Ed Whelan | Media Matters for America

Ed Whelan

Tags ››› Ed Whelan
  • Prominent right-wing media embrace fever swamp conspiracy theories in last ditch effort to save Kavanaugh nomination

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

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Update (10/2/18): This piece was updated with additional conspiracy theories that spread after publication.

    Conservative media’s response to multiple reports of sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have largely relied on false claims and conspiracy theories that often originated from from fake news websites or 4chan trolls.

    Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez have both now reported that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted them. Ford came forward first and said that Kavanaugh assaulted her during a party when she was 15 and he was 17. Ramirez told The New Yorker about an incident in which he exposed himself and put his penis in her face during a party while she and Kavanaugh attended Yale.

    Conservatives have attempted to discredit Ford and Ramirez by pushing a panoply of evidence-free claims, including misidentifying other people as Ford and Ramirez; sharing false information about legal proceedings involving Ford’s family; misrepresenting professional work done by Ford’s brother; proclaiming that Ford previously accused Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch of sexual assault; and lying about Ford’s professional backgrounds.

    While many of the attacks originated from fringe outlets -- 4chan, 8chan, The Gateway Pundit, and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' Infowars -- these false claims have been embraced by influential conservative media figures including Erick Erickson, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, and John Fund.

    The timeline below shows when some of the most widely spread conspiracy theories in defense of Kavanaugh bubbled up and which right-wing media figures pushed them:

    September 17:

    Pro-Trump media figures attacked Ford based on student reviews of a different professor with a similar name. Right-wing media personalities, including Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin and right-wing blogger Jim Hoft, highlighted student reviews of the wrong professor Ford in an absurd attempt to discredit her accusation against Kavanaugh. The falsehood gained traction after it was published by far-right website Grabien News. [Media Matters, 9/17/18]

    Right-wing websites and media figures pushed a conspiracy theory that Ford’s accusation was motivated by revenge for her parents’ home foreclosure. Right-wing bloggers Hoft and Erick Erickson repeated a conspiracy theory that Ford reported Kavanaugh for assault because his mother, also a judge, presided over a foreclose of Ford’s childhood home. But Kavanaugh’s mother had actually dismissed the foreclosure case after Ford’s parents worked out an agreement with their lender, and Ford’s parents still own the home. [Media Matters, 9/18/18]

    Trump media sycophants fabricated a connection between Ford and Fusion GPS to discredit her accusation. Right-wing websites and social media trolls smeared Ford over her brother Ralph Blasey’s work at a law firm that did legal work for Fusion GPS, a company connected to the Trump/Russia investigation. But according to the trolls’ own “evidence,” Blasey’s work at the law firm ended six years before Fusion GPS was even founded. [Media Matters, 9/18/18]

    September 18:

    Rush Limbaugh and other conservative media spread a fake claim from a serial hoaxer that Ford similarly accused Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. Right-wing media figures including Rush Limbaugh repeated a made-up claim by serial hoaxer Josh Cornett that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was reluctant to share a letter Ford wrote with Feinstein’s colleagues because Ford sent a similar letter about Gorsuch last year during his confirmation hearings. [Media Matters, 9/19/18]

    September 19:

    Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones falsely identified a high school yearbook photo of a girl wearing a miniskirt as Ford and called her “captain of the sluts.” Jones and his website, Infowars, smeared Ford over excerpts from high school yearbooks of Ford’s school, falsely identifying a girl wearing a miniskirt as Ford and calling her a “hussy” and “captain of the sluts.” [Media Matters, 9/20/18]

    September 20:

    Conservative media figures embraced the outlandish theory that Ford misidentified her attacker, who they claimed was really Kavanaugh’s doppelganger. Conservative media outlets and figures including Fox News, Erick Erickson, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, and The Gateway Pundit supported a theory tweeted by conservative legal commentator Ed Whelan that Ford had confused Kavanaugh with another boy who Whelan claimed looked similar. Ford debunked the claim of mistaken identity and by the next day, Whelan had deleted his Twitter thread and apologized for publicly naming the person he suggested was the actual assailant. [Media Matters, 9/21/18]

    Far-right websites falsely claimed Ford worked for a company that manufactured an “abortion pill” to question her motive. The Gateway Pundit and other far-right websites claimed Ford’s accusation against Kavanaugh was politically motivated because of work she did for a pharmaceutical company that manufactured a so-called “abortion pill.” They said  she opposed Kavanaugh because of the possibility he would be the pivotal vote in overturning Roe v. Wade. But the pill is intended to treat a hormonal condition called Cushing’s syndrome, and it is not permitted to be prescribed to pregnant patients. [Media Matters, 9/24/18]

    September 24:

    Right-wing columnists attacked the wrong Deborah Ramirez over a “tie to George Soros.” After Ramirez told The New Yorker that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party in college, right-wing columnists Quin Hillyer and John Fund claimed that Ramirez won a Soros Justice Fellowship in 2003 and criticized the magazine for leaving out that irrelevant detail -- but they identified the wrong Deborah Ramirez. Hillyer and Fund later apologized for mixing up the two women. [Media Matters, 9/24/18]

