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  • Trump keeps channeling Fox’s “coup” nonsense. This could end badly.

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Amid declaring a national emergency on the U.S. southern border and playing many rounds of golf at his private club in Florida, President Donald Trump has found time over the past week to repeatedly gorge himself on Fox News programming and then regurgitate the network’s false ravings that senior Justice Department and FBI officials attempted a coup against him in the spring of 2017.

    At issue are claims that Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director and a frequent target of the president, has been making while promoting his forthcoming book. According to McCabe, in the days after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein discussed whether the 25th Amendment to the Constitution might be used to remove Trump from office on the grounds that he is mentally unfit for the job (in a statement, a Rosenstein spokesperson described McCabe’s “recitation of events” as “inaccurate and factually incorrect”).

    The president’s propagandists at Fox have gone into overdrive in response, filling the network’s airwaves with overwrought declarations that Rosenstein and McCabe had been fomenting a coup d’etat.

    This is simply wrong. A coup, by definition, is an extralegal seizure of power. That’s not what McCabe says was discussed. “Removing Trump from office by following the guidelines of the 25th Amendment would no more be a coup than removing him from office through impeachment or, really, than voting for another candidate in 2020,” The Washington Post’s Philip Bump pointed out. “It’s part of the system.” Rosenstein would be far from the first to suggest that the president’s often volatile and bizarre behavior justifies his removal from office. Trying to act on the amendment wouldn’t be a coup (though it seems extremely unlikely that the substantial constitutional hurdles needed to invoke the 25th Amendment would be cleared). But framing it as one can engender sympathy for Trump, rev up his base, and be used to justify drastic actions in response.

    The president, as is his wont, has been eagerly watching Fox’s coverage and tweeting out tidbits to push the network’s false conspiracy theories into the mainstream.

    Notably, on Monday night, the president tweeted a quote from Sean Hannity’s program in which the Fox star and sometime Trump adviser said McCabe had “admitt[ed] to plotting a bureaucratic coup.” “Treason!” the president added. Earlier that day, Trump tweeted Fox contributor Dan Bongino’s false claim on Fox & Friends that McCabe had described a “coup attempt.” The president added, “True!”

    This is all quite dangerous. Trump’s worldview is heavily shaped by the hours of Fox programming he typically watches each day, and he often takes direction from the network’s hosts. Right now, his most loyal supporters are telling him that state security services attempted a coup and demanding that drastic action be taken in response.

    Later in the episode Trump tweeted about, Hannity said that the president’s antagonists had been caught “staging a coup to remove a duly elected president to pursue their own self-serving agenda.” He added that Attorney General William Barr needs to “stand on the Constitution to stop this type of corruption.” Hannity has previously urged Barr to conduct criminal investigations into Rosenstein, McCabe, and a host of other Obama-era officials, including Hillary Clinton.

    Lou Dobbs, another Fox host who also functions as a Trump adviser, likewise accused McCabe of “admitting leading a coup effort against the president of the United States,” adding that his statements “seem to be a confession of treason against the country, this president.”

    Dobbs is calling for a severe response. “My question to you is why is the establishment in Washington, D.C., not screaming for the arrest of Andrew McCabe and for all of his cohorts and the DOJ and the FBI?” he asked last night of Matt Schlapp, a Republican operative whose wife Mercedes is a senior White House aide. “Why the hell isn't the Republican Party standing up and demanding his arrest?”

    Dobbs, Hannity, and others at Fox have been demanding these sorts of authoritarian measures since special counsel Robert Mueller launched his probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. With the president’s Fox cabinet riding high after successfully championing a partial government shutdown and national emergency declaration in recent months, one can’t rule out the possibility that Trump will listen to this suggestion too.

  • Here are 300 of extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom's reported 3,300 allied attorneys

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) regularly touts its network of over 3,300 allied attorneys, who apparently agree with the organization’s anti-LGBTQ statement of faith and provide pro bono legal support on behalf of the group, but only a fraction of those allies are easily identifiable online. ADF has also removed mentions of U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco as an allied attorney from its website, adding to the program’s opacity. As ADF has no easily accessible record of its allied attorney network, Media Matters has compiled a list of nearly 300 of the attorneys by sifting through dozens of press releases and other posts on the group’s website.

    ADF is one of the largest and most powerful anti-LGBTQ groups in the nation and has played a role in over 50 Supreme Court decisions, including cases regarding abortion, religion, tuition tax credits, and LGBTQ issues. The legal powerhouse has taken dozens of extreme anti-LGBTQ positions, such as supporting Russia’s so-called “gay propaganda” law, defending the discredited and dangerous practice of conversion therapy, advocating against adoption and foster care by LGBTQ people, and supporting policies that ban trans people from using facilities that align with their gender identity. To advance its mission, ADF uses its more than $50 million in revenue to provide attorneys with “the resources, training, and support they need to stand boldly for religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family.”

    ADF has built a vast alliance of lawyers and supporters through its legal and religious training programs, and the group has what it calls a “powerful global network” of over 3,300 “allied attorneys.” These allied attorneys receive opportunities for funding, access to ADF’s legal resources, and additional training opportunities in exchange for a commitment to provide pro bono service, such as litigation support, media work, and aid to legislators and policymakers. ADF can activate these attorneys when it learns about LGBTQ-related events and, with their help, quickly involve itself in matters reaching down to the local level. In turn, these attorneys can also alert ADF to LGBTQ-related matters in their localities and bring the force of a national group to their backyards.

