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  • Right-wing media and Trump Jr. peddle debunked, years-old story about illegal voters in Florida

    And one fact-checker explains what she did to fight back.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Is it true that “nearly 200,000 Florida voters may not be citizens?” No, but that didn’t stop some prominent conservative social media accounts -- including that of the president’s son -- from spreading a since-debunked 2012 story making that claim.

    To understand how this happened, it’s good to know a little background about Florida’s brush with “anti-fraud” initiatives in recent years.

    In May 2012, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced a partnership between the Florida Department of State and Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to remove possible noncitizens from the state’s voter rolls ahead of that year’s election. The departments would cross-check data with each other for voter inconsistencies, flag them, and send them to the state’s Supervisors of Elections for review and, if needed, removal of registrations.

    It was a massive debacle. What began as a review of roughly 2,600 possible inconsistencies at the time the partnership was announced had ballooned to nearly 182,000 names within days. That’s when NBC Miami ran with the somewhat sensational headline “Nearly 200,000 Florida Voters May Not Be Citizens.”

    But the system was embarrassingly rife with false positives, leading to a lawsuit over the disenfranchisement of U.S. citizens who were removed but actually eligible to vote. In the end, out of those 182,000 names, just 85 were found to be ineligible -- an error rate of 99.95 percent. The following year, the state enrolled in Crosscheck, the interstate anti-fraud program championed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Similar to the results of Florida’s 2012 in-state program, Kobach’s Crosscheck program also “gets it wrong over 99 percent of the time,” a Washington Post analysis concluded. In April 2014, Florida exited the Crosscheck program, only to later accidentally release the partial Social Security numbers of nearly 1,000 Kansas voters

    In all, the “nearly 200,000 Florida voters may not be citizens” story turned out to be just 85 ineligible voter registrations. But why let the truth get in the way of a good story?

    This week, as conservative media push the unfounded idea that the current election in Florida is being “stolen,” this old story that confirmed all their worst fears seemed too good to be true: And it was.

    We know by now that most people simply don’t read past the headline of stories they see in their social media feeds. And headlines suggesting that there are an equivalent number of noncitizens voting illegally in Florida as there are people living in Tallahassee are eye-catching. That would be outrageous to people on any end of the political spectrum. But even based on the facts known at the time, the story wasn’t quite accurate.

    Rounding “nearly 182,000” up to “nearly 200,000” is a needless inflation of even the most sensationalized true version of the story, and saying “voters might not be citizens” suggests that these people have actually voted -- when the numbers actually refer to voter registrations. Both points probably could have been more artfully and accurately addressed in the original headline. Also, the word “might” is doing a lot of work here.

    It’s those small embellishments that made the story perfect for the era of weaponized headlines.

    The NBC headline, as some might say, aged poorly. And here’s how it spread:

    On November 10, the link was shared in a number of pro-Trump Facebook groups. On Twitter, the story got a boost from Instapundit, a conservative account which has more than 105,000 followers:

    A bit later, David Wohl, attorney and occasional Fox News guest, shared it on Twitter to his more than 26,000 followers.

    By the next day, commentator and conspiracy theorist Pamela Geller had published a blog post, in which she put the entire text of the NBC report, swapping out the article’s actual publication date (May 11, 2012) with November 10, 2018.

    Harlan Hill, a member of the Trump 2020 campaign advisory board, tweeted, “200,000 non citizens voting in Florida!?!? But I thought Democrats said voter fraud was a myth? We have got a SERIOUS problem on our hands. #StopTheSteal #MAGA”

    Then, in a since-deleted tweet, Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk wrote, “This is an absolute disgrace to our country. Foreign interference in our elections. Every single one of these people should be arrested, deported, and never allowed reentry. RT to spread this!”

    And finally, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted the link out, adding, “Amazing, but not shocking at all anymore.”

    Townhall.com also published a story on the topic that, while updated, still maintains that “200,000 non-citizens might have voted in the state's elections” in 2012.

    While it’s hard to put the #FakeNews (like, you know, actual fake news) toothpaste back in the proverbial tube, one woman tried, and she was actually kind of successful at it.

    Brooke Binkowski is a former managing editor at Snopes, and she currently runs the fact-checking site TruthOrFiction.com. When she saw the post begin to spread, she took quick action. First, she tweeted at people who might have known the article was old and didn’t accurately represent how that story concluded but shared it anyway “for approval and to fit in,” hoping to convince them to delete their posts and stem the spread of misinformation.

    “That headline hijacks intellect and goes straight to the amygdala if you’re fearful,” she tells me over a Twitter direct message. “‘Oh no! 200,000 non citizens trying to STEAL OUR ELECTION! they're gonna turn this country into a banana republic!’ and whatever else people think when they're too busy to click on the story.”

    When that didn’t work, she called the NBC station that ran the original story in hopes of getting the staff to update the article to reflect that it isn’t a current story. She explained the situation as best as she could, asking the station to add “STORY FROM 2012:” in the headline so it would show up in shares across social media.

    “Clickbait is one thing, but when you are actively interfering in what should be an open electoral process -- as I said in my email to them -- that’s quite another,” she adds. She continued:

    People don't realize how much damage buffoons like Jacob Wohl and Gateway Pundit and Donald Trump Jr. and all the rest of those people can do. They push this completely idiotic stuff and then it gets laundered by bots and turned into a story that's used to influence policy. It's now crystal clear that's what they are doing and that it is semi-coordinated, that there's a network of people who are pushing all this information to make it seem respectable, and they are mixing a little tiny bit of truth in to make it seem plausible.

    NBC Miami did end up updating the headline, adding “2012 Election:” at the very beginning. It also added an editor’s note at the top of the article:

    Editor’s note on Nov. 12, 2018: This story was published in May 2012.

