Politics

Fox News banking on new anti-Hispanic talk show host: Laura Ingraham

The leading conservative voice has been attacking Latinos for years, with comments that border on racism. On Monday, she will debut on the primetime lineup of President Trump's favorite news channel.

On Monday, Laura Ingraham will debut in one of the most coveted prime time spots on television: 10 p.m. on Fox News.

With 1.8 million followers on Twitter, Ingraham is a rising star of conservative radio and is a loud advocate for far-right views on immigration, culture and race.

Since 2001, she has hosted "The Laura Ingraham Show," syndicated by local stations throughout the country. She is beloved by Breitbart News' Steve Bannon and the mostly white, nationalist movement that helped Donald Trump win the presidency.

The introduction of Ingraham into the Fox News primetime lineup is further evidence of how the far right is becoming more popular in the United States. It comes at a time of mounting signs that right-wing populism is gaining ground within the Republican Party, which is mirrored at Fox News, the number one TV network for conservatives.

Here are a few of the indicators:

1. Attacks on Latinos

Throughout her career, Ingraham has consistently used her platform to attack ethnic minorities, especially Latinos, according to Media Matters, a progressive media watchdog.

For example, in this segment she compared dreamers at a protest to "wild dogs."

"Laura Ingraham's shock-talk about immigrants runs contrary to the truth and contrary to American values," said Ali Noorani, director of the National Immigration Forum. "Divisiveness is her brand, stirring fear is her calling card, and too many people find it entertaining," he added.

2. Longtime "America First" proponent

Ingraham's promotion is evidence of the new cultural war on minorities taking center stage at Fox News. She was among the first media figures to use the language of "America First" before it entered the mainstream of political debate.

For many years, network commentators have taken a hard line against undocumented immigrants, but now their target is broader and includes legal immigrants and those from non-Anglo cultures.

Ingraham's two colleagues on Fox News' primetime lineup, Sean Hannity (at 9 p.m) and Tucker Carlson (8 p.m.), made that shift only recently as Trump's political ascension took off.

In the past, Hannity has defended the creation of a path for legalization of undocumented immigrants when the so-called 'compassionate conservatism' of George W. Bush or Mitt Romney was in vogue.

In April, Carlson replaced Bill O'Reilly, the disgraced former star who left Fox News amidst accusations of sexual harassment of female co-workers. He has adopted national-populist positions bordering on nativism, which has earned him the praise of white supremacist leaders.

Ingraham has been speaking this populist language for years. "Ingraham isn't farther right on immigration so much as she's consistent on immigration," says Eddie Scarry, the media reporter for the Washington Examiner.

"As conservative as Fox's lineup was in primetime, Sean Hannity believed in legalizing the illegals before Trump came in. That was not the case with Ingraham," adds Scarry.

At 53, Ingraham has been part of the conservative media elite for years, but she likes to recall her modest upbringing, which she claims has helped her understand the "forgotten Americans." Her grandparents were Polish immigrants, her mother worked waiting tables until she was 73 and her father washed cars.

Even so, she went to the prestigious Darmouth College and studied law at he University of Virginia, located in Charlottesville, the town hit by white supremacist violence in August.

She worked in the Ronald Reagan administration in the '80s and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in the '90s. After rising as a radio personality, Ingraham became a regular guest on the Fox News show The O'Reilly Factor and had a segment called "The Ingraham Angle."

After the departure of Megyn Kelly, Fox News hopes it has found in Ingraham another female star host. But while Kelly was sometimes critical of Trump, Ingraham often positions herself to the right of the president. In addition to her offensive remarks about Latinos, she often lashes out against feminists, gays and liberals.

She also has a compassionate side that has made her embrace the cause of the adoption of foreign orphan children. She is a single mother of three adopted children (a girl from Guatemala and two Russian children).

But she knows how to set limits for herself. Media Matters researcher Cristina López, who has been monitoring Ingraham for years, says that unlike other extreme right-wing provocateurs like writer Ann Coulter, Ingraham "measures her words," which has kept her from being considered a pariah.

"Coulter is seen as very close to white nativism, but Ingraham, by staying a step behind, has managed to progress on Fox News," López said.

3. More influential than ever

Trump is a keen watcher of cable TV and especially Fox News, which has given the network hosts an unprecedented influence. Trump often tweets things that are a reaction to what he sees on cable news and in turn the hosts sometimes repeat things that are interpreted as messages directly addressed to the president.

In fact, Ingraham is already close to Trump. She endorsed him very early on and spoke at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July 2016, when Trump was named as the presidential nominee of the party. She says she often speaks with him on the phone.

According to some reports, she turned down the position of press secretary of the White House to replace Sean Spicer in August. Observers believe that it was an intelligent decision because she could be influential on TV, without having her reputation burned at the White House.

But Ingraham has also been critical of Trump at times, which goes to show that she puts her populist agenda of immigration and trade protectionism above loyalty to the president. In this sense, she resembles the leader of the right-wing populist insurrection, Steve Bannon, whose she considers a friend.

Last week, Bannon hosted a reception for Ingraham at the "Breitbart Embassy," the mansion owned by the news company in Washington, where Ingraham presented her new book, "Billionaire at the Barricades: The Populist Revolution from Reagan to Trump."

Also present was Trump's adviser Stephen Miller, one of the stars of the right-wing populist base. Miller and Bannon had words of praise for Ingraham. "You're an extraordinary talent," Bannon said. "The country, President Trump, and our movement would not be here today if you were not the queen of it."

4. Risky bet for Fox News

With the promotion of Ingraham, Fox News is making a more accentuated shift to the right, which is proving to be a winning strategy with its conservative audience.

"I think Fox has made a smart decision when hiring Laura," said Chris Ruddy, CEO of Newsmax, a conservative TV channel and website that competes with Fox News. "She's a popular conservative who has the backing of President Trump, talk radio made her a pro at speaking to and for the base, and I think she’ll bring those talents to Fox," he said.

Fox remains the leader among all TV news networks, despite the O'Reilly scandal. The 10 p.m. slot was occupied by a program called Fox News Tonight, (a regular newscast, not an opinion show) that is sometimes beaten by the rival Lawrence O'Donnell show on MSNBC.

Hannity, who since last month occupies the 9 p.m. slot is growing his audience, with ratings of 3.5 million per night, overtaking Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, which had also been soaring this year. However, Hannity has yet to reach the 4 million mark that O'Reilly hit.

"I don't see her doing quite as well as Hannity, but she could start beating O'Donnell more often than the current 10 p.m. show is," predicts AJ Katz, writer of the online publication TVNewser.

But Fox News faces one unanswered problem, namely the way in which its partisanship, extremist positions and sex scandals are frightening advertisers and encouraging calls for a boycott, says López.

The network has experienced a 17 percent drop in advertising revenues, much higher than the decrease experienced by CNN (one percent) and the growth of MSNBC (two percent).

"They are playing a dangerous game because although it is good for the ratings, it is not for the advertisers who are the ones who pay the bills at the end of the day," López added.

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