Dan Bongino | Media Matters for America

Dan Bongino

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  • New EPA chief Andrew Wheeler has a fondness for right-wing media and climate-denier blogs

    But will he be as combative toward the mainstream press as Scott Pruitt was?

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Scott Pruitt, ousted administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), had cozy relationships with right-wing media outlets and combative relationships with the mainstream press. Andrew Wheeler, who's stepped in as acting administrator, has also shown a fondness for right-wing media and signs of disdain toward some mainstream media. But Wheeler has not interacted with the press in the same hostile and tribal ways that Pruitt did. Will Wheeler's approach to the media shift now that he's at the helm at EPA?

    On the topic of climate change, it’s easier to predict whether Wheeler will change course: probably not. Like Pruitt, Wheeler has long been skeptical of climate science and climate action, as evidenced not just by Wheeler’s public statements but also by his Twitter account. He has tweeted out links to climate-denying blog posts, including one post that declared, “There is no such thing as ‘carbon pollution.’”

    Pruitt leaned heavily on right-wing media

    Throughout his tenure at the EPA, Pruitt made heavy use of right-wing media outlets to spread his preferred talking points and fight back against media coverage he didn't like. During his first year, Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as all other major TV networks combined, Media Matters found, and Fox was less likely than other networks to cover Pruitt's scandals. Pruitt was also a frequent guest on national right-wing talk-radio shows, where he received soft treatment.

    After Pruitt got unexpectedly tough questions during an April interview with Fox's Ed Henry, he retreated to right-wing outlets that were even more likely to give him good press, giving interviews to the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Washington Free Beacon, and a Mississippi talk-radio show.

    Pruitt cultivated a particularly cozy relationship with right-wing outlet The Daily Caller, giving the site exclusive quotes and information. The Daily Caller in turn repeatedly defended Pruitt against scandals and attacked people who released damaging information about him. Even after Pruitt resigned, The Daily Caller continued to act as his attack dog, publishing pieces with headlines including "Source: A torrent of negative press ended Scott Pruitt's career at EPA" and "Jilted former EPA aide with sordid history takes full credit for Pruitt's resignation."

    Pruitt attacked and stymied mainstream media outlets

    Under Pruitt, the EPA press office repeatedly attacked, stymied, and manipulated reporters at mainstream news outlets, as Media Matters documented. The agency refused to release basic information about its activities, blocked journalists from attending official agency events, favored reporters who would provide positive coverage, and publicly insulted and retaliated against reporters and outlets whose coverage officials didn't like.

    One of many such attacks came in September, when the EPA sent out a press release that personally maligned Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker, accusing him of having "a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story." Another attack happened in June of 2018, when EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox called an Atlantic reporter "a piece of trash” after she asked for comment on one of Pruitt's aides resigning. 

    Pruitt appeared to attack the media on his way out the door, too. His resignation letter blamed "unprecedented" and "unrelenting attacks" on him.

    Wheeler liked tweets from right-wing media figures, defended Milo Yiannopoulos

    Wheeler, for his part, has also demonstrated an affinity for right-wing media figures and outlets, but he's done it in a different way -- via his personal Twitter account. He has "liked" many tweets by conservative media figures, including ones that criticize mainstream or liberal media outlets.

    Wheeler "liked" a July 3 tweet by Donald Trump Jr. that linked to a Daily Caller post lauding Fox News's high ratings and mocking CNN's lower ones:

    He "liked" a June 11 tweet by NRATV host and Fox regular Dan Bongino that bashed MSNBC:

    Wheeler "liked" a June 1 tweet by libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that criticized a HuffPost story: "HuffPo isn’t a place of journalism, it’s a place of Far Left activism." (Media Matters rebutted the misleading claims of right-wing figures who criticized the story.)

    He "liked" a May 22 tweet by NRATV host and NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch that knocked Planned Parenthood.

    He "liked" an April 3 tweet by conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel that inaccurately claimed Obama EPA officials spent as much on travel as Pruitt did.

    He "liked" a January 6 tweet by Fox News personality Brit Hume that mocked Al Gore.

