Major Ethics Alarm: American Journalism Is Crumbling Before Our Eyes [Post Script: Glenn Greenwald]


Muckraking journalist Glenn Greenwald provided excellent background and searing commentary today on this issue, in his essay, “WashPost Is Richly Rewarded for False News About Russia Threat While Public Is Deceived.” Read it, please.

Some highlights:

In the past six weeks, the Washington Post published two blockbuster stories about the Russian threat that went viral: one on how Russia is behind a massive explosion of “fake news,” the other on how it invaded the U.S. electric grid. Both articles were fundamentally false. Each now bears a humiliating editor’s note grudgingly acknowledging that the core claims of the story were fiction: The first note was posted a full two weeks later to the top of the original article; the other was buried the following day at the bottom.

The second story on the electric grid turned out to be far worse than I realized when I wrote about it on Saturday, when it became clear that there was no “penetration of the U.S. electricity grid” as the Post had claimed. In addition to the editor’s note, the Russia-hacked-our-electric-grid story now has a full-scale retraction in the form of a separate article admitting that “the incident is not linked to any Russian government effort to target or hack the utility” and there may not even have been malware at all on this laptop….


After spreading the falsehoods far and wide, raising fear levels and manipulating U.S. political discourse in the process (both Russia stories were widely hyped on cable news), journalists who spread the false claims subsequently note the retraction or corrections only in the most muted way possible, and often not at all. As a result, only a tiny fraction of people who were exposed to the original false story end up learning of the retractions.


Whether the Post’s false stories here can be distinguished from what is commonly called “Fake News” is, at this point, a semantic dispute, particularly since “Fake News” has no cogent definition. Defenders of Fake News as a distinct category typically emphasize intent in order to differentiate it from bad journalism. That’s really just a way of defining Fake News so as to make it definitionally impossible for mainstream media outlets like the Post ever to be guilty of it (much the way terrorism is defined to ensure that the U.S. government and its allies cannot, by definition, ever commit it).


But what was the Post’s motive in publishing two false stories about Russia that, very predictably, generated massive attention, traffic, and political impact? Was it ideological and political — namely, devotion to the D.C. agenda of elevating Russia into a grave threat to U.S. security? Was it to please its audience — knowing that its readers, in the wake of Trump’s victory, want to be fed stories about Russian treachery? Was it access and source servitude — proving it will serve as a loyal and uncritical repository for any propaganda intelligence officials want disseminated? Was it profit — to generate revenue through sensationalistic click-bait headlines with a reckless disregard to whether its stories are true? In an institution as large as the Post, with numerous reporters and editors participating in these stories, it’s impossible to identify any one motive as definitive.


The most ironic aspect of all this is that it is mainstream journalists — the very people who have become obsessed with the crusade against Fake News — who play the key role in enabling and fueling this dissemination of false stories. They do so not only by uncritically spreading them, but also by taking little or no steps to notify the public of their falsity.


Again, read the whole piece.

The related Ethics Alarms posts

are here

and here…

12 thoughts on “Major Ethics Alarm: American Journalism Is Crumbling Before Our Eyes [Post Script: Glenn Greenwald]

    • It is funny in a schadenfreude way, but mostly it’s terrifying. It leaves everyone without any source to trust for accurate information. Think of all of the places we have out there to look for information and none that can be trusted to be unbiased. Not only that, but should a trustworthy place appear it will only take days for it to be discredited by false news sources. I don’t believe in conspiracy theories generally, but this couldn’t be more perfectly designed if it really had been executed by a conspiracy.

      I find myself trying to decide whose bias is the closest to my own so I can at least see what my “side” believes. The problem is none of the available sources has my same bias.

  1. There are ways to get the truth. It’s obviously not from cbs, or msnbc, or the New York Times but there are other ways if one dares to look. And if there isn’t, the market will create one.

    • Agreed. A jaundiced eye has always been required. I really like Real Clear Politics. I may be deluding myself but I think I can read a lefty story and then a conservative story and then hold my thumb up and close one eye and speculate as to where the truth might possibly be. It’s an effort but necessary.

      Personally, I blame the colleges and universities and their whacko faculties and the schools of journalism and broadcasting. They are virtually one hundred percent lefty.

      • Personally, I blame the colleges and universities and their whacko faculties and the schools of journalism and broadcasting. They are virtually one hundred percent lefty.

        This is a facinating question. I sometimes think I have a glimmer of understanding but then, like a wave, non-understanding sweeps over me. The world is unintelligible again. And terribly noisy.

        It seems fair to say that there are ever-increasing numbers of the ‘masses’ who have been authorized, as it were, to imagine that they have an idea or an opinion that is worth anything. It is true that the colleges and universities share blame, but is it not true that it only became possible for ‘the masses’ to go to college relatively recently? Hasn’t it been said, and might not it be true, that the invasion of Academe by, please excuse me but ‘the unqualified’ has tremendously hurt higher learning? Aldous Huxley must have said that and if not he should have!

        See, I think that one part of the problem has to do with markets and advertising (and it is related to the ‘marketplace of ideas’). Business desires to gain clients and sell products. So it flatters and seduces people. It is really rather wicked what it does. (And I am in essence a Johannine Christian which is a Platonic Christian).

