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  • WSJ debunks Murdoch-fueled conspiracy theory on FBI texts and Obama

    The conspiracy theory, which was debunked by WSJ and others, was heavily pushed by Fox News and other right-wing outlets

    ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    The latest right-wing media ‘scandal,’ has completely fallen apart after The Wall Street Journal and others debunked several facets of the story. Fox News spent the day pushing Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-WI) claim that a text message between FBI lawyer Lisa Page and agent Peter Strzok referring to preparing talking points that then-FBI Director James Comey would use to brief then-President Barack Obama, implied an interference by Obama in the FBI’s investigation into Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email server. Right-wing media, heavily led by Fox News, and other mainstream outlets ran with the claim, despite the fact that there was no active investigation into Clinton’s emails at the time the text message in question was sent.

  • Executive Time Super Bowl Edition: How the Trump-Fox feedback loop kept his NFL feud alive

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Welcome to Executive Time, a recurring feature in which Media Matters senior fellow Matt Gertz explores the intersection between President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed and the hours of cable news he reportedly consumes daily, with a special focus on his favorite morning program, Fox & Friends. You can follow Matt’s work on Twitter @mattgertz and see previous installments in this series here.

    Days Trump appeared to live-tweet cable news since our last Executive Time update (1/18): Six (two editions of Fox & Friends, three editions of Fox & Friends Weekend, one edition of Fox & Friends First).

    Tweets since our last Executive Time update apparently resulting from live-tweeting cable news: 16 (nine from Fox & Friends, six from Fox & Friends Weekend, one from Fox & Friends First).


    At the State of the Union Tuesday night, President Donald Trump took a thinly-veiled shot at largely African-American NFL players who have protested racial inequality and police brutality by kneeling during the pre-game national anthem over the course of the football season. This Sunday night, tens of millions of Americans who tune in to watch Super Bowl LII will find out if any of the New England Patriots or the Philadelphia Eagles respond by protesting before the game begins.

    Trump lashed out at protesting football players at a September 22 rally for Alabama Republican Senate candidate Luther Strange, urging fans to “leave the stadium” if players knelt during the anthem and calling on NFL owners to fire players who did so. Those remarks created a firestorm that consumed the press for several days, as the president furiously defended his racial demagoguery and more NFL players protested during the anthem in response.

    Over the ensuing months, Trump has continued a running war against the NFL which he largely conducts through early-morning tweets attacking the players for protesting and the league for not forcing them to stand. Based on my research, the timing and method of the president’s criticisms are not a coincidence.

    The engine of Trump’s ongoing attacks on the NFL is Fox & Friends, his favorite morning show. The president frequently begins his day by live-tweeting that program (often on a tape delay), highlighting its praise for his administration and its slashing criticism of his foes. Reviewing the president’s tweets on the protests, I’ve determined that at least 13 of them on nine separate days appear to be the result of Trump responding to Fox’s coverage.

    All three networks devoted a great deal of programming to the protests after Trump’s September 22 comments. But Fox gave significantly more coverage to anthem protests than the other cable news networks, continued to provide regular updates long after the first few days, and generally struck a harshly critical tone in keeping with its virulent response to other protest movements by African-Americans, such as Black Lives Matter.

    This created a feedback loop between Fox and Trump: By continuing to provide updates on the state of the protest, the network reminded Trump of his feud with the league and triggered his quick response. Trump’s Fox live-tweets about the NFL often drove additional coverage from other outlets, as puzzled journalists struggled to determine why the president was reigniting a dormant fight.

    For this piece, I reviewed Trump’s tweets about the national anthem since his initial comments in Alabama. It quickly became apparent that his tweets over the first few days after his rally speech would be impossible to match to any discrete cause -- they were too many, and the news coverage across all outlets too regular to draw such conclusions.

    But beginning with the president’s tweets on September 25 and continuing to as recently as November 28, I found more than a dozen Trump tweets that I believe can be ascribed to him live-tweeting Fox. These tweets were all sent between the hours of 5 a.m. and 9 a.m., came within an hour of a Fox segment on the issue, were often part of a string of tweets that all match Fox programming, and frequently included language or details that seem ripped directly from the network’s coverage.

    September 25

    Beginning at 6:05 a.m. ET, Fox & Friends aired a segment about how the day before, in Steve Doocy’s words, “More than 200 players took a knee in the largest protest since Colin Kaepernick started the practice a year ago.” The hosts criticized the players for protesting, as Brian Kilmeade put it, “during the national anthem, not just for the military -- for the country.” Later in the segment, Kilmeade said, “What’s interesting is, NASCAR has a different approach. Richard Petty and Richard Childress essentially said if any of my people do not go out and stand for the national anthem, they won’t be on my team anymore.” Kilmeade also reported that NFL fans at games in New England and Buffalo had booed the players. Captions during the segment included “President: It’s About Respect, Not Race,” and “NFL Fans Cry Foul.”

    Roughly 14 minutes after the segment ended, Trump sent the first of three tweets about the protests, which track closely with Fox’s coverage:

    September 26

    The hosts opened the show by discussing how the Dallas Cowboys and the team’s evil, soulless owner, Jerry Jones, had locked arms and taken a knee together before the national anthem played at the game the previous night, but stood during its performance. They played a clip from the game of an announcer saying that “boos can be heard from this sell-out crowd” as the players knelt. Kilmeade quibbled with a report that said that there was a “smattering of boos” during the protest, commenting, “that is loud.” Doocy agreed that there was “a lot of booing from the Dallas Cowboy and the Cardinals fans when they took the knee,” but “a gigantic cheer when the national anthem was played and the flag came.”

    The hosts went on to praise the Cowboys for standing up during the anthem, with Kilmeade saying they did “a better job of getting their message out” because it “takes patriotism out of it.” Later in the segment, they reported that the NFL’s ratings had fallen, attributing that to fan anger over the protests. But according to Doocy, “The pregame [ratings] this past weekend were really high because so many people, after the president’s comments, wanted to see whether anybody was going to stand or sit or take a knee.”

    The segment ended at 6:10 a.m. Eighteen minutes later, the president started tweeting about the Cowboys game, with his comments again tracking closely with Fox’s coverage:

    October 9

    On October 8, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game in an obvious political stunt when several players took a knee during the national anthem. The next morning, former Pence press secretary Marc Lotter appeared on Fox & Friends to praise the vice president. Lotter criticized the players, saying they “disrespect the flag, disrespect the national anthem and those who defend it.” He pushed back against the notion that Pence’s appearance was a stunt, calling the trip to the game “long-planned.”

    The segment ended at 6:40 a.m. Twenty-five minutes later, the president tweeted:

    October 10

    Discussing former NFL coach Mike Ditka’s criticism of players who protest during the anthem, co-host Ainsley Earhardt urged the players, “If you have a problem with the country, protest, do whatever you want -- do it peacefully. You can take a knee, just don’t do it during the national anthem, too many people have died for this country."

    Moments later, Trump tweeted:

    That was one of five consecutive Trump tweets that I previously matched to Fox & Friends segments from that morning, one of which featured Trump praising an author’s book on Twitter roughly 45 minutes after the author appeared on the network and praised the president.

    October 11

    Fox & Friends ran multiple segments during the 6 a.m. hour highlighting a letter NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent teams in which he said that “we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem.”

    Fox was the only cable news outlet to cover the story during that hour before Trump appeared to respond to the program on Twitter:

    Fox also ran several segments that hour discussing the president’s tax cut plan, which was consistent with two other tweets the president sent that morning.

    October 18

    At 6:25 a.m., Fox & Friends ran a segment criticizing the NFL for deciding not to force the players to stand during the national anthem or punish players who kneel. The co-hosts and contributor Tomi Lahren condemned the NFL’s decision, with Lahren calling Goodell “spineless” and saying that football fans will revolt because “we love our country.”

    About half an hour later, Trump tweeted:

    This was one of four tweets that morning that match Fox & Friends programming.