    Fox News falsely claimed Republicans were kept in the dark about Ramirez’s report until it was published by The New Yorker. In its article on Ramirez’s report of sexual assault by Kavanaugh, The New Yorker wrote that “senior Republican staffers also learned of the allegation last week. … Soon after, Senate Republicans issued renewed calls to accelerate the timing of a committee vote.” But Fox News hosts instead pushed Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) evidence-free claim that Republican staff didn’t know about the report. [Media Matters, 9/24/18]

    September 25:

    Fox News legal analyst tried to hurt Ramirez's credibility by falsely claiming The New York Times “refused to report” Ramirez’s accusations in an effort to hurt her credibility. Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano claimed Ramirez had “no credibility” with her accusation against Kavanaugh because “The New York Times refused to report her story.” But the Times didn’t publish an initial story on Ramirez’s accusation because she was already exclusively talking to The New Yorker. [Media Matters, 9/25/18]

    September 26:

    TMZ and Erick Erickson pushed a false 8chan claim that Ford’s lawyer was pictured with Hillary Clinton during the presidential election. Right-wing blogger Erickson and Trump-friendly entertainment website TMZ ran with a false claim -- originiating on 8chan message board -- that Ford’s lawyer Debra Katz was spotted in a photo with Hillary Clinton in August 2016. In fact, the woman in the photo was Clinton photographer Barbara Kinney. [Media Matters, 9/26/18]

    September 27

    Conservative media figures alleged a conspiracy after Ford gave the innocuous answer that she didn’t know who paid for her polygraph test. Prior to coming forward, Ford underwent a polygraph exam that concluded that her account of the assault by Kavanaugh was “not indicative of deception.” During her September 27 appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Ford was asked who paid for the exam and she responded that she didn’t know. Conservative media figures, including Fox News writer Stephen Miller, Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich, and Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk, suggested that her answer was indicative of some sort of anti-Kavanaugh conspiracy. Later during the hearing, Ford’s lawyers said that they paid for it, which would be standard practice for the pro bono representation Ford is receiving. [Media Matters, 9/27/18]

    Members of right-wing media fabricated a “gotcha” moment by making a big deal about the fact that Ford has flown on planes. Ford’s fear of flying played a role in the back-and-forth with the committee leading up to her testimony, which she ultimately decided to fly to D.C. to deliver. During her testimony, Ford was questioned by a sex crimes prosecutor about past instances when she has flown, including for vacation. Conservative outlets and media figures, including Breitbart, Washington Examiner, National Rifle Association spokesperson Dana Loesch, and Ben Shapiro, all ran with the prosecutor’s insinuation that Ford had lied about being afraid of flying, failing to acknowledge that plenty of people who are scared of flying nonetheless can and do fly. [Media Matters, 9/27/18]

    September 28

    Michael Savage spread a conspiracy theory that Ford is “deeply tied to the CIA.” Conservative radio host and conspiracy theorist Michael Savage sent a tweet that went viral that claimed to list three areas where Ford had connections to the Central Intelligence Agency, all of which fell apart upon cursory inspection. In one of the instances, Savage claimed that the law firm that Ford’s brother previously worked at shares office space with several businesses he said was operated by the CIA. But there is no evidence those businesses are connected to the CIA; one of them is actually a janitorial company that doesn’t even share office space with the firm in question. Infowars’ Alex Jones promoted Savage’s conspiracy theory, which was also the top Google search result for “Christine Ford CIA” on September 28. [Media Matters, 9/28/18]

    October 1:

    A contributor to The Federalist suggested that Ford hypnotized herself in order to create a false memory of assault by Kavanaugh. Margot Cleveland, a senior contributor to The Federalist, seized on a 2008 academic article co-authored by Ford, who is a psychology professor, and 10 others that mentioned the use of hypnosis in therapy. The bizarre conspiracy theory was a misrepresentation of the article, which cited research from 1964 about hypnosis being used by therapy patients to “improve rapport in the therapeutic relationship, assist in the retrieval of important memories, and create artificial situations that would permit the client to express ego-dystonic emotions in a safe manner.” The study described by the article involved participants who were trained in self-hypnosis for use in “relaxation and affect regulation” -- not to create false memories. One of Ford’s co-authors spoke to Media Matters and slammed the conspiracy theory as “absolutely ridiculous” and that “the study had absolutely nothing to do with the creation of false memories, or the creation of memories of any kind.” The co-author noted additionally that Ford was a statistical consultant on the report, not a participant in the study, and that she worked on the data after it was collected. The disreputable website The Gateway Pundit advanced the conspiracy theory, which also spread on 4chan and Reddit’s pro-Trump “r/TheDonald” subreddit. [Media Matters, 10/1/18]

    Various dates:

    Photos falsely represented as Ford have been repeatedly shared online to discredit her. The fact-checking website Snopes.com has debunked several purported images of Ford that were spread online to discredit her. One of them was actually a photo of Ukrainian human rights activist Lyudmyla Kozlovka with philanthropist George Soros, whom the right-wing treats as a boogeyman. Another featured a photo of a half-naked woman pouring alcohol that is apparently from the 1960s, possibly before Ford was even born. Another smear attempt claimed that various women pictured at anti-Trump protests were Ford; one of them was identified as a woman named Liz Darner, while the other doesn’t “have much resemblance” to Ford, according to Snopes. The anti-choice outlet Life News and the conservative Daily Caller promoted the miscaptioned protest photos. [Snopes.com, 9/25/18, 9/23/18, 9/19/18, Twitter, 9/18/18]

  • Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups attack Christine Blasey Ford after she reported that Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her

    American Family Association: “Unless the biblical standard of two or three witnesses is met, an accusation should not be considered credible”

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ groups Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel, and American Family Association have attacked Christine Blasey Ford and worked to discredit her after she reported that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her in high school.