    Wheeler has "liked" tweets from frequent Fox News guests Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens of the conservative group Turning Point USA, including this one:

    According to Daily Beast reporter Scott Bixby, in 2016 Wheeler tweeted out a conspiracy theorist's video that defended Milo Yiannopoulos, an alt-right troll and former Breitbart editor, but Wheeler later deleted the tweet:

    In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”

    Since being named acting head of the EPA last week, Wheeler appears to have deleted 12 more tweets from his feed.

    Wheeler tweeted links to climate-denier blog posts

    While EPA watchers have predicted that Wheeler is likely to differ from Pruitt in his demeanor, Wheeler has displayed the same attitude as Pruitt toward climate change.

    In 2011, when Wheeler was a lobbyist for the Murray Energy coal company, he tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA."

    Wheeler retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington and highlighted projections about India's rising coal use.

    In 2009, Wheeler sent a tweeted promoting a climate-denying blog post published on the conservative American Thinker site:

    On at least two occasions, Wheeler has tweeted links to posts on RealClearPolitics that questioned the science of climate change. A tweet in 2009 linked to a post titled "A Reason To Be Skeptical," and the tweet included the hashtag #capandtax, a conservative smear against cap-and-trade policies. The piece he linked to, which also appeared in The Denver Post, promoted “Climategate,” a bogus, manufactured scandal in which conservatives claimed that hacked emails showed climate scientists were fabricating evidence of warming temperatures. 

    And a tweet in 2015 praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'”

    This piece, which Wheeler called "great," largely dismissed climate science and criticized the media outlets and peer-reviewed journals that regularly report on climate change:

    Of course, we don’t have good data or sound arguments for decarbonizing our energy supply. But it sounds like we do. If you read Scientific American, Science, Nature, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and you take them at face value, you would have to agree that there is a strong likelihood that serious climate change is real and that decarbonization or geo-engineering are our only hopes.

    Wheeler gives interviews and quotes primarily to mainstream outlets

    Though Wheeler's Twitter account seems to show a preference for right-wing outlets, he does not exhibit the same ideological bias when he gives interviews or quotes to media. Most of the interviews he's given during his career in Washington, D.C., have been to mainstream outlets.

    Media Matters has identified eight interviews Wheeler has granted to media outlets since October 5, 2017, when President Donald Trump nominated him to serve as deputy administrator of the EPA:

    During his years as a lobbyist from 2009 to 2017 -- when he worked for coal, nuclear, chemical, and utility companies, among others -- he was quoted at least eight times by E&E News, a subscription-based news organization aimed at professionals working in the energy and environment fields, and he sat for one video interview with E&E. He also gave quotes at least twice to another inside-the-beltway news organization, Politico, as well as to The New York Times and FoxNews.com.

    From 1995 to 2008, when Wheeler worked for Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), he gave at least four more video interviews to E&E News. He was also quoted in a Washington Post article in 2008.

    Right-wing media are already leaping to Wheeler's defense

    Whether on not Wheeler starts giving interviews or information to right-wing outlets, right-wing outlets are likely to defend him against criticism. They've already started.

    The Daily Caller, which had a tight-knit relationship with Pruitt and his press office, published a story on July 5 titled "Pruitt has been gone for less than a day and his replacement is already getting attacked." And Breitbart ran a piece on July 5 that quoted conservatives praising Wheeler and argued that "the media is already attacking him in much the same relentless fashion it did Pruitt."

    What's next for Wheeler and the EPA press office?

    It's not surprising that Wheeler gave quotes and interviews primarily to mainstream and inside-the-beltway publications while he was working for Inhofe and representing his lobbying clients. He was trying to reach influencers and mold public opinion.

    In contrast, Pruitt, who has been rumored to be plotting a run for Oklahoma governor or senator, has spent his time in D.C. trying to raise his profile and burnish his image with GOP donors and the conservative base of the Republican Party. He often turned to highly partisan right-wing outlets to achieve those ends.

