Kathleen Hall Jamieson on The Open Mind: Digital War, Espionage, and Dirty Tricks

Kathleen Hall Jamieson on The Open Mind: Digital War, Espionage, and Dirty Tricks


I’m Alexander Hefner, your host on The Open
Mind. We’re delighted to welcome back the foremost
expert on American political communication. Kathleen Hall Jamieson. Oxford University Press has published her
newest work, “Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President – What
We Don’t, Can’t and Do Know.” The author of 16 books, including this latest
forensic examination of Russian digital dirty tricks. Jamison is director of the Annenberg Public
Policy Center and the Packard Professor of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Kathleen, it’s a pleasure to finally have
you here. JAMIESON: It’s a pleasure to be here. HEFFNER: You’ve been here with Bill Moyers. You’ve been here with my grandfather. Now I’m delighted to host you. JAMIESON: Thank you. HEFFNER: You say unequivocally, this is war. What’s the line between dirty tricks and war
and how was that surfacing on the Internet during the 2016 campaign? JAMIESON: Begin by asking what would constitute
an attack because the notion that this is a cyber attack leads to the question, can
you call it cyberwar, and there are people in the intelligence community who were very
nervous about using that label because they want to say it means you’re trying to take
down the infrastructure so they literally where you attack the grid for example, and
as a result you don’t have electricity or you attack the financial structures and as
a result, Wall Street collapses. But what I want to suggest with the idea that
this is a cyber attack and it’s cyberwar, is that a foreign power managed to enter the
territorial United States pretending to be us. That’s the case of the Russian trolls in cyberspace. Now does that sound a little like soldiers
have invaded us. Although they disguise themselves so they
didn’t know that they were soldiers and they marauded around inside our Internet trying
to manipulate the citizenry. Now they didn’t kill anybody, but what they
did was created an information climate that produced an effect. This is information warfare. It isn’t the kind of warfare with guns. It’s a kind of warfare in which if you create
a message imbalance, so there’s more attack against one candidate or extreme discourse
against one candidate on the margins, you’re able to shift votes. They also then again attacked. They invaded, and this is illegal. They stole material from the Democrats and
they leaked it back through WikiLeaks into our press system, so they altered the dialogue. Now that means they entered our country literally
in cyberspace. Don’t think of it in physical space, extracted
something and turned it as a weapon against one of our own political candidates. In that sense, I think what you can call this
is a cyber attack, and I’d like to use the analogy to war to say it’s not meddling. When the press says meddling. If I say somebody meddled, I think your response
is, well, tell him to go mind their own business, but if somebody attacked in a forum in which
imposters pretended to be us and manipulate us, stole things, and changed our message
environment, I want people to use a stronger word. I want attack, I want intervention and I’d
like people to think it’s a form of cyberwar. It’s informational warfare. HEFFNER: Criminality. Ultimately those who conspired to circulate,
disseminate messages that were manipulating the public, but that were using criminal means
to infect us with the carcinogens of misinformation. That is really disinformation. JAMIESON: It is. HEFFNER: What was the methodology in this
study that you relied on to demonstrate this imbalance in the way that the trolls were
targeting Clinton. JAMIESON: Let me distinguish the trolls from
the hackers. HEFFNER: Right. JAMIESON: So the trolls are in cyberspace
pretending to be US nationals and manipulating the information environment, trying to aggregate
likeminded communities and influence them, increase the likelihood that circulating in
those communities is material that would benefit Donald Trump and disadvantage Hilary Clinton
and sow discord within the body politics. The hackers are stealing content, passing
it through front groups to try to disguise the Russian origins and trying to create a
message imbalance. Now what the book argues from his 40 to almost
50 years of academic research that says that we know how we’re influenced in campaigns. We know that what we think about matters in
our determining how we assess a candidate, so the agenda setting, the focusing on one
thing and not another, increases the likelihood that when you assess Clinton versus Trump,
you’re thinking about that thing that’s now more important and what that means is that
if in this information environment, the trolls in cyberspace, the hackers through our media
system are able to make some things more salient or important, they’re more likely to be used
as we assess Clinton’s qualifications to be president. If that happened in the past reliably, our
experiments show and our surveys show it and we see the same pattern happening it’s reasonable
