Media Matters weekly newsletter, September 29

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.

image of fingers pointed at Biden; TV with Fox News logo in background

Citation Molly Butler / Media Matters  

On Thursday, House Republicans began their impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. This entire effort is based, in large part, on a long-debunked right-wing conspiracy theory.

The story goes like this: Then-Vice President Biden warned Ukrainian leaders in 2014 that the United States would withhold $1 billion in promised loan guarantees if they didn’t dismiss Viktor Shokin, Ukraine’s prosecutor general. Conservatives claim that Biden demanded Shokin’s firing because the prosecutor was investigating Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company on whose board Hunter Biden sat.

This demonstrably bogus narrative has been repeatedly debunked. Shokin was remarkably corrupt and leveraging aid to oust him was U.S. government policy. During a recent interview on Fox News, former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called Shokin a “completely crazy person.” Predictably, the network buried the interview, in stark contrast with the nearly three hours the network spent revisiting snippets from its interview with Shokin last month.

Media Matters’ Matt Gertz wrote this great piece highlighting 27 facts that dismantle the right-wing disinformation campaign.

For right-wing media, the factual basis for impeaching Biden has never really mattered. Since the 2020 election, Fox News personalities have relentlessly searched for literally any reason to impeach the president. Fox finally got its wish when House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) capitulated to the demands of his extremist caucus earlier this month and announced a formal impeachment inquiry into Biden.

After the first day of the House impeachment inquiry proved to be a complete embarrassment for Republicans, Fox tried to save face by pushing clearly doctored and out of context evidence against Biden. Facts and reality are irrelevant inside the Fox News bubble. 

Stuart Varney and Dana Perino with a podium and a reddish background

Citation Andrea Austria / Media Matters

On Wednesday night, Fox Business Network and Univision hosted the second Republican presidential primary debate. Fox chose Stuart Varney and Dana Perino to moderate the debate, two figures who have a long history of choosing sides in political debates, peddling bigotry, and cheering on an assortment of right-wing causes.

The debate also livestreamed on Rumble, the right-wing YouTube clone the Republican National Committee gave exclusive rights to stream its first two presidential primary debates. Rumble is an extremist platform that hosts a variety of hateful and violent content, including content from white nationalists, QAnon adherents, and flagrantly anti-LGBTQ creators. Media Matters reported that the platform placed Republican National Committee ads on numerous pro-Hitler videos ahead of the GOP’s first primary debate. Unfortunately, top newspapers as well as broadcast and cable news outlets have overlooked Rumble’s extremism in their reporting on the debates.

Notably absent from the debate, once again, was disgraced former President Donald Trump, who is massively leading the GOP field in polls.

Pro-Trump media has loudly proclaimed the Republican primary is effectively over. For months, One America News and Newsmax personalities have trashed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign, declaring his candidacy dead in the water. The networks have also dismissed the primary debates as “phony” and called upon candidates to drop out of the race. The day after the debate, Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich declared the Republican primary “over.”

Media Matters’ Bobby Lewis wrote this great piece about how pro-Trump media — and GOP primary voters — demanding full-throated defenses of Trump has rendered the former president’s primary dominance a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Fox News hosts dumbfounded about on the street interviews

This week in stupid

  • Fox hosts were dumbfounded after a series of man-on-the-street interviews only turned up people who weren’t concerned about drugs and crime in their cities. The whole clip is worth watching.
  • Fox’s Jesse Watters claimed immigration is part of a CIA plot to keep wages low.
  • Fox’s Greg Gutfeld abruptly ended a segment after his co-host confronted him about the lack of evidence in the GOP’s impeachment case against Joe Biden. (Just days ago, Gutfeld admitted there was “zero evidence” to justify Biden’s impeachment.)
  • Jesse Watters said Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and the CIA are scheming to get Biden off the presidential ticket.

This week in scary

  • Fox’s Laura Ingraham called immigration an “assault on our sovereignty.”
  • Fox’s Jesse Watters celebrated Donald Trump’s threat to execute Gen. Mark Milley and pull NBC’s broadcast license.

Excuse me?

  • The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles said the term racist “is a term of anti-white racism.”
  • Dennis Prager: “Left-wing Jews are of no help to the Jewish people.”
  • On Newsmax, Donald Trump Jr. claimed “half” the Fox-owning Murdoch family are “devout Bolsheviks.”
  • A Newsmax guest said if Donald Trump “gets convicted, he'll be like the Nelson Mandela of America.” 

In case you missed it

  • Fox’s Mark Levin on Trump’s growing legal troubles: “Isn’t it amazing to you that he never wins a case? Is it because he’s just wrong all the time?”
  • Glenn Beck: “Call your senator. Call your representative. Tell them we’re not afraid of a shutdown.”
  • Steve Bannon praised Fox’s Maria Bartiromo as “true MAGA.”
  • Mark Levin compared United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
  • Fox’s Sean Hannity attacked striking workers, saying “I can’t stand these unions.”
  • Donald Trump Jr. went on Charlie Kirk’s radio show to downplay the Trump family’s financial ties to Saudi Arabia.

Read more

  • Donald Trump suggested that former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, should be executed. TV news barely mentioned it.
  • After the Department of Justice indicted Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), right-wing media pundits spun all sorts of wild conspiracy theories to avoid giving the department credit for prosecuting a Democrat.
  • Conservative media pundits continue their infighting over the prospect of a government shutdown.
  • On Tuesday, Judge Arthur Engoron ruled that Donald Trump consistently committed fraud while amassing his real estate properties. While this should be a crushing blow against Trump's profile as a successful business genius, right-wing media is sweeping the ruling under the rug
  • In the lead up to Donald Trump’s Thursday speech in Michigan, mainstream press outlets kept repeating the falsehood that he was addressing the United Auto Workers. He wasn’t.
  • Some Fox figures have pretended that the Republican Party is suddenly pro-union following the United Auto Workers’ strike.
  • Meta has allowed the anti-LGBTQ group Gays Against Groomers to push false narratives about LGBTQ people on its platforms, particularly Instagram. Media Matters calls on Meta to better enforce and bolster its policies to directly address anti-LGBTQ hate on its platform. 
  • Since Elon Musk rebranded Twitter to X, he has continued to prop up and engage with far right-accounts, including QAnon conspiracy theorists and white nationalists.
  • X has been placing advertisements for the NFL on prominent white nationalist accounts.
  • Rumble might disable access to its platform for users in the United Kingdom rather than moderate its rampant misinformation and hate speech after the country passed a new online safety law.
  • Federal funding for child care from the American Rescue Plan is set to expire on September 30, which could have dire consequences for American children. Yet TV news is barely covering it.
  • Serial plagiarist Benny Johnson misquoted Biden during his comments at the UAW picket line. Fellow conservative pundits called him on it.
  • Major cable news coverage failed to connect this summer’s record-breaking extreme weather events to climate change or cover the climate crisis’ disproportionate impact on less affluent communities.
  • Right-wing media figures are scrambling to use Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce’s appearances in advertising campaigns for Pfizer and Bud Light to continue their anti-vax and anti-LGBTQ crusades.
  • Republican presidential candidates continue a disturbing trend of using Fox News appearances to attack trans people.
  • Newly nominated Fox Corp. board member, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, is a climate skeptic who has a history of making sexist, xenophobic, and anti-LGBTQ remarks.