Let's not pretend, for a minute, that the Fake News issue isn't politically loaded. It is--and assuming that all Fake News is just either Macedonian kids making a buck or merry pranksters out for 'the lulz.' It's not: Fake News is a political beast--and you're not going to want to hear this--but it's conservative.
The (Solid) Conservative Case Against The Mainstream MediaConservatives have long--long--decried the media's bias. The media is biased. That's true: humans have bias. Bias is often invisible and definitely pervasive. Bias matters--that's why drug tests do double-blind experiments. Something as flimsy as news can't hope to be bias free. So conservatives have a point.
Attempts to quantify the impact of this bias have ranged from the fanciful to the scientific ('Left Turn' uses [ math ] to decide that if the media were "unbiased" the US would be more like, Tennessee or something, The Omnivore thinks (The Omnivore doesn't remember and can't be arsed to look it up). Suffice it to say that the book's methodology is questionable--very questionable--but let's acknowledge that the sum-total of bias in the media does definitely have some impact on the end-product (both in what is/isn't reported, how headlines are constructed, etc.).
Finally, Conservatives can point to very explicit cases where the news media falls down. There are faked stories, legitimate news orgs falling for hoaxes, contradictory reports from big outlets, anonymous sources, a dearth of fact-checkers and editors in a shrinking profession where the cycle has gone into blindly fast overdrive. Basically, if you want a table full of smoking guns, The Omnivore can provide you with a bunch of 'em.
But don't. Don't pretend. Don't pretend for a minute that this is what the Fake News dialog is actually about.
Just don't. If you think the mainstream media is worse--or even roughly equal--to other sources--you are kidding yourself. Badly.
Conservative media has discovered that it can flourish best by lying to its consumers--and it has. If you didn't like reading that, tough.
Reality Has A Liberal Bias?Self-congratulatory liberals are, perhaps, the most annoying species of political animal. Smugly saying "Reality has a liberal bias" has all kinds of problems with it--to the point where it's actually a stupid thing to say. However: what has happened with conservative news is not a balancing act--but rather a break--a break where anything that succeeds as conservative news on the large scale has to actually disassociate itself from reality.
It isn't that reality has a liberal bias--it's that conservative news has an imaginary bias.
How can The Omnivore say that with such certainty? Let's look at the building blocks. These are "directional sign posts." You're (the reading conservative) not going to be able to disagree with them--instead you're going to rationalize why they don't matter, or why the other side is just as bad. In doing this, you're going to lie to yourself. Sorry.
1. Entertainers as News Sources
There are a lot of attempts to make news entertaining. You are probably thinking of Jon Stewart, John Oliver, or Rachel Maddow. Right? You weren't thinking of Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity--probably. What's the difference? The difference is two fold:
(a) On the right, both Limbaugh and Hannity (the top dogs in terms of views--and hugely listened to/watched) defend themselves as entertainers and not journalists or newsmen. That isn't something that Stewart, Oliver, or Maddow do. If you corner the left on this, they'll tell you that they are, in fact, intending to report the news--with a perspective, yes--a bias, if you will--but they do not dodge the issue by hiding behind the "I'm just an entertainer" deal. Limbaugh has done this repeatedly. Hannity has done this recently.
Don't believe The Omnivore? Call me on it, bro.
(b) The left simply has no one like Limbaugh (and now maybe Hannity). These "entertainers" reach high-propensity voters like no one else and for much of the Obama administration, Limbaugh was picked by voters as the "head of the party." These are facts--if you don't believe them, Call The Omnivore out. The reach and trust that conservatives put in people who defend themselves as "not newsmen" is greater than any voice on the left.
2. A Belief In Conspiracy Theory
Everyone believes in "conspiracy theory"--especially if you go to "a conspiracy theory" and will let in any one theory that someone has called a "conspiracy theory." The left and the right have their own theories--although studies have shown there are more prominence for a lot of them on the right, you don't have to believe those studies.
No--the conspiracy theory thinking in this case is a belief in an apocalyptic future (not the biblical Armageddon here, but rather the plans by evil liberals to destroy America's currency or force Americans into concentration camps under the One-World-Government of the UN). These beliefs have been internalized strongly by the right but not the left. How can The Omnivore say this, you ask, perhaps annoyed by the accusation?
