NBC Prepares for Election with Cyberattack Story

With only five days left in the 2016 election, NBC aired an exclusive story about potential cyber threats on Election Day–setting it apart from ABC and CBS.    

“According to multiple intelligence sources, U.S. officials are deeply concerned about, and preparing for, some sort of cyber-chaos next week,”  NBC’s Senior Investigative Reporter Cynthia McFadden said in the Nov. 3 exclusive.  

McFadden detailed several “worst case scenarios” for possible cyberattacks, such as hackers from Russia or elsewhere tampering with social media, the electric grid, portions of the internet and logistics in swing states.


NBC Graphic

NBC said the attack would not affect actual vote tally; instead, these interferences are meant to spread doubt and prevent voting.

However, McFadden said President Obama had been briefed on possible actions if these scenarios occurred and that officials say Americans should be relieved the government is preparing ahead of time. McFadden also stated there are no current credible threats.

The Washington Post published the same story but used a less ominous tone. The Post did not mention any of the worst case scenarios McFadden had laid out and made it clear it would be almost impossible for a foreign force to alter the election results.

ABC led with Melania Trump’s first campaign appearance on since her highly criticized at the Republican National Convention. CBS revealed a new CBS/New York Times national poll, showing Clinton with a three-percentage point lead over Trump.

But for NBC, does leading with the cyberattack story make each of these scenarios seem more plausible than necessary? Even if there are no credible threats?

For former Twitter and NPR executive Vivian Schiller, NBC’s piece wasn’t that much of a story.

“I suspect the fact that the story is an exclusive drove the decision to make it a prominent lead,” she said. “As for the story itself, I’m unimpressed. It’d be more surprising if the government wasn’t preparing for a wide range of cyberattacks.”

Reporting what may happen is a part of journalism, but presenting possibilities in unrealistic tones, perhaps, stretches the truth far beyond the ballot box.

Alex Theriot

Alex Theriot is a senior multi-platform journalism major, minoring in global terrorism studies. Previously, Alex served as staff writer, style editor and webmaster for Unwind Magazine, the campus arts and entertainment publication. Alex has held communications internships at the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Department of Homeland Security. She completed her journalism internship at CNN. Upon graduation, Alex hopes to attend graduate school in the Washington, D.C. area, continuing to pursue a career in national security.

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