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  • Potential DHS Hire Jon Feere Promoted Anti-Immigrant White Nationalist Website

    Feere Also Discussed Immigration In Interview With Holocaust-Denying Anti-Semitic Website

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Policy analyst Jon Feere, who is reportedly “in line” to join the Trump administration, has promoted the work of the white nationalist website VDare.com and given an interview about immigration to an anti-Semitic newspaper that promotes claims that the Holocaust is a “hoax.”

    The Washington Post reported that Feere “is in line to join the Trump administration in an immigration-related position at the Department of Homeland Security, according to two former U.S. officials informed of transition changes by department personnel.” The paper noted that Feere is a “prominent advocate of ending U.S. birthright citizenship” and has worked as a legal policy analyst for the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS).

    CIS is an anti-immigrant group founded by John Tanton, a white nationalist who has claimed that “a European-American majority” is required to maintain American culture. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has heavily criticized the nativist group for releasing shoddy research and pushing misinformation about immigrants.

    Feere wrote on Twitter that the “reality is that many pro-illegal immigration people simply hate Americans and believe that foreigners are superior in every way.”

    Feere has also promoted the work of the white nationalist anti-immigrant site VDare on his Twitter account. He linked to an article on the site in an April 9, 2016, tweet:

    The VDare article claimed that it’s “deeply disturbing the lengths to which honest citizens must go to convince the government to do its basic job of protecting us from violent foreigners -- from killer jihadists to all-too-common drunk-driving illegal aliens.” VDare added that “citizens are expected to accept lesser status than that of illegal aliens, who are favored by leftists as friendly to oversized government and comfortable with gangster-style politics.”

    VDare states that it “is named after Virginia Dare, the first English child to be born in the New World.” The website is run by prominent white nationalist Peter Brimelow.

    Civil rights groups have heavily criticized VDare.com. SPLC wrote that it is a white nationalist website that “regularly publishes articles by prominent white nationalists, race scientists and anti-Semites.” The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) described VDare.com as a “racist, anti-immigrant site.”

    Numerous media outlets have correctly identified the site as white nationalist, including The Washington Post, The New York TimesThe Associated Press, and CNN.

    When a Twitter user criticized Feere for linking to the white nationalist website, Feere replied: “It's simply the most link-filled account of the killing, allowing people to read other Boston newspapers via one link.”

    Feere also discussed immigration in a May 2012 interview with the anti-Semitic publication American Free Press. The May 28, 2012, piece is headlined “‘Big Ag’ Favors Illegal Immigration,” and it notes that Feere spoke with American Free Press:

    In an attempt to dissuade other states from following suit, Big Ag has embarked upon a ruthless media campaign, insisting that the recently enacted legislation has crippled the growth of the fruit and vegetable industry and left farmers with no qualified pickers to harvest their crops.

    “These businesses make claims that they have produce rotting on the vines, but there’s very little evidence of it,” said Jon Feere, a legal policy analyst with the Center for Immigration Studies, who recently spoke with AFP. “If there’s produce to be pulled, they’re going to find a way to do it. That means paying a better wage that attracts a legal workforce. In many of these states, unemployment is at an all-time high. So to suggest there are no willing workers is just silly.”

    Contrary to an oft-recited cliché, said Feere: “There is no job that Americans can’t do. What these businesses are really saying is that they can’t find willing workers to pull produce at the wages they’re willing to offer.”

    Feere goes on to say that even if farms did have trouble finding workers, other options are still available. “Most industries can be mechanized so that fewer humans are needed for harvesting,” he said. “However, there are some upfront costs to mechanization, and businesses have been unwilling to invest in the needed technology because they assume there will be a continuous supply of cheap, exploitable labor.”

    Concerns that a higher wage will drive up food prices are unfounded. According to Feere: “We’ve learned that the average labor cost for a piece of produce is somewhere around three cents to a dollar. These businesses could actually double the wages they were offering and you really wouldn’t see more than a few pennies tacked on.”

    After the article ran, the ADL criticized Feere for “associating” “with anti-Semites,” writing that American Free Press is a “conspiracy-oriented anti-Semitic newspaper run by long-time anti-Semite and Holocaust denier, Willis Carto.” SPLC also criticized Feere for granting “an interview to the anti-Semitic newspaper.”

