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Bobby Lewis

Author ››› Bobby Lewis
  • Fox News spun NY Times report about FBI’s attempts to flip a Russian oligarch involved in organized crime into proof of an anti-Trump “witch hunt”

    For Fox, this is a familiar editorial stance

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On September 1, The New York Times reported on an unsuccessful years-long FBI program to flip roughly six Russian oligarchs, seeking to turn them into informants for the United States in investigations against Russian organized crime. Justice Department official Bruce Ohr and former British spy Christopher Steele, who authored a dossier of information on President Donald Trump, started communicating about this effort long before Trump announced his run for president, documents released by the Justice Department show.

    And yet, Fox News has been citing, out of context, the documents reported on in the Times as further evidence supporting Trump’s conspiracy theory that there is a “witch hunt” against him.

    While the program began in 2014, eventually -- after evidence of a possible conspiracy was established -- questions about Russian interference in the 2016 elections and Trump campaign collusion were raised with at least one of the program's targets. The Times’ sources told the paper that they revealed the program’s existence to avoid the president and his media allies “us[ing] the program’s secrecy as a screen with which they could cherry-pick facts and present them, sheared of context, to undermine the special counsel’s investigation.”

    But cherry-picked facts taken out of context perfectly describes Fox’s reporting, including its coverage of messages Ohr and Steele exchanged. Fox spun those communiques to suggest under-the-table conspiring by Ohr, Steele, and others at the FBI to maliciously target Trump. Nothing in the Times article suggests that contacts between Ohr and Steele were part of illegitimate DOJ and FBI activity, but Fox stuck to its misleading claim. When the Times article was mentioned, here's how network personalities and guests reacted: 

    In one of Fox’s earliest on-air mentions of the story, the host claimed that Ohr "was working with a man in Deripaska who's known as Putin's oligarch," and suggested that it validated Trump’s claim that the FBI was colluding with Russia. After discussing the article, guest anchor Ed Henry said, “You hear the president say there's collusion on the other side, and yet it doesn't seem to get any traction,” suggesting that in attempting to get Russian oligarchs to inform about organized crime in Russia, Ohr was actually trying to collude with said oligarchs to stop Trump. The Daily Caller’s Amber Athey also claimed details in the report “seem to confirm the president’s tweets that this is a witch hunt against him.”

    Daily Caller White House correspondent Saagar Enjeti told a Fox host that the story shows Steele “used his years-long connection with Ohr in order to push his dossier to the highest levels of the DOJ and the FBI.” In fact, a source in the Times article described Steele telling Ohr about the dossier as “more of a friendly heads-up” and said that “Steele had separately been in touch with an F.B.I. agent” to get his dossier to the bureau. Enjeti also falsely claimed that the dossier “really was the genesis for much of the investigation into President Trump” as well as “all of the other [Trump] associates” targeted. The investigation actually began after the Australian government alerted the FBI to Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos’ drunken bragging.

    Fox host Jeanine Pirro cut off a guest who mentioned that “Ohr is there to go after the Russian mob -- that is why the president is probably against Ohr.”

    Fox host Pete Hegseth speculated that “maybe it was Bruce Ohr who was actually flipped by the Russians.” 

    Guest anchor Ed Henry misleadingly described the Times article as saying “Ohr was trying to flip a Russian oligarch against the president.” And when a panel guest accused right-wing media of cherry-picking facts to create a misleading narrative, Henry interrupted him to make another decontextualized and misleading allegation. 

    Fox News contributor Gianno Caldwell claimed that, with the Times report out, “it does appear that it is a witch hunt.”

    Fox’s reaction to the latest development in the Trump/Russia investigations closely mirrors its reaction to many previous news reports that reflected poorly on Trump. The network regularly asserts that negative reports are actually good news for Trump and minimizes bad news. 

    When the Times reported in May that a confidential FBI informant contacted at least two of Trump’s advisers as part of the counterintelligence investigation into his campaign, Fox said it proved only that there was “surveillance of the Trump campaign by the Obama administration.”

    When the congressional hearing for former FBI agent Peter Strzok revealed no evidence that his political beliefs affected his work on the investigation, Fox News simply kept stoking rage over texts that revealed his opposition to the president and included rude comments about Trump supporters.

    When The Washington Post reported that Trump campaign associate Carter Page was the target of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant after he left the Trump campaign, Fox personalities lied about the warrant and falsely claimed it showed “Donald Trump was right” to accuse former President Barack Obama of spying on him. 

