George Boardman: The lies conservatives tell themselves
Some of Donald Trump’s most fervent supporters are feeling a sense of betrayal after the transfer of power went smoothly and Joe Biden is now president of the United States.
The Proud Boys, who were once told by the president to “Stand back and stand by,” are now calling him “weak” for letting Biden take the reins of power. “Trump will go down as a total failure,” a Proud Boy member wrote on one forum.
Fervent adherents of QAnon are disillusioned because an Inauguration Day coup to keep Trump in office failed to happen, though some held out hope until the very end. Even as Biden prepared to take the oath of office, one supporter tweeted, “I don’t think this is supposed to happen,” and wondered, “How long does it take the fed to run up the stairs and arrest him?”
Members of both groups, along with outfits like the Three Percenters and Oath Keepers, felt a sense of betrayal after finding themselves in jail or on the run after answering what they believed was their leader’s call to action and stormed the Capitol. The lawyers for some of them wanted Trump to issue pardons before he left office.
But you would be wrong to think this kind of clueless behavior is limited to the fanatical fringe of the conservative movement. Recent polls reveal that just 24% of Republicans say they trust the outcome of the presidential election, and 61% think Trump should not have conceded the election to Biden. Another poll showed 87% of Republicans still back Trump, even after the Capitol riots.
Much of this magical thinking can be traced to Trump and his enablers, who exploited his followers’ misguided sense of patriotism to feed them a steady stream of lies about a corrupt election they could overturn. Those fantasies were reinforced by conservative media that are more interested in advancing an agenda than giving consumers anything resembling the truth.
Fortunately, there are limits to our First Amendment free speech rights, and some of these outlets are now learning the legal and financial consequences of straying too far from the facts. Leading the parade is the usual suspect, Fox News, and its comrade in arms, Fox Business.
Lou Dobbs of Fox Business, who can easily match his counterparts at Fox News when it comes to shilling for the former president, was forced on air to debunk his own lies about Smartmatic voting machines when the company threatened to sue him and Fox. Smartmatic’s equipment was used by some states in the November elections.
Then on Nov. 24, Fox News announced the settlement of a suit brought by Joel and Mary Rich that included a retraction and apology from Fox along with a reported seven figure financial settlement.
The case involved the death of the Richs’ son, Seth, who worked for the Democratic National Committee when he was murdered in Washington, D.C., in July of 2016. Police believe he was the victim of an armed robbery, but no perpetrator has been arrested and the reason for his death remains unclear.
That created the opening conservative propagandists were looking for, and they started making claims that Seth Rich was killed because he — not Russian operatives — leaked DNC emails to Wikileaks. That led to a series of broadcasts on Fox News involving Newt Gingrich and others that tried to validate the claims.
Prime time Fox talking head Sean Hannity called the story an “explosive” development “that might expose the single biggest fraud, lies, perpetrated on the American people by the media and the Democrats in our history.”
The Rich family suit against Fox dragged on until the judge in the case scheduled Hannity and several Fox News executives for depositions, which would have required them to tell the truth under penalty of perjury. That’s when Fox’s attorneys began settlement talks with the Rich family.
Fox News issued an apology, but specified the settlement could not be announced until after the November elections. Fox apparently thought the announcement would hurt its credibility before election day, assuming it has any.
But that wasn’t the end of it. The Richs’ other son, Aaron, was accused of complicity in theft of the emails and his brother’s murder when he tried to defend Seth against the smears circulating in conservative media.
That prompted Aaron to sue frequent Fox News commentator Ed Butkowski and pro-Trump blogger and self-proclaimed investigator Matt Couch for defamation. He also sued The Washington Times for making similar claims in an op-ed piece; the paper retracted the article and apologized.
Butkowski and Couch retracted all of their claims last month. “I never had physical proof to back up such statements or suggestions, which I now acknowledge I should not have made,” Butkowski said. Couch, who has almost 500,000 Twitter followers and who has been retweeted several times by Trump, said Butkowski was the source of his reports.
Fox News has lost conservative viewers to Newsmax and One America News Network mainly because they have refused to concede that Trump lost the election and launched repeated attacks on the integrity of the election. Many of those attacks have involved Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems, which supplied voting equipment to 28 states.
But the companies weren’t willing to remain silent while their reputations were trashed. In addition to the Dobbs recantation, both companies sued Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for libel and demanded retractions from Newsmax and OANN.
Newsmax host John Tabacco appeared on-air in December to recant the network’s claims, stating the two companies did not have a business relationship and did not use or reprogram software that manipulated votes in the general election. He also stated that Dominion has no connection to the Pelosi, Feinstein or Clinton families, or to George Soros.
OANN, which was suspended by YouTube for repeatedly posting misinformation about COVID-19, has developed a reputation for airing baseless conspiracy theories and spreading false information. That hasn’t stopped Trump from referring to OANN as “Great News, not Fake News.”
NewsGuard, a network of journalists that evaluates news sites for reliability, urges readers and advertisers to “proceed with caution” when it comes to OANN, claiming the network “severely violates basic standards of credibility and transparency” and “regularly includes false or distorted information.”
If you detect a pattern in this, so does Mathew Sheffield, founder of NewsBusters, the pre-eminent conservative website devoted to exposing liberal media bias. While Sheffield finds plenty of liberal media bias, he has developed a more nuanced view of conservative media.
“Truth for conservative journalists is anything that harms ‘the left.’ It doesn’t even have to be a fact. I eventually realized that most people who run right-dominated media outlets see it as their DUTY to be unfair and to favor Republicans because doing so would somehow counteract perceived liberal bias,” he wrote. “The tens of millions of people who vote Republican are not deplorable. They are misled.”
If conservatives believe what these television networks tell them, they’ll believe anything Trump tells them.
George Boardman lives in Nevada City. His column is published biweekly on Tuesdays by The Union. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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