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Fox’s Tucker Carlson “thoroughly enjoyed” President-elect Donald Trump castigating CNN reporter Jim Acosta for being “rude” during a press conference, which is strange since Carlson previously held up one of his own reporters as God’s gift to journalism for interrupting a President Obama statement by shouting out a question.
Back in 2012, Neil Munro, then a reporter for The Daily Caller, made a fool of himself when he interrupted an Obama Rose Garden statement on immigration policy by shouting out questions about the administration "employ[ing] foreigners." Munro’s breach of decorum was widely criticized, and both the reporter and the Caller’s publisher issued statements saying that he had attempted to time his question to coincide with the conclusion of the president’s remarks. This was transparently false, but at least they recognized Munro had done something bad.
But for Carlson, then the website’s editor-in-chief, Munro hadn’t made a simple error -- instead, he was a journalistic hero. According to Carlson’s statement at the time:
I don't remember Diane Sawyer scolding her colleague Sam Donaldson for heckling President Reagan. And she shouldn't have. A reporter's job is to ask questions and get answers. Our job is to find out what the federal government is up to. Politicians often don't want to tell us. A good reporter gets the story. We're proud of Neil Munro.
Carlson’s comparison of Munro to Sam Donaldson and his claim that Munro “got the story” are bullshit. But the then-Caller editor had laid down a marker: Interruption in pursuit of reporting is no vice.
Flash forward to this week’s Trump press conference. After the president-elect lashed out at CNN in response to a journalist’s question, the network’s reporter Jim Acosta yelled out, “Since you are attacking us, can you give us a question?” In an extended back and forth, Trump slammed Acosta’s “terrible” news outlet and rejected his request, calling the network “fake news.”
Acosta’s interruptions, coming amid the scrum of an actual press conference, would seem like far less of a breach of decorum than Munro shouting out questions in the middle of President Obama’s speech. But for some reason, Carlson isn’t “proud” of the CNN reporter.
Instead, during an “Ask Me Anything” thread on the pro-Donald Trump subreddit “/r/The_Donald,” Carlson answered a question about what he thought of the Trump/Acosta exchange by writing, “Acosta was rude. Trump rose to it. I thoroughly enjoyed the exchange.”
“/r/The_Donald” has been described as an “authoritarian [subreddit] full of memes and in-jokes, far right talking points, coded racism, misogyny, homophobia, and Islamophobia, and a hypocritical ‘free speech’ rallying point.” The forum is a hub of the “alt-right” movement, among which Carlson has cultivated a strong following.
In directly criticizing Acosta, Carlson went further on Reddit than he had on his own show. During an interview with Sean Spicer on Wednesday, Carlson remained silent as the future White House press secretary described Acosta as “rude, inappropriate, and disrespectful” and called on the CNN reporter to apologize.
Sam Donaldson’s legacy did not come up.
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After top United States intelligence officials testified before Congress and confirmed reports that Russia orchestrated efforts to undermine the 2016 presidential election, right-wing news figures deflected from the report by falsely blaming John Podesta’s email password for cybersecurity breaches.
“Tucker Carlson is literally our greatest ally. I don’t believe that he doesn’t hate the Jews.” -- Neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin, The Daily Stormer
Following the news that Megyn Kelly had left Fox News for NBC, a commenter at the pro-Donald Trump subreddit “r/The_Donald” -- a key gathering place for the “alt-right” -- posed a question: “WHO DO WE WANT IN HER PLACE?” The subreddit’s denizens quickly coalesced around a single option: Tucker Carlson.
“TUCKER FOR ANOTHER HOUR!” reads the thread’s top comment. “Then start spamming fox with emails and comments letting them know,” wrote one Redditor. “You can’t cuck the Tuck,” commented another.
Twenty-four hours later, the trolls seem to have gotten their way, with Fox News announcing that Carlson will take over Kelly’s 9 p.m. timeslot. Carlson -- a preppy son of privilege who has incongruously become cable news’s most favored host among neo-Nazis and white nationalists -- will now have a prime-time venue to continue giving Fox News a bigger foothold with the “alt-right” audience.
Carlson is a career member of the press who first wrote for establishment conservative and mainstream news outlets like The Weekly Standard, The New York Times Magazine, and New York magazine, and has spent nearly two decades as a host and commentator on PBS, CNN, MSNBC, and finally Fox News. While Carlson has regularly promoted a conservative brand of commentary laced with misogyny, misinformation, and factually inaccurate attacks, many on the left remember him as the bow tie-wearing Crossfire host who Jon Stewart pummeled in his searing 2004 demolition of the program.
But since landing his 7 p.m. Fox News program Tucker Carlson Tonight in November, Carlson has built a strong following among the worst racists, misogynists, and anti-Semites on the Internet.
