Scandalize! Minimize! Repeat as NecessaryRoundup
tags: media, impeachment, Trump, conservative history
Nicole Hemmer (@pastpunditry) is an associate research scholar at Columbia University and the author of “Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics.”
If you tuned in to Fox News to watch the opening arguments of the impeachment trial on Wednesday night, you were out of luck. Oh, the trial was still technically being broadcast on the network, but it had been reduced to a muted box on the side of the screen, while Sean Hannity assured viewers, “None of this will matter.”
This was the purest representation so far of conservative media’s efforts to minimize not just impeachment but the full array of President Trump’s misconduct. But minimization is only half the strategy to protect Republican control of the White House. The other half is scandalization: an effort to create an air of nonstop scandal around previous Democratic presidents and presidential hopefuls. In a recent op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove argued that Democrats were hypocrites for impeaching Donald Trump. After all, he wrote, President Barack Obama once asked for “flexibility” from Russian leaders during the 2012 campaign and Democrats neither censured nor impeached him for it. (And, he mused, they likely wouldn’t have impeached a President Hillary Clinton for using an opposition research firm that relied on Russian sources either.)
These twin tactics are not inventions of the Trump era. They are part of a decades-long strategy by the right to secure political power — a strategy originating in conservative media. In that sense, right-wing media have been laying the groundwork for Trump’s acquittal for half a century.
Conservative media have been scandal-mongering about Democratic presidents ever since modern conservative media began taking shape in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Some of the earliest books from conservative publishing houses blamed President Franklin Roosevelt for the attack on Pearl Harbor: George Morgenstern’s “Pearl Harbor: The Story of the Secret War” and Robert A. Theobald’s “The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor,” both put out by the conservative publishing house Devin-Adair, as well as “Admiral Kimmel’s Story” from Regnery Publishing.
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