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Journalists and Media: Stop Feeding the Right-Wing Spin Machine

Reporters and pundits in corporate media act less like journalists and more like right-wing megaphones. This needs to stop.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) went on overdrive talking about an assault by a bunch of activists around the Hill who were engaging in nothing more than boisterous lobbying and advocacy around one of the biggest legislative fights in recent years. And the serious reporters in traditional corporate media outlets just ran with that spin. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) went on overdrive talking about an assault by a bunch of activists around the Hill who were engaging in nothing more than boisterous lobbying and advocacy around one of the biggest legislative fights in recent years. And the serious reporters in traditional corporate media outlets just ran with that spin. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Right after the right-wing extremists in charge of the Trumpian outfit masquerading as Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party succeeded in confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, Sen. Mitch McConnell spiked the football. The Kentucky Republican attacked the thousands of activists and citizen lobbyists who almost pulled off the improbable feat of stopping the confirmation by smearing them as a “mob” and claiming, without any evidence, that their activism was some kind “political gift” for the Republican Party.

And the media hand-wringing started almost immediately. The so-called impartial reporters and pundits in traditional corporate media outlets (hereinafter I will refer to them as “trad-media”) immediately adopted McConnell’s talking points in their ridiculous “both sides” frame. As Media Matters documented, “The Washington Post’s analysis of the week concluded that Democrats and Republicans are equally at fault for divisive politics.” The dean of Washington’s “both sides” nonsense, Chuck Todd, agreed with right-wing pundits that both sides in Washington are taking part in the “vulgarization” of politics. These claims were made, naturally, without any viable data or evidence as support.

These trad-media reporters and pundits went with what is clearly their gut instinct to punch down at liberals. In this case, they were denigrating the heroic advocacy of hundreds of activists—primarily women—who came to the Hart Senate Office Building from all over the country to engage in grassroots lobbying in an effort to make survivors of sexual assault visible to a mostly male Republican Party. And they were getting results.

I can list a couple of examples just off the top of my head:

First, the obvious one. Unless you have been hiding under a rock by now you have read the story about two survivors who confronted Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake in an elevator before he was headed to the first crucial vote in the Senate Judiciary. They told their stories of assault, and tearfully both challenged and pleaded with Flake to at least look them in the eye. And by all accounts their powerful advocacy made an impact: They were able change his mind at least at that point of time. Second, Sen. Lisa Murkowski met with dozens of Alaskan women, including several sexual assault survivors, in what was reported as an “emotional, hour+ meeting.” No one can argue that those meetings did not have an impact. It’s worth noting that, unlike Sen. Murkowski, who took time to meet her constituents, Sen. Susan Collins cut and ran from her own.

Yet without a shred of evidence, the traditional corporate media outlets ran with McConnell’s spin, and Democratic insiders in the beltway predictably took the bait. Instead of reflecting on the at best uninspiring and at worst incompetent leadership of Senate Democrats, Democratic insiders immediately joined in on the right-wing-inspired attack on the progressive base of their own party by trad-media reporters.

Then a funny thing happened. Actual data undercut the conventional wisdom within the elite political and media establishment living in the beltway bubble. A CNN poll Monday revealed data of a deeply tarnished Kavanaugh opposed by majority of Americans:

52% of Americans say they believe the women accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct over the judge’s denials of those accusations (38% said they believed him more than the women). And half (50%) said they thought he lied about his alcohol use as a young adult, more than thought he was telling the truth about it (37%). Half say Kavanaugh’s personal conduct has disqualified him to serve on the court, and 53% say his professional qualifications do not outweigh any questions about his personal conduct.

The poll countered the conventional wisdom of backlash among previously unenthusiastic Republican voters. And that was not all. Fresh polls also came out on Monday showing Democrats leading in key battleground districts in House races across the country. The numbers underscored that the narrative driven by McConnell and the right-wing about progressive activism against Kavanaugh hurting Democratic chances was likely just hot air.

This was not the first time we have seen this movie. Time and time again, far-right extremists in Congress and the Trump regime inject their nonsensical spin without any basis in reality. Their foot soldiers in the right-wing echo chambers rinse, repeat, and lather that spin, sending it out like dutiful robots across all their channels. And then trad-media reporters run with it without any sort of pushback.

Again, just think about the absurdity of all that just happened in the last few days. McConnell went on overdrive talking about an assault by a bunch of activists around the Hill who were engaging in nothing more than boisterous lobbying and advocacy around one of the biggest legislative fights in recent years. And the serious reporters in trad-media outlets just ran with that spin.

The underlying activity of those progressive activists was not any different than that of the hundreds—if not thousands—of lobbyists in expensive suits who go to the Hill every single day to push for billions of dollars in handouts for big banks or for big pharma or big oil. They were making a case for their cause. And, full disclosure, I was one of the people lobbying Senators. I asked Sen. Murkowski in the Hart basement tunnel whether she cared about perjury. She stopped and provided an answer in a thoughtful manner. Progressive activists had a respectful and meaningful exchange with her, unlike right-wing extremist Sen. Bill Cassidy from Louisiana, who cut and ran from us when we just asked basic questions. He literally ran from us.

What we did was nothing compared to what (overwhelmingly white) Tea Partiers did a few years ago, when they actually physically assaulted Democratic members of Congress on their way to work. As noted by Crooked Media’s Brian Beutler, who was around the Hill at the time:

Back in 2010 tea partiers spit on Emanuel Cleaver, hurled racist slurs at Andre Carson and John Lewis, and called Barney Frank a “faggot” to cheers. I personally witnessed the latter incident.

You can see what is going on here. No matter what Democrats do, they cannot win. As David Dayen noted, “the narrative stays the same”:

The right-wing “aristocrats” in the Republican leadership, their Trumpian allies in the current regime, and the far-right echo chamber will always attack without any facts. They are experts at concern-trolling. The problem is not that these prevaricators exist, it’s that the elites in trad-media outlets and the Democratic establishment will dutifully take their bait.

The last thing progressive activists—who have powered the unprecedented resistance to stop the effort by Trump, McConnell, and Ryan to gut our health care and came so close to stopping their hijacking of the Supreme Court—should do right now is listen to these trolls. If we had listened to these trolls who had been working so hard to weave a narrative of inevitability for Kavanaugh’s confirmation, he would have been sworn into the Court weeks ago.

As I noted, the data we have seen so far indicates that despite the rights’ best effort to undermine and denigrate the progressive movement’s activism, the voters in battleground districts are not falling for it. Neither should we.

Let’s keep our eyes on the prize, focus on our message, and get our voters out in massive numbers to win back at least one chamber of Congress. Then we can push for real accountability and start the process of restoring our democracy.

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Murshed Zaheed

Murshed Zaheed

Murshed Zaheed has more than 15 years of experience as a leader, organizer, and advocate in a career that stretches from the Congressional corridors in Washington DC to the Bay of San Francisco

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