Fox contributor and former Trump top staffer David Bossie tells Black guest Joel Payne that he is out of his "cotton-picking mind"
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If you share a part of your identity with the families targeted by President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that criminally prosecutes those caught entering the country unauthorized, watching Fox News this week might’ve been a special kind of horror. The network has architected its discussion of the 2,000 children torn from their parents, branded as criminals upon arrival, to help government officials justify the crisis, blame the victims, and criminalize all immigrants. Thankfully, while Fox and other pro-Trump media outlets are working to exonerate the government from any responsibility in creating this humanitarian crisis, CNN’s coverage has offered a far more accurate depiction of reality, and MSNBC’s focus on the real-life consequences of this cruel policy enforcement truly has reflected the pain, fear, and uncertainty that thousands of immigrants fleeing worse conditions are being subjected to under Trump.
As a Salvadoran, I understand what these families are running from. As an immigrant, I understand how incredibly broken the current immigration system is and the many assumptions -- of criminality, of alienness, of backwardness -- projected onto those identified as immigrants, with no regard for whether they’d fit more neatly into the category of refugee. Many like me understand what it feels like to be the subjects of sentences rendered operative by dehumanizing verbs like “infest.” But Fox decided to essentially ignore those who could voice alternative perspectives. Instead, the network centered and overly relied on the government authorities who’ve had a hand in creating the chaos in the first place. This week, Fox repeatedly provided a platform for Customs and Border Patrol officials and for ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan to blame the victims unchallenged and to justify the horrors of Trump’s policy enforcement. On Fox & Friends, the president’s favorite show, Griff Jenkins sanitized the daily work of the border patrol, while the network at large virtually ignored the heartbreaking audio of terrified immigrant children weeping after being separated from their parents. The exceptional times the network brought on essential voices like a DACA recipient or an immigration attorney, they were drowned out by Fox’s drive to trivialize the crisis and exploit tragedies, all in the service of criminalizing immigrants. In doing so, the network is creating a false dichotomy in which its focus on gangs and crime is at the expense of the victims of those very gangs, threatened into fleeing their countries.
By contrast, CNN and MSNBC used the substantial resources they deployed to the border to cover the family separation crisis and feature commentary from experts, advocates, and immigrants. CNN’s correspondents on the ground offered a crucial view into what a zero-tolerance policy looks like for those it targets. The network often fell back on its model of a packaged news report followed by commentary from its political punditry, which serves as a reminder of the importance of having a roster of diverse voices to accurately represent the demographics of the issues being discussed. But its reporters opened up a window into the struggles of those seeking asylum and the cruelty they face from Trump’s policy.
MSNBC, on the other hand, offered audiences a unique window into what these families are experiencing. Its coverage elevated the stories not being told elsewhere; countered pernicious misinformation; and, by featuring a slew of immigrants, immigration attorneys, civil rights activists (like RAICES), members of religious organizations and medical professionals, better illustrated the tapestry of the complicated human consequences of what happens when cruel policies are inhumanely implemented.
Correspondent Mariana Atencio, in particular, was uniquely positioned by “her ability to connect, report, speak and translate” to bridge the gap between the lived experiences of audiences and those of the protagonists of this humanitarian crisis. By translating immigrants’ words live on camera, Atencio humanized the coverage, giving viewers the opportunity to put faces to the stories and providing immigrants the ability to speak directly to those responsible for the crisis. And when Atencio talked to border patrol, her nuanced framing was informative and clearly distinguished innocent undocumented immigrants from criminals. While the issues were painful, MSNBC’s coverage was consequential and compassionate -- the kind that builds empathy and makes immigrants feel seen and heard.
Cable networks are in a unique position to offer a transparent view of what’s happening at the border to audiences who can’t witness it. What issues they choose to prioritize in their coverage, how they frame it, and who they decide to interview is a good indicator of the audience they are catering to: the American public or Trump’s administration.
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Following the Trump administration’s implementation of a policy requiring the separation of immigrant children from their parents as they cross the border, some self-described “pro-life” organizations and media figures have failed to denounce this policy. Others, though, have seemingly attempted to distract from the outrage about the policy by making outlandish and inaccurate comparisons to abortion.
