Jesse Watters | Media Matters for America

Jesse Watters

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  • Fox News uses award shows to reinforce the idea that pop culture exists to marginalize conservatives

    The day after award shows is the most predictable day on the network.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    As I watched Fox News’ coverage of Time’s 2018 “Person of the Year” announcement, something struck me: I’d seen it before. Several times, in fact. This year, the distinction was given to “The Guardians and the War on Truth,” highlighting journalists lost to violence (such as Jamal Khashoggi and the staff at the Capital Gazette) or arrested for their work (such as Reuters’ Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were arrested while reporting on the killings of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, or Maria Ressa, who the Philippines government charged with tax fraud over reporting for her site, Rappler).

    The truth is that it didn’t actually matter whom Time picked -- at least in terms of how Fox News would cover it. Regardless of the choice, various commentators across the network would chide the decision as somehow anti-Trump or self-serving before telling viewers whom it should have been. It’s what they’ve done in the past. After Time highlighted the #MeToo movement by choosing “The silence breakers” in 2017, Fox hosts suggested it should have also gone to Trump’s Twitter account. In 2012, Fox personalities Andrea Tantaros and Dennis Miller derided Time’s inclusion of reproductive-rights activist Sandra Fluke in its list of finalists. In 2010, Bill Hemmer suggested it could have gone to the tea party movement instead of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Glenn Beck wove together a conspiracy theory about how George Soros was responsible for Beck’s own low numbers in Time’s online poll. In 2008, Sean Hannity suggested that then-President-elect Barack Obama was named Person of the Year because Vice President-elect Joe Biden hired the magazine’s Washington bureau chief as his communications director.

    Fox’s coverage of the 2018 unveiling was extremely predictable.

    On the December 11 edition of The Ingraham Angle, Laura Ingraham played host to Raheem Kassam, whose Daily Caller essay “Time’s Failing ‘Person of the Year’ List a Product of Cultural Decline” had been published that morning. Ingraham would close out the evening’s show with her own picks, a tie between first responders to the California wildfires and Border Patrol agents.

    On that day’s edition of The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld suggested the title go to “the intellectual leaders that we talk about who are challenging the anti-speech mob” such as Claire Lehmann, Jordan Peterson, Dave Rubin, Joe Rogan, Sam Harris, and other members of the so-called “intellectual dark web.”

    There was one moment, however, that came across as genuinely refreshing. Watch this, from that same December 11 edition of Fox News’ The Five:

    JESSE WATTERS (CO-HOST): All right. Dana, you've seen these things before. Is Time magazine Person of the Year -- is this a thing of the past? Does anybody care anymore?

    DANA PERINO (CO-HOST): Well, all I know is we do this segment every single year --

    WATTERS: Everybody does.

    GREG GUTFELD (CO-HOST): Because it's fun.

    Jesse Watters is probably right when he suggests people don’t care much about the magazine cover anymore, and Perino is right on the money when she acknowledges that they keep covering it anyway.

    If you consume enough conservative media, you’ll begin to see this pattern play out in all sorts of ways, and it’s almost certainly not accidental.

    Whether it’s Time or any other magazine’s Person of the Year choices, the Oscars, the Grammys, the Emmys, or Golden Globes, Fox News follows a brilliant formula designed to reinforce the idea that pop culture exists largely for the purpose of marginalizing conservatives.

    In 2018 alone, there’s been Sean Hannity’s post-Oscars rant accusing Hollywood of hypocrisy for the #MeToo movement, Greg Gutfeld and Michelle Malkin’s accusations that Oscar attendees who spoke out about gun violence were “virtue signaling,” Jason Chaffetz taking on “Hollywood’s cultural rot” (i.e. Kevin Hart getting in a few jokes at the president’s expense during the MTV Video Music Awards), Martha MacCallum pulling a joke out of context to slam the Emmys, and Howard Kurtz’s bizarre claim that the Oscars and Emmys have “obligatory Trump-bashing moments.” These are among the many examples of Fox News using pop culture events to reinforce the “us versus them” mindset in its viewers.

    In September 2017, Tucker Carlson called the Emmys “an expression of the contempt America's ruling class has for the rest of the country,” seemingly oblivious to the irony of labeling liberals “America’s ruling class” as Republicans controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress. Carlson would bring back his “ruling class” comment during his November 15, 2017, show by criticizing Maxine Waters’ appearance at the Glamour Women of the Year awards. And when GQ put Colin Kaepernick on the cover of its magazine as the 2017 “Citizen of the Year,” The Five’s Watters said he’d prefer the award went to NFL star J.J. Watt.

    In 2016, Bill O’Reilly took Oscars host Chris Rock to task for feeding the “grievance industry,” adding, “So OK. ‘Our ancestors got lynched and raped by white people.’ OK. Every group in the world can say that -- not to the extent that African-Americans can say that -- but is it doing any good?”

    During the Fox & Friends coverage of the 2015 Oscars, Stacey Dash slammed Patricia Arquette for her on-stage discussion of pay inequality. Also in 2015, The Five mustered up the courage to at least pretend to care about the ESPY Awards if only to express discomfort with the decision to give Caitlyn Jenner that year’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award, instead of college basketball player Lauren Hill, who spent her final days raising awareness about cancer among young people.

    Fox News uses manufactured outrage as a tool, and it's become so useful that some of its viewers have tuned out pop culture as a whole.

    Can a piece of art change the world? Maybe. Can a speech delivered from the Oscars stage heal a country? I suppose it’s possible, even if extremely unlikely. Yet, if you’re someone with a vested interest in preventing forward social change or you rely on resentment of “elites” to fuel your own political agenda, it would be beneficial to sow distrust of the people making that art or giving that speech. If you can convince your target audience that the artists can’t ever truly understand America, that they’re all rich elitists -- though many are less “rich” and arguably less “elite” than the people delivering messages on your side of this culture war -- you can use even the most anodyne cultural events to your advantage.

    The morning after the 2018 Oscars, Fox & Friends asked its viewers whether they had tuned in. The responses they received, or at least the ones they decided to read on air, show just how successful this campaign has been.

    “Of course we didn’t watch. We are looking to be entertained, not aggravated by a steady stream of mindless drivel from liberals who live in a bubble,” read one message.

    “Very happy to report I did NOT watch the Oscars last night. Watching self-aggrandizing Hollywood elites speaking into their echo chamber isn’t something I enjoy doing,” read another.

    “The REAL winner at the Oscars was me. I didn’t waste my time watching because of all the liberal, anti-Trump political rhetoric.”

    By their own accounts, these viewers didn’t actually watch the Oscars, but they knew the awards show was bad -- instinctively. Even moments seemingly geared toward winning conservative kudos -- such as the tribute to war films -- were labeled insulting because the audience didn’t rise to its feet for a standing ovation. The pop culture well has been poisoned, and anything short of explicitly conservative propaganda will be met with unease.

    When it comes to pop culture criticism, conservative media aren’t acting in good faith. I don’t see that changing any time soon.

    Ahead of award shows, some people like to make predictions about who will take home what honors. My predictions are a lot simpler. In 2019, 2020, and beyond, it’s a safe bet that Fox News will pan all the major awards shows, scoff at magazine covers as “identity politics,” and continue to cultivate the resentment that is so core to its brand identity.

    None of this is to say that everything said at the Oscars will be profound, nor will every Grammy serve as a reward for advancing some sort of social agenda. What I am saying is there is something we can all do as media consumers to bridge cultural divides: We can go into experiences with open minds and open hearts. This can mean different things to each of us, and it could be as simple as stepping outside your comfort zone when it comes to choosing what to put on your morning playlist, which movies to check out while they’re in theaters, and which news sources you give a chance.

  • Fox figures constantly parrot Trump in attacking the media

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT, COURTNEY HAGLE & ZACHARY PLEAT

    Fox News and some of its high-profile hosts are attempting to distance themselves from President Donald Trump’s constant attacks on the media, which he has famously smeared as the “enemy of the people.” Martha MacCallum, host of Fox’s The Story, told Politico that she finds Trump’s rhetoric “wrong” and “disturbing.” Brian Kilmeade, a co-host of Fox & Friends, told viewers that he wished the president would “lose” the term “enemy of the people.” Pointing to Kilmeade’s comment, a Fox spokesperson argued to Forbes that “many of the FNC and FBN programs regularly push back on the Trump narrative.”

    These halfhearted deflections are undoubtedly an effort to avoid any blame for recent attempted violence amid calls for a boycott of the network’s advertisers. But in reality, Fox hosts, contributors, and guests have directly contributed to hostility against journalists and the media by regularly launching Trumpian attacks at outlets and reporters. They dismiss media outlets as “fake news,” label the media “the enemy of the people,” vilify individual journalists, and call for the Trump administration to crack down on the free press.

