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  • Jeanine Pirro calls for Jeff Sessions’ head (because she wants his job)

    Fox News’ loudest Trump propagandist aspires to be attorney general

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    The key to understanding how Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro operates is to realize that she is single-minded in her personal ambition while completely unencumbered by anything resembling shame, dignity, or professional integrity. As it stands, Pirro is one of the more influential pundits in the country by virtue of her close relationship with President Donald Trump. She uses her awful Fox News program, Justice with Judge Jeanine, to propagandize on Trump’s behalf, for which she is granted access to the president, interviews with key administration officials, etc.

    But that’s not enough for Pirro, who turned to televised punditry only after her once-promising political and legal career was left in smoldering ruin by her personal scandals and widely mocked campaign ineptitude. According to Politico, Pirro aspires to the lofty office of attorney general of the United States and has been telling the president’s advisers that “she’s interested in taking over as the nation’s top law enforcement official.”

    Ordinarily, it would seem ridiculous that a cable pundit would have any chance of serving as attorney general, but that was before the reality TV star president tapped two cable pundits to be his chief economic and national security advisers and nominated his doctor to run the Department of Veterans Affairs because he gave a good press conference.

    There are, however, some major obstacles to Pirro landing her dream job: chief among them, the guy currently holding it. She can’t be attorney general while Jeff Sessions is still in office. So Pirro is taking matters into her own hands and using her cable news program to undermine her supposed rival and publicly call for his resignation (or ouster).

    Here’s Pirro on June 2 saying, “If Jeff Sessions can’t do his job because he’s too scared or recusing himself, maybe he ought to resign himself. But that’s just me.”

    And here she is one week before that calling Sessions an “absentee attorney general” and asking White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, “Isn’t it time to get a working attorney general on staff?”

    And here she is one week before that calling Sessions “the most dangerous man in America” because he refuses to use the awesome powers of his office to protect Donald Trump and arrest the senior staff of the Justice Department (seriously):

    This is all quite insane and grotesquely unethical and fatally shot through with toxic self-interest. All those characteristics should, under normal circumstances, prevent Pirro from having her name even briefly considered for any government position, let alone attorney general. But these are strange times in which a televised authoritarian harangue in support of turning the Justice Department into a weapon against the president’s political enemies can win you plaudits in the Oval Office. “Attorney general nominee Jeanine Pirro” would be a sad, surreal joke, but there’s absolutely no guarantee that it won’t happen.

  • Michelle Obama and the bad faith of right-wing media regarding Melania Trump

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Right-wing media and President Donald Trump have united in attacking rhetoric regarding first lady Melania Trump disappearing from public view for several weeks around the time of her reported kidney surgery. This outrage is disingenuous given the awful right-wing coverage of former first lady Michelle Obama.

    Trump tweeted his displeasure of media coverage of the first lady on the morning of June 6:

    On Fox News, many personalities attacked reporters for simply talking about the fact Melania Trump hadn’t made a public appearance for nearly a month. Fox co-host Katie Pavlich called questions about Melania “disgusting,” “beyond the pale,” and “horrifying.”

    Yet many of these same people spent years pushing dumb, misogynistic, and racist attacks against Michelle Obama. From criticizing and mocking her childhood obesity initiative, to disparaging her physical appearance and clothing choices, to attacking her for where she went shopping, conservatives were obsessed with Michelle Obama. The absurdity of their attacks included attempts to lip-read during a September 11 commemoration ceremony, distorting her college senior thesis from 1985, portraying her as overweight, and for applauding her husband during a presidential debate. There was also that whole Oscars thing. These and other right-wing media smears went on for years. And one constant right-wing media attack on Michelle Obama consisted of smearing her for family vacations -- a smear Trump also repeatedly engaged in.

    Just watch how sexist conservative media were in their discussion of the former first lady:

  • Right-wing media praise, justify Trump's decision to pardon Dinesh D'Souza

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Right-wing media figures were quick to defend and rejoice over President Donald Trump’s decision to pardon conservative author and pundit Dinesh D’Souza for his felony conviction for violating campaign finance law.

    On the morning of May 31, Trump tweeted:

    D’Souza was indicted in 2014 for violating campaign finance laws, and right-wing media figures also jumped to defend him then, portraying him as a victim of political persecution by the Obama administration, which D’Souza had criticized in a lie-filled book attempting to trace Obama’s liberal policy motivations and later in a lie-filled movie. But D’Souza pleaded guilty to the charges against him five years ago. His more recent missives have included tweets mocking students who survived the February school shooting in Parkland, FL and likening Democrats to Nazis.

    Following Trump’s announcement that he will give a full pardon to D’Souza, right-wing media figures celebrated the decision and claimed that D’Souza was indeed treated unfairly:

    Fox News host Jeanine Pirro: “Fantastic news @DineshDSouza to be pardoned by @POTUS. Obama’s political prosecution null and void.”

    Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano: Trump’s pardon of D’Souza is “a marvelous act of justice. Not mercy, justice.”

    Fox News host Laura Ingraham: “It’s about time”; pardon “was long overdue.”

    Right-wing troll Mike Flynn Jr.: “WOW! Incredible! @DineshDSouza totally deserves this! CONGRATS!”

    Pro-Trump conspiracy theorist Alex Jones: “Good to see Trump using that power” to correct “a lot of these travesties of justice that are taking place.”

    Wash. Examiner’s Byron York and Ingraham agree D’Souza sentencing was a “travesty” and “outrage.”

    Radio host Rush Limbaugh: D’Souza was sentenced “so that Obama could flex his muscles and show what a tough guy he was.”

    Fox & Friends co-host Pete Hegseth: “I thought that was great.”

    Right-wing blogger Jim Hoft: D’Souza’s prosecution was an “Obama political hit job and “an obvious witch hunt.”

  • Trump's newest national security staffer spread anti-Muslim sentiments and wrote that Bush was vindicated about Iraq having WMD

    John Bolton hired Fred Fleitz at the NSC. Here's what you need to know about him.

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fred Fleitz, the new chief of staff for national security advisor John Bolton, comes from an anti-Muslim hate group and has fearmongered about Muslims during his numerous appearances on right-wing media outlets. He also repeatedly questioned the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to support Donald Trump and claimed former President George W. Bush was vindicated in his lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction in the lead-up to the Iraq War.

    Fleitz worked as Bolton’s chief of staff when Bolton was serving as undersecretary of state during the George W. Bush administration, and he was a CIA analyst prior to that. But more recently, Fleitz was a senior vice president at the right-wing Center for Security Policy, which the Southern Poverty Law Center designated an anti-Muslim hate group in 2015, describing it as “a conspiracy-oriented mouthpiece for the growing anti-Muslim movement in the United States.”

    Fleitz is in good company with Bolton, who chaired the Gatestone Institute -- which NBC News described as “a nonprofit that has promoted misleading and false anti-Muslim news” -- from 2013 till March of this year, just before Trump appointed him as national security adviser.

    In a December 2015 Fox News appearance, Fleitz echoed a baseless right-wing media narrative that neighbors of the terrorists who shot and killed 14 people and wounded numerous others in San Bernardino, CA, saw suspicious activity by the shooters but didn’t alert law enforcement over fears of “racial profiling,” saying, “If someone had spoken up and said they saw this suspicious activity, … 14 people would be alive today.” During a March 2016 appearance on Fox, Fleitz helped host Neil Cavuto push the debunked right-wing myth of Muslim “no-go zones,” referring to them as “safe havens in Europe.”

    And in a June 2017 Breitbart News Daily radio appearance, Fleitz fearmongered about Muslims in the United Kingdom, saying some communities of British Muslims “are deliberately not assimilating, are being taught to hate British society,” and claimed, “We may have generations of radical Islamists in the U.K., until the British government wakes up and stops the situation.” Fleitz also said that “there are enclaves of Muslim communities in Michigan and Minnesota that concern me,” blaming them for a measles outbreak in Minnesota that year. Conspiracy theory website WND (formerly known as WorldNetDaily) had previously pushed this smear, blaming the low rate of immunizations of Somali Muslims in the area on the Quran. But The Independent explained that the Somali Americans in Minnesota used to vaccinate their children more than other Minnesotans” until the mid-2000s, when the rate began dropping because anti-vaccine activists repeatedly visited the area to convince the community of the debunked claim that vaccines can cause autism.

