How the Trump Presidency Has Infected Conservative Media

When it comes to the Trump-Russia scandal, the president’s enablers have demonstrated an obsession with Christopher Steele and his dossier, despite the fact that it played a minor role in the investigation. Perhaps that is because they want to ignore all of the other evidence of connections between the Trump campaign and Russian agents.

We’re watching the same thing unfold with the Trump-Ukraine affair. Both congressional Republicans and right wing media are obsessed with the whistleblower, even as people in the administration are increasingly coming forward with evidence that backs up the original complaint.

That obsession is partly to blame for the fact that death threats are being aimed at the whistleblower, whose identity is protected by law. In addition, a case can be made that their identity is no longer relevant.

None of that stopped a report at RealClearInvestigations (a page on the RealClearPolitics web site) from identifying the person they think is the whistleblower. At this point, only right wing media outlets are picking up the story, so I’m not interested in linking to it or discussing the person they’ve outed. What is significant to know is that the author of the piece, Paul Sperry, works for RealClearPolitics, but apparently came to them after being the Washington Bureau Chief for WorldNetDaily (WND). Here is how the Souther Poverty Law Center describes that site.

WorldNetDaily is an online publication founded and run by Joseph Farah that claims to pursue truth, justice and liberty. But in fact, its pages are devoted to manipulative fear-mongering and outright fabrications designed to further the paranoid, gay-hating, conspiratorial and apocalyptic visions of Farah and his hand-picked contributors from the fringes of the far-right and fundamentalist worlds.

While it has always been clear that RealClearPolitics leans right, here is how they describe themselves.

RCP’s daily editorial curation and original reporting present balanced, non-partisan analysis that empowers our readers to stay informed.

One has to wonder why a publication that bills itself as providing “non-partisan analysis” would not only hire someone like Sperry, but publish an article outing the whistleblower that even the conservative publication Washington Examiner criticized. We don’t know the answer to that question, but an article by Kevin Poulson and Maxwell Tani gives us a hint.

The company behind the non-partisan news site RealClearPolitics has been secretly running a Facebook page filled with far-right memes and Islamophobic smears, The Daily Beast has learned.

Called “Conservative Country,” the Facebook page was founded in 2014 and now boasts nearly 800,000 followers for its mix of Donald Trump hagiography and ultra-conservative memes. One recent post showed a man training two assault rifles at a closed door with the caption “Just sitting here waiting on Beto.” Others wink at right-wing conspiracy theories about Barack Obama’s “ties to Islam” or the Clintons having their enemies killed, or portray Muslim members of Congress as terrorist infiltrators. The page is effusive with praise for Vladimir Putin, and one post portrays Russia as the last bastion of freedom in Europe.

It appears as though the virus infecting conservative media that I wrote about recently has not only infected the Federalist, it seems to have taken hold at RealClearPolitics as well. But as Rosie Gray reported, perhaps that’s not a coincidence.

In 2017, FDRLST Media [the parent company of the Federalist] filed a document with the Securities and Exchange Commission that lists John McIntyre as a director, along with Domenech and fellow cofounder Sean Davis as executive officers. The document lists FDRLST Media’s address as the same Chicago address as that of Real Clear Politics….McIntyre, the cofounder of Real Clear Politics, didn’t respond to requests for comment. Tom Bevan, the site’s president and cofounder, told BuzzFeed News “RealClearPolitics has nothing to do with The Federalist.”

Gray does a good job of capturing the various paths taken by conservative media in the Trump era.

Some outlets, like the pro-Trump Breitbart News, experienced a boom during the election and initial stages of the Trump presidency, only to see their traffic crater — as often happens to the opposition voice of a party that suddenly takes power. Some, like the Weekly Standard, collapsed under the weight of Trump’s rise, their audience shrinking as Trump’s dominance of the right grew.

And others have adapted to his rise and his style. The Daily Caller went populist, amplifying Trump’s anti-immigrant politics. Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire remained skeptical of the president but drew a huge following “owning” his liberal enemies.

I would suggest that the path taken by people like McIntyre and Bevan at RealClearPolitics is even more sinister than the publishers of Breitbart News. At least with the latter, you know what you’re getting. But to sell your product as balanced and non-partisan while publishing pieces by Paul Sperry and launching Facebook pages like Conservative Country is deceitful. It is also possible that they are the ones responsible for co-opting the Federalist into being a propagator of conspiracy theories.

In the end, it is true that the Trump presidency is a extension of the direction the Republican Party has been traveling for decades. But it is also true that it has infected both conservative politicians and media sites with an ugly form of hatred and disinformation. As they say, “buyer beware.”

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.