We all know that right-wingers often won't acknowledge the same basic set of facts as the rest of us. But the right doesn't just look at major news stories and disagree on the facts -- it also has a separate set of top stories that are unknown to the rest of us but are, to the right, harbingers of the end of civilization as we know it. Right now, several such stories are arousing anger on the right. They are:
* Reports that a teenager sexually assaulted two students in separate schools in Loudoun County, Virginia. As the right tells it, in the first of these assaults, the assailant was a"skirt-wearing male student" who described himself as "genderfluid" and who committed the assault in a girls' bathroom, just as the county was considering a rule allowing students to use the bathroom of their choice.
* Claims that Dr. Anthony Fauci personally approved extremely cruel scientific and scientifically unnecessary experiments on beagles.
* Allegations that the crowd at the January 6 Stop the Steal rally occupied the Capitol because they were goaded to do so by a provocateur who's being protected by the FBI.
Right-wingers think the existence of a provocateur on January 6 exonerates all the arrested participants (even though the participants were adults with free will who, if the story is accurate, were encouraged but not forced to become a rioting mob). They think the experiments partly funded by money from the National Institutes of Health are among the many signs of Dr. Fauci's limitless depravity (even though when Snopes looked into an earlier version of the story in August, it could find no evidence that Fauci had any personal involvement in the approval of the experiments, and even though it could find no evidence of animal cruelty.) They think the Loudoun school bathroom policy is linked to the assault even though it's unclear whether the assailant was actually a "skirt-wearing male student." (No one claims the assailant was dressed in a "genderfluid" was for the second incident, which took place despite the fact that the alleged assailant was wearing an ankle monitor.)
These are huge stories on the right. If right-wing voters turn out in big numbers for Glenn Youngkin in the Virginia governor's race or donate large amounts of money to Trumpist, Fauci-averse candidates, these stories are among the reasons why. And yet if you get your news from the mainstream media, you probably aren't aware of them at all -- which means that virtually all the available information on the stories is slanted or distorted in a way that favors the right.
A long time ago ago, in the early years of the last Democratic president's time in office, there were voices in the mainstream media arguing that the MSM should pay more attention to what the right-wing press was talking about. Many people on the left were repulsed by that idea, saying that the mainstream press shouldn't make bad-faith right-leaning media voices their "assignment editors." Some of that criticism makes sense -- the mainstream press shouldn't cover stories from the right-wing fever swamp the way the right-wing media covers them -- but it's still good for the mainstream media to be an honest counterbalance on stories that are being successfully turned into propaganda reaching a large portion of the country. If right-wing media sources identify someone they believe was a January 6 provocateur working with the FBI to sabotage the MAGA movement and that's not the case, wouldn't it be best if the mainstream media acknowledged the story's existence and debunked the right's reporting? If right-wingers and animal lovers think Anthony Fauci is sadistically okaying cruel treatment of animals and he isn't, wouldn't it be beneficial for that to be disproved?
As I wrote in 2009:
A hell of a lot of people still get their news exclusively from the [New York] Times and other old-line news organizations, which have long felt that much of the crazy, conspiratorial chatter on the far right is beneath them. And then there's a segment of the population -- possibly a third of the country, and possibly the population subgroup most fixated on politics -- for which all that crazy, conspiratorial stuff is the news. Somebody needs to cover the crazies' top stories in a way that isn't crazy and conspiratorial, so the people in the former group can talk to, and (let's hope) rebut, the people in the latter group.
Is that making the crazies into "assignment editors" for the mainstream press? Yeah -- and so what? It's only a problem if the mainstream press lets the crazies dictate conclusions; if, instead, the non-crazies shed light where the crazies have heretofore shed only heat, what's the problem? (And yes, I know: that's a big if.)
... let's acknowledge the success of the right-wing Wurlitzer ... for its ability to make a third of the country think something is news whether or not it should be news. And let's stop pretending that playing hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil with regard to this sort of thing is somehow going to make the topics in question disappear from a large of percentage of the country's radar. It seems to me that if a seemingly marginal topic can go from one of Andrew Breitbart's Web sites to the floor of Congress as fast as a Maserati going from zero to 60, then the sane press ought to weigh in before Breitbart steps on the gas.
I wrote that when the right-wing noise machine had brought down ACORN. Before the 2010 midterms, there would also be the hysteria surrounding the so-called Ground Zero Mosque -- another story that was massive on the right for weeks, with little or no fact-based mainstream coverage until after the outrage had become uncontainable.
So, yes, the mainstream press should cover stories that are big on the right, because right-wing propagandists shouldn't have a monopoly on those stories.
UPDATE: The Washington Post is now reporting that a juvenile court judge "found sufficient evidence during a trial Monday to sustain charges that a teen sexually assaulted a classmate in the girls’ bathroom of a Loudoun County high school in May.... The judge’s finding is the juvenile court equivalent of a guilty verdict in other courts." This is the "genderfluid" incident -- but "Authorities have not commented on the youth’s gender identity and it did not become an issue Monday in court." although it is reported that the boy was wearing a skirt at the time of the assault. However, the girl acknowledged previously having had sexual encounters with her assailant; she said the assault happened after they'd agreed to get together again but she didn't want to have sex. So some of the right's narrative is confirmed, but we're far away from the notion that a predatory boy put on a dress just so he could commit sex crimes in a girls' bathroom.
AND: Also in The Washington Post, Dana Milbank debunks the beagle story.
It turns out that this Tunisian study was erroneously attributed to NIAID [the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health]. NIAID did, however, fund different research in Tunisia — and the beagles weren’t puppies, they weren’t euthanized, they weren’t “de-barked,” and they weren’t “trapped” so “flies could eat them alive.” The dogs were given an experimental vaccine and allowed to roam. There was a very good reason for this: Dogs are the main reservoir host (and flies the main vector) of the disease that was being studied, which affects half a million people a year, particularly children, and has a 6 percent mortality rate in Tunisia.
But right-wing news outlets, through stupidity or malice, conflated separate studies funded by NIAID....
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