    Video by Miles Le

    Attacks on the media are frequent and vicious on Fox

    Fox’s Pete Hegseth has smeared the media as “the opposition party, the left-stream media, the legacy media, whatever you want to call them,” and argued that journalists “ continue to expose themselves because they can't hold back on their dedication to tearing down any single member of the Trump administration.”

    Fox’s Sean Hannity complained that “the propaganda media” is “out to destroy Trump. That is their main purpose. They want to advance the interests of liberal Democrats and the left. Now -- they're not journalists. They’re not reporters. They’re rigid, radical left-wing ideologues.”

    Hannity also said: “The alt-left propaganda media is getting worse every single day. They’re now at war with you, the American people.”

    Fox guest and Daily Caller writer Stephanie Hamill said: “Some of these journalists have an agenda, and they’re pushing a globalist agenda. And so when Trump calls the media the fake news media, the enemy of the people. They are the enemy of the people when they’re not being honest.”  

    Frequent Fox guests Diamond and Silk: “Not only are [the media] the enemy of the people, they are the enemy of the truth. Because they spread lies, and that’s why we call them the fake news.”

    Fox Business host Lou Dobbs referred to planned editorials criticizing Trump’s rhetoric about the media as “anti-Trump screeds” and “coordinated national left-wing fake news.”

    Dobbs argued that “the left-wing media” was aiding the Democratic Party in carrying out “a coup d'etat against President Trump.”

    Fox host Laura Ingraham accused the media of “actively concealing the heinous actions” of groups like antifa “because they serve their ends.”

    Fox’s Jesse Watters said the press, along with leakers, comprise “the official Democratic Party opposition.”

    In response to newspapers’ condemnation of Trump’s rhetoric, Fox Business guest host Ashley Webster and Wall Street Journal editorial board member James Freeman defended Trump’s rhetoric that the media are “the enemy of the people,” pushing Trump’s ridiculous claim that his critique applies only to “fake news.”

    Frequent Fox guest Michelle Malkin: “The media is the opposition party. I gotta get that on a bumper sticker.”

    Fox host Steve Doocy: The media want “to destroy [Trump] for the most part, because they didn’t like him. Look, nobody in the mainstream media for the most part predicted or wanted Donald Trump to win. He won, ha ha, he would go, and now, look, it’s the state of journalism today.”

    Fox’s Tucker Carlson: Media coverage “enrages” the president, “and I understand why. And I think he’s probably right to be mad.”

    Hannity criticized the media for being "filled with all opinion" and "kissing [Obama's] ass,” instead of holding government accountable.

    Hannity dismissed claims that he was  “inciting violence” by criticizing the “fake news media” for “reporting fake news almost every night”:

    Fox hosts regularly insult the media’s coverage of stories that reflect negatively on Trump or Republicans  

    Lou Dobbs slammed the “national left-wing media” for covering Florida gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis’ racist comment about his opponent, Andrew Gillum.

    Sean Hannity smeared media coverage of the package bomber targeting high-profile Democrats and CNN, calling it “so over the top, so outrageous, so disgustingly partisan.”

    Hannity complained that media “betrayed the American people” in their coverage of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian investigation.

    Hannity also slammed the media for covering his disastrous interview with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, calling reporters “lazy, … abusively biased echo chamber people in the fake news overpaid media.”

    Fox’s Jeanine Pirro whined that coverage of Trump and Russia is “like propaganda.”

    Fox routinely celebrates Trump’s hostility toward the media

    In response to a particularly vicious press conference in which Trump “launched an extraordinary denunciation” of the media, according to CNN, former Fox host Eric Bolling claimed that the room “looked like a WWE arena, with the mainstream media having fits about being called out for their unfair reporting.”

    Fox’s Kimberly Guilfoyle called the same press conference “wildly entertaining.”

    While interviewing the president, Fox’s Pete Hegseth asked him which  is his biggest opponent -- the Democrats, the “deep state,” or the “fake news media.”

    Fox & Friends celebrated Trump’s made-up "awards" attacking media: “Excitement for President Trump's fake news awards is so off the charts.”

    Fox figures often target specific outlets and individual journalists

    When the White House banned CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins from an open press event, Lou Dobbs celebrated the move: "It's about time there were consequences for disrespectful behavior."

