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  • PragerU posts a video about Christopher Columbus that features a racist depiction of indigenous people

    It's that time of year.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    PragerU put out a video featuring CRTV’s Steven Crowder explaining that Columbus Day is “not about paying homage to America’s original inhabitants” and showing a racist depiction of indigenous people as cannibals wielding salt-and-pepper shakers.

    PragerU is an online hub for right-wing propaganda that has made a name for itself by producing short explainer videos that get quickly propelled by YouTube’s virality algorithm. It has an incredibly strong following that leads to its videos raking in millions of views on YouTube and Facebook. On this occasion, PragerU gave its powerful platform to bigoted Crowder -- who recently referred to Christine Blasey Ford as a “lying whore” on his CRTV show -- to characterize initiatives against the erasure of original populations as a “charade” that is an “exercise in hating Western civilization.”

    On 4chan, a hub for far-right extremism, users have latched onto right-wing media’s culture war outrage and historical revisionism surrounding Christopher Columbus. 4chan users framed the issue in white supremacist terms by celebrating Columbus because of his role in the genocide of people of color:

    This outrage has become an annual tradition. Every year on this date, right-wing media figures rant against calls to celebrate indigenous people rather than Columbus’ bloody legacy, by lashing out with racist depictions of original populations. In 2017, Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire published a cartoon showing Native Americans as cannibalistic savages who should be grateful for colonization, a take so racist even Shapiro had to apologize following the backlash.

    Similarly, Mike Huckabee published a wildly racist educational video about Columbus and indigenous people in 2011.

    And speaking about Columbus Day in 2005, Lou Dobbs said that he resented “those kinds of holidays” that have “nothing to do with celebrating America.” In the same context, Rush Limbaugh in 2010 linked disease rates among indigenous populations to evolution.

    White supremacist darling Tucker Carlson has repeatedly bemoaned celebrations of indigenous people, characterizing them as an “attack on civilization” and claiming Europeans coming to America led to “far less human sacrifice and cannibalism.”

    Talia Lavin contributed research to this piece.

  • Prominent right-wing media embrace fever swamp conspiracy theories in last ditch effort to save Kavanaugh nomination

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT & TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Update (10/2/18): This piece was updated with additional conspiracy theories that spread after publication.

    Conservative media’s response to multiple reports of sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have largely relied on false claims and conspiracy theories that often originated from from fake news websites or 4chan trolls.

    Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez have both now reported that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted them. Ford came forward first and said that Kavanaugh assaulted her during a party when she was 15 and he was 17. Ramirez told The New Yorker about an incident in which he exposed himself and put his penis in her face during a party while she and Kavanaugh attended Yale.

    Conservatives have attempted to discredit Ford and Ramirez by pushing a panoply of evidence-free claims, including misidentifying other people as Ford and Ramirez; sharing false information about legal proceedings involving Ford’s family; misrepresenting professional work done by Ford’s brother; proclaiming that Ford previously accused Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch of sexual assault; and lying about Ford’s professional backgrounds.

    While many of the attacks originated from fringe outlets -- 4chan, 8chan, The Gateway Pundit, and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' Infowars -- these false claims have been embraced by influential conservative media figures including Erick Erickson, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, and John Fund.

    The timeline below shows when some of the most widely spread conspiracy theories in defense of Kavanaugh bubbled up and which right-wing media figures pushed them:

    September 17:

    Pro-Trump media figures attacked Ford based on student reviews of a different professor with a similar name. Right-wing media personalities, including Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin and right-wing blogger Jim Hoft, highlighted student reviews of the wrong professor Ford in an absurd attempt to discredit her accusation against Kavanaugh. The falsehood gained traction after it was published by far-right website Grabien News. [Media Matters, 9/17/18]

    Right-wing websites and media figures pushed a conspiracy theory that Ford’s accusation was motivated by revenge for her parents’ home foreclosure. Right-wing bloggers Hoft and Erick Erickson repeated a conspiracy theory that Ford reported Kavanaugh for assault because his mother, also a judge, presided over a foreclose of Ford’s childhood home. But Kavanaugh’s mother had actually dismissed the foreclosure case after Ford’s parents worked out an agreement with their lender, and Ford’s parents still own the home. [Media Matters, 9/18/18]

    Trump media sycophants fabricated a connection between Ford and Fusion GPS to discredit her accusation. Right-wing websites and social media trolls smeared Ford over her brother Ralph Blasey’s work at a law firm that did legal work for Fusion GPS, a company connected to the Trump/Russia investigation. But according to the trolls’ own “evidence,” Blasey’s work at the law firm ended six years before Fusion GPS was even founded. [Media Matters, 9/18/18]

    September 18:

    Rush Limbaugh and other conservative media spread a fake claim from a serial hoaxer that Ford similarly accused Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. Right-wing media figures including Rush Limbaugh repeated a made-up claim by serial hoaxer Josh Cornett that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was reluctant to share a letter Ford wrote with Feinstein’s colleagues because Ford sent a similar letter about Gorsuch last year during his confirmation hearings. [Media Matters, 9/19/18]

    September 19:

    Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones falsely identified a high school yearbook photo of a girl wearing a miniskirt as Ford and called her “captain of the sluts.” Jones and his website, Infowars, smeared Ford over excerpts from high school yearbooks of Ford’s school, falsely identifying a girl wearing a miniskirt as Ford and calling her a “hussy” and “captain of the sluts.” [Media Matters, 9/20/18]

    September 20:

    Conservative media figures embraced the outlandish theory that Ford misidentified her attacker, who they claimed was really Kavanaugh’s doppelganger. Conservative media outlets and figures including Fox News, Erick Erickson, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, and The Gateway Pundit supported a theory tweeted by conservative legal commentator Ed Whelan that Ford had confused Kavanaugh with another boy who Whelan claimed looked similar. Ford debunked the claim of mistaken identity and by the next day, Whelan had deleted his Twitter thread and apologized for publicly naming the person he suggested was the actual assailant. [Media Matters, 9/21/18]

