GOP lawmakers spread disinformation about NPR after Elon Musk’s latest tantrum

GOP lawmakers spread disinformation about NPR after Elon Musk’s latest tantrum
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky speaking with attendees at the 2015 Iowa Growth & Opportunity Party at the Varied Industries Building at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, Gage Skidmore
Watch: Angry constituent curses out Rand Paul during town hall meeting

Oh Lord, this is going to be a thing. There's really no story in America that can't be made worse by simply adding one phrase to it, and that phrase is "Rand Paul weighed in."

Rand Paul weighed in on Wednesday to brownnose billionaire trollboy Twitter owner Elon Musk in Musk's still-unexplained and one-sided battle against ... NPR, of all things. Earlier in the week Musk had, after getting through his previous top priorities of stripping The New York Times of its "verified" Twitter status and replacing the Twitter logo with a "doge" meme, told the site's engineers to add a "state-affiliated media" warning label to NPR's site account.

He did this despite NPR plainly and factually not qualifying for that "state-affiliated" tag according to Twitter's own declared rules—which became awkward when journalists and internet meanies alike took screenshots of those rules in which Twitter itself had used NPR as a named example of a media account that wouldn't qualify for the tag. Twitter eventually removed NPR as its example, but didn't change the public rules it had presented.

Twitter itself explains that the "state-affiliated" warning label is meant to designate media sites "where the state exercises control over editorial content," such as Russian media site RT. It's a designator to warn Twitter users against propaganda sites sponsored by foreign governments.

The American government does not have any means of controlling the editorial content of NPR, however—it can apply no pressure other than by whatever regulatory pressures it might use against any other media organization. NPR doesn't get any significant direct funding from the federal government. It was created by Congress a half century ago, but in its current incarnation receives its funds from sponsorships, foundational grants, donations, and "membership" fees paid by public radio stations that broadcast NPR-produced shows like Morning Edition or All Things Considered. Those public radio stations themselves get the vast majority of their funding through sponsorships and pledge drives, but they do get some federal grants. These come from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which ... is not NPR.

So Elon, whose companies rely extensively on government money and have been repeatedly saved from bankruptcy due to that federal money, is just flat-out wrong on this one. If anyone cares.

That brings us to Rand Paul weighed in, that canker sore of a phrase that never makes anything better. Perennial twit and sitting Sen. Mike Lee weighed in to be even wronger than Elon was.

"To be clear, NPR is state-funded media," Lee tweeted with a link to the story.

Nope! Calling it "state-funded" is much, much wronger than Elon's "state-affiliated" label is. Mike Lee, who has been in the Senate long enough to know how to look these things up, is just lying.

But Rand Paul can do better! "If @NPR doesn’t want to be state-run media, we could always cut off their federal taxpayer funding…" Rand tweeted.

See now, that's just a flat-out lie and then some. Calling NPR "state-run" is disinformation. It's simply a hoax. NPR was spun off from a congressional edict a half century ago, and the "state" has not a damn speck of influence in NPR's programming. If NPR lost all of its "federal taxpayer funding" tomorrow, it would be ... just fine. Absolutely fine. The same cannot be said of Tesla or of SpaceX; government subsidies and contracts are the stuff that keeps Elon Musk's companies from collapse.

If SpaceX stopped getting federal money they'd be well and truly screwed, but you're not going to get Elon Musk or his "conservatism except with legal weed" fanboys to admit that. And heaven knows the white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups Elon is nurturing into site prominence aren't going to have a peep to say about it.

While it is tempting to believe that Paul and Lee are sucking up to Musk on Musk's website because they are spineless little weasels looking for his attention, it's probably more accurate to say that this is about Republicanism's hostility towards the news media in general. Musk is not alone in his belief that any media story questioning his extreme alleged brilliance amounts to a conspiratorial hit piece against him; this has been the stuff of Republican whines for decades before Musk became rich enough for his tantrums to matter.

Paul, in particular, has been fuming at the media for not going along with his disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic. Paul is quite convinced that Anthony Fauci helped China build COVID-19 in a Chinese laboratory, or something (?) like that, and he is peeved that neither scientists nor the free press is buying what he’s trying to sell.

Again, though, what's going on here is that a narcissistic billionaire has bought himself a social media mini-empire so that he himself can spread disinformation against his perceived enemies, and high-profile Republicans like that very much. That's precisely what they've wanted all along. If the news makes you look bad, goes the Republican mantra, call it fake and invent a "better" version of the news that makes you look better.

Couple this with Elon Musk's new efforts to boost the known state-sponsored propaganda sites that Twitter used to police, and Twitter's turning into quite the Elon Musk-centered free-for-all. Musk is just fine with disinformation on the site. His only concern is how to best monetize it.

Eeeesh. I still say this ends with Elon either selling Twitter for a massive loss or with the site simply crashing and staying crashed due to a lack of anyone left who both knows how to fix it and gives a damn, but Musk is getting into weird Howard Hughes territory with this obsessive need to retaliate against news organizations that report on him. It's not going to be long before he's using his Twitter powers to change news account icons to dog pictures or sneaking into the system to write "I love Elon Musk" tweets from the accounts of The Washington Post or other high-profile accounts that have pissed him off.

Our planned Ukraine episode will have to wait, as Donald Trump is being arraigned in New York City for his role in falsifying records to hide hush money paid to Stormy Daniels. This is the first of a potential slew of indictments coming Trump’s way, and we are here for a celebration of karmic justice—and to talk about what happens to the Republican Party after this.

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