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  • Media keep talking about "identity politics." But what does it even mean anymore?

    More than 40 years after the term was coined, “identity politics” has been reduced to buzzword status.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    For nearly two years, Democrats have been desperate to understand the secret to President Donald Trump’s success. This week, Fox Business hosts Lou Dobbs and Trish Regan might have just figured it out.

    From the October 15 edition of Trish Regan Primetime (emphasis added):

    TRISH REGAN (HOST): You look at the Democrats right now, and they’re really clinging to this idea of identity politics. In your view, what are they missing?

    LOU DOBBS: Well, group and identity politics are really the blueprint for the Democratic Party. It's no longer, as it once was, about the American worker. It's no longer about middle America or middle class Americans. For 20 years, they watched the middle class in this country shrink. It took none other than President Donald J. Trump to step up and say he is for the American worker, the American working family, for the middle class, and put America first. And with that he has driven, it seems to me, a stake into the heart of group and identity politics. Because remember, Trish, and I know you do, this is a president -- from the moment he began campaigning -- says he will be the president of all Americans. ... This is a president of possibility and an insistence upon dreaming, dreaming -- all America is dreaming. And, by the way, those dreams are being realized in 21 months this man has been in office.

    REGAN: It’s amazing because in some ways, Lou, I think he's beating them at their own game. I mean, they used to be about middle class, working Americans, and then all of a sudden, as we saw in 2016 and the aftermath right up until today, things became about, say, the transgender population, which is 0.01 percent of the population. Now, I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that. However, they forgot, they forgot all these people out there going to work every day trying to make a living, trying to put food on the table, and consequently, Donald Trump stole their thunder.

    Ah yes, identity politics! Like its rhetorical cousin “political correctness,” identity politics has become one of those catch-all terms that means whatever the person saying it wants it to mean at that particular moment. For the past several years, it’s been deployed derisively to dismiss concerns specific to any group outside of the ruling class. Marriage equality? Identity politics. Black Lives Matter? Definitely identity politics. Protecting the right to an abortion? Massive identity politics. And, well, you get the idea.

    In the above discussion between Dobbs and Regan, Regan cited the Democratic Party’s focus on issues specific to trans people as part of its downfall. After all, if just 0.01 percent of the country is transgender and Democrats are really going all-in on policies and campaign promises that would solely benefit that community, that does seem like a foolish use of resources. Unfortunately for Regan, neither point is really true. Regan was off by a factor of 60 in her trans statistic -- the Williams Institute estimates that 1.4 million adults, or 0.6 percent of the population, identify as trans.

    But to her second point: Yes, Democrats did include a few nods to the trans community in their 2016 party platform, such as supporting the passage of an LGBTQ-inclusive anti-discrimination bill and highlighting violence against trans people. But was that to the exclusion of anyone or anything else? No, not really. On the flip side, the Republican platform leaned into these issues hard, strongly opposing a recently implemented marriage equality ruling; pledging to stop using Title IX “to impose a social and cultural revolution upon the American people,” as they allege President Barack Obama had done with his “dear colleague” memo to schools saying bullying against trans students isn’t OK; championing the passage of the so-called First Amendment Defense Act, which would shield people from local and state statutes banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation so long as the person discriminating cites a strongly held religious belief; and support for discriminatory anti-trans policies in public space, such as North Carolina’s controversial, anti-trans HB 2 legislation.

    Objectively speaking, on issues of LGBTQ rights, the Republican Party simply is more invested in identity politics. It shows in how the party has governed, too. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 129 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in state legislatures in 2017 -- overwhelmingly by Republicans. Democrats are left with the option to either push back against the anti-LGBTQ attacks (and be accused by media figures of playing identity politics) or simply roll over and let a socially conservative agenda pass without opposition. The reason the “Democrats must drop their obsession with identity politics” narrative has more or less become conventional wisdom in the aftermath of 2016 elections is that media -- both mainstream and partisan -- ignore the identity politics of the right.

    Conservative identity politics are all around us, but we've been conditioned not to notice.

