• Washington Post Finds More “Factual Problems” With Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Reagan 

    O’Reilly And His Killing Books Have A History Of Historical Inaccuracies

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple reported “factual problems” with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s book, Killing Reagan, which examined the attempted assassination of former President Ronald Reagan. Killing Reagan in particular drew intense criticism from Reagan biographers and aides, who said the “garbage, total BS” book “does a disservice to history.” The criticism led to an extended feud with conservative columnist and former Reagan speechwriter George Will after Will called O’Reilly “a hack” who “slander[ed]” Reagan.

    On October 20, Wemple examined a passage in Killing Reagan alleging that during a 1984 photo-op, “Reagan faltered under tough questioning from commonly tough questioner Sam Donaldson” of ABC News, because of injuries related to the assassination attempt. However, Donaldson told Wemple himself that he “wasn’t there” at the photo-op. Wemple “requested video of the press availability from the Ronald Reagan Library” and found that pool reporters who quizzed the president didn’t “get very far” because “the entire Q&A lasted less than a minute.” Contrary to O’Reilly’s characterization, the exchange “doesn’t come off very dramatically,” and O’Reilly’s “confrontation” was “was merely [a journalist] asking a reasonable question and then following up very quickly with a clarification.”

    As this blog noted on Saturday, this passage has factual problems. Donaldson, for one, tells the Erik Wemple Blog, “I wasn’t there.” The 82-year-old retired newsman says he was in Santa Barbara with other members of the press, while a small contingent of rotating pool members went to the ranch to photograph and question Reagan. Charles Bierbauer, a former CNN correspondent who covered Reagan, told us that he, in fact, was the one who’d asked these questions.


    Eager to learn a bit more about this episode, the Erik Wemple Blog requested video of the press availability from the Ronald Reagan Library. It’s embedded at the top of this post. Starting at the 1:38 mark, pool reporters begin quizzing the president about various topics. They don’t get very far. “I’m not going to take any questions at a — at a photo opportunity,” says Reagan at one point.

    The entire Q & A took less than a minute. And contrary to the “action-packed” description in “Killing Reagan,” it doesn’t come off very dramatically, either. (Efforts to secure comment from O’Reilly, Dugard and the publisher of “Killing Reagan” have failed). It sounds like a few journalists trying to get a snippet of newsworthy material from the president on a midsummer day. Where O’Reilly sees Donaldson in “full confrontational mode,” the video indicates that Bierbauer — now dean of the College of Information and Communications at the University of South Carolina — was merely asking a reasonable question and then following up very quickly with a clarification.

    O’Reilly and his Killing series of books have both come under repeated scrutiny for misrepresenting or lying about the history he sets out to examine. O’Reilly himself has been widely criticized for lying about his experiences during multiple historical events, including the Falklands War, the 1992 Los Angeles riots, terrorist bombings in Northern Ireland, and the execution of four Americans in El Salvador.

  • Media Critics: CNN’s Use Of Pro-Trump Surrogates Undercuts The Network’s Journalism

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW LAWRENCE

    Media critics say CNN’s use of paid pro-Trump surrogates has undercut the network’s journalism and the “goal of informing its audience.”

    After the third and final presidential debate, Trump surrogates scrambled to spin Donald Trump’s statement that he may not accept the results of the election, putting forward a litany of absurd claims. On CNN, that role was filled by the network’s roster of paid contributors who were specifically hired for their willingness to defend Trump.

    New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen criticized the “candidate surrogate” system CNN invested in during this campaign cycle, explaining that CNN’s “Surrogates are unwilling to defend Trump, so they change him into a man more defensible.” He added that because CNN’s Trump surrogates frequently attempt to mislead the network’s audience, CNN has “wasted our time, undermined the work of their journalists, and made the election-year discussion more opaque [than] it would have been if they had never invited these people on set.”

    The Columbia Journalism Review’s David Uberti similarly wrote that having the Trump surrogates on-air to spin the widely condemned remarks made by Trump during the debate “overstepped CNN’s reporting and undercut its purported goal of informing its audience”:

    The consensus headline from the third and final presidential debate was Republican candidate Donald Trump’s refusal to commit to accepting the 2016 election results. It was a stunning rebuke of American political norms from the nominee of a major political party, and it quickly dominated coverage online Wednesday night and in major print newspapers Thursday morning.The Associated Press’ lede said Trump is “threatening to upend a fundamental pillar of American democracy.”