    Far-right websites falsely claimed Ford worked for a company that manufactured an “abortion pill” to question her motive. The Gateway Pundit and other far-right websites claimed Ford’s accusation against Kavanaugh was politically motivated because of work she did for a pharmaceutical company that manufactured a so-called “abortion pill.” They said  she opposed Kavanaugh because of the possibility he would be the pivotal vote in overturning Roe v. Wade. But the pill is intended to treat a hormonal condition called Cushing’s syndrome, and it is not permitted to be prescribed to pregnant patients. [Media Matters, 9/24/18]

    September 24:

    Right-wing columnists attacked the wrong Deborah Ramirez over a “tie to George Soros.” After Ramirez told The New Yorker that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party in college, right-wing columnists Quin Hillyer and John Fund claimed that Ramirez won a Soros Justice Fellowship in 2003 and criticized the magazine for leaving out that irrelevant detail -- but they identified the wrong Deborah Ramirez. Hillyer and Fund later apologized for mixing up the two women. [Media Matters, 9/24/18]

    Fox News falsely claimed Republicans were kept in the dark about Ramirez’s report until it was published by The New Yorker. In its article on Ramirez’s report of sexual assault by Kavanaugh, The New Yorker wrote that “senior Republican staffers also learned of the allegation last week. … Soon after, Senate Republicans issued renewed calls to accelerate the timing of a committee vote.” But Fox News hosts instead pushed Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) evidence-free claim that Republican staff didn’t know about the report. [Media Matters, 9/24/18]

    September 25:

    Fox News legal analyst tried to hurt Ramirez's credibility by falsely claiming The New York Times “refused to report” Ramirez’s accusations in an effort to hurt her credibility. Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano claimed Ramirez had “no credibility” with her accusation against Kavanaugh because “The New York Times refused to report her story.” But the Times didn’t publish an initial story on Ramirez’s accusation because she was already exclusively talking to The New Yorker. [Media Matters, 9/25/18]

    September 26:

    TMZ and Erick Erickson pushed a false 8chan claim that Ford’s lawyer was pictured with Hillary Clinton during the presidential election. Right-wing blogger Erickson and Trump-friendly entertainment website TMZ ran with a false claim -- originiating on 8chan message board -- that Ford’s lawyer Debra Katz was spotted in a photo with Hillary Clinton in August 2016. In fact, the woman in the photo was Clinton photographer Barbara Kinney. [Media Matters, 9/26/18]

    September 27

    Conservative media figures alleged a conspiracy after Ford gave the innocuous answer that she didn’t know who paid for her polygraph test. Prior to coming forward, Ford underwent a polygraph exam that concluded that her account of the assault by Kavanaugh was “not indicative of deception.” During her September 27 appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Ford was asked who paid for the exam and she responded that she didn’t know. Conservative media figures, including Fox News writer Stephen Miller, Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich, and Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk, suggested that her answer was indicative of some sort of anti-Kavanaugh conspiracy. Later during the hearing, Ford’s lawyers said that they paid for it, which would be standard practice for the pro bono representation Ford is receiving. [Media Matters, 9/27/18]

    Members of right-wing media fabricated a “gotcha” moment by making a big deal about the fact that Ford has flown on planes. Ford’s fear of flying played a role in the back-and-forth with the committee leading up to her testimony, which she ultimately decided to fly to D.C. to deliver. During her testimony, Ford was questioned by a sex crimes prosecutor about past instances when she has flown, including for vacation. Conservative outlets and media figures, including Breitbart, Washington Examiner, National Rifle Association spokesperson Dana Loesch, and Ben Shapiro, all ran with the prosecutor’s insinuation that Ford had lied about being afraid of flying, failing to acknowledge that plenty of people who are scared of flying nonetheless can and do fly. [Media Matters, 9/27/18]

    September 28

    Michael Savage spread a conspiracy theory that Ford is “deeply tied to the CIA.” Conservative radio host and conspiracy theorist Michael Savage sent a tweet that went viral that claimed to list three areas where Ford had connections to the Central Intelligence Agency, all of which fell apart upon cursory inspection. In one of the instances, Savage claimed that the law firm that Ford’s brother previously worked at shares office space with several businesses he said was operated by the CIA. But there is no evidence those businesses are connected to the CIA; one of them is actually a janitorial company that doesn’t even share office space with the firm in question. Infowars’ Alex Jones promoted Savage’s conspiracy theory, which was also the top Google search result for “Christine Ford CIA” on September 28. [Media Matters, 9/28/18]

    October 1:

    A contributor to The Federalist suggested that Ford hypnotized herself in order to create a false memory of assault by Kavanaugh. Margot Cleveland, a senior contributor to The Federalist, seized on a 2008 academic article co-authored by Ford, who is a psychology professor, and 10 others that mentioned the use of hypnosis in therapy. The bizarre conspiracy theory was a misrepresentation of the article, which cited research from 1964 about hypnosis being used by therapy patients to “improve rapport in the therapeutic relationship, assist in the retrieval of important memories, and create artificial situations that would permit the client to express ego-dystonic emotions in a safe manner.” The study described by the article involved participants who were trained in self-hypnosis for use in “relaxation and affect regulation” -- not to create false memories. One of Ford’s co-authors spoke to Media Matters and slammed the conspiracy theory as “absolutely ridiculous” and that “the study had absolutely nothing to do with the creation of false memories, or the creation of memories of any kind.” The co-author noted additionally that Ford was a statistical consultant on the report, not a participant in the study, and that she worked on the data after it was collected. The disreputable website The Gateway Pundit advanced the conspiracy theory, which also spread on 4chan and Reddit’s pro-Trump “r/TheDonald” subreddit. [Media Matters, 10/1/18]

