Eric Boehlert

Author ››› Eric Boehlert
  • With Trump-Breitbart Alliance, The Right-Wing Media’s Civil War Just Got A Whole Lot Worse

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    A growing list of horrified conservative commentators have watched Donald Trump swallow the Republican Party this year, convinced he’s dooming the GOP with a major November loss. One of their key complaints has been that the erstwhile candidate has embraced dark elements of the far-right media; that Trump is just recycling irresponsible nonsense pushed by sites that are blindly loyal to him, like Breitbart News.

    Wednesday’s news that Trump has tapped Breitbart News chairman Stephen Bannon to help run his campaign will only inflame those concerns, and pundits will likely see the move as yet another nail in the campaign’s coffin.

    Immediately following the Bannon news, former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro, who quit the site in March over its obvious cheerleading for Trump, wrote that his former boss “openly embraced the white supremacist” movement of the extreme right. Shapiro added, “It’s clear that Breitbart News is indeed Bannon.com and Trumpbart News. That’s pathetic and disgusting.”

    In other words, the Trump-inspired civil war that has consumed the right-wing media for months just got a whole lot worse. And the long-term implications could mean big problems for the movement, long after November.

    With Trump’s unorthodox campaign igniting especially deep passions among conservatives, the Right-Wing Noise Machine’s famously loud megaphone has transformed itself into something of a circular firing squad. “Trump is choosing to end his campaign living in the alternate reality that Breitbart creates for him on a daily basis,” The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes announced.

    The civil war is now consuming the movement. (National Review Online, post-Bannon: “There are no good options left for conservatives, only disputably less bad ones.”) The irony is that the non-stop bickering and name-calling threatens to burn to the ground what had been a movement built on message discipline; on everyone singing off the same page. Today, those songs sheets are being torn up day after day.

    For decades, it’s been a media movement where internal disagreements were virtually always set aside in time for presidential general elections, and where commentators unified around their contempt for the Democratic foe. When finely tuned and focused, the conservative media machine served as a battering ram for the GOP.

    Not this year, and not with Trump.

    Increasingly, it’s Trump who generates the most visceral response among conservative commentators. It’s Trump who’s viewed and denounced by the right as the looming danger facing America. All the while, Clinton widens her lead in the polls.

    Indeed, some of the media attacks on Clinton this cycle seem somewhat muted, or less focused, given the widespread lack of enthusiasm for Trump on the right. Unable to project a unified, anti-Clinton message when they’re so busy denouncing their own nominee -- and when fighting with his remaining media fans -- conservative pundits are unraveling the distinctive fabric of the far-right press: message discipline.

    Of course, the Trump-inspired split isn’t new. During the wildly fractured GOP primary, Trump was denounced from inside the conservative media as a "vicious demagogue," a "con man," a "glib egomaniac," and "the very epitome of vulgarity."

    How bad has the sniping gotten this summer?

    Lead Trump cheerleader Sean Hannity has been derided as “pathetic” and “stupid or dishonest.” He’s Fox News’ “dumbest anchor.” He’s a Donald Trump enabler whose weeknight show resembles a Trump “infomercial.” In fact, Hannity might even be rooting for a Clinton win.

    And that’s just what Hannity’s fellow conservatives are saying about him.

    And the brawling isn’t limited to Trump-specific issues. This week, Breitbart News unleashed a broadside against Glenn Beck, who has been vocal in his contempt for Trump. Breibart belittled Beck for cozying up to Black Lives Matter, accusing him of “actually repeating a talking point of the Black Lives Matter founders themselves.”

    Meaning, Breitbart has its enemies list and is more than willing to take down conservatives like Beck if they get in Trump’s way. And that was before the site’s chief took over the Trump campaign. At the same time, Beck has been knocking longtime Trump ally Matt Drudge, calling him unreliable and claiming he’s gone to “this weird conspiratorial” place since he starting “hanging out with” radio host Alex Jones, another of Trump’s far-right supporters. 

    In terms of the traditional right-wing media campaign megaphone, the internal feud is diminishing its effectiveness.

    For starters, a site like Breitbart has very little mainstream appeal. Unlike The Weekly Standard or National Review, which routinely tout Republican candidates (but now refuse to back Trump) and are viewed as legitimate by the Beltway media, Breitbart’s long, and at-times comical, history of concocting falsehoods makes it hard for mainstream media observers to take it seriously.

    Another example of the diminishing right-wing media megaphone: Hannity recently rushed out to be the point person of a sloppy, irresponsible smear campaign against Clinton, suggesting her health is in serious decline and that her medical records are shrouded in mystery. It’s guttural stuff for sure (“Is it possible she had a stroke?”), but not unusual for a carnival barker like Hannity. Increasingly though, it looks like Hannity led a very small army into battle over Clinton’s health record.

    Meaning, with large portions of the conservative media openly mocking Hannity for what they see as his disingenuous and sycophantic support of Trump (the same goes for Breitbart), Hannity’s foray against Clinton’s health failed to pick up much meaningful support.

    That’s significant because it means the power of the collective right-wing media megaphone, effective when angry voices are yelling in unison, loses its punch. And without its vaunted message discipline, the Noise Machine can’t move the campaign needle.

    Another long-term effect from the open civil war is that members of the conservative media are finally calling out the avalanche of lies and misinformation the conservative press itself has peddled for so many years. Pushed to the breaking point by the Trump nomination and the lies that fuel it, more commentators are willing to admit, in public, that so much of the conservative media content is garbage.

    From longtime conservative radio talk show host Charlie Sykes:

    We have the InfoWars, we have the Breitbarts, we have the Drudges, in which information is passed, things that that bear no resemblance to reality whatsoever. So I'm in the position of having on a regular basis to basically say, look, that information is not valid, that's not true, that's not accurate.

    And from The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens:

    If you spend your time listening to certain cable shows all the time, listening to nobody else, if you're prone to the kind of conspiracy theories that whiz around on Twitter or certain fringes of the internet, you end up having this kind of conversation that's just increasingly divorced from reality.

    What happens after the election? Are conservatives just going to pretend that all the lies and misinformation shoveled to readers, viewers and listeners weren’t denounced from within the conservative press during the campaign?

    For now, the right-wing media chorus, that Tabernacle Choir of misinformation where every voice is hitting the same note, has been muted.

  • How Clinton Emails Became The New Whitewater: A “Scandal” In Search of A Crime

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Journalism is often about priorities. The act of newsgathering and storytelling is more than assembling facts and quotes and providing context. It’s also about deciding what’s important and specifically which stories are more newsworthy than others.

    On August 10, NBC News’ First Read, the early morning tip sheet, signaled to readers what the top news story of that day was:

    OFF TO THE RACES: New Clinton email questions

    From the New York Times: "A new batch of State Department emails released Tuesday showed the close and sometimes overlapping interests between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department when Hillary Clinton served as secretary of state. The documents raised new questions about whether the charitable foundation worked to reward its donors with access and influence at the State Department, a charge that Mrs. Clinton has faced in the past and has always denied."