    American Free Press promotes Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism. On March 21, 2012, it promoted the book The Holocaust Hoax Exposed: Debunking the 20th Century’s Biggest Lie. The website praised the book for purportedly ripping “apart, in lay language, the veil-thin arguments used to prove the Jewish ‘Holocaust,’ which is then used by global Zionists to justify the creation and continued existence of the state of Israel and as a tool to silence all critics.”

  • Steve Bannon To Journalists: Kneel Before Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    President Trump’s chief strategist just said flat out what has been clear for weeks: This administration considers journalists the enemy and plans to do everything it can to weaken and delegitimize the free press over the next four years.

    “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for awhile,” Steve Bannon told The New York Times yesterday. “I want you to quote this. The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”

    “The mainstream media has not fired or terminated anyone associated with following our campaign,” Bannon added. “Look at the Twitter feeds of those people: they were outright activists of the Clinton campaign. … That’s why you have no power. You were humiliated.”

    Bannon has laid bare the Trump administration’s expectations for the press. Trump’s team has no respect for the place of adversarial journalism in the democratic process. The president and his administration's officials want -- and believe they deserve -- favorable coverage. And if they don’t get it, they will lash out at reporters, outlets, and the media as a whole.

    Sycophants and propagandists -- like Breitbart.com, the pro-Trump website Bannon ran until joining the Trump campaign last year -- will be favored. Those who dare to publish stories that damage the administration, or point out Trump and his administration’s lies, will be punished.

    Throughout his campaign, Trump laced into the press, blacklisted journalists and outlets who provided critical coverage, threatened to use the power of the government against them and open up libel laws, and condemned them to press pens where he could mock them for the surrounding crowd. His former campaign manager physically battered a reporter who got out of line.

    Now he’s president, and there is no sign of a pivot. Instead, his performance draws eerie parallels to the actions of authoritarian regimes that have targeted and crushed the independence of the press in their own countries.

    Reporters can stand up for the principles they hold dear, or they can be steamrolled and humiliated.

    On Friday, Trump will give his first press conference as president. It will be his next opportunity to bend them to his will -- and their next chance to do something about it.

  • Trump Reportedly Outraged That CNN Doesn't Cover Him Like Fox News

    Blog ››› ››› CHRISTOPHER LEWIS

    According to sources from New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman, President Donald Trump is angry that CNN and CNN chief Jeff Zucker do not grant him the favorable type of coverage he receives from Fox News

    Trump has made it no secret his contempt for CNN, recently lambasting the network’s ratings in a January 24 tweet praising Fox’s inauguration coverage.

    Trump’s tweet comes on the heels of his January 11 attack on CNN’s senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta, refusing to answer the journalist’s questions and calling CNN “fake news.” After the press conference, Acosta was threatened by White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who said he would remove Acosta if he treats Trump disrespectfully. The next Sunday, Trump’s team failed to appear on CNN’s Sunday news program, State of the Union, but sent representatives to MSNBC, Fox, CBS, and ABC.

    Trump also attacked the network before and immediately after the election, questioning the credibility of the network, and attacking individual journalists as dumb, lightweights, who aren’t real journalists.

    According to a report from Gabriel Sherman, Trump’s antipathy towards CNN may be personal.Sherman quoted one high-level CNN source as saying, “Trump thinks just because he’s known Jeff that CNN should be covering him like Fox News does”:

    According to people close to both sides, Trump has told White House staffers that he feels personally betrayed by CNN chief Jeff Zucker.

    Trump complains that Zucker should be programming CNN more favorably toward him because of their long relationship, which can be traced back to 2004 when Zucker put The Apprentice on NBC. Trump has also said to White House staffers that Zucker owes him because Trump helped get him the job at CNN.

    According to CNN sources, Trump’s claim that he assisted Zucker in landing the top job at the network is false. Trump seems to have gotten the idea because he praised Zucker to Turner Broadcasting’s then-CEO Phil Kent at a charity dinner in the fall of 2012, a few months before CNN hired Zucker. But CNN sources say Turner had already decided to hire Zucker by that point. “This is entirely personal,” one CNN high-level source said. “Trump thinks just because he’s known Jeff that CNN should be covering him like Fox News does.”

