When Shopping Around Fake News, This Is Why You Don’t Come After Rachel Maddow

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The last time Rachel Maddow covered a Trump exclusive, it was his tax return reveal, and a lot of people found the result underwhelming. Now she has another exclusive though, and while the end result similarly doesn’t end up providing much new information, the implications are incredibly important.

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Last night, Maddow provided what she calls “an inside-out scoop” based on a document her show received through their tip submission site www.sendittorachel.com. The government document was so highly classified, so “unbelievably red-hot,” she said that for those looking for a “smoking gun” in the possibility of Russia hacking the U.S. election, as well as the Trump campaign’s knowledge of or hand in it, this “was not just a smoking gun. It was a gun still firing proverbial bullets.”

The thing is, the document, as far as they can tell, is a forgery. A really good forgery, and one that was incredibly hard to confirm as such. Because when documents are this classified, the people that can give useful insight won’t even look at them. But in consulting with national security officials, as well as some super sleuthing around printer “fingerprints,” they can reasonably determine the document is a fake.

So why is this newsworthy? Because someone is shopping around forged documents of fake intel on a connection between Trump, Russia, and major election tampering. And the likelihood of someone doing that because they think it will actually take down the Trump administration is, well, nonexistent.

Rather, as Maddow points out, there have been numerous examples of forged, murky, or otherwise bad sources leading to retractions from outlets. And that shines badly on the reporters as well as their outlets. CNN recently saw three employees resign after a Russia-related story was retracted. That only serves to give credence to the cries of CNN, a longstanding, reputable organization, being “fake news.”

Maddow also illustrates how these retractions can shut down not just a reporter or their outlet, but the entire story itself. She brings up legendary news anchor Dan Rather, who lost his career at CBS in 2004 over a story about George W. Bush’s alleged draft-dodging via his short stint in the National Guard. The documents they obtained that served as the center of their story ended up being questioned and torn apart. After that, the story itself, which could have been detrimental to Bush’s election, was untouchable.

Maddow says she doesn’t know who sent her the documents, and she can’t be sure of why (not sure enough to speculate on air), but she’s guessing she’s not the only one being targeted and wants other news organizations to be on high alert.

Real, legitimate news organizations have codes of ethics and a desire to get at the truth. They are not trying to trick the American public. Someone–likely, groups of someones–are trying to make news consumers think otherwise. They are painting the media as the enemy. They are “laying traps” for journalists reporting on important stories. And then “after the fact, [they] blow that reporting up.” As Maddow explains, that casts a shadow over any future reporting on that story, whether it ends up being true or fake.

We don’t know what degree of interference Russia had in our election. We don’t know what, if any, communication the Trump campaign had with Russia at that time. These things are being explored and investigated. But whenever you hear a Trump supporter claim they know with 100% surety that the media is lying about these things, it’s forged, fake stories like these that bolster their certainty. Because the public can then be convinced that the media as deliberately lying, which seems to be the entire goal.

News consumers have to be vigilant in trusting sources, and so do news outlets. One thing is certain, though. It’s a bad idea to come for Rachel Maddow.

(image: screengrab)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.