    Dobbs smeared CNN’s Jim Acosta as “triggered” and “delicate” after Trump supporters harassed him at a rally.

    Fox contributor Tammy Bruce: Acosta's conduct makes him "an enemy to the American people."

    Hannity argued that the president shouldn’t “do any more interviews with Lester Holt, which then is sent over their cable channel and CNN so they can rip it apart.”

    Hannity also claimed that “corporate jihad” is “being waged by NBC News against President Trump,” and he went on to attack the “alt-left propaganda, destroy-Trump-at-all-costs media.”

    Fox contributor Michael Goodwin attacked The New Yorker's Jane Mayer for her reporting on sexual assaults: "She's been on this rampage for 25 years.”

    Fox & Friends defended Trump after he launched a sexist attack on MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski, saying the media had a “melt down” over the comment and arguing that Brzezinski “make[s] a living insulting” Trump.

    After Trump tweeted a photoshopped GIF of him “body slamming” CNN, Fox & Friends Sunday praised and joked about the GIF.

    Brian Kilmeade claimed CNN “went unhinged” after Trump posted the GIF, and Fox’s Geraldo Rivera argued that the network has “this unremitting hostility to Donald Trump.”

    Fox personalities have called for a crackdown on the free press

    Fox’s Newt Gingrich urged the administration to “close down the press room, send the reporters off. They can sit over at the Hay-Adams. They can go to Starbucks across the street. I don't care where they go.” Sean Hannity rejoiced at the idea: “The media will implode! They would not know how to deal with this.”

    Gingrich argued that the White House should “suspend” CNN’s Jim Acosta “for 60 days… as a signal, frankly, to all the other reporters that there are going to be real limits” on how they’re allowed to behave.

    Gingrich claimed that if he were the president, he “would kick some of the [news] organizations out. I would flood the White House press corps with lots of people,” adding that Trump should recognize “this is a real war.”

    Hannity: “As long as they keep reporting fake news, bizarre conspiracy theories, and show this bizarre fascination and paranoia about Russia, how about no more press conferences for the Hillary Clinton-colluding media?”

    Hannity claimed that the president shouldn’t “do interviews with the network so they can spend hours and hours and hours tearing up every word this president says, something they'd never do to Obama. End it. He doesn't need the press.”

  • Here are the conservative media outlets and figures pushing the outlandish theory that Christine Blasey Ford misidentified her attacker

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Conservative legal commentator Ed Whelan yesterday pushed a theory that it wasn’t Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh who sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford, but another man who looked like Kavanaugh. While many have denounced the speculation, calling it, for instance, “wildly irresponsible,” several mainstream and fringe conservative media outlets and personalities endorsed Whelan’s theory.

    Ford has debunked the claim, saying there’s “zero chance that I would confuse them.” Though Whelan later deleted his tweets and apologized for identifying the supposed doppelganger, he hasn’t retracted his theory.

    In the days before Whelan tweeted his ridiculous theory, other conservative media figures and even a Republican lawmaker speculated that Ford was mistaken about who assaulted her. A Wall Street Journal editorial published on September 17 with the title “The #MeToo Kavanaugh Ambush” claimed, “Mistaken identity is also possible.” The same day, Fox News The Five co-host Jesse Watters speculated, “Maybe it was a case of mistaken identity.” And Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggested Ford is “mixed up.” On September 18, conservative Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker wrote that “as crazy as that sounds, it wouldn't be unheard of” for this to be just a matter of “mistaken identity,” in a column titled “Is there a Kavanaugh doppelganger?”

    But it was Whelan’s now-deleted thread of tweets, posted on September 20, that spread throughout conservative media. Those who promoted it include:

    Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy: Whelan “figured out what house it may have happened at, because it was a house closest to the golf course, and then realized whose house it was and looked at a picture of the young man who lived there at the time who was a classmate of Mr. Kavanaugh's. Put up side by side images, they look a lot alike.”

    Conservative blogger Erick Erickson: Whelan “decided to put up a more compelling story that embraces Ford’s theory of assault.”

    While I am still not convinced there was an assault on Professor Ford, an intriguing theory has come forward that embraces the idea she was assaulted and makes a far more plausible case than that Brett Kavanaugh did it.

    Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center decided to put up a more compelling story that embraces Ford's theory of assault, while filling in the details she provided. And while I continue to find it unseemly to drag another innocent person into a fraudulent claim, the facts are very compelling that this is the location and things make more sense if you assume Ford was assaulted.

