Freak Shows and Faux News
Plus: A debate over dueling awfulness.
Apparently, it is not just us who think that CPAC has become a joke; it has literally become a punchline. Jimmy Kimmel gibes: “CPAC stands for ‘Clowns Periodically Assembling in Convention Centers.”
Here’s Jimmy Fallon: “It’s basically Coachella for people who post on Facebook in all caps.”
And our own Bill Kristol:
Over at MSNBC Daily, I ask the question: What if they gave a CPAC, and nobody but the crazies came?
As the annual CPAC conference kicks off Wednesday, we’re seeing signs of a growing split between the extremists and the normies.
What is not yet clear is whether this is a divorce — or merely a trial separation. But as we head into 2024, the battle lines are clearly being drawn.
You can read the rest here.
We’ll take a deeper dive tonight on Thursday Night Bulwark… which you should definitely check out.
Sarah and Mona will join me to talk about the latest with the Faux News Channel and the rest of the freak shows vying for influence on the MAGA right. Join us starting at 8:00 p.m. ET on Thursday (3/2).
Exclusively for Bulwark+ members.
No Joy in Fauxville
As we head into the weekend, there’s growing speculation that Rupert Murdoch may be looking for scapegoats. Via Oliver Darcy:
The stunning levels of misconduct exposed in recent weeks raise questions about the future of Suzanne Scott, the embattled chief executive of Fox News. Will she be Murdoch's sacrificial lamb? No moves are currently on the immediate horizon, I'm told. But it's certainly possible — perhaps even likely — that Murdoch might cancel her in an attempt to save himself and his legacy.
Puck’s Dylan Byers hears the same rumbles: “Will Rupert Make a ‘Blood Sacrifice’?”
In the testimony made public this week, Murdoch was asked what the consequences should be when Fox News executives knowingly allow lies to be broadcast. “They should be reprimanded,” Murdoch replied. “Maybe got rid of.” As of now, there is no indication that anyone is on the chopping block at Fox News. But it’s not hard to see who might be in line for a sacrifice in the event that things get worse: Scott, the chief executive, would of course be the most obvious candidate to play the Rebekah Brooks role this time around. And on the talent side, there are the three hosts in addition to Dobbs who Murdoch identified as endorsers of the voter fraud lie: Hannity, Maria Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro. (On Tuesday, Trump accused Murdoch of “throwing his anchors under the table.”)
Speaking of Fox, make sure you read Mona Charen in today’s Bulwark: “Please Lie to Me, Tucker.”
In private, Sean Hannity would confide that “Rudy is acting like an insane person,” but in public—to Fox’s vast audience—Rudy’s ravings were laundered and legitimized. In private, Tucker Carlson fumed that a reporter telling the truth—that the election had not been stolen—was “measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down.”….
Fox News President Jay Wallace, after catching a bit of Lou Dobbs Tonight, noted tartly that “The North Koreans do a more nuanced show.”
Via CNN: “Paul Ryan grilled for remaining on Fox board of directors amid election fraud revelations.”
Former House Speaker Paul Ryan was grilled last week over his decision to remain on the board of directors of Fox News’ parent company after damning court documents showed that the right-wing network knowingly peddled election lies to its audience.
In the interview, conducted by conservative commentator Charlie Sykes at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and posted Tuesday on The Bulwark Podcast, Ryan was asked how he could associate himself with a company that “is pumping toxic sludge, racism, disinformation, and attacks on democracy.”
“Do you have any responsibility?” Sykes asked.
“I do. I have a responsibility to offer my opinion and perspective and I do that, but I don’t go on TV and do it, right. So I offer my perspective, my opinion, often,” Ryan replied. “I’ll just leave it at that.”
Sykes continued pressing Ryan….
Via the HuffPo: “Watch Paul Ryan's Longtime Friend [Me] Hold His Feet To The Fire Over Fox News.”
Sykes reminded Ryan of an open letter to him in 2021, in which he condemned the Jan. 6 revisionism, COVID disinformation and embrace of “ugly racist narratives” by some on Fox News, particularly Tucker Carlson.
“The point was, OK I understand the need to have another point of view, but if you are on the board of directors of a company that is pumping toxic sludge, racism, disinformation, and attacks on democracy, if you don’t stand up now, then when?” Sykes asked Ryan.
“So, what do you really think?” Ryan attempted to joke as the audience cheered Sykes’ question.
BONUS: “Trump Melts Down Over Murdoch Admitting Fox Lied About Election Fraud.”
In his testimony, Murdoch admits that hosts on the network aired false claims about the election and alleged voter fraud, and that company executives could have intervened to prevent their broadcast.
