My colleague Eddie Scarry today thought there was much ado about nothing regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. He’s wrong.

Scarry argues that two new reports from the Senate Intelligence Committee “never prove that a single vote was changed by the campaign, which did nothing more than repeat the stale slogans of political groups on both the Left (‘Black Lives Matter,’ for example) and the Right (like the NRA),” and that “the reports rely instead on specious numbers of the campaign’s ‘reach’ and vague but impressive descriptions of the ‘ meaningful influence’ that it achieved.”

Yet if someone follows his logic, it would mean that virtually all advertising and all forms of “grassroots” public relations also are worthless, because, as his headline says of the Russian efforts, they have no directly and unambiguously “quantifiable” effects. After all, when public relations firms gin up numerous letters to the editor to small-town newspapers across the country or operate social-media campaigns to push products and services, they can’t definitively prove that a particular letter or a particular social-media post changed a particular consumer’s mind.

But advertising exists because it works. PR firms use PR tricks is because they work….[Later in the column…] 

Scarry suggests that if the Russian efforts were designed to “blend their activities with those of authentic and highly engaged U.S. users,” it means that the Russian efforts were extraneous. … Scarry writes that it is no big deal Russian-backed Facebook pages generated “39 million likes, 31 million shares, 5.4 million reactions and 3.4 million comments,” or that “the Russian campaign reached 126 million people on Facebook and 20 million more on Instagram.” Scarry says all that work achieved “nothing of substance.”

But those are huge numbers. Many political strategists would do almost anything short of murder to achieve those results. The Russians aren’t stupid. They wouldn’t waste so much time, effort, and money to achieve “nothing of substance.”….

[The full column is here.]