    In a study titled “One Tribe to Bind Them All: How Our Social Group Attachments Strengthen Partisanship,” published earlier this year in the Advances in Political Psychology journal, researchers Lilliana Mason and Julie Wronski observed the ways in which our various identities shape -- and have always shaped -- our political beliefs and motivations, even if not consciously.

    Mason and Wronski concluded that, currently, it’s actually Republicans who are more likely to respond to stimuli along identity-based lines. This is due, in part, to the fact that Republicans tend to be more demographically homogeneous -- that is, their two most consistent identities are that of being white and Christian -- whereas Democrats’ power, or lack thereof, relies on just a tenuous connection between varying racial, gender, sexual, and religious coalitions. They write:

    Interestingly, in the realm of “identity politics,” it is generally the Democratic Party that is associated with the use of social identities for political gain. In fact, what we find here is that, if anything, Republicans are more responsive to the alignment of their party-associated groups. Among Republicans, the most cross‐cutting identities are more detrimental to in‐party allegiance than they are among Democrats. Grossman and Hopkins (2016) suggest that Democrats are the party of group interests and Republicans the party of ideological purity. What we find is that Republican “purity” applies to in‐party social homogeneity. A Republican who does not fit the White, Christian mold is far less attached to the Republican Party than one who does fit the mold. This effect is stronger among Republicans than among Democrats, who include significantly more individuals whose racial and religious identities do not match those of the average Democrat. The concept of a “deal‐breaker” identity among Republicans is more feasible than it is among Democrats, as Republicans are generally associated with fewer linked social groups. In this sense, Republicans are more reliant than Democrats on their social identities for constructing strong partisan attachments.

    This could help to explain why media’s identity-based messaging -- such as Fox News’ Laura Ingraham warning her viewers that if they don’t vote Republican, they will be “replace[d] … with newly amnestied citizens and an ever increasing number of chain migrants,” or conservative sites like Breitbart spending years accusing Democrats of waging a “war on Christians” -- tends to resonate with white conservative Americans. It’s why reminding white voters that they may soon be a racial minority in the U.S. is a tried and true way to shift politically unaffiliated white voters to more conservative positions. In July, The Washington Post published the story of a white woman experiencing “demographic anxiety” while trying to fit in with non-English-speaking co-workers, explaining the idea that whites no longer comprising a majority in the country played a role in driving white voters to adopt anti-immigration viewpoints and align more closely with Republicans.

    This still doesn’t explain why a Republican suggesting that Democrats are a threat to the right to practice Christianity is not typically viewed through the lens of “identity politics,” but a Democrat arguing that Republicans are a threat to reproductive rights is. Perhaps this is the result of in-group bias, with U.S. newsrooms still disproportionately white and male. It seems as logical an explanation as any. Mason and Wronski refer to whiteness and Christianity as “the ‘correct’ alignment of social identities,” which is to say that people, including media figures, are conditioned to see this as the default.

    The outcry against "identity politics" is, itself, deeply rooted in identity politics.

    Sometimes, trying to avoid the “identity politics” smear means explicit exclusion of people … on the basis of identity. For instance, after Democrats nominated an especially diverse slate of candidates in local and state primaries this year, some even called that an example of identity politics, suggesting that there’s no reason anybody other than a straight, white, cisgender man should consider running for office lest it be considered an identity-based stunt. PJ Media’s Tyler O’Neil wrote, “Democrats in various states took up the identity politics banner, pushing candidates who fit the minority mold. The August 14 primaries elevated transgender, Muslim, black, and socialist candidates, further cementing the Democratic Party's national radical identity politics brand.”

    At other times, avoiding the charge of playing “identity politics” means abandoning your ideological principles, as self-described liberal Mark Lilla wrote in The New York Times after the 2016 election. Democrats’ “obsession with diversity has encouraged white, rural, religious Americans to think of themselves as a disadvantaged group whose identity is being threatened or ignored,” he wrote. Lilla’s advice was for Democrats to adopt “a post-identity liberalism” and refocus on the issues that affect the “vast majority,” rather than on things like LGBTQ rights or abortion. In other words, he thinks the answer is to focus on issues that also affect the “angry white male,” whom he describes without a hint of irony as a “maligned, and previously ignored, figure.”

