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Matt Gertz

Author ››› Matt Gertz
  • You don’t get frothing crowds chanting “send her back” without Fox News

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The video is difficult to watch, but it’s impossible to fully capture in words. As President Donald Trump lashed out at Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) at a rally in North Carolina on Wednesday night, the crowd took up a new chant. Beginning with a handful of attendees, it crescendoed as the president paused and gave space, until the nativist call echoed through the arena: “Send her back!”

    Commentators will debate the factors that created the bitter brew that led here, to public cries at a presidential rally for the banishment of a U.S. citizen who came to this country as a child refugee from Somalia. They will attribute blame to a craven and complicit Republican Party, to a feckless Democratic one, to the rise of fractured, paranoid social media. To those I’ll add: You don’t get frothing crowds chanting “send her back” without Fox News. 

    This is clear on the micro level. 

    You can draw a straight line from Fox host Tucker Carlson’s xenophobic attacks on Omar last week to Trump’s racist Sunday tweets -- likely spurred by a Fox & Friends segment that morning -- that Omar and three other Democratic congresswomen (all women of color born in the United States) should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” then “come back and show us how it is done.” 

    That kicked off a cycle of escalation. Trump constantly seeks approval from Fox’s stable of commentators. With few exceptions, they gave Trump’s attacks the green light, praising the comments both as political strategy and on their merits while defending him from charges of racism. The president absorbed this feedback and repeatedly escalated his attacks, culminating with last night’s rally.

    Fox’s response to the jeering crowd has largely been a mix of praising the president’s performance, downplaying the chilling implications of the chant, and offering the mildest possible criticism that perhaps the incident provides Trump’s political opponents with an opening. If the president was watching, he saw little that might give him pause from continuing down this horrifying path.

    But the story began long before Carlson’s attacks on Omar last week. The chants of “send her back” are the latest sign of the rise and empowerment of the international nativist right.

    “The right-wing populist wave that looked like a fleeting cultural phenomenon a few years ago has turned into the defining political movement of the times, disrupting the world order of the last half-century,” The New York Times reported in an April feature on Rupert Murdoch. “The Murdoch empire did not cause this wave. But more than any single media company, it enabled it, promoted it and profited from it.”

    In the United States, that tectonic political shift was fueled by Murdoch’s Fox. The right-wing propaganda network featured bigotry as a core part of its business model from the beginning. But the election of Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president, sent Fox into a spiral of bigotry, conspiracy theories, and constant fearmongering about the dangers to the public wrought by Muslims and immigrants. 

    That shift helped turn Trump into a plausible Republican political contender. On the one hand, Fox directly promoted Trump’s racist birtherism and gave him a regular platform to speak to its audience about the issues of the day. On the other, the network’s feverish coverage had primed the Republican base to eagerly support the bigoted, hyperaggressive, anti-immigrant would-be strongman when he sought the presidency. 

    Fox always takes on the character of the GOP of the day. Since Trump’s election, that has meant feeding its audience a toxic slurry of white nationalist talking points. Trump and the network fuel each other's bigotry, while his base come to accept it, then expect it, then demand it. Day after day, night after night, Fox and the president tell viewers that immigrants are dangerous ingrates whose increased presence in this country poses a danger to both their political power and their very lives.

    It’s a short step from there to demanding their removal, citizens or not.

  • A comprehensive list of former Fox employees who have joined the Trump administration

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    This post, originally published April 12, 2019, will be updated as additional former Fox employees join or leave the Trump administration or are nominated for or withdraw from nomination for such positions.

    Over a three-day period in early April, the State Department announced Morgan Ortagus as its new spokesperson, a role previously occupied by Heather Nauert; President Donald Trump said he wanted Herman Cain to fill a seat on the Federal Reserve Board, with Stephen Moore already nominated for a second vacancy; and Politico reported that Treasury Department spokesperson Tony Sayegh is resigning next month and could be replaced by Monica Crowley.

    Ortagus, Nauert, Cain, Moore, Sayegh, and Crowley have something in common: Each has worked for Fox News, the right-wing cable network that has merged with Trump’s White House and now serves as a Trump propaganda outlet.

    Trump has stocked his administration with former Fox employees. Cabinet secretaries overseeing federal departments, senior White House aides advising the president on crucial issues, and U.S. ambassadors representing the country abroad, among others, all worked for the network before joining Trump’s administration.

    Ten current Trump administration officials previously worked at Fox, while six more officials worked at Fox before joining the administration but have since left, and the appointments of two other former Foxers are pending, according to a Media Matters review. (This post was updated May 2 to remove Moore and Cain, who both withdrew from consideration after their nominations received widespread criticism.)

