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  • How Fox News tries to mainstream a white supremacist conspiracy theory

    Blog ››› ››› JASON CAMPBELL & JOHN KERR

    Adding to its pattern of mainstreaming toxic extremism, Fox News regularly echoes and sanitizes the dangerous white supremacist conspiracy theory that non-white immigrants represent the threat of “replacement” to white populations. This racist talking point has already inspired massacres and hate crimes around the world.

    On March 15, an avowed white supremacist shot and killed at least 50 Muslims and injured many others at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Prior to the massacre, the shooter allegedly wrote and promoted online a manifesto titled “The Great Replacement,” seemingly a reference to a popular white supremacist conspiracy theory fearmongering about white populations being replaced in majority-white countries due to demographic changes. The same sentiment was echoed during a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, in which white supremacists holding torches chanted, “You will not replace us.”

    Proponents of the conspiracy theory often scapegoat immigration as the central cause by which white people are being “replaced,” and they blame politicians and elites, saying they are intent on changing the demographics of predominantly white nations to dilute the political power of white populations. A mass shooting believed to be deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history -- in which a gunman opened fire in October 2018 inside of a Pittsburgh, PA, synagogue, murdering 11 people -- was also motivated by the replacement conspiracy theory, with the alleged shooter accusing Jewish people of bringing in “invaders" to “kill our people."

    While the replacement conspiracy theory has long been a mainstay in white supremacist circles, Fox News has been mainstreaming the concept by consistently fearmongering about the threat of replacement via changing demographics in the United States.

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

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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

    Here are the ways they tried to spin the hearing:

    Cohen’s testimony wasn’t newsworthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Cohen’s allegations don’t hurt the president

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The testimony actually helps Trump’s legal case

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

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

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

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

    Former Clinton lawyer Lanny Davis orchestrated the hearing

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Fox News desperately insists Michael Cohen’s (other) guilty plea means “absolutely nothing”

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN KERR & NICK FERNANDEZ

    After President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to “lying to Congress about the timing and extent of his negotiations,” on behalf of the Trump Organization, to build a Trump Tower in Moscow -- his second guilty plea to a federal crime in three months -- Trump’s sycophants and defenders in the media are proclaiming that Cohen’s guilty plea means “absolutely nothing.” By furiously attempting to spin the potentially devastating news as “a nothingburger,” right-wing media are simply picking up where they left off in August after Cohen pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws on Trump’s behalf. And even though Trump’s stooges in the media have openly worried about what may come next for some time now as the special counsel investigation continues, they continue to wage their public relations campaign with laughable spin:

  • Here are the extreme reactions of abortion opponents to reports of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez reported that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted them, and Julie Swetnick attested that he was present during her own assault, numerous abortion opponents vitriolically attacked the three women and those supporting them.

    On September 16, professor Ford told The Washington Post that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when the two were in high school. This report was followed by an article in The New Yorker in which Ramirez said she was sexual assaulted by Kavanaugh when they were both at Yale. On September 26, Swetnick detailed her own experiences of attending parties with Kavanaugh at which she both witnessed and experienced sexual assault.

    Prior to these reports, leaders in the anti-abortion movement tried conflicting tactics to gin up support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation, as he will likely be a fifth vote on the court to overturn or curtail the protections for abortion access in Roe v. Wade. Before his confirmation hearing, abortion opponents and right-wing media downplayed Kavanaugh’s views on abortion by saying he wouldn’t overturn Roe, and, if he did, it would be inconsequential for abortion access (which is wrong). After the hearing, anti-abortion movement leaders celebrated Kavanaugh’s comments on abortion rights and attacked pro-choice Democrats and activists who opposed Kavanaugh based on his likely view on Roe.

    As reports about Kavanaugh emerged, anti-abortion advocates attempted to discredit the women and attack Democrats who supported them. Some also continued to blame opposition to Kavanaugh on Democrats’ view that he would threaten abortion rights. Here are some examples:

    Abortion opponents had some extreme reactions to reports from several women that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted them

    • Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue tweeted a link to a bizarre website that claimed Ford’s account was politically motivated because of the potential impact Kavanaugh’s confirmation would have on the production of a so-called abortion pill. This is a false claim attempting to conflate her research for a pharmaceutical company that develops mifepristone “to control hyperglycemia associated with Cushing's syndrome” with pills used in medication abortions:

    • Anti-abortion blogger The Activist Mommy attacked high school students who participated in the #BelieveSurvivors walkout (as well as Ford and Ramirez), saying, “People lie, ya know? Especially the rabid vagina-hat-type of chicks! You little boys are such an embarrassment to America. Get back in class & actually read your government textbook for a few seconds.” On September 26, she posted a video in which she repeated the smear that Ford works for the company that manufactures a so-called abortion pill and said that Democratic opposition to Kavanaugh is “about abortion, not assault.”
    • Bud and Tara Shaver, who run the anti-abortion group Abortion Free New Mexico (formerly known as Protest ABQ), tweeted that “any more delay” in the Senate’s vote on Kavanaugh “is anarchy/mob-rule.”
    • On September 19, The New York Times’ Ross Douthat argued that supporting Kavanaugh could hurt the anti-abortion movement. Susan B. Anthony List’s Marjorie Dannenfelser disputed this characterization, defending anti-abortion groups’ support for Kavanaugh, and tweeted in response:

    • The Federalist’s Margot Cleveland tweeted that “the Democrats MUST not be rewarded for their outrageous behavior or there will be no end to this...but there may be an end to our country.” Following reports from Swetnick about Kavanaugh’s possible presence when she was sexually assaulted (as well as her account of witnessing instances of Kavanaugh engaged in wider sexual misconduct), Cleveland tweeted, “This is the Left’s #PizzaGate." This is a reference to a conspiracy theory that prominent political figures used a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant to engage in human trafficking:

    • CRTV’s Allie Beth Stuckey tweeted that “they want to embarrass Kavanaugh, drag him, shame him in front of his wife and kids, his daughter’s basketball team, his colleagues and friends. They want him to be ostracized personally and professionally.”
    • Ryan Bomberger of the anti-abortion group Radiance Foundation attacked Ford by co-opting a graphic from the A Day Without a Woman strike, asking people to “imagine a day without a liberal activist falsely crying #metoo.”
    • Bomberger’s Radiance Foundation account similarly tweeted:

    • Micaiah Bilger, who writes for anti-abortion outlet LifeNews, tweeted at the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, “If allegations are enough to disqualify someone from something, shouldn't all the allegations against you, Planned Parenthood, disqualify you from getting half a billion of our tax dollars every year? #DefundPP.”
    • Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America (a conservative group that organized a “Women for Kavanaugh” bus tour) tweeted:

    • Operation Rescue’s Cheryl Sullenger (who has served time for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic) tweeted, “Even tho she says she saw women gang raped by others, she still kept going to rape parties. Please. Totally not believable!” She then tweeted:

    Some abortion opponents continued to fearmonger about abortion to distract from reports that Kavanaugh committed sexual assault

    Media Matters previously noted that right-wing media and anti-abortion advocates have attempted to distract from Ford’s report by claiming that Democrats are only supporting Ford because they fear Kavanaugh would overturn Roe. This trend has continued:

    • On Fox & Friends, Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera said the motivation behind Ford’s report was “all about abortion” and that “Kavanaugh is a pro-life guy and this is what it's all about.”
    • Right-wing site RedState argued, “The whole reason Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is in the crosshairs of a sexual assault allegation, and a media circus is ensuing, is because the left is 100 percent focused on making sure their ability to abort children and profit from it goes uninterrupted.”
    • LifeNews claimed that Planned Parenthood was being hypocritical for supporting Ford because there is a “growing pile of evidence that Planned Parenthood itself covers up sexual abuse,” referring to allegations from an old anti-abortion conspiracy theory that keeps being shared among anti-abortion advocates.
    • Religious news site The Stream wrote that “the anti-Kavanaughs — i.e. the Left, the Democrats — could not care less whether he’s innocent or guilty.” Rather, “this is about abortion. It’s about the larger sexual ideology as well, but abortion first and foremost,” because for these groups, “abortion is both sacrament and god.”
    • From Washington Examiner:

    • On The Howie Carr Show, Ann Coulter told Carr, “I'm kind of surprised that the pussy hat-wearing brigade didn't just get together, conspire to create some lie about Kavanaugh. They’re so obsessed with abortion. It really is going to be a great thing when Roe v. Wade is finally overturned -- just to show these idiots it's really not going to make that much of a difference.”
  • Right-wing media figures are defending Trump’s lies about the Puerto Rican death toll 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On Thursday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted that he did not believe the official death toll from Hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico last year, claiming that Democrats inflated the number to make him look “as bad as possible.” An independent study commissioned by the Puerto Rican government estimated that nearly 3,000 people died as a result of the storms, but Trump rejected this figure, claiming the high number was just "bad politics."

    The president’s comments come as multiple states are readying to face another dangerous (and “tremendously wet”) storm, and two days after Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló forcefully rejected the president’s earlier assertion that the federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria was “incredibly successful.” Instead of focusing on incoming Hurricane Florence, which has the potential to cause massive damage and threaten lives on the East Coast, the president is trying to gaslight the public, asserting with absolutely no evidence that Democrats inflated the death toll in Puerto Rico. This isn’t the first time the president has taken to Twitter to lie to the American public.  

    Unsurprisingly, right-wing media figures have once again answered the call to excuse the inexcusable:

    Fox’s Geraldo Rivera responded to news of Trump’s tweets by arguing that it is “grotesquely unfair” to blame Trump for the federal government’s response to the hurricanes and claiming that the problem with Hurricane Maria coverage is that “intense politically motivated hatred of President Trump deflects attention from what’s really needed.”

    Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton: “The dramatic increase in death toll due to hurricane in Puerto Rico is result of statistical guess work. … we should be suspicious of a guess that moves it up to nearly 3,000.”

    NRATV’s Grant Stinchfield: “I’m there with Donald Trump -- I call bogus on the 3,000 deaths."

    The Resurgent’s Erick Erickson: “The President would be more willing to accept the truth about the thousands dead in Puerto Rico if news outlet in the country weren't trying to blame him for the deaths.”

    Breitbart White House correspondent Charlie Spiering: “He’s right. The 2,975 who died did not die ‘IN’ the storm but in six month period AFTER the storm.”

    Fox News’ Cody Derespina attempted to equivocate over the “official” death toll. Using deaths that resulted from 9/11 as an analogy, he suggested that many of the hurricane deaths shouldn’t be considered in the “official tally” because many of them occurred in the months afterward.

    Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell: “Dems learned how to politicize natural disasters when Katrina hit New Orleans. It worked against Bush 43 so now they’re trying it against @realDonaldTrump with his response to Maria in Puerto Rico last year.”

    In addition, Fox News ignored Trump's denialism for several hours, at which point the network's reporter downplayed it as Trump merely continuing his "feud with Puerto Rican officials."