On Wednesday, Oct. 19, CNN’s Chris Cuomo reported that “it’s illegal to possess” the emails released by WikiLeaks. The reporter then claimed the rules are “different” for the media and asserted that his audience would only learn about the documents through Cuomo and his fellow journalists. These statements are nothing more than half-truths to mislead the public and grossly exaggerate the media’s authority.
Cuomo and CNN jumped to conclusions in stating that its viewers could not legally possess the emails of John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign manager. It is illegal to possess documents if they are stolen. However, WikiLeaks’ methods for obtaining the emails have not been verified, and the organization itself has called hacking claims “speculation.” CNN is mistaken in reporting assumptions instead of facts.
This “we’ll take it from here” approach to reporting is condescending and implies that journalists are a special class of citizens. The privileges assigned to journalists by law are limited to protections from backlash. It is these laws that prevent journalists from lawsuits for reporting harsh facts about public figures, such as presidential candidates. However, they do not entitle Cuomo and other news outlets to exclusive access.
WikiLeaks is a public website. The documents it releases do not need to be “possessed” to be read. Anyone with internet access may legally read them. Cuomo’s statements are a deliberate attempt to prevent his audience from reading the documents and drawing their own conclusions. The people who consume the content that journalists produce are equally entitled to consult public sources on their own.
Cuomo’s attempts to mislead the public, partisan or not, go against the basic principles of journalism. While the media may be granted exceptions under law, there is no rule barring the public from choosing alternate sources for information nor should there be. The growth of social media and independent journalism websites has enabled users to personally fact-check any story if they choose. The freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment does not declare the media to be this country’s only source of information.
The Collegian does not encourage this type of reporting. Readers may freely seek the public sources of the stories they see printed in this paper or any other news publication.