People For the American Way

Right-Wing Media #ReleasedTheMemo

News and Analysis
Right-Wing Media #ReleasedTheMemo
Rep. Devin Nunes, left, Speaker Paul Ryan, right

A few weeks ago, the right-wing media universe began working tirelessly to stoke public outrage and encourage their audiences to demand the public release of a memo authored by Rep. Devin Nunes, which many claimed contained irrefutable evidence that President Obama’s administration abused surveillance laws in an attempt to undermine Trump and his associates. Conversation about the Nunes memo dominated Fox News coverage, flooded right-wing social media with the hashtag “#ReleaseTheMemo,” and inspired conspiracy theorists to predict that the government might bomb buildings or launch nuclear weapons to distract from the document’s release.

In the campaign’s final hours, some Republican elected officials started sounding like right-wing shock jocks as they called for the memo’s release. Rep. Paul Gosar said he believed that once the memo was released to the public, its contents should send people to jail. Rep. Matt Gaetz told Infowars host and notorious conspiracy theorist Alex Jones that he was unjustly being labeled a conspiracy theorist for pushing for the release of the Nunes memo. However, officials and media pundits quickly began to cool their rhetoric and quietly curbed expectations as it became evident the memo would actually be released in its full, un-redacted form.

When the memo was finally released, its contents proved to be largely inconsequential—certainly failing to deliver on the weeks of hype it had generated among Republicans. Some right-wing personalities doubled down in an attempt to justify their memo-related conspiracy theories, while politicians such as House Speaker Paul Ryan said the memo provided “greater transparency” to the public. Others quickly pivoted to focus on a report to be published by the Department of Justice’s inspector general Michael Horowitz, and some dropped the subject entirely. Within days, the buzz surrounding the Nunes memo had died down to a murmur and the Right moved on to new obsessions.

For right-wing media, however, the actual contents of the memo were always irrelevant. Demanding the release of the Nunes memo was simply another installment of efforts by allies of the Trump administration—including Nunes himself—to chisel away at voters’ trust in the FBI and CIA as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election gathers steam.

Despite the fact that many Republicans argued that the Nunes memo should be released in the spirit of government transparency, many of those same Republicans have actively resisted the release of a response memo from Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, and Trump has blocked its release.