  • Donald Trump, Sean Spicer, And The George Costanza Rule Of Lying

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    In a seminal episode of the sitcom Seinfeld, Jerry Seinfeld turns to his mendacious friend George Costanza for advice on how to beat a lie detector test. After first comparing the request to asking famed Italian opera star Luciano Pavarotti how to sing like him, George replies, “Jerry, just remember. It's not a lie ... if you believe it.”

    Journalists have an understandable hesitance toward using the blunt word “lie” to describe the statements of politicians. But at some news outlets, this hesitance has drifted into acceptance of the George Costanza Rule of Lying: a statement cannot be termed a “lie” unless there is demonstrable evidence that the speaker truly believes it to be false. Since reporters can’t read minds, it is virtually impossible to meet this standard.

    White House press secretary Sean Spicer sought to exploit this vulnerability in Monday’s press conference. After he offered a series of obviously false and easily disprovable statements on Saturday about the crowd size at President Trump’s inaugural festivities, many journalists abandoned their typical hesitance and branded his statements as “lies.”

    Spicer doesn't want reporters calling him a liar because that would make it impossible to do his job. And he definitely wants to ensure that they don't use that terminology to refer to President Trump. So he used his first press briefing to claim that his statements aren’t lies if he believes them.

    Asked by ABC’s Jonathan Karl whether it is “your intention to always tell the truth from that podium, and will you pledge never to knowingly say something that is nonfactual,” Spicer responded that his “intention is never to lie,” but at times he will unknowingly pass along incomplete or inaccurate information. He explicitly compared this to the mistakes that journalists make, saying that while sometimes news outlets have to publish corrections, “that doesn't mean that you were intentionally trying to deceive readers and the American people” and thus it would be unfair to “turn around and say, ‘OK, you were intentionally lying.’”

    Spicer’s statement had two aims. First, he was trying to establish the circumstances under which it would be appropriate for journalists to accuse him and others in the Trump administration of lying. Rather than journalists making that assessment based on context -- whether the false statement has been repeated after being disproven, or whether it is so false on its face that it defies other explanations -- he wants them to reserve the term for cases where they can prove the speaker doesn’t believe their words. This is a standard so high as to be virtually impossible to meet.

    Second, he appealed to journalists’ sense of fairness by suggesting that his errors and those of journalists are similar, and thus it would be wrong to hold him to a different standard, since surely they wouldn’t want to be accused of “lying” every time they misreport a story.

    Neither prong of this argument stands up to scrutiny.

    Trump and his ilk make false statements with such frequency, brazenness, and repetition that the best way to characterize what's happening is to say they are lying. You don't need a mind-reading device to know that if someone is repeating a false statement over and over again after it's been pointed out that it's inaccurate, they are doing it deliberately and thus lying.

    The sheer volume of falsehoods that Spicer crammed into his Saturday statement -- at least four blatant ones and a fifth misrepresentation, all in service of his claim that “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration -- period -- both in person and around the globe” -- should convince journalists that he doesn’t deserve their trust.

    Likewise, Trump’s habitual lying, at a rate far beyond what is typical for politicians, suggests that journalists should not assume that he is acting in good faith, but rather that he is trying to deceive them. News outlets that refuse to suggest that the president is lying under those circumstances are doing their audiences a disservice.

    The good news is that some outlets have been willing to cross that bridge and acknowledge when the president is deliberately speaking falsehoods.

    Spicer today responded to a question about Trump’s lie that millions of illegal votes were cast during the election by saying, "The president does believe that.” This is consistent with Spicer’s message that it can’t be a lie if Trump believes it, regardless of how many times he’s been told it’s wrong or the evidence amassed against his position.

    Spicer also said on Monday that reporters should assume that when he says things that are not true, he is acting in good faith and making simple mistakes -- in the same way that reporters who misreport events should be considered to have erred rather than lied.

    But Trump and Spicer don’t actually adhere to that standard -- in fact, they constantly accuse their enemies (including the press) of lying.

    The impetus for this entire argument was Spicer’s Saturday night claim that the press had deliberately lied about the inaugural crowd size. He did not assume they had acted in good faith and made a mistake, but instead suggested they were lying and ascribed motive, saying that photographs of the inaugural proceedings had been “intentionally framed” to “minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall.”

