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Conspiracy Theories are Tearing Us Apart.

Kirk Bangstad

I started thinking about conspiracy theories this week after reading Facebook comments INSISTING that mask-wearing was wrong.

  • Masks won’t protect you.
  • Breathing carbon dioxide is dangerous.
  • The government is trying to control you.
  • It’s my constitutional right to not wear a mask.

I was like-- who is actually thinking up this stuff?  Who is spreading it? And why do people believe it? 

Then I formed my own conspiracy theory…What if Trump really IS a Russian asset who is being told by Putin to confuse the mask issue, and that every ridiculous theory against mask use was created by some Russian spy on social media to divide and weaken our country?  I mean, to me, this is kind of the only logical reason why there would be so much cognitive dissonance on the relatively benign topic of mask wearing.

Of course, my conspiracy theory is just as wild and ridiculous as any anti-mask theories, but you have to admit, this distrust between half our country who consumes different media than the other half, and the conspiracy theories that result, has brought us to our knees. 

Covid-19 is spreading unchecked like wildfire and killing U.S. citizens when most other countries have it under control, a huge number of us are unemployed as a result, we’ve alienated practically all of our allies, we are basically prohibited from traveling to most other civilized countries, and the right and left have taken to the streets to vent their frustrations.

I truly believe a great deal of our problems stem from the conspiracy theories that divides us, and think one of the ways we can get back to normal is to insist that there is only one set of facts that people are able to consume, and of course form their own opinions from.

Sounds impossible given all the nuttiness on the internet but it isn’t.  We actually used to have a rule called the “Fairness Doctrine” that made our media more balanced. The Fairness Doctrine required all companies that leased TV and Radio airwaves from the U.S. to present opposing viewpoints in their news programming.

That was the time when Walter Cronkite, a network news anchor, was the “most trusted man in America.”

That rule was dropped in 1987 under the Reagan-era Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  Less than a year later, in 1988, Rush Limbaugh was able to create a one-sided and unbalanced conservative talk show. In less than a decade in 1996, the one-sided and unbalanced Fox News was created.  Now there are countless right- and left-wing news programs that can basically say whatever they want.

The “Fairness Doctrine” of the mid 20th century could never work today, because most of us consume our media through the internet.  To update it, we’d have to include not only TV and radio, but also cable and internet news sites.  This doctrine would force any website that presented “news” to adhere to certain regulations regarding fairness, and if they violated those regulations, they would be fined or ultimately shut down.


I would argue that it doesn’t have to.  I own a brewpub and the Oneida County Health Department inspects me every year.  If I am not following health regulations, I can be shut down. I don’t get to create my own “version” of how to maintain a healthy kitchen.  Those rules are created by health experts. Similarly, the FCC creates rules for the media—that’s why you don’t hear swearing on network television.

People who start fighting or defacing property at a rally are subject to arrest—not because they are exercising free speech, but because they’re causing “harm.”  Same with someone who yells “fire” in a crowded theater. There are rules in place that distinguish free speech from harmful speech.

I think that news outlets who claim to present factual news to the public do real “harm” if that news is misleading or dishonest, and they should be held to higher standards.  I don’t proclaim to know how best to implement this idea, but if we were able to do it before 1986 with TV and radio, we should be able to do it again with cable and internet.

Just imagine if we had one set of facts that we could ALL reasonably agree to be the truth—like when Walter Cronkite was on the air.  If a politician claimed something opposed to those facts, we could EASILY determine that he was lying. We unfortunately don’t live in that world anymore, and dishonest actors are dividing us and destroying our sense of community.  Even worse, they’re destroying our democracy. 

Now I can’t do much about the FCC while running for State Assembly, but I can, on this Sunday in July after Wisconsin hit a new record of Covid-19 cases (978), proclaim that our current Republican legislature trumpeted a dishonest set of “alternative facts” when they sued Governor Evers, revoked his “Safer-at-Home” order, and set us on a wild path of contagion.  If we still had the “Fairness Doctrine,” then Wisconsinites would have most likely rejected calls to re-open so soon without proper regulations in place.

Instead, many believed the rhetoric my opponent Rob Swearingen amplified (from Trump and Fox News) to re-open Wisconsin that “harmed” us, which to me disqualifies him from representing us in the future. If you agree, please vote him out of office this coming November.

Please also share widely to people of all political stripes, and if you really agree with me, please consider donating to my campaign  https://secure.actblue.com/donate/bangstad-for-wisconsin-assembly-34-1

Written by Kirk Bangstad on 07/19/20

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