    Soon after President Donald Trump nominated Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on July 9, extreme anti-LGBTQ groups united behind his nomination, offering praise for Kavanaugh’s candidacy and saying he would be “strong” on their issues. Many of those same groups have doubled down on their support by attacking Christine Blasey Ford and questioning her motivations after she reported that Kavanaugh groped her and attempted to remove her clothing and rape her in high school.

    Tony Perkins, president of the highly influential Family Research Council (FRC) who was reportedly “involved in discussions with the White House” on Kavanaugh’s nomination, attacked Ford’s credibility on the September 21 edition of Fox News Channel’s Special Report with Bret Baier. During his appearance, Perkins called Ford’s story “very, very suspect,” questioned why she hadn’t come forward sooner, and asked whether or not drinking alcohol may have affected her story. Perkins also questioned whether Ford and potential witnesses “really remember the facts” and whether her attempted rapist was even Kavanaugh at all, in line with a recent conspiracy theory created by conservative media figure Ed Whelan.

    Speaking at FRC’s anti-LGBTQ Values Voter Summit, Perkins urged Republican lawmakers in attendance to “move much more aggressively” to confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and former FRC President Gary Bauer, declared the “political process” surrounding Kavanaugh’s nomination to be “political waterboarding” and a “travesty.” According to The Associated Press, Bauer mockingly re-enacted what a conversation with Ford and law enforcement may have sounded like and was reportedly met with laughter.

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ group Liberty Counsel has also attacked Ford, including by writing a six point list of so-called “disturbing facts that undermine her story.” Several of those points suggest she came forward for political reasons. The post attempted to discredit Ford by highlighting her political affiliations and those of her lawyer, Debra Katz, claiming the two “have a history of Democratic activism” and anti-Trump advocacy. Liberty Counsel also launched a “fax barrage” directly linking its supporters to the offices of elected officials to send messages of support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. The “fax barrage” served as a fundraiser for Liberty Counsel and claimed that Ford’s story does “not align with the moral integrity” of Kavanaugh. Additionally, Liberty Counsel sent an email blast to supporters in which its Chairman Mat Staver called Ford’s story “a shameful, desperate attempt to destroy a person in order to stop his nomination to the Supreme Court” and characterized her as “someone who has an ever-changing story with plenty of political motivation.”

    In a separate email to supporters on September 22, Staver continued attacks against Ford, saying she was “being used to create an excuse to delay the hearing” and listing statements from various supporters of Kavanaugh in an attempt to undermine her credibility. On September 24, Mat Staver’s wife Anita Staver, who serves as president of Liberty Counsel, suggested that Ford was a liar in a tweet: “I believe survivors but not liars!”

    Additionally, former Liberty Counsel attorney Matt Barber, who still co-hosts one of its radio programs, attacked Ford on Twitter, where he likened her to a “suicide bomber” and compared her story’s effect on the Kavanaugh confirmation to a “political witch burning.” Barber also said Ford “would be fully exposed & further discredited,” and that “true victims” will be “distrusted because political vultures cried wolf one too many times.” In a separate post, he claimed, “We have entered the age of #MeToo McCarthyism. Pure evil.”

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ group American Family Association (AFA) has also launched attacks against Ford. Bryan Fischer, host of AFA’s American Family Radio show Focal Point, attempted to use Ford’s political affiliations and her lawyer’s legal career to discredit her story in a September 17 blog post. Fischer claimed that Katz “has made a career out of dismissing sexual assault allegations against liberal politicians.” In the same blog post, Fischer wrote, “The Bible is very clear that no serious allegation should ever be accepted against someone on the basis of one lone allegation.” In a September 18 email to supporters, AFA President Tim Wildmon reiterated that claim and wrote that “unless the biblical standard of two or three witnesses is met, an accusation should not be considered credible.” AFA initially did not support Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court but quickly reversed course after hearing the “passionate defense of Judge Kavanaugh by many we consider to be friends in the pro-life movement."

    Ford is set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, September 27, about Kavanaugh’s attempted rape.

  • Here are the conservative media outlets and figures pushing the outlandish theory that Christine Blasey Ford misidentified her attacker

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Conservative legal commentator Ed Whelan yesterday pushed a theory that it wasn’t Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh who sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford, but another man who looked like Kavanaugh. While many have denounced the speculation, calling it, for instance, “wildly irresponsible,” several mainstream and fringe conservative media outlets and personalities endorsed Whelan’s theory.

    Ford has debunked the claim, saying there’s “zero chance that I would confuse them.” Though Whelan later deleted his tweets and apologized for identifying the supposed doppelganger, he hasn’t retracted his theory.

