There’s a big cost to normalizing hate.
Note: The following piece includes direct quotes from Roger Stone, some of which include bigoted slurs.
The Trump era has brought with it a lot of things we wouldn’t usually consider “normal.” A reality TV star caught on camera bragging about sexual assault being elected president? Not normal. That same president putting trust in fringe websites while ignoring his own intelligence briefings and labeling mainstream news outlets “fake news”? Also not normal.
But one of the strangest, most subtle bits of abnormality in this new world is the media renaissance of Trump adviser Roger Stone, who you may recognize from his appearances on cable and network news shows.
For more than 40 years, Stone played a mostly behind-the-scenes role in Republican politics. After Trump’s election, that changed.
Also known as “Nixon’s man in Washington” (according to Stone’s own book), Stone has a long history as a political “dirty trickster” and purveyor of half-baked conspiracy theories on everything from 9/11 to the Kennedy assassination to Obama’s birth certificate. He was also a key player in the election of Donald Trump. And, like the president, he prides himself on not being “politically correct.”
He has referred to black and Latino journalists as “quota hires,” he once ran an anti-Hillary Clinton organization called Citizens United Not Timid (apparently, he really liked the acronym), and this weekend, he went on a sexist Twitter rant, calling a woman identified as Caroline O. a “stupid ignorant ugly bitch.”
Those sexist tweets were not an isolated incident.
His behavior was enough to get him banned from some of the cable news networks. He was banned from CNN (after calling CNN commentator Ana Navarro an “Entitled Diva Bitch,” “Borderline retarded,” and “‘dumber than dog shit”), from MSNBC (“because of his now very well-known offensive comments“), and from Fox News (Stone says, “I’m banned at Fox because I kick their ass”). Stone became a star only to see it all fade once his more extreme views became more widely known.
You might think that would be the last we saw of him. You’d be wrong. While Stone hasn’t been back on any of the networks that banned him, he has been getting a lot of attention from mainstream networks like NBC and PBS since the election.
So why — if nothing about his misogyny, racism, and penchant for conspiracy theories has changed — is Roger Stone on our TVs again?
Stone recently appeared on NBC’s “Today” show to discuss the effect Russia had on the 2016 campaign. In January, he appeared in the PBS “Frontline” documentary “Divided States of America.” In April, Netflix will premiere “Get Me Roger Stone,” a documentary about the man himself, at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Despite being shunned by major networks during the election, the very same man who quoted Gore Vidal to the New York Times in 2015 — “Never miss the opportunity to have sex or be on television” — seems to be making good on at least the latter half of that statement.
So, what is it? Why is Roger Stone being given a platform on our TVs again? And what does it say about what’s “normal” in the Trump-era media landscape that a man who tweeted “DIE BITCH” at former New York Times editor Jill Abramson, who he called a “snot-nosed, arrogant, biased liberal — and all around bitch” because the paper didn’t review his 2013 book about President Kennedy’s assassination, who called former Rep. Michele Bachmann a “tranny,” and who called Al Sharpton a “professional negro” is considered palatable for mainstream audiences?
Roger Stone hasn’t changed, but maybe we have.
Stone is the canary in the Trump-era normalization coal mine. He is what happens when the country elects Donald Trump president, and he is evidence of a ripple effect that could continue for generations.
Roger Stone, Milo Yiannopoulos, Alex Jones, and others were once fringe elements within the media. Their ideas — sexist, hateful, and based in paranoia and conspiracy theories — were rejected for those very reasons. When people like them, whose arguments and careers are built upon a lifetime of bad behavior, are given platforms and aren’t held responsible for their actions and attitudes, we start to become numb to just how extreme their views are. When we become indifferent to harmful viewpoints and people, we redefine “normal” — and not for the better.
This is not normal.
Hate is not normal. Bigotry, misogyny, racism, and xenophobia are not acceptable “alternative” viewpoints. And people who promote those messages should not become just one more cog in the cable news machine. We cannot let that become our new reality. We’re better than that.
So why is Roger Stone on my TV again?