America’s Media Hacked: A Crisis of Credibility

Richard Kelsey | December 19, 2016 | 11:17am EST
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The news headlines are dominated by news about “fake news.”  Once Americans began choosing their news, they began assuming the news they didn’t choose was either bias or fake.  Selecting one’s news to affirm one’s own political bias results in a paradox where Americans have more information than ever before at their fingertips, but they choose instead to stay in a protective cocoon of self-selected “news” outlets. 

The truth is we have always had both fake and biased news.  Fake news was at the checkout stand in the grocery store.  The tabloids usually screamed headlines of movie stars having alien babies.  Those were the good old days when everyone knew what the fake news was. 

Now, fake news is news we don’t agree with.  It’s been made worse by major news outlets moving toward infotainment and away from hard, unbiased, journalism.  Before the rise of cable and the internet, we chose our news based on which news man we found more appealing.  In that news, however, we got the news.  Sure, we got some bias, and we absolutely were not told all the news, but few people assumed the news was fake.  The rise of fake news is the fault of a media who demands ratings and a country who demands the news they want to hear.  Ironically, this past election was as much about American frustration with traditional biased media as it was American frustration with a corrupt, ineffective, political class. No single major American media source commands the universal trust of Americans, and that is a problem.   The Russian hacking story is the perfect example of how this came to be, and why our media is untrustworthy.

The Russians have not “hacked our election.” When a media source uses that phrase, it does so either to purposely lie and mislead its viewers, or because the reporter, executive producer, and managing editors are all ignorant.  There is no evidence, nor has any law enforcement agency or intel agency put forth any evidence that our election was hacked.  To use that phrase, of course, suggests that the Russian government hacked into our voting machines and changed votes from one candidate to another.  That is the false but deliberate implication of the phrase, “hacked election.” 

It is true that the Democratic National Committee had its e-mails hacked.  It is also true that at least one agency sees enough forensic evidence based upon prior knowledge to draw an intelligence finding that Russian hackers were likely involved in the hack of DNC e-mails.  That, however, is not hacking an election. That’s hacking an organization.  Even that conclusion and the purpose behind the hack are not uniformly agreed upon.    Moreover, the “hack” is not old news.  During the course of the entire election, hacked e-mails were repeatedly released by wiki-leaks for the purpose of exposing bad conduct among Democratic operatives.  That was surely done to destabilize and influence the voters in this election.  There is, however, no proof that either the hacked DNC e-mails or the separate hacked Podesta e-mails were given to WikiLeaks by Russian hackers.  In fact, that operation denies the tie to Russia.

Our media, however, has gone hog wild in the last week about this known hack, and it has repeatedly framed the “news” in a discussion over a “hacked election.”  Virtually none of the news has focused on the content of the emails, and in the several months since the hacks, even fewer media outlets have tried to verify the contents of these e-mails.  The news, of course, is in the e-mails which may have exposed an actually rigged Democratic primary election.  Think about that: the DNC worked to rig an election for the losing candidate and the big news story is not that fact, but that someone exposed that fact.  This is why no one trusts the news agencies anymore.

I have appeared repeatedly on news programs on radio and TV as both a political and legal commentator.  Here is what I notice most about the news.  The news readers and hosts have politically slanted views that obviously affect what and how stories are covered.  That’s one problem.  The other problem is the deluge of “surrogates” who are given air time to puke out party or candidate talking points. This neither improves the quality of the news, nor the analysis of the issues.  It’s spin vs. spin, with each side believing its own spinner.  There are far too few analysts who provide actual, objective, thoughtful, analysis to the news.   And, we have reached a point now where news watchers, a small and often biased group, might be resistant to objective analysis.  Still, the media crisis we have is a crisis of credibility.  That crisis includes every aspect of the news, its reporting, and its panel analysis.

When I watch the news now, I immediately think about what I am not being told, how the issue is framed, and what actual evidence is being used to provide me with the facts.  Most of these news stories are lacking in those critical components that draw a sharp distinction between news facts and news headlines.  The latter is a teaser to watch the news, but it is not news.   This election hasn’t been hacked. Our news has been hacked.  More specifically, it is being reported and manipulated by political hacks.  Americans see right through this hackery, and as such they gravitate to the outlet that tells them their version of the truth.  The result is a society that hears more and knows less.  Ratings and profits are good, but the news is the casualty.  There is no greater threat to a free and prosperous democratic republic than a misinformed electorate.  Misinformation and disinformation are the building blocks of tyranny … and they are in no short supply these days.

Richard Kelsey is an attorney practicing with The Impresa Legal Group. A former Assistant Law School Dean and a former Virginia state court law clerk and commercial litigator, Kelsey was also the CEO of a technology company.  He has previously taught legal writing and pre-trial practice.  He is a regular commentator on legal and political issues in print, and on radio and TV.   His opinions are his own, and do not represent any institution or entity.


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