    Various dates:

    Photos falsely represented as Ford have been repeatedly shared online to discredit her. The fact-checking website Snopes.com has debunked several purported images of Ford that were spread online to discredit her. One of them was actually a photo of Ukrainian human rights activist Lyudmyla Kozlovka with philanthropist George Soros, whom the right-wing treats as a boogeyman. Another featured a photo of a half-naked woman pouring alcohol that is apparently from the 1960s, possibly before Ford was even born. Another smear attempt claimed that various women pictured at anti-Trump protests were Ford; one of them was identified as a woman named Liz Darner, while the other doesn’t “have much resemblance” to Ford, according to Snopes. The anti-choice outlet Life News and the conservative Daily Caller promoted the miscaptioned protest photos. [Snopes.com, 9/25/18, 9/23/18, 9/19/18, Twitter, 9/18/18]

  • A pro-Trump troll started a viral hoax about Christine Blasey Ford and Neil Gorsuch, and Rush Limbaugh ran with it

    Josh Cornett's Twitter feed is full of fake stories

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    A pro-President Donald Trump troll with a large Twitter following who has repeatedly tweeted fake “breaking” news stories smearing public figures has now tried to smear professor Christine Blasey Ford, who said Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were in high school. Some of the account’s false stories, including the tweet about Ford, have gone viral and spread throughout right-wing media.

    On September 18, Josh Cornett tweeted: “BREAKING: According to sources Diane Feinstein's reluctance to mention the Kavanaugh accuser's letter during confirmation session is because the accuser sent a similiar (sic) letter directed at Judge Gorsuch last year. The whereabouts of the earlier letter remain a mystery.developing.”

    The smear received thousands of retweets and likes, was pushed by Jim Hoft of far-right conspiracy blog The Gateway Pundit; Fox News contributor Kevin Jackson; former Infowars reporter Joe Biggs; columnist Matt Barber, a former attorney for the extreme anti-LGBTQ group Liberty Counsel; and former professional boxer-turned-lawyer Joey Gilbert. It was also shared on multiple subreddits. Radio host Rush Limbaugh also shared it on the air, saying it came from a “Twitter thread” and that he had "no idea of the veracity.”

    The smear was also shared by hosts on Texas talk radio station WBAP-AM, Pennsylvania’s WILK-AM, and Florida’s WFTL-AM. Cornett later tweeted that the claim was “forwarded” to him and he had “no idea” if it was true.

    Cornett has described himself to the conservative American Thinker as “an average hard working American” in his 30s, and his Twitter profile says he is “proudly blocked” by Fox News hosts Dana Perino, Bret Baier, Greg Gutfeld, and others. In 2017, The New York Times noted that Cornett, a “37-year-old Trump supporter in Cleveland,” urged his followers to boycott Nordstrom after the department store decided it would not sell the fashion line of the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump. The paper quoted Cornett as saying, “Anything that helps [Trump], I try to promote,” and that whenever Trump gets attacked, "I try to defend.”

    Cornett has followed through on that promise, using his Twitter account to support the president by smearing people he sees as Trump’s enemies and making up fake stories about them -- usually by tweeting without any evidence that he has “BREAKING” stories which are “developing.” Here are some of his fake stories that have gained traction:

    • In May, when ABC canceled pro-Trump comedian Roseanne Barr’s show after Barr made racist remarks, Cornett tweeted: “BREAKING: According to sources ABC President Channing Dungey had a long conversation via phone with former First Lady Michelle Obama before deciding to cancel the Roseanne show. Michelle Obama was reportedly enraged and insisted an apology was inadequate......developing.” Barr retweeted the post and asked Cornett, “Is this true?” Fox News mentioned the tweet in a story, calling Cornett a “right-wing activist.” YourNewsWire, one of the most popular fake news purveyors in the United States, pushed Cornett’s tweet in an article, and Cornett later tweeted the article to Barr as supposed proof of his claim. Cornett subsequently told American Thinker that he could not reveal his source, “but I stand by it and put my name on it.”

    • Earlier that month, Cornett tweeted without evidence: “BREAKING: Sources are confirming that former President Barack Obama has called Jay-Z several times over the past month pleading with Jay-Z to discourage fellow Hip Hop artists from meeting with President Trump.....developing.” The president’s son Donald Trump Jr. liked the tweet, and conspiracy theory outlet Infowars and The Drudge Report picked it up. Several radio hosts also shared it on air, including Boston radio host Jeff Kuhner, Tennessee host Dan Mandis, and a host on an Ohio talk station. The blog Gossip Cop fact-checked the story, reporting, “A source close to Jay-Z tells Gossip Cop on the condition of anonymity that Obama never asked him to tell other hip-hop artists not to support or meet with Trump.”

    • In June, Cornett also tweeted without evidence: “BREAKING: Senator Schumer has instructed fellow Democrats not to pass any legislation that could possibly help the children at the border, stating that ‘It will help voter turnout in the midterms’ and that CNN had agreed to help the Democrats with the storyline’... Developing.” The fake quote spread on social media, with some also adding MSNBC to the fake story, and multiple Facebook pages sharing a meme with Cornett’s false claim.

    • In July, after Fox News host Jeanine Pirro went on ABC’s The View, Cornett tweeted, “BREAKING: According to sources at ABC, after the taping of #TheView Thursday Whoopi Goldberg made the racist comment ‘I won't sit there and be lectured by Trump's Sand Nig*er’ the comment was made to Co-host Ana Navarro and overheard by several staff members......developing.” While ABC’s publicity director said the tweet “absolutely is false,” the hoax spread on social media. Some major followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory picked it up, a radio host pushed it on air, and a petition was launched calling for Goldberg’s firing.

    • In August, Cornett tweeted without evidence: “BREAKING: Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have been briefing Governor Andrew Cuomo on a near daily basis about the investigation into the Trump Organization. Governor Cuomo has then been illegally feeding the info to his brother Chris Cuomo and CNN..developing.” That, too, was shared as a screenshot on social media.

