On Friday, Burlington Electric, a Vermont-based power company, raised an alarm after finding malware code on a company laptop. Referring to undisclosed officials, the Washington Post then ran a damning headline, saying that “Russian operation hacked a Vermont utility” which posed a risk “to US electrical grid security.”
Yet it turns out that the laptop that was penetrated wasn’t even attached to the power network, according to a statement from Burlington Electric. “We detected suspicious internet traffic in a single Burlington Electric Department computer not connected to our organization’s grid systems,” the message reads.
No evidence of a Russian trace has been released either. Eventually, the Washington Post issued a correction to its article. “An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Russian hackers had penetrated the US electric grid. Authorities say there is no indication of that so far,” the statement said. The headline, blatantly accusing “Russian hackers” of breaching the US power grid, remains, though.
Glen Greenwald, a prominent US journalist who was among those breaking the story on Edward Snowden’s leaks on the NSA spying scandal, said the case suits America’s anti-Russian agenda. “It matters even more because it reflects the deeply irrational and ever-spiraling fever that is being cultivated in US political discourse and culture about the threat posed by Moscow,” Greenwald wrote.
Meanwhile, people on social media teamed up in slamming the material by the Washington Post as another instance of “fake news.”
It’s not the first time the Washington Post has had to correct a report containing ill-founded allegations. On November 24, an article by the newspaper alleged that Russia is in fact behind a massive spread of “fake news” which affected the US presidential campaign in November last year.
One of the experts cited by the newspaper was a group called PropOrNot, which “identified” over 200 websites as spreading Russian propaganda. Yet the article drew serious criticism from people on social media as well as journalists over PropOrNot's own dubious credentials.
In return, the Washington Post issued a lengthy editor’s note, saying that some of the sites included by PropOrNot “have publicly challenged the group’s methodology and conclusions.” The group later deleted them and Washington Post on its part said that does not “vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings.”
In October, the US officially accused Russia of hacking computers of individuals and organizations of the Democratic campaign ahead of the US elections. Moscow rebuffed the accusation as “nonsense.”
Following the victory of the Republican candidate Donald Trump, the Washington Post, citing a CIA report, said that Moscow specifically helped Trump to get into the White House.
The President-elect called the allegations “ridiculous” and labeled them yet “another excuse” by the Democrats for the loss of Hillary Clinton. Speaking to RT, a former member of the British MI5 intelligence agency, Annie Machon, said that rolling out with a bright headline and later issuing a correction is part of the Washington Post’s tactics.
“Time after time after time, we are seeing this fake news coming out in the Washington Post,” she said. “And every time they put these fake stories out they have to put [out] a disclaimer afterwards. But of course, the seed is then sown,” Machon said.