Newt Gingrich

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  • How the murder of a DNC staffer turned into a right-wing conspiracy

    The story goes through nearly everyone in right-wing media: Sean Hannity, Roger Stone, Louise Mensch, Megyn Kelly, Jim Hoft, Julian Assange, and more

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    It started with a late night walk on July 10, 2016. Seth Rich was talking with his girlfriend while walking through the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington, D.C., when there was some sort of altercation. Rich was shot multiple times and died shortly thereafter.

    Nearly a year later, his death has become a cause célèbre among right-wing media and the fringiest elements of pro-Trump media, simply because he worked as a staffer for the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

    The conspiracy theories started immediately. The day after Rich was killed, a Twitter user connected the murder with a lawsuit filed by Bernie Sanders supporters against the DNC. (This lawsuit would later be the subject of right-wing conspiracy theories after the death of a process server that the coroner would later conclude was caused by accidental polypharmacy, or a combination of drugs.)

    The first right-wing version of the conspiracy theory was about confirming right-wing allegations against the Clinton Foundation. On July 13, conspiracy theory website WhatDoesItMean.com (previously cited by pro-Trump media) ran a piece, sourced to the Kremlin, claiming that Rich thought he was on his way to meet with the FBI about the Clinton Foundation when a “hit team” put in place by the Clintons killed him. The article also linked the conspiracy theory with two Russian diplomats who were expelled by the United States two days before Rich’s murder, and it concluded by claiming the hit team was captured on July 12 in Washington, D.C. The actual police events of July 12 had nothing to do with any of this. On July 14, Snopes debunked this conspiracy theory.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On July 22, WikiLeaks released 20,000 emails that had been stolen from the DNC, and Redditors immediately started guessing that Rich was the source of those emails. Heat Street, a News Corp. publication then run by Louise Mensch, ran a roundup of these rumors. In the post, Heat Street simply went through the “r/The_Donald” subreddit, listing different conspiracy theories that users had come up with, even comparing one theory to the work of mathematician John Nash and the movie A Beautiful Mind. Heat Street had also mentioned the FBI rumor in the bottom of a previous post about Rich’s murder, noting that there was no evidence to substantiate it.

    The one entity that did claim to be the WikiLeaks source was Guccifer 2.0. As The New York Times explained on July 27, while American intelligence services believed Guccifer 2.0 to be a front for Russian spies, the hacker claimed to be Romanian. In the report, the Times detailed evidence linking the emails to Russia, including “metadata hidden in the early documents indicating that they were edited on a computer with Russian language settings.”


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Notorious dirty trickster Roger Stone, a contributor to Alex Jones' conspiracy theory website Infowars, and WikiLeaks began pushing the conspiracy theory in earnest in August. In an August 8 tweet, Stone included Rich in a group of four murdered people for whom he blamed the Clintons, referencing the FBI version of the conspiracy theory. A day later, WikiLeaks announced that it was offering $20,000 for information, and founder Julian Assange himself brought up Rich unprompted on a Dutch TV program, implying that Rich was a source. The host was taken aback by Assange’s suggestion and tried to push him on what he was implying, but Assange did not clarify his remark:

    Pro-Trump media jumped on the interview. Mike Cernovich immediately promoted the interview while stating point-blank that Rich was the source -- something that even Assange never said. On August 10, Hannity discussed the interview on his radio show, saying that it wasn’t the Russians who gave WikiLeaks the information. Later in the show, he discussed the matter with Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft and Townhall’s Rachel Alexander. Hoft was befuddled as to why the Rich family would not want the matter politicized, saying that it could only increase the information about the murder.

    Also on August 10, Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson published a video about Assange’s implication, expressing concern that Assange could be assassinated:

    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also jumped on Assange’s interview on the same day, telling Mike Gallagher on August 10 that the conspiracy theory was “worth talking about.”

    WikiLeaks also issued a similarly vague statement on August 10.

    On August 11, WikiLeaks started sowing distrust in Rich’s family when it tweeted that the family’s spokesperson was a “professional Democrat” -- even though the same could be said for Rich himself.

    In the days that followed, Infowars ramped up its coverage. Watson cited a “source close to the Democratic party” who said his reporting was “on the money.” Infowars dutifully picked up Gingrich’s interview and used it to confirm its own assertions. The conspiracy theory site was particularly incensed that the Rich family would hire a spokesperson to quash conspiracy theories. And it went on to publish multiple pieces about Rich that included accounts of WikiLeaks’ assertions and implications about Rich.

    Assange would resurface and again hint that Rich was his source on the August 25 edition of The Kelly File, again declaring his interest in the case without actually saying anything about Rich himself. While Laura Ingraham and some others ran with what Assange said to Kelly File host Megyn Kelly, Fox host Greg Gutfeld hit Assange for pushing the conspiracy theory -- to the distaste of fellow Fox host Eric Bolling:

    The conspiracy theory machine would turn away from Rich for most of September and October, though during this time Hannity frequently talked with Assange on his radio show, eager for new leaks that could be damaging to Clinton. In September, Rich’s girlfriend and his family spoke with Chris Hansen of Crime Watch Daily about the case, condemning the claims. GOP lobbyist Jack Burkman also began working with the Rich family at this time, offering more than $100,000 in rewards for information. Burkman would later say that he could “rule out attempted robbery” based on his canvassing of the neighborhood.

    On October 7, The Daily Beast reported that “Russia’s senior-most officials” ordered the DNC hack. On November 2, fake news purveyor DC Gazette published a post saying that WikiLeaks’ source was neither Russia nor Seth Rich, but instead dissatisfied government staffers. On December 9, The Washington Post reported on a CIA assessment that Russia was behind leaks targetting the DNC, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.

    This Post story would touch off a new round of conspiracy theories about Rich, and once again they began with Louise Mensch’s Heat Street. On December 14, the site aggregated comments on Twitter saying that it was Seth Rich and not Russia that provided WikiLeaks with the emails. The piece offered no theory as to how Rich could have gotten access to DCCC or Podesta emails; indeed, it’s unclear from the story if the author even understood that there were multiple hacks, even though Mensch herself turned up in the hacked Podesta emails (which the piece did not disclose). Weeks after this post, it was announced that Mensch had left Heat Street in “mid-December.” There is no indication if Mensch was still at Heat Street when this post was published.

    On December 15, Craig Murray, a “close associate” of Julian Assange, told the Daily Mail that he was a middleman for the leaks and that the handoff took place in D.C. in September. People immediately began tying Rich to Murray, even though Murray’s supposed handoff date (of which there was no evidence) took place months after Rich was murdered.

    Later that day on the radio, Hannity would cite Murray’s account as evidence that Russians were not behind the hacking. Later in the program, Hannity brought up Fox contributor John Bolton’s conspiracy theory from December 12 that if something looked like it was the Russians hacking, it might actually be a false flag in which someone made it look like it was the Russians. Assange agreed with the theory on Hannity’s show: 

    Hannity also called Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) an “idiot” for saying that Russians were involved in hacking:

    Weeks later, on January 3, Hannity returned to Rich, again saying that Rich may have been the source for Wikileaks:

    On January 6, U.S. officials released a report saying that Russians were behind the hacking. Suddenly, Hannity admitted that Russians have been hacking Americans for years:

    On January 12, Guccifer 2.0 denied the report that Russia was behind the hacking.

    Once again, the conspiracy mill died down, with occasional posts on 4chan and Reddit keeping the conspiracy theory alive.

    On February 27, Jack Burkman, the GOP lobbyist who at one point was allied with the Rich family, told the Daily Mail that he had evidence that the Russians killed Rich because Rich had evidence that they were the ones behind the hacking. Burkman’s only source was a “former U.S. intelligence officer” -- “an older man, 65-70 years old, who claims to have been a contractor in Iraq in the 1970s.” None of Rich’s friends or family members have given any indication that Rich had such an explosive secret.

    In mid-March, Stone admitted contact with Guccifer 2.0, but he claimed it was innocuous.

    On March 23, Burkman talked to Sinclair station WJLA in Washington, D.C., about launching a new investigation. Claiming that the investigation would be launched out of “the Seth Rich Center for Investigations” in Arlington, VA, Burkman now claimed to have a team including “a forensic physiologist, a security specialist and George Washington grad students.” But the piece also noted that the Rich family had no part in this effort.

    On April 8, a new conspiracy theory emerged alleging that Guccifer 2.0 was the middleman between RIch and WikiLeaks. Model Robbin Young published screenshots on her website of a purported direct message conversation she had with Guccifer 2.0 from August 25. In it, Guccifer 2.0 claimed that the DNC leak came from someone named “Seth” and responded affirmatively when Young talked about Rich’s murder. WikiLeaks, the subreddit “r/The Donald,” Gateway Pundit, Heat Street, and others immediately ran with the claim.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The conspiracy theory came to its most public stage on May 15. That was a week after Obama intelligence chief James Clapper and former acting attorney general Sally Yates testified before the Senate partially on issues relating to Russian hacking, days after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey as a result of the Russian investigation, and hours after The Washington Post reported that Trump gave highly classified information to Russian diplomats in the Oval Office that compromised a valuable intelligence source.

    On that day, Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler told Fox 5 DC, a station owned and operated by Fox News’ parent company, that he had evidence that Rich was in contact with WikiLeaks.