    In the days before Whelan tweeted his ridiculous theory, other conservative media figures and even a Republican lawmaker speculated that Ford was mistaken about who assaulted her. A Wall Street Journal editorial published on September 17 with the title “The #MeToo Kavanaugh Ambush” claimed, “Mistaken identity is also possible.” The same day, Fox News The Five co-host Jesse Watters speculated, “Maybe it was a case of mistaken identity.” And Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggested Ford is “mixed up.” On September 18, conservative Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker wrote that “as crazy as that sounds, it wouldn't be unheard of” for this to be just a matter of “mistaken identity,” in a column titled “Is there a Kavanaugh doppelganger?”

    But it was Whelan’s now-deleted thread of tweets, posted on September 20, that spread throughout conservative media. Those who promoted it include:

    Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy: Whelan “figured out what house it may have happened at, because it was a house closest to the golf course, and then realized whose house it was and looked at a picture of the young man who lived there at the time who was a classmate of Mr. Kavanaugh's. Put up side by side images, they look a lot alike.”

    Conservative blogger Erick Erickson: Whelan “decided to put up a more compelling story that embraces Ford’s theory of assault.”

    While I am still not convinced there was an assault on Professor Ford, an intriguing theory has come forward that embraces the idea she was assaulted and makes a far more plausible case than that Brett Kavanaugh did it.

    Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center decided to put up a more compelling story that embraces Ford's theory of assault, while filling in the details she provided. And while I continue to find it unseemly to drag another innocent person into a fraudulent claim, the facts are very compelling that this is the location and things make more sense if you assume Ford was assaulted.

    The facts, as Ed Whelan laid them out, are that Brett Kavanaugh did go to school with someone who has a striking resemblance. That person lived within walking distance of the club Ford claims she had been at. The home matches the limited description Ford provided. I suspect more information will roll out as well over the coming days.

    I continue to believe Ford's accusation is not credible. If you find it credible, Whelan's evidence is compelling unless you're just trying to stop Kavanaugh for partisan or ideological reasons.

    Conservative NY Times columnist Ross Douthat: I “assume there’s more reason to believe [Whelan’s] doppelganger theory than just what he just tweeted.”

    Gateway Pundit: Whelan “drops pictures and evidence that blows Christine Ford’s case wide open.”

    Accuser Christine Blasey Ford is waging a war on Trump’s SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh with decades-old, unsubstantiated claims of sexual assault in an effort to derail his confirmation to the Supreme Court.

    Judge Kavanaugh has categorically denied the allegations and even told Senator Orin (sic) Hatch he wasn’t at the party in question.

    Ed Whelan, Justice Scalia’s former law clerk and president of conservative think tank the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), came out in defense of Brett Kavanaugh and said compelling evidence will come out next week exonerating Kavanaugh.

    On Thursday afternoon, Ed Whelan started dropping pictures and evidence that may blow Christine Ford’s case wide open.

    Twitchy: “Ed Whelan’s BOMBSHELL thread takes Ford’s accusations against Kavanaugh apart.”

    Earlier today, Twitchy covered the ‘rumor’ that information had been obtained that some felt would 100% exonerate Kavanaugh. This originally stemmed from tweets Ed Whelan sent out in the first part of this week.

    Welp, looks like Ed made good on his claim and posted a thread of facts that would give anyone pause as to what really did and did not happen to Ford and could eventually prove Kavanaugh’s innocence.

    Keep in mind, we can neither confirm nor deny anything Whelan has stated in his bombshell thread.

    Zero Hedge: “Was Kavanaugh accuser almost raped by his doppelganger? A new theory emerges.”

    A new theory has emerged in the case of whether Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted accuser Christine Blasey Ford roughly 35 years ago; it was Kavanaugh's high school look-alike, whose high school house better fits Ford's description, and who kept in touch with the other guy allegedly in the room, Mark Judge.

    The theory was presented Thursday afternoon by Ed Whelan, a former clerk to USSC Justice Antonin Scalia and currently president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), a conservative think tank.

    The Goldwater: “Breaking: Attorney Ed Whelan drops explosive evidence of vindication for Judge Kavanaugh.”

    Ford has been traumatized by the memory of sexual assault for 35 years. She sought therapy in 2012 due to the horrible memories. No one would go to all that trouble for nothing. Something happened to her.

    I couldn’t wrap my head around this story. What happened here? There had to be an explanation. Something I was missing. Then I read a story today that closed some loopholes for me. Below is the story I read.

    Please note that I am in no way stating that this is true. We have no idea what happened to Ford back when she was a teenager. This is just one idea, one possibility. Keep in mind that Ford can’t remember much about the details. It was a long time ago. This is why Kavanaugh should have never been put through this. He and his family are suffering, and Ford has no facts to base her allegations on.

    Ed Whalen’s Theory of Kavanaugh Rape…

    Conservative Firing Line: “It looks like the case brought against Judge Brett Kavanaugh just took another serious hit.”

    It looks like the case brought against Judge Brett Kavanaugh just took another serious hit. The Washington Post reported that Ed Whelan, a former clerk for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the president of conservative think tank the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), said “compelling evidence” which apparently includes photos and maps would exonerate Kavanaugh from allegations brought by Christine Blasey Ford.

    Powerline promoted Whelan’s tweets with headline “Mistake identity?”

    Paul (and Senator Orrin Hatch) has already mentioned the possibility that Dr. Ford’s allegation of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh may be a case of mistaken identity, based in part on Ed Whelan’s cryptic tweets that Kavanaugh is going to be fully exonerated. This has set off a firestorm of rumors and expectations. Whelan has just now (6 pm eastern time) provided one specific scenario of this on Twitter, offering up a specific name (though careful to note that he makes no allegation of implication that the other person, Chris Garrett, assaulted Ford as claimed).

