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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 11/7/16

Was It Ethical for Media to Cover Stolen DNC Email Messages?

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The press has historically covered leaked information. A classic example is the Pentagon Papers detailing U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War leaked by Daniel Ellsberg to the New York Times in 1971. Another is the coverage of the "Watergate" scandal in 1972 when Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein obtained information from "Deep Throat" regarding the burglarizing of the Democratic National Committee (DNC)headquarters, ultimately leading to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. These were cases of the press covering leaked information, which served the interests of the nation; and they have been lauded as journalism in its finest moments. But are such cases morally equivalent to the MSM's continuous coverage of droves of email messages stolen from Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman, John Podesta, by Russian hackers, and leaked by WikiLeaks?

Indeed, the U.S. press has a First Amendment charge to keep the people informed about matters related to government corruption. The media serves as the "Fourth Estate," whose job it is to keep watch on the other three branches of government. So, is the extensive coverage of the stolen email messages in keeping with this press responsibility?

It is significant that the email messages in question were stolen by Russian hackers working for the Kremlin, in attempting to interfere with the U.S. presidential election. Allegedly, their purpose was to cast aspersions on a Clinton candidacy. Effectively, in filling their news holes with virtual 24-7 coverage of the nature and significance of these emails, news organizations, especially TV Networks such as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox, helped the Kremlin to accomplish its goal. In this respect, the present case is quite unique in the history of media coverage of leaked information. The purpose of the constitutional recognition of a free press is to protect the nation against oppressive or corrupt political forces aimed at subverting the freedom of the people. However, in the present case, the press arguably aided and abetted a nation hostile to American interests in undermining our freedom, namely, that of a free election. Thus, it is arguably self-defeating for the press to cover the stolen email messages on the grounds that it is the purpose of the press to keep the people informed of possible attempts to abridge the liberty of the people; for in the very process of coverage, it has helped to undermine the fairness of our election process, aiding and abetting a nation, hostile to our freedom.

The corporate media has touted the importance of moral equivalence; that is, giving both candidates an opportunity to be equally heard. However, in the process of coverage of the stolen email messages, it has given one side an advantage that the other side lacked. No email messages were stolen from the Republican National Committee (RNC), so no coverage of private Republican misdeeds could also be provided.

Coverage of the stolen email messages has, no doubt, increased the network media's audience, which tuned in to get the latest download of "dirt" on Clinton. However, this underscores the importance of separation of the profit motive from the newsroom. Because companies like MSNBC, CNN, and Fox are owned by giant corporations the likes of Comcast, Time Warner, and New Corp, there is an inherent conflict of interest built into coverage, and it is likely that the corporate bottom line rather than the welfare of the nation and its people has been a driving force for the coverage of the stolen email messages.

Voters who have taken these email messages as evidence to use in casting their votes might consider the ethical implications of doing so. There is a legal principle in U.S. jurisprudence according to which someone should not be free to profit off of his or her wrongdoing. The corporate media has at least indirectly violated this principle by aiding the Russians to profit off of stealing the DNC email messages. Are voters, who, in turn, use these emails as a basis for casting their votes also helping the Russians to profit off of their wrongdoing by helping them to interfere with a fair election?

Once the genie is out of the bottle, it is, of course, hard to put it back. We have all been inundated by now with a daily dosing of the Clinton email scandal and the regular dumping of DNC emails by WikiLeaks, as covered ad nauseam by the MSM. Our heads have been spinning, sometimes not being able to tell where WikiLeaks leaves off and FBI inquiries begin. But perhaps we can balance the scales of justice a bit by imagining what might well have gone on behind the closed doors of the RNC.

Will the first political party without sin cast the first stone.

(Article changed on November 7, 2016 at 19:46)

(Article changed on November 7, 2016 at 19:52)

(Article changed on November 7, 2016 at 19:59)


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Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D. is a political analyst and media critic. His most recent book is Technology of Oppression: Preserving Freedom and Dignity in an Age of Mass, Warrantless Surveillance(Palegrave Macmillan, 2014.) He is a Fellow at the (more...)

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