Jedediah Bila | Media Matters for America

Jedediah Bila

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  • Trump administration flocks to Fox to recycle discredited statistic about terrorists crossing the southern border

    The Trump administration drew media criticism in February for a misleading claim that 10 terrorists were intercepted crossing the U.S.-Mexico border each day in 2017. The claim has now resurfaced as “almost 4,000 terrorists” throughout 2018. It is still misleading.

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders appeared on the January 4 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends to defend President Donald Trump’s stance on the ongoing government shutdown. She told the hosts that a border wall is needed because “last year alone, there were nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists” arrested along the U.S.-Mexico border.

    About an hour later, White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley made the same claim on another Fox show, America’s Newsroom. Gidley said that there were “almost 4,000 terrorists, known or suspected, coming across the border” last year. 

    The White House’s claim of 4,000 terrorists invading through the southern border appears to be a rudimentary reframing of Vice President Mike Pence’s October statement that, in the 2017 fiscal year, “we apprehended more than 10 terrorists or suspected terrorists per day” trying to cross the southern border. (Eight months prior, Pence had said it was seven per day.) It seems Sanders and Gidley multiplied 10 terrorists by 365 days, then rounded the figure up to an even 4,000 for 2018. In recent days, congressional Republicans and prime-time host Sean Hannity have made similar claims on Fox. 

    Pence’s assertion was roundly debunked as a false claim last year. PolitiFact rated his initial claim “pants on fire” because the figure he referenced appeared to be for all points of entry to the country, not just the southern border. Similarly, The Washington Post said Pence’s later claim “quickly falls apart upon further inspection.” A Pence spokesperson also “tacitly” acknowledged to the Post that the vice president misstated the statistic. 

    On MSNBC Live with Stephanie Ruhle, national security reporter Julia Ainsley also noted that the White House “is likely rounding from this figure that we’ve heard from the administration before. ... What they’re taking that from is the number of all people who are stopped at all ports, especially airports.” Ainsley said that Sanders “seems to be rounding [the figure] and especially playing it off the border to make it seem as if these are people crossing the border to make the case for the president’s wall. When, in fact, we’re talking about airports where a wall wouldn’t do anything.” 

    Update (1/7/19): On January 6, Sanders appeared on Fox News Sunday to again push the myth that 4,000 suspected terrorists were attempting to cross the southern border. Sanders brought up the statistic after host Chris Wallace quoted the State Department’s statement that there is “no credible evidence of any terrorist coming across the border from Mexico.” When Sanders tried to bring up the statistic, Wallace said, "I know the statistic -- I didn’t know if you were gonna use it, but I studied up on this," and pointed out that “they're not coming across the southern border, Sarah; they’re coming and they are being stopped at airports.” Sanders ignored the factual basis of this claim, saying that terrorists “come by air, by land, and by sea.” In reality, zero immigrants have been arrested on terrorism charges while attempting to cross the southern border in recent years.

  • Right-wing media figures goad Trump into vetoing any spending bill that doesn’t include border wall funding

    Blog ››› ››› COURTNEY HAGLE

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After criticism from right-wing figures who usually push pro-Trump propaganda, President Donald Trump has backed away from previous plans and instead set up a potential government shutdown by demanding money for a border wall be included in any stopgap government funding bill.

    Fox News spent last week pushing for a government shutdown, cheering on Trump when he firmly declared that he would be “proud to shut down the government.” But after the White House signaled earlier this week that it would back off its $5 billion demand to fund a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border in a resolution to keep the federal government funded until next year, right-wing media figures began criticizing Trump and goading him into shutting down the government.  Many of his most ardent supporters began to perceive his decision to sign the bill as weak, calling on the president to change his mind and refuse to sign any proposed spending bill that does not include funding for the wall.

    Responding to these criticisms, Trump sent a flurry of tweets adamantly defending his position just one day after CNN reported that the president “has become increasingly sensitive to criticism” from his base over the border wall. Trump then renewed his call for funding, telling lawmakers that he will not sign any bill that does not include funding for the border wall in an apparent nod to his supporters.

    Here is a timeline of some of that recent criticism:

    December 19

    Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren, who has previously made it clear where she stands on the border wall, said on Fox & Friends that “if we need a government shutdown” to build a wall, “then a shutdown is exactly what we need.”

    Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy declare that “effectively, the Democrats win because they didn’t want any money for wall. And the swamp wins because runaway spending, which is in the current budget, continues.”

    Doocy later in the show said that Trump will “look like a loser” to his supporters who “drew that line in the sand and said, ‘This is worth shutting down.’”

    Fox & Friends guest Michelle Malkin said that she’s “not going to sugarcoat it” and “not going to spin it” if Trump backs down, describing his decision as “a cave” and “a blink.”

    On Fox’s Outnumbered, Fox Business host David Asman emphasized the importance of the wall to Trump’s supporters, saying that “if [Trump] is viewed by his base as caving on the issue, no matter how they try to spin at the White House, already some of the base is beginning to fray a little bit.” Referring to the White House’s pledge to find funding for the wall elsewhere, Fox host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery claimed that “if this were the Obama administration … we would all be up in arms.”

    Rush Limbaugh attacked the Senate-passed resolution, saying, “Trump’s gonna get less than nothing because this compromise strips out the $1.6 billion for the wall that the Senate Appropriations Committee had already approved weeks ago.” He added, “You can’t say for four years, 'Well, I gotta do this and this and this and this and this before I can accomplish this ... He doesn’t have limitless time to do this."

    Ann Coulter unloaded on Trump in a podcast with The Daily Caller, accusing him of being “a joke presidency who scammed the American people.” Coulter said that she will not vote for Trump in 2020 without a border wall, adding, “nor will, I think, most of his supporters.” (Coulter had also vowed earlier in the week to not support Trump in 2020 if the wall was not built.) Within hours of these comments, the president unfollowed Coulter on Twitter.

    Fox regular and former NRATV host Dan Bongino filled in as guest host for Sean Hannity’s prime-time Fox News show on Wednesday, discussing the spending bill and the border wall, which he described as “essentially the Trump-MAGA agenda.” Matt Schlapp, chair of the American Conservative Union, claimed that “the fact is is this: The president should veto this bill. This breaks the promise with his supporters.” Though Schlapp admitted that a shutdown “doesn’t mean you get all you want, but you send a message to the liberals” and “that’s why it’s critical for the president to not sign a bill which is a white flag.”

    Erick Erickson criticized the negotiating skills of Trump and Republicans:

    On her Fox News show, Laura Ingraham chastised Trump for not getting the funding, declaring that “not funding the wall is going to go down as one of the worst, worst things to have happened to this administration. … It’s a scandal that it hasn’t been built.” Fox regular and Trump legal adviser Joe diGenova agreed with Ingraham, saying: “I hope that when this thing runs out in February, the president says, ‘That’s it, no more. A wall or I’m shutting it down.’”

    Breitbart's Joel Pollak said that he would prefer a shutdown:

    December 20

    Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee said on Fox & Friends that Trump “has got to look in the mirror and remind himself he ran … on the idea of we’re going to secure the border.” Huckabee also downplayed the impact of a shutdown, saying that “the things that really matter to most Americans day-by-day will be funded.” Guest co-host Jedediah Bila responded by saying that “this is his signature issue, this is what arguably he won on,” claiming that she doesn’t “understand how he survives this personally, for his own legacy.”

    Fox host Pete Hegseth, who is known to speak directly to Trump, called for Trump to shut down the government.

    On Fox & Friends, NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch called on Trump to shut down both the government and the border until he receives funding, saying that she “would love to see the president … just go ahead and shut down the border, and then shut down the government.”

    On Fox’s America’s Newsroom, James Freeman of The Wall Street Journal downplayed the significance of a government shutdown, claiming that “if you look at recent history, shutdowns don’t actually do that much political damage.”

    On Fox’s America’s Newsroom, Fox contributor and former acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Thomas Homan said that Trump “needs to veto any sort of continuing resolution” so that “he can stand up and say, ‘I have done everything I can to protect our border.’”

    Ben Shapiro said Trump should veto "any funding that doesn't include the wall."

    Shortly after it was announced that Trump would refuse to sign the bill to keep the government open, Limbaugh said that "the president has gotten word to me that he is either getting funding to the border or he’s shutting the whole thing down." Earlier in the show, Limbaugh had told him to do exactly that in order to be "a hero" to the far right.

