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  • Fox News wanted to exploit a caravan of migrants as a midterm election issue, so that's what Trump is doing

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump responded on Thursday morning to reports of a caravan of migrants moving through Central America toward the U.S. border by blaming Democrats for their purported “assault on our country.” The president was mimicking the commentators he was likely watching on Fox News, who urged Republicans to weaponize the caravan as an election issue ahead of next month’s midterms.

    A caravan of as many as 4,000 Honduran migrants has entered Guatemala, leading Fox hosts to spend much of the week trying to stoke fears that the migrants are “heading this way” with plans “to storm our border.” None of this makes much sense -- the caravan would still need to make it through all of Guatemala and Mexico, and the Mexican government is currently deploying its own resources to stop the migrants. But because Trump’s worldview is shaped by the hours of Fox he consumes each day, that coverage is having an impact on U.S. policy -- and now, the topics of discussion in the midterm elections.

    Trump entered the fray on Tuesday morning, warning that the U.S. would cut off aid to Honduras if the caravan isn’t turned back:

    Trump frequently spends his mornings live-tweeting Fox & Friends, and his tweet almost certainly came in response to the show's coverage of the story that day:

    With Trump weighing in, the story’s coverage escalated. And on Wednesday night, Fox contributor and presidential confidant Newt Gingrich urged Republicans to make the caravan a key voting issue:

    “I think two words are going to define the night of the 2018 election in the next three weeks,” he told Sean Hannity. “One is Kavanaugh and the other is caravan.” Claiming that “the left is eager” for the caravan to enter the United States, Gingrich argued that “the American people are going to reject ... the way they are dealing with the border, and I think those will end up being the reasons the Republicans keep the House and dramatically increase the number of senators they have.”

    The next morning, Fox & Friends repeatedly urged Republicans to take Gingrich’s advice.

    During the show’s lead segment, after several minutes of dire warnings about the caravan, the hosts replayed portions of Gingrich’s comment. “So it comes down to a simple question regarding the Republicans and the Democrats, because it’s clear,” said host Steve Doocy. "If you think that our southern border should be open, support the Democrat. If you think the southern border should actually be a border with security, and stopping people, and processing them accordingly, then you’ve got to vote for Republicans, the Republicans say.”

    In a second segment that hour, Fox contributor and former ICE Acting Director Tom Homan said, “This caravan issue lays at the feet of the Democratic Party up on the Hill” for not closing loopholes in immigration law. “I hope the American people are paying attention because this isn’t the president’s failure, this isn’t the secretary’s failure; this is the Democrats’ failure because they know the issue and they refuse to fix it. They’re putting their political ambitions ahead of public safety, national security, and border control.”

    During a third segment, Doocy said that the election is “going to come down to” voters asking each other, “Hey, did you see that story this morning on Fox & Friends about the caravan? Can you believe that the Democrats want open borders?”

    And at 7 a.m., the hosts again highlighted the migrant caravan, with Doocy arguing that “these images do get the base on the Republican side interested in voting because, clearly, it's a choice. Do you want a southern border with security or not?”

    The president apparently got the message. In a series of tweets beginning at 7:25 a.m., he used the caravan to attack Democrats, saying they had “led (because they want Open Borders and existing weak laws)” an “assault on our country.” He also threatened to stop "all payments” to Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, and said he would “call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER” if Mexico could not “stop this onslaught.”

    This is not the first time Fox’s migrant coverage has triggered Trump to erupt on Twitter. In the spring, he similarly lashed out in response to Fox’s coverage of a caravan of migrants moving through Central America.

    This Fox-Trump feedback loop presents a problem for journalists, as the president drives the network’s fearmongering coverage into the mainstream policy debate.

  • Today's dumbest controversy is the idea that Eric Holder wants Democrats to literally kick conservatives

    "When they go low, we kick them” doesn’t mean to actually kick someone

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Speaking to a group of Democrats in support of Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Adams, former Attorney General Eric Holder riffed on Michelle Obama’s “when they go low, we go high” line from the 2016 Democratic National Convention to comment on the need for Democrats to fight back against voter suppression efforts -- a legitimate concern, especially in that state.

