Charlie Kirk | Media Matters for America

Charlie Kirk

Tags ››› Charlie Kirk
  • A short history of Turning Point USA's racism

    These incidents of racism just keep happening

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Turning Point USA is often associated with the time its members wore diapers in an attempt at “triggering” liberals, but this should not be the only public failure the group is remembered for. The conservative organization, which focuses on increasing right-wing political influence on college campuses, has a long history of involvement in racist incidents that are now permanently linked to its name.

    TPUSA’s founder and executive director, Charlie Kirk, has repeatedly denied that his organization is racist, yet the incidents of blatant bigotry involving members of TPUSA keep happening, even as leaks show white nationalists plotting to infiltrate it. Kirk, the right-wing “boy wonder” who has used Fox News to turn fearmongering about left-wing ideology on college campuses into a profitable grift, has also successfully leveraged his “perfectly incoherent” sycophancy for the Trump administration into a cozy relationship with the president’s family -- a relationship seemingly unaffected by TPUSA’s pattern of racism.

    Here are incidents of racism involving TPUSA:

    • Former TPUSA National Field Director Crystal Clanton sent text messages to another TPUSA employee that said “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE. Like fuck them all . . . I hate blacks. End of story.” Kirk had previously said about Clanton: “Turning Point needs more Crystals; so does America.”

    • After firing Clanton when her racist text message became public, Kirk hired Shialee Grooman and Troy Meeker. HuffPost reported that Grooman had written several anti-gay and racist tweets that included the n-word and Meeker had also tweeted an anti-Black slur. HuffPost also reported that former TPUSA Midwest regional manager Timon Prax was pushed out because of his record of using “bigoted language in tweets and texts,” including racist jokes and messages that “made fun of black people and referred to them as slaves.”

    • A former TPUSA field director recalled watching speakers at one of the organization’s annual student summits who “spoke badly about black women having all these babies out of wedlock. It was really offensive.” Speaking to The New Yorker in 2017, the former employee said that “looking back, I think it was racist.”

    • TPUSA defended Florida Atlantic University professor and TPUSA chapter faculty adviser Marshall DeRosa after The Nation reported his ties to white nationalist group League of the South.

    • In her resignation letter addressed to TPUSA field director Frankie O’Laughlin and regional manager Alana Mastrangelo following the group’s disastrous diaper protest, far-right Infowars personality Kaitlin Bennett pointed out that O’Laughlin had “liked” tweets from white supremacist YouTuber James Allsup.

    • Kirk’s own Twitter feed has featured anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim tweets, and he once tweeted a flawed statistic that minimized police brutality against Black people: “Fact: A police officer is 18.5 times more likely to be killed by a black male, than an unarmed black man is to be killed by a police officer.”

    • At a December 2017 TPUSA conference, attendee Juan Pablo Andrade was recorded telling several other conference attendees, “The only thing the Nazis didn’t get right is they didn’t keep fucking going!”

    • Members of the TPUSA chapter at Florida International University shared “racist memes and rape jokes” in the group’s chat messages. According to the Miami New Times, a prominent chapter member had to tell other TPUSA members to “avoid using the n word and don't reference Richard Spencer too much and don't Jew hate ... all the time.”

    • TPUSA Director of Urban Engagement Brandon Tatum told anti-Semitic YouTuber Bryan “Hotep Jesus” Sharpe that Sharpe was banned from TPUSA events because of “the optics of the anti-Semitic rhetoric.” Tatum summarized TPUSA’s position as being “between a rock and a hard place” because while “personally, none of us have a problem with you -- we want you here. It’s the optics. The media.”

    • TPUSA originally listed Gab, a white supremacist-friendly social media platform, as a sponsor for its 2018 Student Action Summit but “quietly dropped the company” shortly before the event.

    • TPUSA’s Iowa State University chapter reportedly invited white nationalist YouTuber Nick Fuentes to speak on campus.

    • Speaking at the December 11 launch of Turning Point UK, then-TPUSA Communications Director Candace Owens said, "If Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, OK, fine. ... I have no problems with nationalism."

    • TPUSA Chief Creative Officer Benny Johnson kicked off a TPUSA event by saying, “Oh my God, I've never seen so many white people in one room. This is incredible!”

    • Riley Grisar, president of TPUSA’s University of Nevada chapter, praised white supremacy, saying, “We’re going to rule the country! White power!” and using the n-word in a video uncovered by the anti-fascist website It’s Going Down News.

    As more incidents of racism linked to TPUSA come to light, Media Matters will update this piece.

    Alex Kaplan contributed research for this list.

  • With the Mueller investigation over, conservative media declare it’s time to investigate the investigators

    Right-wing media, predominantly Fox News figures, use the end of the Mueller investigation to call yet again for investigations into Hillary Clinton, President Obama, the FBI, and more

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On Thursday, April 18, the Department of Justice released a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian election interference. Since then, several right-wing media figures, including hosts, anchors, and guests of President Donald Trump’s favorite TV channels Fox News and Fox Business, have declared that now is the time to investigate the investigators. (Republican National Committee spokesperson Elizabeth Harrington has also joined the chorus.)

    • New York Post’s Michael Goodwin: “The whole thing about the Russian dossier, the use of it by the FBI, [former FBI Director] James Comey, [former Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper, [former CIA Director John] Brennan, [former national security adviser] Susan Rice, on and on. All of their actions are subject, we hope, to a true investigation.”

    • The Wall Street Journal’s James Freeman: “How did this begin? How did this use of surveillance tools against the party out of power get started? And that's really what we haven't learned. ... Now I think we'll learn more about how the government came to spy on a political opposition.”

    • Fox Business host Stuart Varney: “I would simply like to know what did President Obama know about an ongoing spying operation into a competitor's political presidential campaign? … Will we find out what Hillary was doing?”

    • Fox contributor John Sununu: “When Lindsey Graham starts his investigation on the Clinton side of the issue, [Democrats] will have a difficult time with dealing that. And the more and more they get into the weeds, the more and more the American public is going to understand how political they are rather than trying to get legislation passed.”

    • Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk on The Story: “I actually believe you cannot allow the people from the internal, high levels of the FBI to get away with what they did here. ... There’s a lot of information, a lot of questions that still needs to be answered because this should never be allowed to happen to any other president again.”

    • Fox News chief political anchor Bret Baier: Baier falsely gave credence to the idea that investigators need to be investigated, saying, “We don't yet know about the origins of the investigation, the [inspector general] may shed some light on this, as other investigations in the early stages.”

    • Fox contributor Katherine Timpf on Outnumbered: “We already have evidence that there were some people who were involved in this investigation who were politically motivated. They wanted to get the president. That's not something we wondering about, it's something we know. So knowing that, why wouldn’t you want to know more?”

    • Outnumbered co-host Lisa Boothe: “I would love to know at what point Mueller knew there was no collusion and why the investigation went past that point. I question the origins of the investigation to begin with. ... I question all of it, and I sincerely think we need to get to the bottom of it.”

    • Fox Business’ David Asman on Fox's Outnumbered: “It’s probably one reason why they are attacking [Attorney General William] Barr now is because they are afraid of what he might dig up as a result of investigating all this.”

    • Fox Business host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery: “If there is a possibility that the deep state exists and it is so politicized, and at the president's disposal, shouldn't all of the people running for president as Democrats want an investigation to make sure what happened in 2016 doesn't happen in 2020?”

    • Breitbart’s Alana Mastrangelo responded to a Trump tweet about the Mueller report with “Now let’s investigate the investigators.”

    • Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce on Varney & Co.: “We aren't fatigued with justice. We want it, and I think that especially in this case we know this investigation was based on something that didn't occur.”

    • Fox News host Laura Ingraham: “Will we ever see these underlying documents? We've got transparency from the Trump team, … and we still don't really know, do we, what happened with Comey and the edits and why he came out into a press conference?”

    • Ingraham: “Every effort should be made to investigate the origins and motivations of this Mueller investigation.”

    • Fox News contributor Trey Gowdy on Fox's The Story: “I would think everybody would want to know was there sufficient factual predicate for the launching -- the initiating of this investigation? … What you will see is Republicans going to investigate the origins.”

    • Fox Business host Lou Dobbs: “Everyone involved, the Dems who funded it, the Christopher Steeles and the law firms, that aided and abetted in this farcical attempt to overthrow a president … should be in orange jumpsuits.”

    • Dobbs: Barr is “the first attorney general I've seen in decades who, I believe, has the capacity and the talent and the integrity to … clean up this mess that is the leadership of the FBI and the Department of Justice.”

    • Lou Dobbs Tonight guest Harmeet Dhillon: “We are going to see more leadership changes [at DOJ] I hope, and that Bill Barr is able to be given all the rope and the ammunition that he needs to go forward.”

    • Fox regular Joe diGenova: “It is now abundantly clear that in order to restore the integrity of DOJ and FBI, there has to be a full-scale federal grand jury of the Obama DOJ and FBI, CIA, and director of national intelligence."

    • The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway on Fox's Special Report: “The country was basically held hostage by a collusion theory -- a theory that the president of the United States was a foreign agent. … It was a very negative thing. There needs to be accountability; we are being given indications that there will be accountability for this.”

    • Hemingway on Fox & Friends: “We should continue to investigate, but what we should investigate is how [the media and Democrats] were able to get away with saying [that there was collusion] for so many years without evidence, and how it was that our own law enforcement and intelligence agencies were taken over by this.”

    • Fox host Jesse Watters: “They used false information to spy on the Trump campaign, so that needs to be investigated. … Why aren't reporters at Chappaqua [NY] right now, waiting for Hillary?”

    • Fox Nation personalities Diamond & Silk: “The government officials that participated, that masterminded, that orchestrated all of this here collusion mess -- they need to be brought to justice. It’s time to investigate the investigators.”

    • Fox guest Francey Hakes: “How did this entire investigation get started, and did the US government actually run an asset at George Papadopoulos to plant information that was then later used as the basis of the entire investigation? … Public corruption must be examined.”

