CNN’s Oliver Darcy and BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel explain this wild world on Recode Media: “It’s not as organized at people think it is, and yet everyone knows their role.”
On the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, we did something a bit different: Peter invited two guests, CNN social media reporter Oliver Darcy and BuzzFeed senior tech reporter Charlie Warzel, to talk about the same thing: Covering the far-right media, which has exploded in prominence thanks to President Trump.
“What we cover, more than anything else, is the process,” said Warzel, who also writes a newsletter about the topic called InfoWarzel. “It’s the, ‘How does x get from /r/The_Donald to wherever, and how are they doing it? What’s the method of amplification?”
/r/The_Donald, for the uninitiated, is the main pro-Trump section of Reddit — and Darcy and Warzel agreed that online publications and message boards are a big part of the story. Neither could say, for example, exactly how many viewers someone like InfoWars’ Alex Jones has, but he and others like him have a direct line to the Republican mainstream.
“A lot of the narratives are tested, like trial balloons, to see how it works with the base” Darcy said. “And if things really start taking hold, that’s when you see it bubble up to the surface. You get it on a radio show, and then it’ll eventually get to primetime on Fox News.”
The most important connector, both reporters said, is The Drudge Report (“You are going to be on Fox if you’re the splash on Drudge.”) But Twitter is also crucial, too: Far-right personalities Milo Yiannopoulos and Chuck Johnson saw their reach shrink severely when Twitter permanently banned them, Warzel said.
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Darcy noted that there are “competing interests” within the pro-Trump media, mirroring the bitterly divided state of the Trump White House. Nevertheless, the different factions will still readily promote each other’s ideas, Warzel said.
“The thing about this group is that it’s not as organized at people think it is, and yet everyone knows their role,” he said. “When something happens, it’s actually very easy to keep tabs on it. Everyone’s monitoring everyone else and amplifying everyone else, all the time.”
Warzel and Darcy agreed that their job is to give the pro-Trump media a “tough but fair shake.” Meaning, if someone has demonstrably spread false conspiracy theories, say so — but then write about them anyway, because what they’re spreading is reaching people one way or another.
“Completely ignoring voices that you don’t like, or dismissing them as garbage, that doesn’t tend to work out very well,” Warzel said.
“If we ignored them, which we could do, that doesn’t mean Sean Hannity’s going to ignore them,” Darcy said. “That doesn’t mean that Matt Drudge will ignore these things. This universe will go on pretty fine without us. The only difference will be that no one will know what’s going on, and they won’t see how the sausage is made.”
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