Georgia Indictment Highlights Propaganda Of Right-Wing Fever Swamp
The right’s most ignorant and dishonest partisans are trying to delegitimize the new Georgia charges against former President Donald Trump over his 2020 election subversion plot by claiming that the indictment from Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis shows that, in the words of Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk, “watching cable TV and tweeting can now get you indicted.” This argument is nonsense: Prosecutors seeking to establish a conspiracy to further a criminal scheme use indictments to lay out the individual steps alleged participants undertook, many of which may not be themselves illegal, as the legal writer Julian Sanchez explained.
But this brand of dumb-or-lying blather inadvertently highlights a critical point: Trump’s obsessive consumption of right-wing media's lies and conspiracy theories about purported election fraud played an essential role in the effort to overturn the presidential election that ultimately triggered his indictment.
As president, Trump was fully enmeshed in the alternate reality spun by his TV propagandists. He would spend hours a day watching right-wing cable news channels and sent nearly 1,300 tweets in response to Fox News and Fox Business alone from September 2018 to the end of his presidency. Trump treated Fox hosts as members of his kitchen cabinet, enacting policy based on what he saw on their shows and seeking their counsel in private. People would go on his favorite channels seeking to influence his administration’s decision-making, at times snaring government contracts or presidential clemency because he happened to be watching.
This media diet fueled the election fraud conspiracy theories at the heart of Trump’s election subversion plot. After Election Day 2020, Trump’s top campaign advisers and his attorney general tried to tell him that he had lost the election and the claims he was making about election fraud were “bullshit.” But Trump preferred to listen to his TV advisers, who told him what he wanted to hear: that he had been the victim of election-shifting fraud.
Trump sent at least 76 tweets hyping right-wing TV programming about supposed election fraud in the weeks between Election Day and the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol that he helped spur. His live-tweets from that period promoted incendiary and patently ridiculous conspiracy theories, including that Joe Biden benefited from “millions of Fake Votes”; that voting machines had deleted “2.7 MILLION TRUMP VOTES” and “shifted 2-3% of Trump Votes to Biden”; and that the U.S. Postal Service had been “tampering with hundreds of thousands of ballots.”
The then-president used that steady stream of “bullshit” from his TV allies to keep his supporters agitated and infuriated about the supposedly “rigged” election — including in Georgia.
In response to right-wing cable news segments, Trump attacked the state’s Republican elected leaders for not supporting his lies, claimed that “signature match” would make the state “flip Republican,” baselessly lashed out at election rule changes as unconstitutional, and urged his followers to tune in to a televised hearing on the election (the last of which is highlighted in the indictment as “an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy”).
It’s worth noting that many of the people who went on TV to claim the election had been stolen did not actually believe that was the case. Filings in Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit against Fox showed that top executives and big stars at the network knew the election fraud claims were baseless, but nonetheless lied to their audience in support of Trump’s plot out of cowardice and greed rather than leveling with them.
That endless stream of right-wing media disinformation gave Trump cover to build the phony justification for his efforts to throw out the 2020 election results and stay in power. His supporters, trapped in an information ecosystem in which election fraud claims were constant and validated, became convinced that the election had been stolen. That, in turn, created incentives for Republican officials to aid the then-president’s scheme, which came frightfully close to succeeding.
Three years later, Trump faces charges in Washington, D.C., and Georgia courts over whether that seditious attempt to end American democracy was illegal. But he’s still obsessed with what he sees his propagandists saying on his television. And right now, the same people who told Trump that the election had been stolen are encouraging him to retaliate if he regains power by politicizing the justice system and throwing his political enemies in prison on spurious charges.
Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.
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