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Media

Vice President Kamala Harris

Photo by The White House

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Stepping into the role of theater critic, CNN this week panned Vice President Kamala Harris' first foreign trip, as she traveled to Guatemala and Mexico. The negative review wasn't based on the substance of Harris' diplomatic excursion, instead the network deducted points for style, following the direction set by Republicans who were dead set on giving the trip a negative slant.

Leaning heavily on Republican talking points, CNN declared the Central American visit had been marred "by her seemingly flippant answer" given during an interview with NBC News. "Republicans are using this moment to ramp up their attacks on Harris" the network announced, as if that somehow determines Harris' fate.

CNN's coverage was relentlessly negative, attacking her "defensive" behavior, questioning her "political agility," stressing her "political missteps," mocking her "clumsy" and "tone deaf" media performance; her "shaky handling of the politics" surrounding immigration.

Over and over, the CNN report stressed that because Republicans and conservatives didn't like Harris' trip, it must be considered a failure — it was a "bad week" for the VP. And all because of a single back-and-forth she had with NBC's Lester Holt, who pushed a favorite GOP talking point, repeatedly demanding to know why Harris hasn't visited the U.S. southern border — the one that the press and the GOP insist represents a "crisis."

Doubling as the Gaffe Police, CNN uniformly announced that her brief response to the border question had "overshadowed" her entire trip. But who decided it "overshadowed"? News outlets like CNN, which were busy singing off the GOP chorus, and noting how Republicans had "pounced" and "piled on" the kerfuffle. CNN insisted Harris' trip had produced "poor reviews," but CNN and Republicans were the ones producing them.

The lack of context was also telling, coming after four years of Trump and his team ransacking the norms. In light of his dangerous tenure, the Harris controversy this week about a single border question and whether she was too casual in her response, seems quaint and rather absurd. The last time Trump's vice president made news was because he was in danger of being killed in the halls of Congress by a roaming, insurrectionist mob unleashed by his boss. By contrast, Harris got hit with days of bad news coverage for possibly mishandling a policy question during a television interview. (By the way, CNN.com published a Mike Pence valentine this week.)

Would Harris likely answer Holt's question differently if given a second chance? It's possible. But the idea that her 30-second border response "overshadowed" her entire Central American trip is absurd.

Harris' foreign visit coverage was part of a larger media push recently to try to trip up the VP with Beltway gotcha coverage — her Memorial Weekend tweet was all wrong! She's hiding her Asian heritage!

This kind of eagerly negative coverage springs from a media yearning for conflict. Frustrated by the No Drama Biden era, which has been completely absent of backstage White House gossip, and the kind of daily and hourly tumult that marked the Trump years, journalists are constantly overreaching, trying to create news where none exists.

Consider this bewildering media narrative that's become commonplace in recent weeks: It's bad news for Harris that she's taking on substantive responsibilities as vice president, such as leading the administration's response to stemming the flow of migration from Central America, and organizing the Democratic fight against a slew of Republican suppression laws being passed nationwide. This bad-news VP meme has been relentless ("Is Kamala Harris Being Set Up to Fail?" Slate asked), and it defies logic. Instead of giving Harris credit for tackling the nation's tough problems, the press is preemptively dinging her for possible failures. "Harris can't win," New York Times columnist Frank Bruni recently announced.

As for the role Harris has played in the administration's stunning Covid-19 vaccination success story, that mostly gets buried in the coverage of her tenure to date, as the press scrambles for missteps to highlight.

Note that a recent Atlantic profile of Harris was dripping with condescending commentary, calling her "uninteresting," "having a hard time making her mark on anything," and stressing that, "she continues to retreat behind talking points and platitudes in public, and declines many interview requests and opportunities to speak for herself." Of course, the piece was loaded with quotes from Republicans demeaning her, which appears to be the basis for most Harris coverage these days.

Last year, when Biden announced Harris as his running mate, the conservative media machine set off allegorical bomb blasts all around her, frantically trying to depict Harris as radical and dangerous, not a mainstream U.S. senator from the largest state in the union.

"In style and policy, Harris epitomizes an authoritarian," the National Review gasped. The far-right Federalist warned panicked readers that Harris, a former prosecutor, represents a "radical threat to America." And Fox News' Sean Hannity announced the Biden-Harris duo was "the most radical ticket of a political party in our lifetime by far."

The right wing loves to vilify Harris. The mainstream media fails when it treats those attacks as news.

