The right-wing media machine has taken on increased significance in the age of President Donald Trump, proudly echoing the administration’s talking points – as one might expect – but with an air of unquestioning loyalty to the president.
Fox News has been joined by an ever-growing circle of conservative media outlets that serve to confuse the public and push the president’s narrative that mainstream media is but a peddler of ‘fake news’.
The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent notes that the prevalence of disinformation within right-wing media outlets is nothing new, but he rightly wonders how significant an impact the addition of Trump’s hostility toward the press might have as information polarization continues unabated since his election to office.
It appears as though the pro-Trump media is instigating an authoritarian coup, and by all accounts, it is enjoying significant success.
President Trump’s supporters believe that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is “unethical,” “desperate,” “partisan” and “a liar.” That is one of the key takeaways from a focus group that Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart held Tuesday night in a Milwaukee suburb, which was attended by The Post’s Philip Rucker.
Those who voted for Trump said again and again in various ways that the Mueller probe is a witch hunt. As one woman put it: “This investigation’s ongoing because people aren’t happy that Trump is in power and they’re looking for any way to get him out.”
These beliefs are not incidental; they are part of a carefully orchestrated narrative pushed by right-wing media outlets on a daily basis.
Axios’s Sara Fischer delves into this predicament in a piece on “the rise of the pro-Trump media machine”:
Pro-Trump media is spreading across the U.S., disseminating Trumpian rhetoric about fake news and mainstream media bias through every medium.
New arms of the machine are branching off, and existing arms are digging deeper into Trumpian loyalty and conspiracy.
Sargent offers a few examples:
Bill O’Reilly — who was forced out of Fox — may soon broadcast again in prime time at Newsmax TV, which is owned by close Trump friend Chris Ruddy, giving Trump “another media ally to disseminate his talking points.”
Executives at Salem Radio, the parent company of some of the most popular conservative talk shows, pressured radio hosts to cover Trump more positively, according to emails obtained by CNNMoney.
Sinclair Broadcasting, the largest owner of local TV stations, has drawn criticism for its ‘must-run’ editorials and scripts — peppering local newscasts with pro-Trump talking points — but continues the practice.
Meanwhile, a recent New York magazine story painted a startling picture of just how deeply in thrall Trump is to Sean Hannity and Fox News: He talks to Hannity pretty much every night, and his view of the Mueller probe is deeply shaped by Hannity’s nonstop propaganda about it, which relentlessly bombards millions with the message that the investigation is nothing but a “Deep State coup” that has corruptly failed to prosecute the real criminal, i.e., Hillary Clinton.
Where does this leave the whole of America?
It’s hard to determine precisely how pervasive this network of right-wing propaganda has become, but it surely has the potential to make real-world impact:
[I]f Mueller finds serious or even criminal conduct, it is extremely likely that this alternate information ecosystem will play a critical role in Trump’s efforts to rally his supporters on his behalf and against Mueller and his findings. That could in turn make it less likely that Republicans act on them — and more likely that Trump escapes accountability.
And as Trump-supporting voters grow increasing leery of the press, they only become more susceptible to the likes of Breitbart and Fox News.
Meanwhile, mainstream media outlets – which the majority of Republicans see as “the enemy of the American people” – are not yet wholeheartedly calling the Trump administration’s misrepresentations of the truth what it actually is: lies.
The failure of many reporters to admit that Michelle Wolf was absolutely right about this White House’s level of bad-faith dishonesty, and about the challenges that creates for good-faith journalism, revealed that in many respects they are not adequately reckoning with the real problem here, which is that in the Trump era, their mission of objective truth-seeking is inevitably going to be divisive and alienating to millions of his voters.
And when it comes to Trump’s legal problems and potential collusion with foreign entities, a failure to confront such lies – told by both the White House and its conservative media bullhorn – can only benefit the president.
Trump’s ability to rely on an extensive media network that will back him to the hilt no matter what gives him an advantage that President Richard Nixon did not have during the climax of Watergate. As Fischer’s reporting indicates, we don’t really have a clear sense of just how extensive or influential that network really is. And we don’t have any idea yet what this really means for the country over the long term.