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Right-wing media figures are hyping claims from the Washington Free Beacon suggesting former White House aide Ben Rhodes may be part of a “secret, months-long campaign by former Obama administration confidantes to handicap President Donald Trump's national security apparatus,” beginning with recently resigned White House national security adviser Michael Flynn. The claims, which resemble similar allegations from The New York Post’s Paul Sperry, are largely based on anonymous sources.
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt has proposed the creation of a “national commission led by men and women of impeccable credentials” to determine whether and how the U.S. should address climate change, arguing that the country needs a group of “[d]iverse, smart non-scientists who are going to listen to the scientists -- all of them -- and report back on what ought to be done.” However, any credibility that Hewitt’s proposal may have had disappeared instantly when he suggested that the commission include Rush Limbaugh, a vocal climate science denier and conspiracy theorist who is among the least likely people imaginable to “listen to the scientists.”
Hewitt proposed the commission in a February 9 op-ed in The Washington Post, in which he asserted that “we don’t know enough” about the cost of addressing climate change or “the nature of the risk.” He also declared, “We are told so many things about climate change, in a conclusory and often condescending fashion. As a result, both the town criers of apocalypse and the town cynics who wear a never-ending sneer have lost the ability to be heard by, much less move, the center.”
Those claims themselves are dubious -- there is a wealth of research from both governmental and non-governmental organizations about the risks posed by climate change, and lumping proponents of climate action together with (often fossil fuel industry-funded) climate science deniers is false balance 101. But even if Hewitt is correct that a commission of non-scientists could help move the climate conversation forward, his proposal can’t be taken seriously when he suggests the commission include Limbaugh, simply because it ought to include “luminaries of left and right” and Limbaugh has created one of the “largest audiences of the past 30 years.”
Limbaugh has long been a promoter of some of the most over-the-top and fringiest climate science denial and climate-related conspiracy theories. Among other things, Limbaugh concocted a conspiracy theory that the federal government was overstating Hurricane Matthew’s severity in order to manufacture concern about climate change; claimed that NASA’s announcement that it found water on Mars was part of a climate change conspiracy; and distorted a study from Duke University, claiming it shows that "there isn't any [global] warming going on." For Hewitt to believe that Limbaugh belongs on a climate change commission requires a willful ignorance of Limbaugh’s long track record of climate science denial and overt disdain for science and scientists.
From Hewitt’s February 9 op-ed in the Post:
Imagine, if you will, an August 2017 Post headline: “McChrystal Commission report surprises, energizes and outrages.” The first paragraph reads:
“The much-anticipated and closely guarded final report of the McChrystal Commission on Climate Change released Tuesday shook nearly every interest and player in the capital. The commission, headed by retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal and including such luminaries of left and right as Oprah Winfrey and Rush Limbaugh and such captains of industry as Bill Gates and Peter Thiel, kept its work secret and its executive summary short and accessible. President Trump tweeted: “THANK YOU General McChrystal and colleagues. Great work. All must read and think on your report carefully!”
This is a not-yet-established commission, of course, and I don’t know whether the remarkable McChrystal would agree to lead it or if Trump would empanel it. I only know the country needs such a body, just as it needed the National Commission for Social Security Reform more than three decades ago.
[The “insurance policy” theory of combating climate change is] a good argument — but only an argument — because when it comes to climate change, we don’t know enough about the cost of the premium or the nature of the risk. Thus, a national commission led by men and women of impeccable credentials and also populated with visible and controversial opinion leaders of left and right would serve us well. We are told so many things about climate change, in a conclusory and often condescending fashion. As a result, both the town criers of apocalypse and the town cynics who wear a never-ending sneer have lost the ability to be heard by, much less move, the center.
So what, if anything, ought to be done in light of what, if any, significant dangers lurk — especially if either or both of China and India continue on their emissions trajectory? That would render U.S. actions at best noble gestures and at worst moot and economically self-destructive gestures. Yes, I know about the Paris Accord and the “undertakings” of the big emitters but — the key — I don’t trust it or them.
