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Opinion Bloomberg submitted ‘Big Hack’ story for award

The Apple logo is displayed at a company store in Hong Kong. (Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg)

The Big Hack," a resounding story published by Bloomberg Businessweek on Oct. 4, 2018, triggered almost immediate and forceful denials from many of its subjects. The story alleged that a supply chain attack originating in China had affected companies such as server producer Supermicro, Apple, a company acquired by Amazon — plus dozens of other unnamed firms. The companies lashed back, with Apple CEO Tim Cook and an Amazon Web Services official asserting that a retraction was in order. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Post.)

Days after the story surfaced, a National Security Agency official declared, ”We’re just befuddled,” and appealed to the public for information about Chinese hardware hacking. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats told CyberScoop for an Oct. 18 story, ”We’ve seen no evidence of that, but we’re not taking anything for granted. We haven’t seen anything, but we’re always watching.”

As the various repudiations stacked up, Bloomberg radiated confidence: “Bloomberg Businessweek’s investigation is the result of more than a year of reporting, during which we conducted more than 100 interviews. Seventeen individual sources, including government officials and insiders at the companies, confirmed the manipulation of hardware and other elements of the attacks. We also published three companies’ full statements, as well as a statement from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We stand by our story and are confident in our reporting and sources.”

This statement was not an instance of spin or fancy PR. Bloomberg believed in the story, no matter the pushback. According to informed sources, the company entered “The Big Hack” for consideration in the 2019 National Magazine Awards, a.k.a. the Ellies. The category was “public interest,” which honors “magazine journalism that illuminates issues of national importance.”

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It’s unclear what the Ellie judges thought about “The Big Hack,” but the story didn’t qualify as a finalist. That distinction went to work from HuffPost, National Geographic, New York Times Magazine, New Yorker and ProPublica.

A Bloomberg spokeswoman told the Erik Wemple Blog, “We do not discuss our award submissions.”

The head-scratching dimension of the submission is its apparent overlap with Bloomberg’s efforts to continue reporting “The Big Hack.” As this blog reported, a Bloomberg reporter on Nov. 19 sent this inquiry to an Apple employee: ”My colleagues’ story from last month (Super Micro) has sparked a lot of pushback. I’ve been asked to join the research effort here to do more digging on this . . . and I would value hearing your thoughts (whatever they may be) and guidance, as I get my bearings.” The first Ellie submission deadline was Nov. 13.

Several other news outlets attempted to replicate Bloomberg’s reporting about the alleged Chinese hardware attack. Thus far, they have failed to do so, conferring on “The Big Hack” the dubious distinction of a permanent exclusive. “Being alone is great for about two days and then you start saying, ‘Where is everyone else or where is anybody else?’” Bob Woodward told the Erik Wemple Blog in January.

We asked Bloomberg what has come of its post-“Big Hack“ reporting, among other inquiries. A company spokeswoman directed us back to that well-worn statement.

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