Friday, January 08, 2016

How the Conservative Media Created the Monstrosity that is Donald Trump

In follow to the last post in which Michael Gerson laments what has become of the GOP as personified by Donald Trump - and I would argue in Ted Cruz as well - a piece in Salon looks at the role that the so-called "conservative media" has played in the descent of the GOP into religious extremism and open racism.  Leading the way is Fox News - Faux News at this blog - and the various hate merchants that have found platforms in the conservative media.  The GOP establishment once loved these outlets.  Now they have turned on mainstream Republicans like a rabid dog.  Here are  highlights:

Pundits have spent a lot of time analyzing the Trump phenomenon. For the most part, Trump is considered an anomaly, a product of a uniquely hostile political climate. He’s also a massive celebrity with a powerful brand and a talent for self-promotion, and that goes a long way in our media culture.

Trump’s success as an anti-establishment candidate has raised a lot of questions about the ability of party elites to dictate the nomination process. Party leaders – particularly in the GOP – have traditionally decided who the nominees would be, but that’s clearly changed.

In the case of Trump, the question is whether he’s just an outlier or an inevitable byproduct of systemic changes in our political system. If it’s the latter, then we can expect to see more Trump-like candidates in the future; that is to say, more celebrities masquerading as serious candidates (à la Sarah Palin and Herman Cain).

Trump’s uniqueness as a candidate means it’s a “mistake to assume his campaign signals systemic changes in the process.” Trump may not be an ideologue (he’s too vacuous for that), but there’s no question he’s benefited from partisan media and an ideologically charged climate.

Trump is an unintended product of Fox News, but a product nonetheless. Trump only exists because his supporters live in a fact-free bubble that has been engineered by conservative media. And while conservative media clearly favors the Republican Party, ultimately it’s driven by the profit motive, not partisan loyalties.

In a column for this week, Anna Pluta asks why Trump’s relentless bullshitting hasn’t hurt his campaign. Pluta writes:
“Donald Trump has a consistently loose relationship with the truth…Politifact rolled his numerous misstatements into one big ‘lie of the year.’ But all the fact-checking in the world hasn’t pushed Trump toward a more evidence-based campaign, and his support has held steady or even increased in the some polls. What explains Trump’s ability to seemingly overcome conventional political wisdom?”
Trump’s “supporters have shown signs of being misinformed. Political science research has shown that the behavior of misinformed citizens is different from those who are uninformed, and this difference may explain Trump’s unusual staying power.” Misinformed means voters are fed erroneous information in order to flatter their biases and concretize their beliefs. Consequently, “misinformed citizens tend to be the most confident in their views.”

We know that people who get their information from Fox News are exceptionally misinformed, and that’s because Fox News cares about ratings, not the facts. And Fox has helped create an entire conservative media ecosystem that spins false narratives, fuels resentment, and cultivates an indifference to truth. All of this has shaped the conservative base in the last 15 years or so.

Donald Trump only exists because of this ecosystem, and to the extent that that’s true, Fox News and partisan media are responsible for him. The people at Fox News may not like the Frankenstein they’ve created, but that doesn’t make them any less accountable.

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