Jesse Watters | Media Matters for America

Jesse Watters

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  • Fox helps Trump sell his absurd claim that he misspoke during his press conference with Putin

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After being roundly criticized for capitulating to President Vladimir Putin during a press conference, President Donald Trump attempted to walk back his remark casting doubt on the U.S. intelligence community’s findings about Russia meddling in the 2016 presidential election with a flimsy excuse that was accepted only by some members of his own party and his most obsequious allies in the media.

    On July 16, Trump lost the support of even some of his closest allies when he questioned his own intelligence community and legitimized Putin’s denial of Russian meddling, saying, “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia that attempted to interfere in the U.S. election. The next day, under intense pressure from aides and supporters, Trump made the laughable claim that he accidentally “said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t’” during his press conference with Putin. He went on, “The sentence should have been, 'I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia’” that meddled in the 2016 election. Many media outlets were quick to point out that the full context of Trump’s remarks indicated he was, in fact, accepting Putin’s denial of Russian meddling over the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion.

    But on Fox News, friends of Trump defied this reality and ran with Trump’s obvious lie:

    • Fox host Sean Hannity: “President Trump clarified his remarks from the summit, made it perfectly clear that he trusts our intel agencies.”
    • Fox Business host Lou Dobbs: “Fortunately for [Trump’s critics], the president took pity on them and gave them a statement today to the effect he had misspoken.”
    • Dobbs later commented that Trump is “being as presidential and forthright and effective as any president in modern history, more so in my judgment,” but his critics “don’t want to play straight.”
    • Fox correspondent Kristin Fisher: “This should go a long way to satisfy or at least quell some of the president's critics.”
    • Fox’s Jesse Watters accepted Trump’s claim that his comment at the press conference with Putin as “a gaffe” and praised him for admitting his mistake, calling his admission “historic.”
    • Fox host Sandra Smith said Trump was “admitting he misspoke” while discussing Russian election meddling and “making it clear he does indeed support the intelligence community.”
    • Smith also called Trump’s dubious clarification “a walk-back to remember” and failed to push back on Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) acceptance of Trump’s excuse.
    • Fox Business’ Trish Regan: Trump “might have misspoken” because “perhaps he was tired.”
    • Fox & Friends also parroted Trump's dubious excuse for his disastrous press conference with Putin: "He had misspoken."
    • Fox’s Laura Ingraham and her panel complained that Trump’s clarification “wasn’t good enough” for Democrats or the media.
  • Right-wing media are rallying to defend the Trump administration’s inhumane separation of families at the border 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT & NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Trump administration is separating immigrant children from their parents or legal guardians after they cross the border, with at least 2,000 children taken from their parents since April 19. The administration’s merciless and inhumane policy has spurred numerous heartbreaking stories, including reports of a breastfeeding baby who was ripped from her mother, a Honduran father separated from his family who took his own life, and children who are held in cages alongside strangers. Yet right-wing media figures have been quick to defend the policy and dismiss its inherent cruelty:

    • Breitbart editor-at-large Joel Pollak justified separating families at the border, saying the Border Patrol facilities are "better than what they had." Pollak also claimed that ICE taking children from their parents and putting them in detention facilities is “just about caring for the kids.”

    • Right-wing troll Dinesh D’Souza, who recently received a pardon from President Donald Trump, questioned whether immigrant parents are “the ones choosing to separate their families.”

    • Fox's Pete Hegseth defended the separations because the children get food and "soccer and video games." Hegseth also called images of detained children “quite compassionate,” and said the policy was “defensible.”

    • Fox News’ Trish Regan argued that Trump is showing asylum-seeking families "tough love" by taking children away from their parents.

    • Fox contributor Tammy Bruce called for White House press briefings to end after reporters confronted White House press secretary Sarah Sanders about the separation of families.

    • Fox's Jesse Watters argued that the White House should "start ripping press passes away" from reporters who ask about families getting separated at the border. Watters also said that “some would say” that separation is “a more humane policy” than detaining the families together.

