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Katie Sullivan

Author ››› Katie Sullivan
  • Seven times Trump’s new acting attorney general defended him from the special counsel investigation

    Before becoming acting AG, Matthew Whitaker appeared on cable news as a legal commentator

    Blog ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN, GRACE BENNETT & ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On November 7, the day after the 2018 midterm elections, Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned from his position -- reportedly at the request of President Donald Trump -- and Trump announced Matthew G. Whitaker would take his place as acting attorney general. Whitaker, who had been serving as Sessions’ chief of staff, previously worked as a U.S. attorney under President George W. Bush and as the director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), a group that calls itself a conservative ethics watchdog. More recently, he appeared multiple times on Fox Business Network, and on CNN as a legal commentator to discuss the special counsel investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia. Here are seven times that Whitaker defended Trump or attacked the investigation:

    Whitaker: Comey “didn’t report” his interactions with Trump “to any of his higher ups, which would be a real inference that he didn’t believe the president was trying to obstruct justice.”

    CHARLES PAYNE (HOST): Again, corroboration by Comey that indeed he told Trump more than once, on three occasions, that he was not the center of an investigation. I guess it might get back to the situation with Michael Flynn and how you parse these words: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go.” How do you see it?

    MATTHEW WHITAKER: Yeah, I see it similar to that, but what I also see is that what Jim Comey did at the time -- he admits that he didn’t report this to any of his higher ups, which would be a real inference that he didn’t believe the president was trying to obstruct justice. And I also note that in his prepared testimony, you know, that Jim actually says that the president wanted to know if anyone in his campaign or his administration had done anything illegal and did want those people ferreted out and potentially prosecuted. So I don’t think this looks anything like an obstruction of justice claim, or even an impeachable offense. [Fox Business, Making Money With Charles Payne, 6/7/17]

    Whitaker defended Trump firing Comey for the handling of the Clinton email investigation.

    STUART VARNEY (HOST): You know Comey, you like Comey, but you say President Trump was right to fire him. Make your case.

    WHITAKER: Well my case is pretty simple. When I came into the Department of Justice, Jim Comey was the deputy attorney general, and he orientated me to the Department of Justice, and over the years that we served together, I would interact with him on a regular basis. I know him well. And what I do know though is if you read Rod Rosenstein’s memo that outlined the basis for firing Jim, that he was accurate, that Rod’s case talks about how he took, how Director Comey at the time took the Hillary Clinton email server situation and made it not just a denial of prosecution, but made it kind of a little bit of a political circus, and ultimately did things inconsistent with not only FBI policies but also FBI traditions.

    VARNEY: The criticism of James Comey is that he went public and politicized the FBI and put the FBI into the middle of political debate and that’s something you really should not do. Is that in a nutshell, that’s the criticism?

    WHITAKER: That is the criticism. It’s also he took the role of the Department of Justice and the attorney general and made it his own -- and explained why a prosecutorial decision was made, which was not his role to make. [Fox Business, Varney & Company, 6/8/17]

    Whitaker calls Mueller examining the Trump Organization’s finances a “red line,” adding, “We cannot have [an] unaccountable prosecutor that pursues whatever they want to pursue.”

    CHRIS CUOMO (HOST):The big push back that we keep hearing Matthew, while premature at this point of investigation is none of this is a crime. Nothing that you guys are talking about is a crime. There's no proof there's any criminal transactions of a financial nature, even if the President had a heavy hand in drafting and arguably misleading statement about the Don Trump Jr. meeting. Not a crime.

    WHITAKER: Right. I think one of the developments today is the fact it's been leaked that grand jury subpoenas have been issued from the grand jury. But we still haven't had any evidence or proof of any crime and I guess I would like the go to the one point that needs to be made here and that is if Bob Mueller and his small U.S. Attorney's office does go beyond the 2016 election and get into Trump organization finances unrelated to the 2016 election and really unrelated to Russian coordination, if it exists. I think that would be crossing a red line. I think that is when the deputy Attorney General, the acting Attorney General for the purpose of this investigation Rod Rosenstein, who I served with in the Bush administration, he needs to step in and pull the reigns (sic) back on Bob Mueller if he starts to go outside of the bounds of his delegation of authority.

    CUOMO: Gentleman for a moment, just for the audience that didn't have the insanity to go to law school. Just because you hear scary words like grand jury and subpoena, the process should not be mistaken for the productivity. We don't know what will come from the requests for information and testimony. We'll have to see. I understand the special counsel has criminal jurisdiction here.

