The Washington Post and The Crackdown On Fake News: Recent Controversy Raises Questions Over The Proposed Crackdown On Alleged “Fake News”

220px-Washington_Post_buildingWe have been discussing the crackdown on “fake news,” including my view that this has become the latest rationale for various countries to rollback on free speech, including most recently top lawyers in Italy. Leaders who have long fought to curtail free speech may have found the perfect vehicle to convince citizens to voluntarily surrender their right to free speech, even celebrate its passing. It is all being done in the name of “truth”, which apparently can only be found on the other side of the criminalization of speech. The debacle at the Washington Post over the false Russian hacking of the U.S. electricity grid highlights the problem with how these governments will choose between those publications deemed criminally false and those deemed merely recklessly unproven. No one is suggesting that the Washington Post would be sanctioned for this story, though some see a deeper failure in how the Post handled the controversy. I am actually sympathetic with the error, which can happen with the best of journalists. In today’s fast pace toward publications, errors can occur despite efforts to confirm sources and facts. My interest in how to distinguish between the Posts and other publications or sites. In the last few weeks, the suggestion is that governments should move against publications or sites that they deem peddlers of false news. The incident with the Post raises the question how and when government would use this new power.

The Post sparked a national outcry over its article entitled “Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, U.S. officials say.” Juliet Eilperin and Adam Entous reported that “A code associated with the Russian hacking operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe by the Obama administration has been detected within the system of a Vermont utility, according to U.S. officials” and continued “While the Russians did not actively use the code to disrupt operations of the utility, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss a security matter, the penetration of the nation’s electrical grid is significant because it represents a potentially serious vulnerability.”

That account was eventually challenged by experts. The utility company issued a formal statement an hour and a half after the Post’s publication, stating “We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop not connected to our organization’s grid systems. We took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alerted federal officials of this finding.”

The Post ran a correction a few hours later stating:

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. electric grid. Authorities say there is no indication of that so far. The computer at Burlington Electric that was hacked was not attached to the grid.

The body of the article was changed to include a statement that “Burlington Electric said in a statement that the company detected a malware code used in the Grizzly Steppe operation in a laptop that was not connected to the organization’s grid systems. The firm said it took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alert federal authorities.”

The error has caused a stir, particularly on conservative sites. Yet, much of the article was true. Such errors can occur even with responsible journalists and bloggers. It was a mistake. However, should the Post be punished under proposed “fake news” laws? If not, would the standard be different for a blog? The lack of any real standard reveals these efforts as a new means toward an old ends: to regulate and control speech.

117 thoughts on “The Washington Post and The Crackdown On Fake News: Recent Controversy Raises Questions Over The Proposed Crackdown On Alleged “Fake News””

  1. “It was a mistake.”

    I think you’re being naive. This is a cold war, and they are fighting.

  2. This story provides an interesting insight into a govt. determining what “news” is news or newz. “In what may be the latest crackdown on “fake news”, but is likely just China stifling even more contrarian voices, overnight Apple removed the New York Times English- and Chinese-language news apps from its iTunes store in China as a result of a “request” from the local authorities, the companies said separately on Thursday. The apps, which the newspaper said were removed on Dec. 23, are the latest Western services to fall foul of Chinese authorities, whose other scalps include Apple’s own iBooks and iTunes Movies stores which have been blocked since April.”

    In the wikileaks e-mails we have actual evidence of the MSM colluding with one particular candidate’s campaign. Clinton’s people wrote their stories, read them to make certain they were acceptable before they were published and had reporters pulled off the air and change their talking points during a live show. This isn’t speculation. It’s fact. That’s as fake as it gets.

    I agree with others who stated that WaPo had access to actual evidence before they published the story and it was published without fact checking during a time of ponied up war drumming against Russia in the MSM. This is not excusable.

    The govt. should not abridge freedom of the press. Even if they had the real motive of helping a populace who was too stupid to make any evaluation for themselves (which is basically their argument), I don’t want their “help”. They are proven liars and can in no way be trusted to present factual evidence on any matter. They need to be challenged by those who will dig into the facts and present those insights to a public who is capable of determining who is lying and who is presenting facts.

    I do not consent.

    1. Thanks for the suggested reading. Another book popped up as I was having a look: A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age, by Daniel J. Levitin. I like the term “infoliteracy” from the Amazon review:

      “Infoliteracy means understanding that there are hierarchies of source quality and bias that variously distort our information feeds via every media channel, including social media. We may expect newspapers, bloggers, the government, and Wikipedia to be factually and logically correct, but they so often aren’t. We need to think critically about the words and numbers we encounter if we want to be successful at work, at play, and in making the most of our lives. This means checking the plausibility and reasoning—not passively accepting information, repeating it, and making decisions based on it.”

