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  • How right-wing media tried to spin Michael Cohen’s testimony 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On February 27, longtime Trump lawyer and confidant Michael Cohen delivered damning testimony about President Donald Trump to the House oversight committee. Cohen alleged that Trump was aware of WikiLeaks’ plan to release hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee, that Trump lied during the campaign about his plans to build a Trump tower in Moscow, and that Trump directed Cohen to repeatedly pay off women to keep quiet about their sexual relationships with him. Cohen also called the president a “racist” and a “con man.” Despite the serious criminal allegations, right-wing media were quick to dismiss and reject Cohen’s testimony.

    Here are the ways they tried to spin the hearing:

    Cohen’s testimony wasn’t newsworthy

    Right-wing media figures argued that Cohen’s allegations weren’t newsworthy and aren’t worth discussing.

    • Fox’s Sean Hannity asserted that the hearing was “a Democratic party [and] a hyperventilating, hysterical media putting politics over country with a political charade designed to just embarrass and trash the president.”

    • Fox contributor Dan Bongino claimed that Cohen’s presentation of the reimbursement check he says he received from Trump for paying off adult film actor Stormy Daniels is irrelevant. “I don’t think it’s damaging at all,” he said. “This has all been baked into the cake. There’s no news here.”

    • After the Cohen testimony was over, Fox’s Greg Gutfeld asked, “Why did we endure this spectacle?” He claimed, “People here are acting like this is news. We need to believe that it's news because we are forced to cover this. I don't feel like this is news. I can't find the news.”

    • Right-wing radio host Mark Levin said on Twitter, “The Democrats are a farce. Their media handlers are as well. What was the legislative purpose of the Cohen hearing? There was none.”

    Cohen's testimony was a distraction, especially from Trump's North Korea summit

    Others in right-wing media branded the hearing a distraction, especially from Trump’s summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Some figures also argued that the Democrats shouldn’t have held the Cohen hearing while Trump was in negotiations with Kim.

    • Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk: “Democrats holding a hearing with convicted liar Michael Cohen while [Trump] is in Vietnam negotiating peace with North Korea tells you everything you need to know about the left. They would rather see America fail than see Donald Trump succeed.”

    • The Federalist’s Ben Domenech: “The Cohen circus is a perfect encapsulation of the 2016 Forever era: A bunch of salacious noise from which we learn very little, even as much greater concern should be focused on *what's actually happening* as a matter of policy.”

    • National Rifle Association spokesperson and radio host Dana Loesch said that Trump is de-escalating hostility with North Korea, “India and Pakistan are on the brink of war, but this Cohen guy tho that already undermined himself.”

    • Fox’s Ainsley Earhardt complained, “You’ve got this major news story that’s happening on the other side of the world, and then in D.C., they’re trying to put this guy who already lied to that very committee, ... and they’re putting him on the stand the very day that our president’s talking to Kim Jong Un.”

    • Fox’s Jason Chaffetz said, “This Cohen situation is such a distraction from what is going on that is actually going to matter in the world.”

    • Fox’s Andrew Napolitano argued, “The Democrats should be ashamed of themselves for doing this today. Politics is supposed to stop at the water's edge and whatever they have on the president, they ought to cut him a break and let him freely and without worrying about what’s going on in Washington, D.C., be in a position to negotiate with Kim Jong Un.”

    • Fox’s Geraldo Rivera: “I think it was pathetic, the timing. … They easily could have postponed it 48 hours, 72 hours to let the world focus on this profoundly significant event.”

    • Fox’s Sean Hannity complained that at the “very same moment” of a “historic summit with the president of the United States,” Democrats “purposely scheduled and hauled in Michael Cohen … just to embarrass the president.”

    • The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro questioned why Cohen was even testifying if he couldn’t provide “direct evidence” that Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia. He concluded, “Democrats want headlines so they can distract from their own incompetence and garbage legislation, and Cohen shifts the headlines.”

    • Fox’s Tucker Carlson claimed Cohen’s testimony “doesn't have anything to do with anything and that is the exactly the point of it,” and said, “This is a distraction, and we are falling for it.”

    Cohen’s allegations don’t hurt the president

    Some right-wing media figures claimed that Cohen’s testimony -- which included allegations that the president committed multiple felonies -- doesn’t hurt Trump, especially not legally.

    • Right-wing radio host Mark Simone claimed, “Michael Cohen’s testimony will be the 2019 version of the Michael Wolf gossip book. They’ll call it a ‘bombshell’ and two weeks later it’ll be forgotten about.”

    • Prior to Cohen’s testimony but after his opening statement was published by The New York Times, Fox’s Geraldo Rivera argued that the statement suggested that the “Cohen testimony will be dramatic, entertaining, embarrassing, nothing new & will not advance Collusion narrative.”

