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  • Fox Business finally abandons Saudi investment conference

    The network delayed action until its Trump administration patrons pulled out

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Last Friday, Bloomberg, CNN, CNBC, and the Financial Times all announced that they would no longer sponsor a high-profile Saudi-backed investment conference to be held later this month in light of the disappearance of journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi. As the week went by, and evidence mounted that Khashoggi had been brutally tortured, murdered, and dismembered and that Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was responsible, only one Western media outlet stood by the conference: Fox Business. Day after day, the network stood pat, telling curious journalists that the matter was under review.

    On Thursday afternoon, the channel finally folded. “Fox Business Network has canceled its sponsorship and participation in the Future Investment Initiative conference in Saudi Arabia,” the network said in a statement. What changed? Consider this fact: The statement went out mere hours after Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced that he would not be attending the conference.

    Fox Business has fiercely defended the Trump administration and been rewarded with access to top officials. That past relationship and Trump’s seeming interest -- for reasons of corruption, apathy, or a combination of the two -- in helping to cover up the Saudi government’s involvement in Khashoggi’s apparent murder likely meant that as long as Mnuchin was planning to go to the conference, the network couldn’t abandon it either.

    “They are not going to do anything that puts them at odds with the White House so they can keep getting access,” one Fox staffer told CNN before the network announced its decision. Only after the Trump administration pulled out was Fox Business willing to do the same.

    While the network’s executives were biding their time, waiting to see what the White House decided, its commentators used their platform to make excuses for the Saudis, cast doubt on their apparent involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance, and warn that any effort to force the Saudi regime to face the consequences of its crimes would backfire.

    Lou Dobbs, the network’s biggest star and a sometime unofficial White House adviser whose show is dedicated to the worship of Donald Trump, has led the charge, sowing uncertainty about the case on a nightly basis. Here are a few examples (all quotes from Nexis):

    October 11: “No question [Prince Mohammed] has an immense challenge as he tries to transform Saudi society and institutions. … I'd like to hear what would be the result as we try to divine who is telling the truth and who is lying between the Saudis and the Turks.”

    October 15: “This is one of the most peculiar, perplexing and seemingly disproportionate news events that I can recall in some time. A person who has worked for the Washington Post, a very short time relatively is not entirely clear whether he was a paid contributor or whether he was -- had some other kind of relationship disappears going into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.”

    October 16: “President Trump tonight reacting once again to the disappearance of the Saudi activist and sometimes journalist for the Washington Post Jamal Khashoggi. … Meanwhile, growing calls from RINOs and the radical Dems on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to take action by [going] against the Saudis. If you thought the Judiciary Committee was scary, just take a look at the Republicans on Foreign Relations. I mean, look at that. If that doesn't instill trust in foreign policy in the Senate, what would it take?”

    October 17: “This story gets bigger and bigger and it seems the facts supporting various versions of the story seem to dwindle and dwindle. … The accuracy and the credibility of it perhaps we've already strained a bit to involve ourselves to this point bringing in the FBI, my god who's going to believe the FBI on anything right now? … Don't you think the smartest thing for us to do is to as the President said take a deep breath and let the facts come to us?”

    No facts changed between the time Fox Business’ most prominent personality said on October 17 that “the facts supporting various versions of the story seem to dwindle and dwindle” and his network’s decision to pull out of the conference the next day. Indeed, while the gory details have been filled in since all of Fox Business’ competitors abandoned it, the overall story has remained broadly the same: Khashoggi appears to have been murdered at the hands of the Saudi government. What changed is that the Trump administration decided it would no longer send a representative. And for Fox Business, that made all the difference.

  • Fox Business segment warns against strong response to alleged Saudi murder of a journalist because it could “jeopardize the containment of Iran”

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    On October 16, Fox Business’ Varney & Co. hosted the Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano to discuss the alleged assassination of Washington Post columnist and permanent U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi, purportedly carried out at the direction of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

    Carafano is currently the vice president of the Heritage Foundation and served as a State Department adviser for President Donald Trump’s transition team. In his role at the Heritage Foundation, he has written obsessively about containing Iran, which he considers vital to American national security interests; endorsed Trump’s association with strongmen; advocated for American mercenaries conducting operations in Afghanistan in place of regular U.S. military personnel; referred to Trump’s absurd and ineffective travel ban as “reasonable”; argued that, without the U.S. assisting Saudi Arabia in the brutal war in Yemen, the “region” may fall apart; and fearmongered about a favorite right-wing claim about “terrorists trying to cross from Mexico to the U.S.”

