Ken Cuccinelli | Media Matters for America

Ken Cuccinelli

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  • CNN commentator Ken Cuccinelli shares fake Maxine Waters quote with a fake CNN chyron

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    UPDATE (7/26): Following the publication of this post, Cuccinelli deleted the image from his Facebook page.

    CNN legal and political commentator Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican who formerly served as Virginia's attorney general, shared a fake quote from Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) that an “illegal immigrant” should be nominated to the Supreme Court.

    In late June, a Twitter “parody” account pretending to be CNN tweeted an image of Waters appearing on CNN with a fake chyron that said “Waters: SCOTUS Pick Should Be Illegal Immigrant,” along with the text, “Rep @MaxinePWaters: ‘The next Supreme Court Justice should be an illegal immigrant.’” The fake quote and chyron subsequently spread as real across social media and radio, with multiple memes created around the tweet.

    On July 25, Cuccinelli shared one of those memes on Facebook. The image also said, “Read that again- slowly- and let the full depth of abject stupidity and desperation behind the statement, uttered on nationwide television, sink in fully….”

    Cuccinelli is not the first CNN contributor to share fake news. Last December, then-CNN analyst Harry Houck shared a fake story on Facebook from notorious fake news site YourNewsWire claiming that actor Denzel Washington had called former President Barack Obama a “criminal-in-chief” who “tore [the] heart out of America.” Houck subsequently deleted the post and apologized for sharing the fake story.

  • The Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade. Don’t buy these right-wing excuses that it’s not a big deal.

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Following the announcement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, media have been speculating about the possibility of a nominee selected by President Donald Trump casting the deciding vote overturning Roe v. Wade.

    While some mainstream outlets have rightly warned about the likelihood and negative impacts of overturning, or even further hollowing out, Roe’s protections, many conservative outlets and figures deployed a variety of excuses either to suggest that Roe is not at risk or to downplay any potential negative effects such a move would have. But make no mistake -- the Trump administration and its anti-abortion allies haven’t been shy about their goal: making abortion inaccessible or even illegal in the United States, no matter what the consequences.

    In 2016, then-candidate Trump said in response to a debate question about whether he would overturn Roe: “Well, if we put another two or perhaps three justice on, that’s really what’s going to be — that will happen. And that’ll happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court.” Previously, in July 2016, then-vice presidential nominee Mike Pence said that he believed that electing Trump would lead to the overturning of Roe and that he wanted to see the decision “consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs.” In return, anti-abortion groups have also supported the administration -- a fact underscored by Trump’s keynote address at the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List’s (SBA List) gala in May.

    Despite the administration’s promise, conservative media and figures are deploying a number of inaccurate excuses to either deny or downplay the severity of the threat to abortion rights with another Trump-appointed justice on the court:

    1. Claiming that abortion rights are safe because Roe is precedent, and none of the current justices will vote to overturn it.

    In the aftermath of Kennedy’s announcement, some conservative media argued that abortion rights are not threatened because the sitting justices -- including Chief Justice John Roberts and Trump’s previous nominee Justice Neil Gorsuch -- would be reticent to overturn precedent.

    For example, an editorial in The Wall Street Journal argued that because “the Court has upheld [Roe’s] core right so many times, ... the Chief Justice and perhaps even the other conservatives aren’t likely to overrule stare decisis on a 5-4 vote.” Similarly, during a June 27 appearance on Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs Tonight, conservative lawyer Alan Dershowitz claimed that Roe is safe because “true conservatives also follow precedent,” and therefore any conservative appointee would not vote to overturn it. Short-serving former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci said it is unlikely that Roe would be overturned because “the court recognizes that there are certain fundamental principles that are in place and certain presidential precedent-setting principles in place." He concluded, “I know there are conservatives out there that want it to be overturned but I just don't see it happening."

    It appears highly unlikely that the new Supreme Court would keep Roe intact. Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern wrote that Kennedy’s retirement “ensured” that Roe will be overturned -- even if it ultimately will “die with a whimper” as the Supreme Court would allow anti-choice lawmakers to foist “extreme regulations on clinics, outlawing abortion after a certain number of weeks, or barring a woman from terminating a pregnancy on the basis of the fetus’ disability or identity.” As Stern concluded, “the constitutional right to abortion access in America is living on borrowed time.” This argument was also echoed by The Daily Beast’s Erin Gloria Ryan who contended that one more Supreme Court vote against abortion would mean that “the conservative minority in this country will have the power to uphold laws designed to force pregnant women into motherhood.” During the June 27 edition of MSNBC’s Deadline: White House, host Nicole Wallace explained that the impact of Kennedy’s retirement means “actually talking about a future generation growing up with abortion being illegal again” and “young women and men taking the kinds of risks that a generation now hasn't had to consider.”

