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  • Trump’s favorite Fox News propagandists are avoiding reports about Paul Manafort’s legal troubles

    Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine have steered clear of reporting on Paul Manafort’s legal exposure, but they spent significant time on a judge’s strong words for the special counsel's team

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Update:

    On June 14, a federal judge revoked Manafort's bail for allegedly tampering with witnesses, landing him in federal prison until his trial.


    President Donald Trump’s favorite Fox News shows are all but ignoring the cascade of damning reports regarding former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his legal troubles. Since May 2017, special counsel Robert Mueller has been scrutinizing various relationships between the Trump campaign and Russian nationals closely tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin, appearing to focus closely on Manafort’s business history and associates. As the legal pressure ramps up against Manafort, the president’s propagandists at Fox News have sought to distance Manafort from Trump and, through selective reporting on Manafort’s legal troubles, discredit the probe against Trump’s former campaign manager.

    Since the beginning of 2018, Manafort’s legal exposure has grabbed mainstream media attention, but the topic has not managed to break through on Trump’s favorite Fox News programs. Media Matters reviewed transcripts and video of the first editions of Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine after significant reports surfaced about new developments regarding the investigations into Manafort this year. We found little to no coverage of notable turns in the multiple high-profile legal cases against Trump’s former campaign manager. But we did find extensive coverage of the strong words a judge had for the special counsel’s team.

    Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine all but ignored major turns in legal cases against Manafort

    Manafort sues Department of Justice, alleging special counsel exceeded mandate

    On January 3, NPR reported that Manafort was suing the Department of Justice, alleging that “Mueller's team has ‘diverged’ from its stated focus on potential collusion with the Russians who attacked the 2016 election and instead zeroed in on Manafort for ‘unrelated, decade-old business dealings’ in Ukraine.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the development.

    Company tied to former Manafort business associate and Russian oligarch sues Manafort and business partner

    On January 10, according to NBC News, “a company controlled and funded by” Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, a crony of Russian President Vladimir Putin and one-time business associate of Manafort’s, sued Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates for allegedly “bilk[ing] his company by taking $1.1 million in capital and paying it to themselves.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the lawsuit.

    Special counsel tells judge investigation has revealed “additional criminal conduct” by Manafort

    On February 16, according to Politico, the special counsel’s office submitted a court filing informing a federal judge of “additional criminal conduct that [the office has] learned since the Court’s initial bail determination” on Manafort’s federal case that “includes a series of bank frauds and bank fraud conspiracies.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the court filing specifically. Though a guest on Fox & Friends, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, briefly mentioned general “charges” against Paul Manafort, he downplayed them as “unrelated to the campaign.”

    Former Trump aide Richard Gates will “plead guilty” and has agreed to “testify against Manafort”

    On February 18, the Los Angeles Times reported that Gates, who is also a former Trump campaign aide, would “plead guilty to fraud-related charges within days” and that he “made clear to prosecutors that he would testify against Paul Manafort.” While the Times report was unverified by other media outlets at the time, according to a Media Matters review, Hannity and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the report. Fox & Friends briefly mentioned it but added that Catherine Herridge, Fox News’ chief intelligence correspondent, “says, as of now, no deal, and Gates is not cooperating.” Five days later, The New York Times confirmed that Gates would plead guilty “to financial fraud and lying to investigators” and “has agreed to cooperate with the special counsel inquiry.” According to a Media Matters review, Hannity and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the development. Fox & Friends all but ignored the report other than airing a 15-second teaser from co-host Brian Kilmeade (who did not identify how Gates is tied to the Trump campaign) and a softball question from co-host Steve Doocy during an interview with former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. Priebus also attempted to downplay the significance of the report, claiming Gates’ and Manafort’s conduct was “independent of the Trump campaign.”

    Dutch lawyer tied to Manafort business partner sentenced to 30 days in federal prison for pleading guilty to lying to federal investigators

    On April 3, according to CNN, Alex van der Zwaan, a “Dutch lawyer tied to former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates,” was “sentenced … to spend 30 days in prison and pay a $20,000 fine after he admitted to lying to” the special counsel regarding his “communications with Gates and a person with Russian intelligence ties.” According to a Media Matters review, Hannity briefly mentioned the sentencing, downplaying it as having “nothing to do with Russia collusion,” and saying, “In reality, it looks like a giant waste of your money.” Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the sentencing, which was the first in the special counsel’s investigation. Fox & Friends twice mentioned the development in passing while attempting to downplay its significance, once saying the sentencing is “unrelated” to Trump and Russia.

    Special counsel obtains seven new search warrants against Manafort

    On April 5, CBS News reported that prosecutors on the special counsel’s team “revealed in court filings ... that they had obtained on March 9 seven new search warrants against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort” for “various properties” including “a storage unit, bank accounts, email addresses and devices.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the report.

    Federal judge rejects attempt to get Manafort case dismissed

    On May 15, according to Politico, a federal judge “rejected an attempt by Paul Manafort … to get an indictment against him dismissed by claiming that special counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment was flawed.” The judge wrote that “given the combination of his prominence within the campaign and his ties to Ukrainian officials supported by and operating out of Russia, as well as to Russian oligarchs, Manafort was an obvious person of interest” for U.S. law enforcement. According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the judge’s decision.

    Manafort’s former son-in-law cuts plea deal, will testify against Manafort

    On May 17, Reuters reported that Manafort’s former son-in-law and “business partner” Jeffrey Yohai “cut a plea deal with the Justice Department” requiring him “to cooperate” with the special counsel’s prosecutors. According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the report.

    Special counsel accuses Manafort of attempting to tamper with witnesses

    On June 4, according to The New York Times, “federal prosecutors ... accused President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, of attempting to tamper with witnesses in his federal tax and money laundering case,” with one witness telling the FBI “that Mr. Manafort was trying to ‘suborn perjury.’” Yet again, according to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the court filing, even though the charges leveled against Trump’s former campaign manager can mean up to 20 years in federal prison if he is found guilty.

    Special counsel unseals additional charges against Manafort, Russian business associate

    On June 8, according to NPR, the special counsel’s office “unsealed more charges” against Manafort, alleging “that a Russian partner of Manafort's, Konstantin Kilimnik, helped him try to persuade witnesses to lie to the jury when Manafort's case comes to trial in Washington, D.C., this autumn.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the additional round of charges against the president’s former campaign manager.

    But Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine all covered a judge’s sharp questioning of the special counsel’s motivations extensively

    On May 4, according to The Washington Post, “a federal judge in Virginia ... sharply questioned the motivations of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s fraud prosecution of President Trump’s former campaign manager.” According to the report, Judge T.S. Ellis III told prosecutors on Mueller’s team, “You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud. … You really care about getting information Mr. Manafort can give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump and lead to his prosecution or impeachment.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine all covered the judge’s rebuke of the Mueller team extensively.

    On the May 4 edition of Hannity, host Sean Hannity spent a total of 14 minutes and 46 seconds discussing Judge Ellis’ comments, calling his remarks the “single biggest beatdown I have ever seen in my life by a judge.” The nearly 15 minutes Hannity devoted to Ellis’ comments were significantly more than the time he spent covering any development in the various cases against Manafort in 2018 combined, which totaled about 1 minute and 57 seconds.

    On the May 5 edition of Justice with Judge Jeanine, host Jeanine Pirro spent a total of 15 minutes and 27 seconds discussing Judge Ellis’ remarks. In contrast, Pirro did not mention any of the other stories regarding Manafort's legal troubles in 2018.

    On the May 7 edition of Fox & Friends, the hosts devoted 11 minutes and 5 seconds to Judge Ellis’ comments over three hours of airtime. Fox & Friends spent a total of 2 minutes and 43 seconds on the other turns in the various cases against Manafort, and during those reports the hosts usually downplayed the events as “unrelated” to Russia or “independent from the Trump campaign.”

    As Fox buries reports on Manafort, majority of Americans are unaware of numerous special counsel indictments

    Given Manafort’s past and the people he has been willing to associate with professionally, it is no wonder Fox News’ chief Trump propagandists have attempted to distance the president from him. According to The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer, Manafort’s career was built on lobbying on behalf of “dictatorial governments in Nigeria, Kenya, Zaire, Equatorial Guinea, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia, among others.” Manafort’s experience representing repressive regimes eventually landed him a job in Ukraine, assisting the “former gangsters,” as Foer wrote, in the Party of Regions in improving their image domestically, eventually guiding pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych to presidential victory in 2010.

    Fox News’ efforts to bury Manafort’s legal exposure seem to be having an impact. According to a recent survey conducted by Navigator Research, 59 percent of Americans are not aware that the special counsel’s investigation has uncovered any crimes, even though Mueller has amassed five guilty pleas and numerous indictments. Should the special counsel’s investigation turn up evidence that supports allegations of a criminal conspiracy between members of the Trump campaign and foreign actors, Manafort would surely be implicated as a key player.

    Suppressing reports regarding (arguably) the most corrupt member of Trump’s campaign team -- and following Fox’s usual playbook of downplaying and ignoring other consequential reporting on the special counsel’s investigation -- appears to be part of the network’s larger strategy to pre-emptively downplay any possible findings that could implicate the president and his campaign.

  • Family Research Council is terrible, and its president Tony Perkins just got appointed to an international commission 

    FRC and its president Tony Perkins have long fought LGBTQ equality abroad, including supporting Uganda's "Kill the Gays" bill

    ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE

    Tony Perkins, president of the anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council (FRC), was appointed commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a federal government commission dedicated to the “right to freedom of religion or belief abroad” that “makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.” Over the years, FRC has worked to push its anti-LGBTQ extremism in other countries, including Perkins personally defending an anti-gay bill in Uganda that could have punished sodomy by death. FRC has also spoken out against the LGBTQ-inclusive actions by the State Department under the Obama administration and has a long-established relationship with newly-confirmed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who similarly has a record of anti-LGBTQ advocacy. 

  • Wash. Post health care reporter has a history of spreading misinformation about abortion

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    On February 14, Washington Post health care reporter Paige Winfield Cunningham garnered significant attention for tweeting that it was “super weird how people are blaming their diminished sense of well-being on the Trump administration” when “personal events determine [her] quality of life; not who’s in the [White House].” Beyond this insensitive tweet, Winfield Cunningham also has a history of spreading right-wing misinformation about abortion and reproductive health in her reporting.

