BROOKE GLADSTONE On this week's On the Media, we explore best practices for journalists interviewing believers of the Big Lie.
MATTHEW SITMAN Pay attention to the language the right uses. Pay attention to what's baked into it. You can't let them use language to make it seem like, well, actually, you know, maybe some of these people had a point. They didn't have a point.
BILL KRISTOL I've turned down invitations to be on TV with Trump Big Lie, propagators. There's not a common basis of truth and good faith that what is acting on? How can you even have a debate?
JORDAN KLEPPER What a beautiful thing that Trump will be reinstated as president.
Q-BELIEVER He's never left. There's no doubt in my mind 150,000 percent [END CLIP]
BIG LIE BELIEVER At this point, I would be OK with a revote.
BIG LIE BELIEVER Yeah. [END CLIP]
ASTEAD HERNDON People thinking that politics is a debate class that only deals with what is true has actually stopped people from seeing the spread of certain political movements in the country over the last 5 to 10 years.
BROOKE GLADSTONE It's all coming up after this.
[END OF BILLBOARD]
BROOKE GLADSTONE From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media, I'm Brooke Gladstone. Let's start with a painfully obvious observation that our politics now founders in a sea of lies with an emphasis on an especially heinous whopper.
NEWS REPORT This is a plan. This is this is maybe the plan Joe Biden was talking about. He's got the best voter fraud plan in the world. Lucky, we caught it.
NEWS REPORT This is very hard to find, prove and obtain relief on after the fact because so many of the ballots get co-mingled.
NEWS REPORT The Senators who are refusing to stand up for a free, fair and impartial election are also bowing to the demands of the radical left and, of course, the business establishment. Senator Josh Hawley from Missouri, the first courageous Republican senator to announce his objection to the electoral college vote.
NEWS REPORT There was fraud. Nobody disputes that. By the way, there needs to be an investigation as to how widespread this fraud was and there needs to be change.
JEANINE PIRRO We know we've got the evidence. Stop letting people tell you that we don't have the evidence because we do, and this is only going to continue. This fraud will continue and America will be doomed [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE If life were fair. The Big Lie that Donald J. Trump won his second run would have wilted long ago under the blazing light of evidence to the contrary. Over 50 failed lawsuits, 2 dismissed Supreme Court cases, multiple recounts in 3 different states, etc., etc. and so on. But according to The Washington Post's latest polling from December, 71 percent of Republicans, 30 plus percent of the electorate, doubt Joe Biden was legitimately elected.
BIG LIE BELIEVER When you have video footage of people taking bags of ballots and showing that they are for Donald Trump and lighting them on fire,
FACT-CHECKER I helped write a fact check on CNN on that particular video. The election officials said that video has been going around for a few days. They are print out ballots. They're not real ballots.
BIG LIE BELIEVER So you say you use the information of the election officials?
FACT-CHECKER Somebody like me comes along and tries to research, tries to fact check it and then I fact check it. You'll come back and say, Well, the election officials would say that.
BIG LIE BELIEVER But wouldn't they, though? That's the thing, though. Question everything, right? [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE What is to be done? Here journalists seem to have a meager supply of options. Some, like NPR's host Steve Inskeep, earlier this month returned to the source, the former president.
TRUMP Look at Pennsylvania. Look at Philadelphia. Is it true that there were far more votes than there were voters?
STEVE INSKEEP It is not true –
STEVE INSKEEP It is not true that there were far more votes than voters. There was an early count. I've noticed you've talked about this in rallies and you've said reportedly, this is true. I think even you know that that was an early report that was corrected later.
TRUMP Well, you take a look at it, you take a look at Detroit. In fact, they even had a hard time getting people to sign off on it because it was so out of balance, they called it out of balance. So you take a look at it. You know the real truth Steve.... [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE Trump hung up. Satisfying listeners who savor a good cut and run. But was that payoff worth the nearly seven minutes of lies that preceded it? Hard to say. Others in the media bypassed the GOP's anointed king in favor of its bishops and rooks. But often in those matches, the Masters moves are still played, as when ABC's George Stephanopoulos interviewed Rand Paul on voter fraud.
RAND PAUL You're saying there was no fraud and it's all been investigated, and that's just not true.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS It's not what I said, sir, I said. The Department of Justice found no evidence.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS Let me finish my point. You said something that was not true.
RAND PAUL You say we're all liars. You're just simply saying we're all liars –
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS I said it was a lie that the election was stolen.
RAND PAUL – That you're right. We're wrong. Well, no. Well, let's–let's talk about the specific thing. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE The thing about the power of lies is that they poison any real chance of conversation. Whether with political elites or regular voters. So after those doing battle with the Big Lie, struggle or shout or sigh, it may seem the only response left...Is to snicker. Which makes the battle for democracy, which this is, harder to win. Because it requires stalwarts across the political spectrum. But it can be kind of funny. Here's The Daily Show's Jordan Klepper.
JORDAN KLEPPER Are you a Q supporter?
JORDAN KLEPPER Wasn't Q's whole thing that Trump would be reinstated as president?
Q-BELIEVER He's never left. There's no doubt in my mind 150,000 percent.
