I Spent 11 Hours Inside the MAGA BubbleFebruary 8, 2021
Last Monday in Washington, the news was President Joe Biden’s attempt to pass a massive $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package through Congress, the agita over Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s old Facebook posts calling for the assassination of Democratic leaders, the coup in Myanmar.
In my living room, the news was Hunter Biden’s lawyer’s supposed connection to a DOJ official, CNN’s Brian Stelter Biden toadyism, the “pedo money” flowing out of the Lincoln Project, and a pro-Trump beauty vlogger claiming Sephora had “canceled” her.
My assignment was to watch One America News (OAN) for a full day: 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., no turning the television off, no leaving my apartment and no channel-switching whatsoever.
Since the election, conservative networks have been locked in a three-way wrestling match for who gets the MAGA television audience. Fox News has been deemed traitorous by Trump’s fans for reporting that Joe Biden fairly won the presidential election, and is seeing its worst ratings in decades. Newsmax initially ate into Fox’s pro-Trump audience post-election, but more recently the network has alienated many of its fans for the same reason.
Which leaves the truest espousers of MAGAology at OAN—which was founded in 2013, but which didn’t get mainstream awareness until the middle of Donald Trump’s administration, thanks to Trump’s relentless promotion on Twitter. The network has historically played coy with revealing its viewership numbers, but OAN saw record ratings in 2020, according to the network’s president—a boost that came largely in the fourth quarter, in no small part because Trump directed his followers to their unquestioning coverage of his election fraud claims.
OAN is still airing their grievances about cancel culture, and tiptoeing around the cries of stolen elections, even as it faces potential multi-billion-dollar lawsuits for broadcasting conspiracies about voting machine companies. But the network is missing the thing that made MAGA compelling to its audience: Trump and his tweets, which had driven countless news cycles and set their agenda for days. In short: It’s missing its star player.
Without Trump providing feedback or free advertising in real time, OAN was a strange, empty temple to MAGA culture, with its acolytes and prophets filling in the gaps of his silence with their fantasies—often illogical, frequently venomous and largely a collection of memes—of what they thought their leader would want them to say.
And they missed him. Boy, did they miss him. “Pass our best wishes on to President Trump if you could, please,” primetime host Dan Ball said to Trump adviser Jason Miller at one point. “And I’ll throw it out there, we’re requesting that interview. We keep asking. We’re gonna ask again.” Miller gamely laughed.
It’s Morning in (One) America: The 4-Hour Biden Hate
I should say at the outset that this was not an easy channel to watch. I do not have a cable package that broadcasts OAN—many do not, but the network does ask its viewers to badger their carriers to add it. Most streaming services don’t carry it live either. To watch, I ended up having to download KlowdTV, a niche streaming service created by OAN’s parent company Herring Networks Inc., which also carries Infowars and Newsmax for free. And even then, I couldn’t log in through its app, or cast it from my computer browser, and I resorted to downloading the app onto my phone, and casting it from my iPhone onto my television.
And then, on Monday, February 1st, 2021, I began my morning by hating the Democrats for 10 minutes.
At 7:40 a.m. One America News aired, in immediate succession, the following segments:
— A lawyer suggesting Trump’s impending post-presidency impeachment trial was unconstitutional
— A professor claiming Biden’s gender equality council would exacerbate racial and gender tensions, arguing that it was racist against Black men
— A report suggesting that a Biden appointee had connections to his son Hunter, under investigation for business dealings with China. (Well, almost: Nicholas McQuaid, the acting attorney general of the criminal division, was previously a partner at the same multinational law firm as Hunter’s defense attorney.)
— An update on the Covid-19 relief package, implying that Dems were about to throw bipartiship aside and sidestep Republican lawmakers through using the budget reconciliation process
— A report swiping Biden for halting troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, breaking Trump’s “historic peace agreement with the Taliban”
— A segment about millennial MAGA influencer Gavin Wax holding a press conference in front of Wall Street about the GameStop controversy, while wearing a Robin Hood hat
— The assault on the Democrats went on for hours, and hours, and hours, an endless march of enmity anchored by fresh-faced young white women with perfect, HD-friendly skin, and the occasional middle-aged adult man.
But other enemies also made an appearance, in segments that aired repeatedly in the ensuing programming blocks. Sometimes there were takes on the biggest stories on the day: OAN repeatedly attacked the never-Trump Lincoln Project’s co-founder, John Weaver, who was recently accused of being a serial sexual harasser, sending lewd messages to young men as young as 14. An effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom for his bungling of the Covid-19 response was gaining traction, I was told. The recent Myanmar coup, too, got massive play—and reporters repeatedly noted that the Biden administration had not weighed in on yet.