    Now that Wheeler is the boss setting the agenda and determining strategy, will he continue his conventional approach of talking to mainstream media, or will he follow Pruitt's recent example and turn primarily to highly partisan right-wing outlets like Fox News and The Daily Caller? And under Wheeler's leadership, will the EPA's press office treat reporters more professionally than it did under Pruitt, or will it continue to be highly combative with the media?

    In the few days since Wheeler was announced as interim EPA chief on July 5, he seems to have taken a more traditional and conciliatory approach. He's given two substantive interviews to major newspapers, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. And according to Politico, Wheeler will be taking a different approach from Pruitt in terms of dealing with the press: "Wheeler will announce where he is speaking or traveling in advance, he will publish his full calendars 'frequently,' without litigation from groups pursuing public records, and he and other top political appointees will hold briefings for the media on major policy announcements."

    But even if the media approach changes, the policy approach won't. "EPA's agenda remains largely unchanged," Politico continued. "Wheeler will still pursue much the same policy platform — fighting the courts to roll back a slate of Obama-era regulations on climate change, air pollution, stream protection and more."

    Ted MacDonald, Evlondo Cooper, and Kevin Kalhoefer contributed research to this post.

  • Everything right-wing media tried to blame for the Trump administration’s family separation policy

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    As President Donald Trump’s administration implemented a new “zero tolerance” prosecution policy at the border that led to unprecedented and systematic separation of immigrant families and locking kids in cages, right-wing media flailed around trying to blame the administration’s policy on anybody or anything except Trump.

    The president’s media enablers blamed Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, “the law on the book,” Democrats in Congress, the media, the families themselves, and even “the Illuminati of K Street” for the Trump administration’s policy:  

    Blaming the families themselves

    • Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt claimed that families “are choosing to be separated” by coming to the United States in the first place. Co-host Steve Doocy agreed, saying “the part that is troubling ... is the conscious decisions the parents are making” in trying to bring their children to America.

    • Recently pardoned felon Dinesh D’Souza rhetorically questioned whether the “deported aliens” were “the ones choosing to separate their families.”

    • Fox’s David Bossie said that if parents “don’t become criminals, they’re not separated” from their children.

    • Fox’s Tomi Lahren said, “If you do not want to be separated, do not cross the border illegally. Follow our laws, follow the process. That's the best way to ensure that your family stays together.”

    Blaming former presidents

    • Radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that family separation at the border "is an entirely manufactured crisis. It’s entirely manufactured. This has been going on for years. It happened during the Obama administration."

    • American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp declared, “Obama and Trump have [the] same child protection policy.”

    • Turning Point USA Communications Director Candace Owens falsely claimed that “these policies were in place” during the Obama administration.

    • Turning Point USA President Charlie Kirk falsely stated, “All of this happened for 8 years under Obama.”

    • CNN commentator Ben Ferguson shared an image on Facebook that claimed that policies of separating children from “illegal parents” had been in effect since 2009.

    • Breitbart claimed Trump’s “new ‘zero tolerance’ policy worked during the presidency of George W. Bush,” referring to an initiative that began in 2005 and has not worked.

    • Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs stated that “previous presidents, including Bush and Obama, long ignored” family separation at the border until Trump “mov[ed] to stop” the practice.

    • Fox’s Sean Hannity claimed, “This is nothing new and took place in previous administrations as well.”

    • Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones said that family separation has been “standard procedure for decades” when you “pick up a group of a hundred people and you have no idea who the hell they are.”

    Blaming a nonexistent law

    Blaming media, claiming they were using family separation as a distraction

    • Fox’s Brian Kilmeade said that Trump’s media detractors “had to reach for something else” after Trump “put a lot of the skeptics to bed … and they found it with the so-called separation of kids and parents.”

    • Rush Limbaugh claimed that media is inundating Americans with “manufactured crises” like family separation to distract from the Department of Justice inspector general report and strong economy.

    • Fox’s Tucker Carlson, host of one of the most racist hours on television, said that reporting on family separation is just the media pursuing their goal “to change your country, forever.”

    • NRATV commentator Dan Bongino claimed that media reporting on family separation is “propaganda, nothing more.”

    • Hannity accused the media of harboring an “obsession” with “the so-called policy” of separating children from their parents in order to mislead Americans.

