“As our intelligence agencies have said, these leaks are an effort by a foreign government to interfere with our electoral process, and I will not indulge it. Further, I want to warn my fellow Republicans who may want to capitalize politically on these leaks: Today it is the Democrats. Tomorrow it could be us.”
— Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: Georgia officials launch investigation after election day chaos | Senate report finds Chinese telecom groups operated in US without proper oversight Republican Senators ask FCC to ‘clearly define’ when social media platforms should receive liability protections Trump’s tweet on protester sparks GOP backlash MORE (R-Fla.)
Republican nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE has claimed that the media is rigging this election against him.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The media has made Donald Trump. Without the media, Trump would be nowhere in this election. The real rigging by the media is their shameless reporting on documents illegally leaked by the Russians to influence our election in Donald Trump’s favor.
Trump is a creation of the media. He has expertly played the media in this campaign, gaining vastly more coverage than Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE. He even received some 20 minutes of free coverage when the media covered a purported announcement about his claim that President Obama was not born in the United States.
Trump spent about 30 seconds on the birther issue and the rest of the coverage amounted to about $1 million dollars’ worth of free media advertising for his campaign and, incidentally, his new hotel as well.
According to the TV News Archive, Trump has received about twice as many television mentions as Clinton: 1.1 million for Trump as compared to 571,485 for Clinton.
The American people are fully aware of this disparity in coverage. A Pew Research poll found that 53 percent of respondents believe that Trump is getting too much media coverage, compared to 34 percent who believe that Clinton is getting too much coverage.
53% of voters say Trump has been over-covered, compared with 34% who say the same of Clinton https://t.co/SU9VAqwVgp pic.twitter.com/wbPLPo8pDV
— Pew Research Center (@pewresearch) October 17, 2016
Beyond this vast disparity in coverage, the media is rigging this election in favor of Trump by swallowing hook, line and sinker Russia’s efforts to boost his campaign.
The media continuously reports on hacked emails that intelligence officials with a high degree of certainly have traced to Russian hackers. Conveniently, Trump has failed to recognize this reality despite his penchant for truly absurd conspiracy theories such as Muslims in New Jersey cheering the 9/11 terrorist attacks or Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote The Hill’s Morning Report – Trump’s public standing sags after Floyd protests GOP senators introduce resolution opposing calls to defund the police MORE’s (R-Texas) father being part of the plot to assassinate President John F. Kennedy.
This hacking represents a blatant and unprecedented effort by a hostile foreign power to influence the outcome of an American presidential election. The hacking is also a serious violation of American law. Under the federal Stored Communication Act, it is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison to hack into a private email server.
So far, leakers linked to the Russians have released tens of thousands of Democratic documents and zero Republican documents.
You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out whom the Russians are attempting to elect this year.
Albright: Trump should make his slogan ‘Russia First’ https://t.co/wPlzPCVBv9 pic.twitter.com/pwfaJgD05x
— The Hill (@thehill) September 22, 2016
From the earliest days of the republic, our Founding Fathers have warned against foreign influence in American elections and taken action to prevent such interference. Alexander Hamilton wrote in 1793 that “Foreign influence is truly the Grecian horse to a republic. We cannot be too careful to exclude its influence.”
In his farewell address of 1796, President George Washington warned against “foreign influence and corruption” in our politics.
In the 1790s, the French ambassador to the United States formed political societies in America favorable to France and otherwise meddled in American politics. Washington refused to tolerate such foreign intrigue. He demanded that France recall the ambassador and Americans have until now unequivocally condemned and rejected any foreign interference with our democracy.
The media’s complicity in Russian hacking tilts the playing field in favor of Trump because we have no Republican documents to compare with the material contained in the hacked Democratic emails, which may or may not have been doctored.
It also threatens the long-term health of our democracy. By selectively leaking illegally obtained documents that the media dutifully covers, the Russians have proven that they have nothing to lose and everything to gain from such meddling in our elections.
Russian President Vladimir Putin must be laughing uproariously at our naivete.
The media has thus opened the door to unchecked foreign meddling in future elections. Any hostile foreign power will now have an incentive to selectively leak stolen information, whether authentic or manipulated, to influence our elections in pursuit of their own interests.
Based on what has occurred this year, such powers will have every reason to believe that their leaked documents will be covered by the media and become part of the campaign, no matter how prejudicial and one-sided.
Rubio is right. No party or candidate is immune to manipulation by foreign interests. Not only should campaigns reject the use of such material, but most critically, the media should do so as well.
The future of our democracy may well depend on heeding Sen. Rubio’s warning.
Lichtman is distinguished professor of history at American University in Washington.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.