Say Something Stupid, Win a Prize
For those of you who didn’t attend Turning Point USA’s Americafest this week, you missed Fox News personality Jesse Watters taking aim (metaphorically speaking) at Dr. Anthony Fauci. He encouraged the audience of mostly college students to “ambush” Dr. Anthoy Fauci and record him reacting to questions about theories on the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Now you go in for the kill shot. The kill shot with an ambush, deadly, because he doesn’t see it coming. This is when you say ‘Dr. Fauci, you funded risky research at a sloppy Chinese lab, the same lab that sprung this pandemic on the world. You know why people don`t trust you, don`t you?’ Boom, he is dead. He is dead. He’s done.
Here is a clip shared on social media viewed more than 1.5 million times.
A day later, Dr. Fauci was asked about the comment on CNN. The anchor sets up the question saying, “I’m not going to play it because I think it’s dangerous.”
Fox News responded saying, “based on watching the full clip and reading the entire transcript, it’s more than clear that Jesse Watters was using a metaphor for asking hard-hitting questions ... and his words have been twisted completely out of context.”
The Unpopular Take
Watters intentionally danced on the edge because he expected the reaction he got. First, he was being “cool with the kids” in the audience by daring them to be edgy and giving them a mission to generate high-traffic clickbait content for conservative outlets. Second, he knows that the video clip would go from social media to media discussion fueled by outrage in the modern media age. Finally, he was the guest host for Tucker Carlson on Thursday (while Tucker headlines Americafest), and getting a controversy bump ahead of the show helps with ratings.
Dr. Fauci has received numerous credible death threats and what Watters said is dangerous. In my second in the series, Political Decoder Ring, this week, I take on the Festivus of Politics, introducing The Outrageous Outlier.
The Outrageous Outlier. This is a favorite of the media. “Representative [Fill in Name Here]: Just said this, and it’s what the [Party Affiliation] believes!” Would you please stop falling for this? By “exposing” the stupid things the Outlandish Outlier says, the media is getting you to react and share it. Then there’s a response and a demand that every member of a particular party denounce it or agree on what they said. What happens is they slowly create a monster that says more stupid things and fundraises off of it.
It’s a reliable model of generating interest, controversy, relevance, and, of course, money. Watters doesn’t just know this; he relies on it and exploits it. In my time in politics, I learned that media coverage is a helluva drug. Once someone gets a taste of notoriety, they seek it out to keep the high going. The problem is that, over time, we’ve become numb to the run-of-the-mill outrageous stuff, so media and political figures constantly step it up to stay relevant.
Hear me out on this: we reward controversy with ratings and rage. We’ve helped create the marketplace, and we’ve gone too far. There’s a consequence for amplifying controversy to its predictable end, and we’re living through it.
Admitting we have a problem is the first step.
A Festivus Miracle!
Donald Trump got boosted.
Later in the week, he doubled down on the vaccine while talking to Candace Owens.
In the midst of all of this, President Biden offered rare praise to Trump and Operation Warp Speed for the development of the vaccine, saying, “Let me be clear: Thanks to the prior administration and our scientific community, America is one of the first countries to get the vaccine.” In an uncharacteristic moment of humility, Trump added in an interview of Fox News, "I may have been the vehicle, but we all did this together."
Biden press secretary Jen Psaki was on hand to ensure we don’t get too excited about this budding vaccine bromance.
Let’s not fool ourselves, the campaign for the 2022 mid-term elections will get hot after the first of the year, and both sides will be back to the sad business as usual. But if Joe Biden and Donald Trump can make it work, even for one week, maybe there’s hope for us yet.
From the Blog
I had a front-row seat to one of the strangest political scandals of all time. After more than a decade, it’s time to share the story. This week, I discuss how we will get there in Before We Go On.
Thanks to all of you who’ve taken the time to write me about the newsletter and the posts. I got some suggestions about the title of the series on politics. One reader said, “I’m not an insider, and I appreciate getting a peak. Outrage, Inc. was like a political decoder ring for me.” So, with that, we’ve got a brand new title for the series. In the most recent post, The Festivus of Politics, I share how Festivus is a year-long political holiday.
Christmas is here, and it’s a wonderful time to spend with family and friends. I’m taking the next week to do just that. There will not be any new blog posts until after the first of the year. Two things you can do:
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