Presidential Authority and the Legitimation of Far-Right News

Allison M. N. Archer, Carolyn E. Schmitt, Shannon C. McGregor, Heesoo Jang

The International Journal of Press/Politics


(Research Summary by Katherine Furl) 

How can those in positions of political power lend legitimacy to fringe and far-right news outlets (FROs), granting them attention among mainstream news outlets, politicians, and the public? In “Presidential Authority and the Legitimation of Far-Right News,” recently published in the International Journal of Press/Politics, authors Allison Archer, Carolyn Schmitt, Shannon McGregor, and Heesoo Jang examine former President Donald Trump’s amplification of three FROs—One America News Network (OANN), Newsmax, and Breitbart—on X (formerly Twitter) and how this amplification lent FROs increased legitimacy contributing to their mainstreaming. 

Archer and coauthors consider Trump’s amplification of FROs a form of authority signaling, which “implicitly or explicitly imply the legitimacy of individuals or ideas.” Trump was able to leverage his former position as U.S. president to selectively praise or denigrate news outlets, bringing increased attention to these outlets in turn. Trump combined this authority signaling with a populist communication style that portrayed mainstream news outlets as corrupt, elitist, and exclusionary while portraying hyper-partisan FROs as put-upon purveyors of the truth.  

To understand the multifaceted impacts of Trump’s amplification of FROs on X/Twitter, Archer and coauthors combined analysis of tweets from the Trump Twitter Archive with monthly mainstream news coverage of OANN, Newsmax, and Breitbart in the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal. The authors additionally tracked the number of interviews given in these FROs among U.S. politicians. Archer and coauthors find that Trump’s X/Twitter mentions of OANN, Newsmax, and Breitbart increased over his presidency and that these mentions were largely positive. Mainstream news outlets increased their coverage of these FROs during the same period, while Republican politicians—particularly those serving in the House of Representatives—provided far more interviews to these FROs during this time. 

Taken together, Archer and coauthors contend that Trump’s mentions of OANN, Newsmax, and Breitbart during his presidency were not the sole contributing factors to these outlets’ rise in prominence but did play a role in lending the outlets a sense of legitimacy. Importantly, the ability to lend this sort of mainstreaming legitimacy to illiberal, far-right outlets is not limited to former president Trump. As the authors assert, “Trump serves simply as a case of an anti-democratic, populist leader who manipulated presidential norms for illiberal means...he set the stage for future leaders to further wreak havoc on democracies from the inside.”