Tuesday, March 16, 2021


I agree, more or less, with this part of Amanda Marcotte's latest column:
One of the most important tools that cult leaders use is to control their followers to convince them to separate themselves as much as possible from the mainstream. Followers are encouraged to see mainstream society as evil, and to distinguish themselves as much as possible in their political views and personal practices....

This is what the right-wing media is doing with vaccines but on a larger scale.

By encouraging their viewers to see even something as mundane and necessary as a vaccine as "liberal" and therefore contaminated, Carlson and his allies can help accelerate the process of alienating their viewers from anything resembling mainstream society. Viewers are then encouraged, like cult followers, to only trust information coming from Fox News and to reject everything else as part of the "liberal" conspiracy. Paranoia, which is already rampant on the right, becomes the main tool in cultivating this cult-like following.
I don't think this is specific to the way the right-wing media talks about vaccines or the pandemic -- I think it's how the right-wing media talks about everything. You can't trust mainstream sources. Only Fox or Gateway Pundit or, when he was alive, Rush Limbaugh will tell you the real truth.

I'm not sure the pioneers of the modern right-wing media realized back in the 1990s that talking to their audiences this way would turn them into cult followers. I think they believed they were merely offering an alternative to mainstream news, which they regarded as ubiquitous and unavoidable. I don't think Limbaugh or Roger Ailes foresaw that their fans would wall themselves off from all sources of information other than themselves and their ideological soul mates. Limbaugh and Ailes wanted to be successful media figures, and became cult leaders almost by accident. Of course, they never minded being cult leaders, or worried that they were making their fan base ignorant or paranoid.

Which brings me to another part of Marcotte column, which I disagree with:
Tucker Carlson really wants his audience to die. The notorious Fox News host ... was at it again on Monday night, presenting the coronavirus vaccine as some kind of evil conspiracy and discouraging his audience from getting it....

Steve Bannon insisted on his podcast that the vaccines "are not technically vaccines" but instead "experimental gene therapies." (This is a lie. The vaccines work like all vaccines — by training the body to be immune to the coronavirus.) Laura Ingraham accused President Joe Biden of peddling "vaccine propaganda" ...

Carlson, Ingraham, etc. are actively trying to get their own audiences killed.... It's usually not considered particularly smart business practice to get your own customers killed, but that's exactly what Carlson and his fellow travelers are doing.

... there's one obvious reason Fox News is willing to actively kill their own audience: to tank Biden's presidency. So much of Biden's success will depend on getting this pandemic under control. By convincing their own viewers to be disease vectors who keep transmission, hospitalization, and death rates high, Fox News can help keep the pandemic going. It also helps if, by keeping the U.S. from reaching herd immunity, Fox News can keep the country from re-opening.
I don't buy this. Of course all these people want to tank Biden's presidency, but they don't want their own viewers to die.

They simply don't care if they die. That's different.

They don't care in the way petrochemical companies in the Third World, or in parts of America, don't care whether they poison groundwater and cause birth defects. They don't care the way coal companies don't care how safe their mines are. They don't care the way soda companies don't care how fat Americans get drinking sugary beverages. They don't care the way the Sacklers didn't care about the opioid crisis they were creating. They care only to the extent of trying to predict (and control) how much they'll pay if they're held liable for human suffering.

The companies I've named have to pay (inadequate) fines if linked to human suffering. Fox News won't have to pay anything if it leads people to ignore or reject health measures. Fox wants its viewers and their families to blame the Chinese if COVID strikes. For the most part, that will happen.

The right-wing media isn't trying to prevent reopening -- it wants what it's wanted throughout the pandemic, which is reopening with few if any precautions to prevent infection. It wants what Texas and Florida and Mississippi have now. Who cares if people die?

Fox knows that most people won't die from this virus, even in its elderly audience. It wants the survivors to be smug, and to be as indifferent to the ones who don't survive as its hosts are.

It wants its audience to believe that it's pointless to protect yourself, because protecting oneself is what liberals do, and nothing liberals do can ever be anything less than evil.

Marcotte thinks Fox hosts are building a "death cult." I don't agree. They're building a radical-lack-of-empathy cult. Of course, that's what American conservatism has been for decades anyway.

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