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Matt Gertz

Author ››› Matt Gertz
  • The president is in favor of Republicans assaulting journalists

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In June, five staffers in the newsroom of the Annapolis, MD, Capital Gazette were murdered by a man with no apparent political motive who had a personal grudge against the paper. In brief remarks from the White House following the attack, President Donald Trump commented, “Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job.”

    On Thursday night, the president added a caveat to that noble sentiment: Unless the person violently attacking journalists is a Republican.

    At a rally in Montana, Trump explicitly praised GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte for assaulting a reporter last year, applauding the Republican congressman and calling him “my guy” before a cheering crowd.

    On the eve of a special congressional election last May, Gianforte slammed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs and began punching him after the journalist attempted to ask him about the House health care bill. Gianforte’s campaign attempted to lie about what happened, but there were witnesses and audio of the incident, so Gianforte ultimately pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault two weeks later.

    Gianforte’s attack on a reporter actually appeared to bolster his standing in the Republican Party. The conservative movement’s pro-Trump voices rallied to Gianforte in the wake of the attack, his campaign received a surge of donations, and Gianforte won the election and was seated without incident. The message from the GOP was clear: Physically attacking a reporter would not bar a party member from the halls of power.

    Last night, the president of the United States went even further, making clear that he believes such crimes should be celebrated.​

    “Greg is smart, and by the way, never wrestle him,” Trump said, to laughter from the crowd. “Any guy that can do a body slam, he's my kind of,” he added. The president then mimicked a wrestling move, said, “He’s my guy,” and applauded in Gianforte’s direction as his audience cheered.

    Trump went on to describe how, while in Rome for a state visit, he “heard that [Gianforte] body slammed a reporter” -- as he said this, Trump pointed at the journalists covering his speech, while the crowd roared. The president explained that his immediate reaction to the report that a U.S. politician had assaulted a member of the press was “this is terrible, he’s going to lose the election,” before concluding that in Montana, “it might help him, and it did.”

    The president had hinted that he supported Gianforte’s attack on a journalist at a rally in September. But these latest remarks cross a new threshold in the president’s rhetoric against the press, with Trump explicitly encouraging violence against journalists.

    Trump has spent the last few years demeaning, delegitimizing, and dehumanizing the press, arguing that they make up stories to damage his administration and calling them the “enemy of the people.” He attempts to limit the impact of damaging stories by convincing his supporters that he is the only truthful source of information about himself.

    Neither warnings from journalists and journalism advocacy organizations that his vitriolic rhetoric is putting reporters in physical danger; nor the arrests of individuals who used that rhetoric while threatening to murder journalists; nor the apparent murder of a U.S.-based journalist by a foreign government have halted Trump’s anti-press campaign.

    Now, as Trump, his party, and the Fox News propaganda apparatus are trying to get Republican voters to the polls by warning them that they could be killed by the Democratic “mob,” the president is literally applauding a Republican politician’s criminal assault on the press.

  • Fox Business finally abandons Saudi investment conference

    The network delayed action until its Trump administration patrons pulled out

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Last Friday, Bloomberg, CNN, CNBC, and the Financial Times all announced that they would no longer sponsor a high-profile Saudi-backed investment conference to be held later this month in light of the disappearance of journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi. As the week went by, and evidence mounted that Khashoggi had been brutally tortured, murdered, and dismembered and that Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was responsible, only one Western media outlet stood by the conference: Fox Business. Day after day, the network stood pat, telling curious journalists that the matter was under review.

    On Thursday afternoon, the channel finally folded. “Fox Business Network has canceled its sponsorship and participation in the Future Investment Initiative conference in Saudi Arabia,” the network said in a statement. What changed? Consider this fact: The statement went out mere hours after Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced that he would not be attending the conference.

    Fox Business has fiercely defended the Trump administration and been rewarded with access to top officials. That past relationship and Trump’s seeming interest -- for reasons of corruption, apathy, or a combination of the two -- in helping to cover up the Saudi government’s involvement in Khashoggi’s apparent murder likely meant that as long as Mnuchin was planning to go to the conference, the network couldn’t abandon it either.

    “They are not going to do anything that puts them at odds with the White House so they can keep getting access,” one Fox staffer told CNN before the network announced its decision. Only after the Trump administration pulled out was Fox Business willing to do the same.

    While the network’s executives were biding their time, waiting to see what the White House decided, its commentators used their platform to make excuses for the Saudis, cast doubt on their apparent involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance, and warn that any effort to force the Saudi regime to face the consequences of its crimes would backfire.

    Lou Dobbs, the network’s biggest star and a sometime unofficial White House adviser whose show is dedicated to the worship of Donald Trump, has led the charge, sowing uncertainty about the case on a nightly basis. Here are a few examples (all quotes from Nexis):

    October 11: “No question [Prince Mohammed] has an immense challenge as he tries to transform Saudi society and institutions. … I'd like to hear what would be the result as we try to divine who is telling the truth and who is lying between the Saudis and the Turks.”

    October 15: “This is one of the most peculiar, perplexing and seemingly disproportionate news events that I can recall in some time. A person who has worked for the Washington Post, a very short time relatively is not entirely clear whether he was a paid contributor or whether he was -- had some other kind of relationship disappears going into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.”

    October 16: “President Trump tonight reacting once again to the disappearance of the Saudi activist and sometimes journalist for the Washington Post Jamal Khashoggi. … Meanwhile, growing calls from RINOs and the radical Dems on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to take action by [going] against the Saudis. If you thought the Judiciary Committee was scary, just take a look at the Republicans on Foreign Relations. I mean, look at that. If that doesn't instill trust in foreign policy in the Senate, what would it take?”

    October 17: “This story gets bigger and bigger and it seems the facts supporting various versions of the story seem to dwindle and dwindle. … The accuracy and the credibility of it perhaps we've already strained a bit to involve ourselves to this point bringing in the FBI, my god who's going to believe the FBI on anything right now? … Don't you think the smartest thing for us to do is to as the President said take a deep breath and let the facts come to us?”

    No facts changed between the time Fox Business’ most prominent personality said on October 17 that “the facts supporting various versions of the story seem to dwindle and dwindle” and his network’s decision to pull out of the conference the next day. Indeed, while the gory details have been filled in since all of Fox Business’ competitors abandoned it, the overall story has remained broadly the same: Khashoggi appears to have been murdered at the hands of the Saudi government. What changed is that the Trump administration decided it would no longer send a representative. And for Fox Business, that made all the difference.

  • Fox News wanted to exploit a caravan of migrants as a midterm election issue, so that's what Trump is doing

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump responded on Thursday morning to reports of a caravan of migrants moving through Central America toward the U.S. border by blaming Democrats for their purported “assault on our country.” The president was mimicking the commentators he was likely watching on Fox News, who urged Republicans to weaponize the caravan as an election issue ahead of next month’s midterms.

    A caravan of as many as 4,000 Honduran migrants has entered Guatemala, leading Fox hosts to spend much of the week trying to stoke fears that the migrants are “heading this way” with plans “to storm our border.” None of this makes much sense -- the caravan would still need to make it through all of Guatemala and Mexico, and the Mexican government is currently deploying its own resources to stop the migrants. But because Trump’s worldview is shaped by the hours of Fox he consumes each day, that coverage is having an impact on U.S. policy -- and now, the topics of discussion in the midterm elections.

    Trump entered the fray on Tuesday morning, warning that the U.S. would cut off aid to Honduras if the caravan isn’t turned back:

    Trump frequently spends his mornings live-tweeting Fox & Friends, and his tweet almost certainly came in response to the show's coverage of the story that day:

    With Trump weighing in, the story’s coverage escalated. And on Wednesday night, Fox contributor and presidential confidant Newt Gingrich urged Republicans to make the caravan a key voting issue:

    “I think two words are going to define the night of the 2018 election in the next three weeks,” he told Sean Hannity. “One is Kavanaugh and the other is caravan.” Claiming that “the left is eager” for the caravan to enter the United States, Gingrich argued that “the American people are going to reject ... the way they are dealing with the border, and I think those will end up being the reasons the Republicans keep the House and dramatically increase the number of senators they have.”

    The next morning, Fox & Friends repeatedly urged Republicans to take Gingrich’s advice.

    During the show’s lead segment, after several minutes of dire warnings about the caravan, the hosts replayed portions of Gingrich’s comment. “So it comes down to a simple question regarding the Republicans and the Democrats, because it’s clear,” said host Steve Doocy. "If you think that our southern border should be open, support the Democrat. If you think the southern border should actually be a border with security, and stopping people, and processing them accordingly, then you’ve got to vote for Republicans, the Republicans say.”

    In a second segment that hour, Fox contributor and former ICE Acting Director Tom Homan said, “This caravan issue lays at the feet of the Democratic Party up on the Hill” for not closing loopholes in immigration law. “I hope the American people are paying attention because this isn’t the president’s failure, this isn’t the secretary’s failure; this is the Democrats’ failure because they know the issue and they refuse to fix it. They’re putting their political ambitions ahead of public safety, national security, and border control.”

    During a third segment, Doocy said that the election is “going to come down to” voters asking each other, “Hey, did you see that story this morning on Fox & Friends about the caravan? Can you believe that the Democrats want open borders?”

    And at 7 a.m., the hosts again highlighted the migrant caravan, with Doocy arguing that “these images do get the base on the Republican side interested in voting because, clearly, it's a choice. Do you want a southern border with security or not?”

