No, They Don’t “All” Do It

Every parent has heard a child respond to a scolding with “Everybody does it.”

When it’s children trying to evade responsibility, we see through that excuse pretty easily. When adults engage in such evasions, when they engage in “false equivalency argumentation,” we seem to be more gullible.

That has been especially true in politics, where complaints about political polarization and generally toxic partisan behaviors are routinely accompanied by rueful statements to the effect that, while reprehensible, “both sides do it.”

They don’t. At least, not with respect to phony “facts.”

A recent major study by the Columbia Journalism Review

shows that political polarization is more common among conservatives than liberals — and that the exaggerations and falsehoods emanating from right-wing media outlets such as Breitbart News have infected mainstream discourse….

The CJR study, by scholars at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, at Harvard Law School, and the MIT Center for Civic Media, examined more than 1.25 million articles between April 1, 2015, and Election Day. What they found was that Hillary Clinton supporters shared stories from across a relatively broad political spectrum, including center-right sources such as The Wall Street Journal, mainstream news organizations like the Times and the Post, and partisan liberal sites like The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast.

By contrast, Donald Trump supporters clustered around Breitbart — headed until recently by Stephen Bannon, the hard-right nationalist now ensconced in the White House — and a few like-minded websites such as The Daily Caller, Alex Jones’ Infowars, and The Gateway Pundit. Even Fox News was dropped from the favored circle back when it was attacking Trump during the primaries, and only re-entered the fold once it had made its peace with the future president.

Right-wing sites, led by Breitbart, were able to push traditional media outlets into focusing on Trump’s issues, and–even more importantly–able to get them to frame the issues as Trump did. Even more troubling, right-wing sources were able to influence portrayals of Clinton, and to keep the mainstream media focus on her supposed “scandals.”

As the study’s authors noted,

It is a mistake to dismiss these stories as “fake news”; their power stems from a potent mix of verifiable facts (the leaked Podesta emails), familiar repeated falsehoods, paranoid logic, and consistent political orientation within a mutually-reinforcing network of like-minded sites.

Use of disinformation by partisan media sources is neither new nor limited to the right wing, but the insulation of the partisan right-wing media from traditional journalistic media sources, and the vehemence of its attacks on journalism in common cause with a similarly outspoken president, is new and distinctive.

It turns out that the news appetites of liberals and moderates differ from those of the radical right-wing fringe that is today’s Republican base.

What’s at issue here is not just asymmetrical polarization but asymmetrical news consumption. The left and the center avail themselves of real journalism, however flawed it may be, while the right gorges on what is essentially political propaganda — all the while denigrating anything that contradicts their worldview as “fake news.”

It’s a winning business model: tell the paranoid what they want to hear, and assure them that everyone else is lying. That approach made Rush Limbaugh rich, then made Fox News highly profitable, and more recently, evolved into disinformation’s logical conclusion: Breitbart.

But “everyone” doesn’t consume this propaganda. The deficiencies in intellectual honesty on the left pale in comparison to the avid consumption of bullshit that characterizes the rabid right.

They aren’t equivalent.


  1. “The deficiencies in intellectual honesty on the left pale in comparison to the avid consumption of bullshit that characterizes the rabid right.

    They aren’t equivalent.”


  2. That last paragraph plus the final sentence says it all; if you didn’t watch MSNBC, et al, last night and again this morning you haven’t seen it is all unraveling and being brought into the light of day. As Joe Scarborough stated on “Morning Joe”; this isn’t Deep Throat in a dark garage in D.C.

    Attempts to understand the legal surveilance of foreign entities who contacted U.S. officials or were contacted by U.S. officials is not direct surveilance – or wire tapping – of U.S. officials. The misinformation and convoluted press conferences by Sean Spicer including select members of the press, plus Trump’s foolish Tweets; continues to deliberately confuse the American public and obviously some members of the press. Currently; one man appears to hold the key to opening all those locked doors behind which Trump’s family and friends have tried to hide the truth of their entire campaign and administration while “leaking” propaganda to selected Republicans and such as Breitbart “news”. Mike Flynn!

    Is the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee stepping in to draw attention from Devin Nunes’ deliberate obfuscation of facts and “alternative facts” to seek the truth…or are they simply another Republican partisan representation of Trump and McConnell’s control freak efforts to distract all of us from the House Intelligence Committee fuck up of the Trump/Putin/Russian investigation – among other internal problems?

    Propaganda is not news and news is not propaganda; it is time to sort out the differences and uncover the fact that “not everybody does it”.