    November 20

    Early in the broadcast, the Fox & Friends hosts criticized Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch for sitting during the U.S. national anthem and standing for the Mexican anthem during a game that weekend in Mexico City. Kilmeade called the story an “international embarrassment” and said the players union needs to “crack down because it’s hurting the league. Nine percent, the attendance is down. Ratings are down.”

    No other network covered Lynch’s protest that hour. Less than twenty minutes after the segment ended, Trump tweeted:

    Later that hour, Trump tweeted about a different Fox & Friends segment, tagging the program and Fox Business host Stuart Varney in the tweet.

    November 22

    During the 5 a.m. hour of Fox & Friends First, co-host Rob Schmitt reported a “possible game-changer to the NFL anthem policy: the league owners have a new proposal to keep the players in the locker room.” Co-host Jillian Mele responded, “Is that really the solution? Social media says not so much” and termed the idea “a Band-Aid.” Fox’s Carley Shimkus then said the proposal “could cause more controversy for the NFL,” reiterating that owners are considering “keeping teams in the locker room during the national anthem next season” and airing a series of tweets from critical fans.

    Roughly half an hour later, Trump tweeted:

    November 28

    During the 7 a.m. hour, Earhardt reported that “the NFL continues to struggle as protest against the anthem rages on. 23 players choosing to protest the performance during Sunday’s game.” Kilmeade linked the protests to weak attendance and ratings at games. The program then hosted “The Daily Rants Guy” Graham Allen and comedian and blogger Chad Prather to criticize the players and the league.

    About 20 minutes after the segment, Trump tweeted:

    This was one of two apparent Trump live-tweets that morning.

    The president is live-tweeting

    Here are the Trump tweets since our last update which I am reasonably confident are the result of the president directly responding to cable news programs he had been watching.

    January 18. Six Fox & Friends live-tweets.

    January 20. Four Fox & Friends Weekend live-tweets.
    January 23. Three Fox & Friends live-tweets.
    January 27. One Fox & Friends Weekend live-tweet.

    January 28. One Fox & Friends Weekend live-tweet.

    February 1. One Fox & Friends First live-tweet.

    Shelby Jamerson contributed research.
  • The Fox propagandists urging Trump to criminally investigate Robert Mueller

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    NBC News reported today that President Donald Trump has been “talking to friends about the possibility of asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to consider prosecuting” special counsel Robert Mueller and members of his team on unstated charges as part of the administration’s effort to discredit and defang the Russia investigation. One Trump adviser explained to the network, “Here's how it would work: 'We're sorry, Mr. Mueller, you won't be able to run the federal grand jury today because he has to go testify to another federal grand jury.’"

    Several of Trump’s closest media allies, similarly seeking to protect the president by undermining the Mueller probe, have been declaring Mueller guilty of crimes and calling for his arrest and prosecution for months.

    On May 19, 2017 -- just two days after Mueller was announced as special counsel -- Fox judicial analyst Gregg Jarrett wrote that Mueller should resign because he had a conflict of interest in violation of the law governing the special counsel. The conflict, per Jarrett, was that “He and [former FBI director James] Comey are good friends and former colleagues who worked hand-in-hand at the FBI and Department of Justice. Agents will tell you they were joined at the hip.”

    This is apparently nonsense -- Mueller and Comey were longtime colleagues but not personally close, and experts say the relationship does not rise to the level of an illegal conflict of interest.

    Nonetheless, Jarrett’s claims found a ready audience with Fox News host Sean Hannity, who repeatedly cited his theory while arguing that Mueller had broken “not one, but two laws” and needed to resign or be fired. The Fox host has also regularly denounced Mueller’s team as a “Democratic hit squad,” suggesting the team members have a multitude of conflicts of interest of their own.

    Hannity -- who has spent much of the past year defending Trump from the Russia probe and denouncing his foes in increasingly vitriolic terms -- has the ear of the president, who regularly calls Hannity after his nightly broadcast.

