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Conservative Businesses Seize Opportunity To Capitalize On Trump's Refusal To Concede

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

As President Trump stokes false claims of election fraud, people who believe his conspiracy theories are getting angry, and that has created a gold rush in some conservative circles. Businesses see an opportunity to capitalize on the resentment that the president is stirring up and channel that rage against big media players from Fox News to Facebook. We're going to talk now with two of our correspondents who are following this. David Folkenflik covers media, and Shannon Bond covers tech. Good to have you both here.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Thanks, Ari.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: David, let's start with you. How has this outrage on the right shifted the world of conservative media?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, let's start from the fact that Fox News has been a major pillar of President Trump's support. Its core viewer is, in a sense, Trump's base voter. When it came to election night, Fox News reported the facts gingerly and grudgingly basically from calling Arizona for President-elect Biden on. And the president freaked out. Trump has attacked them repeatedly on social media in his comments. This has led to social media campaigns, people being called on to strip away from Fox, to dump it, you know, with the same kind of venom, the same kinds of targeting that you used to see Fox participated in towards the rest of the mainstream media.

Others have seen their moment, particularly in the conservative media, and I'm thinking here particularly of Newsmax. Let's take Greg Kelly, a former Fox News personality, "Fox And Friends" host. He's now one of the lead hosts on Newsmax. He's been beating up on Fox. And here's what he has to say about President Trump's possibility of being the guy who emerges as the victor in this election that Trump just lost.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREG KELLY: A lot of stuff happening, and maybe it looks bleak. But guess what? Miracles have a habit of following this president around. It may take a miracle. Look; I still have confidence. Maybe I'm hopeful, but stranger things have happened.

FOLKENFLIK: So what Newsmax is doing and OAN and some others on the right is doing to Fox is what Fox has successfully done to the rest of the mainstream media - is to cudgel them as part of an establishment working against their viewers' and their fans' interests. And, you know, this is not the norm for Fox. It's been disorienting, I think. And Newsmax has seen its ratings really pop up.

SHAPIRO: And so how is Fox responding?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you're seeing this incredible tension that's always been there but play out more blatantly than ever. Some reporters are truthtelling, trying to guide viewers to the understanding that Biden has won. But I think you're seeing some opinion hosts moving even further right and even further rejecting reality as a defensive measure as their host network is coming attack from some of the most adamant fans. So let's listen to Maria Bartiromo. She got the first interview with President Trump since Election Day. He appeared this past Sunday morning on Fox News. Here's what she had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARIA BARTIROMO: This is disgusting, and we cannot allow America's election to be corrupted. We cannot.

FOLKENFLIK: Hours later, on her own network, Fox's Eric Shawn, a reporter who's been covering this who hosts on weekends - he fact-checked President Trump extensively in interviews on his own network. And there's just this tension that plays out. One way in which some of Bartiromo's colleagues and Bartiromo has reacted to this on the opinion side is they're looking for other targets to channel this rage toward. And you've seen Tucker Carlson and some other hosts hammering places like Facebook and Twitter, saying, you guys are marginalizing conservative voices, kind of preparing people for the understanding that there will be a Biden presidency by claiming that other major institutions are in league with the new president.

SHAPIRO: OK, so that's what's happening in TV news. Let's talk about those tech platforms - Facebook and Twitter - where, Shannon, there seems to be something parallel going on. Tell us about it.

BOND: That's right. I mean, of course, you know, there's an existing parallel, which is that, you know, conservative voices do very well on Facebook and Twitter. I mean, think - just think about the president and the way he uses Twitter. But there is this growing backlash among conservatives because the social media platforms have been cracking down more this year on election misinformation. You know, they've been labeling posts. They've labeled lots of the president's post about misleading claims. They've blocked some hashtags. In some cases, they've removed groups. We should note here, Ari, that Facebook is among NPR's financial supporters.

And so as the social networks - the big social networks have cracked down, some of these high-profile conservatives are urging their followers to join this new social network called Parler, which advertises itself as being all about free speech. So the CEO of Parler, John Matze, was on Fox Business with Maria Bartiromo, who herself has become a Parler evangelist. Here's how he explained it last month.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MARIA BARTIROMO'S WALL STREET")

JOHN MATZE: They don't have trust anymore in these other places. And so what they're saying is, you know, look. We know we can speak freely. We know you guys believe in what - you know, our right to free speech. And that's really why there's this boots-on-the-ground movement to transition to a new place for them to communicate with one another.

BOND: But it's also important to understand Parler is - you know, it's an upstart, but it's not some sort of, you know, grassroots, unknown phenomenon. It's actually financially backed by Rebekah Mercer. She's the daughter of Robert Mercer. He's this really wealthy hedge fund founder, and their family has a long track record of backing right-wing causes. They bankrolled Breitbart for years. They were early proponents of Donald Trump himself. So, you know, we now have this challenger to the established social media networks. But, you know, it's really coming from, you know, very much an established figure on the right.

SHAPIRO: How big a shift is this really? I mean, are these up-and-comers an actual threat to the tech giants?

BOND: Well, I mean, I think you just have to look at how these Parler boosters are saying, you know, here's how you should follow me. Come to Parler. You know, Facebook and Twitter are terrible. They're saying this on Twitter. They're posting it on Facebook. They're still, in many cases, posting much more on the big social networks than they are on Parler. And while Parler has grown and it's got a lot of attention, it's still just a tiny fraction of the size of these big networks.

But I think that doesn't mean that it's not going to have an impact because it is a place where, as Twitter, Facebook get more aggressive about saying, you know, there are things we just are not going to allow people to say; there's conspiracy theories we're not going to allow people to spread, those are migrating onto Parler. So it's going to be a place for people to find like-minded users to perpetuate baseless claims like the right-wing conspiracy theory known as QAnon.

SHAPIRO: And we have to acknowledge that Trump is leaving office next month. David, how is that likely to impact this dynamic in conservative media?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I think it depends on how big a figure he'd like to be. And from all signs, he still wants to be the largest voice in defining issues on the political right. You know, I put this question to Christopher Ruddy recently. He's the CEO of Newsmax, obviously OAN, which is an even more extreme conspiracy-theory-circulating kind of network and with an even smaller audience. It wants to be a player, and there are others as well. You know, the question is, is Trump going to somehow take over one of these, get some investors, pump some money into it, make it Trump TV and take on Fox or be its own power? What Ruddy said to me - and he's a friend of the president as well as a media figure - is that the president's an omnivore. He consumes all kinds of media and wants to appear on all of it.

And I think that last part is telling. You know, he's talking about the president as a consumer of media. But everywhere the president watches is somewhere the president would like to appear. And that's on Fox itself. That's on, you know, probably NBC's "Today" show. That's probably on CNN, as much as he beats it up. And so the idea that he would tether himself to a smaller outfit with a smaller audience, even if it's surging at the moment, was unlikely to Ruddy. To be honest, I think if Trump were to end up anywhere, it'd most likely be with a major eight-figure paycheck from the Murdochs over at Fox News rather than one of the smaller outfits. But I think this is an opportunity for some of these smaller players to get a foothold, to become more viable and to maybe ding Fox rather than damage it significantly.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik and tech correspondent Shannon Bond. Thank you both.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

BOND: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLAR BEAR'S "PEEPERS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.