    The president apparently got the message. In a series of tweets beginning at 7:25 a.m., he used the caravan to attack Democrats, saying they had “led (because they want Open Borders and existing weak laws)” an “assault on our country.” He also threatened to stop "all payments” to Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, and said he would “call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER” if Mexico could not “stop this onslaught.”

    This is not the first time Fox’s migrant coverage has triggered Trump to erupt on Twitter. In the spring, he similarly lashed out in response to Fox’s coverage of a caravan of migrants moving through Central America.

    This Fox-Trump feedback loop presents a problem for journalists, as the president drives the network’s fearmongering coverage into the mainstream policy debate.

  • The banality of the Ben Sasse/Sean Hannity feud

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Republican Sen. Ben Sasse has spent the last two years trying to carve out a niche as a bold truth-teller, the natural heir to the late Sen. John McCain’s position as a figure beloved by the press for supposedly rising above partisan politics. Sasse has been a frequent critic of President Donald Trump’s rhetoric -- albeit one who fails to back up his fierce statements with action -- and has said he often considers leaving the Republican Party. The Nebraska senator is currently garnering a wave of headlines after criticizing Sean Hannity in his latest book, reigniting his feud with the Fox News host. But Sasse’s argument is both more clever and more cynical than merely calling out Hannity as a toxic element in the conservative movement. Instead, Sasse is using the naked corruption of Hannity and his ilk as an entry point to criticize the rest of the press, which he disingenuously portrays as the mirror image of Fox’s depravity.

    Hannity is one of the most powerful figures in the conservative movement. He boasts cable news and talk radio programs with massive audiences, has long been a kingmaker in the Republican Party, and parlayed his early support for Trump in the 2016 primaries into a role as one of the president’s closest advisers. After Trump’s election, Hannity remade his show into a nightly assault on the vast, shadowy conspiracy he claims has assembled to oppose the president. Hannity’s role as a fervent Trump propagandist brought him into conflict with Sasse, with the commentator denouncing the senator after Sasse criticized Trump’s attacks on the press in October 2017.

    Sasse misses much of what makes Hannity so dangerous in his book, Them: Why We Hate Each Other -- And How To Heal, choosing not to present Hannity as a distinctly bad actor, but as the embodiment of what he terms the media’s “Polarization Business Model.” This is a shell game, one in which Sasse repeatedly presents specific, damning evidence against Hannity and his compatriots in the conservative press -- describing their activities as a dishonest game in which they gin up outrage to pad their own wallets -- then condemns the rest of the media for allegedly behaving in the same way. Having thrown up his hands in this manner, Sasse is left arguing to his readers not that Hannity’s influence must be curbed, but that they should focus on their “in-person communities” and practice the “healthy habits” detailed elsewhere in his book.

    After writing that Hannity explained in a New York Times interview that the “core objective” of his programs “is to rage,” and that his show is one long diatribe telling his audience of “angry, isolated people what they want to hear,” Sasse concludes: “We’d all be better off, as would our communities, if we understood the game he and his colleagues—on both sides of the spectrum—are playing.”

    Sasse notes a case in which Hannity used a hoax tweet to suggest that progressives had cheered last year’s mass shooting at a Las Vegas country music concert, and never corrected the record. His takeaway for his readers is that “the left” and the “national ‘news’” do the same thing, though he curiously does not identify any concrete examples of them doing so.

    The senator presents a Fox News personality who tells him that “Hannity hasn’t been a conservative for years,” having determined that “teaching and defending conservatism is both harder and less effective than just hitting some crazy liberal.” He concludes that “most TV personalities are not trying to speak to any broad middle of the electorate but are rather competing only against others at roughly the same point on the ideological spectrum.”

    And after describing conversations with three top-tier conservative radio hosts who, he claims, apologized for attacking him in order to preserve their pro-Trump audiences, Sasse criticizes “so many media personalities” who “view our nation as their personal vending machine.”

    Sasse is up front that he hasn’t done the work to justify his broad conclusions. “The examples of media malpractice I detail in this chapter are predominantly from the right,” he writes, explaining that “this is a function of my daily life experience of being a Republican and representing a state that has been overwhelmingly Republican for decades.” Nonetheless, he concludes that “it is readily apparent that very similar echo chambers exist on the left side of the political and media spectrum as well.”

    As an argument, this is nonsense; Sasse substitutes rhetoric for evidence to assume that conditions are the same on both sides of the aisle. Among other mistakes, Sasse dramatically misunderstands how central Fox News and the right-wing press are to the conservative movement relative to the importance of mainstream and left-leaning media to progressives. Fox isn’t the mirror image of a normal news outlet; it’s a right-wing propaganda outlet that has routinely served as a launching pad for Republican candidates. There is no recent precedent for Trump’s relationship to the network: He’s credited it for the launch of his political career, uses its staff as the talent pool for his administration, and regularly consults with the network’s array of conservative talking heads. Hannity isn’t just a guy with some shows; he speaks to the president so regularly that White House aides refer to him as the “shadow” chief of staff.

    But Sasse is displaying a certain canniness. He is surely aware that the right has a limitless capacity for criticisms of the mainstream press. And he’s long benefited from the mainstream media’s eagerness to find Republican politicians they can lift up as somehow different from the rest. Sasse’s criticism of Hannity really benefits Sasse -- and, to some extent, Hannity himself. Sasse’s readers will come away convinced not that Hannity is a uniquely destructive force in American politics, but that he is a conventional commentator whose deleterious actions are really no different from anyone else in the press.

  • The chair of a major pro-Trump super PAC is reportedly trying to buy Tribune Media's TV stations

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Why would Thomas Hicks Jr., the latest potential bidder for Tribune Media Company, want to purchase its 42 local television stations? The best bet is because he wants to use them to help President Donald Trump get re-elected.

    The Federal Communications Commission effectively spiked conservative local news goliath Sinclair Broadcast Group’s planned acquisition of Tribune in July, opening up the potential of new suitors coming in to buy its stations.

    Hicks, a partner at his father’s investment firm, is planning to bid for the company, the New York Post reported yesterday. Hicks doesn’t currently own any TV stations, which the Post’s sources say is a “possible edge” since he will be able to avoid the regulatory struggles that entangled Sinclair.

    Hicks has deep ties to Trump’s political apparatus.

    The Texas scion served as national finance co-chair for Trump’s presidential campaign and finance vice chair of his inauguration committee, and he now chairs the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action and its associated nonprofit, America First Policies. While the organizations have been criticized for spending too much money throwing parties and feathering the nests of Trump hangers-on, America First Action has spent $16 million to support Republican politicians this election cycle.

    Hicks’ entree into the Trump orbit came through his friendship with Donald Trump Jr. -- as sons, namesakes, and longtime employees of billionaire fathers famed for their dealmaking prowess, the pair have much in common. Hicks was reportedly responsible for the hiring of Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former Fox News host and Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, as America First Action’s new vice chairwoman.

    While Hicks currently owns no TV stations, he does have strong feelings about the media, arguing that outlets are unfair to the president.

    In an “Open Letter to the Colluding Press,” Hicks and Sean Spicer, America First Action’s senior adviser and the former White House press secretary, responded to The Boston Globe’s effort to organize hundreds of newspapers to publish simultaneous editorials criticizing the Trump administration’s attacks on the press.

    In the letter, Hicks and Spicer criticize media for having “failed to live up to their responsibility,” attacking journalists for producing “inaccurate” and “biased” reporting about Trump’s administration while failing to report on his triumphs. The pair provides an “indisputable list” of Trump’s “accomplishments,” adding that “in the name of a free and fair press, we implore all journalists to start sharing them—instead of their own personal biases.”

    If Hicks’ bid is successful, he won’t just be able to “implore” journalists to print pro-Trump talking points; he’ll be able to compel them to do so in dozens of communities, broadcasting to major cities and swing states alike.

  • Fox hosts treated Trump's 60 Minutes interview like they just watched a child ride a bike for the first time

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump has done something truly phenomenal, according to his faithful propagandists at Fox & Friends: He’s started publicly fielding questions from people who aren’t completely in the tank for him.

    “He’s so confident,” glowed Fox Business host and Mr. Bumble cosplayer Stuart Varney this morning. “Notice how he answered any and all questions at press conferences and with Lesley Stahl last night on 60 Minutes,” Varney continued in an incredulous tone, before mimicking the president: “Come on, bring it on, give me the question, and I’ll answer it.”

    “It’s a remarkable contrast between this president and any president in my lifetime,” Varney added.

    Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt agreed, saying, “Hats off to President Trump, who will go up against any journalist, even the ones who aren’t in favor of him, and answer all of the questions.”

    Trump’s recent appearances are part of a new strategy in which, as The Washington Post's Greg Sargent noted, the president is using every possible avenue in the lead-up to the midterm elections, flooding the zone with lies and fearmongering to get his voters to the polls.

    But while the program’s hosts are all but ready to demand a public parade in Trump’s honor, back here in the real world, every president is expected to sit down for TV interviews with journalists who aren’t avid supporters and answer their questions at press conferences, and this one hardly ever does either.

    Trump has only done a handful of solo press conferences thus far in his presidency, far off the pace of his recent predecessors.

    And Trump’s interview with Stahl was an exceedingly rare event; the president’s television interviews have almost exclusively been with sycophants like the hosts of Fox & Friends ever since his sit-down with NBC’s Lester Holt in May 2017. That’s when Trump basically admitted he fired FBI Director James Comey because of Comey’s handling of the federal Russia investigation, setting off a firestorm that resulted in the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller.

