Fox News Has Gone Full Goebbels.

During a recent Laura Ingraham show in which she questioned Mike Pompeo about his interview with the Jan 6 committee, a headline appeared at the bottom of the screen reading “Dems prop up phony democracies abroad, shred ours.” In other words, the radical conservatives are angry that we are supporting Ukraine and investigating the January 6th insurrection.

And the Ingraham show is not even the worst thing on Fox. Tucker Carlson, the multi-millionaire heir to the Swanson Foods fortune, takes partisanship to a new level in his show by blatantly promoting autocrats and white supremacists, by excusing Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and by fawning over our deposed president and crime boss, Donald J. Trump.

Despite Fox calling its content “news”, it has long been little more than a propaganda network for Republicans and Libertarians. Its schedule is packed full of hate, fearmongering, and falsehoods. So much so that it is increasingly difficult to distinguish it from the pre-World War II work of Joseph Goebbels. (Goebbels, of course, was famously known as the chief propagandist who helped Adolf Hitler rise to power.) In fact, it could seriously be argued that many of the Fox hosts, Newsmax, and other MAGA propagandists are more extreme.

This pattern of radical anti-Democratic (and anti-democratic) rhetoric has been going on since the end of the Fairness Doctrine in the late eighties. A number of TV, radio and podcast hosts (Sean Hannity, Alex Jones, Mark Levin, et al) are deeply involved in Trump’s seditious conspiracy. And their rhetoric is getting worse.

It is abundantly clear that such propaganda is the primary reason for our nation’s divisions. As Trump and his MAGA followers have labeled the legitimate press as “enemies of the people” for reporting the truth, Fox and the other propaganda outlets have promised to tell you the real story. And what a story it is – full of partisan distortions and lies which blame immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and people of color for many of our nation’s problems.

They portray immigrants as criminals and “illegals.” They raise fears that same-sex marriage will somehow undermine the marriages of heterosexuals. They portray people of color as “lazy thugs” who have destroyed the rule of law in our cities. Like Trump, they describe our nation as a democracy in decay with carnage in our streets.

Yet, in truth, it is the Trump supporters – the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, white supremacists, and violent militias – who have taken to the streets with guns and body armor. It is these MAGAts who tried to bully governors, legislators, and judges from instituting policies to mitigate the pandemic. It is the MAGATs who invaded our Capitol to threaten Congress with the apparent intent to murder individuals and overthrow an election. And it is their NRA’s greed that has made Americans feel unsafe in theaters, in shopping centers, in churches, at concerts, even at schools.

There are other striking similarities between the Republican MAGAts and Nazis. They both intended to seize power based on bullying and armed insurrection. And they both aimed their hatred at minorities.

And even though the insurrection of January 6th was stopped, the Republican Party’s attempts to destroy our democracy continue. The propagandists are unbowed, and their falsehoods are unabated. Moreover, recognizing that knowledge is a threat and a counter to propaganda, the GOP continues its attacks on education and the educated. For decades, the GOP has dismissed and ridiculed expertise. It has dismissed economists who proclaimed trickle-down economics an abject failure. It has ignored the negative impact of tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. And it has ridiculed the vast majority of the world’s scientists who warned about the devastating impacts of climate change.

Republicans have undermined public schools by slashing their budgets and channeling tax dollars into private schools through vouchers. They have threatened teachers for schooling their students in our nation’s history of slavery and the genocide of natives. They have sought to marginalize LGBTQ students. And their push for private schools allows conservatives to prioritize Christianity in classrooms over science.

Republicans have also exposed the flaws of mainstream television networks. By trying to appear nonpartisan, the networks too often offer airtime to Republicans intent on spreading falsehoods and hatred. Moreover, by presenting news in soundbites without context, the networks offer a distorted and incomplete version of the truth which makes it more difficult to counter the Republican narrative.

Of course, social media plays a part in the conservatives’ attack on democracy by creating information (more accurately, disinformation) silos where many people go for their news. It is in those silos, hidden from the public eye, where extremists, seditionists, and insurrectionists can go to reinforce their twisted ideas and plot their attacks on civil society. And despite the claims of those who profit from social media, little has been done to enforce decorum on their sites and to block disinformation.

Unfortunately, there is little government can do to counter all of this. Certainly, it can prosecute crimes as they happen. And we can vote out those who would destroy public education. But given our constitutional rights to free speech and a free press, we can’t stop the propaganda. We can only make a real effort to inform ourselves and seek the truth. Let’s hope that’s enough.

The January 6th Co-Conspirators Who Have Yet To Be Named.

They likely won’t be charged for their role in the insurrection. But the people most responsible for the attack on the Capitol and on the world’s longest-running democracy were not the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, etc. or even Donald J. Trump. They didn’t use pepper spray, flag poles, spears, and riot shields to assault police officers.

They used microphones, cameras, and websites instead.

You see, the insurrection began long before January 6, 2021. It actually began in 1987, during Ronald Reagan’s second term, when the Federal Communications Commission repealed the Fairness Doctrine, an FCC policy that originated in 1949 requiring broadcasters to present information in a fair and truthful manner that clearly distinguished news from opinion.

Once freed from the shackles of truth and fairness, broadcast media owners more concerned with politics, ratings, and money than journalistic integrity unleashed the likes of Rush Limbaugh to relentlessly attack the government and the so-called “pointy-headed liberals.” News and truth were replaced by opinion and lies based on fear, anger, and hate. And listeners who had long been conditioned to believe what they heard over the airwaves accepted those lies as fact.