    • The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro said on Twitter: “Cohen's testimony falls into three buckets for Trump: (1) illegality; (2) embarrassing for Trump; (3) stupid hilarity. There's not much in bucket (1), there's a lot in bucket (2), and there's a fair amount in bucket (3).”

    • Shapiro also wrote: “So is Cohen's testimony damaging to Trump? In terms of public relations, sure. In terms of impeachment, meh. In terms of legal liability, not really.”

    • Fox’s Dan Bongino insisted that, even if it is true, “there's no there there" on Michael Cohen's claim Trump knew about WikiLeaks' plan to publish hacked DNC emails, saying, “None of this is great politically. The question is, is it criminally damaging? And the answer is no.”

    The testimony actually helps Trump’s legal case

    Other right-wing media figures suggested that far from hurting the president, Cohen’s testimony to Congress actually helps him.

    • The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh: “Remarkably Cohen's testimony exonerates Trump. He says Trump never directly told him to lie, he has no evidence of collusion, and Trump only worked on the Moscow project because he thought he wouldn't win, which means he wasn't trying to leverage the presidency for financial gain.”

    • Breitbart’s Joel Pollak: “Michael Cohen’s not saying anything new legally. His testimony exonerates Trump from telling him to lie to Congress. There’s nothing new about collusion. And his recollection of things Trump said is unclear by his own admission.”

    • Frequent Fox guest John Solomon claimed the hearing was “a good day for the president,” and “a good day for his legal defense.”

    Former Clinton lawyer Lanny Davis orchestrated the hearing

    Some right-wing media figures unsurprisingly tried to tie the Cohen’s testimony to the Clintons by noting that his lawyer has previously worked with them.

    • Fox’s Katie Pavlich: “Everything you need to know about Cohen’s testimony is sitting behind him: Lanny Davis. This is about revenge for Clinton’s 2016 loss in 2020.”

    • Breitbart’s Joel Pollak said that Cohen’s testimony was partly “Lanny Davis talking thru Cohen’s mouth.”

    • Fox’s Lisa Boothe: “How is this not ridiculously sketchy to everyone? Lanny Davis, a Clinton loyalist, is working for Michael Cohen for free. I wonder what is in it for Davis.”

    • Boothe: “Doesn’t Lanny Davis representing Michael Cohen and sitting behind him today tell you everything you need to know? Democrats still can’t get over the fact that Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump in 2016.”

    • Fox’s Sean Hannity said that the hearing was “highly orchestrated by, yes, the biggest Clinton supporter on the entire Earth, Lanny Davis, who is apparently representing Michael Cohen for free.”

  • Media outlets host Alan Dershowitz without asking him about Jeffrey Epstein

    During news appearances, Dershowitz didn’t comment on his role in a settlement prosecutors gave to the billionaire pedophile, which a judge ruled was illegally hidden from victims

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On February 21, the Miami Herald reported that a federal judge has ruled that prosecutors, including current Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, “broke the law” over a decade ago “when they concealed a plea agreement from more than 30 underage victims who had been sexually abused by wealthy New York hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein.” Frequent news show guest Alan Dershowitz was part of Epstein’s defense team that accepted the deal from prosecutors, but three major news shows that have hosted him since the story broke failed to ask him about the case.

    Instead, the hosts gave him a platform to discuss Empire actor Jussie Smollett’s case or special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. (Dershowitz did, however, address the ruling on Twitter.) 

    The same day the Herald reported on the ruling, Fox News host Laura Ingraham invited Dershowitz to appear on her show The Ingraham Angle to discuss Smollett, who is charged with filing a false police report. While giving his legal opinion about the case, Dershowitz referenced biblical laws, saying, “If you are going to follow the Bible, this guy ought to get the same penalty that he falsely accused other people of getting.”

    The following day, Fox host Sean Hannity also hosted Dershowitz on his prime-time show Hannity to discuss the Smollett case. Dershowitz again brought up biblical laws and said the “hard left” wasn’t “prepared to give a presumption of innocence to the nonexistent MAGA hat-wearing assailants” in the Smollett case because “the presumption of innocence, like so many other aspects of our life, is selectively employed by the left against the right and sometimes by the right against the left.”

    On February 24, host George Stephanopoulos invited Dershowitz on his ABC show This Week to talk about the Mueller probe. During the discussion, Dershowitz speculated that Mueller’s report “may just be a road map given to Congress and given to other prosecutors that will continue these investigations till the end of President Trump’s first term.”  

  • Sunday shows mostly ignored the arrest of a white nationalist domestic terrorist within the Coast Guard’s ranks

    Meet the Press was the only major Sunday political news show to mention the arrest

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    After the arrest of a white nationalist Coast Guard lieutenant who, according to charging documents, was allegedly planning “to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country," NBC’s Meet the Press was the only one of the five major Sunday political news shows to mention the news. The failure of the other shows to cover the story follows a trend of many mainstream outlets largely ignoring the creeping and real threat of right-wing extremism and domestic terrorism in the United States.

    On February 15, federal authorities arrested Christopher Hasson, a Coast Guard lieutenant and “a self-described white nationalist” who sought “to establish a ‘white homeland’" and wrote that he was “dreaming of a way to kill every last person on earth.” According to court documents, officials allege Hasson is a “domestic terrorist bent on committing acts dangerous to human life that are intended to affect government conduct." Authorities also discovered a stockpile of weapons and “a hit list of possible targets” including “high-ranking current and former Democratic politicians, activists, political organizations and media personalities.”

    According to a Media Matters review of the major political Sunday shows -- CNN’s State of the Union, ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday -- Meet the Press was the only one to discuss the arrest.

    As right-wing extremism and violence in the United States have surged over the last decade, mainstream media outlets have failed to properly frame and report on the growing threat. From print outlets to network and cable news, the normalization of white nationalist rhetoric and the overall growth of a violent ideology have been, for the most part, treated as backburner issues among mainstream outlets. And while mainstream media play catch-up to what is a real and serious threat -- as the arrest of a self-described white nationalist within the ranks of the U.S. Coast Guard reminds us -- Fox News, the most-watched cable news outlet in the country, continues to unabashedly and irresponsibly pander to such extremists.

  • Anti-LGBTQ attacks against high-profile queer Americans should be a wake-up call to everyone

    The community has been struggling with increasing violence for years, and two recent attacks show that none of us is safe

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Editor’s note (2/21): Following the publication of this post, Smollett was arrested on February 21 by Chicago police “on suspicion of filing a false report about” the alleged assault.

    The threat of violence and harassment is nothing new for those in the LGBTQ community, particularly those who are trans or people of color. We know that our safety is at risk when we hold hands in public; queer sex workers know they risk their lives just by going to work; trans women of color know that they could be killed at any time just for existing in public. The list goes on. But after two reports of high-profile queer people being beaten or harassed for their identities in the past week, it seems like everyone else might finally be waking up to the reality that their LGBTQ friends and family are simply not safe.

    In the early hours of January 29, two people reportedly physically attacked Empire actor Jussie Smollett -- a gay Black man -- while “yelling out racial and homophobic slurs towards him,” according to police. And on January 30, anti-trans so-called “feminists” barged into a meeting and recorded themselves repeatedly harassing and misgendering high-profile trans activist and author Sarah McBride, the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

    Smollett’s attack has been significantly covered in news media, and rightly so. But there is also Candice Elease Pinky, the Black trans woman who was shot in a Texas gas station parking lot on January 24, and Dana Martin, the first reported trans woman to be killed in the United States in 2019. According to HRC, there were “at least 26 transgender people fatally shot or killed by other violent means” in 2018. And in 2017, there were “a total of 52 reported anti-LGBTQ homicides,” according to a report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP); that number reflected a staggering 86 percent increase in single-incident reports from the previous year. This violence is most frequently targeted toward trans women of color, but even homicides of queer cisgender men went up from four to 20 between 2016 and 2017 -- a fivefold increase.

    But many Americans who are LGBTQ allies had no idea. In 2018, Media Matters published a yearlong study of TV news coverage of those 52 homicides in 2017, and what we found shows why Smollett’s attack may have been such a wake-up call for so many: The media was barely touching these stories. Throughout a year of coverage, seven networks discussed anti-LGBTQ violence for less than 40 minutes total -- and a quarter of that discussion came from Fox News, which regularly traffics in anti-LGBTQ animus.

    And it’s not just physical violence that we should be talking about. The majority of LGBTQ Americans, like McBride, “have experienced some form of harassment or discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.” A 2017 Harvard study put numbers to it:

    Regarding individual forms of discrimination, a majority of all LGBTQ people have experienced slurs (57%) and insensitive or offensive comments (53%) about their sexual orientation or gender identity. A majority of LGBTQ people say that they or an LGBTQ friend or family member have been threatened or non-sexually harassed (57%), been sexually harassed (51%), or experienced violence (51%) because of their sexuality or gender identity.

    During Smollett’s attack, the assailants reportedly yelled, “This is MAGA country.” This sentiment should not be a surprise; it has come straight from the top. President Donald Trump has regularly used his office as a platform to bully and demean others, and his followers have become emboldened. Bullying is increasing; right-wing extremists are circulating liberals’ private information “to encourage harassment or violence”; and right-wing terrorism remains the biggest national security threat. All this while, as trans advocate Brynn Tannehill explained, right-wing media have been inciting violence against transgender people by demonizing them as a threat to women and children as well as U.S. national security, even sometimes hinting that violence is "an appropriate response to encountering transgender people in public."

    But there is another group of people who claim to be liberal and feminist yet also pose a direct threat to the LGBTQ community. “Trans-exclusionary radical feminists,” also known as TERFs, are anti-trans activists who claim that transgender people threaten the safety of cis women, and they are behind the targeted harassment and misgendering of Sarah McBride.

    TERFs have worked for years to dehumanize transgender people and to exclude trans women from female spaces and the broader movement for women’s equality, and they have increasingly cozied up to the right to do so. On January 28, just days before two TERFs harassed McBride on video, the right-wing Heritage Foundation hosted a panel of anti-trans activists “from the Left” to argue against a bill that aims to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in current nondiscrimination laws. Introducing the panel, vehemently anti-trans researcher Ryan T. Anderson made it clear that combating trans equality is a value the right shares with TERFs, and they are willing to work together despite their differences on other issues. Heron Greenesmith, researcher at the think tank Political Research Associates, described the alliance between the right and TERFs to NBC News:

    “They are capitalizing on a scarcity mindset rhetoric … saying there aren’t enough rights to go around, and therefore we must prioritize cis women over everyone else,” Greenesmith said, referring to nontransgender women. “That’s right out of the right’s playbook, when they say, ‘Let’s prioritize citizens over noncitizens, let’s prioritize white people over people of color.’”

    Anti-trans harassment is another piece of the right-wing playbook that TERFs have capitalized on. The two TERFs who interrupted McBride during a private meeting -- Posie Parker and Julia Long, who identifies as a lesbian -- repeatedly misgendered her on video, describing her as “male,” and pushed myths about trans-inclusive facilities being a safety risk for cisgender women. According to PinkNews’ report, Parker had also been at the Heritage Foundation just days before its panel, though she denied involvement with the January 28 event.

    The attacks on Smollett and McBride should serve as a wake-up call for the rest of the country. Black queer folk, transgender people, queer immigrants, and those at the intersections of these identities have been living with this fear and pain for years, and it has shown no sign of getting better. The right has been emboldened to enact violence and harassment against the LGBTQ community, and it is actively trying to fracture our community by teaming up with TERFs. In fact, this alliance has given this strategy a name: “divide and conquer.” One anti-trans activist said, “If you separate the T from the alphabet soup, we’ll have more success.”

    But we will not be fooled, and we will not be divided. Queer equality and liberation are nothing if they are not intersectional. As the last week has shown, if one of the community’s most beloved actors can’t walk home without experiencing racist and homophobic violence, and one of our most effective advocates can’t go to work without being targeted for harassment, then none of us is safe.

  • Fox & Friends downplays bombshell report that Donald Trump instructed his lawyer to lie to Congress about business dealings in Moscow

    Blog ››› ››› COURTNEY HAGLE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A January 17 BuzzFeed News report revealed bombshell allegations that “President Donald Trump directed his former longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.” Trump’s favorite morning show, Fox & Friends, downplayed the report despite the serious and potentially impeachable nature of these allegations.

    Two federal law enforcement officials familiar with the matter told BuzzFeed News that Trump supported a plan for him to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to negotiate the Moscow tower deal during the 2016 presidential campaign. The sources also said that Cohen has told special counsel Robert Mueller that Trump personally instructed him after the elections to lie about the timeline of the negotiations “in order to obscure Trump’s involvement.” Since 2016, Trump has repeatedly asserted to the public that he had no knowledge of any business dealings with Russia. But, according to BuzzFeed News, “Trump and his children Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they put in charge of the project.” In November, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the details of the Moscow deal.

    Despite these serious allegations, Fox & Friends barely covered the report, dedicating just three headlines, which together totaled 73 seconds, and one interview segment to the report. The brief headline reports were centered on Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s current lawyer, denying the allegations. During the interview segment, Fox contributor Newt Gingrich vehemently pushed back on the allegations, calling the report “an absurdity” and “a hypothetical.” Gingrich also tried to discredit BuzzFeed News, saying that BuzzFeed is “the equivalent of those tabloids you buy at the grocery stores … that introduce you to Martians” and that “to take BuzzFeed seriously is a sign of how desperate we are for news.” Gingrich also said Cohen was “wildly delusional” and that he was “trying to please the investigators [because] he was desperately trying to avoid jail.”

    This is not the first time Fox & Friends has ignored or downplayed reports that are negative for Trump. In addition to downplaying the BuzzFeed News report, the show has also almost entirely ignored Giuliani’s bombshell CNN interview on January 16 in which he refused to say whether or not there had been collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.