Justice & Civil Liberties | Media Matters for America

Justice & Civil Liberties

Issues ››› Justice & Civil Liberties
  • Right-wing media attempt to distract from family separation policy by attacking abortion rights instead

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Following the Trump administration’s implementation of a policy requiring the separation of immigrant children from their parents as they cross the border, some self-described “pro-life” organizations and media figures have failed to denounce this policy. Others, though, have seemingly attempted to distract from the outrage about the policy by making outlandish and inaccurate comparisons to abortion.

    • Right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh said the outrage over the Trump’s administration policy was a “manufactured crisis” and pointed to Democratic support for Planned Parenthood as a sign of hypocrisy. Limbaugh said, “You want to talk about separating families, look no further than the abortion mills of Planned Parenthood.”
    • On the June 18 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson attacked Democrats for opposing the Trump administration’s policy, saying that the “same people who support third-term, post-viability abortion for purposes of sex selection” were “lecturing” others about “the holiness of children.”
    • Liz Wheeler, host of One America News Network’s Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, dismissed the focus on Trump’s policy during the June 13 edition of her show, saying, “If you care so much about exploited and abused children, where’s your outrage about the 1 million unborn children who are aborted every single year in our country?” Wheeler then pivoted to discussing a made-up story about Planned Parenthood, asking, “Where is your outrage that Democrats in Congress refuse to call for an investigation into this pattern of Planned Parenthood covering up the sexual abuse of children?”
    • On NBC’s Meet the Press, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, defended the policy by alluding to abortion saying that “nobody likes seeing babies ripped from their mothers’ arms, from their mothers’ wombs, frankly, but we have to make sure that [Department of Homeland Security] laws are understood.”
    • On Westword One’s The Mark Levin Show, host Mark Levin said that “suddenly the Democrats care about children.” He went on to claim inaccurately that “when it comes to abortion,” Democrats support it “right up to the last second. It can be eight months, 29 days, and they still support abortion.”
    • Anti-abortion outlet Life News responded to a tweet from Planned Parenthood saying children shouldn’t be separated from their parents by saying that Planned Parenthood was “ignoring how its own practices permanently and violently separate children from their fathers and mothers” and that the organization “does that 876 times a day in abortions.”

    • An article on CRTV’s Louder with Crowder website claimed that Planned Parenthood “separates babies from mothers every day. With surgical brutality. These babies are not being stored in chain-linked cages, waiting for processing. Planned Parenthood stores their children in jars. A calvarium in one jar, legs in another. Parts shipped, and sold, separately.”
    • The Daily Wire’s Paul Bois attacked U2's Bono for supporting legalized abortion access in Ireland while criticizing Trump's policy of separating families at the border.

    • Yahoo! Lifestyle picked up the framing from anti-abortion outlets in an article headlined “Planned Parenthood called hypocritical for protesting Trump's 'zero tolerance' immigration policy.” The article highlighted several anti-abortion tweets suggesting that abortion is worse than the Trump administration’s policy.

    Anti-abortion organizations, politicians, and media figures also adopted this farcical comparison on social media

  • A Fox "voter fraud" darling and Breitbart columnist lost big in federal court -- and got personally reprimanded

    The federal court judge ruled that Kris Kobach's law wrongly prevented people from voting; Fox News barely mentioned the trial

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Kansas secretary of state and Breitbart columnist Kris Kobach, who frequently pushes voter fraud misinformation on Fox News, spectacularly failed in his effort to mount a defense for his state’s voter registration law in a federal court trial in March. Federal judge Julie Robinson both struck down the Kansas law and ordered Kobach to take remedial classes after repeatedly violating the judge’s orders, including trying to introduce evidence after Robinson had specifically excluded it. Fox, which has pushed the debunked specter of widespread voter fraud for a decade, provided no coverage of the trial as it progressed between March 6 and March 19.

