Melissa Francis | Media Matters for America

Melissa Francis

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  • Fox News gives credence to a nativist vigilante militia that allegedly was plotting to kill prominent liberals 


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After a far-right militia received national notoriety over its detention of a large group of asylum seekers at gunpoint on the U.S.-Mexico border, Fox News segments on the incident credulously allowed the group to argue the legitimacy of its actions. Fox also mentioned a new way the group is fundraising after some payment processors said they would not work with the group.

    The militia, United Constitutional Patriots (UCP), received widespread attention last week after it posted a video to its Facebook page showing group members armed with firearms detaining almost 300 migrants on the U.S. side of the southern border. The militiamen forced the migrants to halt their movement, a fact the American Civil Liberties Union says constitutes illegal kidnapping. It is not illegal to enter the U.S. to seek asylum -- in fact, U.S. law requires claims to be made from within U.S. borders or at a port of entry. In the video, at least one militia member also falsely identified himself as a member of U.S. Border Patrol, echoing a common tactic of the group in which members seek to give migrants they encounter the impression they are law enforcement officers.

    On April 20, the FBI arrested UCP leader Larry Mitchell Hopkins on charges of possessing firearms and ammunition as a felon. Hopkins’ lengthy criminal record includes a conviction for impersonating a police officer. In charging documents, the FBI also noted that it received a tip in 2017 that the group was plotting to assassinate former President Barack Obama, former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and philanthropist George Soros.

    Despite the group's criminal history, Fox News has treated its legitimacy as an open question. During an April 22 segment of Your World with Neil Cavuto discussing UCP, Fox News contributor and Fox Business host Charles Payne said, “Citizens that are taking up arms, trying to assist. … It's apparent to the world that we've got a crisis down there and they're trying to help out.”

    Other segments on Fox News credulously promoted the group’s claims of legitimacy, with a Fox News correspondent noting UCP members “see themselves, as their group name suggests, as patriots, not vigilantes,” and Fox News’ Melissa Francis highlighting UCP’s claim that it has come under law enforcement scrutiny for “stopping illegals” due to “political pressure.”

    Other segments on Fox News have mentioned a new way the group is attempting to raise money after the notoriety of the viral migrant detention video caused the group to be kicked off of PayPal and GoFundMe.

    Fox News has long shown sympathy to far-right armed groups. In 2014, Fox News personalities took the side of Cliven Bundy and his supporters, who were threatening violence against the government during an armed standoff sparked by a dispute over unpaid cattle grazing fees. Fox Business host Lou Dobbs was also a vocal supporter of the since-disbanded anti-immigrant vigilante Minuteman Project despite the obvious extremism of the group and its members. One of the founders of that group was later sentenced to death for murdering a 9-year-old girl and her father, while another group leader was later convicted of child molestation.

  • Fox downplays report that Trump ordered officials to give son-in-law Kushner a security clearance

    Blog ››› ››› COURTNEY HAGLE

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The New York Times reported on Thursday that President Donald Trump “ordered his chief of staff to grant his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, a top-secret security clearance last year, overruling concerns flagged by intelligence officials and the White House’s top lawyer.” Even though the decision could pose serious national security risks, Fox News shows either ignored or downplayed the report.

    On February 28, The New York Times reported that Trump ordered top-level security clearances for Kushner despite opposition and concerns from the FBI, the CIA, the White House counsel, and his then-chief of staff John Kelly. According to the Times, “Officials had raised questions about [Kushner’s] own and his family’s real estate business’s ties to foreign governments and investors, and about initially unreported contacts he had with foreigners.” Kushner regularly expressed his frustration to Trump, but when the White House counsel’s office recommended to the president in May that Kushner not be given a top-secret clearance, Trump “ordered Mr. Kelly to grant it to Mr. Kushner anyway.” The Washington Post released a separate investigation on the topic later that day, confirming the Times report.

    Kushner’s clearance had been held up for over a year and was even “downgraded from interim top secret to secret” in February 2018. But after he was given the top-security clearance, the White House claimed that the president was not involved in the security clearance process. Kushner’s lawyer said that his client followed a standard process. Ivanka Trump, Kushner’s wife and Trump’s eldest daughter who also serves as a senior adviser in the White House, said only a few weeks ago that Trump “had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband’s clearance, zero.” Ivanka also pushed back on reports that Kushner had trouble receiving a clearance, dismissing them as “anonymous leaks.” In a January interview with the Times, Trump also repeatedly denied being involved in the security process, saying that he “was never involved with the security.”

    Trump’s decision to sidestep security processes posed egregious national security risks, and it was an insult to public servants who have to go through the standard process. But Fox News failed to emphasize the seriousness of his decision. Most of the network’s shows ignored the report entirely, and those that did cover it worked to downplay the story’s significance. On Lou Dobbs Tonight, Fox Business analyst Ed Rollins dismissed the report, saying, “Ultimately, the president has the right to clear anybody he wants to clear.” He added, “The bottom line is we should be grateful [Kushner is] there.”