JORDAN KLEPPER That he's still president of the United States. Really? Does he still hold the powers of the presidency?
Q-BELIEVER Well, he's been flying around the world on Air Force One. It says something.
JORDAN KLEPPER I thought Joe Biden's technically on Air Force One.
JORDAN KLEPPER So they're they're faking it.
Q-BELIEVER Yeah, it's it's not even a presidency.
JORDAN KLEPPER Who is running the government right now?
Q-BELIEVER President Trump.
JORDAN KLEPPER He's running the government?
Q-BELIEVER And the military.
JORDAN KLEPPER And he's running the military, so we should blame him for what happened in Afghanistan.
JORDAN KLEPPER But it's still his fault. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE It's the deluded-uncle-at-the-holiday-dinner treatment. May be good for a laugh, but stultifying moving us no closer toward a better republic. And so this hour we consider our moves. Is this a left-right thing? Only if you think that representative government is. It's not about income inequality or racial justice. Not this week, anyway. It's kind of a show for journalists, but also news consumers who are engaged by the question of how to tell the truth, so people believe it – if that's even possible. And we start with Matthew Sitman. He used to be a conservative Catholic. Now he's a leftist one, though he's no less interested in right wing thought. On their podcast cheekily named, Know Your Enemy, Sitman and his co-host Sam Adler-Bell venture into the heart of the modern conservative movement that gave rise to Trump. A recent episode featured Nate Hochman, a writer for National Review and a rising star in the intellectual right. Matthew, welcome back to the show.
MATTHEW SITMAN I'm really excited to be talking to you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Let's talk about Know Your Enemy. It's a title that is germane to this whole hour, actually. You mean it mostly tongue in cheek, but tell me how you lit upon that name.
MATTHEW SITMAN We get questions about the title all the time, and one of the reasons we lit on the name know your enemy is because on the right, in the past few years, there's been a bit of a resurgence of interest in the Nazi jurist and philosopher Carl Schmidt. And one of his big ideas was the politics is about friends and enemies. That that was the big distinction in politics. And I always like to say to that I'm a Christian, and so, you know, I'm obliged to love my enemies. And I don't know how you can do that if you don't know them.
BROOKE GLADSTONE So the podcast, which you co-host with Sam Adler Bell, is devoted to interrogating the intellectual framework of conservatism, often by discussing its luminaries, essays and books, but also by interviewing the enemies themselves. Your latest guest, Nate Hochman, is not exactly your average MAGA kid, right?
MATTHEW SITMAN That's probably true. He's well-spoken, and I think at least has some complicated relationship to, you know, some of the ideas percolating on the right right now. But on the other hand, he was featured in an essay Sam Adler-Bell wrote for the New Republic as a representative member of the young radical right. So Nate is the guest we've had on that is most immersed in the contemporary conservative movement in the United States. The person most affiliated and involved with their institutions and organizations publications,
BROOKE GLADSTONE Hochman said that he was lukewarm on Trump, the man that is a moronic boomer who tapped into something by accident. But he tapped into something.
MATTHEW SITMAN Yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Something about this interview that stood out to me was its tone. You're clearly friendly with this guy. You were determined to avoid a shouting match, right? How do you think the conversation went?
MATTHEW SITMAN We didn't want it to really turn into a debate per se, because we just didn't think anyone's mind would be changed. We weren't going to change Nate's mind. He wasn't going to change ours. And so the goal was more clarifying the precise nature of our disagreements. To be honest, I thought I could have been harder on him. I wish I would have bore down a little more on Nate and pressed him on exactly what he meant by certain phrases and lines he used.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Right. Particularly, you said, when he resorted to using euphemisms. Can you give some examples?
MATTHEW SITMAN Sure, there was a moment where he mentioned that he had done some reporting from Portland during the Black Lives Matter protests.
NATE HOCHMAN My for lack of a better word sort of radicalization moment was watching in Portland, being there, reporting on it, watching people burn down the country that I loved and watching the end of the conservative movement that I associated with myself with really not having much to say about it. That to me, it felt like we needed something different. [END CLIP]
MATTHEW SITMAN That's a line where I would have, you know, in real time, wished I would have stopped and said, Well, what do you mean? You know, how prevalent were riots and looting? How does that contrast with the many, many peaceful protests and the murder of George Floyd that we all saw? You know, the murders that we know take place, those are real problems and simply pointing to the behavior of certain protesters doesn't really settle any of that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE One moment that caught my ear in the Hochman interview was when you recall the moment as a young, conservative and a Christian when you realized that racism was integral to the origins of the modern conservative movement.
MATTHEW SITMAN Even in the 1950s, you know, postwar America, as the rumblings of the civil rights movement gained. There were like still lynchings in the South. That was not something I learned in my public high school. And it really shook me as I studied the right. I did. I was genuinely convinced that racial backlash played more of a role in the rise of the conservative movement than the kind of mythological version of its history. I had been given as a young conservative.
