Bret Stephens

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  • The Continuing Conservative Media Civil War Zeroes In On Sean Hannity

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    In the latest development in the conservative media civil war over Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, Fox News host Sean Hannity, a staunch Trump supporter, is battling other conservative media figures over his unapologetic and unconditional defense of the candidate, with those media figures now calling his shilling for Trump “slavish” and “disgraceful.”

  • BEDLAM: Hannity, National Review, WSJ Editor Go To War Over Donald Trump

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    In what was supposed to be a moment of unity within the Republican Party following the national convention, presidential nominee Donald Trump has fostered a party consumed by infighting, much of which is taking place within right-wing media. Fox News anchor Sean Hannity has been at the center of the brawl, going to battle against conservative magazine National Review and an editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page.

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump spurred a civil war among the Republican Party following a week where the campaign has been rocked by Trump’s extended fight with a Gold Star family, staff firings, his refusal to endorse several Republican leaders, a variety of additional bizarre and extreme comments, and cratering poll numbers. NBC’s Chuck Todd has described this as a “crisis” faced by the campaign, stemming from Trump’s “36 hours of total and complete chaos.” Several Congressional Republicans have refused to endorse Trump, with Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) announcing he will vote for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

    The disarray is not limited to the Republican Party. Infighting also broke out within conservative media circles this week over the GOP nominee. Sean Hannity, a fervent Trump supporter and defender, along with Breitbart News, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, and Ann Coulter lashed out against what they called “establishment Republicans” who tepidly endorsed the nominee and the Republicans who refuse to support Trump, saying they would be to blame if Trump loses in November. Several right-wing media figures, including George Will, Erick Erickson, and radio host Charlie Sykes, have said they would not support Trump.

    National Review, a conservative publication that once called Trump “the very epitome of vulgarity,” blamed Hannity, Fox News, and conservative talk radio for the rise of Trump, saying “they have created an intellectual ghetto that no one else wants to visit.”

    Hannity also drew ire from Wall Street Journal editor Bret Stephens, who called him “Fox News’ dumbest anchor.” Hannity subsequently went after Stephens in a tweetstorm, calling him an “arrogant” and “elitist” “enabler[].” He also proclaimed that “If Hillary wins I will hold assholes like you accountable.”

    UPDATE: Stephens responded to Hannity’s criticism in an August 8 column, calling Hannity’s “excuses” for Trump “disgraceful” and writing that “Today’s GOP is on the road to self-immolation, thanks in part to the veneration of ignorance typified by” Hannity. Stephens added that Hannity “proved my point” that Hannity is Fox’s “dumbest anchor” by retweeting Stephens. He also labeled Hannity’s Twitter tirade a “tantrum” and wrote that Hannity calling him a “dumba-- with his head up his a--” showed “he can’t even swear competently.”

  • Media Slam The Republican Leaders Disavowing Trump’s Feud With Khans But Not Rescinding Their Endorsements

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Media figures are criticizing Republican leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), for refusing to rescind endorsing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump while condemning his attacks on the Khans, an American Muslim family whose son was killed in action in Iraq in 2004. They are calling the statements refusing to flat-out disavow Trump “acts of cowardice,” “less than worthless,” and “empty words.”

  • Wall Street Journal Columnist Blasts Rush Limbaugh And Mark Levin For Helping Build Up Donald Trump

    Bret Stephens: Levin And Limbaugh Are "Ideological Drunks Who, When They Knew Better, Cheered The Donald On"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Donald Trump

    Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens slammed right-wing radio hosts Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh for providing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump "with the margin of respectability he needed in the early months to make his campaign credible with Republican voters."

    In his February 22 column, Stephens criticized right wing talk radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin for creating the environment in Republican Party politics that paved the way for Donald Trump's rise.

    So where were Messrs. Limbaugh and Levin last summer, when the Trump candidacy was still a big soap bubble, waiting to be popped by the likes of them?

    In July, Mr. Trump said of John McCain, "He's not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured." The Donald's trademark insult--coyly calibrated to appeal to voters who lack the brains or the decency to be appalled--should have been the tombstone of his campaign. But it wasn't, thanks not least to a loud assist from Mr. Limbaugh.

