It is often said that a lie can fly halfway around the world while the truth is just putting its boots on. A free and fair press is one of the strongest bulwarks our nation has against disinformation, but this press must be honest, thorough and meritorious.
When the New York Times published the infamous “Anonymous” opinion piece by a “senior official of the Trump Administration” in 2018, the media reported on it in no time at all, and foreign propaganda offices pointed out that it was a sign of American instability. The granting of anonymity, the Times said, was “an extraordinary step” for the newspaper.
There was much speculation, and many Americans logically assumed that the article was written by a senior administrative official. Some even went so far as to suggest that the author might be Vice President Mike Pence or the then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.
This week, the media learned that the author of the much-vaunted op-ed, the 65th highest-ranking official in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was waiting for it. The person’s position was so exceptional that he was not even listed as a senior official on the DHS website at the time of publication.
This is exactly the kind of click-bait and outrage journalism that has rightly made so many Americans cynical of our nation’s media.
It is also dangerous.
A press corps that gives priority to sensationalism in the race for ratings and retweets would be an unwitting partner for our nation’s foreign opponents who work overtime to promote disinformation and undermine American confidence in our electoral system.
As regimes like those in Russia, Iran and China try to divide us, it is more important than ever to denounce the irresponsible behavior of the media. To grant anonymity to a mid-level advisor and portray his words as those of a senior official in the Trump administration was a grotesque failure of journalism. And by undermining the trust our nation has in an objective press, it threatened our national security.
The New York Times decision represents a new low for what is often called the “paper of record. Now that the truth has come to light, the words of Bari Weiss, the Times’ former opinion editor who helped provide a platform for a multitude of voices, seem eerily appropriate in her letter of resignation:
Twitter is not on the masthead of the New York Times. But Twitter has become her ultimate editor. As the ethics and customs of this platform have become those of the newspaper, the newspaper itself has increasingly become a performance venue. The stories are selected and told to satisfy even the narrowest of audiences, rather than allowing a curious audience to read about the world and then draw its own conclusions.
This cannot be the end result for the Times.
To call the newspaper’s decision to publish the “Anonymous” opinion piece embarrassing would be an understatement, but I sincerely hope that this will be a lesson for the future. The enemies of our nation are well aware of how divided our politics are and the role that clickbait, outrage journalism, plays in fuelling these divisions.
With only a few days left until Election Day, I urge every American – including the media – to be careful about believing or spreading unproven, sensational claims about votes and polls. We should expect outside interference, and we should be prepared for it.
The good news is that state and local election officials take this seriously. They are in regular contact with federal law enforcement and cyber security experts and are working around the clock to ensure that the 2020 election is safe, secure and reliable.
The question is whether members of the media – including powerful institutions like the Times – can rise to the challenge for the good of our nation.
Marco Rubio, a Republican, is the senior U.S. Senator from Florida and Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author….