Those deplorables love Carlson’s cutting interview style, which seeks not to extract information from guests but rather to embarrass them. Many of Carlson’s victims have included the young women, Jews, and “social justice warriors” who constitute the main perceived enemies of the “alt-right.” They believe that Carlson is helping to mainstream their racist, misogynist worldview.
At "r/The_Donald," Redditors regularly highlight instances in which Carlson “REKT,” “tore apart,” “grills,” or “DESTROYS” his interviewees. A separate subreddit was created in November with the mission statement: “Alpha Male Tucker Carlson routinely plows beta-male SJW snowflakes over on Fox News. This is where we compile his greatest hits.” The subreddit’s official Twitter account is @cantcuckthetuck, a mantra that Carlson’s “alt-right” supporters use to highlight his supposed unwillingness to be “cucked.”
The neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer regularly features videos of Carlson’s interviews under the headline “You Can’t Cuck The TUCK!” The site’s founder, Andrew Anglin, has called Carlson “our greatest ally” and a “machine of ultimate destruction” who “LAMPSHADE[S]” Jewish guests.
The former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke has praised Carlson for pushing back against “Jewish Supremacists” who “believe they are above the law.”
Mike Cernovich, the misogynist “alt-right” media personality who was a key figure behind the “pizzagate” conspiracy theory, predicted in November that Carlson would “make FoxNews great again.” He praised the program’s “incredible” impact and warned that the network’s “globalists” could try to shut the show down.
Carlson’s show is also popular on the white supremacist forum Stormfront. “Tucker Carlson is the big star of FOX now in just a very short time,” wrote one commentator after Megyn Kelly’s move to NBC was announced. “And we don't need to guess where he stands. BTW, Carlson is the most dynamic news show host I have ever seen. He is the Donald Trump of talking heads.” Comments like “Lately, Tucker Carlson came out of nowhere and his show is now my favorite” are frequent on the site.
Across Twitter, Carlson's "alt-right" supporters praise his show using the hashtag “#cantcuckthetuck.” And of course, there are memes.
There’s no evidence that Carlson shares the bigoted worldview of some of his biggest fans. But now Fox has a prime-time show that caters to them.
Fox News did not respond to a request for comment.
Below is praise for Carlson’s show from neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and other members of the “alt-right.”
Andrew Anglin Runs The Neo-Nazi Site The Daily Stormer. The Daily Stormer is a neo-Nazi website headed by Andrew Anglin that has endorsed Trump and enthusiastically supported his campaign. The website regularly defends Adolf Hitler, attacks “kikes,” and has a section documenting the purported “Jewish Problem.” [Media Matters, 8/27/15]
Anglin: Carlson “Used To Be The Worst Type Of Bowtie Wearing Faggot,” But Under Trump He Is “A Machine Of Ultimate Destruction.” Anglin reacted to a segment on Carlson’s Fox show by praising him as “a machine of ultimate destruction” in an article on The Daily Stormer. From the November 25, 2016 article:
All of these former cuckolds have had their power-levels raised by orders of magnitude by the Trump coup.
Take Tucker Carlson. This guy used to be the worst type of bowtie wearing faggot. He was literally modeling everything about himself (including his jawline) after king cuck George Will.
Oh but now – this man is a machine of ultimate destruction. [The Daily Stormer, 11/25/16]
Daily Stormer’s Eric Striker: Carlson Is A “Master Of Weaponized Rhetoric.” The Daily Stormer’s Eric Striker celebrated the high ratings of Carlson’s Fox show, calling the host “a master of weaponized rhetoric” who had grown the spine to “go toe-to-toe” with “pathologically lying Jews and dress them down in some striped pajamas live on air.” From a November 26, 2016, Daily Stormer article:
As Andrew Anglin has written, the #TrumpEffect has given Carlson brand new superpowers. He has hung up his bow-tie and grown a spine, and in recent weeks has started making a name for himself as a master of weaponized rhetoric who can now go toe-to-toe with the most brazen, combative, pathologically lying Jews and dress them down in some striped pajamas live on air.
In a short time period, he has crushed professional mud-slinging Heebs like Jonathan Allen, Judeo-Left university administrator/Commissar Michael Roth, pushy Obamacare racketeer (((Ezekiel Emanuel))) and a whole slew of College campus lemmings wielding canned and stale Cultural Marxist talking points. [The Daily Stormer, 11/26/16]
Anglin: “Our Ally Tucker Carlson” Called Out “A White-Hating Jew.” Anglin praised Carlson for doing a “great job” on his show after a segment with guest Erin Schrode, a former Democratic candidate for Congress. Anglin applauded Carlson, writing that he “actually -- literally -- called her out as a white-hating Jew.” In the same article, Anglin also invited readers to “visit” Schrode’s Twitter page to “let her know you take pleasure in seeing her once again defeated by the forces of truth and justice.” From a December 9, 2016, Daily Stormer article:
This time, instead of taking on the Daily Stormer directly, she fought our ally Tucker Carlson… and lost as bad as she lost to us!
