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Matt Gertz

Author ››› Matt Gertz
  • Why is Tucker Carlson so reluctant to condemn white supremacists?

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    White supremacists and neo-Nazis marched on Charlottesville, VA, last weekend. Support for the town’s statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee was their rallying point, though the underlying rationale was a toxic mixture of racism and anti-Semitism. The protesters were met by a coalition of progressives, religious leaders, and the antifa movement; violence erupted, and Heather Heyer was killed when an alleged neo-Nazi crashed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters. Since then, journalists and activists have spent hours on cable news discussing the validity of removing Confederate statues from the public square, the appropriateness of President Donald Trump’s response to the tragic incident, and whether “left-wing violence” is a dangerous phenomenon. But the throughline of the coverage has been the fervent, universal denunciation of the white supremacists and neo-Nazis as advocates of a violent, racist ideology that has no place in public life.

    But one curious exception stands out from this trend: Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, one of the most popular cable news programs in the country. Over the past four nights, Tucker Carlson has seemed unusually loath to offer harsh words for the protesters and their ideology, instead focusing his criticism on progressives who responded by seeking to remove more Confederate statues or curtail the speech of extremists. Carlson is a skilled polemicist, but he has devoted no monologues to railing against the bigotry of white supremacy, no analysis of the aims or history of their growing movement. He is a talented debater who uses his program to brutally dispatch guests who lack his skill, but hasn’t brought a neo-Nazi onto his program for the explicit purpose of exposing their hatred.

    Carlson’s hesitancy to offer a fervent condemnation of the protesters and his preference for using the issue to criticize the left mirrors Trump’s reaction. And like that of the president, Carlson’s rise has been applauded by the very same racists who marched on Charlottesville. White supremacists love Carlson because he uses his program to push issues they care about -- namely condemnations of immigrants and Muslims and the promotion of “European culture” -- to a massive audience. As neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin of the website Daily Stormer put it, “Tucker Carlson is literally our greatest ally.” (The website urged its readers to attend the Charlottesville rally in order to “end Jewish influence in America.”)

    To be clear, it’s not that Carlson has refused to criticize white supremacists altogether this week, it’s just that his criticisms are brief, perfunctory statements he uses to set up his attacks on the left. He’ll say he doesn’t like that white supremacists put “race at the center of their worldview,” before accusing the left of having a similar obsession with race. He will agree with a guest that KKK rhetoric is “awful” and “hateful,” using that admission to set up a critique of arguments for restricting “hate speech.” He will clear his throat by saying of white nationalist groups, “I’m not a part of them and don’t like them” before ripping the left for curtailing their speech. And that’s about as far as Carlson has been willing to go over the past four days. Such reticence to employ harsh language is unusual for Carlson; over the same period, for example, he’s described Google as “authoritarian” and “un-American,” and accused progressive activists of engaging in the “textbook definition of racism.”

    Carlson doesn’t seem to view the weekend’s violent eruption as the result of a racist ideology. Instead, he had described the events as “chaos” featuring a “lunatic hell-bent” on murder who was inadvertently aided politicians who wouldn’t let law enforcement do their jobs. “What country was this?” he asked on his first program after the protests. “Where were the authorities? What happened to the police? Is this America?” Carlson had a very different take after the terrorist attack Thursday in Barcelona, Spain. He quickly blamed “radical Islam” and increased Muslim immigration. “If your population changes, your society is going to change for good and bad, probably, but this is one of the downsides,” he said, adding that Western European leaders who refuse to “draw that obvious conclusion” are “paralyzed by guilt and self-hatred.”

    Meanwhile, the Fox host has devoted substantial time on each night this week to what he apparently considers a far greater threat: efforts by liberal activists to tear down historical statues. Carlson has devoted little attention to the fact that the Charlottesville protesters rallied in support of the Lee statue. But he has painted the activist movement rising in the wake of that atrocity as ignorant of history and ideologically committed to abolishing our collective understanding of the past. And he’s warned those activists are dangerous, claiming that “if a crowd of people with strong political views can destroy a statue, why can't they set your house on fire? I mean, in other words, why doesn't this stuff accelerate into something really dangerous? Why wouldn't it?” That is more concern than he has demonstrated about the white supremacists with “strong political views” who already have blood on their hands.

    On Wednesday he championed the free speech rights of white supremacists, warning against “the prospect of big companies using their power to enforce ideological conformity” by refusing them access to their platforms. He even said his guest’s contention that the protesters were “camping about with tiki torches like the right did and rambling on about Jews” because their speech rights had been denied was “exactly right.”

    It would be easy to write off Carlson’s lack of interest and explain it away, except for the fact that Tucker is a star among the very collection of deplorables he has been so uninterested in criticizing.

    Yes, the issues of who is publicly venerated by our society and whether speech rights are absolute are complex, important ones on which people of good faith may disagree.

    Yes, Carlson could argue that the virulence of white supremacist ideology should go without saying, or that many other shows are already providing that service and he wanted to do something different.

    But surely a program that found several minutes this week to berate Weekly Standard editor at large Bill Kristol could also manage to find some time to more forcefully condemn neo-Nazis in the wake of the weekend’s events.

    Carlson has the biggest platform on cable news. More than three million people tune in to his show every night. Some of them are prominent white supremacists and neo-Nazis. It seems unlikely that Carlson is unaware of this fact. If he wanted to, he could use his power to confront and condemn their behavior, in a longshot even attempt to use his rhetorical skills to move them away from racism. Instead, he followed up a violent white nationalist conflagration with days of programming that they must have loved.

  • Sean Hannity has been dumpster diving with conspiracy theorists again

    Fringe claim that Charlottesville counterprotesters were paid actors jumps to Hannity's radio show

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox News host Sean Hannity used his radio show to promote the inane conspiracy theory that “antifa agitators” who opposed the neo-Nazi and white supremacist protesters in Charlottesville, VA, on Saturday were actually actors hired by a publicity firm.

    The claim seems to have originated from the fever swamp of pro-Trump online message boards and social media accounts before making its way through conspiracy websites and onto Hannity’s program.

    For some reason, all parties involved in promoting the moronic claim have interpreted a Craigslist ad posted August 7 by the firm Crowds on Demand which offered $25 per hour to "actors and photographers" to participate in events in the "Charlotte, NC area" as evidence that the firm was hiring counter-protesters for the event in Charlottesville, roughly 300 miles away. Crowds on Demand has flatly denied the charge, saying that the company was "not involved in any capacity with the recent tragic events in Charlottesville.”

