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Sara Carter

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  • Fox correspondent channeled network’s opinion side at Barr’s press conference

    Catherine Herridge asked Attorney General Barr what Hannity and Fox & Friends have been demanding: When will he investigate the investigators?

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In yet another blow to the supposed separation between Fox’s “news” side and its opinion hosts and contributors, correspondent Catherine Herridge wasted her question at Attorney General William Barr’s press conference by echoing the demands of Fox & Friends just hours earlier and Hannity the night before: When will he investigate the origins of the probe into the Trump campaign?

    Herridge chose to channel the narrative from Fox’s opinion shows at Barr’s press conference by asking, “Is there anything you can share today about your review of the genesis of the Russia investigation and whether assets have been provided to investigate?”

    This same question was repeatedly raised on Fox News earlier this morning. As the nation awaited the release of Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade asked, “How soon do we pivot to how this whole thing started?” Before the press conference began, Fox News contributor Andrew McCarthy said that Barr should talk about “an inquiry into the origins of the investigation.” Fox & Friends guest and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, misrepresenting what actually took place, said: “We need to hold the people who did that spying accountable.” Fox contributor David Bossie followed that up by saying, “I hope that during this morning's press conference that the attorney general is going to tell the American people that he has impaneled a grand jury to investigate the investigators.” And Fox contributor Jason Chaffetz expressed a desire for Barr to skip past any investigation and go straight to prosecutions.

    All of that was just from this morning’s Fox & Friends. And it was just a continuation of similar absurdity from last night’s Hannity. During his monologue, Sean Hannity said:

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): The investigations taking place right now in the DOJ, in Congress, are the only thing standing in the way of this country becoming a banana republic. If we don't investigate investigators, lock up the bad actors, this country will be over as we know it. All must be held to account, including those who rigged Hillary's probe, persecuted Trump, spied on a political campaign, tried to rig a presidential election, attempted a deep-state coup on a duly elected president of the United States. If justice is not served, say goodbye to our democratic republic, say goodbye to your freedoms. You can say goodbye to your precious rights endowed by our Constitution and creator, God.

    We must protect also the 99.9% of good people in the FBI, in the intelligence community, that protect the innocent people here and around the globe, premier agencies around the world. It's only 1% that did wrong. We either get equal justice that we deserve, or we’ll have no country.

    Hannity later said, “I want to know what [former President Barack] Obama knew, and [former national security adviser Susan] Rice knew, and [former Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper knew, and [former CIA Director John] Brennan knew.”

    His guests followed suit. Republican lawyer Joe diGenova expressed confidence that Barr “will start a process which is going to lead to a series of federal grand juries to hold accountable all the people you are talking about.” GOP attorney Victoria Toensing said “justice will be served” for Trump’s investigators, and Hannity contributor Sara Carter asserted:

    There are a number of indictments that are on the way. There's going to be a very serious investigation into what had happened and what had transpired since the Hillary Clinton investigation by the FBI, all the way through the origins at the very beginning of the investigation into then-candidate Trump and those within his campaign. And this is going to be significant because they are going to look for these origins, and I think -- I agree completely with Joe and with Victoria that it's going to lead all the way back to the White House. And that is what I'm hearing and I'm talking about the Obama administration.

    This narrative has been a fixation among Fox’s opinion hosts -- particularly Hannity, a close Trump adviser -- for months. That it would become the single focus of the Fox correspondent asking a question of the attorney general shows there is no division between Fox’s “news” and its opinion side -- the network is a pro-Trump propaganda outlet, plain and simple.

  • On Fox, Sean Hannity delivers the show QAnon believers want to watch

    As Fox News increasingly winks at the conspiracy theory, QAnon followers cheer Hannity after “Q” tells them to watch his show

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Mielissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News host Sean Hannity, one of President Donald Trump’s most fervent supporters and an unofficial presidential adviser, has some new fans: followers of the the QAnon conspiracy theory. Interest in Hannity's show spiked on a prominent QAnon message board after the pseudonymous "Q" endorsed the broadcast. QAnon believers are celebrating Hannity for promoting themes following the conclusion of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation that they say echo their own.

