Jason Chaffetz | Media Matters for America

Jason Chaffetz

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  • Trump officials and right-wing media use Jakelin Caal Maquin's death to rally for Trump's wall

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Update (12/18/18): This piece has been updated with an additional example.

    Following reports of the December 8 death of Jakelin Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old girl from Guatemala who died after being taken into Border Patrol custody, high-level White House officials and prominent right-wing media personalities exploited her death to advocate for President Donald Trump’s desired border wall while accusing her father of causing the tragedy.

    On December 13, The Washington Post reported that Caal Maquin “died of dehydration and shock after she was taken into Border Patrol custody last week for crossing from Mexico into the United States illegally with her father and a large group of migrants along a remote span of New Mexico desert.” She did not receive medical treatment until an hour and a half after it was requested. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) claimed that Caal Maquin “reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days” before her death -- but this was quickly disputed by her father, Nery Gilberto Caal Cruz. According to a statement from his lawyers, Caal Cruz “made sure she was fed and had sufficient water." The family wants an investigation into Caal Maquin's death.

    The Post first resported Caal Maquin’s death several days after it happened. But once the story broke on December 13, right-wing media personalities and major Trump administration officials immediately began exploiting her death or claiming that her father had caused it:

    Fox News host Sean Hannity: “A wall can prevent these types of heart-breaking stories.”

    White House senior adviser Stephen Miller during a Fox appearance: “If you want to stop the horrors on the northward trek, ... then, for the love of God, fund the border wall.”

    MSNBC contributor and talk radio host Hugh Hewitt: Caal Maquin’s death "is about the most complete argument for building a long, strong" border wall.

    Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen during a Fox appearance: "This family chose to cross illegally."

    Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz: "That should be the message, don't make this journey, it will kill you."

    CNN political commentator and BlazeTV host Ben Ferguson: “This is child abuse in its worst form. … This is sick.”

    Fox News guest and Border Patrol Council Vice President Art Del Cueto: “No one’s pointing the finger at this father, they’re all pointing the finger at the Border Patrol agents, and that’s just disgusting.”

    One America News host Graham Ledger: Caal Maquin was a “seven-year-old illegal” whose parents should be “investigated for probable child abuse.”

    One America News host Liz Wheeler: Caal Maquin’s father “forced her to undergo the dangerous journey to the U.S. border and didn’t feed her or give her water for days and days on end.”

    Fox News host Laura Ingraham: “Now they’re, ‘Oh, it’s Trump’s fault that a seven-year-old girl died after her father dragged her across a desert for seven days.’ That’s Trump’s fault?”

    Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro: "The person responsible for all of this is the father who didn't feed the child."

    Video by Leanne Naramore

  • Investigating Trump is not “harassment”

    Don’t fall into the trap of conflating Democratic oversight with retribution

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    This morning, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell made a point of warning House Democrats not to use the powers of executive oversight and investigation they won in yesterday’s midterm elections. He said the incoming House Democratic majority’s plans for investigating Donald Trump’s corruption are tantamount to “presidential harassment,” and he warned that the strategy will backfire on the party in the same way it stung congressional Republicans during the Bill Clinton years. “I’m not so sure it will work for them,” McConnell said.

    Obviously this advice was not offered in good faith, but McConnell’s words weren’t meant for Democratic ears to begin with. McConnell was speaking to conservative media and mainstream pundits, and he wanted to lay down the marker that all Democratic investigation of the White House will be illegitimate, punitive, and politically motivated.

    McConnell has a receptive audience. On Fox News, former Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz -- who spent years leading endless Republican fishing expeditions into the 2012 Benghazi attacks -- complained that Democrats are going to be “insatiable” in their investigations because “they can't believe that Donald Trump's the president. They're going to go after everything from impeachment, to pharmaceuticals, to how is the president profiting from his hotel.” Meanwhile, pundits on other networks are already preemptively scolding Democrats for overreaching with investigations and helping Trump:

    This is an easy trap to fall into -- the mainstream press has an unshakeable affinity for both-sideism that wrongly conflates actual malfeasance (like, say, having your golf-club cronies secretly set veterans policy) with lesser offenses (like, say, being “too aggressive” in investigating the president). Republicans and the conservative media are laying this trap because they understand the threat posed by real, sustained oversight of the Trump administration.

