Posts Tagged ‘media bias’

…but no one was interested in the facts. They preferred the invention because this invention expressed and corroborated their hates and fears so perfectly.
­– James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

Just think — Fox News on TV is even less reliable than Fox News online

Ever since Mary Trump’s least favorite uncle first rode his gilded escalator o’ lies into the Oval Office, he and his supporters have wielded the term “fake news” to decry any media coverage that’s not in 100% agreement with their worldview. In fact, the president and his disciples use the term much like the eponymous blue cartoon characters use the word “smurf,” sprinkling it liberally and seemingly at random throughout their communications, though in their case to avoid the overarching reality that, like a reverse alchemist, everything this president touches turns to lead.

Unless you’re looking to get very wasted very quickly, I’d avoid any drinking game during a Trump press briefing that involves the term “fake news.”

Not surprisingly, Leader 45 isn’t the first authoritarian-in-training to exploit the term “fake news” to try to discredit the mainstream media. In 1930s Germany, Adolf Hitler and his Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or Nazi party, commonly disparaged independent media as the enemy of the people and as Lügenpresse, German for “fake news.” (A lot of people are saying that der Führer, who died in his bunker less than 14 months before our current president was born, may have been reincarnated as a dumb, depraved NYC real estate developer.)

And never mind the fact that as of this writing, the president himself had managed more than 20,000 false or misleading claims during his time in office — a mind-bending average of nearly 16 per day, and a number that’s actually increased to 23 per day over the past 14 months as the pressure of being the nation’s worst-ever Commander in Chief has clearly taken its toll.

All that said, fake news is indeed alive and well in America today, and in exactly the place you might expect if you have any sense for the president’s go-to strategy of deflection and projection. I recently happened upon this article from the white-makes-right-wing Fox News Network — it’s a perfect example of fake news and the template for how the GOP’s leading propaganda machine does business. So I thought I’d break down the process in a brief tutorial I’m calling…



Step 1: Grab eyeballs with a misleading headline

As anyone who’s spent five minutes on the Interwebz can tell you, controversy sells. That isn’t just Click Bait 101; it’s the North Star for both the Fox News Network and the entire Trump presidency. So using a headline that promises a “crude remark” leveled against a beloved (to the Fox News audience) member of the administration is sure to command people’s attention. What was this uncouth comment made to the White House Press Secretary? Who made it? And who do they think they are?

If it bleeds, it leads — but don’t be afraid to chum the water to get there. And now that they’ve set up those pins, time to move in quickly and knock ‘em down before they fall on their own…

Step 2: Set the stage: Weaponizing outrage

Two points here:

  1. Choosing to single out a (Canadian) reporter who works for an Arab news network based in the Middle East immediately gives Fox News an essential villain to play against the heroic American press secretary. This is the tried-and-true Fox News strategy of us (the real news) vs. them (the fake news). And no one plays the victim card as shamelessly as Fox News and the GOP in general, led by the head of the party whose presidency can be summed up in his own words: “I don’t take responsibility at all.”
  2. Saying that “social media was set ablaze” belies the unspoken truth that the arsonists were largely right-wing antagonists looking to foment distrust and create controversy where none actually existed. As Alfred noted to Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” (But at least the Joker had a sense of humor.)

So then the plot thickens — a crude remark! Social media set ablaze! And OH, the speculation! We’re on the edge of our seats now, assuming this must have been a serious transgression by this rogue reporter from a news network with a foreign-sounding name. With that the stage is set, and the puppet masters at Fox News are ready to watch us dance…

Step 3: Build a case: Guilty until proven innocent

You could be forgiven for thinking here, as any sane non-Foxophile might, “Come ON guys, no legitimate member of the White House Press Corps (and whether Fox likes it or not, Al Jazeera is a legitimate news network) would jeopardize their career by publicly unleashing a profane bomb like that.” At this point common sense dictates that at its worst, this is a misunderstanding that could have been resolved easily and without the subsequent abdication of journalistic responsibility. But of course, this isn’t journalism — it’s another Fox News hit piece, a scaled-down version of what the network did following the murder of Democratic National Committee employee Seth Rich in 2016.

And if it’s true that “Many took to Twitter” (how many? MANY) and “The video quickly went viral with people on both sides of the aisle chiming in,” then why are the only two third-party sources quoted in the article from right-wing Twitter? Where’s the damning quote from an equally outraged pundit on the other side of the aisle? Nowhere to be found, because much like Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, no such nonsensical creature exists. This is simply Fox News doing what Fox News does best: fake news and faux (or is that spelled “Fox?”) outrage.

Step 4: If they defend themselves, they must have something to hide

At last, we reach the segment where Kimberly Halkett has a chance to defend herself, something (as it turns out) she never should have had to do, because she was only doing her job — and apparently doing it well by “grilling” the White House Press Secretary (note that defensive wording). That said, Halkett does defend herself quickly and professionally, knocking down this absurd house of cards with — wait for it, wait for it, here it comes — THE TRUTH. The most powerful weapon in journalism, like water to the Fox News wicked witch.

