I’m usually the first person to boost NPR. In this age of editorial slants, #fakenews and the like, it’s one of only a handful of resources I trust to be giving me the information I need to have: I didn’t hear of too many other broadcasters live airing James Comey testifying to the House Intelligence Committee.
So imagine my disappointment hearing an intelligence commentator on NPR’s “On the Media,” a weekend show dedicated to breaking down how media shapes the conversation, portraying Wikileaks as “playing” the media in their CIA information dump.
The segment is entitled “What the Media Got Wrong About the Latest Wikileaks Dump,” but a careful listen to the content and interviewee Nicholas Weaver indicates that the dump itself was exaggerated and “fear mongering” and that Wikileaks intended to create that coverage with it’s own “helpful” analysis. He lets it sit out there that it’s just a fact of life that the news industry is cut throat, people climbing over themselves for the breaking news. Wikileaks “planted” misleading leads.
This takes the media itself off the hook. Weaver breaks down the dump itself, why it’s really not a big deal, and highlights at least one reporter who did a really good job of actual fact checking: Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post, You know, doing what reporters are supposed to do. He lets everyone off with the trope that it’s a landrush out there, and even misrepresents the purpose of what Wikileaks actually said.
Wikileaks specifically says there’s more information than reporters, go look for it. He portrays this as cynical because they knew reporters would just report what they were given. My question then is this: is that the work of Wikileaks acting against America or is this a failing of our media to do their job? The media has created this landrush mentality, this media cycle. Wikileaks may be acting to make the CIA look bad, but make no mistake the media was their witting pawn.
Interestingly enough, Bob Garfield inadvertently admits media corrections are almost universally ignored, making them meaningless because no one pays attention to them.
What this means, then, is that the media owes it as a professional responsibility to get it right and getting it right the first time. It means that if Wikileaks gets their preferred message out there, far from Ellen Nakashima being exceptional it means she was the exception in that she did her job. It means that printing a retraction or a correction doesn’t relieve the organization when they make a mistake. They need to be impeccable, particularly when the media in general is being attacked by a particularly in-credible President for their lack of credibility.
NPR doesn’t speak for the entire profession, but this broadcast is designed to provide a window into the profession, and represent it. When they refuse to take responsibility for their role, and instead allow Wikileaks – whose main purpose was to create publicity for itself – to control the conversation, they’ve minimized their own importance and exaggerated the importance of the subject. If Weaver is correct and that there was nothing thusfar in this dump that he wouldn’t have assigned to advanced undergraduates, it was the media’s fault for giving the story more credence than it deserved. It’s the media’s responsibility to determine what deserves credence and therefore newsworthy and what isn’t. It was the media’s fault for playing the ratings game that the media itself created. You can’t blame Wikileaks for understanding that game.
Wikileaks probably did play the media. The information is probably not that important. So why was it newsworthy? Because the media was lazy.