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Juan Williams: A guide to combating right-wing lies


With families preparing to sit down together for Thanksgiving dinner, here is your cheat sheet for when some of your relatives start shouting right-wing nonsense at the dinner table next week. 

Get ready to argue over right-wing “outrage porn.”

Years ago, Tim Kreider coined that term in The New York Times to describe how producers at talk radio and cable news, as well as online voices, played up any story with a racial angle, any video of violence, and mockery of elites to “get us all riled up with righteous indignation.”

{mosads}Since then, what was a grab for big ratings has become far more dangerous.

Now it is about intentionally selling naked distortion as political news to stir up emotional outrage.

As Ryan Holiday, a media critic, famously wrote, the more hateful and threatening the language, the more time people will spend looking at it because “people like getting pissed off almost as much as they like actual porn.”

That media strategy is a sure bet to get more clicks and pull in more advertising dollars, as we recently learned from the disclosure of internal guidance from Facebook — a site from which almost one-third of all Americans “regularly” get news, according to the Pew Research Center.

It is also a good way to get indigestion at Thanksgiving dinner.

How do you have a good, civil conversation with people who get their thrills from a daily dive into a swamp of hate?

So, get ready for a Thanksgiving face-off with that crazy relative who can’t turn off right-wing talk radio.

Get ready to sit next to people whispering to you about QAnon and other conspiracy theories they’ve found on Facebook.

Here’s a cheat sheet of facts to cite in somber tones while that crazy uncle is unloading.

First, Big Bird is not a communist or propagandist.

Yes, the fictional character recently said he has been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Big Bird has long encouraged children to eat healthy food and get their vaccines. That was before the far-right media realized it’s good for their ratings to make the COVID vaccine into a political issue.

Second, get ready to hear that the government is exaggerating when they report that more than 750,000 people have died from COVID.

The Kaiser Family Foundation reported last week that fans of right-wing media widely believe the numbers are inflated by the government.

Sorry, those numbers come from local health departments and are added up by non-political players, such as Johns Hopkins University.

Third, President Biden is not trying “to give $450k to every illegal immigrant,” as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) recently tweeted.

The reality of the story — which has been given enormous coverage in conservative media —  is much more complicated and much less outrageous.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is in fact seeking to settle cases for damages that have been brought by parents and children who were separated at the southern border in 2018 on then-President Trump’s orders.

In other words, the DOJ is trying to deal with the legal exposure caused by Trump’s inhumane policy, which experts at the time said amounted to child abuse.

Fourth, try not to cover your ears when the shouting begins over critical race theory.

Just say it is not being taught as a course in Virginia public schools, despite far-right, race-baiting claims in the run-up to the Virginia Governor’s race.

What is outrageous and true is that a Monmouth University poll released last week found 43 percent of Republicans oppose teaching “the history of racism” in U.S. schools.

How can American history be taught without mention of slavery, the Civil War, President Lincoln or the 14th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing equal rights?

But if you dare to make that argument, get ready for the smirk that dismisses you as one of the elites trying to make white school children feel guilty.

Fifth, there is no reason to pretend to laugh along when any relative offers to share a video put out by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) showing a cartoon version of himself killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

It is also better not to chuckle about merchandise bearing the slogan “Let’s go, Brandon,” code for a profane chant demeaning the president.

And it is okay to leave the table while condemning anti-Semitism when you hear laughter accompanying the story of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) blaming California wildfires on space lasers somehow linked to a prominent and wealthy Jewish banking family.

And finally, get ready for a Thanksgiving stomach ache when that cranky relative rehashes the “Big Lie” that Trump won the 2020 election.

In a September CNN poll, 59 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said believing Trump won the 2020 election is “very important” or “somewhat important” to being a Republican⁠.  In other words, they think it is important to believe a lie.

{mossecondads}Despite a mountain of evidence showing Trump made an authoritarian attempt to defy the Constitution and stay in office after his defeat, a Quinnipiac University poll from last month gave him an 86 percent favorability rating among Republicans.

That is cult-like thinking. It is a hostile takeover of political reality by a Trump-created alternate reality.

Short of a whole family intervention at Thanksgiving dinner, it is going to be difficult to get that angry relative to stop watching “outrage porn.” They are addicted to emotionally charged distortion.

Forget a dinner table exchange of political points of view.

This is about so many in the GOP being drunk on grievance and misinformation that they are unable to contribute to real policy debate about governing the nation.

By next Thanksgiving, one of the two factions — reality or the right-wing alternative universe — will be celebrating a political victory in the 2022 midterms.

At this point, it is hard to know where the national political conversation is going to go between now and then.

But as we pull on the turkey’s wishbone, I am not optimistic.

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.


Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez big bird Conspiracy theories COVID-19 Disinformation Donald Trump Joe Biden Marjorie Taylor Greene Paul Gosar Social media Ted Cruz Thanksgiving vaccinations

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