Ever since Kellyanne Conway introduced “alternative facts” into the political lexicon, I’ve been bemused–and concerned–about the numerous Americans who choose to live in alternate realities. And I do think that residing in Cuckoo Land is usually a choice.
Trump’s victory in 2016 was due to a variety of social and political dysfunctions–most obviously, the Electoral College–but also the influence of QAnon. Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals continue to analyze the reasons some people are susceptible to conspiracy theories that strike most of us as bizarre and ridiculous (Jewish space lasers??), but I’ve been focusing on a somewhat different question.
How have modern communication technologies and the Internet fostered the embrace of these “alternate” and often internally-inconsistent world-views?
A recent opinion piece in the New York Times considered that question through the lens of Dominion’s settlement with Fox “News.” The essay noted the voluminous revelations from discovery in the case, and reminded readers that those revelations not only disclosed a great deal about Fox and its relationship with the Republican Party, but also about its relationship with “a political tradition on the right that goes back decades.”
What may not be so obvious following the revelations in the Dominion suit is that many people at Fox are often engaged with a set of deeper forces at play — and these forces most likely helped trigger the case in the first place.
Fox has both promulgated and become subsumed by an alternative political tradition — perhaps most notoriously embodied by the John Birch Society in the 1960s — in which the far right, over decades, has challenged mainstream conservatism on core issues like isolationism, racism, the value of experts and expertise, violent rhetoric and conspiracism.
The Republican Party and the American right’s ability to police extremists was never particularly robust, but whatever guardrails they provided have become diminished through the years. Fox helped break the American right.
As a number of pundits have noted, Fox and its viewers currently have a symbiotic relationship. The views of Fox’s audience are “rooted in the nation’s traditions and culture, and in the far right’s in particular.” What is different today is that those views “have been modernized and mainstreamed by a variety of factors like technology, social media and economic incentives.”
In other words–as a number of observers have noted–Fox no longer controls the beliefs of its audience. The audience controls Fox.
After the 2020 election, fed a diet of lies by Mr. Trump and his lawyers, Fox’s viewers found a community of the like-minded in the notion that liberal enemies had stolen the election and destroyed America. They shared a code that adds fuel to far-right conspiracy theories: The nation’s chief enemies come from within, and the plots are hatched by powerful elites.
This strain of paranoia has deep roots on the American right. It was true of McCarthyism, which blamed State Department traitors for the “loss of China” to Communism. And it resonated with many members of the John Birch Society, a group that flourished in the 1960s, devoted to weeding out Communism from American life. Birchers, too, championed ideas that today’s Fox viewers find persuasive: The plot against America was orchestrated by liberals, State Department types, journalists and other elites out to destroy the country.
Another pattern that surfaced in the Fox revelations: Just as Mr. Carlson, Ms. Ingraham and Sean Hannity dismissed the Big Lie in private while giving airtime to Mr. Trump’s conspiracism in public, some Birchers questioned or played down the conspiracy theories of Robert Welch, a retired candy manufacturer and founder of the group, while remaining true to the Bircher mission and sticking by it.
The essay reminds us that Birchers also attained considerable power in their day, but the transformation of the GOP and the influence of cable television have empowered the distributors of delusion far beyond that exercised by the Birchers.
A critical difference between the experience of the Birchers and Fox and its audience today is that the Republican Party, at times, was willing and able to push Birchers and their ideas to the margins, where they remained for years. Today, the party seems neither willing nor able to police the extremes: It cannot control a national megaphone for Bircher-esque views and, as important, the way companies like Fox monetize them.
Fox began by selling a product that met a perceived demand–but its survival is now tethered to its viewers’ delusional beliefs. The concluding paragraphs of the opinion piece remind us that when the Birch Society became even more extreme, it fizzled out–but the Birchers didn’t have Fox, Elon Musk’s Twitter, social media and a zillion wack-a-doodle Internet sites– and even apps— to sustain it.
As that saying goes, history doesn’t always repeat: sometimes it just rhymes.
30 thoughts on “Conspiracies-R-Us”
If the inference is Twitter = wackadoodle, I’m afraid I have to disagree. Twitter is a great place to find independent journalists fighting the good fight.
As for Fox News, it’s a great branding model. They give you neutral hometown news and sports right up to the witching hour when they flip the switch to la la land. There should be a warning sign at this point.
How much is now concealed due to the legal settlement? Fox News settled the legal case because they didn’t want the people to know ____________?
