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Zachary Pleat

Author ››› Zachary Pleat
  • How Sean Hannity has talked about Michael Cohen since the FBI raid

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    For four days last week, Sean Hannity attacked the April 9 FBI raid of Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s office and hotel room, all without disclosing that he is also a legal client of Cohen, as Cohen’s lawyers disclosed in federal court today.

    The New York Times reported that FBI agents were looking for records of payments to two women who say they had affairs with President Donald Trump years ago, Karen McDougal and Stephanie Clifford (also known as Stormy Daniels). They were also reportedly looking for communications between Trump and Cohen about a leaked Access Hollywood tape and records about Cohen’s taxi medallion business. Days later, CNN broke the news that the FBI seized recordings Cohen made of conversations with a lawyer who once represented both women. The Washington Post reported that Cohen is being investigated “for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations.”

    The disclosure that the Fox News host is a client of Cohen was made by one of Cohen’s attorneys in court today, after Cohen’s lawyers said they contacted Hannity and he had not authorized the release of his name. Nonetheless, the court ordered Hannity’s name disclosed. As Politico explained, Hannity (and his guests) repeatedly criticized the raids without disclosing his own connection to Cohen until after it was made public in court.

    Hannity dedicated multiple segments of his Fox primetime show to criticizing the raid on Cohen each night from April 9 through April 12 (he spent the entire April 13 edition of his show covering Trump’s airstrikes on Syria.) Here's exactly what he said:

    April 9

    Hannity opened his show by saying the Michael Cohen raid is a declaration of “a legal war on the president.”

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): And this is a Fox News alert. President Trump's long-time personal attorney, Michael Cohen, just had his office, his home, and his hotel that he was staying in raided by the FBI today in an early morning raid. Now, what that means is Mueller's witch-hunt investigation is now a run away (sic) train that is clearly careening off the tracks.

    [...]

    HANNITY: All right. Tonight, we have explosive new chapter in Mueller's partisan witch-hunt. Now, we have now entered a dangerous phase and there is no turning back from this.

    [...]

    Now, keep in mind. Cohen was never part of the Trump administration or the Trump campaign. This is now officially an all hands on deck effort to totally malign and, if possible, impeach the president of the United States. Now, Mueller and Rosenstein have declared what is a legal war on the president.

    Fox legal analyst Gregg Jarrett said to Hannity that the Cohen raid “abused the law.”

    GREGG JARRETT( FOX NEWS LEGAL ANALYST): I think the president was right to be frustrated and angry. Americans should be outraged. This is an abuse of the system.

    You know, here you have an attorney general who should never have recused himself and seems to be rather incompetent on the matter. You've got corrupt acts by top officials at the FBI and you've got Rosenstein and Mueller who have abused the law and today was a perfect example of this.

    April 10

    Hannity said the Cohen raid was a declaration of “all-out political war against this president” and advised Trump to continue attacking Mueller and cease any negotiations with him.

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): The so-called investigation to Russia collusion, it is now officially moved beyond its mandate into a political takedown of the president you elected, and it seems by any means necessary. Now, just a minute, we will uncover the shocking unfair two-tiered justice system in this country and we'll show you just how abusively biased and corrupt Mueller and his team of investigators are and that they have now declared an all-out political war against this president.

    [...]

    Frankly, the president needs to immediately start advancing the truth about who Robert Mueller is, what his mandate was, how far beyond his mandate is and about his entire team of Democratic donors. And, frankly, any negotiations that were going on with the president talking to Robert Mueller, that should probably likely end if it hasn't already, and the president and his legal team should be preparing to take this all the way to the United States Supreme Court. That's where we are tonight.

    Hannity and Jarrett agreed that the Cohen raid was a “trap” to provoke Trump into doing something rash.

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): Gregg, I'll start with you. You have referred to the seizing of Michael Cohen's attorneys as an affront to our legal system and our justice system.

    GREGG JARRETT (FOX NEWS LEGAL ANALYST): And it shows just how unprincipled Robert Mueller and Rod Rosenstein are. You know, they knew it was outside the scope of the authority of the special counsel, so they gave it to somebody else to do their dirty work. I suspect this was an effort to provoke the president into doing something [rash] that would hurt himself. But he's too smart for that, he's not going to do that.

    But -- think about what's it at risk here.

    HANNITY: Well, it's a trap. Don't you think it's a trap in a lot of ways?

    JARRETT: It's surely a trap, as is a trap of sitting down with Robert Mueller to answer questions.

    April 11

    Wannabe Trump lawyer Joe diGenova told Hannity the Cohen raid shows Rod Rosenstein and Mueller are “using a grand jury to terrorize people” and it’s “an abuse of power” that Rosenstein should be fired for.

    JOE DIGENOVA: Look, I must tell you, I find this raid of Mr. Cohen's office so appalling in every sense -- legal, ethical professional responsibility. What Rod Rosenstein and Bob Mueller have done is weaponized in an unconstitutional way the criminal investigation process which should be sacrosanct.

    And what they have done is they have conducted and are conducting now something that is called an in terrorem grand jury. They are using a grand jury to terrorize people. That is an abuse of power. Mr. Rosenstein is responsible for it.

    And while I agree with Alan wholeheartedly that Mr. Rosenstein cannot possibly ethically participate in this, it will make no difference to him because he now has an animus toward the president of the United States, which disqualifies him from the performance of his duties and Jeff Sessions should fire him tomorrow morning.

    Hannity said that the Cohen raid is “what we expect in Venezuela.”

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): All right as we continue with Joe diGenova and professor Alan Dershowitz, these tactics are not American. That's the point. This is -- this is what we expect in Venezuela. This is not the United States or anything.

    April 12

    Hannity cited the Cohen raid to smear Mueller’s investigation as an “overreaching witch hunt” and complained that liberals weren’t standing up for Cohen’s rights.

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): Now, we turn to some other developments, including those surrounding Robert Mueller's overreaching witch hunt. Former Federal Election Commission chairman, his name is Bradley Smith, he's a Republican appointed by President Clinton, is throwing cold water on the notion that Michael Cohen could or should be charged with a crime in connection to this whole Stormy Daniels payment.

    [...]

    So, now, it's actually moved into Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal and the "Access Hollywood" tape and worse. And raiding the home of the president's personal attorney to find those issues, not about Russia -- at some point, I am wondering where is the left in this country? Where are the civil libertarians in this country?

    All transcripts are from the Nexis database.

  • Fox News has spent years claiming that Scooter Libby's conviction was unjust. Trump just pardoned him.

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    President Donald Trump on April 13 pardoned Scooter Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, saying, “I don’t know Mr. Libby, but for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly.” In the past year, Fox hosts, contributors, and guests have repeatedly compared special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion of the Trump campaign with Russia with Libby’s case and subsequent conviction. Libby was convicted of four felonies including for obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI during an investigation into who leaked the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame to journalists.

    Various figures on Fox primetime have made repeated claims in the last year that Scooter Libby was unfairly prosecuted. On February 1, conservative radio host and author Mark Steyn said on Tucker Carlson Tonight that the Scooter Libby investigation was “disgraceful.” On January 29, Libby’s lawyer Victoria Toensing (who almost joined Trump’s legal team in March along with her husband Joe diGenova) bemoaned Libby’s fate on Fox News At Night, saying he “didn’t lie” to investigators and was indicted “without one other minutia of evidence.” Fox host Sean Hannity said on January 25 that Libby was given “a raw deal” and said the next day that he was “innocent.”

    Nexis transcripts show various mentions of Libby in 2017 when Fox personalities talked about the supposed unfairness of the Mueller investigation. On November 8, Fox host Laura Ingraham said on her show that officials like Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor who led the investigation of Libby, are “out of control.” On August 7, Hannity also made a reference to Libby, saying that Libby was caught in a “perjury trap” (a claim he repeated on June 13 and 19) because he “wouldn’t give up the vice president.” During his August 1 show, Hannity cited Libby as a victim of “investigative creep,” which is “a real problem with all special counsels” -- a point he also made on July 21 when he said he’s “been warning about this investigative creep.” Former Fox contributor Monica Crowley, who was slated to join the Trump administration but chose not to amid allegations she heavily plagiarized a 2012 book and parts of her PhD dissertation, said on the June 8 edition of Fox News’ Hannity that prosecutors went after Scooter Libby “as a way to go after Dick Cheney,” Fox contributor Newt Gingrich appeared on Hannity on May 30 and said, “I have said over and over again that the conviction of Scooter Libby in the Bush administration is one of the greatest scandals in modern America.”

    Plame’s covert status as a CIA operative was blown in July 2003 after The Washington Post published a column by Robert Novak that outed her as “an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction.” The outing happened after Plame’s husband Joe Wilson revealed evidence casting doubt on the George W. Bush administration's claims Iraq was seeking to obtain uranium. Fitzgerald, who was appointed to investigate this leak, explained to the media that Libby “was the first official known to have told a reporter” about Plame’s CIA employment. Libby was convicted “in 2007 of lying to the FBI and obstruction of justice.” President George W. Bush commuted his sentence, but did not pardon him.

    Trump may have also heard personal appeals from Toensing and Fox regular Alan Dershowitz. Toensing, who is also one of Libby’s lawyers, met with the president in March along with her husband when he was considering adding both of them to his personal legal team. Dershowitz, who worked on Libby’s appeal of his conviction, reportedly had dinner with Trump just days ago. According to CNN, “Trump did not follow his predecessors' practice of consulting with lawyers at the Justice Department before announcing his decision.”

  • Media outlets are citing a hate group in reports about Trump's planned census change for 2020

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Media outlets are citing the anti-immigrant hate group Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) in reports about the Trump administration’s addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census, which experts say will jeopardize its accuracy.

    The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has called CIS founder John Tanton “the father of the modern nativist movement” and designated his organization a hate group because it “churns out a constant stream of fear-mongering misinformation about Latino immigrants.” Also contributing to the decision to designate was CIS' “repeated circulation of white nationalist and anti-Semitic writers in its weekly newsletter and the commissioning of a policy analyst who had previously been pushed out of the conservative Heritage Foundation for his embrace of racist pseudoscience.” CIS personnel have a record of making racist commentary and portraying immigrants as dangerous criminals. Yet, all too often, media outlets treat CIS as a credible voice in immigration debates, and they frequently fail to identify either its anti-immigrant views or its white nationalist ties.

    This is happening again in reports regarding the Trump administration’s announcement that it will add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census. At least a dozen states oppose the move and have indicated they will sue the administration to prevent the question from being added, and census and civil rights experts have said adding such a question will reduce response rates from immigrants, jeopardizing the census’ accuracy. Yet CIS has defended the addition of a citizenship question, and news reports from both conservative and mainstream outlets are discussing the organization’s support of the Trump administration move.

    A Minnesota Star Tribune article quoted CIS, as did a column from the Boston Herald’s Adriana Cohen. D.C.’s ABC affiliate station WJLA (owned by the pro-Trump Sinclair Broadcasting Group) also cited CIS research, and ABC Radio’s D.C. affiliate WTOP briefly cited CIS’ defense of adding the citizenship question. Four different Fox News shows also cited CIS in their March 27 coverage of the census change: Happening Now, Outnumbered Overtime, The Daily Briefing, and Special Report. A March 28 FoxNews.com column defending the administration’s move linked to a CIS study. Fox host Laura Ingraham’s radio show hosted CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian on March 27 to criticize Democrats’ response to the move, and Washington Examiner columnist Paul Bedard extensively quoted CIS to justify adding a citizenship question to the census.

    Only WTOP and the Star Tribune mentioned CIS’ agenda, saying simply that the group “pushes for decreased immigration” and has “advocated for tougher immigration regulations.” But those descriptors hardly inform voters about CIS’ problematic origins or its continuing associations with white nationalists and other bigots. Legitimate media outlets should not cite anti-immigrant groups as sources of unbiased information at all -- and if they do, they should clearly label them as such.

  • Steve Doocy suggests adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census will help its accuracy. Experts say the opposite.

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    On Fox News’ morning show Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy claimed that the Trump administration’s decision to include a citizenship question in the 2020 census will help with getting an “accurate headcount.” In fact, census and civil rights experts have explained that the move will lower confidence in the census and lead to some immigrants not filling it out, decreasing its accuracy.

    The citizenship question already exists on the smaller American Community Survey that goes out to a small portion of households every year, but this will be the first time it will be included on the full decennial census survey since 1950. According to The Wall Street Journal, it will ask “whether a person is a citizen by birth or by naturalization or isn’t a citizen. It won’t ask about the legality of an immigrant’s presence.” The census is used for, among other things, apportioning seats in the House of Representatives and distributing federal funding among the states.

    Census and civil rights experts have said that the addition of this question will decrease response rates from immigrants, thus making the census less accurate:

    • A bipartisan group of former Census Bureau directors in a letter sent to the commerce secretary: “We strongly believe that adding an untested question on citizenship status at this late point in the decennial planning process would put the accuracy of the enumeration and success of the census in all communities at grave risk.”
    • Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights President and CEO Vanita Gupta: “This untimely, unnecessary, and untested citizenship question will disrupt planning at a critical point, undermine years of painstaking preparation, and increase costs significantly, putting a successful, accurate count at risk.”
    • Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law President and Executive Director Kristen Clarke: "This is an arbitrary and untested decision that all but guarantees that the Census will not produce a full and accurate count of the population as the constitution requires."
    • Brennan Center Democracy Program Director Wendy Weiser: “This question is a dangerous move that could lead to a serious skewing of the final census results, which would have a deleterious effect on our system of representative democracy."
    • Census expert Terri Ann Lowenthal: “Between evidence that the administration is manipulating the census for political gain, and fear that the administration will use the census to harm immigrants, confidence in the integrity of the count could plummet. And the census is only as good as the public’s willingness to participate.”

    But none of this mattered to Fox & Friends’ Steve Doocy. According to him, the addition of a citizenship question will ensure an “accurate headcount” of people:

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): The Democrats say, look, you're just trying to intimidate the people who are in this country, maybe not legally, but in California they are.

    STEVE HILTON: Yes, but there's a real thing. Being a citizen is a real thing with real issues attached to it that should affect your rights and your responsibilities in this country. So, establishing who is and isn't a citizen is a perfectly reasonable thing for government to do.

    DOOCY: Maybe the Democrats out there are worried that if they have an accurate depiction of who is living out there, accurate headcount, it's not as many people as they think, they might lose federal money, they might lose congressional districts, who knows.

  • 60 Minutes’ interview with Stormy Daniels airs tonight. Here are 5 ways conservative media figures have attacked or downplayed her story.

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Adult film actress and director Stephanie Clifford, known professionally as Stormy Daniels, recorded an interview about her alleged affair with President Donald Trump, which is scheduled to air tonight on CBS’ 60 Minutes. Since she first came forward, some conservative media figures have chosen to attack her or to minimize her story.

    According to Daniels, she and Trump had an affair in 2006. She first gave an interview about the affair in 2011 with In Touch Weekly, but it was only published in full earlier this year. While Trump has denied the affair took place, one of his lawyers, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels $130,000 just a month before the 2016 presidential election to keep her from speaking publicly about it. Trump and Daniels have recently sued one another over the 2016 agreement.

    Trump’s lawyers reportedly considered legal action to stop the broadcast of Daniels’ pre-recorded 60 Minutes interview, which will air tonight on CBS. And in recent weeks, some conservative media figures have also run defense for the president.

    Smearing Daniels over her adult film career

    Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft: Daniels is a “washed up porn star.”

    [Gateway Pundit, 3/6/18]

    CNN conservative political commentator Jason Miller: “I think it is clear that Ms. Clifford is trying to essentially launch a second act to her career now.”

    CNN guest Michael Caputo: “Let's not forget, this is a woman who gets paid for sex wanting more money.”

    Telling other media outlets they shouldn’t be giving Daniels’ story much attention

    Fox host Sean Hannity dubbed CNN president Jeff Zucker the “‘porn king’ of cable news” for coverage of Daniels. Fox prime-time host Sean Hannity lashed out at CNN for covering Daniels’ allegations against Trump, calling CNN president Jeff Zucker the “porn king” of cable news. He also called CNN’s “non-stop coverage of Stormy Daniels” a “new obsession” of “basically soft-core pornography.” [Hannity.com, 3/23/18]

    Fox media critic Howard Kurtz suggested other media outlets were devoting too much coverage to Daniels and accused them of being “rather gleeful in covering these stories.”

    Conservative talk radio host Mark Simone: “Media [are] now in collusion with DNC to influence the next election” by covering Daniels.

    [Twitter, 3/11/18]

    Accusing Daniels of faking evidence

    Pro-Trump writer Jacob Wohl pointed to one photo to claim Daniels’ reported polygraph test was fake. NBC News acquired a report of a 2011 polygraph test Daniels took about her relationship with Trump, which came with a sworn declaration from the examiner about its authenticity. According to NBC, “the examiner found there was a more than 99 percent probability she told the truth when she said they had unprotected sex in 2006.” Jacob Wohl of The Washington Reporter used an image taken from a video of the polygraph test to claim it was fake.

    [NBC News, 3/20/18; Twitter, 3/21/18]

    Downplaying the relevance of the interview

    Fox News contributor Marc Thiessen: Conservative Christians will stand by Trump because he keeps his promises to them. Fox News contributor and Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen defended conservative Christian supporters of President Trump from accusations of hypocrisy for violating their espoused values because he “does have one moral quality that deserves admiration: He keeps his promises.” From Thiessen’s March 23 FoxNews.com column:

    During the 2016 campaign, Trump pledged to defend religious liberty, stand up for unborn life and appoint conservative jurists to the Supreme Court and federal appeals courts. And he has done exactly what he promised. The abortion-rights lobby NARAL complains that Trump has been "relentless" on these fronts, declaring his administration "the worst .?.?. that we've ever seen." That is more important to most Christian conservatives than what the president may have done with a porn actress more than ten years ago.

    [...]

    No one upholds Trump as moral exemplar. He is not the most religious president we have ever had, but he may be the most pro-religion president. Christian conservatives are judging Trump not by his faith, but by his works. And when it comes to life and liberty, his works are good. [FoxNews.com, 3/13/18]

    National Religious Broadcasters president Jerry Johnson: “People knew the accusations against the president” but didn’t care about them. In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) about Daniels upcoming 60 Minutes interview, National Religious Broadcasters president Jerry Johnson said conservative Christians just don’t care that Trump allegedly cheated on his wife Melania:

    "Christians want the president to be pastoral. We like that but that isn't really the job assignment," National Religious Broadcasters president Jerry Johnson told CBN News. "People knew the accusations against the president before he was elected and they said, 'Actually, we care about security. Actually, we care about the economy.' "

    Johnson added that Christians "should identify with Christ" before any politician and called his vote in the 2016 election a "prudential" one. "You've got to vote. You have a choice. Who are you going to vote for?" Johnson said. "I voted for Mr. Trump. I don't regret that vote. I don't think Christians who voted for him regret that vote. We knew this was in the past, but his job is to keep us safe and to keep the government out of the way of business so the economy can grow and I think he's doing that." [CBN, 3/23/18]

    Anti-gay hate group Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins: Trump’s behavior was in the past. Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay Family Research Council, also told CBN that Trump’s past behavior doesn’t matter because he’s keeping political promises he made to conservative Christians:

    Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, echoed the same sentiment to CBN News and said Trump should be judged on his behavior and accomplishments in office.
     
    "To date, what has the president done?" Perkins asked. "The president has not engaged, to our knowledge, and I think we would know, in any of the behavior that he did in the past, prior to the election. What he has done is he's actually followed through on political promises." [CBN, 3/23/18]

    Barely mentioning Daniels’ alleged affair with Trump

    In early through mid-March, Fox News barely mentioned Daniels’ story. The news explainer website Vox examined cable news transcripts and found Fox News has barely even mentioned Daniels’ name, especially compared to its main competitors.

    [Vox, 3/21/18]

  • Fox News is lying to its viewers about public support for California's sanctuary laws

    Fox is relying on a 2015 poll that is contradicted by more recent surveys

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Fox News has repeatedly misled its viewers about public support for so-called sanctuary laws in California and elsewhere in recent weeks. The network is presenting outdated surveys as the latest sample of public opinion and ignoring more recent polls that tend to show majority support for such policies, especially in California.

    On March 8, Ingraham Angle host Laura Ingraham said that a UC Berkeley poll "just found that 74 percent of Californians wanted to end sanctuary cities, including 65 percent of Hispanics and 73 percent of Democrats.” The Five co-host Jesse Watters repeated this survey’s findings on March 14, emphasizing that it had been conducted by co-host Greg Gutfeld’s alma mater, the University of California, Berkeley, “so we know it's correct.” And on March 20, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade, without even citing a specific poll, declared: “And by the way, most Americans don't want sanctuary states or sanctuary cities. If they -- any polling reveals that.”

    In fact, the U.C. Berkeley survey cited by Ingraham and Watters and presented by Ingraham as brand new was conducted in August 2015, as noted in the show’s on-screen graphic.

    In January, PolitiFact found that the Berkeley poll was outdated and didn't match up with more recent polling after a California Republican lawmaker cited it in an appearance on Fox’s Tucker Carlson Tonight. PolitiFact cited four more recent polls, all conducted in 2017, most of which found majority support for California’s sanctuary laws or sanctuary city policies in general. Furthermore, the same Berkeley polling institute whose 2015 survey was cited by Fox actually found more recently in March 2017 that 56 percent of respondents supported “local communities declaring themselves sanctuary cities” (with the question phrased differently, 53 percent objected to those cities ignoring detention request from immigration authorities).

    Polling results on support for sanctuary policies seems to vary greatly depending on the wording of the question asked. In March 2017, a fact-checker at The Washington Post examined claims by Trump administration officials that a vast majority of Americans opposed sanctuary cities. While the Post piece noted that “there’s not a lot of research on public opinion of sanctuary cities,” it also found that the phrasing of survey questions can impact outcomes and that other polls show more people support sanctuary cities than oppose them. PolitiFact came to the same conclusion, explaining that the question that those on the “political right” interpreted as a reference to sanctuary cities did not fully capture the nuance of the policy, potentially impacting the response. 

    Notably, that March 2017 Fact Checker article from the Post also reported on more recent polls than the one cited by Fox hosts of late, finding support for sanctuary policies. One of those was a March 2017 poll conducted by Fox News that found 53 percent of registered voters opposed taking away federal funds from sanctuary cities.

  • Right-wing media downplay Cambridge Analytica stealing personal data to help the Trump campaign

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS & ZACHARY PLEAT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Right-wing media outlets have downplayed the news that Cambridge Analytica, President Donald Trump’s data firm from the 2016 presidential election, was banned by Facebook for harvesting personal information from at least 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge or consent.

    A whistleblower named Christopher Wylie explained to the Observer on March 17 that Cambridge Analytica used personal Facebook information obtained in early 2014 to make a system that could profile individual voters. The Observer explained that the data was collected by an app from an academic named Aleksandr Kogan, who paid several hundred thousand Facebook users to take a personality test for academic purposes, which then collected information from their Facebook friends, “leading to the accumulation of a data pool tens of millions-strong.” According to a March 17 report in The New York Times, Cambridge Analytica then obtained the data from Kogan; this information helped Cambridge Analytica “develop[] techniques that underpinned its work on President Trump’s campaign in 2016.” (Founded by the Republican megadonor Robert Mercer, Cambridge Analytica also counted former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon as an early investor and board member, and it was Bannon who reportedly introduced the services of the data firm to the Trump campaign.)

    But Facebook told the Times this data collection and the subsequent transaction between Kogan and Cambridge Analytica “was a scam -- and a fraud,” since the information was allowed to be collected for academic purposes only. Facebook has since suspended Cambridge Analytica, Kogan, and Wylie from its system.

    Right-wing media’s sparse coverage either blamed Facebook or claimed no improper activity

    Alex Jones dismissed the Cambridge Analytica story as “a giant hoax” and claimed it was connected to the death of Stephen Hawking. In a sprawling March 18 rant, Alex Jones defended Cambridge Analytica, claiming that their actions were simply “what social networks are; that’s how they data mine, that’s how they harvest.” Jones also claimed that “there’s probably 20 companies in Austin bigger than Cambridge Analytics [sic] doing the same thing for Democrats, they’re the ones that dominate it all.” Jones added that the Times story was “just a ridiculous PR stunt with this new superhero character they’re launching,” referring to the whistleblower who first revealed the data collection, and “that [he] has pink hair so you know you’ve got to listen to him, and he’s gay, so you can’t question him.” Jones also connected the story to the death of physicist Stephen Hawking, saying that “Hawking dies as their PR guy and then one week later, we’ve got the new guy, and it’s like Jesus arrived.”

    Fox & Friends ignored the story completely. A Media Matters search of SnapStream closed captioning transcripts of the March 19 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends showed that the president’s favorite television show failed to mention the legal troubles of a data firm that helped him win the presidency.

    Breitbart News Daily also ignored the story. Media Matters searched Veritone for mentions on Breitbart News Daily of “Cambridge,” “breach,” “50 million,” or “Facebook,” and found no relevant mentions of the Cambridge Analytica story. Breitbart News Daily was formerly hosted by Breitbart News’ then-executive chairman, Stephen K. Bannon, who is also former chief strategist for the Trump campaign and White House, as well as a former Cambridge Analytica vice president.

    Wash. Free Beacon’s Elizabeth Harrington claimed the story simply scandalizes “what advertisers do all the time,” and is just another attempt to “taint[]” Trump’s victory as “illegitimate.” On a March 19 appearance on Fox News, Harrington also complained about a “double standard” because former President Barack Obama had “one of the co-founders of Facebook, Chris Hughes, working on his campaign” in 2008, which gave him “an advantage on social media.”

    The Drudge Report suggested the story constituted a “data leak” at Facebook that could help to “sink” the company. Drudge also speculated that the data leak “violated [an] FTC privacy deal,” linking to a Washington Post article quoting a former Federal Trade Commission official speculating that Facebook may have violated a FTC consent decree by supplying information to Cambridge Analytica.

    A Breitbart report uncritically repeated Cambridge Analytica’s questionable claim that they “deleted all data” they improperly received. Breitbart quoted a statement from Cambridge Analytica, which claimed “Cambridge Analytica deleted” all Facebook data that it improperly received. The Breitbart report did not mention that Facebook found reason to believe that potentially “not all data was deleted.”

    Over the weekend, Fox’s America’s News HQ reported on Cambridge Analytica’s Facebook suspension. The day after the story broke, Fox News reported on Cambridge Analytica’s suspension from Facebook, citing reporting from the Guardian and New York Times that it “harvested private information from more than 50 million Facebook profiles.” The Fox report included Facebook’s statement that Cambridge Analytica may not have deleted all of the data.

    Rush Limbaugh downplayed the story as “nothing unique,” calling Cambridge Analytica’s tactics “the modern-day equivalent of high-tech grass-roots politics.” Rush Limbaugh dubiously claimed that the tactics used by Cambridge Analytica are part and parcel of modern political information gathering, saying, “The Democrats have perfected using the personal data stored by internet companies for I don’t know how long,” but he failed to mention that the information used by Cambridge Analytica was meant for academic purposes only.

    Ben Shapiro claimed the Cambridge Analytica story is part of “a larger attempt to convince social media companies … to shut down conservative opinions.” The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro pointed to the Cambridge Analytica story to push the right-wing conspiracy theory that tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter are targeting and silencing conservative voices. Shapiro wrote of the reports about Cambridge Analytica, “This entire scandal is designed to pressure Facebook into cracking down on supposed right-wing activity,” and he claimed that “this is part of a broader pattern” of Democrats encouraging social media platforms to silence conservatives. Shapiro’s argument fits into a right-wing media narrative alleging censorship on the part of social media platforms that take action to address fake news and hate speech.

    Fox host Greg Gutfeld: "I'm not sure it's really Cambridge Analytica that's at fault here." In a segment discussing Cambridge Analytica, The Five co-host Greg Gutfeld said "I'm not sure it's really Cambridge Analytica that's at fault here." Fellow co-host Jesse Watters joined Gutfeld in defending Cambridge Analytica and claimed "I spoke to the Trump campaign today, and they said that they never used any of the data that Cambridge Analytica used from Facebook."

    GREG GUTFELD (CO-HOST): I'm not so sure about this story. I'm not sure it's really Cambridge Analytica that's at fault here. I read The Guardian story. The guy who is at the center of this kind of seemed like a B.S.-er, and he was like -- he was kind of, like, making himself into the hero, and I am always skeptical of that.

    [...]

    JESSE WATTERS (CO-HOST): I spoke to the Trump campaign today, and they said that they never used any of the data that Cambridge Analytica used from Facebook. What they did was they hired five staff members from Cambridge, and they had to sign a deal to get the staffers to come to work with them in Texas, but they never used any of this so-called "psychographic modeling." They used data and research from the RNC, and from their own internal data network. So, a lot of it is trying to paint the Trump campaign as if they, you know, they reached into Facebook and ripped out all of this in an unethical way. It's just not true, but like you said, it's more about Facebook and protecting their customers' information, and obviously they didn't do a great job about it because they didn't let people know that their data was being mined, and I think Facebook has to answer to that. [Fox News, The Five, 3/19/18]

  • Sean Hannity is now trying to claim he does "real news," yet he has repeatedly admitted he's "not a journalist"

    Hannity claims to be a journalist only when it suits him

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS, ZACHARY PLEAT & GRACE BENNETT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In a March 15 Time magazine profile, Fox News anchor Shepard Smith said of the discrepancy between his own news reporting and his network’s opinion lineup that “some of our opinion programming is there strictly to be entertaining” and that “they don’t really have rules on the opinion side. They can say whatever they want.”

    Sean Hannity, host of one of Fox News’ opinion shows, blasted Smith’s characterization, claiming that he “breaks news daily” and that Smith is “clueless about what we do every day.” (Fox is currently being sued for the kind of “news” Hannity breaks.)

    Of course, the Fox host and Trump sycophant has repeatedly asserted that he is not a journalist and not a “news person,” while also coining his own phrase -- “advocacy journalist” -- to use when it’s convenient.

    • On the July 7, 2004, edition of Fox News’ Hannity & Colmes, Sean Hannity commented,“I'm not a journalist. I am an outspoken, compassionate, thoughtful, independent-thinking conservative.”

    • In an October 8, 2008, article, the New York Daily News reported that “Hannity doesn’t call himself a journalist, but rather a talk show host, which is significant because it frees him to offer opinions when he wants.” The article quoted him as saying,“I have an opinion. Everybody knows it. Everybody who sees me, watches me, knows I'm a conservative."

    • On March 6, 2012, Hannity tweeted that he’s “an OPINION advocacy journalist.”

    • During a May 2015 segment on his radio program criticizing ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Hannity said: “I’m honest about my opinions. I am a conservative. I say I’m a registered conservative. I am a talk show host. I don’t portray myself as a news -- a news person. Now, I am a journalist, but there are different forms of journalism. There’s advocacy journalism. ... I’m the only conservative in the country that hosts a nightly news program, an opinion program, a talk show, in the country that says he’s a conservative.”

    • In August 2015, Hannity said Univision anchor Jorge Ramos is “not a journalist, and you’re not a reporter. You are a talk show host. You may think you’re a news guy. You may present yourself as a news guy. But you are an advocacy journalist, which makes you -- puts you on par with somebody like me. You never hear me call myself a journalist. I'm not. I'm a talk show host.”

    • During a December 14, 2015, interview with International Business Times, Hannity again argued that he is not a journalist: “If you ask me, am I a journalist? No. Advocacy journalist, you could say that, but I consider myself a talk show host.”

    • In April 2016, after a series of softball interviews with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, Hannity hit back at critics, claiming, “I'm not a journalist, I'm a talk show host.”

    • The next month, Hannity was back to calling himself an “advocacy journalist” while criticizing Katie Couric.

    • In August 2016, Hannity told The New York Times that he has “never claimed to be a journalist."

    • In October 2016, Hannity twice tweeted that he was not a journalist.​

    • On March 27, 2017, Hannity said he was “an opinionated journalist.”

    • On August 7, he was “a journalist, but ... an advocacy journalist.”

    • He referred to himself as an “advocacy journalist” again during an interview for a November New York Times Magazine profile: “I’m a journalist. But I’m an advocacy journalist, or an opinion journalist.”

    • On January 5, Hannity described his Fox show as “an opinion program” on which he is “an advocacy journalist.”

    • On January 11, Hannity said that people suggest he is “not a journalist,” but “I am a journalist. I'm an advocacy, opinion journalist,” and said, “I still do plenty of reporting.”

    • On January 17, Hannity argued that “part of being a talk show host is journalism. ... It’s just not traditional journalism. It’s advocacy journalism, it’s opinion journalism.”

    • On January 24, Hannity said that he’s “a talk show host” who “wear[s] many hats,” among them “opinion journalist” or “advocacy journalist.”

    • On February 7, Hannity argued that while he is not a “traditional journalist ... part of my job as a talk show host is journalism.”

    • On February 22, Hannity claimed that he knows reporters who “say that they’re jealous of me because I’m doing work that they’re not allowed to do on their network.” On the same day, Hannity argued on his radio show that “as part of being a talk show host, I actually do journalism,” but he noted that he is an “opinion journalist” and “an advocacy journalist.”

    • On March 15, Hannity said on his radio show that “I’ve spent a lot of time now doing more reporting than I've ever done in my career.” He listed several frequent guests who he claims break news on his show, including Jay Sekulow, President Donald Trump’s lawyer.

  • An ICE spokesperson opted to quit rather than defend a false claim. Fox News has run with that claim repeatedly.

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson has resigned from his position after members of the Trump administration, including the agency's leadership, made false statements blaming the mayor of Oakland for over 800 individuals eluding an ICE raid. The disputed claim has been a central point of Fox News’ coverage of the Bay Area raid and of its subsequent criticism of Oakland’s mayor.

    On February 24, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf warned residents about an impending ICE raid in California's Bay Area, advising immigrant families to seek assistance and learn their rights. Several days after the raid, which resulted in 232 arrests, ICE issued a statement quoting acting director Thomas Homan, who blamed Schaaf for the operation not resulting in more arrests. Attorney General Jeff Sessions later pointed to the statement in a speech. According to ICE's press statement (emphasis added):

    “The Oakland mayor’s decision to publicize her suspicions about ICE operations further increased that risk for my officers and alerted criminal aliens – making clear that this reckless decision was based on her political agenda with the very federal laws that ICE is sworn to uphold,” said ICE Deputy Director Thomas D. Homan. “Thanks to the dedicated and professional work of ICE deportation officers, we were able to remove many public safety threats from the streets of the Bay Area during the past few days. However, 864 criminal aliens and public safety threats remain at large in the community, and I have to believe that some of them were able to elude us thanks to the mayor’s irresponsible decision.”

    Homan appeared on Fox & Friends on February 28 to again blame Schaaf, saying, “There’s 800 [criminals] that we were unable to locate because of that warning.” Homan also likened the mayor to “a gang lookout yelling 'police' when a police cruiser comes in the neighborhood.”

    Homan’s claim was continuously repeated on Fox News shows, including Hannity, Special Report, America’s Newsroom, Happening Now, and The Daily Briefing.

    But according to the (now former) San Francisco spokesperson for ICE, Homan’s claim is false. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on March 12:

    The San Francisco spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement resigned after the agency’s recent Northern California sweep, saying he couldn’t continue to do his job after Trump administration officials made false public statements about a key aspect of the operation.

    James Schwab told The Chronicle on Monday that he was frustrated by repeated statements by officials, including U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, that roughly 800 undocumented immigrants escaped arrest because of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s Feb. 24 warning to the public about the four-day operation, issued the night before federal officers began staking out homes and knocking on doors.

    Schwab wanted the agency to correct the number, which he understood to be far lower, and didn’t want to deflect media questions about it, he said.

    “I quit because I didn’t want to perpetuate misleading facts,” said Schwab, 38, who was hired in 2015 and resigned last week. “I asked them to change the information. I told them that the information was wrong, they asked me to deflect, and I didn’t agree with that. Then I took some time and I quit.”

    Fox News today is still pushing Homan’s claim that Schaaf is to blame for individuals getting away. The network has yet to note that ICE’s San Francisco spokesman quit after disputing that very claim.

  • After repeatedly attacking Obama for possibility of meeting with North Korea, Hannity gushes over Trump for doing exact same thing

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Many Fox News employees are ecstatic over the news that President Donald Trump has agreed to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. The Nobel Peace Prize has been mentioned on at least four different Fox shows already. But none on Fox have been as effusive in their praise as host Sean Hannity -- who attacked former President Barack Obama for being open to meeting with North Korea’s leader a decade ago.

    The announcement of the meeting came unexpectedly outside of the White House on March 8, delivered by South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-Yong instead of the Trump administration. Kim had reportedly told the South Koreans -- who then informed Trump -- of his desire to talk with the president. The White House confirmed Trump would accept the invitation to meet, but stated that “at this point, we’re not even talking about negotiations.”

    Hannity wasted no time in congratulating Trump for the news. At the opening of his show, Hannity said: “Huge breaking news tonight: President Trump scoring a big win and possibly averting a major global nuclear crisis tonight with North Korea.” After Fox White House correspondent John Roberts explained the news, Hannity called it a “historic day by any measure.”

    Then, while discussing the news with two guests, Hannity grandly opined on the “philosophy” behind Trump’s actions, saying that the “one consistent thing that we see as we look through history is that capitulation and appeasement never works. Peace through strength -- it's not just a slogan; it is a philosophy. And the only way to get respect is to stand strong in the face of tyranny.”

    After a commercial break, Hannity returned with a “Fox News alert” about “a huge foreign policy win for President Trump. Little rocket man blinks.”

    But Hannity still wasn’t done. Halfway through the show, he delivered a nine-minute monologue in which he praised Trump even more enthusiastically and dinged Obama for failing to make “little rocket man ... back down.”

    However, Hannity had a much different take a decade ago, when Obama was asked during a July 2007 presidential primary debate whether he would meet “separately, without precondition, … with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?” Obama replied, “I would.”

    Nexis transcripts reveal that Hannity didn’t like the notion of a president meeting with the leader of North Korea back then.

    During the May 15, 2008, edition of his Fox News show, Hannity referenced Obama’s answer and asked former House Speaker Newt Gingrich: “After Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, before we were at war with Nazi Germany, do you think it would be wise -- would have it been wise for us to engage in talks with him?” Later during the same show, Hannity asked former Republican Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) the same thing: “After the Nazis invaded Poland, before we were at war with them, is it fair to ask the question, ‘Would you have met with Hitler in 1939?’ Would that be fair in this campaign to get a perspective of where he's coming from, with the Obama doctrine?”

    On October 26, 2008, Hannity returned to Obama’s reply, calling it “one of the most disturbing displays of Obama’s lack of foreign policy expertise.” He then suggested that Obama would be “the new Jimmy Carter.”

    And on December 16, 2009, Hannity took issue with the personal letter Obama sent to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il:

    SEAN HANNITY: President Obama promised on the campaign trail to engage our adversaries without preconditions. Well, America, in that spirit the president has a new pen pal, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il.

    Now, according to The Washington Post, the president wrote Mr. Kim a secret letter that was delivered last week to the communist dictator by the administration's special envoy to North Korea.

    Now, the contents of the letter, however, remain a mystery. Continuing its proud tradition of transparency, the White House had this to say, quote, "We do not comment on private diplomatic correspondence."

    I can only imagine that the president's dialogue with Mr. Kim will be just as fruitful as his exchanges with the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

    Of course, it’s well known by now that Hannity is nothing more than a pathetic Trump shill. He obsesses over narratives from the right-wing fever swamps that he fervently and mistakenly believes undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. When there’s news about that investigation, Hannity does his best to avoid mentioning or to downplay updates that bode ill for Trump. And let’s not forget that he exploited the tragic murder of Democratic staffer Seth Rich in an effort to shield Trump.

    It remains to be seen whether Hannity will tone down his enthusiasm now that the White House has downplayed the possibility that the meeting will actually occur. Press secretary Sarah Sanders enumerated preconditions today, saying the meeting "won’t take place without concrete actions that match the promises that have been made by North Korea," but the White House later said the "invitation has been extended and accepted, and that stands."