  3. Call them all fake news. Let them see how the shoe fits.
    “CNN won’t report on the scandalous content and criminal behavior in the Wikileaks Podesta emails.

    And they don’t want you to read the damning emails either.
    Chris Cuomo told viewers the CNN cranks will read the emails for them and report out what’s on them.

    Cuomo: Remember, it’s illegal to possess these stolen documents. It’s different for the media. So everything you learn about this you are learning from us.”-Jim Holt:Gateway pundit.

    “Is it ok if we read them, if our server is in our basement?”(GP)
    Yea right, “All the news that fit to print”.

  4. The newspapers have always placed sales ahead of details. Recently the Times printed a story about the US trying to stay out of WW1 and the death toll rose from 53,000+/- to 116,000 +/-. The reporter even solidified his foolish mistake by stating that it was more than twice as many as in 20 years of Vietnam. Most newspapers are rags that easily absorb shoddy reporting in order to grab attention. The real problem is that the vast majority of readers don’t go beyond the shock and awe routine. Most readers form opinions and then reinforce them by reading only what fortifies their opinion. In school we had to debate our opponent’s point of view from both sides, for and against. Perhaps the right to vote is thrown away on too many undeserving. Perhaps proof of citizenship, understanding of the political structure, and above all in depth understanding of the details should be the prerequisites of the right to vote. If anything argues this it is the campaign and win by DDT. There has never before been so mindless a campaign based on such superficialities and lies. Instead of plucking those heartland strings with stubby little fingers perhaps some intelligent pointing out of the realities of the issues should be required.

    1. One might also suggest Trump ran a brilliant campaign that defeated Clinton’s billion dollar subpar disaster of a campaign, the MSM/Democrat collusion, and Obama begging his peeps to get out and vote for Hillary because HE and HIS legacy were on the line. And they didn’t. So now Obama and Clinton are using Russia to get back at Trump. They are literally war-mongering with Russia right now just to eff up Trump’s incoming administration as much as they can. It’s personal and political payback by Obama and Clinton and it’s obvious. Where’s the evidence? We haven’t see it yet. Who benefits from this claim? Obama has a history of telling blatant bold lies to the American people but we’re not allowed to say that because then we will be called racist. Do you really believe Obama cares if the entire country withers and dies? He doesn’t. But then you probably believe the lie being circulated in the media that Obama ran a scandal-free administration for eight years.

    2. As Tom Clancy wrote in one book, “Why should I trust you. “You are a reporter.” To which one of reporters said, “What’s he talkinig about?” and the other asked himself, “Has our profession really fallen that low?” Personally I don’t know the answer. I haven’t read one of those rags or watched any of the lame stream broadcasts in over two decades. What for?

    3. Oh yes. the first war of the then new Progressive movement which kicked off the Century of Socialist Supremcy Wars. Followed by WWII, Korea, Vietnam, just to name the biggies of the War Monger Party.. When will they ever learn? Nov 8th 2016 to be exact. I hope.

  5. Paul Harvey would give, “The rest of the story.” All these fake news stories in the WaPo are really Bezos v Trump. And, the maxim, “Don’t pick fights w/ people who buy ink by the barrel” has become archaic.

    1. And should the Trump regime try to crack down on WAPO and its reporters, Bezos can always relocate his businesses to another country.

      1. If yiou are talking about the one who owns Amazon the ‘other countries’ already number nine and still growing.

  6. WaPo got caught with their fingers in the cookie jar. They made the assertion, which was dead wrong and then tried to cover for themselves when they were exposed by the hometown paper. The problem that WaPo has is that Drudge has better connections than they do.

    BTW, did WaPo report the Denial of Service Attack on Drudge while Obama was announcing his response to the Russians? It was probably done by OUR government. Think of how powerful a voice you have to be that your own government shuts you down for 90 minutes.

  7. Fake news & false accusations. 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics bombing.

    Security guard Richard Jewell discovered the bag and alerted Georgia Bureau of Investigation officers. Jewell and other security guards began clearing the immediate area so that a bomb squad could investigate the suspicious package. The bomb detonated before all spectators could leave the area.

    The media, particularly the Atlanta newspaper, the Atlanta-based CNN, CBS and NBC (which was broadcasting the Olympics) were quick to publish the police suspicions. The Richard Jewell story presented the media with an irresistible “read” – the tale of a hero-turned-suspect in the bombing at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. The case raises major issues about the relations between the press and government sources. We focus on two related issues: Given that police can make mistakes, what level of proof and sourcing is required to say a story is verified? And do journalists have a responsibility to balance the public’s right to know with the presumption of innocence?

