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After news broke that President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen provided legal advice to Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Vanity Fair reporter Gabriel Sherman reported: “Hannity hired Michael Cohen to help defend him against left-wing groups that were calling for boycotts.” This is a clear reference to Media Matters’ efforts to hold Sean Hannity accountable.
Hannity’s appearance on Mark Levin’s radio show on May 30, 2017, gives some relevant context. The Fox host talked at length about a secret investigation on Media Matters that would later be revealed.
MARK LEVIN (HOST): And as these things develop, we see it more and more and more. Well, of a sudden, I was a conspiracy nut, Media Matters put out this -- this grotesque smear job, where they try and destroy who you are, they cherry-pick things you’ve said out of context, things -- and they sent it to all the media, and the media were regurgitating it. Here’s my question to you --
SEAN HANNITY: Mark, let me -- let me say something --
LEVIN: -- among other things. Yeah, go ahead.
HANNITY: We’ve done a very deep dive, and I don’t know when I’m going to release it, but I’m coming out with it.
Number one, where the money’s coming from, number two, you want to talk about outrageous, insane, incendiary, over the top, vicious, vile hatred of -- and things that have been done and said?
Oh, this guy that’s been on TV all week, I don’t even know his name, Carusone or something -- oh, you should see the things that I have on him, and what he’s said, and what this group is, and who funds -- remember, Hillary helped found this group, this Soros-Clinton group --
LEVIN: Media Matters.
HANNITY: Soros, and all these other people, it’s -- this is a concerted effort to silence talk radio, they want to destroy now the Fox News channel.
The next day, Hannity talked with Melanie Morgan about Media Matters, saying he had talked to Media Matters’ President Angelo Carusone’s high school teacher.
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“We have to get busy now if we’re going to save ourselves from the fate of other great empires of the past. We need to get busy now with selling our fellow Americans on the moral superiority of personal liberty and its main ingredient, limited government,” the libertarian economics professor and columnist Walter Williams told Fox News host Mark Levin at the conclusion of Levin’s new show, Life, Liberty, and Levin, which debuted Sunday night. “And we need to make the case to our fellow citizens,” Levin responded, agreeing with his guest.
Preventing the country from experiencing the imperial declines of Rome or the United Kingdom by preaching small government principles is a heady goal for a cable news program with a 10 p.m. weekend slot. And unfortunately for Levin, Fox, his audience, and, perhaps, the republic, the show’s first episode was a glacial slog, with Levin and Williams spending the hour trying to pass off warmed-over right-wing talking points as koans of wisdom.
Levin, who served in President Ronald Reagan’s administration before embarking on a lucrative career as a conservative talk radio host and best-selling author, is new to the Fox lineup. But while his profile may be lower than those of Sean Hannity or Laura Ingraham, who also turned radio tenures into Fox gigs, he nonetheless has extraordinary influence with the Republican Party’s rank-and-file activists.
In 2013, The Daily Beast suggested Levin was “the Most Powerful Conservative You Never Heard Of.” He helped provide the intellectual architecture for the Tea Party movement with racially charged commentary stressing the purported radicalism of the Democratic Party and the need to return to the small-government roots of the nation’s founders.
Now speaking every weekday to the fourth-largest talk radio audience in the country, Levin is popular with conservative Republican members of Congress and state legislators, the latter of which have been trying to enact his goal of triggering a constitutional convention of the states to cripple the power of the federal government.
In his first Fox episode, Levin largely focused on well-trod territory. There was a constitutional convention shoutout for the Levinheads who might be tuning in, while those less familiar with his personal oeuvre could watch him and Williams (they never disagreed during their interview) toggle between conservative political philosophy (capitalism makes the country rich, taxation is theft) and banal talking points. This is the show for you if you think the height of political discourse is someone stating that more people are killed with knives than with rifles before asking without irony, “What do you want, knife control?”
The premiere’s highlight was its discussion of slavery, which can be summarized as, “owning people is bad, but the real problems are people who criticize the founders for owning people and taxation, which is also slavery.”
In an unusual turn for a Fox broadcast, President Donald Trump’s name was not invoked a single time over the course of the show. Levin has a complicated history with Trump: He initially stated that he could never support his campaign but reversed course as the general election loomed. And he’s been a staunch supporter throughout Trump's presidency, declaring during a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference shortly before his Fox show aired, “I don’t care if you agree with this president on everything or not. They're trying to take him out, and it's our obligation to defend this man, and defend his office, and defend the presidency.”
