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Conservative Media Conspiracy Theories Doused By The Facts
U.S. officials say they have not yet found evidence that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton willfully broke the law with use of her private email or that her server was hacked, according to two new reports, undercutting the conservative witch-hunt for a bombshell in the Democratic presidential front-runner’s email setup.
Prosecutors and FBI officials “have so far found scant evidence that [Hillary Clinton] intended to break classification rules,” according to a May 5 Washington Post report. The article noted that “prosecutors are wrestling with the question of whether Clinton intended to violate the rules, and so far, the evidence seemed to indicate she did not”:
Prosecutors and FBI agents investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email server have so far found scant evidence that the leading Democratic presidential candidate intended to break classification rules, though they are still probing the case aggressively with an eye on interviewing Clinton herself, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter
The involvement of the U.S. Attorney’s Office is not indicative that charges are imminent or even likely. One official said prosecutors are wrestling with the question of whether Clinton intended to violate the rules, and so far, the evidence seemed to indicate she did not.
CNN underscored the findings in the Washington Post article, reporting that “The investigation is still ongoing, but so far investigators haven't found evidence to prove that Clinton willfully violated the law.” The reports join the growing chorus of legal experts and government officials who have undermined claims made by right-wing media figures, who have repeatedly scandalized Clinton’s use of a private email server by arguing that she broke the law using her server for State Department emails.
Fox News’ chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge, who has a history of hyping evidence-free claims, most recently reported on May 4 that “the infamous Romanian hacker known as ‘Guccifer’ … easily – and repeatedly – breached former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s personal email server,” a claim parroted by various right-wing media figures.
But U.S. officials “dismissed claims [by “Guccifer”] that he was able to breach Clinton’s personal email server,” according to the Post, noting, “investigators have found no evidence to support the assertion.” NBC News also reported that the hacker “could provide no documentation to back up his claims,” and Politico reported that an “internal FBI review of Clinton’s email records did not indicate traces of hacking.”
Fox also alleged that the Obama administration is “slow-rolling” the Select Committee on Benghazi Committee’s investigation into Clinton’s email use, scandalizing the fact that a “special unit to review Benghazi documents” was convened later than expected.
The Department of Defense recently criticized the committee, slamming it for “straining the department's resources” chasing “documents and interviews” often based on “speculative or hypothetical” queries, according to Politico. A letter sent by Assistant Secretary of Defense Stephen Hedger derided the Republican-led committee’s “multiple and changing requests,” some of which have been “unfair … unproductive … [and] unnecessary,” and implored the committee to “remain focused on obtaining facts rather than encouraging speculation.”
Since Clinton’s use of private email was revealed, conservative media figures have made multiple baseless allegations, only to be burned by facts. The new revelations that investigators have not yet found evidence of wrongdoing by Clinton only add to the growing list of debunked myths spuriously pushed by right-wing media.
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Editors of the conservative RedState blog are warning that since Donald Trump is now the GOP’s presumptive nominee for president, Senate Republicans should move to confirm Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland “before it is too late.”
Redstate Managing Editor Leon H. Wolf, who has said that he will never vote for Trump, wrote in a May 4 post that Garland “is not a great choice, but is not a terrible one, either.” He continued that Senate Republicans should thus confirm Garland rather than allowing Hillary Clinton to name her own nominee after what he depicted as Trump's almost certain defeat in November. Fellow editors Ben Howe and Dan McLaughlin have also expressed support for the position. Wolf concluded:
In fact, if I were the Republicans, my main concern right now would be that Barack Obama would withdraw Garland’s nomination today. The fact that Merrick Garland still exists as an option right now is a gift that should not be squandered.
The calculus has changed – confirm Merrick Garland before it is too late.
BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith lambasted media outlets and reporters for allowing GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump to “lie to their face” about his opposition to the invasion of Iraq, ignoring the evidence showing that in 2002 Trump supported the invasion of Iraq.
Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed throughout the GOP presidential primaries that he opposed the Iraq invasion, using his alleged opposition to attack his GOP rivals and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. But BuzzFeed’s “Andrew Kaczynski unearthed an audio recording of [Trump] saying he supported” the invasion in 2002. Despite releasing audio evidence, media outlets, including “CNN, Fox, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, Bloomberg, the New York Times, and the Washington Post” have all either reprinted Trump’s lie, or allowed him to claim he opposed the invasion without pushback.
