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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace has received widespread praise for his performance as moderator of the final presidential debate, despite repeatedly injecting right-wing framing and misinformation into his questions. The celebration of Wallace’s performance highlights the extent to which conservative spin has become normalized in national politics.

Following the October 19 debate, commentators across the political spectrum praised Wallace for his performance as moderator. Wallace was lauded for his “blunt questions,” “evenhanded approach,” and “sterling performance,” and he was even described as the “one clearcut winner” of the debate.

Some of this praise is legitimate — Wallace repeatedly grilled Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on questions of policy and at times forced him to stay on topic in his answers. And the most newsworthy moment of the debate — Trump’s refusal to say whether he’d accept the results of the elections — came in response to Wallace’s pointed, repeated questioning near the end of the event.

But Wallace also exposed his audience to a large dose of right-wing misinformation:

  • His question about the economy began with the false premise that President Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan damaged the economy.
  • His question about immigration took Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s 2013 comments about “open borders” grossly out of context.
  • His question about abortion access invoked the right-wing myth of “partial-birth” abortion, a non-medical term invented by anti-abortion groups.
  • His question about the national debt falsely alleged that programs like Social Security and Medicare are going to run out of money and add to the debt absent short-term cuts, echoing Republican talking points about entitlements.

Wallace also failed to fact-check Trump’s frequent falsehoods — following through on his promise not to be a “truth squad” during the debate.

Wallace’s rave reviews from Republicans and Democrats alike highlight the extent to which right-wing dishonesty — made ubiquitous by Fox News and conservative media — has become normal in national politics. Wallace’s network has spent years repeating and mainstreaming these types of lies — the stimulus failed, Democrats want open borders, et cetera. Viewers have heard them so often that it can feel passé to go through the motions of debunking them over and over. Journalists become so numb to the talking points that they can hear them being repeated by a debate moderator during a presidential debate without batting an eye.

That’s how political propaganda works — not by outright convincing people, but by treating a lie as so routine and unremarkable that people slowly stop being suspicious of it.

Journalists’ willingness to accept and overlook Wallace’s bullshit is even greater when it’s being compared to the absurdity of Donald Trump. When Trump is on stage claiming his opponent should be disqualified from running for office or suggesting he might not accept the results of the election, it feels nitpicky to worry about the misleading nature of many of Wallace’s questions. Trump’s unhinged, out-of-control campaign style makes everything around him seem normal and tame by comparison. We’re willing to forgive Wallace’s occasional dishonesty because we’re so grateful that he pointed out Trump is literally threatening a core democratic principle.

But becoming numb to Wallace’s casual, subtle dishonesty is incredibly dangerous. Fox News’ modus operandi is making right-wing misinformation so pervasive and constant that it becomes unnoticeable — it becomes part of the noise we just take for granted in American politics. What makes Wallace such an effective purveyor of dishonesty is that he’s good at playing the part of the reasonable, “even-handed” journalist, even when what he’s saying is wrong.

It’s easy to challenge bullshit when it’s being delivered wildly by Trump on a debate stage. It’s much harder to challenge it when it’s being subtly baked into questions from a moderator whose employer has spent years trying to blur the lines between serious journalism and right-wing fantasy.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was forced to defend President Donald Trump's recent attacks on MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on Tuesday, an unenviable task she nevertheless intentionally signed up for. She desperately tried to divert the attention back to Scarborough — without engaging in the president's conspiracy theorizing — but offered no credible defense of the president's conduct.

Trump has been spreading the debunked theory that Scarborough killed a staffer in 2001 while he was in Congress, even though it was determined she died of natural causes. The staffer's widower wrote a released a letter on Tuesday pleading with Twitter to take down the president's offensive tweets promoting the thoery. He said he was "angry," "frustrated," and "grieved" by the president's promotion of the harmful allegations. Trump is perverting his late wife's memory, he said, and he fears her niece and nephews will encounter these attacks.When asked about the letter, McEnany said she wasn't sure if the president had seen it. But she said their "hearts" are with the woman's family "at this time." It was a deeply ironic comment because the only particularly traumatizing thing about "this time" for the family is the president's attacks, which come nearly two decades after the woman's death.

McEnany refused to offer any explanation of Trump's comments and instead redirected reporters to a clip of Scarborough on Don Imus's radio show in 2003. In that show, Imus made a tasteless joke obliquely referring to the death, and Scarborough laughed at it briefly.

"Why is the president making these unfounded allegations?" asked ABC News' Jonathan Karl. "I mean, this is pretty nuts, isn't it? The president is accusing someone of possible murder. The family is pleading with the president to please stop unfounded conspiracy theories. Why is he doing it?""The president said this morning, this is not an original Trump thought. And it is not," she said, bringing up the Imus clip. But she made no mention of why the president is bringing up the issue 17 years later and with a much larger platform.

When pressed further on the president's conduct, she again diverted blame to Scarborough, saying his morning show unfairly criticizes the president. But again, she offered no substantive defense of Trump.

After McEnany had moved on, PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor brought it up again: "Why won't the president give this widower peace and stop tweeting about the conspiracy theory involving his wife?"

McEnany said she had already answered the question, which she hadn't, and said the onus is on Scarborough to explain the Imus clip."The widower is talking specifically about the president!" Alcindor shot back. But McEnany called on Chanel Rion, with the aggressively pro-Trump outlet OAN, who changed the subject to conspiracy theories about the origins of the Russia investigation.

"Are you not going to answer that?" Alcindor called out, still trying to get a substantive response to her question, but Rion spoke over her.

At the end of the briefing, another reporter asked whether Trump was looking for any actual law enforcement steps be taken in response to his conspiracy theory. But McEnany had nothing to add, and simply told people to listen to the Imus clip again. As she hurried out of the briefing room, a reporter asked if Trump would stop promoting the theory — but she left without answering.

Watch the exchange about Klausutis, which begins at 48:45.