    Then there’s Jeanine Pirro, a former district attorney and current Fox host who is a friend of the president and was interviewed for the deputy attorney general slot during Trump’s transition. During a November meeting with the president and his top aides in the Oval Office, she reportedly blasted Sessions for not investigating the Uranium One pseudoscandal, urging the appointment of a special counsel to handle the matter.

    Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone has claimed that a Uranium One special counsel would be the key to ending the Mueller investigation, because the incident occurred while he was the head of the FBI and Mueller “can’t be a special prosecutor when he himself is under investigation.” Experts say this doesn’t really make sense -- unless Mueller was the target of the second special counsel’s probe.

    Pirro has repeatedly called for a criminal investigation of Mueller on Fox. Discussing Uranium One during an October appearance on Fox & Friends, the president’s favorite morning show, she said that Sessions “needs to do a grand jury” because Mueller “is totally conflicted.” She also criticized Mueller during a December rant in which she asserted: “There is a cleansing needed in our FBI and Department of Justice. It needs to be cleansed of individuals who should not just be fired but need to be taken out in handcuffs."

    Then there’s the Fox Business host the president calls “the great Lou Dobbs.” “A call for the firing of Robert Mueller no longer really truly satisfies any call for accountability,” Dobbs said on December 4, adding that Mueller and a few others “should be the subjects of criminal investigations and held fully accountable for crimes against the sitting president and the voters who supported them.”

    The president’s media allies have also urged him to fire Mueller, and demanded the firing or imprisonment of key Justice Department and FBI leaders.

    A presidential demand for a criminal investigation into a prosecutor investigating his own conduct would be a step down the dark path toward authoritarianism. It would also fly in the face of long-standing protocols that seek to ensure the rule of law by firewalling the Justice Department’s investigations from White House dictates.

    But given Trump’s reported inability to “understand why he cannot simply give orders to ‘my guys’ at what he sometimes calls the ‘Trump Justice Department,’” and his past attempts to pressure senior law enforcement officials to do his bidding and fire those who refuse, the sanctity of those protocols can no longer be guaranteed.

    Tonight, the president will reportedly address the need to “see our country united” during the State of the Union speech. His media allies will be cheering him on -- and hoping that the next day brings a renewed push to purge the law enforcement apparatus of those insufficiently loyal to the president.

  • Amid reports Trump may fire Rosenstein over Mueller inquiry, a Fox News drumbeat urges him on

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    President Donald Trump is newly frustrated with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, according to several recent reports, some of which suggest the president is contemplating firing him. While the president fumes, an array of his closest allies at Fox News are encouraging him to remove or even imprison the Republican longtime federal prosecutor who currently oversees special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

    The pro-Trump media’s attacks on Rosenstein are not new -- his appointment of Mueller last May and his refusal to countenance removing the special counsel has made him a regular target. Sean Hannity called for Rosenstein's resignation as early as June, while other network figures have described him as part of a Justice Department “cartel, the equivalent of the mob” engaged in “what essentially amounts to a coup d'etat against Trump.

    But the tempo of the criticisms has dramatically increased over the past 10 days, as Trump’s propagandists have focused on the need to release a memo drafted by Republicans on the House intelligence committee. GOP members claim the memo shows the FBI and DOJ were biased against the president during the early phases of their investigation into improper communications between Trump associates and Russia, while Democratic members call it a cherry-picked weapon aimed at dismantling Mueller’s investigation.

    According to The New York Times, the memo focuses in part on Rosenstein’s actions, which the paper reports “indicates that Republicans may be moving to seize on his role as they seek to undermine the inquiry.” That could give Trump cover to fire Rosenstein and replace him with someone more amenable to either ending or curbing the special counsel’s investigation.

    Since Republican members of Congress first began discussing the memo on January 18, the president’s friends at Fox have engaged in a withering drumbeat of Rosenstein criticism, at times calling for his firing or even his arrest.

