A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
This moment on CNN’s “New Day” summed up a current news media conundrum. On Tuesday morning Brianna Keilar began a conversation about Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene by saying “I want to talk about” — and then she caught herself mid-sentence. “I mean, I don’t really want to talk about Marjorie Taylor Greene,” she said. “But I think that what she has said about the Holocaust, it’s an important topic to talk about.” She highlighted the shocking silence of Republican leaders after Greene compared mask mandates to Nazi abuses of Jews in Germany.
Later in the day on Tuesday, Kevin McCarthy and other GOP lawmakers did weigh in, belatedly, which made the topic even more newsworthy. It was a “rare rebuke,” Norah O’Donnell said on the “CBS Evening News.” And it was “the latest in a series of blow-ups involving the Georgia congresswoman,” Judy Woodruff said on the PBS “NewsHour.”
The other network nightly newscasts did not mention Greene. Whether and when and how to cover Greene’s appalling conduct continues to stir debate in newsrooms large and small. When Anderson Cooper played a sound bite from Greene on Tuesday night, he set it up by saying “this is the last you will hear from her on the program” because “this is less about her and her deeply stupid remarks and more about the people leading the Republican Party.” These editorial calls are complex, so let’s dig into it…
The new Trump, in terms of media attention?
“Marjorie Taylor Greene is now playing the media better than Trump,” Mediaite’s Colby Hall wrote on Tuesday. “Trump can barely merit a ripple in media attention,” he argued, despite voluminous statements and many calls to right-wing outlets. Greene, meanwhile, is in the Trump-circa-2015 position: “It’s like watching a reality show unfold in real-time, the concept of which could be explained as ‘watch what happens when an uninformed and xenophobic person enters Congress.'”
Part of the story, of course, is the party’s response to this conspiracy theorist. WaPo’s Aaron Blake said it bluntly on Tuesday: “The GOP has no clue what to do about Marjorie Taylor Greene…”
“I know you cannot ignore them…”
“How do you cover reckless and dangerous politicians who are willing to traffic in lies? I have been thinking a lot” in light of recent news stories about Greene and Matt Gaetz, Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik wrote in this new column.
Politicians like Greene and Gaetz “are nothing but trolls,” and “it would be nice if ignoring were possible. I would like nothing more,” Zurawik wrote. “Like many in the mainstream media, I have been wrestling with this in connection with Donald Trump since 2015. I do not have a bulletproof answer. But I know you cannot ignore them.”
CNN’s John King raised this exact point on “Inside Politics” Tuesday afternoon. “There are days when I think ‘I’m not doing this on television, I’m not giving her any more time, I’m not helping her raise money.’ And people say, ‘Why do you point it out if she’s a nut job?’ Well, because this is part of something bigger,” King said. It’s about the GOP being “the grand ostrich party.”
His guest Nia-Malika Henderson had just made the salient point about Greene: “She’s clearly anti-Muslim; anti-trans; anti-Semitic, but she’s also one of the most famous, popular, powerful Republicans in the country. She’s a powerhouse at fund raising, she’s a powerhouse on social media,” and “I think she’s the closest political person to Trump in terms of her approach to politics,” i.e. white identity politics and grievance politics. To miss what Greene is doing is to miss what a key part of the GOP is becoming. That’s exactly what some outlets are doing, however — missing it…
See no evil, hear no evil…
“This is evil lunacy,” Rep. Liz Cheney tweeted in response to Greene’s recent comments. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that Fox News adopted a “see no evil” approach. Greene was only mentioned one time on Fox all day Monday, by a liberal guest, and one time on Tuesday, as of 8pm ET, according to TVEyes. Tuesday’s mention was a three-line script by anchor Bret Baier that ended with “Democrats are calling on Greene to resign.” Fox loves the “Dems in disarray” storyline but wants no part of the “GOP in disarray” plot…
→ Conservative commentator Erick Erickson’s argument: “James Carville said the Democrats needed to focus more on people like Marjorie Taylor Greene. The media is helping them. BUT Greene is helping them too. She’s hurting her own party by becoming a distraction and putting her team on defense. She doesn’t care. Her party does.”
1/6 commission vote coming soon?
“Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer moved on Tuesday to tee up a vote on the House-passed bill to create a commission probing the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol,” The Hill’s Jordain Carney reports. A key procedural vote is now slated for Thursday, when senators will be asked whether to advance the legislation to a final vote.
What will it say about us as a country if the vote fails? If an independent commission is not appointed?
“One could make a plausible case that the three most traumatic days in America in the last 60 years” were Nov. 22, 1963, Sept. 11, 2001, and Jan. 6, 2021, Gerald F. Seib wrote in the WSJ earlier this week. He asked readers to consider what it would mean if a commission isn’t established. His answer: “The political system will have shown that it remains incapable of reversing the very problems that produced the violence in the first place — severe partisanship, rampant mistrust of the other side, a new willingness to question election results.”
— “The point of killing the 1/6 commission is so Republicans can portray the congressional investigations as partisan,” Slate’s Will Saletan argued Tuesday night. “The whole game is to persuade half the country to ignore whatever comes out of these investigations. Tribalism over evidence. And it will probably work.” Speaking of that…
The ‘Big Lie’ is a daily lie
I mean that it’s repeated practically daily by Trump and his allies. On Tuesday Trump went on Newsmax with a former campaign staffer, Steve Cortes, and railed against “Big Tech” and “drop boxes” in the same sentence. He repeated his 2020 lies so casually that a viewer might forget just how incendiary the rhetoric is. “The election was a fraud,” he said. “It was a rigged election. And when you look at what they did, it’s so illegal…”
The press should be pro-democracy
On last Sunday’s “Reliable Sources,” I asked, “How should the reality-based press cover an alternative-reality GOP?” It’s a question that warrants an entire hour of discussion. But I appreciated that Perry Bacon Jr. began with a one-word answer: “Honestly.”
“I mean, that’s the key important thing here, is cover it honestly,” he said… “Journalism has a bias for facts, evidence, truth. And if like half of the voters in one party and a lot of the elected officials in a party are not being truthful, journalists are going to cover that and look like they’re covering that party more negatively. So in this environment… we have to be pro-truth, pro-democracy, pro-evidence and I think that’s going to make it look like we’re pro-Democratic. But I think we should be pro-democratic, small d — not pro-Democratic, capital D.”