On Tuesday’s Morning Joe, USA Today senior politics and White House reporter Heidi Przybyla reacted to reports about hundreds of millions of alleged Russian Facebook and Twitter impressions by calling for the news media to uncritically accept that Russians “hacked” the election via their activities on social media. She imperiously declared: "We as journalists need to stop right now saying that this did not have an effect" on the 2016 presidential election.
Przybyla wasn’t alone in making such a proclamation on the show, however. Here’s how co-host Joe Scarborough and Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson responded to the social media impressions story:
SCARBOROUGH: You know, Gene, not good in math, but you had 188 million impressions -- or 288 million impressions on Twitter. You had 126 million impressions on Facebook. That adds up to a lot of people. I mean, it's over 400 million impressions, more impressions than there are people in the United States of America. So, it’s kind of hard for the Trump campaign or anybody, Facebook, Twitter, anybody, to not say: that had an impact in the election in some way.
ROBINSON: Right. Right, and it did. It obviously did. Now, we can't quantify that. Um, you know, maybe some professor somewhere could come up with a formula that, that, that tries to do something, but we'll never know for sure that that tipped the election to Donald Trump. But clearly, to say that it had no impact is ridiculous. And as far as there being, you know, 37,000 fake, Russian fake Twitter accounts, I could have told you that. They’re all in my notifications [laughs].
ROBINSON: They’re all screamin’ at me. You know, what an extraordinary day yesterday though with these indictments. And I’ll tell you, you know, one thing -- I mean, you guys have covered most of it. But one thing that I think ought to scare the bejesus out of the White House is that Papadopoulos was arrested in July-
SCARBOROUGH: [interjecting] Right.
ROBINSON: -and nobody knew, nobody knew anything. And, and, you know, there was not a leak. There was not a hint. And the idea -- you know, it's not just the idea that between July and October he was wearing a wire. It's a question of: who else has Mueller arrested? Who else has Mueller turned? Who else might be wearing a wire? And that's something that everybody connected with the campaign and everybody in the White House has to worry about now. It’s -- it was an incredible day.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: It's real, yeah.
In the context of this hermetically sealed ideological echo-chamber, it’s not particularly surprising that Przybyla came out with such a strong declaration in favor of establishing an unquestionable truth. Scarborough teed her up:
And, Heidi, as we're talking about Facebook and Twitter, we don't know if the Russians directly influenced the election or not with 400 million impressions on Twitter and Facebook, but we certainly know they had the intent to do that. And for the White House to not be concerned or express concerns that the Russians intended to distort and twist and influence American democracy at its highest levels is now patently clear by the testimony yesterday and yet – have we heard the White House once express concern about this?
Przybyla responded at length:
No, but we as journalists need to stop right now saying that this did not have an effect. Because what we saw in this election very clearly was that turnout on the Democratic side was depressed and that that was the strategic aim of the Russians. They weren't trying to flip votes from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. They knew they couldn't do that. But if you look at the precision targeting that took place, for example, targeting Florida African-American voters on Facebook with anti-Hillary messages on criminal justice reform, boy, that was really targeted to try and depress those votes. So we need to stop right now from saying that. And secondly, well, I guess we shouldn't be so surprised that the White House isn't expressing outrage given that in tandem with this effort, Donald Trump, himself, was weaponizing the Russian gift of Wikileaks. So, you know, we have counted up the times that the President mentioned Wikileaks and pushed Wikileaks on the stump. And then to turn around and say that that had no effect is just not credible.
In theory, the whole point of journalism is to be skeptical and ask questions in order to write stories that accurately explain what is happening in the world in a way that makes sense.
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So, in an election where the Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton campaigns collectively spent about $1,800,000,000 (including Super PACs) on putting their respective messages out, are $100,000 of Facebook ads and $270,000 of Twitter ads really supposed to have been the major deciding factor? This seems at least debatable. To assume that it is the case without any allowance for doubt does not appear intellectually honest, and that’s not even taking into account serious questions about what precisely the meaning or value of a social media “impression” is or whether or not ads that included pro-Black Lives Matter content should be reasonably counted as pro-Trump propaganda (which seems ludicrous on its face).
Expect to see the liberal media keep plugging away at this narrative for as long they can use it to continue to undermine President Trump’s legitimacy.