We’re halfway through the year and right-wing websites are roaring as loud as ever. Most continue to vilify anything that smacks of elitism, intellectualism and environmentalism, while actively supporting a wildly controversial and unconventional president.
But 2019’s first six months were also full of surprises that may provide context about 2020’s political climate as well as offer clues to political marketers for the crucial election year.
For almost the past two years, I’ve been following right-wing websites for my watchdog website TheRighting, so I’ve had a good vantage point. Here are just a few of my observations from the past 180 days.
Foxnews.com is growing much faster than its mainstream news competitors. The leading conservative news website has put together an impressive streak of five consecutive months of hefty year-over-year increases in unique visitors. What makes this trend more notable is that mainstream news sites like CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post had much more modest increases or even lost audience during those months. Is Fox’s significant audience growth a barometer of where Americans are leaning as we head into 2020? If your political tastes shade blue, these numbers should make you feel blue.
Breitbart is down. Through May, Breitbart has endured at least nine straight months of audience decline based on Comscore data of year-over-year unique visitors. Furthermore, it no longer holds the position as the second-most-trafficked conservative website. Breitbart’s ranking has dropped faster than a Bernie supporter at a Trump rally to #7 in April and May.
Is this evidence that the far right no longer has appeal? Or does it indicate that Breitbart’s content-generating machinery may have rust in its gears? (TheRighting estimates the latter.)
The walls are up. Pay walls, that is. Several conservative websites transitioned to the pay wall model (or partial pay wall) in 2019. These include The Daily Caller, The Washington Times, Bernardgoldberg.com, and The Boston Herald, home to Howie Carr’s pointed columns. However, there are still more than three dozen right wing websites without any paywalls (see TheRighting’s A-Z Guide to Right Wing Media) so readers have plenty of free choices.
The rise of the young female piñatas. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib were battered constantly by the right-wing press throughout the first six months of the year. All three have stumbled at times this year, making them easy targets, but they were also picked on because they were outspoken women of color and they often voiced controversial opinions to the left of mainstreamers.
My guess is that they will continue to draw substantial fire from right-wing websites for the foreseeable future. And should Elizabeth Warren’s bid for the Democratic nomination pick up more steam, expect her to take a right-wing pounding, too (and cue the predictable Trump slur here). Hillary should send each of them a case of wine this holiday season.
Attack on the killer B’s. Biden. Buttigieg and Beto all spent time getting hammered by the right-wing websites. The furor over Buttigieg and Beto has diminished, but Biden looks like red meat for the conservative press to chew on for the rest of the year.
Linking Democrats to anti-Semitism. This was a running -- and disturbing -- trend throughout the year by the right-wing media. There were repeated articles from January to June tying Democrat lawmakers to anti-Semitism. The stories seemed aimed at pushing liberal Jewish voters into the GOP camp.
Worst story that never went viral. After the burning of Notre Dame in April, several right-wing outlets including WND and CNS News reported that Muslims were rejoicing. Perhaps the lack of traction in this story shows that not all flame-fanning right-leaning articles are automatically carried throughout the conservative press.
The conservative media gods giveth and taketh. Remember Circa? Nope, right? You’re not only one. Sinclair Broadcasting’s right-wing website seemed like a potentially powerful news website, considering its backing. But it never took off and it folded quietly in March.
It’s also worth mentioning the death of The Weekly Standard and launch of TheBulwark, Bill Kristol’s new moderate voice on the right. Technically, both events happened last December, but the developments sent ripples carrying into the first half of 2019. Look for more closings later this year.
Awful liberal disgrace amplified by right-wing media. The college admission payola scandal dominated both conservative and liberal headlines in March, but the right-wing press was particularly aggressive in its coverage. The story fit a specific type of narrative about the entitlement of coastal elites and the rigged system for average Joes.
Making matters worse: two Hollywood stars were involved, as well as nearly a dozen exclusive universities like University of California Berkeley, Georgetown, Yale and Stanford.
Another scandal like this one in the next 18 months could push middle-of-the-road voters to the right. And that could spell good news for Trump in 2020.