    "Trump can survive this. Trump is surviving this," Mr. Limbaugh exalted. "The American people haven't seen something like this in a long time. They have not seen an embattled public figure stand up for himself, double down and tell everybody to go to hell."

    In fact, Americans have often seen such figures: Marcus Garvey, Henry Wallace, Joe McCarthy, Lyndon LaRouche. We just used to have the good sense to dismiss them as eccentrics, lowlifes or clowns. What we haven't seen are the modern-day keepers of mainstream conservatism developing schoolgirl crushes on the bad boy of the GOP class. "The Republicans are impotent!" swooned Mr. Levin in one September broadcast. "And now this guy [Mr. Trump], who may not be a down-the-line conservative, is standing up to them. And he's kicking them all over the place."

    Mr. Levin has since become more critical of Mr. Trump, though Mr. Limbaugh seems to be hedging his bets. But both men provided Mr. Trump with the margin of respectability he needed in the early months to make his campaign credible with Republican voters.

    So Mr. Trump had once supported socialized medicine? That didn't matter, said Mr. Levin, because the candidate opposed ObamaCare now. So Mr. Trump was conspicuously ignorant about major foreign-policy issues? Who cares, since he was passionate about the "invasion," as Mr. Limbaugh calls it, of Latin American migrants. So Mr. Trump wants to ban Muslim immigration? Well, Mr. Levin says, at least "Trump has opened the way" to a "national discussion."


    It's a lucky thing for conservatives that the likeliest alternative to Mr. Trump for the nomination is the very "establishment Republican" Marco Rubio, the non-jerk of the season who could actually win in November. Too bad his task will be that much harder thanks to the ideological drunks who, when they knew better, cheered the Donald on.

    Creative Commons Image via Flickr / Matt Johnson

  • INFOGRAPHIC: The Conservative Civil War Over Donald Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Conservative pundits are bickering over Donald Trump's campaign, especially after National Review's "Against Trump" issue and the backlash it engendered. On one side are pundits who want to stop Trump's candidacy in its tracks. On the other are conservatives who are lauding Trump's candidacy, even if they have not officially endorsed him. Media Matters breaks down exactly who is on which side (click for the full-sized image):

    Civil War over Donald Trump

    Graphic by Sarah Wasko, Research by Eric Hananoki
  • Mark Levin Attacks Wall Street Journal Editorial Highlighting The Uncompromising Conservative Media Standard For GOP Candidates

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Radio host Mark Levin responded to an editorial from The Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens that criticized right-wing media for their obsession with electing an ideologically pure conservative candidate at the expense of electability. Levin attacked Stephens as a "mouthpiece for amnesty" and "a jester for big government Republicans."

    In a December 21 editorial, Stephens claimed conservatives are building a wall around the Republican Party by supporting a frontrunner who insults "Mexicans, Muslims ... and others." Stephens highlighted conservative desire to elect a candidate that "has passed all the Conservative Purity Tests (CPTs), meaning we've upheld the honor of our politically hopeless cause." Stephens concluded that this nonsensical ideology would alienate "not just Hispanics, or Asian-Americans or gays and lesbians, but also moderates turned off by loudmouth vulgarians" and lose elections.

    Mark Levin responded in a Facebook post attacking Stephens, calling him a "mouthpiece for amnesty" and claiming "the WSJ helped deliver us two terms of Obama with their early and constant propaganda for McCain and Romney":

    Funny. Last week I posted that Fox's attacks on conservatives are going to elect Hillary. Next thing you know, a WSJ editorial page staffer, paid by Murdoch who also owns Fox, accuses me of the same thing. Bret Stephens is a mouthpiece for amnesty, like the rest of the amnesty ideologues at the WSJ. And he's a jester for big government Republicans and corporatists. He's part of the same lame crowd that trashed the Tea Party over the debt. That would be the Tea Party that delivered the GOP both houses of Congress and record state legislative and gubernatorial victories. Conversely, Stephens and his ilk backed Boehner to the end as they back McConnell and Ryan now. Even Ryan is criticizing the Boehner budget process. And the WSJ helped deliver us two terms of Obama with their early and constant propaganda for McCain and Romney.

