Why the Macron Hacking Attack Landed With a Thud in France

In FOREIGN RELATIONS, Misleading Information On
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But in France, the leak did not get much traction. It certainly did not appear to give an edge to Ms. Le Pen, who won 33.9 percent to Mr. Macron’s 66.1 percent on Sunday. The hacking operation was met, instead, with silence, disdain and even scorn.


First, French news outlets respected the blackout. The documents landed at the 11th hour, without time for journalists to scrutinize them properly before the ban went into effect.

Second, the news media heeded an admonition by the government’s campaign regulatory body not to publish false news. The Macron campaign said that fake documents had been mixed in with authentic ones.

But there was yet another crucial factor — France does not have an equivalent to the thriving tabloid culture in Britain or the robust right-wing broadcast media in the United States.

“We don’t have a Fox News in France,” said Johan Hufnagel, managing editor of the leftist daily Libération. “There’s no broadcaster with a wide audience and personalities who build this up and try to use it for their own agendas.”

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A French Lesson for the American Media: News Versus the Whiff of It

The overhyped coverage of the hacked emails was the media’s worst mistake in 2016 — one sure to be repeated if not properly understood. Television was the biggest offender, but print media was hardly blameless. The sensationalism exacerbated a second problem with the coverage: the obsession with Clinton’s private email server.

I disagree with people who say that the server was a nonstory. Clinton violated government policy and was not fully honest. The F.B.I. conducted an investigation, whatever you think of it. All of that adds up to a real news story.

The question is scale. Last fall, Gallup asked Americans what they were hearing about the candidates. The answers about Donald Trump were all over the place: immigration, his speeches and his criticism of Barack Obama, among other things. When people described what they were hearing about Clinton, by contrast, one subject towered over every other: email.

That’s a pretty harsh indictment of the coverage (and Gallup’s research was done well before James Comey wrote his infamous letter). It is a sign that Clinton’s private server and the hacked emails crowded out everything else, including her plans for reducing inequality, addressing climate change and conducting a more hawkish foreign policy than Obama. It’s a sign that the media failed to distinguish a subject that sounded important — secret emails! — from subjects that were in reality more important.

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