to think it happened this time too, and we also know in the past when one side gains
the message advantage, they create more total communication, usually communication against
the other side. That’s when you shift votes, when you’ve got
comparable balance of communication, it kind of tends to cancel itself out, but you get
an imbalance. You shift votes, so again, we have historical
research that says that happens. The trolls did it in cyberspace, the hackers
through WikiLeaks deterred inside our new structure, so when I step in in the book and
say I have survey data that suggests that during the period of major hacked content
being covered in news and separately polling data from the impact of the last two debates
in which it is reasonable to assume that what has happened is the media agenda has been
changed against Clinton, both in what is the focus and also in the imbalance. The survey data suggests, in effect I’m not
simply saying, oh look, I see an effect. I’m saying the theory suggests that there
should be an effect. There has been in the past. Here I’m surmising from actual data there
is as well, and that’s the basis for saying they probably did change the outcome because
in the past those kinds of manipulations created enough of effect, a bigger effect than the
one needed to shift 78,000 votes in three states. T
HEFFNER: Those 78,000 votes also are something we haven’t adequately scrutinized the question
of whether or not that intervention in our election, not interference, intervention was
also at the state level with the outcomes – the numbers of voters and do we have full
enough evidence now to eliminate the possibility that there were votes that were tampered not
just folks, minds and disinformation that was catapulting people to turn out a certain
way. JAMIESON: They. It’s a really important question. Our intelligence community has said there
is no evidence that there were vote changes. We do know, however, is something that’s very
alarming from the intelligence community and that is that in some instances the Russian
hackers got enough access that they could have altered data. Now the intelligence community is saying they
have no evidence that they did, but the fact that the level of penetration into the system
was that extensive opens the possibility that there may have been an impact that wasn’t
detected and we know that by one revelation 21 states had some form of penetration, although
most of those were not the ones that actually had access, where access was actually gained
to the registration data. What that suggest is that the efforts our
Secretaries of State to protect our electoral infrastructure are even more important than
we ever thought they were in the past, and something and we have every reason to believe
the Secretaries of State are taking this very seriously, that we ought to be on guard against
as we ask, how do we protect 2020? HEFFNER: There has been some reporting that
the Russians stayed quiet or we’re not as active a presence on social networks and that
might in part be the implementation of new safeguards for advertising even though Amy
Klobuchar’s Honest Ads Act hasn’t been implemented. We haven’t been as rigorous as we need to
be, but as we prepare and recognize that we need to be more imaginative in shielding ourselves
from this kind of pernicious influence, what are you proposing that the media can do which
were really reckless in their framing of narratives around the WikiLeaks disclosures in the hacking,
you and I were saying there needs to be an acknowledgement on the part of political reporters
with respect to that kind of foreign interference and acknowledging it and maybe reporting it
differently. JAMIESON: One of the things that I’m concerned
about is that we learn all the lessons we can from 2016 and the platforms, because there’s
been so much scrutiny of the platforms have out are first are more highly accountable
than they ever were before although there still needs to be additional accountability
and put, put in place changes that are productive changes. We need to ask extent to which they’re working. I’d like to see them do more. But in the press area, if you had to say we’ve
got three players that are potentially at issue in this argument for effect, the trolls,
the hackers, and then those in our governmental system who might have been influenced by the
climate or by the information itself. It’s the reporters I’m actually most concerned
about not being self aware of the extent to which they played a role in becoming accomplices
in the Russians activities. So for example, on October 7th, you’re alluding
to the fact that at the beginning of that news cycle, we had the report from two of
the intelligence agencies that the Russians were behind the hacking. Shortly thereafter, the “Access Hollywood”
tape and “Access Hollywood” story are posted by The Washington Post. Now at that point you’ve got two stories that
are hostile to Donald Trump’s candidacy. One, the Russians are behind the hacking and
two, the “Access Hollywood tape.” Moments, practically moments within an hour
