By now, it’s a pattern: Conservative politicians, after failed or menially important careers in public service, turn to cable news to make a real name for themselves, parlaying the illusion of power and influence into book deals, “consulting” positions, and TV shows.
As Eric Boehlert put it, it is “conservatism as an ATM.”
It isn’t anything new, but this past week of tragedies, including the Dallas shooting and the police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, brought these “professional commentators” to the surface, mainly to scapegoat the activism of the Black Lives Matter movement, explicitly or otherwise, for the ambush in Dallas.
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee personifies this phenomenon. The ultra-conservative evangelical politician and pastor got his own show at Fox News after his governorship ended, then quit his show to run a second presidential campaign, then returned to the network as a commentator after his campaign failed. It’s a new breed of “revolving door.”
Huckabee appeared on Fox News Saturday to argue that “more white people have been shot by police officers this past year than minorities,” ignoring the fact, obvious to him, that proportional to population size, black men are shot by police far more often.
When the Washington Post pointed out the inaccuracy of his statement, Huckabee took things even further. “My comments were 100 percent factual. The pure facts also reveal that 94 percent of those killed by police are men, so by your ‘proportional’ standards, the real movement in America should be ‘Male Lives Matter,” Huckabee said.
But it’s not just big-name conservatives like Huckabee. Building a controversial persona by repeatedly making inflammatory remarks that catch the public’s attention or cause outrage is a sure way create an on-air persona and fan base, a product of some in the media’s commitment to “neutrality,” even for the most egregiously outlandish claims.
This impossible standard of neutrality has turned into a business venture. Politicians and commentators get a paying gig, and the networks get ratings in the name of fairness. After earning brief fame from controversy, “political commentators” migrate to partisan networks: preaching to the choir, or playing devil’s advocate.
Mark Fuhrman is an example of the former. The former LAPD detective from the O.J. Simpson case became famous after tapes presented at the trial exposed him as a racist, power-abusing, almost stereotypically “bad” cop. A couple of book deals later, Fuhrman is now “forensic and crime scene expert” for Fox News.
Fuhrman appeared on Fox News last week to say that the issue of police brutality is overblown.
Yeah. The guy at the center of O.J. Simpson’s acquittal — one of the most racially divisive events in American history — is now a go-to voice on police misconduct, which audio-taped evidence proved he was guilty of during the O.J. trial.
“You can always find something that doesn’t look like justice was served one way or another, where somebody made a mistake, somebody was overzealous, somebody was overaggressive. If you’re going to take this micro-moment in the history of a city, a county, a state or a country and use that as a movement, you can never combat this. There’s always going to be something. It’s like having a perfect family. It doesn’t exist.” he told Megyn Kelly.
Of course, Black Lives Matter organizes protests in response to singular events, but was created in response to the overwhelming trend of police violence against black people.
Former congressman Joe Walsh, incredibly, earned a CNN invitation by sending out a tweet after the Dallas shooting in which he declared “war” on president Obama. In the now-deleted Tweet, Walsh warned Obama and Black Lives Matter leaders that “real America” was “coming after” them. He sent out a dozen or so tweets the night of the shooting along similar lines.
Walsh, who hosts a radio show, used his Friday night CNN appearance to defend his comments, telling Don Lemon that he “didn’t intend to say everybody go threaten Barack Obama or incite violence against Barack Obama.”
He said he only deleted the tweet because Twitter suspended his account. Twitter spokesman Nu Wexler pointed out the site’s policy that says users “may not make threats of violence or promote violence, including threatening or promoting terrorism.”
Backlash (and more attention for both Walsh and CNN) quickly followed Walsh’s appearance — why would the network give airtime to such an obviously inflammatory voice? Because that’s the business model.
Rudy Giuliani knows that model well.
Although no network has Giuliani on their payroll, he is a usual sight whenever the day’s news revolve around security or law enforcement, and last week was no exception. On Sunday he appeared on CBS‘s Face The Nation, where he said the Black Lives Matter movement was “inherently racist.”
A day later, he went on Fox News to reaffirm his comments. “Black Lives Matter never protests when every 14 hours somebody is killed in Chicago, probably 70-80% of the time (by) a black person. Where are they then? Where are they when a young black child is killed?” Giuliani said on Monday.
Then again, has Giuliani ever protested police brutality, the actual aim of Black Lives Matter’s activism? Of course not. In fact, his time as mayor — his “reign,” to some — was marked by the police killings of numerous black New Yorkers. To the extent that Giuliani made a dent in the city’s crime rate — a frequent brag of his, and his answer to any racial criticism — it decreased at roughly the same rate as it did nation-wide.
But he’s good for a sound bite.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr