There’s an accidentally enlightening headline on the BBC report about blatantly obvious crypto fraudster Sam Bankman-Fried, who has been convicted of stealing billions of dollars by defrauding would-be crypto millionaires. The headline: “Everyone got duped by Sam Bankman-Fried’s big gamble.”
But that isn’t true. There were lots of people pointing out that this emperor didn’t have any clothes for a very long time, but mainstream media chose not to listen to them in much the same way that most mainstream media was embarrassingly credulous about NFTs, most of which are now worthless. Long before the authorities moved in it was very clear to anybody with eyes to read or ears to hear that Bankman-Fried was as trustworthy as a three-dollar bill in an industry that’s an absolute paradise for fraudsters.
Everybody got duped? No, a small section of people got duped because journalists didn’t do their jobs. As John Naughton wrote last year, “so many apparently serious media outfits let him get away with it… Some interviewers confessed apologetically that they knew nothing about the complex businesses he had run and allowed themselves to be bemused by the incomprehensible bullshit he was emitting.” All the signs were there, but supposedly reputable, authoritative news outlets didn’t want to tell that story because “the mainstream media were so invested in the founder-worship that is the curse of the tech industry, not to mention some of those who cover it.”
All too often, journalists aren’t doing journalism: they’re doing PR. It may be PR for charismatic tech CEOs, or for the think tanks they and their cronies fund, or for more dubious attempts at controlling particular narratives. But it’s still PR. When “everyone” means “everyone who feeds me stories or makes me feel interesting and special”, many more people suffer the consequences.