Author Page | Page 6 | Media Matters for America

Nick Fernandez

Author ››› Nick Fernandez
  • Study: Hannity's crusade against Robert Mueller and the Russia probe, by the numbers

    Hannity and now the rest of Fox evening programming are on a mission to discredit the Russia probe. Here’s how they’re doing it.

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN, GRACE BENNETT, NICK FERNANDEZ & DINA RADTKE

    Fox News’ Sean Hannity, and now the rest of Fox’s evening lineup, are actively working to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. A Media Matters analysis found:

    Hannity and his guests have questioned Mueller's legitimacy or called for Mueller to remove himself or be fired 79 times since the special counsel was appointed

    Hannity and his guests have made over 364 statements suggesting Mueller and/or his team have a “conflict of interest” since the special counsel was appointed

    Hannity and his guests have used several other canards to attack Mueller and the investigation since the special counsel was appointed

    Fox’s other evening shows have followed Hannity’s lead in the first week of December, attacking Mueller and the probe

    Trump's lawyer and Hannity regular calls for special counsel to investigate Justice Department

    Trump's lawyer and frequent guest on Hannity's shows calls for special counsel to investigate DOJ official connected to Russia probe. After Fox News reported on December 11 that "A senior Justice Department official demoted last week for concealing his meetings with the men behind the anti-Trump 'dossier' had even closer ties to Fusion GPS," President Donald Trump's lawyer, Jay Sekulow, told Axios that the Department of Justice and FBI "cannot ignore the multiple problems that have been created by these obvious conflicts of interests." Sekulow added, "These new revelations require the appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate." [FoxNews.com, 12/11/17; Axios, 12/12/17; Media Matters, 9/13/17; Twitter, 12/12/17]

    Hannity and his guests have questioned Mueller's legitimacy or called for Mueller to remove himself or be fired 79 times since the special counsel was appointed

    Sean Hannity and his guests have called for Mueller’s firing, resignation or recusal, or attacked his legitimacy 79 times. Since the investigation began on May 17, Hannity and his guests have questioned Mueller's appointment or called for Mueller to remove himself or for his firing 79 times. Hannity has questioned Mueller's legitimacy or demanded Mueller’s firing, resignation, or recusal 44 times. Guests of his Fox show, Hannity, who have attacked Mueller in a similar fashion include former Secret Service agent and conspiracy theorist Dan Bongino and Fox legal analyst and ardent defender of President Donald Trump Gregg Jarrett.

    Hannity and his guests have made over 364 statements suggesting Mueller and/or his team have a “conflict of interest” since the special counsel was appointed

    Hannity and his guests brought up alleged “conflicts of interest” 364 times. Since May 17, Hannity and his guests have made 364 statements alleging that Mueller and/or his team have a “conflict of interest” that would prevent him from fairly conducting the probe. Of those statements, Hannity himself made 294.

    Two of Hannity’s most frequently cited “conflicts of interest” are not really conflicts. Of the 294 statements that Hannity made about the alleged “conflicts of interest,” two of the most popular so-called conflicts, cited a combined 173 times, are not actually conflicts at all:

    • On 115 occasions, Hannity claimed that Mueller’s team was compromised or had conflicts of interest because it included several investigators who had previously donated to Democrats. As a group of political science professors wrote in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, “According to the Justice Department’s own rules, campaign donations do not create a conflict of interest.”

    • On 58 occasions, Hannity suggested that Mueller has a conflict of interest because of his relationship with former FBI Director James Comey. But, as The Associated Press (AP) pointed out, Mueller and Comey are “not known to be especially close friends.” Additionally, “legal experts say whatever connection they do have doesn't come close to meriting Mueller's removal as special counsel.”

    Hannity and his guests have used several other canards to attack Mueller and the investigation

    Hannity and his guests used a variety of other talking points and canards to discredit the investigation and Mueller:

    • On 43 occasions, Hannity and his guests referred to the investigation as a “witch hunt.” Of those statements, Hannity made 41. Trump has been reportedly obsessed with this characterization since June.