    • Twitter troll Bill Mitchell predicted, “Every Sunday news show will be about Trump's #FakeNews ‘concentration camps’ and NOTHING about the OIG.”

    • Sinclair Broadcast Group’s propagandist Boris Epshteyn devoted his “must-run” segment on family separation to attacking the media for their “politically driven” attempts “to make it seem as if those who are tough on immigration are somehow monsters.”

    Blaming Democrats, claiming they were using family separation for political ends

    • According to The Gateway Pundit, Democrats “would rather the problem persist so they can continue to wring their hands over another manufactured crisis to distract from the damning IG report and robust economy.”

    • Fox Business’ Stuart Varney complained that Democrats “hijacked” a hearing on the IG report “within seconds of it beginning,” and “poured out [their] scorn for President Trump” instead.

    • Fox’s Trish Regan commented that Democrats “would much rather cry on television like [Rep.] Elijah Cummings [D-MD] did” than stop family separation, because “it plays to any hatred they can gin up, as we go into ‘18, for Donald Trump.”

    • National Review’s David French wrote, “I have a feeling that for some partisans, it’s fascism to impose the policy and fascism to try to end it -- at least so long as the GOP is in charge of the process.”

  • Right-wing media are rallying to defend the Trump administration’s inhumane separation of families at the border 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT & NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Trump administration is separating immigrant children from their parents or legal guardians after they cross the border, with at least 2,000 children taken from their parents since April 19. The administration’s merciless and inhumane policy has spurred numerous heartbreaking stories, including reports of a breastfeeding baby who was ripped from her mother, a Honduran father separated from his family who took his own life, and children who are held in cages alongside strangers. Yet right-wing media figures have been quick to defend the policy and dismiss its inherent cruelty:

    • Breitbart editor-at-large Joel Pollak justified separating families at the border, saying the Border Patrol facilities are "better than what they had." Pollak also claimed that ICE taking children from their parents and putting them in detention facilities is “just about caring for the kids.”

    • Right-wing troll Dinesh D’Souza, who recently received a pardon from President Donald Trump, questioned whether immigrant parents are “the ones choosing to separate their families.”

    • Fox's Pete Hegseth defended the separations because the children get food and "soccer and video games." Hegseth also called images of detained children “quite compassionate,” and said the policy was “defensible.”

    • Fox News’ Trish Regan argued that Trump is showing asylum-seeking families "tough love" by taking children away from their parents.

    • Fox contributor Tammy Bruce called for White House press briefings to end after reporters confronted White House press secretary Sarah Sanders about the separation of families.

    • Fox's Jesse Watters argued that the White House should "start ripping press passes away" from reporters who ask about families getting separated at the border. Watters also said that “some would say” that separation is “a more humane policy” than detaining the families together.

    • In a series of tweets, Twitter troll Bill Mitchell aggressively defended the policy, accusing the media of focusing on “#FakeNews ‘concentration camps,’” complaining about the money spent to keep the children captive, suggested that many of the children are “not with their families at all - they are with smugglers” (only a very small percentage of cases involve smuggling and often a bona fide relationship between the child and adult is clear), and claiming, “President Trump is PROTECTING these children.”

    • Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade downplayed “the so-called separation of kids and parents” at the border, arguing that the Democrats are using it to distract from the Justice Department inspector general’s report on the handling of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email server and the Singapore Summit between Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

    • Fox’s Ainsley Earhardt said that families are “choosing to be separated” by showing up at the border. She also argued that “you can't even really blame an administration” for the separation policy.

    • Her fellow Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy said that “the part that is troubling” is not children being ripped from their parents, but the parents choosing to come to the United States in the first place. Doocy also argued that the cages some children are being housed in shouldn’t be called “cages” because rather they are “walls [built] out of chain link fences," and he defended family separation by suggesting the U.S. government spends a lot of money to “make sure that those kids wind up with all that stuff” that detention facilities offer.

    • Fox & Friends repeated or referenced Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s lies about family separation throughout the June 18 broadcast. Nielsen initially claimed that separation wasn’t happening -- it is.

