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This Is Your Brain on Newsmax

What it’s like bingeing on the Fox-killer.
December 4, 2020
This Is Your Brain on Newsmax
(Hannah Yoest / Shutterstock)

Since the glorious defeat of Donald Trump, I had been ensconced in my cozy coastal elite Twitter bubble, only privy to the bursts of Sidney Powell and Lin Wood crazy when it inserted itself in my feed. So when Ben Smith fed the blue-check tigers this juicy morsel about the rise of Chris Ruddy and Newsmax, I was shook.

Newsmax’s prime-time ratings, which averaged 58,000 before Election Day, soared to 1.1 million afterward for its top shows.

Wait, seriously? A million people?

That’s a boost of 20x over the network’s pre-election ratings. To put it another way, Newsmax, which Nielsen only started tracking this past summer, went overnight from having programming that topped out at 1 percent the size of Fox’s biggest show (Tucker Carlson Tonight) to about 20 percent its size.

The demand side of the conservative media curve was speaking. They want Coup Theatre News and they want it now.

I wanted to find out what these folks were being told, so I committed myself to hours upon hours of viewing. You may think you have a sense for what is happening on The Max, but I promise you it is much weirder, more alarming, and more debased than you can imagine. Here’s some of what I saw:

  • The president’s campaign lawyer saying that a former Trump official should be executed.
  • A host saying that Biden’s election would bring a war between the races and that Barack Hussein Obama is a “reprobate” who is “pimping” a book.
  • Hosts and guests suggesting several times an hour that Republican state legislatures should overturn the will of the people to keep Trump in power.
  • Fantastical stories of millions of votes being dropped off by tow trucks in the dead of night after nationwide blackouts.
  • The term “ballot harvesting” bandied about indiscriminately.
  • An endless stream of Lionel Hutz-level legal analysis.

And that was just one day in the life of Uncut Kraken.

The cast of characters who appear on Newsmax is so random that you might be tempted to describe it as a Political Star Wars Bar but that would be unfair to the Mos Eisley cantina. I saw Dinesh D’Souza. Dick Morris’s shiny dentures. The Gorka. Random kids from Twitter. Rudy, Rudy, and more Rudy. Blago. John Gizzi. Lots of blonde ladies. Broadway Joe.

A few personal disclosures before we journey into this heart of darkness:

  • Chris Ruddy, who owns and runs Newsmax, is a South Florida spinner of yarns who bought me a few fancy lunches during the Jeb! campaign, when he thought I might have Sean Spicer’s job at the White House podium one day.
  • Sean Spicer was my boss at the RNC and has been to my home.
  • John Bachman had me on his show a time or three back in the day.

I would guess with a high level of confidence that all of these gentlemen know that Donald Trump lost. Spicer said as much on November 5 before Newsmax realized just how much juice they could get out of the scam. Ruddy openly told the New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner that he saw a business opportunity in providing wall-to-wall election fraud fanfic.

What these characters are doing is exploiting Trump Nation’s need to believe that their great, nectarine idol is unbreakable and that the only way he could “lose” is if people whom they hate—the Deep State, Big Tech, Antifa, the media, black people—are conspiring against him.

So here is the dangerous story they are being told—minute by agonizing minute.

Monday, November 30, 11:20 a.m. — National Report

For reference, I am working from bed and live streaming Newsmax via the YouTube TV app. I am armed only with my computer and a pour over coffee in an Ellen Show mug. I’m bracing for pain.

First up it’s Trump campaign lawyers, Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing, together in what appears to be their fancy Washington, D.C. home (Drain the Swamp!). They are praising Jared Kushner’s Middle East genius.

The first commercial I see is a Newsmax promo that has Donald Trump saying “Newsmax, you like Newsmax, I like it too” twice in 10 seconds.

The next ad is Pat Boone pushing silver. I did not know that Pat Boone was still alive.

11:31 a.m. to 11:50 a.m. — Live at Rudy Giuliani’s “hearing” in Arizona

Yes: 19 straight minutes of Rudy in a sad ballroom.

