2020-09-21

The Free Press Gave America Trump — ?

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by Neil Godfrey

An insider’s view of the first Trump campaign (from Michael Cohen’s Disloyal)

“What about self-funding the campaign,” Trump said to me one afternoon.

I knew there was no way he was going to spend his own money on politics. He was far too cheap, to begin with, and he was far less liquid than was understood by outsiders, but he appeared to be seriously contemplating the idea.

“I don’t want to take money from a super PAC,” Trump said. “A billionaire can’t ask people for five bucks. Maybe I’ll self-fund the primary but do it cheap. I don’t need to spend a lot of money because we’ll get all the free press we want.

Please pause over that final sentence and read it again. And again. And again. Because if you want to understand how Donald J. Trump became president, you have to grasp the essential fact that by far the most important element wasn’t nationalism, or populism, or racism, or religion, or the rise of white supremacy, or strongman authoritarianism. It wasn’t Russia, or lying, or James Comey, though all of those forces were hugely influential. It wasn’t Hillary Clinton, though heaven knows she did all she could to lose the election.

No. The biggest influence by far—by a country mile—was the media. Donald Trump’s presidency is a product of the free press. Not free as in freedom of expression, I mean free as unpaid for. Rallies broadcast live, tweets, press conferences, idiotic interviews, 24-7 wall-to-wall coverage, all without spending a penny. The free press gave America Trump. Right, left, moderate, tabloid, broadsheet, television, radio, Internet, Facebook—that is who elected Trump and might well elect him again.

The underlying reasons were both obvious and hard to discern, and it continues to amaze me that this phenomenon isn’t a central part of the conversation about the current plight of the United States of America.

Start with the proposition that Trump was great for ratings. If you’re a right-wing AM radio commentator, or a lefty Brooklyn political podcaster, you were making bank talking about Trump. It’s like a car crash, with people unable to avert their gaze. The Boss knew this and he knew how to exploit the greed and venality of journalists because he was (and is) an expert on the subjects. But there was something deeper and more primal in the way the media obsessed over Trump, as I did. Trump was a great story. He was chaos all the time. By five a.m. every day, he’d created the news cycle with his stubby fingers sending out bile-flecked tweets attacking anyone or everyone. In this way, as in so many others, he was the absolute opposite of Obama. Instead of No Drama, it was Drama All the Time.

The thing that astounded me, and still does to this day, was that the media didn’t see that they were being played for suckers. They didn’t realize the damage they were inflicting on the country by following Trump around like supplicants. What Trump did was transparent, once you identified it, and this remained a central fact of the campaign. If interest in Trump was waning, even just a little bit, he’d yank the chain of the media with an insult or racist slur or reactionary outrage—and there would be CNN and the Times and Fox News dutifully eating out of his hands. Like so much about Trump, if it weren’t tragic, you’d laugh—or cry.

(Bolded highlighting is mine)

But one still has to factor in the people who actually love the car crash and see in it a promise that the “system” itself will be blown up to the benefit of the “ordinary folks”.


2020-02-10

The New Propaganda

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by Neil Godfrey

An alternate information ecosystem was taking shape around the biggest news story in the country

The story that unfurled in my Facebook feed over the next several weeks was, at times, disorienting. There were days when I would watch, live on TV, an impeachment hearing filled with damning testimony about the president’s conduct, only to look at my phone later and find a slickly edited video—served up by the Trump campaign—that used out-of-context clips to recast the same testimony as an exoneration. Wait, I caught myself wondering more than once, is that what happened today?

As I swiped at my phone, a stream of pro-Trump propaganda filled the screen: “That’s right, the whistleblower’s own lawyer said, ‘The coup has started …’ ” Swipe. “Democrats are doing Putin’s bidding …” Swipe. “The only message these radical socialists and extremists will understand is a crushing …” Swipe. “Only one man can stop this chaos …” Swipe, swipe, swipe.

I was surprised by the effect it had on me. I’d assumed that my skepticism and media literacy would inoculate me against such distortions. But I soon found myself reflexively questioning every headline. It wasn’t that I believed Trump and his boosters were telling the truth. It was that, in this state of heightened suspicion, truth itself—about Ukraine, impeachment, or anything else—felt more and more difficult to locate. With each swipe, the notion of observable reality drifted further out of reach.

What I was seeing was a strategy that has been deployed by illiberal political leaders around the world. Rather than shutting down dissenting voices, these leaders have learned to harness the democratizing power of social media for their own purposes—jamming the signals, sowing confusion. They no longer need to silence the dissident shouting in the streets; they can use a megaphone to drown him out. Scholars have a name for this: censorship through noise.

From —
Coppins, Story by McKay. 2020. “The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President.” The Atlantic. Accessed February 10, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/03/the-2020-disinformation-war/605530/.

2019-10-22

Right-wing news is everywhere

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by Neil Godfrey

Some interesting comparisons of the “left’s” and “right’s” use of social media. Again, citing Ferguson et al, with additional detail from Albright:

In the absence of data transparency, we are reserved about all claims by Facebook, Twitter, Google, or anyone else about what ads they did or did not sell or the uses of the sites; we have trouble understanding why several Congressional committees were so slow to require full public disclosure of exact information, especially once the companies admitted that the ads already ran in public. For the same reason, we are cautious about assertions by Trump campaign workers that they did not find Twitter very useful, though that assertion is potentially very telling, since so many more bots are keyed to Twitter, rather than Facebook (LoBianco, 2017).