    Our story on Donald Trump's "Second Amendment people" comment is here. 

    So the morning after Donald Trump seemed to make a veiled, yet shocking threat of political violence against his opponent, NBC News dubbed the day’s top story to be a small number of 2009 emails from Hillary Clinton’s State Department that had been released; emails that Clinton neither sent nor received.

    For me, that weird prioritization represented an early red flag that the latest round of Clinton email coverage was heading seriously off-track -- again. It also confirmed that there seems to be some weird magnetic bond the press has devised that keeps itself breathlessly attached to the email pursuit, not matter how trivial the developments.

    In other words, the Clinton emails are the new Whitewater. It’s the media’s latest Clinton “scandal” in search of a storyline. It’s a meandering genre of overexcited journalism that long ago lost sight of what the Clinton wrongdoing was supposed to be.

    Recall that Whitewater, the-hard-to-follow pseudo-scandal sponsored by The New York Times in the 1990s, dragged on so long that it became hard to recall what the Clintons’ alleged original sin was. (Losing money on a real estate deal is against the law?)

    “I could never remember what it was supposed to be about,” former Times reporter Todd Purdum recently conceded about Whitewater. “It was so byzantine.”

    We’ve seen the same arc with the Groundhog Day email saga. In real time, very few Beltway journalists will admit that the gotcha email story no longer has any gotcha. Likely only years from now will reporters and pundits concede that the Clinton email story was “byzantine” and hard to follow.

    Note that I’m not saying the fact that Clinton used a private server for email wasn’t a legitimate news story. It clearly was. The FBI investigated it and found no legal wrongdoing and that’s where the press should have jumped off the GOP’s bandwagon because the story was over.

    But the press refuses to disengage or provide honest context, and that’s where the weird clinging comes into play. And that’s what was on display last week as the Beltway press desperately tried to convince news consumers, and itself, that a handful of innocuous, 7-year-old emails represented a startling  revelation. (NBC News insisted Clinton should have been “reeling” from the email revelations.)

    But there was no there, there. As Media Matters detailed, while the press excitedly echoed Republican charges about how a couple of 2009 emails revealed dastardly deeds regarding access and policy, “Neither the emails nor the news reports provide any evidence that Clinton Foundation donors impacted decisions Clinton made at the State Department.”

    If you dug deep enough last week, you noticed the buried caveat that conceded the newly released emails didn’t actually reveal any wrongdoing. From ABC News: “There has been no concrete evidence linking State Department favors to foreign donors in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation."

    Here’s the dirty secret about what fuels Clinton scandal coverage and what has always fueled the wayward pursuit: Journalists are invested. And for the email story they’ve been deeply invested since March 2015. Lots of journalists want there to be a story and therefore they’re absolutely not independent observers refereeing a tennis match between two partisan sides.

    For the press, the hollow email story allows them to harp on Clinton’s supposed untrustworthiness. It also allows them to show Republicans that they’re putting the Democratic nominee under a microscope; to prove they don’t have a liberal bias. So when Trump seems to encourage violence, the press can say, "Yeah, but Clinton’s emails," the way NBC did last week.

    Meanwhile, an avalanche of good-news polls for Clinton severely undercut any press suggestion that the emails constitute a key issue in the campaign, let alone that they’re hurting her presidential chances. It was hard to take seriously The Wall Street Journal on Friday when it claimed on its front page that the emails were “undercutting” and “hindering” Clinton’s campaign, when that same day she opened up a 9-point lead in the dependably red state of North Carolina. (So without the email story she’d be up 13 points in North Carolina?)

    But the press remains pot-committed. Like poker players who’ve already bet too much on a weak hand, journalists refuse to admit defeat. 

    Today, the only lynch pin still holding this non-story together is the media's beloved “optics”: the story doesn’t look good. The story has “raise[d] questions.”

    You know what else “raise[d] questions”? The fact that in 2013 Donald Trump wrote a $25,000 check to help reelect Florida Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi just six days after her office announced it was reviewing allegations of fraud against the Trump University enterprise. After the generous check arrived, the Florida attorney general said the state wasn’t going to investigate Trump University.

    That’s a political access story worthy of extraordinarily focus and coverage. But few news organizations seem interested: Since that story broke in June, The Washington Post and New York Times have published just a handful of articles noting Trump’s convenient $25,000 donation to Bondi, according to Nexis.

    By contrast, since June the Times and Post have published more than 200 Clinton email stories.

    Journalists today look back and shake their heads and wonder how a convoluted mess of a “scandal” like Whitewater ever dominated news cycles, year after year. Will scribes one day look back and ask the same about the Clinton emails? 

  • Here We Go Again: Media Say Clinton’s Winning, But Not Winning The Right Way

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    “She is an awful candidate. Everybody knows it.”

    That’s how Matthew Dowd summed up Hillary Clinton on this Sunday’s This Week on ABC. Reviewing the state of the 2016 White House campaign and insisting that Clinton is deeply flawed, Dowd deepened his critique: “She's an awful candidate. She's not liked. She's not trusted. The positive for her is she's running against a worse candidate in the course of it.”

    Clinton’s an "awful" candidate, yet she amassed more votes than anyone else running in the Democratic and Republican primaries, she currently holds a commanding lead over Donald Trump, and she might rewrite the electoral map by flipping some dependably red states blue. 

    That’s a very unusual election equation.

    Dowd isn’t alone in his peculiar appraisal. As the prospects of a Clinton victory loom larger this year, more pundits seem to be trying to explain why her historic victory wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Why it might not be that meaningful, and how Clinton might just luck her way into the White House, no matter how commanding her potential margin of victory is.  

    The commentary trend is rather remarkable considering that in 2000, Republican George W. Bush not only lost the popular vote, but had to be hand-selected by the Supreme Court to become the next president. Yet Clinton is the one facing a possibly depleted victory?

    Indeed, Clinton’s alternately portrayed as boring and uninspiring, overly aggressive and widely disliked, or sleepwalking through history like a modern day Chauncey the Gardener.

    New rule: Clinton not only has to win. She has to win a certain way.

    According to a recent CNN.com report by Maeve Reston, Clinton’s definitely not winning the right way. Reston announced the 2016 election cycle lacks any “inspiration,” in part because so many voters “can’t stand either candidate.” According to Reston, the campaign is void of the “joy and even the sweeping rhetoric that drove voters to the polls” in previous campaigns -- like when George W. Bush pushed for "compassionate conservatism."

    Doesn’t everyone recall Bush’s sweeping rhetoric in 2000?

    Insisting that Clinton “barely escaped indictment over her use of a personal email server as secretary of state” -- which isn’t true, many legal scholar signaled long ago she’d never be indicted -- Reston interviewed some voters who expressed low opinions of Clinton. "I used to admire her. She's obviously a very intelligent woman," said one voter who claimed Clinton "has done things that are illegal, and she's gotten away with it because of who she is. People have covered up for her."

