Right-wing dark money group dangles catnip for Fox News about Biden nominee Vanita Gupta

Gupta with JCN logo

The Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), a right-wing front group of smear specialists whose taste for rank hypocrisy is matched only by their sheer dishonesty, is launching a new ad campaign of absurd distortions and flat-out lies targeting Vanita Gupta, President Joe Biden’s accomplished nominee for associate attorney general.

The $800,000 campaign, which Politico reported began on Thursday across Washington, D.C., cable networks and digital platforms, includes a video attacking Gupta for her alleged positions as a long-standing civil rights advocate. Despite the fact that the ad is even sloppier than normal for JCN, its trolling of an accomplished civil rights leader is tailor-made for Fox News’ ongoing smear campaign against Biden’s nominees and appointees.

Initial coverage would seem to confirm this trajectory. Later in the afternoon on the day Politico first reported JCN’s campaign, FoxNews.com repackaged the scoop to push right-wing attacks on Gupta as “too far left to be confirmed by the Senate” and claims “that her selection breaks Biden's promise of 'unity.’” The Fox News article did not, however, include Politico’s observation that “the article that the ad cites to support the accusation that Gupta favors defunding the police does not actually say she favors defunding the police.” Later that night, Fox News’ Laura Ingraham took the same baseless approach in a segment that indulged the conspiracy theory that “Soros-type” “radical” Democrats “think we are an evil, awful, racist country” that will use “the levers of government to dismantle the government,” and she repeated the false accusation that Gupta supports “abolishing the police.”

Against a backdrop of crime scenes, guns, and protests, the JCN ad, titled “Dangerous Appointee,” lobs a series of negative claims against Gupta, the former president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Warning that she “supports defunding the police” and “led a group that wants to reduce punishments on white supremacists, even terrorists,” the ad states: “When our cities burned, Gupta could’ve stood for law and order -- for victims. Instead, she advocated to let convicts out of jail.”

All three claims are wildly misleading.

The Reuters article that the ad cites onscreen for its accusation about Gupta’s stance on police reform completely undermines JCN’s smear. Contrary to the ad’s imagery suggesting that Gupta, the former head of the civil rights division of the Department of Justice, wants to “abolish the police,” the article paraphrases Gupta’s explanation that the Black Lives Matter protests of the past summer “reflected a growing consensus that flawed policing is just one aspect of a deeper issue.” Quoting Gupta, the Reuters article continues: 

“Police reform alone is not going to solve the problem of police violence,” she said. “It really is going to require fundamentally looking at what kind of investments and priorities have been made in black and brown communities over many years.” 

Reuters doesn’t even support JCN’s reductionist use of the protests’ messaging, explaining the “defund the police” slogan “is being used by activists to propose eliminating or cutting spending on police departments, often the largest expense for municipalities, and instead funneling the money to programs for education, social welfare, housing and other community needs.”

The ad’s subsequent claims twist the facts just as badly.

Alongside a growing movement to abolish the federal death penalty in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s end-of-term “execution spree,” The Leadership Conference joined a coalition of 82 organizations in asking Biden to reject Trump’s “disgraceful” policy:

Such state-sanctioned killing is not only inhumane, but in deep conflict with many of our country’s most fundamental democratic principles and civil rights protections. A cruel and unusual punishment, the death penalty fails to comport with either the 8th or 14th Amendments and violates our obligations under international law. Since 1973, more than 170 individuals have been sentenced to death and exonerated on innocence grounds, demonstrating the high propensity for error in our criminal legal system and the unfathomable consequences that may follow. The only way to eliminate the possibility of executing an innocent person is to do away with the punishment altogether.

As evidenced above, the coalition effort is obviously not a campaign tailored for the specific benefit of white supremacist murderer Dylann Roof and Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, both of whom are on federal death row and whose mugshots flashed across the screen during JCN’s ad attacking Gupta.

Finally, JCN attempts to malign support for the human rights of prisoners pledged by Gupta, who as deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union and director of its Center for Justice led both the organization’s criminal justice reform program and its National Campaign to End Mass Incarceration. To attack her on this, the ad resorts to splintering a Gupta tweet, displaying only “COVID-19 is killing people in federal prison who could be released.” 

The full tweet says: “COVID-19 is killing people in federal prison who could be released. The Bureau of Prisons ‘has largely disregarded one method it has to release inmates, a procedure that seems ideally suited for the coronavirus pandemic — compassionate release.’” The real tweet also includes the article quoted by Gupta (ignored by JCN), which details how the Trump administration’s attempts to release certain low-risk prisoners to control the pandemic in prisons was failing to utilize compassionate release, which was “part of bipartisan legislation passed in 2018” and was “intended as a way to swiftly grant release to inmates who are terminally ill or for other ‘extraordinary and compelling reasons.’”

And yet, despite its shoddiness, this emerging smear campaign appears to have been manufactured by JCN with an eye toward Fox News’ standards. Led by prime-time host Tucker Carlson, darling of the “white supremacist cell” at the network, Fox’s attacks on Biden’s nominees and appointments have not let facts stand in their way. Carlson, in particular, has taken a particular interest in going after Biden’s civil rights picks, so Gupta, as another woman of color and as a litigator and public servant who has long fought for the race-conscious precedent he loathes, would appear to be an inevitable target.