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Eric Hananoki

Author ››› Eric Hananoki
  • After apologizing for toxic remarks, HHS official now claims she was the target of a “smear campaign”

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) official Ximena Barreto issued a statement last month saying she “deeply” apologizes for making “generalized comments regarding race relations and radical Islam.” Barreto is now backtracking by claiming that she is the victim of a “smear campaign.”

    Barreto is a former right-wing pundit who joined HHS in December 2017 as a deputy communications director. Media Matters reported on April 9 that Barreto (who also goes by the surname Barreto-Rice) has a history of making toxic remarks. She claimed that “African-Americans are way more racist than white people,” labeled Islam “a fucking cult” that has “no place” in the United States, pushed the false Pizzagate conspiracy theory, and attacked the “retarded” 2017 Women’s March. Here is a video of some of her worst remarks: 

    Following the publication of Media Matters’ report, HHS issued a statement saying Barreto “has been placed on administrative leave while the matter is reviewed.”

    CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski, Chris Massie, and Nathan McDermott additionally reported on April 13 that Barreto “shared an image in 2017 that said ‘our forefathers would have hung’ Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for treason.” CNN also “found that Barreto also repeatedly used the hashtag #BanIslam” and pushed other conspiracy theories, including about murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.

    In May, HHS announced that it would not fire Barreto and reassigned her to the department’s Administration for Children and Families. HHS also provided an apology from Barreto for her remarks, which stated, in part: “Comments I made as I private citizen before I was hired at HHS were brought to light by concerned members of the press. In the heated and hyper-passionate political campaign environment, I made generalized comments regarding race relations and radical Islam. I fully understand that these emotionally-charged comments were hurtful, and I deeply apologize to members of both communities.”

    That apology appears to be a sham -- at least, according to a recent tweet from Barreto herself. Mediaite's Caleb Ecarma reported today that Barreto recently attacked CNN for purportedly conducting a “smear campaign” against her (CNN did not smear Barreto). She tweeted on June 14: “Locked my account after CNNs (sic) smear campaign, received too many threats and packages delivered to my home.” After Ecarma asked her for comment, Barreto reportedly deleted the CNN tweet and shut down her private Twitter account. 

    Mediaite also “conducted an extensive review of her social media posts and found that the HHS appointee pushed the baseless Pizzagate conspiracy theory even more than previously reported. … In total, Mediaite found that Barreto tweeted about variations of the Pizzagate conspiracy at least 17 times.”

    A Media Matters request for comment to HHS was not immediately returned as of posting.

  • Rep. Steve King’s anti-immigrant page cites a white nationalist website

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Rep. Steve King (R-IA) hosts a page on his congressional website about “illegal immigrant stories” that cites the white nationalist publication VDare.

    King is a racist congressman who has a history of pushing bigotry. He recently promoted British neo-Nazi Mark Collett on Twitter (the congressman has since claimed ignorance of Collett’s views).

    King’s house.gov website features a page titled “Illegal Immigration Stories” that contains information about “illegal aliens” allegedly committing crimes. King has frequently smeared immigrants as prone to criminality; in reality, studies show that immigration does not increase the rate of crime.

    One of King’s citations on that “Illegal Immigration Stories” page is an April 2016 VDare piece headlined “Drunk Driving Illegal Alien Kills Woman, Is Granted Bail and Disappears.” The VDare piece, by anti-immigrant writer Brenda Walker, begins by stating: “Funny how after all these years of Americans being run down by drunk driving illegal aliens, the crime of inebriated vehicle operation by unlawful foreigners is still not taken seriously by authorities.”

    The Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that VDare “regularly publishes articles by prominent white nationalists, race scientists and anti-Semites.” The Anti-Defamation League wrote that VDare is a racist site that “posts, promotes, and archives the work of racists, anti-immigrant figures, and anti-Semites.”

    Media Matters has documented past VDare headlines including: “One Problem With These Hispanic Immigrants Is Their Disgusting Behavior,” “Indians Aren`t That Intelligent (On Average),” “Diversity Is Strength! It’s Also…Hispanic Immigrants Taking Over FBI’s Ten Most Wanted,” “America Does Not Need ANY Immigrants From Africa,” and “Roll Over, JIHAD—There’s Also HIJRA, Muslim Conquest By Immigration.”

    King praised Peter Brimelow, the white nationalist founder and editor of VDare, while appearing with him during a 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) panel. Then-BuzzFeed reporter Rosie Gray wrote of King in February 2012:

    Iowa congressman Steve King is unconcerned about the implications of his appearance during a CPAC panel on "The Failure of Multiculturalism" featuring a white nationalist author, Peter Brimelow.

    "I don't know anything about that," King, who came to the event to talk about his English Language Unity Act, told BuzzFeed -- though he'd earlier told Brimelow that "I've read all your books!".

    VDare and Brimelow are also fans of King and Brimelow wrote a pro-King op-ed for The Daily Caller last year.

    While King’s “Illegal Immigration Stories” page also cites news outlets including The Associated Press and The Boston Globe, it additionally uses sources such as the anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform and Breitbart.com. Six of the Breitbart.com pieces cited by the page are by Katie McHugh, who was fired from the site for tweeting racist remarks last year (no small feat given the site’s open bigotry).

