In This Episode
Last week, Pod Save America interviewed former New Jersey governor Chris Christie. An early and critical endorser of Donald Trump, Christie has now broken with his Republican contemporaries to wage a staunch never-Trump presidential campaign. So far, he’s the only candidate that has both qualified for the first GOP debate and demonstrated that he’ll attack Trump directly. Some PSA listeners were upset with our choice to give Christie a platform, but what does it really mean to give someone airtime? How quick should we be to reach for that deplatforming button? Are respectable news organizations always suckers for amplifying dishonest, or disreputable, or checkered people? Pod Save America’s Jon Lovett, who interviewed Christie, and Oliver Darcy, a senior media reporter at CNN who covers platforming decisions, join host Brian Beutler to debate the role of shunning and accountability in media.
Brian Beutler: Hello and welcome to Positively Dreadful. With me your host, Brian Beutler. So last week, Pod Save America, our flagship show, did something a little different. Maybe you heard hopefully you listened. The interview guest on last Thursday’s show was Chris Christie, the Chris Christie you’re all thinking of the former New Jersey governor. Bridgegate dude. Critical early Donald Trump endorser, that guy. And it shouldn’t be a big mystery why Christie has landed in the anti-Trump camp. And of all the thousands of people in the Republican presidential primary, he’s the only one who’s both qualified for the first GOP debate and who has made it clear he’ll attack Trump directly for essentially for being a crook. That doesn’t necessarily redeem him or redeem anything about him, but it’s it’s interesting and useful and healthy in a way. Trump probably won’t show up to that debate because Chris Christie will be there, which is valuable information. Christie could nevertheless make all the other non-Trump candidates look look pretty cowardly and ridiculous in the ways they bend over backward, not to notice that he’s seemingly broken a bunch of laws. So Christie’s injected some novelty into GOP politics. And I’m probably a bit biased, but it was a good interview. Check it out if you haven’t listened to it already. But not everyone agreed. Some of our listeners weren’t happy about it. Many of our critics weren’t. Without singling anyone out in particular. The most common complaint was that we’d given Christie a quote unquote “platform,” and in reading through some of those complaints, made me want to do this episode not just about the Christie interview question, but about the significance of platforms and the wisdom or value of policing who gets to access them. I think if you run down the list of the Republican Party’s pet obsessions in the Biden era, you’ll be left with a sense that they kind of mine controversies that divide liberal elites and choose those in order to sow dissent within the larger Democratic Party coalition. That’s part just part but a big part of the allure of the, quote unquote, “war on woke.” Even though God knows Republicans have their own language, norms and sacred cows, they’ve declared war on woke. It’s why they knew railing against cancel culture would be an effective culture war fight. Even though Republicans are some of the most ruthless cancellers in the world. The concepts of platforming and de-platforming fall under that general umbrella. And at the risk of feeding this vicious cycle I’m talking about, I want to discuss it because A, unlike wokeness or cancel culture, it’s pretty easy to define and identify. The basic idea is that respectable institutions shouldn’t amplify disreputable or dishonest people and should remove people who prove to be dishonest and disreputable. So that’s A, B this method de-platforming platforming, whatever you want to call it, is, is a matter of ongoing controversy on the broad left. And C, I personally have pretty mixed feelings about it. Or to be more precise, I think it’s a worthy topic because almost nobody, including self-described free speech absolutists, disagree that de-platforming is the right or necessary thing to do in certain instances. We’re all just kind of arguing about where to draw the line. And for me, I think that line is well, further into fringe or controversial territory than some of our critics, the ones who didn’t want us to have Chris Christie on Pod Save America. My background is in beat reporting. Early in my career, I worked at a great little outlet called TPM, and at TPM we covered very assiduously the the right wing fringe, the kooks and conspiracy theorists and grifters and liberals and progressives and our commenters would get absolutely furious with us for giving these characters, quote unquote, “oxygen.” The idea was that these figures drew strength and power and influence, in part because outlets like ours would report on their antics and expose more people to them. And our philosophy then my philosophy now is that’s a pretty silly way of thinking about how mass movements build themselves. And it’s better to know what someone like Michele Bachmann or someone like Ginni Thomas and the whole Tea Party are up to. One, because it will maybe turn a lot of people off and two, because that stuff will likely is not become mainstream within the GOP before too long. But I think there are obvious caveats too. Below a certain level of visibility and influence. Fixating on random crazies can be exploitative. It can elevate people who should probably remain on the fringe into echelons of power and influence. We also know that platforming and de-platforming decisions can be hugely consequential. Platforming Donald Trump by pointing a camera at his rally lectern or press conference and airing it unfiltered just floods the discourse with all kinds of lies. And it probably helped him become president in 2016. By the same token, de-platforming people like Tucker Carlson or Milo Yiannopoulos or Trump himself really does seem to diminish the harm they’re capable of. So the specific question is maybe should pod Save America have platformed Chris Christie? But a more important, more general question is how quick should we be to reach for that de-platforming button and under what circumstances? As always, I’ll be your impartial moderator. And to hash it out, we have Jon Lovett, the great platforming heretic who needs no introduction, and Oliver Darcy, a senior media reporter for CNN, who has reported for many years on a whole bunch of major platforming and de-platforming decisions, including pretty bravely, I thought, at at his own outlet. So let’s see how much consensus we can find on this topic. Thanks to both of you for doing this.
Jon Lovett: Thanks for having me.
Oliver Darcy: Yeah, I’m excited to be here.
Brian Beutler: So I want to start with Lovett, before we really get into it. Can you take us behind the scenes of the Christie interview? Like, how did you think it went and were there any fun off camera moments you can talk about?
