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  • Former Bush Aide: Trump’s Campaign Is Fueled By “Conspiratorial Nonsense”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Michael Gerson, syndicated columnist and former aide to President George W. Bush, explained in The Washington Post that presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s candidacy is “fueled by conspiracy.”

    Trump has peddled numerous conspiracy theories, including leading the charge in questioning the validity of President Obama’s birth certificate, and claiming vaccines cause autism, that the government lied about the dangers of Ebola, that Muslims cheered on 9/11, and that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia may have been murdered, among others. Trump regularly surrounds himself with and lauds known conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones, an infamous 9/11 truther, and Roger Stone, a notorious dirty trickster who alleges the Clintons are murderers.

    In a May 23 opinion piece for the Post, Gerson wrote Trump “is not flirting with the fringes” by pushing “conspiratorial nonsense,” but “is French-kissing them.” Gerson explained that “Trump emerged in conservative circles by questioning Barack Obama’s citizenship, and thus the legality of his presidency,” and has since peddled numerous conspiracy theories and has “succeeded by appealing to stereotypes and ugly hatreds.” Gerson warned “every Republican official endorsing Trump” that the conspiratorial “company he keeps … is the company you now keep.” From the May 23 Washington Post opinion piece:

    But it was Donald Trump who led the opposition. He tweeted: “The U.S. must immediately stop all flights from EBOLA infected countries or the plague will start and spread inside our ‘borders.’ Act fast!” And: “Ebola is much easier to transmit than the CDC and government representatives are admitting.”

    Health officials were not lying. Travel to and from West Africa was essential for medical personnel and aid workers to defeat the disease at its point of origin. Trump’s ban would have made Ebola materially more likely to spread beyond control.

    What kind of politics is ascendant in the United States? A distrust of institutions that borders on conspiratorial. Here is Trump again: “Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes — AUTISM.” And: “I am being proven right about massive vaccinations — the doctors lied.” And: “So many people who have children with autism have thanked me — amazing response. They know far better than fudged up reports!”

    Lying doctors. Fudged reports. It would all be disturbing — if it were not conspiratorial nonsense. No connection has ever been demonstrated between vaccinations and autism. And this particular nonsense is potentially deadly. Trump is undermining a consensus for vaccination that builds up “herd immunity” and saves the lives of children.

    [...]

    Does Trump really believe that liberals may have ordered a hit on a Supreme Court justice? Who knows? We do know he finds such ideas useful. Trump emerged in conservative circles by questioning Barack Obama’s citizenship, and thus the legality of his presidency. This required the existence of a conspiracy to hide the circumstances of Obama’s birth. “They cannot believe what they’re finding,” he said of “people that have been studying it.” Having actually discovered nothing, Trump doubled down on a deception.

    As a leader, Trump has succeeded by appealing to stereotypes and ugly hatreds that most American leaders have struggled to repress and contain. His political universe consists of deceptive experts, of scheming, of criminal Mexicans, of lying politicians and bureaucrats and of disloyal Muslims. Asked to repudiate David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan, Trump hesitated, later claiming a “bad earpiece.” Asked to repudiate the vicious anti-Semitism of some of his followers, Trump responded, “I don’t have a message to the fans.” Wouldn’t want to offend “the fans.”

    This is not flirting with the fringes; it is French-kissing them. Every Republican official endorsing Trump should know: This is the company he keeps. This is the company you now keep.

  • Benghazi Chairman’s Own Counsel Undercuts Conservative Myth That Benghazi Response Was Willfully Negligent

    Former GOP Counsel To Rep. Trey Gowdy Reportedly Praised Obama Administration Officials For Military Response To Benghazi Attacks

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    The former chief counsel to Benghazi committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) reportedly “repeatedly commended the military’s actions” responding to the 2012 Benghazi terror attacks, undercutting conservative media claims that there were additional assets the military could have deployed to save more lives as the attacks unfolded.

    Conservative media, led by Fox News, have for years attempted to scandalize the Obama administration’s response to the 2012 Benghazi attacks, often claiming -- in the face of numerous investigations and testimony to the contrary -- that CIA and military personnel were prevented from taking actions that could have saved the Americans who were killed during the attacks. As recently as last week, Fox hosted two anonymous witnesses who claimed that there were actions the military could have taken to save more lives.

    On May 16, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Ranking Member of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, released a letter sent to Gowdy detailing that his “own former Republican Chief Counsel … repeatedly commended the military’s actions” during the attack. The counsel allegedly told Leon Panetta, who was secretary of defense at the time of the attack, “I think you ordered exactly the right forces to move out and to head toward a position where they could reinforce what was occurring in Benghazi,” and, “I don’t mean to suggest that anything could have been done differently to affect the outcome in Benghazi, and I think you would agree with that.” Gowdy’s former counsel also reportedly told the Defense Department’s former chief of staff, Jeremy Bash, “I would posit that from my perspective ... we could not have affected the response to what occurred by 5:15 in the morning on the 12th of September in Benghazi.”

