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Newsmax TV Rising To Compete For Conservative Audience

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

When President Donald Trump and some of his supporters attack Fox News for being insufficiently supportive of the president, it’s a laughable assertion: even though some prominent figures at the right-wing cable news outlet will criticize Trump at times — Chris Wallace and Shep Smith, for example — opinion hosts like Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson and Jeanine Pirro continue to be stridently pro-Trump. Nonetheless, One American News Network (OAN) has been proclaiming itself to be the cable news outlet that is more conservative and pro-Trump than Fox — and now, The Daily Beast reports, Newsmax’s new cable venture is hoping to compete with Fox by hiring one its former executives: David Tabacoff.

Tabacoff spent 16 years at Fox News, where he served as Bill O’Reilly’s executive producer — and before that, he spent 25 years at ABC News. O’Reilly had one of Fox News’ top opinion shows before he was fired following sexual harassment allegations. And Newsmax’s Chris Ruddy, the Beast’s Justin Baragona reports, has confirmed that Tabacoff is now part of the Newsmax TV team.

In an e-mail, Ruddy told the Beast, “David is advising us as a consultant. He is one of the greatest producers in television, and we’re glad to have him assist us in building out our programming as we reach over 70 million cable homes.”

Newsmax operates a high-traffic right-wing website, but cable news is a new area for Newsmax — and trying to compete with Fox News is an ambitious and incredibly difficult undertaking. Fox News is still one of the “big three” in cable news: the other two are CNN and liberal-leaning MSNBC (which is much better at presenting conservative viewpoints than Fox News is at presenting liberal or progressive viewpoints — although many of the conservatives at MSNBC, including Joe Scarborough and Nicolle Wallace, are decidedly anti-Trump).

Tabacoff, Baragona notes, is not the first former Fox News executive Newsmax TV has hired: earlier this year, Michael Clemente (who left Fox in 2016) was brought on board as CEO. On top of that, Newsmax TV has been using O’Reilly as a featured guest for “No Spin News” segments — and according to Baragona, Ruddy has indicated that he would like to hire former Fox News star Megyn Kelly.

Ruddy recently told the Hollywood Reporter, “There is a growing disenchantment with Fox News, and we are definitely seeing a rise in viewership with Newsmax.”

Baragona also points out that since August, Newsmax TV has “posted eight job openings.” And Baragona observes that even though Newsmax TV has had “bottom-scraping Nielsen numbers” so far, Fox News is still taking the venture seriously enough that it has forbidden its hosts from making guest appearances on the new cable news channel: Fox News star Jeanine Pirro recently told talk radio host Sebastian Gorka that she has been told by her bosses at Fox that she “cannot do Newsmax.”

In other words, Fox News’ executives want to make sure that Newsmax TV’s “bottom-scraping Nielsen numbers,” as Baragona describes them, stay that way.


Megyn Kelly Smacks Down Perspiring, Prevaricating Alex Jones

  As vigorously hyped broadcast events go, Megyn Kelly’s televised confrontation with Internet conspiracy cultist Alex Jones proved something of a dud. Not because Kelly didn’t give it her best. And maybe not even because the former Fox news-blonde’s best falls considerably short of legendary TV inquisitors such as Mike Wallace or even Barbara Walters.

It’s partly a gravitas thing; a matter of stage presence. At this point in her new career as a “mainstream” performer, Kelly hasn’t quite mastered it. She’s intelligent, poised, and almost alarmingly attractive.

But authoritative? Not yet.

So whose idea was it to schedule Kelly opposite CBS’s 60 Minutes anyway? For all of the controversy attending her Father’s Day interview with the Austin-based proprietor of InfoWars, a website that peddles low-IQ political pornography along with male enhancement products and survivalist gear (there’ll be a hot time in the fallout shelter tonight!), the program finished far behind U.S. Open golf and a 60 Minutes re-run during the time period. Dead last.

But the real loser was Jones himself, whom Kelly had little difficulty exposing as a sweaty, blustering fraud. “Some thought we shouldn’t broadcast this interview because his baseless allegations aren’t just offensive, they’re dangerous,” Kelly pointed out. “But here’s the thing: Alex Jones isn’t going away.”