As outrage continues to grow over the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their families, Fox News is more focused on another issue -- the inspector general’s report into how the FBI handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation. While immigration was clearly the main story on CNN and MSNBC throughout the morning and early afternoon today, Fox spent over two and a half hours discussing the inspector general’s report and carrying the second day of congressional hearings live. In comparison, Fox devoted just over an hour and a half to discussing immigration and President Donald Trump’s policy of separating children from their families.
According to a review by Media Matters, MSNBC spent 4 hours and 35 minutes covering immigration and family separation today from 6 a.m. through 1 p.m. while discussing the inspector general report for just over two minutes. CNN spent nearly three hours on immigration and mentioned the inspector general report for just under six minutes. Fox News spent 1 hour and 33 minutes discussing immigration and 2 hours and 37 minutes covering the inspector general’s report and the hearing on Capitol Hill. Fox carried the congressional hearing about the report live for nearly an hour and a half.
CNN’s and MSNBC’s dedication to covering family separation can also be seen by the personnel they have dispatched to Texas. MSNBC anchors Stephanie Ruhle, Craig Melvin, Chris Hayes, and Lawrence O’Donnell are all in Texas along with several correspondents. Similarly, CNN has seven crews in the region, according to CNN reporter Brian Stelter’s Reliable Sources newsletter. Fox’s coverage, however, has left much to be desired. Fox News hosts have been attempting to put a positive spin on the practice of separating children from their parents, lying about what’s happening, and mocking people who are outraged by a policy that the United Nations human rights office has criticized as an “arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life” and “a serious violation of the rights of the child.” Another difference in the coverage has been Fox’s decision to not play audio obtained by ProPublica of immigrant children in American detention facilities crying for their parents. CNN and MSNBC have played the audio repeatedly throughout their reporting.
One thing is clear: While thousands of children are being interned at the U.S. border and separated from their families, Fox News thinks it’s more important to focus on a closed investigation into the Clinton email probe.
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On June 12, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) quote-tweeted an anti-immigrant tweet from British neo-Nazi Mark Collett. It's not the first time King has elevated white supremacist talking points on Twitter.
Media Matters reported on Collett’s history when Fox News host Laura Ingraham quoted him in a tweet in January. At the time, we noted that Mark Collett is a former chairman of the youth division of the British National Party (BNP), a far-right political organization in the United Kingdom, who was eventually dismissed from the party and arrested for death threats against its leader, a political rival. Collett has repeatedly collaborated with former Ku Klux Klan leader and radio host David Duke, who has endorsed Collett’s book. Collett once expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler, has said that he considered AIDS a “friendly disease because blacks, drug users and gays have it,” and has referred to asylum seekers as “cockroaches.” Collett also campaigned in support of Brexit with his girlfriend, who has multiple Nazi tattoos.
Angry White Men, a blog that tracks far-right people and groups, flagged King’s quote-tweet and shared a number of pieces laying out Collett’s racist extremism in a Twitter thread.
U.S. representative just retweeted a Neo-Nazi. https://t.co/Eprgy3gs0L
— John Brown Did Nothing Wrong (@EyesOnTheRight) June 12, 2018
Let's learn about Mark Collett.https://t.co/6AM9Y4dNXr
— John Brown Did Nothing Wrong (@EyesOnTheRight) June 12, 2018
King has a record of pushing white supremacist narratives on Twitter. He once tweeted that "we can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies" and then doubled-down on his statement after receiving backlash. Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke praised King for his tweet:
As Vice documented, King’s bigotry has been on display beyond Twitter as well. He’s compared undocumented immigrants to livestock, pushed the birther conspiracy theory that claims Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and referred to the former president as “very, very urban,” and said that only Europe and the U.S. have contributed to civilization.
Last week, in a move that could further gut the Affordable Care Act and threaten the health insurance of 130 million people, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it would not defend the provisions of the law that protect consumers with pre-existing conditions. Cable news barely took notice.
On June 7, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the DOJ would stop defending in court a key provision of Obamacare that protects consumers with pre-existing conditions. This could be a life-or-death decision for such individuals, as it could allow insurers to once again deny them coverage because of their medical condition or history.
