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2020: The Year of Conspiracies

“If the purpose of the news is to deliver facts, are conspiracy theories even worth mentioning?”

Kyle Thomas

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The world is flat, the deep state, pedophiles, cannibals, terrorists, how the hell did we get here?
In a year marked by the unprecedented, several major news outlets have found themselves
having to dedicate time to conspiracy theories and debunking them. They’re wild, disturbing,
distracting, meant to draw attention away from whatever was on your mind previously. In lieu of
reporting relevant information, it has become necessary, even essential to address these
theories. What is the role of news media in this era?

Over the past few months, for every headline, a conspiracy comes with it. The wildfires, the
COVID pandemic, nationwide protests, there seems to be a conspiracy behind everything and
outlets are trying to keep up. The rate of dissemination of these conspiracies has not slowed
despite the efforts of the news media to dispel them.

It doesn’t help that the White House parrots these theories on Fox News. It’s no secret that the
president supports the network and often uses it as a platform to promote himself and his party.
When a major news network allows people to make unsubstantiated claims you know there’s
trouble ahead.

If the purpose of the news is to deliver facts, are these conspiracy theories even worth
mentioning?

One of the conspiracies mentioned in an article by CNN is linked to Q-Anon, a theory of chain of
theories that poses the existence of a “Deep State” that is run by celebrities and politicians who
worship satan, drink blood, and are involved in a child sex-trafficking ring. The conspiracy paints
Trump as an outsider whose actions are part of an effort to defeat the blood-drinking
pedophiles.

Woah.

Most of you reading this are probably thinking, “how could anyone believe this crap?” and
indeed most people don’t, but the bits and pieces that people do believe leave us scratching our
heads. Where does this come from and why does the right find it so attractive?

People are problem-solving machines. When something in the world doesn’t make sense to
them they seek an explanation. 2020 defies logic and explanation. People are scared. They’re
experiencing job and food insecurity, protests are happening in every major city. They’ve had
the rug pulled out from under them, so it makes sense that the most vulnerable amongst us will
turn to whatever crazy theory they can find to explain what we’re going through.

The common thread here is that these conspiracies, rather than facts, rely on emotion. Conspiracy theories validate ideas that people feel are true but haven’t seen any evidence to support them, visceral fears about the unknown. Fears about the things normal people don’t understand. Q-Anon gives a voice to these fears.

Publications like Forbes and USA Today, politically neutral in their reporting, have published
articles that discuss Q-Anon and the people who believe in it. The rate of dissemination of these
conspiracies has hastened thanks to social media. Is there any way to combat this plague? The
way the news reports on these theories might be doing more harm than good.

One of the central drivers to these conspiracies is that mainstream news media cannot be
trusted, hence they are involved in the cover-up and will therefore dismiss theories related to
Q-Anon as untrue. Believers instead turn to Facebook and Youtube to get their “truth”. Mark
Zuckerberg resisting calls to regulate and slow the spread of misinformation on his platform, is
just as guilty as the ones who spread it.

“Experts who follow disinformation say nothing will change until Facebook and YouTube shift
their business model away from the algorithms that reward conspiracies.” (Time Magazine)
We can’t rely on the government to put pressure on social media companies when the president
refers to these conspiracy theorists as “people who love their country”. To discern what’s real,
average citizens will have to count on themselves.

There are some signs that the effects of conspiracy theories are bleeding into real life. As the
wildfires spread in Oregon theories about how they started to spread too. The Jackson County
Oregon sheriff’s department has had to pushback against claims that the wildfires were started
by Antifa arsonists and that a number of them were in custody. Local officials have had to plead
that the public refer to official channels for updates on the wildfires.

In Spokane Washington, a reporter named Daniel Walters tried to get to the bottom of why state
representative Jenny Graham posted on her social media links to articles claiming that missing
children were being kept in dungeons by demons. When he asked this representative about
them he was bombarded with expletive-filled messages. Even though Mr. Walters checked up
on his sources and kept his journalistic integrity, he was met with backlash.

It’s one thing for private citizens to spread false information to their friends and family, elected
officials however have a much broader audience and should be held to a higher standard.
Democracy cannot succeed without an informed electorate. If this problem can’t be solved by
good reporting and government oversight what can we do?

Fortunately, the popularity of Q-Anon is still on the fringes, most Americans haven’t even heard
of it.

“But despite QAnon’s spread, about three-quarters of U.S. adults (76%) say they have heard or
read nothing at all about it, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in February
and March. Around a quarter (23%) say they have heard or read a lot or a little, with 3% saying
they’ve heard or read a lot. The data was gathered as part of the Center’s Election News
Pathways project.” (pewresearch.org)

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver offered some helpful suggestions; look to voices people
trust, dig deeper to find the sources of information spread on Facebook, and use common
sense. These theorists live in a “non-reality” and will refute any factual argument, actually talking
to these people, their evidence for these beliefs are flimsy at best. They act evasively with
comments like “do your research” or “look it up”.

