Report Shows Hard Right Wing Media Website Used Social Media
As "backbone" to transmit "hyper-partisan perspective to the world"
March 17, 2017
Stephen Bannon speaking in 2011 at inaugural Liberty Restoration Foundation in Orlando, FL. Image: YouTube video by Victory Sessions/Creative Commons license.
News & Opinion
Updated 3/18/17 with new information
(NATIONAL) -- It is possible one of the most important media stories of this or any decade has flown right below the nose radar of most of the mainstream news media in this country.
That would be the media with the most financial resources, connections, boots on the ground, big name reporters, researchers, gophers, all the awards, all the glitz.
In his 1964 book, "Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man," Marshall McLuhan coined the now eternal phrase "the medium IS the message."
McLuhan meant that a medium itself - not any content in the medium - was the important thing to watch, to observe, to understand, to perceive clearly because in the age of mass media, the media itself had become a power unto its own affecting the broader society in which it operates simply by the act of being.
He also argued that the content within the medium is in fact, "another medium."
According to an article published years ago by Mark Federman, McLuhan saw the content of a medium as a succulent piece of meat carried by a burglar to "distract" the watchdog of the mind; meaning people in general focus on the obvious (the content) but in that tight focus miss, "The structural changes in our affairs...society's values, norms, and ways of doing things...that are introduced subtly, or over long periods of time."
The Columbia Journalism Review report
Which brings us to a little noticed and barely covered (by mass or minor media) article published March 3rd by the Columbia Journalism Review titled "Study: Breitbart-led right-wing media ecosystem altered broader media agenda."
The richly detailed and well sourced story by four reporters - Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris, Hal Roberts and Ethan Zuckerman - begins this way:
"The 2016 Presidential election shook the foundations of American politics. Media reports immediately looked for external disruption to explain the unanticipated victory—with theories ranging from Russian hacking to “fake news.”
We have a less exotic, but perhaps more disconcerting explanation: Our own study of over 1.25 million stories published online between April 1, 2015 and Election Day shows that a right-wing media network anchored around Breitbart developed as a distinct and insulated media system, using social media as a backbone to transmit a hyper-partisan perspective to the world.
This pro-Trump media sphere appears to have not only successfully set the agenda for the conservative media sphere, but also strongly influenced the broader media agenda, in particular coverage of Hillary Clinton, (Italics ours)
Phrased another way, in the vernacular of the street: all those nightly network TV news shows and cable TV news shows you were watching during the 2016 presidential campaign -- all those hot shot reporters, editors, writers, anchors and shooters as well as reporters/editors/shooters for major newspapers - were in a sense being led around by the nose ("strongly influenced") to one degree or another on what they would report to the American people and how they did that reporting.
Yes, you should be more than concerned about this. Democracy as we know it does not work unless it has a news media that works...in the right way.
The story notes that concerns about things like political and media polarization online are nothing new, but the CJR study "suggests that polarization was asymmetric."
Meaning that, "Pro-Clinton audiences were highly attentive to traditional media outlets, which continued to be the most prominent outlets across the public sphere, alongside more left-oriented online sites. But pro-Trump audiences paid the majority of their attention to polarized outlets that have developed recently, many of them only since the 2008 election season."
More from the report:
"Attacks on the integrity and professionalism of opposing media were also a central theme of right-wing media. Rather than “fake news” in the sense of wholly fabricated falsities, many of the most-shared stories can more accurately be understood as disinformation: the purposeful construction of true or partly true bits of information into a message that is, at its core, misleading.
Over the course of the election, this turned the right-wing media system into an internally coherent, relatively insulated knowledge community, reinforcing the shared worldview of readers and shielding them from journalism that challenged it.
The prevalence of such material has created an environment in which the President can tell supporters about events in Sweden that never happened, or a presidential advisor can reference a non-existent “Bowling Green massacre.”
Is it any wonder then that the current President has virtually no credibility and is given, like a child, to launching on a whim and a tweet fully bizarre, unfounded and - according now to a bipartisan House panel - non-factual (no evidence) allegations such as the previous U.S. President committing a crime by wiretapping his Trump digs?
Have you ever in your life heard any other President utter anything so crazy sounding? Can you imagine what our allies must think of this President?
Well, you can tell what one of those allies, the British think of this President and his interesting White House briefer Sean Spicer by reading this piece from the BBC .
Analyzing patterns something interesting rises to the surface
When the CJR mapped out patterns - "analyzed hyperlinking patterns, social media sharing patterns on Facebook and Twitter, and topic and language patterns in the content of the 1.25 million stories, published by 25,000 sources over the course of the election" - it saw rather clearly that the Breitbart website, "Became the center of a distinct right-wing media ecosystem, surrounded by Fox News, the Daily Caller, the Gateway Pundit, the Washington Examiner, Infowars, Conservative Treehouse, and Truthfeed."
Now pause just for a moment to truly understand the frightening significance of all of the above:
Breitbart - the outfit that self-described "economic nationalist" and rich boy Steve Bannon ran before he went to the White House to siteth at the right hand of arguably the oddest, least qualified and least credible President in the history of the Republic - was at the absolute center of a "distinct right-wing media ecosystem."
This formerly Brannon-run Breitbart monstrosity at the center of things - along with other right-wing media outlets surrounding it like satellites - "Developed as this distinct, insulated media system to in order transmit a hyper-partisan perspective to the world," set the agenda for all other conservative media and also strongly influenced the broader media agenda, in particular coverage of Hillary Clinton.
Made regular attacks on the integrity and professionalism of the other (read that "real") news media "a central theme" and generated many "news" stories that were really disinformation constructs...the purposeful construction of true or partly true "bits" of information into a message that is misleading.
Created a media system its readers thought was as legit as a REAL news network but was nothing less than a false news store front.
Bannon's "Rosemary's Baby" called Breitbart was the star of a huge international disinformation platform that fed the rise of the scary and far out right wing fringe. It was the place where, it appears now, things like "alternative facts" were born.
And now this former dark disinformation master Bannon is one of the most important men in the White House who seems to be the closest confidant and advisor to a very weak, child like, thin skinned and easily influenced President.
If you held any stock in Saturday Night Live comedy skits as a way of injecting hard reality into the public discourse that real news outlets are afraid to do, you could easily see Bannon pulling all the levers of power in the background as the man really in charge behind the Wizard of Oz (better known as Captain Hairspray) because the Captain is simply not that bright and not nearly smart enough, nor qualified enough to do the job he is required to do.
And the old standby "mass media"? It too was, in varying degrees, being unwittingly (or in some cases wittingly?) led around by the nose by this consortium of right wing propaganda machines led by Breitbart in terms of what it reported to you and how and why.
Another big revelation of this vastly underreported CJR story: the CJR analysis challenged "a simple narrative that stated the Internet as a technology is what fragments public discourse and polarizes opinions, by allowing us to inhabit filter bubbles or just read “the daily me.”
The CJR analysis found that if indeed it was the technology itself that was the most important driver towards a “post-truth” world, "We would expect to see symmetric patterns on the left and the right. Instead, different internal political dynamics in the right and the left led to different patterns in the reception and use of the technology by each wing. While Facebook and Twitter certainly enabled right-wing media to circumvent the gate keeping power of traditional media, the pattern was not symmetric."
In short, the CJR analysis suggests that, "Human choices and political campaigning, not one company’s algorithm, were responsible for the patterns we observe. These patterns might be the result of a coordinated campaign, but they could also be an emergent property of decentralized behavior, or some combination of both. Our data to this point cannot distinguish between these alternatives."
In other words, some pretty strange and new American behavioral voodoo is going on here that nobody quite understands.
The CJR report found here is a good stroke of business, a major piece of business.
Required reading for every American.