Media Matters weekly newsletter, August 25

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.

Trump's mugshot

On Thursday night, disgraced former President Donald Trump surrendered to Fulton County, Georgia authorities. Trump was booked for charges related to his efforts to overturn Georgia’s 2020 presidential election. The dramatic moment all media was waiting for came when Trump’s mugshot was released to the public.

It was a historic night in American history. Never before has an American president been booked on felony charges.

As they demonstrated in previous indictments, conservative media have a tired playbook in responding to the former president’s legal woes. They were quick to make use of their talking points:

  • On Newsmax, Sarah Palin called for civil war.
  • Fox’s Laura Ingraham told viewers that Trump’s arrest is proof government officials are trying to “take them out.”
  • Fox’s Sean Hannity said the Department of Justice will target Republicans “until there’s nothing left of the party.”

On Wednesday, Fox News hosted the first Republican presidential primary debate of the 2024 election cycle. Notably absent from the event was disgraced former President Donald Trump, the clear frontrunner in a crowded GOP field.

After announcing his decision to skip the debate, Trump did an interview with former Fox host Tucker Carlson — an effort to counterprogram that met with some support in right-wing media. Though Carlson has previously expressed hatred toward Trump, both men have a common enemy in Fox News — Carlson for being fired from the network, and Trump for the network’s supposed lack of loyalty. While it’s true that Fox has pushed other candidates besides Trump, all signs clearly indicate the network is in the bag for the four-times indicted, twice impeached former president. Ahead of the debate, Fox host Jesse Watters even instructed the other candidates to respect Trump.

Fox’s supposed “straight news” anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum moderated Wednesday’s debate. Like their Fox colleagues, both moderators are major vectors of right-wing misinformation, including as boosters of Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. They help to demonstrate that there is absolutely no difference at Fox between propaganda and news.

The Republican National Committee also chose the extremist platform Rumble as their exclusive partner in streaming the event. Being a cesspool of pro-Nazi propaganda and conspiracy theories, it’s no surprise that Rumble placed ads for the Republican National Committee on pro-Hitler videos ahead of the debate. To drive the point home, the platform continues to profit from videos featuring white nationalist Holocaust-denier Nick Fuentes.

The political effects of the debate are still to be determined (though right-wing media is increasingly turning against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis), but there is at least one lesson we can draw right now: Conservative politics is only getting more fractious and extreme.

Greg Kelly on the greatest threat to the country

This week in stupid 

  • Fox’s Mark Levin asked, “How is it that climate change can’t be good sometimes?”
  • Fox's Shannon Bream pushed the hoax that schools put out litter boxes for students who identify as cats. 
  • A FlashPoint guest suggested that the wildfires in Hawaii and across other parts of the world are the result of “demonic entities.”

This week in scary

  • Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk said the 14th Amendment was “too broadly” and “sloppily written.”
  • Fox’s Jesse Watters called homeless people “a virus” and a “contagion.”
  • Fox’s Tyrus promised to assault his children if they shared their preferred pronouns.

Excuse me?

  • The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles suggested that “radical environmentalists” set the Maui wildfires.
  • Newsmax’s Greg Kelly dismissed death threats against Judge Tanya Chutkan as “life in the fast lane.”

In case you missed it

  • Donald Trump Jr., Kimberley Guilfoyle, Lara Trump, Trump lawyer Alina Habba, and other members of Trump’s orbit are scheduled to speak alongside an antisemitic streamer who once praised Adolf Hitler. He is at least the third Hitler-promoting antisemite to have appeared on the Trump-backed ReAwaken America tour.
  • As he was attending a ceremony honoring victims of the devastating wildfire in Maui, President Joe Biden momentarily closed his eyes. Across all corners of right-wing media, pundits falsely claimed the president fell asleep.
  • Right-wing media have been spreading bizarre conspiracy theories about Hawaii’s most recent wildfire, including absurd claims that the fire was secretly started by “directed energy weapons” from a Chinese satellite.
  • Project Veritas — the far-right political organization known for its deceptively edited videos and questionable undercover sting operations — is reportedly in crisis after CEO Hannah Giles fired much of the company’s remaining staff.

Read more

  • It appears that Newsmax is inviting Republican presidential candidates to pay for airtime on their network. Media Matters’ Bobby Lewis analyzed the data and found evidence that strongly suggests the network allowed longshot candidate Perry Johnson to buy his way into a disproportionate amount of airtime.
  • National TV news completely failed in its reporting on Hurricane Hilary, largely ignoring climate change in their coverage.
  • After voters stood in favor of abortion rights in some recent state contests, right-wing pundits have responded by fighting over whether Republicans should tone down their extreme proposals. 
  • Kyle Rittenhouse — who became a minor right-wing celebrity after killing two people during an anti-racist protest in 2020 — started a new foundation run by a far-right gun extremist, Christian nationalist, and Pizzagate conspiracy theorist.
  • Turning Point USA prioritizes outreach to young women with a message to give up career pursuits in favor of becoming a wife and mother. Media Matters’ Madeline Peltz wrote this great piece analyzing a recent roundtable to illustrate the insidious impact of their propaganda on young women.
  • After the International Chess Federation issued a ruling stating that transgender women have “no right” to compete for women’s titles, right-wing media praised the organization. As Media Matters’ Ari Drennen argues, “This categorical ban in a non-physical game shows the emptiness of their rhetoric around trans women’s supposed athletic advantages.”
  • A Davis, California, library and elementary school were forced to evacuate after an anonymous caller targeted them with an anti-LGBTQ bomb threat. This incident followed a harassment campaign against the location led by Riley Gaines and other members of right-wing media.