The Political Logic of the Radical Right Media Sphere in the United States
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Democracy in America is threatened by an increased level of false information circulating through online media networks. Previous research has found that radical right media such as Fox News and Breitbart are the principal incubators and distributors of online disinformation. In this dissertation, I draw attention to their political mobilizing logic and propose a new theoretical framework to analyze major radical right media in the U.S. Contrasted with the old partisan media literature that regarded radical right media as partisan news organizations, I argue that media outlets such as Fox News and Breitbart are better understood as hybrid network organizations. This means that many radical right media can function as partisan journalism producers, disinformation distributors, and in many cases political organizations at the same time. They not only provide partisan news reporting but also engage in a variety of political activities such as spreading disinformation, conducting opposition research, contacting voters, and campaigning and fundraising for politicians. In addition, many radical right media are also capable of forming emerging political organization networks that can mobilize resources, coordinate actions, and pursue tangible political goals at strategic moments in response to the changing political environment. By tracking how major radical right media in the U.S. responded to various political threats during the Trump administration, I show that these political organization networks can emerge from different lines of internal media cueing, external politician cueing, and ideological alignments and divisions among various radical right groups. I also demonstrate that radical right media are more than just a propaganda arm operating in the interests of the GOP or the Trump administration. Funded by right-wing activist donors such as the Mercer Family and the Koch brothers, many radical right media have tried to influence the agendas of the GOP and its leaders. I argue that radical right media can erode and weaken American democracy by diminishing the role of facts in self-governance, breaking the democratic norm of mutual tolerance, and undermining democratic institutions.
- Communications