The Media Today

Kristi Noem’s dog-killing proves right-wing media can still get mad at one of their own

May 10, 2024
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2024, at the National Harbor, in Oxon Hill, Md., Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. (AP Photo/(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Shooting somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue? That’s fine. Shooting your dog in a gravel pit? Not so much.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem’s (R) decision to brag about killing her dog Cricket in her forthcoming memoir has finally led to some negative right-wing media coverage of a major ally of Donald Trump. As it turns out, there are still things Republicans can do to earn themselves tough coverage on channels like Fox News and Newsmax.

My Guardian colleague Martin Pengelly was the first to spot the anecdote. He’s got a knack for getting his hands on politicians’ books before they’re released and finding interesting nuggets in the slurry of political pablum. 

Sometimes, that takes a sharp eye and deep knowledge of politics. Not so much this time.

Noem, who until this bizarre episode was thought to be a serious contender to be Trump’s running mate, wrote that she killed her fourteen-month-old puppy because it had an “aggressive personality” and was bad at hunting. “I hated that dog,” Noem wrote. The final straw was when Cricket got loose and killed a neighbor’s chickens—then snapped at Noem when she tried to retrieve it. At that point, it was off to the gravel pit. Noem wasn’t done either: she also killed a “nasty and mean” goat that had pissed her off right afterward.

Pengelly told me that his “jaw hit the floor” when he reached the passage about Cricket. “Really, it’s just staggering,” he said. 

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Noem’s casual cruelty was only compounded by her determination to double and triple down on the story in the week-plus since. Nor did she help herself by including a description of a one-on-one standoff with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un that apparently never happened. 

“We love animals,” Noem tweeted when Pengelly’s story first came out, “but tough decisions like this happen all the time on a farm. Sadly, we just had to put down three horses a few weeks ago that had been in our family for 25 years.” (Politico later reported that Noem had tried to include the bloody anecdote in her first book, before her staff and publishers talked her out of it.)

Early on in her press tour, some conservative hosts tried to throw Noem a bone. Sean Hannity gave her a sympathetic interview. Newsmax host Eric Bolling offered a conspiracy theory to escape the doghouse: “The editor, was she possibly a plant? A liberal plant? Because I’m not sure either one of these stories, this dog story, the North Korea story, seems like the Kristi Noem I know.”

Noem replied, “The buck always stops with me. I take my own full responsibility. I wrote this book and then I take the responsibility for what’s in it.”

But as Noem kept digging herself deeper into a hole—and it became clear that she’d fallen out of Trump’s good graces—right-wing media hosts began to turn on her.

Rolling Stone reported last Friday that Trump himself was disgusted” to hear about Noem’s dog-killing anecdote, asking people, “What is wrong with her?” 

After a brutal weekend of mainstream media savaging, right-wing news outlets joined the pile-on.On Monday night, Fox News host Jesse Watters asked if she regretted including the dog-murder anecdote.

“What happens if you’re debating Kamala Harris and she says, ‘Wait a second, you shot your dog, and you wrote a book about it, bragging about it,’” Watters said. “How can you be vice president?” 

On Fox Business on Tuesday, Noem ducked and weaved and finally snapped at host Stuart Varney, as he pressed her on whether she’d discussed the dog story with Trump. “Enough, Stuart. This interview is ridiculous, what you are doing right now,” she shot back. Varney then ended the interview.

Newsmax host Rob Finnerty blasted away at Noem to her face that same day, calling her a liar—though he was more fixated on her false claim that she’d confronted Kim.

“If you asked me a month ago who’s at the top of the list to run with Donald Trump, I would’ve said your name,” Finnerty said. “If you asked me that same question this morning, I don’t even think you’re on the list.”

“Donald Trump winning in November is very important, and whoever he chooses to be his running mate” matters a lot, he later said.

After her early-in-the-week teardown, Noem abruptly canceled other interviews scheduled for her book tour. But that didn’t stop the pile-on.

