Friday, March 05, 2021

If The Uniparty Doesn't Restore Narrative Hegemony, Vetted Obama-ite Politicians Will Be In Trouble

 CJR  |  You recently tweeted, “Stockton is the miner’s canary for the impact of disinformation,” describing the 209 Times as “an example of racism and disinfo that is able to thrive in news deserts.” So I’d like to open the floor for you to talk about news media coverage in Stockton, how it has changed over the years, and how this media landscape has allowed for disinformation to not only spread, but really thrive in your hometown.

So Stockton, California, is what’s called a news desert. Even before the layoffs and the cuts, we had one newspaper: the Stockton Record. In addition to that, despite being the twelfth-largest city in the state, sixty-second largest in the country, we weren’t our own media market. So all of our digital, broadcast media was homed in Sacramento, so they’d have to drive an hour to Stockton to shoot things. 

During my years as mayor, the Record had to lay off employees and stopped running as many articles. When the Record didn’t have as much staff to cover things, and subscriptions declined, at the same time, this fake-news site went up. Even when I was on city council, that was the play, just attacking the Record’s credibility all the time. “The Records corrupt,” “The Record’s elite,” “No one reads the Record”—and using elected officials to do that and to just question the legitimacy of an imperfect but also the only local press that we had in the city. Then when I became mayor, and after the success of former president Trump’s 2016 campaign utilizing social media and algorithms and weaponized information, these same folks got together and, in my first month as mayor, created what’s now known as the 209 Times

People saw 209 Times and thought, Well, it’s a news site. Why would anyone purposely and deliberately go out and deceive people? So a lot of people took it at face value, like this is just an alternative news site because the Record doesn’t run as much, the Record’s not as quick, etc. And what we saw was that they started with just blatantly false articles, like articles that were literally lies and disinformation. It was really about weaponizing information and playing on people’s biases and racism. 

The stories would all follow a similar thread. Either (a) Michael Tubbs was stealing money from the city, because Black people are criminals—and I think for a lot of people it played on their bias and orientation towards, Who are Black people really? And (b) the second one was, Michael Tubbs doesn’t work, or Michael Tubbs is lazy, which is another racist trope—that Black people, particularly Black men, loiter, that they’re criminals, that they don’t work, that they’re lazy. And (c) the third was, again, Michael Tubbs is just corrupt. It’s just a corrupt administration. There’s no way he could win legitimately. He doesn’t live in the city. It’s corrupt, it’s corrupt; he’s under investigation; he’s corrupt. And for four years, leveraging social media and leveraging algorithms, they fed that poison. 

And in the course of that, they just created a different reality. I left office with a thirteen-million-dollar surplus. We were named as the fourth most fiscally healthy city in this country. But for a lot of folks, it was, No, he’s stealing money. It’s just a different reality. And that’s what I recognized, that no, this disinformation wasn’t just about an election campaign, but indeed, it was a four-year campaign that only works in a news desert. It only works when the algorithm rewards racism and bigotry and bias. It only works when there’s no check, there’s no certification. We know that brain research tells us that we look for news that confirms our bias; we look for facts that confirm our bias. And that, if I’m biased to be racist, or if I’m biased to think that the government is corrupt, I’ll find something, whether it’s the Epoch Times or the 209 Times or OAN or Fox News, that’s going to create the reality.