Why Did NBC Broadcast a Puff Piece on a White Supremacist Group?

As FAIR noted last year, the rise of Trump has lead to a corollary rise in softball profiles of the most vulgar, racist extremes of the American far right. For some reason, news managers feel the need to highlight, with little if any criticism or context, pro-Trump extremists who’ve been emboldened by his campaign and subsequent election. The most recent iteration of this genre was byNBC News (11/2/17), which ran a four-minute-58-second segment on a racist men’s movement calling itself “Proud Boys”:

Meet the Proud Boys, America’s Self-Proclaimed Chauvinists

The segment—part of Left Field, NBC‘s video documentary vertical—is a gratuitous piece of embedded journalism that does little to challenge the claims made by Proud Boy talking heads, such as “there’s a mainstream societal attack on being hetero cis white men.” The piece allowed multiple Proud Boys to spout off their brand of racist and sexist talking points with zero context; arguments that Muslims are uniquely sinister and women should go back to being housewives were advanced with no pushback from other sources or NBC itself.

Introducing Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes (also co-founder of Vice and a documented racist), correspondent Aurora Almendral insisted, “He may be a hip New Yorker, but he’s also the founder of this men-centric group that’s caught on across America.” Oh, so he’s “hip,” just like white supremacist Richard Spencer is “dapper.” What, one is compelled to ask, is the point of calling him this?

The segment couldn’t bring itself to call the Proud Boys “racist,” “sexist,” “misogynist” or even “hateful,” much less bother mentioning a member of the group, Kyle Chapman, was arrested in August for allegedly attacking a leftist protester with a lead-filled stick in Berkeley, California. McInnes’ history of trafficking in white supremacist canards like “white genocide,” circulating in white nationalist spaces, promoting the overt white supremacist “unite the right” rally in Charlottesville—where one anti-racist protester was killed—also didn’t merit mention. The substance of the Proud Boys hate is barely commented on by the reporter; the viewer is simply left with a bunch of reasons (offered by members) why they are not Nazis.

They were presented, as Hill editor Will Sommer later tweeted, as “a drinking club with a few un-PC opinions.” NBC‘s naive online copy for the program explained the group “argues they are not white supremacist and are only speaking up for a new class of minority—the disenfranchised young white male,” without noting this as a white supremacist talking point as old as white supremacist organizing. KKK leader David Duke has been trying out the “I’m not anti-black, but pro-white” line for decades.

Additionally, “men-centric” is a delightful euphemism for a woman-hating rape apologist (“If women couldn’t claim rape after inviting a man into their bedroom, they would be a lot more careful about who they invited into their bedroom.”—McInnes in Taki’s Magazine, 8/23/16). As are other marketing labels NBC spread uncritically throughout the piece, like “pro-masculinity,” “male angst” and “Western chauvinist”—all terms the Proud Boys use to rebrand sexist hate. Time and again, hate speech was couched in activist terms, as if there may actually exist an oppressed white male class in need of protection.

That McInnes is Islamophobic was only touched on because he proudly declared it in the interview. But his history of antisemitism is glaringly omitted. Obviously, a five-minute report can’t contain the entirety of McInnes’s ideology, but certainly they could have brought up the time he went to Israel and did a segment  called “10 Things I Hate About Jews.”

After allowing her interviewees to explain why their brand of hate is somehow different and not racist, Almendral offerd up tortured prose: “So fair enough, the lines between racism, xenophobia and chauvinism may exist, but they can be hard to understand.” What does this even mean?

The segment ended on an equally fatuous pontification that borders on outright promotion for McInnes and Co.:

So that’s all to say the Proud Boys are not alt-right, they’re not neo-Nazis, but some of their opinions no longer represent the minority.

It’s not “they aren’t alt-right or neo-Nazi, but many of their views align with those groups” (a debatable but defensible statement), it’s “they may not be alt-right or neo-Nazis, but they’re also very popular!” This isn’t a “but” formulation; the latter clause doesn’t contradict the former, it’s a non sequitur presumably inserted because she didn’t have the constitution to call a racist a racist or a sexist a sexist—much less a hipster-revamped white supremacist a hipster-revamped white supremacist.

This isn’t to say, of course, that neo-Nazis, the “alt-right” or the so-called “alt-light” aren’t worth covering at all. But one can do so without giving them a platform, without letting them spout their genocidal ideology with little or no context. An alternative to NBC’s glossy approach is media upstart Unicorn Riot, which was recently profiled in the Columbia Journalism Review (11/1/17):

Unicorn Riot’s structure has enabled members to publish dozens of stories on the alt-right without turning their subjects into stars or even normalizing them. While other organizations wrote celebrity profiles that marveled at the sartorial sense of fashion-conscious fascists, Unicorn Riot revealed what the alt-right was talking about when they thought no one was listening.

In fact, as Unicorn Riot’s reporting (8/16/17) reveals, one thing they talk about when no one else is listening is how to manipulate gullible reporters into boosting the movement by keeping genocidal opinions to yourself when you’re talking to them:

The purpose of this is to gain sympathy for pro-white advocacy as well as a general uniting of the right wing against these communists who are gonna come shut this down, OK…. Going up to, like, MSNBC and them interviewing you and you saying like, “Yeah, I actually think we should kill every non-white on the planet.”…  I don’t necessarily like have an issue with listening to that on a podcast or whatever, but if you are gonna do something like that, even if it’s your true belief, that’s not the objective of this rally, so we should try to keep it with the objective of trying to gain sympathy for a pro-white rally.

A good way to gauge whether white supremacists think they’ve succeeded in spinning a news outlet into giving them a platform to “gain sympathy for pro-white advocacy” is to see whether the supremacists use their own media to promote the outlet’s coverage. That’s what McInnes did immediately after NBC published its report:

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.