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  • The Trump FCC is now being investigated for making rules changes to help Sinclair

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The nefarious relationship between the Trump-era Federal Communications Commission (FCC), conservative local TV news giant Sinclair Broadcast Group, and the Trump administration itself is now under investigation.

    On February 15, The New York Times reported that the FCC inspector general has opened an internal investigation into potential improper conduct by Trump-appointed FCC chair Ajit Pai and his aides in advocating for deregulatory rules that specifically benefited Sinclair.

    The Times noted that little is known about the extent of the investigation, which was launched at end of last year but had been undisclosed until now. The investigation began after several lawmakers called on the inspector general to investigate a “disturbing pattern of a three way quid-pro-quo.” Congressional letters to the inspector general, David Hunt, detailed reports of communications and meetings involving Pai, the Trump White House, and Sinclair executives. According to the Times report:

    A New York Times investigation published in August found that Mr. Pai and his staff members had met and corresponded with Sinclair executives several times. One meeting, with Sinclair’s executive chairman, took place days before Mr. Pai, who was appointed by President Trump, took over as F.C.C. chairman.

    Sinclair’s top lobbyist, a former F.C.C. official, also communicated frequently with former agency colleagues and pushed for the relaxation of media ownership rules. And language the lobbyist used about loosening rules has tracked closely to analysis and language used by Mr. Pai in speeches favoring such changes.

    In November, several Democrats in Congress, including Mr. Pallone, called on the inspector general’s office to explore all communications — including personal emails, social media accounts, text messages and phone calls — between Sinclair and Mr. Pai and his staff.

    The lawmakers also asked for communications between Mr. Pai’s office and the White House. They pointed to a report in March 2017 from The New York Post, in which Mr. Trump is said to have met with Sinclair’s executive chairman, David Smith, and discussed F.C.C. rules.

    The internal investigation could also tackle a series of recent FCC actions that have directly allowed Sinclair greater room to expand:

    • In April, the FCC reinstated an outdated media ownership rule known as the UHF discount, making room for a new level of local media consolidation at the hands of big media groups like Sinclair.
    • Weeks later, Sinclair announced it was proposing to acquire Tribune Media, a huge local news merger that wouldn’t have been allowed without the UHF discount in place. The FCC and Trump’s Department of Justice are now the only agencies that need to approve the deal.
    • In October, the FCC voted to eliminate a rule that required local news stations to maintain offices within the communities they serve, making it easier for Sinclair to consolidate and centralize local news resources as it buys up more stations.
    • In November, the FCC rolled back rules that limit broadcast station ownership, allowing for Sinclair to more easily own or operate multiple stations -- or merge stations -- in the same local media markets.

    Sinclair’s unprecedented gains under Pai’s purview are not just significant in terms of media consolidation; they’re ideologically dangerous. The company is known for requiring its local news stations across the country to air almost-daily segments that function as Trump propaganda. Its pending acquisition of Tribune would allow these segments to quietly spread further into major cities and battleground states ahead of the 2020 presidential race.

    The new FCC internal investigation, however, could throw a wrench in Sinclair’s plans. According to the Times, “Antitrust experts said this new investigation may complicate the reviews of the Sinclair-Tribune deal by the F.C.C. and the Justice Department. Even if the deal were approved, they said, any conclusions of improper conduct by Mr. Pai could give fuel to critics to challenge the review in courts.”

  • Gun dysfunction is a Republican problem, not a “Washington” problem

    NBC News helps obfuscate the GOP’s culpability in mass shootings

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The horrific mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, yesterday has once again touched off a discussion about what can be done to stop the escalating series of bloody massacres that only happen with this regularity in our country. The preordained answer, of course, is nothing. The Republican Party controls the White House and both houses of Congress, and its commitment to the National Rifle Association’s maximalist position on gun rights cannot be shaken -- not by dead schoolchildren, not by the fact that two members of Congress have been gunned down in the last decade, not by anything.

    Opposition to strengthening gun laws emanates from the GOP, which has collectively made the political calculation that shot-up schools and ever-increasing body counts are an acceptable alternative to angering the gun lobby and pro-gun activists within its own base. This is not an exotic political argument: it’s a plain, uncontroversial truth that anyone who’s paid a moment’s attention to the politics of gun regulation can attest to.

    And yet, in this morning’s First Read newsletter by NBC News, blame for the sclerotic toxicity of this situation was laid at the feet of “Washington,” which, the authors argue, is “fundamentally broken.” Here’s how the authors described the state of gun politics:

    And what has Washington done to respond to this mass violence? Absolutely nothing. America’s political system has been incapable of coming up with ANY federal public policy to address mass shootings. In 2013, after the Newtown shooting, the U.S. Senate blocked a measure to require background checks for gun purchases. In 2017, after Las Vegas, Congress talked about banning bump stocks – accessories that makes rifles fire more rapidly – but ultimately did nothing.

    As I noted on Twitter, this paragraph (and the rest of the piece) goes well out of its way to avoid placing blame for the dysfunction where it belongs: on the GOP. By framing the issue as one of “Washington” gridlock, NBC News is actually doing the real culprits a favor by obscuring the ghastly political game the GOP plays to maintain its grip on power while allowing more and more Americans to be cut down by bullets fired from legally obtained military-style weaponry. Calling this a “Washington” problem is horrendously misleading and needlessly seeks to remove partisanship from what is an absolutely partisan issue.

    One of First Read’s authors, NBC News senior political editor Mark Murray, responded to my tweet and, in the process, accidentally helped underscore just how awful the piece’s framing is:

    First of all, the vote tally on the 2013 background check filibuster wasn’t mentioned in his piece, so they did ignore it. Had they included that vote tally, it would have undermined their lazy framing. Yes, four Democratic senators voted against background checks in 2013 (as did then-majority leader Harry Reid, who supported the bill but voted no for procedural reasons). But those four Democratic senators stood alongside forty-one Republicans who voted down the measure. So the filibuster would have been sustained regardless of how those Democrats voted, which demonstrates that meaningful gun safety legislation is impossible to pass at the federal level so long as Republicans maintain any measure of control.

    That gets us back to the original, uncontroversial point: Republicans are the problem when it comes to legislation addressing mass shootings. There is no reason to avoid stating it plainly.

  • The morning after Florida shooting, elected GOP officials appeared on only one show: Fox & Friends

    No elected GOP officials appeared on morning shows on CNN, MSNBC, NBC, ABC, or CBS. Chris Cuomo: Republicans "wouldn’t even come on the damn show.”

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    The morning after yet another deadly school shooting in the United States, Republican elected officials avoided all but one morning news show: Fox & Friends.

    Yesterday, a shooting at a Florida school left at least 17 students and adults dead. It was the 18th shooting at a school in the U.S. just this year. Today, Republican elected officials avoided ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and MSNBC’s morning shows, opting to exclusively appear on Fox & Friends. Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) all appeared on Fox to discuss the shooting. Cruz attempted to explain the shooting by saying, “Evil is, sadly, always present” and complained that “the reaction of Democrats to any tragedy to is try to politicize it.” Rubio referred to the shooting as “an isolated instance” that resulted from “a perfect storm of circumstances.” And Scott told the Fox & Friends hosts that he was “mad” and asked, “How can this be going on in our society?” Democratic Florida Sen. Bill Nelson also appeared on Fox & Friends to discuss the shooting.

    Meanwhile, no Republican elected officials appeared on any other broadcast and major cable news channel. CNN host Chris Cuomo noted that it was not for lack of trying, saying that Republicans “wouldn’t even come on the damn show” to talk about the shooting in Florida:

    In the aftermath of past mass shootings, Fox News has provided a platform for Second Amendment advocates to push misinformation about firearms while repeatedly asserting that the aftermath of a mass shooting is “not the time” to talk about policy solutions to address gun violence.

  • Republicans can't quit fake news

    The Republican Party has increasingly created and used political microsites designed to look like local news sites as a political tactic. Here’s why that’s bad for democracy.

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Last fall, Arizona Senate candidate Kelli Ward touted an endorsement from the Arizona Monitor on her Facebook page. Ward’s campaign must have really liked the endorsement because it reprinted it in full on her campaign website. But what is the Arizona Monitor? Is it a local news site? A blog covering local politics in Arizona? Or is it something else entirely?

