IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY

After the testimony of the first official who listened to the phone call between President Trump and the Ukrainian president, House Democrats convene to enter the next phase of their probe. We look back at how we got here with Richard Stengel, former managing editor of Time magazine and Under Secretary of State for the Obama administration.

For more information on “Information Wars,” click here. 

Aired on October 30, 2019. 

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS,' I'M JACK FORD.

IMPEACHMENT.

HEADLINES AROUND THE WORLD HAVE RESONATED WITH THE WORD SINCE NEWS BROKE THAT PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP ALLEGEDLY SOUGHT AID FROM UKRAINE'S PRESIDENT IN A KWID KWO PRO.

ONE OFFICIAL IS CLAIMING THIS CALL BOLSTERING VLADIMIR PUTIN ANTIDEMOCRATIC NARRATIVE.

RUSSIA HAS PREVIOUSLY FURTHERED THIS AGENDA BY SPREADING MISINFORMATION AND DISINFORMATION DURING THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION.

FORMER UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION AND FORMER EDITOR IN CHIEF AT 'TIME' AND WELL-REGARDED AUTHOR RICHARD STENGEL JOINS US TO TALK ABOUT THIS AND MORE FROM HIS NEW BOOK TITLED 'INFORMATION WARS: HOW WE LOST THE GLOBAL BATTLE AGAINST DISINFORMATION AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT.'

HIS BOOK LAYS OUT EXACTLY HOW RUSSIA INTERFERED IN THE 2016 ELECTION AND HOW WE CAN EDUCATE OURSELVES FROM SEPARATING FACT FROM FICTION GOING INTO THE 2020 ELECTION.

AND WE'RE DELIGHTED TO HAVE HIM WITH US NOW.

GREAT TO SEE YOU, JACK.

LET ME START OFF WITH THE NOTION OF DISINFORMATION.

AND THE SIMPLE QUESTION IS WHAT IS THAT EXACTLY?

YES, DISINFORMATION IS DIFFERENT THAN MISINFORMATION IN THE FOLLOWING SENSE: DISINFORMATION THE FALSE, UNTRUE INFORMATION THAT'S USED FOR A STRATEGIC PURPOSE, TO PERSUADE YOU OF SOMETHING THAT'S NOT TRUE.

MISINFORMATION MAY BE A MISTAKE.

WE IN JOURNALISM HAVE PRACTICED MISINFORMATION FOR A WHILE BECAUSE WE DO MAKE MISTAKES.

IT'S A LITTLE DIFFERENT THAN PROPAGANDA WHICH I SAY IS MAYBE TRUE OR FALSE, ALSO TRYING TO PERSUADE YOU OF A POINT OF VIEW USUALLY ABOUT A NATION OR A COUNTRY.

I WAS STRUCK BY A QUOTE THAT YOU HAD SAID BEFORE.

AND YOU SAID YOU HAD LONG THOUGHT THAT WE DIDN'T HAVE A FAKE NEWS PROBLEM.

WE HAVE A MEDIA LITERACY PROBLEM.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?

ONE OF THE THINGS I FOUND WHEN I WAS AT THE STATE DEPARTMENT AND I SAW ALL OF THIS DISINFORMATION THAT THE RUSSIANS WERE DOING AND I ALSO WAS COUNTERING ISIS DISINFORMATION, I WAS STRUCK BY EVEN AFTER SPENDING MY WHOLE CAREER AS A JOURNALIST THAT PEOPLE COULDN'T TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FACT AND FICTION.

THEY DIDN'T LOOK AT THE PROVENANCE, THE ORIGIN OF WHERE THAT INFORMATION CAME FROM.

IT MADE ME REALIZE WE DID A BAD JOB EXPLAINING WHAT WE DO, THE SCHOOLS DIDN'T DO A GOOD JOB OF TEACHING PEOPLE HOW TO SUS OUT WHAT'S FACTUAL AND WHAT'S NOT.

AND I THINK IT NEEDS TO BE TAUGHT IN SCHOOLS.

IN WHAT FASHION?

HOW DO YOU THINK THAT SHOULD BE DONE?

YOU TEACH PEOPLE WHAT'S A TRUSTED SOURCE, WHAT'S NOT A TRUSTED SOURCE, HOW DO YOU FIGURE THAT OUT?

READING SOMETHING OUT ON THE INTERNET AS KIDS WILL SAY IS DIFFERENT THAN READING SOMETHING ON 'THE NEW YORK TIMES' ON THE INTERNET OR 'THE WASHINGTON POST.'

I'VE BEEN SURPRISED THAT PEOPLE ARE NOT AS WELL VERSED IN THIS AS I IMAGINED THEY WOULD BE.

