Fake News and Fascists: The Paranoid Style in American Journalism

Donald Trump may suffer from a lack of humility, but he is not a fascist.

In his essay entitled, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” (1965), Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter explored what he believed to be the inextricable connection between conspiracy, paranoia and conservatism in American political life during the Goldwater era. According to Hofstadter, the linchpin of the paranoid style of right wing politics was the “existence of a vast, insidious, preternaturally effective international conspiratorial network designed to perpetrate acts of the most fiendish character.” Hofstadter distilled the elements of contemporary right wing thought into three; First, the presence of un-American traitors who desired to “undermine free capitalism, to bring the economy under the direction of the federal government” thus paving the way for socialism or communism. Second, the view that the United States government was already “infiltrated by Communists, who sold out American interests”. Third, the revelation of an alliance between Communist agents who had infiltrated the “whole apparatus of education, religion, the press, and the mass media and our education system to “paralyze the resistance of loyal Americans.” Although historian-cum-pseudo psychiatrist Hofstadter asserted that he had “neither the competence nor the desire to classify any figures of the past and present as certifiable lunatics,” that is precisely what he did in his diagnosis that Rightism was not a system of rational political beliefs, but rather a pathological disorder. Hofstadter made a distinction between the clinical paranoiac in society and the paranoid spokesman in right wing politics; the former “sees the hostile and conspiratorial world in which he feels himself to be living as directed specifically against him.” The clinical paranoiac in right wing politics finds it “directed against a nation, a culture, a way of life whose fate affects not himself alone, but millions of others.” Despite this fundamental difference, an extemporaneous and symbiotic relationship is forged. Thus, the existence of enemies, either real or imagined, serves as the foundation that right wing politics is built on.

At the same time, Hofstadter offered evidence that paranoia was not the exclusive domain of politics and conservatives in his claim that a paranoid style was often a component of the left-wing press. The history of journalism as seen through the lens of paranoia and grandiose conspiracy is well documented. Fox News provided the fertile ground for President Trump’s birther beliefs from 2011 to 2016. Even so, on December 8th, 2015, Rachel Maddow and MSNBC took the paranoid style of journalism to heights hitherto unknown. Proceeding with a seemingly innocuous synopsis of various styles of auto racing from around the world, Maddow transitioned from auto racing to an old story about Max Mosley, the former boss of the Formula One organization, and son of Sir Oswald Mosley, the founder of the British Union of Fascists in 1932. In 2008, Max Mosley gained infamy when a video of his sexual escapades surfaced. Maddow conveys how the British tabloid News of The World broke the story of the five-hour long video tape with the headline: Formula One Boss Has Sick Nazi Orgy with Hookers. What Maddow fails to mention is that later that year, Mosley won £60,000 in a privacy action against News Of The World. In his judgement, Mr. Justice Eady “found no evidence of Nazi themes in the video,” and said that Mosley’s life had been “ruined” because of the tabloid. Nevertheless, Maddow used the Max Mosley sex scandal as an introduction to the true purpose of her feature, which was to draw parallels between Sir Oswald Mosley’s failed efforts to move Britain towards fascism, and the rise of Donald Trump, which she considered the beginning of a “flirtation with fascism” in the United States based on Trump’s desire to call for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States. She concluded her character assassination of Donald Trump by raising the question as to whether fascism as a word was too “over the top” to use to describe politics in America, or “helpful because it was accurate.” She chose the latter, and closed the segment stating that the rise of Donald Trump can be viewed as “America’s Sir Oswald Mosley Moment.”

It is important to note that Maddow spent fifty-four minutes in building her claim that Donald Trump was a fascist. Six days prior, Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik carried out a terrorist attack at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernadino, California, killing fourteen civilians and injuring twenty-two others. Maddow spent a mere two minutes commenting on the tragedy, preferring instead to focus on Trump and fascism. This scenario did not bode well for Americans who had not forgotten 9/11, and worried about the possibility of more terrorism on American soil. Henceforth, many that watched Maddow’s report could not help but feel they were experiencing America’s fake news moment, and not the beginnings of fascism in the United States. It soon became clear to many exactly who was paranoid and who was sane.

In an election result that shocked the world, Donald J. Trump became our 45th commander-in-chief. Nevertheless, the squadraccia did not occupy Zuccotti Park. There was no goose stepping through Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza. Kathy Griffin, Hillary Clinton and Robert DeNiro were not sent to a gulag in Siberia, despite allegations of a Trump/Putin alliance. Michael Moore was not subjected to re-education through labor. Maddow continues to report with impunity from NBC studios in New York City, despite her borderline libelous claims. On the other hand, President Trump’s executive orders and presidential actions have been overturned in the courts, and to date, he has not called in the military, or called for a violent overthrow of the American political system.

It has become evident that Donald Trump may suffer from a lack of humility, but he is not a fascist. His ascendancy to the White House is the result of our American democracy, not a Mussolini inspired de facto legal dictatorship. On the contrary, the only individuals that seemed to have a rational fascist like plan to obliterate democracy were the anti-Trump protesters in 25 cities across America who refused to accept Trump’s victory, and continue to do so. A friend “called me out” on my Facebook wall for claims that I made that he perceived to be pro-Trump. He asserted that it was the duty of progressives everywhere to hold Trump voters accountable for electing him, subjecting them to public humiliation. Guilt or innocence was inconsequential. He was unrelenting in his public assault on me. I was left with no other alternative other than to block him, but before doing so, I let him know that I liked his philosophy better when it was implemented by Mao, the original authoritarian, in the struggle sessions he enforced during China’s Cultural Revolution.

Journalists worldwide remain loathe to atone for their misdiagnosis of voter sentiments in the United States. They cannot seem to decide whether President Trump is a fascist, an authoritarian, or merely an ineffectual leader suffering from narcissistic personality disorder. Moreover, they continue to regard Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning as heroes for leaking classified information, but vilify Russia for their alleged role in making us aware of the machinations of the DNC and Hillary Clinton, calling it “election tampering.”

Rachel Maddow has probably forgotten more about geopolitics and journalism than I will ever know. I have learned much from several of her well researched features on the Middle East, so I remain a fan. Notwithstanding, I believe that she codified the essential elements of fake news in her failed expose on Donald Trump, which was replete with confirmation bias. I look forward to the time when she hands back her prophet’s robes and settles down to being a journalist again.

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3 thoughts on “Fake News and Fascists: The Paranoid Style in American Journalism

  1. Shortly after Hofstadter’s piece was published, the Democratic party openly adopted the position that the government should control the economy (a position that they’d implicitly adopted in the FDR era). The fall of the USSR brought the release of documents proving that American governmental, cultural and educational institutions were in fact widely infiltrated by Soviet agents bent on undermining our free markets and free exchange of ideas. So the three “paranoid delusions” supporting Hofstadter’s thesis all turned out to be accurate assessments of reality.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, the Venona project..the Soviet infiltration was far more extensive than originally thought..I am glad you thoroughly understood what i tried to convey,,,not only that President Trump is not a fascist, but the “delusions” Hofstadter spoke about were not really delusions at all.. Looking forward the question is raised as to what extent radical Islamic terrorists have infiltrated society in a similar way.

    Like

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