    Current Trump administration officials who used to work at Fox

    Former Trump administration officials who used to work at Fox

    Those are just the ones who actually made the jump to the Trump administration -- several other Fox employees have been connected to various Trump administration jobs but have not received them, while Crowley had been announced for a White House position but withdrew following a plagiarism scandal (Update 7/17/19: see below).

    And the door opens both ways. After leaving her post as White House communications director, Hope Hicks became executive vice president and chief communications officer for Fox’s parent company. Abigail Slater similarly left her White House position advising Trump on technology to become senior vice president for policy and strategy at Fox Corp. Fox also hired former Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie and former acting ICE Director Tom Homan for on-air roles, each of whom has since been floated for senior administration roles.

    This hiring pattern speaks in part to Fox’s longtime role as a comfortable landing spot for Republicans looking to get paid and build their brand with the network’s conservative audience while keeping their options open to return to politics or government.

    But the trend is also part Trump’s unprecedented relationship with Fox. The president’s worldview is shaped by the hours of Fox programming he watches each day, with both his public statements and his major decisions often coming in response to what he sees. And so throughout his tenure in the White House, the president has treated Fox employment as an important credential and offered jobs to network employees whose commentary he likes.

    Outside the administration, Trump hired Jay Sekulow to join his legal team because the president liked the way Sekulow defended him on Fox, and he nearly added the similarly credentialed Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing to the group as well. Then there’s Kimberly Guilfoyle, who left her job co-hosting a Fox show and became the vice chairwoman of a pro-Trump super PAC the next week (she is also dating Donald Trump Jr.).

    In addition to the former Fox employees that have moved to the administration or Trumpworld payrolls, Trump also consults with a “Fox News Cabinet” of current network employees. He reportedly speaks frequently with Fox founder Rupert Murdoch, whose media empire has benefited greatly from the network’s fusion with the Trump administration. And Fox hosts including Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, Jeanine Pirro, and Pete Hegseth all reportedly influence Trump not only through their programs, but advise him privately as well.

    Current Trump administration officials who used to work at Fox

    • Ben Carson, secretary of housing and urban development. Carson, formerly a prominent neurosurgeon, became a right-wing media sensation after using a February 2013 speech in front of President Barack Obama to trumpet conservative economics and health care arguments. He joined Fox News as a contributor in October 2013 and left just over a year later to run for president. After Trump’s election, Carson joined his administration as the secretary of housing and urban development. His tenure has been dogged by scandals involving lavish spending for office furniture and other ethics issues, as well as a general failure to carry out his department’s mission.

    • Elaine Chao, secretary of transportation. After a career in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors capped by serving as labor secretary in President George W. Bush’s Cabinet, Chao became a Fox News contributor. She left the network in 2012 and took a seat on the board of directors of News Corp., at the time Fox’s parent company. In 2016, she stepped down from the board after Trump nominated her as secretary of transportation. Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY); former Fox News contributor Erick Erickson has alleged that he was taken off the air because of his criticism of McConnell at Chao’s behest.

    • John Bolton, national security adviser. Long recognized as one of the most hawkish members of the foreign policy community, Bolton served in the Bush State Department and as ambassador to the United Nations. He joined Fox as a contributor in 2006 and became the network’s go-to voice for national security stories for the next decade, using the platform to push for military options in North Korea and Iran. Those appearances caught the attention of Trump, who said during a 2015 interview, “I watch the shows” for military advice, and that he liked Bolton because “he’s a tough cookie, knows what he’s talking about.” In March 2018, Trump named Bolton as his national security adviser.

    • Scott Brown, ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa. Glowing Fox News coverage helped power Brown to victory in his 2010 run for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. After losing his reelection bid two years later, he joined the network as a contributor, using it as a platform to burnish his profile over the next year while exploring a run for Senate in New Hampshire. He left the network, lost that 2014 race despite the network’s efforts to promote him, and was rehired two weeks later. After Brown endorsed Trump in February 2016, Fox hosts began promoting him for the vice president slot. In August 2016, former Fox host Andrea Tantaros named him in the sexual harassment lawsuit she filed against Fox and several network executives. Trump nonetheless nominated Brown to be ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa in April 2017, and he was confirmed that June. He subsequently faced a State Department inquiry after making inappropriate comments to a female server at an official event.

    • Georgette Mosbacher, ambassador to Poland. Mosbacher, a Republican businesswoman and donor, longtime Trump friend, and a Fox News contributor, was nominated to be ambassador to Poland in February 2018 and confirmed by the Senate that July.