    “Michelle always says, ‘When they go low, we go high,'” said Holder at last weekend’s event. “No. No. When they go low, we kick them. That’s what this new Democratic Party is about. We’re proud as hell to be Democrats. We’re willing to fight for the ideals of the Democratic Party.”

    Just from that quote, it should be obvious that Holder wasn’t talking about physically kicking anybody, but lest someone misinterpret his comment as a call to violence, he clarified:

    “Now, when I say, you know, ‘we kick ‘em,’ I don’t mean we do anything inappropriate. We don’t do anything illegal. But we’ve got to be tough and we’ve got to fight for the very things that John Lewis, Martin Luther King, Whitney Young, you know, all those folks gave to us. That stuff can be taken away. That’s what they want to do.”

    Since its release, the video of Holder’s comments has been making the rounds across conservative and mainstream media.

    On Wednesday’s edition of Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight, the host called Holder an “illustrious thug” after playing the context-free version of Holder’s comments.

    “You know, when I think what we’ve just gone through and when I think of what Justice [Brett] Kavanaugh and his family have gone through, and I think of the ignorance of the radical Dems on that committee and in that party and what they’re saying, and watching Eric Holder in Georgia, talking big like he’s some sort of street thug, I can’t imagine what it would take to infuriate, to motivate Republicans to get to the polls and take five others with them,” Dobbs said later in the program.

    On Thursday’s Fox & Friends, Holder’s comments racked up a number of mentions. Yet again, the latter half of his statement, where he explicitly said that he’s not referring to committing acts of violence, was omitted.

    “Wow, that's the new Democratic Party? Just start kicking people? That's the former head of the Justice Department, keep that in mind,” said co-host Ainsley Earhardt.

    President Donald Trump later called in to the show. Asked about what Holder said, Trump replied, “He better be careful what he is wishing for,” adding, “That is a disgusting statement for him to make.”

    He went on to call it a “dangerous statement,” saying, “They talk about us. We are exactly opposite.” He then described his rallies as “really calm and well-run and packed with people. We don't have problems at our rallies, but they used to send in -- they don't do it anymore, they haven't, they probably, maybe they will try starting again -- but they used to send in protesters, paid protesters. The Democrats and Soros and they came from all over.”

    Trump’s rallies during the 2016 campaign, however, were not the peaceful utopia he described on Thursday. There’s a stark contrast between the way Fox & Friends discussed these relatively harmless comments by Holder and how the show reacted when then-candidate Trump called in on November 22, 2015, to say of one protester who claimed to have been assaulted at one of his rallies: “Maybe he should have been roughed up.

    The distortion of Holder’s comments fits into Fox News’ pre-election strategy of framing Democrats as violent extremists who can’t be trusted to govern.

    And as goes Fox News, so goes the rest of conservative media.

    Breitbart, The Washington Times, The Federalist, The Gateway Pundit, and Twitchy all published stories centered around the first portion of the video.

    At RedState, Andrea Ruth wrote that “advocating physical violence … is really not the best look or direction for a party that got members worked up because people at a Trump rally chanted lock her up. … Let’s just hope no one gets hurt because they feel emboldened by Holder’s careless words,” she said, continuing the distortion.

    The Daily Caller and Hot Air both wrote about the video, later updating their posts with additional context.

    Hot Air’s John Sexton wrote, “Of course, I think we all know what will happen the moment someone does this to Hillary or Eric Holder. Suddenly they’ll be shocked and appalled and claim they never had this in mind. They were only speaking metaphorically, etc., etc. Don’t believe it for a minute. They see what is happening out there. They know what kind of behavior they are encouraging.” In his update, he backpedalled, adding the additional comments and writing: “People on the left are pointing to this as evidence that Holder wasn’t endorsing violence or illegal behavior. Fair enough but if you read the post above you may have noticed I never said or even suggested he was recommending violence.”

