Video ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF
Loading the player reg...
Loading the player reg...
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s new campaign chief Stephen Bannon is the executive chairman of conservative website Breitbart News, which has been embroiled in a civil war over the publication’s Trump support. Numerous conservative media figures have slammed Bannon -- who is taking a leave of absence to work for Trump -- and Breitbart News for destroying the legacy of the site’s founder Andrew Breitbart, who said in 2011 that Donald Trump is “not a conservative.”
Why is it so hard to create meaningful action on climate change? Discussion about global warming -- and many other critical issues -- has become “polluted” by toxic rhetoric, argues author and public relations specialist James Hoggan, which in turn “discourage[s] people from taking action.” In his new book, I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How To Clean it Up, Hoggan examines why and how the public sphere has become “polluted” by “polarized rhetoric, propaganda and miscommunication,” and offers advice on how to clean it up.
In discussions with dozens of scholars and thought leaders, from NASA scientists to the 14th Dalai Lama, Hoggan details several factors that have degraded rhetoric around important political issues. Here are four ways that conservative media have played a key role:
Because science is not on the side of those who oppose acting on climate change, it is much easier for climate science deniers to vilify their opponents than to address the actual issue. Sociology professor Alex Himelfarb pointed out to Hoggan that there is an “increasing and effective use of a classic rhetorical ploy called ad hominem -- where attacks are aimed at a person’s character, not their line of reasoning,” a ploy that is frequently used against climate advocates.
Media Matters has documented this tactic countless times on Fox News and other right-wing media, where pundits have attempted to smear climate scientists as corrupted by money, falsely claimed the Paris climate conference had a large carbon footprint to paint its participants as hypocrites, and frequently mocked prominent climate activists Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore.
As Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley explained to Hoggan, deniers “attack and undermine [their] opponents’ integrity while making them appear to have a vested interest” simply because they “can’t rely on [their] own credibility” and “the facts aren’t on [their] side.”
Conceptual frameworks “permeate everything we think and say, so the people who control language and set its frames have an inordinate amount of power,” argues Hoggan. He spoke with linguistics professor George Lakoff, who noted that “if you do a bad job of framing your story, someone else will likely do it for you.” Hoggan also spoke with social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who noted that he heard right-wing radio host Glenn Beck say, “Climate change is not about the environment; it’s about control.” In this case, Beck re-framed the discussion about climate change action to be about empowering “the nanny state,” according to Haidt, who added that Beck “very skillfully pushed certain moral buttons that sowed profound doubt.”
As a case study, Hoggan pointed to the manufactured “Climategate” controversy, an “international campaign to discredit scientists” before the landmark international climate change summit in Copenhagen, according to DeSmogBlog. Fox News had a heavy hand in amplifying the phony controversy, even after official investigations proved -- six times over -- that there was no wrongdoing.
Hoggan wrote that he was “astonished to see how a group of legitimate climate scientists, with stacks of peer-reviewed evidence on their side, could lose debates to a group of people who had none -- all because of a lens created by mischief-makers.” But he noted that the scientific facts in this controversy were complicated, and the public was not equipped to analyze them on their face. Thus, “Climategate was a battle of frames versus facts, and the frames won.”
According to Yale professor Stanley, who wrote the book How Propaganda Works, right-wing media are less interested in reporting “accurate, well-researched stories” and more interested in “broadcasting noise so that it becomes difficult to hear the truth.” Stanley called out Fox News in particular, stating that its “fair and balanced” slogan is not only false, but intentionally so:
Fox engages in a kind of silencing tactic when describing itself as “fair and balanced,” especially to an audience that is perfectly aware that it is neither. The effect is to suggest there is no possibility of balanced news, only propaganda; this results in a silencing of all news sources by suggesting everyone is grossly insincere.
The complex science behind global warming, and the huge scale of actions needed to address it, can defy easy description -- a fact that conservative media often exploit. Hoggan cited psychologist and author of State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind Bryant Welch, who noted that in response to confusion, an “authoritative person who takes command -- ‘think of Fox News or Rush Limbaugh’ -- and spews strong feelings with absolutely certainty is appealing to a beleaguered mind.”
