Fox's Newt Gingrich warns that civilization will end if migrant caravan is allowed to cross the border
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More than 40 years after the term was coined, “identity politics” has been reduced to buzzword status.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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From the Proud Boys to Turning Point USA, extremists are ascendant on the right, but legacy media are too often playing catch-up
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.
The midterm elections are just 20 days away, and @peteralexander got a rare look inside one fringe group hoping to capitalize on deep divisions within the country: white nationalists. pic.twitter.com/9pvqVP3UvU
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) October 17, 2018
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.
Most national advertisers reject Fox News’ most prominent hosts -- and with good reason
A new report published by Politico examines the rejection that Fox News’ most prominent programs are experiencing from advertisers.
Just how bad is it?
According to the article, Fox News host Laura Ingraham’s advertiser base has effectively evaporated. Most national “blue-chip” advertisers won’t advertise on her show. Her advertiser base, which had included 229 brands prior to April 2018, has shrunk down to 85, with many of those either being short-burst political advertisers or less desirable direct-response ads.
In late March 2018, Ingraham publicly ridiculed Parkland mass-shooting survivor David Hogg for not being accepted to a college he had applied to attend. Hogg and online activists responded by showing Ingraham’s history of attacks to her advertisers. Advertisers fled her program in droves, with many publicly announcing their decision and many more quietly removing their ads. Advertisers publicly exited her show a second time a few months later after Ingraham compared immigrant children detention centers to summer camps.
As Politico observes, Fox News responded to this diminished advertiser inventory by reducing the commercial time on Ingraham’s show by about one-third -- from around 15 minutes per show to a bit more than 10 minutes per show.
But this time statistic alone doesn’t capture the full scope of the damage, because it includes unpaid ads (like promos for Fox News programs).
If you look at paid ads alone, Ingraham’s show has about 50 percent less ads per show now than she did before advertisers started to flee. According to a Media Matters analysis, Ingraham averaged 31 paid ads per show prior to advertisers fleeing her show in late March and now averages 17 paid ads per show.
With most blue-chip advertisers refusing to run on Ingraham’s show, the companies filling the available slots are direct-response advertisers that “often look to buy leftover space at discounted rates and are less picky about where their ads appear,” Politico noted. Over time, this trend has the net effect of driving down the ad rates for a show. (The exact same thing happened with Glenn Beck’s Fox program, as I chronicled here in great detail.)
In dollars and cents, Kantar Media’s Jon Swallen tells Politico, Ingraham’s advertising revenue could be down a staggering 15-30 percent!
The advertiser problems aren’t limited to Ingraham’s show either. Dozens of companies have removed their ads from Sean Hannity’s program, and even more have told me that they block Hannity and other more extreme Fox News programs so their ads never appear in the first place.
Fox News’ head of ad sales, Marianne Gambelli, blamed Media Matters and activists for making advertisers uncomfortable with aligning with certain content.
Gambelli’s assessment is partially correct. Activists have been a potent force here. And, I admit, Media Matters has doggedly chronicled Fox News, and we have spent considerable time over the past year warning advertisers and media buyers about Fox News’ intensifying extremism and the risks of associating with it.
But Gambelli ignores the bigger cause of Fox News’ growing advertiser problem: the channel’s own talent.
Fox News’ most prominent shows -- the ones that are supposed to be most palatable for advertisers -- are also defined by bigotry, extremism, conspiracy theories, and outright volatility. From a business perspective, they’re a bad bet.
Additionally, those shows and the network as a whole often function as an extension of the White House’s communications operation. It’s one thing for a show to have an ideological or political perspective, but much of Fox News’ programming these days is more akin to a political propaganda operation. That puts advertisers in the position of not just aligning with an ideology, but actively participating in politics -- something just about every advertiser is loathe to do.
Earlier this month, I tweeted out this observation following a series of recent conversations with media buyers:
In the past two weeks, I've spoken pretty extensively [with] media buyers that place a lot of ads on Fox News. There is deep anxiety brewing that they will need to shift their clients' ads away from Fox News before a massive controversy forces them to after causing reputation damage.
After a then Fox News contributor tweeted that Prof. Blasey Ford was a "skank," one buyer who I had been pushing on for some time reached out to me saying, “This is what you've been warning about. Thank god for advertisers this didn't happen on air.”
