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  • Trump’s favorite Fox News propagandists are avoiding reports about Paul Manafort’s legal troubles

    Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine have steered clear of reporting on Paul Manafort’s legal exposure, but they spent significant time on a judge’s strong words for the special counsel's team

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Update:

    On June 14, a federal judge revoked Manafort's bail for allegedly tampering with witnesses, landing him in federal prison until his trial.


    President Donald Trump’s favorite Fox News shows are all but ignoring the cascade of damning reports regarding former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his legal troubles. Since May 2017, special counsel Robert Mueller has been scrutinizing various relationships between the Trump campaign and Russian nationals closely tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin, appearing to focus closely on Manafort’s business history and associates. As the legal pressure ramps up against Manafort, the president’s propagandists at Fox News have sought to distance Manafort from Trump and, through selective reporting on Manafort’s legal troubles, discredit the probe against Trump’s former campaign manager.

    Since the beginning of 2018, Manafort’s legal exposure has grabbed mainstream media attention, but the topic has not managed to break through on Trump’s favorite Fox News programs. Media Matters reviewed transcripts and video of the first editions of Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine after significant reports surfaced about new developments regarding the investigations into Manafort this year. We found little to no coverage of notable turns in the multiple high-profile legal cases against Trump’s former campaign manager. But we did find extensive coverage of the strong words a judge had for the special counsel’s team.

    Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine all but ignored major turns in legal cases against Manafort

    Manafort sues Department of Justice, alleging special counsel exceeded mandate

    On January 3, NPR reported that Manafort was suing the Department of Justice, alleging that “Mueller's team has ‘diverged’ from its stated focus on potential collusion with the Russians who attacked the 2016 election and instead zeroed in on Manafort for ‘unrelated, decade-old business dealings’ in Ukraine.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the development.

    Company tied to former Manafort business associate and Russian oligarch sues Manafort and business partner

    On January 10, according to NBC News, “a company controlled and funded by” Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, a crony of Russian President Vladimir Putin and one-time business associate of Manafort’s, sued Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates for allegedly “bilk[ing] his company by taking $1.1 million in capital and paying it to themselves.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the lawsuit.

    Special counsel tells judge investigation has revealed “additional criminal conduct” by Manafort

    On February 16, according to Politico, the special counsel’s office submitted a court filing informing a federal judge of “additional criminal conduct that [the office has] learned since the Court’s initial bail determination” on Manafort’s federal case that “includes a series of bank frauds and bank fraud conspiracies.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the court filing specifically. Though a guest on Fox & Friends, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, briefly mentioned general “charges” against Paul Manafort, he downplayed them as “unrelated to the campaign.”

    Former Trump aide Richard Gates will “plead guilty” and has agreed to “testify against Manafort”

    On February 18, the Los Angeles Times reported that Gates, who is also a former Trump campaign aide, would “plead guilty to fraud-related charges within days” and that he “made clear to prosecutors that he would testify against Paul Manafort.” While the Times report was unverified by other media outlets at the time, according to a Media Matters review, Hannity and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the report. Fox & Friends briefly mentioned it but added that Catherine Herridge, Fox News’ chief intelligence correspondent, “says, as of now, no deal, and Gates is not cooperating.” Five days later, The New York Times confirmed that Gates would plead guilty “to financial fraud and lying to investigators” and “has agreed to cooperate with the special counsel inquiry.” According to a Media Matters review, Hannity and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the development. Fox & Friends all but ignored the report other than airing a 15-second teaser from co-host Brian Kilmeade (who did not identify how Gates is tied to the Trump campaign) and a softball question from co-host Steve Doocy during an interview with former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. Priebus also attempted to downplay the significance of the report, claiming Gates’ and Manafort’s conduct was “independent of the Trump campaign.”

    Dutch lawyer tied to Manafort business partner sentenced to 30 days in federal prison for pleading guilty to lying to federal investigators

    On April 3, according to CNN, Alex van der Zwaan, a “Dutch lawyer tied to former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates,” was “sentenced … to spend 30 days in prison and pay a $20,000 fine after he admitted to lying to” the special counsel regarding his “communications with Gates and a person with Russian intelligence ties.” According to a Media Matters review, Hannity briefly mentioned the sentencing, downplaying it as having “nothing to do with Russia collusion,” and saying, “In reality, it looks like a giant waste of your money.” Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the sentencing, which was the first in the special counsel’s investigation. Fox & Friends twice mentioned the development in passing while attempting to downplay its significance, once saying the sentencing is “unrelated” to Trump and Russia.

    Special counsel obtains seven new search warrants against Manafort

    On April 5, CBS News reported that prosecutors on the special counsel’s team “revealed in court filings ... that they had obtained on March 9 seven new search warrants against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort” for “various properties” including “a storage unit, bank accounts, email addresses and devices.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the report.

    Federal judge rejects attempt to get Manafort case dismissed

    On May 15, according to Politico, a federal judge “rejected an attempt by Paul Manafort … to get an indictment against him dismissed by claiming that special counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment was flawed.” The judge wrote that “given the combination of his prominence within the campaign and his ties to Ukrainian officials supported by and operating out of Russia, as well as to Russian oligarchs, Manafort was an obvious person of interest” for U.S. law enforcement. According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the judge’s decision.

    Manafort’s former son-in-law cuts plea deal, will testify against Manafort

    On May 17, Reuters reported that Manafort’s former son-in-law and “business partner” Jeffrey Yohai “cut a plea deal with the Justice Department” requiring him “to cooperate” with the special counsel’s prosecutors. According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the report.

    Special counsel accuses Manafort of attempting to tamper with witnesses

    On June 4, according to The New York Times, “federal prosecutors ... accused President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, of attempting to tamper with witnesses in his federal tax and money laundering case,” with one witness telling the FBI “that Mr. Manafort was trying to ‘suborn perjury.’” Yet again, according to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the court filing, even though the charges leveled against Trump’s former campaign manager can mean up to 20 years in federal prison if he is found guilty.

    Special counsel unseals additional charges against Manafort, Russian business associate

    On June 8, according to NPR, the special counsel’s office “unsealed more charges” against Manafort, alleging “that a Russian partner of Manafort's, Konstantin Kilimnik, helped him try to persuade witnesses to lie to the jury when Manafort's case comes to trial in Washington, D.C., this autumn.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the additional round of charges against the president’s former campaign manager.

    But Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine all covered a judge’s sharp questioning of the special counsel’s motivations extensively

    On May 4, according to The Washington Post, “a federal judge in Virginia ... sharply questioned the motivations of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s fraud prosecution of President Trump’s former campaign manager.” According to the report, Judge T.S. Ellis III told prosecutors on Mueller’s team, “You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud. … You really care about getting information Mr. Manafort can give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump and lead to his prosecution or impeachment.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine all covered the judge’s rebuke of the Mueller team extensively.

    On the May 4 edition of Hannity, host Sean Hannity spent a total of 14 minutes and 46 seconds discussing Judge Ellis’ comments, calling his remarks the “single biggest beatdown I have ever seen in my life by a judge.” The nearly 15 minutes Hannity devoted to Ellis’ comments were significantly more than the time he spent covering any development in the various cases against Manafort in 2018 combined, which totaled about 1 minute and 57 seconds.

    On the May 5 edition of Justice with Judge Jeanine, host Jeanine Pirro spent a total of 15 minutes and 27 seconds discussing Judge Ellis’ remarks. In contrast, Pirro did not mention any of the other stories regarding Manafort's legal troubles in 2018.

    On the May 7 edition of Fox & Friends, the hosts devoted 11 minutes and 5 seconds to Judge Ellis’ comments over three hours of airtime. Fox & Friends spent a total of 2 minutes and 43 seconds on the other turns in the various cases against Manafort, and during those reports the hosts usually downplayed the events as “unrelated” to Russia or “independent from the Trump campaign.”

    As Fox buries reports on Manafort, majority of Americans are unaware of numerous special counsel indictments

    Given Manafort’s past and the people he has been willing to associate with professionally, it is no wonder Fox News’ chief Trump propagandists have attempted to distance the president from him. According to The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer, Manafort’s career was built on lobbying on behalf of “dictatorial governments in Nigeria, Kenya, Zaire, Equatorial Guinea, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia, among others.” Manafort’s experience representing repressive regimes eventually landed him a job in Ukraine, assisting the “former gangsters,” as Foer wrote, in the Party of Regions in improving their image domestically, eventually guiding pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych to presidential victory in 2010.

    Fox News’ efforts to bury Manafort’s legal exposure seem to be having an impact. According to a recent survey conducted by Navigator Research, 59 percent of Americans are not aware that the special counsel’s investigation has uncovered any crimes, even though Mueller has amassed five guilty pleas and numerous indictments. Should the special counsel’s investigation turn up evidence that supports allegations of a criminal conspiracy between members of the Trump campaign and foreign actors, Manafort would surely be implicated as a key player.

    Suppressing reports regarding (arguably) the most corrupt member of Trump’s campaign team -- and following Fox’s usual playbook of downplaying and ignoring other consequential reporting on the special counsel’s investigation -- appears to be part of the network’s larger strategy to pre-emptively downplay any possible findings that could implicate the president and his campaign.

  • Hannity has attacked Clinton’s 1994 North Korea deal for months. Experts say Trump’s deal -- which Hannity loves -- is even weaker.

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    For months, Fox News host Sean Hannity has falsely disparaged the Agreed Framework of 1994, a deal brokered under President Bill Clinton to freeze North Korea’s nuclear program, as an example of the U.S. “sucking up and bribing world dictators.” Now, experts are criticizing the terms of President Donald Trump’s agreement with North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un for conceding more than the 1994 agreement did and for being weaker on denuclearization. But, as expected, Hannity has been praising Trump and the agreement he signed with Kim, saying their summit “exceeded all … expectations.”