of the “Access Hollywood” tape, and now this is clearly a focus on Mueller investigation,
the Podesta hacked content is leaked by WikiLeaks. The first trench of Russian content, Russian-gotten
content is leaked. In that environment the news media have a
choice. They’ve got three things on the table. The Russians were behind the hacking, one,
two the “Access Hollywood” tape, explosive story, ordinarily think would end a candidacy,
and three, the Podesta email hacked content is starting to be leaked. The media very briefly covered the first story:
the Russians are behind, dropped it to the bottom of the fold for the next day because
the “Access Hollywood” and Podesta leak began to take dominance. By that Sunday, the news media had stopped
reporting the Russians had hacked and we had it confirmed. Now if the reporters had done a good job,
they would have said Russians hacked. Here’s Podesta-hacked content, and they would
have an infused their reporting with the awareness that it was Russian hacked. So instead of saying WikiLeaks released, thereby
obscuring the Russian origins, they would’ve said WikiLeaks released content illegally
gotten by Russian hackers. HEFFNER: Right. The thrust of the focus would have been on
the criminality and the pursuit of the hackers, and ultimately indicting and prosecuting them,
which only came once Robert Mueller was appointed to really view it through that lens because
Comey, James Comey was quiet about this up until the point that he was fired, but I would
submit to you that it’s broader than that with respect to Donald Trump, the media feed
off of him. Isn’t it going to take a certain amount of
talent on the part of his opponent, assuming that Trump is the nominee for the Republicans
in 2020 to be able to compete even if journalists are responsible stewards of the discourse. JAMIESON: It is, but go back to October 7th
and ask the question, what is it then Hillary Clinton can do if the press frame is ignoring
the Russians did the hacking and as a result it’s not part of the new structure and Hillary
Clinton comes back as she did in both of the subsequent debates when hacked content was
being used in the debates and said, but wait a minute. The Russians did it. There’s no public structure of awareness to
say she’s telling the truth. There’s no backdrop, news understanding and
so by defaulting in its obligation to keep that piece front and center the press disadvantaged
Hillary Clinton a inadvertently, but even as she tried to legitimately point to the
intelligence community finding that the Russians were there and in the process what we have
is a situation in which the news didn’t ask the subsequent questions, and you’re pointing
to this because reasonably once you say the Russians did the hacking, you’d ask, why do
the Russians want to hurt Hillary Clinton? Why do they want to help Donald Trump? Do they? What is the difference between their policies
on Russia? Is there some advantage to one candidate’s
policies over another? Oh, Hillary Clinton said things Vladimir Putin
really doesn’t like. Would that make her a better or worse? President Donald Trump seems to be more accommodating
about the Russians. Is that a good or bad thing? We never had that press discussion and so
the press did not set the agenda and frame the issue in a way that let the public understand
the whole. HEFFNER: As you point out in your interview
with Jane Mayer, if it had been secret memos divulged from the Trump Organization or the
Stormy Daniels affair or the payoff, and if that had all been revealed in that frame,
we would have perhaps had a different outcome, if they had hacked into the Trump files that
it would have inverted the situation or at a minimum equalized if you had two sets of
hackers, not that we’re condoning any one hacking, but we’re looking at the frame. Here’s what I want to ask you. The bellicosity have a president’s political
communication is not new. We’ve seen that whether it’s FDR, TR, going
all the way back to Andrew Jackson, but Donald Trump’s insistence that fake news is rampant
and that journalists are the enemy of the people, that is a-historical. I can’t think of a president, whoever demonized
journalists in the way that Donald Trump has, as a whole cohort in that environment. Is it not important for us on television and
in the media to just continue to reassert how much of an, ahistorical anomaly this is
in terms of his, his rhetoric? JAMIESON: It’s important first not to accept
vocabulary, “fake news.” So one of the big successes of President Trump
has been to get the mainstream media adopt a language that discredits itself. At the point at which you say “fake news”
you’re assuming there is such a thing. I’m going to argue that was news as the noun. Fake news is an oxymoron. Among other things the things that are fake
news and I would call impostor sites that pretend they’re news fake news, but nothing
else, in that kind of an environment. When you say that everything I dislike is
fake news. Everything I want to discredit is fake news
we lose track of what we should worry about in the body politic. I think we want to call it viral deception