    Likewise, on Saturday morning, Trump called the press liars. He said they were “among the most dishonest human beings on Earth,” and that they had deliberately undercounted the inaugural turnout. He added, “We caught them, and we caught them in a beauty. And I think they're going to pay a big price.” He also accused them of fabricating a rift between him and the CIA.

    This is not an anomaly. In addition to frequently portraying the press at large as “lying” or “dishonest,” Trump has singled out outlets like The New York Times, Politico, The Washington Post, CNN, the Associated Press, and The Wall Street Journal, as well as journalists and pundits including the AP’s Jill Colvin and Jeff Horwitz, Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins, ABC News’ Tom Llamas, NBC News’ Katy Tur and Chuck Todd, CBS News’ Sopan Deb (now at the Times), syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, NY TimesJonathan Martin and Charles Blow, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, and Politico’s Ben Schreckinger.

    In addition to journalists, Trump frequently accused President Obama and 2016 opponents Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio of lying. He even gave Ted Cruz the nickname “Lyin’ Ted.”

    The Trump administration wants impunity to spew falsehoods at an unprecedented rate, allowing the president and his team to shape the information ecosystem and push through their extremist agenda. But for that to happen, they also need journalists to give them the space to lie by refusing to call them out on their practices. At this late date, that's getting harder and harder to justify.

    Sign Media Matters’ petition urging the White House press corps to “close ranks and stand up for journalism” against Trump’s attacks.

  • How Incoming White House Staffer Julia Hahn Attacked Paul Ryan At Breitbart

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN & NINA MAST

    President Donald Trump is planning to hire Julia Hahn, a Breitbart.com staff writer, to serve in his administration, primarily under former Breitbart CEO and current White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon. Hahn, who has repeatedly criticized House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) while at Breitbart, is coming into the job as tensions are reportedly starting to cool between Ryan and Bannon.

  • The White House Press Secretary Pivots From Attacking The Press To Gaslighting Them

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    On Saturday night, White House press secretary Sean Spicer unleashed a brutal thrashing of the press, repeatedly lying about the size of the crowd that attended President Trump’s January 20 inaugural festivities. His bizarre, reality-defying statement was widely disparaged by journalists across much of the political spectrum.

    Today, in the first official White House press briefing of the Trump administration, Spicer instead offered a gentler gaslighting. The effect was just as insidious -- he manipulated the press and tried to delegitimize criticism with falsehoods. But the method -- without Saturday’s yelling and direct attacks on the media -- went down much easier with his targets.

    Some journalists and pundits rushed to praise his effort and suggest it represented a “reboot” of the Trump administration's relationship with the media:

    In fact, Spicer peppered his press briefing with a series of comments that implicitly urged reporters and the public to defy their own memories of past events and set the stage for a new reality in which facts are malleable. Here are four such cases.

    “Sometimes We Can Disagree With The Facts”

    Roughly 20 minutes into the question and answer period, ABC News’ Jonathan Karl raised the issue of Saturday’s press statement, asking Spicer, “Is it your intention to always tell the truth from that podium, and will you pledge never to knowingly say something that is nonfactual?” Spicer responded, “It is” -- then went on to say that “sometimes we can disagree with the facts.” He explained that he might occasionally pass on information that is incomplete, but his “intention is never to lie to you,” adding that he would “tell you the facts as I know them, and if we make a mistake, I’ll do our best to correct it.”

    Spicer went on to call this a “two-way street,” comparing administration falsehoods to the media making mistakes and saying that it wouldn’t be appropriate in those cases to say the press was “intentionally lying.”

    Spicer’s remarks demand that reporters forget that he had, reading from a written statement, accused the press of deliberately lying on Saturday night. He said photographs of the inaugural proceedings had been “intentionally framed” to “minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall.”

    The latest comments also demand that reporters forget that President Trump, in a speech at CIA headquarters that day, also accused the press of deliberately lying. He called them “among the most dishonest human beings on Earth,” and accused them of deliberately undercounting the inaugural turnout, saying, “We caught them, and we caught them in a beauty. And I think they're going to pay a big price.” Again, this happened two days ago.