Tucker has emerged on Twitter without a word about Fox News. If you remember, Sean Hannity and Fox News paid the 2016 DNC leaker’s (Seth Rich) parents a settlement of over $1 million to bury the truth.
In a world of propaganda, the truth gets buried. How can anyone tell The New York Times after it hunted down a whistleblower for the FBI?
What’s down is up!
All the crazy is STILL being supported by America’s biggest corporations. When, if ever, will they stop funding the crazy dangerous messaging? Not yet.. but one can hope for rational thinking in the board rooms. This crazy can not exist unless someone pays for it.
* trust, not tell
The extremism of the right that you describe started long before the emergence of the John Birch Society of the 1960s. To truly understand the how and the why of how we got to this point please take not of the book A Fever In The Heartland by Timothy Egan. The mindset necessary for a gravitation to conspiracy theories has been passed down from generation to generation within families and communities, and Indiana, I am sorry to tell, has been the epicenter for much of this. It is so engrained here that it is considered “normal”. Just look at our state legislature this year!
In the media storm of political rhetoric stirred by GOP and DEM partisan posturing over the current debt ceiling, I hope there is some room somewhere sane folk with a pulse on main street America are hammering out a substantive compromise solution.
It is a swamp of competing values and positions within an outsized government spending policy.
Is it too reasonable to take some of the hot button issues and demonstrate by example how compromise can be hammered out?
For example: forgiveness of college student debt. As a debt ladened graduate of the 60’s who eventually honored payment in full, I am not in favor of outright forgiveness.
I am in favor of subsidy to reduce debt based on substantiated need, matching good faith regular payments by the debtor who is working full time and has filed federal and state income tax. I would also be in favor of matching credit payments for debtors performing critical services in target areas that meet low income or low density rural thresholds.
Sometimes forgiveness is a two way street engaging responsible people who earn forgiveness everyday.
“Today, the party seems neither able nor willing to police the extremes:” Seems that is exactly why it is falling apart. Also, keep in mind that the left has access to the same tools being used by the right.
patmcc. Not all big corporations are supporting the crazies. Disney certainly isn’t.
Copied and pasted from Wikipedia: “In a political sense, conspiracy refers to a group of people united in the goal of usurping, altering or overthrowing an established political power.”
Is not the continuing rhetoric and propaganda from the many groups, each with their personal agenda, united in supporting Trump’s legacy, a conspiracy? They no longer need Trump’s lies and unqualified leadership to continue their attempted coup to overthrow this government. And came frighteningly close on January 6, 2021. Fox “News” is their primary public voice and the released racism, antisemitism, hatred and violence by the president, appointed – not elected by the people -, doesn’t want to hear an alternative. I have switched to Fox enough times during traumatic situations to know they do not and will not report the truth. Example; during Putin’s invasion of Ukraine I switched to Fox and saw a car race. For some reason; we can legislate stupidity, hatred and bigotry into laws but can’t legislate stupidity, hatred and bigotry, and now the Bible, out of our government.
Sheila’s final comment on yesterday’s blog is a prime example of conspiracy at the local level in Indiana’s House and Senate.
Let’s all work on getting Fox Spews off of the tv in military bases around the world that are radicalizing the watchers who are supposed to be supporting our government and its founding principles.
Btw, did you see this headline out of AP news in regards to Hendricks county schools? It’s disgusting. https://www.9news.com.au/world/five-us-school-staff-charged-after-boy-told-to-eat-own-vomit/a32b1e12-c4ac-4f73-b8a4-638114eb2bee
I can believe this made world news because of the shock factor!
AgingLGirl; thank you for bringing this to our attention. It is difficult enough to get quality education and care for disabled of all ages but this inhuman action by school staff on a disabled child requires immediate, strong legal action against the staff members. Also requires a full investigation of that school for similar treatment of students in the past.
Our local and state legislature is abusing our children in many ways with their laws yet deny pregnant women to right to choose if remaining pregnant endangers their lives, which also endangers the life of the fetus. They are literally taking food out of the mouths of children with the severe cutbacks on SNAP. Forcing a child to eat vomit is NOT a solution to stave off hunger.
