Trump-backed Kari Lake, an ex-journalist, campaigns as media hater

Kari Lake looked directly into the camera with the confident gaze befitting a screen professional. As so often before, she had news to share as a top TV host in Phoenix.

This time, however, she didn’t appear on the Fox affiliate that had long employed her – and when her tone switched from perky to serious, it was clear why. The industry that brought her prominence has become unbalanced, untruthful and divisive, she said.

“It’s been a tough fight for me,” she said, “and I don’t want to do that job anymore.”

In two minutes and 33 seconds, Lake torched her decades-long career and laid the foundation for a new one. Three months later, in June 2021, she stated that she was running for the Republican nomination for governor of Arizona. But for her legions of supporters and the peers she left, this video posted on Rumble, the conservative alternative to YouTube, was the real launch pad — the conversion story that underpins her entire campaign.

Few gubernatorial races this year are being watched as closely as that in Arizona, where the winner could have immense impact on a 2024 presidential battleground. Tuesday’s GOP primary has also escalated into a proxy battle between Trump loyalists and established Republicans like former Vice President Mike Pence and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who support Karrin Taylor Robson, a former developer and lobbyist. Polls have shown Lake, who was endorsed by former President Trump, to be the front runner.

More than Lake’s commitment to election denial, aggressive border enforcement, and even Trump, her career in journalism and subsequent rejection are at the heart of her candidacy. Lake, 52, has spent decades building a national television profile that would be the envy of many veteran politicians. Their days of banter in the air easily translate to campaigning. And her rebuke of the media turns her media background from a potential liability for Republican voters into an asset.

Lake showed a willingness to “stand up for principles,” Kevin McNichols said as he queued in the 95-degree heat last month to see Lake and Trump at a rally in Prescott Valley. The 52-year-old retired law enforcement officer, who lives 240 miles south in Green Valley, has known Lake since the early 1990s.

“You’re willing to quit your job because you feel like they’re twisting your script,” he said. “It’s just admirable.”

Lake’s former employees at Fox 10 KSAZ-TV see things differently. The Times spoke to eight people who worked with Lake on the editorial board on condition of anonymity because they feared professional or personal repercussions.

They paint a picture of Lake, who was a talented broadcaster for most of her 22 years on the newsroom. They describe a political radicalization in recent years that has swept them to the right, influenced by the rise of Trump, social media and the COVID-19 pandemic. Now they see a candidate who has little in common with the woman they knew.

Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake acknowledges the crowd at a rally in Florence, Ariz.

Kari Lake appeared at a Trump rally in Florence, Arizona in January. Trump endorsed her in September 2021, almost a year before the primary.

(Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)

Lake’s critics have tried capitalize on their whiplash for political transformation; Robson, 57, has dubbed her “Fake Lake” and published an ad The former Fox 10 HR director calls Lake a “pretender”. However, such attacks failed in the Prescott Valley. Die-hard Trump fans have not blamed Lake for switching sides. Many saw it as evidence of political revelation.

“People who switch become very fervent conservatives,” said Michael Greer, 80, as she waited for her VIP pass to the rally.

“It took a lot of thought – and courage, because you lose a lot of friends and often family,” said the former casting agent, who lives in nearby Granville. “So I really admire people who have done that.”

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On stage in Prescott Valley, Lake unleashed insults against her former industry. The media is dirty, she said, and corrupt too.

Her speech was very much in the spirit of the evening’s headliner, which she acknowledged when she briefly addressed the audience again at Trump’s invitation. “I took some notes” from the former president, she said. “That’s why I’m investigating the fake news, because he showed us how to do it.”

Their animosity stands in stark contrast to what their former associates reminisce about. For most of her 22 years at Fox 10, where she spent most of her career, Lake was known as a hardworking and social person, someone who made friends that stretched beyond the office.

“She was supportive, she was kind, she gave honest feedback, she contributed stories,” said a former colleague. “She was a good citizen of the newsroom.”