Levin chooses to ignore that Republicans control the White House -- and the House of Representatives, and the Senate, and the Supreme Court -- instead portraying conservatives as a rebel force beset on all sides by powerful foes. “Whether it’s climate change, abortion, gun control, it seems to me we’re always debating on the grounds and the terms set by the left. Why is that?” he asked Williams at one point during his Fox show.
This sense of victimization, along with the invocations of slavery and the founders, the warnings that progressive Americans share the philosophy of the Nazis and the Soviets, and the pat philosophical musings remind me of Glenn Beck’s Fox show. That program was extremely popular at first, and lucrative for the network, before ratings and ad revenue plummeted as viewers got bored with his schtick and advertisers were no longer willing to associate themselves with his racist, insurrectionist, and conspiratorial commentary.
But Beck’s show attracted an audience, at least at first, due to the host’s own substantial showmanship and decent production values. It’s hard to imagine Fox generating a phenomenon from a whiny-voiced conservatives radio host sitting across a table and bullshitting with people who agree with him at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night.
For his part, Levin doesn’t seem too sure that the show will last. He repeatedly told viewers how to find his program on CRTV, an Internet streaming service that competes with Fox:
I haven't seen a Fox personality do this sort of naked shilling for his other gigs since Bill O'Reilly was canned. It's his first Fox show and Mark Levin is telling people how to listen and call in to his radio show. pic.twitter.com/RvlgPouRfc
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) February 26, 2018
It was concerning enough when in January 2018, the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue encouraged followers to look into the allegations of an anonymous conspiracy theorist on the 8chan message board. Now, it appears that Operation Rescue, with its history of violent rhetoric and harassment, has become fully converted and is seeking to cultivate anti-abortion followers into believers in a far-right conspiracy theory.
Headed by longtime extremists Troy Newman and Cheryl Sullenger -- the latter has served time for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic -- Operation Rescue has been described as an organization dedicated to “shut[ting] down abortion clinics by systematically harassing their employees into quitting.” Operation Rescue initially signaled that they’d been “red-pilled” -- a term popularized by the “alt-right” to refer to an ideological conversion to “seeing the world as it really is” -- in a January 7 press release, in which the group signal-boosted a series of posts from a far-right community on 8chan.
8chan is a message board system -- similar to 4chan and Reddit -- that enables users to engage in discussions anonymously. This has made such communities hotbeds of racist commentary, misogyny, and politically motivated harassment campaigns, in addition to serving as fertile ground for those in the so-called “alt-right” or white nationalist movement. As Mother Jones’ Mariah Blake explained, “men’s rights forums on sites like 4chan and Reddit are awash in misogyny and anti-feminist vitriol” -- a trend that has turned such sites into what Vox’s Aja Romano called a “gateway drug” that leads people into the “alt-right.”
In the January 7 release, Operation Rescue focused on an 8chan conspiracy theory called “The Storm” in which a user who refers to himself as “Q” claims to be a “high-level government insider” secretly sharing clues to “inform the public about POTUS’s master plan to stage a countercoup against members of the deep state.” The scope of the conspiracy theory has expanded to encompass all types of events, ranging from a fire at Trump Tower to a train accident involving Republican members of Congress. Most recently, followers of The Storm have joined a campaign calling for the release of a four-page classified memo drafted by House intelligence committee Republicans that allegedly shows illicit behavior by the FBI and Justice Department during the early phases of investigating connections between Trump associates and Russia -- a campaign organized around the Twitter hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo. According to The Daily Beast, right-wing figures as well as online message board communities “have since turned the hashtag into a rallying cry, imploring fans to tweet the hashtag.” On February 2, the President Donald Trump authorized the release of the memo, despite explicit warnings from the FBI about the veracity of its contents.
