Melissa Francis | Media Matters for America

Melissa Francis

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  • 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.

  • Fox hypes misleading job creation numbers to credit Trump on the economy

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    President Donald Trump took to Twitter on June 11 to echo misleading claims from Fox News that job growth in his first four full months in office was proof of his economic success. Both Fox and the president failed to notice, however, that it was the weakest February through May stretch of job growth since the end of the Great Recession.

    On the June 11 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends Sunday, co-host Clayton Morris and economist Peter Morici claimed that Trump’s presidency had been a boon for the economy, hyped that 594,000 jobs had been created in Trump’s first four full months in office, and slammed media outlets for reporting that Trump’s economic agenda has stalled. Roughly an hour later, the president started tweeting what seemed like talking points pulled from the Fox segment. He decried mainstream reporters, whom he derisively labeled “fake news,” in a tweet claiming media outlets refuse to report “great economic news” since he was elected. Trump continued by boasting that the economy had added “600,000+” jobs:

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the economy in fact created 594,000 jobs from February through May of this year. Projections for April and May are preliminary and subject to change, but by comparison to previously established trends for the same timeframe, Trump has little to boast about. More jobs were created during the same four-month window in each of the past seven years under President Barack Obama.

    On June 12 edition of CNN’s Early Start host Christine Romans picked apart various aspects of Trump’s claims on the economy. Romans discussed that while the stock market has gone up since Trump was elected, it had been rising for eight years making the latest gains just “icing on what has been a very big, juicy cake.” Romans also noted that Trump’s job growth claims neglect to mention how job creation was slower than the last three years:

    These simple facts did not stop the pro-Trump sycophants at Fox News from continuing to push their favorable talking points. On the June 12 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, guest Stuart Varney laid out the same argument that Trump had tweeted and added that “it’s a disgrace” that news outlets had been focused on Trump’s scandals instead of giving the president credit for a strong economy. Later on Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, guest Melissa Francis again pushed the 594,000 jobs created between February through May as proof of a strong economy under Trump.

    Since Trump was elected, Fox has pivoted from mischaracterizing reports on the economy to blast Obama to mischaracterizing reports on the economy to hype or defend the Trump administration. Fox personalities frequently heap praise on economic indicators weaker than those they had once excoriated. The network has also reversed completely on how it reports jobs data, giving Trump credit for jobs he didn’t even create, and reporting glowingly on job creation under Trump that had become routine under Obama.

  • Trump Lied About Why He Fired Comey, And Right-Wing Media Helped Him Sell It

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE & NICK FERNANDEZ

    In a letter explaining his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, President Donald Trump cited “letters from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States recommending [FBI Director James Comey’s] dismissal as the Director of the” FBI. After removing Comey, various White House officials and right-wing media figures pushed the claim that Trump “took the recommendation of his deputy attorney general” and fired Comey, but days later, Trump himself admitted that he was thinking of "this Russia thing with Trump" and “was going to fire [Comey] regardless of [a] recommendation” from the Department of Justice or the deputy attorney general.

  • Fox News’ Reporting On Fired US Attorney Ignores His Investigation Of Fox News

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & CHRISTOPHER LEWIS

    In over 40 segments from March 11 through 13 that discussed President Donald Trump’s firing of Preet Bharara, who was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Fox News failed to disclose that Bharara was investigating multiple potential crimes committed by the network, including allegedly hiding financial settlements paid to women who accused former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes of sexual harassment.

  • Fox Covers For White House After News Outlets Banned From Press Gaggle

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The White House banned several media outlets from attending a press gaggle today, including CNN and The New York Times, which have broken stories on connections between Trump and Russia. While some mainstream outlets were included in the gathering, the White House supposedly hand-picked others, including several right-wing or pro-Trump outlets such as Breitbart and One America News Network. Several prominent journalists noted that they’ve never before seen this sort of press exclusion. Even Fox News’ Bret Baier criticized the decision, noting that news outlets stood with Fox when it was excluded from certain Obama administration interviews and that “a WH gaggle should be open to all credentialed orgs.” But on air, Fox News told a different story, with White House correspondent John Roberts downplaying the severity of the situation:

    MELISSA FRANCIS (HOST): There are new tensions right now, even new tensions between the White House and the media. Some networks being excluded today from the gaggle. Others were invited but declined. It’s all anybody's talking about right now. Chief White House correspondent John Roberts is there. There is conflicting stuff floating around online. You’re actually there -- tell us what’s going on.

    JOHN ROBERTS: What’s the conflicting stuff and I’ll tell you what really happened.

    FRANCIS: Who is allowed to be in there and are certain news operations being kept on the sidelines intentionally?

    ROBERTS: Well I can tell you that they did not have an on-camera briefing today in the Brady briefing room as they normally do, which typically would see upwards of 70, maybe even 80, people in there, kind of jammed to the rafters. The president had a big speech at CPAC today, so they decided that they were going to let his speech speak for itself and Sean Spicer wasn’t going to have a traditional briefing. So he invited a number of news organizations up to his office to have what's called an off-camera gaggle. It's on the record but off-camera, so we recorded it. And there were probably 20 news organizations that were invited to that and then there were hundreds of other news organizations that were not invited to that. Sean Spicer was asked about it after one network started running a headline that it was excluded from this gaggle. Spicer said that they had a number of requests. There were only so many requests that they could accommodate because there was only so much room. As to their actual motivation, whether it was just a room thing or maybe it was something else, I can’t say at this point because Spicer did not give us that information. I mean, I can speculate, but that would only be speculation on my part.

  • A Comprehensive Guide To The Right-Wing Media Myths And Facts About Trump’s Potential Health Care Policies

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    Right-wing media have helped promote piecemeal Republican proposals to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), propagating a series of myths about the efficacy of health savings accounts, the benefits of allowing insurers to sell across state lines, how high-risk pools operate, and what converting Medicaid into so-called “block grants” would mean for beneficiaries. Health care experts have resoundingly rejected these proposals as alternatives to the ACA, as they all would result in higher costs and less coverage for Americans.

  • Television News Praises Trump’s “Symbolic Coup” In Carrier Jobs Announcement

    Indiana-Based Company Convinces Trump To Give It Taxpayer Money, Still Moves Many Of Its Jobs To Mexico

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Broadcast and cable news personalities rushed to credit President-elect Donald Trump for closing a deal with the Indiana-based manufacturer Carrier that provides the for-profit company with millions of taxpayer dollars while allowing it to still outsource hundreds of jobs to Mexico. Journalists and reporters framed the agreement as a “symbolic coup” and “unadulterated win” for Trump’s incoming administration even as they acknowledged that supporting a relatively small number of jobs at taxpayer expense is an unsustainable manufacturing policy.