The conversation was insane. She was trying to say that Donald Trump is going to pollute the air by working with oil companies. Or something. Not even clear.
Tucker actually – literally – called her out as a white-hating Jew, saying comparing Trump to a Nazi was hate-speech. And before you call him a cuck, watch the clip – he doesn’t even attack Hitler. He just indicates the obvious fact that Jews defame whites by calling them Nazis, and actually calls this hate speech.
He is calling her out as a Jew. No other way to read that. “Hate speech” is from one race to another – that is what the term means.
Great job, Tuck.
You can visit the Hissing Weasel on twitter and let her know you take pleasure in seeing her once again defeated by the forces of truth and justice. [The Daily Stormer, 12/9/16]
Anglin: “Tucker Carlson Is A One-Man Holocaust.” After Carlson hosted The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin on his show, Anglin enthusiastically called the host “a one-man Holocaust” who had turned his television show into “a fake shower room.” From the December 10, 2016, article on The Daily Stormer:
Tucker Carlson is a one-man HOLOCAUST!
WaPo’s Jennifer Rubin went on there yesterday and got straight-up LAMPSHADED like her rat ancestors!
This comes after earlier in the week Tucker viciously SOAPED the rat Jew Hissing Weasel!
If Tucker doesn’t chill out on the GAS BUTTON the Jews are going to notice that his television show is nothing but a FAKE SHOWER ROOM. [The Daily Stormer, 12/10/16]
Anglin: “I Could Watch” Tucker Carlson “On YouTube For The Rest Of My Life.” Anglin raved after Carlson hosted history professor Robert S. McElvaine, calling the host “a whirlwind storm” and writing that he “could watch him making that gape face on YouTube for the rest of my life.” From a December 14, 2016, The Daily Stormer article:
Tucker Carlson is like a whirlwind storm!
I sure hope people continue to try to cuck the Tuck. Because I don’t want this ride to ever end. I could watch him making that gape face on YouTube for the rest of my life. Seriously, I hope that in 2040, there is some cuck arguing that against Crusaderbot extermination robots clearing out what remains of the population of the Middle East, and a 70-something year-old Carlson is on YouTube making that same face at him. [The Daily Stormer, 12/14/16]
Angin: “Tucker Carlson Is Literally Our Greatest Ally. I Don’t Believe That He Doesn’t Hate The Jews.” [The Daily Stormer, 12/18/16]
Striker: “I Don’t Know Why These Lying Jews Even Bother Going On” Carlson’s Show. After Carlson hosted Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald, Striker praised Carlson, writing that he had “humiliate[d] Jew Kurt Eichenwald” and that the host is “becoming a bit of a celebrity.” Striker added, “I don’t even know why these lying Jews even bother going on his show.” [The Daily Stormer, 12/16/16]
David Duke Is A Former KKK Grand Wizard And A Radio Host. David Duke is a former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard and a white nationalist radio host. He is also notorious for spouting anti-Semitic rhetoric. [Media Matters, 10/18/16]
Duke Praised Carlson For Showing “‘Jewish Supremacists' Believe They Are Above The Law!”
Cernovich Is A Misogynistic “Alt-Right” Media Figure Who Was Instrumental In the “Pizzagate” Fake News Story. Mike Cernovich is an “alt-right” activist and Twitter harasser who operates the website Danger & Play. The site publishes numerous articles, essays, and audio recordings that attack feminists and "SJWs" (social justice warriors) and disputes the validity of date rape claims. Cernovich was one of many “alt-right” figures who weaponized fake news articles to push “pizzagate,” a conspiracy theory that baselessly alleged Hillary Clinton’s inner circle was orchestrating a child sex-trafficking ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria. Cernovich and his fellow “alt-right” figures’ promotion of the story on social media resulted in “abusive social media comments” for the named pizzeria owners and inspired a man to enter the business with a gun and fire shots while attempting to “self-investigate” the claims. Cernovich has also tweeted white nationalist themes on his Twitter account, including that “diversity is code for white genocide,” “Blacks use guns for murder. Whites use guns to kill themselves,” and “Diversity is bad for national security.” [Media Matters, 8/25/16, 10/9/16, 11/18/16, 12/19/16]
Cernovich On Carlson’s Current Fox Show: “Wow. It’s Exactly What I Told Fox To Design.”
Cernovich On Carlson’s 2016 Move To Fox: Carlson “Is Going To Make FoxNews Great Again.”
Jazzhands McFeels And Marcus Halberstram Are Co-Hosts Of Podcast On The “Alt-Right” Blog The Right Stuff. Jazzhands McFeels and Marcus Halberstram co-host the “Fash The Nation” podcast on the “alt-right” website The Right Stuff, an anti-Semitic blog that created the “parenthesis meme” in which Jewish names are surrounded by parentheses in order to target them for online abuse on social media. [Media Matters, 8/25/16; Inverse, 9/2/16]
McFeels: “If You Haven't Carved Out A Cable News Exemption For Tucker Carlson's New Show On Fox, I Highly Suggest You Do.”