    • A Hannity panel comprising Fox’s Gregg Jarrett, right-wing journalist Sara Carter, and former independent counsel Ken Starr agreed that the investigators need to be investigated. Jarrett: “If I were James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Brennan Clapper, I wouldn't be sleeping very well tonight or many nights to come.”

    • Fox host Sean Hannity: “If any of this started before July 31, the alleged beginning of the FBI's collusion investigation, we need to know when it started. And finally, we need to know this big question: What did he know? What did President Obama know? And when did he know it?”

    • Hannity on his radio show: “Is Robert Mueller going to be reappointed and maybe he’ll hire only Republican donors? … Maybe they'll hire Sean Hannity. ... This is now the beginning of the real investigation into the investigators.”

    • Trump attorney Jay Sekulow on Hannity: “For the country’s sake, we don’t let this happen again -- ever again. When a situation like this -- that’s why you got to find out how you started. I think the attorney general is going to do the right thing.”

  • CPAC 2019 showcased dangerous and extreme anti-abortion rhetoric ahead of the 2020 elections

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    At the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Republicans and right-wing media figures abandoned any pretense of reality in their description of abortion procedures and instead fabricated increasingly unrealistic and sensationalized scenarios to fearmonger about so-called Democratic “murderers.”

    Though inaccurate anti-choice rhetoric is a staple of conservative commentary, right-wing media have spent the last few weeks in a frenzy -- first claiming that Democrats allegedly want to legalize abortions “up to birth,” and then moving on to the even more sensational claim that Democrats support “murder” during and even after birth. When Republicans and right-wing media figures hit the CPAC stage last week, some on Twitter expressed disbelief that the speakers promoted such obviously inaccurate language. However, the rhetoric on display at CPAC was merely the latest example of conservative and right-wing media figures deploying sensationalized language to fearmonger about abortion.

    Conservative outlets, and Fox News in particular, have been promoting inaccurate and extreme language about abortion for weeks, and President Donald Trump adopted those talking points in his 2019 State of the Union address. Trump and other Republicans are reportedly banking on using anti-abortion extremism to rally voters during the 2020 election -- a strategy that was seemingly tested on the CPAC stage.

    Here’s what Republicans and right-wing media are willfully ignoring about abortions -- particularly those performed later in pregnancy

    Right-wing media’s recent outrage centers on efforts by Democratic lawmakers in several states to ensure access to abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned or to remove unnecessary restrictions on abortion. Republicans seized on these measures to promote myths about abortions that happen later in pregnancy and to advance the inaccurate talking point that there are excessive numbers of so-called “born alive” abortions.

    In an attempt to address the nonexistent instances of abortions “after birth,” Republicans introduced and attempted to force a vote on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act -- a bill anti-choice politicians touted as aiding so-called “abortion survivors” who are “born alive” following an attempted abortion procedure. The bill ultimately failed to advance in the Senate, but it is part of a Republican strategy of “bringing back the issue of very late abortions, perhaps in the hope of energizing their base in advance of 2020” with the goal of getting “Democrats on record opposing it.” By forcing a vote on the legislation, Republicans and right-wing media can then spin opposing votes as evidence of Democrats’ supposed “extremism” on abortion rights.

    Similarly, right-wing media’s depictions of abortions happening up to the “moment of birth” do not conform to any medical procedure happening in the U.S. Abortions later in pregnancy are performed for complicated personal and medical reasons, and the people who anti-choice advocates compare to murderers often have to make the difficult decision to end a wanted pregnancy because of a nonviable fetus or due to their own great medical risk. In other instances, people need abortions later in pregnancy due to anti-choice restrictions on earlier access. In either case, if anti-abortion media really wanted to understand the people who have had abortions later in pregnancy, these outlets and commentators could read actual accounts rather than demonizing those individuals and feeding a manufactured right-wing media outrage cycle.

    The idea of abortions after birth or “born alive” abortions is also not based in any medical standard of care or practice, as Rewire.News reported in 2013. As doctors Daniel Grossman and Jennifer Conti pointed out to The New York Times, it is more likely that the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act would force doctors to pursue treatment options that run counter to patients’ wishes -- such as ensuring that a fetus delivered “at the edge of viability” but unlikely to survive could not receive “comfort care” which would “allow the child to die naturally without extreme attempts at resuscitation.” In addition, as writer Robin Marty explained, the bill could be used opportunistically by anti-choice opponents to prosecute abortion providers.

    Here’s what Republicans and right-wing media figures said at CPAC about abortion

    • Trump: Democrats are embracing “extreme late-term abortion. ... In Virginia, the governor, a Democrat, stated that he would allow babies to be born -- to be born outside, he would wrap them, he would take care of them, then he’ll talk to the mother and the father as to what to be done. And if they didn't want the child, who was now outside of the womb -- long outside of the womb, they will execute the baby after birth. They will execute the baby after birth, and that's one that many people have neber even heard of or thought about. This is a radical agenda by the Democrats.” [YouTube, 3/2/19]

    • Vice President Mike Pence: "With Democrats standing for late-term abortion, infanticide, and a culture of death, I promise you: This president, this party, and this movement will always stand for the unborn. We will always defend the unalienable right to life." [Twitter, 3/1/19]
    • Donald Trump Jr.: “The post-term abortion issue ... anywhere else in the world, at any other point in time" would be “called murder. … This isn't woman's health care. If the baby is born, and it's alive, the woman is no longer at risk.” [Twitter, 3/1/19]
    • Fox News host Laura Ingraham: “Abortions -- about a million a year -- through most of a pregnancy. That’s not enough. Abortion of babies in the womb -- not enough. Now we got to wait to terminate life after birth.” [YouTube, 2/28/19]

    • Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker: “By the way, it's not live-birth abortion. It's not infanticide. It is murder if you take the baby home and kill the baby at home, it's murder. The same thing is true at the hospital.” [Twitter, 2/28/19]

    • Turning Point USA’s Candace Owens: “We have a sick and twisted [New York Democratic] Gov. Andrew Cuomo celebrating that you can rip fetuses -- you can rip infants and babies from their mother's wombs at nine months -- nine months. That's absolutely sickening what we're talking about here. And who is that going to impact the most? In New York City, for those of you who don’t know, more Black babies are aborted than born live.” [Periscope, 3/1/19]
    • Concerned Women for America CEO and President Penny Young Nance: "Sometimes the abortionist doesn't get the job done in the womb and a baby is able to survive and when she is born does she deserve life-saving treatment? We say absolutely yes! 44, 'The Dirty 44' said no." Nance’s invocation of the so-called “Dirty 44” was a reference to the 44 senators who voted against advancing the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. [CBN News, 2/28/19]
    • Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson: For abortions later in pregnancy, “some people feel that it’s OK to murder that baby. And the level of barbarism that that requires -- I quite frankly don’t know how people can do it, quite frankly. … How many of those mothers end up psychologically damaged? They talk about they’re doing this for the health of the mother -- what about the mother’s mental health that she has to endure for the rest of her life?” [YouTube, 2/28/19]

    • Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, claimed Democrats want to “extend abortion to the point when a baby -- when a mother is even in labor. In fact, extend that so-called ‘right’ to the baby’s birthday.” She also inaccurately alleged that Democrats’ mantra on abortion is “if you signed up for a dead baby, you’re going to get one, no matter what.” [Twitter, 2/28/19]

    • Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel: “It's not a late-term abortion; it's murder. … We need to speak about it in those terms.” [C-SPAN, 2/28/19]
    • Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, borrowed a talking point from colleague Sean Hannity: “These heathens are so inhumane and uncivilized that they proudly announce … that they allow the baby a ‘comfort zone’ while the mother is deciding whether the baby should live or die with an up or down like the emperor in the Roman Colosseum. … They call it reproductive health; I call it murder.” [YouTube, 3/2/19]

    • Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk: “We are not going in the same direction as the Democrat Party. I don’t want to live in a country where it’s OK to execute a newborn child.” [YouTube, 2/28/19]

    There are consequences for this kind of extreme, inaccurate, and vitriolic anti-abortion rhetoric

    Anti-abortion violence and harassment are real and ongoing threats in the United States. Eleven people have died as a result of anti-abortion violence since 1993. Numerous others have been injured, and still more have found themselves and even their families targeted with personalized harassment from abortion opponents -- a trend that has intensified in recent years. According to a report by the National Abortion Federation, rates of anti-abortion clinic protests in 2017 were already at the highest levels seen since the organization began tracking such incidents in 1977, and 2017 included “the first attempted bombing in many years.” In 2018, there were additional incidents of violence or threats against clinics reported in New Jersey, Utah, Texas, Pennsylvania, California, Washington, Massachusetts, and elsewhere.

    This isn’t the first time that right-wing media outlets have helped fan the flames of resentment against abortion providers, patients, and clinics with extremist language. Before an anti-abortion extremist murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in 2009, former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly had openly bullied Tiller on his program numerous times. According to Rolling Stone, “O’Reilly had waged an unflagging war against Tiller that did just about everything short of urging his followers to murder him.” O’Reilly repeatedly called the doctor “Tiller the baby killer” and said there was a “special place in hell for this guy.”

    In 2015, an anti-abortion extremist who killed three and injured nine at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, CO, reportedly offered the phrase “no more baby parts” as an explanation for his actions. His comment seemingly referred to an oft-repeated right-wing media talking point based on deceptive videos from the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. The New Republic reported on the admitted shooter’s penchant for right-wing media such as Fox News and Infowars, saying it shaped his paranoid and conspiratorial views about abortion and Planned Parenthood.