    Meanwhile, the GOP and Stephens celebrate one of the lousiest budgets in modern times and, of course, attack conservative critics as purest hellbent on electing Hillary. Does it get any dumber than these guys? Delusional. Unprincipled. Cronies. I'll have more to say upon my return to the airwaves early next year.

  • NY Mag's Jonathan Chait Highlights How Right-Wing Media Helps Push The GOP To Deny Climate Science

    Blog ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH

    New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait explained how conservative media personalities helped coerce the GOP into climate-science denialism.

    In a December 1 article, Jonathan Chait discussed the way right-wing media has bullied the GOP to adopt climate-science denialism or face the "AM radio interrogation" from conservative radio hosts. Chait wrote that "GOP politicians that understand climate science [are] cowed into submission by an angry minority," and media figures like Fox News contributors George Will and Charles Krauthammer, and The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens. 

    Though it was surely not his intention to do so, David Brooks' column today has made an airtight case for why no sane person would support any Republican candidate for president next year.Brooks begins his column by conceding that climate-science deniers have a hammerlock on public discourse within the party. "On this issue the G.O.P. has come to resemble a Soviet dictatorship," he writes, "a vast majority of Republican politicians can't publicly say what they know about the truth of climate change because they're afraid the thought police will knock on their door and drag them off to an AM radio interrogation." Brooks uses this observation as a launching point to tout glimmerings of moderate (or, at any rate, less extreme) thought within the party. 


    In fact, as terrifying as the reality depicted by Brooks may sound, matters are actually worse. Brooks presents the situation as a "vast majority" of GOP politicians that understand climate science cowed into submission by an angry minority. Perhaps the vast majority of Republican politicians who confide their private beliefs to Brooks feel this way, but this is probably not a representative cross section. It is clear that a large proportion of party elites proclaim themselves to be climate-science skeptics for reasons purely of their own volition. Nor is this sentiment confined to talk-radio shouters. Esteemed chin-strokers and collectors of awards, like George F. Will and Charles Krauthammer, broadcast their disdain for the findings of the climate-science field.


    Here is a typical example at hand in Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens's offering today, which dismisses climate change as an imaginary problem. "The hysteria generated by an imperceptible temperature rise of 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880--as if the trend is bound to continue forever, or is not a product of natural variation, or cannot be mitigated except by drastic policy interventions. The hyping of flimsy studies--melting Himalayan glaciers; vanishing polar ice--to press the political point." 


    Parties operate by coalescing around mutually agreeable policies. The presidential nominee may downplay the most outlandish anti-scientific conspiracy theories, but the party's agenda will have to accommodate the beliefs expounded by the likes of Smith, Inhofe, Will, Krauthammer, Stephens, and many others. 

    This week conservative media personalities also attacked the U.N. climate summit in Paris. Conservative radio and Fox News host Sean Hannity called those who believed in climate change "idiots." Fox host Bill Hemmer  pointed to increasing snowfall in Alaska to dismiss the summit entirely. And radio host Rush Limbaugh said that the climate summit is "an attack on capitalism" and is "about weakening the United States."

  • Too Much, Too Little, Or Just Right: To Conservative Media, Any Amount Of Snow Debunks Climate Change


    Some conservative media figures have touted the intensity of the recent blizzard that hit the northeast, some have claimed that it is no different than snow storms from the past, and others have deemed the blizzard much less severe than originally forecast. But the one thing they all agree on is that the blizzard somehow disproves the firmly established science of global warming.

  • Some Perspective On "Worse Than Munich"

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    The conservative reaction to the U.S.-backed six-country deal with Iran to temporarily curb that country's nuclear program has been predictably hyperbolic. Right-leaning commentators are falling over themselves to call deal the worst foreign policy debacle since the 1938 Munich Agreement, in which Allied powers ceded portions of Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler to avoid war. Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal (who won a Pulitzer for commentary earlier this year) took it a step further, calling the deal "worse than Munich" in a November 26 column.

