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How Fox News helped Trump transform migrants seeking safety into a xenophobic caricature looming over the midterms
Today’s edition of Fox & Friends painted a picture of a society terrorized by left-wing violence and threats toward conservatives, completely ignoring very real incidents of violence and intimidation against Democrats and professor Christine Blasey Ford.
Hosts Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and guest host Ed Henry spoke at length about the supposed violence of the left, and fearmongered about the danger it entails for conservatives. Some of the hosts’ most pressing concerns included people protesting inhumane policies by yelling at politicians dining in restaurants, and peaceful protesters placing cameras in politicians’ faces. While the discussion did highlight some genuinely concerning threats against Republican senators, the hosts did not mention any threats against their Democratic colleagues or their staffs.
Just three days ago, a Florida supporter of President Donald Trump was arrested after repeatedly posting online about his plans to kill Democratic senators. In one post, he wrote that he was “about to accept an offer on my house just to get more money to fund my plan to kill Democrat office holders and their families.” He also expressed hope that fellow conservatives would break into liberals’ homes and murder them in their sleep. Democratic Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama reported that his female staff members have received violent threats from supporters of newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. And Christine Blasey Ford, who testified under oath that Kavanaugh assaulted her while in high school, has been the target of sustained harassment and death threats for weeks. The threats are so serious and pervasive that she still cannot return to her home, even after Kavanaugh was confirmed and sworn in as a Supreme Court justice.
Fox & Friends chose to ignore these clear incidents and threats of right-wing violence, and instead focused on fearmongering about an allegedly lawless left. From the October 8 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:
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For Fox, this is a familiar editorial stance
On September 1, The New York Times reported on an unsuccessful years-long FBI program to flip roughly six Russian oligarchs, seeking to turn them into informants for the United States in investigations against Russian organized crime. Justice Department official Bruce Ohr and former British spy Christopher Steele, who authored a dossier of information on President Donald Trump, started communicating about this effort long before Trump announced his run for president, documents released by the Justice Department show.
And yet, Fox News has been citing, out of context, the documents reported on in the Times as further evidence supporting Trump’s conspiracy theory that there is a “witch hunt” against him.
While the program began in 2014, eventually -- after evidence of a possible conspiracy was established -- questions about Russian interference in the 2016 elections and Trump campaign collusion were raised with at least one of the program's targets. The Times’ sources told the paper that they revealed the program’s existence to avoid the president and his media allies “us[ing] the program’s secrecy as a screen with which they could cherry-pick facts and present them, sheared of context, to undermine the special counsel’s investigation.”
But cherry-picked facts taken out of context perfectly describes Fox’s reporting, including its coverage of messages Ohr and Steele exchanged. Fox spun those communiques to suggest under-the-table conspiring by Ohr, Steele, and others at the FBI to maliciously target Trump. Nothing in the Times article suggests that contacts between Ohr and Steele were part of illegitimate DOJ and FBI activity, but Fox stuck to its misleading claim. When the Times article was mentioned, here's how network personalities and guests reacted:
In one of Fox’s earliest on-air mentions of the story, the host claimed that Ohr "was working with a man in Deripaska who's known as Putin's oligarch," and suggested that it validated Trump’s claim that the FBI was colluding with Russia. After discussing the article, guest anchor Ed Henry said, “You hear the president say there's collusion on the other side, and yet it doesn't seem to get any traction,” suggesting that in attempting to get Russian oligarchs to inform about organized crime in Russia, Ohr was actually trying to collude with said oligarchs to stop Trump. The Daily Caller’s Amber Athey also claimed details in the report “seem to confirm the president’s tweets that this is a witch hunt against him.”
Daily Caller White House correspondent Saagar Enjeti told a Fox host that the story shows Steele “used his years-long connection with Ohr in order to push his dossier to the highest levels of the DOJ and the FBI.” In fact, a source in the Times article described Steele telling Ohr about the dossier as “more of a friendly heads-up” and said that “Steele had separately been in touch with an F.B.I. agent” to get his dossier to the bureau. Enjeti also falsely claimed that the dossier “really was the genesis for much of the investigation into President Trump” as well as “all of the other [Trump] associates” targeted. The investigation actually began after the Australian government alerted the FBI to Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos’ drunken bragging.
