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The 24 Hour Rule: 1) A wild claim is made via a news article, most often The Guardian, about the U.S. government or related entities. 2) The article sparks wild fits of outrage. 3) Then, within 24 hours, a mitigating detail is added, undermining or totally debunking one or more of the central claims contained with the article. Related quote: “A lie can travel half-way around the world before the truth gets its pants on.”
By now, everyone is no doubt familiar with the claim by Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, about British intelligence raiding the offices of The Guardian to destroy their computers:

A little over two months ago . . . contacted by a very senior government official . . . There followed two meetings in which he demanded the return or destruction of all the material we were working on. . . [T]here was an implicit threat . . .

. . . [J]ust over a month ago . . . phone call from the centre of government . . . further meetings with shadowy Whitehall figures. The demand was the same . . .


And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian's long history occurred – with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian's basement . . .

The story sparked instant outrage and drew condemnation here and around the world, spawning the usual and predictable outraged diaries here.  But as with all national security coverage from the Guardian and its reporters, the claim also immediately raised some questions: If the incident happened as described, then why wait so long to report it?  For such an important claim of such outrageous government action, why wait so long and then bury it a full nine paragraphs into an unrelated editorial?  Why were absolutely no specifics of the claim provided?  Why all the strange, nebulous descriptions and scary language instead of actual facts of the incident?  Why wouldn't the paper have gone to court if this was such an abuse?  Alarm bells should have been ringing -- for some of us, they were.  Unfortunately, for most, the answer was to scream their outrage louder to drawn out the sound of the alarms.

And now, as was inevitable, comes news that The Guardian's claims have holes big enough to sail a Titanic-sized helping of outrage through.

First, as always, after the wild initial claims, came the clarification:  No, the GCHQ did not raid The Guardian's offices and force them to destroy computers.  No, it turns out, contrary to the suggestion in Rusbridger's initial editorial, which sparked all the furor, that the Guardian made the decision to destroy its drives containing Snowden documents voluntarily rather than challenge the British government's request in court.  The Guardian could have, but chose not to defend itself.

Okay, so contrary to the initial impressions, there wasn't a raid, there weren't government goons smashing computers, The Guardian itself made the decision not challenge the destruction, and The Guardian itself did the destroying.  Okay, that's already a lot different than the way it was initially described.

But that clarification, in turns out, was just the tip of the iceberg.

The Guardian's clarification also included a photo of a computer they allegedly destroyed:

Larger version of photo here:

The photo includes the caption:

The remains of a computer that held files leaked by Edward Snowden to the Guardian and destroyed at the behest of the UK government. Photograph: Roger Tooth.
Rusbridger himself tweeted out the photo:
alan rusbridger

Here's a Guardian MacBook Pro after
dismemberment to the highest UK
Government standards

But that photo has raised some eyebrows and some questions.  As one commentator noted:

[N]one of the pieces shown in the photo are hard drives. Computer experts online noticed that two of the pieces weren’t from a Mac at all, but instead from a PC — and not a recent model PC but a PC that looked to be quite old. And, of course, there’s a very obvious shell of a MacBook on the right. Needless to say, this didn’t appear to be what The Guardian or its editor-in-chief had described.

Hmmm . . . so in addition to wildy exaggerating the nature and the scale of the incident, apparently, The Guardian's own photographic evidence already doesn't match its claims.  So, what exactly was destroyed?

Rusbridger himself later tweeted again again about "the" computer -- just one -- that had been "dismembered":

alan rusbridger

..and here's the story about what led up to
dismemberment of the hapless machine

But, as noted above, the photo of the "hapless" machine didn't match the now repeated and re-tweeted photo.  So, how did Rusbridger respond?  By altering the story, of course:

Finally, after more and more people began to question why there were PC parts in a photograph of a destroyed MacBook Pro, Rusbridger tweeted the following:
alan rusbridger

Dismembered MacBook includes [sic] with a bit
of PC mixed in, as acute eyes have pointed

Interesting. Now there’s more than one “hapless machine?” Further down in the thread, Rusbridger tweeted, “We were using macs and pcs!”

Sorry, no. Given the precedent of serially misleading claims, combined with what appears to be a slowly emerging tall tale, it doesn’t take a sleuth to notice that Rusbridger was caught in a deception and was hastily covering his ass.

