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The Tomi Lahren problem

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Tomi Lahren is still in the political landscape, and she’s just as problematic as ever. In 2016, Lahren was a rising voice among young conservatives in America. She was unapologetic, sometimes brash and —in her own words— just telling the American people what they were too afraid to say.

Criticized for being insensitive and often racist, Ms. Lahren was the outspoken host of Final Thoughts, a two-to-three minute segment at the end of her talk show, Tomi, on The Blaze. Her show swung right of center, and Lahren was a vocal opponent of the Black Lives Matter Movement and Hillary Clinton. She accrued fans on Facebook, averaging 1.5 millions views per video.

At the peak of her popularity in April of 2017, Ms. Lahren appeared on The View, where she appeared to reverse her previous stance on abortion, which was, effectively, that it was a crime.

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“I’m pro-choice, and here’s why… I am someone that’s for limited government,”  Lahren said on the show. “And so I can’t sit here and be a hypocrite and say I’m for limited government but I think that the government should decide what women do with their bodies.”

Although her remarks resonated with The View’s hosts, their audience and longtime Lahren opponents, her left-of-center opinion didn’t go over quite as smoothly with her network or fanbase.

She was promptly suspended by executives at The Blaze, and shortly after, her show was cancelled altogether.

Now the conservative commentator is making Final Thoughts-esque videos from her car. The vlogs are posted on Facebook where they still receive around one million views.

Despite her change of venue, Ms. Lahren’s messages are still resonating with angry, mostly conservative audiences.

Her most recent video drew significant backlash from both the left and right. In the video, she argues that the military isn’t a social experiment, but rather a fighting force. Lahren goes on to say that “feelings” and “political correctness” can’t come in the way of the military’s mission and values.

Negative comments on her video were abundant. But there were just as many voices supporting  the video. Many of the comments centered around Ms. Lahren’s brazen approach to talking about the news. Viewers liked that, unlike Anderson Cooper or “liberal journalists”, Lahren “told it like it was.”

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But Ms. Lahren is not a journalist: She is a commentator. And she continues to blur the line between the two.

When Lahren speaks on issues such as race, gender inequality and climate change, she often mixes misinformation with angry rhetoric. She’ll cite statistics and surveys that, without context, are misleading.

The problem is that her platform was, and still is, growing, to the point where she is appearing on different television shows effectively functioning as a pundit or Trump plug. On her own show, she conducted “interviews” to appear more journalistic. Her subjects have ranged from celebrities, to other far right commentators, to other members of The Blaze Network.

And that’s problematic. When she purposefully skews her role as a commentator, she inflates her political role and her influence.

She compares her show— and its newsworthiness— to networks like CNN, CBS and ABC, and when she refuses to be labeled a member of the “mainstream media” or “fake news media” she bolsters her position to equal members of the American media. That, in turn, gives her segment an unearned and dangerous authority.

But her fall from grace sends one important message: She is what people allow her to be. When she was on The View, her once right-of-center views on abortion were suddenly progressive. And she loved the audience’s reaction.

Once she was kicked off The Blaze, she began to double down on pro Trump messages, and her fan base slowly began to perk back up.

As she gains more support post-The View, she continues to grow in popularity like kudzu on the political landscape.

On her own show, her extreme views garner millions of views, hundreds of thousands of comments and thousands of “reactions.” By commenting on her videos and engaging in debate about how insensitive she was to a particular minority group, viewers are presenting her with a platform: What will make the left reel and the right nod their heads in agreement?

She is what fans make her out to be: a conservative commentator with an inflamed sense of self. She is not a journalist. And knowing that distinction is all the difference.

Elaina Steingard

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