I don’t know who to trust actually on these issues. But I would take very seriously the recommendations of a such a commission, and tens of millions would at least pay attention if it is populated in part by big names from entertainment. Winfrey and Limbaugh built and sustained the two largest audiences of the past 30 years after all. Dismiss them if you will, but only two people have accomplished that. Add on a Sheryl Sandberg if you’d like, provided there was also a Thiel to complement the Facebook chief operating officer. You get the picture: Diverse, smart non-scientists who are going to listen to the scientists — all of them — and report back on what ought to be done.
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A story by David Rose of the British tabloid Daily Mail falsely alleged that researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) “manipulated global warming data” in order to “dupe” world leaders into agreeing to provisions of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. In reality, the NOAA report’s finding that there was no slowdown in the rate of global warming has since been independently verified by other experts, and it’s the Daily Mail story -- and the GOP politicians and right-wing media outlets like Breitbart News championing it -- that are distorting climate science to score political points.
Current False Accusations Of Paid Protesters Don’t Match Up With Tea Party Adoration
Many right-wing media figures have accused anti-Trump protesters of being “paid” on a widespread basis to demonstrate against President Donald Trump. Not only do these allegations lack any evidence of a systematic effort, they also ignore the fact that the conservative tea party protests of the early 2010s were “astroturfed” -- heavily supported and organized by large, outside groups.
Evidence-free claims and suggestions of paid protesters driving anti-Trump sentiment have circulated throughout right-wing media for years but have increased since the inauguration of Donald Trump. Both Trump himself and White House press secretary Sean Spicer have repeated the claim that anti-Trump protests are, in Spicer’s words, a “very paid astroturf-type movement.” Rush Limbaugh warned that the airport protests against Trump’s Muslim ban were “bought and paid for by George Soros, prearranged. … and waiting for the moment to be cued to action.” The Daily Caller wrote that protests directed against a vocal Trump supporter at the University of California, Berkeley were “backed by a progressive charity that is in turn funded by George Soros, the city of Tucson, a major labor union and several large companies.” The claims have also circulated among fake news purveyors and state-owned Russian propaganda.
Despite the charge being leveled at nearly every anti-Trump protest, there is no proof that they protesters were systematically paid by any group. Recently, claims that a group called Demand Protest was paying people $2,500 a month to protest Trump nationwide were exposed as a hoax, much like a viral claim during the election season of craigslist ads offering $3,500 to protest Trump, which ended up being a lie created by a fake news writer to generate profit.
Right-wing media’s concerns about supposed liberal paid protesters also conveniently forgets times when they were enamored by protesters who were financially supported by outside groups.
During the 2016 presidential race, Trump ally Alex Jones’ website offered a cash reward to protesters that interrupted Hillary Clinton rallies, an open attempt to pay protesters. Even more significant, right-wing media was also an ally of the Tea Party movement during the first term of former President Barack Obama, which was widely documented to be backed by big money donors.
The Tea Party, described as “the biggest Astroturf operation in history,” was heavily financed and supported by billionaires, most prominently Charles and David Koch. In addition to financial support from conservative billionaires, the Tea Party enjoyed glowing coverage across right-wing media, most prominently on Fox News, which encouraged its viewers to head to the “conservative Woodstock.” “Party on!” Fox hosts, such as Sean Hannity, attached themselves to and tried to boost the protests, and Tea Party activists even thanked the network for its assistance in spreading their message.
Conservative media figures praised President Donald Trump’s firing of acting Attorney General Sally Yates and called on him to further purge the federal government of “Obama appointees” and “lifelong leftists.” Trump has also frozen federal hiring and is reportedly considering a “reduction in force.” His press secretary also suggested State Department employees should “get with the program or … go.”
Conservative radio host Sean Hannity rightly defended President Donald Trump’s ten-year-old son, Barron, as off limits from attacks in the media by claiming that conservatives afforded President Obama’s daughters the same courtesy. But right-wing media had a field day attacking Sasha and Malia Obama throughout President Obama’s term, including Sean Hannity, who berated the Obama girls for going on Spring Break vacations.
Hannity argued that the media should leave President Trump’s son alone following news that a writer from Saturday Night Live was suspended for tweets about Barron. He claimed that the media should “leave the kids of politicians alone,” and said that he “never would” attack a politician’s kids, including President Obama’s daughters. From the January 27 edition of The Sean Hannity Show:
SEAN HANNITY(HOST): I will say one other thing. I did bring this up also last night. The way the media and these leftist snowflakes have treated this poor ten-year-old kid. Alright, I'm the only one that actually knows him. I met him, I shook his hand, I talked to him. The kid is a great kid. He's incredibly bright, smart, polite. You know, he's like a dream kid. "Hi Mr. Hannity, how are you? It's very nice to meet you. It's an honor to meet you." And I remember being blown away. Melania had to introduce me to Barron. He's such a good kid and I have these words for the media: leave the 10-year-old boy alone. Just like we conservatives left the Obama daughters alone. Leave the kids of politicians alone.
If conservatives ever did this -- and by the way, I never would. It seems -- I’ll say this about Michelle and Barack Obama. Their kids seem lovely to me. I can’t stand that pettiness, where you’re involving children in these discussions. It’s pathetic
Hannity is correct that the president’s children should always be off limits from media attacks, but the hypocrisy does not go unnoticed: He and other conservatives did in fact attack President Obama’s daughters mercilessly. Conservative radio hosts Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh mocked Malia Obama to attack President Obama’s policies. Beck later apologized, saying, “The children of public figures should be left on the sidelines.”
Hannity also attacked the president’s daughters. During an April 2013, edition of his Fox News show, Hannity had an on-air meltdown about “the girls” going to the Bahamas and Idaho during their Spring Break. Despite criticism from former Fox contributor Kirsten Powers, Hannity argued, “we have to pay for the security, which is the right thing to do, but not one vacation -- they just went on two Spring Break vacations. … That’s my money.”
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In 2016, right-wing media’s use of racially charged and bigoted statements hit new lows, featuring widely condemned segments reliant on racial caricatures, bigoted attempts to blame progressives for the actions of white nationalists, and slurs directed against other media figures. Here are the most bigoted stories and statements from right-wing media figures over the last year:
Donald Trump and the presidential election dominated news coverage in 2016. But talking heads still found plenty of time to make jaw-dropping comments about climate change, energy, and the environment. This year’s list of ridiculous claims includes a dangerous conspiracy theory about Hurricane Matthew, over-the-top worship of fracking and coal, and absurd victim-blaming around the Flint water crisis. Here is our list of the 15 most ridiculous things that media figures said about climate, energy, and environmental issues in 2016.
1. Rush Limbaugh And Matt Drudge Peddled A Reckless Conspiracy Theory Downplaying The Threat From Hurricane Matthew. Shortly before Hurricane Matthew made landfall in the U.S., Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge concocted a conspiracy theory that the federal government was overstating the hurricane’s severity in order to manufacture concern about climate change. On The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh accused the National Hurricane Center of "playing games" with hurricane forecasting and added, “It's in the interest of the left to have destructive hurricanes because then they can blame it on climate change, which they can desperately continue trying to sell.”
Limbaugh doubled down on this theory the next day, telling his audience, “There’s politics in the forecasting of hurricanes because there are votes.”
Drudge, the curator of the widely read Drudge Report website, promoted the conspiracy as well, suggesting that federal officials were exaggerating the danger posed by Hurricane Matthew “to make [an] exaggerated point on climate.”
Drudge also used his website to persuade Southeast residents not to take the storm seriously, with a banner “STORM FIZZLE? MATTHEW LOOKS RAGGED!” and additional headlines “IT’S A 4?” and “RESIDENTS NOT TAKING SERIOUSLY...”.
Climate scientist Michael Mann explained that people "could die because of the misinformation that folks like Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge are putting out there," and two actual hurricane experts provided a point-by-point rebuttal of Drudge’s claims. But that did nothing to dissuade Drudge, who refused to give up on the conspiracy theory.
2. Fox News Blamed The Flint Water Crisis On Climate Change Policies, "PC Stuff,” And Even Flint Residents Themselves. National media outlets largely ignored the water crisis in Flint, MI, as it unfolded over almost two years, but when the story did finally make national headlines, Fox News pundits were quick to pin the blame on anyone and anything other than the Republican governor of Michigan.
On Fox & Friends, host Heather Nauert and guest Mark Aesch suggested that “misplaced priorities,” including climate change and “PC stuff,” allowed the water crisis to happen:
And on The Kelly File, Fox News digital politics editor Chris Stirewalt placed blame on Flint residents themselves, saying that the "people of Flint should have been protesting in the streets" after noticing that their water was poisoned. Stirewalt also blamed Flint parents for giving their children contaminated water, declaring: "If you were pouring water into a cup for your child and it stunk and it smelled like sulfur and it was rotten, would you give that to your child? No, you'd revolt, you'd march in the street." In addition to being offensive, Stirewalt’s comments were premised on a falsehood; Flint residents did in fact repeatedly protest throughout the year to demand safe drinking water for their families.
3. CNN’s Alisyn Camerota Claimed Trump EPA Nominee Scott Pruitt “Hasn’t Denied Global Warming.” Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, is a climate science denier who has refused to accept the clear consensus of the scientific community that human activities such as burning fossil fuels are primarily responsible for global warming. Yet according to CNN New Day anchor Alisyn Camerota, Pruitt simply “sees nuance” and “hasn’t denied global warming.” Camerota falsely claimed that Pruitt only disputes climate “predictions” and “forecasts,” when in fact he has also denied that global warming is human-caused, and even Camerota's premise that climate models are unreliable is incorrect. As Camerota wrongly absolved Pruitt of climate denial, CNN’s on-screen text read: “Climate Change Denier Scott Pruitt To Lead EPA.” Co-anchor Chris Cuomo also pushed back on Camerota, stating that Pruitt “says it’s ‘far from settled.’ That means he’s not accepting the science.”
Camerota badly butchered climate science, but it's noteworthy she was even discussing the issue given CNN’s spotty track record. In April, a Media Matters analysis found that CNN aired almost five times as much oil industry advertising as climate change-related coverage in the one-week periods following the announcements that 2015 was the hottest year on record and February 2016 was the most abnormally hot month on record. And in one segment later in the year where CNN did cover climate change, CNN Newsroom host Carol Costello speculated, “Are we just talking about this and people's eyes are glazing over?”
4. MSNBC's Mike Barnicle: ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson "Is A Huge Green Guy.” Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is the chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest oil companies. Exxon is currently under investigation in several states for possibly violating state laws by deceiving shareholders and the public about climate change, while Tillerson himself has misinformed about climate science and mocked renewable energy. Yet according to Mike Barnicle, a regular on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, “Rex Tillerson is a huge green guy.” And alas, no, we don't think he was comparing Tillerson to the Jolly Green Giant or the Incredible Hulk.
5. Disregarding Everything Trump Has Said And Done On The Subject, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough Claimed “I Just Know” Trump Believes In Climate Science. On Morning Joe, co-host Joe Scarborough defended Trump after it was announced he had selected Pruitt, a climate science denier, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Scarborough -- who along with co-host Mika Brzezinski has repeatedly carried water for Trump -- insisted, “I just know” that Trump “has to believe” in climate science.
Scarborough’s comments followed a wave of TV coverage about how Trump had supposedly “reversed course” on climate change, which was based on a New York Times interview in which Trump said he has an “open mind” about the Paris climate agreement and that “there is some connectivity” between human activities and climate change. But few of these reports addressed any of the substantive reasons that such a reversal was highly unlikely, such as his transition team’s plan to abandon the Obama administration’s landmark climate policy, indications that he will dismantle NASA’s climate research program, and his appointment of fossil fuel industry allies as transition team advisers -- not to mention the full context of Trump’s remarks to the Times.
6. Trump Adviser Stephen Moore: Being Against Fracking “Is Like Being Against A Cure For Cancer.” While discussing his new book Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy on C-SPAN2's Book TV, conservative economist and Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore stated that opposing fracking “is like being against a cure for cancer” because it is “one of the great seismic technological breakthroughs” that is “giving us huge amounts of energy at very low prices.” Never mind that many of the chemicals involved in fracking have actually been linked to cancer.
7. Stephen Moore: “We Have The Cleanest Coal In The World.” Moore’s preposterous praise for fossil fuels wasn’t just confined to fracking. On Fox Business’ Varney & Co., he declared that the U.S. has “the cleanest coal in the world.” That statement is quite difficult to square with the fact that “Coal combustion contributes to four of the top five leading causes of death in the U.S.—heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic lower respiratory diseases—according to Physicians for Social Responsibility,” as Climate Nexus has noted.
Pro-coal propaganda also found a home on Fox Business’ sister network, Fox News, where The Five co-host Greg Gutfeld asserted that “coal is a moral substance. Where coal reaches, people live longer, happier lives.”
8. Breitbart’s James Delingpole: Climate Change Is “The Greatest-Ever Conspiracy Against The Taxpayer.” In an article promoting a speech he gave to the World Taxpayers’ Associations in Berlin, Breitbart’s James Delingpole wrote: “Climate change is the biggest scam in the history of the world – a $1.5 trillion-a-year conspiracy against the taxpayer, every cent, penny and centime of which ends in the pockets of the wrong kind of people.” In the speech itself, Delingpole similarly claimed that “the global warming industry” is “a fraud; a sham; a conspiracy against the taxpayer.”
Breitbart, which was until recent months run by Trump’s chief White House strategist Stephen Bannon, has frequently denied climate change and viciously attacked climate scientists. Delingpole, in particular, has described climate scientists as “talentless lowlifes” and referred to climate advocates as “eco Nazis,” “eco fascists,” and “scum-sucking slime balls.” Bannon has criticized Pope Francis for succumbing to “hysteria” about climate change; The Washington Post has written about how Bannon influenced Trump’s views on the issue during his time at Breitbart.
9. Fox Report On Law Gas Prices: “Put The Tesla In The Garage And Break Out The Hummer.” Just 10 days after Trump was elected president, Fox News began giving him credit for low gas prices, the latest proof of the network’s blatant double standard when it comes to covering gas prices under Republican and Democratic presidents. But simply shilling for Trump was apparently not enough for Fox Business reporter Jeff Flock, who provided the slanted gas prices report on Fox News’ America’s News Headquarters. At the conclusion of the report, Flock also displayed a brazen lack of concern about climate change, declaring: “I would say put the Tesla in the garage and break out the Hummer.”
10. Wall Street Journal’s Mary Kissel Instructed Viewers To “Trust” A Climate Science-Denying Fossil Fuel Front Group. In a video interview posted on The Wall Street Journal’s website, Journal editorial board member Mary Kissel instructed viewers who are “confused about the science surrounding climate change” to “trust” Rod Nichols, chairman of a climate science-denying fossil fuel front group known as the CO2 Coalition. During the interview, Nichols denied that human activities such as burning oil and coal are responsible for recent global warming, claiming that “climate change has been going on for hundreds of millions of years,” “there is not going to be any catastrophic climate change,” and “CO2 will be good for the world.” Kissel asked Nichols, “Why don't we hear more viewpoints like the ones that your coalition represents,” and concluded that the CO2 Coalition’s research papers are “terrific.”