    Yeah, but you kind of did suggest that, John.

    Violent rhetoric should be condemned, but bad-faith efforts to score points through misrepresentation do little to build trust.

    Violence, of course, is bad, and so is rhetoric that can incite it. But pretending that Holder meant “kick” opponents literally, that Sen. Tim Kaine’s (D-VA) “fight in the streets” comment were actually about throwing punches, or that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) calling on supporters to “push back” on the Trump administration was an actual instruction to shove government officials (in fairness, she did say to confront them in public, but that’s hardly inciting language), it gets harder to take these claims seriously. Surely, those framing these messages as calls to violence in media know that it’s deceptive to do so.

  • Right-wing media's message to survivors: It's better if you keep quiet

    Blog ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Ever since the first of three women reported sexual misconduct by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, right-wing media’s message to victims of sexual violence has rung painfully clear -- if you come forward and tell your story, you’re putting yourself at risk and the establishment will circle the wagons to protect your abuser.

    Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick have faced unending smear campaigns while also being summarily dismissed by those seeking to ram Kavanaugh onto the court. Conservative media have systematically overlooked the fact that Kavanaugh lied and perjured himself during Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, instead propagating outlandish conspiracy theories about his accusers and questioning whether they have political motivations. Their smear campaign coalesces around one simple message of intimidation: If you tell your truth about sexual violence, it won’t disqualify your assailant from moving up in his career; instead, you’ll ruin the reputation of a good man, and a right-wing attack mob will set its sight on ruining yours as well.

    Conservative media message: Sexual assault allegations do not disqualify Brett Kavanaugh from a promotion

    Right-wing media’s radical and insulting insistence that a history of sexual assault doesn’t disqualify a man from sitting on the Supreme Court is perhaps the most honest confession in their coverage of allegations made against Brett Kavanaugh. They are telling survivors that coming forward is, as Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) put it, but a “hiccup” on the way to their assailant getting a promotion.

    Perhaps the most shameless example of conservatives telling on themselves is an article published in The Federalist titled, “Why Brett Kavanaugh Should Be Confirmed To The Supreme Court Even If He’s Guilty.” An anonymous author argues “the actual impact” of Kavanaugh’s alleged history of sexual violence would likely be irrelevant to his “behavior as a Supreme Court justice.” The article goes on to say that “the stakes” of confirming Kavanaugh “are even higher” now than they were before, noting that if he fails to get on the court, “every Supreme Court nomination henceforth will be derailed by mere allegation.”

    For its part, Fox News has also made clear that Ford’s report should not get in the way of Kavanaugh’s promotion. This is not a surprise, considering that the network functions as a mouthpiece for the White House communications team led by disgraced former Fox executive Bill Shine, who was forced out due to his role in the culture of sexual harassment that prevailed under Roger Ailes. Here are some of the most offensive takes from the network’s Kavanaugh coverage:

    • Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt insisted that “there has to be a vote” on Kavanaugh despite reports of sexual assault.
    • Fox contributor and former Bush administration flack Ari Fleischer asked if the “bigger ethical issue” of stopping alleged sexual predators from getting a lifetime judicial appointment is that it sets a precedent that they should be held “accountable” for “a disputable high school action.”
    • Fox contributor Mollie Hemingway questioned “whether it’s even appropriate that you can bring forth an allegation” from “35 years after the fact.”
    • On The Ingraham Angle, guest Wendy Long admitted, “I don’t think [Dr. Ford] deserves to be heard” and “we just can’t just cave into it.”

