Welcome back to Media Matters' weekly email. As a senior researcher with Media Matters, I monitor and analyze right-wing content across a wide variety of platforms, trying to understand what makes the ecosystem tick. Each Friday I'll go through all the main narratives, craziest clips, and dumbest moments from conservative media over the past week. If you want this delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.
Former President Donald Trump was reportedly indicted by a Miami federal grand jury on seven charges, including violating the Espionage Act. Trump is expected to surrender on Tuesday.
After Trump announced the indictment on social media, Fox News guests and hosts careened into unhinged demagoguery. Jesse Watters and contributor Charlie Hurt claimed the indictment is a distraction from the House Republican investigation into President Joe Biden. Shortly thereafter, Fox contributor Jonathan Turley suggested Trump could use the indictment as a campaign tactic and “run on pardoning himself.” Fox host Mark Levin called Attorney General Merrick Garland a “mob lawyer.” Former Trump aide Stephen Miller said that the country had “ceased to be a democratic republic.” This morning, a Fox guest suggested Trump could not credibly be charged until all the trafficking cases in Florida had been solved. Geraldo Rivera likened the alleged crimes to keeping an overdue library book. Similar stuff was going on over at Newsmax as well.
In other words, it's the same old stuff.
As Media Matters’ Matt Gertz pointed out, “if Trump is brought down, Fox’s viewers may be next.” Gertz added that, “Trump needs the powerful propaganda apparatus of Fox to keep his supporters in line and his primary opponents at bay, and the network’s hosts and executives are happy to oblige.”
Also: There is plenty of evidence about Trump's guilt in the case and the gravity of the documents involved; just this morning news of a damning tape broke. Despite that, right-wing media figures have been quick to compare Trump's case to that of Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. Philip Bump at The Washington Post explains why those comparisons are falling flat. And Gertz adds that we do not need to listen to the “lock her up!” people who suddenly are screaming about “political persecution.”
Smoke from Canadian wildfires continues to spread across the United States, with 128 million people under air quality alerts as of Wednesday. While the country deals with this environmental emergency, conservative media has been downplaying and in some cases flat-out denying the threat this smoke poses.
Newsmax’s Greg Kelly praised the smoke, saying “it’s a beautiful, interesting aura” and “not an unpleasant odor.” Fox’s Jeanine Pirro called it “insanity” to wear a mask and Fox’s Sean Hannity mocked New York City residents for wearing them. Laura Ingraham hosted Steve Milloy, a climate denier and former cigarette and coal lobbyist, who said “there’s no health risk” to the smoke. Fox News actually spent more time covering the smoke than either CNN or MSNBC and even mentioned climate change more than either network did -- only it focused on denying and mocking the link to climate change.
The rationale for how climate change has made these wildfires worse is very straightforward: “Wildfires like those ravaging Canada are becoming bigger and more frequent as forests around the world increasingly dry out amid the warming climate, many scientists say.” That quote is from a sober report in The Wall Street Journal, which is also run by the Murdochs. It certainly wasn't reflected in Fox's coverage.
As the effects of climate change continue to worsen, we can expect more crises like this. Conservative media has shown no sign of relenting on its uniform climate change denialism. While highly paid media pundits can sit in comfort as our environment careens from one catastrophe to another, the rest of us will suffer its consequences.
On Wednesday, Warner Brother Discovery CEO David Zaslav fired Chris Licht after just 13 months on the job running CNN. During Licht’s tenure, the network’s ratings tanked and it embarrassed itself in a disastrous townhall with former President Donald Trump. His failed track record culminated in an Atantic profile which triggered a newsroom revolt.
Licht may have done a terrible job, but he was doing exactly what he was supposed to do. Zaslav and WBD's largest shareholder, John Malone, have been frank about their desire to see a more conservative CNN. Malone, a frequent Republican donor, said in 2021 that he wanted CNN to look more like Fox News. For his part, Zaslav made clear that he wanted “all voices” on CNN, which culminated in allowing Trump to fill its airwaves with lies.
As Matt Gertz explained, “This version of CNN isn’t just journalistically indefensible - it’s also failed to attract an audience. In theory, catering to Republicans was supposed to lure viewers away from more right-wing outlets. In reality, there isn’t an audience for Fox Light.”
This week in stupid
- Ben Shapiro said Donald Trump “not for any nefarious purpose, but because Trump likes things and so he takes them.”
This week in scary
In case you missed it
- Fox’s Jesse Watters claimed the FBI installed Joe Biden as president as “an intelligence op” after blackmailing him for a decade.
- Hateful and bigoted televangelist Pat Robertson died.
- Fox’s Sean Hannity downplayed a potential obstruction of justice charge for Donald Trump, calling it an “obscure” law.
- The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles celebrated the new YouTube policy allowing him to say “the 2020 election was obviously rife with fraud.”
- OutKick’s Curt Schilling made horrible statements about companies participating in Pride Month.
- Far-right pastor Tom Ascol, who has links to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, criticized Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for condemning Uganda’s new draconian anti-LGBTQ law.
- Ben Shapiro attacked trans people who identify with Spider-Woman from the new Spiderverse movie.
- For the past three years, Fox News has been obsessed with “wokeness.” Media Matters put together a list of over 200 things the network has declared “woke” and it is wild stuff.
- National TV news covered the Supreme Court decision to gut the Clean Water Act for only 21 minutes.
- BlazeTV host Steve Deace’s self-proclaimed “Christo-fascist propaganda” horror movie, Nefarious, has been playing in theaters across the US and is now streaming.
- YouTube changed its policy to permit content promoting election conspiracy theories and misinformation. Right-wing media are celebrating the change of course.
- Mom’s for Liberty is helping states pass vicious anti-LGBTQ bills.
- MSNBC’s Morning Joe consistently misrepresents trans people as a liability for Democrats.
- Right-wing media are continuing to prop up anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist Robert F Kennedy, Jr’s presidential campaign.
- Rumble promoted and profited from an unhinged, harrowingly antisemitic and homophobic six-hour livestream.
- Both Fox News and Tucker Carlson have yet to recover from their divorce.
- In newly uncovered Facebook posts, Arizona Republican state Sen. Justine Wadsack declared that the Uvalde, Texas, mass shooting was a false flag event enacted to install “Red Flag laws and gun regulations.”
- Businesses that bow to right-wing media anti-LGBTQ bullying campaigns hurt both people and their own profits.
- Fox News is providing cover for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ cruel migrant flight stunt. A Fox anchor also suggested that criminal charges against DeSantis over migrant trafficking could be useful “earned media” opportunities for the governor.
- Twitter admitted that its appointment of new CEO Linda Yaccarino “will not result in a different-content moderation strategy.” Even with a new CEO, though, Elon Musk has already destroyed the platform for advertisers.