FACT-CHECKING MAN Of course, racial backlash played a role in various right wing politics, particularly with debates over Jim Crow segregation, bussing like all of these things. I think it's also more complicated. The question of bussing, for example, right? Like wealthy white liberals who sent their kids to private schools, forcing working class whites to all of a sudden reorient their entire lives around sending their kids to a school that was way crappier than it was before with people that they weren't neighbors with right. If we agree in the abstract that racial equality, racial justice is a noble and honorable goal worth pursuing, there are ways to sort of give black people equal opportunity, for example. I think they don't require laying waste to other communities, [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE Laying waste to communities, crappier schools. This is pretty loaded language. And they're also his assertions about crappier schools. Studies have shown that students actually benefit from attending racially diverse schools, right?
MATTHEW SITMAN Yes. And to the point of euphemism, you know, there's the amazing quote from Lee Atwater, the Republican strategist behind the Willie Horton ad.
LEE ATWATER You handle the race thing?
[CLIP CONTINUES UNDER]
MATTHEW SITMAN And he said, you know, back in the day, you might have been able to say the N-word, the N-word, the N-word. But now....
LEE ATWATER You say stuff like a forced bussing, states rights and all that stuff, and you get it so abstract now, you're talking about cutting taxes. And all of these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is – that blacks get hurt worse and white. [END CLIP]
MATTHEW SITMAN My experience interviewing Nate. It was a reminder to pay attention to the language the right uses to pay attention to what's baked into the assumptions that are there. And sometimes it's easy to gloss over them because, you know, this is the language of American politics too in a lot of ways,
BROOKE GLADSTONE I wonder, do believers in the Big Lie ever make your guest list?
MATTHEW SITMAN No, we don't have on many conservatives, we pick our spots. But I would say that is a red line for me. And that was one case where I actually thought I did press Nate toward the end of the conversation. I pressed him on the Big Lie, and he tried to use language that, well, you know, I don't think Trump actually had a landslide election stolen from him, but you know, it was confusing after the election. All those mail in ballots, people were uncertain. We were in limbo. And that's where you just have to say something like, Well, I don't know what you mean because everyone who paid any attention at all knew it would take a few weeks to count all the ballots because of the pandemic and all the mail in ballots, right?
BROOKE GLADSTONE Right.
And Nate is from Oregon, where they've had mail in voting since before he was born. You know, we know it's not simply a game people can manipulate to steal elections. We know that. And we knew that after the 2020 election, we know there's all the audits that have been done. None of the audits have turned up anything. None of the examinations of the ballots have turned up anything. There's no question in any fair minded person's mind about Trump losing the election. And I think that you can't let them use language like confusion or uncertainty to make it seem like, well, actually, maybe some of these people had a point. They didn't have a point.
BROOKE GLADSTONE How important do you think it was that you dwelled in these circles during a formative time in your life? I mean, when you were 23, Nate's age, few years before, a few years after, before you left, does that make a huge difference?
MATTHEW SITMAN Well, you know, I think part of – to continue with the example of Nate. I think because I was a young conservative at his age, maybe I hold out some hope for him. [LAUGHS] You know that if I keep talking to him over time, maybe I'll wear him down or win some arguments with him. But that's the kind of thing you can't compress into a single podcast episode.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You also talked about the fact that sentiment seems to prevail more on the right that views are shaped by a sense that something doesn't feel right. You know what Colbert would have called truthiness. Making decisions with their guts? How does that figure into these conversations, if at all?
MATTHEW SITMAN When we talk about euphemism and trying to unpack what's in language? I do think sometimes you just get down to something like that base revulsion, something almost pre rational. You can give it rational reasons, but it's. Disgust or a kind of recoiling against the other. And, you know, one of my favorite lines that we use on the show all the time is that it's the line from Frank Wilhoit that the essence of conservatism is that they believe that the law exists to protect some without binding them, but binding others without protecting them. And that's going to change over time. It's like Corey Robbins' thesis in the reactionary mind that the right is about the defensive hierarchy. And as you move through history in any particular moment, in any particular political situation, you know, that's going to shift.
BROOKE GLADSTONE When you talk about disgust, do you mean like at one point it was unbridgeable disgust about, say, the gay lifestyle? And now that same feeling in the far right is directed towards trans people. Or am I off-base?
MATTHEW SITMAN That's exactly right. The issues will change over time. But often what connects them is that just kind of instinctive revulsion against the leveling of hierarchies and social change. And I think the example of gay marriage and gay rights and now trans rights is a great example. And you saw some of Nate's language was he used the term transgenderism, which I don't think is appropriate. And it was just kind of like, well, this blurring of lines, as he said between men and women, what you like? Well, but what actually was the concrete problem that he was discussing? We never really got there, and it was a sort of vaguer again, more euphemistic language that just seemed at the end of the day to be just this –I don't like this. I don't like where this is going.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Do you wish you'd challenged that as well?
BROOKE GLADSTONE Matthew, thank you very much.
MATTHEW SITMAN Thank you, Brooke. It's always a pleasure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Matthew Simin is associate editor of Commonweal and co-host of the Know Your Enemy podcast. Coming up, is there more to be gained by talking to political elites or stop the steal voters? This is On the Media.
