The Scott Adams Fiasco is a Microcosm of the Right-Wing Media Ecosystem as a Whole
The entire right-wing media ecosystem exists to manufacture, inflate, recirculate and normalize hateful right-wing propaganda until it seeps into the mainstream discourse and shapes public opinion and political outcomes.
By Ryan McGreal
Posted February 28, 2023 in Blog (Last Updated February 28, 2023)
I'm seeing a wide variety of bad-to-abysmal takes on the Scott Adams fiasco. Like every right-wing culture war imbroglio, this story involves multiple layers of fuckery that need to be understood in their proper context to make full sense of what happened here.
Let's start with the basic story: In a video on his YouTube channel posted on Wednesday, February 22, Adams called Black Americans "a hate group" and said white Americans "need to get the hell away from Black people".
The best advice I would give to white people is to get the hell away from Black people. Just get the fuck away. Wherever you have to go, just get away because there's no fixing this.
You have to escape, so that's what I did. I went to a neighbourhood where, you know, I have a very low Black population.
Within days, hundreds of newspapers dropped the Dilbert comic strip, which Adams produces, and by Sunday, its distributor announced that they were dropping the strip altogether.
Photo of the spot in the print edition of today's Hamilton Spectator where the Dilbert strip is normally published. The text reads, 'The Dilbert comic strip is discontinued. Recent discriminatory comments by the cartoonist, Scott Adams, are not in line with the Metroland's journalistic standards.'
What precipitated Adams' rant? A recent Rasmussen poll asked respondents whether they agree with the statement, "It's OK to be white." Among Black respondents, 53% agreed and 26% disagreed. This became the pretext for Adams' claim that Black Americans constitute "a hate group".
Of the poll, Adams said, "If nearly half of all Blacks are not OK with white people - according to this poll, not according to me, according to this poll - that's a hate group."
It's time to start peeling the layers. First, this is not out of the ordinary for Adams, who has leaned farther into white supremacist extremism since at least 2015. It may be more explicit and less wink-wink than his usual racism, but it is by no means a break from form.
Second, the poll Adams cited actually found that 26 percent of Black American respondents - not "nearly half" - disagreed with the statement. This is not the most important fact here, and it wouldn't justify Adams even if it was higher, but I'm a pedant and need to set the record straight.
Third, the expression "It's OK to be white" is absolutely NOT a neutral statement of tolerance for white people. It is a white supremacist slogan that started on 4chan in a 2017 trolling campaign designed to provoke media outrage and then counter it with plausible deniability.
The idea is to elicit outrage from liberals so the white supremacists can paint them as racist hypocrites who hate white people and free speech. As hate-monger Tucker Carlson put it during the 2017 trolling campaign, "What's the correct position? That it's not OK to be white?"
Of course, white supremacists knew exactly what the campaign was about and celebrated it as a rhetorical victory. An investigation by the Anti-Defamation League traced the slogan back to the title of a song released in 2001 by a "white power" musical group.
Not everyone knows about this campaign, of course, but lots of people are familiar with it - especially people who are involved, either formally or as a matter of day-to-day survival, in antiracist awareness and engagement. Like, say, many Black folks living in America.
Rasmussen didn't ask its respondents about this, but one can easily imagine that many of the respondents who disagreed with the statement did so precisely because they understood that it is a white supremacist slogan.
Which brings us to Rasmussen. The polling company is actually a conservative media organization long known for asking leading survey questions calculated to elicit right-wing culture war talking points.
There is no legitimate justification to ask this particular question in a survey. The sole consequence is to enable exactly the plausible-deniability trolling that the expression was designed for in that 2017 4chan campaign, and the company needs to be challenged on its decision to tee up Adams' racist rant in the first place.
For his part, Adams directly piggybacked on the trolling campaign by citing the poll as a pretext for his own overtly white supremacist call for a return to the nightmare of racial segregation, which perpetuated a century of violence and terror against Black folks in America.
In turn, other right-wing personalities and media entities are already lining up to paint Adams as the latest victim of an imaginary "cancel culture" that "hates free speech". White supremacist pundits with huge platforms and audiences will have a field day with it.
Indeed, we can step back here and note that the entire right-wing media ecosystem exists to manufacture, inflate, recirculate and normalize hateful right-wing propaganda until it seeps into the mainstream discourse and shapes public opinion and political outcomes.
That's a whole separate essay on its own, but we should be identifying and calling out this dynamic whenever we observe it, since the right-wing media ecosystem has become so broad and pervasive.
Meanwhile, most of the mainstream media are failing to connect this story to the larger phenomenon in which it is rooted. At a minimum, any news story about this should explain what "It's OK to be white" means, but most of the stories I've seen don't even reach this low bar.
The white supremacists running these scams are counting on this media failure: they know that people whose ideologies have already been shaped by decades of right-wing propaganda will read the base-level story and decide Adams might have a point even if they don't agree with him.
For the white supremacists, that's a victory in itself.