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An anti-intellectual alliance of misogynists and white nationalists is using cult tactics to harass and abuse Americans. They systematically attempt to discredit reputable sources. They replace logic with paranoia. They horrifically harass perceived political opponents. And this campaign, which has dangerous historical precedents, has been empowered by a fake news ecosystem and a tech industry that profits off the phenomenon.
While reporting real news requires a newsroom and some sort of process that can be critiqued and examined, “fake news” is built to obfuscate and hide sources. Its creators are varied, from a random American making $10,000 a month from his fabricated Facebook posts to a group of teenagers in Macedonia running more than a hundred pro-Trump websites. The business model is simple: identify the news that people want to read, and give it to them, regardless of the truth and with no effort whatsoever put into actual reporting.
There is no question that fake news got lots of attention in 2016, in part because the president-elect himself -- and several people close to him -- pushed fabricated information. That’s deeply concerning, because data shows that not only do Americans believe lies they see on Facebook, but also that Americans across party lines say fake news is a real problem.
No one is more responsible for the rise of fake news than Facebook. It was Facebook’s platform that allowed fake news to spread far and wide. In fairness, the basic nature of the social media giant ensures that users will share lies to some extent. But the structures that Facebook built also made it easy to game. All content looks the same on Facebook, and the name of the source shows up in a small and almost unreadable font. The pages look nearly identical, regardless of their purpose or who is operating them. Of course, these factors have been in place since Facebook’s inception, but in 2016, other factors changed as well.
In its own way, fake news is more sophisticated than real news. Sure, real news actually examines complexities that exist in the real world while fake news just makes stuff up. But fake news can be targeted to appeal to exactly what people want to see. On Facebook in particular, content can be fine-tuned to target exactly what people are likely to click on. Many private companies do this: It is called advertising. Whereas real news outlets generally post a piece once and people either read it or not, fake news can be tweaked again and again until it finally breaks through and becomes viral. And fake news outlets sometimes do have the data to go viral: Breitbart.com and Trump political benefactor the Mercer family has a company, Cambridge Analytica, that conveniently owns a lot of data on private citizens. And sitting on the board of Cambridge Analytica is Trump’s chief adviser, and the former CEO of Breitbart, Stephen Bannon.
Facebook’s algorithm has always been extremely prone to confirmation bias, but changes in recent years seem to have allowed fake news to rise much more easily (as the algorithm is proprietary, no one outside Facebook can know for certain). In the past, at the very least, there were human editors who could manually prevent outright lies from making it onto the site’s list of trending topics. But when Facebook fired them after conservatives complained this summer, fake news really took off.
As John Herrman explained in The New York Times:
This year, political content has become more popular all across the platform: on homegrown Facebook pages, through media companies with a growing Facebook presence and through the sharing habits of users in general. But truly Facebook-native political pages have begun to create and refine a new approach to political news: cherry-picking and reconstituting the most effective tactics and tropes from activism, advocacy and journalism into a potent new mixture. This strange new class of media organization slots seamlessly into the news feed and is especially notable in what it asks, or doesn’t ask, of its readers. The point is not to get them to click on more stories or to engage further with a brand. The point is to get them to share the post that’s right in front of them. Everything else is secondary.
While web publishers have struggled to figure out how to take advantage of Facebook’s audience, these pages have thrived. Unburdened of any allegiance to old forms of news media and the practice, or performance, of any sort of ideological balance, native Facebook page publishers have a freedom that more traditional publishers don’t: to engage with Facebook purely on its terms. These are professional Facebook users straining to build media companies, in other words, not the other way around.
Google is also responsible for this burgeoning fake news empire. Google’s third-party advertising platform, AdSense, is driving mass profitability on many of these websites. When pressure started to rise about fake news, Google said it would be taking action to remove these actors from its advertising network, eliminating their ability to generate revenue. Our review showed that the company still has much work to do.
While some fake news is created simply for profit (think of the Macedonian teens who just see their sites as an easy way to make money), the misogynist and white nationalist “alt-right” embraces it for a more dangerous purpose: to encourage fake news readers into harassing individuals and discouraging people from taking part in public life. The fake news ecosystem is broader than just lies; many of these lies are purposeful.
The “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory proved this link. A fake news story emerged from the depths of the internet claiming that a D.C. pizzeria with ties to certain political figures was running an underground child sex-trafficking ring. It was patently untrue. And yet mainstream reports on the story, even great in-depth reporting from truly credible sources, treated the fake news as separate from the harassment that pizzerias across the country endured from believers of the bogus claims as they spread to include other restaurants.