    But there is a parallel, at least co concern of a political nature and you mentioned earlier Matthew, Rosenstein may have to step in and pull back the reins if Mueller goes too far. But imagine if that were happen. Imagine if the president word to make good on his threat, a hyperbolic as it may have been intended, don't go after my money. That is too far, and then what would happen in this situation? Not legally but the optics and the politics and the realities of Rosenstein saying to Mueller stop doing that or the President saying Mueller's gone too far, step in. What would that mean?

    WHITAKER: It would be a complete political conniption in Washington D.C. But it would also I think be consistent with the constitution. We cannot have unaccountable (sic) prosecutor that pursues whatever they want to pursue without any relationship to the people ultimately --  [CNN, CNN Tonight, 8/3/17]

    Whitaker defended Donald Trump Jr. on his Trump tower meeting: The Russian lawyer “used a pretext to get a meeting” with Trump Jr., and “we have no information right now that would suggest that he knew who this individual was that he was meeting with.”

    WHITAKER: As a former U.S. attorney, we did conspiracies all the time and prosecute conspiracies. I mean what happen here is this lawyer used a pretext to get a meeting with, you know, some important campaign officials to really talk about the issue she wanted to talk which is getting rid of this U.S. policy regarding adoptions and used, you know, quite frankly here in Iowa we can call it a B.S. excuse of saying that she had opposition research.

    And listen nobody's talking about what that opposition research is because we all agree it's ludicrous. I mean that the fact that Russians are funding the DNC and, you know, helping Hillary Clinton. No one's advancing that. And Don Jr. when he heard that certainly dismissed it quickly as base on what he said. And I think, you know, sort of to suggest that there's a conspiracy here.

    I mean you would always take meeting. You would have somebody from your campaign take the meeting to try to get the information.

    ...

    WHITAKER: Well, we have no information right now that would suggest that he knew who this individual was that he was meeting with or who the three were going to meet. They just knew that they must have been sold the fact that there was some really good information that they needed to hear. And then having been in campaigns, I know what that pitch looks like. And you would always have somebody from the campaign take that meeting and hear that person out. [CNN, CNN Newsroom, 7/10/17]

    Whitaker tweeted an opinion piece headlined, “Note to Trump's lawyer: Do not cooperate with Mueller lynch mob,” calling it “worth a read.”

    [Twitter, 8/6/17]

    Whitaker: “Mueller's investigation of Trump is going too far.”

    Mueller has come up to a red line in the Russia 2016 election-meddling investigation that he is dangerously close to crossing.

    It does not take a lawyer or even a former federal prosecutor like myself to conclude that investigating Donald Trump's finances or his family's finances falls completely outside of the realm of his 2016 campaign and allegations that the campaign coordinated with the Russian government or anyone else. That goes beyond the scope of the appointment of the special counsel.

    It is time for Rosenstein, who is the acting attorney general for the purposes of this investigation, to order Mueller to limit the scope of his investigation to the four corners of the order appointing him special counsel.

    If he doesn't, then Mueller's investigation will eventually start to look like a political fishing expedition. This would not only be out of character for a respected figure like Mueller, but also could be damaging to the President of the United States and his family -- and by extension, to the country. [CNN, 8/6/17]

    Whitaker objected to Mueller examining Trump’s finances, agreed with Trump it was a “red line.”

    KATE BOLDUAN (HOST): Matthew, the deputy attorney general says they are not going on any fishing expedition, but you think they are. Why?

    WHITAKER: Well, I was concerned when I read the CNN reporting, which you mentioned, that they were looking -- that the special counsel is looking at Trump's finances, unrelated to the 2016 election, unrelated to Russian coordination in that regard. I think that is a red line that is beyond the scope of the letter that the deputy attorney general issued and appointed Director Mueller as special counsel. Really, it's not controversial. It would be a fishing expedition if they start looking into essentially all of Trump's finances. I know that's what some on the left want. There is a Fourth Amendment issue, even as it relates to the president and others in his family. We cannot have unfettered prosecutors turning over every rock unrelated to any nexus to the underlying issues, which is the Russian coordination and the 2016 election.

    WHITAKER: I've noticed a lot of pushback from folks in response to my piece on CNN.com from yesterday where they say, well, Ken Starr, you know, in your analysis exceeded his authority and the independent --

    (CROSSTALK)

    BOLDUAN: Started with a land deal gone bad, and ended up with Monica Lewinsky.