    ADF’s influence is widespread; the organization has dozens of alumni and allies in influential government positions across the country. But ADF operates with an extreme lack of transparency, particularly regarding its allied attorneys, who often do not publicly identify themselves as such. It has even previously retracted its affiliation with a high-profile figure who it had reported as an ally.

    A 2017 investigative report by Sarah Posner in The Nation identified Noel Francisco, the Trump-Pence administration's solicitor general, as an ADF allied attorney, citing two different ADF press releases explicitly stating that Francisco is one of “more than 3,000 private attorneys allied with ADF.” After publication, however, an editor’s note was attached noting that ADF “contacted The Nation, claiming that Francisco has never been an allied attorney” and calling it “our mistake” because its “media dept. got it wrong.” ADF promptly rewrote its press releases but did not issue corrections on either of them.

    In the update, The Nation reported that ADF claimed in its email about Francisco that “its allied attorneys are not required to agree to the statement of faith [The Nation] found linked to within ADF’s FAQs about applying to the program.” The update continued:

    That statement of faith includes a commitment to believing in the divinity of Jesus Christ, that God designed marriage for one man and one woman, and that homosexual behavior is “sinful and offensive to God.” Later in the day, that FAQ page, too, was changed. It had read, “The application requires affirmation of agreement with our statement of faith,” linking to the statement we quoted in the story [see screenshot here]. ADF’s website now omits that clause, reading only, “You become a part of the ADF Attorney Network by formally applying and being accepted as an Allied Attorney.” But the link on the web page, before it was changed yesterday, took one to the same statement of faith that employees must agree to.

    The actual application page, however, still states that you can become an allied attorney by “filling out an application online and agreeing to a statement of faith.”

    These discrepancies underscore the opacity surrounding both ADF’s network of allied attorneys and the process involved in becoming one. Testimony from a recent judicial nominee only adds to this confusion. In submitted answers to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, federal judge nominee Jeremy Kernodle stated that he was an allied attorney with ADF on a 2017 case. In response to follow-up questions, Kernodle clarified that he “did not apply or request to be an ‘allied attorney’ with ADF"; “discovered that ADF had listed [him] as an ‘allied attorney’” when he began preparing responses to the questionnaire; and was “not certain when that first occurred.”

    ADF’s lack of transparency around its allied attorney program is particularly troubling given the group’s widespread influence. Media Matters has compiled a list of nearly 300 allied attorneys identified in various places on ADF’s website -- but this is only a small fraction of the 3,300 allied attorneys whom ADF claims are in its network. It is unclear whether ADF’s allied attorneys remain as such for life or whether the 3,300 number includes former allied attorneys, some of whom could have cut their official ties with the group with no public record. It is imperative that media include this context when reporting about these attorneys or their involvement in LGBTQ issues and other human rights matters.

    There are several notable allied attorneys on this list, including multiple state attorneys general, lawyers at major firms, and legislators

    Allied attorneys are serving in positions across all three branches of the federal government and within state governments:

    • In Congress, allied attorney and former ADF lawyer Mike Johnson currently represents the 4th District of Louisiana in the U.S. House of Representatives. Johnson was previously a state representative and sponsored a religious exemptions bill that would have made it easier to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

    • Trump-appointed federal Judge Kyle Duncan, the former general counsel for Becket Law, has also been labeled an allied attorney and has a history of opposing LGBTQ equality. While at Becket, which has represented anti-LGBTQ clients in the past, Duncan authored an amicus brief for the Supreme Court opposing marriage equality and was counsel in a case almost heard by the Supreme Court supporting a school’s discriminatory anti-trans bathroom policy.

    • Kerri Kupec, former ADF legal counsel and director of communications, currently serves in the executive branch as director of the Office of Public Affairs at the Department of Justice and has defended the Trump administration’s policy of prohibiting transgender people from serving in the military.

    • ADF allied attorneys also serve as attorneys general -- or in their offices -- in states across the country, including Alaska, Arizona, Montana, Nevada, and Texas. In particular, allied attorneys Kevin Clarkson and Timothy Fox serve as the attorneys general of Alaska and Montana, respectively. ADF has also labeled Nevada Solicitor General Lawrence Van Dyke an allied attorney.

    ADF’s allied attorney network also extends to influential private law firms:

    • Allied attorney Tim Swickard is a shareholder at Greenberg Traurig. Greenberg Traurig “placed 14th on The American Lawyer's 2018 Am Law 200 ranking” according to law.com, and “ranked as the 19th highest grossing law firm in the world” on the 2018 Global 200 Survey, bringing in $1,477,180,000 in gross revenue. According to the firm's website, it also “received the most overall first-tier rankings in the U.S. News – Best Lawyers ‘Best Law Firms’ report” for eight years in a row. In 2011, Swickard worked with ADF in a case against University of California-Davis, with ADF claiming the university’s religious nondiscrimination policy explicitly discriminated against Christian students because it focused on “institutionalized oppressions toward those who are not Christian” and “to those who do not practice the dominant culture’s religion.”

    • Allied attorney Jay T. Thompson is a partner at Nelson Mullins, which “placed 87th on The American Lawyer's 2018 Am Law 200 ranking” according to law.com, and “ranked as the 110th highest grossing law firm in the world” with $405,426,000 in gross revenue. According to Nelson Mullins, Thompson “devotes time in his legal practice to the protection of religious liberties” which is consistent with Thompson sending letters on behalf of ADF supporting prayer before public meetings in South Carolina after some organizations complained that the prayers violated the rights of non-religious attendees and others.

