After its favored candidate lost the presidential election in shocking fashion, the New York Times is suddenly wide awake to the threat posed by Russia. It devoted 8,000 words and Wednesday’s front page to “Hacking The Democrats – How Russia Honed its Cyberpower and Trained It on an American Election.” The accompanying photo of the filing cabinet broken into during Watergate made it clear the Times considered this a national (and Democratic) tragedy.
The report by Eric Lipton, David Sanger and Scott Shane on Wednesday found a lot of basic incompetence in the government, especially at the Democratic National Committee, that allowed Russia to allegedly hack computer systems at the D.N.C., resulting in politically damaging leaks, but the focus soon turned to criticism the media reporting on revelations from Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. It's tone toward WikiLeaks has certainly changed since it was gleefully puttting hacked foreign policy memos in print.
The paper relayed the liberal conventional wisdom:
It was the cryptic first sign of a cyberespionage and information-warfare campaign devised to disrupt the 2016 presidential election, the first such attempt by a foreign power in American history. What started as an information-gathering operation, intelligence officials believe, ultimately morphed into an effort to harm one candidate, Hillary Clinton, and tip the election to her opponent, Donald J. Trump.
The D.N.C.’s fumbling encounter with the F.B.I. meant the best chance to halt the Russian intrusion was lost. The failure to grasp the scope of the attacks undercut efforts to minimize their impact. And the White House’s reluctance to respond forcefully meant the Russians have not paid a heavy price for their actions, a decision that could prove critical in deterring future cyberattacks.
Mr. Obama was briefed regularly on all this, but he made a decision that many in the White House now regret: He did not name Russians publicly, or issue sanctions. There was always a reason: fear of escalating a cyberwar, and concern that the United States needed Russia’s cooperation in negotiations over Syria.
The Times turned to WikiLeaks, its former favorite source.
Mr. Trump, by now the Republican nominee, expressed delight at the continuing jolts to his opponent, and he began to use Twitter and his stump speeches to highlight the WikiLeaks releases. On July 25, he sent out a lighthearted tweet: “The new joke in town,” he wrote, “is that Russia leaked the disastrous D.N.C. e-mails, which should never have been written (stupid), because Putin likes me.”
But WikiLeaks was far from finished. On Oct. 7, a month before the election, the site began the serial publication of thousands of private emails to and from Mr. Podesta, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager.
The same day, the United States formally accused the Russian government of being behind the hackings, in a joint statement by the director of national intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security, and Mr. Trump suffered his worst blow to date, with the release of a recording in which he bragged about sexually assaulting women.
The Podesta emails were nowhere near as sensational as the Trump video. But, released by WikiLeaks day after day over the last month of the campaign, they provided material for countless news reports...
Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder and editor, has resisted the conclusion that his site became a pass-through for Russian hackers working for Mr. Putin’s government or that he was deliberately trying to undermine Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy. But the evidence on both counts appears compelling.
But asked whether he believed the leaks were one reason for Mr. Trump’s election, Mr. Assange seemed happy to take credit. “Americans extensively engaged with our publications,” he wrote. “According to Facebook statistics WikiLeaks was the most referenced political topic during October.”
Though Mr. Assange did not say so, WikiLeaks’ best defense may be the conduct of the mainstream American media. Every major publication, including The Times, published multiple stories citing the D.N.C. and Podesta emails posted by WikiLeaks, becoming a de facto instrument of Russian intelligence.
Mr. Putin, a student of martial arts, had turned two institutions at the core of American democracy -- political campaigns and independent media -- to his own ends. The media’s appetite for the hacked material, and its focus on the gossipy content instead of the Russian source, disturbed some of those whose personal emails were being reposted across the web.
“What was really surprising to me?” Ms. Tanden said. “I could not believe that reporters were covering it.”
The paper used a partisan source guilty of her own campaign treachery to hypocritically attack the Republicans for not playing fair.
Donna Brazile, the interim chairwoman of the D.N.C., became increasingly frustrated as the clock continued to run down on the presidential election -- and still there was no broad public condemnation by the White House, or Republican Party leaders, of the attack as an act of foreign espionage.
Ms. Brazile even reached out to Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, urging him twice in private conversations and in a letter to join her in condemning the attacks -- an offer he declined to take up.
The Times pondered Putin’s motive:
Did he seek to mar the brand of American democracy, to forestall anti-Russian activism for both Russians and their neighbors? Or to weaken the next American president, since presumably Mr. Putin had no reason to doubt American forecasts that Mrs. Clinton would win easily? Or was it, as the C.I.A. concluded last month, a deliberate attempt to elect Mr. Trump?
In fact, the Russian hack-and-dox scheme accomplished all three goals.
But the paper has not always been so concerned about the Russia threat, especially when it’s a Republican presidential candidate sounding the alarm.
The New York Times editorial board showed its usual perspicacity in March 2012 after then-Republican candidate Mitt Romney declared Russia an enemy: “Two decades after the end of the cold war, Mitt Romney still considers Russia to be America’s 'No. 1 geopolitical foe.' His comments display either a shocking lack of knowledge about international affairs or just craven politics. Either way, they are reckless and unworthy of a major presidential contender.”
Reporter Richard Oppel was similarly dismissive: “Mitt Romney’s recent declaration that Russia is America’s top geopolitical adversary drew raised eyebrows and worse from many Democrats, some Republicans and the Russians themselves, all of whom suggested that Mr. Romney was misguidedly stuck in a cold war mind-set.”
And the paper had no problem with Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks project before it started hurting Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. A December 2010 article in the paper’s style magazine T treated the anti-American oddball and his damaging, illegal leaks of secret diplomatic cables as a Christmas gift, under the galling title “The Gift of Information.”