The Devil’s Bargain Went Down to Georgia
Before joining Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, my namesake but no relation Steve Bannon famously made Breitbart News a “platform for the alt right.”
He is now active in fostering an alternative right-wing local media infrastructure in Georgia. One encompassing new digital websites, podcasts, and cross-platform video and radio streams that openly challenge both the state’s mainstream media and its legacy talk radio stations.
Like Newsmax and One America News now challenging Fox News from the right, this MAGA media challenge to Georgia’s established conservative outlets echoes a civil war within the Republican Party.
While Fox News and talk radio helped shape much of the modern GOP, Donald Trump seized hold of it, thanks to ubiquitous appearances in both mainstream and conservative media.
As the GOP and its partisans adjust to a coming Biden presidency, Trump and his most vocal supporters show no interest in ceding control to the old order.
In Georgia, the stakes are heightened by two run-off elections in Jan. set to decide control of the U.S. Senate.
On Bannon’s War Room: Pandemic, Trump won in a landslide and the election is being stolen in front of listeners’ eyes. By corrupt Democrats and elites like the mainstream media, Big Tech, Soros, Zuckerberg, etc.
But also, with the abetting of weak, cowardly Republicans.
In these epoch times, Georgia Republicans and its conservative media are failing to rise to the challenge. To “hold the line.”
The Devil’s Bargain is a 2017 book by journalist Joshua Green profiling Steve Bannon, his rise within conservative media, and role in Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory.
It was a major source for my research in a show performed at the 2018 Atlanta Fringe Festival titled Bannon and Friends: A One-man Show. A mix of stand-up, projected images, and quasi-TED Talk, the show compared and contrasted Steve Bannon’s alt-right politics and my late diagnosis of Asperger’s and time as an obscure comedian on Atlanta’s alternative comedy scene.
Bannon’s War Room
Steve Bannon began his War Room: Impeachment radio show and podcast in late 2019 to challenge the impeachment of President Trump. It is produced and syndicated in partnership with Virginia radio broadcaster John Fredericks.
In early 2020 the name and focus switched to War Room: Pandemic with a heavy dose of nationalist criticism of the Chinese government.
Sampling recent episodes, Georgia news features prominently with Pro-Trump/anti-establishment lawyer Lin Wood a frequent guest.
Steve Bannon infamously subscribes to a prophetic theory of history outlined in a book titled The Fourth Turning.
His radio rhetoric frames election disputes in militaristic terms, calling his listeners heroes and patriots and urging them to “hold the line.” Just being a passive listener is not enough. But he insists “Courage is contagious.”
Bannon was forced out of the White House in the summer of 2017 after violent clashes at a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA.
He returned to Breitbart News but was forced out there as well in Jan. of 2018. Bannon had partly lost favor with Trump after comments critical of members of the Trump family surfaced.
Breitbart had also given extensive support to Roy Moore’s losing campaign for Senate in Alabama. Bannon himself was active in using Breitbart to seek to discredit The Washington Post’s reporting on allegations of sexual misconduct by Moore.
On his current War Room platform, with himself as host, Bannon promotes newer conservative outlets and is critical of those that rose to prominence in the pre-Trump era. He encourages listeners to ditch the Drudge Report and wonders what has happened to Fox.
As with so much of contemporary politics and media the lines between ideology and “grift” are blurred.
“Oracle of the Deplorables”
John Fredericks has been broadcasting his own morning radio show from Georgia for several weeks and recently launched a Georgia edition of his Star News network of digital newspapers.
A self-described “oracle of the deplorables,” he has been explicit in criticizing the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and in challenging radio host Erick Erickson as a former ‘Never Trumper’ whose eventual support for the president was never sincere.
Frederick’s has been touring extensively including to cities outside of Atlanta. Places where newspapers have shrunk and outlets seeking affluent or young demographics have mostly abandoned save for the “what do these Trump supporters in a small-town diner think” stories every few months.
In Georgia, Fredericks’ and Bannon’s radio shows are only available via stream, but Fredericks is asking for contributions from listeners with promises of buying a radio station in the state.
The liberal watchdog Media Matters describes Star News as “a growing network of partisan websites that dress up right-wing media content and talking points to look like local news. The organization’s explicit aim is to deliver pro-Trump propaganda to residents of battleground states, coating local news in the same grievance- and conspiracy-filled vernacular as is used by outlets like The Daily Caller and Breitbart.”
Media Matters also posted its own article on Nov. 24th about conservative hosts critical of Georgia Republicans and Erickson.
While these Georgia MAGA media efforts are still dwarfed by the ratings and reach of the state’s legacy newspapers and radio, a sign of its influence is the number of state legislators who have appeared on Fredericks’ radio show, signed on to various calls for a special session, and lent their names to fruitless amicus briefs.
In those interviews, the legislators tend to mention the large volume of calls and constituent pressure they are getting. “A lot of folks are angry.”
In addition, some state politicians and the state Republican party itself are now advertisers on Georgia Star News.
Is it to reach conservative voters or a kind of protection money?
Or just a cruder version of what Fox News and WSB radio have done for years.
As I’ve been arguing for some time, Fox News, Erick Erickson and Cox Media Group’s talk radio stations WSB in Atlanta and WGAU in Athens have long had ethically questionable relationships with state Republican leaders.
But now, with President Trump himself attacking many of those leaders, such access and exclusive interviews are a sign of swamp-like corruption.
To Bannon’s War Room brethren, a state with Republican majorities in both houses of the state legislature and a lock on all statewide offices should not have flipped to Biden.
That its Republican establishment is unwilling to use all aspects of its power, from demanding resignations to calling a special session to criminal investigations of voting rights groups is a sign of the Republic’s decline.
And for conservative media to not go all in for Trump now, is betrayal.
Can You Counter Conservative Populism from A Cozy Clubhouse?
None of this is healthy for Democracy. But as someone who has been critical of Georgia’s political and media establishment from the left, I fear they have lost enough credibility for legitimate misdeeds to effectively counter such propaganda.
Cox Media has enjoyed a regional legacy media monopoly for decades which it abused in big and small ways. The cross-promotion of hosts and reporters now called an echo chamber when done by partisan outlets has been ongoing for years.
I’ve also argued the relationship between Cox Media/The AJC and state-run Georgia Public Broadcasting is more than just unseemly conflicts of interest.
It undermines the credibility of both the journalists involved and state officials who have looked the other way.
Beyond the fate of a great college radio station, which turns 50 in Jan., my progressive critique of GPB’s takeover of Georgia State University’s student funded WRAS was that it was a wasteful and petty turf battle with longtime rival Public Broadcasting Atlanta.
Needless public radio competition at a time when NPR affiliates in other states are forming regional hubs to better fill growing news deserts.
All those GPB 88.5 billboards and bus wraps could have funded journalists living and reporting from Columbus or Albany or Rome.
NPR itself has lost a lot of credibility with progressives for its both-sides coverage of Trump or a perceived pro-centrist bias. The moniker Nice Polite Republicans gets tossed about.
I’m not sure what the best way to counter Bannon in Georgia would be. A louder local left-wing press or a more transparent mainstream media willing to critique its own owners and access relationships?
Meantime, I’m trying to remind myself to listen to more music.