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  • Multiple news outlets parrot Trump’s dishonest disavowal of “send her back” rally chant

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Following bipartisan criticism of attendees chanting “send her back” after President Donald Trump renewed attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) during his July 17 rally, Trump dishonestly claimed today he “was not happy with it. I disagree with it,” also saying he “started speaking very quickly” once the chant began in an attempt to stop it. Multiple mainstream news organizations tweeted out Trump’s claim of disavowal without sufficient context showing his insincerity.

    As Trump’s remarks were being reported, CNN reporter Daniel Dale explained that Trump wasn’t being truthful, as he had taken a long pause before he began speaking again.

    And some media outlets debunked portions of Trump’s excuses or pointed out that his supporters’ chant reflected his own words:

    But many other news organizations published tweets that repeated Trump’s dishonest disavowal without critique:

  • Politico and The Hill amplify Eric Trump's made-up statistic

    Eric Trump baselessly claimed that 95% of Americans supported Donald Trump’s political message

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On Tuesday’s edition of Fox & Friends, Eric Trump absurdly claimed that, in light of President Donald Trump’s racist tweets targeting four congresswomen, “95% of this country” still backs his father’s political message. No recent polling from major political pollsters put Trump’s approval rating anywhere close to 95%, with polls averaging a 44.6% approval rating.

    Politico and The Hill amplified this fabricated statistic on social media, without providing any fact check or qualifier in the headline or post content. Research shows a majority of social media users share links without reading them, which makes fact-checking on social media posts crucial to dulling the spread of misinformation.

    These outlets’ negligence is part of a larger trend of major media outlets amplifying false information by sharing Trump quotes on headlines and social media posts without fact-checking. A recent Media Matters study of major news outlets’ Twitter handles found that 30% of tweets referring to remarks from Trump referenced a false or misleading statement. Of that 30%, nearly two-thirds did not fact-check the statements.

    On Twitter and Facebook, Politico paraphrased Eric Trump’s quote and qualified his claim only by putting it in context with Trump’s recent racist tweets. Although the article did cite RealClearPolitics’ polling averages of Trump’s approval ratings to debunk Eric Trump’s claim, its social media posts failed to mention the claim’s inaccuracy.

    The Hill’s social media accounts quoted Eric Trump’s 95% statistic without providing any qualification for the fabricated statistic. The link did not explicitly debunk the figure, instead writing that it was “unclear what Eric Trump was referring to,” and mentioning other polls that put Trump’s approval rating among all voters and Republicans well below 95%.

  • It’s time for a reckoning for journalists who boosted false narratives about Donald Trump’s LGBTQ policy positions

    Audiences were repeatedly told that he was pro-LGBTQ. He’s been nothing but a nightmare.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    It’s an understatement to say that LGBTQ rights in the U.S. haven’t exactly flourished under President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

    Upon taking office, Trump and his team ordered the removal of references to LGBTQ issues from a number of federal websites. By the second month, the departments of Education and Justice had officially rescinded Obama-era guidance protecting transgender students from discrimination. Six months in, Trump shocked the country by casually tweeting his intention to reinstitute a ban on trans people in the military and having the DOJ issue an updated interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 saying it is legal to fire someone for being gay or trans.

    Those are just a few examples of the many, many anti-LGBTQ actions that Trump has carried out since taking office. According to GLAAD, an LGBTQ media watchdog group, the Trump administration has launched 114 attacks on LGBTQ people thus far. Some actions are petty but not actively harmful, such as not officially proclaiming June to be LGBTQ Pride Month while still extending that recognition to Great Outdoors Month, National Homeownership Month, and National Ocean Month. However, other actions could put lives at risk, such as the appointment of anti-LGBTQ lawyers to lifetime federal judgeships and issuing rules allowing discrimination against trans people in public housing and health care.

    Some media outlets seemed caught off guard by the barrage of anti-LGBTQ actions. They shouldn’t have been.

    Last month, The Washington Post reported that the candidate “who cast himself as pro-LGBT” had become the community’s “worst enemy” in the eyes of activists and allies. And the Post was far from alone in reporting that Trump’s recent actions are a departure from his pro-LGBTQ campaign -- a campaign that never actually existed. These reports place blame on Trump for failing to make good on promises he never made. The truth is that too much of the press ignored what he said he would actually do.

    To understand where the narrative suggesting that Trump would be a pro-LGBTQ president originated, look back to his April 21, 2016, appearance on NBC’s Today.

