Media, Left and Right

By Sheila Kennedy

Well, I see that the Republican Governors’ Association has decided to enter the “fake news” sweepstakes. According to reports,

The Republican Governors Association has quietly launched an online publication that looks like a media outlet and is branded as such on social media. The Free Telegraph blares headlines about the virtues of GOP governors, while framing Democrats negatively. It asks readers to sign up for breaking news alerts. It launched in the summer bearing no acknowledgement that it was a product of an official party committee whose sole purpose is to get more Republicans elected.

The website was registered July 7 through Domains By Proxy, a company that allows the originators of a website to shield their identities. […] As of early Monday afternoon, The Free Telegraph’s Twitter account and Facebook page still had no obvious identifiers tying the site to RGA. The site described itself on Twitter as “bringing you the political news that matters outside of Washington.” The Facebook account labeled The Free Telegraph a “Media/News Company.”

Evidently, after the Associated Press made inquiries, the site added a very small, grey box at the bottom of the page, disclosing its origins.

The “mastermind” behind this effort is Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker; he may have been inspired (if that’s the word) by Mike Pence’s ill-fated attempt to establish a state-owned Indiana “news bureau”(aka propaganda site).  Dubbed by critics “Pravda on the Prairie,” it was embarrassingly obvious and ignominiously withdrawn. Walker is evidently better at stealth.

The problem is, this sort of disinformation campaign works–especially with people who want to believe, who want both their own opinions and their own “facts.” As an article in the American Prospect put it,

As we learn more about how Russia used social media as part of its campaign to help elect Donald Trump, what stands out is how easy it was. Spend $100,000 on Facebook ads, create a bunch of Twitter bots, and before you know it you’ve whipped up a fog of disinformation that gives Trump just the boost he needs to get over the finish line. Even if it’s almost impossible to quantify how many votes it might have swayed, it was one of the many factors contributing to the atmosphere of chaos and confusion that helped Trump get elected.

As new as it might seem, this is just the latest manifestation of a broader problem that goes back a long way, one of the degradation of truth, a conservative electorate taught to disbelieve what’s real and accept whatever lunatic things their media figures tell them, and liberals who can’t figure out how to respond.

As the author points out, a liberal version of these mechanisms won’t work. The effect that right-wing media has on its audiences is of a “profoundly different character than what conservative media achieve.”

There’s a doctrinal basis to conservative media that makes it fundamentally different from liberal media, that makes Rush Limbaugh most definitely not the mirror image of a liberal radio host and Sean Hannity not the mirror image of Rachel Maddow. It’s not merely about the conservatives’ and liberals’ respective adherence to truth or penchant for ugly demonization of their opponents, though they differ in that too. It’s that an argument about the larger media world is the foundation of conservative media. Conservative hosts and writers tell their audiences over and over again that nothing they read in the mainstream media can be accepted, that it’s all twisted by a liberal agenda, and therefore they can only believe what conservatives tell them. It’s the driving backbeat to every episode, every story, and every rant.

Liberals complain about media coverage of one story or another all the time. What they don’t do is tell their audiences that any news source that is not explicitly and exclusively devoted to their ideological agenda cannot be trusted. But conservatives do.

The bottom line is that very few of the people who fall within the liberal camp are “good soldiers” in the same way that the Fox News audience is. Liberals still occupy a pretty big tent, and even when they agree on a broad premise–healthcare is a right, for example–they differ significantly on the policies to achieve their goals. As recent research has conclusively shown, conservative and liberal minds work differently.

Which leaves us at the mercy of propaganda. When some people are saying, in effect, “lie to me to reassure me that my tribe is right”–what do we do?