    The initial list of 180,000 names was whittled to 2,625, according to the Florida Department of State. The state then checked a federal database and stated it found 207 noncitizens on the rolls (not necessarily voting but on the rolls). That list was sent to county election supervisors to check and it also turned out to contain errors. An Aug. 1, 2012, state elections document showed only 85 noncitizens were ultimately removed from the rolls out of a total of about 12 million voters at that time.

    While the story continues to be shared on social media as fresh news, the updated headline and editor’s note do seem to have had the effect of cooling its spread among influencers. Plus, the added context, including the disparity between “nearly 200,000” figure and the actual total of 85, has given people a way to quickly understand the facts of a somewhat complicated local story.

    Binkowski stresses that it’s important to understand that there are a lot of people who simply are not making statements or arguments in good faith. “If you are a news person, please be aware of this cycle and your massive responsibility. If you are a news executive, please pay your journalists a living wage,” she said, noting that “they are up against something new and nightmarish and trying to inoculate the world against it and could use all the support they can get.”

  • Mainstream media parrots Trump’s baseless claims regarding Florida recounts

    Blog ››› ››› COURTNEY HAGLE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Following news that Florida Senate and gubernatorial races would be heading to recounts, many mainstream media outlets reported on President Donald Trump’s claims of voter fraud in the Florida election, but failed to note in their tweets and headlines that the accusations were baseless.

    A state judge presiding over a lawsuit regarding the Florida recount has noted that there is zero evidence of voter fraud, election tampering, or misconduct by election officials or workers. Miami Herald previously reported that state election observers have seen no evidence of criminal activity or election tampering in Broward County, where the controversial election supervisor has drawn criticism for alleged incompetence during the midterm elections.

    Despite a lack of evidence, Trump took to Twitter to push conspiracy theories about the Florida elections, calling ballots “massively infected,” accusing Democrats of trying to “steal two big elections in Florida,” and baselessly claiming that “many ballots are missing or forged.”

    Covering a president who frequently repeats lies has proven to be a challenge for the media since the beginning of Trump’s presidency, with many outlets publishing headlines and tweets that report his statements but fail to note their inaccuracies. Repeating the president’s claims in headlines without giving proper context only spreads Trump’s lies and causes confusion, which is particularly detrimental during coverage of elections and undermines faith in the country’s democratic institutions. It also sets media outlets up as easy targets for Trump to manipulate, allowing him to more easily spread his dishonesty and lies.

    ABC News

    "NEW: Pres. Trump calls Florida ballots "massively infected," demands end to recounts."

    While the article headline emphasized the lack of evidence in Trump’s claims, the tweet did not. Though ABC later issued a follow-up tweet including the phrase “without evidence,” the original tweet received a lot more retweets.

    NBC News

    "Trump on Florida: 'Many ballots are missing or forged.' Gillum: 'You sound nervous'"

    While the subheadline noted there was not evidence of fraud, the headline, which is viewed by more people, did not correct Trump's claim.

    Associated Press

    "Trump calls on Florida Democrat to concede, implies fraud"

    Bloomberg

    "Trump Claims ‘Honest Vote Count’ No Longer Possible in Florida"

    NY Post

    "Trump says honest recount in Florida ‘no longer possible’"

    USA Today 

    "President Trump calls for end to Florida recount, tweeted ballots 'massively infected'"

    While the actual article headline emphasized Trump’s lack of evidence, the phrase “without evidence” was removed from the Twitter headline.

    The Daily Beast

    "Trump: Stop Counting Florida Votes, Republicans Already Won"

  • Sinclair is already gearing up for Trump 2020 

    New “must-run” segment airing a week after midterms boosts Trump and dismisses Democratic chances in 2020

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Less than one week after the 2018 midterm elections, Sinclair Broadcast Group is already pushing “must-run” segments minimizing Democratic chances in 2020 and boosting President Donald Trump’s re-election bid.

    A new “must-run” commentary segment about the 2020 elections began airing on Sinclair’s local stations on November 12. It’s part of Sinclair’s ongoing series called “Bottom Line with Boris,” which features chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn. Epshteyn worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign and may have signed a nondisparagement agreement during that time that would prevent him from criticizing the president.

    In the segment, Epshteyn tells viewers that the Democratic Party has “too many competing messages and varying factions” that will prevent “a clear path to victory in their primaries." He cited eight potential 2020 contenders for the Democratic nomination, ranging from party members like Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who supposedly wants to take the party in "a radical direction of open borders and single-payer health care," to "centrist, pro-business old guard" like former Vice President Joe Biden. Epshteyn said that the Republican Party is very united behind Trump, whom he called a “very formidable candidate” and an “active and strong campaigner.”

    With the 2018 midterms behind us, the country now turns toward the 2020 election cycle, including what is sure to be a hotly contested re-election race for President Trump.

    President Trump will continue to be an active and strong campaigner. Potential Democrat candidates, like Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris, want to take their party in a radical direction of open borders and single-payer health care.

    Other rumored candidates, such as former Vice President Joe Biden and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, represent the centrist, pro-business old guard of the Democrat Party. There’s also a chance that Democrats go local and nominate a former young mayor in either Mitch Landrieu from New Orleans or Eric Garcetti from Los Angeles.

    Headed into 2020 you'll hear a lot about how the GOP is equally as divided as Democrats. Ignore that. The president’s approval rating is at about 90 percent among Republicans. The “Never Trump” movement is now largely a figment of imagination perpetuated by the flood of former Republican operatives who are paid to make frequent appearances on the networks so they can bash the president and the Republican Party.

    Here's the bottom line: Right now, there are too many competing messages and varying factions vying for the Democratic nomination for there to be a clear path to victory in their primaries. Democrat candidates will have to declare their intentions very soon. It will be interesting to see which direction their party chooses to take in trying to defeat a very formidable candidate, and unquestionably the leader of the Republican Party, in President Trump.