I would say an inconvenient truth, but aren’t they all to this network?

Note too that the alleged slur “lying bitch” is COMPLETELY MADE UP, with no basis in reality. Not only did Halkett never say it, but what she actually said sounded nothing like it. This is a personal smear designed to maximize outrage, and even if its own reporter isn’t the one who cut this idiocy out of whole cloth, Fox News is more than happy to give it wings and lend it credibility. Given the network has no apparent issue with publishing blatantly fabricated sexism, the allegations of sexual misconduct against key Fox personalities (including Tucker Carlson, see below) dating back to 2016 should come as no surprise. Deflect and project.

Step 5: Downplay the truth and never apologize

The final sentence destroys the entire premise of the article and does so with the curt, dismissive nonchalance of an artist who’s been here before, as someone with chronic dandruff would brush away flakes from their shoulder:

You know your journalistic boat has sprung a serious leak when even a normally staunch ally like Daily Caller pulls the plug on your bullshit. Though speaking of Daily Caller, its co-founder and shame-free Fox News talking head Tucker Carlson predictably refused to let the truth stand in the way of a new conspiracy theory, arguing that a White House reporter like Halkett might conceivably (though she didn’t) say such a thing “[b]ecause creating a moment like that, almost tailor made for social media can transform an unknown blogger into a Twitter star in just a few minutes.” Is this really the same slow-witted goof whose public “disemboweling” (to quote his then-cohost Paul Begala) by Jon Stewart 16 years ago led to the cancellation of his CNN show “Crossfire”?

Take-home lessons

So then a quick recap of what we’ve learned here on how to create fake news: 1) concoct a semi-credible lie against the enemy, the more outrageous the better; 2) build on that initial outrage with supporting evidence from questionable sources to put the accused on the defensive, 3) gently (if at all) back out of the lie when confronted with indisputable truth.

When the smoke cleared, Fox News got what it wanted from this story — another cravenly disingenuous hit piece on the “fake news” media (with bonus bigotry against a Middle East-sponsored news outlet), along with the lasting impression that a member of the mainstream media may have resorted to calling the White House Press Secretary a “lying bitch” when said reporter didn’t get her question answered. True, it never actually happened and the accusation was 100% fabricated, but that doesn’t matter — another seed has been planted in the receptive minds of the Fox News viewership. And as even the worst gardener will tell you, if you plant and nurture enough seeds, sooner or later some are going to take hold and bear fruit.

To be sure, journalism is a profession practiced by people, and as such it’s prone to human error. Typically, such errors involve harmless typos or misspellings — though I may never recover from the 2004 headline from The Providence Journal that warned, “Rumsfeld’s Pubic Role is Shrinking” — along with the occasional forgivable error of omission or misinformation. What is neither professional nor forgivable, though, is the disinformation and outright fabrication that have increasingly proven to be a feature rather than a bug of the powerful Fox News Network.

Ironically, this Fox News fairy tale just happened to appear on the same day The Hill reported that Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) was seen confronting and overheard calling Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) a “fucking bitch” on the steps of the Capitol in front of reporters. (If you haven’t seen AOC’s response to Mr. Yoho on the floor of the House, I highly recommend you check it out.) Thing is, that wasn’t fake news, and Rep. Yoho is now suffering real-world consequences for his sexist outburst. Deflect and project.

Not surprisingly, a search for Kimberly Halkett’s name on either The New York Times or The Washington Post yields zero results, while CNN mentions her only to further discredit the Fox News coverage. Apparently, in the midst of a cratering US economy, nationwide racial unrest and a global pandemic that’s already claimed nearly 150,000 American lives, there is in fact enough real news to cover without having to resort to making up your own.

What’s important to note is that thanks to the stench from this red herring, Kayleigh McEnany once again got off scot-free without having to defend the president’s dangerous, evidence-free insistence that “mail-in voting is going to rig the election” and that “mailed ballots are corrupt” (except, apparently, in his own case). Keep in mind, McEnany is the same individual who, on day one of her current job, stood at the White House podium and promised the assembled press corps, “I will never lie to you.” Which was the first of her many lies since. Still, she has a long way to go to catch her boss.

Lather, rinse, repeat. Or in the case of Fox News distract, disparage, deny. It’s the Fox way — and it’s the very definition of “fake news.” Kids, don’t try this at home. (Seriously, don’t.)

Class dismissed!

(For extra credit, check out this eye-opening chart that shows the outsized influence of Fox News in brainwashing America. In a recent study from the Pew Research Center, only Fox News and ABC were trusted by as many as 33% of Republicans, whereas one-third of Democrats and all US adults trusted nine or more sources. Conversely, Republicans tend to distrust more news sources than Democrats [see original study], including several sources deemed “Most Reliable” by the Media Bias Chart, above.)

News Sources_Pew_Jan 2020