  • Republicans can't quit fake news

    The Republican Party has increasingly created and used political microsites designed to look like local news sites as a political tactic. Here’s why that’s bad for democracy.

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Last fall, Arizona Senate candidate Kelli Ward touted an endorsement from the Arizona Monitor on her Facebook page. Ward’s campaign must have really liked the endorsement because it reprinted it in full on her campaign website. But what is the Arizona Monitor? Is it a local news site? A blog covering local politics in Arizona? Or is it something else entirely?

    A Politico investigation found that the Arizona Monitor “launched just a few weeks before publishing the endorsement, and its domain registration is hidden, masking the identity of its owner. On its Facebook page, it is classified as a news site, but scant other information is offered.” Inquiries to Arizona politicos didn’t turn up anything either, with some telling the outlet that “they could only scratch their heads” and were befuddled by the site’s background.

    There’s nothing wrong with a local political blog supporting Ward’s campaign, or Ward’s team touting a friendly endorsement on her campaign website and social media. But political campaigns are notoriously overcautious about what they post on social media. Campaigns don’t normally highlight an endorsement from entities no one has heard of, especially when it launched just a few weeks prior. Politico noted that Ward denied any knowledge about the site on Facebook. Given that, there are two obvious questions: Is Arizona Monitor a phony news site meant to fool voters on Kelli Ward’s behalf? If so, who exactly is paying for it?

    We may never know who was behind the Arizona Monitor, as the site crumbled quickly after coming under scrutiny. Initially, it posted an article defending itself, but as I was writing this the website was deleted, as well as the site’s Twitter and Facebook pages. Local political blogs don’t generally operate this way; they relish being attacked by larger media outlets (the posture Arizona Monitor initially took) and do not disappear suddenly when attacked. Given its hasty exit from the internet, it’s not unreasonable to speculate that Arizona Monitor was some kind of front.

    Republican campaigns and entities creating campaign microsites designed to look like local news sites to support their candidates is nothing new. In 2014, the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) created a series of phony news sites meant to mimic local news sites. The sites included a disclaimer at the bottom but otherwise made no indication that they were the product of a Republican campaign committee. An NRCC spokesperson at the time called it a “new and effective way to disseminate information to voters.” And last year, the Republican Governors Association (RGA) tried its hand at running its own microsite disguised as news site. As Media Matters senior fellow Matt Gertz noted at the time:

    FreeTelegraph.com resembles any of a host of hyperpartisan conservative websites that purport to share news. The website’s home page and articles emphasize social media sharing buttons and large photos; the pieces are brief and feature block quotes from other sources instead of original reporting or commentary. But while most right-wing hyperpartisan sites feature pieces supporting President Donald Trump and savaging his foes, FreeTelegraph.com employs a single-minded focus, with every article aiming to praise a Republican governor or gubernatorial candidate or criticize a Democratic one, with a particular focus on GOP targets in Virginia (24 articles), Connecticut (13), and Rhode Island (11).

    The website is still active.

    In Maine, the state Democratic Party recently filed a complaint with the state’s ethics agency alleging that the Maine Examiner, an anonymously owned news site covering Maine politics, made illegal expenditures in a local mayor’s race and that they might have coordinated with the Maine Republican Party as well.

    More recently, Politico reported that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), apparently not content to let the NRCC handle his fake news needs, has a phony news site entirely paid for by his campaign committee. The website CARepublican.com, which Nunes refused to discuss with Politico, has a proper, if tiny, disclaimer but no other indication that it is a campaign website rather than an actual local news site or blog.

    But my personal favorite political phony news proprietor is GOP political consultant Dan Backer, who’s turned fake news into a money maker for his pro-Trump super PACs by using them to drive email sign ups and donations. A BuzzFeed investigation last summer found:

    Along with AAN [American Action News], Backer or his company, DB Capitol Strategies, is listed as the owner of conservative news domains AmericanUpdate.com, TrumpTrainNews.com, and GOPPresidential.com. Two other news sites — Truedaily.news and ICYMInews.com — link out heavily to the Backer-connected web properties, and use the same Google AdSense and Analytics codes as AAN and the three other sites. Truedaily.news and ICYMInews.com are also hosted on the same server as GOPPresidential.com — yet another piece of evidence to suggest they too are part of the network of sites connected to Backer. (The server in question hosts only those three websites.)

    Backer’s political fake news game is a whole new level, combining grassroots digital engagement with clickbait to build lists of supporters his super PACs can message and activate.

    Last week, I wrote about how Trump supporters share the most “junk news” online. Given that, it would seem predictable that Republicans would skip the middleman and just create the content themselves. Even better if they can use said content to raise funds for their political activities.

    But what might work for the Republican Party in the short term is terrible for democracy. A recent Knight News/Gallup survey found trust in media and views on what is or isn’t fake news was increasingly viewed through a partisan lens. Whereas liberals and Democrats get their news from more mainstream media outlets, conservatives increasingly rely on only right and far-right sources in their news consumption. News sites -- run by the GOP about the GOP -- risk shrinking that filter bubble even further. If this trend continues, and phony GOP news sites increase in popularity, conservatives could reach a point where much of the political news they consume would come directly from the Republican Party and associated campaign committees.