    Those last three claims are false, false, and false. But none of them were challenged by CNN. So in a report that stressed how Clinton is unpopular, CNN didn’t correct falsehoods about Clinton; falsehoods that likely add to the reason of why some voters don’t like her.

    Last month, NPR’s Domenico Montanaro announced, “Clinton Is Lucky She's Running Against Trump.” Why is Clinton lucky? Because the uninspiring candidate is allegedly so disliked by voters who view her with simmering contempt that there’s no way she could beat any other Republican candidate.

    This remains a popular pundit theme: Clinton’s only leading the polls because Trump’s such a bad candidate. And of course Republicans would normally be favored to win in 2016. (Question: If Trump’s such a crummy candidate, how did he easily defeat 16 opponents during the GOP primary?) But it seems to me that when a Democrat is up seven points in a state like Georgia -- which hasn’t voted for a Democratic president in two decades -- that can’t all be dismissed with she-has-a-flawed-opponent analysis.

    Meanwhile, remember back in May when Clinton locked up the Kentucky Democratic primary contest and Politico marked the event with the headline, “Hillary Clinton’s Joyless Victory”? Earlier that month, Politico published “How Hillary Could Win the Election—and Lose the Country,” which suggested the Democrat might be elected as a “kind of default president.”

    Nothing condescending there, right?

    You’ll recall that the preferred storyline through much of the primary season was that Clinton wasn’t inspiring voters the way Bernie Sanders was. That, despite the fact a March Gallup poll found Clinton supporters were among the most enthusiastic this campaign season.

    And then there’s the mandate chatter. Considered by the press to be perhaps the ultimate prize, mythical mandates are only awarded to candidates who secure overwhelming victories. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Doyle McManus suggested the mandate crown could be elusive for Clinton because, in his eyes, she’s focusing too much on Trump:

    But it comes with a potential cost. By focusing on the other guy’s flaws, Clinton may fail to build a strong mandate for her agenda, including higher taxes for upper-income earners, a $275 billion infrastructure program and comprehensive immigration reform.

    Even if Clinton wins by a very large margin she won’t have won a mandate because she talked about her opponent too much during the campaign? Since when has that been the campaign template for achieving a mandate?

    McManus continued:

    Republicans in Congress (depending on how many survive) will be able to claim that Clinton won the White House only because the GOP nominated the wrong candidate, and that the American people aren’t on board with her proposals — some of which they might not even know about. 

    The argument seems unfounded -- since when do Americans elect the person they don’t want to be president? Tens of millions are voters are going to cast their vote for the person they don’t support? But McManus says Republicans “will be able” to make that claim -- in part because journalists like McManus are already making it!

    All of this comes across as a rather a heavy-handed attempt to preemptively deduct points from Clinton’s possible win. Which brings us to Vanity Fair and its recent entry into the genre: “Why Hillary Clinton Could Win in November, But Only Serve One Term; Experts Predict A Short-Lived Victory For the Former Secretary of State.”

    That’s right, facing the prospects of a Clinton victory in 2016, some in the press are already mapping out her re-election defeat in 2020.

    After all, she’s an “awful” candidate, right?

  • Trump’s Dangerous Embrace Of Right-Wing Media Insurrectionism

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    For anyone stunned by Donald Trump’s apparent suggestion yesterday that “Second Amendment people” could prevent Hillary Clinton from appointing justices to the Supreme Court -- a remark widely interpreted as a veiled threat of political violence -- keep in mind that vigilante, insurrectionist rhetoric has become a cornerstone of the conservative movement and right-wing media in recent years.

    Not content to portray President Obama as misguided or wrong on the facts during his eight years in office, troubled portions of the far-right press embraced openly violent rhetoric to condemn the president of the United States. Especially hysterical regarding the topic of guns -- which was the topic that prompted Trump’s startling statement yesterday -- the far-right media have in recent years helped mainstream a type of violent rhetoric once considered to be outside the norms of American politics.

    Trump’s apparent embrace of that dark, dangerous side was on display on Tuesday when he said that if Clinton “gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people maybe there is, I don’t know.” (Trump and his campaign have since tried to claim that he meant NRA types would rally behind his candidacy and vote against Clinton in the election.)

    Following up his repeated claim that November’s election might be “rigged” to ensure a Democratic victory, Trump has layered onto that dangerous fantasy the idea of insurrectionism following Clinton’s inauguration.

    Longtime Trump adviser and guttural media player Roger Stone has been outspoken about the looming uprising if Trump loses. Stone recently appeared on a fringe-right radio show and warned about the massive tumult that would occur if Trump loses the election:

    “He needs to say for example, today would be a perfect example: ‘I am leading in Florida. The polls all show it. If I lose Florida, we will know that there’s voter fraud. If there’s voter fraud, this election will be illegitimate, the election of the winner will be illegitimate, we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government.’”

    “If you can’t have an honest election, nothing else counts,” he continued. “I think he’s gotta put them on notice that their inauguration will be a rhetorical, and when I mean civil disobedience, not violence, but it will be a bloodbath. The government will be shut down if they attempt to steal this and swear Hillary in. No, we will not stand for it. We will not stand for it.”

    Stone himself has a long history of making insanely incendiary comments. In July 2014, Stone tweeted that Hillary Clinton should be “tried” and “executed for murder.” He tweeted that Sen. Bernie Sanders should be “arrested for treason and shot,” and that philanthropist and businessman George Soros should be “executed.”

    Just this week, Stone went on Twitter and suggested the Clintons were responsible for the recent deaths of four people. So no, Trump’s “Second Amendment people” comment did not spring from a vacuum.

    Trump’s campaign and his media allies are increasingly embracing the dead-end view of right-wing politics where violence is justified to right a perceived wrong; where violent political action might need to be taken by private citizens to curb a dangerously powerful federal government.

    Sadly, this kind of irresponsible, doomsday chatter isn’t new. The sewer runs quite deep, Trump’s simply riding the currents. But having a presidential candidate who will give it credence is new and alarming.

    As the rampant anti-government rhetoric of the tea party movement swelled in 2009 and 2010, and activists marched around with Swastika posters, brandished guns, and gave speeches about the need to wage bloody war against the federal government, one Newsmax columnist determined that a military coup "to resolve the 'Obama problem'" was not "unrealistic." (Newsmax later pulled the column.) Meanwhile, Glenn Beck landed a show on Fox News and gamed out bloody scenarios for the then-looming civil war against the Obama-led tyranny. (Beck later insisted Obama might throw his political opponents into internment camps.)

    A Breitbart.com writer branded Obama "suicide-bomber-in-chief." Rush Limbaugh announced, “Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate." And appearing on Fox News, Dick Morris essentially endorsed armed insurrectionism against law enforcement: "Those crazies in Montana who say, 'We're going to kill ATF agents because the UN's going to take over' -- well, they're beginning to have a case."