    • Richard Grenell, ambassador to Germany. Grenell, a Republican communications professional who spent seven years as spokesperson for the U.S. delegation to the U.N., joined Fox News as a contributor in 2009 and was still in the network’s employ when he was nominated to be ambassador to Germany in September 2017. He was confirmed in April 2018 “despite objections from Democrats that his past epithets about prominent female politicians made him unfit for the job.”

    • Morgan Ortagus, State Department spokesperson. After working in the Bush and Obama administrations, Ortagus became a Fox contributor, then was named State Department spokesperson in April.

    • Lea Gabrielle, State Department special envoy. In February, the State Department named Gabrielle, a former Fox News reporter, as special envoy and coordinator of the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, an agency that counters foreign propaganda and disinformation.

    • Monica Crowley, Treasury Department assistant secretary for public affairs (added 7/17/19). A C-list conservative commentator who spent two decades as a Fox contributor, Crowley was a reliable source of the network’s typical combination of bigotry, right-wing talking points, and attacks on the press. Most notably, she pushed several bigoted conspiracy theories about President Barack Obama’s heritage, including promoting a documentary about his purported “real father.” Trump’s plan to name her to a top National Security Council post was scuttled by revelations that she had plagiarized parts of her 2012 book and Ph.D. thesis, but she was appointed to the Treasury position in July 2019.

    Former Trump administration officials who used to work at Fox

    • Bill Shine, White House communications director. Shine, a close friend of Hannity’s who once produced his show, rose through the executive ranks at Fox News, eventually becoming network founder Roger Ailes’ right-hand man and then Fox co-president. Shine resigned from Fox in May 2017 after his reported role helping to cover up the network’s culture of sexual harassment became too embarrassing, but he landed a plum White House job as assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff for communications. Shine left the White House for a role on Trump’s reelection campaign in March 2019. His exit reportedly came in part because Trump “feels he was sold a bill of goods by Hannity,” who had urged the president to hire Shine to improve his press coverage.

    • Heather Nauert, acting undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. Nauert worked at Fox from 1998-2005 and 2007-2017 in a variety of roles. In April 2017, she left her position reading headlines as a news anchor on Fox & Friends, the morning program the president watches religiously, to become spokesperson for the State Department. In March 2018, she was named acting undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, replacing an official close to Rex Tillerson, who had just been ousted as secretary of state. She was nominated as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in December 2018, triggering stories about her lack of qualifications for the role outside of her Fox News connection. She withdrew from consideration for the post and left the administration in February, reportedly because her nomination was complicated by the fact she had “employed a nanny who was in the United States legally but was not legally allowed to work.”

    • Anthony Scaramucci, White House communications director. Scaramucci, a hedge fund mogul and a former Fox Business contributor and host, spent 10 days as White House communications director before his proclivity for giving expletive-laced interviews and publicly feuding with other White House staffers triggered his removal.

    • K.T. McFarland, deputy national security adviser. After serving in the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan administrations and losing a race against then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), McFarland became a Fox national security analyst. She used that position to push for war with Iran, defend the use of torture, and push for the profiling of Muslim Americans. In November 2016, Trump picked her to be deputy national security adviser under Michael Flynn. She served only briefly in that position. Flynn was replaced by H.R. McMaster in February 2017 following the revelation that Flynn had lied to the FBI and Vice President Mike Pence about whether he had discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition. McFarland was subsequently offered other opportunities in the administration and nominated to be U.S. ambassador to Singapore, but the nomination stalled over her connection to the Russia investigations -- she had reportedly been in contact with Flynn during his conversations with the Russian ambassador -- and she withdrew in February 2018.

    • Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to the president. A bombastic, self-proclaimed national security “expert” with dubious credentials, a proclivity for anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, and ties to foreign extremist groups, Gorka made frequent appearances on Fox News during the 2016 presidential campaign and was briefly hired by the network before decamping for the Trump White House. His job was ill-defined, and he apparently did little other than go on television to support the president before he was canned in August 2017. He then returned to Fox News as a full-fledged contributor, albeit one who was reportedly banned from appearing on the network’s “hard news” programming. In March, he left Fox for Sinclair Broadcast Group, whose stations now broadcast his bigotry around the country.

    • John McEntee, personal aide to the president. Fox hired McEntee as a production assistant in 2015. He later served as Trump’s personal aide both during the presidential campaign and in the White House. When McEntee was fired in March 2018, CNN reported that it was “because he is currently under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security for serious financial crimes.”

    • Tony Sayegh, Treasury Department assistant secretary for public affairs (updated 7/17/19). Sayegh, a former Republican communications consultant and Fox contributor, served as the top spokesperson for the Treasury Department from April 2017 to June 2019.