    Conservative media message: Sexual violence allegations against Brett Kavanaugh have made an innocent man into the victim of a smear

    In the effort to rehabilitate Brett Kavanaugh’s image, right-wing media have characterized the reports as nothing more than smears of a good and innocent man. Some have bizarrely admitted they believe Christine Ford but they don’t believe what she says Kavanaugh did to her. They’ve also deflected from the women’s stories by mentioning that Kavanaugh goes to church and volunteers and coaches his daughters’ basketball team:

    • Stuart Varney of Fox Business said reporting sexual assault “is how you slime a good man.”
    • Regular Fox News guest and American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp labeled Kavanaugh “the victim here.”
    • Fox contributor Tammy Bruce characterized Ford’s story as “an attempted political assassination of a character” and somehow managed to make the argument that coming forward with sexual assault reports actually negatively impacts the gains feminists have made in recent decades.
    • On Twitter, Fox’s Gina Loudon echoed Bruce’s sentiment that survivors coming forward sets back women because men will hesitate to hire women to avoid facing sexual violence allegations.
    • Laura Ingraham, who has had some of the most disgusting takes on Kavanaugh among her right-wing peers, said Ford’s report has “the whiff of a political smear masquerading as a sexual assault allegation.”
    • Judicial Crisis Network’s Carrie Severino, whom NPR identifies as chief counsel of the organization that is “responsible for the Federalist Society’s public support” of Kavanaugh, lamented,  “We’re smearing a poor man’s reputation.”
    • Fox’s Jason Chaffetz implied Ford’s story was not important because “there’s not a pattern” like there was with Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, called it “unfair,” and said Kavanaugh is a “good, decent person.”
    • On MSNBC, The New York Times’ Bari Weiss said, “Other than this instance, Brett Kavanaugh has a reputation as being a prince of a man.” (Chaffetz and Weiss made their comments before both Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick came forward -- not that a “pattern” of personal violence should be required to disqualify a person from serving on the Supreme Court.)
    • On Fox & Friends, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich raised the stakes, saying Kavanaugh is “fighting for more than” his reputation; “he’s fighting for the United States.”

    According to some right-wing pundits, even listening to victims is a wholesale attack on men. During her daily radio show, Laura Ingraham said she wanted to “focus on men for a moment” because “this could happen to any of you.” Not to be outdone by his peers, Tucker Carlson used the stories of sexual assault survivors to continues his ongoing white nationalist campaign, categorizing allegations against Kavanaugh as an attack on all white people and men and arguing that Democrats’ willingness to listen to Ford demonstrates a sexism that’s similar to racism. He also called Kavanaugh a “folk hero” to the “unfairly maligned.”

    When conservative media figures portray a sexual assault report as a politically motivated smear of a decent family man, they are telling victims the damage wrought by the violence they experienced is unimportant and that speaking about it is wrong.

    Right-wing media message: If you come forward, our machine will ruin your life

    The conservative victim-blaming campaign discourages survivors from speaking up through the direct threat of a never-ending character assassination and harassment campaign. The results of this tactic have been illustrated by the fact that Ford has had to go into hiding, separately from her children, for her family’s safety. Here are some examples of right-wing media attacking Ford’s character:

    • Frequent Fox guest Joe diGenova called Ford a “loon” because “one of the signs of lunacy” is “believing something that isn’t real.”
    • Later diGenova doubled down, saying Ford is “a deeply troubled person” with “a history of psychological discord,” and called her “a very sad woman.”
    • Laura Ingraham mocked protesters who disclosed their sexual assaults to Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) on a Senate elevator, and her guest suggested Flake staged the scene to cover for a vote against Kavanaugh.
    • On Twitter, then-Fox contributor Kevin Jackson called Ford a “lying skank,” adding, “Dang girl stop opening your legs and OPEN A BOOK!” (Jackson was quickly fired.)
    • CRTV’s Steven Crowder simply called Ford a “lying whore.”
    • Fox’s Andrew Napolitano fantasized that a Republican senator would “demolish” Ford like “Arlen Specter did to Anita Hill,” to which host Stuart Varney replied, “That would be a sight for sore eyes.”
    • Tucker Carlson got creative (and incredibly insulting) when he compared sexual assault survivors speaking up to the mob engaged in a witch hunt in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

    And while Twitter is a general cesspool of conspiracy theories and smears against sexual assault survivors, no individual has put more into this effort than conservative commentator Erick Erickson, who called the confirmation process “the Left’s PizzaGate” and said that the Democrats were “willing to destroy an innocent man so they can keep killing kids.”