    Fox commentators tend to treat mainstream journalists as their own mirror image. Fox acts as the communications arm of the Republican Party, and its hosts are the president’s loyal supporters and his closest advisors. Therefore, so they seem to believe, The New York Times and ABC News and the like must act the same way on behalf of Democrats.

    That this isn’t actually how the rest of the media operates -- that it’s impossible, for instance, to imagine a working journalist conducting an interview with a Democratic president that serves as the warm-up event for their political rally, with the crowd cheering in the background -- is besides the point.

    On Fox & Friends, as on every other day, the hats are off for Trump.

  • Fox ramps up election strategy of convincing viewers that Democrats are coming to kill them

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    If you tuned in to Fox News over the last week, you may have heard Democrats described as a nascent “brown shirt party” or a “lynch mob” led by a “street thug” who is urging party activists to physically assault Republicans.

    The conservative network has been warning its audience of GOP base voters that their very lives may be at stake if they don’t turn out to vote in the midterm elections and allow Democrats to triumph. That message aligns with what President Donald Trump, the Republican National Committee, and congressional Republicans have been arguing as the elections approach.

    Fox has long acted as the Republican Party’s communications arm, serving as a megaphone for the party and championing its candidates. Now, that effort has been super-charged by its feedback loop with the president as he and the network unite to try to get Republican voters to the polls next month.

    On Monday morning, Trump tweeted:

    Trump was citing a comment Fox host Ben Shapiro made the previous night on his weekly show putatively devoted to the election. Shapiro brought up the purported Democratic “mob rule” plan during a segment highlighting “10 reasons you should go out to vote on November 6 and vote Republican.” “Your vote matters, your vote counts,” Shapiro said to close the segment. “Get out there on Election Day and ensure the Democratic Party of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton aren’t allowed anywhere near the levers of power.”

    That same morning, the hosts and guests of Fox & Friends, one of the president’s favorite programs, pushed this strategy in at least three different ways: They contrasted the purported Democratic message of violence against a supposed Republican message of policy; they lifted up cases of left-wing violence while ignoring cases of right-wing violence; and they took comments made by Democrats out of context to pretend they were actually calls for violence.

    Democratic “mobs” versus Republican “jobs”

    Fox & Friends’ commentators depicted the choice voters face in November as one between a Republican message of jobs and a Democratic one of “mob rule.”

    “I don't think America likes violence in the street. Political violence has no place in America,” Fox’s Stuart Varney argued. “The emotion of the mob and the nonsense of socialism combined, I think, is an untenable position. Meanwhile, as you point out, President Trump’s out there holding these rallies, pounding the table, very confident of the performance of the economy. There is a sharp contrast here.”

    Trump himself couldn’t have said it better.

    Ignoring far-right violence

    On Friday, before a scheduled appearance in which Gavin McInnes had promised to re-enact the violent 1960 murder of a Japanese socialist, the Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan was vandalized with anarchist graffiti and broken windows. McInnes, who is the founder of Proud Boys, a far-right violent street gang, has a long record of making calls for violence against the left, and after the event, his minions acted. Proud Boys “got in a violent encounter on the streets of New York on Friday night after a speech from … McInnes, with videos showing more than a dozen members of the group kicking and punching people on the ground,” The Daily Beast reported. New York Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo subsequently asked federal and state law enforcement to aid the New York Police Department’s probe.

    But when Fox & Friends discussed the situation on Monday, the hosts focused solely on the left-wing vandalism -- which they attributed to “antifa,” the anti-fascist activists who have long been a network bugaboo -- and ignored the right-wing violence. The program did something similar over the weekend.

    Over the caption “Antifa Threatens NY Republicans,” on Monday, co-host Steve Doocy asked Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor of New York, his thoughts on the group. Molinaro responded that the vandalism was “an outrageous attack” that “threatened staff and the people in that building” before saying there’s a need for those on “all sides of the aisle” to “tone down the rhetoric.” He went on to criticize Cuomo for supposedly wanting “nothing more than to talk about that.”

    The point about Cuomo might have confused viewers, as Fox & Friends had not mentioned either the violence by the Proud Boys or Cuomo’s subsequent actions.

    Pretending that Democrats are calling for violence

    Much of the right-wing’s “mob” critique involves breathlessly reading comments from Democrats in bad faith to claim that those Democrats are issuing calls for violence, rather than using metaphors. For much of last week, right-wing media were transfixed by comments by former Attorney General Eric Holder, which conservatives took out of context to suggest that he literally called for Democrats to “kick” Republicans. It was mind-numbingly obvious that Holder was speaking metaphorically -- indeed, he specifically said as much at the time.