Jon Lovett: Sure. So, first of all, I wasn’t aware there was any criticism. I’m finding that out here. So that’s been tough. That was a tough thing to hear. [laughter] You know, this is going to be a situation where I’m going to tend to agree with every point made on this topic, because I do see the the argument from both sides. So first of all, with Christie, there is, I would say two reasons I was interested in having the conversation. One is, I think a bit more meta for good and for ill, and then one is more direct. The the meta reason was we spent a lot of time talking about Republicans, what they think and why they think it. And I thought he was a good candidate to have that conversation because he’s someone who has evolved on Trump. And I think it is worth thinking about why. And the second reason is I didn’t want to do it just to have an argument. And I didn’t want to do it either, just to lift up someone who’s turned anti-Trump or to have someone on who is anti-Trump so that I can yell at them for why it took them so long. Right. Neither one of them was particularly interesting to me and what I was thinking about and why I thought it was worth doing is like I just have genuine questions like to approach it, not like someone who’s mad, but as someone who’s disappointed. Like, I don’t understand. [laughter] Like, I really don’t. I still don’t like, you know, how you can go from being so gung ho to being so antagonistic, how you can be in debate prep trying to help someone make an argument for why they deserve reelection and a year later decide they don’t deserve reelection. And that was, I think, the most interesting part of it. I don’t know if we got as far as I would have liked to have get, which is probably going to be impossible. And Chris Christie is a seasoned interviewee. He is as good at evading a question as anybody, and he is as good at evading a question while seeming commonsensical and seeming reasonable and seeming like he’s just telling it like it is. And so I was just sort of interested in pushing on that a bit. And in the end, I feel like on balance, like there are places where I, you know, in hindsight I was like, why did I let that follow up go to get to the next thing, right? Like, he’s he’s going to support a national abortion law. Once we get to a national consensus, one of the I was so caught off guard by how insane that response was. I like didn’t have a response on it. So I moved on to the next thing or, you know, there was this a few places like I wish now in hindsight, like when he was talking, he kind of moved past Hunter Biden and back to talking about Jared. And I wish I’d gone back and pushed a little more on the Hunter Biden thing. But all of it to me was an exercise in you don’t have a conversation like this very often. It’s probably a good muscle work.
Brian Beutler: I think, you know, everyone who’s done an interview in a journalistic capacity has that feeling of staircase wit where they’re like, oh, man, I really in a moment should have thought of this one way to push back on some spin of theirs. But like I’m thinking more along lines, like if somebody came up to you in a show, and was like, you know, I love the show, but like, I really thought that it was wrong of you to like, here’s another word that gets bandied about in this conversation rehabilitate, like to bring Chris Christie on and and rehabilitate him. What would your response to somebody with that objection be?
Jon Lovett: Yeah, I mean, I don’t agree with that. And I don’t know how how biting I’d be in saying that if somebody asked me in the moment. I I think a lot of people learned and then over learned a lesson from 2016 which is everybody has seared in their memory four screens with an empty podium waiting for Trump to come out. [laughter] And I do think that that did real damage. I think treating Trump as an entertaining spectacle first and not a threat first had real costs. Now, I don’t know if Trump would have been the nominee either way, because in part what this realization is about platforming is not only it’s not just about what the networks are putting out. It’s in some sense a mistrust of the audience, in the sense that we, the engaged, hyper aware observers of politics, who cannot be swayed by mass media, whose opinions are immovable. We hear the observers with our binoculars like we’re making a nature documentary about humanity. We are observing the influence the media is having on on this delicate gazelle of a voter gnawing on leaves, unaware of its own motivations and behaviors. And we are trying to police and protect. We are trying to build a sanctuary for them where they get the right nutrients and the right information in the right ways. And I think that that lesson, I think giving Trump a platform without fact checking in, letting his speeches run for hours on end, sucking up all the oxygen, crowding out all the other competitors, all of that does real damage. But that’s a different matter than, say, a Trump townhall, where he is questioned, where he is pushed back on, where he makes news on five or six topics in which he espouses incredibly unpopular ideas that are extremely toxic, despite the fact that he’s getting applause from his audience. So I think it’s a matter of nuance, and I think taking the lesson from 2016 and applying it everywhere, applying it to a conversation with Chris Christie, I think is goes too far, especially when and this is a different point, especially when what I see is a conversation on the left that is much more about what information people should and should not be exposed to or misinformation people shouldn’t and should not be exposed to. And less a conversation about, hey, there are millions of people not paying attention at all. How do we make ourselves interesting, exciting, a movement, a conversation people want to be a part of. Because when you spend less time thinking about how to police the rhetoric that’s allowed on your platform and a little bit more time thinking about like, wouldn’t that be a fun conversation, wouldn’t that be interesting? What do I want to hear about? I, I do think that like, that is an advantage that the Joe Rogan Daily Wire anti-woke sphere of discourse has over the left right now, which is they don’t give a fuck what people say on their platform. They just want to have a good conversation for good and for ill. And I think we have to remember, like we’re not just trying to make a beautiful delicate cathedral of information. We’ve got to get people to go inside.
Brian Beutler: Mm hmm. I like that metaphor a lot. That’s a great image. Oliver, I want to bring you in and thank you for being patient. So you you report on this kind of controversy a lot, and I think usually it’s a little bit more of a controversy than, like, podcast host interviews, presidential candidate.
Jon Lovett: Podcast host interviews most overexposed candidate of all time who gives a shit. [laughter]
Brian Beutler: So do you take any issue with either how I set up the conversation in the intro or or how Jon just sort of described his how he thinks about these questions and what would you add to it based on covering things and how they tend to go?
Oliver Darcy: I mean, this is such a complicated space and so I don’t know if there is a perfect answer or a silver bullet that you can really apply it to everything with. I do think the base rule maybe should be like, is this person coming on my platform to have a good faith discussion? And I think there are a lot of people who just are coming on to either dunk on the interviewer or the networks they’re coming on or that or they’re they’re not interested in having a good faith conversation and exchanging thoughtful dialogue. And I think Chris Christie actually probably is someone who seems to be having a good faith conversation and at least giving you his opinion and not really, you know, not really playing the typical politics game. Of course, I think he’s going to say things that people might disagree with or but he’s not Trump. He’s not coming on here to dunk on you guys, to lie, just brazenly lie about the election, things like that. He might have policy decisions. He’s going to, again, disagree with you guys on. He might even engage in the typical political spin right. About some of the things he’s done in the past or—
Brian Beutler: He did for sure.
Jon Lovett: And he did.
