The Presidency & White House

Issues ››› The Presidency & White House
  • The Press Seemed Amazed By Trump’s Wiretapping Lie, But Trump Lies About Everything

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    What was the tipping point for The Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial page in terms of dealing with President Donald Trump’s increasingly sketchy behavior? We now know: It’s the demonstrable lie Trump told about President Barack Obama having wiretapped Trump Tower.

    Lamenting “the damage that Mr. Trump is doing to his Presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods,” the Journal on Tuesday night belittled Trump for being “his own worst political enemy.”

    Claiming that “the President clings to his assertion like a drunk to an empty gin bottle,” the Journal relentlessly mocked Trump’s evidence-free wiretapping claim, using the type of biting rhetoric the page usually reserved for attacking President Barack Obama or the Clintons.

    The public undressing represents a clear demarcation line that has extended throughout the Beltway media in recent weeks, as pundits and reporters have drilled down deep on the wiretapping lie and demanded answers, day after day. With none forthcoming, Trump’s team continues to be battered by the story. Even more bizarre, the White House stubbornly refuses to move off its scripted talking points about there being imaginary evidence of the nonexistent Obama-driven wiretapping scheme.

    For a presidency that has been defined by falsehoods, it’s the wiretapping lie that seems to be causing the most damage for Trump, mostly because the press remains keenly focused on it.

    That hyper focus only intensified yesterday after House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) took the extraordinary step of going to the White House to brief Trump on an investigation before discussing the information with ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA). Trump and his media loyalists immediately insisted that Nunes’ vague claims of incidental intelligence gathering involving officials on the Trump transition team bolstered the president’s wiretapping claim against Obama. But it does no such thing. (Nunes himself "reiterated" that he "had no evidence of" Trump's wiretapping claim, according to Politico.) All of which means Trump’s still stuck pushing a signature, hollow allegation.

    Here's the key: The kind of focus on the White House’s wiretapping charade should be extended to the rest of the Trump’s fabrications. Trump lies about everything. And Trump’s surrogates lie about everything. So if journalists are going to relentlessly call out the White House for its wiretapping smear -- and they definitely should -- they ought to be equally aggressive in calling out all of Trump’s casual deceits, which now tumble out on a daily basis. (In a new interview with Time about falsehoods, Trump laced his comments with at least 14 falsehoods.)

    In other words, the press is giving Trump a hard time about the Obama wiretap lie, but the media is still too slow and timid about calling out Trump's often more substantial, policy-based lies.

    What journalists continue to struggle with is the obvious realization that not only does Trump lie constantly, but that he doesn’t care that people know it. Trump doesn’t care when his claims are swiftly fact-checked. It gives him no pause. And that represents the burgeoning challenge the press faces in covering the Trump White House, based on its almost chronic attempts to fabricate information, followed by no expression of remorse for the wild dissembling.

    Ten days into Trump’s term, I cautioned that journalists shouldn’t believe anything the White House tells them – ever. And that journalists needed to rip up the old rules in covering this new president, simply because we’ve never had a White House staffed with so many dishonest people embracing so many “alternative facts.”

    Note this exchange from MSNBC on Monday night, as Politico’s Michael Crowley and MSNBC’s Katy Tur analyzed that day’s hearing in the House Intelligence Committee on ties between Russia and Trump, as well as the hollow allegation of Obama wiretapping:

    MICHAEL CROWLEY: Over and over again, Sean Spicer and people around Trump are just making these implausible assertions about the scale of this story. And if they would just give a little ground they would have so much more credibility. If they would take the underlying issue seriously, if they would speak accurately and honestly about the players and the factors involved. But when you get this kind of wild overcompensation you have to ask, what are you afraid of? And what are you hiding? It’s just very strange and it begs more questions.

    KATY TUR: Or are you working on behalf of a president who is so erratic that you don’t know where solid ground is.

    All of that is accurate. But here’s the thing: That critique applies to virtually every topic that the White House tackles. “He lies in ways that no American politician ever has before,” wrote David Leonhardt of The New York Times this week.

    And that really needs to be the prism through which journalists view the president. They need push past the idea that it’s mean or “biased” to call Trump a liar. Just like when the White House unveiled its extremist budget proposal last week. If Trump is going to advocate radical positions, then journalists shouldn’t shy away from detailing his radical positions.

    The same is true for Trump’s lies. His bizarre one about Obama committing a felony in order to listen in on Trump’s phone calls has caught the media’s imagination. But all of Trump’s bogus claims should be highlighted and ridiculed. Yes, Trump rolls out endless falsehoods, and there's a suspicion that he does so on purpose so the press can't keep up. But they have to. It's now a paramount responsibility.

    Whether the lies are about the travel ban, crime statistics, Obama’s birthplace, Jersey City Muslims on 9/11, the unemployment rate, Mexico paying for the border wall, health care for “everybody,” the U.S. murder rate, IRS audits, news coverage of terror attacks, the Electoral College, or voter fraud.