    Years later, amid Obama urging new gun safety legislation in the wake of the school gun massacre in Newtown, CT, Fox's Todd Starnes warned there would "a revolution" if the government tries to "confiscate our guns." Fox News’ Pat Caddell claimed the country was in a "pre-revolutionary condition," and "on the verge of an explosion," while Arthur Herman declared on FoxNews.com that the U.S. is "one step closer" to a looming "civil war." 

    Trump himself responded to Obama’s re-election by sending out (and later deleting) two tweets invoking the need for a “revolution,” including saying, “He lost the popular vote by a lot and won the election. We should have a revolution in this country!” (Obama actually won the popular vote by nearly five million votes.)

    Trump's favorite professional conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, warned that year, “Hitler took the guns, Stalin took the guns, Mao took the guns, Fidel Castro took the guns, Hugo Chavez took the guns! ... And I am here to tell you, 1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms!”

    That reactionary mindset has been embraced by Trump’s fervent followers, who chant “Lock her up” at rallies, and much worse. (“Hang the bitch!”) Al Baldasaro, an adviser to the Trump campaign for veterans issues, announced that Clinton “should be shot” for treason. And West Virginia lawmaker Michael Folk agreed, suggesting Clinton should be “hung on the mall in Washington, DC.”

    The doomsday, Armageddon rhetoric about Democratic criminality and the party’s supposed traitorous desire to tear down America carries with it an implicit suggestion to aggrieved listeners and viewers.

    Back when Beck first started broadcasting this brand of insurrectionist rhetoric on Fox News, Jeffrey Jones, a professor of media and politics at Old Dominion University, explained the significance: "People hear their values are under attack and they get worried. It becomes an opportunity for them to stand up and do something."

    Now we have a wildly irresponsible presidential candidate who has adopted that same dangerous rhetoric and is sending the same ominous message: Do something.

  • The Death Of “Both Sides” Campaign Coverage

    Trump’s Erratic Behavior Has Killed It (For Now)

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    It was buried near the bottom of yet another energetic Ron Fournier denunciation of Hillary Clinton’s character, but close readers of his recent Atlantic column might have been surprised by this passage [emphasis added]:

    And yet, in my mind, the case against Clinton is not as disturbing as Trump’s mendacity, megalomania, intolerance, and intellectual slovenliness. With Clinton and Trump, the two most unpopular presidential candidates in the modern era, there is no equivalence.

    That’s right, Fournier, a champion of the persistent Both Sides brand of political commentary, which revolves around the core belief that Democrats and Republicans are always equally to blame, set aside two sentences to specifically announce that whatever Clinton’s shortcomings, there was no comparison between her political sins and those of Donald Trump.

    A small victory.

    Both Sides reporting and commentary has represented a constant journalism failing for years, and it's always been especially bad in political journalism. But is it possible that Trump is killing off false equivalency journalism? Is it possible that in recent days and weeks, Trump’s campaign has become such an inferno of incompetence that it’s just not possible for the press to look at the GOP campaign wreckage on display and suggest Democrats are facing a similar type of blaze; that both sides are in disarray?

    And has Trump’s divisive and hateful rhetoric leaped so far out of the mainstream that pundits and reporters just aren’t able to draw a false equivalency connection to Clinton? They simply cannot claim she’s an equally divisive, hateful and controversial figure?

    That may be one of the unintended, but welcomed, consequences of Trump’s extraordinary campaign run in recent days. 

    Can anyone recall a single 7-10 day stretch quite like the last one in terms of the sheer number of monumental unforced errors made by a single presidential candidate? Trump in the span of about a week racked up more memorable miscues than most losing candidates tally in six or 12 months.

    Among the lowlights that have Republicans scurrying:

    *Trump attacked a Gold Star family whose son was killed in the Iraq War.

    *Trump wouldn't commit to endorsing Rep. Paul Ryan or Sen. John McCain (he eventually endorsed them during a Friday night event). 

    *Trump suggested women who were sexually harassed at work should go work somewhere else.

    *Trump offered baffling remarks regarding Russia’s annexation of Crimea.                                                  

    *Trump invited Russia to interfere in an American presidential election.

    *Trump announced the 2016 election would probably be “rigged.”

    *Trump implied the presidential debate process was also rigged.

    *Trump claimed Clinton was a “founder” of ISIS.

    Meanwhile, prominent Trump surrogates appeared on television and suggested President Obama might not have been an American citizen when he attended Harvard Law School, and that Clinton and Obama were responsible for the death of Capt. Humayun Khan. (The latter attack was later walked back.)

    Observers on each side of the political aisle can’t stop shaking their heads at the spectacle. Already known for his erratic, eccentric behavior, Trump has shifted into fifth gear and left all semblance of normalcy behind. And with it, he’s badly damaged the Both Sides approach.

    The long-running practice really has been weighing down journalism. President Obama himself reportedly points to the pattern of false equivalency as one of the key media failures during his presidency.

    The problem? As Media Matters’ Jamison Foser explained several years ago:

    There's a tendency to think that saying "both sides do it" is the way to avoid taking sides in a dispute…..But when saying "both sides do it" requires drawing a false equivalence, the speaker is taking sides -- on behalf of the people responsible for the greater sin. A journalist's imperative is telling the truth, not creating the false impression of neutrality by equating unequal things.

    Whatever the cause, Both Sides journalism does a disservice to news consumers who are looking for clear, concise information and analysis about current events, and especially presidential campaigns.

    Here’s a good example of the problematic approach, from a New York Times tweet back in May:

    See? Both Sides are in a “race to the bottom.” Hillary Clinton -- a former first lady, United States senator, and secretary of state -- is just like Donald Trump, and they’re both equally objectionable, seemed to be the message.

    But again, I think there’s been a clear shift in recent days and weeks. There’s been a general, albeit belated, media realization that the Trump campaign is like no other, and that his allergic reaction to factual discussions is unprecedented. Therefore, Both Sides doesn’t work, and Trump cannot be covered based on the idea that he’s a GOP mirror image of the Democratic candidate, with the underlying assumption being they’re similar, minus some adjustments around the edges.

    “[T]he idea that they are even in the same league is preposterous,” wrote The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof over the weekend. “If deception were a sport, Trump would be the Olympic gold medalist; Clinton would be an honorable mention at her local Y.”

    That’s why we’re seeing news channels use their on-screen graphics to instantly fact-check Trump.

    We’ve never seen this practice before because we’ve never seen a major party nominee who willfully lies day after day on the campaign trail at the rate Trump does, even after those lies are dutifully debunked.

    For the most part, there’s been little attempt to frame the recent Trump meltdown with Both Sides language. There’s been very little attempt to frame the past few days as bad news for Trump while also kind of bad news for Clinton.

