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Disinformation Affects Congress Too, He Adds : Reagan Says Soviets Influence Media

October 01, 1987|DAVID LAUTER | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Many in the news media and some members of Congress have been influenced by a "very sophisticated" Soviet disinformation campaign that has made anti-communism "unfashionable" in the United States and undercut U.S. efforts to protect democracy abroad, President Reagan charged in an interview published Wednesday in the Washington Times.

Reagan, according to the newspaper's account of the interview, spoke wistfully of the days when Congress "had a committee that would investigate even one of their own members if it was believed that that person had communist involvement or communist leanings." Now, he was quoted as saying, "they've done away with those committees--that shows the success of what the Soviets were able to do in this country."

Reagan was interviewed Monday afternoon by Arnaud de Borchgrave, editor-in-chief of the conservative newspaper. A text of his remarks was published in Wednesday's editions. A White House spokesman declined comment, other than to say that the newspaper's account of the talk was accurate.

Reagan's highly critical remarks about Soviet international efforts are in sharp contrast to his recent conciliatory statements as the two nations prepare to sign an agreement that would limit the superpower arms race. His attack on Congress sharply escalated his criticism of efforts in Congress to scale back U.S. intervention in the Persian Gulf and Nicaragua.

The President said Congress' attempts to rein in his foreign policy help the Soviet's long-standing efforts to promote the spread of communism worldwide and weaken U.S. opposition through "disinformation."

" . . . Some years ago--I happen to know because I've been a student of the communist movement for a long time, having been a victim of it some years ago in Hollywood--the Communist Party was to call upon their 'willing idiots'--their term--not just liberals who weren't communists," to spread their doctrine, he said. ". . . They were to engage in a campaign that would make anti-communism unfashionable. And they have succeeded."

Even when Soviet influence is apparent, he said, "you have to be careful in opposing them to not trigger that reaction on the part of your own people that you're depending on to support you. And it's no fun, but it is true. There is a disinformation campaign worldwide and that disinformation campaign is very sophisticated and is very successful, including with a great many in the media and the press in America."

De Borchgrave asked Reagan: "And on the Hill (in Congress)?"

Reagan responded: "And on the Hill."

De Borchgrave told Reagan that he believes there are "two dozen pro-Marxists with real political clout" in Congress. Reagan did not dispute that allegation, saying: "Well, Arnaud, that is a problem that we have to face." De Borchgrave did not name any pro-Marxist congressmen.

The two congressional committees Reagan referred to that had previously investigated communist influences were the House Un-American Activities Committee and the Senate investigations committee that was headed by the late Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.). Both panels were eventually abolished after charges that they had engaged in widespread violations of civil liberties.

Now, Reagan said, "even among people that are anti-communist, there is a tendency to say, 'Oh, you know, enough of that, hey, don't, this is old-fashioned McCarthyism,' and so forth." Soviet sympathizers "are taking advantage of this now," he said.

President denounces book about the late CIA Director as "an awful lot of fiction." Page 18.

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