    Epshteyn also teased in his morning newsletter another “must-run” to be released later today, which will focus on “a potential 2020 presidential run for Hillary Clinton.” Both of these segments will air on an estimated 100 local TV stations nationwide, including in major battleground states.

    Epshteyn’s -- and his employer’s -- early shift to 2020 makes perfect sense, since he spent the year leading up to the 2018 elections using his platform to essentially campaign for Republicans. In his “Bottom Line With Boris” segments, he focused specifically on the midterms at least 13 times this year and more broadly made the case for Republican policies countless others. Some segments skipped the usual commentary altogether, instead featuring excerpts from softball interviews he conducted with Trump and five Republican politicians on ballots last week, including Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis and newly re-elected Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

    Taking into account Sinclair’s yearlong effort to put its thumb on the scales in 2018 along with its longer history of political meddling during election seasons, local news viewers should unfortunately expect more Trump 2020 messaging on Sinclair stations for the next two years.

  • Fox & Friends hosts former Ohio secretary of state with own track record of voter suppression to complain about Florida recounts

    Ken Blackwell, who once rejected voter registration forms because he said the paper was too thin, suggested Florida “clean up” its voter rolls

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Continuing their effort to cast doubt on the ongoing vote recounts in the Florida Senate and gubernatorial elections, Fox & Friends hosted Ken Blackwell, a member of President Donald Trump’s now-defunct Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, to complain about the recount process. But Blackwell himself regularly sought to curtail access to the voting booth in his former capacity as Ohio secretary of state.

    Since the November 6 elections, Fox News has attempted to dispute the legally mandated recount in two statewide Florida elections with baseless claims of voter fraud. Furthering that theme, Fox & Friends brought on Blackwell to spew nonsense about the vote in Florida being “corrupted” by the recount process. He claimed that “Florida has to clean up … their voter rolls” to “make sure that folks who are deceased are taken off the rolls,” echoing a tiresome and groundless right-wing myth that widespread voter fraud is caused by “dead people voting.”

    Blackwell told Fox & Friends that election officials need “transparency” and “penalties” to restore confidence in Florida’s recount process “and get rid of folks who violate the standards. Three strikes and you're out.” But in his former role as Ohio secretary of state, Blackwell was accused of multiple attempts to suppress the vote, such as allegedly “failing to provide voter registration opportunities in public assistance offices as required by the National Voter Registration Act,” and even rejecting “1000s of voter registration applications due to paper weight.” His office also repeatedly leaked voters’ Social Security numbers when he was running for governor in 2006 -- all before he was named to Trump’s election fraud commission.

    From the November 13 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    KEN BLACKWELL (FORMER OHIO SECRETARY OF STATE): I think they’re going to look to the secretary of state to be in the lead, but the attorney general of Florida has a role, as does the governor. Look, the bottom line is that we cannot allow an election to be corrupted behind -- by hiding behind the veil of gross incompetence. And so that means that there are some steps that we have to take: One, we have to clean up -- Florida has to clean up, as are other states are doing, their voter rolls. We have to make sure that folks who are deceased are taken off the rolls -- folks who have moved from the state are taken off the rolls in the state that they have left. We, in fact, have to make sure that there are standards of transparency, and they must be enforced.

    And thirdly: It is very important that there are penalties to folks and personnel that violate these rules. Because, you know, my dad used to always say, “If you reward bad behavior, all you're going to get is more bad behavior.”

    BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): But, Ken, you know about Broward County. You sued them, right? Your organization sued them. You could have called this ahead of time.

    BLACKWELL: Well, look, but that -- that's the point. You have to have eyes on the process. Transparency, and as I’ve told many people, you, Brian, the other week, you know, “Those who want to do evil love the darkness.” We have a responsibility to make sure that our system, in a bipartisan way, has eyeballs on all of the process, at every step of the process. That is so, so important. And this, this -- this notion, that you can have chronic, massive incompetence that is excused -- that corrupts a process. That lowers confidence in the results, and it breeds distrust.

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Ken, real quickly, give us one thing Florida -- in particular, Broward County, perhaps -- should do to fix it?

    BLACKWELL: Transparency. Transparency, transparency, and get rid of folks who violate the standards. Three strikes and you're out. That’s baseball, and that's criminal justice system. Three strikes and you're out. Broward County, this person has had many strikes.

  • Just days after Democrats retake the House, conservative commentators insist that they’re doing it all wrong

    Conservative commentators are offering Democrats the same old advice: Move to the center.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about the tendency among conservatives, particularly of the “Never Trump” variety, to blame liberals and progressives for their own decisions. The idea behind it was pretty simple: Members of the conservative media suggest that if Democrats just made teeny-tiny changes, they could expect a windfall of support from right-leaning independents and disillusioned Republicans. They play the role of Lucy van Pelt, assuring Charlie Brown Democrats that this time would be different, that this time they wouldn’t pull the electoral football away at the final moment and would actually check the box for Dems who heeded their advice. Lulled into a tepid trust, Charlie Brown would declare, “This time I’m gonna kick that football clear to the moon!” before Lucy would pull the ball away, as always.

    With the 2018 midterms behind us, I want to revisit this concept and one very specific narrative that’s emerged in the post-electoral wake. That narrative is, simply put, that Democrats have veered too far to the left and need to make a strategic shift to the center if they’d ever like to retake power.

    The New York Times has a fantastic visualization, “Sizing Up the 2018 Blue Wave.” The data, as of publication on Wednesday morning, showed that while Democrats were able to flip 30 House seats from Republican to Democratic control, 317 out of the 435 congressional districts voted more Democratic than in 2016. Overall, the average district across all races shifted 10 percentage points left. (Since the Times published its analysis, results have further improved for Democrats.) It’s hard to say with any certainty what this suggests either political party should do in terms of strategy come 2020, but it’s also hard to firmly conclude, as Weekly Standard contributing editor Charlie Sykes did on MSNBC, that “the future for Democrats is, in fact, to move toward the center.”

