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  • Fox’s Seth Rich conspiracy theorists: Where are they now?

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News didn't deliver on its promised Seth Rich coverage investigation, so Media Matters is doing it instead. This is the fourth in a series marking the two-year anniversary of Fox’s publication of a story -- retracted seven days later -- that promoted the conspiracy theory that the murdered Democratic National Committee staffer, and not the Russians, had provided the DNC emails to WikiLeaks. Read part one, part two, part three, part four, and our timeline of events.

    No one has been held accountable for Fox News’ promotion of conspiracy theories about murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.

    Thursday marked the two-year anniversary of Fox News’ publication of a dubiously thin, hastily edited article pushing the debunked claim that Rich had provided DNC emails to WikiLeaks. After the story crashed and burned, Fox retracted it and promised to investigate what happened.

    With no explanation forthcoming and no punishments announced two months after the story’s retraction, some Fox staffers voiced their displeasure to CNN’s Oliver Darcy. One Fox staffer told CNN that “people need to start getting canned” over the story.

    But another senior Fox News employee quoted in the story was more resigned about the situation, arguing that the lack of transparency and accountability was unsurprising for the network: “No one ever gets fired from Fox for publishing a story that isn't true.”

    The more cynical Fox staffer was correct.

    Two years later, no one involved in producing or pushing the retracted Rich story has been publicly disciplined, and several have actually been promoted.

    It’s clear, as the anonymous senior Fox employee indicated, that the network has no interest in journalistic integrity or employee accountability. The purported “investigation” was a scam intended to make it look like Fox was taking its responsibilities seriously until the anger over its actions dissipated.

    Here is what has become of the network’s conspiracy theorists:

    Malia Zimmerman is the investigative reporter who wrote the original FoxNews.com story that the network later retracted. She still apparently works at the network but has not published a new story since August 2017, soon after she and the network were sued over the story.

    Greg Wilson, then deputy managing editor of FoxNews.com, reportedly edited Zimmerman’s story, rushing to publish it in spite of its flaws because a rival story on the subject was going viral. One month after the story’s publication, Fox promoted him to managing editor of FoxNews.com.

    Sean Hannity, one of the network’s star prime-time hosts, championed the Rich conspiracy theory on Fox long after the story had collapsed. Some Fox employees told The Daily Beast they were embarrassed by his antics and network executives reportedly directed him to stop talking about Seth Rich after he lost advertisers and jeopardized a major acquisition deal in the U.K. But he has retained his show, which moved to the more coveted 9 p.m. timeslot later that year, continued to show disregard for anything resembling journalistic ethics and pushed conspiracy theories about how WikiLeaks obtained the DNC emails as recently as this April.

    Porter Berry, the executive producer of Hannity’s Fox show at the time, was the recipient of a letter from Rich’s brother Aaron who urged him to find “decency and kindness” and stop promoting the conspiracy theories. In August 2018, Fox promoted him to vice president and editor-in-chief of Fox News Digital, a role in which he oversees all of the network’s digital content, including FoxNews.com, FoxBusiness.com, and the Fox News apps.

    Laura Ingraham, then a Fox contributor, suggested on-air that the Rich family was covering up his death for partisan gain. In September 2017, Fox announced that she would host her own prime-time show for the network.

    Newt Gingrich, a Fox contributor, claimed on-air that Rich had been “assassinated” for giving WikiLeaks DNC emails. He has repeatedly refused to retract his despicable comments. He still has his Fox platform.

    Fox correspondent Griff Jenkins, the hosts of Fox & Friends and Fox & Friends First, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano were among the on-air network personalities who pushed the conspiracy theories. None appear to have been disciplined in any way.

  • Conservative outrage over Obama and Clinton “Easter worshippers” tweets is just the latest phony right-wing controversy

    It’s more important than ever to recognize bad-faith arguments on social media

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On Sunday morning, terrorists carried out a coordinated attack on churches, hotels, and other populated sites across Sri Lanka, killing nearly 300 people. Sri Lankan officials believe the attack was carried out by a radical Islamist group called the National Thowheeth Jama’ath, and police arrested 24 people in connection.

