The New York Times has done an analysis of the striking degree of overlap between the incendiary rhetoric of right-wing media provocateurs and the language used by the Texas man who confessed to killing 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso. How the El Paso Killer Echoed the Incendiary Words of Conservative Media Stars (excerpts):
Tucker Carlson went on his prime-time Fox News show in April last year and told his viewers not to be fooled. The thousands of Central Americans on their way to the United States were “border jumpers,” not refugees, he said. “Will anyone in power do anything to protect America this time,” he asked, “or will leaders sit passively back as the invasion continues?”
When another group approached the border six months later, Ann Coulter, appearing as a guest on Jeanine Pirro’s Fox News show, offered a dispassionately violent suggestion about what could be done to stem the flow of migrants: “You can shoot invaders.”
A few days after, Rush Limbaugh issued a grim prognosis to his millions of radio listeners: If the immigrants from Central America weren’t stopped, the United States would lose its identity. “The objective is to dilute and eventually eliminate or erase what is known as the distinct or unique American culture,” Mr. Limbaugh said, adding: “This is why people call this an invasion.”
There is a striking degree of overlap between the words of right-wing media personalities and the language used by the Texas man who confessed to killing 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso this month. In a 2,300-word screed posted on the website 8chan, the killer wrote that he was “simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.”
It remains unclear what, or who, ultimately shaped the views of the white, 21-year-old gunman, or whether he was aware of the media commentary. But his post contains numerous references to “invasion” and cultural “replacement” — ideas that, until recently, were relegated to the fringes of the nationalist right.
An extensive New York Times review of popular right-wing media platforms found hundreds of examples of language, ideas and ideologies that overlapped with the mass killer’s written statement — a shared vocabulary of intolerance that stokes fears centered on immigrants of color. The programs, on television and radio, reach an audience of millions.
In the four years since Mr. Trump electrified Republican voters with slashing comments about Muslims and Mexicans, demonizing references to immigrants have become more widespread in the news media, the Times review found.
Sometimes the hosts are repeating the president’s signature phrases. Sometimes the president appears to take his cues from television pundits. The cumulative effect is a public dialogue in which denigrating sentiments about immigrants are common.
Before the first groups of Central American migrants received heavy news media coverage in 2018, words like “invaders” or “invasion” were rarely used by American outlets. In the last year, the use of such terms has surged, with references to an immigrant “invasion” appearing on more than 300 Fox News broadcasts. The vast majority of those were spoken by Fox News hosts and guests, but some included clips of Mr. Trump using that language at rallies and other public appearances.
The Times analysis examined the last five years of show transcripts from Fox News, CNN and MSNBC to measure the frequency of terms like “invasion” and “replacement.” Segments that included this language were verified by watching clips of the shows to determine whether hosts and guests were speaking in their own words or reporting on the language of others.
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While the notion of immigrants as a national threat was a feature of the conservative “Pitchfork” Patrick Buchanan’s unsuccessful bids to win the Republican presidential nominations in 1992 and 1996 (he used the phrase “illegal invasion” then), they ran counter to the Republican Party’s efforts to make itself more appealing to Hispanics and other minorities in the two decades before Mr. Trump became its front-runner.
The portrayal of immigration as a menace has returned with force, a shift brought on not just by radio and TV hosts, but by Republican leaders in Congress and the president himself. This year Mr. Trump has used the terms “invasion” or “invaded” seven times on Twitter to describe the situation at the border, at one point referring to the approach of the migrants as “the attempted Invasion of Illegals.” At rallies, he has injected terms like “predator,” “killer,” and “animal” in his descriptions of immigrants (A USA TODAY analysis of the 64 rallies Trump has held since 2017 found that, when discussing immigration, the president has said “invasion” at least 19 times. He has used the word “animal” 34 times and the word “killer” nearly three dozen times. Trump has used the words “predator,” “invasion,” “alien,” “killer,” “criminal” and “animal” at his rallies while discussing immigration more than 500 times.)
