What Russia’s Tactics Teach Us About Disinformation In U.S. Politics | Meet The Press | NBC News

Channel: NBC News
Published: 12/29/2019 05:46 PM

Masha Gessen, Staff Writer for The New Yorker, and Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, join Meet The Press for a special edition, to discuss the Russian disinformation playbook and evidence it’s being used in American politics and media.» Subscribe to NBC News: http://nbcnews.to/Su...

Joining me now are two people who have been victims of a disinformation campaign in russia, masha gessen longtime journalist and mike mcfaul former us ambassador to russia for the united states. Let me put up something here that the rand corporation sort of the one of the ober defense think tanks in america wrote about the russia propaganda model and mash. I want you to sort of explain how this is ...
implemented. This is how they describe it. They just disseminate an interpretation of emergent events that appears to best favor their themes and objectives. If one falsehood or misrepresentation is exposed or is not well received, the propagandists will discard it and move on to a new explanationthe combination of high volume, multi-channel and continuous messaging makes russian themes more likely to be familiar to their audiences that it's almost like done in Real time give us a give us an example of how you experienced it yeah i wouldn't actually call myself a victim of russian disinformation. Mike is much more in that category, i'm afraid, but i think that the biggest thing to understand about it is that it's not it's less about what you would expect, which is pushing some sort of one interpretation on one line. It'S more about creating cacophony. It'S you were supposed to come out, the other end feeling like there's no such thing as truth, and that is thepoint anyway, i feel worse sometimes. Well, i think that's we're starting to experience it firsthand here, because that you know - and that's i mean trump - has a very good instinctual feel for it. Sometimes he just says things that are the opposite of the facts in front of us and sometimes he kind of goes yeah whatever, and somebody says well, maybe that or maybe this right and then in the end we feel, like you know all of these versions of I hesitate to call it. Reality are equal equidistant from the truth.

You know and and there's no there's nothing to watch on to everything as much mike. I know that i want to bring up twoexamples of just within russia, and i think it was when you were there both of these when soldiers without insignia on their green uniforms, seize control of crimea in 2014. At the time vladimir putin repeatedly denied they were rushon and then a year later he started to boast that they were there and then, of course, there was the malaysian airlines flight 17 that was shot down over ukraine and all the various explanations in country that the Russian government did explain how effective it was internally well internally. They, i think they've done very well in terms of mastering disinformation, and i agree completely with what masha just said that the goal is not necessarily to presentone argument versus the other all the time. It'S just to say there are no truths. There are all no facts. It'S all relative i've heard lad. Amir putin say that directly when he met with barack obama. President obama one time. Secondly, however, when there are facts is to put out arguments that say those are the wrong facts, and so the two examples you just use are an illustration of that second tactic, and i would call that also related to that another tactic. What about ism to change? The channel to say well, you did that there well what about this over here, and that is another tactic that they used to confuse the terrain and tomake people under you know to be confused about the facts, that there are no facts and that there are no Truths in the world this didn't happen organically them masha when he went when putin came in. He seized control of the media, essentially in various forms, some directly by the state, some via gas prom and some just simply be an intimidation right.

I want to add something, though, to the crime unit, because i think it's a really great example, so, when he said after a year when he started boasting that he has tara brushings on the ground, he wasn't admitting something that everybody knew. He was saying. I assert my right to say whatever iwant. Whenever i want to. Sometimes it will be true, sometimes it won't be, but i'm king of reality right and what are you going to do about it? It'S a power move when he lies and it's a power move what he tells the truth, because only he chooses when he does was right. As for the media, yes, he, russia had a nodding. You know not an incredibly healthy in the media, but had some independent media when he became president and the first thing he did was, he moved say: control broadcast television and then he moved on national broadcast television and local television and the newspapers. And now, 20 years later, we have no independent mediaall right. I want to give you a description that that i read recently, it says: what's happened in russia would be like fox news taking over the airwaves in the u. s. booting msnbc from cable tv and reducing the left to broadcasting online from a small private apartment in brooklyn. You know that the way russian media lots of it feels okay, although but but imagine that fox news has a lot of subsidiaries.

So it's like fox news and sinclair and they kind of work in concert, but they're also, you know the fox news is privately owned. Right but the biggest broadcast on broadcaster in russia is state, oh right. Well, it's interesting! It and and mikeyou know this a lot about putin. Here'S a here's, a quote that was attributed to him that he thinks that said the following. When he was asked about how he thinks the press works, putin said here's an owner, they have their own politics and for them it's an instrument. The government also is an owner, and the media that belonged to the government must carry out our instructions and media that belonged to a private businessman. They followed their orders and it's as if masha was setting me up here, apparently putin said look at murdoch whatever. He says will be: this is the track. I mean this is sort of the effectiveness of putin over time. Buti like looking over and says, what's the difference? Well, that's his view. That'S well certainly his view and that's why one of the first things he did in the year 2000 was to seize control of two of the national television networks so that they were completely controlled by the government. He understands the power of media.

