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Matt Gertz

Author ››› Matt Gertz
  • Lara Logan rewrites the history of her Benghazi trainwreck

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Lara Logan, formerly CBS News’ chief foreign correspondent, is downplaying the massive journalistic failure that led to the retraction of her infamous 60 Minutes report on the 2012 Benghazi attack and her own lengthy leave of absence, choosing instead to blame the entire calamity on what she suggests was a bad-faith effort by Media Matters.

    This is nonsense -- an embarrassing effort by a journalist to slough off responsibility for what she had previously acknowledged was her own substantial error.

    Logan, who quietly left CBS News last year, made the comments during a lengthy interview published Friday with Mike Ritland, a former Navy SEAL and podcaster. Her remarks have rocketed through the pro-Trump media ecosystem, making their way to Fox News, with right-wing commentators praising her for describing the media as “mostly liberal.”

    According to Logan, she was simply trying to tell a good story about the September 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, and was smeared because she had previously given a speech which revealed that she didn’t believe the Obama administration’s initial statements that the attack began as a spontaneous protest.

    “I made one random comment about Benghazi in one hour-and-a-half presentation that lasted seconds, basically,” she told Ritland. “And that was used to say that I should never have reported on Benghazi because I was biased.” Logan claimed that because of that speech, Media Matters “targeted” her, and as a result, she “paid for that heavily, but nothing that was said about me in the wake of that was true.”

    Logan is rewriting the historical record, and her claims are unequivocally false. She wasn’t “targeted” or the victim of a political hit job because of a line in a speech. She got in trouble because she based her October 27, 2013, Benghazi report for 60 Minutes on the claims of a purported “eyewitness” to the attacks who turned out to have fabricated his story. Logan’s segment was championed by Republicans and right-wing media figures who argued that it showed the Obama administration had blundered and then lied to avoid repercussions.

    Media Matters wrote about her because her story was deeply flawed. Our work had little to do with the October 2012 speech she mentioned during her podcast interview -- as far as I can tell, we didn't mention it until roughly a month after her 60 Minutes report ran, when CBS News called it a "conflict" with her reporting. I should know -- as head of our investigations department at the time, I wrote or edited dozens of stories about Logan's Benghazi reporting.

    We were among Logan’s most fervent critics, but we were far from alone; her report was shattered by stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post, and CBS News was subjected to a firestorm of criticism from other journalists until the report fell apart and the network finally retracted it.

    Logan initially defended her work and “attributed the critical response to the report to the intense political warfare that has surrounded the episode,” according to the Times. But once the story fell apart completely, she made two on-air apologies to the CBS audience.

    “You know the most important thing to every person at 60 Minutes is the truth and today the truth is that we made a mistake, and that's very disappointing for any journalist,” Logan said on the November 8, 2013, edition of CBS This Morning. “It's very disappointing for me,” she continued. “Nobody likes to admit that they made a mistake, but if you do, you have to stand up and take responsibility and you have to say that you were wrong, and in this case we were wrong. We made a mistake.” She added that she no longer “had confidence in our source, and that we were wrong to put him on air, and we apologize to our viewers.”

    In a second apology on 60 Minutes that weekend, Logan admitted that she had been “misled, and it was a mistake to include [the source] in our report.” “For that, we are very sorry,” she added. “The most important thing to every person at 60 Minutes is the truth, and the truth is, we made a mistake.”

    Logan has now returned to her initial claim to the Times that she has simply been the victim of “political warfare.” She is no longer admitting she made a mistake, no longer taking responsibility or saying she was wrong. It appears that the most important thing to her is no longer the truth.

    After retracting Logan’s 60 Minutes story, CBS News conducted a “journalistic review” of Logan’s report that concluded with the November 26, 2013, announcement that she had agreed to a request to take a leave of absence. She did not return for six months.

    Did Media Matters play a big role in ensuring that CBS News had to take responsibility for its failure? Absolutely, and I’m very proud of our work holding the network -- and Logan -- accountable.

    But I’ll tell you a secret: As much as I might like it to be otherwise, major broadcast networks don’t often retract stories, launch internal investigations, and force correspondents to take leaves of absence just because Media Matters criticizes their reports.

    The reason CBS News was forced to answer for what it did was because we were right, and everyone else in the media knew it. We kept attention on the story, which prevented the network from being able to wait for it to blow over.

    But it was major publications like the Times and the Post that provided the reporting that destroyed Logan’s story, and other commentators piled on. CBS was buried by headlines like “What’s the Matter With ‘60 Minutes’?” and “What’s wrong with ‘60 Minutes’?” Months later, New York magazine asked whether Logan was “too toxic to return” to the show.

    Our criticism wasn’t personal: Media Matters had rarely mentioned her before her Benghazi report, and we have not regularly criticized her since her return to CBS. But with regard to this particular 60 Minutes report, she didn't do her job, so we did ours. It is shameful for her to deny responsibility for her work and embarrassing for her to pretend that she was smeared.

