Why Barbara McQuade is So Worried About Disinformation


Disinformation is a threat to democracy, especially in local elections, she said: ‘True patriotism is a commitment to truth.’

Jenna Peterson Why Barbara McQuade is So Worried About Disinformation CalMatters CEO Neil Chase, right, moderates a discussion about disinformation with former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, left, during CalMatters’ IdeasFest at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Sacramento on June 5, 2024. Photo by Fred Greaves for CalMatters.

At CalMatters’ inaugural Ideas Festival, analyst and author Barbara McQuade says disinformation is a threat to democracy, especially in local elections. “I think true patriotism is a commitment to truth,” she said.

Barbara McQuade — former U.S. attorney and now author and MSNBC contributor — warned about disinformation in politics as the November election approaches and discussed what journalists and lawmakers can do to help combat it. 

“I really want to have a national conversation about truth,” McQuade told attendees today at CalMatters’ first Ideas Festival. “I want people to accept and consider that truth is essential to democracy.” 

McQuade was the first woman to serve as the U.S. attorney for Michigan’s Eastern District. Currently, she teaches law at the University of Michigan and co-hosts the podcast #SistersInLaw. In February, McQuade published her first book, “Attack from Within: How Disinformation is Sabotaging America,” which explores the history of disinformation, common tactics for its spread and possible solutions. 

After former President Donald Trump was found guilty last week on all counts in his “hush money” trial, McQuade published a piece in Time magazine debunking myths about the conviction that were quickly spreading on social media. 

“So often, there are things out there in the news that people are twisting what happened,” she said in a conversation with CalMatters CEO Neil Chase. 

Although disinformation was prevalent in the 2020 presidential election, McQuade emphasized the consequences of disinformation at a local level, especially as communities lose news outlets. 

“As a result, we lose the ability to see what’s going on in our government at those very important levels, the levels that actually affect their lives the most,” she said. 

When it comes to combating disinformation, McQuade said it is important for lawmakers to implement internet regulations targeting algorithms, private data scraping, bots and transparency in political advertising. 

“It’s a growing pains issue, so I think we can overcome it,” she said. “It’s not going to be overcome by itself, so we have to be proactive in how we do it.” 

Ultimately, McQuade said that she hopes her book inspires a national dialogue about truth — and its importance to democracy — within a polarized political landscape. 

She urged people to think for themselves, and said while she doesn’t want to blame the victims of disinformation, some of those who watch Fox News all day are “part of the problem.”

“There are some people who show their patriotism with a lapel flag or hugging the flag,” she said. “I think true patriotism is a commitment to truth.”

This article was published on CalMatters on June 5, 2024, and is reprinted with permission. CalMatters and Broadband Breakfast collaborated on the California Broadband Summit at the CalMatters Ideas Festival.