A recent poll found that health care was a top issue for voters, and the pre-existing condition provision is the most popular provision of the law. Despite these facts, as well as the severity of the potential consequences, the unprecedented nature of the DOJ’s decision not to defend a federal law, and the fact that this is a reversal from past Trump statements, cable news spent hardly any time discussing the decision and the implications it could have for nearly 130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions. From the time of Sessions’ June 7 announcement through June 11, CNN spent just 10 minutes discussing the decision. MSNBC fared slightly better, spending 19 minutes on the decision, and Fox News discussed it the most, devoting 25 minutes to the news that the Department of Justice wouldn’t defend coverage of pre-existing conditions protections. Additionally, not a single Sunday political news show mentioned the DOJ's decision or the consequences that would result from it.
The quality of the coverage oftentimes varied. Most often, the coverage failed to offer substance, focusing more on the political ramifications than the effects on vulnerable people. But occasionally segments touched on the consequences this would have on millions of Americans. On MSNBC’s All in with Chris Hayes panelist Nicholas Bagley, a University of Michigan law professor, noted, “There are about 130 million people in this country who have pre-existing conditions. And if they don't get insurance through their jobs, and they don't get insurance through Medicare or Medicaid, if the Affordable Care Act goes away, they're going to be out of luck. This is a very high-stakes debate.”
On MTP Daily, Katy Tur noted that it was off-putting to be discussing something that affects so many people through a political lens: “These are people and it is their lives. And I think it is just so weird, and kind of sad, that we talk about it as, ‘Well, here’s where the politics are, and this is them trying to want to put the stake in Obamacare.’ These are people’s lives!”
Tur is on point with her dismay over the way health care is discussed in the media, but what’s even sadder is that cable news just doesn’t seem to care enough to cover the issue in depth at all, let alone in a manner that matters.
Methodology: Media Matters searched CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC on SnapStream for mentions of “Affordable Care Act,” “Obamacare,” “Obama care,” “healthcare,” “health care,” and “pre-existing” from June 7 through June 11 between 4 a.m. and midnight. Reruns were excluded.
Fox News’ loudest Trump propagandist aspires to be attorney general
The key to understanding how Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro operates is to realize that she is single-minded in her personal ambition while completely unencumbered by anything resembling shame, dignity, or professional integrity. As it stands, Pirro is one of the more influential pundits in the country by virtue of her close relationship with President Donald Trump. She uses her awful Fox News program, Justice with Judge Jeanine, to propagandize on Trump’s behalf, for which she is granted access to the president, interviews with key administration officials, etc.
But that’s not enough for Pirro, who turned to televised punditry only after her once-promising political and legal career was left in smoldering ruin by her personal scandals and widely mocked campaign ineptitude. According to Politico, Pirro aspires to the lofty office of attorney general of the United States and has been telling the president’s advisers that “she’s interested in taking over as the nation’s top law enforcement official.”
Ordinarily, it would seem ridiculous that a cable pundit would have any chance of serving as attorney general, but that was before the reality TV star president tapped two cable pundits to be his chief economic and national security advisers and nominated his doctor to run the Department of Veterans Affairs because he gave a good press conference.
There are, however, some major obstacles to Pirro landing her dream job: chief among them, the guy currently holding it. She can’t be attorney general while Jeff Sessions is still in office. So Pirro is taking matters into her own hands and using her cable news program to undermine her supposed rival and publicly call for his resignation (or ouster).
Here’s Pirro on June 2 saying, “If Jeff Sessions can’t do his job because he’s too scared or recusing himself, maybe he ought to resign himself. But that’s just me.”
And here she is one week before that calling Sessions an “absentee attorney general” and asking White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, “Isn’t it time to get a working attorney general on staff?”
