Fake news. It’s the finger that everyone likes to point, except for at themselves. It’s the new schoolyard insult. And it’s what now sums up the relationship between politics and the media.
I like many others have been constantly reading throughout mainstream media about Trump’s rocky relationship with the top news organisations. Most recently they’ve been deemed by the president as the ‘enemy of the American people’. But he holds a special place for other news organisations, those that view the mainstream media as a whirlwind of conspiracy theories. While most of the world have their head in their hands wondering what the heck is going on, you have to ask what lies on the other side of the fence. Low and behold: Alternative news.
This week in an effort to understand the other side, I delved into what Wikipedia calls “Alternative media (U.S. Political Right)”. What I didn’t realise in the offset of this experiment was just how intense it would be. I initially aimed to cover as many news sources in this category as possible, but ended up mesmerised by two big ones: Breitbart News and Infowars.com. This is by no means an accredited method of research, but I do have three general observations that quickly emerged in my mission to understand the overwhelming phenomenon that is American political opinion.
- They’ve clearly picked a side.
First of all, I should be transparent about the fact that I typically consume left-wing media, or ‘neutral’ media, that is, organisations that claim to practice unbiased journalism (although I strongly believe there is no such thing). This meant that even from the start, everything I was about to consume was obviously going to seem much more infused with opinion than my typical sources. I was surprised however at how much nuanced bias was injected into alternative media. In the coverage of the terrorist attack in Manchester for instance, Breitbart News wrote a story ‘update’:
Probably similar to most people who would’ve read this living in the UK – which is likely few and far between – I found it extremely far-fetched that before they even knew the identity of the attacker, they predicted it was purposely timed to coincide with the murder of a well-known American soldier. All I could think was ‘I can’t imagine this jihadist ‘loser’ (Trump’s word, not mine) knows who Lee Rigby even is’. Okay, perhaps that’s presumptuous, but it was such a loose connection slipped into the central synopsis of this unfolding news story out of Manchester. And this seemed to be a repeated occurrence at Breitbart. The only way I could really make sense of it was to think of their readership. They need a relatable aspect of the story that brings foreign shock and fear closer to home. After all, where even is this city called Manchester?!
- It’s simple.
When I watch news on TV or read a newspaper article, I expect to see multiple angles of a story. The world is not black and white and nor should be the way we portray it. Or so I thought. In my week of alternative media, the Alex Jones Show on infowars.com was a revelation. Every day of listening was like being at a heavy metal concert with strobe lights flashing and having a preacher screaming into your ear all at once.
In their coverage of Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, I was surprised at how critical they were of their beloved President – to be fair, they blamed his team for most of it, but they weren’t particularly thrilled with the trip’s outcomes and here are two main reasons why: 1. There isn’t enough money for Trump to save global economies, only to save the American economy. To add some profound colour to this statement, they added “I don’t want to sell out for a trinket the way the Indians sold Manhattan for some beads.” And 2. There is no difference between Saudi Arabia and ISIS, with a small side note to this one: “There’s a bit of a distinction but no difference and it’s because of Sharia law”.
Wow. On the first point – I mean, if economics is that simple, why on earth is the US in a mountain of debt? Surely Trump would’ve been able to sort that out by now… And on the second, if it’s all the same, why isn’t the so-called Islamic State a UN member yet?
It’s not hard to see some of the inherent issues with these claims. Global issues cannot be broken down quite that easily and in trying to do so, Alex Jones raises some serious ethical questions. But then again the show is appealing to a certain audience, where perhaps the world is less overwhelming, and more digestible when described in these terms. I also noticed the show has a tendency to spell out tricky words – does that say something about their audience? Your guess is as good as mine…
- They have EPIC advertising.
If you thought the shopping channel was full on, listen to the Alex Jones Show. I found myself on multiple occasions cracking up on the tube home at just how much their ads matched everything stereotype of Southern USA. My personal favourite was for 10-year shelf life pre-cooked bacon. Yum! You could also fuel up with a supplement using plant derivatives from the Amazon – perfect to prepare your body for the battle against liberalism. Or you could just enjoy silly ‘mocumentary’ ads on those idiot liberal shmucks out in California. While ads are not news coverage or commentary, they are targeted to audiences most likely to make a purchase. So what do these ads say about their potential customers? Again, you don’t have to read between the lines to get to the bottom of the tactics here. They very purposefully shove it right in your face.
And so after all was said and done, my week of acquainting myself with alternative media was done. And I could breathe a big sigh of relief. It was tough work! On Monday I was engaged and giggling about the humour and irony of what I was consuming. By Friday, I avoided listening to anything at all – I just couldn’t take any more. I reached a point where I felt more at ease not knowing any news at all. Was there a silver lining of the week? It definitely made me rethink the media I normally consume. If one side seemed so arbitrarily biased, could it be possible I was blinded to this on the other side? Bias may be more subdued in some media than others, but in the end we don’t always look for it. We become accustomed and seek the stories we can accept as truth. It must go to show – you really are what you eat.
Some of my favourites courtesy of Breitbart: