Martha MacCallum | Media Matters for America

Martha MacCallum

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  • Fox News added more female hosts but still had the same abortion misinformation problem

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


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    When Media Matters last crunched the numbers on Fox News programming responsible for the most abortion misinformation, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and Tucker Carlson were unsurprisingly the worst culprits. However, as allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against O’Reilly (and other network figures including Eric Bolling) and he was eventually fired, Fox News transitioned to an evening lineup with more female hosts -- Shannon Bream, Martha MacCallum, and Laura Ingraham. But this change has not come close to fixing the network’s abortion misinformation problem.

    Media Matters analyzed evening prime-time news programs on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN from March 1, 2017, through March 1, 2018, and identified segments featuring a substantial discussion of abortion and reproductive rights. The resulting 211 segments were then coded for the number of accurate or inaccurate statements made about four abortion-related topics: the discredited anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP), abortion funding rules, Planned Parenthood’s essential services, and so-called extreme abortion procedures. We found that Fox News dominated the conversation about abortion -- airing 114 of the 211 total segments across all cable news networks (54 percent) -- and that its coverage of the four abortion-related topics was inaccurate 77 percent of the time. And 44 percent of its 114 segments were aired on programs Bream, MacCallum, and Ingraham anchored.

    The shows Bream, MacCallum, and Ingraham hosted had 107 statements about the four abortion-related topics, out of which the hosts either personally spread -- or gave a platform to those spreading -- anti-abortion misinformation 76 times (71 percent). Here’s a sample of what each host has offered her viewers in the last year:

    Shannon Bream

    Overall, Bream made 30 appearances on Fox News where a substantial discussion of abortion occurred. Although Bream entered the prime-time lineup when she started hosting her own show, Fox News @ Night, on October 30, 2017, she had previously regularly appeared as a guest or a correspondent during The First 100 Days and Special Report. Bream individually made 35 total statements about CMP, abortion funding rules, Planned Parenthood’s essential services, and so-called extreme abortion procedures. Of these 35 statements, 23 contained misinformation (66 percent).

    As Media Matters documented after Fox News @ Night debuted, Bream appears well-attuned to the talking points and interests of the anti-abortion movement; an anti-abortion leader even celebrated her promotion, tweeting that Bream “covers Life issues with fearlessness and fairness.” Since then, Bream has promoted anti-abortion talking points and myths -- suggesting they were simply concerns she “heard from a lot of pro-life groups” -- including by asking a misleading question about taxpayers paying for the abortions of undocumented minors who come to the United States.

    As a host, Bream has been consistent in repeating misinformation about anti-abortion group CMP, which engaged in a smear campaign against Planned Parenthood by releasing deceptively edited videos. Just as she had done repeatedly in the past, Bream promoted CMP and said its actions caused Planned Parenthood to become “mired in scandal” and that CMP’s videos showed “Planned Parenthood officials discussing pricing for fetal body parts and tissue left over after abortions.”

    Martha MacCallum

    MacCallum made 14 appearances in Fox News segments that had a substantial discussion of abortion. All these segments were on the two Fox News programs she hosted during the study period -- The First 100 Days and The Story. During those appearances, MacCallum made nine statements in total about CMP and so-called extreme abortion procedures, all of which were inaccurate (100 percent). MacCallum also frequently relied on extreme and stigmatizing rhetoric about abortion.

    When discussing CMP, MacCallum often treated the discredited organization and its deceptive smear videos as credible sources of information. For example, during a March 2017 segment of The First 100 Days, MacCallum not only played a long excerpt from one of the videos, she also said that it was “still hard to watch,” implying that it accurately depicted that Planned Parenthood was engaged in the sale of fetal body parts. In an interview with Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), MacCallum focused on Blackburn’s phrasing in one of her campaign ads, which Twitter briefly blocked her campaign from promoting. In the ad, Blackburn referred to her time on the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, saying, “I fought Planned Parenthood and we stopped the sale of baby body parts.” Instead of questioning Blackburn on her inaccurate phrasing or talking about the smear campaign that Blackburn and the panel had engaged in against Planned Parenthood, Bream accepted her narrative, saying, “You fought hard, as you say, to ban the sale of baby body parts. I mean, it’s such a difficult phrase even to say and I think you’ve fought very hard for it.”

    Similarly, during a July 2017 segment on The Story, MacCallum pushed several myths about the existence and widespread practice of so-called sex-selective, late-term, and full-term abortions. In reality, these are inaccurate descriptions of abortion, created by anti-abortion groups to vilify those accessing legal health care. In one example, MacCallum said that an Oregon bill (now law) that ensured protection of reproductive rights for all -- including undocumented immigrants -- would allow for “sex-selective” and “late-term, even full-term, abortions for an illegal immigrant.” MacCallum continued to push the misinformation, asking her guest, political commentator Danielle McLaughlin, whether she thought it was “OK for someone to decide because they don’t like the sex of their baby to abort it at eight months” and demanding to know, “Why would any state want to pass a law that would allow that?”

    Laura Ingraham

    During the study period, Ingraham made 10 appearances in Fox News segments where there was a substantial discussion of abortion. Like Bream, Ingraham started hosting her own show, The Ingraham Angle, on October 30, 2017, and before that, she had also occasionally appeared as a guest on Special Report and Hannity. Although Ingraham made only three statements total about the four abortion-related topics, two of these statements were inaccurate (67 percent).

    Despite only making 10 appearances during the period of study, Ingraham made a splash with her frequent use of alarmist and stigmatizing rhetoric. In one appearance, Ingraham called Planned Parenthood a “monstrosity of killing.” A December 2017 segment of The Ingraham Angle may be the most bewildering segment of the year about abortion. It started as a fairly regular Fox News segment about abortion, with Ingraham fearmongering that because of a court decision to allow undocumented minors abortion access, the United States would become “an abortion magnet.” Then, Ingraham insisted that a picture of a baby be put up on screen and demanded that her guest, attorney Rachel Self, “look at the screen.” Self calmly explained that she was unable to see the image because she was not in studio. Undeterred, Ingraham escalated the situation and eventually cut Self’s mic off, saying, “I can’t hear her talking over me.”

    Fox News added more female hosts to its prime-time lineup, but having greater gender representation didn't translate to accurate and nuanced coverage of abortion. Bream, MacCallum, and Ingraham show that a push for gender parity in the cable news world cannot happen in a vacuum and must go hand-in-hand -- particularly for abortion-related issues -- with a commitment to frank, fair, and accurate coverage.

  • Right-wing media are filling a void of abortion-related coverage with misinformation

    Fox News is dominating the conversation about abortion on evening cable news -- and the network is doing it all wrong

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    A 12-month-long Media Matters study of evening cable news programs found that Fox News dominated discussions of abortion and reproductive rights and that the network was wrong about four common abortion-related topics 77 percent of the time.

  • Laura Ingraham’s attack on David Hogg is nothing new. Fox has been mocking students and children for years. 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On March 28, Fox News host Laura Ingraham tweeted a link to a Daily Wire article pointing out that Parkland survivor David Hogg was rejected by several colleges and accused him of whining about it. Ingraham’s attack on the teenage mass-shooting survivor is far from a shocking development given her and her Fox News colleagues' repeated slandering of the shooting victims. 

    In the month and a half since the shooting in Parkland, FL, Ingraham herself has said the Parkland students should not be given “special consideration” on gun policy; told her viewers that the March 14 student walkout wasn’t some sort of “organic outpouring of youthful rage,” but rather “nothing but a left-wing, anti-Trump diatribe”; and complained that anti-abortion protesters didn’t get the same attention. Two of Fox’s other primetime hosts, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, both dismissed the students as pawns being manipulated by gun control advocates. Carlson went a step further, calling the students “self-righteous kids” who “weren’t helping at all” and comparing them to Mao's Red Guards. The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway, who is also a Fox News contributor, dismissed the students as just “children, not founts of wisdom,” and Fox & Friends Weekend host Pete Hegseth responded to the student-organized March For Our Lives by angrily commenting, “Spare me if I don't want to hear the sanctimoniousness of a 17-year-old.” Fox’s sustained and hostile attacks on students in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting fit right into the network’s years-long pattern of insulting and belittling students and children.

    Fox’s attacks on students and children go back years

    In 2017, two Fox employees attacked 8-year-olds in the course of five months. In May, after a young boy followed Vice President Mike Pence to ask for an apology for bumping into him, Tammy Bruce called the child a “snowflake” who “needed a safe space” and said he “pretty much stalked the vice president afterward.” Months later, Rachel Campos-Duffy smeared a football team of 8-year-olds as “shameful” for kneeling during the national anthem at a football game.

    Fox figures have consistently insulted college students and mocked them for attempting to make changes to their colleges and universities. A 2012 Fox panel dismissed students as “immature and irrational” after they attempted to persuade their school to divest from fossil fuels. In 2015, Fox contributor Judith Miller insulted student protesters, asking, “You want a safe space? Stay in your playpen,” and Fox anchor Martha MacCallum dismissed students’ push for safe spaces in response to racial injustice, suggesting that “if they want to see the violation of a safe space,” then they should “visit ground zero.” In 2016, then-Fox contributor George Will labeled students “snowflakes, these fragile little creatures who melt at the first sign of the heat of controversy.” Fox host Kimberly Guilfoyle laughed at students’ activism on offensive terminology and mockingly asked if an injured horse should “get a lawyer because the horse is offended” by being called “lame.” In September 2017, a Fox contributor derided college students who sought mental health care and compared them to teenage soldiers in WWII. Just two months ago, Fox & Friends ran a selectively edited hit piece against college students created by the conservative activist group Campus Reform. The show further edited the video and showed students' responses without giving sufficient context to the nature of the questions posed to them, making the students look ill-informed.

    Fox personalities have targeted some of the most vulnerable students with vicious, racist, and anti-LGBT attacks

    In 2015, Fox personalities repeatedly besmirched 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed, a Texas student arrested after bringing a homemade clock mistaken for a bomb to school. Then-Fox reporter Anna Kooiman claimed that Mohamed “might not be as innocent as he seems,” backing up her claim by noting that teen was once caught “blowing bubbles in the bathroom” at school. Fox contributor Mark Fuhrman, famous for committing perjury and spewing racial epithets during the OJ Simpson trial, assured viewers that he didn’t “feel sorry for Ahmed,” adding that the child seemed “passive aggressive” to him. Another contributor, Mike Gallagher, repeatedly compared Mohamed’s homemade clock to a bomb and suggested that the student should have been more "forthcoming" when he was interrogated by the police. And Brian Kilmeade asked whether Mohamed might be “extort[ing]” his former school district by suing.  

    Fox often attacks children who have immigrated to the United States or whose parents are immigrants. Fox personalities have repeatedly used the derogatory term “anchor baby” to belittle the children of immigrants. Tucker Carlson once responded to the notion that it is the United States' legal obligation to educate children who come into the country by saying, "But what about the rights of the kids who were born here?” Fox Business Networks’ Brenda Buttner questioned whether parents should be concerned with "a surge of up to 60,000 illegal kids in their classrooms." Buttner exclaimed, "Forget the Ebola scare. Is it really the back to school scare?" In 2016, Fox’s Heather Nauert and Brian Kilmeade slammed several refugee students who sued a school district in Pennsylvania after alleging their educational needs weren’t being met. Kilmeade smeared the students as “ungrateful,” and Nauert mocked their request, commenting that “going to our schools for free” was “apparently… not good enough for them.”

    Fox hosts have also used their shows to attack transgender students. In 2013, during a conversation about a California bill aimed at allowing transgender students to use facilities and play on sports teams that correspond to their gender identities, Fox host Greg Gutfeld mocked the “gender-confused students” that would benefit from the bill. Two years later, in 2015, then-Fox host Megyn Kelly asserted that accepting transgender students causes “confusion” for other students.

    Fox employees have also gone after other groups of students. In 2014, Fox News' "Medical A-Team" member Dr. Keith Ablow claimed that middle school girls can "certainly provoke" harassment by wearing leggings to school. In 2015, Megyn Kelly labeled a group of protesters in Missouri “angry black students.” That same year, the hosts of Fox News’ Outnumbered lamented that overweight children are allowed to feel confident in their bodies. Fox’s Sandra Smith bemoaned that kids “feel good about themselves when they shouldn’t.”

    As David Hogg demands accountability for Laura Ingraham’s bullying, it is clear that Ingraham’s behavior was not a mistake or an anomaly, but representative of her network at large.

  • Misinterpreting a judge’s order, right-wing media have convinced themselves that Michael Flynn is about to reverse his guilty plea

    The latest anti-Mueller bombshell actually amounts to a typo

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump’s overzealous defenders at Fox News spent yesterday using a misinterpretation of a standard order from the judge overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecution of former national security adviser Michael Flynn to speculate that Flynn’s guilty plea is on the verge of being vacated.

    Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in December and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election. But Judge Rudolph Contreras, who accepted Flynn’s plea, subsequently recused himself and was replaced by Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who issued an order that month directing Mueller to provide Flynn’s lawyers with any evidence they possess that is favorable to the defendant. The disclosure of this information can be required under the Brady rule, named after the 1963 case Brady v. Maryland.

    That’s a huge deal, according to conservative media figures like Fox judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano, who have spent months spuriously attacking Justice Department and FBI officials for their conduct during the Russia investigation. “Why would [Sullivan] want that after Gen. Flynn has already pleaded guilty? That is unheard of,” Napolitano asked on yesterday’s Fox & Friends in a segment featuring the caption, “Will Flynn Reverse His Guilty Plea?” Napolitano then suggested an answer: “He must suspect a defect in the guilty plea. Meaning he must have reason to believe that Gen. Flynn pleaded guilty for some reason other than guilt.”

    Other Fox programs picked up Napolitano’s theory over the course of the day. That afternoon, the Fox panel show Outnumbered portrayed the Sullivan order as an indication of “new questions about the circumstances” of Flynn’s guilty plea, with co-host Katie Pavlich falsely claiming that Sullivan’s order had explicitly told Mueller’s probe that “it’s very clear that you withheld some pretty important information.” And that evening, Fox host Martha MacCallum opened her show over the caption “Flynn Could Flip Guilty Plea,” discussing the order, which she described as “raising eyebrows,” in back-to-back interviews with Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, and Napolitano. Turley argued that “it's important not to read too much into this” and suggested it’s unlikely that the order will lead to any changes in Flynn’s plea. Napolitano said Sullivan’s move was very unusual and could indicate improper coercion by the Mueller team but walked back the explicit statement he made on Fox & Friends about Sullivan’s motivation, asking of the judge, “Does he suspect some defect in Michael Flynn's guilty plea? We don't know the answer to that.”

    In this latest salvo in Fox’s monthslong campaign to undermine the Mueller probe by any means necessary, the network is picking up on a theory that ping-ponged through the right-wing media over the last week.

    National Review’s Andrew McCarthy and The Washington Examiner’s Byron York were the first main proponents of the notion that the Sullivan order represents a “curious” or “unusual” turn in the Flynn case. The Federalist’s Margot Cleveland added a new twist over the weekend, arguing that a revised version of the order Sullivan issued Friday suggested that Flynn was about to withdraw his guilty plea. All three pieces have been widely aggregated by other right-wing outlets, far-right trolls, and fake news websites who are all rushing to declare the Flynn guilty plea is in jeopardy.

    Notably, McCarthy and York placed the same sizable caveat in their pieces: In McCarthy’s words, “It could be that this is just Judge Sullivan’s standard order on exculpatory information, filed in every case over which he presides.” But oddly, while such caveats implicitly acknowledge that the story would be much less interesting if Sullivan is among the federal judges who issue standing Brady orders for every one of the criminal cases on their dockets, neither writer seems to have actually bothered to check if that is actually his practice.

    I checked, and it is. As he explained in a 2016 law review article calling for the amendment of the rules of federal criminal procedure to incorporate such disclosures, “I now issue a standing Brady Order in each criminal case on my docket, which I update as the law in the area progresses.” Thus, Sullivan’s action was not “unusual” or “curious,” but simply what he does in every single criminal case he oversees.

    Napolitano and his ilk seem to have picked up the story York and McCarthy put forth, but stripped off their caveat and instead asserted as fact that Sullivan’s action must be because he suspects some sort of malfeasance from Mueller, or even because, as Napolitano suggested, Flynn was not guilty to begin with.

    The Federalist’s Cleveland makes a slightly different argument. On Friday, after the publication of York’s and McCarthy’s pieces, Sullivan issued a second, slightly different order. Cleveland focuses on this second order, which she writes “added one sentence specifying that the government’s obligation to produce evidence material either to the defendant’s guilt or punishment ‘includes producing, during plea negotiations, any exculpatory evidence in the government’s possession.’” According to Cleveland, this is a big deal “because it indicates that, if the government did not provide Flynn material evidence during plea negotiations, Flynn has grounds to withdraw his plea.”

    Cleveland concludes that this second order reveals that “a motion by Michael Flynn to withdraw his guilty plea based on government misconduct is likely in the works,” even though Cleveland acknowledged that even in that scenario, “the Supreme Court has never addressed the question of whether a defendant may withdraw a guilty plea if the prosecution withholds exculpatory evidence during plea negotiations.”

    It’s theoretically possible Sullivan really has come to suspect some sort of improper behavior by the Mueller team. But the docket in the case provides a far simpler, more banal explanation for what is happening.

    As legal blogger and attorney Susan Simpson noted in a tweetstorm about the Sullivan conspiracy theories, Sullivan explained that in December, he had accidentally entered an older version of the Brady order that he issues in every criminal case, rather than the “current version,” and was seeking to remedy that error. It’s not a bombshell, it’s effectively a typo.

    The right-wing claims that Flynn’s guilty plea may soon be vacated come amid a broader, furious effort to vindicate him.

    Flynn’s fierce defenses of Trump, declaration that Hillary Clinton should be locked up, and willingness to interact directly with right-wing conspiracy theorist trolls like Mike Cernovich made him a hero to the dregs of the “alt-right.” And over the last month, those conspiracy theorists have rallied behind him.

    Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone kicked things off on February 5, claiming on Infowars that Flynn’s lawyers were on the verge of filing a motion to dismiss the charges against him on the grounds that “that Assistant FBI Director Andrew McCabe told a teleconference of law enforcement officials, ‘first we fuck Flynn, then we fuck Trump.’” Stone claimed that pro-Trump outlets The Hill and Circa had confirmed that quote from McCabe, a longtime target of Trump supporters, but I found no evidence to support that. The quote does, however, appear in a March 2017 piece from the website True Pundit, which is notorious for publishing fabrications and fake news stories.

    “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec has also been a leading Flynn champion, highlighting many of the reports about the Sullivan orders to buttress the #ClearFlynnNow campaign Posobiec has been promoting all month. According to Posobiec, the campaign is needed because “Flynn was framed.”

    That online campaign is part of the “increasingly bold calls for presidential pardons” Trump’s supporters are demanding for those implicated by the Mueller probe, especially Flynn, Politico reported February 19.

    Meanwhile, as the pro-Trump media struggle to construct an alternate reality in which the Mueller probe is constantly on the verge of collapse, yesterday also brought the news that lawyer Alex van der Zwaan had pleaded guilty after Mueller charged him with lying to FBI investigators about other aspects of the Russia probe.

    van der Zwaan -- who has worked on behalf of indicted former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and whose father-in-law is a Russian oligarch -- joins 18 other people and three companies who have been indicted or have pleaded guilty due to the Mueller investigation.

  • Fox publishes senator's leaked text messages less than two weeks after Julian Assange promised “news about Warner” to Hannity

    Assange promised "news about Warner” to a fake Sean Hannity account via "other channels" just weeks ago

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Less than two weeks after The Daily Beast reported WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange contacted a fake Sean Hannity account on Twitter discussing “other channels” for Assange to send information about Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee -- Fox News hyped “brand new text messages” that revealed “questionable relationship between [Warner] and a lobbyist representing a Russian oligarch.”

    On January 29, The Daily Beast’s Ben Collins reported that, after Fox News host Sean Hannity’s Twitter account briefly “disappeared,” Julian Assange unknowingly messaged an account posing as Hannity, presumably under the impression that the account was authentic. In the direct messages, Assange suggested the parody Hannity account send messages “on other channels” because, according to a screenshot of the conversation, Assange had “some news about Warner” to discuss with Hannity.

    On the February 8 edition of Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum, host Martha MacCallum reported “brand new text messages” from Sen. Warner that were “obtained exclusively by Fox News” from, according to Fox News chief national correspondent Ed Henry, “a Republican source.” MacCallum claimed the text messages “puts a little bit of a wrinkle in” the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 presidential election. Soon after MacCallum’s exclusive report, Hannity promoted Henry’s report about the leaked Warner texts. President Trump weighed in as well, writing, "Wow! -Senator Mark Warner got caught having extensive contact with a lobbyist for a Russian oligarch."

    MARTHA MACCALLUM (HOST): We have some breaking news for you this evening on The Story. There are brand new text messages obtained exclusively by Fox News that reveal a questionable relationship between the top Democrat in the Senate's Russia investigation and a lobbyist representing a Russian oligarch. Good evening, everybody, I'm Martha MacCallum and this is The Story for tonight. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, who held numerous press conferences over the past year promising a fair and bipartisan investigation into President Trump's supposed ties to Russia, was apparently trying to gain access through the Russians to Christopher Steele, the author of the infamous anti-Trump dossier. Writing in part in these text messages that are just being revealed for the first time, "we have so much to discuss. You need to be careful, but we can help our country."

    [...]

    It's potentially at least a stream to follow up on that the Russians, perhaps, were trying to lay groundwork on both sides of the fence here.

    ED HENRY (FOX NEWS CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT): No doubt about it.

    [..]

    The bottom line is Democrats have spent a lot of time talking about the president's ties to Russians, what kind of conversations he and his aides have had. Now these text messages that I got from a Republican source close to the committee is clearly an attempt by Republicans to say hang on a second, the top Democrat on this committee also had some questionable conversations about trying to keep some of this secret. And again, I want to stress, Warner’s office was very direct with me in saying they realize that this doesn’t look good out of context, as they say, but they insist the Republican chairman was in the loop.

    [...]

    MACCALLUM: Both sides have sort of pointed fingers at each other from the House side and Senate side that the House Intel Committee has all this friction between the Republicans and the Democrats and that on the Senate side, the gentlemen are working everything out with no problems. This sort of puts a little bit of a wrinkle in that.

    Soon after the report, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) acknowledged that “Sen.Warner fully disclosed this to the committee four months ago,” adding that this disclosure, “has had zero impact on our work." 

    Fox News has waged a months-long campaign attempting to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 presidential election. 

  • The life of a made-up Fox News ‘scandal’: Obama FBI texts edition

    Fox has nearly perfected the art of moving the goalposts after its so-called bombshells have been debunked. (They’ve had a lot of practice.)

    Blog ››› ››› LIS POWER

    It started out as a “bombshell” alert. Text messages, according to Fox News, showed then-President Barack Obama might have been improperly involved in the Clinton email investigation. By midday, it had been debunked (the texts weren’t about the Clinton email investigation at all), but it morphed into a sad charade by the network to pretend that Obama being briefed about Russian interference into the election was somehow a scandal of its own.

    Relentlessly pushing pseudo-scandals is Fox News’ bread and butter. The network essentially throws anything at the wall to see what sticks, and the Obama-FBI text message “scandal” is just the latest example. Here’s a breakdown of how Fox News messed up and is now trying to move the goalposts on its fraudulent claims.

    Background

    At 6:00 a.m. on February 7, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee published an interim report titled “The Clinton Email Scandal And The FBI’s Investigation Of It,” prepared by committee Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI). The report pointed to a text FBI lawyer Lisa Page sent to FBI Agent Peter Strzok about preparing talking points for then-FBI Director James Comey that read “Potus wants to know everything we’re doing.” The report claimed this text “raises additional questions about the type and extent of President [Barack] Obama's personal involvement in the [then-Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton email scandal and the FBI investigation of it."

    Setting the stage: The Fox & Friends hype

    From the moment Fox’s morning show Fox & Friends started on February 7, it was clear there was a new “scandal” emerging in the network’s ecosystem. Co-host Steve Doocy opened the show with a “Fox News alert and a bombshell exclusive.” The bombshell: “New messages” that referenced Obama “now raising even more questions” about the Clinton investigation.

