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

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The White House press corps should follow up on new communications director’s financial conflicts

    New reports raise questions about Anthony Scaramucci’s promise that his financial portfolio would be “totally cleansed”

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    According to Politico, Anthony Scaramucci “still stands to profit” from his ownership stake in a hedge fund he founded in 2005 despite his assertion that his financial portfolio would be “totally cleansed” of conflicts of interest before he assumed a full-time role as communications director at the White House.

    During a July 21 press conference in which Scaramucci announced his new role in the Trump administration, he claimed that the position would not be encumbered by conflicts of interest tied to his previous business dealings. However, according to a July 26 report from Politico, Scaramucci “still stands to profit from an ownership stake in his investment firm SkyBridge Capital.” The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) stipulates that federal employees “may be directed to divest” from certain stock or property holdings in order to resolve possible conflicts of interest, but Scaramucci was still listed as SkyBridge’s managing partner as of July 27 and, according to a financial disclosure form published by Politico, Scaramucci still expects to receive significant returns from the upcoming sale of his SkyBridge assets:

    According to a July 25 report from Bloomberg citing “people familiar with Scaramucci’s recent thinking,” the incoming communications director “was eager to take another government post” in part so he could benefit from an agreement with the IRS that allows appointees to defer some capital gains taxes when they are forced to liquidate private business relationships in order to assume federal government roles. However, several ethics experts contacted by Bloomberg believe Scaramucci should be disqualified from that tax arrangement because the terms of the sale of his company pre-dated his assumption of a federal government role by several months.

    CNBC reported last week that Scaramucci’s ongoing attempt to close the sale of SkyBridge Capital “delayed his appointment” to the Trump administration earlier this year, but he has technically been an employee of the federal government since joining the Export-Import Bank last month while the SkyBridge deal remained unfinished.

    The SkyBridge deal itself is increasingly raising questions. Bloomberg reported in January that the Chinese government linked foreign conglomerate lined up to purchase SkyBridge is paying significantly more for the firm than it seems to be worth. On July 24, Business Insider described the purchase agreement for the sale of SkyBridge as “a $180 million conflict of interest hanging over [Scaramucci’s] head” because the sale will eventually have to be approved by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, with whom Scaramucci will work closely in his new role as a senior adviser in the Trump administration. (Rumors that Scaramucci may be in line to replace Reince Priebus as the president’s chief of staff may further exacerbate the financial conflict.)

    Given the Trump team’s extraordinary penchant for misleading the press, reporters should continue digging for proof of Scaramucci’s compliance with ethics regulations routinely flouted by the Trump family and other members of the administration.

  • The conflicts of interest hiding behind pro-pipeline op-eds around the country

    Pennsylvania publication bans retired general after he failed to disclose ties to pipeline company

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    A retired general wrote numerous op-eds attacking pipeline protesters without disclosing his financial ties to the pipeline industry, including to a security contractor that has used “counterterrorism measures” against those protesters. That deception has led at least one publication to prohibit him from writing in its pages in the future.

    James “Spider” Marks serves as a CNN military analyst after retiring from the Army under the rank of major general. He is also the advisory board chair for the international security firm TigerSwan.

    Energy Transfer Partners hired TigerSwan to provide security for the Dakota Access Pipeline. As The Intercept has documented in past months, TigerSwan used “military-style counterterrorism measures” against protesters and conducted “sweeping and invasive surveillance of” them. In interviews with Grist, several legal experts “described the contractor’s tactics as highly disturbing and perhaps unprecedented.”

    The North Dakota Private Investigative and Security Board filed a lawsuit in June against TigerSwan for operating without a license in the state. In Louisiana, regulators cited that suit this month when they denied a license for the firm in their state, which is considering a proposed 162-mile Bayou Bridge pipeline.

    A spokesperson for Energy Transfer Partners told Media Matters in a July 21 email that “TigerSwan is one of our security advisors.” The company added that its specific work with TigerSwan in North Dakota has ended and declined to comment beyond that regarding the “details of our security efforts.”

