In the past six weeks, the Washington Post published two
blockbuster stories about the Russian threat that went viral: one on how
Russia is behind a massive explosion of “fake news,” the other on how
it invaded the U.S. electric grid. Both articles were fundamentally false.
Each now bears a humiliating editor’s note grudgingly acknowledging
that the core claims of the story were fiction: The first note was
posted a full two weeks later to the top of the original article; the
other was buried the following day at the bottom.
The second story on the electric grid turned out to be far worse than
I realized when I wrote about it on Saturday, when it became clear that
there was no “penetration of the U.S. electricity grid” as the Post had
claimed. In addition to the editor’s note, the
Russia-hacked-our-electric-grid story now has a full-scale retraction in
the form of a separate article admitting that “the incident is not
linked to any Russian government effort to target or hack the utility”
and there may not even have been malware at all on this laptop.
But while these debacles are embarrassing for the paper, they are
also richly rewarding. That’s because journalists — including those at
the Post — aggressively hype and promote the original, sensationalistic
false stories, ensuring that they go viral, generating massive traffic
for the Post (the paper’s executive editor, Marty Baron, recently
boasted about how profitable the paper has become).