    Believing Spicer’s too-cute claim that he just happened to err, the way that journalists sometimes makes mistakes, also requires reporters to ignore the vast array of false statements that Spicer crammed into his brief statement Saturday, all of which, curiously, happened to aid his premise that the press had been lying and the Trump inauguration had a record turnout.

    "For Too Long It's Been About Stats"

    That’s a reporter spending three minutes trying to pin Spicer down on which unemployment statistic the administration considers official -- and thus on which it should be judged. Spicer refuses to provide a straight answer, saying that “for too long it’s been about stats, ... about what number we are looking at, as opposed to what face we are looking at.”

    Trump spent more than a year on the campaign trail using a variety of statistics to falsely claim that up to 42 percent of American people were unemployed. That stat was widely denounced for including all people “not in the workforce,” including retirees and stay-at-home parents. Spicer would like reporters to forget about that -- and create a reality in which unemployment statistics are irrelevant, and thus Trump cannot be held accountable for them.

    “I Don’t Know How You Can Interpret It Differently”

    You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me with this:

    REPORTER: So are you retracting your claim on Saturday that it was the largest crowd “in person” for an inauguration?

    SPICER: That’s not what I said.

    REPORTER: Well you said, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period. Both in person and around the globe.”

    SPICER: Right.

    REPORTER: Both in person –

    SPICER: To witness – and around the globe. Yes, in total audience it was.

    REPORTER: In total audience but not simply in person.

    SPICER: But that – right, but again, I didn’t say in person, both in person and around the globe. To witness it.

    REPORTER: You’re saying those together?

    SPICER: No, that’s actually what I said. It’s not – I don’t know how you can interpret it differently, that’s literally what I said. To witness it in person and around the globe. Total audience, yes.

    Literally everyone interpreted it differently because that’s what that collection of words -- words written ahead of time to be delivered publicly, not comments off the cuff -- actually mean when they are placed next to each other.

    “This Rift That So-Called Exists”

    Asked why Trump had chosen the CIA headquarters as the venue for a speech to discuss his crowd size, Spicer claimed that Trump “kept hearing about this rift that existed” with the CIA and wanted to go before their staff to tell them that “what you are hearing on television or in reports about this rift are” are incorrect. He added that Trump’s message to the CIA was, “You see and hear all this stuff on TV about this rift that so-called exists,” but “it doesn't matter.” According to Spicer, Trump also wanted the CIA to hear “how much he respects them -- how much he wanted to dispel the myth that there was a quote-unquote ‘rift.’”

    Where did the “myth” come from and why are there so many “reports” on it? As dictated by Spicer, it came out of nowhere, the result of the media. Trump himself attributed it to his “running war with the media,” composed of “the most dishonest human beings on earth,” who “sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community.”

    Here’s why journalists reported on the “rift that so-called exists”:

    After Spicer’s briefing today, Media Matters president Angelo Carusone broke down the impact of the last three days:

  • Newt Gingrich’s White House Press Briefing Plan: Ban Questions From Adversarial Journalists, Have A Live Audience

    Proposal Would Send Journalists Back To The Campaign Press Pen

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Newt Gingrich has a new proposal for the Trump administration’s efforts to delegitimize and weaken critical journalists: turn White House press briefings into a “town hall” format where presumably hand-picked citizens would join the “total left-wing propagandists” in the press corps, while banning the most critical reporters from asking questions.

    Gingrich, a former speaker of the House, Fox News contributor, and sometime adviser to President Donald Trump, has urged the new administration to use the power of the White House to shatter the credibility and influence of the press. He previously said the administration should respond to critical coverage from CNN by blackballing a reporter for months and including more “courteous,” less “adversarial” journalists from local outlets, in addition to “propaganda organizations” like CNN and The New York Times.

    During a January 23 interview on Fox & Friends, Gingrich suggested moving the briefings to a “larger auditorium” in order to allow “one-fourth or one-half of the people at the press conference to be citizens.” “Are you suggesting that it’s kind of like a town hall with some journalists in it?” responded co-host Steve Doocy. “Sure,” Gingrich replied.