    Sean Hannity pushed the story on his Twitter account shortly after midnight, including by quote-tweeting a vague allegedly hacked email of Podesta’s:

    After retweeting a video of the Fox 5 segment, Hannity affirmatively quote-tweeted someone claiming that Assange had previously said that Rich was his source (which, again, Assange had never actually said).

    The story exploded as conservatives latched onto a tale that ostensibly showed that the focus on Russia was misplaced. Drudge put the story on the top of the site. The subreddit “r/The Donald” went crazy. Pro-Trump media pushed the story hard. Fox News joined in on Tuesday morning. By 10 a.m., Hannity was lashing out at CNN's Oliver Darcy for noticing the trend.

    Hannity then quote-tweeted Robbin Young, whose story about Seth Rich was different from the one Wheeler was pushing and that Hannity was touting. (Guccifer 2.0 claimed that they served as the middleman between Rich and Wikileaks; Assange had implied and Wheeler had stated that Rich was in touch with WikiLeaks directly.) At no point then or later did Hannity ever seem to notice the discrepancy.

    At one point, Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson even claimed that the Washington Post story about Trump giving highly classified information to the Russians was a hoax intended to cover up the Rich story -- a claim based on Watson completely misreading time stamps on the stories (the Post’s went up before the Fox 5 piece did).

    But soon, the Rich story fell completely apart. The Fox station admitted on May 16 that D.C. police said that Wheeler’s claim was false. Wheeler’s contact with the Rich family turned out to be frequent Fox News guest and Breitbart author Ed Butowsky. Wheeler himself admitted to CNN that he actually had no evidence. Wheeler instead claimed that his comments were reflective of the FoxNews.com piece that ran. Fox News’ piece, by Malia Zimmerman, cited Wheeler as the source of the claim.

    And yet, the transparent bullshit was still enough for pro-Trump media. On May 16, echoing Benghazi conspiracy theories, Gateway Pundit claimed there was a “stand down” order given to police regarding the Rich investigation. An “alt-right” troll asked Trump himself about Rich in the White House, getting no response. Anonymous posts on 4chan linked Rich to Pizzagate, Antonin Scalia’s death, Michael Hastings’ death, and even Media Matters. An anonymous post on 8chan even suggested that Rich was illegally surveilled and then improperly unmasked by former national security adviser Susan Rice.

    Lou Dobbs on Fox Business picked up the line of attack on Rich’s family that had previously begun with WikiLeaks and Infowars, saying there was “a partisan shroud” on Rich’s family:

    Later on May 16, Hannity even declared that Rich’s murder “could become one of the biggest scandals in American history”:

    Later in the show, Hannity talked with American Center for Law and Justice’s Jay Sekulow and former Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie, focusing on the media being wrong about Russia. Hannity continually brought Rich into the conversation:

    Hannity then had Wheeler himself on the show. Wheeler continued pushing the conspiracy theory, even while admitting that he never had seen the evidence.

    The next day, even more claims collapsed. Newsweek reported that the FBI is not investigating Rich’s death, contra Wheeler’s claims, and a family spokesperson confirmed that D.C. police found no evidence of stolen emails ever being on Rich’s laptop. Fox 5 added an editor’s note that Wheeler had backtracked from claims that he made, but it did not retract the story. The story was in shambles. The Rich family demanded full retractions from Fox 5 and Fox News.

    Still, conservative media persisted.

    On May 18, after Mediaite published a post highlighting people mocking Hannity, Hannity again tweeted his belief in the conspiracy.

    Hannity then discussed the case at length on his show, re-airing Assange’s Dutch TV interview and previous radio interviews.

    On May 19, the Rich family sent a cease-and-desist letter to Rod Wheeler.

    The Russian Embassy in the U.K. trolled everyone when it stated as a fact that Rich was WikiLeaks’ source. Meanwhile, Infowars claimed that The Washington Post was reporting on the Comey memos only as a distraction from the Rich story.

    May 19 is also when Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom inserted himself into the story. Dotcom alleged that he had bombshell information on the case. As Dotcom, who lives in New Zealand, is fighting extradition to the United States to avoid trial for charges including conspiracy to commit racketeering, nearly everyone on the planet saw through the ruse, save for Sean Hannity.

    Hannity brought up the conspiracy theory again that night on his show with Jay Sekulow, apparently just for the purpose of saying that it is important because if true, it would clear Russia entirely.

    Over the weekend, it got even stranger.

    Stone escalated attacks on Rich’s parents, claiming on his radio show Stone Cold Truth they were engaging in “suspicious” behavior.

    Stone also told obvious lies. For instance, he claimed that Craig Murray said Rich was his source. First, Murray did not mention Rich in his comments about serving as a middleman for the emails. Second, Murray said he met his source in September, months after Rich had already been murdered. Third, nothing about what Murray actually did say is credible in the least -- there’s no evidence and nothing has been corroborated. There were other factual errors as well, though “Roger Stone says something factually incorrect” is the rule, not the exception.