The Trump-friendly media world — from outlets like Sinclair Broadcast Group and The Drudge Report to platforms like Breitbart News and Gateway Pundit — has used similar incendiary rhetoric. “The fact of the matter is that this is an attempted invasion of our country — period,” Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump campaign adviser, said last year in a commentary on migrants that aired on nearly 200 Sinclair television stations.
At the start of the El Paso suspect’s screed, he refers to the “great replacement,” a white supremacist conspiracy theory based on a French book that claims the migration of minority groups can lead to a “genocide” of white culture.
The El Paso suspect, who confessed to the mass shooting last week, claimed in the document he posted to be defending against a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” The words “invasion” and “invaders” appear six times in the text, a stark parallel to the language heard on conservative television and talk radio today.
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Lawrence Rosenthal, a professor at the Berkeley Center for Right-Wing Studies, said that the shared vocabulary of white nationalists and many prominent conservatives was chilling. “Where that intersects with the Republican Party today,” he added, “is the Republican argument that the Democrats are in favor of immigration because that will give them a permanent majority.”
Mr. Limbaugh, whose syndicated radio show has a weekly audience of 15 million, has trafficked in similar themes.
On Wednesday, responding to the El Paso shootings, Mr. Limbaugh said, “What is it about the word ‘invasion’ that so bothers these people? Is it because that’s what it is? Have we ever seen anything like this?”
On Fox News, Mr. Carlson has proffered a version of this idea, albeit in less extreme language than that of the 8chan message boards where the El Paso killer lurked.
Mr. Carlson, whose show averages about three million viewers a night, has featured guests who subscribe to the replacement theory, like Peter Szijjarto, the foreign minister to Hungary’s nationalistic president, Viktor Orban. In February, Mr. Carlson and Mr. Szijjarto discussed the need to increase birthrates in their respective countries. Otherwise, Mr. Carlson said, “our plan here in the West is to just let the depressed people die off and replace them with people from other countries.”
Another prime-time Fox News host, Laura Ingraham, who was considered for a communications job in the Trump administration, has used similar language. Last October, she warned viewers that their opinions “will have zero impact and zero influence on a House dominated by Democrats who want to replace you, the American voters, with newly amnestied citizens and an ever-increasing number of chain migrants.”
Fox News had no comment.
The overlap between fringe ideology and the words of conservative talk show hosts is not accidental, critics say. “They’re putting that into the zeitgeist,” said Carl Cameron, the former chief political correspondent for Fox News, who is now working for a news aggregator aimed at a progressive audience, Front Page Live.
“Fox goes out and looks for stuff that is inherently on fire and foments fear and anger,” Mr. Cameron added.
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Fox News, it should be noted, is not monolithic. While its prime-time lineup of Mr. Carlson, Sean Hannity and Ms. Ingraham is devoted to right-wing commentary, some of the network’s news reporters, like the anchor Shepard Smith, have taken pains to refute misleading language about migrants.
The Washington Post’s media reporter Eric Wemple adds, Fox News has no comment on its venomous rhetoric (excerpts):
In an analysis published on Sunday, the New York Times cross-checked portions of the [gunman’s] manifesto with the rhetoric broadcast on conservative media, including Fox News. It found a “shared vocabulary of intolerance that stokes fears centered on immigrants of color. The programs, on television and radio, reach an audience of millions.”
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Do the findings draw a causal line between certain media organizations and the El Paso shooter? No. The man’s influences remain shrouded, though he did include this note in the manifesto: “My ideology has not changed for several years. My opinions on automation, immigration and the rest predate Trump and his campaign for president. I putting this here because certain people will blame the President or certain presidential candidates for the attack.”
All that said, it’s hard to avoid Fox News’s influence on immigration or any other contemporary controversy, especially for those inclined to seek out conservative news on the Internet. The influence is malign, too. Yochai Benkler, a scholar affiliated with Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center, has studied the network’s ability to seed its ideas across the web. He told The Post last year:
Our data repeatedly show Fox as the transmission vector of widespread conspiracy theories. The original Seth Rich conspiracy did not take off when initially propagated in July 2016 by fringe and pro-Russia sites, but only a year later, as Fox News revived it when James Comey was fired. The Clinton pedophilia libel that resulted in Pizzagate was started by a Fox online report, repeated across the Fox TV schedule, and provided the prime source of validation across the right-wing media ecosystem.
