The multimedia spectacle touched off by the meeting between former United States President Donald Trump and white supremacist Nick Fuente has already stirred concerns around how larger media outlets will handle the further incursion of extreme right-wing figures into Republican Party circles.
“I sure hope they are better prepared. It’s a responsibility,” said Dr. Heidi Beirich, the co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism:
Trump had already pandered to extremists in multiple ways and engaged in his own hate speech against many groups. There is no excuse for downplaying this issue. Trump has mainstreamed extremist ideas and individuals—and the legacy press should be pointing out who these people are and why their beliefs are so dangerous. I would argue that there wasn’t enough attention to this and the media was far too timid in taking on Trump’s extremism. They better not make that mistake again.
Trump met with Fuentes and the rapper Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) at his Florida estate in late November 2022, as prelude to Ye claiming he was going to run as president (with Fuentes as an advisor) and subsequently barreling further into antisemitic rhetoric and praising Nazis in a December 1 2022 appearance alongside Fuentes on disgraced conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ broadcast before posting images of swastikas interlaced with a Star of David to Twitter which led him to once againg getting banned from the platform.
But initially, the reporting from the Washington Post on the Trump-Fuentes meeting referred to the latter as a “far-right activist,” and New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman described Fuentes as someone who “had denounced Jews among other groups,” extreme minimizations of his chronicled past as an open white supremacist and Holocaust denier, as explained by both the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
“We believe that based on his record, Fuentes is a white supremacist and should be described that way in reporting,” an ADL spokesperson told us.
The Washington Post did not respond to a request for comment on its reporting, but the news organization did correctly refer to Fuentes as an antisemite in a separate op-ed piece following the meeting.
Journalist and researcher Teddy Wilson, who publishes the Radical Reports newsletter analyzing right-wing political activity, told us that national news outlets should devote “a lot of thought and deliberation” into their coverage of resurgent right-wing elements.
“I understand probably the thought process that went into describing him one way in a news article and another way in a column,” Wilson said. “But at the same time it’s more beneficial to readers if you describe people and individuals in groups in the most accurate way possible. If I was at the table, having these discussions with editors at this particular newspaper, that’s what I would advocate for.”
Trump later claimed that he did not know Fuentes prior to the meeting involving Ye. But not only did Trump (falsely) claim the same about white supremacist David Duke prior to running for the presidency, it also ignores Gosar’s past meetings with another Republican lawmaker, Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona — or that Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R) had appeared at a conference hosted by Fuentes in February 2022.
“I would like to see the media say every time Greene or Gosar is mentioned that they spoke at events put on by a white supremacist. And that Greene has pushed QAnon,” said Beirich, whose group works against white supremacist extremists. “The media should also pressure the House leadership on their members’ connections to white supremacists and other extremists. But it may be that these links are lost in the tumult over Trump.”
In Greene’s case, her office also hired another far right operative, Milo Yiannopoulos, who claimed credit for arranging for Fuentes to be part of Ye’s meeting with Trump, and who had also made it possible for Greene to speak at a white nationalist event hosted by Fuentes in February 2022.
“I wanted to show Trump the kind of talent that he’s missing out on by allowing his terrible handlers to dictate who he can and can’t hang out with,” Yiannopoulos told NBC News; after working as an unpaid intern for Greene, he is now reportedly working on Ye’s alleged presidential campaign.
In the wake of both the meeting and Ye and Fuentes’ appearance on Jones’ channel, several Republicans have issued condemnations of the latter and of the pair’s antisemitic rants; furthermore, like Trump, Greene has claimed that she did not know who Fuentes was when she spoke at his event.
But the meeting between the former president and the white nationalist Fuentes, said author and history professor Seth Cotlar, falls within a pattern of right-wing operatives inserting themselves “under the tent of the Republican Party” in an effort to push it still further to the right.
In covering Trump himself, Cotlar told us, media outlets are more comfortable calling out Trump’s lies, but they also face an “impossible dilemma” when 70 percent of Republicans still believe Trump’s lie that his 2020 election loss to U.S. President Joe Biden was illegitimate. (It was not.)
“I’m glad I’m not the person who has to figure it out,” said Cotlar, who teaches history at Willamette University. ‘But I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with trying to write journalism that a good-faith person, regardless of their ideas about regulation and tax policy and foreign policy, could read and feel it is accurate and in good faith. That is something worth striving for. I don’t know whether our political culture can sustain that sort of media.”