July 31, 2021

The American Media Junk Diet

Guest Opinion
By Amy Kerr Hardin | July 17, 2021

America has an “info” structure problem, and it’s getting worse. People are getting their “news” from propaganda peddlers instead of serious journalists.

We all know the type — devoted Fox viewers who couldn’t lay out a cogent policy position to save their lives yet remain convinced they are in possession of all the facts, as Sean Hannity flung at them like an angry chimp.

Former President Barack Obama, who has experience with the faux news network described it politely: “If you watch Fox News you perceive a different reality than if you read the New York Times.”

In a July op-ed for Daily Beast, former Fox President Preston Padden was a little more blunt in assessing his past employer: “Rupert Murdoch, whom I served for seven years, has many business and journalistic achievements. He owes himself a better legacy than a news channel that no reasonable person would believe.” He went on to say that the channel played a significant role in unnecessary COVID-19 deaths, the fostering of racial tension, and the promotion of the “Big Lie.” Said Padden: “Fox News has caused many millions of Americans — most of them Republicans (as my wife and I were for 50 years) — to believe things that simply are not true.”

Mark Milley, the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, recently schooled House Republicans on the importance of seeking and understanding facts. While speaking before Congress at a Senate Armed Services budget hearing in June, he was asked about Critical Race Theory (CRT) being taught in military academies. Fox, among other right-wing propaganda sources, has chosen CRT as the new scary boogeyman for their viewers. Apparently, the Mr. Potato Head genitalia controversy is now … so yesterday.

Milley’s testimony included this rebuke to Republicans challenging the military’s rights to study CRT: “I’ve read Mao Zedong. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist. So, what is wrong with understanding about the country for which we are here to defend?”

He was incensed that GOP officials are using the term “woke” like it’s some clever insult, as they similarly do with the terms “snowflake” and “libtard.” 

Fox News specializes in riling its viewers with made-up culture wars. Being in the business of manufacturing moral panic over things inconsequential or simply not true, it has successfully instilled childlike fear of CRT. 

The theory is a well-established higher education tool that’s been around for four decades. It simply discusses the role racism has played in shaping our nation, warts and all. It’s not part of any lower education curriculum and isn’t intended to be, yet it’s been a hot topic at various school-board meetings around the nation, typically packed with people ranting about the dangers of CRT. These folks appear completely unembarrassed about looking like a bunch of uninformed rubes. 

Here in Michigan, we saw willful ignorance bloom in all its glory a couple of weeks ago when Republican lawmaker Ed McBroom released his committee report finding that there was no evidence of election tampering in the state — negating the falsehood heavily promoted by those hair-sprayed Fox anchors. That did not sit well with those perpetuating the “Big Lie.” 

McBroom said, “The committee finds those promoting Antrim County as prime evidence of a nationwide conspiracy to steal the election place all other statements they make in a position of zero credibility.” The pushback for his honesty was fierce and swift, including the former president calling him out for being truthful.

McBroom, along with fellow Republicans, aren’t having it. They called upon Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, to investigate those who are attempting to profit off the obvious falsehood. Unscrupulous sorts prey heavily on the Fox crowd to fundraise. McBroom’s opinion: “Fraud is fraud. If they lied to people to make money off people, that’s a crime.” Nessel has agreed to investigate.

It’s called consequence culture.

The zeitgeist of pseudo-news is bleeding over into what used to be professional journalism. The publication The Nation, the oldest continuously published weekly, recently went to print with the headline, “War Criminal Found Dead at 88” upon the passing of Donald Rumsfeld — who is not, in fact, a convicted war criminal, even if he was clearly behind numerous atrocities. At least Teen Vogue had the sense to use the term “accused war criminal” over the inflammatory and unprofessional insinuation that he had been tried and convicted. 

Fox isn’t alone in spreading conspiracy theories and outright lies. The network is joined by far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Info Wars websites and a substantial number of other online “news services” catering to vulnerable minds. Among them is a peddler of falsehoods named Dr. Joseph Mercola. The pandemic has lucratively fed the misinformation pipeline and enriched profiteers like Mercola. 

Mercola has a broad social media reach, which Quackwatch.org found is used to spew a “steady stream of propaganda” at readers, with claims the pandemic is overblown and all they really need is to buy his dietary supplements. He’s at the forefront of the anti-vaccination movement. He discourages trust in proven science to enrich himself through his own little medical prosperity gospel. Worth over $100 million (pre-pandemic), this grifter has also claimed he has developed a cure for autism. 

This nation needs fewer bottom feeders like Mercola, who promote media silos that consist of conspiracy theories and outright lies for the purpose of taking profit and pleasure by preying on vulnerable minds.

McBroom said it best: “It has been very discouraging, and very sad, to have people I know who have supported me, and always said they respected me and found me to be honest, who suddenly don’t trust me because of what some guy told them on the internet.”

Amy Kerr Hardin is a retired banker, regionally known artist, and public-policy wonk. You can hear and learn more about the state of Michigan politics on her podcast, www.MichiganPolicast.com.

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