Oliver Darcy: Yeah, but but that’s like sort of normal in politics, right? I mean, that’s always happened. That’s always going to happen. I think, though, whether he’s having a good faith conversation to me seems to be what matters to me as as both someone who would either do the interview or also just as a listener am I like listening to someone who is actually trying to answer the questions honestly and navigate these really complex issues that are facing the country. And I think generally speaking, when I watch Chris Christie, he seems to be someone in that category. And I think the problem is a lot of Republicans are no longer in that category because they’re going on network news or engaging with the mainstream media with the explicit purpose of not only attacking them on their platform, but then going and running to their base and fundraising off of it and saying, look how I brought the heat to CNN or MSNBC or or whatever. And I think that’s problematic when when you’re no longer even trying to have a conversation between two people and then the other. The other thing is. With platforms like Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, when you have people who are just clearly exploiting the algorithms and the system to get bad information to people, particularly when it can be dangerous with the pandemic especially or even the 2020 election and the results. And you have a lot of people who are very clearly, you know, gaming the system. And it’s not about even, I don’t think, silencing them, like let them say what they want to say. But whether Twitter inserts that into your your feed or their Facebook amplifies that to way more people that would have seen it if it if it was just you know, if it hadn’t been amplified. I think that’s a lot of times what reporters are asking these platforms, like, hey, like, you know, it’s one thing to say this, it’s another thing to send it over to a million people and then have this information spread like a fire.
Brian Beutler: I’m glad that you brought up this idea of like is a person were thinking about bringing on for an interview or to do a town hall with are they somebody who’s going to engage in good faith? I try honestly to answer the questions that you ask, even if they put some spin on it. Like I think we’re all kind of agreeing that in the realm of doing something recognizably journalistic like that, like there’s just more leeway, right? Like, you’re going to want to try to, like, interview a wide range of public figures, including very controversial ones, and hopefully bring, you know, a certain amount of like quick wit and purpose and professionalism to it so that they don’t get to kind of like trample over you and just spew out a message without anyone scrutinizing what they’re saying. And then, like Trump looms as this archetype of of the opposite, you know, somebody who’s just really there to snow you over with lies or dominate you and then make fun of you and raise money off of it. But like between Christie and Trump, there are so many, like hypothetical examples, like, I’m cooking this up mostly on the fly, but I think like Chris Rufo, he’s the he’s this like right wing activist, very influential in conservative politics, currently with the DeSantis camp in the in the Republican primary world. And I think he has a book coming out now. So I have noticed that he’s you know, he’s making the media rounds and then like Steve Bannon is is, I think, sort of similar person, both of them. I think in a weird way, to their credit, they kind of admit that that they’re out there like to be a fog machine to aid right wing advancement. Like they kind of say that that’s what they’re doing. Like pollute the discourse so much that people lose track of what’s real and what matters. And so that like the really dodgy people that they support can sneak by. And this is where I find myself, like in a gray zone, because, like, I know both of those guys have a fair amount of influence. Like, I think I would probably interview them on a live or unedited program with enough like time to prep, but I’m not sure and I don’t really know like what test to apply to decide whether somebody who is like has a record of engaging in bad faith is nevertheless because of their influence or power. Worth engaging with in that journalistic capacity. I’d like to hear your both of your thoughts on it.
Jon Lovett: Yeah, those are good. I mean, what are you trying to get out of it? Like, what is your goal of talking to a person like that? Who? It’s interesting that you choose them both and put them together because they are both sort of students of the game. They are students of the media. Rufo is someone who’s been very outspoken about this sort of campaign around drag shows and sort of anti-trans policies as a means of creating a political advantage. Same thing around critical race theory, trying to, you know, as they’ve even explicitly said, look at how successful we’ve been in equating all these different things as critical race theory. That’s like a big step in making sure that we alienate people from from progressive policies. So what is your goal in talking to somebody like that? It’s certainly not to hear their point of view because you know that their whole reason for coming on to talk to you is to continue to spread misinformation and to impugn your goals to to create a false impression about what they’re trying to do. So I guess your goal in talking to someone like that is to have a kerfuffle and have a nice little fight where you’ve won a conversation, but you can’t win a conversation. I mean, this is I think this is why on the right there is this, you know, debate me coward thing. It’s this I it’s this is this. There’s this idea which I think is very like it’s very male. It’s very old fashioned that the way you put your ideas to the test is in a conversation and the person with the quickest wit and recall and the best ability to deliver a dunk in real time that makes someone else look weak or stupid or emasculated, that’s how you demonstrate your ideas are better. That’s, of course, fucking stupid. [laughter] That isn’t how we figure out whether ideas are good. There’s a reason scientists don’t figure out the answer to hard questions in debates. They do it by stepping away and thinking and writing down what they think as clearly as possible, taking as long as they need. So I just reject the idea of a debate as a best means to get to the truth about anything. So then I step back and say, well, what is the goal? What is the question? I want to know the answer to? What is the thing that I think I can get out of this person? I don’t know personally that I have any reason to talk to either one of those guys because I don’t know how much I want to learn from them. I don’t know how much I need to. I don’t know what I learn from asking them anything. That’s I guess what I would say.
Brian Beutler: Oliver, you have thoughts on like the general, like what do you do with with figures like that who are definitely newsworthy in in some sense, but you also know that they’re overt. Their stated objective is to sort of use you as a vehicle to get shit into the zone. [laughs]
Oliver Darcy: I guess I’m not really convinced that they’re super newsworthy figures I like, at least for an interview and for like having a discussion, you know, like, I mean, I just don’t really know what you get out of it. I think certainly if someone like that were to say something that’s just totally false or whatever, you would might want to fact check it, that might be worthy to to audiences. You might want to call them just to make sure you’re not completely misreading things and and get their point of view. But if they’re clearly coming on or their stated goal is to mislead, I’m not I just I don’t really understand the news value. It reminds me somewhat of the the fascination a couple of years ago with covering Jacob Wohl. Do you remember Jacob Wohl?
Brian Beutler: Oh, yeah, of course.