    The implied comparison of 2013 Iran to the Nazi war machine is, to put it gently, stupid. Reason's Matt Welch already took it apart ("2013 Iran is to 1938 Germany what a flea is to a Tyrannosaurus Rex") and Foreign Policy's Daniel Drezner observes that spittle-flecked, sky-is-falling commentary of this sort is a too common feature of foreign policy punditry.

    But let's take it face-value for a moment. The Iran deal is only a few days old and already it's "worse than Munich"? The reasoning behind that judgment, according to Stephens, was that while the Munich Agreement didn't prevent the war Hitler so desperately wanted, it did buy time for Britain and France to ramp up their war machines in preparation for the war's eventual outbreak. The Iran deal, he argues, has no "redeeming or exculpating aspects," which might explain why he devoted precisely zero words of his column to explaining what the deal actually contains. And, as ThinkProgress' Zack Beauchamp notes, Stephens certainly didn't "point to anything in the Iran deal worse than delivering Czech Jews to Hitler's tender mercies."

    That right there is the missing perspective on all this "worse than Munich" business. Regardless of whether you think the Munich Agreement was a naïve attempt at peace-through-appeasement or the only option available to the Allies, it nonetheless precipitated a massive human rights calamity before the ink on the signatures had a chance to dry.

  • WSJ's Bret Stephens Rewrites History Of Iraq War

    Blog ››› ››› HANNAH GROCH-BEGLEY

    WSJ's Bret StephensThe Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens used the possibility of military intervention in Syria to rewrite the history of the Iraq war, falsely claiming the Bush administration's case against Iraq was supported by solid evidence.

    Stephens, the Journal's foreign-affairs columnist and deputy editorial page editor for international opinion pages, criticized the Obama administration's case for intervention in Syria by comparing it to Bush's decision to invade Iraq, which he claimed was made based on "highly detailed" intelligence revealing weapons of mass destruction. Stephens claimed the "testimony of U.N. inspectors like Hans Blix" supported the Bush administration's case for war, and accusations that the Bush administration lied were "libel" and "cheap slander":

    Then there's the intel. In London the other day, Mr. Kerry invited the public to examine the administration's evidence of Assad's use of chemical weapons, posted on The "dossier" consists of a 1,455-word document heavy on blanket assertions such as "we assess with high confidence" and "we have a body of information," and "we have identified one hundred videos."

    By contrast, the Bush administration made a highly detailed case on Iraqi WMD, including show-and-tells by Colin Powell at the Security Council. It also relied on the testimony of U.N. inspectors like Hans Blix, who reported in January 2003 that "there are strong indications that Iraq produced more anthrax than it declared," that his inspectors had found "indications that the [nerve agent VX] was weaponized," and that Iraq had "circumvented the restrictions" on the import of missile parts.

    The case the Bush administration assembled on Iraqi WMD was far stronger than what the Obama administration has offered on Syria. And while I have few doubts that the case against Assad is solid, it shouldn't shock Democrats that the White House's "trust us" approach isn't winning converts. When you've spent years peddling the libel that the Bush administration lied about Iraq, don't be shocked when your goose gets cooked in the same foul sauce.

    So what should President Obama say when he addresses the country Tuesday night? He could start by apologizing to President Bush for years of cheap slander. He won't.

    But Hans Blix told CNN in 2004 that the Bush administration "chose to ignore" his team's concerns about the lack of solid evidence in favor of war, and that prior to the invasion the evidence of WMDs in Iraq was revealed to be "shaky":

    "I think it's clear that in March, when the invasion took place, the evidence that had been brought forward was rapidly falling apart," Hans Blix, who oversaw the agency's investigation into whether Iraq had chemical and biological weapons, said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

    Blix described the evidence Secretary of State Colin Powell presented to the U.N. Security Council in February 2003 as "shaky," and said he related his opinion to U.S. officials, including national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

    "I think they chose to ignore us," Blix said.

