidence we were lied to, we cling to the false idea and jump through larger hoops to protect the lies. Ex. Anti-Vaxxers

The media has conspired to feed us this crap buffet, and when challenged they throw their hands up denying it is their fault. They run half truths in headlines and sometimes retract them in 2pt font on page 87c.

We deserve better. We need to demand better. Reporter lies about being on a helio that took fire in a war zone, and we run him out… Headline screams that Hilary ate a baby, to get better viewership numbers, and its just shrugged off by the “media” outlet when debunked.

Once upon a time the media was independent, this is no longer the case on both sides. We need to stop accepting bias pretending to be reporting. No one is a saint, no one is a sinner… they are all mortal and make mistakes. News isn’t entertainment, it is supposed to be fact. We need to stop caring about Kayne’s latest tantrum & not accept that as being important enough to be on the nightly news.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Beyond that we need to stop letting our media mix entertainment and news without clear boundaries.
Look at the talking heads on all three of the 24 hour news stations. Each has a prime time personality that spends more time building themselves and their personal brand than reporting the truth.

There will always be bias and spin. Nobody is completely objective. Nobody can be. But when the program you are watching is specifically meant to be subjective they should make clear distinctions. Far more than they do now. We need the TV version of opinion pages and ombudsman.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

We need to stop allowing them to deny their effect on things as well.

Right now all the rage is about “evil clowns” everywhere.
More and more stories about it spreading like a virus.
They want to say it is all social media driven, ignoring that they are covering it more & more encouraging people to try it.
So a couple kids claim to have seen clowns trying to lure them into the woods… police investigate & find nothing to support the claims… no one asked if a sibling told them a story about evil clowns… Now there are evil clown sightings everywhere, many being dubious claims, many being idiots idioting, but the media keeps mentioning it. There are now professional clowns being yelled at and threatened and eventually someone is going to shoot someone in a clown suit… all because the media kept telling people to be terrified of boogeymen.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

A couple decades ago there were police warnings about carjackers simply flagging people down as if they had broken down or needed help.

Naturally this led to “overreactions.” Including one case where someone honestly flagging down a passer-by for help had to jump two fences while the driver drove through them to try to “catch” him.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

That’s pretty much how rumors and urban legends go. Something small happens, or is claimed to happen, it gets exaggerated in the retelling, and the exaggerated retelling makes it big enough for people to start repeating it, and doing their own exaggerations, never questioning if it was true to begin with.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Most material is marketed by less than 10% of the original. Media have a tendency to take the most colourful comments and angle their story on it, while cutting the material down to ie. 1% of the original source. In many cases modern readers say tldr as soon as you write more than 10 lines on A4. Thus the media needs to cut it down further and angle it sharper while trying to present the essense on 0,1% of the space of the original! To me it is clear why the angling is so tight and the stories as unrepresentative of the original.

Instead of whining about media biases, go to the original sources. That possibility is unfortunately forgotten by many users of media today because it is so much more timeconsuming and because many journalists today are completely oblivious to or uncomfortable with the Harvard method or any other referencing method (plus correct sourcing takes a lot more time and can expose “sensitive sources” of you make the reference to obvious). But if you want the truth, go to the original sources and particularly their sources etc. That is the only way around media bias.

Ben (profile) says:


2016 can’t end fast enough. Hopefully 2017 is better

SSDY (Same S…); except 2017 will be starting with the fallout from the “rigged” election, where 40%+ of the electorate will be accusing the rest of stealing the presidency.

It could only be worse if it ended with Cats sleeping with Dogs; you know, those Old Testament types of disasters…

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Stolen elections

Bush did steal the election from Gore in 2000, and the majority of the people were left to sulk about it while Bush tossed his compassionate conservative stance in the trash and immediately started gutting clean water regulations and adding the most litigious signing statements in history.

I suspect those on the losing side, even if they were defeated by obvious and provable voter fraud, they will be left to sulk as well, and not even tossed a bone.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: 2017

It could also be worse if it’s a very close race. A repeat of the 2000 presidential election results – Bush v. Gore decided by weeks of recounts and court battles.

