Jessell | Confronting The Big Lie, Television Broadcasters Can Do More
I was done with Trump in 2015 when he smeared Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists and portrayed Muslins as enemies of the state when he suggested thousands had celebrated 9/11 in the streets of Jersey City, right across the Hudson from the towers.
Many, many more lies would follow over the next four-and-a-half years, but the biggest one of all came after Nov. 3 when he began making the baseless claim that the Democrats had rigged the voting and stolen the election.
On cue, Trump’s Big Lie was immediately picked up by his enablers in Congress and in state houses across the country and further amplified by his tens of millions of followers on social media, by conservative TV and radio talk show hosts and bogus news outlets like Newsmax and One America News Network.
The Big Lie, as all demagogues know, is irresistible to some people, especially when they hear all the media confirm it (Nazi Germany) or when they can cherry pick from a wide variety of media so all they get is confirmation (today’s America).
This particular Big Lie cuts to the very core of our democracy. If the people don’t trust election results, there can be no peaceful transition and violence becomes inevitable. “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and oath to the Constitution,” said House Republican Liz Cheney of Wyoming.
We all saw what happened on Jan. 6 when Trump repeated the lie and turned a political rally into boisterous protest and then into an ugly and violent mob that trashed the Capitol and caused five deaths, including that of a Capitol Police officer.
Broadcasters have been doing their jobs, bringing us the sights and sounds of the rioting and reporting on the fallout, sometimes at personal risk.
But they can do more.
First, the NAB and individual broadcasters should follow the lead of some other trade groups and corporations and cut off support for the 147 Republican lawmakers who failed to certify Biden’s election just hours after the Capitol was sacked — no campaign contributions.
Let it be known that it will be no thank you to their endless invitations to breakfasts, luncheons and receptions that are no more than fundraisers until they publicly and unequivocally accept the fact that Biden won the election of 2020 and is the legitimate president.
Frankly, the NAB should have begun tossing the invitations of Trump’s more feverish backers on the Hill after he called the broadcast networks the “enemy of the people” as part of his nonstop assault on traditional media.
Yes, such a move would be bad politics. Every so often, legislation affecting the broadcasting business does move, and when it does, every vote counts. The contributions guarantee access to the lawmakers. However, NAB may take some comfort in that the newly-Democratic FCC may look more favorably on an industry that doesn’t tolerate the undermining of a Democratic president.
NAB would be in good company. The list of those refusing to supply oxygen to the Trump lie include AT&T, Marriott, Dow, Airbnb and Morgan Stanley. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is also threatening to cut off the deniers. “There are some members who by their actions will have forfeited the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,” policy chief Neil Bradley told the AP.
Second, social media has caught most of the backlash for spreading election disinformation, and they have responded by trying to scrub their platforms of it, starting with Twitter’s ban of Trump himself.
But conservative talk radio has been equally culpable. Many of the colorful legion of hosts — but certainly not all — have been beating the drum of fraud as loudly as they can ever since Trump started squawking about it.
It’s got to stop. I applaud Cumulus for stepping up and, in no uncertain terms, clamping down on the fraud talk within its ranks. Cumulus is the parent of Westwood One, whose stable of talent includes Trump mouthpieces Mark Levin and Dan Bongino.
“We need to help induce national calm now,” Brian Philips, EVP of content for Cumulus, said in a memo to employees, first reported by Jerry Del Collianno’s Inside Music Media.
[The company] “will not tolerate any suggestion that the election has not ended. The election has been resolved and there are no alternate acceptable paths…. If you transgress this policy, you can expect to separate from the company immediately.”
I now await — as I know others do — a similar pronouncement from the other big distributors, iHeart Communications Premiere Networks (Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck) and Salem Media Networks.
And I encourage every station owner to think again about who they are putting on the air. They are personally and morally responsible for every utterance. If they are OK with those who give credence to the Big Lie, they need do nothing. But if they aren’t, they must insist it stop or pull the plug.
In our digital-centric media age, it’s hard for some to believe that AM and FM hosts are still highly influential. But they are. “Talk radio may face an aging audience, a decline in ad revenue and competition from new mass media forms like podcasts,” said Paul Matzko in a New York Times op-ed, “but there are still millions of Americans whose politics are shaped by what they listen to on talk radio all day, every day.” (Matzko is author of The Radio Right: How a Band of Broadcasters Took on the Federal Government and Built the Modern Conservative Movement.)
There is something TV stations can do, too. Every news director, producer, anchor and reporter must go to the dictionary and learn all the synonyms for “unsubstantiated.” Here are a few: groundless, unfounded, baseless and unproven. And every time the charges of election fraud come up in connection with a news story, they should be sure to plug in one of the words.
As so: “An armed mob of Trump faithful surrounded the state house today, shouting baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen.”
If you are concerned that if you use adjectives you are taking sides, don’t be. You are simply affirming a well-established fact — Biden won the election fair and square.Jessell: Click To Tweet
In the immediate wake of the attack on the Capitol, I thought that it would be a catharsis and that Trump supporters would see that things have gone too far. But, no. His popular support seems just as it was on Jan. 5 and, if anything, strengthened. The second impeachment and other renewed attacks on Trump, especially by some on the GOP leadership, has only served to further anger and energize his movement.
Fearing more unrest at Biden’s inauguration, law enforcement has turned the Capitol into a fortress.
All the more reason for the broadcasting industry to punish Trump’s congressional sycophants and opportunists, discipline radio voices that spread the Big Lie and double down on the truth at every opportunity.