And here she is one week before that calling Sessions “the most dangerous man in America” because he refuses to use the awesome powers of his office to protect Donald Trump and arrest the senior staff of the Justice Department (seriously):
This is all quite insane and grotesquely unethical and fatally shot through with toxic self-interest. All those characteristics should, under normal circumstances, prevent Pirro from having her name even briefly considered for any government position, let alone attorney general. But these are strange times in which a televised authoritarian harangue in support of turning the Justice Department into a weapon against the president’s political enemies can win you plaudits in the Oval Office. “Attorney general nominee Jeanine Pirro” would be a sad, surreal joke, but there’s absolutely no guarantee that it won’t happen.
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Six days after 10 people were murdered in a school, cable news devoted less than 5 minutes of coverage to the attack
On May 18, a 17-year-old student opened fire at Santa Fe High School in Texas, leaving 10 people dead and 13 people injured. It took less than a week for CNN, Fox, and MSNBC to drop mentions of the school shooting and its aftermath almost entirely from their news cycles. What started as wall-to-wall coverage on cable news on the day of the shooting dropped to less than five minutes of coverage a week later on all three channels combined.
News of the shooting first emerged across cable networks at around 9:20 a.m. on May 18, and the networks gave frequent updates on the emerging details throughout the next hour and a half. By 11 a.m. all networks were covering the shooting continuously. Fox News quickly blamed the seemingly never-ending cycle of school shootings on violent video games and mental health and called for installing armed guards at schools and giving guns to teachers. MSNBC’s initial coverage tapped into local news outlets periodically and mostly focused on the unfolding facts of the shooting. CNN’s coverage was similarly focused on the emerging facts, with some speculation about the mental health of the shooter.
The networks continued their wall-to-wall coverage throughout most of the day, and it dominated CNN’s prime-time and evening shows as well. MSNBC’s coverage started to wane during the 4 p.m. hour: The shooting was still dominating the discussion, but it wasn’t the sole story covered. Similarly, Fox News started to cover other stories during its 5 p.m. show. Fox News and MSNBC devoted significantly less time to the shooting during their evening programming than CNN did.
By the next day, coverage of the shooting had drastically declined. CNN went from over nine hours of coverage of the massacre on Friday to just under one hour of coverage on Saturday -- in large part due to the network’s coverage of the wedding of Britain’s Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle. Fox News, which covered the shooting for over seven hours on Friday, dedicated just over two and a half hours to the story on Saturday. And while MSNBC spent nearly seven hours on the shooting on Friday, the channel dedicated a little less than three hours to it on Saturday. On Sunday, Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC covered the shooting for 1 hour and 33 minutes, 2 hours and 15 minutes, and 1 hour and 20 minutes, respectively.
The royal wedding seemed to suck the oxygen from the coverage of the shooting, and the focus on Santa Fe never quite recovered. CNN’s coverage on Saturday consisted solely of hourly segments between noon and 7 p.m. And while Fox and MSNBC devoted more attention to the shooting and its aftermath than CNN did on Saturday, there was still a significant drop in coverage.
The following Monday, just three days after the Santa Fe shooting, each cable news network devoted just a little over an hour to the shooting, totaling 3 hours and 50 minutes. By Tuesday, the networks spent just under 37 minutes combined on the shooting. On Wednesday, the coverage was down to under nine minutes combined. And by Thursday, less than a week after the shooting took place, Fox, MSNBC, and CNN devoted less than five minutes combined to the shooting and its aftermath.
Out of the three cable channels, MSNBC has been the worst in giving continuing coverage to the shooting and its aftermath. The network’s coverage from Tuesday to Thursday totaled just 1 minute and 36 seconds. On Thursday, MSNBC didn’t mention Santa Fe at all.
One would think that with questions about how to stop the epidemic of school shootings still unanswered, coverage of the massacre would last more than several days. One would be wrong.
Just one week has passed since the attack -- which was the 22nd school shooting this year -- but the sense of urgency and alarm about this ongoing crisis has already faded. Networks have moved on to covering fake “spy” scandals, other happenings in the Trump/Russia investigation, and other stories de jour. It says a lot about our society when a mass school shooting fades from our national dialogue in less than a week. In part, it reflects and contributes to the normalization of and desensitization to mass shootings in America. In January, when 16 students were shot in a school shooting in Kentucky, cable news devoted just 16 minutes to covering the rampage the day it happened. There was speculation in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, FL, in February that news coverage would take mass shootings at schools more seriously. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case.