Oliver Darcy: And and he was like a nobody, right? Like, just this nobody person who is doing these dumb things. But like, for some reason there was a big fascination with covering every single stunt he was doing, and a lot of the coverage was very critical. But that’s really what he wanted. He was really thriving and just being in the headlines. And so I was always a little bit confused, like, why is this a news story? This like guy who has no real influence is like doing a dumb stunt that’s aimed at getting attention. He’s actually getting attention and like, that’s the whole point of this whole thing. And so I think you have to be really careful when it comes to covering these types of figures. I guess like there’s like this old saying that sunlight is the best disinfectant. And I’m not entirely convinced that in 2023, in this current media environment, that that’s still applicable, because I think a lot of these people actually grow and thrive in the sunlight and that’s what they want. And so while it certainly applies, I think, to some maybe more traditional politicians who are capable of feeling shame or are embarrassed when they spread bad information, I’m not entirely sure it really applies to some of these newer figures. These like people who have like basically been grown in these Internet fever swamps whose entire goal is just to get as much attention as possible and be exposed to as many people as possible. And by you know, and you’re approaching the interview or the discussion in good faith. I’m not convinced that they are. I’m convinced that they are probably using you to just reach more people and get more attention and further their dishonest, perhaps message to the masses.
Jon Lovett: Well, it is like it is a bit like the moment in Dark Night where that that cop says to the Joker, I know you want me to fight you. I know that you’re trying to goad me, so I’ll just have to enjoy this more than you. It doesn’t really redound to his benefit [laughter] but I do think that’s a little bit of what’s going on. Like you going, this is a person who wants to fight, so if it’s worth your time, you better know that you’re going to get more out of it than them. And I think that is hard to do.
Oliver Darcy: You see this on Twitter all the time or X or whatever it’s called, where people are clearly just trying to goad journalists or people with bigger platforms into engaging with them because they know that that’s going to build up their own brand. And so I think actually what Jon was just saying, one of the most difficult things is when you’re being trolled endlessly by someone and you want to respond. But you know that after you hit that response, that reply tweet or whatever, you’re going to feel bad about yourself because you’ve just elevated this dumb discussion. To your entire audience, and now they’re getting a benefit out of it because now they can dunk back on you. And it’s this endless back and forth. And to some extent it can almost. And, you know, the sad thing is it could benefit both parties. And I think you see this to some extent with some some different people, some journalists on there who like this back and forth where they’re dunking on each other, because to perhaps one figures audience, they’re winning the argument and the other side they’re winning the argument. But the people who lose are actually just the media consumers because they’re seeing this, you know. It’s not. It’s not producing anything good. It’s just producing these dumb dunks. And at some point, you know, you have to ask yourself whether that’s conducive to like actually solving any problems and having a good discussion on policy or whether it’s just a performance for for, you know, both sets of audiences.
Brian Beutler: There’s one thing that I feel like I would. Things like you might get some value out of interviewing Steve Bannon about would be like a meta question about what he said about flooding the zone, which, like I read Josh Green’s biography of him right after the 2016 election, and he goes into this like basically it’s an intellectual history of Steve Bannon, who has like a long record of of admiring these like totalitarian propaganda figures like Leni Riefenstahl and Sergei Eisenstein. Right. And he thinks that the way they use misleading media to mobilize their citizens was admirable. And I would want to talk to him about that, like why he thinks that’s ethical. And so it wouldn’t really be a gotcha about like, I’m sure he would try to talk about the Biden crime family or something like that. And then it’s like, well, I mean, I didn’t decide to interview you so that you could like, spew a bunch of bullshit about Hunter Biden or whatever. But like, I really would like to hear him explain why he thinks that that’s an acceptable way to conduct yourself in in the public sphere. I don’t really know what you get out of it. Like if he would answer that question honestly. But I’m curious because I, like, often find myself fascinated by the lack of scruple in the like universe of people that we’re talking about. And we never really get into like what? What makes them think that this is an okay way to be?
Oliver Darcy: Yeah, I think if you think that you can have a good faith discussion on that one point, you know, that might be worth maybe hearing him out. I think there are a couple of things you can maybe ask Steve Bannon, if he were engaging in good faith and not just going pivot to Hunter Biden, perhaps it could be illuminated to your audience. But if you’re just interviewing like him, you know, about X, Y, and Z just to me, like, you know, hearing him rant about the Hunter Biden family or crime family or whatever he’s talking about that day are like COVID. You know, that just doesn’t seem like it’s beneficial to the audience. And even you then just like fact checking him in real time, like, I don’t really see what people get out of that. And I think it’s much better to use your time talking to an expert perhaps in the field. And you can talk about the misinformation out there and the things that he is saying and put it in context. But seeing it, the the fight, you know, it’s like the cable news fight from ten years ago would be very popular. Like O’Reilly would invite someone on and he would just shut them down. Like, I don’t really see how that benefits anyone and might achieve high ratings and might get a lot of attention. But at the end of the day, do you leave that conversation feeling smarter? I don’t know.
Jon Lovett: Well, you know, it’s interesting, though, like I agree with that. But one interview doesn’t really matter that much. One conversation doesn’t matter that much. Steve Bannon having the chance to spew off one time on that. It’ll be the 18th time that day that people would have accidentally heard about the Hunter Biden crime [laughter] or whatever it might be. And so you talk about the sort of O’Reilly fight, right? Like one argument would be having a platform where people know when they come to it, they’re going to sometimes get really interesting fireworks, that it’ll be entertaining and surprising and maybe somebody makes a point or somebody wins and like that makes a place that feel alive with a bit of tension and interest. And so the next day, when you talk about health care policy or the next day where you talk about some other issue, maybe people are a little bit more receptive to that because they know that this is a space where they don’t know what they’re going to get. They’re going to hear all kinds of things that they might not expect that that that that the conversation hasn’t been prescreened for your viewing ease and comfort. Now, and obviously, that’s not what you’re saying but I do like. Because the reason I say that is you mentioned shame Oliver and shame carries through all of this. Like we are fascinated hearing what Brian wants to ask Steve Bannon about. It’s what I was interested in talking to Chris Christie about. I think that all of us have this trauma from the last decade where. We were surprised to see so many people realize that they could operate without shame. And we were surprised not just that there were so many people willing to do that, to just cast it aside and just kind of go without it, but also how effective it is that it turns out that that absent shame, that shame wasn’t the first guardrail. It was like in a lot of sense, the last guardrail. And once you blew through it, there was really nothing stopping them. And so now we’re all on the other side of this calamity of all these Republicans and Trump people realizing that they could basically operate without shame. And we’re like, how did you do that? How did you know you could get away with that and why don’t you have it and can you get it back and can I give it to you in conversation? Is it communicable? [laughter] Like, is it something where because I still know it’s there, that I can remind you of what it is? Is it something I can incept back into your movement? Because we don’t know how to make political consequences come back. Right. We don’t. We don’t know how to make people pay in political blood. [laughs] And so we’re like, can we get the fucking cultural shame back here in some sense? And like, that feels a little bit sad.