    The joint statement that Trump and Kim signed on Tuesday fell short of the U.S. demands going into the summit; the deal does not include standards for complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization as the U.S. hoped, and Trump offered a concession to the North Koreans by suspending U.S. military exercises with South Korea.

    A number of experts have criticized the deal, saying it provides even weaker terms than did previous deals, including the Agreed Framework, which, unlike the joint statement signed today, required wide-ranging inspections but ultimately fell apart when North Korea was suspected of cheating.

    Wendy Sherman, a top negotiator with North Korea in the Clinton and Obama administrations, told The New Yorker, “The document not only doesn’t break new ground—it is less than previous documents, including the 1992 Joint Declaration, the Agreed Framework of 1994, and the September, 2005, Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks.” Ex-CIA officer Bruce Klingner, who is now a Northeast Asia senior research fellow at the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, wrote on Twitter, “This is very disappointing. Each of the four main points was in previous documents with NK, some in a stronger, more encompassing way. The denuke bullet is weaker than the Six Party Talks language. And no mention of CVID, verification, human rights.”

    Even Fox News contributor Ari Fleischer bemoaned the deal’s similarities to the Agreed Framework. But The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler aptly noted that the U.S. did not suspend military exercises in South Korea under that deal. The Wall Street Journal’s Mary Kissel also categorized Trump’s concession as a misstep compared to the terms of the Agreed Framework.

    But these details have been lost on Trump sycophant Sean Hannity, who has said in the months leading up to the summit that Trump is “not naive like Bill Clinton” and would therefore not be “duped” into appeasement:

    And this morning, Hannity’s astounding propaganda was again on full display. He insisted that the summit “had exceeded all of their expectations” and compared Trump’s deal to the Agreed Framework, saying, “The president gave up nothing. There wasn’t a penny paid like Bill Clinton when he made a deal with Kim Jong Un’s father.” The latter statement, which Hannity has breathlessly repeated, is misleading at best; the 1994 agreement did not include payments to North Korea, though it did state that the U.S. would build two light-water reactors in North Korea in order to make it harder for the country to produce weapons-grade material.

    And this is not the first example of Hannity’s agenda-driven hypocrisy on North Korea talks. Earlier this year, Media Matters documented the contrast between Hannity’s fawning coverage over the announcement that Trump would meet with the North Korean dictator and his impassioned condemnation of President Barack Obama when he was considering meeting with Kim Jong Il.

    Video by John Kerr.

  • Hugh Hewitt has terrible takes on Trump's North Korea summit

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, who never passes up the chance to carry water for President Donald Trump, spent the morning praising the president for his performance at the U.S.-North Korea summit on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

    First, Hewitt lauded Trump's empty claim during the press conference that North Korea's denuclearization will be verified, saying Trump "raised the bar far beyond the communique." But Trump's remarks effectively mean very little given that the agreement itself included only vague language for “complete” denuclearization rather than a firm commitment for complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization:

    He also concluded that Trump showed “candor” in admitting that he “may be wrong” about the possibility of denuclearization, even though Trump also mentioned that he likely will find another excuse rather than admitting he was wrong:

    Hewitt also seemed to credit Trump for talking about human rights even though, according to news reports, the issue was not expected to be raised during the summit. While Trump did respond to reporters’ questions about human rights and claimed he brought it up with Kim Jong Un, he was roundly criticized by people across the political spectrum for his effusive praise for the brutal dictator:

  • Fox & Friends runs with pro-Trump propaganda ahead of U.S.-North Korea summit

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS & DINA RADTKE

    President Donald Trump’s favorite news show, Fox & Friends, is acting as a platform for sycophantic propaganda ahead of Trump’s high-stakes summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, even as the president enters the talks with little preparation.

    As other news outlets highlight Trump’s unwillingness to prepare for the summit and critically analyze its possible outcomes, Fox & Friends, which Trump has been known to take advice from, has applauded Trump’s actions toward North Korea without criticism.

    The June 11 edition of the show opened with a fawning monologue from co-host Ainsley Earhardt, describing all of the Trump administration’s actions regarding North Korea as accomplishments -- and none as missteps. Later they aired a disturbingly propagandistic supercut meant to summarize the events leading up to the summit:

    The hosts also declared that Trump’s detonation of the U.S.-Canadian relationship at the G-7 summit the previous weekend showed that his “unpredictability” can “work to the president’s advantage” in these delicate talks and questioned whether Trump’s fortune and fame might intimidate Kim Jong Un.

    Watching Fox & Friends, one would think that the summit is already a success story. Co-host Steve Doocy continually floated the idea of a McDonald’s sprouting up in Pyongyang, and Earhardt even asked the CEO of IHOP if the chain might open a restaurant in North Korea. Fox Business’ Charles Payne claimed that “Kim Jong Un’s central planning is not his grandfather’s central planning” (ignoring the current dictator’s horrific record of human rights abuses, which Trump will reportedly opt not to address in the upcoming summit).

    Today's sycophantic coverage follows months of Fox & Friendsbizarre commentary, dangerous advice, and misguided praise for the Trump administration's North Korea strategy.

  • 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.”