Methodology: Media Matters searched SnapStream transcripts of CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC for mentions of the word “school” within 10 words of any variation of “shoot,” “Santa Fe,” or “Texas” between 4 a.m. and midnight starting on May 18, the day of the shooting, and ending on Thursday, May 24.
Kann: “Fox News is seizing on the opportunity to flood out other” prime-time coverage on abortion
During the May 22 edition of Rising Up with Sonali, Media Matters’ Sharon Kann talked to host Sonali Kolhatkar about Media Matters’ annual study examining abortion coverage on prime-time evening cable news.
Media Matters analyzed evening prime-time news programs on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN from March 1, 2017, through March 1, 2018, and identified segments featuring a substantial discussion of abortion and reproductive rights. The resulting 211 segments were then coded for the number of accurate or inaccurate statements made about four abortion-related topics: the discredited anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP), abortion funding rules, Planned Parenthood’s essential services, and so-called “extreme” abortion procedures. Media Matters found that Fox News dominated the conversation about abortion -- airing 114 of the 211 total segments across all cable news networks (54 percent) -- and that its coverage of the four abortion-related topics was inaccurate 77 percent of the time.
Kann spoke about how “Fox News is seizing on the opportunity to flood out other” prime-time coverage on abortion with rampant misinformation, explaining that such coverage is “stigmatizing”:
SONALI KOLHATKAR (HOST): Now, Fox News is spending a lot of time on abortion. Conversely, do you find that other news outlets, other cable news outlets, even so-called liberal ones, are just not spending enough time on abortion?
SHARON KANN: Yeah. I actually think that was one of the most interesting findings from the study this year, which is that, like you said, it's not just that Fox News is talking about abortion the most, it’s that their sort of volume of coverage is being met by a lack of coverage by other organizations. And so, it’s not just a matter of Fox News is talking about abortion the most and also the least accurately, it’s that other organizations aren’t seizing on opportunities to talk about abortion in frank, fair, and factual ways. And that results in a combination of lots of stigmatizing coverage and lots of inaccurate coverage, but then also instances where, when they do talk about it, it’s only spoken about in terms of it is like a political football issue rather than as a necessary form of health care.
KOLHATKAR: Right, and I’m wondering if that stems from our taking for granted that there is widespread support for access to abortion in the public, and so liberal news outlets feel like they don’t need to talk about it, they don’t need to clarify medical terms or expose how the right talks about it. That it’s just taken for granted that there is this support for abortion, but then with Fox News filling in that gap you see a very vocal minority having an outsized impact on politics and the discourse in general.
KANN: Definitely. I think, like you said, we have polling, and we understand that Americans are more largely in support of abortion access and, in particular, when people understand the circumstances that someone will access abortion care under, they are more likely to support access to that care. On the flip side, we have Fox News and other right-wing members of this echo chamber who are seeking out these conversations, not to invite the voices of people who have had abortions or might have abortions, but instead to sort of forward coverage that isn’t factual. And so I think something that other outlets can be doing a better job of, in that I think Fox News is seizing on the opportunity to flood out other coverage on, is centering people who’ve actually had abortions and making sure that we’re not just talking about abortion as something to be considered in the context of midterm elections or as a matter of a private decision, but we’re also talking about it as centering the people who’ve actually had abortions.
KOLHATKAR: So, there were four common abortion-related topics that you alluded to earlier. What are some of the other issues, you said “partial-birth abortion” was one of them. I remember this becoming an issue even during the  presidential debates some. So, one would hope that the more liberal news outlets would take this on and clarify it that, as you said, this isn’t really a medical recognized term. But Fox News talks about it like it’s a real thing -- that we’re aborting essentially fully-formed babies.
KANN: Right, Fox News does, not just with “partial-birth” abortion, but with lots of allegations of allegedly “extreme” abortion procedures is how we referred to them, and that captures any number of inaccurate representations, but I think it’s also important not to let off the hook other outlets who are maybe not doing enough to debunk these claims. So, I think the example you alluded to with the presidential debate, we saw that during that time even when other networks were discussing the things that had been said in the debate, they weren’t going the extra step to say, “This was said in the debate. Here’s where the term comes from. It was actually invented by anti-abortion activists to shame and vilify people having medically necessary later abortions,” but they instead took it for granted that that was an actually thing. And so, even when people maybe are trying to provide further context to something that was said, making sure to provide necessary debunk and citing the opinions of experts as well.
