The only fake news that provably threw the election to Trump was not Russian

The Democrats introduced the term “fake news” just days after losing the election.

Photo credit: The Daily Beast

Trump and establishment Democrats are trading allegations about “fake news.”

Trump attacks CNN and others in the mass media with his typical lack of supporting evidence for his assertions. Nevertheless, progressives can agree with Trump that during the election major mass media selected Clinton as their candidate early on. They accordingly discounted and ignored Sanders during the primary while promoting Trump, and then promoted Clinton against Trump in the general election

The plutocratic media went beyond their usual propaganda role of merely defining the limits of public discussion and setting the agenda.  This time in desperation about a mobilized populist/progressive electorate they intervened in the election on behalf of the reliably plutocratic status quo candidate, Clinton.

Trump supporters are justifiably angry with the media. Progressives able to separate from neoliberal Democrats can concede the reality of their concerns. But such progressives also insist on consequences beyond Trumpian rants and unsupported name-calling. The latter are too easily rebutted threats against the legitimate role of the press in a democracy.

Trump needs to discover the policy-making tool of a commission of experts which could gather the examples of the mass media’s illegitimate role in the 2016 election and report a common set of facts.  Only then can the country move forward with policy-making that will prevent the plutocratic media from such direct intervention in an election in the future. Trump should establish a Propaganda Monitoring Commission to seriously study the occurrence of this new phenomenon of what did amount to partisan pathological lying by the mass media during the 2016 election.

The Democrats introduced the term “fake news” just days after losing the election. This charge expanded to support their propaganda initiative that the “Russians hacked the election.” The same propagandists who did intervene on behalf of Clinton claimed that Putin “intervened on behalf of” Trump, “a Putin puppet.”

“Hacked,” being a term with a specific meaning related to digital security, could refer with any concrete relevance only to two matters. One is Wikileaks publishing of information that is accurate and relevant, but intended to remain secret from the American people. This information could potentially but not necessarily be obtained by a hack. The importance of such disclosures to a democracy is demonstrated by an intelligence professional who reminds us of counterfactual circumstances where voters’ knowledge of information kept secret from them could have saved lives and decisively changed U.S. political history by defeating Nixon twice. Publishing such information is not a bad thing.

The other such use of the term “hacking” could relate to tampering with digital election machines, the only credible examples of which occurred in the Democratic primary elections where Clinton’s results were suspect because they were contradicted by exit polls.

Trump, who “manages at times to reveal the truth,” himself vaguely alluded during the primaries to this concern by Sanders’ supporters when he alleged “rigging” of the Democratic primary against Sanders. Progressives oppose his recent attempt to convert this concern with fraudulent administration of elections – the kind of election fraud that Greg Palast documents – into a wholly unsupported assertion of voter fraud.  This reversal serves to advance one of the Republican’s Swamp projects of enacting legislation that will suppress the vote under the pretense of preventing a non-existent problem.

The term “hack” has also been ambiguously used by Democrats to refer to some actual fake news that favored Trump more than Clinton, they claim. The implication is that some of these stories were generated by Russians. Democrats and the Clinton-supporting neoliberal media have been accused of having “not one shred of actual evidence to support these claims.” As Patrick Cockburn argues “It is difficult to see where Trump is wrong when he tweeted that ‘the Democrats had to come up with a story as to why they lost the election … so they made up a story – RUSSIA. Fake news!’”

Documented evidence that Russia did anything of this nature which resulted in electing Trump would require showing that some false story, not the true ones on Wikileaks, but a false story on say RT, or even other lesser known sources, was so effective that it changed public opinion sufficiently to account for Trump’s election. No candidate for such a story has been advanced.  More important, no polling data has been offered to show that enough people to elect Trump did not vote for Clinton because of some such fake news issue.

The truth is that there was only one example of such provably fake news important enough to cause Trump to win the election. I wrote an article on that fake news in Huffington Post before the 2016 primary season. I was motivated to write the article to counter the mass media’s blatant and pervasive misrepresentation of Bernie Sanders as not a serious candidate amidst their combination of attacks on and deliberate neglect of him. That article warned in its title “That Democrats Underrate Sanders’ Superior Electability at Their Peril.”

The article reported polling data showing that the Independent plurality of voters, who were barred from voting in many Democratic closed primaries but who do vote in general elections, favored Bernie Sanders by 36% over Clinton. This explained why other polls consistently showed Sanders to be a likely winner against any Republican, while leaving Clinton only a toss-up chance in November.

At the same time, polling also showed Democrats to be unaware of that fact. On the big “electability” question, 38% more Democrats thought Clinton “would have a good chance of defeating the Republican nominee” (87%) than would Sanders. Because Clinton was found very unlikeable and untrustworthy compared to Sanders, electability was a serious factor for many voters. I wrote: “Democratic voters thus have it exactly backwards. … Democrats are not just misinformed, but grossly misinformed, about the key issue of whether Clinton or Sanders will more likely win against Republicans.” One labor leader, ”with a special nod to NBC/MSNBC,” alleged the existence of a well-funded effort to “consciously mislead” Democrats into believing “that [Sanders] cannot win.”  Polls prove that they were effective in purveying the fake news that Clinton was more electable.

My article concluded that “Democrats’ erroneous guess as to which candidate can best defeat the Republicans could result in their nominating the wrong candidate, for the wrong reasons.” This is what happened, and is the reason Trump won. This is the actual “fake news” story of 2016.

Because this story is not being told and discussed, Clinton Democrats still suffer from the same fake news syndrome that caused their selection of a potential loser. They remain in denial that favorability polling consistently showed Sanders defeating Republicans, and especially Trump, by landslide proportions. Many of the loudest protesters against Trump are responsible for his victory.

That establishment Democrats continue to lie about the reason Trump was elected remains an important issue that should not be forgotten in the midst of obsession with its consequences. Understanding causes is essential to formulation of strategy.

The Clinton neoliberal wing either ignorantly or deliberately risked nominating a possible loser instead of a probable winner against consistent polling evidence warning of the consequences. If deliberate, the fact that the loser was widely known to be a corrupt scandal-prone centrist and the winner would have been a scandal-free progressive with greater public service experience suggests a bias by neoliberal Democrats against progressives so strong that they would prefer to lose to Trump than be responsible for electing a progressive-leaning Democrat. To avoid facing up to this truth with their supporters, they are now going to the extreme of waging a propaganda campaign against Russia, always a convenient whipping post for imperialists to deflect attention from their anti-democratic influence on domestic policy.

This neoliberal Democrat diversion about Russia is evidence of either pathological self-delusion, or more deliberate lies. None of the potential motivations why Clinton Democrats elected Trump or for their Russia coverup make them reliable partners for progressives. If progressives should decide to return to the framework of the Democratic Party in 2018 to primary every Clinton-supporter, which includes almost all incumbents, it must be done so in the spirit that neoliberal Democrats who grasped defeat from the jaws of victory in 2016 are not allies. They are rather as much opponents as are the Republican politicians who, like Trump, are similarly betraying their Independent voters as he helps the Swamp rise.


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Rob Hager, a Harvard Law graduate, is a public interest litigator [Agent Orange, Bhopal Disaster, Three Mile Island, Silkwood, Joe Harding, Parks Twp., Avirgan v. Hull. (am'd. compl. & mot. to dis. only), etc.] who filed amicus briefs in the Montana sequel to Citizens United and has worked as an international consultant on anti-corruption policy and legislation with the United Nations' and other development agencies. Rob Hager's most recent book, “Strategy for Democracy: Why And How To Get Money Out of Politics,” is currently available as a free ebook.