    At CNN, however, confusion initially reigned. The network’s journalists expressed shock at Trump’s comments within seconds of the debate’s conclusion. “One of the most stunning things I’ve ever heard in a presidential debate, ever,” said Jake Tapper, the network’s chief Washington correspondent.


    But pro-Trump contributors attempted to muddle this point during a panel discussion after the debate, when viewership was likely highest. Their baseless speculation that the election might somehow be rigged overstepped CNN’s reporting and undercut its purported goal of informing its audience. The comments, which drew stern rebuttals from other CNN on-air talent, highlight how the network’s pursuit of the appearance of objectivity in 2016 has distorted its final product on television. It also provides a clear example of how the channel’s model puts CNN journalists in the awkward position of fact-checking CNN contributors in real time.

    Uberti concluded: “CNN pays pro-Trump contributors to provide it with a shinier veneer of objectivity. But it’s become all too clear in recent months that this mission actively harms its journalists’ pursuit of the truth. The news organization must clarify where its real priorities lie.”

    CNN’s reliance on Trump surrogates to provide defense for a “candidate who doesn’t exist” has come under increased scrutiny over recent weeks, with their decision to hire former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who was still receiving payment from the Trump campaign, as a paid political analyst.

    Media Matters’ Carlos Maza highlighted CNN’s Trump surrogate problem, noting how surrogates refuse to answer legitimate questions about Trump’s positions and controversies and instead point unrelated discussions that devolve into personal attacks.


  • ThinkProgress: Trump Has Funded Discredited Right-Wing Activist James O’Keefe Through His Foundation

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    ThinkProgress has identified a $10,000 donation from the Donald J. Trump Foundation to Project Veritas, the 501(c)(3) organization run by discredited conservative activist and videographer James O’Keefe.

    O’Keefe has a long history of engaging in criminal, misogynistic, ethically dubious, and bizarre behavior related to his video stunts. He has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of entering a government office under false pretenses; sought to set up a video “sting” in which he would lure a female CNN reporter onto a boat filled with sex toys and attempt to seduce the reporter on camera; and had to pay a former video target $100,000 and publicly apologize in a legal settlement. O’Keefe’s videos often make a big splash, but they fall apart under scrutiny by reporters and state investigations.

    The Trump campaign has used O’Keefe’s latest dubious and heavily edited videos to support its baseless claim that the election is “rigged” against the Republican candidate, and O’Keefe attended the final presidential debate on October 19 and pushed his videos in spin room interviews after the debate. But as ThinkProgress explained, Trump may have a more direct connection to O’Keefe’s new videos through a $10,000 donation his private charitable foundation made to O’Keefe’s Project Veritas in May 2015, barely more than a month before he officially became a Republican candidate for president. Project Veritas’ affiliated 501(c)(4) organization Project Veritas Action, which is more free to engage directly in political matters, is the group that released this week’s videos. From ThinkProgress:

    Trump claimed the videos exposed that a violence at a March Chicago rally was a “criminal act” and that it “was now all on tape started by her.”

    Trump neglected, however, to mention his own connection to the videos, released by James O’Keefe and his Project Veritas tax-exempt group. According to a list of charitable donations made by Trump‘s controversial foundation (provided to the Washington Post in April by Trump’s campaign), on May 13, 2015, it gave $10,000 to Project Veritas.

  • Trump Ally Roger Stone A Repeat Guest On White Nationalist-Supporting Radio Show

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Longtime Donald Trump ally and adviser Roger Stone has repeatedly appeared on a radio program that is hosted by Sam Bushman. Bushman “proud[ly]” syndicates a leading white nationalist radio program, participated in a pro-Trump white nationalist radio ad, and said he agrees that “white people should be able to advocate for their race, for their cause.”

    Stone appeared on the October 20 broadcast of Liberty RoundTable with host Bushman. Bushman is the owner of the Liberty News Radio Network, which syndicates The Political Cesspool with host James Edwards. Bushman is also a regular guest host for The Political Cesspool, including as recently as last weekend.