    • On 32 occasions, Hannity and his guests suggested that the investigation was a political attack on Trump, his administration, and potentially even the Trump family. Hannity himself claimed that Mueller’s investigation was an attack on Trump 17 times.

    • On 89 occasions, Hannity and his guests attempted to discredit Mueller by hyping his connections to the repeatedly debunked Uranium One “scandal.” Hannity touted these connections 75 times.

    • Just since November 4, Hannity and his guests claimed on 51 occasions that Mueller and his investigators harbored anti-Trump sentiments. Hannity himself made 35 of these statements. (This variable was only coded for between December 4 and December 8).


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox’s other evening shows in the first week of December followed Hannity’s lead, attacking Mueller and the probe

    In the first week of December, hosts and guests on other Fox evening programs followed Hannity and attacked Mueller's legitimacy, or called on Mueller to remove himself or be fired 27 times. From December 4 to December 8, Fox News hosts and guests on evening shows joined Hannity and commented that Mueller should never have been appointed, should now resign, recuse himself, or be fired 27 times. Most of these statements occurred on Hannity, but also appeared on other shows as well:

    • One such statement occurred on The Five;
    • One other statement occurred on The Story with Martha MacCallum;
    • and three of these statements occurred on The Ingraham Angle.

    In that same time frame, Mueller and/or his team’s alleged “conflicts of interest” were brought up 151 times. Fox hosts and guests made 151 statements during the first week of December asserting that Mueller and/or his team have “conflicts of interest.” On 63 occasions, Fox guests and hosts claimed the “conflicts of interest” existed because of campaign donations. On nine occasions, Fox guests and hosts claimed “conflicts of interest” because of Mueller's relationship with Comey. Other instances vaguely charged Mueller of having conflicts without specifics or evidence.

    • Mueller's "conflicts" were mentioned seven times on The Five, with five statements about the campaign donations of Mueller's investigators and one statement about Mueller's relationship with Comey.
    • Mueller's "conflicts" were mentioned once on Special Report, with one statement about the campaign donations of Mueller's investigators.
    • Mueller's "conflicts" were mentioned five times on The Story, with two statements about the campaign donations of Mueller's investigators and two statements about Mueller's relationship with Comey.
    • Mueller's "conflicts" were mentioned four times on Tucker Carlson Tonight, with three statements about the campaign donations of Mueller's investigators.
    • Mueller's "conflicts" were mentioned 18 times on The Ingraham Angle, with six statements about the campaign donations of Mueller's investigators.

    On 158 occasions, Mueller and/or his team was accused of being “anti-Trump.” Hosts and guests on Fox evening programs accused Mueller and/or members of his team of being “anti-Trump” 158 times.

    • 12 statements accusing Mueller and/or his team of being "anti-Trump" occurred on The Five;
    • 13 statements occurred on Special Report;
    • 20 appeared on The Story;
    • 19 appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight;
    • and 41 appeared on The Ingraham Angle.

    On 22 occasions, Fox evening hosts and guests called the investigation an attack on Trump, his presidency, and his family. Hosts and guests claimed 22 times that Mueller’s investigative team was out to get Trump, at one point referring to the investigation as a “scam.”

    • Two of these statements occurred on The Five;
    • One occurred on Tucker Calrson Tonight;
    • and four appeared on The Ingraham Angle.

    On 23 occasions, Mueller’s investigation was called a “witch hunt.” Fox hosts and guests referred to Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt” 23 times throughout the first week of December. While most occurred on Hannity, two statements also occurred on Tucker Carlson Tonight.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In the first week of December, Hannity far outpaced other Fox evening shows in attempting to discredit Mueller and the investigation. While other evening programs on Fox worked to discredit the Mueller investigation and the special counsel himself, Hannity was far and away the most aggressive about it during the week-long time period.

    • 22 statements urging Mueller to be removed from the investigation occurred on Hannity;
    • 116 statements discussing Mueller and/or his team's "conflicts" occurred on Hannity;
    • 46 statements invoking the political donations made by Mueller's investigatiors to assert the investigation is conflicted were made on Hannity;
    • Six statements hyping Mueller's relationship with Comey were made on Hannity;
    • 15 statements insisting the investigation was nothing more than an attack on Trump, his administration, and his family were made on Hannity;
    • 21 statements referring to the investigation as a "witch hunt" were made on Hannity;
    • Four statements attempting to link Mueller to the Uranium One conspiracy theory were made on Hannity;
    • and 53 statements asserting the investigation and the investigators were inherently anti-Trump were made on Hannity.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis for transcripts of Fox News’ Hannity between May 17 and December 8 mentioning the words “Mueller” or “special counsel.” Transcripts were then coded for statements -- which in this study we defined as a sentence -- which included the following:

    • calls for Mueller to resign or recuse himself or calls that he be fired, or suggestions that he never should have been appointed as special counsel;

    • suggestions that Mueller and/or his team have a conflict of interest with the investigation;

    • mentions of Mueller’s investigators who had previously donated to Democratic lawmakers;

    • mentions of Mueller’s alleged friendship and relationship with Comey;

    • claims that the investigation is a political attack on Trump, his administration, or his family;

    • suggestions that the investigation is a “witch hunt”;

    • attempts to link Mueller to Uranium One deal; and

    • claims that Mueller and/or his team is inherently partisan against the president.

    Media Matters also searched Nexis for mentions of “Mueller” or “special counsel” from December 4 to 8 on Fox News between 5 and 11 p.m., including the following programs: The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, The Story with Martha MacCallum, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and The Ingraham Angle. Transcripts were coded for the same variables.

    Transcripts were reviewed by two independent coders and differences were then reconciled.

    This study includes data from a previous study published on November 21.

    CORRECTION: This study previously referred to the official referenced by Sekulow as an FBI official. In fact, he was a senior DOJ official and part of the Criminal Division. 

  • "Perfectly legitimate": How right-wing media figures tried to play defense for Roy Moore

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & ZACHARY PLEAT

    After The Washington Post published a report alleging that Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore had initiated sexual encounters with a then-14-year-old girl in 1979, when Moore was 32, several right-wing media figures jumped to his defense, attacking the accuser, asserting that “Roy Moore Did Nothing Wrong,” and demanding that media cover the supposed misdeeds of others instead.

  • After NYC attack, Fox News prime time turned up the anti-Muslim sentiment (again)

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    In the wake of a vehicle attack in New York City that left at least eight dead and 11 injured, Fox News’ prime-time shows dusted off their playbook for analyzing apparent terror incidents by turning to a series of renowned anti-Muslim activists for commentary and insight.

    According to The New York Times, on October 31, a man driving a rented pickup truck sped down a designated bike path in lower Manhattan, killing at least eight people and injuring at least 11 others. After striking a school bus, the driver of the vehicle was shot and apprehended by authorities.

    In its virtually wall-to-wall coverage of the attack, Fox News hosted a series of hate group leaders and disreputable guests who have histories of making inflammatory and anti-Muslim comments, including Brigitte Gabriel, Pamela Geller, Sebastian Gorka, and Zuhdi Jasser. Viewers who tuned in to Fox to learn about what happened in New York City saw self-described “terrorism analyst” Gabriel scapegoating refugees as a threat to national security:

    Meanwhile, Geller said on Hannity that “a rational response” to such an attack would be to “stop certain Muslim immigration from jihad nations”:

    Gorka, who was also a guest on Hannityclaimed that the phrase “lone wolf” was “invented” and “made popular by the Obama administration to make Americans disconnect the dots” on terrorism:

    And Jasser asserted on Tucker Carlson Tonight that Americans “are in denial if we don’t believe that nonviolent Islamism is a precursor to militant Islamism”:

    Fox has a long history of providing untrustworthy coverage of terror incidents in part by following a pattern of hosting anti-Muslim hate group leaders or other controversial guests to further the network’s political agenda.

  • Trump lashes out at Tom Steyer just after Steyer's ad calling for impeachment ran on Fox & Friends

    Steyer is spending $10 million on a national ad campaign calling for Trump’s removal from office

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    President Donald Trump appeared to tweet in response to an ad that ran during Fox News’ Fox & Friends calling for his impeachment. During the October 27 edition of Fox News’ morning show, Fox ran an ad at 6:14 a.m. by philanthropist and progressive activist Tom Steyer, who is spending $10 million on an impeachment effort, in which Steyer characterized Trump as “a clear and present danger” and called for “elected officials [to] take a stand on impeachment.”

    Less than an hour later, at 6:58 a.m., the president tweeted about “Wacky & totally unhinged Tom Steyer”:

    Other tweets from the president suggested he was tweeting along with Fox & Friends while watching the program on about an hour delay. About one minute after lashing out at Steyer, Trump tweeted his thanks to Fox & Friends for the “really great job and show.” This is not the first time that Trump has actively responded on Twitter while watching Fox & Friends. The president’s symbiotic relationship with Fox News, and Fox & Friends in particular, has been well-documented.  

    The president’s habit of tweeting about things he sees on TV isn’t limited just to Fox News; on the morning of October 20, the president tweeted an erroneous claim nearly identical to an on-screen graphic that aired at 6:25 a.m. on the far-right, conspiracy-mongering One America News Network (OANN) falsely linking crime in the United Kingdom to “radical Islamic terror,” which garnered a response from British members of Parliament.

  • The White House is engaged in a coordinated attack on James Comey that Hannity and Trump's lawyer have been pushing for months 

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    The White House is pushing for legal action against fired FBI Director James Comey as “something that certainly should be looked at,” claiming that Comey provided “false testimony” in his appearance before Congress. On his radio show with President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow as a guest, Fox News personality Sean Hannity celebrated this recent push that was indicated from the White House briefing room on September 11, saying that press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeated “pretty much everything I've been saying and I think [Sekulow has] been saying as it relates to Comey.” Since June, Sekulow has regularly appeared on Fox News and Hannity’s radio show to demand that legal action be taken against Comey.

  • Right-wing media figures and online bots are going after “weak, spineless” Mitch McConnell

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE & NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media condemnation reached a fever pitch on August 9 after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) commented that President Donald Trump had “excessive expectations” for health care reform, which many Trump loyalists in the conservative mediasphere interpreted as an attack on the president. In response, Trump sycophants along with online bots and trolls used their platforms to besmirch McConnell’s character, call for him to retire, and popularize the hashtag #DitchMitch on Twitter.

  • Fox News and fake news purveyors praise Trump’s North Korea threat that experts call irresponsible

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & ZACHARY PLEAT

    Various Fox News personalities and fake news purveyors are praising President Donald Trump’s statement that he would unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea should Kim Jong Un’s regime endanger American interests. While pro-Trump media are thrilled with the president’s threat, nuclear experts have explained that “threats from the US will only increase tensions” on the Korean Peninsula, where, should war accidentally break out amid heightened tensions, armed conflict would likely cause “hundreds of thousands of deaths, mostly in South Korea.”

  • Trump’s embattled attorney general once again retreats to his safe space on Tucker Carlson Tonight

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions will appear on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight as President Donald Trump continues to criticize Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 election. Given host Tucker Carlson’s frequent fanboying and staunch defenses of Sessions in the past, the beleaguered attorney general  will most likely enjoy a fawning, sophomoric interview during his appearance on the show.

    Sessions’ planned appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight is not the first time he has used the friendly platform to address controversies surrounding his role in the administration. During Sessions’ confirmation process for his current job, Roll Call’s Jonathan Allen highlighted the former Alabama senator’s racist past, writing in a November 15 column that Sessions was “unfit for the Cabinet” and a “partially reconstructed baiter of minorities.” In response, Carlson went to bat for Sessions; he invited  Allen on to his November 18 broadcast and lambasted his article as “one of the most unfair things I’ve ever read.” Carlson also accused Allen of “smearing” Sessions by "download[ing] some talking points from the DNC” and said Allen had impugned Sessions with “slur[s]” and “pure talking points.”

    On March 2, when numerous Democratic lawmakers were calling for Sessions’ resignation in response to reports that he had met with the Russian ambassador and lied about it under oath, Sessions retreated to his safe space on Carlson’s show in an effort to defuse the firestorm. Carlson’s softball interview with Sessions included questions such as, “Do you see this as a witch hunt?”

    Carlson is once again coming to Sessions’ defense, but this time around, the people aiming for Sessions are doing so from inside the White House. In a July 19 interview with The New York Times, Trump went after his own attorney general, saying, “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.” The attacks haven’t ceased, with the president repeatedly tweeting out criticism of Sessions.

    Carlson, in a somewhat surprising split from agreeing with everything Trump does, leapt to Sessions’ defense and devoted a segment of his July 20 show to vouch for Sessions’ perceived value to the Trump administration. Carlson maintained that Sessions “has been the rare person in the entire executive branch making actual progress implementing the agenda his boss ran on, because he's the rare person who believes in it,” and warned that Trump should “lay off Jeff Sessions.” 

    TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): Sessions was worried about what an unsecured border and mass immigration would do to America, even though the biggest effects from those wouldn't be seen until decades after he was long gone from this earth. So, he jumped in and accepted Trump’s offer to become attorney general. He didn't do it to get rich, and certainly not to become more popular. He instantly became less. You’ll remember that many of his former colleagues in the Senate slandered him as a bigot during his confirmation hearings. As attorney general, Sessions has been the rare person in the entire executive branch making actual progress implementing the agenda his boss ran on, because he's the rare person who believes in it. In an administration brimming with opportunists and ideological saboteurs, people who literally couldn’t be less interested in what voters think, Sessions has never lost sight of the lessons of the last election. He’s gone after sanctuary cities, he’s enforced immigration laws, he’s ended the Obama administration's attacks on local police departments, and a lot more. He’s likely the most effective member of the Trump cabinet.

    In return, the president attacked him in the failing New York Times. That’s not just criticism. It's an insult. It's also a worrisome sign that the president may be forgetting who is on his side. Goldman Sachs did not elect Donald Trump. America’s long-ignored middle class did. Trump voters may find his tweets about the media amusing, and well-deserved because, obviously, they are, but they’re not the point of this exercise. The point is to shine some light on the broad middle of this country, on the millions of normal people who are hurting and who could badly use an ally in power for the first time in a long time. Now the hope is that what happened yesterday was just a stress-related aberration, the political equivalent of yelling at your kids when you had a bad day at the office. If so, it will be not be hard to fix this. Going forward, just pay a little less attention to The New York Times, pay a little more to Matt Drudge. And for God’s sake, lay off Jeff Sessions. He is your friend. One of the very few you have in Washington.

    There are many similarities between Carlson and Sessions. They both regularly villainize immigrants, and like Sessions, Carlson is beloved by neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Tonight’s interview will most likely be nothing more than a public relations stunt for Sessions.

  • Contra right-wing media, US officials have verified core aspects of the Trump dossier

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media have waged a months-long attempt to discredit the 35-page dossier produced by a former British intelligence officer that contains allegations of coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Various right-wing commentators have described its contents as “unreliable,” “discredited,” “largely debunked,” and "evidence of ... collusion between Democrats and Russian disinformation," including a Washington Times story that Trump promoted this week. But, according to numerous reports, American intelligence officials have “verified” various “core” aspects of the dossier.