Letter From the Editors: Jan. 1 - 15, 2017

Author: Laurence Bogoslaw

Ringing in the New Year With ‘Fake News’

The incoming US executive team took a swing at the reputation of the American press during their first press conference of the year, which took place Jan. 11. First, vice-president-elect Mike Pence used the phrase "fake news" to describe a recently published report on alleged ties between Donald Trump and Russian President Putin. Later in the conference, Trump himself interrupted a CNN journalist’s question by saying he didn’t want to speak to media outlets that publish "fake news."

The same week, another American institution - the intelligence community - had its reputation impugned, this time by Russian commentators. The Russian press had a field day with a controversial joint report by the NSA, FBI and CIA that claimed the Russian government had influenced the US presidential election (including by hacking the Democratic National Committee’s e-mail servers). Yulia Latynina knocked down the intelligence agencies’ logic with one blow: "When the American [director of national intelligence] tells me that the Kremlin wanted to influence the election and that it celebrated Trump’s victory, I completely agree. But when the DNI tells me that the Kremlin influenced the election, then you know what? There’s a big difference between wanting and doing."

Political analyst Vladimir Bruter, writing in Izvestia, took a more meticulous approach, identifying five "fake premises" that underlie the report’s conclusions (for example, that Russia has a media presence in the US significant enough to sway domestic politics). However, Bruter does his profession a disservice by overstating the case: "[T]he NSA, the largest US intelligence service, essentially disagreed with the report’s contention that ‘Putin and the Russian government aspired to help president-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting [former] secretary [of state] Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.’ " If we look at the actual report, it reads: "All three agencies agree with this judgment. ...

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