As a writer myself, I rely on the suspension of disbelief. To immerse the reader into the world of
a story, we insert a bit of reality into the world so part of it remains grounded. The force, magic,
superheroes, the point is not to take these things literally, they add a bit of fantasy and wonder
to keep your attention while the writers get their point of view across.

Not only is “Q” a bad writer, but their methods are completely unethical. Using deceptive tactics,
headlines, fonts, videos, photoshop, deep-fakes, and devices used to make fake things look
real, they prey on people who can’t tell the difference. Q whoever they are wants to divide us.
They want us at each other’s throats for views, likes, and worst of all profit.

News media shouldn’t be based on emotion, but perhaps news outlets should display how facts
are a benefit to humanity. Facts are what connect us. Without provable, universal facts the
world would look very different. We still use calculations a thousand years old to reach
breakthroughs in science today. Archimedes, Pythagoras, Copernicus despite the popular
beliefs of the times they lived, produced methods and equations that let humanity reach the
stars.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Elizabeth Johnson

    September 29, 2020 at 3:46 pm

    You make very valid points here, Kyle. The truth is that many trusted media outlets have allowed themselves to be played. Your suggestion to stick to facts and not give voice to wild conspiracy theories is one that would be very worth their consideration.

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BNM Writers

Viewership Not as Strong For Biden-Trump II

Douglas Pucci

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The second and final U.S. presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden took place on Thursday, Oct. 22 and across 15 outlets, it drew 62.95 million viewers. While the first Biden-Trump debate from Sep. 29 (73.13 million) ranked as the second most-watched debate in TV history, Biden-Trump II failed to crack the top 15 most-watched debates (placing 17th).

Once more, Fox News Channel — expected to top cable in total viewers for the week ending Oct. 25 — was the top outlet for a debate; Biden-Trump II drew 15.41 million viewers. CNN drew less than half of FNC’s audience figures with 7.51 million viewers but still ranked as runner-up on cable; MSNBC (6.93 million) close behind. 

ABC led the broadcast networks in debate coverage with 11.23 million viewers. The debate’s moderator was NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker which may have led NBC to be the lone network to increase its viewership from the first debate; it drew 10.63 million, up 9 percent from Sep. 29. CBS attracted an audience of 5.72 million.

Here were the half-hour total viewer breakdowns of Biden-Trump II on the broadcast networks:

9:00-9:30 p.m. ET

ABC — 10.881 million

CBS — 5.319 million

NBC — 10.249 million

Univision — 1.288 million

Telemundo— 1.397 million

9:30-10:00 p.m. ET

ABC — 11.648 million

CBS — 6.000 million

NBC — 11.017 million

Univision — 1.506 million

Telemundo— 1.479 million

10:00-10:30 p.m. ET

ABC — 11.248 million

CBS — 5.858 million

NBC — 10.683 million

Univision — 1.501 million

Telemundo— 1.489 million

Unlike Biden-Trump from Sep. 29 and Harris-Pence from Oct. 7, Univision (1.43 million) was Biden-Trump II’s top Spanish-language outlet. Telemundo delivered 1.27 million viewers.

The debate affected the crowd for Fox and NFL Network’s “Thursday Night Football”. Giants-Eagles drew 10.61 million viewers, the smallest audience for TNF in two years.

For the week ending Oct. 18, 2020 in total day data (from 6 a.m. to 5:59 a.m. each day), Fox News Channel led the cable news networks in both viewers (2.38 million) and adults 25-54 (418,000). MSNBC (1.32 million) bested CNN (1.16 million) in total viewers while it was vice versa in the key demo (CNN’s 287,000 adults 25-54 vs. MSNBC’s 207,000 adults 25-54).

Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top MSNBC and CNN programs with associated ranks) in total viewers:

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 10/14/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.854 million viewers

2. Hannity (FOXNC, Thu. 10/15/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.843 million viewers

3. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 10/14/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.427 million viewers

4. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 10/13/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.326 million viewers

5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 10/13/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.159 million viewers

6. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 10/12/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.129 million viewers

7. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 10/14/2020 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 5.035 million viewers

8. The Ingraham Angle (FOXNC, Thu. 10/15/2020 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.994 million viewers

9. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Fri. 10/16/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.956 million viewers

10. Hannity (FOXNC, Fri. 10/16/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.710 million viewers

23. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Fri. 10/16/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.872 million viewers

66. CNN Tonight (CNN, Thu. 10/15/2020 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.905 million viewers

Top 10 cable news programs (and the top MSNBC program with associated rank) among adults 25-54:

1. Hannity (FOXNC, Thu. 10/15/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.158 million adults 25-54

2. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 10/14/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.076 million adults 25-54

3. The Ingraham Angle (FOXNC, Thu. 10/15/2020 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.051 million adults 25-54

4. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 10/14/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.999 million adults 25-54

5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 10/13/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.988 million adults 25-54

6. CNN Tonight (CNN, Thu. 10/15/2020 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.916 million adults 25-54

7. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 10/13/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.890 million adults 25-54

8. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 10/12/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.883 million adults 25-54

9. The Ingraham Angle (FOXNC, Wed. 10/14/2020 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.853 million adults 25-54

10. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Fri. 10/16/2020 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.843 million adults 25-54

22. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Thu. 10/15/2020 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.674 million adults 25-54

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BNM Writers

DEBATE PREVIEW: It’s a Thankless Job, and Unfortunately She Has to Do It

The stakes are even more complicated now that the Commission on Presidential Debates has changed the rules.