    • Mercedes Schlapp, White House director of strategic communications (updated 7/17/19). Before joining the White House in September 2017, Schlapp was a Republican political consultant and a Fox News contributor. In July 2019, she left the White House for Trump’s reelection campaign.

  • Monica Crowley, Fox promoter of bigoted conspiracy theories, named to top Treasury post

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Monica Crowley, President Donald Trump’s pick for the top communications position at the Treasury Department, is a longtime Fox News contributor who has pilloried journalists as “dishonest, hostile, biased, rude fake news” and has endorsed a series of racist conspiracy theories, including about President Barack Obama’s “real father.”

    Trump intends to nominate Crowley to be assistant secretary of the Treasury for public affairs, the White House announced Monday night. The position does not require Senate confirmation. 

    Crowley spent decades in right-wing media -- joining Fox in 1998 -- after serving as an aide to former President Richard Nixon in the early 1990s. At Fox, she was a C-list voice the network’s hosts regularly booked to provide the casual bigotries, hypocrises, talking points, and lies that fuel the Fox propaganda machine. 

    Her appointment is an additional sign of the unprecedented merger between Fox and the Trump White House. She is at least the 17th former Fox employee to join the administration and replaces Tony Sayegh, himself a former Fox contributor. 

    Crowley was previously tapped for a top communications job in Trump’s National Security Council shortly after his election. But she declined to take the position after CNN and Politico respectively reported that she had plagiarized portions of her 2012 book and her doctoral dissertation.  

    A few months later, she told Fox star Sean Hannity that she had been the victim of “a despicable, straight-up political hit job” and falsely claimed the charges had been “debunked.”

    Such attacks on journalism are as much a part of the job description for Trump administration communications staffers as they are for right-wing commentators. Crowley has been an eager combatant in this fight, regularly decrying the “corrupt,” “leftist” media while praising Trump for putting the “dishonest, hostile, biased, rude fake news in its place.”

    Crowley’s tenure as a conservative commentator is most notable for her adoption of conspiracy theories about Obama’s heritage during his presidency.

    She argued that it was “very legitimate” to question Obama’s birth certificate, argued that such issues “have traction” because of the then-president’s “un-American” policies, and speculated that Obama might not be a “natural-born citizen” eligible for the presidency. 

    Crowley also promoted the myths that Obama “is not Black African, he is Arab African” and that he might be a Muslim.

    Crowley’s promotion of bigoted conspiracy theories about Obama culminated with her enthusiastic promotion of Dreams from My Real Father, a 2012 documentary by conservative filmmaker Joel Gilbert that alleged that Obama is actually the biological son of the communist writer Frank Marshall Davis. 

    Gilbert’s film takes one actual fact -- Obama wrote in his memoir that he had been friendly with Davis as a teenager in Hawaii, having been introduced by his grandfather -- and uses fake sources and wild speculation to extrapolate that Davis is his “real father.” But mostly, the film’s thesis is based on Gilbert’s opinion that Obama looks more like Davis than he does the elder Barack Obama, and it features several juxtaposed images in which Gilbert circles their supposedly similar features.

    Crowley praised the film as “just dynamite” during an interview with Gilbert on her radio show, claiming that he had amassed “some very powerful evidence” and urging listeners to watch the documentary and “judge the story for themselves.”

    These are the sorts of people you end up hiring when you’re drawing on the Fox green room for your staff.

  • White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham grows into the job (by lying)

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After White House press secretary Sarah Sanders’ resignation was announced last month, I predicted that her replacement would almost certainly be just as bad. Sanders frequently lied and viciously attacked the press throughout her tenure. But those attributes, I wrote, should be seen less as particular character flaws than job requirements for the position under President Donald Trump, whose mendacity demands such behavior from his supporters.

    It didn’t take long for Sanders’ successor, Stephanie Grisham, to prove the point.

    Trump suggested in a virulently racist Sunday tweetstorm that Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” then “come back and show us how it is done.” 

    The tweets were indicative of the president’s racist, distorted view of U.S. citizenship as well as factually inaccurate. The remarks triggered a firestorm throughout the day on Monday as the media grappled with whether to describe them as racist, Democrats and some Republicans denounced the comments, other Republicans stood by the president, Trump doubled and tripled down on his comments, and the four congresswomen condemned his actions.

    On Monday afternoon, Grisham issued her first public response.

    Grisham sanded off the most obviously bigoted portions of Trump’s actual comments, took the portions that she perhaps wished he had actually said, presented the result as his actual comments, and slammed the media for reporting on what the president had really said instead. In short, when confronted with the president’s bigotry and lies, she lied and attacked the press, just as Sanders and Sanders’ predecessor Sean Spicer did before her.