    Instead, the campaign press has been quite vivid and clear in its language regarding the purely Republican implosion.

    And no, that’s not piling on. That’s not being “biased.” It’s being factual and accurate.

    For the record, I’m completely aware that Both Sides journalism could return, and it might even storm back during this campaign cycle. But it’s worth noting that there’s currently something of a moratorium on the unpleasant newsroom trend.

    Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

  • Why Reports About Rush Limbaugh's Contract Renewal Don't Mention The Price

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Rush Limbaugh’s radio business model has been cracked and broken for several years. News this week of his four-year contract extension does little to repair those fractures, but does raise the specter of his eventual departure from the AM dial. Because without a solid advertising and affiliate base, Limbaugh simply cannot flourish the way he once did.

    And what a difference eight years makes for the talker and the precarious state of his radio career.

    Back in 2008 when Limbaugh re-upped with his syndicated radio bosses, the details of the wildly generous deal were quickly trumpeted in the press. Headlines heralded the AM talker’s NBA-type, eight-year contract signed with Clear Channel, the conservative-friendly media behemoth with a soft spot for right-wing radio: $400 million! That included a 40 percent raise from his previous deal and a $100 million signing bonus.

    The larger 2008 context was clear: Limbaugh had established himself as a larger-than-life media and political kingpin and this was his victory lap. Limbaugh commanded the type of money and influence that few in the media and entertainment industry ever achieve. A radio ratings hero, Limbaugh was at the top of his game. Or so Clear Channel insisted.

    Compare all that 2008 contract triumph to this week’s minimalist roll-out announcing Limbaugh’s extension, which consisted of a single-page press release from his radio boss, iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel), and Limbaugh mentioning it on his program.

    Conspicuously absent this time around were any details about the size of the contract, or an acknowledgement that Limbaugh might have been forced to take a sizeable pay cut thanks to his diminished stature.

    On his Tuesday program, Limbaugh insisted he’s never wanted his earnings to be public knowledge and so he wasn’t going to discuss the details of the extension; “It was a sign of good manners.” But in a 2008 New York Times magazine profile, Limbaugh openly discussed the dollar figures behind his blockbuster deal. (“He estimated that it would bring in about $38 million a year. To sweeten the deal, he said he was also getting a nine-figure signing bonus.”) He also talked about how much his private jet cost ($54 million).

    Today Limbaugh announced -- while obscuring the details of his new deal -- that estimating his annual salary is “kind of a joke” because he doesn’t “earn a salary.” He continued, “I have to perform every quarter, every six months, every year. There's no salary involved here, so throwing out numbers with this is kind of misleading in the first place.”

    Put it this way, if Limbaugh got a raise or another big payday this week, you can be sure the figures would’ve at least been leaked to the press.

    “I hear the new deal has a much lower base salary and a much bigger revenue share component,” Darryl Parks tells Media Matters. Parks is a former talk radio host, programmer, and self-identified Republican who writes about the radio industry at DarrylParksBlog. “With the revenue share, the company is lowering its financial risk in signing him.”

    And let’s be clear, struggling iHeartMedia is in no position to take any “financial risk” on Limbaugh, or anybody else. Instead, the once-dominant radio behemoth is saddled with $20 billion in debt, thanks to a misguided leveraged takeover engineered by Bain Capital in 2008.

    Consider this: 

    Clear Channel stock value, April 2007: $39.

    iHeartMedia stock price, July 2011: Approximately $8

    iHeartMedia stock price at close of Tuesday: $1.30.

    But even with a sturdy corporate parent, it’s likely Limbaugh was facing a pay cut thanks to the historic advertising exodus that has wreaked havoc on his business model. The widespread Madison Ave. rejection was sparked by in part by the talker’s days-long sexist meltdown over Sandra Fluke in 2012. With advertisers staying away, and ratings down, station owners were suddenly less interested in carrying his expensive program.

    In key major markets such as Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and Indianapolis, Limbaugh has been demoted on the AM dial, onto often struggling, underperforming stations -- the type of affiliates that Limbaugh was rarely associated with during his glory days as the king of talk radio.

    Parks last week looked at Limbaugh’s most recent ratings in Boston:

    Limbaugh’s show has been banished to WKOX-AM, a iHeart Radio owned station, and in June ’16 that station ranked #23 with a 0.2.  That’s just two tenths of a point away from a DNS or “did not show,” meaning not having enough listeners to show in the ratings.

    Limbaugh’s show airs on a station in Boston that basically has no listeners.

    The Buffalo News recently looked at Limbaugh’s local ratings and found that for the months of January, February and March this year, his audience declined “14 percent in age 12 plus, 16 percent in the age 25-54 category and 5 percent in the older age 35-64 demographic.” And that was during the height of the political primary season.

    The paper also reported that the Buffalo station, like so many other Limbaugh affiliates, was having trouble selling ads on the program.

    As Parks wrote on his blog last week, “Years ago, Rush Limbaugh could make or break a news/talk station.  But, that was many years ago and is no longer the case.”

  • Trump vs. Khan: How Smearing Everyday Americans Became A Right-Wing Media Tradition

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Who picks a campaign fight with Gold Star parents who have paid the ultimate sacrifice?

    That’s the dominant campaign question being asked from so many different quarters as Donald Trump continues his jaw-dropping public feud with Khizr Khan and his wife Ghazala. The Khans have been the subject of a series of attacks from Trump following Khizr Khan’s speech at the Democratic National Convention last week with his wife by his side. During that speech, Khan recounted how their son Capt. Humayun Khan had died in 2004 in Iraq as he tried to save fellow American troops, and then forcefully admonished Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering America.

    The Republican nominee has received some right-wing media support in his misguided campaign to discredit the sympathetic mother and father, but not much political support. Indeed, Trump’s strategy appears to have been a political blunder, with the nominee being denounced on many sides.

    Regardless of the outcome, the sad spectacle exemplifies a right-wing tradition where players don’t hesitate to smear their opponents, including everyday Americans who happen to stand up to or question the GOP orthodoxy, whether it’s parents like the Khans, or injured schoolboys, caring husbands, gunshot victims, health advocates, or the father of a U.S. prisoner of war. They’re people often suffering from loss or trauma in their own lives. People who deserve to be treated with respect, instead of being battered around politically.

    But nobody has been immune from the intimidation tactics.

    Here’s a look at previous, disturbing examples of when conservatives adopted Trump’s Khan strategy and unleashed coordinated, and unjustified, personal attacks against vulnerable Americans who stood in the way of GOP messaging.

    Michael Schiavo

    In early 2005, riding the high of President Bush’s 2004 re-election, Republicans decided to turn the painfully personal saga of Terri Schiavo’s right-to-die case in Florida into a partisan football, which was then punted through news cycles during the month of March. That’s when Republicans began their unprecedented push to intervene legislatively in a state court case that had already been heard by numerous judges.

