What’s Behind Right-Wing Media’s ‘Fake News’ Accusations?

Republicans — along with the media outlets that cater to them — heavily distrust mainstream outlets like CNN or the Washington Post.

Recent polls attest to this. A July Gallup poll found that 77 percent of Republicans think that the mainstream media has been “too tough” in their coverage of President Donald Trump, and a May Harvard-Harris poll found that 80 percent of Republicans think that there is “a lot of fake news in the mainstream media.”

Nowhere is mainstream media distrust more prevalent than right-wing media, which is filled to the brim with articles accusing CNN, the Washington Post, the New York Times and many other mainstream outlets of “fake news.”

Typically, these accusations do not simply criticize media outlets for errors in reporting, but rather accuse mainstream outlets of systematically working behind the scenes against the “average American” and in favor of elite Democrats.

Consider the following statements by far-right figure John Nolte — a former editor at Breitbart and a current writer at Daily Wire (both conservative outlets) — in his article “4 Reasons the Media Is Our Enemy and Trump Is Justified In Saying So”:

  1. “Here are two truths: The national media is the enemy of the American people, and President Trump saying so is a necessary, patriotic, righteous and long overdue act.”
  2. “The national media doesn’t just disagree with us, the media hates us and wants us silenced and subjugated into paying for abortions and participating in the sin of gay weddings.”

This sentiment of “media is a lying enemy” is echoed throughout the spectrum of digital right-wing media. Breitbart has started to casually refer to the media as the “Opposition Party.” Headlines like “Fake News: If at First You Don’t Succeed, Lie, Lie Again” (from the Daily Caller) are common.

But where does this idea of a deliberately lying mainstream media come from? Is there any evidence? Well, the idea has been around for quite a while now, but here are some of the main pieces of evidence that right-wing outlets frequently cite.

Recent videos from Project Veritas, a right-leaning watchdog organization that specializes in undercover “sting” videos, have caused a great stir among the right-wing media community.

In late June, the organization published its “American Pravda” video series, which accused CNN of “fake news” deception. These videos have been frequently used as evidence of systematic deception among mainstream media outlets.

One video in particular, wherein a Project Veritas field journalist interviews John Bonifield, supervising producer for CNN Health, has gained much attention on the Right.

In the video, Bonifield (who identifies himself as “very cynical” about the news business) calls reporting linking Trump to Russia “mostly bullshit for now” and states that CNN keeps discussing that story “because it’s ratings, our ratings our incredible right now.” As of this writing, the video has received 2.7 million views on YouTube.

These statements have gone viral across right-wing media. On Sean Hannity’s Fox News program, he said the video confirmed “the truth that the network has a massive anti-Trump agenda.” At online conservative outlet RedState, Teri Christoph wrote that the video “fully exposes CNN for its blatant ideological biases.”

Granted, if Bonifield’s statements were made by someone who held influence over CNN political coverage, CNN would merit the widespread criticism it has received. It would be a genuine scandal if CNN were consciously propagating a “mostly bullshit” story solely for the purpose of higher ratings.

But Bonifield doesn’t hold such a position. He is a supervising producer for the CNN Medical Unit, where he helps with stories like advances in spinal cord injury research and a love story between two teens with cystic fibrosis.

Another reason for belief in the fakeness of the MSM (right-wing media’s favorite acronym for mainstream media) is the evidence released by WikiLeaks of possible collusion between CNN and the Hillary Clinton campaign surrounding debate/interview questions in the 2016 election. The two highest-profile offenders were Donna Brazile and Wolf Blitzer.

In the former case, one of Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta’s leaked emails showed then-CNN contributor Brazile leaking a CNN town hall question to the Clinton campaign. This was widely covered by mainstream outlets, and she was later fired for her actions.

In the case of Blitzer, a DNC official emailed Podesta and others looking for “thoughts” on questions for an upcoming Trump interview. Right-wing outlets took this as clear evidence of collusion between CNN and the Clinton campaign.

CNN, however, called the interaction “completely unremarkable,” stating that “when preparing for interviews we are regularly sent suggestions from rival campaigns and political parties, both solicited and unsolicited.”

This defense was confirmed by then-RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer in a conversation with Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade, where he stated, “There will be times where a host will reach out and say, ‘I’m doing an interview with so-and-so, is there anything that you guys know of, what are five questions you would ask.’”

The Right’s best reasoning for the MSM being fake news does not come from leaks or secret videos, but from mainstream journalists themselves, only 7 percent of whom identified as Republican in 2013.

Granted, 50 percent identified as Independent, with 28 percent identifying as Democrats and 14 percent as “Other.” But either way, there are at least four times more Democrats in journalism than Republicans.

Moreover, this statistic is backed up by the behaviors of many journalists on Twitter. Though journalists maintain an image of objectivity on the job, their lives on Twitter reveal their real biases. Journalistic Twitter has, in many ways, become an echo chamber for snark and derision of Trump — something that does little to help perceived journalistic credibility among Republicans.

For example, amid the recent story about Trump editing his son’s statement on his meeting with Russians last year, New York Times White House Correspondent Glenn Thrush tweeted this:

Last Saturday, NBC News’ Mike Memoli took a shot at Trump’s claim that his latest trip was not a vacation:

Such tweets are not an anomaly. Follow enough journalists on Twitter, and they’ll begin filling up your feed.

During the 2016 election, Paul Farhi of the Washington Post lamented the prevalence of anti-Trump Twitter snark, providing several examples. In the story, he quoted the conservative Media Research Center’s Tim Graham as saying, “Every opinionated tweet further brands the media as a liberal blob.”

If Graham is right, and journalists don’t clean up their Twitter act, then the 80 percent of Republicans who think that there is “a lot of fake news in the mainstream media” will only grow bigger and more influential.

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