    Messages of sympathy rolled in as people around the world mourned this tragic event. But tweets from former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent right-wing journalists and commentators into a rage spiral.

    Conservatives took issue with Obama and Clinton saying “Easter worshippers” instead of “Christians.” Naturally, outrage ensued.

    Townhall’s Cortney O’Brien claimed that Clinton “ma[de] up a new term” (she didn’t). Breitbart’s Joel Pollak reminded readers that Obama “drew criticism for his reluctance to identify radical Islam as the source of many terror attacks.” At The Washington Times, Cheryl K. Chumley called the tweets “a political ploy designed to tamp down realities of radical Islamic terror targeting of Christians and Christianity,” adding, “This is how Muslim apologists roll.”

    There’s nothing wrong with saying “Easter worshippers” to refer to people attending an Easter worship service, and neither Obama nor Clinton coined the term.

    Right-wing commentator Erick Erickson, of all people, had one of the more reasonable conservative takes on the outrage. In a piece titled “‘Easter Worshippers’ Is Fine,” he wrote:

    A lot of people, including a few of the politicians who tweeted, only show up to church on Easter Sunday. And while the phrase “Easter worshipper” is not common, it is also not unheard of. Ironically, had Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama not tweeted to express concern for the dead and condemn the attacks, a great many of the people outraged now would have been outraged by their silence.

    This is a silly controversy. Conservatives exhaust themselves pointing out how frequently progressives get outraged over minor things on social media and now are doing it themselves. The only people who care already noticed and do not need others to scream about it. It makes conservative complaints about social justice warrior insanity seem cheap.

    Adding to the “silly controversy” is the fact that only a few people who were outraged over the tweets from Obama and Clinton seemed particularly upset that President Donald Trump’s tweet in reaction to the bombings referred to the victims simply as “people” and mistakenly claimed that there were 138 million deaths.

    In fact, even the official statement from White House press secretary Sarah Sanders also failed to mention Christians.

    The United States condemns in the strongest terms the outrageous terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka that have claimed so many precious lives on this Easter Sunday. Our heartfelt condolences go out to the families of the more than 200 killed and hundreds of others wounded. We stand with the Sri Lankan government and people as they bring to justice the perpetrators of these despicable and senseless acts.

    “Worshippers” is a fairly commonplace term to refer to people attending a worship service. While The Washington Times may see use of this term as “a political calculation” in 2019, it was fine using it when referring to an attack in 2014. (The article link in the Times' 2014 tweet no longer works.) 

    Some conservatives also pointed out that both Obama and Clinton referred to Muslims specifically when tweeting about the New Zealand mosque attacks, and several people on Twitter wondered why terms like “Ramadan worshippers” weren’t used then, but the answer is simple: The New Zealand attacks didn’t happen during a Ramadan service.

    Contrary to the below tweet, the phrase “Ramadan worshippers” is sometimes used, especially regarding terrorist attacks on Muslims.

    For instance:

    The outrage isn’t really about the attacks at all, though.

    Three of the bombings happened at churches holding Easter services, and four others occurred at hotels throughout the city of Colombo. Additionally, one suicide bomber detonated during police questioning, and a pipe bomb was found and defused near the Bandaranaike International Airport in Negombo. While the attacks certainly targeted Christians, they were almost certainly not the only victims in this act of terrorism, as the country’s population is overwhelmingly Buddhist.

    Over the years, conservative media have gotten extremely good at coordination, and the emergence of a social media-dominated news apparatus has allowed that skill to shine through. It’s commonplace to see something posted on social media get amplified in the conservative echo chamber and become big news in a matter of days if not hours. This is what happened when conservative media coalesced around the idea that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) was downplaying the tragedy of the 9/11 attacks, when they clutched pearls over Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) discussing the long-term sustainability of U.S. meat consumption, or countless other examples.