    The press should apply the same relentless attention and detail to those lies as that it has to Trump’s wiretapping lie.

  • How Broadcast Networks Covered Climate Change In 2016

    ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    In 2016, evening newscasts and Sunday shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as Fox Broadcast Co.'s Fox News Sunday, collectively decreased their total coverage of climate change by 66 percent compared to 2015, even though there were a host of important climate-related stories, including the announcement of 2015 as the hottest year on record, the signing of the Paris climate agreement, and numerous climate-related extreme weather events. There were also two presidential candidates to cover, and they held diametrically opposed positions on the Clean Power Plan, the Paris climate agreement, and even on whether climate change is a real, human-caused phenomenon. Apart from PBS, the networks also failed to devote significant coverage to climate-related policies, but they still found the time to uncritically air climate denial -- the majority of which came from now-President Donald Trump and his team.

  • Right-Wing Media Falsely Claim Rep. Nunes Vindicated Trump’s Wiretap Lie

    Trump Was Not Referring To “Incidental” Legal Surveillance

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Right-wing media figures are claiming that House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) statement that President Donald Trump’s transition aides were surveilled “vindicates” Trump and prove he “was right” about his unfounded claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. But Nunes’ report -- that Trump aides were caught in “incidental collection” while surveilling other targets -- was already widely suspected, and Nunes himself admitted it does not prove Trump’s false claim is correct. Multiple current and former government officials have said Trump’s claim is false.

  • TV News Coverage Of Trump’s Policies Overwhelmed By His Wiretapping Lie

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Broadcast and cable news coverage of ruinous economic policies rolled out by the White House last week was overwhelmed by the president’s false accusation that his predecessor illegally wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 election.

    On March 13, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that up to 24 million Americans would lose access to health insurance over the next 10 years if the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare goes into effect. On that same day, the Trump administration unveiled an overlooked executive order that encourages cabinet secretaries and agency directors to create a plan to completely reshape a federal bureaucracy of over 2.8 million employees. And on March 16, the Trump administration unveiled its budget outline for the 2018 fiscal year, featuring proposed “massive cuts” to nondefense spending. The proposed cuts, which would offset an increase in spending on military programs and a border wall, would hit almost every facet of the federal government, but they would come down particularly hard on funding for small programs including Meals on Wheels, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and PBS.

    Yet according to Media Matters research, from March 13 to 17, President Donald Trump’s false wiretap claim dominated TV news coverage, overshadowing discussion of these important policy moves. While Trump’s lie certainly merits extensive media coverage, it’s also crucial to share details of his policymaking with the public.

    Trump ignited a media firestorm in early March when he repeatedly accused former President Barack Obama of illegally wiretapping him in the midst of last year's election. Right-wing media, led by Fox News, sprang to his defense even though the president offered no evidence to support his claim. Meanwhile, legitimate reporters exposed the bizarre accusation’s source as “the right-wing fever swamps” of fringe media and reported that it was pushed by a Russian state-sponsored news network. During March 20 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, FBI Director James Comey put Trump’s wiretapping lie to rest, telling the committee, “I have no information that supports those tweets.”

    Yet nearly two weeks after Trump initially made the claim, his smear of Obama still had such an influence on television news coverage that it overshadowed every other discussion about Trump’s policy agenda last week. Media Matters identified 226 segments from March 13 through 17 that focused on Trump during evening programming on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC and major news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS. Of those segments, 64 focused on Trump’s wiretapping allegations -- a figure that dwarfed every other major issue Media Matters identified. Coverage of Trump’s health care plan came in a distant second place, with 37 segments, and stories related to the portion of Trump’s 2005 tax returns obtained by Rachel Maddow ranked third (26 segments). Trump’s proposed budget outline was discussed in just 14 segments, and his executive order to reshape the federal workforce registered just four mentions.

    With television news forced to dissect and debunk Trump’s outrageous claims, coverage of pressing economic issues was eclipsed. Coverage of the efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act -- which health care experts have said would be particularly harmful to low-income Americans, seniors, and people dealing with illnesses -- could not overtake that of Trump’s wiretapping tweet, even with the Trump administration attempting to smear the CBO numbers in the press. The executive order, which was described by CNN reporter Stephen Collinson as part of Trump’s larger goal to “dismember government one dollar at a time,” barely registered in news coverage at all. And Trump’s budget cuts, which would decimate social safety net programs, were discussed 14 times during evening news coverage on March 16 and 17, while Trump’s lie about wiretapping was discussed 35 times on those two days.

    Trump’s promotion of a discredited lie accusing his predecessor of illegal conduct while in office merits extensive media coverage, but the policies he has enacted or plans to enact can be just as destructive as the misinformation he spreads. Media cannot afford to let Trump's misleading claims dominate the news cycle, drowning out crucial coverage of the pain his policies may cause the United States.

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening news programming (defined as 6 p.m. through 11 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, as well as the major news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS, from March 13, 2017, through March 17, 2017. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: Trump or executive order or federal government or federal employ! or federal worker or federal workers or civil service or government workers or government worker or federal government or budget.