as the thing that we’re concerned about and not delegitimize news by suggesting that there
is such a thing as fake news. Legitimate journalism when it’s found wanting,
when it makes a mistake corrects itself. That is a characteristic of journalism. Viral deception when it’s called out, you
say that’s deceptive, that’s wrong, does not correct itself. The hallmarks of news, man that fake and news
don’t go together as adjective a noun, so I want to call it viral deception. VD, like venereal disease. I want us to just that you don’t want to catch
it, you don’t want to transmit it and you’ve got it you want to quarantine it and cure
it and I want the negative effect attached to it and then I want to say our focus should
be on what’s deceptive. Now let’s look back on news. If there’s a deception in news, of course
we should correct it and good news does. That’s why you can’t be fake news because
one characteristic of news is it’s self-correcting. And the other concern about deception is its
vitality. It manages to circulate in the body politic
and we can’t catch it, so viral deception is my preferred term, one big success of President
Trump is he’s gotten mainstream journalists to themselves by using fake news,
HEFFNER: Sure. But in terms of being constructive and looking
towards the political communication of our future, the antidote or the contrast to Trump,
President Obama said in one of his first 2018 midterm campaign appearances, I disagree with
some of my fellow Democrats. I don’t think we need to fight fire with fire,
but he described fighting fire with fire as those tactics of viral deception, lying to
the public. I don’t think that you fight fire with fire
necessarily through deceptive means. It means charisma. It means gravitas. It means sometimes bravado, sometimes machismo
aren’t those qualities in political communication that we are to, that we ought to see as really
requisite in challenging Donald Trump? JAMIESON: Well, see, first, I think the question
is to whom are you going to speak? There are people on each side ideologically
who are locked down attitudinally. They’re never going to change their beliefs
no matter what you do. The question really is when you’re speaking,
what about those people who are kind of leaning to one side or late into their site, or genuinely
confused or undecided or not political and about to be politically motivated. Those are the people you’re talking to and
the question is, are there ways to appeal to our better nature appeal to positive virtues
to positive emotions, not simply appealing to fear, anger and prejudice, and a skilled
communicator can create a sense of our better self, motivate us toward it rather than our
are more venal self, our more partisan self, our more self interested itself. When the nation is in a mood to accept that
kind of anger, hatred, prejudice, deception, fear is that in that moment that person is
there because that climate has been created, not just by somebody but by a lot of some
bodies. I can increase the likelihood that you or
I are feeling partisan and I can increase the likelihood that we’re feeling fearful,
but I can also increase the likelihood that we’re feeling that we want to get it right. It’s called accuracy motivation, and that
we’re feeling pride in our community, that we’re feeling that we’re part of a collective
whole. The question for politicians is, can they
find that alternative rhetoric. In theory, that’s the rhetoric on which we
were founded and developed as a country. We’ve had periods in which we’ve moved into
anger and fear for extended periods, but we bounced back, remember the McCarthyism era? The question is, can we find a rhetoric which
is the alternative and make it compelling. HEFFNER: These tactics that you chronicle
are really built for politicians who are going to do the opposite as Donald Trump has aspired
to do as you point out with some success in the revisionist history of our vocabulary. One of the most egregious examples of that
manipulation was folks in, in North Carolina in particular, if you trace it to the origin,
but telling communities that you could text your ballot, you can text your vote. And that was one of the most malicious, deceptive
paid ads during the Facebook propaganda buildup in ‘16. It seems like now in North Carolina we have
evidence of actual physical individuals going house-by-house and collecting ballots and
disposing of them, and so the tactics at work digitally are almost becoming alive in the
flesh. JAMIESON: Well and one of the problems in
a digital world is digital communication, although it does many wonderful things – it
provides access to information that is positive at unprecedented levels so you can be more
informed now than you ever could, but this is a structure that’s set up to play on anger,
fear and prejudice, and because you respond quickly and viscerally, when you see lots
of people liking and bots can do that, automatic accounts can do that. You will press like and share before you’ve
thought and nonetheless add your voice to the other voices and your friends see that
and are more likely to accept material that if you had the time to consider carefully,
