The national media has covered Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s hateful and bizarre beliefs—that the Parkland shooting was possibly staged, that Jews intentionally started the Camp Fire in California with space lasers, that the Las Vegas mass shooting was a false flag operation, among others—as outrageous evidence of just how much the right has come to tolerate conspiracy theories and lies. To many, Greene represents the ugliest and most unrepentant version of Trumpism, and a reminder that the phenomenon did not end with Trump’s defeat.
Reading the newspapers that cover her Northwest Georgia district, however, it’s clear that Greene is something else to local journalists and columnists: a more personal embarrassment. And for some, save for the rare conservative voice tepidly defending her, a more or less predictable disappointment.
None of the recent revelations about Greene’s beliefs seem surprising to local writers. In a few editorials from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and elsewhere, one can almost detect frustration that some Georgians were expressing shock, given the reporting they had already done on Greene’s online behavior. “Long before she was elected to the U.S. House, we knew that Marjorie Taylor Greene was problematic,” began an editorial in the Journal-Constitution. “We reported that she had said racist things. And xenophobic things. And anti-Semitic things. We reported that she had supported QAnon. We reported about the conspiracy theories she spread about 9/11 and the mass shooting in Las Vegas.”
When Greene first came to local reporters’ attention last year, though, she was discussed as a “fringe” candidate. Some reporters dug into her comments, but much of the initial scandal revolved around her decision to run in Georgia’s 14th District when she didn’t live there. (She initially planned to run in the 6th Congressional District but moved to the 14th when the incumbent in the deeply conservative district announced he would not run again, clearing up a seat for whoever the most avowedly pro-Trump candidate was.) Greene, who is from the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta, was questioned as much for being an outsider with little knowledge of the district as she was for her more radical comments. One conservative commentator called the decision to switch districts “an insult to her supporters” and an “insult to those elected officials in the 14th who have worked hard for those residents to improve the lives of residents.”
When Politico reported in June that those comments included statements in support of QAnon and other absurd anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, the coverage shifted to revolve around the national outrage. The Rome News-Tribune diligently ran stories describing Greene’s newly uncovered offensive statements and relaying comments from critics in Congress or on CNN. Occasionally local papers interviewed residents, who expressed a mix of pride, muted embarrassment, and belligerent defensiveness. One Greene voter told the Daily Citizen-News in Dalton, Georgia, that critics needed to respect that Greene had won and that it “sounds like they don’t like elections much when they don’t win them.” Another supporter, speaking with the Journal-Constitution in June: “I guess maybe you don’t say that in public, but I do kind of agree with her.” One supporter liked that Greene had lashed out at the media. “She’s stood up for herself,” she told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “It’s easy to see that she means what she says.”
Columnists and editorial boards at several papers expressed trepidation about what Greene’s tenure will mean when it comes to the basic, logistical work of her office. “We’re essentially stuck without representation over the next two years,” the News-Tribune’s editorial board wrote on Saturday. “Our veterans need help with the VA, our disabled and elderly need help with Social Security, our children need help getting into service academies.”
Similarly, the editorial page of the Citizen-News opined that Greene “has seemingly been at work nonstop” but “that ‘work’ has been long on theatrics and short on substance.” The editorial mentioned COVID-19’s devastating effect on the physical and financial well-being of the region’s residents. “While Greene wastes her time peddling false narratives and outright lies, we pose this question to her: What are your plans to help the 732,133 residents of the 14th Congressional District?” (A separate editorial in the Citizen-News complained that given the rejection of masks from Trump and Greene, “there’s again little mystery about why Whitfield County has been so hard hit by COVID-19.”)
But given that 57 percent of the deeply conservative district voted for Greene over fellow Republican John Cowan (and 75 percent voted for Greene over the Democrat), it isn’t surprising that most writers tiptoed around the subject. In the smaller papers’ opinion sections, where columns cheerfully praised the comforts of a warm breakfast or recounted their more delightful finds at a yard sale, few mentioned Greene. Those who did were careful not to blame voters in their community.
“I realize a good portion of Americans still feel the election was unfair and that the result might not be legitimate,” one local writer for the News-Tribune said in a column declaring it a “time to heal.” She gently reassured the “Stop the Steal” contingent of their right to feel upset. “Another large portion has accepted the result and is ready to move on. The latter group has significant representation from both major political parties now. No matter where you fall on the matter, I think it’s safe to say American voters are coming away from this election year with wounds that need to heal, and that process should be our focus now.”
The most conservative op-ed about Greene I could find in any local paper argued that “liberals and Democrats are rarely taken to task for their heinous comments,” before listing comments by Maxine Waters (telling supporters to confront Trump Cabinet members), Jim Clyburn (comparing Trump to Hitler), Julián Castro (also comparing Trump to Hitler), Biden (comparing Trump to Goebbels), and, for some reason, Madonna, Johnny Depp, and Robert De Niro. But even this attempt at a “both-sides” reframing of the Greene news cycle made it clear that she had crossed a line. “Constituents elected her to act on those concerns in Congress, not to make herself the center of attention,” it concluded.
In the Atlanta Jewish Times, meanwhile, a rabbi recalled how one clearly weary Jewish doctor in Greene’s district had summed up their experience. “As a health professional I pledge to take care of anybody,” the doctor had said. “People come in. I take care of them. I treat them. And I have to simply cancel that thought out, that seven of 10 of my patients voted for this crazy woman.”