Brian Beutler: This is sort of like. Like why I’m such, like, a myopic. Like one set of goggles on about about politics is that, like, I feel like the only way to bring the shame back is to is to, like, beat the people who have lost their shame on the grounds that they aren’t honest, that like they are crooked. You know what I mean?
Jon Lovett: But see I don’t agree like that. That that’s I think that’s our mistake. That’s what we want it to be. That’s the TV version. We want to beat them by showing them that we want them to confess, like at the end of that. Vincent D’Onofrio Law Order I that’s what I want. Deep down, that’s what I want. I want the confession. But really, we don’t need the confession. We just need to beat them. And if we beat them enough, if we win enough elections, if we show them that operating without shame doesn’t work, the ones they’ll they’ll do it because it’s in their interest. And that’s the thing—
Brian Beutler: I don’t. Yeah, well, so I agree with that. But I just think that like you want the interest to be we need to get away from party leaders, candidates, etc. who traffic in Trump like, right. Like no one in need ever needs to apologize to me or anyone else. But like, if Kari Lake runs for election again in Arizona, she will probably lose again. And and maybe at some point, like Arizona, Republicans are going to be like, oh, here’s the problem, right? Like, no more people like her. More people like Rusty Bowers instead like that, right? Like, that’s the the best we can hope for. But like, there’s got to be, like, some sort of cudgel on the other side of the of the—
Jon Lovett: This is why you don’t talk to Rufo, right? Because you’re not going to win by convincing or talking to Rufo, or you’re not going to win on the grounds of trying to prove to those people that their anti drag anti-trans campaign is bigotry.
Brian Beutler: Yeah.
Jon Lovett: You show them you show the other Republican politics, you show people that that’s a losing, that that’s that if you go with them, you’re signing a death warrant politically that like this shit just doesn’t work. Don’t. That’s a siren song. Don’t follow that Rufo guy. That’s the fringe. It doesn’t work.
Oliver Darcy: The problem, of course, though, is on the right, there’s this massive right wing media machine that encourages the opposite behavior. Right. And so to get through the Republican primaries, you have to engage in all this sort of at this point, you have to talk to the Hannity’s and formerly the Tucker Carlson’s and Laura Ingraham’s and the Greg Gutfeld’s. You have to win over their support. And the only way to do that is by engaging in a lot of this behavior. And so then you exit the Republican primaries and then maybe you try pivoting to the middle to some extent. But the the Fox News, you know, the stuff you have to now say to win over those guys as they become increasingly radical, like you’re pivoting way back to the other side. It’s not like the Fox News of ten years ago where maybe slightly conservative you have like the worse, you know, the most conservative guy on there before maybe it was Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity. And then there was, you know, Shepard Smith doing two hours and Neil Cavuto and Brit Hume was kind of normal back then. Now you have like a completely radicalized channel. You have all these other satellite entities around. You have the Daily Wire and and some of these other other media organizations. You have talk radio and then you have Facebook and and Twitter and all these Internet personalities. And so you have to appease all these people and you’re not appeasing them by being like this, like Chris Christie, like Republican, where you are trying to engage in good faith. You’re appeasing them by going on CNN and trying your best to dunk on the anchor or by, you know, doing the debate me coward stuff to to everyone in mainstream media and not having these good faith conversation. I think that’s that’s that’s really the problem here is the incentive structure on the right has been totally warped and distorted and it’s no longer really recognizable. And so we’re having a conversation that’s completely different than a conversation that would occur in right wing media.
Brian Beutler: I remember feeling like a very sinking feeling when like Ted Cruz one afternoon called the January 6th rioters terrorist. And like that night got hauled on to Tucker Carlson to apologize, because that’s like how powerful the effect that you’re describing is, which is, I think, a really good it’s a good moment to to ask about the sort of inverse platforming question, which is one that I know that lots of Democratic figures wrestle with. People who are Democratic Party critics wrestle with is like, what about validating the platform of Fox by appearing on it? Are you making a mistake by doing it, or is it worth it in order to reach the audience, even if it’s only for like a 15 minute segment that Fox then uses to its own nefarious ends for, you know, the next day or week or whatever else?
Oliver Darcy: I it’s a hard question to answer. I’m not sure. I do know that The New York Times just had polling out yesterday. That’s something like only like I think a 98% the audience does not support Biden or think he’s doing a good job or something like that. [laughter] I think it’s like I’m not really sure how much of the audience at this point is is really persuadable. I think there’s a 95% or something ridiculous numbers like so like you’re going on on a platform that’s not going to be fair to you. And then you’re trying to reach a very, very small audience or a shrinking audience of people who might might hear you out. So I don’t know what if the end really justifies the means there? I don’t really know, though. I mean, then at the end, you see someone like Pete Buttigieg go on there and he does particularly well. And sometimes there can be a conversation. I just don’t know in the grand scheme of things, does that matter much? I’m not. I actually genuinely don’t know the answer to that. If you can do it, I guess effectively, maybe it’s it’s worth it, but I don’t know.