    • Right-wing troll Mike Cernovich said that Trump was “keeping [children] safe in dorms,” and he accused former President Barack Obama of giving children “to human traffickers.”

    • Fox host and Trump lackey Sean Hannity claimed that the policy of separation “took place in previous administrations” (neither the Obama nor the Bush administration separated families as a matter of policy). Hannity also accused the media of having an “obsession” with the “so-called policy of separating illegal immigrant families.”    

    • Fox’s Laura Ingraham called the “outrage” over the separation policy “hilarious,” complained about watching “our country try to contort itself into other peoples' cultures,” and excused the separations because the children have “entertainment, sports, tutoring, medical, dental, four meals a day, and clean, decent housing” even though their “parents irresponsibly tried to bring them across the border illegally.” On her Fox show, Ingraham called the administration’s child detention centers “essentially summer camps” and compared them to “boarding schools.”

    • Sinclair's Boris Epshteyn choose not to editorialize on the cruelty of family separation itself, instead attacking the "discourse" around separation policy and claiming it is what's wrong with Democrats and media.

    • Right-wing columnist Ann Coulter warned the president not to fall for “these child actors weeping and crying on” cable news.

    • Radio host Rush Limbaugh called the outrage over family separation “an entirely manufactured crisis” and claimed “it happened during the Obama administration” too (it didn’t).  

    • One America News Network correspondent and internet troll Jack Posobiec defended the policy by fearmongering that children crossing the border could be with traffickers as opposed to family members. There is clear evidence of the relationship between many of the children in detention and the adult that accompanied them.

    • American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp, a frequent cable news guest, contended that “Obama and Trump have same child protection policy” (they do not).

    • Fox’s David Bossie attempted to shift the blame onto the parents, arguing that “if they don't become criminals, they're not separated.” He also claimed that Trump is just “following the law,” ignoring the reality that separation is a Trump administration policy, not the law.

    • Fox host Tucker Carlson warned his viewers that people speaking up against America detaining children in cages just want to "change your country forever."

    • Chris Bedford, editor-in-chief of the Daily Caller News Foundation, criticized the "hyperbole" over family separation and child detention.

    • Drudge Report’s Matt Drudge attempted to paint Latin American children as violent by publishing a photo of children in Azaz, Syria.

    • Turning Point USA spokesperson Candace Owens claimed that “these policies were in place” during the Obama administration (they were not).

    • Townhall’s Kurt Schlichter aggressively defended the policy, suggesting that the U.S. ought to “separate the children and then send them all away” and “in prison (sic) the parents until they serve their sentence then throw them out.”

    • Infowars frontman and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones claimed that separation has been the “standard procedure for decades” when you “pick up a group of a hundred people and you have no idea who the hell they are.” Infowars also claimed that Trump had exposed “the hoax that the US is mistreating migrant children.”

    • The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro fallaciously argued that Trump is simply “enforcing the law on the books.”

    • Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk posted a series of tweets fearmongering about “illegal immigration” and claimed that “all of this happened for 8 years under Obama” (nope).

    • NRATV host Dan Bongino claimed that reporting on the “immigration/children story” is “propaganda, nothing more” and argued that anyone who believed it is “delirious, and should seek professional help.”

    • Radio talk show host Ben Ferguson shared an image on Facebook claiming that policies of separating children from “illegal parents” had been in effect since 2009 and that Democrats just started talking about the issue because “they only care about making Trump look ‘bad.’” The post has been shared over 100,000 times.

    • Conservative commentator Dick Morris claimed that families seeking asylum at the borders were part of a “scam” in which adult immigrants were “abusers” who are using their children as a “battering ram to force their way into the country.” He also said the solution to this problem is to deny asylum to all immigrants who come to the border with a child.

    • Fox New contributor and Townhall Editor Katie Pavlich posted a series of tweets comparing the separation of asylum-seeking families to the separation of children and arrested parents and supporting Sarah Sanders’ claims in which she portrayed “illegal aliens” as criminals who are responsible for separating U.S. families permanently by “committing murder or killing through drunk driving.”