In the January 7 press release, Operation Rescue acknowledged that "Q" is a conspiracy theorist -- or at least inspires conspiracy theories. Since then, the social media activity of the group and its leadership indicates that they’ve gone full Sean Hannity. Between January 7 and February 12, both Sullenger’s Twitter account and the official Operation Rescue account have increased their engagements with accounts promoting #ReleaseTheMemo and related hashtags (#Qanon, #TheGreatAwakening, #FollowTheWhiteRabbit). In the past month alone, Sullenger’s changed her account handle to “CherylS sez #ReleaseTheMemo” and followed a number of right-wing media personalities’ accounts, including Alex Jones, Jerome Corsi, Paul Joseph Watson, Mike Cernovich, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Mark Levin, and Sara Carter.
Since January 2018, Sullenger and Operation Rescue’s social media accounts have demonstrated a precipitous slide into full-embrace of The Storm and #ReleaseTheMemo:
Throughout much of this timeline, the social media accounts of Troy Newman did not engage as often with topics related to The Storm, #ReleaseTheMemo, or even right-wing media personalities. However, on January 31, a public post on Newman’s Facebook page directed followers to what appears to be a conspiracy theory blog for a man named Jim Stone.
The site seems to house blog posts about a number of conspiracy theories, including one about an alleged plot by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to smuggle a gun into the State of the Union and assassinate Trump:
Among other extreme conspiracy theories, Stone claimed the January 31 train accident occurred because Republican members of Congress had “received death threats over the memo, and were heading to a safe place when they were stopped by a staged ‘accident’”:
Perhaps the most outlandish conspiracy theory of all: "If Trump gets killed, they can produce a fake Trump and have him say whatever they need him to say in real time." The blog continued that this technology had been used "with Hillary [Clinton] during the campaign" and that it was "critical information you cannot skip seeing":
One thing is certain: If Sullenger and other members of Operation Rescue have been fully “red-pilled,” they are not only exposing their audience to a wellspring of conspiracy theories, but also potentially becoming further radicalized themselves. And if exposure to rapidly misogynist online communities is truly a “gateway drug,” as Romano warned, the cross-pollination between these 8chan conspiracy theorists and anti-abortion extremists is an incredibly dangerous prospect.
Since Robert Mueller was appointed as special counsel, right-wing media have worked overtime to delegitimize the investigation
Robert Mueller was appointed as special counsel on May 17. Since then, right-wing media have repeatedly called the investigation of Russia's interference in the 2016 election (and a few related issues) a coup against Donald Trump. Watch:
Levin has since deleted his Twitter and Facebook posts linking to the fake news story
On October 12, right-wing radio host Mark Levin shared on Facebook and Twitter a fake news article about the Las Vegas shooting from a website designed to mimic a legitimate CNN page. The fake news article claimed the security guard at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas who was shot by the gunman had been arrested for “being an accomplice and second shooter in the Las Vegas massacre.” Levin later deleted the tweet, along with his Facebook post, which posited, “The security guard was in on it?” Levin has over 1.3 million Facebook followers and almost 1 million Twitter followers.
The story Levin circulated was from “cnn-internationaledition.com” -- which is not affiliated with CNN -- and was headlined “Breaking News – Police Arrest Mandalay Security Guard Jesus Compos As Second Shooter In Las Vegas Massacre.” The fake news article alleged that “Compos” -- a misspelling of the security guard’s name, Jesus Campos -- was “involved in the initial shooting as a second gunman from the other broken window in [gunman Stephen] Paddock’s 32nd-floor room,” and that FBI agents “became suspicions (sic) by the extreme amount of gunpowder residue found on Campos’ hands and inconsistencies in his timeline of events.”
Yeah, no. This is a fake site designed to look like CNN. pic.twitter.com/mqBc3DNdXU
— Alex Griswold (@HashtagGriswold) October 12, 2017
There appear to be no author pages on this fake CNN site; bylines link back to the story page. The site’s contact page features no actual contact information, but rather a message submission form that collects names and email addresses. The site appears to be monetized, with ads provided by Content.ad, a serial offender in financing purveyors of fake news.
For his part, Levin is no stranger to fake news and misleading, unsubstantiated claims; he was likely one of President Donald Trump’s initial sources for his lie that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower to spy on him. Beyond that, Levin has diagnosed Obama with narcissistic personality disorder, denied climate change is caused by human activity, and, as recently as June, thanked Trump for “taking on the media” because “it’s a-damn-bout time somebody did.”