She’s correct on all counts. It’s also true that exposing the sheer fraudulence of a mountebank like Jones could be terribly important. People like him thrive in the semi-shadows of the Internet. Viewers who wouldn’t dream of buying the poison InfoWars peddles need to be more aware of what Jones and similar far-right hucksters like him are all about. Because millions of naïve dimwits are buying, including the President of the United States.

NBC documented several examples of evidence-free allegations going right from Jones’s paranoid rants straight to candidate Trump’s mouth—such as the absurd allegation that Hillary Clinton would show up for a presidential debate high on drugs. Trump thought so too.

Of course, Jones has also alleged that Hillary’s a space alien.

“When I think about all the children Hillary Clinton has personally murdered and chopped up and raped, I have zero fear standing up against her,” Jones said in a YouTube posting just before the 2016 election. “Yeah, you heard me right. Hillary Clinton has personally murdered children. I just can’t hold back the truth anymore.”

That was the infamous “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory InfoWars also promoted. He has since backed off.

Fear of lawsuits can do that sometimes.

To date, Trump has left the space alien thing alone. But you never know. He now claims that the president phones him for advice. There seems no reason to doubt it.

But enough about Trump.

During their interview, Kelly shrewdly zeroed in on Jones’s bizarre insistence that the 2012 massacre of 26 children and teachers at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, was a hoax—an Obama-orchestrated theatrical spectacle to promote gun control.

That obscene and deeply offensive lie caused one Connecticut NBC affiliate to refuse to air the program. Kelly’s willingness to put Jones on the air initially caused great anger and sorrow among the surviving parents of the slain five- and six-year olds, several of whom have received hate mail and death threats from InfoWars adepts. Their pain is unimaginable.

Ultimately, however, they needn’t have worried. Whether or not NBC drastically re-edited the episode in response to critics, as some have claimed, the end result was nevertheless revealing of InfoWars’ methods.

So long as it fits the paranoid mindset, basically anything goes.

First, Kelly softened Jones up by highlighting his recent lampooning of teenaged terrorist victims in Manchester, England as “liberal trendies.” One of those trendies, she pointed out, was eight years old. She described his practice as one of “reckless accusation, followed by equivocations and excuses.”

On cue, Jones began stammering, equivocating and babbling alibis. Maybe some children really died at Sandy Hook after all, he allowed. “I tend to believe that children probably did die there,” he said. “But then you look at all the other evidence on the other side.”

“Of course,” Kelly said in a brisk voiceover, “there is no ‘evidence on the other side.’ ”

As, indeed, there is not. Nor ever was. Kelly interviewed Neil Heslin, whose six year-old son Jesse died in the tragedy. The brokenhearted father’s courage at standing up to Jones can only be admired. Broadcast images of Jesse’s shining face shamed the blustering fraud.

And ultimately, shame may be the only known antidote for Jones’ brand of political obscenity. People inclined to accept absurd conspiracy theories can be more vulnerable to ridicule than reason. Men particularly fear the laughter of beautiful women. What’s more, precisely because of her longtime affiliation with Fox News, Megyn Kelly could end up being the perfect person for the job.

Assuming, that is, that she wants it.

Big Orange Trumpster Is Very Much A Story Of Hope

Pinch yourself. Slap yourself. Go howl at the moon.

It’s not a dream. Donald J. Trump is in the White House.

Say what you will, but no other candidate in our nation’s history has overcome such daunting obstacles on his way to winning the presidency.

Never has a human personality seemed more ill-fitted for political campaigning — a bombastic, thin-skinned egomaniac, incapable of humility, grace, or introspection.

Hardly any journalists, myself included, thought he could pull it off. His quest seemed doomed by the weight of multiple character defects.

The surprise triumph of the Big Orange Trumpster is very much a story of hope. The message is simple: These days, anybody — absolutely anybody — can become president.

You don’t need facts. You don’t need experience. You just need a good act.

Many past candidates had been born into wealth, but almost always they’d made an effort at public service. Not Trump.

He bragged about being rich and getting richer. He bragged about his hotels and golf courses. He bragged about his cheesy beauty pageants and reality shows. He even bragged about his bankruptcies.

Any other candidate with such motley credentials would have been laughed off the stage way back in Iowa. Not Trump.

As a hot-button issue he chose immigration reform, characterizing Mexicans who illegally cross the border as rapists and criminals. The cruel slur offended many Hispanic voters throughout the country, and it could have been fatal to any other campaign.