    When the Department of Justice inspector general released a report showing “no evidence” for allegations that former FBI Director James Comey and others allowed their “bias” to affect the Hillary Clinton email investigation, Fox used the report -- which had nothing to do with the Trump-Russia probe -- to call for an end to the special counsel investigation. 

  • Fox News' evolving reaction to Ron DeSantis' racism

    From a denouncement to a full-throated defense in less than 24 hours

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On the August 29 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, frequent Fox guest and Republican gubernatorial nominee for Florida Ron DeSantis described his Black Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, as “articulate” and said voters should not “monkey this up” by choosing him.

    Both are examples of tireless racist tropes, and DeSantis was widely condemned for his remarks.

    Shortly after DeSantis made his remarks, Fox’s Sandra Smith said on air that Fox does “not condone this language.” In the early afternoon, Gillum even appeared on air with Fox’s Shep Smith to respond to what DeSantis had said. But throughout the evening and the following morning, Fox News personalities loudly defended DeSantis, with one even suggesting that “apparently if you’re white, you just can’t criticize an opponent at all.”

    Here's a timeline of Fox's response:

    When DeSantis made the comments, anchor Sandra Smith did not address them, instead moving on to another question.

    Fox News host Mark Levin complained on Twitter at 11:09 a.m. EST that “the disgusting leftwing smear machine [is] already in full attack mode against Ron DeSantis in Florida.”

    Roughly 30 minutes later, Smith read a statement on air saying that Fox News does “not condone this language,” but she didn’t say what the language was.

    Gillum appeared on air with Fox anchor Shep Smith in the afternoon, saying, “It’s very clear that Mr. DeSantis is taking a page directly from the campaign manual of Donald Trump.”

    Later, co-host of The Five Greg Gutfeld said DeSantis was “not racial” and accused his critics of “doing the lynch mob” on him. 

    After Fox’s Juan Williams tried to explain why DeSantis’ comments were racist, The Story host Martha MacCallum replied, “It doesn't sound to me like a racist thing to say."

     

    On Fox Business, Lou Dobbs assailed “the national left-wing media” for “exploiting our highly polarized political atmosphere.”

    Sean Hannity welcomed DeSantis on his Fox show for a softball interview and said his critics “want to purposely take things out of context.”

    The morning after, Fox & Friends began the program by assuring viewers that DeSantis is not racist and saying his critics were taking advantage of “a political opportunity to label him a certain way.”

    On Fox & Friends, In Defense of Internment author Michelle Malkin vehemently denied that the monkey comment was racist, but she also alleged that “the real racists” among the left and the media had called her a “monkey” too.

    On her radio show, Fox host Laura Ingraham advised DeSantis to "demand an apology" from Gillum.

    Ingraham later whined that “apparently if you’re white, you just can’t criticize an opponent at all.”

    Fox keeps trying to distance itself from racism and yet keeps finding itself in the same situation. The network cannot say that it does not condone certain language when the vast majority of its personalities are explicitly condoning it -- or worse.

    At some point, Fox's "news" division will have to acknowledge that the call is coming from inside the house.

  • No crime but a witch hunt: Pro-Trump media’s off-the-wall reactions to Manafort's conviction and Cohen's guilty plea

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    After former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump attorney Michael Cohen were found guilty and pleaded guilty, respectively, each on eight criminal counts, right-wing media immediately rose to President Donald Trump’s defense. Multiple media figures claimed that none of the charges had anything to do with Trump and that Trump’s former associates pleaded guilty to crimes that “don’t exist.”

  • Fox & Friends accuses Vox and ProPublica of defending MS-13 with their accurate reporting on the gang

    Fox hosts keep spreading misinformation about MS-13 even when they are presented with facts

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    On August 10, Fox News’ Fox & Friends devoted multiple segments to attacking a collaborative video by Vox and ProPublica about the gang MS-13 that addressed "the most common misunderstandings about the gang" -- many of which are propagated by President Donald Trump. 

    Fox & Friends accused Vox and ProPublica of “defend[ing] MS-13” and claiming that the gang members “are really not that violent.” Roaming correspondent Geraldo Rivera, in a later segment, even accused the two media organizations of being “almost pro-MS-13” because of their “desire to put down the president.”

