I wrote on Sunday about the article that appeared in the Sunday Times two days ago that made sensational allegations that Edward Snowden’s cache of documents had had their encryption broken by the Russian and Chinese governments and this had revealed the identities of British MI6 secret service agents who then had to be withdrawn from the field for their safety.
The basis for the whole article was anonymous sources from the British government. Ryan Gallagher, who actually worked on the Snowden documents for over a year, did a thorough debunking of the article and all its flaws and contradictions, even including well known facts like that David Miranda was detained at London’s Heathrow airport on his return after meeting Snowden in Moscow when in reality he was returning from Berlin after meeting Laura Poitras. This was not a trivial error, since it undermines a key element of the story that Snowden took the documents with him in Moscow, something that he has consistently denied.
But it gets worse. The lead author of the article Tom Harper was interviewed on CNN and it was thoroughly embarrassing, even though the questioning by the interviewer George Howell was gentle and polite, though pointed. It was clear that Harper had been fed some information by sources within the British government, then wrote up a story based on the information, asked government sources whether the article was accurate, and then the paper printed it as if it were confirmed information.
Watch the interview. It is quite astonishing, ‘must see TV’ (as they say), laughable if it were not such a serious matter.
As Gallagher says after watching it:
So, in summary: How were the files breached? “I don’t know.” Were the files hacked or did Snowden hand them over? “We don’t know.” Were MI6 agents directly under threat? “We don’t know.” How did the government know what was in the files? “That’s not something we’re clear on.” Can you substantiate the claims? “No.”
The interview is quite extraordinary because it makes absolutely clear that not only was this entire dubious story based solely on claims made anonymously by government officials, the reporters who regurgitated the claims did not even seek to question the veracity of the information. They just credulously accepted the allegations and then printed them unquestioningly. That really is the definition of stenography journalism — it’s shameful.
The reaction on Twitter to the interview by other journalists was one of incredulity. Other media have piled on, sensing the damage done to their brand by this awful article, as can be seen here, here, here, here, and here.
I am not surprised that the establishment media acts as mouthpieces for the government. I am surprised that they did such a rotten job hiding that fact, given how much practice they have had. The best that the Sunday Times could do in response was to send a breach of copyright notice to The Intercept where Glenn Greenwald had first trashed the story, claiming that they violated copyright by publishing a screenshot of the newspaper’s article’s headline. That is pretty pathetic.
People may have thought that Stephen Colbert was exaggerating when he brutally satirized the press by saying:
But, listen, let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works. The President makes decisions. He’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ’em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration? You know, fiction!
But it looks like he was pretty accurate in describing what happens.