    • Conservative Review TV’s Jon Miller claimed that media are trying to push controversy around separation policies in order to “distract from the disastrous IG report and anything else this president has done that will cause people to vote for him.”

    • Fox News’ Tomi Lahren tweeted that “we owe ILLEGAL immigrants NOTHING,” and suggested that family separation is just one of the “consequences” parents have to accept when they “drag [their] kids over here ILLEGALLY.”

  • An NRA source just admitted that NRA representatives met with Putin’s inner circle during the 2016 campaign

    NRATV called the Russia investigation a lie, even as there is an FBI investigation into whether the Russian government used the NRA to illegally funnel money to support Trump

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE

    We already knew, thanks to previous reporting and a Senate Judiciary Committee report, that the Russian government may have used the NRA to aid Trump’s campaign in 2016. And per previous reporting from McClatchy, the FBI is investigating whether Russian banker and NRA member Alexander Torshin used the NRA to illegally funnel money to support Trump's election. 

    Now, a new McClatchy story cites an NRA source to confirm that high-level meetings took place between members of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and NRA representatives during the election:

    Several prominent Russians, some in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle or high in the Russian Orthodox Church, now have been identified as having contact with National Rifle Association officials during the 2016 U.S. election campaign, according to photographs and an NRA source.

    The contacts have emerged amid a deepening Justice Department investigation into whether Russian banker and lifetime NRA member Alexander Torshin illegally channeled money through the gun rights group to add financial firepower to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential bid.

    Other influential Russians who met with NRA representatives during the campaign include Dmitry Rogozin, who until last month served as a deputy prime minister overseeing Russia’s defense industry, and Sergei Rudov, head of one of Russia’s largest philanthropies, the St. Basil the Great Charitable Foundation. The foundation was launched by an ultra-nationalist ally of Russian President Putin.

    The Russians talked and dined with NRA representatives, mainly in Moscow, as U.S. presidential candidates vied for the White House. Now U.S. investigators want to know if relationships between the Russian leaders and the nation’s largest gun rights group went beyond vodka toasts and gun factory tours, evolving into another facet of the Kremlin’s broad election-interference operation.

    Even as the contacts took place, Kremlin cyber operatives were secretly hacking top Democrats’ emails and barraging Americans’ social media accounts with fake news stories aimed at damaging the image of Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton and boosting the prospects of Republican Donald Trump.

    NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch dismissed the reporting as old news:

    While NRATV has largely avoided mentioning Russia, contributor Dan Bongino has been railing against special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. On Fox & Friends in May, he called the Russia investigation “an obvious frame job.” On a June 2 Fox & Friends Saturday appearance, Bongino blasted the investigation as a “total scam,” leading to a Trump tweet on the matter quoting him.

    On June 4, jumping off that Trump tweet, Bongino went on a wild rant on his NRATV program, complaining that the entire Russia investigation was fake and that he had spent six months studying the matter for a book he is working on. He even argued, referring to Australian diplomat Alexander Downer, that going through non-official channels implies guilt -- which is incredible as an investigation is looking at the possibility that the NRA was used by a foreign government to illegally intervene in an American presidential election.

    Here’s the entire rant:

    The whole thing’s a scam, folks. This Russia investigation’s a scam. So, the president must have saw it, tweeted out the comments, which I always appreciate, but I meant it. I meant every word of it.

    This is a scam. The whole thing is a scam and the entire story is falling apart. I have some incredible sound here I’m going to play in a minute, and video, from Congressman Devin Nunes [(R-CA)], who’s been doing an unbelievable job uncovering the scam that this whole Russia thing has been. But before I play it I just want to set you up what we’re talking about here.

