Fox Business host Lou Dobbs reported a baseless claim that someone from Hillary Clinton's campaign demanded that the Laugh Factory comedy club founder take down a video compilation of Clinton jokes from his website. The claim was based on an anonymous phone call from an unidentified caller, but reported as fact by conservative media outlets.
In a November 19 piece, Slate's Michelle Goldberg debunked the right-wing claim that a Clinton staffer contacted Jamie Masada, founder of the Laugh Factory Comedy clubs, and demanded he take the videos insulting Clinton down from the club's website. Goldberg called the founder of the Laugh Factory comedy clubs, who admitted that he could not identify the caller, adding "maybe it was a prank, I have no idea."
Goldberg also explained how Clinton smears spread in right-wing media, noting that the stories get "reported in one outlet and amplified on Twitter ... Maybe Fox News follows. Eventually the story achieves a sort of ubiquity in the right-wing media ecosystem, which makes it seem like it's been confirmed."
Even after Masada walked back his accusations against Clinton's campaign, Fox Business' Lou Dobbs repeated the dubious claim on the November 19 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight:
LOU DOBBS (HOST): This is the video the Clinton campaign took issue with demanding it be scrubbed from the internet by the Laugh Factory in Hollywood.
DOBBS: Are you offended? Hurt?
JUAN WILLIAMS: No! I was amused. But I just -- I tell you what offends me is, why would you say shut up to anybody? A comedy? I mean, alright, so we're all going to be mocked. She went on Saturday Night Live and she made fun of herself and her husband. I think she should have some sense of humor. What's going on here?
DOBBS: Yeah, it's peculiar.
TOM SHILLUE: It's a little shadowy. I don't want to doubt Jamie Masada, the owner of the Laugh Factory. It's a great club, but he does have a flair for self-promotion. I will say that.
DOBBS: Well he's done pretty well here. Now although even Salon noted is they tried to rationalize what was happening here, perhaps correctly -- I don't know. They tried to point out that he, you know, he does not have an ideological ax in all of this. I like the way I sort of clashed those clichés together. Keeps me fresh. The idea that the left is now becoming though, I mean it really is becoming oppressive in language.
Slate columnist Michelle Goldberg explained how an unfounded accusation spread throughout conservative media, claiming that Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign team tried to force Laugh Factory to take down a video about her.
According to the right-wing organization Judicial Watch, "Hillary Clinton's campaign is going after five comedians who made fun of the former Secretary of State in standup skits at a popular Hollywood comedy club." Judicial Watch claimed that a Clinton staffer called Jamie Masada, the comedy club's founder, asking for the names of the actors and for the video to be taken down.
In her November 19 Slate post, Goldberg explained that the threat to Masada came from an anonymous call that was not confirmed to be from Clinton's campaign and detailed how the unfounded accusation spread through right-wing media, despite the fact that Masada could not verify that anyone from Clinton's campaign had actually contacted him:
In short order, right-leaning sites including NewsBusters, NewsMax, Mediaite, the Daily Caller, and the Daily Mail aggregated the accusation.
This seemed bizarre. Even if you buy the most grotesque right-wing caricatures about Clinton's humorlessness and authoritarianism, it's hard to believe that the campaign would be so clumsy, especially at a time when it's going out of its way to make the candidate seem fun. Such a demand would only reinforce the worst stereotypes about Clinton while ensuring that the offending video went viral. Besides, there's nothing in the video itself to attract the campaign's notice: It's less than three minutes long and is mostly stale cracks about Hillary's clothes and age, along with familiar insinuations that she's a lesbian. One of those insinuations is even admiring: "I would love if you become president, divorce Bill, and then you marry a bitch," says Tiffany Haddish.
Yet there was Masada--a man who has won awards from the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP, and has no discernable right-wing agenda--quoted as saying, "They threatened me. I have received complains before but never a call like this, threatening to put me out of business if I don't cut the video."
Masada doesn't actually know that the call came from the Clinton camp.
How does Masada know that John was actually from the Clinton camp? He doesn't. "I'm glad I'm not in politics or any of that stuff; you might know more than I do," he says. "Maybe it was a prank, I have no idea. Was it real? Not real? I have no idea. He didn't call back, that's all I can say." Nor is Masada sure how Judicial Watch even heard about the call. "The way I understand it, it's because one of the [Laugh Factory] employees told a couple of people," he says.
