Fox News | Media Matters for America

Fox News

Tags ››› Fox News
  • Sean Hannity’s effort to tie Robert Mueller to Whitey Bulger was bullshit

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Sean Hannity, the Fox News host and adviser to President Donald Trump who has turned his broadcast into a nightly attack on special counsel Robert Mueller, smeared the head of the Russia probe by referencing one of the darkest chapters in the FBI’s history on four consecutive broadcasts last week. “During Mueller’s time as a federal prosecutor in Boston, four -- four men wrongfully imprisoned for decades framed by an F.B.I. informant and notorious gangster, Whitey Bulger, all while Mueller’s office looked the other way,” Hannity said in one such report last Wednesday.

    That’s nonsense, according to Nancy Gertner, the retired federal judge who presided over the wrongful imprisonment trial of the four men and ordered the government to pay them and their families $101.7 million. As Gertner explains in a Wednesday op-ed in The New York Times, there is “no evidence” linking Mueller to the case -- and in fact, the case didn’t even involve Bulger, the infamous head of Boston’s Winter Hill Gang.

    The swift unraveling of Hannity’s latest shoddy effort to discredit Mueller points to Fox’s inability or unwillingness to restrain its top-rated host as he barrels through journalistic ethics rules and ignores basic fact-checking standards.

    The Bulger story has its roots in an apparently coordinated right-wing effort that kicked off last month after Trump lashed out at Mueller for the first time by name on Twitter. Those tweets, which followed reports that the special counsel had issued a subpoena for Trump Organization records, triggered a series of reports from pro-Trump sources about Mueller’s record that reportedly bore “the hallmarks of professional opposition research.”

    In one such missive, headlined “Questions Still Surround Robert Mueller’s Boston Past,” Fox News contributor and Hannity fixture Sara Carter wrote on her personal website that the special counsel’s tenure as an assistant U.S. attorney and acting U.S. attorney in the 1980s “raised questions about his role in one of the FBI’s most controversial cases involving the FBI’s use of a confidential informant” -- whom she identified as Bulger -- “that led to the convictions of four innocent men, who were sentenced to death for murders they did not commit.”

    The story heavily drew on criticism from David Schoen, a civil rights and defense attorney who had previously linked Mueller to Bulger while appearing alongside Carter in a February Hannity segment. Carter’s report quoted Schoen claiming Mueller had been “neck deep” in the case.

    As Gertner explained in her Times op-ed, there’s no reason to believe any of this is true:

    Based on the voluminous evidence submitted in the trial, and having written a 105-page decision awarding them $101.8 million, I can say without equivocation that Mr. Mueller, who worked in the United States attorney’s office in Boston from 1982 to 1988, including a brief stint as the acting head of the office, had no involvement in that case. He was never even mentioned.

    The case wasn’t about Whitey Bulger but another mobster the F.B.I. was also protecting, the hit man Joseph Barboza, who lied when he testified that the four men had killed Edward Deegan, a low-level mobster, in 1965. Mr. Barboza was covering for the real killers, and the F.B.I. went along because of his importance as an informant.

    [...]

    Mr. Mueller is mentioned nowhere in my opinion; nor in the submissions of the plaintiffs’ lead trial counsel, Juliane Balliro; nor in “Black Mass,” the book about Mr. Bulger and the F.B.I. written by former reporters for The Boston Globe.

    Carter, a former reporter for the Sinclair Broadcast Group website Circa, regularly produces shoddy reports that appear to channel the talking points of Trump’s lawyers and Republican congressional investigators. But while she now writes only for her personal blog, she is a key player in the right wing’s anti-Mueller effort because she regularly appears on Hannity and other pro-Trump Fox programs to discuss her stories.

    In this case, Hannity hosted Carter and Schoen to discuss her “brand new report” on March 20, the night after she published it. Hannity termed Mueller’s purported connection to the wrongful imprisonment of the four men “one of the worst stains” on the special counsel’s record. He returned to the story on the next two editions of his show.

    Hannity did not mention the case again until last Monday, when he responded to the FBI’s raid of Michael D. Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer (who, as would later be revealed, had also done legal work for Hannity himself).

    During his unhinged performance that night -- promoted by the president on Twitter -- Hannity mapped out the “Mueller crime family,” which he said included Bulger. He trumpeted Mueller’s purported malfeasance in the case that night and during his next three broadcasts.

    Meanwhile, other players in the pro-Trump media, including radio host Rush Limbaugh and Boston Herald columnist and radio host Howie Carr, picked up the story. These conservative commentators, desperate to damage Mueller’s credibility in order to forestall his investigation and set the stage for his firing, don’t much care if these stories are true.

    “When Mr. Hannity and others say Mr. Mueller was responsible for the continued imprisonment of those four men, they are simply wrong — unless they have information that I, Balliro, the House investigators and the ‘Black Mass’ authors did not and do not have,” Gertner concluded, referring to a book by Boston Globe reporters about Bulger and the FBI. “If they do, they should produce it. If they don’t, they should stop this campaign to discredit Mr. Mueller.”

    Hannity doesn’t have any additional information, but don’t count on him to stop running with the talking point now that it’s been debunked -- or issuing a correction, as would happen at any other network. At Fox, there are no rules for Hannity.

  • The Fox News pardon pipeline

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Hours after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s plea to overturn his 2010 criminal conviction and 14-year prison sentence on charges related to political corruption, his wife Patti Blagojevich appealed to a higher authority: Fox News.

    “If you could speak to the president, what would you say?” Fox host Tucker Carlson asked at the top of a sympathetic Monday night interview with her. “What would be your pitch to pardoning your husband?” As she explained why she thought the former governor deserved clemency for charges that he tried to sell off President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat, the caption "Will Trump intervene in Blagojevich case?" flashed across the screen.

    President Donald Trump himself, who spends hours each day consuming his favorite news network, may have been watching -- a spokesperson for Patti Blagojevich said she hopes he saw the segment. Even if he hasn’t personally seen it, the appeal may find favor with one of the network hosts or regulars whom Trump regularly consults.

    Appealing for presidential relief on Fox is a sound strategy, and one that more lawyers will likely attempt in the years to come. At this point in his presidency, all three of Trump’s pardons have had a Fox connection, and each avoided the standard, complex Justice Department procedures.

    With Trump largely ignoring the Office of the Pardon Attorney, the best path to clemency is getting the president’s attention. And no one has the president’s attention quite like the programs and staffers at Fox.

    Trump’s first pardon went to Joe Arpaio, the former Maricopa County sheriff notorious to most for the brutal, humiliating treatment undocumented immigrants suffered under his authority and his refusal to stop racially profiling the Latino community.

    But on Fox, Arpaio was a folk hero, the lawman who took undocumented immigration and the border seriously. The president likely had that image in mind when he issued the pardon with a statement praising Arpaio’s “life's work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration.”

    A Fox regular may have given Trump the idea in the first place. It was Gregg Jarrett, a Fox legal analyst and Trump sycophant, who broke the news that Trump was thinking about pardoning Arpaio, saying they discussed it at the president’s Bedminster, NJ, golf club. Jarrett, who clearly supported an Arpaio pardon, didn’t say who first raised the idea. For his part, Arpaio credits the work of pro-Trump conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for the pardon; Jones, in turn, has said Fox host Sean Hannity was involved.

    Kristian Saucier, a former Navy sailor who pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized possession and retention of national defense information, was the second recipient of a Trump pardon.

    Saucier’s lawyer specifically attributed the pardon to a Fox-centric strategy that included getting Saucier on Fox & Friends, the president’s favorite program and one he frequently live-tweets.

    I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a former White House aide, recently received the third pardon, which was widely perceived as a way for Trump to signal that pardons might be available to witnesses who don’t cooperate with the Russia probe.

    Here, too, Fox appears to have played a key role. Libby’s lawyer is Victoria Toensing, the Republican attorney who uses frequent Fox appearances to defend Trump from the Russia investigation and had been in talks earlier in the year to join the president’s legal team. She “declined to say what conversations she had with the White House about Libby in recent days and weeks” in a Washington Post interview after the pardon was announced.

    A president’s tenure typically includes a few controversial pardons that critics say were political. But under Trump, every single pardon has been of that sort, without the usual mix of ordinary citizens who served their time and appealed to the Justice Department.

    Criminal defendants and prisoners who lack resources and who don’t count professional political operatives among their friends -- like the nonviolent drug offenders who received pardons from President Barack Obama -- may be out of luck.

    Attorneys and applicants will likely draw lessons from the unusual way Trump has wielded the pardon power.

    Pardon seekers are more likely to be successful if they have some sort of connection to conservative politics, either as a politician like Arpaio, a cause célèbre like Saucier, or an operative like Libby.

    Trump has loudly proclaimed himself the victim of a political prosecution, and he seems more likely to respond to people making the same case.

    Hiring a lawyer with connections to the president has always been good advice. But under this administration, those connections may well be driven by the lawyer’s willingness and ability to shill for the president on television.

    And, of course, get on Fox if you can, and have your spouse or lawyer do it if you can’t. Thanks to the president’s obsession with the network’s programming, he may be watching.

    Even if Trump doesn’t see your segment, someone who has the president’s ear may.

    “On a show just before we were talking about the former governor of Illinois,” the lawyer Alan Dershowitz said on Hannity Monday, just minutes after Patti Blagojevich’s interview. “Gets 14 years in prison for what people do every single day in state legislatures all over the country, and yet we prosecute him and throw the book at him.”

    Last week, Dershowitz had dinner at the White House with Trump, a reward for making the president’s case on television. Next time he has that opportunity, perhaps he’ll suggest that the president fix a miscarriage of justice and offer Rod Blagojevich a pardon.

    The Fox pardon pipeline will be back in action.

    UPDATE: In addition to the three Trump pardons, the sole person to receive a Trump commutation also has a Fox tie.

    On December 20, Trump granted clemency to Sholom Rubashkin and ordered his release. Rubashkin had so far served eight years of his 27-year sentence on dozens of charges of financial fraud. Observers were puzzled by Trump’s decision to free him, noting that leniency for the owner of a meatpacking plant that had been the target of a huge immigration raid was at odds with Trump’s generally harsh stance on undocumented immigration.

    Rubashkin had one advantage, though -- his lawyer was Alan Dershowitz. Dershowitz had been working on the case for five years and told The New York Times that he had personally asked Trump to consider commutation.

    According to Forward, Dershowitz brought up Rubashkin during a meeting with the president to discuss the Middle East peace process in fall 2017. August of that year saw the publication of Dershowitz’s latest book, which argues that the Russia probe is the result of the “criminalization of political differences” and highlights his Fox & Friends appearances in publicity materials. He regularly made the same arguments on Fox in the months and weeks leading up to the pardon.

    On December 4, a few weeks before Trump issued the commutation, the president flagged one such Dershowitz appearance on his Twitter account:

  • Anti-abortion extremists keep crying censorship to raise money

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    If there’s one thing Republicans love more than pretending they’re being victimized by liberal elites, it’s raising money off this inaccurate claim -- a tendency demonstrated clearly during recent congressional hearings on the activities of Facebook. During these hearings, Republican members of Congress elevated various overinflated right-wing grievances against social media companies (such as claims of anti-abortion censorship and anti-Christian bias) in order to pressure the platform into allowing greater promotion of inflammatory or inaccurate content. In particular, they seized on pro-Trump YouTubers Diamond and Silk, who have actively lied about Facebook censoring them and then used the attention to raise money. As close watchers of the anti-abortion movement know, this tactic of crying censorship to garner attention and raise funds is a favorite of anti-choice actors. Here are a few that have recently employed this practice:

    Live Action

    Lila Rose, founder of the anti-abortion group Live Action, appeared on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight in June 2017 alleging that Twitter was censoring Live Action’s ads due to ideological bias. In reality, the content still appeared on Live Action’s Twitter page, but was not allowed to be promoted as an advertisement to other users, not because of bias, but because it violated several of Twitter’s content policies regarding "hate content, sensitive topics, and violence.”

    Instead of altering the organization’s content to meet Twitter’s policies, Rose appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight and used claims of supposed censorship to raise funds for Live Action. As Rose told Carlson, “We’re actually doing a campaign right now to get people to fund Live Action and to get out the information that Twitter is trying to block using other platforms -- using Facebook, using YouTube, using the blogosphere, obviously coming on here and talking with you.”

    Live Action continued to deploy this dishonest tactic even after Rose’s Fox News appearance. Following the June 26 segment, Live Action sent a fundraising email claiming that “Live Action is being suppressed” and asking supporters “to help us strengthen our efforts against the abortion industry.” Live Action’s censorship allegations also animated other right-wing media outlets. For example, on June 29, Christian Broadcasting Network published an article promoting Live Action’s claims about Twitter’s ad policy, which stated that “Live Action has launched a campaign to compensate for their losses due to Twitter’s censoring,” and directed readers to Live Action’s fundraising page. Rose and Live Action also pushed the narrative on Twitter, using the hashtag #DontDeleteMe -- even though all of Live Action tweets remained publicly available on the platform.

    The group also continued to use claims of censorship to raise funds in three October 2017 emails. In one email, Live Action stated that “Twitter is STILL banning our paid ads” and asked whether members would “give a gift to Live Action today so that we can expose more people to the truth.” In another email, Live Action claimed, “While we work to pressure Twitter to lift their ban on ads for pro-life content, we must double our efforts elsewhere” and asked people to “make a gift … so that we can reach more people with the truth.” Live Action made a similar plea in another email, asking people to “consider helping us reach more Americans with the truth about abortion through our other social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.”

    Operation Rescue

    The extremist anti-abortion group Operation Rescue claimed in July 2017 that Google was censoring parts of its website after its page rankings decreased in the results of searches for “abortions in US” or “abortion statistics.” The group alleged that “Google’s search engine has manipulated search parameters to dramatically reduce exposure” to Operation Rescue's web pages, which contain abortion statistics purporting to show the "truth about abortion." Operation Rescue then sent a fundraising email asking for support to "launch a massive campaign to ensure our critical abortion research and pro-life content is available, and no longer pushed down by the pro-abortion radicals at Google." Prior to the complaint, Google announced a policy change regarding how sites containing misleading or false information would be ranked.

    Susan B. Anthony List

    In October 2017, Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) claimed that one of the organization’s Twitter ads, targeting Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring in the 2017 election, was taken down by the platform, seemingly for inflammatory language. Citing this example and other anti-abortion censorship allegations, SBA List asked people to “make a gift today to get our pro-life message past Twitter’s censorship” and to “fight back against Twitter’s censorship.”

    Following Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress last week, SBA List reprised this tactic and emailed supporters to detail instances where the group claimed to have been censored by social media companies. SBA List then directed people to “please make a generous donation of $250 to help win the fight against pro-abortion Silicon Valley elites.”

    Anti-abortion outlets

    Not to be left out of the conversation about supposed anti-abortion censorship, the anti-choice news outlet Life News also sent an email after Zuckerberg’s testimony stating, “Social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube are increasingly censoring pro-life voices,” and asking readers to sign a petition and to “make a donation today … so we can continue to stand up to these social media giants [and] their censorship.”