    The problem for the GOP was that Terri’s husband Michael had been fighting and winning in courts for years for the right to end Terri’s life. (Terri’s parents opposed Michael’s effort in court.) So the right-wing media set out to transform Michael Schiavo from loving husband to heartless bad guy.

    Then-radio host Glenn Beck reportedly tagged Schiavo as a “murderer” who had fathered two "bastard" children. One conservative Colorado columnist denounced Michael as a “scumbag,” while The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan mocked the husband as a “disaffected” “strange-o.”

    This, for a man whose wife had lived in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years.

    Graeme Frost

    In 2007, President George W. Bush vetoed bipartisan legislation to bolster State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP. The bill was set to expand the program to millions of children who didn’t have insurance. After the veto, 12-year old Graeme Frost was chosen to give the Democratic response to Bush’s weekly radio address and used his platform to urge the expansion.  

    After he suffered injuries from a car crash, including a days-long coma, Frost needed continued therapy. But his working parents, with a combined income of about $45,000, couldn’t afford private health insurance, especially after Frost’s injuries. (Graeme’s sister was also injured in the crash, and remained in a coma for three weeks.)

    Soon after the radio address, an electronic mob descended on the Frost family, and specifically their 12-year-old son. Led by conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, who traveled to Maryland to scope out the Frosts (“I just returned from a visit to Frost’s commercial property near Patterson Park in Baltimore. It’s a modest place.”), the right-wing media mob, joined by Rush Limbaugh, lambasted the family, suggesting they were defrauding the government, or clearly undeserving of help. Malkin even dubbed the boy a "human shield" for Democrats.

    Digging online, bloggers discovered Graeme attended private school and used that as proof of a scam. But the boy attended the school on scholarship and the family clearly did deserve government help to care for their ailing children. As Time concluded, “The Frosts are precisely the kind of people that the SCHIP program was intended to help.”

    But the right-wing media had no problem attacking the family of a little boy who almost died in a car crash.

    Sandra Fluke

    When Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke testified before Congress in February 2012 about the need for health insurance companies to provide access to affordable contraception, Rush Limbaugh responded with an unhinged, career-defining, three-day smear campaign. During his bullying meltdown, Limbaugh attacked Fluke as a “slut” and a “prostitute,” and urged her to post online videos of herself having sex. The talker unfurled 46 Fluke insults that week.

    The talker even ridiculed her parents on his nationally syndicated radio show:

    Can you imagine if you're her parents how proud of Sandra Fluke you would be? Your daughter goes up to a congressional hearing conducted by the Botox-filled Nancy Pelosi and testifies she's having so much sex she can't afford her own birth control pills and she agrees that Obama should provide them, or the Pope.

    For Limbaugh, the bizarre, misogynistic campaign targeting the previously unknown law school student marked a turning point in his career, as advertisers by the hundreds announced they refused to be associated with his program. Four years later, his show still has not fully recovered from the advertising exodus.

    Trayvon Martin

    Who would’ve ever thought that a cable news channel would devote 16 months to victim shaming an unarmed teenager shot to death while walking home at night? But that’s what Fox News did to Trayvon Martin after he was killed by a neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, during a late-night encounter in a Sanford, Florida, gated community in 2012. Police initially did not charge Zimmerman with a crime, citing the state’s controversial Stand Your Ground self-defense law. Following intense public outcry, Zimmerman was charged with murder and found not guilty.

    But why did the conservative media feel the need to smear and attack a dead teenager? Unlike Frost and Fluke, Martin hadn’t made any overt political statement against the GOP. And the tragic story of his death certainly didn’t fit any pre-existing narratives about crime or gun violence in America that conservatives embrace. In fact, the storyline was an awkward one for Fox News. As Orlando Sentinel columnist Beth Kassab wrote at the time, there was "no good way for gun proponents to spin the death of an unarmed teenager."

    Initially, the conservative media mostly downplayed the story. National Review editor Rich Lowry actually published a blog post headlined "Al Sharpton is right," agreeing that Zimmerman should have immediately been charged with the killing of Martin.

    But when President Obama expressed sympathy for the Martin family and famously said, “If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," the conservative media, wallowing in Obama Derangement Syndrome, instantly treated that as some sort of declaration of war; a war on “thug” Trayvon Martin and his reputation.

    Robert Bergdahl

    When President Obama made the Rose Garden announcement on May 31, 2014, that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was returning home after being held captive for five years by the Taliban, there’s probably no way Bowe’s grateful father Robert could have known he’d instantly become the target of the right-wing media’s wrath. (Conservatives were furious Obama exchanged five Taliban detainees held at Guantanamo; Bergdahl is currently facing “charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.”)

    In what other instance has the father of a returning prisoner of war been depicted by portions of the press as a possible terrorist sympathizer and mocked on national television as he awaited a reunion with his son?   

    Fox’s Brian Kilmeade: Bergdahl’s father looks “like a member of the Taliban."

    Bill O’Reilly: He “looks like a Muslim.”

    Laura Ingraham: “If he wasn’t so light-skinned, he actually looks like the terrorists.”

    All of those attacks were launched in the name of scoring partisan points against Obama for okaying a controversial prisoner/detainee swap and returned home a captured American.

  • Roger Ailes And The Rampant Misogyny That Fuels Fox News

    Sexist Work Culture Permeates The Programming

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Fox News’ corporate image continues to unravel in public view as shocking stories tumble out about the hostile workplace environment that former CEO Roger Ailes allegedly cultivated for decades.

    The claims first made by former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, who detailed the harassing office culture in her sexual harassment lawsuit filed July 6 (Ailes: “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better”), have now been joined by the increasingly disturbing and chilling claims being made by additional women against Ailes.

    As outside attorneys finish up their investigation into claims of harassment inside Fox News, the picture being painted of the cable news channel is one where oversight was nonexistent; in fact, senior executives appear to have helped Ailes cover up his routine acts of lechery. 

    During July, we learned that women claimed men who worked in positions of power at Fox News (namely Ailes, but not exclusively) groped women, kissed women against their will, made wildly inappropriate sexual comments (“Are you wearing any panties? I wish you weren't”), asked about female employees’ sex lives, pressured younger women to date older men in the office, made “jokes” about liking having women on their knees, promised promotions in exchange for sex, and cut short careers of women who took offense.

    And no, it’s not plausible that Fox News executives didn’t know about this kind of rampant, illegal, workplace behavior. Fox News general counsel Dianne Brandi and Ailes’ deputy Bill Shine have been accused of trying to cover up their former boss’ behavior.

    But surprise! That demeaning view of women has also been a cornerstone of Fox News’ programming for many, many years. The sexist themes relentlessly promulgated by Fox didn’t spring from a vacuum. They sprang from inside Roger Ailes’ corner office.

