WAPO Admits: Russia Didn’t Hack US Electrical Grid

It took a few days to get there, but the Washington Post has finally made the circuitous voyage from a headline declaring “Russian operation hacked a Vermont utility, showing risk to U.S. electrical security, officials say” to finally arriving at “Russian government hackers do not appear to have targeted Vermont utility, say people close to investigation.”

One big thing you’ll notice about the second headline is that it’s not really a story in and of itself. Russia not hacking the US electric grid would not, on its own, be even a low level story in a newspaper, because every single day of history Russia has managed to not hack Vermont and not bring down the nation’s electrical grid.

Indeed, the only reason the second story exists at all is because the Washington Post released the first wildly irresponsible and obviously false story claiming Russia did something, and eventually decided that adding an “Editor’s Note” pointing out effectively that the story was false was simply insufficient.

What actually happened? On Friday, as our own coverage noted, Burlington Electric found a piece of malware on a single laptop not connected to any of their systems, and the malware matched the long litany of “related” malware that a recent government warning claimed was linked to the Russian military.

The government warning itself conceded that they usually don’t blame somebody for entire families of malware, but that it had become government policy to blame Russia this time, because of the “election hack” scandal.

Hysteria about Russian hackers hiding behind every consulate chef and the eagerness to make a story where one realistically didn’t exist transformed a single laptop getting a piece of malware, doubtless a daily occurrence at any major utility, to a scare piece about Russia working to bring the entire grid down around us.

Sure, it wasn’t true, but as the Washington Post headlines make clear, it makes for a more interesting sounding story than “Russia didn’t hack US power grid” would.






12 thoughts on “WAPO Admits: Russia Didn’t Hack US Electrical Grid”

  1. I wouldn’t put too much blame on the Wapo for this. It is a full retraction. It’s not as if the Burlington company were excluded from the hysteria. If you look at their own website it says ” It’s unfortunate that an official or officials improperly shared
    inaccurate information with one media outlet, leading to multiple
    inaccurate reports around the country.” The main problem is that the Wapo’s own guidelines are not suited for countering hysteria and orchestrated campaigns leading them to effectively become part of it. One could claim that it’s no coincidence that the guidelines have this weakness.

      1. Indeed, that does look like a serious mistake. The question I’m asking though is what it takes to fix a newspaper, is it better adherence to journalistic guidelines or(/and) is there a problem with the guidelines.
        I don’t know how much propaganda (as manipulation)is involved in this incident because once the antirussian mood takes off there’s no need for propaganda anymore to keep it going.
        Note that Jason Ditz takes care to mention ‘acrimony’ as a factor.

  2. But the “Russia hacked a utility” meme will never go away now. Every time someone wishes to disparage Russia it will be dredged up again as a “truth”.

    1. And when the WaPo and their ilk continue to hire stenographers looking to “make their bones” instead of journalists dedicated to serving the public interest the work involved to find the “truth” will most likely not happen.

  3. Notice that even the corrected story still presents as absolute fact that the Russians attempted to hack the election so Trump would win. Hardly any evidence for that one either, but they feel safer sticking with it because they aren’t the only outlet doing so.

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