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The network served as a national platform for a conspiracy theory about Rich’s death that is still being promoted nearly two years later
The family of slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich is suing Fox News for compensatory and punitive damages in response to the network’s “false and fabricated facts” that fueled ongoing conspiracy theories about his 2016 murder. The network never apologized for or explained its gross mishandling of the story.
Almost immediately after Rich was killed in July 2016, a massive right-wing conspiracy theory was born. The baseless theory generally contended that Rich’s death was linked to the email hacking of the DNC that culminated during the last presidential campaign, and that he was the source of a set of 22,000 stolen DNC emails leaked by WikiLeaks. That theory and its offshoots spread across far-right circles on social media, in right-wing blogs, and on fake news and conspiracy theory websites.
It eventually reached Fox News, when, on May 15, 2017, then-contributor Rod Wheeler told a Washington, D.C., Fox News affiliate that he had confirmed Rich was in contact with WikiLeaks. The claim was repeated in a FoxNews.com article on May 16. From there, the theory exploded in mainstream conservative media, including on Fox Business and the Fox News channel, where prime-time host and serial misinformer Sean Hannity obsessed over the case and became the conspiracy theory’s most visible national champion.
Even after Fox News retracted its online story with a vague reference to editorial standards, and, in some cases, even after Rich’s family pleaded for outlets to stop politicizing their son’s death, Hannity and other Fox News personalities continued to push the theory.
The lawsuit by Rich’s family mentions just some of the times that Fox News continued to push the conspiracy theory after the original story was retracted:
Almost a year after the network promised an investigation into the matter, no explanation for the behavior has been given nor disciplinary actions taken, according to Newsweek. To this day, the Seth Rich conspiracy theories, which have been dismantled by many major news organizations, persist.
Just this morning, Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec and leading Seth Rich conspiracy theorist Matt Couch both claimed they had been in touch with one of the defendants in the case. Couch, who dismissed the suit as “nonsensical,” is exploiting the lawsuit to solicit donations for his media group, which is purportedly conducting an “investigation” into his death.
Now, nearly two years after Rich’s tragic death, his family is suing Fox News for damages because the network "aided and abetted the intentional infliction of emotional distress" and served as a national platform for a “sham story.” From a March 13 ABC News article:
In the suit, which was obtained by ABC News, Rich's parents, Joel and Mary Rich, claim that Fox News investigative reporter Malia Zimmerman and Fox News commenter Ed Butowsky reached out to the family under false pretenses to support stories that Seth Rich leaked DNC emails to WikiLeaks.
The lawsuit claims that Fox News, Zimmerman and Butowsky are liable for the harm caused by the report because they "aided and abetted the intentional infliction of emotional distress" caused by the story about Seth Rich and alleges that Fox News provided with a national platform to develop what the lawsuit dubs a "sham story."
The Rich family claims that the “defendants’ conduct was extreme and outrageous” in what they allege was a deliberate effort to portray Seth Rich as a “criminal and traitor to the United States.”
“No parent should ever have to live through what we have been forced to endure. The pain and anguish that comes from seeing your murdered son’s life and legacy treated as a mere political football is beyond comprehension” Joel and Mary Rich said in a joint statement.
Hint: Fox practically ignored it
At 10 a.m. on March 14, K-12 students across the country walked out of their schools to honor the victims of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, and to protest everyday gun violence in America. MSNBC devoted the full hour to the protest, not even breaking for commercials. CNN spent significant time on the story, interviewing students and highlighting the national nature of the movement. Fox News devoted only a couple of brief headline segments to the events.
MSNBC opened the 10 a.m. hour of programming by noting, “You've got demonstrations planned at schools from Maine to Miami, Houston to Honolulu.” The network had correspondents located in Great Neck, NY; Washington, D.C.; Atlanta, Georgia; and Parkland, FL, and its coverage featured interviews with students who were walking out. MSNBC’s coverage of the protests was uninterrupted from 10 to 11 a.m.
CNN’s coverage also began promptly at 10, with correspondents across the country covering the student walkouts. CNN interviewed Sam Zeif, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas student who noted he still doesn’t feel safe in school, as well as other student protesters from around the country. The walkout was the only story covered on CNN from 10 to 10:26 a.m.
