Peering into his laptop camera while filming a fidgety monologue for his Periscope audience last week, Breitbart.com investigative reporter Lee Stranahan spelled out an internal crisis that was unfolding at the “alt-right,” pro-Trump media hub.
Convinced he was sitting on “the biggest political story in the world,” Stranahan announced that his boss, Washington political editor Matthew Boyle, had ordered him to stay away from future White House briefings, which meant Stranahan couldn’t ask press secretary Sean Spicer about the supposed blockbuster. (Short version: Stranahan has strung together a conspiracy theory that would suggest the Russian hacking narrative is a complete fabrication by so-called deep state actors and a firm called Crowdstrike.)
“I’m probably going to lose my job,” Stranahan lamented during his televised update, noting “I have five kids to feed. … But I’m not going to let this story get killed.”
Indeed, by week's end, Stranahan was gone from Breitbart. He said he will now team up with The Gateway Pundit, the hyper-dishonest “alt-right” site that now boasts a White House press pass and commits itself to trolling journalists on the presidential beat.
The weird public Stranahan meltdown was just the latest example of far-right media outlets seemingly cracking under the strain of the Trump era. Along with at Breitbart, internal dramas have recently played out publicly at Fox News, TheBlaze and Independent Journal Review, as right-wing media sources struggle to find their footing with Trump now in charge, and with the attention that comes with that.
Accustomed to robotically blaming Democrats for all the supposed evils in the world, conservatives now have to deal with a political landscape where Republicans control the White House, the Senate, the House, and, possibly soon, the Supreme Court.
Is dissent allowed? Or is the new role to simply cheer whatever Republicans do, and serve as a convenient shield for the administration?
“For years, conservatives breathlessly accused the media of being too easy on President Barack Obama and acting like a bunch of sycophantic boot-lickers for his administration. Turns out, some only wanted the chance to try it out for themselves once a Republican was in office,” conservative commentator Amanda Carpenter wrote in Politico. “Some of those who used to be the conservative movement’s most loyal government watchdogs are nothing but lapdogs now for Trump.”
At Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze, popular conservative host Tomi Lahren was temporarily suspended after she went on The View and made comments critical of anti-abortion activists. (Lahren: “I can’t sit here and be a hypocrite and say I’m for limited government but I think that the government should decide what women do with their bodies.”)
In an usual display of newsroom friendly fire, Lahren’s comment was immediately condemned by her own colleagues at TheBlaze:
Beck himself soon joined the pile-on. “It takes intellectual honesty, and it takes a willingness to actually think these things through and to do more than just read Twitter or Facebook to get your news and your political opinions,” Beck said on his radio show while denouncing Lahren, according to The Daily Caller.
Beck has now reportedly fired the host. “Glenn is reminding the world of his conservative principles by sidelining Tomi after she insulted conservatives by calling them hypocrites,” one Beck “insider” told the New York Post.
Over at Fox News, executives were recently left scrambling when the White House pointed to Fox senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano as a source for the inexplicable claim that former President Barack Obama had asked British intelligence to spy on Trump during the campaign. It was part of the White House’s larger failed attempt to support Trump’s baseless claim that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential election.
The claim of British involvement sparked an international incident.
Initially, a Fox News spokeswoman reported that Napolitano “stands by his report on FOX & Friends,” but then the full-on retreat began. By March 20, Fox had taken the extraordinary step of yanking Napolitano off the air “indefinitely.”
Vanity Fair's Sarah Ellison spoke with a “Fox News insider” who told her: “The key thing Judge Napolitano did was to say ‘Fox News is reporting that ... ,’ and he can’t say that.' That breaks the trust, and you saw what it cost him. He is not a reporter and knows he's not a reporter." The source claimed that Napolitano’s comments, and Trump’s championing of them, had created what Ellison described as “an internal headache” for Fox News: “It’s a disaster," said the source. "It’s a nightmare.”
Speaking of headaches, Independent Journal Review (IJR) handed out suspensions last week after the GOP-friendly news site published a bizarre column suggesting Obama might have pressured the federal judge in Hawaii whose ruling halted Trump’s latest attempt to establish a travel ban for six Muslim-majority countries. (IJR column headline: “Fmr President Obama Made 'Surprise Visit' to Hawaii, Days Before Judge Issued Travel Ban Ruling.” )
IJR editors later apologized for and retracted the story, but not before one staffer reportedly quit over the embarrassing episode. The site then suspended its chief content officer and two editors. (On March 27, Politico’s Hadas Gold reported that IJR video producer Colin Chocola also reportedly quit, citing issues he had with the “direction” of IJR that predated the Hawaii conspiracy theory flap.)
The dust-up was significant because the conservative-leaning IJR, founded in 2012 by former Republican operative Alex Skatell, was the only media outlet allowed to accompany Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on his recent trip to Asia -- a trip that yielded a laudatory puff piece published by IJR.
The move to invite IJR was “part of an effort to include a broader representation of U.S. media,” according to the State Department.
“If willingness to tar a former president with conspiratorial garbage constitutes an element of media diversity, then the State Department succeeded,” quipped Erik Wemple at The Washington Post, after IJR published its conspiratorial column about Obama.
Last week, Business Insider provided a detailed look at the internal dissension swirling within IJR since Trump’s election, as editorial factions battle over how far to the right the site should tilt. “It's basically becoming a giant native ad for the Trump administration," one former IJR staffer complained.
For eight years, Obama bashing largely unified the right-wing media in America. Now without that security blanket to cling to, they’re finding life in the spotlight’s much more complicated.