    A Politico investigation found that the Arizona Monitor “launched just a few weeks before publishing the endorsement, and its domain registration is hidden, masking the identity of its owner. On its Facebook page, it is classified as a news site, but scant other information is offered.” Inquiries to Arizona politicos didn’t turn up anything either, with some telling the outlet that “they could only scratch their heads” and were befuddled by the site’s background.

    There’s nothing wrong with a local political blog supporting Ward’s campaign, or Ward’s team touting a friendly endorsement on her campaign website and social media. But political campaigns are notoriously overcautious about what they post on social media. Campaigns don’t normally highlight an endorsement from entities no one has heard of, especially when it launched just a few weeks prior. Politico noted that Ward denied any knowledge about the site on Facebook. Given that, there are two obvious questions: Is Arizona Monitor a phony news site meant to fool voters on Kelli Ward’s behalf? If so, who exactly is paying for it?

    We may never know who was behind the Arizona Monitor, as the site crumbled quickly after coming under scrutiny. Initially, it posted an article defending itself, but as I was writing this the website was deleted, as well as the site’s Twitter and Facebook pages. Local political blogs don’t generally operate this way; they relish being attacked by larger media outlets (the posture Arizona Monitor initially took) and do not disappear suddenly when attacked. Given its hasty exit from the internet, it’s not unreasonable to speculate that Arizona Monitor was some kind of front.

    Republican campaigns and entities creating campaign microsites designed to look like local news sites to support their candidates is nothing new. In 2014, the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) created a series of phony news sites meant to mimic local news sites. The sites included a disclaimer at the bottom but otherwise made no indication that they were the product of a Republican campaign committee. An NRCC spokesperson at the time called it a “new and effective way to disseminate information to voters.” And last year, the Republican Governors Association (RGA) tried its hand at running its own microsite disguised as news site. As Media Matters senior fellow Matt Gertz noted at the time:

    FreeTelegraph.com resembles any of a host of hyperpartisan conservative websites that purport to share news. The website’s home page and articles emphasize social media sharing buttons and large photos; the pieces are brief and feature block quotes from other sources instead of original reporting or commentary. But while most right-wing hyperpartisan sites feature pieces supporting President Donald Trump and savaging his foes, FreeTelegraph.com employs a single-minded focus, with every article aiming to praise a Republican governor or gubernatorial candidate or criticize a Democratic one, with a particular focus on GOP targets in Virginia (24 articles), Connecticut (13), and Rhode Island (11).

    The website is still active.

    In Maine, the state Democratic Party recently filed a complaint with the state’s ethics agency alleging that the Maine Examiner, an anonymously owned news site covering Maine politics, made illegal expenditures in a local mayor’s race and that they might have coordinated with the Maine Republican Party as well.

    More recently, Politico reported that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), apparently not content to let the NRCC handle his fake news needs, has a phony news site entirely paid for by his campaign committee. The website CARepublican.com, which Nunes refused to discuss with Politico, has a proper, if tiny, disclaimer but no other indication that it is a campaign website rather than an actual local news site or blog.

    But my personal favorite political phony news proprietor is GOP political consultant Dan Backer, who’s turned fake news into a money maker for his pro-Trump super PACs by using them to drive email sign ups and donations. A BuzzFeed investigation last summer found:

    Along with AAN [American Action News], Backer or his company, DB Capitol Strategies, is listed as the owner of conservative news domains AmericanUpdate.com, TrumpTrainNews.com, and GOPPresidential.com. Two other news sites — Truedaily.news and ICYMInews.com — link out heavily to the Backer-connected web properties, and use the same Google AdSense and Analytics codes as AAN and the three other sites. Truedaily.news and ICYMInews.com are also hosted on the same server as GOPPresidential.com — yet another piece of evidence to suggest they too are part of the network of sites connected to Backer. (The server in question hosts only those three websites.)

    Backer’s political fake news game is a whole new level, combining grassroots digital engagement with clickbait to build lists of supporters his super PACs can message and activate.

    Last week, I wrote about how Trump supporters share the most “junk news” online. Given that, it would seem predictable that Republicans would skip the middleman and just create the content themselves. Even better if they can use said content to raise funds for their political activities.

