Right-wing media evolved into a hall of mirrors in 2016, when Breitbart displaced Fox News as the key agenda-setting and attack-leading epicenter of a disinformation-filled, paranoid ecosystem promoting Donald Trump and his pro-white America agenda. Breitbart not only led the right’s obsessive, hostile focus on immigrants, it was also the first to attack professional reporting such as the New York Times and Washington Post. Breitbart’s disruptive template fueled the political and information universe we now inhabit, where the right dismisses facts and embraces fantasies. There is no corollary dynamic on the left or among pro-Clinton audiences in 2016. The left’s news sources, media consumption and patterns of social media-sharing are more open-minded and fact-based and less insular and aggressive. Still, Breitbart’s obsessive focus on fabricating and hyping scandals involving Hillary Clinton (and Jeb Bush early in the primary season) pushed mainstream media to disproportionately cover its agenda.
It doesn’t require a Ph.D. to understand how profoundly the media landscape changed (and not for the better) during the 2016 Presidential campaign. News, which had been growing progressively more ideologically slanted since the election of The Black Guy in the White House ©, took a turn for worse with the rise of Donald Trump.
2016, perhaps the worst and ugliest year in American social and cultural history, should be remembered as the year ignorance and reaction became fashionable (and considered a valid, legitimate viewpoint) again. “My ignorance is every bit as valid as your knowledge.” “Faith is superior to science.” “I’m convinced my beliefs are true because my gut tells me so.” “Science is just another theory.” Then there’s the piece de resistance– “Fake news,”
These observations are among the takeaways of a major study from Columbia Journalism Review that analyzed 1.25 million stories published online between April 2015 and Election Day 2016. While the study affirmed what many analysts have long perceived—that right-wing media and those who consume it inhabit a paranoid and dark parallel universe—it also documented shifts in the right’s media ecosystem; namely, Breitbart supplanting Fox News as the leading purveyor of extreme disinformation.
“A right-wing media network anchored around Breitbart [has] developed as a distinct and insulated media system, using social media as a backbone to transmit a hyper-partisan perspective to the world,” CJR wrote. “This pro-Trump media sphere appears to have not only successfully set the agenda for the conservative media sphere, but also strongly influenced the broader media agenda, in particular coverage of Hillary Clinton.”
The “right-wing media and those who consume it inhabit a paranoid and dark parallel universe.” Now there’s an understatement if ever there was one, eh? The Right-wing media didn’t create the ignorant, racist, reactionary masses which elected Donald Trump. They’ve always been among, but had lacked something or someone to unify them and make them feel as if their fears and prejudices were acceptable and that they deserved to be loud and proud about them.
There are people out there who legitimately believe Hillary Clinton should be locked up (though she’s never been convicted or even charged with a crime). Meanwhile, there’s mounting evidence to indicate their hero (#MAGA!!!) colluded with the Russian government to manipulate the Presidential election. Sec. Clinton is a Democrat and a woman, and therefore deserves to be punished. Donald Trump is a White male who not only enables America’s Lowest Common Denominator ©, he embraces the intellectually and morally deficient (they’re his base, after all).
Breitbart didn’t create a movement; it simply helped open the gates of Hell and made it acceptable for racists, bigots, and fools to emerge into the light and fly their freak flag with pride. Now that Breitbart’s former CEO is a senior advisor to the President…well, you can understand how one might feel the lid has been pried off the sewer, no?
There are now millions of Americans who believe White Makes Right and that Donald Trump is proof America is the rightful property of Conservative White Christian heterosexuals. It’s as if the inmates are running the asylum…and in fact they are. Despite their hero LOSING the popular vote by almost three million votes, they’re convinced Donald Trump is and should be recognized as the emperor/king who destined to usher in an era of American greatness.
When did America ever stop being great? And how does ceding it to those who “inhabit a dark and parallel universe” promise to restore the natural order of things?
Nice work, America.