    Read the whole thread—it doesn’t take long, but it is not easily summarized here.

  • Fox & Friends promotes Ed Whelan’s shockingly reckless Kavanaugh defense to its massive audience

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox & Friends, President Donald Trump's favorite morning news program, on Friday promoted a conservative activist's shockingly reckless theory postulating that Christine Blasey Ford's statement that she was sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in the 1980s is actually a case of mistaken identity.

    Ed Whelan, a former law clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia and the president of the think tank the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is among the nation’s foremost conservative legal commentators. From his post at National Review Online’s “Bench Memos” blog, he helped shape the Republican strategy to defeat President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees and confirm Trump’s. Whelan is an establishment insider who boasts a “decadeslong friendship with Kavanaugh and close involvement with the nomination.”

    And so, when Whelan tweeted on Tuesday night that he expected Kavanaugh to be “clearly vindicated” of sexually assaulting Ford within the week, conservatives took notice. Even mainstream journalists treated his hints as credible, wondering what information he might have that could exonerate the nominee.

    Two evenings later, Whelan revealed his evidence in a tweetstorm that should irreparably shatter any credibility he has in mainstream circles.

    Whelan cited a combination of Google Maps, Zillow listings, a Facebook post, and the Georgetown Prep yearbook to concoct the theory that while Ford “may well have been the victim of a severe sexual assault by someone 36 years ago,” it is possible that she was “mistakenly remembering” a different student from Kavanaugh. Whelan named and posted photos of a former Kavanaugh classmate who he said “resembled” the nominee, all but accusing him of being the “real” attempted rapist.

    Ford swiftly quashed the obviously ill-conceived doppelganger theory, responding in a statement that she had known and socialized with both Kavanaugh and the student Whelan named, and “there is zero chance that I would confuse them.”

    Whelan’s absurdly reckless speculation drew condemnations from all but the most extreme of Kavanaugh die-hards. On Twitter, journalists panned Whelan’s actions as “wildly irresponsible” and “stunningly irresponsible.” Right-wing commentators suggested that Whelan had put forth an “insane theory” that was “so nasty and desperate-seeming that it taints Kavanaugh” and that the NRO blogger could “end up in court for defaming a private figure.”

    “Republicans on Capitol Hill and White House officials immediately sought to distance themselves from Whelan’s claims and said they were not aware of his plans to identify the former classmate,” The Washington Post reported.

    But as nearly the entirety of the conservative movement desperately tried to put as much space as possible between themselves and Whelan’s implosion, the moronic Trump sycophants at Fox & Friends blasted his theory to their audience.

    “A fellow by the name of Ed Whelan,” co-host Steve Doocy began during the program’s opening segment, “ … he looked at what Christine Ford told The Washington Post and figured out, OK, these people were named, these four people, where did they live?”

    He continued, “And looked at what she had said and figured out what house it may have happened at, because it was a house closest to the golf course, and then realized whose house it was and looked at a picture of the young man who lived there at the time who was a classmate of Mr. Kavanaugh's. Put up side by side images -- they look a lot a like.”

    “Really?” Ainsley Earhardt responded.

    “Is it a case of mistaken identity?” asked Ed Henry. “Now Dr. Ford put out a statement last night insisting she knows the difference between Judge Kavanaugh--”

    “Zero chance,” Doocy interjected.

    “And this other person and there's no chance,” Henry continued. “So we'll see.”

    A few hours after millions of Americans heard his theory treated as credible on national television, Whelan apologized on Twitter for his “appalling and inexcusable mistake of judgment” and deleted his tweetstorm.

    Roughly 10 minutes later, an apparently unaware Doocy raised Whelan’s hypothesis of a Kavanaugh doppelganger in an interview with legal commentator Jonathan Turley.

    As the program closed, he read the tweet but did not apologize for Fox & Friends’ role in promoting the theory.

    The eagerness of Fox & Friends’ hosts to promote conspiracy theories should once more trigger a spike in alarm, given the president’s penchant for beginning his day with their program.

    And the wild irresponsibility of one of the leading lights of the conservative commentariat -- following a week in which right-wingers cynically dove into the fever swamps to find any possible way to discredit Ford -- should show just how deep the rot is in the right-wing media.

  • Conservative Media Figures Backing Trump's Supreme Court Nominee Are Whitewashing 293 Days Of GOP Obstruction

    ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Conservative media figures celebrated President Donald Trump’s nomination of federal appellate Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and suggested the Senate should confirm him. This view is hypocritical in light of the historic Senate GOP obstruction used to kill former President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, who was a far less ideological choice than Gorsuch.

  • How The National Review Pushed A Lie Into The Supreme Court Contraception Case

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    On March 23, the Supreme Court heard Zubik v. Burwell, a case brought by religious nonprofits challenging the process for opting out of the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) contraception mandate. Prior to oral arguments, the National Review falsely alleged that a leading expert on religious liberty law had "retracted" his support for the government's position. This falsehood was then apparently referred to during oral arguments to attack the ACA's accommodation for religiously affiliated organizations that seek an opt-out from required contraception coverage in their employer-sponsored health insurance.