    1. Personally I’m waiting until the Patriot Act rules are put into action with media etc. as the targets. Those rules are not defined as to their meanings and there are no limitations. All it says is ‘suspicion of terrorism’ or ‘suspicion of supporting terrorism.’ To many people supporting Hillary Clinton would be enough to satisfy those requirements and take a few college professors along with the fake news purveryors.

      Most fail to realze that a Patriot Act arrest means no Miranda Escobedo Warnings, No Attorney no Judge nor jury, and no appeal. Like the nuclear option fine when your party is in control but now….there are no protections for the left and they can learn to live in fear just like decent people have had to do. Last version passed in Congress with an 85 to 15 approval vote of the Senate on Dec 31st 2015 extending and expanding those rules and guidelines.’ Like the Draft just in plae, ready, and waiting.

      Now….can anyone tell which geographical portions of the USA are exempt from the Bill of Rights and other Constitutional protections? Wow you can’t? Spetember 2015 if I remember correctly subject of a discussion on this very forum between our host and childhood friend currently a major screen actor John Cusack.

      For those who can’t bother it’s all lands within 100 miles of any border or coastline.

      1. The bill passed on that day was the Defense Authorization Act it was one of the buried ‘earmarks’. Mr. Cusack did not let it go un-noticed. One of those don’t read it until you vote on it bills thanks to Comrade Pelosi-llyni.

    2. Excellent topic selection. I’ve never seen anytHong like 80 responses before. CONGRATS PROFESSOR !!!

  8. A news reporting business is different from a blog like this blog or other blogs. A true news reporting entity is obligated to have trained “reporters”. Reporters are becomng fewer and farther between. The result is probably the reason this mis mash of so called information got repeated and “reported” in the Washington Post. It takes a real doctor to issue a prescription for oxycotin. It should take a real reporter to print or publish so called “news”. The duty of the reporter is to investigate a bit and decipher and perhaps cull the words.

    The Post made error corrections in this case.

    All the news that’s fit to print. That was the brag phrase of the New York Times. How many reporters does the New York Times actually have in Washington DC? Or in Europe? At their own phone desk?

    A friend of mine used to work at the St. Louis Post Dispatch. He is on to a greener pasture. He says that in years past there were 350 journalists in the news rooms. Now there are less than 125 for the whole paper and none are worldwide. I think there are none in our nations capital and the paper relies on this tit for tat.

    The Washington Post is one of the better newspapers in America. They tried to clean up their own act here.

  9. A helpful post although this sentence is troublesome: “I am actually sympathetic with the error, which can happen with the best of journalists.”

    Granted, “mistakes happen,” but the real-time context of this “mistake” includes orchestrated efforts to heat up conflict between two nuclear powers able to destroy Planet Earth. That’s a great deal more than a deadline-driven journalist somehow not checking with the main subject of the story, i.e., the responsible officers at Vermont’s electric company..

  10. I observe that, until WAPO’s blunder, the outcries about “fake news” came from liberal sources in the monopolistic media. By deligitimizing as “fake news” opposing viewpoints which come mostly from alternative sources, the liberal media not only attempts to crush dissent, it also helps preserve its monopoly. Alternative, non-traditional news sources cost mainstream media money. “Fake news” is as much about preserving market share as it is about eliminating dissent.

    1. Well no. It is about pointing out, strongly, those items which are completely fabricated. Some people make a good income via such lies.

      1. The WaPo story using ProporNot listed Zerohedge and TruthDig as “fake news” sites when, really, they have inconvenient perspectives on msm news.

        It isn’t about rooting out goofy stories about the Pope endorsing Trump.

  11. Of course there is no “problem”, it’s just a matter of control. The internet has eroded the media’s grip on the public with regard to providing information. It is absurd to state the media has always poorly served America’s citizens because that would be an outright false statement, as well as inconsistent with the First Amendment (i.e. the Press Clause).

    However, there is no question that in the post-Watergate age media journalists drifted from actual Journalism to media personalities making huge sums of money. By the 1970’s Walter Cronkite was a “star” of immense proportions AND a real journalist. But Cronkite’s salaries (adjusted for inflation, etc.) pale in comparison to what started in the 1990’s. Cronkite was likely making about $1m/yr at the time he retired. About 15 yrs later Katie Couric was paid $15m for the same job. Even accounting for inflation and such Ms. Couric, certainly not a Journalist, was being paid six+ times what CBS paid Walter Cronkite!

