Opinion: Disinformation and our elections, don’t be duped

Image of several mail in ballots on the right. Hands holding mail in ballots on left.

By Lynn Strauss, Susan Miner

May 30, 2024

In this op-ed, Pennsylvania residents Lynn Strauss and Susan Miner discuss how Americans face significant challenges discerning truth from fiction. They attribute the flood of disinformation and propaganda amid elections to factors such as corporate influence, social media, and political agendas.

There is an old saying – where there’s smoke, there’s fire. This adage means if unpleasant things are said about someone/something, there is probably a good reason for it. But what if the people yelling smoke are the ones with the matches and tinder creating the smoke? Then it is a smokescreen for dishonest intentions, not a warning of a fire. So much smoke; local smoke, county smoke, state smoke, and national smoke.

Americans face real challenges and barriers separating fact from fiction in 2024 as we gear up to vote in the most consequential Presidential election of our lives. I am worried about how this will impact the election in November. This is both an old story and a new one.

By the 1940’s, newspapers were overshadowed by network television (CBS, ABC and NBC) as the major news sources for our shared national understanding of what was happening in America and the world. Congress was worried that the “big 3’ had a monopoly on the narrative and could misuse their power to ‘set a biased public agenda’. In 1980, CNN made its debut as the world’s first 24-hour television news network. CNN covered wars, natural disasters, politics, and pop culture in the United States and around the world. News stations operated under an FCC rule called the Fairness Doctrine, considered the “single most important requirement of operation in the public interest”. It mandated that broadcast networks devote time to contrasting views on issues of public importance. This rule, upheld by the Supreme Court in 1969, remained in place until Ronald Reagan’s presidency, when it was abandoned by his FCC chair, who said it “hurt the public interest and violated free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.” Congress tried to vote the doctrine into law, but President Reagan vetoed it in 1987. In 1996 Fox News was created as a Republican-centered alternative to CNN. Rush Limbaugh’s 1988 national syndication and Rupert Murdoch’s 1996 Fox News led in an era of faux journalism focusing on editorial content, personality, celebrity, and scandal over objective reporting on events and policy.

In 2013, the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision decreed that corporations had the same First Amendment rights as people. This ruling has allowed SuperPACs to make unlimited ANONYMOUS contributions by special interest groups, known as “dark money,” to fund political campaigns, and air deliberately misleading and sometimes downright false negative political ads without our knowing who is behind the messages, or viewers being able to assess the messenger’s agenda.

In 2016, the surprising win by Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton (who was up by over double digits in the polls) uncovered another huge new barrier to the truth: Russian propaganda spread via social media. Special Counsel Robert Muller’s investigation found Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election that was illegal and occurred “in sweeping and systematic fashion”, and warned Americans that it is “still happening today.” Meta (parent of Facebook) and Elon Musk, owner of X (formerly Twitter) allow false information on their sites. And now, AI (Artificial Intelligence) has exploded, making it beyond difficult to separate truth from fiction.

The other gigantic truth barrier that will impact this election is “The Big Lie”. Donald Trump, the presumed Republican Presidential candidate, who has been criminally indicted on multiple criminal charges related to trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election, has convinced millions of Americans that he won. The Republican Party has been replaced by MAGA. Republican National Committee, Republican officials and right-wing TV news channels (Fox, Newsmax, OAN) have colluded to repeat this Big Lie for the last 3 years. Americans who only get their news from these sources believe it – hook, line, and sinker.

After the insurrection on January 6, 2021, formerly mundane local School Board Meetings, County Commissioners meetings, and Board of Election meetings have become a battleground where false information and accusations are spread. Solutions are demanded for problems that do not exist. In Chester County a group of people, who are clearly patriotic Americans, regularly show up and speak during the public comment period. They truly believe, and passionately express, concerns that our election process is terribly flawed, that it does not protect against widespread and systemic fraud. They cite inaccurate “evidence” over and over: “more votes than voters” (a disproven lie started by Heather Honey, a Pennsylvania activist); “illegal aliens cross the border to stuff fraudulent mail in ballots into drop boxes” (based on the lie that underpinned Dinesh D’Souza’s film “2000 Mules”); “USB drives in the ballot scanning machines connect to the internet” (they do not), and many more. They cling to these false beliefs despite facts to the contrary that our Director of Voter Services and Chester County Board of Elections have patiently and painstakingly provided, multiple times. They demand that we “vote Amish” (meaning use only paper ballots that are hand counted, no machines), and that we eliminate voting by mail and the use of ballot drop boxes.

These Chester County PA residents’ site Trump’s 2016 PA win and 2020 PA loss as proof of election fraud. But in the 2020 PA election, Republicans picked up 4 seats in the Pennsylvania House and Democrats lost 3 seats. They believe Democrats rigged an election to lose seats? I have worked at the polls, observed the calibration of the tabulators that count the ballots, even observed the counting of the ballots in the days following elections, just to see for myself how things work. (This is open to all citizens, and I highly recommend doing these things. It’s super interesting to see how “the sausage is made”!) I trust that the results of our elections because over and over again, election after election, recount after recount, we see the voting machine total equals the paper ballot total.



Authors

  • Lynn Strauss

    Lynn Strauss is a recently retired small business owner. From 2010 thru 2024 she was the owner operator of an interior landscaping business in the five county Philadelphia area and northern Delaware. She is married and the mother of three adult children. Lynn became politically active after the 2016 election. She is currently a member of Chester County Marching Forward and a member of Women for Biden Harris.

  • Susan Miner

    Susan Miner is a founding member of Chester County Marching Forward, an all volunteer group dedicated to educating, energizing and encouraging fellow citizens to be active voters and civic participants. She is a retired Human Resources management consultant and trainer.

CATEGORIES: NATIONAL POLITICS
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