    In addition to his numerous other baseless claims, Cornett has also tweeted fake claims to exploit the murder of Mollie Tibbetts (who was allegedly killed by an undocumented immigrant), smear football player Colin Kaepernick, and declare CNN was ordered by its president to ignore violence in Chicago (which was also picked up by YourNewsWire). So far, Twitter has taken no action as Cornett continues to tweet these fake stories.

  • Right-wing media go all-out to denigrate Christine Blasey Ford, who says Kavanaugh assaulted her

    Ford said Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when they were high school students, but many media conservatives attacked her or say Kavanaugh should be confirmed anyway

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Washington Post reported on Sunday that Christine Blasey Ford had written a letter this summer to a Democratic lawmaker saying that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both high school students. Soon after Ford’s account was published, right-wing media figures and outlets began attacking her credibility, publicly discounting her story, or calling on Kavanaugh to be confirmed by Republicans anyway.

    Details from the letter, which she wrote to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), leaked out several days earlier, and then Ford “decided that if her story is going to be told, she wants to be the one to tell it.” From the Post’s story:

    Speaking publicly for the first time, Ford said that one summer in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh and a friend — both “stumbling drunk,” Ford alleges — corralled her into a bedroom during a gathering of teenagers at a house in Montgomery County.

    While his friend watched, she said, Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed on her back and groped her over her clothes, grinding his body against hers and clumsily attempting to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it. When she tried to scream, she said, he put his hand over her mouth.

    “I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” said Ford, now a 51-year-old research psychologist in northern California. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”

    Ford said she was able to escape when Kavanaugh’s friend and classmate at Georgetown Preparatory School, Mark Judge, jumped on top of them, sending all three tumbling. She said she ran from the room, briefly locked herself in a bathroom and then fled the house.

    Ford said she told no one of the incident in any detail until 2012, when she was in couples therapy with her husband. The therapist’s notes, portions of which were provided by Ford and reviewed by The Washington Post, do not mention Kavanaugh’s name but say she reported that she was attacked by students “from an elitist boys’ school” who went on to become “highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington.” The notes say four boys were involved, a discrepancy Ford says was an error on the therapist’s part. Ford said there were four boys at the party but only two in the room.

    Notes from an individual therapy session the following year, when she was being treated for what she says have been long-term effects of the incident, show Ford described a “rape attempt” in her late teens.

    Kavanaugh has denied the report after Ford went public, calling it “a completely false allegation.” He previously said, “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation.” The immediate reaction from many conservative media figures was terrible: Many cast doubt on her account, others suggested they might believe her but said Kavanaugh should be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice anyway, and others impugned her motives, suggesting a political or personal grudge.

    Conservatives who cast doubt on Ford’s account

    FoxNews.com’s Stephen Miller: “This was not a sexual assault. … Hold the vote. Confirm him. … It was drunk teenagers playing seven minutes of heaven.”

    Breitbart’s John Nolte: “GOP blows Kavanaugh, falls for this, they will be massacred in November.”

    Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones mocked Ford’s accusation: “Brett Kavanaugh in 1986 came to Dallas, TX, and I was in high school, and he raped me.”

    Trump ally and conservative political operator Roger Stone: “This is a woman looking for her Anita Hill moment. This is her 15 minutes.”

    Turning Point USA’s Candace Owens: “Nothing to see here, folks,” Ford is “just another woman who conveniently tripped and fell out of amnesia.”

    Conservative radio host Erick Erickson: “If the GOP does not stand up to this character assassination attempt on Kavanaugh, every judicial nominee moving forward is going to suffer last minute sexual assault allegations.”

    Erick Erickson: “I do not believe Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser. I do believe there is a Democrat PR firm working this story.”

    Erick Erickson: “People who want to keep killing kids really shouldn’t be throwing Jesus in the face of those who don’t believe the accusation against Kavanaugh.”

    Fox News’ Tomi Lahren: “Decades-old allegations against Kavanaugh come out just days before a vote….victim or opportunist?”

    Tomi Lahren: "Female empowerment is NOT using sexual assault allegations to torpedo someone you disagree with politically."

    Fox contributor Tammy Bruce: Report of assault by Kavanaugh is “an attempt at a political assassination.”

    Newsmax’s John Cardillo: “No, 35+ year old dubious allegations about a non-crime made by a left-wing activist … do not hold water.”

    NRATV’s Grant Stinchfield: “I have no idea if Judge Kavanaugh pushed this woman down on a bed at a high school house party where she wriggled free and ran away or not. What I do know is in the 35 years since, not one other woman has raised such an allegation. Sixty-five other women have, in fact, now come to his defense.”

    Fox Business host Dagen McDowell: “You have to press [Ford] on any potential bias that’s there” against Republicans.

    Fake news site TruthFeed: Ford’s story has “more holes than a slice of swiss cheese.”

    The despicable Democrats are pulling out all the stops to try and derail the Judge Kavanaugh vote for SCOTUS.

    They’re now claiming that Judge Kavanaugh attacked a woman in high school, nearly killing her. The woman, whose story has more holes than a slice of swiss cheese, claims there was a man in the room who witnessed the entire thing.

    One big problem. That man, says it never happened.

    Facebook page Silence is Consent posted a meme misleadingly claiming Ford was “so ‘devastated’” by incident “she contacted Feinstein 35 years later.”

    Fox Business host Bob Massi:The thing that’s remarkable to me” is that someone “with amazing credentials, amazing resumes, and an allegation like this comes out … and their entire career credibility is gone. … That’s the trouble with this.”

    Sean Hannity radio show guest David Schoen: "The real crime here that happened" is Sen. Dianne Feinstein "presenting this thing under ... this veil of mystery."

