Members Only | April 24, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
To Fight Fox, Champion Free Press
Get reporters to see the threat of an "authoritarian news system."
Part of the challenge for the Democrats is getting the Washington press corps to understand fully that the president’s 40 percent approval rating (give or take) is not simply the result of voter approval. It’s the result of an international right-wing media apparatus, primarily Fox, that lies and propagandizes for the president to keep him in power. Moreover, this media apparatus is amplified by a Russian government that has come to recognize common purpose between the Kremlin and the Republican Party.
The Washington press corps does not see, or will not see, the magnitude of the problem. As a result, the press tends to look at the debate over impeaching Donald Trump as a constitutional argument entirely contained within the Democratic Party.
That’s not the case.
Decades of information warfare by a right-wing media apparatus (that’s not an overstatement), joined later by Russian operatives seeking to violate American sovereignty, have created new political conditions in which normal intra-party considerations often don’t apply. Indeed, continuing to apply them warps reality. The impeachment debate among Democrats isn’t just about what’s good for a political party. It’s about what’s good for a free-thinking self-governing republican society.
The president’s 40 percent approval rating (give or take) is not simply the result of voter approval.
This is an existential problem, and I don’t have a ready solution. Whatever it is, however, I think it should involve getting the Washington press corps to understand fully that the president’s approval rating is not simply the result of self-directing good-faith individuals arriving at conclusions based on fact and reason. It’s the result of ignorance, fear, prejudice, and a right-wing media apparatus that lies to people.
Here’s how NYU’s Jay Rosen put it Sunday:
It’s as if one-third of the public has been broken off from the rest of the electorate and isolated in an information system of its own. It’s not only that they are inclined to trust the president more than the news system; it’s the White House and Trump himself are trying to eviscerate the whole idea of a public record or of an independent sources of facts on which the country can disagree and argue about.
That goes way beyond the notion of bias in the media … It’s actually an authoritarian news system that is up and running in the country that’s known for having the freest press in the world. We don’t always have the language we need to talk about it (My italics).
Rosen was on Brian Stelter’s “Reliable Sources,” CNN’s weekend show about the news media. With Rosen was the inestimable Nicole Hemmer, author of Messengers of the Right, a history of the right-wing media apparatus I’m talking about. Hemmer told Stelter something that appeared to shock him, and his being shocked tells you something: the Washington press corps does not understand that the right-wing media apparatus is powerful enough to stop the Democrats from impeaching Trump.
If Richard Nixon had what Trump has, she said, “you would have seen a really different conversation about Watergate and probably a really different outcome.”
If President Nixon had been able to amplify his arguments about a witch hunt in the media, if he’d been able to discredit the congressional investigation, discredit the special counsel who was investigating his wrongdoing, that support that he had—it crumbled to about 25 percent of Americans by the end of his term—probably wouldn’t have crumbled. And the Republican Party, the office holders in the House and the Senate, would have been a little bit more pushed to hold the party line.
Stelter paused for a moment. A long pause. (It starts at 4:43.)
Some bad gross food for thought.