OCTOBER 15-17, 2020

and year round


Information Wars -  Richard Stengel  - <span class="date-display-single">11/11/2019 - 7:00pm</span>

Information Wars

11/11/2019 - 7:00pm

Central Library

In Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It, Richard Stengel, the former editor-in-chief of Time and Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in the Obama administration, provides the first and only insider account of how the U.S. government tried—and failed—to combat the global rise of disinformation that poisoned the 2016 election. From his unique vantage point, Stengel writes about seeing a tsunami of Russian disinformation after Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the weaponization of information and grievance by ISIS and Russia, and then how the Russians turned their sights on the U.S. election. Stengel explains not only why disinformation is a threat to democracy, but what we can do about it.


Within days of Stengel joining the State Department in February of 2013, two shocking events made world-wide headlines: ISIS executed American journalist James Foley in a graphic video seen by tens of millions, and Vladimir Putin’s “little green men”—Russian special forces—invaded Crimea, amid a blizzard of Russian denials and false flags. What these events had in common besides their violent law-lessness is that they were the opening salvos in a new era of global information war. Stengel—the single person in government tasked with unpacking, disproving, and combating both ISIS’s messaging and Russian disinformation—was thrust onto the front lines of this battle, and found himself hopelessly outgunned. Stengel discovers firsthand that government, with all its bureaucratic red tape, is not very good at creating messaging. Ultimately in a democracy, it is not the role of the government to determine what is true information. Stengel argues that it is crucial that we do more to educate the public about media. As Stengel says, “We don’t have a fake news problem, we have a media literacy problem.”


Rarely has an accomplished journalist been not only a close observer but also a principal participant in the debates and decisions of American foreign policy. Stengel takes you behind the scenes in the ritualized world of diplomacy, from the daily 8:30am morning huddle with a restless John Kerry to a midnight sit-down in Saudi Arabia with the prince of darkness Mohammed bin Salman. The result is an urgent, compulsively readable account of the global fight against disinformation, and the threat it poses to our democracy if we do not change course. As Jon Meacham writes, “With the eye of a historian and the passion of a man in the arena, Richard Stengel has given us a compelling and illuminating memoir of his time at the highest levels in the fight against disinformation and for American values. Richly observed and thoughtfully rendered, "Stengel’s book is essential reading.”

Presented in partnership with The Madison Institute.

 Richard Stengel

About Presenter Richard Stengel


Richard Stengel was the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs from 2013-2016. Before working at the State Department, he was the editor of Time for seven years, from 2006-2013. From 1992 to 1994, he collaborated with Nelson Mandela on the South African leader’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. Stengel later wrote Mandela’s Way, a New York Times bestseller, on his experience working with Mandela. He is the author of several other books, including January Sun, a book about life in a small South African town as well as You’re Too Kind: A Brief History of Flattery. He lives in New York.


Information Wars

Madison Public Library logo

201 W. Mifflin Street
Madison, WI 53703


join the conversation #wibookfest

we couldn't do it without you: