When Right Wing Media Goes From Being GOP Propaganda to Intel Source

An awful lot of us remember the propaganda role played by Fox News in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. I’ll let Charles Ponce de Leon summarize:

Predisposed to see things from the Bush administration’s point of view, FNC anchors and reporters had trouble containing their enthusiasm at the prospect of expanding the war on terror to “take out” Saddam Hussein and “liberate” Iraq. FNC’s talk-show hosts were particularly bellicose, goading their guests to rant about Hussein’s malevolence and the benefits that would follow any American-instigated regime change. They denounced nations that refused to join the US-led coalition as cowardly appeasers and routinely suggested that Americans who opposed the war were traitors who had cast their lot with the enemy.

For years now, that has been the major role of right wing media — to serve as the propaganda arm for the GOP — whether it was cheerleading for the Bush administration or providing fodder for resisting Obama.

But now the tables have been turned. Right wing media inhabits a whole new role in the Trump administration. Eschewing the entire federal bureaucracy that he oversees, the president is now relying on conservative media outlets as his main source of intelligence. Just two months into Trump’s term, we’ve seen several examples. It was a report on Fox News that led the president to suggest that Sweden was the victim of a terrorist attack. It was an article in Breitbart that led the president to suggest that Obama had wiretapped him. It was an appearance on Fox News by Judge Napolitano that led the administration to claim that British intelligence had been used to spy on the Trump campaign.

Incidents like those led to reactions like this:

One has to wonder whether right wing media is prepared for this new role. Erik Wemple speculated about that after the Napolitano incident.

There was a time when a guy like Judge Andrew Napolitano could make some marginal remarks on Fox News, and only a large plume of non-White House officials would take him seriously. Perhaps a website or two would pick up on them. Then everyone would move on to other matters…

Warning to Judge Napolitano: People in power are now listening to you.

The previous model was that right wing sites could lie at will and, other than regular debunking by organizations like Media Matters, the purpose they served was to keep the conservative base ensconced in their epistemically closed bubble. Now that the president is relying on them for intelligence purposes, all that has changed. Some of the results we’ve seen are:

  • the entire media establishment is engaged in fact-checking,
  • both the federal bureaucracy and congressional committees are engaged in fact-checking,
  • international relations are damaged, and
  • as we saw in the press conference with Angela Merkel, Trump is not beyond making right wing media the target of his pattern of lies, distortion, and blame.

Now we learn that some of these organizations are actually being investigated by the FBI.

Federal investigators are examining whether far-right news sites played any role last year in a Russian cyber operation that dramatically widened the reach of news stories — some fictional — that favored Donald Trump’s presidential bid, two people familiar with the inquiry say.

You have to wonder how all of this is being digested at right wing news organizations. Eric Boehlert fantasizes:

You almost get the feeling that Fox executives want to take Trump aside and remind him it’s all an act, that most of the harebrained schemes promoted on Fox News are just grist for the outrage mill. They’re not really supposed to be taken seriously, and good grief, they’re not supposed to be acted upon by our nation’s commander-in-chief.

It will be interesting to note how all of this develops over time. I am reminded of the fact that back in 2010, David Frum warned Republicans about their unholy alliance with right wing media.

I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government.

Back then, Frum’s concern was that overheated talk from right wing media would sully the work of Republican leaders. In the Trump era, the president is now sullying the work of right wing media by parroting their lies.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.