    The Craigslist ad “began to spread on social media and chat forums like Reddit and 4Chan” on August 14, as Snopes detailed. Last night, the former actor and Trump supporter Scott Baio pushed a version of this fable on his Facebook page, promoting private messages he had received from an unnamed associate which claimed that the hired protesters traveled on “buses [that] were hired by media matters which is owned by George Soros” (none of this is true).

    Earlier today, the claim made the jump to ZeroHedge, a regular clearinghouse for conspiracy theories. The post’s pseudonymous author, “Tyler Durden,” claimed the ad “is raising new questions over whether paid protesters were sourced by a Los Angeles based ‘public relations firm specializing in innovative events’ to serve as agitators in counterprotests,” and tied the “discovery” to President Donald Trump’s claim that there was “blame on both sides” for the Charlottesville violence. The ZeroHedge piece was reposted later today on Infowars.com, radio host Alex Jones’ conspiracy theory website.

    From those conspiracy sites, the claim jumped to two of the most prominent radio shows in the country, with audiences of millions. “There's a story out today that raises a question whether or not antifa agitators that showed up in Charlottesville on Saturday were bought and paid for,” Hannity claimed. Hannity continued, “Apparently it was uncovered, and some of the media reported it, that some suspicious activity by an LA-based company that calls itself Crowds on Demand.”

    Hannity then seemingly read from the Zero Hedge article, saying, “A Craigslist post last Monday, a full week before the Charlottesville protest, raising questions about whether paid protesters were sourced by a Los Angeles-based PR firm specializing in innovative events to serve as agitators and counterprotests. 25 bucks an hour to actors, photographers in that particular case to participate in events in Charlotte, NC, area as opposed to Charlottesville, VA.”

    “So maybe it's just a coincidence,” he concluded. “I don't know for sure. But we're going to keep an eye on that.”

    Rush Limbaugh also mentioned the conspiracy theory on his radio show, claiming that progressives “were hiring for Charlottesville in advance. The ad has been found on, I think it's Craigslist.”

    This is far from the first time Hannity has promoted trash from the dregs of the Internet. Most infamously, the Fox star embarked on an extensive on-air campaign in support of the obscene conspiracy theory that the late Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was murdered because he was a source for WikiLeaks.

  • There will be no pivot

    Journalists have been predicting Trump will change for more than a year. It isn't going to happen.

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    UPDATE: White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is reportedly on his way out. As I noted in this piece, Bannon's removal will not lead to a pivot, and any reporter who suggests otherwise will inevitably be proven wrong the next time the president does something racist and unpresidential.


    It’s been 17 days since retired Gen. John Kelly joined the White House amid a wave of media goodwill. As chief of staff in the place of the feckless Republican political operative Reince Priebus, the theory went, Kelly might be able to “rein in” President Donald Trump. Kelly would impose “military discipline” on a White House that had devolved into warring factions, controlling the information the president received, restoring order to the decision-making process, and curtailing Trump’s Twitter habit. “There hasn’t been much good to say about Trump in a long time,” wrote Vanity Fair’s T.A. Frank. “But recruiting Kelly suggests that he learns, very belatedly, from his mistakes, and that he’s capable of some small degree of humility.” Journalists often caveated their commentary with acknowledgments that the White House’s problem was far deeper than communications failures, and that much would depend on whether Trump was willing to listen to Kelly’s advice. But expectations for the new chief of staff were sky-high -- Frank’s piece was titled, “Will John Kelly Save Trump’s Soul?” The pivot, at long last, had arrived.

    To put it mildly, those takes haven’t aged well.

    Under Kelly’s tenure, the president offered up unhinged, improvised threats toward North Korea that suggested he was on the brink of ordering a nuclear strike. He lashed out at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for expelling U.S. diplomats, and his White House openly admitted he had helped draft his son’s deceptive response to reports that he had met with Russians during the presidential campaign. And yesterday, Trump used a press conference to all but offer open support to the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who rampaged through Charlottesville, VA, over the weekend in support of a statue honoring Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

    Kelly was present yesterday as Trump put those racists on equal footing with those who showed up to oppose them, declaring that both sides included some “very fine people” and were equally to blame for the violence that erupted. He watched with apparent despair as the president praised protesters who had carried torches while chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” He looked on as Trump did his best to shred the fabric of a nation sorely in need of healing. No American general has been so thoroughly routed since Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse.

    And yet, while the events of recent weeks are horrifying, they are not entirely surprising. Critics -- including Trump’s Democratic opponent -- warned throughout the campaign that Trump lacked the necessary temperament to be trusted with the U.S. nuclear arsenal, that he would never be able to work with Congress, that he was too closely tied to Russia, and that he was the candidate of choice for white nationalists and other deplorables. These were all known quantities; things are proceeding as we might have expected. And that leads us, inexorably, to the following conclusion.

    The pivot is not coming. There is no decision this president can make that will alter the trajectory of his administration. It’s long past time for journalists to stop predicting a change in course is imminent, or even possible.

    For more than a year, every brief moment of normalcy -- every instance in which Trump did not devolve into crude attacks on his opponents during a speech, or fired a controversial staffer, or even managed to avoid tweeting anything “controversial” for a handful of days -- has been accompanied by journalists willing to say that Trump had hit the “reset” button, that now he was finally becoming “presidential.” Inevitably, those journalists found themselves with egg on their faces in a matter of days, as Trump reverted to form and proved those moments anomalies, not the beginnings of a trend.

    I understand why reporters and commentators might be overeager to declare that change is on the way. It is uncomfortable to live in a world in which the president of the United States is an unhinged egomaniac who offers sympathy for literally the worst people in American society and lashes out at the institutions that support democratic governance. It makes sense that those whose jobs involve trying to make sense of this situation might grasp for anything that could reestablish normalcy.

    There’s also a bias in the press toward a change in storylines. Reporters strive to identify “new news,” and as such are susceptible to over-reading discrete instances as the start of a new trend. “Trump is doing something new” is a much more interesting story to tell than “Trump is doing the same thing,” and so it’s a story that gets told disproportionately to the reality.

