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Matt Gertz

Author ››› Matt Gertz
  • Executive Time: White House aides reportedly tried to stop Trump’s Mueller indictment tirade with Fox hits

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Welcome to Executive Time, a recurring feature in which Media Matters senior fellow Matt Gertz explores the intersection between President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed and the hours of cable news he reportedly consumes daily, with a special focus on his favorite morning program, Fox & Friends. You can follow Matt’s work on Twitter @mattgertz and see previous installments in this series here.

    Days Trump appeared to live-tweet cable news since our last Executive Time update (2/2): 10 (seven editions of Fox & Friends, one edition each of Fox & Friends First, Fox & Friends Weekend, and Tucker Carlson Tonight).

    Tweets since our last Executive Time update apparently resulting from live-tweeting cable news: 30 (21 from Fox & Friends, six from Fox & Friends Weekend, two from Fox & Friends First, one from Tucker Carlson Tonight).


    White House aides, aghast at President Donald Trump’s angry public reaction to special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities, tried to get him back on track by booking spokesmen on his favorite Fox News programs, Time magazine’s Philip Elliott reported this week.

    After trying and failing to talk the president out of incorrectly declaring that Mueller had vindicated the president’s associates of collusion, White House aides sought to “mitigate that situation.”

    “Knowing the President’s fondness for Fox, the White House booked spokesmen to try to direct Trump toward a little less fanciful readings of the indictments,” Time reported.

    Trump’s allies have frequently tried to influence the president through his television screen, reportedly using the strategy on issues ranging from whether Trump should agree to an interview with Mueller to how the president should respond to January’s government shutdown.

    It’s certainly an understandable strategy. The president reportedly spends hours each day watching cable news, and, as I’ve documented, tweeting about what he sees in real time. He often praises or quotes Fox guests who make points that he likes.

    Given that Fox host Sean Hannity and the hosts of Fox & Friends often appear to be the president’s top advisers, it’s not surprising that people on his payroll would try to compete for his attention through the same medium.

    While Trump doesn’t praise White House staffers in the same way he does other Fox guests, I have documented him channeling their talking points immediately after they have appeared on Fox broadcasts he was watching. He’s done that in response to recent segments featuring:

    White House press secretary Sarah Sanders:

    White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short:
    White House counselor Kellyanne Conway:

    The aides have to be careful, however, not to make it too obvious to the president that they are going on television in an effort to influence him. After an August 2016 report indicated that his campaign aides were trying to do this, Trump reportedly lashed out at then-campaign chair Paul Manafort, shouting, "You think you've gotta go on TV to talk to me? You treat me like a baby! Am I like a baby to you? I sit there like a little baby and watch TV and you talk to me?" Trump fired Manafort soon after.

    And of course, the strategy is limited because Trump has other sources of information that impact his actions beyond the cable news appearances of his aides, including other Fox guests and a host of unsavory personal friends.

    While Time’s Elliott suggested that one Trump tweet on Saturday morning came in response to a Fox appearance by a White House aide, he also reported that Trump spent the rest of the day mingling with guests at his Mar-A-Lago club in Florida, calling his friends and outside advisers, and, inevitably, lashing out on Twitter at everyone from the FBI to his national security adviser to Oprah Winfrey.

    There are obvious flaws in a White House internal communications strategy that involves keeping the president from disaster by trying to sway him through his television set. But as long as Trump continues to spend hours each day with his TiVo, it may be the best way for the White House staffers to get their arguments in front of him through his preferred medium. Today’s news that former Trump campaign aide Richard Gates will plead guilty and cooperate with Mueller gives them their next opportunity.

    The president is live-tweeting

    Here are the Trump tweets since our last update which I am reasonably confident are the result of the president directly responding to cable news programs he had been watching.

    February 2. Two Fox & Friends First live tweets.

    February 5. Four Fox & Friends live tweets.

    February 6. Two Fox & Friends live tweets.

    February 7. Two Fox & Friends live tweets.

    February 10. Six Fox & Friends Weekend live tweets.

    February 12. One Fox & Friends live tweet.

    February 18. Two Fox & Friends live tweets.

    February 20. Six Fox & Friends live tweets.

    February 22. One Tucker Carlson Tonight live tweet.

    February 23. Four Fox & Friends live tweets.

  • Hannity says the Mueller indictment vindicates his Uranium One nonsense

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Fox News host Sean Hannity has decided that the real takeaway from special counsel Robert Mueller’s February 16 indictment of Russian nationals who allegedly meddled in the 2016 presidential campaign is that it vindicates his conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was bribed to help the Russian government purchase an American uranium company.

    The so-called Uranium One scandal was launched in 2015 by a discredited author who was employed by then-Breitbart.com head Steve Bannon and funded by top Trump donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer. The theory posited that Clinton played a "central role" as secretary of state in approving the 2010 purchase of mining company Uranium One by the Russian State Atomic Nuclear Agency because Russians and people linked to the deal had given money to her husband and to the Clinton Foundation.

    This was transparent nonsense and fell apart immediately under scrutiny. But Hannity has repeatedly returned to the story as various probes into the Russian effort to help Trump win the election continue, claiming that the Uranium One tale proves that Clinton was involved in the “real collusion” with Russia, not Trump. Earlier this month, for example, he relentlessly hyped the dubious claims of an FBI informant who was involved in an Obama-era federal investigation into the Russian nuclear industry. Justice Department officials reportedly deem the informant not credible, but Hannity claimed his story is a “huge bombshell.”

    Mueller's indictment on Friday of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities on alleged crimes stemming from Russian information warfare efforts on U.S. social media sites during the election has bizarrely provided Hannity with a new opportunity to talk about the mining deal.

    Hannity has echoed Republican Party operatives and the president himself in falsely claiming that Mueller’s Friday indictment vindicates Trump and his campaign aides. That’s deceptive, but frankly about what you expect from a pro-Trump propagandist. But Hannity has also used the indictment to make a truly absurd argument, citing Mueller's action in each of his last four programs as evidence that he has been on the right track in pushing Uranium One conspiracy theories.

    The indictment, Hannity explained on Friday night, shows “nothing short of a sophisticated effort by the Russians to gain influence in America.” According to Hannity, unlike the media, his show has been “telling you this, about Vladimir Putin, about Russian operatives, about how they've been involved in sophisticated schemes” -- like Uranium One.

    “Remember,” Hannity continued, “[Putin] had people, operatives on the ground with the purpose of breaking into America's uranium market. We also told you how those Russian operatives were involved and we knew it because we had an insider on the ground, an FBI informant that they were involved in bribery, in kickbacks, and money laundering, racketeering, all in a scheme, yes, tied to Hillary Clinton.”

    In fact, according to Hannity, Russia only tried to influence the 2016 election because it had been so successful in the Uranium One purchase. “Putin and Russia, they were successful in 2010, they got the uranium,” he explained. Four years later, he added, citing the indictment, “Russian nationals, they were working together, with a troll farm located in St. Petersburg, Russia, trying to influence the election,” he said. “Why wouldn't they after they got uranium?”

    This doesn’t make a lot of sense. The indictment doesn’t close the massive holes in the Uranium One story -- namely that Clinton has not been connected to any specific action in approving the deal. The suggestion that Trump, unlike former President Barack Obama, has boldly stood against the Russian threat clashes with Trump’s years of effusive praise for Putin and his unwillingness to this day to end questions about whether he actually thinks Russia tried to influence the election. And Hannity’s effort to link Russia’s success in purchasing Uranium One to its effort to help Trump win is both spurious and noxious.

    In the days that followed, Hannity and his crew of pro-Trump sycophants repeatedly returned to the Uranium One theme. Jeanine Pirro claimed Clinton’s purported Uranium One acts are the “real crime” and said that Mueller himself “should be the one being investigated” because “he was the head of the FBI when this attempt to find the uranium started.”

    Sebastian Gorka pushed the obvious falsehood that Clinton had personally approved the Uranium One sale and done so in spite of “laws on the book .. that say America must be self-reliant on uranium.”

    And Hannity himself has used the story to attack Obama, citing an oft-repeated but flagrantly false statistic in claiming that “no serious President would've allowed Vladimir Putin and Russia to get 20 percent of our uranium.”  

    Last night, Hannity hosted a panel of the pro-Trump journalists Sara Carter and John Solomon and the Uranium One informant’s right-wing lawyer Victoria Toensing before a live audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference. All three have played key roles in advancing the pseudo scandal, and Hannity praised them for it. “All these guys have been amazing in terms of helping us unpeel the onion,” he said after introducing them, adding that “they deserve Pulitzers at the end of the day.”

    After an extensive discussion of the Uranium One tale, Hannity asked, “Will this become bigger than any other scandal we are following?” The guests agreed that it would.

    It’s hard to rank the panoply of fabrications and conspiracy theories Hannity tries to use to protect the president, but I think they may be right. Uranium One always provides Hannity with exactly what he’s looking for -- a way to defend Trump from the Russia probe by attacking Clinton and Mueller. We’ll hear much more about this from him in the days to come.

  • Misinterpreting a judge’s order, right-wing media have convinced themselves that Michael Flynn is about to reverse his guilty plea

    The latest anti-Mueller bombshell actually amounts to a typo

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump’s overzealous defenders at Fox News spent yesterday using a misinterpretation of a standard order from the judge overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecution of former national security adviser Michael Flynn to speculate that Flynn’s guilty plea is on the verge of being vacated.

    Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in December and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election. But Judge Rudolph Contreras, who accepted Flynn’s plea, subsequently recused himself and was replaced by Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who issued an order that month directing Mueller to provide Flynn’s lawyers with any evidence they possess that is favorable to the defendant. The disclosure of this information can be required under the Brady rule, named after the 1963 case Brady v. Maryland.

    That’s a huge deal, according to conservative media figures like Fox judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano, who have spent months spuriously attacking Justice Department and FBI officials for their conduct during the Russia investigation. “Why would [Sullivan] want that after Gen. Flynn has already pleaded guilty? That is unheard of,” Napolitano asked on yesterday’s Fox & Friends in a segment featuring the caption, “Will Flynn Reverse His Guilty Plea?” Napolitano then suggested an answer: “He must suspect a defect in the guilty plea. Meaning he must have reason to believe that Gen. Flynn pleaded guilty for some reason other than guilt.”

    Other Fox programs picked up Napolitano’s theory over the course of the day. That afternoon, the Fox panel show Outnumbered portrayed the Sullivan order as an indication of “new questions about the circumstances” of Flynn’s guilty plea, with co-host Katie Pavlich falsely claiming that Sullivan’s order had explicitly told Mueller’s probe that “it’s very clear that you withheld some pretty important information.” And that evening, Fox host Martha MacCallum opened her show over the caption “Flynn Could Flip Guilty Plea,” discussing the order, which she described as “raising eyebrows,” in back-to-back interviews with Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, and Napolitano. Turley argued that “it's important not to read too much into this” and suggested it’s unlikely that the order will lead to any changes in Flynn’s plea. Napolitano said Sullivan’s move was very unusual and could indicate improper coercion by the Mueller team but walked back the explicit statement he made on Fox & Friends about Sullivan’s motivation, asking of the judge, “Does he suspect some defect in Michael Flynn's guilty plea? We don't know the answer to that.”

    In this latest salvo in Fox’s monthslong campaign to undermine the Mueller probe by any means necessary, the network is picking up on a theory that ping-ponged through the right-wing media over the last week.

    National Review’s Andrew McCarthy and The Washington Examiner’s Byron York were the first main proponents of the notion that the Sullivan order represents a “curious” or “unusual” turn in the Flynn case. The Federalist’s Margot Cleveland added a new twist over the weekend, arguing that a revised version of the order Sullivan issued Friday suggested that Flynn was about to withdraw his guilty plea. All three pieces have been widely aggregated by other right-wing outlets, far-right trolls, and fake news websites who are all rushing to declare the Flynn guilty plea is in jeopardy.

    Notably, McCarthy and York placed the same sizable caveat in their pieces: In McCarthy’s words, “It could be that this is just Judge Sullivan’s standard order on exculpatory information, filed in every case over which he presides.” But oddly, while such caveats implicitly acknowledge that the story would be much less interesting if Sullivan is among the federal judges who issue standing Brady orders for every one of the criminal cases on their dockets, neither writer seems to have actually bothered to check if that is actually his practice.

    I checked, and it is. As he explained in a 2016 law review article calling for the amendment of the rules of federal criminal procedure to incorporate such disclosures, “I now issue a standing Brady Order in each criminal case on my docket, which I update as the law in the area progresses.” Thus, Sullivan’s action was not “unusual” or “curious,” but simply what he does in every single criminal case he oversees.

    Napolitano and his ilk seem to have picked up the story York and McCarthy put forth, but stripped off their caveat and instead asserted as fact that Sullivan’s action must be because he suspects some sort of malfeasance from Mueller, or even because, as Napolitano suggested, Flynn was not guilty to begin with.

    The Federalist’s Cleveland makes a slightly different argument. On Friday, after the publication of York’s and McCarthy’s pieces, Sullivan issued a second, slightly different order. Cleveland focuses on this second order, which she writes “added one sentence specifying that the government’s obligation to produce evidence material either to the defendant’s guilt or punishment ‘includes producing, during plea negotiations, any exculpatory evidence in the government’s possession.’” According to Cleveland, this is a big deal “because it indicates that, if the government did not provide Flynn material evidence during plea negotiations, Flynn has grounds to withdraw his plea.”

    Cleveland concludes that this second order reveals that “a motion by Michael Flynn to withdraw his guilty plea based on government misconduct is likely in the works,” even though Cleveland acknowledged that even in that scenario, “the Supreme Court has never addressed the question of whether a defendant may withdraw a guilty plea if the prosecution withholds exculpatory evidence during plea negotiations.”

    It’s theoretically possible Sullivan really has come to suspect some sort of improper behavior by the Mueller team. But the docket in the case provides a far simpler, more banal explanation for what is happening.

    As legal blogger and attorney Susan Simpson noted in a tweetstorm about the Sullivan conspiracy theories, Sullivan explained that in December, he had accidentally entered an older version of the Brady order that he issues in every criminal case, rather than the “current version,” and was seeking to remedy that error. It’s not a bombshell, it’s effectively a typo.

    The right-wing claims that Flynn’s guilty plea may soon be vacated come amid a broader, furious effort to vindicate him.

    Flynn’s fierce defenses of Trump, declaration that Hillary Clinton should be locked up, and willingness to interact directly with right-wing conspiracy theorist trolls like Mike Cernovich made him a hero to the dregs of the “alt-right.” And over the last month, those conspiracy theorists have rallied behind him.

    Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone kicked things off on February 5, claiming on Infowars that Flynn’s lawyers were on the verge of filing a motion to dismiss the charges against him on the grounds that “that Assistant FBI Director Andrew McCabe told a teleconference of law enforcement officials, ‘first we fuck Flynn, then we fuck Trump.’” Stone claimed that pro-Trump outlets The Hill and Circa had confirmed that quote from McCabe, a longtime target of Trump supporters, but I found no evidence to support that. The quote does, however, appear in a March 2017 piece from the website True Pundit, which is notorious for publishing fabrications and fake news stories.

    “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec has also been a leading Flynn champion, highlighting many of the reports about the Sullivan orders to buttress the #ClearFlynnNow campaign Posobiec has been promoting all month. According to Posobiec, the campaign is needed because “Flynn was framed.”

    That online campaign is part of the “increasingly bold calls for presidential pardons” Trump’s supporters are demanding for those implicated by the Mueller probe, especially Flynn, Politico reported February 19.

    Meanwhile, as the pro-Trump media struggle to construct an alternate reality in which the Mueller probe is constantly on the verge of collapse, yesterday also brought the news that lawyer Alex van der Zwaan had pleaded guilty after Mueller charged him with lying to FBI investigators about other aspects of the Russia probe.

    van der Zwaan -- who has worked on behalf of indicted former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and whose father-in-law is a Russian oligarch -- joins 18 other people and three companies who have been indicted or have pleaded guilty due to the Mueller investigation.

  • Executive Time Super Bowl Edition: How the Trump-Fox feedback loop kept his NFL feud alive

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Welcome to Executive Time, a recurring feature in which Media Matters senior fellow Matt Gertz explores the intersection between President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed and the hours of cable news he reportedly consumes daily, with a special focus on his favorite morning program, Fox & Friends. You can follow Matt’s work on Twitter @mattgertz and see previous installments in this series here.

    Days Trump appeared to live-tweet cable news since our last Executive Time update (1/18): Six (two editions of Fox & Friends, three editions of Fox & Friends Weekend, one edition of Fox & Friends First).

    Tweets since our last Executive Time update apparently resulting from live-tweeting cable news: 16 (nine from Fox & Friends, six from Fox & Friends Weekend, one from Fox & Friends First).


    At the State of the Union Tuesday night, President Donald Trump took a thinly-veiled shot at largely African-American NFL players who have protested racial inequality and police brutality by kneeling during the pre-game national anthem over the course of the football season. This Sunday night, tens of millions of Americans who tune in to watch Super Bowl LII will find out if any of the New England Patriots or the Philadelphia Eagles respond by protesting before the game begins.

    Trump lashed out at protesting football players at a September 22 rally for Alabama Republican Senate candidate Luther Strange, urging fans to “leave the stadium” if players knelt during the anthem and calling on NFL owners to fire players who did so. Those remarks created a firestorm that consumed the press for several days, as the president furiously defended his racial demagoguery and more NFL players protested during the anthem in response.

    Over the ensuing months, Trump has continued a running war against the NFL which he largely conducts through early-morning tweets attacking the players for protesting and the league for not forcing them to stand. Based on my research, the timing and method of the president’s criticisms are not a coincidence.

    The engine of Trump’s ongoing attacks on the NFL is Fox & Friends, his favorite morning show. The president frequently begins his day by live-tweeting that program (often on a tape delay), highlighting its praise for his administration and its slashing criticism of his foes. Reviewing the president’s tweets on the protests, I’ve determined that at least 13 of them on nine separate days appear to be the result of Trump responding to Fox’s coverage.

    All three networks devoted a great deal of programming to the protests after Trump’s September 22 comments. But Fox gave significantly more coverage to anthem protests than the other cable news networks, continued to provide regular updates long after the first few days, and generally struck a harshly critical tone in keeping with its virulent response to other protest movements by African-Americans, such as Black Lives Matter.

    This created a feedback loop between Fox and Trump: By continuing to provide updates on the state of the protest, the network reminded Trump of his feud with the league and triggered his quick response. Trump’s Fox live-tweets about the NFL often drove additional coverage from other outlets, as puzzled journalists struggled to determine why the president was reigniting a dormant fight.

    For this piece, I reviewed Trump’s tweets about the national anthem since his initial comments in Alabama. It quickly became apparent that his tweets over the first few days after his rally speech would be impossible to match to any discrete cause -- they were too many, and the news coverage across all outlets too regular to draw such conclusions.

    But beginning with the president’s tweets on September 25 and continuing to as recently as November 28, I found more than a dozen Trump tweets that I believe can be ascribed to him live-tweeting Fox. These tweets were all sent between the hours of 5 a.m. and 9 a.m., came within an hour of a Fox segment on the issue, were often part of a string of tweets that all match Fox programming, and frequently included language or details that seem ripped directly from the network’s coverage.

    September 25

    Beginning at 6:05 a.m. ET, Fox & Friends aired a segment about how the day before, in Steve Doocy’s words, “More than 200 players took a knee in the largest protest since Colin Kaepernick started the practice a year ago.” The hosts criticized the players for protesting, as Brian Kilmeade put it, “during the national anthem, not just for the military -- for the country.” Later in the segment, Kilmeade said, “What’s interesting is, NASCAR has a different approach. Richard Petty and Richard Childress essentially said if any of my people do not go out and stand for the national anthem, they won’t be on my team anymore.” Kilmeade also reported that NFL fans at games in New England and Buffalo had booed the players. Captions during the segment included “President: It’s About Respect, Not Race,” and “NFL Fans Cry Foul.”

    Roughly 14 minutes after the segment ended, Trump sent the first of three tweets about the protests, which track closely with Fox’s coverage:

    September 26

    The hosts opened the show by discussing how the Dallas Cowboys and the team’s evil, soulless owner, Jerry Jones, had locked arms and taken a knee together before the national anthem played at the game the previous night, but stood during its performance. They played a clip from the game of an announcer saying that “boos can be heard from this sell-out crowd” as the players knelt. Kilmeade quibbled with a report that said that there was a “smattering of boos” during the protest, commenting, “that is loud.” Doocy agreed that there was “a lot of booing from the Dallas Cowboy and the Cardinals fans when they took the knee,” but “a gigantic cheer when the national anthem was played and the flag came.”

    The hosts went on to praise the Cowboys for standing up during the anthem, with Kilmeade saying they did “a better job of getting their message out” because it “takes patriotism out of it.” Later in the segment, they reported that the NFL’s ratings had fallen, attributing that to fan anger over the protests. But according to Doocy, “The pregame [ratings] this past weekend were really high because so many people, after the president’s comments, wanted to see whether anybody was going to stand or sit or take a knee.”

    The segment ended at 6:10 a.m. Eighteen minutes later, the president started tweeting about the Cowboys game, with his comments again tracking closely with Fox’s coverage:

    October 9

    On October 8, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game in an obvious political stunt when several players took a knee during the national anthem. The next morning, former Pence press secretary Marc Lotter appeared on Fox & Friends to praise the vice president. Lotter criticized the players, saying they “disrespect the flag, disrespect the national anthem and those who defend it.” He pushed back against the notion that Pence’s appearance was a stunt, calling the trip to the game “long-planned.”

    The segment ended at 6:40 a.m. Twenty-five minutes later, the president tweeted:

    October 10

    Discussing former NFL coach Mike Ditka’s criticism of players who protest during the anthem, co-host Ainsley Earhardt urged the players, “If you have a problem with the country, protest, do whatever you want -- do it peacefully. You can take a knee, just don’t do it during the national anthem, too many people have died for this country."

    Moments later, Trump tweeted:

    That was one of five consecutive Trump tweets that I previously matched to Fox & Friends segments from that morning, one of which featured Trump praising an author’s book on Twitter roughly 45 minutes after the author appeared on the network and praised the president.

    October 11

    Fox & Friends ran multiple segments during the 6 a.m. hour highlighting a letter NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent teams in which he said that “we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem.”

    Fox was the only cable news outlet to cover the story during that hour before Trump appeared to respond to the program on Twitter:

    Fox also ran several segments that hour discussing the president’s tax cut plan, which was consistent with two other tweets the president sent that morning.

    October 18

    At 6:25 a.m., Fox & Friends ran a segment criticizing the NFL for deciding not to force the players to stand during the national anthem or punish players who kneel. The co-hosts and contributor Tomi Lahren condemned the NFL’s decision, with Lahren calling Goodell “spineless” and saying that football fans will revolt because “we love our country.”

    About half an hour later, Trump tweeted:

    This was one of four tweets that morning that match Fox & Friends programming.