    Co-host Willie Geist asked the candidate a viewer question from Twitter about specific ways he would be LGBTQ-inclusive as president and about a recently enacted North Carolina law that legalized discrimination against trans people and banned them from many public restrooms. Trump responded by saying that the law wasn’t worth the “economic punishment” brought on by backlash. Then co-host Matt Lauer followed up, asking Trump a question about whether he’d “be fine” with trans TV personality Caitlyn Jenner using the women’s restroom in Trump Tower.

    “That is correct,” answered Trump.

    Nothing in Trump’s answers actually addressed how he would be “inclusive” of LGBTQ people as president. In talking about the North Carolina law, he said that he opposed it because it was hurting businesses, not because it was hurting the people actually being discriminated against. This position in itself is a sort of middle ground between government-mandated anti-LGBTQ discrimination and the position of the Obama administration, which was that anti-LGBTQ discrimination should be illegal. And it would still be a step backward for LGBTQ rights. On the topic of Caitlyn Jenner, it was already New York City law that she had to be allowed to use the women’s restroom; Trump being “fine” with that was as unspectacular as if he’d said he was “fine” with cars stopping at red lights.

    As unremarkable as they were, both answers earned Trump some quick praise from mainstream journalists.

    An April 22, 2016, article in The New York Times headlined “Donald Trump’s More Accepting Views on Gay Issues Set Him Apart in G.O.P.” picked up where the Today interview left off. It cited a Trump blog post from a decade earlier congratulating Elton John and David Furnish on their civil partnership, his support for HIV/AIDS charities in the ’80s and ’90s, and his appearance alongside former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in a video in which Giuliani dressed in drag as evidence that Trump “is far more accepting of sexual minorities than his party’s leaders have been.” In contrast, Trump’s opposition to marriage equality and his “recent alliances with social conservatives such as Jerry Falwell Jr. and Pat Robertson” were treated as minor footnotes.

    That night on NBC Nightly News, correspondent Hallie Jackson said that “Trump is considered one of the more LGBT-friendly Republican candidates” and highlighted his Today Show comments. The April 24 edition of Meet The Press featured a segment on Trump’s Today Show comments and the reactions they provoked both from his primary challenger (Texas Sen. Ted Cruz released an ad saying that Trump wasn’t anti-trans enough) as well as his likely general election opponent (the Hillary Clinton campaign pointed to the Today Show comments as an example of Trump’s inconsistency). During that segment, a banner appeared on screen reading: “Trump Campaign: More Accepting On ‘Bathroom Laws.’”

    Trump got additional positive coverage on the topic after the Pulse shooting, his speech at the Republican National Convention, and a moment at a rally when he held a gay pride flag.

    On June 14, 2016, Trump tweeted, “Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.” The tweet was one of several empty platitudes Trump offered to LGBTQ Americans following the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL, and at first glance, it might look like a sign of support. Upon closer reading, it’s clear that when he said “fight for you,” he wasn’t referring to fighting for LGBTQ civil rights at home. Instead, Trump’s statement used the community as yet another justification for his anti-Muslim immigration proposals. In his first speech following the Pulse attack, Trump claimed that he was a “friend of women and the LGBT community” because unlike Clinton, he would not “allow radical Islamic terrorists to pour into our country,” saying “they enslave women, and murder gays.”

    In response, ABC’s Jonathan Karl called Trump “the most pro-gay rights Republican presidential candidate that we have ever seen.” Politico’s Kyle Cheney framed the bizarre, uncomfortable speech following the Pulse nightclub massacre as evidence of a pro-LGBTQ position, writing that Trump brought a “welcoming tone toward LGBT Americans” and that “in Trump, pro-gay rights Republicans see a new hope.”

    Trump won kudos again the following month during his speech at the Republican National Convention, when he said, “As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.” Again, this wasn’t a promise to support LGBTQ rights, but a promise to physically “protect” LGBTQ people from what he considered a “hateful foreign ideology” -- Islam.

    Following Trump’s convention speech, many mainstream journalists fell into the Trump-as-LGBTQ-ally trap, reinforcing the myth that he’d be good for LGBTQ people as a whole. Sometimes, as was the case in an Associated Press write-up headlined “Making GOP history, Trump vows to protect LGBTQ community,” important context (in this case, what he was suggesting when he said “protect”) was left out:

    With five letters, Donald Trump brushed off decades of Republican reluctance to voice full-throated support for gay rights — at least for a night.

    Trump’s call in his speech to the Republican National Convention for protecting the “LGBTQ community” was a watershed moment for the Republican Party — the first time the issue has been elevated in a GOP nomination address. Four years ago, Mitt Romney never uttered the word “gay,” much less the full acronym — standing for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning.

