Sergio Munoz

Author ››› Sergio Munoz
  • Trump And The Pitfalls Of Relying On Stop-And-Frisk Myths Three Years Too Late

     After Lester Holt Fact Check, Trump Now Confused About What Version Of Stop And Frisk He Wants

    Blog ››› ››› SERGIO MUNOZ

    One of the dangers of haphazardly reviving right-wing media myths is that some falsehoods are much trickier than others to walk back. During the first presidential debate of 2016, GOP nominee Donald Trump learned this the hard way, when moderator Lester Holt of NBC News fact-checked him cold about the unconstitutional version of stop and frisk that the Republican presidential nominee recently proposed as a nationwide model.

    During the September 26 debate, Trump once again invoked his support for New York City’s past application of stop and frisk, which was struck down by a federal judge three years ago and abandoned on appeal, much to the disappointment of right-wing media proponents of “order” over constitutional protections. When Holt responded that “stop and frisk was ruled unconstitutional in New York, because it largely singled out black and Hispanic young men,” Trump snapped back, “No, you’re wrong. … If you look at it, throughout the country, there are many places where it's allowed.”

    But Holt was right. And that’s true without even getting into the fact that contrary to Trump’s assertions, the tactic was a proven failure at reducing violent crime in New York City.

    The generalized police practice of stop and frisk may be a common one used across the country, but if the way it’s specifically practiced results in racial profiling, it violates the federal Constitution’s protections against equal protection violations and unlawful search and seizure. That’s exactly what happened in the since-abandoned version practiced in New York City, which was exactly what Holt pointed out. If that’s the version Trump supports, he is supporting an unconstitutional policy that impermissibly discriminates on the basis of race. If he instead merely supports the version that is “allowed” “throughout the country,” then how is that a solution for reducing crime rates when it’s already in effect?

    This issue first cropped up during this campaign season on September 21, when Fox News’ Sean Hannity hosted a town hall for Trump, this one advertised as part of the nominee’s outreach to African-American voters. During the recorded event (which was bumped from airing that night due to protests over another questionable police shooting of a black man, this time in Charlotte, NC), Trump made the surprising proposal that his plan for protecting black residents of the “inner cities” was to bring back the widely reviled New York twist on stop and frisk that was struck down in federal court as unconstitutional racial profiling.

    When Trump’s unaired comments leaked, media outlets immediately began calling out his support for an abandoned and racially discriminatory policing method as a peculiar form of outreach to black voters. In response, the next morning Trump falsely claimed on the September 22 edition of Fox & Friends that he really only meant that it should be brought back in Chicago – a city he apparently was unaware already employs the practice.

    It was these confusing contradictions -- and Trump’s refusal to admit that his much-promoted “outreach” to African-American voters included a promise to stop and search them on the street because of the color of their skin -- that led Holt to try to set the record straight during the debate.

    In the wake of this and the many other aspects of Trump’s disastrous debate performance, the nominee’s supporters began spinning hard, including by making the false claim that Holt had somehow claimed stop and frisk was unconstitutional everywhere. Trump supporter, former New York City mayor, and frequent stop-and-frisk defender Rudolph Giuliani was particularly vocal. First he falsely smeared Holt’s fact check, arguing on Fox News that “Lester Holt's statement was completely ignorant and completely uncalled for, and he shouldn't get involved in a legal issue he doesn't know a darn thing about.” Later, Giuliani added Clinton to his criticism on the issue, saying she’s “totally wrong and completely ignorant” about stop and frisk. He also tried to separate himself from the actions of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who were at the helm when the stop-and-frisk policies they inherited from Giuliani’s mayorship were ruled unconstitutional. “It’s not unconstitutional if you do it the right way -- and that's what [Trump] is talking about, doing it the right way,” said Giuliani. “It was never found unconstitutional when I did it.”

    But Trump has specifically praised Kelly’s stop-and-frisk policies that were ruled unconstitutional – and he recently affirmed (intentionally or not) that this unconstitutional version of the practice still has his support.

