In coverage of the Buffalo shooting, right-wing media will do anything but take responsibility

On May 14, a white gunman killed 10 Black shoppers and workers at a Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York, in a racist mass shooting. Despite the shooter’s endorsement of the white supremacist great replacement conspiracy theory that right-wing media have been pushing for years, conservative outlets and commentators refused to take responsibility for spreading the ideology that motivated the massacre. Instead, they defended their racism, downplayed the shooter’s white supremacist beliefs, and deflected blame with racist whataboutism.

The shooter had planned the attack for months and traveled hundreds of miles in order to target a predominantly Black neighborhood. He also repeatedly cited the great replacement theory in a white supremacist diatribe full of racist and antisemitic memes. 

What is the great replacement theory?

The great replacement theory is a racist and antisemitic conspiracy theory. At its core, it alleges that an elite cabal of Jews is attempting to “replace” white populations by encouraging the immigration and proliferation of nonwhite populations in Europe and the United States. In recent years, right-wing media, including Fox News, have repeatedly endorsed this theory in their attacks on immigration, often claiming that Democrats’ immigration policy has the end goal of replacing Americans with immigrants for electoral gain, among other ends. 

In the aftermath of the Buffalo shooting, instead of taking responsibility for their role in mainstreaming a dangerous conspiracy theory, right-wing media have doubled down. Fox barely mentioned “great replacement” in the days after the shooting. Rather, the same outlets that had pushed a white supremacist conspiracy theory into the mainstream did all they could to defend and double down on their racist rhetoric while deflecting blame away from themselves. 

Right-wing media denied that their coverage mainstreamed the great replacement theory

Right-wing media spent a lot of time in the immediate aftermath of the shooting claiming that their past coverage was not racist or related to the great replacement theory reflected in the shooter’s racist screed. Instead, they deflected blame to guns, claimed that they never endorsed replacement and were legitimately concerned about immigration, and denied that their coverage had anything to do with the shooter’s ideology. 

  • The far-right site The Gateway Pundit published an article that decried liberals “falsely blaming” Fox News and Tucker Carlson for inspiring the Buffalo shooting. A May 14 article attempted to shield Fox of criticism by accusing liberals of “exploiting” the tragedy and trying to create distance between the alleged shooter and Fox News by saying the shooter never explicitly mentioned Carlson and had only posted a meme critical of Fox News. [The Gateway Pundit, 5/14/22]
  • Newsmax host Tom Basile called the national existential threat of white supremacy a “dubious contention.” During the May 15 edition of Wake Up America, Basile attempted to pivot the conversation about the shooting by claiming that people on the left “ignore thousands of deaths in our cities to violence.” [Newsmax, Wake Up America, 5/15/22]
  • Newsmax contributor Mark Halperin implored the left to stop “singling out individual cable news hosts.” On the May 16 edition of Wake Up America, Halperin said both the left and right should stop blaming cable hosts and try “to unite and come to a conclusion about how we can stop these things from happening.” [Newsmax, Wake Up America, 5/16/22]
  • During an appearance on The Faulkner Focus, Fox & Friends Weekend co-host Will Cain pushed back against criticism of the right’s white supremacist messaging, implying the shooting was not motivated by racism. During the May 16 edition of The Faulkner Focus, Cain accused Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) of using the shooting to push her agenda against guns and white supremacy: “Ayanna Pressley’s [tweet] lays out both of the attempts to make this about something bigger and they just happen to be the things that she is constantly opposed to: white supremacy and now guns as well.” [Fox News, The Faulkner Focus, 5/16/22]
  • On his podcast, Will Cain defended fellow Fox host Tucker Carlson’s racist programming by saying the shooter didn’t watch Fox News and even criticized Fox, so Carlson couldn’t have been the shooter’s inspiration. During the May 16 edition of his podcast, Cain said, “They're already out in force attacking this news channel, attacking Tucker Carlson, saying this individual liked or talked about replacement theory, something they accused Tucker Carlson of having talked about. This individual — in who knows what kind of loose ways — they're trying to talk or tie into the people they already do not like. Want some facts? Here are the facts as we know them today: This individual not only did not watch the Fox News Channel, but had criticism for the Fox News channel, including being a racist.” [Fox News Radio, The Will Cain Podcast, 5/16/22]
  • Conservative writer Natalie Danelishen tweeted in defense of guns, Elon Musk, and Tucker Carlson. On May 16, Danelishen wrote that none of the three killed people but “1 deranged psychopath” did. She also tried to pivot the conversation away from the Buffalo shooting, noting that “maybe we should talk about” gun violence in Chicago. [Twitter, 5/16/22]