    • In a series of tweets, Twitter troll Bill Mitchell aggressively defended the policy, accusing the media of focusing on “#FakeNews ‘concentration camps,’” complaining about the money spent to keep the children captive, suggested that many of the children are “not with their families at all - they are with smugglers” (only a very small percentage of cases involve smuggling and often a bona fide relationship between the child and adult is clear), and claiming, “President Trump is PROTECTING these children.”

    • Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade downplayed “the so-called separation of kids and parents” at the border, arguing that the Democrats are using it to distract from the Justice Department inspector general’s report on the handling of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email server and the Singapore Summit between Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

    • Fox’s Ainsley Earhardt said that families are “choosing to be separated” by showing up at the border. She also argued that “you can't even really blame an administration” for the separation policy.

    • Her fellow Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy said that “the part that is troubling” is not children being ripped from their parents, but the parents choosing to come to the United States in the first place. Doocy also argued that the cages some children are being housed in shouldn’t be called “cages” because rather they are “walls [built] out of chain link fences," and he defended family separation by suggesting the U.S. government spends a lot of money to “make sure that those kids wind up with all that stuff” that detention facilities offer.

    • Fox & Friends repeated or referenced Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s lies about family separation throughout the June 18 broadcast. Nielsen initially claimed that separation wasn’t happening -- it is.

    • Right-wing troll Mike Cernovich said that Trump was “keeping [children] safe in dorms,” and he accused former President Barack Obama of giving children “to human traffickers.”

    • Fox host and Trump lackey Sean Hannity claimed that the policy of separation “took place in previous administrations” (neither the Obama nor the Bush administration separated families as a matter of policy). Hannity also accused the media of having an “obsession” with the “so-called policy of separating illegal immigrant families.”    

    • Fox’s Laura Ingraham called the “outrage” over the separation policy “hilarious,” complained about watching “our country try to contort itself into other peoples' cultures,” and excused the separations because the children have “entertainment, sports, tutoring, medical, dental, four meals a day, and clean, decent housing” even though their “parents irresponsibly tried to bring them across the border illegally.” On her Fox show, Ingraham called the administration’s child detention centers “essentially summer camps” and compared them to “boarding schools.”

    • Sinclair's Boris Epshteyn choose not to editorialize on the cruelty of family separation itself, instead attacking the "discourse" around separation policy and claiming it is what's wrong with Democrats and media.

    • Right-wing columnist Ann Coulter warned the president not to fall for “these child actors weeping and crying on” cable news.

    • Radio host Rush Limbaugh called the outrage over family separation “an entirely manufactured crisis” and claimed “it happened during the Obama administration” too (it didn’t).  

    • One America News Network correspondent and internet troll Jack Posobiec defended the policy by fearmongering that children crossing the border could be with traffickers as opposed to family members. There is clear evidence of the relationship between many of the children in detention and the adult that accompanied them.

    • American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp, a frequent cable news guest, contended that “Obama and Trump have same child protection policy” (they do not).

    • Fox’s David Bossie attempted to shift the blame onto the parents, arguing that “if they don't become criminals, they're not separated.” He also claimed that Trump is just “following the law,” ignoring the reality that separation is a Trump administration policy, not the law.

    • Fox host Tucker Carlson warned his viewers that people speaking up against America detaining children in cages just want to "change your country forever."

    • Chris Bedford, editor-in-chief of the Daily Caller News Foundation, criticized the "hyperbole" over family separation and child detention.

    • Drudge Report’s Matt Drudge attempted to paint Latin American children as violent by publishing a photo of children in Azaz, Syria.

    • Turning Point USA spokesperson Candace Owens claimed that “these policies were in place” during the Obama administration (they were not).

    • Townhall’s Kurt Schlichter aggressively defended the policy, suggesting that the U.S. ought to “separate the children and then send them all away” and “in prison (sic) the parents until they serve their sentence then throw them out.”