    And this was the dilemma Trump faced as Holt accurately fact-checked his embrace of New York City’s past application of unconstitutional stop and frisk. The right-wing media bubble out of which Trump plucked his stop-and-frisk soundbite has regularly been concerned with “order” first and the U.S. Constitution second (if ever). If he stuck with that, at least it would be intellectually honest. On the other hand, the “doing it the right way” stop and frisk approach Giuliani is falling back on to cover up for Trump has been in place for almost 50 years under the Supreme Court decision Terry v. Ohio -- so there’s no need for Trump to claim he’ll bring it back.

    So which one is it?

    It’s not Lester Holt’s fault that Trump and his surrogates can’t or won’t explain themselves. Some myths can’t survive outside the bubble.

  • Former Trump Business Associate Speaks Out About Sexual Assault Allegations Against Trump, As Media Blackout Continues  

    Blog ››› ››› SERGIO MUNOZ

    Television news all but ignored Jill Harth’s allegations of illegal sexual harassment and assault against Donald Trump, her former business associate, when The New York Times reported on the story in May. In the months since, major news networks have continued their underreporting about the serious allegations facing the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

    In an exclusive interview posted on July 18 with ABC News legal affairs anchor and LawNewz founder Dan Abrams, Harth reiterated her allegations that Trump illegally sexually harassed and assaulted her when they worked together in the early 1990s. Although Harth’s claims have been reported before in the context of Trump’s well-known misogyny -- most recently by The New York Times and The Boston Globe -- media outlets continue to ignore the fact that Harth is specifically alleging unlawful conduct on the part of the self-proclaimed “law and order” candidate.

    The last time Harth’s allegations were prominently reported was on May 14 by the Times, in a front page story based on over 50 interviews with women who have dealt with Trump as well as court records. Those varied accounts “reveal[ed] unwelcome romantic advances, unending commentary on the female form, a shrewd reliance on ambitious women, and unsettling workplace conduct” by Trump, according to the Times. One of the examples was Harth’s account, which the Globe had detailed extensively in April and which could at a minimum constitute illegal sexual harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. As explained by the Globe, Trump allegedly sexually assaulted Harth on multiple occasions after Trump, Harth, and her former boyfriend entered into a business partnership related to a beauty pageant around 1993. After the short-lived business relationship collapsed, Trump and Harth were involved in a breach of contract dispute and a subsequent lawsuit that included Harth’s sexual harassment and assault claims.

    In the July 18 post accompanying Abrams’ new interview, LawNewz reported that Harth “withdrew [her sexual harassment lawsuit] after she said Trump agreed to settle with her husband on the contract claims. Abrams questioned why she would do that if she claims the allegations are true. ‘I was under the control of my husband who was kind of the boss, I wanted to be over with and done with,’ she said, adding that it was a stipulation of the settlement that she withdraw her sexual harassment claims.”

    According to a Media Matters analysis of television news coverage conducted a week after the Times story was published, although news outlets discussed Trump’s sexism and misogynistic conduct in general, MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, ABC, CBS, and NBC all virtually ignored Harth’s specific allegations of illegal sexual harassment and assault. A narrower search of Nexis transcripts for coverage from May 23 through the July 18 posting of Abrams’ interview with Harth revealed a similar pattern. Media Matters found no mentions of Harth by name, nor any discussion of her allegations of illegal sexual harassment and assault against Trump, in available Nexis transcripts for this time period.

    In an update to the July 18 post, LawNewz reported that “about 8 minutes” after the Abrams interview was posted, the Trump campaign and then the candidate himself contacted LawNewz in the middle of the Republican National Convention to deny the allegations. LawNewz reported that Trump, citing the National Enquirer, whose chief executive is reportedly a close friend of his, said in a phone call, “‘If you look in the National Enquirer, there was a story in there that she was in love with me. The woman has real problems…It’s ridiculous, I’ve never touched this woman.’”