    Grisham’s response is part of a broader effort by the president’s supporters to sanitize Trump’s tweets and repackage them in a way that supports the themes of his reelection campaign. His campaign’s rapid response director, Matt Wolking, led the way by claiming that “anyone who says the president told members of Congress to go back to where they came from is lying,” even though Trump actually said just that. He also repeatedly criticized journalists for purportedly “using selective quotes and not telling the whole story.”

    Meanwhile, top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway’s defense involved asking a reporter his ethnicity at the White House on Tuesday:

    To defend Trump, his aides need to lie to the public and delegitimize the press so that it is less effective at pointing out those lies. The problem isn’t the personnel; it’s the president.

  • Trump calls for a "treason" investigation based on a Fox & Friends news brief

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that his administration would review whether Google has committed “treason” after seeing a Fox & Friends news brief in which one of his biggest Silicon Valley supporters floated that baseless claim.

    Trump was responding to a Fox & Friends segment from earlier Tuesday morning, as he indicated by tagging the show’s Twitter handle and using quotes from its programming. An hour earlier, Fox news reader Jillian Mele began a news brief, “Billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel believes China should be investigated for treason.” As she spoke, Fox’s chyron read, “Thiel accuses Google of working with Chinese Govt.”

    Trump regularly watches Fox News programs like Fox & Friends (often on delay using his “Super Tivo”) and tweets about segments that catch his attention. This creates a feedback loop between the president and his most avid propagandists which can swing both the national news cycle and federal policy

    Fox segments spur some of the president’s most inflammatory comments -- this morning’s tweet marks at least the fourth time the president has responded to the network’s coverage by promoting a treason charge against his perceived enemies.

    In this case, Trump was picking up on an accusation from Thiel, a wealthy tech investor and major Trump donor who spoke at the 2016 Republican convention. In a speech on Sunday, Thiel said that Google’s decision to work with the Chinese government to produce a censored version of its search while letting a Pentagon contract lapse was “seemingly treasonous,” and he suggested without evidence that Google’s executive corps had been “infiltrated” by foreign intelligence services. “These questions need to be asked by the FBI and the CIA,” he added. (Thiel sits on the board of Facebook, a Google competitor.)

    The Pentagon has previously alleged that Google’s work in China provides a “direct benefit to the Chinese military,” and Trump has echoed the point. The tech company responded that it is not working with the Chinese military. 

    Thiel returned to the subject during a Monday night appearance on Fox News host and sometime Trump adviser Tucker Carlson’s show, floating what he described as “a few different possibilities” while offering no evidence for his claim of Chinese infiltration of and treason by Google. 

    “If [Google CEO] Sundar Pinchai was sitting right here, what would you say to him?” Carlson asked at one point.

    “Well, I would say, answer my three questions,” Thiel replied. “How many foreign intelligence agencies have infiltrated Google? Have the Chinese in particular infiltrated? And why are you working with Communist China and not the U.S.? What is the reason you're doing that?”

    “The questions you raise, and this is not in any way to minimize their importance, are kind of obvious questions,” Carlson replied. “Why hasn't the U.S. government ascertained the answers?”

    “It's possible that there are people in the U.S. government looking into it and they haven't told us, but yeah, I think the FBI and CIA would be the natural places to look into it,” Thiel said.

    Mele aired a clip from that interview during her news brief the following morning. 

    Fox’s credulous coverage of Thiel’s speculation -- and Trump’s parroting of those claims -- is no surprise. Right-wing activists and journalists have treated tech companies as an emerging enemy force in recent years. By inflating claims of purported bias against conservatives on social media platforms, they sought to redeploy ref-working tactics previously used against news media outlets. 

    Fueled by Fox, Trump has adopted this campaign as his own. Last year, Trump claimed Google’s search engine was “suppressing voices of Conservatives” and promised to act against it, apparently in response to a conspiracy-minded segment he saw on Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight

    Last week, Trump took that accusation from Twitter to the White House Rose Garden. “We had a terrible bias,” Trump said at Thursday’s “Presidential Social Media Summit,” an event that sought to mainstream previously fringe pro-Trump figures. “We have censorship like nobody has any understanding or nobody can believe.” 

  • Griff Jenkins' Fox & Friends guest-hosting gig destroys the network’s supposed news/opinion firewall

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade has been off all this week for the July 4 holiday. His replacement on Monday and Tuesday was fellow conservative commentator Pete Hegseth, a Republican politician turned Fox & Friends Weekend host and sometime presidential adviser. But for the last three days, Fox “news”-side correspondent Griff Jenkins has occupied Kilmeade’s seat on Fox & Friends’ curvy couch. Jenkins has been guest-hosting the show for years, and every single time it has undermined Fox’s own craven explanation for how the network operates. 