BROOKE GLADSTONE This is On the Media, I'm Brooke Gladstone. Bill Kristol has been one of the most ubiquitous conservative commentators of the past two decades. The magazine he founded and edited, The Weekly Standard, was often described as the neocon Bible. But as Trump ascended, Kristol found himself marginalized, then ostracized by the increasingly Trumpist GOP. After clashing with the magazine's owner, he left the weekly standard, which was shuttered two years later and became editor at large of the center right web site The Bulwark. We wondered if, as a man of the right who soundly rejects the Big Lie, he had any advice about how to talk to those who espouse it. First, I asked where he sat on the political spectrum nowadays.
BILL KRISTOL You know, I've been using for two or three years now, Pete Buttiegieg's line from the 2019-2020 presidential campaign. Buttiegieg said he wanted to appeal to Democrats, progressives, moderates and even Republicans. And then I think he hesitated, said, well, maybe future former Republicans.
BILL KRISTOL Which is a good way of evading the question of exactly what I am right now. I haven't voted Republican in a few years because I think the party really is now not a reliably Democratic, small 'd' party, and it has tolerated and enabled the kind of authoritarianism, nativism and other things that I just find unacceptable.
BROOKE GLADSTONE As a journalist who once maintained the same political affiliation, how do you approach a Republican politician who pushes the Big Lie?
BILL KRISTOL I've met rather few Republican politicians, elected officials in Congress, let's say, who really believe the Big Lie. Even the ones who sit and tolerate it, even some of the ones who actually do more than tolerate but promote it. So among elites, I think we have a cynical and opportunistic willingness to go along with something that Donald Trump is pushing. And those elites don't want to see the conservative movement or the Republican Party split between Trump and those who tell the truth.
BROOKE GLADSTONE If they normalize the big lie, then it doesn't matter what they feel in their hearts, does it?
BILL KRISTOL It's not quite as bad, obviously, as cheering it on or encouraging it or inciting it. I mean, we have to have some distinctions, I suppose.
BROOKE GLADSTONE No, we don't.
Well, yeah, that's it. Maybe we don't know. You're not going to call out everyone on your side of the aisle politically, if they say something a little foolish, a little exaggerated, a little demagogic. That's sort of one set of things. But that's if the movement on the whole is healthy, cares about the truth as law abiding and so forth. If the movement as a whole now gets taken over, though, by an authoritarian and truth denying personality. Yes, I think one has much more of an obligation to actually speak up against it. And at that point, being quiet is just being complicit.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Right.
BILL KRISTOL I think people blame Trump, which is true. People worry about the base and blame the base for believing all this dangerous nonsense. They let off too easily. The elected officials who have enabled this to go to the extent is gone. And especially from the conservative elites who themselves have come up with fancy rationalizations for this. So I have friends who are still conservatives, academics, journalists, opinion leaders and so forth. They're swimming in a world of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and National Review, and they don't quite believe the craziest stuff on Fox News, but they believe the complicated rationalizations in The Wall Street Journal, which A, may make you think, well, maybe there's something there. It's not quite as bad as you know, as Trump says, but you know, they're real problems, Bill. And the Left is doing the same thing, and they would do it in a minute. And the elites have a lot to explain, in my view, for letting it get to the point they've gotten too.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Many journalists, including the new MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan, say that they simply won't give a platform to people who spread that misinformation, even if it means ignoring the views of like a quarter of the country. What do you think about that?
BILL KRISTOL I'm really of two minds. I'm just uncertain. I've turned down invitations to be on TV with Trump, Big Lie propagators and even some of the rationalizers. I would say, I just don't want to do it. I just feel like if there's not a common basis of truth and good faith that what is acting on, how can you even have a debate? I suspect if I had a TV show, I'd be, on the one hand, think it's X percent of the country who knows 50,40, 30 percent of the country. People need to see what they think they need to be confronted. And on the other hand, you could also say that having them on gives them too much credibility. So I think it's a tough moment for journalists, for the media and for sort of mainstream institutions in general.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You said 30, 40 percent of the country. I mean, the entire Republican Party is. Less than 30 percent of the country of 70 percent of them believe in the Big Lie and a much smaller percentage of independents and a minuscule percentage of Democrats. That doesn't get you to 40 percent.
BILL KRISTOL Yeah, fair enough. On the other hand, 47 percent of the voters voted for Trump and I don't know fair about that. So let's say 30 percent, 25 percent, 30 percent. That means that in Republican primaries, it's often more than 50 percent, which means that the nominees you get catered to those people. And and again, I come back to this problem. If all the other Republicans who didn't believe the lie then said, Oh, I'm sorry, I can't vote for a Republican nominee who embraces the Big Lie, that it would be a manageable problem. Then you would sort of segregate the problem, you know what I mean among a few members of Congress. But that's not the current situation. And this is where I come back to the responsibility of the more mainstream Republicans and the more mainstream conservative elites. They say the typical reaction is once a Republican nominee gets the nomination, who did vote to overturn the election, that's a majority of House Republicans remember. Well, you know, we still got to support him, but still vote the right way on the issues we care about, and he's not really going to overturn elections, after all. And so that is why you have it may only be 25 percent of the country, but it's a higher percentage of Republican members of Congress. Probably it's a higher percentage of conservative activists, certainly. And it can keep on growing. And that's what's most worrisome.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You've been a mainstay of the conservative press, often on the receiving end of liberal snark. You've seemed to shrug that off, but now it seems to have become a a battle of liberal snark on one side and owning the libs on the other. Do you see any way out?
