Accuracy in Media

Philip Bump’s piece in the Washington Post is headlined, “Everything you need to know about the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook debacle,” but it should be headlined, “Every hint we can think of to drop” about the political data firm and its connection to the Donald Trump presidential campaign.

Last Friday, Facebook suspended Cambridge Analytica, the political division of London-based Strategic Communications Laboratories, because it learned through a whistleblower the firm had not erased data it promised Facebook it would delete.

The professor, Aleksandr Kogan of the University of Cambridge, said he notified Facebook when he made the decision to offer the data to Cambridge Analytica, per the agreement, and “Facebook at no point raised any concerns at all about any of these changes.” He has offered to speak to the FBI or relevant committees in Congress about his project.

To the Washington Post, this is a Trump story because conservative donor Robert Mercer was involved in its founding and Trump used Cambridge Analytica late in his campaign.

The Trump campaign hired Cambridge Analytica in the summer of 2016 at the behest of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and now adviser, and Brad Parscale, the digital director who has been tabbed to run the 2020 campaign, Bump reported. As for Mercer and his daughter, Rebekah, “Once Trump won the Republican nomination, they shifted their focus.”

“They were reportedly instrumental in the August 2016 overhaul of Trump’s campaign, recommending the hiring of both Stephen K. Bannon (of Breitbart) and Kellyanne Conway, who had been working for one of their pro-Cruz PACs.”

Forbes reported that Carol Davidsen, former director of integration and media analytics for Obama for America, said in a series of tweets “Facebook was surprised we were able to suck out the whole social graph, but they didn’t stop us once they realized that was what we were doing. They came to office in days following election recruiting & were very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side.”

The campaign’s use of the data “felt creepy,” Davidsen tweeted. But the campaign “played by the rules.”

“Well, this is a broader question: Does Cambridge help win elections?” Bump asked in his piece. “Or, put another way: How much of Cambridge’s rhetoric about psychographics is just hype?”

“Where has Cambridge Analytica won elections?” he asked, saying that each campaign is unique, so it’s hard to pin down one factor that made the difference.

“So it is hard to say in the abstract the effect Cambridge might have had on Trump’s race – and it is harder still to say what role the laundered Facebook data played,” he said before going to admit Cambridge’s CEO had said two days before the election – “when everyone expected Trump to lose” – that it had not been able to implement its psychographics on Trump’s behalf.

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