    When Fox’s putrid content triggers a backlash, the network inevitably claims that it simply features both combative “opinion” commentators and a professional “news” division, with total separation between the two. 

    “I think we have to make the wall between news and opinion as high and as thick and as impenetrable as possible,” chief news anchor Shepard Smith said last year. “We serve different masters. We work for different reporting chains, we have different rules.”

    This is a farcical narrative deployed to protect the network from facing the consequences of full public recognition that Fox is a right-wing disinformation and propaganda machine to its core. Fox’s purported “hard news” shows air conservative misinformation on a daily basis. Right-wing talking points pumped out by Fox’s “opinion” shows are echoed by its “news” shows. The commentary of “news” anchors and “opinion” hosts is at times indistinguishable. And the “news” team focuses on validating whatever stories conservatives are talking about, producing reports that serve as fodder for the “opinion” gang’s programs.

    But Fox’s practice of allowing the network’s purported “news” correspondents to sit in as guest hosts for opinion shows like Fox & Friends demonstrates that this argument is just a facade, even by the network’s own terms. 

    Jenkins’ official Fox bio details how flimsy the network’s purported “wall” between news and opinion really is. He got his start in media producing conservative icon Oliver North’s radio show. When North joined Fox as the host of War Stories in 2003, Jenkins came with him as the show’s producer. Jenkins subsequently switched to the network’s “news” side as a Washington-based correspondent, covering the last three presidential elections and a host of national news stories. But that work for the newsroom hasn’t kept him away from Fox’s “opinion” side -- “Jenkins often serves as a guest co-host” for both the weekday Fox & Friends and the program’s weekend edition, as the bio notes. 

    Indeed, Jenkins has sat in for Steve Doocy or Kilmeade seven times this year according to the Media Matters database, covering for their Memorial Day and Fourth of July vacations. He hung a lantern on the way Fox allows him to switch roles from “opinion” host to “news” correspondent while guest-hosting on July 3. 

    “I’m very excited because I’m going to leave this couch, go back to D.C. today to be out there on the Mall for you guys tomorrow morning,” Jenkins said of President Trump’s planned July 4 celebration in Washington. “I have been covering the Fourth of July for a while. I’ve never seen an M1A1 Abrams tank or a Bradley Fighting Vehicle or any planes flying over, so this is going to be quite exciting.” 

    It would be one thing if Jenkins’ presence exerted some sort of “news”-side gravitational pull over the program. Instead, this week’s turn on the couch saw Jenkins push White House talking points, such as the claims that “the crisis at the border [was] created by Democrats” who are now “running against the rule of law.” He’s also cheered on pro-Trump propagandists like Fox Nation personalities Diamond and Silk. And he’s sat idly by while right-wing guests have made absurd, inflammatory claims, as he did when radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that Democrats opposed putting a citizenship question on the census as part of a “globalist movement to eliminate the whole concept of citizenship” and “replace” it with “residents” to “control as much of the population as they can.” 

    In other words, he played the role of Fox & Friends “opinion” host to perfection.

  • How the Trump-Fox feedback loop nationalized a local city council vote

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In years past, Fox News needed several days of feverish coverage to push bogus stories from the right-wing universe into the mainstream press through a process we called the Fox Cycle. That mechanism has been supercharged by the Trump-Fox feedback loop: President Donald Trump frequently watches and tweets about segments that catch his eye, and because major news outlets treat his tweets as inherently newsworthy, he can with a single tweet drive mainstream coverage of the conservative network’s particular obsessions.

    This cycle has played out over and over again since Trump’s election, on topics from NFL protests to migrant caravans. The last 48 hours or so -- in which a Fox-fueled president turned a controversy involving the city council of St. Louis Park, MN, a community of 49,000 people, that had no impact on anyone’s material existence into a national story -- provide a perfect case study of this process.

    1. Fox News puts a dishonest spin on a culture war clash

    Fox & Friends devoted a news brief and a segment on Tuesday morning to the plight of St. Louis Park, where some residents had on Monday night protested the city council’s decision last month to stop saying the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of meetings. Fox News frequently tries to nationalize such local news stories, framing them as battles in a broader culture war. The St. Louis Park story is catnip for Fox, allowing its right-wing hosts to frame their antagonists as insufficiently patriotic effete liberals. 

    Fox aired a chyron during the segment that falsely suggested there had been a “ban” on saying the pledge:

    2. Trump sees Fox's coverage and responds on Twitter

    Trump on Tuesday followed his typical morning ritual of watching Fox & Friends and tweeting about what he saw. Fox’s coverage of the pledge grabbed his attention, and he picked up the chyron’s dishonest framing and tweeted, “Outrage is growing in the Great State of Minnesota where our Patriots are now having to fight for the right to say the Pledge of Allegiance. I will be fighting for you!” This has the effect of both turning Trump into the protagonist of Fox’s narrative and nationalizing what had been a local news story.