    The math just doesn’t add up on the “move toward the center” messaging.

    On Fox News, National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar made three separate pleas for Democrats to avoid moving “too far to the left.” His analysis appeared to hinge on his claim that unabashed progressives Beto O’Rourke, Stacey Abrams, and Andrew Gillum all lost their respective races. (In fact, as of this writing, both Florida and Georgia are still counting votes.) What makes this type of electoral interpretation all the more frivolous is that there’s little reason to believe that O’Rourke, Abrams, and Gillum didn't fare well because they weren’t closer to the center.

    The Associated Press declared Republican Ron DeSantis the initial winner of the Florida governor's race, beating Gillum by just 0.4 percentage points in a close contest that may be heading for a recount. In the state’s race for Senate, incumbent and moderate Democrat Bill Nelson (GovTrack’s 2017 Report Card has Nelson pegged as the third most conservative Democrat in the Senate) trails challenger and current Florida Gov. Rick Scott by 0.2 percentage points. It’s not exactly an apples-to-apples look, but it’s pretty close, and looking at these two statewide Florida races would seem to suggest that the ideological gap between Gillum (who Kraushaar might say is “too far to the left”) and Nelson (who seems to be the type of candidate analysts like Kraushaar would have wanted in Gillum’s place) was negligible when it came to vote totals.

    In Abrams’ bid for Georgia governor, she ran so close to Secretary of State Brian Kemp that it’s more than two full days after the election and CNN has yet to even call the race. As of this writing, Kemp’s lead over Abrams is just 63,198 votes. To put this in perspective, the last time a Democrat came this close to winning the Georgia governorship was 20 years ago, when Democratic nominee Roy Barnes beat Republican Guy Millner. 

    And in Texas, when Ted Cruz first ran for Senate in 2012, he handily defeated Democratic opponent Paul Sadler by 16.1 percentage points. In the run-up to that election, Sadler received an endorsement from The Dallas Morning News, which called him a “moderate Democrat” who could “continue a legacy that puts the state first, rewards civility and embraces moderation and bipartisanship.” In 2018, O’Rourke lost to Cruz by just 2.6 percentage points.

    But on Fox, Kraushaar pointed to the Senate as the place where Democrats blew it for not being moderate enough. Looking at the nine states that had been listed as toss-ups by The New York Times -- Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Texas -- it’s hard to see exactly how, through any reasonable analysis, that it was progressives that cost Democrats the chance to regain power. I’ve already addressed O’Rourke making Texas unexpectedly competitive, but beyond that, Nevada’s Jacky Rosen took a surprisingly progressive stance on immigration as she flipped the seat from red to blue, and in New Jersey, scandal-plagued Sen. Bob Menendez handily won re-election (he has a track record of being on the more progressive end of the Democratic caucus). The only moderate Democrats who did come away with strong showings were Sen. Jon Tester, winning re-election in Montana, and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, whose race for Arizona Senate was still too close to call as of Friday. Beyond that, moderates didn’t do so well: Nelson might lose in Florida, Phil Bredesen lost in Tennessee, Joe Donnelly failed to win re-election in Indiana, and Claire McCaskill was ousted in Missouri.

    This narrative isn’t supported by facts, but that’s not stopping right-leaning and conservative media from pushing it hard.

    Fox Business anchor Connell McShane questioned whether Democrats need to be more “pragmatic” if they hope to win in 2020. “If you want to win back some of those independents in the middle, and some of those Democrats that voted for Trump in 2016, you’ve got to be very, very careful that you don’t just cater to the liberal base,” Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody cautioned during a recent episode of The 700 Club.

    But what lesson was there for Republicans to learn? Simply go further to the right, apparently.

    “As we watched [the results] unfold, all I could think of is, what in the world were these candidates thinking? Because in so many instances, they had separated themself from rather than embracing the Trump agenda,” said Lou Dobbs on the November 7 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight. “Most of those who bucked the president on immigration, they crashed and burned!” said Laura Ingraham during the November 7 edition of The Ingraham Angle, calling lockstep support of the president’s hard-line immigration policies “a deciding factor.”

    On the one hand, Democrats should move to the right because you can’t elect an extremist, and it’s important to understand that not all districts around the country are the same. On the other, Republicans need to become mini-Trumps or suffer the consequences. Am I getting that right?

    It’s almost as if this isn’t meant as an altruistic gesture to help Democrats defeat Republicans at all, and rather it’s just a clever way for conservative pundits to try to push the nation’s politics closer to their own ideals.

    That couldn’t be the case -- or could it? Thankfully, the world has Meghan McCain. On the November 7 edition of The View, McCain laid out some of the same move-to-the-center rhetoric heard elsewhere, but it’s at the very end that she gives away the game a bit.

    MEGHAN MCCAIN: The serious lesson for Democrats also is that Republicans are not going to vote against their own agenda and against their own interests. Meaning, I think there’s an impression sometimes, if you don’t watch Fox News, that all Republicans if you’re against Trump or you have issues with his rhetoric that automatically I have somehow morphed into a liberal, that every ideology and principle I have ever agreed on, the principles that make me who I am, the conservative that I am, have flown out the window. And all of a sudden, I’m a Democrat. That is not the case.

    Republicans are going to vote for their own agenda and they did a lot last night, especially in Senate and gubernatorial races. And I think the Democrats that were really competitive were the ones that were more moderate. So that is a lesson I would take away.

    SUNNY HOSTIN: That was disappointing to me, actually, because when you look at the Republicans --

    MCCAIN: Of course it’s disappointing. You’re a Democrat. It’s not disappointing for me. I’m a Republican. I’m going to end up voting for Republicans, and there’s a way to differentiate Trump from candidates.

