Al Jazeera America Jumps Aboard the NSA Click-Bait Bandwagon

Maybe you spotted the headlines today. They were everywhere, conveying the same message: Google Met With the Big, Bad NSA After All! RUN!

But this time, it’s not The Guardian or The Intercept with the hyperbolic, misleading banner headlines. It’s Al Jazeera America and as you might’ve guessed, the actual content of the article isn’t nearly as scary as the headlines designed to sucker readers into clicking to satisfy their outrage fix.

The headline: “EXCLUSIVE: EMAILS REVEAL CLOSE GOOGLE RELATIONSHIP WITH NSA.” (All caps from the original.)

I actually spotted this story over at The Huffington Post, which ran the headline: “This Email Shows Google And NSA’s Close Working Relationship.”

The article reveals an e-mail exchange between the heads of Google, Eric Schmidt and Sergey Brin, and then-Director of the NSA, General Keith Alexander. From this we’re to infer that these villains were up to no good. At least that’s what way, way too many commenters did, assuming this was about spying on them personally. A frighteningly large segment of paranoiacs are very likely deploying their OPSEC hotel pillows and soy sauce dribblings. Panic all around.

However, reading further into the story, the actual point of the correspondence becomes abundantly clear. It was all about cyber-security and mitigating cyber-threats, which we should sincerely hope the government is handling in conjunction with the big tech firms. Really, is anyone against this? If so, they shouldn’t be.

So while Edward Snowden is mentioned at the top of paragraph two, the actual gist of the e-mails is mentioned (more like teased) down in the fourth paragraph:

On the morning of June 28, 2012, an email from Alexander invited Schmidt to attend a four-hour-long “classified threat briefing” on Aug. 8 at a “secure facility in proximity to the San Jose, CA airport.”

And even then, the article doesn’t clarify what is a “classified threat briefing.” That doesn’t happen until paragraph seven. The word “cybersecurity,” the entire point of the e-mails, doesn’t appear until paragraph 14.

You might recall a fascinating and troubling post at Slate written by Farhad Manjoo showing how online readers hardly ever read through an entire article. Most readers, in fact, only read half, while many readers don’t even bother to scroll. Clearly Al Jazeera has joined other publications in exploiting this phenomenon in order to boost traffic.

Shocking, I know.

Bob Cesca is the host of the Bob Cesca Show podcast, a twice weekly political talk show. He’s also a contributor to Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.