    True to form, Fox’s multiple attacks on the Vox and ProPublica report contained a lot of misinformation and race-baiting:

    • Co-host Steve Doocy accused Vox and ProPublica of “ignor[ing] the reality of what is happening on the ground. This is a vicious gang.” In reality, the video did report that the gang has “committed acts of horrific violence, mostly against other immigrants in specific communities.”
    • Co-host Brian Kilmeade incorrectly claimed that Salvadoran refugees fleeing violence in their home country formed MS-13 because they were “angry” at the United States and “start[ed] wreaking havoc” in the country. In reality, the gang initially formed as a measure of self-defense “in neighborhoods dominated by Black and Mexican gangs.”
    • Kilmeade bizarrely claimed that MS-13 “oftentimes” does “not [target] immigrant communities” but instead “working class communities, many of which are Hispanic. It doesn’t mean they are immigrant communities. It means they are Hispanic Americans.” This is false; the gang specifically targets immigrant communities because it can pressure them “by carrying out threats against family members back home.”
    • Former ICE acting Director Thomas Homan, who is a regular Fox guest, misleadingly claimed that “command and control of MS-13 is in El Salvador.” In reality, “MS-13 is a decentralized organization with no clear hierarchy” and “no leader.” It is instead built around local “cliques” that are sometimes “loyal to each other,” but also sometimes have competing interests.
    • Homan also claimed that Trump’s immigration policies are “on point” for combating MS-13, which he said was a border and immigration issue. However, decades of deporting convicted immigrants only made street gangs (including MS-13) larger and more powerful, and MS-13 members accounted for just .075 percent of all irregular border crossings in fiscal year 2017. (ICE has, however, made false accusations of gang affiliation to deport immigrants.)   
    • Roaming Fox correspondent Geraldo Rivera advocated the expansion of stop-and-frisk policies (also known as Terry stops) and any other “aggressive police tactics” to stop the gang, even though there’s little evidence that stop-and-frisk actually works. But aggressive policing does sow distrust in communities, making gang violence more difficult to combat.

    Fox’s absurdist attack on reporting by Vox and ProPublica fits the network’s growing reputation as cable news’ home for white nationalism. The network has long spread a litany of fear, misinformation, and conspiracy theories about immigrants regarding elections, crime, terrorism, and more. The network also spearheads outlandish defenses of the agencies charged with executing Trump’s racist immigration policies, which can be fairly described as a possible prelude to ethnic cleansing

    Under the Trump administration, Fox hosts’ commentary is becoming more explicitly racialized: Kilmeade defended Trump’s family separation policy simply because “these aren’t our kids,” Fox host Laura Ingraham attacked “both illegal and in some cases legal immigration” for erasing “the America that we know and love,” and Fox’s prime-time lead, Tucker Carlson Tonight, heavily focuses on themes of white nationalism and anti-feminism, receiving much adoration from bigots nationwide

    Disclosure: Hannah Dreier, the ProPublica journalist who worked on the report with Vox, is a former Media Matters researcher. 

  • “The Empire strikes back”: Right-wing media defend Alex Jones after Infowars is banned from several major platforms

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS & ZACHARY PLEAT

    After Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, and iTunes all removed conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and Infowars pages from their platforms, several right-wing media figures leapt to the extremist’s defense. Jones’ defenders responded by criticizing and threatening “the entire rotten tech machine” and invoking a wide range of comparisons to support him, including Star Wars, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, reality TV star Kylie Jenner, and the Holocaust.

  • Right-wing media attacked Obama for showing openness to talks with Iran. Trump just did exactly that.

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS & DINA RADTKE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On July 30, President Donald Trump said that he would be willing to meet with Iranian leadership with “no preconditions.” Right-wing outlets were largely silent about Trump’s remarks, but had harshly criticized former President Barack Obama for saying the same thing.

    While running for president and during his presidency, Obama made clear that his vision for America’s foreign policy involved meeting with Iran. In 2009, Obama said that he was willing to talk to Iran “without preconditions” to reach a deal that would end the country’s nuclear weapon program. Obama again said in 2013 that he would sit down with Iranian leadership but only if the regime signaled that it was serious about giving up its nuclear weapons. In response, conservative media pundits branded the former president as “weak” and roundly disapproved of his supposed leniency toward Iran.

    But now right-wing outlets are generally silent about Trump’s remarks. Notably, Fox host Sean Hannity, who was an outspoken critic of Obama’s plans to meet with Iran, has not mentioned Trump’s announcement, and many others have followed his lead.