Right-wing media doubled down on the great replacement theory and lied about its meaning 

In light of increased scrutiny on right-wing media for spreading replacement theory and similar racist ideology, various conservative figures have attempted to obscure the definition of replacement theory to falsely accuse others of pushing its tenets, often conflating great replacement theory with neutral discussions of demographic changes. Some right-wing media figures even defended replacement theory, suggesting it is justified. 

  • The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro falsely accused NPR, The Washington Post, and authors John Judis and Ruy Teixeira of spreading replacement theory because they discussed changing demographic patterns in the U.S. On May 16, Shapiro tweeted a screenshot of an NPR article about the demographic shifts in the United States that are “upending traditional voting patterns and straining the fabric of what it means to be American” to imply that NPR was pushing replacement theory. In threaded tweets, Shapiro similarly claimed Judis and Teixeria’s book The Emerging Democratic Majority and The Washington Post were spreading replacement theory. [Twitter, 5/16/22, 5/16/22, 5/16/22]
  • Raheem Kassam, editor-in-chief of the right-wing site The National Pulse, attempted to pin CNN for spreading replacement theory in a 2018 segment on “the vanishing white American.” The clip Kassam posted to Twitter on May 16 discusses the nation’s changing racial demographics and the potential impact on politics, which by itself is not reflective of replacement theory. [Twitter, 5/16/22]
  • The Washington Examiner defended conservative media against accusations of spreading replacement theory, saying its critics are conflating the theory with “very real concerns'' about immigration. A May 16 article by the Washington Examiner accused those criticizing Tucker Carlson and Fox News for their racist coverage of “conflating” replacement theory with “the very real concerns of an open immigration policy that right now is causing a historic influx of migrants across the southern border, as well as human trafficking and narcotics.” The piece also argues that the left are trying to use the shooting to subtly enforce conservative “censorship.” [The Washington Examiner, 5/16/22]
  • Conservative author Joe Walsh implied that the great replacement theory is equivalent to Democrats promoting immigration reform. In a May 16 tweet, Walsh wrote that for years “both sides have been public on America’s demographic changes” in an attempt to split the blame between Democrats and Republicans for pushing replacement theory for political gain. [Twitter, 5/16/22
  • Responding to journalist Judd Legum quoting the Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh’s claim that liberals are “celebrating the reduction in the white population” and “want to replace white people,” Walsh replied, “Yes I said this objectively correct thing. You got me.” In a May 16 tweet, Walsh claimed that it was “objectively correct” to say that liberals were celebrating a decrease in white people and then implied that rhetoric found on MSNBC and CNN helped inspire the 2021 Waukesha, Wisconsin, Christmas parade attack. [Twitter, 5/16/22]
  • Joel Pollak, senior editor at large at Breitbart, wrote in defense of replacement theory on Twitter, saying it was “a compelling explanation of why Democrats are trying to open the southern border.” In the May 15 tweets, Pollak said replacement theory offered “a compelling explanation of why Democrats are trying to open the southern border to as many migrants as possible and offer them a ‘path to citizenship’ and voting. Note: no one ever provides a better explanation.” In a second tweet, Pollak claimed that the shooting is being exploited to “censor debate and opposition.” [Twitter, 5/15/22, 5/15/22]
  • Shapiro responded to a piece by The Washington Post that illustrated Rep. Elise Stefanik’s (R-NY) espousal of replacement theory, writing, “This is bulls***.” In the May 16 tweets, Shapiro wrote, “Stefanik said that Democrats wanted to amnesty illegal immigrants to change the voting patterns in the country. That is not the great replacement Theory." In a threaded tweet, Shapiro added, “You don't get to simultaneously claim that Republicans are suppressing minority votes in order to shift voting patterns, and also that anyone who claims that demographics affect voting patterns is a progenitor of the great replacement Theory.” [Twitter, 5/16/22; 5/16/22]
  • On his War Room: Pandemic show, Steve Bannon defended himself and other proponents of replacement theory, claiming they were “inclusive nationalists.” On the May 16 edition of his podcast, Bannon said, “All the morning shows are all over Tucker Carlson and a few others about the replacement theory. They seem to miss the point — and here’s what we’re not going to back off on. ... We are inclusive nationalists. … It’s Hispanic Americans in Rio Grande Valley in south Texas that are leaving the Democratic Party in droves. It is African Americans, in droves, that are — understand the lies and misrepresentations of the Democratic Party.” [Real America’s Voice, War Room: Pandemic, 5/16/22; The Guardian, 5/17/22]

