by Bob Cesca
America is once again going crazy, and the gurgling insanity is being amplified by the news media. Again.
In case you hadn't noticed, Hillary Clinton's lead in the national polls has almost entirely vanished, while the latest statewide polls on the electoral map show Donald Trump winning not just way too many red states given how horrendously dangerous he is, but now he appears to have a narrow lead in battleground states like Iowa, Ohio and North Carolina, prompting Nate Silver to tweet: "Trump has a 1 in 3 chance of winning the election. It's highly competitive, folks."
"It's highly competitive, folks."
Those words should terrify everyone. Republicans. Democrats. The world. I've written this too many times to count and it's still not enough times: Trump is a threat to democracy and, indeed, world stability -- both in terms of war, the economy and all points between. In the face of this obvious reality, the press continues to fail at its one job, which is to report the truth and to put the truth within the broader context of history. This duty is so crucial to the survival of democracy that the Framers included explicit protections for the news media in the First Amendment, and within a clause that precedes nearly all other constitutional rights. More often than not, the most powerful members of the political press continue to treat the process like a sporting activity without consequences, thus abdicating those rights.
In addition to terrifying everyone, it shouldn't even be like this. It shouldn't even be competitive. Trump has proudly gotten away with a million scandals, each of which would've disqualified other presidential candidates. One of the primary reasons why his million horrible things haven't destroyed his chances at winning is because the political press, excepting the scant few liberal cable news shows, has treated each trespass with a boys-will-be-boys attitude. One of the justifications for this nonchalance in the face of utter destruction is that Trump's undisciplined blurting and objectively provable lies actually help him with his base, and the press tends to reflect how people react to events -- hesitant to contradict the common perception of voters. Voters who consume the news.
You've seen it before, I'm sure. We often observe reporters telling us, for example, Half of Americans see the economy as weak, so here's why the economy is weak. No, no, no. If the economy is verifiably weak, then fine. But if it's robust, even though some people don't know it, it's still robust. Yet the press reports it as weak anyway, augmenting a false narrative that reinforces misconceptions about the news. Ultimately, it really doesn't matter if people are feeling whatever. If the feelings run contrary to what's actually happening, then the mistaken perception ought to be nothing more than a sidebar to illustrate how poorly informed voters are. If anything.
As we swing around the dark side of this day-glow-orange Mobius Loop, there are myriad reasons why voters are so poorly informed including lack of education, ideological polarization and the existence of social media bubbles that effectively weed out contravening information. But perhaps the most egregious inciting factor is how the press has failed, time and time again, to put political stories and other world events into proper context. Political reporters in 2016 are not unlike doctors who prescribe meds without explaining what the side effects are. They believe they're helping when, in fact, they're making us sicker.
Such is the case with the ongoing series of news events emerging from the work of hackers.
On Wednesday, we learned that a massive tranche of Colin Powell's personal emails were stolen by hackers associated with the DCLeaks website, a reputed front for the Russian intelligence services. (Powell's email, by the way, was previously hacked in 2013 by the criminal known as "Guccifer.")
Among the many revelations in the emails, Powell referred to Donald Trump as a "national disgrace and an international pariah," while also bagging on his "friend" Hillary Clinton, writing in one email:
"I would rather not have to vote for her, although she is a friend I respect. A 70-year person with a long track record, unbridled ambition, greedy, not transformational, with a husband still dicking bimbos at home (according to the NYP)."
Frankly, I don't give a flying rat's ass about any of this, regardless of whether the details hurt Trump or Hillary or Bill's dick. What's more concerning here is that, once again, a story emerging from criminal activity is being reported without highlighting how the DCleak hackers are underground burglars disguised as disruption journalists. They're crooks. Thieves. And we're all vulnerable to their personal, unaccountable whimsy.
That last part is important. The "unaccountable" part especially. In addition to being thugs who can too-easily break into your property to steal your personal, private information in order to either blackmail you or to expose your confidential ideas and correspondence to public ridicule, they're also not accountable to anyone yet they comport themselves as journalists. This false designation, "journalist," is encouraged and repeated by writers like Glenn Greenwald and his colleagues at The Intercept, as well as editors like Xeni Jardin at BoingBoing, each of whom believe these malignant goons are doing good work exposing secrets and taking down sacred cows. The irony being that Greenwald's clique made a name for itself by indicting the U.S. government for collecting email and phone metadata, even though the government, unlike hackers, is accountable to American voters and a massive bureaucracy of citizen workers tasked with policing itself.
In other words, you can't defend privacy in the face of the government while retaining an anything goes attitude about hackers.
Unreported today is the news that any of us with even a vague public reputation are in danger of incurring the wrath of hackers like Guccifer. Indeed, I write all this with a nagging sense of fear that I could be retaliated against for speaking out and calling these people what they are. Criminals. (For what it's worth, my fear stems from my personal information being violated by unethical crooks. The personal information contained therein isn't as concerning -- unless of course it's doctored by hackers to appear untoward. A legitimate possibility since, after all, they're crooks.)
Nevertheless, in the dozen articles I've read today about the Colin Powell story, not one included words like "criminals" or "thieves" or "invasion of privacy." For that matter, very few if any consumers of the same articles I've read are using those words when linking to the news on social media. Have we stopped caring that Fawkes-masked freaks hiding in the dark web have become lionized vigilantes, despite dangling virtual pianos over our heads? I suppose we have. I suppose we don't care that no one with journalistic influence is calling for the arrest of these people while calling out writers like Greenwald who mischaracterize hackers as journalists.
Of course it's vital to American democracy to hold our leaders accountable via thoughtful activism and thorough, courageous journalism. Likewise, it's important to hold journalists accountable when they do it wrongly. We have to demand that our journalism is presented with unimpeachable accuracy and attained through multiple reputable sources as well as tenacious reporting that's bound by the rules -- both written and unwritten. Hackers and those who enable them aren't playing by those rules and must be viewed with deep suspicion, if not total contempt. Otherwise, in the pursuit of accountability, we're manufacturing all new villains -- villains with the technical chops to destroy any of us with impunity.