Tomi Lahren speaks to attendees at the 2018 Young Women’s Leadership Summit hosted by conservative group Turning Point USA. (Credit: Gage Skidmore)
(LOS ANGELES) — Once dubbed “White Power Barbie,” Tomi Lahren knows how to pick a fight. Recognized for her incendiary—sometimes fringe—political commentary (she once called Middle Eastern refugees “rape-u-gees”), Lahren’s rapid-fire rants have landed her a political talk show on the digital streaming service Fox Nation, along with a reputation as conservative America’s prickly sweetheart.
Lahren’s rise to internet fame began in 2015 when she hosted the right-wing, political talk show “Tomi” on TheBlaze and offered her “Final Thoughts” in 3-minute segments. Her most-viewed segment, which has since been removed from her Facebook page, had reportedly received 66 million views by the time Politico published a profile on Lahren in 2017. Still a virality magnet today, she currently touts 4.8 million followers on Facebook.
Unable to ignore her growing influence, mainstream news publications and television shows legitimized Lahren by giving her a national platform. In 2016, Trevor Noah invited Lahren to appear as a guest on “The Daily Show” (the accompanying YouTube video has 16.8 million views). Three days later, the New York Times, which has 6.5 million subscribers, published a profile on Lahren, calling her “the Right’s rising media star.”
Today, Lahren regularly contributes to Fox News, and hosts “No Interruption with Tomi Lahren” and “Final Thoughts” on Fox Nation, where she has maintained her knack for outrageous claims. She equated the Black Lives Matter movement to the KKK. After the Parkland shooting, in which 17 people died, Lahren claimed that America needed “more faith, more God, more virtue.” In a now-deleted tweet, she also referred to social distancing as “willful slavery.”
While Lahren is undoubtedly talented at creating news (she said she kicked her dog on “Fox & Friends;” that statement was picked up by People, TMZ, Complex, etc.) and commenting recklessly on the news (citing unnamed “Mexican health officials,” she suggested that migrant caravans would bring “TB, HIV/AIDS, chicken pox and hepatitis” into schools), she is not a journalist. By examining the Pew Center’s Four Core Principles of Journalism (remaining as unbiased as possible, demonstrating an obligation to the truth, verifying all the facts, and staying loyal to the public), we can identify several standards Lahren fails to meet.
For starters, Lahren is biased. By repeatedly calling Democrats “Hypocrites R Us,” and referring to California governor Gavin Newsom as “Greasy Gavin,” Lahren finds a way to twist political news stories into “proof” that Democrats are the enemy. But Lahren’s bias isn’t the problem; many highly regarded journalists have strong points of view (that are supported by facts), like MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow or Fox News’ Chris Wallace, who has been known to fact-check President Donald Trump during live interviews.
What’s significantly more concerning is that Lahren isn’t obligated to the truth. A staunch supporter of reopening the economy, she referenced a CDC report stating that “only 6% of those who died from COVID-19 died from COVID-19 alone,” in an effort to convince her followers that COVID-19 doesn’t pose a significant threat. With confirmation from the Mortality Statistics Branch at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, Reuters debunked this claim, countering that “94% of individuals with additional causes of death still had COVID-19.” Over 200,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, yet Lahren refuses to acknowledge the dangers of reopening.
Similarly, Lahren continues to feed her fans unverified facts. She recently reposted a tweet on her Facebook page about the Sturgis motorcycle rally, in which 460,000 unmasked motorcyclists convened in South Dakota, creating a coronavirus super-spreader event. “Isn’t it funny how events attended by more conservative folks are ‘dangerous’ but 3 solid months of ‘protests’ around the country haven’t cost the nation…anything?” she asked. Facebook tagged the post for missing context, pointing readers to an article that was independently fact-checked by the Poynter Institute. The study Lahren was referring to hadn’t gone through the peer review process, which she would’ve known had she verified her facts.
Lahren has also demonstrated unwavering loyalty to the Republican party, which supersedes her loyalty to the public. In an episode of “No Interruptions,” Lahren investigated the effects of mail-in voting on the democratic process, concluding that mail-in voting “makes room for fraudulent opportunity.” According to AP News, The Brennan Center for Justice reported that the actual chance of mail-in ballot fraud is between 0.00004% to 0.0009%, based on past elections. Lahren’s allegiance to Republicans poses a threat to the very democratic process she claims to uphold by undermining the validity of election results. The public’s right to vote is a sign of a healthy democracy. By peddling erroneous statements, Lahren could deter millions of people from voting.
For now, Tomi Lahren will continue on as the de facto millennial mouthpiece for the Fox News’ propaganda machine…just don’t call her a journalist.