    But the reality is, things aren’t normal because Trump is the president -- no shuffle in the White House or effort to change the message can change that. This is who he is. He rose to political prominence by questioning the legitimacy of the first black president, started his campaign with a racist rant against Mexicans, and was elected in spite of the publication of a tape in which he bragged about sexually assaulting women. He obviously cares more for his private interest than he does for public service. He values people and organizations solely on the basis of whether they support him personally. He has shown over and over again that he lacks either the intellect or the temperament to do his job. He is 71 years old -- none of this is going to change.

    This week, there were rumblings (though to some extent they have dissipated) that White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon might be on his way out, having lost the president’s favor. It would be an unalloyed positive for the despicable former chief of Breitbart.com to no longer have a job steps from the Oval Office. If that were to happen, I would expect some in the media to declare that the pivot had finally arrived. They would be wrong. As Trump said yesterday, Bannon joined his campaign late in the game. Trump was an unhinged racist before Bannon, and he’ll still be one if Bannon leaves. Anyone who claims that a Bannon removal would be the start of a real change will inevitably be quickly embarrassed.

    Instead of constantly looking for signs of the pivot, journalists should be stressing the remarkable consistency of Trump’s tenure. The administration’s throughline is chaos and hate, failure propagated by laziness and stupidity. Trump told us who he was, and he is living up to it.

  • Get ready. Things are going to get much, much worse.

    Trump's horrific media analysis shows that we're just in the beginning of the spiral

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Amid the horror of President Donald Trump’s press conference today -- his praise for the “fine people” he claimed marched among the neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA, over the weekend; the declaration that they had a good point in opposing the removal of statues celebrating Confederate leaders from the public square; the obvious lie that he had needed more time to get all the facts before criticizing the protesters; the cheers for the president that followed from white supremacist leaders -- came a moment of unusual clarity.

    In a mere 25 words, the president laid out everything you need to know about his view of the media and its role in public life and continued his strategy of convincing his supporters that critical journalists are all acting in bad faith, a political effort that could have dire consequences.

    Asked why he had blamed both the white supremacist protestors and the counter-protesters for Saturday’s conflagration, Trump said that he believed both sides were responsible. “I have no doubt about it,” he added, “and you don’t have any doubt about it either.” “And,” he said, gesturing for attention and raising his voice as reporters tried to interject, “if you reported it accurately, you would say it.”

    That’s the president’s media analysis in a nutshell: Any time the media’s coverage diverges from the world he describes, he just told the public, the journalists are deliberately lying to the public. There is no possibility that he might be wrong, no room for dissent. There are two types of journalists: The ones who report that what the president believes is true, and the liars.

    That’s one of the few constants to the Trump administration, and a key way he’s wrangled the support of a large faction of the conservative press, in spite of his failures and weaknesses. The media stands against me, Trump says again and again. They are the enemy. I am telling you the truth, he tells his flock. They are the liars.

    It’s an argument the president needs to make because the world Trump describes does not match the one we inhabit. On issue after issue, large and small, the president lies to us. Only by undermining anyone who provides contrary information -- the Democrats, the Republicans, the courts, the bureaucrats, and the media most of all -- can he maintain his support.

    Meanwhile, the president supports a powerful network of sycophants -- from established players like Sean Hannity, who spent last night’s show attacking the press for their criticism of the president’s earlier Charlottesville comments, and Fox & Friends, which laid the groundwork for his defense of the protestors, to rising fringe figures like Alex Jones and Jack Posobiec. All of them are willing to say that reality is whatever Trump says it is.

    It’s a dangerous path. Most people now trust the press more than they trust Trump, but he still retains the loyalty of his core supporters -- who include, of course, the sorts of people who listen to the president’s propagandists and are overjoyed to hear the president of the United States defend white supremacists and neo-Nazis. As of yet, the president has largely avoided major calamities not of his own making. What happens when one strikes -- a war, a large-scale terrorist attack, a natural disaster -- and the American people need information from the president? What happens when he tells the truth, and they don’t believe him?

    What happens when he lies again, and journalists call him out, and he says they are the real liars?

    As of yet, all we’ve lost amid Trump’s lies and hatred and filth are our dignity as a country. Things can still get much worse. And as long as Trump is president, they will.

  • How Sean Hannity's Charlottesville propaganda works

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    It’s been a bad few days for President Donald Trump. His approval ratings hit new lows yesterday in the wake of his widely criticized failure over the weekend to specifically denounce a violent rally of white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, VA. Perhaps because many of his supporters are white racists, the president instead blamed bigotry “on many sides”; while those supporters appreciated it, journalists and pundits from all stripes pointed out this was wildly insufficient, forcing the White House to send Trump out again yesterday afternoon to issue a subdued, paltry, but specific declaration that such groups are bad. Grasping for a familiar foe to blame for his own failures, the president tweeted Monday evening that he had learned a valuable lesson from the fracas: the “Fake News Media will never be satisfied” because journalists are “truly bad people!”

    For Trump, the “fake news media” constitutes any journalist who isn’t willing to say nice things about the president regardless of the circumstances. And so the president likely enjoyed last night’s performance from leading lickspittle Sean Hannity, whose Fox News program was largely devoted to explaining that the “destroy Trump establishment media” had unfairly attacked the blameless president. This combination of staunch defense of Trump, no matter what, with a willingness to lash out at the president’s foes characterizes the propagandistic tenor of Hannity’s broadcasts. Like any good propaganda, Hannity’s show has its heroes (Trump and the Republicans who support him) and its villains (Democrats and the media who smear them).

    Here’s his sixteen-minute opening monologue from last night’s show:

    Hannity kicked off by denouncing the “disgusting,” “despicable” actions of those with “hateful, inexcusable, racist, white supremacist views,” declaring that “there's no place in this country for these neo-Nazi, fascist, white supremacists.” But for Hannity, the white supremacists aren’t the real villain of the story -- or at least, they aren’t worthy of significant attention. They are a player to condemn so you can say you did and then move on to the real point.

    And the real point, for Hannity, is that Trump had always condemned white supremacists, and media who say otherwise just want to tear the president down.

    Hannity read Trump’s tweets and aired his comment on Saturday, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides -- on many sides.” It’s obvious that Trump had deliberately avoided saying who he had criticized -- certainly, the white supremacists noticed that. But here’s Hannity’s explanation of what happened:

    Now, all weekend long, I, like many of you, watched the media going insane, acting like they didn't know what the president was talking about. They ran with a false narrative all weekend. Oh, big story, he didn't mention the groups by name.

    Well, it couldn't be more obvious, more transparent who the president was talking about. He was standing for equal justice under the law, against racism. And the press, what did they do? They used a high-profile act of violence to bludgeon the president and conservatives politically. So predictable.