That was already a circus, but imagine the circus with Hillary v. Trump. Merged with the Supreme Court battle to replace Judge Scalia. And a Tea Party that didn’t exist in 2000. And already accusations of a rigged election from one side and of Russian involvement from the other.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 2017

“This report summarizes the results of our review of the GEMS election management system, which counts approximately 25 percent of all votes in the United States. The results of this study demonstrate that a fractional vote feature is embedded in each GEMS application which can be used to invisibly, yet radically, alter election outcomes by pre-setting desired vote percentages to redistribute votes. This tampering is not visible to election observers, even if they are standing in the room and watching the computer. Use of the decimalized vote feature is unlikely to be detected by auditing or canvass procedures, and can be applied across large jurisdictions in less than 60 seconds.”

Anon says:

Should we be surprised?

I mean really, didn’t the US government and Colin Powell (what was he, secretary of state? Interesting position.) announce many times to the US people and the UN General Assembly that Saddam had been buying yellowcake from Niger? Assured by no less than US “Intelligence” agencies… a year after the whole story had been debunked by British an French intelligence as a moneygrab by a paid informant…

Given that standard – Should we be surprised that harried staffers and an orange-colored moron will grab stuff off the internet without bothering to fact check? Given that standard they should have no problem assuring us 9-11 was an inside job, the towers were brought down by demolition charges, and the Mexicans are all rapists and murderers.

hij (profile) says:

media bias

I am going to have to disagree with the premise that the media is not biased. When it comes to this election cycle, it is quite clear that there is a heavy bias toward stupid. The kind of stupid that knows no bounds, knows no ideology, and has near infinite inertia. This rolling rock of stupid may never stop and keep going past November.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Outsourcing Propaganda

Back during the Clinton administration I read a story in the local (Winnipeg) paper about an American school ordering students to write an essay “Why I’m Ashamed to Be White.” There was much whining about political correctness and liberalism run amuck.

Much later I read that it was a hoax. There was an assembly line for such hoaxes. Some right-wing rag would print the story as satire. Rush Limbaugh (before the press realized that he was a professional liar) would repeat it as truth. And then more credible publications would pick it up as truth.

For Obama the internet was added to the assembly line. Politicians and Fox News reporters who would never initiate birther claims would nevertheless cheerfully repeat them if they originated at WorldNetDaily and other wingnut sites. Even the most credible news sites still refer to Obama not releasing his birth certificate until 2011, ignoring that it was released – and authenticated by Vital Statistics in Hawaii – in mid-2008 when the issue was first raised.

Trump’s innovation is merely in sending the jobs overseas. To Russia.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Outsourcing Propaganda

“Rush Limbaugh (before the press realized that he was a professional liar)”

I think it is slightly more nuanced than that. If you think of him as the conservative equivalent to Stephen Colbert (does not believe anything he says and develops a fake personality solely for the media) he makes a ton more sense in why he says what he says. So yah he lies continually, but his character does not.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Outsourcing Propaganda

Oh no question is Rush dangerous. Too many people believe him as a truth teller when he clearly is not.

I intended to mean that he has developed that persona for the public and likely does not believe anything his character says.

That was the extent of my comparison. I completely failed at that. I in no way meant to compare him on the satire side or genius of Colbert. Doh.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Outsourcing Propaganda

Fair enough!

There’s another element to it: Rush Limbaugh and his type, plus Fox News, NewsMax, WorldNetDaily and others made a terrible discovery: Their biggest source of revenue is “impotent right-wing rage.”

Limbaugh had to sit down and shut up and stop the anti-White House wingnuttery during the Bush II years, and that cost him money. The others know this.

Which is why in the 2012 election cycle when classic hardliner Newt Gingrich made the adult suggestion of negotiating with Democrats on the budget as had always been done, Fox News and the rest attacked him and labeled him a RINO. And why the 2012 and 2016 Republican clown car candidates got so much Fox coverage while the credible candidates quickly faded away.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Outsourcing Propaganda

And that, my friends, is why you don’t give any special interest group carte blanche to insert their propaganda into every social and media nook and cranny via the party machine. You can never tell what flavour “their” propaganda is likely to take.

If Fox will only accept Trump and his ilk as valid representations of the Republican movement, expect more of the same till they change their minds. Hilariously, they’ve painted themselves into a corner; any time they try to be more moderate their audience flips out at them and claims they’ve gone all liberal and stuff.

Anonymous Coward says:

*I apologize for the grammatical and hard to follow writing.

