RFK Jr is Trump 2.0 – don’t be scared to say it

News outlets need to take on the challenge of dealing with another disinformation artist

John Bowden
Tuesday 25 July 2023 16:13 BST
Stacey Plaskett lists Robert F Kennedy Jr's most outrageous claims

Robert F Kennedy Jr, newest darling of anti-censorship crusaders on the right and the left, fretted on Sunday that the mainstream US news media has supposedly treated him with derision and criticism — “even more” so than it famously did for Donald Trump.

The “Democratic” presidential contender made the comments in an appearance (where else?) on Fox, speaking with Maria Bartiromo on Sunday Morning Futures.

“I’ve been really, you know, slammed in a way that I think is unprecedented,” he said. “I mean, listen, if I believed the stuff that’s written about me in the papers and reported about me on the mainstream news sites, I would definitely not vote for me. I would think I was a very despicable person.”

But there’s one thing that Mr Kennedy, under fire most recently for comments he has made about Covid and other viruses supposedly being targeted towards various ethnicities, doesn’t seem to get. The response of national news organisations to his campaign isn’t worse than the treatment of Donald Trump by those same journalists — it’s just the logical progression of their response to his 2016 victory.

Anyone who pays attention to what little self reflection the US news media is capable of doing will tell you that cable news was the big loser, reputation-wise, in 2016. Supposedly centre-leaning CNN ate most of the negative press: the network’s now-famed choice to cover Mr Trump’s campaign with greater interest than other candidates in in either party, a ratings decision that may as well have been a political choice too, was widely panned in the wake of the Trump campaign’s victory. Progressives in particular seethed at the Bernie Sanders campaign’s inability to get the same unpaid advertising that Mr Trump’s campaign essentially received as networks aired long portions of his speeches without commentary.

So, cut to 2023: we’re one year out from an election, two years past the stunning end of a Trump presidency that many blamed on the media in the first place. Those same critics who blamed journalists for their inability to effectively dig into the words, actions and background of Donald Trump have drawn a direct line from those failures to the January 6 attack on the Capitol, seen as the inevitable conclusion of a presidency helmed by a man never really forced to face reality, even in the wake of his own defeat.

The response to RFK, Jr makes a lot more sense now. The knee-jerk reaction by mainstream news outlets is to avoid all coverage of Mr Kennedy’s campaign, given the amount of time and resources required to fact check every misconception and conspiracy he serves up and the fear that giving his campaign any oxygen will only backfire. Many recognise the danger of letting a man who has pledged to use the power of the federal government to influence the content of privately published medical journals take office. But few journalists believe they have found a way to effectively counter the nonsense and falsehoods, and even fewer have organisations brave enough to back them up or take the risk.

This, of course, has led to an opening for nontraditional news sources —Joe Rogan’s podcast and other widely popular media platforms among millennials, to fill the gap. It’s also accelerated a process that has already begun: the hollowing out of the traditional cable news audience, which is skewing older and older every year.

If the mainstream news media wants to maintain the hegemony that it has enjoyed for so long and continue being an authority capable of filtering out misinformation, news outlets and individual reporters need to take on disinformation artists like RFK Jr. Shirking from the spotlight will only cause it to fall someplace else.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in