        It tells them all sort of lies about themselves, about what they can do, about what they are worth, about what their thoughts and feelings are worth. It elevates them through lies. It wishes to get as close as possible to them and the ‘persuade’ them to buy something or do something or think something or accept something. It fills them with false notions of the value and relevancy of their sentiments, their desires, their appetites. Since buying is based on impulse, it excites impulse.

        You get the picture. This is the Society that has been created and now surrounds us. Horribly, they rise up in greater power. They’ve been told they ‘move the world’ and they seem to wish to have power and recognition. It has taken a loooonnnggg time. The PR Industry and military propaganda date from the Great War. Essentially, it does not ask for, create or contribute to a responsible, thinking society capable of proper analysis. Quite the opposite. It desires to seduce people away from that insofar as *that* does not produce an impulsive buyer.

        The further dimension of this is philosophical and spiritual. I kid you not! Philosophical realism in a Platonic sense describes a conscious entity within the human frame who is yet AWARE of his position, as it were. The pilot of the Chariot as the story goes. It creates a person who understands themselves as a conscious spirit within a material frame. But that means a person who is very distinct from nature and mere unconscious process. In the best case, such a person is an active, conscious actor in his/her world. This is what proper religion intills in people I think. Just as the unmoved mover moves the world, the conscious entity is a sort of deputy of invisible, soul-power. An unconscious person is, like nature, like the animals and the brutes, a victim of the contingent.

        I cannot say where, exactly, the primary agent is located, but it does seem to me that major centers of power and influence (business and PR) act to seduce people away form being and acting as conscious agents. They are transformed and made, though quite devilish seductions, into children, into babies, into desirous, sentimental, grasping, sensual entities who surrender Being (consciousness, awareness) for Contingency (‘becoming’, mutation, immediate satisfaction, pleasure).

        I don’t know how else to describe it except that they lose a vertical dimension (of the self) for a horizontal dimension in which the immediate and the contingent is made to seem the most real, the most important, and even the only *real* thing. But when seen through a proper Philosophical Realism perspective, it absolutely is NOTwhat is the most important. In fact it is more truthful to say that when you lose that vertical dimension that you lose what provides a real anchor in the contingent world!

  2. I was just watching the Senate hearings on Foreign Cyber-attacks, featuring the Director of the CIA and of NSA. A Republican Senator asked several questions about fake news emanating from Russia. Guess he didn’t get the word. Unfortunately, CIA and NSA both responded as though they knew all about the Russian efforts to promulgate fake news. Have I mentioned how glad I am that they only have a couple of more weeks in office?

  3. Mr. Greenwald’s piece was awesome, as all his recent articles on this topic have been, for which I am very grateful, and you sir also get a huge thank-you, because there just aren’t as many of us actively spreading these accurately written and researched articles, as there are people and outlets spreading the corrupted stories that these pieces seek to address. It’s exactly like Glen points out when he talks about how loudly they proclaim the false narrative in the first place, and then how quietly (if at all) they issue their retractions. The sum total is that Justice is simply not being served. Then add to that, the fact that virtually every political-satire outlet at which I commonly attend, are now finding themselves de-monetized on YouTube, and even having their notifications to their followers of upcoming new material suppressed by Facebook (we have to get our updates by email), and it’s easy to see that the full-court-press against any views, or opinions that differ from the Establishment’s, is in full swing. I honestly knew it would happen. I just never thought I would live to see it.

  4. Hi,

    How would you reply to this? A friend said this to me after I shared this article.

    “The CIA will report that the Russians are behind a ton of fake news that was propagated during the election. Your “ethics” guy has his facts wrong. The retraction is simply that they do not support everything their source says. It is not that the facts are wrong. As for the utility story, the Post did get it wrong but barely. A computer at the utility was hacked but not the actual utility system. This kind of error is not we are talking about when we talk about fake news. An example of fake news is that one that said protesters were being recruited for pay on craigslist.” The guy who wrote the article had zero intention of the story being true. He made it up to get clicks on his site but the Trump campaign ran with it. It is that kind of stuff. The Russians create stories out of whole cloth for the purpose of generating confusion. The Post is a great paper that made a mistake.”

    Then today he posted about the new report released today that confirms his views that Russia did hack and plan to interfere. (from the Post again)

    Does this change what you wrote? (the above article?)

    Thank you in advance for your replies. I share your site all the time! (my right leaning friends have liked you far more than the left… none of them have liked you… so interesting as I see you as an “equal opportunity offender” (for those who get butt hurt when someone sees things differently or says they are wrong)

    Thanks Jack

    • To the shock of anyone who read it, the report again just says what the CIA believes. There is no There is zero evidence tying the Russian government to the generic, out-of-date malware that was used to hack the DNC’s and Podesta’s email systems. Ask your friend to cite where there is evidence of Russian hacks there. Then ask why he thinks the conclusions that anti-fracking efforts and Occupy Wall Street protests were seeded by Russia. Now have your friend read Greenwald’s piece. The Post is seeking clicks too, and at the expense of accuracy and reliability.

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