Evan Donovan

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NBC News White House correspondent Kristin Welker has the job nobody wants tonight.

Welker will try to reign in President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday night in the second and final debate of the 2020 election.

The president attacked Welker on Twitter and in rallies this week, calling her terrible and unfair, setting up a debate showdown with both his opponent and the moderator.

It’s a thankless job for Welker, who will have to corral a president who needs to do well in the debate to shore up what appears to be a several-point disadvantage with less than two weeks of voting left in the election.

Several colleagues and other news personalities came to Welker’s defense this week, but the true grit will come on Thursday night when she will have to tightrope between keeping personalities in check and not becoming part of the story of the night. 

The stakes are even more complicated now that the Commission on Presidential Debates has changed the rules.

Just as in the first debate, the debate will be 90-minutes long divided into six 15-minute segments. Each candidate will deliver uninterrupted remarks in response to a question from the moderator at the beginning of each segment. Then the debate will move to an ‘open discussion’ period for the remainder of the 15 minutes.

What’s different this time is that the mics will be muted during the 2-minute answer period for each candidate. They will not be muted during open discussion.

This is where things will get tricky for Welker.

The president, anxious to make his points and make up ground on Biden, will likely be even more aggressive during the open discussion. Their personalities are starkly different without the pressure of playing catch-up. 

How will Welker react if Trump simply talks over Biden and dominates his time during the open discussion? 

Interruptions will “count toward their time,” but again, that puts the pressure back on Welker. She becomes the center of the evening at a time when public trust of the media is at or near all-time lows, and one candidate is actively undermining trust in the media at-large and this moderator specifically.

It’s a job nobody would want, but Welker is a seasoned professional. 

Here’s wishing her luck.

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BNM Writers

Capitalizing on Debate Season

Your station carrying not only the presidential debate, but also carrying debates in statewide races, can grow and keep your audience tuned in.

Pete Mundo

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The election season always brings opportunities for news talk stations to shine. The audience knows they can go to you for the latest information, news and events. I’d imagine there won’t be a news talk station (that isn’t fully syndicated) that won’t carry this week’s second and final Presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. 

It’s relatively easy to do, it’s great for branding and it hopefully draws you some cume during a time of day when your station might not typically get it. 

But what about carrying debates from some of your local races? 

It seems like debates at the state level are happening less and less each election cycle. Political consultants are convincing campaigns that it’s only the blunders that get remembered and the campaigns flush with cash are better off letting their TV and radio ads do the storytelling for them. Whether you are Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, that’s a disservice to the voter. But it’s the way things are trending, unfortunately. Incumbent favorites usually find every reason to not debate their opponents. 

So when a debate does occur, how can your radio station capitalize on it? And should you carry it? 

Here in Kansas City on KCMO Talk Radio, we will be airing a congressional debate on Thursday, October 22nd, between incumbent Democrat Sharice Davids and Republican challenger Amanda Adkins. The seat that was Republican for nearly a decade until 2018, when the House of Representative’s “Blue Wave” hit Kansas’ third district. As a news talk station, our conservative audience would love nothing more than to flip the seat back into Republican hands. 

Also, the seat covers essentially the entire side of the KC Metro in Kansas. Unlike in Top 5 or Top 10 markets, where congressional districts, for example in the Dallas-Fort Worth market can include up to, or more than, 10 congressional seats, the Third District of Kansas is the bulk of the Kansas side of the KC Metro and is a relevant race to a huge part of the listening audience.

With that being said, we elected to carry the Third District debate this week which is set to begin at 5:30 p.m. There was some hesitancy as it is in the middle of Ben Shapiro’s afternoon drive show, and Ben is performing well on the station, but considering the percentage of the audience that lives in this district, combined with the fact that it’s the only debate between the two candidates, we decided to move forward.

Also, it gives us a great branding opportunity as Thursday being “Debate Day” and a “Two-Fer”, as listeners will get our local, Third District debate at 5:30 p.m. and then later that evening the Presidential Debate at 8:00 p.m. We’ve used that branding on our website and social media.   

The lead up to the event will be just as important, if not arguably more important, than the debate itself. All week long, we’ve been able to push on the station via promos, liners, imaging, etc. our ability to cover the local and national races better than any station in the Metro, while branding ourselves as the station, politically, where “if it’s happening in KCMO, it’s on KCMO”. Thursday’s debate will be another example of coming through on that promise in a way no other station in the market will be.

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