    WHITAKER: Yes. There are two differences. One, it wasn't independent counsel under a different law. But also Ken Starr went back and sought, expanded jurisdiction, as Michael's describing, so he could go after other things unrelated to the initial investigation, which was the Whitewater land deal. So, I think there are key distinctions there.

    Listen, I -- you know, I'm not certain. I have to take the CNN reporting that they are looking at unrelated financial crimes as true. That gives me a lot concern. As a former prosecutor, somebody that presented cases to grand juries, grand jury investigations, I understand following the money. But at the same time, we cannot go on fishing expeditions, which are essentially casting a broad net looking for crimes unrelated to the purpose of the investigation, which is Russian coordination with the Trump campaign in the 2016 election. [CNN, At This Hour, 8/7/17, via Nexis]

  • CNN fails to disclose non-disparagement agreement in interview with ex-Trump official

    CNN commentator who legally cannot criticize the president calls his praise for violence against a reporter "partly entertainment"

    Blog ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN

    CNN anchor Kate Bolduan hosted Marc Short, a CNN commentator and former director of legislative affairs for President Donald Trump, without disclosing that Short signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that bars him from criticizing the president. Among the topics discussed was Trump's praise for a congressman's physical assault of a reporter last year, which Short called "partly entertainment."

    As The Daily Beast reported, there is a "blanket non-disclosure agreement all Trump campaign and West Wing staffers are reportedly required to sign" that "contain[s] a non-disparagement clause in which the signee agrees not to 'demean or disparage publicly' President Trump, his family, their company, or any of the family’s assets." According to one media expert interviewed by The Daily Beast, a media outlet failing to disclose the existence of an NDA constitutes "a significant ethical breach":

    “If someone is bound by an NDA and that’s not disclosed, that’s journalistic malpractice,” Steven Roberts, a professor of media ethics at George Washington University, told The Daily Beast. “If you don’t disclose that someone is contractually obligated, that’s a huge ethical problem and a huge ethical mistake.”

    The professor continued: “You’re deceiving your audience if you don’t disclose that. It’s a significant ethical breach because media ethics start with the principles of transparency: never confuse or deceive your audience.”

    Among the subjects discussed in the CNN segment featuring Short -- who legally cannot criticize the president -- was Trump's endorsement of violence against a reporter. At a rally in Montana last night, Trump recounted an incident in which Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) physically attacked The Guardian's Ben Jacobs, and said, "I had heard he body-slammed a reporter. ... Anybody that can do a body-slam, that’s my kind of guy.” Bolduan asked Short if he could "make an honest case that what the president was saying last night was just a joke." In response, Short said that "the timing" of the comment "is inappropriate," but downplayed Trump's statement saying it was "partly entertainment."

    From the October 19 edition of CNN's At This Hour with Kate Bolduan:

    KATE BOLDUAN (ANCHOR): Joining me right now is CNN political commentator and former Director of Legislative Affairs for the Trump White House Marc Short. Thanks for coming in. 

    MARC SHORT: Thanks, Kate, Thanks for having me on. 

    BOLDUAN: Of course. 

    ...

    BOLDUAN: You heard what the president said last night about the congressman who -- about Gianforte, who pleaded guilty. He was charged for assaulting a reporter back during his special election. Especially given the disappearance of the Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, can you make an honest case that what the president was saying last night was just a joke and no big deal? 

    SHORT: Kate, I think that the optics and the timing is obviously unfortunate. I do think that the president's rallies are partly political and partly -- 

    BOLDUAN: -- which is dumb, Marc, just dumb. 

    SHORT: OK, OK. But they're partly entertainment, and that is what people come to see in elements too. But yes, I can confess to you that the timing is inappropriate. 

    BOLDUAN: You think at this time, at this time, that it's a good idea to be joking -- 

    SHORT: I just said -- I said the timing is bad. 

    BOLDUAN: I hope Greg Gianforte has more qualities going for him than the fact that he likes to body-slam reporters.

    SHORT: You're right.

  • Right-wing media react to Julie Swetnick’s report of sexual misconduct by Brett Kavanaugh

    Swetnick says she “witnessed efforts by Mark Judge, Brett Kavanaugh and others to cause girls to become inebriated and disoriented so they could then be ‘gang raped’ in a side room or bedroom”

    Blog ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN & GRACE BENNETT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On September 26, a third woman came forward with an account of sexual misconduct by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Julie Swetnick said in a sworn declaration, initially posted on her lawyer Michael Avenatti’s Twitter account, that she witnessed Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge “drink excessively and engage in highly inappropriate conduct,” including “abusive and physically aggressive behavior toward girls.”

