Indeed, since Trump’s defeat, many conservative-news consumers have abandoned the comparably more staid precincts of Fox for OANN and Newsmax; in the month after the election, Newsmax viewership rose 497 percent between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., while Fox suffered a 38 percent decline. The demand among conservative-news consumers for the unhinged is obviously high.
For the past four years, Trump has not only met that demand; he has steadily increased it. Now, with his claims of a landslide electoral win, he has crossed a line that conservative media is asked to cross, too, lest it be left behind. It’s one thing for conservatives to believe Biden is corrupt or hopelessly senile, but to believe that his election is patently fraudulent goes far beyond the outer edges of even toxic partisanship: It invites extreme responses, like excusing, if not endorsing, a siege of the Capitol.
And yet that may be where conservative media outlets find themselves. In the hours after the storming of Congress, Sean Spicer, Trump’s former press secretary and now the host of a Newsmax show, baselessly suggested it was a false-flag operation: “We’ve got to make sure that who was responsible, why they were there, if there was mischief, if Antifa was there,” he said, because “it shouldn’t be blamed on groups that weren’t responsible.” Greg Kelly, the channel’s star anchor, echoed that notion: “These people don’t look like Trump supporters,” he said.