    The internal documents given to The Intercept also revealed that in the past year, “TigerSwan agents stressed the need to change the public narrative established by protestors and to swing public support in favor of the pipeline.”

    Marks has been an integral part of a nationwide pro-pipelines P.R. effort to swing public support for pipelines, including writing numerous pieces for outlets across the country. Those pieces include:

    • a November 17 op-ed in the Omaha World-Herald headlined “Pipeline smear campaign must end”;
    • a November 18 op-ed in the Washington Examiner headlined “The Army Corps of Engineers deserves thanks, not attacks, for Dakota Access Pipeline work”;
    • a February 8 Daily Advertiser (Lafayette, LA) op-ed headlined “Bayou Bridge pipeline: Bringing safety and security to Louisiana”;
    • a May 24 PennLive.com op-ed headlined “Here's why Pa. should be wary of professional pipeline protesters”;
    • a July 1 Washington Examiner op-ed headlined "Qatar blockade underscores America's world opportunity in natural gas"; and
    • a July 12 Daily Caller op-ed headlined “Protect Our National Economy By Harnessing Our Natural Gas Supply.”

    None of those pieces included disclosures about Marks’ position with TigerSwan. Both The Intercept and DeSmogBlog have reported that Marks’ op-eds have run in media outlets without disclosures to readers.

    John L. Micek, opinion editor for PennLive, said that Marks misled the publication and if he had disclosed his ties to TigerSwan, the piece never would have run.

    “At no time did Gen. Marks nor his public relations people disclose their ties to TigerSwan,” Micek told Media Matters on July 20. “Had I been aware of those ties, the piece categorically would not have run. PennLive is in the business of being transparent with its readers and we object strongly to this tie being obscured by Mr. Marks and his public relations firm.”

    PennLive posted an update to its piece on July 20 stating: “The author is advisory board chair to TigerSwan, a private security firm monitoring the pipeline's construction. He failed to disclose these ties to PennLive. His work will not appear on the website again.”

    Media Matters asked TigerSwan whether Marks should have disclosed his connection. A spokesperson responded via email: “Mr. Marks was not representing TigerSwan.”

    Marks has also worked as a paid adviser for the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now (MAIN), whose members include oil and gas companies. According to DeSmogBlog, that organization has “morphed into a national effort known as Grow America’s Infrastructure Now (GAIN),” which also includes Marks as an adviser and oil and gas interests as members. (Both MAIN and GAIN have been fronted by Craig Stevens, who is vice president of the Republican public relations firm DCI Group.)

    The Daily Caller and Examiner's July 1 piece included disclosures that Marks works for GAIN but they did not disclose that the coalition includes oil and gas interests. The World-Herald, Examiner on November 18, Daily Advertiser and PennLive (originally) just identified Marks as a retired major general and the head of the consulting firm The Marks Collaborative. 

  • Tucker Carlson fails to ask Pence about his opposition to transgender military service

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The July 26 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight featured a pre-taped interview with Vice President Mike Pence. Notably absent from the interview was any reference to Pence’s opposition to trans military service, service President Donald Trump has just banned. 

    Pence has been reportedly working behind the scenes to ensure the reversal of the Obama administration’s repeal of the transgender ban, but it failed to pass muster in Congress. Carlson skirted the issue, focusing on the GOP’s struggling health care bill during the interview rather than asking Pence about the new policy implementation and its potential impact. Outside of his interview with Pence, Carlson did mention the policy, erroneously stating that the ban was due to prohibitive costs and a negative impact on military readiness, ignoring years of research and policy analysis conducted prior to the Department of Defense’s decision to repeal the ban in 2016.

  • How Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson are (still) ignoring the health care debate

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    As Senate Republicans began holding votes to take away health care from tens of millions of Americans, Fox News’ Sean Hannity still chose to focus primarily on phony Clinton pseudo-scandals. Similarly, Fox’s Tucker Carlson Tonight focused on irrelevant and often offensive stories while largely ignoring health care. Even The Five, which did discuss health care at length, made time for a segment hyping Democratic frustrations with Hillary Clinton.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced on July 24 that the Senate would be holding a vote on whether to proceed to debate on the various Republican proposals to repeal and, in some cases, replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which have been projected to take away health care from upward of 22 million people ("straight repeal" would strip away insurance from 32 million). On July 25, the Senate narrowly approved a motion to proceed to debate and then rejected the first plan McConnell put up to a vote.

