Donald Trump, Fox News, and the logic of alternative facts

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[Commentary] We like to imagine American politics as a kind of scored debate, with political actors acting as the debaters, the media acting as the judge, and the public acting as the audience. Much of cable news is based, implicitly or explicitly, on this metaphor. Panelists from different sides of issues are introduced to “debate” an issue; shows sell themselves as “no-spin zones”; networks brag that they’re “fair and balanced” or place “facts first.” Under this conception of American politics, a memo that proves a fraud, an argument that proves a bust, a politician who is seen to lie — all of it is revealed and punished, the system self-regulates.

But that metaphor is often wrong, and it’s particularly wrong in the ecosystem driven by Fox News and President Donald Trump’s Twitter account. What Kellyanne Conway and others understand is that if you’re just trying to activate your tribe, you don’t have to win the argument, you just need to have an argument; you need to give your side something to say, something to believe. Something like the Nunes memo or the various out-of-context texts aren’t part of a search for truth — they’re an ammo drop. All you need is to offer your side an alternative story in which to believe, a story that makes you sound trustworthy and your enemies untrustworthy. And over the past week, Fox News and President Donald Trump have done exactly that.


Donald Trump, Fox News, and the logic of alternative facts