Farmers and laborers were particularly vulnerable to the fiction that Rush was pedaling. Since they spent hours working alone, the radio was a welcome companion on their tractors and at their worksites. Already angry that prices of commodities had tanked in the 1970s and that worker’s salaries had not kept pace with inflation, they were easy prey for a radio host who blamed their problems on immigrants, inner city “thugs” and government bureaucrats.

And things soon got worse. Other unscrupulous actors, attracted by Rush’s booming ratings, joined him on the airwaves to denounce liberals and government under the guise of presenting the “real truth.” The “truth” mainstream media – aka responsible journalists – won’t tell you.

Then Rupert Murdoch and his conservative lapdog, Roger Ailes, entered the picture with Fox News. Though it claimed to be “Fair and Balanced”, it was neither. Certainly, it built a sizeable news gathering operation to fill its 24/7 programming schedule. But it constantly combined news with opinion making it all but impossible to distinguish one from the other. And, instead of hiring respected journalists to present the information, Ailes hired a team of carnival barkers, such as Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham, and Tucker Carlson, to feed viewers a constant stream of far-right ideas and falsehoods.

Around the same time, there was tremendous growth in websites and social media where anyone with a computer or cellphone could make their opinions known. The more outrageous and sensational the opinions and the lies, the more clicks and money to be gained.

All of this combined to create a rightwing politician’s wet dream – a propaganda network that would be the envy of Nazi Germany’s Josef Goebbels. It was the perfect environment for an accomplished con man like Donald J. Trump.

Rush, Fox, and others used Trump to increase their ratings by further sensationalizing their racist anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ, anti-feminist, anti-government, anti-Democrat agenda. And he used them to give credibility to his lies and to grow his poll numbers. Even after entering the White House, Trump relied on them as his unofficial advisors.

It was this same cult of rightwing media bullies and buffoons who amplified and perpetuated Trump’s Big Lie. They decried the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. They encouraged attacks on state and county election officials. They advertised and promoted the January 6th “Stop the Steal” rally. And they reveled in the notion that rightwing extremists in Congress along with Vice-President Mike Pence could stop the certification of Biden’s win and reassign the selection of electoral votes to Republican-dominated state legislators.

They deserve every bit as much of the credit for the attempt to violently overthrow our government as any of the extremist militias and politicians whose shameful actions almost succeeded in destroying our democracy.

They must be held accountable. If the courts of law can’t do it, the courts of public opinion must.

The Failure Of Language In The Age Of Trump.

As a professional writer who has a journalism degree and as someone who taught writing at the collegiate level, I believe words matter. Unfortunately, I feel too many journalists, politicians, and elected officials failed us during the administration of Donald J. Trump.

Indeed, I believe their choice of words to describe his outrageous behavior have both encouraged and enabled him.

For example, in the era of Trump, empathy, politeness and humility have been labeled as “political correctness.” Right-wing propagandists are dismissed as “conservatives.” Domestic terrorists are labeled as “extremists.” Violent militias and hate groups are labeled as “radicals.” Seditionists are known as “patriots.” And insurrectionist politicians are part of “the freedom caucus.”

Voter suppression is “enforcing voter ID laws.” Voter disenfranchisement is “updating voter registration.” Civil rights marches and protests are “riots” while threatening gatherings of armed militias are “demonstrations.”

When Trump bombarded us with lies and disinformation, far too many reporters referred to the lies as “factually incorrect” or “untrue.” When he made racist statements and encouraged violence, reporters called them “an attack on political norms.” Even when he called journalists enemies of the people, few reporters were willing to acknowledge his behavior as that of an autocrat.

When Trump ordered children to be ripped from their parents’ arms, too many reported that he had increased “border security,” instead of calling his order what it really was: child torture. When he refused asylum to political and economic refugees, he was “tough on immigration.” But, by sending them back to almost certain death, he was acting as an accomplice to mass murder. And both the Russia investigation and Trump’s first impeachment were labeled by some as “witch hunts.”

Yet, never has the issue become more obvious than in aftermath of Trump’s attempted coup.

Though the assault on Congress was clearly an effort to kidnap and murder those elected representatives who refused to do Trump’s bidding by overturning the election, the language was quickly softened. Instead of calling it a coup, an insurrection, or even domestic terrorism, many described it merely as an “attack,” a “riot,” or a mere “demonstration.” Some of the buffoons on Fox News even said, “America had it coming.”

Let’s be clear. We can never heal this nation until we have a shared truth. That requires precision of language – language that accurately describes what we have collectively seen and experienced. We must do better.

An Act Of Sedition.

After watching videos of the armed confrontation between Cliven Bundy and federal agents executing a legal court order, I realized that I was watching more than a political demonstration or civil disobenience. When Bundy’s crowd of armed milita threatened government officials by drawing their weapons and taking aim from sniper positions, they crossed a very clear line into the realm of sedition. Incredibly, they were supported by Nevada Governor Sandoval, U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar and dozens of state legislators from Arizona and Nevada.

Look up the definition of sedition yourself.

To save you the trouble, 18 U.S. Code 2384 reads, “If two or more persons…conspire to oppose by force the authority…or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States…they shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.” Not only were the actions of Bundy and his friends in violation of that code, so, too, were the actions of the conservative media hosts and politicians who applauded and encouraged them.

Imagine if a group of drug dealers challenged federal authority to interrupt a smuggling operation. Imagine if a city neighborhood took up arms to prevent the arrest of a suspected murderer. Would anyone support and encourage them? If not, where do we draw the line?

I’d suggest that the line is crossed when someone, anyone, takes aim at government officials or incites someone else to do so.