    Watch Abrams’ interview with Harth and her lawyer Lisa Bloom, who is also currently involved in legal actions against Bill Cosby, here:

    Methodology: For the time period between May 14 and May 22, Media Matters searched Nexis and Snapstream transcripts for coverage on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, ABC, CBS, and NBC using the terms "Jill Harth," "Harth," "Sexual harassment AND Trump," “Trump AND Harth,” "Sexual assault AND Trump,'" and “Brewer Lane.”

    For the time period between May 23 and July 18, Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts for coverage on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, ABC, CBS, and NBC using the terms "Jill Harth," "Harth," "Sexual harassment AND Trump," “Trump AND Harth,” and "Sexual assault AND Trump.” Nexis transcripts include all-day programming on CNN, evening programming on MSNBC and Fox News, and morning, evening, and Sunday news shows on the broadcast networks. 

  • The Right-Wing Media's Deceptive Playbook On Obama's Nominees Is The Same As It Ever Was

    Blog ››› ››› SERGIO MUNOZ

    Supreme CourtThe right-wing media playbook on how to lie, distort, and smear the president's pending appointment to the Supreme Court has already been written. The identity of the actual nominee is only a formality.

    If the nominee has bothered to follow civil rights precedent, they will be labeled a "radical." If the nominee bothered to adhere to such stare decisis and is a person of color, they will be labeled a "racist." If the right-wing media figure is queasy about the awkwardness of labeling a civil rights advocate a racist, they will switch to "racialist," which is the nonsense term it seems.

    If the nominee tried to stay true to long-accepted First Amendment principles on the separation of church and state, watch for the cries of anti-Christian bias. (That one is also useful if the nominee had the temerity to follow Roe v. Wade, or thinks access to contraception is still protected.)

    Impeccable credentials? Cite anonymous sources for what they are really like (it's the only way to claim that Ivy League-educated lawyers are actually stupid) or maybe even offer criticisms of their temperament that would garner praise if they were a white man. Can't get a conservative clerk or member of the bar to disparage a liberal judge on the record? Then go for the "principle, not person" argument to justify obstruction, or even redefine what a principle like "court packing" means all together in order to enforce a judicial nomination blockade on an unprecedented scale.

    Speaking of unprecedented -- who cares that there is broad agreement that what the Republicans are doing now is wildly out of step with bipartisan precedent? The logical endpoint of Senate Republicans' slow-walking of the president's executive nominees -- as promised, since he entered office -- was always destined to be the senatorial equivalent of a toy-grabbing temper tantrum. Unfortunately in this case, the consequences are grave. 

    Is the nominee a woman? Can't the president stop nominating people just because they're a woman?

    Did they ever do criminal defense work? Isn't it just like Democrats to even consider a cop-killer's coddler?

    Is the nominee Jewish? There are too many Jews on the Supreme Court!

    Is the nominee gay? We may be about to find out how far Fox News will countenance blatantly false and homophobic smears in 2016.

    All this, and more. Could conservatives add any more embarrassment to an election season already plunging to new lows? They can -- especially when GOP senators start to willingly and shamelessly adopt the half-baked lies, distortions, smears, and outright blunders funneled to them by right-wing media. Throw the old conservative media playbook into the misogynistic, xenophobic, fact-averse cesspool that is the Republican primary season, and we may be about to see an enabling of attacks on a judicial nominee of a sort we haven't seen before.

    That's what will be truly unprecedented, not this "gotcha" game of selected quotes and video from decades-old nomination fights that prove nothing. For all those lamenting the substance-free contributions of the primary season to the national discourse, it's about to get worse.

    Which is precisely why the media should be very careful when handling the inevitable attacks on the president's nominee. And remember: the right-wing media playbook was already written; the identity of the actual nominee never really mattered.

  • As Primaries Kick Off, NY Post Recycles More Baseless Speculation About Clinton Email Conspiracies

    ››› ››› SERGIO MUNOZ

    The New York Post continues to publish dubiously sourced and baseless speculation about investigations around Hillary Clinton's emails as secretary of state. The paper is now reporting that there was a premeditated conspiracy to share classified information, citing claims from a former federal investigator who resigned after he was accused of corruption.