  • Media keep calling the GOP's corporate tax bill a "win" for Trump

    The extraordinarily unpopular bill is built on lies and ignores what we know about economics

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    President Donald Trump and his Republican congressional allies are enjoying a round of praise from media commentators for finally getting a legislative “win” on the board as their tax bill closes in on passage before the end of the year. The budget-busting corporate giveaway will enrich the superwealthy and do little for Americans who have to work for a living.

    Republicans finally unveiled the finished version of their tax legislation last Friday evening, and -- despite the public having just days to absorb its 1,097 pages -- both chambers of Congress plan to vote on the bill before the end of the week. If everything goes according to plan, the president will sign the bill into law just in time for members to head home for the holidays.

    After a year plagued by self-destructive outbursts, failed policy changes, unprecedented legal troubles, embarrassing scandals, humiliating legislative defeats, and nationwide political upheaval, many in the press are framing the GOP tax proposal as a crucial “win” for Trump and his party.

    On the December 18 edition of CNN Newsroom, co-host Poppy Harlow wondered how anyone could argue the past year “hasn’t been a win for the president on some big fronts,” given a handful of recent accomplishments, including the new tax bill. Reporter Caitlin Huey-Burns agreed with Harlow’s assessment while noting that such favorable framing fits “the way that the White House has been messaging their own achievements”:

    During an earlier segment on CNN’s New Day, guest A.B. Stoddard suggested that the Republican tax bill, which the Economic Policy Institute has labeled “a scam,” could count as “a great boon for Republicans” and “a win on the board,” if the bill actually fulfilled its over the top promises. (It won’t.) Commentary framing the expected party-line vote as a major victory for the GOP also cropped up in The Associated Press, Politico, The Hill, and The New York Times. Reporters have seemingly gone out of their way to pat Republicans on the back for endorsing legislation so historically unpopular it registers significantly less support than some previous tax hikes:


    FiveThirtyEight.com

    In a December 15 video, Eric Schoenberg of the activist group Patriotic Millionaires explained how the GOP tax bill overwhelming favors wealthy people like him (and the Trump family) while doing little for lower- and middle-class people. Trump and the Republicans continue falsely claiming that the bill will spur business development, boost wages, and stoke renewed economic growth, but the message is such a fantasy even Fox News had to admit there was nothing to it. Previous studies from the Congressional Research Service and the Brookings Institution have demonstrated little relationship between tax cuts for the wealthy and invigorated economic activity, which Trump and the GOP have promised will result from this tax bill.

    The bill permanently cuts taxes for corporations while giving only modest, temporary relief for working people. It loosens tax structures affecting the wealthiest Americans while threatening funds for Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, and other initiatives that guarantee basic economic security to low-income families. The bill promises to add another $1.5 trillion to federal budget deficits over the next decade despite years of hysteria about Obama-era revenue shortfalls. The bill also senselessly repeals the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which will likely result in millions of Americans dropping out of the insurance market.

    Rather than praising the Republican Party for ending a remarkably unproductive year by managing to cobble together a tax giveaway to the super rich, journalists should report on what is actually in the bill. Trump and the GOP have definitely enjoyed some "wins" this year, but reporters need to point out that the Republican Party's successes have often resulted in pain and suffering for millions of Americans.

  • Stop blaming "the media" for Roy Moore

    Right-wing pundits sidestep their own movement’s toxic pathologies to blame the press for Moore’s potential win

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A recurring feature of conservative punditry in the age of Trump is the idea that Republican voters generally -- and the conservative movement specifically -- cannot be held to account for their excesses, moral failings, and political disasters. Each time Republicans and their voters act in ways that right-wing pundits acknowledge are deleterious to civic health and deeply immoral, there’s a mad rush to recast those behaviors as the fault of liberal failures. We’re seeing this dynamic play out as Alabama voters seem poised to elect Republican Roy Moore to the U.S. Senate and right-wing pundits attempt to deflect blame for this potential outcome onto “the media.”

    Former George W. Bush speechwriter William McGurn wrote a column for The Wall Street Journal arguing that if Moore does win despite reports of child molestation and sexual assault, a large chunk of the blame will belong to “the liberals who are enabling him,” a group that includes “the national press corps.” Matt Latimer, another former Bush speechwriter, wrote a Politico op-ed arguing that “the real reason” Moore remains politically viable is “that the media has totally lost its connection with a large portion of the nation, almost all of them conservatives.” Over at The Federalist, Bethany Mandel argues that “it’s media’s fault” that a large majority of Alabama Republican voters don’t believe the Washington Post’s stories on Moore’s reported misconduct.

    This argument isn’t especially surprising given that one of the pillars of modern conservatism is reflexive animosity toward “the liberal media.” The popularity of outlets like Fox News and Breitbart.com stems directly from a concerted, decades-long effort across the entire conservative movement to render “mainstream” sources of news suspicious and inherently untrustworthy. But claiming that “the media” are to blame for Republicans backing Moore is a deflection that accomplishes little beyond confirming the biases of the writers while backhandedly affirming Moore’s claims that he’s under persecution by the press.  