  • Fox & Friends parrots opaque DHS stats to fearmonger about “criminals” in caravan

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox & Friends is continuing to fearmonger about the caravan of migrants and asylum-seekers seeking to gain entry into the United States, uncritically parroting questionable statistics from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) despite the department’s track record of presenting misleading numbers under the Trump administration.

    Proceeding with a more than month-long drumbeat of fearmongering about the individuals in the caravan, Fox & Friends has now taken to repeating opaque DHS statistics, asserting that “90 percent” of individuals in the caravan “are not eligible for asylum” and that “600 of the 10,000 people that are in these caravans are convicted criminals.” Neither Fox News nor DHS has provided details on how they obtained those numbers.

    The Trump administration’s DHS has previously presented limited and misleading statistics regarding immigration. Moreover, DHS has suggested, without presenting evidence, that “criminals” are present in the caravan, issuing a strange press release attempting to support its claims with vague statements from Mexican officials. But according to The Washington Post’s fact-checker, “The language in this release is highly suspect,” and, based on statistics from previous years, “Since DHS will not break out a list of crimes, we suspect most of these people with ‘criminal histories’ are not actually violent” but instead have most likely been “convicted of immigration crimes, such as illegal entry.” The fact check also noted, “Mexican officials on the route have told Post reporters that they haven’t seen any serious criminals.”

    From the November 27 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    GRIFF JENKINS (FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT): We learned, of course, the stunning number, which is that 600 of them believed to have had criminal histories. But we’ve also learned another figure that is very interesting, and that is 90 percent, they believe, are not eligible for asylum, which is, of course, the main reason why they’re fleeing the Central American countries.


    JEDEDIAH BILA (CO-HOST): It's really crazy, I mean, if you think about this. Like, what is the solution going to be? I mean, what are they actually going to do to remedy this? Trump is saying, you know, “I’ll shut down the border.” It seems like he doesn't have the authority to actually do that, that he would need congressional approval to do that. So, what's going to happen here?

    BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): Well, we know one thing: Ninety-eight people involved in Sunday's raids were sent out by Mexico. They have no shot at asylum. Their names have been taken and they’ve been tossed. If you want to send a message to these migrants and if you want to send a message to Mexico, since this is their problem as well as our problem, maybe they’ll get tougher on their southern border and won't be so permissive sending buses, in some cases, to expedite their trip up to our border. We might be on the same page right now because of scenes that you’re looking at.

    KILMEADE: Remember, the president was talking about this caravan because he wanted to do the best he can to keep the House and expand his lead -- the Republican lead -- in the Senate. So, that looks like the president -- since the midterms, I believe, are virtually over, with one Senate race to go and a handful of House races, I don’t really see a political advantage to the president doing this two years away from his re-election. But I do see some real legitimate danger for our border authority. Kevin McAleenan -- he’s the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection -- he told reporters yesterday that there were dozens of assaults committed against his agents. They were hit with projectiles, four had to have medical tending to, protective gear prevented some serious injuries. And, again, they’re getting hit by things by people who are storming the border, trying to create havoc there in order to get into our country. But, for some reason, we seem to be making the border guards the enemy.

    BILA: I think there’s a high expectation that President Trump -- you talked about why he’s talking about this, it’s far from his election. Remember, this is an issue that he ran on. Arguably, this the reason why he won. He put this front and center; he talked about border security. People are deeply concerned when you have people from DHS coming out and saying that 600 of the 10,000 people that are in these caravans are convicted criminals. This is an issue dear to people's hearts, they need to protect their families, and they want the security of the nation to be a top priority. So, I think that's why he’s out, front and center, making this a key issue regardless how far his own election is from it.

    KILMEADE: But he’s actually not making an issue; I think he’s addressing an emergency. If this wasn't his issue, if any president in office right now, this would be their issue.

  • A $25 Million Settlement Just Tanked Right-Wing Media’s Fraudulent Defense Of Trump University

    ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    President-elect Donald Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle lawsuits alleging his for-profit business Trump University used aggressive sales tactics and unqualified instructors to scam students. Throughout the lawsuit’s litigation, right-wing news outlets helped shield Trump University from criticism by enabling Trump to lie about the institution and aiding his racist attacks on the judge overseeing the case.