Simple: advertising. For one thing, look how people like Hannity and Beck have made their money over the years. They sell gold or gold certificates. On the phone, the operator tells the caller that Obama is about to use a old law to confiscate gold--so they up-sell them to some particularly horrible "gold item." Don't believe The Omnivore? Hannity got a lawsuit against him.
Call The Omnivore out if you think it's a lie.
Think Rachel Maddow or John Stewart is making millions selling their listener's gold? Nope. The Omnivore knows you don't watch 'em. Go ahead: throw down if you don't believe there's a difference.
The second is the iconography that is used to sell things to conservatives and the pitches. Look here for examples (with pictures). These are rank conspiracy theories used to scare conservatives out of their money.
Does this sort of thing exist on the left-wing sites? No. It did/does not. It might now under Trump, we'll see--but for more than decade it hasn't. These apocalyptic lies made hucksters a lot of money off conservatives.
Don't like it? Go for it: Call The Omnivore out.
Finally, The Omnivore points to Alex Jones and Trump as evidence of Republicans wholesale swallowing the Conspiracy Poison. If you don't watch Alex Jones--or don't know who he is--get yourself an education. It'll shock you.
3. A Basic Lie: That Republicans Were Sold Out By Their Leaders
A final break from reality that The Omnivore has tracked is the lie that congressional Republicans sold out their constituents by "not fighting hard enough." This was used by marginal voices, insurgent primary challengers, and even major voices in the Conservative media to further individual causes. When you look at what Obama managed to do, despite consolidated opposition, it is clear that there isn't anything more congress could have done to stop him.
Conservatives were told that Congress just needed to:
- Shut down the Federal Government until Obama caved - Why would Obama cave when Republicans were taking the blame for it?
- Default on the Debt Ceiling - This is insane. If you thought for a minute that this would be "okay" you have no idea what's going on. If you listened to some conservative analysis saying this would be okay and believed it? Well, you were lied to . . . and you bought it.
- Impeach Obama--that his lawless tyranny could be pointed out and could bring him down. This was never the case and Congress people who looked into it knew it. Forget about "not winning" the impeachment, there was never grounds in the first place.
- Investigate the numerous, numerous scandals that Obama was implicated in and find the smoking gun. They did. Often. Stringently. Unsurprisingly, they found nothing actionable.
And so on. Part of the problem is that a lot of what congress does is more or less invisible to even educated voters (due to complexity more than obscurity)--but part of it is that Fox News didn't tell you when investigations didn't pan out.
Fox didn't tell you, for example, that none of the Benghazi investigations found anything reasonably actionable. They kept announcing "bombshells."
4. A Narrative Gap Around Strategy
Conservative ideology, not unlike, liberal ideology, is carefully constructed. We can see a "hole" in it when Trump was asked if the woman having the abortion should be punished legally in addition to the doctor. He said "Yes," horrifying the entire pro-life movement who have carefully built a narrative where the woman hiring a doctor to execute her child is also the victim (something that would never fly if the child was, say, a day old, right?).
This doesn't mean the narrative is wrong--or a lie--just that the logic of it is intricate and ideological (for a view on the left, the argument that Islam, as a global religion, is identical in modern-malice to Christianity is absolutely absurd).
The problem with the right-wing news is that their ideological constructs go deeper than just having opinions on good vs. evil and wander into the American equivalent of holocaust denial (and, with Bannon at the helm, may move into the reality of holocaust denial).
What does The Omnivore mean by such an offensive statement?
Well, let's start with the Confederate flag. The Republicans can't do real-talk on it because it would alienate southern voters who fly it. That it's a symbol of treasonous racism isn't a matter of opinion. It's fact--but the strategic ambiguity that the GOP must exercise around it has repercussions.
There's the "Democrats are the real racists" argument--the GOP can't (usually) come out and say "Look, guys, we have an issue with racism." That's for a very good reason: it would do a ton of damage. On the other hand, you've got David Duke running as a Republican, White Supremacists making Robo-Calls for Trump, and the KKK holding a victory march.