BILL KRISTOL I think the way out is to win first and then to reconcile, I guess, is the way I would put it. The Big Lie has to be defeated. Then I think taking a look at how social media work and what our regulations are for this and how we can have a healthier political process. But at the end of the day, this is now an urgent enough problem that the people who propagate the Big Lie have to be defeated, which is why it's not enough to say, Well, I don't like Marjorie Taylor Greene. But you know, Kevin McCarthy is not like Marjorie Taylor Greene. He has to tolerate her. She's part of the conference. No, that shows the level of accommodation we've now developed ,the level of rationalization, and I think it's very dangerous.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Right. Between gerrymandering, the Electoral College and so forth. The primary system. There will be a time very soon when the Senate represents 30 percent of the actual American electorate. So winning is a tall order. How do you win? How do you persuade people? What technique do you or would you use to reach across the chasm in this? You should forgive the expression national conversation.
BILL KRISTOL Well, it is possible to win, and I think the way to do it is the way Biden did it. And in 2020, which is, you got to get some chunk of those Republicans who know better and convince them that they can't tolerate electing a Big Lie proponent, even if they like that big lie proponents tax policy or views on abortion or whatever better than the Democrat in a primary. And that's hard work and it's pretty, you know, retail work. There's no silver bullet for that. We need to persuade people in Florida and Texas to do better than Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott. I mean, they can be Republicans. They're not going to have the same views as people in Massachusetts, in New York. But we need to figure out ways to try to bring some of those people over.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Have you ever changed anyone's mind?
BILL KRISTOL Um, I don't talk to average voters much so I – and I always am therefore very hesitant to...
BROOKE GLADSTONE Anybody who you disagree with on the matter of the Big Lie.
BILL KRISTOL It's not the right way to ask the question, I would say. I mean.
BROOKE GLADSTONE All right, go ahead.
BILL KRISTOL I mean, the question is how many people were on the Republican side in 2015 are now vehement denouncing the big lie. I would say among intellectual types, journalist types. It's a pretty high number, actually. An awful lot of people who were at the weekly standard, Some were at National Review, some were at The Wall Street Journal, you know, have been pretty forthright in saying this is unacceptable. So I'll answer your question in a different way. Which I think it is a good question, but which is why attempts to persuade been relatively unsuccessful often. I think one reason is this: a lot of us said, Oh boy, you're going to pay a price for raising this, you know, two Republican officials in 2017 or two conservative elites in 2018. You know, everything Trump touches dies. There was a huge amount, especially on the left, I got to say, of almost triumphalism about how embarrassed they were all going to end up all these people who were associated with this movement. And you know what? They've done fine. They've done fine. Sarah Sanders lied from the White House podium, and she's going to be governor of Arkansas.
SARAH SANDERS Our state needs a leader with the courage to do what's right, not what's politically correct or convenient. I took on the media, the radical left and their cancel culture. And I won. [END CLIP]
BILL KRISTOL The people have paid a price to the people who have stood up. You know, Liz Cheney is behind in Wyoming. Kevin McCarthy is not facing a difficult primary challenge.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Have you reached out to people who were once firmly across the aisle in the intellectual bubble in which you dwell. I feel like I'm reaching out of my bubble into yours?
BILL KRISTOL No, absolutely. I spent all my time these days talking to liberals and Democrats and going to conferences for them and publishing some of them at The Bulwark. I think that's happened honestly at the intellectual level. I don't think it's happened effectively at the popular level, but that partly is just a phenomenon of polarization, social media and other things which are difficult to overcome.
BROOKE GLADSTONE What did you think about Steve Inskeep's interview with former President Trump last week? I don't know if you heard about it or listen to it. Do you think it should have been live? Should it have been done at all? What's your view?
BILL KRISTOL I think it was... I thought he hit upon – my instinct, I haven't thought this through entirely, but my instinct is to say that he did a good job. I mean, he is the leader of the Republican Party. It's kind of important to hear from him, but not to hear from him in a way in which his lies are unchallenged. And I think the fact that Inskeep in a sense, fact check it. And when NPR didn't put it up as quickly as they might, now you ought to get it up as soon as you can. Yeah. Breaking news. But they didn't treat it that way, and they put it up in a way that was responsible and sober and serious. They hit upon something that might be a good way of dealing with this kind of problem.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And the problem of all of us preaching to the converted?