    The credulity with which mainstream news organizations take these claims of outrage only embolden the people making them, checking an important box in the conservative media ecosystem: their status as a persecuted minority unfairly picked on by politicians and a “liberal” media. Right-wing commentators have recently learned that by claiming that the Mueller report exonerates Trump (it does not), they can shape a reality in which people will perceive it actually does. Similarly, they know that if they repeat the claim that Obama and Clinton were showing their anti-Christian bonafides by saying “Easter worshippers,” they can build a conventional wisdom in which that is true.

    The answer, clearly, is to stop taking such people seriously by calling out their phony outrage where it exists and not letting them shape reality through repetitive propaganda.

  • The Mueller probe is over. Now Fox News wants retaliatory investigations.

    In one day, Fox News aired 26 segments calling for investigations into those involved in the Mueller report and Trump's perceived enemies 

    Blog ››› ››› LIS POWER & ROB SAVILLO


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The day after Attorney General William Barr released his summary letter on the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, nearly half of Fox News’ segments on the Mueller probe mentioned the idea of future investigations into those involved in the probe -- as well as Trump’s perceived enemies.

    As the Mueller inquiry concluded, Fox News figures and others on the right began to ramp up calls for new or reopened investigations into Hillary Clinton, the FBI, and the Russia probe itself. President Donald Trump and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), both pushed the idea of investigating the investigators on March 25, with Trump saying that some people involved in the probe “will certainly be looked at” and Graham promising to “try to find out” whether investigators’ actions were nefarious.

    Fox News aired 118 segments about the Mueller probe that day, and 58 of them -- 49 percent -- mentioned the possibility of future investigations against those involved in the probe or perceived to be against Trump; 26 of those segments featured someone specifically endorsing additional investigations.

    Anchors, hosts, and guests repeatedly discussed the possibility of investigating a whole slew of people who worked in the Obama administration. The list of people and organizations who Fox figures and guests felt should be targeted for investigation included Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, the FBI, the Department of Justice, former FBI Director James Comey, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, DOJ official Bruce Ohr, former FBI agent Peter Strzok, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, former CIA Director John Brennan, former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, Fusion GPS, the Clinton Foundation, former national security adviser Susan Rice, former Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and more.

    Statements noting Republicans’ desires to investigate the origins of the Mueller probe were common refrains on Fox News, with Fox & Friends’ Steve Doocy asking viewers, “Is it time to investigate the investigators?” On Fox & Friends First, co-host Heather Childers asked, “Should the Obama administration, should Hillary Clinton now both be investigated?” Her guest, attorney Jenna Ellis, responded, “Absolutely.” On Fox & Friends, Fox contributor Mike Huckabee claimed there was an “attempted coup d’etat” while demanding that Republicans “counterpunch hard” by investigating the Justice Department and FBI.

    When Graham held a press conference to talk about future investigations, Fox News aired 20 minutes of it. Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum drilled her guest, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), on whether he’d support investigating “the origins of this investigation. What President Obama knew, what Loretta Lynch knew, what James Comey knew, what John Brennan knew.” Sean Hannity’s entire show basically revolved around discussing future investigations and the idea of a “day of reckoning” for Clinton and everyone else in the Obama administration.

    After years of complaining about what they saw as an unjust investigation into Trump, Fox News personalities are now, in their own words, counterpunching, and pushing for a multitude of “tit for tat” investigations -- something that even one Fox guest called “ridiculous.”

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the Snapstream video database for Fox News Channel transcripts dated March 25, 2019, containing any variation of the term “investigate” on its own or any variation of “investigate” within close proximity of any of the following terms: “Brennan,” “Clapper,” “Schiff,” “Swalwell,” “Steele,” “Rice,” “Page,” “Strzok,” “McCabe,” “Clinton,” “Comey,” “Mueller,” “special counsel,” or any variation of “investigate.”

    We defined as segments discussions in which special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference with the 2016 U.S. presidential election and related matters was the stated topic of discussion or in which at least two speakers in a multi-topic discussion discussed Mueller’s report with one another.

