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  • In an interview with Sinclair, Trump touts Kavanaugh’s “unblemished record” and says he thinks he will be confirmed

    Trump sat down for an interview with Sinclair’s chief political analyst, Boris Epshteyn, who has never disagreed with the president in his commentary  

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Sinclair Broadcast Group, the largest owner and operator of local TV stations in the country, regularly broadcasts pro-Trump propaganda segments created by an ex-Trump staffer into the homes of millions of Americans. And now those segments include an interview with President Donald Trump himself, in which he was given a friendly platform to discuss his continued support of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh despite a report that he committed sexual assault.

    The media company’s chief political analyst, Boris Epshteyn, has been producing regular commentary segments, called “Bottom Line With Boris,” for Sinclair for more than a year. Epshteyn had previously worked in the Trump White House on the communications team, after doing stints on the Trump inaugural committee and on the Trump campaign. Epshteyn also served as a Trump media surrogate throughout the campaign and first days of the Trump presidency. Epshteyn is personal friends with the president’s sons Eric and Donald Jr., and he has been spotted at Trump International Hotel multiple times, including with Don Jr. in June. He also may or may not have signed a nondisparagement agreement while he was working on the campaign, which could legally prevent him from criticizing Trump.

    For a chief political analyst, Epshteyn offers takes that are notably unoriginal. At best, he regurgitates Trump talking points or touts some vague, imaginary bipartisan ideals that involve being nicer to Trump. At worst, he defends the most upsetting, racist things Trump does. In fact, in a recent interview on a National Review podcast, Epshteyn could not think of a single issue about which he had disagreed with the Trump administration in any of his commentary segments. What’s more: These segments ultimately air on an estimated 100 TV news stations under Sinclair’s control, exploiting the trust people have in their local news.

    Given the president’s penchant for granting interviews to sycophants, it was only a matter of time before Trump himself made an appearance on "Bottom Line with Boris."

    On September 21, Epshteyn shared the first of what will likely be several must-run segments featuring excerpts from his sit-down with the president. This one is focused on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court and professor Christine Blasey Ford’s account of sexual assault by Kavanaugh when they were both in high school. In the segment, Trump largely repeats broad White House talking points about making sure Ford is heard, and then pivots to touting Kavanaugh’s “unblemished record.” Trump also says he believes Kavanaugh will ultimately still be confirmed.  

    BORIS EPSHTEYN: The nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is facing last-minute turmoil over allegations that he committed sexual assault decades ago. I spoke with President Trump about this in a one-on-one, exclusive interview. Here’s what he shared.  

    [INTERVIEW CLIP BEGINS]

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I think they’ve been very respectful of Dr. Ford, extremely respectful. I think they’re doing the right thing. They want to give her a voice, if she wants to take it. They’re talking now about timing. It’s already been delayed a week. That’s a long time. This is the U.S. Senate we’re talking about.

    EPSHTEYN: Right.

    TRUMP: I can only say this: Let her speak. But Brett Kavanaugh is one of the finest people you’ll ever meet. I think it’s been extremely hard on him and his family. When I look at what’s happening -- here’s a man with an unblemished record, and to be going through this all of a sudden. So I won’t say anything now. All I’m saying is that -- let it play out. Let her have open voice. And let’s see what happens.

    EPSHTEYN: Do you think he will get confirmed in the end?

    TRUMP: I do. I do. One of the finest judges we have, one of the greatest intellects we have. Top of the line in every way. This is a shame. This is actually a shame.

    [END OF INTERVIEW CLIP]

    EPSHTEYN: Here’s the bottom line: President Trump continues to support Judge Kavanaugh and is confident that he will be confirmed.

    This year, Epshteyn has aired interviews with seven other members of the Trump administration, eight Republican congressmen, and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. The appearances include: then-Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Vice President Mike Pence, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, Council of Economic Advisers Chair Kevin Hassett, and Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI). DeSantis, McCarthy, Rooney, and Duffy are all on ballots this year.

  • Here are the conservative media outlets and figures pushing the outlandish theory that Christine Blasey Ford misidentified her attacker

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Conservative legal commentator Ed Whelan yesterday pushed a theory that it wasn’t Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh who sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford, but another man who looked like Kavanaugh. While many have denounced the speculation, calling it, for instance, “wildly irresponsible,” several mainstream and fringe conservative media outlets and personalities endorsed Whelan’s theory.

    Ford has debunked the claim, saying there’s “zero chance that I would confuse them.” Though Whelan later deleted his tweets and apologized for identifying the supposed doppelganger, he hasn’t retracted his theory.

    In the days before Whelan tweeted his ridiculous theory, other conservative media figures and even a Republican lawmaker speculated that Ford was mistaken about who assaulted her. A Wall Street Journal editorial published on September 17 with the title “The #MeToo Kavanaugh Ambush” claimed, “Mistaken identity is also possible.” The same day, Fox News The Five co-host Jesse Watters speculated, “Maybe it was a case of mistaken identity.” And Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggested Ford is “mixed up.” On September 18, conservative Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker wrote that “as crazy as that sounds, it wouldn't be unheard of” for this to be just a matter of “mistaken identity,” in a column titled “Is there a Kavanaugh doppelganger?”