KOLHATKAR: Let’s talk about Planned Parenthood, and this real lack of information about the government’s role in taxpayer or tax funds for abortion. I think if you talk to Fox News viewers or people who exclusively watch Fox News, they might be under the impression that their tax dollars go towards funding abortions in states around the country. Is that true, and how does Fox News sort of cover that?
KANN: That is not true. The Hyde amendment exists, and it is a federal rule that prohibits the use of taxpayer dollars or any federal funds to support abortion services with a couple of exceptions … . Fox News, however, does not recognize this. You’ll hear Fox News, other right-wing outlets, and even anti-abortion organizations frequently saying that we need to create further protections against so-called taxpayer funded abortion. And something that they’ll often say to support this is that, even if money isn't being given to Planned Parenthood to fund abortions, that because Planned Parenthood and other providers may provide abortion services, that money is fungible, which is inaccurate and doesn’t account for the number of safeguards that people have to show where they are actually spending the money.
Watch the full interview HERE for further information about Media Matters’ study and media coverage of abortion and reproductive rights issues.
When Media Matters last crunched the numbers on Fox News programming responsible for the most abortion misinformation, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and Tucker Carlson were unsurprisingly the worst culprits. However, as allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against O’Reilly (and other network figures including Eric Bolling) and he was eventually fired, Fox News transitioned to an evening lineup with more female hosts -- Shannon Bream, Martha MacCallum, and Laura Ingraham. But this change has not come close to fixing the network’s abortion misinformation problem.
Media Matters analyzed evening prime-time news programs on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN from March 1, 2017, through March 1, 2018, and identified segments featuring a substantial discussion of abortion and reproductive rights. The resulting 211 segments were then coded for the number of accurate or inaccurate statements made about four abortion-related topics: the discredited anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP), abortion funding rules, Planned Parenthood’s essential services, and so-called extreme abortion procedures. We found that Fox News dominated the conversation about abortion -- airing 114 of the 211 total segments across all cable news networks (54 percent) -- and that its coverage of the four abortion-related topics was inaccurate 77 percent of the time. And 44 percent of its 114 segments were aired on programs Bream, MacCallum, and Ingraham anchored.
The shows Bream, MacCallum, and Ingraham hosted had 107 statements about the four abortion-related topics, out of which the hosts either personally spread -- or gave a platform to those spreading -- anti-abortion misinformation 76 times (71 percent). Here’s a sample of what each host has offered her viewers in the last year:
Overall, Bream made 30 appearances on Fox News where a substantial discussion of abortion occurred. Although Bream entered the prime-time lineup when she started hosting her own show, Fox News @ Night, on October 30, 2017, she had previously regularly appeared as a guest or a correspondent during The First 100 Days and Special Report. Bream individually made 35 total statements about CMP, abortion funding rules, Planned Parenthood’s essential services, and so-called extreme abortion procedures. Of these 35 statements, 23 contained misinformation (66 percent).
As Media Matters documented after Fox News @ Night debuted, Bream appears well-attuned to the talking points and interests of the anti-abortion movement; an anti-abortion leader even celebrated her promotion, tweeting that Bream “covers Life issues with fearlessness and fairness.” Since then, Bream has promoted anti-abortion talking points and myths -- suggesting they were simply concerns she “heard from a lot of pro-life groups” -- including by asking a misleading question about taxpayers paying for the abortions of undocumented minors who come to the United States.
As a host, Bream has been consistent in repeating misinformation about anti-abortion group CMP, which engaged in a smear campaign against Planned Parenthood by releasing deceptively edited videos. Just as she had done repeatedly in the past, Bream promoted CMP and said its actions caused Planned Parenthood to become “mired in scandal” and that CMP’s videos showed “Planned Parenthood officials discussing pricing for fetal body parts and tissue left over after abortions.”
