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  • Fox Business finally abandons Saudi investment conference

    The network delayed action until its Trump administration patrons pulled out

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Last Friday, Bloomberg, CNN, CNBC, and the Financial Times all announced that they would no longer sponsor a high-profile Saudi-backed investment conference to be held later this month in light of the disappearance of journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi. As the week went by, and evidence mounted that Khashoggi had been brutally tortured, murdered, and dismembered and that Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was responsible, only one Western media outlet stood by the conference: Fox Business. Day after day, the network stood pat, telling curious journalists that the matter was under review.

    On Thursday afternoon, the channel finally folded. “Fox Business Network has canceled its sponsorship and participation in the Future Investment Initiative conference in Saudi Arabia,” the network said in a statement. What changed? Consider this fact: The statement went out mere hours after Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced that he would not be attending the conference.

    Fox Business has fiercely defended the Trump administration and been rewarded with access to top officials. That past relationship and Trump’s seeming interest -- for reasons of corruption, apathy, or a combination of the two -- in helping to cover up the Saudi government’s involvement in Khashoggi’s apparent murder likely meant that as long as Mnuchin was planning to go to the conference, the network couldn’t abandon it either.

    “They are not going to do anything that puts them at odds with the White House so they can keep getting access,” one Fox staffer told CNN before the network announced its decision. Only after the Trump administration pulled out was Fox Business willing to do the same.

    While the network’s executives were biding their time, waiting to see what the White House decided, its commentators used their platform to make excuses for the Saudis, cast doubt on their apparent involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance, and warn that any effort to force the Saudi regime to face the consequences of its crimes would backfire.

    Lou Dobbs, the network’s biggest star and a sometime unofficial White House adviser whose show is dedicated to the worship of Donald Trump, has led the charge, sowing uncertainty about the case on a nightly basis. Here are a few examples (all quotes from Nexis):

    October 11: “No question [Prince Mohammed] has an immense challenge as he tries to transform Saudi society and institutions. … I'd like to hear what would be the result as we try to divine who is telling the truth and who is lying between the Saudis and the Turks.”

    October 15: “This is one of the most peculiar, perplexing and seemingly disproportionate news events that I can recall in some time. A person who has worked for the Washington Post, a very short time relatively is not entirely clear whether he was a paid contributor or whether he was -- had some other kind of relationship disappears going into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.”

    October 16: “President Trump tonight reacting once again to the disappearance of the Saudi activist and sometimes journalist for the Washington Post Jamal Khashoggi. … Meanwhile, growing calls from RINOs and the radical Dems on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to take action by [going] against the Saudis. If you thought the Judiciary Committee was scary, just take a look at the Republicans on Foreign Relations. I mean, look at that. If that doesn't instill trust in foreign policy in the Senate, what would it take?”

    October 17: “This story gets bigger and bigger and it seems the facts supporting various versions of the story seem to dwindle and dwindle. … The accuracy and the credibility of it perhaps we've already strained a bit to involve ourselves to this point bringing in the FBI, my god who's going to believe the FBI on anything right now? … Don't you think the smartest thing for us to do is to as the President said take a deep breath and let the facts come to us?”

    No facts changed between the time Fox Business’ most prominent personality said on October 17 that “the facts supporting various versions of the story seem to dwindle and dwindle” and his network’s decision to pull out of the conference the next day. Indeed, while the gory details have been filled in since all of Fox Business’ competitors abandoned it, the overall story has remained broadly the same: Khashoggi appears to have been murdered at the hands of the Saudi government. What changed is that the Trump administration decided it would no longer send a representative. And for Fox Business, that made all the difference.

  • Media keep talking about "identity politics." But what does it even mean anymore?

    More than 40 years after the term was coined, “identity politics” has been reduced to buzzword status.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    For nearly two years, Democrats have been desperate to understand the secret to President Donald Trump’s success. This week, Fox Business hosts Lou Dobbs and Trish Regan might have just figured it out.

    From the October 15 edition of Trish Regan Primetime (emphasis added):

    TRISH REGAN (HOST): You look at the Democrats right now, and they’re really clinging to this idea of identity politics. In your view, what are they missing?

