Last November, Harvard Law Professor Yochai Benkler – who among other things is “faculty co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society” and co-author of the book, “Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation and Radicalization in American Politics” – was interviewed in the Los Angeles Times about “How the ‘propaganda feedback loop’ of right-wing media keeps more than a quarter of Americans siloed.” Benkler made some incisive points, which as you’ll see, are HIGHLY relevant to the crazed, far-right echo chamber that folks like former Rep. Scott “Petitiongate” Taylor (R) live in generally, and certainly right now with regard to the VERY well-justified impeachment process unfolding against Donald Trump. According to Benkler (bolding added by me for emphasis):
- “We analyzed millions of stories and we looked at their text, and we looked at how they linked to each other and how they were tweeted and how they were shared on Facebook for three years, from 2015 to 2018. Nothing came out more clearly than that the right wing was unique, distinct, insular…”
- In stark contrast, “left media and center left and center media were all part of the same ecosystem — all the way from the editorially conservative Wall Street Journal to genuine left media — occupy the single media ecosystem where sometimes some sides definitely were pushing political perspectives, but they had to be anchored in reality, because they were part of a media ecosystem where both the producers and the consumers were paying attention to a broad range of media that were committed to some basis in fact, and to having some level of accountability and responsibility for the truthfulness of what was being said.”
- “What has happened on the right wing is that essentially they fell into what we called a propaganda feedback loop. This goes back to Rush Limbaugh, since 1988. So it’s really not a new phenomenon of the internet. It’s a good 30 years in the making, where all of the media outlets compete with each other on how sharply they stoke the confirmation bias, the identity of the partisans, and police each other for deviations — not from the truth but from the party line.“
- “…what happens on the right is that no matter how crazy the story, there will be some major media with high impact — whether it’s [Sean] Hannity on Fox News, whether it’s Limbaugh, whether it’s Breitbart — that will pick up the story, reframe it, tell it again, identify it as true, and then everyone will start circulating it…It’s the fact that the people who are in there really have lost an anchor in reality that has made them so susceptible to propaganda, both foreign and domestic.”
- “…about half to 60% of Republicans — which is to say somewhere between 25% and 35%, or between a quarter and a third of the American population in general — exists in cult-like isolation in a right-wing media ecosystem.“
- “The left exists in a completely different dynamic. It is much more constrained by reality. And the right is essentially unmoored from the core institutions that we’ve developed over the last century to tell truth from fiction.“
So now, with that disturbing, even chilling, introduction, listen to the following interview with former Rep. Scott Taylor (R-VA02) and hard-right radio host John Fredericks, who was actually the Trump campaign’s Virginia chair in 2016, and is 100% bought in to Trump. As you can see, Taylor and Fredericks get into an increasingly hysterical, not to mention completely detached-from-reality or fact, discussion about Trump’s appalling, corrupt, treasonous, and now clearly impeachable behavior. So this is a case study in how the right-wing echo chamber because Taylor and Fredericks:
- Refer repeatedly to anything that goes against their insular belief system as “fake news” – delegitimizing and defending against any source of information, however factual and powerful, that might contradict their internal belief system.
- Falsely claim that anyone who wants to uphold the rule of law and follow the constitution by looking into Trump’s malfeasance in office is part of the “left-wing Pelosi/AOC group,” “far left,” blah blah blah.
- Go ad hominem by attacking Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA02), claiming (100% falsely) that Luria isn’t who she said she’d be, that all she cares about is being primaried by a “left-wing social justice” candidate (seems to me like there’s close to zero concern over that), blah blah blah. Again, there is ZERO truth to this, but in this hermetically sealed far-right echo chamber, nobody gets to say “you’re wrong,” so it just echoes back and forth ad nauseum.
- Throw out laughably false claims and red herrings, such as that supposedly Democrats are “choosing to be political” by impeaching Trump, which in reality is upholding the law and the constitution, and which many Democrats have actually been nervous about politically, which is why this didn’t happen ages ago. Taylor gets even more hysterical and 100% false, claiming that Democrats – not Trump, mind you! – are “paralyzing the country” and also that Democrats have had “zero accomplishments since taking over the House.” On that latter point, note that House Democrats have passed tons of legislation, which REPUBLICAN Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to take up. Yet in this warped, f’ed-up, echo-chamber, far-right world, it can *never* be the fault of those on the right, only of the Democrats, even if there’s zero truth to that argument.
- Argue that Rep. Adam Schiff and his staff should be “censured” and removed as Chair, subpoenaed and “put under oath,” “investigated by the Senate,” “under oath,” etc. This is chilling, pathological, authoritarian, third-world-dictator-type crap, yet in far-right echo chamber land, it’s treated as normal. And again, nobody’s there to say “you guys are completely wrong and what you’re saying is irresponsible, dangerous, etc.”
- Attack the whistleblower as supposedly having “political bias” (ZERO evidence for that), who supposedly “gathered secondhand information to try to create a narrative” (FALSE), blah blah blah.
- Refer repeatedly to “regular people” – implying that those who want to uphold the rule of law and the constitution are NOT “regular people” – supposedly being “sick and tired of this nonsense.” This is classic, right-wing, populist demagoguery, in which anyone who stands up the corrupt, authoritarian leader is attacked as the “enemy of the people” or “abnormal” or not “regular” or whatever. As we can see repeatedly throughout history, this of course is very, very dangerous stuff.
In sum, this radio interview was basically a case study in how the far-right “propaganda feedback loop” works, not to mention “tribal epistemology,” in which “[i]nformation is evaluated based not on conformity to common standards of evidence or correspondence to a common understanding of the world, but on whether it supports the tribe’s values and goals and is vouchsafed by tribal leaders,” resulting in “an absolute torrent of nonsense.” Just like Scott Taylor on the John Fredericks Show, which ironically – and again, completely falsely – refers to itself as the “Godzilla of the TRUTH!” Of course, that’s part of “tribal epistemology” in and of itself. And on it goes…where it ends, who the hell knows?