    But Trump, as if to drive the point home, said it not once, but twice.

    Nowhere in Trump’s convention speech -- or anywhere else, for that matter -- did he so much as mention “gay rights,” let alone “voice full-throated support” for them. You wouldn’t have gotten that impression from many journalists, though.

    Fox News’ John Roberts said Trump had “become a champion for the cause” of LGBTQ people. CBS News’ John Dickerson said, “It’s extraordinary the distance the Republican Party has traveled” on LGBTQ issues. On MSNBC, Mark Halperin said, “In the history of the Republican Party and gay rights, last night was one of the biggest days ever.”

    In October 2016, Trump stood on stage at a Colorado campaign stop and briefly held a Pride flag with the words “LGBTs for Trump” scrawled across the front, handed to him from the audience. While few would cite photos of Trump holding signs that say “Women for Trump” or “Blacks for Trump” as evidence that he would be good for women or people of color, the moment with the flag has been occasionally referenced as an example of his supposed support for LGBTQ people.

    All of this praise was based on a falsehood, and LGBTQ people are going to pay the price.

    One of the earliest signs that Trump would be an LGBTQ adversary came in December 2015, when the then-candidate went on record in support of the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill that would have codified a federal right to discriminate against LGBTQ people into law so long as it was done on the basis of one’s religious beliefs. The deceptively named bill was introduced that summer in response to the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision as the best chance for anti-gay politicians to undermine the ruling’s effects at the federal level. If it had become law, it would have had devastating effects and wreaked havoc on state and local nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

    “If Congress considers the First Amendment Defense Act a priority, then I will do all I can to make sure it comes to my desk for signature and enactment,” Trump wrote in a response to the American Principles Project request that he make enacting FADA a priority within his hypothetical administration’s first 100 days. Though he stopped short of committing to it as his own priority, anti-LGBTQ activist Maggie Gallagher called his reply “big news and good news.”

    During the January 31, 2016, edition of Fox News’ Fox News Sunday, Trump reaffirmed that he still opposed marriage equality and would “strongly consider” appointing Supreme Court justices to reverse the court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, a decision establishing the right for same-sex couples to marry. The following month, during an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody, Trump was asked whether evangelicals could trust him on “traditional marriage,” to which he immediately responded, “I think they can trust me. They can trust me on traditional marriage.” On Twitter, Trump called Ted Cruz a “liar” for suggesting that he and Marco Rubio secretly supported marriage equality.

    In April 2016, on the same day as his Today appearance, he walked back his mild opposition to North Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ law during an interview on Hannity. Stunningly, the walk-back wasn’t included in the New York Times article or NBC News segments that followed, which lauded him for his more moderate position. By July, he had come out in full support of the law.

    Even his supposedly pro-LGBTQ convention speech was a sham. As Sean Spicer would later reveal in his post-White House memoir, the inclusion of any mention of LGBTQ people at all in Trump’s convention speech was a concession made to convince one Republican National Committee delegate to remove his name from a “Never Trump” petition. The truth is that the 2016 Republican Party platform released during the convention was called the “most overtly anti-LGBTQ platform in history” by the Human Rights Campaign. Even Log Cabin Republicans President Gregory T. Angelo echoed that message, adding, “Opposition to marriage equality, nonsense about bathrooms, an endorsement of the debunked psychological practice of ‘pray the gay away’ -- it's all in there.”

    Even if journalists didn’t see through the use of LGBTQ people as props in his speech to advance anti-immigration policies, it’s hard to understand how the narrative of Trump as an LGBTQ-inclusive candidate continued after he selected Mike Pence as his running mate and stood with the extremist policies outlined in the platform.

    Contrary to what the Times reported that April, there wasn’t any reason to believe anything “set him apart” in the Republican field. Sure, candidates like Cruz, Ben Carson, Rick Santorum, and Rick Perry were more overtly anti-LGBTQ, but practically speaking, they held nearly identical policy views. Even if there was space to argue that the other candidates were more clearly anti-LGBTQ than Trump, reporting that is misleading if it lacks the context that he’s still far from an ally.

    During an October 3, 2016, event with a veterans group, Trump was asked what he would do “about the social engineering and political correctness that’s been imposed upon our military,” a reference to Obama-era decisions around trans inclusion and women participating in combat.

    “We’re gonna get away from political correctness,” Trump responded. A Nexis search for TV news transcripts including the words “transgender” and “military” in the week following Trump’s statement turned up zero references to the comments.