Harassment is a deeply entrenched aspect of the “alt-right” community. It came to prominence with Gamergate, and then there was a wretched, bigoted campaign against black actress Leslie Jones. “Alt-right” figure Milo Yiannopoulos has now taken his harassment tactics with him on a college tour. Another example is the recent smear campaign against satirist Vic Berger by “alt-right” figure Mike Cernovich. Cernovich is no stranger to such tactics, having bragged previously about his ability to game Google to get other outlets to pick up on his smears, spreading the lies to more false headlines and more viewers. Comedian and producer Tim Heidecker has also spoken out about abuse he has received, including death-threats, as a result of "alt-right" criticism.
The New York Times’ John Herrman took special note of commenters on pro-Trump Facebook pages:
Nearly every page operator I spoke to was astonished by the tone their commenters took, comparing them to things like torch-wielding mobs and sharks in a feeding frenzy. No doubt because of the [Make America Great] page’s name, some Trump supporters even mistake [operator Adam] Nicoloff’s page for an official organ of the campaign. Nicoloff says that he receives dozens of messages a day from Trump supporters, expecting or hoping to reach the man himself. Many, he says, are simply asking for money.
It is not clear to what extent this vitriol on Facebook overlaps with the “alt-right” proper (to whatever extent there even is an “alt-right” proper). But Facebook crowd-sourced virulence is at least overtly reminiscent of what is seen from the “alt-right.”
A particular hub for the “alt-right” is Reddit’s “r/The_Donald” subreddit. As Bryan Menegus explained for Gizmodo:
Reddit’s The_Donald subreddit was founded a year ago as the premier online meeting place for Trump supporters. It has since sought to—in CEO and co-founder Steve Huffman’s words—“dominate the conversation” on the site. Its members spread coded hate speech, openly antagonize other Redditors, and break the site’s most basic rules with impunity while moderators feel the brunt of the abuse, and Reddit leadership fail to adequately address the problem.
This is abuse, and it is abuse for a particular political purpose. Whether it is under the guise of news or commentary, the fabricated stories bouncing around r/The_Donald, often cloaked in shockingly venomous rhetoric, do not adhere to and cannot be judged by traditional journalistic standards. This type of fake news needs to be understood in tandem with its context and purpose. Some of it is just for profit. But other pieces are intended to serve as weaponized propaganda meant to inspire harassment or even worse.
The “alt-right” movement has been equated to white supremacy and neo-Nazis. That is broadly accurate, but the reality is a bit more complicated. More often than not, the gateway drug for this movement is sexism -- "extreme misogyny evolving from male bonding gone haywire,” as Aja Romano put it for Vox. White nationalism and neo-Nazism often come later.
This framework also explains why the “alt-right” tilts at so many cultural windmills. Whether with boycotts against Star Wars this year, or boycotts against Star Wars last year, or boycotts against Ghostbusters or Hamilton or other notable events that women and people of color are involved in, the intent of the “alt-right” is not necessarily to be successful in the short run: The protests are intended as a statement of white patriarchy. Anyone talking about the boycott is surreptitiously sharing the message of white, male-centric cultural identity.
Jason Wilson perfectly characterized the misogyny and bigotry of the "alt-right" when describing Yiannopoulos and his tactics:
Yiannopoulos and the alt right certainly shared a couple of traits. First, there was a willingness to dispense with the American right’s trusty dog whistle and offer frank views on race (all the while disparaging those conservatives who were more attuned to euphemism and conciliation as ‘cucks’). Second, they shared a desire to restore white masculinity to its position as the central, reigning political identity.
In Eugene, [OH], Yiannopoulos endorsed Trump’s call to end Muslim immigration on the grounds that fundamentalists ‘want to kill people like me’ – a preview of the full-throated Islamophobic appeal that he and others made to the LGBT community after the Pulse nightclub shooting the next month.
But the meat of his address was a repetition of a claim he has made repeatedly in his writings and on social media: that white men, especially the working class, are being oppressed with an elitist doctrine of political correctness.
Referring to lesbians as ‘horrendous, quivering masses of horror’ and feminism as ‘cancer’, Yiannopoulos generally castigated the ‘awful, awful, terrible, diseased and damaged people lecturing and hectoring the working class’ – those he sees as the enforcers of ‘the oppressive hegemony of social justice’. The only solution, he said, is a Trump administration.
Members of the "alt-right" don't just preach this hatred. They mobilize it. Jesse Singal examined the many similarities the “alt-right”/fake news ecosystem shares with cults, and the role misogyny plays in attracting new members:
But it’s the alt-right concept of so-called red-pilling where this subculture appears more similar to “traditional” cults and extremist groups. Adapted from The Matrix, “taking the red pill” or “getting red-pilled” simply means seeing the world as it really is. In the online subcultures that gave rise to the alt-right, its most famous meaning is in reference to feminism: After you take the red pill, the scales fall from your eyes and you can see that feminism is really just an attempt to emasculate and bully men, to allow social-justice warriors to run rampant over masculine (and traditional) values and ideals in favor of a shrill and judgmental far-left radicalism. Recently, the definition has expanded a bit — these days, in an alt-right context “getting red-pilled” probably means something more like “understanding that progressivism is a lie and part of a large-scale effort to hurt you and people like you.” But the basic point is the same: This is the moment at which you start to see things as they really are.
