Untrustworthy information isn’t just about fake news, the media’s topic du jour. There’s another equally insidious trend in today’s media.
It was highlighted in a recent New York Times opinion piece contending that Facebook shouldn’t be expected to fact-check news posts.
“What those demanding that Facebook accept “responsibility” for becoming the dominant news aggregator of our time seem to be overlooking is that there’s a big difference between the editorial power that individual news organizations wield and that which Facebook could,” wrote a woman named Jessica Lessin, identified as the founder and chief executive of The Information, a technology news site. “Such editorial power in Facebook’s hands would be unprecedented and dangerous.”
Lessin noted in her piece that her husband worked at Facebook “for a brief period.” That’s it.
But the New York Times’ Public Editor, Liz Spayd, disclosed on Nov. 30 that, in fact, Lessin and her husband, Sam, have pretty damn close ties to Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive officer.
Not only have Sam Lessin and Zuckerberg been friends since they both attended Harvard, Spayd reported, but Sam introduced Zuckerberg to investors when he was starting Facebook. In addition, in 2010, Facebook acquired a file-sharing site, Drop.io, that Sam had founded and made Sam a Facebook vice president overseeing product. Zuckerberg was even a guest at the Lessing’s wedding.
Spayd ripped the Times for not disclosing to readers the Lessins’ ties to Facebook, particularly because Jessica Lessin had vigorously defended the company.
The problem is this is not the only case of the media’s failure to disclose relevant information on somebody expressing an opinion.
On Oct. 28, 2016, CBS News Tonight featured a comment by a Matthew Miller condemning FBI Director James Comey for reopening the Clinton email investigation. CBS noted only that Miller had been a spokesman for the Department of Justice.
That same day, Politico reported that Miller had gone on a 14-post spree on Twitter blasting Comey and said Comey’s letter to Congress announcing the review of more evidence in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server constituted “…an inappropriate disclosure.”
Politico also identified Miller only as “a former director of the Justice Department’s office of public affairs.”
Salon jumped on the bandwagon, too, citing a Miller tweet, “FBI is undoubtedly investigating links between the Russian hack, Manafort, & the Trump campaign”. Salon also identified Miller as “Former Department of Justice spokesman…”.
The next day, the Washington Post ran a lengthy opinion piece by Miller titled “James Comey fails to follow Justice Department rules yet again.” Miller blasted Comey, saying his action “…was yet another troubling violation of long-standing Justice Department rules or precedent, conduct that raises serious questions about his judgment and ability to serve as the nation’s chief investigative official.”
In this case, the opinion piece identified Miller only as director of the Justice Department’s public affairs office from 2009 to 2011.
In both cases, there was a glaring omission. For full transparency, CBS and the Washington Post should have pointed out that Miller was hardly an unbiased observer.
Not only has Miller served as communications director for the House Democratic Caucus, but he held the same position at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee under Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who was elected Senate minority leader on Nov. 16, 2016, making him the highest ranking Democrat in the U.S.
Before working for Schumer, Miller was communications director for the successful 2006 Senate campaign of Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).
Don’t you think it would be instructive to know all this before reading Matthew Miller’s opinions?
In other words, untrustworthy news isn’t just about fake news, the media’s topic du jour.
Readers shouldn’t have to research a writer’s background on their own, as I had to do to evaluate Matthew’s credibility, because of the media’s lack of candor. But too often, media cast aside their responsibility to be forthcoming, sometimes I think deliberately, to obscure their biases.
In the end, this is all about the critical importance of the media telling what radio broadcaster Paul Harvey called ‘the rest of the story’ ”.