    Gingrich also discussed the plan during a speech at the Heritage Foundation, where he asked, “Why pretend that your mortal enemies are the people who ought to ask you questions?” He added, “If you took the people who sit in the front two rows” at the press briefing and reviewed their Trump commentary, “you’d ask yourself why would any rational person allow these people to ask questions. You don’t have an obligation to be a masochist.”

    Presenting his briefing before a studio audience would allow White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer to adopt the anti-press strategies Trump deployed on the campaign trail. The crowd could jeer critical questions from journalists and cheer Spicer’s attacks on the media.

    He would also have the option of taking presumably easier questions not only from sycophantic pro-Trump outlets, but from Trump supporters in the audience.

    This seems like an absurd plan. But it is entirely consistent with the Trump administration’s view of the press. It doesn’t see journalists as a valuable part of the democratic process, or even as a necessary evil. Instead, they are “hate objects,” an enemy to be crushed, publicly, for the enjoyment of their supporters.

    Trump’s fans don’t care if reporters can get their questions answered at press briefings. The right-wing media has primed them for decades to see the media as unacceptably liberal and dishonest. But to watch the White House press secretary -- or the president -- grind adversarial reporters into the dirt to the crowd’s applause? That is the WWE-style entertainment for which they yearn.

    Gingrich’s call for the White House to refuse to answer questions from critical reporters echoed Trump ally Sean Hannity’s post-election claim that "until members of the media come clean about colluding with the Clinton campaign and admit that they knowingly broke every ethical standard they are supposed to uphold, they should not have the privilege, they should not have the responsibility of covering the president on behalf of you, the American people."

    Gingrich presented his plan as retaliation for Time magazine reporter Zeke Miller falsely reporting via Twitter that the Martin Luther King Jr. bust had been removed from the Oval Office when Trump replaced Obama. Miller corrected his report, offered an apology to his colleagues, and deleted the tweet within an hour after learning that the bust had been “obscured by an agent and door.”

    Spicer criticized Miller’s report during a January 21 statement, and White House aide Kellyanne Conway renewed that criticism during a January 22 appearance on NBC’s Meet The Press.

    Asked about her interview with Chuck Todd, Gingrich commented, “We’ve got to start talking about mainstream propaganda. They're not news stories. They're not news outlets. Chuck’s not a newsman. All these people are propagandists for the left.” He went on to say that Miller’s report had been “a big deal because it was part of an underlying effort to say that Trump is a racist at a time when America has substantial racial tension. It was exactly false and exactly divisive.”

    Gingrich’s sudden concern with the “racial tension” stoked by criticism of the president is shocking coming from the man who accused President Obama of having a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” worldview and called him the “food stamp president.”

    Sign Media Matters’ petition urging the White House press corps to “close ranks and stand up for journalism” against Trump’s attacks.

  • How Years Of The Right-Wing Media’s Obama Hatred Paved The Way For Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    At noon today, Donald Trump will swear the oath of office and become president of the United States. His ascent would not have been possible without the years of vitriol that the right-wing media directed at his predecessor.

    That hatred of President Obama, and the related scorched-earth efforts to smother his agenda, prepared the way for Trump. Many Republican voters became, in the words of one conservative writer, “just increasingly divorced from reality” after spending years in the right-wing echo chamber.

    In the first months after Obama’s election, as the president sought solutions for the most immense economic crisis in decades, conservative media became completely unhinged. Violent, doomsday rhetoric and overt appeals to feelings of anger and paranoia in their audience became regular features of commentary across the full spectrum of the right-wing press. While the level of demagoguery waxed and waned over the years, the hatred and fear that had been unleashed never dissipated.

    The GOP establishment was all too willing to go along with “the rage and unreason of radio talkers” as long as they could keep them pointed at liberals. Then Trump came along, a candidate who had repeatedly questioned whether Obama was eligible to be president in the first place, and stole the base right out from under them.

    And once Trump was a major party candidate, he had a pretty good shot of becoming president, especially after receiving a massive volume of coverage from a press that was unwilling or unable to properly contextualize his candidacy.

    “I Hope He Fails” And Fox As “The Alamo”

    Five days before Obama’s 2009 inauguration, the nation was in dire straights. A financial crisis had sent the economy into a tailspin, triggering massive job losses and a plummeting stock market. The banking system was still on the brink of failure. The auto industry was on the verge of collapse. Americans were rightly frightened of the immense economic insecurity, but broadly supportive of the new president who promised to right the ship.