    3. National news outlets cover Trump’s comment

    Trump’s tweet drove the story from Fox & Friends into major national news outlets. The Associated Press and The Washington Post both reported on his comment.

    4. Fox goes into overdrive

    Taking its cue from the president, Fox “opinion” hosts and “news” anchors alike devoted significant coverage to St. Louis Park’s city council throughout the day on Wednesday and into Thursday morning, at times deploying the same dishonest frame that the pledge had been “ban[ned].”

    5. Trump tweets about story again, dumping more fuel on the fire

    Amid a stream of tweets about Fox programming on Thursday morning, Trump suggested that St. Louis Park’s city council and its supporters are showing “disloyalty to our wonderful USA!”

    6. New Trump tweet gives mainstream outlets opportunity to revisit story

    The Hill picked up Trump’s Thursday comments. It remains to be seen how much further the story might spread.

    It’s absurd that the president of the United States is devoting his time and attention to the decisions of a city council that represents a population of 49,000 people. But Fox is constantly looking for new grievances for its audience to get angry about, and the president is both a constantly aggrieved member of that audience and a political benefactor from such stories. That set of factors keeps turning Fox’s obsessions into national news.

  • Report: Fox editors suspect the network’s Seth Rich source may have never existed

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In May, Media Matters published a series marking the two-year anniversary of Fox’s publication of a story -- retracted seven days later -- that promoted the conspiracy theory that murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, and not the Russians, had provided DNC emails to WikiLeaks. Read part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, and our timeline of events

    Fox News editors “came to have doubts” about whether the network’s sole source for its subsequently retracted bombshell report that murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich had delivered tens of thousands of DNC emails to WikiLeaks “actually existed,” according to a new report from Yahoo News. 

    In May 2017, published a story from investigative reporter Malia Zimmerman which relied on an anonymous “federal investigator” from an unnamed agency to claim that Rich had provided WikiLeaks with the emails, contradicting the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russian intelligence operatives had done so. That story -- and the network’s strident on-air segments about it -- amplified a long-debunked conspiracy theory that had circulated online since Rich’s death 10 months earlier, engulfing his family in a new wave of pain and sorrow. 

    The article collapsed within hours, and a week later, Fox retracted it, saying it “was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting.” The network promised an internal investigation into how it had published the report. 

    No findings from that internal probe have ever been publicly revealed. Yahoo News chief investigative reporter Michael Isikoff provides a possible explanation for why in a Tuesday story promoting “Conspiracyland,” a forthcoming Yahoo News podcast on the Rich conspiracy theories:

    “Conspiracyland” quotes a source familiar with the network’s investigation saying that Fox executives grew frustrated they were unable to determine the identity of the other, and more important, source for the story: an anonymous “federal investigator” whose agency was never revealed. The Fox editors came to have doubts that the person was in fact who he claimed to be or whether the person actually existed, said the source.

    “Conspiracyland” will also detail how Russian intelligence agents planted the initial spate of Rich conspiracy theories and then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s role in advancing the story, according to Isikoff.

    Zimmerman reported that the unnamed “federal investigator” -- whom Fox executives were reportedly unable to identify and whose existence Fox editors came to question -- “said 44,053 emails and 17,761 attachments between Democratic National Committee leaders, spanning from January 2015 through late May 2016, were transferred from Rich to” a WikiLeaks operative. 

    Over the next week, Fox commentators would trumpet this claim as evidence undermining the conclusion that Russia had provided the DNC emails and thus debunking “the whole Russia collusion narrative,” as star host Sean Hannity put it.

    Publishing a story that purported to dispute the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies based on a single unnamed source was journalistically questionable. But if that source didn’t actually exist, it represents malpractice on a truly shocking level that the network would be loathe to reveal (Fox “declined to comment” to Isikoff, “citing ongoing litigation against the news network brought by the Rich family”). And this isn’t the first time Zimmerman’s use of anonymous sources has been called into question

    No one at Fox has been publicly disciplined for their role in the Rich mess, as Isikoff noted. Indeed, several key players were subsequently promoted

    The network raised Greg Wilson, who edited Zimmerman’s story, to managing editor of the following month. Porter Berry, the executive producer of Hannity’s show as the host went on nightly diatribes about the Rich case, now oversees all of the network’s digital content as a Fox vice president. Laura Ingraham, who suggested on air that the Rich family was covering up his death for partisan gain, now has her own prime-time show. 

