Q&A: Joel Kaplan on the Media’s Role in Trump-Russia Investigation
Joel Kaplan, associate dean for professional graduate studies and professor and acting director of online master’s in communications in the Newhouse School of Public Communications, points out how integrally involved news media are in the unfolding investigation of the Trump presidency and possible collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign.
01What is your reaction to news that the special prosecutor team will be investigating the Russian-connected social media trolls and bots that were responsible for fake news that boosted the Trump campaign?
The decision by the special counsel’s office to expand its Russian collusion investigation into the area of “fake news” is a fascinating and unprecedented criminal inquiry over whether purposefully using social media to disseminate false information about one’s opponent could lead to criminal charges. As everyone knows, the phenomenon of fake news has grown exponentially with the rise of Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets that allow anonymous trolls to spread false and damaging information. There is very little that can be done about this, though if the spreaders of the fake news can be identified, they may face civil liability in the form of libel or invasion of privacy lawsuits.
02Could President Trump’s accusations that news outlets have spread fake news come back to haunt him?
This new inquiry indicates that the spreaders of disinformation, particularly those who collude with foreign hackers, may actually face criminal charges. It would be the supreme irony that the president of the United States, who has falsely and repeatedly accused respected media outlets of spreading fake news, might see his own friends, relatives and allies jailed for doing just that.
03How have journalists fueled the investigation of a possible relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russians?
If there had ever been any doubt of the vital role the press plays in our democracy, that was completely dispelled by the series of scoops in the New York Times[nytimes.com] over the past four days. The Times exploded the year-long denials that no one in the Trump campaign or Trump administration had colluded with Russian officials in an attempt to influence the presidential election.
04Has the press affected the actions of those involved in the growing scandal, and the actions of those investigating them?
The Times’ disclosure of the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian attorney and the subsequent release of the email thread indicates just how vital the media is. According to CNN, even the special counsel investigating Russian collusion was only recently made aware of the meeting and had not seen the emails. The Times’ thorough reporting was so complete that it forced Donald Trump Jr. to release the email to the public in order to get ahead of the story. But the emails themselves were so devastating that the fallout has just begun.