  • The first thing we hear from Rudy is “We have an illegitimate election.”
  • He says 100,000 mail-in ballots should be “null and void.” (Joe Biden’s lead in the state stands at about 10,000 votes.)
  • Rudy repeats the conspiracy theory that vote-counting “stopped” at midnight or 1 a.m. everywhere—something that anyone who watched election night in real time knows is untrue.
  • He claims to have “witnesses” to “hundreds of thousands of ballots” being brought into Detroit at 4 a.m. (No, Detroit is not a city in Arizona, it’s the one up north with shady black people.)
  • He calls for the Arizona state legislature to overturn the governor’s anticipated certification of the election results. (Gov. Ducey would go on to certify the results that afternoon.)

11:50 a.m. — Back to the Newsmax anchors

We’re told that what we just saw was “a concise, a clear Rudy Giuliani at the hearing in Arizona” and a “stellar performance by Rudy.”

To be fair, if you’re grading on the Rudy curve, this is probably right. There were no fart noises, for starters!

11:51 a.m. — More diGenova/Toensing and @GregOnTheRight, then back to Rudy

We pop back for another quick hit with the husband-and-wife lawyers in their D.C. mansion which is absolutely cool with the populists.

DiGenova says Arizona’s legislature should send a separate slate of electors—or no electors—to the Electoral College. Toensing notes that it would take just “any three” of the “six states at issue” to overturn their certified result for the election to be thrown to the House of Representatives.

DiGenova and Toensing are briefly joined by a young man introduced as “social influencer @GregOnTheRight,” who is beaming in via what looks like a poorly lit Twitch stream.

Greg mentions his confidence in Sidney Powell’s lawsuits, and says he knows that his viral videos of “fraud” have been viewed by the Trump team. Unlike everything else so far, this claim actually seems plausible.

Here’s Greg:

Then we’re back to Rudy, for six minutes of in-depth conversation about a dispute that must be taking place on the dark web over whether or not Dominion voting machines were connected to “the internet.” Rudy brings in an “expert witness” claiming that Dominion servers were connected to the internet based on some spider graphs.

12:00 p.m. — John Bachman Now

After a brief introduction to the next block of programming, we are treated to another 11 minutes of Rudy. He calls a “witness” who brings the Pepe Silvia: “I personally debriefed the son of a Cuban intelligence officer who spoke to two Chávez family members . . . [they] said don’t worry it’s guaranteed their father invested the money to build the SGO system.”

Let’s diagram that out:

witness>>son of a Cuban>>Cuban>>family members of Chavez>>Long dead Hugo Chávez

Seems airtight.

We then get a segment where host John Bachman talks with Republican lawyer Brett Tolman, who served as a U.S. attorney a decade ago. Bachman notes that “Elections have been changed in foreign countries; that could happen in this country”—suggesting to Newsmax viewers that U.S. elections are indistinguishable from Cuba’s.

Bachman and Tolman agree that state legislatures should step in—and Tolman floats the idea of Congress overturning the Electoral College results, claiming that Rudy has “barely scratched the surface” of the fraud.

12:22 p.m. — Dick Morris

Tricky Dick starts with the ritual incantation praising Sidney Powell and saying he wants Dominion voting machines inspected.

Morris then says he is “pretty optimistic” that Republican legislatures will overturn results. (This wish is casting some doubt on former President Obama’s famous line that in America, “there has never been anything false about hope.”)

Morris says that he personally talked to the Dear Leader and encouraged him to bring state legislators to the White House to push the plan for legislatures to reject their states’ popular votes.

You read that right: Toe-sucking Clinton adviser Dick Morris has the president’s phone number and admitted on live TV to plotting a coup with him.

12:35 p.m. — Interview with Wisconsin talk radio host Dan O’Donnell about media bias

After 66 minutes of fake fraud news we get a house ad—Newsmax has “real news for real people”—and then turn to a conversation with Dan O’Donnell, who has been hosting a conservative talk-radio program in Milwaukee since 2013.

O’Donnell wants to talk about how terrible Barack Hussein Obama is. For instance, did you know that he once filled out an NCAA bracket and wore a tan suit? Dan wants to remind you if didn’t recall that.

12:40 p.m. — More Rudy, more rigging

At this point I want to mention that the big story out in the real world—a pandemic that is ravaging the country with skyrocketing cases and deaths—has not yet been covered on Newsmax today.

Instead, we return to Rudy, who is no longer concise and clear. As he rambles on incoherently about why the Department of Homeland Security hasn’t gotten involved in stopping the fraud he loses the thread to such a degree that Bachman has to cut back in.

Bachman gives his viewers their dopamine hit by again floating the notion of state legislatures overturning the election. This is the fifth time this idea has been raised in just over an hour.