    The conspiracy theory centers on an anonymous account claiming to be a high-level government official with “Q” security clearance. The account posts cryptic messages on 8chan’s “/qresearch/” forum, and followers obsess over the “Q” posts by decoding and documenting them to spin major news stories into evidence of either a plot against Trump and his supporters or of pro-Trump victories against the “deep state.” Some followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory have allegedly engaged in deadly violence, and others have reportedly threatened to kill YouTube employees and even Trump himself.

    Hannity has a long record of pushing conspiracy theories and misinformation, and for the last two years his show has revolved around the baseless notion that Mueller's probe was the result of a "deep state" conspiracy to remove Trump from office. And last week, the account posting as “Q” twice urged its followers to tune in to Hannity’s shows. On the March 25 edition, Hannity repeated his regular attacks on the “deep state,” which fit similar narratives as those posited by the QAnon conspiracy theory: There’s a corrupt, criminal “deep state” hellbent on ousting the president, but that Trump is outsmarting its members.

    In 8chan posts, “Q” urged followers to tune in to Hannity

    On March 25, an 8chan post attributed to “Q” urged readers to “listen & watch Sean Hannity today.”

    On March 27, “Q” again urged people to watch Hannity’s show, which featured a 45-minute phone call with Trump.

    Hannity’s arguments likely resonated with QAnon believers

    Some of Hannity’s arguments have overlapped with the narratives that QAnon followers have built around the cryptic 8chan posts by “Q.” As researcher Travis View has described, the conspiracy theory revolves around Trump “secretly battling a corrupt deep state and an evil cabal of pedophile Satan-worshiping elites.” The narrative also puts Trump in a larger scheme to prosecute Democrats, Obama administration officials, and others who are supposedly trying to lead a coup against the White House. Since Mueller was appointed special counsel in May 2017, Hannity has criticized the probe over and over again, demanded investigations of those in the “deep state” against Trump, and said he has “sources” claiming that it would happen soon.

    On the “Q”-endorsed March 25 show, Hannity’s talking points were nothing outside of what's ordinary for him, in that in discussing Attorney General William Barr’s letter to Congress that claimed Mueller did not establish collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia and that the Department of Justice concluded there isn’t enough evidence to charge Trump for obstruction of justice, he said, “This must be a day of reckoning for the media, for the deep state.”

    He also railed against the “abuse of power” by certain officials at the FBI, adding that the probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of private email server during her time as secretary of state must be reopened “if we are to ever have justice in this country.” He also claimed, “Sources are telling me it's all about to come cascading down.”

    Additionally, Hannity called House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) “cowardly” and a “national disgrace.” He also hosted Fox contributor Newt Gingrich, who claimed there was a “deep state-news media joint conspiracy to protect Hillary Clinton and to destroy Donald Trump” and called it “one of the sickest moments in American history.”

    QAnon followers tuned in to Hannity and reacted positively

    The endorsement from “Q” caught its followers’ attention. Media Matters analyzed 8chan’s “/qresearch/” board for mentions of “Hannity” since August 2018 and found a major spike after the two “Q” endorsements: In the first 48 hours after both “Q” endorsements, there were more than 1,000 posts that included the word “Hannity.” The second largest jump in mentions of Hannity on the board happened on March 18 and 19, with more than 350 posts including his name, after he hosted Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and complained that Clinton was “getting a pass.”

    Based on a Media Matters analysis of posts on the “/qresearch/” forum, many QAnon followers noticed the similarities between their pet narratives and Hannity’s talking points. During and after Hannity’s March 25 show, QAnon followers praised the Fox host, lauding his claims and suggesting that he was coordinating with “Q,” claiming that “Q is Hannity’s producer,” and writing that Hannity was “acting as a mouthpiece for Q’s message.”

    Fox has amplified the QAnon conspiracy theory

    “Q”’s endorsement of Hannity also comes at a time when Fox figures have increasingly winked at the QAnon conspiracy theory, even though there’s ample evidence of its dangerous ramifications. On March 22, Fox & Friends First featured a tweet from a major QAnon follower:

    On March 26, Fox & Friends featured more tweets from QAnon accounts:

    On the same day as the first “Q” post about Hannity, Fox White House correspondent Kevin Corke tweeted an image of a coffee cup with “Q” written on it and liked dozens of responses containing “pro-QAnon messages.”

    In August, Fox & Friends hosted a QAnon believer who had posted on Facebook a "Q" post claiming that the Parkland, FL, mass shooting was fake.

    And last year, both Hannity and Fox contributor Sara Carter shared tweets promoting QAnon:

    Such potential nods to the conspiracy theory may help Fox get viewers, but as the Pizzagate shooting has shown us, giving credence to far-right misinformation is incredibly dangerous.

  • Claim that 80 percent of migrants in caravan are "military-aged" men can be traced back to a Fox News contributor

    Fox News contributor Sara Carter’s claim that the majority of migrants are men has spread among right-wing media, who are now calling the men “military-aged”

    Blog ››› ››› COURTNEY HAGLE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Misinformation and false claims surrounding the migrant caravan headed toward the United States have been making rounds on right-wing media outlets. Now, Fox News has introduced the idea that "80 percent" of the migrants -- many of whom appear to be refugees -- traveling within the caravan are men, an unverified claim that has made its way to other right-wing media outlets, with some now calling them "military-aged."

    The migrant caravan first began to gain attention in mid-October, when its size had increased from roughly 160 to over 7,000 people, according to CNBC. It has since been reported that this figure dropped to 4,000 people. The group is currently in southern Mexico and isn’t expected to reach the U.S. border for weeks, if at all. Nonetheless, Fox News seized on the caravan as this year’s pre-election story -- just as it did on the Ebola story before 2014 midterm elections -- to stoke fear among the Republican base. The network also brought it to the attention of President Donald Trump, who has since successfully manipulated other media outlets into excessively covering the caravan. Fox News has now introduced the claim that a majority of the migrants are young men.

    • Fox News contributor Sara Carter initially tweeted that it was "mostly men now crossing the #Guatamalen (sic) border.
    • Carter then claimed on Hannity that while on the ground in Guatemala, she saw “very few women and children, and an enormous amount of men.”
    • Carter repeated this claim on Hannity the following evening, saying, “The majority of people that were in the caravan … were men. There were a few hundred women.”
    • Jesse Watters claimed on Fox News’ The Five that “80 percent of those people in the migrant caravan are males under the age of 35.”
    • Watters repeated the statistic again the following day on Fox News’ The Story with Martha McCallum, claiming that while Democrats were saying it comprised all women and children, the caravan is “actually 80 percent men.”
    • Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade said Carter told him “almost everybody she saw were males.” He also said Carter told him that “she didn’t see any babies. She saw one baby carriage. She walked up real quick and it was somebody’s luggage in a baby carriage.”
    • Judicial Watch’s Chris Farrell claimed on Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight that, while on the ground in Guatemala, he observed that “it’s an overwhelmingly male caravan. … The women and children are super minority.”
    • Former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka claimed on Fox & Friends that “80 percent of the caravan are military-aged males,” citing Carter and Farrell.
    • By Monday, Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade had raised the percentage, asserting that “85 percent evidently are men” when asking a guest about the threat that the migrants pose.

    Other right-wing media outlets have adopted this talking point, citing Fox as the source. Alex Jones’ Infowars quoted Fox News as saying, “‘About 80 percent’ of migrant caravan ‘are men under the age of 35.’” The Daily Wire wrote, “Fox News also noted this week that approximately ‘80 percent’ of the people traveling in the caravan ‘are men under the age of 35.’” Gateway Pundit wrote that the caravan "Includes Military-Aged Male Migrants From Bangladesh, Haiti and Congo" in a post that embedded Carter's original tweet. The unverified statistic made its way to various other right-wing media outlets as well.