    The facts, as Ed Whelan laid them out, are that Brett Kavanaugh did go to school with someone who has a striking resemblance. That person lived within walking distance of the club Ford claims she had been at. The home matches the limited description Ford provided. I suspect more information will roll out as well over the coming days.

    I continue to believe Ford's accusation is not credible. If you find it credible, Whelan's evidence is compelling unless you're just trying to stop Kavanaugh for partisan or ideological reasons.

    Conservative NY Times columnist Ross Douthat: I “assume there’s more reason to believe [Whelan’s] doppelganger theory than just what he just tweeted.”

    Gateway Pundit: Whelan “drops pictures and evidence that blows Christine Ford’s case wide open.”

    Accuser Christine Blasey Ford is waging a war on Trump’s SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh with decades-old, unsubstantiated claims of sexual assault in an effort to derail his confirmation to the Supreme Court.

    Judge Kavanaugh has categorically denied the allegations and even told Senator Orin (sic) Hatch he wasn’t at the party in question.

    Ed Whelan, Justice Scalia’s former law clerk and president of conservative think tank the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), came out in defense of Brett Kavanaugh and said compelling evidence will come out next week exonerating Kavanaugh.

    On Thursday afternoon, Ed Whelan started dropping pictures and evidence that may blow Christine Ford’s case wide open.

    Twitchy: “Ed Whelan’s BOMBSHELL thread takes Ford’s accusations against Kavanaugh apart.”

    Earlier today, Twitchy covered the ‘rumor’ that information had been obtained that some felt would 100% exonerate Kavanaugh. This originally stemmed from tweets Ed Whelan sent out in the first part of this week.

    Welp, looks like Ed made good on his claim and posted a thread of facts that would give anyone pause as to what really did and did not happen to Ford and could eventually prove Kavanaugh’s innocence.

    Keep in mind, we can neither confirm nor deny anything Whelan has stated in his bombshell thread.

    Zero Hedge: “Was Kavanaugh accuser almost raped by his doppelganger? A new theory emerges.”

    A new theory has emerged in the case of whether Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted accuser Christine Blasey Ford roughly 35 years ago; it was Kavanaugh's high school look-alike, whose high school house better fits Ford's description, and who kept in touch with the other guy allegedly in the room, Mark Judge.

    The theory was presented Thursday afternoon by Ed Whelan, a former clerk to USSC Justice Antonin Scalia and currently president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), a conservative think tank.

    The Goldwater: “Breaking: Attorney Ed Whelan drops explosive evidence of vindication for Judge Kavanaugh.”

    Ford has been traumatized by the memory of sexual assault for 35 years. She sought therapy in 2012 due to the horrible memories. No one would go to all that trouble for nothing. Something happened to her.

    I couldn’t wrap my head around this story. What happened here? There had to be an explanation. Something I was missing. Then I read a story today that closed some loopholes for me. Below is the story I read.

    Please note that I am in no way stating that this is true. We have no idea what happened to Ford back when she was a teenager. This is just one idea, one possibility. Keep in mind that Ford can’t remember much about the details. It was a long time ago. This is why Kavanaugh should have never been put through this. He and his family are suffering, and Ford has no facts to base her allegations on.

    Ed Whalen’s Theory of Kavanaugh Rape…

    Conservative Firing Line: “It looks like the case brought against Judge Brett Kavanaugh just took another serious hit.”

    It looks like the case brought against Judge Brett Kavanaugh just took another serious hit. The Washington Post reported that Ed Whelan, a former clerk for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the president of conservative think tank the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), said “compelling evidence” which apparently includes photos and maps would exonerate Kavanaugh from allegations brought by Christine Blasey Ford.

    Powerline promoted Whelan’s tweets with headline “Mistake identity?”

    Paul (and Senator Orrin Hatch) has already mentioned the possibility that Dr. Ford’s allegation of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh may be a case of mistaken identity, based in part on Ed Whelan’s cryptic tweets that Kavanaugh is going to be fully exonerated. This has set off a firestorm of rumors and expectations. Whelan has just now (6 pm eastern time) provided one specific scenario of this on Twitter, offering up a specific name (though careful to note that he makes no allegation of implication that the other person, Chris Garrett, assaulted Ford as claimed).

    Read the whole thread—it doesn’t take long, but it is not easily summarized here.

  • 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.