Recently fired CNN pundit Jeffrey Lord was just one symptom of the intellectual rot that Donald Trump has brought to both the mainstream media and the Republican Party.
America has been focused on the protests and murder in Charlottesville, Virginia, particularly the white supremacists and their "heil Trump" chants. But until recently, CNN had one of the loudest voices that has enabled this absolute distortion of reality on air and as part of its lineup.
Pundit Jeffrey Lord regularly used his platform at CNN to gaslight America, with an alternate, false version of history that formed the "intellectual" basis for Donald Trump's repeated flirtations with white supremacy. When Trump's supporters in Charlottesville equated Black Lives Matter with racial hatred, they were echoing Lord and his work at CNN.
"CNN has an opportunity now to not necessarily keep re-staffing themselves with Trump sycophants," Carusone said in an exclusive interview with Shareblue Media. But, he cautioned, if CNN doesn't learn from its mistake of giving Lord a platform in the first place, "They're just going to end up embarrassing themselves again."
Lord got his CNN position because Trump kept tweeting out his articles, encouraging the network to put a pro-Trump voice on air, and they gave in to him.
"Lord got his job running defense for Trump during the summer of 2015," Carusone said. "His job description was to defend Donald Trump at all costs." He did that by "gaslighting the public" and preaching "these really twisted revisions of history" to CNN's viewers.
Lord was eventually fired, not for his extensive history of outrageous, inaccurate, and racially inflammatory remarks, but for his vile tweet in response to Carusone challenging him over a column that accused Media Matters of emulating Nazi tactics in their campaign highlighting his derogatory commentary on CNN.
Carusone described Lord's column as "f*cking crazy."
"I don't think that 10 years ago you would have gotten away with people on CNN" making the sort of baseless accusations Lord made, Carusone said.
For example, Lord insisted that modern Democrats are of the same intellectual mindset at the Ku Klux Klan. The reality is that the Democratic Party is pro-civil rights and the only major party in American history to nominate a black man for president, twice — one who received 74 percent of the non-white vote in 2016.
But Lord and others like him frequently use twisted logic like that in their partisan attacks. "They take the victims and the targets of these supremacist movements and turn them into the villain," Carusone said.
"So if this guy writes this piece about how, surprise, it's really liberals that are the white nationalists, and Black Lives Matter are the murderers, Trump uses that to validate his world view, of not just the false equivalence, but also even worse than that, that white nationalists aren't even a problem to begin with," Carusone said.
It is the reasoning that Trump and his ilk use to justify being mealy-mouthed about acts of white supremacist terrorism, like the riot and killing in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Lord's addition to the CNN roster was part of what Carusone believes has been a shift within the right, away from traditional conservative or Republican pundits, and toward a class of television pundits who are simply on air to sing Trump's praises.
"It is extraordinarily rare to have somebody who wasn't a conservative or Republican strategist, somebody who would be representing a broader ideal, but these are people who are there to represent one person," he said. In the case of Lord, Carusone said, "He's just a fan of one guy, that's bizarre."
As a result, the world of right media has become, according to Carusone, "entirely about who can throw the best defense of Trump."
Many right-wing talkers were already speaking to a white nationalist audience, including Mark Levin, Michael Savage, Bill O'Reilly, and Alex Jones. But the rise of Trump changed things.
"He just brought them all together by tying a couple strands together from each of them," Carusone said. "It's not grounded in anything real, even if that real thing used to be dumb and terrible, it's actually just grounded in the feelings of one person."
The change in behavior has resulted in "tolerance for the autocratic tendencies" of Trump from the right-wing press, allowing him to "further erode and undermine legitimate institutions like the news media."
Trump has gone even further in undermining "other institutions that would check him, civil institutions, and replace it with extensions of himself."
Carusone cited the recent press conference from Attorney General Jeff Sessions about leak investigations as an example of this, referring to it as "a press conference for one person."
Media Matters isn't being scared off by the right, however. Carusone sounded amused while recounting how the right has consistently built up the organization every time its work has been key in bringing down right wing media figures.
"If you listen to Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, and Jeffrey Lord, and Mark Levin on Friday, you would think that Media Matters was the sixth largest media conglomerate in the world — we're just everywhere — and it's not true."
He added, "Every time one of them gets bumped off, they always build us up. You don't want to say you were humiliated by a relatively small nonprofit organization of young progressives. I understand it is embarrassing for these big moguls."
Editor's note: Oliver Willis previously worked with Angelo Carusone at Media Matters for America.