    But it was Whelan’s now-deleted thread of tweets, posted on September 20, that spread throughout conservative media. Those who promoted it include:

    Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy: Whelan “figured out what house it may have happened at, because it was a house closest to the golf course, and then realized whose house it was and looked at a picture of the young man who lived there at the time who was a classmate of Mr. Kavanaugh's. Put up side by side images, they look a lot alike.”

    Conservative blogger Erick Erickson: Whelan “decided to put up a more compelling story that embraces Ford’s theory of assault.”

    While I am still not convinced there was an assault on Professor Ford, an intriguing theory has come forward that embraces the idea she was assaulted and makes a far more plausible case than that Brett Kavanaugh did it.

    Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center decided to put up a more compelling story that embraces Ford's theory of assault, while filling in the details she provided. And while I continue to find it unseemly to drag another innocent person into a fraudulent claim, the facts are very compelling that this is the location and things make more sense if you assume Ford was assaulted.

    The facts, as Ed Whelan laid them out, are that Brett Kavanaugh did go to school with someone who has a striking resemblance. That person lived within walking distance of the club Ford claims she had been at. The home matches the limited description Ford provided. I suspect more information will roll out as well over the coming days.

    I continue to believe Ford's accusation is not credible. If you find it credible, Whelan's evidence is compelling unless you're just trying to stop Kavanaugh for partisan or ideological reasons.

    Conservative NY Times columnist Ross Douthat: I “assume there’s more reason to believe [Whelan’s] doppelganger theory than just what he just tweeted.”

    Gateway Pundit: Whelan “drops pictures and evidence that blows Christine Ford’s case wide open.”

    Accuser Christine Blasey Ford is waging a war on Trump’s SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh with decades-old, unsubstantiated claims of sexual assault in an effort to derail his confirmation to the Supreme Court.

    Judge Kavanaugh has categorically denied the allegations and even told Senator Orin (sic) Hatch he wasn’t at the party in question.

    Ed Whelan, Justice Scalia’s former law clerk and president of conservative think tank the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), came out in defense of Brett Kavanaugh and said compelling evidence will come out next week exonerating Kavanaugh.

    On Thursday afternoon, Ed Whelan started dropping pictures and evidence that may blow Christine Ford’s case wide open.

    Twitchy: “Ed Whelan’s BOMBSHELL thread takes Ford’s accusations against Kavanaugh apart.”

    Earlier today, Twitchy covered the ‘rumor’ that information had been obtained that some felt would 100% exonerate Kavanaugh. This originally stemmed from tweets Ed Whelan sent out in the first part of this week.

    Welp, looks like Ed made good on his claim and posted a thread of facts that would give anyone pause as to what really did and did not happen to Ford and could eventually prove Kavanaugh’s innocence.

    Keep in mind, we can neither confirm nor deny anything Whelan has stated in his bombshell thread.

    Zero Hedge: “Was Kavanaugh accuser almost raped by his doppelganger? A new theory emerges.”

    A new theory has emerged in the case of whether Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted accuser Christine Blasey Ford roughly 35 years ago; it was Kavanaugh's high school look-alike, whose high school house better fits Ford's description, and who kept in touch with the other guy allegedly in the room, Mark Judge.

    The theory was presented Thursday afternoon by Ed Whelan, a former clerk to USSC Justice Antonin Scalia and currently president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), a conservative think tank.

    The Goldwater: “Breaking: Attorney Ed Whelan drops explosive evidence of vindication for Judge Kavanaugh.”

    Ford has been traumatized by the memory of sexual assault for 35 years. She sought therapy in 2012 due to the horrible memories. No one would go to all that trouble for nothing. Something happened to her.

    I couldn’t wrap my head around this story. What happened here? There had to be an explanation. Something I was missing. Then I read a story today that closed some loopholes for me. Below is the story I read.

    Please note that I am in no way stating that this is true. We have no idea what happened to Ford back when she was a teenager. This is just one idea, one possibility. Keep in mind that Ford can’t remember much about the details. It was a long time ago. This is why Kavanaugh should have never been put through this. He and his family are suffering, and Ford has no facts to base her allegations on.

    Ed Whalen’s Theory of Kavanaugh Rape…

    Conservative Firing Line: “It looks like the case brought against Judge Brett Kavanaugh just took another serious hit.”

    It looks like the case brought against Judge Brett Kavanaugh just took another serious hit. The Washington Post reported that Ed Whelan, a former clerk for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the president of conservative think tank the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), said “compelling evidence” which apparently includes photos and maps would exonerate Kavanaugh from allegations brought by Christine Blasey Ford.

    Powerline promoted Whelan’s tweets with headline “Mistake identity?”

