harvard study: americans rely on the mainstream media to tell them whether a politician is honest

The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University has published a study analyzing the role of right wing activists in shaping narratives picked up by the mainstream media in the 2016 election. One of these was the Clinton Foundation corruption story. From the Chapter "Dynamics of Network Propaganda: Clinton Foundation Case Study":

The critical lesson of this chapter of the Clinton Foundation story is that the manipulation was not a result of Facebook fake news or of the fragmentation of public discourse. Precisely because the majority of Americans do not get their news from Facebook or from the right-wing media ecosystem, it was necessary for the actors on the right -- Bannon and Schweitzer through GAI, Breitbart, Fox, the Daily Caller, and Judicial Watch -- to frame a story that was attractive enough for mainstream media to cover, and to cause mainstream voters to doubt Hillary Clinton’s integrity. There simply are not enough voters who get their news largely from the right-wing media ecosystem to win an election. Right-wing media must harness broader parts of the ecosystem to achieve their strategic goals. In this case, they kept the story alive with several distinct media “hits”—the release of a book while offering careful “exclusive” access to major newspapers; a film; multiple releases of email dumps; and responses by political actors to these media events (from the congressional representatives’ letter to the IRS to Donald Trump’s public statements). Right-wing media succeeded in pushing the Clinton Foundation to the front of the public agenda precisely at the moment when Clinton would have been anticipated to (and indeed did) receive her biggest bounce in the polls: immediately after the Democratic convention.

Two major assumptions are made in the Harvard Study: (i) that Hillary Clinton is an honest person and (ii) "narratives" regarding her dishonesty emanated only from the right wing. Yet one doesn't have to be a rabid partisan to be offended by the Clintons' cash haul from speaking fees and supposed charitable donations. Many on the left were repulsed by the scale of the solicitation and it was a factor driving support for Bernie Sanders. Also, many Americans remembered the weasel words Clinton used to justify her Iraq War vote, both at the time of the vote and after the failure of the invasion. The Berkman Klein Center assumes "mainstream voters" must read something in the Washington Post to believe it; they can't suss it out for themselves. "Out of touch elite" doesn't begin to describe the authors of the study. At the same time, the authors seem incapable of making a moral judgment as straightforward as "$250,000 speaking fees = political access = corruption."