    LOU DOBBS: Well, group and identity politics are really the blueprint for the Democratic Party. It's no longer, as it once was, about the American worker. It's no longer about middle America or middle class Americans. For 20 years, they watched the middle class in this country shrink. It took none other than President Donald J. Trump to step up and say he is for the American worker, the American working family, for the middle class, and put America first. And with that he has driven, it seems to me, a stake into the heart of group and identity politics. Because remember, Trish, and I know you do, this is a president -- from the moment he began campaigning -- says he will be the president of all Americans. ... This is a president of possibility and an insistence upon dreaming, dreaming -- all America is dreaming. And, by the way, those dreams are being realized in 21 months this man has been in office.

    REGAN: It’s amazing because in some ways, Lou, I think he's beating them at their own game. I mean, they used to be about middle class, working Americans, and then all of a sudden, as we saw in 2016 and the aftermath right up until today, things became about, say, the transgender population, which is 0.01 percent of the population. Now, I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that. However, they forgot, they forgot all these people out there going to work every day trying to make a living, trying to put food on the table, and consequently, Donald Trump stole their thunder.

    Ah yes, identity politics! Like its rhetorical cousin “political correctness,” identity politics has become one of those catch-all terms that means whatever the person saying it wants it to mean at that particular moment. For the past several years, it’s been deployed derisively to dismiss concerns specific to any group outside of the ruling class. Marriage equality? Identity politics. Black Lives Matter? Definitely identity politics. Protecting the right to an abortion? Massive identity politics. And, well, you get the idea.

    In the above discussion between Dobbs and Regan, Regan cited the Democratic Party’s focus on issues specific to trans people as part of its downfall. After all, if just 0.01 percent of the country is transgender and Democrats are really going all-in on policies and campaign promises that would solely benefit that community, that does seem like a foolish use of resources. Unfortunately for Regan, neither point is really true. Regan was off by a factor of 60 in her trans statistic -- the Williams Institute estimates that 1.4 million adults, or 0.6 percent of the population, identify as trans.

    But to her second point: Yes, Democrats did include a few nods to the trans community in their 2016 party platform, such as supporting the passage of an LGBTQ-inclusive anti-discrimination bill and highlighting violence against trans people. But was that to the exclusion of anyone or anything else? No, not really. On the flip side, the Republican platform leaned into these issues hard, strongly opposing a recently implemented marriage equality ruling; pledging to stop using Title IX “to impose a social and cultural revolution upon the American people,” as they allege President Barack Obama had done with his “dear colleague” memo to schools saying bullying against trans students isn’t OK; championing the passage of the so-called First Amendment Defense Act, which would shield people from local and state statutes banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation so long as the person discriminating cites a strongly held religious belief; and support for discriminatory anti-trans policies in public space, such as North Carolina’s controversial, anti-trans HB 2 legislation.

    Objectively speaking, on issues of LGBTQ rights, the Republican Party simply is more invested in identity politics. It shows in how the party has governed, too. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 129 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in state legislatures in 2017 -- overwhelmingly by Republicans. Democrats are left with the option to either push back against the anti-LGBTQ attacks (and be accused by media figures of playing identity politics) or simply roll over and let a socially conservative agenda pass without opposition. The reason the “Democrats must drop their obsession with identity politics” narrative has more or less become conventional wisdom in the aftermath of 2016 elections is that media -- both mainstream and partisan -- ignore the identity politics of the right.

    Conservative identity politics are all around us, but we've been conditioned not to notice.

    In a study titled “One Tribe to Bind Them All: How Our Social Group Attachments Strengthen Partisanship,” published earlier this year in the Advances in Political Psychology journal, researchers Lilliana Mason and Julie Wronski observed the ways in which our various identities shape -- and have always shaped -- our political beliefs and motivations, even if not consciously.

    Mason and Wronski concluded that, currently, it’s actually Republicans who are more likely to respond to stimuli along identity-based lines. This is due, in part, to the fact that Republicans tend to be more demographically homogeneous -- that is, their two most consistent identities are that of being white and Christian -- whereas Democrats’ power, or lack thereof, relies on just a tenuous connection between varying racial, gender, sexual, and religious coalitions. They write:

    Interestingly, in the realm of “identity politics,” it is generally the Democratic Party that is associated with the use of social identities for political gain. In fact, what we find here is that, if anything, Republicans are more responsive to the alignment of their party-associated groups. Among Republicans, the most cross‐cutting identities are more detrimental to in‐party allegiance than they are among Democrats. Grossman and Hopkins (2016) suggest that Democrats are the party of group interests and Republicans the party of ideological purity. What we find is that Republican “purity” applies to in‐party social homogeneity. A Republican who does not fit the White, Christian mold is far less attached to the Republican Party than one who does fit the mold. This effect is stronger among Republicans than among Democrats, who include significantly more individuals whose racial and religious identities do not match those of the average Democrat. The concept of a “deal‐breaker” identity among Republicans is more feasible than it is among Democrats, as Republicans are generally associated with fewer linked social groups. In this sense, Republicans are more reliant than Democrats on their social identities for constructing strong partisan attachments.

