The putative scourge of “fake news” has been one of the most pervasive post-election media narratives. The general thrust goes like this: A torrent of fake news swept the internet, damaging Hillary Clinton and possibly leading to a Donald Trump victory.
A primary problem with this convenient-to-some narrative is that “fake news” has yet to be clearly defined by anyone. Vaguely conceptualized as misleading or outright fabricated stories, it can mean anything—as FAIR has noted previously (12/1/16)—from outlets that align with “Russian viewpoints” to foreign spam.
A recent series of events further illustrates this ambiguity. Friday night, the Washington Post (12/30/16) published an explosive report about Russian hackers breaking into a Vermont utility company. The headline splashed all over social media:
Russian Hackers Penetrated US Electricity Grid Through a Utility in Vermont, Officials Say
Quickly, the blockbuster story began to fall apart, after Burlington Electric, the utility in question, issued a statement saying they had “detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop not connected to [their] organization’s grid systems.” The Post “updated” the story several times throughout the evening, eventually adding a heavily qualified editor’s note that the only cause for concern was some “Russian code” on a laptop of one of the employees. There was no evidence of a hack or an attempted hack, Russian or otherwise.