RealClear Politics, which started in 2000 as a news aggregator, is one of the longest-running digital news sites. From the jump, the site was implicitly explicit about its conservative bias, in that it sought to “counterbalance the common liberal bias of the mainstream press by providing a more realistic look at the issues” and to “give readers ideological diversity.”
Please remember that, as blogger Umair Haque put it, the concept of ideological diversity “is not a thing,” and is what you call it when “a concept has no solid epistemological footing.” It’s something William Buckley Jr. came up with to attack secularism and Keynesian economics in universities. As Kate Knibbs explained in an article for the Ringer a few years ago, ideological diversity is “a Trojan horse...code for granting fringe right-wing thought more credence in communities that typically reject it, and nothing more.”
And that’s exactly what RealClear does. Though its polling averages are well-respected, the content it links to is a mix of real mainstream news and fringe right-wing front group fodder. To the undiscerning reader at RealClearPolitics, content from the Washington Post, Washington Times and New York Times sits on equal footing, despite two being the standard-bearers of journalism and the other being a cult-owned, racist-publishing, Islamaphobic, climate-denying smoking-defending rag.
Over on the RealClear Energy vertical, the bias is quite obvious. Not only are Koch cronies like Thomas Pyle regularly published alongside legitimate pieces, but there’s also a sidebar with contents broken down into sections: one specifically for denier Rupert Darwall, another titled “Energy Poverty: The World’s Forgotten Calamity”, to promote Peabody Coal’s pro-pollution propaganda.
And then there’s the pair of pieces that caught our eye, both published yesterday, by Steven Milloy. As you may recall, Milloy is the man whose Junkscience.com website was created as part of a tobacco industry effort to cast doubt on the science connecting smoking with cancer. He then went on to use a FoxNews column as part of his pro-smoking public relations work, until he was exposed. From there he went to work for climate denial, despite the fact that his reputation was tainted so badly he was hardly welcome even in denial circles. But that changed when he served on Trump’s EPA transition team. Now outlets like RealClear are willing to take the chance that Milloy isn’t using them to advance his clients’ aims, like he did at Fox.
The two pieces Milloy published yesterday are scarcely worth consideration. One headline read “Bernie’s fracking ban would also ban peace and prosperity” and the other “Sorry Virtue Signalers, a carbon tax would have no impact on climate.” The site has also published a variety of hit pieces by Chris Horner, who like Milloy, was a tobacco lawyer before becoming a fossil-fuel-funded climate denier.
But why would RealClear feel the need to publish these empty and baseless attacks? What journalistic value could a life-long PR man possibly provide for readers? Why would they let their platform be used by people whose careers have been spent defending the tobacco and fossil fuel industries at the expense of public health?
It could be the fact that the RealClear Foundation and RealClear Investigations have received millions of dollars from the Kochs,Donor’s Trust and Donors Capital Fund, the Mercer’s Job Creators Network Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation and other far-right donors. While it claims to be “recognized for its impeccable credibility,” that’s undercut by the fact that there’s a typo in the next phrase “political nonpartiship,” and that the sentence concludes with a nod to its “true ideological diversity.”
If the site’s goal is ideological diversity, then of course it’s going to run content with no solid epistemological footing, and grant fringe right-wing thought more credence than it deserves.
So let’s be real clear. No matter how well-respected its polling aggregation may be, RealClearPolitics, or Energy, or Investigations is not news.
It’s conservative propaganda disguised as news.
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