    In 2019, right-wing media’s extreme rhetoric on state measures protecting abortion rights has already sparked to harassment. After a video went viral of Del. Kathy Tran (D) speaking about an abortion measure she sponsored in Virginia, Tran told The Washington Post that “she and her family have received death threats through telephone messages, email and social media, leading to extra police protection for her and her family.” Tran also had to postpone a town hall meeting on February 2 because of “security and safety concerns” in the wake of the outrage ginned up by misrepresentation of her bill. ThinkProgress posted audio of a threatening message about the bill sent to the Democratic Party of Virginia and another clip of a racist tirade against Tran, telling her to “go back to Vietnam.” The state party’s communications director told ThinkProgress that “the party has also had to take additional security precautions” as a result of receiving such threats to its members.

    In February, The Virginian-Pilot reported that a man in Virginia was “charged with threatening to assault a U.S. official” because he allegedly threatened “to punch and shoot U.S. Sen. Mark Warner because of his stances on issues like abortion.” On March 4, another man was charged with arson for trying to burn down an empty Planned Parenthood clinic in Missouri in February. The FBI previously said it is investigating the latter incident as a possible hate crime, but it’s currently unclear whether these two events are linked to the recent extreme anti-abortion rhetoric from right-wing media figures.

    Inaccurate rhetoric about abortion from Republicans and right-wing media is dangerous and could lead to additional harassment and violence. Unfortunately, CPAC shows us it’s not likely to end anytime soon.

    Chenay Arberry contributed research to this article.

  • How right-wing media tried to spin Michael Cohen’s testimony 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On February 27, longtime Trump lawyer and confidant Michael Cohen delivered damning testimony about President Donald Trump to the House oversight committee. Cohen alleged that Trump was aware of WikiLeaks’ plan to release hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee, that Trump lied during the campaign about his plans to build a Trump tower in Moscow, and that Trump directed Cohen to repeatedly pay off women to keep quiet about their sexual relationships with him. Cohen also called the president a “racist” and a “con man.” Despite the serious criminal allegations, right-wing media were quick to dismiss and reject Cohen’s testimony.

    Here are the ways they tried to spin the hearing:

    Cohen’s testimony wasn’t newsworthy

    Right-wing media figures argued that Cohen’s allegations weren’t newsworthy and aren’t worth discussing.

    • Fox’s Sean Hannity asserted that the hearing was “a Democratic party [and] a hyperventilating, hysterical media putting politics over country with a political charade designed to just embarrass and trash the president.”

    • Fox contributor Dan Bongino claimed that Cohen’s presentation of the reimbursement check he says he received from Trump for paying off adult film actor Stormy Daniels is irrelevant. “I don’t think it’s damaging at all,” he said. “This has all been baked into the cake. There’s no news here.”

    • After the Cohen testimony was over, Fox’s Greg Gutfeld asked, “Why did we endure this spectacle?” He claimed, “People here are acting like this is news. We need to believe that it's news because we are forced to cover this. I don't feel like this is news. I can't find the news.”

    • Right-wing radio host Mark Levin said on Twitter, “The Democrats are a farce. Their media handlers are as well. What was the legislative purpose of the Cohen hearing? There was none.”

    Cohen's testimony was a distraction, especially from Trump's North Korea summit

    Others in right-wing media branded the hearing a distraction, especially from Trump’s summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Some figures also argued that the Democrats shouldn’t have held the Cohen hearing while Trump was in negotiations with Kim.

    • Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk: “Democrats holding a hearing with convicted liar Michael Cohen while [Trump] is in Vietnam negotiating peace with North Korea tells you everything you need to know about the left. They would rather see America fail than see Donald Trump succeed.”

    • The Federalist’s Ben Domenech: “The Cohen circus is a perfect encapsulation of the 2016 Forever era: A bunch of salacious noise from which we learn very little, even as much greater concern should be focused on *what's actually happening* as a matter of policy.”

    • National Rifle Association spokesperson and radio host Dana Loesch said that Trump is de-escalating hostility with North Korea, “India and Pakistan are on the brink of war, but this Cohen guy tho that already undermined himself.”

    • Fox’s Ainsley Earhardt complained, “You’ve got this major news story that’s happening on the other side of the world, and then in D.C., they’re trying to put this guy who already lied to that very committee, ... and they’re putting him on the stand the very day that our president’s talking to Kim Jong Un.”

    • Fox’s Jason Chaffetz said, “This Cohen situation is such a distraction from what is going on that is actually going to matter in the world.”

    • Fox’s Andrew Napolitano argued, “The Democrats should be ashamed of themselves for doing this today. Politics is supposed to stop at the water's edge and whatever they have on the president, they ought to cut him a break and let him freely and without worrying about what’s going on in Washington, D.C., be in a position to negotiate with Kim Jong Un.”

    • Fox’s Geraldo Rivera: “I think it was pathetic, the timing. … They easily could have postponed it 48 hours, 72 hours to let the world focus on this profoundly significant event.”

    • Fox’s Sean Hannity complained that at the “very same moment” of a “historic summit with the president of the United States,” Democrats “purposely scheduled and hauled in Michael Cohen … just to embarrass the president.”

    • The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro questioned why Cohen was even testifying if he couldn’t provide “direct evidence” that Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia. He concluded, “Democrats want headlines so they can distract from their own incompetence and garbage legislation, and Cohen shifts the headlines.”

    • Fox’s Tucker Carlson claimed Cohen’s testimony “doesn't have anything to do with anything and that is the exactly the point of it,” and said, “This is a distraction, and we are falling for it.”

    Cohen’s allegations don’t hurt the president

    Some right-wing media figures claimed that Cohen’s testimony -- which included allegations that the president committed multiple felonies -- doesn’t hurt Trump, especially not legally.

    • Right-wing radio host Mark Simone claimed, “Michael Cohen’s testimony will be the 2019 version of the Michael Wolf gossip book. They’ll call it a ‘bombshell’ and two weeks later it’ll be forgotten about.”

    • Prior to Cohen’s testimony but after his opening statement was published by The New York Times, Fox’s Geraldo Rivera argued that the statement suggested that the “Cohen testimony will be dramatic, entertaining, embarrassing, nothing new & will not advance Collusion narrative.”

    • The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro said on Twitter: “Cohen's testimony falls into three buckets for Trump: (1) illegality; (2) embarrassing for Trump; (3) stupid hilarity. There's not much in bucket (1), there's a lot in bucket (2), and there's a fair amount in bucket (3).”

    • Shapiro also wrote: “So is Cohen's testimony damaging to Trump? In terms of public relations, sure. In terms of impeachment, meh. In terms of legal liability, not really.”

    • Fox’s Dan Bongino insisted that, even if it is true, “there's no there there" on Michael Cohen's claim Trump knew about WikiLeaks' plan to publish hacked DNC emails, saying, “None of this is great politically. The question is, is it criminally damaging? And the answer is no.”

    The testimony actually helps Trump’s legal case

    Other right-wing media figures suggested that far from hurting the president, Cohen’s testimony to Congress actually helps him.

    • The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh: “Remarkably Cohen's testimony exonerates Trump. He says Trump never directly told him to lie, he has no evidence of collusion, and Trump only worked on the Moscow project because he thought he wouldn't win, which means he wasn't trying to leverage the presidency for financial gain.”

    • Breitbart’s Joel Pollak: “Michael Cohen’s not saying anything new legally. His testimony exonerates Trump from telling him to lie to Congress. There’s nothing new about collusion. And his recollection of things Trump said is unclear by his own admission.”

    • Frequent Fox guest John Solomon claimed the hearing was “a good day for the president,” and “a good day for his legal defense.”

    Former Clinton lawyer Lanny Davis orchestrated the hearing

    Some right-wing media figures unsurprisingly tried to tie the Cohen’s testimony to the Clintons by noting that his lawyer has previously worked with them.

    • Fox’s Katie Pavlich: “Everything you need to know about Cohen’s testimony is sitting behind him: Lanny Davis. This is about revenge for Clinton’s 2016 loss in 2020.”

    • Breitbart’s Joel Pollak said that Cohen’s testimony was partly “Lanny Davis talking thru Cohen’s mouth.”

    • Fox’s Lisa Boothe: “How is this not ridiculously sketchy to everyone? Lanny Davis, a Clinton loyalist, is working for Michael Cohen for free. I wonder what is in it for Davis.”

    • Boothe: “Doesn’t Lanny Davis representing Michael Cohen and sitting behind him today tell you everything you need to know? Democrats still can’t get over the fact that Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump in 2016.”

    • Fox’s Sean Hannity said that the hearing was “highly orchestrated by, yes, the biggest Clinton supporter on the entire Earth, Lanny Davis, who is apparently representing Michael Cohen for free.”

  • In their ongoing effort to smear the Green New Deal, right-wing media misrepresent Sen. Mazie Hirono’s joke about air travel to Hawaii

    Hirono said that it’d be “pretty hard for Hawaii” to abandon air travel. Luckily, no one is asking the state to.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Political news media is a lot like the game “telephone” in which people stand in a circle, whispering a word or phrase to the next person in line. One person mishearing something will throw the rest of the circle off course, and by the end, the message might seem totally foreign to the person who originated it.

    After making a joke about how far Hawaii is from the U.S. mainland, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) finds herself trapped in this very same game. Except in her version, the other players are right-wing media figures, who are using her quip -- which came in response to a question about the Green New Deal -- as a serious condemnation of the proposal, which, in fact, she supports.

    On February 7, Fox News congressional reporter Chad Pergram asked Hirono for her thoughts on the Green New Deal, an ambitious plan to reshape the U.S. economy, infrastructure, and health care sector, all as part of a larger effort to address climate change. Specifically, Pergram wanted to know what Hirono thought of claims that the plan would try to eliminate air travel.

    Hirono jokingly responded, “That would be pretty hard for Hawaii.”

    Pergram’s tweet could be easily misinterpreted as sharing a serious and overarching response from Hirono, but the video of the exchange makes it clear that she was joking -- and that she actually supports the Green New Deal. It’s also worth noting that nothing about planes is actually mentioned in the text of the nonbinding resolution proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA). That language came from an FAQ document, which was “clearly unfinished,” according to Ocasio-Cortez chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti. Chakrabarti said it was erroneously posted to the congresswoman’s website.