    We then coded each segment for whether 1) anyone mentioned the possibility that Mueller, others involved in Mueller’s investigation, or those perceived to be against Trump could also be investigated; or 2) anyone explicitly endorsed investigations of Mueller, others involved in Mueller’s investigation, or those perceived to be against Trump.

  • Sexist right-wing smear against Kamala Harris moves from the fever swamps to Fox

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox’s Tomi Lahren embraced and amplified a sexist smear against Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) by accusing her of “using an extramarital affair to boost her political career.” The misogynistic smear has been gaining traction among anonymous message board users and right-wing influencers on Twitter.

    Lahren devoted the January 29 edition of her show Final Thoughts on Fox Nation to alleging that all of Harris’ professional accomplishments by claiming they were due to a past relationship, and calling the Democrats who support the #MeToo movement hypocritical. Newt Gingrich had made a similar allusion just the day before on Fox & Friends.

    As when Lahren spread a 4chan smear about Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), this misogynist smear about Harris was ripped from right-wing digital influencers and anonymous accounts in the fever swamps of the internet.

    The sexist narrative started gaining traction in Reddit’s “r/The_Donald” subreddit (a forum devoted to President Donald Trump) closely following Harris’ announcement of her intention to run for president. Reacting to Harris’ announcement, users of the subreddit upvoted misogynistic memes and awful smears of a sexual nature (screenshots may not be safe for work).

    In a January 26 San Francisco Chronicle column, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown addressed the press’s interest in his relationship with Harris. Brown stated that they had dated more than 20 years ago and that he had appointed her to political posts. Brown also wrote that Harris was the only one among “a host of other politicians” he had helped who “sent word” later that she would indict him if he “so much as jaywalked” while she was in office. Fox News spun Brown’s column in a sensationalistic article that amassed over 99,000 total interactions on Facebook; it then went viral on Reddit and inspired racist slur-laden posts on the anonymous message board 4chan.

    On the same day, popular right-wing Facebook pages also spread the narrative with click-bait headlines and misogynistic memes, and right-wing amplifiers picked up on the narrative.

    The Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft accused Harris of launching “her political career in bedroom.” On his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh compared Harris to an adult entertainer. A host for conspiracy theory outlet Infowars went on a rant filled with demeaning accusations sexualizing Harris, saying she “basically sucked and ducked her way to the top.” (This show still livestreams on Facebook despite the platform’s supposed commitment to combating hateful speech from Infowars.)

    On Twitter, far-right users including  YouTube conspiracy theorist Mark Dice and actor James Woods joined the attack against Harris while pushing misogynistic hashtags. Woods, particularly, has been a major driving force in pushing the offensive #HorizontalHarris hashtag, which right-wing crank Dinesh D’Souza has also amplified.

    The barrage of crude memes attacking Harris is a clear reminder of the misogynistic double standard that applies to women who run for president. 

    Alex Kaplan contributed research to this piece.

  • Fox News loves the idea of Howard Schultz running for president

    Hoping that “he splits the leftist vote in the Democrats and puts Donald Trump back in for a second term,” Fox News is ready for the Howard Schultz candidacy

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    After former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced that he was considering a run for president, hosts and guests on Fox News and its sister network Fox Business have not been shy about voicing their bad faith support for his potential 2020 campaign. While Fox News and Fox Business personalities are excited about Schultz’s “realistic” opposition to Medicare for All, their clear hope is that his candidacy will “help our president tremendously in becoming re-elected.” 

  • Fox & Friends downplays bombshell report that Donald Trump instructed his lawyer to lie to Congress about business dealings in Moscow

    Blog ››› ››› COURTNEY HAGLE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A January 17 BuzzFeed News report revealed bombshell allegations that “President Donald Trump directed his former longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.” Trump’s favorite morning show, Fox & Friends, downplayed the report despite the serious and potentially impeachable nature of these allegations.