Fox host Jeanine Pirro cut off a guest who mentioned that “Ohr is there to go after the Russian mob -- that is why the president is probably against Ohr.”
Fox News guest points out that Bruce Ohr was going after the Russian mob and that's why Trump is targeting him, he gets immediately cut off (and then they changed the topic) pic.twitter.com/2WzVH23B3m
— Anonymous Whitehouse Source (@existentialfish) September 2, 2018
Fox host Pete Hegseth speculated that “maybe it was Bruce Ohr who was actually flipped by the Russians.”
Guest anchor Ed Henry misleadingly described the Times article as saying “Ohr was trying to flip a Russian oligarch against the president.” And when a panel guest accused right-wing media of cherry-picking facts to create a misleading narrative, Henry interrupted him to make another decontextualized and misleading allegation.
Fox News contributor Gianno Caldwell claimed that, with the Times report out, “it does appear that it is a witch hunt.”
Fox’s reaction to the latest development in the Trump/Russia investigations closely mirrors its reaction to many previous news reports that reflected poorly on Trump. The network regularly asserts that negative reports are actually good news for Trump and minimizes bad news.
When the Times reported in May that a confidential FBI informant contacted at least two of Trump’s advisers as part of the counterintelligence investigation into his campaign, Fox said it proved only that there was “surveillance of the Trump campaign by the Obama administration.”
When the congressional hearing for former FBI agent Peter Strzok revealed no evidence that his political beliefs affected his work on the investigation, Fox News simply kept stoking rage over texts that revealed his opposition to the president and included rude comments about Trump supporters.
When The Washington Post reported that Trump campaign associate Carter Page was the target of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant after he left the Trump campaign, Fox personalities lied about the warrant and falsely claimed it showed “Donald Trump was right” to accuse former President Barack Obama of spying on him.
When the Department of Justice inspector general released a report showing “no evidence” for allegations that former FBI Director James Comey and others allowed their “bias” to affect the Hillary Clinton email investigation, Fox used the report -- which had nothing to do with the Trump-Russia probe -- to call for an end to the special counsel investigation.
Members of the right-wing and pro-Trump media -- typically the self-proclaimed vanguards of “free of speech” -- are lining up to attack protesters who are exercising their First Amendment rights by voicing their opposition to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. They’ve attacked protesters as “venomous” and “dangerous” and even leveled sexist digs at female protesters, saying that they “are showing how truly ugly women can be.”
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While happy to complain about antifa, Fox & Friends completely ignores that white supremacists are planning on gathering again
Fox & Friends Sunday’s only coverage of the August 12 white supremacist rally in Washington D.C. mentioned only that “tense protests” were expected in Washington, and focused largely on an alleged “antifa mob” in Charlottesville, VA. August 12 marks the one year anniversary of a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, during which an attendee with white supremacist and neo-Nazi ties allegedly drove a car into a group of counter-protesters, killing one woman, Heather Heyer. White nationalists have planned to mark the occasion with a rally in Washington, organized by the same white supremacist responsible for Charlottesville.
Fox & Friends Sunday failed to inform their viewers about the assemblage of neo-Nazis in D.C., however. While the show did note that August 12 is the “one year anniversary of a deadly white supremacist rally,” during four nearly identical short reports, the program only explained that “tense protests are expected today.” Ignoring that those protests were again in response to the presence of white supremacists, the show fearmongered about an “anti-police bash led by an antifa mob.”
The only other mention of the Charlottesville rally during the show came when Fox host Martha Maccallum previewed what Fox News Sunday would cover -- she also failed to mention that white supremacists were rallying in D.C. this weekend.
Fox’s decision to castigate anti-racist protesters without mentioning that white supremacists are once again rallying on our streets comes as little surprise to anyone familiar with the network’s coverage of the violence in Charlottesville. Following last year’s rally, Fox & Friends Sunday defended white supremacist protesters, with host Pete Hegseth arguing, “there’s a reason those people were out there.” A Fox contributor, Charles Hurt, contended that, “there are those instigators on both sides of this fight that was going on in Charlottesville.” President Donald Trump's remarks defending neo-Nazis after Charlottesville were even full of right-wing media talking points.
In fact, Fox’s coverage of neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville was infinitely more sympathetic than their coverage of protesters rallying for gun control or sports players kneeling in protest of racial inequality.
