Notes from the Right Wing Echo Chamber

By Peter Galuszka

On Wednesday, I was standing next to the Capitol grounds in Richmond watching brightly decorated cars and pickups drive on 9th Street, their horns blaring.

I was attending the drive by protest rally on assignment for Style Weekly and happened to speak to Jason Roberge, a Spotsylvania County resident who is one of several Republicans hoping to oust U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a former covert CIA officer who represents the 7th Congressional district.

Roberge was there to protest what he says is Gov. Ralph Northam’s “terrible job” in temporarily shutting down businesses to prevent the spread of the COVID 19 virus. The rally was part of a series of protests across the country that are being set up on cue from right-wing activists.

Roberge told me: ”I hear he’s (Northam’s) down on North Carolina beach while this is going on.” As he spoke the House of Delegates was holding a special session under an outdoor tent nearby while the Senate presided at the Science Museum of Virginia.

Northam at the beach? It turns out that the conservative echo chamber has been peddling a story, firmly denied by Northam’s office, that he was at his house in Manteo, N.C. not far from the beaches at Nags Head during the special General Assembly session.

This is a curious case of rumors and lies spread on social media with Donald Trump being the absolute master of the twitter smear.

I checked around and found the story on a site called “Big League Politics.” Then I read the conservative-leaving blog “The Bull Elephant.” It was running a story titled “Northam Goes on Vacation While You Stay Home.” Author S. Chris Ander started off the piece stating, “You can’t make this up” and launched into a recitation of the unconfirmed rumors about Northam, who allegedly flew in a private plane to an oceanfront airport to chill out despite restrictions on access to the Outer Banks.

Even state Sen. Amanda Chase, a conservative and former Republican who wants to be governor in 2021, said she checked into the rumors and found them baseless.

Apparently, Northam does co-own a vacation spot in Manteo with a fellow graduate from the Virginia Military Institute.

Ok. So what?  Is it wrong for a Virginia politician to own out of state property or go on vacation?

For perspective, consider the case of former Rep. Gov. Robert F. McDonnell. In 2014, he and his wife were convicted of accepting bribes from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., a self-styled maker and marketer of diet supplements who wanted state help to promote his products.

It turns out Williams owned two houses at Smith Mountain Lake, a picturesque vacation spot near Roanoke. The McDonnell family spent an expenses-paid vacation there, according to the McDonnell’s 2014 federal trial which I covered for Bloomberg News.

That’s not all. Former Republican Atty. Gen. Kenneth Cuccinelli, now a high-ranking Trump Administration official, spent a Thanksgiving there according to trial testimony.

The McDonnells’ case was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, but tawdry, six-week-long trial gave the Commonwealth of Virginia a big black eye globally. It was a hot story. My Bloomberg editors remarked how much readers around the world, especially in places like Hong Kong, were riveted by the scandal.

For the record, the McDonnells owned vacation property in Sandbridge, a beachfront community in Virginia Beach. At the time, no one seemed to complain about it.

Yet, the very fact that Northam has a vacation homes brings him scorn and rumors that are not true. Sadly, this is what social media has brought us.

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24 responses to “Notes from the Right Wing Echo Chamber

  1. Here is a very a sad and cautionary tale, possibly (likely?) the result of having an echo chamber as one’s source of information.

    There probably will be more stories like Mr. McDaniel’s.

    The tragedy is that he likely developed the beliefs that contributed to his death by repeatedly watching and reading media that told him to think and believe what he expressed and acted on.

    Those were his sources of information that he believed in and relied on. He possibly had friends and family members that also reinforced those beliefs because they too get their information from the same sources.

    Other sources from public institutions – whose duty is to protect citizens, have been and continue to be discredited and distrusted by political leaders, mostly from the Republican party, particularly its leader President Donald Trump.

    I wish I could say there will be learning here or changing of ways or introspection from that cohort, but I don’t know if that will be possible, particularly if they get the reaction and feedback they got upon McDaniel’s death – there is no excuse or defense of that type of behavior.

