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How Fox News helped Trump transform migrants seeking safety into a xenophobic caricature looming over the midterms
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After former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump attorney Michael Cohen were found guilty and pleaded guilty, respectively, each on eight criminal counts, right-wing media immediately rose to President Donald Trump’s defense. Multiple media figures claimed that none of the charges had anything to do with Trump and that Trump’s former associates pleaded guilty to crimes that “don’t exist.”
Following the Trump administration’s implementation of a policy requiring the separation of immigrant children from their parents as they cross the border, some self-described “pro-life” organizations and media figures have failed to denounce this policy. Others, though, have seemingly attempted to distract from the outrage about the policy by making outlandish and inaccurate comparisons to abortion.
Ever since President Donald Trump’s disastrous interview with NBC’s Lester Holt on May 11 2017 -- in which he may have admitted to obstructing justice -- Trump has given in-person TV interviews to only friendly journalists who mostly avoid asking tough questions.
Over the past year, Trump has appeared on television for in-person interviews 14 times and only with fawning reporters. He has given 11 interviews to Fox News and Fox Business, one to Christian Broadcasting Network’s Pat Robertson, one to Trinity Broadcasting Network’s Mike Huckabee, one to CNBC’s Joe Kernen, and one to ITV’s Piers Morgan. Oftentimes, rather than posing hard-hitting questions, the journalists use their time with the president to compliment his performance, criticize the media, and hype his achievements:
In total, Trump has given 23 interviews to print, TV, and radio outlets since May 11, 2017 -- 17 of which were with reliably sympathetic hosts:
May 13, 2017: Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro
June 23, 2017: Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt
June 25, 2017: Fox News’ Pete Hegseth
July 12, 2017: Reuters’ Steve Holland
July 13, 2017: Christian Broadcasting Networks’ Pat Robertson
July 19, 2017: The New York Times’ Peter Baker, Michael Schmidt, and Maggie Haberman
July 25, 2017: The Wall Street Journal’s Gerard Baker, Peter Nicholas, and Michael Bender
September 28, 2017: Fox News’ Pete Hegseth
October 3, 2017: Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera
October 7, 2017: Trinity Broadcasting Network’s Mike Huckabee
October 11, 2017: Fox News’ Sean Hannity
October 17, 2017: SiriusXM’s David Webb
October 17, 2017: Fox News Radio’s Brian Kilmeade
October 22, 2017: Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo
October 25, 2017: Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs
November 2, 2017: Fox News’ Laura Ingraham
December 28, 2017: The New York Times’ Michael Schmidt
January 11, 2018: The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus, Michael Bender, Peter Nicholas and Louise Radnofsky
January 17, 2018: Reuters’ Steve Holland, Roberta Rampton, and Jeff Mason
January 26, 2018: CNBC’s Joe Kernen
January 28, 2018: ITV’s Piers Morgan
February 24, 2018: Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro
April 26, 2018: Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt, Brian Kilmeade, and Steve Doocy
A Media Matters study found that Facebook pages of some mainstream conservative media outlets, Republican media figures, and even apolitical clickbait sites are part of promotional campaigns involving websites with a history of promoting anti-Islam fake news and conspiracy theories.
Liftable Media owns three sites that have pushed anti-Islam pieces: Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal, both right-wing propaganda sites, and it’s inspiration content site Liftable.com. Media Matters tracked links from Facebook to one of the sites, Conservative Tribune, and found 74 pages posting URLs with codes indicating that the links were part of a promotional campaign seemingly coordinated with Liftable Media. They included pages for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Fox News contributor Herman Cain, former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, and conservative commentator Dick Morris, among others.
Fifteen of the pages that posted the links were verified with blue or gray badges, meaning Facebook has verified that the page is “the authentic Page or profile for this public figure, media company or brand” (blue) or that it is “an authentic Page for this business or organization” (gray).
Three of Liftable Media’s websites have spun anti-Islam conspiracy theories.
