Mainstream Media’s Subtle Right Wing Propaganda Helped Elect Trump and Could Lose Congress for Democrats, if We Fail to Face It

Right Wing propaganda transmitted through mainstream media goes unnoticed by most people. For example, many people still don’t realize how much mainstream media’s two year obsession with Hillary Clinton’s emails helped keep liberal learning voters from voting Democrat in 2016, thus helping Trump.

Right now, mainstream media are bashing Biden and Democrats, in the middle of an economic recovery — repeatedly saying the economy is doing poorly and inflation is dangerously high. Unsurprisingly, after all this bashing, people believed the economy is worse than it was, and Biden’s approval level fell. Since Biden’s September 1st speech, his approval does seem to be rising back up again.

Many major corporations are cooperating with media’s effort to bash Democrats — by raising prices unnecessarily, in spite of record profits — and then blaming price increases on “inflation.” Most news consumers don’t realize these corporations are creating inflation — not responding to it.

Even most of the smartest journalists and Democratic party leaders are unaware of how propaganda works. Any of us can be vulnerable to Right Wing propaganda in mainstream media.

Journalists often end up surrendering to propagandists in the information war, because they don’t realize it’s a war. Marty Baron, who used to be executive editor of the Washington Post, famously once said about political reporting “We’re not at war, we’re at work.” He was wrong. What most journalists are doing now isn’t called “not being at war.” It’s called surrendering.

It doesn’t seem like surrendering. People who do it think they’re just practicing their familiar habits of being “neutral” or of compromising with people who have a different point of view. But in the current tsunami of propaganda, when we bend to the will of Right Wing propagandists, that’s surrender.

The current propaganda is heavy duty. We have the Big Lie and incitements to violent insurrection. There are attempts to destroy our public health system, voting systems and public schools through lies. That’s war.

It’s not a different but reasonable point of view. It’s not “entertainment.”

By the way — the idea that Fox is licensed as an entertainment station, not a news station — that’s misinformation itself. See how that lie works on smart people? Repetition of lies works on everyone, not just on Republicans.

Propaganda is psychological warfare. Note the title of one of the classic texts on the subject.

To illustrate how being smart won’t protect you from propaganda, let’s look at an essay by one of the smartest wonkiest most well informed people on the planet. The essay I’ll analyze is by Ezra Klein.

Trigger Warning: If you greatly enjoy Ezra’s thoughtful data filled articles and podcasts as much as I do, you may get mad at me. It may sound to you like I’m calling him stupid. I’m not.

It’s a common mistaken American cultural belief that people who are vulnerable to propaganda are stupid. Nothing could be further from the truth. Please do your best to let the scales fall from your eyes and get that idea out of your head.

Klein is one of the most well informed people out there. As Jaques Ellul notes in his classic 1962 text, , this is exactly the kind of person who is most vulnerable to disinformation.

Why? Such people are immersed in their country’s intellectual culture. They’re reading conventional wisdom from many sources — whereas less well read, less informed people are not.

Klein — like all humans — is tribal. High status journalists attain their status in part by practicing procedures favored by their profession and their institutions.

Let’s hope that a lot of people like Klein — the most well informed, most well read people — will open their eyes and join the group of us who are more aware about disinformation. If they do, this group could become large and powerful enough to help lead the way to solving our problem of immersion in disinformation that could lead to fascism.

The problem with swimming in conventional wisdom is: It’s often wrong. In today’s world, much conventional wisdom consists of Right Wing talking points constantly repeated in mainstream media. That’s partly because media cover “both sides.”

These points for mainstream media are different from the points in Right Wing media — some of which are off the rails crazy. Right Wing points in mainstream media are carefully crafted. They’re subtle. Even sophisticated people who excel at critical thinking, usually won’t realize they’re being manipulated.

Some recent examples of this are media’s obsessive focus on Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 presidential campaign, and the Biden bashing being done now.

Here are two people on Twitter, who give frequent examples of Right Wing anti-Democratic party propaganda coming from mainstream TV, newspapers, radio and social media: Dan Froomkin and journalism professor Jay Rosen. Their blogs are at https://presswatchers.org/ and https://pressthink.org/

For those wanting to understand how propaganda works in our times, these blogs are essential reading.

Such blogs serve people who want to understand propaganda far better than readings from academics. Academic disinformation research is sometimes useful in real world situations. However, much of it is narrow, highly specialized and confined to carefully controlled research situations.

It makes sense that mainstream media would spread Right Wing disinfo, because these media themselves are typically Right Wing biased. One reason for the bias is that Republicans supply mainstream media with talking points, and Democrats don’t. Without realizing it, Democrats have ceded our national political narrative to Republicans.

To quote from my article below, “to get adequate media coverage, Democrats need to have talking points…Republicans constantly repeat themselves in talking points. Democrats do not. What’s repeated is…remembered and believed.”

Below is the Ezra Klein essay I’ll analyze. He asks “What does good pandemic policy look like for a low-trust, high-dysfunction society?” To him, good pandemic policy looks like bending to the will of Right Wing propagandists by replacing Anthony Fauci.

