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Special counsel Robert Mueller read a statement at a May 29 press conference in which he explained that his investigation did not attempt to determine whether President Donald Trump had committed any crimes because it would be against Department of Justice policy to charge a president who is in office. Mueller also announced that he was formally closing the special counsel's office and resigning from the DOJ to return to private life. Conservative media figures responded by criticizing Mueller for not exonerating Trump, claiming his statement is a “huge win” for the president, complaining that Mueller helped make Democrats’ case for impeaching Trump, misrepresenting what he said about his findings, and suggesting he might be lying in his statement.
Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro: “‘If we had confidence that the president did not commit a crime, we would have said so.’ That is not the standard of a prosecutor. Prosecutors exist to determine whether someone committed a chargeable offense, not whether they are exonerated of charges.”
National Review Online Editor Charles C. W. Cooke: “Is this how it works? Isn't it the other way around? You look for evidence that a crime was committed, and if you don't find it you say ‘we didn't find any.’ You don't look for evidence that it wasn't and then say, ‘we couldn't find evidence of innocence.’”
The Federalist co-founder Sean Davis: “Also, Mueller's view of a prosecutor's role -- to prove and declare a target's innocence, rather than to charge criminality -- is a despicable affront to the rule of law and the Constitution. Cops and lawyers don't grant innocence. It is our default legal state absent conviction.”
Fox News Radio host Guy Benson: “If he had the evidence, Mueller could have identified criminal conduct & *recommended* charges, then let DOJ decide whether OLC guidance would or would not permit those charges being filed against a sitting POTUS. Instead, he decided not to recommend anything.”
Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich: “Muller tried today to have [it both] ways. If he thought President [Trump] was guilty of something he should have said he was guilty of something. Ken Starr used the word guilty 11 times on 11 different counts in his report on President Clinton. If not guilty Trump is innocent.”
Breitbart.com White House correspondent Charlie Spiering: “Huge win for Trump: Mueller steps down, refuses to testify, states that president cannot be charged with a crime, urges Americans to secure future elections.”
Far-right blog The Gateway Pundit: “Mueller Dunks on Pelosi and Dems – Praises Attorney General Bill Barr For Releasing Entire Report in Good Faith.”
Gingrich: “In the absence of proof in America, you are innocent. Therefore, by definition, President Trump is innocent.”
Commentary Associate Editor Noah Rothman: “The impeachment case just got a lot easier to make.”
Fox Nation and Fox News Radio host Todd Starnes: “Mueller just poured gasoline on the Democrats' Impeachment fire.”
Radio host Rush Limbaugh: “He begged [Congress] to impeach. He gave them the green light. He said that’s what you people have to do.”
Fox News contributor and Townhall Editor Katie Pavlich: “Impeachment is coming.”
Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly: “After Robert Mueller’s deflection to Congress on the obstruction issue, we can expect democrats to begin impeachment proceedings. That will harm the country economically and lead no where as the Senate will not convict.”
Fox’s Martha MacCallum and Brian Kilmeade agreed Mueller “threw some kerosene on the fire.” Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade said on his radio show Mueller “closed his office, he called it quits, but before he did it, he actually threw some kerosene on the fire and then threw the match.” Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum agreed, saying: “Absolutely, no doubt.” Kilmeade then added: “So my sense was he saw the chaos that happened after he released the report that was supposed to put a fine point on a 22-month investigation, and he made it worse.”
Fox's Lisa Boothe: “Robert Mueller is a hack. And we know that he’s a hack because he gave Democrats exactly what they wanted ... more fuel to the fire of impeachment.”
Fox host Pete Hegseth falsely claimed that Trump will “rightfully” say there was “no obstruction” and that he's “exonerated.” Mueller actually explained that he was prevented from considering charging Trump with a crime because of Department of Justice policy.