  • If Media Can't Explain This Clear Campaign Finance Violation, We All Have A Serious Problem

    Blog ››› ››› SERGIO MUNOZ

    It's true: campaign finance law is absurdly difficult for media to explain to American voters. The numbers are abstractly large, the rules are complicated, and everyone wonders if American voters actually care.

    The polls certainly seem to say Americans are concerned. Across the political spectrum, voters consistently tell the media the tidal wave of money in politics is a grave problem and the case that opened the flood gates -- Citizens United --  should be overturned. Whether it's Republicans complaining about the "special interests" of Washington, D.C. or Democrats warning about the billionaires running our campaigns, the message is clear: clean elections matter.

    The editorial boards and television pundits seem to agree. Like clockwork, with every new discouraging development handed down by the courts on campaign finance law, every new revelation of the monied power brokers pulling politicians' strings, every new failure to effectively enforce the election regulations on the books, solemn editorials are written and monologues are delivered warning American voters that the system has become at-risk to rampant corruption and conflicts of interest.

    And yet here we are: live on Fox Business Network during their televised presidential debate, under questioning from FBN's Maria Bartiromo, a major presidential candidate just admitted he violated a basic campaign finance transparency rule in a fashion that runs antithetical to his core political image and he seems to think no one cares. He certainly doesn't seem to be afraid of the media calling him out, although some are trying. How else do we describe the embarrassing image of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), ostensibly one of the most intelligent legislators in Congress, brazenly admitting in a live presidential debate he broke the law as a senatorial candidate by taking a roughly million dollar campaign loan from Goldman Sachs and Citibank without properly disclosing the sources to the Federal Election Commission (FEC)?

    Maybe the reason Bartiromo didn't follow up her original question with anything more than a "thank you" was that she was as stunned as the rest of us.

    Yes, the candidate also misled about the details of his election violation on national television and media fact checkers duly called out the bait-and-switch after. Disclosing the possible conflict of interest in receiving a million dollars from Goldman Sachs (this Goldman Sachs) and Citibank while you're campaigning as a man of the people railing against the big bad establishment is not the same thing as disclosing the possible conflict of interest after you've been elected, a conflation the candidate nevertheless attempted to sell with a straight face during the debate. That's like a voter explaining they didn't properly register before they cast a ballot but did so afterwards, so it's all good.

    That's not how it works.

    Election disclosure laws are supposed to inform Americans before they vote so they can make an educated decision. In fact, this principle of mandated disclosure may have been the only reason Citizens United was allowed in the first place -- as a counterbalance to the obvious conflicts of interest the Supreme Court was about to tempt politicians with. The entire point behind the legal argument that led the conservatives on the Supreme Court to allow the 1% more unfiltered access to campaigning politicians was the idea that at least Americans would know who was potentially buying influence. In the case of Cruz, who rails against big money and the elite as a point of pride, such information may have been particularly interesting to the Tea Partiers who voted for him.

    But again, here we are. A major presidential candidate seems to think either voters are idiots, or the media are.

    So it's a challenge. The number is a cool million, easy for the typical news consumer to grasp. The case law and implementing disclosure regulations are cut and dry -- if you take money from a bank for your campaign, you have to identify the bank to the FEC. It boils down to the third problem of campaign finance reporting -- does the American public care? They say they do, over and over again, and the media keeps telling us this is an important part of American democracy, so what's the disconnect, if any?

    With this ridiculously clear campaign finance violation on display for all to see, we're about to find out.

    If media can't get the American public to understand why this sort of behavior, certainly not unique to Cruz, is a big problem, it's no longer the fault of the American public. They aren't the experts. It's the media's job to provide the expertise. But if the media can't effectively explain this one to its audience -- it's time to rethink how campaign finance reporting is done.

    After all, Cruz is basically daring you.

  • Politico Acknowledges DOJ Confirmation That Clinton's Email Deletions Were Proper, But Still Gets The Facts Wrong

    Department of Justice: "There Is No Question That Former Secretary Clinton Had Authority" To Delete Emails

    ››› ››› SERGIO MUNOZ

    In a new report about the FBI's investigation into the security of the private server Hillary Clinton used as secretary of state, Politico briefly mentioned the fact that the Department of Justice confirmed in a legal brief that Clinton had the authority to review and delete her personal emails. But Politico incorrectly went on to claim that the brief "stopp[ed] short" of confirming the appropriateness of such actions after Clinton left the State Department -- a claim contradicted by the brief itself.

