Accuracy in Media

NBC News used three of its reporters – Cynthia McFadden, William Arkin and Kevin Monahan – on a story entitled, “Russia penetrated U.S. voter systems, top official says.”

The story recounted an “exclusive interview with NBC News” by Jessica Manfra, head of cybersecurity for the Department of Homeland Security, in which Manfra said, “We saw a targeting of 21 states and an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated.”

More texts came to light between the two FBI agents engaged in an extramarital affair while working to undermine President Trump, including one that indicated President Obama “wants to know everything” about the Trump investigation.

This first indication Obama had first-hand knowledge of the FBI investigations into Trump – after he had assured the public in multiple interviews he did not meddle in FBI matters – needed to be counteracted. So did news Sidney Blumenthal, Hillary Clinton’s henchman, was feeding unverified anti-Trump gossip to the gang at Fusion GPS, further undermining the Mueller investigation.

So along came the perfect antidote – a story saying that, all hullabaloo aside, there is still a possibility the Trump campaign through its friends in Russia managed to hack voting machines and change the results of the election.

But this story merely repeats statements Manfra, a career employee who earlier had served in the Obama White House, made last June before a congressional committee and that the Associated Press did not report on until Sept. 22.

In her remarks, Manfra was careful to say this was more a matter of Russians probing to get into the systems, that almost all their attempts had failed and that they targeted voter rolls and not tallying systems.

“It’s really reconnaissance by a bad guy to try and figure out how we would break into your computer,” a spokesman for the Colorado secretary of state’s office said in the AP story. “It’s not an attack. I wouldn’t call it a probe. It’s not a breach. It’s not a penetration.”

After the Manfra interview, NBC News rushed out with a tweet that read, “BREAKING: U.S. official in charge of protecting American elections from hacking tells NBC News that Russians successfully penetrated voter registration rolls of several U>LS. States prior to the 2016 presidential election.”

Only, as Breitbart pointed out, “NBC’s own reporting acknowledges … that Russia “targeted” 21 states’ voter rolls, and [emphasis in original] that the systems of several were breached, and [emphasis in original] that authorities believed the Russian government itself was involved.”

Moreover, according to the Breitbart story, no one has “claimed any actual consequence” of Russian targeting of voter rolls. And we’re up to give states now that the Department of Homeland Security claimed were hacked but that insist they weren’t, including California and Wisconsin.

The only news to come out of the NBC interview, according to Breitbart, is that Manfra stands by her claim that 21 states were affected. But “She does not specify why” she doesn’t accept the claims of states that say they weren’t affected, and “Manfra notes, cryptically, that the list was only a ‘snapshot in time with the visibility that the department had at the time.’”

This story of Russia hacking turned out to be significantly overblown – or even outright false – the first time around. States insisted they had not been hacked, and Homeland Security eventually admitted it couldn’t be sure about many of its claims. But the story reappears now, when Democrats seem most to need it.

“This is not an isolated incident,” wrote Glenn Greenwald, who helped debunk the DHS claim. “Quite the contrary: This has happened over and over and over again. Inflammatory claims about Russia get mindlessly hyped by media outlets, almost always based on nothing more than evidence-free claims from government officials, only to collapse under the slightest scrutiny, because they are entirely lacking in evidence.”

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