    But on January 16, 2009, Rush Limbaugh -- one of the most powerful voices in Republican politics -- told his millions of listeners that his “hope for the Obama presidency” was “I hope he fails.” In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity the day after Obama was sworn in, Limbaugh doubled down, saying: "We are being told that we have to hope he succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles, bend over forward, backward, whichever, because his father was black, because this is the first black president."

    Over the next few months, Limbaugh would continue to state that he wanted Obama to fail. When other prominent Republicans offered criticism of the radio host, he would blast them on his show; his audience would flood their offices with calls until they were forced to apologize. In a sign of things to come, even the chairman of the Republican National Committee had to grovel before the man with the microphone.

    That same month, Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes sat down with another right-wing radio host, Glenn Beck. After spending two years at HLN, Beck was about to debut his new Fox show, and he was worried that Ailes might not be willing to give him the leeway to go after the incoming administration. “I see this as the Alamo,” Ailes reportedly told Beck. “If I just had somebody who was willing to sit on the other side of the camera until the last shot is fired, we'd be fine.” A partnership was struck.

    Fox executives later acknowledged that the network took “a hard right turn” after the election and become “the voice of opposition” to Obama.

    As a presidential candidate, Obama had frequently been subject to a hefty dose of conservative media vitriol. Given that Obama was the first black major party nominee and had the middle name “Hussein,” a lot of that vitriol was racist or aimed at falsely suggesting he was a Muslim. The fearmongering took off as the election approached, with conservatives baselessly warning that he would be a dictator.

    But in the first 100 days of his administration, following the lead of Limbaugh, Ailes, and Beck, the floodgates opened.

    One Hundred Days Of Hate

    As the Obama administration took control of the reins of government and began trying to halt the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the right-wing media reviews rolled in.

    The new president was a Marxist. And a fascist. And a Nazi. And a Maoist. And a Bolshevik. And a Trotskyite.

    “Is this where we’re headed?” asked Beck over a montage of photos of Hitler, Stalin, and Lenin.

    Obama’s aim was “destroying our economic system as we currently know it." His financial rescue plan was “Josef Stalin without the bloodshed.” It was also socialism. So was his economic recovery plan (unless that was really communism. Or fascism. It was definitely slavery). The auto industry rescue made him a mob boss. So did his labor proposal. His cabinet secretaries were Soviet commissars.

    According to one CNBC host, the big debate was over whether Obama was “the New Economic Policy Lenin or the initial storm-the-Winter-Palace Lenin.” Obama’s party was trying to create a “political dictatorship.” Possible prosecutions of Bush administration officials who had aided the use of torture were “show trials” that would turn the nation into a “banana republic.”  

    Obama was “enslaving” our children. His education plan was “Maoist.” He was striving to create “chaos and depression” among Americans. He was a vampire “going after the blood of our businesses.” His government was “a heroin pusher using smiley-faced fascism to grow the nanny state." He was “taking every tradition and institution that defined this country's greatness and trying to rip it to shreds.”

    He was “more sympathetic with the long-term goals of world communism, and … Muslim terrorists, than with any legitimate American goals." He was embracing “the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood” and preparing to “sell us out” to the Islamic world.

    He was trying to institute a one-world government by repealing the Declaration of Independence and taking the Constitution apart. “Those crazies in Montana who say, ‘We're going to kill ATF agents because the U.N.'s going to take over’” were “beginning to have a case.”

    Obama was an “existential threat.” He “hates” America and was “raping” it. It was time to talk about impeachment because the president was a “dictator.”

    After weeks of hearing that Obama was planning to destroy the country, right-wing media’s audience members were ready for action. They got their opportunity after CNBC contributor Rick Santelli’s denunciation of Obama’s housing plan from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade went viral on February 19, 2009; Santelli’s rant culminated in a call for viewers to join him to protest at a “Chicago Tea Party” on the shores of Lake Michigan.

    Within days, powerful national conservative organizations backed by corporate interests and wealthy right-wing donors started organizing a nationwide series of “Tax Day Tea Parties” to protest the Obama administration, leading up to and culminating on April 15.