This is exactly the sort of transformative experience offered by cults and extremist movements: After this, things won’t ever be the same for you. After this, you will have a role to play in an important battle that will determine the fate of the world. Your life will take on an enhanced meaning.
At its core, the “alt-right” is just a bunch of men who feel powerless and resent women because of it. That’s why Gamergate is so crucial to understanding the movement; it truly was a galvanizing political event for a fringe movement that far too many mainstream people had overlooked because they were not the ones being harassed.
The “alt-right” weaponizes fake news stories that others drum up to harass and abuse opponents. Its members attack women, people of color, and the poor -- and their allies and advocates -- from “Gamergate” to Leslie Jones, to “Pizzagate” and now to Vic Berger (also see Megyn Kelly below). Radio host Alex Jones ties the conspiracy theories together and gives everything a common language. Reddit allows the herd to self-organize and quickly pivot from one harassment campaign to another. The Drudge Report tries to push these things into the mainstream. And tying the whole enterprise together is Breitbart, which was up until recently run by Bannon, now President-elect Donald Trump’s chief strategist. Breitbart is now even admitting that it will take on any Republicans who try to hurt Trump, again neatly echoing oppressive regimes of the past. Meanwhile, Trump is deliberately trying to undermine the reliability of truth itself, in a hope to push as many people as possible toward this ecosystem.
It is possible that this abuse and harassment could escalate in the near future. While the digital tactics of pushing fake news and harassing people via social media are new, there is a precedent for this type of behavior: the “struggle sessions” in Mao’s China.
Max Fisher explained how struggle sessions worked in The Washington Post:
During Mao Zedong's totalitarian and often ruthless rule over China, from the early 1950s through 1976, one of the Communist Party's most unpleasant tactics for maintaining control was something called a "struggle session." On the surface, the idea was that everyone had to suss out "class enemies" and try to better their own commitment to the Communist revolution by attending regular "struggle session" meetings where they'd admit their own revolutionary failures and try to do better as individuals and communities. In practice, though, it was a form of self-reinforcing terror, a means of purging political enemies real and imagined, a tactic for working people into ideological fervor, sometimes in mass "sessions" with thousands of people.
The systematic harassment campaign that the “alt-right” has waged through the guise of journalism is remarkably similar. Like the struggle sessions, the harassment is meant to create a sense of terror among political enemies while building a feeling of community among allies. It spreads extreme fear through communities across the country, deterring any theoretical political resistance. This abuse is meant to crush meaning in society. The more you discuss whether pizzerias have established a secret child sex ring, the more real it becomes. The more outlandish the accusation, the more effective it becomes. For both the struggle sessions and the “alt-right,” truth is no defense: You will be forced to submit. As long as members use the fake news to harass, then it is worthwhile. Engagement is not the means; engagement is the end.
The next logical step would be something akin to book burning, which The Daily Beast says is “a peculiar form of censorship in that the act itself is intended to send a message. This is why book burning is a public spectacle. It is designed to express outrage and contains within it the notion that the ideas contained in the books or other works of art should be obliterated entirely.”
Among American pundits, Walter Lippman alone understood the significance of what was happening when books were burned in the 1930s in Germany:
The Nazis deliberately and systematically mean to turn the minds of the German people to war. These acts symbolize the moral and intellectual character of the Nazi regime. For these bonfires are not the work of schoolboys or mobs but of the present German Government acting through its Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment.... For example ... they burn with conspicuous zeal ... Erich Maria Remarque's [anti-war book] All Quiet on the Western Front. The ominous symbolism of [this burning and] these bonfires is that there is a Government in Germany which means to teach its people that their salvation lies in violence.
The only thing standing in the way of the “alt-right” is that it is not yet big enough to take on the entirety of American culture so directly. And yet it seems entirely possible that the movement could do something like that soon, especially if it grows emboldened by having allies in the White House. After an ISIS attack under President Trump, one can imagine the “alt-right” organizing some kind of book burning. Breitbart may even promote it.
The “alt-right” is the engine driving this harassment, and fake news is the tool. But it’s clear that failure of others in the media landscape helped the perverse movement get this far.
For one, the tech industry is profiting from this activity every step of the way. Twitter’s failure to stop harassment is legendary. The Trump subreddit has grown completely out of hand. Facebook’s complicity in the spread of fake news is clear. The tech industry is so concerned with engagement that companies have been reluctant to act even when it is clear that some of that engagement is outright abuse and harassment.