    All of that aside, it is very clear that Hirono was joking. After all, she’s one of 11 original co-sponsors of the resolution in the Senate, so her support for it isn’t actually in question. In fact, the day after her comment to Pergram, Hirono’s office posted a press release detailing her support for the initiative:

    “From committing to 100 percent renewable energy, to embracing a carbon neutral economy, Hawaii has taken aggressive action to combat climate change because of the threat it poses to our way of life,” said Senator Hirono. Confronting the challenge of climate change requires a comprehensive approach to transforming our country in a way that prioritizes environmental health and wellness, while also expanding opportunity and creating good-paying jobs as we transition to a low carbon economy. I welcome this bold national framework that tracks so closely to what Hawaii is already doing and what many of us have long advocated to enable communities, families, and individuals to thrive.”

    Just as in the game of telephone, it doesn’t actually matter what Hirono said to begin the conversation, because it got distorted somewhere in the middle.

    Conservative media have been leading the fight against the Green New Deal, and as usual, their primary weapons are fear and ridicule. Some right-wing personalities would have you believe that the Green New Deal would abolish everything from steaks to ice cream sundaes. It wouldn't. There are certainly substantive critiques that could be levied against the resolution, but many right-wing commentators keep making weak arguments that rely on misrepresenting Hirono’s out-of-context quote.

    “Even the senator from Hawaii, who is quite left, laughed at the idea of the Green New Deal and the stance on air travel,” said Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk during the February 13 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends.

    “On a serious note, getting rid of planes? Even the senator from Hawaii was questioning this," Fox News contributor Lawrence Jones said later on the same show.

    On Twitter, The Daily Wire made fun of  the idea of a “water train,” though, again, this isn’t something anyone has actually suggested.

    “If you can’t sell Mazie Hirono..,” Fox News host Rob Schmitt wrote as he retweeted Pergram’s tweet about Hirono’s comment. National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar also retweeted Pergram’s tweet with similar commentary: “When you’ve lost Mazie Hirono…”  

    “Now a senator from Hawaii notes it's not gonna work,” tweeted Townhall.com, sharing an article titled “Another Democrat Just Made Fun of Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal.”

    Most people misrepresenting Hirono’s joke almost certainly know better. So why do they do it? Because it’s effective.

    This isn’t some new phenomenon in American politics. Opponents of any given proposal will seek out something that confirms their suspicions, especially if it’s something that comes from “the other side,” and then use it as ammunition. The idea is to get the proposal labeled as too extreme for even people you’d ordinarily expect to support it. In this case, it’s Hirono on the Green New Deal. Going back nearly a decade, it’s the approach used to strip House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) infamous “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it” line about health care from its fuller context about the effects disinformation campaigns had on the public. To this day, people regularly tweet some variation of that quote.

    Disinformation is effective. Years from now, there will almost certainly be people musing about Hirono’s joke as a serious condemnation of the resolution. With a complicated undertaking like the Green New Deal, it’s a near certainty that this is just the first in what will be a long line of cherry-picked quotes and misrepresentation from right-wing media.

  • Right-wing media used state abortion measures to villainize people who have abortions

    Blog ››› ››› MADELYN WEBB


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After several states promoted measures protecting abortion access, right-wing media not only spread an immense amount of misinformation about the efforts, but also lashed out at people who have had abortions, stigmatizing and denigrating them for making a personal health care decision. In particular, these outlets and media figures targeted people who have had abortions later in pregnancy -- by suggesting that they are heartless murderers, misrepresenting them as callous and irresponsible, and even calling them “satanic.”

    The bills that instigated this outrage are far from radical: Democratic lawmakers in New York and Virginia were attempting to protect abortion access at the state level, not to legalize “infanticide” -- as some right-wing media alleged. Right-wing media seized on clips of Democratic Virginia lawmakers Rep. Kathy Tran and Gov. Ralph Northan alledgedly describing later abortion procedures, spurring the spread of further hyperbole and misinformation about proactive state abortion protection bills. In reality, these measures would legalize abortions later in pregnancy “when the fetus is not viable or a woman’s health is at risk,” a far cry from right-wing media’s allegations that such procedures (and the people who have or provide them) are “demonic.”

    Here are just some of the examples of right-wing media misrepresenting people who have received abortions, a legal and sometimes necessary medical procedure:

    • Fox News contributors and right-wing internet personalities Diamond and Silk (Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson) tweeted that Democrats were trying to allow “abortions up to the birth” of a baby (they aren’t) and that this was “murder”: 

    • During the January 31 edition of his radio program, Fox News’ Sean Hannity claimed that people should take advantage of “birth control options” to avoid getting pregnant. He concluded that because of these options, someone who needs an abortion later in pregnancy is irresponsible because they either should have prevented the pregnancy or gotten an abortion “in the first three months.”
    • On Jeanine Pirro’s Fox News program, Justice with Judge Jeanine, political columnist Amy Holmes said, “There are women who kill their kids for selfish reasons."
    • In a series of tweets, Washington Examiner contributor Kimberly Ross attacked people who support access to abortions as "morally weak,” and accused patients who have received them of being “predatory” and of “stand[ing] on the backs of the unborn dead”:

    • During the January 31 edition of Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee alleged that people who have abortions later in pregnancy are doing so because they think having a child is “going to be an inconvenience.”
    • The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro also pushed the narrative that people who have abortions later in pregnancy are doing so callously, saying that people might argue “I’d be healthier if I didn’t have this 9-month-old baby right here that’s about to enter my vaginal canal. Cut its brains out,” and claiming, “That’s what this law now allows.”
    • During President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, Charlie Kirk, founder of the conservative group Turning Point USA, tweeted that later abortions are “despicable” and that anyone who supports efforts to protect or expand abortion access was endorsing “this savagery”:

    • After New York illuminated One World Trade Center with pink lights to honor the passage of abortion protections, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that New York was celebrating “legalized murder, calling it abortion."
    • During his Fox News program, Hannity, host Sean Hannity stated that because several laws that allow later abortion in order to protect the pregnant person’s health don’t further define what’s entailed in protecting health, “If someone says hours before [giving birth], ‘Oh, I'm having emotional second thoughts,’ and a doctor says, ’OK,’ then they're allowed to commit infanticide."
    • On Twitter, Turning Point USA’s Candace Owens said people celebrating state abortion protection measures -- which she said allow “slaughtering babies” -- were “satanic”:

    • During the January 31 edition of Fox News’ Fox News @ Night, actor Kevin Sorbo compared people who have abortions later in pregnancy to Nazis, saying: “You know, there's a group of people about 70 years ago that decided what lives were worth living, what lives were not, and they were called the Nazis.”
  • Turning Point USA advisory council member pushes QAnon smear

    Turning Point USA leaders keep pushing QAnon conspiracy theories

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    A member of Turning Point USA’s advisory council, Joel Fischer, pushed a baseless claim about Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) originating from believers of the QAnon conspiracy theory. The claim had been circulating among far-right accounts and figures for a week prior to Fischer pushing it out.

    The smear goes back at least to December 9, when Twitter account @BSpinctor wrote in a since-deleted tweet, “BREAKING: According to congressional sources Representative Adam Schiff used tax payer (sic) money to reach a sexual harassment settlement with a 19 year old made in 2013. As to date there are dozens of settlements being hidden from the American people….developing.”

    The account’s avatar had an image of “Q,” the central figure of the QAnon conspiracy theory. Later that afternoon, another QAnon account, @WeAreOne_Q, tweeted the same claim, adding, “Congress has a ‘hush fund’ & WE THE PEOPLE demand the users be revealed. #QAnon #WWG1WGA.” The tweet went viral, getting tens of thousands of likes and retweets.

    Over the following week, the claim continued to spread on Twitter, along with Facebook, 4chan, the subreddit "r/The_Donald," a QAnon YouTube page, and by conspiracy theorist Liz Crokin on Gab. One Twitter account pushed a video of @BSpinctor’s tweet that received thousands of retweets, including from Breitbart columnist AWR Hawkins. The @WeAreOne_Q tweet and claim was also shared by conspiracy theorist Jacob Wohl and his father.

    Fischer, a member of Turning Point USA’s advisory council, repeated the same claim in a tweet on December 17, writing: “According to congressional sources Representative you @AdamSchiff used tax payer (sic) money to reach a sexual harassment settlement with a 19 year old male in 2013. Congress has a 'hush fund' & WE THE PEOPLE demand the users be revealed. #FullOfSchiff.”

    The day before his tweet accusing Schiff of sexual harassment, Fischer also tweeted that CNN anchor Jake Tapper should question Schiff about the accusations.

    Earlier this month, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk falsely alleged in a tweet that protesters in France had chanted “We want Trump,” something President Donald Trump retweeted despite the false claim originating from a video uploaded by a QAnon-supporting Twitter account.

    Kirk also pushed a false human trafficking statistic from QAnon supporters in July.

  • Right-wing media and Trump Jr. peddle debunked, years-old story about illegal voters in Florida

    And one fact-checker explains what she did to fight back.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Is it true that “nearly 200,000 Florida voters may not be citizens?” No, but that didn’t stop some prominent conservative social media accounts -- including that of the president’s son -- from spreading a since-debunked 2012 story making that claim.

    To understand how this happened, it’s good to know a little background about Florida’s brush with “anti-fraud” initiatives in recent years.

    In May 2012, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced a partnership between the Florida Department of State and Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to remove possible noncitizens from the state’s voter rolls ahead of that year’s election. The departments would cross-check data with each other for voter inconsistencies, flag them, and send them to the state’s Supervisors of Elections for review and, if needed, removal of registrations.

    It was a massive debacle. What began as a review of roughly 2,600 possible inconsistencies at the time the partnership was announced had ballooned to nearly 182,000 names within days. That’s when NBC Miami ran with the somewhat sensational headline “Nearly 200,000 Florida Voters May Not Be Citizens.”