    On Twitter, CNN’s Amanda Carpenter, a self-described conservative and former staffer for Sens. Ted Cruz and Jim DeMint (R-SC), offered a similar point of view:

    “I can’t believe it. She must think I’m the most stupid person alive,” says Charlie Brown.

    The idea that there’s some level of conservatism that Democrats can achieve in hopes of pulling in Republican voters is a myth, and Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District is proof.

    IL-03, which covers some of Chicago’s southwest side and surrounding suburbs, is about as reliably Democratic as it gets. The district hasn’t been held by a Republican since 1975. For the past 25 years, it’s been held by the Lipinski family -- Bill from 1993 until 2005, and his son Dan from 2005 until today. In the past four elections in which the current Lipinski faced off against a Republican in the general election (he ran unopposed in 2016), the Republican challengers won 35.4 percent, 31.5 percent, 24.3 percent, and 21.4 percent of the vote, according to Ballotpedia.

    In this year’s election, Lipinski’s Republican opponent, Arthur Jones, received 56,350 votes, or 26.5 percent. There is nothing out of the ordinary about this number. In fact, it falls neatly in the middle of the previous range.

    The one thing that is out of the ordinary: Lipinski’s opponent was a Nazi.

    Now, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of, You know, you can’t just call everyone you disagree with a Nazi. Let me be clear: He’s a literal neo-Nazi. In a 2012 interview with Oak Lawn Patch about plans to run for Congress, Jones said, “As far as I’m concerned, the Holocaust is nothing more than an international extortion racket by the Jews. It’s the blackest lie in history. Millions of dollars are being made by Jews telling this tale of woe and misfortune in books, movies, plays and TV. The more survivors, the more lies that are told."

    Oak Lawn Patch continues, describing him like this:

    A member of the Nationalist Socialist Party in his younger days, Jones took part in the Nazis’ march on Chicago’s Marquette Park in 1978. While he doesn’t deny nor repudiate his “past affiliations,” he says he votes Republican “90 percent of the time.”

    “Philosophically, I’m a National Socialist,” Jones said. “Officially, I don’t belong to any party except my own, the America First Committee.”

    Finally making it on the ballot in 2018, Jones racked up a lot of attention for, well, being a Nazi who ended up running unopposed in that district’s primary and winning the nomination.

    On Twitter, Illinois’ Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, urged people to vote for “anybody but Arthur Jones,” adding, “Nazis have no place in our country and no one should vote for him.” The Illinois Republican Party told the Chicago Sun-Times, “The Illinois Republican Party and our country have no place for Nazis like Arthur Jones. We strongly oppose his racist views and his candidacy for any public office, including the 3rd Congressional District.” The right-leaning Chicago Tribune editorial board said not to “accidentally vote for the neo-Nazi.”

    Easy enough: Don’t vote for the Nazi. But then people voted for the Nazi.

    This was a perfect time to test the theory that if Democrats run centrist candidates, they’ll win over Republicans when the Republican nominee is, say, a Nazi. For a Democrat, and especially one representing a reliably blue district, Lipinski holds many extremely conservative positions. He is anti-abortion, anti-Obamacare, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-immigration reform. A proud “Blue Dog,” Lipinski is about as close to being a “Democrat In Name Only” as possible.

    This could have been a slam-dunk, 100 percent to zero. So why wasn’t it? Like Meghan McCain said, Republicans are “going to end up voting for Republicans.” (The opposite is also true.) When the Sun-Times caught up with one Jones voter, she told the paper, “If I’d known I would not have voted for him. I regret it.”

    Sadly, for many people on both sides of the aisle, their vote isn’t as much about a candidate’s ideology or specific positions as it is about the tiny “D” or “R” next to their names. I have no advice for political parties or candidates, but I would urge political media figures to dial it back on half-baked analysis that always just so happens to support their personal political worldviews. It does none of us any favors. Perhaps it’s best that rather than trying to prescribe who candidates should be and what they should believe, we let candidates tell and show us who they are. It’s certainly a more productive use of our platforms.

  • NRATV host Dan Bongino used doctored Infowars video of Jim Acosta in White House press briefing

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    One day after White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders shared a deceptively edited video of an exchange between CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta and President Donald Trump, NRATV host Dan Bongino highlighted that same misleading video to attack Acosta.

    Acosta’s White House press pass was revoked following a contentious exchange during a November 7 briefing, when a White House intern attempted to take the microphone from Acosta while he was asking the president a question. During the interaction, “Acosta’s hand appeared to briefly brush” the intern’s arm, but Sanders later accused the reporter of “placing his hands on a young woman.” To bolster her accusation, Sanders then shared a deceptively edited video that originated from Paul Joseph Watson, editor at large of conspiracy theory website Infowars.com. The Washington Post noted that the video “appeared to have been altered to make [Acosta’s] actions at a news conference look more aggressive toward a White House intern.” 

    Bongino used that same deceptively edited footage for his coverage of the event on the November 8 edition of NRATV’s We Stand, despite multiple reports debunking the edited footage:

    DAN BONGINO (HOST): Acosta is claiming right now that he didn’t put his hands on this woman. This is a White House intern who has to move the mic -- folks, I worked in the White House for a long time, this is how this works. They walk the mic around. Jim Acosta -- now I don’t wanna overdramatize this, Denise was right before the show -- he didn’t attack her, it’s not a karate chop, he wasn’t trying to -- I sincerely doubt he was trying to hurt the woman, I would not even venture to go that far. But can we all acknowledge this is grossly inappropriate behavior? This is the president of the United States, he answered your question, move on. You don't put your mitts on the woman. It’s disgusting, you know I was very upset about this on Twitter yesterday. Have some dignity, Jim. Apologize and move on. This is the president of the United States, this young lady didn’t ask for this. She works for a living too, you know. Give up the microphone. Pathetic.    