Welch has written about “gaslighting” -- the process of manipulating someone into questioning their sense of reality -- and he explained to Hoggan that the tactic is commonplace on Fox News. When “people begin to doubt their own perceptions and observations,” they “become less rational, less capable of thinking for themselves,” and “more and more beholden to Fox News.”
The easiest way to inhibit progress on climate change is to make it seem impossible, argues Hoggan -- to promote the “do-nothing stance.” He explains that to take action “requires an anti-gravity position, which is so-called because it takes energy, hard work and a real sense of the common good.” He said deniers “don’t have to convince the public that climate change isn’t real,” but instead can “exaggerat[e] the hazards of solutions to make them seem unbelievably risky.”
This tactic is common among fossil fuel front groups, which have employed baseless fearmongering and false attacks to attack key climate actions over and over -- and too often, conservative media take the bait, as Media Matters has documented. Dozens of front groups have attacked the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, and many of these groups published bunk studies and reports falsely claiming that the landmark carbon pollution rule would hurt consumers or harm the economy (it won't). Conservative media also targeted a barrage of misleading attacks at the Paris climate agreement reached by 195 countries in December and recycled many of these attacks on Earth Day. This rhetoric has also made its way into mainstream media, with prominent Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson brazenly declaring that "we have no solution" for addressing climate change.
Hoggan argues that conversations about climate change should not focus solely on the negative, because doing so can lead to paralysis. Correspondingly, his book includes positive suggestions for the media to help improve public discourse and create “healthier dialogue” that moves people forward instead of exacerbating conflicts and creating divisions.
Here are some of his suggestions for media:
A Rutgers University study once found that The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times both frame climate action as ineffective more often than effective. Yet Hoggan argues that barraging people with facts about climate change that evoke feelings of fear and guilt is not going to inspire action. Instead, he writes, it is time to “build hope instead of fear, empathy instead of alienation, people’s sense of self-worth rather than their sense of inadequacy.” Harvard professor Marshall Ganz explained to Hoggan that stories that offer hope can become “an emotional dialogue that speaks about deeply held values, about an inspired future that is hopeful and steeped in those values.” Hoggan also explained:
Environmentalists must explain why every previous generation did what was necessary to secure the infrastructure and climate for people to succeed, and emphasize this generation’s obligation to do the same.
Studies have shown that while negative stories about climate change can turn readers into cynics, stories about successful political activism and individual actions can generate enthusiasm.
People need to know where most of the climate misinformation is coming from: fossil fuel corporations that want to protect their bottom line. As Hoggan pointed out, corporations are “furiously focused on creating shareholder value,” meaning “they can and must act in the interest of their shareholders.” And when something threatens their license to operate -- such as the knowledge that fossil fuels are disastrously changing the climate -- these big businesses are “motivated to become skilled at propaganda.”
That’s why it’s so important to disclose the fossil fuel funding behind front groups that claim to represent the best interest of citizens. It’s also why corporations work so hard to hide their support for these groups, through “astroturfing” -- creating fake grass-roots groups that Hoggan says “makes it almost impossible to distinguish between a legitimate groundswell and manufactured opinion.”
As a case in point, Hoggan details the “ethical oil” PR campaign, when oil companies used the front group EthicalOil.org to rebrand dirty tar sands oil in Canada as “ethical” and tar sands opponents as “foreign-funded radicals.” He also pointed out other industry-funded front groups, including Citizens for a Sound Economy, which pushed the myth of “clean coal.” In fact, there are dozens of fossil fuel industry front groups that are currently attacking environmental protections in the United States, but their industry ties often go unmentioned.
Media Matters analyses have shown that when discussing climate change, broadcast news networks have turned to politicians and media figures far more often than scientists. This may be why French scientist Bruno Latour argues that scientists should get more involved in the public debate about climate change -- “to stand up and fight, with full disclosure, full respect, scrupulous honesty, honoring of the democratic process.” As Hoggan explained:
We have long passed the point where we can talk about a fight between good, clean science and science that has been sullied and distorted by personal and public interests.