BILL KRISTOL Well, I'm preaching, you know, and making my arguments. I can't really control who listens to them. Can I that much? I mean, people say, you should go on Fox. I don't want to go on Fox now. I just don't want to be on their air and I've said no. Therefore, to them. They don't really about me anymore, but in early Trump years, there's a little bit of that. Having said that, the organization, I'm part of, Defending Democracy together. We do buy airtime on Fox to advertise messages that are very much anti-big lie. Kevin McCarthy said this in January of a year ago. Why isn't he saying it today? The contradictions, the exposing, what's going on, the madness on the right? Does that affect 5, 10, 15 percent of their viewers? Maybe. And I think it's worth us doing that. But it's a tough call. I think honestly, for a lot of people, I've had this conversation with many friends. Should I debate this person at a university? Should I contribute to this journal? It's not the easiest thing to know what the right answer is.
BROOKE GLADSTONE There is no clear path.
BILL KRISTOL The clear path is to contain the lie and the liars as much as possible and then roll them back and defeat them. So it's like defeating Soviet communism. You don't know exactly what issues might give you more of an opportunity than others. That's one thing I'm struck by. We don't know ahead of time which overreach by MAGA World, which part of the craziness might be just a step too far for 5 percent, 20 percent of voters in some state or in some congressional district? Are people going to be put off by the vulgarity, by the grift?
BROOKE GLADSTONE So far not.
BILL KRISTOL Not much. But Joe Biden did win in 2020.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Yeah, but the Wall Street Journal is making a great deal of effort in much of the press to ensure that that doesn't happen again.
BILL KRISTOL Yeah, and we need to make sure it does happen again.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Thank you very much.
BILL KRISTOL My pleasure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Bill Kristol was the former chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle and the founder of the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard. He's now editor at Large for the Bulwark. We now move from the bubble of the elites to the turf of the regular voter. You may ask why not have a stop the stealer on the show? Well, the clips we played earlier this hour may explain why not? We're not after a gotcha, a shouting match or a snicker and a genuine exchange of ideas isn't possible on this issue. There was no steal, but we were after someone who knows that turf. So we asked Astead Herndon, who covers national politics for the New York Times and regularly visits Trump rallies in similar events. He says he'd rather speak with voters who believe the election myth than with the politicians who foster it.
ASTEAD HERNDON Frankly, I think talking to elected officials gets you a spin. That's only one piece of the puzzle, and I really focus on the other half.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Right, but there's also the access issue. I mean, they're not going to answer your calls, are they?
ASTEAD HERNDON Yeah, for a Republican politician right now, if you are someone who really aligns with that kind of Trump ideology. The New York Times doesn't really serve your purpose. Your main voters aren't reading it. And more than that, you're rewarded for taking an active stance against it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You said that you found it easier to speak with voters. Why don't you tell me about your visit to Virginia ahead of the governor's race in October?
ASTEAD HERNDON I went to Virginia for a couple of things. You know, there's been much talked about how the Republican nominee there now, the governor, Glenn Youngkin, was kind of toeing the line between a Trump Republican and a regular Republican. And when I went to these events, that's not really a line that's real. It's become a litmus test for candidates. They really have to prove themselves to the base. And so while Youngkin did say publicly that he would have voted to certify the election, surrogates sent signals to the base to say, Hey, you can still trust us. That is what is being communicated in that Trump media ecosystem. So you have a Republican who's then both able to have their cake and eat it too. They can tell media and the elected class that they would not follow Donald Trump down that path of election conspiracy, while at the same time they're telling the actual voters that they would have.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And this is why we wanted to call you to talk about strategy in a way because you're talking about people who think that they've outsmarted the system. They don't have to believe what they see. The system is a fraud. Everyone in it is a fraud. Your guy is a better fraud than all the other frauds, and he is your guy. On your side. How do you interview people like that?
ASTEAD HERNDON In the same way, I try to interview all voters, be transparent and honest about what I'm up to. People want to ask about what the articles about. I'll give them the general thoughts about the premise out here. If they think that the premise is wrong and say that that's something that we would love to include in the story. Hey, if your beef with media is that we don't come to places like here and reflect the voices of people like you? I am here. What is the perspective that you think we are missing? Tell me right now. I'll put in the paper.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You are there a black man from the New York Times? How are you received?
ASTEAD HERNDON You know, I think it's a mixed bag. Certainly, race and blackness comes up. I'm 28. I look kind of visibly like a kid. And people bring up age all the time. I mean. And there are certain ways that I think being Midwestern growing up outside of the window of coastal Washington is actually helpful for me at these things. And so I think that actually all of those identities come into play. But I got to say a lot of people ask me about race and Trump rallies, but my race is brought up at liberal events. I've had Democrats talk to me about blackness. Bernie Sanders supporters tried to absolve what they were doing at the civil rights movement by telling me what they're doing. So I really think that they try to take the same approach with those of voters as I do with everyone. Come at them directly, come at them, honestly, and cross your fingers.
BROOKE GLADSTONE As you've described it. Interviewing Trump supporters seems pretty similar to interviewing any political cohort. But are there any differences?
ASTEAD HERNDON Yeah. You cannot assume that the national or mainstream conversation is the topic of discussion there. If you are in that interaction and you don't know what they're talking about, if you don't speak the language, they're not going to really want to talk to you that you should stay a little longer than someone expects. People like when you kind of hang with them for a little bit. I like to find people individually as they're walking up to the rally, as they're getting a concession. I find that people are more willing to talk to you individually than when it's in a group or big setting. I remember asking a woman at the Virginia rally, What is it about Trump supporters that she doesn't think the rest of the country knows that she wants to tell them? And what she said was, I really think the election was stolen. When you are there, that is the topic of discussion.
