Careful with That Fake News

Friday’s news about Don Jr.’s email was better than I realized. I thought CNN just misunderstood the purpose of the email. It’s more than that.

They actually understood the purpose, but they thought the date on the email was Sept. 4, 2016, which would have been 9 days before Wikileaks released the same info to the public. (More below on why that wouldn’t matter anyway.) The true date on the email was 9/14, the day after Wikileaks’ public release. What’s interesting is that the copy of the email that they had was apparently the same one I posted, which only shows the body, not the headers including the date. So someone told them the date was 9/4. In fact, CNN claims they verified the info with multiple sources. They won’t say more than that.

So someone who had access to the emails leaked the body of the email to CNN and said, “Hey, he got this on 9/4, check it out.” Then they contacted at least one more source (possibly on the same committee) who confirmed that was correct. Then they went on air with it and tweeted it out like it was a smoking gun, other media picked it up and retweeted it repeatedly, and it was everywhere within minutes. Now, according to MSNBC, they also confirmed the info with multiple sources. It seems likely they’re all sharing the same sources — nothing wrong with that, necessarily, except that if one of them gets duped, they all do.

Several hours later, they had to admit they were wrong. But why were they wrong? If they didn’t simply make up the date — and that would be too stupid even for them — their sources gave them the wrong date. Did multiple sources actually read it wrong? Or did someone feed them bad info? Are they lying about having multiple sources, since the last person to run with a single source is the guy serving an unpaid 4-week suspension at ABC?

Say you have a committee, and you think you have a leaker among the members. One way to find the leak is to intentionally release bad info, but give everyone a different version. So let’s say you tell the committee about this email, and the reports you pass out to the members are all identical except that they have different dates. When the leak comes out with 9/4 as the date, you know which one leaked it.

That’s one way. If it was really confirmed by multiple sources, you’d have to do something more sophisticated. But that’s the sort of thing that’s going on in the information war we’re in. CNN won’t name their sources, of course, because they don’t want to burn whoever it is, in case they haven’t been caught yet. Interesting stuff.

Why does this matter? Because the initial false reports go out to millions of people. The retractions — when they make one at all — do not. So there are millions of people who only hear the first Fake News report, and never hear when it’s taken back or corrected. It’s no wonder there are a bunch of people who think impeachment is right around the corner. Gaslighting large sectors of the public is a bad thing. The other reason it matters is that, as I’m coming to understand it, holders of broadcast licenses are expected to do their best to be truthful in what they present as “news.” They can put whatever they want under the “opinion” banner, but they’re expected to do due diligence on news. Mistakes are inevitable and understandable, but should be retracted (not deleted, by the way, which they like to do when tweets become embarassing. A retraction leaves the original in place and explains what was wrong). Flat-out lies, or too many mistakes through not even trying to be truthful, are a problem.

A note on Wikileaks: Wikileaks is no more an arm of Russian intelligence than my dog is. That’s just become a catch-all for the establishment: everyone they hate is working for the Russians. Julian Assange is an Australian computer/Internet guy like me (though more skilled) who had a brilliant idea around 2005: a web site where people who wanted to be whistleblowers but were too afraid to go public on their own could safely and securely get the info to someone who could handle it for them. That’s all it is. If you want to blow the whistle on someone, and you’re afraid you’ll end up in a river tied to a concrete block, contact Wikileaks, and they’ll help you get set up to transmit the data to them in a way that keeps you safe. Then they release the data, or if there are legal implications, they hang onto it until those can be worked out. Everything is keyed so the original source can always authenticate it (or prove if it’s been tampered with), and Wikileaks can prove their copy hasn’t changed.

So if Wikileaks did send Don Jr. some info before they released it to the public, there wouldn’t be anything illegal about it. It would just mean someone at Wikileaks wanted to give him a peek. The media could scream and call it a huge scandal (as they did Friday), but there wouldn’t be anything to accuse anyone of.

The CIA hates Wikileaks, for the obvious reason that Wikileaks has embarassed it by releasing documents from CIA whistleblowers. Remember what I said a few weeks ago: the Age of Secrets is over. The CIA runs on secrets (and drugs, but especially secrets). Wikileaks is a direct threat to them — but not just Wikileaks itself, the whole idea of citizens coming forward and exposing corruption at a higher rate all the time. So when someone says Wikileaks is Russian or calls them terrorists, that person is simply parroting a lie from the CIA.