Jon Lovett: Yeah, I have a similar ambivalence and I was going to point to Pete Buttigieg and say, all right, well, Pete Buttigieg, I think we would say you can’t do it better. Right. So is it valuable for someone to go on Fox News and be as good at it as Pete Buttigieg is as good at it. And I have to say, my instinct, I don’t I don’t know that I believe what I’m about to say, but it is my response, which is, yeah, go on, do it. And it’s because it’s not just about what happens in that appearance. Right? I agree. You’re not reaching that many people, but A, it’s not like the content that would have been there had Pete not been there was not like that would have been excellent. And also, B, there’s value to that clip for us. It’s inspiring to a lot of people that are progressives that say, this world is fucking nuts and this channel sucks, and how do we live with these people and how does this exist? And how come no one tells them and all that stuff? And so that little boost of that viral clip of people seeing Pete Buttigieg going on that channel and giving those people the fucking business, like maybe that’s enough. Maybe it’s enough for progressives who believe in a good faith conversation and are like wounded birds out there [laughs] like just trying to make it through the day, like a little something for the people back home. Like, I don’t have a problem with doing that. You know, you made the point about Fox News ten years ago. It’s amazing how fast things change after 2012. You had all these Republicans doing their postmortem, their famous not obituary. That’s not what they called it, what they call it. There’s a what was it—
Oliver Darcy: It was an—
Brian Beutler: Autopsy.
Jon Lovett: And what was their answer? That we need to build a cosmopolitan Republican Party that moderates on immigration. Now, obviously, that went into the buzzsaw of a bunch of people who’d been cattle prod by Fox News, more specifically talk radio for decades, who weren’t going to have it. But again, you know, the right wing media machine, it got behind Mitt Romney. It got behind John McCain when it needed to. It wants to win. And so I yes, right now there is a vicious circle where a Republican can stay in the good graces of that media and push back against the extremism that’s now rampant in the party. I think you see, what Ron DeSantis has done to himself is a signal example of that his anti-woke crusade has pushed him so far to the right that he seems unelectable even to Republicans. But, you know, defeat can change that and I think can change it faster than we realize. I think Fox News has lost some of its power and some of the reason it’s had to stay so far to the right, even when I think some people have tried to say we need to like think about how we’re going to win and how to keep keep this channel from making people completely unpalatable, unpalatable to suburban Republicans and independents. They’ve been forced to stay to the right because of the arrival of Newsmax and OAN and Daily Wire and all the rest. But even with all of that, it is amazing how chastening defeat can be. And the argument, I mean, even right now, what is the argument that Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis and Mike Pence, what are the argument that they’re willing to make about Trump and his various crimes? It’s not that what he did is illegal. It’s that even if he’s being railroaded, my God, it could cost us the election. There’s no sin like losing. [laughter]
Brian Beutler: Okay. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of like mapping out the gray zone in in like the realm of decisions that are ultimately a journalistic or the questionable person is being mediated in some way. On the other end of the spectrum are events where someone like Trump or whoever their remarks are carried live or like they host a show on Fox News. And actually, this is where I think, like people who are pretty aggressive about advocating for deplatforming people make their best case because I think networks have become better about not airing Trump rallies live right. He got kicked off Twitter, and I think that had a pretty salutary effect that Kamala Harris was right about. And I guess you’re wrong, Jon. [laughs] But like Tucker. Tucker Carlson got fired and like, he he became irrelevant very fast. I mean, maybe not forever, but for now, he’s like he’s like a whisper of what he once was. And I find that very compelling. But I also find myself, like, not wanting to over indulge in that kind of thinking because I’m not sure where the where there’s like a limiting principle or a litmus test, like who gets to decide who ought to be kicked off TV, basically. Like, who are the people who decide that this news maker is too dishonest to point a camera at? But this newsmaker is honest enough that we should carry their their comments live. It just seems a little thorny.
Oliver Darcy: Well, I think that the television networks decide right and so—
Brian Beutler: Well, I mean, I know. I know literally who. But like. But like, do we trust them? Like, what judgment ought to be applied to that question?
Oliver Darcy: Yeah, but I mean, they all they all evaluate this in different ways. I think Fox News, for instance, evaluates whether they carried Trump live in a much different way than CNN, in a much different way than MSNBC and so on and so forth. And so, you know, at the end of the day, it’s not like there’s one monolith, you know, deciding who gets to be on. I think it’s a lot more complex and dynamic than that. And especially now in the age of the Internet where you can go and stream everything, you know, it’s it’s a lot more difficult. And, you know, it’s like there’s this one body that decides and that would be very dystopian. I think it’s broken up quite a bit where there are some, I think, checks and balances in place. But I mean, I think with Trump, it’s just a very clear cut case that, like, you’re not really going to benefit from hearing him rant at the podium for an hour. The audience isn’t going to benefit. And actually you can cause a lot of harm by letting him spread dangerous misinformation, whether it’s about the election or about, you know, COVID 19 at the time and, you know, all sorts of things. And so clearly, networks have made a decision. You know, it’s generally not a good idea to just let him do that. Now, in some cases, maybe maybe if he was saying something that’s newsworthy, you could, you know, record it and then bring it back to the audience and you could say, you know, this is him, uncut, unscripted, you know, this just happened. But carrying him live and just waiting to get to news, I feel like, you know, most networks have learned their lesson.
Jon Lovett: Yeah, I think that’s right. I think there’s a distinction between like the difference between a, you know, a host and a like a news making speech, whatever it may be. Like, I mean, you’re paying that host millions of dollars and presumably one should not pay a person millions of dollars to lie and expose you to lawsuits that could cost you hundreds of millions of dollars. Like, that’s sort of a good rule of thumb for anyone running any sort of business. [laughter] As for Trump, yeah, like, again, simple rule don’t air if you can avoid it. Best not to air. Ridiculous outright fabrications without any pushback. And if you are aware that the person who’s speaking often does that, you probably have a duty to hold off before you air it. And I think that lesson took them way, way, way too long to learn, because, again, Trump was entertaining and he was better than what else they were. It was he was more fun to watch and more exciting to watch than whatever else they were going to put on that day. And even right now, like when we’re back in a Republican primary, there is this feeling you remember what it was like before the Republican primary. We were all having a good time. You know, it was fun watching Trump go after these people. Obviously, it was chilling that this person was building support, but people liked watching him rip Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and all these people to shreds. It was entertaining. It was different than what we’d had on before. It was more fun having Trump on CNN than having any of the rest of the candidates. And it took too long for people to figure out that there was an incredible cost to that.