We take much more seriously the findings of empirical studies of overall election communication patterns by independent researchers who gathered their own data. Jonathan Albright has attempted to map the “ecology” of both left and right networks in several recent studies. His work emphasizes the unusually dense, ramified character of the right wing messaging networks that developed over the last few years:

“to put it bluntly, ‘right-wing’ news is everywhere: Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, small issuebased websites, large news websites, WordPress blogs, Google Plus (?), Pinterest pages, Reddit threads, etc.” (Albright, 2016).

A Harvard study of the internet in the 2016 presidential election makes a similar point:

“Our clearest and most significant observation is that the American political system has seen not a symmetrical polarization of the two sides of the political map, but rather the emergence of a discrete and relatively insular right-wing media ecosystem whose shape and communications practices differ sharply from the rest of the media ecosystem, ranging from the center-right to the left. Right-wing media were centered on Breitbart and Fox News, and they presented partisan-disciplined messaging, which was not the case for the traditional professional media that were the center of attention across the rest of the media sphere” (Faris et al., 2017).

What’s going on here? Where are the Russians?

26 Note that Breitbart is strongly pro-Israel, as the site explained repeatedly in the wake of Charlottesville. Steve Bannon’s own movies are also quite sympathetic to African-American problems. But these facts hardly exhaust Breitbart or Bannon’s relationships to the substantial segment of the far right that is openly anti-Semitic and white supremacist. See BERNSTEIN, J. 2017. Alt-White: How the Breitbart Machine Laundered Racist Hate. BuzzFeed, October 5, 2017. Cf. also the discussion in GREEN, J. 2017. Devil’s Bargain — Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, New York, Penguin.

By 2016, the Republican right had developed internet outreach and political advertising into a fine art and on a massive scale quite on its own (Faris et al., 2017) (Albright, 2016). Large numbers of conservative websites, including many that that tolerated or actively encouraged white supremacy and contempt for immigrants, African-Americans, Hispanics, Jews, or the aspirations of women had been hard at work for years stoking up “tensions between groups already wary of one another.”26 Breitbart and other organizations were in fact going global, opening offices abroad and establishing contacts with like-minded groups elsewhere. Whatever the Russians were up to, they could hardly hope to add much value to the vast Made in America bombardment already underway. Nobody sows chaos like Breitbart or the Drudge Report, as the New York Times documented in one Idaho town (Dickerson, 2017).

See the original article onsite for the full detail of the above map: https://medium.com/@d1gi/left-right-the-combined-post-election2016-news-ecosystem-42fc358fbc96

Albright’s comments:

With a few exceptions, the unique “left-wing” sites are basically nowhere to be found on the right-wing side of the network. The graph confirms that, at least as far as connections (hyperlinks) go online, much of the major “left-wing” media appear to be isolated from the most active parts of the news ecosystem.

. . .

Seriously, the “right-wing” sites have Wikipedia, Facebook, Google, Reddit, and YouTube in their own network “corner.” Need I say more?

. . .

To put it bluntly, “right-wing” news is everywhere: Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, small issue-based websites, large news websites, WordPress blogs, Google Plus (?), Pinterest pages, Reddit threads, etc.

. . .

Bottom line is, the right-wing sites appear to be linking heavily into most of the left-wing news media, the major news players, and also to each other. However, the “left-wing” media are not linking into most of the “right-wing” sites. To make matters worse, due to the relative lack of diversity in the left media ecosystem (see my last “macro-propaganda” post), there’s right-wing sites in more places across the network. This must have something to do with the “left-wing” news media/journalism “bubble.”

. . .

To make matters worse for the “left-wing” media, the right also appears to be much more active around the “center” of this combined news ecosystem. And what’s the site at the exact center of this L+R network? It’s Senate.gov. NOAA.gov appears to run a close second, though.


Albright, Jonathan. 2016. “Left + Right: The Combined Post-#Election2016 News ‘Ecosystem.’” Medium. December 11, 2016. https://medium.com/@d1gi/left-right-the-combined-post-election2016-news-ecosystem-42fc358fbc96.

Ferguson, Thomas, Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen. 2018. “Industrial Structure and Party Competition in an Age of Hunger Games: Donald Trump and the 2016 Presidential Election / How Money Won Trump the White House.” Institute for New Economic Thinking, Working Paper No. 66, January. https://www.ineteconomics.org/research/research-papers/industrial-structure-and-party-competition-in-an-age-of-hunger-games.


 


2018-11-26

Why internet trolls mindlessly repeat . . . .

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by Neil Godfrey

They’re merely trying to use the debate to show that they and their positions are superior.

Oh yes. And it explains why they resort to insult and ridicule when called upon to engage in a defence of their claims.

Oftentimes, she said, people aren’t really having a discussion when they argue about politics. They’re merely trying to use the debate to show that they and their positions are superior.

“An effective piece of rhetorical persuasion usually happens when people are trying to honestly resolve a conflict, otherwise, all you’re doing is just fighting—which we see all too easily in our society,” Matelli explained.

At this point, in her view, it might make the most sense to simply end the argument — instead of letting it devolve into insults and competing slogans.

H/T Alternet: A rhetoric professor explains why internet trolls mindlessly repeat ridiculous right-wing slogans

 


2013-01-13

Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz dies

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by Neil Godfrey

This is terribly sad. Aaron’s work has been central to what my own job is all about and what even this blog is in some ways about.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-01-13/reddit-co-founder-aaron-swartz-dies/4462728

 

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