    “Dumbest man on the internet” Jim Hoft jumped head-first into the Dotcom conspiracy, even one-upping Hannity by picking up an anonymous 4chan poster whose only claim to knowledge is “I work in D.C.” The post claimed there’s a “panic” in D.C. over the Rich conspiracy theory that right-wing media had been pressing.

    The following day, Hannity would echo this post:

    Hannity even admitted that it was about the Russia story:

    Also on Sunday, Newt Gingrich joined Fox & Friends Sunday and stated outright that Rich was WikiLeaks’ source for DNC emails, even though he had avoided that conclusion in August. Pro-Trump media jumped to promote the interview.

    Another Gateway Pundit post took a video that the Rich family did thanking donors to a GoFundMe campaign and stated that it was actually done to thank conservative media for pushing the conspiracy.

    Elsewhere, self-described “rogue journalist” Caitlin Johnstone said that someone had edited Rich’s Reddit posts. Soon after, she added a “retraction” note to the post following a statement from the Pandas For Bernie Facebook group.

    Early on May 22, Assange was still playing coy about Rich and WikiLeaks

    But by this point, the story was getting attention in the mainstream media -- but only as a conspiracy theory run amok in right-wing media. As Hannity’s conspiracy-mongering had drawn attention, he became a focal point of criticism. The Daily Beast ran a story about Fox News personalities embarrassed by Hannity’s actions.

    Hannity was undeterred:

    On his radio show, Hannity said that he was right about Rich because he had been right about Trayvon Martin, the black teenager shot and killed while walking through a Florida neighborhood:

    (He wasn’t right about Trayvon Martin, by the way.)

    Geraldo Rivera, a perpetual gadfly when it comes to pushing terrible things, also jumped on the conspiracy.

    Elsewhere, the subreddit “r/The Donald” announced plans for a march on D.C. about Rich’s death on its anniversary, claiming 1.1 million people could show up.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On May 23, everything came to a head. Rich’s brother personally asked Hannity to stop pushing the conspiracy theories. Shortly thereafter, Fox News retracted its story about Rich, the one that Rod Wheeler originally cited as the basis for his story. A statement from Fox News said that the story did not meet the site’s editorial standards.

    And yet after all of this, Hannity continued to push the story on his radio show.

    On Twitter, Hannity ecstatically promoted Kim Dotcom’s “revelation,” which was a big nothingburger.

    The Rich family then published an op-ed in The Washington Post begging commentators to stop pushing conspiracy theories about their son.

    Hannity then tweeted about the op-ed as if it wasn’t just about him

    Shortly before his television show, Hannity tweeted that he still stood behind everything he had said on the topic, but also that he just was on a call with three of his attorneys:

    On his show, Hannity said that he was stopping talking about the matter “for now” at the request of the Rich family:

    And yet before his show was over, Hannity hinted on Twitter that he was still looking at the story.

    He even retweeted gratuitous praise from Kim Dotcom.

    Meanwhile, Oliver Darcy, who followed the story closely from the beginning, had a list of good unanswered questions for Fox News about Hannity’s despicable and ghoulish actions.

    Hannity then begged for fans to spread the conspiracy theory.

    By morning, a Republican congressman was echoing Hannity.

    Newt Gingrich, after pushing the conspiracy both in August and again on May 21, suddenly said that he didn’t know anything about it, telling The Washington Post, “I don’t know anything about it. … I know exactly what has been said on the various blog sites. ... I think it is worth looking at.”

    The retractions and hedging were much too little and far too late. In the bowels of pro-Trump media, Hannity had become a martyr and the Seth Rich conspiracy theory was gospel.

    The enduring tragedy of the episode is that the Rich family will likely have to live with this delusion bubbling up for a very long time. Even worse, pro-Trump media will say that they are part of it.

    No family deserves that.

    Research assistance provided by Bobby Lewis

  • Seth Rich's family details the "nightmare" caused by conservative media peddling smears about their son

    Family pleads to conservative commentators and "those purveying falsehoods to give us peace"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The parents of slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich have written a plea asking “conservative news outlets and commentators” to stop peddling “discredited conspiracy theories” about their son.

    Fox News and host Sean Hannity have relentlessly peddled the debunked conspiracy theory about Rich’s death even after the Rich family sent a cease and desist order to Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler. The cease and desist came after Wheeler’s recent allegations led right-wing media figures to revisit the story and smear Rich as the person responsible for providing WikiLeaks with DNC emails.

    Even after Fox News issued a retraction of their original article noting that “The article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting,” Hannity refused to to back off the conspiracy theory.