    Now, it was crystal clear what the president was talking about. But the press, they went after him anyway. And the destroy Trump establishment media -- they didn't care about the violence, seemingly, or the racial tensions they're creating or the civil unrest as much as they cared about using this tragedy as an opportunity to attack people they disagree with, and in particular, the president, to try and inflict as much damage politically as possible. You know what? Just like they have done since November 8th! That's a simple truth.

    Hannity is making his audience a propaganda sandwich: Attack the press, make excuses for Trump, attack the press again. He primes viewers by drawing a connection to them, suggesting they shared the collective experience of being betrayed by the press. Then he makes an obviously false statement to the benefit of the president: “It couldn't be more obvious, more transparent who the president was talking about.” Then he explains that the media is only doing this because they are trying to destroy the president like they have since the election.

    Hannity supports this viewpoint with lies of omission and commission.

    He carefully avoids explaining the fervent white nationalist support for President Trump; that some rally attendees were wearing “Make America Great Again” hats; that these groups expressed love for Trump administration members like chief strategist Steve Bannon; the disturbing interactions the Trump campaign had with white nationalists. Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who attended the protest, said that the Charlottesville protests were an indication that “we are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump.”

    Instead of mentioning any of that, Hannity suggests that the president has been a fervent opponent of that movement. “This is Donald Trump over the years, something the destroy Trump media will never show you, condemning Duke, white supremacists,” Hannity said, before airing a series of interview clips of Trump criticizing Duke. Three clips are from 2016 and one is from 2000, suggesting that Trump had been a consistent Duke foe.

    What’s missing, of course, is the reason why reporters were asking Trump about Duke in 2016:  Trump created an uproar last February because he repeatedly refused to disavow Duke for supporting his campaign.

    Having purportedly demonstrated to his audience that “President Trump and the people that voted for him and that support his agenda ... don't like racists,” Hannity went on the attack. First, he suggested that Democrats are the ones who “divide Americans by playing the race card every single election.” And then he ran through the greatest hits of conservative racial attacks on President Barack Obama -- his association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, purported ties to Louis Farrakhan, his criticism of the Cambridge police officer who arrested a college professor on his own doorstep, and his support for Black Lives Matter. From there, he was off to the races, lashing out at a panoply of liberals who had made improper comments about Trump, from Mickey Rourke to Kathy Griffin to Snoop Dogg. All the while, he criticized the media for their purported double standard in not giving sufficient coverage to these supposed atrocities.

    Here’s how Hannity closed out his monologue, which began with a condemnation of white supremacists who support President Trump:

    Every two to four years, Democrats divide the country. They play identity politics. It's been a part of this playbook the Democrats used for generations.

    So it's time for the destroy Trump establishment media to start recognizing how they have a massive double standard, that they have an agenda and ideology because just like, sadly, white supremacists in Charlottesville, hatred of any kind should not be tolerated or ever given a free pass, period, whoever is involved in the hatred, like the heat we saw this weekend.

    Hannity talking to himself is not significantly different from talking to his guests. The remainder of the show featured a host of conservative pundits agreeing that Trump did nothing wrong and the real problems are caused by Democrats and the “destroy Trump establishment media.” By my count of the transcript, the show featured 15 mentions of white supremacists (many of which were declarations that Trump is not one and in fact condemns them). There were 41 mentions of the media or the press over the course of the 44-minute broadcast.

    This is what Sean Hannity’s Fox News show is like on a daily basis. It’s pure propaganda, an effort to support the president at every turn, while castigating his enemies -- particularly the press. His viewers are living in an alternate reality -- one that he’s carefully crafted to benefit Trump.

  • Fox & Friends might be all that stands between us and the nuclear apocalypse

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The United States may be on the brink of frightening conflict in East Asia. Since The Washington Post reported earlier this week that a U.S. intelligence agency believes North Korea possesses miniaturized nuclear warheads that can fit inside its missiles, President Donald Trump and the North Korean government have traded threats. It is in the interest of neither country to start a conflict that could quickly engulf the region and threaten the lives of tens of millions of people. But Trump has immense unilateral authority to dramatically escalate the situation -- including through the use of nuclear weapons -- and he is known for making snap decisions without fully consulting experts or his staff. And the biggest influence on his thinking may not be our diplomats or generals, but rather the hosts, producers, and bookers of the Fox News morning show Fox & Friends, who seem largely content to confirm the president’s biases and promote his worst impulses.

    Trump is obsessed with Fox & Friends, regularly watching the program, tweeting along with it, and praising its hosts. That gives Fox & Friends incredible power, and the show’s hosts use it, apparently tailoring the show to the most powerful cable news viewer in the world. According to a Vox study, hosts Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and Brian Kilmeade and their guests “increasingly view their role as giving advice to the president.”

    That “advice” is all the more important with the nation careening toward a flashpoint. The president apparently watched Fox & Friends the last two mornings, as the North Korea situation became more serious. What he saw was the program’s hosts and guests repeatedly assuring him that he was doing everything right, and that his critics were not only wrong, but partisans who are undermining the country.

    Much of the Fox & Friends discussion has revolved around Trump’s ill-advised, improvised warning on Tuesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will face “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if he continues to threaten the U.S. Democrats and Republicans alike criticized the statement, as did analysts and experts from the U.S. and across the region, with many interpreting Trump’s remarks as threatening a nuclear strike.

    But on Fox & Friends, Trump’s statement was viewed as “right on target,” in the words of Kilmeade. The president had been “measured,” according to Earhardt: “He thought about what he was going to say before because he repeated it twice.” “Keep in mind the president's point was North Korea's threats are intolerable,” Doocy said this morning. “Also, at the same time, while he was talking about fire and fury, he did not set any red lines. Was he hyperbolic? Sure. But we know that this president has been hyperbolic in the past.”

    The hosts played into Trump’s own natural inclination, portraying all of his critics as enemies of the president -- "Liberal Media Slams President's Rhetoric" and "Media Blasts President's 'Fire And Fury' Message" were two chyrons that appeared on today’s show -- who just want to tear him down and would prefer the U.S. make no response at all to Kim. They warned that the critics were not just wrong but were endangering America. North Koreans “see the Democrats ridiculing the president, and they think the president shouldn’t be taken seriously, which is dangerous,” Kilmeade commented today.

