If you wonder how the mad dash to racial and religious politics and anti-global nationalism picked up steam so rapidly, look no farther than the new European media.
Radical “news” sources – some state-funded by Russia – are growing in influence and readership as fast as mainstream and center-left media are dying. That’s translating into the public increasingly subjected to 24-hour messaging from far-right provocateurs promoting nationalism and bashing the European Union.
Even old-line center-right Rupert Murdoch-style papers are now being eclipsed by rabidly reactionary news sources such as alt-right Breitbart, as well as websites such as Speisa and Russian sources churning out fake news meant to incite anti-Muslim, anti-migrant sentiment and rally ultra-nationalists.
Goodbye, conventional journalism
Used to mainstream American newspapers and websites that strive for at least the appearance of objectivity, they’ll find most British papers such as the Express and Sun are proudly partisan propaganda sheets. And more than a few running hilariously distorted accounts of actual events that feed their readers peculiar brands of xenophobic nationalism. Oh, and there’s celebrity news complete with photos that would make the American “family values” crowd apoplectic.
Even some mainstream Brit pubs tend toward the same bread-and-circuses content of the National Enquirer and Globe, supermarket checkout tabloids favoring sensationalism over substance, which aren’t taken seriously in the U.S.
In the States, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal own the conservative audiences, and the New York Times and Washington Post the lefties. Gerard Baker, a very conservative Brit, is publisher of the WSJ, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch.
The difference is, at major American newspapers and news sites, opinion doesn’t overtly bleed into editorial. Fox News reporters such as Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace were among the most aggressive in covering Donald Trump’s campaign even though their audience strongly supports him. True, U.S. news outlets never saw the tide that swept Trump into the West Wing. But they did so based on faulty data, not on malice of forethought.
And it’s not like anyone is fooled
YouGov.com, an Internet-based market-research firm, has documented this bias.
We wanted to interview Will Dahlgreen at YouGov.uk, who wrote “British Press most right-wing in Europe” last February, but he is out of the office until January. Dahlgreen drew from YouGov/EuroTrack surveys done in January 2016 of 1,694 British adults, 2,041 Germans, 999 French, 1,002 Danes, 1,009 Swedes, 1,003 Finns and 610 Norwegians.
From that post:
YouGov research across seven European countries reveals British people are the most likely to say their media is biased in its reporting when asked about five key areas. At most 32 percent of British people say the media gets the right balance (on crime), falling behind the European average on housing, health, immigration and economics.
Finland’s media is also judged by readers as being right wing. But Dahlgreen’s post states readers surveyed found the UK media to be too negative on immigration, a narrative that at least played a part in the Brexit vote.
The Moscow Connection
The Russians are increasingly players in the news game with the launch in 2014 of Sputnik, part of the Putin Press. The “About us” tab states that Sputnik is “uniquely positioned as a provider of alternative news content and a radio broadcaster.” The alternative to actual independent reporting, apparently. Sputnik is part of Rossiya Segodnya, the propaganda arm of the Russian government. The website is slick, but the stories are full of misspellings. Stories are packaged to look objective. But the main themes are a.) Russia is strong, b.) Western European countries are in chaos and c.) Donald Trump is a great leader.
Ditto for RT, which started out as Russian Times. Like Sputnik, RT provides “alternative perspectives on current affairs, and acquaints international audiences with a Russian viewpoint on major global events.” Most of the Russian sites are in English, though there are pulldown menus for nearly every European language.
Add to this anti-Europe trend faux think tanks such as the U.S.-based Gatestone Institute, which constantly posts “studies” showing Sweden is “on the verge of collapse” as refugees take over the country. Had I not been to Sweden this summer and seen with my own eyes that the complete opposite is true – the economy is booming and minorities are integrated into the larger society – I might have swallowed these “reports,” which have the neutral objective tone of actual think-tank studies.
But a five minutes research turned up the fact Gatestone is run by renegade radical-right Bush diplomat John Bolton, the guy who wants to bomb Iran.
And who’s in the running to be Trump’s secretary of state.
Oddly in all this, some far-right British newspapers are – while celebrating the triumphant Trump – scared to death of his man-crush Vladimir Putin.
The Sun, which focuses more on sensational celebrity coverage, took time out recently to report on Putin building an army of robots and drones. That said, way Far Right papers such as the Express are celebrating the emergence of a Trump-Putin alliance that will destroy Islamic terrorists and dismantle the EU, referred to in post after post as the”real enemy.”
A relative new phenomenon is the “news” aggregation site such as Speisa which has just enough legitimate news to make you believe its faux news/propaganda is legit. Though it takes only a few minutes to see the Radical right, anti-Muslim bias.
The “about us” tab on website states in ALALE (a language a lot like English) that it’s merely a website “about the weird world we live in, and the posts are not satire, as lots of real, really strange stuff are (SIC) happening in this strange world. Some news are (SIC) funny, some are sad, and some are plain horrific. We give you the mix. Thank you for visiting!”
A recent post about UKIP founder Nigel Farage’s relationship with Trump stated the interim UKIP leader said Trump has already “pushed Britain to the front of the queue for a favourable trade relationship ….”
First, there’s the little matter of the Treaty Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The president can propose and negotiate treaties. But agreements have to be confirmed by the Senate, then approved by a Senate supermajority.
Second, though Trump has hailed Brexit, he hasn’t commented specifically on how his administration will deal with a Britain newly exited from the EU.
Then there’s “Nazi march in Stockholm results in left wing riots,” a comical expose about Right Wingers in Stockholm being massacred by 5,000 leftists:
Real neo-Nazis! Crazy people who are claimed to be found behind every bush but are always extremely difficult to find in larger groups than 14-15, in a pitiful selection of people on a deserted square somewhere. But this was more like it! An entire 500 real neo-Nazis from across the Nordic region would certainly do the trick. Finally the “great danger” would be proven to all viewers. Bring out the champagne! Pop the popcorn!
But then everything went to shit.
Wait. What? Speisa turned what was reported as a counter-demonstration in the real media into a massacre of the Nazis. Oh, the humanity …
Funny, right? Except for the fact a lot of readers either have trouble spotting deliberately misleading stories (witness conventional news outlets mistakenly reporting The Onion stories as fact) or want to believe Saudi Arabia funded Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Speisa has 82,000 Facebook fans. We’re thinking most of them are Russian or Macedonian hackers, though the notorious White Supremacist website The Daily Stormer regularly directs readers to Speisa.
Speisa is just one of dozens of new fake-news websites, and increasingly we’re being fed news to us to scare us into making choices not in our best interests.
The Express has a current post about Germany’s economic “collapse.” Yes, the German economy reported a less-than-robust third quarter, with only .02 percent GDP growth, mostly due to the economic slowdown related to Brexit. But collapse?
And that’s the insidious nature of blatant bias. The conservative British newspapers have a relentless drumbeat of collapse, chaos and crises across the rest of Europe.
Is it true? No. Is it accurate? No. But that’s no longer the point.
The point is, when you hear it over and and over, it becomes the truth.