    Unfortunately for the media celebrities their positions and status are challenged by the internet on an everyday basis. Their credibility has been horribly challenged & undercut with at least half of America, and their prestige has fallen as “Journalists” even if they retain their celebrityhood.

    What to do, what to do? Easy- punish those making them look bad, challenging their credibility, and gaining too much attention. So when They put out “fake news”, PUNISH them! When We put out fake, uh, erroneous reports, do a quiet correction.

    1. the Media was and is also known as Yellow Journalism and the publishers of Penny Dreadfuls. Do they publish propaganda and twist the information and do people fall for it? “Today only $Nine, Ninety Nine Ninety Nine all cars on the lot must go for under $10,000! Or better yet “Pre Owned. Suckers. Their version of reporters is on a level with those who write the advertising.

  12. Former NASA top scientists recently disclosed that from between 100 to 300 million years ago, a level 2 (we are level 1) advanced civilization was present thru out our galaxy that was either destroyed by multiple cataclysmic events or by interplanetary or intergalactic conflict.

    Closeup views of our own moon reveal multiple remains of glass towers from 3 to 10 miles in height from the moon’s surface as well as the partial remains of glass domes that previously covered communities created by way of intelligent design.

    The surface of Mars has similar structures, the ‘Mounds of Cydonia,’ including the Cydonia Face, pyramids and other structures. Where originally Venus’ cloud cover prevented visual observation of the surface, newer radar-like satellite surveillance devices have allowed the detailed mapping of the surface of Venus, likewise revealing many intelligently designed structures.

    Does Antártica conceal a massive alien UFO base under the continent and have western powers been in a continual state of war with those aliens and if so, as claimed by a number of false news sources and stories how is it even feasible that any research bases and facilities could remain intact. A former Navy Seal friend of mine noted that in his opinion, (and mine as well) the ability to conceal such a multi-decade conflict from credible news sources would be next to impossible. It would possibly add to an overall state of hopelessness that is at least in part driving the previously unheard of levels of especially heroin addiction. It is one thing when The Onion publishes false stories that are designed to either entertain or stimulate discussion about certain subjects, but both print and video ‘news sources’ that carry story after story of allegedly true events like the massive UFO flap over Turkey that were quickly debunked by many members of the international UFO community deserve being exposed for the hoaxes they are.

      1. Except in blatant and perhaps obvious situations, the costs associated with exposing and especially proving a false news scenario by even a mere preponderance of the evidence, would likely be prohibitive for individuals or non-profit groups to bare.

      2. Certainly.. You can fool most of the people all of the time – The proof. How many voted for Hillary thinking the popular vote meant anything means something. – or something. Well. Mother Gumpitis is a hard thing to cure and some can reach into a box of chock lats and pull out a Habanero Chile!

    1. As far as sanctions are concerned, some scenarios may potentially have tort liability for defamation, but for most, exposure of those involved may be all that present law a lows for.

  13. “WaPo corrected the story. Good enough.”

    It is not clear to me that a correction is ‘good enought’.

    Wasn’t accurate information available, almost, from the start – I believe so? And didn’t the local paper get the story right from the very beginning – again I think is correct?

    The Washington Post is beginning to develop a trend of missing important facts that undermine positions taken by their staff. There is this story in which the post missed an important fact that undermines there attack on the ‘Russian’ hackers.

    And only a few days ago I pointed out a WAPO news story regarding the controversy of the Drexel professor. That article took a fairly contemptuous tone toward his critics while leaving out the professors clarification in which he seemed to advocate blacks attacking whites. Surely the professors clarification is relevant in evaluating both the meaning of the professors ‘satire’ and the concern we should have regarding it.

    I think we should all take a skeptical view of what appears in the WAPO till they decide whether they are in the business of printing ‘all the news’ or printing ‘all the news that fits’ their political position.

  14. I really don’t see the problem. The story is verified or it isn’t verified. One or the other. It’s as mastter of morals, values, ethics, and standards. WaPo has none nor does most of those yellow journalism rags. Speed of publications hasn’t changed deadlines are the same and so is the difference between truths and on truths. But then I haven’t bought nor read a newspaper since 1997 nor owned a TV since 1998. Given the miserable performance of WaPo and others this pas election season i see no reason to change. They are far too immoral for even my worldly seasoned expectations. But then did you expect anything else? Just another part of the swamp that needs serious draining. Or just bury them in the swamp. All forms of vegetation need fresh fertilizer.

  15. Normally it would be fine for a newspaper to quickly publish a correction. But the gravity of the story – accusing Russian hackers of attacking the US electrical grid – suggests a carelessness in reporting that is hard to believe. This incident smells funny.

