Money, Money, Money—Right-Wing Media Is All About Money
And who pays the bills for Steve Bannon's disinformation and conspiracy-mongering? Big Tech
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Screen shot of Marjorie Taylor Greene (right) appearing on Steve Bannon’s War Room, March 20, 2021
If you haven’t seen Steve Bannon lately he looks more disheveled and unhealthy than ever. The former investment banker, media strategist, and Trump-whisperer sports silvery stubble, ruddy cheeks, and an olive green drab fatigue jacket that might cause you to mistake him for a soldier recently arrived home from Iraq rather than the multi-millionaire that he is. What’s new is the hair: grey on top and Clairol brown at the tips, it hangs loosely to his shoulders, a look that might be due to Covid-19, or intended to project an image that alt-right populism as the new counterculture.
What does all of this mean? And what does the home-made aesthetic of his internet TV political talk show, “War Room: Pandemic” on the Real Americas Voice media platform, reveal?
You can’t watch for more than three minutes before you know that, regardless of your politics, you are paying for this show. The stream of right-wing populist bilge branded as “the real voice of America,” “the true opinion of the masses,” and an outlet that is “flipping the script on today’s one-way news” is enriching Steve Bannon with your consumer dollars.
Old school political media watchers might remember a cable channel called America’s Voice, founded in 1993 by conservative activist Paul Weyrich as part of “National Empowerment Television,” or NET. Because Weyrich never did anything by accident, we should presume that the acronym he chose was intended to duplicate the one used by National Educational Television before it because the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in 1970.
In 2018, Performance One Media embedded the name of Weyrich’s channel, which collapsed in 2000 under pressure from Fox News, in a new internet channel: America’s Voice News. This, in turn, became Real America’s Voice on September 16, 2020, “a platform for patriots all across America who care about traditional values." Gina Loudon, former radio talk show host, reality TV performer (on Wife Swap, no less), and co-chair of Women for Trump 2020, is head of programming.
And this is what I learned: for all that the alt-right screams about their censorship by Big Tech, Bannon’s show—and all the content on Real America’s Voice—is carried on and sponsored by numerous digital content distributors, including: Pluto TV, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon’s Fire TV, DISH, Twitter, Google Play, Facebook, and YouTube.
In fact, Bannon repeatedly referred to Big Tech’s perfidy even as their ads flashed across the chyron.
This means that if you use any of these platforms, or services from these digital corporations, you are paying Steven Bannon too, and you are supporting the spread of disinformation. Other digital commerce advertisers supporting “War Room” the day I watched were GoDaddy, GoodRx, SoClean2, Norton, NerdWallet, Instagram (a division of Facebook), and MyPillow.com.
I checked in to “War Room” last weekend because on one of my drop-ins on the right-wing social network, Gab, I noticed that professional conspiracy theorist and Congressional hobbyist Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) would be on.
Greene originally caught my attention because she was raffling off a semi-automatic pistol worth more than $2300. It was probably not subject to a background check because no money was exchanging hands. All you had to do was supply your contact information, which could then be used for Greene’s national fundraising.
This data will also be resold to the conservative mediaverse. This complex network includes political candidates, Super PACs, media outlets, and purveyors of useful items like gold bars, quack Covid remedies, and survivalist supplies. Historian Rick Perlstein calls this network of people making money off of gullible conservatives “the Long Con,” and argues persuasively that it is inextricable from the formal right-wing politics now lodged in the Republican Party.
This is a screenshot from GAB: note how many internet memes the image includes, including those embedded in the names of the gun brand and its manufacturer.
But this is only one of Greene’s grifts: another is fueling alarm about immigration and the loss of “your” freedom, and mostly involves telling lies. “War Room” is an excellent platform for that: Bannon begins the show with what has now become known as the Big Lie—that Joe Biden is not really President. That day, Bannon announced that he was broadcasting “live from an Occupied Capitol, on the 72nd day of occupation,” and repurposed another meme by introducing Greene as the “Notorious MTG.”