  • Right-Wing Media Have Been Following Their Deceptive SCOTUS Nominee Playbook To A T

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    supreme-court

    On March 16, President Obama announced his nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Before the nomination, Media Matters explained how right-wing media would respond: by following their deceptive conservative playbook against the nominee, regardless of who it was. And that's exactly what they did. Right-wing media resurrected the same tired tactics they've used before to oppose Obama's judicial nominees -- distorting the nominee's record to push alarmist rhetoric, purposefully taking past statements out of context, and lobbing attacks based on the nominee's race, gender, or religion. In the last week, we've already seen many of these plays put into action, with conservative media predictably propping up dishonest talking points and false claims dedicated to obstruction.

    Judicial Crisis Network Has Led The Pack In Pushing Debunked Misinformation On Garland's Record Into Media Coverage

    The discredited conservative group Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) -- known as the Judicial Confirmation Network during the Bush administration, but now committed to opposing Obama judicial nominations -- has led the way in fearmongering around "one more liberal justice," attempting to re-cast Garland's record as that of an anti-gun, job-killing judicial extremist.

    JCN began its misinformation campaign well before Garland's March 16 nomination, pushing myths about the records of several potential nominees at the National Review's Bench Memos legal blog, in press statements and attack ads, and in media appearances by JCN chief counsel Carrie Severino. On March 11, Severino authored a post on the Bench Memos blog attempting to smear Garland as "very liberal on gun rights" by grossly distorting actions he took on two cases pulled from his nearly two decades of judicial service, one of which did not even concern the Second Amendment. Severino cited Garland's 2007 vote to rehear a case on D.C.'s handgun ban and his 2000 ruling in a case related to the national background check system for gun purchases to draw this baseless conclusion. But she failed to note crucial context -- voting to rehear a case in what's called an en banc review does not indicate how a judge might theoretically rule, and in both cases, Garland either acted in agreement with colleagues or other courts across the ideological spectrum. Veteran Supreme Court reporters and numerous legal experts quickly and summarily debunked these misleading claims, but other right-wing outlets have further distorted them, and JCN has pushed the myths in subsequent attack ads and media appearances.

    Following Garland's formal nomination, JCN released a series of "topline points" outlining its opposition, further misrepresenting Garland's guns record to falsely suggest he had "voted to uphold" D.C.'s handgun ban and "demonstrated a remarkable level of hostility to the Second Amendment," as well as contending Garland was "the sole dissenter in a 2002 case striking down an illegal, job-killing EPA regulation." Like its earlier attacks on Garland's supposedly "very liberal" guns record, JCN's newer claims about Garland's ruling in the 2002 EPA case also grossly distorted the facts.

    Some mainstream outlets have uncritically echoed JCN's debunked "topline points" and attack ads on Garland's record, and these reports -- in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, and on National Public Radio -- lend an air of undeserved legitimacy to the group's misinformation campaign against Garland.

    National Review Has Served As The Right-Wing-Media Source For Misleading Talking Points

    National Review's Supreme Court coverage to date has continued its tradition of injecting context-free talking points into mainstream reporting on the nominee. Its legal blog, Bench Memos, has served as a testing ground for new smears against Garland, hosting several misinformation-filled posts from JCN's Severino that eventually made their way into mainstream reporting and broadcast coverage. In giving space for JCN and other right-wing legal pundits like contributor Ed Whelan to distort Garland's record, Bench Memos quickly made it clear that a lack of evidence is no reason to avoid making sweeping claims about the nominee.

    Before Garland was nominated, National Review featured posts from both Severino and Whelan that attempted to smear several potential nominees. On March 7, Whelan questioned the intelligence of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson absent any evidence to suggest the accomplished federal judge was anything but qualified. That same day, Severino attempted to smear Judge Jane Kelly for fulfilling her constitutional duty of providing legal representation for an unsavory client while working as a public defender. In subsequent posts, Severino attacked Judges Sri Srinivasan and Paul Watford in a series aimed to undermine their reputations as "moderates" by misrepresenting a handful of their past decisions as "extremist."

    Attacks on Garland, too, began before the March 16 nomination announcement; Severino's March 11 post on Bench Memos first floated what have since become widespread and false conservative talking points on Garland's record on guns. In the post, Severino claimed that Garland's vote to rehear a 2007 case related to the D.C. handgun ban and his joining of a ruling in a 2000 case related to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System for gun purchases together indicated "a very liberal approach" to the Second Amendment and a desire to overturn the 2008 Heller Supreme Court decision on the Second Amendment. These attacks, which legal experts quickly and repeatedly debunked, continue to pervade media coverage of opposition to Garland's nomination.

    Fox Figures Have Parroted Debunked Claims, Reporting Misinformation As Fact To A Wider Audience

    Fox News figures have predictably latched onto conservative talking points to oppose Garland, broadcasting already debunked claims about Garland's record.

    On March 16, Bret Baier, host of Fox's Special Report With Bret Baier, claimed in an interview with White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest that Garland "opposed Justice Scalia's take on the Second Amendment in the Heller case," misrepresenting both Garland's 2007 vote to rehear the D.C. handgun case and the case's relationship to a Supreme Court decision issued the following year. On Fox's The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly further distorted JCN's talking point, incorrectly stating that Garland had "voted to keep the guns away" from private citizens in D.C., another claim about the Supreme Court nominee that PolitiFact labeled false.

