Would Ben Shapiro be the smartest president of all time

John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies

US President Donald Trump has a new favorite station after Fox News: The One America News Network broadcasts presidential praise and conspiracy theories. Other right-wing podcasts and shows are also fueling rifts in US society.

During an election campaign appearance in North Carolina in mid-September, US President Trump came to one of his favorite topics at the end of his speech: scolding journalists. America could be so much better if it only had honest media.

Pointing the index finger at the cameras behind the cheering fans, Trump says to the journalists: "You are the enemy of the people." Most broadcasters then stop broadcasting the event. Trump complains that all the red lights on the cameras are going out. All but one. That from One America Network News (OAN).

(Private) Curd Knüpfer from the John F. Kennedy Institute of the Free University of Berlin researches the media system in the USA. In the Weltzeit podcast, he says the idea that “people live in bubbles” is wrong. The different camps would go into each other. “The bigger problem is the deep crisis of journalism.” A lot in the regional area is dying out. The "Washington glasses" promote the division.

OAN is President Trump's new favorite broadcaster. The network, founded in 2013, is headquartered in an inconspicuous building in San Diego, California, between a tile shop, a church and a vending machine company.

Trump speeches and wild conspiracy theories

The OAN recipe that the US President likes so much is a mix of unfiltered Trump speeches, wild conspiracy theories, attacks against Hillary Clinton, immigrants, Covid-19 experts and the Black Lives Matter movement, and denigration of competition.

Trump criticism is never heard on the station. Instead, there is plenty of praise for the president. For example, stories about benefits that he has been doing for decades, unnoticed by other media.

OAN was founded a good seven years ago by the father-son team Robert Herring Senior and Junior - with millions that Herring Senior had made in the technology industry.

Three years later, the network first attracted nationwide attention. In the 2016 election campaign, it broadcast speeches by Donald Trump in full - without giving other candidates similar airtime.

After the election of Donald Trump, OAN got a seat in the press room of the White House. The government correspondent is happy to give the president the opportunity to present his point of view. He thanks with praise, appreciative tweets and advertising.

No critical questions can be expected from her: OAN reporter Chanel Rion during a Donald Trump press conference in the White House. (picture alliance / AP Photo / Alex Brandon)

Trump does not have to expect any critical questions from OAN, on the contrary. For example, when he was accused of calling the coronavirus “Chinese flu” racist, the OAN correspondent asked a rhetorical question: Did he consider the term “Chinese food” to be racist because it was food that originated in China ? - Of course not. Colleagues who ask the President critical questions, on the other hand, are punished by him with insults and reprimands.

OAN does not officially measure its audience numbers. Experts estimate the audience ratings of the small network, in which mainly young, inexperienced journalists work, as marginal. Nevertheless, OAN gets an exclusive interview with Donald Trump in the current election campaign.

Chief correspondent Chanel Rion begins her interview with an attack on the so-called mainstream media: “Your questions are often without reason, understanding or decency. Do you think these attacks against you are honest questions from people who think independently, or are these journalists afraid of losing their jobs if they don't attack you every day? "

The end of the criticism

The correspondent's completely uncritical attitude reflects the direction of the station, so it is not surprising that visitors to the White House report that the station often runs on television screens in the US power center.

OAN has a worrying influence on the formation of political opinion in the USA, says journalism professor Thomas Hollihan from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Not through what is on TV, however. The broadcaster has the greatest effect from what is circulated from its program on social media platforms.

“Excerpts and short clips are distributed there that support conspiracy theories, for example. They twist the truth, stir up fears and worries. A factually incorrect report initially has few viewers, but it is trumpeted on social media and that has decisive consequences. "

Especially in a society that is as deeply divided as the United States is currently. A majority of the population only trusts the media when they confirm their worldview. Trump fans only switch on FOX news or OAN. Democrats read the New York Times and watch CNN, MSNBC, or do their research on traditional public radio and television.

“It's a totally poisoned environment. News is also discussed as a conflict on many broadcasters. This further fuels the split. You may start with an accurate report, but then opinion makers argue about the subject. The whole thing has little newsworthiness. It is very unfortunate. "

In addition, through the algorithms of Facebook and Co., messages that intensify the division in society spread the fastest. Skilled workers who flag untruths and misleading content as such in the company headquarters in Silicon Valley and who are supposed to delete calls to violence are hopelessly overwhelmed in the face of the flood of posts.

An armada of right-wing provocateurs

Demagogues who previously had no chance now reach a large audience with their lies, hate speech and propaganda: US suburbs are under attack by left anarchists. The country and its culture would be destroyed by illegal immigrants. Racism no longer exists in the USA. Transsexuals are mentally ill and abortions are the work of the devil. The rich were paying too much taxes and social security should be privatized.

Example: Steve Bannon, co-founder of the right-wing populist medium Breitbart and head of the 2016 Trump election campaign. Bannon lost his position as chief strategist in the White House eight months after Donald Trump was elected in a dispute with his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner. Now he has a podcast that alone reaches over a million listeners. Its content is multiplied exponentially via social media - like that of numerous other conservative provocateurs.

Take Rush Limbaugh, for example, whose radio show pioneered this wave in the 1990s and reached more than 20 million listeners at weddings. There is a whole brigade of small and large right-wing podcasts that stir up outrage and division in the United States with malice against the left and praise for Donald Trump.

