The Republican National Committee has selected the Republican Jewish Coalition and NBC News, as well as Salem Radio Network and Rumble, two conservative media companies known for laundering extreme right-wing content, as partners for its third presidential debate on November 8, 2023.
“I am eager to announce that the RNC has selected NBC News, Salem Radio Network, the Republican Jewish Coalition, and Rumble as our partners for the third Republican primary debate in Miami,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement, “The partners for our third debate will offer our candidates an excellent opportunity to meet the moment and contrast their plans and vision with the failures of the Biden White House.”
“As the horrific events of the last week have unfolded in Israel, the issue of American foreign policy has taken on an even greater role. American strength and American resolve – and our candidates’ vision for America’s role in the world – are more important than ever.” Said RJC Chairman Sen. Norm Coleman.
It is an unusual but perhaps unsurprising partnership that nonetheless raises questions about the mainstreaming of far-right and fascist ideology.
Rumbles of concern
Founded in 2013 as a conservative alternative to the video-sharing website YouTube, Rumble, the RNC’s exclusive livestream provider for all three debates, has long been scrutinized for failing to moderate its user-generated content. The platform’s monetization program, which allows users to earn money from advertisements placed on their videos, has also been criticized for rewarding users who share extremist content.
Earlier this year, The Forward reported that Rumble placed Netflix advertisements on videos denying the holocaust. A spokesperson for Rumble said at the time that Rumble “has strict moderation policies banning antisemitism and racism, as well as many other restrictions.” But in August, the publicly-traded company placed RNC ads on numerous neo-Nazi and pro-Hitler videos leading up to the first debate, Media Matters for America documented.
In one instance, Rumble placed a banner advertisement soliciting donations for the RNC underneath a six-hour documentary titled “Adolf Hitler: The Greatest Story Never Told”. A description of on IMDB claims the film explains “the basis for hardline Nazi stances against Jews” and includes the disclaimer, “While open to criticism for being ‘pro-Nazi’ in its perspectives, the documentary does present many factual foundations for those perspectives.”
On another occasion, Rumble placed a similar advertisement next to “Europa: The Last Battle”, a different pro-Hitler documentary which the Anti-Defamation League describes as, “an antisemitic, World War II revisionist film released in 2017 that claims Jews deliberately caused both World Wars–and that Hitler was only trying to save Germany from the Jews–as part of a plot to found the nation of Israel.”
A host of problems
Salem Radio Network, a Christian radio network with a focus on political talk radio, has been steadily sliding rightward since 2016. Like much of talk radio today, SRN is decidedly right-wing and airs increasingly radical content.
Charlie Kirk, host of The Charlie Kirk Show on Salem Radio Network and the founder of the right-wing student organization Turning Point USA (which has warranted an entire page on the ADL’s website) regularly promotes Christian nationalism on his show, as well as conspiracy theories about George Soros. Unsurprisingly, when white nationalists embraced the hashtag #BanTheADL, Charlie Kirk was among those who promoted the campaign, calling the ADL a “mass purveyor of anti-white hate.”
Recently, Kirk, who has also spread extreme anti-LGBT rhetoric, promoted the unfounded conspiracy theory that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government allowed Hamas to enter Israeli territory and massacre civilians in the October 7 attacks for the sake of political benefit.
Just so we’re clear:@charliekirk11 is implying Bibi Netanyahu purposely let Hamas
murder 1,200 Israelis
take 100+ people hostage
—all as part of a plan to acquire more power in Israel
— John Hasson (@SonofHas) October 14, 2023
Another one of Salem Radio Netowork’s flagship programs, America First is hosted by Sebastian Gorka, the controversial former aide to Donald Trump and Viktor Orbán who has written for news outlets well-known for antisemitism. In 2017, Gorka was linked to what The Forward described as an “anti-Semitic paramilitary militia that was later banned as a threat to minorities by multiple court rulings.”
During his time working for the US President, Gorka was photographed on several separate occasions wearing the uniform and badge of the Vitézi Rend, a World War II “Order of Heroes” in Hungary, which the United States Department of State classifies as having been “under the direction of the Nazi Government of Germany during World War II.”
In addition to past support for antisemitism, Gorka has also courted controversy for his homophobia.
“This is a war for our culture, and that’s why we exist here, on America First, on the Salem Radio Network,” Gorka said on his show in 2019, in response to an episode of the children’s cartoon Arthur that included a gay wedding.
Salem Radio Network has also been criticized for engaging in deceptive advertising practices. Earlier this year, CheckMyAds co-founder Nandini Jammi revealed that Salem Media Group, SRN’s parent company, used innocuous-sounding domain names like “Christianity.com” and “GodTube.com” to trick unsuspecting advertisers like Lowe’s and others into monetizing controversial figures like Sebastian Gorka and Charlie Kirk.
A matter of time
While CNN reports that neither host is expected to participate in the debate, the partnership nonetheless raises concerns about the mainstreaming of groups and figures associated with far-right extremism and fascism.
Though it may be surprising to some that a national Jewish organization and a mainstream media outlet would partner with companies like Rumble or SRN, some observers are not surprised at all. At a time when some 75% of Orthodox Jews in America identify as Republican and what was once considered extreme is increasingly accepted by the mainstream, there is a sense that it was only a matter of time until a partnership like this emerged.
For some American Jews, the myth of Judeo-Christian culture and the dangled carrot of systemic power are all too alluring. To the Republican Jewish Coalition, the perceived threats of “wokeness” and anti-zionism are greater than those presented by Christian nationalists and white supremacists – an ideology embodied by figures like Ben Shapiro, Chaya Raichik, and Bari Weiss.
And for the media, the misguided urge to ensure that “both sides” of an issue receive balanced coverage, even when it isn’t justified, gives journalists an incentive to platform fascism. To NBC News, it is better to join forces with the so-called “alternative media” than to be left in the dust of a dying medium.
The unintended consequences of these partnerships are two-fold.
On one hand, partnering with Jewish organizations provides an effective figleaf for bigots and fascists to defend themselves against accusations of antisemitism. By working with Rumble and SRN, RJC provides cover for its new partners to shelter under the next time they are accused of promoting antisemitism and hate. In other words, RJC is now the “Jewish friend” every antisemite claims to have when they are called out for their bigotry.
On the other hand, partnering with the mainstream media provides an unwarranted air of legitimacy to outlets that have trafficked in election disinformation and COVID-19 conspiracy theories. Hugh Hewitt, or whoever is sent to represent SRN and Rumble, will pose for a picture behind the moderators’ desk with the co-moderators from NBC News, as if to say, “We do the same job!”
Increasingly, as more partnerships like this one are formed, they may indeed.
To the ill-informed, it will look like any other presidential debate. But for those in the know, the upcoming RNC debate is a disturbing spectacle of unholy collaboration and a betrayal of journalistic and Jewish values.