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'Information Wars' author Richard Stengel: We're 'suckers' for fake news

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Richard Stengel, a journalist, author, and former managing editor of Time
Richard Stengel is a journalist, author and former managing editor of Time. In 2013, he left his position at Time to serve as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in the Obama administration.
Courtesy of Westminster Town Hall Forum

Richard Stengel was in Minneapolis last week to discuss his new book, "Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It."

Richard Stengel is a former editor of TIME and was Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy in the final three years of the Obama administration. He was on the front lines trying to identify and combat ISIS messaging and Russian disinformation. 

He said in trying to counter Russian misinformation, “we mostly missed it,” but added that there was more success in countering ISIS messaging. Both ISIS and the Russians are employing “the weaponization of grievance.”

Disinformation tactics are not new, but what’s new about it is the rise of social media that has made disinformation more pervasive and pernicious. 

Stengel said, “the Russians are actually not that sophisticated. The problem is the audience: us.”

“We don't have a fake news problem, we have a media literacy problem. We're suckers.” Stengel added that “we’re just not very good at telling the difference between what’s fact and what’s not.”

Richard Stengel spoke Nov. 12, 2019, at an event hosted by Global Minnesota at the Hennepin County Library —Minneapolis Central Library. Global Conversations was presented in partnership with Friends of the Minneapolis Central Library. 

MPR News reporter Euan Kerr moderated the question and answer session after Stengel’s talk.