  • How The NY Times Tried To Turn An Interagency FOIA Fight Into A "Clinton Scandal"

    ››› ››› SERGIO MUNOZ

    New information and widespread media criticism of the highly flawed New York Times story that falsely implied Hillary Clinton was the target of a criminal investigation over her email practices as secretary of state confirm the paper conflated two different stories to scandalize a routine bureaucratic process. In fact, the current Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) review of Clinton's emails that has led to interagency disputes over retroactive classification would have taken place regardless of whether Clinton used a private email account.

  • Wash. Times Fantasy Of Feds Seizing Clinton Email Server Based On Wildly Misrepresenting Gov't Factsheet

    Blog ››› ››› SERGIO MUNOZ

    The Washington Times misleadingly cited a government factsheet to claim that a "U.S. policy" could authorize the confiscation of Hillary Clinton's personal email server. In fact, the authority to which the Times refers explicitly notes that its "advisories are NOT binding upon U.S. Government departments and agencies."

    On July 1, the Times published an article headlined "Admission Of Hillary's Classified Emails Opens Door For Feds To Seize Her Servers." The report suggested that because some information on Clinton's State Department emails has now been retroactively classified, the NSA could seize the private server on which she stored the emails in order to "destroy" it.

    The emails in question are part of a collection of the former Secretary of State's official business correspondence, which was conducted on a non-government email account, and which the State Department is currently reviewing and releasing to the public. According to the Times, the classification of "two dozen" of her thousands of emails could "trigger a U.S. policy that authorizes the government to take control of her private server and sanitize the contents":

    The State Department on Wednesday conceded that two dozen of Hillary Clinton's emails did contain classified information, a fact that could trigger a U.S. policy that authorizes the government to take control of her private server and sanitize the contents.

    A former senior intelligence official told The Washington Times the policy also requires the government to check other Internet paths her secret information could have taken.

    The procedures are spelled out by the National Security Agency's special panel on controlling leaked secrets, called the Committee on National Security Systems. It published a policy, "Securing Data and Handling Spillage Events," that fits Mrs. Clinton's unauthorized private server kept at her home while she was secretary of state, according to the retired officer's reading of the regulations.

  • Media Miss Vitter's Badly Bungled Justification For Opposing Loretta Lynch

    Blog ››› ››› SERGIO MUNOZ

    Media outlets are reporting that Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) will attempt to block the confirmation of Loretta Lynch as U.S. attorney general on the grounds that the president's "illegal executive amnesty for illegal immigrants would be implemented" by the nominee. However, in reports about the January 28 hearing in which Vitter explained his "huge concern" about the "unconstitutional" executive actions on immigration, both mainstream and right-wing media failed to note that the statutory provision the senator relied on was not only the wrong one, it was out-of-date.

    Lynch, the federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of New York, has been widely praised across the political spectrum, and multiple conservatives -- including current Republican senators -- support her nomination. Her credentials are so strong, even right-wing media favorites called to her confirmation hearing by GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed she was unobjectionable. Nevertheless, from the moment President Obama nominated Lynch, conservative media have attempted to smear her -- attempts that have been riddled with spectacular mistakes.

    Right-wing media are now hitching their opposition to Lynch to the positions of Vitter, who has repeatedly stated he will do his best to block the nominee's confirmation because she does not oppose the president's executive actions on immigration. On her radio show, Laura Ingraham hosted Vitter and agreed with his opposition to Lynch because of her support for "executive amnesty," repeating the debunked myth that Lynch believes there is a legal right for undocumented immigrants to work., which has struggled mightily to successfully criticize the nominee, also highlighted Vitter's obstructionist intentions toward Lynch, noting that "Lynch's outspoken support for President Obama's executive amnesty" was in part responsible for the current Republican delay on an up-or-down vote.