    November 20

    Early in the broadcast, the Fox & Friends hosts criticized Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch for sitting during the U.S. national anthem and standing for the Mexican anthem during a game that weekend in Mexico City. Kilmeade called the story an “international embarrassment” and said the players union needs to “crack down because it’s hurting the league. Nine percent, the attendance is down. Ratings are down.”

    No other network covered Lynch’s protest that hour. Less than twenty minutes after the segment ended, Trump tweeted:

    Later that hour, Trump tweeted about a different Fox & Friends segment, tagging the program and Fox Business host Stuart Varney in the tweet.

    November 22

    During the 5 a.m. hour of Fox & Friends First, co-host Rob Schmitt reported a “possible game-changer to the NFL anthem policy: the league owners have a new proposal to keep the players in the locker room.” Co-host Jillian Mele responded, “Is that really the solution? Social media says not so much” and termed the idea “a Band-Aid.” Fox’s Carley Shimkus then said the proposal “could cause more controversy for the NFL,” reiterating that owners are considering “keeping teams in the locker room during the national anthem next season” and airing a series of tweets from critical fans.

    Roughly half an hour later, Trump tweeted:

    November 28

    During the 7 a.m. hour, Earhardt reported that “the NFL continues to struggle as protest against the anthem rages on. 23 players choosing to protest the performance during Sunday’s game.” Kilmeade linked the protests to weak attendance and ratings at games. The program then hosted “The Daily Rants Guy” Graham Allen and comedian and blogger Chad Prather to criticize the players and the league.

    About 20 minutes after the segment, Trump tweeted:

    This was one of two apparent Trump live-tweets that morning.

    The president is live-tweeting

    Here are the Trump tweets since our last update which I am reasonably confident are the result of the president directly responding to cable news programs he had been watching.

    January 18. Six Fox & Friends live-tweets.

    January 20. Four Fox & Friends Weekend live-tweets.
    January 23. Three Fox & Friends live-tweets.
    January 27. One Fox & Friends Weekend live-tweet.

    January 28. One Fox & Friends Weekend live-tweet.

    February 1. One Fox & Friends First live-tweet.

    Shelby Jamerson contributed research.
  • Devin Nunes' "release the memo" saga is a transparent farce, but it's working

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    As early as today, a controversial three-and-a-half page document authored by Republicans on the House intelligence committee may be released to the public. The committee’s Republican members, led by Chairman Devin Nunes, a close ally to President Donald Trump, claim the memo contains damaging information about the early stages of the FBI’s investigation into Trump associates’ ties to Russia that will shock the republic to its core. Democrats respond that the document is a shoddy political salvo that rips information from its proper context in a brazen effort to undermine our institutions. The FBI is publicly warning that the memo makes “material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.” And it should be obvious to anyone who’s been paying attention that Nunes long since gave up any real credibility to act as an arm of the White House, and that this effort is an explicit, deliberate attempt to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

    With Trump expected to aid the memo’s publication, we’ll all know its contents shortly. But at this point, the memo’s actual claims are all but irrelevant -- what matters is the way it will be used by the president’s allies as fodder against Mueller. To the extent that he has been able to keep the media’s attention on the memo’s contents, Nunes has already achieved his aim: He’s confused the public, diverted attention from the administration’s misdeeds, and riled up the Republican base in defense of the president.

    It was a fairly obvious political stunt: Nunes drafted the memo in secret and sent Republican members out to trumpet its conclusions (complete with a hashtag!) as worse than Watergate yet claim they are unable to speak to its details, and publically demand action to release it. His tactic has generated two weeks of hollow scandal coverage from the mainstream press and frighteningly catastrophic doomsaying promotion from the president’s media allies.

    Meanwhile, Nunes has successfully siphoned off a portion of the media’s attention from the ongoing revelations of obstruction and corruption in the Trump administration -- as well as the Republican Congress’ willingness to aid his unprecedented demolition of political norms -- and focused them instead on what amounts to his op-ed. Every inch of front-page space or every minute of television coverage journalists spend reporting on the memo is one they can’t use to report on the president asking the then-acting FBI director whom he voted for, or that he ordered Mueller’s firing only to back off when the top White House lawyer threatened to resign, or that he asked the deputy attorney general if he was “on my team” -- all stories that broke since the #ReleasetheMemo campaign began.

    The result is likely a confused public that doesn’t quite know what’s going on but has heard that the FBI might have done something wrong, and a frenzied Republican base unshakably convinced that the FBI’s leadership is anti-Trump and needs to be purged immediately.

    This is the lesson Republicans learned long ago: If you have control over the congressional investigative apparatus, you can wield it as a weapon against your political foes. The conservative press will champion your wildest fantasies and savage the mainstream press for refusing to sufficiently cover your investigations. And journalists, otherwise grounded in reality, find themselves trapped, unable to ignore a GOP committee chair’s allegations, however implausible, bound by norms of impartiality against stating directly that the investigators are acting in bad faith.

    It seems there is no amount of incompetence or malfeasance that the Republicans can demonstrate that can break this cycle. You can shoot a melon in your backyard as evidence that a presidential aide didn’t really commit suicide, and your investigations will still get covered. You can openly declare that your investigation is succeeding because it’s driving down the poll numbers of its target, and your investigations will still get covered. Your efforts to work on behalf of the White House can be so obvious as to trigger a string of stories about your lack of credibility and even lead to your recusal from an investigation, but a year later you can be back in action, and your investigations will still get covered.

    At best, the claims end up getting covered as a controversy. But that favors the Republican aggressors because you can’t cover a dispute without promoting their position, helping them inflame doubts in the minds of the public.

    If reporters believe that congressional investigators are acting in bad faith, the only way to get that information out to the public is to center their stories around that point. But few are willing to do so.

  • The Fox propagandists urging Trump to criminally investigate Robert Mueller

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    NBC News reported today that President Donald Trump has been “talking to friends about the possibility of asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to consider prosecuting” special counsel Robert Mueller and members of his team on unstated charges as part of the administration’s effort to discredit and defang the Russia investigation. One Trump adviser explained to the network, “Here's how it would work: 'We're sorry, Mr. Mueller, you won't be able to run the federal grand jury today because he has to go testify to another federal grand jury.’"