    Now, Rich’s parents are imploring conservative commentators to stop pushing the “unspeakably cruel” and “baseless” smear that their son was the source of the illegally-obtained DNC emails that were published by Wikileaks during the 2016 election. In the letter, the Rich family details the lack of evidence behind the shameful conspiracy, debunks the favorite talking points of the disgraceful commentators pushing it, and make clear the “family’s nightmare still persists,” as “Seth’s death has been turned into a political football,” with “new headlines, new lies, new factual errors, new people approaching [the family] to take advantage of [them] and Seth’s legacy.” From The Washington Post’s May 23 article:

    Imagine living in a nightmare that you can never wake up from. Imagine having to face every single day knowing that your son was murdered. Imagine you had no answers — that no one has been brought to justice and there were few clues leading to the killer or killers. Imagine that every single day, with every phone call you hope that it’s the police, calling to tell you that there has been a break in the case.

    Imagine that instead, every call that comes in is a reporter asking what you think of a series of lies or conspiracies about the death. That nightmare is what our family goes through every day.

    [...]

    Still, conservative news outlets and commentators continue, day after painful day, to peddle discredited conspiracy theories that Seth was killed after having provided WikiLeaks with emails from the DNC. Those theories, which some reporters have since retracted, are baseless, and they are unspeakably cruel.

    [...]

    Despite these facts, our family’s nightmare persists. Seth’s death has been turned into a political football. Every day we wake up to new headlines, new lies, new factual errors, new people approaching us to take advantage of us and Seth’s legacy. It just won’t stop. 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.

    [...]

    We also know that many people are angry at our government and want to see justice done in some way, somehow. We are asking you to please consider our feelings and words. There are people who are using our beloved Seth’s memory and legacy for their own political goals, and they are using your outrage to perpetuate our nightmare. We ask those purveying falsehoods to give us peace, and to give law enforcement the time and space to do the investigation they need to solve our son’s murder.

  • This is how right-wing media reacted to ISIS terrorism under President Obama

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN, NINA MAST, BRENNAN SUEN & CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    ISIS has claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack in Manchester, England, which killed more than 20 people. During Barack Obama’s presidency, right-wing media figures exploited terrorist attacks that ISIS claimed responsibility for to blame, criticize, and attack the president. Additionally, right-wing media figures castigated Obama for not leaving a foreign trip in the aftermath of an attack.

  • Fox News continues to push Seth Rich conspiracy after Rich family sent cease and desist to Fox contributor, demanded apology

    Fox News staffers are reportedly "embarrassed' by the network's promotion of Seth Rich conspiracy, asking "ARE WE STILL AIRING THAT SHIT?!"

    ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET

    Fox News personalities are continuing to push an evidence-free conspiracy that former Democratic staffer Seth Rich was murdered for providing WikiLeaks with emails from the Democratic National Committee, even after the family expressed “severe mental anguish and emotional distress.” The family is so outraged by Fox’s actions, they have sent a cease and desist letter to a Fox contributor responsible for the conspiracy theory’s resurgence.

  • Six Months Of Authoritarian Press Proposals From Trump Shill Sean Hannity

    Hannity and Co.'s eight-point plan to protect the Trump administration from reporters

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Fox News host Sean Hannity, one of President Donald Trump’s most loyal propagandists, has spent the months since the election railing about how the press won’t give Trump the same unyielding support he provides on a nightly basis.

    Soon after Trump’s election, Hannity declared that journalists should no longer be permitted to cover the new president because they supposedly sided with Hillary Clinton’s campaign. His rhetoric has only gotten more heated as the Trump administration has floundered over the past months. “The propaganda media is exactly that,” the Fox host said on Friday, after another brutal week for the president. “They're out to destroy Trump. That is their main purpose. They want to advance the interests of liberal Democrats and the left. ... They're not journalists.”

    Hannity has done more than rant about the press. Over the past six months, his show has regularly floated and vetted authoritarian ideas for bolstering the president by curtailing the access and influence of journalists. With Trump casting about for ways to reduce press access to help salvage his presidency, he may soon turn to the ideas generated by his friends at Fox.

    Hannity and his guests have recommended requiring reporters to submit press briefing questions in writing or eliminating the briefings altogether, dropping presidential press conferences and interviews with outlets that are not loyal to Trump, kicking the press corps out of the White House, and punishing journalists who are excessively confrontational.

    These proposals are dictatorial impulses married to a strategic hatred of the news media, meant to further undermine the press’s standing among Americans and limit journalists’ ability to provide an impartial narrative that rebuts the administration’s lies. On a more fundamental level, they reduce accountability and transparency, allowing the White House to answer only the questions the president’s aides choose.

    Hannity’s contempt for reporters is not new, and it’s in line with his decades of conservative commentary. But now he has a friend in the Oval Office -- one who watches his show, shares his belief that the press is unfair to conservatives, is willing to act on it.

