Apparently There Is No Way To Protect Our Society From Toxic, Malevolent Misinformation & Propaganda
In authoritarian states, people have no choice when it comes to news sources. The state is the news source. Russians have virtually no choice now and polls show them rallying around Putin even as he turns their country into an impoverished pariah state. They are fed a steady diet of misinformation... and are acting on it.
Even when I was there in 2016, there was a palpable difference between Russia and a liberal society. I had a brief affair with a young middle class soccer player who told me he hates America and recited a whole litany of reasons why (including American anti-smoking laws). Over the course of our few days together, he also told me he loves rap music and that his dream is to move to Miami. (And if my experience with him is how he expressed hatred for Americans is any indication, I envy the person who he wants to express love for!) And that was in St Petersburg, a more European city than Moscow which seemed darker and more closed and suspicious.
Over the weekend, Dan Froomkin took on America's own primary source of misinformation, which is not the state, but Fox News. Fox is the purveyor of the kind of misinformation that leads to a relatively mainstream politician, in this case the governor of Alabama, recording a pure propaganda ad like this:
Ivey is trying to keep Trump from endorsing her primary opponent. I wouldn't be surprised if she's running the ad in Florida. Froomkin wrote that Fox "is often a purveyor of propaganda and misinformation. What it’s not is a source of “news”-- at least not by any normal definition. That’s one of the conclusions I drew from a fascinating new study in which arch-conservative Fox TV viewers were paid to watch CNN for a month... [W]hen these Fox viewers watched CNN, they heard about all sorts of things Fox wasn’t telling them. They processed that information. They took it in. They became more knowledgeable about what was really going on in the United States. The experiment didn’t change their political preferences-- certainly not in just one month. But it slightly altered their perceptions of certain key issues and political candidates."
[T]he biggest takeaway for me is the realization that Fox viewers aren’t just manipulated and misinformed-- they are literally being made ignorant by their consumption habits. Watching Fox, they hear a lot of “news-like” things, but they don’t learn about what’s really happening.
And here’s where we in the mainstream media can do something useful: We can stop talking about Fox like it’s a different form of news-- and start talking about how it isn’t news at all. It’s the opposite of news. It’s instead of news. It’s the absence of news.
We can explain more clearly that real news organizations present viewers with the information they need regardless of whether it hurts or helps a specific cause or political party.
Mainstream, reality-based journalists have been way too charitable to Fox over the years, partly because the network once employed some of them, and partly to maintain the façade of political neutrality.
But it’s time to firmly declare that Fox is not news.
The study started with 763 far-right loyal Fox News viewers, then randomly assigned 40 percent to a “treatment” group. That group was then paid $15 an hour to watch up to seven hours of CNN per week during September 2020, during prime-time hours. Participants were given quizzes to make sure they were paying attention.
It found that CNN and Fox were covering dramatically different things that month. The severity of Covid and the Trump administration’s failures to control it “were by far the most common topics on CNN” — even as Fox downplayed it and praised Trump’s behavior. By contrast, Fox News spent 15,236 words discussing “Biden/Democrats support for extreme racial ideology/protests,” to CNN’s 1,300.
The study found that the CNN-watching group was “much more likely to see issues covered on CNN (COVID-19) instead of on Fox News (racial protests) as important.” The group also “became more likely to agree that if Donald Trump made a mistake, Fox News would not cover it.”
One particularly hopeful finding was that watching CNN caused Fox viewers “to become substantially more supportive of vote-by-mail than the control group.” Both networks covered the topic extensively, with CNN emphasizing facts about how secure it is, and Fox falsely hawking its susceptibility to fraud. Republican measures to block Democratic constituencies from voting and challenge results not to their liking depend heavily on Republican voters believing lies about Democrats engaging in massive fraud.
(Notably, attitudes around race, climate change and policing remained unchanged.)
The study authors’ assertion that partisan slants happen on both sides of the cable news spectrum is the one false note in their report. Fox and CNN are not different flavors of news, they are different things entirely. News organizations with any legitimate claim to that title do not keep important information from the public based on which party it benefits. CNN-- or primetime MSNBC-- may be opinionated, but they remain fundamentally fact-based. Fox does not. (MSNBC, like NBC News, is part of NBCUniversal.)
You could certainly argue-- and I do-- that corporate news does its own kind of coverage filtering. There are all sorts of things the corporate media decides not to cover that independent journalists do, like poverty, mass incarceration, U.S.-caused civilian casualties, how the Washington agenda is skewed by money, and these days, pretty much anything that is good news for Biden.
But mainstream media still bases its reports on evidence, not on whim. It doesn’t hide key elements of an ongoing story, under any circumstance. Fox cannot say the same.
Also over the weekend, Sarah Ellison and Josh Dawsey, put Rupert Murdoch heir, Lachlan, under the microscope. It's didn't take much magnification to see they were looking at a chip right off the fascist father's block. Who knew?
Ellison and Dawsey wrote that "In a speech in Sydney celebrating a new initiative at a conservative think tank, Lachlan Murdoch-- now 50 and the co-chairman of the family’s News Corp., which owns the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, and chairman and CEO of Fox Corp.-- took swipes at the 'elites' who he believes disdain traditional values. He also blasted governments for imposing mandates and business shutdowns to control the pandemic and alleged conspiratorially that 'practically all the media suppressed the discovery of Hunter Biden’s laptop.' It was a monologue that could have fit in seamlessly with the lineup of right-wing commentary served up every night by Fox News’s prime-time opinion hosts-- including an obscure jab at the 1619 Project.
The New York Times won a Pulitzer for one of the project’s essays, which expounded upon the legacy of slavery. But it’s become a regular punching bag in right-wing media, and Murdoch blamed the project for stoking partisan divides by 'recast[ing] American exceptionalism as racist from inception.'"
Let's not get too carried away with Kendall and the rest of the hideous Roy family from Succession but "The speech was something of a tipping point for longtime watchers of the Murdoch empire, who once assumed that the children of the 91-year-old Rupert-- notably Lachlan and his younger brother James-- might be a moderating influence on the media properties that promoted the rise of former president Donald Trump. Instead, James ended up leaving the company, as he made his discomfort with the rightward tack of the family business increasingly public, donating substantial funds to battle climate change, promote scientific understanding and underwrite pro-democracy initiatives."
Murdoch’s personal ideology been the subject of much curiosity as his influence has grown in his father’s empire-- and as Fox’s programming has turned more heavily to opinion than straight news, and beyond standard Republican sensibilities to a stronger allegiance to Trumpism.
Murdoch was troubled last fall by trailers for prime-time host Tucker Carlson’s Fox Nation special that floated specious theories that the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol was an inside job by the government to target Trump supporters, according to people who spoke with him. (Two prominent Fox contributors left the network in protest over the airing of the unfounded claims, and after departing Fox for CNN, veteran anchor Chris Wallace expressed discomfort with the drift of Fox’s programming.)
Yet Carlson’s special aired nonetheless on Fox Nation, the network’s streaming service. And Murdoch has otherwise repeatedly expressed pride in Fox’s programming. He declared the network last year the “loyal opposition” to a Biden administration.
...And despite Trump’s occasional derision of Fox over election grievances-- and his fleeting attempts to boost smaller upstart conservative channels-- the network remains a crucial part of the GOP firmament.
“Fox is still the most important space for Republican members of Congress to be, and that’s true whether you are talking about 10 a.m. with Bill Hemmer, or Dana Perino, or the evening opinion shows,” said Doug Heye, a Republican strategist. “That’s where their voters are.”