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  • Five lies that are ricocheting infinitely within the right-wing media bubble

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Spend enough time on the comments sections of the right-wing internet, and the significant number of people who hold beliefs based on completely false premises will become all too apparent. In this world, fact checks and hard evidence are all too easily flicked away with accusations of liberal bias, making civil discourse increasingly hostile and polarized at the expense of truth.

    That’s because these audiences have been trapped under a tight bubble right-wing media has built, an ecosystem that makes it hard for truth to seep in, while lies ricochet endlessly inside. The bubble holds strong because it’s sustained on the tired trope that the mainstream media is hiding liberal biases under a mask of objectivity. President Donald Trump has taken this worn-out concept to dangerous levels by constantly undermining and antagonizing media outlets that he deems critical of him. Trump’s war on the press has invigorated unscrupulous smear merchants and power-hungry zealots in control of messaging within the bubble to suggest they are an honest alternative to mainstream media -- honest in that they openly acknowledge their right-wing bias -- and present themselves as a solution to a fabricated problem.

    And the bubble becomes increasingly impenetrable by design; the tighter its grip grows over audiences, the more power its purveyors can trade to a political establishment that both needs the bubble for its survival and fears its influence.

    What follows are five examples of absolute lies promoted by right-wing media figures that will infinitely bounce among right-wing audiences trapped under the bubble, in an impervious layer of chicanery and manipulation that doesn’t allow fact-checking, evidence or reality to penetrate. Even after these lies have been debunked over and over again, we at Media Matters continue to see them pop up online and on the airwaves:

    Fox News host Sean Hannity’s Seth Rich conspiracy theory

    Fox News host Sean Hannity has grossly exploited the murder of a Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer, Seth Rich, to push the baseless claim that Rich provided WikiLeaks with the 20,000 hacked DNC emails released in 2016 to hurt the Clinton campaign, and that his murder was connected to the emails. Even after the allegations were proved false, forcing Fox News to retract its story about Rich, Hannity continued to push the false narrative. Hannity, who said the murder “could become one of the biggest scandals in American history,” claimed that he would stop discussing the story “for now” in response to the Rich family's pleas to stop exploiting Rich’s death. Hannity’s obsession with pushing the lie caused him to lose advertisers, demonstrating the risk his volatility presents to brands that associate with his show.

    On August 1st, a lawsuit filed against Fox News revealed that the baseless Seth Rich story had been pushed by the network and Ed Butowsky, a Trump supporter, with the purpose of deflecting public attention from the Trump administration’s ties to Russia.

    Infowars host Alex Jones: “Pizzagate is real”

    Infowars host Alex Jones relentlessly pushed the lie that a family-friendly pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C. served as a cover-up for a pedophilia ring that involved the top leadership of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. In one instance, Jones invited audience members of his show to take matters into their own hands and “investigate” because “Pizzagate is real.” On December 4, 2016, Edgar Maddison Welch -- a listener -- entered the restaurant armed with a rifle to “self-investigate” the false allegations. Following the terrifying incident, Jones attempted to scrub his website of Pizzagate-related content and falsely denied having promoted the lie; yet he also apologized under pressure to the owner of the restaurant.

    Radio host Rush Limbaugh: NASA lied about finding water on Mars

    Celebrated space scientist (er, talk radio host) Rush Limbaugh told his audience that NASA’s announcement that the agency had discovered evidence of water on Mars was a “technique to advance the leftist agenda … probably something to do with global warming.” The next day, reacting to online criticism, Limbaugh both doubled down, adding that then-President Barack Obama had “turned NASA over to Muslim outreach,” and -- despite transcripts matching “word for word” what he said -- claimed his lie had been taken “out of context.”

    Fox & Friends: “Illegal aliens” are registered to vote

    In an attempt to amplify the narrative that voter fraud is rampant, Fox’s morning talk show (and Trump’s favorite show) Fox & Friends pushed the lie that “voter fraud isn’t really a myth at all.” The segment hyped a flawed and debunked claim about illegal voting in Virginia and speculated that undocumented immigrants were registered to vote. This recurring and widespread lie made its way to Trump’s Twitter feed after the election, where he claimed that millions voted illegally in the election, a claim that holds no truth whatsoever.

    In reality, experts agree that voter fraud in American elections is a myth, as cases of voter fraud are extremely rare. Data also shows that the rates of noncitizens voting are low, only occurring when people are “confused about their eligibility.”