    During the appearance, both host Stuart Varney and Carafano framed the major concern surrounding the alleged attack on Khashoggi as potentially jeopardizing the "containment of Iran," and Carafano insisted that the United States government not act until officials “get the facts” of the alleged murder “right.” Varney even floated the idea that the United States could simply slow-walk an investigation and any action on the matter "so the days spread to a week or so, which delays any response from us. ... if I say, can we get away with that, that sounds pejorative, but do you think that's what's going to happen?"

    According to The Wrap, Fox Business remains “one of only two media organizations” sponsoring a planned Saudi Arabian business conference called the Future Investment Initiative, while the “other sponsor, Al Arabiya, is a Saudi-owned operation.” According to the report, “Over the last week, The New York Times, CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg, Nikkei and the Financial Times all pulled out of the event amid growing questions about the kingdom’s involvement in the” alleged assassination of Khashoggi.

    From the October 16 edition of Fox Business’ Varney & Co.:

    STUART VARNEY (HOST): CNN reports that the Saudis are preparing to admit they killed the columnist Jamal Khashoggi in an interrogation gone wrong. ... James, we've got to get the response to this -- America's got to get the response right because we do not want to jeopardize the containment of Iran. Am I right

    JAMES CARAFANO (HERITAGE FOUNDATION): So, I'm going to say some words on this show you've never heard before. President Trump is the calm, responsible guy here. From the beginning he said, we've got to get the facts right, and he is exactly right. Look, we're going to have a strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia a year from now. We're going to have a strategic relationship with Turkey a year from now. That's not going to change because the world hasn't changed. But we have to go forward operating on what actually happened, because these relationships are too important to just fly off the handle, and we have to deal with the reality of what happened. So, we have to wait for the facts to come in. So, even though we've heard this CNN report, until the government of Saudi Arabia actually come out and says something, I think we have to be very careful. And the president's right. And you are right. The -- what the greatest destabilizing force in the region that's getting people killed, that's spreading misery by the hundreds of thousands is Iran, and that is the big ticket we have to deal with.

    VARNEY: Do you think we'll try to spin this out, demanding the facts, demanding to know what happened, and so the days spread to a week or so, which delays any response from us. Do you think we'll -- if I say, can we get away with that, that sounds pejorative, but do you think that's what's going to happen?

    CARAFANO: Well, I think we have to get the facts right, and then we have to go --

    VARNEY: That'll take time.

    CARAFANO: -- through the legal process that's required to do that. So, this is a U.S. person, so we might have an issue here where we might want to extradite something. We've got joint investigations between the Saudis and the Turks. We have the U.S. offer -- we should have learned something from the Kavanaugh hearing, which is we shouldn't declare guilt and innocence and then just pontificate our politics. We should let the facts decide what the U.S. response is, and it may take time for the real, concrete facts to come out.

  • After Elizabeth Warren published DNA test results, right-wing media move the goal posts

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    After years of accusing Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) of misrepresenting her heritage, right-wing media are digging in their heels now that she has publicly released DNA test results that revealed “strong evidence” that she has Native American ancestry. Reporting surrounding the release also noted that Harvard Law School, where she has taught, did not consider her claim of Native American ancestry in deciding to hire her. But the “strong evidence” for her heritage is only causing right-wing media to move the goal posts.

    Since 2012, conservative media have been strangely obsessed with Warren and her family heritage. Originally popularized by Boston talk radio personality/columnist Howie Carr and the Scott Brown for Senate campaign in 2012, the attacks against Warren’s ancestry reached national audiences during the 2016 campaign. Then-candidate Donald Trump picked up the assertion that Warren had misrepresented her heritage, making it a regular theme at his campaign rallies. The fixation on her heritage eventually reached Fox News, with the hosts of Fox & Friends Weekends pushing a challenge for Warren to take a DNA test to “prove, once and for all, her Native American ancestry.”

    On October 15, The Boston Globe reported that Warren had taken a DNA test “that provides ‘strong evidence’ she had a Native American in her family tree dating back 6 to 10 generations.” More importantly, even though Warren marked “Native American” on her Harvard University employment application -- which has been central to the absurd and racist claims about her family that have dogged her since her 2012 Senate campaign -- the Globe noted that there was “clear evidence, in documents and interviews, that her claim to Native American ethnicity was never considered by the Harvard Law faculty, which voted resoundingly to hire her, or by those who hired her to four prior positions at other law schools.”

    But now, the problem for conservative media is not that Warren may have misrepresented her heritage or that it played a role in her hiring, it is that she doesn’t have enough Native American ancestry.