In attack mode: the conservative commentator Ben Shapiro. (picture alliance / ZUMA Wire / Michael Brochstein)

The youngest member is Ben Shapiro. The 36-year-old television and radio commentator sees himself as the voice of conservative millennials. While the Harvard graduate, who likes to decorate his tirades with quotes from Aristotle, still railed against Trump's cultural and political deficiencies in 2016, he now supports his election campaign in front of millions of listeners daily, and the trend is rising.

With ultra-right conspiracy theories and polarizing strategies, these provocateurs are cheering Trump's base on. At the same time, they discredit the Democratic challenger, Joe Biden.

Still there - Steve Bannon

Bannon's support for Trump is astonishing, as he had expressed doubts about Trump's mental fitness in a controversial book after he was kicked out of the White House. The US president countered that Bannon had not only lost his job, but also his mind.

In August of that year, Bannon was arrested. The prosecutor in New York accuses him and three alleged accomplices of fraud. They are said to have collected more than 25 million dollars with the “We Build The Wall” campaign - allegedly to finance the construction of the wall on the border with Mexico. Bannon stole a million from the donations for personal expenses. After the incident, Trump again distanced himself from his former closest advisor.

At the same time, he continues to mobilize for the Trump election campaign and heats up the mood on conservative platforms. In a live Facebook conference with the Metropolitan Republican Club in New York, Bannon warned that the Democrats would reverse the legitimate election of Donald Trump in their favor.

“Some kind of civil war will break out late in the evening or on November 3rd election night if the Democrats refuse to declare Trump the winner. Biden won't admit defeat. They will use all the tools of war, street fighting, civil disobedience, mainstream media and most importantly social media to intimidate the Trump movement and Republicans until they are accepted by an unelected group around Joe Biden. "

There will be postal voting fraud, Bannon said. Corrupt election workers would put pressure on Trump voters when they cast their votes, Trump votes would not be counted during the counting and illegal Biden votes would be registered. All warnings that the US President is also issuing.

Ununited on this side and on the other side of the fence: The founder of the OAN station, Robert Herring Senior, is faced with protests. (picture alliance / ZUMA Wire / David Barak)

Bannon brings Trump supporters into attack for the day of the election, almost uncontrollably on all channels that are available to him beyond traditional media.

“You have to help people register as election officers. Lawyers among you must join the Trump advocates. This year, 60 to 80 million votes will be cast by postal vote. We need the brightest people, those who are tough - and able to question every single voice. "

Bannon has left the Breitbart online platform. Soon after, the medium suffered from a decline in readers and advertising boycotts. Companies accused Breitbart of lying propaganda. They also criticized his proximity to ultra-right movements and individuals.

A flood of posts that is difficult to regulate

But in December 2019 Breitbart reappeared on the surface. The impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump had begun. In the next three months, the online service, with its often untrue pro-Trump reporting on Facebook, got more likes and interactions than the "New York Times", the "Washington Post", "USA Today" and the "Wall Street Journal" together.

Facebook and Twitter have taken measures to curb lies and disinformation on their platforms. Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg continues to invoke the freedom of speech guaranteed in the US constitution, which forbids him to influence content.

Social media companies don't really want to regulate posts, says USC journalism professor Thomas Hollihan: “Because they don't want to be sued for false content. They want to remain platforms on which others post content. You don't want to be responsible if someone is harmed by it, for example through viral medicine that someone is promoting. From a legal point of view, this is actually wise, because so much is published so quickly that it is impossible to catch it before damage occurs. "

Fox News Influence

While content from Breitbart, One America News, and other Trump-friendly media outlets mostly reach their audiences through social media, Fox remains the television station that fans of the President tune into the most.

With an average of five million households connected, it is the most successful US cable broadcaster and determines the opinion of conservative voters. In a poll by the Pew Research Institute, more than 60 percent of Republicans say they believe the Murdoch station the most when it comes to news.

Five million, that's just under three percent of the US population. However, if you add audience ratings for podcast and radio shows from prominent Fox presenters such as Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, this number increases many times over.

Most Democrats despise Fox, also because the US president likes to spread information and opinions he hears there. Donald Trump also regularly reports spontaneously by telephone to the breakfast television "Fox and Friends", is immediately switched to live on the air and thus reaches a large part of his base.

Fox News has been Donald Trump's preferred broadcaster so far. (picture alliance / ZUMA Wire / Fox News)

On the station, the president has almost unlimited speaking time for political statements and criticism of political opponents, but also for false claims about the Black Lives Matter movement, disinformation about the corona virus and plenty of self-praise. He does not normally have to expect critical questions.

Donald Trump likes to joke jovially with the team, for example in the conversation about the successor to judge icon Ruth Bader Ginsberg at the US Supreme Court.

He could nominate the moderator, Trump said, you don't need to be a lawyer or a judge for the office, and she would go through the hearings with flying colors.

Trump is unhappy with Fox News

But recently, Trump has been dissatisfied with Fox. The station no longer broadcasts every election campaign appearance of the president, as it did four years ago. In an exclusive interview, moderator Chris Wallace exposed several of Trump's allegations as gross exaggerations and made the US president sweat with facts about high infection and death rates as a result of the coronavirus.

In a tweet, Trump said Fox viewers were upset with the station and were looking for an alternative. US media soon reported that a group led by Donald Trump Junior was interested in buying OAN, his father's new favorite channel.

“Fake news,” says OAN founder Robert Herring. He has no intention of selling the network. Herring is now regularly confronted with demonstrators in front of the gates of the Californian headquarters of his station who protest against OAN's lies.

The situation there reflects the divided position of US society. Two sides face each other irreconcilably. The media have been instrumental in creating the deep divide, and it is currently hard to see how that divide can be overcome, no matter who wins the election on November 3rd.

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