    According to Swetnick, Judge, Kavanaugh, and others would make efforts to “‘spike’ the ‘punch’ at house parties … to cause girls to lose their inhibitions and their ability to say ‘No,’” and they would make “efforts” to “cause girls to become inebriated and disoriented so they could then be ‘gang raped’ in a side room or bedroom by a ‘train’ of numerous boys.” Swetnick also stated, “In approximately 1982, I became the victim of one of these ‘gang’ or ‘train’ rapes where Mark Judge and Brett Kavanaugh were present.”

    Several right-wing media figures reacted to this story by attacking Swetnick, casting doubt on her story, and defending Kavanaugh:

    The Resurgent’s Erick Erickson: “So the FBI conducts six investigations into Kavanaugh and totally misses that he's been running drug and rape gangs since age 15, but the solution is to have the FBI do a seventh investigation?”

    Erickson: “If you know there's a band of 15 year olds running drugs and raping fellow teenagers, why'd you keep going to the parties? Why'd you never tell anyone else about this rape gang?”

    Erickson, again: “Was Bill Cosby ever at a Georgetown Prep party?  Because this sounds more like they confused Kavanaugh for him.”

    The National Review’s David French: “Please someone help me with this. … Lots of people knew [Georgetown Prep boys] were committing gang rape, … [but] no one has talked publicly for three decades, until the day before a crucial Senate hearing. What?”

    Radio host Hugh Hewitt quote-tweeted French’s tweet, writing: “It is not plausible. Committee staff should speak with her and senators/committee counsel should question Kavanaugh specifically on new affidavit. Then vote Friday. The parade of late hits won’t stop, won’t be illumined by delay.”

    The National Review’s Rich Lowry: “One obvious question about this account: Why would she constantly attend parties where she believed girls were being gang-raped?”


    The Daily Caller’s Saagar Enjeti: “At no point in this allegation does Avenatti's client claim she was raped by Brett Kavanaugh.”

    The Daily Caller’s Derek Hunter: “Curiously @CNN is ignoring the garbage allegations of multiple gang rape parties. Yet they’re taking the test as gospel. What a bunch of bullshit.”

    The Daily Caller’s Amber Athey: “Why the fuck did this woman go to ‘multiple parties’ where she knew gang rapes were a common occurrence?”

    Fox News’ Stephen Miller: “This is going to end up at someone saw Kavanaugh do the shocker one time.”

    The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway: “One thing that is not being captured in the media/Dem coordinated ‘Destroy Kavanaugh’ campaign is how unspeakably angry it is making a huge percentage of the population… They are *angry.*

    Townhall’s Kurt Schlichter re-tweeted Avenatti’s tweet of Swetnick’s name and photo, with the caption “full of it.”

    Schlichter: “This is all bullshit. Confirm him.”

    Conservative radio host Buck Sexton: “We are left with 2 choices. 1) Kavanaugh was part of a secret roving gang rape squad in DC that was systemically violating women. … 2) This is the most disgustingly dishonest, coordinated smear campaign in US history.”

  • CNN panel on Kavanaugh sexual misconduct report features two journalists and a pro-Kavanaugh conservative activist

    Imbalanced panel allows Judicial Crisis Network's Carrie Severino to attack accounts of Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez without counterweight

    Blog ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN

    A CNN panel on New Day featured, along with two journalists, the chief counsel and policy director for the conservative Judicial Crisis Network to comment on a second report of sexual misconduct by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. On September 23, The New Yorker published the account of Deborah Ramirez, a college classmate of Kavanaugh, who says he "exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away." Last week, The Washington Post published the story of Christine Blasey Ford, who says Kavanaugh assaulted her when they were in high school.

    Judicial Crisis Network's Carrie Severino appeared on CNN along with a reporter and a CNN legal analyst. In the segment, Severino claimed that Kavanaugh "has been subject to a sustained campaign -- public smear campaign against him for the last two weeks." She asserted without evidence that "the initial Ford allegations are unraveling before our eyes," adding that "the Democrats are going crazy trying to find something else they can do" to stop Kavanaugh’s confirmation and that Ramirez’s "allegation is even less credible." CNN offered no explanation in the segment for why it invited a conservative, pro-Kavanaugh activist without any counterbalance on the panel.