    This could help to explain why media’s identity-based messaging -- such as Fox News’ Laura Ingraham warning her viewers that if they don’t vote Republican, they will be “replace[d] … with newly amnestied citizens and an ever increasing number of chain migrants,” or conservative sites like Breitbart spending years accusing Democrats of waging a “war on Christians” -- tends to resonate with white conservative Americans. It’s why reminding white voters that they may soon be a racial minority in the U.S. is a tried and true way to shift politically unaffiliated white voters to more conservative positions. In July, The Washington Post published the story of a white woman experiencing “demographic anxiety” while trying to fit in with non-English-speaking co-workers, explaining the idea that whites no longer comprising a majority in the country played a role in driving white voters to adopt anti-immigration viewpoints and align more closely with Republicans.

    This still doesn’t explain why a Republican suggesting that Democrats are a threat to the right to practice Christianity is not typically viewed through the lens of “identity politics,” but a Democrat arguing that Republicans are a threat to reproductive rights is. Perhaps this is the result of in-group bias, with U.S. newsrooms still disproportionately white and male. It seems as logical an explanation as any. Mason and Wronski refer to whiteness and Christianity as “the ‘correct’ alignment of social identities,” which is to say that people, including media figures, are conditioned to see this as the default.

    The outcry against "identity politics" is, itself, deeply rooted in identity politics.

    Sometimes, trying to avoid the “identity politics” smear means explicit exclusion of people … on the basis of identity. For instance, after Democrats nominated an especially diverse slate of candidates in local and state primaries this year, some even called that an example of identity politics, suggesting that there’s no reason anybody other than a straight, white, cisgender man should consider running for office lest it be considered an identity-based stunt. PJ Media’s Tyler O’Neil wrote, “Democrats in various states took up the identity politics banner, pushing candidates who fit the minority mold. The August 14 primaries elevated transgender, Muslim, black, and socialist candidates, further cementing the Democratic Party's national radical identity politics brand.”

    At other times, avoiding the charge of playing “identity politics” means abandoning your ideological principles, as self-described liberal Mark Lilla wrote in The New York Times after the 2016 election. Democrats’ “obsession with diversity has encouraged white, rural, religious Americans to think of themselves as a disadvantaged group whose identity is being threatened or ignored,” he wrote. Lilla’s advice was for Democrats to adopt “a post-identity liberalism” and refocus on the issues that affect the “vast majority,” rather than on things like LGBTQ rights or abortion. In other words, he thinks the answer is to focus on issues that also affect the “angry white male,” whom he describes without a hint of irony as a “maligned, and previously ignored, figure.”

    As I illustrated earlier in this piece, contra Lilla, there’s not really a way to sidestep identity-based battles with a truce of neutrality. The culture war, itself another description of identity politics in this current usage, will rage on regardless. The only question that remains is whether in the name of abandoning “identity politics,” people like Lilla think it’s worth letting the most marginalized groups in society see their rights stripped away bit by bit, all for a political gamble that may not even pay off.

    Telling a group -- whether it’s Democrats, Republicans, people of color, LGBTQ people, the religious, the non-religious -- to abandon identity politics doesn’t actually mean anything. It’s just a buzzword, and journalists owe it to the public to stop using it that way.

    But “identity politics” in its original use is totally different from the way it’s used today.

    Up until this point, I’ve been using the term as it is used most commonly by media covering politics. However, the original definition, which originated in “The Combahee River Collective Statement,” a 1977 missive on the path forward for Black feminism, means almost the exact opposite. Reading the statement, you wouldn’t get the sense that four decades later, people would be using the term to refer to the siloing of identities and exclusion. Here’s one salient passage:

    We have arrived at the necessity for developing an understanding of class relationships that takes into account the specific class position of Black women who are generally marginal in the labor force, while at this particular time some of us are temporarily viewed as doubly desirable tokens at white-collar and professional levels. We need to articulate the real class situation of persons who are not merely raceless, sexless workers, but for whom racial and sexual oppression are significant determinants in their working/economic lives.