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Pete Hegseth: “The fact that they’re going to resist him is just a reflection of the fact that they hate Trump, so they hate anything he does”
Fox News is already running defense for President Donald Trump’s nominee to fill Justice Anthony Kennedy’s seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, saying that opponents to D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh's nomination simply “hate Trump, so they hate anything he does.” But a closer look at Kavanaugh’s judicial record shows a nominee who is “more to the right than the man he would replace,” and a judge “whose lack of any direct paper trail on cases involving abortion rights will make it easier for pro-choice Republican senators ... to maintain the fiction that the future of Roe v. Wade is uncertain if not secure.” Right-wing propagandists have fantasized for years about getting a chance to overturn Roe v. Wade, a possibility they began discussing literally minutes after Kennedy announced his retirement.
Moreover, beyond being described as “a forceful partisan,” Kavanaugh has taken the position that sitting presidents should be granted “a temporary deferral of civil suits and of criminal prosecutions and investigations,” a position a president who could potentially be served with a subpoena from federal investigators would be deeply invested in.
From the July 10 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:
ED HENRY (GUEST CO-HOST): It’s interesting, because The New York Times opinion page has, in their print edition, “Mr. Trump Courts the Right,” and it’s blasting everything about [Judge Brett] Kavanaugh, ignoring these credentials that even Alan Dershowitz, from the left a moment ago, said are many. But, if you go online, The New York Times opinion page, they don't put it in the paper today, has an op-ed from Akhil Amar, a professor at Yale Law School, who says he voted for Hillary Clinton and yet, basically says that, when the president said that this is a man with impeccable credentials, great intellect and all of that, “I agree.” So basically this professor, Akhil Amar at Yale Law School, says, I voted for Hillary Clinton. I supported every one of the Obama Supreme Court nominees, and this is a home run.
PETE HEGSETH (GUEST CO-HOST): That’s the reality. Ultimately, as we’ve said, elections have consequences. If Hillary Clinton had won, we’d get more Sonia Sotomayors and Elena Kagans. But if you get President Trump, you get [Samuel] Alitos and [Antonin] Scalias.
HENRY: Kagen, by the way, confirmed in the middle of a midterm election in 2010 for Barack Obama. She got through.
HEGSETH: Of course, so like, the reality is is you get what you get when you vote for someone, and President Trump was the most transparent of anyone, saying, here’s the 25 I’m going to pick, he stayed faithful to that list, Brett Kavanaugh was one of them.
HENRY: [Neil] Gorsuch was on the list, Kavanaugh was on the list.
HEGSETH: And here you go, and the fact that they’re going to resist him is just a reflection of the fact that they hate Trump, so they hate anything he does.
But will he be as combative toward the mainstream press as Scott Pruitt was?
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.’”
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."
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, 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:
If it was possible to make the Fourth of July any better I leave you with this:
CNN Loses In Quarterly Ratings To Home And Garden Television https://t.co/mvqtnbtkPM
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 3, 2018
He "liked" a June 11 tweet by NRATV host and Fox regular Dan Bongino that bashed MSNBC:
A total disgrace. An embarrassment to themselves, to journalism, to their networks, and to anyone associated with them. https://t.co/OeDupG2bIr
— Dan Bongino (@dbongino) June 12, 2018
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.
This Pruitt flap is absurd. Obama EPA officials spent as much or more on travel. And career EPA ethics officials say he paid "reasonable market value" for the condo, and leasor had no business in front of EPA. The press might at least try to pretend it didn't have two standards.
— Kimberley Strassel (@KimStrassel) April 3, 2018
He "liked" a January 6 tweet by Fox News personality Brit Hume that mocked Al Gore.
Trump has done more good for the black community in 18 months than Obama did in 8 years
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) May 12, 2018
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.
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."
— Andrew Wheeler (@AndrewRWheeler) November 10, 2011
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:
Climate alarmists refuse to debate or leave their facts at home when they do....http://tinyurl.com/d2qs66
— Andrew Wheeler (@AndrewRWheeler) April 6, 2009
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.
— Andrew Wheeler (@AndrewRWheeler) December 2, 2009
And a tweet in 2015 praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'”
— Andrew Wheeler (@AndrewRWheeler) November 30, 2015
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.
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.
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."
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.
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