CBS First to Cover Russian Hacking Method In-Depth

On Oct. 26, CBS devoted three minutes to an issue that the other networks have only mentioned in passing.

ABC, NBC, and CBS frequently cover the hacking of Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta’s emails. They regularly say U.S. investigators have confirmed that Russia is behind the cyber-attacks.

CBS alone asked how did the hackers do it?

In the Oct. 26 investigative piece, CBS’s Charlie D’Agata begins with another victim of Russian hacking: the investigative website Bellingcat.

Bellingcat workers explain how hackers used ‘spear-phishing’ … A tactic of luring unsuspecting victims into cyber peril by entering official credentials into fake Google links.

CBS Evening News

CBS Evening News

Then, D’Agata explains how to identify the fake emails.


CBS Evening News

Hovering over the fake link reveals it is much longer than it should be.

This information would have been helpful to Democratic National Committee members and Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta, whom D’Agata says were victims of the same spear-phishing technique from the same Russian hacking group that attacked Bellingcat.

Later, D’Agata takes viewers to Russia to ask: Did the Russian government orchestrate the attacks?

He acknowledges that the answer is not clear.

D’Agata interviews Bellingcat’s Moscow contributor, who says his personal accounts and cell phone were hacked after he revealed government deception. He says he is “absolutely sure” the attacks were state sponsored.

D’Agata ends with investigators’ belief that “there is every indication that Russian hackers will try to disrupt the U.S. election” and reminds viewers Russia has faced blame for undermining Ukrainian elections.

D’Agata’s piece is the most in-depth evening newscast coverage of Russian hacking so far, and this wasn’t CBS’s only effort to cover this important story.

CBS Evening News

CBS Evening News

On Oct. 20, CBS’s Nancy Cordes said cyber security firm SecureWorks confirmed, “Podesta unwittingly entered his credentials on a fake google login page set up by Fancy Bear, a notorious group of Russian-linked hackers.”

She briefly explained spear-phishing before the story shifted to the candidates’ dispute over Russia’s involvement in the hack.

Throughout October, all three major networks’ evening newscasts have devoted considerable coverage to the content of the hacked emails and its effect on the Clinton campaign.

The coverage has often mentioned U.S. officials’ assertion that Russians are responsible, and they have covered the feud between Clinton and Trump over Russia’s involvement.

Despite the frequency of the email hacks and resulting evening news stories, in October only CBS referenced Bellingcat, the spear-phishing method, or how to identify it.

Do other networks have an obligation to cover the story?  Former Today show anchor Ann Curry says yes:

“The Russian hacking story is important enough to be significantly covered by all the networks, given the mounting evidence that Russia appears to be meddling in this presidential election.”

Curry said due to the volume of evidence, networks reporting on WikiLeaks should mention that “U.S. Intelligence blames Russia for these leaks, which Russia denies.”

However, Curry noted why networks should be cautious in giving too much time to this story. “It still relies on sources who could potentially be motivated to overstate, mislead, or misinform the public about Russia’s involvement,” she said.

Curry added that in the past, U.S. Intelligence has presented false information as fact.

The nature of this story, she said, gives networks even more responsibility to “attribute, attribute, attribute.”

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