    Cummings noted, “The conclusions of your former Republican Chief Counsel match almost exactly the findings” from previous investigations into the attacks, which found that all available resources were deployed in response to the attack. Cummings also lambasted Gowdy for “damag[ing] the credibility of the Select Committee beyond repair” by “dragging out the investigation so close to the presidential election” and “demanding that the Defense Department waste countless hours and taxpayer funds” in pursuit of a non-existent smoking gun.

  • Right-Wing Media Lash Out Over President Obama’s Call For Protections For Transgender Students

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    President Obama is expected to announce “a sweeping directive” that will instruct public school districts around the country “to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity” in order to prevent discrimination. Right-wing media figures are already lashing out at the initiative claiming it is driven by “a fringe movement of nutters” and peddling the myth that protections for transgender students will lead to the sexual assault of girls.

  • An Extensive Guide To The Fact Checks, Debunks, And Criticisms Of Trump’s Various Problematic Policy Proposals

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY & JARED HOLT

    Over the course of the 2016 presidential primary, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has laid forth a series of problematic policy proposals and statements -- ranging from his plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States to his suggestion that the United States default on debt -- that media have warned to be “dangerous,” “fact-free,” “unconstitutional,” “contradictory,” “racist,” and “xenophobic.” Media Matters compiled an extensive list of Trump’s widely panned policy plans thus far along with the debunks and criticism from media figures, experts and fact-checkers that go along with them.

  • Fox News Resorts To Anonymous Sources In Attempt To Revive Debunked Benghazi Claim

    Network Is Still Trying To Turn Terrorist Attacks Into A Campaign Issue

    ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Fox News is attempting to revive the 2012 Benghazi attacks as a campaign issue with a new report that contrasts what it describes as statements from Hillary Clinton and the State Department that all possible efforts were made to save lives that night with statements from two anonymous members of the military on duty that night who disagree. In fact, reports from House and Senate committees as well as the secretary of defense and chairman of the joint chiefs at the time of the attack and their predecessors all back up the State conclusion that no other military response would have yielded better results.

  • NY Times Magazine Attacks The Obama Administration With Fact-Free Allegations

    David Samuels Falsely Attacks President Obama And Ben Rhodes, Fails To Disclose Conflict Of Interest

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    New York Times Magazine profile of the Obama administration’s push to cement the Iran nuclear deal baselessly claimed that President Obama and a top White House aide, Ben Rhodes, “largely manufactured” a narrative about the deal and “actively” misled the public to win support, despite reports to the contrary. The author, David Samuels, also failed to disclose his past criticism of the Iran deal and advocacy for bombing Iran.

  • The Right-Wing Pundits Who Pushed Automatic Classification Myth To Smear Clinton Are Burned Again

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    A State Department letter sent to Capitol Hill reportedly stated that sending “‘foreign government information’ in unclassified emails ‘does not amount to mishandling the information,’” undercutting right-wing media claims that Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton violated the law by sending and receiving emails that contained “foreign government information." 

  • Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick Urges Media To Cover “Unprecedented” Obstruction Of Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court Nomination

    Lithwick Explains How Dearth Of Garland Coverage Contributes To False Perception That Voters Don’t Care About The Nomination

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Slate’s reporter on courts and the law, Dahlia Lithwick, highlights how Republican obstruction of Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court and an election cycle filled with Donald Trump’s insults and hateful rhetoric have harmed coverage of the stalled confirmation process, even as it persists into “unprecedented” territory and affects the court’s ability to function effectively. Lithwick notes that despite reporters’ impressions that voters don’t care about Garland’s nomination, a recent poll shows nearly two-thirds of voters favor nomination hearings for Garland. For reporters looking for a “potential story,” Lithwick points to the impact ongoing obstructionism has had on “close Senate races,” the “millions already having been poured in” to the anti-Garland blockade by conservative groups, and confusion within the Republican Party on anti-Garland strategy. She concludes by acknowledging that “paper answers to questionnaires will never compete with stories about Donald Trump’s teeny tiny hands,” but implores media to “move forward” and find a way to cover the “brick wall of inaction” as the “nonconfirmation season” continues.

    From the May 10 article (emphasis added):

    The only experience more absurd these days than trying to actually be Merrick Garland —dutifully attending courtesy meetings that lack any meaningful courtesy and painfully enduring what is surely the most insulting nonconfirmation season in American history—is trying, as a journalist, to cover Merrick Garland and his stalled nomination.

    Because there is virtually nothing happening each day, there is virtually nothing to write about each day. And because we don’t write about it each day, voters continue not to know that it is going on each day. And since so many Americans don’t know about what isn’t happening to the empty seat at the Supreme Court each day, that all adds inexorably to the vague general impression that they must not care about it. And since they don’t seem to care about it, it hardly makes sense to write about it. Right?

    If we can all now agree that something isn’t news if it doesn’t insult Muslims or berate women, then I guess Merrick Garland isn’t news. And because Garland faces a brick wall of inaction, the handful of actions he does take seem completely futile.