    Doocy noted Johnson’s report and questioned, “Are they talking about Barack Obama? Does that mean he was involved in whatever they were doing? That's a bombshell.”

    A bombshell it was not. But here’s how the story progressed on Fox News’ flagship morning show:

    6:30 a.m.

    Brian Kilmeade: “There’s a story here at the very least, don’t you agree.” 

    7:03 a.m.

    Doocy: “New messages now raising even more questions about what the FBI and former President Obama knew about the Clinton investigation and when.”

    [...]

    Griff Jenkins: “We’re taking a look at this, and it is raising a lot of questions. And it’s shocking. … Investigators telling Fox News this now raises questions about President Obama’s personal involvement in the Clinton email investigation.”

    8:30 a.m.

    Doocy (again): “Those text messages now raising even more questions about the FBI and perhaps President Obama’s involvement during the Clinton investigation of her email server.”

    And on, and on.

    “Straight-news” coverage: Text messages “might suggest undue presidential interest and/or influence,” and “now we know it goes to the top.”

    Fox’s so-called “straight news” shows didn’t fare much better.

    During America’s Newsroom, Fox News contributor Guy Benson claimed the text message “might suggest undue presidential interest and/or influence.” Anchor Bill Hemmer responded, “Boy, that opens up a whole new can of worms, Guy.”

    During the next show, Happening Now, Fox contributor Rachel Campos-Duffy stated that the text referring to POTUS “looks like it was about the Hillary Clinton investigation,” adding, “President Obama clearly had a stake in her being exonerated and Trump not winning the election.” She went on to say, “This is just like a mystery. It keeps unfolding and unfolding, and it gets dirtier and dirtier. And now we know it goes to the top.”

    The debunk(s)

    The debunks of Fox’s most recent “bombshell” began to roll out around noon. ThinkProgress, focusing on the timeline of events, called it “a total fraud.” Vox’s headline: “Trump says new FBI texts are a ‘bombshell.’ They’re not.” Even the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal poured cold water on the narrative being shouted on Fox News all day; according to the Journal, the text messages Fox used to suggest Obama had been “meddling” in the Clinton email investigation actually referred to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. CNN came to the same conclusion.

    Running with a broken narrative: “There was some speculation” that the texts were about the Clinton email investigation, but that “is still up for debate.”

    When the narrative that Fox News helped spearhead started to fall apart, the network’s hosts, guests, and anchors ran through a couple different plays. At first, they attempted to erase the network’s role in hyping and fueling the “bombshell report.”

    On Special Report, guest host Shannon Bream brought up Obama and the FBI officials’ texts, noting, “There was some speculation that was about the Hillary Clinton email investigation, but now there’s talk that that was about the Russia potential collusion investigation, A.B. But it's now raising more questions and more criticism.” Panelist Mollie Hemingway also noted, “Initially, some people thought it had to do with the old Hillary Clinton email investigation.”

    Note that neither of them mentioned it was the very network they were on that had invented the “speculation.”

    Perhaps there is no better example of these acrobatics than Sandra Smith’s reporting on consecutive days. On Wednesday, Smith hyped “bombshell text messages” that were “rocking the FBI, revealing additional evidence of anti-Trump bias, and raising new questions about President Obama’s personal involvement in the Hillary Clinton email investigation.” On Thursday, she vaguely alluded to “a lot of conclusions drawn that these were exchanges about Obama wanting to know everything when it came to the Hillary Clinton email investigation which was closed at the time,” noting the Journal’s debunk that it was actually about Russian meddling. 

    Another tactic Fox tried was to claim that the details were “still up for debate.” During the 7:00 p.m. hour -- after the story had already fallen apart -- host Martha MacCallum introduced a segment on the topic, asking, “What was [Obama] keeping tabs on? That part of the story is still up for debate.” And correspondent Ed Henry noted the Journal’s debunk, but also argued that what the text message really referred to was “up for debate.”

    Shifting the goalposts: A new, morphed scandal emerges from the debunked scandal

    Lastly, Fox personalities shifted the goalposts. The initial scandal, that Obama supposedly was caught interfering in the Clinton email investigation, morphed into a different, supposed scandal, but one with the same cast of characters. Fox began arguing that, even if the text was referring to the investigation into Russian interference, that constituted a scandal on its own. Henry tried to make this case, saying, “Nonetheless, we should note that in April 2016, Obama insisted to our own Chris Wallace he never spoke to the attorney general or the FBI director about any pending investigations at all.” Hemingway used a similar tactic, stating “learning that it’s in fact about the Trump-Russia meddling election is far more interesting,” adding, “This is just, again, just a tiny part of a much larger scandal.” 

    Several of these tactics were also used on Sean Hannity’s show that night. Introducing the story with Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton, Hannity noted, “Wall Street Journal says it was not about the email investigation, but from earlier comments I saw that you made, you have your doubts about that.” Fitton responded, “Pick your poison in terms of presidential involvement in these sensitive criminal investigations,” essentially arguing that, whether the text message was about Obama wanting to know about Clinton or Russia, it was bad either way.