Lake, whose campaign didn’t respond to an interview request, enjoyed covering important breaking news that required quick thinking on the air. Though political stories didn’t seem particularly enticing to her, she rushed to secure interviews with Presidents Obama and Trump. She went on a month-long reporting trip to Cambodia with Cindy McCain and grew close to the family; now she frequently denigrates the late Senator John McCain.

Off-camera, her politics were seen as liberal; She was close to LGBTQ workers and was a fan of Obama, to whom she donated. She would engage in friendly political sparring with her longtime co-host John Hook, her former colleagues said, and typically stake out positions to his left. (Hook did not respond to requests for comment.)

Her healthy ego – not uncommon in the news business – could be squirming, and she would balk if challenged, her peers said. Her strong competitive instincts were fueled by the channel’s drive to increase its social media reach. Every day, employees would be ranked based on their popularity on Facebook and other platforms. The ranking, dubbed “The Hunger Games” by news editors, became a fixation for Lake, who was almost always at the top and used provocative posts to spur online engagement.

In 2016, when a group of high schoolers was photographed spelling out a racial slur on their t-shirts, she defended them against public outcry. Two years later, she had to apologize on the air after speculating online that a grassroots movement to raise teachers’ salaries was a plan to legalize marijuana. Further flare-ups came when she joined Parler and Gab, two social media networks linked to the far right.

As members of the editorial team began struggling with their online presence, Lake delved deeper into the internet battle.

“She was always willing to take her whole stack of poker chips and shove them in the middle of the table,” said an ex-colleague.

Ex-colleagues noted a shift in Lake’s personal views of Trump and conservative politics. Many saw COVID-19 as a turning point. To limit editorial staffing, Lake was among the hosts assigned to broadcast from home while others stayed in the studio.

Isolated from her peers, Lake became embroiled in far-right views on the coronavirus, including promoting unproven treatments like hydroxychloroquine for the virus.

“I think she would have been the one chosen to stay [in the newsroom], she would not run for governor,” the former staffer said. “She would still work here.”

Tensions raged by Election Night 2020. lake questioned Joe Biden’s victory on the airwaves in Arizona, although the call was made by the political unit of Fox News, the station’s parent company. She soon went on vacation; her termination video in March 2021 surprised most of her colleagues.

At least one former colleague has publicly supported Lake. Of those interviewed by The Times, none supported her candidacy and many worried about her condition if she won. They pointed out that she had never previously held a leadership role or shown any interest in the workings of state government.

Lake’s sharp rightward swing, which her former colleagues find confusing but sincere, accelerated in her gubernatorial campaign. She now calls Biden an “illegitimate president” and claims without evidence that fraud already took place in the primary.

Fox 10 journalists are now in the unusual – and tricky – position of reporting on their former colleague.

“It’s just different this year because of her,” said one staffer, adding that her coverage of the high-stakes race was muted compared to her competitors. “It’s weird reporting on someone who was a former employee who basically spat at us as people, as journalists, as former employees.”

Many dismiss Lake’s claim that she had to say wrong things on the air. Former colleagues point out that moderators have early access to show scripts and the ability to edit them.

Station management did not directly respond to questions about Lake’s portrayal of the industry. Erica Keane, a spokeswoman for Fox 10, said of the network’s work in general, “Fox 10 KSAZ-TV stands by its news collection and editorial practices.”

For Lake’s supporters, breaking with her media roots is central to her redemption story. Doyle Wiste said he would normally rule out voting for a female journalist, but she had his support even before he learned Trump was backing her.

While waiting for Lake to take the stage in Prescott Valley, the 52-year-old Dewey real estate investor shared what convinced him: when Lake told a CNN reporter she would give an interview if it aired on the network’s defunct streaming service. “Does that still exist?” she added. The zinger nevertheless delighted Wiste.

“She actually shouts in people’s faces,” Wiste said, “that what you said was BS and we don’t want to hear it anymore.”

https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-08-01/journalist-kari-lake-arizona-governor-trump Trump-backed Kari Lake, an ex-journalist, campaigns as media hater

Alley Einstein

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