    Hannity, a sometime presidential adviser who has turned his show into a nightly assault on the rule of law in an effort to protect Trump from the Russia investigation, said the night after the memo story first gained credence: “Rod Rosenstein, you need to explain your role in all of this and specifically if you were involved in extending this FISA warrant. And, frankly, Rod Rosenstein needs to be fired.” Hannity again called for Rosenstein to be “fired and investigated” on January 22. He has described the deputy attorney general as “corrupt,” suggesting he was part of a “rogue group of Obama administration holdovers that despise Donald Trump” that were “abus[ing] the powerful, unmatched tools of intelligence that we give our government to protect us” in order to “influence first the election and then undermine the choice of the American people.” He also questioned whether Rosenstein might be part of a non-existent anti-Trump “secret society.”

    Gregg Jarrett, a low-profile Fox News anchor who emerged last year as the network’s leading legal defender of the president, told Hannity on Wednesday night that Rosenstein had approved an “illegal investigation.” In an appearance on Lou Dobbs’ Fox Business show the same evening, he claimed that Rosenstein has “serious political bias” and may have committed a federal crime that carries a 10-year prison sentence. Dobbs, who frequently suggests that various people have broken the law by not being sufficiently supportive of the president, replied, “So when do the arrests start?” After Jarrett said that should have happened long ago but “it was hidden for a long time,” Dobbs replied, “I hope that’s also a federal crime.”

    Discussing the memo on Justice with Jeanine Pirro on Saturday, Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton claimed that there needs to be “pressure on the FBI to clean out its ranks at the leadership level,” adding, “If Rod Rosenstein isn’t going to do it, they should find someone who will.” Pirro, who has repeatedly called for the arrests of DOJ and FBI leaders and met with Trump in the White House in November, responded, “I got to tell you I couldn’t agree with you more. That place is dirty.”

    And in an appearance on Fox’s The Ingraham Angle, former Trump adviser Roger Stone said that Rosenstein “is not on the level” and should be fired.

    Is Trump angry at Rosenstein and contemplating firing him because of Fox’s coverage? Is Fox providing so much negative coverage about Rosenstein because its hosts know the president wants him out? Are the two efforts happening entirely in parallel? Fox’s dual role as the president’s news source and the propaganda megaphone trumpeting his message to his base, as well as the propensity of several Fox figures to advise him privately, makes it difficult to draw causality arrows. But what’s clear is that if Trump does move against Rosenstein, his most loyal followers will already be primed to accept the effort as the logical response to a purportedly disloyal Justice Department official.

  • How Fox & Friends (barely) covered reports that Trump tried to fire Mueller

    It didn't happen, but if it did happen it's fine

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The revelation that President Donald Trump ordered the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller last June only to reverse course when the White House counsel threatened to resign rather than carry out that order is currently dominating the news cycle. The story was first reported by The New York Times and has since been confirmed by several other outlets. But if you tuned in this morning to the president’s favorite news show, Fox News’ Fox & Friends, you may have missed the news.

    The program barely mentioned the story this morning, giving it a total of six minutes and 16 seconds of discussion* over the course of three hours. Co-hosts Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and Pete Hegseth regularly shill for the president on matters large and small, but -- like some of their colleagues -- seemed baffled as to how to spin the Mueller report in Trump's favor. They alternated between suggesting that everyone should take the president at his word that the story is “fake news,” claiming that even if it did happen it was no big deal, and saying that no one cares about it. Notably, the hosts largely avoided discussing the portion of the story in which White House counsel Donald McGahn threatened to resign rather than ask the Justice Department to dismiss Mueller.

    Fox & Friends opened its 6 a.m. hour by mocking the Times’ story and highlighting the president’s response.

    In rapid succession, Hegseth said the report was “typical New York Times” because it was based on anonymous sources, claimed that it “screams of a leak from the special counsel,” and suggested it was old news because reporting at the time indicated that “the president wasn't happy with Bob Mueller” before concluding that the Times provided “some new details that may or may not actually be true.”

    Earhardt then promptly moved on, saying: “All right, well, the president says it's fake news. That happened last June. Do you -- it's something we have to tell you have about because it is a headline on The New York Times. What do you think about that? Do you even care? Something you probably do care about is immigration.” The hosts did not reference Fox chief national correspondent Ed Henry’s report last night confirming that the White House counsel and other aides had talked Trump out of firing Mueller.

