Jason Chaffetz | Media Matters for America

Jason Chaffetz

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  • Fox correspondent channeled network’s opinion side at Barr’s press conference

    Catherine Herridge asked Attorney General Barr what Hannity and Fox & Friends have been demanding: When will he investigate the investigators?

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In yet another blow to the supposed separation between Fox’s “news” side and its opinion hosts and contributors, correspondent Catherine Herridge wasted her question at Attorney General William Barr’s press conference by echoing the demands of Fox & Friends just hours earlier and Hannity the night before: When will he investigate the origins of the probe into the Trump campaign?

    Herridge chose to channel the narrative from Fox’s opinion shows at Barr’s press conference by asking, “Is there anything you can share today about your review of the genesis of the Russia investigation and whether assets have been provided to investigate?”

    This same question was repeatedly raised on Fox News earlier this morning. As the nation awaited the release of Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade asked, “How soon do we pivot to how this whole thing started?” Before the press conference began, Fox News contributor Andrew McCarthy said that Barr should talk about “an inquiry into the origins of the investigation.” Fox & Friends guest and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, misrepresenting what actually took place, said: “We need to hold the people who did that spying accountable.” Fox contributor David Bossie followed that up by saying, “I hope that during this morning's press conference that the attorney general is going to tell the American people that he has impaneled a grand jury to investigate the investigators.” And Fox contributor Jason Chaffetz expressed a desire for Barr to skip past any investigation and go straight to prosecutions.

    All of that was just from this morning’s Fox & Friends. And it was just a continuation of similar absurdity from last night’s Hannity. During his monologue, Sean Hannity said:

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): The investigations taking place right now in the DOJ, in Congress, are the only thing standing in the way of this country becoming a banana republic. If we don't investigate investigators, lock up the bad actors, this country will be over as we know it. All must be held to account, including those who rigged Hillary's probe, persecuted Trump, spied on a political campaign, tried to rig a presidential election, attempted a deep-state coup on a duly elected president of the United States. If justice is not served, say goodbye to our democratic republic, say goodbye to your freedoms. You can say goodbye to your precious rights endowed by our Constitution and creator, God.

    We must protect also the 99.9% of good people in the FBI, in the intelligence community, that protect the innocent people here and around the globe, premier agencies around the world. It's only 1% that did wrong. We either get equal justice that we deserve, or we’ll have no country.

    Hannity later said, “I want to know what [former President Barack] Obama knew, and [former national security adviser Susan] Rice knew, and [former Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper knew, and [former CIA Director John] Brennan knew.”

    His guests followed suit. Republican lawyer Joe diGenova expressed confidence that Barr “will start a process which is going to lead to a series of federal grand juries to hold accountable all the people you are talking about.” GOP attorney Victoria Toensing said “justice will be served” for Trump’s investigators, and Hannity contributor Sara Carter asserted:

    There are a number of indictments that are on the way. There's going to be a very serious investigation into what had happened and what had transpired since the Hillary Clinton investigation by the FBI, all the way through the origins at the very beginning of the investigation into then-candidate Trump and those within his campaign. And this is going to be significant because they are going to look for these origins, and I think -- I agree completely with Joe and with Victoria that it's going to lead all the way back to the White House. And that is what I'm hearing and I'm talking about the Obama administration.

    This narrative has been a fixation among Fox’s opinion hosts -- particularly Hannity, a close Trump adviser -- for months. That it would become the single focus of the Fox correspondent asking a question of the attorney general shows there is no division between Fox’s “news” and its opinion side -- the network is a pro-Trump propaganda outlet, plain and simple.

  • 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.”

  • 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.