Politico, the Washington DC insider news organisation, was the target of criticism this week after one of its newsletters was headlined with a story calling out Vice President Kamala Harris for her preference for wired headphones over bluetooth.
The site, which focuses on the ins and outs of White House and congressional politics, has long been a source of irritation for media critics who argue that the mainstream DC press spends too much time attempting to appeal to conservative readers via attacking the Biden administration on unimportant issues.
That criticism exploded into view on Monday after the evening edition of West Wing Playbook was headed by a story criticising Ms Harris for an aversion to Bluetooth wireless headphone technology, apparently over security concerns.
The story noted that some aides find Ms Harris’s concerns about wireless earbuds “prudent”, while others called it “a bit paranoid”. It ran without comment from the White House, and ended with a criticism: “But still, should someone who travels with the nuclear football be spending time untangling her headphone wires? The American people deserve answers!”
Notably, no cybersecurity experts were quoted in the piece and the only source asked about what potential security concerns were presented by Bluetooth technology was the White House itself, though the issue has been covered in the past by other outlets.
Many, including experts and other journalists, pointed out that Ms Harris’ concerns about the security risks posed by Bluetooth tech were valid.
“Phobia??? Bluetooth is a well-known security risk—including the possibility of escalating and executing code—well, malware—on the phone,” wrote Dr Zeynep Tufekci, a sociologist and programmer who writes about the social implications of technological advancement.
“Strongly suggest talking to cybersecurity experts—or even a Dr. Google consultation—before running such stories,” she added.
“Paranoid”? Vice President of the United States as a target in a world with the kind of software/hardware we have? You probably couldn’t manage to be paranoid enough tbh. https://t.co/sTQBIuvwz0— zeynep tufekci (@zeynep) December 7, 2021
Former Wired editor-in-chief Nick Thompson, who is currently CEO at The Atlantic, added: “If you're talking national security secrets, there are very good reasons to not use Bluetooth actually.”
“‘For attackers it's Candy Land.’ Just a reminder that if you're not using Bluetooth, you should turn it off. And if you're doing something secret, you shouldn't rely on it,” he continued in a second tweet.
Other journalists were more critical of the reasoning for Politico even pursuing the piece in the first place, and questioned why it was so prominent in the organisation’s flagship newsletter.
“This is a news story?” asked Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at New York University who also runs a media criticism blog.
“This piece reads like it was written in a world where the 2016 election didn’t turn on both real and imagined questions of email security,” wrote Ezra Klein, co-founder of Vox.com and a New York Times columnist.
This piece reads like it was written in a world where the 2016 election didn’t turn on both real and imagined questions of email security. https://t.co/QsQfkarbuf— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) December 7, 2021
“All of this sounds pretty reasonable?” added Josh Barro, a Business Insider columnist, who added: “There's this weird "no detail too small" ethos about Playbook lately... I don't think they conceive of this as a "hit" as such, just an insidery thing that's cool to know. But some details are, in fact, too small.”
There's this weird "no detail too small" ethos about Playbook lately... I don't think they conceive of this as a "hit" as such, just an insidery thing that's cool to know. But some details are, in fact, too small.— Josh Barro (@jbarro) December 7, 2021
The story was also trashed publicly by Ms Harris’ press secretary, Symone Sanders, who along with the rest of the vice president’s press team had not commented for the story itself.
“Not to be snarky, but we had more important things to do today,” she wrote. To a colleague, she added with slightly more snark: “Chris, didn’t you hear? This is what people all over the country really care about and want to know.”
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