With proof of what was long suspected to be a concerted effort by the DNC and Clinton campaign to scuttle the Sanders insurgency, and the promise of even more leaks to be released, what’s any Democratic voter to think?
If one’s view is informed solely by the mainstream media, then the materials released by WikiLeaks are dubious because they were furnished by Russian hackers and agents of Putin’s intelligence apparatus for the sole purpose of throwing the U.S. election process into havoc. But that’s only if one’s sole source of information is the mainstream media.
Indeed, the headlines about WikiLeaks and the DNC, over the past week, have consistently focused on the alleged source of the leak rather than its content, attributing the nebulous “intelligence community” for the supposition that WikiLeaks’ trove came from a Russian hack. Going from network to network, newspaper to newspaper, the language used to describe the leaks and their provenance is curiously and uniformly vague.
Julian Assange has been on a veritable blitz in the U.S. media, giving interviews to all of the major outlets. The common thread in all of these Q&A sessions by all of his interviewers is the injection of the exact same biased assumptions about the source of the leaks and the intent of the leaking party. Judy Woodruff of PBS, while exhibiting these same biases and obvious hostility to Assange, managed to pull off the better interview of this week’s batch:
Woodruff seemed to have a great deal of trouble differentiating between the output of WikiLeaks and that of ‘hackers,’ presumably Guccifer 2.0. She also seemed to have trouble understanding the difference between the two and it showed in the way she worded her questions on hacks and leaks. A part of the problem with her line of questioning seemed to be her assumption that WikiLeaks, itself, engages in the hacking of organizations’ computer networks. There is has been no evidence WikiLeaks, itself, engages in that kind of illegal behavior. According to WikiLeak’s own description of itself, it isn’t a hacking organization and that isn’t in dispute, either.
WikiLeaks relies on whistleblowers for the information it posts, after a lengthy process of authentication, verification, curation, indexing into its databases. What WikiLeaks does is no different than what the U.K’s The Guardian newspaper did when it published Edward Snowden’s revelations. The only difference is that WikiLeaks is not a traditional media organization in that it serves, in part, as a repository of information that is usually suppressed from the public. WikiLeaks makes available all of the documents it collects for the public and journalists alike to evaluate.
Should one accept at face value Julian Assange’s assertion that he is able to separate his personal feelings from his judgment as Editor-In-Chief? The answer to that question is best answered with two questions:
1. has anyone questioned the authenticity of the DNC data dump?
The answer to that question is an obvious no. Would Debbie Wasserman Schultz have resigned if there was any possibility of claiming that the leaked emails were somehow altered or even falsified? Obviously, they were not.
But that hasn’t stopped Wasserman Schultz from stating that she “took one for the team” by resigning from the DNC
2. Would it even matter if it turned out that we have the DNC emails thanks to Russia?
In the final analysis, the answer has to be no, especially when one factors in the fact that the chair of an organization’s duties include being aware of external dangers, as Wasserman Schultz demonstrated she is capable of when there was a question about the Sanders campaign having had access to Clinton campaign data. A new narrative has surfaced in the media in which the FBI is at fault for not having specifically warned the DNC about the Russian menace. That narrative is even more ridiculous than accusations of interference by Russia in the U.S.’ electoral politics. All nations, the U.S. included, spy on other nations. Who among us doesn’t remember the international flap over the NSA bugging German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal cell phone? The only issue that is salient is that the leaked emails constitute a “there, there” for the DNC, when there should have been none. As Robert Reich observes in this recent blog post:
“But purging the DNC of top officials won’t remedy the DNC’s problems. Those problems aren’t attributable to individuals who didn’t do their jobs. To the contrary, those individuals probably fulfilled their responsibilities exactly as those jobs were intended to be done.”
3. Is it possible that Assange’s motive is political revenge against Hillary Clinton, whom he identifies as a U.S. official who has worked to end the activities of WikiLeaks and jail Assange to suppress him?
Quite possibly. But for as long as Assange and his staff continue to publish data that is verified as authentic and its content indicative of wrongdoing or unethical behavior, motivation will remain irrelevant.
