Conservative Media’s War On Truth Is Crippling Our Democracy
For a left-leaning person who reads an above average amount of news, it can be shocking to imagine how anyone couldn’t see the failing of the Trump presidency. What’s unfortunate is that the current left/right division of American news consumption is in many ways perfectly crafted to split public opinion on issues that demand unity of concern and attention.
Most Trump scandals rely on months-old information with as many as half a dozen competing narratives (in the case of foreign influence, the Russians have a story they’d like to sell, as does the White House, James Comey, and so on). With stories like this, the spin you put on a piece of information, the quotes or details you choose to include or leave become crucial for making an audience believe what you want it to.
This is what Kellyanne Conway meant when she said “alternative facts.” You can present stories in several ways, and by emphasizing certain facts over others, you drastically impact the interpretation someone who only reads your site or watches your cable news show receives.
And when a spin doesn’t hide the truth enough, resorting to the conspiratorial is not uncommon for some. Earlier today, Fox News website retracted a false story about the deceased DNC staffer Seth Rich because it was “not initially subject to the high degree of editorial scrutiny.” Yet despite Fox’s action, Sean Hannity continued to push the same conspiracy rejected by his own network — tweeting a recommendation to a conspiracy website moments after the article was removed.
Conservative media silos, instead of simply giving a voice to right-leaning opinions, have now become dangerous barriers to truth for their viewership.
Perhaps what makes the spreading of Trump criticism most difficult is how conservative outlets have spent decades framing all media (other than them) as one big liberal army hellbent on destroying American values.
The conservative caricature of the “mainstream media” has become overblown even as these outlets have reached massive audiences (being the most watched cable news channel in the country, Fox News for some reason still doesn’t count themselves as a mainstream network).
And so if you’ve been told the story of the immoral leftist media regime for the past 10 years, who cares if the Washington Post released a damning piece about the President? Of course they would do that, you’re not gonna read that biased slander.
What makes Trump’s alleged innocence even easier to sell is that there are enough government officials in power speaking half-truths that an outlet can simply present these official’s quotes as “reporting.” All the while ignoring evidence or opinions that say anything contrary to what they want their audience to believe.
And when there isn’t a half-truth from the Trump administration or expert pundit to rely on, the next step is to avoid the discussion altogether by changing the dialogue into some “War on ____” battle.
Instead of simply responding to basic questions about the matters at hand, it’s much easier to escalate the “real issue” into some left vs. right clash of civilizations — an all out political war waged by the anti-American left to dismantle the legitimacy of our crippling institutions. Hop onto Breitbart or your favorite right-wing radio show to hear just how far these outlets are willing to dive into the White House take-down narrative to avoid talking about whether the president did or did not do something illegal.
Yes, there are certain conservatives who will speak out against the administration, but these criticisms are almost always temporary, and don’t outweigh the majority who are nothing short of enabling. Nor are these temporary detractors convincing enough to undo years of conservative programming that any Republican critique from the left shouldn’t just be taken with a grain of salt, but be completely dismissed as agenda-driven lies.
Regardless of your stance on the Russia investigation, James Comey or declassifying information, it’s clear something about this administration needs to change. But it’s going to take more than just liberals and disgruntled former Republican officials critiquing the administration for anything to be different in Washington.
There are people who just want to see Trump impeached under any circumstances, but just because they have that bias doesn’t mean Trump hasn’t done something impeachable. Just because some people might overreach doesn’t mean they’re 100% wrong. Besides, it’s almost impossible to tell what the exact truth is without any hindsight.
When asked whether he supports a special prosecutor on Late Night with Seth Meyers, Senator Ben Sasse made the point that a special prosecutor won’t solve our larger issues of social disunity — that those chosen to appoint the special prosecutor would themselves be scrutinized as partisan hacks just like everyone else involved.
And even though former FBI Director Robert Mueller has received bipartisan approval, the Senator’s larger point still holds true: “one of our long term challenges is restoring trust in some of the institutions that we have.”
Should Donald Trump find himself without a job in a year, we must not have a situation where half the country believes they justly removed an incompetent, immoral, and corrupt man for the good of the country, while the other half believes that their was a coup against the President by his political adversaries. If these become our split perceptions after the fact then we’ll have done irreparable damage to our civic unity.
And if these outlets can’t begin accepting inconvenient yet basic facts, there will be consequences. In the week of May 15th, MSNBC was “ranked number one in both total viewers and the key adults 25–54 demographic during prime time” between the three major news networks according to Variety. Fox News? They fell down to third. This was the longest streak at number 3 the network has had in that measure in 17 years.
Even with Congressional Republicans starting to express their concerns over this administration, it’s the job of outlets who may be sympathetic to Republican or conservative causes to have an even hand. So conservative media, please be responsible with the power you have over your reader’s beliefs. Our country’s health depends on it.