    Here’s what Hannity and friends have called upon the president to do.

    Press Office Should Hand-Pick Briefing Topics And Require Reporters To Submit Questions In Advance

    “Week after week, we see the liberal media using White House press briefings to cause confusion and controversy and chaos,” Hannity declared last night. “I think it's time to restructure these daily briefings so that all members of the press corps end up serving you, the American people, and not themselves.” Hannity’s plan is to allow White House officials to choose a series of topics they consider appropriate for questions, demand the media submit their questions ahead of time, and answer the ones they deem worthy of responses.

    Since the briefings had become what Hannity termed a “dog-and-pony show,” the Fox host proposed the following: “The White House press team should regularly develop a list of the top and most important 15, 20, 25 issues of the day. Next, the media should be able to submit questions about these issues in writing, give the White House time to respond with clarity and specificity, and if Sean Spicer then wants to take a couple of questions from the briefing room podium, that's fine. But only on those specific topics.”

    In a follow-up segment, Fox contributor Laura Ingraham, whom Hannity floated to replace the White House communications director, agreed with the host’s plan, but said that the press office should allow questions on only three to five preselected topics per briefing. She added, “There's no need to do these every day. It should only be on an as-needed basis.”

    No More Presidential Press Conferences

    Responding to the media firestorm after Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that he had intended to fire Comey regardless of the recommendation from the Justice Department -- and that he did it in part because of the investigation Comey was leading into whether his campaign associates colluded with the Russian government -- Hannity said the administration should punish the press for its reporting.

    “As long as they keep reporting fake news, bizarre conspiracy theories and show this bizarre fascination and paranoia about Russia, how about no more press conferences for the Hillary Clinton-colluding media?” Hannity argued on May 12.

    Stop Giving Interviews To Hosts Who Are Not Sycophants

    Hannity also argued that Trump should “go directly to the American people” by communicating on social media “and don't do any more interviews with Lester Holt, which then is sent over their cable channel and CNN so they can rip it apart.”

    “Don't do interviews with the networks so they can spend hours and hours and hours tearing up every word this president says, something they'd never do to Obama,” Hannity added later in the broadcast. “End it. He doesn't need the press.”

    Trump has repeatedly gone to Fox for fluffy interviews provided by hosts who are clearly rooting for him, while occasionally sitting down with real journalists like Holt. Hannity would apparently prefer that Fox have a monopoly.

    Hold Briefings But Ban The Reporters

    During the same May 12 broadcast, Hannity guest Newt Gingrich, who has deep ties to the president and shares the host’s animosity for the press, suggested that the White House hold briefings in which the press secretary and other administration figures “take the country through all the positive things they're doing, and then leave, but not have the press corps there.”

    “It'll be on YouTube. It'll be on Facebook. It'll be -- may well be on C-SPAN every day -- and say to the press corps, ‘You take any part of this you want, but we're not answering your questions,’” Gingrich added.

    Kick Reporters Out Of The White House

    Gingrich urged the administration to “close down the press room, send the reporters off. They can sit over at the Hay-Adams. They can go to Starbucks across the street. I don't care where they go.”

    Instead, Gingrich suggested the Trump administration “create an entire new tradition of reporting directly to the American people” by answering questions submitted by non-journalists (who are presumably hand-picked by the press office).

    Hannity replied that he loved the idea because “the media will implode! They would not know how to deal with this.”

    Have A “Garbage Man” To Briefly Respond To “Nonsense” Stories Like Trump-Russia

    Before settling on banning reporters from the press briefing room altogether, Gingrich had argued in March that the White House should appoint someone to deal with what he termed “nonsense” stories like the Russia investigation. That “garbage man,” as Hannity put it, would “start Spicer's press briefing with a five or 10-minute list of that week's nonsense. Then they'd leave.” After that, the press would have to focus on “the kind of things that matter to the average American.”

    Suspend Aggressive Reporters And Pack The Press Room With Less Confrontational Ones

    During a January 11 press conference, Trump lashed out at CNN reporter Jim Acosta, who repeatedly sought to ask a question, declaring, “I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news!”

    In response, Gingrich told Hannity that the White House should use the incident as an opportunity to “close down the elite press.” He suggested that Acosta be banned from reporting on Trump events for 60 days “as a signal, frankly, to all the other reporters that there are going to be real limits” for proper behavior. He also suggested that Trump “extend the privileges to reporters from out of town, folks that fly in from all over the country to be allowed to be at a briefing” because those reporters would be more “courteous” and less “adversarial.”

    Get Rid Of White House Press Briefings And Take Calls On Hannity’s Radio Show Instead

    Back in December, Hannity argued that Trump should eliminate press briefings because the media has an institutional bias against him. Instead, Hannity suggested, “I'd offer my 550 radio stations and my show, let him take calls from people around the country, right? And if the The New York Times gets through, God bless them.”

