What’s a mountain, what’s a molehill? It’s getting pretty hard to tell in American media.
On Friday, Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter, promised a bombshell report concerning Twitter’s involvement in suppressing the Hunter Biden laptop story.
And since Twitter is how many people get their news these days, that suggested a mountainous news event.
Then the “news” itself was released. It was a series of tweets by a journalist named Matt Taibbi detailing what he’d gleaned from viewing thousands of Twitter documents.
Amongst his findings was that the previous Twitter ownership “took extraordinary steps to suppress the (laptop) story, removing links and posting warnings that it may be ‘unsafe.’ They even blocked its transmission via direct message, a tool hitherto reserved for extreme cases, e.g. child pornography.”
Taibbi also reported that representatives from “the Biden team” instructed Twitter employees to get rid of content they didn’t like, and that one Twitter employee responded “handled.”
If true, this would suggest our current president’s political team was at least sometimes involved in censoring content from a major social media site. You’d think that would be big news, right? A mountain?
Something or nothing? Hard to say
The “Twitter Files,” as Musk dubbed them, got headline treatment from Fox News. And the conservative National Review called them “jaw dropping.”
But as of Saturday morning, there wasn’t even a mention from the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the Wall Street Journal, which are hardly on the same side of the street. Rolling Stone called the whole thing “a snoozefest.”
CNN buried the story on its website, and cast it as Twitter employees “debating” over whether to restrict the story. It also pointed out that Taibbi, at one point, tweeted “there is no evidence — that I’ve seen — of any government involvement in the laptop story.”
In other words, a molehill.
Now, I can’t say which side is better at judging newsworthiness. I can say that it is awfully confusing for the average observer.
When one major outlet claims the sky is falling and the other acts as if the weather is fine, what are you supposed to think?
This is the dilemma of our age. Finding news is not a problem. But trusting that news is not biased, selective or suppressing stories is a whole different challenge.
Mountains, or molehills?
The search for the truth isn’t linear
As a journalist for the last 40 years, I believe all readers should assume they are only getting part of any story. That’s because it is impossible for reporters, given deadlines and space/time issues, to include every detail of every event.
Thus, what you read — or see — is always an edited version. When a reporter decides to include one quote but not another, that’s an editorial decision. When a publisher decides to strip one story across the front page and another on page 28, that’s an editorial decision.
There is no such thing as totally objective and complete news, unless you are watching the event live yourself.
Otherwise, decisions are always made. And what’s the distance between decision and prejudice? That’s what people should be concerned about. Because prejudice doesn’t only come in how a story is written.
Ignoring a story is also an editorial choice, same as trumpeting one. This is why you can flip from one news channel to another in America and think you are living in two different countries. You literally won’t see the same headlines, or footage, or sound bites.
So who’s right? Most folks, I imagine, would say that if members of “the Biden team” were getting their wishes granted by Twitter, people should be concerned. Government interference in any news media is concerning.
Then again, one super rich man like Musk seemingly steering a major outlet like Twitter is concerning, too. He clearly has a particular view.
My advice? Read as many different sources as you can. Watch as many different newscasts as possible. Use common sense. Ask who benefits from the story. And somewhere between the mountains and the molehills, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a glimpse of the truth.