MSNBC Anchor To Trump Adviser: I'm Not Going To Let You Generalize The Media's Coverage Of Russia's (Non-existent) Election Hack

Posted: Jan 08, 2017 3:00 PM

MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle got a bit irritated by Trump adviser Steve Cortes’ remarks about the news media saying that Russia hacked our election.

“Steve, I’m not going to let you make a generalization about the media,” said Ruhle. “Because here we are you and I. I’m not making a generalization about anything. I’m not saying the results, I’m not saying that the election would have been different had the hacking not happened, but in terms of this special information that Donald Trump has, what is it?” she added.

Cortes was on a segment with Mother Jones’ David Corn about President-elect Donald Trump’s disregard for intelligence reports on the matter (via Mediaite):

Trump adviser Steve Cortes faced off with David Corn in a heated debate about how Trump kept discarding the possibility that the Kremlin meddled with American political networks to the mogul’s benefit. Ruhle reined in her panel when things got out of hand, after which, Corn brought up how Trump kept hinting that he would take the word of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange over America’s intelligence community when it comes to who hacked the Democratic National Committee.


Ruhle was referring to how Trump hinted that he would reveal new information about the hacking earlier this week, which the mogul didn’t end up producing. Ruhle has cracked the whip in interviews with Trump surrogates in the past.

Yet, here’s what the news media, like CBS News, NBC News, The Washington Post, and U.S. News and World Report, have been saying about the matter:

U.S. Officials: Putin Personally Involved in U.S. Election Hack

U.S. Unveils Plan to Punish Russians for Election Hack

Here’s what you need to know about Russia’s election hacking

Russians scoff at intel report on U.S. election hacking

US election hacking: Intelligence report outlines the case against Russian President Vladimir Putin

Again, there was no “election hack.” Running interference through state-funded media outlets and unleashing social media trolls is not hacking. It’s a coordinated propaganda effort, yes—but they’re not the same thing. There is zero evidence that it had any impact on the election. On the more sinister side, there’s also zero evidence that Russia changed the vote tallies, which would be a cyber attack. The Department of Homeland Security cited zero spikes in malicious cyber activity that would constitute an attack on election night. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said there was no technical interference. The Obama administration has accepted the results of the election. The Clinton campaign conceded. The recount launched by Green Party candidate Jill Stein in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin a) wouldn’t have uncovered any evidence of such a hack; b) only produced more votes for Trump; and c) the reason why no evidence would have been found is because Trump did well in areas with paper ballots (which you can’t hack) and Pennsylvania’s election programming isn’t connected to the Internet. Despite what others have written at The Washington Post, Philip Bump and Amber Phillips wrote how Russia could never hack our elections.

Could hackers change the numbers to change our elections? The Fix spoke by phone and email with Merle King, executive director of the Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State University to get an answer. In summary: It would be harder than we think — in part because we tend to conflate a number of very different election systems.


  1. Before each election, a public test of the tabulating system is conducted to ensure that the machines are functioning as expected. King describes this process (which is not unique to Florida) as "an opportunity for members of the public and media to come and observe the ballot is correct and it can capture voter intent correctly and can tabulate it."
  2. On election night, results are encoded with multiple layers of encryption and transmitted to a central gathering point.
  3. Voting machines themselves are not connected to the Internet, preventing them all from being hacked at once.
  4. Thumb drives with results are also transmitted to the central location. Those drives are digitally signed and secured before Election Day, preventing their being replaced with a drive from somewhere else.
  5. If there are any corrupted or unusually slow results transmitted to the central location, the results from the thumb drives are used.
  6. Election night totals are transmitted to the state as unofficial results via both an encrypted device and over a separate network system.
  7. A week after the election, the results in each precinct are reviewed by looking at the paper totals. Any discrepancies are "researched and noted." The Florida vote is backed up by paper ballots (which isn't the case everywhere), facilitating that research.

Still, Cortes is right; a majority of Democrats actually believe Russia messed with the vote tallies. Russian-backed hackers reportedly infiltrated Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s email and the servers of the Democratic National Committee. In Podesta’s case, it was a phishing scam that could have been avoided if one of his aides wrote the warning email properly. Again, that’s not the same thing as hacking the election (via NYT):

Hundreds of similar phishing emails were being sent to American political targets, including an identical email sent on March 19 to Mr. Podesta, chairman of the Clinton campaign. Given how many emails Mr. Podesta received through this personal email account, several aides also had access to it, and one of them noticed the warning email, sending it to a computer technician to make sure it was legitimate before anyone clicked on the “change password” button.

“This is a legitimate email,” Charles Delavan, a Clinton campaign aide, replied to another of Mr. Podesta’s aides, who had noticed the alert. “John needs to change his password immediately.”

With another click, a decade of emails that Mr. Podesta maintained in his Gmail account — a total of about 60,000 — were unlocked for the Russian hackers.