    Several of Trump’s closest media allies, similarly seeking to protect the president by undermining the Mueller probe, have been declaring Mueller guilty of crimes and calling for his arrest and prosecution for months.

    On May 19, 2017 -- just two days after Mueller was announced as special counsel -- Fox judicial analyst Gregg Jarrett wrote that Mueller should resign because he had a conflict of interest in violation of the law governing the special counsel. The conflict, per Jarrett, was that “He and [former FBI director James] Comey are good friends and former colleagues who worked hand-in-hand at the FBI and Department of Justice. Agents will tell you they were joined at the hip.”

    This is apparently nonsense -- Mueller and Comey were longtime colleagues but not personally close, and experts say the relationship does not rise to the level of an illegal conflict of interest.

    Nonetheless, Jarrett’s claims found a ready audience with Fox News host Sean Hannity, who repeatedly cited his theory while arguing that Mueller had broken “not one, but two laws” and needed to resign or be fired. The Fox host has also regularly denounced Mueller’s team as a “Democratic hit squad,” suggesting the team members have a multitude of conflicts of interest of their own.

    Hannity -- who has spent much of the past year defending Trump from the Russia probe and denouncing his foes in increasingly vitriolic terms -- has the ear of the president, who regularly calls Hannity after his nightly broadcast.

    Then there’s Jeanine Pirro, a former district attorney and current Fox host who is a friend of the president and was interviewed for the deputy attorney general slot during Trump’s transition. During a November meeting with the president and his top aides in the Oval Office, she reportedly blasted Sessions for not investigating the Uranium One pseudoscandal, urging the appointment of a special counsel to handle the matter.

    Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone has claimed that a Uranium One special counsel would be the key to ending the Mueller investigation, because the incident occurred while he was the head of the FBI and Mueller “can’t be a special prosecutor when he himself is under investigation.” Experts say this doesn’t really make sense -- unless Mueller was the target of the second special counsel’s probe.

    Pirro has repeatedly called for a criminal investigation of Mueller on Fox. Discussing Uranium One during an October appearance on Fox & Friends, the president’s favorite morning show, she said that Sessions “needs to do a grand jury” because Mueller “is totally conflicted.” She also criticized Mueller during a December rant in which she asserted: “There is a cleansing needed in our FBI and Department of Justice. It needs to be cleansed of individuals who should not just be fired but need to be taken out in handcuffs."

    Then there’s the Fox Business host the president calls “the great Lou Dobbs.” “A call for the firing of Robert Mueller no longer really truly satisfies any call for accountability,” Dobbs said on December 4, adding that Mueller and a few others “should be the subjects of criminal investigations and held fully accountable for crimes against the sitting president and the voters who supported them.”

    The president’s media allies have also urged him to fire Mueller, and demanded the firing or imprisonment of key Justice Department and FBI leaders.

    A presidential demand for a criminal investigation into a prosecutor investigating his own conduct would be a step down the dark path toward authoritarianism. It would also fly in the face of long-standing protocols that seek to ensure the rule of law by firewalling the Justice Department’s investigations from White House dictates.

    But given Trump’s reported inability to “understand why he cannot simply give orders to ‘my guys’ at what he sometimes calls the ‘Trump Justice Department,’” and his past attempts to pressure senior law enforcement officials to do his bidding and fire those who refuse, the sanctity of those protocols can no longer be guaranteed.

    Tonight, the president will reportedly address the need to “see our country united” during the State of the Union speech. His media allies will be cheering him on -- and hoping that the next day brings a renewed push to purge the law enforcement apparatus of those insufficiently loyal to the president.

  • Amid reports Trump may fire Rosenstein over Mueller inquiry, a Fox News drumbeat urges him on

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    President Donald Trump is newly frustrated with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, according to several recent reports, some of which suggest the president is contemplating firing him. While the president fumes, an array of his closest allies at Fox News are encouraging him to remove or even imprison the Republican longtime federal prosecutor who currently oversees special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

    The pro-Trump media’s attacks on Rosenstein are not new -- his appointment of Mueller last May and his refusal to countenance removing the special counsel has made him a regular target. Sean Hannity called for Rosenstein's resignation as early as June, while other network figures have described him as part of a Justice Department “cartel, the equivalent of the mob” engaged in “what essentially amounts to a coup d'etat against Trump.

    But the tempo of the criticisms has dramatically increased over the past 10 days, as Trump’s propagandists have focused on the need to release a memo drafted by Republicans on the House intelligence committee. GOP members claim the memo shows the FBI and DOJ were biased against the president during the early phases of their investigation into improper communications between Trump associates and Russia, while Democratic members call it a cherry-picked weapon aimed at dismantling Mueller’s investigation.

    According to The New York Times, the memo focuses in part on Rosenstein’s actions, which the paper reports “indicates that Republicans may be moving to seize on his role as they seek to undermine the inquiry.” That could give Trump cover to fire Rosenstein and replace him with someone more amenable to either ending or curbing the special counsel’s investigation.

    Since Republican members of Congress first began discussing the memo on January 18, the president’s friends at Fox have engaged in a withering drumbeat of Rosenstein criticism, at times calling for his firing or even his arrest.

    Hannity, a sometime presidential adviser who has turned his show into a nightly assault on the rule of law in an effort to protect Trump from the Russia investigation, said the night after the memo story first gained credence: “Rod Rosenstein, you need to explain your role in all of this and specifically if you were involved in extending this FISA warrant. And, frankly, Rod Rosenstein needs to be fired.” Hannity again called for Rosenstein to be “fired and investigated” on January 22. He has described the deputy attorney general as “corrupt,” suggesting he was part of a “rogue group of Obama administration holdovers that despise Donald Trump” that were “abus[ing] the powerful, unmatched tools of intelligence that we give our government to protect us” in order to “influence first the election and then undermine the choice of the American people.” He also questioned whether Rosenstein might be part of a non-existent anti-Trump “secret society.”