We need scientists to become more political because pure evidence -- facts, figures and flow charts -- cannot form an adequate basis for public debate. Why? Primarily because public is not equipped to get to the bottom of such a discussion or analyze all these facts.
There is much more to examine in the book, from pundits repeating false myths over and over to the Dalai Lama’s appeal for “warm-heartedness.” Improving public discourse begins with expanding knowledge, and reading I’m Right and You’re an Idiot is a good first step.
Loading the player reg...
NBC's Chuck Todd gave noted-conspiracy theorist Glenn Beck a national platform to re-mainstream himself on the July 17 edition of Meet The Press. Todd introduced Beck as "founder of the conservative website and TV network The Blaze" and a "vocal critic of Donald Trump right from the start."
During his appearance, Beck criticized presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his vice presidential running mate Indiana Gov. Mike Pence -- who Beck alleged has previously criticized Trump behind closed doors -- and lamented that "the problem is in our society that there's no authenticity. You can't trust anybody." Beck also criticized Republican officials, including RNC chairman Reince Priebus.
After the interview, Todd said he was “aghast” and there were “some times where I felt speechless” during Beck’s interview, but didn’t disclose during or after the interview that Glenn Beck is a noted conspiracy theorist. Beck’s Fox News show was cancelled in 2011 after the network lost sponsors for the program due to continuous controversy over its bizarre and extreme content.
Ranging from violent, racist, and anti-semitic rhetoric to outlandish conspiracy theories, Beck’s on-air track record includes accusing President Obama of being a "racist" with a "deep-seated hatred for white people," claiming that "all of the decisions that the president has championed" led to the terrorist attacks on Paris, and repeatedly invoking Nazis, Hitler, and the Holocaust to attack his political opponents.
Over the past year, Beck has been vocally critical of Trump, likening his Muslim ban proposal to the policies of Adolf Hitler. He also has called Trump a progressive and asserted that if Trump wins the GOP presidential nomination it will "bring an end to the Republican Party."
Beck has also threatened to quit the National Rifle Association (NRA) over the long-debunked conspiracy theory that NRA board member and conservative activist Grover Norquist is an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood. Beck's antics culminated in an NRA investigation and Norquist "voluntarily suspend[ing] his Board activities pending the outcome."
Right-Wing Media Falsely Claim That Settlement Payments From Institutions Responsible For The Financial Crisis Create “Liberal Slush Fund” For Progressive Groups
Right-wing media have spent years attacking the Department of Justice’s handling of multi-billion dollar settlements from financial institutions partly responsible for the housing and financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. Conservative outlets falsely allege that the DOJ used settlement payments to create a “liberal slush fund” to disburse millions of dollars to nonprofit organizations like the nonpartisan National Council of La Raza (NCLR), even though these groups are certified housing counseling agencies.
Media commentators are criticizing presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump for reviving the “absurd” and “kooky” conspiracy theory that the Clintons were involved in the death of former White House aide Vince Foster.
Loading the player reg...
Loading the player reg...
Loading the player reg...
Conservative media figures who support Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) have continued to criticize Fox News’ coverage of Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, claiming the network is “in the tank” and acting as a “pimp” for the Trump campaign.
The Blaze’s Dana Loesch mocked transgender people and hyped the bathroom predator myth on her show with a skit of a man walking into the women’s restroom saying “I'm Matilda, I’m identifying as a lady today, I hear you guys have champagne and cookies in here.”
During the April 20 edition of her show on The Blaze TV, Loesch criticized celebrities boycotting North Carolina after the passage of the so called “bathroom bill,” aimed at discriminating against the LGBT community. Later that evening, Loesch tweeted the video claiming “It's obvious why everyone wants to use the #womensbathroom.” The tweet linked to the video from Loesch showing a man with a beard walking into a women’s restroom claiming “I’m identifying as a lady today”:
The Blaze has a history of ridiculing serious issues with horrible skits. Previously, The Blaze's Stu Burguiere reenacted rape scenarios with men portraying women being raped in an effort dismiss rape statistics as “massively” inflated.
