Politics

‘4 Corners’ Is Being Slammed For Interviewing A Far-Right Extremist Again

Having learnt nothing after interviewing Steve Bannon, Sarah Ferguson flew to the U.S. during the pandemic to chat to the Proud Boys chairman.

4 Corners criticised for platforming Proud Boys chairman in interview

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Viewers of last night’s 4 Corners, which saw journalist Sarah Ferguson fly to Washington DC to report on January’s Capitol riots, have taken to social media to question the decision to air an interview with the chairman of white supremacist and fascist group the Proud Boys.

The episode, called Downfall: The last days of President Trump, centres on the January 6 insurrection, where a set of pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol building to prevent Congress from confirming that Trump lost the 2020 election.

Trump had, earlier that day, held a rally in DC where he continued to falsely claim he’d won the election and mass voter fraud was underway: after that, hundreds of supporters stormed the Capitol, resulting in the deaths of five people.

In the 4 Corners episode, Ferguson interviews several on-the-ground reporters and political figures who describe the chaos and violent air of the day. Several explosive devices were found across the city, journalists were attacked, protesters were armed with guns, pipe bombs and chemical irritants, and there were active plans to capture and hurt political figures deemed against Trump, ranging from Nancy Pelosi to VP Mike Pence.

But the first dedicated interview of the episode is with Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio, which journalists and experts on far-right and white supremacists were quick to condemn on Twitter.

It’s unclear what the interview offered, other than a chance for an extremist to voice their own views and spin their own version of events — including a section where Tarrio gets to determine that posting pictures of a spiked baseball bat isn’t an act of aggression, but merely a chance to post something that ‘looked cool’, despite their involvement in the Capitol insurrection and the 2016 Charlottesville white supremacist rally.

For some viewers, the hypocrisy and faults in Tarrio’s lines and lies were obvious, making for gripping viewing and an insight into the minds behind the Capitol attack.

Experts in extremism and conspiracy views routinely, however, largely advise journalists against this kind of interview, as it only legitimises their opinions and views — and allows for sections to be clipped and used for extremists’ own advantage on social media.

The practice is occasionally referred to as ‘the oxygen of amplification’, after a 2018 report by non-profit Data & Society, which aimed to create a guideline for reporters covering extremism and hate groups.

Traditionally, these ‘got-cha’ moments in journalism — where a subject reveals their abhorrent views or incoherent logic all by themselves — are lauded, though experts say these moments add nothing to extremists, who merely get a chance to cement their narrative or provide ‘dog whistles’ to sympathetic audiences.

As Australian journalists Ketan Joshi and Greg Jericho pointed out on Twitter, it’s unclear what the 4 Corners interview with Tarrio adds, other than the journalistic ‘clout’ of an exclusive interview.

Journalist Natasha Mitchell pointed out that sitting Tarrio down automatically renders him a serious, normal subject with views worth receiving — the fact he’s wearing a backwards cap and sunnies during the chat isn’t the catch-all 4 Corners seems to think it is.

It’s also questionable why 4 Corners felt it necessary to fly to the US to cover the Capitol riots, given the pandemic, that it has been widely covered and interrogated elsewhere, and that there’s plenty to report on in terms of Australia’s own role in the rise of fascism in America.

Australia’s former Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane said the interview ‘tainted’ the episode’s integrity.

You wouldn’t give al-Qaeda a platform,” he Tweeted. “So why would you give one to white supremacists and fascists? Having Enrique Tarrio interviewed like that taints an otherwise compelling treatment of the Trumpist insurrection.”

4 Corners‘ decision to not only air an interview with Tarrio but to have Sarah Ferguson conduct it was salt in the wound — in 2018, she sat down with Trump advisor, Breitbart founder, and white supremacist Steve Bannon, in a widely derided 4 Corners interview.

Evidently, the show’s producers and staff knew the criticism they’d receive: in fact, they received it again while preparing the latest episode, after reaching out to US journalist Molly Conger, asking if she could help them connect with “far-right” figures for interviews.

In screenshots shared on January 15 — around the time 4 Corners announced their plans to fly to the US for their first episode of 2021 — Conger responds to an ABC worker asking them to not interview any extremists.

“It’s a mistake the American media made a lot in 2015-2017,” she wrote. “They wrote fawning profiles of men like Richard Spencer and Tony Hovater. It is appalling to think we’re about to see another round of op eds about how many [of] these Nazis are just regular working-class Americans or whatever.”

“Don’t lend them the legitimacy of your institution. Don’t publish their words uncritically. Don’t publish them at all unless you have a subject matter expert to dissect them and present them as the falsehoods that they are. This is life and death for us.”

Part two of Ferguson’s 4 Corners report airs next week, focusing on President Joe Biden’s election.