    Another anti-abortion outlet, LifeSite News, also asked for donations in light of supposed censorship by social media companies. The site posted in March 2018 about the “surprising and disturbing reason why LifeSite’s Spring campaign is struggling.” The reason, according to LifeSite News, “is an almost declared war by the globalist social media giants – Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube against websites, blogs and individuals who promote conservative views.” LifeSite argued that its inability to raise funds was due to censorship from Facebook and Google and pleaded to readers, writing, “To those of you who were not blocked from reading this letter, we are depending on you much more than normal to help us to reach our goal.” Unsurprisingly, the outlet provided zero evidence of the censorship it was allegedly experiencing.

    Roe v. Wade -- the movie

    The producer of an anti-abortion film about Roe v. Wade claimed that Facebook temporarily blocked his ability to post an Indiegogo crowdfunding page for the production of the film. On the Indiegogo page, the film is described as “the real untold story of how people lied; how the media lied; and how the courts were manipulated to pass a law that has since killed over 60 million Americans.” According to the film’s crowdfunding page, the film needs “support now more than ever. Facebook has banned us from inviting friends to ‘Like’ our page and from ‘Sharing’ our PAID ads.”

    Rep. Marsha Blackburn

    In October 2017, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) announced she was running for a Senate seat by tweeting out a campaign video that included a mention of her time as chair of the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives -- a sham investigation based on deceptive and disproven claims by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. The video included inflammatory language such as that Blackburn had “stopped the sale of baby body parts.” After Twitter temporarily blocked her from running the tweet as a paid ad due to its inflammatory language, Blackburn claimed censorship and made the rounds on Fox News to push this story. Blackburn also used the opportunity to tweet that the “conservative revolution won’t be stopped by @Twitter and the liberal elite,” urging people to “donate to my Senate campaign today.”

    Anti-abortion groups and outlets have found a great deal of success in crying censorship -- a lesson that wider conservative media outlets and figures appear to be taking to heart. As a recently published report from the right-wing Media Research Center (a report that was readily promoted by outlets like Life News) melodramatically framed the issue: “The question facing the conservative movement is one of survival. Can it survive online if the tech companies no longer allow conservative speech and speakers? And, if that happens, can the movement survive at all?”

  • Fox News on Hannity’s Cohen conflict: We don’t care

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    If anything good came from Monday’s revelation that Sean Hannity had concealed a massive conflict of interest from Fox News’ viewers, it was that his conduct was so egregious, and his network’s lack of interest in journalistic ethics so obvious, that it may have cleared things up for any mainstream reporter who still considers Fox a real news outlet.

    As part of Hannity’s campaign against special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of President Donald Trump, the Fox host last week repeatedly denounced the FBI’s raid of the office of Trump personal lawyer Michael D. Cohen on the network’s airwaves. Only yesterday did the public learn of a secret tie between Hannity and Cohen -- Hannity had been Cohen’s legal client.

    For many, including myself, this was simply confirmation of the obvious: Fox has no rules for the likes of Hannity. The network prioritizes keeping its top ratings star happy over its responsibility to the public.

    But for others, this was an opportunity for the network to prove itself:

    Fox has now released a statement on the issue that demonstrates just “what kind of org” the network is:

    The statement’s message is simple: Fox doesn’t care about ethics.

    The network isn’t interested in whether Hannity has a conflict of interest. It will take Hannity’s claims at face value without delving into his relationship with Cohen.

    Fox’s executives don’t feel that they owe it to their audience to apologize.

    There’s no indication that the host will be restricted from discussing Cohen going forward.

    There’s no signal that the network believes Hannity did anything wrong. He certainly won’t be disciplined.

    There’s not even a name attached to the statement taking responsibility for the comments.

    Fox has, through word and deed, consistently shown that the network doesn’t operate like a normal news organization. 

    Journalists should pay attention.

  • Hannity’s disclosure hypocrisy

    When ABC News was caught in a disclosure scandal, Hannity went nuts

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Media Matters

    Sean Hannity is the perfectly crystallized representation of Trump-era punditry. Much like the president he slavishly devotes his entire programming schedule to deifying, Hannity is aggressively dishonest, unencumbered by anything remotely resembling a principle, and eager to rigorously impose harsh standards of conduct on his enemies that he would never dream of applying to his allies or himself. And, as with Trump, Hannity thrives despite his toxic, corrupt behavior because he operates within the poisonous world of conservative politics where the myopic pursuit of power and wealth are the only things that matter.

    That brings us to yesterday’s revelation that Hannity was the mystery client of Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who is currently under criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in New York. Hannity never disclosed his relationship with Cohen, even as he railed against the FBI raids on Cohen’s home and office last week, calling them a declaration of “legal war on the president” and part of an “overreaching witch hunt.”

    This lack of disclosure comes nowhere close to being the worst abuse Hannity has committed, but it does help illustrate how Hannity exploits his utter lack of accountability and holds himself to a far laxer standard of conduct than he holds other media figures to.

    For example, in May 2015, the conservative Washington Free Beacon reported that ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos had donated money to the Clinton Foundation and “had not previously disclosed it to ABC viewers, despite taking part in on-air discussions about the Clinton Foundation and its controversial relationship with foreign donors.” ABC News and Stephanopoulos recognized this as a breach of journalistic ethics (made all the more thorny by Stephanopoulos’ previous work as a Clinton campaign and White House staffer) and it was covered as such by the media. Stephanopoulos made a public apology to viewers, and the network acknowledged that he had broken rules about charitable giving by “failing to disclose it when covering the recent reports about the foundation.”

    Hannity went wild with this story. “A major scandal developing tonight surrounding ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos who was forced to apologize earlier today over a huge conflict of interest after it was revealed that he donated $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation from 2012 to 2014,” Hannity crowed at the opening of his May 14, 2015, show. After quoting the “embattled anchor’s” apology for failing to disclose his donations on air, Hannity responded with a snide: “Gee, George, you think?”

    Hannity interviewed the Free Beacon reporter who broke the story, kicking off his questioning by calling Stephanopoulos “such a hack” and asking: “How could he possibly have not known that he should reveal this? Do you believe that?” Hannity questioned whether ABC News “really did an investigation” and suggested that “George Stephanopoulos coordinated perhaps with the Clinton campaign here.”

    “He didn't think to disclose this? I don't buy it for one minute!” Hannity continued later in the program. “I think he thought he'd get away with it and didn't disclose it. And I think ABC News is going to take a credibility hit,” he said, adding: “This goes to the credibility of a news organization.” Hannity closed the show by asking viewers: “Should George Stephanopoulos be punished by ABC News, and if so, what should that punishment be?”

    Now let’s contrast the mocking attacks on Stephanopoulos’ lack of disclosure (and the attendant claims that the credibility of Stephanopoulos’ employer rested on how harshly it treated him) with Hannity’s self-serving and determinedly opaque explanation for why he neglected to disclose his own relationship with Michael Cohen.

    “For hours and hours, the media has been absolutely apoplectic and hyperventilating over some breaking news that I was listed in court today as a client for longtime Trump attorney Michael Cohen,” Hannity said at the beginning of his April 16 show, offering himself as the wrongly maligned victim. When his own guest, lawyer Alan Dershowitz, lightly chided Hannity for not disclosing his ties to Cohen “when you talked about him on this show,” Hannity refused to hear it. “If you understand the nature of it, professor -- I’m going to deal with this later in the show,” he shot back. “I have the right to privacy. … It was such a minor relationship.”

    When he finally did roll around to addressing the Cohen situation (at the end of the program) Hannity was by turns defensive and evasive, and he offered as little information as he possibly could. After once again slapping the media for its “wild speculation” and for going “absolutely insane” and providing “wall-to-wall, hour-by-hour coverage of yours truly,” Hannity claimed that he’d never paid Cohen and had only “occasional brief conversations with Michael Cohen … about legal questions I had, or I was looking for input and perspective.” Despite his earlier claim that he had in fact paid Cohen because he “definitely wanted attorney-client privilege,” Hannity insisted that “my discussions with Michael Cohen never rose to any level that I needed to tell anyone that I was asking him questions.”

    That was it: a vague excuse that offered no concrete details as to the extent of their relationship (Hannity said he sought Cohen’s advice on real estate-related matters) packaged in a wounded attack on the media for even covering it. Hannity, meanwhile, is as deeply immersed in Trump’s world as one can be without actually being a Trump employee and/or family member, but all those unseemly (and unethical) ties to the president apparently have no significance to this supposed non-story.

    Fox News (which, by Hannity’s standard, has its credibility on the line) has been silent on the Cohen issue, and there’s little reason to believe it will take any action against Hannity given that the network has already let him get away with stoking insane murder conspiracy theories. Network executives seem to be perfectly content to let Hannity tell whatever story he wants, and if it turns out later on that he lied, they won’t care about that either. Hannity, like Trump, thrives on lies, flagrant hypocrisy, corruption, and the promise of never facing serious consequences for anything he does.

  • There are no rules for Sean Hannity at Fox News

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    “It seems that there’s no limit at all into the fishing expedition that [special counsel Robert] Mueller is now engaged in,” Sean Hannity claimed last Monday, after FBI investigators raided the home, office, and hotel room of Michael D. Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer. “And if he has access to everything that his personal attorney has, I can only imagine where that’s going to lead.”

    Seven days later, it led to Hannity himself, as an attorney for Cohen revealed that the Fox News host was Cohen’s mystery legal client, whose identity the lawyer had tried to keep concealed.

    That association raises many questions, not least of which is how Fox could have allowed Hannity to vigorously defend Cohen on the network’s airwaves without disclosing that he had been Cohen’s client.

    That is a serious breach of journalistic ethics that, in any normal newsroom, would lead to a suspension or even firing. “Going to find out what kind of org Fox is today,” NBC News’ Chuck Todd tweeted this morning. “No serious news org would allow someone this conflicted to cover this story.”

    It’s unclear what we could learn from Fox today that we didn’t already know several years ago.

    The rules are different at Fox News -- indeed, it often appears that there are no rules at all governing the behavior of the network’s top talent. This is, after all, a network that was happy for years to pay off employees who reported host Bill O’Reilly for sexual harassment in order to keep them quiet. Because Fox does not hold its stars to the most basic codes of ethical behavior, let alone the standard principles of journalistic conduct, critics hoping for accountability have little recourse but to appeal directly to the network’s advertisers.

    The Hannity-Cohen story is a classic case study. Reporters and experts agree that Hannity’s actions are a drastic violation of journalistic norms that demand a severe response. But network executives aren’t answering questions about whether they were aware of Hannity’s conflict of interest or whether he will be subject to any disciplinary action. Fox’s hosts have filled that void: Hannity used last night’s program to say that he hadn’t done anything wrong. And his Fox colleagues have largely rallied behind him.

    None of this is new. Hannity’s unwillingness to hew to journalistic ethics conventions has been causing the network problems for years.

    At times, Fox has tried to rein him in: Hannity’s plan to broadcast from a tea party fundraiser was canceled, and after Hannity appeared in an ad for Trump’s presidential campaign, a network spokesperson said it would not happen again. But Fox executives never formally reprimanded Hannity for his actions, much less suspended him.

    The last two years have only strengthened Hannity’s hand within the network. Trump’s election gave him direct access to the president of the United States. With O’Reilly gone, Hannity has the network’s most popular show and is the only remaining prime-time link to Fox’s founding. And the firings of Fox founder Roger Ailes, who hired Hannity, and Bill Shine, who was Hannity’s producer before climbing the network’s corporate ladder, removed two Fox executives to whom Hannity might have listened.

    Meanwhile, increasing competition from conservative cable network Newsmax and Sinclair Broadcast Group means that Hannity would have options if he and Fox were to cut ties.

    As a largely unrestrained power at Fox who has flipped back and forth on the question of whether he is a journalist who must abide by basic ethics rules, Hannity has been getting into trouble. The network’s response has been damage control, alternatively covering for him or even encouraging his actions.

    Last May, Hannity spent several programs championing the conspiracy theory that a Democratic National Committee staffer had been murdered for leaking emails to WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange. But as advertisers fled his program, Fox stood behind Hannity. The network subsequently announced an internal investigation into its reporting on the story, but that review has yet to be made public, suggesting that the probe was a public relations tactic.

    In the fall, Hannity hosted O’Reilly for a series of interviews in which the former host attacked the women who reported him for sexual harassment. Fox responded by heavily promoting O’Reilly’s appearance on Hannity’s Fox program.

    And the network appears blissfully unconcerned about the biggest ongoing Hannity ethical disaster of all: his simultaneous status as a personal adviser to Trump and the host of a nightly program on which he worships the president and condemns his perceived foes.

    In fact, Fox has rewarded Hannity for his actions, apparently hiring several conservative commentators specifically to regularly appear on Hannity’s program and those of a small circle of Hannity’s fellow travelers.

    The network’s decision to prioritize Hannity over maintaining basic standards hasn’t sat well with the Fox employees who consider themselves serious journalists instead of Trump propagandists. Fox staffers have privately told reporters at other outlets that they are embarrassed and disgusted by Hannity’s antics. Fox’s Shep Smith has even publicly feuded with Hannity; he also has repeatedly run segments that appear to directly rebut arguments made on Hannity’s program.

    “They don’t really have rules on the opinion side,” Smith told Time magazine last month. “They can say whatever they want.” Fox’s handling of Hannity’s Cohen conflict of interest demonstrates that they can apparently do whatever they want as well.

    UPDATE: A Fox News statement on Hannity claims that the network was unaware of Hannity's conflict of interest, and now that they know, they don't particularly care. 

  • Fox & Friends weekend shows ignored stories about Trump associate Michael Cohen

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Donald Trump’s favorite Fox News program Fox & Friends’ weekend editions completely ignored a series of major damaging stories about Trump associate Michael Cohen. This continues the show’s pattern of playing defense for the president and ignoring damaging stories.

    On April 9, FBI agents raided Cohen’s hotel room, home, and office “seizing business records, emails and documents related to several topics, including a payment to a pornographic film actress.” Federal prosecutors in Manhattan revealed on Friday, April 13, that Cohen has been under investigation for months and that a grand jury has been convened that is separate from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Prosecutors emphasized that while Cohen has been called Donald Trump’s lawyer, he is being investigated over his business dealings and that Cohen “is in fact performing little to no legal work.” CNN also reported that during the raid, the FBI seized recordings between Cohen and Stormy Daniels’ former attorney.  

    Also on Friday, McClatchy reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has uncovered evidence that Cohen “secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign” after he “vehemently denied for months that he ever has been in Prague or colluded with Russia during the campaign.” If true, the evidence would corroborate parts of the Christopher Steele dossier “purporting to detail the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia.”

    Yet another Cohen-related story broke on April 13, when CNN reported that Cohen “facilitated a payment plan totaling $1.6 million last year to a former Playboy model who says she became pregnant by Elliott Broidy, a leading GOP fundraiser.” Broidy resigned as a result of the revelations.

    While Fox & Friends has been silent on Cohen, Trump has reportedly called Cohen. Trump also tweeted about the matter.

    The obsequious relationship between Fox & Friends and Trump has been well documented, with Trump’s tweets frequently lining up with segments and talking points from the right-wing morning show. Media Matters has repeatedly highlighted the feedback loop between the show and Trump, including how Trump has made policy announcements responding to its segments. Fox & Friends has also repeatedly ignored damaging stories about Trump and the Russia investigation.

    Methodology:

    Media Matters searched Snapstream transcripts of Fox & Friends Saturday and Sunday for mentions of the word “Michael” or “Cohen.”

  • Fox hasn't stopped helping Diamond and Silk lie about Facebook

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    In a series of Fox News interviews this week, the pro-Trump YouTubers who go by the stage names “Diamond and Silk” declared themselves the victims of politically motivated censorship by Facebook.

    The network’s hosts have all but applauded the pair’s repeated claims that the social media giant deliberately kept their content from reaching their audience because the company is biased against conservatives, and that the company had not reached out to them to fix the purported problem. Fox trumpeting the story encouraged press-hungry Republican lawmakers to grill Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the allegations when he testified on Capitol Hill, which in turn generated newsy clips for the network to highlight in its reports on the hearings.

    There’s just one problem: Diamond and Silk’s allegations don’t appear to be true. But that hasn’t stopped Fox from continuing to host them to attack Facebook, even after their story was debunked.

    The vloggers, sisters whose real names are Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, developed a fervent following during the 2016 presidential campaign because of their unyielding devotion to Donald Trump and their willingness to barnstorm the country on his behalf. The duo rose with Trump, and they currently have an audience of more than 144,000 YouTube subscribers and roughly 1.5 million followers on Facebook.

    But that rise, they claim, has been stymied by Facebook. Beginning with a Friday night post on their Facebook page and continuing in six subsequent Fox News interviews, Diamond and Silk have alleged that the company has been deliberately keeping those followers from seeing and interacting with their content since September 2017. After months of getting “the runaround,” they say, the company sent them an email stating that “they deemed our content and our brand unsafe to the community” (in a statement, Facebook said the message had been “inaccurate”). And that, in their telling, was their last communication with Facebook. They say that the company is biased against them because they are black women who support Trump.

    Facebook’s opacity and power leaves the company unusually vulnerable to criticism that it is choking off public debate. A change in Facebook’s algorithm can make or break news outlets and content providers, causing drastic changes in web traffic and thus ad revenue. But its willingness to bend over backward in response to conservative pressure campaigns also leaves it vulnerable to liars and grifters. And that appears to be what happened here.

    On Thursday, after Zuckerberg was battered by Republican legislators obsessed with the Diamond and Silk story and following several days of credulous Fox coverage, The Resurgent’s Erick Erickson and The Daily Beast’s Andrew Kirell reported that contrary to the pair’s claims on Wednesday that Facebook had not contacted them beyond the “unsafe” email, the company had reached out to them by email as early as Monday and by phone on Tuesday.

    The root of Diamond and Silk’s issue, Erickson wrote, appeared to be new Facebook monetization guidelines the company had released in September 2017 that applied across Facebook, not a narrow effort to censor them. “I think Facebook made some mistakes, but that it was not intentional, not malicious, and not nearly as bad as it seemed,” he concluded.

    The same afternoon, ThinkProgress’ Judd Legum reviewed Facebook data about Diamond and Silk’s page and concluded that their claim that the company is deliberately ensuring they reach fewer people due to political bias “is totally without merit.” He determined that their Facebook page interactions actually grew from March 2017 to 2018 -- as liberal-leaning pages similarly focused on posting videos saw sharp declines -- and that while the reach of their videos has declined, it was to a lesser extent than those of liberal pages.

    “Any changes to their page performance over the last few months were not targeted at them, but the result of broader shifts across Facebook,” Legum concluded. “Indeed, many pages, including liberal pages, have suffered large declines because Facebook has reduced the distribution of videos and other content published by pages in favor of content from ‘friends and family.’”

    So Fox was used as a pathway to promote Diamond and Silk’s lies. And the network doesn’t appear to care. On Thursday afternoon, after Erickson, Kirell, and Legum had demolished their story, the pair was back on Fox. The host who interviewed them, Neil Cavuto, was nonplussed by their statements that the network had tried to contact them only via Twitter, or their claim that they had been targeted because they support the president. “Do you think Mark Zuckerberg does have a bias against conservative sites -- conservative participants?” he asked at one point. “Yes, we do,” Diamond replied. Indeed, while Fox had championed their tale in numerous reports, the network has yet to report on the new information debunking it.

    Why is Fox unwilling to set the record straight? Probably for the same reason the network first reported on Diamond and Skil’s claims: Their narrative fits cozily into Fox’s broad conceit that, in spite of controlling all three branches of government, conservatives in America are constantly being censored and stigmatized.

    The network appears particularly enamored of Diamond and Silk’s claim that they have been “silenced” because of their race. Here’s how Laura Ingraham -- currently trying to escape an advertiser boycott apocalypse by rebranding herself as a First Amendment crusader -- discussed the story Monday night:

    LAURA INGRAHAM: Silk, isn't it the case that the reason -- I mean, we all know the reason that Facebook didn't want your post to reach your followers is because you’re black, you’re conservative, you support Trump, and you tell it like it is and you call it as you see it. That's offensive to the left because they want to silence people like you, both you, Diamond and Silk -- doesn't matter if it was just Silk or Diamond or Diamond and Silk -- they do not want you to reach people. I'm sorry and I'm going to say it until I'm blue in the face.

    SILK: Say it.

    INGRAHAM: They are afraid of both of you. They don't want your views out.

    Perhaps the revelation that Fox was used to promote a lie will lead the network to be more reticent in giving Diamond and Silk airtime. But I rather doubt it -- I think it’s much more likely that the pair will end up on Fox’s payroll. They’re pro-Trump conservatives with a victim narrative, and at Fox, that’s probably enough.

  • Why Trump's legal advisers think he can get away with firing Rosenstein

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The FBI’s Monday raid of the residence and office of Michael D. Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, has created a new urgency in the president’s frequent threats to curtail special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

    Trump is reportedly considering firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who approved the raid and oversees Mueller’s probe in light of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the case. Following the raid, the president also left open the idea of firing Mueller, and the White House confirmed that he believes he has the power to do so directly. Democrats and some Republicans have warned that any effort by the president to stop Mueller’s investigation would be calamitous. But according to CNN, the president’s legal advisers think that he could weather the storm, believing that “they have successfully argued to the American public that the FBI is tainted and think they can make the same case against Rosenstein.” They own that past success in undermining the FBI -- and any future success in firing Rosenstein without a major backlash -- in no small part to the efforts by Fox News and the president’s other allies in the right-wing media to run down law enforcement agencies on Trump’s behalf.

    While the president has claimed that the FBI’s reputation "is in tatters -- worst in history," the American public is broadly unconvinced. But the effort has succeeded in convincing the president’s base. A February poll found that 73 percent of Republicans agreed that “members of the FBI and Department of Justice are working to delegitimize Trump through politically motivated investigations.”

    The president’s pitch is a fundamentally radical, authoritarian one. He claims that the purpose of law enforcement is to protect him and punish his enemies and if it fails to do this job, he can remove whomever he wants to fix that problem. House and Senate Republicans have repeatedly demonstrated that they are willing to bolster, or at least not hinder, that push, perceiving that their political standing depends on that of the president. And that effort has been relentlessly supported by -- and, indeed, is impossible to imagine succeeding without the help of -- Trump’s supporters at Fox News and in the conservative press more broadly. When the president’s allies tell his base that the FBI’s actions are comparable to those of Stalin or the Gestapo, the base comes to believe, as Trump’s legal advisers suggested in the CNN article, that the “FBI is tainted.”

    Since the Mueller investigation began 11 months ago, Fox’s audience has been tuning in daily to an alternative narrative in which Trump and his associates are being unfairly pursued for crimes that never occurred, the victims of a vast conspiracy by Justice Department and FBI officials, Democrats, and the mainstream press. The entire network is responsible for turning its audience against the rule of law, and nearly every program has to some degree engaged in this activity. But a relative handful of players has been the dominating force in the effort, employing apocalyptic rhetoric that constantly finds new heights.

