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Simon Maloy

Author ››› Simon Maloy
  • Sebastian Gorka has banked almost $18,000 from GOP candidates

    Gorka's been cashing in on his ties to Trump while railing against "the swamp"

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    It’s been almost a year since off-brand James Bond supervillain Sebastian Gorka was fired or resigned (definitely fired) from his ill-defined job in Donald Trump’s White House, and Gorka is still finding ways to monetize his seven months of public pseudo service. He’s followed some well-worn D.C. insider tracks by signing on as a Fox News contributor and guest lecturer at the Heritage Foundation, but he’s also running a side hustle squeezing speaking fees and the occasional “honorarium” out of Republican congressional candidates.

    Since last December, Gorka has pulled in nearly $18,000 from GOP candidates seeking federal office, according to Federal Election Commission filings. His $2,500 check from Virginia’s E.W. Jackson, $5,000 speaking fee from Nevada Republican Danny Tarkanian, and $5,240 payment from Arizona GOP Senate candidate Kelli Ward have been previously reported. But the FEC database recently added an additional $5,000 payment to Gorka from Ward’s campaign dated April 16 and tagged as “Event Cost - Speaker.”

    In exchange for the thousands of dollars it costs to have Gorka speak on their behalf, these candidates get a full dose of the only commodity Gorka has to offer: his proximity to Trump.

    Here’s one of the speeches Gorka gave on behalf of Kelli Ward -- it largely consists of Gorka talking about how Trump is the greatest and oh by the way, he was once Gorka’s boss. “This is a woman who gets things done, just like somebody else I know. … I want to talk to you about my old boss, OK? ... What’s he really like behind closed doors? What’s he like in the Oval? … We flew on Air Force One to Youngstown, Ohio.” In that same speech, in which he transformed his connections to the politically powerful into monetary gain for himself, Gorka railed against “the swamp.”

    Obviously this is a good deal for Gorka; all he has to do is show up and ramble for a few minutes about the president and he gets a tidy little sum to finance his suede-vest-and-tourniquet lifestyle. But is it worth it for these campaigns to pay Gorka to hear him drone quite Britishly about the unblemished greatness of Donald Trump?

    Yeah, probably … for now. Ever since the 2016 election, Republican politics has devolved into a grim and undignified competition over who can best communicate their slavish and self-debasing loyalty to the president. For as long as that dynamic lasts, having a Trump-adjacent minor celebrity like Gorka on hand to lend a bit of insider credibility doesn’t hurt, just so long as everyone agrees to overlook the fact that the transactional nature of the relationship is the very essence of the “swamp” they all claim to loathe.

    Gorka’s sinecure at Fox News is also quite swampy. As I wrote when Gorka was first hired by the right-wing cable network as a “national security strategist,” Gorka had no actual national security role in the White House, and real security experts view him as a jumped-up charlatan. He’s functionally useless at the specific role Fox News hired him for, and Fox News apparently acknowledges as much.

    The Daily Beast reported last week that the network has effectively banned Gorka from appearing on its supposed “hard news” programming and siloed him to its rabidly pro-Trump opinion shows: Hannity, Fox & Friends, etc. “Fox’s news division simply does not view Gorka as credible enough to regularly comment on subjects on which Gorka has branded himself a longtime expert, or to analyze the administration of which he was a member,” The Daily Beast reported. (Gorka is also apparently passing around fake Fox News business cards, just to add to the aura of sadness.)

    Once again, Gorka’s only valuable contribution to Fox News is his relationship to Trump, who apparently loves watching Gorka’s cable hits. The network’s pro-Trump propagandists understand this, so they invite the nominal “national security strategist” to bark about whatever story they’re chasing on a given evening. Sometimes those stories are national security-related, but more often than not Gorka is brought on to inveigh against the media or the Russia investigation or “the cesspit, the cesspool that is Hollywood.” It’s a racket that’s made possible only by the president’s affection for Gorka’s brand of combative nonsense.

    Gorka is a bleak manifestation of this rancid era in politics. Through dogged loyalty to a corrupt politician, he briefly rose to an official position that far exceeded his qualifications. Now he’s running tidy little scams wherever he can and eagerly invoicing whomever is willing to hear increasingly stale anecdotes about his undistinguished few months spent in service to Donald Trump.

  • Dinesh D'Souza's lazy, ugly propaganda film

    Death of a Nation is a disgusting farce, even by D’Souza standards

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Dinesh D’Souza’s new fake-documentary Death of a Nation opens with Adolf Hitler and his companion Eva Braun grimly committing suicide in the Fuhrerbunker, after which their bodies are hauled up to the streets of war-ravaged Berlin and set on fire. If you were to ask me why the movie opens with this gruesome reenactment, or why D’Souza had the actor portraying the Nazi dictator stare poignantly into the camera before shooting himself in the head, I honestly could not tell you. Nor can I offer any coherent explanation for why this film inflicts several other cinematic retellings of Hitler’s life upon the viewer. None of it is explained, and none of it makes much sense. What I can say is that Death of a Nation is a terrible and disgusting film, even by D’Souza standards.

    By now D’Souza’s filmmaking shtick is tiresome and relentlessly predictable: He play-acts at being a public intellectual and haphazardly tortures the historical record in the service of “proving” an ill-considered argument. In the process, he typically ends up accidentally disproving his own thesis and veers off into bigotry. The shodiness of the scholarship is (poorly) papered over with cinematic flourishes and ego-engorging footage of “Dinesh D’Souza: Serious Historian” as he walks around historically significant sites bathing them with terribly meaningful glances. Death of a Nation ticks all these boxes and offers a couple more pathetically self-indulgent twists, like carving out a few minutes of screentime for D’Souza’s wife to warble a treacly song about America.

    The thrust of Death of a Nation is that America is at a moment of existential crisis similar to the Civil War, and that the nation will, ahem, die if “the left” (George Soros, antifa, moderate Democrats, whoever) succeeds at whatever nefarious scheme it is assumed to have. The only thing standing between America and its demise is President Donald Trump, whom D’Souza casts as a glittering reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln. D’Souza presents the divide between left and right in hilariously childish terms, describing Democrats and progressives as “the bad guys” (meaning racists and fascists and totalitarians) and Republicans and conservatives as “the good guys” (the opposite of the bad guys). This dynamic has held firm throughout American history, D’Souza argues, and is a global phenomenon as well.

    That brings us back to Hitler. D’Souza’s theory of history requires that every villain be of the left, so he is obligated to demonstrate that fascism is actually a left-wing ideology. D’Souza is a late arrival to this rotten exercise in partisan revisionism, and his contributions to it are characteristically lazy. “Check out the official Nazi platform,” D’Souza says. “State-controlled health care, profit-sharing for workers and large corporations, moneylenders and profiteers punished by death, state control of education, state control of media and the press, state control of banks and industries, seizure of land without compensation, state control of religious expression -- this reads like something jointly written by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders!”

    This grotesque comparison required D’Souza to both water down the explicit bigotry of the Nazi platform and impute its totalitarian character to two sitting senators -- one of whom is Jewish, and neither of whom advocate for murdering bankers or call for state-run media, etc. But since D’Souza wants to ply this simple-minded exercise, I’ll point out that the Nazi platform also calls for a ban on immigration, mass deportations, a military buildup, and “legal opposition to known lies and their promulgation through the press.”

    Blundering and incendiary allegations of leftist-fascist alignment abound in Death of a Nation. D’Souza argues that Auschwitz doctor and war criminal Josef Mengele was a “progressive” because he performed abortions in South America after the war. “Under Obama, we saw government control increase dramatically over banks, investment companies, energy companies, the entire health care sector, and education,” D’Souza says. “This is state-run capitalism [it isn’t], which is the clinical definition of fascism [it’s not].”

    His treatment of Hitler’s relationship with Ernst Röhm, the commander of the Nazi Party paramilitary force Sturmabteilung, clearly demonstrates D’Souza’s pernicious sloppiness. “Some progressives try to portray Hitler as a right-winger by insisting he was anti-gay,” D’Souza says. “But Hitler knew that the brownshirt leader Ernst Röhm was a notorious homosexual, as were many other brownshirts. ... When Heinrich Himmler urged Hitler to purge the gay brownshirts out of the Nazi movement, Hitler refused. Hitler said he didn’t care what the brownshirts did in private, as long as they were good fighters. Hitler was no social conservative.”

    This argument is a disgusting whitewash of Nazi terror and is an accidental indictment of social conservatism. To suggest that Hitler was somehow tolerant of (or indifferent to) homosexuality because he declined to persecute the stormtroopers who committed political violence on his behalf deliberately ignores Third Reich’s legal attacks on Germany’s LGBTQ population and the countless LGBTQ people who died in Hitler’s concentration camps. Röhm’s purge was followed by a viciously homophobic propaganda campaign used to justify the action.

    And it’s absurd for D’Souza, himself a social conservative, to define “social conservatism” against Hitler’s politically expedient hesitancy to expel/murder gay men from his political movement. If Hitler’s (temporary) unwillingness to do that disqualifies him from the ranks of social conservatives, then what does that say about true social conservatives?

    The flipside to D’Souza’s artless smearing of leftists as the “real” fascists is his equally incompetent effort to absolve the right generally (and Donald Trump specifically) of the taint of white supremacy.

    D’Souza tries to argue that 2017’s violent white supremacist outburst in Charlottesville, VA, which left one counter-protester dead, had nothing to do with right-wing politics or Donald Trump. “There they are, white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Trump hats,” D’Souza sneers over footage of the Charlottesville rallies. “Doesn’t that prove that racism today is on the right?”

    Not at all, D’Souza counters, saying that Charlottesville organizer and white supremacist Jason Kessler was once an Obama supporter. He doesn’t explain why that fact precludes Kessler being a white nationalist Trump supporter now, nor does he explain how it debunks the footage D’Souza himself aired of white supremacists in Charlottesville wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, nor does he address the fact that Trump defended the white nationalist protesters. He just makes a largely meaningless observation that leaves the ongoing issue of white nationalists’ affinity for Trump glaringly unresolved.

    D’Souza also interviews white supremacist figurehead Richard Spencer in an attempt to demonstrate that Spencer’s and Trump’s worldviews are wholly divergent, and his gambit backfires. D’Souza asks him: “Would you be happy with an immigration strategy that basically said, ‘We want people from New Zealand, Australia, white guys from Europe, Iceland, and South Africa; we don’t want that many people from -- if any -- Barbados or Bombay?’” After Spencer says yes, D’Souza responds: “Now this seems very different than Trump.”

    It’s not really that different, though, given that Trump reportedly told lawmakers that he wanted more immigrants from Norway and fewer people from “shithole countries” -- Haiti and African nations, specifically. That comment was a big hit among white supremacists, including Spencer. D’Souza insists to Spencer that “the line that Trump is drawing is not a racial line but a line between the legal and the illegal immigrant.” The Trump White House, meanwhile, is reportedly planning harsh restrictions on legal immigrants seeking citizenship.

    Ridiculous, self-defeating arguments like this permeate Death of a Nation primarily because D’Souza doesn’t give a shit and has precisely zero respect for his intended audience. D’Souza does not want to change minds or start a discussion about political history -- this movie exists to wring as much cash as can be wrung from people who already believe that Democrats are Nazis and, as D’Souza puts it, “the real racists.” He doesn’t care about the soundness of his arguments. He just wants money and to go on TV.

    At this point, D’Souza barely bothers to conceal his avarice and mendacity because he doesn’t have to. He exists within a putrefying conservative political and media ecosystem that either celebrates his fraudulent money-grubbing or determinedly ignores it. He’s doing the rounds on Fox News and talk radio, and he has the support of the president and the president’s family. None of them care that D’Souza has been discredited more times than can be counted, or that he’s erasing Hitler’s murderous persecution of LGBTQ people, or that he accidentally demonstrated parallels between Trump and white supremacists. D’Souza is calling Democrats “fascists” and Donald Trump the next Abe Lincoln, and that’s good enough.

  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gets great PR from … Fox News

    Conservative media try to discredit a rising Democratic star by advertising her platform

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Back when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez scored her upset win over House Democratic Caucus chair Joe Crowley in the NY-14 Democratic primary, conservative media had to scramble to find ways to attack her. Ocasio-Cortez came rocketing from relative obscurity to national prominence in the space of a few hours, leaving her newfound enemies at Fox News and elsewhere with little to go on. So, they made do with what they had: her policy platform.

    Sean Hannity memorably put Ocasio-Cortez’s entire platform up on screen and broadcast to the world the fact that she ran on universal health care and a federal jobs guarantee, and also endorses “solidarity with Puerto Rico,” “support[s] seniors,” and backs “women’s rights.” Hannity’s intention was ostensibly to allow what he considered to be the manifest extremism of her platform to speak for itself. He achieved the complete opposite: He made Ocasio-Cortez’s platform look great, and the candidate herself endorsed his failed attack.

    You could perhaps chalk up Hannity’s faceplant to the fact that Ocasio-Cortez was not a known quantity at the time and the angry right just didn’t know what else to do with her. But it keeps happening. Fox News and conservative media seem to have convinced themselves that the way to attack Ocasio-Cortez is to just quote her and point at her policy platform on the assumption that everyone will recoil in horror at the awful socialism.

    Just yesterday, Fox Business threw up a video of Ocasio-Cortez speaking at a rally in Kansas, followed by sneering mimicry from host Stuart Varney.

    Once again, a conservative media figure saw something self-evidently shocking and disqualifying in a Democratic candidate arguing for “a living wage to lead a dignified life.” And, once again, Ocasio-Cortez seized on the earned media to restate her policy.

    The Daily Caller got into the game by sending one of its conservative writers to a Missouri rally where Ocasio-Cortez spoke in support of Democratic congressional candidate Cori Bush. The ensuing write-up read like a parody of cloistered conservatism:

    But then Ocasio-Cortez spoke, followed by Bush, and I saw something truly terrifying. I saw just how easy it would be, were I less involved and less certain of our nation’s founding and its history, to fall for the populist lines they were shouting from that stage.

    • I saw how easy it would be, as a parent, to accept the idea that my children deserve healthcare and education.
    • I saw how easy it would be, as someone who has struggled to make ends meet, to accept the idea that a "living wage" was a human right.
    • Above all, I saw how easy it would be to accept the notion that it was the government's job to make sure that those things were provided.

    The abject terror of … health care and education for children. The Daily Caller writer appeared on Fox & Friends this morning, where she talked about the supposed insidiousness of Ocasio-Cortez talking “about things that everybody wants, especially, like, if you're a parent.”

    It’s a bizarre dynamic because the people attacking Ocasio-Cortez recognize that her platform does have political appeal (the supposedly “radical” planks, like Medicare-for-all and a federal jobs guarantee, actually poll decently well). But they keep on posting clips of her saying popular things, and then they just call her a “socialist” or grimly wonder who will pay for these plans to educate children and keep them healthy.

    This is a product of the suffocating ideological bubble conservative media exist in and help to maintain. People like Stuart Varney and the editorial staff at the Daily Caller are communicating with an audience that, they assume, will understand implicitly that a video clip of Ocasio-Cortez preaching for a living wage and the dignity of everyday life is a damaging, scandalous indictment of her politics. It’s “socialism,” that catch-all epithet that conservative media have spent decades applying to everyone to the left of Mitt Romney, and it merits only mockery and casual dismissal. Sure, they say, what she’s arguing for sounds nice, but it’s ridiculous and disqualifying because … uh … roll that tape again.

  • Jeanine Pirro’s book-length self-own

    Liars, Leakers, and Liberals is an absurd, unintentional indictment of its author

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    You only get about one page into Jeanine Pirro’s new book, Liars, Leakers, and Liberals: The Case Against the Anti-Trump Conspiracy, before she calls herself an idiot. It’s not entirely clear whether she meant to do it or if she just got lost in the rapture of the prose, but she definitely calls herself an idiot. “We know what the liberal media think of Trump voters: They’re deplorables, idiots, rednecks, and people who cling to God, guns, and religion,” Pirro writes. “To those charges, I plead guilty--guilty and proud!”

    It’s confusing, and you’re left wondering why Pirro seemingly went out of her way to make herself look stupid. But intentional or not, it serves as an apt table-setter for the rest of the book, in which the Fox News host inflicts upon the reader a frenetic conspiracy theory that absolutely obliterates all logic and does violence upon the very notion of observable truth, and effectively discredits herself by painstakingly demonstrating that she is committed solely to the mission of kissing the ass of her friend, President Donald Trump.

    To be honest, I’m not entirely confident that anything I could write about this book (which is currently number one on the Amazon bestseller list) would be more damning of the author than the poison-laced nonsense she herself has committed to paper. The book’s conceit is that there exists an “anti-Trump conspiracy” to “nullify the decision of the American people and continue the globalist, open-border oligarchy that the people voted to dismantle in 2016.” The culprits she identifies “include, but are not limited to, the leadership at the FBI, the CIA, NSA, and other intelligence agencies, the Democrat (sic) Party, and perhaps even the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) courts. And let’s not forget the media and entertainment industries that are waging a nonstop propaganda campaign that would render envious their counterparts in the worst totalitarian states of history.”

    Hoo boy. Pirro, like literally every other conspiracy theorist on the planet, starts at the conclusion and then sets about backfilling her outlandish assertions. And, also like every other conspiracy theorist, her overriding zeal leads her to contradict herself and make a series of embarrassing fuck-ups.

    Let’s start with her treatment of the Justice Department investigation into the Trump campaign’s links to Russia, which is hampered by Pirro’s howling ignorance. Pirro argues that it was former CIA Director John Brennan who “started the whole phony Russian collusion investigation” with the help of the dossier written by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele and “pressured the FBI into investigating the Trump campaign.” But she also writes, confusingly, that Brennan “tried to get the FBI to investigate the Trump campaign, but [former FBI Director James] Comey turned a deaf ear” and would not “buy the crap Brennan was selling.”

    She continues, writing that Brennan “cornered” former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid “and spewed his cooked-up tale about Putin and Trump,” and Reid “sent a letter posthaste off to the FBI director, urging him to open an investigation. Cardinal Comey didn’t open one, at least that the public knew about.” So by her own reckoning, Brennan did an extremely poor job of starting the Russia investigation she alleges he started. And the reason Comey did not start an investigation after Reid contacted him is because the investigation was already open at that point.

    To confuse things even further, Pirro writes later in the book that Comey was “too busy trying to concoct a Russia collusion case” to properly run the FBI. So was it Brennan or Comey who supposedly invented this collusion lie? And wasn’t it Comey who was supposed to have summarily rejected Brennan’s “crap” about Trump and Russia? What the hell is going on here?

    It gets still more baffling. She writes at one point that Barack Obama was “so desperate to keep Donald Trump from being elected that his Justice Department, prodded by his CIA chief John O. Brennan, misled the most secret court of the United States. The goal was simple: spy on the Trump campaign to undermine a presidential election.” But just a few paragraphs later she writes that Obama “knew all along what Russia was up to. He didn’t do anything because he, and the establishment pollsters, thought Hillary would win.” So Obama was both “desperate” and complacent, determined to undermine Trump but also content to do nothing about Russian efforts to help Trump because he thought Hillary was a lock.

    Pirro’s book transitions from factless absurdity to disgraceful hypocrisy in its treatment of sexual misconduct by the powerful and wealthy. A section of her book is devoted to the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse story as the “perfect example of Hollywood hypocrisy.” Pirro writes that Weinstein “silenced those around him with his ability to intimidate victims, pressure business associates, buy powerful Democrats, and leverage hungry Hollywood actors.” She viciously attacks people she argues enabled Weinstein, like Hillary Clinton and actor Meryl Streep, accusing them of turning a blind eye to Weinstein’s abuses in exchange for money and power. “I have a particular animus for Harvey Weinstein and people of his ilk,” she writes.

    The problem here is obvious: Pirro’s book is a rabid defense of Donald Trump, the most powerful alleged sexual assaulter on the planet. As I wrote in my profile of Pirro, she has enthusiastically set fire to her reputation as a crusading champion of sexual assault victims in order to shill for Trump, and this book is an especially disgusting expression of her moral self-immolation. While lashing out at Hollywood and Democrats for their “hypocrisy” over Weinstein, she comes nowhere close to addressing the many allegations of sexual assault leveled against Trump over the years. Instead, she writes: “It bothers me that the president has become such a target of LIBERALS for his treatment of women.”

    There’s no great mystery to why Pirro runs interference for Trump’s sexual misconduct in this way: The president is her friend, and her proximity to him gives her power and influence. Pirro was granted access to the highest echelons of Trump’s world for this preposterous farce of a book. It features quotes from interviews Pirro conducted with senior Trump officials like Kellyanne Conway and White House chief of staff John Kelly. The text is peppered with quotes from Trump’s children, which alternate between the sad (“You think that there’s anyone on earth that could change DJT?” says Donald Trump Jr., referring to his father by his initials for some reason) and the comically self-unaware (“You have certain individuals from the mainstream media, who sit in their ivory towers, their fancy offices and multi-million-dollar apartments,” says Eric Trump, who owns a $2 million apartment overlooking Central Park).

    She goes on at exhausting length about how she and Trump are great personal friends and have shared so many special memories together flying to and from Florida on the president’s private jet. These treacly stories are presumably intended to convey a warmer, more personable side to Trump, but really they just make it clear how compromised Pirro is by her relationship to the president.

    Liars, Leakers, and Liberals stands as an unintended self-indictment of the author: She tries to prosecute the president’s critics as slavish defenders of the entrenched power structure, but in the process she enthusiastically outs herself as an unprincipled, untrustworthy, and thoroughly rotten vassal of the president’s. Pirro is the embodiment of the media corruption she rails against.

    And if she wants to call herself an “idiot,” well, there’s no reason to object to that either.

  • The persecution of Manuel Duran

    An undocumented immigrant journalist, arrested while doing his job, faces deportation

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    It is a quirk of the current age that Manuel Duran managed to film his own arrest. Duran, a Salvadoran journalist and undocumented immigrant who has been living in the United States since 2006, was arrested in April by the Memphis Police Department as he was covering a protest against local law enforcement’s alleged cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. He livestreamed the entire event right up to the moment his camera was knocked from his hand by the police as they seized him. Several other attendees at the protest had their cameras out as well, and some of them also caught Duran’s arrest on tape.

    The picture that emerges from these videos and from interviews with Duran’s attorneys and allies is an ugly one: an independent journalist subjected to an unjustified arrest while doing his job -- Duran says he was targeted -- which resulted in his transfer to ICE custody. Duran, who was quickly cleared of criminal wrongdoing, is nonetheless trapped in an ICE detention facility as lawyers from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Latino Memphis work to stop his deportation back to El Salvador, the country he fled over a decade ago because, he says, he feared for his safety.

    His plight is an increasingly common feature of the times: an undocumented immigrant with no criminal record who built a life and a career in United States, who had established himself in a community that came to rely on his work, and who was ensnared by an aggressive (and indiscriminate) effort by federal and state law enforcement agencies to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants.

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Manuel Duran left El Salvador in 2006 because, he says, he feared for his life. Duran had been working in his home country as a television and radio journalist for more than a decade until, according to a habeas corpus petition filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, he was targeted by a rival journalist and arrested on fraudulent charges. When he began receiving death threats, the filing states, Duran fled for the U.S.

    Not long after he arrived in the country, Duran was picked up by Customs and Border Patrol in Laredo, TX. He was given a notice to appear before an immigration judge that had no hearing date, and he provided CBP an address where the government could send additional documents. According to Duran’s lawyers, the notice with the location and date for his immigration hearing was sent to the incorrect address and returned to the Department of Homeland Security. “There was confusion with the street [address],” Maximiliano Gluzman, an attorney for Latino Memphis, told me, “and the mail didn’t arrive anywhere. So Manuel wasn’t aware of the fact that he had to appear in court, or when he had to appear in court.” Because he didn’t show up at the hearing that he didn’t know was happening, an immigration judge ordered his deportation in absentia and Duran became what ICE refers to as an “immigration fugitive.”

    Duran, meanwhile, settled in Memphis and restarted the life and career he’d left behind in El Salvador. He worked as a newscaster, announcer, and anchor with a series of Spanish-language radio stations and launched his own news website, Memphis Noticias, in 2014. He reported on local events and interviewed city officials, including the mayor. In the process, he built an audience and a following. “I would describe him as the lighthouse because the [Latino] community here lived somehow in darkness,” said Yuleiny Escobar, a Memphis-area activist and friend of Duran’s who was arrested alongside him. “The news was the news for Univision or Galavision, but no such thing as local news that they could clearly understand. Manuel was the person that brought them the news, that brought them information of what was going on.”

    Memphis Noticias provided critical reporting on the horrific story of Bardomiano Pérez Hernández, a Mexican immigrant who was shot during an attempted robbery of the van he was riding in, and whose body remained in the van, undiscovered, for seven weeks at a Memphis police impound lot. Duran and his colleague Nena Garza were the first to track down Hernández’s ex-wife and interviewed her shortly after she’d identified his remains.

    Duran also reported extensively on ICE operations within the city, and he investigated allegations that Memphis law enforcement was cooperating with ICE, contradicting public denials from the police and city officials. In July 2017, Duran published an interview with a woman who said a Memphis police officer pulled over her friend and then contacted immigration authorities who arrived and detained her. According to the SPLC, Memphis police contacted Duran after the interview was published and asked him to take the story down.

    “His main focus wasn’t the injustices that are happening or anything like that. He wasn’t a troublemaker,” Tracy Love, stepfather of Duran’s fiancee and organizer of the #FreeManuelDuran movement, told me in an interview. “But he did report on the truth of what was going on with some things. He tried to give the benefit of the doubt in some areas, but he could only do that for so long.”

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On April 3, the day before the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in Memphis, several of the city’s activist groups staged a march to 201 Poplar Ave., the complex that houses the county jail, the sheriff’s department, and the local police department. Representatives from the Coalition of Concerned Citizens and Communidades Unidas en Una Voz organized the march to protest Memphis law enforcement’s alleged cooperation with ICE. Several of the marchers formed a mock chain gang that was led through the streets by a protester dressed as an ICE agent.

    Duran was on the scene to provide live coverage of the march, streaming the event on Memphis Noticias’ Facebook page. In a grimly ironic twist, Duran’s coverage of the protest offered some unintended foreshadowing of what Memphis law enforcement and ICE were about to do to him.

    “What is the real purpose [of the demonstration], in one minute, please,” Duran asked Yuleiny Escobar, who helped organize the march. “It’s that the police are cooperating with ICE and they’re detaining people for more than 48 hours,” she replied, referring to the detainer requests ICE makes of local law enforcement agencies to extend the detention of suspected undocumented immigrants. “They’re not respecting due process.” As the protest march approached 201 Poplar Ave., Duran offered commentary on the marchers’ grievances with immigration authorities. “They’re not removing criminals, according to the protesters, but rather they’re removing people who haven’t done anything,” he said.

    Eventually the marchers filed into a crosswalk in front of the sheriff’s office, at which point the police asserted themselves and started ordering people out of the road. Those orders were ignored, and the police seized one protester, Keedran Franklin, and dragged him away from the column of people to be arrested.

    Duran joined the media scrum that formed around Franklin. As he filmed the arrest, an officer made repeated demands to “get out of the street.” Duran started moving backward toward the sidewalk, keeping his camera trained on the arrest as the officer continued barking the order. According to the SPLC’s habeas petition, Duran’s progress was impeded because “a bottleneck occurred where two cars were parallel parked against the sidewalk to which officers were instructing people to move.” As the officer’s commands grew more hostile, a protester named Spencer Kaaz attempted to intercede on Duran’s behalf. “He’s going, he’s going,” Kaaz can be heard saying in Duran’s video. “Go now,” the officer shot back. “We’re going together,” Kaaz replied.

    Moments later, the officer ordered Duran arrested: “Get him, guys.” The camera shook as a policeman’s gloved hand moved to cover the lens. After some jostling, it fell to the ground. Escobar and another protester tried to intervene, clinging to Duran and shouting to the officers: “He’s a reporter! He’s a reporter!” They were pried off him by the police and arrested. Duran was handcuffed and taken away, his press credential still dangling from his neck.

    Duran was charged with disorderly conduct and obstructing a highway, both class-C misdemeanors. The criminal complaint against him states that he “refused” to leave the road and “caused a hazard.” The video evidence disproves both allegations. There was no indication that he was in any way disruptive or doing anything except trying to comply with police orders as he was reporting. While protesters screamed and resisted their detention, Duran was silent, offering nothing but a frightened smile as officers took him into custody.

    Memphis law enforcement showed no similarly urgent interest in the many other reporters and observers who were in the road snapping photos and capturing video of the protest. There were even people in the street videotaping Duran as he got arrested. The person who shot this video of the police arresting Duran and Escobar was told to “please move out of the street” by one of the officers. After taking just a couple of steps back (and while still in the street) another officer told him, “Right here, right here, right here, that’s good.”

    Eight protesters were taken into custody by the police, all on minor charges. Duran was the only journalist arrested. Duran, his attorneys, and his allies argue that his critical coverage of Memphis law enforcement was a factor in his arrest, and that he was targeted for retaliation. He told The Daily Beast in an interview that he was “without a doubt” arrested because of his reporting on Memphis police: “I was doing my work and nothing more, like any other journalist does.”

    The Memphis Police Department has categorically denied targeting Duran, telling the The Commercial Appeal: “At no time do we target individuals based on their criticism and/or opinion of the Memphis Police Department.”

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    For most of the people arrested at the April 3 MLK Day protest, detention was short-lived and they were quickly able to return to their lives. For Manuel Duran, this unwarranted arrest on trifling infractions upended his entire existence and abruptly tore him away from his community.

    Duran was booked into the Shelby County Jail and, according to court records, his bond was set at $100 and was paid on the evening of April 3 by his fiancee, Melisa Valdez. The protesters who were booked alongside Duran also posted their bonds and were released that same evening. Duran was not.

    He spent April 4 in jail and on April 5, he appeared in court, where the district attorney dropped both misdemeanor charges, likely because the video evidence showed there was absolutely no case to be made against him. But, despite having met the conditions for release for the second time, Duran was taken back to his cell. A short time later, he was in the custody of ICE agents, to the surprise and distress of his family. “We get a call that he’s being released right now, so if you could file around to go and get him out,” Tracy Love told me. “And before you know it, immigration is taking him out the other side of the door.”

    ICE had filed an immigration detainer against Duran on April 3 requesting that the Shelby County Jail hold him for 48 hours so immigration officers could come and pick him up. ICE detainer requests require the voluntary cooperation of local law enforcement -- police departments can choose to work with ICE or they can ignore the requests entirely. The requests themselves are not reviewed or authorized by a judge; they are issued unilaterally by ICE. This can put local police departments in a difficult spot, given that they’re being asked to detain people without any presentation of evidence or probable cause. “There’s not any kind of independent oversight, and the police have no way of knowing ... because they’re just receiving a request to detain,” said Thomas Castelli, legal director for ACLU Tennessee. “They’re just basically getting something issued straight from the agency with no judicial oversight.”

    In Manuel Duran’s case, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office denied he was held on an ICE detainer and put out a statement the day he was transferred to ICE custody saying that Duran’s detention had been extended because “he refused to sign bond,” adding: “He was not being held on an ICE Hold.” Michelle LaPointe, SPLC’s acting deputy legal director and one of Duran’s attorneys, was perplexed by the sheriff’s department’s position. “They’ve denied this. I’m not quite sure how or why,” she told me. “We have a copy of the detainer, and the government in its response to our habeas petition cites the detainer as the reason they could take custody of him.”

    When I asked the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office if it still maintained that Duran was not held at ICE’s behest, a spokesperson wrote back simply: “Mr. Duran was booked into the Jail on charges brought by another agency. ICE representatives attend (sic) his court proceeding and were present when the charges were dismissed. ICE representatives detained Mr. Duran when he was released from the Jail.”

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Duran was transferred directly from the Shelby County Jail to the LaSalle ICE Processing Center in Jena, LA, more than 300 miles from Memphis. The LaSalle facility is located in a remote part of the state and has become a key part of the Trump administration’s policy of expediting deportations.

    The conditions inside LaSalle (just one attorney visitation room for 1,200 detainees) and its distance from major population centers make it extremely difficult for detainees to obtain representation and stay in contact with their families. In a statement from inside LaSalle, Duran reported that “they would not let you know your attorney is on the phone,” “visitation hours and your recreation hours happen at the time so you have to choose between seeing your family and getting some air,” and “it is extremely hard to get the phone number of a private attorney and if you are lucky enough to find one, the attorney is costs thousands dollars (sic).”

    Duran was one of the “lucky” ones -- his status as a public figure and connections to the activist community meant that he had immediate access to legal representation, and his attorneys quickly began working to get him released. SPLC filed its habeas petition with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. His lawyers also filed a motion with the Atlanta Immigration Court (which issued his removal order in 2007) to reopen his case, arguing that he had never received the initial notice to appear. That motion was denied, so they filed an emergency motion with the Board of Immigration Appeals to stay Duran’s deportation. That motion was granted in late May, and Duran’s deportation was stayed while the board reviews his case.

    The stay came through just in time: ICE had planned to put Duran on a plane back to El Salvador the very next day. In the less than two months he’d spent in ICE custody, the agency had bounced him around Louisiana from LaSalle to another facility in Pine Prairie, and then to a deportation staging facility in Alexandria. Prolonged detention and the emotional whiplash from being brought to the brink of deportation took a toll on Duran. “To have to be fighting your immigration case from within detention is very difficult,” said attorney Michelle LaPointe. “The news … he received from BIA I think helped his spirits. And he’s fighting his case and wants to continue fighting his case, so that was a bit of good news, though, of course, the appeal remains pending.”

    Duran was taken back to LaSalle to wait out the appeal process. He still faces the threat of deportation back to a country he fled to escape violence, and which has only grown more dangerous in the 12 years since he left. Duran’s allies warn that he would likely face persecution if he were sent back. “El Salvador is an extremely dangerous place for everybody, especially an extremely dangerous place for a journalist,” said Maximiliano Gluzman. “People follow his activities, a journalist, from El Salvador. … I think he has very good reason to expect a not-warm welcome, and to expect that he will be at risk if he returns to El Salvador.”

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In almost every interaction with law enforcement -- from the local police to federal immigration authorities -- Manuel Duran has had his rights violated and freedoms abrogated.

    Even if you believe the Memphis Police Department’s denials that it targeted Duran, his arrest was still thoroughly unjustified and a violation of his First Amendment rights. The Shelby County Jail kept him detained even after he’d posted bond and all the spurious charges against him were dropped. And after dodging deportation by a hair’s breadth, he remains in ICE’s custody, even though he is not dangerous, has no criminal record, and is a public figure who is unlikely to attempt to go into hiding. The government’s desired outcome in Duran’s case is to send him back to one of the world’s most dangerous and violent countries, where journalists like him routinely face death threats.

    In years past, Duran would have been a low priority for immigration enforcement, but new Homeland Security guidelines issued early in the Trump administration rescinded existing guidelines for prosecutorial discretion and effectively turned every undocumented immigrant into a priority deportee. It’s impossible to argue that Duran presents a threat to the community that he worked to inform, but the political position of the administration (which is reflected in its policy choices) is that undocumented immigrants are dangerous by virtue of who they are.

    Duran’s fellow journalists have also failed him. The story of his unjust arrest and detention has been covered by local Memphis media (The Commercial Appeal in particular has doggedly kept on top of the story) and Spanish-language outlets, and The Daily Beast interviewed Duran from LaSalle. But major newspapers, broadcast networks, and cable news channels have mostly ignored it. This coverage blackout endures despite journalism groups and press activists launching and supporting campaigns on Duran’s behalf.

    One would think that the national press would take interest in a journalist who was arrested for doing his job, who is still being detained more than three months later, and whose life might be put at risk through deportation. His story is certainly worthy of more attention than a lawyer-pundit being shunned on Martha’s Vineyard. The persecution he faces is more acute than that of the “renegades of the intellectual dark web” who are “locked out of legacy [media] outlets.” And the suppression of his speech rights is real in ways that supposedly deplatformed right-wing campus speakers can only fantasize about. But Duran’s ordeal has remained largely unnoticed outside of activist groups, local journalists, and his community in Memphis.

    Manuel Duran made a life in the United States by providing a voice to a community that lacked its own. It is outrageous that so few of his colleagues are lending their voices while his own is being silenced.

    UPDATE (9/10/2018): Manuel Duran’s petition for habeas corpus was denied and dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. His deportation order is still under review by the Board of Immigration Appeals.

  • Now would be a great time for Sean Hannity to revisit his Seth Rich lies

    It actually was Russians who hacked the DNC, and Hannity needs a reckoning

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Earlier today the Department of Justice announced that special counsel Robert Mueller’s office had secured indictments against 12 Russian intelligence officers for the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Those indictments align with what intelligence agencies have long since concluded: The Russian government hacked these Democratic political groups and disseminated their internal correspondences.

    The alternative, batshit-insane theory to how the DNC’s emails made it into the wild is that they were provided to WikiLeaks by DNC staffer Seth Rich, who was then murdered while walking home to his Washington, D.C., apartment as part of some sinister cover-up. This theory was, for a while, a favorite topic of Fox News’ Sean Hannity, who was heavily invested in portraying the deceased Rich as the source of the emails because, to his mind, that would debunk allegations that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign colluded with Russia.

    The whole disgusting conspiracy theory was powered by a since-retracted Fox News report that had been quickly debunked by Rich’s family. But Hannity kept pounding away at the false story and lashing out at anyone who criticized him for his abominable exploitation of a murder victim. It wasn’t until advertisers started fleeing his program that Hannity finally relented. On his May 30, 2017, show he said: “Out of respect for the family's wishes, well, I decided for the time being not to discuss it unless there were further developments,” although he added, “I will not stop investigating.”

    Since then, Fox News has been sued by Rich’s family for damages related to Hannity’s gross misconduct and similarly foul behavior from other Fox News hosts and contributors.

    Now that Mueller’s office has laid out the evidence that Russian government officials were responsible for leaking the DNC’s emails, it feels like a good time for Hannity and Fox News to make their long-overdue apologies and explanations for promulgating this trash conspiracy theory.

    But that’s clearly not going to happen; if you’re enough of a monstrous goon to slur the reputation of a murdered Democratic staffer and inflict emotional trauma on his family in order to protect Trump’s political standing, then you’re not really the apologizing type.

  • Scott Pruitt’s dead-end loyalists

    Right-wing pundits out themselves as terminally dishonest enablers of corruption

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Scott Pruitt has finally -- finally -- resigned as Environmental Protection Agency administrator after months of reporting on his increasingly farcical acts of corruption and petty grifting. The fact that Pruitt managed to stay in his job for as long as he did as evidence of his flamboyant venality accumulated speaks to President Donald Trump’s unique capacity to attract and protect corrupt officials. We’re not even two years into the Trump administration and already two Cabinet-level officials have been forced out because of ethics scandals and misuses of public funds. And that’s to say nothing of the interior secretary, the commerce secretary, the housing and urban development secretary, and Trump himself, all of whom are marinating in a toxic slurry of graft and malfeasance.

    But even for the shockingly corrupt Trump administration, the breadth, depth, and frequently absurd nature of Pruitt’s grift made him something special. His conduct is the subject of more than a dozen official investigations, and the inquiries will continue despite his departure from the EPA. Given what we already know about Pruitt’s conduct and the possibility that still more abuses will emerge, there would seem to be little upside to defending this cretin as he slinks out the door. But that’s precisely what Pruitt’s allies in the conservative media are doing, rallying around the most gaudily corrupt Trump official and pretending that Pruitt is the victim.

    We’ll start with radio host Hugh Hewitt, given that he’s an established accessory to the Pruitt corruption omniscandal. He tweeted his support for his “good friend and a very good man,” arguing that Pruitt had been unfairly “caricatured” by the now-familiar faceless conspiracy of liberals and reporters:

    Hewitt quote-tweeted Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel, who insisted that the “lesson” of Pruitt’s scandal-plagued tenure and resignation is that “the left/media/organized greens” operate in bad faith by taking supposedly minor ethical lapses -- remember, there are over a dozen open investigations into Pruitt -- and turning them into a full-blown scandal:

    The Federalist Senior Editor Mollie Hemingway also bemoaned the success of the assumed liberal media conspiracy against Pruitt and direly warned that it will have future successes against other corrupt senior officials:

    And, bringing up the rear in spectacularly stupid fashion, we have the Wall Street Journal editorial board (of which Strassel is a member) which attacked the “permanent progressive state” for cynically capitalizing on the “tragedy” of Pruitt’s corruption to force him out:

    Chalk one up for the swamp. The permanent progressive state finally ran Scott Pruitt out of the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday, and the tragedy is that Mr. Pruitt gave his enemies so much ammunition.

    None of these defenses make much sense -- Strassel and the WSJ editors sort-of acknowledge Pruitt’s bad behavior but somehow still push blame off elsewhere -- and all of them presume the existence of an anti-Pruitt conspiracy to conveniently ignore the warehouses of evidence against Pruitt and the small cohort of Republican officials who’d called for his head. The only criticism they can muster against him is that he just wasn’t PR-savvy enough to deal with the phantom anti-Pruitt conspiracy.

    They’re making these transparently ridiculous defenses of Pruitt mainly to avoid facing some uncomfortable realities. When Pruitt’s scandals first started bubbling up, most of the people highlighted here wrote basically the same piece arguing that liberals were conducting a political hit on Pruitt because he was such an effective destroyer of environmental regulations. That argument has aged extremely poorly. Also, if they were to allow that Pruitt is corrupt, that would change how they’d have to talk about Trump, given that the president allowed such a prolific abuser of public trust to remain in office for months after he should have been fired. Indeed, most of them demanded that Trump stand by Pruitt. They won’t admit that they were wrong, so instead they’re casting Pruitt as a victim and blaming his downfall on a shadowy cabal of reporters and green activists.

    This flagrant intellectual dishonesty in defense of rampant corruption raises an important question: How long will the press tolerate and abet behavior like this? Strassel, Hewitt, Hemingway, and Journal editorial writers are Sunday show conservatives -- they appear as guests and panelists on mainstream news programs and they enjoy the respect of some elite journalists and news organizations. Already we’re seeing some stirrings of revulsion -- CNBC’s John Harwood asked if Hewitt “seriously believes” that Pruitt is a victim:

    There is no answer to this question that reflects well on Hewitt or anyone else making that argument. If they do believe that Scott Pruitt was victimized, then they’re either too stupid or too blinded by tribal loyalty to be taken seriously. If they don’t believe it, then they’re just lying to defend one of the most staggeringly corrupt politicians in recent memory. Either way, they’ve outed themselves as untrustworthy, bad-faith shills for a corrupt White House.

  • What is the point of Richard Cohen?

    The Washington Post’s tenured barnacle has some wheezy observations on socialism

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    It’s genuinely baffling that Richard Cohen still occupies a place of prominence on the Washington Post opinion page. The only time you ever hear about something he’s written is when he blurps up a column so obtuse, horrific, sexist, horny, or racist that someone like me musters the requisite energies to point out how obtuse, horrific, sexist, horny, or racist it is. He’s good for the occasional hate-read traffic bump and that’s about it. And yet he just keeps on cranking out his flaccid, miserable takes and taking up space that could be better utilized by columnists whose worldviews have progressed beyond the Reagan era.

    In his latest offering, Cohen reacts to the energy and enthusiasm surrounding NY-14 Democratic nominee Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who vaulted to national prominence with her upset victory over House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley. Ocasio-Cortez is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and she ran, in part, on abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement. These two facts are highly worrisome to Cohen, who frets that they’ll be used by President Donald Trump and the Republicans to attack Democrats.

    “The trouble with left-wing Democrats is that they lack a proper respect for right-wing demagoguery,” Cohen writes as his thesis. “Hence, at the moment, many of them extol socialism ... and are calling for the abolition of ICE, generously giving President Trump yet another opportunity to demagogue on immigration. They will, if allowed, declaim their way to another defeat.”

    This is, not surprisingly, a precisely backward diagnosis of what ails the modern Democratic Party. Democrats have been obsessively and self-destructively worried about what nasty things Republicans and conservatives will say if they don’t come off as sufficiently “moderate.” And when they try to mollify the right they still get the full blast of right-wing demagoguery. John Kerry voted for the Iraq War and the Patriot Act, and in 2004 he got torn apart by the right as a weakling and terrorist sympathizer. President Barack Obama implemented a record-setting increase in deportations to show Republicans how tough he was on border security, and comprehensive immigration reform still tanked because the hard-right faction in the House called him an open-borders amnesty lover.

    Now Cohen is worried that Trump and the Republicans will start calling Democrats “socialists” because New York voters elected Ocasio-Cortez. “To [older voters], the socialist label is anathema and, as far as I’m concerned, unnecessary,” he writes. “This, after all, is the avuncular socialism of Bernie Sanders: universal Medicare and free higher education. It needs no label. Sign me up.” (“No label”? What a fresh and intriguing concept!)

    Because Cohen has his head stuck in 1983’s ass, it never occurs to him that several decades worth of Democratic maneuvering to avoid overt associations with “socialism” has done nothing to deter Republicans from calling them “socialists.” But he wants Democrats to keep playing this losing game according to Republican rules because that’s how politics has worked for the length and breadth of his career and his brain is too ossified to contemplate an alternative.

    “The socialist label, combined with the demand to obliterate the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, is the nitro and the glycerin of a bomb that Trump can throw at the Democrats,” Cohen continues, writing that Trump will seize on #AbolishICE to stoke white identity politics and capitalize on “resentment and fury.” Once again, I have to wonder whether Cohen has paid any attention to politics in the last decade. Donald Trump’s entire political identity is rooted in white resentment and xenophobia, and he requires no excuse to stoke racial grievance for his own benefit.

    Neither Trump nor the GOP actually care what the Democratic position on ICE or immigration is; they’ll all be smeared with the same shit-laden brush regardless. Take, as a timely example, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who supports abolishing ICE, and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who says “we've got to critically re-examine ICE”: They were both attacked by the White House this week as crime lovers and gang supporters.

    The democratic-socialist movement in the U.S. is resurgent and is proving to be a source of energy and intensity within Democratic politics. So, naturally, Cohen wants it diluted to nothingness. “ICE could certainly use some restraint,” he writes. “And some aspects of democratic socialism are welcome.” But “speak no more of socialism,” he concludes, because that accursed word might angry up the already angry reactionaries and nativists in power. This is a variation of the tiresome “civility” game that privileges bad-faith actors and lets them set the rules for how we talk about politics. Right-wing demagoguery deserves no respect, and no one should ever listen to Richard Cohen.

  • The media’s “civility” game helps Trump

    The Red Hen reaction shows how Trump benefits from backward media accountability

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Photo: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons; art by Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was politely asked to leave the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, VA, this past weekend because the owner was unwilling to serve a senior Trump administration official who defends (among other things) the cruel and inhumane separation of migrant families and internment of immigrant children. This act of protest -- the most recent example of a senior Trump official being heckled or protested over the family-separation policy -- galvanized certain pundits who voiced a moral objection to what they viewed as a grave injustice: “uncivil” behavior by ordinary people toward perpetrators of a despicable government policy.

    This ridiculous crusade was led by the Washington Post editorial board, which published a profoundly silly piece urging all of America to “Let the Trump team eat in peace.” Per the Post:

    OVER THE WEEKEND there was a fair bit of argument about the decision by a small restaurant in Lexington, Va., not to serve dinner to President Trump’s press secretary. It wasn’t the first time recently that strong political feelings have spilled into what used to be considered the private sphere. We understand the strength of the feelings, but we don’t think the spilling is a healthy development.

    I agree completely with The Week’s Ryan Cooper, who writes that this reaction is counterproductive and morally backward: “If there is any main wellspring of ‘incivility’ … it comes from the monstrously evil actions of the Trump regime.” Diverting the focus from the evils of the White House to the “uncivil” protest actions they inspire does the evildoers a tremendous favor.

    The civility game does nothing but privilege the people whose views and actions are horrific. When the president does contemptible, anti-democratic things like ordering the separation of migrant mothers from infants and demanding that due process be eliminated, he and his lackeys follow a poisonous process in which the White House enthusiastically demonizes its adversaries -- Democrats, immigrants, journalists, anyone who objects to toddler internment -- while rigorously and woundedly demanding that everyone else follow the rules of polite discourse. The idea is that the president and his cronies deserve respect and deference no matter what they say or do simply because of the offices they hold.

    This cynical posturing gets helped along by journalists and pundits who acknowledge that the president’s policies and beliefs are abhorrent but nonetheless self-righteously cluck their tongues at the “incivility” of the White House’s critics. The Washington Post editorial board writes that the Red Hen’s defenders are correct on the merits when they say that the child internment scandal is “no ordinary policy dispute” and that President Donald Trump “has ordered terrible violations of human rights at the border.” But even in the face of what the paper recognizes as a uniquely appalling violation of rights and norms, the Post still takes a swipe at those who are “justifying incivility” and asks us to imagine a world in which abortion rights advocates are harassed for their (constitutionally protected) views -- something that happens literally all the time and too often has deadly consequences.

    This vapid argument was perfectly crystallized in a chiding tweet from Washington Post columnist David Ignatius:

    “However troubling her views.” Her “troubling" views are the story! The despicable arguments and actions of the administration are driving this public backlash against senior officials. But elite members of the media are busily doing the White House a favor by prioritizing “civility” over accountability -- forget about the fact that she’s the mouthpiece for an administration perpetrating a deliberate evil against a vulnerable population; this senior government official deserves respect and steak tartare.

    The endurance of this worldview in the face of broadly recognized illegal and immoral behavior does not portend well for the immediate post-Trump era. The end of Trump’s administration should be met with a vigorous and thorough accounting of all its misdeeds and criminality. Standing athwart that effort will be a coalition of bad-faith Republicans, badly misguided pundits, and calculatedly centrist Democrats who will argue that any attempt to investigate Trump abuses will be too “political” and contrary to the more important task of “healing” or “bringing Americans together” or some other nonsense. That was the mindset that helped shield the people responsible for the George W. Bush-era torture program from any sort of official accountability; in 2009, the same David Ignatius snidely dismissed people who backed “retrospective investigations of wrongdoing by the CIA” as “liberal score-settlers.”

    The Trump administration’s aberrant and illegal behaviors are driven in part by the faith that the political and media establishment will be too cowardly and too self-absorbed to impose any real accountability. Given that official Washington can’t stomach an act of “uncivil” protest by a local eatery, it’s hard to argue that the White House’s faith is misplaced.

  • Jeanine Pirro calls for Jeff Sessions’ head (because she wants his job)

    Fox News’ loudest Trump propagandist aspires to be attorney general

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    The key to understanding how Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro operates is to realize that she is single-minded in her personal ambition while completely unencumbered by anything resembling shame, dignity, or professional integrity. As it stands, Pirro is one of the more influential pundits in the country by virtue of her close relationship with President Donald Trump. She uses her awful Fox News program, Justice with Judge Jeanine, to propagandize on Trump’s behalf, for which she is granted access to the president, interviews with key administration officials, etc.

    But that’s not enough for Pirro, who turned to televised punditry only after her once-promising political and legal career was left in smoldering ruin by her personal scandals and widely mocked campaign ineptitude. According to Politico, Pirro aspires to the lofty office of attorney general of the United States and has been telling the president’s advisers that “she’s interested in taking over as the nation’s top law enforcement official.”

    Ordinarily, it would seem ridiculous that a cable pundit would have any chance of serving as attorney general, but that was before the reality TV star president tapped two cable pundits to be his chief economic and national security advisers and nominated his doctor to run the Department of Veterans Affairs because he gave a good press conference.

    There are, however, some major obstacles to Pirro landing her dream job: chief among them, the guy currently holding it. She can’t be attorney general while Jeff Sessions is still in office. So Pirro is taking matters into her own hands and using her cable news program to undermine her supposed rival and publicly call for his resignation (or ouster).

    Here’s Pirro on June 2 saying, “If Jeff Sessions can’t do his job because he’s too scared or recusing himself, maybe he ought to resign himself. But that’s just me.”

    And here she is one week before that calling Sessions an “absentee attorney general” and asking White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, “Isn’t it time to get a working attorney general on staff?”

    And here she is one week before that calling Sessions “the most dangerous man in America” because he refuses to use the awesome powers of his office to protect Donald Trump and arrest the senior staff of the Justice Department (seriously):

    This is all quite insane and grotesquely unethical and fatally shot through with toxic self-interest. All those characteristics should, under normal circumstances, prevent Pirro from having her name even briefly considered for any government position, let alone attorney general. But these are strange times in which a televised authoritarian harangue in support of turning the Justice Department into a weapon against the president’s political enemies can win you plaudits in the Oval Office. “Attorney general nominee Jeanine Pirro” would be a sad, surreal joke, but there’s absolutely no guarantee that it won’t happen.