Brian Stelter: How The "Right Wing Rage Machine" Created A Controversy About Ilhan Omar


Sunday on "Reliable Sources," CNN's Brian Stelter broke down how "the right wing rage machine" created a news cycle this week about comments made last month by Rep. Ilhan Omar regarding 9/11.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN: Let's talk about where controversies come from.

You probably heard a lot about Congresswoman Ilhan Omar this week. But do you know why? Do you know how it started?

Controversies don't just erupt naturally like a bolt of lightning sparking a fire. No. Controversies are created like an arsonist lighting a match.

Too often our news coverage in the paper and on TV and online starts mid-story. We say there is a "controversy brewing" between these two people. But we leave out the most important part, the lighting of the match.

Let's look at how the Omar 9/11 controversy started and how it is being framed. Last month Omar gave a speech to the Council on American-Islamic Relations focusing on protecting American civil liberties. Her speech wasn't really picked up at the time. But then last week, the conservative website The Daily Caller, co-founded by Tucker Carlson, picked up on Omar's reference to the 9/11 hijackers. She said quote "some people did something" while arguing that all Muslims should not be punished for the action of a crazy few. So the Daily Caller posted four minutes of video to YouTube.

Then an Australian man who calls himself a Muslim scholar, and is very active on Twitter, sets the frame for a week's worth of news coverage. The framing is that Omar was downplaying 9/11. His tweet took off and spread to right-wing websites. It was all over these sites by Tuesday. Then on Tuesday night, Sean Hannity brought the video to television. He covered it on Tuesday night. Then, come Wednesday, "Fox and Friends" was all over it. Brian Kilmeade was questioning Omar's patriotism.

This went on and on for days and days. Then on Thursday, this was the cover of the New York Post. "Some people did something." Four words.

Probably not the best choice of words. It is easy for me to sit here and say I would have chosen different words. Right? But the point is that this controversy was created. The construction of the frame, Omar downplays 9/11, is a key part of the story.

These viral videos and tweets are how we argue about the future of America. But so much of it is based in bad faith. These outrage cycles corrupt us.

Omar's comment was used as a weapon against her, including by President Trump who has pinned this anti-Omar video to the top of his Twitter page. Trump's video is what propelled this story all way to the nightly news. Now it is being framed as Trump versus Omar. Some Democrats say Trump is putting her life in danger.

But there is something bigger going on here with this story. It tells us something about right-wing rage machine and about how news priorities are set.

The history of the United States is a tug-of-war over who belongs and who is equal and who has power. It is the biggest story of all. And yet, those of us in the press oftentimes cover this in tiny discrete bits. We put a small frame on the biggest story.

I think we do a better job when we widen way out. Part of widening out is showing where does the controversy come from? How was it created in the first place? Who created it? Who stands to benefit from it being created? And who stands to lose, who stands to suffer? These are the big questions I think we should be asking when there are these eruptions that happen.

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