By Matt Taibbi / Racket News
Wow. When I think this iteration of the Democratic Party can’t sink any lower, it does.
I learned yesterday Virgin Islands Delegate and Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on the Weaponization of Government Stacey Plaskett is threatening me with prison, over her own error. Just after I ran a piece called “The Press is Now Also the Police” about the New York Times and Washington Post boasting of roles in delivering a leak suspect to the FBI, MSNBC’s new attack-caster, Mehdi Hasan, got his wish, inspiring first Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and then Plaskett to trumpet his incredibly vicious and mistaken claim that I lied to Congress.
It would be one thing if I really made the mistake. In that case, Plaskett’s letter would merely be an outrageous attempt to intimidate a witness by threatening a charge of intentional lying over a miscue. But that’s not the case. I did of course make an error, but what Plaskett is referencing is actually a mistake by Hasan, one she’s now repeating. I’m not sure what to do but explain and show this as clearly as possible.
I did in a tweet conflate the Center for Internet Security (CIS) with the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), saying that CISA was so close to Stanford’s Election Integrity Project (EIP) that Twitter staffers didn’t really distinguish between them. This happened precisely because the agencies were hand-in-glove partners, and I’d seen so many communications about their cooperation that I lost track of some acronyms. I even tweeted months before, in TwitterFiles #6, that the agencies CIS and CISA were easily confused, because both worked with the EIP and CIS was a DHS contractor:
Before the 2020 election, a system had been set up under which reports of election misinformation could be through a CIS address (firstname.lastname@example.org) to the Election Infrastructure Sharing and Analysis Center (EI-ISAC), and in turn sent to “our partners”: the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and Stanford’s Election Integrity Project (EIP).
Form letters acknowledging receipt of such complaints would be signed, “Center for Internet Security.” Individual reports of misinformation that came out of this system generated letters or “escalations” internally at Twitter, and in the first weeks of the #TwitterFiles project, when we were looking at piles of 2020 election moderation decisions, I saw so many variations on these communications that my eyes crossed at times.
Lee Fang wrote a detailed article rebutting Hasan that included links to other previously unpublished #TwitterFiles emails, showing how the system worked. As noted, many different types of complaints reached Twitter via this arrangement. Sometimes they originated with a state official — remember Twitter had been reassured that DHS would “know what’s going on in each state,” while the FBI offered to be the “belly button” for requests from the federal government — and sometimes they originated with EIP itself.
These groups openly acknowledged, even celebrated their relationships. In the montage below, you’ll see a notice from EIP’s website saying it partnered with CISA in 2020, a headline in a CIS news release about CIS and CISA working together, and just for good measure, a copy of an award showing that CIS received $38 million in federal funds beginning in September of 2020, with 99% of that money coming from… the Department of Homeland Security.
If that’s not enough evidence of intermingling, Matt Masterson, CISA’s former head of election security, stepped down from the DHS to accept a fellowship at Stanford’s Internet Observatory right after the conclusion of the 2020 election.
This means that when Plaskett writes it was “misinformation” for me to be “alleging that CISA — a government entity — was working with the EIP to have posts removed from social media,” she herself is engaging in misinformation. It may be an unintentional mistake, as she certainly seems capable of not knowing or caring to know underlying reality, but it reflects a fundamental misunderstanding. Only a person totally unfamiliar with the issue could believe that CISA/DHS were not closely involved with content moderation at Twitter, to say nothing of other companies. Both she and Mehdi are wrong about this, and make their accusation in defiance of a lot of obvious documentary evidence.
I’m not going to lie, it frightens me a little that I even have to offer this defense. I’ve had a long career, writing about some of the most litigious people and companies in America, and I’ve only been sued once and never successfully, and also never over a factual issue (the complaint was about the propriety of an undercover stunt). Nor have I ever had to issue a retraction. If you’ve read books like The Divide you know a lot of the things I’ve covered are arcane legal or financial stories, like the chronology of a long argument between very attentive lawyers over billions of dollars that allegedly went missing in the Lehman bankruptcy. I nearly grew a tumor worrying before that was published.
That came out okay, but I’ve of course made mistakes. It’s not supposed to happen, but it does, inevitably, which is why the New York Times has a “Corrections” section. What the Times still does is one of the last relics of the old honor system, under which journalists implicitly promise to try their hardest not to screw up, and readers agree to trust them, so long as they can see editors and their charges admitting their errors.
Unfortunately there’s a new model, in which news organizations don’t address errors or audience complaints at all. It’s from just such a media institution that Plaskett — while herself making an easily checkable mistake — got the idea to threaten prison for the kind of blunder we once would have consigned to the corrections page without a thought.
At the moment I still can’t quite wrap my head around this, and hope others will be able to make more sense of it. I’d laugh, but I have three kids, and these people might be serious. It’s like waking up in a H.U.A.C. hearing. Have they all gone mad?