    Meaning, Fox News’ signature Neanderthal view of women came from the top, just like Fox News’ ugly race-baiting and Islamophobia came from the top. For decades, Ailes has helped engineer hateful programming by setting the tone himself. Now, we’re finding that not only did Ailes set a sexist tone inside the newsroom and inside executive offices, he’s accused of truly appalling behavior with female employees.

    Last week, based on allegations lodged by current and former Fox News employees, including those by Carlson, I likened the Fox News culture to Mad Men and its television portrayal of a sexist 1960s office environment where women were mostly treated as subservient playthings.

    But following the chilling New York story about Laurie Luhn and her alleged ordeal with Ailes, the Mad Men comparison no longer does justice to the unnerving, first-hand portrayal of Fox News painted by a former longtime employee. We’ve moved beyond a deplorable harassing and sexist culture and entered something far darker.

    “Former Fox News Booker Says She Was Sexually Harassed and ‘Psychologically Tortured’ by Roger Ailes for More Than 20 Years.”

    That was the shocking headline from the New York magazine article by Gabriel Sherman late last week. The piece, which detailed Luhn’s on-the-record retelling of her workplace torment, further illustrated Ailes’ allegedly predatory behavior and how the network reportedly helped cover it up. “By 2006, Luhn said, Ailes was regularly demanding phone sex in the office.”

    And this:

    Luhn put on the black garter and stockings she said Ailes had instructed her to buy; he called it her uniform. Ailes sat on a couch. “Go over there. Dance for me,” she recalled him saying. She hesitated. “Laurie, if you're gonna be my girl, my eyes and ears, if you are going to be someone I can depend on in Washington, my spy, come on, dance for me,” he said, according to her account. When she started dancing, Ailes got out a video camera. Luhn didn’t want to be filmed, she said, but Ailes was insistent: “I am gonna need you to do better than that.”

    On Twitter, Sherman then amplified his findings:

    The CEO of a global news corporation was paying an employee to have phone sex with him? Demanding she engage in “sadomasochistic sex with another woman while he watched”? Setting her up with a no-show job, and then pushing her out the door with a $3.15 million severance deal that doubled as hush money?

    It’s insane. Or as New York writer Jonathan Chait tweeted after reading the story, “I literally feel ill.”

    It’s hard to find the right words to describe the Fox work environment now being detailed in the press. But here’s a key point: That boys club misogyny and that corroded brand of corporate sexism has doubled as a cornerstone for Fox’s news programming since Ailes helped found the channel two decades ago.

    See here:

    Or recall that Eric Bolling once announced he was “laughing” at the idea “anything a guy can do, a woman can do better.” That Keith Ablow insisted “men should be able to veto women’s abortions.” That Steve Doocy longed for the days when it was okay to make date rape jokes. (In her suit against Ailes, Carlson also alleges that Doocy "created a hostile work environment by regularly treating her in a sexist and condescending way.") And Brian Kilmeade remarked, “women are everywhere. We’re letting them play golf and tennis now.” (Carlson walked off the set after that Kilmeade comment.)

    And despite the numerous detailed allegations, several Fox News staffers (and Donald Trump) vigorously defended Ailes and his honor.

    Reacting to the unsettling Sherman revelations about how Ailes allegedly lorded his power over women at Fox News and his subordinates reportedly joined in, one follower of Sherman’s responded on Twitter, “They are who we thought they were.”

    Indeed.

  • Why The Murdochs Have To Clean House At Fox News

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Butts being grabbed, women being kissed against their will, female employees being ogled at work, promotions being offered in exchange for sex, and the looming threat of being fired for anyone who complained about the degrading harassment.

    Is it just me, or does the recent ugly portrait of Fox News these days in the wake of Roger Ailes’ departure amidst allegations of sexual harassment sound more like a caricature of a sexist work environment at a record company in the 1970s than it does at a news outlet in the 21st century? Not to mention a conservative news outlet that has branded itself the champion of wholesome, Republican values for years. As Fox News’ own Howard Kurtz conceded, “this has been a painful and embarrassing period for the network."

    Indeed. “Current and former employees described instances of harassment and intimidation that went beyond Mr. Ailes and suggested a broader problem in the workplace,” The New York Times reported. “The Times spoke with about a dozen women who said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment or intimidation at Fox News or the Fox Business Network, and half a dozen more who said they had witnessed it.”

    Fox News’ July fiasco first detonated on the sixth when former anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against former network chairman and CEO Roger Ailes. Since then, it’s been a steady stream of allegations aired in the press as current and former employees speak out.

    Ailes was shown the door on July 21, but the stain remains. And that’s why Rupert Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan, who have taken oversight of Fox News, need to clean house.

    On Monday it was reported that longtime Fox News executive Michael Clemente had left the network. His exit was approved by the Murdochs, according to CNN’s Dylan Byers. Byers added, “Network insiders say the move was unrelated to the recent sexual harassment allegations surrounding Ailes, though it's also true that Clemente showed no signs of leaving the network prior to the scandal.”

    For now, James and Lachlan are saying all the right things about wanting to fix Fox News: “We continue our commitment to maintaining a work environment based on trust and respect. We take seriously our responsibility to uphold these traditional, long-standing values of our company.”

    And to their credit, they quickly hired an outside law firm to investigate harassment allegations. The looming question now is, how do the Murdochs deal with the alleged pattern of abuse? Do they hope the story fades away with Ailes’ departure, or do they actually try to make Fox News a place where women feel comfortable working?

    New York’s Gabriel Sherman noted over the weekend that according to people he had spoken to inside the company, “the only way to change the Fox News culture is to move out all of the executives that Ailes had elevated into positions of power.” And he’s right, in part because some of those Ailes-affiliated executives reportedly tried to defend their boss this month by getting Fox hosts to disparage Carlson and her harassment claims.

    The sheer number of allegations swirling around Fox News, as recently reported by New YorkNew York Timesand The Washington Post (among others), remains startling.

    According to a former staffer, Ailes made “jokes that he liked having women on their knees.” Women did not want to be alone with Ailes in closed-door meetings. Ailes allegedly grabbed the buttocks of a young intern in 2002 after she rebuffed his sexual advances. One former employee says Ailes tried to kiss her in 2004, after telling her, “Do you know how to play the game?” According to Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit, he told her in 2015, “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago.” And at a company picnic, Ailes allegedly asked a former “rising star at the network” if she was wearing “panties” while she jumped on a trampoline. 

    But it wasn’t just Ailes.

    Former correspondent Rudi Bakhtiar has detailed how she was fired after she complained that Fox News’ then-D.C. bureau chief offered her a promotion if she agreed to sleep with him. (“I’d like to see the inside of your hotel room.”)

    Meanwhile, Fox News managers tried to set up their employees on dates with their superiors. One current employee alleged a supervisor said she could work on a new assignment if she agreed to give him oral sex.

    And of course in 2004, Bill O’Reilly was accused of sexual harassment by a former producer. The harassment came in the form O’Reilly diving into detailed discussions with a female employee about masturbation, climaxing, and shower fantasies. (The case was quickly settled out of court.)