The Wall Street Journal has made a habit of “trusting” climate science deniers like Nichols -- or at least repeating their false claims about climate science. A recent Media Matters analysis of climate-related opinion pieces found that the Journal far outpaced other major newspapers in climate science misinformation, publishing 31 opinion pieces that featured climate denial or other scientifically inaccurate claims about climate change over a year-and-a-half period.
11. Fox Host Clayton Morris: Rubio's Climate Science Denial At Presidential Debate Was An "Articulate Moment.” During a Fox News discussion of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s performance at a CNN presidential debate, Fox and Friends co-host Clayton Morris described Rubio’s claim that the climate is “always” changing -- a common talking point among climate science deniers -- as “a really articulate moment.”
While Morris’ endorsement of Rubio’s climate denial as “articulate” is particularly striking, a 2015 Media Matters analysis found that media frequently failed to fact-check GOP presidential candidates’ climate change denial.
12. Fox Hosts Mocked Leonardo DiCaprio's Oscar Speech On Climate Change: "Focus On Something Else Other Than The Weather.” When actor Leonardo DiCaprio took home the Oscar for best actor for his role in The Revenant, the hosts of Fox News’ The Five and Fox and Friends mocked DiCaprio for devoting much of his acceptance speech to making the case for climate change action. On The Five, co-host Jesse Watters declared, “So the guy finally gets an Academy Award and he's talking about the weather. What's going on here?” Co-host Eric Bolling helpfully added, “Focus on something else other than the weather.”
That wasn’t the only time in 2016 that DiCaprio was caught in Fox News’ crosshairs for having the nerve to talk about climate change. Later in the year, The Five aired footage from an event in which President Obama criticized congressional climate deniers and DiCaprio said, “The scientific consensus is in, and the argument is now over. If you do not believe in climate change, you do not believe in facts, or in science, or empirical truths, and therefore in my humble opinion should not be allowed to hold public office.” The Five co-host Greg Gutfeld then responded by likening criticism of climate science deniers to religious extremism, saying: “You have to wonder about a belief system that doesn't want any challenges, that doesn't want any of their theories to be questioned. This -- what he is talking about is radical Islam of science. He is actually turning science into a religion.”
13. Fox’s Meghan McCain: "The Liberal Hysteria Over Climate Change Was So Overblown That Now People Have A Hard Time Even Believing It.” Rather than criticize conservatives or Republicans who frequently deny climate science, Fox News host Meghan Mccain blamed liberals for public confusion about climate change, declaring on Fox News' Outnumbered that “the liberal hysteria over climate change was so overblown that now people have a hard time even believing it and believing that it's something that's justified.” McCain, who also mocked Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for campaigning on the issue with Al Gore, added, “I do think there are signs we should look at, but if Al Gore, if you take his word for it, there's a big flood that's going to come in and wipe us all away in five minutes.”
14. Fox’s Steve Doocy: Obama’s Monument Designation Was Done To “Appease Environmental Terrorists.” On Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy declared that President Obama’s designation of the first marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean was “done to appease environmental terrorists.” Not so shockingly, Doocy and his co-hosts did not comment when their guest, Deadliest Catch’s Keith Colburn, acknowledged that "increased water temperatures" from climate change are impacting fisheries across the United States.
15. Fox Hosts Flipped Out About Portland Public Schools Decision To Stop Teaching Climate Denial To Children. In May, the Portland Public Schools board unanimously approved a resolution “aimed at eliminating doubt of climate change and its causes in schools.” But while climate science denial may no longer be taught in Portland public schools, it still has a place on Fox News, as the hosts of Outnumbered demonstrated in their flippant response to the resolution.