    On July 26, 2017, he announced a ban on trans people serving “in any capacity in the U.S. military.” The decision appeared to come out of absolutely nowhere, but in fact, he was making good on a campaign promise.

    Trump has been a disaster for LGBTQ people in the U.S. As we approach the 2020 election, it is imperative that journalists shine an honest light on this issue.

    In May, the departments of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development announced new anti-trans policies and Axios reported on HHS’ intent to release a formal policy rolling back nondiscrimination rules in adoption, allowing federally funded adoption and foster agencies to refuse same-sex couples if they choose. Media Matters analyzed TV news coverage of these administration moves and found that during a 10-day period while these policies were being reported on, broadcast TV news networks ABC, CBS, NBC, and cable news network MSNBC made no mention of these changes. CNN and Fox News devoted minimal coverage to the topic. These are major policies that will affect the lives of millions of Americans, but they barely made a blip on the TV news radar. If you weren’t specifically looking for news on the state of LGBTQ rights, you may not be aware of just how many ways those protections have changed for the worse during Trump’s administration.

    An alarming number of headlines still get the issue completely wrong -- and that doesn’t bode well for 2020 coverage. A recent article in The New York Times about a May 31 Trump tweet was headlined “Trump’s Celebration of L.G.B.T. Rights Is Met With Criticism.” In fact, he did not offer any “celebration of LGBT rights” in his tweet. That tweet lauded “the outstanding contributions LGBT people have made to our great nation,” but it said nothing of legal rights or protections. Headlines overstating what was said or inferring messages not actually stated reflect a continuing naiveté in the press. Not only that, but the article itself advances one of the administration’s favorite falsehoods, quoting Kellyanne Conway as saying, “He’s the first president to start as president for approving of gay marriage.”

    In fact, a 60 Minutes interview people often point to when defending that comment simply features Trump saying marriage equality is settled law and that he’s “fine with that.” When specifically asked if he supported marriage equality, he responded that it was “irrelevant” what he thought. Those are not the words of someone who is “approving of gay marriage.”

    Based on sheer quantity of anti-LGBTQ policies and political appointments, Trump is, arguably, one of the worst presidents on LGBTQ rights in the country’s history. He may have no personal problem with gay people. He may say he’s “fine” with a gay person being married. He may sell “Pride”-themed merchandise on his website. He may collaborate with Peter Thiel or appoint Richard Grenell to an ambassadorship. He may even sputter out the letters “LGBTQ” from time to time. None of this has anything to do with LGBTQ civil rights or legal protections at home.

    After the Pulse attack in 2016, Trump said reporters should “ask the gays” about LGBTQ rights in majority-Muslim countries and whether his anti-Muslim policy proposals made him a friend of the community. As 2020 coverage gets going, news organizations should do exactly that: talk to the broader LGBTQ community.

    Yes, there will always be some gay and bisexual Trump supporters, some hard-core conservative trans people, and a handful of lesbian libertarians. Whenever the Trump administration takes action against the community, a common impulse is for journalists to seek these supporters out for comment. Rarely, however, are these the people hurt most by these individual policies, and giving them a disproportionately large platform only obscures the actual damage any given policy can cause. Their continued support for Trump and the Republican Party doesn’t cancel out what harm the party and its leader will do. Rather, their support is often just a sign that there are other issues they care about more than legal protections or civil rights. In other words, the existence of LGBTQ Trump supporters does not tell us anything about the administration’s hostility when it comes to policies specific to this community. Journalists must remember this.

    What Trump said in a 2000 interview or what charities he supported in the 1980s aren’t relevant to the lives of LGBTQ Americans. What matter are the policies being implemented, the judges appointed, and laws championed -- right now. A July 2016 Pew Research survey found that 40% of voters said LGBTQ issues were “very important” in determining who to vote for. By not informing the public about what Trump said he would do, the press failed. It’s time for journalists to accept that Trump was not nearly as pro-LGBTQ as he was made out to be in the press and to contemplate what role they played in building the myth that he ever was.

  • Major news organizations amplified Trump’s misinformation about Mueller's report

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Twitter accounts of major national newspapers, cable, and broadcast news outlets spread -- without any context -- President Donald Trump's misinformation, outrageous characterizations of, and responses to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his Russia investigation.