What we have here is a small-scale demonstration of how the Hillary smear sausage gets made. It starts with a claim that's ambiguous at best, fabricated at worst, and then interpreted in the most invidious possible light. The claim is reported in one outlet and amplified on Twitter. Other outlets then report on the report, repeating the claim over and over again. Talk radio picks it up. Maybe Fox News follows. Eventually the story achieves a sort of ubiquity in the right-wing media ecosystem, which makes it seem like it's been confirmed. Soon it becomes received truth among conservatives, and sometimes it even crosses into the mainstream media. If you watched the way the Clintons were covered in the 1990s, you know the basics of this process. If you didn't, you're going to spend the next year--and maybe the next nine years--learning all about it.
Conservative media figures are attacking Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's plan to revitalize coal communities by deceptively claiming Obama administration environmental policies that Clinton supports are responsible for "destroying" and "crippling" coal country in the first place. But these media figures are downplaying -- or outright ignoring -- more significant factors that have led to the coal industry's decades of decline, such as competition from natural gas and renewables, depletion of easily recoverable coal reserves, and advances in mining technology.
The Associated Press purported to fact-check Hillary Clinton's statement that "nearly 3,000 people have been killed by guns" over the past month but did so by erroneously citing a source that only counts about one-third of total gun deaths. According to the federal government, around 33,000 Americans die in gun-related incidents each year, meaning Clinton's statement aligns with the available data.
During the November 14 Democratic presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa, Clinton said, "Since we last debated in Las Vegas, nearly 3,000 people have been killed by guns. Two hundred children have been killed. This is an emergency." The Las Vegas debate took place on October 13.
In a November 15 article, the AP falsely wrote that Clinton's "claim appears to be unsupported on all counts," and claimed Clinton's statistic was "highly exaggerated." To support its conclusion, the AP cited the Gun Violence Archive, which counted "an average of just under 1,000" gun deaths "per month" in 2015:
THE FACTS: The claim appears to be unsupported on all counts.
The Gun Violence Archive has recorded 11,485 gun deaths in the U.S. so far this year, an average of just under 1,000 per month, making Clinton's figure appear to be highly exaggerated. The archive had more detailed data for children and teenagers, showing 70 from those age groups killed by firearms since the Democratic candidates debated Oct. 13 - not 200 as she claimed.
The AP erred by citing the Gun Violence Archive as a source for the total number of gun deaths. While the Gun Violence Archive is a valuable resource for a number of reasons -- especially because it aggregates detailed information about individual shootings -- it's not a comprehensive count of the total number of gun deaths in the United States because its methodology does not capture every shooting.
Researchers on the issue of gun violence have known that for years the gold standard for a total count of gun deaths in the United States comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS).
WISQARS found that in 2013, the most recent year in which complete data is available, there were 33,636 gun deaths in America. This figure is consistent with the number of gun deaths over the past 10 years - although the death toll is steadily climbing - and indicates that Clinton's figure aligns with the best available data:
In its article, the AP also wrote, "The archive had more detailed data for children and teenagers, showing 70 from those age groups killed by firearms since the Democratic candidates debated Oct. 13 - not 200 as [Clinton] claimed."
Again, this criticism of Clinton is erroneous because it treats the Gun Violence Archive as a comprehensive source.
The botched AP fact check was subsequently touted by the National Rifle Association.
Chart by Oliver Willis.
Right-wing media seized on the November 13 terror attacks in Paris to make at least five false or misleading claims about Syrian refugees, past statements from Hillary Clinton, President Obama's strategy against ISIS, the release of Guantanamo Bay detainees, and how guns in civilian hands could have supposedly changed the outcome of the attacks.
Media should be careful about aiding Jeb Bush's criticism of Democrats for not using the phrase "radical Islam" by failing to note that President George W. Bush's administration followed the same practice.
During the November 14 CBS Democratic presidential debate, Hillary Clinton explained that she doesn't "think we are at war with all Muslims," but rather that "we're at war with jihadists." She noted that President George W. Bush expressed a similar sentiment following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Right-wing media figures immediately condemned Clinton for not using the phrase "radical Islam," accusing Clinton of "giving Islam a pass" and likening her comments to the claim that "Hitler wasn't an anti-Semite."
Politico interviewed retired FBI senior official Ron Hosko about the FBI investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's email without disclosing Hosko's role as president of the right-wing Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund. Other media outlets have previously turned to Hosko for comments about the investigation without noting his role in or the political leanings of the conservative organization.
Can Marco Rubio chase the press away from lingering questions that surround his personal finances? Can the Florida Republican cordon off the story as a partisan "gotcha" endeavor even though the Beltway press corps recently spent an extraordinary amount of time and energy raising questions about Hillary Clinton's finances and insisting that story posed dire consequences for her?