    On The Ingraham Angle, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who says he was pushed off the presidential transition team over his personal conflict with Kushner, said that the “president had the absolute right to give a security clearance to whoever he wanted to,” but that the real issue is that Trump and Ivanka repeatedly lied about it. Host Laura Ingraham argued that Ivanka “might not have any knowledge of any of this” before conceding, “We all commit unforced errors in our lives, and it’s an unforced error if the reporting is accurate.”

    On Fox News @ Night, host Shannon Bream mentioned the report for less than 20 seconds.

    On the March 1 edition of Fox & Friends, Christie talked about the report in a segment that lasted for about one minute and 30 seconds. Christie again asserted that “ordering the clearance is not problematic” and that “the problem is they didn’t tell the truth.”

    America’s Newsroom aired one brief segment on Kushner’s denial of the report. When asked about the story, White House senior advisor Kellyanne Conway replied, “We don’t discuss security clearances.” Later in the show, Fox News host Chris Wallace discussed the report and described Conway’s comments as “a classic non-denial denial,” pointing out that Ivanka and others have discussed the security clearance in the past. Wallace also pointed out that if the report was “false, if in fact the president hadn’t been involved, I can’t imagine they wouldn’t say that. They have no qualms about saying when news is fake, when [there’s] reporting they think is inaccurate. They are not saying that about this story, so I think that speaks for itself.

    On Outnumbered, the five-person panel sought to justify Trump's actions, with co-host Melissa Francis asking, "Why are they continuing to make a big deal out of this story?" Co-host Morgan Ortagus said she would have liked the report to discuss whether Clinton officials lost their security clearances while she was secretary of state.

    On Outnumbered Overtime, host Harris Faulkner mentioned the report briefly in a segment that lasted less than one minute.

    Media Matters looked at Fox News segments from when the Times' report was published on February 28 until 2 pm on March 1.

  • Fox News is downplaying Trump’s comments absolving Kim of responsibility for death of US citizen

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Fox News is downplaying comments from President Donald Trump that he does not hold North Korean despot Kim Jong Un responsible for the death of an American college student who was detained in North Korea for 17 months. Trump’s public absolution of Kim comes after Trump sided with the Russian government in its repeated denials about interfering in American politics. Trump has also demonstrated an unexplained and unshakable loyalty to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman even though the U.S. intelligence community has determined that the crown prince ordered the assassination of Washington Post columnist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi.

    Following Trump’s second nuclear summit with the North Korean dictator, the president declared that he took Kim “at his word” when North Korea’s leader supposedly told him “he didn’t know” about the mistreatment of Otto Warmbier, an American college student who was imprisoned in North Korea in 2016 after being accused of attempting to steal a political banner from a hotel lobby. Trump added that he does not “believe [Kim] would have allowed” Warmbier to be mistreated, saying, “It just wasn't to his advantage to allow that to happen.” The North Korean government returned Warmbier to the United States in June 2017 in a “persistent vegetative state.” He passed away on June 19, 2017, six days after he was brought to the U.S.

    Trump’s defense of Kim echoes his confounding defenses of two other totalitarian and kleptocratic leaders, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, after U.S. intelligence agencies found that they were involved in actions that ran counter to American interests and values. Ever since the U.S. intelligence community publicly pointed the finger at the Russian government for directing the hacking and dumping of emails during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump has steadfastly toed Russia’s line in denying its involvement, ultimately saying, “I don’t see any reason” why the Russian government would have hacked Democrats’ emails during the 2016 campaign. Similarly, after Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in a Saudi consulate in Turkey, Trump issued a series of non sequiturs and strange defenses of the crown prince before finally just disregarding the conclusions of his own intelligence community that Salman personally ordered Khashoggi’s murder and saying he will stand by Salman.

    According to a Media Matters review of Fox’s videos and transcripts, the network’s flagship morning show, Fox & Friends, never mentioned Trump absolving North Korea’s leader of responsibility for the mistreatment and apparent torture of a detained American citizen. Moreover, America’s Newsroom discussed the comments only briefly over the entire three-hour program, with Fox anchor Bret Baier suggesting that only “critics” will attack Trump over his defense of a murderous dictator. Outnumbered co-host Katie Pavlich also briefly discussed Trump’s defense of Kim. Later in the show, when Outnumbered co-host Marie Harf brought up Trump’s comments regarding Warmbier’s treatment and “about Kim Jong Un in general,” show co-host Melissa Francis interrupted her to defend Trump’s comments as being just “the way he talks,” and asked, “How do you know that’s what’s going on in his mind -- in the president’s mind?” On Fox's The Daily Briefing, Fox host Dana Perino asked a single question of Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) about Trump’s comments. Fox’s obvious attempt at downplaying Trump’s comments comes after the network echoed Trump in his evolving positions on Khashoggi’s assassination and after Fox made odd defenses of Trump for courting Putin.

  • 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.