Ezra Klein does not stand out as unusual in bending to Right Wing propagandists. It’s typical of mainstream media journalists.

Many powerful Democratic party leaders are also in heavy denial about the party of the Big Lie and insurrection. They act as if this is still Eisenhower’s GOP.

Klein is a centrist and a “both sides” journalist who seems to often bend over Rightward to try to be “nonpartisan.” In doing this, he repeats Right Wing views without realizing it, because mainstream media — which he consumes and works in — constantly repeat views framed in Right Wing terms.

In fact, there’s a ubiquitous Right Wing talking point claiming falsely that mainstream media are Left biased and that journalists need to be more “nonpartisan” to attract larger numbers of news consumers.

This fits in neatly with another widely believed Right Wing lie that is everywhere in mainstream media. This is the belief that Democrats need to lean toward GOP positions and “go toward the center” — that is, toward the Right, becoming GOP Lite. This disinfo says Dems need to do this in order to attract “swing voters” and thus to win elections.

It’s common for mainstream journalists to use “both sides” analysis as a way to try to be objective. The political sides of both parties are reported as if both are equally credible — as if people on both sides are speaking and acting in good faith.

When one party is consistently speaking and acting in bad faith, then “both sides” reporting ends up being biased. Liars and con artists are given the same credibility as truth speakers. Constant liars are afforded credibility they don’t deserve. NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen writes about this here.

Klein asks “So what if you assume political polarization and media disinformation are here to stay…?”

The use of the term “polarization” in our current situation itself shows Right Wing bias. How? “Polarization” is usually passively stated — as if it happens organically rather than by anyone’s intention. Also, our main societal problem is NOT “polarization”, no matter how often this label is used by “neutral” journalists. Here’s an essay about a CNN program where another smart well informed journalist, Fareed Zakaria, uses this label too.

Our main problem is NOT “polarization” but corruption — including the disinformation lies that convince voters to elect con artists. Propagandists feed consumers of Right Wing radio, TV, newspapers and social media a steady diet of lies. That diet destroys democracy, public health, public schools, election systems and trust in government.

That diet is also filled with fear/hate/grievance mongering. Then there is demonizing of Democrats, minorities and anyone the Right Wing associates with Democrats. It’s toxic to our society.

The Right Wing intentionally creates “polarization” to cause chaos and culture wars. They use polarization to disrupt discussion of and solution of problems that the Right Wing benefits from perpetuating. Here’s my essay about that strategy.

How the GOP Uses Artificial Culture Conflicts to Stop Us from Solving Our Nation’s Serious Problems

(I renamed this article after I wrote it.)

Let’s go back to the question Klein asks “So what if you assume political ‘polarization’ and media disinformation are here to stay, and you need to work around them, rather than ignoring them?”

His thinking is clouded because he ignores of the propagandists’ strategy of intentionally using “polarization” to attain goals.

Klein’s solution is to “work around” disinformation. Notice that the thought of standing up to Right Wing bullies and fighting back doesn’t occur to him. That is so far outside the Overton window of “conventional wisdom” — which — as I noted — often consists of Right Wing talking points— that most mainstream journalists can’t even conceive of it.

Yet the fact remains: If we keep accommodating bullies and we never stand up to them, they are going to keep running right over us.

Klein notes that “The context for the Biden administration’s entire response was a Republican Party divided over the legitimacy of the 2020 election, and aware that the road to 2024 ran through opposition to Biden’s coronavirus policies.”

Here we go with the passive voice — which is often another clue to the presence of bias and the erasure of accountability. When you hear the passive voice, you may want to check and see if someone is getting away scot free with mass murder. In this case, they literally are.

Klein is reporting actions without saying who’s responsible. If Americans are divided, who divided them? He’s silent on that. Also, there are plenty of other possible roads to the GOP winning elections that do not involve dangerous COVID denial propaganda. To say that this is “the road” is not accurate. It’s also another instance of ignoring accountability. Who chose this road? Why? He has no comment on that.

Klein is trying to be “nonpartisan” — in the sense of going along with the lie that both political sides are operating in good faith. It would be more truly objective — that is, more reflective of reality within context — — to note that there’s no evidence the 2020 election was illegitimate. It would also be objective to note that Republican opposition to Biden’s coronavirus policies — including Right Wing media’s vast COVID disinfo campaign — has caused massive numbers of deaths.

Klein is — probably without awareness— bending to the will of Right Wing propagandists — both in his description of the problem and in his solution. Many writers at New York Times and Washington Post, and most TV hosts, do this.

Why? All these news outlets are members of what I call the Plutocrats Club.

The Plutocrats Club is similar to Fight Club, in that “The first rule of Plutocrats Club is ‘You do not talk about Plutocrats Club’ “— at least not in less than glowing and fawning tones and phrases.

This is how Klein and others manage to get through entire articles on COVID policy challenges and barely mention Right Wing media — or don’t mention it at all. He ignores the fact that the actions of these outlets are important — given that their disinformation has resulted in so many deaths, by convincing people that COVID vaccines are more dangerous than COVID.

