How Should the Press Handle the Hack of John Podesta’s Email?

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Let’s give some thought to a journalistic quandary: How should news organization handle the leak of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s hacked emails?

Under normal circumstances there would be nothing much to think about. Once they’re out, they’re out. You trawl through them and print anything that seems newsworthy. Neat and simple.

But consider the circumstances here. There’s evidence that the hack was directed by a foreign power trying to influence the US election. The leak itself came from an organization that detests one of the candidates. And they’re playing a transparently too-clever-by-half game of trying to keep this in the news for weeks by parceling out the emails a few thousand at a time.

Leaks often have a partisan motive, but this one is self-evidently hyper-partisan. So should news organizations allow themselves to be used as pawns in this obvious effort to affect the presidential election? If they do, they can hardly pretend to be neutral channels of information. But if they don’t, they risk failing to report genuinely important news.

What to do? I think there’s a fairly straightforward way to handle this: just dial up the threshold for “newsworthiness” a notch or two. You’d still ignore the obvious trifles, and you’d still report anything truly newsworthy or scandalous. But for stuff in the gray middle, you’d lean against publication.

Since this is not an abstract question, but an actual, concrete issue that affects an actual, concrete candidate named Hillary Clinton, it’s all but impossible to discuss this on its merits. But it’s worth trying. After all, does anyone think that this kind of hack is going to get less common as time goes on?1

1Actually, it might. People in high places might (a) start taking more care to never say anything embarrassing in email, and (b) start encrypting their email and other data more routinely. This might start to make hacking less productive, and eventually kill it off.

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Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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