    1. Reporter was excited and careless in his due diligence. Probably won’t do it again.

      1. There was carelessness; there was no ‘due dilligence.’ And it will almost certainly happen again.

      1. Yup. And I believe Mark Rich is likely the DNC leaker. But we pretty much know that murder-mystery will never actually be ‘solved’ don’t we?

  16. WaPo corrected the story. Good enough.

    Stop looking for problems where there aren’t any.

    1. David B. Benson here’s why your comment isn’t just going to be good enough:

      “But while these debacles are embarrassing for the paper, they are also richly rewarding. That’s because journalists — including those at the Post — aggressively hype and promote the original, sensationalistic false stories, ensuring that they go viral, generating massive traffic for the Post (the paper’s executive editor, Marty Baron, recently boasted about how profitable the paper has become).”

  17. Allowing the government to decide what is false and what is not is a recipe for disaster. Allowing the government to do both…determine what is false and punish the publications thereof is a guarantee of tyranny.

    1. The government has always advanced their own narrative as the “true” narrative and they believe that it is true because they receive information from people hired to pass “true” information to those in charge. However those lower down on the totem pole tend to pass on whatever advances their own career, (finding reasons to attack Iraq, justification for torture, for example) providing misleading information to those higher up – which may be responsible for a long history of foreign policy fiascos.

      The best part of the Internet is that information is available from millions of different perspectives. Now, if only we could get decisions makers to read rather than listen to those with selfish interests, better decisions might be made.

    2. What about political bias? When MSNBC or Fox News describes a situation with words that are totally slanted toward their perspective, how can they be said to be telling the truth? Many people won’t watch these news stations because the slant of the stories is so steep it is difficult to see what the truth behind the feature at all. What is THEIR truth?

      1. Perhaps, but we would do well to remember that one is never privileged to yell ‘fire’ in a crowded auditorium when there is no fire.

        The founders created a Constitution where any rights not retained by the feds vested in the multiple states with wide variations from state to state, i.e., Virginia is a ‘right to work state,’ which is arguably ‘code’ meaning ‘your ass will work or starve’ state. It’s tax structures favor mamagement and investors over workers and labor, giving Virginia some of the worst laws in the nation for unemployment benefits and workman’s compensation benefits, where right across the river the District of Columbia has some of the best laws in the nation for unemployment benefits and workman’s compensation benefits. In practice residents of both Maryland (which had decent benefits) and DC cross the river to interview with Virginia based companies for contract positions in DC. This means that those workers get lower wages, lower workmen’s compensation benefits and if an employer – employee relationship exist, lower unemployment benefits.

        Just suppose a false news story appeared in the free newspapers at subway and bus stops in especially DC and Maryland editions praising record increases in all kinds of benefits which also ‘guaranteed’ green cards for individuals and their extended families working in Virginia but living out of state.

        What kind of investigations, prosecutions and sanctions should result within the State of Virginia for this patently cruel, false and illegal scam furthered by systematic false news stories?

    3. Easy answer – so far the government is false. For sure anyone who is an incumbent. crosses their fingers when taking the oath of offfice. For the news media it depends on two things Whose in office and is it sweeps week.

  18. You are concerned about disciplining the Washington Post, but how about concern regarding “officials who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss a security matter” who gave obviously false information to Post reporters?

    The problem lies in having reporters who are not reporters at all, but merely stenographers, who pass along whatever has been told to them. Real reporters go into the field and report on events which they have personally observed.

    1. These days propaganists are called reporters and real reporters if any exist are journalists However of interest and this looks like NOT fake news as it’s been mentioned off and on since 2007.

      Note.. This one I caught on Fox but I have seen it elsewhere in the science sections. Sorry not global warming or I would have said possible FAKE news

      It has two do with repetitive burst of mega energy about three million light years away.. Just to keep things in balance subjectivists disregard serious students of reality give it a look.

      1. Video reads ‘error — source not supported.

        OUCH There go those alien RF burst. Such burst, since multiple, could be from weapons.

          1. It is the Seattle City Council, as usual, that is putting their own political agendas ahead of the best interests of the average Seattle resident. Rather than comply with federal law, they have declared once again that they are their own little kingdom that is exempt from state or federal law and deny their citizens of millions of dollars in benefits. Like it or not, a city is subordinate to the State or the Federal government. Immigration policy is not of the purview of local jurisdictions and it is entirely a federal jurisdiction. But since Seattle’s electorate keeps these fools in office they can expect to suffer whatever benefits these SJW politicians unleash upon them.

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