Assange Sucks, but Espionage Charge is Bogus

I gotta be honest, there are few people on Earth worthy of our censure and disgust than WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange. Whether it’s the credible rape allegations, his pathetic use of the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid the law, or his obvious and unethical influence on the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Assange deserves our collective disdain. He also deserves to be in jail, but not for Trump’s trumped up charges of espionage.

The recent barrage of charges levied at Assange by Attorney General William Barr and the Department of Justice are nothing more than an attempt by the Trump administration to set a precedent to go after journalists for political reasons. First, let’s be clear that Assange isn’t a real journalist. He simply published stolen and classified information on the internet. What he did was despicable because it was brazenly partisan and dishonest by being diabolically selective. However, the espionage charges could set a legal precedent that would put legitimate and ethical journalists in jail for publishing information that came to them from sources who obtained the content illegally. Basically, they could face criminal charges for publishing leaked documents.

The problem is the Espionage Act of 1917 that was passed primarily to punish people who stole or disseminated classified information for the purpose of harming the United States or aiding a foreign enemy. However, the law also made it a crime to receive that type of information and, further, made it a crime for anyone who may have looked at it thereafter. So, under this law, the journalists who exposed government wrongdoing at Abu Ghraib would be criminally liable, as well as every single person who read the story. Obviously, the law is inextricably flawed and in conflict with the First Amendment.

Of course, Assange should be punished for his myriad of criminal and reprehensible actions. But, prosecuting him under the Espionage Act may open a very ugly can of worms and spawn a slew of unintended negative consequences. The Trump administration wants to unleash this ugly can of worms because it thinks it will allow them to quash stories that hurt them politically. In other words, the Barr can’t go any lower.

Most legal scholars agree that the Espionage Act was poorly written and point out that no one has ever been successfully prosecuted under it. Congress should have fixed this law a long time ago, particularly because there are other laws that could hold someone like Assange accountable without jeopardizing First Amendment protections. The Trump administration purposefully chose this legal route because they hope it will lead to their ability to throw journalists in jail who expose government malfeasance.

So, even if you don’t give a rat’s ass about Assange or his legal issues, this case should trouble you deeply. It’s just one more example of Trump turning the presidency into a third-world dictatorship.

In America, we’ve never had a president that has attacked the media like Trump. In fact, Trump has even suggested implementing a state-run media that would spout his propaganda. Hey, if it works for his boyfriend, Kim Jung-Un, why not here, right?

Liberals have got to stand up for a free and unrestricted press. Just because conservatives can’t handle the truth doesn’t mean it should be labeled fake news. It certainly doesn’t mean that we should be throwing reporters in jail.

Now, more than ever, it’s important for journalists to safeguard their sources and perform their due diligence with the highest ethical standards. We can’t let Trump and his ilk turn America into a banana republic.

The Washington Post may claim that “Democracy dies in darkness”, but at twentytwentynews we think “Democracy dies in apathy”.

The Unholy Power of Confirmation Bias

confirmation, bias, facebook

Clete Wetli, Contributor

There is new evidence that the Russians interfered with the 2016 U.S. election by purchasing targeted social media ads to promote misinformation and fake news. Obviously, there are troubling questions about how they knew which specific geographic targets to select and if that was coordinated using people from Trump’s campaign apparatus or from the info they hacked from voter registration databases. As more investigatory details emerge from the Russia probe, what remains clear is that many Americans are gullible because they are entrenched in confirmation bias.

They were ingenious because most of these ads didn’t mention candidate names or political parties. Instead, they focused on divisive social issues and were designed to spark outrage. Of course, the outraged viewer often shared the planted post and it soon had a viral life of its own as post shares increased exponentially.

Confirmation bias certainly isn’t new, but the way political strategists have learned to exploit it is groundbreaking. Typically, this phenomenon has been associated with scientific research to describe the tendency of people to interpret information, especially ambiguous information, in a way that reinforces their preconceived ideas or beliefs. More recent research of confirmation bias has shown that it affects everything from selective memory to food preferences, and most importantly, political views.

Prior to the rise of social media and endless cable news cycles, the problem clearly existed, but had not metastasized into the malignant epidemic that is abundantly evident today. Much of this spurred by the algorithms in search engines and social media platforms that try to hypothesize what information and advertising you would most like to consume. Often, we share articles and information we like with our friends on social media and most of these friends hold a similar political belief or worldview. This effect can cause people who had little interest in voting to decide to finally get involved. This happens on both sides of the aisle. During this last election, the Russians figured out how to rile up Trump’s base enough to get them to the polls in the targeted districts that swung the Electoral College in Trump’s favor.

The unholy power of confirmation bias is immutable and dangerous. It causes people to reject contradictory evidence and to eschew diversity of thought and opinion. Right now, it can be seen in the extreme polarization of partisan politics. Although conservative and liberal ideologies have little in common, they do, indeed, have things in common. However, in today’s political environment it is becoming a rarity for the extremes of both sides to admit any commonality at all.

For liberals, it’s important that we realize the power of this phenomenon and to avoid the “echo-chamber” trap that conservatives fell into long ago. It may mean liking some conservative Facebook pages or a friending a political figure with opposing views. Sometimes, your peers will question those choices, but it’s important to tell them that you are doing it to simply consider opposing views and to learn what others are thinking and why.

The Russians knew that Americans were lazy consumers of news and opinion. They exploited that as they actively interfered in our election. Our best defense against this intrusion is to learn to not believe everything we read at face-value. We need to do more research and read from different sources. We need to expose ourselves to different points of view. Occasionally, we can recognize commonality or even validate a sound position from our opposition knowing it didn’t come from “our” side.

Lately, there seem to be too many politicians that are solely focused on preaching to the choir. They aren’t engaging in substantive debate with the opposition because they feel the will learn nothing useful. They’re certainly not trying to genuinely understand the foundation of opposing views. Yet, that’s the key to winning the debate and finding common ground if, and where, it exists.

A little skepticism never hurts. For liberals to win, we can’t just exclusively listen to each other, we’ve got to hear from the other side periodically. Even my crazy conservative neighbor is like the clichéd broken clock- he’s right twice a day. Although the sooner we replace him, the better.

Facebook faces backlash over Russian meddling