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The Heroin-Like Power of Fox “News” Nearly Killed Ralph Yarl
There’s still time to help the rest of America break those bonds by explaining how profitable hate and fear are for these media and social media empires…
What’s the difference between heroin and Fox “News”?
Starting in 1898, the Bayer company of Germany marketed diamorphine as an over-the-counter cough remedy and pain reliever under the brand name Heroin, taken from the German word for “heroic”; it took a generation to discover how addictive it was, leading to it being banned in the US in 1924 and around the world in the 1930s.
Heroin’s power comes from its ability to reach below our level of conscious control and stimulate the body’s natural opiate system, producing a sensation of pleasure and fulfillment that sweeps away everyday concerns, seemingly answering all of life’s questions and problems.
More recently, the Sackler family introduced Oxycontin to the US, marketing it irresponsibly in a way that led to hundreds of thousands of American deaths.
The drug was developed around the same time heroin was in widespread use in the US and even Adolf Hitler became addicted to it, but Oxy only became a “blockbuster” product in the US when the Sackler’s company, Purdue Pharma, began pushing it in 1995, falsely arguing it was less addictive than most other opiates.
Their reckless promotion of Oxycontin, however, made the family billions, which they continue to enjoy.
The parallels to media — including social media — are startling.
Mark Zuckerberg, now a billionaire, developed Facebook in 2004 as a product to rate women at Harvard, but with the development of an algorithm that would feed people more and more of what they wanted — dopamine jolt after dopamine jolt — the product became highly addictive (or at least habituating).
Zuckerberg’s refusal to make the algorithm public or transparent has provoked charges that he’s following in the billionaire Sackler family’s footsteps, irresponsibly providing the public with a product that alters brains to crave more and more of it.
That same algorithmic model was later adopted by Twitter and Tik-Tok, among others, and has fueled a mental health and suicide crisis among American teens while making investors in those companies rich beyond the dreams of King Midas.
While social media’s addictive nature mostly comes from the delivery system — the algorithm could be likened to the syringe used with heroin — the addictive nature of conventional media like hate-talk radio and Fox “News” is attributable to its content.
Just like heroin provides a biochemical jolt that takes away the cares of the day and replaces them with itself, hate-talk radio and Fox “News” jolt their consumers with the dopamine rush of hate and bigotry while providing the assurance that they’re part of an exclusive in-group that — unlike the rest of the nation — truly understands what’s happening.
The alternative reality provided consumers of hate-talk radio and Fox “News” is analogous to the bubble world in which heroin and Oxycontin addicts live their daily lives. Everything revolves around that daily jolt — the regular adrenaline and endorphin rush — of outrage and “secret knowledge.”
Astonishing research reported four months ago in The Washington Post found that Fox “News” is so frequently associated with bigotry and hate that “just tuning in to Fox News might be enough to activate racial bias.”
As the Post reported:
“[S]imply spotting the Fox News masthead may be enough to prompt some Whites to expect that Blacks are guilty. Other research finds that Fox News has regularly blamed Black people for rioting and that Fox News’s website is more likely to show Black people in stories about crime. That in turn suggests that Fox News might reinforce racial stereotypes.”
As NAACP President Derrick Johnson, told CNN about Fox “News”:
“They play to the lowest common denominator of white fear. They peddle fear at a level that causes harm to communities. … They peddle fear starting from the morning shows and all throughout the day.
“If you think about the average person who consumes Fox News, their sense of reality is disconnected from facts,” Johnson added. “It is disconnected from allowing different people to exist. It creates a level of tolerance around things that are mean, hate-based, and inhumane. It create a sense of us versus them.”
And just as it took America a generation to discover how addictive Heroin and later Oxycontin are, it’s taken us a generation to discover how addictive and destructive social media, hate-talk radio, and Fox “News” can be.
Here in America, national rightwing hate radio took off with the Rush Limbaugh Program in 1988 (the year after President Ronald Reagan suspended enforcement of the Fairness Doctrine) and, on television, the 1996 roll-out of Fox “News” after President Reagan had expedited Rupert Murdoch’s naturalization in 1985 so he could own US-based television stations.
We can now look back on these media and their impact on our society with the same retrospective analysis that we used when widespread opiate addiction forced us to come to understand and then regulate heroin and Oxycontin.
And their power is substantial.
Facebook helped incite a mass genocide in Myanmar and is used by dictators around the world to maintain their power; without it Donald Trump probably would not have become president of the US.
Twitter brought the world the Arab Spring, leading to the overthrow of multiple governments and a transformation of Northern Africa. Like Facebook, it’s now being used by states like Russia and China to denigrate democracy and promote fascism across democratic nations around the world.