    But the system was embarrassingly rife with false positives, leading to a lawsuit over the disenfranchisement of U.S. citizens who were removed but actually eligible to vote. In the end, out of those 182,000 names, just 85 were found to be ineligible -- an error rate of 99.95 percent. The following year, the state enrolled in Crosscheck, the interstate anti-fraud program championed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Similar to the results of Florida’s 2012 in-state program, Kobach’s Crosscheck program also “gets it wrong over 99 percent of the time,” a Washington Post analysis concluded. In April 2014, Florida exited the Crosscheck program, only to later accidentally release the partial Social Security numbers of nearly 1,000 Kansas voters

    In all, the “nearly 200,000 Florida voters may not be citizens” story turned out to be just 85 ineligible voter registrations. But why let the truth get in the way of a good story?

    This week, as conservative media push the unfounded idea that the current election in Florida is being “stolen,” this old story that confirmed all their worst fears seemed too good to be true: And it was.

    We know by now that most people simply don’t read past the headline of stories they see in their social media feeds. And headlines suggesting that there are an equivalent number of noncitizens voting illegally in Florida as there are people living in Tallahassee are eye-catching. That would be outrageous to people on any end of the political spectrum. But even based on the facts known at the time, the story wasn’t quite accurate.

    Rounding “nearly 182,000” up to “nearly 200,000” is a needless inflation of even the most sensationalized true version of the story, and saying “voters might not be citizens” suggests that these people have actually voted -- when the numbers actually refer to voter registrations. Both points probably could have been more artfully and accurately addressed in the original headline. Also, the word “might” is doing a lot of work here.

    It’s those small embellishments that made the story perfect for the era of weaponized headlines.

    The NBC headline, as some might say, aged poorly. And here’s how it spread:

    On November 10, the link was shared in a number of pro-Trump Facebook groups. On Twitter, the story got a boost from Instapundit, a conservative account which has more than 105,000 followers:

    A bit later, David Wohl, attorney and occasional Fox News guest, shared it on Twitter to his more than 26,000 followers.

    By the next day, commentator and conspiracy theorist Pamela Geller had published a blog post, in which she put the entire text of the NBC report, swapping out the article’s actual publication date (May 11, 2012) with November 10, 2018.

    Harlan Hill, a member of the Trump 2020 campaign advisory board, tweeted, “200,000 non citizens voting in Florida!?!? But I thought Democrats said voter fraud was a myth? We have got a SERIOUS problem on our hands. #StopTheSteal #MAGA”

    Then, in a since-deleted tweet, Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk wrote, “This is an absolute disgrace to our country. Foreign interference in our elections. Every single one of these people should be arrested, deported, and never allowed reentry. RT to spread this!”

    And finally, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted the link out, adding, “Amazing, but not shocking at all anymore.”

    Townhall.com also published a story on the topic that, while updated, still maintains that “200,000 non-citizens might have voted in the state's elections” in 2012.

    While it’s hard to put the #FakeNews (like, you know, actual fake news) toothpaste back in the proverbial tube, one woman tried, and she was actually kind of successful at it.

    Brooke Binkowski is a former managing editor at Snopes, and she currently runs the fact-checking site TruthOrFiction.com. When she saw the post begin to spread, she took quick action. First, she tweeted at people who might have known the article was old and didn’t accurately represent how that story concluded but shared it anyway “for approval and to fit in,” hoping to convince them to delete their posts and stem the spread of misinformation.

    “That headline hijacks intellect and goes straight to the amygdala if you’re fearful,” she tells me over a Twitter direct message. “‘Oh no! 200,000 non citizens trying to STEAL OUR ELECTION! they're gonna turn this country into a banana republic!’ and whatever else people think when they're too busy to click on the story.”

    When that didn’t work, she called the NBC station that ran the original story in hopes of getting the staff to update the article to reflect that it isn’t a current story. She explained the situation as best as she could, asking the station to add “STORY FROM 2012:” in the headline so it would show up in shares across social media.

    “Clickbait is one thing, but when you are actively interfering in what should be an open electoral process -- as I said in my email to them -- that’s quite another,” she adds. She continued:

    People don't realize how much damage buffoons like Jacob Wohl and Gateway Pundit and Donald Trump Jr. and all the rest of those people can do. They push this completely idiotic stuff and then it gets laundered by bots and turned into a story that's used to influence policy. It's now crystal clear that's what they are doing and that it is semi-coordinated, that there's a network of people who are pushing all this information to make it seem respectable, and they are mixing a little tiny bit of truth in to make it seem plausible.

    NBC Miami did end up updating the headline, adding “2012 Election:” at the very beginning. It also added an editor’s note at the top of the article:

    Editor’s note on Nov. 12, 2018: This story was published in May 2012.

    The initial list of 180,000 names was whittled to 2,625, according to the Florida Department of State. The state then checked a federal database and stated it found 207 noncitizens on the rolls (not necessarily voting but on the rolls). That list was sent to county election supervisors to check and it also turned out to contain errors. An Aug. 1, 2012, state elections document showed only 85 noncitizens were ultimately removed from the rolls out of a total of about 12 million voters at that time.

    While the story continues to be shared on social media as fresh news, the updated headline and editor’s note do seem to have had the effect of cooling its spread among influencers. Plus, the added context, including the disparity between “nearly 200,000” figure and the actual total of 85, has given people a way to quickly understand the facts of a somewhat complicated local story.

    Binkowski stresses that it’s important to understand that there are a lot of people who simply are not making statements or arguments in good faith. “If you are a news person, please be aware of this cycle and your massive responsibility. If you are a news executive, please pay your journalists a living wage,” she said, noting that “they are up against something new and nightmarish and trying to inoculate the world against it and could use all the support they can get.”

  • "We want you here": Turning Point USA bans anti-Semitic YouTuber from event only because of “the optics"

    TPUSA is fine with bigotry, just not with looking like bigots

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G. , MADELINE PELTZ & BRENDAN KARET


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Turning Point USA, the pro-Trump grift masquerading as a conservative college organization, has made it clear that it doesn’t reject anti-Semitism.

    TPUSA, which raises funds off of Fox fearmongering about the liberalization of college campuses, is hosting its Young Black Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., from October 25 to October 28. The group is leveraging the coziness between founder Charlie Kirk and the first family by having Donald Trump Jr. speak at an event and scoring participants a visit to the White House complete with an address from the president.

    Referring to the ongoing summit, Bryan Sharpe -- who is known online as “Hotep Jesus” -- claimed on October 25 that he had been banned from TPUSA events. Sharpe has a record of expressing anti-Semitic views (which didn’t keep him from appearing on Fox’s The Ingraham Angle to attack Starbucks for holding a racial bias training), and he has appeared on the explicitly white supremacist Red Ice TV. He also once said, “I’d rather align with a racist white than a cry baby Black.”

    Sharpe later posted a Periscope video in which TPUSA Director of Urban Engagement Brandon Tatum explained to him the reason he couldn’t be in TPUSA events: “the optics of the anti-Semitic rhetoric.” Tatum cited concerns that Sharpe’s record of anti-Semitic rhetoric could be reported by the press if he was in attendance. Tatum added, “You’re a grown-ass man -- I can’t force you out of here. But I want you to understand where we are coming from. You understand?” He summarized TPUSA’s position as being “between a rock and a hard place” because while “personally, none of us have a problem with you -- we want you here. It’s the optics. The media.”

    The transparently cynical concern Tatum articulated -- not with bigotry but with the appearance of bigotry, -- is consistent with TPUSA’s record of embracing extremism but rejecting accountability for it. TPUSA might have banned Sharpe from its events, but its communications director, Candace Owens, personally reached out privately to him to smooth things out, according to Sharpe. As reported by the Miami New Times, members of a TPUSA chapter were OK with racial slurs in their online chats as long as they weren’t used too often. At a different TPUSA conference, an attendee was filmed praising Nazi Germany. And when TPUSA fired an employee for writing "I HATE BLACK PEOPLE. Like fuck them all. ... I hate blacks," the organization’s replacement hire had previously said, "I love making racist jokes."

  • Republicans have already empowered gangs and extremist groups

    From the Proud Boys to Turning Point USA, extremists are ascendant on the right, but legacy media are too often playing catch-up

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Let's be clear about the state of things. A well-connected sitting congressman endorsed a neo-Nazi for political office, and it wasn't the first time this sort of thing happened. To the contrary, GOP candidates across the country have links to white nationalists. The GOP president -- who is the undisputed center of the party -- is a former game show host whose administration has repeatedly defended violent extremists. And his son has even appeared on a white nationalist show. The debate is over. The extremists have taken over the party.

    And yet, legacy media outlets are too often caught completely unaware.

    On October 12, the Metropolitan Republican Club hosted Gavin McInnes, founder of the self-identified “gang” Proud Boys. During the event, McInnes re-enacted the violent 1960 murder of Japanese socialist party leader Inejiro Asanuma. After McInnes' appearance, a number of Proud Boys were taped nearby brutally beating and kicking several individuals” and shouting homophobic slurs at protesters. Videos show "more than a dozen" Proud Boys, including at least three skinheads, punching and kicking protesters on the ground.

    In response, The New York Times has covered McInnes' exploits with kid gloves and reduced his extremism to mere provocation. Just look how thrilled white supremacist Ann Coulter was with the piece:

    The Times’ irresponsible description of McInnes as simply a "far-right provocateur" is already memorialized on Wikipedia, potentially the most widely read source of information by audiences that might never have heard of him before. As Jacob Weindling wrote, "You can quote Gavin McInnes directly while describing events that happened and get a harsher description of McInnes than the NYT wrote. ... I don't know how you can call the beginning of this article anything other than white nationalist propaganda."

    Weindling is correct. Just look at McInnes’ speech to the Manhattan Republican Club, in which he told Republicans that they need Proud Boys as “foot soldiers," because of what they have in common. Or look at what McInnes said on his podcast on October 14, when he defended the use of anti-LGBTQ slurs.

