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October Surprises: A History of Spin

October Surprises: A History of Spin

  • We are just a few short weeks from the end of the US Presidential election. November 3rd, 2020 is the day and due to Covid-19 it has been a very different campaign this year. We had only one live televised debate, which was a catastrophe for viewers and very little in the way of substantive policy discussion.

The backdrop to this election has been truly dystopian, between the pandemic, the riots and surging crime rates – America is tired and weary and the result of this election will show us just how fragile she is right now. And so, 2020, like many election years before it has produced some late drama in the form of an ‘October Surprise’.

In US politics the term October Surprise is synonymous with the presidential race, as far back as 1840 we have seen various incidents, both manufactured and genuine, occur in October which sway voters in the final weeks of the election. The value of an effective October Surprise can secure the presidency, so the stakes are high. Wars, documents, leaks and scandals all play a part. We took a look at the crazy history of October Surprises and how 2020 might compare?
1880: On October 20, a forged letter was published purportedly written by Republican candidate James A. Garfield voicing support for low paid Chinese immigrants to the US. Garfield had to produce evidence to prove it was a forgery and won the election.
1972: With Richard Nixon facing a tough challenge from a challenger who appealed to war weary America, national security advisor Henry Kissinger’s famous ‘Peace is at hand’ declaration about the Vietnam War on October 26 is seen as the moment that sealed Nixon’s second term in office.
1980: Republican challenger Ronald Reagan worried that a last-minute deal to free US hostages in Iran would give incumbent Jimmy Carter the momentum needed for victory. So, he made a deal. Instead, the Iranian announcement that hostages would not be freed was the big pre-election story. The hostages were held in Iran until just minutes after Reagan’s inauguration as president in January 1981!
2000: Days before the election, a story broke about George W. Bush being arrested for drunk driving in 1976.
2004: An Osama bin Laden video on October 29 was the catalyst for a second Bush term. ”Your security does not lie in the hands of Kerry, Bush, or al-Qaeda,” bin Laden claimed; ”Your security is in your own hands’’. This unsurprisingly gave Bush and his ‘War on Terror’ the final push over the finish line.
Oct 7 – A 2005 recording of Donald J. Trump was released to the media, in the explicit tape he claims ”when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything… Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything”. Trump had been previously accused of being a sexist and this tape resulted in many of his own party turning their backs on him publicly. He infamously called it ‘locker room talk’.
Oct 7 – US intelligence agencies publicly accuse the Russian government of hacking the election process. This further linked Trump to Russia collusion.
Oct 8 – WikiLeaks began a 2 month campaign of releasing emails from the DNC which showed Hillary Clinton had been lying about her stance on trade deals, her use of an illegal private email server, evidence she was supplied questions prior to a live TV debate and excerpts from speeches she made to a variety of banks which showed her private beliefs differed from her public statements. This slow drip of information destroyed the Clinton campaigns momentum.
Oct 28 – FBI director James Comey went on live TV and announced ‘appropriate investigative steps’ into Clinton’s use of a private email server.
It was the first election to be fought on social media and Trump, who had run his campaign on anti-corruption, survived and won in large part due to the nation’s distrust and dislike of Hillary Clinton.
So, we are in mid October and we have already been thrown more curveballs, scandals and October Surprises than ever before! We had Trump’s tax returns, Trump vs Covid-19, the Amy Coney Barret hearings and then the explosive stories about the Biden family who reportedly received millions of dollars in payments from Ukrainian and Chinese officials, pictures of Hunter Biden smoking crack, emails which detailed how the Bidens sold access to the White House during the Obama administration and how US foreign policy may have been influenced by these arrangements.
And just in case that was not enough, Twitter and Facebook then took the outrageous step to censor articles from the New York Post relating to the Biden family corruption story! It is a perfect storm and next week we will try and make sense of it all, stay tuned!


Text: Kevin Maher, debater

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