Attention, Millenials: Foreign Election Meddling And Fake News Are Nothing New
The recent election rendered a surprise result, along with a fair share of whoppers. One will be of particular interest to millenials, regardless of the candidate they favored.
“We have never in the history of our country been in a situation where an adversary, a foreign power, is working so hard to influence the outcome of the election.”
That was Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, in her second debate with Donald Trump. As it happens, the former First Lady and Secretary of State was wrong about that.
“Foreign governments have regularly sought to shape our politics,” wrote Paul Musgrave, professor of government at the University of Massachusetts, in the Washington Post. The “most sustained attempt” came during the Cold War, and for examples Musgrave turns to The Sword and the Shield, Christopher Andrew’s history of the KGB.
The Soviets disseminated conspiracy theories about the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, hoping to diminish Americans’ trust in their government. They launched smears about the private lives of official such as J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI. The KGB also fabricated racist pamphlets, attributed them to the Jewish Defense League, and mailed them to African-American organizations.
The Russian Communists, who held no free elections of their own, also had their own parties and ran their own candidates in American elections. In 1948, Stalin’s Soviet Union backed the Progressive Party, with Henry Wallace, a former vice-president and agriculture secretary, at the top of the ticket.
The USSR, a foreign power and adversary, favored Wallace, not the Democrat Harry Truman or the Republican Thomas Dewey. Wallace finished last, behind even Strom Thurmond’s Dixiecrat Party.
The Communist Party USA (CPUSA) was a wholly owned subsidiary of the USSR, and in 1980 their candidate for president of the United States was Gus Hall, a dutiful hardliner who also ran for president in 1972 and 1976. In 1980 his big issue was opposing new U.S. missiles in Europe. The white Stalinist’s running mate was black Communist militant Angela Davis, a San Francisco State University women’s and ethnic studies lecturer arrested in 1970 for supplying guns used in a courthouse shootout.
Communists Hall and Davis teamed up again in 1984. As in 1980, the Soviet Union, a foreign adversary, wanted Hall and Davis to win but they lost to Ronald Reagan. Also in 1984, the nuclear freeze movement, backed by the USSR, played a role in the election of pro-freeze senatorial candidates John Kerry of Massachusetts, Tom Harkin of Iowa, and Paul Simon of Illinois, all Democrats.
So foreign intervention in American elections is nothing new, millenials should understand, and Russia has tended to back the loser. In 2016, meanwhile, The New York Times endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, and after her loss the paper claimed a rededication to honest reporting.
That came amidst mass hysteria, multiple hate-crime hoaxes, and a controversy about fake news websites. Fake news is not a recent development either, and The New York Times was a pioneer in the field.
In 1931-32, while Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin starved millions of Ukrainians to death in a planned famine, New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty wrote that no famine existed. Duranty’s bogus reports won a Pulitzer Prize and played a role in U.S. recognition of the USSR.
More recently, Jayson Blair faked many of his New York Times stories, but by the time his bosses took action he had ascended from intern to the national desk. For millenials and everybody else the lesson here is simple. Be wary of what politicians still dare to call the “mainstream media.”
Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow and Communications Counsel at the Independent Institute. He is the author of Barack ‘em Up: A Literary Investigation, and Bill of Writes: Dispatches from the Political Correctness Battlefield.