The authenticity of the material in the DNC leaks has not been disputed by anyone. Four people have resigned, so far, leaving Democratic voters with a bevy of issues relating to the content in the emails, the comportment of members of an organization that was supposed to serve all candidates in a political primary, equally and impartially, and a mainstream media that not only has been complicit in the wrongdoing, but continues to abet it by not engaging the public in a debate of what is wrong with the DNC. Not only did the Democratic party fail to be neutral, but it engaged in dirty racially-divisive politics as it exercised undue influence on another body that provides the voting public with the information it needs to render its decisions.
We’ve read leaked emails about attempts to set up a meeting between Debbie Wasserman Schultz and MSNBC’s Chuck Todd to discuss her grievances against Morning Joe, specifically Mika Brzezinski’s repeated calls for the DNC chair to resign. We’ve also read emails about the DNC furnishing questions and talking points for discussion to Jake Tapper’s staff ahead of a panel appearance on CNN. Another internal email has come to light in which it appears that Luis Miranda and others were able to successfully exert what is essentially editorial control over New York Times reporter Nick Confessore’s article on the impact of the Sanders campaign beyond the primary process:
— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) August 3, 2016
Interestingly, the New York Times’ new Public Editor, Liz Spayd, wrote a post about her impressions of the coverage of the DNC’s leaked emails and wondering why the most interesting aspect of it, Russian involvement, isn’t getting any press… Huh?
Only the most important part of the story got pushed to a secondary role: Who were the hackers who leaked the information, what was their ultimate motive and what are they planning next?”
What a curious comment, given the fact that the Russian connection has garnered the lionshare of media coverage since the leak was made public. Another very curious aspect of her observations is the complete failure on her part to mention the fact that Times staff are implicated in those emails along with print and broadcast journalists from other outlets. Oh, and just as Judy Woodruff at PBS, Spayd also fails to grasp the distinctions between a leak and a hack.
In what seems to be an article that was written just a couple of days after the WikiLeaks dump, Spayd’s predecessor, Margaret Sullivan, now writing for the Washington Post, made this observation:
“Meanwhile, the New York Times has been criticized for the frequent presence of a prominent Hillary Clinton ad at the top of its home page. Even if readers recognize it as an ad, its placement proclaims a preference that many see reflected in the news coverage.”
Sullivan knows that discerning Times readers notice far more than that and have been objecting, rather vociferously, both to the lack of certain types of content and the abundance and bias of certain other types of content, as well as editorial decisions to edit content once it’s been published, for more than just updates.
Perhaps, at the time Sullivan was writing this post about what journalists should include in the next 100 days, word had not yet gotten out that the leaked DNC emails also contained references to cozy relationships between the DNC and members of the media, with clear references to instances in which staffers influenced some editorial control over what got reported, and not just putting out negative stories about Bernie Sanders.
Among many problems with mainstream media over the past couple of years, as Sullivan rightly points out in her article, has been the lack of coverage of those issues voters care about the most, especially in the area of economics reporting. Coverage has centered on the quantitative, rather than qualitative aspects of the post-recession economy, even as political journalists have been busy writing about angry voters on both sides of the divide.
But when a newspaper’s own reporters are implicated in a political story, should it not prompt immediate responses by the organization’s top editorial staff or, in the case of the Times, something from its public editor? Apparently not.
— Rima Regas, Blog#42 (@Rima_Regas) August 4, 2016
My tweet to Nick Confessore asking for comments garnered this reply:
@Rima_Regas You'll have to dig through my timeline. I've already spent plenty of time replying to people on this and I can't spend any more.
— Nick Confessore (@nickconfessore) August 4, 2016
A search of Confessore’s Twitter timeline through up to July 24th doesn’t reveal any significant information or justification for allowing others to influence his journalistic work. Here are a few representative samples of what I found:
No, it's just confusing when I am also doing the DNC's bidding. https://t.co/fDdfdJIrIS
— Nick Confessore (@nickconfessore) August 1, 2016
Again, no. Intercept entitled to their opinion but my article was accurate. https://t.co/vl7xnswxx9
— Nick Confessore (@nickconfessore) July 31, 2016
@La_Faye I am not a Clinton supporter, or an anyone supporter. I don't even belong to a political party.