    Sean Hannity, whose program is the network’s most popular, has done more than anyone else at Fox to prepare Trump’s base to cheer if he moves toward autocracy, devoting dozens of broadcasts to the supposed perfidy of the Russia investigation. He said this week that Mueller and Rosenstein have “declared what is a legal war” on Trump and argued that the “country is hanging by a thread.”

    Lou Dobbs and Jeanine Pirro, both vocal propagandists who have called for a purge of federal law enforcement agencies including the arrests of officials central to the Russia probe, are also important figures in the effort. Trump himself reportedly loves the programs of Hannity, Dobbs, and Pirro and consults them privately for advice about the Mueller probe and other issues. At times the president seems to have advance notice of what they will be talking about on their shows -- last night on Twitter, he promoted Hannity's broadcast, which kicked off with a "conspitatorial" monologue in which the Fox host described the "Deep State crime families" of Mueller, former FBI director James Comey, and Hillary Clinton.

    The network’s morning show Fox & Friends is a ready platform for smears of the probe that often result in the president chiming in in real time (while in recent days the program’s hosts have warned that Trump taking action against the investigation could backfire on him, it's difficult to imagine them not stepping up to defend whatever he does, if anything).

    Then there are the guests who regularly appear on these programs to slam Mueller and company: Gregg Jarrett, the Fox legal analyst who carved out a role explaining how the president and his associates didn’t commit crimes and all the investigators have; Jay Sekulow, who is a member of the president’s legal team, and Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, who tried to join it, all of whom use their appearances to promote conspiracy theories; and John Solomon of The Hill and Fox News contributor Sara Carter, who produce reports that are largely indistinguishable from the talking points of the president’s legal team or Republican congressional investigators and then appear on the network to discuss them.

    All of these players exist in an ecosystem with virulently pro-Trump Republican members of Congress, who have been using their oversight powers to try to undermine Mueller’s investigation and then appearing on Fox to promote those efforts. We’ve seen legislative efforts to demand Mueller’s removal, calls for the appointments of other special counsels to investigate aspects of his probe, and congressional Republicans painting newly released Justice Department and FBI documents in the worst possible light.

    Fox and other pro-Trump media, Republican congressional investigators, the president, and the president’s lawyers are all playing off each other’s efforts, constantly trying to convince their base that the FBI and DOJ are just trying to destroy Trump. When their individual conspiracy theories collapse -- and they often do, in spectacular fashion -- the parties involved simply move on to the next one. And nothing -- not the series of guilty pleas and indictments Mueller’s investigation has racked up, nor the fact that he and every other senior person involved in the probe is a Republican -- will stop them.

    The Rosenstein attacks are simply the latest case in which these Trump allies are moving as one to try to achieve their ends.

    Trump’s legal advisers told CNN on Tuesday that the deputy attorney general has “crossed the line in what he can and cannot pursue” and claimed that he has conflicts of interest with regard to Mueller’s investigation. On their shows the same night, Hannity said Rosenstein is “out of control himself and conflicted out of this case,” while Dobbs hosted Jarrett to make a similar argument, then argued that Rosenstein himself should be under investigation.

    Meanwhile, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes threatened during a Fox News appearance to move to impeach Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray if they don’t turn over certain documents to his committee. His comments came just a day after diGenova suggested that strategy as a “no-brainer” during an appearance on Dobbs’ show.

    Then Wednesday morning, apparently reacting to a Fox & Friends segment critical of Rosenstein, Trump tweeted this:

    The president and his allies have decided that there’s no way for them to go too far, that ensuring that Trump and his closest associates escape the investigation unscathed justifies anything they might do along the way. Firing Rosenstein in order to curtail Mueller's investigation would be a dangerous step down an authoritarian path. But Trump and his legal advisers know that at least they'll still have Fox's propaganda apparatus behind them. And that might be enough.

  • Steve Scalise auditions to succeed Paul Ryan in interview praising Trump on the president's favorite show

    Update: The next day, Kevin McCarthy does the same thing

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Within an hour after Axios broke the news that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) will not seek re-election, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the third-ranking Republican in the House and a likely candidate to succeed Ryan, repeatedly praised President Donald Trump in an interview on the president’s favorite program, Fox & Friends.

    Axios reported at 8:10 a.m. EST that Ryan “has told confidants that he will announce soon that he won't run for re-election in November,” that Scalise and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) are the “two most likely to replace him,” and that Ryan would tell his Republican colleagues his plans at a meeting today. (Politico previously reported that Scalise was “angling” for the post but that he said he would not challenge McCarthy if he ran.)

    Fewer than 40 minutes after the Axios story was published, Scalise appeared on Fox & Friends, introduced as a possible “likely replacement” for Ryan. Asked by host Steve Doocy if he was interested in the position, Scalise demurred, suggesting that he wouldn’t comment on the issue before Ryan’s address later today.

    But Scalise also repeatedly praised the president during the interview, commenting that "we need to make sure we keep working with President Trump to get this economy back on track" and stressing, “I’ve enjoyed working with President Trump and we’ve gotten a lot done, but there’s more we need to get done.”

    Scalise’s comments appeared directed to an audience of one: the president himself, who dominates his party and can make or break a would-be GOP leader’s campaign, regularly watches the program, and apparently was doing so this morning. If Scalise does seek to replace Ryan as the top Republican in the House, he would benefit from the support of the president, who reportedly has a “tight relationship” with McCarthy.

    UPDATE: On Thursday, McCarthy had his own Fox & Friends audition, and similarly applauded the president.

     

  • There's a sharp divide in how Trump's staunchest allies are covering the Cohen raid

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump’s most avid defenders have split over how to respond to the FBI raid of his lawyer Michael D. Cohen's office and residence. Last night, Fox hosts Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity used their shows to call for action against the investigators while this morning, the hosts and guests of Fox & Friends warned that any such action could have severe consequences for Trump’s administration.

    In an extraordinary move, the FBI yesterday seized business records, emails, and documents from Cohen’s New York office, acting on a warrant obtained by the U.S. attorney’s office for the southern district of New York in coordination with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Cohen played a key role in both the potentially illegal payoff of adult film actress Stormy Daniels as well as the Trump Organization’s shady international business dealings.

    The unusual divide among Fox’s pro-Trump propagandists over how to treat a major new development in the series of federal criminal investigations into the president and his associates comes as Trump has been reportedly watching cable news coverage of the surprise raid and fuming.

    Speaking to reporters before a meeting with senior military leadership, Trump described the action by law enforcement as “an attack on our country, in a true sense. It's an attack on what we all stand for." Asked about whether he might respond by firing Mueller, he said “We’ll see what happens,” adding that “many people have said” that he should do so.

    Trump also blamed the day’s stock market decline on the raid. This parroted an argument made on Fox News a few hours earlier, unsurprisingly suggesting that Fox was the network he was tuning in to for Cohen coverage.

    If the president watched Fox News’ Hannity or Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight -- both among his favorite programs, each hosted by a conservative commentator Trump frequently consults for advice -- he would have seen an extensive attack on the investigations. Highlights include:

    • Dobbs said of Mueller, “I would fire the SOB in three seconds if it were me.”
    • Fox legal analyst Gregg Jarrett responded, “I know you would and he certainly deserves it.”
    • Dobbs described the investigation as “a historic assault on the very idea of American government, a constitutional republic.”
    • Fox contributor and former Trump White House aide Sebastian Gorka told Dobbs, “Mueller has to be dealt with. He has to be fired or he has to be asked, ‘What are you investigating that has anything to do with Russia?’”
    • Joe diGenova, a Fox regular who was briefly part of Trump’s legal team, argued that Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing Mueller’s investigation, and FBI Director Christopher Wray should be held “in contempt of Congress” for failing to provide documents on the Trump investigation quickly enough, and “if they don't produce the documents, they should move to impeach both of them.”
    • Hannity opened his show by saying, “This is now officially an all-hands-on-deck effort to totally malign and, if possible, impeach the president of the United States. Now, Mueller and Rosenstein have declared what is a legal war on the president.”
    • Hannity added, “My message tonight to Mueller is simple: If you have evidence of collusion, any at all, show it to us or end this partisan investigation. The country is hanging by a thread tonight and you don’t seem to care.”