you might actually not have sent in that environment. It is increasingly likely that we’re going
to see efforts to mobilize based on fear and prejudice and to demobilize based on quick
information that is inaccurate. That suggests that you can do things in ways
that you can’t. That’s the appeal that says, well, just text
your vote in, it’s just fine, We’ll get your vote. HEFFNER: Looking specifically at 2020, what
is the key to undoing the pervasiveness of that viral deception? JAMIESON: The platforms have now increased
the likelihood that you see the source of the content and identify it. So for example, on YouTube you had RT looking
just like it was a reputable news site or are originating in the United States. After all, in 2016 you saw Larry King, formally
of CNN, had Schultz formally of MSNBC on that channel. You might well think you’re hearing US originated
broadcast, not when you’re looking at YouTube anymore. They now say, our RT gets its funding from
the Russian government. Now it also says PBS is partially government
funded, trying to play an equal role in identifying across the board, but that means at least
you’ll know it’s the Russians, and that’s good news because we use source in assessing
message. Now you might say, I love the Russians, happy
to be propagandized. More likely you’re going to say, oh, I might
be wary of the content. Now, it’s much harder to buy ads if you’re
a foreign national. You now have to demonstrate on different platforms
that you’re actually inside the United States purchasing in one case by getting content
sent to you that you have to send back through the mail system. You’ve got to provide a social security number,
a business number, all of that to try to minimize the likelihood that ads, which is the clearest
way to micro target are not coming in from the outside. That’s a big improvement too. You also have an increased vigilance about
fact checking information, so Facebook now has a collection and factcheck.org, which
is part of my policy center as part of it, that we’re trying to feature corrections alongside
the misinformation. So if you search for the misinformation, we
hope you’ll read the correction first, that’s less likely, you’re less likely as a result
to be influenced by all of those things are potentially protective. We need to figure out how we can get more
in place and the press needs to tell us that it’s learned the lessons of 2016. It will not uncritically air content. It will tell us when it has an independently
verified content. It will tell us who hacked if we know there’s
hacking in there, it will not create false scandal narratives and it will keep things
in context. HEFFNER: I’ll commit to those principles. Kathleen, I don’t know if my brethren in the
profession will do so and I don’t know what our means of accounting for those values will
be. Lastly, in the seconds we have left, what
about the macro level? What about the political communication, leadership
that I think our country will be hungry for in 2020 to go back to that question of candidates
for higher office who are going to use their rhetoric as a means of corrective course. Just like those prescriptions you identified
for the journalists, for the citizens, for the academic world. What about the political leadership as an
alternative to Donald Trump? JAMIESON: I think there is a hunger in the
country right now for the kind of statement that Ambassador Nikki Haley issued when she
said, our opponents are not our enemies. Our opponents are just our opponents. I think everyone who’s running for higher
office ought to comfortably make the statement. I think there’s a hunger for recognition that
if we delegitimize the press, we have lost our ability to hold those in power accountable. I think there’s a hunger for people trying
to articulate the importance of a free press and also the responsibilities that that entails. I think it’s also extraordinarily important
that our political leaders on both sides call out the abuses on their own side. We have a tendency to critique excesses on
the other side, but not on our own. The most powerful moments and John McCain
demonstrated that in 2008 are ones in which someone says to his own followers, followers,
we don’t go there. We saw that during John Roberts nomination
when a group on the left put up an illegitimate add factcheck.org. Fact checked it almost immediately and people
on the left stood up and said, we don’t do that. That’s inappropriate. Take that ad down. We should look to McCain. We should look to those people on the left. We should say we want more of you in 2020. HEFFNER: The indefatigable Kathleen Hall Jamieson. Thank you for being here and I say amen to
that last point. Thanks. JAMIESON: Good to be with you. HEFFNER: And thanks to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time for thoughtful
excursion into the world of ideas. Until then, keep an open mind. Please visit The Open Mind website at Thirteen.org/OpenMind
to view this program online or to access over 1,500 other interviews and do check us out
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