That certainly seems to be the Rubio strategy, and there are some early signs it may be working.
At the CNBC Republican primary debate late last month, Rubio snapped at a moderator who brought up his personal "bookkeeping skills" as evidence that he might not be qualified to manage the nation's money: "You just listed a litany of discredited attacks from Democrats and my political opponents, and I'm not gonna waste 60 seconds detailing them all."
Rubio's rebuttal was part of the evening's larger war-on-the media strategy, as Republicans announced they were offended by the "tone" of the debate questions and the Republican Party subsequently "suspended" NBC from hosting further debates.
But asking Rubio about his finances hardly represented a "gotcha" questions -- he's been facing a litany of queries for five years now. Florida journalists in particular have been raising the issue for much of Rubio's career.
"Rubio has a string of financial messes, personal and political. And anyone who watched his record in Florida knows it. He was mired in debt, even while living a life of limo rides and travel and telling others to live within their means," Scott Maxwell at the Orlando Sentinel noted last week. "Don't take it from me. Take it from court documents. And investigative reports."
Why do questions of finances matters? First, it's been a common campaign topic of media inquiry for a very long time. Reporters frequently ask the questions -- how did candidates accumulate their wealth, did they do so honestly, and are they beholden to any special interests? And secondly, how politicians handle their personal finances might offer insights into how they would handle America's finances if elected became president. (On that front, Rubio's proposed economic plan simply does not add up.)
Some of the lingering questions -- none of which have been "discredited" -- revolve around Rubio's use of a Republican Party-issued credit card between 2005 and 2008 when he was a rising star in Florida politics. (According to GOP policy, the card should only have been used for official party business.) In 2010, news leaked that Rubio used the credit card to charge all kinds of personal expenses, including stone pavers at his house and a four-day, $10,000 family reunion at Melhana Plantation, an historic resort in Georgia. (Rubio's extended family booked 20 rooms.)
Rubio has insisted the hefty charges were a mistake. "I pulled the wrong card from my wallet to pay for pavers," he wrote in his book, while insisting his travel agent "mistakenly used the card to pay for a family reunion in Georgia." Rubio eventually covered the costs himself. At times, the story Rubio has told about his use of the card has wandered from the verifiable facts or shifted as new information came out.
To date, Rubio's team seems to have convinced some journalists that the story about the candidate's finances centers entirely around the use of his Republican credit card, and if and when questions about the credit card are answered, that means all the finance questions have been resolved.
That's simply not true. "GOP Credit Card Only Part of Marco Rubio's Story," read a Florida headline last week.
Some examples from the archives:
In 2008, he abruptly amended his financial disclosure forms after reporters asked why he had not listed a $135,000 home-equity loan he secured on his current home, purchased in December 2005 for $550,000. [Tampa Bay Tribune]
By the time he left office in 2008, Rubio had $903,000 in home, car and student loans. His net worth was a mere $8,332. [Tampa Bay Tribune]
Rubio and his family have benefited both personally and politically from [billionaire Florida car auto dealer Norman] Braman since the start of the senator's political career. Braman donated money to Rubio's campaigns and would likely be a major backer for the super PAC that's been formed to help support Rubio's presidential ru. Braman also employed Rubio as a lawyer during the latter's 2010 campaign for the Senate -- and now employs his wife, Jeannette Rubio, an arrangement that began shortly after her husband was elected. [MSNBC.com]
A few weeks ago, he disclosed that he had liquidated a $68,000 retirement account, a move that is widely discouraged by financial experts and that probably cost him about $24,000 in taxes and penalties. [New York Times]
Yet there's some indication the press is going along with Rubio's current campaign spin. Most prominently, Politico and the Washington Post in recent days both moved to squelch the story, suggesting Rubio's dubious bookkeeping "isn't really a scandal," and that Rubio's campaign had "set a trap," waiting for critics to raise questions so they could pounce with all the answers.
That kind of nothing-to-see-here-coverage stands in stark contrast to the fevered, and at-times even hysterical, coverage that outlets such as Politico and the Washington Post produced while delving into Hillary Clinton's finances and emphatically suggesting that that story resembled a make-or-break problem for the Democrat.
What was the hovering disaster for Clinton that threatened to doom her chances? She made too much money (i.e. she's no longer "authentic"), and she was talking about her wealth all wrong. Pundits agreed that meant she risked being viewed by voters as "greedy," "defensive," "whiny," and "out of touch."
On and on the story has churned. The Clinton finance coverage became so fevered that CNN even altered a Hillary Clinton quote about money to make it more incriminating and newsworthy than it actually was.
