Mainstream media’s role in the rise of far-right leadership


The global political landscape has witnessed a surge in far-right leadership, with figures like Javier Milei in Argentina and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands gaining prominence. Simultaneously, the media’s role in shaping public perception of these leaders is under scrutiny, as narratives often focus on personal aspects rather than the underlying far-right ideologies.

One glaring contradiction in addressing the rise of far-right politics is the humanization of far-right leaders through entertainment platforms. Nigel Farage’s appearance on “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!” and Pauline Hanson’s stint on “Dancing with the Stars” raises questions about the media’s role in normalizing figures associated with extreme right-wing ideologies. By diverting attention to their hobbies or personal lives, the media risks trivializing the real threat these leaders pose to democratic values and marginalized communities.

Another aspect that muddles the discourse surrounding far-right politics is the indiscriminate use of terms such as “populist.” The media often employs this label rather than explicitly referring to these movements as “far-right” or “racist.” This semantic choice can act as a subtle legitimization, as “populism” scarries a veneer of democratic support while overlooking the inherently elitist nature of far-right ideologies. The failure to accurately characterize these movements contributes to the mainstreaming and normalization of far-right politics.

Far from being mere observers, the mainstream media actively participates in the mainstreaming process of far-right ideologies. The hyped coverage of these movements, while seemingly critical, inadvertently provides a platform for far-right ideas. The media’s role as a gatekeeper of information, deciding what is worth priming and how to frame it, underscores its responsibility in shaping public perception. The 2018 series by The Guardian on “the new populism” serves as an example of media outlets questioning the rise of populism without acknowledging their own role in amplifying the term.

The responsibility of shaping public discourse lies with elite actors who have privileged access to media, politics, and academia. Rather than being passive recipients of populist waves, these actors actively contribute to an arena where power is unevenly distributed. Structural inequalities, often central to both far-right ideologies and mainstream systems, are perpetuated by the very institutions that claim to defend democracy. Acknowledging this top-down influence is essential for understanding the roots of far-right movements.

Academic discussions on far-right politics also play a role in either euphemizing or exceptionalizing these movements. The absence of a comprehensive analysis of race and whiteness in academic research further highlights the tendency to frame far-right politics narrowly. Focusing on elections and immigration, rather than addressing wider structural issues, allows the mainstream to sidestep the root causes of far-right ideologies and their deep entrenchment in societal norms.

To combat the mainstreaming of far-right politics, those in positions of influence must engage in self-reflection and self-criticism. Sitting on the fence is not an option for those shaping public discourse. Acknowledging the role played by the media, academia, and political elites in perpetuating structural inequalities is a crucial step. Refraining from euphemizing far-right politics and embracing a commitment to serving marginalized communities are imperative for fostering a more responsible and accountable media landscape.

The rise of far-right leadership demands a reevaluation of the mainstream media’s role in shaping public perception. The humanization paradox, misuse of terminology, and top-down influence all contribute to the mainstreaming and normalization of far-right ideologies. Media outlets, academia, and political elites must engage in self-reflection to understand their complicity in perpetuating structural inequalities. Only through responsible reporting, accurate terminology, and a commitment to marginalized communities can the mainstream media contribute to a more informed and democratic society.


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