    But what might work for the Republican Party in the short term is terrible for democracy. A recent Knight News/Gallup survey found trust in media and views on what is or isn’t fake news was increasingly viewed through a partisan lens. Whereas liberals and Democrats get their news from more mainstream media outlets, conservatives increasingly rely on only right and far-right sources in their news consumption. News sites -- run by the GOP about the GOP -- risk shrinking that filter bubble even further. If this trend continues, and phony GOP news sites increase in popularity, conservatives could reach a point where much of the political news they consume would come directly from the Republican Party and associated campaign committees.

  • Gateway Pundit's Lucian Wintrich promotes fake Buzzfeed article about the Florida high school mass shooting

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Gateway Pundit’s White House correspondent Lucian Wintrich circulated a hoax falsely claiming Buzzfeed wrote an article on “why we need to take away white people’s guns.”

    In the wake of the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, where at least 17 people were killed Wintrich posted a screenshot of a fake Buzzfeed article titled “Why We Need To Take Away White People’s Guns Now More Than Ever.”

    The tweet has since been deleted. The claim was also posted on 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board.

    Wintrich issued a statement to The Hill’s Will Sommer about spreading the hoax:

    Wintrich and the Gateway Pundit routinely promote conspiracy theories and hoaxes which can often catch fire in the right-wing internet world and with President Donald Trump. Gateway Pundit also shared a 4chan hoax following the Las Vegas shooting in October. After being widely criticized, Wintrich defended sharing that story as well.

  • How a fake story about Uranium One and a Russian plane crash spread from message boards to talk radio

    Followers of "The Storm" conspiracy theory pushed a lie and it spread like wildfire on Twitter, 4chan, Reddit, YouTube, fake news websites, and talk radio

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A false claim suggesting that a Russian plane crash was linked to the Uranium One conspiracy theory and the Christopher Steele Trump/Russia dossier spread from followers of a 4chan and 8chan-based conspiracy theory to fake news sites and on to multiple talk radio stations.

    On February 11, a plane carrying 71 people crashed near Moscow, killing everyone on board. Investigators believe that “the pilots' failure to activate heating for pressure measurement equipment” may have resulted in flawed speed data, leading to the crash.

    Following the plane crash, multiple Twitter accounts started speculating about the accident using the hashtag #QAnon, a reference to a conspiracy theory known as “The Storm” that originated on 4chan and 8chan message boards late last year. The conspiracy theory claims that a person known as “Q,” who claims to be a “high-level government insider” has been writing posts, or “crumbs,” to “covertly inform the public about POTUS’s master plan to stage a countercoup against members of the deep state.”

    As BuzzFeed News noted, several of these Twitter users falsely claimed that two specific men were on the plane when it crashed, one allegedly linked to Uranium One and one allegedly linked to the dossier.

    According to the theory, a man named Vyacheslav Ivanov who was the CFO of Russia’s nuclear energy company Rosatom was on the plane. Rosatom has been linked to the Uranium One conspiracy theory, a thoroughly debunked story which alleges that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton approved the sale of uranium to a Russian company in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation. There was, in fact, a Vyacheslav Ivanov on the plane, but he was not the same man as the Vyacheslav Ivanov who formerly worked at Rosatom (and who was not the CFO there).

    Twitter followers of The Storm also claimed that a man named Sergei Millian, a possible source behind the dossier, was killed on the plane. There was no Sergei Millian on the passenger list.

    Nonetheless, the conspiracy theory spread:

    • On 4chan's “politically incorrect” message board (commonly referred to as /pol/), users referred to tweets that directly cited 4chan posts from “Q” to claim the crash was “a hit” on Ivanov.

    • Multiple YouTube videos also popped up that directly cited QAnon to push the claim, with one saying “Q put out” “a clue” linking the event to Uranium One.

    • Reddit users cited the YouTube videos on the subreddit The_Donald and on another subreddit dedicated to conspiracy theories, both of which had already been trying to connect the crash to Uranium One.

    Another subreddit called “CBTS” (Calm Before The Storm), which is established around The Storm conspiracy theory, also pushed the false claim.

    Multiple highly dubious websites also began pushing the new conspiracy theory. Some websites and figures who pushed the claim, such as Puppet String News and white nationalist Hal Turner (who previously published a made-up story about Hurricane Irma), did not reference The Storm. But fake news website Neon Nettle cited a tweet that referenced The Storm conspiracy theory. Fake news website YouNewsWire also published multiple pieces pushing the false claim.

