A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
President Trump is not officially conceding, but most of the country is moving on. There was a perceptible shift in the right-wing winds on Monday both before and after the Trump administration formally signed off on President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
The General Services Administration’s statement followed a day full of announcements about key Biden appointments. Some key hosts on Fox News bowed to the reality that’s been obvious for two weeks and took the transition news seriously. But other commentators and right-wing websites remain in denial.
This is what CNN senior media reporter Oliver Darcy observed: “Between Rush Limbaugh zinging Trump’s legal team over its failure to back up its big talk, to right-wing media outlets spending their time largely focusing on Biden’s foreign policy picks, election denialism suffered several big blows on Monday. Coupled with the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, which will likely depress interest even more, the movement is clearly on a downward trajectory. But aspects of it will most certainly linger for months and years to come.”
Indeed, voters who want to believe that Trump won the election can still find plenty of that content across TV and the internet. Fox Business host Lou Dobbs fêted Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Monday night. And another Trump lawyer, Jenna Ellis, told MSNBC’s Ari Melber that Trump “won in a landslide.” Melber jumped in while she spewed misinformation. Elsewhere, though, there has been a clear change…
Laura Ingraham’s admission
The best example of this shift came at 10 p.m. Eastern on Fox, when Laura Ingraham told viewers that “unless the legal situation changes in a dramatic and unlikely manner, Joe Biden will be inaugurated on January 20.”
Mediaite’s Josh Feldman, who recapped the segment, said Ingraham delivered “a lengthy monologue commending Trump’s many successes, talking up his achievements, slamming the President-elect, and assuring viewers they should still be optimistic.”
Ingraham went on to say that Trump has every right to pursue “all legitimate legal challenges to this outcome.” But, she said in not so many words, Biden is taking charge.
“To say this constitutes living in reality,” Ingraham said. “If I offered you a false reality – if I told you there was an excellent, phenomenal chance that the Supreme Court was going to step in and deliver a victory to President Trump – I’d be lying to you. You’ve known me for a long time now. You’ve known me long enough to know that I will not lie to you or simply tell you what you want to hear.”
Then she turned positive, praised Trump’s “America First agenda,” and focused on how “to stop Biden’s egregious moves.”
Tucker Carlson says the election ‘was not fair’
Two hours before Ingraham’s show on Fox, Tucker Carlson alluded to imagined irregularities with electronic voting machines, a storyline that has gained widespread traction among Trump fans.
“We need to find out exactly what happened in this month’s presidential election,” Carlson said. Then he zoomed out: “The 2020 presidential election was not fair. No honest person would claim that it was fair. On many levels, the system was rigged against one candidate and in favor of another. And it was rigged in ways that were not hidden from view. We all saw it happen.”
Carlson didn’t deny that Biden won. But he blamed the media and Big Tech for enabling it. “If you are a Trump voter and you suspect this election was stolen, was rigged, you are onto something,” he said. “And it’s the tech companies, above all, that did it. Keep that in mind.”
Carlson said things like “Democrats harnessed the power of Big Tech to win this election.” These are Jell-O arguments, all about emotion. But I suspect that this will be the go-to position for many GOP media stars: They’ll say Trump was robbed, thus we were robbed – no, we can’t prove it, but we know it in our guts.
Newsmax weaknesses on full display
Newsmax and One America News have been getting lots of attention for going to the right of Fox and denying that Biden is the president-elect. Monday showcased their weaknesses, however.
When CNN, led by correspondent Kristen Holmes, broke the news about the GSA transition plan just after 6 p.m. ET, Newsmax was indulging its Trump-could-still-win fantasies. The channel waited 25 minutes to report the news – and, even then, only covered it briefly. And co-host Sean Spicer still hedged by saying things like “IF Biden prevails.”
As Newsmax garners more eyeballs and more scrutiny, its lack of a competitive news division is going to become more and more glaring. (Then again, some Newsmax viewers specifically don’t want news, they want pro-Trump talk.)
The same is true at One America News. The GSA decision was nowhere to be found on the far-right network’s homepage Monday night. Meanwhile, The Daily Beast came out with a scoop about the network’s unjournalistic practices: OAN host Christina Bobb “has actually been assisting the president’s long, long, long-shot legal effort.”
According to the campaign, Bobb is helping “in her personal capacity and not on behalf of OAN.” Still, as the Beast staffers wrote, “such an arrangement would be absolutely unthinkable in other newsrooms.”
Baseless claims that “the election was stolen,” or more broadly that it wasn’t “fair,” are just like Trump’s anti-media “enemy of the people” smears: The claims are a slow-acting poison that can cripple the body politic. Every time I hear a commentator talking about Biden “uniting the country,” I change the channel, since there is no way to “unite the country” under these conditions.
NOTES AND QUOTES
– Renee DiResta’s latest is an in-depth look at all of this: “Right-wing social media finalizes its divorce from reality…” (The Atlantic)
– Parler sought to welcome Trump dead-enders to the platform by issuing a press release on Monday that denounced “mainstream media” and “major social media platforms” for calling Biden president-elect… (Twitter)
– This point from Drew Harwell and Rachel Lerman hits the nail on the head: “Many of Parler’s biggest cheerleaders can’t seem to quit their old social media homes ― and appear to have remained just as active, if not more active, on the platforms they continue to denounce…” (WaPo)
– Pete Buttigieg on the Fox-Newsmax battle: “It just shows you how far through the looking glass we’ve come if Fox News is too reasonable and moderate for today’s Republican Party…” (Daily Beast)
– Paul Waldman wrote about why he doesn’t believe OAN and Newsmax can “beat Fox News at its game…” (WaPo)
– Jon Allsop’s latest: The conservative media ecosystem is “often discussed in terms of silos and ‘competing realities.’ That language gets at a real problem, but risks eliding the fact that we all have to live in the one, true reality and deal with the actions of those who would warp it, whether we consume their product or not…” (CJR)