Dear Media: Stop normalizing the alt-right
Why does the March for Life, a rally that attracts tens of thousands of anti-abortion Americans to Washington, D.C., every year, get less prominent media coverage than a fringe neo-Nazi gathering?
Because institutional media and white nationalists have formed a politically convenient symbiotic relationship.
For Jew-hating racists, the attention means they can playact as a viable and popular movement with pull in Washington. In return, many in the media get to confirm their own biases and treat white supremacy as if it were the secret ingredient to Republican success.
Meanwhile, this obsessive coverage of the alt-right not only helps mainstream a small movement but it’s also exactly what the bigots need and want to grow.
Check out the coverage of the recent National Policy Institute conference in Washington. As far as I can tell, these pseudointellectual xenophobic bull sessions have been going on for years, featuring many of the same names. These people have generally been given the attention they deserve, which is to say exceptionally little.
If you read this week’s headlines, though, you would have thought the German American Bund had packed 22,000 cheering fascists into the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center.
Every major cable news network had a discussion about the importance of the Institute. But here’s a little nugget from the NPR piece that asserts the election has given this “once fringe movement a jolt”:
“About 300 people — split nearly evenly between conference attendees and protesters of the conference outside — were on hand at the downtown D.C. event.”
About 300 people? Some jolt. To put that into context, there were well over 300 people at thousands of churches and temples across the Washington area this weekend praying for peace on Earth. In this country, you could pull together 300 people for a meeting about anything, actually. Thousands of UFO enthusiasts got together in the Arizona desert last year in hopes of not being mass abducted by space aliens.
A few years ago, I attended the Socialist convention in Chicago, where at least a thousand activists gathered to discuss how to end economic freedom. Since then, 43 percent of Democrat primary goers have given this extreme movement a “jolt,” I guess.
It is indisputable that many of these people are odious. We have a responsibility to use morally precise language when referring to this group (which, in this case, is the neo-Nazi group); contextualize their influence (which is little but more than it should be); and unequivocally call them out. We should never, ever glamorize them for political purposes.
Why do media obsessively cover the alt-right? I suppose it’s the same reason every major publication gave former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke — who polled at 3 to 4 percent in the Louisiana Senate race all year — their undivided attention. It’s to create the impression that they matter.
None of this is to say Trump shouldn’t be called out for his vulgar rhetoric or ideas, some of which gave these people the space they needed. Nor does it absolve Republicans who look the other way when genuine bigotry appears. GOPers shouldn’t normalize the alt-right, and neither should the media imbue the movement with an outsized importance to feed its preferred narrative regarding the election.
Coverage is likely driven with the cynical purpose of exaggerating the importance of neo-Nazis to tie them to Republicans. The media will now demand the administration to denounce white supremacists every time they have a meeting — which itself intimates that there is a connection. Conflating these scary things can create the impression that conservatism is Donald Trump, which is Steve Bannon, which is David Duke, which is Richard Spencer.
I’m afraid it’s not that simple. And attempting to make it that simple only weakens legitimate criticism of the president-elect — of which there is plenty.
David Harsanyi, author of “The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy,” is a senior editor at The Federalist.