Donald Trump‘s unofficial electoral win, as well as the elevation of Stephen Bannon to Trump campaign CEO and then future White House counsel, demonstrates how Andrew Breitbart‘s style of propaganda and fake news has triumphed. The mainstream media helped the Breitbart model win, cheering every step of the way. All of this is dangerous for the country.
Before his death in 2012 from a heart attack at age 43, Andrew Breitbart launched Breitbart.com, Breitbart.tv and other related sites, which furthered right wing narratives such as “Scary Brown People” and “Corporations Good, Government Bad.” During President Barack Obama‘s administration, Breitbart helped to push anti-Obama and anti-Democratic Party stories, many of which were at least partially fake or based on doctored videos (i.e., propaganda), but which got picked up by the major news media and became the news, with marvelous results for the GOP. Among the best-known stories flogged by Breitbart were:
Anthony Weiner — an outspoken and aggressive liberal Congressman, as well as a “celebrity” of the Democratic Party with a lot of “media acumen,” Weiner was a true threat to Republicans. Here is one of many YouTube moments in which Weiner effectively took on the GOP or their minions at Fox News. So when someone forwarded evidence to Breitbart that Weiner had a sexting problem, Breitbart ran with the story, and we all know the rest. Weiner’s sexting, including information unusually disclosed to Congressional Republicans by FBI Director James Comey, was even used by the media to help take many votes away from Hillary Clinton just before Election Day last month.
Shirley Sherrod — It was Breitbart that posted a “selectively edited” video of USDA official Sherrod speaking to the Georgia chapter of the NAACP, with the headline “Video Proof: The NAACP Awards Racism-2010.” The video falsely portrayed Sherrod, who is black, as bigoted against whites. This violated every journalistic standard, where it is forbidden to edit quotes or videos to change their meaning. In this case, obviously the doctoring of the video was intentional and thus propaganda. As a result, Sherrod was fired from her job. Once the truth surfaced, Sherrod sued Breitbart and one of his editors for defamation. It was reported that Sherrod received a settlement from Breitbart’s estate in 2015.
As mentioned above, Trump hired Stephen Bannon as his campaign CEO, and has since named Bannon as his Senior White House Counsel, a powerful position just below the Chief of Staff in influence. Not coincidentally, Bannon reportedly had a “years-long plan” to take down Hillary Clinton. It would take another blog post to further demonstrate that the “vast right-wing conspiracy” Clinton mentioned in 1998 was and is vast, alive and well.
Given the Bannon hire, it is no surprise that Donald Trump and his campaign traded in fake news and conspiracy theories since Day 1. Indeed, given that Trump began his presidential aspirations by becoming America’s Birther-in-Chief, we can say that Trump’s Breitbart-influenced campaign preceded Bannon. Since then, Trump went on to question Obama’s academic record, to call climate change a “hoax” perpetuated by China (for the record, China says that’s silly, and is spending vast sums on clean energy and fighting climate change and pollution), to muse whether former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered, and to accuse Republican rival Ted Cruz‘s father of being involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, just to name a few. Some of Trump’s conspiracies come straight from right wing radio host Alex Jones, who runs the conspiracy-mongering site Infowars.com.
Of course, right wingers are allowed to engage in conspiracy-mongering and fake news. But what was so shocking in this presidential campaign was how much of the mainstream media simply passed along such propaganda without evaluating it or reporting on its truth. The media spent an inordinate amount of time repeating negative stories about Hillary Clinton, and failing to adequately report on numerous troublesome issues regarding Trump, from sexual predatory behavior to hiding his tax returns to Russian influence on behalf of Trump’s campaign and the election. Since readers and viewers are easily able to tune into politicians’ statements directly — on TV, YouTube and elsewhere on the Internet — the corporate media have largely rendered themselves to be irrelevant stenographers. Worse, if they fail to investigate and report on the truth or falsity of the politicians’ (soon to be government officials’) statements, they endanger our very democracy.
Photo by Mike Licht, used under Creative Commons license. https://is.gd/XUsXef