    As I illustrated earlier in this piece, contra Lilla, there’s not really a way to sidestep identity-based battles with a truce of neutrality. The culture war, itself another description of identity politics in this current usage, will rage on regardless. The only question that remains is whether in the name of abandoning “identity politics,” people like Lilla think it’s worth letting the most marginalized groups in society see their rights stripped away bit by bit, all for a political gamble that may not even pay off.

    Telling a group -- whether it’s Democrats, Republicans, people of color, LGBTQ people, the religious, the non-religious -- to abandon identity politics doesn’t actually mean anything. It’s just a buzzword, and journalists owe it to the public to stop using it that way.

    But “identity politics” in its original use is totally different from the way it’s used today.

    Up until this point, I’ve been using the term as it is used most commonly by media covering politics. However, the original definition, which originated in “The Combahee River Collective Statement,” a 1977 missive on the path forward for Black feminism, means almost the exact opposite. Reading the statement, you wouldn’t get the sense that four decades later, people would be using the term to refer to the siloing of identities and exclusion. Here’s one salient passage:

    We have arrived at the necessity for developing an understanding of class relationships that takes into account the specific class position of Black women who are generally marginal in the labor force, while at this particular time some of us are temporarily viewed as doubly desirable tokens at white-collar and professional levels. We need to articulate the real class situation of persons who are not merely raceless, sexless workers, but for whom racial and sexual oppression are significant determinants in their working/economic lives.

    In short, the statement argues that to fight for the rights, treatment, and protection of all, we need to actually hear from all. People need to be able to advocate on their own behalf, but they also need to build coalitions with like-minded individuals. Pretending that differences don’t exist  and ignoring the role racism, sexism, homophobia, and general intolerance play in society doesn’t actually address any of those issues. They don’t simply go away on their own.

    “To be recognized as human, levelly human, is enough,” reads another pertinent line. The suggestion that identity politics means progress for some at the expense of others is a perversion of the term’s defining document.

    In a January Twitter thread responding to a David Brooks New York Times column about identity politics, Barbara Smith, one of the Combahee River Collective Statement authors, set the record straight, writing, “Once again Brooks gets identity politics totally wrong!” She continued:

    I can confirm that identity politics means nothing remotely like what Brooks and others like Mark Lilla say. There have been systems of institutionalized oppression in the U. S. like white supremacy, capitalism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia which predate the term identity politics by several centuries. The political theory and practice of identity politics has been most useful for building coalitions with people of various identities who are committed to working together to eradicate these systems and not for creating enemies lists.

    Whether it’s time to retire any particular political strategy is an issue that’s not for me to decide. What I can suggest, however, is that media start focusing on how the term “identity politics” -- in its modern use -- applies to Republican strategy just as much as Democratic efforts, if not more. Better yet, maybe we can just phase out usage of the term as rhetorical empty calories and instead be specific about what we mean.

  • Sean Hannity told Fox viewers to donate to a GOP candidate, whose campaign then turned it into an ad

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris is running a Facebook ad featuring Sean Hannity stating on Fox News that Harris “needs your help.”

    Harris is a former pastor who has appeared in anti-LGBTQ media outlets such as Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network and American Family Association’s American Family Radio. He has a history of pushing sexist remarks and promoting bigotry against Muslims   and   LGBTQ people. Harris’ race is considered one of the most competitive in the country.

    During his October 16 Fox News show, while running through “10 more of the House races that will decide the fate of the country,” Hannity said that “in North Carolina [District] Nine, Democrat Dan McCready has a big-time cash advantage, but conservative Republican Mark Harris has a very slight edge. He needs your help.”

    Harris responded to the segment the following day with a Facebook ad soliciting donations that features video of Hannity’s remarks. According to Harris, “Sean Hannity is Correct! My opponent is a liberal awash in cash because he is #PoweredByPelosi. We need your help to win this race for the good guys.”

    Facebook’s ad performance numbers state as of posting that the ad has been viewed 5,000-10,000 times in North Carolina and the campaign has spent less than $100 on it.

