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How America’s broken information environment birthed the chaos wrought by Matt Gaetz

Analysis by Oliver Darcy, CNN

(CNN) — Matt Gaetz is a product of America’s broken information environment.

Not so long ago, a young Florida congressman with no major legislative achievements to his name would hold little power in Washington. Such a person would certainly not wield enough power to oust the speaker of the House.

But as the media landscape has dramatically shifted, particularly in the right-wing information space, so have the power dynamics in Washington. In our present day, because of a warped media incentivization structure, the Republicans who carry real power and drive the party are the performers who work in conjunction with partisan media, not those who wish to govern.

Gaetz is not an anomaly. He is the direct consequence of this twisted construct.

In many ways, the astonishing affair that played out on Tuesday in the halls of Congress — and on televisions screens across the world — leading to Kevin McCarthy’s ouster was yet another reminder that the once-sought-after prestigious posts in government, such as the speakership, are no longer the real centers of power in Washington, or politics at large.

The gravity actually rests in the hands of high-profile media personalities — many of whom are not incentivized by unity and compromise, but feed off conflict and division. And these media personalities have birthed and empowered people like Gaetz.

This is, of course, particularly pronounced in the Republican Party, which has become largely controlled by right-wing talkers and outright propagandists who have radicalized much of the GOP base and pulled the party further to the fringe. Their hyperbolic rhetoric seduces audiences with outrageous headlines and fact-free claims that whips up the political base and is later regurgitated by lawmakers hoping to exploit the platforms for their own gain.

The right-wing media machine — comprised of Fox News, talk radio, social media personalities, and a constellation of blusterous websites — have made stars out of attention-hungry politicians. It’s far from just Gaetz, but people such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, Jim Jordan, and a parade of others — all of whom are willing to peddle dishonest narratives to vast audiences in exchange for seeing their personal profiles rise.

It does not take hard work, bipartisanship, and honor to make a name for oneself in Washington. Those traits might actually work against aspiring politicians these days. The real trick is to score spots on cable news (or outlets masquerading as such), grow social media followings, and shamelessly draw attention onto oneself by using any means necessary.

Gaetz is the embodiment of those characteristics. He has perfected that game.

News organizations should remain vigilant about those who would try to exploit their platforms to fuel their rises to power. Gaetz knows that if he creates a political circus, a fleet of reporters will follow him around endlessly, sticking microphones in his face and asking what he will do next. That’s precisely what he wants — and it’s very reminiscent of how the press covered Donald Trump in 2016.

After being ousted as speaker Tuesday, McCarthy addressed reporters and declared that the small handful of Republicans who voted to boot him “don’t get to say they’re conservative because they’re angry and chaotic.” That might be true. But it is also true that those are the traits rewarded by today’s media ecosystem. Which is why Gaetz’s star has been on the rise, and why McCarthy was just shown the door.

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