    Now that every angle of their stupid argument has been debunked, right-wing media are simply digging in their heels. The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro ditched any argument about Warren’s employment at Harvard or the veracity of the DNA results and simply referred to those who trust Warren’s word about her family and the Globe’s “exhaustive review” as the “real bitter clingers.” The immensely credible and not-racist Daily Caller tweeted that Warren is “Like between .09 and 3 percent cherokinda.” And CRTV’s Michelle Malkin posted an incomprehensible tweet calling Warren “#Fauxcahontas.”

  • Fox Business keeps casting doubt on Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance

    Fox Business, the only media organization that hasn’t pulled out of a high-profile Saudi conference, is muddying the waters around possible Saudi involvement in a journalist’s disappearance

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    On October 3, The Associated Press reported that Saudi Arabian journalist (and U.S. permanent resident) Jamal Khashoggi, last seen entering a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, was missing. The disappearance drew significant media attention through October 11, when the Turkish government claimed to have audio and video proof that Khashoggi was assassinated and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate. 

    As evidence of Saudi involvement grew, many big media organizations have pulled out of the Saudi-planned Future Investment Initiative conference -- except Fox Business. Fox Business personalities have made suspect comments about Khashoggi’s disappearance, sowing confusion about possible Saudi culpability and downplaying the seriousness of the assassination if the Saudi government is guilty. 

    On the October 15 edition of Fox Business’ Cavuto: Coast to Coast, John Hannah, who served as an adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney, said that even if the Saudi government did murder Khashoggi, “diplomatically, we have got to maintain the strategic U.S.-Saudi relationship at the same time as we express real displeasure with what the Saudis have done here.” 

    Host Neil Cavuto later floated a bizarre conspiracy theory that Khashoggi’s disappearance may have been “hatched by the Turks to get at the Saudis, to embarrass them, to put them in a position.”

    On Fox News’ Outnumbered, after senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano commented that “there’s no way [Khashoggi] is going to be assassinated without the highest levels of the Saudi government authorizing it,” Fox Business host Melissa Francis chided Napolitano for “assuming that the Saudis did it," noting that "we don’t necessarily know that.” Francis suggested that the alleged murder might not be “what it appears to be” because “it was so obvious, and there are so many quieter ways to dispose of someone.”

  • Charlie Kirk echoes 4chan conspiracy theory about Taylor Swift's endorsement of Democrats

    4chan Nazis and Charlie Kirk suggest Swift could not have formed political opinions on her own

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters 

    On Sunday night, pop singer Taylor Swift broke her usual silence regarding politics by endorsing Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen and slamming his opponent, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), while also standing up for equal pay and LGBTQ rights and against systemic racism.

    I’m writing this post about the upcoming midterm elections on November 6th, in which I’ll be voting in the state of Tennessee. In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now. I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country. I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG. I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent. I cannot vote for someone who will not be willing to fight for dignity for ALL Americans, no matter their skin color, gender or who they love. Running for Senate in the state of Tennessee is a woman named Marsha Blackburn. As much as I have in the past and would like to continue voting for women in office, I cannot support Marsha Blackburn. Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me. She voted against equal pay for women. She voted against the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which attempts to protect women from domestic violence, stalking, and date rape. She believes businesses have a right to refuse service to gay couples. She also believes they should not have the right to marry. These are not MY Tennessee values. I will be voting for Phil Bredesen for Senate and Jim Cooper for House of Representatives. Please, please educate yourself on the candidates running in your state and vote based on who most closely represents your values. For a lot of us, we may never find a candidate or party with whom we agree 100% on every issue, but we have to vote anyway. So many intelligent, thoughtful, self-possessed people have turned 18 in the past two years and now have the right and privilege to make their vote count. But first you need to register, which is quick and easy to do. October 9th is the LAST DAY to register to vote in the state of TN. Go to vote.org and you can find all the info. Happy Voting! 🗳😃🌈

    A post shared by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

    Since the 2016 presidential election, Swift has been a hot topic on 4chan, the anonymous message board known for its far-right extremism. Users there had interpreted her silence around the election and her country music roots as revealing an alignment with white supremacist values and a rejection of social justice, earning her the nickname “Aryan goddess.”

    But then Swift endorsed Bredesen and fellow Tennessee Democrat Rep. Jim Cooper on Instagram, and the number of posts about her in the “politically incorrect” board of 4chan skyrocketed. Users reacted with sexist and dehumanizing slurs and suggestions that she was no longer “/our girl/.” [Trolls on 4chan habitually call those who they believe to represent their values “/our guy/” or “/our girl/” -- currently, those figures include Tucker Carlson and actress Roseanne Barr.]

    And one take was consistent among the trolls: the sexist and demeaning assumption that a woman cannot form her own political opinions.

    Turning Point USA Executive Director Charlie Kirk, who had a Twitter meltdown about Swift’s endorsement and repeatedly accused her of having “no idea” of what she was talking about, took it upon himself to go on the October 8 edition of Fox & Friends and amplify the sexist conspiracy theory that trolls had posted on 4chan.

    Kirk also took his disappointment and the asinine conspiracy theory that Swift could not have written her own campaign endorsement to Fox Business’ Varney & Co., where he claimed that she had been “co-opted by activists on the left that want to use her brand, her visibility, and popularity to advance their agenda.”

    Both Kirk and TPUSA’s communications director, Candace Owens, had previously expressed disdain for celebrity opinions, but that changed after Kanye West praised Owens. At that point, Kirk made public appearances with West, Owens did media hits with him, and Kirk offered unending sycophancy for the rapper, all of which shows they actually care a lot about what celebrities think -- as long as they support President Donald Trump.

  • Right-wing media's message to survivors: It's better if you keep quiet

    Blog ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Ever since the first of three women reported sexual misconduct by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, right-wing media’s message to victims of sexual violence has rung painfully clear -- if you come forward and tell your story, you’re putting yourself at risk and the establishment will circle the wagons to protect your abuser.

    Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick have faced unending smear campaigns while also being summarily dismissed by those seeking to ram Kavanaugh onto the court. Conservative media have systematically overlooked the fact that Kavanaugh lied and perjured himself during Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, instead propagating outlandish conspiracy theories about his accusers and questioning whether they have political motivations. Their smear campaign coalesces around one simple message of intimidation: If you tell your truth about sexual violence, it won’t disqualify your assailant from moving up in his career; instead, you’ll ruin the reputation of a good man, and a right-wing attack mob will set its sight on ruining yours as well.

    Conservative media message: Sexual assault allegations do not disqualify Brett Kavanaugh from a promotion

    Right-wing media’s radical and insulting insistence that a history of sexual assault doesn’t disqualify a man from sitting on the Supreme Court is perhaps the most honest confession in their coverage of allegations made against Brett Kavanaugh. They are telling survivors that coming forward is, as Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) put it, but a “hiccup” on the way to their assailant getting a promotion.

    Perhaps the most shameless example of conservatives telling on themselves is an article published in The Federalist titled, “Why Brett Kavanaugh Should Be Confirmed To The Supreme Court Even If He’s Guilty.” An anonymous author argues “the actual impact” of Kavanaugh’s alleged history of sexual violence would likely be irrelevant to his “behavior as a Supreme Court justice.” The article goes on to say that “the stakes” of confirming Kavanaugh “are even higher” now than they were before, noting that if he fails to get on the court, “every Supreme Court nomination henceforth will be derailed by mere allegation.”

    For its part, Fox News has also made clear that Ford’s report should not get in the way of Kavanaugh’s promotion. This is not a surprise, considering that the network functions as a mouthpiece for the White House communications team led by disgraced former Fox executive Bill Shine, who was forced out due to his role in the culture of sexual harassment that prevailed under Roger Ailes. Here are some of the most offensive takes from the network’s Kavanaugh coverage:

    • Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt insisted that “there has to be a vote” on Kavanaugh despite reports of sexual assault.
    • Fox contributor and former Bush administration flack Ari Fleischer asked if the “bigger ethical issue” of stopping alleged sexual predators from getting a lifetime judicial appointment is that it sets a precedent that they should be held “accountable” for “a disputable high school action.”
    • Fox contributor Mollie Hemingway questioned “whether it’s even appropriate that you can bring forth an allegation” from “35 years after the fact.”
    • On The Ingraham Angle, guest Wendy Long admitted, “I don’t think [Dr. Ford] deserves to be heard” and “we just can’t just cave into it.”

    Conservative media message: Sexual violence allegations against Brett Kavanaugh have made an innocent man into the victim of a smear

    In the effort to rehabilitate Brett Kavanaugh’s image, right-wing media have characterized the reports as nothing more than smears of a good and innocent man. Some have bizarrely admitted they believe Christine Ford but they don’t believe what she says Kavanaugh did to her. They’ve also deflected from the women’s stories by mentioning that Kavanaugh goes to church and volunteers and coaches his daughters’ basketball team:

    • Stuart Varney of Fox Business said reporting sexual assault “is how you slime a good man.”
    • Regular Fox News guest and American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp labeled Kavanaugh “the victim here.”
    • Fox contributor Tammy Bruce characterized Ford’s story as “an attempted political assassination of a character” and somehow managed to make the argument that coming forward with sexual assault reports actually negatively impacts the gains feminists have made in recent decades.
    • On Twitter, Fox’s Gina Loudon echoed Bruce’s sentiment that survivors coming forward sets back women because men will hesitate to hire women to avoid facing sexual violence allegations.
    • Laura Ingraham, who has had some of the most disgusting takes on Kavanaugh among her right-wing peers, said Ford’s report has “the whiff of a political smear masquerading as a sexual assault allegation.”
    • Judicial Crisis Network’s Carrie Severino, whom NPR identifies as chief counsel of the organization that is “responsible for the Federalist Society’s public support” of Kavanaugh, lamented,  “We’re smearing a poor man’s reputation.”
    • Fox’s Jason Chaffetz implied Ford’s story was not important because “there’s not a pattern” like there was with Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, called it “unfair,” and said Kavanaugh is a “good, decent person.”
    • On MSNBC, The New York Times’ Bari Weiss said, “Other than this instance, Brett Kavanaugh has a reputation as being a prince of a man.” (Chaffetz and Weiss made their comments before both Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick came forward -- not that a “pattern” of personal violence should be required to disqualify a person from serving on the Supreme Court.)
    • On Fox & Friends, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich raised the stakes, saying Kavanaugh is “fighting for more than” his reputation; “he’s fighting for the United States.”

    According to some right-wing pundits, even listening to victims is a wholesale attack on men. During her daily radio show, Laura Ingraham said she wanted to “focus on men for a moment” because “this could happen to any of you.” Not to be outdone by his peers, Tucker Carlson used the stories of sexual assault survivors to continues his ongoing white nationalist campaign, categorizing allegations against Kavanaugh as an attack on all white people and men and arguing that Democrats’ willingness to listen to Ford demonstrates a sexism that’s similar to racism. He also called Kavanaugh a “folk hero” to the “unfairly maligned.”

    When conservative media figures portray a sexual assault report as a politically motivated smear of a decent family man, they are telling victims the damage wrought by the violence they experienced is unimportant and that speaking about it is wrong.

    Right-wing media message: If you come forward, our machine will ruin your life

    The conservative victim-blaming campaign discourages survivors from speaking up through the direct threat of a never-ending character assassination and harassment campaign. The results of this tactic have been illustrated by the fact that Ford has had to go into hiding, separately from her children, for her family’s safety. Here are some examples of right-wing media attacking Ford’s character:

    • Frequent Fox guest Joe diGenova called Ford a “loon” because “one of the signs of lunacy” is “believing something that isn’t real.”
    • Later diGenova doubled down, saying Ford is “a deeply troubled person” with “a history of psychological discord,” and called her “a very sad woman.”
    • Laura Ingraham mocked protesters who disclosed their sexual assaults to Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) on a Senate elevator, and her guest suggested Flake staged the scene to cover for a vote against Kavanaugh.
    • On Twitter, then-Fox contributor Kevin Jackson called Ford a “lying skank,” adding, “Dang girl stop opening your legs and OPEN A BOOK!” (Jackson was quickly fired.)
    • CRTV’s Steven Crowder simply called Ford a “lying whore.”
    • Fox’s Andrew Napolitano fantasized that a Republican senator would “demolish” Ford like “Arlen Specter did to Anita Hill,” to which host Stuart Varney replied, “That would be a sight for sore eyes.”
    • Tucker Carlson got creative (and incredibly insulting) when he compared sexual assault survivors speaking up to the mob engaged in a witch hunt in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

    And while Twitter is a general cesspool of conspiracy theories and smears against sexual assault survivors, no individual has put more into this effort than conservative commentator Erick Erickson, who called the confirmation process “the Left’s PizzaGate” and said that the Democrats were “willing to destroy an innocent man so they can keep killing kids.”

    Reality check: Right-wing media will not succeed in silencing survivors

    Right-wing media and Republicans in Congress have been working overtime to send a clear message to survivors of sexual violence: It’s better for us if you stay quiet. The campaign against Kavanaugh’s accusers reinforces what women already know -- that sexual violence is about power, and that when backed into a corner, power brokers will regroup and lash out at its challengers.

    Millions of people watch Fox News every day. Many of them are undoubtedly survivors of sexual violence themselves. While Fox News personalities get rich smearing victims in an effort to install Kavanaugh into power no matter his past behavior or the fact that he repeatedly lied to Congress, they’re saying to their viewers, “We don’t care about you, we don’t believe you, and you should shut up and keep your experiences to yourself.” Right-wing media outlets are sustained by their commitment to punching down, even if that means launching an attack on half of the world’s population to save the career of one man. Only through the power of testimony and solidarity can survivors overcome the system that seeks to silence us.