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  • How Fox promoted convicted criminal Joe Arpaio, who may be pardoned by Trump

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Over the past two decades, Fox News and Fox Business frequently praised and hosted Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, elevating him to national recognition. Now Arpaio, who was recently convicted of criminal contempt of court in a racial profiling case, has said that he would accept a pardon from President Donald Trump -- and Trump is reportedly considering it. Trump praised Arpaio's birther "investigation" in 2012, was endorsed by Arpaio during the campaign, and has lauded the sheriff's anti-immigrant work.

    On July 31, Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt of court after he defied “a court order to stop detaining suspected undocumented immigrants.” As The New York Times noted, the order originated from a lawsuit filed a decade ago “charging that the sheriff’s office regularly violated the rights of Latinos, stopping people based on racial profiling, detaining them based solely on the suspicion that they were in the country illegally, and turning them over to the immigration authorities.”

    Arpaio has a long record of employing “humiliating and inhumane” treatment of prisoners; he became infamous in 1993, after he was elected sheriff, for opening an outdoor Tent City Jail where inmates were made to live outside in tents in triple-digit Arizona heat. Additionally, Arpaio fed prisoners rotten food, instituted all-female and juvenile chain gangs, and used webcams to broadcast scenes from a jail including a feed “that showed female inmates using a toilet.” The Department of Justice (DOJ) began investigating Arpaio for illegal racial profiling in 2008 and accused him of “unconstitutional policing” in December 2011.

    Yet, over the years, Fox News Network worked to enhance Arpaio’s stature, hosting him no less than 65 times on Fox News and Fox Business from March 1999 through early September 2016, according to a search of Nexis transcripts. In July 2000, Fox host Sean Hannity gushed over Arpaio’s use of webcams in jail, and, in an earlier episode, praised Arpaio’s treatment of inmates by terming it “deterrence.” In 2014, Neil Cavuto criticized the DOJ’s investigation into Arpaio, telling him, “You've been treated more as a criminal than the criminals you're rounding up.” In 2010, Eric Bolling encouraged Arpaio to run for governor of Arizona.

    Fox has also repeatedly ignored Arpaio’s failings as sheriff. Fox News and Fox Business almost completely ignored an Associated Press report from December 2011 that Arpaio mishandled hundreds of sex-crimes cases while also giving him a platform to attack the Obama administration and claim he was a victim of a witch hunt. A year before, in 2010, Fox had hyped a claim from Arpaio’s lawyer that his client’s office was “transparent” in its operation, even though a federal judge had sanctioned Arpaio’s office “for destroying evidence in a racial-profiling case.”

    During his presidential campaign, Trump proudly touted an endorsement from Arpaio at least four times during interviews on Fox, according to Nexis transcripts. He declared Arpaio “the king of the borders” and said, “When [Arpaio] endorses you, that means you have the best border plan.” In March 2016, Trump claimed on Hannity that Arpaio “doesn’t get enough credit for the incredible job he’s doing.” After Trump won the Arizona Republican primary, he thanked Arpaio on Twitter for his help. Trump evidently thought so highly of Arpaio’s racial discrimination and other illegal acts that he reportedly considered appointing Arpaio to head the Department of Homeland Security.

    And Trump’s public admiration for Arpaio extends back to before his campaign began, dating at least to Obama’s re-election. Trump and Arpaio were in lockstep on the racist birther conspiracy theory, which alleged that Obama was not born in America and was thus ineligible to be president. While Trump’s public attacks on Obama’s legitimacy as president began months before Arpaio’s “Cold Case Posse” began scrutinizing Obama’s publicly released birth certificate, Trump repeatedly tweeted support of Arpaio’s “investigation” into Obama’s birth certificate in July 2012:

    It was Fox News that first reported that Trump was "seriously considering a pardon for Sheriff Arpaio" in "a conversation with Fox News at his club in Bedminster, N.J." If indeed Arpaio is pardoned for his criminal conduct, the credit may just belong to the president's favorite news network.

  • After immigrants die in Texas, right-wing media push for policies that would exacerbate the problem

    Experts agree that hardline immigration policies correlate with an increase in immigrant deaths

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Ten immigrants were killed and many others hospitalized after human traffickers promising to smuggle them into the United States failed to provide them with adequate ventilation or water for the journey. Conservative media figures have responded to the tragedy with calls for stricter immigration laws -- in particular, stricter border enforcement policies and anti-sanctuary city laws -- that experts have said would serve only to exacerbate the problem by diverting immigrants to more dangerous routes and empowering human traffickers without addressing the root causes of immigration.

  • Fox News is unusually focused on the nationality of the officer who shot Justine Damond (he's Somali-American)

    The network’s coverage mainstreams xenophobic narratives about immigrant crime

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On July 17, developments emerged in two cases of fatal officer-involved shootings, but Fox News rushed to cover only one of them and focused disproportionately on the officer’s nationality in doing so.

    On the day Balch Springs, Texas, police officer Roy Oliver was indicted for the fatal shooting of Jordan Edwards, a black teenager, news broke of the July 15 shooting of an Australian woman by a Minneapolis, MN, police officer who was later identified as Mohamed Noor. Noor is Somali-American. While Fox News aired several segments about Noor, the network made not a single mention of the indictment of Oliver, who is white, continuing its disinterest in the case since Edwards was killed on April 29 in Dallas, TX.

    In the first three days of coverage following the shooting of Justine Ruszczyk (who went by the surname of her fiancé, Don Damond), Fox News covered the story in 11 segments, six of which mentioned that the officer was “Somali-American,” an "immigrant" from Somalia, the first Somali-American to patrol that precinct, or that Minneapolis boasts a “very significant Somali population.” A Fox News article online began both its headline and body with Noor’s Somali background. In the same period, MSNBC and CNN both dedicated seven and 14 segments, respectively, to the story. CNN reporters did mention his Somali-American identity twice when prompted by hosts for more details about his background. MSNBC did not mention that he is Somali-American.

    Fox News’ Tucker Carlson went so far as to claim the mainstream media is engaged in a deliberate cover-up of the officer’s nationality. On the July 18 edition of his show, Carlson said, "Mohamed Noor was an immigrant from Somalia. Is that a relevant fact? We don't know. But it's being treated as one by many news organizations. How do you know that? Because they're not reporting it."

    Carlson was wrong to claim news organizations didn’t mention that the officer is Somali-American. His rival network CNN mentioned it that same day, and while The Washington Post -- which Carlson referenced -- did publish an early article on the story that did not mention his name or nationality (officials had not yet confirmed the identity of the officer), the paper also published a piece the next morning entirely focused on Noor and reactions in the Somali community of Minneapolis, which is bracing for backlash in the wake of the shooting. Moreover, Minnesota state officials did not publicly release the identities of the two officers involved in the shooting until Tuesday night (July 18), meaning three of Fox’s reports on Noor’s Somali identity were seemingly based on early reporting by the Star Tribune that had not yet been confirmed by police.

    Carlson was also misguided in his implication that other outlets’ omission of Noor’s nationality is evidence that it’s relevant. While many questions about the incident remain, and there are legitimate grievances being voiced by Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, Damond’s family, and the Australian government over the police department’s lack of transparency in the case, none of them are focused on Noor’s identity. In fact, Damond’s hometown newspaper in Australia ran a front-page headline reading “AMERICAN NIGHTMARE” in reference to what Australians quoted in the piece see as a country “infested” with guns and a “very risky place in terms of gun violence.” Damond’s family, which just suffered a tragic loss at the hands of police, hasn't focused on Noor’s identity as particularly relevant in reports. Fox News is the exception, not the norm.

    In the cases of police brutality against Jordan Edwards, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and many others, all of whom were black, Fox News assigned no particular relevance to the nationalities of the officers involved. But the network did, in various cases, invite guests to defend the officers’ actions, criticize the victims of the shooting, or use the incident to promote questionable or problematic policing tactics. The disproportionate attention Fox News paid to Noor’s immigrant background and its resistance to defend him elucidates the limits of its pro-police posture.

    And the network’s coverage, while an outlier for mainstream reporting on the story, is essentially a more sanitized version of stories with headlines like “First Somali-Muslim police officer in Minnesota KILLS blonde yoga instructor in cold blood” and “Unarmed White Woman Murdered In Minnesota, Dems SILENT After Shooter's ID Revealed…”. There are many more. Noor’s religion has not been obsessed upon outside of far-right blogs and Twitter.

    Minnesota’s Somali immigrant community has been a strangely popular target for Fox News and other right-wing media outlets. The network has previously fearmongered about Somali immigrants, called the area “ground zero” for ISIS recruitment, and attacked the Minneapolis mayor for giving her State of the City address in a mosque. Fringe media websites and fake news purveyors recently targeted Minneapolis in response to the city’s announcement that it was launching a hate crimes reporting hotline, claiming the move amounted to “fascism.”

    In its hyperfocus on Noor’s nationality, Fox News served to validate the racism, xenophobia, and debunked associations between immigration and crime espoused by pro-Trump fake news purveyors, conspiracy theorists, white nationalists, and notorious Islamophobes alike. Noor's background is only as relevant as it is in any officer-involved shooting, and if it's being touted as more than that, we should be asking why.

    Methodology:

    Media Matters searched SnapStream between 5 a.m. and midnight on both July 17 and 18 and between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m on July 19 for mentions of “Roy” or “Oliver,” “Edward” or “Jordan,” and “Somali,” "Noor," "Minneapolis," “Minnesota,” "Damond," "Ruszcyzk," and “Australia.” Teaser segments were excluded.

  • Report: The nonprofit of frequent Fox News guest and Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow is under investigation

    Sekulow’s organization is being investigated for “troubling” fundraising tactics and funneling donations to his family and personal businesses

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Guardian is reporting that authorities in North Carolina and New York are examining the filings from a nonprofit led by former Fox personality and President Donald Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow after reports unveiled that the organization steered tens of millions of dollars to Sekulow’s family.

    The report comes after The Washington Post found that millions of dollars donated to Jay Sekulow’s charities have ended up going to Sekulow’s family and their personal businesses.

    The Post noted that Sekulow’s media exposure on Fox News as an anti-Obama pundit and his close ties to Trump has led to the skyrocketing of donations to his groups the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (CASE). The Guardian wrote that Sekulow’s fundraisers at CASE used scripts filled with anti-Muslim rhetoric, lies about Planned Parenthood, and falsehoods about the Affordable Care Act to scare conservatives into paying up.

    Today, Attorney General Josh Stein of North Carolina and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of New York announced they are investigating CASE’s filings following the report that CASE and an affiliate have been paid more that $60 million dollars in compensation and contracts to Sekulow, his family members, and their companies. From the Guardian:

    “Josh Stein, the attorney general of North Carolina, and Eric Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York, said on Wednesday they would be examining the operations of Jay Sekulow’s group Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (Case).

    Stein said in a statement: “The reports I’ve read are troubling. My office is looking into this matter.”

    Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for Schneiderman, said in an email: “We’re reviewing their filings.”
     

    [...]
     

    "Earlier this month, Sekulow directed fundraisers for Case to pressure hard-up Americans to donate money to the group by saying the funds were urgently needed to repeal the Affordable Care Act if they initially resisted.

    A script contained in the contract instructed the telemarketers to tell people that their money was needed for Case’s “massive campaign to repeal and replace Obamacare”.

    “Many people are helping with smaller amounts,” fundraisers were told to say. “Can Jay count on you for a smaller, but just as important gift?” People should be urged a third time to donate if they continued to resist, the script said.

    Fundraisers were told that if asked for information on Sekulow, they should say: “He never charges for his services”. Since 2000, the not-for-profit group and an affiliate have steered more than $60m to Sekulow, members of his family and businesses where they hold senior roles."
     

    [...]
     

    "The 2017 script for Case’s telemarketers detailed only the latest in a series of forceful requests for money the group has made over recent years. Scripts for several years were obtained by the Guardian. The not-for-profit group raises more than $40m a year, most from small contributions made by Christians across the US who receive alarmist political messages by telephone or in the mail.

    At the height of last year’s presidential election, Sekulow instructed his telephone fundraisers to “listen, empathize, [and] relate” to people who said they could not afford to donate to Case, before pushing these people twice more for an “urgently needed gift”. A script signed by Sekulow told the marketers to “overcome [the] objection” to donating, and to tell the person on the line that “many people are finding ways to help with smaller amounts as well”.

    Telemarketers for Case have over the years delivered frightening warnings about a variety of issues, depicting Christians in the US as under siege from both Muslim terrorists and a liberal political elite led by a president supposedly desperate to increase the national abortion rate.

    “Islamic extremists are headed in your direction, and you are most likely the main target,” Sekulow himself told people in a recorded message used in fundraising calls during 2011.”

  • Conservatives need to cut the bullshit and stop exploiting a tragedy to blame the left

    Right-wing media show no self-awareness of their role in influencing violent incidents

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    James T. Hodgkinson, a man with a record of domestic violence, a legally purchased assault rifle, and a valid concealed carry permit, on June 14 opened fire on Republican congressmen and staffers practicing for the congressional baseball game.

    The FBI is still investigating the incident, but one thing is already clear about this latest example of unhinged gun violence. The overwhelming evidence of conservative media's influence on a significant number of deadly incidents makes their attempt to deflect attention from their role in creating a toxic political culture both cynical and exploitative.

    According to reports, the gunman had shared anti-Republican sentiments publicly online and had been critical of the president. Reports of the shooter’s political background immediately prompted unscrupulous right-wing hacks to pounce on the tragedy, looking to exploit the terrifying gun violence incident as a way to score cheap political points by blaming the left. In a new display of audacious defiance of reality, conservative voices have put the blame of the shooting not only on the left, but also on the press and various celebrities as well. But, blaming the left or the media for Hodgkinson’s actions is equivalent to blaming Jodie Foster for the attempted assassination of former President Ronald Reagan.

    The gimmick, however, is deplorable not just for its cynical exploitation of fear, pain and human tragedy; it’s also a hollow attempt to distract from the conservative right’s own responsibility in creating a political culture that inspires violence by fanning the flames of hatred. It’s a red herring aimed at avoiding the obvious, and very concrete, policy-centered conversation that needs to happen around gun violence.

    Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, two of the loudest conservative voices, immediately blamed the shooting on “the left” and “left-wing news media.”

    Additionally, the NRA, an organization that customarily deflects conversations about gun violence by blaming fatal shooting incidents on video games, political correctness, and strict gun laws, skirted its own precedent to also blame the left at large for the shooting.

    Right-wing figures’ opportunistic attempt to draw direct correlation from out-of-context phrases from progressive politicians to the actions of a violent man with easy access to assault weapons also points to a critical lack of self-awareness when it comes to their own role in influencing violent incidents.

    Take Byron Williams and his failed plot to shoot people at the Tides Foundation and the ACLU. Williams explicitly pointed to Glenn Beck’s now-defunct TV show and Alex Jones’ websites as the information sources that prompted his violent actions on the Tides Foundation, a relatively unknown organization that Beck repeatedly vilified on his program. Or the assassination of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, which followed continuous vitriol from former right-wing star Bill O’Reilly, who told his “audience of millions over and over again” that Tiller was “an executioner.” Or the murder of three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, CO, at the hands of Robert Dear, a man whose “paranoid delusions, misogynist beliefs, and violent fantasies” matched “perfectly” the usual narratives that come out of “Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones and Bill O’Reilly and countless far-right web sites.”

    Or the racially motivated massacre that ended nine black lives in Charleston, SC, perpetrated by a habitual commenter at the Trump-supporting, neo-Nazi outlet The Daily Stormer. After a man opened fire at a Washington, D.C., family pizzeria, it was hard to forget Alex Jones asking his audience to investigate the conspiracy theory that alleged the restaurant was hiding a child sex-trafficking ring. In the same way, Jones also exhorted Trump to use force against his opponents and threatened violence against supporters of “parasitical maggot” Bernie Sanders.

    So no, right-wingers don’t get to exploit this tragedy. They should not be able to get away with using pain and fear to avoid important policy conversations about gun access in American society. Not when the evidence of their role in promoting violence over politics is so overwhelming.