    Fox News has previously asked campaigns to take down advertisements that have video from the network in them. It did not respond to a request for comment.

    The network has frequently helped Republican candidates -- both on- and off-air. Hannity himself has headlined campaign events for two Florida politicians: gubernatorial candidate Rep. Ron DeSantis and congressional candidate Rep. Matt Gaetz this year. He will travel to Texas this weekend to campaign for Sen. Ted Cruz.

  • Fox News wanted to exploit a caravan of migrants as a midterm election issue, so that's what Trump is doing

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump responded on Thursday morning to reports of a caravan of migrants moving through Central America toward the U.S. border by blaming Democrats for their purported “assault on our country.” The president was mimicking the commentators he was likely watching on Fox News, who urged Republicans to weaponize the caravan as an election issue ahead of next month’s midterms.

    A caravan of as many as 4,000 Honduran migrants has entered Guatemala, leading Fox hosts to spend much of the week trying to stoke fears that the migrants are “heading this way” with plans “to storm our border.” None of this makes much sense -- the caravan would still need to make it through all of Guatemala and Mexico, and the Mexican government is currently deploying its own resources to stop the migrants. But because Trump’s worldview is shaped by the hours of Fox he consumes each day, that coverage is having an impact on U.S. policy -- and now, the topics of discussion in the midterm elections.

    Trump entered the fray on Tuesday morning, warning that the U.S. would cut off aid to Honduras if the caravan isn’t turned back:

    Trump frequently spends his mornings live-tweeting Fox & Friends, and his tweet almost certainly came in response to the show's coverage of the story that day:

    With Trump weighing in, the story’s coverage escalated. And on Wednesday night, Fox contributor and presidential confidant Newt Gingrich urged Republicans to make the caravan a key voting issue:

    “I think two words are going to define the night of the 2018 election in the next three weeks,” he told Sean Hannity. “One is Kavanaugh and the other is caravan.” Claiming that “the left is eager” for the caravan to enter the United States, Gingrich argued that “the American people are going to reject ... the way they are dealing with the border, and I think those will end up being the reasons the Republicans keep the House and dramatically increase the number of senators they have.”

    The next morning, Fox & Friends repeatedly urged Republicans to take Gingrich’s advice.

    During the show’s lead segment, after several minutes of dire warnings about the caravan, the hosts replayed portions of Gingrich’s comment. “So it comes down to a simple question regarding the Republicans and the Democrats, because it’s clear,” said host Steve Doocy. "If you think that our southern border should be open, support the Democrat. If you think the southern border should actually be a border with security, and stopping people, and processing them accordingly, then you’ve got to vote for Republicans, the Republicans say.”

    In a second segment that hour, Fox contributor and former ICE Acting Director Tom Homan said, “This caravan issue lays at the feet of the Democratic Party up on the Hill” for not closing loopholes in immigration law. “I hope the American people are paying attention because this isn’t the president’s failure, this isn’t the secretary’s failure; this is the Democrats’ failure because they know the issue and they refuse to fix it. They’re putting their political ambitions ahead of public safety, national security, and border control.”

    During a third segment, Doocy said that the election is “going to come down to” voters asking each other, “Hey, did you see that story this morning on Fox & Friends about the caravan? Can you believe that the Democrats want open borders?”

    And at 7 a.m., the hosts again highlighted the migrant caravan, with Doocy arguing that “these images do get the base on the Republican side interested in voting because, clearly, it's a choice. Do you want a southern border with security or not?”

    The president apparently got the message. In a series of tweets beginning at 7:25 a.m., he used the caravan to attack Democrats, saying they had “led (because they want Open Borders and existing weak laws)” an “assault on our country.” He also threatened to stop "all payments” to Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, and said he would “call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER” if Mexico could not “stop this onslaught.”

    This is not the first time Fox’s migrant coverage has triggered Trump to erupt on Twitter. In the spring, he similarly lashed out in response to Fox’s coverage of a caravan of migrants moving through Central America.

    This Fox-Trump feedback loop presents a problem for journalists, as the president drives the network’s fearmongering coverage into the mainstream policy debate.

  • Republicans have already empowered gangs and extremist groups

    From the Proud Boys to Turning Point USA, extremists are ascendant on the right, but legacy media are too often playing catch-up

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Let's be clear about the state of things. A well-connected sitting congressman endorsed a neo-Nazi for political office, and it wasn't the first time this sort of thing happened. To the contrary, GOP candidates across the country have links to white nationalists. The GOP president -- who is the undisputed center of the party -- is a former game show host whose administration has repeatedly defended violent extremists. And his son has even appeared on a white nationalist show. The debate is over. The extremists have taken over the party.

    And yet, legacy media outlets are too often caught completely unaware.

    On October 12, the Metropolitan Republican Club hosted Gavin McInnes, founder of the self-identified “gang” Proud Boys. During the event, McInnes re-enacted the violent 1960 murder of Japanese socialist party leader Inejiro Asanuma. After McInnes' appearance, a number of Proud Boys were taped nearby brutally beating and kicking several individuals” and shouting homophobic slurs at protesters. Videos show "more than a dozen" Proud Boys, including at least three skinheads, punching and kicking protesters on the ground.

    In response, The New York Times has covered McInnes' exploits with kid gloves and reduced his extremism to mere provocation. Just look how thrilled white supremacist Ann Coulter was with the piece:

    The Times’ irresponsible description of McInnes as simply a "far-right provocateur" is already memorialized on Wikipedia, potentially the most widely read source of information by audiences that might never have heard of him before. As Jacob Weindling wrote, "You can quote Gavin McInnes directly while describing events that happened and get a harsher description of McInnes than the NYT wrote. ... I don't know how you can call the beginning of this article anything other than white nationalist propaganda."

    Weindling is correct. Just look at McInnes’ speech to the Manhattan Republican Club, in which he told Republicans that they need Proud Boys as “foot soldiers," because of what they have in common. Or look at what McInnes said on his podcast on October 14, when he defended the use of anti-LGBTQ slurs.

    And this characterization matters. While the Times is describing McInnes as a "provocateur," and NBC News is portraying the Proud Boys as a "nationalist movement," the reality is that we're in far more dangerous territory. As Daily Beast reporter Kelly Weill noted, by making alliances with groups like the Proud Boys, “mainstream Republicans can sort of outsource the political and physical violence that they’d like to enact against opponents.”

    And McInnes is not an isolated figure: He and the Proud Boys are deeply entwined in right-wing media. McInnes was a contributor to Fox News for eight years, appearing on Sean Hannity’s show at least 24 times. In 2017, Hannity hosted another Proud Boy with ties to the violent white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally to discuss political violence. Fox host Mark Levin has given McInnes two shows on his online outlet CRTV, where McInnes has pushed extremist bigotry like promoting men’s rights activism, calling female journalists “colostomy bag for various strangers’ semen,” and glorifying violence and fighting. Fox host Tucker Carlson happily posed with Roger Stone and two Proud Boys in a Fox green room and “declined to disavow” the group when asked about it. McInnes shows up on right-wing radio and on right-wing YouTube. In an era in which the right-wing is doing everything it can to suppress opposition, it's no wonder that the Proud Boys are now part of the Republican machine.

    It's not just the Proud Boys, either.

    On the October 17 edition of Today, NBC gave a platform to Identity Evropa -- a white supremacist group actively seeking to rebrand its racism as identitarianism. The network referred to Identity Evropa as a “fringe group,” yet NBC still gave its leaders a softball interview on a show that consistently reaches the coveted demographic of adults ages 25-54; its affiliated channel MSNBC also aired segments featuring the group and other white supremacists.

    NBC’s Peter Alexander played into Identity Evropa's obsession with “optics” and rejection of “anti-social behavior” by remarking on how “clean cut” its representatives look. The segment allowed the white supremacist organization to expand its reach beyond YouTube and social media to recruit followers and promote its talking points, which include blatantly pushing white nationalism using the Republican Party as a vehicle. The group's leader was thrilled was the exposure.

    It's clear that the communications wing of the GOP has no problem with these groups.

