Tomi Lahren had a “serious question.”
Appearing on Fox & Friends Wednesday morning, the professional conservative windbag went on a predictable diatribe about Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.
“I would like to ask these players,” Lahren said, “What exactly are you kneeling for and why have you chosen the flag and the anthem to do it?”
No need to belabor the fact that Kaepernick himself has spoken publicly about the motivations behind his civil rights protest. Or that his former teammate and fellow protester Eric Reid wrote an op-ed in The New York Times—a newspaper even Lahren may recognize—to elaborate on why players chose to join Kaepernick. Or that Lahren could, theoretically speaking, ask these men to explain their motivations before going on TV to free associate about them. The fast-rising Fox star can’t be bothered by such details, as CNN’s Brian Stelter pointed out:
It cuts to the core of the cottage industry of right-wing media celebrity that for years flourished at Fox and now dominates attention among online conservative media. Here’s the serious answer: There is no incentive for Lahren to understand the underlying issue when she can offer up catnip that placates her audience’s worst instincts to distrust mainstream institutions. With a few exceptions, that reactionary media culture is growing even more dominant on the right, as the pro-Trump press attempts to tear down journalism that threatens its fearless leader while offering no real alternative of its own.
There’s an established audience for it, after all. A Politico/Morning Consult poll released Wednesday suggests that more than three-quarters of GOP voters think the news media actually invents stories about Trump. That’s fertile ground for bad-faith portrayals of reporters who actually discover real information.
In projecting ignorance about Kaepernick’s motivations, Lahren implicitly critiqued this very process. It’s the same tactic employed by the likes of Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly, who tend to drown out all the Serious Journalists at Fox News who get lumped into media types’ throat-clearing “to be sure” clauses about the right-wing press’ journalistic integrity.
That ethos colors “newsgathering” efforts as well, as displayed Tuesday on Fox News’ Happening Now. In a discussion about congressional efforts to continue federal subsidies to Obamacare insurers, host Jon Scott countered the notion that low-income Americans need help paying for healthcare with this doozy:
But what’s the motivation — if these are the poorest Americans who are getting their co-pays and things like that covered, what’s the motivation for them to try to live a healthier lifestyle? If it doesn’t cost them anything to go to the doctor, what’s the motivation?
I don’t want to dignify the question too much, but: Scott could have channeled what we humans call “empathy” in his line of questioning. It’s a crucial trait for journalists, but it would also require Fox hosts and their audiences to reckon with people who see things differently than they do. If anything defines right-wing media in the Trump era—and this is also true of Trump himself—it’s this fundamental lack of curiosity.
It similarly reared its ugly head in the response to explosive reporting on Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault allegations, of which The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf has a good rundown. Rather than question why their own organizations didn’t break the story, or do any proactive reporting of their own, figures like Hannity suggested that mainstream media had covered for Weinstein.
The market for such arguments has given others opportunities as well. Take James O’Keefe, the self-styled “guerrilla journalist” who has recently tried to expose The New York Times’ political bias by tricking low-level staffers into making offhand comments while on video. Times brass have responded publicly that such junior staffers misrepresented their roles and the values of the newsroom, to which O’Keefe responded that one of its targets had “senior” in her title. It defies parody.
O’Keefe & Co. don’t understand, of course. And why would they when they can push a narrative that accentuates their opponents’ flaws? It’s disingenuous and built upon whataboutism, sure. But it obviates any need for such right-wing media figures to actually make an affirmative case for their own existence.