While mainstream media outlets seem to realize that fake news is a problem, they largely raise concerns only to the extent that fake news is a competitor or when the abuse is big enough that they can easily see it. There is surely fake news of every political stripe, and it should all be disincentivized. But there is no built-out ecosystem to weaponize it anywhere like there is with Breitbart, Alex Jones, Reddit, and the “alt-right.” That’s what mainstream media’s scolding about fake news and “both sides” gets wrong, time and again. In their reluctance to show the unique damage that fake news has on the right, mainstream media are continuing their biggest mistake of the Bush and Obama years: ignoring the growing radicalization of the right in America.
And this ecosystem of fake news and the “alt-right” is entirely different from the previous right-wing media ecosystem. The previous model involved moving the audience from mainstream news to Fox News and then to the deeper trenches of talk radio and online email lists, where right-wing operators can often bilk their recipients financially. Now, things are different. Fox News’ brand of right-wing misinformation is pervasive, and over recent decades fewer people are watching mainstream news networks.
The independence of the fake news/“alt-right” ecosystem has interesting consequences. First, members feel empowered to attack Fox News, framing it as part of the establishment media rather than an alternative to traditional sources. Aside from “Pizzagate,” the clearest example of this ecosystem is the harassment directed at Fox anchor Megyn Kelly. The first fake news story to trend on Facebook after the company fired its editors was about Kelly, falsely claiming that Fox fired her for being “‘a closet liberal who actually wants Hillary to win,’” according to CBS. Versions of this fake story featured language like “Megyn Kelly has gotten into a lot of hot water for her many attempts to smear Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump.” Another fake news story called her a “traitor” for her behavior toward Trump. As Kelly has now recently explained, she also was the recipient of torrents of online abuse from Trump supporters. The harassment may not have begun with the fake news story, but their connection seems clear. And the attacks on Fox News are not limited to Kelly -- Alex Jones attacks the network regularly.
Secondly, traditional figures like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly are functionally irrelevant to the "alt-right." They may support Trump on a given day or they may not, but the “alt-right” operates independently of anything they say or do. Alex Jones or Breitbart issuing a call to action will move people, while Limbaugh and O’Reilly are now glorified book salesmen.
And yet, right-wing media are still allied with and permissive of the “alt-right,” continuing to train their focus on mainstream media. Rather than concerning themselves with the issue of fake news, right-wing media use the term to attack mainstream outlets.
In fact, right-wing media go out of their way to give space for the “alt-right” to operate. Fox News dramatically undercovered “Pizzagate” compared to other mainstream outlets. Fox News reporters (not just pundits) have dismissed the concept of “fake news” and defended the “alt-right” on air. When Facebook announced its plan to alleviate its fake news infestation, the most aghast were right-wing pundits.
It is unclear where the phenomenon is going, but one clue may be Fox’s newest host. Tucker Carlson, Fox News’ Elf on the Shelf, is a huge favorite of “alt-right” trolls. If Carlson’s show is a success, Fox News in the future could drift more toward the “alt-right” model. (Worth noting is that Rupert Murdoch is reportedly a fan of Carlson's.) And the biggest glue tying together traditional right-wing media and the fake news ecosystem are the NRA and The Drudge Report, both of which were undoubtedly further empowered this election season.
Many of the proposed solutions to fake news ring exceptionally hollow. Noting that the fake news ecosystem pushes lies will not stop the abuse; merely calling out the lies is like pointing out that rain originates in the clouds. The objective now is to protect people from the lies.
It is long past the time for mainstream outlets to realize that the yoke of false balance empowers this ecosystem even more. The “alt-right” will turn any journalistic mistake into propaganda the very moment it occurs. A factual error will become an accidental truth. A correction will become censorship.
There’s never been such a challenging time to be an informed citizen. Independent media are struggling financially, and mainstream media are obsessed with making everything about both sides, lest they lose a small portion of their audience. Right-wing media are telling all the traditional sorts of lies. Now a fake news ecosystem is feeding into the worst instincts of humanity while punishing anyone who dares stand up against them.
And soon there will be a president who will validate those feelings.
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Fox News host Tucker Carlson has repeatedly downplayed the claims that Russia was involved in interfering in the 2016 presidential election, and in several interviews over the last week he attacked those supporting reports from the government agencies that found Russia played a role in getting Donald Trump elected. But Carlson’s personal effort to spin away the Russian interference in the American political system downplays its severity and runs counter to the warnings issued by American and international intelligence experts.
On the December 7 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson hosted Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, to discuss Russian interference in the presidential election. Throughout the contentious interview, Carlson downplayed the U.S. intelligence community’s allegations that Russian intelligence services interfered in the American election, claiming the reports were made “without any evidence.” He also chastised Schiff for providing his evaluation of the classified evidence, saying, “I just think if you’re going to make a serious allegation about an actual country with an actual government, you ought to know what you’re talking about. And you don’t.”