    Judicial Crisis Network has pledged $1.5 million in advertising to push for Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court.

    From the September 24 edition of CNN's New Day:

  • 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

  • Right-wing media are mad Trump picked Putin over US intelligence. He was just following their lead.

    Blog ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In an unusual development, many right-wing media figures have criticized President Donald Trump for throwing the U.S. intelligence community under the bus during a July 16 appearance with Russian President Vladimir Putin by refusing to affirm its conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 election. While it’s uncommon to see typically sycophantic figures rebuking the president, this criticism is particularly surprising given right-wing media’s own history of encouraging Trump’s attacks on the intelligence community for just that finding.

    During the press conference in Helsinki after his one-on-one meeting with the Russian president, Trump touted Putin’s denial of interfering in the U.S. elections and claimed he doesn’t “see any reason why” Russia would have meddled. Many right-wing media figures were displeased with this response and rebuked the president’s behavior:

    • Fox News’ Abby Huntsman (whose father currently serves as U.S. ambassador to Russia): “No negotiation is worth throwing your own people and country under the bus.”

    • Fox’s Newt Gingrich: “President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin. It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected—-immediately.”

    • Fox News analyst Jack Keane: “That’s alarming that the president would not stand behind that entire intelligence community and judicial process and back them up a hundred percent.” Keane also stated: “To stand there on a world stage and appease Russia in disfavor to our intelligence community was a thing that shocked me."

    • Fox’s Trish Regan: “This was clearly not [President Trump's] best performance. ... He should have defended us. He should have defended his own intelligence community."

    • Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera tweeted: Trump “seems to distrust & despise @HillaryClinton & #SpecialCounsel more than he distrusts& despises #Russia & #GRU He also didn’t embrace our own intelligence community, which says Russia is guilty of meddling.”

    • Fox News analyst Brit Hume: “Trump, finally asked whom he believes on Russia interference, gives a vague and rambling non-answer, with renewed complaints about Hillary’s server. Says he trusts US intel but made clear he takes Putin’s denials seriously. Lame response, to say the least.”

    • Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade: said that “When Newt Gingrich, when Gen. Jack Keane, when [Chairman of American Conservative Union] Matt Schlapp say the president fell short and made our intelligence apparatus look bad, I think it’s time to pay attention.” He also claimed that Trump “fell short” in Helsinki.  

    • Townhall’s Guy Benson: Trump’s response to the question if he believes U.S. intel or Putin was an “atrocious, humiliating answer.”

    • The Washington Examiner’s Byron York: “Concerning Trump's newser remarks specifically on Trump-Russia affair: Appalling.”

    Right-wing media’s apparent shock at the president’s actions, however, is itself laughable, given Trump’s history of attacking the U.S. intelligence community over the Russia investigation, and right-wing media’s own war against intelligence officials. Right-wing media have spent years besmirching the intelligence community to protect Trump and undermine the Russia investigation, often pushing outlandish conspiracy theories about a “secret society” and attempted “coups,” or else aggressively targeting individual officials in order to delegitimize intelligence findings that might hurt Trump. There is plenty to scrutinize the intelligence community over, but it is wildly hypocritical that right-wing media are finding Trump’s rhetoric about the Russia investigation “appalling.” After all, he probably got it from them.

  • The Supreme Court just made it easier for states to kick people off of voter rolls. Media should let voters know.

    Blog ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN

    On June 11, the Supreme Court handed down its decision on an Ohio voting rights case that will make it easier for the state to purge infrequent voters from its voter roll, a process that tends to disproportionately hurt young people, people with low incomes, and people of color. This is a victory for Republicans, who for years have waged a war on voting rights in an effort to suppress voting by populations that tend to pick Democrats. Media should be reporting on this case and on voter suppression measures more broadly, both as a policy issue and to inform people of what they need to do in order to vote.

