Clinton Blames Election Loss on Trump Helping Russians Weaponize Fake News

Journalist Michael Sainato and Paul Jay analyze Hillary Clinton’s recent interview, where she lists the reasons she lost the presidential elections and little of the responsibility is hers or her politics

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY: Welcome to “The Real News Network.” I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. On May 31st, Hillary Clinton gave an interview at the “Re-Code Code Conference” in California where she was asked about why she lost and to get into what she thought were the weaknesses of her campaign, and most of her answers had to do with external factors, mostly Russian interference in the elections and how the FBI dealt with that.

Now joining us in Gainesville, Florida is Michael Sainato. He’s a contributor to The Observer. His writing also appears in The Guardian, the Miami Herald, the Baltimore Sun, Huff Post and others. Thanks for joining us, Michael.

MICHAEL SAINATO: Thank you for having me on, Paul.

PAUL JAY: It was kind an interesting, people called “candid,” interview. I don’t know what that means, “candid,” in the sense I think she was not being really candid about why she lost. And we’re going to go through some of the arguments she made, but there’s one in particular that I thought was kind of odd.

HILLARY CLINTON: So, the Russians, in my opinion, and based on the intel and counter-intel people I’ve talked, to could not have known how best to weaponize that information unless they had been guided.

Male : Guided by Americans.

HILLARY CLINTON: Guided by Americans, and guided by people who had polling and data information.

Female: Who is that? Who do you think directed it? But you’re leaning Trump.

HILLARY CLINTON: Yes, yes. I’m leaning Trump.

PAUL JAY: I don’t know whether any of this is true anyway. Most of the media is simply buying the argument that the Russians did all of this. I, personally, am unpersuaded either way. I think they’re fully capable of doing these things, and I think it’s quite possible the whole thing is a crock.

Anyway, what do you make of this thing? They “needed Americans to weaponize the information?”

MICHAEL SAINATO: I think it’s more of what she does; it’s muddying the waters. So, what she’s essentially saying is, there must have been some sort of Trump-Russia collusion. There’s no way there’s not because … based on her speculation that Americans were needed to really push this propaganda campaign, so to speak. She doubted some more of the fake news. She actually cited half of Trump’s Twitter followers or bots and fake accounts, which is true; 51 percent is his Twitter audit. But what she didn’t mention is, her Twitter account has the same problem. Her Twitter audit is 48 percent.

PAUL JAY: Hang on. For people that don’t know what you just said, you’re saying for both of them, at least half of the numbers they have as Twitter followers are actually just computer-generated people; they’re not real followers.

MICHAEL SAINATO: They’re fake accounts meant to elevate and manipulate their following, and boost their tweets, basically, and make it seem like they have a lot more support than they do. And both candidates contributed … benefited from fake news.

There was a report earlier this year conducted by an economist at Stanford University, and he went through all the fake news stories. And he found yes, Trump benefited more … there was more quantity of fake news benefiting Trump, but a lot of the stories that were widely believed that were fake news actually benefited Hillary Clinton, and one of those was Kirk Eichenwald in Newsweek claiming that there was this actual Russian link between a Sputnik article and WikiLeaks. And again, that wasn’t the case at all, but he was on MSNBC and a lot of other media outlets touting this conspiracy theory that was believed to be true. And that study also found that it didn’t actually tip the election.

So, her complaints are really … it’s fake news that hurts her; it’s not. She’s not giving an entire picture of what that meant. So it’s more muddying the waters.

PAUL JAY: I think it was grasping at straws to make an argument. First of all, to think that the Russians need Americans in order to generate fake news in an election campaign, implying that Russians don’t understand American culture enough or American politics enough to do this without American help, and that American help is the Trump campaign.

First of all, I think on the face of it, it’s ridiculous. I think the Russians … go watch the series “The Americans.” The Russians have understood American culture for decades and decades. If they really wanted to do this, I don’t think the Russians need help understanding America in order to generate fake news.

On the other hand, I don’t know there’s any evidence that the Russians are the ones that actually did generate the fake news. It could just have easily been generated by, if you want, directly the Trump campaign or other American forces that wanted Trump elected. And it’s very easy to make it look like it’s coming from anywhere. You can make … you can create a false site anywhere in Russia or eastern Europe and make it look as if it’s coming from there.