In 2017 Fox repeatedly attacked the national security establishment and law enforcement whenever the Trump-Russia investigation heated up. Each attack involved significant online activity, but the spikes in attention and transition moments are associated with Hannity, “Fox & Friends” and others like Tucker Carlson or Lou Dobbs.
Which is to say, it is difficult to avoid the influence of Fox News. The Carlsons and the Ingrahams and the Hannitys — they’re the people who coin the language and forge the tone of the country’s immigration debate. If they say there’s an invasion, there must be an invasion. If they say there’s a replacement conspiracy afoot, well, believe it!
The rhetoric was dangerous before the emergence of the El Paso shooter’s manifesto; it will be dangerous once the document fades into the abyss of mass-shooter history.
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Whatever the perils, Fox News isn’t talking about them. It had no comment for the New York Times. A follow-up from the Erik Wemple Blog fetched nothing. The same nonresponse greeted this blog’s inquiries about Cesar Sayoc, the confessed domestic terrorist — he mailed improvised explosive devices to prominent Democrats and CNN; they didn’t detonate — whose lawyers claimed in a court filing that he was radicalized in part by Fox News.
It’s gut-check time for Fox News, in other words. The work of its opinion-side hosts in siding with Trump’s racist, anti-immigration agenda is creating fresh exposure for the network, with clear warning signals on the public record. As Peter Maass wrote in the Intercept after Carlson’s attacks on Rep. Omar, the outrages are rightly laid at the door not only of the Fox News hosts but more appropriately the Murdoch family, whose trust owns 39 percent of Fox Corp.
How comfortable are the Murdochs with the echoes between a killer’s manifesto and their network’s bread and butter?
The Murdochs haven’t changed anything at Fox, so the answer is “we’re all good.” The Murdochs purvey the same white nationalist racism in the United Kingdom and Australia. Fox News is pushing white nationalism because the Murdochs want it to:
Fox is feeding its audience a poisonous stew of bigoted, xenophobic conspiracy theories because that is what the Murdochs want the network to do.
A New York Times Magazine investigation found that in recent years, the Murdochs’ media empire has been “instrumental in amplifying the nativist revolt that was reshaping governments not just in the United States but also across the planet,” with their outlets fueling xenophobia and ethnonationalism to achieve political aims in the U.S., the United Kingdom, and Australia.
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So the Murdochs (From left: Lachlan, Rupert and James Murdoch) are the reason Fox’s weeknight prime-time block features segments that are distinguishable from white supremacist YouTube videos only in their production values. The harder question to answer is why. The family has built an international media empire that wields substantial political power on three continents.
Are they actual nationalists who truly agree with Carlson and Ingraham that an invading force of minorities is putting the nation at risk? Or are they simply motivated by instrumentalism, happy to have their employees make those arguments because it bolsters their influence over right-wing governments which then support policies that bolster their own economic standing?
In the end, it hardly matters: Fox has spent the last few years diving ever deeper into a cesspool, and there’s no sign the network plans to change course.
Flashback to when it all went horribly wrong, September 4, 1985: Murdoch Becomes U.S. Citizen, Can Buy TV Network:
Rupert Murdoch, Australian-born publishing magnate, became a U.S. citizen today, removing an obstacle to his acquisition of a network of independent American television stations.
Murdoch, 54, has been living in the United States since 1973.
By becoming an American citizen, Murdoch gave up his Australian citizenship since neither government recognizes dual citizenship.
Murdoch recently purchased 50% of 20th Century Fox Film Corp. and plans to purchase Metromedia, the nation’s largest group of independent television stations, including KTTV in Los Angeles. Under federal regulations an alien may not own more than 20% of a broadcast license.
Maybe we should revoke his citizenship and “send him back,” the racist sonuvabitch.
UPDATE: The Daily Show presents the video evidence.