Matthew Sheffield launched his first Conservative website in 2000, devoting it to criticism from former CBS newscaster Dan Rather, who, according to Sheffield, was a partisan liberal during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and not critical enough of President Clinton. Mr. Sheffield then helped create NewsBusters, another right-wing website that criticized the mainstream media for liberal bias. He later became the founding online editor-in-chief of the Washington Examiner, another popular medium for conservative views.
"I basically built the infrastructure for a lot of conservative online people and personally taught a lot of them what they know," he said.
But Mr. Sheffield, who is 42 years old and lives in the Los Angeles area, has been disaffected for the past few years. He said facts would be treated as an acceptable sacrifice in the wider political war. "The ends justify the means," said Sheffield, who hosts a podcast on politics and technology called Theory of Change and writes a treatise on growing up in a strict Mormon family. He is now accusing the right-wing media of undermining confidence in American democracy by spreading unsubstantiated claims by President Trump and others that the election was rigged. Through websites and platforms such as Facebook and YouTube, according to Sheffield, right-wing media have created an environment in which a large part of the population believes in a “different reality”.
In a recent interview, edited for length and clarity, Mr. Sheffield discussed how this point came about.
What are some of the most important things about right-wing media that people don't understand?
Almost all right-wing support in the United States has come from the view that Christians are being attacked by secular liberals. This point is so important and so little understood. Logic doesn't matter. Fact checking does not matter. What matters is whether I can use this information to show that liberals are evil. Many of them are not interested in reporting the world as it is, but in shaping it the way they want it to be.
According to a recent poll, around 70 percent of Republicans believe the elections have been rigged. Can this be attributed to right-wing media if President Trump spreads misinformation about the results?
You go along with what he says. Before Trump won in 2016, the conservative media actually began to develop a marginal sense of independence. But when he became president, it all just fell apart. Now you can't have a conservative outlet if you don't adore Donald Trump. Your business will be destroyed. You cannot have a career in conservative media if you are against Donald Trump, with few exceptions.
Would this be possible without Facebook and social media platforms?
Facebook is, without question, the primary protector and enabler of the far right in the United States. The company has protected and promoted this content for years. Even now, Mark Zuckerberg says that Steve Bannon calling for beheadings is no justification for banning him. Zuckerberg also agreed to tolerate Holocaust denial until asked to do so.
Do you see a way out or will the problem get worse?
The first step is to get people to improve their information diet. If you only eat sweets or poisonous foods, you will get sick. If you can improve your messaging diet to include things you like but also other things that might challenge you, then you will have a much better understanding of life. In the information age, the people who control the information control age. The right-wing media apparatus has found that out.