Co-host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery said the Portland schools decision is “so anti-scientific,” adding, “There are still scientists, believe it or not, out there who say, ‘No, we still have to look at the data.’ And it's impossible to predict how the climate is going to change over hundreds or thousands of years.” Co-host Jesse Waters remarked, “So getting out of the ice age, how did the Earth warm up after the ice age? There were no humans there with cars and factories.” He also stated, “It gets hot, it gets cold, this spring has been freezing. It's not getting warmer, it seems like it's getting colder. Am I wrong?”
But Fox News pundits aren’t just defenders of teaching climate science denial; they’re also partially to blame for it, according to researchers at Southern Methodist University (SMU). Last year, the SMU researchers released a study that found some children's textbooks that depict the reality of human-caused climate change with uncertainty are influenced by a climate science knowledge gap that finds its roots partly in conservative media misinformation. In particular, the SMU researchers pointed to previous research that showed Fox has disproportionately interviewed climate science deniers and that its viewers are more likely to be climate science deniers themselves.
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Conservative media continued to use the phrase “fake news” incorrectly in an attempt to delegitimize news that does not fit their agenda -- in this case reports about alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. In doing so, conservatives are fueling President-elect Donald Trump’s effort to stymie credible news as well as trying to undermine the real concerns about the spread of actual false information packaged as legitimate news.
Right-wing media sought to dismiss news that the CIA concluded that Russia meddled in the 2016 election to actively help Trump by claiming that the report is merely “fake news.” On the December 12 edition of his radio program, Rush Limbaugh asserted, “This whole business of Russia hacking our election is fake news with the imprimatur of intelligence agencies and the CIA, and it's brought to us by the same newspapers that took out, tried to take out Richard Nixon.” Fox News host Sean Hannity also drew the same conclusion, saying on his radio show that “this is another liberal fake news story that they’re all falling for, and it’s politically motivated.” Right-wing outlets Breitbart and InfoWars ran headlines dismissing the reports as “fake news.”
Trump transition spokesman Sean Spicer and Trump adviser and Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich have also tried to hijack the term “fake news,” claiming that reports from legitimate news outlets such as The New York Times were “fake news” in an attempt to delegitimize pieces that did not fit their agenda.
While there is no standard definition for fake news, a variety of outlets and experts have defined these types of pieces as entirely fabricated stories seeking to imitate the style of legitimate news outlets to fool readers. This definition certainly does not apply to the several reports highlighting the CIA’s findings that Russia meddled in the U.S. presidential election to help Trump, which was reported in The Washington Post and did not seek to intentionally mislead readers.
As The Washington Post‘s Ruth Marcus wrote, “there is a difference between inevitably flawed and intentionally false. To deliberately blur this distinction is to seek to undermine the central role of media in a free society.” This pattern from conservatives and right-wing media follows Trump’s use of “demagogic techniques,” as former Time Inc. Editor-in-Chief John Huey argued on CNN’s Reliable Sources, to “inoculate” himself from thorough, investigative reporting. It is also an attempt by purveyors of fake news such as InfoWars to try and whitewash the meaning of “fake news” and downplay the dangers that come from spreading it.
Trump has waged a long term war on the press; it appears that this is just another attempt from his allies in conservative media to delegitimize news they don’t like.
Some right-wing media figures and outlets are attempting to twist and confuse the term “fake news” -- a specific phenomenon in which information is clearly and demonstrably fabricated, then packaged and distributed to appear as a legitimate source of news -- to attack outlets they disagree with. By redefining fake news in their own terms and claiming that reporting by outlets such as The New York Times and CNN constitute fake news, right-wing media figures are bolstering President-elect Donald Trump’s continued efforts to delegitimize mainstream news sources and their reporting, and muddling real concerns about fake news used as a weapon of active disinformation.
As public discussions about fake news reach critical mass, right-wing media figures and outlets have attempted to redefine “fake news” completely, downplaying the problem it poses. Rush Limbaugh claimed that fake news is largely “satire and parody that liberals don’t understand because they don’t have a sense of humor.” The Washington Free Beacon’s Bill McMorris described fake news as “whatever people living in the liberal bubble determine to be believed by the right.”