    This behavior is fairly typical for the program, which constantly supports everything Trump does and is quick to lash out at his perceived foes. But there’s a real danger in Trump’s rhetoric; as Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, put it, Trump’s statements only “exacerbate” concerns of potentially “stumbling into an inadvertent nuclear war on the Korean peninsula.” By sending Trump the message that he’s making the right decision and his critics are acting in bad faith, Fox & Friends is increasing the possibility that Trump repeats his behavior, with potentially dire consequences.

    Given the unsettling power of the show and the gravity of the moment, I find myself grasping at straws, straining to read the program in a way that could lead the president to avoid the worst. At times, the program’s guests have pointed out that it’s unlikely Kim would attack us because he knows our retaliation would bring down his regime, and that a U.S. offensive against North Korea would have a serious “collateral effect.” The show featured a pastor who says the Bible gives Trump the authority to attack North Korea, but at least it put him up against a priest who urged restraint rather than endorsing the sentiment outright. Even Doocy has pointed out that the danger from North Korea may not be that extreme because of the instability of its missiles.

    On the other hand, over the last two days the show’s hosts have also: casually discussed deploying U.S. nuclear missiles to South Korea; said of Kim, "This guy is crazy. We have got to prevent him from killing all of us”; and claimed that if the U.S. strikes North Korea from Guam, it doesn't need to ask South Korea or Japan for permission. “What is scary is how quickly [a North Korean nuke] could make it to you, to me, to your family. Look at this map -- we're going to show you,” Earhardt said yesterday, before explaining how long it would take for an intercontinental ballistic missile to strike New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Hawaii.

    This is the crack team that has the ear of the president. We are all in a lot of trouble.

  • The sinister implication of that Breitbart article that everyone is mocking

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In an article published this afternoon, Breitbart.com Washington political editor Matt Boyle criticizes a New York Times reporter for “soliciting government employees to become leakers” under the hysterical headline “Exclusive -- Deep state teams with fake news: Email evidence proves New York Times soliciting anti-Trump bureaucracy leakers.” Journalists and media critics -- myself included -- who understand that that particular activity is central to reporting were quick to mock Boyle as a fool. And that very well may be the case. But after reading the piece in full, I think there’s something deeper and more sinister afoot.

    If you started reading the piece and didn’t make it past the ridiculous headline and lede, I can’t blame you. The “revelation” Boyle claims to have uncovered in an email from Times environment reporter Coral Davenport and John O’Grady, the president of a union that represents Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) workers, appears to be a fairly standard inquiry seeking to confirm critical stories she had heard about EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt with “first-hand or eyewitness accounts” from EPA workers. As a Times spokesperson told the right-wing outlet, Davenport’s “email demonstrates the process of reporting and gathering facts.” It is Breitbart’s effort to turn such run-of-the-mill communications into a scandal that has drawn so much scorn.

    But those who made it all the way to the end of Boyle’s sprawling, dramatically overwritten 1,600-plus-word piece found what I think may be the real reason Breitbart published this story. O’Grady forwarded Davenport’s email to nearly three dozen EPA employees, telling them what types of stories Davenport was looking to confirm and to “Please feel free to contact Coral directly.” Boyle published the names of all 34 employees. In so doing, Breitbart is serving as the Trump administration's pawn, giving it a roadmap it can use to ferret out potential leakers.

    President Donald Trump has spent much of his first 200 days in office working himself into a lather about leaks to the press from the White House. Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to prosecute those who leak classified information and even to subpoena reporters who publish those leaks, after receiving a steady stream of criticism from the president demanding such investigations. During his brief tenure as White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci promised to fire White House leakers.

    But leaks have also bedeviled the EPA since Pruitt, a climate change denier and close ally of the fossil fuel industry, took the helm. It’s likely no coincidence that Breitbart’s article comes the day after the Times published a draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies which “concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now,” contradicting Trump and Pruitt. According to the Times, the report was leaked because scientists fear Trump will bury it.

    Political appointees at the EPA now have a list of 34 potential whistleblowers, individuals the head of the EPA’s union thought might be willing to confirm negative information about the organization’s chief. They will be internally investigated at best, and indiscriminately punished at worst. They may find themselves reassigned off their current projects, or cut out of important meetings and decisions. A Breitbart story posing as an attack on a Times journalist instead functions as a tool to bolster an internal administration mole hunt.

    Most journalists would likely view enabling an administration’s anti-leak effort as abhorrent behavior. But not Boyle and his Breitbart crew. Boyle is an administration toady, a longtime Trump sycophant who has always been eager to try to torpedo more critical journalists on Trump’s behalf. Formerly run by Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon, Breitbart is institutionally more interested in protecting the Trump administration from criticism and lashing out at unfavored White House factions than providing legitimate reporting.

    Breitbart has regularly cheered on the White House’s efforts to curtail leaks and lashed out at critical leakers and the outlets that publish them. But the latest article takes the right-wing outlets’ typical pro-Trump propaganda to a new level, with Breitbart effectively serving as an arm of the administration, helping its communications team smoke out whistleblowers.

    A few weeks ago, Scaramucci and Boyle joked about the Breitbart editor joining the White House communications staff. But no need: Boyle is more than willing to do the administration’s dirty work without being put on its payroll.

  • Even some Trump allies are worried about Sinclair's expansion

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Yesterday was the last day for critics to urge the Federal Communications Commission to stop conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group’s proposed acquisition of Tribune Media Company. President Donald Trump’s administration, which frequently tries to promote right-wing outlets as part of its war on the mainstream press, has bent over backward in order to reward Sinclair for its favorable coverage, while the merger has drawn criticism from consumer watchdogs like Allied Progress and media consolidation foes like Free Press. But they aren’t the only ones objecting: Some pro-Trump media companies have also taken sides against the merger because they worry Sinclair’s growth will impact their own bottom lines, forcing the administration to choose between its staunchest press allies.

    Sinclair is already the nation’s largest local news provider, thanks to its ownership of 173 broadcast television stations in communities across the country. If its attempt to purchase Tribune’s 42 broadcast television stations is approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the result would be a broadcast goliath reaching more than seven in 10 U.S. television households -- nearly double the audience cap mandated by Congress. The deal would have been unthinkable if Trump-appointed FCC chairman Ajit Pai hadn’t rolled back a key Obama administration regulation in April that had prevented Sinclair from further expansion.