    Despite the new actions on health care, Fox News’ prime-time shows focused nearly as much on bogus Clinton scandals and political intrigue as they did on health care on July 24 and July 25. A Media Matters analysis found that Fox’s prime-time line-up of Hannity, The Five, and Tucker Carlson Tonight spent 35 minutes and 49 seconds discussing health care while devoting 34 minutes and 56 seconds to discussions of the Clintons.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Of the three programs, Hannity’s coverage, unsurprisingly, was the most skewed. Over the two-day period, Hannity spent 13 minutes and 4 seconds on health care while devoting 30 minutes and 42 seconds to the Clintons. Even as senators were taking votes on health care, Hannity ran two full segments on the Clintons and spoke about health care in brief spurts of less than two minutes throughout the show.

    Meanwhile, while the Senate was voting on health care, Tucker Carlson avoided discussing it at all. On the July 25 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, the host went live to President Donald Trump’s rally in Ohio for 10 minutes and 57 seconds. Carlson did manage to spend 17 seconds on health care during his July 24 broadcast, which was mainly a video of Trump lamenting Obamacare.

    Instead of covering health care or the Clintons, Carlson focused his attention on stories that were either offensive or non-urgent.

    Unlike the other prime-time shows, Fox News’ The Five spent a significant amount of time discussing the health care bills. But the hosts also made time for a segment on Democrats criticizing Hillary Clinton.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of health care, healthcare, Better Care Reconciliation Act, BCRA, Senate health, GOP health, or Republican health, Affordable Care Act, ACA, Obama care, and Obamacare, as well as Bill, Hillary, and Clinton on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, The Five, and Hannity on July 24 and 25.

    Conversations were included in this study if health care or the Clintons was the stated topic or discussion or if two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed health care or the Clintons with one another. If a speaker mentioned health care or the Clintons in a multitopic segment and no other speaker in that segment engaged with the comment, then it was excluded from the analysis as a passing mention. All teasers of upcoming segments about health care or the Clintons were excluded from the analysis.

    The amount of time spent on Trump’s rally was calculated by monitoring it from beginning to end on Tucker Carlson Tonight.

  • When it comes to John McCain, some journalists will never, ever learn

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko /  Media Matters

    Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) voted yesterday to proceed to debate on an unknown Republican health care bill (or bills) written in unprecedented partisan fashion outside of the normal legislative process. Then he stood in the well of the Senate and decried partisanship and legislative hijinks. Many political journalists applauded his words and scoffed at liberals who pointed out the inconsistency with his actions, even generating convoluted, nonsensical explanations that he was setting himself up to oppose the eventual bill. Hours later, McCain proved the liberals right by supporting a proxy vote for a partisan bill written outside of the legislative process that had not been fully reviewed by the Congressional Budget Office.

    It’s not a coincidence that political reporters missed the story on McCain in their rush to canonize him. They’ve been wrong about him for decades.

    Political journalists love to tell the legend of John McCain, the noble, straight-talking maverick who says what he means and means what he says. The reality is much less interesting: McCain is a standard-issue Republican senator with few legislative accomplishments but an immense talent for press relations.

    McCain won the affection of the press in the simplest way possible -- he worked them. Beginning in the late 1990s, as he and his ghostwriter Mark Salter were reinventing him and positioning him for his first presidential run, McCain gave reporters access, treated them alternatively to respect and jocular insults, and provided a steady stream of good quotes. The deployment of the Straight Talk Express, the presidential campaign bus McCain used to charm and disarm reporters on long trips through the countryside, was a brilliant maneuver. And it worked. “The press loves McCain,” MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said in 2006. “We’re his base.”