  • Right-wing pundit and congressional candidate Seth Grossman posted bigoted commentaries about Black and Muslim people

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Seth Grossman, a Republican pundit who is running for Congress, repeatedly posted bigoted commentaries about Black and Muslim people online. Grossman claimed he knew “of many Africans who wish their ancestors had been taken to America as slaves,” promoted an anti-Black piece on a white nationalist website, and called Islam “a cancer" that has "already infected a billion people."

    Grossman is a lawyer who has also been a radio host and a newspaper columnist. He heads the nonprofit organization Liberty and Prosperity 1776 Inc. and writes commentaries on its website. Grossman won the Republican nomination for New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District on June 5.

    The Republican commentator has been under scrutiny this week because of recently released remarks he made at an April forum in which he said, “The whole idea of diversity is a bunch of crap and un-American.” That remark was captured by American Bridge 21st Century PAC (American Bridge founder David Brock is also the founder of Media Matters).

    Before he started running for Congress, Grossman also frequently posted bigoted and racist remarks about Black and Muslim people in commentary pieces and on social media, according to a Media Matters review. Here are numerous examples:

    “Blacks were not enslaved by whites. They were enslaved by other blacks and then sold to whites. … I do know of many Africans who wish their ancestors had been taken to America as slaves.” From a March 7, 2017, post on Grossman’s Facebook page:

    Fifty years of welfare programs, public and college ‘education’, and media and Hollywood pop culture run by ‘progressive’ Democrats did far more long term damage to blacks in America than 230 years of slavery.” From a July 17, 2016, post on Grossman’s Facebook page:


    “Democrats today constantly talk of wrongs done by some whites to some blacks more than a hundred years ago. The purpose is for blacks to blame whites for their problems instead of the liberal officials and policies that are truly responsible.” From an April 4, 2012, piece by Grossman in the Current and Gazette newspapers of Atlantic and Cape May counties, which was also posted on libertyandprosperity.com:

    As I got older, I paid attention to the conversations of the adults at the Passover dinner. My grandmother was always amazed at how much our family enjoyed both holidays, and how lucky we were to live in America.

    In bits and pieces I learned how my experiences with these holidays were so different from hers. To my grandmother who lived in Moldavia, a Romanian-speaking province in the old Russian Empire, Passover and Easter were holidays of fear and death.

    There was no First Amendment in Russia. The government and the churches were run by a dictator called the Czar. His officials used the churches to get people angry at Jews, rather than the corruption and incompetence of the government.

    What they did was like how Democrats today constantly talk of wrongs done by some whites to some blacks more than a hundred years ago. The purpose is for blacks to blame whites for their problems instead of the liberal officials and policies that are truly responsible.

    Grossman promoted a piece from a white nationalist site that claimed Black people “are a threat to all who cross their paths, black and non-black alike.” On December 30, 2014, Grossman posted a link to a piece on the white nationalist website American Renaissance. The piece’s author wrote that he is “a public defender in a large southern metropolitan area” and his “experience” has taught him “that blacks are different by almost any measure to all other people. They cannot reason as well. They cannot communicate as well. They cannot control their impulses as well. They are a threat to all who cross their paths, black and non-black alike.”

    “Islam has nothing in common with other modern world religions like Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, or Hinduism.” Grossman wrote a July 18, 2016, piece on libertyandprosperity.com that purported to explain why Muslims “attack and kill us” by listing “12 simple facts about Islam.”

    Grossman’s list including virulently anti-Muslim claims, including that the religion has “nothing in common with other modern world religions”; “Islam is stuck in the barbaric, cut-throat world of Arabia 1,400 years ago”; and “Good Muslims who believe and support these principles of Islam cannot be good Americans. Only ‘bad’ Muslims who reject their religion can be good Americans.”

    "Islam is a cancer. The fact that it already infected a billion people is even more reason to fight it every way we can.” From a March 27, 2016, post on Grossman’s Facebook page:

    “Why are we inviting thousands of Muslim immigrants to our towns and neighborhoods when we are in the middle of a war with Islam?” From a February 28, 2015, post on Grossman’s Facebook page:


    Grossman shared a graphic that attacked then-President Barack Obama for having “flooded our cities with Muslims.” From a January 10, 2016, post on Grossman’s Facebook page:

  • On MSNBC, Hugh Hewitt defends an anti-LGBTQ hate group and doesn’t disclose it’s his major radio sponsor

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    During his most recent MSNBC program, host Hugh Hewitt defended the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) in its fight with Amazon. But Hewitt did not disclose that ADF is a major sponsor of his radio programs.

    Hewitt has had prior conflict of interest problems on MSNBC. The network gave him a “verbal warning” last month after Politico revealed that he helped broker a meeting between Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt and lawyers at Hewitt’s law firm Larson O’Brien. MSNBC said that Hewitt, who frequently praised the EPA head on the network, will no longer discuss matters related to the EPA and Pruitt on its channel.