    The Political Cesspool’s statement of principles says it represents "a philosophy that is pro-White." One of its principles reads, "We wish to revive the White birthrate above replacement level fertility and beyond to grow the percentage of Whites in the world relative to other races." Edwards is an acolyte of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, and he “has probably done more than any of his contemporaries on the American radical right to publicly promote neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers, raging anti-Semites and other extremists," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

    Edwards has written: “For blacks in the Americas, slavery is the greatest thing that ever happened to them. Unfortunately, it's the worst thing that ever happened to white Americans”; “MLK's dream is our nightmare”; and “Interracial sex is white genocide.”

    Bushman has defended Edwards from criticism, stating that “we are personal family friends and I will not back away from James Edwards no matter what they say. He is a personal dear friend. And I vouch for him a thousand percent.” He added of Edwards: “He will appear on Liberty RoundTable going forward. I will appear on his show going forward. I syndicate his show and absolutely am grateful and proud of doing so. And I will not back away one bit.”

    Bushman also stated that he agrees with Edwards on his pro-white advocacy:

    SAM BUSHMAN: One of the aspects of James Edwards, among a million other things, is that he believes that white people should be able to advocate for their race, for their cause, for their heritage as well. He does believe in protecting his heritage, preserving his people, if you will, European ancestry. And I think that I agree with him.

    Bushman added that he doesn’t believe that Edwards is a white supremacist and that the media is smearing Edwards by labeling him as such. Bushman stated that while he doesn’t agree with Edwards on everything, “we agree on the fundamentals.” Bushman also claimed he has “never, ever promoted white supremacy in any way and I never will, because I don’t believe it” because all men are created equal.

    Stone appeared on Bushman’s October 20 program to promote Trump’s candidacy and his performance during the third presidential debate. Stone also again claimed that Democrats may try to steal the election.

    In between the multiple segments of Stone’s guest spot, the show aired a pro-Trump advertisement read by Edwards for the white nationalist American National Super PAC. Bushman participated in the ad, as he read the legal disclaimer at its conclusion. 

    Back in March, Donald Trump Jr. was heavily criticized when he appeared on Bushman’s program because he was interviewed by Edwards, who was a guest and questioner on the show. Edwards separately interviewed several members of Congress and Trump campaign official Gary Berntsen at the Republican National Convention.

    Bushman hosted Eric Trump on his October 6 program. Trump adviser Stephen Moore has also appeared on the program. The Trump campaign defended Eric Trump’s appearance on the program, telling CNN: "Liberty Roundtable is a conservative program heard on radio stations and online, and dedicated to promoting the principles of the American founding. We would never associate with any program that was even wrongly perceived to be affiliated with a message of hate."

    Stone previously appeared on the October 3 edition of Liberty RoundTable.

    Stone has a history of spewing racist commentary from his Twitter account. His book The Clintons' War on Women is dedicated to and repeatedly cites research from the late Victor Thorn, who wrote The Holocaust Hoax Exposed and blames a "Jewish plot" for the 9/11 attacks. Stone promoted the book in an interview with Thorn for the American Free Press, an anti-Semitic publication founded by "one of the most influential American anti-Semitic propagandists" who used his "publishing to denigrate Jews and other minorities and galvanize the movement to deny the Holocaust."

    Members of the white nationalist/“alt-right” movement have been heavily supporting Trump’s campaign, and the candidate and his team have been courting members of the movement, including appearances in white nationalist media, refusing to denounce them, and retweeting their messages.

  • James O’Keefe Says Journalists Never Release Raw Footage Because It Would “Tell A Different Story”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Project Veritas Action, a group run by discredited right-wing videographer James O’Keefe, recently released two heavily edited videos purporting to reveal that Democratic operatives aligned with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign were “rigging the election.” O’Keefe is refusing to release the unedited footage his undercover operatives shot -- something his groups have routinely done in the past -- citing a need for journalistic integrity while simultaneously hinting that he had purposely edited the footage to “paint a specific picture.”

    O’Keefe released his latest edited videos on October 17 and October 18 and then almost immediately began complaining that mainstream news outlets were ignoring his efforts due to “fear of retaliation” from a future Clinton administration. Several media figures were quick to point out that O’Keefe’s refusal to release unedited footage from the undercover videos made it difficult for reporters to vet and accurately report on the purported stings, and that O’Keefe’s past track record of misleadingly editing footage make these latest videos even less credible. ThinkProgress reported this afternoon that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s private charitable foundation gave $10,000 to O’Keefe’s Project Veritas about a month before Trump declared his presidential candidacy, adding further unanswered questions about the videos’ legitimacy.

    O’Keefe’s response to criticism was to argue that journalists never reveal “raw unedited materials” because “it’d probably paint a different picture.” His reaction seemed to simultaneously suggest that:

    (a) he, like other journalists, would never reveal “unedited materials” (though he has before), and

    (b) if reporters like himself did release those materials, they would reveal selective editing (like his materials have before).

    In the post-debate spin room last night, O’Keefe again reiterated his claims that no “journalists” release their “raw, unedited notebooks” and that his refusal to release the raw footage from his latest video series is no different. Media Matters president Bradley Beychok captured O’Keefe’s explanation to Majority.FM’s Sam Seder, in which O’Keefe also appears to admit that his role as a “journalist” includes piecing the videos “together to tell a specific story”:

    SAM SEDER: Are you going to release the full footage of your tapes?

    JAMES O’KEEFE: Why don’t you ask all these journalists here if they’re going to release their full, raw, unedited notebooks?

    SEDER: But it’s a different--

    O’KEEFE: No, listen. Sam--


    SEDER: James, you have to admit it’s a different thing--

    O’KEEFE: Is it? Is it? Is it?

    SEDER: Undercover video where it’s been shown, I mean, there were several reports that showed during the, that you have edited tapes in such a way to prove your--

    O’KEEFE: Name one edit I’ve made. I want you to name right now, for your audience, name one specific edit I have made. Because I can debunk every one of those reports. Go ahead.

    SEDER: Well, I mean, I haven’t [unintelligible].

    O’KEEFE: OK, well I would like you to get back to me.

    SEDER: But you can debunk that by releasing that video. Why wouldn’t you release all the video?

    O’KEEFE: Because no journalist in their right mind would ever release their raw notebooks and if they did, Sam--

    SEDER: Well, it’s not a notebook. It is caught on camera.

    O’KEEFE: Let me tell you something: No journalist ever releases the raw, and the reason, and if they did, if all these journalists released the raw, you would see a different story. They piece words together to paint a specific portrait.

    SEDER: So you paste the words together to paint--

    O’KEEFE: No. I have video. I don’t just have words. I have video.


    SEDER: Are you saying you did piece it together to paint a picture?

    O’KEEFE: That’s what journalism is. Journalism is telling a story. And I will stand by every single edit. I will go to -- I will be in contempt of court to protect my undercover reporters because I’m standing for something greater than myself. I’m standing for the right of citizen journalists. No one here would ever dare release their raw. No one would.

    Project Veritas routinely released hours of raw footage for a number of its alleged stings until mid-2014. O’Keefe says the group stopped doing this because “they’ll manufacture reasons why it’s doctored/fake.” In actuality, O’Keefe’s raw footage -- whether released seemingly voluntarily or not -- has repeatedly revealed egregious instances of selective editing over the years.

    Project Veritas first made national headlines in 2009 with a series of heavily edited videos purporting to show staff members of the now-defunct nonprofit ACORN engaging in criminal behavior. Subsequent investigations revealed that the workers had engaged in no illegal activity, and that O’Keefe had employed “highly selective editing of reality.” He later had to settle a case filed by an ACORN staff member who was fired because of the edited videos, paying the man $100,000 and issuing a public apology.

    O’Keefe’s own unedited footage negated a 2011 attempt to tell a specific story that an NPR executive had called members of the Tea Party “racist.” In reality, the executive had been quoting someone else; that part was conveniently edited out. “How quickly things seem to fall apart when James O’Keefe is the person who put them together,” concluded the Columbia Journalism Review. Washington Post writer Michael Gerson explained that O’Keefe had “manufactured an elaborate, alluring lie.”

    Raw footage from a 2012 undercover video similarly disproved O’Keefe’s story that local officials in New York state were agreeing to waste taxpayer money on a fake company that dug holes and filled them up again. Instead, the footage just showed officials trying to be courteous to actors they believed were constituents in an absurd, manufactured situation.

    O’Keefe stopped releasing his own unedited footage in May 2014, shortly after Media Matters used the raw footage from an edited Project Veritas video purporting to expose “Hollywood’s War On U.S. Energy” to debunk the video. O’Keefe’s group had cut parts of a secretly recorded conversation mid-sentence to paint a certain picture that two environmental producers were accepting funding from foreign oil interests; the unedited footage revealed they were actually discussing something completely different.

    This May, Project Veritas Action released raw footage on YouTube for a video series purporting to show “voter fraud” committed by Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in New Hampshire, when prompted to do so by the state’s attorney general. At the time, O’Keefe made similar claims about journalistic integrity. This is how the group’s press release ended (emphasis added):

    In order to assist the State of New Hampshire with their investigation of voter fraud and other election-related irregularities, PVA is releasing the raw footage associated with all three videos to Governor Hassan and the Attorney General she appointed, as well as making the footage available to the general public on a YouTube channel.

    “When Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said that ‘sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,’ he probably didn’t envision viral YouTube videos,” said PVA President James O’Keefe. “These videos provide ample evidence of criminal behavior to assist the state in the immediate investigation of electoral malfeasance. Hopefully, those caught engaging in voter fraud will receive the swift hand of justice. Likewise, the videos spotlight a significant legislative problem which could have easily been avoided if Governor Hassan hadn’t vetoed last year’s residency bill.” 

  • Journalists Who Covered Florida Recount Say There's No Comparison Between Gore And Trump

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Donald Trump supporters have been defending the presidential nominee’s warnings about a “rigged” election and refusal to say he will accept the results in November by claiming Trump is merely doing the same thing former Vice President Al Gore did in 2000. But reporters who covered that year’s Florida recount tell Media Matters that the people pushing that comparison either “haven’t done their homework or they are being disingenuous.”

    During Wednesday night’s third and final presidential debate, Trump sparked widespread criticism by telling moderator Chris Wallace that he will “keep you in suspense” over whether he will accept the outcome of the election.

    Immediately following the debate, Trump surrogates, media allies, and campaign officials quickly went to work pretending that Trump’s assertion -- which journalists and experts have called “horrifying” and “disqualifying” -- was actually no big deal, because he was merely doing the same thing Gore did following the 2000 election.

    But for reporters and editors who covered the Florida recount, there is no comparison.

    “The two situations are not even remotely similar," recalled Martin Merzer, a former Miami Herald senior writer who was among the lead recount journalists at the time. "In 2000, the recount was mandated by the state because of the narrowness of the margin. They haven’t done their homework or they are being disingenuous. At no point before, during, or after that election was voter fraud an issue and at no point three weeks before the election did any candidate refuse to accept the result.”

    He also had a warning for journalists who might try to compare the two this year: “Any reporter who just does a he said/she said on this is not doing his or her work because the cases are not similar and a little bit of research could show how dissimilar they are.”

    Trump, echoing his conspiracy theorist media allies, has spent months warning his supporters that the November results might be “rigged” against him.

    Tim Nickens, who was the St. Petersburg Times political editor in 2000, agreed that the situations are not similar. 

    “I don’t think it’s the same at all,” Nickens, now editorial page editor at the renamed Tampa Bay Times, said. “Gore was never claiming the election was rigged as I recall, certainly not right out of the box. You may remember in the pre-dawn hours he was heading to concede.

    “As the things unfolded, Gore raised questions in specific counties, not the entire state,” Nickens said. “And then after 36 days of this and the court ruled, he could have continued to dispute it then in a P.R. sort of a way and he didn’t do that. Trump has no evidence or anything other than saying, ‘If I lose, I should have won.’”

    Adam Clymer, a former New York Times political reporter who covered elements of the recount, points out that Gore never questioned the validity of the process and certainly not in advance.

    “He didn’t announce in advance that he didn’t trust it,” Clymer remembers, later adding, “I don’t think it’s comparable. People have always challenged results when they thought there were irregularities. What is different about Trump is announcing in advance he may not accept the results.”

    John Zarrella, a former CNN correspondent on the Florida recount, said there was no pre-vote claim of rigging as there is with Trump.

    “In 2000, the result was not called into question until after the votes were cast,” he said via email. “And only after an automatic machine recount was triggered in Florida. So at this point, what is there to compare?”

    George Bennett, a Palm Beach Post reporter who was on the recount story, said that was only disputed afterward and because it was “freakishly close.”

    “There was a lot of dispute over what the rules would be over recounting ballots,” Bennett said. “It was contested after the fact and not beforehand. Trump is saying something three weeks before. The 2000 recount was hotly contested, but it was after the election.”

    Tom Fiedler, former Miami Herald political editor and editorial page editor in 2000, said anyone seeking to compare Trump’s actions with Gore is displaying “either an ignorance of the facts or a deliberate attempt to distort them.”

    “The Gore campaign never alleged that the system was rigged or the outcome in any way unfair,” Fiedler added via email. “Again, the entire series of lawsuits and court hearings was about the determining voter intent on the uncounted ballots.”

  • Chris Wallace Botched The Discussion Of Immigration At The Final Presidential Debate

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Fox News’ Chris Wallace, moderator of the last presidential debate, failed to generate a meaningful discussion on immigration, meaning audiences “learn[ed] nothing new,” according to Univision. Instead, the moderator provided another platform for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant bashing while failing to dig deeper into the serious consequences immigration policies have on millions of people in the United States.

    Wallace initiated the discussion around immigration by stating the positions that both of the candidates have made known to the public throughout the campaign and then asking each, “Why are you right and your opponent wrong?”

    During Univision’s post-debate analysis, commentators took issue with the immigration segment because audiences “learn[ed] nothing new” even though many had been clamoring for a meaningful discussion of the topic leading up to the final debate. As Univision legal contributor Ezequiel Hernandez pointed out, many questions on specifics still linger: “The executive action was not discussed, judges were talked about in the previous topic, but the thousands of children who get to the border and are left waiting and who are deported until something is done were not discussed.”

    Wallace stuck to his promise of being nothing more than a timekeeper and failed to dig deeper on the topic, instead framing his next query around an illegally obtained excerpt of a speech Hillary Clinton gave to a Brazilian bank where she allegedly said, “My dream is a hemispheric common market with open trade and open borders.” Wallace asked Clinton, “Is that your dream? Open borders?” while ignoring both the context of Clinton’s words and Trump’s 2013 CNN op-ed in which he said, “We still have to leave borders behind and go for global unity when it comes to financial stability.” Trump had already attempted to capitalize on Clinton’s phrasing on the campaign trail, which prompted PolitiFact to analyze the claim and rate it “mostly false,” calling her immigration plan "a far cry from Trump's characterization." PolitiFact also explained that “the context of that sentence related to green energy -- and wasn’t about people immigrating to the United States.” As NBC News’ Suzanna Gamboa wrote,“The candidates seemed on the verge of a more insightful discussion” until Wallace directed the debate toward the “open borders” comment, which is when “things began to crumble.”

    As predicted, Trump took advantage of Wallace’s inaction and vague immigration questioning, using it as a platform to once again smear immigrants as violent criminals, conjuring up a phrase offensive to Latino immigrants in particular: “bad hombres.”

    Meanwhile, the pressing, life-altering questions many Latino immigrants have -- like the question 6-year-old Sophie Cruz suggested on, “What happens to me if you deport my parents?” -- remain unanswered.

  • Chris Wallace And The Banality Of Conservative Dishonesty

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA

    Fox News anchor Chris Wallace has received widespread praise for his performance as moderator of the final presidential debate, despite repeatedly injecting right-wing framing and misinformation into his questions. The celebration of Wallace’s performance highlights the extent to which conservative spin has become normalized in national politics.

    Following the October 19 debate, commentators across the political spectrum praised Wallace for his performance as moderator. Wallace was lauded for his “blunt questions,” “evenhanded approach,” and “sterling performance,” and he was even described as the “one clearcut winner” of the debate.

    Some of this praise is legitimate -- Wallace repeatedly grilled Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on questions of policy and at times forced him to stay on topic in his answers. And the most newsworthy moment of the debate -- Trump's refusal to say whether he’d accept the results of the elections -- came in response to Wallace’s pointed, repeated questioning near the end of the event.

    But Wallace also exposed his audience to a large dose of right-wing misinformation:

    • His question about the economy began with the false premise that President Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan damaged the economy.
    • His question about immigration took Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s 2013 comments about “open borders” grossly out of context.
    • His question about abortion access invoked the right-wing myth of “partial-birth” abortion, a non-medical term invented by anti-abortion groups.
    • His question about the national debt falsely alleged that programs like Social Security and Medicare are going to run out of money and add to the debt absent short-term cuts, echoing Republican talking points about entitlements.

    Wallace also failed to fact-check Trump’s frequent falsehoods -- following through on his promise not to be a “truth squad” during the debate.

    Wallace’s rave reviews from Republicans and Democrats alike highlight the extent to which right-wing dishonesty -- made ubiquitous by Fox News and conservative media -- has become normal in national politics. Wallace’s network has spent years repeating and mainstreaming these types of lies -- the stimulus failed, Democrats want open borders, et cetera. Viewers have heard them so often that it can feel passé to go through the motions of debunking them over and over. Journalists become so numb to the talking points that they can hear them being repeated by a debate moderator during a presidential debate without batting an eye.

    That’s how political propaganda works -- not by outright convincing people, but by treating a lie as so routine and unremarkable that people slowly stop being suspicious of it.

    Journalists’ willingness to accept and overlook Wallace’s bullshit is even greater when it’s being compared to the absurdity of Donald Trump. When Trump is on stage claiming his opponent should be disqualified from running for office or suggesting he might not accept the results of the election, it feels nitpicky to worry about the misleading nature of many of Wallace’s questions. Trump’s unhinged, out-of-control campaign style makes everything around him seem normal and tame by comparison. We’re willing to forgive Wallace’s occasional dishonesty because we’re so grateful that he pointed out Trump is literally threatening a core democratic principle.

    But becoming numb to Wallace’s casual, subtle dishonesty is incredibly dangerous. Fox News’ modus operandi is making right-wing misinformation so pervasive and constant that it becomes unnoticeable -- it becomes part of the noise we just take for granted in American politics. What makes Wallace such an effective purveyor of dishonesty is that he’s good at playing the part of the reasonable, “even-handed” journalist, even when what he’s saying is wrong.

    It’s easy to challenge bullshit when it’s being delivered wildly by Trump on a debate stage. It’s much harder to challenge it when it’s being subtly baked into questions from a moderator whose employer has spent years trying to blur the lines between serious journalism and right-wing fantasy.

  • Fox Business Gets Fooled Again By Gateway Pundit's Email Conspiracy Theory

    Host Stuart Varney Falsely Claims Out-Of-Context Email Proves Clinton Campaign Is “Encouraging” Voter Fraud

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Fox Business host Stuart Varney promoted the baseless conspiracy theory that Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta tacitly endorsed mass voter fraud based on a misreading of the contents of stolen emails released by WikiLeaks. Varney’s story comes straight from the discredited right-wing blog The Gateway Pundit, and it marks the second time in as many weeks that the Fox host has fallen for such an obviously fabricated story on air.

    In an attempt to deflect criticism of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s suggestion during the third presidential debate that he might not accept the results of the general election, Varney falsely accused Podesta of arguing in an email that “if you’ve got a [driver’s] license, you should vote … whether you’re a legal citizen or not.” Varney and guest Andrew Napolitano went on to suggest that the availability of driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in California and some other states would create an environment ripe for mass voter fraud:

    STUART VARNEY (HOST): Now listen to this. Maybe Trump's got a point. A WikiLeaks email from Clinton campaign manager [John] Podesta shows that if you’ve got a license, you should vote. That’s what Podesta thinks, whether you're a legal citizen or not. Here is exactly what he wrote: “On the picture ID, the one thing I have thought of in that space is that if you show up on Election Day with a driver's license with a picture, attest that you are a citizen, you have a right to vote in Federal elections.” … You’ve got to stand up and attest that you're citizen when you're not so you’ve got to lie. He’s encouraging this.

    Once again, Varney is pushing a conspiracy theory from hapless right-wing blogger Jim Hoft based on an intentionally misleading interpretation of emails released by WikiLeaks.