AND BY THE WAY, IN ACADEMIC SCHOLARSHIP, PEOPLE -- YOU USE FOOTNOTES, PRIMARY SOURCES.

WE NEED TO DO THE SAME THING FOR JOURNALISM.

WHAT ABOUT THE DELIVERY PLATFORMS NOWADAYS FOR NEWS AND FOR JOURNALISM?

YOU KNOW, THE IDEA OF YOU'RE GETTING YOUR NEWS IN A BURST OF 240 CHARACTERS.

I'M NOT AGAINST THAT.

I ACTUALLY THINK IT'S -- THE BENEFITS OF THE INTERNET ARE TREMENDOUSLY OUTWEIGH THE DRAW BACKS.

AND TWITTER, WHICH YOU'RE REFERRING TO, IS INSTANT.

BUT OF COURSE IT HAS LINKS TO MUCH LONGER PIECES.

THERE'S A VIRTUE I THINK IN SOMETIMES TRYING TO CONDENSE YOUR IDEAS INTO A SMALL NUMBER OF CHARACTERS.

I'M NOT AGAINST THAT.

I JUST WANT TO FIGURE OUT WAYS THAT WE CAN USE IT IN A MORE HOLISTIC WAY TO BETTER UNDERSTAND WHAT'S GOING ON.

LET ME TALK ABOUT SOME OF THE THINGS THAT YOU WRITE ABOUT HERE, AND YOU MENTIONED IT BEFORE WHEN YOU WERE IN THE STATE DEPARTMENT.

TELL US A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT WHAT YOU FOUND IN TERMS OF RUSSIA, WHAT THEY WERE DOING HERE, HOW THEY MANAGED TO WEAPONIZE, FOR INSTANCE, THE INTERNET.

YES.

TELL US ABOUT THAT.

THEY HAVEN'T WEAPONIZED THE WHOLE INTERNET BUT A SECTOR OF IT.

BUT ENOUGH OF IT, I GUESS.

ONE OF THE THINGS I SAW, WHEN I CAME INTO OFFICE A FEW WEEKS LATER, PUTIN ANNEXED CRIMEA IN ONE OF THE LARGEST ILLEGAL LAND GRABS SINCE WORLD WAR II.

BUT WHAT I ALSO NOTICED WHEN I STARTED TWEETING ABOUT IT WAS I STARTED GETTING HIT BY RESPONSES FROM FOLKS WITH RUSSIAN-SOUNDING NAMES SAYING I WAS A HYPOCRITE AND PROP GANDIST AND A LIAR.

WE STARTED LOOKING AT IT AND WHAT THE RUSSIANS WERE DOING IN THE RUSSIAN PERIPHERY IN THE BALTICS AND POLAND AND GERMANY.

THERE WAS A WHOLE RISE OF DISINFORMATION.

THAT WAS THE TIME THAT THE INTERNET RESEARCH AGENCY WAS STARTED BY A CRONY OF PUTINS.

HUNDREDS OF YOUNG PEOPLE WOULD COME IN EYE DAY CREATING ALL OF THESE FALSE NARRATIVES, CREATING DIFFERENT PERSONAS ON FACEBOOK, ON TWITTER, WHATEVER.

WE SAW THE KIND OF BIRTH OF THIS RUSSIAN DISINFORMATION EFFORT WHICH CARRIED OVER INTO THE 2016 CAMPAIGN.

I SAY IT'S A KIND OF TEMPLATE FOR THEM.

THEY SAW HOW SUCCESSFUL IT WAS IN RUSSIAN AND UKRAINE, AND THEN THEY TRANSFERRED IT TO ENGLISH.

AND THEY HAVEN'T STOPPED.

ARE WE ABLE LOOKING BACK AT IT TO CALCULATE JUST WHAT THE IMPACT WAS OF THE RUSSIANS' INTERFERENCE IN THE 2016 ELECTION?

YOU KNOW, THAT IS THE COLLECTION?

THERE ARE CERTAIN PEOPLE WHO THINK THEY KNOW THE ANSWER.

AND I'VE LOOKED AT THIS NOW FOR A LONG TIME.

I DON'T KNOW THE ANSWER.

WHERE I THINK THEY GOT THE MOST PURCHASE -- WE SAW SOME OF THIS IN THAT SENATE INTELLIGENCE REPORT, SOME OF IT FROM THE MUELLER REPORT -- IS TRYING TO PERSUADE PEOPLE NOT TO VOTE, VOTER SUPPRESSION.

THEY DID A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF FALSE CONTENT TARGETED AT AFRICAN-AMERICAN USERS, A SITE CALLED BLACKTIVIST.