    The Supreme Court’s decision in the Ohio case, which allows the state to purge voters who haven’t voted in recent elections and who haven’t responded to a mailed notice to confirm their residency, “could be a major victory for Republicans ... and a stinging loss for Democrats,” because “minorities, young people and those with lower incomes are most likely to be disenfranchised by the state's policy,” according to USA Today. Mother Jones’ Ari Berman reported that “Ohio purged more than 2 million registered voters between 2011 and 2016, more than any other state. Black voters in the state’s largest counties were twice as likely as white voters to be removed from the rolls.” NBC News reported, “At least a dozen other politically conservative states said they would adopt a similar practice if Ohio prevailed.” An election law expert added, “‘You’ll see more red states making it easier to drop people from the voter registration rolls.’” And in her dissent, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that the decision ignores the history of voter suppression in the United States:

    In light of this decision and the years-long assault on voting rights Republicans have waged (including on Fox News), media need to report on voting rules, both in order to inform their audiences of what hurdles they might need to clear to carry out their constitutional right to vote and to give them policy information on which they might base their votes.

    In the past, media have often failed in their voting rights reporting. Much of the coverage of voting issues appears in conservative media, which have a history of misinforming -- or outright lying -- about the prevalence of voter fraud. In the runup to the 2014 midterms, nightly newscasts largely ignored the issue of voting rights. In about half of its articles on voter fraud from September 2012 to September 2014, The New York Times failed to clearly state that in-person voter fraud is virtually nonexistent, even as it included claims from Republicans suggesting that such fraud exists. Later analyses found that voter suppression measures may have materially impacted the 2014 elections.

    From July 2016 through June 2017, Media Matters analyzed broadcast network morning and evening shows and evening cable news shows and found:

    • Fox News far outpaced other networks in spreading falsehoods on voting.
    • Republican politicians made 88 false statements about voting, while Democratic politicians made no such false statements.
    • Only five segments mentioned gerrymandering.
    • Less than 9 percent of segments acknowledged the impact voting restrictions had on the 2016 election.
    • Fewer than 30 percent of segments mentioned state-based efforts to suppress votes.
    • Over 70 percent of segments on voting featured Donald Trump’s debunked voter fraud accusations.

    And after 2017 elections in which Democrats overperformed and exceeded expectations, right-wing media once again turned to a series of voting myths and talking points parroted by Republicans, including misinformation about voter fraud, voter IDs, and felon voting.

    There is particular need for good local media coverage. Voting is a local issue, and people tend to trust their local news coverage more than national news. But Sinclair Broadcast Group, a conservative local TV news giant that has been injecting local newscasts with right-wing spin for years, is moving to acquire more local news stations. Sinclair has already shown a willingness to subject its viewers to misinformation about voting and last year it produced a must-run segment that suggested voter fraud might be far more common than it actually is.

    If media are not explaining to Americans what voters need to do in order to cast their ballots, the odds of people showing up to vote and being turned away undoubtedly grows. The fact of the matter is that Election Day is too late for this coverage. Retrospectives after the fact will not change long lines, refused ballots, or outright disenfranchisement. While political pundits are obsessed with making every problem a “both sides” story, only one political party is trying to limit the ability of its opponents to vote. That’s the real story, and there’s no way to sugar coat it.

  • Study finds 5,000 people may have died from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Cable news focused on Roseanne instead.

    Cable news covered Roseanne for over 10 hours. They covered Hurricane Maria's death toll in Puerto Rico for just over 30 minutes.

    Blog ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN & LIS POWER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On Tuesday, Harvard researchers published a study estimating that approximately 5,000 deaths can be linked to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The same day, ABC canceled Roseanne Barr’s eponymous show Roseanne after Barr sent a racist tweet about Valerie Jarrett, an adviser to former President Barack Obama. Cable news covered Barr’s tweet and her show’s cancellation 16 times as much as the deaths of U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico.

    While the official death toll remains at just 64, the Harvard study, written up in The Washington Post, “indicated that the mortality rate was 14.3 deaths per 1,000 residents from Sept. 20 through Dec. 31, 2017, a 62 percent increase in the mortality rate compared with 2016, or 4,645 ‘excess deaths.’” BuzzFeed News, which also reported on the study, further explained that the researchers adjusted their estimate up to 5,740 hurricane-related deaths to account for “people who lived alone and died as a result of the storm” and were thus not reported in the study’s survey.

    Cable news barely covered the report. The May 29 broadcasts of MSNBC combined with the network's flagship morning show the next day spent 21 minutes discussing the findings. CNN followed with just under 10 minutes of coverage, and Fox covered the report for just 48 seconds. 

    By contrast, cable news spent over 8 and a half hours discussing a tweet from Barr describing Jarrett, a Black woman, as the offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes and the subsequent cancellation of her show.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Media coverage of the crisis in Puerto Rico has been dismal since the hurricane hit; even when outlets reported on major scandals about the mismanaged recovery, the coverage was negligible and faded quickly.

