But the speech didn’t need to air on Fox. Before it began, his newly appointed spokeswoman, Liz Harrington, hyped the fact that the speech would instead be carried on the small galaxy of Trump-loyal networks that have emerged in the past few years. For those interested in hearing Trump say the same things he’s been saying for nine months but with a new set of incorrect or misleading details, there was plenty of opportunity to do so.
This is how it works now. Trump has a relatively small footprint in the mainstream media and conversation, including on Fox News. But on the remote media fringes where accuracy dies in obsequiousness, Trump’s message is as loud as it has ever been.
The speech, given in Arizona to a gathering of the conservative group Turning Point Action, aired on Newsmax and One America News, as well as Right Side Broadcasting, an outlet that moved from live-streaming Trump speeches to creating its own content. One America and Newsmax obtained interviews with Trump, an accomplishment nearly as impressive as obtaining an unsolicited call about your car’s warranty. Throughout each, the theme was consistent: The 2020 election was stolen from Trump, and there was a process underway by which it would be stolen back.
This is delusional and dishonest, of course. Trump is clearly cognizant of the fact that no one serious takes his unserious claims seriously — he lashed out at the media during his speech for properly characterizing his allegations.
“In every fake news story about the election, they always begin by stating that claims are unproven,” Trump said. “There’s the fake news. ‘Those claims are unproven.’ Do you ever notice, you read a story and you’re reading about massive fraud, but they don’t write about that too much. The biggest thing is they don’t write — but they always say, ‘While this is totally unproven.’ And you’re saying, ‘Well, wait a minute, we caught thousands and hundreds of thousands of people.’”
That claim is unproven. It is also obviously false. Had they caught hundreds of thousands of people voting illegally, one or two might have risen to the attention of the mainstream media. But, of course, Trump’s claims about what is happening and what is actually happening have often not been in sync. And networks such as OAN and Newsmax simply opt for the audience-attracting amplification of the former at the expense of accurately conveying the latter.
The interviews the networks gave to Trump are good examples of how this works.
On OAN, a network that has invested heavily in the purported “audit” of results in Maricopa County, Ariz., (and called for viewers to themselves invest in it financially), a reporter asked Trump to weigh in on the “surprising or just shocking [preliminary] results” that have been released as a part of that effort. Trump, you’ll be surprised to learn, endorsed them.
“They used the word ‘determinative,’ ” Trump said. “You know what that means? That means, it overthrows. And frankly, they are determinative many different times in many different places and just with many different facts.”
“Right,” the reporter replied.
What were those facts? Well, Harrington tweeted some of them, in keeping with her habit of tweeting false and debunked claims about election fraud that go back to her days working for the Republican Party.
The “74,000 ballots” claim has been debunked. It was based on the team that is conducting the review failing to recognize that authorized ballots were logged as having arrived after Oct. 23.
The claim about people voting after the deadline was debunked by the county. It didn’t happen.
The 18,000 people purged from voter rolls has been debunked. It didn’t happen.
The 168,000 ballots printed on “unofficial paper” is also not true. It stems from a misrepresentation about the ballots used in the election.
It’s worth noting that most of those claims had been publicly rebutted before Harrington’s tweet, but there is certainly no job requirement for a spokesperson for Trump to adhere closely to reality. It is theoretically the job of the news media to ensure that people are accurately informed, but in the OAN interview Trump was not challenged on any of his false claims.
His interview with Newsmax was perhaps more ridiculous, because it was conducted by an employee of both Newsmax and Turning Point USA, the group running the event at which Trump was speaking. That’s Benny Johnson, formerly of BuzzFeed fame until various listicles of his were shown to have been plagiarized from other sources.
Johnson began by disparaging the Texas Democrats who left the state to block a new law aimed at restricting voting. Trump used that prod to bring the subject back to his vague claims of fraud.
“There’s never been a thing like this in our country,” Trump said of his 7 million-vote loss to Joe Biden. “Now, you look at Georgia, what they’re finding in Georgia, look at Wisconsin, look at Pennsylvania really bad. Philadelphia was so bad, and Detroit speaks for itself. Detroit speaks for itself. Detroit was a mess.”
Trump went on to claim that “we don’t need all of that, we need just a very small amount of it” — again reinforcing that he seems to believe there’s a mechanism for him to return to office, which there is not.
Johnson also asked Trump about 1) Melania Trump not being asked to be on the cover of Vogue magazine, 2) the U.S. women’s soccer team protesting at the Olympics, 3) whether federal infectious-disease expert Anthony S. Fauci should be put in jail and 4) CNN’s Jim Acosta. It was, in other words, shtick aimed at generating social media attention. But Newsmax dutifully chopped it all up and tweeted it out.
It’s very easy to point out how toxic, dishonest and useless this all is. But it’s important to remember that this is a largely self-contained ecosystem in which the claims Trump makes and the broad strokes of his allegations are treated as seriously as if they were real and the outlets and individuals who tout them treated with the same amount of sobriety. That Trump is now almost entirely relegated to this shadow world of fiction means simply that he’s challenged on his false claims less often and that his most fervent supporters are far less likely to see any accurate information that reveals the hollowness of his assertions.
This is vitally important context as the House begins its investigation of what happened on Jan. 6. Then, Trump’s false claims were public and insistent and ubiquitous. Now they are less noticed and less directly contested, even as he builds a new expectation of how he will somehow prove the fraud and thereby reclaim his power.
The energy that led to Jan. 6, in other words, isn’t gone. It’s just gone private.