    Media Matters also previously reported that Hewitt used his MSNBC program to praise the Trump administration's efforts to weaken the Clean Water Act. However, he didn’t disclose that one of his law firm’s clients is an oil and gas company that is currently litigating allegations it violated the environmental law.

    Hewitt’s latest conflict of interest problem revolves around the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom, which works domestically and internationally to prevent and roll back LGBTQ equality. ADF has supported a number of extreme positions, including criminalizing sodomy and Russia's so-called “gay propaganda” law. ADF recently defended the plaintiff in the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court case, which was narrowly decided in its favor based on the particulars of the case (and which does not indicate how other similar cases should be resolved).

    Retail giant Amazon recently removed ADF from its Amazon Smile program, which allows customers to “donate a portion of the purchase price to your favorite charitable organization.”

    During his June 2 MSNBC program, Hewitt interviewed House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who criticized Amazon’s decision (McCarthy mistakenly called the group “the Alliance for Freedom”). Hewitt replied: “Yeah, Alliance Defending Freedom, old friends of mine. I’ve often spoken at their groups, and [you’re] right. They’ve been kicked off Amazon Smile. That’s wrong.”

    But Hewitt did not disclose that he has a financial relationship with ADF through radio sponsorships.

    ADF is a sponsor of Salem Radio Network’s The Hugh Hewitt Show. An advertisement for ADF currently appears on Hewitt’s website (under the title “Your Freedoms Are Under Attack”) that directs readers to an ADF donation page that features a testimonial from Hewitt. Here's a screenshot of the ADF donation page: 

    On October 30, 2017, Hewitt hosted Alliance Defending Freedom CEO and general counsel Mike Farris to discuss the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. Hewitt stated during the segment: “ADF has been a regular feature on this show for many decades here, a great sponsor of the program. And more importantly, they’re my friends and I trust them, and I’ve been at many, many ADF gatherings over the years.”

    In November 2017, Hewitt’s Facebook page included an ad for ADF. Hewitt’s donation pitch stated, in part: “Right now, a generous group of Ministry Friends has decided to match your gift to provide a strong legal defense for Christians trying to live out their faith. Will you help today? Visit: www.ADFlegal.org/hewitt.”

    ADF is also a significant sponsor of Salem Radio Network’s Townhall Review, a weekend recap program that Hewitt hosts. Hewitt has said on recent programs that Townhall Review has a "partnership" with ADF. Ads for ADF also appear on Townhall Review's website

    Hewitt also criticized Amazon for its ADF decision during a segment that appeared on Townhall Review. Hewitt stated on May 22: “I’ve partnered with ADF for over a decade now. That’s why I was disturbed to learn that they have been removed from Amazon’s Smile program. … ADF -- see them online at ADFlegal.org -- is donor supported, so they could very much benefit from that income stream.”

    Hewitt’s ADF conflict of interest mirrors what Fox News has allowed Sean Hannity to do on his Fox News program regarding his radio sponsors.

    MSNBC did not respond to a request for comment from Media Matters.

  • Sinclair’s Boris Epshteyn laughably claims that Donald Trump Jr. “is the farthest thing from a racist or anti-Semite”

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In his latest defense of everything Trump, Sinclair Broadcast Group chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn claimed that Donald Trump Jr. “is the farthest thing from a racist or anti-semite” after the president’s son retweeted an anti-Semitic claim by comedian Roseanne Barr. Trump Jr. has promoted bigoted material online, given a radio interview to a white nationalist and anti-Semite, and retweeted a leading anti-Semitic writer.

    Epshteyn is a former aide to President Donald Trump who now hosts “must-run” commentary segments that air on local news broadcasts on Sinclair-owned or -operated stations across the country. His tenure at the White House was brief and rocky.

    His body of work at the White House included a statement he helped write commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day that “set off a furor because it excluded any mention of Jews.” (The White House defended itself by stating -- in a reference to Epshteyn -- that the message was written “with the help of an individual who is both Jewish and the descendent of Holocaust survivors.”) He also gained, as Politico reported, a reputation at all three cable news networks “as someone who is combative and sometimes difficult to work with, even when he arrives at studios as a guest of a network. He has offended people in green rooms with comments they have interpreted as racially insensitive and demeaning.”

    Epshteyn’s analysis at Sinclair has been vapid and serves as little more than pro-Trump propaganda.  

    On May 29, Epshteyn defended Donald Trump Jr. after he retweeted Barr’s false smear that philanthropist (and prior Media Matters donor) George Soros “is a nazi who turned in his fellow Jews 2 be murdered.” That claim from Barr, who is Jewish, has long been part of an anti-Semitic smear campaign against Soros.

    The New York Post’s gossip section Page Six wrote up Trump Jr.’s retweets with the headline “Donald Trump Jr. retweeted Roseanne Barr’s racist tweets.” Trump Jr. responded by claiming, “They know full well that I did not RT anything that was anti-semitic, but I guess facts don’t matter when you’re a dishonest, clickbait rag.” Epshteyn responded by tweeting that Trump Jr. is “the farthest thing” from a racist or an anti-Semite:

    But in reality, Trump Jr. has, as Vox.com’s Libby Nelson put it, “a white supremacist problem.”