But what that buyer missed and I pointed out is: It just as easily could have happened on air because that kind of stuff is not abnormal for Fox News, it's actually the norm. And you can see similar odious comments daily.
Those sentiments I was hearing were echoed by the advertising executive quoted in the Politico report:
One advertising executive said that most brands he works with find it easier to steer clear of the Fox News prime-time block. He said CNN and MSNBC are not subject to the same concerns, since those networks’ hosts have not courted controversy at the same level.
“Those prime-time personalities for the most part have proven themselves over time to be more trouble than they’re worth,” the executive said of Fox News.
Indeed. The advertising industry has ample reason to feel this way.
Last fall, Fox News viewers began smashing their Keurig machines at Sean Hannity’s behest after the company advised me that it would remove its ads from Hannity’s show:
Fox News basically let the situation unfold for days before seemingly intervering and pressuring Hannity to tamp down the boycott of his former advertiser. But the business damage was done, as more media buyers recognized that the best way to protect their clients from the inevitable next outrage was just to keep their ads off the program in the first place.
There’s been a steady stream of reminders, too.
For example, Tucker Carlson courted controversy earlier this summer when he began effectively promoting an ethnonationalist ideal of people living with their own kind by arguing that diversity actually makes society weaker.
Just a few weeks ago, citing an increase in non-white people in America, Laura Ingraham lamented that “in some parts of the country, it does seem like the America that we know and love doesn’t exist anymore.”
And there are plenty more where those two examples came from.
The bottom-line takeaway from this latest Politico piece is consistent with what I have been saying for some time now: A portion of Fox News’ programming is increasingly toxic to advertisers due to its extremism or volatility, and those shows are experiencing deep and sustained advertiser losses.
It’s clear that Fox News isn’t going to change or address the issues either. So those advertiser problems are about to get even worse.
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Laura Ingraham hosted Joey Gibson, the leader of violent right-wing group, Patriot Prayer, on her October 15th show and gave him a softball interview allowing him to deny his group's violent past. Gibson’s group was responsible for the violent riots that took place in Portland on October 13th, and has previously encouraged his group to “instigate” violence and promised that any counter-protesters “are going to feel the pain.”
The Oregonian reported on Monday that Gibson’s group had previously been discovered on rooftops in Portland with a cache of firearms prior to a summer protest. Gibson denied any prior knowledge of the rooftop incident, claiming “it sounds like they completely exaggerated it.” None of these issues were brought up by Ingraham who allowed Gibson to claim that his group never has “any intention to get violent” in a softball interview that included Gibson promoting his group’s website on his t-shirt.
From the October 15 edition of Fox News' The Ingraham Angle:
LAURA INGRAHAM (HOST): Joining us now from Portland is one of the organizers of last week's counter-protest, Joey Gibson, he's also the founder of Patriot Prayer. Joey, did your group -- I know you were arrested at one point, back in, I guess it was in May for -- didn't you carry a gun at some -- one of the events at University of Washington campus, or a couple of your guys did? You were arrested for that, but did your group --
JOEY GIBSON: No, we were detained.
INGRAHAM: What's that?
GIBSON: We were detained for a second and then let go.
INGRAHAM: Okay, you were detained and let go.
INGRAHAM: But in this case, did you have any intention of getting violent with this antifa group?
GIBSON: No, we never have any intention to get violent. For us, it's about challenging the mayor, challenging these protest groups, and just being able to march. If they attack us, then people definitely do defend themselves, but we've had so many marches and rallies where no one shows up and it's completely peaceful and we have a great time.
INGRAHAM: So, what is the goal of your group, as we watch this chaotic video? I mean, looks like a lot of people got hurt. There were batons and mace being used and rocks and bottles being thrown. So, but what's the -- what is your goal with your protest?
GIBSON: Sure, so, it depends on the city and what the mayors do. For example, we went down to Berkeley, we kept hitting it because the police were standing down, and so the goal was to get the mayor to allow the police do their job. So, from city to city, it changes.
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Ever since the first of three women reported sexual misconduct by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, right-wing media’s message to victims of sexual violence has rung painfully clear -- if you come forward and tell your story, you’re putting yourself at risk and the establishment will circle the wagons to protect your abuser.
Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick have faced unending smear campaigns while also being summarily dismissed by those seeking to ram Kavanaugh onto the court. Conservative media have systematically overlooked the fact that Kavanaugh lied and perjured himself during Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, instead propagating outlandish conspiracy theories about his accusers and questioning whether they have political motivations. Their smear campaign coalesces around one simple message of intimidation: If you tell your truth about sexual violence, it won’t disqualify your assailant from moving up in his career; instead, you’ll ruin the reputation of a good man, and a right-wing attack mob will set its sight on ruining yours as well.
Right-wing media’s radical and insulting insistence that a history of sexual assault doesn’t disqualify a man from sitting on the Supreme Court is perhaps the most honest confession in their coverage of allegations made against Brett Kavanaugh. They are telling survivors that coming forward is, as Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) put it, but a “hiccup” on the way to their assailant getting a promotion.
Perhaps the most shameless example of conservatives telling on themselves is an article published in The Federalist titled, “Why Brett Kavanaugh Should Be Confirmed To The Supreme Court Even If He’s Guilty.” An anonymous author argues “the actual impact” of Kavanaugh’s alleged history of sexual violence would likely be irrelevant to his “behavior as a Supreme Court justice.” The article goes on to say that “the stakes” of confirming Kavanaugh “are even higher” now than they were before, noting that if he fails to get on the court, “every Supreme Court nomination henceforth will be derailed by mere allegation.”
For its part, Fox News has also made clear that Ford’s report should not get in the way of Kavanaugh’s promotion. This is not a surprise, considering that the network functions as a mouthpiece for the White House communications team led by disgraced former Fox executive Bill Shine, who was forced out due to his role in the culture of sexual harassment that prevailed under Roger Ailes. Here are some of the most offensive takes from the network’s Kavanaugh coverage:
In the effort to rehabilitate Brett Kavanaugh’s image, right-wing media have characterized the reports as nothing more than smears of a good and innocent man. Some have bizarrely admitted they believe Christine Ford but they don’t believe what she says Kavanaugh did to her. They’ve also deflected from the women’s stories by mentioning that Kavanaugh goes to church and volunteers and coaches his daughters’ basketball team:
According to some right-wing pundits, even listening to victims is a wholesale attack on men. During her daily radio show, Laura Ingraham said she wanted to “focus on men for a moment” because “this could happen to any of you.” Not to be outdone by his peers, Tucker Carlson used the stories of sexual assault survivors to continues his ongoing white nationalist campaign, categorizing allegations against Kavanaugh as an attack on all white people and men and arguing that Democrats’ willingness to listen to Ford demonstrates a sexism that’s similar to racism. He also called Kavanaugh a “folk hero” to the “unfairly maligned.”
When conservative media figures portray a sexual assault report as a politically motivated smear of a decent family man, they are telling victims the damage wrought by the violence they experienced is unimportant and that speaking about it is wrong.
The conservative victim-blaming campaign discourages survivors from speaking up through the direct threat of a never-ending character assassination and harassment campaign. The results of this tactic have been illustrated by the fact that Ford has had to go into hiding, separately from her children, for her family’s safety. Here are some examples of right-wing media attacking Ford’s character:
And while Twitter is a general cesspool of conspiracy theories and smears against sexual assault survivors, no individual has put more into this effort than conservative commentator Erick Erickson, who called the confirmation process “the Left’s PizzaGate” and said that the Democrats were “willing to destroy an innocent man so they can keep killing kids.”
Right-wing media and Republicans in Congress have been working overtime to send a clear message to survivors of sexual violence: It’s better for us if you stay quiet. The campaign against Kavanaugh’s accusers reinforces what women already know -- that sexual violence is about power, and that when backed into a corner, power brokers will regroup and lash out at its challengers.
Millions of people watch Fox News every day. Many of them are undoubtedly survivors of sexual violence themselves. While Fox News personalities get rich smearing victims in an effort to install Kavanaugh into power no matter his past behavior or the fact that he repeatedly lied to Congress, they’re saying to their viewers, “We don’t care about you, we don’t believe you, and you should shut up and keep your experiences to yourself.” Right-wing media outlets are sustained by their commitment to punching down, even if that means launching an attack on half of the world’s population to save the career of one man. Only through the power of testimony and solidarity can survivors overcome the system that seeks to silence us.
