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It wasn’t me. I didn’t do it. Yes, it came from my account. Yes, it had my name appended to it. No, there’s no evidence whatsoever that anyone but me did it … but I’m innocent, you see, because I was hacked. Nameless, faceless, shadowy figures reached through the ether, across the Internet, to embarrass me. That’s why it’s not my fault. Please, let’s just put this unfortunate incident behind us.
What do you mean, you don’t believe me?
You’ve probably heard by now that Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., is the latest politician caught transmitting, to underwhelmed female recipients, inappropriate pictures of himself. The pencil-necked and ideologically execrable Democrat, who has a history of using his office to bully media and entertainment figures he does not like, has accused a Twitter poster of “hacking” his account to send the, er, wiener picture that has caused such a stir online. Meanwhile, practiced partisan defenders, accustomed to Democrat misconduct, were quick to begin shrieking, “Breitbart did it! Brietbart did it!” like so many squawking parrots.
Weiner’s complete lack of “game,” when it comes to attracting sexual partners, puts him in fairly significant company. Rep. Chris Lee – who, as a Republican, did not enjoy the biased-media protections from which many Democrats benefit – was forced to resign after stupidly sending a shirtless picture of himself to a prospective paramour on Craigslist. The young lady was so unimpressed that she reported the incident, and the result was a special election so botched by the GOP that a “safe” Republican seat went to the party of gun control and partial-birth abortion. Lee was simply the latest in a long line of both Democrats and Republicans who think their power insulates them from the consequences of their prurient mischief. Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and failed would-be-veep John Edwards spring immediately to mind. They are both Democrats, but Republican Larry Craig – he of the infamous “wide stance,” who claims he wasn’t really suggesting an anonymous homosexual encounter in an airport restroom – is arguably more infamous.
What makes this Democrat’s sexual proclivities noteworthy is the speed with which Weiner blamed a “hacker.” Equally significant, however, is the readiness of so many in the media to accept this assertion on its face, without evidence. For an elected official to say, unconvincingly, “A hacker sent that picture of my, er, poling place to that woman, so you can’t blame me” is like saying, “I’m an honest guy, trust me.” Gary Hart tried that tactic once; he was rewarded with published photos of his monkey business aboard Monkey Business. You cannot simply say to the media, “It wasn’t me” and expect to be taken seriously.
Nevertheless, Weiner would wish his woes away using just this method. He is counting on society’s easy familiarity with hacking to make his alibi work. Given the high-profile incidents of hacking and hoaxes borne from them, this will seem plausible to many.
This past holiday weekend, rapper Tupac Shakur turned up again. Shakur was remarkably prolific in death; his music and his acting roles outlived him. He was, in fact, so busy subsequent to becoming the late Tupac Shakur that many fans believe him to be alive and well. Much as ardent fans of Elvis believed his public death was a hoax – although it is safe to say that, had Elvis lived, he would still be dead – a subset of Shakur’s following believes him to be living secretly in New Zealand. This belief has been encouraged by the recent hacking of a PBS website, which touted the Tupac conspiracy theory as if it were news.
Earlier this month in Utah, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by Koch Industries. Koch was suing a group of “pranksters” for setting up a fake website and publishing a press release purporting to represent Koch’s corporate position on “climate change.” This was not “hacking” as such, because the website in question never belonged to Koch, but the public effect was much the same. Opinions and beliefs not held collectively by Koch were presented to others as if they were. How, then, can the public believe anything in print or online?
Business entities may go so far, in fact, as to “hack” themselves. Salon reports that a supposedly bootlegged trailer for the movie “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” may, in fact, be a “viral marketing” effort. “Many outlets are hypothesizing,” writes Drew Grant, “that the trick of the shaky, illegal copy is most likely a hoax put out by distributor Sony in order to create some viral buzz for the film.” The trailer includes multiple clues to its origins, including the presence of an MPAA rating and surprisingly good production values.
One of the irritating facets of our modern society is April 1st. On April Fool’s Day, consumers of news and entertainment can anticipate being inundated with lies. Our media fill their publications with stories that aren’t true but seem completely plausible. This is supposed to be clever. When Americans then accept what they tell us because we are stupid enough to believe they are credible sources of news, they point and laugh and claim to have “gotten” the poor, benighted masses. Shall the same behavior now hold sway throughout the year?
If no media outlet and no public figure can be trusted to represent itself truthfully, the problem created is worse than a lack of credibility. It is one thing to read a piece of news or entertainment and think, “This may not be true.” It is quite another for public figures to do and say anything they want, then blame imaginary villains for misrepresenting them. If we validate the latter by refusing to question such excuses; we create a public sphere completely free of consequences. If we refuse to challenge lame excuses, we legitimize every explanation – no matter how weak.
We cannot allow “it was the hackers” to become a credible disavowal. If we do, every day becomes April the 1st … and we are the fools who allow this to happen.