    2. Arguing that Roe is “bad” law, and therefore a Trump nominee would only be correcting judicial overreach.

    In other instances, conservative media have argued that Roe is "bad" law because the constitution doesn't include a right to abortion. By this logic, they contend, a reversal of precedent is inconsequential because the new nominee would merely be helping correct previous judicial overreach.

    In an opinion piece for The Sacramento Bee, The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro argued that Roe v. Wade is a decision that was rendered “without even the most peremptory respect for the text and history of the Constitution,” but that “pleased the Left.” An improved Supreme Court, according to Shapiro, “would leave room for legislatures – Democrats or Republicans – to make laws that don’t conflict with the Constitution.”

    In National Review, Rich Lowry similarly said that Roe “is, in short, a travesty that a constitutionalist Supreme Court should excise from its body of work with all due haste.” Lowry concluded that Roe “has no sound constitutional basis” and implied that it should be overturned because it is an embarrassment for the court.

    The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway claimed on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier, “Even people who are pro-choice recognize that it was a poorly argued judicial decision.” She also said that Trump does not need to ask the judicial candidates about Roe v. Wade as “so many people regard it as such a poorly reasoned decision.” Fox News contributor Robert Jeffress also said on Fox News’ Hannity that Trump doesn’t need to ask about Roe because “there is no right to abortion.” Jeffress continued that though abortion is “nowhere in the Constitution” there is, however, a constitutionally protected “right to life that has been erased for 50 million children butchered in the womb since 1973.”

    But, as legal analyst Bridgette Dunlap wrote for Rewire.News, these claims that Roe is bad law are part of a conservative tactic to invalidate abortion rights more broadly. She explained: “In order to portray abortion rights as illegitimate, conservatives like to argue—inaccurately—that the Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade by inventing a right to privacy that is not grounded in the Constitution’s actual text.” Instead, she noted, Roe is based on the idea that “using the force of law to compel a person to use her body against her will to bring a pregnancy to term is a violation of her physical autonomy and decisional freedom—which the Constitution does not allow.”

    In addition, Roe is not just an important acknowledgement of the right to legally access abortion care -- even if states have already chipped away at the accessibility of that care. As Lourdes Rivera of the Center for Reproductive Rights explained in the National Law Journal, overturning Roe would impact the right to privacy and mean “uprooting a half-century of judicial decision-making, with profound consequences for our most cherished rights and essential freedoms.” Lawyer Jill Filipovic similarly wrote for Time magazine that “if Roe is done away with under the theory that privacy rights don’t exist, this could mean that there is no constitutional right to birth control, either.” In addition, she said, “cases that came after Roe, including Lawrence v. Texas, which invalidated a Texas law that criminalized sex between two men, were decided on similar premises — and could be similarly imperiled.”

    3. Claiming that abortion would not be completely outlawed because regulatory power would merely be “returned to the states.”

    A common argument by conservative media -- and in some cases, Trump himself -- is that an overturning of Roe would merely return abortion regulations to the states and not completely outlaw the practice.

    For instance, according to Fox News guest and constitutional attorney Mark W. Smith, even if Roe were overturned, it wouldn’t “outlaw abortion” in the United States, it would just allow “states and voters [to] decide what to do about abortion.” Fox News commentator Andrew Napolitano also made this claim, saying the “worst case scenario” is that if Roe “were to be repealed or reversed, the effect would be the 50 states would decide” their own abortion regulations. This inaccurate claim was also made during segments on CNN and MSNBC. During a June 27 appearance on CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin, CNN legal commentator and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli argued that “all overturning Roe v. Wade does is” give the regulation power “to the states.” The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol made a similar claim on MSNBC Live with Velshi and Ruhle, when he argued that overturning Roe would merely “kick [abortion regulation] back to the states.”

    In reality, sending abortion regulation “back to the states” would functionally outlaw abortion access across large parts of the country. As Reva Siegel, a professor at Yale Law School wrote for The New York Times, returning the issue to the states would be disastrous because already, “27 major cities are 100 miles or more from the nearest abortion provider, and we can expect these ‘abortion deserts’ in the South and the Midwest to spread rapidly” if states are given free reign. New York magazine’s Lisa Ryan similarly reported that currently “there are only 19 states in which the right to abortion would be secure” if Roe is overturned.