    Fleitz’s public anti-Muslim attitude and his senior position in a hate group aren’t the only problems with his appointment to the National Security Council. In several op-eds posted to right-wing media websites, Fleitz repeatedly questioned the intelligence community assessment from early 2017 that Russia meddled in the presidential election to help Trump -- an assessment recently backed up by the Senate intelligence committee -- calling it “rigged” and a “politicized analysis to sabotage an incoming president from a different political party.” Fleitz also said in a December Fox Business appearance that “the collusion thing” between Trump’s team and Russia “is just such nonsense,” citing the Trump administration’s sale of arms to Ukraine as proof.

    Fleitz also incorrectly argued in an October 2014 column on the Center for Security Policy’s website that a New York Times report on old chemical weapons found in Iraq proved that Bush was right about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq:

    Revelations last week by the New York Times that U.S. troops found chemical weapons in Iraq – about 5,000 CW warheads, shells and aviation bombs – but the size of this find and injuries from these weapons to American soldiers were covered up by the Bush administration has caused experts on both sides of the political spectrum to scramble to answer one question: does this prove President Bush was right that there were undeclared weapons of mass destruction in Iraq prior to the 2003 war?

    I believe the answer to this question clearly is yes.

    Others in right-wing media also spread this fantasy. But as the Times article noted, “the discoveries of these chemical weapons did not support the government’s invasion rationale,” because they had all been manufactured prior to 1991 and were “filthy, rusty or corroded,” thus not backing up Bush’s claim that Iraq “was hiding an active weapons of mass destruction program.” The Washington Post’s Fact Checker also explained that the Bush administration “staked its WMD claims on an active, on-going program that was restarted after the Kuwait conflict," and stated: “Anyone who claims that the New York Times story vindicates George W. Bush-era claims of Iraq WMD automatically earns Four Pinocchios.”

  • The staggering corruption of Dinesh D’Souza’s pardon

    A conspiratorial, racist fraud gets a reprieve from the like-minded president

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Dinesh D’Souza got off easy. Back in 2014, the right-wing crank was indicted for committing campaign finance fraud, and he pleaded guilty to illegally reimbursing “straw donors” to the Senate campaign of Wendy Long, his friend from college. Prosecutors wanted to throw D’Souza in prison for 10 to 16 months, arguing that the contrition he claimed to feel for his crime was belied by his many cable news appearances in which he said he was a victim of political persecution by the Obama administration. At his sentencing, the judge told D’Souza that “it is still hard for me to discern any personal acceptance of responsibility in this case.”

    The judge nonetheless showed leniency and gave D’Souza five years of probation, eight months in a “community confinement center,” plus community service. At the time, D’Souza said he was “relieved” and thanked the judge “for imposing a fair sentence.”

    Since then, D’Souza has tried to turn himself into a martyr. With the eager assistance of his friends in conservative media, he’s spun his conviction (he pleaded guilty, remember) and light sentencing as proof that Barack Obama’s administration pursued a vendetta to silence one of its conservative critics. That theory is based on precisely zero evidence.

    But it was good enough for President Donald Trump, who announced earlier today via Twitter that D’Souza (a vocal supporter of the president) will be receiving a full pardon.

    This is an obvious abuse of the president’s pardoning power and it follows a pattern of corrupt pardons. Trump pardoned former Maricopa County Sheriff (and current Republican Senate candidate) Joe Arpaio last year after he was convicted of criminal contempt of court for refusing to obey judicial orders to halt his department’s racial profiling of Latinos. Former Dick Cheney aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was convicted of lying to federal prosecutors in the Valerie Plame affair, got a pardon after his Trump-loving attorney pleaded his case to the White House.

    In all these cases, there are two common and related themes: Trump using his pardoning power to bestow favors on his cronies, and the insistence that the pardoned person was “treated unfairly.” Trump said Arpaio was “treated unbelievably unfairly,” his statement on Libby’s pardon said that “for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly,” and his tweet announcing D’Souza’s pardon said he “was treated very unfairly by our government.” What’s clear in all these instances is that “treated unfairly” means that the convicted person did not receive the sort of preferential legal treatment that the president feels his allies should enjoy.

    D’Souza’s pardon is also an expression of the corruption rotting away at conservative politics and the right-wing media. A healthy political movement would have long ago ostracized a bigot and fraud like D’Souza. He is a racist troll and inveterate conspiracy theorist who spends his days mocking school shooting survivors on Twitter. Leading up to the 2012 election he wrote a lie-filled book and produced a howlingly mendacious “documentary” arguing that Obama inherited a “Third World, anti-American” ethos from his absentee father. He wrote a book arguing that the “cultural left” was to blame for the September 11 attacks, and another book insisting that “the American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty well.”

    Rather than booting this extremist to the fringes, conservative media turned D’Souza into a cause célèbre. He was a fixture on Megyn Kelly’s Fox News program during his campaign finance fraud trial, where he was given an open platform to assert his persecution at the hands of Obama. His idiotic conspiracy theories about Obama’s father garnered an enthusiastic endorsement from Newt Gingrich, who argued that you can understand the first black U.S. president only “if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior.” D’Souza is a regular guest on conservative talk radio and routinely hits the lecture circuit with the backing of right-wing activist groups.

    Now this racist, conspiratorial fraud has been pardoned by another racist, conspiratorial fraud, and this long-simmering corruption is being lauded within the Republican Party -- Trump’s pardon of D’Souza was quickly celebrated by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who called D’Souza a “powerful voice for freedom.”

  • A short history of phony anti-Trump conspiracy theories

    Right-wing media help Trump spin lies about the Russia investigation, and it’ll only get worse

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump has moved beyond Twitter griping and is using the powers of his office to try to discredit the Russia investigation. This past weekend, Trump demanded that the Department of Justice “look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes - and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration.” He met with top DOJ officials on Monday to pressure them to start an investigation into their own department’s investigation of Trump’s campaign.

    To observers outside the conservative media bubble, Trump’s directive was a critical moment of this presidency. “The president has now crossed one of the brightest red lines in the American rule of law: demanding the Department of Justice open a politically motivated investigation designed to sabotage the criminal and counterintelligence probe into the president’s own campaign,” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes said on his show Monday. Charlie Savage of The New York Times wrote that Trump “inched further toward breaching an established constraint on executive power: The White House does not make decisions about individual law enforcement investigations.”

    The significance of Trump’s action is compounded by the fact that even the president and his subordinates acknowledge that this notion that the Obama administration acted inappropriately is just speculation. But it would be extremely convenient for Trump and his defenders if it were true -- or perceived to be true -- which is why he’s ordered this investigation.

    It's crucial to view this attempt by the White House to assert the existence of an anti-Trump cabal within the government in context: It's the latest in a series of fraudulent and debunked attemps to push such a claim. Trump’s demand that his investigators be investigated rests on a foundation of lies that was built with the critical assistance of a credulous and complicit right-wing media.

    Let’s run through all the major conspiracy theories that brought us to this point.

    Wiretapping 

    The effort by Trump and his defenders to deflect attention from the Russia investigation onto the previous administration started with this early-morning tweet from March 2017:

    It was a deathly serious allegation for the president to make, and it was completely false. Top Justice Department officials denied the allegation, a DOJ court filing affirmed that there are “no records related to wiretaps as described by the March 4, 2017 tweets,” and the president has not produced any evidence to back up his accusation.

    Nonetheless, Trump’s defenders in the conservative media contorted themselves to try to prove Trump was right, especially following House intelligence committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes’ March 22, 2017, press conference (which Nunes secretly coordinated with the White House) announcing that “surveillance activities were used against President Trump and his associates.”

    Unmasking 

    Speaking of Nunes, he became the driving force behind the allegation that Obama administration officials had improperly unmasked the identities of Trump associates whose conversations were incidentally captured by intelligence agencies. Once again acting on information provided by the Trump White House, Nunes accused former national security adviser Susan Rice and other Obama officials of abusing the unmasking process. Rice acknowledged that she had requested certain identities, but congressional investigators from both parties said she’d done nothing wrong.

    The “unmasking” nonsense permeated conservative media and was presented as evidence of an Obama-led conspiracy to undermine Trump as president-elect. Trump himself told The New York Times that he believed Rice had committed a crime.

    “Secret society”

    This was an especially stupid fiasco kicked up by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX). The pair went on Fox News to reveal the existence of a text message exchange between two FBI agents sent the day after the 2016 election that referenced a “secret society” supposedly populated by anti-Trump law enforcement officials. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), chairman of the Senate homeland security committee, seized on the message to allege “corruption at the highest levels of the FBI.” Conservative media went absolutely crazy with the “secret society” allegation, holding it up as proof of a “deep state” conspiracy against Trump.

    The “secret society” turned out to be nothing more than an inside joke between the two agents.

    Obama “wants to know everything we’re doing”

    The White House’s deflection strategy rests on the idea that Barack Obama corrupted law enforcement agencies by directing them to investigate Donald Trump’s campaign as a way of undermining his candidacy. To that end, Republicans and conservatives are invested in demonstrating that Obama actively meddled in politically sensitive law enforcement business, such as the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

    In February, Johnson’s committee released a report alleging that a text message from an FBI agent stating that Obama “wants to know everything we’re doing” raised “questions about the type and extent of President Obama’s personal involvement in the Clinton email scandal and the FBI investigation of it.”

    Once again, conservative media was driven to a frenzy, fueled partially by Trump’s tweet that the “NEW FBI TEXTS ARE BOMBSHELLS!” And, once again, it all turned out to be false -- the text in question referred to presidential briefing materials regarding the investigation into Russian election interference, not Clinton.

    FBI hid info from the FISA court 

    In February, Nunes’ committee released a memo that, according to the frantic hype that preceded its release, would reveal rampant surveillance abuses committed by intelligence agencies against the Trump campaign. Chief among the alleged abuses was the accusation that the FBI had illicitly obtained a warrant to surveil former Trump aide Carter Page by concealing from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court the political origin of some of the evidence it cited in its application.

    Right-wing media figures like Sean Hannity called this “Watergate times a thousand” and said the FBI “lie[d] to a foreign intelligence surveillance court.” Trump tweeted that the memo “totally vindicates” him and showed the Russia investigation to be “an American disgrace.”

    It was a lie -- the political origin of the evidence was indeed disclosed in the FBI application -- and Nunes and his Republican colleagues admitted as much in the days following the memo’s release.

    What emerges from all this is a damning picture of a Republican political operation -- involving the White House and key members of Congress -- to concoct blatant falsehoods and conspiracy theories, and a conservative media apparatus that readily absorbs and rebroadcasts that propaganda. At a certain level, behavior like this is to be expected -- these same characters spent all eight years of the Obama administration cobbling together ridiculous conspiracy theories about Benghazi, the former president’s birthplace, and a secret military invasion of Texas.

    There is a key difference, however, in all the lying about the Russia investigation. These conspiracy theories are defensive. Most conservative pundits will describe the Russia investigation as a threat to the very fabric of American government; they recognize the extreme danger it poses to Trump’s presidency. Trump himself has no discernible legal strategy. Instead, he’s fighting a public relations campaign and casting himself as the victim of a “witch hunt.”

    These attacks on the legitimacy of the investigation are the only weapon they have against it. And as the investigation exposes Trump to more and more legal and political peril, the conspiratorial attacks on the Justice Department and the Obama administration become more strident. Trump used to be content to vent on Twitter about the Russia investigation, but now he’s using the weight of his office to give life to an evidence-free accusation of political persecution.  

    Trump relies on the conservative media’s unthinking support as he wages this increasingly unhinged campaign. He needs to hear the hosts of Fox & Friends chirp every morning about how each new phony “bombshell” about the Russia investigation vindicates him. He needs to chat with Sean Hannity every night before bedtime about how Robert Mueller is out to get him. But Trump is only going to get more frustrated as each increasingly elaborate falsehood fails to produce the desired outcome, and that means the coordinated lying and conspiracy-mongering are only going to get worse as the investigation moves forward.