    […]

    The result is that it’s been 55 days since the president announced Garland’s nomination, and the judge is now routinely banished to half a column on page A-14. This, despite the fact that the court is clearly operating in all sorts of diminished ways as a result of what will likely be a more-than-yearlong vacancy. As Washington Post reporter Robert Barnes recently noted, the court has accepted fewer cases for next term, and there is a question about how the big important issues now facing the court can be resolved in any definitive fashion this year.

    […]

    This is the lay of the land, and we in the media had best figure out how we are going to move forward with it: There is nothing interesting about nothing happening to a 63-year-old judge. Moreover, the court is, by design, secretive and built of paper, and stories about Merrick Garland’s paper answers to questionnaires will never compete with stories about Donald Trump’s teeny tiny hands. Even the fact that “everybody yawns” when told about a Supreme Court vacancy being blocked in an unprecedented manner in U.S. history isn’t a story. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be.

  • NY Times Report Undercuts Conservative Automatic Classification Myth Used To Smear Hillary Clinton

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The New York Times reported that sending “‘foreign government information’ through the government’s unclassified computer systems,” a designation that applies to “nearly three-quarters” of Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton’s now-classified emails, “‘does not amount to mishandling the information.’” The Times also revealed that CIA Director John Brennan sent retroactively classified information, underscoring a pattern of “how routinely sensitive information is emailed on unclassified government servers.”

    Right-wing media have relentlessly attempted to scandalize Clinton's email use. Conservative pundits have alleged that “foreign government communications are considered classified” and that sending “information derived from foreign government sources ... in a non-classified setting violates” the law. But according to a 2009 executive order, it is not mandatory to classify communications concerning foreign government information.

    The New York Times report substantiated this, revealing that the assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, Julia Frifield, sent a letter to Capitol Hill stating that “officials were in fact allowed to send ‘foreign government information’ through the government’s unclassified computer systems.” Frifield’s letter “went on to say that using ‘foreign government information’ in unclassified emails ‘does not amount to mishandling the information,’” and that these correspondences are only made classified if they have to be released to the public. The Times noted that “nearly three-quarters” of Clinton’s now-classified emails are “classified because they contained what is called ‘foreign government information’” and were publicly released. The article also revealed that CIA Director John Brennan sent retroactively classified information, reinforcing how “routinely sensitive information is emailed on unclassified government servers” by top officials. From the May 11 New York Times report:

    On the morning of March 13, 2011, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, Jeffrey D. Feltman, wrote an urgent email to more than two dozen colleagues informing them that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were sending troops into Bahrain to put down antigovernment protests there.

    Mr. Feltman’s email prompted a string of 10 replies and forwards over the next 24 hours, including to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as the Obama administration debated what was happening and how to respond.

    The chain contained information now declared classified, including portions of messages written by Mr. Feltman; the former ambassador in Kuwait, Deborah K. Jones; and the current director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John O. Brennan.

    The top administration officials discussed the Bahrain situation on unclassified government computer networks, except for Mrs. Clinton, who used a private email server while serving as secretary of state.

    Her server is now the subject of an F.B.I. investigation, which is likely to conclude in the next month, about whether classified information was mishandled.

    Whatever the disposition of the investigation, the discussion of troops to Bahrain reveals how routinely sensitive information is emailed on unclassified government servers, reflecting what many officials describe as diplomacy in the age of the Internet, especially in urgent, fast-developing situations.

    [...]

    Of the 30,322 emails made public, 2,028 have had portions redacted and are now classified at the lowest level of classification, “confidential.”

    Nearly three-quarters of those emails were classified because they contained what is called “foreign government information” — a vast category of information, gathered through conversations and meetings with foreign counterparts that are the fundamentals of diplomacy, but which had to be protected when the emails were released.

    Last week, in an apparent attempt to dispel criticism that many of the emails were improperly sent, a top State Department official argued in a letter to three Senate Democrats that the nation’s diplomats and officials were in fact allowed to send “foreign government information” through the government’s unclassified computer systems.

    “Department officials of necessity routinely receive such information through unclassified channels,” said the letter, dated May 2 and written by the assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, Julia Frifield.

    “For example, diplomats engage in meetings with counterparts in open settings, have phone calls with foreign contacts over unsecure lines, and email with and about foreign counterparts via unclassified systems.”

    The letter went on to say that using “foreign government information” in unclassified emails “does not amount to mishandling the information.”

    The State Department, unlike some other federal agencies, does not have the authority to redact that category of information even if it is required to release documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

    Thus, the only way the State Department could withhold “foreign government information” in the emails being released under court order was to classify it, according to the letter.

  • North Carolina Newspapers Call Out Gov. McCrory For Defending Anti-LGBT “Bathroom Bill”

    ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    North Carolina editorial boards are criticizing Gov. Pat McCrory (R) after he filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department in defense of the state’s anti-LGBT bathroom bill. McCrory claimed that the federal government had no authority to demand state legislators rework the law so it isn't discriminatory, and state newspapers denounced the governor for “defending the indefensible” and engaging in a “disturbing” legal battle that “won’t end well” for North Carolina.