  • Trump keeps channeling Fox’s “coup” nonsense. This could end badly.

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Amid declaring a national emergency on the U.S. southern border and playing many rounds of golf at his private club in Florida, President Donald Trump has found time over the past week to repeatedly gorge himself on Fox News programming and then regurgitate the network’s false ravings that senior Justice Department and FBI officials attempted a coup against him in the spring of 2017.

    At issue are claims that Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director and a frequent target of the president, has been making while promoting his forthcoming book. According to McCabe, in the days after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein discussed whether the 25th Amendment to the Constitution might be used to remove Trump from office on the grounds that he is mentally unfit for the job (in a statement, a Rosenstein spokesperson described McCabe’s “recitation of events” as “inaccurate and factually incorrect”).

    The president’s propagandists at Fox have gone into overdrive in response, filling the network’s airwaves with overwrought declarations that Rosenstein and McCabe had been fomenting a coup d’etat.

    This is simply wrong. A coup, by definition, is an extralegal seizure of power. That’s not what McCabe says was discussed. “Removing Trump from office by following the guidelines of the 25th Amendment would no more be a coup than removing him from office through impeachment or, really, than voting for another candidate in 2020,” The Washington Post’s Philip Bump pointed out. “It’s part of the system.” Rosenstein would be far from the first to suggest that the president’s often volatile and bizarre behavior justifies his removal from office. Trying to act on the amendment wouldn’t be a coup (though it seems extremely unlikely that the substantial constitutional hurdles needed to invoke the 25th Amendment would be cleared). But framing it as one can engender sympathy for Trump, rev up his base, and be used to justify drastic actions in response.

    The president, as is his wont, has been eagerly watching Fox’s coverage and tweeting out tidbits to push the network’s false conspiracy theories into the mainstream.

    Notably, on Monday night, the president tweeted a quote from Sean Hannity’s program in which the Fox star and sometime Trump adviser said McCabe had “admitt[ed] to plotting a bureaucratic coup.” “Treason!” the president added. Earlier that day, Trump tweeted Fox contributor Dan Bongino’s false claim on Fox & Friends that McCabe had described a “coup attempt.” The president added, “True!”

    This is all quite dangerous. Trump’s worldview is heavily shaped by the hours of Fox programming he typically watches each day, and he often takes direction from the network’s hosts. Right now, his most loyal supporters are telling him that state security services attempted a coup and demanding that drastic action be taken in response.

    Later in the episode Trump tweeted about, Hannity said that the president’s antagonists had been caught “staging a coup to remove a duly elected president to pursue their own self-serving agenda.” He added that Attorney General William Barr needs to “stand on the Constitution to stop this type of corruption.” Hannity has previously urged Barr to conduct criminal investigations into Rosenstein, McCabe, and a host of other Obama-era officials, including Hillary Clinton.

    Lou Dobbs, another Fox host who also functions as a Trump adviser, likewise accused McCabe of “admitting leading a coup effort against the president of the United States,” adding that his statements “seem to be a confession of treason against the country, this president.”

    Dobbs is calling for a severe response. “My question to you is why is the establishment in Washington, D.C., not screaming for the arrest of Andrew McCabe and for all of his cohorts and the DOJ and the FBI?” he asked last night of Matt Schlapp, a Republican operative whose wife Mercedes is a senior White House aide. “Why the hell isn't the Republican Party standing up and demanding his arrest?”

    Dobbs, Hannity, and others at Fox have been demanding these sorts of authoritarian measures since special counsel Robert Mueller launched his probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. With the president’s Fox cabinet riding high after successfully championing a partial government shutdown and national emergency declaration in recent months, one can’t rule out the possibility that Trump will listen to this suggestion too.

  • Sean Hannity wants new Attorney General William Barr to prioritize investigating Trump's enemies 

    Hannity's enemies list features a slew of Obama-era officials, including Hillary Clinton

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Sean Hannity, the Fox News host with the ear of President Donald Trump, has a message for newly confirmed Attorney General William Barr: Investigate the president’s political enemies -- from former leaders of the Justice Department and FBI to Obama administration appointees to former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton -- or suffer the consequences.

    Fox’s leading propagandists spent much of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ tenure denouncing him over his refusal to turn their conspiracy theories into federal investigations. Hannity apparently has reason to believe that Barr, who has spoken favorably about the notion of appointing a special counsel to look into the Uranium One pseudoscandal about Clinton, will be more pliable.

    On Thursday night, just hours after the Senate confirmed Barr, Hannity crowed, “My sources telling me tonight things are happening as we speak.” The Fox host went on to detail numerous purported crimes he said had been committed by 10 “deep state actors,” including former FBI Director James Comey, former CIA Director John Brennan, and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

    “Over the next year with a brand new attorney general, William Barr, this country -- we’ve got to decide,” Hannity concluded. “You want to save the United States? You want to be a constitutional republic? You want equal justice under the law? Do you want a dual justice system, or do you want America to be handed off to your kids and grandkids as a banana republic?”

