CNN Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter with a pretty good breakdown on how so many stories that end up enraging Trump supporters and viewers of Fox “news” originate in the right wing fever swamps of the Internet and eventually work their way onto larger media outlets, such as the ones we saw attacking Rep. Ihlan Omar this week.
STELTER: First let’s talk about something that has been in the headlines for days now. Let’s talk about where controversies come from. You’ve probably heard a lot about Congresswoman Ilhan Omar this week. But do you know why? Do you know how it started?
Controversies don’t just erupt naturally like a bolt of lightning sparking a fire. No. Controversies are created, like an arsonist lighting a match. But too often our news coverage and the papers, on T.V. and on line starts mid story. We say something like there is a controversy brewing between among these two people, but we leave out the most important part, the lighting of the match.
So let’s look at how the Omar 9/11 story started and how it is being framed. Omar gave a speech to the Council on American-Islamic Relations last month. Her focus was on the importance of protecting civil liberties. The speech didn’t really picked up at the time.
But then last Monday, the conservative website The Daily Caller, co-founded by Tucker Carlson, picked up on Omar’s reference to the 9/11 hijackers. She said “some people did something” while arguing that all Muslims should not be punished for the actions of a crazy few.
So The Daily Caller posted four minutes of video to You Tube. Then an Australian man who calls himself a Muslim scholar and is very active on twitter sets the frame for a week’s worth of news coverage. The framing that we hear is that Omar was down playing 9/11.
His tweet took off and spread the right wing websites. It was all over these sites by Tuesday. Then on Tuesday night, Sean Hannity brought the video to television. He covered it on Tuesday night. And then, come Wednesday, Fox and Friends was all over it. Brian Kilmeade was questioning Omar’s patriotism.
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This went on and on for days and days, and on Thursday, this was the cover of the New York Post. “Some people did something.” Four words. Probably not the best choice of words. It is easy for me to sit here and say I would have chosen different words.
The point is that this controversy was created. The construction of the frame, Omar down plays 9/11, is a key part of the story.
These viral videos and tweets are how we argue about the future of America, but so much of it is based in bad faith. These outrage cycles corrupt us.
Omar’s comment was used as a weapon against her, including by president Trump who has pinned this anti-Omar video to the top of his twitter page. Trump’s video is what propelled this story all way to the nightly news.
So now it is being framed as Trump versus Omar. Some Democrats are saying Trump is putting her life in danger.
But there is something bigger going on here with this story. It tells us something about right wing rage machine and and about how news priorities are set.
The history of the United States is a tug-of-war over who belongs and who is equal and who has power. It is the biggest story of all, and yet, those of us in the press oftentimes cover this just in tiny discrete bits.
We put a small frame on the biggest story. I think we do a much better job when we widen way out, and part of widening out involves showing where does the controversy come from? How was it created in the first place? Who created it? Who stands to benefit from it being created? And who stands to lose, who stands to suffer?
These are the big questions that I think we should be asking when there are these eruptions that happen.
Trump is amplifying a lot of this stuff without the help of Fox, but he’s right about the dangerous feedback loop we’ve seen from these right wing propaganda outlets and their enablers on line and Trump. They’re mainstreaming hatred and bigotry and the erosion of our democracy, and it gets more dangerous by the day.