Missouri news outlets did not mince words about Monday’s new campaign video from Republican U.S. Senate candidate Eric Greitens. “Gun-wielding Greitens releases violent ad targeting other Republicans,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said. An article by the Kansas City Star was even more blunt, calling it “Greitens’ people-hunting video.”
In the violent ad, Greitens “is depicted as hunting RINOs,” short for “Republicans in Name Only,” CNN’s Chris Cillizza wrote. He barges into a home with a tactical unit and uses hunting terminology: “Join the MAGA crew. Get a RINO hunting permit. There’s no bagging limit, no tagging limit and it doesn’t expire until we save our country.”
Greitens is not a fringe candidate. He is the disgraced former governor of the state. As Jake Tapper said on CNN, “You would think a candidate who has been accused of spousal and child abuse by his ex-wife… might consider a less violent appeal to voters.” His guest S.E. Cupp pointed out that Greitens is “leaning in” to the controversy, “very smugly promoting it,” even though the ad is “crazy, creepy and chilling.”

Later in the day, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger said the ad is evidence that “the Republican party right now is in a very dark, dark place.”

A test for Big Tech

The main story here should, of course, be on the campaign and Republicans’ response. But this is also the first high profile test of Silicon Valley’s implementation of its rules ahead of the midterms. Perversely, the inventive for some Republicans now seems to be creating deliberately provocative videos that might break social media platform rules — that way, when the video is removed, they can fundraise off the back of “tech censorship” cries. As The Hill’s Niall Stanage said, this is a “window onto the bigger problem of how the worst behavior is so deeply incentivized, all across the board…”

In the public interest?

So here’s how the platforms responded to Greitens on Monday: Facebook removed the video for violating its violence and incitement policies. YouTube left the video up but said it won’t let it run as an ad. Twitter’s response drew a lot of criticism, but may be the most nuanced. Twitter allowed the video to stay on the platform, but put a label noting it did break its rules but determined “it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.”

That public interest line raised some eyebrows — but Twitter’s position here is that the public should be able to see the good, bad, and ugly from candidates for public office and make up their own minds. It’s a policy that has been in place for a few years — so shouldn’t be viewed as Twitter pandering to potential future owner Elon Musk. But the question for Twitter, and all the platforms, is where to draw the line between public interest and allowing content that might potentially inspire violence? This campaign season, it is a dilemma they are likely to face again and again…

An “undeniable connection”

“There is an undeniable connection between what the angry right-wing mob does on the ground and what it sees from the Republican elite,” liberal WaPo columnist Paul Waldman wrote Monday. “And what do members of the right-wing mob see? Every day on Fox News and other conservative media outlets, they get a deluge of histrionic outrage and apocalyptic warnings about ‘groomers’ preparing to abuse their children, about the coming genocidal campaign against White people, about antifa coming to burn down their towns, about the impending outlawing of gun ownership and Christianity and everything else they hold dear.”

“If you actually believed all of it,” Waldman wrote, “violence might seem a reasonable response, just like storming the Capitol might seem reasonable if you believed Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election…”

Media notes and quotes

— CNN and MSNBC programs pointedly did not show the ad, but discussed it several times on Monday. The only mention I could find on Fox was when Martha MacCallum asked J.D. Vance about the ad, and he said “it’s clearly a TV advertisement meant for effect…” (Mediaite)

— Former GOP Rep. Denver Riggleman’s point on “AC360:” Greitens is “talking to live action role players, he’s talking to LARPers, and any idiot can pull a trigger.” He said people can be radicalized through this “ridiculous buffoonery…”

— MSNBC’s Chris Hayes called it a “clearly calculated attention grab from a desperate candidate” and an “intentionally outrageous performance of fascist violence…” (Twitter)
— Bakari Sellers on CNN: “Is Mitch McConnell going to say something?” Is John Cornyn “going to say something?” And so on… (CNN)
— Garrett Graff’s reaction to all the news coverage on Monday: “Seems to me” Greitens “is getting everything he wanted out of a pro-assassination and insurrection TV ad…” (Twitter)
— Professor Robert Pape: “When individuals feel more confident and legitimate in voicing violent sentiments, it can encourage others to feel more confident in making actual violence easier. Unfortunately, this is a self-reinforcing spiral…” (NYT)

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