    Reality check: Right-wing media will not succeed in silencing survivors

    Right-wing media and Republicans in Congress have been working overtime to send a clear message to survivors of sexual violence: It’s better for us if you stay quiet. The campaign against Kavanaugh’s accusers reinforces what women already know -- that sexual violence is about power, and that when backed into a corner, power brokers will regroup and lash out at its challengers.

    Millions of people watch Fox News every day. Many of them are undoubtedly survivors of sexual violence themselves. While Fox News personalities get rich smearing victims in an effort to install Kavanaugh into power no matter his past behavior or the fact that he repeatedly lied to Congress, they’re saying to their viewers, “We don’t care about you, we don’t believe you, and you should shut up and keep your experiences to yourself.” Right-wing media outlets are sustained by their commitment to punching down, even if that means launching an attack on half of the world’s population to save the career of one man. Only through the power of testimony and solidarity can survivors overcome the system that seeks to silence us.

  • Pro-Trump media politicizes the murder of Mollie Tibbetts, even as her family begs for space

    Tibbetts' family should be able to grieve their daughter without becoming political props

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN

    As Trump associates keep getting indicted, found guilty, and agree to plea deals while surrendering themselves to the FBI, pro-Trump media have seized on the murder of Mollie Tibbetts, and they are exploiting it for their own purposes. The body of Tibbetts, a 20-year-old University of Iowa student, was discovered on August 21 and her alleged killer has been charged with first degree murder. While a lot of news coverage and social media conversation has centered around Cohen, Manafort and why their dual felony convictions are disastrous news for President Donald Trump, some members of right-wing media and their supporters on social media have instead chosen to politicize Tibbetts’ death -- ignoring her family’s own grief and objections -- in an effort to distract from these bombshell stories.

    Below are just a few examples of what the Tibbetts’ family members are having to deal with, just a day after Tibbetts’ body was found:

    • Former Speaker of the House and conservative pundit Newt Gingrich emailed reporters about how Tibbetts’ death was potentially good news for Republicans in the fall, provided they could exploit it enough.

    • Turning Point USA communications director and right wing social media star Candace Owens got into an argument on Twitter with someone who says she is Tibbetts’ second cousin, accusing her of hating Trump and his supporters more than Tibbetts’ alleged murderer.

    • Fox News contributor Sebastian Gorka, Fox News contributor Tom Homan (the former acting director of ICE), Fox News guest Jonna Spilbor, CRTV host Eric Bolling, and Breitbart editor-at-large Joel Pollak cited the murder as a reason to build a wall on America’s border with Mexican border. Fox News contributor Tomi Lahren, and Fox News guest Mike Huckabee cited the murder as a reason to end the policy of “sanctuary cities.”

    • Mike Cernovich used the occasion to promote his involvement with Republican Senate candidate Kelli Ward’s campaign. Ward has already run a Facebook ad on the matter.

    • In a particularly dark note, users on 4chan and 8chan have been actively celebrating Tibbetts’ death. Anonymous postings on these message boards have been highlighting an old tweet of hers and claiming she got what she deserved because of a combination of her political views and her gender. Mentions of Tibbetts on these boards spiked just as the Manafort and Cohen stories were dominating news coverage. Other far right communities have pushed the meme as well. And the neo-nazi site Daily Stormer published a misogynist screed in the same vein.

    Tibbetts’ aunt took to Facebook the evening of August 21 and begged others not to politicize her niece’s murder, writing, “Please remember, Evil comes in EVERY color. Our family has been blessed to be surrounded by love, friendship and support throughout this entire ordeal by friends from all different nations and races. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.”