THEY WERE TRYING TO PERSUADE BLACK PEOPLE NOT TO VOTE.

THEY ALSO DID SUPPORT FOR JILL STEIN.

IN THE THREE STATES THAT TRUMP BEAT HILLARY CLINTON IN, WISCONSIN, PENNSYLVANIA, MICHIGAN, HIS MARGIN OF VICTORY WAS SMALLER THAN THE NUMBER OF VOTES THAT JILL STEIN GOT AND AFRICAN-AMERICAN VOTERS IN THOSE THREE PLACES WAS NOT NEARLY AS HIGH AS IN 2012.

YOU MENTIONED ISIS.

THAT MIGHT SURPRISE PEOPLE.

WE'VE HEARD A LOT ABOUT RUSSIAN DISINFORMATION.

WHAT DID YOU DISCOVER ABOUT ISIS?

ONE OF THE THINGS THAT REPORTED TO ME AT THE STATE DEPARTMENT WAS THE ONE ENTITY THAT DID COUNTER ISIS MESSAGING.

IT WAS STARTED BY SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON.

AND THERE IT WAS INTERESTING.

IN SOME WAYS IT'S A MODEL FOR WHAT MIGHT BE GOING ON.

NOW, THEY DIDN'T CAMOUFLAGE THEIR IDENTITIES.

THEY WERE IN FAVOR OF THE CALIPHATE, NOTHING WRONG WITH THE CALIPHATE AS AN IDEA.

BUT THEY ALSO USED THOSE PLATFORMS TO RECRUIT PEOPLE.

WHAT I WORRY A LITTLE BIT ABOUT IN 2020 IS THESE RUSSIAN TROLLS ARE RECRUITING AMERICANS WHO DON'T KNOW THEY'RE DEALING WITH RUSSIAN TROLLS TO DO THINGS THAT WOULD HURT OUR ELECTION.

IT SOUNDS -- EVEN THOUGH IT CERTAINLY SOUNDS INSIDIOUS, BUT ALSO SOUNDS FAIRLY INGENIOUS.

I AM NOT SOMEBODY WHO IS TERRIBLY WELL-VERSED IN THAT WORLD.

I CAN EXIST.

BUT IS THAT AN OVERSTATEMENT?

I THINK IT IS AN OVERSTATEMENT.

AND HERE'S WHY.

BECAUSE THE PEOPLE THEY'RE TARGETING DON'T HAVE MEDIA LITERACY.

IT'S LIKE THE --

BACK TO THE QUESTION I LED OFF WITH YOU ABOUT THE NOTION OF MEDIA LITERACY.

YEAH.

IT'S LIKE THE EMAILS YOU GET FROM THE NIGERIAN PRINCE WHO NEEDS $20,000 AND THEY'RE OFTEN FILLED WITH GRAMMATICAL MISTAKES AND SPELLING ERRORS.

THAT'S DELIBERATE.

IT'S DELIBERATE BECAUSE THEY KNOW IF YOU ANSWER SOMETHING THAT HAS THAT MANY MISTAKES IF HAD IT, YOU'RE A LIVEWIRE.

AND WHAT THE RUSSIANS DID WAS SIMILAR.

THEY HAD POOR GRAMMAR.

THEIR ENGLISH WAS TERRIBLE.

BUT WHEN THEY SAID HILLARY CLINTON WAS STARTING A CHILD SEX TRAFFICKING RING OR THE POPE ENDORSED DONALD TRUMP, PEOPLE WHO WERE LIABLE TO BELIEVE THAT WOULD BELIEVE IT EVEN THOUGH IT WAS AS MESSED UP AS THE EMAILS FROM THE NIGERIAN PRINCE.

THAT'S COMPLETELY FASCINATED BECAUSE I THOUGHT THIS IS THE WAY WE GET RID OF THESE GUYS.

BUT AS YOU SAID IF SOMEONE CLICKS ON IT, WE'RE REALING THEM IN NOW.

THEY'RE NOT SOPHISTICATED.

IN THE BOOK I GAVE EXAMPLES OF RUSSIANS WHO TWEETED AT ME AND ALL THE WORDS WE CAN'T SAY ON TELEVISION, THEY COULDN'T EVEN SPELL.

FACEBOOK JUST CAME OUT AND THERE WAS AN INSTANCE WHERE THERE WAS SOMETHING THAT WAS CLEARLY FALSE THAT THEY GOT OUT ON THEIR PLATFORM.

AND THEIR RESPONSE WAS THAT'S NOT OUR JOB ESSENTIALLY TO BE THE FACT CHECKERS OF WHAT'S GOING ON HERE.

