What the Russians really hacked

Had a good conversation with a friend at lunch about this today.  The thing that really gets me about this is that there was really nothing all that damning in the hacks and wikileaks dumps.  Headlines could have been stuff like “DNC favors candidate with long history of support for Democratic party over non-Democratic candidate” or “Intr-staff emails during campaign have mean things to say about other people.”  That’s simply not newsworthy and serves essentially no public purpose.  Throw in that these were stolen documents and it really is hard to make the page A1 case for this stuff that it got.  And, throw in that we reached the point anytime people heard “Hillary” and “emails” in the same sentence they were primed to think malfeasance, you’ve got a bad situation.

So basically, as much as hacking emails the Russians hacked the stupidity of our electorate (i.e., Hillary + emails = bad) plus the “exclusive!” “mean stuff said!” nature of our political press to have the impact here.  Oh, and why they were at it, they were working on House races as well.  And, the key was relying on media that just couldn’t resist:

But there was never anything quite like the 2016 election campaign, when a handful of Democratic House candidates became targets of a Russian influence operation that made thousands of pages of documents stolen by hackers from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington available to Florida reporters and bloggers…

The document dump’s effectiveness was due in part to a de facto alliance that formed between the Russian hackers and political bloggers and newspapers across the United States. The hackers, working under the made-up name of Guccifer 2.0, used social media tools to invite individual reporters to request specific caches of documents, handing them out the way political operatives distribute scoops. It was an arrangement that proved irresistible to many news outlets — and amplified the consequences of the cyberattack. [emphasis mine]

There’s the key, damnit.  Russia could not have had an influence on our elections without the willing, credulous cooperation of the media.  And here’s the big NYT rundown on how Russia pulled this all off (would appreciate a little more on the media angle in this one).

Now, of course, 1st amendment and all, the press had the right to publish this stuff.  But absent any information that actually served a public purpose they did not have to let themselves essentially be duped into being pawns of the Russian government.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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