At the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog, J.P. Freire reminds us of a dark chapter in American history. Freire draws some strong parallels to today's debate over foreign influences in American elections.
But the story itself is incredible. According to an internal KGB memo discovered by reporters in the 1990s, the late Senator Edward Kennedy colluded with the Soviet Union to undermine President Reagan's foreign policy efforts.
In 1983 , according to the memo, Kennedy offered to enlist the services of America's leading media personalities in an effort to counter official American military and diplomatic policy: "[T]the president of the board of directors of ABC, Elton Raul and television columnists Walter Cronkite or Barbara Walters could visit Moscow," Kennedy suggested. "The senator underlined the importance that this initiative should be seen as coming from the American side."
The Senator's motives were openly political. There was an election coming up, and Kennedy wanted to ensure victory for the "rational people" - the people who agreed with him, naturally.
Senator Kennedy, like other rational people, is very troubled by the current state of Soviet-American relations. Events are developing such that this relationship coupled with the general state of global affairs will make the situation even more dangerous. The main reason for this is Reagan’s belligerence, and his firm commitment to deploy new American middle range nuclear weapons within Western Europe...
The only real threats to Reagan are problems of war and peace and Soviet-American relations. These issues, according to the senator, will without a doubt become the most important of the election campaign. The movement advocating a freeze on nuclear arsenals of both countries continues to gain strength in the United States. The movement is also willing to accept preparations, particularly from Kennedy, for its continued growth. In political and influential circles of the country, including within Congress, the resistence to growing military expenditures is gaining strength.
So in order to "counter the militaristic politics of Reagan and his campaign to psychologically burden the American people" and, of course, win an election, Kennedy offered a few ideas.
First, he wanted to come to Moscow to advise the Soviet government on how to counter American resistance regarding nuclear arms control:
Kennedy asks Y.V. Andropov to consider inviting the senator to Moscow for a personal meeting in July of this year. The main purpose of the meeting, according to the senator, would be to arm Soviet officials with explanations regarding problems of nuclear disarmament so they may be better prepared and more convincing during appearances in the USA.
But here's the key part:
Kennedy believes that in order to influence Americans it would be important to organize in August-September of this year, televised interviews with Y.V. Andropov in the USA. A direct appeal by the General Secretary to the American people will, without a doubt, attact [sic] a great deal of attention and interest in the country. The senator is convinced this would receive the maximum resonance in so far as television is the most effective method of mass media and information.
If the proposal is recognized as worthy, then Kennedy and his friends will bring about suitable steps to have representatives of the largest television companies in the USA contact Y.V. Andropov for an invitation to Moscow for the interview. Specifically, the president of the board of directors of ABC, Elton Raul and television columnists Walter Cronkite or Barbara Walters could visit Moscow. The senator underlined the importance that this initiative should be seen as coming from the American side.
Furthermore, with the same purpose in mind, a series of televised interviews in the USA with lower level Soviet officials, particularly from the military would be organized. They would also have an opportunity to appeal directly to the American people about the peaceful intentions of the USSR, with their own arguments about maintaining a true balance of power between the USSR and the USA in military term. This issue is quickly being distorted by Reagan’s administration.
Amazing. The "Lion of the Senate," a legendary legislator and a liberal hero, conspired against the United States. He willingly aided in undermining U.S. foreign policy towards the Soviet Union.
It seems that Kennedy felt he had run out of licit options to further his agenda.
Kennedy couldn't stop Reagan's policies through political channels, he thought. "According to Kennedy," the KGB memo recalls, "the opposition to Reagan is still very weak. Reagan’s adversaries are divided and the presentations they make are not fully effective. Meanwhile, Reagan has the capabilities to effectively counter any propaganda."
Kennedy also felt that it was useless appealing to the American people via the mainstream press, since "the majority of Americans do not read serious newspapers or periodicals."
Instead, he proposed they go right to the people, and this is where the more popular media figures came in. Kennedy would use the public's interest and trust in a Cronkite or a Barbara Walters to channel the Soviet message.
The story serves as a grim reminder that the media can be used for ill as well as good.