A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Trump is Trump. There’s nothing new to say about the outgoing president. But there is still lots to learn about his enablers. So many people, from GOP functionaries to Fox News hosts, are helping him to undermine democracy by denying the election and attacking reality. So many people are complicit.
People like Maria Bartiromo. Formerly an acclaimed journalist, known around the world for making CEOs tell the truth, she now tees up Trump to recite lie after lie. Her Sunday morning call with Trump on Fox News was his first “interview” since he lost the election, but it wasn’t a real interview at all. He wasn’t ready to acknowledge that he lost, and neither was she. He displayed delusional weakness. She was complicit. And she’s far from the only one.
GOP leaders stay silent
This is what Ron Brownstein on CNN Sunday night: As Trump’s conspiracy theory about the “rigged” election “gets more and more fantastical and far-reaching, implicating the DOJ, the FBI, and Republican governors, the silence of Republicans in Congress — Mitch McConnell in particular, Kevin McCarthy in particular, who are allowing this poison to spread in the American political system — looks more and more like a modern analogue to the silence of Republican congressional leaders during the rampages of Joe McCarthy in the early 1950s.”
Brownstein added, “I think history will have no trouble finding a parallel between Mitch McConnell’s efforts to kind of look the other way and what so many Republican leaders did until Joseph Welch said, at long last, sir ‘have you no decency?'”
Trump is backsliding
He lost the election nearly four weeks ago yet he refuses to admit it. Judging by his tweets, he’s spiraling even deeper into denial. The Bartiromo interview was a sign that he’s prepared to do battle in public — a disturbing display of weakness that some people interpret as strength. His Thanksgiving evening Q&A with reporters was another sign of the same thing. After holding a call with members of the military, he fielded questions for the first time in three weeks, though he mostly just deflected and distorted the truth. When he walked out, one reporter asked “Is this the language of a dictator?” and another said, “Mr. President, some people say you’re denying reality.”
On Sunday’s “Reliable Sources,” author Jonathan Rauch, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, placed Trump’s recent statements in the context of information warfare.
Trump is running a “classic Russian-style disinformation campaign,” known as the “firehose of falsehood,” he said.
In this propaganda model, “you push out as many different stories and conspiracy theories and lies and half-truths as you possibly can, in order to flood the zone with disinformation,” Rauch said. “The goal here is to confuse people, and he’s doing very well at that. This is a classic propaganda tactic. He is very good at it.”
Rauch pointed out that the falsehoods don’t have to be consistent or logical. “It’s about throwing spaghetti against the wall,” he said. “It’s anything and everything. It can be wild. It can be random. It’s to create confusion and epistemic chaos. And that’s what we are seeing.”
“And that’s very hard for democracies to deal with,” he added. “Traditionally, we dealt with it by not doing it. It was unthinkable before Trump for anyone to run this kind of disinformation campaign from the White House against the American public. Once it happens, I think the best defense to start with is for people, at least a lot of people, to understand what’s going on, to realize what’s happening here.”
Craig Mazin, the creator of HBO’s “Chernobyl,” reacted to Rauch’s remarks by reprising one of the most memorable lines from his series: “The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all.”
The Murdochs own this
Trumpism is a big part of Fox’s business model. The men who control Fox, Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, were evidently pleased enough by Bartiromo’s propaganda, proud enough of her Trump sycophancy, that they rebroadcast her 10 a.m. Eastern time hour at 3 p.m. on Sunday.
Right afterward, at 4 p.m., news anchor Eric Shawn matter-of-factly dismantled what Trump and Bartiromo had just built. (No wonder why Trump keeps attacking Fox’s weekend news anchors.)
Shawn said Trump “doubled down on his claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 elections even though local and national election officials as well as federal and state courts in multiple states — and in some cases the Trump campaign’s own lawyers — have said there is no evidence to prove that.” He added, “Experts say such claims are simply unsupported falsehoods that are not backed up by any facts.”
That’s clear, convincing language from Shawn. So then why did Fox broadcast all of Trump’s claims without any real-time followups? A Fox News spokesperson did not respond to my inquiries.
Trump said Hannity ‘gets it,’ but…
During the Sunday morning phoner with Bartiromo, Trump praised Mark Levin’s show “last night,” even though Saturday’s airing was just a repeat of a six-day-old episode of Levin’s show. He also said “Sean Hannity, he knows, he gets it. He gets it.” Meaning… what? That Hannity believes Trump won the election?
On Sunday night, Hannity posted a tweet that said the media helped “drive Trump from office,” which was notable primarily for his admission that Trump’s presidency is over. To understand some of the rage and election denialism on the far-right, take a look at the replies to Hannity’s tweet.
A few days ago I quoted a longtime on-air staffer at Fox saying that “our audience has absolutely been radicalized,” and that’s what a lot of this is about: The audience. Bartiromo’s Sunday morning show has a much bigger audience than the Fox newscasts later in the day.
The irony is rich
CNN senior media reporter Oliver Darcy writes: “If you’ve watched Fox News over the past week, you’ve no doubt seen a segment or two assailing reporters for lobbing supposed ‘softball’ questions at Biden. These segments have dominated Fox’s talk shows lately. Which made Bartiromo’s ‘interview’ a display of astounding double standards and heaps of hypocrisy. Think about Bartiromo’s ‘interview’ the next time Fox has the nerve to attack reporters for the questions they ask Biden or members of his forthcoming administration.”