Media Matters weekly newsletter, September 1

Welcome back to Media Matters' weekly email. As a senior researcher with Media Matters, I monitor and analyze right-wing content across a wide variety of platforms, trying to understand what makes the ecosystem tick. Each Friday I'll go through all the main narratives, craziest clips, and dumbest moments from conservative media over the past week. If you want this delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

An image of Afghanistan on a map with faded American troops in the background and the Fox News logo at the bottom

Citation Andrea Austria / Media Matters

In August 2021, a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, killed 13 American service members and as many as 170 civilians. Sgt. Nicole Gee was one of the Marines tragically killed that day. On July 25, 2023, Fox News Digital ran an article claiming that Gee’s family was “forced to pay to ship” the body of the slain Marine at a cost of $60,000. The article’s claim was based on a statement by Rep. Cory Mills (R-FL), who told Fox that he was “enraged to learn that the Department of Defense had placed a heavy financial burden” on Gee’s family.

The claim in this Fox story was quickly refuted by several publications. Military-focused outlets spoke to the Gee family, which said there was no cost for the family over the transportation and burial of the Marine’s remains at Arlington National Cemetery. This was further supported by a Pentagon representative.

After the hoax was exposed, Fox quietly scrubbed the false report from their website. The network also apologized to the Gee family. Fox has not, however, published a correction to its false story.

The damage, though, was mostly done. In the wake of Fox’s false story, several right-wing media outlets ran with the story. On Newsmax, radio, and Twitter, conservative media personalities repeated the false claim. Numerous Republican politicians, including Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) and Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), also repeated the hoax.

This story shows the callous cruelty of a right-wing disinformation campaign. In this case, the people who spread this hoax were using a fallen Marine to push their political agenda.

On August 26, Fox News aired an interview with Ukraine’s former prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin. During the interview, Shokin alleged that he was fired from his position “at the insistence of the then Vice President Biden because I was investigating Burisma,” a Ukrainian company on whose board Hunter Biden sat. Through this interview, Fox is attempting to resurrect an old disinformation campaign that led to disgraced former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment.

This whole saga began in 2018. During an event that year, Joe Biden recalled how Shokin was fired from office — he was insufficiently focused on fighting corruption in Ukraine and the United States would not follow through on a $1 billion loan guarantee if he remained in office. In 2019, Rudy Giuliani, disgraced conservative writer John Solomon, Sean Hannity, and their henchman cooked up a conspiracy theory to smear Biden, claiming that Shokin’s firing was the result of bribery.

The story was bogus from the start. Even Fox’s internal research unit concluded this campaign was “disinformation,” but then-President Donald Trump became fixated on the story. Trump sought to corruptly leverage U.S. military aid to extort Ukraine into announcing a criminal investigation into Biden. Trump was impeached, Biden won the 2020 presidential election, and the rest is history.

That should’ve been the end of the Shokin circus. Now, with Trump facing four indictments and a potential second presidential election between him and Biden, Fox is returning to an old playbook. Like a zombie, the resurrected Shokin disinformation campaign is haunting conservative media.

Rob Schmitt says "climate alarmists want to ruin modern society"

This week in stupid

  • Fox’s Jesse Watters said there would be a revolution if football or Fox News were taken off television.
  • Newsmax’s Sebastian Gorka called Donald Trump “the most persecuted individual in American history.”
  • Fox’s Mark Levin claimed patients can get drugs free from pharmaceutical companies if they need them.
  • Fox’s Jeanine Pirro made the bizarre claim that manmade climate change can’t exist because hurricanes were recorded in the 1400s.

This week in scary

  • Fox’s Mark Levin declared that he won’t accept the results of elections if Democrats win.
  • Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk said a Wyoming trans student should be bullied and imprisoned.

Excuse me?

  • Fox’s Jesse Watters suggested government officials caused the Maui wildfires as part of a conspiracy to raise property values.
  • Fox’s Jeanine Pirro blamed “green energy” for the Maui fire devastation.
  • Fox’s Rachel Campos-Duffy called climate change mitigation efforts “anti-human” as Hurricane Idalia inundated the Southeast.

In case you missed it 

  • Hours after a federal judge found Rudy Giuliani liable for defaming two poll workers, he went on Greg Kelly’s WABC radio show to continue attacking the poll workers and the judge.
  • Several right-wing media figures are predicting that Donald Trump will gain Black support as a result of his mug shot. Disgraced podcaster Steven Crowder declared, for example, “The hood is now going all-in for Trump.”
  • Former Trump attorney Jenna Ellis is touring right-wing media and using her own radio program to solicit donations for her legal defense fund and claim that Trump should pay her legal bills.
  • Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey and Jenna Ellis pushed states to ban health care for trans people during a Salem Media interview.
  • Fox’s Jesse Watters called COVID-19 vaccine booster shots “a huge scam.”
  • Conservative Spanish-language media network Americano Media is out of money.
  • Mark Levin and Sean Hannity threatened Republicans who refuse to impeach Joe Biden.
  • Charlie Kirk said MSNBC host Medhi Hasan should be sent “back to the country he came from.” Hasan is an American citizen. 
  • BlazeTV host Steve Deace said congressional Republicans should “defund the Department of Justice, even to the point of a government shutdown.”
  • Meta is allowing users to opt out of part of its fact-checking program.
  • Jesse Watters hosted a disgraced climate contrarian in a desperate attempt to deny the impacts of climate change.
  • Rumble promoted a video on its “editors picks” suggesting the Jacksonville, Florida, shooting was a false flag.

Read more

  • Fox News has been relying on its top legal contributor, Jonathan Turley, to defend Donald Trump’s escalating legal woes. In this great piece, Media Matters’ Reed McMaster lays out the long history of Turley’s dubious claims.
  • During a podcast interview this week, Tucker Carlson revived a convicted con artist’s ridiculous allegation that he had crack-fueled gay sex with a young Barack Obama.
  • Right-wing media outlets are spreading a misleading story from the Murdoch-owned New York Post, which alleged improper coordination between special counsel Jack Smith’s investigations and the Biden White House.
  • Fox News propagandists are continuing to wage war against the COVID-19 vaccines that have prevented millions of American deaths since 2021.
  • Fox News is uncritically promoting a new documentary that misleadingly blames offshore wind projects for a spike in whale deaths.
  • Right-wing conspiracy theorists — including Laura Ingraham, Martha MacCallum, and Elon Musk — blamed the COVID-19 vaccination for Bronny James’ cardiac arrest last month. Of course, this claim was always false, as confirmed by James’ family.
  • This Labor Day, unions’ achievements and ongoing strikes deserve significant coverage on CNN and MSNBC after the networks have spent years failing to meet labor’s historic momentum.