    In short, the statement argues that to fight for the rights, treatment, and protection of all, we need to actually hear from all. People need to be able to advocate on their own behalf, but they also need to build coalitions with like-minded individuals. Pretending that differences don’t exist  and ignoring the role racism, sexism, homophobia, and general intolerance play in society doesn’t actually address any of those issues. They don’t simply go away on their own.

    “To be recognized as human, levelly human, is enough,” reads another pertinent line. The suggestion that identity politics means progress for some at the expense of others is a perversion of the term’s defining document.

    In a January Twitter thread responding to a David Brooks New York Times column about identity politics, Barbara Smith, one of the Combahee River Collective Statement authors, set the record straight, writing, “Once again Brooks gets identity politics totally wrong!” She continued:

    I can confirm that identity politics means nothing remotely like what Brooks and others like Mark Lilla say. There have been systems of institutionalized oppression in the U. S. like white supremacy, capitalism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia which predate the term identity politics by several centuries. The political theory and practice of identity politics has been most useful for building coalitions with people of various identities who are committed to working together to eradicate these systems and not for creating enemies lists.

    Whether it’s time to retire any particular political strategy is an issue that’s not for me to decide. What I can suggest, however, is that media start focusing on how the term “identity politics” -- in its modern use -- applies to Republican strategy just as much as Democratic efforts, if not more. Better yet, maybe we can just phase out usage of the term as rhetorical empty calories and instead be specific about what we mean.

  • Today's dumbest controversy is the idea that Eric Holder wants Democrats to literally kick conservatives

    "When they go low, we kick them” doesn’t mean to actually kick someone

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Speaking to a group of Democrats in support of Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Adams, former Attorney General Eric Holder riffed on Michelle Obama’s “when they go low, we go high” line from the 2016 Democratic National Convention to comment on the need for Democrats to fight back against voter suppression efforts -- a legitimate concern, especially in that state.

    “Michelle always says, ‘When they go low, we go high,'” said Holder at last weekend’s event. “No. No. When they go low, we kick them. That’s what this new Democratic Party is about. We’re proud as hell to be Democrats. We’re willing to fight for the ideals of the Democratic Party.”

    Just from that quote, it should be obvious that Holder wasn’t talking about physically kicking anybody, but lest someone misinterpret his comment as a call to violence, he clarified:

    “Now, when I say, you know, ‘we kick ‘em,’ I don’t mean we do anything inappropriate. We don’t do anything illegal. But we’ve got to be tough and we’ve got to fight for the very things that John Lewis, Martin Luther King, Whitney Young, you know, all those folks gave to us. That stuff can be taken away. That’s what they want to do.”

    Since its release, the video of Holder’s comments has been making the rounds across conservative and mainstream media.

    On Wednesday’s edition of Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight, the host called Holder an “illustrious thug” after playing the context-free version of Holder’s comments.

    “You know, when I think what we’ve just gone through and when I think of what Justice [Brett] Kavanaugh and his family have gone through, and I think of the ignorance of the radical Dems on that committee and in that party and what they’re saying, and watching Eric Holder in Georgia, talking big like he’s some sort of street thug, I can’t imagine what it would take to infuriate, to motivate Republicans to get to the polls and take five others with them,” Dobbs said later in the program.

    On Thursday’s Fox & Friends, Holder’s comments racked up a number of mentions. Yet again, the latter half of his statement, where he explicitly said that he’s not referring to committing acts of violence, was omitted.

    “Wow, that's the new Democratic Party? Just start kicking people? That's the former head of the Justice Department, keep that in mind,” said co-host Ainsley Earhardt.

    President Donald Trump later called in to the show. Asked about what Holder said, Trump replied, “He better be careful what he is wishing for,” adding, “That is a disgusting statement for him to make.”

    He went on to call it a “dangerous statement,” saying, “They talk about us. We are exactly opposite.” He then described his rallies as “really calm and well-run and packed with people. We don't have problems at our rallies, but they used to send in -- they don't do it anymore, they haven't, they probably, maybe they will try starting again -- but they used to send in protesters, paid protesters. The Democrats and Soros and they came from all over.”