12:52 p.m. — A normal news segment about school closures

Someone finally mentions COVID! This segment, with guest Robbie Soave of Reason magazine—and wtf is Reason doing letting their people do Newsmax?—is almost like replacement-level cable news.

I use this hint of normalcy as an opportunity to get in the shower and eat something.

1:07 p.m. — Emerald Robinson

I’m back and Emerald Robinson is on!

I had thought she was OANN but it turns out she moved up to the bigs in February. Good on her. It’s nice to see that a nice Christian gal with moxie and a razor-sharp analytical mind can make it in this business.

Emerald is very excited to report that a judge in Georgia blocked the servers on three of the voting machines from being wiped. She expects that a forensic examination of these servers will crack the case wide open.

Her only concern is that since Dominion employees have now had weeks to tamper with the machines they might have covered their tracks. Damn you, Ghost of Hugo Chávez!

1:10 p.m. — It’s Dinesh D’Souza O’Clock

Although D’Souza is intimately familiar with campaign-finance law, I wouldn’t think he’s got much expertise in election law. Yet he speaks with authority for many minutes about how Chris Krebs is a con man and how the Georgia recount was just a machine recount of the same rigged result.

D’Souza apparently doesn’t understand that Georgia has paper ballots that were printed from the Dominion machines—paper ballots that voters were reminded to double check before submitting—and that the recount of those paper ballots revealed the same result as the machine. If you weren’t watching Newsmax, you could even see how this system works.

Apparently having canvassed the whole of the elite GOP, D’Souza says the view is unanimous among Republican elected officials that the election was corrupt but they aren’t speaking up because they are limited by the “cultural timidity” of the establishment.

He says the only thing stopping Trump from winning is Republican elected officials going “invertebrate.” He proposes a revote.

Next he describes the “intellectual Antifa” in the mainstream media that he says has terrorized Republican officials. The IA is what’s stopping them from couping, he concludes. (Bachman: “‘Intellectual Antifa,’ that’s an interesting juxtaposition I hadn’t considered.”)

For making it this far I’d like to reward you with a little gossip.

1:16 p.m. — Newsmax promo: “President Trump is right.”

“We have an editorial policy of being supportive of the President.”

—Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy, November 24, 2020

1:34 p.m. — Back to Bachman

Our host tells us that there’s a poll showing that 20 percent of Americans are watching Newsmax.

It’s almost like he’s daring his audience to call bullshit on him.

1:37 p.m. to 2:07 p.m. — More Rudy

Sandwiched between ads (Mitch McConnell asking for money for the Georgia recount, and a Newsmax promo with Larry Kudlow claiming he goes to Newsmax first thing in the morning, which actually would explain a lot) we get 12 more minutes of the Rudy hearing uninterrupted.

And then he’s back again at the top of the hour for a few more minutes at the start of the two-hour block called American Agenda.

2:08 p.m. — Lin Wood Appears!

For the first time all day a host, Bob Sellers, gently pushes back on a conspiracy theory by mentioning the Georgia hand recount.

Lin Wood, the lawyer who has been freelancing with Sidney Powell on Trump’s behalf and was a star of The Max until he was unpersoned a few days later for not supporting Perdue and Loeffler, is supposed to be the expert on this, but he’s unsure how the hand recount took place. He thinks it was on the same machines. (Narrator: Wrong.)

“We had interference by foreign countries,” Wood says, ”Germany, Serbia, Iran, Venezuela, China and others.”

I just want to pause here for a second to diagram the supposed Georgia conspiracy again:

The perpetrators now include the governments of at least five foreign countries, Dominion Voting Systems, local elected officials in multiple counties, the people driving the trucks and the vans with the fake ballots, hackers, Governor Brian Kemp, and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Seems plausible.

2:11 p.m. — Rudy again

I need a drink.

2:36 p.m. — Live look at a “Stop the Steal” rally in Arizona

The rally features several Confederate flags—because the Confederate flag is all about Arizona’s Southern heritage and absolutely not anything else—and a few dozen people screaming and spitting all over each other with no masks.

Holocaust denier Vincent James is there with a bullhorn screaming about the (((global special interests))).

2:39 p.m. — Commercial

Sebastian Gorka is doing an ad read for “Balance of Nature” pills, talking about how they are a key part of living a healthy life.

I mean. . .