    In March 2016, Trump Jr. gave an interview to James Edwards, a white nationalist and anti-Semite. The interview aired on the Liberty RoundTable, which is hosted by Edwards’ syndicator, Sam Bushman. Edwards appeared on the program as a guest and questioner. During that interview, Trump Jr. agreed with Edwards that the media is "the enforcer of political correctness."

    In August 2016, Trump Jr. retweeted anti-Semitic writer Kevin MacDonald, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has described as “the neo-Nazi movement's favorite academic.” According to SPLC, “MacDonald published a trilogy that supposedly ‘proves’ that Jews are genetically driven to destroy Western societies.”

    In September 2016, as The Washington Post noted, Trump Jr. posted an image celebrating “Pepe the Frog, a symbol that has been co-opted by white supremacists and nationalists.”

    In September 2016, Trump Jr. told a radio program that the media had been letting then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton “slide” on everything and “if Republicans were doing that, they'd be warming up the gas chamber right now.” The Anti-Defamation League criticized Trump Jr. for his “trivialization of the Holocaust and gas chambers” (Trump Jr. claimed he was referring to capital punishment).

    In September 2016, as Talking Points Memo wrote, “Trump Jr. borrowed an analogy popular among anti-immigrant activists and white nationalists for his meme likening Syrian refugees to poisoned Skittles.”

    Unsurprisingly, neo-Nazis hailed Trump Jr. during the campaign for his efforts.

    Following the campaign, Trump Jr. has continued to embrace the far-right.

  • Pro-Trump pundit Steve Cortes says he went “to CNN partly at the suggestion of the White House itself and the president himself"

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    CNN political commentator Steve Cortes, who regularly appears on the network to praise President Donald Trump, recently said that he “went over to CNN partly at the suggestion of the White House itself and the president himself.”

    CNN hired Cortes in January as one of its pro-Trump political commentators. He previously did stints at Fox News and CNBC and worked as a surrogate for Trump’s 2016 campaign. Fox News reported in March that Cortes interviewed for the still-vacant White House communications director position “but is considered a dark horse.”

    Cortes joined CNN despite previously criticizing the network as “fake news” and attacking both on- and off-air CNN employees for alleged bias against Trump. His commentary for CNN is unsurprisingly a parade of misinformation and over-the-top support for Trump.

    Cortes explained his reasons for working at CNN during a May 17 appearance on the New Orleans-based WGSO-AM radio program Ringside Politics. The Republican commentator said that he “went over to CNN partly at the suggestion of the White House” and Trump. From the program:

    JEFF CROUERE (HOST): Steve, my condolences for having to work at CNN and my real, just -- my heart goes out to you and I just want to know how in the world, Steve, can you do that?

    STEVE CORTES: Right. Well, it’s a very different job. I used to be at Fox News, which was a whole different world. I went over to CNN partly at the suggestion of the White House itself and the president himself because -- and I wanted to do it also because I saw a narrative there that I thought was unfair to the president, and I want to try to be a counter voice. I want to be an alternative voice on CNN and I hope a voice of reason. So I hope that I am over there, to put it in sort of religious terms, I hope I am winning over some pagans. And some of the unchurch folks.

    While Cortes said that “CNN has been great to me,” he agreed with host Jeff Crouere’s criticism that CNN’s guest lineup is unfair to Trump.

    STEVE CORTES: And honestly, I will say this. Look, CNN has been great to me, has certainly given me a platform. I like a lot of the people there even though I clearly don’t agree with what they say on air. But, for instance, today I’m going to be on three times and, believe me, I’m going to be advocating strenuously for the president’s position and for the renewal of this country, which I think is already happening and is going to accelerate going forward.

    JEFF CROUERE: Well, let me congratulate you on working in that environment and being able to put up with all of that. Whenever I see a CNN panel it’s like one token conservative surrounded by four or five liberals.

    CORTES: Right.

    CROUERE: Or they’ll have some Never Trump Republicans on there who hate the president even more than the Democrats do.

    CORTES: Right. And that often happens. Right.

    CROUERE: And it just seems like it’s totally skewed and unbalanced.

    CORTES: If it’s a four-person panel they’ll say it’s two Republicans and two Democrats but the problem is at least one of the Republicans despises President Trump.

    Cortes’ path to a CNN job has some similarities to that of former commentator Jeffrey Lord, who, as CNN reporter Brian Stelter noted, was “the first explicitly pro-Donald Trump commentator to join the network, back in August 2015.”

    The New York Times Magazine's Jonathan Mahler reported last year that after Trump appeared on Anderson Cooper 360 in 2015, the Republican "complained to CNN that his interviews on the network were always followed by conversations among panelists who all seemed to hate him. The network asked Trump to suggest the names of some people who would defend him. One of those whom he mentioned was Jeffrey Lord. … Lord made his CNN debut in July 2015. Two weeks later, CNN offered him a job as the network’s first pro-Trump contributor. (CNN said it was already considering Lord and that Trump’s suggestion had no effect on their decision to hire him.)” CNN fired Lord in August 2017 after he tweeted a Nazi salute at Media Matters President Angelo Carusone.