    On Fox & Friends this morning, the crew attempted a similar smear against actor Alec Baldwin. During a Sunday night speech at a fundraiser for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, Baldwin said, “The way we implement change in America is through elections. We change governments here at home in an orderly and formal way. In that orderly and formal way and lawful way, we need to overthrow the government of the United States under Donald Trump.” There is no fair way to read these comments as anything other than a call for Americans to vote for Democrats in order to change the party that controls Congress.

    Nonetheless, Fox & Friends did it. The program aired portions of Baldwin’s remarks -- neatly excising his specific references to elections -- then hosted right-wing commentator Dan Bongino to discuss them. Bongino called Baldwin a “deranged lunatic,” adding, “There isn’t a lawful way to overthrow the government.”

    Edging perilously close to the truth, Doocy responded by suggesting that Baldwin might have been referring to elections. But after Bongino and co-host Brian Kilmeade quickly rejected this obviously correct theory, Doocy responded, “I don’t know what he’s talking about.”

  • Jamal Khashoggi and the bloody bill for Trump's anti-press rhetoric

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In July, President Donald Trump hosted A.G. Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, the outlet which is perhaps the biggest target of the president’s years-long effort to delegitimize the U.S. press. In a statement memorializing the White House meeting, Sulzberger said he had gone to the White House with a stark warning for the president: His vicious criticisms of the press, particularly the Stalinist description of journalists as the “enemy of the people,” could reap deadly results for reporters.

    “I repeatedly stressed that this is particularly true abroad, where the president’s rhetoric is being used by some regimes to justify sweeping crackdowns on journalists,” he wrote of their exchange. “I warned that it was putting lives at risk, that it was undermining the democratic ideals of our nation, and that it was eroding one of our country’s greatest exports: a commitment to free speech and a free press.”  

    Three months later, Sulzberger’s warning has proved horrifically prescient. A journalist who lives in the U.S. and writes for a major American newspaper has vanished, with reports indicating he may have been brutally murdered by an authoritarian U.S. ally. And Trump’s apathetic response sends a message to other nations that they can repress journalists with impunity, without fear of U.S. reprisals.

    Jamal Khashoggi is a journalist, a critic of his native Saudi Arabia’s oppressive regime who had been living in self-imposed exile in Virginia, London, and Istanbul, Turkey. He has written for The Washington Post’s Global Opinions section since last year, using that platform to lament Saudi Arabia’s repressive atmosphere under its new de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. That outspoken dissent, coming at a time when the prince was conducting a U.S. charm offensive, reportedly earned Khashoggi his wrath.

    Ten days ago, Khashoggi walked into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to obtain a document for his upcoming wedding. He has yet to emerge.

    It is not yet fully clear what happened to Khashoggi once he stepped inside the consulate, but the picture so far is grim. Turkish authorities have said that members of a Saudi security team interrogated, tortured, and then murdered Khashoggi, dismembered his body, and transported it out of the consulate; some theorize a kidnapping attempt may have gone wrong. U.S. intelligence intercepts suggest American officials knew he was in danger and did nothing. And the Saudis have denied everything, claiming with almost comic gall that Khashoggi left the consulate unharmed that day, but that they are unable to provide footage of him doing so because the consulate’s security cameras were not recording.

    It’s difficult to overstate the brazenness of the Saudis’ alleged actions in targeting a U.S. resident who writes for an American paper while he was in a NATO country.

    It seems unlikely that the Saudi regime -- dependent as it is on the U.S., and on the Trump administration specifically -- would have tried to kidnap or kill Khashoggi if its rulers thought it would upset Trump. But as Sulzberger warned, Trump’s derision toward reporters gave every indication that he didn’t care. And since Khashoggi’s disappearance, Trump has signaled his ongoing apathy. The message the president is sending to dictators around the world is that it is open season on dissident journalists.

    Past presidents, aware of the danger of signaling such indifference, might have reacted with outraged statements and a promise of dire consequences for the regime that dared to commit such a crime. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has tried to lay down such a marker, threatening sanctions against the highest levels of the Saudi government if it turns out to be implicated in Khashoggi’s disappearance.

    But Trump’s vision of U.S. foreign policy is fundamentally transactional, looking with favor on despots like Crown Prince Mohammed who cater to his whims and sign hefty contracts for U.S. arms, while scorning our democratic allies for not paying “their fair share of common defense costs.”

    His response to Khashoggi’s disappearance is in line with a general disregard for human rights: Trump has issued mealy-mouthed statements of concern while thus far rejecting the possibility of concrete action. He has warned that blocking U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia in retaliation would “not be acceptable,” and demurred when asked whether the situation would jeopardize U.S. relations with the country.