    Fox News -- the “voice of opposition,” Ailes’ “Alamo” -- became the focal point, megaphone, and chief promoter of the nascent tea party movement.

    The network’s hosts and anchors championed the protests in dozens of segments and promos in the following weeks, hosting protest organizers for fawning interviews, providing their audience with protest dates, locations and website URLs, and encouraging viewers to join them at protests they were attending and covering. At times, these events were openly branded as “FNC Tax Day Tea Parties.” In turn, organizers used the scheduled appearance of Fox hosts to drum up more attendees.

    Fox’s abject support for the tea parties was a crucial element in their success. As we noted at the time, “Dozens of articles about tea parties in various cities reported that Fox News and its hosts helped influence, start, or turn out participants to local protests. In numerous cases, these reports quoted local participants or organizers stating they were motivated to join or start protests because of Fox News.”

    Again, this all happened in the first 100 days of Obama’s tenure.

    The years to come would see right-wing media flirt with a host of absurd Obama conspiracies; claim over and over again that he intended to create “death panels”; and try to bury Obama’s nominees under an avalanche of false smears. Fox News went all-in as the research and communications arm of the GOP. Glenn Beck called Obama a racist, used his paranoid anti-Obama rants to become a conservative grass-roots leader, attacked a liberal foundation with such heat that one of his heavily armed fans tried to storm its offices, lost all his major advertisers, and eventually left Fox. The “end of America as you know it” was always just around the corner.

    President Obama’s Marxist/communist/socialist/Leninist/Maoist/Trotskyite/Stalinist administration resulted in the longest streak of private sector job creation in our nation’s history, with more than 15 million private sector jobs created since the recession’s low point in 2010. Under his tenure, the stock market reached record highs, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average more than doubling since he was sworn into office.

    A Birther In The White House

    In the wake of Obama’s re-election, The Onion proposed that a “shrieking white-hot sphere of pure rage” would be the 2016 candidate “that would tap into Republicans' deep-seated, seething fury” after the GOP failed to oust Obama in 2012.

    It was a very funny joke and we all had a good laugh and then the Republicans nominated Donald Trump and he was elected president.

    Why Trump? Because, better than anyone else in the Republican field, he could appeal to the hatred of Obama that conservatives had spent years stoking.

    Who could do better than someone who had prominently, and repeatedly, questioned whether Obama had been born in the United States?

    Trump launched his recent political renaissance by hitching his wagon to the birther movement, a collection of fringe right-wing figures entranced by a racist conspiracy theory: Obama was not constitutionally eligible to be president because, in spite of all available evidence, he hadn’t really been born in this country. In this twisted worldview, Obama wasn’t just destroying the country -- he also had no right to its highest office in the first place.

    The birther movement would discredit itself again and again over the years, with adherents suggesting that they had uncovered Obama’s “real father,” claiming that the Certificate of Live Birth Obama produced during the 2008 presidential campaign was forged, releasing an obviously fake Kenyan birth certificate for Obama, and declaring that Obama was hiding his birth certificate because it revealed he was Muslim. But a big chunk of Republican voters, including a contingent of GOP members of Congress, still bought into the myth.

    Those conservatives were overjoyed when Trump came forward and became the leading voice of the birther movement, raising questions about Obama’s birth certificate in a series of 2011 interviews. Fox News promoted Trump’s claims in dozens of segments, and several of the network’s hosts joined in, suggesting that Obama’s birthplace was in doubt.

    Obama released his long-form birth certificate later that year. But Trump never backed down. He immediately suggested the document was fake, and he spent years promoting birther conspiracies in interviews and on Twitter.

    After years of listening to anti-Obama vitriol from right-wing talk radio and television hosts, conservatives wanted someone who could match that hate. They found him.

    And today, he’s the president.

  • First Amendment Watch: January 2017

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    During his 2016 campaign for president, Donald Trump launched an unprecedented war on the press. Since his election, Media Matters has tracked his and his team’s continuing attacks on the media and their abandonment of presidential norms regarding press access, which poses a dangerous threat to our First Amendment freedoms. Following is a list of attacks Trump and his team made against the media -- and instances in which they demonstrated disregard for the press -- from January 1, 2017, up to his January 20 inauguration as president.