Brian Beutler: The more I think about the specifics of the Trump question, I think the clear cut one is you don’t point a camera at an empty lectern at a rally and then wait and give him 90 minutes of free airtime. And I think that—
Jon Lovett: And hey, good for us. We got we got we cracked that one.
Brian Beutler: Like literally the example that I was thinking of was the one Oliver brought up about COVID. It’s like he was president and there was a global pandemic. And yes, he realized that this was an opportunity for him to go to the briefing room almost every day and get air time. And like his advisors were telling him to try to like sand down the rough edges so that he could maybe salvage a little bit of the politics of this. If you’re a CNN exec or a MSNBC exec like it’s still the president talking about a global pandemic. And that like militates, I think very heavily like you don’t monitor that for news. You carry that live. On the other hand, like then he might say inject bleach to fight COVID. And dozens of your viewers will go do that and some of them will die. And I don’t know how you, like weigh those two things against each other, but I don’t think it can be that you just set a standard that if it’s a politician, you don’t carry them live. You monitor for news and you apply an equal level of fact checking scrutiny to all of them. Just because Trump happens to be so singularly bad.
Oliver Darcy: I think a one size fits all approach is never going to work. And I think you just have smart people or people, you know, in these places of power evaluate these things and hopefully they reach the right decision. I would say the only thing about the Trump COVID briefings, which I thought maybe is different than the rally, is you had journalists in the room just pushing back at him. And so there were a lot of back and forth between him and reporters. Reporters be like, that’s not true. And so it was a little bit different than just pointing the camera at the podium, you know, and him giving a rally speech where he was never held accountable in any real way. And so I think there’s a slight difference there. But even then, you can still argue like what was the benefit of of airing, you know, these briefings. Maybe it was just showcase that he was unhinged. And you have the President of the United States in charge of so much of this important juncture in American history with the pandemic, you know, totally unhinged from reality and thinking that you need to inject bleach into people’s bodies to cure COVID. So maybe that’s valuable. But I don’t know. At the end of the day, too, I still wonder whether airing hours and hours of that stuff, it’s a complicated decision. I’m not even sure if there’s a right decision to be made. Maybe they’re just like the less bad decision.
Jon Lovett: What’s the safest way to get nuclear power from a plant that’s currently melting down? Well, there’s not a lot of really good options. You really just have to cover it in cement and try to get it from somewhere else. [laughter] Like the problem is, Donald Trump, of course, should not be in that briefing room. There’s no safe way to have Donald Trump in the White House briefing room. It doesn’t make any sense. Of course, he’s the president and saying things that are newsworthy. Of course, you shouldn’t cover it live because what he’s saying is, is often going to be ridiculous and false. There’s no safe way to have Donald Trump as the president of the United States. There’s no way to make a rule when Donald Trump is in that room. We need a bunch of rules and safeguards and understandings about how we cover someone like Donald Trump so that the media environment is one in which more people realize sooner that this person should be nowhere near power. The mistake happened long before he ever got to that briefing room. I don’t know what you do, what you once you get in that briefing room, there’s really isn’t a good answer. Again, I would go back to who gives a shit? Who cares that he’s the president? He shouldn’t be. He is the president. Oh, that’s a huge fuck up. Still best probably not to take him saying that if you inject yourself with bleach, you can get away from COVID. He did a lot of damage. He killed a lot of Republicans doing what he did, not just in that briefing room, but over the year in which he was spreading misinformation about COVID.
Brian Beutler: Where I become a huge shrill resistance lib is in the in the sort of discretionary zone between like what journalists ought to do. And it’s like when when Harvard gives Sean Spicer a fellowship or like CBS names Mick Mulvaney a contributor. Right. Or Alyssa Farah becomes like she tiptoes out of the White House right before the insurrection and becomes like a host of The View. I find that all very frustrating, like deeply troubling.
Jon Lovett: Yeah.
Brian Beutler: There’s basically no de-platforming of any kind in that realm. And I mean, even like shortly after the 2020 election, there was some shadowy progressive group whose name escapes me right now. And their goal was basically going to be like as an oppo research center for reporters for when, like Trump officials tried to melt back into into mainstream jobs. But the Biden team basically was like, we don’t support this. And it disappeared almost overnight. And like, I guess where I would be like a raging de platformer is there in like expecting institutions like Harvard or CBS or whatever to not reward people just because they were powerful. If they were also doing the essentially evil things or dishonest things or whatever. I’ve seen no evidence that. Anyone learned anything from the Trump experience in that realm? And I’m wondering if you guys like see it differently or like if you have any thoughts on what more can be done to try to discourage that because that is like just rehabilitation of people who like lied continuously for years.
Oliver Darcy: I guess one thought is that like some of those people have not been welcomed with open arms, you know, on mainstream platforms, you name a few. And I don’t understand, you know, I think they’re all very different people, by the way. And I think Alyssa, particularly is far different than than some of the people you mentioned. But like at the end of the day, a lot of those Trump administration folks are not really still making the rounds on like network television for the most part. It feels to me like like some of the more radical ones have been ostracized from appearing on platforms outside of like Fox News and then other ones have been able to kind of wiggle their way back into the conversation to some extent.
Brian Beutler: I mean, it’s look, I hear you like there is a point past which you can go where you won’t get like your IOP fellowship and it’s like Corey Lewandowski or something like that. Like, you—
Oliver Darcy: Stephen Miller.
Brian Beutler: Yeah. Stephen Miller I’m not sure Stephen Miller really wants that. [laughs] But.
Jon Lovett: Of course he does, come one of course he does. He wants every—
Brian Beutler: You think so? You think he would accept like a—
Jon Lovett: What do you think turns somebody from a Santa Monica high schooler into this. It’s come on it’s not—
Brian Beutler: Oh, I think he got beat up a lot. [laughter]
Jon Lovett: Yeah. Yeah.
