Conservative media’s desperation in the twilight of Trump


Alexander Wolfe | Staff Columnist

If like me, you experience the blessed curse of Apple News-enabled CNN push notifications, you may have heard about a recent scandal involving comments President Trump made regarding American service members.

An unexpectedly candid article in The Atlantic titled, “Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers,’” has sparked a brush fire on Capitol Hill and media newsrooms.

Trump’s disdain for service members, veterans, and their families who refuse to kowtow to the Republican party platform was well-documented long before this recent release, but the media’s reaction to the piece and the White House’s reaction to the media have been slightly at odds with the typical hysterics of the mainstream news.

That difference in how the president treats service members is quite apparent.

John McCain wasn’t a war hero because he was captured, and Khzir Khan’s son wasn’t a war hero because his father said mean things at the Democratic National Convention, but Sean Parnell’s unparalleled service is upheld as the pinnacle of patriotism — you get the gist of how these things go in a world where your opinions on anything lead to people attacking your politics.

What’s notable in our current news cycle is the lengths to which conservative media, specifically Fox News, must go to protect the president. Breitbart, the Blaze and the Daily Wire have made a cottage industry out of commenting on the work of real journalists, but Fox News remains the one overtly conservative news organization that employs an extensive network of correspondents to cover any news that might appear in our hellish 24-hour news cycle.

Fox News’s longtime national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin confirmed large portions of this story, including comments Trump made while visiting the Vietnam Memorial with former Chief of Staff John Kelly, while The Washington Post confirmed the remainder of the details provided by the unnamed sources in The Atlantic.

This should be the way to combat fake news: an organization internally confirming reports to be true or false before commenting on their veracity. However, that day on Fox News, commentator Greg Gutfeld contradicted her reporting by calling the news “a hoax,” and President Trump demanded Griffin be fired over her reporting.

This isn’t a question of press freedom; rather, it’s a question of addressing the backward reality in today’s media, specifically conservative media. What does it say about Fox News that the organization felt compelled to air segments contradicting one another?

I believe this instance highlights the desperate measures Fox News will take to defend its own reality. In a world where negative media coverage of the president is fake, negative coverage from within your own network must be fake as well. If the viewer begins to question the veracity of this story, the veracity of other “fake” stories may too be up for debate. Soon, the viewer’s entire worldview is unraveling, and more importantly, they stop tuning in.

This is the dilemma currently facing mainstream conservative media.

Fringe outlets will always have an audience online, but conservative news hoping to generate widespread viewership is increasingly faced with a choice between reporting the truth and reinforcing its echo chamber.

Many Fox News viewers trust Griffin’s reporting and Gutfeld’s commentary, so how does the network synthesize the conflict without destroying its credibility?

I see two resolutions to this question, one for each side of the story. The simple answer is to reaffirm Griffin’s reporting, retracting the comments of any commentators that argue otherwise, and begin the long, painful process of returning to a world where its coverage is still conservative, but rooted in the same verifiable information as other news networks.

The more likely — and more concerning — answer is that Fox News will progress past the need for truth. Traditional reporters will be pushed from the network, and Fox News will become entrenched as a home for conservative commentary, spinning its own stories and nestling beside other fringe networks peddling conspiracies and falsehoods.