Is there any evidence that most of this fake news actually really was generated by the Russian government?

MICHAEL SAINATO: No. And in December of 2016, NBC and a lot of outlets interviewed this teenager in Macedonia. They didn’t give his name, but the story was he made 60 grand from spreading fake news stories during the election. He created a fake news website for very cheap, and running the servers through Macedonia is a lot cheaper than any other places. And he either poached articles from different places, or rewrote or sensationalized fake news stories.

And he used Facebook as that medium because they’re not linked with the search engines, so Facebook is the best way for fake news to spread. And the problem with that is most outlets don’t get their news from Facebook, so it makes it seem, because there’s a bigger presence of fake news on Facebook, that it’s getting more views and more widely believed because of that. And that’s not the case at all.

So I think the simplest explanation is the one to go here for … people in countries like that who saw an opportunity to make a quick buck off of some loopholes through Facebook and jurisdictions where they’re not going to be prosecuted for infringing on copyright laws. I’ve personally had my articles poached by different outlets. It’s happened before. That’s how … people are doing that to make money. It’s not necessarily a propaganda campaign.

PAUL JAY: That’s very interesting. And in this last season of “Homeland,” they have an actual character that looks just like Bannon, works with the CIA as sort of a private contractor, and creates a farm of hundreds of people doing fake news in order to destroy the election campaign of a sort of lefty, Sander-esque woman, candidate who’s running. And even in this story, they’re making it look like it’s coming from Russian and other places. It could have come from anywhere, but let’s move to some of Clinton’s arguments, because I think that one was kind of silly although she makes such a big deal out of it.

One of the new things in the interview, as you mentioned earlier, is her talking about how she got so little from the DNC as compared to what Trump inherited from the RNC in terms of database and money. Here’s what she said.

HILLARY CLINTON: I get the nomination, so I’m now the nominee of the Democratic party. I inherit nothing from the Democratic Party.

Male : What do you mean, “nothing?”

HILLARY CLINTON: I mean it was bankrupt. It was on the verge of insolvency. Its data was mediocre to poor, non-existent, wrong … I had to inject money into it.

Male : This is the DNC?

HILLARY CLINTON: The DNC to keep it going. Okay. Donald Trump, who did nothing about really setting up any kind of data operation, inherits an RNC data foundation, and they invested between 2012 and 2016, this $100 million to build this data foundation. So Trump becomes the nominee and he is basically handed this tried and true, effective foundation.

PAUL JAY: So, what do you make of that clip? And it’s kind of two questions. One is, I find it hard to believe because the Obama campaign had one of the best databases and one of the … not “the” best, “THE” best at least at that point in history, of internet organizing than anyone had ever seen before. How did she not inherit all that?

MICHAEL SAINATO: Well, you’ve seen on Twitter getting passed around, some of those DNC staffers are pushing back on this criticism. They’re arguing that the data was good, and the DNC actually pointed out that Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania were far from safe, but the Clinton campaign chose to ignore that information.

So, Clinton is citing another excuse and she’s propping herself up by doing so. She’s saying that, “Oh, I am saving the DNC. This is what I did.” When in fact, the DNC did a great deal for her. She actually hired the chair of the DNC immediately after she resigned. So, if the DNC was so bad, why would you hire the leader of the DNC who was there for the past four years before she left, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, to run your 50 state program for your campaign? That makes no sense.

And it also struck me as kind of funny because the past few weeks especially, there’s been a lot of news in progressive circles about this class action lawsuit filed on behalf of Bernie Sanders supporters against the DNC and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. And some of the arguments the attorneys in that have tried to make is the DNC didn’t have as much power as people purported to it and had in the primaries. And I think, Hillary Clinton without mentioning a lawsuit, is continuing to propagate that narrative.

PAUL JAY: If you don’t think it really is the Comey letter, and you don’t really think it’s the lack of data from the DNC, and you don’t think it’s all the various things including the interference of the Russians … if you don’t think those were the decisive issues, which certainly Hillary Clinton’s saying they were, what do you think was?