    And that one-minute 13-second discussion was basically it for the program’s coverage of the story in the first hour (aside from a passing mention in an unrelated segment and an insipid tease of the second hour). While MSNBC and CNN covered the news far more extensively, Fox & Friends quickly moved on to stories more promising for its audience, including segments on “downfalls of the single-payer system” and how New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo “wants free college for Dreamers.”

    The second hour of Fox & Friends brought another brief discussion of the story, as Fox chief White House correspondent John Roberts, who is with Trump at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, said the president had been “dealing with” the story that day and confirmed that the president had discussed firing Mueller last summer. With that, Doocy changed tacts, asking Roberts, “Doesn't the president of the United States have the authority to fire anybody in the administration he wants to?” Roberts replied that the president could ask Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller, but could not do it directly.

    Hegseth then again mentioned that the president had called the story “fake news,” before saying that even if it is true, it’s not worthy of the level of attention it has gotten from the “fake news, so-called mainstream media.” According to Hegseth, “It's a huge difference between talking and taking action,” and because the president hadn’t actually fired Mueller, “we didn’t learn anything new” from the Times report.

    “He says it's fake news,” added Earhardt. “So let's move on to talk about something that you all care about. That's the wall. And that's keeping America safe.” And move on they did, with second-hour segments focusing on how “FBI texts revealed pro-Clinton bias” and how former President Barack Obama had taken undue credit for economic growth in the U.S.

    Then around 7:30 a.m., the hosts turned to someone else who is paid to defend the president, White House senior communications adviser Mercedes Schlapp, to briefly discuss the story. Doocy introduced the interview by claiming that the story said that Trump had asked McGahn to fire Mueller and McGahn had replied, “You know what, I’m not going to do that, it would be bad politically,” presenting it as a simple dispute rather than, as the Times reported, McGahn threatening to quit rather than carry out Trump’s order and the president backing down.

    Here are Doocy’s “questions” on the subject to Schlapp, who admitted she hadn’t actually talked to the president about the incident:

    • “So the president says The New York Times story ain’t true.”
    • “You know the interesting thing though, Mercedes, about this story is, had the president actually done it, that would be a big story. But ultimately doesn’t the president talk to a bunch of his advisers and say, ‘should we do this, should we do that.’ He never did it!”

    And that was basically it on the subject. The rest of the hour featured important stories like a report that John Kerry is considering a 2020 presidential run. And the 8 a.m. hour was largely consumed by the hosts previewing, airing live, and then praising the president’s remarks at Davos.

    *Figure does not include brief video teaser montages at the top of the 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. hours or passing mentions in unrelated segments.

  • Fox goes silent as its "secret society" conspiracy theory falls apart

    Blog ››› ››› LIS POWER

    If you were watching Fox News on Tuesday or Wednesday this week, you no doubt heard about the “explosive new claims” and “bombshell” revelations that there was an anti-Trump “secret society” in the FBI. In fact, the term “secret society” was aired on the network over 100 times during those two days. But if you tuned into Fox on Thursday, the morning after ABC News threw cold water on the “secret society” conspiracy theory, all you heard were crickets.

    This new narrative began on Monday night when Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) claimed on Fox News that a post-election text message exchange between FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page contained the line, “Perhaps this is the first meeting of the secret society.” Gowdy omitted any context to the message and offered no evidence to show that such a text, which has not been released, wouldn’t have been facetious.

    Fox News went all in.

    The following two days, the phrase “secret society” was aired on Fox over 100 times. The network repeatedly showed the video of Rep. Gowdy and another video of Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) as Fox anchors, hosts, and guests piled on.

    On Wednesday night, ABC News published the text of the full, stand-alone “secret society” text message. The message, according to ABC, read: "Are you even going to give out your calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society."

    That’s it. People were less than impressed.

    Fox News host Sean Hannity briefly mentioned ABC’s reporting Wednesday evening, saying “Really? Secret societies? You can’t make this stuff up,” adding, “ABC News, they have obtained this particular text message and they’re actually questioning if it was all a joke. We’ll let you decide.” After Hannity’s show, Fox host Laura Ingraham continued to hype the possibility of secret societies.  