The admissions from Murdoch drew ire from Trump, who has spent the last several days attacking his once-favorite channel for their barely-less-than-sycophantic coverage of him.
“Why is Rupert Murdoch throwing his anchors under the table, which also happens to be killing his case and infuriating his viewers,” Trump wrote.” There is MASSIVE evidence of voter fraud & irregularities in the 2020 Presidential Election.”
The DeSantis-Trump awfulness debate
I addressed this in yesterday’s Morning Shots, but the question of who’s worse continued. And, frankly, it’s quite interesting.
Damon Linker argues (and I tend to agree) that no one — no matter how deplorable they are — is as dangerous as Trump, who poses a unique and unambiguous threat.
This has, apparently, triggered some folks on the left. Linker writes: “My Twitter mentions have been a mess for two days now.”
He paraphrased “what I’ve heard over and over again on Twitter since Monday morning:”
The Republican Party has been trending fascist since at least the 1990s, if not since Dwight D. Eisenhower. They’re all fascists now, so it doesn’t much matter which one of them rises to power. But that said, Trump is a moron, and he can’t win the presidency again anyway. Meanwhile, DeSantis is the real deal—a true, honest-to-goodness fascist who’s shown himself to be intelligent and competent. Only a straight, rich, white man like Linker could be indifferent to this threat, let alone welcome the jackboot, as Linker clearly does. That’s exactly what I’d expect from the trans-hating New York Times, which also started out liking Hitler, did everything it could to normalize Trump, and now clearly wants to make DeSantis president. But the most galling thing of all is that Linker calls himself a liberal. On what planet is that true? He sometimes calls himself a centrist, and at times he’s written things critical of Democrats and progressives. That obviously makes him a center-right fascism-enabler!
You should read the whole thing, but suffice it to say that Linker is doubling down.
So I’ll be blunt again: Insisting it is transparently, indisputably obvious that Ron DeSantis, or really anyone, would be much worse than the second term of a man who attempted to keep himself in power by way of a self-coup the last time he held the office is simply not a reasonable position.
New York’s Jonathan Chait disagrees, and wonders how Linker (and I) can really be so confident that Trump 2.0 would be more ghastly that DeSantis 1.0, especially when we acknowledge DeSantis’s “illiberal intentions and lack of democratic scruples.”
Whether DeSantis would actually do more damage to American democracy in office than Trump could remains hard to say. Perhaps, perhaps not. But we should recognize that he is not putting himself forward as a critic of Trump’s authoritarianism. He is promising, on the contrary, to exceed it.
It’s a good point, and Chait continued to press that argument yesterday:
Linker responded: “You're right that this is largely speculative -- at least on the DeSantis side. We *know* how bad Trump is, but not how bad DeSantis cd be. But I think the evidence suggests DeSantis' badness is mainly a function of policy, not character. Character is a dangerous wild card.”
“I think Trump 2.0 would try to do many of the same things a President [deSantis] would, but Trump would *also* be insane, and we already know he's quite willing to disregard the law and the results of free and fair elections. That strikes me as worse.”
Linker acknowledged the point:
(He’s still right.)
The Foolishness of Scott Adams
My brilliant colleague Will Saletan writes in today’s Bulwark that the cartoonist’s argument for racial prejudice isn’t just pernicious. It’s stupid.
Every time one of these racially incendiary arguments comes along, the cycle repeats itself. The offender gets canceled. His opinion is dismissed as unthinkably repellent. He and his allies seize on that dismissal as evidence that the establishment is suppressing dissent. Nothing should be unthinkable, the dissenters argue. There’s some secret truth, some taboo insight, that the cancel culture is hiding from you.
Sorry, but there’s no great insight here. You can watch hour after hour of Adams’s livestreams, as I have, and you won’t find that nugget of forbidden truth. His reasoning is as sloppy as his research. In every way, he’s just wrong.
I came pretty close to dropping an f-bomb on live television.
Linker’s original column posited that liberal opposition to DeSantis is based on policy disagreements, which simply isn’t so. The basis of liberal antipathy to DeSantis lies in his authoritarianism, not his conservative politics. Mocking the liberal fear of fascism--something everyone but fascists *should* fear--doesn’t change the fact that DeSantis is doing everything he can to centralize power in Florida his person, and that he has enthusiastic assistance from a compliant legislature. Why would anyone believe DeSantis would do any differently as President? Why is the question of whether he is worse than Trump even relevant? It’s a red herring, and nothing else.
The DeSantis v. Trump argument is interesting, but the bottom line is that both would be terrible for the country if elected.