    This landscape could easily worsen with anti-abortion groups turning their attention more directly to legislation on the state level rather than the federal level. As HuffPost’s Laura Bassett noted, a number of “abortion cases are already worming their way through the lower courts” that could further entrench abortion restrictions in a number of states. In 2016, ThinkProgress explained what a world before Roe looked like: “Wealthy women were able to access safe, though illegal, abortions, but everyone else had to risk their safety and sometimes their lives, and doctors had to risk going to jail.”

    4. Casting blame on abortion rights supporters for “overreacting” or trying to “attack” any Trump nominee on principle.

    Another common reaction among conservative media has been to cast blame back on abortion rights supporters. In this case, right-wing media have attacked supporters of Roe for “overreacting” to the potential loss of abortion rights, and accused others of opposing Trump’s nominee not on facts, but on principle.

    For example, during the June 27 edition of Fox Business’ Making Money with Charles Payne, guest and attorney Gayle Trotter argued that abortion rights supporters were just “trying to scare people” in order to “defeat the president’s nominee.” Federalist Society Executive Vice President Leonard Leo also echoed this argument during a June 27 appearance on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier. According to Leo, “The left has been using the Roe v. Wade scare tactic since 1982, when Sandra O’Connor was nominated. And over 30 years later, nothing has happened to Roe v. Wade.”

    Similarly, on June 29, Trump supporters and YouTube personalities Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, popularly known as Diamond and Silk, appeared on Fox News’ Fox and Friends to discuss potential replacements for Kennedy. During the segment, Diamond asked why Democrats were “fearmongering” and “going into a frenzy” before knowing the nominee or their position on abortion. After interviewing Trump on Fox Business about his thought process for nominating Kennedy’s replacement, Maria Bartiromo said on the Saturday edition of Fox & Friends Weekend she believed that “all of this hysteria” about a potential overturn of Roe was being "a little overdone” by the left.

    Pro-choice advocates are not “overreacting” to potential attacks on the protections afforded by Roe. As journalist Irin Carmon explained on MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, Kennedy’s retirement “is the point that the conservative movement, that the anti-abortion movement, has been preparing for for 40 years” by “taking over state legislatures and passing laws that are engineered to chip away at the abortion right.” Carmon said that even with Kennedy on the bench, “access to abortion, and in many cases contraception, was a reality [only] on paper already.” Now, “it is disportionately Black and brown women who are going to suffer with the regime that is going to come forward.” Attorney Maya Wiley similarly argued on MSNBC’s The Beat that overturning of Roe would mean “essentially barring a huge percentage of women from huge swaths of the country from access” to abortion.

    5. Claiming that there’s no public support for Roe or abortion access.

    Polling shows a large majority of Americans support the outcome of Roe. But some right-wing media personalities have said that such findings ignore other polling about Americans’ supposed support for restrictions on later abortion.

    For example, The Weekly Standard’s John McCormack argued on Fox News’ Outnumbered Overtime that the claims of support for abortion access are inaccurate because there is a “great misunderstanding about Roe v. Wade” and the impact it has on abortion restrictions and that “there is actually pretty popular support for second trimester regulations.” This talking point has been used elsewhere, such as by the Washington Examiner and anti-abortion outlet Life News, in an attempt to discredit perceived support for Roe.

    The argument deployed by McCormack has also frequently been used by right-wing outlets in the past -- despite the disregard such an argument shows for the complexities involved in abortion polling. As Tresa Undem, co-founder and partner at the public-opinion research firm PerryUndem, wrote for Vox, most “standard measures” that are used “to report the public’s views on abortion ... don’t capture how people really think” about the issue. In contrast to right-wing media and anti-abortion claims, polling done by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Hart Research Associates shows that support for later abortions goes up when people realize that abortions in later stages of pregnancy are often undertaken out of medical necessity or for particular personal circumstances.

    As Trump prepares to announce his selection for the Supreme Court on Monday, July 7, right-wing and conservative media will only offer more of these excuses to downplay that Roe v. Wade is firmly in the crosshairs.

  • CNN has done great reporting on Roy Moore’s extremism, but two network contributors are trying to get him elected

    CNN's right-wing commentators keep undermining the network's journalists

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    CNN employees have done solid reporting in recent months on the background of Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has claimed that “homosexual conduct” should be illegal and that Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress and in the military. During the same time, two CNN commentators have endorsed Moore’s campaign and told followers the country needs him in the U.S. Senate.

    Moore is a twice-removed Alabama Supreme Court judge and conservative pundit who is running against Democrat Doug Jones in the state’s December special election. Moore has a problematic history on LGBTQ rights, religion, and environmentalism, among other issues.  

