event coverage

Leaks, Public Relations, Fake News, and Fake-Fake News

Norman Pearlstine (Vice Chairman of Time, Inc.) delivered a keynote in which he offered a perspective on the way in which journalists get, vet, and develop their reporting, a matter of some interest given the recent prominence information operations have assumed in attempts to influence public opinion.

Leakers, whistleblowers, and spies

He began by noting the value of leaks, citing the clearest and most consequential historical case, the role played by Deep Throat (years later revealed to have been Mark Felt, the FBI's second-ranking official) in breaking the Watergate scandal. So leaks can serve a public good in addition to the baleful effects they sometimes bring about. 

Pearlsine noted two issues of law and policy that contribute to problematic leaking. Overclassification is one issue—it tends to drive leaks from within the very agencies that would seek to restrict access to information. And the vagueness of the espionage laws can either embolden or intimidate, as the case may be, insiders considering whether some public good might be served by leaking. These can render the line between a whistleblower and a leaker fatally vague.

Fake news and fake-fake news

To a question about the much-discusses proliferation of fake news, Pearlstine answered by reminding the audience of the retailers distinction between bought and bought-bought—you might be able to return bought items, but if they're bought-bought, they're yours for good. So he suggested there was fake and fake-fake news. Consider: "All PR wants to put its best foot forward." Everyone understands this. "That's why information provided on background is valued: there's an assumption you're getting more of the truth," he said. "But fake-fake news is harder to see through and respond to. Response can be taken as a sign of bias."

Media economics.

Asked about impact of paywalls in restricting access to quality journalism, Pearlstine thought the restrictions in practice tended to be negligible. The stories find their ways out. The media have have cases where people want to get their side of the story out: native advertising is a growth area for media revenue.  But "you can't recoup loss of advertising revenue with paywalls--they're just too porous."