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Trump’s ‘Fake News’ Propaganda Campaign Is Metastasizing

From gaslighting the ‘New York Times’ brass to misinformation about Infowars and Republican shadow bans, we’re in a crisis of truth

President Donald Trump delivers remarks about the economy on the South Lawn of the White House, in WashingtonTrump, Washington, USA - 27 Jul 2018

President Trump.

Evan Vucci/AP/REX Shutterstock

President Trump is never more at home than when watching cable news with his Twitter app fired up. Sunday was no exception. Beginning at 8:30 a.m., the president threatened to shut down the government if Democrats don’t vote to fund the proposed border wall, touted Friday’s GDP report and once again professed “No Collusion!” while alleging Special Counsel Mueller is unfit to lead the investigation — all in 240 characters or less. He also unleashed a new string of attacks against the media, with which he has been especially displeased in recent weeks.

According to the New York Times, Sulzberger and James Bennet, who oversees the paper’s editorial page, met with Trump after receiving a request from the White House, which also insisted the meeting be kept off the record. Noting that the president’s tweet on Sunday put the meeting back on the record, Sulzberger released a statement hours later explaining that he took the meeting to “raise concerns about the president’s deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric.”

“I told him that although the phrase ‘fake news’ is untrue and harmful, I am far more concerned about his labeling journalists ‘the enemy of the people,'” Sulzberger wrote. “I warned that this inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence.”

The president responded later on Sunday by criticizing the media’s “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” claiming that it’s actually the media, not him, that is putting the lives of journalists at risk. “Freedom of the press also comes with a responsibility to report the news accurately,” he wrote. “90% of media coverage of my Administration is negative, despite the tremendously positive results we are achieving, it’s no surprise that confidence in the media is at an all time low!”

In other words, nothing has changed. It’s unclear what gave Sulzberger the idea he would be able to reason with the president about the media’s coverage of his administration. Trump’s place in the White House is almost entirely dependent on his ability to convince Americans that everything he says is true and everything the media reports about his misguided trade war, his submissiveness to Vladimir Putin or his indifference to the human rights abuses at the border is not only wrong, but unpatriotic. The president is never going to soften his rhetoric against the press, certainly not at the behest of the publisher of The Failing New York Times. Trump couldn’t have made himself any clearer than he did on Friday when speaking to a group of veterans in Kansas City. “Just remember,” he said. “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

Miles downstream from the summit between the president and the Times, Ted Cruz has decided to throw his support behind an actual fake news outlet. On Saturday, he argued that Facebook’s decision to suspend InfoWars host Alex Jones for 30 days is an assault on the First Amendment. The senator from Texas notes that InfoWars pushed an “absurd” lie that his father killed John F. Kennedy, which he then categorizes as a “view” that people may or may not find disagreeable.

Other “views” InfoWars has propagated include that the Sandy Hook massacre that left 20 elementary school students dead in 2012 is a hoax, that Democrats were planning to start a civil war this Fourth of July, that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has raped kids in front of people and countless other conspiracy theories with no factual basis that the outlet reports as news. Jones pushes these stories with conviction, knowing they are false. Last year during a child custody hearing, Jones’ attorney even described his client as a “performance artist” who is “playing a character.”

Though Trump would never call out InfoWars, it’s one of the only outlets to which all of his criticisms of the Fake News Media actually apply. InfoWars fabricates sources, acts in bad faith and regularly puts lives at risk. (Jones fantasized about killing Mueller, even pantomiming shooting him with a handgun, as he was lying about the special counsel raping children.) Just as Trump concluded his Twitter tirade on Sunday by writing that the Times and the Amazon Washington Post “will never change,” neither will InfoWars. They have no reason to, as despite the 30-day ban of Jones, Facebook continues to enable InfoWars, which remains verified on the platform, boasting nearly a million followers. Jones has even used the ban to galvanize his followers.

Quoted in the piece is Cruz’s tweet, as well as tweets from Reps. Devin Nunes and Matt Gaetz attacking Twitter for “shadow banning” Republicans, a claim made last week in a Vice News piece that has largely been debunked. Nunes even threatened to sue the social media giant over the perceived silencing of right-wing voices, which isn’t actually happening. It doesn’t matter, though. The “shadow banning” of Republicans has already been codified as fact to millions of Americans who have read the tweets from Nunes, Gaetz and the president, who wrote last week that his administration will “look into this discriminatory and illegal practice at once.”

Trump has successfully broken down the wall between reality and whatever is convenient politically not only for himself, but also for an increasing number of prominent Republican lawmakers. This is by far the president’s most significant accomplishment since taking office, not whatever imagined noble pursuits he attacked the Times and the Post for not covering fairly on Sunday.

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