So, let's see . . . over the course of just two days, we've gone from government goons raiding the paper and smashing up computers, to the The Guardian itself choosing not to go to court and voluntarily destroying computers, to the Guardian destroying ONE notebook, to now destroying one notebook with maybe an ancient PC thrown in?  Yes, folks, they were so dedicated to the Snowden story, and this was such an outrageous government intrusion, that it involved one notebook and an ancient PC used to store the information?  Um, yeah, okay.  Good grief.  As with all of these stories from The Guardian lately, this is starting to sound ridiculous:

So what really happened? It’s difficult to know, but obviously Rusbridger’s version of the episode isn’t holding water. Not only was The Guardian not forced to destroy its computers (there are many articles in need of a headline edit), but there was just one computer, a MacBook Pro, and then, mysteriously, there was suddenly a PC, too — a crappy, obsolete PC evidently left over from the days of dial-up and Windows 95, possibly the most rickety storage choice imaginable for stashing sensitive national security files.

 . . . [I]f that’s the case, why all of the mentions of one computer: a MacBook Pro? And where are the hard drives? If the GCHQ didn’t seize the destroyed drives, then they must be somewhere. The Guardian hasn’t addressed this one yet.

Which brings up what is emerging as perhaps the most perhaps the most ridiculous part of The Guardian's story: Why wait one to two months to even mention this incident?  And why, when it was finally mentioned, was it buried in an unrelated editorial about the detention of Glenn Greenwald's husband?  For more on the dubious reporting on that episode, see here.

Yes, this was so outrageous, in fact, that "one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian's long history" was never mentioned for months, and didn't even merit its own story.  And why was this "outrage" not mentioned?

[R]usbridger said he decided to not publish this story until it could ride on the coattails of another Snowden revelation about the GCHQ . . . So we’re supposed to believe this harrowing episode happened exactly as described, and instead of immediately writing it up and publishing it, they decided to wait until… whenever? (Note to journalism students: this isn’t how it works.)

LOL -- yes, folks, this was such a horrific incident, and The Guardian was so outraged and found the episode so noteworthy, that they were going to sit on it indefinitely so they could . . . use it as a teaser in some future, undetermined Greenwald story.  Good grief.  Really?   And now we all know how misleading that future Greenwald story turned out to be, too, as Miranda's husband turned out to be traveling for the express purpose of shuttling documents:

So, once again, we get a highly-inflammatory initial claim, with sensationalist headlines, which sparks outrage, only to later get clarification which significantly alters the original story, followed by more slowly emerging details which gradually raise even more questions about the dubious nature of the initial claim.  Which is why, as ever, the "24-hour Rule," noted above, makes sense:

The ongoing trend of highly suspect coverage of various trespasses orchestrated by the U.S. or U.K. governments continues unabated, and even a cursory degree of scrutiny has revealed vague reporting or self-debunking details, then, after reader outrage has been sufficiently peaked, a slow drip of mitigating information emerges.
So, where are we?  Well, as ever with The Guardian's coverage, we are left with more  questions than answers.   Among the critical questions that remain unanswered by the Guardian's muddled claims and "clarifications":  What did The Guardian actually destroy?  Was it just one notebook computer?  Was it an ancient PC, too?   Was the "destruction" just a farce to spawn sensationalist headlines?  And why, if the story was so important and so outrageous, did the Guardian wait 1-2 months before only telling this story as an afterthought to the already exaggerated and misleading story of Miranda's detention?

Now, no doubt one can still have issues with the British government bringing any pressure to bear with regard to the Snowden documents (although one has to remember that the UK has much different, much more restrictive laws on the use of state secrets by the press, a point lost in most of the outrage here), but that's a different question than the exaggerated, misleading reporting by the paper.  So, why would the The Guardian so grossly exaggerate, and create such a misleading picture yet again?  Well, I imagine "We voluntarily chose not to go to court, and so we rendered one laptop unusable instead" probably doesn't sell as many papers, cause as many hits, or spawn as much outrage as "government goons raided our offices and forced us to destroy all our computers," does it?

The lesson?  As always, take anything and everything reported by The Guardian with a giant dose of salt.  Sensationalism, not completeness or accuracy, continues to be their goal.  And perhaps most notably, the sad lesson is that as ever, important issues cannot be discussed without first having to wade through mountains of confused, muddied, and exaggerated claims:

Were it not for the melodramatic personal struggles of the reporters and their source, along with the link-bait and bad reporting that constantly demands careful inspection, we might be talking about ways to improve and reform America’s surveillance operations . . .  with the shrieking at a much lower decibel level.

Instead, it’s nearly impossible to settle on the terms of the debate, chiefly due to an ongoing trend of deliberately incomplete bombshell articles combined with short-attention-span readings of hyper-complicated operations.

It’s almost as if the publication thinks we’re idiots, thoughtlessly gawking at contrived headlines like tabloids at a grocery store checkout counter. Are we seriously supposed to just accept these fish stories at face value and proceed with an anti-government freakout based on innuendo, prevarication and utter hogwash?

So let's all take a breath and calm down the next time The Guardian or its reporters makes a set of outrageous claims -- inevitably, they will prove not quite so outrageous, and will only distract from the real conversation that should be occurring.

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