    Paul (and Senator Orrin Hatch) has already mentioned the possibility that Dr. Ford’s allegation of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh may be a case of mistaken identity, based in part on Ed Whelan’s cryptic tweets that Kavanaugh is going to be fully exonerated. This has set off a firestorm of rumors and expectations. Whelan has just now (6 pm eastern time) provided one specific scenario of this on Twitter, offering up a specific name (though careful to note that he makes no allegation of implication that the other person, Chris Garrett, assaulted Ford as claimed).

    Read the whole thread—it doesn’t take long, but it is not easily summarized here.

  • Trump's war on the Lester Holt interview

    A presidential media assault on the president’s self-incriminating words

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The president and his attorneys are not subtle. Caught up in the grinding gears of the Russia investigation, they’ve apparently decided that whatever legal strategy they’ve adopted (if they have one) must be complemented by a loud, clanking, and incessant media blitz to exonerate the president in the court of public opinion. And so they go on TV -- constantly -- to proclaim Trump’s innocence and endlessly litigate the evidence that suggests otherwise.

    By watching how they communicate, you can suss out clues to which issues are causing the president and his lawyers the most grief. At the moment, for whatever reason, Trump and his team seem preoccupied with the idea that the president might have admitted to obstruction of justice when he told NBC’s Lester Holt last year that “this Russia thing” was on his mind when he fired former FBI Director James Comey. And so they’re trying to rewrite recent history by lying about the Holt interview and brazenly retconning Trump’s relationship with Comey.

    Earlier this week, Trump gave an interview to The Hill that touched on the Justice Department’s Russia investigation and Trump’s controversial May 2017 firing of Comey. Trump spun a nonsensical story about how he wished he had fired Comey before he became president:

    "If I did one mistake with Comey, I should have fired him before I got here. I should have fired him the day I won the primaries," Trump said. "I should have fired him right after the convention, say I don't want that guy. Or at least fired him the first day on the job. ... I would have been better off firing him or putting out a statement that I don't want him there when I get there.”

    Trump obviously could not have fired Comey while Barack Obama was still in office. And while Trump did attack Comey during the 2016 campaign over the decision not to recommend charges against Hillary Clinton over her email server, he revised his opinion of the FBI director after Comey reinitiated the email investigation just days before the election. “It took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had where they’re trying to protect her from criminal prosecution,” Trump said at the time. “What he did, he brought back his reputation. He brought it back.”

    This week’s preposterous revisionism seems like an effort to establish a motive for Trump’s firing of Comey: specifically, that he always wanted to fire Comey, even before the FBI began investigating the Trump campaign’s Russia connections in July 2016. It probably hasn’t occurred to Trump that the fact that he didn’t fire Comey immediately is sufficient proof that this new story is bullshit. But logical inconsistency isn’t the problem he’s trying to solve -- he’s trying to unring the obstruction-of-justice bell he rang during his interview with Holt shortly after the Comey firing.

    In that May 2017 interview, Trump told Holt that he had decided to fire Comey regardless of whatever recommendation he got from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. “He made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it,” Trump said. “And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.’”

    Trump and his legal team have long been aware of the problem this interview presents and have employed various strategies to defuse it. The president has accused Holt of “fudging my tape” -- an incendiary and false allegation that the tape itself disproves. Trump’s lawyers have opted for a subtler, though still dishonest, strategy of arguing that Trump’s comments and the interview have been broadly misunderstood.

    Jay Sekulow, who hosts a radio program when he’s not legally representing the president, argued on CNN on Wednesday evening that it is “not correct” to say Trump fired Comey because of the Russia investigation. “You know that when there are interviews, there are edits and there is a longer transcript,” he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “And I will just tell you without disclosing any detail, that when you review the entire transcript, it is very clear as to what happened and I'm not going to give you information on how we provided it, but in our professional discussions with the office of special counsel, we have addressed that on multiple occasions appropriately. And the evidence, when you look at the entire evidence, you don't see it.”

    Sekulow was alluding to the Trump legal team’s communications with special counsel Robert Mueller, which specifically address the Holt interview. Trump’s lawyers argue that once you consider the entire interview transcript, “a fair reading of the president’s remarks” is that he fired Comey for incompetence and fully expected the Russia investigation to continue, perhaps even drag on longer.

    The problem with this explanation is that it is strained to begin with, and it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Trump would not have had to derail the entire investigation in order to obstruct it. Recall that Comey testified Trump asked for his loyalty in the months before he was fired, and Comey declined. Trump could have corrupted the probe by getting rid of Comey and installing someone friendlier who would investigate Russian election interference without investigating Trump.

    This avenue was briefly open to the president until he sabotaged it by threatening Comey over Twitter with allegedly incriminating “tapes” of their conversations. That prompted Comey to leak personal memos describing his interactions with Trump in the hope that a special counsel would be appointed -- which is exactly what happened. Since then, Trump has been threatening the Justice Department, raging about the “witch hunt” special counsel probe, and lashing out at his hand-picked attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from the investigation. The president has been unambiguously clear in his view that senior Justice Department officials should be protecting him.

    Viewed in that context, the Lester Holt interview is incredibly damning of the president, which is why Trump and his attorneys are filling the airwaves with elaborate lies and misinterpretations about it. They recognize the danger of the president’s own words.

  • Fox & Friends promotes Ed Whelan’s shockingly reckless Kavanaugh defense to its massive audience

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox & Friends, President Donald Trump's favorite morning news program, on Friday promoted a conservative activist's shockingly reckless theory postulating that Christine Blasey Ford's statement that she was sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in the 1980s is actually a case of mistaken identity.

    Ed Whelan, a former law clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia and the president of the think tank the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is among the nation’s foremost conservative legal commentators. From his post at National Review Online’s “Bench Memos” blog, he helped shape the Republican strategy to defeat President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees and confirm Trump’s. Whelan is an establishment insider who boasts a “decadeslong friendship with Kavanaugh and close involvement with the nomination.”

    And so, when Whelan tweeted on Tuesday night that he expected Kavanaugh to be “clearly vindicated” of sexually assaulting Ford within the week, conservatives took notice. Even mainstream journalists treated his hints as credible, wondering what information he might have that could exonerate the nominee.

    Two evenings later, Whelan revealed his evidence in a tweetstorm that should irreparably shatter any credibility he has in mainstream circles.

    Whelan cited a combination of Google Maps, Zillow listings, a Facebook post, and the Georgetown Prep yearbook to concoct the theory that while Ford “may well have been the victim of a severe sexual assault by someone 36 years ago,” it is possible that she was “mistakenly remembering” a different student from Kavanaugh. Whelan named and posted photos of a former Kavanaugh classmate who he said “resembled” the nominee, all but accusing him of being the “real” attempted rapist.

    Ford swiftly quashed the obviously ill-conceived doppelganger theory, responding in a statement that she had known and socialized with both Kavanaugh and the student Whelan named, and “there is zero chance that I would confuse them.”

    Whelan’s absurdly reckless speculation drew condemnations from all but the most extreme of Kavanaugh die-hards. On Twitter, journalists panned Whelan’s actions as “wildly irresponsible” and “stunningly irresponsible.” Right-wing commentators suggested that Whelan had put forth an “insane theory” that was “so nasty and desperate-seeming that it taints Kavanaugh” and that the NRO blogger could “end up in court for defaming a private figure.”

    “Republicans on Capitol Hill and White House officials immediately sought to distance themselves from Whelan’s claims and said they were not aware of his plans to identify the former classmate,” The Washington Post reported.

    But as nearly the entirety of the conservative movement desperately tried to put as much space as possible between themselves and Whelan’s implosion, the moronic Trump sycophants at Fox & Friends blasted his theory to their audience.

    “A fellow by the name of Ed Whelan,” co-host Steve Doocy began during the program’s opening segment, “ … he looked at what Christine Ford told The Washington Post and figured out, OK, these people were named, these four people, where did they live?”

    He continued, “And looked at what she had said and figured out what house it may have happened at, because it was a house closest to the golf course, and then realized whose house it was and looked at a picture of the young man who lived there at the time who was a classmate of Mr. Kavanaugh's. Put up side by side images -- they look a lot a like.”

    “Really?” Ainsley Earhardt responded.

    “Is it a case of mistaken identity?” asked Ed Henry. “Now Dr. Ford put out a statement last night insisting she knows the difference between Judge Kavanaugh--”

    “Zero chance,” Doocy interjected.

    “And this other person and there's no chance,” Henry continued. “So we'll see.”

    A few hours after millions of Americans heard his theory treated as credible on national television, Whelan apologized on Twitter for his “appalling and inexcusable mistake of judgment” and deleted his tweetstorm.

    Roughly 10 minutes later, an apparently unaware Doocy raised Whelan’s hypothesis of a Kavanaugh doppelganger in an interview with legal commentator Jonathan Turley.

    As the program closed, he read the tweet but did not apologize for Fox & Friends’ role in promoting the theory.

    The eagerness of Fox & Friends’ hosts to promote conspiracy theories should once more trigger a spike in alarm, given the president’s penchant for beginning his day with their program.

    And the wild irresponsibility of one of the leading lights of the conservative commentariat -- following a week in which right-wingers cynically dove into the fever swamps to find any possible way to discredit Ford -- should show just how deep the rot is in the right-wing media.

  • Right-wing fever swamps are now smearing Christine Blasey Ford over her high school yearbooks

    Alex Jones baselessly identified a yearbook picture of a girl in a miniskirt as Ford in order to call her “captain of the sluts”

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    An emerging attack on Christine Blasey Ford falsely claims that her high school yearbooks undermine her account of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulting her while they were in high school.

    The yearbook pages in question don’t include any information that reflects negatively on Ford or contradicts any part of her account, but she is now being smeared over their contents. Those launching the attack include prominent conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who baselessly identified a photo of a girl wearing a skirt as Ford in order to claim she was promiscuous in high school -- as though such a claim would in any way excuse or negate sexual assault.

    According to Jones and Infowars, excerpts from the yearbooks were first published by a blog called Cult of the First Amendment. A September 19 post on that blog appears to show scanned pages of yearbooks from Holton-Arms School, Ford’s high school.

    The yearbook excerpts describe underage drinking and, in two cases, racially insensitive outfits worn by several Holton-Arms students. But Ford is pictured only once in the images, sitting with two friends at a Halloween party.

    While Ford’s face was shown, the vast majority of the other faces shown in the pictures are covered by a black bar, with the blog noting, “In this report, last names have been redacted and faces obscured, other than the picture of Chrissy Blasey seen below.” Infowars shared the blog post in a September 20 article that suggested that the material somehow undermines Ford’s account.

    Jones also covered the article during the September 20 broadcast of The Alex Jones Show, in which he repeatedly defamed Ford.

    Jones seized on a picture from the yearbook that shows a girl posing in a skirt. The girl pictured has a black bar covering her face, and neither the Infowars aggregation nor Cult of the First Amendment identified the individual as Ford (nor did the original yearbook page, as shown on either site). Still, Jones not only repeatedly said it was her in the photo but also suggested that the person’s decision to wear a miniskirt -- which, to be clear, is innocuous in its own right and not probative of anything -- made her a “hussy” and “captain of the sluts.”

    Jones said, “We need Judge Kavanaugh to still testify next week and to have big blown-up poster boards with Christine Blasey Ford spreading her legs in the high school yearbooks,” and he said she was pictured “in stockings up to her knees and miniskirts, provocatively putting her hand behind her head and showing everything but her panties.”

    He also said of the photo, “That means, ‘I want you to climb on top of me right now,’”before claiming she “appears to be a hussy” and that she is “the definition of a trainwreck fraud.”

    Jones also mischaracterized other material in the yearbooks, falsely claiming they described “how much Chrissy loved passing out and how Chrissy couldn’t remember anything, and that was good because then she would have plausible deniability.”

    Later in the broadcast, Jones returned to the yearbook smear to call a high school-aged Ford “captain of the sluts.”

    This smear has spread to fake news website True Pundit and far-right Twitter accounts, following a similar path to previous bogus attacks on Ford.

  • The looming Fox News government shutdown

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Maybe it won’t be this time. Maybe it won’t be next time. But at some point in the future, it seems inevitable that President Donald Trump will take the advice of his supporters at Fox News and shut down the federal government.

    With the September 30 expiration of government funding swiftly approaching, the Senate on Tuesday voted 93-7 to pass a carefully negotiated short-term spending bill that would keep the federal lights on until December 7, after the midterm elections. The legislation gives all parties some of what they want but none of them all of what they want -- including the president, as it does not provide the funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border that he has demanded.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) portrayed the bill as a breakthrough, evidence that the Senate “is getting its appropriations process back on track.” The House of Representatives was expected to take up the legislation next week, raising hopes that federal funding could be swiftly secured.

    But then the president watched television.

    On Thursday morning, Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), one of the handful of Republicans to oppose the legislation, went on Fox & Friends, the president’s favorite morning news program, to condemn the bill. Host Brian Kilmeade chimed in, arguing that the lack of wall funding was “a thumb in the eye to the president.”

    And minutes later, Trump, who was watching the show, began angrily tweeting his displeasure with the legislation, calling into question whether he will sign it if it comes to his desk.

    Trump has been threatening a government shutdown for more than a month, explicitly citing right-wing Fox News and talk radio hosts as his inspiration for the tactic.

    His latest tweets are part of an alarming pattern: Federal policy has increasingly been influenced by the president’s television habits and the “shadow cabinet” of cable news personalities he privately consults for advice.

    Trump threw the Capitol into chaos in January by appearing to withdraw his support for major surveillance legislation after watching a Fox contributor turn to the camera and say, “Mr. President, this is not the way to go.”

    In March, he threatened to veto an omnibus spending bill, perhaps because one of his favorite pundits was savaging the legislation on Fox & Friends.

    Last month, the president criticized Google after watching his sycophants attack the company’s “tyranny” on Fox host Lou Dobbs’ show. Hours later, his top economic advisor told reporters that the administration was considering new regulations on the company.

    And earlier this week, he admitted that he had demanded the declassification of sensitive Justice Department documents that he had not read -- and that experts warn could endanger U.S. intelligence sources and methods -- because he had been urged to do so by Fox hosts.

    Republican congressional leaders, worried about the impact of a shutdown on their hopes of retaining power after midterm elections, may be able to talk the president down. But sooner or later, the Fox government shutdown is coming.

  • A pro-Trump troll started a viral hoax about Christine Blasey Ford and Neil Gorsuch, and Rush Limbaugh ran with it

    Josh Cornett's Twitter feed is full of fake stories

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    A pro-President Donald Trump troll with a large Twitter following who has repeatedly tweeted fake “breaking” news stories smearing public figures has now tried to smear professor Christine Blasey Ford, who said Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were in high school. Some of the account’s false stories, including the tweet about Ford, have gone viral and spread throughout right-wing media.

    On September 18, Josh Cornett tweeted: “BREAKING: According to sources Diane Feinstein's reluctance to mention the Kavanaugh accuser's letter during confirmation session is because the accuser sent a similiar (sic) letter directed at Judge Gorsuch last year. The whereabouts of the earlier letter remain a mystery.developing.”

    The smear received thousands of retweets and likes, was pushed by Jim Hoft of far-right conspiracy blog The Gateway Pundit; Fox News contributor Kevin Jackson; former Infowars reporter Joe Biggs; columnist Matt Barber, a former attorney for the extreme anti-LGBTQ group Liberty Counsel; and former professional boxer-turned-lawyer Joey Gilbert. It was also shared on multiple subreddits. Radio host Rush Limbaugh also shared it on the air, saying it came from a “Twitter thread” and that he had "no idea of the veracity.”

    The smear was also shared by hosts on Texas talk radio station WBAP-AM, Pennsylvania’s WILK-AM, and Florida’s WFTL-AM. Cornett later tweeted that the claim was “forwarded” to him and he had “no idea” if it was true.

    Cornett has described himself to the conservative American Thinker as “an average hard working American” in his 30s, and his Twitter profile says he is “proudly blocked” by Fox News hosts Dana Perino, Bret Baier, Greg Gutfeld, and others. In 2017, The New York Times noted that Cornett, a “37-year-old Trump supporter in Cleveland,” urged his followers to boycott Nordstrom after the department store decided it would not sell the fashion line of the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump. The paper quoted Cornett as saying, “Anything that helps [Trump], I try to promote,” and that whenever Trump gets attacked, "I try to defend.”

    Cornett has followed through on that promise, using his Twitter account to support the president by smearing people he sees as Trump’s enemies and making up fake stories about them -- usually by tweeting without any evidence that he has “BREAKING” stories which are “developing.” Here are some of his fake stories that have gained traction:

    • In May, when ABC canceled pro-Trump comedian Roseanne Barr’s show after Barr made racist remarks, Cornett tweeted: “BREAKING: According to sources ABC President Channing Dungey had a long conversation via phone with former First Lady Michelle Obama before deciding to cancel the Roseanne show. Michelle Obama was reportedly enraged and insisted an apology was inadequate......developing.” Barr retweeted the post and asked Cornett, “Is this true?” Fox News mentioned the tweet in a story, calling Cornett a “right-wing activist.” YourNewsWire, one of the most popular fake news purveyors in the United States, pushed Cornett’s tweet in an article, and Cornett later tweeted the article to Barr as supposed proof of his claim. Cornett subsequently told American Thinker that he could not reveal his source, “but I stand by it and put my name on it.”

    • Earlier that month, Cornett tweeted without evidence: “BREAKING: Sources are confirming that former President Barack Obama has called Jay-Z several times over the past month pleading with Jay-Z to discourage fellow Hip Hop artists from meeting with President Trump.....developing.” The president’s son Donald Trump Jr. liked the tweet, and conspiracy theory outlet Infowars and The Drudge Report picked it up. Several radio hosts also shared it on air, including Boston radio host Jeff Kuhner, Tennessee host Dan Mandis, and a host on an Ohio talk station. The blog Gossip Cop fact-checked the story, reporting, “A source close to Jay-Z tells Gossip Cop on the condition of anonymity that Obama never asked him to tell other hip-hop artists not to support or meet with Trump.”

    • In June, Cornett also tweeted without evidence: “BREAKING: Senator Schumer has instructed fellow Democrats not to pass any legislation that could possibly help the children at the border, stating that ‘It will help voter turnout in the midterms’ and that CNN had agreed to help the Democrats with the storyline’... Developing.” The fake quote spread on social media, with some also adding MSNBC to the fake story, and multiple Facebook pages sharing a meme with Cornett’s false claim.

    • In July, after Fox News host Jeanine Pirro went on ABC’s The View, Cornett tweeted, “BREAKING: According to sources at ABC, after the taping of #TheView Thursday Whoopi Goldberg made the racist comment ‘I won't sit there and be lectured by Trump's Sand Nig*er’ the comment was made to Co-host Ana Navarro and overheard by several staff members......developing.” While ABC’s publicity director said the tweet “absolutely is false,” the hoax spread on social media. Some major followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory picked it up, a radio host pushed it on air, and a petition was launched calling for Goldberg’s firing.

    • In August, Cornett tweeted without evidence: “BREAKING: Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have been briefing Governor Andrew Cuomo on a near daily basis about the investigation into the Trump Organization. Governor Cuomo has then been illegally feeding the info to his brother Chris Cuomo and CNN..developing.” That, too, was shared as a screenshot on social media.

    In addition to his numerous other baseless claims, Cornett has also tweeted fake claims to exploit the murder of Mollie Tibbetts (who was allegedly killed by an undocumented immigrant), smear football player Colin Kaepernick, and declare CNN was ordered by its president to ignore violence in Chicago (which was also picked up by YourNewsWire). So far, Twitter has taken no action as Cornett continues to tweet these fake stories.

  • After demanding release of DOJ documents, Trump admits he's just doing what his sycophants tell him to do

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Law enforcement and national security experts are warning that President Donald Trump’s decision to selectively declassify and release portions of sensitive Justice Department documents related to the Russia probe could compromise U.S. intelligence methods and endanger the lives of sources. And in an alarming if unsurprising turn, the president said Tuesday that he hasn’t bothered to read the documents and is putting them out because “many people” -- likely including his sycophants at Fox -- told him to do so.

    The White House announced on Monday night that Trump had directed federal agencies to declassify and release documents related to the Russia probe, including portions of the federal warrant used to surveil former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, text messages from senior Justice Department and FBI officials, and FBI reports of interviews with Justice Department official Bruce Ohr related to the Russia investigation.

    Experts quickly pointed out that Trump’s move was extraordinary, unprecedented, and dangerous. Some warned that the president’s direct involvement in an investigation that involves his administration and that he constantly describes as a “witch hunt” has dire implications for the rule of law. Others emphasized that releasing portions of the unredacted FISA application, which details investigative sources and methods, would be crossing a “red line” that “could not only compromise such information, but risk the US's relationship with its partners in the intelligence community.”

    But in an interview conducted Tuesday by The Hill’s John Solomon and Buck Sexton, Trump admitted that he did not review the documents in question and soberly consider the national security implications of their release. Instead, he simply took the advice of “many people” who he says have been urging him to take action, doing so because he thought the release would benefit him politically by delegitimizing special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. From The Hill’s write-up of the interview:

    Trump said he had not read the documents he ordered declassified but said he expected to show they would prove the FBI case started as a political “hoax.”

    “I have had many people ask me to release them. Not that I didn’t like the idea but I wanted to wait, I wanted to see where it was all going,” he said.

    In the end, he said, his goal was to let the public decide by seeing the documents that have been kept secret for more than two years. “All I want to do is be transparent,” he said.

    The article provides no indication that Solomon and Sexton sought to determine which parties influenced Trump. But obvious culprits include the Fox pundits he watches for hours each day. (UPDATE: The Hill's transcript of the interview shows that Trump says he has "watched commentators that I respect begging the president of the United States to release" the documents, specifically referencing Fox personalities "the great Lou Dobbs, the great Sean Hannity, [and] the wonderful great Jeanie Pirro.")

    The president frequently tweets criticism of the Justice Department’s handling of the Russia investigation -- and specifically the Page FISA warrant and Ohr's role in the probe -- in response to commentary he sees on Fox.

    And indeed, over the past few months, leading Trump propagandists Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs used their shows to campaign for Trump to release these documents, often pointing to the political benefits they believed that decision would have.

    On July 23, for example -- just two days after the Justice Department released a redacted version of the Page FISA application, the first time in history that such a document had been disclosed -- Hannity told his Fox audience, “We have even more questions than even earlier. This FISA application is heavily redacted. The American people deserve to see it. I am calling for all of this warrant to be unredacted.” Hannity added that “the president can do this” and that if he did so, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller’s investigation, “is finished.” On July 30, Hannity specifically called for the release of “19 pages” from the warrant -- the president has called for the declassification of 20 pages from the document.

    Dobbs similarly asked earlier this month, “Why is the president not ordering the release of this and declassifying all of that paperwork and putting it in front of the American people and the special counsel so we can get a little clearer picture on who Robert Mueller really is?” He’s also suggested there is no “rational reason on Earth” not to release the documents.

    As the Fox drumbeat quickened, Republican congressman including Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), and Mark Meadows (R-NC) -- who have spent the last year using their oversight authority to try to stymie the Russia probe -- held a press conference urging Trump to release the documents, then took turns doing Fox interviews on the subject. Trump ended up calling for the release of the very documents they had demanded, down to the specific pages they asked for from the Page warrant.

    John Solomon himself -- a crucial member of the anti-Mueller media ecosystem who draws on conservative sources to produce slanted reporting -- has used his recent Fox appearances to suggest that the declassification of these documents would prove malfeasance by the FBI in the early stages of the Russia probe, undermining its credibility.

    All of which is to say that, as usual, the president weighed the advice he receives from sycophants on TV more highly than any counsel he might receive from more credible sources.

    “For months, right here on this program, we have been asking for the unredacted FISA documents to be released,” Hannity said on Monday. “Now, the president has done it.” The president privileged Hannity’s advice over that of national security experts, with potentially dire consequences.

  • Christine Blasey Ford was right to fear the right-wing smear machine

    Since she shared her account publicly, Ford has been met with death threats, doxxing, and sloppy media smears of her character. She has now had to leave her home and children behind.

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On September 16, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford shared her account publicly for the first time in The Washington Post, saying that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh held her down, covered her mouth with his hand, and attempted to take off her clothing when they were both in high school. She had begun the process of coming forward in July and struggled with the decision, weighing a likely public “annihilation” against what she felt was her duty as a citizen. Unfortunately, she was right to be worried.

    In the three days since Ford attached her name and face to her account of sexual assault by Kavanaugh, she has been subjected to a repertoire of horrors that our patriarchal society seems to reserve for women who dare to speak up. Sharing her story in 2018 means Ford has received support and encouragement from many, but she’s also stepped into a cultural moment where media and technology have democratized the spread of information and misinformation like never before -- and the attacks against her have been all the more brutal for it.

    Since Ford came forward:

    • She has faced a series of failed, vicious, and sloppy smear attempts by right-wing media in a rush to destroy her by any means necessary. (And another woman named Christine Ford became a casualty.)
    • She has been systematically insulted, attacked, and dismissed by cable pundits and public figures.
    • She has been doxxed at least three times online, and Twitter doesn’t seem to have done much about it.
    • Her email has been hacked, and fake accounts impersonating her have materialized on social media.
    • According to a letter her attorneys sent to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), she has received death threats and has had to leave her home as a result.
    • She has had to separate herself from her children in order to keep them safe.

    Again, this list leads to an obvious question: Why would any person who was harmed by a powerful man want to come forward? Ford felt it was her responsibility to society, but society has yet to do her the singular justice of a full and independent investigation into what happened.

  • Right-wing media focus on abortion to distract from report that Kavanaugh committed sexual assault

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On September 16, The Washington Post published an exclusive interview with Christine Blasey Ford, sharing her previously anonymous account of being assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when they were both in high school. Even before Ford’s name was public, right-wing media were questioning her motives and accusing her of opportunism -- attacks that only escalated once Ford came forward. And on September 17, two right-wing media figures stooped to a new low: alleging that Democrats are calling for consideration of Ford’s account only because Kavanaugh’s far-right judicial philosophy would threaten abortion access.

    The Resurgent’s Erick Erickson claimed that Ford’s report -- and calls for examining it before the Senate votes on Kavanaugh -- are about “the right to kill kids,” and Fox News’ Tucker Carlson said the issue “doesn’t have anything to do with justice,” because “anyone who lives in Washington can tell you it’s about abortion.”

    That right-wing media would pivot to attacking abortion access to distract from Ford’s account is as unsurprising as it is repugnant. Right-wing media figures have spent years demonizing abortion providers and patients, as well as fearmongering about the safety of abortion procedures. In many ways, abortion stigma -- the idea that abortion is inherently wrong or socially unacceptable -- functions similarly to the shaming of sexual assault survivors, another common tactic of right-wing media. By making the consequences of sharing one’s experience so vast and uncomfortable, right-wing media and others deter individuals from speaking up in the first place. After all, as Ford summarized in her comments to The Post, “Why suffer through the annihilation” of speaking up “if it’s not going to matter?” -- particularly when it’s so obvious what the right-wing reaction will be.

    On September 17, Erickson (who, despite allegedly being done with Twitter, has been an endless fount of bad takes about Kavanaugh) wrote a post claiming that “this entire thing is about the right to kill kids, not about the veracity of the accusation.” He continued, “The left is perfectly willing to destroy a man's reputation in order to keep destroying children,” adding that Democrats would use an “uncorroborated, single sourced, 35 year old claim … to protect the right to kill girls in utero.” The next day, Erickson doubled-down on this position in a second post, bombastically declaring:

    The accusation against Brett Kavanaugh is because of abortion. The liberal college professor is being promoted by partisan groups with an expressed desire to advance the abortion agenda. Democrat PR firms are coordinating messaging on this on behalf of the abortion industry. They are convinced Brett Kavanaugh would overturn Roe v. Wade so he must be destroyed.

    This is all about cracking open the skulls of children, vacuuming out their brains, and tearing them limb from limb before selling them for scrap. This has nothing to do with guilt or innocence. This has nothing to do with due process. This has nothing to do with justice or equality. This has everything to do with killing kids.

    Not to be left out of the bad-take arms race, during the September 17 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Carlson made a similar argument, claiming that Ford’s report came out only because Kavanaugh would likely be the deciding vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. “Does anyone really believe this story would have surfaced if Brett Kavanaugh had pledged allegiance to Roe v. Wade?” he asked. “Of course it wouldn't have. … Whatever the story is, it's not about protecting women. Don't buy that spin.”

    Many conservatives have explicitly set aside their numerous ethical concerns about President Donald Trump because of his promise to appoint anti-choice judges -- a promise some declared that Trump had kept with the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch and with Kavanaugh’s nomination. Yet in calling for due consideration of Ford’s account before confirming someone for a lifetime term to the Supreme Court, “the left” is somehow engaging in political calculations involving abortion access?

    In many ways, right-wing media’s reliance on abortion stigma and reflexive disbelief of sexual assault survivors are borne of the same strategic imperative. By isolating and shaming people into pre-emptive silence, right-wing media can control the narrative around abortion and sexual assault -- and continue spreading harmful and inaccurate information about both.