    • Infowars frontman and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones claimed that separation has been the “standard procedure for decades” when you “pick up a group of a hundred people and you have no idea who the hell they are.” Infowars also claimed that Trump had exposed “the hoax that the US is mistreating migrant children.”

    • The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro fallaciously argued that Trump is simply “enforcing the law on the books.”

    • Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk posted a series of tweets fearmongering about “illegal immigration” and claimed that “all of this happened for 8 years under Obama” (nope).

    • NRATV host Dan Bongino claimed that reporting on the “immigration/children story” is “propaganda, nothing more” and argued that anyone who believed it is “delirious, and should seek professional help.”

    • Radio talk show host Ben Ferguson shared an image on Facebook claiming that policies of separating children from “illegal parents” had been in effect since 2009 and that Democrats just started talking about the issue because “they only care about making Trump look ‘bad.’” The post has been shared over 100,000 times.

    • Conservative commentator Dick Morris claimed that families seeking asylum at the borders were part of a “scam” in which adult immigrants were “abusers” who are using their children as a “battering ram to force their way into the country.” He also said the solution to this problem is to deny asylum to all immigrants who come to the border with a child.

    • Fox New contributor and Townhall Editor Katie Pavlich posted a series of tweets comparing the separation of asylum-seeking families to the separation of children and arrested parents and supporting Sarah Sanders’ claims in which she portrayed “illegal aliens” as criminals who are responsible for separating U.S. families permanently by “committing murder or killing through drunk driving.”

    • Conservative Review TV’s Jon Miller claimed that media are trying to push controversy around separation policies in order to “distract from the disastrous IG report and anything else this president has done that will cause people to vote for him.”

    • Fox News’ Tomi Lahren tweeted that “we owe ILLEGAL immigrants NOTHING,” and suggested that family separation is just one of the “consequences” parents have to accept when they “drag [their] kids over here ILLEGALLY.”

  • Trump's tariffs could hurt millions of Americans, but media focus instead on presidential drama

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On May 31, CBS News reported on retaliatory tariffs from Canada, Mexico, and the European Union, targeting numerous products including American steel and aluminum, playing cards, motorcycles, and tobacco. European Commission president Jean-Paul Juncker said that Trump’s move “leaves us with no choice but to proceed … with the imposition of additional duties on a number of imports from the U.S.”

    News reports and experts say the tariffs will hurt Americans in a number of ways. Though the steel and aluminum industries stand to benefit, “almost every US industry” that uses these metals will be faced with higher manufacturing costs, which “will likely get passed on to consumers.” These higher costs could “kill hundreds of thousands of jobs” as companies scramble to offset artificially high prices. Retaliatory tariffs levied by other nations are threatening a wide range of businesses, from agriculture to commercial production. According to The New York Times, even Trump’s own Council of Economic Advisers concluded that the tariffs would hamper economic growth.  

    But media coverage of U.S. allies’ responses to Trump’s economic attack centered on  the sensationalism and drama of the moment. Though CNN interviewed or cited economists in a few segments on the tariffs’ effects for American workers and business, the majority of the punditry  focused on the shock value of levying tariffs against U.S. allies. CNN also interviewed Stephen Moore, a Trump campaign economic advisor whom CNN hired as its in-house defender of the president who dodged policy questions to muddy the facts and obsequiously push the Trump agenda (which is how interviews with former or current Trump officials usually go); the network did not interview any workers who could potentially be hurt by the retaliatory tariffs.

    Fox News, meanwhile, played up the personal drama Trump incited with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Fox personalities said that “the public spat between these world leaders [Trump and Trudeau] is something to watch,” argued that Trudeau should “maybe … realize it’s not personal,” and generally attacked Trudeau for, among other things, “trying to out-alpha President Trump.” Lou Dobbs hailed Trump’s defeat of our allies’ “globalist conspiracy,” and on Dobbs’ show, sworn Nazi sympathizer Sebastian Gorka denounced Canada’s response to Trump because Canada “started it.”  When Fox figures tried to analyze the tariffs, they usually didn’t get beyond spouting worn-out taglines such as the electorate wanted the “disrupter-in-chief” to provide “a complete change in direction.” Jesse Watters got creative, however, when he positively compared Trump’s tariffs to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, a 1930 tariff commonly understood to have “exacerbated the Great Depression.” (Fox & Friends did feature one dairy farmer who, predictably, supported Trump’s agenda.)