    Numerous observers have criticized CNN for hiring pro-Trump commentators. Carlos Maza, a former Media Matters staffer who now produces Vox’s Strikethrough video series, wrote in April 2017: “CNN’s Trump supporters derail segments critical of the president, misrepresent Trump’s positions to avoid tough questions, and peddle false and misleading information on national TV while being paid by the network. In many cases, CNN’s Trump supporters repeat the same lies and talking points that CNN’s serious journalists spend all day trying to debunk. That might explain why Trump has quietly pushed his surrogates to appear on CNN, even while publicly feuding with the network.”

    As Maza noted, BuzzFeed reported in March 2017 that “Trump has harsh words for CNN publicly, but he also is telling key surrogates to get airtime on the network.” According to the article, “Trump had advice for [one] surrogate, who now works at a rival network. ‘Looking to 2018 it would be better for us if you dive back into that fire at CNN,’ the source recalled the president saying. Trump offered to help get the surrogate on CNN.”

    Media Matters asked CNN for comment on Cortes’ remarks about his hiring but did not receive a reply.

  • Trump-backed CNN commentator Steve Cortes previously called the network “fake news”

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    CNN political commentator Steve Cortes has a lot of qualities that President Donald Trump looks for in a pundit: He’s devoted to Trump, he pushes misinformation in the media, and he has claimed that CNN is “fake news.”

    Trump praised Cortes and shared an op-ed of his on Twitter last week, writing, “Thank you to the Washington Examiner and @CortesSteve on the great article - on WINNING!” Cortes had claimed in the May 15 piece that “America is winning under Trump’s leadership.”

    Cortes previously worked as a Trump campaign surrogate and has done stints at Fox News and CNBC. He is now part of CNN’s roster of problematic pro-Trump political commentators. His decision to join the network in January -- and CNN’s choice to hire him -- is odd given that Cortes previously tried to delegitimize the network by calling it “fake news” and suggested he was “very happy” to work at Fox News instead of CNN.

    On June 13, 2017, Cortes wrote a Medium.com post in which he criticized on- and off-air employees of CNN and MSNBC for their alleged “visceral disdain for Trump”:  

    As a veteran of the campaign and surrogate who gave hundreds of cable news interviews, most of them highly adversarial on outlets like MSNBC and CNN, I can attest to the utter, visceral disdain for Trump shared among almost all TV producers and on-air talent, save for Fox News (where I am now a contributor). Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government recently published a revealing study on this bias and determined, for example, that 96% of all mainstream media coverage of Trump on immigration topics was negative.

    During a June 26 appearance on Fox Business’ Varney & Co. with host Stuart Varney, Cortes said he was “very happy” to work for Fox News, explaining that he has been on CNN and MSNBC and “from what happened on air, from what happened behind the scenes, their disdain for President Trump is visceral. It is real. And it is fake news. CNN keeps having to retract stories”:

    STEVE CORTES: I think the CNN story is crucially important. And I’ll tell you, Stuart, I’m very happy to be a Fox News contributor now. But in 2016, I worked for the Trump campaign and I primarily was on competitor networks of ours. A lot of CNN hits, a lot of MSNBC, and I can tell you, I was often the lone Trump person on a panel of eight Trump opponents, and I can tell you from what happened on air, from what happened behind the scenes, their disdain for President Trump is visceral. It is real. And it is fake news. CNN keeps having to retract stories, and by the way, the way this happens, what they do is they shout from the mountaintops the allegations, the unfounded allegations, and then the retraction, they whisper in the hallway so that almost no one can hear, right?

    During a June 28 appearance on Fox News’ The Specialists, Cortes again called CNN “fake news”:

    STEVE CORTES: But the more important thing, I think, is that we're making a point of the American people that, by the way, when Trump says fake news, he's not lying. This has been a very good week for Trump in that regard. Between this lawsuit, between CNN, between what Project Veritas has shown us about CNN, this wasn't a paranoia on Trump's part. OK? There is fake news out there, and there is such antagonism and laziness in the mainstream media that they will go to almost any means, even disingenuous ones, to try to make the president and his allies look bad.

    Last year, Cortes also tweeted criticism of CNN, including claiming that the network attempted to “silence me re: Planned Parenthood.”

    Cortes’ CNN appearances have featured him pushing misinformation and over-the-top arguments in support of Trump. On May 15, for instance, he falsely claimed that “there is evidence of widespread voter fraud” during the 2016 elections.

    And during an April 9 appearance, Cortes complained about CNN, stating to CNN Tonight host Don Lemon: “Your show, and this network for months, and months have screamed Russia, Russia, Russia. Guess what? There's nothing there that connects to President Trump.” He also said that Trump “needs to fire [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions. He needs to fire [Deputy Attorney General Rod] Rosenstein. He needs to fire [special counsel Robert] Mueller. This is a sham investigation. This is his own Justice Department trying to usurp the power of the presidency.”

