Homepage Hopping at the End of Democracy: How Are News Sites Presenting Trump’s Coup Attempt?
I have a bad habit. When big, anxiety-producing events are taking place (and they always are now), I hop around to different news sites’ homepages to see how they are characterizing the situation. The current Situation of Great Anxiety is, of course, the coup being attempted by President Trump and the Republican Party following the victory of President-elect Biden in the presidential election. My guts are in a constant, immovable clench as I doomscroll and site-hop for any new development.
Here’s what CNN’s homepage presented its readers this morning:
“Akin to a dictatorship”! That should wake people up, right?
You see, it’s not just news I’m looking for. I’m trying to get a sense of how the major news organizations are presenting the story to their audiences. Republicans are trying to overturn democracy, and I’m hoping that our news outlets are making that clear, right away, without normalizing or both-sidesing.
CNN’s headline, while horrifying, at least told me that a mainstay institution of American news was getting the point across.
But then I remembered that most folks don’t go to news websites directly. Regular people who aren’t obsessed with this stuff don’t constantly refresh the front pages of the Washington Post or the New York Times. If they’re not just getting everything through social media, a lot of them are just opening their browsers and seeing whatever was already set as their default homepage. So how are they covering the coup?
It’s not as reassuring.
Here’s Yahoo News.
It acknowledges the issue, but it’s framed as an ongoing contest, not a power-grab. Trump has a “new weapon” and insists he didn’t lose. Biden isn’t concerned. Yes, well, I am concerned.
Look further down the page, and what do they choose to highlight? Biden’s mask mandate idea and how he can’t actually enforce it. So right away we get “Trump says he didn’t lose” and “Biden can’t make you wear a mask.” Not encouraging!
Aol.com’s homepage, which is still Yahoo content, at least begins with “State election reports defy Trump’s baseless claims.”
There’s also MSN, which is where millions of Edge and Internet Explorer users will get their first dose of news, and there’s no mention of the coup at the top, but some everything-is-normal coverage of a presidential transition, a little tiny dose of paranoia about Trump’s border wall, and something about the guy who played Ron in the Harry Potter movies.
You get the point. While CNN—correctly, I think—presents the coup as the emergency it is, the news outlets that most regular people will probably get their information from are a mixed bag.
ABC News and NBC News both take the coup more seriously on their respective homepages. ABC gives context to Trump’s bullshit by showing that he always does this (as well as featuring the news of the recanted claims of voter fraud by a postal worker). NBC highlights the personnel massacre at the Pentagon, along with other problems caused by Trump’s recalcitrance. (Plus, further down there’s stuff about how great Stacy Abrams is.)
CBS News’s homepage is formatted differently, highlighting whatever they’re talking about on CBSN, which, I assume, nobody watches (I could be wrong). But what did I see when I popped that URL into my browser? BALLOT PROBLEMS!!!
Yes, it’s Puerto Rico. Now, you and I know that Puerto Rico doesn’t vote in the presidential election (and we also know that this is morally wrong). Regardless, any big-splash story about BALLOT PROBLEMZZZ only serves to feed the existing false narrative of a rigged election.
I was also none too pleased to see USA Today’s homepage, which seems to be stoking a lot of small fires without committing to one conflagration.
The CDC is stumbling. The lieutenant governor of Texas is offering a bounty for evidence of election fraud. Trump “shakes up” Pentagon leadership. It’s not at all clear that these things are all part of One Unified Crazy.
Then I had to look at Fox News, because I am sure plenty of folks do make a beeline to that homepage for their dose of indoctrination. And it was not exactly what I expected.
There’s Fox News calling Biden the president-elect right in its top headline! The propaganda arm of the GOP is saying, yes, this guy is your president-to-be, folks. As weirdly assuring as that is, it’s heavily saturated with reasons to be afraid of this new administration. “Controversial names”!!!
I mean look at those people hovering over Biden’s shoulders like a quartet of devils! There’s that crazy socialist lady Elizabeth Warren! There’s a Black lady right next to her! On the other side of Joe’s head is a Black guy! AND THEN ANOTHER WOMAN. CONTROVERSIAL!!! PERSONNEL IS POLICY!!!
As gross as Fox News is being, it almost feels like a return to normal…where normal isn’t very good to begin with.
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