Other segments seemed purely spiteful. CNN media critic and anchor Brian Stelter, for instance, was the subject of several, pilloried for praising a New York Times fact check while being inaccurate about Biden and for not having enough conservative voices on his shows. The network went after Los Angeles city officials for getting fat paychecks while bungling their response to the homelessness crisis. (Pro-Trump messaging crept into that story in the form of a clip of Trump rambling about the crisis in September 2019.) And several times, the hosts hit Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for a recent video in which he suggested Trump’s rhetoric was “irresponsible” and may have contributed to the January 6th riots on Capitol Hill. “This could be seen as a betrayal,” one host said.
White nationalism made an appearance, in the form of a straight news story about a Nazi sympathizer fined $10 million by the FBI for making thousands of harassing, racist robocalls. To my puzzlement, OAN showed photos of California Senator Dianne Feinstein, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, and DNC chair Jaime Harrison during the report. (It turned out they were the subjects of the calls in question, but during the approximately six times OAN hosts and reporters visited this story during the day, the network never mentioned this.)
Occasionally, OAN took time to celebrate the accomplishments of the Trump administration, highlighting Jared Kushner’s Nobel Peace Prize nomination, submitted by pro-Trump lawyer and Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz.
The only notable guest in the morning hours—and the first of two middle-aged women I saw on OAN that whole day—was Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia congresswoman and QAnon adherent, who was facing punishment in the House for her history of statements promoting QAnon conspiracy theories and calling for the assassination of Democratic House members. In the safe space of an OAN Skype interview, she refused to back down from the “liberal mob” and the “radical bloodthirsty media.”
The travails of Greene’s impending “cancellation” were repeated ad nauseam all day, with OAN hosts replaying the same defense: that Greene’s assistants had made the posts on her behalf; that she was being “cancelled” by the Democrats and the media. Not once did they mention the substance of her comments—including her assertion that “Jewish space lasers” had started the California wildfires.
But though they neatly sidestepped the matter of Zionist light beams, Greene made it a point to tell OAN that she would not apologize for her other comments—in particular, a 2018 video of her chasing David Hogg, a teenage gun control advocate who had survived the Parkland shootings, to demand he answer whether he was working for George Soros. “I looked up his age before I talked to him, [and] found out he was a legal adult before I talked to him,” she said.
Halfway through, she boasted that she’d been talking on the phone with Donald Trump, now a virtual recluse doing God knows what in Mar-a-Lago. Greene seemed eager to act as his spokeswoman. “He’s doing really well. I’m excited to go visit him soon and continue to give him a call and talk to him frequently,” she bragged to OAN reporter Jenn Pellegrino. “Great news is he supports me 100 percent, and I’ve always supported him. President Trump is always here for the people and he’s not going anywhere.”
(When asked if Greene was indeed going to visit him—or had even talked to him at all—representatives for Trump declined to comment. A representative for Greene said that they “do not discuss the details of private conversations of Rep. MTG.”)
OAN Direction: An afternoon of hate plus voting machines
By this point, I had entered a comfortable groove, coasting on a steady, reliable stream of hating, in no particular order, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, various media outlets, certain hedge funds, public health officials, the homeless people occupying a Washington hotel and Ted Cruz.
I was told repeatedly that investing in silver was a good idea, as a populist way to stick it to the greedy bastards on Wall Street getting richer off the backs of the poor—except, wasn’t it great that the stock market was so high during the Trump administration?—and that Biden had failed to take responsibility for the 40,000 people who had died of Covid during his first week and a half in office, as if he’d promised that people would suddenly stop dying of Covid the moment he took the oath of office.
The lineup became so ingrained in my brain that I took the opportunity to clean my apartment as it played in the background, only looking up whenever a new story entered the churn. When I looked up, I learned that afternoon that Prince Harry had won a libel suit against the Daily Mail, that RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel had released a statement celebrating Black History Month and that Nintendo sales were up. A lawyer named Bruce Fein came on to discuss the legal questions surrounding Trump’s upcoming impeachment, gamely bantering with a smirking host over whether Congress could impeach someone who had already left office. “Textual ambiguity,” said the host. “I like that.”
Minutes later, Mike Lindell, the pro-Trump CEO of MyPillow, came on to boast that MAGA fans had flocked to buy HisPillows, even though big box retailers had dropped his products after he wouldn’t stop repeating claims that the election was stolen through Dominion voting machines.
The anchor dutifully nodded along—a markedly different reaction to Lindell’s later appearance on Newsmax the next day, which turned into a nuclear meltdown after its hosts pointed out that Lindell’s claims about Dominion were unsubstantiated. (Dominion has threatened to file a defamation suit against Newsmax.) OAN has continued to side with Lindell, swiping Newsmax for “censor[ing]” their interview with the CEO, and later airing his documentary about voter fraud—albeit with a two-minute long disclaimer saying that Lindell was solely responsible for these claims.