    While admitting that Acosta didn’t “karate chop” the intern and wasn’t “trying to hurt” her, Bongino played the edited clip during the segment while calling Acosta “pathetic” and alleging that the CNN journalist put his “mitts on the woman.”

    Bongino is no stranger to Infowars, having appeared on the network multiple times from 2013 until 2016 with host Alex Jones, who was the chief architect of the conspiracty theory that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax 

  • Leading members of Trump’s Fox cabinet support Jim Jordan’s House GOP leader bid

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), the leader of the far-right House Freedom Caucus and a loyal ally of President Donald Trump, announced Wednesday that he will challenge Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to lead the party’s caucus as House minority leader. McCarthy’s current position as the party’s number two, behind retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), makes him the consensus front-runner. But Jordan will be able to draw on the support of some of the most powerful figures in Republican politics -- the Fox hosts who helped power Trump to the Republican nomination and have privately advised him in the White House.

    Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs are two of Jordan’s biggest boosters. Like other right-wing leaders who have endorsed his bid, they like his politics -- Jordan’s House Freedom Caucus contains the House GOP’s most extreme members. But their support is driven by the trio’s shared obsession with defending Trump from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

    Dobbs and Hannity use their nightly shows to denounce Mueller and his colleagues and defend the president, who they claim is the victim of a “witch hunt” by the media and the “deep state.” Their diatribes are often fueled in part by Jordan, who has used congressional hearings and regular appearances on their shows and others at Fox to denounce the efforts of Mueller and his colleagues at the Justice Department and FBI. Since Trump’s inauguration, the pair have interviewed him a combined 45 times, according to a search of the Nexis database.

    Hannity first endorsed Jordan to lead the House Republican caucus in the spring. “Frankly, I would like to see you be the next speaker,” Hannity told him during an April 22 interview on his Fox show to discuss “deep state corruption.” “For the record, I'm supporting Jim Jordan. I just endorsed him,” he added later in the program. On July 27, the day after Jordan announced that he planned to seek the top GOP slot after the election, Hannity gave him a lengthy interview to talk up his bid.

    Dobbs took longer to get behind Jordan. But after several of Jordan’s House Republican colleagues told Dobbs that they were supporting the bid, Dobbs said in September that he was also endorsing the Ohio congressman.

    Jordan took his campaign to Dobbs’ show on Thursday night, where the host showered him with accolades, calling him “one of the more prominent Republican leaders in the country.” He closed the interview by saying, “I have to say that the right person is in the Oval Office and we hope that the right person will be leading the minority in the House along with Majority Leader [Mitch] McConnell. It would be -- it's still not a fair fight for the Dems but there it is. Congressman, good to have you with us, we wish you all the luck.”

    Several other Fox personalities and guests on the network have also praised Jordan and his efforts to hamstring the Mueller probe:

    In addition to shilling for his leadership bid, Dobbs and Hannity both did yeoman’s work defending Jordan after several former Ohio State University wrestlers said over the summer that they believed Jordan knew about alleged sexual misconduct by an athletic doctor when he was the team’s assistant coach from 1987 to 1995. Soon after the story broke, Dobbs said Jordan had been “dishonorably attacked by the left,” and questioned why Ryan was “so classless as not to stand up for the right of this man.” Hannity hosted Jordan for one of his patented softball interviews, which he began by saying, “Welcome to the club. If you support Donald Trump, you had to know the lies, the smears against you are obviously a political attack. I'm sorry you are going through that.”

    Video by Miles Le

  • Anti-abortion ballot measures based on right-wing misinformation are a threat to reproductive health

    With Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, West Virginia's and Alabama’s new state constitutional amendments could further restrict abortion rights

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On Election Day, voters in Alabama and West Virginia passed amendments that will not only codify anti-choice misinformation in their state constitutions, but will also place further restrictions on abortion access. Anti-abortion advocates portrayed the measures as harmless and unlikely to impact abortion rights. However, the amendments are actually part of a long-term strategy to end abortion access in these states should the Supreme Court -- now with a newly minted Justice Brett Kavanaugh -- eliminate federal abortion protections by overturning Roe v. Wade.

    West Virginia’s Amendment 1 added language to the state's constitution declaring, “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.” Alabama’s Amendment 2 featured almost identical language, but also included a requirement that the state’s “public policy” is “to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life” -- a subtle way of asserting the scientifically unfounded belief that life begins at conception.

    Before the midterm elections, anti-abortion advocates in Alabama and West Virginia depicted the amendments as innocuous measures, and criticized what they viewed as hysterical prognosticating from pro-choice advocates about their dangers. Several representatives of Alliance for a Pro-Life Alabama wrote in an op-ed that they had “watched with outraged disbelief the absurd attacks that Planned Parenthood is hurling at Amendment Two,” and asserted that such characterizations of the amendment were based in “lies” and “distortions.” Similarly, Yes on 1, the anti-abortion campaign in West Virginia, said that opponents of the measure had “some hysterical claims about what will happen when Amendment 1 passes.” Right-wing media and abortion opponents also deployed this tactic when Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court by painting pro-choice advocates predicting that he would overturn or restrict Roe as emotional and delusional. However, many of those same abortion opponents celebrated Kavanaugh’s confirmation as a step toward that very goal.

    Anti-abortion groups in both states pushed similar misinformation about their respective constitutional amendments before Election Day. Alliance for a Pro-Life Alabama sent out a so-called “Myth Busters Memo” attempting to debunk claims from pro-choice groups that the state’s amendment would “outlaw all abortions without exceptions” and prohibit certain types of fertility treatment. Yes on 1 similarly whitewashed the West Virginia amendment, alleging that it was not a threat to abortion access because “no rights will be taken away” with its passage.