    Many in the media have been quick to label Barr’s obviously racist tweet as racist. But they've failed in their coverage of the mismanaged recovery in Puerto Rico, which is also explained -- at least in part -- by racism. The Root explained why “Puerto Rico’s crisis is not generally seen as a racial matter. But it should be.” Vox explained “the ways the island and its people have been othered through racial and ethnic bias” and noted that “both online and broadcast media gave Puerto Rico much less coverage, at least initially, than the hurricanes that recently hit Texas and Florida.” A Politico investigation found that “the Trump administration — and the president himself — responded far more aggressively to Texas than to Puerto Rico” in the wake of the hurricanes that devastated both. Trump tweeted just days after Hurricane Maria hit that Puerto Ricans “want everything to be done for them.” Only half of Americans are aware that Puerto Ricans are in fact U.S. citizens. And MSNBC contributor Eddie Glaude, chair of the Center for African-American Studies at Princeton University, pointed out, “When you think about 4,600 people dying -- of color -- dying in Puerto Rico, it reflects how their lives were valued, or less valued.”

    Dina Radtke contributed research to this piece.

  • Study finds that Hurricane Maria killed thousands more than the government claims. Media need to do better for Puerto Rico.

    Harvard study finds actual death toll is at least 72 times higher than the official count

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS & KATIE SULLIVAN

    On May 29, The Washington Post reported on a new Harvard study concluding that “at least 4,645 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria and its devastation across Puerto Rico last year,” which is approximately 72 times higher than the government’s official death toll of 64. 

    According to the Post article, the Harvard study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, concluded that “health-care disruption for the elderly and the loss of basic utility services for the chronically ill had significant impacts” across the island, including “some communities [that] were entirely cut off for weeks amid road closures and communications failures.” A BuzzFeed write-up of the same study explained that, while at least “4,645 more people died in the final months of 2017” than in previous years, researchers adjusted their estimate up to 5,740 hurricane-related deaths to account for “people who lived alone and died as a result of the storm” and were thus not reported in the study’s survey. 

    If Harvard’s death toll estimate is accurate, Hurricane Maria was the second deadliest hurricane in U.S. history and the deadliest in 117 years.

    And yet, even as U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico continued to die in 2017, media quickly dropped their focus on the crisis. The first Sunday after the storm, the five major political talk shows cumulatively dedicated less than one minute to coverage. And the overall coverage of the crisis sharply declined after President Donald Trump visited the U.S. territory on October 3; a Media Matters study found that prime-time cable news coverage of Puerto Rico’s recovery plummeted after that date. 

    As the mismanaged recovery continued, media largely talked about the ongoing crisis only when a major scandal was reported, and even then the coverage was negligible and quickly faded. 

    Media should publicize the results of the Harvard study and the woefully inaccurate official death toll, demanding an explanation for how the government hid the magnitude of the casualties. And as the next hurricane season approaches, we need to pay attention to the people who live in Puerto Rico and demand accountability from the government.

  • MSNBC helps Roger Stone sell books after previously banning him for his abusive behavior

    Blog ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN

    Roger Stone appeared on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports to promote his new book, even though MSNBC previously announced that Stone would be no longer welcome on the network. Stone had been banned for making abusive comments about MSNBC personalities.

    Stone, a confidant of President Donald Trump and a long-time conspiracy theorist who is now an Infowars correspondent, was banned from all three major cable news networks because of his sexist, racist, and threatening rhetoric. He was also locked out of his Twitter account in April 2017 after he threatened a Media Matters employee, and he was permanently suspended from the platform in October following attacks on several CNN employees.

    MSNBC previously confirmed that Stone -- who twice offered a cash reward to anyone who "punches out" network host Chris Matthews and who called host Al Sharpton a "professional negro" who ate fried chicken, and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow "Rachel the muff-diver" -- would not be welcome on the network.

    But MSNBC and CNN have both recently decided to give Stone a platform to promote his new book, Stone’s Rules. In Stone’s May 8 appearance on Andrea Mitchell Reports, Mitchell asked him to comment on Trump’s new attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and pressed him about his connections to WikiLeaks, but she also plugged the book.

    The decisions to reverse bans on hosting Stone might be defensible if he were in the news or there were some other newsworthy reason. In this case, they’re just helping him sell books.