    In 2013, Kansas began enforcing the Kobach-backed Secure and Fair Elections (SAFE) law, which required residents who did not have a driver’s license to show proof of citizenship with documents such as a birth certificate or U.S. passport when registering to vote. In May 2016, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson temporarily blocked Kansas from enforcing the law after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit, arguing that the law violated the federal National Voter Registration Act, which requires state voter registration forms to merely “contain an attestation that the applicant meets” eligibility requirements, such as citizenship. According to the ACLU, the law blocked tens of thousands of voter registrations in Kansas.

    Kobach, who writes columns for Breitbart.com, has appeared on Fox News numerous times; a search of Nexis transcripts, which cover less than half of Fox’s shows, revealed nearly 60 appearances by Kobach. During a number of these appearances, he pushed an anti-immigrant agenda. He has also discussed the Kansas voter registration law at least twice on Fox News.

    Fox has spent years pushing bunk voter fraud claims and supporting Republican efforts to make voting harder in response to the fear they inspire.Considering that history, one might expect the network to closely cover Kobach’s chance to prove the necessity of stringent voter identification laws. But that hasn’t been the case; according to a search of closed-captioning transcripts on SnapStream and iQ media, Fox mentioned the trial only twice, in two short news updates on March 7, for a grand total of 50 seconds of coverage of a trial that stretched over six days.

    Perhaps Fox’s lackluster coverage was due to Kobach’s repeated blunders during the trial. Slate legal writer Mark Joseph Stern, in an article headlined “Kris Kobach is a loser,” wrote that the trial was “an unmitigated disaster for Kobach—a merciless rebuke of his professional life’s work.” And HuffPost voting rights reporter Sam Levine noted that a witness Kobach called forward during the trial to supposedly show how easy it was to register without the required documents actually “testified there was a burdensome process” to prove her citizenship and register to vote. (This sloppiness may have been foreseeable, as Kobach has been caught plagiarizing a column for Breitbart; one of Kobach’s citations for that Breitbart column was a white nationalist writer with a reported history of Holocaust denialism.)

    The following quotes from the daily coverage of the trial by Kansas City NPR member station KCUR show just how embarrassing Kobach’s performance was:

    Day 1: The judge scolded Kobach and his team for improperly trying to introduce new evidence and not knowing courtroom rules.

    • “Kobach and an attorney from his office, Sue Becker, got off to a rocky start when they were blocked from showing to the court — and asking witnesses questions about — multiple documents that Kobach’s team hadn’t formally introduced as evidence. ‘Evidence 101 — not going to do it,’ said Judge Julie Robinson.”
    • “Kobach’s side repeatedly stumbled on other rules, too, leading the judge to cut off some of their lines of questioning to the witnesses.”
    • “In another instance, Becker appeared not to understand the rules for referencing depositions in court. She stood and took directions from the judge.”

    Day 2: Kobach’s team again tried to improperly introduce evidence

    • “Kobach’s legal team continued to trip up on courtroom procedures, such as how to introduce evidence and quote from depositions while cross-examining witnesses.”

    Day 3: Kobach’s legal team again violated courtroom procedure.

    • “The day’s court session ended abruptly amid a string of admonishments from the judge for the Kobach team, which repeatedly tried maneuvers that would have violated trial procedure.”

    Day 5: Kobach still had trouble properly introducing evidence, and one of his witnesses repeatedly interrupted the judge.

    • “Kobach’s office faced more hurdles to entering evidence — things the legal team hadn’t provided in advance of trial. That included new calculations related to how often non-citizens vote.”
    • “In the afternoon, testimony from Old Dominion University’s Jesse Richman devolved quickly into argument. In the course of answering questions from the ACLU and Robinson about his data sources, the political science professor repeatedly interrupted the judge.”

    Day 6: Kobach team witness Jesse Richman admitted a racist method for flagging potential noncitizen voters and agreed Kobach’s and Trump’s claim of millions of illegal votes in the 2016 election is baseless.

    • “An ACLU lawyer asked him whether he would label ‘Carlos Murguia’ foreign, and when Richman replied he probably would, revealed Murguia is a federal judge in that very courthouse.”
    • “The ACLU also showed a 2016 video in which Kobach, while speaking with reporters, backs President Trump’s claims that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton because of millions of illegally cast ballots. Richman agreed with an ACLU lawyer that his research hasn’t shown this to be true and he doesn’t know of any research that has.”