    Here’s how right-wing media reacted to Obama previously:

    • Hannity also griped repeatedly about the possibility of Obama meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani or Russian President Vladimir Putin while supposedly sidelining Republicans.
    • Trump’s current lawyer Rudy Giuliani said on Hannity in 2012: “I have a message to the President. Mr. President, they [Iran] don't want to negotiate with you. They want to build an atomic weapon. Wake up!” (via Nexis)
    • Hannity stated in 2012 that Obama “said he would negotiate with Iran without preconditions. I can think of a few preconditions -- recognizing Israel's right to exist, stop threatening to annihilate them and wipe them off the map, recognizing the truth that the Holocaust occurred, and also stopping your nuclear weapons program.” (via Nexis)
    • Hannity also said in 2010, “Do you think we can negotiate with Hitler Jr., [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, without preconditions?” (via Nexis)
    • Hannity said in 2008: “Iran is a tiny country and not a serious threat. Those are Barack Obama's words. He said would you meet in your first year with people like Hugo Chavez and Ahmadinejad without preconditions? Yes, his answer was. He hasn't been held accountable, really, for a lot of these statements.”
    • Advisor to President George W. Bush Karl Rove complained to Hannity in 2011 that it is “frankly inexplicable” that Obama would continue to meet with American enemies despite “having been in office now for two-and-a-half years.” (via Nexis)
    • Anti-Muslim activist Brigitte Gabriel stated on Hannity in 2013, “The only time in the Islamic world you come to the negotiating table is to negotiate the terms of your surrender! Right now, President Obama has delivered America to Iran as weak.” (via Nexis)
    • National Review’s William J. Bennett and Seth Leibsohn wrote, “Barack Obama’s position on negotiating with U.S. enemies betrays a profound misreading of history.” The authors added that if Obama were to meet with Iranian officials, “he will lower the prestige of the office of the president.”
    • Fox’s Steve Doocy hosted Fox legal analyst Peter Johnson Jr. who complained that Obama would rather negotiate with “a murderous anti-Semite,” referring to Rouhani, than with Republicans. Johnson also said, “Let’s be as eager to speak with the Republicans as we are to speak with the Iranians and malefactors in this world.”
    • Then-New York Post columnist Charles Hurt criticized Obama for “promis[ing] face time” to Ahmadinejad. According to Hurt, “We'd still be fighting the Japanese if Harry Truman - a Democrat unafraid to fight - subscribed to this fuzzy fringe foreign policy.”
  • Trump's lawyers now say collusion is not a crime. Right-wing media have been saying that for over a year.

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS, GRACE BENNETT & KATIE SULLIVAN

    Two lawyers for President Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow, have begun publicly making the case on behalf of their client that colluding with a foreign country to swing an election is not be a crime. During a July 30 appearance on Fox News’ Fox & Friends, Giuliani claimed that “collusion is not a crime,” an argument he went on to repeat that same day to CNN’s Alisyn Camerota. The next day, Sekulow appeared on Fox & Friends and declared multiple times that “collusion is not a crime.”

    This isn’t the first time that Giuliani has suggested that potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia may not have been illegal. In May, he told Fox’s Laura Ingraham that there is “nothing illegal” about “looking for dirt” on political opponents, even “if it comes from a Russian or a German or an American.” And Trump in December himself told The New York Times, “Even if there was [collusion], it's not a crime." These claims from the president and his lawyers echo more than a year of similar protestations by right-wing and pro-Trump media figures:

    • Fox’s Sean Hannity: “The breaking news today is [special counsel Robert] Mueller is just now starting investigating Russia collusion, which isn’t a crime.”

    • Hannity: “Today is the one-year anniversary of the Mueller witch hunt, and so far the special counsel has not provided a single shred of evidence of any collusion. And collusion is not against the law.”

    • Hannity: “Collusion is not a crime.”

    • Hannity : “Collusion’s not a crime. That’s the whole irony here.”  

    • Fox’s Jeanine Pirro: Trump “only needs to answer questions about crimes. If it’s not a crime to fire [former FBI Director] Jim Comey, then what crime are we talking about? Collusion? Russian collusion is not a crime.”

    • Pirro: “Collusion is not a crime, so why are all the Democrats saying we’re looking for collusion? Collusion is not a crime. How stupid are they?”

    • Fox’s Laura Ingraham: “Collusion’s not a crime. ... As Andy McCarthy keeps saying, collusion -- there is not a crime in actually speaking to Russian officials during an election cycle.”

    • Fox’s Gregg Jarrett: The FBI “launched the investigation, as I argue in my book, to frame Donald Trump for things he didn’t do, for crimes he didn’t commit. Collusion is not even a crime in a political campaign."

    • Jarrett: “You can collude all you want with a foreign government in an election.”

    • Jarrett: “It was always a myth that collusion in a political campaign is a crime. It’s not.”

    • Jarrett: “Collusion is only criminal in an antitrust setting. It has nothing whatsoever to do with elections.”

    • Fox Business Network’s Lisa Kennedy Montgomery: “As the president’s attorney Jay Sekulow has pointed out a bunch of times, collusion is not a crime. And that’s absolutely true.”