    Trump’s rallies during the 2016 campaign, however, were not the peaceful utopia he described on Thursday. There’s a stark contrast between the way Fox & Friends discussed these relatively harmless comments by Holder and how the show reacted when then-candidate Trump called in on November 22, 2015, to say of one protester who claimed to have been assaulted at one of his rallies: “Maybe he should have been roughed up.

    The distortion of Holder’s comments fits into Fox News’ pre-election strategy of framing Democrats as violent extremists who can’t be trusted to govern.

    And as goes Fox News, so goes the rest of conservative media.

    Breitbart, The Washington Times, The Federalist, The Gateway Pundit, and Twitchy all published stories centered around the first portion of the video.

    At RedState, Andrea Ruth wrote that “advocating physical violence … is really not the best look or direction for a party that got members worked up because people at a Trump rally chanted lock her up. … Let’s just hope no one gets hurt because they feel emboldened by Holder’s careless words,” she said, continuing the distortion.

    The Daily Caller and Hot Air both wrote about the video, later updating their posts with additional context.

    Hot Air’s John Sexton wrote, “Of course, I think we all know what will happen the moment someone does this to Hillary or Eric Holder. Suddenly they’ll be shocked and appalled and claim they never had this in mind. They were only speaking metaphorically, etc., etc. Don’t believe it for a minute. They see what is happening out there. They know what kind of behavior they are encouraging.” In his update, he backpedalled, adding the additional comments and writing: “People on the left are pointing to this as evidence that Holder wasn’t endorsing violence or illegal behavior. Fair enough but if you read the post above you may have noticed I never said or even suggested he was recommending violence.”

    Yeah, but you kind of did suggest that, John.

    Violent rhetoric should be condemned, but bad-faith efforts to score points through misrepresentation do little to build trust.

    Violence, of course, is bad, and so is rhetoric that can incite it. But pretending that Holder meant “kick” opponents literally, that Sen. Tim Kaine’s (D-VA) “fight in the streets” comment were actually about throwing punches, or that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) calling on supporters to “push back” on the Trump administration was an actual instruction to shove government officials (in fairness, she did say to confront them in public, but that’s hardly inciting language), it gets harder to take these claims seriously. Surely, those framing these messages as calls to violence in media know that it’s deceptive to do so.

  • PragerU posts a video about Christopher Columbus that features a racist depiction of indigenous people

    It's that time of year.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    PragerU put out a video featuring CRTV’s Steven Crowder explaining that Columbus Day is “not about paying homage to America’s original inhabitants” and showing a racist depiction of indigenous people as cannibals wielding salt-and-pepper shakers.

    PragerU is an online hub for right-wing propaganda that has made a name for itself by producing short explainer videos that get quickly propelled by YouTube’s virality algorithm. It has an incredibly strong following that leads to its videos raking in millions of views on YouTube and Facebook. On this occasion, PragerU gave its powerful platform to bigoted Crowder -- who recently referred to Christine Blasey Ford as a “lying whore” on his CRTV show -- to characterize initiatives against the erasure of original populations as a “charade” that is an “exercise in hating Western civilization.”

    On 4chan, a hub for far-right extremism, users have latched onto right-wing media’s culture war outrage and historical revisionism surrounding Christopher Columbus. 4chan users framed the issue in white supremacist terms by celebrating Columbus because of his role in the genocide of people of color:

    This outrage has become an annual tradition. Every year on this date, right-wing media figures rant against calls to celebrate indigenous people rather than Columbus’ bloody legacy, by lashing out with racist depictions of original populations. In 2017, Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire published a cartoon showing Native Americans as cannibalistic savages who should be grateful for colonization, a take so racist even Shapiro had to apologize following the backlash.

    Similarly, Mike Huckabee published a wildly racist educational video about Columbus and indigenous people in 2011.

    And speaking about Columbus Day in 2005, Lou Dobbs said that he resented “those kinds of holidays” that have “nothing to do with celebrating America.” In the same context, Rush Limbaugh in 2010 linked disease rates among indigenous populations to evolution.

    White supremacist darling Tucker Carlson has repeatedly bemoaned celebrations of indigenous people, characterizing them as an “attack on civilization” and claiming Europeans coming to America led to “far less human sacrifice and cannibalism.”

    Talia Lavin contributed research to this piece.