    And this characterization matters. While the Times is describing McInnes as a "provocateur," and NBC News is portraying the Proud Boys as a "nationalist movement," the reality is that we're in far more dangerous territory. As Daily Beast reporter Kelly Weill noted, by making alliances with groups like the Proud Boys, “mainstream Republicans can sort of outsource the political and physical violence that they’d like to enact against opponents.”

    And McInnes is not an isolated figure: He and the Proud Boys are deeply entwined in right-wing media. McInnes was a contributor to Fox News for eight years, appearing on Sean Hannity’s show at least 24 times. In 2017, Hannity hosted another Proud Boy with ties to the violent white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally to discuss political violence. Fox host Mark Levin has given McInnes two shows on his online outlet CRTV, where McInnes has pushed extremist bigotry like promoting men’s rights activism, calling female journalists “colostomy bag for various strangers’ semen,” and glorifying violence and fighting. Fox host Tucker Carlson happily posed with Roger Stone and two Proud Boys in a Fox green room and “declined to disavow” the group when asked about it. McInnes shows up on right-wing radio and on right-wing YouTube. In an era in which the right-wing is doing everything it can to suppress opposition, it's no wonder that the Proud Boys are now part of the Republican machine.

    It's not just the Proud Boys, either.

    On the October 17 edition of Today, NBC gave a platform to Identity Evropa -- a white supremacist group actively seeking to rebrand its racism as identitarianism. The network referred to Identity Evropa as a “fringe group,” yet NBC still gave its leaders a softball interview on a show that consistently reaches the coveted demographic of adults ages 25-54; its affiliated channel MSNBC also aired segments featuring the group and other white supremacists.

    NBC’s Peter Alexander played into Identity Evropa's obsession with “optics” and rejection of “anti-social behavior” by remarking on how “clean cut” its representatives look. The segment allowed the white supremacist organization to expand its reach beyond YouTube and social media to recruit followers and promote its talking points, which include blatantly pushing white nationalism using the Republican Party as a vehicle. The group's leader was thrilled was the exposure.

    It's clear that the communications wing of the GOP has no problem with these groups.

    On October 16, Fox News host Laura Ingraham invited Patriot Prayer’s Joey Gibson on her show for a softball interview. Patriot Prayer is a far-right coalition whose membership overlaps with the Proud Boys and whose unity relies on their common “hatred for the left.” Gibson has personally encouraged his followers to instigate violence, promising that counterprotesters “are going to feel the pain.” Ingraham's interview conveniently ignored a report by The Oregonian that the group had "a cache of guns" including "long guns" on a rooftop in Portland, OR, before a summer protest. That's where we are: One of the president's favorite television hosts did a friendly interview with the type of person whose group sets up a cache of guns during a protest of that president.

    Fox also frequently hosts Turning Point USA’s most prominent members, Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens, close allies of the president. Left unmentioned are the extremist views of TPUSA. The Miami New Times unearthed online chats from one TPUSA chapter that feature members warning each other about not using racial slurs too often, talking about "watching underage cartoon pornography and deporting Latina women," and sharing memes about "Syrian men raping a white Swedish woman at gunpoint." An attendee at a TPUSA conference was filmed praising Nazi Germany. And when TPUSA pushed out the person who wrote "I HATE BLACK PEOPLE. Like fuck them all. ... I hate blacks," the replacement was someone who said, "I love making racist jokes." Undeterred, Fox News hosts and top allies of the president happily attend TPUSA events, and TPUSA members openly raise money off of Fox segments that fearmonger about the liberalization of college campuses. It's quite the con.

    Or look at Fox host Tucker Carlson, an innovator in this space. Instead of mainstreaming an extremist group, Carlson is cutting out the middleman and mainstreaming men's rights and white supremacist propaganda himself.

    Make no mistake: People across America are seeing all of this and speaking up. But at some point, it'd be nice if the legacy media would notice too.

  • The perfectly incoherent Trumpism of Charlie Kirk's Campus Battlefield

    Does Charlie Kirk hate safe spaces or love them? Depends.

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    It's ridiculous that I even have to write this review. Campus Battlefield: How Conservatives Can Win the Battle on Campus and Why It Matters, by Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk: Why does anyone have to know anything about this book, or about Charlie Kirk? What hideously twisted nightmare reality are we inhabiting in which Kirk -- one of countless opportunistic grifters parasitically leeching money from the conservative movement’s diseased, distended pre-corpse -- is a figure of relevance?

    The answer to these questions can be found in the foreword to Campus Battlefield, which was provided by Donald Trump Jr. “The more time I spent with Charlie Kirk and the more I learned about Turning Point USA, the more I realized there was something unique that we were missing,” Trump Jr. writes of his time on the 2016 campaign trail with the author before exhorting readers to “support Turning Point USA.” Kirk is a friend of the first family and an ally of the president, which gets him on TV and grants him access to dark-money billionaires.

    And so here I am, stuck with the grim task of reading and reviewing Campus Battlefield, which isn’t so much a “book” as it is an advertisement for Kirk’s organization and an artless distillation of the aggressive grievance politics that define Trumpism.

    Much like the president Kirk glorifies, Campus Battlefield is a sloppy and incoherent mess. It valorizes a gauzy ideal of academia -- “colleges are supposed to be a place (sic) of discourse, characterized by thoughtful debate, a search for knowledge, and civility” -- while also casting lazy, haphazard, and atrociously written allegations of academic perfidy. “The Classics, which have survived for centuries because of their enduring relevance, have been pushed aside by the proposition that they are little more than the narrow-minded, racist, misogynist, homophobic ramblings of old white men,” Kirk complains, citing nothing in evidence. “A smug liberal elite has trashed them, arrogantly presuming to know better and smart enough (sic) to create an entirely new explanation of everything.”

    Campus Battlefield is also very difficult to read, given that the text is broken up in random places by quotes of Charlie Kirk’s tweets. Chapter 4 features a self-serving appropriation of counterculture activist Mario Savio’s legacy, which is inexplicably interrupted by an April 2018 Kirk tweet about how “Affirmative action is a racist program.” At one point Kirk quotes himself quoting George Orwell:

    Jamming these tweets into the text is one of several strategies Kirk uses to pad out the book without producing any original content; it also features extensive block quotes of sources and copy-and-pasted material from websites Kirk’s organization operates.

    The general thrust of Campus Battlefield is that the university system is overrun by liberal professors and activists who persecute conservative students. This argument is based on the eager conflation of “professors are liberal” and “professors are indoctrinating students with liberalism.” For Kirk, it’s sufficient to point an accusatory finger at a select group of college professors and denounce them as radicals. The reader is then supposed to arrive on their own steam at the conclusion that professors who espouse leftist viewpoints are propagandizing in the service of Marxism, enforcing rigid conformity of thought, and punishing conservative students for thoughtcrimes. (A conservative academic whose research Kirk cites in the book wrote in 2012 that while “the Right faces special challenges in higher education, our research offers little evidence that conservative students or faculty are the victims of widespread ideological persecution.”)

    Kirk argues that rampant leftism has perverted colleges and universities, which he says should be “safe places for the teaching and expression of all ideas, not just those endorsed by the liberal curia.”

    That’s a lofty ideal, and Kirk’s aspiration to it is outright bullshit. On the one hand, Kirk demands completely open debate of all ideas. On the other, Kirk and his group maintain the Professor Watchlist -- a website that functions as a sort of blacklist for left-wing professors whose ideas Kirk (and his donors) have deemed too “radical.” The statement of purpose for the Professor Watchlist embodies these two warring ideas and makes no effort to reconcile them:

    TPUSA will continue to fight for free speech and the right for professors to say whatever they wish; however students, parents, and alumni deserve to know the specific incidents and names of professors that advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.

    Much of Chapter 3 is devoted to naming and shaming these “radical” professors with copy-and-pasted entries from the Professor Watchlist website. The criteria for inclusion is comically low; one Michigan State professor qualified as radical because she “taught students how to argue with conservatives about issues such as illegal immigration, refugees, and the Dakota Access pipeline when they go home for Thanksgiving.” Professors on the list have reportedly faced harassment and death threats.

    A similarly dissonant take on “safe spaces” drives much of Kirk’s griping. He spends considerable energy mocking liberal students for their “desperate need for campus safe spaces” and derides the idea that words can cause hurt. “Words have become sticks and stones,” he writes. “Colleges have morphed from places of higher learning into playgrounds where name-calling sends children home crying.”

    However, for conservative students, the safeguarding of feelings and protection against name-calling are of paramount importance. Liberals can “call conservatives anything they want. Without criticism. Without penalty. Without rebuke, official or otherwise,” Kirk complains. “Fascist! Bigot! Homophobe! Racist! Birther! Misogynist! Wingnut! Oh, and let’s not forget: Deplorable!” In one paragraph he’ll chide overly sensitive liberals, and in the next he’ll solemnly relive the martyrdom of insulted conservative students.

    “Conservatives don’t live in a liberal fantasy world where they are taken care of by cadres of compassionate folks who feel their hurt,” he writes. Feeling the “hurt” of conservatives students, however, is the reason for Turning Point USA’s existence, and Kirk wants readers to know that he feels that hurt. “Are you a closet conservative? When you walk into the first day of class, do you wonder if the teacher will ridicule you in front of the class if you express your conservative views?” he writes. “This is beyond unfair. It is dangerous.”

    This is why the Trump family loves Kirk; he and his book are pure expressions of Trumpist politics. He leans intensely on white grievance while mocking the plights of minorities (one chapter is titled “Black Victimization Bunco”); he demands the in-group (conservative students) receive protection and status (“safe spaces,” unchallenged expression of any idea) while also demanding that protection and status be denied to out-groups (liberals, minorities); and he makes zero effort to reconcile these contradictions while substituting aggressive combativeness for substantive heft. It’s a simple trick: posture as an alpha tough guy, but when the slightest offense arises, performatively howl like a whipped dog.