    Writers like McGurn, Latimer, and Mandel are in a difficult spot because while they clearly believe the Post’s reporting and think it stands up (none make any attempt to rebut it or suggest that the case against Moore isn’t a solid one) their party’s voters are flatly disregarding those reports and are poised to elect Moore to the Senate (71 percent of likely Republicans voters in Alabama say the claims about him are false). They try to square that uncomfortable circle by cherry-picking other unrelated media failures -- like ABC News reporter Brian Ross’ botched story on former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s plea deal with federal prosecutors -- to exculpate conservative voters who refuse to believe the Post.

    “In their quest to tarnish the reputation of President Trump and try to remove him from office, the media has become particularly adept at getting more than a few things wrong,” Mandel writes. “They [Alabama Republican voters] may well be wrong about Mr. Moore and his accusers,” McGurn observes, “but is their skepticism really that difficult to understand?”

    Well, no, actually, but not for the reasons Mandel and McGurn offer. They’re attacking the media for not being credible enough to people who’ve been told for decades on end that the media aren’t credible. So it’s not surprising that Alabama voters distrust the media. But the fact that they refuse to see the truth that’s staring them in the face is less an indictment of the media than the toxicity of a conservative political culture that teaches voters to disbelieve all news they don’t want to hear and seek information only from outlets that reaffirm their existing viewpoints.

    Conservative media outlets Republican voters prefer over the “mainstream media” have embarked on a dishonest campaign of distraction and obfuscation to discredit the Post’s reporting and bolster Moore. Breitbart.com sent reporters down to Birmingham to (unsuccessfully) undermine the Post, but their failed efforts still resulted in splash-page “EXCLUSIVE” articles suggesting that Roy Moore had been the victim of a smear. Some Fox News figures lined up behind Moore and against the Post as they dutifully parroted the Moore campaign’s absurd attempts at discrediting the candidate’s accusers. Just hours after the Post's first Moore article was published, Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett told Hannity viewers, "I am suspicious of this because of the source, The Washington Post, which has a dog in this fight having endorsed his opponent."

    This isn’t merely a question of conservative voters thinking “the media” in general are untrustworthy -- they’re being specifically told by right-wing media that the Post’s story is false and that Moore is being unjustly attacked. So even in a situation where a media outlet meets the standard of accuracy and trustworthiness conservative pundits claim has been irretrievably lost, it still comes under assault from the right-wing press in a flagrantly dishonest attempt to discredit it.

    That feels like a significant part of the explanation for why Alabama Republicans are gearing up to make Roy Moore their next senator, and why they’re apparently more comfortable electing a reported sex criminal than a Democrat. But conservative pundits glide right past it so they can disingenuously argue, as McGurn does, that Moore’s election “may be as much the fault of those who opposed him as those who supported him.”

  • Stephen Miller accused Jim Acosta of "cosmopolitan bias," here is the term's ugly history

    In Politico Magazine, analyst Jeff Greenfield explains "The Ugly History of Stephen Miller's 'Cosmopolitan' Epithet"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In Politico Magazine political analyst Jeff Greenfield explained how President Donald Trump’s senior policy advisor Stephen Miller’s invocation of the word “cosmopolitan” in a White House press briefing to attack a reporter connected him to a long history of the term being weaponized by “anti-Democratic political movements,” often with clear anti-Semitic undertones.

    During an August 2 White House press briefing, Miller defended the president’s support of the RAISE Act, a Republican-sponsored immigration proposal that would prioritize immigration based on the "skills" immigrants bring to the country and favor English speakers over non-English speaking immigrants. Miller, who once reportedly told a classmate they could no longer be friends because his classmate was Latino, has a long history of promoting anti-immigrant policies. Miller also has a close relationship with former Breitbart executive chair and current White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon and shares the same extreme nationalist ideology with him. During a contentious back-and-forth with CNN’s Jim Acosta over the RAISE Act in the press briefing, Miller accused Acosta of harboring “cosmopolitan bias.”  

    As Greenfield explained, the word “cosmopolitan” is something of a “cousin to ‘elitist,’ but with a more sinister undertone.” The word has come to represent “people or movements that are unmoored to the traditions and beliefs of a nation,” and has long been a favorite of “nationalist political figures” as a means of delegitimizing and attacking opposition forces. As Greenfield noted, the term was invoked by Josef Stalin to “purge” the Soviet Union of “dissident voices,” and has often carried strong anti-Semitic connotations. From the August 3 article:

    When TV news viewers saw Trump adviser Stephen Miller accuse Jim Acosta of harboring a “cosmopolitan bias” during Wednesday’s news conference, they might have wondered whether he was accusing the CNN White House reporter of an excessive fondness for the cocktail made famous on “Sex and the City.” It’s a term that’s seldom been heard in American political discourse. But to supporters of the Miller-Bannon worldview, it was a cause for celebration. Breitbart, where Steve Bannon reigned before becoming Trump’s chief political strategist, trumpeted Miller’s “evisceration” of Acosta and put the term in its headline. So did white nationalist Richard Spencer, who hailed Miller’s dust-up with Acosta as “a triumph.”

    [...]

    So what is a “cosmopolitan”? It’s a cousin to “elitist,” but with a more sinister undertone. It’s a way of branding people or movements that are unmoored to the traditions and beliefs of a nation, and identify more with like-minded people regardless of their nationality. (In this sense, the revolutionary pamphleteer Thomas Paine might have been an early American cosmopolitan, when he declared: “The world is my country; all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”). In the eyes of their foes, “cosmopolitans” tend to cluster in the universities, the arts and in urban centers, where familiarity with diversity makes for a high comfort level with “untraditional” ideas and lives.

    [...]

    One reason why “cosmopolitan” is an unnerving term is that it was the key to an attempt by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to purge the culture of dissident voices. In a 1946 speech, he deplored works in which “the positive Soviet hero is derided and inferior before all things foreign and cosmopolitanism that we all fought against from the time of Lenin, characteristic of the political leftovers, is many times applauded.” It was part of a yearslong campaigned aimed at writers, theater critics, scientists and others who were connected with “bourgeois Western influences.” Not so incidentally, many of these “cosmopolitans” were Jewish, and official Soviet propaganda for a time devoted significant energy into “unmasking” the Jewish identities of writers who published under pseudonyms.

    What makes this history relevant is that, all across Europe, nationalist political figures are still making the same kinds of arguments—usually but not always stripped of blatant anti-Semitism—to constrict the flow of ideas and the boundaries of free political expression. Russian President Vladimir Putin, for example, has more and more embraced this idea that unpatriotic forces threaten the nation.

  • Right-Wing Media Figures Want Trump To Shut Down The Government So They Can Blame Democrats

    ››› ››› NINA MAST

    Right-wing media figures are displeased after the likelihood of a government shutdown seemed to fade following a breakthrough after days of failed negotiations and speculation. Specifically, right-wing media figures cheered the idea of a shutdown because they wanted to make sure that “Democrats get blamed” and to exact revenge after, as they claimed, Democrats made previous shutdowns “as painful as possible.”

  • Reporters, It’s Time To Investigate DeVos’ Department Of Education

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    In the lead-up to billionaire Republican megadonor and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ confirmation, numerous media outlets published deep-dive investigations into DeVos’ background, significant political contributions, potential conflicts of interest, far-right ideology, and negative influence on Michigan policies.

    But since she formally took over at the Department of Education, the investigative work seems to have mostly dropped off; coverage of DeVos has focused more on her public gaffes than the inner workings of the agency she now runs. It certainly doesn't help that DeVos and her department have struggled with media transparency. As education media writer Alexander Russo wrote, "DeVos takes press questions at events only occasionally, has yet to grant a formal interview with a major national education reporter, and heads a department that only intermittently provides answers in a timely manner – through a spokesperson whose name reporters are forbidden to use. The agency has even struggled to put out her weekly schedule in advance of public events."

    It's time for investigative journalists to dig deeper and shine light on DeVos' priorities, such as early staffing decisions at the Education Department. There's certainly plenty to explore -- many of the temporary staffers in the Education Department are veterans of the right-wing think tank echo chamber on "education reform," and some have anti-LGBTQ and anti-black track records. Like DeVos, almost none have spent significant time as educators. 

    As ProPublica reported, the Trump administration has installed hundreds of officials across federal agencies including the Education Department (known as “beachhead” teams). Though the positions are designed to be temporary, many are expected to transition into permanent roles, and may have “taken on considerable influence in the absence of high-level political appointees” who need to first be vetted and confirmed by the Senate:

    Unlike appointees exposed to the scrutiny of the Senate, members of these so-called “beachhead teams” have operated largely in the shadows, with the White House declining to publicly reveal their identities.

    [...]

    Much about the role of the beachhead teams at various federal agencies is unclear. But close observers of the early weeks of the Trump administration believe they have taken on considerable influence in the absence of high-level political appointees.

    The beachhead team members are temporary employees serving for stints of four to eight months, but many are expected to move into permanent jobs.

    Several Education Department Officials With Offensive Online Histories May Remain On Staff

    A December Politico report highlighted three newly named Education Department staffers who had previously posted offensive comments about women and people of color online. Two of the staffers still appear to work for DeVos’ agency months after the report. Kevin Eck, a special assistant to Secretary DeVos, had to apologize after he tweeted disparagingly in late 2015 about the “all black cast” of NBC’s The Wiz adaptation. Politico also documented several disparaging tweets by Eck about the LGBTQ community, including at least one post that pushed the dangerous “bathroom predator” myth people use to justify barring transgender individuals (students, in particular) from using the appropriate public facilities. According to his LinkedIn profile, Eck still serves in this role at the department.

    The Politico article identified another staffer, Derrick Bolen, who “has tweeted numerous statements that could be considered insensitive to African-Americans and women.” Bolen’s posts include at least one in which he used a racial slur. He began serving as a confidential assistant to DeVos in the early days of the administration; ProPublica notes that Bolen “appear[s] to have switched departments” and may now be working at the Department of Labor. His LinkedIn profile does not list any past experience in teaching or education policy; instead, Bolen served most recently as a regional field director for the Republican National Committee.