    McCain talks a good game to reporters, at times providing them with juicy quotes criticizing his party’s excesses. But his voting record in recent years is basically in line with that of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). No one calls Hatch a maverick. On the rare major legislative issues in which he has defied his party -- the Bush tax cuts, campaign finance reform, and comprehensive immigration reform -- McCain has repudiated or abandoned his attempts to break with the party as they came under increasing fire from the right.

    The “maverick” reputation largely unraveled among the press late in the 2008 presidential campaign, helped along by his nakedly cynical decision to pick the woefully unqualified Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. But old habits die hard, and for years we have seen declarations from political journalists and commentators that Maverick McCain is “back.”

    The label even survived McCain’s decision to endorse Donald Trump (a man he fairly clearly did not trust with nuclear weapons), a clear admission that, to the extent McCain ever represented a different kind of Republican, he lost and was willing to bow to those that won. After McCain offered criticism of the president in the early days of his administration, reporters again rushed to praise his willingness to stand up for his beliefs, ignoring that he had voted for almost every member of the president’s cabinet.

    Yesterday’s paean to the “need for bipartisanship” and a demand to return to “the old way of legislating in the Senate” immediately following a vote in favor of partisan legislation crafted in secret should have exposed McCain to his friends in the press. Instead, as FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver noted, there was a divide between “less traditional reporters” who pointed out McCain’s inconsistency and television and newspaper reporters who warmly received his remarks.  

    Here, for example, are the opening paragraphs of a CNN.com news article by White House reporter Stephen Collison: “In a Washington moment for the ages, Sen. John McCain claimed the role of an aging lion to try to save the Senate, composing a moving political aria for the chamber and the country that he loves. With a deep-red scar etched from his eyebrow to his temple, the legacy of brain surgery less than two weeks ago, McCain beseeched his colleagues to forsake political tribalism and restore the chamber to a spirit of compromise that had helped forge national greatness.”

    Some in the press, noting McCain had said in his speech that he “will not vote for the bill as it is today,” created convoluted explanations for how McCain was “laying the groundwork to vote no” on a final bill. This made little sense at the time -- McCain doesn’t need to lay “groundwork”; if he has a problem with how the bill was put together he could have opposed it and forced the return to regular order he championed. And in any case, McCain effectively voted for “the bill as it is today” later that night, proving his media backers wrong in embarrassing fashion.

    Maybe McCain will find a way to vote “no” on one of the health care bills that will apparently come before the Senate, while voting “yes” on other versions of the legislation. If that happens, his “base” in the media will surely grab ahold of that vote with both hands and declare the senator and themselves vindicated, regardless of how little sense that makes. But expecting McCain to be the deciding vote preventing Republican health care legislation would be foolhardy. He’s a run-of-the-mill Republican senator who can be counted on to fall in line. Indeed, he almost always has.

  • Capitol Hill staff prevent journalists from reporting on health care protesters

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Capitol Hill staff blocked reporters from reporting on demonstrators who were protesting the Senate’s vote to proceed to debate on an as-yet-unknown Republican health care measure. In at least one case, a journalist said they forced him to delete his video of the protesters.

    As voting began on the measure, dozens of protesters yelled “kill the bill” and “shame” from the Senate gallery. The demonstrators were removed from the gallery and placed under arrest by Capitol Police:

    But reporters who attempted to report on the scene were denied access on the grounds that they were observing a “crime scene”:

    Reporters were told they could not take photos and had to delete any they had taken:

    And in at least one case, a journalist says he was forced to delete a video he had recorded:

    In recent weeks, Republicans have sought to curtail press access on Capitol Hill. At one point, the Senate rules committee said it would begin enforcing a rule banning reporters from filming interviews with senators unless they had been granted permission ahead of time, according to journalists. Following an uproar, Republicans backed off.

