Visiting professor analyzes US political culture, explores role of authoritarian media, propaganda in portrayal of women

0
297
COURTESY IMAGE / WM.EDU

Friday, Feb. 21, visiting professor Ashleigh Campi hosted a talk entitled “How Propaganda Works: Race and Gender in Conservative Media,” where she discussed her thoughts on the portrayal of women and people of color within conservative news media.

Assistant government professor Claire McKinney introduced Campi. McKinney expressed excitement for the dialogue of Campi’s talk and hoped that the audience would reflect on the conversation throughout the discussion.

“Thank you for coming and our briefly delayed start time,” McKinney said. “I’m really happy to introduce Ashleigh Campi at Loyola Marymount University and also a University of Chicago alum, and hopefully we can have a really good engagement on the paper that was circulated and the topic on conservative media.”

Campi opened the talk with an assertion that American politics has long contained a streak of authoritarianism that is often ignored or overlooked as many choose to view American history with rose-colored glasses. Such a lens, Campi explained, causes the authoritarian streak in American politics to be hidden in plain sight.

Campi presented the idea that a democratic society is defined by a belief in universal education that instills a commitment to diversity, tolerance and equality in America’s citizenry. According to Campi, children in America are taught from a very young age to come to decisions as a group and to respect others’ opinions, while secondary education teaches students more complex social and moral reasoning to provide oversight to those in positions of power.

Then, Campi contrasted democratic political culture with the features of authoritarian political culture. Campi pointed to the presence of strictly partisan support in outlets such as Fox News, which she explained leans more to the right on the political scale. Second, Campi explained that one feature of authoritarian political culture is the demonization of political opponents, and she added that authoritarian political culture involves the reporting of falsehoods or opinions as fact.

The talk then transitioned from discussion to the usage of video clips from Fox News, which Campi used to show examples of how authoritarianism and anti-democratic political culture were being created and fostered by the media outlet. She explained that her choice of Fox News as an example is due to the network’s prevalence in American mainstream. In 2002, Fox News nearly doubled the viewership of other networks such as CNN and MSNBC, and Campi believes that the outlet is largely responsible for institutionalizing anti-democratic politics in America.

The clip shown by Campi depicted a female Hillary Clinton supporter named Tamara Holder flanked by Fox News anchor Sean Hannity and alt-right pundit Gavin McGuiness. In the video, Hannity asks a question regarding the gender wage gap citing statistics from a far-right leaning newspaper. Holder questions the source of the statistic and Hannity does not answer her directly. Instead, he hands over the microphone to McGuiness, who instead of answering Holder’s question, adds his own thoughts to the topic.

Campi explains that the male interjection seen in the video resulted in an inaccurate portrayal of liberal opinions. Emphasizing the use of language by McGuinness, Campi asked the audience to recognize how McGuinness attempts to make Holder and other liberal viewers appear weak, while supporting more conservative ideals.

“McGuiness levels over-the-top assertions of white male supremacy,” Campi said. “The term trolling celebrates the act of exposing the weakness of liberals while deflecting critique by claiming that speakers are … just being provocative.”

“McGuiness levels over-the-top assertions of white male supremacy,” Campi said. “The term trolling celebrates the act of exposing the weakness of liberals while deflecting critique by claiming that speakers are … just being provocative.”

According to Campi, the way in which Hannity reacted was also extremely problematic. In the clip he laughed and smiled at McGuinness’s over-the-top assertions that women make less money than men because women choose a path of less income. Although Hannity did not openly agree with him, Campi believes his behavior showed more approval, or at least a tolerance, for McGuiness’s ideas rather than for Holder’s views.

Campi believes that these staged themes of dominance are exactly how authoritarian political culture spreads, particularly when the dominance occurs over liberal commentators who are not white men.

Campi explained that a social hierarchy that places white males above all is an idea that has been perpetuated throughout American history, and she argues that the historical presence of such hierarchy makes authoritarian positions easier to agree with in present times. Those who oppose the hierarchy, according to Campi, are painted as anti-American or a threat to the country where white male commentators, police and even motivated citizens become the defenders of such ideals.

Campi believes that, with enough authoritarian media, certain citizens may carry out violent acts against the very marginalized communities discussed on those media outlets.

After the talk Vera Choo ’19 shared her thoughts on the underlying themes of Campi’s talk, and the construction of news media.

“Constructions of race and gender are more pervasive and active than we think they are,” Choo said. “How they act in news media … delegitimizes people’s positions.”

“Constructions of race and gender are more pervasive and active than we think they are,” Choo said. “How they act in news media … delegitimizes people’s positions.”