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Tucker Carlson and Lachlan Murdoch

Photo by Molly Butler / Media Matters

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

When Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch replied in April to the firestorm caused by his star Fox News host, Tucker Carlson, passionately invoking the "great replacement" conspiracy theory favored by white nationalists, Murdoch chose to lie.

"A full review of the guest interview indicates that Mr. Carlson decried and rejected replacement theory," Murdoch wrote. This was obviously and insultingly false. Carlson had explicitly endorsed its core tenets during the April 8 segment, saying that "the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World." White nationalists themselves knew better: They praised the Fox host for bringing their talking points to his massive audience.

His boss' dishonest comment was a green light for Carlson to continue to promote that conspiracy theory -- and the host took it as such. Over the past two months, as Carlson became the face of Fox, "replacement" has proven a dominant theme of his program. It also spread to other Fox personalities and, increasingly, to Republican political operatives and politicians as well. Given Carlson's sway over both his network and the GOP, that trend is likely to continue.

Here are eight examples of Carlson pushing the white nationalist "great replacement" theory in the two months since Murdoch claimed that he had actually repudiated it, most recently on Monday night. While Carlson is generally careful not to directly say that Democrats want white people replaced by nonwhite ones, his remarks -- referencing migrants from Congo, Haiti, and across the U.S.-Mexico border -- leave no one confused that that is what he is talking about.

June 7: "How did migrants get from Congo to Lewiston, Maine, and why?" Carlson asked about President Joe Biden's immigration policy. "Well, because [Biden White House adviser] Susan Rice and ideologues like her very much want to change Maine's demographics as well as the population mix in every other state in the union." He went on to accuse Democratic leaders of "importing huge numbers of new voters into the United States" because they "no longer believe in democracy as constituted, and they definitely don't plan to lose another election," calling this "the most radical possible attack on the core premise of democracy."

May 24: After the Biden administration extended temporary protected status preventing the removals of Haitian nationals residing in the U.S. who fled following a 2010 earthquake in that country, Carlson accused the Democrats of "trying to change the population of the United States, and they hate it when you say that because it's true, but that's exactly what they are doing." During the segment, a chyron read, "Dems want to import millions of new voters."

May 21: Responding to a guest who claimed that COVID-19 case counts were spiking in border states due to migrants spreading the virus, Carlson commented, "Public health doesn't apply when we're changing the demographic mix to favor the Democratic Party."

April 30: Carlson accused Democrats of "an attack on our democracy" because "they only care about stacking the electorate." He added: "They want to change who votes, so they win. They're diluting the votes of Americans, of all backgrounds, and that is an attack on democracy, period."

April 29: Carlson described the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 as "an assault on democracy, a permanent one." The law repealed the national origins quota system that "was designed to favor Western and Northern European countries and drastically limit admission of immigrants from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Southern and Eastern Europe," according to the Migration Policy Institute. Carlson explained: "That law completely changed the composition of America's voter rolls, purely to benefit the Democratic Party." (In fact, the bill passed by huge bipartisan margins, and Republican presidential nominees won five of the next six elections.)

April 21: After Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) responded to Rep. Scott Perry's (R-PA) invocation of the "great replacement" theory by tweeting, "with every passing year, there will be more people who look like me in the US," Carlson glossed Lieu's remarks as follows: "In other words, you're being replaced, and there's nothing you can do about it. So, shut up."

April 15: Carlson claimed that Democrats "are changing everything, whether we like it or not," including "a brand-new national population." He called that a "revolution" reminiscent of how "Germany got Hitler."

April 12: The day after Murdoch sent his letter claiming that Carlson had actually repudiated "replacement" theory, Carlson said on his program that "the secret to the entire immigration debate" is that "demographic change is the key to the Democratic Party's political ambitions. In order to win and maintain power, Democrats plan to change the population of the country." He added, "All across the country, we have seen huge changes in election outcomes caused by demographic change."

Over the same period, Carlson has also claimed that immigration "makes the country more volatile," that migration across the U.S.-Mexico border should trigger "a real insurrection," and that Democrats who supposedly support open borders "hate" America" and are "trying to destroy it."

Incendiary, xenophobic rhetoric like Carlson's can have dire consequences. Murdoch's statement came in response to a letter from the Anti-Defamation League's Jonathan Greenblatt, who noted that the theory Carlson espoused on April 8 is linked to "explosive hate crimes, most notably the hate-motivated mass shooting attacks in Pittsburgh, Poway and El Paso, as well as in Christchurch, New Zealand."

Indeed, those terrorist attacks came after Carlson and others at Fox embraced the same theory in 2018 and 2019.