    Fox News host Sean Hannity cast doubt on Ford's accusation because of "everything else you see about Judge Kavanaugh's life ... this is a guy that spends a lot of time feeding the homeless."

    CRTV's Gavin McInnes: Ford is "clearly full of crap." 

    CRTV's Mark Levin on Ford's accusation: "This whole thing to me sounds like a sham and a setup. ... This is an entire political scam and sham as far as I'm concerned."

    Ethics and Public Policy Center Lance Morrow's Wall Street Journal op-ed likened Ford's accusation to Salem Witch Trials, diminished alleged rape attempt: "No clothes were removed, and no sexual penetration occurred."

    The Salem witch trials turned on what was called “spectral evidence.” That was testimony from witnesses—either malicious or hysterical—who claimed the accused had assumed the form of a black cat or some other devilish creature and had come visiting in the night in order to torment the witness with bites and scratches, or to rearrange the bedroom furniture, or to send the baby into paroxysms.

    ...

    Three hundred twenty-six years later, an anonymous woman—a spectral and possibly nonexistent woman, for all that one knew when the story emerged—accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her 36 years ago, when he was a high-school student. It seemed as if the American constitutional process might be drawn back to the neighborhood of Salem, Mass. According to this phantom testimony, 17-year-old Brett held the girl down, pawed her and tried to force himself upon her, and held his hand over her mouth when she screamed, until a second prep-school devil piled on top, they all tumbled to the floor, and the girl managed to slip away. The boys were “stumbling drunk,” according to the account.

    ...

    The thing happened—if it happened—an awfully long time ago, back in Ronald Reagan’s time, when the actors in the drama were minors and (the boys, anyway) under the blurring influence of alcohol and adolescent hormones. No clothes were removed, and no sexual penetration occurred. The sin, if there was one, was not one of those that Catholic theology calls peccata clamantia—sins that cry to heaven for vengeance.

    The offense alleged is not nothing, by any means. It is ugly, and stupid more than evil, one might think, but trauma is subjective and hard to parse legally. Common sense is a little hard put to know what to make of the episode, if it happened. The dust of 36 years has settled over the memory. The passage of time sometimes causes people to forget; sometimes it causes them to invent or embellish. Invention takes on bright energies when its muse is politics, which is the Olympics of illusion. 

    Conservatives who indicated that whether or not they believe Ford, Kavanaugh should be confirmed

    Federalist contributor Tom Nichols: “I’m good with the story being true,” but it shouldn’t “derail [his] nomination.”

    Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh: Ford’s report can’t be proven, “so he should be confirmed.”

    Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro: “The Senate should just vote” on Kavanaugh.

    The Federalist: Kavanaugh “should be confirmed” despite Ford’s report.

    Townhall.com editor Guy Benson: “Absent additional evidence, I don’t know how it would be remotely just to derail the nomination” of Kavanaugh.

    The Wall Street Journal editorial board suggested Ford possibly misremembered "in the cauldron of a therapy session to rescue a marriage," and stated that letting Ford's accusation "stop Mr. Kavanaugh's confirmation would ratify what has all the earmarks of a calculated political ambush."

    The woman accusing Brett Kavanaugh of a drunken assault when both were teenagers has now come forward publicly, and on Monday it caused Republicans to delay a confirmation vote and schedule another public hearing. Yet there is no way to confirm her story after 36 years, and to let it stop Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation would ratify what has all the earmarks of a calculated political ambush.

    ...

    Mr. Kavanaugh denies all this “categorically and unequivocally,” and there is simply no way to prove it. The only witness to the event is Mr. Kavanaugh’s high school male friend, Mark Judge, who also says he recalls no such event. Ms. Ford concedes she told no one about it—not even a high school girl friend or family member—until 2012 when she told the story as part of couples therapy with her husband.

    The vagaries of memory are well known, all the more so when they emerge in the cauldron of a therapy session to rescue a marriage. Experts know that human beings can come to believe firmly over the years that something happened when it never did or is based on partial truth. Mistaken identity is also possible.

    ...

    This is simply too distant and uncorroborated a story to warrant a new hearing or to delay a vote. We’ve heard from all three principals, and there are no other witnesses to call. Democrats will use Monday’s hearing as a political spectacle to coax Mr. Kavanaugh into looking defensive or angry, and to portray Republicans as anti-women. Odds are it will be a circus.

    ...

    Letting an accusation that is this old, this unsubstantiated and this procedurally irregular defeat Mr. Kavanaugh would also mean weaponizing every sexual assault allegation no matter the evidence. It will tarnish the #MeToo cause with the smear of partisanship, and it will unleash even greater polarizing furies.

    Conservatives who attacked Ford’s motives

    Mike Cernovich: “Christine Blasey is a far left wing activist. ... this is straight activism on her part.”

    The Gateway Pundit: Ford is a “far-left activist.”

    Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft: Ford is an “unhinged liberal professor who former students describe as dark, mad, scary and troubled.”

    Fox News host Laura Ingraham: “Apparently this accuser was fine with leaving Brett Kavanaugh on the second highest court of the land. … But it was when he was up for the Supreme Court that suddenly the stakes got higher.”

    Laura Ingraham: "This all has the whiff of a political smear masquerading as a sexual assault allegation."

    Fake news site RedstateWatcher: Ford is a "registered Democrat and Democrat activist.”

    Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh: Ford is "a political activist. She's an angry political activist. She's much more than just a victim of alleged attempted rape."

    Fox News host Tucker Carlson: "Does anyone really believe this story would have surfaced if Brett Kavanaugh had pledged allegiance to Roe v. Wade? Of course it wouldn't have."​

    Right-wing Facebook meme pages and groups engaged in a smear campaign against Ford

    Many right-wing meme pages attacking Ford falsely painted her as a Democratic political operative. [1, 2, 3, 4]

    Some pages tried to undermine Ford’s allegations by questioning her timing in coming forward and her memory of the incident. [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

    A woman from a Shuttershock photo of an anti-Trump protest in New York City was falsely attributed as Ford. [1, 2]

    Alex Kaplan and Natalie Martinez contributed research to this post.

  • Radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh ran with a false far-right claim about the Jacksonville shooter

    “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich and serially inaccurate site Gateway Pundit were among the first to push the bogus claim

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Radio stations and talk hosts around the country, including syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh, ran with a false far-right claim that the Jacksonville, FL, mass shooter was a Reddit user with a history of critical posts against President Donald Trump.

    On August 26, a man opened fire during a video game tournament in Jacksonville, FL, killing two people and injuring 10 others before turning the gun on himself. After the shooting, far-right conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich baselessly tweeted that the shooter “was a member of the Resistance who referred to Trump supporters as ‘trumptards’” citing what he claimed was his Reddit history. Ian Miles Cheong, formerly a self-described contributor for The Daily Caller who was involved (as was Cernovich) in the misogynistic online movement known as Gamergate, tweeted an image of anti-Trump comments posted by a Reddit account named “Ravenchamps,” which he claimed belonged to the shooter.

    Gateway Pundit, a serially inaccurate far-right site that consistently gets things wrong during breaking news events (and is now facing lawsuits for it), subsequently elevated both tweets and pushed the story. Conspiracy theory outlet Infowars also picked up the claim, along with fake news-churning sites like YourNewsWire, Neon Nettle, and True Pundit. The claim was also turned into memes and put on Facebook, where thousands of users shared the posts.

    The claim turned out to be false, as the user “Ravenchamps” -- whose name is Pavel -- subsequently clarified on Reddit that he was not the shooter, sharing the harassment he was receiving as a consequence of the far-right’s irresponsible claim. Pavel, who is from Minnesota, told BuzzFeed that he was “call[ing] out the idiots” who blamed him for the shooting and told NBC News, “There are a lot of idiots on the internet who come to conclusions over no factual evidence.”

    The baseless claim that “Ravenchamps” was the shooter jumped to multiple radio stations, a medium with a history of pushing false stories that originated online (including some from fake news sites in places like Africa and Macedonia). The radio shows pushing the bogus claim include:

    • The nationally syndicated The Rush Limbaugh Show, where host Rush Limbaugh claimed that “you might not hear very much about this Jacksonville shooting ... because it appears the shooter was part of the Trump resistance. Limbaugh said that the shooter was apparently “very, anti-Trump” on a Reddit thread. Limbaugh claimed as a result the “drive-bys [media] are not going to want to want to make a vast, vast move on this guy” because “people that hate Trump are supposed to hate guns”;

    • Maryland talk station WCBM-AM’s Morning Show With Sean and Frank, where hosts said the alleged shooter’s Reddit page was “littered with anti-Trump garbage” and, in a later segment, reiterated that he was “part of the Trump resistance”;

    • Nebraska talk station KFAM-AM’s Chris Baker, who asserted that “according to all reports,” the alleged shooter was a “Trump resistor” based on his “Reddit page; and

    • The Steve Kane Show on Florida talk station WSBR-AM, where the host shamefully lauded Cernovich as “awesome” and read his tweet about the Reddit account. He added that it showed the shooter was “another liberal, just like the guy that shot up the baseball team,” referring to the 2017 shooting at the Republican congressional baseball practice.

  • Right-wing media are defending Rep. Jim Jordan against accusations that he knew about -- and ignored -- sexual abuse at Ohio State University

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) has been accused of knowing about, and failing to act on, sexual abuse by the team doctor during his tenure as assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University. Multiple former athletes have accused Dr. Richard Strauss of sexual misconduct and have claimed that Jordan knew or must have known about the abuse yet failed to act.

    Jordan, who is also the co-founder of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, has denied the accusations, claiming he was unaware of any abuse. During a July 6 appearance on Fox News’ Special Report, he was quick to attack multiple accusers, criticized CNN for hosting a former wrestler to discuss the claims, and stoked conspiracy theories by claiming that “the timing” of the accusations “is suspect” because he’s about to launch a campaign for speaker of the House. Allies of the conservative congressman have been equally resolute in their defense, with both President Donald Trump and outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) backing Jordan, and the entire Freedom Caucus voting to officially support him.

    Unsurprisingly, right-wing media have also jumped to Jordan’s defense, suggesting that the accusations are no more than a politically motivated smear. Here are some of right-wing media’s defenses:

    • Fox Business host Lou Dobbs criticized Ryan for failing to immediately defend Jordan from “suspiciously timed smear campaigns.” He also called the accusations “a smear campaign of the vilest sort” and said Jordan has been “dishonorably attacked by the left."

    • The Daily Caller ran an article attacking some of the accusers, arguing that their “sketchy history” raises questions about their “authenticity.”

    • Fox News contributor David Bossie tweeted that Jordan is “an honest man of unparalleled integrity” and “the scurrilous allegations against him are absurd - perpetrated by the fake news media and liberals with an agenda to stop Congressman Jordan.”

    • Radio host Wayne Dupree claimed the accusations were a “hit job” and argued that the story “seems like an inside job from our side that doesn't want a conservative becoming Speaker of the House.” He also called the accusations a “sex smear” and said that they have solidified his “unequivocal support” for Jordan.

    • Townhall’s Kurt Schlichter called the accusations “sudden” and “convenient,” claimed multiple times that the story was “bullshit,” blamed the victims, and suggested there was a “coordinated” liberal response to the wrestlers’ claims.

    • Media Research Center’s Brent Bozell said the accusations reek of “dirty tricks” and implied that they were made to derail Jordan’s campaign to join Republican House leadership.

