Trump and right-wing media distract from bad virus news with alternate reality

More than 82,000 Americans have died of coronavirus as of Tuesday. A top model now forecasts that 147,000 Americans will lose their lives by August. Millions are out of work. And the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, is warning that reopening the country too early could have serious consequences.

Which is all to say that the news is not good for President Trump. Death and despair threaten to swallow his reelection hopes. A Tuesday CNN poll found that most Americans (54%) believe the US gov’t is doing a poor job preventing the spread of the virus. And a majority (52%) still think the worst is on the horizon.

Major news organizations are reflecting this grim reality with clear-eyed reporting, bold headlines, and historic front pages. So what is Trump, Fox News, and the right-wing media machine doing? They’re constructing a separate alternate reality to keep their fans distracted from the news and outraged at the long-standing villains in the right-wing media universe. The general idea is that President Obama and others improperly used the levers of gov’t to conspire against Trump to win the 2016 election, with the “deep-state” later working to kneecap him when he was in office.

It’s called “OBAMAGATE.” And as Tim Miller explained in his superb piece, the key tenets of the theory do not make much sense: “The main ones being (a) when spelled out all in one place it is absurd on its face and (b) if anything, the supposed deep-staters’ actions in 2016 served to help Donald Trump politically, particularly in the final weeks of the election when the FBI reopened the investigation into their supposedly preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton and then absolved Donald Trump of the actions they were supposedly framing him of in the New York Times.”
David Frum put it this way: “The ‘Obamagate’ that Trump tweets about—like the comic-book universes on which it seems to be modeled—is a tangle of backstories. The main characters do things for reasons that make no objective sense, things that can be decoded only by obsessive superfans on long Reddit threads.”

But while you might just brush it off as Trump and his allies raging in a nonsensical way, you should know that there is a real effort to blow this up. Trump is obviously ranting about it on his Twitter account and elsewhere. And though he was unable to actually explain it in a coherent fashion on Monday, his allies in right-wing media are stepping in.

Over the past few days, they’ve started hyping the supposed scandal as if it really was, in fact, worse than Watergate. Coverage is all over Fox News’ programming, covered by both the supposed “straight news” anchors to the opinion commentators like Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and Laura Ingraham. As WaPo’s Phillip Bump noted earlier this week, mentions of Michael Flynn — who plays a central role in all of this — have surpassed mentions of the coronavirus on Fox News in recent days.

“While the mainstream press moves on to other matters or simply mocks the absurdity of the president’s huffing and puffing about #Obamagate, the right-wing media plunge their audiences deeper into it,” Miller explained, adding, “The result is that President Trump gets to live in an alternate reality of his own choosing.”

Will it help him with a broad audience? Frum doesn’t think so, writing, “The consequences are here. The fairy tales Trump tells on Twitter will not conceal those consequences from the voters Trump needs.” That might be right. But it will definitely distract Trump’s base from the hard facts of the coronavirus. And that seems to be the point.

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