    Other media outlets have not confirmed this claim, and other reports contradict Fox’s accounts of the caravan’s members. Vox has reported that half of the migrants within the caravan are women and girls. Univision noted during a field visit that there were a large number of families, single mothers, and children, as well as older adults and people with disabilities in the caravan. And UNICEF reported in a press release that "an estimated 2,300 children traveling with [the] migrant caravan in Mexico need protection and essential services."

  • No crime but a witch hunt: Pro-Trump media’s off-the-wall reactions to Manafort's conviction and Cohen's guilty plea

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    After former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump attorney Michael Cohen were found guilty and pleaded guilty, respectively, each on eight criminal counts, right-wing media immediately rose to President Donald Trump’s defense. Multiple media figures claimed that none of the charges had anything to do with Trump and that Trump’s former associates pleaded guilty to crimes that “don’t exist.”

  • Introducing the Sean Hannity Expanded Universe, Fox’s anti-Mueller alternative reality

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Conservatives often bemoan liberal dominance of Hollywood. But since Donald Trump’s election, Fox News’ Sean Hannity has built the closest thing the right wing has to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the wildly successful superhero franchise. Where Marvel’s superheroes fight alien invaders, the stars of the Sean Hannity Expanded Universe (SHEU) position themselves as the last bulwark against special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. But while the superheroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe fight villains like Thanos on their own, Hannity and his compatriots want to go a step further and enlist their audience to support a frightening and anti-democratic response by Trump.

    Hannity has cast himself as his series’ Iron Man, the only visionary clear-sighted enough to identify an existential threat. The sprawling team assembled around him includes bankable leads, aging stars seeking new relevance, promising new faces, and ensemble players, all crossing over into each other’s storylines to build common narratives. Their overarching tale is that Mueller’s Russia probe is a “witch hunt,” the result of the fabrications of a shadowy cabal of journalists, Democrats, and “deep state” operatives. The happy ending they seek is the president saving himself by curtailing Mueller’s probe and instead ordering investigations into his political enemies. 

    For more about Hannity's conspiratorial narrative and the authoritarian endgame he's pushing, see our study reviewing his coverage of the first year of the Mueller probe.

    President Trump is simultaneously the audience for this story, the victim who needs to be saved, and, in Hannity’s telling, the potential hero. The SHEU’s proposed solution to the Mueller investigation is in line with the authoritarian model for law enforcement Trump prefers, casting the Justice Department’s function as protecting the president and punishing his enemies. Unlike Marvel fans, Trump is able not merely to watch members of the SHEU on Fox broadcasts, but to break the fourth wall and go on their shows for fawning interviews, highlight particular segments for his Twitter followers, promote their programs and books, and even call on a select few for advice.

    That might be a fanboy’s fantasy. But it has real and frightening consequences. The SHEU is reaching out from the Fox News screen and encouraging the president to act on his authoritarian impulses. Hannity and his teammates are preparing their viewers to support Trump no matter what norms he shatters. They have great power, and if Trump takes their advice, they will bear great responsibility.

    Anti-Mueller conspiracy theories have permeated nearly every corner of Fox. But only the true stalwarts merit inclusion in the Sean Hannity Expanded Universe:

    • A weekly guest spot with the Fox & Friends crew helped turn Trump into a political phenomenon, and he’s remained a loyal viewer throughout his presidency. If you see Trump angrily tweeting about the Mueller probe early in the morning, Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, Brian Kilmeade, or one of their guests is almost certainly responsible.

    • Lou Dobbs’ cable news career seemed over when his bigoted commentary finally forced CNN to push him out in 2009, but he soon found a new home at Fox Business. Even at Fox, he’s distinguished himself as a shameless pro-Trump sycophant whose calls to not just fire but jail Mueller and the FBI and Justice Department leaders who have defied Trump are genuinely unnerving.