  • Likely Vatican Ambassador Callista Gingrich's Company Hawked Biblical Cancer "Cure"

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Callista Gingrich’s media production company sent sponsored emails claiming that “cancer was cured back in 1925” and such cures can be found in the Bible. Gingrich is reportedly set to become the United States’ ambassador to the Vatican.

    The New York Times and CNN are reporting that President Donald Trump will soon nominate Gingrich to be the United States ambassador to the Holy See. Gingrich is an author, columnist, and president of Gingrich Productions. She and her husband, Newtfounded the company to feature the couple’s media work and provide consulting services. Gingrich Productions also rents out its email list, which reportedly has 250,000 subscribers and was used by the Trump campaign during the election.

    Gingrich Productions sends numerous shady sponsored emails, including ones that claim that “cancer was cured back in 1925” and “the actual cure” for cancer can be found in the Bible -- and it can be unlocked by subscribing to a newsletter for $74 (or $37 if you’re over the age of 60). The emails are from Health Revelations and Health Sciences Institute (HSI), which are both owned by NewMarket Health, LLC, a subsidiary of Agora, Inc.

    For example: 

    • Gingrich Productions sent a February 2016 Health Revelations email claiming to have “the TRUTH” about preventing cancer and deadly tumors. The email linked to a pitch page claiming that “all cancers were actually cured back in 1925” but the government has been covering up the evidence. The email ultimately asked readers to subscribe to the Health Revelations newsletter, which costs up to $74 a year.
    • In October and December 2015, Gingrich Productions sent an email from Health Sciences Institute claiming that “researchers investigating” the Bible have “unlocked a connection to a stunning cancer-fighting power... a breakthrough so monumental, it's poised to make traditional cancer therapies obsolete... and save millions of lives.” HSI is a subscription newsletter, which costs up to $74 a year.
    • In 2013, Gingrich Productions sent an email from Health Revelations which also claimed that “cancer was cured back in 1925” and a “God-fearing American doctor … gives the actual cure.”

    Gingrich Productions’ emails carry the disclaimer that the message “reflects the opinions and representations of our advertiser alone, and not necessarily the opinion or editorial positions of Gingrich Productions.”

    HSI and Health Revelations have been heavily criticized for their shady business practices and marketing of scammy medical advice. The conservative movement has been heavily infected with scams. Similar cancer “cure” emails became an issue during the Republican presidential primary when then-candidate Mike Huckabee was criticized for sending out sponsored emails from Health Revelations.

    Gingrich Productions has also rented out its email list to other dubious entities, including a financial firm that was fined by the Securities and Exchange Commission for engaging in "deliberate fraud" and profiting from "false statements." Here are five emails previously documented by Media Matters:

    "New Scandal in the White House?" A cryptic July 11, 2013, Stansberry & Associates email claimed that there's a "big new scandal brewing in the White House" and "when this scandal is ultimately exposed, it's going to have major implications not only for [former President] Barack Obama, but also for our entire country." Gingrich Productions frequently sent out emails from Stansberry despite the fact that it’s a disgraced financial firm that was fined $1.5 million by the Securities and Exchange Commission for engaging in "deliberate fraud" and profiting from "false statements." The company’s founder, Porter Stansberry complained in April 2013 that it is "fucking bullshit" that people get upset at him for using slurs like "nigger" and "fag" when he's "not the least bit bigoted."

    "The Illuminati [Secret Society] Puts a Deathgrip on America." A December 31, 2013, Wall Street Daily email claimed that the "Illuminati was behind every consequential wealth event of the past year" including bitcoin. The Illuminati is a frequent player in conspiracy theories.

    "Obama's 'Secret Mistress' Exposed." A December 12, 2013, email from Laissez Faire Club claimed that "President Obama has made painstaking efforts to keep his 'secret mistress' hidden from the American public, and he has succeeded brilliantly... until now."

    "Weird Trick Adds $1,000 to Social Security Checks . . ." A September 12, 2013, Newsmax Media email claimed it has "stumbled upon this weird trick that can add $1,000 to monthly Social Security checks." (For more on this email claim, see here.)

    "Fort Knox is Empty (the Gold's Missing...)." An August 20, 2013, Wall Street Daily email claimed, "Whispers are swirling around Capitol Hill that Fort Knox is empty" and "the U.S. government has been shipping gold to nations like China (as collateral for a weak dollar)." 

  • 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.

  • The Emergency Room Is No Place For Routine Care

    Right-Wing Media Push Absurd Idea That The Uninsured Can Just Go To The E.R.