  3. So, what exactly, is the political center?

    The right is paranoid anti-government and anti-media. The left only goes as far as the media owners will allow. If Rachel Maddow is considered the voice of the liberal nation, then the left has no voice at all.

    The problem isn’t “fake news.”

    The problem is it’s all variations of propaganda. Both political parties are whores to the Donor Class. Sadly, boardrooms control our media too. They will not cover the connections between monied donors and their shills. Even universities have become owned and controlled entities of the Donor Class – when public dollars shrink, “fund developers” seek donors. You certainly speak ill of companies or wealthy entrepreneurs if you’re begging for dollars.

    Einstein pointed out the above in 1945, and it’s not improved.

    The truth is our country suffers from dishonesty at every level. Our political system is a Kleptocracy where owned politicians work for their Donors, and the same Donors own media outlets who offer propaganda.

    As you mention, the kicker is Americans will only listen to information which reinforces their beliefs, which is a construct called an echo chamber. When I write a story containing evidence and facts, only a few people will read it.

    However, I can reshape the story with a “right” or “left” bias, and guess what?

    If the purpose of a company is making money, you’ll give the people what they want to hear, versus telling them what they need to hear. Therefore, from top to bottom, it’s all propaganda or fake news.

  4. The few reputable sources of information are being drowned out by the bullshit. It’s a bad sign of things to come.

  5. As my Mom used to say ” just because everyone does it, doesn’t make it right”!

  6. Thank you for this, Sheila. I’ve unwillingly heard a fair amount of right wing radio over the years. I’ve maintained for some time that Limbaugh (and the others like him) is not a political commentator, but rather a manipulative entertainer, though I’ve never found him entertaining. He says whatever inflammatory things he needs to say to get his followers to tune in the next day, and he’s laughing all the way to the bank. Those followers go out into the world spreading his gospel, and don’t dare ever refer them to a fact-checking site. How can they trust those fact-checking sites, they ask. How can they trust Limbaugh, I ask. Someone close to me actually managed to stop listening to right wing radio, so there’s s glimmer of hope.

  7. I used to laugh when conservatives referred to the “liberal media”. It seemed that the only really liberal media outlet was “Mother Jones”. I still like “Mother Jones”, but it has moved more toward the mainstream these days. There are left wing sites out there, but they are long on hyperbole in their headlines and short on substance in their actual stories. In right wing media, there is plenty of meat in the stories they publish. It’s just all lies.

    The big problem that I see is in our own tendency to gravitate toward what makes us comfortable. That reinforces our preconcieved notions of life and politics and leaves us unquestioning, easy prey for the charlatans among us.

  8. That’s why we have propaganda and other mind control efforts – because everybody isn’t doing it and such people have to be conformed to a mass lemming effect in the race to the cliff. Attempts to persuade other people to one’s point of view have probably been going on since man’s vocal chords kicked in, failing which stone axes came into play. Now we have mass attempts at persuasion with atomic bombs and missiles as alternative means of enforcement, a matter of far greater concern than a tribal cave fight.

    Goebbels, the great Nazi propagandist, at least started with factual reality (though he subsequently distorted it to make his point); now we are to be persuaded by non-facts, alternative facts and manufactured facts which are themselves distorted to fit the occasion for their use. As thus measured, the Bannon-Miller-Trump Triple Entente measures of true facts are worse than those employed by Goebbels.

    Write me down as one who does nothing because “everybody else is doing it.” I am not a lemming, and while I think neither the left nor the right is immune to Goebbelspeak, I think most if not all of the contributors to this blog are thoughtful humans, not lemmings, and live in the real world, not the Trumpworld of manufactured reality.

  9. In the ’60s and ’70s, I had the pleasure of working for two broadcasters who consistently followed the Fairness Doctrine, even though the stations were owned by Republicans. If a Republican was invited to be on the air … for any reason … there were all-out scrambles to give equal time to Democrats. And then along came Ronald Reagan, who managed to get rid of the Fairness Doctrine. I don’t know how he did it, but he did it.

    Before Democrats could catch a breath, Rush Limbaugh was on the air. Democrats weren’t. Republicans had money and bought time. Democrats didn’t and didn’t. That affected the races for the House and the Senate almost immediately. In Indiana, it sounds like everybody’s doing whatever’s being done because the Republicans are controlling the airways. Telling the truth has not been Trump’s long suit, so it’s not likely to be the strong suit of his listeners.

  10. The trouble with the McMega Media with it’s emphasis on ratings, actual news must be spun, bent and mutilated into a theme that will appeal to their viewers. CNN, FOX, MSNBC are like corporate fast food restaurants, lots of calories but no intellectual nutritional value.