    Others in his administration have followed this policy of going through the motions, requesting information from the Saudis while steering clear of anything that resembles a consequence; while media outlets have begun withdrawing from a Saudi investment conference scheduled for later this month, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said this morning that he still plans to attend, calling Saudi Arabia “a very good partner.”

    Even the president’s loyal propagandists at Fox & Friends have said that the administration needs to do more, arguing that Khashoggi’s disappearance is “way over the line” and must be met with sanctions that “really hurt” the Saudi regime.

    Khashoggi is not the only victim of the U.S. abandoning even the pretense of standing for liberal values: Oppressive nations have responded with gusto to the changing world order. And just as Sulzberger warned, journalists have been a particular target; the last month alone has seen reporters arrested in Myanmar, imprisoned in Turkey, and murdered in Bulgaria.

    But Khashoggi’s disappearance seems to be the clearest link yet from Trump’s anti-press demagoguery to state repression. Trump’s “rhetoric against journalists probably encouraged the Saudis to do it,” a close friend of Khashoggi’s said this week, convincing the regime that “Trump hates journalists and he would not react if we kill one journalist.” Unless Trump and his administration change course and make it clear that this behavior is unacceptable, this won’t be the last time.

  • Fox News has gone from saying climate change wasn’t real to arguing it’s too hard to try to stop it

    And that's when the network covers it at all; Fox covered the recent landmark climate report for roughly three minutes this week

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Even optimistic scenarios for climate change would lead to environmental calamity as early as 2040, far sooner than previously thought, according to a stark report from a United Nations-backed assemblage of leading scientists from 40 countries. The report, issued Sunday night by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, concludes that preventing disaster requires nations to drastically reduce carbon emissions through a global economic transformation that has “no documented historic precedent.”

    Fox News would rather those nations not try.

    The conservative network has basically ignored the IPCC’s report altogether and passed on bringing it up during two interviews with President Donald Trump this week. Special Report, Fox’s flagship broadcast, provided a 30-second news brief on Monday. The network’s only other substantive coverage has come from Shepard Smith, a rare real journalist at Fox and one who has acknowledged the reality of global warming. Smith hosted the network's only full segment devoted to the report, introducing the two-and-a-half-minute Monday segment by saying, “Climate change is real, the situation is urgent, and time is running out: That's the new warning from a landmark United Nations report.” But soon after, Fox correspondent Trace Gallagher put his thumb on the scale in favor of inaction.

    “Even outside scientists who acknowledge that something has to be done to prevent the planet from warming say the goal laid out by the United Nations is really unreasonable,” Gallagher said, “because it would mean draconian cuts in emissions and dramatic changes in the way that we use energy, meaning extremely high gas prices, a lot more regulations, and putting governments right in the middle of decisions on how people utilize their private property.”

    Fox has spent years telling its audience that global warming is a lie. The network made an institutional decision to use its powerful megaphone to undermine the climate change consensus, making legislation to reduce carbon emissions less politically feasible. And now, the situation has apparently become so dire that a network correspondent is arguing it is just too costly to do anything to solve the problem.

    These things are connected. Every year of delay means more carbon emissions. If the goal is to keep the temperature increase below a specific target, then the longer world leaders wait to take action, the more drastic -- and expensive -- the cuts to carbon emissions need to be. The resulting “net mitigation costs increase, on average, by approximately 40 percent for each decade of delay,” according to a 2014 report by President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors.

    Fox has played a key role in engineering that delay. In the middle of the last decade, many prominent Republicans acknowledged global warming was a real threat that required government action, and Fox itself produced reporting that did not dispute the science. But for the last dozen years, as the GOP became the "world's only major climate-denialist party," Fox has done everything it could to defeat all possible actions to mitigate climate change.

    The network is, of course, far from the only reason a global problem has not been systematically addressed.

    But Fox’s influence on U.S. politics is great enough that when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was working on a bipartisan climate bill in 2010, he warned his Democratic colleagues that they needed to move the legislation quickly, before the network had time to train its guns on it.

    Graham was right to worry. Fox’s intense, network-wide effort to undermine the notion that climate change is a real problem helped stymie Democratic efforts to pass a cap-and-trade climate bill during Obama’s first term, and it has made the issue toxic with Republicans ever since.

    That effort included specific instructions from Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon to network reporters to "refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question."

    Fox relentlessly promoted the fabricated "Climategate" scandal, which revolved around smearing a group of climate scientists by misrepresenting their emails, which were stolen by hackers.

    Its hosts brought on climate deniers to malign actual scientists and attacked people who referred to them as climate deniers.

    The network’s shows brought up global warming when it was cold outside (suggesting the cold temperatures disproved the science) and ignored it during heat waves.

    They propagated an ocean of lies and distortions of climate science research aimed at distracting from the scientific consensus supporting man-made climate change -- at one point, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found that 93 percent of Fox News' representations of climate science were misleading.