The Las Vegas massacre has inspired a litany of outlandish conspiracy theories, among them allegations that the shooting was staged by “Bolshevik” revolutionaries and that the gunman was linked to antifa and/or ISIS. This fake CNN article will also fuel speculation around one of the more common conspiracy theories, that the gunman had at least one accomplice who could have been a second shooter.
Right-wing radio hosts such as Sean Hannity and Mark Levin have been acting as paid pitch people for a company that promises to help train members on how to use guns to “survive a mass shooting.” Hannity has been especially vocal about the company and used the recent Las Vegas mass shooting to shill for it on his radio program.
The U.S. Concealed Carry Association (USCCA) is a pro-gun company that sells membership plans featuring “education, training, and self-defense insurance” for gun owners. It also criticizes attempts to enact gun control laws and publishes Concealed Carry Magazine. The group claims to have over 250,000 members and has attempted to grow its membership over the years through numerous advertising buys with conservative media.
Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and Ben Shapiro are all part of the association’s latest advertising campaign for a “100% FREE Complete Concealed Carry & Family Defense Guide,” which includes tips on “how to survive a mass shooting” and “the safest AND most dangerous places to sit in a restaurant” (the sign-up takes people to a page that urges them to pay for a membership).
The USCCA created dedicated landing pages for each individual host participating in the advertising campaign, including the following identical quote which was cut and pasted for each person:
Prior to the Las Vegas shooting, these media personalities did advertisements for the campaign that aired in late September. Here are those ads, along with their dedicated website URL: Beck (ProtectAndDefend.com), Hannity (DefendFamily.com), Levin (DefendThem.com), and Shapiro (DefendMyFamilyNow.com) .
Hannity has continued to tout USCCA as a solution to surviving a mass shooting following the Las Vegas tragedy. During his October 5 radio program, Hannity segued from talking about the mass shooting to introducing “our friends at the United States Concealed Carry Association,” saying, “I’m proud to be associated with them. They have offered a family defense guide. You’re going to learn -- and this is 164 pages -- how to survive a mass shooting. How to detect attackers before they see you.”
Previously, Hannity used the shooting at a congressional baseball practice in June to push USCCA membership.
The association, which did not respond to requests for comment, features a Hannity testimonial on its website under the headline: “Why Sean Hannity Joined The USCCA… Hear Why One Of The Most Trusted Conservative Voices In America Is A Proud Card-Carrying Member.”
Hannity used his October 4 Fox News program to advocate for concealed carry while discussing the Las Vegas shooting. He praised right-to-carry laws and said that “having more citizens that are armed leads to a decrease in violent crime.” He did not mention he’s being paid by a pro-right-to-carry group during the program.
Despite Hannity’s claim, as The Atlantic noted in June, “academic studies have strongly suggested” that right-to-carry laws “lead to higher rates of violent crime. The latest -- and, at least according to one of its authors, most comprehensive -- was released earlier this month by the non-partisan National Bureau of Economic Research.” The study concluded, “There is not even the slightest hint in the data that [these] laws reduce violent crime.”
Media Matters previously documented that Hannity repeatedly used his Fox New program to push his radio sponsor’s concealed carry agenda without any disclosure about his financial relationship. He similarly used his Fox News program in 2014 to promote the fundraising efforts of the Tea Party Patriots, which sponsored his radio program.
Right-wing and fringe media are claiming yet again that President Donald Trump was correct when he accused former President Barack Obama of wiretapping in Trump Tower, now arguing that a legal wiretap targeted at former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is proof of Trump’s claim. However, said wiretap was pursuant to a warrant and targeted at Manafort, not Trump. This is at least the fifth time in six months right-wing media has attempted to validate Trump’s lie.
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Conservative media figures lashed out at Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) after she was interrupted and chastised by her Republican male colleagues during her questioning of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, claiming she was interrupting Sessions and calling her “hysterical,” “a total fraud,” and rude. Women in mainstream media responded, pointing out the clear sexism in both the attacks on Harris and the double standard she was held to.
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Pro-Trump media outlets attacked CNN by claiming the network was “staging fake Muslim demonstrations” in response to the June 3 London Bridge terror attack. The smear, which started with nativist, anti-Muslim Daily Mail columnist Katie Hopkins, was quickly called out by CNN as “nonsense.”