    Moore’s campaign website lists numerous endorsements from politicians, far-right extremists, and members of the media, including Fox’s Sean Hannity, radio host Mark Levin, and Breitbart’s Steve Bannon. CNN legal commentator Ken Cuccinelli and CNN political contributor Ed Martin have also endorsed Moore’s campaign.

    Both Republican commentators have anti-gay histories. Cuccinelli supported anti-LGBTQ policies as Virginia’s attorney general and said, “When you look at the homosexual agenda, I cannot support something that I believe brings nothing but self-destruction, not only physically but of their soul.” Martin heads the organizations Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund and the Phyllis Schlafly Eagles, which have fought against rights for LGBTQ people.

    Cuccinelli also heads the Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee that is backing Moore. Cuccinelli stated in early September that he and his group “are proud to support him and we look forward to working with the grassroots to help him win this important race.” Martin endorsed Moore in early September -- prior to joining CNN -- stating, “I believe in him and in his fighting spirit. We need him in the U.S. Senate.”

    CNN journalists, especially the network’s KFile investigation team, have doggedly reported on Moore’s extremism. CNN has reported, among other things, that:

    • Moore said “in a 2005 interview that he believes ‘homosexual conduct’ should be illegal.”
    • His Facebook “page shared inflammatory memes” and an “article praising Russia's anti-gay laws.”
    • Moore suggested this year while speaking at a church “that the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks might have happened because the US had distanced itself from God. ... Later in the same speech, Moore suggested God was upset at the United States because ‘we legitimize sodomy’ and ‘legitimize abortion.’”
    • Moore “repeatedly” appeared on the radio with a “pastor who preaches [that the] penalty for homosexuality is death.”
    • Moore said of Islam in 2009: “Only thing I know that the Islamic faith has done in this country is 9/11.” He additionally claimed, as CNN wrote, that “Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and the first Muslim ever elected to Congress, shouldn't be allowed to take office. He has also warned that Muslims shouldn't serve in the military.”
    • In 2009 and 2010, pro-Confederate activists held a “Secession Day” event at Moore’s foundation.

      Media Matters has documented President Donald Trump and his Republican allies’ constant attempts to undermine the legitimacy of CNN by, among other things, calling it “fake news.” (Ed Martin himself has called CNN “fake news.”) At the same time, CNN employs at least a dozen pro-Trump commentators.

      Media observers, including Media Matters, have noted that CNN’s use of these explicitly partisan commentators has undercut the work of its journalists and turned the network into a sideshow. As Vox correspondent and former Media Matters research fellow Carlos Maza noted, “CNN’s Trump supporters derail segments critical of the president, misrepresent Trump’s positions to avoid tough questions, and peddle false and misleading information on national TV while being paid by the network. In many cases, CNN’s Trump supporters repeat the same lies and talking points that CNN’s serious journalists spend all day trying to debunk.” That sideshow is now in Alabama with the contributors' endorsements of one of the most extreme and anti-gay politicians in the country.

    • Study: CNN's paid Trump shills made more than 500 appearances over the last three months

      The network is making a big show of its commitment to facts while paying Trump apologists to lie

      Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


      Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

      “This is an apple,” begins the voice-over for an ad CNN is running as part of its new “Facts First” promotional campaign. “Some people might try to tell you that it’s a banana,” the narration continues. “They might scream banana, banana, banana over and over and over again. They might put banana in ALL CAPS. You might even start to believe that this is a banana. But it’s not. This is an apple.”

      The network’s new branding stresses that “there is no alternative to a fact” and that “opinions matter” but “don’t change the facts.”

      CNN’s campaign seems driven by the post-truth political environment. President Donald Trump and his administration lie constantly and try to undermine the credibility of other sources of information, including CNN and other media outlets. By confusing the public about what is happening, they hope to maintain power. With top White House aides openly declaring their adherence to “alternative facts,” it makes sense for credible journalists to try to rally around the need for reporting to reflect reality.

      But if CNN is truly worried about the sort of people who tell you that an apple is really a banana, the network should deal with the stable of pundits it has hired to provide viewers with knee-jerk defenses of the president. Those Trump apologists -- some of whom were previously on Trump’s payroll -- actively harm CNN’s journalism, frequently bringing panel discussions to a screeching halt with claims so dishonest they approach parody, at times drawing on-air rebukes from the network’s anchors. The pundits force the network to constantly debate whether the apple is really a banana.

