September 22, 2020

Right-Wing Media Stars Amplify Trump’s ‘Law and Order’ Campaign Message

To his legions of listeners, Rush Limbaugh calls the demonstrators in Portland, Ore., “anarchists” who “hate Americans and America.” He recently made an ominous prediction: “I can see secession coming.”

On Fox News, Sean Hannity describes the scene in Portland as “a literal disaster area — and, yeah, it looks like a war zone.”

On Wednesday, Breitbart News — which features a “Riot Crackdown” page on its website — published an article declaring, “Now would be a real good time to do whatever is necessary to obtain a permit to legally carry a handgun.”

Right-wing outlets and conservative media stars have seized on the weekslong protests in Portland as a rallying cry for law and order, instructing their followers to fear for their safety and blaming Democratic leaders for failing to restore peace.

Their commentary — beamed out daily to millions — has increasingly mirrored the fear-laced messaging of President Trump and his re-election campaign, which has warned that a Joseph R. Biden, Jr. presidency would usher in chaos and routine violence in the streets. With the November election looming, Mr. Trump has pledged to send forces to Chicago, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia and other major cities.

Conservative pundits, typically no fans of an overreaching government, have thrown their full support behind federal agents who have used militarized tactics like firing tear gas at protesters and have pulled some demonstrators into unmarked vans since being deployed to Portland in recent days.

In fact, the scenes broadcast by channels like Fox News and One America News send a misleading portrait of the city, where daily life has been relatively calm outside of a small area downtown.

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Updated 2020-07-22T22:39:45.510Z

There, protests are indeed a nightly occurrence, and have escalated since the arrival of the federal agents — some of whom, dressed in tactical gear and camouflage, have detained demonstrators without identifying themselves.

Some protesters hurl bottles and cans and set off fireworks; over the weekend, a group set fire to a police union headquarters. Others have marched peacefully, chanting and holding signs and trying to stop those throwing bottles.

Democratic officials have called the federal deployment called authoritarian and dangerous. “This is an attack on our democracy,” said Portland’s mayor, Ted Wheeler.

The use of federal forces is an extraordinary intervention by the Trump administration, which has tried to justify the move by calling it necessary for the protection of government property. The Department of Homeland Security dispatched roughly 2,000 officials from several agencies to assist the Federal Protective Service, the agency that provides security at federal properties. The Oregon attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, has filed a federal lawsuit for a restraining order, saying the agents have behaved unlawfully.

The nuances of the Portland protests — which reflect a diverse mix of grievances, including civil rights, anti-fascist causes and frustration with the president — have not been noted by the conservative media world.

Instead, in an echo of Mr. Trump’s portrayal, right-wing media has presented the situation as an urban nightmare. Far from recoiling at big-government interference, conservative hosts have loudly applauded the Trump administration for superseding city and state authorities.

Image“Portland’s local Democratic politicians have failed to protect their city,” Sean Hannity said on his Fox News show this week.
Credit…Frank Franklin Ii/Associated Press

“Despite the constant chaos, Portland’s local Democratic politicians have failed to protect their city and now are demanding all federal law enforcement leave town,” Mr. Hannity said Monday on his Fox News broadcast. “Another genius idea just like defunding the police.”

Mr. Hannity went on to mock Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, for referring to the federal officers as “storm troopers.” He added: “Democrats seem totally fine with lawlessness as a new normal in America. In fact, many are fully supporting it.”

Tucker Carlson, on his Monday Fox News show, said Portland was “another beautiful city destroyed by the mob”; he called the protesters “rioters” and “the armed wing of the Democratic Party.” Mark Levin, the right-wing radio star, described the situation in Portland bluntly: “Another city goes to hell,” he declared on Tuesday.

Senator Tom Cotton, the Arkansas Republican, compared the Portland protesters to Confederate secessionists at the start of the Civil War, calling them “insurrectionists” during a Tuesday interview on the Fox News morning program “Fox & Friends.”

This dark framing of the situation in Portland was also apparent on Tuesday during Fox News’s 7 p.m. hour, which the network says is operated separately from its opinion shows.

The anchor, Martha MacCallum, began her newscast this way: We’ve been seeing that all summer. It’s a showdown now between law and order in America. And it’s a showdown the likes of which we really haven’t seen since the riots of 1968.”

She spoke as footage featured gunshots, protesters breaking windows and small explosives going off in the Portland streets.

“This is a central question now for the country as we head into the election,” Ms. MacCallum continued. “Are we united behind common principles of obeying the law? Or is there a push in this country to tear down some of the systems, some of the norms, and create a new system — a new reality in America?”

After Ms. MacCallum signed off, Fox News’s pro-Trump prime time began, and the depiction of runaway violence in Portland turned more pronounced.

“Innocent people are not safe,” Mr. Hannity told viewers. “Democratic politicians allowing the rioters and anarchists to wreak havoc on the city’s downtown districts.” Laura Ingraham, whose show follows “Hannity,” described the scene in Portland as “utter lawlessness.”

On Wednesday morning, Ben Domenech, the publisher of the conservative news site The Federalist, told the hosts of “Fox & Friends” that it would be “ludicrous” to blame the disturbances in Portland on federal agents. He accused news organizations of skewed reporting.

“The media advances its narrative in the way that they want the story to be told, which is that they don’t show anything that comes before — they don’t show any of the violence, any of the graffiti,” Mr. Domenech said. “It’s absurd, but the media gets away with it time and again because of the way that they build these narratives.”