On MSNBC's The Last Word, Angelo Carusone explains how right-wing media fever swamps took control of the GOP

“The Republican Party, and the right wing at-large,” are “organizing power on what used to be considered the fringes”

Video file

Citation From the December 29, 2021, edition of MSNBC's The Last Word

JONATHAN CAPEHART (HOST): Joining us now, Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters. Angelo, great to see you. Here's what I want to know. We know conservative media is extreme, but how big is its reach?

ANGELO CARUSONE: I mean, it’s bigger than anything I think most people realize. Talk radio, for example, just take Sean Hannity. He's got 15 million listeners. And that's one show – and that’s just talk radio. People will focus on television, and Fox News, and Facebook, but the reality is talk radio remains the get-out-the-vote engine, the engine of disinformation – and in many ways, it has this downstream effect because there is a local component to it, it can really influence and distort the local politics, which ultimately then translates both up and nationally.

CAPEHART: You know, Fox has become more “Trumpy,” if you can believe it, since Trump. Think of Tucker [Carlson] now versus Bill O'Reilly in 2016. But that is still mainstream conservative media. What's happening outside of our view?

CARUSONE: I think the simplest way to think about what’s happening is that the media – the right-wing media as a whole, the fever swamps, have really been the fulcrum and the pivot point here. And the rest of the Republican Party, and the right wing at-large, what they've decided to do in these last couple years that I think help explain that phenomenon that you pointed out with Tucker Carlson and Fox, is that they're organizing power on what used to be considered the fringes.

So, it’s not that it is brand new that we have fringes, right? Alex Jones has been around for 20-plus years. But a lot of things that Alex Jones says now are actually reflected in people that are in Congress – are actually reflected in our mainstream politics. And that is a consequence of the right very deliberately and intentionally, organizing power on the fringes. And what took place January 6 was one externality of that.

So, that ranges from everything from Jewish space lasers as a threat, like we saw with Marjorie Taylor Greene, to actively combatting not just vaccines but any kind of public health measures. I mean, what we've seen pushing back against public health measures, including masks, like you were talking about With Marjorie Taylor Greene, is something Fox News has been advocating for. That's not how it started, but that ended up becoming part of the Fox News narrative, because they were reflecting back what the rest of the right wing was getting in the fever swamps.

CAPEHART: You know, Angelo, I would love to get your thoughts on Trump being eviscerated for his vaccine support. A pro-Trump radio host recently said, “He needs an intervention from a friend.”

CARUSONE: Yeah. This is an example [of] where a lot of the right-wing media ultimately is. Trump is a focal point for it, right? What made Trump so powerful and influential was the fact that he was channeling and harnessing a bunch of different components of the fever swamps and the right-wing media. And they were then amplifying and echoing back the things that he was saying, and there was a feedback loop. But we shouldn’t make any mistake that the power behind Trump was the actual media and the right-wing echo chamber that we’re talking about here. Not Trump himself.

And so, when you point out this vaccine example, it’s a runaway, right? He lost his Twitter account, he lost his Facebook presence, he lost his social media channels to be able to influence and directly control the narrative, or influence in a real way.

And they continue to run with that story that vaccines were part of a plot and a conspiracy by Dr. Fauci and Bill Gates in order to put microchips in people, or there is a very, very prominent conspiracy theory that it’s actually – the vaccine is designed to open up an interdimensional portal. And, I point that out because there are millions of people in this country that are consuming right-wing media – that Republican politicians are actually appealing to – that believe this, and are warning about this as a reason for not getting vaccines. So, that partly explains why when Trump gets up there and says, “Hey get your booster, it's OK, it’s not a big deal,” and they respond in this harsh way, it’s because hey're actually simmering in this cauldron of deceit. 

CAPEHART: Wow, I did not even know about the intergalactic portal. Wow. Angelo Carusone, thank you for joining us tonight.