Analysis by Brian Stelter, CNN Business
Updated: Thu, 14 Jan 2021 14:51:33 GMT
Source: CNN Business
A version of this article first appeared in the "Reliable Sources" newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
In the final week before Joe Biden takes office, the Trump presidency is in tatters. President Trump's business is being hobbled. "That stain on the Trump brand is a blood stain," CNN's Jake Tapper said Wednesday afternoon, moments before a majority of House members charged Trump with "incitement of insurrection."
How did it come to this? Well, I have a media-centric brain, so I view it as partly a media story. Trump's war on the nation's news media, his war on truth, his war on REALITY ultimately caused him to become the first US president to be impeached two times.
He relied on hyper-partisan media outlets that distorted his view of America, the world, his presidency and his own popularity. He watched and watched as his favorite TV shows deceived him and his base, further alienating Republican voters and deepening the country's divides.
Trump followed Fox's lead. He parroted what he heard on TV. He lied and lied, but rather than suffer the consequences, his lies were excused and supported and even celebrated by his media enablers. Ultimately, I believe, those enablers harmed him: Outlets like Fox spread bogus info about Ukraine and Joe Biden, ensnaring Trump in impeachment No. 1.
The very same outlets hyped Trump's lies about the election; denied the basic arithmetic of Biden's victory; and encouraged the radicalized Trump base to "fight." It's no wonder why there were people in DC on January 6 waving One America News flags. The 1/6 attack was a riot of lies, swiftly leading to impeachment No. 2, an attempt to hold Trump accountable.
Here's what we will never know: If his favorite media outlets had been more careful, had been more responsible, had covered the news instead of covering up the news, would Trump's presidency have ended differently? Or was Trump always so narcissistic, so delusional, that this era's war on truth was always destined to end with men in fatigues staging a war on the steps of the Capitol?
"Choosing truth" is the "only way to defeat fear"
Watching the GOP floor speeches against impeachment on Wednesday, I felt like I was watching Fox News prime time. Lawmakers like Matt Gaetz were performing for the Fox audience with predictable, cynical arguments. "Even after all that has happened," CNN's Dana Bash commented, "Republican after Republican is still defending the president and his lies about the election."
But a small group of pro-impeachment Republicans showed political courage. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler talked about truth versus fear: "My vote to impeach our sitting president is not a fear-based decision," she said. "I am not choosing a side. I'm choosing truth. It's the only way to defeat fear."
"It all came crashing down..."
Speaking of truth, this bit of reporting from CNN's Jim Acosta was on my mind all day. Acosta said "a senior Trump adviser offered a stinging assessment of this second impeachment by saying the president has destroyed everything he built politically because he could never tell the truth."
"In the end," the anonymous adviser said, "it all came crashing down because he could never tell the truth. All because he couldn't accept he lost."
"This will be the story you tell your kids when you lecture them about telling the truth," the adviser added.
I sure will. But will Trump's base?
The MAGA media's shift
Right-wing media has made a shift from "pro-Trump" to "pro-Trump-supporter." This week the talk shows are all about sympathizing with the voters, who are generally depicted as downcast and discriminated against. "Right now in America it is hard to be a Trump supporter, and it is getting harder, a lot harder," Newsmax's Greg Kelly said Tuesday night. His message was that "we have nothing to be ashamed of, and we should be proud." His colleague Rob Schmitt said "the left wants to rip the soul out of anyone who supported Donald Trump over the last four years."
On Fox Wednesday night, Tucker Carlson made a similar argument while attacking impeachment fence-sitter Mitch McConnell. Carlson said McConnell should not be focused on the future of Trump -- who he described on his show as "elderly and retiring" -- but instead "the tens of millions" of Trump voters.
Carlson also claimed that Trump voters have been "redefined as domestic terrorists" in the past week. He straight up said he doesn't care about Trump: "What I care about are his voters."
Later in the evening, Laura Ingraham said impeachment was actually an attempt to "impeach the Americans who support his policies," which is obviously not true. One of her first guests, Ben Domenech, said that voting for impeachment was akin to telling Trump voters, "CNN's right about you." Later in the hour, guest Lara Logan imagined a new "war on terror" targeting Trump supporters.
That's what Trump loyalists are hearing from their favorite media sources. Among other things, there's an increasing amount of 1/6 denialism on the airwaves. At 7 p.m. Eastern on Newsmax, Kelly said that there's "overwhelming" evidence that Trump "did nothing wrong" on the day of the attack. At 8 p.m. on One America News, host Dan Ball said the Republicans who spoke out against the "political theater" of impeachment were "brave patriots." At 9 p.m. on Fox, Sean Hannity bashed the "ten swamp Republicans" that "went along with the stunt." Oh, and QAnon-promoting congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene said on Newsmax that she will file articles of impeachment against Biden on January 21.
My point: Trump's brand is NOT in tatters on the channels and websites that his die-hard fans trust. Sure, some of the shine is off, but the MAGA media is much closer to Kevin McCarthy's position than Liz Cheney's. I just heard Mike Huckabee, on Fox, say that "this was a lynching of Donald Trump." Some Trump voters are embarrassed by the past week's events, but many are still fully on board the cliched "Trump train." Don't underestimate that.
Fox almost treated it like any other day
Oliver Darcy writes: "Fox News purports to be a news channel, not a right-wing talk network. But Fox opted to stick with its normal programming throughout the day, instead of having its lead political anchors, Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, lead a special report. When the House had the votes to impeach Trump, it fell to 4pm anchor Neil Cavuto to deliver the news to the network's viewers. Less than an hour later, Fox had already moved on, doing a typical 'The Five' segment about supposed media bias..."
Notes and quotes
-- Susan Glasser with a succinct summary of the last seven days: "The bottom line is that after everything, ten House Republicans voted to impeach Trump, two Cabinet officers quit, Twitter banned Trump, Lindsey Graham got off the train and back on again, and Trump is staying in office. For a week...." (Twitter)
-- New reporting from the Washington Post: In private, Trump has expressed anger at "longtime media defenders who have deserted him, including WSJ columnist Kimberley Strassel, and others he believes have not fiercely defended him," including Ingraham... (WaPo)
-- The Atlantic's Yoni Appelbaum: "The House has handed McConnell and the Senate a broom. They can now sweep Trump out of office, and consign his future ambitions to the dustbin, whenever they so choose. That, in itself, is no small thing." So what will McConnell do? (Twitter)
-- Daniel Dale and Tara Subramaniam's fact-check of the impeachment floor debate: Some of Trump's allies used "many of the same arguments they did a year ago," which basically boiled down to "the Democratic party is worse." They "also perpetuated misleading narratives about the events that led up to the attack on the Capitol..." (CNN)