Wash. Examiner’s Philip Klein: “Impeachment or bust: Robert Mueller just made clear he won't give Democrats a second crack at his report through testimony.” The text of Klein’s article was more accurate than its headline, correctly noting that Mueller said the report covers everything he has to say about the investigation.
The Federalist Senior Editor Mollie Hemingway: “Multiple people at DOJ say Mueller stated that [Office of Legal Counsel] opinion had nothing to do with his decision not to charge obstruction, and report itself doesn’t make determination on obstruction, as it did on collusion. Remarks today curiously at odds with both.” While responding to a reply pointing that Mueller had set the record straight with his statement, Hemingway added that Mueller “wasn’t speaking under oath while someone who said otherwise was, so…..”
Fox contributor Jason Chaffetz: “It’s purely a guess, but from where I sit I think it was to cover his butt within his own political, social circles. … Barr was actually out there telling the truth, and it scared Mueller and his reputation. He was supposed to be the guy to get Trump, and he didn't, and he feels bad about that.”
Gingrich: “My guess is that in his social circles, people felt that he had failed to serve the worthy cause of destroying Donald Trump, and he was trying to sort of cleverly toss it to the Congress."
Boothe: “Robert Mueller gave more deference to the Russians yesterday than he did to President Trump.”
Hegseth: Mueller “went out of his way when talking about the Russians that had been indicted to say that they are innocent until proven guilty. The Russians. Which he never went out of his way to say about a sitting president.”
Gingrich: Mueller “says of the Russians they’re innocent until proven guilty, and in the next paragraph he says he can’t prove the president’s innocence. So, his standard for the American president is dramatically lower than his standard for Russians. You couldn’t have made that up.”
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.
“What do people not understand about he's a little bit different than most people?”
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It’s more important than ever to recognize bad-faith arguments on social media
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.
The attacks on tourists and Easter worshippers in Sri Lanka are an attack on humanity. On a day devoted to love, redemption, and renewal, we pray for the victims and stand with the people of Sri Lanka.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) April 21, 2019
On this holy weekend for many faiths, we must stand united against hatred and violence. I'm praying for everyone affected by today's horrific attacks on Easter worshippers and travelers in Sri Lanka.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) April 21, 2019
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.”
How do President Obama and Secretary Clinton both come up with Easter worshippers in their tweets about the murders in Sri Lanka? To have both of them use the same term the same day is strange. Is Easter Worshipper the left’s new way to avoid the word Christian? Pathetic
— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) April 22, 2019
Christians were attacked yesterday
Christians were murdered on our holiest day of the year
Hundreds of Christians
Not “humanity” not “tourists” not “Easter worshippers”
— Jack Posobiec ✝️ (@JackPosobiec) April 22, 2019
No Obama! They're called Christians not Easter Worshippers!
— Diamond and Silk® (@DiamondandSilk) April 22, 2019
Did the DNC put out marching orders or something? They aren’t “Easter worshippers.” They’re Christians. If you want to be specific and not lump in Christians like me who observe the Julian calendar, just say Protestants and Catholics. This is not hard. https://t.co/QXrKHUDVTT
— Tiana Lowe (@TianaTheFirst) April 22, 2019
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.
Re: Trump's tweet about "138 million people" being killed in Sri Lanka, which stayed up for 20 minutes today: When someone can't get the little stuff right, it makes you worry about the big stuff. pic.twitter.com/YwC4bDFq30
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) April 21, 2019
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.)
— The Washington Times (@WashTimes) April 21, 2014
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.
The same people who tell you that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton calling Christians ‘Easter Worshippers’ is no big deal are the same people who would start WWIII on social media if you called Muslims ‘Ramadan Worshippers.’
— ForAmerica (@ForAmerica) April 22, 2019
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) June 19, 2017
— Religion News Service (@RNS) June 19, 2017
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.
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In one day, Fox News aired 26 segments calling for investigations into those involved in the Mueller report and Trump's perceived enemies
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Alex Kaplan contributed research to this piece.
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
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.”