Don’t make fun of kids who believe in Santa Claus, there’s grown adults who still believe in the media.
That statement is more sensational than what would usually lead a Concurrent column, but after Friday night’s release of internal documents at Twitter, it feels more understated than overstated.
The Twitter Files were the first of a multi-part series by journalist Matt Taibbi who was working with information given to him from Elon Musk since his purchase of the social media platform for $44 billion earlier this year.
Taibbi’s report, which by his own admission was done after he “agree[d] to certain [unspecified] conditions”, focused almost exclusively on the decision by top Twitter executives (excluding its then-chief executive Jack Dorsey) to suppress the dissemination of the New York Post story regarding Hunter Biden’s laptop.
Criticism of the Twitter Files was immediate, intense and, at times, illogical. It ranged from discrediting Taibbi as a journalist rather than trying to dispute the claims he made to outright blaming him for releasing personal information about people.
Unfortunately, armchair analysis from the Twitterverse is all that’s available to provide context to the story since most traditional media outlets decided not to cover the thread. There’s one glaring omission in the logic behind those who debate the significance of the revealed information that those who try to state how monumental the reveal was also can’t seem to express.
Most analysis has mused that the reveal was just an inside look at what it’s like to make a decision on whether to moderate certain content or not. This misses the point.
The point that isn’t expressed well is that Twitter executives were fabricating a reason to suppress a story, in this case under the “hacked materials” policy, for the sole reason of knowing the story would be potentially damaging to a preferred candidate’s electoral chances.
It’s this motivation that is missing from so many arguments.
It was never a content moderation debate. It was recognition that a story had to be blocked before it became potentially harmful, not to the public as the “hacked materials” policy claimed, but to a political ally. Thus, the bogus reasoning created to justify it.
There’s a chance you might be rejecting my characterization of the hacked materials policy as bogus. I wasn’t the only one doing so however. Progressive Democrat Congressman Ro Khanna, who represents most of Silicon Valley, laid out the argument why the hacked materials shouldn’t apply because journalists shouldn’t be held responsible for the information they receive. If the journalists were responsible, we would never have had many groundbreaking stories like the Pentagon Papers.
You might also be wondering what this has to do with Citrus County. Lately I have been critical of the Chronicle’s story selection, especially regarding its decision to not spend any time in the opinion section putting the late former County Administrator Randy Oliver’s death into better context.
Tuesday’s podcast related this to the also sudden, tragic death of 2016 sheriff candidate Phil Royal, who the Chronicle covered with six front page stories. The comparison was not to diminish the coverage Phil received, but rather to use it as a benchmark for why Randy’s is lacking so sorely.
I blamed community journalism for this. Community journalism for the Chronicle is the “hacked materials” policy of Twitter. It’s the justification for choosing news and editorial content based on how one feels rather than what is right.
Just as Twitter execs felt the story would be damaging to the Bidens and then fabricated a reason to suppress it, so too does the Chronicle editorial staff feel that some people are more important to the community than others and should be celebrated more.
In a way, it’s always going to be a subjective call. But when there is evidence such as an eight-year body of work bringing the county back from the financial brink, then journalists must consider that impact objectively rather than let their emotions interfere.
This is why Walter Lippmann advocated for the idea of objectivity in the 1920s. He knew that the public would have a hard time trusting people working in newsrooms, so he invented the process which they could trust.
Community journalism perverts that process and destroys trust.
What the Twitter Files showed was community journalism on a mass scale. It was a violation of the process because of what a few people thought was right to help who they liked better. We must work to curb this and insist on greater objectivity in journalism and transparency as well as free speech on social media.