    Hours and hours of solemn speculation on Trump and the Russians, endlessly repeated over and over again.

    I have to laugh when ever I hear Rachael Maddow drone on and on about some Russian connection and her “outrage” about Russian interference in our election. ( I did not notice Boris and Natasha at my polling place) Rachael never mentions the long list of coups, interventions and out right invasions the USA has engaged in since WW 2.
    I came across a good quote – The man (Trump) is so inept, so incompetent and so dimwitted, he is utterly incapable of recognizing just how inept, incompetent and dimwitted he is. Yet, paradoxically, he is also just serpentine enough to have known how to enchant mass ineptitude, electoral incompetence and populist dimwittedness.

  11. Louie – I think Rachel needs a bodyguard what with all of Putin’s spies running around D.C. and NYC. He knows how to clean up his opposition at home so who’s to say he won’t export such cleanup tactics to our shores and, if he does, it won’t be a first. Remember how Trotsky was rubbed out in Mexico in 1940 when Stalin was at the helm? Rachel says some of the same things every night because her target topics are doing and saying the same things, things like murder, interference with our democratic processes etc. Why is she supposed to talk about a sewer project in South Omaha when our democracy is on the verge of being overrun? Let’s not allow those such as Bannon, Putin and Trump to sew the seeds of chaos into our everyday lives but rather think clearly about where we are and how we can best respond to such affronts to our democracy.

  12. Your comments are spot-on, as usual, but you left out a couple of factors influencing why tRump supporters want to hear what they want to hear: racism and misogyny, which Breitbart feeds on. According to them, everything Barak Obama did was wrong because he is wrong for the country–i.e., he was black. I used to receive emails from some of these people who constantly criticized President Obama and his wife, calling her “cheetah”, saying she looked like a gorilla, she dressed in poor taste, unbecoming to the wife of a President, unfavorable comparisons to the allegedly classy Laura Bush, that she was trying to ram that “healthy lunch” crap down childrens’ throats against their will and that our tax money was being wasted on thrown out food and this was the fault of her stupidity, but mostly the theme that the Obamas had no business living in the “white” house–they were simply unworthy. Notice that none of this garbage has anything to do with President Obama’s agenda–it was ad hominem. They were even against teaching children to eat more fruits and vegetables because it was Michelle Obama’s idea.

    When Hillary Clinton ran for President, it switched to misogyny: she has secret health problems that render her unfit, she’s “crooked Hillary”–“lock her up, lock her up”, she had people murdered, she was secretly a lesbian and people had the goods on her that they could use to blackmail her if she got elected, one attempt after another to manufacture alleged scandal after scandal–Benghazi, “deleted” emails. Again, nothing dealing with the merits of her agenda.

    These people are hate personified, and the irony is, they are motivating people to get involved in politics on an unprecedented level. Fox News didn’t mention Flynn’s offer to testify in exchange for immunity until this morning, and even then, they spun the story as Flynn needs protection against trumped up fake criminal charges by Democrats. MSNBC played multiple tapes of Flynn and tRump commenting before the election that the only reason Hillary Clinton’s aides received immunity is because they must have committed crimes–after all, innocent people don’t need immunity, now, do they? Now that the shoe’s on the other foot, well, it’s still the Democrats who are bad.

  13. Louie; why not dredge up everything wrong this country has done since landing on Plymouth Rock? It might help distract some of the American public from what is actually being done by Russians at this time along with Trump and his pussy posse of White Nationalists long enough for the Russian “investigation” to be further covered up. Rachel has received death threats but keeps the public interest at peak level by using investigative journalism to uncover what the Republicans are covering up like a cat covering its dirt in a litter box. If you don’t like Rachel Maddow’s reporting; turn to Fox News, they are on at the same time. I am surprised and deeply disappointed in your attitude…did you vote for and do you support Donald Trump and the Russians?

  14. Todd, I have to disagree, not on the existence of the “donor class” but their strategy.

    What stands in their way of having all of the wealth created by the working class is simply rules. There are rules against it for good reason. It simply doesn’t work when they don’t share with workers the benefits of the workers work. Basic capitalism.

    The donor classes object then is to kill the rules by starving the enforcement of them. They shoot the sheriff.

    That’s not a left- right thing. It’s a right thing. Therefore they make with their covert advertising power angry misanthropic fk everyone else armies of zombies by brainwashing in the belief that government is not the solution, it’s the problem.

    It’s not complicated. Making rules that disarm them is complicated though and that’s why the donor class is happy with the current ship of fools they installed in DC.

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