    Grieving families shouldn’t have to make statements like this. They shouldn’t have to beg politicians and media figures not to exploit the tragic death of a loved one. They shouldn’t have to watch in real time as their loved one is defamed and dehumanized until her memory is merely a caricature to be memed on the internet in perpetuity. But that’s exactly what happens. Right-wing media exploit tragedies and rewrite biographies of victims in the blink of an eye. They have no consideration for the victims they claim to care about or the grieving families and friends they’ve left behind.

    Additional Research by Nick Fernandez, Natalie Martinez, and Katie Sullivan.

  • Conservative media want you to believe Trump has been “tough” on Russia. They’re not telling the full story.

    Secretary of State Pompeo echoed right-wing media talking points on Trump’s toughness. In reality, Trump has undercut a number of actions Congress and his administration have tried to take against Russia.

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Following President Donald Trump’s disastrous bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, the president’s administration flacks and conservative media lackeys quickly scrambled to his defense, arguing that Trump has been “tough” in his “actions against Russia” and rattling off a series of actions he has taken since 2017 that supposedly support such a claim. The president himself and administration officials have also parroted the talking points in an attempt to dispel the idea that he is somehow in the pocket of the Russian government. But a closer look at the actions Trump shills have pointed to reveals a foreign policy that is more concerned with posturing for media than being “tough” in the face of Russian aggression.

    On July 16, Trump met with Putin for a meeting behind closed doors in which no other American -- except an interpreter -- was present, and they emerged more than two hours later to give a wide-ranging press conference. When asked whether he holds the Russian government accountable for its multifaceted interference campaign during the 2016 elections, Trump repeatedly denied Russia’s involvement, saying, “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia. (The president would later claim to have gotten “would” and “wouldn’t” confused.)

    To counter the deluge of negative press in the wake of the meeting, right-wing media and administration officials pointed to various foreign policy and military responses to Russian aggression that the United States and its allies have undertaken during Trump’s presidency to argue that the president’s “actions” actually “have been tough.” About a week after the bilateral meeting, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed Trump’s conservative media defenders as he faced senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, insisting Trump “has taken a truckload of punitive actions against Moscow” and that he has been “tough on Russia” as president. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeated the meme, as did the president himself.

    Trump’s defenders have pointed to sanctions against Russia that were imposed under Trump, the American strikes against the Russian-backed Syrian regime in 2017 and 2018, the March 28 expulsion of Russian diplomats and seizure of a Russian consulate, Trump’s demands for other countries to increase their NATO spending, the sale of lethal arms to Ukraine to fend off the Russian military and rebels in the eastern portions of the country, and the pressure Trump put on German Chancellor Angela Merkel over a proposed natural gas pipeline from Russia, among other specific actions. But Trump’s defenders are not telling the full story behind these actions.

    Sanctions

    In the aftermath of Trump’s meeting with Putin, a number of the president’s defenders touted sanctions that were imposed against Russia as evidence of Trump’s clear-eyed approach with regard to Russia. But, not only were the sanctions drawn up and passed by Congress while the Trump administration loudly opposed the move, the administration also dragged its feet in implementing them, missing a deadline to begin the implementation and only taking action after Congress demanded it do so. Moreover, Trump left United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley out to dry by walking back, without explanation, an announcement she made regarding additional sanctions against Russia.

    Additionally, one of the first official actions the Trump administration attempted was “to relax or remove punitive measures imposed by President Obama in retaliation for Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and meddling in the 2016 election.” The effort to remove sanctions that were already on the books appeared to continue into Trump’s presidency, as one of his top fundraisers and former deputy finance chairman for the Republican National Committee, Elliott Broidy, reportedly offered in 2017 to “help a Moscow-based lawyer get Russian companies removed from a U.S. sanctions list.”