    The past two years of government have been marked by two separate, linked dynamics: sprawling and flagrant corruption by the president, his family, and senior members of his government; and the complicity of a Republican-controlled Congress that thwarted all investigation into Trump’s graft and determinedly shirked its oversight duties to shield the president politically.

    Now Republicans have lost their ability to protect their corrupt president, and they’re scared that the bill is coming due. And they know full well just how bad it could get: Prior to the election, House Republicans compiled and shared a handy spreadsheet of the Trump administration’s corrupt acts and abuses of power they were worried Democrats would dig into if they won subpoena power. The House GOP’s spreadsheet is remarkable both for the large number of discrete scandals it contained, and the fact that it still doesn’t come anywhere close to a full accounting of the president’s corruption.

    What McConnell, Fox News, and other conservatives are banking on now is that the media will assist them in framing all investigations of the president’s actions as nothing more than partisan squabbling and score-settling. They’re going to try and turn the president -- who has so far enjoyed a free hand to abuse his power and enrich himself -- into a victim of “harassment” by a Democratic coalition that is motivated solely by lingering outrage over the 2016 election. It’s a transparently cynical and self-serving ploy to shield Trump from the grossly overdue investigation he deserves.

  • Right-wing media's message to survivors: It's better if you keep quiet

    Blog ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Ever since the first of three women reported sexual misconduct by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, right-wing media’s message to victims of sexual violence has rung painfully clear -- if you come forward and tell your story, you’re putting yourself at risk and the establishment will circle the wagons to protect your abuser.

    Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick have faced unending smear campaigns while also being summarily dismissed by those seeking to ram Kavanaugh onto the court. Conservative media have systematically overlooked the fact that Kavanaugh lied and perjured himself during Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, instead propagating outlandish conspiracy theories about his accusers and questioning whether they have political motivations. Their smear campaign coalesces around one simple message of intimidation: If you tell your truth about sexual violence, it won’t disqualify your assailant from moving up in his career; instead, you’ll ruin the reputation of a good man, and a right-wing attack mob will set its sight on ruining yours as well.

    Conservative media message: Sexual assault allegations do not disqualify Brett Kavanaugh from a promotion

    Right-wing media’s radical and insulting insistence that a history of sexual assault doesn’t disqualify a man from sitting on the Supreme Court is perhaps the most honest confession in their coverage of allegations made against Brett Kavanaugh. They are telling survivors that coming forward is, as Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) put it, but a “hiccup” on the way to their assailant getting a promotion.

    Perhaps the most shameless example of conservatives telling on themselves is an article published in The Federalist titled, “Why Brett Kavanaugh Should Be Confirmed To The Supreme Court Even If He’s Guilty.” An anonymous author argues “the actual impact” of Kavanaugh’s alleged history of sexual violence would likely be irrelevant to his “behavior as a Supreme Court justice.” The article goes on to say that “the stakes” of confirming Kavanaugh “are even higher” now than they were before, noting that if he fails to get on the court, “every Supreme Court nomination henceforth will be derailed by mere allegation.”

    For its part, Fox News has also made clear that Ford’s report should not get in the way of Kavanaugh’s promotion. This is not a surprise, considering that the network functions as a mouthpiece for the White House communications team led by disgraced former Fox executive Bill Shine, who was forced out due to his role in the culture of sexual harassment that prevailed under Roger Ailes. Here are some of the most offensive takes from the network’s Kavanaugh coverage:

    • Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt insisted that “there has to be a vote” on Kavanaugh despite reports of sexual assault.
    • Fox contributor and former Bush administration flack Ari Fleischer asked if the “bigger ethical issue” of stopping alleged sexual predators from getting a lifetime judicial appointment is that it sets a precedent that they should be held “accountable” for “a disputable high school action.”
    • Fox contributor Mollie Hemingway questioned “whether it’s even appropriate that you can bring forth an allegation” from “35 years after the fact.”
    • On The Ingraham Angle, guest Wendy Long admitted, “I don’t think [Dr. Ford] deserves to be heard” and “we just can’t just cave into it.”