For Sexual Assault Awareness month, Media Matters looks back at right-wing media's history of downplaying, and questioning the legitimacy of, sexual assault. Right-wing media figures have called reporting statutory rape “whiny,” claimed sexual assault victims have a "coveted status," said the sexual assault epidemic is "not happening," blamed feminism for encouraging sexual assault, and said attempts to curb sexual assault constitute "a war happening on boys."
A New York Times analysis found “historic increases” in those covered by the Affordable Care Act, destroying right-wing media predictions about health care reform including that it would “topple the stock market” and enslave Americans. The Times analysis is just one of many pieces of research that have highlighted the successes of the Affordable Care Act.
Vox Highlights Study: "Republicans Rely On A Media That Is More Likely To Echo Their Partisan Biases, And Democrats Rely On Media That Does Not Pick A Side"
Vox's Dylan Matthews highlighted a study from two political science professors which found that Republicans "rely on a media that is more likely to echo their partisan biases" and create parallel media outlets, creating an echo chamber which "increase[s] partisanship and ideological commitment."
Right-wing media has a noted effect on shaping its viewers perceptions.The conservative media echo chamber has been partly responsible for the rise of Donald Trump, by consistently providing a platform for his ideas and defending him when attacked. In addition, conservative media has created the environment where presidential candidates feel comfortable enough to claim that the media has a liberal bias and therefore shouldn't be trusted. This leads candidates to mold their candidacies towards what those who listen to conservative media want to hear and parrot popular conservative media hosts ideas and rhetoric.
In the April 1 article, the study highlighted by Matthews found these media echo chambers created by conservatives are having an impact. The study, conducted by two political science professors, argued that conservatives' "distrust of the mainstream media" caused them to "set up a parallel ecosystem to get their message out." Therefore, "Republicans rely on a media that is more likely to echo their partisan biases, and Democrats rely on media that does not pick a side and at least claims to be objective and empirical (whether or not it lives up to that promise)." The study also found that this echo chamber effect "has huge implications for how Democrats and Republicans view politics", "increas[ing] partisanship and ideological commitment":
The numbers come from a new study from political scientists Matt Grossmann and Dave Hopkins collating five years of Public Policy Polling data on which major news networks people do and do not trust. PPP's data shows that Republicans are just as distrustful of mainstream outlets as of MSNBC, and Democrats are about as trusting:
Grossmann and Hopkins's broader argument is that Republicans' distrust of the mainstream media creates an asymmetry in how the parties approach the media. Democrats rely on the mainstream media both to get out their message and to cover events. Republicans generally distrust mainstream outlets and so have set up a parallel ecosystem to get their message out.
The result is Republicans rely on a media that is more likely to echo their partisan biases, and Democrats rely on media that does not pick a side and at least claims to be objective and empirical (whether or not it lives up to that promise). "Democrats therefore remain relatively unexposed to messages that encourage ideological self-identification or describe political conflict as reflecting the clash of two incompatible value systems," Grossmann and Hopkins write. "Instead, the information environment in which they reside claims to prize objectivity, empiricism, and policy expertise."
Grossmann and Hopkins confirm this, citing a bevy of evidence demonstrating that increased access to only one side's media increases partisanship and ideological commitment in news consumers. The University of Pennsylvania's Matthew Levendusky experimentally exposed study participants to Fox and MSNBC, and concluded that "partisan media make citizens more convinced that their views are the 'right' one ... make citizens less willing to trust the other party and less willing to support compromise with them, thereby contributing to persistent gridlock ... [and] influence vote choice, as well as how citizens come to understand elections."
Grossmann and Hopkins's underlying explanation is that the Republican Party and the Democratic Party are fundamentally structurally distinct. Republicans are "chiefly defined by a common ideological commitment," while Democrats are a "coalition of social groups."
So on the one side you have an ideologically rigorous party/movement that relies on its own newsgathering and information-producing services, leading to an increasingly distinct worldview from Democrats or independents.