What he doesn't accept is he doesn't like competition. What he said about murdoch may be true, but the advantage we have in the west, at least today, is that there are multiple sources right and he is fearful of that and that's what he wanted to eliminate in russia and now he's done it on the airwaves. I think he's gotmore problems digitally and if you look at trends inside russia, the older you are the more likely you are to watch tv. The younger you are the more likely you are to get your news from digital platforms, just like in our country. That presents a problem for him in the long run, but today he controls the media space rather effectively, and i would add one other thing chuck if in the first decade or so he focused on controlling it within russia in the last decade, he has begun to Export his ideas through multiple channels, both digital media and television, there's a phrase that i was reading in this research that really struck out struck meand. It'S called toxic cynicism that that is that that that is what is in russia right now, and that is what he hopes to export to the west, and i think we have a lot of it here. Native-Born yeah, i mean we have it on the way we didn't need help i mean well now he just added an accelerant. I think that's exactly it an accelerant or an amplifier, but i think that you know he and trump share a basic sense of the world and their sense of the world. Is that nothing matters? Nothing is true, nothing's on a level or sail right. Nothing is on the level. Yes, everything is for sale and andthat money. You know, money equals power and power equals money and it's unitary, but there can be no checks and balances.

There can be no systems. Any kind of formal relationship was always a lie mike. It seems as if putin's view of the world, if trump shares it, china certainly wants to essentially act. That way, is there a danger that the west is losing this philosophical battle? Well, i think the west needs to understand they're in an ideological battle, and i would use the word ideology on purpose, which is that putin has this view the world a kind of conservative, orthodox nationalism, anti multilateralism for years and years and years he was helping to Propagatethose ideas through sputnik and nrt and and the internet research agency and even the gru, the russian military intelligence, and lately he has now found some allies. He has some friends now, viktor orbán and in hungary, salvini and italy, and most certainly he considers the president trump to be an ideological ally in that fight and what's different from this ideological struggle compared to the cold war, is that the main battlegrounds are not between States, but within states, and that's a place that he is, i think you know having an effect and i think we need to wake up and figure out how we address that challenge. It'S especially difficult when many within our own countryare, ideologically a lie closer to putin than they do with liberal democracy, not sure what some? What can we learn from the experience of the last 15 years in russia, where we saw essentially whatever freedom of the press happened, gets eroded as quickly as it did? What can we learn from this to sort of maybe not make some of the same mistakes? Well, that's an incredibly hard question because obviously we haven't had a lot of success in russia and resisting the damage that putin has done. I think that the thing that journalists can learn is that i mean this set up. Is a net loss for us dealing with the president, who doesn't think thatthere's such a thing as truth dealing with a president who is fundamentally dishonest, you know who basically has two ways of interacting, but that would the media either chew to lie or to kind of Go yeah whatever right and and that's you know that both of them are in equal measure, the opposite of accountability, and a lot of our job is to hold power to account right and we can't we can't do our job under these conditions. So what i think we have to do is we have to think about how we mitigate harm right. How do we lessen the damage that that he's doing - and i don't think we've been doing a great jobi - think there are some examples of really terrific work, but mostly you know we're still trying to sort of act as though we can force things to be normal And that basically ends up normalizing trump. So what would you do when you say force things to be normal? I know what you mean we sort of almost we get on our high horse. That'S not the way.

It'S done. That'S not the way it's done, rather than focusing on what he did. It'S not just that we get on our high horse. It'S that we try to cover trump as one would cover a normal president right, on the one hand, on another well that kind of coverageplaces trump at the center right right and so we're trying to create a situation where sort of you can have both sides. That are equidistant from trump, which is insane on the face of it mike mcfaul. What you were involved you've met with a lot of dissidents that are actively trying to deal with putin in russia. What breaks him if he breaks? Well, i think an effective thing is just to keep revealing facts, especially about corruption. People want to know about the facts and and and i would say the same thing about our country too - i think sometimes there is a kind of on the one hand, on the other hand, that we present withvarious political debates in the united states. And here now i want to put on my professorial hat. All hypotheses are not equal and to treat to treat them anew as equal is actually distorting to the truth. And so, if you have one set of hypotheses, that has evidence to support it and another hypotheses which has no evidence to support it. Reporting on those two hypotheses in and of itself is a distortion of the facts, and i think russians have learned that and they're.

They they keep going back to the facts as their best weapon and i think we as a society need to do that itself. You don't get your own facts. You can haveyour own arguments, you can have your own opinions, but two plus two needs to equal four for democrats and republicans every day, not just mondays, wednesdays and fridays. Nasha i've had a lot of dust-ups about the about the ukraine allegations on this show over the last month and i've had i've had somebody asked me who works for one of these folks that have been on about this. Well, what's wrong with having a different opinion about ukraine and i'm like, but but this isn't based in any fact, and it's it's a round and round conversation right. Well, no, we get roped and trapped into arguments about facts. You can't argue about fats, you can argue aboutinterpretations, you can argue about opinions, you cannot argue about facts, and i think that you know one of the hacks that we've tried. We, as journalists have tried to use to deal with us. Is this front of the operation. Fact-Checking columns right and i think they've done more harm than good, because basically they set up an argument about facts right kind of guy. He said this, it could be true, but may it could not be true and then we're like in this discussion of you know, which, which squares better, when in fact the story should be not, is this true but donald trump lied again natural gas and mike mcfaul? We didn't solve the problembut. I think we have a better idea of how it works works in russia and perhaps how we can see the warning signs before they make a major breakthrough in this country.

Thank you both, and i hope you have a happy new year. Thank you, hello from washington, i'm chuck todd and thanks for checking out the meet the press channel on youtube click on the button down here to subscribe and click over here to watch. The latest interviews highlights and other digital exclusives.

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