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US hears the boom of French media silence on Macron leaks

In a similar situation in 2016, American media had raced each other to report the daily dump from WikiLeaks of emails and documents obtained allegedly by Russian hackers  from the Democratic party’s computer systems and the Clinton campaign.

world Updated: May 07, 2017 23:48 IST
Yashwant Raj
French independent centrist presidential candidate, Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte walk in a street of Le Touquet, northern France on Saturday.
French independent centrist presidential candidate, Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte walk in a street of Le Touquet, northern France on Saturday.(AP)

Hours after the dump of hacked emails from the campaign of French presidential front-runner Emmanuel Macron, a writer with American news site The Daily Beast tweeted admiringly: “Most French media ignoring the hack. See? It can be done. It’s called news judgment.”

In a similar situation in 2016, American media had raced each other to report the daily dump from WikiLeaks of emails and documents obtained allegedly by Russian hackers  from the Democratic party’s computer systems and the Clinton campaign, and had breathlessly reported everything from swearing by Hillary Clinton’s campaign official Neera Tandon to election strategies.

That was the comparison The Daily Beast writer, Michael Tomasky, seemed to have been flagging with his tweet that had struck a chord — it has been retweeted more than 3,000 times and collected more than 7,000 likes.

“This is a plea,” wrote Zeynep Tufekci in BuzzFeed, to French media outlets. “Do not get played the way the US press got played, gullibly falling into the trap set for it. And don’t ignore what happens online. These hacks are merely the stage for the misinformation machine.”

The blackout of the content of the hacked documents was covered widely in US media, and commented upon — sometimes with a trace of self-deprecation, such as this one from The Washington Post: “In the United States, such leaked content would be the stuff of wall-to-wall media coverage.”

And Tanden, a victim of the 2016 US elections hacking, retweeted several posts making the same point, such as this one by Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser to former President Barack Obama: “Notably French media focused very much on the news of the hack rather than plowing fields and fields of gossip and treating it as news.”

The French had indeed handled the hacking differently, and notably so. But with a little help from their election commission that invoked laws, which enjoin the press, and candidates, to observe a blackout for 44 hours before polling, to urge media and citizens “not to pass on this content, so as not to distort the sincerity of the ballot” saying republication of this material “could be a criminal offence”.

The French media largely ignored the hacked documents, but not solely because of the muzzling order, as some in the US argued, but also because, as Le Monde, a leading daily, said in a statement it decided not to report them as it didn’t have enough time, until polling on Sunday, to analyse them.

But, it added, “If these documents contain revelations, Le Monde will of course publish them after having investigated them, respecting our journalistic and ethical rules, and without allowing ourselves to be exploited by the publishing calendar of anonymous actors.”

These leaks may or may harm Macron, but Clinton believes, and said as recently as this past week, that the WikiLeaks releases, and FBI director James Comey’s ill-timed remarks about her use of a private email server, cost her the election.

Many Americans disagree and argue that her overconfidence cost her the election, but WikiLeaks’ documents passed on to it by Russian hackers is being taken serious enough and is under investigation by both chambers of US congress and the FBI.