    • During Rush Limbaugh’s July 6 radio show -- titled “With Paul Manafort in Solitary, Deep State Targets Jim Jordan” -- the radio host argued that the accusations against Jordan are just the result of “opposition research” and claimed they emerged “because he’s had a successful interrogation period with [Deputy Attorney General] Rod Rosenstein and is being mentioned for possible speaker.” Limbaugh also attacked the victims’ histories and stoked conspiracy claims by noting that the “the leading Democrat law firm in all of fascist Democrat America,” Perkins Coie, is investigating the wrestlers’ accusations. Gateway Pundit made similar accusations, blaming the deep state, and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) also told Dobbs that the deep state was to blame.

    • The Daily Wire ran an article that called the “timing of these allegations… suspect,” because they have come out only when “Jordan was considering a run to replace Paul Ryan (R-WI) as speaker of the House.”

    • Infowars’ Owen Shroyer claimed “intimidation tactics” were being used against Jordan, argued there are “a bunch of holes in this” story, and said, “It seems to me like this is just another case of the Clinton crime machine trying to intimidate Americans who are standing up to them.”

    • Infowars’ Roger Stone rejected the accusations as a “smear tactic” and “a hit piece” and argued that Jordan is being targeted for his criticism of Rosenstein.

  • Right-wing media are criticizing Maxine Waters over civility. Here’s what they’ve said about her in the past. 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Right-wing media are criticizing Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) after she encouraged people to publicly protest Trump administration officials who are complicit in the atrocious family separation policy at the U.S border. But the “civility” these outlets are touting has been absent in their many vicious past attacks on Waters.  

    For more than a month, the Trump administration separated immigrant children from their asylum-seeking parents and detained them in child prisons, apparently with no plan in place to reunite the families. The administration took infants as young as 3 months old from their guardians, kept children in cages, and deported some parents without their kids -- while officials continuously lied about their own policy. President Donald Trump has since signed an executive order ending the policy of family separation, but the order’s future might be in jeopardy given that it calls for the inhumane and likely illegal policy of indefinite detention of migrant children (with their parents). And for those families already separated, some parents may never see their children again, and the administration has offered other parents -- many of whom sought asylum after fleeing violence or persecution -- an impossible choice: They can continue seeking asylum and risk not seeing their kids for the duration of the case, or they can be reunited and deported.

    In the face of this atrocity -- and the administration’s many others-- people have begun to stage peaceful protests against the architects and defenders of family separation. On June 23, Waters joined those cheering on the protesters’ efforts, encouraging people to continue putting pressure on Trump officials. Speaking at a rally, she said, “Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up. And if you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they're not welcome anymore, anywhere.” Waters has since been attacked by people who are fretting over the “incivility” of her remarks. But right-wing critics have flung racist, sexist, and all-around vile comments at Waters for years.

    • After watching a clip of Waters speaking in Congress, former Fox host Bill O’Reilly lobbed a racist attack at the congresswoman, claiming he couldn’t hear “a word” Waters said because of her “James Brown wig.”

    • In an homage to O’Reilly’s racist remark, conservative “media analyst” and YouTube personality Mark Dice tweeted a picture of James Brown, writing, “Congresswoman Maxine Waters dropped by the #MTVAwards as a presenter tonight!”(The tweet has since been deleted.)

    • Fox's Newt Gingrich fantasized about Trump beating Waters in a boxing match.

    • Infowars host Alex Jones likened Waters to a rabid dog.

    • Jones also called her a “dumb witch,” and he once said, “I think she’s hot. I’m into necrophilia.”

    • Jones also once killed a small bug on air after labeling it “Maxine Waters.”  

    • Infowars ran an article titled “Maxine Waters is a globalist race pimp embarrassment.”

    • Trump ally and radio host Michael Savage called Waters “one of the most despicable people in the history” of Congress.

    • Savage also argued that Waters should be charged with “sedition,” saying, “I don’t know if [she] can even spell it.”

    • He also said that Waters was “working for the Muslims who want to kill us.”

    • Radio host Rush Limbaugh called Waters a “lunatic.”

    • The New York Post’s John Podhoretz, who is also a contributing editor for The Weekly Standard, accused her of “worship[ing] at the feet of totalitarian monsters.”

    • Syndicated right-wing columnist Ann Coulter said that without affirmative action, Waters couldn't get a job "that didn't involve wearing a paper hat."

    • Former Fox host Eric Bolling told Waters to “step away from the crack pipe.”

    • Fox’s Laura Ingraham said she would prefer “Madea doing political commentary” over Waters.  

    • After the president recently called Waters a “low IQ person,” Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk tweeted: “If Maxine Waters was really so smart, why does she refuse to take an IQ test?”

  • Everything right-wing media tried to blame for the Trump administration’s family separation policy

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    As President Donald Trump’s administration implemented a new “zero tolerance” prosecution policy at the border that led to unprecedented and systematic separation of immigrant families and locking kids in cages, right-wing media flailed around trying to blame the administration’s policy on anybody or anything except Trump.

    The president’s media enablers blamed Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, “the law on the book,” Democrats in Congress, the media, the families themselves, and even “the Illuminati of K Street” for the Trump administration’s policy:  

    Blaming the families themselves

    • Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt claimed that families “are choosing to be separated” by coming to the United States in the first place. Co-host Steve Doocy agreed, saying “the part that is troubling ... is the conscious decisions the parents are making” in trying to bring their children to America.

    • Recently pardoned felon Dinesh D’Souza rhetorically questioned whether the “deported aliens” were “the ones choosing to separate their families.”

    • Fox’s David Bossie said that if parents “don’t become criminals, they’re not separated” from their children.

    • Fox’s Tomi Lahren said, “If you do not want to be separated, do not cross the border illegally. Follow our laws, follow the process. That's the best way to ensure that your family stays together.”

    Blaming former presidents

    • Radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that family separation at the border "is an entirely manufactured crisis. It’s entirely manufactured. This has been going on for years. It happened during the Obama administration."

    • American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp declared, “Obama and Trump have [the] same child protection policy.”