— Nick Confessore (@nickconfessore) July 29, 2016
@DaveKaps I understand the suspicion, but I think the attacks on me are off base. There is always give and take in reporting.
— Nick Confessore (@nickconfessore) July 28, 2016
— Nick Confessore (@nickconfessore) July 28, 2016
Confessore’s name is only one several New York Times reporters to pop up in the DNC email leak.
So, what of the motives of the DNC operatives? Why isn’t the ongoing media discussion a robust one about the use of antisemitic imagery to influence voters in areas of the country that are known to be receptive to racism? The leaked emails were dated in the month of April, but I and other members of the media started picking up on antisemitic themes well before. Indeed, during the Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan, CNN’s Anderson Cooper raised some eyebrows with his line of questioning of Senator Sanders’ Judaism:
Not a lot was made of this line of questioning in the mainstream media. If one is honest, how much of a ruckus would there have been had this same question being posed to an African American about his or her Blackness? An Asian American on their Buddhism? An Arab-American on their adherence to Islam?
The question was totally out of bounds. Cooper, in the months following, went on to ask different versions of the question on at least two more occasions. The coverage of Sanders’ Yiddishkeit was at its most assiduous by April, coinciding with the now leaked DNC emails. I began to take notice in February that a pattern was emerging in the mainstream media, not realizing that the DNC might be the source. I wrote a number of pieces on the topic, the most extensive of which was this one, after even the New York Times published a piece by a Jewish scholar. By then, there was just so much between the press and social media that one couldn’t help but feel something was off:
Looking back, this out of the blue video from the New York Times’ Charles M. Blow in March of 2016 portended what transpired in the WikiLeaks email dump. In hindsight, Blow is so on-point that it is highly unlikely that he was not referring to the activities of the Clinton campaign or the DNC:
The campaign to apply racial dog whistles to Senator Sanders began immediately following Black Lives Matter’s first intervention at Netroots Nation in July 2015, and certain media personalities immediately went on a campaign to delegitimize Sanders’ 50-year affiliation with the civil rights movement. Articles minimizing Sanders’ commitment to civil rights began appearing across the media, as well as in social media. By September, the focus of the anti-Sanders drumbeat morphed into different areas, using different approaches. Alternet published my article chronicling the anti-Sanders bias I had been tracking. Not long after, then New York Times Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, conducted her own investigation into reader complaints. Very little changed after she published her findings.
By January, Paul Krugman, who until then had completely ignored Sanders, began a series of attacks from his blog and in his op-eds, prompting me to write several posts on the topic.
Krugman’s posts and columns seemed to have the effect of encouraging some of his colleagues to come out of their shells and join in the rabid Sanders-bashing:
No Sanders-related angle was left untouched. The two crassest pieces came from the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart, prompting me to write one of my most strongly-worded pieces:
We live in a polarized society. The last seven years have certainly been a testament to the worsening condition incivility has become in American society. But the media, fairly or unfairly, is supposed to be better than the rest of us. The revelations from the DNC have shown us that the media is no better and, in fact, may be as bad or worse than the worst among us.
Talk of tuning out the mainstream media has been ongoing these past few years and hasn’t been limited to former Governor Sarah Palin’s mutterings about the ‘lamestream media.’ Criticism of the media has also come from progressive quarters, and for quite some time, with those voters choosing to disengage from traditional sources of information they view as suspect, in favor of “trusted progressive outlets.”
Margaret Sullivan’s advice to the media, as good as it is, may come too late to save a medium that is afflicted by the same virulent strain of gangrene our political system suffers from. Voters have been disaffected for some time. Revelations of progressives’ worst suspicions as the candidate they voted against garners the support of the opposition, and as Clinton continues to withhold her full-throated commitment to her base only guarantees that a split will take place after the November election. What Sullivan gets wrong in her piece is whom the media needs to reassure and inform. The progressive wing of the Democratic party, should it split off, will inflict far more damage by sitting out this election and then leaving, than the damage the candidacy of Donald J. Trump is currently doing to the GOP. Ironically, the Republicans have an advantage in that their public unraveling has been going on these past few years. The Democrats’ is just beginning and it looks as if it will be far uglier.
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