Liftable.com, which Liftable Media describes as a site for “uplifting and inspiring stories,” has posted articles vilifying Islam as a violent religion. One article on the site claimed that “Islam has been on a bloody rampage to conquer, convert or kill the world since 620 A.D.” Another said that the Quran “orders every follower to conduct their lives with violence and brutality, butchering all who refuse to convert and comply.”
Another Liftable Media site, The Western Journal, has attacked Muslim immigrants and Islam with articles labeled as “commentary.” The smears in these articles focus on “warning” readers that an influx of Muslim immigrants in the U.S. and Europe will lead to violent culture clashes and supporting bans against Muslim immigrants as a solution.
The third Liftable Media site, Conservative Tribune, has the most extensive history of spreading viral fake news against Muslims. A review of data from Crowdtangle shows that the site’s anti-Islam content has generated over 1.5 million Facebook impressions. The site has falsely claimed that Sharia was being implemented in Dearborn, MI, and it pushed similar fake news claiming that Muslims were attempting to establish a Sharia court in Irving, TX. Conservative Tribune also showed support for Irving residents who deployed intimidation tactics against Muslim residents, including people armed with AR-15s who protested outside a local mosque and released the names of Muslims living in the area.
For over a year, Conservative Tribune also pushed viral debunked conspiracy theories about Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old student from Irving who was arrested after bringing a clock to school. In multiple articles, Conservative Tribune suggested that Mohamed was a “pawn” in an orchestrated stunt that his father staged in order to make “fake” accusations of “Islamophobia.”
Conservative Tribune baselessly suggested that Mohamed was involved with terrorists. One article suggested a potential connection between Mohamed and a mosque he “grew up near” in Dallas, which Conservative Tribune claimed faced allegations of terrorist financing. Another implied it was suspicious that “innocent” Mohammed was invited to visit Qatar by “an organization with strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.” Yet another said: “If you’re a terrorist, what better role model than Ahmed ‘Bomb Clock Boy’ Mohamed?”
After Mohamed’s family filed a civil suit against the city and school district, Conservative Tribune attacked Mohamed for “stabb[ing] his school, his town and his country in the back.”
Recently, Conservative Tribune attacked Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, saying he “cozied up to [a] terror group” just because Israel hired a member of the civil rights advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Conservative Tribune has an extensive history of smearing CAIR and falsely claiming it is a terrorist group involved with Islamic indoctrination and efforts to impose Sharia.
Liftable Media is owned by Patrick Brown, whose father, Floyd Brown, founded WesternJournalism.com. Floyd Brown is a Republican consultant with a history of promoting racist conspiracy theories through political ads. According to Newsweek, Patrick runs Liftable Media’s four main websites, Conservative Tribune, The Western Journal (formerly known as Western Journalism), Liftable.com, and the sports news site The Wildcard, and Floyd, who is chairman of Liftable Media’s board of directors, helps provide funding for the company. Before starting Liftable Media in 2014, Patrick worked for an organization his faither chairs, The Western Center for Journalism (WCJ). Patrick is listed on WCJ’s site as a “trainer,” as are far-right figures James O’Keefe and Joseph Farah of WorldNetDaily.
Liftable Media has acquired various other hyperpartisan sites, including the now-inactive Tea Party News Network and USA Radio Networks (Floyd is the latter’s current CEO). Most recently, Liftable Media acquired Liberty Alliance, a media company that ran a membership network of conservative and fake news sites. In a press release on the acquisition, Liftable Media stated that Liberty Alliance would “expand Liftable Media’s reach by an additional 2 million Facebook followers.”
UTM codes are parameters that can be added to a URL in order to track web traffic from a specific source on Google Analytics without changing the destination of the URL. There are four types of parameters (source, medium, content, and campaign), and labels for each parameter are customizable and trackable by whoever is running a website domain. The tool is used by companies to track the source of traffic to a specific page on their site (Facebook, Twitter, email newsletters, et cetera).
