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  • Following a bombshell report, Fox News is desperately clinging to their alternate reality about the Russia investigation

    While a NYT report reveals the real impetus of the Russia investigation, Fox is running with the unfounded conjecture of fake news, pro-Trump trolls, and Republican congressmen

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    In a continuation of the network’s pattern of sycophantic defenses of the president, Fox News hosts dismissed reporting from The New York Times that provided new details about what sparked the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, muddying the waters by pushing baseless conjecture espoused by pro-Trump internet trolls and fake news websites alike.

    A December 30, 2017 report by The New York Times explained that a conversation between Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos and an Australian diplomat at a bar prompted FBI officials in June 2016 to investigate the connection between Russia and the Trump campaign. The report disrupted a well-established far-right and right-wing media claim that the investigation was prompted solely on information provided in a partially unverified opposition research dossier produced by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, noting:

    The information that Mr. Papadopoulos gave to the Australians answers one of the lingering mysteries of the past year: What so alarmed American officials to provoke the F.B.I. to open a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign months before the presidential election?

    It was not, as Mr. Trump and other politicians have alleged, a dossier compiled by a former British spy hired by a rival campaign. Instead, it was firsthand information from one of America’s closest intelligence allies.

    In a January 2 New York Times op-ed three days after the December 30 report, Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, founders of Fusion GPS, the research firm that funded the dossier, echoed the Times’ earlier reporting, writing that rather than the Steele dossier being the major impetus for the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling, their sources told them “the dossier was taken so seriously because it corroborated reports the bureau had [already] received from other sources, including one inside the Trump camp.”

    But in a segment responding to the the op-ed today, the panel of Fox News’ Outnumbered didn’t even mention Papadopoulos’ name. Instead the panel members deflected from the revelations by launching baseless claims, including the notion that Fusion GPS exerted influence on the FBI and that the “fake report” (which has in fact been at least partially verified) was used to obtain a FISA warrant to spy on Trump, itself a fallacy promoted by Breitbart. From the January 3 edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered:

    MELISSA FRANCIS (CO-HOST): Fox News has reported that Fusion GPS was being paid by a Kremlin-linked law firm at the same time that it was digging for dirt on then-candidate Trump. And human rights activists have accused Fusion GPS of secretly working for the Russians. Congressman Jason Chaffetz is here.

    JASON CHAFFETZ: I did I read that op-ed from Fusion GPS. First of all, if they want to maximize openness and transparency, there is nothing, nothing that holds back Fusion GPS from releasing all the documents and all the financial transactions.You have the House intelligence committee having to issues subpoenas in order to get that information.

    SANDRA SMITH (CO-HOST): That's a great point.

    CHAFFETZ: But today they could release all of that information if they want. So, don't blame the House intelligence committee. It is against the law to go out and hire a foreign national to engage in these activities during the campaign. So, they potentially broke the law there. You have Marc Elias who was general counsel for the DNC. Hillary Clinton is involved in this. You’ve got the Podesta group involved in this. There is some really nefarious things, and you have a top official at the FBI whose wife works at Fusion GPS at the same time that they're doing an investigation, so don't call it a fake investigation. Let's get all the truth out there. That's what [South Carolina Republican Congressman Trey] Gowdy and [California Republican Congressman Devin] Nunes and everybody is after.

    [...]

    KATIE PAVLICH (CO-HOST): They have a responsibility on their end to the American people now because they are so involved and because they did have influence in the FBI based on the dossier. And again we have people connect to the dossier also connected to the Department of Justice under President Obama. And those are questions that are unanswered and that deserve answers to the American people.

    [...]

    FRANCIS: I think what people in the audience should remember and probably what you care about a lot is this idea that when originally we gave the government special powers to collect data, to listen in on your phone calls, it was a time when we were all frightened and still are about terror, about national security. The warning at the time was that in the end, this FISA warrant, this whole idea could be used to listen in on political opponents and become a political weapon. In this case, it looks like that's very much what happened, that a fake report was used to get a FISA warrant to spy on a political opponent. That's a very dangerous thing in this country. And that's what I think we should be chasing down and focused on.