    Cortes’ anti-CNN remarks are similar to some of those made by Ed Martin, a pro-Trump commentator whom CNN eventually fired for an unspecified reason. Prior to joining the network, Martin claimed that CNN is “fake news” and hasn’t “been credible for a long time.” While employed at CNN, Martin attacked two fellow CNN commentators as “black racists,” suggested that CNN was “the swamp,” and praised Trump for ordering CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta out of the Oval Office, among other asinine remarks. In January, Martin said that "CNN terminated" him “for cause."

    Media Matters contacted CNN for a comment about Cortes but did not receive a response.

  • Then-CNN commentator criticized Russia investigations without disclosing Russia-connected lobbying client

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    In an appearance on CNN last month, then-CNN political commentator Bryan Lanza -- who recently left the network -- criticized investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election. During that program, there was no disclosure that Lanza had the day before started officially lobbying to help a Russian company that had just been impacted by U.S. sanctions.

    CNN has hired numerous pro-Trump commentators who misinform viewers and lie about matters related to President Donald Trump. And some of those commentators also come with numerous potential and real conflicts of interest related to their off-air work.  

    In February 2017, the lobbying and public relations firm Mercury hired Lanza as a managing director. He previously worked as an aide for Trump’s 2016 campaign and White House transition team. CNN hired Lanza in October 2017.

    CNN.com itself reported on Lanza’s lobbying in a May 12 piece (later updated on May 14) -- headlined “Former Trump campaign aide is helping Russian firm shed sanctions” -- and noted that Trump “has presided over the expansion of a new generation of influence peddlers who have used their actual or perceived proximity to the President to line their pockets.” That article originally stated that Lanza still worked for the network but was later updated to note that “Lanza is no longer a CNN contributor.”

    It’s not clear why Lanza left CNN. The network did not return Media Matters’ request for comment. But Lanza’s last appearance on the network was demonstrative of the problematic nature of CNN’s stable of pro-Trump commentators.

    According to individual and company documents filed with the federal government, Gregory Barker, the chairman of the board of the Russian firm En+ Group, hired Mercury for lobbying services in April. In its piece on Lanza, CNN.com wrote that the former Trump aide is helping the En+ Group shed sanctions that were imposed on it last month by the Trump administration. The contract was signed on April 5, went into effect on April 26, and was received by the government on May 4.

    CNN.com additionally reported that “Lanza's involvement with EN+ Group began within the last month or so, according to a source familiar with the transaction. The source said the former Trump campaign aide is not representing [Russian oligarch and En+ Group co-owner Oleg] Deripaska himself, only the board chairman of the group attempting to free itself from the Russian oligarch's control by helping to reduce Deripaska's stake in EN+ Group from roughly 70% to below 50%. That chairman -- the former British energy minister, Lord Gregory Barker -- is listed as Mercury's client.”

    On April 27, the day after Mercury’s lobbying contract went into effect, Lanza appeared on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 and criticized the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election. During one segment, he said that "this House partisan investigation ... was never going to be the one that got to the truth of anything. It became nothing but a leak factory for the Democratic Party." During another segment, Lanza agreed with Trump's Twitter criticism of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and stated that he is the "first special prosecutor" that's been "brought forward without a specific crime to investigate. So Donald Trump is right.”

    CNN identified Lanza as a CNN political commentator during the program; there was no disclosure that Lanza had started lobbying to help En+ Group, though on-screen text did identify him as a managing director at Mercury.

    Mercury’s Washington, D.C., office is headed by Vin Weber, whose prior lobbying activity is reportedly being scrutinized by Mueller.

    Media Matters previously documented that CNN political commentator David Urban, who is the president of the American Continental Group, touted one of his lobbying clients without disclosing his financial connection.

    CNN.com’s piece on former Trump aides who are now lobbying noted that Urban “works for a firm that represents a roster of top tier companies across the healthcare, telecommunications and utilities fields. Urban, who is also a CNN contributor, declined to comment.”

    The cable news network previously employed Corey Lewandowski as a political commentator. The former Trump campaign manager had a clear conflict of interest: While working at CNN, he was also receiving large “severance” checks from the campaign, and he reportedly signed a nondisclosure agreement that essentially prevented him from disparaging his former boss.

  • Hugh Hewitt used his MSNBC gig to praise efforts to weaken a law that his firm’s client is accused of violating

    After the Pruitt scandal, another Hugh Hewitt problem at MSNBC

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Hugh Hewitt repeatedly used his employment at MSNBC to praise the Trump administration's efforts to weaken the Clean Water Act, calling it one of the “accomplishments” of President Donald Trump's first year in office. But Hewitt and MSNBC did not disclose that one of his law firm’s clients is an oil and gas company that is currently litigating allegations it violated the environmental law.

    Hewitt hosts a weekend MSNBC program and contributes to the network’s other programming. He is also a syndicated radio host and partner at the law firm Larson O’Brien.

    Hewitt's status at Larson O’Brien presents numeorus potential and existing conflicts of interest for his media employment. The firm stated in a May 5, 2017, press release that it will be opening a Washington, D.C., office and that it “is currently representing clients before the US Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency.” The press release touted Hewitt’s relocation to the Washington area as a reason for the firm to “have a permanent presence in the District.”