    Syria

    Right-wing media have also cited U.S. airstrikes conducted against the Syrian regime as evidence that Trump has stood up to Russian aggression. But, in 2017, Trump “notified Russia in advance of” the strike, “giving time for both Russian and Syrian forces to avoid casualties in an attack,” and by the very next day, Syrian warplanes were using the airfield that was targeted. Additionally, in 2018, the strikes Trump authorized against the Syrian regime targeted chemical weapons infrastructure, “and not the bases where the Russians and Iranians are.”

    Trump’s defenders have also pointed to an American counterattack on Russian mercenaries and Syrian military personnel in February, saying Trump “authorized” the attack. While the U.S. military did in fact fend off a Russian-backed attack after “repeatedly” warning about the “growing mass of troops,” the strike was an “act of self-defense.” Citing the incident as evidence that Trump is countering Russian interests in Syria does not address the larger picture that, under Trump, Russia has become even more entrenched, further solidifying its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, as Trump lacks a coherent overarching strategy for the war-torn country. Not to mention the fact that, in May 2017, Trump disclosed sensitive “code-word information” originating from Israeli intelligence services to the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador to the United States at the time.

    Expulsion of Russian diplomats

    Trump sycophants are additionally highlighting the March 26 expulsion of 60 Russian intelligence operatives who were in the United States under diplomatic cover and the closure of a Russian consulate as further proof of Trump’s tough stance on Russia. But the expulsion of diplomats is an expected reaction that “represent[s] more symbol than substance.” And Trump also berated administration officials for expelling too many Russian officials, as he was reportedly “furious that his administration was being portrayed in the media as taking by far the toughest stance on Russia” as compared to European allies, who joined the United States in the symbolic gesture.

    Moreover, in a still-unexplained proposition in the early days of the Trump administration, officials looked at “handing back to Russia two diplomatic compounds, near New York City and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, that its officials were ejected from in late December as punishment for Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.”

    Weapons to Ukraine

    In what has emerged as a favorite talking point for Trump defenders in the wake of the meeting with Putin, conservative media are touting an arms deal with Ukraine. The deal, which the Obama administration had resisted, is meant to bolster Ukrainian defenses against the Russian military and pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels. Except Trump stooges in right-wing media fail to mention that the Ukrainian investigation into Trump’s former campaign manager’s shady business dealings in that country conspicuously stopped just “as the Trump administration was finalizing plans to sell the country sophisticated anti-tank missiles.” Not to mention the fact that, during the 2016 campaign, Trump made the laughable claim that the Russian military is “not going into Ukraine,” even though it effectively annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014. According to Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, Ukrainian officials were “tearing their hair and running around like crazies” when Trump was elected because of fears over what it would mean for the country.

    NATO spending

    Trump’s Fox News sycophants have also insisted that by “beating up the NATO allies” at the 2018 NATO summit, Trump succeeded in getting allies to “cough up more money” for the alliance when in fact Trump’s efforts had little to do with members’ increases in direct spending on their national military budgets. According to The New York Times, “each NATO member pledged in 2014,” after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, “to spend 2 percent of its gross domestic product on its own defense each year by 2024. … As a share of G.D.P., spending by European members and Canada began to rise before Mr. Trump took office.”

    Nord Stream 2

    Conservative media have also pointed to Trump’s critical comments to Merkel at the 2018 NATO summit over the proposed Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline that would run from Russia to Germany as confirmation that Trump is “tough” in dealing with Russia. But previous administrations and a bipartisan group of senators also opposed Nord Stream 2, and Trump himself toned down his criticism after meeting with Putin, conceding that the United States cannot block Germany’s domestic energy decisions. The German Marshall Fund’s Ulrich Speck said the president’s attacks against Merkel “looked as if Trump is looking for ammunition against Germany. If he would have been serious on pushing against Nord Stream, he would probably have brought this up much more forcefully with Putin.” Indeed, a “tough” U.S. policy toward Russia would avoid driving such a wedge between the United States and an ally that has disregarded domestic business concerns to wrangle European Union member states, which had their own economic apprehensions, to join sanctions against Russia for its 2014 invasion of Ukraine.