Somehow, “I’m sorry” Just Doesn’t Cut it Here
November 25, 2016
Anytime you questioned the election coverage priorities, media elites would retreat to their default position, “Since everyone hates us, we must be doing the right thing.”
It’s a perfectly seamless, impenetrable logic loop.
Sometimes people hate you because you are destroying humanity’s last, best hope.
LAST winter, as primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire headed to the polls, a covert and cunning Russian plot was underway to disrupt the American political process. With aliases like Guccifer 2.0and Fancy Bear, Russian hackers were targeting critical computer systems.
In June, they struck, hitting the Democratic Party, and by July its chairman was ousted in the fallout. Soon embarrassing emails were spilling from the computers of Hillary Clinton and her staff. Republican officials were hit, too. So was the National Security Agency. Now, hackers are meddling with the voting systems in several states, leaving local officials on high alert. Come Election Day, they’ll find out what, if anything, the cyberspies have in store.
This is an act of foreign interference in an American election on a scale we’ve never seen, yet on most days it has been the also-ran of media coverage, including at The New York Times.
The emails themselves — exposing the underside of the Democratic political machinery, and the conflicts, misjudgments and embarrassing communications of its top ranks — have received bountiful attention. What rarely makes the main narrative is the spy-versus-spy cyberwarfare: the tactics, the players and the government efforts to tame it. In a calamitous campaign unlike any in memory, it’s not surprising that other story lines get squeezed out. But one of the most chilling chapters of this election is the role of Russian intelligence and the growing threat of digital espionage. With days to go, readers have been shortchanged on this part of history.
History will judge The Times’s institutional commitment to reporting on the actual foreign intervention less favorably, I suspect. The team in Washington produced commendable, competitive work on an exceptionally difficult reporting target. Led by David Sanger, The Times was first to link the Russians to the hacks, to examine the baffling role of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and to smartly explore the options that the Obama administration could use to retaliate. I have no substantive complaints about the stories The Times has done.
What was missing is a sense that this coverage is actually important. After The Washington Post broke the story that the Democratic National Committee had been hacked, The Times came back with its own solid piece, but it didn’t crack the front page and it earned only a modest mention on the home page. A piece laying out evidence that the Russians may be trying to falsify voting results in state databases ran on A15 and got minimal play digitally. Another on Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. signaling that the White House was prepared to order a rare covert cyberattack against Russian found a home on page A19.