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Conservative media outlets face a dilemma in how to portray Russian influence in last year's election. Many have described the whole story as fake news cooked up by Democrats upset about last year's election loss trying to destroy President Trump. The trouble is that intelligence agencies overwhelmingly found the interference occurred, and bipartisan investigations are looking into possible collusion. All of that is complicating the right-wing narrative. Here's North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: This week, while Jared Kushner was answering questions on Capitol Hill about his contacts with Russians, Rush Limbaugh took to the airwaves. The Russia story, Limbaugh argued, is a giant con.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")
RUSH LIMBAUGH: Trump voters are never going to fall for this collusion story and are never going to buy into this notion that the Russians rigged it with Trump. They're never going to buy into it because it makes them illegitimate. And they are not illegitimate.
MANN: Dennis and Marcia Bauchle are farmers from Watkins Glen, N.Y. They both voted for Donald Trump and say mainstream news sources are corrupt, so they get a lot of their information instead from Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and other conservative outlets. Marcia shares their view that the Russia story is political sabotage.
MARCIA BAUCHLE: They're just putting allegations there all the time. And he has to run around, dealing with all this stuff - that he isn't able to do his job.
MANN: Dennis nods his head. He says Russia is fake news.
DENNIS BAUCHLE: I don't think there's any basis to it, really.
M BAUCHLE: Hillary has talked to Russians, too. It's like they're both trying to get dirt on each other, just like politicians do.
MANN: There's no evidence the Clinton campaign communicated with Russia. But in conservative media, this confusing, muddled narrative is common. Here's conservative radio talker Laura Ingraham telling her audience the whole thing is a giant head fake by Democrats in the media.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE LAURA INGRAHAM SHOW")
LAURA INGRAHAM: This is (laughter) what their game plan is. This is part of the resistance.
MANN: In this conservative media narrative, it's widely accepted that special prosecutor Robert Mueller is part of the effort to cripple President Trump. Here's right-wing radio host Michael Savage.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE MICHAEL SAVAGE SHOW")
MICHAEL SAVAGE: Mr. President, fire Mueller. He's a political hack. The American people will be behind you. Don't worry about the fake press.
MANN: Brendan Nyhan follows conservative politics and media at Dartmouth College. He says outlets like Fox News and Breitbart have worked strategically since the election to build this counter-narrative, trying to discredit developments in the Russia story even as they've grown more serious.
BRENDAN NYHAN: A lot of the conservative media has become almost full-time media criticism. So you're getting the mainstream coverage refracted out through conservative media and back to you.
MANN: Nyhan describes this narrative as political air cover helping keep Trump's base and Republican lawmakers loyal. But he points out conservative media is more diverse than it used to be. There are voices and outlets who've started asking tougher questions. Here's Shepard Smith on Fox News reacting to the White House's talking points on Russia.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SHEPARD SMITH REPORTING")
SHEPARD SMITH: Why is it lie after lie after lie? If you're clean, come on clean, you know?
MANN: This week, some right-wing media, including Breitbart, pushed back hard against the president's repeated attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, warning Trump to leave Sessions alone. I asked Marcia and Dennis Bauchle if there's anything that would give them pause, make them rethink the Russia story. They say they'd first need to hear the news from someone they really trust, someone like Limbaugh or Hannity. They also want hard facts, a smoking gun.
D BAUCHLE: They have found nothing after how many months of investigating?
M BAUCHLE: Put out facts, not maybe hearsay. Facts, you know? So his son met with Russians. Like, who cares?
MANN: Hearing those facts won't be easy. They tell me they've actually stopped watching Fox News. It's gotten too liberal, they say, too critical of President Trump. For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRISTEZA'S "BEIGE FINGER")
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