Melissa Francis | Media Matters for America

Melissa Francis

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  • Fox Business keeps casting doubt on Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance

    Fox Business, the only media organization that hasn’t pulled out of a high-profile Saudi conference, is muddying the waters around possible Saudi involvement in a journalist’s disappearance

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    On October 3, The Associated Press reported that Saudi Arabian journalist (and U.S. permanent resident) Jamal Khashoggi, last seen entering a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, was missing. The disappearance drew significant media attention through October 11, when the Turkish government claimed to have audio and video proof that Khashoggi was assassinated and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate. 

    As evidence of Saudi involvement grew, many big media organizations have pulled out of the Saudi-planned Future Investment Initiative conference -- except Fox Business. Fox Business personalities have made suspect comments about Khashoggi’s disappearance, sowing confusion about possible Saudi culpability and downplaying the seriousness of the assassination if the Saudi government is guilty. 

    On the October 15 edition of Fox Business’ Cavuto: Coast to Coast, John Hannah, who served as an adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney, said that even if the Saudi government did murder Khashoggi, “diplomatically, we have got to maintain the strategic U.S.-Saudi relationship at the same time as we express real displeasure with what the Saudis have done here.” 

    Host Neil Cavuto later floated a bizarre conspiracy theory that Khashoggi’s disappearance may have been “hatched by the Turks to get at the Saudis, to embarrass them, to put them in a position.”

    On Fox News’ Outnumbered, after senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano commented that “there’s no way [Khashoggi] is going to be assassinated without the highest levels of the Saudi government authorizing it,” Fox Business host Melissa Francis chided Napolitano for “assuming that the Saudis did it," noting that "we don’t necessarily know that.” Francis suggested that the alleged murder might not be “what it appears to be” because “it was so obvious, and there are so many quieter ways to dispose of someone.”

  • Right-wing media praise Trump after he snubbed the British prime minister and voiced white nationalist views

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On July 12, British tabloid The Sun published a wide-ranging interview with President Donald Trump in which he disparaged British Prime Minister Theresa May and espoused white nationalist views. Conservative media figures responded to the interview by praising the president and berating his critics.

    Trump sat down for an interview with the Murdoch-owned paper shortly after the conclusion of the NATO summit, at which he insulted world leaders, missed and was late to a number of meetings, and took credit for convincing other nations to increase their NATO contributions, which he did not actually do. After alienating allies at the summit, the president proceeded in the Sun interview to undermine May and criticize her Brexit blueprint, praise her chief political rival, and threaten and threaten to kill a potential trade deal between the U.S. and Britain. Trump also used white nationalist rhetoric to talk about immigration to Europe, saying, “I think what's happened to Europe is a shame. I think the immigration - allowing the immigration to take place in Europe is a shame. I think it changed the fabric of Europe. And unless you act very quickly, it's never going to be what it was. And I don't mean that in a positive way.”

    Here’s how conservative media figures have responded to Trump’s latest outburst:

    • Fox News contributor Nigel Farage praised Trump for his “bombshell to the establishment” opposition to “globalist structures like the European Union.”
    • Fox's Steve Hilton: “The president is 100 percent right about Brexit.” May is weak and “caved in to the elitist establishment.”
    • Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt: Trump is "allowed to" snub British Prime Minister Theresa May and "he's not afraid of the backlash."
    • Fox host Jeanine Pirro: “I don’t think it matters if [Trump] likes [May] as a person.”
    • Breitbart: “Trump just dropped the Mother of all Brexit Bombs on Theresa May.”
    • Breitbart also tried to legitimize Trump’s white nationalist view by hyping “significant demographic changes being seen across Europe” and fearmongering about the advent of “culturally alien practices” like female genital mutilation in Europe.
    • Anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller: “Reality vs Fantasy: President Trump warns Europe is ‘losing its culture’ by allowing ‘millions and millions’ of migrants, PM Theresa May praises their’ fantastic contribution’: Reality has a nasty way of shattering delusions. Trump speaks as it is. May…”
    • CRTV's Michelle Malkin attacked “media freaks” for overreacting to Trump’s comments, saying he was just “speaking truth” rather than acting like a "doormat.”
    • Fox's Geraldo Rivera: “He’s a great negotiator, the president.”
    • Fox host Melissa Francis: “To be clear… #TheresaMay wanted the President to lie about how he felt about her approach Brexit. And he wasn’t willing to lie. I guess #TheResistance & #NeverTrumpers thinks lying & diplomacy and the same thing.”
    • Asked about Trump’s conduct at the NATO summit and his interview with The Sun, YouTube vloggers Diamond & Silk said, “He’s doing an amazing job. He’s standing up for the American people and for America.”
    • Right-wing blog HotAir dismissed Trump’s comments, arguing they might actually help May.
  • Pro-Trump media attack judge in Michael Cohen case after Sean Hannity is revealed as his client