A Media Matters study of Conservative Tribune’s Facebook traction between January 2018 and April 2018 found 74 pages posting links to conservativetribune.com that used UTM codes that included the name of the page or company behind it -- indicating someone was tracking the traffic from that page/company. Of the 74, seven pages had over 2 million page likes; 11 had between 1 and 2 million page likes; and an additional 12 had over 500,000 page likes. Thirty-eight of these pages seemed to be operated by Liftable Media, based on the UTM parameters used and the pages’ “About” sections. Many of the other 36 pages seemed to be separately operated by a combination of marketing companies, clickbait sites, and the personal pages of Republican figures including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Fox News contributor Herman Cain, former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, and conservative commentator Dick Morris.
These are the Facebook pages sharing Conservative Tribune links with UTM codes:
The Tea Party
The Western Journal
Right Wing News
Governor Jan Brewer
Family Research Council
Deep 6 The Deep State with Dick Morris
Faith Family America
Conservative 50 - Living the American Dream
Ted Cruz Is The Man
Right Alert Polls
Petitions to Congress
Polls to Congress
Latino News Today
Family First by Liftable
Ben Carson is the Man
Donald Trump is the Man
Stop Hillary Clinton
Rebirth of Freedom
The Conservative Update
The Jefferson Newsletter
No microsoft word, I didn't spell my last name wrong.
A REAL man doesn't love million girls He loves one girl in million ways
United States Constitution
Rep. Trey Gowdy for Speaker of the House
Vision to America
Obama Makes Me Puke
President Donald J Trump
Obama Is Officially The Worst President In American History
Home Defense Gun
Conservative Republicans of Texas
Rodney Lee Conover
Conservative World Daily
We Love President Donald Trump
Thirteen of the pages posting links with UTM codes are verified with blue badges, which Facebook says means the page is “the authentic Page or profile for this public figure, media company or brand.” All 13 verified pages used UTM parameters corresponding to the owner and/or name of the page (for example, Mike Huckabee’s pages included the parameter “mikehuckabee”). Using Crowdtangle data, Media Matters looked through all links posted by these blue-badge pages between January 1, 2018, and January 31, 2018, and counted the percentage of links posted that go to Liftable Media’s four main brands, Conservative Tribune, The Western Journal, Liftable.com, and The Wildcard. (We did not look at links from Facebook pages for Liftable Media’s brand sites -- The Western Journal, Conservative Tribune, and Liftable.com.)
Several of these blue-badge pages are affiliated with Republican media figures, including Brewer, Huckabee, and Cain. Both Liftable Media owner Patrick Brown and his father, Floyd, donated to Huckabee’s 2016 presidential bid. Floyd also donated to Herman Cain’s 2012 presidential PAC.
Some conservative organizations also appear to be part of Liftable Media’s promotional network. Family Research Council (FRC), which has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has previously, though infrequently, shared links to Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal with UTM codes specific to FRC. Ken Blackwell, a senior fellow at FRC, regularly shares Liftable Media links with UTM parameters specific to his name.
Another page, The Tea Party, seems to be run by Liftable Media and does not actually pertain to the tea party movement. This page, which links to westernjournal.com in its “About” section and to a liftablemedia.com email address, has over 3.2 million likes, significantly more than the actual “Tea Party” Facebook page.
Since January, Eagle Rising has stopped posting articles from Liftable Media brands. Gov. Brewer’s page stopped on February 28.
Liftable Media has 38 Facebook pages, and 16 of them post links with UTM codes to six non-Liftable Media websites: The Daily Wire, Faith Family America, Shared, American Military News, Little Things, and Providr. And the same non-Liftable Media pages that promote Conservative Tribune and other Liftable Media sites also promote at least 35 other websites, including the mainstream right-wing site The Blacksphere with Kevin Jackson; fake news sites American Military News, BizPac Review, Clash Daily with Doug Giles, and Daily-Vine (formerly known as Freedom Daily); Christian and inspirational websites including Faith It, Glad Wire, and Inspire More; and apolitical clickbait sites including Cooking Panda and Watch This.