    The merger raised the hackles of NewsMax Media Inc, which owns a right-wing cable channel and website and has called for the FCC to slow down the process and seek additional information. In a filing, the company warned that the prospect of a combined Sinclair-Tribune company raises “serious competitive concerns” and that “press freedom and media diversity may be seriously harmed by this transaction.” NewsMax CEO Christopher Ruddy has said that the deal raises “so many serious concerns about the concentration of media power.”

    The conservative cable news channel One America News Network (OANN) also wants to delay the sale, telling the FCC that the “transaction raises competitive concerns and questions of law.”

    Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox is one player that did not weigh in during the comment period. Sinclair’s increasing power in the conservative media space could prove a threat to Fox News. But Fox also owns dozens of broadcast stations, and the FCC’s deregulation bent could also benefit the company’s own expansion plans. Instead of taking its would-be rival on at the FCC, Fox is reportedly considering dumping Sinclair as an affiliate partner.

    As for Trump, he wants to help Sinclair because the network has been a key media ally. After several cycles of support for Republican presidential candidates, the network stepped up its game in 2016, making a deal with the Trump campaign during the election cycle by providing positive coverage in exchange for access. After the election, Sinclair hired a former Trump adviser and required every one of its stations to regularly run his pro-Trump propaganda segments. Sinclair’s conservative “must-runs” are every bit as slanted as Fox News coverage, but Sinclair is more insidious because its viewers don’t expect that level of ideological content from their local news channels. Because so many Tribune media stations are located in big cities and swing states where Sinclair didn’t previously have a platform, the merger could provide a sizeable benefit to Trump’s re-election campaign.

    But NewsMax has also been a staunch supporter of the president -- in fact, it was one of Trump’s first real media allies in his political rise. The would-be Fox rival started giving him a platform as early as 2006 and regularly promoted a potential Trump run for president during the 2012 cycle. Described by reporters as the “Trump whisperer” and the administration’s “Zelig,” Ruddy is a close friend of the president who regularly advises Trump and his aides and is often quoted by reporters and appears on cable news as a kind of unofficial spokesperson. In turn, the Trump presidency has been good for NewsMax, which has received unprecedented access; during his first 48 press briefings as White House press secretary, Sean Spicer called on the network’s correspondent more than any other reporter but Fox’s representatives.

    OANN, another would-be Fox, is no slouch either -- as The Washington Post noted, the network became “one of President Trump’s favorite media outlets” because its coverage depicts his administration as “a juggernaut of progress, a shining success with a daily drumbeat of achievements.” OANN White House correspondent Trey Yingst was one of Spicer’s go-to questioners, and Trump called on him at a January press conference.

    Trump has sought to lift up conservative news outlets throughout his tenure. But as the OANN and NewsMax filings demonstrate, in this fractured media environment, he can’t help one of his media allies without hurting the others.

  • Fox’s “investigation” of its Seth Rich reporting is an obvious, predictable sham

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox News’ employees, reports CNN’s Oliver Darcy, are “perplexed” with the state of an ongoing internal investigation into their network’s since-retracted May reporting on the murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich. A lawsuit filed against the network by one of the report’s subjects thrust the story back into the news this week, and beset by a new wave of criticism, Fox’s journalists want their questions answered: Why Fox has not given a public accounting of why it published a report, based on shoddy evidence, indicating Rich was in contact with WikiLeaks shortly before he was killed? Why does Malia Zimmerman, the reporter who wrote the story, continue to publish pieces on  FoxNews.com? Did a “top editor” review the story before its publication? And most of all, why has no one has been fired over the journalistic disaster nearly three months after it imploded?

    The answer to all these questions is the same: That’s the way Fox operates.

    Fox does not conduct internal investigations because the network’s executives want to get to the bottom of failures and hold people accountable. Fox conducts investigations when the heat is on and executives need to make it look like they are doing something about it. Their reviews are a public relations exercise that give them time to assess whether the level of criticism demands action, not an effort to maintain high ethical standards.

    If Fox was actually serious about maintaining its journalistic integrity after descending into the sewer by promoting long-debunked Rich conspiracy theories, the network would have long since fired Zimmerman, the story’s editor, and Sean Hannity, the Fox host who kept promoting the story long after it fell apart.

    CNN had a story about Anthony Scaramucci fall apart in late June. The network’s response to the situation was very different from Fox’s interminable Rich review. CNN’s piece was published, investigated, and retracted over the course of a weekend. By that Monday, the story’s reporter, editor, and the head of the investigations division -- all highly credentialled veteran journalists -- had resigned. On Fox’s airwaves, this was seen as a sign of weakness, evidence of CNN’s “major credibility crisis,” as Hannity put it. But that’s what real news outlets do when they screw up -- figure out what went wrong as quickly and thoroughly as possible, and hold their journalists accountable.

    That’s not how things work at Fox. The network killed its internal investigation into sexual harassment after firing CEO Roger Ailes last year, choosing to, as Vanity Fair put it, get “the revenue machine back on track” once the media firestorm died down rather than expanding its assessment to examine Fox’s broader culture. A similar investigation into Bill O’Reilly bought the network time to assess the blowback the reports that he had sexually harassed colleagues had caused; once it became clear that ongoing advertiser boycotts threatened the bottom line, the longtime star host was shown the door. Faced with a decades-long culture problem the network did as little as possible to stop the immediate criticism, using these internal reviews as a tool to manage the blowback.

    The review Fox launched in the wake of its bogus Rich story focuses on the quality of the journalism the network produced, not the horrendous behavior of its employees. But the principle of the investigation remains the same: It was an effort to defuse widespread public criticism, not to get to the bottom of what happened and punish those responsible.

    As CNN’s Darcy explains, it should have been extremely easy for Fox to have done a quick, comprehensive investigation into its Rich reporting, if that was what executives wanted to do. The network employs all the key players involved in producing the story, and presumably it has access to Zimmerman’s notes and communications. The simplest explanation for why the review yielded no result is that it was a sham. Perhaps the network went through the motions, looked into the claims a bit, then sat on its findings; perhaps Fox announced an investigation and simply never followed through. Either way, the point was to stall, to act like it was doing something and wait for the rest of the press to move on. That worked, until the lawsuit put the network’s reporting back under the spotlight. Maybe now the heat has risen high enough that Fox will actually have to act, though it’s certainly possible those in charge are hoping attention will shift again and they can continue to make no response.

