The mainstream and conservative media are living in different worlds.
The story about former Obama administration official Susan Rice and purported Russia surveillance leaks that came to briefly dominate the national conversation last week had its genesis in, of all places, the suburbs of Orange County. The first tidbit emerged from the primordial media soup thanks to a lifestyle blogger and conservative social media personality named Mike Cernovich.
“Nobody in media and journalism knows more about ‘deep state’ than I do,” Cernovich, who has almost 250,000 Twitter followers, gloated in a livestream broadcast last Sunday night, appearing at home in a hoodie and downing a glass of red wine.
Cernovich’s big exclusive? He said Rice, Obama’s former national security advisor, had requested “unmasking” the names of Trump associates who were caught up in U.S. surveillance of foreign officials. Cernovich — and other conservatives who quickly took the ball and ran — saw it as a partial validation of President Trump’s incendiary claim on Twitter a month ago that “Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower” before the election.
“Way to break the story mike!” wrote a viewer, one of many quickly commenting in approval of Cernovich’s broadcast. “Huge story Mike!” another added. One commenter typed out and sent a question, which popped up on the broadcast and then quickly disappeared: “What’s unmasking and why is it wrong?”
That’s a question any news consumer might ask of any story: What is this, and is it bad? Yet when it came to Rice, Americans were about to see conservative and mainstream news outlets come up with two very different answers to that question — a symptom of the increasing extent to which Americans often seem to live in one nation but inhabit two widely divergent realities.
One version these days typically comes from Fox News and other outlets that echo the Trump White House line. A much different one can often be found on ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, the New York Times and the rest of the mainstream media.
So it was with the Rice “story,” which for nearly two days the mainstream media largely ignored, and when it couldn’t any longer, dismissed as irrelevant.
“It’s a huge problem,” said Tom Hollinan, a professor of political communication at the USC Annenberg School. “One of the things that a healthy democracy and a deliberating public need is the ability to participate in a common conversation. They should be able to share news and understand facts in a way that helps them make sense of the world around them and make good decisions.”