The host of the 6 p.m. block had the night off, so OAN instead re-broadcast a documentary they had aired on Inauguration Day, entitled “Trump: the Legacy of a Patriot.” For the next 45 minutes, a man in a star-spangled tie presented a stream of bullet points detailing Trump’s accomplishments. I used that opportunity to make potato dumplings.
Prime Time Trump Time
“Legacy of a Patriot” was only the beginning of the most intensely pro-Trump block of the night.
The moment I settled back on the couch with my dumplings, topics that hadn’t been visited for most of the day came roaring into view: election fraud, border control, the benefits of hydroxychloroquine that the mainstream media wouldn’t tell you, and that Trump had been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for the fourth time in a row. And in the subsequent primetime opinion shows, the company line emerged: OK, fine, Biden was the legitimate president, but why did the Democrats continue to hate Trump so much?
It began at 8 p.m. with Real America, hosted by Dan Ball, a man who looked to be in his mid-40s and nevertheless kept offhandedly mentioning MAGA internet memes like “Orange Man Bad,” as if the audience and his guests knew what that meant. (For the less online people, “orange man bad” is a mockery of liberals trying to find ways to criticize Trump.) Ball was happy to tell his guests that the orange man was, in fact, good—at times as if he was trying to outdo his guests in his praise of Trump. As he told a game-looking Jason Miller:
I wish that we could just get this partisanship moved aside. And all this corporate, corrupt, mainstream media pushed to the side, and the American people can see all the positives that this administration in just four years did for our country. That right there, I think will be one of the biggest legacies peace in the Middle East. No new wars, first president over 37 years not to put us in a war. And nobody talks about these facts. They just want it you know, it’s ‘orange man bad.’
Tipping Point with Kara McKinney was exactly like Real America, except for the fact that Ball was now replaced with a younger woman. McKinney’s guests ran the gamut, from a stone-faced Victoria Coates—a former Trump administration official on the National Security Council, who was on to protest America rejoining the Iran nuclear deal—to a MAGA online beauty influencer railing against Sephora for dropping their sponsorship of her, after her apparent support for the January 6th insurrection emerged. “Since I came out supporting Trump last year, and also my conservative and Christian values, I’ve been canceled,” she complained, before going on to promote her newest endeavors: a cruelty-free vegan makeup line, and a beauty tutorial campaign to “make makeup great again.”
At one point, The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles, a right-wing millennial celebrity popular among college students, appeared on the show to discuss abortion. Knowles’s home streaming setup looked noticeably higher-quality than the interviewer’s studio.
McKinney then closed her hour with a segment praising Walt Disney for his McCarthyism, airing a clip of him in front of a Senate panel alleging that he’d been intimidated by a Communist union boss. “So if you’re wondering how Marxists have been able to be so successful in their long march through the institution, it’s because they’ve been playing this game for a long time.”
After Hours with Alex Salvi closed out the day of OAN. For once, there were serious discussions about what a post-Trump landscape looked like. (Salvi is one of the few big-name OAN hosts with a liberal background.) It was one where the culture wars reigned supreme, where GameStop was the harbinger of populist activism on Wall Street, and one where Marjorie Taylor Greene wouldn’t be cancelled by the GOP for her views. “I mean if the people don’t want her to be representing them, that’s for them to decide,” he said during an interview with former Kansas attorney general Phill Kline. “So, moving ahead, is this something that Republicans should be focusing on?” (Once again, Greene’s views were not elaborated upon.)
Not that Salvi wasn’t pro-Trump—he still supported Trump’s agenda and hit the Democrats as hard as possible—but it was hardly the tongue bath of the previous two hours.
The commercial breaks, however, provided all the Trump worship lacking from Salvi’s broadcast — and a hint that OAN is not prepared to let Trump go, not even for generations. One commercial encouraged viewers to purchase a set of illustrated picture books for their children—The Kids’ Guide to Donald Trump, Celebrate Our Liberty, and a link for a free video lesson called “Great Again.”
On an iPad, the app showed a picture of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington administering the Oath of Office to Trump. “To learn more and order the Kids’ Guide to President Trump gift bundle, just go to FreeTrumpGuide.com,” said the cheerful narrator, directing me straight to a website featuring its author — Mike Huckabee, of all people — and reviews from parents like “Sandy D.” from Orlando, Fla.:
“I ordered this for my daughter who’s in the fifth grade. She studied the Trump presidency in school, but her lessons were biased like the media. The Kids Guides and video lessons are great!”