As rhetoric becomes reality, the media grapples with America’s hate

As the Trump era has unspooled, Fox News has frequently received tough media scrutiny for amplifying administration attacks, including on the mainstream press. As a country and its media try to process a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue; the pipe bombs mailed to George Soros, CNN, and a clutch of senior Democrats; and the killing of two African-Americans in a Kentucky grocery store (by a white man who tried to enter a majority-black church moments earlier), a tipping point seems to have been reached. Financial Times US National Editor Edward Luce tweeted yesterday: “The most effective thing Americans can do is boycott companies that advertise on Fox. They bankroll the poison that goes from the studio into Trump’s head. The second is vote.”

The origin of this renewed criticism dates to Thursday night, when Fox Business host Lou Dobbs interviewed Chris Farrell from the right-wing pressure group Judicial Watch. Farrell used his airtime to claim the “Soros-occupied State Department” has ties to the “caravan” of migrants making its way from Central America toward the US-Mexico border. As it broadcast, the segment largely escaped attention. It was a small part of a much larger narrative embraced by the Trump administration and its right-wing media boosters last week—a ploy to frame the upcoming midterms around anti-immigrant fear-mongering and the supposed malign influence of Soros, a worldwide lightning rod for anti-Semitic attacks.

ICYMI: AP deletes tweet about migrants after heavy criticism

The segment re-aired throughout the day on Saturday, both before and after Robert Bowers killed 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. The massacre drew fresh attention to Farrell’s remarks. Over the weekend, Fox took fresh heat for giving a platform to this type of speech, including from conservatives. “This repulsive and dangerous filth is bring [sic] spewed courtesy of a publicly owned corporation,” commentator Bill Kristol wrote in a tweet. Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin asked: “Does Rupert Murdoch, who came to this country as an immigrant and made billions, have NO conscience?” (Fox apologized Sunday for re-airing the segment and said Farrell won’t be booked again.)

The instinct to deny hate a platform is a logical response to a week like the one just past. Luce’s boycott tweet drove at it, while on CNN’s Reliable Sources yesterday, host Brian Stelter refused to play the Dobbs-Farrell clip because “I don’t want to give it more oxygen.”

As this past week’s string of tragedies shows, however, hate in America is way past rhetoric. That’s not to say the media should not reflect on its language when tackling topics like the migrant caravan: The New Yorker’s Masha Gessen and The Atlantic‘s Adam Serwer both wrote cogently in recent days that much of the mainstream press has given an inadvertent bullhorn to Trump, Fox, and others on that story. Nonetheless, as America wars with itself, the media must urgently reckon with how to report on an intensifying and obvious politics of hate. On this sad Monday morning, answers aren’t immediately in sight.

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Below, more on the weekend’s all-consuming hate narrative:

  • A far-right rival to Twitter: The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer profiles Gab, the right-wing social network that rose to prominence over the weekend. Gab went down on Sunday night, claiming it had been “systematically no-platformed by App Stores, multiple hosting providers, and several payment processors.” It vowed to resume operations soon.
  • Self-reflection time: Also in The Daily Beast, Matt Lewis, writing after the pipe bomb story but before the synagogue and grocery store shootings, said the media must honestly examine its own role in the hate gripping the US. “Cable news is frequently a shout-fest that brings more heat than light—more passion than illumination,” he argues.
  • Another scare: Staff at Albany TV station WNYT were evacuated Sunday after a bomb scare. They later returned to work.
  • “We knew it could happen here”: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Executive Editor David Shribman has a moving write-through of Saturday’s synagogue attack in the city: “We knew it could happen here—any here, anywhere—when we learned that nine people were killed three years ago in the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. We knew it could happen here—any here, anywhere—when we learned that six were killed in the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City last year. Now we know it can happen here, as anywhere, because it has.”
  • Beyond our borders: Far-right demagogue Jair Bolsonaro, who has attacked the press as well as a number of minority groups, was yesterday elected president of Brazil. The Intercept’s Andrew Fishman has a striking quote from Monica Iozzi, the former anchor of a political humor program who “said they interviewed [Bolsonaro] multiple times ‘so people could see the very low level of the representatives we were electing,’” but now “regrets having given him airtime.”
  • Also from Brazil: BuzzFeed’s Ryan Broderick has a deep dive on the role the internet—social media giants, in particular—has played in the rise of politicians like Bolsonaro.


Other notable stories:

  • ICYMI late last week, Saudi Arabia suggested, for the first time, that the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi was premeditated—an about-face on previous claims that his death in the country’s Istanbul consulate was an accident. Relatedly, CJR Editor and Publisher Kyle Pope and Delacorte Fellow Zainab Sultan discussed what Khashoggi’s murder means for Saudi journalists on our podcast The Kicker.
  • Also for CJR, Meg Dalton looks at a new study exploring the media’s complicity in spreading rape culture. “For a long time, people have worried that biased news coverage of rape may prevent victims from coming forward,” Dalton writes. “This study supports that theory.”
  • Vanity Fair Fox-watcher Gabriel Sherman writes that since “no one is in charge at the network… Trump remains [its] main programmer.” “Trump’s dominance of Fox is partly an accident, as a result of the lack of strong internal leadership,” Sherman continues. “The outcome is precisely the one [late Fox Chairman and CEO Roger] Ailes had warned against: the network’s identity is now inseparable from that of the president, a development that would have surely horrified Ailes.”
  • And for the American Press Institute, Natalie Jomini Stroud explores what newspapers lose when they use non-professional photography, drawing on new research from Tara Mortensen, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina, and Peter Gade, a professor at the University of Oklahoma.

ICYMI: NBC’s Megyn Kelly bet goes bust

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Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist. He writes CJR's newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.