An important comment in that article in the Times was the rejection of the importance of experts and expertise. That delusion will destroy society if the whackos get complete control over the government, because they will completely reject any recommendations to do away with society’s reliance on fossil fuels.
theres still a end game,and imbelieve it will be a corp America run like a chinese goverment.
workers on demand,shut up,clock in and work, while we the rich achive our greatness. if you can blind todays people with myths and around the clock delusions,and they still cant get enough,then like a bad habits, and constant need to justify themselves. they have stepped over the edge and dont have a clue that the very rights they use to amuse themselves are directly distroying that right. at some time the right may gain the majority again,and that is what that money buys. theres still isnt a loud enough voice on our side. AOCs seems to be bring it around,
and mccarthy seems to be a blow hard at this moment. if all we have is advanced age to remedy this game,and the younger gens want to step up,the DNC and the like better make a inroad to them,and vet them as a person. unlike the RNC and the like who have decided the idiots for flack routine,talking conspiracy robots,are their staple now. educating the new gens and providing a spread sheet of what countries fall and why,may seem daunting,but a chinese style goverment here isnt far from reality. relize,profits before anything as we,shovel the money into the now richest Americans while they buy and blind our future thru murdochs like tribes. the IRS work should expose the games and who signed off for a few to hoard our vast wealth we generate to be literally shoveled into the pockets of those now determined to distroy our country and democracy for their gain. the game i see ignored,is the republicans trying to pull us out of the federal work projects.those jobs provide a prevailing wage, and republicans dont want the working class to have a living wage. (power). last night on cspan, cornyn said it in plain terms,in a republican way,beating around the bush as usual,never saying a living wage would generate and better tax base,and taxing the rich/corps that are raping us as consumers,was never a issue with the right. just povertize the worker,as he make the profits for them..its called economic slavery..
Trump and DeSantis may get tough competition with Tucker…this is not a joke!
Like others here this morning I too am outraged over reports about the treatment of children in theses parts. Four horror cases fill the news. First the mother and her boyfriend who murdered her two year old and dumped the baby’s body in an abandoned house near Nashville. Then this case of teachers in Brownsburg making a disabled child eat his own vomit. Not to be outdone up in Fishers at a child care facility a staff member slapped a baby around. Topping off the reports is the one about a disabled child put back into some hell hole of a home where she developed sepsis and died.
Where are all those “right to life” warriors when you need them?
And just for the record… none of these criminal acts were done by blacks. All white women.
On the bright side, let’s all wish JoAnn a very Happy Birthday! Cheers!
Profits first, Patmcc. When the goal is profit and nothing but profit but there is a need to cover for p r’s sake, big donors send their hidden donations to the crazies via PACs (all facilitated by Supreme Court decisions). Koch with its shells and 501 (c)(3)s is a good example.
As for Disney, their plight is existential, a situation far beyond who is giving how much to whom, but with Herr Ron on their backs they must first survive, and have even resorted to litigation against DeFascist to that end. He and Trump are good examples of the mayhem created by arming a crazy with authority.
FYI, Qanon actually started in late 2017. Here is an entry from Wikipedia (I know that it’s not a great source):
“Although it has its origins in older conspiracy theories, the first post by Q was in October 2017 on the anonymous imageboard website 4chan. Q claimed to be a high-level government official with Q clearance, who had access to classified information involving the Trump administration and its opponents in the United States. Q soon moved to 8chan, making it QAnon’s online home. Q’s often cryptic posts became known as “drops”, which were later collected by aggregator apps and websites.”
Certainly, however, the seeds of Qanon-type conspiracies were in place when Trump was running in 2016.
Tucker Carlson is unlikely to trash Fox News while they are still fighting over his severance package. No doubt the severance package language includes a non-disparagement clause.
patmcc, in fact you and I and anyone else paying for a television package are paying for FAUX NEWS. Tucker had only one major advertiser, and that was Mike Lindell, the My Pillow guy. In order to carry FAUX, providers pay fees. That is one of the company’s biggest sources of income.
Ain’t it fun to talk about Fox News while our democracy smokes heading into ’24:
– The largest Party is now independents. They do not think much of Biden or Harris. They don’t think much of the DEM Party, either. How likely are they to vote?
– Most voters think Biden is too old and would not look kindly at Harris as the possible takeover.
– Trump is surging and his voters vote.
Where are the two younger DEM incumbents (one for President, one for “VP) who are willing to be Profiles in Courage and challenge Biden/Harris in the primaries (and likely have to give up their current positions)?