    Later in the program, Gregg Jarrett, the Fox legal analyst whose role at the network is to explain why the president and his team did not break the law but all of his critics did, claimed that “more than a dozen” Obama-era officials had committed crimes and that Barr “should haul them all in front of a federal grand jury.”

    “What about Hillary? Does she get held accountable?” Hannity asked. “They should reopen the investigation; it was a fraud,” Jarrett responded.

    Hannity has been urging Barr to investigate Trump’s enemies and predicting that he would do so ever since Barr was nominated in December.

    On January 15, the day of Barr’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Hannity presented a “road map of corruption for the new attorney general-to-be,” dozens of federal crimes that, according to Jarrett, may have been committed by 10 Obama-era officials.

    The Fox host added that Barr “must also revisit Hillary Clinton's various crimes, like, oh, deleting subpoenaed emails, and deleting your hard drive and washing it with BleachBit and busting up devices and ripping out SIM cards.”

    Over the past month, Hannity and his cronies have maintained a constant drumbeat of calls for Barr to probe these officials. His is not the only program generating such demands; on Thursday night, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs urged Barr to investigate Chief Justice John Roberts because of his purported role in the surveillance of a Trump campaign aide.

    Fox has vast influence over the Trump administration because the president both regularly watches the network’s programming and privately seeks advice from its commentators. Trump’s decision this week to declare a national emergency in order to obtain border wall funding, for example, came after Hannity and Dobbs spent weeks demanding that action. And Sessions’ own relationship with the president was damaged in no small part because Trump kept hearing his Fox allies lashing out at his attorney general.

    Barr is being presented with a choice: He can follow the directives of Hannity and his crew and conduct rigorous investigations into Clinton and other Fox targets, or he can try to weather the storm that they will create if he refuses to do so.

  • Trump is taking his Fox cabinet's advice and declaring a national emergency

    We warned you this would happen. 

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump is taking the advice of his Fox cabinet and will declare a national emergency to obtain additional funding for his border wall. The right-wing network’s hosts, several of whom also play key roles as unofficial presidential advisers, have been urging him to take this step for the last month.  

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced during a Thursday afternoon Senate floor speech that Trump intended to both sign the compromise legislation to fund the government -- which includes $1.375 billion in wall funding -- and use a national emergency to obtain more money. The White House subsequently confirmed that plan.

    That’s exactly what Sean Hannity suggested that Trump do on the Fox host's Tuesday night program. Hannity said that he was “not as concerned as some other conservatives if the president signs the bill,” as long as Trump “simultaneously” declared a national emergency. “This is the time. That is a necessity. And the president, I think I know him very well, telegraphed that very thing just today.”

    Hannity, who has a close relationship with the president and frequently talks to him on the phone, had previously denounced the government funding bill and threatened any Republican legislator who supported it. But he changed his tune, perhaps because of a call he reportedly received from the White House aimed at “tamping down criticism on the right.” The result appears to be that Trump will be doing the very thing Hannity said on air he should do.

    Hannity was one of several Fox hosts who had sharply criticized the spending bill for providing insufficient support for the president’s long-sought wall. The president will apparently ameliorate that concern by using the national emergency declaration to try to divert additional funding to wall construction.

    This is the culmination of a month-long struggle between Senate Republican leaders like McConnell and Fox hosts like Hannity and Lou Dobbs. Since Trump first floated the idea of a national emergency declaration in early January, McConnell and his allies have been trying to persuade the president not to go through with it, citing potential legal struggles and the possibility of a congressional resolution disapproving the declaration. Meanwhile, Hannity and Dobbs, whose Fox programs the president watches regularly and whom the president frequently consults for political advice, have been urging him to do it on a nearly nightly basis.

    This is the same dispute we saw in December, as Republican congressional leadership and the president’s Fox allies struggled for the president’s attention over whether he should partially shut down the government. Then, as now, the Fox cabinet triumphed.

    Right-wing infotainers can bend the ear of the president of the United States and drastically shift federal government policy according to their whims. They have this outsized influence because Trump consumes hours of television each day and is desperate to receive constant validation from the people he watches. We've reached a point where Fox is all but running the country.

  • Shadow chief of staff Sean Hannity gives spending deal the green light

    Update: NY Times reports that the White House reached out to Hannity

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After initially denouncing the tentative deal on spending legislation and threatening any Republican legislator who dared to support it, Fox News host Sean Hannity changed his tune on Tuesday night, leaving his close ally President Donald Trump space to sign on to the compromise.

    Several of the Fox hosts closest to the White House criticized the deal when it was first announced Monday night because it gave the president little of what he had demanded, including a mere $1.375 billion for physical barriers.

    Notably, Hannity’s attacks on the reported deal raised serious questions about its political validity. After he said on his Fox show that “any Republican that supports this garbage compromise, you will have to explain” what he termed the deal’s insufficient funding for the wall, commentators suggested that because of his close ties to the president, he had effectively vetoed the proposal.

    But over the course of Tuesday, as Trump criticized the plan but did not reject it, Hannity’s emphasis shifted. On his afternoon radio show, which started soon after news of Trump’s initial comments about the deal broke, he suggested that while the bill is “garbage,” Trump could accept it as a down payment on the wall while using other methods to get more funding for it.

    Hannity reiterated this on his Tuesday night Fox program. He continued to criticize the legislation, saying that Trump has “every right to be angry” with the bill because the “so-called compromise is typical of the D.C. sewer and swamp.” But the Fox host also said that he isn’t “as concerned as some other conservatives if the president signs the bill,” as long as Trump also uses “money he's identified, some $900 million for additional construction, that is already available for the administration's discretion” as well as simultaneously declaring a national emergency. “This is the time. That is a necessity,” he added. “And the president, I think I know him very well, telegraphed that very thing just today.”

    It’s unclear what caused Hannity to shift his position so dramatically, from threatening Republican members of Congress who supported the proposal to saying it would be fine if the president himself signed on to it. Though Hannity denied on Tuesday night that he had any inside information about what the president planned to do, he reportedly speaks to Trump on a near-nightly basis and has a great deal of influence over White House operations.

    However it came about, in walking back his previous firm opposition to the legislation, Hannity put himself back in line with the president and made it possible for Trump to support the bill without contradicting his shadow chief of staff.

    And sure enough, on Wednesday morning news broke that Trump intends to do exactly what Hannity suggested the previous night: sign the deal, while still considering ways to obtain more wall funding unilaterally, possibly including the declaration of a national emergency.

    Trump’s reported decision also lines up with the advice he received on Tuesday morning from the co-hosts of the influential Fox morning show Fox & Friends. The hosts spun the reported deal as a win for the president, with Steve Doocy adding that Trump might have “something else up his sleeve,” namely other ways to unilaterally obtain wall funding.

    Update (2/14/19): After the publication of this post, The New York Times provided a possible explanation for Hannity’s U-turn: With a goal of “tamping down criticism on the right,” the White House reached out to him with the message that Trump “deserved support because he still forced concessions that he would never have gotten without a five-week partial government shutdown.” The outreach was reportedly led by Bill Shine, Hannity’s friend and former producer who later became co-president of Fox News; after he was forced to resign for his role in the network’s culture of sexual harassment, he became White House communications director.

    The White House also reportedly reached out to Lou Dobbs, a Fox Business host and committed xenophobe who has also advised Trump. Unlike Hannity, Dobbs had sharply criticized the president after he caved on the government shutdown last month. Dobbs has slammed the spending deal, but not Trump himself, instead presenting the president as the victim of “radical Dems and the complicit RINOS,” referring to so-called Republicans In Name Only.

    Rather than urge Trump to veto the compromise, Dobbs has instead told his audience that the president can sign the agreement and still “emerg[e] ... stronger” because “his enemies and opponents simply are ignoring the reality: His support is building and theirs is waning.” He’s also stressed that there is “no question” Trump will get the wall built because when he “makes a promise, he keeps a promise.”

    Notably, both Dobbs and Hannity have left Trump space to renounce the compromise at the last minute by stressing that the bill could contain “monstrous traps” or a “poison pill” that the president might find unacceptable. No matter what he ends up doing, it appears that his loyal propagandists will have his back.

  • The Fox cabinet weighs in on the congressional spending deal

    Hannity and Dobbs call the deal “garbage” and an “insult,” but the hosts of Fox & Friends claim it’s a win for Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Congressional negotiators announced on Monday night that they had reached a tentative deal on spending legislation that would avoid another partial government shutdown when current funding expires on Friday. The group hopes its compromise, which includes $1.375 billion for physical barriers and a 17 percent reduction in beds for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, will satisfy President Donald Trump’s immigration policy demands while still maintaining enough Democratic support to pass the House of Representatives.

    The negotiators represent both parties and both houses of Congress and say they received approval from congressional leaders and consulted with the White House throughout the process. But they did not run the proposal past the president’s influential Fox News cabinet, and now several of Trump’s leading propagandists are publicly weighing in and urging him to scuttle the deal. Their pleas could determine the response from Trump, who has yet to indicate whether he will support legislation that gives him much less in barrier funding than he has demanded.

    Shortly after news of the deal broke, Sean Hannity briefly cut away from airing Trump’s rally in El Paso, TX, to issue a stern warning to congressional Republicans. Denouncing the proposal for providing too little funding for a border wall, he said that “any Republican that supports this garbage compromise, you will have to explain.”

    The Fox host holds enormous sway over the president, who consults with him so frequently that White House aides have termed the Fox host his shadow chief of staff, leading conservative commentator Charlie Sykes to describe this response as “the Hannity veto.”

    Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, another favorite of the president who, like Hannity, reportedly advised Trump on his shutdown strategy, has also denounced the proposal. “Radical Dimms refuse to protect America, their ‘Deal’ is an insult to [Trump] and the American people,” he tweeted late Monday night.

    Dobbs and Hannity have for weeks been urging Trump to declare a national emergency in order to obtain funding for the border wall, even as Republican congressional leaders warn him away from the tactic. The White House is reportedly still considering ways to divert appropriated but unspent funds to the border wall, whether Trump takes the deal or not and with or without an emergency declaration.

    Fox host Laura Ingraham, an anti-immigration hard-liner whom the president reportedly considered for a White House job, has also criticized the “pathetic” deal.

    Trump’s Fox advisers are not universally opposed to the spending proposal. The hosts of Fox & Friends opened Tuesday’s show by suggesting that the president accept it, spinning the deal as a win for Trump. Co-host Steve Doocy also said, “I bet he’s got something else up his sleeve,” adding that Trump could “legally reprogram” other funds to build the wall without declaring a national emergency.

    Trump craves validation from the people he watches on TV most days, giving these propagandists an outsized impact over whether the government shuts down again this week.

  • Fox commentators defend Trump for using executive time to tweet about their shows

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In the wake of a report highlighting just how much time President Donald Trump devotes to sitting in front his television watching cable news every day, Fox News hosts have a message for the president: Keep it up!

    Axios reporters Alexi McCammond and Jonathan Swan sent shockwaves through the political and journalism worlds of Washington, D.C., on Sunday afternoon when they published President Donald Trump’s private White House schedules for nearly every day since the November midterm elections, revealing that nearly 60 percent of his working day was classified as unstructured “executive time.” Much of the ensuing conversation in the media revolved around who at the White House engaged in such a calculated leak that seemed intended to damage the president, and what exactly does the president do during all that executive time.

    As Axios and The Washington Post’s Philip Bump pointed out, the White House appears to be using “executive time” as an umbrella term covering two discrete types of presidential activity: morning stretches Trump largely spends in the White House residence watching Fox News and tweeting about it, and freewheeling but theoretically productive afternoon periods in which he holds meetings or makes phone calls that are either impromptu or hidden off his schedule. It’s the former periods, consistent with my own work on the Trump-Fox feedback loop, that led commentators like MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace to call Axios’ reporting a “truth bomb” demonstrating that Trump “doesn’t do much of anything as president” and CNN’s Chris Cuomo to claim it shows that his Oval Office desk is “more of a prop for photo-ops than anything else.”

    The president’s Fox propagandists have a very different take on the story, of course. If Trump tuned in to his favorite network since the report was published (and there’s little on his public schedule to suggest that he hasn’t), he may have heard its commentators explaining that it is actually a very good thing that he spends large portions of his day watching them. And when they weren't defending Trump's schedule, Fox hosts were redirecting attention to criticizing the leak itself.

    The day after the story’s publication, Greg Gutfeld led the charge on Fox’s afternoon panel show The Five, arguing that Trump actually needs more executive time, not less, because that approach works best for him. “We all knew this skill set is not a political skill set,” Gutfeld said, but rather one “almost entirely rooted” in “pursuing relationships, relentless persuasion and messaging.”

    Gutfeld went on to praise the president’s practice of watching Fox and tweeting about what he sees. “TV, Fox News -- it's his conduit to the American people, the way he sees the American people, his voters,” he said. “So he looks and he sees what's going and then he tweets.” According to Gutfeld, that strategy has succeeded on everything from North Korea to trade policy.

    Not everyone on The Five agreed with Gutfeld’s analysis. Juan Williams, the panel’s sole liberal, said the story made Trump look like “a big joke,” and that while the White House wants people to think the president is simply being “creative” during his unstructured time, “other people will have a much more derogatory term for people who aren't at work when they are supposed to be at work.”

    But Jesse Watters quickly shot Williams down, joking that Hillary Clinton doesn’t have executive time because she isn’t president. “Whatever the president needs to be president is fine,” he continued, before saying that the “real story” is the leak.

    These defenses of executive time permeated Fox’s coverage of the story for the rest of the night. On Special Report, Fox News Politics Editor Chris Stirewalt said the story was “not [a] big deal” because it didn’t actually show Trump behaving differently from past presidents (this is nonsense). “What do people think presidents do?” he continued. “The president's job is as a decider. That's what he is supposed to do. I don't think anybody was under the notion that Donald Trump was a wonk and that he was sitting at the Resolute Desk with charts and graphs.”

    Howard Kurtz, the network’s ostensible media critic, also claimed the Axios story was a nothingburger. “To me, and to the average American, I think, like -- basically, who cares how he runs his schedule, as long as he gets things done,” he claimed on The Story. The show’s host, Martha MacCaullum, replied that what struck her is “it sounds a lot like work” because “he's reading the papers” along with watching “probably almost every cable channel during the day.”

    Curiously quiet on the story were the hosts of Fox & Friends, the morning show that the president uses as his daily briefing. While Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and Brian Kilmeade are certainly aware that Trump often starts his day by tweeting about their show, none of them seemed interested in taking a position on the Axios report on the extent of executive time.

