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Mitt Romney, once the Republican Party’s standard-bearer, believes the right-wing media machine is at fault for much of the radicalization that has disfigured the GOP.
The Utah senator and one-time GOP presidential nominee unleashed a torrent of criticism aimed squarely at the information universe in which most of his party’s members consume their news, characterizing it in a new book as a dangerous propaganda factory detached from reality, poisoning the minds of its inhabitants.
Romney’s blunt assessment of the right-wing media apparatus comes in “Romney: A Reckoning,” the forthcoming book by McKay Coppins, a journalist with The Atlantic who was granted a series of interviews and unprecedented access to the outgoing senator.
“It’s hard to imagine,” Romney said in an excerpt of the book that Coppins shared with CNN, but Tucker Carlson is turning the GOP into “the pro-Russian, pro-authoritarian party.”
“And that’s not what it used to be,” Romney added.
In another excerpt, Romney expressed alarm at how prominent storylines in the right-wing media space demonized people that he believed should have been celebrated, such as an Olympian struggling with mental health.
“It’s almost like you take what is praiseworthy and of good report and you say, ‘Let’s attack that!’” Romney said.
His stinging analysis of the media consumed by Republicans is particularly noteworthy, given that he once harbored a close relationship with its top figures. But that relationship was shattered when Donald Trump ascended within the Republican Party, ushering in a new era defined by vicious attacks on political opponents, the smearing of the press, embracement of conspiracy theories, and a brazen assault on the truth.
The warped political environment made Romney, once the archetype of its traditional conservative values, an outcast to right-wing media figures, which after a brief civil war, wholly embraced Trump following his election. Speaking to Coppins, Romney expressed shock at how he personally became portrayed as a villain by the very same people who once championed him as a leader worthy of the highest office in the land.
At one point in 2019, after seeing a clip of Fox News host and pro-Trump propagandist Sean Hannity rant about him as a “weak, sanctimonious Washington swamp politician,” Romney decided to phone up his old ally, Coppins wrote.
But the call didn’t go well, with Hannity scolding Romney and accusing him of making certain comments to appease the mainstream press. “You’re just doing this because you want to get praise on MSNBC!” Hannity told Romney, according to the book. Hannity then questioned Romney on Hunter Biden, and erupted when the senator confessed he was not aware of Burisma, according to the book: “How do you not know what Burisma is?”
Romney wondered to Coppins whether Carlson — the former Fox News host who became the network’s ratings king through ugly, anti-immigrant, conspiratorial rants — was influencing Hannity.
“I can only imagine that Sean is consumed with Tucker Carlson being ahead of him, and his everyday effort is to find ways to reclaim the throne as the most watched,” Romney told Coppins. “He’s in the same vein as Tucker. Just not as effective as Tucker — Tucker’s smart.”
Through a spokesperson, Hannity said that he “only wished the best for [the] soon to be former Senator.”
“It’s very clear losing the presidency has turned Mitt into a small, angry, and very bitter man,” Hannity added. “It’s sad to see.”
Regardless of his feelings about Hannity, Romney acknowledged that the problem is more deeply rooted, blaming the Rupert Murdoch-controlled Fox News as an institution for some of the ugly rhetoric injected into the public discourse. After seeing the former Fox Business host Lou Dobbs fearmonger about immigrants, Romney wrote an email to a pair of political confidants, describing Fox as a “serious problem.”
“Lou is a moron,” Romney wrote, according to Coppins. “Fox is an enabler.”
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