    That kind of vitriol should be reserved for the leaders in public office and the media that continue to spout lies and disinformation on an hourly and daily basis, mis-informing their gullible followers, putting their lives at risk.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/04/23/ohio-funeral-canceled-coronavirus/?fbclid=IwAR3pOrAXO3URwYuo_xdHvqqsmQVJ8RQZhaY1Syw-tVvbJuxmq4oQZl9HjrU#comments-wrapper

  2. Stories like this show why we need credible media. Unfortunately, Virginia’s mainstream media has squandered its credibility — not by publishing ridiculous rumors like the Northam-beach-house-non-scandal — but through its biased framing of the issues and its biased selection of what constitutes news. Large swaths of the population have totally lost faith in established media.

    Unfortunately, a responsible, journalistically credible conservative media has not arisen to fill the void. Rumors and fake news reign. Until we have credible conservative journalism at the local level, we’ll see a lot more stories like this.

    On the other hand, if you’re looking for fake news, the biggest fake news story in all U.S. history was the Russian-collusion scandal, in which established media were eager participants. Many well-meaning people still believe what the media told them.

    • To repeat:

      “America has to stop its chronic self destructive politician bickering, and get its people back to work soon.”

      That includes America’s main stream media.

    • Apparently, the Senate Intelligence Committee has come to a bipartisan, unanimous agreement with much that was reported.
      https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/21/us/politics/russian-interference-senate-intelligence-report.html?searchResultPosition=1

    • Isn’t the Richmond Times Dispatch conservative?

      It’s been years since I’ve been able to get them to print an op ed due to the issues I’ve addressed that they don’t want to give space because Dominion wouldn’t agree with me. I still send them things periodically but feel they’ve decided I’m too liberal for them to accept.

      • Join the club. They find me too conservative to publish. I have offered them an op-ed that criticized another sacred cow, state entity VCU Health. Not a chance.

      • I feel your pain. See below.

        The late Jim Quello, a Democratic FCC Commissioner for decades, used to say if I can’t eat your food and drink your liquor and then go vote against you at the next Commission meeting, I don’t belong here. If the media were worth saving, they would readily publish letters and op-eds that are contrary to both advertisers (such as they are) and editorial policy.

        • Stolen from Molly Ivins, to wit: As they say around the Texas Legislature, if you can’t drink their whiskey, screw their women, take their money, and vote against ’em anyway, you don’t belong in office.

          • TooManyTaxes

            Probably so but I will always admire Jim Quello. Never the most brilliant Commissioner but he always tried to find good solutions to public policy issues.

  3. I have seen that Facebook gossip and unsubstantiated rumor. This is a good example of the effect that social media has in our society. Ironically, the folks who depend on these sources call the real media “fake news”.

    The complaints I saw were not about his owning a home at the Outer Banks, but about his supposedly going there when he had told Virginians not to do any unnecessary travel. No proof the charges was offered–just gossip and pictures of cars, but not people, at the house. So, I am not sure how the McDonnell angle fits into this issue.

  4. If everyone would be more skeptical about what they read, hear, and see, we would all be better off. Partisans on both sides of the aisle (including journalists) have a penchant for spin when they’re not outright lying. It is almost impossible to get to any sense of objective truth from any human being who is invested in a particular subject. When you look at both sides of an argument, the truth usually can be found somewhere in the middle.

  5. Have to echo Dick Hall-Sizemore. No one had a problem with the extra home. It was that his car was spotted there. Another problem? Folks who said they saw him refused to give statements that he wasn’t there, same for the gated community person. Did Northam put in writing that he wasn’t there, with proof? Specific instances, did he himself state in writing he wasn’t there? If not, having experienced the “games” with this crew in Chesapeake, if they won’t put it in writing themselves saying they didn’t do X, and address ways to check it, then they can’t be accused of perjury, so they have someone else to say it for them. In other words, unless there is proof absolute another way it wasn’t him, and he’s refused to speak on the issue but only does thru other methods, then you can’t believe him 100%. Old lawyers’ trick I was taught.

  6. VN. How do you it was northam’s car.
    Reed, agree the economy needs to restart but containing the virus should be the current priority.
    Dick. I noted mcdonnell because he was a real crook and brought shame to his office. No evidence Northam has done same.