    Gregg Jarrett, a low-profile Fox News anchor who emerged last year as the network’s leading legal defender of the president, told Hannity on Wednesday night that Rosenstein had approved an “illegal investigation.” In an appearance on Lou Dobbs’ Fox Business show the same evening, he claimed that Rosenstein has “serious political bias” and may have committed a federal crime that carries a 10-year prison sentence. Dobbs, who frequently suggests that various people have broken the law by not being sufficiently supportive of the president, replied, “So when do the arrests start?” After Jarrett said that should have happened long ago but “it was hidden for a long time,” Dobbs replied, “I hope that’s also a federal crime.”

    Discussing the memo on Justice with Jeanine Pirro on Saturday, Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton claimed that there needs to be “pressure on the FBI to clean out its ranks at the leadership level,” adding, “If Rod Rosenstein isn’t going to do it, they should find someone who will.” Pirro, who has repeatedly called for the arrests of DOJ and FBI leaders and met with Trump in the White House in November, responded, “I got to tell you I couldn’t agree with you more. That place is dirty.”

    And in an appearance on Fox’s The Ingraham Angle, former Trump adviser Roger Stone said that Rosenstein “is not on the level” and should be fired.

    Is Trump angry at Rosenstein and contemplating firing him because of Fox’s coverage? Is Fox providing so much negative coverage about Rosenstein because its hosts know the president wants him out? Are the two efforts happening entirely in parallel? Fox’s dual role as the president’s news source and the propaganda megaphone trumpeting his message to his base, as well as the propensity of several Fox figures to advise him privately, makes it difficult to draw causality arrows. But what’s clear is that if Trump does move against Rosenstein, his most loyal followers will already be primed to accept the effort as the logical response to a purportedly disloyal Justice Department official.

  • How Fox & Friends (barely) covered reports that Trump tried to fire Mueller

    It didn't happen, but if it did happen it's fine

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The revelation that President Donald Trump ordered the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller last June only to reverse course when the White House counsel threatened to resign rather than carry out that order is currently dominating the news cycle. The story was first reported by The New York Times and has since been confirmed by several other outlets. But if you tuned in this morning to the president’s favorite news show, Fox News’ Fox & Friends, you may have missed the news.

    The program barely mentioned the story this morning, giving it a total of six minutes and 16 seconds of discussion* over the course of three hours. Co-hosts Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and Pete Hegseth regularly shill for the president on matters large and small, but -- like some of their colleagues -- seemed baffled as to how to spin the Mueller report in Trump's favor. They alternated between suggesting that everyone should take the president at his word that the story is “fake news,” claiming that even if it did happen it was no big deal, and saying that no one cares about it. Notably, the hosts largely avoided discussing the portion of the story in which White House counsel Donald McGahn threatened to resign rather than ask the Justice Department to dismiss Mueller.

    Fox & Friends opened its 6 a.m. hour by mocking the Times’ story and highlighting the president’s response.

    In rapid succession, Hegseth said the report was “typical New York Times” because it was based on anonymous sources, claimed that it “screams of a leak from the special counsel,” and suggested it was old news because reporting at the time indicated that “the president wasn't happy with Bob Mueller” before concluding that the Times provided “some new details that may or may not actually be true.”

    Earhardt then promptly moved on, saying: “All right, well, the president says it's fake news. That happened last June. Do you -- it's something we have to tell you have about because it is a headline on The New York Times. What do you think about that? Do you even care? Something you probably do care about is immigration.” The hosts did not reference Fox chief national correspondent Ed Henry’s report last night confirming that the White House counsel and other aides had talked Trump out of firing Mueller.

    And that one-minute 13-second discussion was basically it for the program’s coverage of the story in the first hour (aside from a passing mention in an unrelated segment and an insipid tease of the second hour). While MSNBC and CNN covered the news far more extensively, Fox & Friends quickly moved on to stories more promising for its audience, including segments on “downfalls of the single-payer system” and how New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo “wants free college for Dreamers.”

    The second hour of Fox & Friends brought another brief discussion of the story, as Fox chief White House correspondent John Roberts, who is with Trump at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, said the president had been “dealing with” the story that day and confirmed that the president had discussed firing Mueller last summer. With that, Doocy changed tacts, asking Roberts, “Doesn't the president of the United States have the authority to fire anybody in the administration he wants to?” Roberts replied that the president could ask Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller, but could not do it directly.

    Hegseth then again mentioned that the president had called the story “fake news,” before saying that even if it is true, it’s not worthy of the level of attention it has gotten from the “fake news, so-called mainstream media.” According to Hegseth, “It's a huge difference between talking and taking action,” and because the president hadn’t actually fired Mueller, “we didn’t learn anything new” from the Times report.

    “He says it's fake news,” added Earhardt. “So let's move on to talk about something that you all care about. That's the wall. And that's keeping America safe.” And move on they did, with second-hour segments focusing on how “FBI texts revealed pro-Clinton bias” and how former President Barack Obama had taken undue credit for economic growth in the U.S.

    Then around 7:30 a.m., the hosts turned to someone else who is paid to defend the president, White House senior communications adviser Mercedes Schlapp, to briefly discuss the story. Doocy introduced the interview by claiming that the story said that Trump had asked McGahn to fire Mueller and McGahn had replied, “You know what, I’m not going to do that, it would be bad politically,” presenting it as a simple dispute rather than, as the Times reported, McGahn threatening to quit rather than carry out Trump’s order and the president backing down.

    Here are Doocy’s “questions” on the subject to Schlapp, who admitted she hadn’t actually talked to the president about the incident:

    • “So the president says The New York Times story ain’t true.”
    • “You know the interesting thing though, Mercedes, about this story is, had the president actually done it, that would be a big story. But ultimately doesn’t the president talk to a bunch of his advisers and say, ‘should we do this, should we do that.’ He never did it!”