    Pro-Trump media outlets have long attempted to discredit the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s relationship with the Russian government, and Trump’s defenders on Fox have spent months baselessly claiming that the FBI used the dossier as sole evidence to get a FISA warrant to surveil and investigate Trump and members of his presidential campaign. Fox’s Jeanine Pirro even suggested that FBI and the Department of Justice officials should be jailed for their implication in this alleged conspiracy.

    Following The New York Times’ December 30 report, right-wing media figures attempted to discredit the story by downplaying Papadopoulos’ influence, attacking the article’s anonymous sourcing, and castigating the reporting as distraction from the Mueller investigation that the network has deemed a “witch hunt.” Other right-wing outlets like Red State, the National Review, as well as other pro-Trump media outlets, fake news websites, and internet trolls have levied similar attacks in attempts to discredit the story.

  • Is Breitbart trying to have it both ways with this “alt-right” candidate?

    It is unclear whether Team Bannon actually disavowed congressional candidate Paul Nehlen for his anti-Semitism and ties to the “alt-right,” or if it considers his extremism “hysterical rubbish”

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    As conservative commentators scrutinize congressional candidate Paul Nehlen’s explicit anti-Semitic messages and ties to the “alt-right,” Breitbart.com, which had put its full support behind Nehlen, is appearing to disavow Nehlen’s extremism while also continuing to give him a platform.

    In an attempt to advance its nationalistic war against all things establishment, Breitbart went all-in for Nehlen -- a little-known candidate who had no chance of winning -- in a 2016 primary election, launching its quixotic crusade to unseat Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI). Predictably, and despite Breitbart’s full-throated support (up until the election, the outlet published close to 30 pieces of content shilling for him), Nehlen lost to Ryan by a 85 to 15 percent margin. Not discouraged by his loss, Nehlen continued to raise his profile with a prolific social media presence and, most importantly, Breitbart’s support. Breitbart’s Executive Chairman Steve Bannon hosted him on his radio show a week after his embarrassing loss, treating him “like a hero” and literally professing his love for him.

    In June, close to a year after his humiliating defeat, Nehlen announced a new bid to unseat Ryan in 2018. Breitbart continued to churn out Nehlen-related content, as well as provide him with an “exclusive” platform to author his own attacks on the speaker of the House. However, Nehlen’s penchant for bigotry on social media recently drew the condemnation of a conservative commentator when he targeted attorney Ari Cohn with an anti-Semitic message. As a result, other pundits in the MAGAsphere similarly condemned Nehlen’s anti-Semitism, with Rebel TV host John Cardillo claiming he’d “spoken to Team Bannon” and “they were shocked and disgusted”:

    Despite the reported shock of his loyal supporter, Nehlen’s anti-Semitism was anything but sudden. His ties to white nationalism and the “alt-right” had been explicitly displayed in his digital fingerprints, as reported by HuffPost and Salon. His attacks on Cohn were not his first display of anti-Semitism, nor were they out of the ordinary given his habit of aggressively responding to his critics using compelling arguments such as “eat a bullet” or “self deport.” Nehlen had also promoted a 4chan meme with ties to the “alt-right,” as well as embraced “Groyper,” a known “alt-right” mascot. He has never shied away from being “all in on the AltRight (sic) vote.” After stumping for Roy Moore, Breitbart’s chosen (and defeated) candidate in the Alabama senatorial special election, Nehlen appeared on the “white power podcast Fash the Nation” and used an anti-Semitic expression, talking about “people who want to throw their parentheses at you,” a clear allusion to the “alt-right” echo meme. Currently, he’s responding to his critics from the right with the type of trolling that is typical of message board posters, crudely comparing outcries to “autistic screeching” (a meme often used to signal enjoyment from triggering those deemed oversensitive).

    Meanwhile, the Cardillo tweet remains the only (even second-hand) evidence that Breitbart is at all bothered by the explicit extremism of their chosen candidate. And in response to the HuffPost article that compiled evidence of Nehlen’s ties to white supremacy, Breitbart editor and Team Bannon member Raheem Kassam dismissively tweeted that it was “hysterical rubbish:”

    In fact, Breitbart has continued giving Nehlen a platform. As recently as December 18, Nehlen made a guest appearance on the Breitbart radio show Whatever It Takes with Curt Schilling. If what Cardillo tweeted is true, it shows that Breitbart is trying to have it both ways -- appease conservative critics with a vague reported condemnation of Nehlen’s bigotry, without issuing a full-throated disavowal that could cause them to lose the Gab “alt-right” audience. This audience loves Nehlen, proving once again what's become more than evident this year: Breitbart is OK with playing footsie with Nazis.

    UPDATE: CNN reported that an adviser of Steve Bannon, Arthur Schwartz, said "Nehlen is dead to us" in response to Nehlen's increasingly offensive tweets.

  • How right-wing media are laying the groundwork for an assault on voting rights in 2018

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    For years, right-wing media have systematically attacked voting rights in America. In 2017 especially, right-wing media continued to push falsehoods and flawed talking points in an attempt to justify voter suppression, and with the support of the Trump administration are laying the groundwork for a renewed assault on the right to vote.

    Right-wing media have long excelled at pushing misleading talking points and myths, no matter how stale, about voting. And since the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder dismantled part of the seminal Voting Rights Act, these falsehoods have been used by lawmakers in support of discriminatory policies to disenfranchise voters at a dangerous pace.

    This year was no exception. Following the results of special elections in which Democrats overperformed and exceeded expectations, right-wing media once again turned to a series of myths and talking points parroted by Republicans. Whether intentional or not, this misinformation will likely be used by GOP lawmakers and anti-voting activists to make it harder for everyone to cast a ballot in 2018.

    Voter fraud in Alabama

    Following the surprising victory of Sen.-elect Doug Jones, a Democrat, in Alabama, right-wing and far-right media cried voter fraud in an attempt to discredit the results.

    While voting took place and shortly thereafter, several fake news and so-called “satirical” websites attempted to claim that voter fraud had taken place. Perhaps the most successful myth promoted by fake news websites, pro-Trump Twitter trolls, and far-right conspiracy outlets was a video claiming to show that a man admitted people had committed voter fraud by coming in from out-of-state to vote for Jones.

    What the unidentified Jones supporter actually said was not as much an unlikely admission of illegality but clearly a likely reference to the coordinated attempt to canvass and assist voter registration and voting. He told FOX10 News in Alabama:

    We came here all the way from different parts of the country as part of our fellowship, and all of us pitched in to vote and canvas together, and we got our boy elected.

    As Splinter News pointed out, the man’s comment was “casual and seemingly innocuous,” and not an admission of voter fraud. Nevertheless, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, a Republican, announced on December 18 that he planned to launch an investigation into potential voter fraud in the election based on that video, even though he reportedly admitted that the state doesn’t have any evidence of voter fraud and the young supporter could have been “play[ing] a canvassing roll (sic)” or “was part of a process that went out and tried to register voters.”

    For years, politicians have used the specter of “voter fraud” as grounds not only to implement discriminatory voter ID laws, but also to launch chilling investigations designed to depress future voting efforts. Alabama voter fraud claims from the far-right and conspiracy theorists may be just helping these efforts come to fruition even faster.

    Voter ID laws in Alabama

    One of the most recycled hot takes to come out of the Alabama special election came from Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Riley, who cited high Democratic turnout numbers to dismiss criticism over voter ID laws. Riley wrote in a December 19 op-ed:

    Democratic Party officials and media elites insist that asking people to prove their identities before voting effectively disenfranchises minorities, but most Americans understand the importance of ballot integrity. And if such laws make it too difficult for blacks to cast a ballot, what explains the Obamalike minority turnout for Mr. Jones, given that Alabama implemented one of the country’s toughest voter ID requirements in 2014?

    Scaremongers liken voter ID laws to the literacy tests and violence used to intimidate black voters under Jim Crow. But what happened last week in Alabama is not uncommon. Strict voter ID laws were passed in Georgia and Indiana more than a decade ago, and in 2008 the Supreme Court concluded that they are reasonable and constitutional. Subsequently, minority turnout increased not only within both states but also compared with other states that lack voter ID laws. Similarly, black voter registration and turnout remained level in Texas and went up in North Carolina after those states implemented voter ID mandates.

    Riley is wrong for several reasons.

    The first is that many people did have trouble voting in the election due to the onerous voter ID requirements in Alabama. Voters in Mobile told AL.com that they were “referred to a clerk rather than being allowed to immediately vote” if their addresses on their driver licenses didn’t match the ones of their voter registration. According to Courthouse News, poll watchers with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund “found voters running into trouble casting their ballots” due to the state’s voter ID law. Additionally, ThinkProgress reported that black Alabamians were forced to cast provisional ballots due to inconsistencies between IDs and voter rolls.

    The second is that Riley’s argument about high turnout proving a lack of voter suppression has been used in other states before -- and when it has, it’s been found to be ridiculous. Sundeep Iyer, formerly of the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, pointed out years ago that those who claim that higher-than-expected turnout rates excuse voter ID need "a simple statistics lesson.” As election law expert Justin Levitt told TalkingPointsMemo, “It’s called the correlation-causation fallacy, and anybody who’s had statistics for a week can talk to you about it.”

    (It’s also not inconceivable that the racist rhetoric and fondness for slavery expressed by Jones’ opponent, Republican Roy Moore, may have spurred turnout among African-Americans in Alabama to a degree that even voter suppression couldn’t depress.)

    Study after study has found stringent voter ID laws negatively affect minority voters when implemented. But Riley’s argument is simplistic and convenient enough for anti-voting advocates and lawmakers to apparently never cease repeating it in order to support these laws.

    Felon voting in Virginia

    Meanwhile, after a surprise win for Democrats in Virginia, Fox News host Tucker Carlson used the results to attack a policy implemented by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, to restore voting rights to convicted felons. After Democrat Shelly Simonds defeated a Republican incumbent by a one-vote margin for a seat in Virginia’s House of Delegates (thereby creating a 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans in the legislative body) in a race that was later deemed a tie, Carlson blamed McAuliffe’s move to re-enfranchise convicted felons for Simonds’ victory and the ensuing power shift in the House of Delegates:

    But winning an election by one vote means that everything from felon re-enfranchisement to an on-time bus could change the course of a race.

    Carlson’s comments cannot be taken in good faith. Carlson is joining a chorus in conservative media decrying and fearmongering over felon re-enfranchisement in an attempt to deter lawmakers from following McAuliffe’s lead and allowing American citizens to vote

    While all of these recent attacks have been made for years, they must be taken even more seriously now. With a cooperative administration in place -- not to mention a continuous loop between conservative media and the White House -- these attacks over the right to vote have a real chance of taking hold and informing law and policy. As the 2018 midterms get closer and closer, these attacks could be devastatingly effective, and potentially leave a real-life stain on our democracy.

  • How one man's fake news websites are trying to undermine the Alabama Senate election

    A man who "trolls" conservatives is using his "satire" websites in an attempt at delegitimizing Alabama's Senate election

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A man vocal about his aims to deceive conservatives with his “satire” websites has created multiple made-up stories alleging voter fraud in the Alabama Senate special election. Some of these made-up stories have gone viral and were subsequently copied by fake news websites in an attempt to delegitimize the election and fuel right-wing myths about widespread voter fraud.

    Christopher Blair is a self-professed troll who tries to deceive conservatives with stories on multiple websites he claims are satire, and has smeared people in his content. In the lead up to the Alabama special election between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones, Blair’s websites published multiple stories attempting to discredit numerous allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore by making up other women who, according to the stories, were caught in their lies against the Republican candidate. One story, claiming that one of Moore’s accusers admitted on MSNBC that she lied, was shared so much on social media (in part thanks to fake news websites that ran with it) that Alabama conservative radio host Dale Jackson complained that “people keep sending” this fake news to him and a fact-checker from FactCheck.org told NPR that she was forced to debunk it.

    Since the day of the Alabama election, Blair and his websites have run nearly a dozen stories suggesting there was rampant voter fraud. These stories contain false allegations such as that polling officials caught a "van full of illegals" who were voting in multiple polling locations, that thousands of dead people voted for Jones, that a “busload of blacks from 3 states drove to Alabama” to vote for Jones, and that black people were caught voting multiple times with "fake IDs," among others. As The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel noted, some of these stories went viral. Other fake news websites shared the story about a “van full of illegals," and it received nearly 40,000 Facebook engagements combined, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. The “fake IDs” story, which the Montgomery Advertiser also noted was fake, was also shared and engaged with by thousands on social media. The stories were further amplified thanks to fake news websites.

    As evidenced by the comments, many people who shared and responded to the made-up voter fraud stories on social media believed them to be true, writing that it showed that “we have to have voter I.D. in order to vote” and, “That's how the Dems have played for years, if you like a candidate vote 3 or 4 times, be sure the dead vote.” Blair even egged on some of these people, with the Facebook page for his website The Last Line of Defense writing back to someone who seemed to believe the “van full of illegals” story, “This is why we’re here, patriot. This is why we’re here.”

    Blair’s actions are helping fuel existing right-wing efforts to push widespread voter fraud myths. He’s been launching more “satire” websites over the past several weeks, and some of those new websites have also published a few of these made-up Alabama stories. In the past, Blair has apologized for smearing fallen soldier Sgt. La David Johnson and a Toronto-based imam, but his stories continue to defame others and are given a bigger platform when fake news websites pick them up. Adding to the dubiousness of his apologies, Blair and his writers have lashed out at people who have criticized them and been forced to debunk his stories. And recently, Blair called criticism of the Alabama stories “hyperbolic” and again defended his stories as just “satire” in a Facebook post, showing his refusal to accept responsibility for spreading lies.

  • CNN contributor Ed Martin on fellow CNN employees and co-panelists: They're "black racists" and "rabid feminists"

    Martin: “It was a wild panel, they had two or three people on there who were just rabid feminists, actually racial, racists -- two of the women were racists, they just were racists, black racists, everything that you say is going to be called racist.”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    During his December 13 radio show, CNN pro-Trump contributor Ed Martin attacked his fellow CNN employees calling them "rabid feminists" and "black racists" while calling the network "the swamp" and "the beast." 

    During coverage of the December 12 Alabama special election, Martin shilled for Trump and for defeated Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore while aggressively confronting fellow contributor and panel member Ana Navarro. Others on the panel included Symone Sanders and journalist April Ryan. The following day, while hosting his radio show The Ed Martin Movement, Martin attacked his co-panelists, calling them "rabid feminists" and "black racists." Martin, who has previously called CNN "fake news," also went after the network, referring to it as "the swamp."

    ED MARTIN: What happens when you're trying to drain the swamp, is the swamp fights back. And so when I was in Washington, D.C., last night, and you might have seen it if you saw it, it was a hot night, a hot topic. It was a wild panel, we had two or three people on there that were just rabid feminists, actually racial -- racists, two of the women were racists, they were just racists, black racists. Everything that you say is going to be called racist. I mean, it was outrageous, but anyway. 

    [...]

    Roy Moore's problem was not only the accusations that were, I think, unfairly leveled against him  -- and they were you know, attacks on whether 40 years ago he had abused someone, or misused someone or mistreated someone. But then they were down the stretch they were he had said things about various positions including slavery and homosexuality and things, and they were all characterized in a way. None of that matters when I tell you the following fact, as I sat on the stage, on the set in the CNN studios. I mean, I go into the swamp, I enter the beast so you don't have to, so I can report back on what I found and here's what I found. What you need to know, what you need to know, what you must know, what you hear after I tell you, what you will now know, and what you can't forget, it has to inform what you do. As I sat on the stage next to this woman that's just racist, who went crazy, and everything is about race, she confessed -- that's the word I'd use -- but she confessed that her groups had 'mobilized,' that's the term they used, 'mobilized' voters in Alabama spending up to $3 million dollars to mobilize black voters in the cities.

    While Martin has only been a CNN contributor for a few months, he has already raised eyebrows. Earlier this week, Martin defended Moore's dismissive comments about slavery by stating, "when the Jews were in bondage for years, they still loved each other." Previously, he attacked a woman who reported that Roy Moore molested her as a child, asking, "what is this woman? She's got multiple bankruptcies." He also defended President Donald Trump's ethnically-based insults against Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) calling them "fun and effective," and "100 percent" appropriate.

    (h/t Right Wing Watch's Miranda Blue)

  • Here are the excuses (so far) right-wing media figures are using for Roy Moore’s loss

    Blog ››› ››› SANAM MALIK

    On Tuesday, Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore in Alabama’s special Senate election, becoming the first Democrat to win a Senate seat in the state in 25 years. Moore -- whose campaign was likely damaged by a litany of sexual misconduct allegations from multiple women, including a then-14-year-old girl -- had extensive support during the campaign from pro-Trump right-wing media. Following Moore’s defeat, some of these right-wing media figures reacted by giving an array of excuses for the loss, such as saying Fox News had a “vested interest” in the outcome, claiming supposed voter fraud, and attacking a GOP operative for allegedly leaking Moore’s sexual misconduct accusations to The Washington Post. Here’s a list of some of the excuses:

    1. Infowars host Alex Jones blamed Democratic voters "bused in those Democrat areas" to steal the election. And dead people.

    2. On his radio show, Sean Hannity blamed "the establishment pushing all this money into" Alabama, which made voters "sick and tired." Hannity was also critical of the "terrible campaign" the alleged child molester Roy Moore ran. 

    3. Fox political analyst Brit Hume blamed Breitbart.com chairman Steve Bannon, who extensively campaigned for Moore, for the Republican’s loss, stating Bannon was “a man we’ve been given to believe was a master political strategist. ... Maybe not.”

    4. Big League Politics, a far-right media blog that is connected to far-right media, claimed that there was “evidence of voter fraud” in Alabama election.

    5. Fox News co-host Ainsley Earhardt said Moore’s loss was “a referendum on Harvey Weinstein, not on President Trump.”

    6. Fox host Sean Hannity in a tweet blamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for Moore’s loss, writing, “McConnell deserves a lot of the blame for Alabama."

    7. On Breitbart News Daily, co-host Alex Marlow blamed Fox News, alleging they had a “vested interest” in Moore losing.

    8. Bannon implied a GOP operative, who he claimed leaked Moore’s sexual misconduct accusations to The Washington Post, was a reason Moore lost.

    9. Alex Jones also claimed that there was “massive evidence of election fraud” in Alabama while also falsely claiming that Moore lost by only half a percentage point.

    10. TruthFeed, a fake news website connected to white supremacists, pushed Fox contributor Sebastian Gorka’s tweet which highlighted a report claiming that former independent conservative presidential candidate Evan McMullin took money from an “anti-American Persian billionaire” to fund to ads attacking Moore. TruthFeed claimed it showed an “anti-American Arab bankrolled the Democrat win in Alabama.”

  • Steve Bannon’s self-immolation

    Roy Moore’s upset defeat shows us that Steve Bannon isn’t the Machiavellian genius he sells himself as

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Steve Bannon, we’re told, is a “street fighter.” That’s what Bannon told us, anyway, when he went on 60 Minutes earlier this year shortly after his brief tenure in the Trump administration came to an end. “I think I’m a street fighter,” Bannon said, adding that he was also going to be President Donald Trump’s “wingman outside for the entire time.” And as the president’s street-fighting outside wingman, Bannon said he and Breitbart.com were going to protect the administration. “Our purpose is to support Donald Trump,” he explained, and “to make sure his enemies know that there’s no free shot on goal.”

    Already we’re lost in lazy metaphors here, but if we apply each discrete self-applied sobriquet to Bannon and his role in the Alabama special Senate election, we find that the “street fighter” got KOed, the “wingman” got Goosed, and the keeper notched a spectacular own goal.

    Democrat Doug Jones narrowly defeated Republican Roy Moore to take over the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this year, and Jones’ upset victory was a stinging slap for Bannon and his Breitbart lackeys. Moore’s candidacy was an obvious disaster from the start -- he is a howling extremist, virulently anti-gay, and he’d twice been booted off the state supreme court for refusing to adhere to higher court rulings. But for Bannon, this unstable and politically toxic yahoo was precisely the sort of “populist” candidate who could be counted on to support Trump’s (and Bannon’s) agenda.

    Bannon had such faith in Moore that he broke with Trump, who endorsed incumbent Sen. Luther Strange in the Republican primary, and hit the campaign trail on Moore’s behalf. “I think Roy Moore is the guy that's going to represent Donald Trump and fight the establishment,” Bannon told Sean Hannity in September.

    When the Washington Post broke the news that multiple women were accusing Moore of sexual misconduct -- including one woman who said Moore assaulted her when she was 14 -- Bannon was faced with a decision: abandon his candidate and risk ceding the seat to the Democrats, or stand alongside Moore as he faced credible reports of sexual assault. Bannon opted to stick doggedly with Moore and began concocting fanciful allegations of a conspiracy (stretching all the way to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) to discredit his candidate. Breitbart.com took up the cause with laughable attempts to undermine the Post’s reporting and construct a separate reality in which the reports about Moore had been debunked.

    Bannon poured everything he had into trying to keep Moore viable and gave little worry to the obvious signs that his candidacy was falling apart. Moore’s campaign shifted its focus to attacking the media while the candidate himself vanished from the trail, emerging only to spin elaborate, conspiratorial attacks on the many left-wing phantoms he claimed were aligning to damage his candidacy. Moore’s surrogates gave a series of shambolic and absurd interviews to cable news channels as they ineptly sought to defend their candidate’s extreme record. Bannon spoke at Moore’s final rally on Monday night -- a rally that also featured Moore’s wife address charges of anti-semitism by proudly declaring that “one of our attorneys is a Jew.”

    Bannon coasts on a reputation as a master political strategist and presents himself to the world as a sort of frumpy modern-day Machiavelli. But throughout the entire Moore campaign, he’s demonstrated little in the way of political intelligence. Aligning with Moore was liable to backfire from the get-go -- he was a weak and vulnerable candidate even before reports surfaced that he was a serial sexual abuser. The only messages Moore had to offer voters were relentless grievance, vacant flag-waving nationalism, and whacked-out conspiracy theories.

    The same was true for Bannon, whose campaign speeches for Moore digressed into lengthy harangues aimed at Mitt Romney and the “opposition party” media. His best effort at knocking down the sexual misconduct reports against Moore involved asserting the existence of an anti-Moore plot and just assuming partisanship and anti-media sentiment would overcome his lack of evidence. “The whole thing was a setup. This whole thing was weaponized right?” he said at a December 5 rally. “You know that. Folks down here in Alabama know that.”

    Well, it turns out they didn’t know that. And now Bannon, after all that feeble and unsteady “street fighting,” is left having to explain how a political strategist of such self-proclaimed insight and deviousness managed to help lose a Senate seat that the GOP should have had little difficulty holding onto. The easiest explanation is that Bannon’s reputation as a “street fighter” and master of the political dark arts is oversold nonsense, and the proof of that resides with senator-elect Doug Jones.