    In reality, both of these amendments are dangerous because both could be enforced to prohibit all abortions if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. As Lauren Holter explained for Rewire.News, the West Virginia amendment “does not include exceptions for rape, incest, fetal anomaly, or threats to the pregnant person’s life,” and Alabama’s amendment “could lead to the criminalization of some forms of contraception and in-vitro fertilization" because it establishes the standard of "personhood" upon conception.

    West Virginia and Alabama are not the first states to pass anti-abortion constitutional amendments, and their common language stems from a previous state amendment pushed by anti-abortion groups in Tennessee. Pacific Standard described that “pro-life legal tactic” as “the culmination of a decade-long battle against abortion rights,” and noted that since it was passed in 2014, “Tennessee has again implemented 48-hour waiting periods, a ban on public funding, and a ban on abortion after viability.”

    West Virginia’s The Register-Herald spoke with Jessica Arons, senior advocacy & policy counsel for reproductive freedom at the American Civil Liberties Union:

    Arons sees West Virginia’s ballot measure as “‘one piece of the puzzle”’ in a national strategy by anti-abortion activists to enact laws that sound reasonable, but when you take a closer look, make it harder to access abortion.

    "They make it sound like they’re just trying to protect women’s health and safety, but the reality is they’ve been designed to cut off access to care and to shame and harass women for seeking abortion services," she said.

    The ending of Medicaid-funded abortion in West Virginia would be the “immediate impact,” Arons said, “but the proponents of this measure, again, they’re playing the long game.”

    Enacting anti-choice restrictions under the guise of protecting patients’ health is a longstanding right-wing tactic for eliminating abortion access. As part of this strategy, anti-abortion advocates frequently couch anti-choice restrictions aimed at banning or limiting abortion access in neutral or seemingly helpful language, such as burdensome and unnecessary clinic regulations disguised as safety precautions, but with the true purpose of closing clinics. This tactic was quickly picked up by right-wing media who lament abortion as unsafe -- despite the fact that having an abortion is an incredibly safe and normal part of health care.

    Yamani Hernandez, executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, told Glamour’s Macaela Mackenzie that West Virginia’s amendment “is something that we consider to be discriminatory, something that targets people of color and people with lower incomes and discriminates against people based on the insurance coverage that people have.” Slate’s Christina Cauterucci described how West Virginia’s amendment in particular makes it easier for the state legislature to pass anti-abortion legislation, in addition to its “immediate ramifications” for those on Medicaid, who will “lose their ability to access funding for abortion care.”

    Cauterucci also noted that in West Virginia, which still has an unenforced pre-Roe ban on abortion on the books, the new amendment “would, in concert, criminalize abortion providers as felons if the Supreme Court overturns Roe.” This could also prove true in Alabama, as Rewire.News’ Imani Gandy forewarned:

    Prosecutors in Alabama could, technically, begin enforcing an abortion ban immediately. They don’t have to wait for the Supreme Court to reverse Roe. Prosecutors could begin charging abortion providers for performing abortions under the state’s pre-Roe ban, testing the willingness of state court judges to defy federal law and let those cases proceed.

    The midterm elections resulted in several Democratic flips of governorships and legislatures that could potentially protect and even expand abortion access. However, those gains are of little comfort to people who need abortion access in West Virginia and Alabama, or to those in other states that are also vulnerable to further anti-choice restrictions and media misinformation from anti-abortion advocates.

  • Fox & Friends contradicts itself on Florida vote count

    Guest co-host Katie Pavlich falsely states vote count deadline has passed minutes after reporter correctly says Florida law allows four days after election for vote tallies

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox & Friends contradicted itself within five minutes in a report on the ongoing process of tallying the votes from the 2018 Florida Senate race between incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson and Gov. Rick Scott. Guest co-host Katie Pavlich parroted Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-FL) debunked smear that “the early voting numbers that were in on Sunday were -- they’re all supposed to be … counted on Tuesday by Florida law standards,” suggesting election officials were circumventing the law in an attempt to change the results of the election. But, literally minutes prior to Pavlich’s spurious claim, Fox News correspondent Griff Jenkins correctly noted that Florida officials “have until noon” on Saturday, November 10, “to submit their unofficial vote totals.”

    From the November 9 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    GRIFF JENKINS (FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT): Now, under Florida law, any race with a margin of half a percent or less automatically goes to a recount. Attorney Mark Elias, now representing [Sen. Bill] Nelson, said this, he says, “We’re doing this not just because it's automatic, but we are doing it to win.”

    And in the race for governor there, also in the razor-thin majority -- recount territory, rather, Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis leads Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by more than 36,000 votes, or .4 percent -- .44 percent. Gillum, who conceded the race to DeSantis on Tuesday night, indicated through his lawyers that they're also gearing up for a fight.

    Now, Florida has 67 counties, they all have until noon tomorrow to submit their unofficial vote totals. One thing is for sure, It's good to be an attorney for election law in Florida in November.

    ...

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Here’s the thing, and this is the reason that Rick Scott has sued Palm Beach and Broward County. Suddenly, mysteriously, apparently Broward County is finding more ballots. Now, how is that?

    KATIE PAVLICH (GUEST CO-HOST): All of a sudden.

    PAVLICH: The other issue here, in terms of legal problem, is the early voting numbers that were in on Sunday were -- they’re all supposed to be voted by Tuesday -- or counted on Tuesday by Florida law standards, and yet, here we are getting to the weekend, and those early totals are still being counted in Broward County.

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): They were busy.

    PAVLICH: Very busy.

  • Fox regular who called for "a cleansing" of the FBI and DOJ is advising Trump on a replacement attorney general

    Pro-Trump lawyer Joseph diGenova has repeatedly attacked the Russia probe and Sessions

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Discredited Republican lawyer Joe diGenova told Fox News host Laura Ingraham that he has been advising President Donald Trump on the replacement of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

    A U.S. attorney during the Reagan administration, diGenova played a partisan role in investigations into President Bill Clinton during the 1990s, including serving as the source for a later-retracted newspaper article, and he was criticized for behaving unprofessionally while working for congressional subcommittees. He also fabricated false claims against the Obama administration over the 2012 Benghazi attack.

