As both parties count down the weeks and strategize ahead of November, Moulitsas is predicting:
What Donald Trump has done is, he’s made it 2020 all over again. It’s a campaign that is going to be, in large part, a rehashing of the 2020 election, and that sort of mixes things up. Does it mean that we’re going to win like we did in 2020? Not necessarily. But that means that there’s another wild card. And then you talk about the Supreme Court getting rid of Roe v. Wade in the summer sometime. There are so many wild cards … Remember, in 2016, all the polls had Donald Trump losing. He was unpopular, you’re like, ‘There is no way he can win.’ He wins because everything went right for him. He threw a straight flush. That’s the hope for 2022. I’m not saying it’s going to happen. I’m saying that if all the cards come out correctly, we actually have a real chance to pick up seats. This is not a guaranteed loss.
“I would just add that a lot of these mainstream overviews—a lot of them start with these historical references about how bad midterm elections are for the party that’s in power, et cetera. But they almost never get into the specifics of the personalities of someone like Herschel Walker or of Donald Trump making all these endorsements of people like Sean Purnell, who had to drop out of that Pennsylvania Senate race because he was an alleged wife beater and lost custody of his children. You know, like, these are real things happening on the ground. These are real personalities,” Eleveld noted. “They’re not just voting on Biden. They’re going to be voting on real personalities, and some of the personalities the Republicans are already putting up—especially in the Senate races, but we’re about to see more of what they’re putting up in these swing districts—these people are a little off their rocker in the way that they were in 2010 and 2012, when the Republicans were sort of ‘scheduled’ to take back the Senate and missed that opportunity twice in a row.”
Eleveld also believes that it is time for Biden to start “making enemies.” In fact, she argued that it is time for the White House to make Republicans actively vote against Democrats’ legislation through which they are attempting to make actual progress. Moving to push some popular policies—such as the insulin cap and the child tax credit in single-issue bills—onto the Senate floor, where Republicans will filibuster them, will make it clear that Republicans are obstructing progress and take the focus off of discord within the Democratic Party, particularly as it relates to Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. She added: “This framing that ‘Democrats are failing’ as opposed to ‘Republicans oppose these measures’ that are, again, broadly, broadly popular [is so frustrating].”
As Moulitsas and Eleveld welcomed Carusone onto the show, the conversation about political narratives continued, but with a specific focus on how the media plays into driving these narratives, especially false ones.
Carusone talked about the false idea that Fox News and Fox Opinion are separate from one another: “One of the ways they convince people that they’re an actual news organization instead of, say, a partisan operation, is ‘Look at our news site. That’s real news.’ … You can point to all of their major narratives that they push and it will be nearly identical on what they call their news programming and their opinion programming … They’ve been increasingly getting rid of their news programs and replacing them with opinion hosts.”
Fox News also drove a lot of the disinformation in coverage of the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and Moulitsas said he was surprised by how quickly the narrative seemed to shape-shift to whatever was most convenient and absolved the GOP and Trump of any responsibility: “I saw the conversation [on Fox News] go from these are heroes of democracy, to they were hoodlums, to they were antifa and it was all a false flag, to now they’re heroes again. It seemed like they just threw every possible narrative, none of them internally consistent.”
Eleveld added that these were “crazy, crazy rationalizations” for what was going on. “Do you think that Fox helped open up the gate to that narrative so that Republicans in Congress picked up on it, or were Republicans in Congress already saying that, and then Fox sort of picked up on that narrative?” she asked Caruso.
Caruso answered that, while Fox News wasn’t the only network driving some of these false narratives:
They still have an enormous agenda-setting power. And they created, just by who they booked during that time period, the overemphasis on electeds that were pushing those conspiracies and those claims. It changes the narrative, because it creates a different permission structure. And once they started to inject the ideas that it was a false flag operation, that it was a setup, that it was being purely done to attack Donald Trump, it wasn’t that bad, it was overdramatized—it started to chip away at the consensus that had emerged. And that’s really the destructive power here, is that you take this one thing where in a brief moment, largely we all agree that it’s not okay. And they turned it into another political issue, almost like they did with COVID … you do that enough … and you change the consensus on [what should be nonpolitical issues].
Caruso added that Fox’s influence on people happens both directly and indirectly:
If you’re a regular Fox viewer and that is helping shape your worldview, your perception is going to be distinct from the reality. There was a study done a while ago, I think it was by Pew [Research Center], if you were a regular Fox viewer, you were fundamentally less informed than if you received no information at all—and that it actually was a net negative.
Moulitsas pointed out how all of the effects of false narratives shake out: “It’s a net negative for society in general … [but] it’s a positive for the conservative movement. As Stephen Colbert has said, reality has a well-known liberal bias. They have to actually undermine that—they can’t operate in the meaningful space of truth; they have to create this alternate bubble with alternate facts in order to be able to continue to make the kinds of arguments that they’re making.”
Based off of what narratives have been circulating on Fox News, Moulitsas asked Carusone: “Do you have a sense yet what that the Republican message is going to be in the 2022 cycle?”
Carusone thinks Republicans run a very similar playbook each midterm cycle, though it changes slightly depending on what issue they can make the new political boogeyman issue:
In 2014, it was ebola. In 2014, the biggest conversation narrative on Fox News was that Barack Obama was not doing enough to stop ebola … it was the major theme, and it was, in effect: ‘Obama is so bad about viruses, can you believe this?’ They really made it a thing. In other cycles, it was the [migrant] caravan. And what’s scares me is, there’s always a relationship. We do the analysis of Fox coverage hyping something, and then you can see the rest of the news media follows a week or so later because they can create a threat that becomes an issue … This cycle is going to be culture war stuff … It creates a schism and an internal food fight amongst the left, because it forces us to seemingly make a choice between winning elections and the values that we say we have. That is always a winning position for them. What they’re going to do is fearmonger about children, and that’s it.
Moulitsas made note of the current narrative that Republicans are spreading, which falsely ties the LGBTQ+ community to pedophilia and grooming.
“It lets them take control and take any little thing, whether it’s fabricated or not, and elevate it into a major controversial story. And that’s going to be their big push … around culture war themes,” Carusone agreed. “You can expect a real intense hyping. It’s going to be like war-on-Christmas level.”
“This is a purely ‘juice the base’ strategy—it’s not mainstream,” Eleveld added.
Closing out, Markos asked Carusone what people could do to take direct action against Fox News: “What can people do to stop funding Fox News directly?”
Caruso highlighted Fox News’ vulnerability in its reliance on subscriptions from cable subscribers, calling on viewers to take simple action to disarm the disinformation-spreading media conglomerate:
They don’t need ad revenue. They are the second-most expensive channel on everybody’s cable box … If these cable companies just drop Fox Business or hold the line … that’s the simple answer: people can call … cut the cord, and make sure they know you’re doing it because of Fox News. This is why One America News [Network] got dropped.
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