    Conservative media message: Sexual violence allegations against Brett Kavanaugh have made an innocent man into the victim of a smear

    In the effort to rehabilitate Brett Kavanaugh’s image, right-wing media have characterized the reports as nothing more than smears of a good and innocent man. Some have bizarrely admitted they believe Christine Ford but they don’t believe what she says Kavanaugh did to her. They’ve also deflected from the women’s stories by mentioning that Kavanaugh goes to church and volunteers and coaches his daughters’ basketball team:

    • Stuart Varney of Fox Business said reporting sexual assault “is how you slime a good man.”
    • Regular Fox News guest and American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp labeled Kavanaugh “the victim here.”
    • Fox contributor Tammy Bruce characterized Ford’s story as “an attempted political assassination of a character” and somehow managed to make the argument that coming forward with sexual assault reports actually negatively impacts the gains feminists have made in recent decades.
    • On Twitter, Fox’s Gina Loudon echoed Bruce’s sentiment that survivors coming forward sets back women because men will hesitate to hire women to avoid facing sexual violence allegations.
    • Laura Ingraham, who has had some of the most disgusting takes on Kavanaugh among her right-wing peers, said Ford’s report has “the whiff of a political smear masquerading as a sexual assault allegation.”
    • Judicial Crisis Network’s Carrie Severino, whom NPR identifies as chief counsel of the organization that is “responsible for the Federalist Society’s public support” of Kavanaugh, lamented,  “We’re smearing a poor man’s reputation.”
    • Fox’s Jason Chaffetz implied Ford’s story was not important because “there’s not a pattern” like there was with Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, called it “unfair,” and said Kavanaugh is a “good, decent person.”
    • On MSNBC, The New York Times’ Bari Weiss said, “Other than this instance, Brett Kavanaugh has a reputation as being a prince of a man.” (Chaffetz and Weiss made their comments before both Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick came forward -- not that a “pattern” of personal violence should be required to disqualify a person from serving on the Supreme Court.)
    • On Fox & Friends, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich raised the stakes, saying Kavanaugh is “fighting for more than” his reputation; “he’s fighting for the United States.”

    According to some right-wing pundits, even listening to victims is a wholesale attack on men. During her daily radio show, Laura Ingraham said she wanted to “focus on men for a moment” because “this could happen to any of you.” Not to be outdone by his peers, Tucker Carlson used the stories of sexual assault survivors to continues his ongoing white nationalist campaign, categorizing allegations against Kavanaugh as an attack on all white people and men and arguing that Democrats’ willingness to listen to Ford demonstrates a sexism that’s similar to racism. He also called Kavanaugh a “folk hero” to the “unfairly maligned.”

    When conservative media figures portray a sexual assault report as a politically motivated smear of a decent family man, they are telling victims the damage wrought by the violence they experienced is unimportant and that speaking about it is wrong.

    Right-wing media message: If you come forward, our machine will ruin your life

    The conservative victim-blaming campaign discourages survivors from speaking up through the direct threat of a never-ending character assassination and harassment campaign. The results of this tactic have been illustrated by the fact that Ford has had to go into hiding, separately from her children, for her family’s safety. Here are some examples of right-wing media attacking Ford’s character:

    • Frequent Fox guest Joe diGenova called Ford a “loon” because “one of the signs of lunacy” is “believing something that isn’t real.”
    • Later diGenova doubled down, saying Ford is “a deeply troubled person” with “a history of psychological discord,” and called her “a very sad woman.”
    • Laura Ingraham mocked protesters who disclosed their sexual assaults to Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) on a Senate elevator, and her guest suggested Flake staged the scene to cover for a vote against Kavanaugh.
    • On Twitter, then-Fox contributor Kevin Jackson called Ford a “lying skank,” adding, “Dang girl stop opening your legs and OPEN A BOOK!” (Jackson was quickly fired.)
    • CRTV’s Steven Crowder simply called Ford a “lying whore.”
    • Fox’s Andrew Napolitano fantasized that a Republican senator would “demolish” Ford like “Arlen Specter did to Anita Hill,” to which host Stuart Varney replied, “That would be a sight for sore eyes.”
    • Tucker Carlson got creative (and incredibly insulting) when he compared sexual assault survivors speaking up to the mob engaged in a witch hunt in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

    And while Twitter is a general cesspool of conspiracy theories and smears against sexual assault survivors, no individual has put more into this effort than conservative commentator Erick Erickson, who called the confirmation process “the Left’s PizzaGate” and said that the Democrats were “willing to destroy an innocent man so they can keep killing kids.”