    Folks, the media cannot agree on a story how the darn investigation started, because the investigation’s crap -- it's garbage. The reason they can’t cite to you what paragraph one of this investigation reads -- in other words, at this time, at this place, this happened, and therefore we investigated Donald Trump -- is because no one can explain why it started, because it started for political, not law enforcement or counterintelligence, reasons. We were told initially that the case started because of a guy named Carter Page, who went to Russia; we now found out that a lot of that information contained in that dossier was false. The media narrative then changed to, “Oh, it was a meeting between Alexander Downer and a guy named George Papadopoulos working for the Trump team where some information about Russian emails were exchanged.” I’m going to get to Nunes in a second. Now that narrative is falling apart. The media is now trying to change the narrative again -- to, “Well, no, it started when a spy interacted with the Trump team and the British gave us information on the Trump team as early as 2015,” which begs the very simple question, if you knew about Russians trying to involve themselves in our election back in 2015, why the hell didn’t you do anything about it? Fair question? Heh? Kinda? Sorta?

    Well, with regards to story number two, because again there’s four or five different iterations about how the FBI started this case, none of which make any sense. On story number two, about a low-level Trump operative by the name of George Papadopoulos interacting with an Australian in London, an Australian diplomat by the name of Alexander Downer, and exchanging some information about the Russians having emails on Hillary, the FBI says, “Oh well we had to investigate, look at that,” and the Democrats will parrot that line. Here’s Devin Nunes again debunking critical elements of story number two.

    That liberals still defend this, right, and they just don’t take a bath on it and just come out and admit at this point that this whole thing’s been a scam, is beyond perplexing to me. It’s dragging them down at the polls. It’s obviously a scam. They obviously have no evidence of any Russian collusion at all, and yet they continue -- it reminds me of a shirt I saw once at Six Flags Great Adventure New Jersey, remember that? Was that exit 7a or something? The shirt said “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” How -- are you going to continue to smash your head against the desk, liberals, with this dopey case? Nothing you’ve said is true. Nothing. The whole case is a fabrication.

    There are two critical takeaways from that commentary by Devin Nunes on Maria Bartiromo’s show (again hat tip Fox News there). Two points. Number one, he brings up again how this information supposedly that was so devastating about a Trump team member who mentioned something about emails, he mentions again how it was passed through non-official channels. Folks, why would you do that? Why would you do that? What movie is that from? Anybody in this studio know? Denise, who’s our pop culture guy? Why would you do that? That’s from a movie. That’s going to drive me crazy the whole time. Why would you pass the information through non-official channels? You would pass it through non-official channels because if it went through official intelligence channels and it was fake, it would be exposed as fake. This isn’t hard. There’s a reason they went through political channels with what they deemed to be counterintelligence and intelligence information, because if they passed it through official intelligence channels, it would have been laughed at as garbage.

    There’s another takeaway from that, not specifically mentioned in the piece but that’s been breaking about this Downer piece. Remember, Downer’s the Australian diplomat who allegedly dealt with this Trump kid on the Trump team who had information about the emails. Now Downer himself is saying, ”Well, the Trump team member never mentioned anything about emails.” Folks, is anything about this story true? Anything? The answer is no. Nothing about this story’s true. You’re being worked, as I said in the tweet.

    All right, let me move on, because this is going to drive me crazy. I could talk about this all day, but just trust me on this. I’m putting a book together on this -- it’s been my entire life for the last six months.

    There is not a single critical fact in this case that the liberals, the swamp rat Republicans, and the people advocating for this Trump/Russia collusion fairy tale, not a single critical fact that has turned out to be true. Not one. It is garbage.

  • Introducing the Sean Hannity Expanded Universe, Fox’s anti-Mueller alternative reality

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Conservatives often bemoan liberal dominance of Hollywood. But since Donald Trump’s election, Fox News’ Sean Hannity has built the closest thing the right wing has to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the wildly successful superhero franchise. Where Marvel’s superheroes fight alien invaders, the stars of the Sean Hannity Expanded Universe (SHEU) position themselves as the last bulwark against special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. But while the superheroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe fight villains like Thanos on their own, Hannity and his compatriots want to go a step further and enlist their audience to support a frightening and anti-democratic response by Trump.

    Hannity has cast himself as his series’ Iron Man, the only visionary clear-sighted enough to identify an existential threat. The sprawling team assembled around him includes bankable leads, aging stars seeking new relevance, promising new faces, and ensemble players, all crossing over into each other’s storylines to build common narratives. Their overarching tale is that Mueller’s Russia probe is a “witch hunt,” the result of the fabrications of a shadowy cabal of journalists, Democrats, and “deep state” operatives. The happy ending they seek is the president saving himself by curtailing Mueller’s probe and instead ordering investigations into his political enemies. 