    Instead, on Tuesday morning they served up the question to someone they knew would defend the president: Trump’s son Eric. He did not disappoint, repeatedly saying that his dad is “truly one of the hardest-working people in the world” and mocking Axios’ reporters. “Give me a break,” he added. "These people need to move on.”

  • Trump seems poised to take Fox cabinet’s advice and declare national emergency for border wall funding

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump is inching toward declaring a national emergency to secure funding for his long-sought wall on the southern border, repeatedly telling reporters late last week that he may take that step if Congress does not reach a border security compromise he approves of before government funding expires on February 15. If Trump does declare a national emergency, he will be prioritizing the advice of his trusted propagandists at Fox News, who have been urging him to do so for the last month, over the counsel of Republican legislators who have been warning him away from the tactic.  

    A national emergency declaration would be the strongest sign yet that the conservative propagandists at Fox are effectively running the federal government. Their programs and private counsel are fueling Trump’s decisions, raising dire questions about the nation’s governance and stability.

    The feedback loop between Trump and Fox played a key role in causing the partial government shutdown that lasted for a record 35 days between December 21 and January 25, as I noted Sunday in a piece for The Daily Beast:

    Trump’s incessant craving for validation from the network’s conservative commentators triggered his initial refusal to sign any legislation funding the government that did not include money for a border wall, and then that need sustained his intransigence over the following weeks. His eventual cave shows the limitations of prioritizing the whims of right-wing infotainers during congressional negotiations. But there is no evidence Trump has learned anything from the crushing defeat, suggesting that he will continue trying to make policy with respect to the wall and other issues, on the basis of whether it pleases Fox hosts.

    Trump first suggested in early January that he might declare a national emergency and reallocate funding appropriated for other purposes, such as military construction or disaster relief, to build the wall. Ever since, some congressional Republicans have objected on the grounds that the executive branch would be seizing legislative power, that the move could set a new precedent for when Democrats win the White House, that it would trigger a long legal struggle, or that it could be stymied by a congressional resolution disapproving the declaration.

    For a few weeks, those Republicans were successful, and the president backed down.

    But Trump is being pulled between them and the Fox advisers begging him to go through with it.  

    For much of his presidency, Trump has devoted hours of each day to watching cable news programs, frequently live-tweeted his favorite Fox shows, and treated the network’s stars like members of his cabinet. Now he is poised to take their advice and declare a national emergency.

    Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs, Fox hosts whom the president reportedly leaned on for advice about how to manage the shutdown, seem to have played key roles in this drama. The pair of loyal propagandists, who each championed Trump's shutdown, had very different reactions when Trump agreed to sign a three-week continuing resolution without wall funding. Hannity claimed that anyone “thinking President Trump caved today, you don't really know the Donald Trump I know,” while Dobbs said it was a “victory for Nancy Pelosi” and anyone saying otherwise is “try[ing] to escape from reality.” But in the weeks before and after Trump’s decision, both used their programs to urge Trump to declare a national emergency, exhorting their audiences to support him if he did.

    Hannity, who regularly speaks with Trump and has been described by White House aides as the administration’s “shadow” chief of staff, said on his January 7 show, “Without a doubt, this is a national emergency. It's time to build the wall.” The next night he argued, “This is a national emergency. The situation is now dire. And whether or not we secure our border, it does have real life or death consequences.” He added on his January 9 broadcast that Trump had “the full authority and power to declare a national emergency and tackle this head on,” adding, “This is about protecting our homeland.”

    During an often incoherent January 10 softball interview with Hannity, Trump said he “most likely” would declare a national emergency if he “can’t make a deal with Congress.” He also said he had watched Hannity’s show the previous night and praised him for producing “real news,” not “fake news.”  

    Since then, Hannity has called for Trump to declare an emergency to secure wall funding on his January 11, January 15, January 16, January 23, January 24, January 25, January 28, January 29, January 30, and January 31 programs. “Now, the president holds all the cards. He gets no deal, February 15th, I'll give you odds,” Hannity argued on Wednesday night. “I'm 99 percent certain that he will lawfully declare a national emergency or just send down the military and start building the wall with defense funds.”

    Dobbs’ commentary has been even more over-the-top, with the Fox Business host using explicitly authoritarian language in urging Trump to seize more power and crush his enemies.

    “This is the president of the United States,” Dobbs said January 9. “He says a wall should be built; that it's a national emergency. At that point, the nation should rally behind him, Democrats as well as Republicans.”

    “I really believe,” he added the next night, “that the way forward here is for [Trump] to declare a national emergency and simply sweep aside the recalcitrant left in this country. They have -- they have obstructed, resisted, and subverted for far too long.”

    The drumbeat has continued, with Dobbs pushing for a national emergency declaration on January 11, January 14, January 15, January 23, January 24, January 25, January 28, January 29, January 30, January 31, and February 1. “There is only one way forward and that is an honest straightforward declaration of a national emergency, because that's where we are,” Dobbs said on one such broadcast. “This president has no choice but to act, and act I am confident he will.”