    The hosts of Fox & Friends handled the story very differently. To be sure, they were also quite critical of the raid. Brian Kilmeade argued that it was intended "to get to the documents that many people thought violated attorney-client privilege." Ainsley Earhardt portrayed it as a conspiracy on the part of Mueller, his team of Democratic attorneys, and Rosenstein, whom she described as “Mueller’s BFF.” And the whole gang criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself that paved the way for Mueller’s appointment.

    But contrary to the evening lineup, the morning show’s hosts and guests largely argued that any effort the president might take to curtail the investigation would only make things worse. Kilmeade and co-host Steve Doocy pointed out that there would be a “firestorm” if Sessions were to step down because the argument that he had done so without being pressured would not be credible. And Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor and Fox regular, argued that if Trump were to fire Mueller, he would “magnify the dangers for himself and his presidency.”

    Moreover, the program devoted surprisingly little time to what seems like an earthquake for the Trump administration. Fox & Friends spent only a handful of segments on the story over the course of the broadcast, hardly the sort of all-systems-go defense we’ve come to expect from the president’s favorite show.

    It’s unclear which message is getting through to Trump. But it appears that his tweets this morning saying “Attorney–client privilege is dead!” and calling the probe “A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!” were motivated by criticism of the investigation on Fox & Friends.

    We may find out shortly whether Trump will take Dobbs’ advice to fire Mueller immediately or be convinced by Turley’s comments that that would be a crucial mistake.

  • Key Fox shows are ignoring the network’s damning interview with Scott Pruitt

    Ed Henry’s interview received more coverage on MSNBC prime time than Fox News prime time

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Seeking to recover from a storm of ethical scandals with a tour of conservative news outlets, embattled Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt sat down with Fox News’ Ed Henry for an interview yesterday afternoon. Pruitt was surely hoping for the same softballs he has regularly received on the right-wing network. But to his credit, Henry grilled the EPA director, pushing back on Pruitt’s defenses of his conduct. Journalists from other outlets have rightfully praised the interview, with MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle commenting, “Ed Henry, good on you,” after airing a portion of it this morning.

    Observers have largely been struck by the dog-bites-man quality of a Fox reporter savaging one of President Donald Trump’s top appointees. But a review of Fox’s coverage of the interview demonstrates that the story is a bit more complicated. A network that pulls off a widely praised, newsy interview generally trumpets it in every hour of its coverage. The Henry-Pruitt sit-down, however, has been either completely ignored or significantly downplayed on several of Fox’s most-watched broadcasts.

    In fact, during prime-time hours from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET, MSNBC’s liberal hosts devoted more time to discussing Fox’s interview (roughly 14 minutes) than did Fox’s conservative ones (about nine minutes), according to a Media Matters review. Pruitt’s corruption just doesn’t fit the narrative of many of the network’s hosts, even when their own colleague is the one advancing that story.

    Ethical misdeeds have trailed Pruitt throughout his tenure at the EPA. The major recent allegations revolve around him racking up substantial costs to the taxpayer on first-class flights, paying below-market rent for a condo that is co-owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist, and exploiting a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act to raise the salaries of two top aides by tens of thousands of dollars against the wishes of the White House. Conservatives who appreciate that Pruitt has shredded important environmental regulations at EPA have rallied around him, even as Democrats and Republican members of Congress have called for his resignation.

    Pruitt defended his actions with regard to all the allegations under often-withering questioning from Henry.

    Portions of the interview first aired yesterday afternoon on Fox’s The Daily Briefing, and it also garnered substantial coverage that day on Special Report with Bret Baier, The Story with Martha MacCallum, and Shannon Bream’s Fox News @ Night.

    But the network’s two highest-rated programs, Hannity and Tucker Carlson Tonight, completely ignored the Pruitt interview, with the hosts instead devoting their programs to their usual paeans to President Donald Trump and attacks on “Big Tech,” Hillary Clinton, and the “fake news” media. Other Fox programs like Your World with Neil Cavuto and the panel show The Five also did not make time to talk about Pruitt.

    Meanwhile, over on MSNBC, Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow extensively discussed the Pruitt story, with each airing substantial portions of the Henry interview that his own colleagues had not mentioned.

    The third Fox prime-time show, The Ingraham Angle, did give Pruitt substantial airtime, with guest host Brian Kilmeade airing a chunk of Henry’s interview, discussing it with Henry, and leading a debate between conservative commentator Mollie Hemingway and Democratic operative Richard Goodstein about the story’s ramifications.

    But Kilmeade’s handling of the story nonetheless demonstrates the way the network’s right-wing hosts twist coverage to benefit conservatives. He introduced the story by claiming that the EPA director was “fighting back big time” after becoming “the latest Trump administration member targeted by the left and the mainstream media” and disparaging the “bizarre” criticism against him.

    The next day, on Fox & Friends, Trump’s favorite morning cable news show, Pruitt coverage was limited to two airings of a 40-odd-second news brief* featuring a portion of the Henry interview. The program, which the president regularly watches, and which provides a hagiographic look at his presidency, often relegates damaging stories about the Trump administration to the news briefs segments.

    There’s no ideological reason for conservatives to support government bureaucrats using loopholes to funnel raises to their aides, or living large on the taxpayer’s dime, or getting cut-rate housing arrangements -- indeed, it’s easy to imagine the same Fox personalities savaging the same behavior under a Democratic administration.

    But with Trump in the White House, many of Fox’s hosts are willing to provide cover, even when their own network has the scoop driving the story.

    Shelby Jamerson provided additional research.

    CORRECTION: This piece originally stated that the Fox & Friends news brief aired only once. Media Matters regrets the error.​

  • Ann Coulter wants the US military to kill immigrants attempting to enter the country

    Coulter: The National Guard should "shoot the illegals" because "Just standing there doesn't do a thing"

    Blog ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ

    Syndicated right-wing columnist Ann Coulter criticized President Donald Trump’s plan to send the U.S. military to the border asking, “Are they going to shoot the illegals? Just standing there doesn't do a thing.”

    On April 4, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen announced the Trump administration will send the National Guard to the southwest border after days of angry tweets from President Trump about “open borders, drugs, and crime” coming in from Mexico. According to CNN, Nielsen said, “While plans are being finalized, it’s our expectation that the National Guard will deploy personnel in support of CBP’s border security mission” and that details will not be available today or on any specific timeline.

    The pronouncement comes after reports of a “caravan” of migrants traveling north from Honduras toward the border. The New York Times explains that “caravans” of migrants have occurred annually for the past five years “with little fanfare, virtually unnoticed north of the border with the United States.”

    Fox News seized the story to demonize those seeking asylum in the U.S. In reaction to the news, host Tucker Carlson described Mexico as a “hostile foreign power.” Carlson also hosted Jessica Vaughn of the hate group the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) who called the caravan a “walkathon for open borders” and a “stunt to test” the Trump administration’s resolve on border security. Fox News has also credited Trump with the dispersing of the group.

    On Wednesday following Secretary Nielsen’s announcement, Coulter suggested that the  National Guard “shoot the illegals” because “Just standing there doesn’t do a thing.”