Trump, unapologetic, marched on.

He publicly belittled Sen. John McCain for getting captured in Vietnam — an audacious insult from a man who’d ducked war duty by claiming “bone spurs” in his foot, an injury that didn’t keep him off the tennis courts while McCain was being beaten in a POW camp.

Again, any other candidate would have been repudiated for doubting the senator’s heroism. Not Trump.

After a disabled reporter asked a question Trump didn’t like, Trump made fun of him with savage mimicry. And after Megyn Kelly of Fox News asked a question he didn’t like, Trump retaliated with an interview suggesting she was menstruating.

Jeb Bush wouldn’t have gotten away with that. Nor would Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, or any of the other men running for president.

True, they would never in a million years have said such a thing. No stable, half-sensible person would.

But that illustrates the magnitude of what Trump had to overcome — an almost uncontrollable impulse to spew (or tweet) the most offensive thoughts that popped into his twitchy brainpan.

Every time you thought he’d hit a new low, he’d go lower. Top Republicans abandoned him, and the imminent demise of his campaign was predicted on a weekly basis.

Name one other candidate who could have survived telling black Americans to vote for him because their schools and neighborhoods are so awful that they’ve got nothing to lose.

Name one other candidate who could have survived the notorious “Access Hollywood” tape, in which the recently married Trump boasted lewdly about groping women. He made Gary Hart look like a Franciscan monk.

Name one other candidate who could have proclaimed a man-crush on Vladimir Putin, and still swept the primaries.

No presidential contender has ever done more than Trump to damage his own image, and still won. No other candidate has so casually demeaned so many key voter segments, and still won.

What Trump accomplished was amazing. Evangelicals stampeded to cast their ballots for a self-proclaimed p—y grabber. Lots of women did, too.

This big-city billionaire who pays no income taxes somehow convinced rural working-class Americans that he felt their pain. Today some people still think there’s going to be a giant wall along our southern border, and that Mexico will pay for it.

I’m serious. They really believe this.

It’s a tribute to Trump’s stage skills. Never have American voters been inspired to overlook so many startling deficiencies in a presidential nominee. Even his own staff expected him to lose.

Although he fell almost 3 million votes short of Hillary Clinton, Trump won enough states to seat himself in the Oval Office. The fact that his popularity ratings are higher in Moscow than here at home shouldn’t diminish the significance of his electoral upset.

Imagine how many votes he might have gotten if he’d behaved like a grownup.

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump hosts a meeting with business leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington January 23, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

NBC Is Building A Trump Normalization Machine

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.

After running a proto-fascist campaign, President-elect Donald Trump will bring his hate, misogyny, and bigotry to the White House at the end of the month. And when he does, NBC will have a machine ready to normalize him. Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough is cozying up to Trump, the network is literally paying Trump through Celebrity Apprentice, and MSNBC is reportedly in talks to hire Greta Van Susteren, a longtime Fox News host with a history of treating Trump with kid gloves. And now Megyn Kelly, who famously buried the hatchet with Trump by lobbing him a softball interview and then withheld information about him until after the election, is also going to work for NBC.

By any measure, the Trump normalization effort at NBC begins at the top, with the network actually paying money to Trump as a result of his Celebrity Apprentice executive producer credit. The problem here is simple: NBC will have a fiduciary relationship with the president of the United States. The network now has an incentive to weigh aggressive reporting about the president-elect against what it might lose in revenue if Trump’s reputation is damaged. NBC, after all, is the network that had the hot mic tape of Trump bragging about sexual assault — but it’s not the outlet that broke that news.

The tangles of the Trump-NBC connection were reflected in Matt Lauer’s recent interview with new Celebrity Apprentice host Arnold Schwarzenegger, in which the two downplayed the conflict of interest posed by Trump’s role in the show. Far from raising concerns about a financial arrangement between a network and the president, Lauer instead teased the increasing personal involvement Trump could have on the show as the season goes on. That’s normalization, and it’s driven by a desire for profit margin, plain and simple. As the Trump administration draws nearer, we’re seeing signs that this approach could repeat itself in the news division.