    The following programs were included in the data: ABC's World News Tonight, CBS' Evening News, NBC's Nightly News, and PBS' NewsHour, as well as CNN's The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Tonight, Fox News' Special Report, The First 100 Days, Tucker Carlson Tonight, The O'Reilly Factor, and Hannity, and MSNBC's For The Record, Hardball, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that air reruns, only the first airing was included in data retrieval. This survey includes CNN’s second live hour of Anderson Cooper 360 during the 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. time slot.

    For this study, Media Matters included only those segments that contained substantial discussions of Donald Trump. We defined a "substantial discussion" as any segment where a host dedicates a monologue, or portion of a monologue, to Trump, his activities, or the policies he is pursuing as president of the United States, or any segment where two or more guests discuss Trump, his activities, or the policies he is pursuing as president of the United States. We did not include teasers or clips of news events, or rebroadcasts of news packages that were already counted when they first aired in the 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. survey window.

  • Breitbart Is Tagging Articles With A Bigoted "Alt-Right" Meme That Attacks Swedish Multiculturalism

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    Breitbart’s xenophobic “Sweden YES” tag is a dog whistle to the “alt-right,” and the misleading articles marked with the label serve as the foundation for the outlet’s anti-immigrant campaign in both Europe and the United States.

    In a March 17 interview with NBC News, Breitbart.com’ Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow attempted to distance his site from the “alt-right,” claiming that it’s “not a hate site.” But one of the website’s new favorite content tags -- “Sweden YES!” -- is an “alt-right” catchphrase that began as an effort to mock Sweden’s multiculturalism, gender equality, and positive stance on immigration.

    According to Know Your Meme, “Sweden Yes” began on a German international messageboard, Krautchan/int/, in 2012. From there, it became a subreddit, which is currently “quarantined” due to its “shocking or highly offensive content.” The phrase is also popular on the anonymous online message board 4chan, where there is currently an archived Sweden Yes thread on the /pol/ page, with activity as recent as March 20. The meme is associated with Captain Sweden, a series of Swedish webcomics named for an anthropomorphized multicultural Sweden, often depicted engaging in interracial intercourse or featuring immigrants engaged in criminal behavior.

    The Breitbart content organized under the “Sweden Yes” tag is written almost exclusively by Chris Tomlinson, a Breitbart London contributor who often retweets far-right French political leader Marine Le Pen and far-right, anti-Muslim Dutch political leader Geert Wilders, as well as Lauren Southern, an “alt-right” media figure who was recently allowed into a White House press briefing. Virginia Hale, a white nationalist Breitbart reporter with a history of using anti-Muslim rhetoric, has also written “Sweden Yes” content in recent weeks.

    The first Breitbart content tagged “Sweden Yes” was published in November 2015. But that article was one of only five pieces of content given the tag before President Donald Trump’s February 18 speech in which he instructed the audience to “look at what’s happening last night in Sweden,” which he said “took in large numbers” of Muslim immigrants and refugees. Trump followed up his remarks about Sweden by mentioning three French and Belgian cities attacked by domestic terrorists over the past two years. Trump’s comment was a clear suggestion that Muslims and refugees are responsible for a so-called “crime wave” in Sweden. Multiple fact-checkers have debunked both Trump’s seeming implication of an attack the night before he spoke and his claim about migrant crime in Sweden. But the damage had already been done. Since his speech, Breitbart has labeled 32 pieces of content (of a total of 37) with the “Sweden Yes” tag.

    The site’s “Sweden Yes” content often makes evidence-free claims, exaggerates unrelated past incidents of crime to report on recent events, or exploits incidents in other countries to stoke fear about immigrant crime in Sweden. For example, a March 8 Breitbart article fearmongered about the takeover of Malmö due to “mass migration, predominantly from Middle Eastern nations” to claim that  the the city’s longtime residents are leaving the city, possibly due to an “explosion in crime” and “warring gangs.” But the words “warring gangs” are hyperlinked to another Breitbart article about these so-called gangs, which cites a Reuters article. Reuters makes no mention of whether the perpetrator of the gang shooting of a 16-year-old boy in Malmö was an immigrant.

    Another Breitbart article, about a Swedish program to train asylum seekers from the Middle East to work in correctional facilities, acknowledges that “so far the program has not run into a glaring issue that plagues many prisons across Europe, the growth of radical Islam and radicalization of inmates,” before claiming that French and British prisons have becoming a “breeding ground for radical Islamic indoctrination.” But the training program is in Sweden, not France or Britain, and while it places recently arrived immigrants in jobs within prisons, these program participants are guards, not inmates. The article also claims, “In HMP Gartree, a maximum security prison in the UK, entire cell blocks are run under a variation of Islamic sharia law according to reports.” The words “Islamic sharia law” link to another Breitbart article, which cites a Sun article to claim “Muslim extremists … are running an entire [cell] block under sharia law.” However, the Sun quotes a prison spokesman in the U.K. saying, “There is no evidence to back-up any of these claims about HMP Gartree."