    Jerome Corsi of conspiracy theory website Infowars subsequently picked up the claim, likely thanks to the followers of The Storm. Corsi, who Infowars had announced in January would be tracking The Storm, said that the allegation had “broke earlier this morning” and “QAnon picked up on it very quickly.” Corsi’s claim was in turn shared on Reddit.

    The conspiracy theory then moved past the fringes of the internet into more mainstream venues. Multiple talk radio stations picked up the claim on January 12. A conservative New Hampshire host on WNTK-FM, Keith Hanson, asked another person on the air if he had “heard about” the Ivanov allegation that was “showing up on certain websites” and that it “wouldn’t surprise” him if the claim was accurate, later adding that although the claim was “not vetted,” “a number of people … have sent me little snippets on this thing,” so he wanted to share it. A conservative South Carolina host on WYRD-FM, Bob McLain, also said that the crash “apparently killed a CFO of Uranium One.” On February 13, a conservative host on New York’s WNYM-AM, Joe Piscopo (who used to be a cast member on Saturday Night Live), supported a caller citing “the passenger manifest that I’ve seen online” before a co-host jumped in to note that Corsi reported the claim and it had been “completely discredited.” And on the same day, conservative North Dakota host Dennis Lindahl on KGTO-AM’s The Morning Lowdown said there were “conversations on the backchannels that I’m reading that a few executives that had interaction on Uranium One were on that plane.”

    The speed with which the false claim has spread shows the potency of The Storm conspiracy theory, which has already been invoked to push false claims around all kinds of events, such as the fire at Trump Tower in early January and a fire at the estate of Bill and Hillary Clinton that same month. Even if people pushing the false narrative around the plane crash don’t mention The Storm conspiracy theory directly, the content of their claims show that the conspiracy theory’s followers are breaking through the internet’s fringes into more mainstream discourse.

  • Fox & Friends reported a detail from a 2015 NSA shooting as if it happened today

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Fox & Friends mistakenly reported that “two men dressed up as women” were involved in an incident this morning at the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Fort Meade, MD -- but that detail was actually from a similar incident in March 2015.

    Media outlets reported that one person was injured in a shooting that took place at a security vehicle entry gate at the NSA headquarters on February 14. NSA issued a statement, saying that “NSA police and local law enforcement are addressing” the incident” and that “the situation is under control.”

    Fox News first mentioned the incident at 8:01 a.m., with Fox & Friends First co-host Jillian Mele reporting: “At least three people have reportedly been shot at NSA headquarters. … There are reports claiming that two men dressed up as women tried to drive through the gate with a stolen SUV. That’s when the shots were fired.”

    But these details were not reported in any other national outlet's coverage.

    Fox & Friends appeared to have taken details from a 2015 incident at NSA headquarters and reported it as a fact in today’s incident. A FOX 5 report on today’s incident explains: “In 2015, two men dressed as women tried to ram a stolen car through the gate of the NSA headquarters at Fort Meade. One of the two was killed when guards opened fire and the other was injured.”

    Later, at 8:39 a.m., Mele correctly stated that “a very similar incident happened at the NSA headquarters back in 2015, when two men dressed as women tried to ram the gate at the main entrance.” But Mele did not mention that she incorrectly attributed that detail from the 2015 incident in her first report about today’s shooting, and Fox & Friends never gave a correction to its initial report.

    Far-right website Zero Hedge, which has a history of pushing conspiracy theories, also incorrectly reported this detail several minutes after Mele did, embedding a now-deleted tweet from an account @BreakingNewzman which stated: “DEVELOPING - Two men dressed as women who attempted to enter a gate at the NSA's campus at Fort Meade, MD in a stolen Ford Escape this morning were shot by a security guard, Bloomberg reports.” Conspiracy theory website Infowars editor Paul Joseph Watson tweeted the Zero Hedge article, adding: “Male intruders dressed as women shot while trying to ram NSA compound. One dead.”

  • The right-wing roots of Trump’s "Blue Apron" SNAP attack

    The outrageous SNAP proposal in President Trump’s new budget is built upon decades of conservative lies about welfare

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Trump White House’s newly proposed budget is (like all White House budget proposals) more of a political document than anything else. It has no actual bearing on how the government will spend its money, and Congress will almost certainly ignore it. But that’s not to say it is entirely devoid of value -- the White House uses the annual budget proposal to act out its fantasies and give us a little glimpse at the ideologies motivating the administration’s policy preferences.

    One of those ideologies, as conveyed by the White House’s vision for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, expresses insane and horrifying contempt for low-income Americans. And while the policy the administration has proposed is extreme, it fits in squarely with longstanding conservative efforts to stigmatize and shame recipients of government assistance.

    One of the administration’s supposed cost-saving measures is “a bold new approach to administering SNAP.” The way the program currently works, SNAP-eligible households are provided a monthly benefit based on income level in the form of a debit card, which can be used to purchase grocery items. Some restrictions apply (no alcohol, tobacco, or pet food, for example), but SNAP recipients have wide latitude in what foods they can purchase and where they can shop.

    The Trump administration wants to change all of this by forcing most SNAP recipients to receive half their monthly benefit in the form of “a USDA Foods package, which would include items such as shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit, vegetables, and meat, poultry or fish.” The Republican White House wants to choose which foods SNAP recipients eat, and it wants to control how they receive their food each month -- so much for “small government” conservatism abolishing the “nanny state.” Through means left utterly unexplained, the Trump administration argues that this new system (which will require massive bureaucratic build-up alongside the establishment of food-delivery infrastructure) will somehow be cheaper and more efficient than simply transferring money to a debit card. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney laughably spun this proposal to send low-income Americans a monthly box of canned goods and peanut butter as "a Blue Apron-type program where you actually receive the food instead of receive the cash."

    This idea is so absurd, impractical, and wildly paternalistic that people can’t really believe that the White House is actually proposing it. Politico reports this morning that “the idea that USDA would provide millions of low-income people packages of food on a national scale has not been floated by conservative think tanks, promoted by industry, or sought by previous administrations.” It was “so out of left field,” Politico notes, “that some anti-hunger advocates initially thought it was a joke.”

    The proposal didn’t come out of nowhere, though. It’s an escalation of existing right-wing efforts to use SNAP as a means to control the behavior of its recipients. These efforts are rooted in a mythology -- eagerly promoted and disseminated by conservative media -- that SNAP is rife with fraud and that SNAP beneficiaries, by virtue of their status as welfare recipients, lack the moral character to make good decisions on their own.

    Right-wing demonization of welfare recipients stretches back decades, from Newt Gingrich’s high-profile efforts in the 1990s to shame low-income teen mothers to Ronald Reagan popularizing the “welfare queen” slur back in 1976. The running theme of these attacks on the poor is that there exists an epidemic of undeserving welfare recipients who abuse their benefits. That’s a myth, but it carries a potent political message that blends racial and economic resentment with small-government agitation.

    When it comes to SNAP, the most common complaint made by conservatives is that recipients are using their benefit to purchase inappropriate foods: “luxury” comestibles like seafood and steak, or junk food like candy bars and energy drinks. This line of attack got a huge boost in 2013 when Fox News put together a special news report called “The Great Food Stamp Binge.” The program -- hosted by Special Report anchor Bret Baier -- spotlighted an unemployed surfer in California who proudly used his SNAP benefit to buy sushi and lobster. Baier dubbed him “the new face of food stamps,” and the program pointedly asked why there isn’t “at least some stigma” attached to SNAP recipients, who used to be called “losers.”

    It was a farcical piece of propaganda that actively shunned any sort of data or reporting in order to create a caricature of SNAP recipients as lazy, undeserving parasites on the public. SNAP actually has extremely low rates of fraud and abuse, and “the overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work do so,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

    The news program was wildly popular with Republicans. Fox News distributed tapes of the “The Great Food Stamp Binge” on Capitol Hill, and the SNAP-abusing unemployed surfer became the mascot for the congressional GOP’s efforts to gut funding for nutritional assistance programs. Since then, various state governments have taken up measures intended to restrict which foods SNAP recipients can purchase.

    In 2015, Wisconsin Republicans passed a bill banning SNAP recipients from purchasing crab, lobster, shrimp, or any other shellfish, citing “anecdotal and perceived abuses.” A Republican state senator from New York proposed legislation to cut off SNAP users from “luxury food items” like lobster and steak, while the Missouri GOP sought to ban “cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood or steak.” The reality that all of these proposals ignore is that SNAP recipients are not blowing their benefits on “luxury” foods.

    The Trump administration’s proposal derives from the same idea that SNAP recipients can’t be trusted and will necessarily misuse their benefit. Rather than banning certain foods, the White House is proposing to force SNAP beneficiaries to eat an approved list of low-cost foods while simultaneously limiting the amount of benefit they have to spend. It’s gross paternalism lightly disguised with absurd promises about efficiency and cost-savings. And it fits right in with the broader right-wing argument that receipt of government assistance is morally suspect and recipients should be penalized through stigma and controlled through loss of choice.

  • Lawsuit: A “women’s leadership forum” on Wall Street was headlined by a sexist right-wing pundit

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A new lawsuit alleging toxic workplace culture for women at a prominent Wall Street firm includes a gross Fox News connection that pretty much sums up how easily misogyny transcends any single workplace or industry.

    On February 12, firm employee Lauren Bonner filed a federal lawsuit saying Wall Street billionaire Steven Cohen’s investment firm Point72 Asset Management is a “boys’ club” in which women are paid less than their peers and regularly demeaned. The lawsuit detailed numerous instances of alleged discriminatory workplace conduct and structural sexism -- including a 2016 women’s leadership event headlined by former Fox News contributor Keith Ablow.

    The lawsuit contends that several executives and employees regularly made comments about women employees’ appearances, kept women from being promoted or compensated as much as their male peers, referred to women as “girls” and “sweethearts,” and excluded women from meetings. According to the suit, one executive reportedly wrote the word “PUSSY” on a whiteboard and kept it up for several weeks for all to see; a consultant reportedly told a high-ranking employee that he could “fuck” an unidentified woman if he wanted to, because “she works for me.”

    The New York Times’s report on the lawsuit ended with a Fox News connection:

    In one example of the firm’s allegedly inhospitable culture, the lawsuit described a women’s leadership forum that Mr. Cohen hosted in October 2016 at his 35,000-square-foot mansion in Greenwich, Conn. One of the main speakers was a psychiatrist and Fox News contributor who, according to the lawsuit, described Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, as “an accomplished man’s wife.”

    A person who attended the event confirmed that account.

    A review of the full legal complaint reveals that the aforementioned “psychiatrist and Fox News contributor” is Keith Ablow. Until recently, Ablow was a member of Fox News’ so-called “Medical A Team” -- a contributor role the unethicalpop psychologist” utilized primarily to feed junk science and bigotry to gullible Fox viewers.

    Though he’s now largely disappeared from Fox airwaves, some of Ablow’s apparent qualifications for speaking at a women’s leadership forum include past on-air treasures like regularly bullying transgender people, claiming same-sex marriage will lead to bestiality, delivering racist rants about former President Barack Obama and ebola, and criticizing German Jews for not having “more actively resisted” Nazi occupation.

    Of course, Ablow also has highly nuanced, informed opinions about gender. He has:

    • proclaimed that gender equality means men can hit women;
    • claimed young girls “provoked” harassment by wearing leggings to school;
    • written that “every single man alive has been sexually harassed by being exposed to sexually suggestive clothing worn by women specifically to convey erotic messages in schools and at work”;
    • suggested model Kendall Jenner sexually harassed him by appearing “half-naked” in public;
    • wondered if any actresses had ever "victimized [Harvey] Weinstein by playing on his narcissism and need for sex, exacting from him incredibly valuable opportunities"; 
    • argued Weinstein, Charlie Rose, and Louis C.K. -- all reported for sexual harassment -- should have been “protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act”;
    • defended former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, questioning the timing of numerous women who came forward with stories about Moore abusing them when they were teenagers;
    • blamed Victoria’s Secret and women who shop there for “creating more Harvey Weinsteins”;
    • called for men to have veto power over women’s abortions;
    • suggested former first lady Michelle Obama should “drop a few” pounds;  
    • asserted that women are inherently less charismatic political candidates (unless they’re pretty like Sarah Palin); and
    • frequently fearmongered about so-called attacks on traditional masculinity.

    Bonner’s legal team surely knows a few things about the sort of misogyny likely featured at Point72’s “women’s leadership forum” with Ablow -- it’s the same firm handling several legal actions tackling serial workplace sexual harassment at 21st Century Fox.