    On October 16, Fox News host Laura Ingraham invited Patriot Prayer’s Joey Gibson on her show for a softball interview. Patriot Prayer is a far-right coalition whose membership overlaps with the Proud Boys and whose unity relies on their common “hatred for the left.” Gibson has personally encouraged his followers to instigate violence, promising that counterprotesters “are going to feel the pain.” Ingraham's interview conveniently ignored a report by The Oregonian that the group had "a cache of guns" including "long guns" on a rooftop in Portland, OR, before a summer protest. That's where we are: One of the president's favorite television hosts did a friendly interview with the type of person whose group sets up a cache of guns during a protest of that president.

    Fox also frequently hosts Turning Point USA’s most prominent members, Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens, close allies of the president. Left unmentioned are the extremist views of TPUSA. The Miami New Times unearthed online chats from one TPUSA chapter that feature members warning each other about not using racial slurs too often, talking about "watching underage cartoon pornography and deporting Latina women," and sharing memes about "Syrian men raping a white Swedish woman at gunpoint." An attendee at a TPUSA conference was filmed praising Nazi Germany. And when TPUSA pushed out the person who wrote "I HATE BLACK PEOPLE. Like fuck them all. ... I hate blacks," the replacement was someone who said, "I love making racist jokes." Undeterred, Fox News hosts and top allies of the president happily attend TPUSA events, and TPUSA members openly raise money off of Fox segments that fearmonger about the liberalization of college campuses. It's quite the con.

    Or look at Fox host Tucker Carlson, an innovator in this space. Instead of mainstreaming an extremist group, Carlson is cutting out the middleman and mainstreaming men's rights and white supremacist propaganda himself.

    Make no mistake: People across America are seeing all of this and speaking up. But at some point, it'd be nice if the legacy media would notice too.

  • Fox hosts treated Trump's 60 Minutes interview like they just watched a child ride a bike for the first time

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump has done something truly phenomenal, according to his faithful propagandists at Fox & Friends: He’s started publicly fielding questions from people who aren’t completely in the tank for him.

    “He’s so confident,” glowed Fox Business host and Mr. Bumble cosplayer Stuart Varney this morning. “Notice how he answered any and all questions at press conferences and with Lesley Stahl last night on 60 Minutes,” Varney continued in an incredulous tone, before mimicking the president: “Come on, bring it on, give me the question, and I’ll answer it.”

    “It’s a remarkable contrast between this president and any president in my lifetime,” Varney added.

    Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt agreed, saying, “Hats off to President Trump, who will go up against any journalist, even the ones who aren’t in favor of him, and answer all of the questions.”

    Trump’s recent appearances are part of a new strategy in which, as The Washington Post's Greg Sargent noted, the president is using every possible avenue in the lead-up to the midterm elections, flooding the zone with lies and fearmongering to get his voters to the polls.

    But while the program’s hosts are all but ready to demand a public parade in Trump’s honor, back here in the real world, every president is expected to sit down for TV interviews with journalists who aren’t avid supporters and answer their questions at press conferences, and this one hardly ever does either.

    Trump has only done a handful of solo press conferences thus far in his presidency, far off the pace of his recent predecessors.

    And Trump’s interview with Stahl was an exceedingly rare event; the president’s television interviews have almost exclusively been with sycophants like the hosts of Fox & Friends ever since his sit-down with NBC’s Lester Holt in May 2017. That’s when Trump basically admitted he fired FBI Director James Comey because of Comey’s handling of the federal Russia investigation, setting off a firestorm that resulted in the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller.

    Fox commentators tend to treat mainstream journalists as their own mirror image. Fox acts as the communications arm of the Republican Party, and its hosts are the president’s loyal supporters and his closest advisors. Therefore, so they seem to believe, The New York Times and ABC News and the like must act the same way on behalf of Democrats.

    That this isn’t actually how the rest of the media operates -- that it’s impossible, for instance, to imagine a working journalist conducting an interview with a Democratic president that serves as the warm-up event for their political rally, with the crowd cheering in the background -- is besides the point.

    On Fox & Friends, as on every other day, the hats are off for Trump.