    By the following morning, the network had coalesced around this new narrative. Now, the scandal wasn’t that Obama was being informed about the Clinton email investigation; the scandal, somehow, was that Obama, the U.S. president and commander in chief, was being informed about the investigation into foreign interference in the upcoming U.S. election. Fox & Friends repeatedly used that argument during its February 8 edition, even bringing on Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump, to make the same (but new) argument. America’s Newsroom continued on with the new charade of pretending that Obama being briefed on the investigation into Russian interference was somehow a problem. 

    And so it continues. 

    It’s hard to keep track of all the pseudo-scandals that Fox News runs through in a given week. The network, especially on Fox & Friends and Hannity, puts out wild trial balloons to see what sticks. Sometimes, as with their fixation about the “secret society” scandal (which, incidentally, was started on Fox, also in part by Sen. Johnson), it blows up in their face. But as with any other good propaganda outlet, they don’t stop blurring the facts and insisting that there are still new “questions,” “concerns,” and “allegations” that need to be investigated -- even if the so-called scandal was already debunked.

  • 2017's worst anti-trans lies and smears 

    Media Matters looks back at some of the worst smears, lies, and liars attacking the transgender community in 2017

    Blog ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Right-wing media figures and anti-LGBTQ hate group representatives have a long history of spreading anti-trans hatred and lies, and 2017 was no different. From hate groups attacks on trans children and students to Alex Jones’ anti-LGBTQ extremism, Media Matters rounded up some of 2017’s most transphobic misinformers and their lies.

    Alex Jones cemented his place as an anti-trans extremist

    Hate groups and right-wing media figures attacked transgender children and students

    Hate groups and right-wing media continued to weaponize the thoroughly debunked “bathroom predator” myth

    Conservative media figures misinformed about the transgender military ban and told lies about trans service members

    Right-wing media figures used anti-trans language and slurs when talking about transgender people

    Alex Jones cemented his place as an anti-trans extremist

    Right-wing conspiracy theorist and ally to President Donald Trump Alex Jones has cemented his place as an anti-trans extremist this year as he repeatedly used the slur “tranny,” dehumanized trans people's existence, and spread vile rhetoric about them. Though Jones has repeatedly said he is “not against gay people,” Media Matters has documented a pattern of extreme anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that proves otherwise. 

    In one segment on his show, for example, Jones said that transgender women may be gay men who want “to go pick up more guys” by getting “breast implants” and trying to “doll [their] hair up.” On another episode, Jones compared a transgender man who had a baby to Jones deciding that he is a “50-foot, red, purple, striped giraffe” that “give[s] birth to leprechauns.” In other segments, Jones has said that accepting transgender people is a slippery slope to “brain chips” and suggested that former first lady Michelle Obama has a penis and may have killed late comedian Joan Rivers, saying that he was “not putting trannies down” with the comments.

    Jones accused transgender women of being gay men who want “to go pick up more guys” by getting breast implants and dolling up their hair.

    [Genesis Communications Network, The Alex Jones Show, 7/10/17]

    Jones compared a pregnant transgender man to a “50-foot, red, purple, striped giraffe” that gives “birth to leprechauns.”

    [Genesis Communications Network, The Alex Jones Show, 8/3/17]

    Jones said that accepting transgender people is a slippery slope to “brain chips.”

    [Genesis Communications Network, The Alex Jones Show, 8/7/17

    Hate groups and right-wing media figures attacked transgender children and students

    In 2017, hate group leaders and right-wing media personalities continued their fight against LGBTQ equality in schools, attacking transgender students and children, their parents, and teachers who teach trans-inclusive lessons. These attacks are also happening on a policy level, with hate group Alliance Defending Freedom spending much of the year trying to block transgender student equality by inserting itself in debates at local school districts and in state legislatures about transgender students’ access to restroom facilities that align with their gender identity.

    In July, anti-LGBTQ hate group American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) President Dr. Michelle Cretella asserted that parents accepting their transgender children's’ gender identity is “child abuse” and spread myths and junk science about transgender people during an episode of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight. ACPeds is a small, deceptively named hate group with only a few hundred members that is meant to be confused with the 60,000-member American Academy of Pediatrics. In another example, right-wing media figures attacked a California elementary school teacher for reading two children’s books about gender identity to her kindergarten classroom after a transgender student brought one in to share. Right-wing website PJ Media suggested that parents “move out of [their] community” if they feel it is necessary to protect their children from being turned into “mind-numbed robots who nod affirmatively in the face of lies,” and anti-LGBTQ FoxNews.com contributor Todd Starnes called the events “an example of how schools have been indoctrination grounds for the LGBT agenda” and “activist bullies.”

    Anti-LGBTQ hate group ACPeds’ Cretella called accepting transgender children “child abuse.”

