Readers of the Washington Post received some alarming news yesterday when the paper published a story alleging that those pesky “Russian hackers” were up to their no good tricks again and had managed to “penetrate the U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont.” The full headline read as follows:
The opening paragraph of WaPo’s story directly linked the “hack” of the Vermont utility to the same “Russian hacking operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe” that the Obama administration has blamed for the DNC and John Podesta email hacks. Vermont’s Governor, Peter Shumlin, told WaPo that “Americans should be both alarmed and outraged” by these actions perpetrated by “one of the world’s leading thugs, Vladimir Putin,” before seemingly calling for further retaliatory actions from the Obama administration.
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. This episode should highlight the urgent need for our federal government to vigorously pursue and put an end to this sort of Russian meddling.
Moreover, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy took the rhetoric to a whole new level by asserting a diabolical Russian plot to shut down the U.S. electrical grid in the middle of winter…a move that would most certainly kill off half the state’s population in an instant.
Of course, it didn’t take long for the New York Times and ABC to latch on to the story since it fits their “2016 election hacking” narrative so perfectly.
Our Russian “friend” Putin attacked the U.S. power grid. https://t.co/iAneRgbuhF
— Brent Staples (@BrentNYT) December 31, 2016
— ABC News (@ABC) December 31, 2016
Alas, there was just one minor problem, namely that the entire article was completely fabricated. Apparently the esteemed “journalists” of the Washington Post didn’t even bother to contact the Burlington Electric Department to confirm their bogus story…and why should they…it fit the “Russian hacking” narrative so perfectly therefore it must be true, right?
Well, apparently not. The quick spread of WaPo’s “fake news” story forced the Burlington Electric Department to issue a clarifying statement assuring worried residents that, indeed, their electricity grid had not been hacked, but rather a single “laptop not connected” to the grid had been found to have a malware virus.
Which forced the embarrassed Washington Post to quickly tone down their provocative headline…
…and supplement their original article with the following “Editor’s Note” admitting the entire premise of their original story was nothing more than “fake news.”
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. electric grid. Authorities say there is no indication of that so far. The computer at Burlington Electric that was hacked was not attached to the grid.
Which drew quick reactions from twitter…
1) Not an infiltration of the power grid.
2) “Russian” malware can be purchased online by anyone.
3) See 1 & 2. https://t.co/bVIG8zQBsk
— Dell Cameron (@dellcam) December 31, 2016
Pretty amazing how badly the Post appears to have mangled this one. You didn’t call the Vermont utility regulator before publishing?
— Eric Geller (@ericgeller) December 31, 2016
…and Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept, who blasted WaPo for their “irresponsible and sensationalist tabloid behavior.”
THIS MATTERS not only because one of the nation’s major newspaper once again published a wildly misleading, fear-mongering story about Russia. It matters even more because it reflects the deeply irrational and ever-spiraling fever that is being cultivated in U.S. political discourse and culture about the threat posed by Moscow.
The Post has many excellent reporters and smart editors. They have produced many great stories this year. But this kind of blatantly irresponsible and sensationalist tabloid behavior – which tracks what they did when promoting that grotesque PropOrNot blacklist of U.S. news outlets accused of being Kremlin tools – is a by-product of the Anything Goes mentality that now shapes mainstream discussion of Russia, Putin and the Grave Threat to All Things Decent in America that they pose.
Ironically, a few weeks ago we noted that The Washington Post was all too happy to promote an anonymous website that described Zerohedge as “‘dark gray’ propaganda, systematically deceiving its civilian audiences for foreign political gain” (see “Washington Post Names Drudge, Zero Hedge, & Ron Paul As Anti-Clinton ‘Sophisticated Russian Propaganda Tools’“), all while presenting exactly zero evidence to support their preposterous claim. Perhaps it’s time for WaPo to dedicate a bit more of its time to self-reflection.