MediaFail: The Sony Hack, North Korea and Tales Swallowed Whole

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Russ Baker

Russ Baker

Folks, it is not only a new year, it’s “Morning Again in America,” as Ronald Reagan’s campaign so disingenuously claimed. Let’s reclaim that term for truth-seekers, because why let the liars own the language?

The reason I say it is Morning Again is that we start the new year with at least one hopeful sign: the growing skepticism toward government propaganda by some serious people with widely accessible platforms. That skepticism has been directed at Washington’s instantaneous tagging of North Korea as a world-class cyber threat, long before anything of the sort could be established with any degree of certainty.

Since the first moment of the announced “North Korean attack” on Sony, our alarm bells were going off. Of course, the New York Times and Washington Post took the lazy way out, quoting unnamed officials asserting that they knew it was North Korea behind the cyberattack, without any evidence at all. Apparently, they couldn’t even do the right thing and acknowledge that we should be highly skeptical of these claims—because that would immediately raise questions of why they were headlining them.

And of course everyone ran President Obama’s Dec. 19 press conference comments that “We can confirm that North Korea engaged in this attack.” And then the typically aggressive move, dripping with manipulative rhetoric: “We will respond. . . . We cannot have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States.” The public response, made on Jan. 2, was a new round of economic sanctions—a move that guarantees a story, whether or not the new financial restrictions will have any effect.

A number of journalists and cyber-specialists were out early advising caution in the rush to judgment, based largely on technical considerations and the range of possible culprits. (Glenn Greenwald has just published a good summary of the coverage, both the disappointing and the encouraging.)

My own thoughts were more along the lines of “been there, seen that”—a long history of the U.S. government falsifying allegedly belligerent acts in order to advance some stated agenda.

Today, we still don’t know who hacked Sony, or why.

But the New York Times did finally catch up, running a short but sober piece by a fairly new reporter, raising the same doubts that others had earlier. It’s interesting that the paper’s original buy-in to the propaganda was co-authored by an old Times Washington hand, David Sanger, and a newbie, Nicole Perlroth, but its corrective was a sole byline of Perlroth, a younger, fairly recent addition to the Times staff based in the “new media” capital of San Francisco. And then, earlier this week, the Times Public Editor (ombudsman) took the paper to the woodshed for its handling of the story, especially its overuse of anonymous sources, noting that “there’s little skepticism in this article.”

Truthmongers

Anyone who reads this site knows that it is principally about being skeptical of what we are being told—and pressured to accept without further inquiry—by those who claim to serve the public interest.

So we’re thrilled to see this rising tide of skepticism. One thing that distinguishes our site is that we go further, and look at the bigger picture. If the large news organizations are willing to be used in such a fashion, what does that tell us about how journalism must be reformed? More importantly, if the government is willing to lie to us, what does that tell us about the government itself—and about whether it is really the people, as in a democracy, guiding its leaders, or someone else?

That latter point is what makes everyone nervous, even those who are constantly expressing doubt on their respective platforms about government pronouncements. Because anyone who asks the “big questions” has traditionally been marginalized as a “conspiracist” or nut.

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But with growing evidence that we cannot trust what we are being told, perhaps a new moniker would be appropriate. How about: “truthmonger”?

And how about all those brave skeptics taking on something really problematical—and really risky—like the Boston Marathon Bombing, where virtually no one has stepped out of line from the mandated narrative?

Contrast this lock-step approach with the blogosphere’s response to the claim that North Korea was responsible for the Sony hack. For example, security blogger Bruce Schneier wrote:

I am deeply skeptical of the FBI’s announcement on Friday that North Korea was behind last month’s Sony hack. The agency’s evidence is tenuous, and I have a hard time believing it. But I also have trouble believing that the U.S. government would make the accusation this formally if officials didn’t believe it.

Schneier is a cyber guy, and a decent one at that, but when will comparable people take a hard look at the government’s much more aggressive propaganda campaign to hype the evidence in the Boston Marathon bombing? In both the Korean story and the Boston one, the authorities have made all kinds of statements about what happened and why, while refusing to back them up with proof.

As the estimable Greenwald wrote, “Coverage of the episode was largely driven by the long-standing, central tenet of the establishment U.S. media: government assertions are to be treated as Truth.”

Of course, all publications, including Greenwald’s, pick their battles. Some truthmongering campaigns, it seems, are riskier than others.

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