    [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 7/24/17]

    Hate groups and right-wing media continued to weaponize the thoroughly debunked “bathroom predator” myth

    Right-wing figures and anti-LGBTQ hate groups continued to reinforce the debunked “bathroom predator” myth, which asserts that policies allowing trans people to use restrooms that align with their gender identity will create an opening for sexual predators to assault women. That myth has been long debunked by experts and government officials in more than a dozen states, school administrators, and sexual assault and domestic violence prevention experts, but pundits and anti-LGBTQ figures continued to push the lie in 2017.

    On February 15, Tony Perkins, the president of anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council (FRC), dubiously claimed that Target’s trans-inclusive bathroom policy gives people a “good chance” of seeing a “live rendition of CSI … because increasingly you’ve had crime scenes in their restrooms and in their changing rooms.” Similarly, on an episode of a special panel show on Houston’s Fox 26, president of the anti-LGBTQ hate group Conservative Republicans of Texas (CRTx) Jared Woodfill said that “registered sex offenders who somehow believe that they’re a woman” would be “allowed to go into the restroom where our wives, our daughters, and our mothers are going to be.” In yet another example, Charmaine Yoest, a right-wing political commentator who is now in a top communications post at the Department of Health and Human Services, asserted that “the real issue” with trans-inclusive policies “is the opening that it provides for sexual predators … who might be using this as a way to get access to young girls and women.

    FRC’s Perkins claimed that Target’s trans-inclusive restroom policy gives people a “good chance” of seeing a “live rendition of CSI … because increasingly you’ve had crime scenes in their restrooms and in their changing rooms”

    [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 2/15/17]

    CRTx’s Woodfill claimed that “registered sex offenders who somehow believe that they’re a woman” would be “allowed to go into the restroom where our wives, our daughters, and our mothers are going to be” with trans-inclusive restroom policies.

    [Fox 26, What’s Your Point, 5/22/17]

    Former right-wing pundit Yoest said that “the real issue” with trans-inclusive policies “is the opening that it provides for sexual predators … who might be using this as a way to get access to young girls and women.”

    [CNN, CNN Newsroom, 2/23/17]

    Conservative media figures misinformed about the transgender military ban and told lies about trans service members

    When Trump announced he would ban transgender people from the military, right-wing media and hate groups pushed misinformation about transgender service members and called them “mentally ill.” (The ban has so far been paused by the courts.) Other right-wing lies about the ban included the claim that the cost of medically necessary health care for transgender service members would be in the billions, that allowing transgender members to serve would interfere with military readiness and cohesion, and that a majority of transgender people are unable to be deployed due to their health care needs. Analysts have found minimal additional costs involved in providing health care to transgender service members and no negative impacts on military cohesion or readiness.

    Right-wing pundit Ben Shapiro responded to the ban by saying that “the military should not accept mentally ill soldiers.” Shapiro tweeted that “no one has the ‘right’ to serve in the military,” and again implied that transgender people have a “mental illness.” Retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, who is the vice president of anti-LGBTQ hate group FRC, similarly pushed the myth that transgender people have some “kind of physical or mental illness” and claimed that their inclusion in the military was part of “a test bed for nothing but social experiments.” According to the American Psychological Association, “Identifying as transgender does not constitute a mental disorder.” Other leading medical organizations agree.

    FRC’s Boykin pushed the lie that transgender people are mentally ill, saying, "We shouldn't recruit people with any kind of physical or mental illness."

    [Fox News, The Story with Martha MacCallum, 8/24/17]

    Shapiro claimed that “no one has the ‘right’ to serve in the military. People are 4F [unfit to serve] for a variety of reasons. Mental illness can be such a reason.”

    [Twitter, 7/26/17]

    Shapiro said that “The military should not accept mentally ill soldiers,” but Trump’s announcement “should not have been done by tweet.”

    [Twitter, 7/26/17]

    Right-wing media figures used anti-trans language and slurs when talking about transgender people

    Over the past year, right-wing media figures attacked transgender people with offensive language, anti-trans slurs, and even the denial of trans existence. In addition to the steadfast slandering of transgender people by Alex Jones, other right-wing media figures employed transphobic rhetoric that can have severe consequences on transgender people and youth. Calls from transgender youth to the Trevor Project’s suicide hotline increased this year, and the project cited “anti-transgender rhetoric” coming from elected officials and others as “putting lives at risk.”

    In a November rant lamenting the surge of LGBTQ victories in 2017 elections, right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh used the anti-trans slur “tranny” and insisted that LGBTQ people be referred to only as “homosexual,” saying, “the word is homosexual.” On Fox, Carlson hosted a transgender guest and insulted her by accusing transgender people of “faking” and repeatedly pushing the myth that people can just “decide” to be transgender on a whim. This kind of rhetoric places doubt on transgender existence.

    After trans candidates won 2017 elections, Limbaugh insisted that all LGBTQ people be referred to as “homosexual” and used the anti-trans slur “tranny.”

    [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 11/9/17]

    Carlson insulted a transgender guest and accused transgender people of "faking."

    [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 2/24/17]