With the mainstream media busy perpetuating the lies of “Russiagate,” populist alternative media have taken up their mantle, advancing falsehoods that are allowing the right wing to dictate a new narrative. The need for accountability in reporting is now perhaps greater than ever.
NEW YORK (Opinion) — Marching in lockstep with the previous occupants of the Oval Office, Barack Obama’s tenure as President of the United States continued the bipartisan assault on the public sector, while expanding U.S. warmongering worldwide. Obama, the liberal candidate who championed “Hope” as his campaign slogan, continued to perpetuate the kind of policies that highlight the fallacies of American neoliberal capitalist imperialism.
The Democratic party in general and Obama’s centrist wing, in particular, have augmented a dangerous vacuum in U.S. politics by catering to corporate and banking interests and the reactionary right wing while ignoring their core constituencies. As a result, the notion that the Democrats represent the interests of regular Americans has been thoroughly discredited.
Rising from within this void and following a highly contentious nomination process, the 2016 presidential elections matched up the elitist Hillary Clinton versus “pied piper” populist candidate Donald Trump. In one of the biggest political upsets in U.S. history, with the help of the anachronistic electoral college and Clinton’s disastrously flawed campaign platform and strategy, Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States.
In effect, Obama’s legacy is Donald Trump; a corrupt real estate mogul, reality TV star and serial sexual harasser who preyed on Americans’ economic disaffection and used white identity politics to win the presidency. And since taking the oath of office, Donald Trump and his cadre of corporatists, militarists and fascists have managed to betray a long list of campaign promises.
In addition to consistently embarrassing himself and all U.S. citizens with his obsessive late-night tweeting and unprecedented diplomatic faux pas, Trump has added war criminal, despot cheerleader and climate catastrophe accelerationist to his long list of dubious titles. But it is the liberal media who have saddled him with another designation – that of Russian spy.
The false media narrative of “Russiagate”
Since Hillary Clinton’s colossal defeat on Nov. 8, liberals and their counterparts in the media and the deep state have been stoking mass hysteria in a desperate attempt to regain control of the public narrative. In order to shift attention from their culpability, gross corruption and inadequacies, they have accused Trump and members of his administration of colluding with the Russians, though failing to provide any conclusive evidence for their charges. In addition, Trump and his policies have been portrayed as a new and fascistic phenomenon in U.S. politics.
However, a sober look at the current administration reveals that it is but a natural continuation of the warmongering, surveillance and all-around pro-corporate policies that have characterized many previous presidential administrations. The only difference is that Trump’s crude personality and his collusion with American fascists (also known as the “alt-right”) have shed the façade of respectability that was so professionally maintained by Democrats such as Obama and Clinton.
The press has gone through a similar process – a democratization stimulated by the opportunities afforded by the Internet.
With the rise of Trump’s populist politics and the failure of neoliberalism, the mainstream media has lost its credibility and therefore its monopoly over deceit. In the past, the government alone could manipulate public opinion to justify its criminality at home and abroad by using “respectable” corporate media outlets, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, to spin and reinforce the lies and fallacies that kept things lined up for the corporate class. But nowadays, the populist alternative media vies to dictate the narrative by publishing fake news.
Fake news and media credibility
Truthful reporting and fake news reside on a spectrum of credibility. On one end exists reporting that fully abides by the journalistic ethical codes of accuracy, independence, fairness, impartiality, humanity and accountability. On the opposite end lies fake news that ignores some or all of these ethical codes and is based on fictions that are used for propaganda or personal and financial gain.
A fake news article may include a cocktail of facts, half-truths and fantasy. Likewise, authors may publish articles that range in their integrity; a reliable piece here, fake news there. Thus, in order to establish whether a journalist is trustworthy or not, it is essential to scrutinize their body of work, not just a random article.
The abundance of fake news has created a state of public confusion. A democracy relies on reliable media that speaks truth to power to instill trust in the rule of law. An assault on factuality creates a vacuum that enables the fortification of reactionary, right-wing populist groups that subsequently claim exclusivity to knowledge and promote self-aggrandizing mythology.
Trump’s relationship with Breitbart’s Stephen Bannon highlights the central role that right-wing media has come to play in shaping the public narrative. In line with traditional fascistic ideology, reactionary right-wing journalism uses a formula of populism, romanticism and fantasy to attack democratic institutions. It does so by sensationalizing liberal corruptions as a means to appeal to disaffected readers, with the underlying agenda of destroying all notions of the enlightenment, and promoting a romantic notion of an idyllic collective past that is based on nationality, race or other exclusive characteristics.
Nowadays, attacks on Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party, George Soros and other liberal icons are popular, and are often done so using a unique lexicon of slang.
Accountability and truth as antidotes
Modes of acquiring the news have dramatically changed with the advent of digital media. Online success is largely measured by popularity, as opposed to quality or credibility, and “traffic” produces revenue for website owners. Trending” topics are not vetted, and articles use “clickbait” to entice and manipulate consumers.
The web in general and social media in particular harbor immense potential for the sharing of information, but also allow for grave danger from both within and outside of government. The state and other interest groups often manipulate public opinion by using Facebook and other media entities to promote their agendas. In fact, the usage of “psychographics” – algorithms that cater content based on a psychological profile crafted by online activity – significantly affected both the U.S. presidential elections and the Brexit vote.
But we are witnessing a veritable democratization of opportunity to misinform, manipulate and mislead – a demonopolization of deceit that enables forces outside of government to participate in the construction of a public narrative.
In addition to traditional right-wing news sites that propagandize and promote disinformation, blogging platforms such as Medium.com have created unvetted spaces for anyone to publish content and share within their networks. Though these platforms provide opportunities for writers, they have become spaces where sensationalism and fake news sow confusion and are used to spread dangerous and racist ideas.
In the age of Trump, populism has seized both politics and the media and a battle is under way over the prevailing narrative and discourse. While the mainstream establishment has lost its credibility and deceit is rampant, the left must consistently speak truth to power, organize and protest as antidotes to all forms of deceit. The mainstream liberal establishment with its cronies in the media and the surging populist and fascistic tides now sweeping America must be confronted with truth.
“The West, ignorant of opium, has the press. Each day’s struggling ambitions defeated or victorious; a newspaper. What a world swirls behind the eyes of an absent-minded reader! This is what gives the men of our race a walled existence. Nothing reverberates inside them with the sound one would predict. Imagine, my friend, that among us there is not a man who has not conquered Europe. What possibilities for scorn.”
– Andre Malraux, “The Temptation of the West”