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Agenda-driven right-wing figures and online media outlets are using their platforms to try to discredit Judge Kimba Wood, a federal judge overseeing the case of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen, currently under scrutiny for possible bank fraud and wire fraud. Right-wing media started targeting Wood after she ordered Cohen to disclose the name of his anonymous legal client on the basis that there was no legal ground to withhold it; the client turned out to be Fox News anchor Sean Hannity. Far-right Twitter trolls, conservative writers, and Fox News commentators -- among others -- dug into Wood’s past, scandalized her ties to Democrats, and attacked her for training as a Playboy bunny while in law school.

    This is a familiar tactic for right-wing media figures, who regularly attempt to defame any judge with whom they disagree. Right-wing media have also launched a full-on offensive against special counsel Robert Mueller and his team’s investigation into ties between the Trump orbit and Russian officials. Here are some of the things these figures and outlets have claimed undermine Wood’s credibility:

    She trained for five days in college as a Playboy bunny

    True Pundit: “Cohen’s Judge & Stormy Daniels Have Much in Common: Playboy Bunny Judge Worked for Hugh Hefner”

    Infowars’ Jerome Corsi: Wood “worked as a Playboy Bunny at a Playboy casino in 1966.”

    She officiated George Soros’ wedding in 2013

    Infowars: “No Joke: Judge Who Forced Cohen to ID Hannity Performed Soros Wedding”

    Conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec: Sean Hannity was “doxed by Liberal Judge” who was at George Soros’ wedding.

    Right-wing troll Mike Cernovich: "On the same day that Soros-funded Media Matters announces a boycott, The judge who performed Soros' wedding names Sean Hannity as a Michael Cohen client. TOTAL COINCIDENCE."

    The Daily Wire’s Ryan Saavedra: “The judge who ordered @SeanHannity's name to be released performed the wedding for far-left billionaire George Soros.”

    Fox News host Melissa Francis: “Kimba Wood taking time away from Michael Cohen matter to perform George Soros wedding.”

    She was considered by the Clintons for attorney general

    Conservative commentator Jeffrey Lord: Bill and Hillary Clinton “pressed to make [Wood] Attorney General.”

    FrontPage Magazine: “Judge Kimba Wood was Bill Clinton's nominee for Attorney General. But then her nomination fell apart over her employment of an illegal alien and the Playboy thing. ... It's a safe bet that Judge Kimba Wood might harbor some resentment toward Republicans."

    Fox’s Sebastian Gorka: Wood “is a Clinton confidante who was chosen by Hillary to be AG. The #DEEPstate is real.”

    Right-wing radio host Mark Simone: “Michael Cohen's bad luck was getting a judge from the Clinton administration.To give you an idea of her politics - Kimba Wood was chosen by the Clinton's to be Attorney General and she performed George Soros's wedding.”

    American Thinker: Wood “was Bill Clinton's second choice to be attorney general. … Is this amazingly great luck for the Mueller-U.S. attorney tag team or what?”

    Disclosure: George Soros made a donation to Media Matters in 2010.