I have to disagree with the idea that the “media bias” accusation is anywhere close to being overblown. Seriously Mike, I am a huge fan otherwise I would not even bother, but you honestly need to get away from the media circle to appreciate how ridiculously left-wing the media. The number of your colleague that identify as Independent:Democrat:Republican is 15:4:1 and I would bet money that the so call independent leans left. The truth has a left-wing bias right?

The media is so left wing it doesn’t even reflect the values of the average democrat let alone the general populace. Only 38% of the populace trust the media and only 51% of democrat has faith in the media. So one side of the aisle think the media is full of shit and another half of the the other thinks its full of shit. If you guys were the fourth estate, self-appointed/unelected, then right about now the people are sharping their pitchforks and prepping molotovs.

What are the media stances on issues in the news? Banning assault weapons and semi-automatics, the police sucks, and literally vote Clinton or we’re all going to doomed. Which from the top, is a losing issue trying to ban all guns aside from revolvers and flintlock because the media doesn’t do basic research before writing a 2k word essay. The police has a 52% approval rating despite a historical low compare that to a certain other profession and understand how much journalist are despised right now. Self-evident truth right, fact and not opinion, the emotion and loathing of DT won’t cause blurring of opinions and fact among the immaculate 80%+ left-leaning journalists.

What has been the media response to the animosity towards them. Literally writing articles how their critics are nothing but trolls, the evils of comment sections, how some people feel they are too conservative. Sometimes its acknowledge that they are reviled but that society’s fault and what a world we live in because of their low intelligence free press is in danger.

The problem becomes even more stark once you realize that its not even the fact that they lean left that is the problem considering “media filters” like Wikipedia or Stewart-Colbert-Oliver actually do a decent job of informing the public and they are even more left leaning. Its the fact that they can’t tell the difference between a Sig Sauer from a AR-15 after decades of reporting on topic, a gameboy from a PsP, 4chan isn’t a famous hacker,or that its unfeasible to replace our power-grid with solar power but totally feasible to replace our roads with 3 times that number and still have it function as roads.

From mass consumer of news its a very disheartening experience because I still very much believe in the role of the press but it seems like they have forgotten the the road to hell is full of good intentions and they are slashing and burning the innocent from their position.

Alphonse Tomato (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Don’t be silly. The media isn’t “liberal”, although some of its reporters may be. But the owners of the media are rich, and they look after their class. Reporters do not control the final product, editors, producers, and publishers do. However (and I am the extremely small potatoes producer of a TV news show no one has ever heard of), the media likes a good show. “If it bleeds, it leads.” The media likes stuff that makes stories that grab the attention of viewers (and advertisers). Violence and sex are two topics guaranteed to get viewers. There are of course other themes that do, performers like Rush Limbaugh tap into some of them.

No, neither Democrats nor Republicans trust “the media” (well, aside from Fox viewers, Limbaugh listeners, and maybe SputnikNews patrons like The Donald). And they should not, because “the media” is for the most part not there to spread truth, but to make money (or in the case of SputnikNews, to sell what Putin wants sold).

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think that’s it in a nutshell. The media’s bias isn’t toward a liberal or conservative viewpoint per se, it’s toward ratings. Some times that means stories that attack conservatives, sometimes it means stories that attack liberals, sometimes it means stories where people who don’t know anything about technology talk about technology, and sometimes Matt Lauer dresses in drag for some reason.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Fact: People have lost faith in the press and are continuing to lose faith in both printed and TV news.

Is this in spite of due diligence and society is to blame, or they are deserving of this fact? CNN, the NYT, CBS,the New Yorker, and NPR is consider a reliable source of information by whom exactly? If they are all in it for the ratings what difference is it to reality television or fox news exactly or straight up Russian propaganda?

Opinion: The press bitching about how Democratic Mayor X is not doing enough to curb hate speech, not reducing income inequality, or forcing the police to fix race relation is NOT the press being conservative. Then turn around and be mean to conservative makes them moderates.

Also for the record I don’t believe the press have a liberal bias, I think they have a left-wing progressive bias, there is nothing liberal about the press except for it staunch belief in freedom of the press and maybe the fourth amendment. The crime isn’t that they are driven by their belief but by the fact that they print and report inaccurate and poorly research articles and they all happen to be left-wing that makes it corrosive. If it a hoax at least it would make the world a better place. Then keep on hammering on about how the press is reliable source of information.

Let it sink in for a minute how ineffective the

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

“a marginally interesting story by Eichenwald about how a Russian government connected news website, Sputnik, misread an email leaked via Wikileaks from Hillary Clinton pal Sidney Blumenthal to campaign chief John Podesta.”

