5 Major Scare Campaigns Based On Less Than Nothing
As recent events have proven, nothing gets out the vote like good ol' fashioned scaremongering. If only we could go back to that grand era when men were men, voting was exclusively for men, and every politician was an honest man. Or, failing that, only a small-time crook. But it turns out that nostalgia isn't always trustworthy ...
"Global Cooling" Is Based On Shoddy Reporting From The 1970s
If you haven't heard of "global cooling" by now, congratulate yourself on avoiding some of the dumbest corners of the internet. Global cooling is the idea that not only is climate change wrong, it's so wrong that the world is going in the opposite direction. As in, humans destroying the environment is the only thing saving us from another ice age. It's the pseudoscientific equivalent of a Jaden Smith tweet: "How can global warming be real if it's cold outside in winter?"
Donald Trump said: "You look back and they were calling it global cooling and global warming and global everything," because he has the best words. According to Politico (citing four White House sources), deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland recently printed out a Time magazine cover about global cooling from 1977, and served it as part of Trump's daily cocktail of reassuring news. Before the president could tweet about it, however, staffers found out that it was in fact a shitty meme using a fake cover (Time covers didn't even look like that in the '70s).
And because nothing makes sense anymore, global coolists(?) also include folks on the United States House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. The official Twitter account of the Committee linked to a Breitbart article promoting the cooling "theory," which was essentially rephrased from another article by The Daily Mail. You know, a tabloid. That piece itself riffed on a "consensus" of scientists from the 1970s that the world was definitely getting colder. As you've probably guessed if you're even passably familiar with The Daily Mail's idea of journalism, said consensus didn't exist, and it was actually the opposite.
The supposed consensus boiled down to "only 7 articles indicating cooling compared to 44 indicating warming," which whiz kids at home will recognize as an "anti-consensus." Plus, most of those articles didn't even make long-term predictions. One of the most frequently lauded articles by the global cooling crowd is a 1975 Newsweek cover story by Peter Gwynne titled "Cooling World." But according to Gwynne himself, "My 1975 'Cooling World' story doesn't make today's climate scientists wrong ... It's time for deniers of human-caused global warming to stop using an old magazine story against climate scientists." Well, someone earned himself a ban from the president's daily news pile.
McCarthy's List Of Communists Infiltrating Washington Never Existed
Senator Joseph McCarthy's roster of secret communists within the U.S. government might be the most famous list in American history (which doesn't feature the words "baffling" or "not photoshopped"). It provided the impetus for both the Red Scare and McCarthyism, and singlehandedly made America about 57 percent more paranoid.
Because you're not currently browsing Cracked from a collective beet farm, you already realize that McCarthy's claims of an imminent communist takeover didn't come to fruition. And it isn't because McCarthy Red Scared the bad socialists all back to the USSR, either. In a move that future historians will have to describe as Trump-esque, McCarthy plain made up the existence of his list entirely.
At first, McCarthy claimed that he had a list of 57 secret commies. Then it was 81, and at one point it was 10, which probably meant a bunch of them watched some John Wayne movies and changed their minds. Each time, the numbers would change, and each time, the senator flashed a piece of paper that contained the names of exactly zero Soviet subversives. It was the xenophobic fearmongering equivalent of saying you have a girlfriend in Canada.
The result was an era of witch hunts that saw many people fired from their jobs and blacklisted from their industries for showing the slightest hint of communist sympathies. McCarthy himself was at the head of this hunt for a Soviet fifth column, knowing that the entire thing was predicated on a piece of paper that likely had less-than-flattering doodles of Stalin all over it. Good thing the American people would learn from this incident and never again trust the claims of a boastful politician making spurious claims supported by prop documents.
The "Missile Gap" That Got Kennedy Elected Was A Lie (And He Knew It)
The so-called missile gap was one of the main reasons John F. Kennedy won the 1960 presidential election. Well, that and the overall creepiness of Richard Nixon. Here's the "missile gap" mentioned right at the beginning of this campaign speech:
And again, about 16 minutes into this debate:
In short, Kennedy argued that the negligence of the previous president, Dwight "Chuckles" Eisenhower, had allowed the Soviets to ramp up their military production and stockpile enough missiles to make the United States' armament look like a bunch of tennis balls with "nuke" written on them. This bold claim was totally believable to the already-frightened Cold-War-era public, but Kennedy knew it was BS.