    Other Fox News hosts and personalities have called for the president to declare a national emergency on the network’s airwaves, including longtime Trump friend and confidante Jeanine Pirro and Fox & FriendsPete Hegseth and Steve Doocy.  

    There were some moments of dissent on the network, even on the president’s favored programs. Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade argued that the strategy is flawed because the courts have repeatedly “turned on the president,” while Fox senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano flatly warned the program’s audience that declaring a national emergency to get funding for his wall would be unconstitutional. But those moments were rare, and they were quickly washed away with more b-roll of border chaos and warnings about violent undocumented criminals.

    This same battle for the president’s ear between congressional Republicans and Fox hosts eventually ended with December’s partial government shutdown. Several times last year, spending bills that the White House and Congress had agreed to were nearly torpedoed at the last minute when the president heard someone on his television saying that he should oppose the bills and even shut down the government over them because they lacked wall funding. For a while, Republican leaders were able to talk him out of it, until eventually they couldn’t.

    Now it’s happening again.

  • Fox News puts chief Benghazi mythmaker Trey Gowdy on its payroll

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After spending years pursuing baseless congressional investigations that fed Fox News’ insatiable demand for stories on Democratic malfeasance, former Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) has now signed on with the network as a contributor.

    In a Wednesday press release, Fox announced that Gowdy had been hired to “offer political and legal analysis.” The network added Gowdy to a stable of former Republican officials that also includes his predecessor as chairman of the House oversight committee, former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who left Congress in 2017 to grab a hefty Fox paycheck.

    This is no coincidence -- much of Fox’s news coverage is devoted to credulous reporting on Republican congressional investigations, making it useful for the network to have people on the payroll who can authoritatively support those inquiries’ claims.

    For years, much of Fox’s reporting revolved around the 2012 terrorist attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans, as the network aimed first to prevent President Barack Obama’s re-election and then to scuttle Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspiration.

    In the first 20 months following the attacks, the network’s evening lineup alone ran nearly 1,100 segments on the story. Much of the coverage was conspiratorial and false, devoted to proving that the Obama administration was to blame for the deaths and that Obama, Clinton, and others had deliberately deceived the public through a sinister cover-up. A rotating set of Republican congressmen rolled through Fox’s studios to give its segments weight and bolster their own political stars, even as a series of investigations debunked these myths.

    Gowdy was one of the Republican members who benefited the most from Fox’s spotlight. A former South Carolina prosecutor who used his courtroom skills to good, if sometimes deceitful, effect during congressional hearings, Gowdy made dozens of appearances on the network, often using the Fox platform to push long-debunked myths about the Benghazi attacks. When then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) gave in to a Fox campaign demanding the formation of a special committee to re-investigate the attacks, he naturally turned to Gowdy to lead the effort.

    The Benghazi select committee was a politically motivated crock, spending $7 million over more than two years to uncover little new of note about the 2012 attacks, with its highest-profile moment a dramatic hearing in which Republican representatives tried and failed to lay a glove on Clinton. It nonetheless achieved its aim: As then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) boasted during a September 2015 appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox show, the committee’s attacks damaged Clinton’s approval ratings as she sought the presidency.

    The select committee also kept Gowdy in the spotlight. He made dozens more Fox appearances, using that platform to give Fox access to the latest revelations on Benghazi. After the 2016 presidential election ended with Clinton’s defeat, Gowdy quietly shuttered the committee, then moved on to chair the oversight committee after Chaffetz abandoned Congress for his Fox gig.

    With President Donald Trump in the White House, there were plenty of opportunities for an aggressive investigator who truly cared about public corruption to dig in. But Gowdy spent his two years as head of the oversight committee doing everything he could to ignore rampant criminality and malfeasance in Trump’s campaign, company, and administration. Instead, he made headlines for his efforts to protect Trump from the purported “deep state” conspiracy that the president and his Fox News allies claim is targeting him. Among his final acts as chair was bringing in former Attorney General Loretta Lynch for a nearly seven-hour hearing about how the Justice Department and FBI handled its probe regarding Clinton’s use of a private email server.

    That’s the Trey Gowdy you can expect to see on Fox -- someone willing to go to the mat to attack Democrats while doing his best to protect Republicans.

  • Trump’s propagandists go to war with each other after he caves on the shutdown

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow

    President Donald Trump’s loyal right-wing media supporters pushed him into triggering the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history and urged him to stick with it as Americans suffered and his poll numbers sank. When he suddenly reversed course on Friday and decided to reopen the government without receiving funding for his long-promised wall on the U.S. southern border, his propagandists split over the wisdom of the move, exposing fault lines in a group that has been cheering on his every move for years.

    Some longtime Trump fans -- particularly those who have been the loudest advocates for harsh immigration policies, like Lou Dobbs and Ann Coulter -- are turning on the president, denouncing him for caving to congressional Democrats.

    Another group of Trumpian propagandists -- led by those who don’t focus on immigration policy as their top priority, including Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro -- continues to stand by him, arguing that he simply needs more time to execute his strategy.