But coverage looked drastically different on Fox News. Fox’s programming continued as usual, focusing on the upcoming confirmation hearing for CIA Director Mike Pompeo to serve as secretary of state, the Pennsylvania special congressional election, and the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. There was a “Fox News Alert” about the walkout at 10:03, but by 10:04, the network had moved on to another “Fox News Alert,” this time about Pennsylvania’s special election still being too close to call. Fox again ran a headline segment about the protests at 10:15, which also lasted just over one minute, and just one more brief segment later in the hour.
In total, during the 10 a.m. hour, MSNBC spent the full 60 minutes on the student protests, not even breaking for commercials, CNN spent just over 21 minutes on the protests, making it the most dominant story of the hour, and Fox News devoted just five and a half minutes to the story.
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Carlson: This is a country that “hates itself, its heritage, and its own people”
Fox News host Tucker Carlson used his primetime platform to defend "alt-right" Twitter troll Brittany Pettibone and others who were recently banned from entering the United Kingdom because of their extreme views. Carlson decried the move as an action from a country that “hates itself, its heritage, and its own people.”
Britain's Home Office explained in a statement that the border force “has the power to refuse entry to an individual if it is considered that his or her presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good.”
Carlson responded by inviting far-right U.K. media personality Katie Hopkins on his show to defend the far-right activists as victims the U.K.’s political correctness. Carlson’s on-screen chyron described Pettibone and other banned right-wing extremists as “reporters,” and ignored Pettibone’s white nationalist comments. Carlson also failed to mention that Pettibone has appeared on white nationalist outlets like Red Ice Radio, advanced “white genocide” and “Pizzagate” conspiracy theories, and complained about Twitter banning white nationalists. From the March 13 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight:
TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): Well, the U.K. is blocking conservatives from visiting that country. They say conservatives could be hazardous to the nation's diversity, somehow.
This past weekend, American YouTube personality Brittany Pettibone and her Austrian boyfriend were barred from entering the U.K., because they planned to interview Tommy Robinson, an outspoken critic of Islam.
Then, on Monday, British police halted a visit by Canadian journalist Lauren Southern, on the grounds she was, quote, "a radical Christian," and therefore, possibly a terrorist.
Meanwhile, radical Muslims, more than 400 former ISIS fighters are believed to have re-entered Britain without any problem at all. Indeed, they were welcomed. Huh?
Katie Hopkins is a columnist with The Rebel. She wrote the book "Rude," and she joins us now. Katie, it's great to see you. I mean, only a country that really hates itself, its heritage, its own people, would act like this.
I mean, what undergirds this? So, of course, for centuries, Britain sent forth Anglican missionaries to spread Christianity around the world -- and, by the way, they did -- and now, they would not let those same people in their own country, in favor of ISIS members. What animates this? Why -- Why the change? Why do they feel this way?
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On March 6, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released an updated report about the use of federal funds by Planned Parenthood and several other health care providers for providing “preventive, reproductive, and diagnostic health care services in the United States or abroad.” Predictably, even though the report didn’t show any wrongdoing by the provider, right-wing media used its release to promote the longstanding myth that Planned Parenthood uses taxpayer funding to support its abortion services.
According to the March 2018 GAO report, investigators sought to answer how much federal funding had been granted to federally qualified health centers, International Planned Parenthood Federation, Marie Stopes International, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America between 2013 and 2015, as well as how those organizations or networks had spent the funds. Right-wing media quickly seized on the data to push the myth of so-called “taxpayer-funded” abortion, even though the report showed no such thing.
Even before the GAO’s most recent report came out, right-wing media have frequently claimed that U.S. taxpayers fund the provision of abortion services. In reality, under the Hyde Amendment, federal funding for abortion is prohibited except in cases of rape or incest or if the life of the mother is at risk. Although Planned Parenthood receives funds to support non-abortion health services, the allocations aren’t a blank check for the organization to spend as it pleases. Indeed, just like any other health care provider -- including the other providers listed in the GAO’s March 2018 report -- Planned Parenthood is reimbursed by the government for the specific non-abortion services it provides to low-income patients via programs like Medicaid. In many other cases, funds that are not reimbursed in this way are specifically allocated to cover a narrow set of health outcomes, such as HIV prevention.