    When Fox’s commentators weren’t lying about the story, they were treating it as a punchline, responding to cold weather with “snow-trolling,” denouncing celebrities who talked about it, and making a joke about former Vice President Al Gore while showing a person dressed as a Hawaiian lei-wearing polar bear.

    In one particularly baffling attempt at a gotcha, Fox’s Jon Scott asked whether the former existence of volcanoes on the moon disproved global warming. Then there was the time the network went to war over cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants’ climate change advocacy.

    And, in a shifting of the goal posts that presaged Gallagher’s recent comment, the landmark Paris Climate Agreement brought about a change in the network’s emphasis, with hosts saying the agreement would have little impact while costing too much. After long denying that there was a problem,  the network now -- when it bothers to mentions climate change at all -- is suggesting it can’t be solved.

  • USA Today publishes Trump’s lies

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump lies constantly, on matters great and small, and repeats those lies no matter how obvious it is that he’s lying and no matter how many times the lie is debunked. Everyone knows this; it is an inseverable part of his character. His origin story of being a self-made billionaire was a lie. He launched his political career with the lie that President Barack Obama needed to release his birth certificate to prove he was born in the country. As of September 1, The Washington Post’s fact-checkers had identified 5,001 untruths over the 601 days of his presidency -- an average of 8.3 a day, with the trend accelerating. When Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale watches Trump’s rally speeches, he chronicles the lies in real time on Twitter. The president’s former personal lawyer reportedly wouldn’t allow Trump to testify in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe because he knows Trump is “a fucking liar” who could not help but perjure himself.

    Under those circumstances, it is journalistic malpractice for any newspaper to give Trump unimpeded access to its readers. And yet, that’s exactly what USA Today has done in publishing Trump’s op-ed in today’s edition.

    The piece is a conglomeration of previously debunked distortions and outright lies common to Trump’s stump speeches, leading several reporters to criticize the paper for its role. “How can @usatoday allow Trump [to] publish an article with documented falsehoods?” asked Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler on Twitter before detailing several of the piece’s whoppers on health care and immigration. CNN’s Jim Acosta commented that the piece “may break the record for the number of falsehoods from a President ever published in a newspaper op-Ed,” adding, “Come on USA Today.” Several other journalists also debunked Trump’s falsehoods in the hours after the op-ed’s publication.

    In one particularly gobsmacking case, USA Today allowed Trump to claim that as “a candidate, I promised that we would protect coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions” and that as president, he has “kept that promise.” The paper’s Twitter feed even highlighted that passage in a tweet.

    Republicans’ position on this issue is one of bottomless bad faith, an effort to confuse the public by saying they supports protections for people with pre-existing conditions while acting to deregulate the health insurance industry.

    It’s true that Trump repeatedly claimed on the campaign trail that he would protect patients with pre-existing conditions -- a very popular position given the horror stories on offer before the Affordable Care Act banned insurance companies from charging sick people more or denying them coverage altogether. But as president, his actions have been diametrically opposed to that position. Trump supported ACA repeal legislation that he and congressional Republicans falsely claimed would preserve those protections. With the push to eliminate the ACA failing in Congress last year, his administration has tried to loosen the regulations surrounding pre-existing conditions. And in June, Attorney General Jeff Sessions sided in part with plaintiffs who argued in federal court that the ACA was now unconstitutional, specifically refusing to defend the legality of the pre-existing conditions provisions. Senate Republicans have introduced a bill that they claim would preserve those protections if the lawsuit succeeds; it does not.

    Trump is lying when he says he’s “kept that promise” to “protect coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions.” And incredibly, USA Today is aware that the president is lying and decided to let him make the claim anyway.

    On the version of the op-ed on USA Today’s website, there’s a link on the words “pre-existing conditions.” If you click the link, you’re directed to an article from the fact-checkers at The Washington Post titled “President Trump’s flip-flop on coverage for preexisting health conditions.” The first paragraph of the article, which contrasts Trump’s public comments on the issue with a letter Sessions wrote about the ACA lawsuit, states: “In plain English, the attorney general’s letter means that the Trump administration no longer supports a provision of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, that makes it possible for people to buy insurance if they have preexisting health conditions.”

    It is simply unbelievable, at this late date, that USA Today’s editorial page editors are unaware that the president will lie to their readers if they give him the opportunity -- and it’s appalling that they failed to fact-check the piece after its submission. And yet, that’s exactly what they did.

    UPDATE: Bill Sternberg, USA Today's editorial page editor, defended publishing the op-ed, saying that the piece had been fact-checked like any other submission while still giving the author "wide leeway to express" his opinion. Given the ream of falsehoods journalists at other outlets had identified, this amounts to an admission that the section attempted to fact-check the piece but failed miserably.