  • Fox & Friends leaves out that Obamacare mother actually benefited from the law

    Hosts also pressure Republicans and deflect blame from Trump

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    As the Senate Republicans prepared to vote on a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Fox & Friends spent the morning misleading its audience about congressional procedure heading into the vote, omitting key details in an interview with a critic of the ACA (a mother who blamed health care reform for a lack of options for her son's care), and failing to mention that the GOP sabotaged the ACA for years. The hosts also, directly and indirectly, pressured Republicans into voting for the bill while shifting blame away from President Donald Trump if it fails.

    One of the first health care segments on the July 25 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends was an interview with Marjorie Weer, a mother who was invited to the White House on July 24 to serve as an example of someone victimized by Obamacare.

    During the interview, Weer discussed her son’s disability and said the ACA has made it more difficult for her son to get care. Co-host Ainsley Earhardt, who conducted the interview, left out a few previously reported details of Weer’s story wherein her family directly benefitted from health care reform. A July 24 article in The Post and Courier pointed out that Weer and her family “benefited from the Obamacare provision that insurance companies cannot deny coverage to an individual because of a preexisting condition.” The Weer family also benefited from another provision banning “lifetime spending limits.”

    Additionally, Earhardt failed to note that cuts to Medicaid in the Republican-authored bills under consideration in Congress would cause sweeping cuts to special education programs, which would presumably be important to many families with a child who has a disability. During her Post and Courier interview, Weer admitted that her son has actually benefitted from Medicaid, which she called a “lifesaver” before endorsing efforts to “rein it in.” The Post and Courier added: "Ultimately, Weer said, she felt fairly confident that under the Senate Republican bill, preexisting conditions protections would be preserved, along with the ban on lifetime spending caps. Whether the legislation sufficiently accomplishes these goals is, in fact, subject to debate between supporters and critics."

    The topic of health care also came up when the hosts of Fox & Friends interviewed Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) later on in the program.

    In the interview, co-host Steve Doocy attempted to pressure Manchin into voting for a motion to proceed to a debate for legislation to replace the ACA by misleadingly suggesting that senators “can offer up amendments and change it to anyway you want it.” Doocy added that it appeared as if Democrats “are a party of no” because they do not support a motion to proceed. Manchin corrected Doocy, telling him, “That’s not the way it works in the real world.” Manchin pointed out that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would be able to control what amendments are in the bill and would have the power to exclude Democratic amendments.

    During a later segment, co-host Ed Henry also framed the Senate vote by laying out the current state of Obamacare, saying that the health care system was “struggling” with costs and falsely claiming, “the exchanges are falling apart.”

    Henry also brought up “the destruction of the exchanges” again when he was recapping Weer’s interview.

    Henry left out some important context. The challenges the exchanges face today are largely due to Republican sabotage at the state and federal level. As The Washington Post noted, Republicans in Congress blocked funding to build a federal exchange and urged Republican-led states to “refuse to build their own insurance marketplaces.” Additionally, Politico reported, “Congressional Republicans refused repeatedly to appropriate dedicated funds" needed for the federal government to "take at least partial responsibility for creating marketplaces serving 36 states" that “declined to create their own state insurance exchanges.” Republican stonewalling left "the Health and Human Services Department and other agencies to cobble together HealthCare.gov by redirecting funds from existing programs," according to Politico.

    Fox & Friends also spent time pressuring Republican senators, either directly or indirectly, to support the bill. In an interview with Fox contributor Newt Gingrich, Doocy suggested that if they don’t support the bill, Republicans could look like they were “fibbing” when they promised for years to repeal the ACA.

    And in an interview with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who has spoken out against both the health care reform law and numerous GOP replacement plans, Doocy said that “millions of people who voted for you guys are going to be disappointed” if any Republican senators object to proceeding with debate.

    As Obamacare’s fate is uncertain for the time being, the hosts covered their bases and attempted to deflect blame from Trump if the bills under consideration in the Republican-controlled Congress fail. Earhardt asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders if Trump would “take the blame” if a repeal bill does not pass, leaving Huckabee Sanders to defend her boss and pre-emptively slam congressional Republicans.

  • Tucker Carlson teams with hate group to spread junk science about transgender kids

    American College of Pediatricians is a small and deceptively named anti-LGBTQ hate group meant to be confused with American Academy of Pediatrics

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Fox News’ Tucker Carlson hosted Dr. Michelle Cretella, president of the anti-LGBTQ hate group American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds), on his show to attack transgender children, their parents, and their doctors. During the appearance, Cretella spread anti-transgender junk science and said transgender children are “engag[ing] in magical thinking” and that treating them is “child abuse.”

    ACPeds is a small, deceptively named hate group, with only a few hundred members, meant to be confused with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) -- a 60,000-member group comprising “leaders in the professional field.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), ACPeds hides “under the veneer of its professional-sounding name and claims” in order to “defame and discredit LGBT people, often by distorting legitimate research.” ACPeds began when a “small group of anti-LGBT physicians and other healthcare professionals broke away” from AAP after it began supporting the right of same-sex couples to adopt and foster-parent children. ACPeds has been relentless in its claim that it’s dangerous for children to identify as LGBTQ; its blog has suggested that “P for pedophile” should be a part of the LGBT acronym, and the ACPeds president sent a letter to more than 14,000 school district superintendents advocating for conversion therapy and outlining the so-called “health risks” of “claim[ing] a ‘gay’ identity.” Conversion therapy is a dangerous practice that has been “rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization for decades.”

    On the July 25 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Cretella spread a series of anti-transgender myths and junk science, including the claim that “transgender ideology is not” “rooted in reality.” Major medical organizations, including the AAP, the American Psychological Association, and the American Medical Association, have affirmed transgender identities. Cretella also made misleading and false claims about hormone treatment for transgender kids, calling it “child abuse” and falsely claiming that “as many as 95 percent” of transgender children will “embrace” their “biological sex” if they are forced to reject their transgender identity. ThinkProgress’ Zack Ford noted that this claim is a debunked myth based on faulty research that “conflated kids who just exhibited gender nonconforming behaviors with those who actually insisted they were a different gender.”

    Cretella went on to spread the myth that puberty-blocking treatment for transgender youth is dangerous and akin to “sterilizing children.” But, as Ford wrote, there is no risk of sterilization stemming from taking puberty-suppressing treatments. This treatment delays the onset of puberty, giving transgender people the option of “the lifelong advantage of a body that matches their gender identities without the irreversible body changes of a low voice or beard growth or breasts.” Rob Garofalo, director of the Lurie Children’s Hospital’s Gender and Sex Development Program in Chicago, described the treatment as giving families “the opportunity to hit a pause button, to prevent natal puberty … until we know that that’s either the right or the wrong direction for their particular child” and puberty blockers as “generally a very safe medication.” In 2013, the Endocrine Society, the largest global organization of professionals who research and treat “conditions and diseases related to the human body’s complex system of glands and hormones,” declared that “medical intervention in transgender adolescents appears to be safe and effective.”

    According to Ford, it is “technically true that if a young person goes directly from taking puberty-suppressants to cross-sex hormones, they could risk never being able to produce children of their own, but infertility is not guaranteed.” Ford added that ACPeds fails to note that “the only way trans kids could develop fertility is to go through the puberty that they’re specifically trying to avoid” when it pushes this myth. A 2014 study showed that treatment delaying puberty for transgender adolescents “seems to boost psychological well-being for those who ultimately pursue sex reassignment” and gives them the “opportunity to develop into well-functioning young adults.” Though suppressing puberty is a “fully reversible medical intervention,” one study of adolescents being treated with puberty blockers found that all of its participants went on to begin gender reassignment.

    Carlson’s segment gave a small anti-LGBTQ hate group masquerading as a legitimate medical association a platform to spread dangerous junk science. And it wasn’t the first time Carlson has legitimized ACPeds’ extremism. On the July 14 edition of his show, Carlson used ACPeds’ hate group designation to attempt to discredit the hate group label, saying that the group was “hardly the Klan.” By failing to differentiate ACPeds from AAP, Carlson manipulated his viewers into believing that these fringe beliefs are part of mainstream medical thought.

    From the July 24 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight:

    TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): Michelle Cretella is the president of the American College of Pediatricians. She just wrote a piece in which she says, we're quoting now, "Transgender ideology has infiltrated my field and produced large scale child abuse." Cretella says doctors are encouraging parents to have their kids change genders when there is no evidence these changes are safe or even helpful. Dr. Cretella joins us now. Doctor, thanks a lot for weighing in on this. One of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is this is a field -- I'm not sure what it is -- of social science or medicine that is changing so fast that it's hard to sort of know where we are exactly. And you're in the practice of providing medicine to kids, so I wanted to get your perspective on it. What are you seeing?

    MICHELLE CRETELLA: Thank you very much, Tucker. I'm glad to be here. I think it's important to say that everyone on both sides of this issue is concerned about finding loving and helpful solutions for all children.

    CARLSON: Yes. I think that's right.

    CRETELLA: It -- honestly. We at the American College of Pediatricians, and also I have many colleagues on the left, also insist that those solutions be rooted in reality, and transgender ideology is not. Sex is hard-wired from before birth, and it cannot change. And that's why we had actually called this child abuse, because by feeding children and families these lies, children are having their normal psychological development interrupted. They're even -- they're being put on the puberty blockers, which essentially castrates them chemically, followed by surgical mutilation later on. This is -- this is child abuse. It's not health care.

    CARLSON: So, as you know, you will be, if you haven't already, be accused of committing child abuse yourself and of being cruel and unloving and not caring for these kids, of imposing a medieval theology on modern children. How do you respond?

    CRETELLA: Right, but as you said at the beginning, this is about science. We -- what is going on now with the puberty blockers, followed by cross-sex hormones, followed by surgeries, has absolutely no track record whatsoever. The loving solution for children who are -- children who are ages 3 to 10, they engage in magical thinking. They don't know the difference so easily between fantasy and reality. We need to nurture them through adolescence, through natural puberty. Our job as parents and physicians is to help children embrace their healthy bodies. And when this is done, once they get past puberty into late adolescence, as many as 95 percent will come to embrace their bodies and identify with their biological sex.

    CARLSON: So what happens -- I mean, since this is not just something we're debating as college students, but there are physicians involved who are prescribing drugs -- what do we know about the effects of heavy-duty hormones, synthetic hormones given to little kids, like long-term?

    CRETELLA: Right. Well, we don't have long-term studies, which is a major problem. Which is why physicians should not be telling parents that this is settled science and that it is safe. We do know that when puberty blockers are used appropriately in other settings, that we have observed in adults -- for example, they can be used to treat prostate cancer and some gynecologic issues in women -- that there's evidence that you can impact memory and cognitive ability in a negative way. And as far as the cross-sex hormones, if you have a young child on puberty blockers who goes directly to cross-sex or sex change hormones, they become sterile. You are sterilizing children. They can't possibly -- little children cannot possibly understand the risks of having a medication and then never being able to have children in the future.

    CARLSON: So what's the young -- I didn't know that, and there's a lot I don't know about this. Again, this is all happening so fast I don't think most people really know what's going on. But what's the youngest age at which kids are getting these kind of drugs?

    CRETELLA: The guidelines suggest that puberty blockers be given at ages 11 to 12, but I've had reports from colleagues across the country, and you can also find them in various news reports, that children as young as 9 have been put on these puberty blockers. And what it does, it arrests normal development. Puberty is not a disease. You're stopping them. It's not just a matter of sex characteristics. You're arresting brain development.

    CARLSON: No, it's not. There's a lot there.

  • Donald Trump's ideal attorney general is this random Fox News anchor

    Fox's Gregg Jarrett fits the model the president seems to be seeking

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III may be on his way out. The former senator who was one of the first converts to President Donald Trump’s cause has lost his favor after properly recusing himself over the Russia investigation. And the president isn’t shy about it -- he’s been publicly demeaning Sessions on Twitter for not prosecuting Hillary Clinton for her “crimes” and sending out incoming communications director Anthony Scaramucci to suggest that the president wants him gone.

    The possible removal of the nation’s top law enforcement officer because he has not prosecuted the president’s former political rival is deeply troubling and points to Trump’s authoritarian tendencies. But it also shows that the president is trapped in a right-wing media feedback loop.

    As has been the case with many of the president’s Twitter rages, his most recent attack on the attorney general seems to have come in response to a Fox News segment, in this case one defending the president over the Russia investigation. The president constantly consumes the network’s propagandistic defenses of his conduct. That seems to inexorably push him to behave as if the alternate reality Fox is depicting is the real one. And then Fox has to scramble to find a way to defend the new indiscretion.

    The president has come to believe the legal arguments that Fox has been making to defend him -- that he has done nothing wrong with regard to Russia, that Clinton is the true criminal, that special counsel Robert Mueller has conflicts of interest and should be fired. With Trump’s behavior already scaring off potential Sessions successors, it would be plausible -- and consistent with his TV-based rationale for recent hires -- for him to nominate as attorney general someone he has watched make those arguments on television.

    If Trump wants an attorney general who will defend every aspect of his behavior with regard to Russia while using the power of the Department of Justice to persecute his political foes, he should look no further than Fox News’ Gregg Jarrett. While it’s unlikely that Jarrett would actually be the pick, he has been providing a model for the type of behavior Trump would want from an attorney general.

    A former attorney who spent years as an anchor for COURT TV, Jarrett has been an anchor for Fox since 2002. Usually a low-profile news anchor, Jarrett has in recent days emerged as the network’s leading legal defender of the president regarding the Russia probe. Jarrett makes regular appearances on Hannity and other programs to put forward legally dubious explanations of why the Trump team’s actions have been legally acceptable while the president’s opponents and investigators have broken the law.

    Jarrett’s defenses of the president have ticked all the boxes. He’s repeatedly said that even if the president or his team colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election, they wouldn’t have broken any laws. That’s false, but as far as Trump is concerned, it’s an improvement from Sessions, who has said such collusion would be “improper and illegal.” When news broke that the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. had set up a meeting with Russians interested in influencing the election, Jarrett scoffed.

    After Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, many legal experts said it appeared to be textbook obstruction of justice. Not Jarrett, who claimed that Comey “deserved to be fired” and that “it should have happened a long time ago.” After it emerged that Trump had asked Comey to shut down the probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Jarrett found a way to defend that too.

    But Trump doesn’t just want an attorney general who will defend his actions -- he wants one who will attack his enemies. Here, too, Jarrett’s spin has been exceptional. Hillary Clinton? Jarrett wants a special prosecutor to review the emails case. James Comey? Jarrett wrote that his interactions with the president showed that Comey had obstructed justice. Robert Mueller? Jarrett wrote that Mueller’s relationship with Comey is a disqualifying conflict of interest and called for his removal. Jarrett has even said that Mueller and Comey “may be acting in collusion to get the president” and called for the president to get an injunction to stop the special counsel investigation if it starts to pursue his finances.

    There are, of course, some downsides to a Jarrett pick. He has never served as a prosecutor or in public service, nor has he ever led a large bureaucracy, of course, but since when has Trump cared about typical qualifications? The bigger problem is that Sessions’ bigotry and his anti-immigrant stance have made him a beloved figure among a big chunk of Trump’s base. His efforts to punish immigrants have led to some of the administration’s few policy accomplishments. Jarrett claiming that he frequently experiences microaggressions as a white man doesn’t really rate, though his attacks on sanctuary cities are promising. And pushing through a nominee who is on the record making these claims might be too much for even Senate Republicans to stomach.

    While Jarrett probably won’t be Trump’s pick if he dynamites convention and fires Sessions, it is clear that the president expects this sort of behavior from an attorney general. Just as the obsequious support of Sean Hannity and the hosts of Fox & Friends represent Trump’s model for how journalists should behave, people like Jarrett are what he expects from a government lawyer. When all you know about the government comes from watching Fox News, Fox News becomes your model for how the government should work.