The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Kanye West’s hate-spewing, career-tanking descent through the alt-media

There was always another low-rated cable show, another podcast, another webcast willing to host the antisemitic fallen star

Kanye West gestures to the crowd as he holds his first rally in support of his short-lived presidential bid in South Carolina in July 2020. (Randall Hill/Reuters)
7 min

In the end, it wasn’t CNN, the New York Times or The Washington Post that exposed Ye’s explicit antisemitism. It wasn’t even the traditional celebrity-media industrial complex, the Daily Mails and TMZs, which has previously uncovered troubling behavior of the rich and famous.

The artist formerly known as Kanye West incinerated his career while on a two-month tour through the alt-media swamps, a collection of podcasts and streaming shows that tend to mimic the mainstream media’s aesthetics while disdaining its journalistic standards.

Ye’s increasingly vocal espousal of anti-Jewish rhetoric has triggered a scramble within the GOP. (Video: Philip Bump, Jillian Banner/The Washington Post)

The gatekeepers of this universe — including conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and media-bashing podcaster Tim Pool — invited Ye to their programs after his early remarks about Jews made him persona non grata to the general public two months ago. Many of these personalities broadcast his antisemitic rants with minimal pushback, or even encouragement, accelerating the 24-time Grammy winner’s descent to pariah status.

What does bipolar disorder feel like? Can it explain Kanye’s behavior?

Ye, who has spoken about struggling with bipolar disorder, had been slowly alienating his fans for years through his antics, rambling remarks and flirtations with racist ideologies. His recent bids for president have been mostly treated as a joke. He preluded his spree of antisemitism in early October, when he wore a “White Lives Matter” shirt at a Paris fashion show.

His last known interview with a major news outlet aired three days later, with Tucker Carlson on Fox News. Ye complained that Jared and Josh Kushner — both Jewish — were “businessmen” primarily concerned with making money, which, to some viewers, sounded like the centuries-old stereotype of greedy Jews.

When Ye asked whether he was being too “heavy-handed” for Carlson’s show, Carlson assured him that “we’re not in the censorship business,” and at another point praised Ye for speaking “so honestly and so movingly about what he believes.” Unaired footage obtained by Motherboard, however, showed that Fox edited out several especially toxic comments by Ye, some explicitly about Jews.

Within days of the Carlson interview, Ye began posting antisemitic rants on social media, including a declaration to go “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE,” prompting Twitter and Instagram to suspend his accounts, and sponsors such as Adidas to cancel affiliations with him.

Some media outfits made similar calculations. A YouTube program produced by basketball superstar LeBron James announced that it would not air a previously taped interview with Ye, citing “hate speech and extremely dangerous stereotypes” that he allegedly espoused while on camera.

That was hardly a surprise; open bigots are rarely invited to traditional news shows without a compelling reason, such as a run for public office or a criminal accusation.

“The largest broadcast and cable news brands have clearly settled on the argument that ‘platforming’ these people is the very opposite of journalism,” said Mark Lukasiewicz, dean of Hofstra University’s communication school. “It gives the imprimatur of the journalist’s brand or their outlet’s brand, to false, violent, hateful ideas, spreading them further whether or not they are effectively confronted.”

Representatives for ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC did not answer questions about whether they have tried to interview Ye since his first antisemitic outbursts. Regardless, he has not appeared on any major channels in that time — despite evidence that millions of people are willing to listen.

Instead, they found him on obscure cable shows or in the alt-media, where extremist views are less likely to be censored or even contested, and through which Ye has been delving ever deeper in his search for a platform.

Congrats, you canceled Kanye. Call me when White guys get in trouble.

One of his first stops was Revolt TV’s “Drink Champs,” a hip-hop-focused streaming show that put a microphone in front of Ye for more than three hours on Oct. 16. A few minutes into the interview, he began explaining how “the Jewish people have owned the Black voice” throughout history. His hosts occasionally interjected with an “uh-huh” or a “right.”

The next day, Ye was interviewed by Chris Cuomo on NewsNation — the 72nd-ranked cable channel in prime time, according to an October Nielsen report. Cuomo sat on the left side of a split screen in a suit and tie, looking as polished as when he was a CNN prime-time star, before the network fired him over alleged ethical violations last year. On the right side of the screen: grainy footage of Ye in the back of a vehicle.

More so than some interviewers who followed him, Cuomo challenged his subject’s assertions of a “Jewish underground media mafia” and other antisemitic tropes. But those rhetorical thrusts merely provoked Ye into crosstalk.

“I can’t give you unrestricted license to attack Jewish people,” the host exclaimed 14 minutes into the segment.

Ye shot back: “Are you going to give me a platform?”

“I am giving you a platform,” Cuomo observed, and continued the interview for another six minutes.

And on it went. Cuomo was followed by Piers Morgan, another former CNN host who in late October spent an hour and 40 minutes with Ye. His program, “Piers Morgan Uncensored,” carried on the Fox Nation streaming platform, among other venues, had averaged a paltry 62,000 viewers per night earlier this year, according to Slate. But the Ye episode has been viewed more than 6.3 million times on YouTube.

After Morgan came Lex Fridman, a Jewish podcaster who politely challenged many of Ye’s claims during their 2½-hour interview, including that abortion is comparable to the Holocaust and that all African Americans are Jewish. With 4.3 million views, the episode is one of the most popular on Fridman’s YouTube channel.

Ye managed to make actual news in the middle of his alt-media tour, when he, Milo Yiannopoulos and the avowed antisemite Nick Fuentes flew to Florida in November and dined with former president Donald Trump.

A few days later, the three dinner guests were invited to the studio of Tim Pool — a onetime Vice news correspondent who has become a right-wing celebrity for his claims that journalists constantly lie. Pool suggested that Ye was over-generalizing when he claimed that Jews control banking and the media, and provoked his guest to walk out of the interview when he insisted it was journalists, not Jews, who were being unfair to Ye.

When Ye sat down at Infowars’ glossy black news desk last week, host Alex Jones didn’t challenge the musician’s hateful comments so much as he tried to sanitize them.

“You’re not Hitler, you’re not a Nazi, you don’t deserve to be called that and demonized,” Jones told Ye, who wore a crown-to-chin face mask during the interview.

“Well, I see good things about Hitler also,” Ye replied, referring to the genocidally antisemitic leader of Nazi Germany.

Appearing on Infowars might have seemed like a low point for Ye. Jones declared bankruptcy this month after being ordered to pay $1.5 billion to the families of Sandy Hook school-shooting victims, whom he repeatedly defamed on his shows.

But the alt-media is bottomless. On Monday, Ye appeared on a live stream hosted by Gavin McInnes, founder of the Proud Boys, a right-wing extremist group involved in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. McInnes listened as his guest spewed virulent anti-Jewish tropes for more than 40 minutes, occasionally counter-arguing that Jews weren’t reproducing fast enough to be a cultural threat, or that Ye’s praise for Hitler would complicate his latest presidential bid.

The Proud Boys keep popping up at LGBTQ events

To state the obvious irony: Nearly every one of Ye’s remarks eventually surfaced in the mainstream news that shunned him (including in this article). They circulate across the entire digital mediascape. To even acknowledge the problem is to amplify it.

Words broadcast in the murky backwaters of the alt-media don’t stay there, noted Howard Bragman, a Los Angeles crisis communications specialist who has represented celebrity clients.

“I applaud the mainstream media for holding to their standards,” Bragman said. But: “The mainstream media is going to pick it up,” even if they don’t report it first.