The Washington Post's Paul Farhi explained how Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has pushed right-wing conspiracy theories into mainstream media aided by right-wing fringe sites.
In a December 11 article, Paul Farhi explained that Donald Trump is able to legitimize his misinformation by using “a small fringe” of right-wing “alternative” media, like Alex Jones' Infowars to promote and inflate right-wing conspiracy theories. Farhi added that the right-wing “alternative” media “injects its ideas into the mainstream by gaining the attention of sources broadly popular among conservatives, such as Fox News and the Drudge Report”:
Once a small fringe, this “alternative” information ecosystem now includes websites, talk-radio programs, newsletters, conferences and “citizen journalists” who promote, debate and inflate such questionable causes as vaccine denial, climate-change skepticism , and the supposedly imminent imposition of sharia law in America. The fringe nowadays often injects its ideas into the mainstream by gaining the attention of sources broadly popular among conservatives, such as Fox News and the Drudge Report, which devoted attention to rumors that the Operation Jade Helm military exercises last summer in the southwest U.S. were a prelude to a crackdown on civil liberties.
“There's an information-age tsunami out there that just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” said Steve Smith, a veteran newspaper editor who now teaches journalism at the University of Idaho. “When you combine this digital tsunami with the loss of quality and quantity in American journalism [due to cutbacks and economic woes] over the years . . . journalists just don't have the ability to keep up once a false narrative gains speed.”
At the same time, Trump has been the most aggressive in the Republican field in denouncing the mainstream media, the erstwhile arbiter of fact. Many of his condemnations of mainstream reporters have been echoed by Trump's army of Twitter followers and supportive websites, such as the conservative Breitbart.com.
Trump, in turn, cites his Twitter followers as the source for some of his own non-facts, such as his recent claim that African Americans killed 81 percent of white homicide victims (the actual number is closer to 15 percent, according to Factcheck.org). He defended his position of not allowing Muslims to enter the United States by citing a poll conducted by Center for Security Policy, a think tank known for a variety of conspiracy theories, such as that members of the Muslim Brotherhood have infiltrated the Obama administration. The result is a kind of self-reinforcing information loop in which Trump introduces some inaccurate statement, is called on it by the news media, which is then denounced by Trump for its supposed bias against him.
Trump's most famously false contention, of course, was his long, pre-campaign embrace of “birtherism,” the notion that President Obama wasn't born on American soil and is therefore ineligible to be president. Despite ample evidence to the contrary, including a birth certificate issued in Hawaii and a contemporaneous newspaper birth announcement, birther sites -- from Birthers.org to Obamabirthbook.com -- are strewn across the Internet, actively promoting a debunked thesis.