    Hewitt has recently come under fire after Politico reported on his role in brokering a meeting between Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt and lawyers at Larson O’Brien; the meeting was concerning the efforts of firm client Orange County Water District to get the EPA to devote resources to cleaning up a polluted site in the district. The publication also noted that Hewitt has been a staunch defender of Pruitt on MSNBC.

    In a statement today, MSNBC said that “Hewitt disclosed several times to MSNBC viewers that he has a friendship with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and also that Hewitt’s son works for the agency." The network said Hewitt at some point stopped discussing “EPA-related matters on MSNBC” and it gave Hewitt a “verbal warning” after it learned about the Orange County Water District meeting.

    However, Media Matters has found another ethical problem with Hewitt’s MSNBC commentary regarding a different client of his law firm.

    Larson O’Brien, which was formed in 2016, states that its practice areas include “environmental and water rights.” One of its prominent clients has been HVI Cat Canyon Inc. (HVI-CC), which was formerly known as Greka Oil & Gas Inc.

    In June 2011, state and federal agencies -- including the EPA -- accused HVI-CC of violating provisions of the Clean Water Act by having “illegally discharged crude oil and produced water from its oil and gas production facilities in Santa Barbara County during 21 spills between June 2005 and December 2010. The spills resulted from ruptured storage tanks, corroded pipelines and overflowing injection ponds. Oil from each of the spills flowed into nearby waterways.” Since then, HVI-CC has been involved in years of litigation concerning the oil spills.

    In 2015, the Obama administration strengthened the Clean Water Act by enacting the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, with then-President Barack Obama stating that it “will provide the clarity and certainty businesses and industry need about which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act, and it will ensure polluters who knowingly threaten our waters can be held accountable.” FoxNews.com wrote that “the case against HVI got a boost when” Obama signed that rule.

    Business interests were unsurprisingly opposed to the rule, and on February 28, 2017, Trump signed an executive order that set in motion the rollback of WOTUS with the goal of replacing it with a more industry-friendly rule. Environmentalists have responded by arguing that the administration's moves are efforts to weakened the landmark Clean Water Act.

    On March 16, 2017, Larson O’Brien filed a motion asking a district court to permanently halt the case against HVI-CC in light of Trump’s executive order regarding WOTUS. (Litigation regarding the case is ongoing.)

    In other words, Hewitt’s law firm has had a financial connection -- both through its practice area and with a specific client -- to the Clean Water Act. But those conflicts of interest haven’t stopped Hewitt from using his MSNBC platform to praise the weakening of the law through the rollback of WOTUS.

    During the September 29 edition of MTP Daily, Hewitt defended ethics questions about Pruitt by praising his work on the water rollback: “Those four trips, all preapproved by the [EPA's Office of General Counsel]. He was going to the bottom of Oklahoma in one of them to meet with stakeholders that President Obama never cared about: small farmers, small plot holders, wetland people. It was the Waters of the United States Rule rollback. By all means, throw some attention on that.”

    During the December 22 edition of MTP Daily, Hewitt cited the rollback of the water rule as an accomplishment, stating: “So, the president's numbers are horrible, but the accomplishments of this year, especially when it comes to [Supreme Court Justice] Neil Gorsuch and 12 appeals court judges, the EPA rollback of the Waters of the United States rule, the Clean Power Plan, the Paris Accord and, most importantly, defeating ISIS in Syria and Iraq, there's a lot of reframing going on.”

    During the April 2 edition of MSNBC’s The Beat, Hewitt defended questions about an apartment Pruitt rented at below market rate from the wife of an energy lobbyist by stating: “It is not in any way, shape, or form a gift. It’s much ado about nothing. I think this is really about policy, Stephanie, as we talked about on Twitter, and I think it’s about the [Federal Vacancies Reform Act]. Specifically, people on the left are upset with Scott Pruitt over the Clean Power Plan, which he repealed; the Waters of the United States, which he repealed; the [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] standards today, which he put up for repeal. He’s executing Donald Trump’s policy on WOTUS and on regulatory rollback, and they want him out.”

    Hewitt did not disclose his law firm’s work related to the Clean Water Act in any of those appearances.

    MSNBC did not return a request for comment from Media Matters for this piece.

    Media Matters also documented that The Washington Post repeatedly allowed Hewitt to write columns praising Pruitt without disclosing that Hewitt’s law firm does work before the agency. He also referenced the water rollback, writing on March 1, 2017: “Trump’s repeated calls in many places for regulatory reform had been foreshadowed earlier Tuesday with an executive order directing the Environmental Protection Agency and its new and very able director, Scott Pruitt, to move quickly to roll back the ruinous, overreaching ‘Waters of the United States’ rule of the Obama years.” Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt told Media Matters on May 8 that Hewitt would no longer write about Pruitt.

  • The Washington Post's Hugh Hewitt problem

    Hewitt’s firm represents “clients before the US Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency”

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Washington Post repeatedly allowed Hugh Hewitt to write columns praising Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt without disclosing that Hewitt’s law firm does work before the agency. Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt told Media Matters that Hewitt would no longer write about Pruitt. 

    Hewitt is a conservative radio host who also works as a host for MSNBC and a contributing columnist for The Washington Post. Off air, he is a partner at the law firm Larson O’Brien.