    On October 19, Hoft published a blog claiming “Podesta Says It’s OK for Illegals to Vote With Driver’s License…” in which he highlighted the exact quote cited by Varney and singled out California and other states for providing driver’s licenses to “illegal aliens.” The entire October 20 segment on Varney & Co. is based on this single blog, and Varney’s argument during the segment is pulled directly from Hoft.

    Varney could have followed the link back to the original WikiLeaks source and viewed a days-long email exchange from January 28, 2015, through February 4, 2015, between individuals who would soon join Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign. At no point during the email exchange, which has not been authenticated, does any participant so much as mention the word “immigrant,” much less undocumented ones. The email in question is about how responsive voters are to easing voter registration restrictions -- such as by adopting a policy of automatic voter registration when you receive a driver’s license or other state ID -- and the author simply concludes -- correctly -- that “you have a right to vote in Federal elections” if you “show up on Election Day with a drivers license ... [and] attest that you are a citizen”:

    It would still be a felony for a noncitizen to vote in a federal election, regardless of whether that person has a valid driver’s license. Trump supporters have been trying and failing to turn voter fraud into a core issue of the campaign, but the problem simply does not exist at any meaningful level. Fox News even admitted as much earlier the same day with an on-screen chyron reading “Experts Say Voter Fraud Is Rare.”

    Varney’s face plant on the voter fraud issue marks the second time in as many weeks that he has fallen for an laughable Gateway Pundit conspiracy on air. Last week, the Fox Business host bizarrely claimed that an unsolicited racist email sent to -- not from -- John Podesta somehow proved that Hillary Clinton was a racist.

    Varney should be more careful when regurgitating talking points pulled from fringe blogs like The Gateway Pundit, particularly when their conclusions are based on documents that the U.S. intelligence community stated on October 7 were stolen via Russian state-sponsored hacking in an effort to “interfere with the U.S. election process.”

  • Even Though Debate Moderators Didn’t Pose Any LGBT-Related Questions, Both Candidates Brought Up LGBT People

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    Over the course of three general election presidential debates, moderators failed to ask candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump a single question on LGBT equality. In the third and final debate, both candidates independently brought up LGBT people, though in drastically different terms, highlighting the need for a question to specifically parse policy positions on LGBT equality.

    The third presidential debate concluded without Fox News host Chris Wallace asking a question pertaining to LGBT equality. Prior to the debate, the National Center for Transgender Equality had urged Wallace to address the “critical issue” of transgender equality. This year saw an unprecedented number of anti-LGBT bills introduced in state legislatures, high-profile lawsuits from several states against federal policy guidance over transgender student equality, and the adoption of North Carolina's widely condemned HB 2, which, among other things, requires transgender people to use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificates.

    While Wallace failed to ask the candidates about their differing positions on LGBT equality, both Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump brought up LGBT people in the course of the debate. In answering a question on Supreme Court nominees, Clinton said that “we need a Supreme Court that will stand up … on behalf of the rights of the LGBT community” and that it is “important that we not reverse marriage equality.” In the second debate, Clinton had similarly said, “I want a Supreme Court that will stick with marriage equality” and pointed out that Trump has suggested that he would nominate justices who would “reverse marriage equality.”

    Trump didn’t bring up LGBT equality in the discussion of domestic policy. Instead, he mentioned LGBT people in an attack on the Clinton Foundation, calling the organization a “criminal enterprise” because it accepts donations from countries with anti-LGBT policies, saying “these are people that push gays off business -- off buildings.” This talking point is ripped straight from right-wing media pundits like Fox’s Sean Hannity, who have attempted to attack the Clinton Foundation by scandalizing donations from countries that have a history of discriminating against women and LGBT people. This line of attack ignores Trump’s business dealings in the exact same countries that donate to the Clinton Foundation. 

    Given that media have previously ignored Trump’s anti-LGBT record to falsely tout him as LGBT-friendly, the debates would have been the perfect chance for journalists to correct the mischaracterization of Trump as a “champion” of LGBT equality. 

    Methodology: Media Matters searched transcripts of the three presidential debates in The Washington Post for the terms “LGBT,” "gay," “lesbian,” “bisexual,” "transgender," "sexual orientation," "gender identity,” and “marriage.”