Smith also highlighted how the media, led by the Times’ Maureen Dowd, have also added this “fake fact” into a “fake narrative” that Trump is more of a “dove” on foreign policy than Hillary Clinton, ignoring that Trump’s claim he opposed the invasion has been debunked, that he has has refused to rule out using nuclear weapons in the Middle East and Europe, and has floated military engagement with Iran.
In his May 3 article, Smith implored media reporters to “stop letting [Trump] lie to their face about the most important policy call of the last 20 years,” writing, “Donald Trump did not oppose the invasion of Iraq” and “there’s no evidence that he’s ever been a ‘dove'”:
One of the great stories of 2016 is how Donald Trump hacked the media: How he learned from the New York tabloids and The Apprentice; how he dictated terms to the weakened television networks; how he used Twitter and won Facebook.
Those are complex questions that we will argue about for decades.
Here is a simpler one: Could reporters stop letting him lie to their face about the most important policy call of the last 20 years?
Donald Trump did not oppose the invasion of Iraq. Further, there’s no evidence that he’s ever been a “dove” — and a great deal that he’s been an impulsive supporter of military intervention around the world.
We know this because BuzzFeed News’s intrepid Andrew Kaczynski unearthed an audio recording of him saying he supported it. You can listen to it above. The audio quality is clear.
In the recording, made on Sept. 11, 2002, when it mattered, Howard Stern asked Trump whether he supported the invasion. His answer: “Yeah, I guess so.” On the war’s first day, he called it a “tremendous success from a military standpoint.”
It was the most recent in a series of belligerent statements about Iraq. In 2000, he opined at length in his book how U.S. airstrikes did nothing to stop Iraq’s WMD programs and said it “is madness not to carry the mission to its conclusion” in the context of a new war. He said many times in the late 1990s and early 2000s George H.W. Bush should have toppled Saddam during the Gulf War.
Trump’s opinions during that period have all the force and thoughtfulness of a man who isn’t paying much attention and whose opinion doesn’t matter. His support for the war is also totally unambiguous.
And yet, since Kaczynski found the audio recordings, most of the leading American media organizations have either repeated Trump’s lie or allowed him to deliver it unchallenged. That includes CNN, Fox, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, Bloomberg, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.
This fake fact is the basis for a fake narrative, crystallized in a Maureen Dowd column over the weekend christening “Donald the Dove.”
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Foreign policy experts and media fact-checkers highlighted the numerous false claims and contradictions in GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s April 27 foreign policy speech, noting that his speech was “fact free” and “incoherent.”
Right-wing media personalities repeated sexists attacks lobbed by GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump following his win in five primaries. During his victory speech Trump declared, "I think the only card she has is the woman's card," adding that "frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don't think she'd get 5 percent of the vote," prompting right-wing media pundits to laud his sexist attack on Clinton.
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Next time you watch the news, do me a favor. Take a look at the reporters’ arms. Do they seem tired to you? Overworked? They have to be a little sore at least. Such is the vigor with which the media have been patting themselves on the back lately.
After a full year of the Trump steamroller -- in which a honey-baked ham with authoritarian inclinations has managed to blow past any serious questioning of his policies or candidacy -- the media apparently feel that they’re now doing their jobs.
You could see it a few weeks back in the breathless praise for MSNBC's Chris Matthews when he interrogated Trump on abortion; or in the hype around the New York Times interview that nailed down Trump’s Strangelovian approach to nuclear weapons; or even in Trump’s recent pivot toward a more “presidential” tone. Among reporters and critics that I know, there’s a growing sentiment that Trump is changing his ways because they, the press, are taking him seriously now. They’re handling Trump not based on the job he has (obnoxious reality star) but on the job he wants (president or, perhaps, generalissimo).
Call me crazy, but I’m not totally buying this notion. I think it’s a crock. The media haven’t “done their job” with regard to Trump, and the reason why is very simple: The press have largely ignored the issue that made him a political phenomenon in the first place.