    The exploitation of longstanding anti-Muslim tropes in the context of Swedish crime is merely the latest iteration of Breitbart’s anti-immigrant crusade in Europe. A false report Breitbart published in January alleging that a "mob" of Muslims attacked a German church spurred the German government to investigate what it deemed the “unprecedented proliferation” of fake news, a phenomenon which the Swedish prime minister recently mentioned as a concern his government is committed to investigating.

    The Trump administration has drawn criticism for its seeming embrace of the anti-immigrant "alt-right" movement. The incoming Trump administration was criticized in December 2016 because "A senior member of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team and a delegation of US Republican and European lawmakers canceled a briefing [] with Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely over a refusal to allow a Swedish far-right member of the group into the meeting[.]" Nevertheless, President Trump in January gave former Breitbart head Stephen Bannon a seat on the National Security Council's principals committee, which affords him access to meetings with senior-most national security officials. While Bannon is no longer formally associated with the outlet, according to a former Breitbart spokesperson, the site is still heavily influenced by Bannon’s editorial guidance.

    Trump’s baseless February 18 claim about immigrants committing crimes in Sweden is just one more example of how his administration both validates outlets like Breitbart and mainstreams “alt-right” narratives under the guise of keeping Americans safe.

  • IJR Suspends Three Staffers For Pushing "Alt-Right"-Based Conspiracy Theory

    Blog ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET

    Independent Journal Review (IJR) chief content officer Benny Johnson and two other IJR employees were indefinitely suspended after writing and publishing a baseless conspiracy theory -- originally pushed by “alt-right” fringe media -- which suggested that former President Barack Obama’s visit to Hawaii played a role in a ruling by a federal judge based there that froze President Donald Trump’s revised Muslim ban.

    On March 16, under Johnson’s direction, IJR published, then retracted, an article that attempted to “point out the timing and the opportunity” presented by Obama’s presence in Hawaii days before the judge’s ruling. The conspiracy theory was originally pushed by fringe and “alt-right” outlets such as Infowars and The Gateway Pundit, and it seemed to originate from a thread on the online anonymous message board Reddit. The outlandish theory even made its way to Donald Trump Jr., who retweeted a Twitter post that tied the judge to Obama.

    According to reports from Politico and Business Insider, after IJR investigated the publication of the baseless story, the site suspended Johnson and editors Kyle Becker and Becca Lower. In a statement, IJR founder Alex Skatell wrote that “we got it wrong and ultimately deserve all the criticism.” Business Insider noted that Johnson, who has been accused of plagiarism multiple times and has previously pushed false claims, “had been warned earlier that the story about Obama was an unfounded conspiracy theory, but he assigned it to Becker anyway.”

    This is the second recent occasion in which a right-wing media figure has been disciplined for spreading unsubstantiated allegations and conspiracy theories about Obama. IJR’s actions came a day after reports emerged that Fox News’ Andrew Napolitano was being taken off the air “indefinitely” for promoting the false claim that Obama used the British government to spy on Trump.

  • Andrew Napolitano's International Embarrassment Could Put Murdoch's Sky Bid In Jeopardy

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The reason Fox News benched senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano isn’t that he pushed a bogus conspiracy theory that the network was unable to confirm.

    Wild fantasies are Napolitano’s bread and butter. He regularly appears on Fox to fulminate over the alleged crimes of progressives. He has used his Fox platform to champion 9/11 trutherism, suggest that Osama bin Laden wasn’t really dead, and blame President Abraham Lincoln for having "set about on the most murderous war in American history" over slavery.

    Those incidents did not inspire Fox to examine Napolitano’s reporting, publicly declare that the network could not substantiate it, and pull the former judge from the airwaves.

    So what led the network to take those steps over the past few days, after Napolitano’s claim that President Barack Obama had used the British intelligence service GCHQ to surveil President Donald Trump’s communications last year fell apart?

    The White House supercharged the story when press secretary Sean Spicer read Napolitano’s comments from the press room podium. Napolitano’s typical practice of spitballing a conspiracy on Fox’s morning news show suddenly spurred an international news story that threatened U.S. relations with the United Kingdom.

    And that firestorm of coverage in the U.K. around Napolitano’s comments threatens Rupert Murdoch’s dream of owning the satellite broadcasting company Sky, which owns that nation’s Sky News network and pay-TV operations in the U.K., Germany, Austria, and Italy.

    Murdoch's 21st Century Fox, which owns a minority position in Sky, has bid $14.3 billion for the remaining stake. 21st Century Fox is Fox News' parent company. The bid is currently under review by the British media regulator Ofcom.

    The international news mogul previously sought to take over Sky (then known as BSkyB) in 2010. But he was forced to withdraw that bid in response to the investigation of phone hacking at his U.K.-based papers.

    Losing out on BSkyB was part of a long series of humiliations Murdoch endured due to the phone hacking scandal, culminating with a parliamentary committee’s declaration that he “is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of major international company."

    But those were humiliations ultimately driven by the failures of his son James, who was overseeing the family’s newspapers as head of News International, and who remains an heir to the Murdoch media empire. He surely has no intention of suffering a similar fate due to the actions of a random Fox News commentator.

    And yet, Napolitano’s actions put Murdoch’s massive Sky bid in jeopardy. Days after Britain's culture secretary asked Ofcom to review whether 21st Century Fox is sufficiently “committed to the required editorial standards, such as accuracy and impartial news coverage,” U.K. newspapers were filled with stories about how a Fox News commentator’s anonymously sourced, unverified claim had damaged that nation’s relationship with its closest ally.

    Yesterday, hours before the network acknowledged that Napolitano was “being kept off the air indefinitely,” Britain woke up to a front-page story in The Guardian reporting that the “former British ambassador to Washington, Sir Peter Westmacott, has issued a withering criticism of Donald Trump and his inner circle, accusing them of making absurd, unthinkable and nonsensical claims about the UK’s involvement in alleged wiretapping of Trump Tower that he warns could damage close ties between the two countries.”

    In a Guardian op-ed, Westmacott wrote of Spicer’s repetition of Napolitano’s claim that “anyone with any knowledge of the intelligence world knew the suggestion was absurd.”

    The Napolitano-sourced allegation was also torched in British media by a spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May (“ridiculous and should have been ignored”); the former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind ("foolish and very dangerous"); GCHQ, the British intelligence service that Napolitano accused (“nonsense”); Dominic Grieve, chairman of the parliamentary committee which oversees the U.K.'s spy agencies (“I echo [GCHQ’s] sentiment”); Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader in Parliament ( “shameful”; "harms our and US security"); and Richard Ledgett, deputy director of the NSA ("just crazy").

    The story has been discussed on the BBC and Sky News, as well as in the pages of The Telegraph, The Times, The Daily Mail, The Independent, The Daily Express, and The Daily Mirror, among others.

    Some of the most brutal headlines on the story over the past few days have been published by a Murdoch-owned tabloid, The Sun.

    Several British papers produced articles on Fox removing Napolitano from the airwaves. But the story won’t end there. According to Murdoch’s Times, the incident is likely to come up when Jeremy Fleming, the incoming director of GCHQ, next visits the United States. "Jeremy will be expected to make a trip to the US very early on to seek reassurances from our partners," a source told that paper.

    The more that story stays in the news, the less likely British regulators may be to allow the company that started it to dominate the U.K. airwaves.

  • Andrew Napolitano Off Fox News “Indefinitely” After Media Matters Exposed His Lie About Britain Spying On Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Los Angeles Times reported that Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano “is being kept off the air indefinitely” after Media Matters exposed his false claim that President Barack Obama allegedly used British intelligence community to wiretap Trump Tower during the 2016 election. The claim originated from a discredited conspiracy theorist on the Kremlin-backed news network RT.

    On March 14, Napolitano told hosts of Fox News’ Fox & Friends that Obama asked “the British spying agency” for “transcripts of conversations involving candidate Trump” without “American fingerprints” to sidestep the American intelligence community. Napolitano’s claims were repeated by White House press secretary Sean Spicer while he was defending Trump’s baseless claims that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential election.

    The Trump administration’s promotion of Napolitano’s conspiracy theory resulted in an international incident with the U.K., and Trump faulted Fox News during a news conference with German President Angela Merkel. Fox News distanced itself from Napolitano’s claims in a statement explaining that the network “knows of no evidence of any kind that the now president of the United States was surveilled at any time in any way, full stop.”

    Media Matters first traced Napolitano's wiretapping conspiracy back to an interview on the state-sponsored Russian television network RT with the former CIA analyst and discredited conspiracy theorist Larry C. Johnson, who previously promoted false claims that Michelle Obama used a racial slur against Caucasian people. Following Media Matters’ post, The New York Times confirmed that Napolitano used Johnson as “one of the sources” for his bogus wiretapping claim on March 17. Media Matters also exposed Napolitano's history as a 9-11 truther, reporting that he told renowned conspiracy theorist Alex Jones that it is "hard for me to believe that" World Trade Center Building 7 "came down by itself."

    On March 20, the Los Angeles Times reported that Napolitano is “not expected to be on Fox News Channel any time in the near future” after being “conspicuously missing from the network’s coverage of the confirmation hearings” for Trump Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. From the article:

    Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano is being kept off the air indefinitely amid the controversy over his unverified claims that British intelligence wiretapped Trump Tower at the behest of former President Obama.

    Fox News did not respond to inquiries about Napolitano’s status Monday. Napolitano was conspicuously missing from the network’s coverage of the confirmation hearings on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch — an event in which he typically would have played a significant role. He has not been on the air since Thursday.

    People familiar with the situation who could speak only on the condition of anonymity said Napolitano is not expected to be on Fox News Channel any time in the near future. Napolitano was not available for comment.