3:05 p.m. — Dick Morris, again

He’s repeating the state legislature coup slash fic. I’m grabbing some lunch.

4:00 p.m. — The Howie Carr Show

Howie Carr, who has been a fixture of Boston conservative talk radio since the 1980s, does one hour of his four-hour radio show as a simulcast on Newsmax every weekday afternoon.

Carr shares the results of a listener poll that asked “Do you believe Joe Biden was really injured playing with his dog?” Only 13 percent of his respondents are buying this “official” story.

Carr then goes on to discuss how susceptible Democrats are to being fed conspiracies by their party leaders.

After an exchange with a caller about John F. Kennedy, Carr says that today’s Democrats are Communists and are “closer to Lee Harvey Oswald than to JFK.”

JFK, according to Carr, was killed by the “deep state/CIA.” And then he pivots to discussing how the Democrats stole the 1960 election, too, just like they are stealing the 2020 election.

It didn’t “really work out for them” in 1960, he says, so they should be careful this time. I’m not sure how to take that except as a not-so-subtle suggestion that Joe Biden might get assassinated.

I know, I know: It’s crazy to think that someone on Newsmax would be hinting at violent death for his political opponents.

4:34 p.m. — A political opponent’s execution is called for by Joe diGenova

Carr opens his segment with diGenova saying that he normally has the legal eagle on to talk about “Obamagate,” but that this week they’re going to change things up and talk about the coup.

DiGenova dishes out more of the same: the Dominion systems had “incredible hackability”; there was a four-circuit-breaker shutdown in all the main states (huh?); millions of votes miraculously showed up in “dump trucks and tow trucks and vans.”

He then gets into a lengthy discussion about which state legislatures are most likely to have the stones to steal the election from Biden. He praises Reince Priebus’ work in Wisconsin on this count.

Carr asks diGenova about the rumored military raids in Germany he’s been hearing about online. Here we have an absurd fabrication, made up in its every particular and easily disprovable, being discussed as though it were a normal news item meriting speculation as a possibility. DiGenova plays coy and retreats to familiar territory, saying the Durham report should come out to help give the state legislators more incentive to stop Biden since he was involved in Obamagate.

Joe diGenova then calls for the execution of Chris Krebs.

No big. Just a normal day on The Max.

4:56 p.m. — Blago Time

I tune back in to see Rod Blagojevich—the former Democratic governor of Illinois who was disgraced, impeached, convicted, imprisoned, and eventually pardoned by President Trump—talking about how Trump will prevail at the Supreme Court.

Sounds plausible!

5:00 p.m. — The Chris Salcedo Show

Salcedo is another talk-radio guy. And I’m not going to lie to you. His show is some weird shit. Some highlights:

  • There’s a “Marxist” crackdown on Thanksgiving, apparently.
  • States need to stop certifying the election for “Beijing Biden.”
  • “Barack Hussein Obama”—whom Salcedo calls a “reprobate”—has been “pimping a book” that’s used to advance a Marxist agenda. (Have any of these guys read Marx?)
  • Salcedo suggests that Biden taking office would lead to a race war.

Just so you understand, I’m not paraphrasing:

At this point I stop watching for a bit to go on MSNBC and get made fun of by Leslie Jones.

6:00 p.m. — Spicer & Co.

Ric Grenell has been invited on to make fun of the media. It’s kind of odd that a former national security advisor and former ambassador is doing a poor man’s Howie Kurtz imitation rather than discussing national security. Actually, it’s not odd so much as telling.

After what feels like a fortnight of Kurtz cosplay, Grenell moves on to briefly mention that he’s going to depose Clark County officials to expose their fraud later this week and that Nevada is the tip of the spear in Mr. Trump’s fight to “win” the election.

6:35 p.m. — We have a Rick Gates sighting!

Remember Rick Gates? He’s the guy who managed the Trump 2016 campaign with Paul Manafort, copped a plea during the Mueller investigation, and was sentenced to prison and probation. Gates tells Spicer that “the only thing diverse about Biden’s cabinet is the number of favors they have doled out.”

Here I want to note that Gates was indicted for conspiracy against the United States in part for doing favors for foreign clients.

Gates then adds that he would be grateful for a pardon like the one Mike Flynn got.

Fingers crossed, Ricky!

One final note about Spicer’s show: Something like 90 percent of the Newsmax programming I’ve seen today was about the “rigged” election.

