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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

The content of hacked emails matters

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton delivers her concession speech

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton delivers her concession speech in Manhattan on Nov. 9. Credit: TNS / Olivier Douliery

There is a deceptive short-handedness to the idea that Hillary Clinton lost the election because the Russians hacked emails of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

It’s not that the assertion is untrue, it’s just that it’s extremely incomplete.

A more complete version would be: Hillary Clinton lost the election because the Russians hacked emails of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The hacks exposed the fact that DNC honchos, including Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who sided with Clinton and against Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Donna Brazile, who tipped Clinton off to primary debate questions, had behaved very badly in trying to throw the party’s nomination to Clinton. Wasserman Schultz lost her gig as head of the DNC. Brazile was fired by CNN. And the revelations left such a bad taste in the mouths of some Sanders supporters that they refused to vote for Clinton, allowing Trump to win by razor-thin margins in three crucial states and be elected president.

It is reasonable to believe that had the hacked emails not shown such bad behavior, they would not have hurt Clinton so much. You can’t embarrass or defeat people who are acting right by exposing their actions, even if the method of exposure is wrong.

That’s not to say the United States shouldn’t take interference in our elections by Russia seriously. We should, albeit with the understanding that the rest of the world — having watched us topple freely elected leaders and repeatedly undermine the will of voters in nations such as Vietnam, the Republic of the Congo, Iran and Guatemala — sort of giggles while we gripe.

And it’s not to say that we shouldn’t be alarmed at the idea that Trump is the choice of Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The New York billionaire has an inner circle awash in ominous Russian connections and often seems to groove on the whole dictator vibe. It’s both disturbing and unacceptable. Putin does not want what’s best for us, so the fact that he got what he wants in Trump sounds an alarm that must be heeded.

But as much as I oppose foreign interference in our elections and the hacking of email servers, which is plenty, I also have the tendency of a journalist to value information regardless of the method by which it comes to light.

To argue that these emails never should have been revealed is to argue that the members and voters and donors of the Democratic Party have no right to know how it operates. There has been no assertion by Clinton or the DNC that the hacked emails are fakes, or that the accusations that stemmed from them are false.

Truths, exposed improperly, are still truths. And a lot of people seem to be taking the wrong message from everything that has happened.

There is a lot being said and written about getting serious about how to better secure emails, and about the impossibility of really securing emails. Folks say we should talk on the phone instead, or send notes and burn them upon receipt, or meet on park benches. That makes sense for diplomats who might say morally defensible but sensitive things about other nations. It’s certainly a good idea for spouses planning surprise parties.

But for most of us, most of the time, and definitely for anyone seeking to become president or to get someone elected president, the lesson to be taken from the email hacks and what they did to Clinton should not be to find better ways to hide our awfulness.

The lesson is don’t be so awful.

Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.