On Friday, Axios published a look at how Fox News, CNN, and even MSNBC are fighting it out to become the home of the 2024 Republican presidential primary debates. The short version is this: Donald Trump, a seditionist, has been having a pouting tantrum because he perceives Fox "News" to be not fully and 100% in his own coup-attempting, document-stealing, crime-doing camp, mostly because they've hosted fellow primary candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and treated him too nicely. Trump has been threatening to shut Fox out.
DeSantis, on the other hand, is a quivering ball of barely contained fury who takes great pains to avoid venues in which he might be subjected to a whiff of criticism, and has evidently been objecting to his party granting debates to either of the other two networks because he thinks both CNN and NBC are "hostile" territory for Republicans and he'd rather chew his own animatronic arms off than appear on either of them. So if it's up to the two prima donnas of the race, nobody will be hosting any debates because their requirements are that the hosts not be Fox News and also not be anyone other than Fox News.
It is left to the rest of us to come up with a reason any of us should give a damn, and we can only speculate as to why these three networks or any others actively appear to want their logos slapped onto what we now know will be a lie-soaked carnival of bullshit in which candidates will compete with each other to insist that coups can be good, actually, and that Joe Biden might not be the "legitimate" president, or any number of other poisonous and democracy-threatening new party "truths." None of it changes the core story, though: The networks really want to have their own corporate logos slapped on the screen (theirs and nobody else's), while Donald Trump dishes out a steady stream of insults and tells the most outrageous lies to the audience that his brain can come up with.
And that means that we can expect network coddling of Republican lying to get worse—much, much worse—even before any such debate rolls around. If they're going to be chosen to host the Republican Carnival of Damned Souls once campaign season rolls around in earnest, each of the networks will need to prove to Republicans that they can be trusted to let on-air lies go unchecked.
The network's need to prove itself a friendly, non-challenging venue largely explains last month's otherwise catastrophic CNN-Trump "town hall," a ghastly affair that saw CNN gather up a rabidly pro-Trump audience to support the unrepentant seditionist as he at various turns insulted his CNN host, peppered the home audience with provable lies (again), and otherwise humiliated the network on its own airwaves. A supposed town hall, the event was abusive to viewers and a serious wound to whatever pretense CNN has left of being a journalistic enterprise. If the evening was meant to prove to Donald Trump that the network was absolutely the right venue for one or more upcoming debates, network head Chris Licht and the rest of CNN's team could not have hoped for better. The network allowed Trump to be fully in his element, without challenge, without fact checks or a moderator who would so much as defend herself against his blowhardian cruelty, and that is what Trump wanted to see.
Trump is famously transactional and doesn't give a damn about returning favors, but it's likely the evening went well enough that he's now even more encouraged to believe that he can freeze out Fox News and find greener, even more sycophantic pastures elsewhere.
Unfortunately for the rest of us, however, we now have solid evidence for what we can expect the whole of the Republican presidential primary race to look like. Donald Trump isn't the only propaganda-reliant liar who is demanding only favorable treatment from the supposed journalists meant to cover him, and CNN is not the only network courting the most aggressively dishonest candidates for the sake of having their logo on the screen when the lies are spoken.
Every network must choose between treating crimes like seditious conspiracy, sexual assault, election tampering, or provoking a riot as condemnable behavior not worthy of a candidate, and hosting the panoply of Republican Party candidates who will boycott any network that does.
And, as the Chris Licht episode has so blazingly illuminated for us, entertainment and news companies are both typically run by those most willing to not give a damn about their own integrity. Which networks do we suppose are willing to stick to principles like "attempting to overthrow the United States government is too abominable an act to tolerate" if a night's ratings are on the line?
As for Licht himself, while the thoroughly pre-rigged Trump town hall did not do him in at the network, he could not quite survive a long-form Atlantic article that explored just how badly his decisions had gone for the network and that, perhaps more notably, exposed Licht to be exactly as much in the pocket of Republican-boosting Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav as Licht's CNN underlings believed him to be. Licht has now turned over CNN "business operations" to chief corporate officer David Leavy, while Licht will retain the network's programming responsibilities.
What that means in practice is still murky, given that Licht still retains oversight of the precise roles in the company that he had been so spectacularly screwing up, but that his likely Zaslav-forced demotion was a direct result of The Atlantic's too-cozy profile isn't in question. Licht apologized to staff for the article, which was months in the making, on Monday morning, which is notable because he hasn't issued such a full-throated apology for the network-rigged town hall.
The lesson we should take from that is probably that CNN's bosses feel little remorse at all at their use of network airwaves to intentionally disinform the public for an evening of spectacle with the intent of boosting the network's chances at getting more spectacle in the immediate future. It's the exposure of the network's internal embarrassment, at least among the actual journalists in the offices, that's gotten them more worked up.
So Licht may or may not be sidelined completely if such leaks keep coming, but CNN and the other networks aren't ready to back away from the premise that peddling on-air lies from Republicans is Good, Actually, if it is between that and having Republicans refuse to be interviewed at all. We can expect this to be a long, long campaign season, and we can expect no help at all from the nation's "news" networks when it comes to separating truth from the propaganda of an increasingly fascist party.
Countless progressive organizations seek to engage and mobilize voters, but coordinating those efforts is a mighty task. On this week's episode of "The Downballot," we're joined by Sara Schreiber, the executive director of America Votes, which works with hundreds of partners at the national and state level to deploy the most effective means of urging voters to the polls. Schreiber walks us through how coalitions of like-minded groups are formed and how the work of direct voter contact is divvied up between them. A special focus is on "blue surge" voters—those who, in the Trump era, joined the rolls for the first time—and why ensuring they continue to participate in the political process is the key to progressive victories.