Nevertheless, right-wing media pushed their misleading reading of the report within their own echo chamber to allege wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. In order to make this point, many outlets ignored the reality that the allocated funding did not support abortion services. For example, in a March 8 article, Breitbart reported that the GAO report had shown that “federal and state taxpayers provided $1.5 billion in funding to abortion providers over a three-year period,” yet it failed to note that none of these funds supported abortion services. This tactic was copied by Newsmax, Washington Free Beacon, Townhall, OneNewsNow, and The Daily Signal, each of which repeated the implication that the money went to abortions. Some outlets went a step further in their allegations, arguing that even if the funding allocated wasn’t for abortion services, it would inevitably be used to support abortions. In one example, LifeSiteNews wrote, “Pro-lifers note that money is fungible, meaning that public funding Planned Parenthood uses for approved purposes frees funds from other sources to be spent on abortions.” The Federalist claimed that such “funds are fungible” because when “an abortion provider gets its hands on government money, it controls how that money is spent.”
This narrative culminated in a March 12 appearance by Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight. In the segment, host Tucker Carlson and Black each lambasted anti-choice legislators for failing to strip Planned Parenthood’s funding by making a number of inaccurate allegations about the way the organization used taxpayer funds. In one instance, Black claimed that it was inappropriate for “taxpayer dollars to be going to abortion,” saying that the funding was “set up for family planning” but “abortion is not family planning, it’s family destruction.”
The GAO's findings rebut the right-wing argument that the federal funding Planned Parenthood received supported the provision of abortion services. For example, in a chart listing the programs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) funded at Planned Parenthood, there is no allocation that would include abortion services:
Although right-wing media may be suggesting that the allocations for “Family planning services” or the “Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Program” could include support for abortion, a review of each program in the government’s Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance refutes this claim. Furthermore, the GAO not only reviewed the financial documents of Planned Parenthood and all of its affiliates, but also sought additional documentation and audit information.
In other words, given the level of scrutiny applied to both the allocation and the expenditure of funds, it is highly improbable money allocated for other uses was spent on abortion care. Once again, the frenzy drummed up by right-wing media appears to be supported with only spin, and no substance.
President Donald Trump has told people he has chosen CNBC's Larry Kudlow to replace Gary Cohn as the director of the National Economic Council. Kudlow has no formal training in economics, and he has a history of making poor financial predictions, pushing conservative economic talking points, and making outrageous and offensive comments.
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson has resigned from his position after members of the Trump administration, including the agency's leadership, made false statements blaming the mayor of Oakland for over 800 individuals eluding an ICE raid. The disputed claim has been a central point of Fox News’ coverage of the Bay Area raid and of its subsequent criticism of Oakland’s mayor.
On February 24, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf warned residents about an impending ICE raid in California's Bay Area, advising immigrant families to seek assistance and learn their rights. Several days after the raid, which resulted in 232 arrests, ICE issued a statement quoting acting director Thomas Homan, who blamed Schaaf for the operation not resulting in more arrests. Attorney General Jeff Sessions later pointed to the statement in a speech. According to ICE's press statement (emphasis added):
“The Oakland mayor’s decision to publicize her suspicions about ICE operations further increased that risk for my officers and alerted criminal aliens – making clear that this reckless decision was based on her political agenda with the very federal laws that ICE is sworn to uphold,” said ICE Deputy Director Thomas D. Homan. “Thanks to the dedicated and professional work of ICE deportation officers, we were able to remove many public safety threats from the streets of the Bay Area during the past few days. However, 864 criminal aliens and public safety threats remain at large in the community, and I have to believe that some of them were able to elude us thanks to the mayor’s irresponsible decision.”
Homan appeared on Fox & Friends on February 28 to again blame Schaaf, saying, “There’s 800 [criminals] that we were unable to locate because of that warning.” Homan also likened the mayor to “a gang lookout yelling 'police' when a police cruiser comes in the neighborhood.”
But according to the (now former) San Francisco spokesperson for ICE, Homan’s claim is false. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on March 12:
The San Francisco spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement resigned after the agency’s recent Northern California sweep, saying he couldn’t continue to do his job after Trump administration officials made false public statements about a key aspect of the operation.