    Your move, Murdochs.

    The behind-the-scenes story being told is that the Murdoch sons have been embarrassed by Ailes and Fox News for years and have been trying to oust the entrenched chief from his corner office. “This is not principally about sexual harassment,” Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff told the Washington Post. “This is an internal coup.”

    Noted Financial Review columnist Neil Chenoweth, based in Murdoch’s home country of Australia, “It looked like an excuse to dump Ailes, for the minor Murdochs to have their revenge.”

    Now that the sons have finally succeeded, thanks to the threat of outside legal action, are they going to simply remove Ailes, read an outside investigation about rampant sexual harassment allegations, shelve the lecherous findings, and carry on without any kind of radical shift in leadership? It doesn’t seem possible that just one man was responsible for that much alleged harassment.

    Meaning, if James and Lachlan make no concerted effort to fix the widespread problems facing the women working at Fox News, that means James and Lachlan will soon own that problem and that stigma.

    I’m under no illusions Murdoch and his sons will start poaching top scribes from the New York Times or National Public Radio and clean away the dreck and the sludge that now line the editorial halls at Fox News. Boss Murdoch has made his career peddling ugly lies and marketing falsehoods, and he’s happy to make a buck playing the partisan game.

    So no, I don’t expect Fox News to become a beacon of journalism anytime soon. But it's hard to justify allowing Fox News to continue to reward an outdated, hands-on, Mad Men culture. 

  • Ailes, Trump, And The Republican Reckoning

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Who could have scripted a doomsday scenario for the Republican Party that would feature Fox News' Roger Ailes reportedly being ousted as chief of Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing outlet amidst mounting allegations of sexual harassment, the same week political novice Donald Trump secures the GOP’s nomination?

    Last summer, both seismic conservative events were seen as impossibilities by many observers. Yet they’re now unfolding in plain view and both threatening to do grave and lasting damage to the GOP.

    Ailes and Trump are inexorably linked, and together they’ve become like a two-man wrecking crew, wreaking havoc on the GOP.

    Trump’s been denounced as a "vicious demagogue," a "con man," a "glib egomaniac," and "the very epitome of vulgarity" this year. And that’s been from conservative pundits. The Trump nomination has split the GOP like no election in the last half-century. And Republicans owe it, in part, to Ailes. Fox News for years laid the groundwork for Trump’s radical and improbable run.

    Indeed, without Fox News' exaggerated support over the years, and without Fox providing endless free airtime in the form of promotional blitzes to tout Trump as White House material, it's unlikely Trump today would be perched atop the Republican Party. (Trump rival Sen. Ted Cruz lamented as the primary campaign came to a close that Ailes and Rupert Murdoch had “turned Fox News into the Donald Trump network, 24/7.”)

    The hate and paranoia that has permeated Fox programming, especially during the Barack Obama years, reflects Ailes’ bigoted view of America and its supposed pending doom under Democratic leadership. Like his longtime friend Rush Limbaugh, Ailes has been a cancer on American politics for decades. He’s built a career that thrives on fabrications and falsehoods and character assassination.

    Ailes’ brand of hatred and paranoia, once a small, ugly part of the GOP appeal, is now synonymous with the Republican Party, thanks to its nomination of Trump, who rose to birther fame among conservatives via Ailes’ open door policy in 2011.

    As I’ve argued before, Trump is the Fox News id. The ugly, unvarnished, and unapologetic id of an aging white America that’s determined to “take its country back.” Trump’s a bigoted nativist who markets xenophobia and thrives on dividing Americans.

    Sound familiar?

    Last summer it seemed clear that Trump personified the vulgar brand of divisive rhetoric that Ailes helped hallmark and stood ready to unleash deep damage to the Republican Party.

    That damage has been on display all week at the GOP’s Trump convention in Cleveland. How did the Republicans arrive at such a bankrupt place, and who helped lead them down the obvious dead end? Roger Ailes, who years ago began wearing two hats, that of Fox News programming chief, and acting shadow chairman of the RNC. (Ailes reportedly told executives in 2010 that he wanted “to elect the next president.”) And for years, Republican bosses cheered the arrangement, happily abdicating party leadership to an increasingly unhinged group of Fox News talkers and the free airtime they delivered.

    Four years ago, during the Republican primary season, in a column headlined “How Fox News Is Destroying the Republican Party,” I noted:

    For Ailes and company, that slash-and-burn formula works wonders in terms of super-serving its hardcore, hard-right audience of three million viewers. But in terms of supporting a serious, national campaign and a serious, national conversation? It’s not working. At all … It’s what happens when a mainstream political movement embraces a radical media strategy like the one being promoted by Fox News; the movement marches itself off a cliff.

    And that’s exactly what has unfolded this year.

    Since its inception 20 years ago, Ailes has ruled the Fox News fiefdom within Murdoch's sprawling 21st Century Fox media empire and built it into a hugely influential moneymaker. The Ailes fingerprint has been omnipresent. He also instituted a unique culture that thrived on loyalty and secrecy.

    As a former Fox News producer explained it to Media Matters in 2011:

    "There may be internal squabbles. But what [Ailes] continually preaches is never piss outside the tent," says the source. "When he gets really crazy is when stuff leaks out the door. He goes mental on that. He can't stand that. He says in a dynamic enterprise like a network newsroom there's going to be in fighting and ego, but he says keep it in the house."

    There’s been a lot of reporting over the years -- much of it from intrepid Ailes biographer Gabriel Sherman, who has driven a lot of the news on Ailes' pending departure the past couple weeks -- about Ailes’ history of harassment and sexism as an executive. A nagging feeling was that if that behavior ever got fully excavated, Ailes’ Fox News house could crumble.

    And now it is.

    News this week that Megyn Kelly reportedly told outside attorneys hired by 21st Century who were investigating Ailes that he had sexually harassed her years ago meant that Ailes could not survive. He couldn’t survive because for years we’ve known he hasn’t had the support of Rupert Murdoch’s sons, James and Lachlan, who have been apparently eager for a way to oust Ailes.

    As media columnist Michael Wolff once noted, “There are, practically speaking, now two factions inside of News Corp., Ailes and Fox News, and the Murdoch children—with Rupert caught between them.”

    Last year, in a blow to Ailes’ ego and power base, the Murdoch sons made it known that the Fox News boss now answered to them, instead of directly to their father. Still, Ailes’ Fox News printed piles of money that reached so high, and Ailes had built such an impenetrable fiefdom, that he remained untouchable. Just last year Ailes inked a multi-year contract extending his reported $20 million annual salary.

    But the mounting claims of sexual harassment provided a new opening for the Murdoch family to move in and finally root Ailes out of his corner office. As Republicans watch Trump unfold his bizarre and disjointed fall campaign, the one built by Ailes and Fox News, many must be wondering if it’s not too late to stage their own coup.