Saturday, April 8, 2017

Intelligence and Fake News

In the first week of March, 2017, President Trump authored a tweet asserting that the Obama team had “wiretapped” Trump Tower. No proof was provided at that time. Two weeks later, Judge Andrew Napolitano on Fox News reported that British intelligence had been employed by the Obama team to do the deed.

“Sources have told Fox News that the British foreign surveillance service, the Government Communications Headquarters, known as GCHQ, most likely provided Obama with transcripts of Trump's calls. The NSA has given GCHQ full 24/7 access to its computers, so GCHQ -- a foreign intelligence agency that, like the NSA, operates outside our constitutional norms -- has the digital versions of all electronic communications made in America in 2016, including Trump's. So by bypassing all American intelligence services, Obama would have had access to what he wanted with no Obama administration fingerprints.” From Judge Napolitano’s blog post of March 16, 2017.

This “news” found its way to Press Secretary Seam Spicer, and it was credible enough to him to refer to it during a press conference. President Trump also referred to it. Then a spokesperson from British intelligence denied the assertion.

“Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct 'wire tapping' against the then President Elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.” Posted on the Fox News Opinion site.

Fox News discovered that there was no way to verify Napolitano’s assertion.

"Fox News cannot confirm Judge [Andrew] Napolitano's commentary. Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now-president of the United States was surveilled at any time, in any way." Shep Smith of Fox News as quoted in an article from Business Insider

Napolitano originally wrote “Sources have told Fox News…” It seems apparent now that those sources had only been in touch with Napolitano. Fox News suspended him for ten days, and then they put him back on the air. Although Fox has not been able to independently verify the information, Napolitano stands by it.  

Judge Napolitano was given information by people he trusted and continues to trust. He distributed the information and it is still up on his blog as well as on Fox’s Opinion section. HJis fans like him and trust him. They have shared the information with people in their circles of friends.

In the weeks following, it has been reported that members of Trump’s transition team were indeed surveilled. The details are coming out a little bet at a time. However, nothing has come out implicating British intelligence.

News organizations are responsible for their content, as Buzzfeed found out with the infamous Russian dossier they posted. Thus far, the big stories anticipated in the wake of the release of the dossier have not materialized. In fact, a Russian businessman named Aleksej Gubarev, whose name was in the dossier, is now suing for defamation.

Trust is the key to spreading fake news. News organizations and news consumers alike should  be careful about what they pass along. When people spread fake news, they’re part of the problem.

Scratching beneath the surface

Editors and journalism professors lament the rise of fake news and encourage consumers of news to beware of it. They say people should dig deeper and scratch beneath the surface of the news they consume. I’ve done that for this post and I’ve provided links to related stories for people who want to know more.

Time is one commodity in very short supply for most people. It takes time to find stories, read them, and figure out which ones are worthwhile and which ones are worthless. It would be lovely if more people had time to dig deeper, learn more about stories, and come to more informed conclusions than they can from reading headlines or watching the news.

However, most consumers of news simply don’t have time for that. They have jobs to go to and families to take care of. Consuming news that caters to one’s beliefs is a lot less time-consuming than trying to get to the truth.

And that’s the way it is.

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