We've been saying for a long time that the right-wing media machine, led particularly by Fox News, has become an echo chamber for hate speech from the far right. At places like Fox, the virulent language found on the racist and extremist right has been largely toned down, but the underlying sentiments, not to mention the larger meta-narrative about politics remains intact. And this has been acutely the case in recent years regarding Latinos and Muslims.
Well, thanks to a scientific study from UCLA's Chicano Research Center, there's now some specific evidence that substantiates all this:
This study analyzes how social networks that form around the hosts of commercial talk radio shows can propagate messages targeting vulnerable groups. Working with recorded broadcasts from five shows gathered over a six-week period, involving 102 scheduled guests and covering 88 topics, researchers determined hosts’ and guests’ ideological alignment on the topics discussed most frequently—including immigration and terrorism—through a content analysis of on-air statements and website content. The findings reveal that the hosts promoted an insular discourse that focused on, for example, anti-immigration, anti-Islam, and pro-Tea Party positions and that this discourse found repetition and amplification through social media. Of the 21 guests who appeared more than once, media personalities (57 percent) and political figures (19 percent) accounted for 76 percent. Fox News accounted for nearly one-fourth (24 percent) of appearances by guests representing an organization. Political figures accounted for 27 percent of all guests, and the Republican Party and the Tea Party accounted for 93 percent and 89 percent, respectively, of all political figures appearing on the shows. Eighty-nine percent of the scheduled guests were white, and 81 percent were male.
The study's conclusions make the key point:
The data demonstrate the mutual referencing among a relatively small cluster of nodes that include hosts, guests, and other affiliated individuals and groups. The findings reveal that these individuals and groups were connected by certain ideological sentiments targeting vulnerable groups. For example, discussions around immigration and Islam were framed in oppositional and absolutist terms: immigrants as “illegal” and law breaking, and Islam as the context of terrorism.
If talk radio and social media sustain a social network, they do so within a narrow range of ideological positions reflected by the hosts and guests. What’s more, the predominance of guests that represent media organizations not only minimizes alternate voices but also facilitates the mass broadcast and echoing of the shared ideologies that are discussed on the air. What emerges is a discourse that remains insular rather than open and that finds alignment, repetition, and amplification through social media.
As Salvatore Colleluori at Media Matters observes:
These viewpoints have far reaching consequences. NHMC President and CEO Alex Nogales told Fox News Latino that the social network surrounding conservative talk radio and Fox News has spread to social media websites resulting in "an echo-chamber of voices, both online and off, that promotes hatred against ethnic, racial and religious groups and the LGBT community on social media web sites."
Using hateful rhetoric, these hosts have cast immigrants as disease ridden, equated pro-immigrant organizations with neo-Nazis, called Islam an "evil religion," claimed the Obama administration is promoting "race riots" and made fun of the ethnicity of Asian-American politicians.
This is what we've called "eliminationist rhetoric" for a long time. And the problem hasn't been getting better. Indeed, as this campaign season has progressed, it's gotten increasingly worse.