  • Following a bombshell report, Fox News is desperately clinging to their alternate reality about the Russia investigation

    While a NYT report reveals the real impetus of the Russia investigation, Fox is running with the unfounded conjecture of fake news, pro-Trump trolls, and Republican congressmen

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    In a continuation of the network’s pattern of sycophantic defenses of the president, Fox News hosts dismissed reporting from The New York Times that provided new details about what sparked the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, muddying the waters by pushing baseless conjecture espoused by pro-Trump internet trolls and fake news websites alike.

    A December 30, 2017 report by The New York Times explained that a conversation between Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos and an Australian diplomat at a bar prompted FBI officials in June 2016 to investigate the connection between Russia and the Trump campaign. The report disrupted a well-established far-right and right-wing media claim that the investigation was prompted solely on information provided in a partially unverified opposition research dossier produced by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, noting:

    The information that Mr. Papadopoulos gave to the Australians answers one of the lingering mysteries of the past year: What so alarmed American officials to provoke the F.B.I. to open a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign months before the presidential election?

    It was not, as Mr. Trump and other politicians have alleged, a dossier compiled by a former British spy hired by a rival campaign. Instead, it was firsthand information from one of America’s closest intelligence allies.

    In a January 2 New York Times op-ed three days after the December 30 report, Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, founders of Fusion GPS, the research firm that funded the dossier, echoed the Times’ earlier reporting, writing that rather than the Steele dossier being the major impetus for the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling, their sources told them “the dossier was taken so seriously because it corroborated reports the bureau had [already] received from other sources, including one inside the Trump camp.”

    But in a segment responding to the the op-ed today, the panel of Fox News’ Outnumbered didn’t even mention Papadopoulos’ name. Instead the panel members deflected from the revelations by launching baseless claims, including the notion that Fusion GPS exerted influence on the FBI and that the “fake report” (which has in fact been at least partially verified) was used to obtain a FISA warrant to spy on Trump, itself a fallacy promoted by Breitbart. From the January 3 edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered:

    MELISSA FRANCIS (CO-HOST): Fox News has reported that Fusion GPS was being paid by a Kremlin-linked law firm at the same time that it was digging for dirt on then-candidate Trump. And human rights activists have accused Fusion GPS of secretly working for the Russians. Congressman Jason Chaffetz is here.

    JASON CHAFFETZ: I did I read that op-ed from Fusion GPS. First of all, if they want to maximize openness and transparency, there is nothing, nothing that holds back Fusion GPS from releasing all the documents and all the financial transactions.You have the House intelligence committee having to issues subpoenas in order to get that information.

    SANDRA SMITH (CO-HOST): That's a great point.

    CHAFFETZ: But today they could release all of that information if they want. So, don't blame the House intelligence committee. It is against the law to go out and hire a foreign national to engage in these activities during the campaign. So, they potentially broke the law there. You have Marc Elias who was general counsel for the DNC. Hillary Clinton is involved in this. You’ve got the Podesta group involved in this. There is some really nefarious things, and you have a top official at the FBI whose wife works at Fusion GPS at the same time that they're doing an investigation, so don't call it a fake investigation. Let's get all the truth out there. That's what [South Carolina Republican Congressman Trey] Gowdy and [California Republican Congressman Devin] Nunes and everybody is after.

    [...]

    KATIE PAVLICH (CO-HOST): They have a responsibility on their end to the American people now because they are so involved and because they did have influence in the FBI based on the dossier. And again we have people connect to the dossier also connected to the Department of Justice under President Obama. And those are questions that are unanswered and that deserve answers to the American people.

    [...]

    FRANCIS: I think what people in the audience should remember and probably what you care about a lot is this idea that when originally we gave the government special powers to collect data, to listen in on your phone calls, it was a time when we were all frightened and still are about terror, about national security. The warning at the time was that in the end, this FISA warrant, this whole idea could be used to listen in on political opponents and become a political weapon. In this case, it looks like that's very much what happened, that a fake report was used to get a FISA warrant to spy on a political opponent. That's a very dangerous thing in this country. And that's what I think we should be chasing down and focused on.

