It’s a huge bombshell with stunning revelations. Or is it?
With the so-called “Twitter Files,” Elon Musk is openly engaged in a game of information warfare, one that is shining a spotlight on the fragmented and partisan state of the modern day media landscape.
Led by Fox News, the right-wing media machine is treating the ongoing series of stories as if they were the next Pentagon Papers, breathlessly hyping each new batch of documents as earth-shattering scoops that illuminate horrific abuses of power by woke Twitter overlords of yesteryear.
In that distorted universe, Musk is being hailed a hero at the center of one of the biggest stories of 2022.
The establishment press, however, has shown far less interest in the documents themselves, with most news organizations outright ignoring various entries in the continuing series. The right-wing media apparatus pushing the story has, naturally, asserted that the mum reaction is effectively because the mainstream press is made up of left-wing hacks who want to hide the truth from the public.
A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. Sign up for the daily digest chronicling the evolving media landscape here.
But, of course, the truth is far more complicated, with news organizations having good reason to view the different drops with a skeptical eye.
The chief reason most news organizations aren’t up in arms about the story is because the releases have largely not contained any revelatory information. So far, the files have failed to do much outside highlight exactly how messy content moderation can be — especially when under immense pressure and dealing with the former President of the United States. That was the case on Monday when the fifth installment of the Twitter Files were released revealing some of the behind-the-scenes debate that preceded Donald Trump’s ban.
Gerard Baker, the conservative former top editor of The Wall Street Journal, wrote Monday: “The Twitter Files tell us nothing new. There’s no shocking revelation in there about government censorship or covert manipulation by political campaigns. They merely bring to the surface the internal deliberations of a company dealing with complex issues in ways consistent with its values.”
The lack of explosive new details is coupled with the fact that Musk refuses to open up the “Twitter Files” to the press at large. Instead of providing multiple news outlets with access to the documents and Twitter personnel, he has instead opted to exclusively share them with writers of his own choice. In other words, Musk has relied on a set of handpicked gatekeeping writers to cover the story, while keeping the raw materials — and context — locked away from the rest of the news media and broader public. That has without question increased skepticism.
There is a downside, however, to newsrooms generally choosing to avoid the Twitter Files mess: doing so allows the saga to become defined by dishonest actors in right-wing media. When I searched Google for the term “Twitter Files,” the three top stories on Monday were from Fox News, the New York Post, and the Washington Examiner. The right is flooding the zone with a warped interpretation of each new release while the rest of the press turns a blind eye toward each installment.
If you’re just a regular person trying to make sense of what is going on, it can be awfully difficult. And the solution isn’t so clear. On one hand, if newsrooms covered each installment, they risk giving air to and further amplifying a storyline that has been selectively framed by Musk as he wages an information war. On the other hand, not dissecting each drop allows him and others to define it in the public square.
It’s a difficult needle to thread, arguably with no perfect solution.
This article was originally published by CNN.