Media columnist Jim Rutenberg’s latest New York Times column provided the odd image of a reporter regretting that his colleagues actually covered news, under the neutral headline “Germans Covering Election Await a Trove of Stolen Files.”
The Times in 2006 proudly used leaks to cripple anti-terrorist programs put in place by Republican presidents, as well as secret diplomatic cables via the stolen Wikileaks trove. A December 2010 article in the paper’s style magazine T treated the anti-American oddball Julian Assange and his damaging, illegal Wikileaks as a Christmas gift, under the galling title “The Gift of Information."
But publication of the hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee (made easy by some incompetent Democratic web security) may have hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances against Donald Trump, so it’s suddenly time to break out the sackcloth and ashes and apologize for actually covering the news.
Rutenberg was in Berlin on the eve of a national campaign and filed this mea culpa on behalf of his media colleagues towards the Clinton campaign on Monday:
To come here as an American on the eve of Germany’s next national political campaign is to go back in time to our own recent past, before the hacks and the (Wiki)leaks led to the paralyzing debate over whether Russia intervened in our presidential election.
I arrived in this idyllic, rational and not completely batty world capital (a strange sight to these American eyes) the week before last to find the country’s political world on tenterhooks, waiting for disruptive leaks but not knowing when or whether they might come.
A group of hackers -- “not us,” say the Russians; “yeah, you,” say the Germans -- was sitting on a huge trove of political secrets gathered over the past couple of years.
None of the data has seen the light of day -- yet. But as the German newspaper Die Zeit reported, “unknown persons” have registered a new site called btleaks.com.
Whatever the case, if the data does leak, Germany will face a test like the one America faced last fall. More specifically, the German media will face a test like the one the American media did.
I had to wonder: Will it do better than we did? And should we have done better in the first place?
In other words: Isn’t it a shame that the press reported on the leaks from the Democratic National Committee that might have hurt Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump? Rutenberg, rote an infamous front-page column in August 2016 suggesting candidate Trump (by then the Republican nominee) was a sufficient danger to require that the mainstream media drop its objectivity and become avowedly oppositional.
The Clinton campaign, its supporters and even some in the media itself have complained since last summer that American news organizations were all too ready to make themselves the weapons of a hostile foreign power, by happily reprinting emails from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton adviser John Podesta, which intelligence officials say were the fruit of Russian hacking. The charge has taken on still more potency with the investigations into whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. (They say they didn’t; Russia denies involvement in the hacks.)
Even when the Times reported on the damaging details from the DNC, Rutenberg made clear the reluctance.
Then again, United States intelligence officials suspected Russian involvement in the hacking early on. At the time, though, editors at major media outlets -- including this one -- said that if the contents of the emails were newsworthy, they had no choice but to report them.
It’s no surprise that the Hillary campaign disapproves. It’s also no surprise than Rutenberg took their sour grapes argument seriously.
Hillary Clinton’s aides argue that they were covered excessively. The much bigger story, they say, was that the emails were allegedly the fruit of a Russian attempt to undermine the American political process.
“There were not commensurate journalistic resources committed to investigating the chain of custody of the hacked materials compared with the easy task of just regurgitating what was in them,” Brian Fallon, Mrs. Clinton’s former press secretary, told me over the phone.
Sensitive to charges of excuse-making, Mr. Fallon added: “I’m not saying the media is solely to blame. The Clinton campaign made plenty of mistakes.”....
Clinton’s old press secretary graciously admitted there was room for the media to report unflattering things about Democrats, but only up to a point of his choosing.
Mr. Fallon acknowledged that there had been some newsworthy material in the stolen emails. If there hadn’t been, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, would not have had to resign (over emails showing she favored Mrs. Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the primary season), and CNN would not have broken its contributors’ contract with Ms. Wasserman-Schultz’s interim successor, Donna Brazile (over emails showing she shared with the Clinton campaign a question proposed for a CNN/TVOne candidates’ town hall-style forum).
Mr. Fallon directed his criticism at less consequential tidbits, like gossipy quips captured in the email exchanges of Mr. Podesta and the prominent Clinton supporter Neera Tanden. They fed a stream of blog items and social media posts, he said, that allowed “the Russians to manipulate the news media’s attention.”
Rutenberg laughably blamed the press for trying to drive traffic with the leaked DNC details (after a campaign that consisted of the media covering Trump 24/7 for that exact same reason).
They also fed the American media’s voracious appetite for bite-size, traffic-driving tidbits that are the opiates of the nation’s new information addiction.
If history, and what I know about reporters everywhere, are a guide, they will publish. That, after all, is the imperative of a free press. But getting the story right means getting the whole story, including when the leaks are part of a suspected state action aimed at swaying opinion.
Strange then, that the Times had no similar scruples about revealing classified documents from Wikileaks -- a rogue action aimed at swaying opinion -- or from the Swift banking program during the George W. Bush administration, which helped track terrorist funding by giving counterterrorism officials access to international financial records.