The media serves a similar role to the legal system. Its net effect is to sensationalize illegal hacking and thus has caused the nostalgic discourse to lose out in the battle for public opinion. And like the legal discourse, the media generally fails to distinguish between ethical and unethical hacking.
There are some differences within the media. As hacking and computers have become increasingly prevalent, the reporters who cover hacking are better informed and more immune to the hype (Ex. the War Games theme that a teen hacker could set-off a nuclear war). Some reporters and particularly segments of the computer-media, like the magazine Wired, will present a more sympathetic and realistic story about the dangers and motivations of computer hackers.
However, it is media coverage like the following examples which sets the tone. First, Eddie Schwarz, a WGN radio talk-show host, rebukes hacker / phreak "Anna" who openly admitted to stealing $15,000 worth of long distance:
You know what Anna, you know what disturbs me? You don't sound like a stupid person but you represent a . . . a . . . a . . . lack of morality that disturbs me greatly. You really do. I think you represent a certain way of thinking that is morally bankrupt. And I'm not trying to offend you, but I . . . I'm offended by you! (WGN Radio, 1988 – qtd. in Meyer)
Schwarz creates a moral boundary between normal society and hackers / phreaks – who apparently are maliciously causing financial damage without adhering to any ethical values. This boundary is necessary for the criminalization and marginalization of hackers. And here is an example from an NBC TV special on "computer crime," hosted by Gary Collins who is talking to Jay Bloombecker, director of the National Center for Computer Crime Data."
Collins: . . . are they [hackers] malicious in intent, or are they simply out to prove, ah, a certain machismo amongst their peers?
Bloombecker: I think so. I've talked about "modem macho" as one explanation for what's being done. And a lot of the cases seem to involve proving [sic] that he . . . can do something really spiffy with computers. But, some of the cases are so evil, like causing so many computers to break, they can't look at that as just trying to prove that you're better than other people.
GC: So that's just some of it, some kind of "bet" against the computer industry, or against the company.
JB: No, I think it's more than just rottenness. And like someone who uses graffiti doesn't care too much whose building it is, they just want to be destructive.
GC: You're talking about a sociopath in control of a computer!
JB: Ah, lots of computers, because there's thousands, or tens of thousands [of hackers]
(NBC-TV, 1988 – qtd. in Meyer).
The image of thousands of hackers working magic, penetrating every possible imagine computer system (the media covered successful attacks on military systems are the proof), whether it is coincidental or not, allows for pressure / repression to be brought to bear against hackers, conveniently ignoring the immense technical power that is being gathered and wielded by corporations and governments.
What is Hacking?
Juvenile Discourse, Black Hats, and White Hats
Juvenility and Carding
Problems with the White Hat Hacking Discourse
Problems with the Nostalgic Discourse
Law Enforcement and Computer Security Discourse
The Legal Discourse
Problems with the Law Enforcement Discourse
Hackers as Resistance (illegal and legal)
Limitations to Resistance