    The tweet keeps with Coulter’s long-standing history of racism and hate against immigrants. She has repeatedly called for deporting Dreamers, suggested mass shootings would decrease by stopping immigration, and has decried the “browning of America.”

  • The top 6 tricks Scott Pruitt uses to outfox the media

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

    Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt might just be the most ruthlessly effective member of the Trump administration -- much to the ire of environmental activists, who recently launched a #BootPruitt campaign. One of Pruitt's trademark strategies is trying to tightly control media coverage of himself and his agency, a way to tamp down criticism of his industry-friendly agenda and extreme rollbacks of environmental protections.

    Pruitt has lost control of the media narrative in the past week, as numerous outlets have reported on his snowballing ethics scandals. But if he keeps his job -- there are reports that President Trump still has his back -- you can expect him to double down on his media machinations.

    Here are the key ways Pruitt manipulates and hampers the press:

    1. Pruitt goes to right-wing news outlets to push his messages out

    During his first year as head of the EPA, Pruitt appeared on Fox News, Trump's favorite network, 16 times -- more than twice as often as he appeared on the other major cable and broadcast networks combined. Fox hosts and interviewers tend to lob softballs at him and gloss over his numerous controversies and scandals.

    Pruitt gives interviews to other conservative outlets, too, from Breitbart News Daily to The Rush Limbaugh Show to the Christian Broadcasting Network. Last month, Pruitt went on conservative talk-radio shows to spread misleading talking points as he attempted to defend his extravagant travel spending.

    And when Pruitt announced a plan in March to severely restrict the kinds of scientific data that can be used in policymaking -- a change decried by scientists, environmentalists, and public health advocates -- he gave an exclusive interview to conservative news site The Daily Caller about it. The resulting article painted the shift in a positive light, of course.

    2. Pruitt gives interviews to generalists instead of environmental reporters

    Pruitt grants some interviews to mainstream news outlets, but when he does it's often with political reporters or generalists instead of reporters on the environmental beat who would know the right tough questions to ask.

    For instance, in February, Pruitt appeared on The New York Times' podcast The Daily. The interview was largely light and fluffy, letting Pruitt spout his talking points with little pushback, including a false claim that Congress would have to change the law in order for the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. After the interview, it fell to Times environmental reporter Coral Davenport to point out that the Supreme Court had already granted authority to the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. Too bad she wasn't the one who conducted the interview. The following week, when another Times environmental reporter, Lisa Friedman, asked for a comment from Pruitt for a piece on his views on climate science, an EPA spokesperson instead referred her to the interview with The Daily.

    The EPA administrator sat for another soft interview with a Washington Post political reporter that was published in the Post's political newsletter The Daily 202. The resulting piece quoted Pruitt defending his enforcement record -- “I don't hang with polluters; I prosecute them" -- and praising Trump for his "tremendous ideas."

    Contrast that with what happened when Pruitt gave a rare interview to two Post reporters, Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin, who've been doggedly covering his agency. They produced a substantive article on how Pruitt has been shifting the EPA to serve the interests of regulated companies; quotes from Pruitt in the piece are interspersed with quotes from experts and with reporting on Pruitt's moves to roll back environmental protections and enforcement.

    3. Pruitt's EPA withholds basic information from the press and the public

    Under Pruitt, the EPA has become extraordinarily secretive.

    Unlike previous EPA administrators, Pruitt has refused to publicly release his full schedule in anything close to real time. The EPA has barred reporters from attending events where Pruitt speaks, even threatening to call the police to remove them. Most recently, on April 3, the EPA blocked numerous journalists from attending his announcement about the loosening of auto fuel economy standards, enabling Pruitt to avoid hard questions.

    It's so hard to get information out of the agency that the Society of Environmental Journalists sent the EPA public affairs office a letter in January asking for such fundamental things as open press briefings, responses to reporters' inquiries, and distribution of press releases to everyone who requests them.

    As New York Times reporter Friedman said in October, "Covering the EPA is like covering the CIA. It is so secretive. It is so difficult even to get basic information.”

    It's no surprise, then, that Freedom of Information Act lawsuits against the agency have soared under Pruitt.

    4. Pruitt's EPA sends reporters articles by climate deniers instead of useful information

    Over the last month, the EPA has sent out at least four "press releases" that did nothing more than promote articles or opinion pieces by right-wing figures that painted Pruitt in a positive light, as ThinkProgress reported.

    The most eye-popping press release was headlined "The Hill: Scott Pruitt is leading the EPA toward greatness." It pointed to a fawning opinion piece co-written by the head of the Heartland Institute, a notorious climate-denial think tank.

    But perhaps the most vexing to reporters was a press release that promoted the aforementioned Daily Caller article on Pruitt restricting the EPA’s use of scientific data. The agency sent it out in lieu of an informative press release and otherwise refused to answer reporters' questions about the action. This prompted the National Association of Science Writers to send a letter of protest to the head of the EPA press office, calling on her to "take steps immediately to prevent this unprofessional and unethical behavior from occurring again." The Society of Environmental Journalists followed up with a similar letter of its own.

    5. Pruitt repeats disingenuous, misleading talking points

    Unlike his boss, Pruitt is disciplined and on-message. In interviews, he turns again and again to the same tightly scripted talking points, many of which are misleading.

    Like this one: "We've seen an 18 percent reduction in our CO2 footprint from 2000 to 2014. We're at pre-1994 levels," Pruitt told Fox News Sunday in June, while defending Trump's decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement. It's one of Pruitt's favorite lines. He's repeated it ad nauseum during his 13 months at the EPA.

    When he spouts this statistic, Pruitt is essentially bragging that the U.S. has already done a lot to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. That might sound good on the surface, but Pruitt's claim is misleading -- he ignores the fact that emissions went down in part because of Obama-era policies that Pruitt and others in the Trump administration are now undoing. It's also just a really weird thing to boast about if you're a climate denier like Pruitt.

    Does Pruitt actually think it's a good thing that the U.S. reduced carbon dioxide emissions? Does that mean he acknowledges that CO2 is a dangerous pollutant? Does he then think it would be good for the U.S. to continue reducing CO2 emissions? Is he aware that CO2 emissions are projected to rise this year?

    These are follow-up questions that an interviewer who's knowledgeable about climate change might ask, but so far we haven't seen any such pushback. No wonder Pruitt keeps repeating the line.

    6. Pruitt's EPA retaliates against journalists

    Under Pruitt, the EPA's press office has taken the unprecedented step of personally attacking reporters whose work the leadership dislikes. In September, the office issued a press release bashing Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker over a story he co-wrote. "Biesecker had the audacity to imply that agencies aren’t being responsive to the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey," the release read. "Unfortunately, the Associated Press’ Michael Biesecker has a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story." The EPA then dropped Biesecker from its email press list.

    The agency's press office has also attacked New York Times reporter Eric Lipton, who's done deep-dive investigative reporting into Pruitt's EPA. In August, the office put out a press release that accused him of reporting "false facts." In October, Liz Bowman, head of the EPA's Office of Public Affairs, gave a snarky reply after Lipton requested information on agency actions, accusing Lipton of having a "continued fixation on writing elitist clickbait trying to attack qualified professionals committed to serving their country.”

    The bottom line: Why Pruitt’s media manipulation matters

    When Pruitt gets more positive media coverage for himself and the EPA, or at least less negative coverage, it can sway public opinion in favor of his right-wing agenda and make it easier for him to continue eviscerating environmental protections. His successes then help him curry favor with oil companies, the Koch network, and other monied interests that could fund a future Pruitt campaign for senator, governor, or even president. After all, the EPA administrator is notoriously ambitious.

    If Pruitt does ascend higher, you can expect to see a lot more anti-regulatory fervor and a lot more media manipulation and maltreatment.