As legitimate media has struggled to catch up with the professional liars who blamed wind for gas and coal’s failure to perform to expectations in Texas, those committed to the party line will keep on lying, as evidenced by a second Wall Street Journal editorial on the topic, just as false as the first. When the Republican Governor of Texas can blame “private power companies” and “natural gas & coal generators,” but the WSJ editorial board denies that and says it was really government regulations and wind turbines, clearly there’s no amount of real world facts that will change the WSJ’s commitment to defending fossil fuels (which froze) and attacking renewables (which out-performed expectations).
And no amount of careful fact checking can overcome the fossil energy industry’s willingness and ability to spend money promoting itself by distorting the truth about its dirty, deadly, and unreliable products. So they’ll always have someone like industry lapdog Marc Morano appear on white supremacy superstar Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show to try and steer the public into believing the lies they’re selling — long before any real experts have had time to weigh in. (Or worse, third-rate Morano wannabe Alex Epstein on third-rate Carlson has-been Glenn Beck’s show on his third-rate Fox wanna-be, The Blaze…)
From there, a conspiracy-hungry audience, cultivated by decades of fearmongering and denial, runs wild with the false framing on social media, leaving the real world scratching its head while the industry’s puppets create a parallel universe of conservative fictions.
So what can be done about that? Oh it’s simple, really! Just regulate social media, crack down on dark money in politics, and put the sort of public pressure on denial media that hits them right in the profits. Sure it's all easier said than done, but we absolutely know what needs to be done.
Because, while social media companies’ belated efforts to tamp down the propaganda campaigns have finally started to remove some of the most violent and deranged accounts en masse, they clearly lack the incentive to devote any significant portion of their vast profits to making sure their platforms aren't being used to carry out human rights abuses and disinformation campaigns.
And just like the fossil fuel industry’s not about to voluntarily regulate itself out of existence, voluntary pledges from social media companies will never be as strong as regulations enacted by the government to hold them accountable for the real-world consequences of their digital platforms. Similarly, the fact that the fossil fuel industry can pour profits into the political system, buying the loyalty of the Republican party and its extremely-online class of new Qaracters, suggests perhaps that campaign finance reform might be a prerequisite to any real and effective bipartisan climate legislation.
As for media outlets that gleefully spread disinformation as part of their conservative political brand, namely the Wall Street Journal and Fox, a public policy answer is probably not the right one, given, y’know, the First Amendment. But public pressure campaigns could be a market signal these companies can’t afford to deny.
Groups like Sleeping Giants that target Fox’s advertisers hit the company in the bottom line. But at this point, most major advertisers have already fled Tucker Carlson and other highly-visible and highly-racist Fox figures, leaving the company to fill coveted prime time advertising slots with its own in-house ads. (And MyPillow ads…) But do cable carriers really need to carry Fox? Its audience probably thinks so, but the overwhelming majority of subscribers who don’t watch the channel might be mad when they find out how much of their sizable bill is so that they can receive Fox’s propaganda. Campaigns for cable customers to threaten to cut the cord if they don’t cut Fox off their bill would squeeze FoxNew’s last major revenue source.
Subscribers are also, ultimately, the only audience the Wall Street Journal is going to be responsive to, so that’s perhaps where pressure could be applied. The Journal prides itself on its financial coverage — but what happens when readers see the factual stories so frankly denied by its opinion pages?
Surely it was jarring for readers to see reporter Russell Gold’s explainer of the Texas blackouts say that the state’s grid “faced twin problems: frozen power plants and not enough natural gas to run all needed power plants,” and then see an editorial claiming just the opposite.
Can financial professionals afford the risk of trusting a newspaper willing to publish disinformation, even as opinion, about such major, market-shaping forces?
And can the Wall Street Journal afford to have its subscribers ask themselves that?