Lester, and others who want to change horses in mid-stream by claiming President Biden’s age is a major factor against reelection, need to realize this is not the same as changing horse’s ass in mid-stream to get rid of Trump who is close behind Joe age-wise. Joe walks old and stiff due to his age; his brain is fully functional and he has accomplished an amazing amount of progress while cleaning up the manure piles, and ketchup off of the White House walls, left behind by Trump while fighting his faction off against incredible odds. You are denigrating entire generations by claiming age prevents the ability to make intelligent decisions and take progressive actions. I’m sticking with Joe, Democratic voters were slow moving long before he was elected president; you can’t blame that on him! Take your voter complaints to the local and state level voting records where the higher-ups began, the best Indiana has been able to produce is Mike Pence who managed to cheat Indiana out of the $6 MILLION payoff to Carrier from only the vice president-elect position. The entire world economy is dealing with inflation; can’t blame Joe for that.
Back in those days the NRA also wasn’t so powerful and they weren’t pushing the idea of needing to own assault rifles. Many people now proudly own an arsenal of weapons.
“It ain’t me, babe… – I was hellbent for Joey in 2018. Our country is on the line….
We need to WIN independents and non-MAGA GOPers and get DEMs out. People are unhappy with the current state of affairs, especially the “kitchen table” economy. And guess where, in their mind, the “buck stops”. The DEM ticket at the top needs to represent CHANGE bigtime….
Lester; thanks for the verification of your stand on Joe…and especially for that “babe” reference, it’s been a long time since that has been applied to me.
I am 86 years old today; my daughter-in-law sent a text, after her Happy Birthday wish, that she and her sister or seeking assisted living for their mother, she thanked me for not being old…lol I loved it!
JoAnn – Happy Birthday, babe! Guess at 77 I am the “babe”. Love your vigor and vinegar!
Experienced DEM politician, fought the Right, popular in a Red state, no DC baggage, a woman and a “youngster” at 73: https://www.governing.com/now/kansas-gov-laura-kelly-vetoes-15-bills-most-in-29-years. Run for President in 2024 with a Black or Latino male for VP – one can dream…
What happened in Brownsburg certainly makes a case against public schools. A big problem within our country is the lack of decent people working as teachers. Unfortunately, these miscreants have a union that fervently supports them. Moreover,that very same union gives millions to the Democratic Party to represent said miscreants.
I hope those involved in the abuse of children are dealt with in the most harshest,physically challenging and humiliating methods possible. I bet they avoid jailtime via a liberal judge.
Yes, Fox will follow its idiot base anywhere they go, for the sake of viewership and the money it generates!
Michal sheerer, in “Conspiracy…,” cites what he calls “The conspiracy effect: why smart people believe blatantly wrong things for apparently rational reasons-
1-Proxy conspiracism, in which ‘…specific conspiracy theories are proxies for larger ones involving power brokers.” Distrust of Big Pharma.ie. (or the
power of the supposed “International Jewish Conspiracy., just ask MTG!))
2-Tribal conspiracism, “…its tribal loyalty—a statement that I am so loyal that I am willing to signal my belief in this crazy idea.” pg. 13-14.
3- Constructive conspiracism arises from the fact that “…enough of them are true, so it pays to err on the side of belief rather than skepticism.”
Part of the issue is that there has been no birth of actual conspiracies, in history, (his point #3), that it makes some sense to be sensitive to the possible
presence of them at any point in time.
More desultory thoughts than usual –
From Nixon dog-whistles to Reagan dog-whistles through a bullhorn through Willie Horton – the GOP thought they knew what they were doing, but they needed more, more, so they slipped into the Tea Party and then MAGA.
Conspiracies – Of course, growing up in Detroit, I often drove out Woodward Ave. (the main drag) past the Shrine of the Little Flower, home of Father Coughlin. He spread his own conspiracy theories over his radio show in the 1930s.
One problem that acerbates all of this is “choice”.
We no longer have a shared popular culture (like our lack of shared civic culture). Back in the Stone Age, everyone knew who JR was, even those (like me) who didn’t watch Dallas. Now there are dozens of choices and Netfilx viewers don’t know about the latest on Prime, etc.
So it goes with news – not three stations, but dozens, so Fox viewers have their own world, MSNBC theirs, etc.
The Pandora’s box of more choice.
So, one could color the red states red, simply because they spill more blood!
Nancy, your vision of a “fair and balanced” America, at this point, is a form of utopia,
and I love it.
It seem apparent that the heirs of those who fought against FDR’s “New Deal” who have
found their path back to prominence through deceit and fear mongering are enjoying the
sight of their efforts taking on lives of their own, while destroying those of others.
What was the color of the state that would have declared bankruptcy were it not illegal?
Oh, might that have been Kansas? And Arkansa elected that gov’s daughter as its governor?
Oh, a former guy’s former mouthpiece?? OMG, we found it( alert the cosmologists)…an alternate
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