AND THEIR RESPONSE WAS ESSENTIALLY UNDERSTANDABLY IN FREE SPEECH LANGUAGE SAYING LOOK, WE PUT THINGS OUT THERE, AND PEOPLE CAN TAKE A LOOK AT IT.

THEY CAN ABSORB IT.

THEY CAN REJECT IT.

THEY CAN DO WHATEVER WE WANT, BUT WE'RE NOT GOING TO BE THE FACT-CHECKING GATE KEEPERS.

WHERE DOES THAT TAKE US?

WELL, AS A LEGAL MAVEN, YOU KNOW THAT THE FIRST AMENDMENT APPLIES TO GOVERNMENT.

IT DOESN'T APPLY TO PRIVATE COMPANIES.

RIGHT.

THOSE PLATFORM COMPANIES HAVE THEIR OWN CONSTITUTIONS THAT CALL THE TERMS OF SERVICE AGREEMENT.

THEY CAN TAKE ANY KIND OF THINGS THAT THEY WANT.

ONE OF THE RECOMMENDATIONS I MAKE IN THE BOOK IS THE COMMUNICATIONS DECENCY ACT OF 1996 SECTION 230 REALLY HELPED CREATE THESE GREAT PLATFORM COMPANIES.

AND ONE WAY THEY DID THAT IS THEY GAVE THEM IMMUNITY FROM LIABILITY FOR THE CONTENT THEY PUBLISH BECAUSE THEY WEREN'T TRADITIONAL PUBLISHERS IN THE SENSE.

THEY'RE JUST PUTTING IT OUT THERE.

THEY'RE PUTTING IT OUT THERE, THIRD PARTY CONTENT.

BUT THE LAW NEEDS TO CHANGE.

THEY NEED TO HAVE MORE LIABILITY FOR THAT CONTENT.

NOT THE SAME LIABILITY THAT 'TIME' MAGAZINE HAS FOR ERR WORD THAT'S EDITED AND CURATED BUT THEY CAN'T HAVE HATE SPEECH.

THEY CAN'T HAVE VERIFY BLI DEMONSTRABLY FALSE CONTENT.

THE REASON THEY PROTECTED IT BECAUSE THEY SAID IT WAS AN AD, POLITICAL SPEECH.

YOU CANNOT PROTECT DEMON STRA BLI FALSE CONTENT.

WE HEAR THINGS DESCRIBED AS ECHO CHAMBERS, WE GO TO HEAR WHAT WE WANT TO HEAR.

DOES THAT SUGGEST WE'RE VERY FAR AWAY FROM MEDIA LITERACY, INDEED WE'RE REACTING AWAY FROM IT AND WE SHOULDN'T BE OPTIMISTIC MOVING ON IN THE FUTURE?

YOU KNOW, WHAT YOU'RE REALLY TALKING ABOUT IS HUMAN NATURE, RIGHT?

AND SMART COGNITIVE SCIENTISTS WHO HAVE CREATED THESE IDEAS OF COGNITIVE BIAS HAVE TALKED ABOUT CONFIRMATION BIAS WHICH IS THAT WE'RE MORE RECEPTIVE TO INFORMATION WE AGREE WITH AND WE'RE LESS RECEPTIVE TO INFORMATION THAT WE DON'T.

AND WE SEEK OUT WHAT WE AGREE WITH, RIGHT?

SO, THAT'S HUMAN NATURE.

AND IN FACT ONE OF THE DIFFICULTIES OF GETTING THIS KIND OF AWFUL FALSE DISINFORMATION OFF OF THE WEB IS THAT THERE'S ANOTHER COGNITIVE BIAS, THE BACKFIRE EFFECT, WHICH IS THAT PEOPLE THAT HAVE STRONGLY HELD BELIEFS, IF YOU TRY TO DISABUSE THEM OF THAT BELIEF, THEY HOLD THE BELIEF EVEN MORE STRONGLY.

SO, HOW DO YOU DISABUSE THEM OF IT?

I ACTUALLY THINK PART OF THE ANSWER IS TO GIVE CONTENT COMPANIES MORE RELIABILITY.

THEY HAVE TO TAKE OFF HATE SPEECH, FALSE SPEECH, AND THAT WILL IMPROVE THINGS.

WE'RE TALKING ABOUT HUMAN NATURE HERE AND WE'RE NOT GOING TO CHANGE THAT RIGHT AWAY.

'INFORMATION WARS: HOW WE LOST THE GLOBAL BATTLE AGAINST DISINFORMATION AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT.'

IT READS LIKE A NOVEL.

THANK YOU.

IT'S A STORY.

IT IS A STORY.

YOU'RE GREAT AT TELLING IT.

COME BACK AND VISIT US.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

I'D LOVE TO.

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