    Over the course of more than six days since news broke on March 22 that Mueller had delivered his report to Attorney General William Barr, the Twitter accounts of major national print, digital, wire, cable, and broadcast news outlets sent at least 45 tweets which parroted misinformation from Trump, his administration, or his campaign. Many of these tweets included quotes from the president which contained false information about the Mueller report and/or lacked the necessary context to fully inform any news consumers who get their news only via social media posts. And then there were other tweets that didn't contain misinformation, but instead failed to provide context to Trump’s answer to reporters about the Mueller report. Examples of the most glaring failures of these major news organizations are embedded below:

    As Barr explained in a letter he wrote to Congress summarizing Mueller’s findings, the report “does not exonerate” the president on whether he obstructed justice. Nevertheless, Twitter accounts of The Hill, CNN, The Washington Post, Vox, ABC News, ABC’s World News Tonight, ABC’s This Week, ABC Politics, NBC Politics, and Politico all repeated Trump’s false claim that the Mueller report is a “complete and total exoneration” of him.

    Barr’s letter also explained that Mueller’s report left “unresolved whether the president's actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction.” Yet The Hill sent the same tweet three times uncritically repeating Trump’s claim that the Mueller report showed “no obstruction.”

    Many news outlets embedded a brief snippet of Trump responding affirmatively to a question about whether Mueller “acted honorably,” but failed to give basic context that Trump spent the last year savaging Mueller’s reputation by criticizing him, his actions, and his team. NBC Nightly News, NBC News, ABC’s World News Tonight, ABC News, ABC Politics, ABC’s This Week, MSNBC, NBC Politics, and NPR Politics all did this. The Hill tweeted Trump’s comment five times.

    Multiple news organizations also tweeted out Trump’s outrageous characterizations of Mueller’s investigation without any pushback. CBS News, The New York Times, and The Hill repeated Trump’s statement that the Mueller investigation was “an illegal takedown that failed.” CNN (twice), CNN's New Day, CNN Politics and MSNBC’s 11th Hour all repeated Trump’s quote that the Mueller investigation was an “attempted takeover of our government.”

    Parroting Trump’s misinformation is an ongoing problem with major news outlets; in the 24 hours after Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address, 13 major news organizations wrote 49 tweets which promoted false or misleading comments from the president. It’s not enough for news organizations to fact-check and explain Trump’s comments in their articles. In this era of unprecedented lies from the president about virtually everything, news organizations must rethink how they draft their headlines and social media posts to make sure they include factual information in them.

    It is possible to report on Trump’s misinformation and also provide context in the limited space of headlines and tweets. Here are some examples of tweets in which outlets did just that, thus providing accurate information to their audiences:

  • Politico hit on Elizabeth Warren attempts to turn campaign donations from employees of tech companies into a scandal

    Politico's headline misleadingly implies donations came from tech companies, while the article suggests Warren is a hypocrite for criticizing Amazon, Google, and Facebook while accepting donations from their employees

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    A March 12 Politico article bizarrely attempted to scandalize 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) accepting individual campaign contributions from employees of Amazon, Google, and Facebook, suggesting was hypocritical for her to accept the donations while criticizing tech companies. 

    The article, headlined “Warren took tech's money while ripping its biggest players,” clearly points out that the $90,000 in donations came “from employees of Amazon, Google and Facebook” over the course of seven years, but the headline’s sloppy and simple reference to “tech’s money” leaves the impression that the donations come from the corporations themselves -- not individuals they happen to employ. The article's lede: "While Sen. Elizabeth Warren was railing against big tech companies, she was taking their money — plenty of it." Politico went on to criticize Warren for running ads on Facebook and selling books on Amazon, saying, "At the same time, Warren hasn’t weaned herself off of tech employee money — or their services." The article failed to actually explain its argument for why it would be an issue that, "While the donations flowed to Warren’s committee, she was accusing Google, Amazon as well as Apple of using their powerful platforms to 'lock out smaller guys and newer guys,'" beyond a vague and unarticulated intimation of hypocrisy.

    This careless framing by Politico closely resembles the bad-faith accusations of hypocrisy that crop up in right-wing media. Saying that Warren takes “tech’s money while ripping its biggest players” only sounds hypocritical with the omission of critical context -- it’s not really “tech’s money,” it’s tech employees’ money.

    While the article fails to really make its case, it's the headline that is most at issue. As Media Matters’ Parker Molloy has explained, headlines are arguably the most important part of any news article because most people only read the headlines. A 2016 study estimated that 59 percent of the time someone retweets an article, they actually never clicked on it first. Molloy spoke to Upworthy co-founder Eli Pariser, who said that “the headline [of an online news article] lives separately from the content and needs to be evaluated on its own” for truth and accuracy. Politico’s Elizabeth Warren article failed that test.

  • 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.