    Much of the coverage on MSNBC also focused on the spectacle and/or provided a superficial analysis of Trump’s actions. But anchors Stephanie Ruhle and Ali Velshi, along with correspondent Vaughn Hillyard, did do substantial reporting on how the tariffs might impact American laborers, coverage which often included the workers themselves, during their combined three hours of hosting time., Velshi and Ruhle dedicated segments to explaining the far-reaching nature of the tariffs from U.S. allies (as well as an earlier round of tariffs from China) and how they might affect laborers and consumers alike.

    On-site reporting focused on affected farmers, and several reports focused even further on specific industries -- pork products, potatoes, and bourbon among them -- targeted by the tariffs.

    Ruhle, Velshi, and Hillyard notwithstanding, a common facet of tariff coverage was, as Fox & Friends Weekend co-host Pete Hegseth said, the “unpredictability” of the situation, because it “makes for good TV.” With Friday’s White House announcement of another $50 billion in tariffs against Chinese products, media need to move beyond the drama and focus on the substance and the potential devastation to some Americans.

  • Fox News is lying to its viewers about public support for California's sanctuary laws

    Fox is relying on a 2015 poll that is contradicted by more recent surveys

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Fox News has repeatedly misled its viewers about public support for so-called sanctuary laws in California and elsewhere in recent weeks. The network is presenting outdated surveys as the latest sample of public opinion and ignoring more recent polls that tend to show majority support for such policies, especially in California.

    On March 8, Ingraham Angle host Laura Ingraham said that a UC Berkeley poll "just found that 74 percent of Californians wanted to end sanctuary cities, including 65 percent of Hispanics and 73 percent of Democrats.” The Five co-host Jesse Watters repeated this survey’s findings on March 14, emphasizing that it had been conducted by co-host Greg Gutfeld’s alma mater, the University of California, Berkeley, “so we know it's correct.” And on March 20, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade, without even citing a specific poll, declared: “And by the way, most Americans don't want sanctuary states or sanctuary cities. If they -- any polling reveals that.”

    In fact, the U.C. Berkeley survey cited by Ingraham and Watters and presented by Ingraham as brand new was conducted in August 2015, as noted in the show’s on-screen graphic.

    In January, PolitiFact found that the Berkeley poll was outdated and didn't match up with more recent polling after a California Republican lawmaker cited it in an appearance on Fox’s Tucker Carlson Tonight. PolitiFact cited four more recent polls, all conducted in 2017, most of which found majority support for California’s sanctuary laws or sanctuary city policies in general. Furthermore, the same Berkeley polling institute whose 2015 survey was cited by Fox actually found more recently in March 2017 that 56 percent of respondents supported “local communities declaring themselves sanctuary cities” (with the question phrased differently, 53 percent objected to those cities ignoring detention request from immigration authorities).

    Polling results on support for sanctuary policies seems to vary greatly depending on the wording of the question asked. In March 2017, a fact-checker at The Washington Post examined claims by Trump administration officials that a vast majority of Americans opposed sanctuary cities. While the Post piece noted that “there’s not a lot of research on public opinion of sanctuary cities,” it also found that the phrasing of survey questions can impact outcomes and that other polls show more people support sanctuary cities than oppose them. PolitiFact came to the same conclusion, explaining that the question that those on the “political right” interpreted as a reference to sanctuary cities did not fully capture the nuance of the policy, potentially impacting the response. 

    Notably, that March 2017 Fact Checker article from the Post also reported on more recent polls than the one cited by Fox hosts of late, finding support for sanctuary policies. One of those was a March 2017 poll conducted by Fox News that found 53 percent of registered voters opposed taking away federal funds from sanctuary cities.