    It is extremely unusual for such a review to happen at Fox in the first place. When the network’s reporting is bogus and there is enough attention on the failure, Fox will usually issue an apology, as anchor Bret Baier did last year after his report that Hillary Clinton was on the verge of being indicted collapsed. In a more extreme case, as we saw with senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano’s nonsense claim that a British intelligence service had spied on Donald Trump on President Barack Obama’s behalf, the network might issue a brief suspension.

    But that’s as far as accountability tends to go at Fox -- as a senior network source explained to Darcy, “No one ever gets fired from Fox for publishing a story that isn't true.” And the higher up in the network’s pantheon you are, the less chance you will be held to account. It seems significant that while Fox’s staffers are whispering to Darcy about how shameful it is that Zimmerman remains on the payroll, no one even bothers to suggest that there should be repercussions for Hannity, who melted down over the story, continuing to trumpet it after key details were called into question, and never admitted fault or apologized. If this investigation is serious, it should end with his termination.

    "I think the lack of transparency is not that surprising," the senior Fox News employee told Darcy. "But it really forces the question, how much journalistic integrity does Fox News really have?” Not much, pal. Welcome to the party.

  • Megyn Kelly's new show is NBC's worst nightmare: It's boring

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On July 9, after a week in which President Donald Trump had unloaded on CNN, the Senate struggled to assemble legislation to repeal Obamacare, and The New York Times had revealed that the president’s son had met with Russian agents as part of their government’s pro-Trump election effort, Megyn Kelly -- NBC’s pricey new hire and the centerpiece of their revamped lineup -- sat down for an interview. Her subject wasn’t a politician or a business leader, a lawyer with insight into the Trump administration’s legal troubles or a wonk prepared to diagnose Congress’ flailing attempts at health care reform. Instead, Kelly’s guest on her struggling newsmagazine program, Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly, was affable, red-headed English singer Ed Sheeran, who was about to make a cameo appearance on HBO’s Game of Thrones.

    They talked about Sheeran’s childhood shyness and why he thinks he became a success. At the end of it all, Kelly had elicited the revelation that Sheeran stopped carrying a cellphone last year, which he considers a “pretty amazing” development. And more than any hard-won insight into Sheeran’s stage fright, the audience was left with a pressing question: Megyn Kelly, arguably one of the buzziest cable stars of the 2016 election, a woman who prompted a bidding war when her contract was up, left Fox News to do this?

    Kelly was one of the undisputed media winners of the presidential election cycle, taking the industry by storm after her August 2015 primary debate question roasting Trump over his misogyny triggered a vicious response from the Republican front-runner. Always a savvy self-promoter, Kelly parlayed her turn in the spotlight into a series of incandescent profiles and a billing as her network’s biggest star. By luring her away from Fox, NBC’s executives surely thought they had acquired one of the biggest talents of her generation, someone who could help the network dominate the ratings for years to come.

    But as Kelly’s attempts to pivot have suggested, much of her appeal depended on her context. Her star power derived from her ability to play to Fox News’ penchant for racial grievance, while showily pushing back on especially retrograde displays of sexism. But that unmatched proficiency in projecting outrage covered over other significant deficiencies. On a larger stage, Kelly’s tried to be like many other anchors, seeking to become the “next Matt Lauer” or the “new Oprah.”  In the process, she’s shed what made her distinct, and turned in a show that ought to be NBC’s worst nightmare: It’s boring.

    Kelly signed on with NBC because the network offered her the most freedom to do the type of programming she wanted. "I'm thrilled now to be able to anchor the kinds of broadcasts that I'd always dreamed I'd be able to do, that I felt in my heart I was born to do," she said in May.

    The kinds of broadcasts Kelly wanted turned out to be the ones everyone else is already doing: three to five segments per show, each of which features Kelly or one of the rotating cast of NBC contributors doing reports NBC describes as “focused on in-depth investigations, newsmaker interviews and stories of adversity, accomplishment, inspiration and adventure.” She didn’t even bring on distinctive correspondents; instead the program relies on the network’s already-prominent talent. And the stuff of her dreams turns out to be Ambien for the rest of us.

    Her interview subjects are universally Good People and Bad People. The Good People are the ones Kelly wants to promote, like conservative author J.D. Vance, journalists Erin Andrews and Maria Menounos, several women in the tech industry who experienced sexual harassment, and the like. They receive softball questions that allow them to tell their personal stories of tragedy and triumph. The Bad People -- like Russian President Vladimir Putin or conspiracy theorist Alex Jones -- get significantly tougher questions, often built from deep research into their past statements, surrounded by interviews with their critics. Among Kelly’s carefully handpicked interview subjects, there is no complexity. There are no interviews with interesting but flawed individuals who are challenged to defend their opinions and ideas.

    By the time Kelly interviewed Vance for her June 26 broadcast, he had been in the spotlight for nearly a year. Vance’s memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, which describes the despairing hillbilly culture he grew up in as a form of social decay that does more to hold back the people of that community than economic insecurity, hit The New York Times bestseller list last August; he is an op-ed contributor at that paper, and has a talking head gig on CNN which he uses to tell his story and the lessons he believes it holds for contemporary politics. Journalists across the political spectrum have delved into his life and work with vigor.

    Faced with an interview subject whose harrowing childhood and effort to overcome those circumstances have been told over and over again by her colleagues, and with no real news hook, one might have expected Kelly to try to break new ground. Instead, her piece focused almost entirely on Vance’s biography, with Kelly asking him how he felt during particularly distressing moments and whether he is surprised by the book’s success (“When did it even occur to you that you could get into a place like Yale Law?”). Kelly’s other interviews for the segment -- with Vance’s wife, sister, and a college professor -- all served to flesh out aspects of that well-trod personal story. Vance’s work invokes ideas, but Kelly made no effort to interrogate them. She quoted a single line from an unnamed critic, allowed Vance to laugh it off, and moved on without the kind of follow-up question that any interviewer should have handy.

    When Kelly examines less familiar subject matter, her problem is not redundancy but a failure to contextualize. She introduced her viewers on July 9 to Princeton philosophy professor Sarah-Jane Leslie and New York University psychologist Andrei Cimpian, whose research finds that beginning at age six, girls become significantly more likely to identify males as smarter than females. This could have been the springboard for an in-depth discussion of the impact such gender biases may have, both for those children and in society at large. Instead, most of the segment was taken up by the NBC team recreating that study with a panel of children and showing the results to their shocked mothers, hitting the same beats over and over again, and leaving little time for the researchers to explain how this may limit girls’ choices or discuss their prior research showing that women are underrepresented in science and engineering.  