BROOKE GLADSTONE The reason why we're talking about Trump at these rallies where Trump was not running is that it was your observation that he was running. In a sense.
ASTEAD HERNDON You cannot exist as a Republican without constantly thinking, What is Donald Trump do or think about this? In my view, that still means that he is the leader of that party and cannot be ignored. Private citizens can still have power, and he has a lot of it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE I was just surprised in the piece that at least in the group that you were reporting on there and it was much more about Trump than it was about the candidate Youngkin.
ASTEAD HERNDON You know, the phrase used to be that all politics is local. We are seeing a politics that's increasingly national. And Donald Trump is the center of that. And so for these people at this rally, they saw Virginia as the first step to reclaiming a country that they think has. Illegitimate president. This was the first step in a larger process, not the end.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You batted me away a little bit before when I was talking about you being in this group in which there's a great concern that their country is being taken from them. And though you certainly, I'm sure, have had awkward and micro aggressive moments with white liberals, I wondered whether the experience was different.
ASTEAD HERNDON Oh yeah, I mean, I shouldn't downplay it. I mean, I'm going to give you the caveats before I actually answer you. I can tell so many stories about micro and macro aggression, but I worry about people feeling a little too good about themselves,.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Right.
ASTEAD HERNDON That it's those type of people and not others. So having said that, I was in Texas on the day Biden was announced and a man called black protesters the N-word. I was in Arizona where someone called me and Barack Obama and an n-word in Arizona at Trump Fest. A person put a gun on the table and said that he planned to do violence if Donald Trump did not win the election. This is someone who actually ended up going to the Capitol on the 6th. I was kicked out of a bar in Pennsylvania. You know, I could tell a lot of those stories when I was writing about crime in Boston, too. People saying a lot of wild stuff, or kicking me out of places. Often I'm doing work that inserts yourself into really traumatic moments for people and really high intensity moments. It's actually kind of logical to be really skeptical of someone showing up out of the random and asking you to tell all your political thoughts or stepping into the worst day of your life and asking you to tell millions of people about it. I think they should talk to me, and I'm going to make the case of them of why they should. But I respect people's no's, too.
BROOKE GLADSTONE There's been a lot of pearl clutching about giving a platform to the Big Lie. Do you think it's important to interview people who espouse those views?
ASTEAD HERNDON Absolutely. I mean, I think it's the core of really understanding how politics is working right now,
BROOKE GLADSTONE But it doesn't tell you how it works. It just tells you that it did work.
ASTEAD HERNDON I'm making a smaller distinction in that. People thinking that politics is a debate class that only deals with what is true has actually stopped people from seeing the spread of certain political movements in the country over the last five to 10 years. And so I think if there was, we had a media ecosystem that understood how birtherism was more widespread than we ever admitted. Then we would have understood the 2016 election and the 2016 Republican primary a lot more. I really think that in the current tech environment, in the media environment and how politics is working, you can't run from this. That does not make it true and you need to know and your stories that it's not true. You need to find ways to do it responsibly. But I don't think that ignoring it is an option.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Thank you very much.
ASTEAD HERNDON Thank you. I appreciate it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Astead W. Herndon is a reporter covering national politics for The New York Times. Coming up, the truth sandwich. Can there ever be enough of them? This is On the Media.
BROOKE GLADSTONE This is On the Media, I'm Brooke Gladstone. Now on to the truth sandwich. Some years back, this was the brainchild of linguists and cognitive scientists, George Lakoff. Research had shown that when people heard a lie being refuted, they were actually more likely to remember the lie than the truth. So he concocted the truth sandwich as a means whereby journalists could address lies without inadvertently reinforcing them. Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep used the sandwich in presenting the Trump interview prior to the interview. He presented the truth, followed by Trump, followed again by the truth. The truth sandwich won't leave listeners with the lie. A reporter's lifeline. But even so, in my phone interview with Lakoff, he was all too aware of its limitations. For instance, it can't defeat profound distrust.
GEORGE LAKOFF Though the sandwich can't solve that problem. It solves the immediate problem. It can't solve the larger problem. But you have to have lots of sandwiches to solve that. You have to be on it constantly.
BROOKE GLADSTONE People have done that. It doesn't seem. Judging from polling on this issue, that presenting the evidence matters, particularly. Let me get under this a little bit. In a recent edition of your Substack column Frame Lab, you talked about a Republican framing of the immigration issue, specifically the GOP pressuring Vice President Harris to visit the southern border. You wrote the border visit was simply a Republican frame. The vice president had to visit the border or else she was running away from the border issue because conservatives said so. The press swallowed it hook, line and sinker. In the end, the VP had no choice but to comply. She went to the border where nothing was accomplished and where her choice of sites El Paso only inspired a new stream of criticism from anti-immigrant conservatives. You wrote, 'Remember, there is usually no way to win when you accept the opposition's frame.' Is there some stratagem to outsmart the ubiquity of the Big Lie?