As a nominee for president, Kennedy was privy to a whole bunch of confidential military intelligence, including reports from U-2 spy planes that conclusively proved there was no such missile gap -- or at least, not one favoring the Russians. At the time, the Soviets couldn't even reach the United States with their ICBMs or bombers, and the balance of power was heavily in the Americans' favor. But Kennedy and his campaign pressed the myth, knowing that the Republicans couldn't call out his lie without revealing the existence of secret spy plane missions against a nuclear-powered enemy. It wasn't the first time JFK had BS-ed his way into an oval-shaped spot with astonishing confidence, and it wouldn't be the last.
The "Superpredators" Scare Was Based On Nothing (Except Racism)
"Superpredator" was a political buzzword in the mid-1990s used by folks like Hillary Clinton to describe the (mostly black) American youth whom society was breeding into a horde of remorseless crime machines. Clinton's defenders claim that she was only repeating what real political science at the time backed up, and that none of this was the slightest bit racist. You saw the title of this entry already, so you know where this is going.
The superpredator craze was started by John DiIulio Jr., Princeton political scientist and notorious hoarder of vowels. DiIulio kept busy, publishing his superpredator research in scholarly journals and promoting it on any outlet that would have him. In television interviews, he argued that current demographics meant that youth crime was guaranteed to explode in the coming years -- basically, the more youths, the more crime. As DiIulio saw it, inner cities were breeding hardened criminals younger and younger, and soon, roving bands of black teenagers would be terrorizing the streets of major American cities in packs, looting stores and playing the knockout game whilst listening to both hip and hop.
But in reality, violent juvenile offenses dropped by almost two-thirds over the next decade and a half ... which anyone honestly looking at the data could have predicted would happen. Violent crime tends to go down the more teenagers we have loitering around. DiIulio tried to weasel out of responsibility by saying "Demography is not fate," despite the fact he had been on TV pretty much saying, "Demography is fate, and it's coming for you in a dark alley!"
The Whole "Political Correctness Has Gone Too Far!" Panic Comes From A 1990 New York Times Column
People have been complaining about supposed runaway political correctness in society long before 2016, when use of the phrase became almost Shakespearean in its irony. The whole "Telling me I can't be an asshole is the REAL oppression!" idea is not a new one. And it comes not from some influential right-wing outlet like Breitbart or even its third-rate knockoff, Bartbreit -- it first appeared in The New York Times.
In 1990, NYT reporter Richard Bernstein dropped a bombshell with his article "The Rising Hegemony Of The Politically Correct." The term "political correctness" was already in use then, but mostly by leftists and with the appropriate air quotes and sarcastic tone. Bernstein's article changed that, launching a wave of PC panic that would eventually carry an anthropomorphized email forward from grandma into the White House. And like most scares over political correctness, both the original article and the book-length version that followed were based on pure BS.
Bernstein, echoing the words of Jerry Seinfeld from the future, claimed that universities in the U.S. were falling prey to "a growing intolerance, a closing of debate, a pressure to conform." He couldn't believe that students at Berkeley were expected to accept radical concepts like (scare quotes in the original) "the white male power structure," or the unthinkable idea that "everybody but white heterosexual males has suffered some form of repression and been denied a cultural voice." The demographics were changing in colleges across the U.S., and Bernstein was baffled that the curriculums were changing too.
Bernstein indignantly accused college professors of pushing their political agenda, even though that's exactly what he was doing. He cited trailblazing anti-PC authors like Allan Bloom and Roger Kimball, both of whom were funded by conservative donors and think tanks which were trying to push the national conversation to the right. It took them a while, but it worked. Bernstein's article led to a string of similar stories in outlets like The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and Time, most of which took isolated "political correctness gone mad" anecdotes from campuses and blew them out of proportion. One New York Magazine story told of a Harvard professor who had been persecuted by students enraged by his racial insensitivity. The professor in question then went on the record to say that this never happened, but it was too late. He was already a martyr of the PC wars.
Today, people trot out the "political correctness has gone too far" argument to defend a football team being named after a racist slur, to complain about actual Nazis being called "Nazis," and of course, to whine about college kids. Saying "How about that political correctness, huh?" is now considered a legitimate political platform. Thanks a lot, Richard Bernstein!
Propaganda is more than just posters, folks. Be careful.
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