    Media Matters President Angelo Carusone released the following statement:

    Media Matters’ war on Fox News may be over. But, we don’t need to be on a war footing to expose when they promote conspiracies that originated from a segment on Russian state media. Especially when that false information gets into Donald Trump’s brain and leads to an international incident, as it did this week with Andrew Napolitano’s Fox & Friends segment.

    Most people may not realize it, but Napolitano has long been one of Trump’s favorites (I’m sure that’s not just because he’s one of Trump’s tenants either). Just a few months ago, Trump confidant Roger Stone was predicting that Trump would eventually nominate Napolitano to the Supreme Court. And, don’t forget that Napolitano met with Trump on multiple occasions between election day and inauguration day to reportedly advise Trump on filling Supreme Court vacancies among other things.

    So, it’s somewhat ironic that Donald Trump is responsible for getting Andrew Napolitano booted from the airwaves. And, yes, it’s all Trump’s fault.

    Napolitano has been peddling convoluted conspiracies and false claims on Fox News for years. It wasn’t that long ago that Napolitano was bouncing back and forth between Alex Jones’ radio program and Glenn Beck’s since cancelled Fox News show, cross pollinating nonsense and lies.

    But, Napolitano’s conspiracies never mattered to Fox News before. They only mattered now because Trump parroted one and subsequently sparked an international incident with the United Kingdom. (A country, by the way, where Fox News owner Murdoch is currently being carefully scrutinized in order to secure regulatory approval to expand his media empire and take over Sky News).

    If Fox News was actually concerned with standards, they would have sanctioned Napolitano years ago -- and they would certainly do something about the litany of lies that Trump continues to consume by watching Hannity, Tucker, and Fox & Friends.”

    This post has been updated for clarity.

  • Spicer Shuts Down Press Briefing Following Questions About His International Incident

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    White House press secretary Sean Spicer shut down today’s press briefing after he was asked about the international incident he caused last week by reading a Fox News transcript that accused a British intelligence service of spying on President Donald Trump last year on behalf of then-President Barack Obama.

    Last week, the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees publicly acknowledged that they have seen no evidence to support Trump’s claim that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the presidential election. In an effort to defuse the situation during the March 16 press briefing, Spicer read aloud from a series of news articles that he falsely claimed supported Trump’s statement. This included Fox senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano’s March 13 statement on Fox & Friends that, according to “three intelligence sources,” Obama relied on “GCHQ,” the “British spying agency,” to obtain transcripts of “conversations involving President-elect Trump” with “no American fingerprints on this.”

    The comments generated a “diplomatic row,” which Spicer reportedly tried to contain by contacting Britain's U.S. ambassador.

    Roughly 45 minutes into today’s briefing, National Journal’s George Condon raised the issue, asking Spicer if reporters could assume that when he reads news articles from the White House podium, he is “vouching for the accuracy of those articles.” This was a clear reference to Spicer’s Thursday recitation of Napolitano’s claim. Spicer replied that this was a “silly assertation (sic)” and that “reading a story ... is not vouching for it.”

    Condon followed up, asking Spicer to discuss his conversation with the British following those comments. Spicer replied, “There was merely an explanation of what we did and why we did it, which is what I just said to you. And that was it. Simply that.” And then Spicer ended the briefing before any other reporters could ask the press secretary more questions about the incident.

    Since Spicer’s March 16 briefing:

    • The British intelligence service has denied the charge.

    • The Trump administration was forced to discuss the incidents with the British government.

    • When a reporter asked Trump about the incident during a press conference with a foreign leader, the president claimed that “all we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television.”

    • Fox News admitted that it could not substantiate Napolitano’s claim.

    • Napolitano acknowledged that one of his sources was a well-known conspiracy theorist.

    • That conspiracy theorist said that Napolitano had botched the story.

    • A British newspaper owned by Fox chief executive Rupert Murdoch reported that the story may have been the result of a Russian intelligence operation.

    • The deputy director of the National Security Agency told BBC News that the charge was “arrant nonsense.”

    Questions that remain regarding the incident include:

    • Who brought the Napolitano segment to Spicer’s attention? Was it Trump, who regularly watches Fox & Friends and trusts its reporting?

    • Did Spicer make any effort to corroborate Napolitano’s comments before repeating them to the White House press corps?

    • Does the White House consider Napolitano a credible source for information?

    • Was Spicer aware that Napolitano has said that it is "hard for me to believe that" World Trade Center Building 7 "came down by itself," and that "20 years from now, people will look at 9/11 the way we look at the assassination of JFK today. It couldn't possibly have been done the way the government told us"?

    • Why doesn’t Spicer believe he owes the British an apology?

    • Does the U.S. government agree with reports that Napolitano’s story may have been the result of a Russian intelligence operation?

    Reporters should follow up on the story tomorrow, rather than allowing Spicer to turn the page.

  • The Bigotry And Idiocy Of Donald Trump's Favorite News Show

    The President Of The United States Has Made Fox & Friends' Lack Of Journalistic Standards A National Security Issue

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    “For the record,” a top Fox News executive explained to the network’s newsroom a decade ago, “seeing an item on a website does not mean it is right. Nor does it mean it is ready for air on FNC.”

    John Moody, at the time Fox’s vice president for news, issued that missive after Fox & Friends co-hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade highlighted for their millions of viewers a right-wing outlet’s quickly debunked report that then-Sen. Barack Obama had gone to school at an extremist Islamic madrassa as a child. “The hosts violated one of our general rules, which is know what you are talking about,” Moody told The New York Times. “They reported information from a publication whose accuracy we didn’t know.”

    Ten years later, the denizens of the program’s curvy couch still frequently don’t know what they are talking about. But now, their conspiracy theories and bogus claims are repeated by the White House as if they were credible reports from distinguished journalists. Under the Trump administration, the hosts and guests of Fox & Friends are setting the national agenda, thanks to their biggest fan, the president of the United States.

    Last week, Fox senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano stopped by the set of Fox & Friends and claimed that unnamed intelligence sources had told him that late last year, a British spy agency had surveilled now-President Donald Trump on behalf of then-President Barack Obama.

    The incident was typical for Napolitano, a 9/11 truther who regularly uses his Fox airtime to push paranoid conspiracy theories. But the response from the Trump administration was remarkable.

    Two days later, White House press secretary Sean Spicer cited Napolitano’s claim during a briefing. Since then:

    • The British intelligence service has denied the charge.

    • The Trump administration was forced to discuss the incidents with the British government.

    • When a reporter asked Trump about the incident during a press conference with a foreign leader, the president claimed that “all we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television.”

    • Fox News admitted that it could not substantiate Napolitano’s claim.

    • Napolitano acknowledged that one of his sources was a well-known conspiracy theorist.

    • That conspiracy theorist said that Napolitano had botched the story.

    • A British newspaper owned by Fox chief executive Rupert Murdoch reported that the story may have been the result of a Russian intelligence operation.

    • The deputy director of the National Security Agency told BBC News that the charge was “arrant nonsense.”

    “There was a time when a guy like Judge Andrew Napolitano could make some marginal remarks on Fox News, and only a large plume of non-White House officials would take him seriously,” The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple noted Friday. “Perhaps a website or two would pick up on them. Then everyone would move on to other matters. … Warning to Judge Napolitano: People in power are now listening to you. They’re case-building off of your reporting.”

    If Trump can be said to treat Fox News personalities as his advisers, then the hosts of Fox & Friends are his kitchen cabinet. While the president regularly assails journalists as lying members of the “opposition party,” he praises Fox for producing “the most honest morning show” and calls its hosts “honorable people.”

    Trump has said that he may owe his presidency to his years-long weekly interview segment on Fox & Friends, telling the show’s hosts earlier this year that “maybe without those call-ins, somebody else is sitting here.” Since becoming perhaps the most powerful person on the planet, Trump has continued to regularly watch the morning show, sometimes for hours at a time. He frequently tweets along with the program, commenting on the stories he sees and retweeting the broadcast’s feed. And those presidential comments set the news agenda for the rest of the press.

    Given the president’s tendency to run with thinly sourced claims he gets from right-wing outlets, this is not a good sign.

    Doocy and Kilmeade, who have hosted since the show’s debut in 1998, regularly expose themselves as bigoted misogynists. (Ainsley Earhardt, the program’s third co-host for the past year, provides run-of-the-mill conservative-inflected Fox commentary.)

    Notably, Kilmeade has declared that “all terrorists are Muslims” (he later said he misspoke) and issued a shockingly racist rant about how Americans don’t have “pure genes” like the Swedes because “we keep marrying other species and other ethnics” (he subsequently apologized). Former Fox & Friends host Gretchen Carlson accused Doocy of engaging in “a pattern of severe and pervasive mistreatment” on and off air in her sexual harassment lawsuit against the network’s founder and chairman, Roger Ailes; while Ailes was pushed out, no public action was taken against Doocy.

    They are also two of the dumbest people in the news business.

    Lest you think I am exaggerating, please watch this clip of Trump’s favorite morning show hosts attempting to roast marshmallows over an open fire using a plastic spoon and their bare hands. Pay special attention to the look on Chris Wallace’s face as he observes the antics from a remote site with increasing disbelief, and eventually halts the segment to call them “dopes.”

    The gullibility and stupidity of Fox’s morning hosts is now an issue of national import. They frequently push obviously false and easily debunked claims, often based on dubious reports from sources that lack credibility. Some past examples include:

    The Time A Federal Judge Scolded Them For Credulously Reporting A Parody Story. In 2007, just a few months after the hosts’ madrassa commentary spurred the network executive to warn them not to believe everything they see on the internet, they reported that a middle school student had been suspended for leaving a ham sandwich on a lunch table near Muslim students. At one point during the segment, Kilmeade said, "I hope we're not being duped," to which Doocy replied, "We're not being duped. I've looked it up on a couple of different websites up there." They were being duped; their source was a fabricated story from the hoax website Associated Content. Doocy subsequently issued a retraction and apology.  A federal judge later criticized the “gullible” hosts over the incident, saying their actions “should provide grist for journalism classes teaching research and professionalism standards in the Internet age.”

    The Time Doocy Claimed Obama Fabricated An Earthquake (He Didn’t). In March 2010, Obama said a proposal to adjust Medicaid reimbursement rates for states affected by natural disasters "also affects Hawaii, which went through an earthquake." Doocy suggested that Obama had made the earthquake up, noting that previous Hawaiian earthquakes came in 1868 and 1975. His allegation came from Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft, the dumbest man on the Internet and, not surprisingly, a regular source of Fox & Friends stories; an earthquake struck Hawaii in 2006.

    The Time Fox & Friends Investigated Whether A Terrorist Ghostwrote Obama’s Autobiography. In March 2011, the program hosted WorldNetDaily columnist and noted conspiracy theorist Jack Cashill to discuss his claim that Obama's first book, Dreams from My Father, was actually written by former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers.

    The Time Doocy Told Trump That Obama "Could End It Simply -- Just Show [The Birth Certificate] To Us." In a series of segments in March and April 2011, the hosts supported Trump’s fact-free claims that Obama had not produced his birth certificate. During their regular interview segment, Doocy responded to Trump's false statement that President Obama "has not given a birth certificate" by saying, "He could end it simply -- just show it to us, and it'd be over."

    The Time The Show Invented A TSA Program To Test Airline Passenger DNA. The program ran a March 2011 segment suggesting that the Transportation Security Administration would soon begin testing airline passengers' DNA at airports. Napolitano criticized the purported effort, saying it “offends the Constitution” and “feeds the government's voracious appetite to control people”; Kilmeade defended TSA for “trying to stop illegal human trafficking.” Arguments about civil liberties aside, the entire story was made up, as Doocy acknowledged when he apologized for the “error” the next day.

    The Time Fox & Friends Claimed Obama Wanted To Apologize To Japan For Hiroshima. In October 2011, the hosts lashed out at Obama because he supposedly had wanted to apologize to Japan for the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, but Japan had nixed the idea. The next day, Doocy sought to “clarify” the story by removing the portion of the story that had angered them, stating: “We want to be very clear. There was never a plan for President Obama to apologize to Japan. We should have been clear about that, and we're sorry for the confusion.”

    The Time They Falsely Claimed Obama Met With A Pirate But Not Netanyahu. Channeling a story from The Drudge Report, the hosts claimed in September 2012 that Obama had time to meet with a man in a pirate costume for Talk Like a Pirate Day, but had been “too busy” to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In fact, the photo of Obama and the pirate that the White House had tweeted out the previous day had been taken three years earlier for use during that year's White House Correspondents' Dinner. Doocy and Fox & Friends subsequently acknowledged that fact on social media.

    The Time They Pretended Obama Wanted To Take Kevlar Helmets Away From Cops. After a police officer survived the June 2016 mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL, because he had been wearing a Kevlar helmet, Doocy suggested that the Obama administration had been “pushing to take away life-saving armor” like the helmet through a ban on the federal government transferring military equipment to police departments. Kevlar helmets are not on the list of banned equipment, as Doocy acknowledged in a clarification the next day.

    The Time Fox & Friends Pushed The Conspiracy Theory That Google Was Manipulating Search Results To Help Hillary Clinton. In June 2016, Kilmeade and Napolitano accused Google of “manipulating the search [results] for Hillary [Clinton] to bury the bad stuff.” Napolitano said that “we know” Google “has” manipulated search results relating to Clinton according to a "very extensive test," and that the result is an example of “the Google, Eric Schmidt [executive chairman of Google’s board of directors], President Obama, Democratic National Committee, West Wing circle that we all know exists.” But, according to CNNMoney, “Despite what you might have seen online, Google is not manipulating its search results to favor Hillary Clinton.”

    The Time Doocy Pushed A Conspiracy Theory About A Murdered Democratic Staffer. In July 2016, Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer Seth Rich was murdered while walking home in his Washington, D.C., neighborhood. Conservatives subsequently suggested that he may have been murdered because he had helped WikiLeaks gain access to the DNC’s email servers (his family condemned these conspiracy theories). Fox & Friends picked up the story, with Doocy stating on air, “Some on the internet are suggesting, wait a minute, was [Rich] the source of the WikiLeaks DNC leaks?”

    Now when Doocy and Kilmeade run credulous reports based on something they saw "on the internet," the president is watching -- and taking them seriously.

  • Will Fox News Finally Take The Debt Ceiling Seriously?

    Fox Spent Years Urging Republicans To Default On The National Debt To Hurt President Obama

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON & ALEX MORASH

    Since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2011, Fox News personalities have urged them to use the threat of defaulting on the sovereign debt obligations of the United States government as a means of winning political concessions. With Republicans now in full control of Congress, will the talking heads at Fox finally come to terms with this monumental threat to the global economy and urge the GOP to raise the debt ceiling?