    Meanwhile, Zimmerman still has her job at Fox, and Hannity speaks every night to an audience of millions. This lack of accountability is typical at the network. 

    “Most other news outlets, these situations come up, but they are dealt with appropriately,” a senior Fox News employee told CNN about the network’s response to its Rich coverage in 2017. “People are fired, they are disciplined or whatever. But this is like classic Fox. No one ever gets fired from Fox for publishing a story that isn't true."

  • “A magical event”: Fox & Friends propagandists swoon over Trump’s authoritarian-style July 4 makeover

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump has seized control of Washington, D.C.’s traditionally nonpartisan, nonpolitical July 4 celebration in an unprecedented fashion. An event that typically revolves around civic patriotism will take on an overtly military cast, with flyovers from military jets and tanks and other armored vehicles on display in a manner reminiscent of parades in dictatorships. A holiday that marks our nation’s independence will instead be all about Trump; he will give a campaign-style speech at the Lincoln Memorial at the height of festivities, whose ballooning cost required the National Parks Service to divert nearly $2.5 million originally earmarked for parks across the country. And in a clear sign of the day’s overt politicization, the Republican National Committee has access to a block of tickets to Trump’s remarks and is distributing them to high-dollar donors.

    No quasi-authoritarian celebration would be complete without fawning commentary from state TV propagandists. The co-hosts of Fox & Friends, the Fox News morning program Trump adores for treating him as the hero of every story, played that role with glee on Wednesday.

    “That big celebration is going to happen down in D.C.,” Ainsley Earhardt said at the top of the 7 a.m. hour. “The president's been talking about it on the Mall. And he is really fired up about it. He’s excited. He’s saying, ‘Let's bring in the tanks.’” 

    “His big Fourth is 'Salute to America.' That's what he is going to call it,” continued Brian Kilmeade. “The Pentagon and great military leaders are thrilled to be doing this and showing to the American people everything we’re paying for.” (In fact, as The New York Times has reported, “Pentagon officials have long been reluctant to parade tanks, missiles and other weapons through the nation’s capital like the authoritarian leaders of North Korea and China.”)

    “He’s going to have fireworks, military bands, flyovers, tanks and more military vehicles, and I’m sure a lot of people,” Earhardt added.

    “I’m very excited because I’m going to leave this couch, go back to D.C. today to be out there on the Mall for you guys tomorrow morning,” said Griff Jenkins, the Fox national correspondent who was filling in for Steve Doocy in a blatant breach of the network’s purported firewall between “news” and “opinion” programming. “I have been covering the Fourth of July for a while. I’ve never seen an M1A1 Abrams tank or a Bradley Fighting Vehicle or any planes flying over, so this is going to be quite exciting.” 

    “When you see those tanks rolling into your city, down into D.C., it gets you fired up, it gets you excited because you think about our military and that represents America,” replied Earhardt.

    Every story needs a villain, and for this one, it’s those in the news media who are less enthusiastic about the president’s big show. After airing a clip reel of commentators on other networks criticizing the planned celebration, the hosts jumped in to smear anyone who doesn’t support the parade as hypocritical and framed the critique as an attack on the troops.

    “What would they say if President Obama had done this, had brought in tanks?” added Earhardt. That statement comes so close to understanding the point -- before missing it entirely. Obama spent eight years in office without taking over the July 4th celebration in this way, presumably because he thought that would be a bad idea. And if he had taken it over, Fox assuredly would have denounced him for it rather than getting excited about the military hardware on display. 

    Fox & Friends returned to the story at the top of its third hour, opening the segment with video of tanks rolling through Washington, D.C. “They are just part of a magical event, which will include a parade and flyovers; the Blue Angels will be there and various other military aircraft,” explained Kilmeade.

    After excitedly discussing the complicated effort needed to get 60-ton tanks into the center of the nation’s capital (it involved a crane), the hosts again played the clip reel of the parade’s critics.  

    “They say the same thing every day,” commented Kilmeade. “They find everything that he does just so repulsive and so ridiculous and so overblown.”

    “Shouldn’t this be a bipartisan issue?” Earhardt replied in a baffled tone of voice. “We’re celebrating America.”

    “The president tends to be a disruptor,” Kilmeade later added. “He tends to do things his way.”

    “And he does it with a massive, big way,” replied Earhardt with a similarly sized grin. “You saw on our screen; it’s not just a few fighter jets that are going to be in the air. It was like ... six different aircraft.”

    “It’s awesome. I love it,” she concluded.

    No state TV broadcaster could have put it better.

    Update (7/3/19): Fox & Friends isn’t the only Fox show that can’t get enough of Trump’s militarized July 4 celebration.