How the Left Lost Its Mind: Polemicists, conspiracists, and outright fabulists are feeding an alternative media landscape—where the implausibility of a claim is no bar to its acceptance

How the Left Lost Its Mind: Polemicists, conspiracists, and outright fabulists are feeding an alternative media landscape—where the implausibility of a claim is no bar to its acceptance. By McKay Coppins, in the left-leaning Atlantic magazine.

Over the past two decades, an immense amount of journalistic energy was spent exploring the right-wing media ecosystem — from talk radio, to Fox News, to Breitbart and beyond — and documenting its growing influence on mainstream GOP politics. … While serious Republicans in the political class spent years scoffing at the “entertainers” and “provocateurs” on the supposedly powerless fringe, the denizens of the fever swamp were busy taking over the party.

But 2017 poses the question: Could the same thing happen on the left? …

The Trump era has given rise to a vast alternative left-wing media infrastructure that operates largely out of the view of casual news consumers, but commands a massive audience and growing influence in liberal America. There are polemical podcasters and partisan click farms; wild-eyed conspiracists and cynical fabulists. Some traffic heavily in rumor and wage campaigns of misinformation; others are merely aggregators and commentators who have carved out a corner of the web for themselves. But taken together, they form a media universe where partisan hysteria is too easily stoked, and fake news can travel at the speed of light. …

In past political epochs, popular conspiracy theories spread via pamphlets left on windshields, or chain emails forwarded thousands of times. These days, the tinfoil-hat crowd gathers on Twitter.

People like Mensch, Claude Taylor, Andrea Chalupa, Eric Garland, and Leah McElrath feed their followers a steady diet of highly provocative speculation, rumor, and innuendo that makes it sound as if Trump’s presidency — and, really, the entire Republican Party — is perpetually on the verge of a spectacular meltdown.

The most prolific of the conspiracy-mongers tend to focus on the Russia scandal, weaving a narrative so sensationalistic and complex that it could pass for a Netflix political drama. Theirs is a world where it is acceptable to allege that hundreds of American politicians, journalists, and government officials are actually secret Russian agents; that Andrew Breitbart was murdered by Vladimir Putin; that the Kremlin has “kompromat” on everyone, and oh-by-the-way a presidency-ending sex tape is going to drop any day now.

Writing recently in “The New Republic”, Sarah Jones identified the popularity of these notorious tweetstormers — some of whom boast followings in the hundreds of thousands — as part of a “disturbing emerging trend” on the left. “Liberals desperate to believe that the right conspiracy will take down Donald Trump promote their own purveyors of fake news,” she wrote. …

Facebook pages like “Occupy Democrats” have millions of fans who ensure that every meme, video, and breathless blog post they publish has a good chance at virality. The content plastered across these pages includes standard-issue clickbait (“Trump Just Did Something Awful At His Golf Course”) and hyperbolic headlines (“Queen Elizabeth Just Told Trump To Go F*ck Himself And It Is Perfect”). But these feeds are also studded with straightforwardly fake news.

An analysis by BuzzFeed during the frenzied final weeks of the 2016 election found that nearly 20 percent of the stories posted by three extremely popular liberal Facebook pages — Occupy Democrats, The Other 98%, and Addicting Info — were either partly or mostly false. …

Example of lefty craziness with fake news:

Just this month, [HuffPo] editors were forced to delete a contributor post that began, “Impeachment and removal from office are only the first steps; for America to be redeemed, Donald Trump must be prosecuted for treason and — if convicted in a court of law — executed.” And throughout last year’s primaries, Seth Abramson, a creative writing professor at the University of New Hampshire, used his HuffPost perch to churn out a procession of increasingly delusional blog posts explaining why Bernie Sanders would inevitably win the Democratic nomination.

Abramson’s arguments not only denied political realities and delegate math as the race wore on; they often denied basic human logic. But thanks to the hordes of Bernie fans desperately scouring the internet for some hope to cling to, Abramson’s posts consistently went uber-viral. (He eventually wrote a post defending this shameless play for clicks as a form of “experimental journalism” that embraced “the multi-dimensionality of metanarrative.” The Washington Post’s Matt O’Brien responded via Twitter: “Area Academic Writes Barely Comprehensible Defense of Lying.”) These days, Abramson’s main platform is Twitter, where he has over 150,000 followers, and specializes in imminent-indictment stories in the style of criminal complaints.