Dec 19, 2019

NBC News forms new election security team

NBC News

NBC News has created a new editorial team to report on issues related to U.S. election security and voting called "Vote Watch."

Why it matters: Most news organizations were caught off guard by the 2016 election manipulation attempts by foreign governments. Even though NBC News already invests heavily in investigative coverage on things like misinformation, cybersecurity and national security, the outlet wants to get ahead of these issues even more before 2020.

Driving the news: While the team has been publishing investigative stories on this topic for some time now, its first major cross-platform investigation on election security will debut Thursday on "The Today Show."

  • Cynthia McFadden, a veteran news reporter and a senior legal and investigative correspondent for NBC News, will unveil a TV package with exclusive access to Election Systems & Software (ES&S), an Omaha, Nebraska-based company that manufactures and sells the majority of voting machine equipment (52%) in the United States.
  • In her investigation, McFadden and her team uncovered that many voting machine manufacturers, including ES&S, for years didn't have to adhere to any cybersecurity standards and as a result now pose a major national security threat.
  • "It's been poorly covered over the years because who knew we needed to cover it?" said McFadden in an interview with Axios. "I give them credit for letting us in and letting us ask anything. We got to ask them some hard questions, but there [are] some troubling answers or areas where they declined to answer."

Details: The new team is comprised of senior-level journalists across NBC News and MSNBC who cover topics ranging from social media and the dark web, to national security, technology and the law.

  • The team is led by Janelle Rodriguez, NBC News’ SVP of editorial. Rich Gardella an investigative producer for NBC News serves as its editorial coordinating producer.
  • The team will cover an array of topics that touch on voter security, including social media misinformation as well as voting machine and technology issues.
  • The team consists of reporters, producers and researchers across various departments. It includes journalists such as McFadden, justice correspondent Pete Williams, national security and intelligence correspondent Ken Dilanian, technology correspondent Jacob Ward, senior business reporter Ben Popken, investigative tech reporter Cyrus Farivar and misinformation reporter Ben Collins.

What it looks like: The only products that will come from the Vote Watch team are research and reporting. The editorial work will live on a dedicated "Vote Watch" landing page and will appear across all of NBC News and MSNBC-owned and operated channels, like its TV shows, podcasts, digital sites, etc.

  • "It's a huge amount of work," Rodriguez told Axios. "We are putting the whole weight of NBC News behind this. We consider this from the top down to be one of our highest editorial priorities."

Yes, but: One challenge with an endeavor like this undertaken by a major news network is that it can be challenging to educate voters about these problems without dissuading them from participating in the process.

  • "We have to walk a fine line here," says McFadden. "We don't want to make people feel as though they shouldn't vote because of problems within the system. We're trying to cover things that are important to viewers without needlessly alarming them."

What to expect: Below are a few examples of stories pertaining to voter security that members of the Vote Watch team have recently written.

Note: NBC is an investor in Axios and Andy Lack, chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, is a member of the Axios board. MSNBC & Axios engage in a weekday sponsored television appearance at 5:55am ET.

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