Stop. We’re already waaaay beyond the comprehension level of the electorate. Especially those that need to understand this story. Sad.

Whatever (profile) says:

It's the internet, ya know?

I think that you have to stand back a bit and consider what might be the root cause of all of this: The interwebnetthing.

The internet makes communication all over the world near about instantaneous. It has also removed most of the filters was have had in the past. The two most important were distance and time. A dumb (and false) story written by a third rate Russian “news” organization would likely never even be heard of outside of it’s original area. With time and distance, there would be enough filtering going on to catch that it’s wrong and not repeat it.

The internet? Huge echo chamber, and some people try very hard to control the echos and drown out sanity.

We were lead to believe Wikileaks was a good source. That’s just not the case anymore. Assange clearly has political axes to grind and an agenda as long as his arm, which means what many believe to be a credible source just isn’t always that at all.

The internet has also brought us great sources like Alex Jones. Yeah, Infowars is perhaps one of the most depressing pieces of crap online (as far as I am concerned) but for some it’s absolutely gospel, gods word into his ear shit. He’s just a more extreme version of Rush Limbaugh, and he just a more abrasive version of Fox News (the ultimate in velvet glove delivery of total, absolute nonsense).

We get more and more of our information from websites like Techdirt. Like it or not, this place has an agenda and a tone which means that facts are cherry picked and glued together without the goal of creating a truth that may or may not be true. There are some who read this site in the same manner people pay attention to Alex Jones. It’s not as extreme, but just as dangerous in the end.

When you get your information from a biased source (WND anyone?), your opinion will naturally be biased. It’s how it works. The internet and modern media distribution let’s it happen. Like minded idiots can congregate and egg each other on. The retweet first, check never mentality means that incorrect stories are repeated over and over again. Celebutards use this to their advantage, the entire Kardashian thing is created out of whole cloth by them grabbing and controlling the message and the media.

It’s all because you like it, because you react to it, and because you get involved with it. Every re-tweet is, in it’s own way, spreading a little lie or a little twist of the truth.

CrushU (profile) says:

Re: It's the internet, ya know?

There’s actually decent points in here, however, I do disagree with the conclusion at the end:

Every re-tweet is, in it’s own way, spreading a little lie or a little twist of the truth.

I don’t believe that is necessarily true. I believe there is an objective truth and that it is shareable. It’s why I tend to downplay the importance of ‘timing’ in releases of Interesting Information. I consider the information itself to be more important than the circumstances behind it. (Who released it, When it was released, Why they released it, How it was released.)

John Mayor says:

"I'M KING OF THE WORLD!" - Donald Trump, from Titanic

A good suggestion… I think!… for Trump’s handlers (in particular!) when “debriefing Trump” on a story, is to have everyone lay down on their backs in Trump’s office… have everyone fold their hands on their stomachs, and look up into the ceiling!… and then begin their debriefing, from a “calm vantage point”! Either that, or have Trump take a dump, before beginning the process!
Please!… no emails!

Joe Giambrone (user link) says:


This headline portended something substantial, not the latest trivial misquote in the news. I’ll address the headline.

Intellectual honesty died officially in 1948, with the creation of the national security state and the CIA. There we became reliant upon leaks of secrets. Disinformation, lies, cover-up followed and are the norm today. You can read all about Operation Mockingbird. Frank Wisner bragged of playing the US media like a “Mighty Wurlitzer.” Carl Bernstein exposed these things in 1977, but even the Church Committee revelations fade from people who purport to write on these topics today.

I’d need several hours to make the appropriate dent.

The Libya fiasco was a clear war crime, a breach of the UN Charter. American CIA, exposed by Seymour Hersh and others, was moving arms from the captured arsenals of Libya over to the next target on the empire’s hit list: Syria. This is not debatable at this point. If you play with fire, you get burned. The larger issues are those of waging wars on the same side as Al Qaeda & ISIS. Frauds of this magnitude have a name, and it’s the Big Lie.

Anonymous Coward says:

If you think CURRENT_YEAR$ coming to an end is going to mean something different next year simply because it is NEXT_YEAR$, I’ve got some prime real estate in Florida to sell to you.

The media is shit, has been and will be always and forever. It was made official with William Randolph Hearst’s media empire and never went away- just went through various permutations of pretending it was something it never was.

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