Fox “News” was instrumental not just in the rise of Donald Trump but also in the attempted overthrow of American democracy in January of 2020 — and the continuing effort to replace our democratic systems with neofascism to this day.
Andrew Lester, the 84-year-old man who tried to murder Ralph Yarl when the 16-year-old rang his doorbell this week, was apparently addicted to rightwing hate media. His grandson, 28-year-old Klint Ludwig, told the Kansas City Star:
“I’ve gotten older and gained my own political views, and he’s become staunchly right-wing, further down the right-wing rabbit hole as far as doing the election-denying conspiracy stuff and COVID conspiracies and disinformation, fully buying into the Fox News, OAN kind of line. I feel like it’s really further radicalized him in a lot of ways.”
Explaining to the Star that Lester was caught up in “a 24-hour news cycle of fear and paranoia,” Ludwig added:
“And then the NRA pushing the ‘stand your ground’ stuff and that you have to defend your home. When I heard what happened, I was appalled and shocked that it transpired, but I didn’t disbelieve that it was true. The second I heard it, I was like, ‘Yeah, I could see him doing that.’”
Lester had been mainlining the heroin of hate for hours ever day, his grandson said:
“He was fully into that, he'd watch Fox News all day, every day, blaring in his living room.”
It took a toll on the old man’s mental health. And reinforced the hateful worldview so many white men grew up with in early 20th century America when the Klan was openly represented in Congress.
“I believe that there have been some positions that he’s held that have been bigoted or sort of disparaging,” Ludwig told the Star. “But it’s stock Fox News, conservative American stuff. It’s ‘anybody who gets an abortion is a murderer.’ And ‘fatherless Black families are the reason why crime exists in this country.’ It’s stuff everybody’s heard at the Thanksgiving table every year.”
On MSNBC’s Morning Joe program yesterday, former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough laid out exactly the heroin-like power of Fox “News”:
“It is deadly, and it is by design. … And when I talk about this hyper-individualism that has taken shape in America, that lack of trust, that lack of community that binds societies together, this didn’t just happen ‘because’: this happened as a direct result of a strategy by groups like the NRA and people like Glenn Beck and others that would get on television and tell people every day that the government is coming to get you. …
“We talk about Fox ‘News,’ they have told their viewers over the past six months that marines and members of the Army are coming in the same helicopters they used in Afghanistan to kill people who voted for Donald Trump. … This has been a deliberate plan for 25 years!”
I wrote Wednesday about people like Ashli Babbitt and other insurrectionists who believed Fox “News” and, as a direct result, ended up dead or in prison. Just like Oxycontin addicts who break into pharmacies and end up in jail or dead from gunfights with police.
As Scarborough so elegantly said, this is deliberate. And it’s being done to make billions of dollars for the Murdoch family and other rightwing media moguls, just like the Sackler family profited off selling Oxycontin to unsuspecting Americans.
Rupert Murdoch is now the 73rd richest man on the planet, having turned hate and fear into a commodity he then peddled for decades across three different English-speaking nations, overturning administrations, encouraging the UK to separate from the European Union, and ripping apart the fabric of each of those country’s societies.
So, what do we do?
Social media, hate-talk radio, and television aren’t pharmaceuticals that can be regulated by the FDA or DEA. And because they traffic in speech, protected by the First Amendment, they can’t be shut down or removed from the airwaves.
But to continue to exist and profit from peddling fear and hate, they must continue to enjoy a societal consensus that they’re legitimate parts of the American media landscape. Without that, they’re reduced to an Alex Jones-level “subculture” status like the John Birch Society was for so many years in the US and the Klan is today.
Rightwing media in America has made billions off conning their listeners and viewers, convincing them that bigotry is acceptable, and that the most important thing government can do is cut taxes on the morbidly rich (including the billionaire media moguls themselves).
The simple reality is that it’s nearly impossible to argue “facts” with people who’ve been brainwashed by Fox and other hate- and fear-based media. But when they realize they’ve been lied to — and lied to for profit — it’s often a splash-of-cold-water wake-up call.
A common refrain among January 6th defendants is their protestation that they were “suckered” by Fox and other rightwing media into believing Democrats hate America and steal elections. Sadly, it took being arrested to wake them up and convince them of that reality.
While it’s too late to save those unfortunate souls from the consequences of their media addictions, there’s still time to help the rest of America break those bonds by explaining how profitable hate and fear are for these media and social media empires and the billionaires they have created.
Spread the word. You may save someone’s life — and our nation.