MICHAEL SAINATO: Arrogance. Arrogance, and instead of trying to win back those progressives that she disenfranchised during the primaries, as did the Democratic party, she shifted more to the center. The strategy was to go after those Mitt Romney voters. Today even, in Politico, a former Clinton campaign staffer was trying to argue that those Mitt Romney voters are the key to the Democratic party’s recovery, so they don’t want progressives.

She went with Vice-Presidential candidate Tim Kaine, who is even more moderate than she is, arguably, rather than someone who would have at least made progressives a little bit more comfortable in supporting her election. And she skipped Bernie Sanders in that regard as well. She hired as her transition chair an oil lobbyist, Ken Salazar. So she really [moved 00:12:22], shifted to the center. And as Chuck Schumer cited in July 2016, their strategy was for every Democratic Blue Dog that we lose in rural America, we’ll gain two moderate Republicans in the wealthy suburbs. And those numbers never turned out.

Looking through “Shattered” and other anecdotes that her staff have shared, she never campaigned in Wisconsin; she never went back to Flint after the primaries in Michigan. There was a Huffington Post article published shortly after the election that said their campaign strategy in Michigan was basically arrogance. They didn’t want to pour too many resources in it because they didn’t want the Trump campaign to think that they were worried. And they actually poured resources into Chicago and New Orleans because they were afraid that they would win the Electoral College but lose the popular vote, and obviously the opposite happened.

So she won the popular vote by 3 million votes roughly, a statistic her and her supporters love to cite, but what it really reveals is how terrible her campaign strategy was. She could have won by 10 million votes, but if the strategy wasn’t there to target those swing states, she was never going to win. And that was the problem with her campaign.

PAUL JAY: I’d add something to that, which is I don’t think any candidate could have won, but particularly her for some specific reasons that a lot of people find her disingenuous. But I don’t think any candidate could have won as the defender of the status quo. Her campaign was, she was going to be Obama’s legacy. She was going to continue the Obama policies.

And Bernie did so well coming from nowhere, because essentially, without critiquing directly Obama, which honestly I think he should have, but he certainly critiqued the policies. And he ran against the oligarchy. He ran against the status quo. He ran against the billionaire class. And even Biden said that Hillary, when she talked about economic inequality, it wasn’t believable.

Even with a better strategy, and as bad a candidate as Trump was, in some of these areas the message of continuing the policies of the Obama years I don’t think would have been a winning message.

MICHAEL SAINATO: I agree. She was really pushing this “compassionate capitalism” myth. She wasn’t addressing the real issues. Another thing she said during that interview is, she complained that the media didn’t cover her policies. But a study by the Wesleyan University Media Project found that her message was devoid of policy discussion in a way that was unprecedented for the past four to six elections at least.

So, it wasn’t there. Her campaign was basically, “I’m not Trump.” That was what she was running on, and she thought it would coast her into the Presidency, and that arrogance backfired miserably.

PAUL JAY: Finally, one last question. The Washington Post had an editorial or a column very early in the campaign that said the wedge issue for Hillary Clinton is going to be climate change. That’s the place where Trump is weakest, that’s the place that transcends parties, and she’ll successfully use this issue against him. But she never did. She barely mentioned climate change. It was just like occasionally one of the things on a grocery list of things that she cared about. Why do you think she never went after the jugular on that issue?

MICHAEL SAINATO: Again, I think she didn’t want … she was going after those wealthy Republicans and she didn’t … For instance, the New York Times hired one of those people that, Fred Stevens, who was a climate change skeptic. He’s a moderate, anti-Trump Republican, but he doesn’t believe in climate change. So, she was going after those voters and using that message would have … a lot of progressives tried to push her to that. They wanted a fracking ban at least in the Democratic party platform; her people pushed against it.

She hired, as I said before, a big oil lobbyist, Ken Salazar, to run her transition team. In some of the emails, she thought that the environmentalist movement was Russian propaganda. She remained silent on Dakota Access Pipeline. She insincerely, in my opinion, opposed the Keystone Pipeline. I don’t think her beliefs aligned with the environmental movement at all, or climate change at all. And it’s a policy issue that she really didn’t want to get into, I think.

PAUL JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Michael.

MICHAEL SAINATO: Thank you.

PAUL JAY: Thank you for joining us on “The Real News Network.”