GEORGE LAKOFF The answer is to point out that they're framing it that way. That's only your way of framing the issue. But given the evidence we have, namely so on, so it appears to me that the accurate way to frame this issue is, that they say
BROOKE GLADSTONE It just doesn't seem to make a dent on the true believers.
GEORGE LAKOFF It won't make a dent on the true believer. The question is, who is your audience and who is being interviewed? Are you going to interview only a liar? Or are you going to have other persons who tell the truth in addition to the writer? For that, you need a trusted reporter. You may need pictures of it. Many pictures of someone people saying that they know their videos, but you need some background. That's the truth.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Here's the truth we start from...There are a lot of terms floating around right now in our vocabulary vaccines. Critical race theory. Election fraud. In different precincts, they signify very different things, real and imagined. How do we approach that misalignment when the very words we use tell stories about us that we may not intend?
GEORGE LAKOFF Take critical race theory most people don't know a critical race theory is. You need to say what critical race theory says, and you need to be able to say it in a sentence or two. You have to practice it. Stand in front of the mirror and practice
BROOKE GLADSTONE The same with vaccines? Vaccines, which have proved to keep people out of the hospital when they are exposed to variants of the coronavirus, or election fraud.
GEORGE LAKOFF Which have been proven to be non-existent in recent elections. You know, I mean, you have to have those descriptors all the time. So-called election fraud. You can always add so-called
BROOKE GLADSTONE Any stratagems about how to communicate to and about propagation of the Big Lie, both with those voters who sincerely believe it and with those who, judging from past statements, only say they do. Like many in Congress.
GEORGE LAKOFF You probably can't. You're not going to convert the true believers. What you can do, sometimes, if there is a commentator from Fox News who has said the truth, you can quote him, you know, something like that, but it's hard.
BROOKE GLADSTONE But you do, or don't think that we should talk to people who believe a lie, even if they represent upwards of a quarter or more of the US population.
GEORGE LAKOFF My basic estimate is something like 37 percent who believe the lie and what you have to do is have a give a short list of generally widespread, trusted sources and you say, say the truth, but they may not trust any of those sources.
BROOKE GLADSTONE One kind of counterintuitive observation you've made in the past is that all politics is moral, and we know that you can influence people if you make them the hero of their own story. Is there any way to frame the issue that encompasses a shared morality or is that too tall an order
GEORGE LAKOFF Too tall order. Usually you have different views of what constitutes, right and wrong.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Hmm.
GEORGE LAKOFF That's the problem.
BROOKE GLADSTONE You have written about something you call the the father style of morality or moral judgments.
GEORGE LAKOFF Strict father morality. The strict father is somebody who says, I know right from wrong. Period
BROOKE GLADSTONE It's a very patriarchal set of values.
GEORGE LAKOFF It's worse than patriarchal. You know, it is one of these things that does not allow what I call empathy. It says you have your view of what others should be like, period.
BROOKE GLADSTONE And the strict father model of parenting is one that values strict discipline, particularly by the father. Children learn through reward and punishment. That evil is all around us, constantly tempting us, you wrote. And the primary vices are those that dissolve self-discipline,
GEORGE LAKOFF And part of that is having empathy. You don't get much empathy out of Republicans. You're = going to get Mitch McConnell empathizing with many people. You know.
BROOKE GLADSTONE So this seems like a big tangent, and maybe it is. But I'm trying to get back to this notion of the disciplined belief in the big lie. In the face of all the evidence to the contrary, which is often stated. All the audits, all the recounts, all the winning Republicans on ballots where Trump lost.q You know, even something as obvious as that. I just was hoping that you could in some sort of sage like fashion, offer a technique for dealing with it beyond the truth sandwich that would work.
GEORGE LAKOFF Nope.
GEORGE LAKOFF Look, you know, people who have those beliefs and who have that view of what right and wrong is, it's very deep. That's who they are, you're not going to change them. That is a lost cause. Other things are not lost by appealing to other people who are open to this is not a lost cause at all. But you have to use your truth sandwiches.
BROOKE GLADSTONE Ah. But are there too many lies for the truth sandwich to address?
GEORGE LAKOFF True. There are so many lies that you can't overcome those with just a truth sandwich. That isn't going to work. You have to know the context where it will work.
BROOKE GLADSTONE George, thank you very much.
GEORGE LAKOFF It's always a pleasure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE George Lakoff is an American linguist, cognitive scientist and author of Don't Think of an Elephant. Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. And he's also co-creator with Gil Duran of the podcast, The Newsletter Frame Lab.
Yup, that's the show. On the Media is produced by Micah Loewinger, Eloise Blondiau, Rebecca Clark-Callender, and Eli Cohen, with help from Aki Camargo. Xandra Ellin writes our fabulous newsletter. Go to our website onthemedia.org to subscribe, and you'll be entered to win OTM merch. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineers this week were Andrew Dunn and Andrew Nirviano. Katya Rogers is our executive producer. On the Media is a production of WNYC Studios. I'm Brooke Gladstone.