    In that spirit of bad-faith victimhood, I am obligated to close my review of this tome on the dangers of suffocating the free exchange of ideas by highlighting the plight of someone whose lust for lively debate has been cruelly quashed by Charlie Kirk: me.

    Earlier this year, Kirk tweeted that a California school has a “graphic mural depicting the President being killed by an Aztec warrior” and warned: “The left no longer just hates Trump. They want him dead.” I was incredulous both at the suggestion that a school mural represented “the left” and at Kirk’s affected outrage, so in the spirit of debate I tweeted back that he’d “strap[ped] on a metaphorical diaper.”

    For this, I was blocked by Kirk.

    How ironic that Kirk, who loves idea-based discourse so much, was scared to debate whether his tweet cowering before the menace of some wall art in California was the figurative equivalent of shitting his own pants. My argument was rooted in fact: One of Turning Point USA’s more famous stunts involved its activists protesting “safe spaces” by wearing adult diapers. How can it be beyond the bounds of discourse to impute this diaper-centric mode of thinking to Kirk when he held up one school’s mural painting as representative of “the left?”

    Maybe Kirk silenced me because the organization reportedly believes the diaper fiasco is “not funny” and is frustrated that “every time Charlie [Kirk] tweets they tweet back pictures of him in a diaper.”

    They are wrong. It is very funny.

    And guess what? Free discourse is supposed to be difficult. How can Charlie Kirk expect to function in the Hobbesian carnage of the marketplace of ideas if he can’t handle it when I confront him with the mainstream viewpoint that he is -- metaphorically, at least -- a diaper lad? Alas, Kirk was triggered by my ideas and swaddled himself in a safe space where he wouldn’t be exposed to new, uncomfortable truths.

  • Charlie Kirk echoes 4chan conspiracy theory about Taylor Swift's endorsement of Democrats

    4chan Nazis and Charlie Kirk suggest Swift could not have formed political opinions on her own

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters 

    On Sunday night, pop singer Taylor Swift broke her usual silence regarding politics by endorsing Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen and slamming his opponent, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), while also standing up for equal pay and LGBTQ rights and against systemic racism.

    I’m writing this post about the upcoming midterm elections on November 6th, in which I’ll be voting in the state of Tennessee. In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now. I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country. I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG. I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent. I cannot vote for someone who will not be willing to fight for dignity for ALL Americans, no matter their skin color, gender or who they love. Running for Senate in the state of Tennessee is a woman named Marsha Blackburn. As much as I have in the past and would like to continue voting for women in office, I cannot support Marsha Blackburn. Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me. She voted against equal pay for women. She voted against the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which attempts to protect women from domestic violence, stalking, and date rape. She believes businesses have a right to refuse service to gay couples. She also believes they should not have the right to marry. These are not MY Tennessee values. I will be voting for Phil Bredesen for Senate and Jim Cooper for House of Representatives. Please, please educate yourself on the candidates running in your state and vote based on who most closely represents your values. For a lot of us, we may never find a candidate or party with whom we agree 100% on every issue, but we have to vote anyway. So many intelligent, thoughtful, self-possessed people have turned 18 in the past two years and now have the right and privilege to make their vote count. But first you need to register, which is quick and easy to do. October 9th is the LAST DAY to register to vote in the state of TN. Go to vote.org and you can find all the info. Happy Voting! 🗳😃🌈

    A post shared by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

    Since the 2016 presidential election, Swift has been a hot topic on 4chan, the anonymous message board known for its far-right extremism. Users there had interpreted her silence around the election and her country music roots as revealing an alignment with white supremacist values and a rejection of social justice, earning her the nickname “Aryan goddess.”

    But then Swift endorsed Bredesen and fellow Tennessee Democrat Rep. Jim Cooper on Instagram, and the number of posts about her in the “politically incorrect” board of 4chan skyrocketed. Users reacted with sexist and dehumanizing slurs and suggestions that she was no longer “/our girl/.” [Trolls on 4chan habitually call those who they believe to represent their values “/our guy/” or “/our girl/” -- currently, those figures include Tucker Carlson and actress Roseanne Barr.]

    And one take was consistent among the trolls: the sexist and demeaning assumption that a woman cannot form her own political opinions.

    Turning Point USA Executive Director Charlie Kirk, who had a Twitter meltdown about Swift’s endorsement and repeatedly accused her of having “no idea” of what she was talking about, took it upon himself to go on the October 8 edition of Fox & Friends and amplify the sexist conspiracy theory that trolls had posted on 4chan.

    Kirk also took his disappointment and the asinine conspiracy theory that Swift could not have written her own campaign endorsement to Fox Business’ Varney & Co., where he claimed that she had been “co-opted by activists on the left that want to use her brand, her visibility, and popularity to advance their agenda.”

    Both Kirk and TPUSA’s communications director, Candace Owens, had previously expressed disdain for celebrity opinions, but that changed after Kanye West praised Owens. At that point, Kirk made public appearances with West, Owens did media hits with him, and Kirk offered unending sycophancy for the rapper, all of which shows they actually care a lot about what celebrities think -- as long as they support President Donald Trump.

  • Conservative media run with flawed FBI investigation and GOP's spin to vindicate Kavanaugh

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT & TIMOTHY JOHNSON


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Conservative media are hyping claims from the White House and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) that the results of an FBI investigation into Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh do not corroborate multiple women’s accounts that he sexually assaulted them while at the same time attacking anyone who pointed out flaws in the investigation. The FBI investigation was extremely limited in scope and time; did not include interviews of Kavanaugh, Christine Blasey Ford, or approximately 40 others who say they tried to talk to the FBI but couldn’t get through; and did not look into the likelihood that Kavanaugh lied in his Senate testimony. Ford, whose report that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school is central to determining Kavanaugh’s fitness for the Supreme Court, offered to speak with the FBI, but was rebuffed.

    Trump and Senate Republicans purposely limited the scope of the FBI investigation

    The FBI was initially authorized by the Trump administration and Senate Republicans to interview just four people. From The New York Times:

    Mr. Trump ordered the one-week F.B.I. investigation on Friday after Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona and a key swing vote, insisted the allegations be examined before he committed to voting to confirm Judge Kavanaugh. But the White House and Senate Republicans gave the F.B.I. a list of only four people to question: Ms. Ramirez and Mark Judge, P.J. Smyth and Leland Keyser, three people Dr. Blasey identified as being at the house where she said Judge Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers. [The New York Times, 10/1/18]

    Trump later reportedly authorized the FBI to interview more witnesses, but still kept it limited by an arbitrary deadline. From The New York Times:

    The White House authorized the F.B.I. to expand its abbreviated investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh by interviewing anyone it deems necessary as long as the review is finished by the end of the week, according to two people briefed on the matter.

    At an event on Monday celebrating a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico, President Trump said he instructed his White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, over the weekend to instruct the F.B.I. to carry out an open investigation, but the president included the caveat that the inquiry should accommodate the desires of Senate Republicans.

    The new directive came after a backlash from Democrats, who criticized the White House for limiting the scope of the bureau’s investigation into Judge Kavanaugh, Mr. Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court. The F.B.I. has already interviewed the four witnesses it was originally asked to question, and on Monday it reached out to others. [The New York Times, 10/1/18]

    In the end, only 10 witnesses were reportedly interviewed. [Twitter, 10/4/18]

    The investigation finished within only a few days. CNN reported that the White House sent the information gleaned from the investigation to the Senate on the morning of October 4, just days after the investigation was set into motion on September 28. [CNN, 10/4/18]

    The FBI reportedly did not investigate whether Kavanaugh lied to the Senate. New York magazine’s The Cut noted that, according to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the FBI did not investigate whether Kavanaugh perjured himself by lying about his high school and college behavior:

    What’s not being investigated is Kavanaugh’s behavior in high school and college, which his classmates say was defined by partying and drinking to excess, at which point the SCOTUS nominee would allegedly become “aggressive” —accounts that drastically differ from those Kavanaugh offered while under oath. Some senators, including Bernie Sanders, have raised concern over the FBI’s apparent disregard for the likelihood that Kavanaugh may have perjured himself.

    “The FBI investigation of Brett Kavanaugh must include a review of his numerous untruthful statements in his previous testimony before Congress,” Sanders tweeted. “Lying to Congress is a federal crime.” He then outlined the numerous examples in which Kavanaugh appears to have lied under oath. [The Cut, 10/3/18]

    Neither Kavanaugh nor Ford were interviewed by the FBI. Kavanaugh repeatedly lied under oath about his behavior in high school and college, but he didn’t have to defend his statements during an FBI interview. Ford sought to speak with the FBI, but was turned down. From Vox:

    Notably, Ford and Kavanaugh are both not yet on the list of people that the FBI has interviewed. A spokesperson for Ford’s attorneys said she had still not been contacted by the FBI as of early Wednesday afternoon.

    “We have received no response from anyone involved in this investigation, and no response to our offer for Dr. Ford to be interviewed,” Ford’s attorneys emphasized in a Tuesday letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray. “This afternoon, we learned of media reports that the FBI does not intend to interview either Dr. Ford or Judge Kavanaugh. We hope that this reporting is inaccurate.”

