While journalists around the country were reacting to what appeared to be the story of the campaign — an “Access Hollywood” recording of Donald Trump bragging he could grab women “by the pussy” — U.S. intelligence agencies were sounding an alarm over Russian interference in the American electoral system.
The alarm, to put it mildly, went unheeded.
Indeed, the early-October revelation that the Russian government was interfering in the presidential election was completely drowned out by two juicier stories: the leaked decade-old “Access Hollywood” tape and a trove of Democratic National Committee emails dumped online by WikiLeaks.
The confluence of those stories, laid bare in a new Washington Post investigation into Russia’s interference in the election, shows how manufactured events and a vapid media cycle buried the biggest story of all, possibly altering the course of American politics.
On Oct. 7, 2016, 17 intelligence agencies issued a joint statement, confirming that the Russians had been involved the hacking of U.S. email servers with the intention of causing a disturbance in the election.
“The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations,” the statement read. “These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the U.S. election process.”
That same day, a half hour after the Post published its story about the leaked 2005 “pussy” tape, WikiLeaks dropped its first batch of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s emails. WikiLeaks would continue to publish new emails from Podesta daily through Nov. 8 — and the press would continue to report on their contents.
The first batch of emails contained excerpts from Hillary Clinton’s behind-closed-doors speeches to Wall Street firms that were controversial throughout both the Democratic primary and the general election.
That no one heard about this may have proved pivotal in the narrative around Trump’s candidacy and the election. While the lurid details of Trump’s past dominated news cycles, we missed what our intelligence agencies were trying to tell us — that the Russians were, in fact, meddling in the election.