The nation woke Thursday morning to a huge rebuttal to Donald Trump’s claim that a recently released audiotape, in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women, was just “locker room banter” and no action: At least four women from Trump’s past have come forward with new accusations about his long history of sexual assault and harassment.
But conservative media seems to be avoiding the story.
Breitbart, the far-right news site home to much of Trump’s most favorable election coverage — and to Trump’s campaign CEO Stephen Bannon — had no mention of the New York Times story revealing these women’s stories or any of the subsequent allegations against Trump on its front page Thursday morning.
Breitbart’s top story: “Exclusive — Sen. Jeff Sessions on WikiLeaks Revelation of Hillary Clinton’s Support for ‘Open Borders’: ‘It’s a Smoking Gun.’” All of the site’s front-page stories on sexual assault, harassment, or rape have to do with Bill Clinton or the Islamic State.
But Breitbart is not alone in suppressing the story. The leading headlines of the right-wing aggregation site Drudge Report on Thursday were about “hate”-fueled protests against Trump and the fact that he is up in Rasmussen’s most recent poll. Drudge linked to one story about Trump’s accusers — under other stories about Hillary Clinton “mocking Catholics” and Juanita Broaddrick’s claim that Hillary Clinton tried to silence her allegations against Bill Clinton.
Turn to Fox News — what was once a standard-bearer for the Republican establishment — and though the main morning headline was on Trump’s accusers, it was about Trump’s claim that the allegations are libelous: “‘TOTAL FABRICATION’: Trump demands NYT retract article as new sex assault allegations emerge.” The story featured a video interview with Jerry Falwell Jr. claiming that Trump is “not the same person” as before and that the candidate had called him personally to tell him about all the “evidence he has” that these accusations are false.
The Daily Caller took a similar approach as Fox News; its top story is about the Clinton Foundation’s relationship with Qatar, and in smaller text there is a story about Joe Scarborough questioning the timing of the sexual assault allegations against Trump.
This coverage is in sharp contrast to the pages of National Review or the political coverage of the Wall Street Journal, both of which reported these women’s accusations. The New York Times called it a “civil war” within conservative media: While some of the more highbrow conservative outlets are critical of Trump, it looks like he has the mass-market media of Fox News, Drudge, and Breitbart on his side.
It may not be winning him the election, but it certainly illuminates a moral divide in the Republican Party.
Trump has some powerful media organizations behind him — but it’s not helping him win the election
The past week of Trump controversies — the sexual assault allegations, the tape of Trump bragging about groping women, his feud with House Speaker Paul Ryan — have illuminated a divide within conservative media between the high-minded establishment critical of Trump and those forging a campaign against political correctness.
These media allegiances were defined early, and were particularly clarified when Trump feuded with Fox News’s Megyn Kelly (ironically, because she asked him about his history of sexism) and former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields, whom Trump’s campaign manager physically assaulted at a campaign rally.
It could easily have gone badly for Trump (Fox News and Breitbart could have turned on him) but it didn’t. Instead, Breitbart, Infowars, Drudge, and mass-market media outlets like Fox have joined Trump’s side.
This has given Trump has an effective way to communicate with his base — especially because all other mainstream media outlets have been long discredited by conservative pundits, and his supporters aren’t following the criticisms of the Wall Street Journal or National Review.
Charlie Sykes, a conservative talk show radio host and adamant NeverTrumper, explained this phenomenon to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes:
And having discredited the mainstream media, now what do we have? We have the InfoWars, we have the Breitbarts, we have the Drudges, in which information is passed, things that that bear no resemblance to reality whatsoever. So I'm in the position of having on a regular basis to basically say, look, that information is not valid, that's not true, that's not accurate. And yet we have so effectively conditioned many of our listeners not to pay any attention to something outside that bubble, outside that silo, that now we have this Donald Trump phenomena.
But there is one problem: It’s likely not going to win Trump the election in November. The Washington Post’s conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin articulates best: “The Fox TV audience/the talk show addicts/the birthers are incapable of sustaining viable candidates.”
In other words, Trump may have the attention of his base — and the sexual assault victims and righteous “elite” Republicans might be mired in negative headlines — but it’s not a winning presidential strategy.