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After professor Christine Blasey Ford testified on September 27 that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her in the 1980s, The Washington Post published a memo from Rachel Mitchell, the sex crimes prosecutor hired by Senate Republicans to interrogate Ford, explaining why she theoretically would not prosecute Kavanaugh.
Multiple news outlets have noted that the conclusions in Mitchell’s memo -- among them that Ford’s claims are “even weaker” than a "'he said, she said’ case" -- cannot be seen as credible. The Washington Post pointed out that since there hasn’t been an actual investigation of the claims, Mitchell’s assertion of no corroborating evidence falls flat. Think Progress noted that while Mitchell questioned Ford extensively, she spoke to Kavanaugh, the alleged assailant, for just 15 minutes. Mother Jones reported that a former colleague of Mitchell’s, Matthew Long, dismissed her “willingness to author” the memo as “absolutely disingenuous,” and he asserted that the prosecutor “doesn’t have sufficient information to even draw these conclusions.” Long also criticized Mitchell for attacking Ford’s gaps in memory, noting that he was “trained by Ms. Mitchell about how trauma explicitly does prevent memory from happening” and concluding, “Ms. Mitchell knows better than that.”
Additionally, as journalists and outlets have pointed out, a Supreme Court nomination is not a trial; it’s more akin to a job interview. The question of whether a prosecutor is willing to bring charges against Kavanaugh is not equivalent to that of whether he should serve on the highest court of the land.
Desperate to undercut Ford, right-wing media figures have ignored the obvious problems in Mitchell’s memo and instead portrayed the document as credible evidence of Kavanaugh’s innocence:
Fox & Friends’ Brian Kilmeade: Mitchell “concluded that she would not -- this was a weak case and I never would recommend, wouldn’t think anyone would recommend, they prosecute this case.”
Fox’s Laura Ingraham wrote, “Sex Crimes Prosecutor Rachel Mitchell’s report exhonerates (sic) Kavanaugh,” linking to a Gateway Pundit piece with a similar title. Radio host Bill Mitchell and Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton also shared the article.
NBC’s Megyn Kelly: Mitchell “submitted a memo” saying that Ford’s case “doesn’t even satisfy by the preponderance of the evidence standard, … which is the lowest bar in any case. … And now we want the FBI to spend this week going back and scouring the Maryland neighborhood and … figuring out who renovated and when.”
Fox contributor Lisa Boothe shared Mitchell’s report and wrote, “Can everyone please stop pretending like Dr. Ford is credible now? She is NOT credible. It’s painfully obvious. I feel like I’ve been living in the Twilight Zone.”
NRA’s Dana Loesch quoted a Daily Mail article on Mitchell’s report, writing that “there is NOT enough evidence to back accuser's claims.”
Former presidential candidate Herman Cain: “Even the lady that asked the questions during the judiciary committee [hearing], she wrote an eight-page report that said that there was no there there.”
The Federalist’s Sean Davis: “This memorandum from Rachel Mitchell is a rather stunning indictment not of Kavanaugh, but of Ford and her story, which seems to change each time she tells it. The only consistent aspect of Ford’s story is how often it changes.”
Townhall editor and Fox contributor Katie Pavlich: “I’d like to point out that nearly everyone in the media, minus a few (myself included), said Ford was ‘very credible.’ She wasn’t.”
FoxNews.com’s Stephen Miller: “I believe Rachel Mitchell”
Townhall’s Guy Benson: Mitchell’s memo “is extremely compelling”
Daily Wire’s Ashe Schow: “Mark my words, the media is currently looking for other sex crimes prosecutors to say they would absolutely take this case to court.”
The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles: “I believe Rachel Mitchell. #IBelieveWomen”
The Daily Caller’s Benny Johnson: “BELIEVE 👏 ALL 👏 WOMEN 👏”
Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin’s site Twitchy: “RUH-ROH: Rachel Mitchell’s independent analysis spells even BIGGER trouble for Senate Dems and Ford’s attorneys.”
Frequent Fox guest Morgan Ortagus: “A professional prosecutor is saying… there’s too many inconsistencies with the story. ... I know you’re shaking your head, but, I mean, she’s spent a lifetime as a career prosecutor working on this.”
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