    • Allied attorney Nathan Adams IV is a partner at Holland & Knight, which “placed 42nd on The American Lawyer's 2018 Am Law 200 ranking” according to law.com, and “ranked as the 52nd highest grossing law firm in the world” with $848,191,000 in gross revenue. Holland & Knight’s website says that Adams has experience with litigation involving religious organizations, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Similar religious-exemption bills are often pushed by ADF at the state level and can be used to deny LGBTQ people equal access to the marketplace and other areas of public life based on religious grounds. As an allied attorney, Adams filed a motion on behalf of five religious institutions in Florida seeking state funding.

    • Allied attorney Rob McCully is a partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon, which “placed 99th on The American Lawyer's 2018 Am Law 200 ranking” and “ranked as the 130th highest grossing law firm in the world” with $350,700,000 in gross revenue. McCully has experience with litigation involving “government enforcement matters,” and he co-wrote an amicus brief for ADF arguing that the Federal Communications Commission should have been able to censure “indecent language broadcast during Fox’s televised Billboard Music Awards” after an appellate court overturned the censure.

  • Fox figures continue to smear Kamala Harris for The Breakfast Club interview after hosts debunk claim

    Blog ››› ››› COURTNEY HAGLE

    On February 13, hosts of the New York radio show The Breakfast Club dismissed overblown conservative outrage attempting to smear presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) over her responses to questions about marijuana and music during their show. Despite the host criticizing and debunking Fox’s version of events, some Fox figures have continued to use the incident to smear Harris’ character.

    On February 11, right-wing media attempted to scandalize an interview Harris did with The Breakfast Club, claiming she lied about smoking marijuana in college to seem relatable to voters. During the interview, Harris had said that she supports marijuana legalization and revealed that she smoked in college before answering one of the hosts’ question about what music she listens to. Right-wing media figures decided to interpret the sequence as Harris claiming she smoked marijuana in college while listening to Snoop Dogg and Tupac, which they noted would be impossible because their music wasn’t released until after Harris graduated from college. This trivial nitpicking of details gave right-wing media figures an opportunity to smear Harris as unrelatable.

    The hosts of The Breakfast Club debunked right-wing coverage of the story two days later on their show. Co-host Charlamagne Tha God criticized conservative outrage while praising HuffPost for accurately reporting what happened, saying, “Finally, someone with no agenda; someone with no bias; someone who is just reporting on the facts and not some alternative version of the facts simply because they don’t like Kamala Harris.” He added that HuffPostreported it exactly how it happened,” saying, “We can’t be reaching like this. All right? This [could be] dangerous.”

    Despite The Breakfast Club’s rebuke of the version of events right-wing outlets originally reported, some Fox News figures have continued to run with the lie.

    The same afternoon, Fox co-host Jesse Watters criticized the 2020 Democratic candidates for trying “to be everything to everybody,” adding, “Kamala, you’re not hip-hop. Trump’s more hip-hop than you are.” As Watters spoke, the chyron at the bottom of the screen read, “The art of the pander. 2020 hopefuls bend over backwards to impress voters.”

    From the February 13 edition of Fox News’ The Five:

    On her Fox Nation show First Thoughts the next day, Tomi Lahren dedicated a segment that lasted over two minutes to talking about the The Breakfast Club interview. She condescendingly berated Harris, calling her “Kam-Kam” multiple times and saying it is “another example of Ms. Harris saying and doing things [that] just don’t quite add up.”

    From the February 14 edition of Fox Nation’s First Thoughts:

    On Fox News’ Fox & Friends, guest Mark Steyn sarcastically said Harris “just lights up and suddenly Tupac is there in the room with her, six years before he’s made his first CD,” adding, “That’s a magical Valentine right there.”

    From the February 15 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

  • Here are two big things that were wrong with climate change coverage in 2018  

    Major outlets reported too little on climate change driving extreme weather and too much on Trump, two analyses find

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Mainstream media are continuing two troubling trends in their coverage of climate change, a pair of new reports finds. In 2018, media outlets too often failed to connect extreme weather to climate change, according to an analysis from Public Citizen, a progressive consumer advocacy organization. And researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder found that when major outlets did cover climate change, their reporting was too focused on President Donald Trump.

    Public Citizen reviewed coverage of extreme weather events in 50 top U.S. newspapers, 32 online news sources, and major broadcast and cable television networks, analyzing how often that coverage made mention of climate change. Climate scientists have found that global warming is tied to more intense heat waves, wildfires, hurricanes, and floods, as well as aberrant weather events like polar vortexes. But Public Citizen found that many news stories neglected to explain this connection:

    On the whole, the proportion of [extreme weather] pieces that mentioned climate change was disappointingly low. There was no climate-related form of extreme weather that the media connected to climate change in more than 35 percent of pieces. That high-water mark comes from articles discussing record drought. Extreme heat fared similarly, with 34 percent of pieces mentioning climate change. For hurricanes, the rate was just 7 percent.

    Public Citizen’s report notes that coverage of climate change's role in extreme weather was better in 2018 than in 2017, but many outlets continued to miss the mark. 

