Last week, I published a personal essay about my septuagenarian in-laws, who, in the wake of two years of American political unrest, have experienced somewhat of a political awakening.

The piece was titled “It might be time to cut my right-wing, Trump-loving in-laws out of my kids’ lives”, and it almost instantly went viral.

In the article, I wrote that my in-laws have taken a turn towards bigotry since the beginning of Trump’s presidency. They have said things which, in my opinion, represent a divisive and indefensible view on minorities and marginalized groups.

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As a result, my husband and I have been faced with a dilemma. We’re raising two young children together, and we don’t want to expose them to what my in-laws are saying. My essay explored this problem, which is not a political one: bigotry has no political boundaries.

My article was picked up by major media outlets around the country and re-posted thousands of times. In the aftermath, I received countless emails, many of them kind. My argument against remaining complicit in the face of terrible wrong rang true for many of my fellow Americans, and I was met with an onslaught of personal stories. I was moved by how many people opened their lives to me, a stranger, all because I had put my own story on the page.

Of course, I was a lightning rod, too. People wished terrible things on me. Several separate parties threatened to call Child Protective Services. One emailer wrote to say he hoped I died of cancer. I was forced to change the privacy settings on my social media. A right-wing troll reported one of my Instagram posts to the Secret Service.

Most of this brand of blowback was expected. In fraught times, I knew better than to think that a piece of this nature would slide under the radar undetected. What I didn’t expect, however, was that three major media outlets — Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, Glenn Beck’s website The Blaze, and the cable news morning program Fox & Friends —would pick my article up, manipulating both its content and intent as they did.

In my work, I laid out an argument for disassociating with bigoted family members, by quoting specific and terrible things that my in-laws had said. The right-wing media sources, however, removed all of those relevant quotes, and reimagined me as a ranting, raving liberal who wanted to cut off her in-laws merely because they voted for someone on the other side of the aisle.

Those outlets knew that their listeners, readers, and viewers were not going to read 2,600 words on a left-leaning website. The author dispatched to reconfigure my work on The Blaze produced bullet-pointed, sensationalised material which, to my mind, deliberately lost a huge amount of nuance. Similarly, it seemed unlikely that Rush Limbaugh and the three weekend anchors who discussed my essay for minutes on Saturday morning on Fox & Friends had even read my article — they instead spent time talking about the conservative response to it, which led to a polarised, dishonest-feeling conversation.

What I learned in the aftermath of my personal essay’s publication was how the right-wing agenda works, and how dishonest it is. When my inbox began to surge again, days after my article originally posted, I realised that the responses I was receiving were largely hateful, and largely misinformed. “I saw you on Fox & Friends,” a woman wrote me over email, when I asked her if she had actually read my article. But she hadn’t seen me, of course; she had seen a segment headed by the ex-actor and current stand-in anchor Dean Cain, entitled, “Woman Reveals in Column She Wants to Cut Her Children Off From Their Trump-Loving Grandparents.” The truth, which was that my article reached no conclusion about how to move forward with our bigoted family members, seemed beside the point.

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I wish I could say that this type of bad faith on the part of media does not really matter, but, when millions of people are tuning in, it does. If we wonder, in retrospect, how America arrived here, at a crossroads between fact and fiction, we have these propagandists to blame.

In the wake of going viral, I know this for sure: the right-wing media machine is stronger, more capable, and more dangerous than it appears.

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