Megyn Kelly

Megyn Kelly announced her move to NBC on Tuesday. Kelly’s schtick is old hat for those who watch Fox News closely. She’ll have one good moment that gets an absurd amount of press and defines the narrative, and she’ll follow it up by making numerous terrible remarks — often involving bigotry or race baiting of some kind — that mainstream journalists just seem to forget in the long run. In fact, promoting bigotry was something of a specialty for Kelly at Fox News, as she helped build her name by obsessively pushing the baseless conspiracy that the Obama administration had declined to pursue voter intimidation charges against the New Black Panther Party for racial and political reasons. She would later infamously declare that both Santa Claus and Jesus were white. As Gawker’s Sam Biddle put it, “To Megyn Kelly, black rage is pervasive when she wants you scared, insignificant when she wants you ignorant.”

The thing is, with a certain crowd of media elites, Kelly’s terrible remarks never stick the way the good moments do. Just look at all the mainstream positive puff pieces on Kelly. One is left to wonder how many of these people regularly watched her show.

Her experience with Trump during the 2016 election is typical Megyn Kelly: In the first presidential primary debate, she confronted Trump about his track record of insulting women. With that query, she cemented her reputation among two crowds: the media elites who loved it, and the “alt-right” misogynists who are railing against Kelly to this day.

But despite her very public feud with Trump, during the campaign, Kelly’s Fox News show was a perfect example of normalization. Even though she posed a tough question to Trump during the debate (and asked the occasional tough question to his surrogates), she also gave Trump a welcoming platform and reinforced the bigoted tropes that he built his campaign on.

Even weeks before the debate, Kelly had set the tone for her campaign, defending Trump’s racist remarks about immigrants by positively citing Ann Coulter’s book Adios America.

And then, just days after being showered with mainstream praise for her debate question, Kelly turned to disgraced former detective Mark Fuhrman for analysis about protests in Ferguson, MO. (Fuhrman is so racist that even Fox News host and Daily Caller founder Tucker Carlson has called him a bigot.) And in the weeks and months following the debate, while Trump raged about Kelly and the press ate it up, Kelly was mainstreaming a hate group, pushing bigotry against transgender people, complaining about a “thug mentality” in black communities, sneering at black protesters, and attacking a Department of Justice plan to address anti-Muslim rhetoric. Kelly blamed African-Americans who were the victims of police violence and even lashed out at one black protester for looking a police officer in the eyes. And all this was just in 2015, not to mention 2016. None of this behavior got the press that her big moment confronting Trump did.

And even when Kelly failed, it didn’t stick. Her prime-time show on Fox Broadcasting Co. last May was supposed to be a huge breakout moment. It was her chance to show she could be a “star” without the lower expectations that come with being a journalist on Fox News. Instead, the show was roundly considered a disaster, and it contained one of the worst Trump interviews of the entire election, up there with anything Sean Hannity aired. And yet, when news broke of Kelly moving to NBC, this catastrophe was largely forgotten.

That’s not all. Kelly met with Trump before the taping of that special and then withheld details about the meeting in order to make news with her book, Settle For More, released November 15. It was only after the election that Kelly revealed Trump was trying to bribe journalists behind the scenes. If Kelly’s secretive meetingwith Trump sounds familiar, it’s because her new colleague Joe Scarborough is playing the same game.

Joe Scarborough

Scarborough spent a good part of the election season carrying water for Trump. He questioned whether the timing of sexual assault allegations against Trump were “a coincidence.” He defended a Trump ad that the ADL condemned as anti-Semitic. He lied about Trump’s prior foreign policy positions. He mocked David Fahrenthold’s reporting for The Washington Post about the Trump Foundation. He called Trump’s racism and bigotry just part of a “character” that Trump was playing. He ignored Trump scandals. He excused Trump’s rhetoric, claiming Trump was “exhausted” from being on television. He credited Trump with a “dominating” debate performance. He dismissed Trump’s history of birtherism. He sneered at the idea that Trump was graded on a curve. He downplayed a comprehensive New York Times report on Trump’s treatment of women.

Like Kelly, when Scarborough and his co-host were given a high-profile prime-time interview with Trump, they completely dropped the ball, conducting a friendly chat rather than pressing him on any issue. (The casual tone continued when the cameras were off.) It’s no wonder that even a conservative radio host declared thatScarborough had “turned his show into a Trump Super PAC for six months.” An NBC pollster made a similar point. And Morning Joe devolved into a screaming match when Bill Kristol called out Scarborough for “rewriting history.”