James Schwab told The Chronicle on Monday that he was frustrated by repeated statements by officials, including U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, that roughly 800 undocumented immigrants escaped arrest because of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s Feb. 24 warning to the public about the four-day operation, issued the night before federal officers began staking out homes and knocking on doors.
Schwab wanted the agency to correct the number, which he understood to be far lower, and didn’t want to deflect media questions about it, he said.
“I quit because I didn’t want to perpetuate misleading facts,” said Schwab, 38, who was hired in 2015 and resigned last week. “I asked them to change the information. I told them that the information was wrong, they asked me to deflect, and I didn’t agree with that. Then I took some time and I quit.”
Fox News today is still pushing Homan’s claim that Schaaf is to blame for individuals getting away. The network has yet to note that ICE’s San Francisco spokesman quit after disputing that very claim.
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After embarrassing herself on CBS’ 60 Minutes, one of President Donald Trump’s controversial cabinet appointments, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, retreated to the administration's safe space on Fox & Friends, where she was asked easy questions and not challenged on the specifics of a school safety commission she will chair.
In a March 11 interview with 60 Minutes anchor Leslie Stahl, DeVos struggled to provide evidence in support of “school choice,” her signature issue, stumbled when challenged on her claims, and failed to answer even basic questions about schools in her home state. When pressed to say whether there are as many false accusations as actual sexual assaults on college campuses -- which fits into a long-standing right-wing media myth that the problem of sexual assault is overblown -- DeVos said, "I don't know."
Sec. of Education Betsy DeVos struggles to answer fairly basic questions on school performance on 60 Minutes pic.twitter.com/lFVq3USwUW
— Axios (@axios) March 12, 2018
The next day, Trump’s favorite show Fox & Friends interviewed her as well, feeding DeVos unspecific, open-ended questions and leaving her claims unchallenged. Co-host Ainsley Earhardt simply asked DeVos for her “reaction” to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) criticism of the Trump administration’s inaction on gun safety. Later, Earhardt’s co-host Brian Kilmeade asked DeVos to explain what HuffPost columnists “don’t understand” in response to the outlet’s criticism of “school choice” policies. From the March 12 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends (questions are bolded for ease of reading):
STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Madam secretary, we've been going through some of the things on the agenda that the president and the White House would like to get done. But ultimately it sounds like the ultimate goal would be to harden the schools. Would that be accurate?
BETSY DEVOS: Well, Steve, that's one of the opportunities we have and one of the responsibilities we have, frankly. We have many other venues in our country that are kept safe, and schools have to be a part of that equation as well. And every state and every community is going to do this slightly differently, but we’re going to advance ways in which schools can be made safer for students. And in which -- which works for each community and for each state.
AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): Madam secretary, thank you so much for being on with us. Chuck Schumer -- he is not on board with this plan. This is what he had to say., and let's get your reaction. ... It’s a statement: “The White House has taken tiny baby steps designed not to upset the NRA when the gun violence epidemic in this country demands that giant steps be taken. Democrats in the Senate will push to go further, including passing universal background checks, actual federal legislation on protection orders, and a debate on banning assault weapons.” What's your reaction?
DEVOS: Well, the point is there are pieces of legislation before Congress today that can take significant steps in the right direction. Background checks, the Stop Violence Act. They have broad bipartisan support. And the president wants to see Congress act now, take these steps today, and then let's look at what we can do as next steps beyond that. But every time we’ve had a situation like this, we’ve had a lot of discussion, and camps go into their various corners. And then we sit and don't get anything done. The president is committed to taking action and to ensuring that we do what we can at the federal level to protect kids.
BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): Do you like what Florida did last Friday?
DEVOS: I think Florida has done an amazing job in a very short period of time of tackling some very difficult issues, and I think that every state is looking in that same direction, though Florida had obviously immediate motivation.
DOOCY: Sure. And one of the things that Florida did -- and now they are being sued by the NRA -- is they raised the age for buying a long gun to age 21. The president had said shortly after Parkland he would like to see that happen. But that's not in the proposal. Any idea why?
DEVOS: Well, everything is on the table. And part of the job of this commission will be to study that and see if that is advanced ultimately as a recommendation in next steps. The point being there are many steps to be taken now, and additional steps that will be taken down the road as we do the work of the commission.