The media have overlooked Trump’s birtherism.
I’m a Catholic. I’ve seen enough baptismal water spilled to fill William Taft’s bathtub ten times over. But it doesn’t take a Catholic like me to understand the original sin of the Trump candidacy. His first act on the political stage was to declare himself the head of the birther movement. For Trump, the year 2011 began with the BIG NEWS that he had rejected Lindsay Lohan for Celebrity Apprentice, but by April, his one-man show to paint Barack Obama as a secret Kenyan had become the talk of the country. Five years later, Trump is nearing the Republican nomination for president.
In many ways, birtherism is the thing that launched Trump's campaign. But as he nears the big prize in Cleveland, Trump has refused disavow his conspiracy theory. In July, when Anderson Cooper pressed Trump on whether President Obama was, in fact, born in the United States, Trump’s response was, “I really don’t know.”
I’m taxing my mind to find a historical comparison here, to put this in context. I suppose Trump’s birtherism is the intellectual equivalent of the flat-earth theory; both are fully contradicted by the evidence. But then again, there is a difference between the two, and the difference is this: If a presidential candidate insisted that the USS Theodore Roosevelt would fall off the edge of the map after sailing past Catalina, Wolf Blitzer would probably ask him about it.
It’s been nine months since Cooper pressed Trump on the issue of whether he thinks the president is an American -- almost enough time, as Trump might put it, to carry a baby to term in Kenya and secretly transport him to Hawaii -- and still, no one has gotten an answer. In fact, most have stopped asking. It’s now known among reporters that Obama’s birthplace is a strictly verboten topic for Trump. If you bring up the subject, as Chris Matthews did in December, Trump looks at you with a glare I assume he otherwise reserves for undocumented immigrants and say, “I don’t talk about that anymore.”
Since July, there have been 12 debates, six televised forums, and enough cable interviews to combust a DVR, but the only “birther” issue extensively covered in the press has involved whether Sen. Ted Cruz was born in Calgary Flames territory. Most reporters don't seem to want to piss off the The Donald and risk losing their access.
Look, I understand that there’s plenty of craziness to investigate in our politics. Cruz believes that global warming is a hoax. Ben Carson claimed that the Biblical Joseph built the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Heck, once upon a time, George W. Bush famously thought the jury was out on evolution.
But Trump’s birtherism is far, far more important -- for two reasons:
First, in my experience, when a politician says he doesn’t talk about an issue, that’s precisely the issue you should ask him about.
Second, there’s another difference between being birther and flat-earther. It’s possible to believe the Earth is flat and not be a bigot, but it’s impossible to be a birther and not be one.
It’s no surprise Trump’s campaign has been a parade of racism after his foray into birtherism -- a border wall, a ban on Muslim immigration, and the failure to denounce the Ku Klux Klan. Unlike Bush’s creationism and Carson’s historical idiocy, Trump’s birtherism can’t be written off as a minor policy quirk. It’s less of a bug than a feature. Trump, by his own admission, sees the controversy over Obama’s birthplace as foundational to his brand and instructive to how he approaches politics. When ABC asked him about his aggressive birtherism in 2013, he said, "I don't think I went overboard. Actually, I think it made me very popular... I do think I know what I'm doing.”
I think it made me very popular… I do think I know what I’m doing.
With birtherism, Trump discovered a sad truth about modern American media: Bigotry gets you attention. And long as you bring viewers, readers, and clicks, the fourth estate will let you get away with that bigotry.
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Long before Donald Trump, there was another demagogue, Huey Long, who made a run for the White House. Long was fictionalized and immortalized as the character Willie Stark in Robert Penn Warren’s novel, All The King’s Men, in which Warren wrote, “Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption.”
So, too, was Trump’s political career.
The press should get their hands off their backs and ask him about it.
The Washington Post credulously called the efforts by the discredited conservative group Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) to prevent the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland "remarkably successful." But polls show the general public is increasingly at odds with JCN's position. Indeed, just last week the Post reported that the results of a new poll was evidence that "Democrats are winning the message war over Garland." The Post promoted the notion of JCN's success in an interview with chief counsel Carrie Severino, who was given a platform to rehash debunked smears about Garland's judicial record on guns and government regulations.