  • Fox ramps up election strategy of convincing viewers that Democrats are coming to kill them

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    If you tuned in to Fox News over the last week, you may have heard Democrats described as a nascent “brown shirt party” or a “lynch mob” led by a “street thug” who is urging party activists to physically assault Republicans.

    The conservative network has been warning its audience of GOP base voters that their very lives may be at stake if they don’t turn out to vote in the midterm elections and allow Democrats to triumph. That message aligns with what President Donald Trump, the Republican National Committee, and congressional Republicans have been arguing as the elections approach.

    Fox has long acted as the Republican Party’s communications arm, serving as a megaphone for the party and championing its candidates. Now, that effort has been super-charged by its feedback loop with the president as he and the network unite to try to get Republican voters to the polls next month.

    On Monday morning, Trump tweeted:

    Trump was citing a comment Fox host Ben Shapiro made the previous night on his weekly show putatively devoted to the election. Shapiro brought up the purported Democratic “mob rule” plan during a segment highlighting “10 reasons you should go out to vote on November 6 and vote Republican.” “Your vote matters, your vote counts,” Shapiro said to close the segment. “Get out there on Election Day and ensure the Democratic Party of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton aren’t allowed anywhere near the levers of power.”

    That same morning, the hosts and guests of Fox & Friends, one of the president’s favorite programs, pushed this strategy in at least three different ways: They contrasted the purported Democratic message of violence against a supposed Republican message of policy; they lifted up cases of left-wing violence while ignoring cases of right-wing violence; and they took comments made by Democrats out of context to pretend they were actually calls for violence.

    Democratic “mobs” versus Republican “jobs”

    Fox & Friends’ commentators depicted the choice voters face in November as one between a Republican message of jobs and a Democratic one of “mob rule.”

    “I don't think America likes violence in the street. Political violence has no place in America,” Fox’s Stuart Varney argued. “The emotion of the mob and the nonsense of socialism combined, I think, is an untenable position. Meanwhile, as you point out, President Trump’s out there holding these rallies, pounding the table, very confident of the performance of the economy. There is a sharp contrast here.”

    Trump himself couldn’t have said it better.

    Ignoring far-right violence

    On Friday, before a scheduled appearance in which Gavin McInnes had promised to re-enact the violent 1960 murder of a Japanese socialist, the Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan was vandalized with anarchist graffiti and broken windows. McInnes, who is the founder of Proud Boys, a far-right violent street gang, has a long record of making calls for violence against the left, and after the event, his minions acted. Proud Boys “got in a violent encounter on the streets of New York on Friday night after a speech from … McInnes, with videos showing more than a dozen members of the group kicking and punching people on the ground,” The Daily Beast reported. New York Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo subsequently asked federal and state law enforcement to aid the New York Police Department’s probe.

    But when Fox & Friends discussed the situation on Monday, the hosts focused solely on the left-wing vandalism -- which they attributed to “antifa,” the anti-fascist activists who have long been a network bugaboo -- and ignored the right-wing violence. The program did something similar over the weekend.

    Over the caption “Antifa Threatens NY Republicans,” on Monday, co-host Steve Doocy asked Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor of New York, his thoughts on the group. Molinaro responded that the vandalism was “an outrageous attack” that “threatened staff and the people in that building” before saying there’s a need for those on “all sides of the aisle” to “tone down the rhetoric.” He went on to criticize Cuomo for supposedly wanting “nothing more than to talk about that.”

    The point about Cuomo might have confused viewers, as Fox & Friends had not mentioned either the violence by the Proud Boys or Cuomo’s subsequent actions.

    Pretending that Democrats are calling for violence

    Much of the right-wing’s “mob” critique involves breathlessly reading comments from Democrats in bad faith to claim that those Democrats are issuing calls for violence, rather than using metaphors. For much of last week, right-wing media were transfixed by comments by former Attorney General Eric Holder, which conservatives took out of context to suggest that he literally called for Democrats to “kick” Republicans. It was mind-numbingly obvious that Holder was speaking metaphorically -- indeed, he specifically said as much at the time.