    Reality check: Right-wing media will not succeed in silencing survivors

    Right-wing media and Republicans in Congress have been working overtime to send a clear message to survivors of sexual violence: It’s better for us if you stay quiet. The campaign against Kavanaugh’s accusers reinforces what women already know -- that sexual violence is about power, and that when backed into a corner, power brokers will regroup and lash out at its challengers.

    Millions of people watch Fox News every day. Many of them are undoubtedly survivors of sexual violence themselves. While Fox News personalities get rich smearing victims in an effort to install Kavanaugh into power no matter his past behavior or the fact that he repeatedly lied to Congress, they’re saying to their viewers, “We don’t care about you, we don’t believe you, and you should shut up and keep your experiences to yourself.” Right-wing media outlets are sustained by their commitment to punching down, even if that means launching an attack on half of the world’s population to save the career of one man. Only through the power of testimony and solidarity can survivors overcome the system that seeks to silence us.

  • Trump ordered the unprecedented release of classified material after a push from Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    On September 17, President Donald Trump ordered the declassification and public release of sensitive classified documents and text messages related to the origin of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. For weeks leading up to the president’s decision, two of his informal and most-trusted cable television advisers, Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs, clamored for the release of the material. Hannity even appeared to have gotten some early notice of the move, saying just days before Trump’s decision to declassify the material, “We expect next week, we might get those unredacted FISA warrants.”

  • Like clockwork, right-wing media exploit DOJ IG report to call for special counsel Mueller’s removal

    The report had nothing to do with the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Less than 24 hours after the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) inspector general (IG) released a long-awaited report on the department’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, President Donald Trump’s allies in the media are already using the report to call for special counsel Robert Mueller’s removal. The IG report clearly states that its investigation “found no evidence that the conclusions by department prosecutors were affected by bias or other improper considerations”; and yet, the president’s sycophants in right-wing media are spinning the report to claim that “anything that Mueller is doing” in his probe of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia “is tainted” by the IG’s findings.

    On June 14, DOJ IG Michael Horowitz released a report on the DOJ’s actions during the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server. According to the report, the IG found, among other things, that former FBI Director James Comey was “insubordinate” in his handling of the case; that he violated department policy by publicly discussing the investigation; and that two FBI officials, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, exchanged disparaging texts about Trump, with one text from Strzok reading, “We’ll stop” Trump from becoming president. While Horowitz severely criticized Comey, Strzok, and Page for their conduct, the inspector general concluded that there was “no evidence that the conclusions by department prosecutors were affected by bias or other improper considerations; rather, [the IG] concluded that they were based on the prosecutors’ assessment of the facts, the law, and past Department practice.”

    Even though the IG report focused only on the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server and had nothing to do with the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia, and even though it found that there was no evidence of bias in the FBI determination, the president’s defenders on Fox News and in conservative media are still twisting themselves into knots to try to use the IG report as a reason to call for Mueller’s removal. On the June 14 edition of Hannity, a panel of four of Trump’s staunchest defenders shouted about how the report “taint[s] the entire Mueller investigation”:

    And the following morning on the June 15 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade argued that the Mueller investigation is “contaminated” by the IG’s findings:

    The reaction from Trump’s sycophants in conservative media is unsurprising, considering that they preemptively laid the groundwork to discredit the IG’s report. But, even as conservative media continue their convoluted and disingenuous calls for Mueller’s removal, the special counsel’s investigation continues, racking up numerous indictments, one of which resulted in Trump’s former campaign manager having his bail revoked, landing him in federal prison until his trial.