New Evidence Suggests Fake News Was Used To Help Bring Down Hitler
'Fake news' is not a term many of us used too often several years back, but in the wake of the Donald Trump political campaign and his attack on certain media outlets, it's a phrase we've seen crop up time and again.
However, you might be surprised to know that even back in the 40s, fake news was being used in a bid to ramp up pressure on Adolf Hitler during the Second World War.
According to Steve Usdin - whose new book Bureau of Spies reveals the secret history of the Overseas News Agency (ONA) - the organisation teamed up with Britain's foreign intelligence agency in a bid to spread fake news aimed at discrediting Hitler and enlisting the United States' intervention with the war in Europe.
And don't think that back then the fake news stories were any less outlandish than they are now - apparently one article suggested 200 man-eating sharks had been dumped in the English channel to scare off invaders, while another claimed Hitler was paranoid about his moustache looking like Stalin's.
The ONA also reportedly published regular objective articles on major events too so that they built a decent enough reputation and were therefore published in the likes of The New York Times and The Washington Post.
In his book, Usdin describes how the British government had a well-oiled, coordinated scheme for generating and circulating rumours, which it called 'sibs', adding: "An organisation called the Underground Propaganda Committee (UPC) met twice a week in London to approve new sibs. The UPC sent thousands of sibs out into the world.
"In continental Europe, sibs were distributed almost exclusively through whispering campaigns.
"But in the US, the ONA was used to place sibs in American newspapers that were unaware that the material was in any way inspired by the British government."
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To show you the power of these fake news stories, in 1941 the UPC conjured up a number of sibs relating to Hitler's alleged deteriorating mental health, with one stating: "Hitler's paranoia has reached the point where he suffers from delusions."
A week later, the Boston Globe printed an ONA story on its front page which said there was 'circumstantial evidence' Hitler had suffered a 'severe nervous breakdown'.
Other stories circulated on the rumour mill suggested the death of a bedouin chieftain signalled Hitler's diminishing power, the British navy had developed a super-explosive 47 times more powerful than TNT and that German army rations were causing impotence.
It's like reports from The Onion were making their way into the mainstream media - but according to Usdin, the ONA made attacking Nazi Germany a priority over reporting the truth.
The ONA was founded in July 1940 by Jacob Landau of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), a wire service which still provides stories to Jewish newspapers today.
At the time, Britain was standing alone against Hitler and America was forced to limit what help it offered, so it's not surprising that old Blighty was keen to influence public opinion in the US.
Usdin added there's no evidence that ONA reporters knew they were collaborating with Brit spies, but reckons a deal was made whereby British intelligence agreed to fund the JTA subsidiary in exchange for ONA press credentials for its spies and the right to use the outlet to spread fake stories in the US and international press.
It's nearly as complex as the modern-day controversy over the spread of fake news, a tool that Usdin said should be met with caution no matter what the situation: "Propaganda or 'fake news' is a weapon.
"It should be deployed with the care and restraint that should be applied to the use of any weapon."
Featured Image Credit: PenNews