    The NRA Has Launched An Opposition Campaign Based On These Recycled Talking Points

    As Media Matters warned, the National Rifle Association (NRA) quickly began pushing these right-wing media claims to justify its involvement in obstruction efforts and to fearmonger about Garland.

    Immediately following Garland's nomination on March 16, the NRA declared him "bad on guns." In a series of tweets reacting to the nomination, the NRA linked to the debunked March 11 Severino post on Bench Memos to claim that Garland would "vote to reverse" the Heller decision, and a Washington Times article pushing the same discredited claims with quotes from Severino, a spokesperson from the opposition research group America Rising Squared, and the extremist group Gun Owners of America.

    Later that day, the NRA formally announced its opposition to Garland's nomination. The move predictably mirrored the NRA's efforts to distort Sonia Sotomayor's record and to launch an unprecedented and largely ineffective ploy to threaten senators' records over their votes to confirm Sotomayor to the Supreme Court in 2009. Days later, the executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action explained the group's opposition in an op-ed in The Washington Post, regurgitating JCN's dishonest claims about Garland's 2007 en banc vote in the Parker case to fearmonger about the moderate judge.

    The NRA's opposition to Garland helped elevate JCN's long-debunked talking points on Garland all the way to Senate Republicans leading the obstruction efforts. In a March 20 appearance on Fox News Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) explicitly cited the NRA's opposition to Garland as a sticking point for ongoing Senate obstruction, explaining that he "can't imagine that a Republican majority in the United States Senate would want to confirm, in a lame duck session, a nominee opposed by the National Rifle Association."

  • Conservatives Have Been Praising Merrick Garland For Years

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    On March 16, President Obama announced his nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the United States Supreme Court. Garland has faced misleading and false attacks, as well as a concerted push for continued obstruction of any Supreme Court nominee chosen by Obama. However, some of the same conservative officials and pundits have previously lavished Garland with praise arguing that he would be a "consensus nominee" representing "the best scenario" for bipartisan support.

  • Here Are The Big Players In The Inevitable Smear Campaign Against Judge Merrick Garland

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    As President Obama reportedly prepares to announce Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, media should be prepared to hear from several right-wing groups dedicated to opposing the nominee, no matter who it is. These advocacy groups and right-wing media outlets have a history of pushing misleading information and alarmist rhetoric to launch smear campaigns against Obama's highly qualified Supreme Court nominees, using tactics including, but not limited to, spreading offensive rumors about a nominee's personal life, deploying bogus legal arguments or conspiracy theories, and launching wild distortions of every aspect of a nominee's legal career.

  • Smears And Obstruction: How Right-Wing Media Are Teaming Up With GOP For A Supreme Court Blockade

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    President Obama hasn't even named his nominee to fill the current Supreme Court vacancy, and already the toxic right-wing media attacks have begun on jurists thought to be under consideration for the highest court in the land.

    Sizing up federal district judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, an African-American woman who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard-Radcliffe College and cum laude from Harvard Law School, National Review's Ed Whelan this week suggested Jackson just isn't smart enough to sit on the Supreme Court in the seat once occupied by the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

    And last week, National Review smeared Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jane Kelly, another judge reportedly under consideration to fill the vacancy. The attack centered around the fact that Kelly, who served as a federal public defender in Iowa for nearly 20 years, once arranged a plea deal for a client charged with receiving and possessing child pornography. National Review suggested that's disqualifying for Kelly.

    Note: Public defenders are paid to advocate for clients and sometimes those clients are guilty. (The whole point of the job is written into the Constitution.) Attacking a jurist for previously serving the state by providing accused criminals their constitutionally mandated right to legal representation is, of course, a duplicitous cheap shot.

    We've seen this guilt-by-association playbook used before when conservatives try to demean jurists promoted by Democrats. And according to Republicans, who have already vowed to block Obama's nomination and to not even hold hearings, the ugly attacks are only going to intensify when Obama's pick is announced. "I think they will bear some resemblance to a piñata," Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said of the soon-to-be nominee. (A day after Cornyn's "piñata" remark, video was unearthed of Cornyn saying in 2006, "The current regime treats Supreme Court nominees more like piñatas than human beings. And that's something none of us should be willing to tolerate.")

    Early indications are those piñata attacks will be specious, mean-spirited, and detached from reality. And yes, Republicans will surely be working behind the scenes with the conservative media in an attempt to degrade the next high court nominee. So while Republicans obstruct in the Senate, the Fox News-led noise machine will likely be blaring out attacks and misinformation.

    The third leg of the attack apparatus is made up of conservative groups like the Judicial Crisis Network and America Rising, which churn out hit pieces on Obama judicial picks that are repeated endlessly by the right-wing media. "Top Republican senators are also expected to meet with conservative groups involved in the strategy," Politico recently reported.

    True story: Under President George W. Bush, Judicial Crisis Network's name was Judicial Confirmation Network and its guiding principle was to "ensure that the confirmation process for all judicial nominees is fair and that every nominee sent to the full Senate receives an up or down vote."

    Today, not so much.

    It's clear that with the GOP's radical blockade surrounding this nomination, we've already entered uncharted political waters. With the Republicans' refusal to even meet with Obama's nominee, the GOP has opted to systematically shred more than 100 years of Washington, D.C. protocol for Supreme Court nominations. But that doesn't mean the press should allow the conservative media to also rewrite the norms of the nomination process. And that shouldn't give the far-right press the power to dictate the public debate that will soon unfold.

    Yet we're already seeing indication they are: "Obama's pick, in short, will get all the drawbacks of heightened scrutiny that comes with the nomination, but with little chance of actually getting the job," according to Politico, mirroring GOP talking points that any Obama nominee faces a lose-lose scenario. (Note that Obama's pick could certainly get the job if a Democrat wins the White House in November and then re-nominates the same judge.) 

    The right-wing media smears are designed to generate controversy and throw nominees off-message. But politically, the campaigns only work if the Beltway press embraces and legitimizes them.  Just look back at Obama's two previous Supreme Court nominations, we recall the 2009 nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, which was tarred by ugly smears launched by the far-right press and rather irresponsibly echoed in the Beltway media.

    That controversy revolved around a then-seven-year old comment Sotomayor made in a speech about how a "Latina woman" judge might reach a "better conclusion" on the bench than her white male counterparts. But context was key: She was referring only to discrimination cases and stressing how diversity expands perspective.

    Nonetheless, Rush Limbaugh immediately dubbed Sotomayor a "reverse racist" and the media adopted the storyline, but only by completely ignoring the "Latina woman" context.

    As Media Matters noted at the time, Politico failed to provide context for the quote here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. So did Time, The Economist, Congressional Quarterly, The Dallas Morning News, USA Today, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among others.

    On and one it went. The media pile-on got so bad that CBS's Bob Schieffer wondered if Sotomayor's quote would "keep her from being confirmed as a justice on the Supreme Court." (She won her confirmation by a wide margin.)

    But also recall the 2010 nomination of Elena Kagan, where underhanded conservative attacks were often ignored or dismissed by the D.C. press. The same GOP-driven attack machine tried to spin the tale that Kagan "banned" military recruiters from the Harvard Law School campus during her tenure as dean, which wasn't true. Rather than echoing the right-wing lie, the press provided important context that exposed conservatives' falsehoods about Kagan's record. 

    So yes, the good news was the Kagan smear campaign sputtered and wasn't echoed by the mainstream media. But in today's truly poisonous environment created by the GOP's Supreme Court blockade, who knows what claims and attacks will be unfurled in coming weeks.

    Let's hope the trend continues towards responsibility and away from treating smears as news. It would be media malpractice to allow the conservative press to dictate the contours of this Supreme Court debate.

  • Conservative Legal Pundit: Woman Of Color On Reported SCOTUS Shortlist Isn't Very Smart

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Ketanji Brown JacksonFederal district Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a possible nominee for the Supreme Court, would represent only the second woman of color ever to serve on the high court. She graduated with honors from Harvard College and Harvard Law School before clerking for three judges (including a Supreme Court Justice). Yet, a leading right-wing pundit on judicial issues would like you to think that she isn't actually very smart, claiming that unnamed sources would say she is not regarded "among the leading lights of the federal district court in D.C."

    Jackson was named by The Washington Post as a candidate under consideration to fill the vacancy opened by Justice Antonin Scalia's death. Ed Whelan, the president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, responded in a March 7 National Review post:

    It's very odd to see federal district judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on the White House's supposed short list for the Supreme Court vacancy. As any reporter would quickly discover, she is not regarded by her colleagues or the bar as among the leading lights of the federal district court in D.C. And, no, that's not just because she hasn't been on that court for very long. 

    Here's how Jackson's "impeccable" credentials were described by Tom Goldstein, a lawyer who regularly argues before the Supreme Court and is the publisher of SCOTUSblog:

    Ketanji Brown Jackson is a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  She was confirmed by without any Republican opposition in the Senate not once, but twice. She was confirmed to her current position in 2013 by unanimous consent -- that is, without any stated opposition. She was also previously confirmed unanimously to a seat on the U.S. Sentencing Commission (where she became vice chair).

    She is a young -- but not too young (forty-five) -- black woman. Her credentials are impeccable. She was a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard College and cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School. She clerked on the Supreme Court (for Justice Stephen Breyer) and had two other clerkships as well. As a lawyer before joining the Sentencing Commission, she had various jobs, including as a public defender.

    Whelan's source-free critique echoes similar attacks based on gender and racial biases that were leveled at Justice Sonia Sotomayor when she was the first woman of color to be nominated for the Supreme Court. Based on reported anonymous criticism, Sotomayor was smeared as "a lightweight" who was "not that smart," and "not that intellectually bright." As noted racist Pat Buchanan put it, "That lady up there is a Scalia? Come on!"

  • NRO Accuses VA Attorney General Of Playing Politics For Refusing To Defend Same-Sex Marriage Ban

    ››› ››› MEAGAN HATCHER-MAYS

    National Review Online is pushing an accusation that Virginia attorney general Mark Herring is "politicizing" his office because he has refused to defend that state's same-sex marriage ban in court. In reality, Herring's decision is a common one -- state officials on both sides of the political aisle have frequently refused to defend laws they consider to be unconstitutional, and he is not alone in his legal analysis.