Giving the People What They Want
Why Trump supporters have flocked to Newsmax and One America Network since the election.
|James P. Sutton||Nov 25, 2020|| 104||190|
Many Trump supporters expressed outrage at Fox News when the network’s decision desk called Arizona for Joe Biden on Election Night. Even though the race tightened, the network stood firm and, in the end, was proven right. But by then, some viewers had tuned out and turned to different news sources—two in particular which openly tout their support of President Trump.
One America News Network and Newsmax have seen their ratings surge in the weeks since the election. Newsmax, which claims to be available in 70 million households, drew a record 1.1 million viewers last Thursday. OAN’s numbers are harder to nail down, partly because it does not subscribe to Nielsen measurements, but its YouTube channel has 1.2 million subscribers. Neither has yet called the race for Joe Biden.
What about these networks appeals to let-down Trump voters? They answer is simple: They tell them almost exactly what they want to hear.
I spent the last few days toggling between Newsmax and OAN to see what these right-wing pro-Trump networks were offering up. What did I learn? First and foremost, if these were your main news sources, you could be forgiven for thinking that America was in the middle of a closely contested legal fight over widespread election fraud, with the outcome still at least somewhat in doubt. And even if network guests and anchors sometimes admitted that Trump’s chances were increasingly remote, the sense that Democrats got away with high levels of election fraud and misdeeds pervades coverage.
Newsmax’s lineup includes shows featuring Sean Spicer, a longtime GOP flack who briefly served as Trump’s communications director and press secretary, and Benny Johnson, who was fired from both BuzzFeed (plagiarism) and the International Journal Review (plagiarism and other ethical violations). OAN, meanwhile, is home to Jack Posobiec, who is best known for promulgating the Pizzagate conspiracy theory and other fake news, and Chanel Rion, who has spread conspiracy theories about not just Pizzagate but also Seth Rich’s murder. YouTube on Tuesday demonetized OAN and banned it from uploading videos for a week after the network posted a video offering a phony cure for COVID-19.
On Newsmax, election conspiracy theorizing tends to come through guests, with occasional (very mild) pushback from anchors. Friday morning’s National Report featured regular guest Robert Graham, a former Arizona GOP chairman, inveighing against Mitt Romney’s statement calling for President Trump to concede the election, saying Romney was “a milquetoast Republican … these people should literally be registered to the other party.” Graham then called Rudy Giuliani’s increasingly hapless attempts at litigating vote counts “Herculean.”
At the beginning of the next program, John Bachman Now, the host explained Newsmax’s editorial stance on not calling the election: “While we have projected that Biden will win Georgia, we are prepared to reverse those calls.”
Implausible, but it does make for exciting TV.
Shortly after that, Bachman interviewed Michelle Malkin (just one example of the early-aughts conservative flotsam that often washes up on Newsmax’s and OAN’s shores). She claimed that billionaires, “many of them, not just one” had colluded with “big business and hedge funds” to somehow interfere with election processes. “We don’t control our own elections,” she concluded.
One difference between Newsmax and OAN is that on Newsmax, at least some guests downplay “stolen election” claims. Pennsylvania Rep. Fred Keller, interviewed on American Agenda, said he wasn’t concerned about voter fraud on a “widespread basis.”
Neither the guests nor hosts I watched on OAN had any such qualms about wild claims, however. On Monday, after Michigan officials announced the state had certified its vote count, OAN’s breaking news segment proclaimed that the “Michigan GOP buckled under pressure” despite “massive evidence” of election fraud.
Someone watching Newsmax might possibly come away with the impression that the president had probably lost reelection. But the likelihood of an OAN viewer doing so is far slimmer.
After spending the better part of Friday, Monday, and Tuesday watching OAN and Newsmax, what kept coming up in my thoughts was how balanced Newsmax’s coverage seemed when compared to OAN. That’s ridiculous, of course, but it goes to show how much all-day cable news can condition expectations. After the unhinged conspiracy theories and wild claims on OAN, Newsmax’s comparatively restrained coverage seemed balanced. But the “balance” was between entirely discredited conspiracy theories and faint glimmers of reason.
By Tuesday, Newsmax had seemed to move halfheartedly from the denial to the acceptance stage of grieving the president’s loss. Spicer railed against Republicans who allowed mail-in ballots: “Everyone saw this coming, but no one did anything about it, except the President.” But he also agreed with guest Harmeet Dillon, co-chair of the Republican National Lawyers Association, that overturning the election results was looking increasingly out of reach.
OAN was in no such mood on Tuesday night. Real America host Dan Ball asked Jenna Ellis for a legal update on the election, because people were confused “with all the disinformation out there.” Ellis responded by stating that the legal fight was far from over, and “we still don’t know who will be President,” hammering home the talking point that a court could still nullify the certification of vote counts, even after the Electoral College meets on December 14. Ball ended the segment by pivoting to a preview of Biden’s Cabinet picks, “if, if, he becomes the next president of the United States.”