    That law firm position presents numerous potential and real conflicts of interest for Hewitt’s media roles. Larson O’Brien stated in a May 5, 2017, press release that the firm will be opening a Washington D.C. office and “is currently representing clients before the US Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency.” The press release touted Hewitt’s relocation to the Washington area as a reason for the firm to “have a permanent presence in the District”:   

    Larson O’Brien is currently representing clients before the US Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

    Larson O’Brien partner Hugh Hewitt recently relocated to the Washington area where he hosts an award winning radio show during the morning drive-time hours. “With Hugh moving to Washington and our significant client work in the Capital, it made sense for us to have a permanent presence in the District,” said Stephen Larson.

    Politico reported on May 7 that Hewitt brokered a meeting between Pruitt and lawyers at Larson O’Brien concerning efforts of the firm’s client Orange County Water District to get the EPA to devote resources to cleaning up a polluted site in the district. From the report, which is based on “emails released by EPA under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Sierra Club”:

    Hewitt, a resident of Orange County whose son James works in EPA’s press office, emailed Pruitt in September to set up a meeting between the administrator and the law firm Larson O’Brien, which employs Hewitt and represents the Orange County Water District. Pruitt had been planning to meet with the lawyers in California a month earlier, but cancelled the trip to undergo knee surgery.

    “I’ll join if the Administrator would like me too or can catch up later at a dinner,” Hewitt wrote in his Sept. 18 message. Hewitt added that the issues surrounding the Superfund site were “Greek to me but a big deal in my home county.”

    Pruitt’s aides responded within minutes and quickly confirmed an Oct. 18 meeting for the lawyers and a project director.

    Six weeks after that meeting, on Dec. 8, the Orange County North Basin site appeared on Pruitt’s list of 21 contaminated areas to address. A month later, Pruitt proposed listing the site on EPA’s National Priorities List, a move that could make it eligible for long-term federal cleanup funding from the federal government if the responsible polluters cannot be identified and forced to pay for its remediation.

    Politico noted that Hewitt has been a vocal defender of Pruitt on MSNBC. Several journalists have criticized MSNBC for the blatant conflict of interest; The New York Times’ Michael Barbaro tweeted: “Um, it's not okay for a cable news contributor to ask the EPA administrator for favors like this and still be on TV talking about him. At. All. CC: @MSNBC.”

    Hewitt’s conflict of interest problem has also extended to The Washington Post, which repeatedly allowed Hewitt to praise the EPA and Pruitt in opinion columns for the paper.

    Hewitt himself referenced his work on issues related to the EPA in the Post. On January 4, 2017, he wrote: “I’ve worked for real estate developers on huge projects for three decades. My law practice was built on helping them figure out and comply with complex statutory and regulatory regimes and knowing how the Environmental Protection Agency, Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked.”

    The following are instances in which the Post allowed Hewitt to discuss the EPA without disclosing his conflict of interest:

    • On January 19, 2017, Hewitt praised President Donald Trump’s nomination of Pruitt, writing, “Discount the rhetoric. ... Pruitt’s not a ‘climate denier.’”
    • On March 1, 2017, Hewitt wrote: “Trump’s repeated calls in many places for regulatory reform had been foreshadowed earlier Tuesday with an executive order directing the Environmental Protection Agency and its new and very able director, Scott Pruitt, to move quickly to roll back the ruinous, overreaching ‘Waters of the United States’ rule of the Obama years.”
    • On July 4, Hewitt wrote that Pruitt has become one of “the domestic policy stars of the Trump administration.”
    • On August 19, Hewitt called Pruitt and several other Trump administration officials “committed reformers” who “are in strong and stable positions now as staffing of political appointees accelerates.”
    • On September 19, Hewitt praised the Trump administration and Pruitt for “pursuing ambitious and much-needed rollback agendas.”
    • On February 22, Hewitt wrote: “The United States is out of the one-sided Paris accord while open to steps toward genuine protection of the climate. The EPA is refining its rulemaking process in ways that rule-of-law conservatives hope will conform the agency’s new rules to the designs and ends Congress intended for them, reversing the warped power grabs of the administrative state they had become.”

    The Post did not disclose that Hewitt’s firm works on issues related to EPA regulations in those pieces. The paper has also not been consistent in disclosing that Hewitt’s son works for the EPA. According to his LinkedIn page, James Hewitt joined the agency in July 2017. Hewitt's July 4 and September 19 columns disclosed that connection while his August 19 and February 22 columns did not.

    In an email to Media Matters, Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt wrote: “I was disturbed to learn this morning that Hugh Hewitt had intervened with EPA administrator Scott Pruitt on behalf of Hewitt’s law firm as he was writing about Pruitt in a column for The Washington Post. Hewitt, who has not written about Pruitt since September, has agreed not to write about him going forward and has assured us that similar incidents won’t occur in the future.”

    The Washington Post also employs megalobbyist Ed Rogers as a contributor despite countless conflicts of interest relating to Roger’s lobbying firm. Over the years, the Post has repeatedly allowed Rogers to tout his clients’ interests without disclosure.