For the second time this month, MSNBC host Ari Melber afforded valuable airtime to the right-wing conspiracy theorists responsible for concocting the Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. MSNBC seems to think it is doing a public service by exposing lies intended to undermine the foundations of our democracy, but right-wing provocateurs like Steve Bannon are celebrating their mainstream exposure as a propaganda victory for the far-right extremist movement.
On the January 21 edition of MSNBC’s The Beat, Melber sat down for back-to-back interviews with three people involved in events leading up to the insurrection at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021 – former Trump economic adviser Peter Navarro, former Trump campaign adviser Boris Epshtyen, and Trump rally organizer Dustin Stockton.
Melber’s interview with Stockton, who was accompanied by his lawyer for his second appearance on MSNBC in recent weeks, was not problematic. Stockton made an effort to address his role in spreading lies and misinformation, confirmed his cooperation with investigations into the January 6 insurrection, and reiterated contrition for his participation in the pro-Trump conspiracy theory movement.
Unfortunately, Melber’s interviews with Navarro and Epshteyn were less instructive for viewers, who had to endure a more than 20-minute torrent of lies and misinformation about the 2020 election and its aftermath, most of which were unaddressed by MSNBC. Melber opened the segment by assuring viewers “the reporting we're about to share with you can help us all go deeper inside this investigation,” but what followed was ineffective back-and-forth between a besieged TV host and two professional propagandists intent on overwhelming him with well-rehearsed, rapid-fire lies.
Hours before he was scheduled to appear with Melber, Epshteyn joined former Trump strategist Steve Bannon’s War Room: Pandemic podcast to rehearse the lies he intended to spread while the two celebrated the opportunity to access MSNBC’s audience. (It's no accident that Bannon was named Media Matters' “Misinformer of the Year” for 2021.)
Clearly, Bannon considered Epshteyn and Navarro’s appearances on MSNBC to be successful because he invited both to join him for laudatory interviews on the January 24 edition of War Room. Bannon compared Epshteyn to giants of the legal profession – former Supreme Court Justices Felix Frankfurter, Louis Brandeis, and Oliver Wendell Holmes – and aired a clip of Epshteyn falsely claiming “this election was stolen from President Trump, President Trump won the 2020 election,” as proof positive that Epshteyn had accomplished his mission by infiltrating MSNBC. Bannon went on to mock Melber’s knowledge of the law, while Epshteyn said “it was a blast” to spread lies about the election on a mainstream cable program.
Minutes later, Bannon showered praise on Navarro for yet another successful appearance on MSNBC to explain his planned “Green Bay sweep,” which would have been a coordinated effort between Republican members of Congress and the Trump administration to overturn the election results and keep Trump illegally in office. Bannon mocked Melber for being unprepared for his interview, saying that Navarro “put it right between his eyes” when the MSNBC host was asked if he had read the so-called “Navarro Report” – a series of unsubstantiated documents put together by Navarro claiming to show fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
MSNBC should have known better than to grant such valuable exposure to Donald Trump’s political allies. Melber already conducted a bizarre interview with Navarro on January 4, which Bannon also praised and Media Matters labeled “a disservice to MSNBC viewers.” During that interview, Navarro spread the same lies he regurgitated on January 21, and nothing that Epshteyn added to the mix was anything new for viewers who at this point already understand that Trump and his allies refuse to acknowledge President Joe Biden’s legitimacy.
What is the news value of inviting the same propagandist to return to the same program to answer the same questions with the same lies?
Sadly, MSNBC seems to be proud of the role it is playing in spreading the Big Lie through its news programming. The network posted a more than 11-minute portion of Melber’s interview with Epshteyn on YouTube in a video which included many of the same election lies that Bannon celebrated on his podcast. The exchange was uploaded to MSNBC’s 4.6 million subscribers under the boastful headline “MAGA Confession: Trump Lawyer Admits Fraudulent Electors Plot,” as if Melber – who was a successful attorney before transitioning to a career in journalism – is prosecuting a case against these Trump associates himself.
What Melber is actually doing is helping fringe characters promote their fabulist agenda to a new audience.
You can watch the full interviews with Peter Navarro and Boris Epshteyn from the January 21 edition of MSNBC’s The Beat with Ari Melber below: