One of the most successful elements of the right-wing’s ascent is their use of the media, especially cable TV, the internet, and radio.
Starting on its friendly launching pad at FOX, Republican and Tea Party advisors and officials have developed their own techniques to take over interviews and bully anchor people. At the same time, these trained operatives use aggressive verbal techniques to obfuscate, change the subject, and steamroll naïve or wimpy interviewers at cable media networks.
When these deliberate techniques are used on TV, viewers notice that the whole interview has changed. Polite, give-and-take interchanges don’t happen. The pace of the interview gets faster. Answers are shorter and more pointed. Questions are blatantly ignored in order to inject pointed talking points about the latest issue. The interviewee insults the interviewer while still smiling. The mixed facial and verbal messages intentionally confuse everyone.
The network interviewer, meanwhile, gets flustered. Trained to be polite, they cave into the attacks. They invariably lose control over the discussion. In the verbal barrage, the interviewer fails to gain control unless they ignore the instructions from their producer.
These planned conservative media attacks are scripted. Their goal is to show disrespect for the network, especially if it is not FOX, and the interviewer who is merely the trojan horse used to access the airwaves.
Welcome to the world of conservative media training and its free use of manufactured crises, lies, personal attacks, and evasion. This is all done to advance the conservative Republican conservative and other right-wing causes.
The Smear Campaign Machine
Conservative media has been around for decades. As described in the 2004 book, “The Republican Noise Machine,” author David Brock said the full effect of these right-wing attacks strengthen Republican, as well as Democratic and undecided voter beliefs that the Democratic candidate is flawed.
“One of the most frightening experiences I have had in recent years in talking with rank-and-file Democrats is the extent to which they unconsciously internalize right-wing propaganda. To add insult to injury, too many Democrats have a tendency to blame the victims of these smears—their own leaders—rather than addressing the root of the problem.” That root is the Republican propaganda machine.
This machine “disregards journalistic ethics and universal standards of fairness and accuracy, manufacturing ‘news’ that is often bought and paid for by a tight network of corporate-backed foundations and old family fortunes.”
More recently, many right-wing TV guests have been using the same playbook developed by some experienced, highly-paid, conservative media consultants who detected a weakness and then exploited the friendly news interview show format. Groups that have benefited from this anti-government, no-compromise stance include Turning Point USA, Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth, and FreedomWorks.
“Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to communicate their ideas “in ways that are very reductionist. They’re also much more comfortable lying, and their audiences are much more likely to accept it,” according to Angelo Carusone, president of the liberal media watchdog group Media Matters. Carusine was interviewed in Mother Jones.
In other words, lying is acceptable as long as it pursues a goal. People on the left are reluctant to follow that same philosophy and in the case of Trump’s election victory, they may have been right.
This is part of what the right-wing consultants detected. The other part was that many on-air interviewers were either too polite, not well prepared to conduct the interview in the first place, or would not interrupt an aggressive speaker to get the interview back on track.
What Right-Wing Media Trainers Teach
One place where media domination techniques are taught is at the including training sessions at the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia. Founded in 1979, this organization offers classes to train libertarians and conservatives. The Institute offers over 44 types of training programs, including communications, grass-roots, and campus organizing classes.
It also has a hotline for students to report “liberal abuse” on campuses. This includes a “campus Reform” program that “recruits, trains, and pays conservative student journalists, investigators, and tipsters across the country to research and report liberal abuse on college campuses.” The site does not define “liberal abuse,” but it presumably includes ratting on professors who express liberal ideas or criticize conservatives on campus.
At the Institute’s campus, conservatives ranging from policymakers to pundits can take specialized communications classes that teach how to speak in “sound bites” and practice “correct on-camera gestures and appearance.”
This training is done in the Sacher Multimedia Center donated by the ultra-conservative and wealthy Fred and Ruth Sacher. A wall plaque at the center thanks them for their “generous support, vision, and dedication to train conservatives to be effective in the broadcast media.” This is an understatement and is intentionally misleading about the Sacher family’s devotion and financial support, much of it secretive through non-profits, of ultra-right causes.