And then there was the media eruption over Clinton's paid speeches. Again, there was absolutely nothing wrong or unethical with the money she earned. The press just didn't like the way it looked; journalists thought the optics were bad. The Washington Post in particular became obsessed with the paid speeches storyline, publishing a steady stream of articles and columns on the topic since last summer.
Bottom line: Clinton's finances represented a huge campaign story. And it was one that journalists insisted was both deeply damaging to the candidate (it wasn't) and revealed all kinds of troubling truths about her (it did not).
Meanwhile, what are the optics of Rubio paying for a family reunion with a Republican Party credit card? Do most Americans have a billionaire patron that both invests in their political future and employs their spouse? Does Rubio's financial situation make him seem "out of touch"? The press doesn't seem to care. Most of the coverage to date has centered on the specifics of his credit cards and finances, and very little of it has suggested the story is playing poorly for him or turning off voters.
Question: If Hillary Clinton had used a Democratic Party-issued credit card to pay for a $10,000 family reunion, do you think the press would treat that revelation as a very big deal?
Major national print outlets, and most Sunday morning political talk shows, ignored a Politico report indicating that the U.S. intelligence community was "retreat[ing] from claims" that two key emails received by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton contained highly classified information.
Fox News reported on a supposedly "bombshell" document signed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that acknowledged the possibility of facing criminal penalties for mishandling classified information, while ignoring the revelation earlier the same day that two emails she had received, which the intelligence community had previously deemed top secret, did not contain such information.
The office of the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has reportedly concluded that two emails received by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not contain top secret information, a reversal from the Intelligence Community inspector general's prior claim that they did, according to a Politico report. Media had previously used the notion that the two emails were highly classified to suggest that Clinton or her aides had engaged in criminal behavior.
In July, the New York Times published an article -- which it subsequently had to correct twice -- about a security referral the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community (IG IC) made to the executive branch about whether there was any classified material on Clinton's email account during her time as secretary of state. The IG IC highlighted four allegedly classified emails and subsequently stated that two of those four emails contained "top secret" information. The State Department disagreed about whether the material in the emails was actually highly classified. As Politico is now reporting, "that disagreement has been resolved in State's favor" and the previous claim that the emails contained top secret information is wrong.
Despite the original disagreement between the two federal agencies, Fox News initially responded by running with speculation from an anonymous State Department official that aides to Hillary Clinton had "stripped" the classification markings from emails that she received in her private email server, and claiming that even if the emails hadn't been marked classified, Clinton should have known they contained highly classified information.
But Politico reported on November 6 that the office of the Director of National Intelligence has now overruled the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community's prior conclusion that two emails received by Clinton contained highly classified information. As Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists explained to Politico, this "mistake" is nothing short than "astonishing" because "[i]t was a transformative event in the presidential campaign to this point. It had a potential to derail Clinton's presidential candidacy." From the article:
The U.S. intelligence community has retreated from claims that two emails in Hillary Clinton's private account contained top secret information, a source familiar with the situation told POLITICO.
The determination came from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper's office and concluded that the two emails did not include highly classified intelligence secrets. Concerns about the emails' classification helped trigger an on-going FBI inquiry into Clinton's private email set-up.
Intelligence Community Inspector General I. Charles McCullough III made the claim that two of the emails contained top secret information, the State Department publicly stated its disagreement and asked Clapper's office to referee the dispute. Now, that disagreement has been resolved in State's favor, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Intelligence officials claimed one email in Clinton's account was classified because it contained information from a top secret intelligence community "product" or report, but a further review determined that the report was not issued until several days after the email in question was written, the source said.
"The initial determination was based on a flawed process," the source said. "There was an intelligence product people thought [one of the emails] was based on, but that actually postdated the email in question."
A top expert in classification procedures called the development "an astonishing turn of events."
"It's not just a mistake," said Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. "It was a transformative event in the presidential campaign to this point. It had a potential to derail Clinton's presidential candidacy."
Aftergood said Clapper's office should be credited for seriously reconsidering the earlier conclusions by intelligence agencies.
From the November 6 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:
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From the November 5 edition of CNN's New Day:
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Media outlets previously helped Peter Schweizer push back against criticism of his anti-Clinton book Clinton Cash by credulously reporting that he was conducting a similar investigation into former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. But now that the product of his investigation has been released -- a 38-page e-book compared to The New York Times bestseller he wrote on Bill and Hillary Clinton -- Schweizer says "there's not a comparison" because the Clintons' behavior is "unprecedented." Schweizer's Clinton allegations were widely debunked.