    For more about Hannity's conspiratorial narrative and the authoritarian endgame he's pushing, see our study reviewing his coverage of the first year of the Mueller probe.

    President Trump is simultaneously the audience for this story, the victim who needs to be saved, and, in Hannity’s telling, the potential hero. The SHEU’s proposed solution to the Mueller investigation is in line with the authoritarian model for law enforcement Trump prefers, casting the Justice Department’s function as protecting the president and punishing his enemies. Unlike Marvel fans, Trump is able not merely to watch members of the SHEU on Fox broadcasts, but to break the fourth wall and go on their shows for fawning interviews, highlight particular segments for his Twitter followers, promote their programs and books, and even call on a select few for advice.

    That might be a fanboy’s fantasy. But it has real and frightening consequences. The SHEU is reaching out from the Fox News screen and encouraging the president to act on his authoritarian impulses. Hannity and his teammates are preparing their viewers to support Trump no matter what norms he shatters. They have great power, and if Trump takes their advice, they will bear great responsibility.

    Anti-Mueller conspiracy theories have permeated nearly every corner of Fox. But only the true stalwarts merit inclusion in the Sean Hannity Expanded Universe:

    • A weekly guest spot with the Fox & Friends crew helped turn Trump into a political phenomenon, and he’s remained a loyal viewer throughout his presidency. If you see Trump angrily tweeting about the Mueller probe early in the morning, Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, Brian Kilmeade, or one of their guests is almost certainly responsible.

    • Lou Dobbs’ cable news career seemed over when his bigoted commentary finally forced CNN to push him out in 2009, but he soon found a new home at Fox Business. Even at Fox, he’s distinguished himself as a shameless pro-Trump sycophant whose calls to not just fire but jail Mueller and the FBI and Justice Department leaders who have defied Trump are genuinely unnerving.

    • A longtime friend of Trump’s whom he considered for a senior Justice Department position, Jeanine Pirro has a Saturday night program that’s a must-watch for both White House aides and observers hoping to predict Trump’s messaging. She drew attention for her disturbing call for a “cleansing” of the FBI and DOJ and the arrests of top officials she considers insufficiently loyal to the president.

    • Gregg Jarrett spent much of his career as a marginal legal commentator and weekend Fox anchor. But he raised his profile by becoming the go-to analyst for hosts like Dobbs and Hannity, who value having someone with a law degree claim that Trump’s associates are innocent because collusion isn’t a crime and condemn their FBI pursuers for acting like “the old KGB.”

    • Jarrett’s a hack, but at least he’s Fox’s hack. Other attorneys regularly called upon to dismiss the investigation include Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow and the husband-and-wife team of Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, who were briefly considered for Trump’s legal team and have represented several figures under Mueller's investigation. All three are mainstays in the right-wing legal community -- and each has done legal work for Hannity.

    • Once colleagues at the right-wing website Circa News, John Solomon has moved on to The Hill while Sara Carter is a Fox contributor who publishes her reporting at her personal blog. Their slanted reporting based on conservative sources helps fuel anti-Mueller Fox hosts eager for information confirming their dire theories, and it garners the pair regular appearances throughout the SHEU -- and Hannity’s call to award them with Pulitzer Prizes.

    • A former Secret Service agent, Dan Bongino parlayed three failed bids for federal office into a career as a mid-level right-wing pundit, a gig on the National Rifle Association's media operation NRATV, and regular appearances on Fox & Friends and Hannity. Keep an eye on this one -- someone willing to call the Russia probe “an obvious frame job” could go far in this morally bankrupt movement.

    • Sebastian Gorka, who joined Fox after being canned from his poorly defined White House job after only seven months, has argued that Clinton should be put to death for treason.

    • After spending years attacking the ethics of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton now uses his Fox appearances to urge Trump to pardon everyone implicated by the Mueller probe and describe the FBI as “a KGB-type operation.”