    • Frequent Fox guest Alan Dershowitz: “You cannot impeach a president unless he’s committed a crime. Collusion is not a crime.”

    • Dershowitz: “Collusion is not a crime. I have seen no evidence of collusion.”

    • Dershowitz: “I’ve been teaching criminal law for 50 years, and I know the federal criminal code pretty well. The word ‘collusion’ appears only in one context, and that is if businesses collude with each other in violation of the antitrust law, that’s a crime. But there’s no crime of collusion with a foreign government.”

    • Dershowitz: Mueller is “inventing a crime. There’s no such crime as 'collusion' in the federal statute.”

    • Fox's Brit Hume: “Can anybody identify the crime? Collusion, while it’d obviously be alarming and highly inappropriate for the Trump campaign -- of which there is no evidence by the way, of colluding with the Russians, -- it's not a crime.”

    • NRATV’s Dan Bongino: “I don’t believe the collusion story at all. But the fact is, Tucker, even if there was collusion, collusion isn’t even a crime.”

    • Fox’s Geraldo Rivera: “What is the crime? If the Russian KGB chief is talking to Paul Manafort and the chief says, ‘You know, I've got this dirt here that says Hillary Clinton was this or that.’ And Paul Manafort says, ‘Next Wednesday, why don't you release that. That'd be great for us.’ I don't know that that's a crime at all, what’s the crime?”

    • Conservative author Ronald Kessler: “There’s no violation of the law if, in fact, the campaign colluded with Russia, whatever that means.”

    • Conservative author Michael Reagan: “Collusion is not breaking the law.”

    • Pro-Trump Twitter troll Bill Mitchell:

    • Right-wing radio host Mark Simone:
    • Frequent Fox guest Jonathan Turley on Fox & Friends: “Collusion itself is not a crime”

    Video by John Kerr

  • Iraq War cheerleaders are still driving foreign policy discussions, Iran tweet edition

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On Sunday, July 22, President Donald Trump tweeted another bellicose threat of war, this time against Iran. In discussions about the president’s tweets, some media outlets prominently featured Iraq War boosters.
     

    Though, collectively, these figures were hardly as pro-military action as they were in 2003 in their support for the Iraq War (some even harshly criticized the president’s posturing), the prominence of such boosters in the conversation betrays one of the media’s long-running, barely-acknowledged failures: The same voices that helped the Bush administration lie its way into the "the single worst foreign policy decision in American history" are still, for some reason, considered important voices on foreign policy.

    • Former press secretary for President George W. Bush Ari Fleischer appeared on Fox News’ America’s Newsroom to urge the United States to destabilize Iranian society in order to trigger regime change.

    • Steve Doocy, co-host of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, said that the Iranian “people are really hacked (sic) off, they don’t really like the corruption, they don’t like the leadership, they want something new, and now this,” referring to Trump’s tweet.  

    • On Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, senior strategic analyst retired Gen. Jack Keane, who was the a strong advocate of Bush’s troop “surge” strategy in Iraq, hailed Trump for having “absolutely reset the table [away] from coddling Iran” as soon as he was inaugurated and framed the tweet -- which he called a “policy decision” -- as a continuation of this trend.

    • On CNN’s New Day, global affairs analyst Max Boot commented that Trump “belongs in a padded cell” for his tweet and was “predictable” for “gin[ning] up a threat of war with Iran” to shield himself from embarrassment over the Helsinki summit.

    • On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough commented that Trump was “screaming about the Republican (sic) Guard and his threat to wipe out Iran,” and suggested that the threat against Iran was a tactic to distract from the news that, among others, the FBI possessed recordings of the president talking with his former attorney Michael Cohen about payments to a former playboy model.

    • Fox’s senior political analyst Brit Hume predicted that Trump’s broader posture against Iran, from exiting the nuclear deal to Sunday’s tweet, indicated that his administration “is attempting to overthrow the government or attempting to get regime change” in Iran, even though Trump officials “will not say” so.

    • Disgraced ex-Fox host Bill O’Reilly promised to “analyze the Iran threats made by Mr. Trump” on the Monday edition of his web-based show.

    • On CNN Newsroom, military analyst Rick Francona, who was previously part of a military analyst program set up by the Pentagon to sell the Iraq War, warned that “if you start poking the eye of the Iranians” as Trump’s tweet did, “they’re liable to push back,” and the resulting situation “will ratchet out of control very quickly.”

    • National security adviser John Bolton, hired directly off of Fox News, underlined the president's threat with a statement that said: “If Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid before.”