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  • Sore winners and the sidelining of a shared reality

    Right-wing media’s selective empathy can create disastrous long-term effects on the political climate.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Even though their party has control over the presidency, both chambers of Congress, and a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court for the foreseeable future, conservative media paint a perpetually dire picture of their movement. Viewers and listeners are bombarded with messages signifying conservatives’ role as scrappy underdogs whose successes come in spite of a system rigged against them.

    Looking to a recent example, conservative commentators Diamond & Silk (Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson) have spent the better part of 2018 claiming that Facebook has discriminated against them for their political leanings. What actually happened was that Facebook had briefly marked the duo’s page as violating the company’s then-new monetization policy. Though their page was quickly restored, the narrative had already taken hold: Facebook hated conservatives. In the coming months, the two testified before a House committee about their experience of being persecuted for their political beliefs by a tech company out of control and were given plenty of airtime by Fox News.

    Did it matter that there wasn’t an ounce of truth to their claim? Apparently not. It worked, marking the second time since 2016 that Facebook caved under easily debunked claims of anti-conservative bias.This time around, Facebook created a task force headed by then-former Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl (he would later return to the Senate to serve out the remainder of John McCain’s term) to study the issue, inviting zero left-of-center groups or individuals.

    Yes, publishers saw a pretty massive drop in referral traffic coming from Facebook as a result of changes to its algorithm -- overall, traffic is down nearly 50 percent in the past two years -- but that’s been an across-the-board change, not a targeted decline on the basis of political ideology. In fact, data show that conservative sites are still performing quite well. In September, Fox News ranked as the largest U.S.-based publisher on Facebook (based on likes, shares, comments, and reactions to stories). CNN, The New York Times, and HuffPost took the next three spots, followed by The Daily Wire, The Washington Post, and Breitbart News.

    If the story isn't true, then why push it so hard? Because without that underdog status, the anger that fuels conservative media wouldn't exist.

    There’s a reason why stories of anti-conservative bias, whether real or not, get played up a whole lot across conservative media. By reinforcing the audience’s idea that they are part of an oppressed minority on the precipice of being wiped out of existence, media can sidestep questions about how effective their party’s actual policies are at improving their lives. A great example of this has been the nonstop hype around a caravan of migrants making its way through Central America and Mexico. There’s no policy, just fear -- which is exactly what the Fox News midterm strategy happens to be.

    On Monday, the Twitter account for Fox News’ Fox & Friends First shared the story of a Twitter user going by the name @RealFrankFromFL:

    First politicians, now Americans! A man is now claiming that he was denied service at a restaurant just for wearing a Trump t-shirt. Do you think Americans are tired of the Left’s mob mentality & tactics like this?

    Frank’s story, in which he claims he and his family were denied service at a Ruby Tuesday restaurant in Roanoke Rapids, NC, because he was wearing a Trump T-shirt, had been picked up by conservative blogs The Gateway Pundit, Conservative Tribune, and BizPac Review. There’s no way to know how much of the story is accurate, but it served the purpose of reinforcing the idea that Trump supporters are a persecuted minority.

    You can see this play out on repeat with the way Fox News covers stories about conservatives, members of the Trump administration, Trump supporters, police officers, or members of the military being denied service somewhere.

    In October 2017, Fox gave a sympathetic interview to the co-owners of Cup It Up American Grill in Tucson, AZ, after the restaurant closed following backlash to a Facebook post in which they praised Trump and slammed “political correctness.” After three Republican interns were allegedly booted from an Uber for wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, the trio was invited to tell their story on The Ingraham Angle. In December, after a group of MAGA hat-wearing Fordham University students were told to leave their campus coffee shop for intimidating other students, Fox gave their story a little boost, as well. These stories are absolutely fair to report on; it’s in the contrast to how media outlets tend to cover events that paint progressives in a sympathetic light that it becomes clear that the same standards of what is considered newsworthy are not being applied.

    And good luck finding conservative sites that provide similarly in-depth, sympathetic coverage to stories about the viral video showing two black women being racially profiled at an Applebee’s (Fox did not cover the story on air); or the gay couple denied service at a Washington flower shop (Fox has actually covered this extensively dating back to 2015, but its framing has been, as it so often is in anti-LGBTQ discrimination cases, that it’s the shop owner who was the wronged party); or the man denied service at a restaurant for wearing an anti-Trump T-shirt. And in the instances in which discrimination against marginalized groups is covered in detail, conservative media outlets tend to side with the people doing the discrimination -- such as in the case of Aaron and Melissa Klein and their fight for the right to discriminate against gay couples at their bakery.

    Hyping the idea that the world is rife with discrimination against core conservative constituencies, while simultaneously ignoring the challenges other groups face (often at the hands of members of those core conservative constituencies), helps them build on their “No Country for Old, White, Christian Men” brand -- all the while complaining that people on the left are the ones actually indulging in victimhood culture. I jokingly refer to this tactic as doping at the Oppression Olympics.

    When viewers do hear about stories of actual oppression, there's little incentive to care.

    In fact, they might even cheer it on. Maybe this is just giving the left “a taste of its own medicine,” or the people being targeted have been so ignored or vilified that they’re not even registering as human beings worthy of rights anymore. I fear that we will soon see just how numb the country and the world, collectively, have become to the plight of others.

    On October 21, The New York Times reported on a leaked Trump administration memo proposing a radical redefinition of the terms “sex” and “gender” as they apply to federal nondiscrimination law. The goal, it would seem, would be to eliminate these protections for transgender individuals. According to the Times, the memo would define “sex” as “a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.” One’s legal sex would be based on someone’s original birth certificate “unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”

    This is big news with even bigger implications for trans people like myself. For the past several decades, the definition of what’s covered under the federal ban on sex discrimination in employment, housing, education, and public accommodations -- and whether that would include protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity -- has been a hotly debated topic, finding its way to federal court dozens of times with varying outcomes. In recent years, especially, things seemed to be swinging in favor of LGBTQ people being protected under existing law. Should the administration implement this memo as a new rule under the Department of Health and Human Services (the agency where it has been circulating), it would almost certainly invite a quick legal challenge that would likely end up in front of an increasingly Trump-friendly Supreme Court. At stake is trans people’s ability to access health care without being turned away on the basis of their gender identity. If the definition were to spread to other agencies, as it likely would, it could result in trans people no longer being able to access identity documents that match our gender, effectively legalize discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations, and obliterate any expectation of privacy in public.

    Conservative media has a time-tested, two-pronged approach to tackling marginalized groups: Ignore and then attack.

    After Trump confirmed that the administration was “looking at [defining gender] very seriously,” on October 22, Fox News began covering it on shows like Shepard Smith Reporting, Special Report with Bret Baier, and Fox News @ Night With Shannon Bream. The next day, Camille Paglia appeared on The Story with Martha McCallum for a segment on the move. Paglia has been a critic of what she calls the “transgender wave” and the quest for legal protections. In a 2017 interview with The Weekly Standard, she said, “No one deserves special rights, protections, or privileges on the basis of their eccentricity,” referring to gender identity. Tucker Carlson invited Tammy Bruce to come on his October 23 show. In 2015, Bruce compared being transgender to self-identifying as a dog. Neither Hannity nor The Ingraham Angle mentioned the report, though the hosts of both shows have offered some less-than-enlightened commentary on the topic in the past. While slightly antagonistic, Fox’s coverage of the memo was pretty tame, despite playing host to anti-trans critics.

    It was in the realm of conservative websites that the memo received the type of hero’s welcome one may have expected.

    Science Wins Trump Administration Proposes Transgender Policy Based on Biology,” blared a headline from The Daily Caller. Another article by the outlet, about trans actress Alexandra Billings, seemed to go out of its way to call the Transparent star by masculine pronouns as many times as possible.

    In National Review, David French wrongly suggested that the memo would simply be a rollback of an Obama administration overreach (it would actually be much more than that) and praised the policy as “standing athwart a lawless redefinition of biological reality and quite appropriately yelling stop,” while Ben Shapiro said the administration “restored some sense of sanity” to Title IX interpretations.

    Meanwhile, Breitbart News reveled in the fear and sadness trans people and our allies expressed in the wake of the news with assertions like “The policy would protect Americans’ civil rights from the transgender ideology” and headlines like “Hollywood Unhinged Over Report Trump Admin May Eliminate Gender Ideology.”

    The former story included the bizarre claim that “[transgender] ideology has been loudly supported — and heavily funded — by a small number of men who demand the government force Americans to say they are women, amid criticism that those ‘transgender’ men are heterosexual men who desire to mimic women.” Another author at the site wrote that this “is not the first time that the Trump administration has angered the increasingly powerful transgender lobby.” The first portion of the statement makes sense, as Trump has taken a number of anti-trans steps during his time in office, but if there’s a “powerful transgender lobby,” that’s news to me.

    We live in worlds split from reality, with context washed away in the name of a politically agreeable narrative.

    It’s hard to build empathy when you’re shielded from the people you’re supposed to be empathizing with. That may actually be part of the strategy. An October 2017 NPR poll found that 55 percent of white American believe that there is anti-white discrimination in the country. Just two months earlier, a Public Religion Research Institute poll reported that while 48 percent of Republicans believe that Christians face  “a lot” of discrimination, and 43 percent said that about white people, just 27 percent believe black Americans do. For comparison, for Democrat, those percents were 21, 19, and 82, respectively.

    The political divide has become a reality chasm. Consumers of conservative media are shown stories of people being told that there is a 20-minute wait for a table at a local Ruby Tuesday as a grave injustice that proves the world is out to get them. They’re told that anyone wishing them “Happy Holidays” is attacking their religion. They are made to feel that jabs by late-night comedians or awards show hosts are an “all-out attack” on their belief system.

    But what of the black child shot and killed for playing with a toy gun? Well, maybe that was his parents’ fault, they might think. Or trans people denied medically necessary treatment on the basis of their gender? Well, that’s for their own good, readers could reasonably conclude. Or stories of Muslims racially profiled, placed on a watch list, or just treated with general suspicion wherever they go? They might have seen a video saying that the majority of Muslims are extremists, so hey, can’t be too careful now.

    Political media have, without a doubt, played a huge role in leading ideological factions to their respective places in the world. There’s certainly a sense that along the way, we lost our grip on a shared, objective truth. If there’s hope of undoing the damage, it’s time media make the spread of fair, contextualized news a major part of their mission.

  • Pro-Kavanaugh shills claim nominee is the victim of a "lynching." Have they ever seen a lynching?

    Lynchings were a cornerstone of a hundred-year campaign of racial terrorism in defense of white supremacy, but conservatives see parallels with a powerful, wealthy white man facing consequences

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Warning: This piece contains graphic images and descriptions. 

    An emerging right-wing media narrative that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is the victim of a “lynching” betrays not only conservative media’s desperation to salvage the nomination after he was credibly accused of sexual assault and likely perjured himself, but also their selfishness and superficiality when it comes to race relations in America. 

    On September 27, professor Christine Blasey Ford testified that Kavanaugh attempted to rape her at a high school party in the early 1980s. Right-wing media had already been building up a campaign against Ford since news of her allegations broke earlier in the month. But after her testimony, they dialed up their campaign to discredit Ford, with some of them eventually landing on the idea that the opposition to Kavanaugh is nothing but a “lynching.” 

    Attacking a sexual assault survivor with a reductive take on racial terrorism is, unfortunately, very on-brand for American conservatism in 2018. Fox’s Sean Hannity led the charge out of the gate; on September 17, the day after Ford went public, Hannity compared her allegations to the “vicious and horrible and nasty and unjust” hearings about Anita Hill’s sexual harassment reports against Justice Clarence Thomas and aired a clip of Thomas’ infamous “high-tech lynching” line. The Thomas quote was favorably recalled by several right-wing media figures, but they didn’t stop there: Several conservative and right-wing media figures took it upon themselves to make the comparison directly.

    On September 22, Fox’s Jeanine Pirro accused a guest of “setting this man up for his own lynching.” Similarly, the Family Research Council’s William Boykin told Newsbusters that he “thought lynching was made illegal and that the burden of proof rested upon the accuser, not the accused.” And Townhall published a piece (from a Black author) that audaciously began, “History is an easy and convenient thing to forget,” before comparing Kavanaugh to Emmett Till, a Black 14 year-old lynched in 1955 because of a white woman’s false groping allegation


    Mamie and Louis Till overlooking their son Emmett's corpse. (Time magazine)

    Perhaps the most depraved take came from National Review Editor-in-Chief Rich Lowry, who seems to compare Kavanaugh to the falsely accused in To Kill a Mockingbird, who is threatened with lynching. Lowry claims that a book famous for its themes of racial injustice “stands firmly for the proposition that an accusation can be false.” Lowry’s column completely ignores race -- the word doesn’t make a single appearance -- so it’s easy for him to twist Mockingbird into pablum about a man’s false accuser being “destroy[ed]” by an attorney who “doesn’t care about her feelings, only the facts.” In the original story, that same attorney also faces down a racist lynch mob outside the jail, but Lowry’s revisionist history inverts a hundred years of racial terror into a narrative that somehow vindicates Kavanaugh at the expense of his alleged victims. This take has spread throughout the right-wing Facebook echo chamber via a popular meme.

    In case conservative media have forgotten, lynchings are a uniquely reprehensible (and ongoing) part of American history. From 1882 to 1968, 4,743 people were lynched -- 72.7 percent of them Black -- for the express purpose of enforcing white supremacy. The victims were murdered in unspeakably horrific ways. Emmett Till, whom the Townhall piece compared to Kavanaugh, was found in a river, weighted down with a piece of a cotton gin. His face was so mangled by his attackers that he was unrecognizable. A sign marking where Till was murdered is regularly shot up by anonymous vandals. There’s also Mary Turner, a pregnant woman whose unborn child was cut from her womb and stomped to death (Turner was also set on fire and shot hundreds of times); Jesse Washington, who was doused in coal oil and hanged to death over burning crates, then carved into souvenirs and paraded around town; and Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie, who were dragged out of jail, beaten, hanged, then turned into postcards. Kavanaugh, in contrast, is facing extreme public scrutiny as he interviews for a job at the highest court in land. And if he doesn't get it, he'll simply go back to his old cushy life as a federal judge. 


    A postcard made from an image of Clayton, Jackson, and McGhie's lynching, also known as the Duluth lynching. (Wikimedia Commons)

    Right-wing media’s increasingly racialized Kavanaugh coverage is especially rich considering their routine denunciations of “the race card.” When conservative media say Kavanaugh is being lynched, they are playing "the race card" with blinders on; their arguments invoking an era of racial terrorism are completely devoid of any meaningful racial analysis. They’re defending a credibly accused sexual predator by first inventing, then weaponizing, an alternative history in which one of the most infamous acts of racial violence isn’t racial at all -- it’s simply about attacking people.

    It’s no coincidence that right-wing media deployed a racially charged accusation of “lynching” at the same time the conservative movement has embraced Dinesh D’Souza’s laughable, brazenly dishonest version of American history in which the Democrats are “the real racists” and the well-documented party realignment around civil rights simply “did not take place.” The right’s attempts to put an accused sexual abuser on the Supreme Court -- after electing another one to the presidency -- only serve to highlight the profound moral and intellectual rot at the heart of American conservatism.

  • Decades of Trump family tax fraud doesn’t bother conservatives who demanded Obama be “vetted”

    The tax swindler president gets a pass from the right

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    One of the dominant narratives about Barack Obama in conservative media and Republican politics hinged on the idea that no one knew who America’s first black president really was. This notion that Obama was hiding his true self found countless avenues of expression -- obsessions over his college transcripts; fine-toothed parsing of personal anecdotes related in his books; sinister insinuations about the childhood years he spent in Indonesia; dimwitted conspiracies about who actually wrote his autobiography; equally stupid conspiracies about his biological father; still dumber conspiracies about the famous black men who could be his “real” father; and bad-faith efforts to impute to Obama the politics of every controversial figure he encountered in his public life. The current president’s ascent in Republican politics began with a bigoted smear campaign to demonstrate that Obama had covered up his true place of birth.

    The unstated political intent behind all this aggressive and frequently deranged probing into Obama’s past was to leverage racial anxiety and portray Obama as foreign, un-American, and dangerous. The stated justification was that America needed to break through the political persona Obama had created and understand who the “real” Barack Obama was.

    “All people want to know is: What has this man ever actually accomplished in government? What does he plan for America? In short: Who is the real Barack Obama?” then-Republican presidential candidate John McCain said in a 2008 campaign speech.  “He’s been elected president,” Fox News’ Sean Hannity said shortly before Obama’s inauguration. “My question is: Do we really know the real Barack Obama?” Conservatives were singularly obsessed with debunking Obama’s self-told origin story and exposing the true “radical” they already had convinced themselves was hiding behind it.

    Now here we are in 2018 and Donald Trump, who benefited more than any other Republican politician from telling grotesque lies about Obama’s background, is president of the United States, having successfully campaigned on his own mythology as a business genius and self-made billionaire. That mythology was always based on grandiose lies and relied heavily on intense secrecy and media credulity. This week it was ripped to shreds by a New York Times investigation into the Trump family’s wealth which found that Donald Trump was heavily dependent on dubious -- and often fraudulent -- financial support from his real-estate developer father, Fred Trump.

    The true Donald Trump is a child of privilege whose wealth was always secure. He was disastrous as a businessman, but he was singularly effective in devising schemes (in collaboration with his dad) to conceal those failures with complex and inventive forms of tax fraud. The Donald Trump who markets himself as a business phenom is actually a spectacular failure who so values personal wealth and the outward appearance of success that he would commit fraud and even attempt to railroad his ailing father into altering his own will.

    This is precisely what conservatives were warning would happen with Obama: A president’s facade was shorn away to reveal something far more sinister, with dire implications for our political system. And early indications are that the right couldn't care less.

    Fox News has spent the day since the Times story dropped spinning it as positive for Trump, arguing that the illegal behavior described in the story actually shows that Trump is -- in the words of Neil Cavuto -- “pretty clever.”

    Sean Hannity, who aired a series of programs in the run-up to the 2008 election purporting to expose “The Real Barack Obama,” brushed off the Times’ deconstruction of Trump as a “slander” cooked up by Democrats who “think they're losing the vote on Judge Kavanaugh.” Breitbart News, which committed itself to a much-publicized (and often hilariously inept) “vetting” of Obama in 2012, limited its coverage of the Times story to publicizing Trump’s attacks on it.

    Such hypocrisy is to be expected, I suppose, but it’s still wild given all the dire warnings conservatives sounded about what a secret radical president would mean for U.S. policy. The situation we now face is that a sitting president with a long-standing record of fraud and tax evasion is responsible for overseeing the IRS and directing tax policy. The Times article describes the intricate, intra-familial schemes the Trumps devised so Fred Trump could line the pockets of his children without paying taxes. Are we just going to assume that similarly fraudulent arrangements do not exist between Donald Trump and his children, one of whom is a senior official in his White House?

    The potential for corruption is staggering, and it hovers menacingly above all the acts of official corruption we already know about. And yet, few on the right seem invested in loudly asking “who is the real Donald Trump?” I guess it would be pointless anyway; we know the real Donald Trump is a fraud and a tax cheat, but they just don’t give a damn.

  • “The Empire strikes back”: Right-wing media defend Alex Jones after Infowars is banned from several major platforms

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS & ZACHARY PLEAT

    After Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, and iTunes all removed conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and Infowars pages from their platforms, several right-wing media figures leapt to the extremist’s defense. Jones’ defenders responded by criticizing and threatening “the entire rotten tech machine” and invoking a wide range of comparisons to support him, including Star Wars, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, reality TV star Kylie Jenner, and the Holocaust.

  • Right-wing media’s pseudo-expert on immigration manipulated small towns to pass anti-immigrant legislation that failed to stand up in court

    Kris Kobach’s anti-immigrant ordinances have left towns with hefty legal bills and nothing to show for it

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Breitbart columnist and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, whom conservative media have embraced as an authority on all matters immigration, spent years traveling the country pushing anti-immigrant ordinances. He then represented some of those towns in litigation against those ordinances and made hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the laws often didn’t stand up in court, leaving the towns that adopted the measures to pick up the pieces when they were inevitably gutted.

    On August 1, ProPublica and The Kansas City Star reported that Kobach, who is now running for governor, convinced numerous “small, largely white municipalities overwhelmed by real or perceived demographic shifts” to pass legislation making it nearly impossible for undocumented immigrants to live and work there. Kobach earned legal fees by representing the towns, which “ran up hefty legal costs after hiring him to defend similar ordinances,” most of which fell apart. According to the report, “None of the towns are currently enforcing the laws he helped craft.” One mayor duped by Kobach described his operation as “a sham” and another called it “ambulance chasing,” explaining that Kobach’s attitude was as follows: “Let’s find a town that’s got some issues or pretends to have some issues, let’s drum up an immigration problem and maybe I can advance my political position, my political thinking and maybe make some money at the same time.”

    Kobach has applied the same strategy to his media appearances, and conservative outlets are happy to help spread his message. As a Breitbart columnist, Kobach has pushed false claims about the crime rate for undocumented immigrants and spread white nationalist propaganda (Kobach himself has ties to white supremacists). Infowars and The Daily Caller have relied on Kobach’s supposed expertise, and The Gateway Pundit has even referred to him as an “immigration expert.” He also has a cozy relationship with Fox, appearing frequently on Fox & Friends and Tucker Carlson Tonight, where he has cited debunked research to claim that Dreamers -- undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States at a young age by their parents -- are prone to violence and has promoted his debunked theory that scores of undocumented immigrants were illegally voting. When Kobach faced an embarrassing trial in which he was reprimanded by a judge for voter suppression, Fox turned the other way, failing to report on his humiliating defeat.

  • Conservative media want you to believe Trump has been “tough” on Russia. They’re not telling the full story.

    Secretary of State Pompeo echoed right-wing media talking points on Trump’s toughness. In reality, Trump has undercut a number of actions Congress and his administration have tried to take against Russia.

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Following President Donald Trump’s disastrous bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, the president’s administration flacks and conservative media lackeys quickly scrambled to his defense, arguing that Trump has been “tough” in his “actions against Russia” and rattling off a series of actions he has taken since 2017 that supposedly support such a claim. The president himself and administration officials have also parroted the talking points in an attempt to dispel the idea that he is somehow in the pocket of the Russian government. But a closer look at the actions Trump shills have pointed to reveals a foreign policy that is more concerned with posturing for media than being “tough” in the face of Russian aggression.

    On July 16, Trump met with Putin for a meeting behind closed doors in which no other American -- except an interpreter -- was present, and they emerged more than two hours later to give a wide-ranging press conference. When asked whether he holds the Russian government accountable for its multifaceted interference campaign during the 2016 elections, Trump repeatedly denied Russia’s involvement, saying, “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia. (The president would later claim to have gotten “would” and “wouldn’t” confused.)

    To counter the deluge of negative press in the wake of the meeting, right-wing media and administration officials pointed to various foreign policy and military responses to Russian aggression that the United States and its allies have undertaken during Trump’s presidency to argue that the president’s “actions” actually “have been tough.” About a week after the bilateral meeting, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed Trump’s conservative media defenders as he faced senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, insisting Trump “has taken a truckload of punitive actions against Moscow” and that he has been “tough on Russia” as president. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeated the meme, as did the president himself.

    Trump’s defenders have pointed to sanctions against Russia that were imposed under Trump, the American strikes against the Russian-backed Syrian regime in 2017 and 2018, the March 28 expulsion of Russian diplomats and seizure of a Russian consulate, Trump’s demands for other countries to increase their NATO spending, the sale of lethal arms to Ukraine to fend off the Russian military and rebels in the eastern portions of the country, and the pressure Trump put on German Chancellor Angela Merkel over a proposed natural gas pipeline from Russia, among other specific actions. But Trump’s defenders are not telling the full story behind these actions.

    Sanctions

    In the aftermath of Trump’s meeting with Putin, a number of the president’s defenders touted sanctions that were imposed against Russia as evidence of Trump’s clear-eyed approach with regard to Russia. But, not only were the sanctions drawn up and passed by Congress while the Trump administration loudly opposed the move, the administration also dragged its feet in implementing them, missing a deadline to begin the implementation and only taking action after Congress demanded it do so. Moreover, Trump left United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley out to dry by walking back, without explanation, an announcement she made regarding additional sanctions against Russia.

    Additionally, one of the first official actions the Trump administration attempted was “to relax or remove punitive measures imposed by President Obama in retaliation for Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and meddling in the 2016 election.” The effort to remove sanctions that were already on the books appeared to continue into Trump’s presidency, as one of his top fundraisers and former deputy finance chairman for the Republican National Committee, Elliott Broidy, reportedly offered in 2017 to “help a Moscow-based lawyer get Russian companies removed from a U.S. sanctions list.”

    Syria

    Right-wing media have also cited U.S. airstrikes conducted against the Syrian regime as evidence that Trump has stood up to Russian aggression. But, in 2017, Trump “notified Russia in advance of” the strike, “giving time for both Russian and Syrian forces to avoid casualties in an attack,” and by the very next day, Syrian warplanes were using the airfield that was targeted. Additionally, in 2018, the strikes Trump authorized against the Syrian regime targeted chemical weapons infrastructure, “and not the bases where the Russians and Iranians are.”

    Trump’s defenders have also pointed to an American counterattack on Russian mercenaries and Syrian military personnel in February, saying Trump “authorized” the attack. While the U.S. military did in fact fend off a Russian-backed attack after “repeatedly” warning about the “growing mass of troops,” the strike was an “act of self-defense.” Citing the incident as evidence that Trump is countering Russian interests in Syria does not address the larger picture that, under Trump, Russia has become even more entrenched, further solidifying its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, as Trump lacks a coherent overarching strategy for the war-torn country. Not to mention the fact that, in May 2017, Trump disclosed sensitive “code-word information” originating from Israeli intelligence services to the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador to the United States at the time.

    Expulsion of Russian diplomats

    Trump sycophants are additionally highlighting the March 26 expulsion of 60 Russian intelligence operatives who were in the United States under diplomatic cover and the closure of a Russian consulate as further proof of Trump’s tough stance on Russia. But the expulsion of diplomats is an expected reaction that “represent[s] more symbol than substance.” And Trump also berated administration officials for expelling too many Russian officials, as he was reportedly “furious that his administration was being portrayed in the media as taking by far the toughest stance on Russia” as compared to European allies, who joined the United States in the symbolic gesture.

    Moreover, in a still-unexplained proposition in the early days of the Trump administration, officials looked at “handing back to Russia two diplomatic compounds, near New York City and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, that its officials were ejected from in late December as punishment for Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.”

    Weapons to Ukraine

    In what has emerged as a favorite talking point for Trump defenders in the wake of the meeting with Putin, conservative media are touting an arms deal with Ukraine. The deal, which the Obama administration had resisted, is meant to bolster Ukrainian defenses against the Russian military and pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels. Except Trump stooges in right-wing media fail to mention that the Ukrainian investigation into Trump’s former campaign manager’s shady business dealings in that country conspicuously stopped just “as the Trump administration was finalizing plans to sell the country sophisticated anti-tank missiles.” Not to mention the fact that, during the 2016 campaign, Trump made the laughable claim that the Russian military is “not going into Ukraine,” even though it effectively annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014. According to Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, Ukrainian officials were “tearing their hair and running around like crazies” when Trump was elected because of fears over what it would mean for the country.

    NATO spending

    Trump’s Fox News sycophants have also insisted that by “beating up the NATO allies” at the 2018 NATO summit, Trump succeeded in getting allies to “cough up more money” for the alliance when in fact Trump’s efforts had little to do with members’ increases in direct spending on their national military budgets. According to The New York Times, “each NATO member pledged in 2014,” after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, “to spend 2 percent of its gross domestic product on its own defense each year by 2024. … As a share of G.D.P., spending by European members and Canada began to rise before Mr. Trump took office.”

    Nord Stream 2

    Conservative media have also pointed to Trump’s critical comments to Merkel at the 2018 NATO summit over the proposed Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline that would run from Russia to Germany as confirmation that Trump is “tough” in dealing with Russia. But previous administrations and a bipartisan group of senators also opposed Nord Stream 2, and Trump himself toned down his criticism after meeting with Putin, conceding that the United States cannot block Germany’s domestic energy decisions. The German Marshall Fund’s Ulrich Speck said the president’s attacks against Merkel “looked as if Trump is looking for ammunition against Germany. If he would have been serious on pushing against Nord Stream, he would probably have brought this up much more forcefully with Putin.” Indeed, a “tough” U.S. policy toward Russia would avoid driving such a wedge between the United States and an ally that has disregarded domestic business concerns to wrangle European Union member states, which had their own economic apprehensions, to join sanctions against Russia for its 2014 invasion of Ukraine.

  • The small chorus of pro-Trump figures defending his disastrous presser with Putin

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Amid bipartisan criticism of President Donald Trump’s capitulation to Russian President Vladimir Putin, some of Trump’s fiercest media allies are standing behind him, even as many of his loyalists defect.

    During a July 16 press conference with his Russian counterpart, Trump questioned the findings of his own intelligence community and legitimized Putin’s false claim that Russia did not meddle in the 2016 election, calling his denial “extremely strong and powerful.” His shameful performance garnered sharp rebukes from intelligence community veterans, Democrats, Republicans, and even friends of Trump who have defended the president through some of his most egregious slip-ups.

    Nonetheless, a group of Trump’s most ardent supporters in the media rejected the overwhelming consensus and defended the president:

    • Fox's Jeanine Pirro: "What was [Trump] supposed to do, take a gun out and shoot Putin?"
    • Fox host Sean Hannity praised Trump for being "very strong at the end of the press conference."
    • Infowars host Owen Shroyer on the press conference: "It just kept getting better in time."
    • Conservative radio host Mark Simone: “The whole idea of a summit is to make peace. That’s what he was doing there.”
    • Fox host Laura Ingraham admonished “mass hysteria” in reaction to the press conference and downplayed Trump’s performance as involving an “unfortunate word choice.”
    • Fox’s Tucker Carlson attacked media for their reactions to the press conference and said it seems like politicians critical of Trump’s actions toward Putin and Russia “seek increased conflict with Russia.”
    • Breitbart’s Joel Pollak: “A day after the media/Democrats/NeverTrump meltdown over Trump-Putin summit, they're still wrong, the world's still here, and the future is bright.”
    • Breitbart’s Charlie Spiering: “Remind me, did Obama forcefully confront Putin for” the 2014 attack on a Malaysian Airlines passenger flight over Ukraine?
    • The Washington Times boosted comments from former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), current host of the web show Liberty Report, who categorized Trump’s meeting with Putin as “significant diplomacy.”
  • Right-wing media praise Trump after he snubbed the British prime minister and voiced white nationalist views

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On July 12, British tabloid The Sun published a wide-ranging interview with President Donald Trump in which he disparaged British Prime Minister Theresa May and espoused white nationalist views. Conservative media figures responded to the interview by praising the president and berating his critics.

    Trump sat down for an interview with the Murdoch-owned paper shortly after the conclusion of the NATO summit, at which he insulted world leaders, missed and was late to a number of meetings, and took credit for convincing other nations to increase their NATO contributions, which he did not actually do. After alienating allies at the summit, the president proceeded in the Sun interview to undermine May and criticize her Brexit blueprint, praise her chief political rival, and threaten and threaten to kill a potential trade deal between the U.S. and Britain. Trump also used white nationalist rhetoric to talk about immigration to Europe, saying, “I think what's happened to Europe is a shame. I think the immigration - allowing the immigration to take place in Europe is a shame. I think it changed the fabric of Europe. And unless you act very quickly, it's never going to be what it was. And I don't mean that in a positive way.”

    Here’s how conservative media figures have responded to Trump’s latest outburst:

    • Fox News contributor Nigel Farage praised Trump for his “bombshell to the establishment” opposition to “globalist structures like the European Union.”
    • Fox's Steve Hilton: “The president is 100 percent right about Brexit.” May is weak and “caved in to the elitist establishment.”
    • Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt: Trump is "allowed to" snub British Prime Minister Theresa May and "he's not afraid of the backlash."
    • Fox host Jeanine Pirro: “I don’t think it matters if [Trump] likes [May] as a person.”
    • Breitbart: “Trump just dropped the Mother of all Brexit Bombs on Theresa May.”
    • Breitbart also tried to legitimize Trump’s white nationalist view by hyping “significant demographic changes being seen across Europe” and fearmongering about the advent of “culturally alien practices” like female genital mutilation in Europe.
    • Anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller: “Reality vs Fantasy: President Trump warns Europe is ‘losing its culture’ by allowing ‘millions and millions’ of migrants, PM Theresa May praises their’ fantastic contribution’: Reality has a nasty way of shattering delusions. Trump speaks as it is. May…”
    • CRTV's Michelle Malkin attacked “media freaks” for overreacting to Trump’s comments, saying he was just “speaking truth” rather than acting like a "doormat.”
    • Fox's Geraldo Rivera: “He’s a great negotiator, the president.”
    • Fox host Melissa Francis: “To be clear… #TheresaMay wanted the President to lie about how he felt about her approach Brexit. And he wasn’t willing to lie. I guess #TheResistance & #NeverTrumpers thinks lying & diplomacy and the same thing.”
    • Asked about Trump’s conduct at the NATO summit and his interview with The Sun, YouTube vloggers Diamond & Silk said, “He’s doing an amazing job. He’s standing up for the American people and for America.”
    • Right-wing blog HotAir dismissed Trump’s comments, arguing they might actually help May.
  • 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.

  • Conservative media disingenuously demanding context about Trump’s “animals” comment have ignored that same context for years

    Right-wing media have consistently praised Trump’s conflation of immigrants with criminals

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    In the past, right-wing media have praised President Donald Trump’s immigration rhetoric, even as it conflated all undocumented immigrants with gang members. Now, after Trump pivoted from a vague question about MS-13 yesterday to say some undocumented immigrants “aren’t people, these are animals,” right-wing media are attacking mainstream outlets for reporting on the ambiguity of his remark and insisting he was talking exclusively about MS-13 gang members. But those same right-wing media figures, along with Trump, have helped foster an environment in which a mention of the term “MS-13” evokes undocumented immigrants, and this false association is having negative consequences for immigrants across the country.

    During a roundtable discussion about California’s so-called sanctuary laws on Wednesday, a local sheriff said to Trump, “There could be an MS-13 member I know about. If they don’t reach a certain threshold, I cannot tell ICE about them.” In response, Trump talked about “people coming into the country” and made no explicit reference to gang members:

    “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — we’re stopping a lot of them. But we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before. And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get them, we release them, we get them again, we bring them out. It’s crazy.”

    Many in the media reported accurately that Trump had called “some deported immigrants” or “some unauthorized immigrants” animals, and several journalists noted the ambiguity of his comment. But pro-Trump outlets opportunistically attacked mainstream outlets for their coverage, arguing that they had selectively edited his comment or taken him out of context. Infowars described the coverage as a “shocking level of deceit,” and CNN’s Rick Santorum complained that “this is one of the reasons that a big chunk of the country just turn off the media when they start going after the president.”

    Trump’s vague response had made no mention of the gang, and whether he was referring to gang members or undocumented immigrants in general, the dehumanizing effect was the same. As Vox pointed out, Trump’s strategic rhetorical ambiguity allows him to “refer to some specific criminals, call them horrible people and animals, say that their evil justifies his immigration policy, and allow the conflation of all immigrants and all Latinos with criminals and animals to remain subtext.”

    Right-wing media have boosted this type of rhetoric by praising Trump for erroneously hyping MS-13’s presence in the U.S. as a product of lax immigration policies, and many have conflated MS-13 and immigrants themselves. On any given day, trivial news about MS-13 -- a brutal gang founded in Los Angeles that has been able to grow in strength due to stringent deportation policies and mass incarceration -- will be broadcast in the conservative media sphere, almost always laced with complaints about lax immigration policies.

    The reality is that, while many MS-13 members are undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of undocumented immigrants are not MS-13 members, and the right-wing media campaign to conflate the two is having serious consequences.

    Such rhetoric mirrors actual policies being put in place by the Trump administration. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been using dangerously broad criteria to label undocumented immigrants as gang members, giving the agency cover to carry out hundreds of arrests under the auspices of an “anti-gang operation.” Just this week, a federal judge ruled that ICE outright lied to frame one person as “gang-affiliated.” Nonetheless, right-wing outlets dutifully report on the raids, casting ICE agents as heroes and the non-criminal immigrants as animals.

    Whether or not Trump was referring to MS-13 by calling people who cross the border “animals,” right-wing media and agencies like ICE benefit from his irresponsible and coded language, and non-criminal immigrants will bear the brunt of the fallout.

  • Steve Bannon reveals plans to visit Sweden to “learn from” the nation’s far-right party

    But even a party with neo-Nazi roots doesn't want to be associated with Bannon

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Steve Bannon revealed to a Swedish newspaper that he will be visiting the country to “learn from” the Sweden Democrats (SD), an anti-immigration, anti-Muslim party attempting to rebrand away from its neo-Nazi roots. In seeking alliances with Sweden’s most prominent right-wing party leaders, Bannon is trying to dig himself out of the political irrelevance his downfall has brought. But it appears that even the members of a party with neo-Nazi origins are embarrassed to be associated with him.

    In a March 28 interview with Dagens Nyheter, a daily newspaper in Sweden, Bannon revealed his plan to visit the country in the next few months “to learn” from the Sweden Democrats, “some of whom we have studied closely.” When asked what insights would he share with SD members from his time at the White House (he was fired in August 2017), Bannon said he’d urge the SD to continue fighting, increase the party’s contact with the base, and stay away from the so-called “globalists.” He also called SD leader Jimmie Åkesson a “dynamic” politician and characterized SD as an example for “the whole world to study.”

    Bannon’s interest in Sweden is neither new nor surprising, as he has long telegraphed his plans to export his far-right politics to Europe. During Bannon's time at the helm of Breitbart.com, as well as during and after his White House stint, the outlet has shown an obsession with a mythical migrant crime wave in Sweden, particularly as the nation prepares for a general election (Sweden has become a gateway to the anti-migrant agenda in Europe). Bannon’s announcement of his plans comes on the heels of a series of embarrassing setbacks for him -- ranging from a humiliating electoral loss by a Republican politician he championed in a ruby-red state to his ousting from Breitbart, which he helped build. It appears he is looking for a comeback wherever he can find it.

    When asked directly whether the SD party invited him to visit Sweden, Bannon gave a vaguely affirmative answer, stating he didn’t want to make an announcement yet but that he would “definitely come to Sweden ... relatively soon.” But just hours after the interview was published, the secretary of the Sweden Democrats party denied that anyone in the party arranged or even had knowledge of Bannon’s trip and refused to say whether SD will welcome Bannon to Sweden.

    Though SD was born out of neo-Nazi circles in the late ‘80s, it has since attempted to enter the mainstream by distancing itself from the overt white nationalism of some of its past leaders. In 2006, the party changed its logo from the torch used by the U.K.’s fascist National Front to an innocuous blue and yellow flower. Now, Sweden Democrats is the nation’s most established right-wing party and boasts a thriving (if controversial) social media presence. But its polarizing message has pushed its supporters away from the party in recent months.

    Though SD was polling as the nation’s second-largest party last June, a December 2017 poll showed support for SD has dropped to its lowest level since 2015. In February, a local SD member was forced to resign after posting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Facebook. Just last week, the party suffered another self-inflicted wound when one of its members was sentenced for repeated domestic abuse.

    The recently created more extreme far-right party Alternative for Sweden (inspired by the German AfD) serves as an additional threat to SD. AfS hopes to curry favor with SD’s most extreme elements and has successfully recruited several SD parliamentarians in the past few months, including one who was expelled from SD for extremist ties.

    It’s a testament to Bannon’s toxicity that the Swedish party that perhaps most viably embodies Bannon’s ideology has denied any contact with him, seemingly in an attempt to protect its vulnerable credibility. SD’s Åkesson has admitted that in the past, his party has been its own worst enemy, a problem which Bannon might find hard to resist, probably because he can easily relate.

  • The right wing's conspiracy theory network is now going after high school kids

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Erick Erickson wanted his Twitter followers to know that the article he was circulating -- which suggested the Parkland survivor-turned gun violence prevention activist David Hogg hadn’t been present during February’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School -- was no conspiracy theory. “David Hogg contradicts himself in two separate interviews about whether he was at school during the shooting. And no, this isn’t a fake news Gateway Pundit bs story,” Erickson tweeted last night, referencing the pro-Trump website notorious for propelling hoaxes. The decision by Erickson, the right-wing commentator once deemed “the most powerful conservative in America,” to publicly stand behind the credibility of the Redstate article in question backfired rather spectacularly as it became clear that it was, in fact, a “bs story.”

    Contributor Sarah Rumpf's article originally argued that “Hogg’s statements in a new CBS documentary about the shooting is casting doubt on Hogg’s original story that he was at school on the day of the shooting” and that the impetus was on the student to “explain himself, and quickly.” But Rumpf subsequently struck the entire original story, stating in updates that video showed Hogg on the scene and blaming CBS for airing “a very confusing quote without context.” After being slammed on Twitter, Erickson deleted his tweet and has this morning been throwing a tantrum about the incident (meanwhile, Rumpf spent the night quote-tweeting people praising her response).

    Rumpf’s original post cited no source for her theory, but it echoed the conspiracy theories that far-right social media accounts and websites circulated earlier that day. Larger conspiracy sites like Alex Jones’ Infowars and, yes, Gateway Pundit picked up the story later in the evening.

    The right’s conspiracy theory conveyor belt famously targeted Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election. Hoaxes about her health originated with wannabe sleuths on Twitter and Internet message boards, then moved to hyperpartisan Facebook-centered websites and larger right-wing blogs like Gateway Pundit that served as conspiracy clearinghouses. Finally, they entered the mainstream political debate via major conservative pundits and Fox News hosts. Now we’re seeing the same pattern play out, but this time the apparatus has fixated on high school students pushing for action to combat gun violence.

    Clinton had been the target of insane conspiracy theories for decades, and there’s a certain expectation that politicians seeking election should be able to respond to any criticism, however ludicrous. But, conservatives’ arguments that the Stoneman Douglas students have entered the public debate and thus are “fair game for critics” aside, you’d think we’d all be able to agree that the kids have been through enough and shouldn’t be targeted by a swarm of trolls and hacks.

    And yet, here we are. As the Stoneman Douglas activists have taken a central role in the current debate about guns, they’ve turned into the current hate object of the modern right. And so the tools and methods previously brought to bear against powerful Democratic politicians have now been turned on them.

    Almost immediately after the mass shooting, posters on far-right online message boards began warning that the surviving students who were giving interviews to television reporters were actually “crisis actors.” An organized campaign by those trolls turned that hoax into the top video on YouTube’s trending page, while other far-right websites, such as The Gateway Pundit and TruthFeed, subsequently attacked the students by suggesting they were coached.

    As student survivors of the shooting have spoken out about and campaigned for changes to gun laws, they have drawn increasing scrutiny from all parts of the right-wing media, including the message board conspiracy theorists and the websites that regularly draw from their musings.

    Over the weekend, far-right trolls apparently created and circulated a fake image and GIF of survivor Emma González tearing up the Constitution. Meanwhile, major conservative sites like Breitbart.com and Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire decided that they could produce good content by aggregating tweets from people who claimed that Hogg had offered a “Nazi salute” by raising a fist after his speech at Saturday’s March for Our Lives event in Washington, D.C.

    The good news so far is that while Fox News played a key role in pushing the Clinton health conspiracy theories into the mainstream, its hosts and commentators don’t seem to have done the same with the Stoneman Douglas ones. Instead, the network’s conservative pundits have focused on delegitimizing the activists as young, ignorant, and overly emotional.

    That keeps the conspiracy theories festering in the fever swamps but largely out of sight of the rest of the public. But as the targets of both the Internet mob attack known as Gamergate and the Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists would doubtless agree, those less-public campaigns can nonetheless do lots of damage to regular people who are just trying to go about their lives. In any case, the right-wing conspiracy network is here to stay, and it’s happy to go after anyone its members perceive as an enemy.