The president’s social media summit at the White House on Thursday was the latest event that’s setting off the emergency klaxons in the media. That’s because Facebook, Google and Twitter weren’t there but frequently bashed. And then there was the issue of who was invited.
Both Charlie Kirk and Benny Johnson of Turning Point USA were there. So was James O’Keefe of Project Veritas. Memesmith “Carpe Donktum” was in attendance, as were former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka and pro-Trump singer Joy Villa.
Now, you could take issue with several of these individuals. Johnson has been, at turns, both famous and infamous, having been fired from BuzzFeed for a fairly significant spate of plagiarism and Independent Journal Review for a variety of reasons. Radio host Bill Mitchell, another attendee, has flirted with the idea that there might actually be something to the ridiculous QAnon conspiracy theory. And, of course, there’s O’Keefe, whose mere presence anywhere brings forth reactive liberal howls of “The video was taken out of context!“
These qualms could have been brought up in a fair and accurate manner by the media covering the event. Of course, they weren’t, but theoretically they could be. Where to begin? Well, how about the fact that CNN couldn’t even get its lineup of shadowy right-wing figures correct?
Is this a local news broadcast or a mutli-billion dollar cable news company? I seriously can’t tell..
This is CNN! pic.twitter.com/rrALfDV1dU
— ALX 🇺🇸 (@alx) July 11, 2019
In case you aren’t familiar with them, Benny Johnson and Charlie Kirk’s photos were reversed. Mr. Donktum, meanwhile, isn’t even represented by a picture. (Photos of him aren’t difficult to find, even with his pseudonym, and I saw several smaller publications who had photos.)
If CNN doesn’t research the topic thoroughly enough that the network can get the faces of the attendees right, how exactly am I supposed to have any confidence that CNN is going to cover it more accurately?
One look at its coverage of the event found it was generally pitched at that sloppy level too. One article discussed how a few attendees they talked to found that the event was a “circus show” with “zero substance;” the article seems to be clear that this is a small sample size, but CNN’s Oliver Darcy extrapolated this to the whole, dismissing the event as Trump addressing his “digital army of supporters.”
The network also had an article examining how “Trump makes 6 false claims during his ‘social media summit.'” One and only one of these claims had to do with social media, and that one with his number of Twitter followers. Here was one false claim that CNN took umbrage with: “Women, I think, Kellyanne [Conway], the best in 75 years — the best unemployment numbers in 75 years.”
The lie? “Facts First: Trump exaggerated slightly. The women’s unemployment rate for June is 3.6%, a tick above the 3.4% in April and 3.5% in May,” CNN reported. “Those are excellent numbers, but it has been 66 years since the women’s rate has been this low, not 75. Prior to Trump’s presidency, the last time the rate fell to 3.6% was October 1953.” Stop the presses, folks. He got the unemployment rate slightly wrong.
And then there were the numerous articles where they tried to peg Trump as having supported far-right causes by saying that some of the people banned from social media for political opinions should still have free speech, even if what they were saying may be a bit unpalatable.
“Some of you were [banned from social media platforms] for absolutely no reason. I mean in all fairness some of you I could almost understand it. I mean some of you guys are out there. But even you should have a voice … I mean it’s genius, but it’s bad,” the president said.
TRUMP: “Some of you were [banned from social media platforms] for absolutely no reason. I mean in all fairness some of you I could almost understand it. I mean some of you guys are out there. But even you should have a voice … I mean it’s genius, but it’s bad.” pic.twitter.com/EmGoLS1M9V
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 11, 2019
The U.K. Guardian headlined that one as “Trump applauds far-right provocateurs during ‘social media summit.'” The Associated Press reported that “President Donald Trump used a White House conference Thursday to applaud far-right social media provocateurs even as he conceded that some of them are extreme in their views … The president used the event to air grievances over his treatment by Big Tech, but also to praise some of the most caustic voices on the right, who help energize Trump’s political base.”
Given that he didn’t actually mention who he was talking about and seemed to be laughing about it, you could have taken this a number of ways. The media seem to have taken it one way, even though it’s unclear who he’s talking about or how much applause he’s giving them. They’ve divined the only real motive Trump had when he said this — and unsurprisingly, it’s the lowest one.
When it came to identifying attendees who were actual far-right figures, the media whiffed. Which “far-right YouTube channel” had representatives at the summit? PragerU, of course, that repository of far-rightness. Business Insider defended this appellation with (but of course) a blurb from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which said that “[m]ore than a few” of PragerU’s videos “similarly function as dog whistles to the extreme right.” Because if the SPLC didn’t invent “far-right” or “extreme right” threats, the dollars wouldn’t keep on pouring in to the so-called “poverty palace.”
I didn’t particularly see anything wrong with the social media summit, but I could see how one could. That being said, the event was covered yet again with the kind of hyperventilating media panic attack that’s turned so many Trump-adjacent things into The Worst Thing Ever.
Not only did the media use the event to display just how much cover they’ll give big-tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter, they used the summit to throw around the term “far-right” as if it meant nothing. And to a certain extent, they were correct. That hyphenated construction is so overused, it’s now meaningless and can be applied to everyone and everything from mephitic neo-Nazis like Richard Spencer to anodyne conservative YouTube channels like PragerU. Nice work.
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