    Pro-Trump media outlets have long attempted to discredit the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s relationship with the Russian government, and Trump’s defenders on Fox have spent months baselessly claiming that the FBI used the dossier as sole evidence to get a FISA warrant to surveil and investigate Trump and members of his presidential campaign. Fox’s Jeanine Pirro even suggested that FBI and the Department of Justice officials should be jailed for their implication in this alleged conspiracy.

    Following The New York Times’ December 30 report, right-wing media figures attempted to discredit the story by downplaying Papadopoulos’ influence, attacking the article’s anonymous sourcing, and castigating the reporting as distraction from the Mueller investigation that the network has deemed a “witch hunt.” Other right-wing outlets like Red State, the National Review, as well as other pro-Trump media outlets, fake news websites, and internet trolls have levied similar attacks in attempts to discredit the story.

  • Fox News' exclusive reporting on Iran nuclear deal echoes pretext for Iraq War

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON


    Fox News / Screengrab

    Fox News is promoting a report from an Iranian exile organization that the government in Tehran has restarted nuclear weapons development in violation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. President Donald Trump is expected to decertify the deal in coming days, and given his penchant for watching Fox News, it’s possible he will use this report as part of his justification. Fox’s rush to promote the exile group’s claims echoes moves made in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, when “bogus intelligence” provided by politically motivated Iraqi exiles set the pretext for a U.S. invasion.

    An October 10 exclusive article published by FoxNews.com detailed a new report by the exile group National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which “asserts that the country’s nuclear weapons program has far from halted.” According to FoxNews.com, “The Iranian Resistance has identified four major sites that ‘with high degrees of certainty’ have been involved in various aspects of the allegedly ongoing nuclear weapons project.” Fox & Friends further promoted the NCRI report during its October 11 episode. Fox contributor Newt Gingrich vouched for the group as “the best source of information inside Iran” and claimed its allegations were “probably right.” Gingrich then used the report as justification for Trump to decertify Iranian compliance with the 2015 nuclear regulatory framework brokered by the Obama administration and five other nations:

    During a later segment, Fox’s Jillian Mele highlighted the report, claiming “it appears [Iran’s] weapons program is fully operational,” adding that the report “shows at least four nuclear development sites have secretly been constructed and used to avoid international inspectors”:

    Fox continued promoting the NCRI report during Happening Now, with co-host Melissa Francis claiming that an “explosive report” demonstrated Iran “already [has] the weapon” and is in violation of its commitments. Conservative national security analyst Michael Singh of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy cautioned that the report had yet to be verified and “is at odds with the findings of our intelligence community,” noting that “you have to take it with a bit of a grain of salt.”

    If true, these allegations from NCRI would demonstrate that the Iranian government is no longer in full compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the “Iran nuclear deal,” negotiated between China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Iran to limit the latter’s nuclear weapons capabilities. The report could provide justification for the Trump administration to decertify the Iran nuclear framework, which is widely expected to happen after the president, in a speech at the United Nations last month, called the deal “an embarrassment” to the United States and international community.

    However, there are multiple reasons to question NCRI’s conclusions.

    None of the other nations involved in JCPOA negotiations and enforcement believe Iran is in violation of compliance standards. Indeed, on the same day Fox News published NCRI’s conclusions, British Prime Minister Theresa May personally urged Trump to remain in the deal, which she argued was “vitally important for regional security.” And just one day before that, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reiterated that Iran is in full compliance with the JCPOA framework, stating "the nuclear-related commitments undertaken by Iran ... are being implemented." In recent weeks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pointed to the Iran deal as a workable framework for solving the North Korean nuclear standoff, and her government has reasserted its commitment to preserving international nuclear cooperation on Iran.

    NCRI’s motivations also need to be scrutinized. The group calls itself a “parliament in exile” and was founded in 1981 after losing a power struggle for control of Iran. It acts as an umbrella organization for numerous Iranian dissident and exile groups that stand to benefit from American action against the Iranian government -- including the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), which had previously been designated a terrorist organization.

    Additionally, in many ways, NCRI resembles the Iraqi National Congress (INC) under Ahmed Chalabi, which was formed with the explicit mandate of toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein. Chalabi and the INC supplied the U.S. government with exaggerated and fabricated intelligence in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and its leader was richly rewarded after the U.S.-led invasion created a power vacuum in Baghdad for his group to exploit.

    Right-wing media outlets, led by Fox News, always opposed Obama-era diplomatic overtures to Iran and have long advocated that the Iran nuclear deal be dismantled regardless of the facts on the ground. Conservative outlets and personalities have spread lies about the negotiations and enforcement of the deal and now, they may be supplying Trump with the questionable intelligence he needs to formally abandon American diplomatic commitments in Iran.

    This piece was updated with additional information​

  • Contra right-wing media, US officials have verified core aspects of the Trump dossier

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media have waged a months-long attempt to discredit the 35-page dossier produced by a former British intelligence officer that contains allegations of coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Various right-wing commentators have described its contents as “unreliable,” “discredited,” “largely debunked,” and "evidence of ... collusion between Democrats and Russian disinformation," including a Washington Times story that Trump promoted this week. But, according to numerous reports, American intelligence officials have “verified” various “core” aspects of the dossier.

  • Fox analyst pushes Seth Rich conspiracy in attempt to exonerate Trump from Russian collusion claims

    Thomas McInerney’s shameless conspiracy mongering comes one day after Rich family told partisans "cease using Seth as a political football"

    Blog ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET

    Fox News military analyst and retired Lieutenant General Thomas McInerny defended Donald Trump Jr. from accusations of colluding with Russia by promoting the discredited Seth Rich murder conspiracy.

    One day after the Rich family pleaded with the public to stop using their son's murder as a “political football,” McInerny appeared on Fox Business’ After The Bell and used Rich’s murder to claim that Russia was not behind the DNC email hacks and to dismiss accusations of Russia collusion around Donald Trump Jr.:

    MELISSA FRANCIS (HOST): A couple of the assumptions that he is making based on this, that he feels that the Trump family has been discredited in terms of self-reporting on the meetings that they had. Also proving that they were in fact receptive to the idea of receiving information that would hurt the Hillary Rodham Clinton campaign, based on information that the Russian government had. Let's bring in retired lieutenant-general Thomas McInerney, retired general and Fox News military analyst. Some of the things, the other conclusions that he made there, I'm not totally convinced of.

    [...]

    THOMAS MCINERNY: This is all fake news. The fact is, there are two things that that committee has got to look at. They have got to look at the DNC computer servers, that was hacked that released that information, and John Podesta's and others emails. Why hasn't the DNC turned that over to the FBI?

    FRANCIS: But tell us, why you are tying that to this?

    MCINERNY: Because this shows that the Russians did not do it. That server was turned over by Seth Rich and no one will look at his server. And those two servers blow this whole Russian conspiracy, collusion up.

    FRANCIS: Okay.

    MCINERNY: And that is why it is that simple. I've been watching this for a long time and why the Congress has not gone after those those servers, because cyber is my business, Melissa -- and so, if you get the server, you get the fingerprints of the people that hacked you.

    FRANCIS: Okay. So let's concede that we want to get that server.

    Seth Rich’s family has previously detailed the “nightmare” caused by right-wing media figures peddling conspiratorial smears about their deceased son, writing “The amount of pain and anguish this has caused us is unbearable. With every conspiratorial flare-up, we are forced to relive Seth’s murder and a small piece of us dies as more of Seth’s memory is torn away from us.”

  • Guide to right-wing media myths and facts about the Senate health care bill

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE & NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media figures are trying to curry favor for the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) by attacking the Affordable Care Act (ACA), pushing lies about the BCRA, disparaging the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) or distorting its analysis of the legislation, and muddying the truth about the health care system in general. Here is a guide to the myths right-wing media are employing to sell the Senate Republican health care bill.