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2018 Knight Award for Public Service finalist

Hacking Democracy

About the Project

The Washington Post — which throughout 2017 aggressively reported on contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials — also conducted an unflinching autopsy of the Obama administration’s faltering response to Russian interference in the 2016 election. Drawing on months of reporting and interviews with three dozen
officials, readers were taken deep inside the government’s decision-making – and sometimes its paralysis – in response to Moscow’s influence operation.In a swift, gripping narrative, the story traced the arc of the
Obama administration’s struggle to calibrate its actions, from the arrival of explosive intelligence at the White House in August 2016 to the president’s unveiling of an anemic package of sanctions as he was leaving office.

The detailed account also broke news, revealing that U.S. intelligence agencies had sourcing deep inside the Kremlin showing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s direct involvement in the election operations; as well as a classified plan approved by Obama to plant cyber weapons across Russia’s infrastructure. Some senior administration officials spoke on the record for the first time to defend their efforts, and argued they had dissuaded Putin from taking more aggressive measures to disrupt the election, including the targeting
of registration rolls and voting machines. Others were consumed with regret. “It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend,” said one senior Obama administration official. “I feel like we sort of choked.”

A parallel and equally rigorous examination of the Trump administration policy toward Russia provided fresh insight into the president’s sometimes secretive pursuit of a new relationship with Putin, and his administration’s unwillingness to counter the threat Russia poses to the U.S. electoral system.

Presentation of these projects required collaboration across the newsroom to create a compelling combination of video, photography, graphics, design, and social messaging. These elements included video of our journalists giving a first-person account of their reporting; an interactive function that allowed readers to keep track of each character; a tweet storm; and a timeline that digested the key findings in the story
and placed them in the context of the election. Added to this, we worked to ensure that the material functioned effectively on different devices, with each version playing to the platform’s strength and storytelling abilities.

Our reporters and editors produced a dazzling multi-media report packed with previously unreported material, including highly classified intelligence, that laid bare the complexity of formulating national security policy.