    One "Beachhead" Staffer Was Investigated For Corruption By The Federal Government

    Former Alaska state Sen. Jerry Ward served as a special assistant to Secretary DeVos until his reported resignation last week. Years before Ward worked as the Alaska state director for the Trump campaign or served on Trump’s inaugural committee, he was investigated by the Department of Justice for alleged corruption stemming from “his relationship with private prison advocate William Weimar.” According to local media coverage, federal prosecutors also concluded that Ward had interfered with a witness in a corruption trial in order to protect himself from prosecution. Little is known about Ward's resignation from the "beachhead" team; he has not discussed the matter publicly. 

    Prominent Education Officials Have Serious Ties To The For-Profit Education Industry

    Journalists have already begun identifying new members of the Education Department staff -- beachhead or otherwise -- whose backgrounds raise strong conflict-of-interest questions. In March, The New York Times reported that Robert Eitel, a vice president for regulatory legal services at for-profit college operator Bridgepoint Education Inc., is on leave from the position to work as a special assistant to Secretary DeVos. Ethics experts told the Times that Eitel’s connections to Bridgepoint, in particular his legal work while the company faced several government investigations, could “bump up against federal rules involving conflicts of interest and impartiality.” Eitel was recently granted written permission from ethics officials to work on regulations specifically affecting student loan repayment; under his legal leadership, Bridgepoint paid out “a settlement of more than $30 million over deceptive student lending.”

    Another early member of DeVos’ staff, Taylor Hansen, also has significant financial ties to the for-profit higher education world; he’s both a for-profit college lobbyist and the son of the former CEO of a student loan guarantee agency. As Bloomberg News reports, Hansen resigned from his role at the Education Department in mid-March, just one day after the department announced a reversal on an Obama-era directive related to fees that loan guarantee agencies can charge some students who default on their loans. The change, Bloomberg explained, “is almost certain to hand … a victory” -- and possibly $15 million in additional revenue -- to the company that, until very recently, was operated by Hansen’s father.

    Jerry Falwell Jr. Brings A Handful Of Conflicts And Concerns To The Department

    Jerry Falwell Jr. is the son of televangelist Jerry Falwell Sr. and the president of Liberty University, a Christian college in Virginia founded by Falwell Sr. in 1971. He has also been tapped to head a "task force on higher education” in the Trump administration, reportedly at the insistence of senior White House official and former Breitbart.com executive Stephen Bannon. Falwell Jr. has encouraged students to carry concealed weapons on campus in order to “end those Muslims,” and defended President Donald Trump’s 2005 comments boasting about sexually assaulting women. Liberty University also offers insight into Falwell Jr.’s leadership and priorities -- the school is closely tied to the Liberty Counsel, an anti-LGBTQ hate group, hosts extremist groups and individuals for campus events, and prohibits “sexual relations outside of a biblically ordained marriage between a natural-born man and a natural-born woman.”

    Little information has come to light about Falwell’s plans for the higher education task force, but reports indicate that he is “particularly interested in curbing rules that require schools to investigate campus sexual assault under Title IX, a federal law that bans discrimination in education.” Falwell has also said that he wants the task force to “re-evaluate ‘overreaching regulation’ by the federal government,” reportedly in areas such as college accreditation and federal loan cancellation for defrauded students, leading to calls for more information from Senate Democrats who see potential for conflicts of interest. “Mr. Falwell’s personal and financial interests on issues affecting student loan debt, recruitment, and distance education are extensive,” the lawmakers wrote, noting that Liberty University was the third-largest recipient of federal student loans in 2016.

    Numerous “Beachhead” Officials Have Ties To Privatization Groups DeVos Has Supported -- And Almost None Have Ever Worked In Classrooms

    The vast majority of “beachhead” officials within the Education Department have close connections to the right-wing “education reform” media echo chamber bankrolled by billionaires and private corporations -- but little to no experience in the classroom.

    This list includes at least four staffers who have previously worked for education privatization groups led by DeVos in some capacity: Michael Frendewey, a communications staffer at American Federation for Children, which was founded by DeVos and led by until her nomination; and Andrew Kossack, Josh Venable, and Neil Ruddock, all former staffers of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, which counted DeVos as a board member until her nomination.

    The longer list of staffers who come from the dark-money “education reform” echo chamber includes Jason Botel, of the DeVos-affiliated Maryland Campaign for Achievement Now; Michael Brickman, a former staffer with the Fordham Institute and Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI); Gillum Ferguson, a former staffer for conservative outlets Opportunity Lives and The Washington Free Beacon; Alexandra Hudson, who has written education policy pieces at conservative outlets and think tanks like The Heartland Institute, The Federalist, and The Weekly Standard and recently worked as an education policy analyst for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (part of the State Policy Network of right-wing think tanks); Lauren Rigas of the American Conservative Union and the American Enterprise Institute; and Patrick Shaheen, a former staffer at the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity.

    And DeVos’ Brother, Erik Prince, Held A Secret Overseas Meeting To Create A “Trump-Putin Back Channel”

    Let’s not forget the bombshell Washington Post report from April 3: Erik Prince, DeVos’ brother and the founder of the infamous Blackwater security firm, met with “a Russian close to President Vladi­mir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and [then] President-elect Donald Trump” days before Trump’s inauguration. According to officials, Prince “presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump” during the secret Seychelles meeting although he has no formal role with the administration. The meeting took place less than two months after Trump announced he would pick Prince’s sister to head the Education Department. 