    But now, after two days of breathlessly pushing the “bombshell” story about secret societies, Fox has decided to stop mentioning it at all. On Thursday, its executives apparently didn’t think it was important to even report on ABC News’ clarifying reporting on the “secret society” text message.

    The network did not mention “secret society” even once on Thursday morning. There was no update, no clarification, no added context. Fox didn’t acknowledge that the so-called “secret society” was seemingly not a story at all.

    There was nothing.

  • "Secret society," "missing texts," and other salvos from the pro-Trump media's conspiracy war

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A pair of interconnected conspiracy theories designed to undermine the FBI and the special counsel’s investigation of President Donald Trump’s administration were concocted by the president’s Republican congressional allies, championed by the pro-Trump media, and then promptly fell apart this week.

    The conservative hysteria revolved around text messages during the 2016 presidential campaign between high-ranking FBI agent Peter Strzok, who helped lead federal investigations into Hillary Clinton’s email server and the links between Russia and Trump’s campaign, and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, with whom he was reportedly having an extramarital affair. Some of those messages included criticism of Trump (leading to Strzok’s removal from the special counsel’s investigation over the summer). The president’s allies have seized on newly released texts as part of their effort to undermine the Mueller investigation, baselessly citing them as evidence of improper “deep state” bias against the president. Meanwhile, they have largely ignored other texts that dramatically undermine that conspiracy theory.

    In this latest salvo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reported on Monday that while more than 50,000 text messages had been exchanged between the two officials, the FBI’s system had not retained the messages for the period between December 14, 2016, and May 17, 2017. The same day, Republican members of Congress claimed in interviews with Fox News that one of the available text messages included a reference to “the first meeting of the secret society.”

    Armed with those two facts,Trump’s media allies went wild, suggesting that an FBI “secret society” was targeting the president and that the missing messages had been deliberately deleted to cover up the effort. “People at the highest level in the DOJ and the FBI ... must be investigated, they must be indicted, and probably many of them thrown in jail,” Sean Hannity said on Tuesday night. “There needs to be serious ramifications if we are going to save our country.” Fox Business host Lou Dobbs argued that it “may be time to declare war outright against the deep state, and clear out the rot in the upper levels of the FBI and the Justice Department.” “I’ve said it before - THEY NEED TO BE TAKEN OUT IN CUFFS,” Fox’s Jeanine Pirro tweeted.

    The stories became a leading fixation on Fox News throughout the day on Tuesday and Wednesday:

    Even the president got into the game, live-tweeting a Fox & Friends segment and driving the story into the mainstream press.

    And then, just as swiftly as they had arisen, the stories collapsed. Federal law enforcement officials explained that, rather than being specifically deleted as part of a nefarious cover-up, the technical glitch that prevented the archiving of five months of Page-Strzok texts had actually affected almost one in ten FBI employees.  And the actual text message, obtained by ABC, that the president’s Republican and media allies were citing showed that the comment appeared to be a joke (which was always the most plausible explanation):

    It was an embarrassing moment for the Republican congressmen who were exposed pushing obvious nonsense to protect the president by damaging the FBI, and the Fox commentators and other pro-Trump media figures who helped the story along. But of course, none of these people have any shame:

    The pro-Trump media can’t back down now. They have spent months declaring in increasingly dire terms that the “deep state” had engaged in a “coup” against the president and needed to be purged.

    The heightened intensity of that counter-narrative becomes all the more important as new reports indicate that the special counsel’s investigation is getting ever-closer to Trump himself -- and as more evidence mounts that the president has repeatedly sought to obstruct that effort and purge the Justice Department of people he considers disloyal to him.  

    But thanks to the right-wing alternative media bubble, the pro-Trump audience is existing in a parallel news universe, constantly hearing that the president did nothing wrong and that extreme actions are needed to protect him from his foes.

    The Trump allies’ latest salvos have failed. But have you heard about “the memo”? It’s going to change everything.