In an article for the Intercept, writer Robert Mackey noted he had been “denounced” by Wikileaks for pointing to a “factual error” in a Wikileaks tweet. But it was entirely unclear what Wikileaks’ “factual error” was. So being a curious reader, I kindly asked Mackey what he was referring to.
In a (now deleted) tweet Mackey told me there was a link to another story in his article that mentioned the “factual error”. That was a lie. So I quoted Mackey’s article, again asking him to share what he was referring to when he wrote that he identified a “factual error” made by Wikileaks.
He responded with a link to another article, which still did not cite any “factual error”. Instead, the article features Wikileaks’ Twitter posts that Mackey argues were misleading, later clarifying they “look more like sloppiness than an attempt to intentionally mislead readers”.
He immediately blocked me after replying
I noticed he updated in the original article I enquired about. questioned with a new hyperlink that I had pointed out was missing. But rather than thank me for the help, he blocked me.
I think it’s unethical for a journalist to block a reader for simply requesting sources, so I tweeted about it to the editors at the Intercept.
He briefly unblocked me only to accuse me of “exacerbating tensions” between him and Wikileaks by “demanding” to know what he referred to in his article.
It’s abundantly clear in my tweets that I didn’t “demand” anything (I politely asked for sources); I did not retweet his exchange with Wikileaks; and I was completely unaware of any tensions between him and Wikileaks.
Wikileaks’ founder, Julian Assange, later joined the conversation, making clear he did have a beef with Mackey.
So what was the Wikileaks tweet Mackey deemed a “factual error”?
Wikileaks tweeted, “#DNCLeak: Trump may be right about Ted Cruz’s father & JFK kill — Comms head Luis Miranda”, referencing a leaked DNC email.
In the email, Luis Miranda (DNC Comm Director) notes “Cruz’s father was in fact a militant” and that “it would not be unusual for him to be caught up in the ugly web of Cuban militants with questionable histories”. While the email does not specifically mention a “JFK kill”, the theory that Cuban exiles played a role in the JFK kill is a well known aspect of their “questionable histories”.
Wikileaks’s tweet was not a “factual error”. It’s just a sensational headline. Now there’s nothing wrong with Mackey calling out a sensational tweet as misleading. But in this case, writing that Wikileaks was tweeting a “factual error” was itself misleading. Wikileaks exhibited journalistic integrity by including a direct link to their source, making it easy for readers to fact check. Robert Mackey at the Intercept did not.
It’s always good to read beyond tweets and headlines, and it’s always good to question reporters for sources, even at established media outlets.