From time to time, Scarborough was lucid about the danger Trump poses, even as late as August when Scarborough demanded the GOP ditch Trump as its nominee. Famously, Scarborough told viewers that Trump had allegedly asked during a security briefing why America cannot use its nuclear weapons. But Scarborough’s occasional Trump skepticism never lasted.

Since the election, Scarborough and Brzezinski have been all in for Trump. They have met with him in person and even boasted on air that they “speak frequently” with the president-elect. Scarborough said that he personally thinks Trump believes in climate science, despite evidence to the contrary. He also downplayed pro-Trump fake news, and he and Brzezinski both tried to whitewash the racism and bigotry out of Trump’s campaign.

Along with meeting with Trump and defending him on air, Scarborough and Brzezinski also regularly get scoops on his transition. In December, the pair, dressed in pajamas for their holiday show, broke the news that Trump was willing to start a nuclear arms race.

Scarborough also recently met with Trump at Mar-A-Lago during Trump’s New Year’s’ Eve party.

Scarborough denied being there for a party, telling CNN’s Brian Stelter that he was meeting with Trump to lobby for an on-air interview and that he was surprised to see people in tuxedos when he arrived. On Monday, he spoke with CNN’s Dylan Byers about the uproar over the incident, repeatedly invoking other reporters’ relationships with various politicians to defend himself.

Scarborough’s defensive answers to Byers give away one major problem with his close relationship with Trump: The need to protect Trump’s reputation can cloud Scarborough’s judgment. Morning Joe’s absurd defense of Trump’s position on climate change is a perfect example. With no proof in his favor, Scarborough simply asserted that Trump believes in climate science, ignoring mountains of evidence to the contrary.

Greta Van Susteren

Trump’s increasingly gushing coverage on MSNBC may soon not be limited to Morning Joe. MSNBC reportedly may hire former Fox News host Greta Van Susteren for its 6 p.m. hour (Update: Van Susteren’s move is now official). Van Susteren has given Trump a welcoming platform for years. Before the Republican primary, Trump appeared more times on Van Susteren’s On The Record than on the rest of the Fox News prime-time shows combined. During the Republican primary, Van Susteren had Trump on for over five hours, dwarfing other candidates. During these appearances, Trump pushed birtherism, claimed Obama didn’t write his own memoir, and made bigoted remarks about refugees. And Andrew Kaczynski chronicled more of Trump’s momentsfrom Van Susteren’s show.

To be fair, On The Record was not the worst on Fox News, and Van Susteren may well have been playing to the conservative audience. But the absolute worst Trump hagiographic moment during his campaign came during her “documentary” interview with his campaign. Here’s how the special looks when you take out the Trump family’s answers.

Onlookers harshly criticized the special, with MSNBC host — and potential future colleague — Chris Hayes declaring that it was reminiscent of state media under a dictator.

As of now, Van Susteren’s hiring is still a rumor and may not come to pass. But either way, a likely factor in MSNBC’s desire to add her to its lineup is her established track record of getting access to Trump, which she certainly didn’t accomplish because she subjected him to tough interviews.

What the future may bring

There are other problem spots on NBC News and MSNBC. Meet The Press fell for Trump’s spin on climate change, just as it bought his take on North Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ law. The show has also at various points ignored or glossed over stories like the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Trump University settlement, the investigation of the Trump Foundation, the proven lawbreaking at the Trump Foundation, the Democracy Spring protests, some of Trump’s sketchy ties to Russia, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, and the nominationof Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. The hosts did find time to let Iraq War architect Paul Wolfowitz relitigate the invasion. They also let Glenn Beck attempt to rehabilitate his reputation — twice. And it’s not just one show. The spectre of increasing Trump normalization talk on MSNBC brings to mind the network’s shady history in the first term of the Bush administration.

MSNBC’s prime-time voices like Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O’Donnell are resisting efforts to normalize Trump. But it’s unclear whether they can win that fight with the leading voices at MSNBC and NBC News pushing the other way, much less with the network itself in bed with Trump. And if Trump puts net neutrality rules on the table, NBC’s parent company, Comcast, would surely have an interest.

All of this bears close watching. But the long and short of it is that the network seems primed to become a Trump normalization machine.

In short, Fox News finally has competition.

UPDATE: Greta Van Susteren’s MSNBC show “For The Record” will reportedly begin January 9.

IMAGE: Sarah Wasko/Media Matters