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Brian Kilmeade: "It almost seems like the media is pushing the president to fire Rod Rosenstein, pushing the president to fire Robert Mueller, as if they are saying please, create a constitutional crisis”
On the April 11 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade said that “it almost seems like the media is pushing the president to fire [Deputy Attorney General] Rod Rosenstein, pushing the president to fire [special counsel] Robert Mueller, as if they are saying please, create a constitutional crisis.” Kilmeade added that “clearly the president feels ill-served, clearly the president feels boxed in, clearly he is irate” by the Mueller investigation about his campaign’s possible ties to Russia.
In his pearl-clutching moment, Kilmeade failed to acknowledge that Fox News figures -- including Kilmeade himself -- have helped lead the attacks on Mueller, Rosenstein, and the entire Russia investigation.
President Donald Trump is a devoted viewer of Fox News, especially its morning show Fox & Friends, and he often responds directly to the network’s programming. So, when Fox stars say the “illegitimate and corrupt” Russia investigation is “tortur[ing]” and “tearing this country apart,” while demanding that the Department of Justice be “cleansed” of Trump’s enemies, the president is listening closely.
Here are just a few of the times Fox News has attempted to undermine the Russia investigation, including by directly attacking Mueller or Rosenstein:
Kilmeade: “America’s being tortured by Robert Mueller’s worldwide mystery tour.”
Kilmeade: “The special counsels (sic) … are ripping this country apart. The Robert Mueller investigation is tearing this country apart.”
In August 2017, Kilmeade called for an end to the Mueller investigation: “Six months is enough.”
Host Sean Hannity: "Mueller and Rosenstein have declared what is a legal war on the president. … Mueller’s investigation is way out of control."
Guest Joe diGenova, formerly a candidate to be Trump’s personal attorney, on Lou Dobbs Tonight: “They should move to impeach” Rosenstein.
Host Jeanine Pirro: The FBI and DOJ need “to be cleansed of individuals who should not just be fired but who need to be taken out in handcuffs.”
.@JudgeJeanine: "There is a cleansing needed in our FBI and Department of Justice. It needs to be cleansed of individuals who should not just be fired but need to be taken out in handcuffs." pic.twitter.com/4FW95seHZc
— Fox News (@FoxNews) December 11, 2017
Hannity regular Gregg Jarrett: “The Mueller investigation is illegitimate and corrupt. … It’s like the old KGB that comes for you in the dark of the night.” Sean Hannity responded, “This is not hyperbole you are using here.”
These clips show only a fraction of the times that Fox News figures have denounced what Pete Hegseth called the “special impeachment counsel,” attacks that carry weight with Trump. Jarrett and Hannity (a friend of Trump’s who also advises him) called for Mueller to be fired at least 39 times in June 2017 -- the same month that Trump actually did attempt to fire Mueller. And between May and December, Hannity and his guests questioned Mueller's legitimacy at least 79 times and claimed he and his team have conflicts of interest over 364 times.
In addition to making specific attacks against officials involved in the investigation, Fox personalities actively support the conspiratorial mindset that “the deep state” is in the midst of “what essentially amounts to a coup d’etat” against Trump, and that “it may be time to declare war outright” against the government employees that Fox perceives as the president’s enemies.
Fox News’ Fox & Friends and its weekend edition, Fox & Friends Sunday, repeatedly attacked the March for Our Lives protests, which took place in Washington, D.C., and over 800 other locations worldwide. Fox hosts and guests claimed the marchers had a “lack of appreciation and understanding of the Second Amendment” and let their “emotion” serve as “a terrible substitute for truth.”
Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade: “It goes against logic” for survivors to want comprehensive gun control instead of somebody “shooting back for me.”
NRATV contributor Dan Bongino treated the protest as an attack against him personally. Bongino complained that the marchers ignored “viable, workable solutions” to school shootings in order to “take away firearms from people like me who didn't do a damn thing wrong. What did I do wrong?”
Fox News contributor Pete Hegseth donated to the NRA the day after the march. Hegseth further said of Martin Luther King, Jr's granddaughter, who spoke at the DC march: “Forgive me if I don’t want to watch a 9-year-old tell me that her dream is a world without guns. My world, I want a world without Islamists. I wish that was true too. It’s just not the case.”
Campus Reform media director Cabot Phillips chided the marchers for their “lack of appreciation and understanding of the Second Amendment.” Phillips also lectured the attendees about needing to be “ready for a debate” if they want to have opinions.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee told the marchers that “they’ve been used” and “emotion is a terrible substitute for truth.” Fox News’ Ed Henry added, “Truth over emotion -- we don’t hear that on a lot of other channels.”
Fox News chief national correspondent Ed Henry said student activist David Hogg claimed a clear backpack rule at his school “violates his First Amendment rights,” “ forgetting about our Second Amendment.”
Henry later complained that the marchers didn’t follow “the process” of seeking a constitutional amendment.
Pastor Robert Jeffress Jr.: “Only the gospel of Christ” can “deal with the root problem” and eradicate gun violence.
The inaccurate notion that abortion is an unsafe or “risky” medical procedure was put to rest this month, with the release of a new report from The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), The Safety and Quality of Abortion Care in the United States. But as usual, Fox News didn’t let facts stand in the way of a sensationalist segment attacking abortion as unsafe.
Following Supreme Court oral arguments in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra -- a case involving a California law attempting to regulate the deceptive practices of anti-abortion fake health clinics -- Fox News’ Shannon Bream hosted commentator and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. During the March 20 segment on Bream’s show Fox News @ Night, Bream and Huckabee took a rapid detour from the specifics of the California case to mislead audiences about the overall safety of abortion. According to Huckabee, abortion “has a detrimental effect on health of women, both physically and emotionally.” He continued:
And I try to say if, so many times, if there's two victims in every abortion, one is the baby and the other is that -- a birth mother who may have been talked into this by some provider because it's good business for them. Maybe by a boyfriend, a husband, a mother, a grandmother, or a good friend. But they're not telling them the full picture, either what this is doing to them physically or emotionally for the short as well as for the long term.
In reality, Huckabee’s assertions about the safety (and the alleged negative effects) of abortion could not be further from the truth. In the March 16 report, NASEM “assessed the quality of abortion care with respect to the six attributes of health care quality: safety, effectiveness, patient-centeredness, timeliness, efficiency, and equity” and found that “legal abortions—whether by medication, aspiration, D&E, or induction—are safe. Serious complications are rare and occur far less frequently than during childbirth.” According to an analysis of the report from Women’s Health magazine, researchers found:
- Ninety percent of all abortions take place in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
- The safety and quality of abortions is highest when they are performed as early in the pregnancy as possible.
- Complications from abortions are rare.
- There’s no reason why nurse practitioners and physicians assistants can’t perform abortions, given that they can do them as safely as doctors.
- Abortions have no long-term effects on a woman’s physical and mental health.
- Having an abortion does not increase a woman's risk for infertility or breast cancer.
Notably, NASEM also concluded that the restrictions passed by anti-choice lawmakers “create barriers to safe and effective care.” As the press release for the report stated, “These regulations may prohibit qualified providers from performing abortions, misinform women of the risks of the procedures they are considering, or require medically unnecessary services and delay care.”
Even without these harmful regulations, the economics of abortion access greatly disadvantage already marginalized communities. Salon’s Christina Cauterucci wrote in 2016, “Studies show that poor women take up to three weeks longer than other women to secure an abortion” partly because of the time necessary to gather the money for the procedure. She continued that “the further along the fetus, the more expensive her abortion will be and the more likely she is to experience health complications.” Financial and other barriers, such as the restriction on federal funding support for abortion care (thanks to the Hyde Amendment), ineffective mandatory waiting periods, forced ultrasounds, and more, put early access to abortion care out of reach for many.
Despite an ongoing effort by right-wing media and anti-abortion lawmakers alike to attack abortion as unsafe, NASEM’s comprehensive assessment underscores the realities that it is a safe medical procedure, and that attempts to regulate abortion in accordance with ideology has an undeniably harmful effect on patients.