Brian Beutler: It’s not like anything goes. And basically, if you worked in the Trump administration, you’re guaranteed some sinecure somewhere that you don’t deserve. But like the I did think that there was going to be more stigma attached to some of those people. And it seems like more or less not. We will interview Chris Christie, but we wouldn’t like bring him on as like a Pod Save America permanent co-host. I think right.
Jon Lovett: No. No, no, no bad ideas in a brainstorm. [laughter]
Brian Beutler: The like. But that impulse or that distinction hasn’t seemingly filtered to the to like the gatekeepers for these institutions, but seems like it should have and it seems like the people who are most quick to press the de-platforming button have a great argument there.
Jon Lovett: First of all, I have a similar sort of complicated response to this. First, hard to underestimate the desire on the part of people that are in positions of power to reassert the equivalence between the parties and to live in a world where they can safely hire Democrats and Republicans and have them sit across from one another and bicker for a while between advertisements for catheters, like there is an incredible desire [laughter] to restore that balance, in part because there is this strange I think it feeds. This is a bit far afield, but I think it feeds this. There’s a reason that cancel culture and anti wokeness has such a hold on the cultural conversation. And I think it is because there is a certain subset of elites of almost all whites slightly older. You know, Gen X, baby boomer executive professional managerial class who are in any other generation the kind of person that would be like Rockefeller Republicans, but feel a little a little bit politically homeless. They are cosmopolitan, conservative moderates who don’t really feel at home with the radicalized gender and ideological and identity politics of the Republican Party, but also don’t feel at home in a more progressive Democratic Party. And because of that, there’s a real desire, there’s a discomfort with politics right now. And I think the way you solve for that is to just believe in your bones that both parties have gone wild, that both parties have lost the thread, that both parties are extreme. And the way you prove that is by finding people who can sit across from Democrats and that you feel represent the reasonable part of the Democrats and the reasonable part of the Republicans and have them go at it and have and kind of establish a center that that you feel safe in so that you can say, like, look, you got AOC on one side and Donald Trump on the other. Like there’s a real pull for that. That’s one and then two. There is value to an incentive structure in which Republicans know, if they don’t cross a certain line, there’s a home on CBS, there’s a home on NBC, there’s a home on CNN, there’s a home on MSNBC. There’s a spot for you in The New York Times op ed page. Because if a Republican, you know, if we’re talking about people, if we’re talking about a system that where shame isn’t as valuable as it once was. Don’t we want a little bit for people to know they can come back? Like, don’t we want the people that are that sided with Trump to believe that there is like a truth and reconciliation on the other side of which they get to go back, they get to still they can still live in New York and not feel like an asshole. Right? Which is what a lot of this comes down to. Like, I don’t know. I’m asking. I actually I don’t have strong I’m not sure what the answer is, but I don’t know if it’s as clean as you want it to be.
Brian Beutler: Well, I think there’s a difference between like the Trump voter who maybe was like, oh, and this person speaking to my grievances who later regrets it. And there’s there ought to be redemption. AOC has talked about like even white supremacists can be redeemed. They can come back, right? Like, and like, we should we should hope for that. Kellyanne Conway is like a different story to me and like, giving her some like, fancy—
Jon Lovett: But but we didn’t right that. But she didn’t get it—
Brian Beutler: Sure. I guess not.
Oliver Darcy: That’s an example, though, of someone who was saying it’s not like every single person in the White House, the Trump White House was given this platform. I think it’s been been a little bit more selective. And I would make one more point, too.
Brian Beutler: Okay.
Oliver Darcy: I think it is valuable for audiences to say when they hear criticism of Trump, it’s not CNN criticizing Trump, it’s not NBC News. It’s this former Trump official who’s on our panel. And they’re not a liberal, they’re a conservative. They agree with you. And they’re saying what Trump is doing is wrong. And there is some value, I think, in having that at your network. And so if you have a Mick Mulvaney does come on your program and he says, I served in the Trump administration, I believed in the mission. But what the president is doing right now, and particularly after January 6th and the 2020 election, is wrong and his supporters should know that I’m one of them. I was with you guys. And but this is this is over the line. I think there might be some value in that. And I think it’s more comfortable for the networks to have a former Trump person criticizing the former president. Cause you can say it’s a Republican, it’s a Trump guy.
Brian Beutler: Yeah. Yeah.
Oliver Darcy: You know, then have your journalists constantly being just the tip of the spear.
Brian Beutler: Yeah, it’s they’re credible validators. It’s a good point. I think it’s it’s a big part of why, Jon, what you wanted to interview Chris Christie and I and Jon, like what you said about this urge that that the leaders of these organizations feel to kind of force a kind of a false parity.
Oliver Darcy: Yeah.
Brian Beutler: So that is totally true. It’s also like why I worry that, like, Republicans really are on to something with like fixating on Hunter Biden, because that’s the draw. That’s the thing that that same set of people can attach themselves to to say, well, who can say who’s the more corrupt person here?
Jon Lovett: There’s still a feeling like these people got away with something, right? Like, but hold on a second. You knew what you were doing was wrong the whole god damn time. And now you’re going to now you’re going to kind of the tail between your legs. Go on back and get this deal. Now you’re going to tell a little bit more the truth about Trump as if you learned anything. You didn’t learn anything. You made a decision, made a decision about what was best for you. After years of making a decision that was best for you, that involved forcing your morals deep, deep down and sucking it up and working for a monster a person you knew was a monster before, during and after. That is galling. And it just there is a little bit of like injustice in it that we’re like kind of made to accept. And I have the same feeling too. But what about this era leads you to think you’re going to get justice [laughs] in this culture?
Brian Beutler: Nothing. And that’s why we’re having that conversation. And I guess we’ll leave it on that dour note. Oliver Darcy, Jon Lovett, thank you both for doing this conversation. It was a lot of fun.
Oliver Darcy: Thank you.
Jon Lovett: Thanks Oliver. Thanks, Brian. [music plays]
Brian Beutler: Positively Dreadful is a Crooked Media production. Our executive producer is Michael Martinez, our associate producer, is Emma Illick-Frank, and our guest associate producer is Rebecca Rottenberg. Our intern is Naomi Birenbaum. Evan Sutton mixes and edits the show each week. Our theme music is by Vasilis Fotopoulos.