Other conservatives are even using fake news to describe reporting from credible news outlets with which they disagree. Fringe right-wing conspiracy site Infowars.com declared that “The mainstream media is the primary source of the most harmful, most inaccurate news ever,” and included outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, ABC News, CBS News, and Politico (and Media Matters, for good measure) on their “full list of fake news outlets.” Fox contributor Newt Gingrich lamented the Times’ reporting on the fake news phenomenon, arguing,“The idea of The New York Times being worried about fake news is really weird. The New York Times is fake news.” Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham -- a contender for Trump’s press secretary -- lashed out at CNN while appearing on Fox News’ Hannity, stating “the folks over at CNN” and “the kind of little games they’re playing are so transparent … they’re the fake news organizations.”
While there isn’t an official, universally accepted definition of fake news, a variety of outlets and experts across the ideological spectrum have identified common themes. BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman, one of the first to report frequently and extensively on the fake news phenomenon, defines fake news as “false … stories from hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs.” The New York Times’ Sabrina Tavernese wrote that, “Narrowly defined, ‘fake news’ means a made-up story with an intention to deceive, often geared toward getting clicks." David Mikkelson, the founder of the fact-checking website Snopes.com, describes fake news as “completely fabricated information that has little or no intersection with real-world events.” Mikkelson goes on to explain, “not all bad news reporting is ‘fake,’ and that distinction should be kept clear.” Slate senior technology writer Will Oremus argues fake news is “fabricated,” “sensational stories” that imitate “the style and appearance of real news articles.” Fox media analyst Howard Kurtz defines fake news as “made-up-stuff being merchandized for clicks and profits,” clarifying that he doesn’t “mean the major media stories that some ... find unfair or exaggerated.” And CNN and Conservative Review’s Amanda Carpenter wrote that “fake news is malicious, false information that somehow becomes credible” often “printed on what appears to be a professional looking website.” Carpenter also distinguished fake news from “commentary that never purported to be straight news in the first place” or “political speech someone doesn’t happen to agree with.”
None of these definitions are even remotely similar to how right-wing media figures are trying to redefine fake news.
Right-wing media’s attempt to conflate fake news with reporting from legitimate journalistic institutions feeds into a larger conservative effort, led by President-elect Trump, to delegitimize mainstream media outlets. Trump, who has long waged a war on the press, has consistently expressed his contempt for journalists and news organizations and violated the norms of any president or president-elect when it comes to his relations with the media. During the month of November, Trump repeatedly attacked media outlets, calling The New York Times “dishonest,” decrying the “the crooked media” for investigating his unprecedented business conflicts of interest, and suggesting that CNN has gotten “worse” since the election. In a December 7 interview on NBC’s Today, Trump admitted he uses Twitter to bypass the media and “dishonest reporters.”
Some experts have suggested Trump’s attacks on the media are part of a concerted effort to discredit journalists and outlets and thereby “inoculate” himself from reporting that could be damaging. On CNN’s Reliable Sources, former Time Inc. Editor-in-Chief John Huey argued that Trump used “demagogic techniques” that “smack of authoritarianism” during the campaign because “the media poses a real threat to him.”
Attacking mainstream outlets as “fake” is the latest step in a conservative-media-fueled campaign to delegitimize credible news sources -- a dangerous path in a media landscape where people are already too willing to accept actual fake news, but are hard-pressed to believe real reporting.
While Right-Wing Media Dismiss Fake News, "Alt-Right" White Nationalists And Misogynists Use It To Harass
An armed shooter opened fire at a Washington, D.C., pizzeria in order to “self-investigate” a false conspiracy about the restaurant pushed by fake news websites and spread by fringe right-wing media outlets. Yet right-wing media figures have dismissed and downplayed the impact of fake news, calling it “satire and parody that liberals don't understand,” saying it is “in the eye of the beholder,” and claiming that concerns about fake news are “silly” and “nonsense.”