Greene presented herself as an opponent of both the Democratic and Republican parties, and herself as a party of one. “There is no opposition party right now,” Greene declared, as she and Bannon bonded over their distrust of the political system that htey are both profiting from. As they conversed, Greene established the following fictions and weird principles:
“I never campaigned on QAnon, I never campaigned on anything violent.” Here you can see a campaign image where Greene poses with a semi-automatic weapon in front of images of the Democrat progressive congresswomen of color known as “the Squad”), and while she may never have campaigned on QAnon, from 2017 to 2019, she promoted the conspiracy and its narratives.
“The American Dream should only be available to legal United States citizens.” What does this even mean?
“Nancy Pelosi is a liar.” No lies were offered.
“I believe the greatest threat to the Democrats communist revolution is truth, and that’s why I say the truth.” To repeat: those people over there are liars.
This is complicated, so bear with me. “Every time the government passes a new law, it creates a new industry around that law.” Greene’s example for this was what she called the “open border” policies promoted by Democrats (who are not promoting open borders. She argued that unregulated immigration creates an industry of non-profit agencies, one that collect donations to (supposedly) address the resulting humanitarian crisis. In fact, however, Greene claimed, this money, as well as taxpayer dollars, are diverted to “fuel the Democrats” plan for a “Communist revolution.”
Can we go a little further down the rabbit hole? Bannon pressed his guest on this latter point: “Are you saying that the American tax payers…that their hard-earned dollars are going to the cartels?” he said, in astonishment. Yes, Greene declared, they were. It would, of course, be difficult to “track that dollar…probably impossible,” but the point was that, combined with foreign aid programs, “the American taxpayer is virtually a slave to the entire world.” As Greene emphasized, “Money, money, money—this is all about money…this is big, big business and the Biden administration is the biggest business partner of the cartels and the coyotes.” She then asserted that “migrants are being paid” to come across the American border, and that “this is all being paid for by the American taxpayer.”
Pay attention: Greene is important to watch because her “loony lies” are not a singular “cancer on the GOP,” as Mitch McConnell would have it. Greene is but one player in a Republican effort to win voters with trolling and disinformation, having failed those same voters with their economic policies and culture wars blather.
Furthermore, I urge you—in between elections—to keep your eye on Big Tech’s ongoing investment in right-wing populist media. As Buzzfeed’s Christopher Miller has reported, over 200 militia pages and groups have been found on Facebook since March 18—over two months since the January 6 insurrection that was partly fueled by it and other mainstream social media platforms.
They aren’t hiding. Over 70% of these organizations use the word “militia” in their names. Facebook claims that they will investigate, but has stated that “simply using the word 'militia' does not violate our policies." No, but actually being a militia does, which suggests that Facebook is also deeply invested in the confusions so expertly disseminated by Bannon and his ilk.
Why in Big Tech invested in promoting dangerous people who claim to hate them? Ask Marjorie Taylor Greene: it’s money, money, money.
And the money is yours.
Claire Bond Potter is Professor of Historical Studies at The New School for Social Research and co-Executive Editor of Public Seminar. Her most recent book is Political Junkies: From Talk Radio to Twitter, How Alternative Media Hooked Us on Politics and Broke Our Democracy (Basic Books, 2020).
What I’m writing:
“Republicans put themselves in a box — after driving the nation into a ditch.” (Alternet, March 23, 2021)
What I’m reading:
Neil MacFarquhar sees right-wing conspiracists pivoting quickly away from failed “Stop the Steal” campaigns to a focus on spreading anti-vaccine disinformation. (New York Times, March 26, 2021)
Charlie Sykes says that even without new gun laws, the right could help us all by not fetishizing guns. (The Bulwark, March 25, 2021)
Sam Thielman on “Adbusters and the Roots of the Contemporary Left.” (Columbia Journalism Review, March 15, 2021)