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Right-wing media attempted to pacify the millions of Americans who would lose their health insurance coverage if the American Health Care Act (AHCA) becomes law with the absurd notion that people do not need insurance to receive access to health care via the emergency room. In reality, laws requiring hospitals to treat patients regardless of their ability to pay apply only to emergency care to stabilize a patient; they do not constitute a mandate to provide all of a patient’s routine health care needs.

    Right-wing media have attempted to defend Republicans in the House of Representatives who voted for the AHCA -- a previous version of which was expected to strip health insurance coverage from up to 24 million Americans -- by pushing the misleading idea that those without medical coverage can just go to the emergency room. On the May 7 edition of Fox Broadcasting’s Fox News Sunday, former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich dismissed late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s heartfelt plea that no child should go without health care on account of their family’s finances, denouncing what he called the “mythology of the left” and claiming hospitals will treat a sick person regardless of their ability to pay. On the May 8 edition of Fox News’ Happening Now, The Blaze’s Lawrence Jones pushed the same narrative that those without health insurance can access care at emergency rooms when he attempted to defend Rep. Raul Labrador’s (R-ID) comments at a town hall that “nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.” This narrative even made it’s way onto the May 9 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, where host Joe Scarborough claimed that “we already have universal health care coverage; the problem is that so much of it is driven by emergency room visits.”

    Hospital emergency rooms have been required to provide care for the uninsured since the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) was enacted in 1986, but the provider is required only to “stabilize a patient within its capacity.” EMTALA does not mandate that a hospital provide full medical treatments to an uninsured patient, only that “patients receive appropriate emergency care.” Aaron Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine, explained in a blog post that EMTALA requires only treatment of an emergency situation, not provision of the regular life-saving treatment necessary for many illnesses, such as diabetes:

    Over 25 million people in the United States have diabetes, requiring regular access to medication to stay alive. They can’t get insulin in an emergency room. They can’t get needed eye exams or kidney function tests in the emergency room. They can’t get a checkup in the emergency room. But once they go into hypoglycemic shock or once their feet become gangrenous, then they can get examined and treated. Does that sound like access to health care?

    Emergency rooms are designed to treat emergencies, not provide care for all health conditions, and they are a costly alternative to seeking treatment at a doctor’s office for a minor illness or injury. Since the passage of Affordable Care Act (ACA), more low-income Americans have had access to health insurance and, with it, regular preventative services. In fact, states that accepted the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid found new enrollees took advantage of this new access and were 62.9 percent more likely to visit a general care physician. Low-income Americans are now less likely to face crushing medical debt thanks in part to not having to bear the uninsured cost of emergency room visits and catastrophic care, which was the case for millions of Americans before the ACA became law. Dismantling the ACA, as columnist Michael Hiltzik explained in the Los Angeles Times, would put millions at risk of losing access to care and possibly facing medical bankruptcy once again.

    During the May 8 edition of ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live, Kimmel responded directly to Gingrich’s absurd emergency room claims by explaining that emergency care is often just one part of a patient’s treatment. Kimmel noted that his son has had “a dozen doctors appointments” since his initial emergency, along with numerous ancillary costs associated with his treatments, which “Newt forgot to mention.” The back-and-forth between Gingrich and Kimmel became a story unto itself, and it was the subject of a panel segment on the May 9 edition of CNN’s New Day, in which co-host Chris Cuomo reiterated that an emergency room is not the appropriate place to treat all of a person’s health care needs:

  • In 100 Days, Trump Has Attacked The Press Over 100 Times. Here’s How Fox News Cheered Him On.

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office have been defined, in part, by his administration’s hostility to the press. As Media Matters has documented, Trump has attacked the press well over 100 times to date. As Trump vilifies the press, Fox News hosts, contributors, and guests help cheer him on by supporting, enabling, and condoning his attempts to discredit mainstream media outlets.

  • Punditry On Syrian Airstrikes Is Encouraging Trump To Escalate Tensions With North Korea

    Similar Media Support Helped Enable Iraq War

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    After President Donald Trump launched airstrikes against Syria in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack in that country, media figures from across the political spectrum praised his “beautiful” attack, with many also linking the action to the growing threat that another country -- North Korea -- poses to the United States. Effusive media support of military conflict was a key precursor to the Iraq War; the danger of such uncritically hawkish commentary has multiplied under Trump, who sources policy ideas -- and defenses for his conduct -- directly from media.

  • Obamacare Repeal And The Myth Of Trump As The "Great Negotiator"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Before House Republicans and President Donald Trump were forced to pull the American Health Care Act (AHCA), their ill-fated first attempt to gut health care reform and repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), media repeatedly trumpeted Trump's supposed ability to get the bill passed because of his mastery of the "Art of the Deal." Here's a look back at how they described the "great negotiator," which was "the whole point of Trump":