MacCallum made 14 appearances in Fox News segments that had a substantial discussion of abortion. All these segments were on the two Fox News programs she hosted during the study period -- The First 100 Days and The Story. During those appearances, MacCallum made nine statements in total about CMP and so-called extreme abortion procedures, all of which were inaccurate (100 percent). MacCallum also frequently relied on extreme and stigmatizing rhetoric about abortion.
When discussing CMP, MacCallum often treated the discredited organization and its deceptive smear videos as credible sources of information. For example, during a March 2017 segment of The First 100 Days, MacCallum not only played a long excerpt from one of the videos, she also said that it was “still hard to watch,” implying that it accurately depicted that Planned Parenthood was engaged in the sale of fetal body parts. In an interview with Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), MacCallum focused on Blackburn’s phrasing in one of her campaign ads, which Twitter briefly blocked her campaign from promoting. In the ad, Blackburn referred to her time on the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, saying, “I fought Planned Parenthood and we stopped the sale of baby body parts.” Instead of questioning Blackburn on her inaccurate phrasing or talking about the smear campaign that Blackburn and the panel had engaged in against Planned Parenthood, Bream accepted her narrative, saying, “You fought hard, as you say, to ban the sale of baby body parts. I mean, it’s such a difficult phrase even to say and I think you’ve fought very hard for it.”
Similarly, during a July 2017 segment on The Story, MacCallum pushed several myths about the existence and widespread practice of so-called sex-selective, late-term, and full-term abortions. In reality, these are inaccurate descriptions of abortion, created by anti-abortion groups to vilify those accessing legal health care. In one example, MacCallum said that an Oregon bill (now law) that ensured protection of reproductive rights for all -- including undocumented immigrants -- would allow for “sex-selective” and “late-term, even full-term, abortions for an illegal immigrant.” MacCallum continued to push the misinformation, asking her guest, political commentator Danielle McLaughlin, whether she thought it was “OK for someone to decide because they don’t like the sex of their baby to abort it at eight months” and demanding to know, “Why would any state want to pass a law that would allow that?”
During the study period, Ingraham made 10 appearances in Fox News segments where there was a substantial discussion of abortion. Like Bream, Ingraham started hosting her own show, The Ingraham Angle, on October 30, 2017, and before that, she had also occasionally appeared as a guest on Special Report and Hannity. Although Ingraham made only three statements total about the four abortion-related topics, two of these statements were inaccurate (67 percent).
Despite only making 10 appearances during the period of study, Ingraham made a splash with her frequent use of alarmist and stigmatizing rhetoric. In one appearance, Ingraham called Planned Parenthood a “monstrosity of killing.” A December 2017 segment of The Ingraham Angle may be the most bewildering segment of the year about abortion. It started as a fairly regular Fox News segment about abortion, with Ingraham fearmongering that because of a court decision to allow undocumented minors abortion access, the United States would become “an abortion magnet.” Then, Ingraham insisted that a picture of a baby be put up on screen and demanded that her guest, attorney Rachel Self, “look at the screen.” Self calmly explained that she was unable to see the image because she was not in studio. Undeterred, Ingraham escalated the situation and eventually cut Self’s mic off, saying, “I can’t hear her talking over me.”
Fox News added more female hosts to its prime-time lineup, but having greater gender representation didn't translate to accurate and nuanced coverage of abortion. Bream, MacCallum, and Ingraham show that a push for gender parity in the cable news world cannot happen in a vacuum and must go hand-in-hand -- particularly for abortion-related issues -- with a commitment to frank, fair, and accurate coverage.
Conservatives often bemoan liberal dominance of Hollywood. But since Donald Trump’s election, Fox News’ Sean Hannity has built the closest thing the right wing has to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the wildly successful superhero franchise. Where Marvel’s superheroes fight alien invaders, the stars of the Sean Hannity Expanded Universe (SHEU) position themselves as the last bulwark against special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. But while the superheroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe fight villains like Thanos on their own, Hannity and his compatriots want to go a step further and enlist their audience to support a frightening and anti-democratic response by Trump.
