If You Believed the Lies About the FBI Investigation, You Owe It to Yourself to Find Better Sources

First, I want to say to everyone who actually believed there was something to the e-mail scandal: I’m sorry that you were lied to. I don’t want this post to be a victory lap or an “I told you so” post, because the issue we’re dealing with is serious, and deserves serious thought.

What this whole story reveals is that we have a problem with churnalism. The reporters, writers and journalists who bring us news are so understaffed that they don’t actually have time to fact-check their own reporting. Many reporters just re-word whatever press release they’ve been handed. If you were someone who believed the oft-repeated lies told about the facts in this case, I’m sorry. But recognize that we don’t have effective news companies anymore, even in the new media space. In new media, people are often just re-wording what someone else previously re-worded. There’s no actual reporting. 

As "citizen journalists," the lot of you are actually capable of picking up a phone and calling someone who’s the subject of a story, or an expert. Just tell them you’re a blogger and email them the resulting post. I’ve done that. I think the rest of you should consider doing it, too.

I wrote months ago that the only possible charges to bring against Clinton would be civil, and internal to the state department, requiring a sit-down meeting with the president whose job it would have been to decide whether any sanction was necessary.

Based on what we knew, I argued that there would be no basis for any charges. To prove that point, I quoted the Supreme Court decision Gorin v. United States:

The obvious delimiting words in the statute are those requiring intent or reason to believe that the information to be obtained is to be used to the injury of the United States, or to the advantage of any foreign nation. This requires those prosecuted to have acted in bad faith.

I pointed out that actual lawyers said there would be no basis for prosecution, and linked to a post by Dan Abrams. Others have pointed out that the State Department is notoriously leaky as an institution, and that this problem predates Clinton. To quote the FBI today:

"[W]hile not the focus of our investigation, we also developed evidence that the security culture of the State Department in general, and with respect to the use of unclassified systems in particular, was generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information that is found elsewhere in the U.S. government."

Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server ran afoul of an executive order created by Barack Obama, not federal law. This is something that I and others pointed out months ago. And here is what the FBI said today:

"To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who gauged this activity would gauge no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions, but that is not what we are deciding now."

Which, as I pointed out, would have been a sit-down chat with the president for someone at cabinet level. Based on all of the evidence, there was no reason to believe Clinton would be indicted. I said so months ago. And what did the FBI say today? 

"In looking back at our investigations, into the mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts."

I was right, because I found expert opinions to inform my own opinion. There are plenty of people who are likely smarter than I am who fell for this nonsense because of bad information. The same law of programming that informs coders applies to our own decision-making process: Garbage in, garbage out. If you’re consuming terrible journalism, you will come to factually incorrect conclusions.

On legal issues, I generally recommend LawNewz.com, and Dan Abrams in particular. I linked to his article in my own, and his analysis informed my opinion on this topic.

You owe it to yourself to go and find sources that won’t lie to you. Not for anyone else’s sake, but for your own. 

All I ask now is that we recognize that the majority of the news we are exposed to, including a lot of the new media and social media stuff, is created by professional bullshit peddlers who are lying to us. Let’s name and shame them, and remember not to fall for it again. Here’s a short list to start things off.

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