Right-wing media sought to minimize the shooter’s racist beliefs, and some called the shooting a “false flag”

While some outlets did acknowledge the attack was “racially motivated,” right-wing media often minimized the alleged shooter’s white supremacist ideology and his embrace of the great replacement theory as the motive for his actions. Instead, they blamed the shooting on mental health problems or a vague and unnamed “evil ideology,” and in some cases asserted that the gunman was actually a leftist. A few extremists even claimed the shooting was a “false flag” in an attempt to deny the shooter’s motives.

  • During a May 16 episode of his War Room: Pandemic podcast, Steve Bannon blamed disengaged parents and video games for the Buffalo shooting. Speaking to disgraced former New York Police Department Commissioner Bernie Kerik, Bannon claimed that while authorities were also to blame, strict parenting can prevent such violence. “We’re for the American family,” Bannon said, adding that for parents, “with great power, comes great responsibility. The response is – it’s your kid.” [Real America’s Voice, War Room: Pandemic, 5/16/22]
  • On Fox & Friends Weekend’s May 15 edition, attorney Bill Daly referred to the shooter’s motive as an “evil ideology” without naming white supremacy or the great replacement conspiracy theory. Daly questioned whether the shooter had shown any signs of his plan before he acted and why nobody had come forward to authorities about him before the shooting. [Fox News, Fox & Friends Weekend, 5/15/22]
  • Fox & Friends Weekend co-host Will Cain quickly derailed a conversation about the massacre to push anti-immigrant rhetoric, while his guest implied it was too early to draw conclusions about the shooter’s motives. Cain said the incident was what “authorities are calling a racially motivated attack,” while former Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said it is “only natural for people to jump to conclusions or really try to understand the motivations behind this,” but they should “let police, law enforcement do their job and I think we’ll have some answers pretty soon.” Cain and Wolf moved on quickly to spreading anti-immigrant rhetoric and criticizing President Joe Biden for rolling back Title 42, a Trump-era policy that has resulted in inhumane and likely illegal treatment of migrants. [Fox News, Fox & Friends Weekend, 5/15/22; Center for American Progress, 4/6/22; ACLU, 3/22/22]
  • The Wall Street Journal editorial board criticized the connection of the Buffalo shooting to white supremacist language used by the right and argued that an emphasis on mental illness is the better lens through which to view the shooting. On May 15, the board wrote: “Partisans are already using the massacre to leap to broader political conclusions, as they always do. … But mass shooters have had many motivations in recent years, and mental illness seems to be the most significant common denominator, to the extent there is one.” This article was then referenced on the May 16 edition of Fox’s America’s Newsroom. [Wall Street Journal, 5/15/22; Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 5/16/22]
  • On Fox News’ The Faulkner Focus, anchor Harris Faulkner discussed the shooter’s racist screed with a reporter, then pivoted to claim that “media and others were quick to jump on the shooting to push a certain narrative.” Appearing as a guest on the May 16 edition of The Faulkner Focus, Cain blamed “both sides” for politicizing the shooting, “There are clearly people, Harris, who are going to use this moment to indict political opponents and saying it is a result of certain rhetoric in our political sphere. … They do it after every national tragedy. And to some extent, both sides are guilty of doing just that.” [Fox News, The Faulkner Focus, 5/16/22]
  • Fox contributor Leo Terrell acknowledged that the shooter was motivated by racism, but then immediately hedged that “we have to realize this type of hate exists on both sides and the application of justice has to be applied equally and fairly.” On the May 16 edition of America’s Newsroom, Terrell switched topics to focus on the alleged shooter’s mental health problems and blamed the shooter’s family for not speaking up: “I find it impossible for his immediate family, friends not to know what was going on in this man’s life day to day. I find that impossible.” During this segment, the screen showed a Washington Post headline claiming that “hate is not at the root of most mass shootings.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 5/16/22]
  • On Fox’s Outnumbered, some hosts discussed the shooter’s racism, though they declined to talk about where he got those beliefs before co-host Julie Banderas zeroed in on the alleged shooter’s apparent mental health problems. On May 16, Banderas questioned whether Biden would focus on that or if he would “go on the whole gun-control rampage.” She also claimed the left likes to blame shootings on the prevalence of guns when really the issue is mental health. [Fox News, Outnumbered, 5/16/22]
  • On War Room: Pandemic, Steve Bannon claimed that the shooter is actually a “left-wing authoritarian.” During the May 16 edition of War Room: Pandemic, Bannon went on to call the gunman an “eco-authoritarian” according to his online footprints and even advocated for the release of the shooter’s dozens of pages of racist and antisemitic memes. [Real America’s Voice, War Room: Pandemic, 5/16/22]
  • Right-wing podcast host Steven Crowder blamed the shooting on leftist ideals, claiming the shooter was a “former communist who then said that he turned into a left-wing authoritarian.” He also compared the shooter to Adolf Hitler, saying, “You only believe he was right-wing because the leftists told you that racism is right-wing.” [Louder with Crowder, 5/16/22]
  • Infowars’ Alex Jones blamed the shooting on mainstream media reporting, which he claimed demonizes white people. On the May 16 edition of Infowars, Jones said “I’m not going to even defend what this monster did, it’s terrible, but he’s obviously mentally ill.” He claimed that he was “able to predict exactly what happened” in Buffalo because media outlets like the New York Times and CNN write that “white people are the devil … white people need to be extincted,” which inspires individuals like the shooter to act. [Infowars, 5/16/22]
  • Alex Jones also suggested the Buffalo shooting was a staged event. He claimed the attack was a plot orchestrated by “globalists.” [Infowars, 5/16/22]
  • White nationalist and right-wing media figure Nick Fuentes suggested the shooting was a false flag. On May 14, Fuentes posted on Telegram, linking to an early tweet reporting on the Buffalo shooting calling it a “new false flag.” [Telegram, 5/14/22]

