The Right-Wing Alternate Universe

I’m working on a longer post on the specific news story in question here, but I wanted to point out this segment by Jon Stewart that shows the alternate universe FOX News creates for its viewers:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
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www.thedailyshow.com
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Actually, it’s really true of all the right-wing media. They get people to watch/listen to their news exclusively because they create whole alternate universes that tell you can only get that news from them. Now, other networks will tell you CNN=Politics or whatever or that they’re the best source of coverage, and sometimes they’ll claim to have a story exclusively… but few non-conservative media outlets go to such lengths to tell you can literally not find the news anywhere else because of pervasive bias and conspiratorial propaganda flooding the other airwaves.

People who only listen to right-wing radio and only watch FOX News to get their information often seem to live in their own shared world. I’m betting this is probably strongly a function of the alternate universe presented by right-wing media that constantly reminds them that not only will they miss critical news by checking elsewhere but that they will hear only propaganda by listening to or watching anybody else.

What are the consequences? First, the audience begins to think the vast majority of Americans share their political views and policy aims, when that’s not the case, and then they begin to turn to deeply-rooted conspiracy theories to explain how forces of evil are keeping their (minority) agenda at bay for so long, and the right-wing media feeds it. It’s the only possible explanation when you get your politics from a source espousing the same view and never showing that others might disagree or why.

But there’s another bigger consequence, regarding the content itself, not just the frame constraining that content. Intellectual critics, including those on the right, accuse the right-wing media of feeding a closed information loop, which sometimes even feeds itself so directly that it’s hard to tell when the media personalities (Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, etc.) eventually believe their own lies or still lie consciously. A recent example of a rigidly closed information loop is how the right-wing media, which loves to demonize the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and has made it quite the boogeyman over the years, willfully ignored what the ACLU was actually doing so it could create an alternate reality where it was doing what their preconceived expectations said the mythical-demon ACLU would do…

Conservative blogger (and critic of the closed information loop) Conor Friedersdorf wrote up the details on Trueslant last week:

On May 5, aka Cinco de Mayo, five students at a high school in Morgan Hill, California wore American flag attire to class. “The vice principal asked two of the boys to remove American flag bandannas that they wearing on their heads and for the others to turn their American flag T-shirts inside out,” the local NBC affiliate reported. “When they refused, the boys were ordered to go to the principal’s office.” The story got picked up in the national media, bloggers debated whether the boys were being patriotic or deliberately insensitive, and almost everyone at least agreed that in this country they were well within their rights to wear the American flag.

I am very interested in one aspect of the discussion that followed this story. The conservative blog Stop the ACLU is a natural place to begin. “Cinco De Mayo Means Suspension of Free Speech and Patriotism,” their post began. “At least in Morgan Hill, California where they live by the rules of political correctness gone crazy.” The ultimate reaction: “Absolutely ridiculous! Where is the ACLU?”

From there, Friedersdorf next almost exhaustively examines (and you should read the post), big-name to small-name right-wing media personalities/op-ed writers/bloggers to their random commenters — all of whom access the same information loop — and finds the right wing uniformly echoed this view: Limbaugh, News Real Blog, Ralph Wenzinger, Speak Now America, Elijah Friedman, Pirate’s Cove, The Old Jarhead, etc. etc… They all demanded to know where the ACLU was on this or claimed the ACLU was defending the school. And as he conclusively showed further, the ACLU was not only already on the case and defending the boys’ right to wear the shirts, but they have historically already served as legal counsel in four separate cases on the exact same issue.

It being extremely rare for authorities to crackdown on American flag wearing in the United States, it says something that the ACLU has invested resources in four separate instances of this behavior.

It’s almost as if the conservative media complex is systematically misleading its audience about the nature of the ACLU, so much so that right-of-center commentators across the Internet spontaneously mocked the organization for failing to intervene on the right side of this case, despite it being precisely the kind of case where the ACLU reliably does exactly what the critics themselves would want.

Perhaps the confusion comes from listening to talk radio hosts and reading blogs that cast all of American politics as a grand struggle between the left and the right, liberals and conservatives, tyranny and liberty. The rank and file, rightly judging that the ACLU operates on the left, automatically concludes that they are the enemy in any case worth caring about.

His conclusion? When a blog called Stop the ACLU is leading the charge in creating an alternate reality of a specific incident and lying about or being unaware of what the real ACLU was actually doing, the information loop (or as I call it, an alternate universe) not only exists but exists as an imperviously closed system. And he sounds like he pities the people who are closed inside the system:

The right cannot adeptly navigate a political environment that it is systematically misled about.

As much as the adherents of Beck, Limbaugh, et al. make me want to tear my hair out most of the time, I do almost feel sorry for them. It’s so delusional.

Some people, of course, try to create false equivalences and say that this happens on the left as well. That’s simply not true. There’s a reason why FOX News is the “highest-rated” cable news network: the left fragments to multiple competing sources or goes to a variety of media for news. Yes, most of us could broaden our horizons, but our frame of reference is nowhere near as constrained, unified, or repetitive. (Even on this blog, with a bunch of writers from basically similar backgrounds, we often sharply disagree with each other and read different sources with different views on the same events or policies.) The American right sticks to a narrow range of sources that all feed on each other in a continuous loop of opinions and alternate realities of events, and that loop tells the audience not to go elsewhere so as not to corrupt their minds with propaganda. Thus that’s where the average listener and viewer is getting virtually 100% of his or her political information. Rush Limbaugh doesn’t call his loyal listeners “dittoheads” for nothing.

And, sadly, they’re busy trying to run all the rational/intellectual conservatives out of town, thereby purging their ranks of people who aren’t engulfed in the system, people who might moderate their excesses and find ways to compromise and still get conservative agenda items passed. They accuse these intellectual conservatives of being elitists or brainwashed by the mainstream “liberal” media. What’s left isn’t pretty.

It’s a struggle to have a rational conversation with a person who lives and breathes that information system because they walk into the discussion with a completely different set of “facts.” Why is there no common ground these days in both family political arguments and the broader American political scene? Because a large chunk of the participants working from a different planet altogether. If not a separate right-wing alternate universe.

Bill Humphrey

About Bill Humphrey

Bill Humphrey is the primary host of WVUD's Arsenal For Democracy talk radio show and is a Senior Editor for The Globalist. Follow him @BillHumphreyMA on twitter.
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