It’s beginning to feel like the mainstream media has Russian hysteria — which in itself is funny, given most in the press openly mocked 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney a mere four years ago for saying Russia was the greatest geopolitical threat to the U.S.
In Friday’s Washington Post, an ominous headline read: “Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, officials say.”
Except it wasn’t true. The Post apparently wrote the story without getting comment from Burlington Electric, the utility that was supposedly hacked.
When the company responded, the story turned out to be much less dramatic: It found some malware on one of its computers that originated in Russia, but that computer wasn’t even connected to the grid — so there was no major threat.
But don’t let facts get in the way of a good story.
Immediately, reporters on Twitter clung onto The Post’s faulty headline and demanded that President-Elect Donald Trump respond.
Brent Staples, a reporter at The New York Times, tweeted smugly: “Our Russian ‘friend’ Putin attacked the U.S. power grid.”
CNN national reporter Ryan Nobles questioned on-air how Mr. Trump may respond — and that he should — because Russia is clearly now a threat to our nation and can’t be treated as a partner in anyway.
Democratic lawmakers also jumped on the bandwagon — seeing this faulty report as one that proved their narratives that Russia is big and bad and that Mr. Trump is dramatically underestimating the evil of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Vermonters and all Americans should be both alarmed and outraged that one of the world’s leading thugs, Vladimir Putin, has been attempting to hack our electric grid, which we rely upon to support our quality of life, economy, health, and safety,” Vermont’s Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin said in a statement. “This episode should highlight the urgent need for our federal government to vigorously pursue and put an end to this sort of Russian meddling.”
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy warned in a statement: “This is beyond hackers having electronic joy rides — this is now about trying to access utilities to potentially manipulate the grid and shut it down in the middle of winter. That is a direct threat to Vermont and we do not take it lightly.”
Once the utility issued its own statement, The Post corrected the story to read: “Russian operation hacked a Vermont utility, showing risk to U.S. electrical grid security, officials say.”
As the Guardian wrote, the headline was still “absurd.”
“They [Washington Post reporters] have no idea that this malware was placed by a ‘Russian operation’ (though they would likely justify that by pointing out that they are just stenographically passing along what ‘officials say’). Moreover, nobody knows when this malware was put on this laptop, how, or by whom. But whatever else is true, the key claim — ‘Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid’ — has now been replaced by the claim that this all shows ‘risk to U.S. electrical grid,’ ” the Guardian wrote in an assessment of The Post’s reporting.
On Tuesday, The Post followed up with yet another related story — this time, its headline accurate.
“Vt. Utility apparently isn’t target of any Russian hacking,” The Post wrote.
It took them only five days to get to the truth. The fictional story was just so much more appealing.