Inside the Twitter Files: Chasing Down a Little Lie
The Mediaverse by Dennis Kneale, TruthDAO opinion columnist
"Inside the Twitter Files" is a special three-part Mediaverse series on how some in the news media have covered the release of internal conversations among Twitter employees and government officials related to the social network’s policies and decisions.
A Little Lie pops up in the media when they are forced to acknowledge the existence of the Twitter Files. Or, perhaps, it is just an innocent fact error: that the Twitter censorship of the Hunter Biden laptop exposé in the New York Post lasted only a day or so.
The inference being, so, what’s a little delay to ensure the sanctity of U.S. elections?
This fib has appeared in articles on literally hundreds of websites, though it is incontrovertibly false. And how long the lockdown lasted is beside the point: Twitter had no legal right to question the reporting standards of the Post, a 220-year-old newspaper. The Hunter Biden story posed zero danger to the public, zero hate speech, zero “harmful content.”
Plus, Twitter executives’ frequent contact with the FBI before the 2020 election opens the possibility that the government sought a prior restraint, in violation of the First Amendment. See Part One of this series. Yet the media avoid talking about this, yawning at the Twitter Files, as I wrote here.
Back to the Little Lie. This came up last week as I was recording a chat with Lanny Davis for my new pod, “What’s Bugging Me.” He is the venerable Washington insider, diehard Democrat, and advisor to presidents. Lanny asked me: is it true Twitter’s lockdown of the New York Post account lasted barely more than a day? He had read this in a New York Magazine article.
I didn’t know the answer, which I admitted only reluctantly, as you can see here. Later, I did a cursory search that any reporter could do and found that the Post itself reported that Twitter “locked The Post out of its account for more than two weeks.” Varietyreported that the Twitter lockout period, in fact, lasted 16 days.
Then I did a deeper dive into the New York piece, “The ‘Twitter Files’ is What it Claims to Expose,” by senior writer Eric Levitz. Oh my, 3,596 fightin’ words, almost five times the length of an op ed in The Wall Street Journal, devoted to defenestrating the Twitter Files.
Samples: “Musk is using his newfound power over discourse” to “promote the conservative movement’s demagogic narratives…” The Post “ostensibly obtained” emails from the Hunter Biden laptop… forensic analysts confirmed the authenticity of “some” (their italics) but not all of the documents. Regarding Hunter’s selling access to his VP dad: “This is sordid. But it’s also mundane.” Wrong: it cannot be both.
On page 5 of an eight-page printout, the New York piece says of the Twitter ban on the Post: “Within 24 hours, Twitter reversed course.” Wrong again.
The New York screed ran on December 10. Five days later, Vox.com weighed in with its own long story: “Why the Twitter files actually matter,” 2,834 words to commit the same error and make many of the same points, in more tentative language.
The article, by senior politics correspondent Andrew Prokop, uses a blasé tone, as if we’ve all been here before: “Big surprise: The Twitter Files…have landed as a polarizing salvo in the culture war. . . . (M)ost liberals and many mainstream journalists are unimpressed. They say Twitter’s policies… generally seem at least defensible.”
“Still, it is worth evaluating the documents on their own merits to the extent we can, without a too-hasty dismissal of all (anti-Twitter) arguments or a defense of Twitter’s old management regime.” Right, never be too hasty in dismissing all anti-Twitter arguments, you have to take your time when you do this.
And then this: “The ban lasted a little over one day before Twitter lifted it, but the recriminations have continued ever since.” Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The two long stories in New York and Vox join a raft of “What You Need to Know” primers from The Washington Post, CNN, and other media companies (see Part Two of this series).
New York and Vox are owned by the same parent company, Vox Media. If they get it wrong, the Internet is so vast and democratic that surely other outlets will offset this and correct the record, right? Maybe, but then I did a Google search of the Vox story’s headline.
Results: more than 200 websites carried the same article, with the same error, under the same headline, making the same arguments. Usually without identifying Vox or Andrew Prokop as the originators, and often under a different byline.
This includes a version “by Cathy Blank” on worldnewsera.com, one by “browsing author Sophia” on quicktelecast.com,” another by Cable and Company, and no-byline copies on techio.co, unshared news, gxstocks.com, internationalaffairs.co, and spokenbyyou.com.
Surely there is some sophisticated technology reason, beyond my ken, for all of this erroneous sameness. Still, it feels like I just opened a hidden door, and suddenly we see inside a cavernous, darkened room filled with hundreds of android clones, all chanting the same things, over and over. Which works pretty well as a metaphor for the media, now that I think about it.
Dennis Kneale, @denniskneale on Twitter, is a media strategist and writer in New York. He spent more than 30 years at The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, CNBC, and Fox Business. His podcast is called "What's Bugging Me."
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Read Part One – Inside the Twitter Files: More Media Ignorance (Dec. 18, 2022)
Read Part Two – What You need to Know About What You Need to Know (Dec. 19, 2022)
Elon Musk is the Media’s new Public Enemy No. 1 (Nov. 6, 2022)
The Media Are Yawning at the Twitter Files (Dec. 9, 2022)