President Donald Trump spent part of Tuesday morning tweeting about a
segment from Fox Business host Lou Dobbs’ show which championed Kevin
Cernekee, a former Google engineer who claims he was fired because of
the company’s purported anti-conservative bias. “All very illegal,”
Trump concluded of the company’s purported actions, adding, “We are
watching Google very closely!” This is at least the third time Trump has
publicly suggested he would take action against Google based on what
he’s seen on Fox.
Right-wing media have trumpeted Cernekee’s story over the
past few days, with outlets fitting him neatly into their narrative that
tech companies have it in for Republicans. But the story is more
complicated than that: While it portrays him as a rank-and-file
conservative, Cernekee appears to have repeatedly defended white
nationalists on internal Google message boards.
How Cernekee’s story ended up on the president’s Twitter
says a lot about the right-wing media ecosystem, their obsession with
finding supposed conservative martyrs of tech companies, and Trump’s
reckless consumption and promotion of whatever Fox News happens to put
in front of his eyes.
The cautionary tale of “Republican engineer” Kevin Cernekee
On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal’s Rob Copeland profiled
Cernekee, portraying him as a “Republican engineer” fired from the
company for the conservative views he expressed on the company’s
internal message boards.
“Google told Mr. Cernekee in a termination letter that he
was let go for multiple violations of company policies, including
improperly downloading company information and misuse of the
remote-access software system,” Copeland reported. “Mr. Cernekee, who
hasn’t spoken publicly before about his status at Google, denies that.
He says he was fired for being an outspoken conservative in famously
liberal Silicon Valley.”
Copeland largely paraphrased Cernekee’s message board posts
or accepted his explanations of them rather than quoting their content.
This made it impossible for readers to assess precisely what his views
were. But the story’s 28th paragraph provides a tantalizing detail: A
fellow conservative engineer “internally circulated a dossier describing
Mr. Cernekee as ‘the face of the alt-right’ at Google” (that engineer
was also later fired).
It remains contested whether Cernekee’s views triggered his
termination. But the Journal’s framing of Cernekee as simply a
“Republican” with “conservative take[s]” who stands up for other
“right-leaning employees” created the impression that it is open season
on anyone to the right of Hillary Clinton. That makes his actual
The Daily Caller, which has its own complicated history with the alt-right, pulled on that thread a few days later
(though only after producing multiple stories amplifying Cernekee’s
claims). Deputy Editor J. Arthur Bloom reported that Cernekee had
“suggested raising money under the auspices of the company’s free speech
listserv for a bounty to identify Richard Spencer’s assailant.”
After Spencer, one of the nation’s most prominent white
nationalists, was punched while giving an interview in January 2017,
Cernekee suggested putting together a group donation to support the
search for the puncher through racist troll Charles Johnson’s website.
Cernekee identified Spencer only as a “well known
conservative activist.” When other Google employees pointed out that
Spencer is “a prominent, vehement racist and anti-Semite,” Cernekee
The Daily Caller story was subsequently confirmed by BuzzFeed News tech reporter Ryan Mac.
Bloom also reported that Cernekee had criticized a media
description of the “Golden State Skinheads” as a neo-Nazi group, and he
praised the organization for “[standing] up for free speech and free
“Conservatives angry at big tech may view such postings as a
cautionary lesson in the importance of vetting their cause célèbres,”
Conservative media made Cernekee a cause célèbre
Right-wing media outlets have spent the last several years trumpeting complaints
that social media platforms are biased against conservatives. This
behavior is consistent with conservatives’ decades-long strategy of
decrying the news media as biased against them in order to influence
media coverage. But it is inconsistent with the facts.
“There is no evidence that Google, Facebook, or any other
major tech company is biased against conservative employees or
conservative content,” Recode reported
in response to Cernekee’s allegations. “While it is true that most tech
employees lean liberal in their personal beliefs, that doesn’t mean
that their employers discriminate in the workplace, or in the products
they build and maintain.”
Cernekee’s story echoed the conservative narrative
about tech companies’ bias, and it rocketed through the right-wing media
after Thursday’s Wall Street Journal profile. He was treated as both a
conservative martyr and as a credible source for information on Google’s
Notably, these aggregations portrayed Cernekee as a
typical conservative, with only the Post mentioning that Cernekee had
been linked to the “alt-right.”
By Friday night, Cernekee was being feted on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, a regular home for both deceptive attacks on tech companies and white supremacist talking points.
After providing the former engineer the platform to repeat his
allegation that he was fired for being a conservative, Carlson turned
his attention to Google’s influence on the 2020 election.
“Do you believe that Google will attempt to influence the
election outcome or will attempt to try to prevent Trump from being
reelected?” Carlson asked.
“I do believe so. I think that’s a major threat,” he replied.
“And yet, Congress, including Republicans are just sitting
back and acting like it’s not happening,” Carlson responded. “It’s
disgusting. Kevin, thank you for sounding that alarm.”
That appearance launched a new wave of aggregations by conservative media outlets.
Fox’s morning show Fox & Friends hosted Cernekee on Monday where he repeated his allegation that Google intends to prevent Trump’s reelection.
That interview, in turn, became the basis for a segment on the Monday night edition of Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight, which aired several hours after the Daily Caller published its story detailing Cernekee’s postings.
“That is nasty stuff,” the host commented of Cernekee’s
allegations, “and by the way, it’s illegal.” He later added that the
Justice Department “should be sitting right inside the Google complex”
to prevent “a fraud on the American public.” His guest, Breitbart.com’s
Peter Schweizer, added that DOJ should be “monitoring what Google is
doing in real time now.”
Dobbs’ show attracts fewer than 400,000 viewers on average. But Trump is often one of them, and he was apparently watching Monday night.
Cernekee’s allegations enter the Trump-Fox feedback loop
Trump is obsessed with Fox, watching hours of its
programming every day and frequently tweeting about segments that catch
his attention. This Trump-Fox feedback loop regularly influences the Trump administration’s policy, personnel, and political strategy.
On Monday morning, Trump promised
to “honor the sacred memory of those we have lost” during mass
shootings in El Paso, TX, and Dayton, OH, by “acting as one people.”
That night, he tweeted three clips
from Dobbs’ show. Two of the president’s tweets dealt with the
program’s discussion of Cernekee’s claim that Google is biased against
The next morning, after tweeting two quotes from the morning’s edition of Fox & Friends, Trump returned to the issue of Google’s bias.
In a tweetstorm, the president contrasted what he said he
had been told by Google CEO Sundar Pichai with what he had heard on
Dobbs’ show the previous night, including from Cernekee.
Trump-Fox feedback loop is particularly salient in giving the president
targets for his ire, and the network’s obsession with tech platform
bias has repeatedly resulted in angry Trump tweets. This is at least the
third time Trump has responded to Fox segments by tweeting that his
administration would take action against Google.
In August 2018, in response to a conspiracy-minded Dobbs segment,
the president accused Google of illegally “suppressing voices of
Conservatives” adding that his administration would address the
And last month, Trump tweeted that his administration would review whether Google has committed “treason” after he saw a Fox & Friends news brief in which one of his supporters baselessly floated that claim.
Conservatives have a political and financial interest in
ginning up claims that the tech platforms are biased against them, and
right-wing media eagerly amplify their claims for their own interests.
This pattern will continue and such issues that don’t hold up to
scrutiny will be thrust into the mainstream discourse because the
president of the United States loves to watch Fox News.