‘How deep the rot goes’: Fake news follows Clinton to Philly stop

At a talk at the Academy of Music in Center City Thursday night, Hillary Clinton said "the forces at work in 2016 are still with us."

Hillary Clinton elaborates on stage at a book tour stop at the Academy of Music in Center City Philadelphia. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

Hillary Clinton elaborates on stage at a book tour stop at the Academy of Music in Center City Philadelphia. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

Former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton says President Donald Trump has done nothing to stop Russia’s political misinformation campaign or reverse the weakening of voting rights laws across the country — two of the main reasons she believes she lost last year’s race.

“The forces at work in the 2016 election are still with us,” Clinton said Thursday at the Academy of Music in Center City Philadelphia, during a stop on her national book tour to promote “What Happened,” her first-person take on the 2016 election.

And later in the evening, just before the sold-out crowd would leave, the specter of one Russian-propagated fake news story would appear in the theater.


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In a wide-ranging conversation moderated by Philadelphia-based author Jennifer Weiner, Clinton rattled off a list of those “forces” that contributed to her loss, which also included the press, the F.B.I., and conspiracy theorists.

Mainly she focused on Russia, which the U.S. intelligence community says interfered in the presidential election by spreading false information about the Democrat on social media. Clinton called Russia’s actions a “clear and present danger to Western democracy” and said the U.S. should be fighting back. “Instead we have a president who says he believes Vladimir Putin.”

Although national news stories have trickled out about the fake news spread in the election and Special Counsel Robert Mueller has opened an investigation into Russia’s role, Clinton says the response from voters and politicians to the revelations has been muted.

“The more we learn, the more outrageous it is that we don’t have a national outcry to get to the bottom of what happened to prevent it from ever happening again,” she said, as the crowd applauded.

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Clinton also had choice words for journalists. She said sexism played a role in their coverage of her during the campaign. And she said she felt as if she were fielding an endless barrage of questions about the private email server she used as Secretary of State under former President Barack Obama, while Trump received less tough questioning, but more overall coverage, especially on television.

“This was the first reality TV campaign. And my opponent was the first reality TV candidate. And I was, for better and worse, the candidate of reality,” Clinton said. “I was just not as entertaining.”

She did say she regrets using the private email server as Secretary of State, but her comments mostly stayed away from analyzing how she ran her campaign.

After her November loss, it took some time for Clinton to reflect on her campaign and put pen to paper. She told the sold-out crowd that for a while, she coped by reading mystery novels “because they usually get the bad guy in the end,” hiking with her dogs, practicing a kind of yoga that involves alternate-nostril breathing, and drinking her “fair share of Chardonnay.”

Clinton says she saw writing the book as a way of “letting her guard down” after decades of acting carefully in the public sphere.

Clinton also urged people to “vote in every election” and, as the first female major party nominee for president, encouraged young women interested in public service to run for office.

Protester Howard Caplan is escorted out after shouting from the balcony a question to Hillary Clinton on stage at the Academy of Music. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

Right before she was about to wrap up Thursday night, a man in the balcony yelled at Clinton to talk about Pizzagate, the conspiracy theory that she and other Democrats ran a child sex-trafficking ring out of a Washington, D.C. pizzeria. The debunked allegation drew such a wide audience online that a North Carolina man went to the pizza place with a military-style rifle and fired shots inside the building, though no one was injured.

The crowd shouted him down, but Clinton used the moment to talk about the dangers of false information.

“A lot of people saw [that story], and some misguided souls actually believed it, right? Because they saw it on the internet. Or they saw one of these right-wing blowhards promoting it,” she said. “This is how deep the rot goes.”

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