Have facts liberal prejudice

Left and right media in the US : Facts, fake news, fake-fake news

The United States of America is divided. Here the Conservatives, the Republicans, there the Liberals, the Democrats. They live in different media bubbles, both groups watch different television programs, visit different websites and yet they are similar in their one-sided view of reality. Conservative Fox television is one side of the media medal, MSNBC the other.

The recently published book "Network Propaganda, Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics" by Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris and Hal Roberts, all three of whom work at the Berkman Klein Center in Harvard, seeks to establish a different perspective. The conservatives and the liberals have no comparable mechanisms to how they evaluate stories in the media.

According to the study, liberals want facts and conservatives to see their prejudices reinforced. Even more sharply: Liberals want journalism, conservatives want propaganda. The right media ecosystem differs, write the authors, categorically from the rest of the media environment and is much more susceptible to disinformation, lies and half-truths. But, and that is its particular strength, it works flawlessly from radio talker Rush Limbaugh to television station Fox. Fake news becomes facts, only to then become facts again as fake fake news.

Political Communication Architecture

The main aim of the study is not to criticize the media in general, but rather to present the architecture of current (political) communication in the USA based on a very broad data analysis. The focus is on the right-wing media ecosystem, how it works, what it does. Always against the background that the left and liberals have never succeeded in such a closed, homogeneous, effective mechanism, this "feedback loop", communication cycles that have no beginning and no end, but are essentially aimed at confirmation, if not for escalation .

The dichotomy of the media ecosystems means that on the left there are much less frequent acts, actions of twisting information into disinformation and even denunciation. Donald Trump's involvement in Russia is one of the few examples. Otherwise “truth-seeking” prevails.

With the conservatives, see Breitbart, the opposite approach, the marginalization of unsuitable facts and their exaggeration, radicalization is part of the program. Like US President Donald Trump, they have to shout “fake news” because news is less checked for truth than it is for its suitability for one's own ecosystem. Truth and truths are thus relativized and relative. The own truth becomes a certainty through constant repetition, with the means of quasi-journalism and without self-correction.

The study is reminiscent of the allegations against the then presidential candidate of the Democrats, Hillary Clinton, who was accused of pedophilia, i.e. the abuse of refugee children. The story was an invention, a lie. While the left media ignored them as soon as the nonsense character was revealed, the right media brought them in ever new versions during the election campaign for the presidency among readers, listeners and viewers - which made the credibility of the incredible story steadily grow.

Neither internet nor social media are responsible for disruption

When it comes to the question of what media technology does to consumers, the researchers are relaxed. Neither the internet nor social media would have promoted the disruption of the media world, where it had long been disruptive on radio and television. Internet, social media, Russian propaganda, Cambridge Analytica, Facebook play their roles, but they would not have created anything that had not already been there: media that carry out conservative propaganda.

The authors are optimistic and pessimistic. Optimistic because the internet and social media cannot put direct pressure on democracy and its institutions. Outside of the right-wing media ecosystem, online communication is even more mainstream than before. Pessimistic, because political leaders and parties want to win over and manipulate people for themselves through appropriately oriented media with messages provoking disinformation and hate.

Solutions in sight? Journalism must be strengthened, which not only wants to be neutral, but also seeks the truth behind a story, an assertion. Very difficult to manufacture, but, as the authors put it in their closing words, “we pay homage to all the different methods because some of them can actually create a lot of uncertainty and mistrust”. Since the problem has deep political roots, it needs not only technocratic, but also political and cultural means.

Both must be overcome: right-wing propaganda and left-wing criticism, as Benkler, Faris and Roberts write. Developing such a framework "is the real answer to the threat of the post-truth era".

Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris, Hal Roberts: Network Propaganda. Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics. Oxford University Press 2018. 462 pp., € 26.50. Free on Google Books

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