    Mainstream outlets have reported on Vitter's antipathy toward Lynch as well, based on her support for the "reasonable[ness]" of the justification for the immigration actions. These reports have specifically noted that the senator laid out his case for the illegality of deferred action for certain undocumented immigrants at her recent hearing, where he accused the administration of flouting the law by assigning Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) and the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to the Department of Homeland Security. As Vitter said during the hearing, "I've read the plan, and the plan as I read it is for all of that to be done in the Department of Homeland Security. So my question would be, what is the statutory basis to allow that, when under the statute -- not some order, not some legal opinion -- the statute, the law, word by word it says the attorney general is in the middle of that decision[.]" The Washington Post, for example, included a photo of the oversized copy of 8 U.S. Code § 1182(d)(5) that Vitter displayed as he repeatedly questioned the nominee for agreeing with the White House's legal defense of the immigration actions. Vitter finally remarked, "Well, again, I'll have to be following up for the fourth time, but that'll be a central question. The plan is not for the attorney general to be in the middle of this at all. The statute says that 'the attorney general is.' Why aren't we following the statute?"

    Unfortunately, both right-wing and mainstream media reporting on Vitter, the January 28 hearing, and his opposition to Lynch have failed to note that Vitter's questioning was referring to the wrong part of the law, which has since been superseded.

  • The Loretta Lynch Hearing: A Showcase Of Right-Wing Media Regulars


    The witness list for the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on Loretta Lynch, the highly regarded nominee for attorney general, indicates the process will be a forum for right-wing media favorites and myths but will have little to do with her qualifications.

    Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, has long been praised across the political spectrum as a model federal prosecutor. Lynch has been confirmed twice as a U.S. attorney -- including by some of the same Republican senators now in control of the Judiciary Committee -- and news of her nomination in November brought a new round of support, including from conservative law enforcement sources.

    Current New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton called Lynch "a remarkable prosecutor with a clear sense of justice without fear or favor." Former FBI director Louis Freeh wrote in a letter to Judiciary Committee leadership that he couldn't think of "a more qualified nominee" and was "happy to give Ms. Lynch my highest personal and professional recommendation." Freeh also wrote that he had spoken with "several of my former judicial colleagues who echo this support, and note that Ms. Lynch has gained a terrific reputation for effectively, fairly and independently enforcing the law." Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who worked with Lynch on an infamous police brutality case, has said "if I were in the Senate, I would confirm her."

    Fringe right-wing media outlets and figures initially ignored this broad support and attacked Lynch anyway. The effort was spectacularly unsuccessful, as they mixed up the nominee with an entirely different Loretta Lynch and then claimed that her membership in Delta Sigma Theta, one of the country's leading African-American sororities, was "controversial."

    Leading Fox News figures were better informed about the New York nominee, most notably News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch, who immediately noted Lynch had a "reputation for fairness and strict legality." In an O'Reilly Factor segment with Megyn Kelly on November 10, Bill O'Reilly said he was "heartened" she would be the new attorney general. In response, Kelly praised Lynch:

    KELLY: I have to say that I think this is the person who should be the most acceptable to the right wing or the Republicans in this country of anybody who President Obama was considering. She is a straight shooter. First of all, she would be the first black female attorney general, right? I mean, that in and of itself is a pretty amazing accomplishment. Went to Harvard undergrad, went to Harvard Law School. She has no close ties to the White House. She is not some firm ideologue or partisan. She has prosecuted Democrats and Republicans. She's been a hero on gang crime, on terrorism.

    Republican senators have been similarly honest about Lynch's record, admitting that she "seems to be a solid choice" and will instead use her hearing as a forum for grievances they have with the administration and outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder. The new chairman of the committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), told Politico: "All I can tell you is that immigration is going to be a big part of it. ... Not because of her views on immigration, but of the president's action on immigration and the extent of what she feels he's acted in a legal way."

    Unfortunately, a review of the newly released witness list reveals that the Republican choices for this "proxy war of sorts" rely heavily on right-wing media favorites who frequently spread debunked smears and myths: