from a funnel to a straw

CBS has a solid piece tonight on the Sony hacking story. It’s good because it reports the latest leaks from Washington, the gist of which is that the U.S. government is real-real-real close now to declaring North Korea is, in fact, Dr. Evil, but which also gives some weight to the arguments against North Korea being the one.

And there is reason to be skeptical. Unfortunately you wouldn’t know that if you were, say, watching “The CBS Evening News” tonight. The piece mentioned earlier? It’s on the web. What ran on tv – and which is also appended to the web story – doesn’t allow for any doubt at all. It’s North Korea all the way down. And that’s what 99.9 percent of CBS News consumers got.

Mind you, I think CBS is acting in good faith here; this is just an example of the kind of compression which takes place in a half hour newscast. You end up having to toss out things like subtlety and ambiguity. If only there was an all-news channel, one that could devote resources and most of all, time.

Say, for example, CNN. Say, for example, 7 pm tonight.

Now I will admit that I rinsed dishes for a little while, and may have missed the thorough, well-researched, experts-consulted “let’s examine the evidence in detail” story. But as far as I can tell, in the roughly 20 minutes devoted to the hacking scandal, the only question on the table was how hard we should beat North Korea about the ears. At one point, one talking head made one noise in the direction of acknowledging North Korea hasn’t officially been named as the perpetrator of the hacks, but it was strictly pro forma stuff. The real action was a “debate” between Newt Gingrich and P.J. Crowley which was entirely an argument about whether to declare this a crisis now or three weeks ago, and whether to go in with cyber-guns blazing.

It’s hard to imagine how absurd this has gotten – people talking about war over a Seth Rogen comedy. Sony, of course, didn’t help matters by pulling the thing, a move that was forced by the country’s major theater chains saying they wouldn’t show “The Interview” because of some vague, hand-waving threat that something bad might happen at mall cinemas on Christmas Day.

Which points up just how weirdly uninformed we are as a country, how little sense of proportion and risk we have – the idea that hackers, who were only able to walk through Sony’s crown jewels because the company apparently had less security than your average 15 year old on Snapchat, are somehow going to be able to materialize a real, physical force and do real world damage is, well, not real credible.

But we’re damaged as a nation. We see 9/11 in lots of places, and we’re not good judges of whether there is even a remote chance of something like it happening again. So we get a case of Ebola in a U.S. hospital and we talk about closing our borders; we see ISIS, a genuine horror of a cult, and think they’re a danger over here. And some hackers of unknown origin pick up on media talk about a controversial movie and start using it themselves, and we all conclude they’re coming for our Netflix subscriptions.

It’s a fever, and I’m not sure what will break it – I flipped from CNN to MSNBC a few minutes ago and saw Noah Shachtman from The Daily Beast raise, briefly but seriously, the question of whether North Korea is guilty. But as soon as he got done with that answer, the host – I couldn’t tell how much Shachtman wanted to go along – fell back to North Korea, and what should we do about it. This is a bone we can’t let go of, at least not until the next homeland-threatening outrage comes along.

(Just to be clear, I’m not arguing North Korea didn’t do the hack. I am saying, and so is this person and this magazine, that the public state of the evidence is inclusive at best.)


One thought on “from a funnel to a straw

  1. I agree with all of this, and want to add one point: Not only is it not certain that North Korea had anything to do with this, it’s also not certain that we can trust the intelligence services of our government to tell us who did it.

    This is something that the intelligence services can exploit, and I believe they will.

    Every time we get scared, as in the aftermath of 9/11, we are convinced to give us more of our rights, and are happy to do so. Now, with the spooks in retreat over the torture and domestic spying issues, they’ve been handed a way to convince people yet again that their rights are not worth the cost. A fake threat to a movie theater today, a fake threat to all of America tomorrow!

    It will take concrete proof for me to accept the story of who’s to blame for the Sony hack. There is simply no reason to trust the intelligence services at all anymore.

    As a side note, I think Sony’s conduct was cowardly but I don’t know what I’d have done in their shoes. The chances of the hackers being able to blow up a theater is just about zero. But you never know for sure, do ya?

    It’s the Age of Uncertainty.

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