    • Turning Point USA Communications Director Candace Owens falsely claimed that “these policies were in place” during the Obama administration.

    • Turning Point USA President Charlie Kirk falsely stated, “All of this happened for 8 years under Obama.”

    • CNN commentator Ben Ferguson shared an image on Facebook that claimed that policies of separating children from “illegal parents” had been in effect since 2009.

    • Breitbart claimed Trump’s “new ‘zero tolerance’ policy worked during the presidency of George W. Bush,” referring to an initiative that began in 2005 and has not worked.

    • Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs stated that “previous presidents, including Bush and Obama, long ignored” family separation at the border until Trump “mov[ed] to stop” the practice.

    • Fox’s Sean Hannity claimed, “This is nothing new and took place in previous administrations as well.”

    • Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones said that family separation has been “standard procedure for decades” when you “pick up a group of a hundred people and you have no idea who the hell they are.”

    Blaming a nonexistent law

    Blaming media, claiming they were using family separation as a distraction

    • Fox’s Brian Kilmeade said that Trump’s media detractors “had to reach for something else” after Trump “put a lot of the skeptics to bed … and they found it with the so-called separation of kids and parents.”

    • Rush Limbaugh claimed that media is inundating Americans with “manufactured crises” like family separation to distract from the Department of Justice inspector general report and strong economy.

    • Fox’s Tucker Carlson, host of one of the most racist hours on television, said that reporting on family separation is just the media pursuing their goal “to change your country, forever.”

    • NRATV commentator Dan Bongino claimed that media reporting on family separation is “propaganda, nothing more.”

    • Hannity accused the media of harboring an “obsession” with “the so-called policy” of separating children from their parents in order to mislead Americans.

    • Twitter troll Bill Mitchell predicted, “Every Sunday news show will be about Trump's #FakeNews ‘concentration camps’ and NOTHING about the OIG.”

    • Sinclair Broadcast Group’s propagandist Boris Epshteyn devoted his “must-run” segment on family separation to attacking the media for their “politically driven” attempts “to make it seem as if those who are tough on immigration are somehow monsters.”

    Blaming Democrats, claiming they were using family separation for political ends

    • According to The Gateway Pundit, Democrats “would rather the problem persist so they can continue to wring their hands over another manufactured crisis to distract from the damning IG report and robust economy.”

    • Fox Business’ Stuart Varney complained that Democrats “hijacked” a hearing on the IG report “within seconds of it beginning,” and “poured out [their] scorn for President Trump” instead.

    • Fox’s Trish Regan commented that Democrats “would much rather cry on television like [Rep.] Elijah Cummings [D-MD] did” than stop family separation, because “it plays to any hatred they can gin up, as we go into ‘18, for Donald Trump.”

    • National Review’s David French wrote, “I have a feeling that for some partisans, it’s fascism to impose the policy and fascism to try to end it -- at least so long as the GOP is in charge of the process.”

  • Right-wing media attempt to distract from family separation policy by attacking abortion rights instead

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Following the Trump administration’s implementation of a policy requiring the separation of immigrant children from their parents as they cross the border, some self-described “pro-life” organizations and media figures have failed to denounce this policy. Others, though, have seemingly attempted to distract from the outrage about the policy by making outlandish and inaccurate comparisons to abortion.

    • Right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh said the outrage over the Trump’s administration policy was a “manufactured crisis” and pointed to Democratic support for Planned Parenthood as a sign of hypocrisy. Limbaugh said, “You want to talk about separating families, look no further than the abortion mills of Planned Parenthood.”
    • On the June 18 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson attacked Democrats for opposing the Trump administration’s policy, saying that the “same people who support third-term, post-viability abortion for purposes of sex selection” were “lecturing” others about “the holiness of children.”
    • Liz Wheeler, host of One America News Network’s Tipping Point with Liz Wheeler, dismissed the focus on Trump’s policy during the June 13 edition of her show, saying, “If you care so much about exploited and abused children, where’s your outrage about the 1 million unborn children who are aborted every single year in our country?” Wheeler then pivoted to discussing a made-up story about Planned Parenthood, asking, “Where is your outrage that Democrats in Congress refuse to call for an investigation into this pattern of Planned Parenthood covering up the sexual abuse of children?”
    • On NBC’s Meet the Press, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, defended the policy by alluding to abortion saying that “nobody likes seeing babies ripped from their mothers’ arms, from their mothers’ wombs, frankly, but we have to make sure that [Department of Homeland Security] laws are understood.”
    • On Westword One’s The Mark Levin Show, host Mark Levin said that “suddenly the Democrats care about children.” He went on to claim inaccurately that “when it comes to abortion,” Democrats support it “right up to the last second. It can be eight months, 29 days, and they still support abortion.”
    • Anti-abortion outlet Life News responded to a tweet from Planned Parenthood saying children shouldn’t be separated from their parents by saying that Planned Parenthood was “ignoring how its own practices permanently and violently separate children from their fathers and mothers” and that the organization “does that 876 times a day in abortions.”

    • An article on CRTV’s Louder with Crowder website claimed that Planned Parenthood “separates babies from mothers every day. With surgical brutality. These babies are not being stored in chain-linked cages, waiting for processing. Planned Parenthood stores their children in jars. A calvarium in one jar, legs in another. Parts shipped, and sold, separately.”
    • The Daily Wire’s Paul Bois attacked U2's Bono for supporting legalized abortion access in Ireland while criticizing Trump's policy of separating families at the border.

    • Yahoo! Lifestyle picked up the framing from anti-abortion outlets in an article headlined “Planned Parenthood called hypocritical for protesting Trump's 'zero tolerance' immigration policy.” The article highlighted several anti-abortion tweets suggesting that abortion is worse than the Trump administration’s policy.

    Anti-abortion organizations, politicians, and media figures also adopted this farcical comparison on social media