News & Politics

Local Media Repeatedly Failed to Report That Virginia Republican Senate Nominee Is a Neo-Confederate

A troubling lack of journalistic vigor was on display in the state.

Photo Credit: Newsweek

On June 12, neo-Confederate Corey Stewart was elected to be the Republican nominee to challenge Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). Stewart is an ardent defender of Confederate symbols and a staunch opponent of immigrants’ rights, and he has been affiliated with white supremacists. Unfortunately for Virginians, local TV news in the state largely failed to mention Stewart’s extremism while reporting on his victory. While some Virginia newspapers did a better job in giving the context of Stewart’s background to audiences, others largely failed to mention his bigotry.

Stewart, who is currently a member of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, was the Virginia state co-chairman of President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, has been described as a “mini-Trump,” and heavily courted the “alt-right” and figures who have self-identified with the movement. Shortly after he was fired from his position with the campaign in October 2016 for taking part in a protest against the Republican National Committee, Stewart gave an interview to Mike Cernovich, a far-right troll who has a history of promoting conspiracy theories. During the interview, Cernovich said that “he calls establishment Republicans ‘cucks’ because ‘they like to see Trump get screwed over by the media, that's what they get off on.’” Stewart replied, “Yeah, I would agree.” The term “cuck,” short for “cuckold,” is widely used within “alt-right” and pro-Trump circles.

In January 2017, Stewart spoke out in support of Paul Nehlen, a white nationalist congressional candidate who holds and espouses deeply racist views, calling him one of his “personal heros.” According to CNN, Stewart later paid almost $800 to the "pro-White" Nehlen as a “fundraising commission.” And in February 2017, Stewart attended an event put on by “Unity & Security for America,” a group run by Jason Kessler, the white nationalist who would months later organize the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA. According to The Washington Post, Stewart himself claimed that white nationalists were “unfairly singled out” for their role in the rally. Stewart has since disavowed both men, but as The New York Times reports, Nehlen at least already had a history of making anti-Muslim slurs when Stewart initially praised him.

Stewart is also a stalwart defender of Confederate symbols and has helped spearhead the movement against immigration and immigrants’ rights in Virginia. During his 2017 campaign for Virginia governor, he displayed a Confederate flag while recording a Facebook live segment, declaring, “Folks, this is a symbol of heritage. It is not a symbol of racism. It is not a symbol of slavery.” Stewart later claimed that “ISIS has won” after a Confederate monument was taken down in New Orleans, LA. During his time as a member of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, Stewart has supported aggressively anti-immigrant policies. He helped passlegislation to bar undocumented immigrants from receiving county services and often fearmongers about immigrants in Virginia, warning residents about the “scourge of illegal aliens who are preying on law-abiding United States citizens here in Fairfax County,” incorrectly stating that the city of Fairfax has “declared itself a ‘sanctuary city.’”

Local TV news dropped the ball on acknowledging Stewart’s extremism

Eight major TV news stations in two of Virginia’s largest media markets largely failed to inform viewers that the Republican nominee for Senate is an anti-immigrant, neo-Confederate extremist with ties to white supremacists. Media Matters reviewed local TV coverage of Stewart’s win during nighttime (11 p.m.; 10 p.m. for Fox affiliates) and evening (6 p.m. or 7 p.m.) news programing from 9 p.m. on June 12 (when Stewart was declared the winner) through June 14. Of the four stations carrying local news in the Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News media market, not one mentioned Stewart’s extremist past. Coverage in the Roanoke-Lynchburg media market wasn’t much better; two stations mentioned Stewart’s position on immigration and his advocacy for Confederate monuments, but none highlighted his relationships with white nationalists.

  • In the Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News media market, WVEC (ABC 13), WTKR (CBS 3), WAVY (NBC 10)and WVBT (Fox 43) all failed to mention Stewart’s advocacy for Confederate symbols, his extremism on immigration, and his previous association with white supremacists.  

  • In the Roanoke-Lynchburg, WDBJ (CBS 7) and WFXR (Fox 27) both mentioned Stewart’s defense of Confederate monuments and referenced his stance on immigration, though neither highlighted his extremism on the topic; instead they noted, respectively, his interest in “cracking down on illegal immigration” and his “focus” on “illegal immigration.” Neither station acknowledged his history of associating with white nationalists.

  • WSET (ABC 13, a station owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group) and WSLS (NBC 10) failed to mention any aspect of Stewart’s extremist past.

Some Virginia newspapers did better than TV news, but others missed the mark

The Richmond-Times Dispatch did an admirable job detailing Stewart’s bigotry, The Roanoke Times failed to mention certain aspects of Stewart’s extremism, and The Virginian Pilot almost entirely dropped the ball. Media Matters reviewed three major Virginia newspapers’ coverage of Stewart’s victory from June 12 until June 15.

  • The Richmond Times-Dispatch ran five stories mentioning Stewart’s win. Three of those articles mentioned Stewart’s defense of Confederate symbols, or else branded him “pro-Confederate.” Twonoted his focus on “illegal” immigration, and four discussed his connections with white supremacists and anti-Semites.  

  • The Roanoke Times ran only one story, an article it re-ran from The Richmond Times-Dispatch, announcing Stewart’s victory, and while it mentioned his association with both Kessler and Nehlen, it failed to identify his support for Confederate symbols or his anti-immigration stances. The Times did, however, run an editorial that accused Stewart of playing “footsie with white nationalists,” and mentioned his backing of Confederate symbols. 

  • The Virginian Pilot ran two articles, one partially re-published from The Washington Post, that mentioned Stewart’s victory. The Post article actually did mention Stewart’s support for Confederate monuments, his immigration stance, and his extreme associations, but this section of the article was taken out when it ran in the Pilot. The other article neglected to definitively acknowledge any aspect of Stewart’s extremism, instead noting that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has accused him of “cozying up to purveyors of dangerous white supremacy or anti-Semitic views."

Methodology

Using iQ media, Media Matters analyzed Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News and Roanoke-Lynchburg, two of the largest local news markets in Virginia, for “Corey Stewart,” “Stewart,” or “Republican primary” from 9 p.m. on June 12 through June 14. Relevant segments were reviewed during the stations' nighttime news program (11 p.m.; 10 p.m. for WVBT and WFXR) and during the 6 p.m. (7 p.m. for WVBT, which doesn't air 6 p.m. news) block of their evening news coverage (WFXR does not air evening news coverage).  

Using Nexis, Media Matters searched three widely circulated Virginia-based print newspapers, The Richmond Times-DispatchThe Virginian Pilot, and The Roanoke Times, from 9 p.m. June 12 to Jun

Don't let big tech control what news you see. Get more stories like this in your inbox, every day.

Grace Bennett is a researcher at Media Matters, where she has worked since June 2017. She has a bachelor’s degree in government from Georgetown University.