When Noem bailed last-minute on Fox News host Greg Gutfeld, he instead brought out his colleague Dana Perino, a former White House communications director, to do a brutal impression. Asked if she had a ghostwriter for the book, Perino-as-Noem deadpanned: “Little-known fact, another one of my dogs, his name was Ghostwriter. And I killed him this morning.” 

Right-wing media has long made a habit of defending Republicans at all costs—until it becomes obvious that they’re beyond saving or hurting the overall brand. Serial liar and former Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.)—who, in a dog-gone move of his own, allegedly stole money intended to help save a homeless veteran’s dying dog—didn’t start really getting blasted by the right until his vote to save Kevin McCarthy’s speakership was no longer needed; other New York Republicans then threw him under the bus to save their own skins. Former Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s (R-N.C.) myriad scandals were tolerated with a grimace until he accused other GOP members of having “orgies.” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) allegedly had sex with a minor, among numerous other scandals. (He’s denied it all.) But he hasn’t been forced from the spotlight because he’s such a fierce Trump loyalist.

You can say and do a lot of things these days and stay in the good graces of right-wing media, so long as you serve a purpose to them, to the cause, or, most significantly, to Trump. But it turns out there are still limits.

“It’s like, almost anything goes,” Pengelly said, “but not shooting a dog.”

Other notable stories:

  • This week, Stormy Daniels has been testifying at Trump’s hush-money trial in New York, offering at-times lurid details of an affair with Trump that Michael Cohen, Trump’s then-fixer, paid to cover up prior to the 2016 election. (It turns out that print, erm, isn’t dead.) Trump, who denies the affair, asked the judge in the case, Juan Merchan, to narrow a gag order so that he might speak publicly about Daniels’ testimony; Merchan said no, but, per Politico, Trump’s allies aren’t worried that it will damage him in the court of public opinion since his “personal affairs and love life have been tabloid fodder for decades.” (We wrote about the trial and the court of public opinion last week.) In other news, a court official told photographers that they will no longer be able to take pictures in the courtroom—already a very limited right—after one of them broke Merchan’s rules
  • Last week, Poynter’s Rick Edmonds reported that Gannett had quietly paused plans to revitalize the smallest newspapers in its portfolio. Before the story had even been published, bosses at Gannett fired Sarah Leach—an editor at a small title in Holland, Michigan—after accusing her of leaking “proprietary information” to Poynter; Gannett did not share evidence of this with Leach, who was indeed a source for Edmonds, but Leach surmises that they must have tapped into her work email. Yesterday, Edmonds blasted Leach’s firing as “outrageous!” Gannett “is a news company, not a widget factory,” he wrote. “Gannett’s top management extols itself for its commitment to excellent journalism while deploying espionage on its own employees? What a bunch of phonies.”
  • In other media-business news, Vice announced that it is partnering with Savage Ventures to resurrect digital properties, including and Motherboard, that Vice effectively mothballed this year as it pivoted to focus on business-to-business efforts. Vice News is not part of the deal; Axios has more details. Elsewhere, staffers at LAist and KPCC public radio have been offered buyouts ahead of possible layoffs, the LA Times reports. And bosses at the LA Times told staff they are reverting to “pre-pandemic business operations” and will expect many employees to work from the office two days a week going forward. (Though the paper’s union might have something to say about this.)
  • And Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, did an exclusive sitdown with a US interviewer: Dr. Phil. The Financial Times reports that the interview “was met with derision by many Israeli commentators, who highlighted the fact that the premier had not granted an interview to the Hebrew-language media in more than a year, since April 2023—and only then to a sympathetic rightwing outlet. Weekly press conferences, a constant in the early months of the war, have also stopped.”

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Cameron Joseph is a freelance political reporter with recent work in The Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, and Politico Magazine. A recipient of the 2023 National Press Foundation Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress and the 2020 National Press Club award for excellence in political journalism, he previously worked for VICE News, Talking Points Memo, the New York Daily News, The Hill and National Journal.