    Furthermore, an investigation into the lead up to the Iraq war found that statements President Bush made about Iraq misled the American people and Congress by inaccurately depicting the available intelligence. The 2008 Senate Intelligence Committee's report found that "policymakers' statements" in particular misrepresented the nature of contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda, and that Bush's allegations "that Iraq and al-Qa'ida had a partnership" were "not substantiated by the intelligence." The report also found that statements by Bush and Vice President Cheney indicating that Saddam Hussein was prepared to give WMDs to terrorists for use against the U.S. "were contradicted by available intelligence information."

    While there are serious questions about the wisdom of using military force in Syria, any debate must include the facts -- not the Journal's fanciful rewriting of history.

  • WSJ's Stephens Selectively Cites Obama National Security Speech To Attack Embassy Closures

    Blog ››› ››› HANNAH GROCH-BEGLEY

    The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens falsely claimed the embassy closures in the Middle East and Africa proved that President Obama had wrongly characterized the current threat of terror in his May speech on national security, when in fact the president specifically referred to threats from al Qaeda affiliates in Africa and the Middle East against diplomatic facilities. 

    Bret StephensFollowing the announcement that 19 U.S. embassies and consulates in the Middle East and Africa would remain closed throughout the week with hundreds of additional security forces deployed to the U.S. Embassy in Yemen due to suspected terror threats, conservative media rushed to politicize the effort to protect American lives, dismissing security experts who praised the decision and falsely accusing President Obama of failing to recognize the realities of the war on terror. 

    Stephens furthered these attacks in his August 5 Journal column, claiming that the embassy closures revealed "a threat that makes a comprehensive and vivid mockery of everything the president said" in Obama's speech at the National Defense University on May 23. According to Stephens, the purpose of the president's national security speech was "to declare the war on terror won--or won well-enough--and go home," and the "facts and analysis" Obama used to discuss the nature of al Qaeda were proven "wrong" by the current situation in Yemen and the Middle East.

    But Stephens ignored whole portions of Obama's speech in which he identified the very types of threats the intelligence community is working to avert. Obama's speech specifically referred to al Qaeda affiliates in the Middle East and Africa -- including Yemen, Libya, and Syria -- as "the most active in plotting against our homeland" and acknowledged they posed "threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad" (emphasis added):

    Today, the core of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on the path to defeat.  Their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us.  They did not direct the attacks in Benghazi or Boston.  They've not carried out a successful attack on our homeland since 9/11.

    Instead, what we've seen is the emergence of various al Qaeda affiliates.  From Yemen to Iraq, from Somalia to North Africa, the threat today is more diffuse, with Al Qaeda's affiliates in the Arabian Peninsula -- AQAP -- the most active in plotting against our homeland.  And while none of AQAP's efforts approach the scale of 9/11, they have continued to plot acts of terror, like the attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2009.

    Unrest in the Arab world has also allowed extremists to gain a foothold in countries like Libya and Syria.  But here, too, there are differences from 9/11.  In some cases, we continue to confront state-sponsored networks like Hezbollah that engage in acts of terror to achieve political goals.  Other of these groups are simply collections of local militias or extremists interested in seizing territory.  And while we are vigilant for signs that these groups may pose a transnational threat, most are focused on operating in the countries and regions where they are based.  And that means we'll face more localized threats like what we saw in Benghazi, or the BP oil facility in Algeria, in which local operatives -- perhaps in loose affiliation with regional networks -- launch periodic attacks against Western diplomats, companies, and other soft targets, or resort to kidnapping and other criminal enterprises to fund their operations.


    So that's the current threat -- lethal yet less capable al Qaeda affiliates; threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad; homegrown extremists.  This is the future of terrorism. We have to take these threats seriously, and do all that we can to confront them.  But as we shape our response, we have to recognize that the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11. 

    Stephens concluded by attacking the media's "memory" of the speech, claiming the press had forgotten the realities of Obama's rhetoric in favor of praising the administration. But it's Stephens himself who seems to have forgotten whole sections of the speech that undermine his attack on the administration, which has worked to protect American lives by effectively responding to a type of terror it identified as many as four months ago.