  • Right-Wing Media Falsely Claim Rep. Nunes Vindicated Trump’s Wiretap Lie

    Trump Was Not Referring To “Incidental” Legal Surveillance

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Right-wing media figures are claiming that House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) statement that President Donald Trump’s transition aides were surveilled “vindicates” Trump and prove he “was right” about his unfounded claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. But Nunes’ report -- that Trump aides were caught in “incidental collection” while surveilling other targets -- was already widely suspected, and Nunes himself admitted it does not prove Trump’s false claim is correct. Multiple current and former government officials have said Trump’s claim is false.

  • IJR Suspends Three Staffers For Pushing "Alt-Right"-Based Conspiracy Theory

    Blog ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET

    Independent Journal Review (IJR) chief content officer Benny Johnson and two other IJR employees were indefinitely suspended after writing and publishing a baseless conspiracy theory -- originally pushed by “alt-right” fringe media -- which suggested that former President Barack Obama’s visit to Hawaii played a role in a ruling by a federal judge based there that froze President Donald Trump’s revised Muslim ban.

    On March 16, under Johnson’s direction, IJR published, then retracted, an article that attempted to “point out the timing and the opportunity” presented by Obama’s presence in Hawaii days before the judge’s ruling. The conspiracy theory was originally pushed by fringe and “alt-right” outlets such as Infowars and The Gateway Pundit, and it seemed to originate from a thread on the online anonymous message board Reddit. The outlandish theory even made its way to Donald Trump Jr., who retweeted a Twitter post that tied the judge to Obama.

    According to reports from Politico and Business Insider, after IJR investigated the publication of the baseless story, the site suspended Johnson and editors Kyle Becker and Becca Lower. In a statement, IJR founder Alex Skatell wrote that “we got it wrong and ultimately deserve all the criticism.” Business Insider noted that Johnson, who has been accused of plagiarism multiple times and has previously pushed false claims, “had been warned earlier that the story about Obama was an unfounded conspiracy theory, but he assigned it to Becker anyway.”

    This is the second recent occasion in which a right-wing media figure has been disciplined for spreading unsubstantiated allegations and conspiracy theories about Obama. IJR’s actions came a day after reports emerged that Fox News’ Andrew Napolitano was being taken off the air “indefinitely” for promoting the false claim that Obama used the British government to spy on Trump.

  • Report: Top Pence Adviser Is Partial Owner Of Independent Journal Review

    Blog ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ

    BuzzFeed News is reporting that a political adviser to Vice President Mike Pence is also a “major investor” in the conservative media outlet the Independent Journal Review (IJR), which has gained exclusive access to the administration as the only media outlet allowed to travel with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on his trip to Asia. 

    The IJR is a conservative, pro-Trump outlet which recently faced criticism for publishing, then retracting, an article suggesting former President Barack Obama had the “timing and the opportunity” to influence the judge that halted President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. The outlet also faced criticism after Tillerson’s “decision to bring only Erin McPike of Independent Journal Review” with him on his first trip to Asia. According to Politico:

    McPike has been with IJR for only a few weeks and doesn’t even cover the State Department: She’s its White House reporter and is often in the briefings. McPike won’t be acting as a pool reporter for the rest of the diplomatic press corps, meaning she won’t be sharing information about the trip with other reporters, which is what would normally happen if there were limited space for reporters and only a few were chosen.

    On March 17, BuzzFeed News reported that a “top strategist” for Vice President Pence, Nick Ayers, is a “major investor” in IJR. Ayers also works for America First Priorities, a political group that works to push Trump’s agenda. While the article notes that “there is no indication” that Ayers played a role in IJR receiving favorable treatment from Tillerson, the Ayers connection reinforces the “close ties between Trump’s orbit and a favored media outlet.” From BuzzFeed News:

    Nick Ayers, Pence’s top strategist outside of the White House, confirmed to BuzzFeed News that he owns part of IJR. He is also playing a major role in America First Priorities, a political group launched by Trump campaign advisers to trumpet the president’s message. He joined Trump’s campaign when Pence was tapped as the vice presidential nominee and later acted as a senior advisor for the vice president-elect during the transition. Ayers previously worked as a political consultant and as campaign manager for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s presidential bid in 2012.

    There’s no indication that Ayers was involved in this week’s controversial State Department decision to grant the sole press spot on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s trip to Asia to IJR’s White House correspondent. The move, a break from tradition, has enraged the State Department press corps as Tillerson makes big diplomatic news without a traditional pooler tagging along.

    Ayers’ investment in IJR is another example of close ties between Trump’s orbit and a favored media outlet. Steve Bannon, the president’s top strategist, ran Breitbart News for years and has brought with him to the administration a handful of ex-Breitbart staffers. The company has said that it no longer has financial and editorial ties to Bannon. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner transferred his ownership of The New York Observer to a family trust.

    There’s no sign that Ayers has had any editorial involvement with his investment, and a person involved in the company noted that IJR notably didn’t benefit from insider leaks during the campaign.

  • Media Can't Stop Pining For Another Trump Pivot

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Media seized on President Donald Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress as an opportunity for him to “pivot” or “reset” his administration. This canard that he would at some point change course was repeated throughout the presidential campaign, yet any shifts that occurred were always short-lived.