Since his interview with Schiff, Carlson has hosted two Democratic strategists on his show to relitigate the Schiff interview, prefacing the segments with a clip from the combative discussion earlier in the week. In both segments, Carlson downplayed the significance of a foreign power intervening in our election, suggesting that the reaction to the findings has been “disingenuous” because, as Carlson admitted, “There’s almost no institution in Washington that hasn't been hacked, probably in some cases by the Russians. Also the Chinese. And yet, you haven't seen any kind of response like this.” Carlson also argued that because “bad intelligence” led the United States into Iraq in 2003, he is correct to be skeptical.
During Carlson’s appearance on the December 12 edition of Fox & Friends -- his first since The Washington Post reported that “Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman” -- he argued that the cyberattacks actually provided a public benefit because “voters got more information than they would have had otherwise.” He also again acknowledged Russian interference by saying the Russians have been hacking Americans “for years” and “so have the Chinese.” Later that day on his own show, Carlson hosted Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and asked him indignantly why he should trust the intelligence community “that missed the fall of the Soviet Union,” adding, “It's pretty lame if that's your job and you miss like, everything.”
Given Carlson’s previous praise for Putin and his ongoing failure to acknowledge Russia's confirmed role in the presidential election, his most recent unwillingness to accept the findings of the American intelligence community is not surprising. Carlson has made a point of repeatedly and unequivocally insisting that the U.S. intelligence community was pushing “an utterly unsubstantiated claim from the Clinton campaign that” the cyberattacks on American political institutions are “a Russian propaganda effort.” But considering the intelligence community’s findings since the election, Carlson’s repeated denials of the severity of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election seem to be getting more and more desperate.
While Carlson fails to accept the CIA’s conclusions, the allegations of Russian hacking have been corroborated by intelligence agencies in the United States and internationally. The Department Of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a joint statement on election security stating that the “U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.” And the intelligence services of various American allies also allege that Russian cyberattacks “represent a fundamental threat to … sovereignty” and “should be a concern to all those who share democratic values.” Even Republican senators on Capitol Hill have issued warnings and called for investigations into the matter, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who stated that the Russians “are not our friends.”
While many have rallied around the idea that Russia’s role in the election requires investigation, at least Carlson will have one ally in his opposition. Earlier this year, like Carlson, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the hack was “important” because the “content [of the hacked emails] was given to the public.” Considering Carlson’s role as a prime-time TV news host, his failure to inform his viewers of the seriousness of the intelligence community’s evaluations on Russian interference in the 2016 election -- and his defense of Russia and echoing of the Russian president -- are especially problematic. And they provide the Russian government with a major defender in American media.
Tweet Could Encourage "More Hostile Views Toward Government Programs To Assist Black People"
The Daily Caller included racial imagery in a story and accompanying link to a post entitled “Republicans Hint At Food Stamp Reform But Stop Short Of Calling For Overhaul” featuring an image of two black people holding “replicas of food stamps” in front of a Shepard Fairey-style poster of President Obama.
— The Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) December 7, 2016
TV One’s Roland Martin took on the racially offensive tweet, noting they tweeted a food stamp story and show “two Black people & Obama poster. I see y’all @TuckerCarlson!”
— rolandsmartin (@rolandsmartin) December 7, 2016
The Daily Caller has routinely used racially charged headlines such as “White man overruns indigenous peoples with superior technology,” which was later changed, and “Barack Obama, Wife Beater," used in a gallery of images of the President where a sleeveless shirt was visible underneath his shirt and tie.
Vox’s Dylan Matthews reported on the problematic use of racially charged imagery in stories about government programs by highlighting a book by Princeton professor Tali Mendelberg which found images associating black people with poverty led study participants to “express significantly more hostile views toward government programs to assist black people,” and specifically that “the effect on their expressed racial views was stronger than the effect on their expressed opinions on welfare.”
The Daily Caller is owned by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who was previously also the site’s Editor-in-Chief, a role he resigned in order to begin hosting Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News. Since the show’s debut three weeks ago Carlson has already used his prime-time platform to defend the racist past of Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (R-AL) by attacking the “totally discredited” NAACP, claim that “the American Nazi Party and the KKK don't really exist in a meaningful [way],” and allow a guest to proclaim that “there is very little evidence of classic racism anymore.” Carlson has recently come under fire after lecturing The New York Times about tweets from Times reporters he deemed crossed the line while ignoring the hateful rhetoric coming from his own news outlet.
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In the aftermath of the election, conservative media figures have alleged that Democratic candidates’ emphasis on climate change was a reason they lost, claiming this focus alienated or drove away voters. But numerous polls conducted in the run-up to the election indicated that a majority of Americans consider climate change an important issue and favor government action to address it, and an exit poll similarly revealed that most voters in Florida view climate change as a serious problem. While these polls indicate that a focus on climate change didn’t harm environmentally friendly Democratic candidates, a plausible explanation for why the issue may not have helped them is the lack of attention it received from the media, including during debates.
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