Everything That Rises Must Converge
The Nemesis of my Nemesis is Not My Friend. And We’re Not Related
Two of my biggest concerns about Georgia media for the last few years, political control and unchecked shenanigans at state-run Georgia Public Broadcasting and the rise of an alt-right local media infrastructure associated with Steve Bannon (no relation), began to converge last week.
The MAGA media outlet Georgia Star News published a story about Fulton County’s elections:
The story was circulated throughout conservative media and praised by former President Trump.
A political reporter for GPB then wrote a fact-check disputing the Georgia Star News’ findings.
The same reporter recently barred from the state GOP convention and the same state network whose funding members of the legislature tried to cut.
The Georgia Star News then reported on GPB’s story and wondered how the state network was able to get such a quick response when their own independent requests had been delayed and returned incomplete.
Separately, or perhaps as part of some MAGA media coordination (see how everything starts to seem like a conspiracy?), another conservative news site run by veteran Washington media figure John Solomon obtained and published an independent observer’s report on Fulton County’s Nov. election: https://justthenews.com/politics-policy/elections/ga-investigators-election-day-notes-reveal-chaotic-unsecured-ballot
In its article Just the News says that the investigator “did not respond to repeated requests for comment” but instead quickly spoke to the Associated Press.
The AP article downplays the report’s significance and quotes the investigator as saying he saw no “dishonesty, fraud or intentional malfeasance."
Solomon is a controversial media figure with past stints at the AP and The Washington Post as well as Sinclair Media, The Washington Times, Fox News and The Hill. His own reporting has been accused of exaggeration, leaving out important context, or otherwise serving to fit a narrative.
Still, the dynamic of conservative media outlets publishing damaging stories about Georgia officials, whether legitimate or inflated, that the officials then turn to mainstream media outlets to debunk or minimize only reinforces the suspicion of mainstream media by the MAGA audience.
The Just the News article leads with Raffensperger’s appearance on 60 Minutes assuring Georgia’s elections were clean before detailing the investigator’s worst observations.
(The article’s sub-headline includes “a worker’s threat to ‘f*ck sh*t up!”)
Other Georgia officials, like Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, are routinely assailed for “running to CNN” after criticism of them by President Trump echoes through conservative media.
Conservative outlets from talk radio to Fox News to new digital sites are all premised on the idea that you can’t trust mainstream media. Georgia officials like Duncan, Raffensperger, and Gov. Brian Kemp regularly courted such outlets, and echoed their media criticism, before finding themselves on President Trump’s bad side.
Examined closely, the Georgia Star News should easily be dismissed as a pro-Trump propaganda outlet given its selection of stories, opinion commentary and sponsors.
But not every reader will be that discerning and some just want the red meat.
And now the MAGA crowd has begun to accuse GPB of being state media. Which, uh, it is. And has been, under Republican control, for some time.
Glancing at their website, the Georgia Star News’s advertisers include State Senators Brandon Beach and Burt Jones, Gubernatorial candidate Vernon Jones, and now, an upcoming Women for America First Election Integrity Town Hall.
Steve Bannon’s frequently apocalyptic War Room podcast, now on the radio in Atlanta, is sponsored by vitamin supplements, emergency food supplies, precious metal investments, in case the economy tanks, and My Pillow.
But Georgia Public Broadcasting’s list of underwriters includes the Georgia Board of Regents, the Georgia Farm Bureau, the Georgia Dept. of Economic Development, and the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.
Not exactly a source you’d turn to for adversarial coverage of the state.
Complicating it all is that the pre-Trump status quo in Georgia wasn’t that pristine.
Fox News has had a bureau inside Georgia Public Broadcasting’s headquarters since 2004, soon after Republicans came to power in the state.
(Here’s former Senator Kelly Loeffler appearing on Fox this weekend, likely from its GPB bureau, criticizing Raffensperger: https://www.foxnews.com/politics/loeffler-potential-2022-georgia-senate-rematch-warnock)
GPB’s current CEO Teya Ryan was first appointed in 2009 at the urging of Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue. In 2012 she agreed to hire the state Senate Majority Leader for a $150,000 a year job on the urging of Gov. Nathan Deal.
In Commission meetings I’ve attended, Ryan bragged about being able to get PBS President Paula Kerger to visit Georgia and meet with Gov. Deal to learn about public media “in a red state.”
Gov. Kemp has yet to make any appointments to the nine-member Georgia Public Telecommunications Commission but, by my analysis, two seats are vacant, two more members are ineligible to serve, and two have terms expiring this month.
So far, I’ve been unable to get anyone in state government to confirm or correct my findings.
All of this leaves a potential crisis of credibility in Georgia just ripe for exploitation.
Take your vitamins.