One can’t be “nonpartisan” — in the sense of assuming both political sides are acting in good faith — if one admits the truth here.

Klein is also acting as if the Right Wing is an immovable force of nature that can’t be impacted — a force that everyone just has to tolerate and adapt to. Standing up to wealthy Right Wing bullies is forbidden by Plutocrats Club rules.

Klein — like most people — doesn’t know how propaganda works but thinks he does. He suggests replacing Fauci with a conservative person, to try to influence conservatives who find Fauci “polarizing.” Interestingly, he walks far enough into reality to admit that if Fauci were replaced, that Right Wingers would likely bash his replacement too.

It doesn’t dawn on Klein — or almost any other mainstream media journalist — that if propagandists are trying to destroy public health — with a goal of blaming Dems for an ineffective COVID response, the solution is NOT to supply a different public health official for propagandists to target and bash.

Klein also doesn’t understand why Trump voters booed Trump when he suggested they get vaccinated. He seems to assume Trump caused people not to get vaccinated. No. Repetition makes propaganda work — not Trump’s personality. If Trump’s anti-vax lies hadn’t already been repeated thousands of times by Right Wing radio, TV, newspapers and social media, Trump wouldn’t have been booed.

Research shows repetition causes people to believe statements — whether they are true or false.

Journalists are constantly discussing how trust in government is “being eroded” — using the passive voice again. They don’t say who eroded trust, because the responsible parties are Right Wing billionaires. The laws of the Plutocrats Club require erasure of their accountability. Denial of the reality of evil is required.

Anand Giridharadas wrote about some plutocrats’ rules in his book He wrote about rules for how to construct successful TED talks in such a way that they won’t offend wealthy high status people and their associates. TED Talk rules are also societal rules, since our society is controlled by wealthy people and those who serve them.

One rule is: You can talk about victims of problems but you can’t talk about causes — because the cause might be a wealthy plutocrat or his company.

In the case of disinformation though, you can’t even talk about the problem or acknowledge its victims. That’s because everyone knows propaganda doesn’t usually happen accidentally. It’s obvious to everyone that propaganda has perpetrators — not just victims. So, in the case of propaganda, you can’t even admit people are victims. That’s why journalists interview Trump supporters in diners and then pretend these voters came up with their ideas about politics on their own — without being influenced by media.

It’s obvious to people who study disinformation — and to many other observers — that these voters in diners are parroting talking points that Right Wing media have repeated to them hundreds or thousands of times.

Another TED Talk rule that Giridharadas discovered was to offer individual solutions — not systemic ones. This avoids inconveniencing plutocrats who own or control systems, or big parts of systems, that would have to make changes to solve the problem.

Given Klein’s unconditional surrender to propagandists in the information war, it’s ironic that the excellent web site Vox — which he co-founded — occasionally covers propaganda issues well. The fascinating video below is an example. When watching it, be aware that we are lucky when mainstream media say “Fox News reported that…” because then we’re aware the source is an untrustworthy one. It’s a bigger problem when mainstream media report Right Wing propaganda without ever revealing the source.

Vox covers this topic well. Yet after making it clear how influential disinformation is, Vox then sets the topic aside and ignores it in almost all other articles and videos they publish. It’s left totally up to viewers or readers to remember and stay aware of information that is seldom repeated. Of course, very few do.

Disjointed out-of-context reporting is, unfortunately, our usual standard today. Central aspects of politics, such as intentional spreading of disinformation, often can explain events that are occurring. But journalists generally report on this once and then forget it — as if it is unrelated to other news and reporting of news. So the influence of propaganda gets ignored most of the time.

Now that we’re aware of the destruction caused by disinformation, let’s look at how our society is responding to it.

We’re experiencing the most well documented possible descent into fascism in history. People write and share on social media about it all day. Writer Dave Troy — whose blog is at davetroy.medium.com — calls this “taking selfies with the iceberg” — referring to the disaster film .

We verbally express a great amount of concern. However, the documentation and concern don’t solve the problem. Yes, we do have to admit we have a problem, to solve it. But how many million times do we need to describe it before solving it?

For those who are ready, here’s are some solutions. Here is one for solving the problem of disinformation spread by Right Wing media:

Here’s what we can do to solve the problem of Right Wing disinformation spread by mainstream media:

Last but not least, all Americans need to become able to recognize Right Wing disinformation in mainstream media.

Don’t worry. You don’t have to be smarter than Ezra Klein to recognize disinformation in mainstream media. You just have to become more aware of media habits than he is — For example, “both sides” reporting. There’s also “access journalism” — where journalists report in flattering ways on their sources so as to maintain access to the sources.

Another bad media habit is “horse race journalism” where the focus is on who’s winning elections or approval and what could get in the way of one party winning elections. It’s suspicious that this almost always seems to be only about what could get in the way for for Democrats, for some reason.

I describe some problematic media habits in the article below.

The two blogs I mentioned earlier, Froomkin and Rosen are also helpful for anyone wanting to learn to spot mainstream media habits that create Right Wing bias.

That’s all for now. I’ll catch up with you good folks later.

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