Politics

Marjorie Taylor Greene’s New Twist on the Trumpian Habit of Blaming the Media

She is not just blaming the media for her problems—she is blaming the media for herself.

Marjorie Taylor Greene wears a face mask that reads "Free Speech."
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

As they sought to strip her of her committee appointments, Democrats in the House of Representatives tried to make clear that Marjorie Taylor Greene was not being attacked for any single speech, act, or comment but, rather, for a lengthy pattern of espousing and endorsing dangerous conspiracy theories, for her anti-Semitic and Islamophobic remarks, and for numerous acts of either condoning or inciting violence against public figures. And yet, as she has done since her social media posts, videos, and speeches have begun to dog her, Greene pitched herself once again as an American free speech martyr. Casting herself Thursday as being “crucified … in the public square for words that I said,” she failed to even mention the harms that could be caused by her words. Acutely aware of her persecution at the hands of the media, she failed to understand that she has herself used the media to persecute others. Her real objection, she revealed, is to the press, because apparently it was the press that caused her to say those words before reporting on her truthfully.

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This stuff is all ripped straight from the Trump playbook. And much like Trump’s sundry “censorship” protests, it’s a beef not with censorship but with truth. Even as Greene renounced in her remarks on Thursday some of her more shocking claims—that mass shootings are staged and 9/11 didn’t happen—she described herself as the victim of misinformation, not its purveyor and amplifier. And her word choice with respect to the handful of claims she did rescind was purposive: It was unfailingly the media that was to blame. Greene first explained that in 2017 she had been “upset about things”—the Russia collusion investigation, for example—and she increasingly believed the media (she name-checked CNN and Fox News) was lying. So, she “started looking up things on the internet, asking questions like most people do every day, us[ing] Google.” It was that initial failure on the part of the media, and the lies she then discovered on Google, that allowed her to “stumble across something … called QAnon.” In this strange Encyclopedia Brown telling, she was just an innocent truth sleuth, following where the internet led her. It was her good-faith search for fact that led her astray. It was all that untrustworthy stuff external to her—and not herself—that ultimately meant that “I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true.”

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That was her word: allowed. She didn’t just come to believe these conspiracies. The internet “allowed” it, rewarded and dragged her to it. And it was the same internet that unreasonably tagged her for it after. Because Greene made it plain that it was the Facebook posts that led her to be condemned. As she put it, “if it weren’t for the Facebook post and comments that I liked in 2018, I wouldn’t be standing here today.” It’s because of Facebook that she was caught. Not her own actions. Facebook and Google and CNN and Fox News and the do-nothing Congress of 2018 did this wrong to her. There is no acceptance of responsibility here; there is simply the deft reallocation of it, and in so doing, she’s fanning the flames of the deeply damaging claim that the press itself is the reason for mistrust in the press.

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Greene’s capstone to the nonapology apology was the good old nihilist chestnut that “any source of information that is a mix of truth and a mix of lies is dangerous, no matter what it is saying, what party it is helping, anything or any country it is about. It’s dangerous.” And in the event that you missed it, her ultimate conclusion remained that the real malefactor here is the press: “Will we allow the media that is just as guilty as QAnon of presenting truth and lies to divide us?”

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By limiting her regrettable “past words” to a handful of statements on Facebook about 9/11 and false flag shootings that she claimed all stopped in late 2018, Greene was also careful to hive off the many, many things she has said in other fora, about other issues, as recently as December of 2020. She made no mention of her actual calls for violence and lawlessness in the list of things she regrets. No mention of her 2019 video claiming that no Muslim should be allowed to serve in government, her 2018 claim that “the Rothschilds” started the California wildfires, or her September 2020 Facebook post featuring herself with an AR-15 and Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib that was captioned “Squad’s Worst Nightmare.” No regrets were expressed for supporting executions of prominent Democrats in 2018–19. No remorse or accounting for her 2018 response to a commenter asking if they could hang Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama that said, “We must be patient. This must be done perfectly or liberal judges would let them off.” No remorse or accountability for sharing, in 2018, a notorious white nationalist video in which a Holocaust denier claimed that “Zionist supremacists have schemed to promote immigration and miscegenation.”

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And so here we are. The garbage old apology for hurtful speech used to be “I’m sorry you were offended,” but in Greene’s able hands, it has morphed this week into some version of I am sorry that, because the press is so unreliable, Fox News is so unbelievable, Google is so QAnon-promoting, and Facebook is so hard to delete, I said racist, bigoted, incendiary, and violent things, like so many of you (and now I am angry that I got caught for it). She appears to be unrepentant for most of the hurtful speech but chiefly just regretful that her altogether-reasonable initial mistrust of the press led her there. Greene also used her remarks to fault “Media Matters, CNN, MSNBC, and the rest of the mainstream media” for the ways in which they portray her. In her press conference on Friday, she addressed the media directly, because it is the media, as she put it, that is “addicting the country to hate.” This was part of her far-ranging and hate-filled attack on Nancy Pelosi, AOC, Black Lives Matter, socialists, and Democrats. Journalists, in this telling, lie when they lie, and journalists also lie when they tell the truth. This is all just win-win blame-shifting for those who seek to discredit honest journalism.

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This entire episode has reinforced the very same circular critique on which right-wing media has relied for decades: It’s not our fault if we parrot and reinforce slander and lies; we do it because our viewers want to hear it. We “allow” them to make their own truth. It’s the jumped-up version of Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz laying claim to their obligation to give voice to the big lie about a stolen 2020 election: Who are we to dismiss lies and liars if millions of people wish to believe them? “People should be allowed to believe what they want, and who are we to correct them” is the new definition of freedom. It’s doesn’t matter if it’s also the definition of where Greene concedes she went astray when she started sharing dangerous conspiracies.

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The Marjorie Taylor Greenes of the world aren’t trying to fix whatever it is they think ails Fox News and CNN and Facebook and Google and MSNBC and even QAnon. She is pointing to their flaws because she wants to be exculpated for having chosen to disbelieve all of them. The net effect of her performance this week has more to do with fundraising and the monopolizing of scarce public attention than with any meaningful claim about the nexus between speech and facts. Which is why, given a chance to talk to reporters again on Thursday, she walked away on high principle. As she has done all week, Greene refused to answer reporters’ questions after her speech on the floor on Thursday, at which point an aide rebuked CNN’s Daniella Diaz, Fox News’ Jason Donner, and Bloomberg Government’s Emily Wilkins with the claim that “She doesn’t answer to you. … She answers to the people of the 14th District.” When one journalist replied that “we report to the people of the 14th District,” another aide replied, “We report to the people of America.” The question is how they would do that reliably if the press is inherently full of lying liars.

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Blaming journalism for tearing the country apart while you yourself are tearing the country apart is pure, undistilled Trumpism. Yawn. But Greene goes one better than Trump did, because she’s not just blaming the media for the world’s problems—she is actually blaming the media for herself. It’s part of her larger defense that holds that she is a good person, an unblemished parent, and that she has been forgiven by God, so only bad people still seek accountability. The press made me a dangerous person, she contends, and the press is reporting on my dangerousness, and that is really dangerous too. It’s quite a message, insofar as it burns everything in its path without replacing it with anything trustworthy at all. But whatever else it is, this is not a free speech message or a claim about the nature of truth. And you can be sure, because she’s now told you as much, that whatever atrocity Greene spits out next, it won’t be her fault.

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