Angelo Carusone: Trump would use a re-activated Twitter account as a cudgel against Fox News, the way he did in 2016

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Citation From the November 19, 2022, edition of MSNBC's American Voices with Alicia Menendez

ALICIA MENENDEZ (HOST):] Jack Smith has been appointed special counsel for exactly one day and already right-wing media is on the attack. No surprise there. It is happening as large factions of the Republican party, though, start to distance themselves from Trump. What is happening here?

Let's ask Media Matters president, Angelo Carusone, who joins me now. Okay, Angelo, the right-wing attacked Mueller. Now Fox News, other mainstream media outlets are wasting no time going after Smith. Here is what aired on Fox News last night.


MENENDEZ: That is some very selective pulls from the resume there and also some very selective omissions. Your thoughts on the fact that they are choosing to go after this and how they are trying to spin it.

ANGELO CARUSONE (MEDIA MATTERS CHAIR AND PRESIDENT): Yeah. And I would start by pointing out that we only sort of saw this at maybe half volume because most of their big personalities either had the day off yesterday or pre-taped because they were all forced to make some Fox Nation programming on Thursday night. So they took Friday off because that was their sort of way out of making the Fox Nation programming. So they sort of missed a window here to respond.

So one, I would just point out half – it's sort of a half volume, but they did turn to the "Great One," which is what they call this guy, Mark Levin. And in the eighties, he was in the same room as Ronald Reagan. And that's his credential for sort of pushing back. And his entire argument was that in some ways this is worse than Mueller, because what Smith sort of has experience in doing is working with war criminals. And that in his mind, the conspiracy here illustrates that what Democrats are going to try to do is expose Donald Trump as some sort of like really, really, really big, not just criminal, but a war criminal. And so he actually found that the credential itself was suspicious because he has this sort of storied history.

And so that's the first attack. And that's something you saw in the past with Mueller, too. Right. Which is that, you know, the narrative about Mueller was that it was this deep state sort of plot. They used to call it a soft coup all the time on Fox News. And that's what I think you're going to see. I think you're going to see them weave out this idea that it's less about Smith and that it's more about Democrats' efforts to sort of like finally finish the job here and sort of get, you know, you know, sort of get Trump out of the way.

MENENDEZ: Talk to me, though, about this sort of interesting moment we find ourselves in, Angelo, where on on one hand, they are trying to undermine this move. And on the other, you have more and more of these outlets distancing themselves from Trump.

CARUSONE: Yeah. There's this weird tension now. And I would point out that right now, you know, the right-wing media is sort of been in flux and including Fox News. I mean, they really are they're not as reflexively pro-Trump as they had been, which was entirely in lockstep.

But I would point out that they're still more defensive and pro-Trump than they were in 2015 and for most of the early parts of 2016. They were actually aggressively attacking things said against Donald Trump on Fox News in early 2016. That's not happening yet. There's just as you pointed out, it's a distancing.

And I think that's an important distinction here, because the one thing that they have to do is cater to their audiences and their audiences aren't fully ready yet to turn on Trump. What they're ready to do is maybe get some distance, maybe have other people rise up. So they're going to have to walk a fine balancing act.

And that actually matters a lot because when it came to Mueller and a lot of these other sort of Fox fueled / right-wing media fueled attacks, what makes them so potent is just the repetition and the fact that they can leverage political power to reinforce the lies and the narratives that they tell people. When it's diluted. It's just not as strong. So there's going to be a lot of like performative check-off-the-boxes type of defending of Trump.

Do I think they're going to be devoting as much airtime to it? It's not clear yet. Maybe some shows. I mean, a very large portion of your income show is dedicated to attacking Garland and the special prosecutor. But I think it's going to be mixed. And that does make a difference, because it actually creates some space where others can step up, where maybe there could be some meaningful challenges.

But there's going to be a lot more friction and food fights. And we're just at the beginning of this. But it's not as big of a deal as I think is as everybody is is pointing out. Fox is still very, very pro-Trump – big time.

MENENDEZ: Friction and food fight is going to be a great name for the book you write. Angelo I have about a minute left, but I got to ask you about what's happening on Twitter, specifically Elon Musk putting up a Twitter poll yesterday as to whether he should re-activate Trump's Twitter account. In the past half hour, the Trump campaign issued a statement urging supporters to vote yes. Talk me through that.

CARUSONE: That I think – it is so important and smart that you did both of these topics together because they actually are linked. A big reason why, you know, when Fox was anti-Trump in 2015 and 2016, the thing that he used to leapfrog Fox News and finally break Fox – it was to speak to the Fox audience directly  – was Twitter. Twitter was the vehicle for doing that.

So this poll on Twitter, this thing that Musk is doing, there's all sorts of problems with what Musk is doing at Twitter, including sort of pandering to the right. And we could get into all the consequences of that for disinformation in the long run.

But short term, of course, Trump wants this. Because even if he doesn't actively use it, the mere fact that you can have that account back and he could they can automatically cross-post where his other posts are. That's going to give him the ability to inject things directly from the fringes, the fever swamps, which is where he's been building power.

Let's not forget how many new voters he added to the rolls in 2020 because he's been building power on what used to be considered the fringes.

But that means he can speak directly to the Fox audience, which is like a cudgel. He'll use Twitter as a cudgel to get the Fox audience to push back against Fox to get them back in line. And he can also use that to inject other sorts of memes and attacks into the media.

So the answer to that first point about how much difference there's going to be – in a way is in large part determined by what the outcome of this is. And we all know where this is heading. Musk is going to let him back on, and then the effect of that is going to be almost immediately Facebook is going to turn around and reactivate his accounts as well.

And that's going to matter. The algorithms are going to change. He's going to able to raise much more money. And he's also going to be able to start organizing that audience again, at least to sort of slow down that distancing that Fox has been trying to do.

MENENDEZ: And always appreciate your ability to connect the dots for us. Thank you for being with us.