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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 StudySoup.com.

“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).

 

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  • 1.Why did Trump choose to hide certain specific files and not others at Mar-a-Lago? What were the criteria that Trump used to keep some files concealed and not others? Who selected those files? Did Trump consult or direct anyone in his selection of secret files? Trump was notorious for being too impatient to read his briefing papers, even after they had been drastically shortened and simplified. Is there the slightest evidence that he spirited these papers away so that he could consult or study them? Who besides Trump knew of the presence of the files he had concealed at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 2. Mar-a-Lago has an infamous reputation for being open to penetration even by foreign spies. In 2019, the FBI arrested a Chinese woman who had entered the property with electronic devices. She was convicted of trespassing, lying to the Secret Service, and sentenced and served eight-months in a federal prison, before being deported to China. Have other individuals with possible links to foreign intelligence operations been present at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 3. Did members of Trump's Secret Service detail have knowledge of his secret storage of the files at Mar-a-Lago? What was the relationship of the Secret Service detail to the FBI? Did the Secret Service, or any agent, disclose information about the files to the FBI?
  • 4. Trump's designated representatives to the National Archives are Kash Patel and John Solomon, co-conspirators in the investigations into Russian interference in the presidential election of 2016, the Ukraine missiles-for-political dirt scandal that led to the first impeachment in 2019, and the coup of 2020. Neither has any professional background in handling archival materials. Patel, a die-hard Trump loyalist whose last job in the administration was as chief of staff to the Acting Secretary of Defense, was supposedly involved in Trump’s “declassification” of some files. Patel has stated, “Trump declassified whole sets of materials in anticipation of leaving government that he thought the American public should have the right to read themselves."
  • The White House counsel failed to generate the paperwork to change the classification markings, but that doesn’t mean the information wasn’t declassified.” If Pat Cipollone, the White House legal counsel, did not “generate the paperwork,” was he or anyone on his staff aware at all of the declassifications? The White House Staff Secretary Derek Lyons resigned his post in December 2020. Did his successor, who held the position for a month, while Trump was consumed with plotting his coup, ever review the material found in Trump’s concealed files for declassification? Or did Patel review the material? Can Patel name any individual who properly reviewed the supposed declassification?
  • 5. Why did Trump keep his pardon of Roger Stone among his secret files? Was it somehow to maintain leverage over Stone? What would that leverage be? Would it involve Stone's role as a conduit with the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers during the coup? Or is there another pardon in Trump’s files for Stone, a secret pardon for his activities in the January 6th insurrection? Because of the sweeping nature of the pardon clause, pardons can remain undisclosed (until needed). Pardons are self-executing, require no justification and are not subject to court review beyond the fact of their timely execution. In other words, a court may verify the pardon was valid in time but has no power to review appropriateness. A pardon could even be oral but would need to be verifiable by a witness. Do the files contain secret pardons for Trump himself, members of his family, members of the Congress, and other co-conspirators?
  • 6.Was the FBI warrant obtained to block the imminent circulation or sale of information in the files to foreign powers? Does the affidavit of the informant at Mar-a-Lago, which has not been released, provide information about Trump’s monetization that required urgency in executing the warrant? Did Trump monetize information in any of the files? How? With whom? Any foreign power or entity? Was the Saudi payment from its sovereign wealth fund for the LIV Golf Tournament at Trump’s Bedminster Golf Club for a service that Trump rendered, an exchange of anything of value or information that was in the files? If it involved information in the files was it about nuclear programs? Was it about the nuclear program of Israel? How much exactly was the Saudi payment for the golf tournament? The Saudi sovereign wealth fund gave Jared Kushner and former Trump Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin $2 billion for their startup hedge fund, Affinity Partners. Do the Saudis regard that investment as partial payment for Trump’s transfer of nuclear information? Were Kushner or Mnuchin aware of the secret files at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 7.Did Trump destroy any of the files? If so, when? Did those files contain incriminating information? Did he destroy any files after he received the June subpoena?
  • 8.Were any of the secrets of our allies compromised? Has the U.S. government provided an inventory of breaches or potential breaches to our allies?
  • 9.Does the resort maintain a copying machine near the classified documents that Trump hid? Were any of the documents copied or scanned? Are Trump’s documents at Mar-a-Lago originals or copies? Were any copies shown or given to anyone?
  • 10.Trump’s lawyer Christina Bobb has revealed that a video surveillance system covers the places where Trump hid the files at Mar-a-Lago, and that the system is connected to a system at his other residences at the Bedminster Golf Club in New Jersey and Trump Tower in New York City. According to Bobb, Trump and members of his family observed the FBI search and seizure of his files at Mar-a-Lago, “actually able to see the whole thing” through their surveillance system. Who has that surveillance system recorded entering the rooms where the files were kept?

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