    Two federal law enforcement officials familiar with the matter told BuzzFeed News that Trump supported a plan for him to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to negotiate the Moscow tower deal during the 2016 presidential campaign. The sources also said that Cohen has told special counsel Robert Mueller that Trump personally instructed him after the elections to lie about the timeline of the negotiations “in order to obscure Trump’s involvement.” Since 2016, Trump has repeatedly asserted to the public that he had no knowledge of any business dealings with Russia. But, according to BuzzFeed News, “Trump and his children Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they put in charge of the project.” In November, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the details of the Moscow deal.

    Despite these serious allegations, Fox & Friends barely covered the report, dedicating just three headlines, which together totaled 73 seconds, and one interview segment to the report. The brief headline reports were centered on Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s current lawyer, denying the allegations. During the interview segment, Fox contributor Newt Gingrich vehemently pushed back on the allegations, calling the report “an absurdity” and “a hypothetical.” Gingrich also tried to discredit BuzzFeed News, saying that BuzzFeed is “the equivalent of those tabloids you buy at the grocery stores … that introduce you to Martians” and that “to take BuzzFeed seriously is a sign of how desperate we are for news.” Gingrich also said Cohen was “wildly delusional” and that he was “trying to please the investigators [because] he was desperately trying to avoid jail.”

    This is not the first time Fox & Friends has ignored or downplayed reports that are negative for Trump. In addition to downplaying the BuzzFeed News report, the show has also almost entirely ignored Giuliani’s bombshell CNN interview on January 16 in which he refused to say whether or not there had been collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

  • Fox News figures downplay the effects of the government shutdown

    ››› ››› COURTNEY HAGLE

    Fox News figures spent much of last month urging President Donald Trump to shut down the government unless Congress agreed to fund his $5 billion demand for a border wall. But now that the shutdown drags into the new year, Fox personalities are insisting that it is “not really a shutdown” and claiming that “a lot of people across the country don’t even notice” it is happening. But in reality, millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of federal employees are feeling the impacts.

  • Fox & Friends barely covers Michael Flynn’s first sentencing hearing

    Flynn’s admission that he was not entrapped by FBI investigators annihilated a popular right-wing talking point

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters
     

    U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan tore into President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn in a Washington, D.C., courtroom on December 18 and all but destroyed nearly a week’s worth of right-wing talking points in the process, but viewers wouldn’t know it from watching Fox & Friends. According to a Media Matters review of the December 19 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox News’ flagship morning program only briefly mentioned Flynn’s sentencing hearing to attack the judge in the case during three hours of programming.

    A popular right-wing talking point pushed extensively on Fox News has argued that Flynn was entrapped by the FBI when they questioned him in January 2017, and that the actions for which he was in legal trouble were minor and overblown. But according to a CNN report on the sentencing hearing, “the judge threw a series of questions at him that highlighted how unusual Flynn's case is and how consequential his actions may be.” Later in the hearing, according to ABC News, Sullivan asked “if Flynn believed he had been entrapped by the FBI,” but “his attorneys replied ‘no your honor.’” Though Sullivan eventually decided to postpone the sentencing hearing, he did so only after shredding Flynn’s defense and mulling the prospect of ignoring the prosecution’s sentencing suggestion that Flynn receive no jail time as a result of his cooperation.

    A Media Matters review found Fox & Friends covered Flynn’s devastating first sentencing hearing, which thoroughly debunked their main talking point, for less than five minutes in its three hour program. Aside from a brief mention of the sentencing hearing during an interview with counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s favorite morning propaganda program only discussed Flynn in one segment with Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich; in each discussion, which lasted a combined 4 minutes and 35 seconds, the hosts and guests used their platform to downplay the severity of Flynn’s guilty pleas and to attack Sullivan -- the same judge that Trump’s propagandists praised just days earlier. Most of the discussion focused on attacking the judge, saying Sullivan went “off the deep end” and accusing him of “winging it.”

    Fox & Friends has dutifully played its public relations role for the Trump White House for nearly two years, and it continues fighting that losing battle even in the face of Flynn’s sentencing hearing -- just like it has with nearly every other damning report about the conduct of the Trump campaign, transition, and administration.