Monday, May 1, 2017, 12:29pm

Trump-Russia, the news, & freedom of speech

On Vacation

I’m about to head off on vacation, so I’m taking advantage of the rest of the week to shovel a few old (but good) posts up to this blog from my “old” blog. But before we get to that, I have a few things to share.

Trump-Russia Connections

I had been intending to put together a roundup of everything we know about the Trump-Russia situation. When I started going through my old posts and notes to find all that crap, though, it turned out that there was a lot of it. Like, wow, just a lot. And since last week was so busy (getting ready for vacay and all), I never got a chance to pull it all together.

No worries, though, because the LawfareBlog did.

I know what you’re thinking: “But Marci, it’s got ‘blog’ right in the name. It can’t possibly be reliable.” And you’re right to be skeptical, because of course any fool can run a blog. I mean, I run a blog. Lawfare isn’t just any old fool’s blog, though. It’s the blog of some very highly respected and accomplished fools who’re experts in their fields, and also former and current fellows at the Brookings Institution, which is itself an old and respected think tank in Washington. Lawfare is a legitimate and respected source of information, is what I’m saying, here.

The News, Part One

So you say you can’t trust the news anymore. I say that you are wrong. Of course you can trust the news. What the hell. Journalists do a great job of finding and reporting the facts. The problem isn’t journalists, it’s you. You suck at the news. Stop it.

You have this weird idea that “the truth” or “the facts” are a solid item you can find and know and then it never changes, which is the most frickin’ ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Of course stories change and facts evolve. That is the nature of learning and investigating.

A journalist covering a story will often report incrementally, day over day. “Today I’ve learned this,” and then returning the next day with more information and new facts and an update to what they learned the day before, and so forth, and so on. If they learn something new that changes the story, they report that too, and that doesn’t mean they were wrong, or that it was fake news, or that they lied to you, it means they learned something new that changed the story.

Sometimes journalists get something wrong, because they’re human beings and things happen. That doesn’t mean everything forever is unbelievable for eternity. That means they got a thing wrong and they issued a retraction and promised to do better.

The News, Part Two

Keeping up with the news is hard work and I’ve often shared my sources and how I do it. Doing things like that takes a willingness to read and learn, and it takes a bit of time, and I get it, we’re all busy. Here’s a pared-down version.

  1. Stop watching the news on TV. Turn off Fox, CNN and MSNBC. They’re bad for you. They are 100% driven by the need to put your eyeballs on their commercials and they have very little motivation to do anything more than show you the most sensational version of they story they’re telling. Twenty-four hour news channels are the actual devil. Stop. Watching. Them. (I will grant you one exception for Rachel Maddow, because she’s awesome.)
  2. Start reading the news. Print journalists do amazing work daily, and while they’re also motivated by advertising, most of them also operate under a hard and traditional firewall that prevents advertising from making a very big difference in the news they report.
  3. There are a lot of news sources out there, and not all of them are trustworthy. Find three reputable sources and follow them. I’ll even give you three rock-solid news sources: Reuters, AP and the Washington Post. If you read these three sources, you’re going to hear everything you need to know.

Freedom of Speech

Free Speech - xkcd

Hover-Text: “I can’t remember where I heard this, but someone once said that defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you’re saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it’s not literally illegal to express.” – xkcd. (CC BY-NC 2.5)

The New York Times got itself in some trouble last week when they hired Bret Stephens, a climate change denialist, for their opinion pages. He kicked off his new column by writing about how climate change wasn’t a thing, basically.

So of course there was outcry for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the fact that of course climate change is a thing and that Bret Stephens is a conservative hack and that the New York Times should know better. So the Times tried to defend itself, citing “Free Speech.”

Here’s the thing, though. “Free speech” doesn’t mean the Times is required to give space to an idiot. It means the government isn’t allowed to stop them from doing so. “Free speech” doesn’t mean they’re immune from consequences when they publish the blatherings of an idiot. It means the government isn’t allowed to stop them from publishing those blatherings. “Free speech” doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to cancel our subscriptions when they publish the brainfarts of a disingenuous idgit. It means the government isn’t allowed to stop them from publishing.

The First Amendment protects our speech from the government. It doesn’t protect you from the backlash when you say something stupid out loud where people can hear you.

The New York Times is a newspaper, and they have a duty to fair reporting that is reasonably unbiased, or, failing that, at least transparent in its bias. Beyond that, they have a duty to facts and the truth. They don’t get to publish garbage in their opinion section, and then hide behind, “Well, it’s just an opinion.”

No, New York Times, you have a huge audience and a venerable reputation. When you publish bullshit, even in your opinion section, you’re disservicing your audience and tarnishing your reputation, and if you pay a consequence for that, “free speech” doesn’t protect you from it or repair your reputation.

You did a bad thing, New York Times, and you should feel bad about it. Shame on you. Do better.

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