    Day 7: The judge said a Kobach lawyer was “being schizophrenic” over failure to properly present witness testimony from a pollster.

    • “[Kobach’s team] struggled to include the pollster’s testimony in the trial, tripping up again on court rules that require disclosing expert witnesses in advance. Kobach lawyer Sue Becker argued Judge Julie Robinson had already said McFerron is an expert witness, which the judge promptly explained wasn’t true. Becker drew consternation from Robinson and ACLU lawyers by vacillating back and forth between treating McFerron as an expert witness or simply as a fact witness who was presenting poll results. ‘You're being schizophrenic,’ Robinson told Becker.”

    Though the trial ended on March 19, that wasn’t the end to Kobach’s problems regarding the ACLU’s lawsuit. On March 20, the same judge, Julie Robinson, presided over a contempt hearing stemming from Kobach’s apparent failure to enforce her May 2016 order to register the tens of thousands of voters blocked from his law. NPR reported that it didn’t go well for Kobach:

    Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach got a tongue lashing Tuesday from the judge who will decide whether he violated federal law by blocking tens of thousands of voter applications.

    Federal Chief District Judge Julie Robinson, a George W. Bush appointee, accused Kobach of engaging in "gamesmanship" and skirting her orders.

    In the nearly two years since Robinson ordered him to register those voters, she said, he has forced her and the American Civil Liberties Union to monitor his actions down to the tiniest details in an effort to get him to comply.

    "I've had to police this over and over and over again," she said.

    [...]

    Kobach, who hopes to be Kansas' next governor, asked the judge not to find him in contempt. The Republican candidate argued he doesn't control the county officials who carry out logistics such as sending postcards to voters to let them know where their polling stations are.

    [...]

    Robinson, at times sounding livid with the secretary, gave him a dressing-down.

    "These people are not second-class registered voters," she told him. "You assured me that they had or they would get the postcards."

    On April 18, Judge Robinson ordered Kobach to be held in contempt of court for disobeying her orders to register voters, mandating that Kobach pay for the ACLU’s attorney fees for the case. Two months later, Judge Robinson struck down Kansas’ law requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration. HuffPost’s Sam Levine reported on June 18 that the judge “found that the law violated the National Voter Registration Act and the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.” The court specifically rejected Kobach and Fox’s argument about voter fraud, finding that the law “acted as a deterrent to registration and voting for substantially more eligible Kansans than it has prevented ineligible voters from registering to vote.”

    Judge Robinson additionally “sanctioned Kobach with six hours of continuing legal education related to rules of civil procedure or evidence” due to his repeated violations of his rules throughout the trial.

    As of publishing, there is no word from Breitbart or Fox News on the ruling.

  • Like clockwork, right-wing media exploit DOJ IG report to call for special counsel Mueller’s removal

    The report had nothing to do with the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Less than 24 hours after the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) inspector general (IG) released a long-awaited report on the department’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, President Donald Trump’s allies in the media are already using the report to call for special counsel Robert Mueller’s removal. The IG report clearly states that its investigation “found no evidence that the conclusions by department prosecutors were affected by bias or other improper considerations”; and yet, the president’s sycophants in right-wing media are spinning the report to claim that “anything that Mueller is doing” in his probe of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia “is tainted” by the IG’s findings.

    On June 14, DOJ IG Michael Horowitz released a report on the DOJ’s actions during the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server. According to the report, the IG found, among other things, that former FBI Director James Comey was “insubordinate” in his handling of the case; that he violated department policy by publicly discussing the investigation; and that two FBI officials, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, exchanged disparaging texts about Trump, with one text from Strzok reading, “We’ll stop” Trump from becoming president. While Horowitz severely criticized Comey, Strzok, and Page for their conduct, the inspector general concluded that there was “no evidence that the conclusions by department prosecutors were affected by bias or other improper considerations; rather, [the IG] concluded that they were based on the prosecutors’ assessment of the facts, the law, and past Department practice.”

    Even though the IG report focused only on the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server and had nothing to do with the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia, and even though it found that there was no evidence of bias in the FBI determination, the president’s defenders on Fox News and in conservative media are still twisting themselves into knots to try to use the IG report as a reason to call for Mueller’s removal. On the June 14 edition of Hannity, a panel of four of Trump’s staunchest defenders shouted about how the report “taint[s] the entire Mueller investigation”:

    And the following morning on the June 15 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade argued that the Mueller investigation is “contaminated” by the IG’s findings:

    The reaction from Trump’s sycophants in conservative media is unsurprising, considering that they preemptively laid the groundwork to discredit the IG’s report. But, even as conservative media continue their convoluted and disingenuous calls for Mueller’s removal, the special counsel’s investigation continues, racking up numerous indictments, one of which resulted in Trump’s former campaign manager having his bail revoked, landing him in federal prison until his trial.

  • Fox News suggested Trump could take on prison reform, but his administration’s policies are worsening mass incarceration

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    After President Donald Trump commuted the excessive sentence for a nonviolent, first-time drug offender, Fox News speculated that he could lead an initiative for bipartisan prison reform. In reality, the drug policies enacted by the Trump administration are more likely to worsen mass incarceration.

    After Trump met with celebrity Kim Kardashian West on June 6, he commuted the life sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, who had spent 21 years in prison for two drug charges. The Johnson commutation, part of Trump’s arbitrary clemency spree, led Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer to suggest that the government could do “prison reform under this president.” Fox headlines anchor Carley Shimkus responded, saying that according to the ACLU, “there’s 3,000 nonviolent, first-time offenders in prison right now” and that there could be “some common ground” across the political spectrum on this issue because “this is something that the anthem-kneelers are always preaching about.”

    In reality, Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has adopted several policies that will actually worsen mass incarceration, especially for the nonviolent, first-time offenders Shimkus was talking about. 

    Even before he was in office, analysts predicted that Trump would grow the federal prison population. Although that population has been decreasing since 2013, the rate of decrease has slowed significantly under the Trump administration. According to Bureau of Prisons statistics, the total number of federal inmates dropped by only around 6,500 in 2017, as opposed to more than 13,500 the year before. Since the current number of federal inmates is already only around 1,500 lower than last year’s total, Trump seems likely to preside over the first growth in federal prison populations in half a decade.

    Contributing to Trump’s reversal of declining prison populations is his punitive immigration and drug policies. Trump’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has made a very high-profile habit of imprisoning immigrants (or people who simply appear to be immigrants) and trying to deport them, including by falsely accusing them of being affiliated with gangs. 

    On drugs, the Trump administration’s extremely regressive policies have flown under the radar and allowed Trump to grab occasional credit for entertaining “prison reform,” even as he and Sessions shovel more people into the maw of mass incarceration. Sessions’ tenure as attorney general makes a mockery of the concept of criminal justice reform; he threatened to prosecute marijuana businesses operating legally under state law and reversed an Obama-era guideline to avoid pursuing charges for first-time nonviolent drug offenders that would trigger mandatory minimum sentences, instructing prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges possible.

    In addition, Sessions ended an Obama-era program investigating abusive police forces, and his Department of Justice made a months-long attempt to federally prosecute a woman for laughing at him. On Trump’s part, his administration has been an unprecedented boon for the scourge that is private prisons, he has reauthorized police departments to use military surplus gear and weapons, and Trump himself has repeatedly expressed a desire to execute drug dealers.

  • Fox News and Trump are trying to discredit the DOJ's IG report about the Clinton email investigation

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Fox News is laying the groundwork to discredit a Department of Justice (DOJ) inspector general’s report regarding the department’s handling of the 2016 investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

    According to a leaked portion of the report, first reported on June 6 by ABC News, the DOJ inspector general “concluded that James Comey defied authority at times during his tenure as FBI director” by “ignoring objections from the Justice Department when he disclosed in a letter to Congress just days before the 2016 presidential election that FBI agents had reopened the Clinton probe.” Political analysts and polls point to Comey’s decision to inform Congress of the reopening of the Clinton email investigation as a critical episode in Trump’s eventual victory.