    There could be a crucial reason for their omission from the investigation. Sources have told Bloomberg that the FBI has not done interviews with Ford or Kavanaugh because the White House hasn’t granted it the authority to conduct them. [Vox, 10/3/18]

    NBC News: “More than 40 people with potential information into the sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh have not been contacted by the FBI.” [NBC News, 10/4/18]

    Legal and criminal experts explain that conditions Trump placed upon the FBI investigation make it a sham

    Chris Kang, former Obama administration deputy counsel: “President Trump and Senate Republicans are turning this much-needed FBI investigation into a sham. … The entire investigation must be made public, so the American people can know which witnesses were interviewed and whether the FBI was able to follow a full range of questioning, including regarding Kavanaugh's candor and credibility.” [The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, 10/3/18]

    Mike Zubrensky, former deputy assistant attorney general at DOJ Office of Legal Counsel: “The investigation of Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual misconduct is far too serious for a rigged process. … Senator Flake and his Senate colleagues must insist that McConnell respect the confirmation process. And they should demand that the FBI take the time it needs to conduct a thorough and meaningful investigation.” [The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, 10/3/18]

    Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence: “Existing background investigation protocols between the White House and the FBI regarding presidential appointees are flawed and need to be reexamined. ... When the White House can prevent the nation’s premier investigative agency from fully determining the suitability of a Supreme Court nominee we have a problem.” [The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, 10/3/18]

    Kristine Lucius, former top legal and policy advisor to Sen. Patrick Leahy: “During my over 14 years on the committee, I can’t remember any supplemental investigation in which the FBI did not interview the person who brought forth the allegations, and the nominee himself. … That has been – and must remain – a minimum base line for credibility. No senator should even consider agreeing to proceed with this nomination unless and until the FBI investigation is determined to be thorough and unfettered.” [The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, 10/3/18]

    Former FBI officials said past background checks were not limited by politics. From The New York Times:

    Several former F.B.I. officials said that they could think of no previous instance when the White House restricted the bureau’s ability to interview potential witnesses during a background check. Chuck Rosenberg, a former F.B.I. chief of staff, said background investigations were frequently reopened, but the bureau decided how to pursue new allegations.

    “The White House normally tells the F.B.I. what issue to examine, but would not tell the F.B.I. how to examine it, or with whom they should speak,” he said. “It’s highly unusual — in fact, as far I know, uniquely so — for the F.B.I. to be directed to speak only to a limited number of designated people.” [The New York Times, 10/1/18]

    Leah Litman, UC Irvine assistant law professor: Restricted FBI investigation makes it “a joke.” From The New Yorker:

    Leah Litman, an assistant professor of law at the University of California, Irvine, said the severe restrictions on the scope of the investigation made it “a joke.” She asked, “What kind of an investigation into an assault that happened under the influence of alcohol doesn’t include investigating the accused’s use of alcohol?” She said, “Usually, the F.B.I. investigators aren’t told who to call and who not to.” She said that Rasor should be interviewed, given her past relationship with Judge. “If Mark Judge is on the ‘approved’ list of witnesses, and they are interviewing him, there is no reason not to interview Rasor, who has testimony that is very relevant to his credibility, and the testimony that he would offer,” she said. [The New Yorker, 9/30/18]

    John Mindermann, former FBI special agent: The restrictions on the probe means it’s not a “real, authentic FBI investigation.” From an October 4 MSNBC interview:

    JOHN MINDERMANN (FORMER FBI SUPERVISORY SPECIAL AGENT): What will be laid out within the limits of the scope and the time that the FBI had to do the investigation will be a portrait of the individual who is being investigated. That's in any background check. The key to a background check is comprehensive running out of all available leads. Apparently in this case, those leads, which were available, were not run out by the FBI because of the limits of time and scope. That is very, very problematic because that limits the overall portrait. It's like taking the brush out of the hand of the painter midway through the portrait session. What will be in there will be, corroborating or not, statements, data, information, times, dates, et cetera, that may or may not corroborate specific allegations that were brought forward.

    HALLIE JACKSON (HOST): We know that the FBI has spoken with nine people that have been interviewed. And we know the names of six of them. We don't know who the other three people are. We know that they originally contacted 10 people. It's not clear to us just yet, based on our sources, why that 10th person was not actually interviewed. You can see who we know and who we don't know there. Dr. Ford's attorney says because she's not on this list -- right, you don't see Christine Blasey Ford on that screen right there -- so her lawyer says this can't be called an investigation. The FBI was not actually seeking the truth. So John, do you agree? Is this a comprehensive investigation or not?

    MINDERMANN: I actually agree that really this does not fall under the definition of a real, authentic FBI investigation. It really is an investigation which is just limited in terms of targeting specific individuals, and for reasons unknown, eliminating a vast majority of people who could have provided corroborating evidence, corroborating information, positive, negative, neutral, whatever. But in an FBI investigation -- and I've done these and I've supervised these -- in these investigations, you encourage your agents to go out, cover all bases, run out all leads, develop that comprehensive look so that whoever is looking at this is well versed and can make that judgment call. This is a judgment call. There's a lot of subjectivity if you don't have factual information. [MSNBC, MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson, 10/4/18]

    Conservative media figures carry water for the sham investigation -- and treat its spin by GOP officials -- as vindication for Kavanaugh

    Fox News’ Sean Hannity:

    Conservative pundit Erick Erickson:

    Erickson:

    Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk:

    Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume:

    Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro: The FBI didn't need to talk to Ford because "there is nothing else to ask her. There is nothing else that they need to do”:

    Fox & Friends applauded the investigation by claiming "the very narrow scope" avoided "tangents":

    CRTV’s Allie Stuckey:

  • Pro-Kavanaugh shills claim nominee is the victim of a "lynching." Have they ever seen a lynching?

    Lynchings were a cornerstone of a hundred-year campaign of racial terrorism in defense of white supremacy, but conservatives see parallels with a powerful, wealthy white man facing consequences

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Warning: This piece contains graphic images and descriptions. 

    An emerging right-wing media narrative that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is the victim of a “lynching” betrays not only conservative media’s desperation to salvage the nomination after he was credibly accused of sexual assault and likely perjured himself, but also their selfishness and superficiality when it comes to race relations in America. 

    On September 27, professor Christine Blasey Ford testified that Kavanaugh attempted to rape her at a high school party in the early 1980s. Right-wing media had already been building up a campaign against Ford since news of her allegations broke earlier in the month. But after her testimony, they dialed up their campaign to discredit Ford, with some of them eventually landing on the idea that the opposition to Kavanaugh is nothing but a “lynching.” 

    Attacking a sexual assault survivor with a reductive take on racial terrorism is, unfortunately, very on-brand for American conservatism in 2018. Fox’s Sean Hannity led the charge out of the gate; on September 17, the day after Ford went public, Hannity compared her allegations to the “vicious and horrible and nasty and unjust” hearings about Anita Hill’s sexual harassment reports against Justice Clarence Thomas and aired a clip of Thomas’ infamous “high-tech lynching” line. The Thomas quote was favorably recalled by several right-wing media figures, but they didn’t stop there: Several conservative and right-wing media figures took it upon themselves to make the comparison directly.

    On September 22, Fox’s Jeanine Pirro accused a guest of “setting this man up for his own lynching.” Similarly, the Family Research Council’s William Boykin told Newsbusters that he “thought lynching was made illegal and that the burden of proof rested upon the accuser, not the accused.” And Townhall published a piece (from a Black author) that audaciously began, “History is an easy and convenient thing to forget,” before comparing Kavanaugh to Emmett Till, a Black 14 year-old lynched in 1955 because of a white woman’s false groping allegation


    Mamie and Louis Till overlooking their son Emmett's corpse. (Time magazine)

    Perhaps the most depraved take came from National Review Editor-in-Chief Rich Lowry, who seems to compare Kavanaugh to the falsely accused in To Kill a Mockingbird, who is threatened with lynching. Lowry claims that a book famous for its themes of racial injustice “stands firmly for the proposition that an accusation can be false.” Lowry’s column completely ignores race -- the word doesn’t make a single appearance -- so it’s easy for him to twist Mockingbird into pablum about a man’s false accuser being “destroy[ed]” by an attorney who “doesn’t care about her feelings, only the facts.” In the original story, that same attorney also faces down a racist lynch mob outside the jail, but Lowry’s revisionist history inverts a hundred years of racial terror into a narrative that somehow vindicates Kavanaugh at the expense of his alleged victims. This take has spread throughout the right-wing Facebook echo chamber via a popular meme.

    In case conservative media have forgotten, lynchings are a uniquely reprehensible (and ongoing) part of American history. From 1882 to 1968, 4,743 people were lynched -- 72.7 percent of them Black -- for the express purpose of enforcing white supremacy. The victims were murdered in unspeakably horrific ways. Emmett Till, whom the Townhall piece compared to Kavanaugh, was found in a river, weighted down with a piece of a cotton gin. His face was so mangled by his attackers that he was unrecognizable. A sign marking where Till was murdered is regularly shot up by anonymous vandals. There’s also Mary Turner, a pregnant woman whose unborn child was cut from her womb and stomped to death (Turner was also set on fire and shot hundreds of times); Jesse Washington, who was doused in coal oil and hanged to death over burning crates, then carved into souvenirs and paraded around town; and Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie, who were dragged out of jail, beaten, hanged, then turned into postcards. Kavanaugh, in contrast, is facing extreme public scrutiny as he interviews for a job at the highest court in land. And if he doesn't get it, he'll simply go back to his old cushy life as a federal judge. 


    A postcard made from an image of Clayton, Jackson, and McGhie's lynching, also known as the Duluth lynching. (Wikimedia Commons)

    Right-wing media’s increasingly racialized Kavanaugh coverage is especially rich considering their routine denunciations of “the race card.” When conservative media say Kavanaugh is being lynched, they are playing "the race card" with blinders on; their arguments invoking an era of racial terrorism are completely devoid of any meaningful racial analysis. They’re defending a credibly accused sexual predator by first inventing, then weaponizing, an alternative history in which one of the most infamous acts of racial violence isn’t racial at all -- it’s simply about attacking people.

    It’s no coincidence that right-wing media deployed a racially charged accusation of “lynching” at the same time the conservative movement has embraced Dinesh D’Souza’s laughable, brazenly dishonest version of American history in which the Democrats are “the real racists” and the well-documented party realignment around civil rights simply “did not take place.” The right’s attempts to put an accused sexual abuser on the Supreme Court -- after electing another one to the presidency -- only serve to highlight the profound moral and intellectual rot at the heart of American conservatism.