Yes, Trump did better than Romney with Latino and Black voters--but, uh, guys? That wasn't a high bar to clear. More Republicans than Democrats are against mixed-race marriage. That's today. Is that kind of a problem? Well, if your talking point is that the Democratic economic policies clearly make them racists--uh, yeah? Yeah, that might be.
We're going to see the Trump White House defend the alt-right (and you, Mr. Conservative Reader have no idea what that is--and certainly won't go read Radix or VDare to find out--but oh, boy if you did: you'd wind of figuring out why it wasn't important to anything in 10 seconds).
The point here isn't that "Republicans are racists"--the same thing applies to women. Republican strategists have this thing where they try to reach Republican law-makers and teach them how (not) to talk about rape. That's kind of a gap when you are trying to say there is no "war on women" and it's all "made up."
The GOP's stance on voter Identification is that large-scale in person voter fraud is happening all over. You, Mr. Conservative reader, probably believe that either:
- There is and it's being suppressed --or--
- It's happening but without the Id checks, there's "no way to prove it" so they can't show it.
Both of these are wrong. Voter fraud can certainly be caught--and is--and courts that have given very, very interested parties plenty of time to look for and bring in evidence, have consistently and repeatedly failed. Before you decide that in-person voter fraud isn't a myth because of something you've read somewhere (10 million cases of voter fraud discovered by X!) ask yourself why states with Republican governors and GOP election heads aren't making more of this. Because the media is suppressing it?
No--because it never. pans. out. Go check. The Omnivore will wait.
So What Did You Disagree With?
The Omnivore knows better than to think he persuaded you. You probably decided that whatever the flaws of the right-wing media are, the left's are just as bad for other reasons--or even worse. Where was the Gosnell abortion atrocity in the national news?? Why the black-out?? Right?
The answer is this: there is an actual, 100's of years old, process to doing news. There are fact-checkers, editors, and standards. There are publications with actual reputational value. When these policies are followed, as they are at major outlets--even at FOX--the news gets far more right than wrong.
You can point to problems--but if you compare them to the vast number of stories produced, they vanish. Sure, you can decide that there was a ton more nobody caught--but you are ignoring the fact that there are a ton of people looking. Everything in the MSM gets scrutinized by the right. Just like every hint of voter-fraud gets followed up. These processes are already in place. Bias gets called out. Falsehoods get exposed, and so on. You are seeing the entire iceberg.
The War For The Narrative of America
Which brings us to Fake News. The reason why conservatives in general are against censorship of "fake news" is because they (correctly) fear that legitimate conservative news sources will be put on the black lists. This is a real fear and should not be discounted--but like the racism and sexism quagmire, conservatives find themselves unable to address the issue plainly because it's a political landmine for them.
Here is what's going on:
- They benefit from fake news
- They engage in heavily biased reporting--far moreso than most leftwing media--which makes them vulnerable to fake-news accusations or bans
- They have created an environment where fake news can flourish to the economic advantage of conservative media and right-wing insurgents and now dismantling that would hurt entrenched power.
Are these even arguable? The second one is the most interesting. If the left-wing were trying to elect Hillary Clinton (probably true) and abandoned their journalistic methods, stories about her email would not have outpaced her policies by a huge margin.
Fox has positioned itself as the leader in legitimate conservative journalism. While it has told some whoppers, The Omnivore believes that its production is, largely, legitimate. The issue is not one of truth but of pervasive bias: Fox News is unapologetic about its bias and, because of the mix of the above points (entertainer-news-casters, strategic doctrine gaps, etc.) it is often forced to maneuver around the unvarnished truth.
This makes it vulnerable to accusations of fake-news rather than a primary offender of fake news--but this also means that it can't come out and start going after TruthFeed or The Angry Patriots Facebook site or whatever. If it did that, it could destabilize its viewing base.
It can't say "Yo, guys, Obama's pretty bad but he is definitely not trying to institute sharia law--oh, and black people were not better under slavery. Also, voter fraud? Never been a serious identified case of it and people do have the tools to look and find it."
They can't say that because then no one would trust them.
They also make a lot of money off fake-news consumers like the gold-certificates thing (Okay, Beck makes money off it--but you see the point).
Fake news is good for conservatives. It's bad for liberals.
That's the truth that people are skirting around.