  • Fox Host Suggests Allegedly Fraudulent Trump University Tactics Are Just "Good Marketing"

    Fox's Jedediah Bila: "You’re Talking About Aggressive Sales Tactics. In Some Circles They Refer To That As Good Marketing"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox News hosts downplayed fraud allegations against Trump University, claiming the techniques used by the real estate seminar business were “good marketing” and “quite mainstream” when reporting on recently unsealed documents pertaining to two class-action lawsuits against the now-defunct business.

    The hosts were referring to Trump University's allegedly fraudulent business practices and misrepresentations, detailed in three ongoing lawsuits in multiple states against the business. The release of new documents related to two of these cases challenges claims about Trump's own role in developing the real estate seminars and point to Trump U's misrepresentation of itself as a university. They also reveal former students' testimonies that the seminars did not deliver on promised real estate "secrets" and that instructors misled students in order to sell them higher-cost classes and elicit positive reviews. According to New York's Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, "there wasn't one piece of his pitch that was actually true."

    However, when Fox News’ Outnumbered brought up the story, co-host Jedediah Bila questioned whether these allegedly fraudulent practices were really just "aggressive sales tactics", which some would call “good marketing.” Fox senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano agreed, listing “flattering words” and “the right music in the background” as the main offenses, and asking "what the heck is wrong with that?"

    From the June 1 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:

    JEDEDIAH BILA (CO-HOST): New details in lawsuit that could impact Donald Trump's campaign. So-called playbooks for selling people on Trump University unsealed yesterday when testimony by some former managers of the for-profit school was also revealed. Those former Trump employees describing aggressive sales tactics they say they were told to use, such as, urging financially-strapped customers to find the money, choosing words of flattery that are most persuasive, and picking specific music for the gatherings. But Trump's lawyers say the complaints come from a small number of students and that the vast majority were satisfied with their experience. A statement from the Trump organization says, quote, the courts order unsealing documents has no bearing on the merits of Trump University's case. Much of the unsealed evidence including declarations and surveys from former Trump University students demonstrates the high level of satisfaction from students and that Trump University taught valuable real estate information. Judge, I got to come to you, what do you think of this from a legal perspective? Is this going to impact him? You're talking about aggressive sales tactics. In some circles they refer to that as good marketing. What is the line here for that?

    ANDREW NAPOLITANO: I do not know the merits of the case against him. I know that there is a group of his former students, if they were students, who paid a lot of money and felt they didn't get their money's worth and they have sued and if you add up all their demands it comes up to about 40 million bucks, a lot of money for anybody. I also know some of them are suing him personally, that he is not protected by the corporate shield. I assume that Trump University was a corporation. But what we just saw, what you just summarized, asked people to go out and find the money, talked to them using flattering words, play the right music in the background, what the heck is wrong with that? I can't see that as violating any standard of salesmanship. Look, this isn't Princeton University where you are trying to get in there, or Harvard. It's a school that has to sell itself and show what it has available and that's the job of these salespeople who as far as I can see used techniques that were quite mainstream.

    BILA: Yeah, I mean when the public hears this story, I'm wondering do they just see this as non-story? When I read some of this, I worked in marketing before, a lot of it just read like sales tactics that weren't necessarily corrupt or anything. It was just aggressive sales tactics is not a crime.

    MELISSA FRANCIS (CO-HOST): You know, it goes to the story of him as an aggressive businessperson who wanted to sort of profit at all costs which is kind of what business is all about. And I think people do hear that, but like any line of attack, especially when it comes from the Clintons, it opens up coming back on them. For example, a lot of good work that was done by The New York Times and Charles Ortel that was pulled out recently, we saw that Bill Clinton got $16 million from Laureate University, which is another for-profit university which makes Trump University look like a bodega on the corner. They're guilty of the same thing.

  • A Guide To The Myths & Facts On Obama’s Executive Actions On Immigration

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    On April 18, the U.S. Supreme Court “is weighing the fate” of President Obama’s 2014 executive actions on immigration which “could shield roughly 4 million people from deportation” and grant them legal right to work. Right-wing media have spent years misinforming about the legality, and economic impact of the executive actions. Here are the facts.