    As the show faltered, Kelly experimented with shorter interviews with celebrities, sitting down for "Q&As" with Sheeran, actress Jada Pinkett Smith, and comedian Ricky Gervais and turning out brief segments that aired in the last block of the run’s later episodes. These did not go well, and may indicate a real limit to Kelly’s range as a TV host.

    Kelly gives little indication that she has any but the most cursory understanding of who she’s interviewing. At times her questions are extremely generic -- she asked Sheeran to “complete this sentence: Success requires …” Others demonstrate a paper-thin knowledge of the subject’s background -- Kelly asked Smith about her occasionally troubled relationship with her husband, which Kelly acknowledged both have openly discussed at length; she quizzed Gervais about whether he gets “blowback” because he roasts attendees when he hosts the Golden Globes, a role he performed most recently 18 months before the interview.

    Then, inevitably, each interview ended with a lightning round of “quick hits,” a selection of the most banal questions imaginable, recycled from interview to interview, with the questions getting recycled from subject to subject. If you always wanted to hear each of the three artists divulge their favorite movie and the thing they’d most like to change about themselves, this show is for you. If you were interested in hearing them address their work in any real detail -- or if you’re even curious why Gervais’ favorite film is The Godfather -- go elsewhere, because Kelly lacks either the knowledge or the ability to draw any of them out.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Kelly didn’t become a cable news star with illuminating interviews of celebrities. She built her audience by following her network’s standard playbook, appealing to conservatives’ worst impulses and resentments, lashing out at liberals and drawing on racially-inflected rhetoric. At the same time, she was able to win plaudits from media elites with unexpected, viral “Megyn moment” takedowns of right-wing guests, positioning herself to move to a mainstream network.

    But Sunday Night is a deliberate move away from the type of show that made her a star. “One of the things I didn’t like about my old job was it was all politics,” Kelly said in a May interview with The Wall Street Journal. She promised her NBC show would have less “red meat” and “more balance.”

    Kelly may not have enjoyed doing these sorts of segments. But without them, Kelly had little to offer the fans that might have followed her to NBC.

    And whatever you thought of their content (and we at Media Matters have had plenty to say on that front), those segments were more engaging spectacles than the ones she’s putting on at NBC. Thanks to her years at Fox, Kelly is without peer at projecting outrage and generating sensational viral clips. But that talent covered up her lack of range; her weakness in showing empathy or drawing out interesting, newsy details from her interview subjects.

    There’s little to be said about Kelly’s show when she isn’t on screen. The segments from NBC’s correspondents have been workmanlike but undistinguished, and nothing about them stands out as somehow unique to the program or even influenced by Kelly’s presence -- with little change, they could have run on Dateline.

    Their subjects are standard human-interest stories, in turn heart-warming or horrifying -- the possible impacts of a scientist’s new technique, an orphan from Sierra Leone adopted by Americans who became a ballet dancer, a pharmaceutical company’s scam to get doctors to overprescribe their medication, the dangers of dental anaesthesia, one man’s effort to heal anti-immigrant divisions in his hometown. The reports lack any sense of innovation or verve beyond what one would expect from any other newsmagazine show.

    None of the stories featured on Kelly's program broke major news or had a significant impact on the news cycle; no one in journalism is talking about the great reporting coming out of Sunday Night. Kelly’s reports also made little news, and other media companies have made no significant efforts to follow up on her stories. Her only stories to garner attention were the Putin interview, which made a splash because of its subject but not Kelly’s effort, and the Jones interview, which caused a PR disaster for NBC. The program’s own segment providing “updates” on the stories that were previously covered represents an unsuccessful attempt to demonstrate a record of journalistic accomplishment.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Boring shows don’t win big audiences. Six million people tuned in for the show’s premiere, the highest viewership of the run, but still fewer than the show’s chief competitor, CBS’ venerable newsmagazine show 60 Minutes. Sunday Night never again pulled in an audience of more than 3.6 million viewers, regularly and embarrassingly losing not only to old episodes of 60 Minutes, but to reruns of America’s Funniest Home Videos.

    NBC reportedly originally planned for Kelly’s show to have a 10-episode run, then go on hiatus from the end of the summer until the spring to make way for Sunday Night Football and the network’s coverage of the Winter Olympics. While a network source denies that NBC cut the run short by airing only eight episodes, one segment teased in the program’s premiere -- an interview with MyPillow’s Mike Lindell -- never aired, and an episode of Dateline NBC, the network’s durable newsmagazine show, is scheduled to air this Sunday in Kelly’s timeslot. It would not be surprising if Sunday Night never returns.

    Sunday Night, with a limited run in a low-profile timeslot and staffed by existing NBC talent, was fundamentally a cheap, low-risk bet for the network. They tried it, it failed, and it’s already off the air.

    The real threat to NBC’s hopes for future network dominance may be realized next month, when Kelly’s NBC weekday morning show, Megyn Kelly Today, debuts. Immediately following the network’s moneymaking and ratings juggernaut, Today, and with name branding tied to that crown jewel of the NBC News family, NBC is counting on that show to succeed. NBC lost Tamron Hall, the former co-anchor of their 9 a.m. programming, after executives handed her timeslot to Kelly; she’s since become a competitor, pitching a network daytime talk show. NBC has taken heat for replacing a program hosted by two African-Americans with a white host famous for her declaration that Santa Claus and Jesus Christ were white. If Kelly’s morning show fails, it will be a disaster for the network.

    The results from Sunday Night should be an ominous sign for NBC. Kelly showed that she lacks a large audience of loyal fans willing to follow her from show to show. Kelly’s more aggressive interviews didn’t draw viewers -- the audience didn’t stick around after the Putin interview or show up in big numbers for the Jones one. But crucially for a weekday morning show, her softer interviews have been mediocre. The “Q&A” celebrity interview segments -- the sort of friendly back-and-forths that are the backbone of a morning show -- were some of the most rote and boring of the show’s run.

    NBC’s executives made a huge investment in Megyn Kelly’s career, betting on Fox News stardom that they hoped would translate to a network audience. So far that bet hasn’t panned out. NBC could afford for her to fail on Sunday nights. But a similar wipeout on weekday mornings, with Kelly nailed to one of the network’s most high-profile brands, could be a disaster.

     

    Additional research provided by Shelby Jamerson.