    When it came to reporting on heat waves, newspapers and TV networks both showed improvement -- they mentioned climate change more often in their heat-wave stories in 2018 than in 2017 -- but not nearly enough. Thirty-three percent of newspaper articles about record or extreme heat connected it to climate change, up from 28 percent in 2017. Television news programs made the connection in 22 percent of their segments, compared to 10 percent in 2017. (A Media Matters analysis of broadcast coverage of a record-breaking heat wave in North America last summer found even worse performance.)

    Coverage of wildfires also improved slightly in 2018, according to Public Citizen’s report. Top newspapers mentioned climate change in 29 percent of wildfire stories last year, compared to 19 percent in 2017. The online news outlets mentioned climate change in 28 percent of wildfire stories in 2018, up from 22 in 2017. And television networks connected wildfires to climate change in 21 percent of their segments last year, compared to 8 percent in 2017. Again, Media Matters documented even worse performance from broadcast TV news in connecting climate change to wildfires that happened last summer and in early November.

    Similar patterns emerged in reporting on other extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall, flooding, and hurricanes: There was slight improvement, but as Public Citizen sums it up, "major news outlets fell short." 

    Researchers at CU-Boulder's International Collective on Environment, Culture & Politics documented a different problem with climate coverage in the U.S.: an obsessive focus on Trump. The collective's Media and Climate Change Observatory (MeCCO), which tracks media coverage in dozens of countries, produced a report summarizing its findings from 2018. In the U.S., MeCCO monitored five major newspapers and six major TV networks.

    According to the research group, “Throughout the year (as in 2017) there has been continued prominence of news from US outlets on climate change or global warming associated with Donald J. Trump.” It found that the word “Trump” was used an average of nearly 4.5 times in each story about climate change, just slightly less than 2017’s average of 4.7 times. In fact, Trump was mentioned more than twice as often as the words "science," "scientific," or "scientist(s)." The result of this Trump-centric reporting was that “media attention that would have focused on other climate-related events and issues instead was placed on Trump-related actions, leaving many other stories untold,” according to MeCCO’s analysis. (Media Matters reached similar conclusions about climate journalism’s overemphasis on Trump in 2017 and 2018.)

    There were some bright spots in climate coverage in 2018. Public Citizen highlighted an editorial collaboration in Florida called The Invading Sea -- involving the Miami Herald, The Palm Beach Post, the Sun-Sentinel, and public radio station WLRN -- that aims to increase awareness of sea-level rise and galvanize action to address it. The Public Citizen report also recognized great reporting by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press.

    Despite these positive developments, the two reports show that news outlets need to improve their climate journalism in 2019. They should stop chasing Trump's every tweet and instead provide sustained, substantive reporting that explains the nature of the climate challenge, connects extreme weather events to climate research, and amplifies solutions to climate-related problems.

  • MSNBC's Ari Melber calls out Sen. Susan Collins' hypocrisy on abortion

    Melber: Collins’ "stated views" on abortion "are openly, blatantly, repeatedly contradicted by her record"

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    Media outlets have long touted Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) as one of the few pro-choice Republicans in Congress -- a label she herself has embraced. But on the February 13 edition of MSNBC’s The Beat with Ari Melber, host Ari Melber explained that Collins’ reputation is contradicted by her record, including her recent vote to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and her endorsement of his subsequent abortion-related decision.

    After Justice Anthony Kennedy retired from the Supreme Court in 2018, Collins said she wouldn’t vote for a replacement who “demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade.” After Collins met with Kavanaugh, she released a statement saying that she was reassured about his stance on Roe v. Wade because he claimed to believe that Roe was “settled precedent.” As many media outlets argued at the time, Collins had no reason to be reassured by Kavanaugh’s statements given his record on abortion-related matters. In fact, Kavanaugh’s nomination represented a substantial threat to the abortion protections in Roe. But Collins did not waver -- even after Christine Blasey Ford reported that Kavanaugh assaulted her when they were both in high school -- and she ultimately served as a key swing vote to confirm him.

    On The Beat, Melber explained that Collins’ vote to confirm Kavanaugh was both out of line with her stated “pro-choice” views and that it is already proving to be a mistake given Kavanaugh’s recent vote to deny a stay in a Louisiana case concerning abortion access. The case involved a law that required abortion providers to “have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals” and was “essentially identical” to the law the court struck down in 2016 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. A majority of the court voted to block the law from going into effect while the case goes through litigation, but Kavanaugh voted against that decision and “wrote a four-page explanation of why he thought the law should go into effect.”

    In the report, Melber noted that Collins has voted to confirm nominees considered anti-abortion to the Supreme Court in the past:

    ARI MELBER (HOST): Note that Sen. Collins has some experience with a pattern here. We’re going to show it to you because she backed Trump and voted to confirm [Neil] Gorsuch as well as Kavanaugh just like she voted to confirm [Samuel] Alito. As for [Clarence] Thomas, the fourth vote [in the Louisiana case], well she wasn't even in office yet.

    Melber also explained that Kavanaugh’s first vote in an abortion-related case -- the Louisiana decision, which came almost “as soon as he joined the court” -- has already largely refuted Collins’ claim that he would protect Roe v. Wade:

    MELBER: The Collins vote helped ensure that Trump could put Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court while also claiming, as you just saw -- she claimed his words assured her that these abortion precedents were safe and wouldn't change. Was she right? When will we know? Why am I talking to you about this right now -- this important issue? Well, when will we know? It didn't take long. This is in the news right now because Justice Kavanaugh just voted to back a very restrictive state law to eliminate access to abortion for most people who live in Louisiana, making abortion unavailable everywhere there but a single clinic, according to abortion rights experts and advocates in the state. This was considered a very significant case.

    Kavanaugh taking a position in the minority against the current precedent protecting choice. And this is something he's doing as soon as he joined the court. Note, that's what his conservative backers expected, and note, that’s what his liberal critics expected. So it appears one of the only policy experts in the country who would claim to be surprised by this ruling to restrict choice would be Susan Collins. Now, if Kavanaugh had his way, that controversial ruling that I just described drastically restricting choice, that would be law today. And if that approach worked in that state it’d be open season in many other conservative states. The only reason this is so important, the only reason this is not law, is that other justices including a different Republican appointee, John Roberts, voted the other way. Roberts siding with several Democratic-appointed justices to block this law under -- you see where we’re going -- under the Roe precedent that Collins has discussed so much. Now, let’s look at the justices who voted with Kavanaugh. This is so important. Four of them there. So they’re now one vote shy of a majority to do this kind of thing to restrict, drastically, choice and abortion doctors in the United States.

    Melber also highlighted Collins’ continued defense of Kavanaugh -- even after his recent vote -- and her allegation that he wouldn’t vote to overturn or weaken Roe:

    MELBER: She still claims, even now, that she's doing her part to keep the court pro-choice against all this evidence. And responding to Kavanaugh’s new opinion, she cites this as a “very careful dissent” as proof the idea he would still repeal Roe is quote "absurd." Is it? Now, we asked Sen. Collins’ office whether, point-blank, she views Kavanaugh’s ruling as a limitation on abortion access, which it is, and a narrowing of Roe’s protection or not. She did not reply to those questions today. But if last fall anyone was unclear how then-Judge Kavanaugh would approach abortion laws on the Supreme Court, the answer is now clear. Facts matter. Now, our report tonight does not in any way pretend to address all the strongly held personal, moral, and religious beliefs on abortion in the Senate or across our nation. But it does reveal that in this important debate, full of people in power and out of power standing up for their views, taking risks for their views, fighting for years for their views -- Sen. Susan Collins’ record reveals herself to be on an unusual island where her stated views are openly, blatantly, repeatedly contradicted by her record.

  • Sean Hannity wants new Attorney General William Barr to prioritize investigating Trump's enemies 

    Hannity's enemies list features a slew of Obama-era officials, including Hillary Clinton

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Sean Hannity, the Fox News host with the ear of President Donald Trump, has a message for newly confirmed Attorney General William Barr: Investigate the president’s political enemies -- from former leaders of the Justice Department and FBI to Obama administration appointees to former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton -- or suffer the consequences.

    Fox’s leading propagandists spent much of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ tenure denouncing him over his refusal to turn their conspiracy theories into federal investigations. Hannity apparently has reason to believe that Barr, who has spoken favorably about the notion of appointing a special counsel to look into the Uranium One pseudoscandal about Clinton, will be more pliable.

    On Thursday night, just hours after the Senate confirmed Barr, Hannity crowed, “My sources telling me tonight things are happening as we speak.” The Fox host went on to detail numerous purported crimes he said had been committed by 10 “deep state actors,” including former FBI Director James Comey, former CIA Director John Brennan, and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

    “Over the next year with a brand new attorney general, William Barr, this country -- we’ve got to decide,” Hannity concluded. “You want to save the United States? You want to be a constitutional republic? You want equal justice under the law? Do you want a dual justice system, or do you want America to be handed off to your kids and grandkids as a banana republic?”

    Later in the program, Gregg Jarrett, the Fox legal analyst whose role at the network is to explain why the president and his team did not break the law but all of his critics did, claimed that “more than a dozen” Obama-era officials had committed crimes and that Barr “should haul them all in front of a federal grand jury.”

    “What about Hillary? Does she get held accountable?” Hannity asked. “They should reopen the investigation; it was a fraud,” Jarrett responded.

    Hannity has been urging Barr to investigate Trump’s enemies and predicting that he would do so ever since Barr was nominated in December.

    On January 15, the day of Barr’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Hannity presented a “road map of corruption for the new attorney general-to-be,” dozens of federal crimes that, according to Jarrett, may have been committed by 10 Obama-era officials.

    The Fox host added that Barr “must also revisit Hillary Clinton's various crimes, like, oh, deleting subpoenaed emails, and deleting your hard drive and washing it with BleachBit and busting up devices and ripping out SIM cards.”

    Over the past month, Hannity and his cronies have maintained a constant drumbeat of calls for Barr to probe these officials. His is not the only program generating such demands; on Thursday night, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs urged Barr to investigate Chief Justice John Roberts because of his purported role in the surveillance of a Trump campaign aide.

    Fox has vast influence over the Trump administration because the president both regularly watches the network’s programming and privately seeks advice from its commentators. Trump’s decision this week to declare a national emergency in order to obtain border wall funding, for example, came after Hannity and Dobbs spent weeks demanding that action. And Sessions’ own relationship with the president was damaged in no small part because Trump kept hearing his Fox allies lashing out at his attorney general.

    Barr is being presented with a choice: He can follow the directives of Hannity and his crew and conduct rigorous investigations into Clinton and other Fox targets, or he can try to weather the storm that they will create if he refuses to do so.

  • Right-wing media figures line up to defend Elliott Abrams, a Trump appointee complicit in crimes in Latin America

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Elliott Abrams, President Donald Trump’s pick to help lead the administration’s response to the Venezuelan political crisis, appeared before the House Foreign Relations Committee on February 13 and was sharply questioned by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MI) about his activities in Latin America for the Reagan administration. 

    Abrams was a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal, the Reagan administration’s secret funding of right-wing rebel groups and anti-communist death squads known as “Contras” in Nicaragua via revenue from illegal arms sales to Iran. Abrams was convicted of withholding information from Congress “about secret government efforts to support the Nicaraguan contra rebels during a ban on such aid,” though he was eventually pardoned by President George H.W. Bush.  

    Abrams also helped cover up a 1981 Salvadoran government massacre of nearly 1,000 civilians. At the time of the massacre, the U.S. was “sending the Salvadoran military a million dollars a day.” Abrams told Congress that the massacre reports “were not credible” and being “significantly misused, at the very best, by the guerrillas.” In 1993, Abrams asserted that “the administration's record in El Salvador is one of fabulous achievement.” More recently, he was reportedly involved in the failed 2002 coup attempt against former President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela -- the same country he is now tasked to help with humanitarian aid in the midst of a massive political crisis. 

    Despite Abrams’ extensive and well-documented record of disastrous interventions in Latin America that merit serious criticism, right-wing media figures defended Abrams, calling him “a dedicated voice for repressed communities” and saying he had returned to the government to “try to help free people from socialism.” Even though Abrams may have “had to do some extreme work” to fight communism, his conservative media defenders insisted that he’s a “pure gentleman” and “a leading advocate of human rights.”

    Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade: “There was a communist infiltration in the 1980s. And Donald (sic) -- President Reagan wasn't going to have it. He was going to make sure that the Russians, and then the Soviets, were not going to infiltrate and take over our hemisphere. So to do that you had to do some extreme work.”

    Fox host and former George W. Bush press secretary Dana Perino: “I would like to defend Elliott Abrams. This is a guy who is a total gentleman, a patriot, a public servant who is willing to go back into government to try to help free people from socialism.” 

    Pro-Trump commentator Matt Schlapp: “Elliott Abrams … was in the Reagan administration fighting the spread of communism, socialism in Central America, and he got caught up in a politicized prosecutor.”

    Washington Free Beacon’s Noah Pollak criticized “cheap shots at Elliott Abrams” from people who don’t know “a thing about US policy in Latin America in the 1980’s.” A Free Beacon headline also called Abrams a “Jewish-American hero.” 

    Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Max Boot tweeted that Abrams, his CFR colleague, “is a leading advocate of human rights and democracy--not a promoter of genocide!” Boot criticized Omar’s “disgraceful ad hominem attacks” as “more evidence of the loony left.” 

    National Review’s Jay Nordlinger: Abrams “has been championing freedom and human rights his entire life (and taking unholy sh** for it from the illiberal Left and Right).”

    Nordlinger: Abrams “has been a devotee of liberal democracy and the American interest his entire career. He was a Reaganite when it was cool and (crucially) after.”

    The Heritage Foundation’s Ana Rosa Quintana: “Elliott Abrams is a patriot and dedicated voice for repressed communities, including as a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.”

    The Weekly Standard’s Kelly Jane Torrance complained that Omar’s line of questioning to Abrams was simply “rehashing things that happened many years ago” while denying Abrams “a chance to give the information he’s there to give.” 

    Fox guest and former Trump spokesperson Michael Anton dismissed criticism of Abrams’ bloody record in Latin America: “Whatever you think of his past, whatever you think of his views, he doesn't need this job. … He’s not really getting anything out of it, and this is the thanks that he gets.” 

    Tyler Monroe contributed research to this article. 

  • Trump is taking his Fox cabinet's advice and declaring a national emergency

    We warned you this would happen. 

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump is taking the advice of his Fox cabinet and will declare a national emergency to obtain additional funding for his border wall. The right-wing network’s hosts, several of whom also play key roles as unofficial presidential advisers, have been urging him to take this step for the last month.  

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced during a Thursday afternoon Senate floor speech that Trump intended to both sign the compromise legislation to fund the government -- which includes $1.375 billion in wall funding -- and use a national emergency to obtain more money. The White House subsequently confirmed that plan.

    That’s exactly what Sean Hannity suggested that Trump do on the Fox host's Tuesday night program. Hannity said that he was “not as concerned as some other conservatives if the president signs the bill,” as long as Trump “simultaneously” declared a national emergency. “This is the time. That is a necessity. And the president, I think I know him very well, telegraphed that very thing just today.”

    Hannity, who has a close relationship with the president and frequently talks to him on the phone, had previously denounced the government funding bill and threatened any Republican legislator who supported it. But he changed his tune, perhaps because of a call he reportedly received from the White House aimed at “tamping down criticism on the right.” The result appears to be that Trump will be doing the very thing Hannity said on air he should do.

    Hannity was one of several Fox hosts who had sharply criticized the spending bill for providing insufficient support for the president’s long-sought wall. The president will apparently ameliorate that concern by using the national emergency declaration to try to divert additional funding to wall construction.

    This is the culmination of a month-long struggle between Senate Republican leaders like McConnell and Fox hosts like Hannity and Lou Dobbs. Since Trump first floated the idea of a national emergency declaration in early January, McConnell and his allies have been trying to persuade the president not to go through with it, citing potential legal struggles and the possibility of a congressional resolution disapproving the declaration. Meanwhile, Hannity and Dobbs, whose Fox programs the president watches regularly and whom the president frequently consults for political advice, have been urging him to do it on a nearly nightly basis.

    This is the same dispute we saw in December, as Republican congressional leadership and the president’s Fox allies struggled for the president’s attention over whether he should partially shut down the government. Then, as now, the Fox cabinet triumphed.

    Right-wing infotainers can bend the ear of the president of the United States and drastically shift federal government policy according to their whims. They have this outsized influence because Trump consumes hours of television each day and is desperate to receive constant validation from the people he watches. We've reached a point where Fox is all but running the country.

  • NRATV hosted members of the MSD commission to push for arming teachers in the year following the Parkland shooting

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    In the year after the mass shooting at a Parkland, FL, high school, the National Rifle Association’s broadcast outlet NRATV developed a relationship with members of the state commission set up to analyze the response to the shooting and suggest security improvements, which included arming classroom teachers.  

    The 16-member panel was put together to “investigate system failures” and recommend policies for active shooter situations as part of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, a “sweeping school-safety law” signed by Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott a month after the Parkland school shooting left 17 dead. NRATV host Grant Stinchfield praised the legislation on the one-year anniversary of the shooting, calling the law “amazing” and reminding viewers that “the NRA worked hard to get [it] passed.” Among its recommendations, which were released in December, the commission called for arming teachers who undergo background checks and training.

    Commission members were chosen by state Republicans -- Scott, then-Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and then-Senate President Joe Negron. They initially included three Parkland parents in the commission, though Andrew Pollack, whose daughter was killed in the shooting, later resigned. The panel held its first meeting on April 24.

    On August 16, Pinellas County Sheriff and commission Chairman Bob Gualtieri appeared with NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch on her NRATV show Relentless and echoed a common NRA talking point that “police officers cannot be everywhere.” He claimed, “The unfortunate reality is is cops can’t be everywhere all the time, and if there had been a good guy with a gun on that campus or in that building, there’s no doubt in my mind that they would have been able to minimize the carnage.”

    Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, a commission member, has made at least five appearances on NRATV’s Stinchfield and Cam & Co. since his appointment to repeat NRA talking points and push for more guns in schools. On November 28, Judd appeared on NRATV with host Grant Stinchfield to take credit for guiding his “dear friend” Chairman Gualtieri toward supporting armed teachers after he initially expressed discomfort with the idea:

    GRANT STINCHFIELD (HOST): Here we have another recommendation that teachers should be armed. Not surprising to you, but what do you think about this recommendation? Was it surprising to others in Florida?

    GRADY JUDD: Well, do you know, I don’t think it was a surprise to others in Florida because Senate Bill 7026, which we pushed through, mandates armed guardians or school resource officers on every campus. Sheriff Gualtieri is a dear friend of mine and chairs the commission -- I’m on that commission with him. I established that position early on as, you know, through my sentinel program. Bob originally -- Bob Gualtieri, the chair -- was not really comfortable with that. And as I worked with him -- and he and I are dear friends and are on several committees together. And the research we developed through this shooting, it was abundantly evident had teachers -- not all teachers; those that wanted to and were capable of and completed thorough training -- could have and would have saved lives that day. We know one teacher that was shot by our suspect, had actually pulled himself over into a corner, and then the suspect came back and shot him again, fatally killing him, obviously. But we know he would have shot and killed the active shooter had he had a firearm. Had he had that firearm, not only would his life have been saved but so would have a lot of other children in school that day. As I’ve said over and over, Grant, this is not something we want to do. When I was a kid in school, we didn’t have to have armed security on campuses. But this is a new normal and a new day. And we have to have someone there so if we can’t discover this active murderer, shooter, ahead of time, that when they arrive on campus, somebody is there to stop them before they can hurt our students and our teachers.

    STINCHFIELD: You know, sheriff, to me this is all common sense. I mean, I don’t really even think you need research to understand the very basic premise that [NRA executive vice president and CEO] Wayne LaPierre coined the phrase “The best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” I know that research has been done, it backs up your case, but to me it comes down to just simple common sense. You’ve got to meet a threat with equal or greater force. That’s the only way to stop a threat. This does that, doesn't it?

    JUDD: It absolutely does.     

    Two weeks later, on December 12, the commission released a draft report that listed “a series of failures by Broward County agencies and recommendations for avoiding a similar tragedy in the future,” the Sun-Sentinel reported. Among its other recommendations, the commission voted 14-1 to allow classroom teachers to carry guns provided they undergo background checks and training.  

    Less than a week after the draft report was released, Loesch revealed that Gualtieri told her information about the shooting that was released to the commission but not to the public. On her December 18 radio show, she said CCTV footage from inside the school showed that the gunman took seven to 10 seconds to reload, a longer time compared to “an adequately trained person” who “can reload in a second.” The commission submitted its final report to the governor and state legislature on January 2.

    The NRA has long advocated for putting armed personnel in schools, and even though NRATV ramped up its advocacy following the Parkland mass shooting, there is little to no evidence putting guns in schools will stop mass shootings. An FBI study of 160 active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013 found that only four incidents were stopped by “armed individuals who were not law enforcement personnel” (three security guards and one licensed and armed citizen) -- compared to 21 incidents stopped by unarmed citizens. A working paper released in March 2018 by Johns Hopkins University education professor Sheldon Greenberg that relies in part on analyses of police officers’ confrontations with armed suspects also concluded that arming teachers would do more harm than good.  

  • Alex Jones is souring on his indicted Infowars employee Roger Stone

    Jones: "Gateway Pundit can hire Roger"

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Conspiracy theorist and Infowars head Alex Jones is frustrated with Trump confidant Roger Stone because he thinks Stone gave a rival right-wing news outlet an “exclusive” about Stone’s criminal case.

    Stone, who is a co-host of the Infowars program War Room, was arrested on January 25 and charged with seven felonies as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. The charges allege Stone lied to Congress about his dealings with WikiLeaks concerning emails hacked by Russia in the 2016 presidential election; obstructed an official proceeding; and intimidated a witness, radio host Randy Credico.  

    Following Stone’s arrest, his first media appearance was on Infowars, and he has since appeared regularly on Infowars programs, including the show, War Room, that he co-hosts, to publicly litigate his criminal proceeding and fight with his critics. Stone has expressed fear at the possibility that he will be subject to a gag order and recently described his Infowars platform as “vital” to his criminal defense strategy.

    Now Stone has another problem, as his boss, Jones, has become angered that Stone shared an “exclusive” with far-right website The Gateway Pundit.

    The dispute centers around a February 13 motion filed by Stone’s legal team requesting a hearing concerning Stone’s allegation that the special counsel’s office improperly released Stone’s indictment before it was unsealed. Gateway Pundit was the first media outlet to publish a story about that filing, posting a piece bylined by Stone associate Jacob Engels.

    Discussing the Gateway Pundit story and the motion (which Jones initially mischaracterized as a “lawsuit against Robert Mueller”), a clearly perturbed Jones said during the February 13 broadcast of his show, “I like Roger as a friend, but he doles out exclusives ... some to Fox News, some to Daily Caller, and he works here. I pay his salary. … So I guess Roger Stone’s going to go to the woodshed here pretty soon.”

    Jones went on to say -- possibly facetiously -- that Stone now works for Gateway Pundit. He said, “This is a global exclusive. In the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, filed today, Roger Stone’s motion requesting a show cause order. So it’s on Gateway Pundit. Well that’s good. Gateway Pundit can hire Roger. … In fact, Roger Stone now works for the Gateway Pundit, which is good.”

    An annoyed Jones added, “People call us to find out what Roger’s up to and I just -- I can’t tell you; I don’t know. So Roger Stone now works for the Gateway Pundit, ladies and gentlemen -- seriously, as of about 10 seconds ago. I’m like, ‘Roger, get a job with the Gateway Pundit.’ Because -- here, let me check my other phone. I don’t want to go off half-cocked. Maybe he called this other phone and gave me the exclusive. Nope, doesn’t look like it.”

    Just the day before, Stone had emphasized how important his Infowars platform was to him. During the February 12 broadcast of War Room, Stone said that “one of the main reasons” he was indicted is that he works at Infowars. He went on to say, “I’ve told you about the vital role that Infowars plays in the strategy for my defense. If I can’t come here, if I can’t come on The Alex Jones Show, if I can’t come on the morning show with David Knight, if I can’t come on the War Room, then there’s no forum where I can really go to tell people the complete story about what’s going on.”

    Stone then said, “I guess the best thing to remind everybody is that please go to the Infowars store” to support the outlet’s operation. Then he transitioned into an extended pitch for a supplement called Brain Force that Infowars sells:
     

    ROGER STONE: One of the main reasons I think I’m targeted, Rob [Dew], is because I’m on Infowars. Because I work with you and Alex Jones and [War Room co-host] Owen Shroyer and [Infowars host] David Knight and so many others to bring people the stone cold truth, the unvarnished truth about what’s going on in the struggle against the globalists. And I’ve told you about the vital role that Infowars plays in the strategy for my defense. If I can’t come here, if I can’t come on The Alex Jones Show, if I can’t come on the morning show with David Knight, if I can’t come on the War Room, then there’s no forum where I can really go to tell people the complete story about what is going on. Everywhere else you appear you’re edited, you're censored, you're limited. But here at Infowars nobody tells us what we can and cannot say, nobody tells us what we can and cannot cover. We just go for where the facts lead us. So I guess the best thing to remind everybody is that please go to the Infowars store. It is vitally important that Infowars continue to thrive.  

    On February 13, after Jones complained about Stone giving away exclusives, Stone did not appear in his regular slot on War Room.

    Jones’ attack on Stone is the latest example of infighting at Infowars over Mueller’s investigation. Previously, Jones and Stone teamed up to feud with former Infowars D.C. bureau chief Jerome Corsi. Corsi, who is also entangled in Mueller’s probe of what happened with WikiLeaks, is referenced throughout Stone’s criminal indictment. Jones and Stone have sought to discredit Corsi’s public statements about the probe and in some cases even appear to have attempted to influence how Corsi testifies under oath to Mueller’s grand jury. For his part, Corsi, who is an obvious witness for Stone’s trial, has suggested Stone is guilty of witness tampering because of Stone’s interactions with him. Most recently, Corsi filed a lawsuit against Stone alleging Stone was attempting to induce him to have a heart attack or stroke by causing “emotional distress.”