Right-Wing Media Lapdogs Seek Trump's Approval

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Van Jones is covertly interviewed by Project Veritas. Project Veritas

Irony is always most powerful when bolstered by ignorance. Take the videos published by Project Veritas, the pseudo-journalistic concern operated by right-wing hitman James O'Keefe. He is the one who makes surreptitious gotcha! recordings and edits them heavily in a way meant to embarrass his invariably liberal victims: the community group ACORN, Planned Parenthood. He gives the far right the proof it is always seeking that some leftist conspiracy is at work.

The latest target is CNN, or, as O'Keefe brands it, "American Pravda." In one video, a CNN Health producer John Bonifield seems to call the investigation into the Trump campaign's alleged collusion with Russia "mostly bullshit." He also admits that coverage of the investigation has translated into a ratings bonanza for CNN.

"Our ratings are incredible right now," says Bonifield, as he is goaded relentlessly by a Project Veritas "reporter."

Related: Donald Trump versus CNN: How the White House just escalated its war on the free press

During the entire video, Bonifield is sipping a Chick-fil-A soda from a container the size of an oil drum. This may be the most damning detail of the video, unless of course the CNN Health producer is drinking water or some low-calorie drink. Otherwise, his insights into CNN's coverage of Trump have all the profundity of a middle-school civics class.

The second part of "American Pravda" targets Van Jones, an avowedly liberal CNN commentator and onetime staffer in the Obama administration. Confronted on a street corner by an intrepid Project Veritas reporter covertly filming the exchange, Jones says that the Russia investigation is a "nothing burger."

As far as O'Keefe is concerned, these videos are proof of rampant bias in the mainstream media. Never mind that Bonifield has nothing to do with coverage of Russia. His musings are the pedestrian thoughts of a man on the margins. They are irrelevant.

Forget, too, that Jones has openly spoken about Democrats needing to have a message beyond "Trump colluded with Russia" if they intend to win back the House of Representatives in next year's midterm elections. In video posted on Twitter several days before the Project Veritas recording, Jones looks into the camera of the person filming him and says (with full knowledge that he's being recorded, of course): "Everything we say is about the Russians, it's not about the people. We gotta stop talking about the Russians, start talking about the American people and what they need."

This is obviously the "nothing burger" Jones had in mind—not that the several ongoing investigations, including into Trump's potential obstruction of justice in firing FBI Director James B. Comey, have no merit but that running on those investigations in 2018 is poor political strategy for Democrats. Unlike the smug Tucker Carlson of Fox News, Jones doesn't claim to be an expert in the Russia investigation; he couldn't possibly know if it's a nothing burger or a Watergate-size slab of steak.

Really, the irony is as rich as truffle butter. "American Pravda" is a reference to Pravda, the newspaper that served as an organ of the Kremlin during the Soviet Union. It relentlessly attacked internal enemies of the USSR, bullying them into silence, consistently misrepresented reality to Soviet citizens, inflating national achievements and downplaying pervasive failures of the state. Above all, it reflexively and unquestioningly venerated whoever stood on the ramparts of the Kremlin, waving at the Red Army marching below.

The head of the Communist Party and his Politburo were, in the end, the paper's true audience, just as the true audience of outlets like Project Veritas, Fox News and Breitbart are the despondent pseudo-billionaire in the Oval Office, Donald J. Trump, and his supporters. Their vitriol and deception do nothing for the out-of-job factory worker, the veteran struggling with life back home, the single mother of three—all those "forgotten Americans" who do very much need someone to hear their voices and address their plight. The far-right media ecosystem cares nothing for them, not in any genuine sense beyond earning clicks. Its various outlets are meant only to slavishly reflect the warped world Trump envisions as he watches hours upon hours of cable news in the West Wing.

Little wonder that Trump tweeted about the O'Keefe tapes, doing his best imitation of a Third World despot. Project Veritas, in turn playing the eager lapdog's role, said, "President Trump said CNN was fake news and we just proved it. He asked about the rest of the mainstream media. They are on our list."

There was also a statement from O'Keefe: "If you are in the media and are using deception or malfeasant tactics, you may want to sleep with one eye open."

Or what, Comrade James, off to the gulags of Siberia we go?

I'm betting that O'Keefe doesn't know that Pravda served to bolster the state, not to undermine it. Or that Ben Shapiro, a conservative columnist, branded his former employer Breitbart News "Trump's Pravda" during the presidential campaign. That epithet could apply to the entire right-wing media ecosystem, whose divorce from reality has been long in the making, but especially in evidence since Trump took office.

Breitbart News, not to be outdone in anti-media animus by Project Veritas, has been stoking outrage over CNN having been forced to retract a story about a high-level Trump surrogate's alleged affiliation to a Russian financier. The site's chief White House correspondent, Matt Boyle, a well-known Trump sycophant, earlier this week published a breathless "exclusive" wrapped lovingly around a statement by Donald Trump Jr. That statement, by one of the president's two grown sons (you know, the ones supposedly running his business and staying out of politics), falsely said that "nobody from the network is answering questions" and wondered how CNN could "have the audacity to demand on-camera press briefings from the White House."

Actually, three journalists were fired because of the retracted story. Nor do the demands for press accountability come from CNN. Rather, the demand is that of the American people, who are accustomed to a level of openness befitting a democracy. This is still a democracy, right?

The desire to settle scores and silence enemies has turned outlets like Breitbart News into frothing cauldrons of pathological outrage. Boyle's "reporting" only amplified Trump Jr.'s adolescent anger. He called CNN chief Jeff Zucker's handling of the retracted story "perhaps one of the darkest cover-ups in media history" and a "very fake news scandal." A more capable journalist would have at least found more original vocabulary of paranoia and untruth, but like the editors of Pravda back in the day (say, 1952), the loyal soldiers at Breitbart News can't get too clever. Their solemn duty is to parrot the powers that be faithfully. The greatness of the state brooks no independence.

Pravda is still around, having latched on to Putin the way it did to his Soviet forefathers. But what will Breitbart News, Project Veritas and all their conspiratorial, rage-mongering ilk do when Trump is gone from office? Maybe some segment of the far right will continue to seek them out as truth-tellers exposing President Obama as a secret Muslim, Hillary Clinton as a globalist puppet, Black Lives Matter as Soros-funded "Astroturf."

More likely, though, principled Republicans will realize how incredibly ill-served they have been by outlets like Breitbart News and Project Veritas. With that, these counterparts to Pravda will slide into irrelevance.