    Early this week, a number of Fox hosts -- including the Fox & Friends hosts, Sean Hannity, and Lou Dobbs, all of whom also act as unofficial Trump advisers -- suggested that the report, which has yet to be fully released, is beset by corruption. On June 5, the president chimed in, saying that he hoped the report wasn’t being “changed and made weaker.” Since Trump’s tweet, Fox News has continued attempting to discredit the review by baselessly asserting that it’s being “scrubbed” by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (who was appointed by Trump himself), even after having hyped the report for months. In fact, Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano (who is known to spread baseless conspiracy theories) repeated Trump’s sentiment regarding the inspector general report when he took to the president’s favorite morning show on June 7 to push an unsubstantiated claim that the DOJ report “might not be a truthful document.”

    From the June 7 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): OK, so the leaks were -- because this is circulating, where people can essentially make a rebuttal and try to get them fix it.

    ANDREW NAPOLITANO (FOX NEWS SENIOR JUDICIAL ANALYST): Yes.

    DOOCY: Joe diGenova was on our air in the last 24 hours, and he said that he thinks that Rod Rosenstein, who’s the number two guy at the DOJ, might be actually scrubbing this report to try to get all the bad stuff out of it.

    NAPOLITANO: If Joe is correct -- and I have great respect for him -- if Joe is correct, this is an outrage and it is a neutering of a very highly respected inspector general who was appointed by George W. Bush and by Barack Obama.

    BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): So, judge, here’s the thing: You can do whatever you want to the report. But when you put him, the inspector general, in front of Congress, any committee, he’s going to answer about his conclusions. Not what's been scrubbed, correct?

    NAPOLITANO: Well, I don't know, Brian. If he gives -- that's fascinating. Because, if he gives a different version under oath than he gave in writing, then the scrubbing is going to become the issue. Wait a minute, you found this about Jim Comey? You’re telling us about it now but you didn't put it in the report?

    DOOCY: Why’d you change it?

    NAPOLITANO: Was it in the report and did you take it out? And if you took it out, did somebody tell you to take it out? Now we have another compounded error here.

    KILMEADE: Because [DOJ Inspector General Michael] Horowitz is not compromised -- he’s the inspector general.

    NAPOLITANO: I don’t know where this is going to go. I'm glad we have these leaks -- some leaks are good leaks -- but I’m glad we have these leaks, because the public needs to know that this might not be a truthful document.

  • Fox & Friends host claims it is “case law” that “a sitting president cannot be indicted”

    The Supreme Court has never directly weighed in on the matter, and according to legal scholars, whether a sitting president can be indicted is still very much an open question

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Following the publication of a confidential letter sent to special counsel Robert Mueller from President Trump’s legal team arguing, according to The New York Times, “that the president cannot illegally obstruct any aspect of the investigation into Russia’s election meddling,” Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy asserted that it is “case law” that “a sitting president cannot be indicted.”

    In fact, as The Washington Post fact-checker explained, Supreme Court “justices have never said whether the president can be indicted, nor whether the president can be subpoenaed for testimony.” The Justice Department has issued memos arguing that the president cannot be indicted, but that is not settled case law. Even Jonathan Turley, a legal scholar the president himself has repeatedly cited on Twitter, has argued that “the president can be indicted while in office” and that there is no “strong constitutional argument that people have put forward that the president is somehow immune” to prosecution. Moreover, according to The Atlantic, two “presidents had claimed immunity from legal process while in office; in both cases, the Supreme Court denied the claim.”

    From the June 4 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    ABBY HUNTSMAN (CO-HOST): It sounds more and more like, Steve, that the Trump lawyers are on the offense. They, more than anything, don't want this sit down to happen, and they also don't want a subpoena. So they're doing everything they can.

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): And a sitting president cannot be indicted, I mean, that's just case law. You cannot do it. And so, if he's going to come up with a subpoena, there's going to be a big fight.