Hannity has cast himself as his series’ Iron Man, the only visionary clear-sighted enough to identify an existential threat. The sprawling team assembled around him includes bankable leads, aging stars seeking new relevance, promising new faces, and ensemble players, all crossing over into each other’s storylines to build common narratives. Their overarching tale is that Mueller’s Russia probe is a “witch hunt,” the result of the fabrications of a shadowy cabal of journalists, Democrats, and “deep state” operatives. The happy ending they seek is the president saving himself by curtailing Mueller’s probe and instead ordering investigations into his political enemies.
For more about Hannity's conspiratorial narrative and the authoritarian endgame he's pushing, see our study reviewing his coverage of the first year of the Mueller probe.
President Trump is simultaneously the audience for this story, the victim who needs to be saved, and, in Hannity’s telling, the potential hero. The SHEU’s proposed solution to the Mueller investigation is in line with the authoritarian model for law enforcement Trump prefers, casting the Justice Department’s function as protecting the president and punishing his enemies. Unlike Marvel fans, Trump is able not merely to watch members of the SHEU on Fox broadcasts, but to break the fourth wall and go on their shows for fawning interviews, highlight particular segments for his Twitter followers, promote their programs and books, and even call on a select few for advice.
That might be a fanboy’s fantasy. But it has real and frightening consequences. The SHEU is reaching out from the Fox News screen and encouraging the president to act on his authoritarian impulses. Hannity and his teammates are preparing their viewers to support Trump no matter what norms he shatters. They have great power, and if Trump takes their advice, they will bear great responsibility.
Anti-Mueller conspiracy theories have permeated nearly every corner of Fox. But only the true stalwarts merit inclusion in the Sean Hannity Expanded Universe:
A weekly guest spot with the Fox & Friends crew helped turn Trump into a political phenomenon, and he’s remained a loyal viewer throughout his presidency. If you see Trump angrily tweeting about the Mueller probe early in the morning, Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, Brian Kilmeade, or one of their guests is almost certainly responsible.
Lou Dobbs’ cable news career seemed over when his bigoted commentary finally forced CNN to push him out in 2009, but he soon found a new home at Fox Business. Even at Fox, he’s distinguished himself as a shameless pro-Trump sycophant whose calls to not just fire but jail Mueller and the FBI and Justice Department leaders who have defied Trump are genuinely unnerving.
A longtime friend of Trump’s whom he considered for a senior Justice Department position, Jeanine Pirro has a Saturday night program that’s a must-watch for both White House aides and observers hoping to predict Trump’s messaging. She drew attention for her disturbing call for a “cleansing” of the FBI and DOJ and the arrests of top officials she considers insufficiently loyal to the president.
Gregg Jarrett spent much of his career as a marginal legal commentator and weekend Fox anchor. But he raised his profile by becoming the go-to analyst for hosts like Dobbs and Hannity, who value having someone with a law degree claim that Trump’s associates are innocent because collusion isn’t a crime and condemn their FBI pursuers for acting like “the old KGB.”
Jarrett’s a hack, but at least he’s Fox’s hack. Other attorneys regularly called upon to dismiss the investigation include Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow and the husband-and-wife team of Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, who were briefly considered for Trump’s legal team and have represented several figures under Mueller's investigation. All three are mainstays in the right-wing legal community -- and each has done legal work for Hannity.
Once colleagues at the right-wing website Circa News, John Solomon has moved on to The Hill while Sara Carter is a Fox contributor who publishes her reporting at her personal blog. Their slanted reporting based on conservative sources helps fuel anti-Mueller Fox hosts eager for information confirming their dire theories, and it garners the pair regular appearances throughout the SHEU -- and Hannity’s call to award them with Pulitzer Prizes.
A former Secret Service agent, Dan Bongino parlayed three failed bids for federal office into a career as a mid-level right-wing pundit, a gig on the National Rifle Association's media operation NRATV, and regular appearances on Fox & Friends and Hannity. Keep an eye on this one -- someone willing to call the Russia probe “an obvious frame job” could go far in this morally bankrupt movement.
After spending years attacking the ethics of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton now uses his Fox appearances to urge Trump to pardon everyone implicated by the Mueller probe and describe the FBI as “a KGB-type operation.”