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Mehdi Hasan on the Risk of the Media Normalizing Trump’s Fascism & Dangers of TikTok Ban

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Journalist Mehdi Hasan warns U.S. media coverage of the 2024 election is largely unable to capture the threat to democracy posed by Donald Trump and the modern Republican Party. “We need to speak very clearly about what that fascist threat is,” says Hasan, who warns media outlets cannot “normalize his extremism and racism and bigotry,” because the right to free press itself could be under threat if he regains power. “One of our two major parties has been fully radicalized and is now in bed with white supremacists. … Let’s be plain about that.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Mehdi, let’s go to another issue that is, of course, a pressing one this year — namely, the U.S. elections. You’ve said that the problem with the media here is that it’s singularly unable to cover Trump properly — Trump, of course, who is now the nominee. If you could explain what you mean by that, and what the effects of that are going to be this year?

MEHDI HASAN: Phew, yeah, good question, Nermeen. Well, I would say three quick things. Number one, as I mentioned at the start, one of the reasons I set up Zeteo is because I believe there is a fascist threat to the United States from the modern Republican Party, and including its standard-bearer, its now official candidate, Donald J. Trump, and we need to speak very clearly about what that fascist threat is. We need to be able to say the F-word, not dance around it, not pretend Donald Trump is a normal candidate, not normalize his extremism and racism and bigotry and authoritarianism. And what we’re seeing right now, Nermeen, after 2020, when we saw some improvement in our coverage of Trump, I feel like we’ve regressed back to 2016 in many ways, in treating Trump as a spectacle, in benefiting from whatever ratings he gives media organizations, in asking him softball questions. He recently did an interview on CNBC. It was embarrassing to watch. That is a huge problem. So that’s number one.

Number two, you know, there is this issue right now, for example, where, look, we have this issue of access journalism, where a lot of journalists still need to be able to get guests on air from both parties, and there is this both-sidesism, which is very frustrating. And the media needs to really think long and hard about how we do journalism. The old conventions, the old norms cannot apply. There are not two sides to every story. There are not two sides to Holocaust denial or climate change or elections. You know, there’s not two sides to whether Joe Biden won the last election or not. We need to be clear-eyed about what’s in front of us, and, again, have some respect for our viewers and our readers and tell them what is going on, that one of our two major parties has been fully radicalized and is now in bed with white supremacists and is spreading some of the worst QAnon conspiracy theories out there. Let’s be plain about that.

And number three, in terms of the dangers, I mean, we have skin in the game. This idea that the media should be impartial, no, we should have a bias towards truth. We should have a bias towards free press, because the media’s survival is at stake here. If Donald Trump wins the election, what do you think is going to happen to our free press? He’s not hiding it. He has talked openly about wanting to come after NBC and MSNBC for treason. His allies, like Kash Patel, have talked about going after the media criminally and civilly. One of his allies, Mike Davis, says if Trump makes him AG, he’s going to put me in Guantánamo Bay. This is the kind of open authoritarian rhetoric that we’re hearing from the Republican side. And the media cannot pretend that this is normal or not a threat to our very freedoms.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to finally ask you about what we’re taking up in our next segment, the bill to ban TikTok. The measure is going to now be taken up by the Senate. But I wanted to ask you about a particular aspect of it. Palestinian rights activists say Israel’s war on Gaza has galvanized anti-TikTok sentiment in conservative and centrist lawmakers. In a leaked post-October 7th audio recording, Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, can be heard saying, quote, “We have a TikTok problem,” referencing declining public support for Israel among younger people. The progressive group RootsAction also noted that AIPAC is the top donor to Congressmember Mike Gallagher, who authored the TikTok ban bill. And this is coming as Donald Trump flip-flopped. He flipped his position on the bill within the last week, now opposing the ban, after recently meeting with Republican megadonor billionaire Jeff Yass, whose company holds a 15% stake in ByteDance, interestingly, a major donor to right-wing Israeli think tanks. Mehdi, just your take on that aspect of this?

MEHDI HASAN: Well, first off, Donald Trump doesn’t believe in anything other than himself, so he should really be supporting this bill. It aligns with his anti-China positions. But he’s not, because he might be making money out of not supporting this bill. So that’s just a reminder that Donald Trump believes in nothing but himself.

In terms of the TikTok problem, clearly it’s a problem. We discussed earlier, if you have a sanitized war on mainstream media, but you have TikTok showing younger Americans exactly what’s going on, in terms of the barbarism, the brutality, the mass killing, the starvation, the war crimes, then, of course, that’s a problem for the Israeli PR machine, clearly, and for the pro-Israel factions in the United States.

And it’s ironic when we say, “Oh, well, it’s actually not to do with Israel. It’s to do with China. It’s to do with not knowing what’s going on inside of this company.” Come on. Look, I have an issue with Chinese ownership of TikTok. Of course I do, like anyone else. I’m no fan of China. But the idea that other social media companies are somehow transparent or doing a better job on moderation, come on. I mean, look at Elon Musk, just this week, canceled Don Lemon’s new show on his platform, on Twitter, on X, because he was asked some moderately tough questions by Don Lemon. This is the kind of — you know, this is the power of Big Tech in America and billionaires who are controlling our public squares. The idea that dealing with TikTok will help us challenge misinformation or extremism online is just a complete lie.

AMY GOODMAN: Mehdi Hasan, we want to thank you so much for being with us, and we’re going to continue this discussion about TikTok in our next segment. Mehdi Hasan, journalist, author, editor-in-chief, now CEO of the new media company Zeteo, until January was a host on MSNBC and Peacock. All the best to you, Mehdi.

MEHDI HASAN: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Next up, the U.S. House has passed a bill that could ban TikTok. Back in 15 seconds.

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Next story from this daily show

Ramesh Srinivasan: TikTok Crackdown, Fueled by Anti-China Sentiment, Misses Real Threat of Big Tech

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