    DiGenova briefly joined Trump’s personal legal team regarding the Russia probe earlier this year after he defended the president on Fox News, but he was taken off the team for conflicts of interest within a week. DiGenova claims that he is still advising Trump, and he told Ingraham last night that he has “a couple of ideas which I have shared with the president” about who can permanently replace Sessions:

    LAURA INGRAHAM (HOST): I have to ask you on picks for attorney general. We all have maybe a couple ideas -- what are your ideas?

    JOSEPH DIGENOVA: Well, I have a couple of ideas which I have shared with the president, and I'm not going to share them with anybody else. So, if I say any of my ideas, I will be sharing a conversation with the president.

    DiGenova’s latest comments came just hours after Trump fired Sessions following a nearly two-year campaign of publicly humiliating the attorney general for his recusal from the Russia investigation. After the firing, Trump named Sessions’ former chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker -- who has previously supported Trump against the Russia investigation -- acting attorney general.

    In an interview with the Daily Caller's Ginni Thomas, diGenova called for "a cleansing of the FBI and the upper echelons of the Department of Justice." DiGenova also called Russian interference "a false Russian conspiracy that never existed" that was built with "false facts."

    JOSEPH DIGENOVA: It's a big deal because I have a saying that the FBI used to spy on the Russians, this time they spied on us. What this story is about, it's about a brazen plot to again exonerate Hillary Clinton from a clear violation of the law with regard to the way she handled classified information with her private server, absolutely a crime, absolutely a felony. It's about finding out why, as the Inspector General is doing at the Department of Justice, why Comey and the senior DOJ officials conducted a fake criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton, followed none of the regular rules, gave her every break in the book, immunized all kinds of people, allowed the destruction of evidence, no grand jury, no subpoenas, no search warrant. That's not an investigation, that's a Potemkin village. It's a farce and everybody knew it was a farce. The problem was she didn't win and because she didn't win the farce became a very serious opera. It wasn't a comic opera anymore, it was a tragic opera and she was going to be the focus.

    What this is about is, this is about a lavabo, a cleansing of the FBI and the upper echelons of the Department of Justice.

    We're going to discover that the Attorney General Loretta Lynch, her deputy Sally Yates, the head of the National Security Division John Carlin, Bruce Ohr, and other senior DOJ officials and regrettably line attorneys, people who were senior career civil servants, violated the law, perhaps committed crimes and covered up crimes by a presidential candidate. But more than that they tried to frame an incoming president with a false Russian conspiracy that never existed and they knew it and they plotted to to ruin him as a candidate and then destroy him a president.

    That's why this is important. That's why connecting the dots is important, because the FBI now has to be completely reconstructed from the ground up. The men and women at the bureau are great people, that's not who we're talking about, we never have been. We are talking about people like James Comey, McCabe, Strzok, Page, Baker, Priestep, whose name nobody knows. He's the head of the counterintelligence division and he was the one who was involved in planning this entire crazy thing involving Fusion GPS, the false dossier, and creating evidence.

    This is what people have to understand. What the Bureau did was, by working with Fusion GPS, and giving contractors access to highly classified information, which they had no legal right to see, they needed to create something they could give to the court, the foreign intelligence court, so that they could get wiretaps and surveillance taps and email taps and phone taps on the Trump people so that if there was anything they could find it out. Of course there was nothing. There was ... there never was anything and they created false facts so that they could get surveillance warrants. Those are all crimes. Every single one of those acts constitutes a crime because it was done not for a legitimate law enforcement reason, not for national security reasons, but to create a false case against a candidate Donald Trump, a president-elect Donald Trump, and a president Donald Trump.

    On Fox, diGenova has repeatedly claimed that the Russia probe is a conspiracy to “frame Donald Trump,” and that multiple people at the FBI and Department of Justice should be investigated, fired, and arrested. He has demanded Congress impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray, and he has said Rosenstein should “rot in hell” for the way he has overseen the Russia investigation. He suggested then-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s secret payments to two women on behalf of Trump during the presidential campaign weren’t illegal. DiGenova also claimed that the DOJ-authorized FBI search of Cohen’s office was “an act of terror” and that a prosecutor was using “terror tactics” to “coerce” former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort.

    DiGenova didn’t reserve his ire only for the Russia probe and those directly overseeing it. He spent months criticizing Sessions before Trump fired him. In May, diGenova said on Fox’s Hannity that Sessions’ recusal “was an unforced betrayal of the president” -- a statement Trump loved so much he directly quoted it in a tweet that also name-checked diGenova.

    On Hannity in August, diGenova said Trump “is entitled to a fully engaged attorney general. He has never had that. ... Jeff Sessions has no command presence. He doesn’t understand the job that he has.” During that appearance, diGenova also said: “After the next election, Jeff should give the president the courtesy of a resignation.” In early October, diGenova said:

    Look, make no mistake about it: Rod Rosenstein is a creep. He is a dishonest -- fundamentally dishonest – he cares about one thing, himself, his next job, and his future. The president, of course, will keep him through the next -- through the election cycle. Keeping him after that is an open question.

    ...

    Where is Jeff Sessions? He is on a milk carton. This guy is so sad and so depressing to watch him twist in the breeze as an incompetent attorney general. And there behind him is Rasputin, Rod Rosenstein. This is an ugly period for the department, and it will not get better until both of them are gone.

    Later in October, diGenova offered more criticism: “I would say Sessions and Rosenstein will go down in history as the two worst officials in the Department of Justice in its history.”