      In August, media reporter Michael Calderone identified 13 pundits on the CNN payroll “who, to varying degrees, can be identified as pro-Trump”: former Republican Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, talk radio host Ben Ferguson, former Bush White House official Scott Jennings, former South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, former Trump campaign spokesperson Jason Miller, former Trump adviser Stephen Moore, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), Republican strategist Alice Stewart, former Trump campaign official David Urban, talk radio host John Phillips, former Bush White House staffer Paris Dennard and former U.S. Attorney Matthew Whitaker. Since then, the network has hired Ed Martin, former chair of the Missouri Republican Party, to round out the roster.

      As Calderone notes, the pundits are not monolithic, with some even offering criticism for the president from time to time. But on balance, the group reliably tilts discussions, often negatively impacting the ability of viewers to come away from the network’s coverage with a strong grasp of the facts.

      Over the past three months, those 14 pundits have made 510 appearances on CNN -- an average of more than five appearances a day -- according to a Media Matters review. Jennings and Ferguson have led the way, with 73 and 69 appearances, respectively. Moore, Kingston, and Stewart round out the top five, each with at least 50 appearances.


      Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

      CNN has been paying Trump shills to provide on-air commentary since the 2016 presidential campaign, apparently having learned nothing from the disastrous results.

      At the time, the network hired pro-Trump pundits like Jeffrey Lord, Corey Lewandowski, and Kayleigh McEnany, claiming that it was important to employ full-time Trump apologists to provide “balance” in its election coverage. Those pundits turned the network’s political coverage into a shit show, with segments devolving to bedlam as the network’s hosts and other contributors tried to push back against a steady stream of lies, talking points, and misdirection. The result may have attracted eyeballs, but it certainly was not a credible news product that distinguished fact from fiction.

      And those relationships ended in humiliation for CNN: Lord was fired in August after he directed a Nazi victory salute at my boss; the Republican National Committee hired away McEnany to, among other things, produce propaganda videos; and Lewandowski remained on the Trump payroll while simultaneously working for CNN until he finally quit to monetize his relationship with the president full time.

      The network has soldiered on since the election, hiring a phalanx of pro-Trump fabulists to populate its panels of reporters, analysts, and pundits. Not every pro-Trump pundit is as bad as Lord or McEnany -- from time to time, some will even offer criticism of the president. But the willingness of many of them to shill for the president regardless of the truth -- to send discussions into a tailspin by saying an apple is a banana -- flies in the face of the network’s stated “facts first” commitment.

      Ferguson, for example, has repeatedly been called out by his CNN colleagues this month for offering nonsensical diversions in discussions of Trump’s attacks on NFL players who protest racial inequality during the National Anthem. And Moore -- who typically appears on the network to lie about Trump-backed health care proposals -- on Monday derailed a CNN panel discussion about then-Fox News host Bill O’Reilly paying a hefty sexual harassment settlement by saying that the real solution is for powerful men to never be alone in a room alone with a woman. Kingston, for his part, last night attempted to make excuses for Trump’s unprecedented falsehoods, saying that “the American perception is that politicians lie” and Trump is no worse than other presidents; the rest of the panel denounced him, with anchor Don Lemon scolding him for “condoning bad behavior.”

      When major stories break, such as Trump’s string of indefensible responses to the lethal white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, Trump’s CNN supporters blanket the network’s coverage. That result was a trainwreck, with the president’s shills sidelining discussions with praise for Trump’s response and dismissals of the importance of the rally.

      CNN isn’t the first major news outlet to run an advertising campaign geared around its opposition to Trumpian “alternative facts.” The New York Times sold subscriptions earlier this year with similar patter, proclaiming that “the truth is more important now than ever.” But the paper drew controversy almost immediately when it violated that commitment by hiring a climate change denier for a coveted columnist slot.

      As I noted at the time, “When you market your paper as an antidote to a worldview that is unmoored from reality, your subscribers will actually expect you to follow through. When you fail to fulfill your promise, those readers will take their money elsewhere.” Now it’s CNN taking on the mantle of bold truth teller. Perhaps the network should start by first examining its own household.

      Additional research by Shelby Jamerson.

    • Debunking right-wing media myths on DACA

      ››› ››› DINA RADTKE & MADELINE PELTZ

      Following President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would reverse the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), right-wing media rushed to praise Trump’s actions by stereotyping DACA recipients, or “Dreamers,” as criminals and gang members. They also falsely claimed that the program constitutes a form of “amnesty,” that DACA recipients take jobs from native-born Americans, that the program is unconstitutional, and that President Barack Obama did not take any action to pass comprehensive immigration reform during his tenure.