EARHARDT: The president had mentioned making our schools similar to airports where you have to go through metal detectors, you have to show IDs. Any details on that?
DEVOS: Well, you know, some schools actually do that today. And perhaps for some communities, for some cities, for some states, that will be appropriate. There is not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution to this issue and this problem. There are going to be many different solutions, and one of the things the commission has been charged to do is to really do an inventory and raise up all of the best practices across the country because some communities are getting it really right.
KILMEADE: If I'm governor, I’d like to do it myself. Governor [Rick] Scott was not waiting for anything from Washington. That's probably what you should do. But I want us to switch to something else that really is the hallmark of your secretaryship, if that's a word, and that is giving kids a school -- give choice, vouchers for kids to be able to go to schools, some of which are excellent schools, and out of schools that might be failing. Well, Huffington Post says, “School choice is a lie that harms us all.” What don't they understand that you do?
DEVOS: Well, they obviously haven't talked to the many thousands, if not hundreds of thousands or millions of parents, who want to have the chance to choose the right education for their child. And we know today there is just a fraction of families in this country that are able to make that choice. And we need to make that choice much more broadly available to ensure that every child is in a school and in a learning environment that works for him or her.
KILMEADE: And some can't afford it and that's where the vouchers come in, correct?
DEVOS: That's right. And a voucher is just a mechanism. There are many mechanisms that can be used. The key is giving parents freedom for their kids' education. Freedom to make the decisions and the choices that are right for their child or their children.
EARHARDT: Is that any type of school? Does that include religious schools?
DEVOS: It does indeed. There are many programs already today in states that are serving small numbers of families of kids, and if they select a school, a faith-based school, that is certainly their option and choice. But, the idea, again, is giving parents the kind of freedom that those who have means and those who are wealthy are able to make those decisions on a daily basis.
DOOCY: Well, we like the idea, but of course the teachers unions don't because they feel their jobs are at stake.
DEVOS: Well, there are some very powerful forces that are arrayed against changing the status quo. And that is what we are up against. But the reality is that the majority of people in this country support the idea of giving parents that kind of freedom. And so this legislation is going to continue to advance at the state level. At the national level, we’re going to continue to push this conversation, and to encourage our lawmakers to look at ways that they can encourage it both in their states, and take steps nationally that will help parents be free to make those decisions for their kids.
Fox News host Pete Hegseth was dialed into the Oval Office by President Donald Trump during a meeting with Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin to opine on legislation to reform the VA system, according to Axios.
Hegseth, who co-hosts Fox & Friends Weekend, formerly was CEO of a conservative organization Concerned Veterans for America, which was identified in 2014 by The Washington Post as “part of the ... billionaire industrialist Koch brothers' political network." The Post also reported that the organization was "backed by a donor network organized by the industrialists Charles and David Koch" that raised $400 million during the 2012 election cycle.
During the Trump administration’s transition in December 2016, Hegseth openly auditioned for the VA secretary position amid reports that he was one of the top contenders for the position. Though he failed to be nominated, he has since been helping Republican Party organizations fundraise, and has interviewed Trump on Fox several times.
According to Axios, Trump “talks to Hegseth regularly and enjoys watching him on Fox & Friends.” Axios also reported that Trump is “finally losing patience with” Shulkin, which could make Hegseth a contender for the post again. From Axois’ March 11 report (emphasis original):
Right after his meeting with Kelly, Shulkin was brought into the Oval Office to talk to Trump. The conversation quickly turned to discussing important legislation to reform the VA health care system.
- Trump surprised Shulkin by dialing in Fox & Friends host Pete Hegseth on speaker phone to get his opinion of the legislation, according to two sources with knowledge of the conversation.
- The Trump administration is debating a few different bills and trying to reconcile them. Conservatives prefer a bill pushed by Sen. Jerry Moran, while moderates prefer legislation pushed by Sen. Johnny Isakson.
- The Hegseth call put Shulkin in an awkward spot, according to those sources. Hegseth competed for Shulkin's job and favors more aggressive reform for the VA. Trump talks to Hegseth regularly and enjoys watching him on Fox and Friends.