    And that was basically it on the subject. The rest of the hour featured important stories like a report that John Kerry is considering a 2020 presidential run. And the 8 a.m. hour was largely consumed by the hosts previewing, airing live, and then praising the president’s remarks at Davos.

    *Figure does not include brief video teaser montages at the top of the 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. hours or passing mentions in unrelated segments.

  • Video: Why you should worry about the Trump / Fox News feedback loop

    Blog ››› ››› LEANNE NARAMORE & MATT GERTZ

    President Donald Trump spends hours of his days tweeting at the television. The president is pulling much of his information directly from Fox News, specifically from his favorite show Fox & Friends. When the man with unparalleled access to the most advanced intelligence operation in the world prefers to get his information from people who once tried to roast marshmallows first with their hands and then with a plastic spoon, we're all in serious trouble. Watch:

    Video by Miles Le and Leanne Naramore

  • Woke Bill Kristol pines for the days when Fox was a “little tilted right” (and paid him)

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Woke Bill Kristol is among us once more. The neoconservative founder of The Weekly Standard and one of the leading promoters of the Iraq War during the 2000s and opponents of health care legislation during the 1990s is in the process of reinventing himself for the new political reality. And so we get headlines like this morning’s CNBC.com gloss on a long interview Kristol gave John Harwood, which all but declare him a leader of #TheResistance: “Bill Kristol was once the voice of the Republican Party. Now he's one of [President Donald] Trump's biggest opponents.”

    This is a dramatic overstatement of Kristol’s current role in the body politic, which revolves largely around being able to convince MSNBC hosts that he remains relevant. “I'm a conservative who's been mugged by Trump,” Kristol tells Harwood. And it’s true -- like many of his ilk, Kristol has seen a steady decline in his own power over the past few years, as Trump took over the Republican Party and media figures who were willing to support him rose in prominence.

    The interview -- several thousand words split across four articles -- is a surreal read. Harwood points out various ways in which moves that establishment Republicans like Kristol made had paved the way for Trump, and Kristol repeatedly tip-toes up to the recognition that he’s devoted his life to empowering a movement that has cast him and his priorities aside in favor of a racist demagogue.

    At one point, Kristol even says he is “a little bit” responsible for creating the conditions that led to Trump, admitting that “the Iraq War didn't go the way I and many others hoped” and that his support for Sarah Palin as Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential nominee in order to “channel a certain kind of populism” had backfired. But then he washes his hands of it all, saying that “one can over explain these things and over-interpret these things” and that “it just turned out that Trump was a very effective demagogue coming along at the right time in the right circumstances.” He later explains, “I don't think Palin really led to Trump. Was this somehow a bit of a precursor or something? I'm willing to say, ‘Maybe so.’”

    But the crux of this argument, and the point where it becomes clear that Kristol is rewriting history in a way that burnishes his own image, comes when Harwood asks him to discuss the state of the conservative media, particularly Fox News, where Kristol spent a decade as a contributor.

    “I was on Fox for 10 years really, 2002 to 2012,” Kristol says. “I think it was pretty good. It was a little tilted right? Sure.” It was only after he left, Kristol suggests, that the network went south (“75 percent of it seems to be birther-like coverage of different issues,” per Kristol), which he chalks up in part to the network responding to the Obama administration becoming “more left wing in 2013.” On Morning Joe today, Kristol made similar comments, saying that Fox founder Roger Ailes wouldn’t recognize what’s going on on Fox and that “what fringy websites once said is now said by Fox News hosts.”

    This argument is transparently self-serving nonsense. At best, Kristol was blissfully unaware of what was airing on Fox while he was working there. At worse, he is looking for credit with liberals by taking a shot at the conservative network’s current coverage while simultaneously claiming that his own hands are clean.

    Fox’s recent programming -- which seems overwhelmingly devoted to sycophantic coverage of the president and repeated suggestions that he purge the government and remake it in his own authoritarian image -- is terrifying. But the network’s coverage during President Barack Obama’s first term, when Ailes reportedly remade Fox into “the Alamo,” was horrific in its own way.

    I’ve never seen anything quite like the first days of the Obama administration, as a major news network warned its audience, day after day, that the newly-elected president was about to institute some sort of Marxist-socialist-fascist slave state.

    The situation didn’t improve in the years to come, with the network’s coverage frequently revolving around violent rhetoric and paranoid conspiracy theories. Fox News championed the lie that Democratic health care legislation included “death panels,” became a one-stop-shop for Trumpian birtherism, peddled the lie that Obama was secretly a Muslim, and fueled a variety of other racist lies about him.

    And of course, this was the era of the titan of populist conspiracy theorizing, Glenn Beck, who was hired by Ailes after Obama’s election and spent the next three years scrawling insanity across chalkboards in his network studio.

    Here are a few screengrabs from this period, during which Kristol was cashing checks from a network that was “a little tilted right”:

    My sense is that Fox did become noticeably more conspiratorial in the days after Obama’s election, helping conservatives build up a tolerance and even an expectation of unhinged behavior that paved the way for the rise of Trump.

    But then again, that period also coincides with my own increased consumption of the network’s programming.

    The years leading up to Obama’s election featured Sean Hannity suggesting that Bill and Hillary Clinton may have murdered a White House aide and the hosts of Fox & Friends falsely claiming that Obama had been educated in a madrassa. And well before that, the network was a staunch supporter of myths Kristol is likely more willing to forgive -- namely, ones that led to the invasion of Iraq.

    Many Americans are disturbed that the Republican Party elevated a racist demagogue to the presidency. Some of them are even GOP stalwarts. But if those anti-Trump conservatives paint him as an anomaly rather than acknowledging that he took advantage of circumstances created by the party and its media apparatus, they don’t have much to offer to the debate. They may be willing to criticize the president, but once he’s gone they’ll go right back to laying the groundwork for the next Trump.