  7. Why would anyone believe the Post on anything related to a Democrat? I’ve recounted several times the Post editorial board (headed by Fred Hiatt aka Joseph Goebbels) violated company policy by pressuring a reporter (still with the paper) not to write negative things about then Governor Tim Kaine. Does this meet standards for good journalism?

    Further, the Post, which wrote countless articles on the stupid macaca issue but says nothing about Northam in blackface and denying the photo was him after admitting it was him. Anyone think that, if Northam was a Republican, the Post wouldn’t still be writing about the blackface photo?

    I recently sent info about the 2012 bipartisan increase in permit fees that went with tax increases for transportation to a Post reporter I know well. The reporter came back to me and indicated he was advised not to go there. Is that what you learn in journalism school?

    The MSM reporting standards vary based on the politics of the individual involved. The good thing is that many media outlets won’t survive COVID-19 and the unemployed will be selling siding via robocalls.

  8. “Why would anyone believe the Post on anything related to a Democrat?”

    And,

    Why would anyone believe the Post on anything related to 16/17 year old white boys from Catholic high school in Covington, Kentucky, wearing MAGA caps in front of the US Capital Building?

    This is surely a central problem America faces today, its mainstream media. Frankly, it’s far worse than social media in terms of damage done daily, across large segments of America’s so call elite. Dick still believes in Russian collusion with Trump apparently to rig 2016 election, for example.

  9. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Virginia has a long history of dirty rotten politics. If you dig around in the dead politician graveyard there are tons of examples. Sometimes they wore red, sometimes in blue, and even a Whig or two. My favorite Virginia political scoundrel is James T. Callender.

    https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/29049969/james-thomson-callender

  10. “the conservative-leaving blog “The Bull Elephant.” ”

    Ah, so THAT’S where Conservatives come from, they’re left behind by bull elephants.

  11. Ralphie’s house is in Dare County. They’ve been refusing visitors (even those who own houses there) for some time. Let me guess – he flew down in a stealth Gulfstream V on loan from Dominion.

    Even Ralph isn’t wacked enough to pull off that stunt.

    Now, a mysterious man in blackface accompanied by a woman in klan robes was seen in the vicinity but Ralph insists it was, err … I mean was not him.

  12. “Even Ralph isn’t wacked enough to pull off that stunt.”

    Are you sure about that? Wouldn’t this be classic Ralph blackface routine, with hilarious twist, including but not limited to moonwalk?

  13. “I don’t so much mind that newspapers are dying – it’s watching them commit suicide that pisses me off.” ― Molly Ivins

    • I agree. Even if they were to report on a real problem that everyone should find abhorrent, very few folks would take them seriously. They are busily pissing away the little credibility they have left, all in the quest for clicks and views.

  14. Ralph has run, now hiding behind skirts of McKinsey and Company. Why? Of all companies in world. Why now McKinsey? Likely both are increasingly cornered. ALL FOR $150, ooo. Do you believe that? It’s chump change? A total fiction. Are we all fools?

  15. The Virginian GOP and how they’ve changed since the Southern Strategy reminds me of a college buddy. After graduating, he moved to NJ and opened a Dunkin’ Donuts. After 20 years, he sold out his franchise of 30 stores, and at the age of 40 moved to SC, bought a huge Victorian on the water, and began living his hobbies of sailing and photography.

    I went to visit him in 1996 and as we were sitting in the living room, sipping our scotch, a huge roach scurried into the room. “Palmetto bug. That’s what they call ’em. Pain in the ass. First year I was here I had Orkin here every week. It was futile. But just watch him.”

    Within a minute, a small brown and white mouse flew out from under the radiator, jumped the roach, and started chowing down. “That’s a pet store mouse. Bought damn near 50 of them and turned ’em loose in the crawl space. That’s the first roach I’ve seen in a couple’a three months.”

    “Geez dude, is that really better? I mean now ya got mice.”

    “Nah, got that solved too. Started working on it last month. They got this thing down here called a ‘Copperhead’.”

    Charlottesville was when copperheads were turned loose in the crawl space.

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