But 90 percent of Spicer’s show was complaining about how the Fake News Media is nice to Biden with scant Hot Coup Talk.

Memo to Chris Ruddy: I know that Spicer is the biggest star in your stable, but his reticence to go full-coup makes me wonder if he isn’t just a cuck in a sheep’s baggy suit. Not sure he’s really the kind of reliable guy you want to build your Fox Killer Deathstar around. Maybe give Emerald his time slot?

Spicer must have a sense that the suits are going to be ringing him about this though . . . his tease for tomorrow’s show is Fraud City with special guest Matt Gaetz.

7:00 p.m. — Greg Kelly Reports

“If you aren’t making a concerted effort to watch Newsmax,” says Kelly, a former local New York TV host, “you are going to think that Joe Biden has clinched this thing.”

That’s true!

He goes on: “They want you to think that Donald Trump is crazy and this is all a coup and this is all unconstitutional.”

Also true!

I’m only a few minutes into the Greg Kelly experience, but already, he’s telling more truths than everyone else on The Max combined.

But then things take a turn.

Around ten minutes into his show, Kelly plays the new intro to NBC’s Meet the Press, which apparently no longer features a picture of Donald Trump and instead features a picture of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. And—I’m not shitting you—Kelly compares this to how in Communist Russia and North Korea the rulers would “disappear” people from pictures.

There are “eerie similarities,” Kelly says, comparing Joe Biden’s America to totalitarian states.

Really makes you think.

Spicer & Co. Tuesday Encore

Tuesday, December 1, 6:07 p.m. — Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Trumpworld)

I can’t believe this, but I’m back on the pipe, lured in by Sean Spicer booking Matt Gaetz because honestly, whenever you get two superstars like this on channel 1072, you have have a chance to see some magic.

Gaetz has been brought on to float the next step in the Dumb & DumberSo You’re Telling Me There’s a Chance” Coup should the state legislature cucks not have the testicular fortitude to steal the election like Dinesh D’Souza commands: the idea that Congress might decide not to certify the Electoral College result when they gavel into session in January.

“Just today, Gaetz says, “I’ve talked to Republicans in the House and Senate and there is an interest in looking into these irregularities to force a debate in Congress about whether to certify these states’ electors.”

Which Republicans did he talk to? That’s close-hold information, obviously. But this last ditch effort to keep the Orange God King in power is a real possibility. Trust Matt on this.

He then floats the idea that some “trucks that have gone missing with ballots and then may have appeared in Pennsylvania.”

This could be the lead that breaks the case wide open!

Spicer then brings up the myth that Pennsylvania stopped counting votes on election night at 9:00 p.m. and unveils this chart—which President Trump would show during his wheels-off Facetime speech the next day:

What could possibly explain that line, Spicer asks?

I don’t know, Sean, maybe Milwaukee releasing its vote count at the end of the night just like they do every freaking election year.

Which you would know.


Sorry. It’s been a long 24 hours. That wasn’t me. That was The Max talking.

Anyway, this prompts Gaetz to fire off three minutes of election fraud gibberish: Ballot laundering scheme! “Urban core!” Ballots “willed into existence.” “Bad ballots” were “commingled with ballots that were lawfully cast.” There is a pool of “polluted ballots.”

Having done his duty, Gaetz departs and Spicer brings on Jordan Sekulow, a member of Trump’s legal team and the son of longtime Republican lawyer Jay Sekulow, who was one of Trump’s impeachment lawyers.

Sekulow fils says he thinks there’s a “very good chance the outcome changes” thanks to their case that would disenfranchise  every single person who voted absentee in the state of Wisconsin because something something signature matching.

“Very good” is doing a lot of work there, obviously, but I couldn’t help but thinking that a person could make a lot of money betting with these people.

That’s a thing, by the way. One of the footnotes to this election is that betting markets continued to take action on the outcome of the election even after the polls closed and there was an entire universe of suckers out there betting that Trump would win even days after the election.

When I saw those betting lines unfolding in real time, I couldn’t understand them. How could someone watching the election returns think that it was smart to bet cash-money on Trump, even as he lost state after state.

And how could tens of thousands of Americans be pilfered to the tune of $170 million dollars to fight an election that was already over?

But my time with The Max has given me a pretty clear explanation.

There’s a sucker born every minute. Maybe even a couple million of them.

That’s Newsmax’s business model. And it’s working out pretty well for them.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.