Hit Piece: How the New Right is Gaming the Media

hit piece
Scott Pelley interviews Mike Cernovich for a 60 Minutes hit piece.

Media on Defense: Cernovich Flips the Script on 60 Minutes

Mike Cernovich, like President Trump before him, has given CBS60 Minutes a ratings boost. He primed the public days before his March 26 interview. His followers on Twitter tried warning him of the dangers of taking on the mainstream media in their own court. “It will be a hit piece,” they surmised. But Cernovich sarcastically made it clear that he knew exactly what he was getting into.

He was going to use the media’s own smear tactics against them.

Technology has furthered the utility of social media

Although many prominent social media channels have now been around for several years, it is easy to take for granted how much more viable they have become since Barack Obama secured his second presidential term in 2012. Aside from Obama’s own charisma, it was his campaign’s savvy use of social media that inevitably gave him the edge into victory (Mitt Romney did not help much either).

So why did social media become so much more prevalent if these technologies already existed? The technology has gotten better, faster, and more pervasive. In 2008 and 2012, platforms like Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter existed at some point or another. But it was only recently that they have become as useful as they are today.

The technology was yet to catch up to the capabilities.

The 2016 presidential elections brought a changing of the guard, as it were. Donald Trump, a long active Twitter user, began using the platform as a direct means to counteract the media narrative. Furthermore, he strategically used the mainstream media itself to essentially pay for his campaign. How did he do this?

Donald Trump: The first media President

If you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you.”

Trump wrote those words in 1987 in The Art of the Deal (page 56). The boring and unoriginal media analysts like to make light of Trump by citing his role as a reality television star. They do not address what a monumental ratings success The Apprentice was while he was at the show’s helm.

In other words, his reality star status was a means to an end. He made money from the show and further promoted his brand. This has always been the Donald Trump model.

Prior to his time in reality television, Donald Trump was already a ubiquitous figure. He was often the target of many an unfair media hit piece, but he always inevitably used it to his advantage. A good investor recognizes the upsides and downsides to every investment. Trump learned very early on that even bad press can be to one’s advantage. When someone is building their brand, exposure is crucial.

How Trump gamed the media and dominated all future negotiations

Trump’s relationship with the media during his presidential campaign reveals one of the most amazing feats in political history. He accomplished at least four things by communicating in his trademark bluntness. Consider the example of the proposed temporary Muslim ban (a la Scott Adams).

By proposing a temporary ban on Muslims, Trump mirrored his right-wing base to the far end of the spectrum. For all those who are moderately right-wing, such an absolute claim removes any doubt as to whether or not he is on their side.

Contrarily, he set up a prime starting point for negotiating with the left-wing. If he is moderate and wants a moderate outcome, he can coax the left to his intended position by positing an extreme “opening offer.”

He also furthers his brand as one who is honest, tough, has no time for political correctness. Some might argue that this was the thing that hooked most of his ardent supporters in the beginning. “He tells it like it is,” they would say.

Lastly, by being controversial, he virtually forced the media to write about him. By making himself a target of hit piece after hit piece, Trump got inside everyone’s head and kept himself at front and center. He made the mainstream media, who detested him above all others, give him the strongest media platform any candidate has ever seen.

Trump knows media, and he used it to his advantage.

How real news became “fake news”

A good warrior finds opportunity in his opponent’s strengths. He channels their own energy against them. Donald Trump takes on the media like a Judo master. He takes a hit piece and hits back with it.

Public trust in the media is at an all time low. Social media has democratized media. Furthermore, whistleblowers and other sources have helped to bring legitimate transparency to politicians and even media figures themselves. Trump seized on this from the very beginning, hammering at the media for their dishonesty and lies.

To counter this, the media attempted to smear alternative media as “fake news.” This was, no doubt, a decision they regretted. Trump commandeered this weapon and wielded right back against them. Thanks to citizen news platforms and Trump, the “Fake News” brand has now been forever associated with mainstream media.

Donald Trump: The first social media president

Trump not only put himself front and center in the mainstream media and called them out for their lies. He used a citizen platform of his own with Twitter (among others). He also held massive rallies all across the country, which furthered his direct-to-the-people message.

President Trump’s Tweets have become news stories in and of themselves. Trump has not only circumvented the media. He has become the media, having interwoven himself and  his message into every fabric of it. When he calls them “very fake news,” they must report on the fact that “Donald Trump has called us ‘very fake news.'” It has gotten very meta.

Above all else, Trump has used his platform to check the mainstream media. Their ability to take his own words out of context is perpetually diminishing. Meanwhile, more and more citizen media outlets are emerging.

The fake news media is panicking. So they are following their old trick of ending people’s careers with a hit piece. The trouble for them is, this is not working anymore.

Scott Adams fact-checks Bloomberg

On March 22, Bloomberg released a hit piece on Scott Adams. What is most telling about the smearing nature of the piece, is that Bloomberg did not complete and post the article until after the election. They very well could have released the story beforehand which would have highlighted the accuracy of his prediction that Trump would win the election.

Anyone who followed Scott Adams over the course of the election will quickly realize the writer’s lack of amiability towards him. It makes the reader wonder why a bright guy like Adams would subject himself to the piece in the first place. Fortunately, he clarified this for his readers:

If I agreed to the interview, I knew I would be making myself the target of ridicule and shame, baring my flaws to the world – both the real ones and the fake news ones. No rational person would agree to such an interview. It was a suicide mission.

So I agreed to the interview.”

Scott Adams outlined in a blogpost a list of fact-checks for the Bloomberg article. It is appalling to see how deliberately Bloomberg misrepresented the source material. Adams seemed to draw two things from the experience.

He saw it as an opportunity to see how far a media outlet will go to misrepresent someone. He would, after all, be able to provide context better than anyone. It was also an opportunity to highlight something else.

Adams’ reach is now broader than that of the Bloomberg columnist.

Because Adams has amassed such a large following, he is able to use a media hit piece to delegitimize the media. Bloomberg threw the pin and kept the grenade. But they are not the only media outlet to find their own munitions exploding in their face.

How Mike Cernovich used a hit piece to flip the script

60 Minutes is the most recent media outlet to attempt to discredit alternative media. They produced a segment on how fake news is misinforming the public. The piece itself was mostly reasonable. It addressed how some people have perpetuated intentionally false stories to promote web traffic.

Where the segment becomes dishonest is the way in which it seems to lump Mike Cernovich and his website Danger and Play alongside actual fake news websites. Mike has written many controversial columns, no doubt, but his point all along has been to bring accountability to all media.

It was on this notion that Mike Cernovich had 60 Minutes‘ Scott Pelley cornered:

When Pelley challenged him with regard to claims he made about Hillary’s health, Cernovich turned the conversation right back to him. He made Scott Pelley, a figurehead of the media, stammer at the question of why he should trust Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Before the interview aired, Cernovich released a transcript from the interview. Afterward, he provided further commentary and released the following statement:

The broadcast received 15.19 millions viewers, a landslide compared to others programs for the evening. 60 Minutes also trended for the first time ever on social media. Cernovich is using this opportunity to wield the media’s weapons against themselves.

Like Scott Adams, Mike Cernovich’s platform is becoming more impactful than that of many other media programs and outlets. His influence on ratings and social media metrics is a clear indicator of that fact.

If CBS had any hope of discrediting Mike Cernovich or alternative media, then Cernovich just flipped the script.

Citizen journalism is the new media.

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What is your take on how the new right is working the media? I’d be glad to hear your perspective in the comments below.

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Jon Waller – @jwalljackson / Squawker.org – @squawkerorg