    On Fox & Friends this morning, the crew attempted a similar smear against actor Alec Baldwin. During a Sunday night speech at a fundraiser for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, Baldwin said, “The way we implement change in America is through elections. We change governments here at home in an orderly and formal way. In that orderly and formal way and lawful way, we need to overthrow the government of the United States under Donald Trump.” There is no fair way to read these comments as anything other than a call for Americans to vote for Democrats in order to change the party that controls Congress.

    Nonetheless, Fox & Friends did it. The program aired portions of Baldwin’s remarks -- neatly excising his specific references to elections -- then hosted right-wing commentator Dan Bongino to discuss them. Bongino called Baldwin a “deranged lunatic,” adding, “There isn’t a lawful way to overthrow the government.”

    Edging perilously close to the truth, Doocy responded by suggesting that Baldwin might have been referring to elections. But after Bongino and co-host Brian Kilmeade quickly rejected this obviously correct theory, Doocy responded, “I don’t know what he’s talking about.”

  • Fox's midterm engagement strategy is telling its viewers that Democrats are coming to kill them

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    With the midterm elections only four weeks away, a slew of Fox News commentators are warning their conservative viewers that they are physically imperiled by a “violent” leftist “mob” and must vote to keep Republicans in power in order to protect themselves. Their argument is an effort to turn out the GOP base by weaponizing conservative criticism of the protestors who opposed Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

    “Anyone who sits right of center, anyone who's a Trump supporter, we're all targets” of public harassment from the left, contributor Tomi Lahren explained on Fox & Friends Tuesday morning. “The average citizen, if you're on the right, should be concerned and in danger.” Sebastian Gorka, a former White House aide now at Fox, similarly argued that the Democrats had “normalized violence in America,” comparing the need to fight back against that purported effort to the Revolutionary War.

    Fox’s message has not appeared in a vacuum -- as usual, the network is taking cues from the Republican Party. Most Americans disapprove of the job President Donald Trump is doing and abhor the Republican Congress, making it more likely that Democrats will gain control of the House or Senate and exercise much-needed oversight of the administration. In response, Republicans have seized on protests against Kavanaugh’s confirmation, trying to whip up their base by conflating those protests and Democrats as a whole. That opposition, they claim, is a dangerous “mob” that cannot be allowed to gain power.

    “In their quest for power, the radical Democrats have turned into an angry mob,” Trump said at a rally in Topeka, KS, on Saturday. “You don't hand matches to an arsonist, and you don't give power to an angry left-wing mob. That's what they have become. The Democrats have become too extreme and too dangerous to govern.”

    Trump’s framing of the midterm elections as a battle against the “angry left-wing mob” consumed Fox’s prime-time programming on Monday.

    “In 29 days, the choice is going to be clear,” argued Sean Hannity, the Trump propagandist with so much influence on the president that White House aides describe him as the shadow chief of staff. “Do you want mob rule or law and order?” He went on to say that viewers who lived in states with toss-up Senate races had the opportunity to reject senators who “gave in to the Democratic mob” by voting against Kavanaugh’s confirmation, adding that “there are no more moderates left in the Democratic Party,” which has “evolved into a party of the radical far left.”

    Laura Ingraham, who at one point was considered for the White House communications director job, made the exact same point on her Fox show. “There is too much on the line for intraparty squabbles any longer,” she argued Monday. “And the choice for voters is now really simple. Mob rule or the rule of law? Perpetual rage or real results?” Later in the program, Monica Crowley, a Fox contributor who decided not to join the Trump administration following the revelation that she had plagiarized parts of her book, argued that the left is “violent” and “at war” against, among other things, “individual liberty.”

    And Tucker Carlson, another host with keen influence over the president, said that Democratic donor Tom Steyer’s claim that Kavanaugh had been supported by “entitled white men” was “exactly the kind of thing that Hutu leaders in Rwanda were saying in the early 1990s” before committing genocide against the Tutsi tribe.

    Fox has long operated as the communications arm of the Republican Party, remaking itself since Trump’s ascension as his personal propaganda outlet. Expect to see its commentators pull out all the stops over the next month in order to maintain congressional Republicans’ majority and protect Trump from meaningful oversight.