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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.


Americans across the political spectrum, led by Republicans, admit they have been duped by “fake news,” or partisan propaganda and outright fabrications, a new national study has found.

“In a heartening display of humility, many of our participants admitted they feared they’d been duped by fake news before. In fact, nearly 56 percent of Republicans said they had probably or definitely been deceived, and over 46 percent of Democrats said the same,” said the analysis accompanying the survey of 1,000 Americans by the education company

“Despite President Trump’s relentless criticism of the ‘MSM‘ (mainstream media), it was conservative outlets that struggled most to achieve credibility in the eyes of our participants,” the survey noted. “Helmed once again by Steve Bannon, Breitbart was rated ‘fake news’ by no fewer than 44.9 percent of respondents, followed closely by Fox News, Infowars, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck. The least believed publication with a more liberal orientation was Buzzfeed, which might be concerned by its lack of trust among millennials—a demographic the site has spent considerable time courting.”

The survey also found that Trump’s persistent attacks on specific media outlets were affecting their reputation.

“CNN’s reputation has also apparently suffered a bit after being singled out by President Trump and his supporters for its unfavorable coverage. The network so infuriated Trump fans in 2016 that ‘CNN sucks‘ chants abounded at their rallies,” the survey report said. “Similarly, 1 in 10 respondents identified The New York Times as fake. President Trump’s preferred insult for the outlet is ‘failing,’ although his candidacy has actually buoyed the paper’s financial fortunes.”

StudySoup set out to assess not just what media outlets are most and least trusted, but what percentages of their viewers believe conspiracies that have been repeatedly debunked by independent fact-checkers. Their findings underscore how Americans, like the media they trust, are deeply polarized “and how facts are an increasingly endangered species in our discourse.”

The survey found millennials, the youngest age group questioned, were most confident in their ability to avoid deception. Nearly a third said they had not been fooled by fake news. In contrast, slightly more than half of Gen-Xers admitted they believed something that was distorted or fabricated. A fifth of Baby Boomers said they were “not sure” if they had been fooled or not.

A majority in all these age groups agreed that “fake news is being spread by the White House.”

“In the battle to distinguish between true and false coverage, many Americans feel they have a powerful enemy: the executive branch,” the report said. “In fact, nearly 6 in 10 respondents said the White House was serving fake news, an opinion likely furthered by dubious claims advanced by [former Press Secretary] Sean Spicer or Trump’s insistence that widespread voter fraud took place. Even 1 in 5 Republicans said they felt the president’s team was giving voice to suspect information.”

There was also evidence of buyer’s remorse from a key Trump constituency: older voters.

“While the majority in every generation thought the White House was fudging facts, baby boomers were the most critical,” it said. “That’s an interesting metric in light of the demographic groups who favored President Trump most heavily in November. Older voters supported the president by the widest margin, playing a key role in his eventual election.”

The survey also correlated conspiracy theories with viewers of various media outlets. For example, slightly more than half the people who believe “vaccines cause autism” said their favorite news outlet is CNN and Fox News. This was followed by NBC News (34%); ABC News (27%); PBS Newshour (24%); BBC (22%); the Washington Post (22%); the New York Times (17%); Google News (15%); and NPR (12%).

Fox News was confirmed as the favorite news source for people who believe that “Hillary Clinton was involved in a DNC staffer’s death” (48%); “Barack Obama faked his birth certificate” (63%); and “the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax” (47%). In contrast, people whose favorite outlets were the New York Times, Washington Post and NPR were least likely to believe those thoroughly debunked claims.

But the survey also found oddities.

“When we correlated belief in unfounded conspiracies with respondents’ favorite news outlets, an interesting mix of outlets emerged,” it reported. “For instance, lovers of Fox News were most susceptible to trusting in the Obama birther belief, Sandy Hook hoax, and Clinton murder myths (though the network is currently embroiled in a lawsuit involving the specious Clinton story). Yet fans of BBC and PBS NewsHour were also among the most likely to believe these false stories—perhaps an indication that these outlets resisted covering the conspiracies at all, let alone debunking them.”

“BBC devotees were also most likely to believe in climate change and the charge that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia,” it continued. “Perhaps these statistics should be expected from an organization that has frequently been criticized for liberal bias. Surprisingly, CNN viewers were most likely to believe that vaccines were linked to autism, a myth the network has thoroughly repudiated.”

The survey also found, unsurprisingly, that “more than half” of Democrats believed the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. Similarly, less than one-fifth of Republicans “believed in climate change.”

Stepping back, the study’s big-picture takeaway confirms what many Americans know or feel: that we now live in an era where opinion and belief outweigh facts and evidence.

“As our results make clear, America’s media cynicism is a double-edged sword. While it equips us to assess information critically, it also prevents us from broadening our perspectives beyond the sources we already entrust. Just as our findings show that we are willing to interrogate suspect claims, our suspicion of institutions fuels lingering myths, casting their debunking into doubt.”

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).


Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]