Sacher is a California real estate developer and has been a mega-major donor to far-right groups for decades. He contributed $200,000 to Citizens for Reform and Citizens for the Republic Education Fund in 1996, according to the Washington Post.
The Post also said Sacher was “a major supporter of the Nicaraguan contras during the 1980s, donated nearly $200,000 to GOPAC, a political action committee formerly run by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), and in 1995 funded a media campaign to help promote Gingrich’s “Contract With America.”
Sacher, now in his 90s, also was a member of the Christian conservative Council for National Policy, along with Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Dr. James Dobson, Grover Norquist, and Howard Ahmanson. In the 1980s, he gave $400,000 to the Nicaraguan Contras and received a personal thank you letter from Oliver North, according to the Los Angeles Times (July 17, 1987.)
In March 1988, North was indicted on 16 felony counts. He was initially convicted on three counts: accepting an illegal gratuity, aiding and abetting in the obstruction of a congressional inquiry, and ordering the destruction of documents through his secretary.
So, with your training coming from a center paid for by Sacher, a scion of an ultra-conservative dating back to the Reagan era, the Center’s disinformation training gets off to a good start. And this is only one of the ultra-right media training operations.
How Right-Wing Media Training Looks on TV
Here are some examples of these aggressive media techniques that are characteristic of right-wing media training.
Plain Old Lying
Kellyanne Conway, a Trump counselor, passed along a fake event, the “Bowling Green Massacre,” which never happened.
In the interview, Conway said “I bet it’s brand new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. It didn’t get covered.” The reason is was not covered was because it never happened, but that did not phase Conway.
“Let Me Finish”
This is a great technique and is usually used as part of a filibuster. In these cases, the right-wing guest responds to a request by the interviewer to get back on track. Rather than addressing the original question, the guest continues their rant, but when interrupted again by the interviewer, shifts gears to look like an aggrieved guest who is being rudely interrupted. Ib most cases, this works since the interviewer has two choices: let the rant proceed or say that the guest is too unruly to continue. This works best when the ranter is a woman is being interviewed by a man; it harkens back to days of chivalry.
Even on Fox, the friendly home of the Tea Party, Libertarians, and conservative Republicans, this media training kicks into gear whenever the guest is asked a question that deviates from their own agenda. In this FOX interview, anchor Chris Wallace interviews one of the more vicious Trump supporters, Mercedes Schlapp, who steamrolls past Wallace when asked to explain the dismally low turnout at the Tulsa, Oklahoma campaign rally held in June 2020. (The rally attracted 6,200 people in an arena that has a capacity of 19,200, according to the Tulsa fire department.
Evade the question
In this same FOX example, Schlapp goes off on a separate attack against Joe Biden, who was never mentioned in the questions raised by Wallace. In this video, she is asked by Wallace to stop talking and answer the question. This is something she refuses to do.
Go Into Attack Mode When It’s Not Going Your Way
Trump has made this his signature move. No other president has done this before. Here is Trump regarding his mismanagement of the COVID crisis.
Deny the Obvious
Here is Peter Navarro, a Trump advisor, who ignores a Trump statement saying there are more COVID virus cases because there are more tests. Trump then said he asked his staff to slow down the testing since that would reduce the number of cases. Here Navarro defends Trump’s statement as being a joke.
Insult the Interviewer
Kelly Ann Conway, a counselor to Trump, is a master at evasion and double-talk. A key part of her job is to create confusion and frustration in the media. In this clip on CNN about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Kremlin tied lawyer during the 2016 campaign Monday, “Conway deflected her way through almost 40 minutes in a heated discussion with Chris Cuomo. She relied on insults throughout the discussion,” in this Salon post.
Here is another example from Trump himself.
You Cannot Hide from Being Stupid
But while these techniques are designed to obfuscate and bully interviewers so the speaker can make a point on TV, there is also no place for stupidity. No amount of training can help you if you are stupid. Take the case of
Sean Spicer, former White House press secretary, who dug himself into a deep hole when he said “I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no, he (Hitler) was not using the gas on his own people the same way that (Syrian President) Assad is doing,” he said.
See the clip here:
— CSPAN (@cspan) April 11, 2017