White House

Want to stop foreign meddling in elections? Turn off talk radio, Obama says

President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Dec. 16, 2016.
President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Dec. 16, 2016. AP

It’s no wonder that voters fell for “fake news” planted by foreign governments during the election when partisan media outlets and political talk radio shows have been pushing a similar tone for years, President Barack Obama said on Friday.

In his last press conference of the year, the president slammed these organizations, which he called “domestic propagandists,” for going so far in their efforts to discredit the other side that they make voters vulnerable to fake news meant to undermine the U.S. electoral system.

If we want to really reduce foreign influence on our elections, then we had better think about how to make sure that our political process, our political dialogue is stronger than it has been.

President Barack Obama

“If fake news that’s being released by some foreign government is almost identical to reports that are being issued through partisan news venues, then it’s not surprising that that foreign propaganda will have a greater effect,” he said in his last press conference of the year at the White House on Friday. “It doesn’t seem that far-fetched compared to some of the other stuff that folks are hearing from domestic propagandists.”

Voters “who have been getting that stuff every day from talk radio” will find fake news stories convincing as long as the political debate continues to be so heatedly partisan, Obama said.

It doesn’t seem that far-fetched compared to some of the other stuff that folks are hearing from domestic propagandists.

President Barack Obama

“We have learned lessons about how internet propaganda from foreign countries can be released into the political bloodstream,” Obama said.

A flood of so-called “fake news” put out by a variety of sources, from Russian propagandists to teenagers in Macedonia who saw a lucrative opportunity, led to the spread of misleading articles that some believe helped damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign during the 2016 election. Examples of fake news that went viral on social media included articles about Clinton selling weapons to the Islamic State and the pope endorsing Donald Trump.

Obama on Friday blamed partisan outlets for enabling foreign intervention by spreading their very message: that when it comes to the government “everything is under suspicion, and everybody is corrupt, and everybody is doing things for partisan reasons, and all of our institutions are full of malevolent actors.”

“If that’s the story line that is being put out there by whatever party is out of power, then when a foreign government introduces that same argument, with facts that are made up, voters who have been listening to that stuff for years...are going to believe it,” he said.

Vera Bergengruen: 202-383-6036, @verambergen

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