Right-wing media deflected blame away from themselves with racist whataboutism

To distract from their own role in motivating the white supremacist massacre, right-wing media falsely claimed mainstream media were hyperfocused on the shooting because the suspected gunman is white and whined that the media ignore crimes committed by people of color. This is a racist lie; in reality, Black people are disproportionately depicted as perpetrators of violence in the media compared to actual crime statistics, and Black people charged with crimes are often portrayed less sympathetically than their white counterparts.

  • Conservative publication Townhall put out an article that argued mainstream media will obsess over the Buffalo shooting because the alleged shooter is a white man. The May 16 piece claimed that recent tragic shootings in Boulder, Colorado, and New York City were quickly forgotten by the media because they didn’t fit the media’s “liberal narrative.” [Townhall, 5/16/22]
  • Right-wing radio host Glenn Beck shared an article from The Washington Free Beacon that claims the media bury coverage of violence committed by nonwhite individuals. On May 16, Beck tweeted that the April article from The Washington Free Beacon was “excellent reporting.” [Twitter, 5/16/22]
  • Steven Crowder claimed that Biden cared more about the Buffalo shooting than other killings because the alleged attacker is white. On the May 16 edition of his podcast, Crowder compared the Buffalo shooting to an attack last year in Waukesha, Wisconsin, which he claimed was carried out by a “Black supremacist.” He added that there is an “obvious double standard between” Waukesha and Buffalo. [Louder with Crowder, 5/16/22]
  • On Bannon’s show, Kerik deflected from the Buffalo shooting by bringing up an unrelated shooting where the alleged gunman was Black. During the May 16 edition of War Room, Kerik equated the Buffalo shooting to a shooting in the New York City subway system carried out by a man he called a “Black radical,” who he claimed was posting “all this anti-white stuff online.” [Real America’s Voice, War Room: Pandemic, 5/16/22]
  • Alex Jones claimed that the Buffalo shooting is getting lots of media attention because the shooter is white, while crimes committed by Black people are ignored. On the May 16 edition of Infowars, Jones argued that Biden wants to “hype” the Buffalo shooting while ignoring “Black on Black” violence in Chicago. He also claimed that crimes by white people are more heavily covered because “the system wants to guilt white people to sign onto the globalist agenda." [Infowars, 5/16/22]