    Breitbart.com: “Mob” of Muslims tried to burn down a German church

    On January 3, Breitbart reported the false story that a “1,000-man mob” had attacked police and set a German church on fire. The story was condemned by local police and politicians as well as debunked by local, national, and international media outlets. The reality was that as 1,000 people were gathered in the streets celebrating the new year, some set off fireworks, and one firework started a small fire -- which was quickly extinguished -- on the netting around the church's scaffolding. Breitbart responded by triumphantly claiming that the outlets debunking the story were in fact confirming it, showing facts won’t get in the way of its ongoing effort to amplify anti-Muslim sentiments.

    This story is cross-posted at BillMoyers.com

  • Pro-Trump media are pushing a new voter fraud conspiracy theory

    Far-right sources are claiming that thousands of voters “unregistering” in Colorado are evidence of “mass voter fraud”

    ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT

    Thousands of Coloradans have withdrawn their voter registrations in the wake of the Trump administration's election integrity commission’s request for personal voter data. Far-right media are claiming that the people canceling their registrations are “illegal” voters removing themselves from the rolls. In reality, deregistrations have been attributed to voters’ concerns over the confidentiality of their personal data, as well as their distrust of the Trump administration's commission. 

  • After years of right-wing media attacks, Republicans now hate college

    New research shows a majority of Republicans have a negative view of higher education

    Blog ››› ››› BRETT ROBERTSON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A new Pew Research Center report finds that a sharply increasing number of Republicans surveyed have a negative view of colleges. This follows years of concerted right-wing media attacks on higher education.

    Media Matters has reported extensively on conservative media’s portrayals of higher education. Here are four ways that conservatives demonize American colleges and universities, and several instances where conservative media misrepresented or sensationalized the words or actions of administrators, professors, and students, helping to convince audiences that higher education is bad for America.

    1) Conservatives claim liberal colleges turn students into jihadis, Nazis, and fascists

    Conservative media often depict colleges and universities as places where students are brainwashed and radicalized. According to Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, colleges are “literally corrupting people’s minds” and “turning them into jihadists.” Meanwhile, Fox News contributor Bernie Goldberg equated "liberals on college campuses" to the Nazi "Brown Shirts."

    Then-Fox News host Bill O'Reilly blamed Black Lives Matter for "the rise of fascism on American college campuses."

    2) Mocking students for seeking “safe spaces” and fearing assault

    Conservative media often use the concept of so-called “safe spaces” to mock colleges and college students for seeking to create welcoming environments on campus. Fox contributor Judith Miller told student protesters: "You want a safe space? Stay in your playpen." Fox News has characterized students protesting insensitive Halloween costumes as wrapping themselves in the “cloak of victimhood” and another Fox panel once argued college students advocating fossil-fuel divestment are “immature and irrational.”

    Right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed, “it's gotten to the point where women on college campus imagine they're going to be raped. Imagine they have been raped. Write fake stories about being raped when it hasn't happened.” Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham lamented that discussing sexual consent policies "is what they spend their time doing at our American colleges and universities today" because efforts to get people riled up about the “patriarchy thing hadn’t really caught on.”

    Fox host Tucker Carlson even bemoaned that “everybody gets a safe space” at American colleges “except white men,” who he claimed “are hated and despised.”

    3) Outrage over University of Missouri protests

    In the fall of 2015, student protests began at the University of Missouri following a series of racist incidents on campus. Many students felt that the university administration was not doing enough to respond to events that made black students feel unsafe on campus. The protests eventually resulted in the resignation of the university’s president.

    Limbaugh claimed that the president resigned for "committing the crime of being a white male." Some conservative outlets resorted to name-calling with the conservative blog Red State calling the protesters "cowardly liberal lazy douchebags."

    According to Fox News, student protests focused on racial injustice are illegitimate, although armed protests against federal law are likely to be called "patriotic."

    4) Right-wing activists smear supposedly “biased” professors

    Right-wing activist groups like Campus Reform and Professor Watchlist compile and sensationalize perceived instances of liberal bias on college campuses to create profiles of professors who “discriminate against conservative students.” These profiles include contact information of targeted academics to facilitate trolling and harassment.

    Campus Reform and Professor Watchlist are just two of the many conservative groups funded by right-wing dark money networks in an effort to influence campus politics and university curriculum. Stories from these conservative websites often end up being promoted by right-wing news media such as Fox News.

    Media Matters recently described how this process happened to Trinity College sociology professor Johnny Eric Williams. Williams wrote a series of posts on race and policing and linked to a controversial article on social media. Campus Reform wrote an article on the posts, which was picked up by TheBlaze and The Daily Caller, before reaching The Washington Times. These articles resulted in a deluge of threats and harassment being directed toward Williams and Trinity and eventually a campus shutdown. Fox News then blamed the social media post, instead of the threatening right-wing responses, when it wrote, “Professor’s “profane, anti-white messages cause campus controversy.”

  • Right-wing media figures claim Trump Jr. was part of a “setup made to give the appearance of Russian collusion”

    ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET & NINA MAST

    Following a series of reports from The New York Times laying out Donald Trump Jr.’s correspondence arranging a meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer, right-wing media figures attempted to absolve Donald Trump. Jr. by claiming he was set up by Democratic operatives and a “Russian honey pot” in an attempt to give the appearance of collusion.

  • MSNBC's newest host, Hugh Hewitt, has a years-long history of climate denial

    ››› ››› LISA HYMAS

    Conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt, who recently began hosting a Saturday morning program on MSNBC, has long been a climate denier. Like many prominent conservatives, he does not dispute that some change is happening, but he does deny that there's a robust climate-science consensus that attributes the vast majority of warming to human activity and points to the need for serious action.

  • Conservatives need to cut the bullshit and stop exploiting a tragedy to blame the left

    Right-wing media show no self-awareness of their role in influencing violent incidents

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    James T. Hodgkinson, a man with a record of domestic violence, a legally purchased assault rifle, and a valid concealed carry permit, on June 14 opened fire on Republican congressmen and staffers practicing for the congressional baseball game.

    The FBI is still investigating the incident, but one thing is already clear about this latest example of unhinged gun violence. The overwhelming evidence of conservative media's influence on a significant number of deadly incidents makes their attempt to deflect attention from their role in creating a toxic political culture both cynical and exploitative.

    According to reports, the gunman had shared anti-Republican sentiments publicly online and had been critical of the president. Reports of the shooter’s political background immediately prompted unscrupulous right-wing hacks to pounce on the tragedy, looking to exploit the terrifying gun violence incident as a way to score cheap political points by blaming the left. In a new display of audacious defiance of reality, conservative voices have put the blame of the shooting not only on the left, but also on the press and various celebrities as well. But, blaming the left or the media for Hodgkinson’s actions is equivalent to blaming Jodie Foster for the attempted assassination of former President Ronald Reagan.

    The gimmick, however, is deplorable not just for its cynical exploitation of fear, pain and human tragedy; it’s also a hollow attempt to distract from the conservative right’s own responsibility in creating a political culture that inspires violence by fanning the flames of hatred. It’s a red herring aimed at avoiding the obvious, and very concrete, policy-centered conversation that needs to happen around gun violence.

    Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, two of the loudest conservative voices, immediately blamed the shooting on “the left” and “left-wing news media.”

    Additionally, the NRA, an organization that customarily deflects conversations about gun violence by blaming fatal shooting incidents on video games, political correctness, and strict gun laws, skirted its own precedent to also blame the left at large for the shooting.

    Right-wing figures’ opportunistic attempt to draw direct correlation from out-of-context phrases from progressive politicians to the actions of a violent man with easy access to assault weapons also points to a critical lack of self-awareness when it comes to their own role in influencing violent incidents.

    Take Byron Williams and his failed plot to shoot people at the Tides Foundation and the ACLU. Williams explicitly pointed to Glenn Beck’s now-defunct TV show and Alex Jones’ websites as the information sources that prompted his violent actions on the Tides Foundation, a relatively unknown organization that Beck repeatedly vilified on his program. Or the assassination of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, which followed continuous vitriol from former right-wing star Bill O’Reilly, who told his “audience of millions over and over again” that Tiller was “an executioner.” Or the murder of three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, CO, at the hands of Robert Dear, a man whose “paranoid delusions, misogynist beliefs, and violent fantasies” matched “perfectly” the usual narratives that come out of “Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones and Bill O’Reilly and countless far-right web sites.”

    Or the racially motivated massacre that ended nine black lives in Charleston, SC, perpetrated by a habitual commenter at the Trump-supporting, neo-Nazi outlet The Daily Stormer. After a man opened fire at a Washington, D.C., family pizzeria, it was hard to forget Alex Jones asking his audience to investigate the conspiracy theory that alleged the restaurant was hiding a child sex-trafficking ring. In the same way, Jones also exhorted Trump to use force against his opponents and threatened violence against supporters of “parasitical maggot” Bernie Sanders.

    So no, right-wingers don’t get to exploit this tragedy. They should not be able to get away with using pain and fear to avoid important policy conversations about gun access in American society. Not when the evidence of their role in promoting violence over politics is so overwhelming.