    And a third faction isn’t taking a firm position, either arguing that it is too early to tell if the president caved or saying that he lost but deserves credit for trying.

    Notably, Dobbs and Hannity, who had reportedly advised Trump on his shutdown strategy, have come down on opposite sides. On Friday, Dobbs argued that Trump’s decision was a victory for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and “to deny it is to try to escape from reality.” Hours later, Hannity told his own Fox audience, “Anyone out there, by the way, thinking President Trump caved today, you don't really know the Donald Trump I know. He, right now, holds all the cards.”

    At times the split between the two factions has spilled over into open hostilities, with prominent conservative figures using their platforms to lash out at those on the other side.

    Trump craves validation, and his worldview is shaped by the hours he spends each day tuning in to supportive cable news programs and consulting privately with their hosts. But now the message Trump is receiving is no longer unified, raising questions about how he will respond.

    Video by John Kerr

    Trump lost and “to deny it is to try to escape from reality”

    Ann Coulter

    One of Trump’s earliest and most fervent converts, Coulter is the author of In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome and Resistance Is Futile! How the Trump-Hating Left Lost Its Collective Mind. Her virulent anti-immigrant commentary helped shape Trump’s policy and her demand that he shut down the government to get funding for the border wall helped make it happen.

    She did not respond well to the news that Trump was reopening the government without obtaining wall funds, tweeting on Friday afternoon:

    She added that Trump “promised something for 18 months, and he lied about it” during an appearance that night on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. Trump responded on Sunday, telling The Wall Street Journal, “I hear [Coulter’s] become very hostile. Maybe I didn’t return her phone call or something.”

    Breitbart.com

    The website’s obsessive focus on immigration and its support for Trump during the 2016 election helped fuel his political rise. After news broke that Trump had caved, Breitbart splashed “NO WALL” in bright red type on its front page:

    Matt Drudge

    Drudge’s virulently anti-immigrant website, Drudge Report, also went all in to support Trump during the 2016 election, and his subsequent backing of the president was rewarded with an Oval Office meeting. But like Breitbart.com, Drudge Report responded to news of Trump’s cave with bright red text noting that his deal included “NO WALL FUNDS.”

    Tomi Lahren

    Lahren parlayed Trump sycophancy into a Fox News contributor slot and a Fox Nation show. Here’s how she responded to the news:

    Lou Dobbs

    Dobbs’ Fox Business show is characterized by his xenophobic campaign against immigrants and his frighteningly over-the-top adulation of the president. Those two factors have made his show one of Trump’s favorites and have made Dobbs one of the president’s outside advisers, including on the shutdown. Forced to decide between the two by Trump’s Friday announcement, Dobbs slammed the president, saying that “illegal immigrants are surely pleased” by the result. He later added: "This president said it was going to be conditional -- border security, building that wall -- and he just reversed himself. That's a victory for Nancy Pelosi. It will be perceived as such on every television monitor and screen in the country -- and to deny it is to try to escape from reality, and that we ain't going to do here."

    Minutes after that segment aired, Trump tweeted:

    Trump didn’t “cave”; he “holds all the cards”

    Sean Hannity

    Hannity, who speaks with the president so frequently that White House aides reportedly call him the shadow chief of staff, took the most extreme U-turn to match Trump’s rhetoric. Last Wednesday, he argued that Trump would continue the shutdown “indefinitely.” Two days later, he said that “anyone out there” who is “thinking President Trump caved today, you don't really know the Donald Trump I know,” adding, “He, right now, holds all the cards.”

    Jeanine Pirro

    Pirro -- who has been friends with Trump for decades, has advised him privately, and produces a propagandistic show the president watches religiously -- has both remained loyal to Trump and lashed out at those who do not. On Saturday’s program, while displaying a graphic of critical headlines from right-wing outlets, she claimed, “Instead of giving the president credit for recognizing the damage to this country, he was attacked by virtually everyone.” Pirro added that Trump “did not cave” but simply made “a strategy decision to pick the ground to fight on.” She also criticized Coulter for denouncing Trump.

    Pete Hegseth

    Hegseth is a Fox & Friends Weekend co-host and sometime presidential adviser whom Trump reportedly considered for a cabinet slot.

    Rick Santorum

    Santorum is one of CNN’s paid Trump shills.

     

    Sebastian Gorka

    The former Trump aide and current Fox contributor called Trump's decision to end the shutdown a “master stroke.”

    To say Trump caved, “that's a little early, isn't it?”

    Fox & Friends

    The president’s favorite show kept telling him that he was winning throughout the shutdown, and now it won’t tell him that he’s lost. As the president live-tweeted this morning’s program, co-hosts Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy each suggested it was too early to tell whether the president had been defeated. Meanwhile, guest Newt Gingrich went after Coulter, saying that Trump “should not pay any attention” to her:

    Coulter subsequently responded on Twitter, mocking Gingrich for his sycophancy:

    Laura Ingraham

    Ingraham, who was reportedly considered for a White House communications role, acknowledged that the president lost but argued that he should get credit anyway.