    • A longtime friend of Trump’s whom he considered for a senior Justice Department position, Jeanine Pirro has a Saturday night program that’s a must-watch for both White House aides and observers hoping to predict Trump’s messaging. She drew attention for her disturbing call for a “cleansing” of the FBI and DOJ and the arrests of top officials she considers insufficiently loyal to the president.

    • Gregg Jarrett spent much of his career as a marginal legal commentator and weekend Fox anchor. But he raised his profile by becoming the go-to analyst for hosts like Dobbs and Hannity, who value having someone with a law degree claim that Trump’s associates are innocent because collusion isn’t a crime and condemn their FBI pursuers for acting like “the old KGB.”

    • Jarrett’s a hack, but at least he’s Fox’s hack. Other attorneys regularly called upon to dismiss the investigation include Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow and the husband-and-wife team of Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, who were briefly considered for Trump’s legal team and have represented several figures under Mueller's investigation. All three are mainstays in the right-wing legal community -- and each has done legal work for Hannity.

    • Once colleagues at the right-wing website Circa News, John Solomon has moved on to The Hill while Sara Carter is a Fox contributor who publishes her reporting at her personal blog. Their slanted reporting based on conservative sources helps fuel anti-Mueller Fox hosts eager for information confirming their dire theories, and it garners the pair regular appearances throughout the SHEU -- and Hannity’s call to award them with Pulitzer Prizes.

    • A former Secret Service agent, Dan Bongino parlayed three failed bids for federal office into a career as a mid-level right-wing pundit, a gig on the National Rifle Association's media operation NRATV, and regular appearances on Fox & Friends and Hannity. Keep an eye on this one -- someone willing to call the Russia probe “an obvious frame job” could go far in this morally bankrupt movement.

    • Sebastian Gorka, who joined Fox after being canned from his poorly defined White House job after only seven months, has argued that Clinton should be put to death for treason.

    • After spending years attacking the ethics of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton now uses his Fox appearances to urge Trump to pardon everyone implicated by the Mueller probe and describe the FBI as “a KGB-type operation.”

  • Here's what you need to know about the right's theory that the FBI planted a spy in the Trump campaign

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In recent days, many on the right have pushed the claim that the FBI "infiltrated" President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign with a "mole." The claim relies upon the testimony of a co-founder of Fusion GPS, the research firm that hired a former British agent who compiled an intelligence dossier about Trump’s connections to various Russians. The claim also builds off of a recent squabble between the Department of Justice and the chairman of the House intelligence committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), over the release of classified information. Here is what you need to know about the story’s origins:

    • On January 2, Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, the founders of the research firm Fusion GPS, claimed in an op-ed that the FBI had a source “inside the Trump camp” during the 2016 election.

    • On January 9, the transcript from Simpson’s August 2017 Senate testimony was released, revealing that he had told the Senate Judiciary Committee it was his “understanding” that the bureau had an “internal Trump campaign source.” Simpson also testified during the hearing that conversations he had with the author of the dossier about Trump’s Russia connections, Christopher Steele, led him to believe that the FBI had “a human source from inside the Trump organization.”

    • The same day, reporters tweeted that the Trump campaign insider Simpson referred to was George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the campaign, and that the FBI's source was an Australian diplomat who informed U.S. officials that Papadopoulos had mentioned to him receiving Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton in May 2016.

    • Between January 9 and January 10, both The New York Times and The Washington Post reported that the “human source” Simpson had mentioned was allegedly the Australian diplomat, Alexander Downer.

    • On January 18, however, a lawyer for Simpson sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) asserting that Simpson “stands by his testimony.” The lawyer stated that Simpson was not withdrawing his claim that Steele had “believed the FBI had another source within the Trump organization/campaign.”

    • On May 8, The Washington Post reported that the DOJ was refusing to hand over information requested by Nunes because it could “endanger a top-secret intelligence source.” The source, according to the Post, had developed information that was “provided to the Mueller investigation.”

    • Two days later, The Wall Street Journal’s Kim Strassel published an op-ed in which she speculated that the FBI may have secretly had a source “who used his or her non-FBI credentials” to interact with the Trump campaign.

      • Strassel wrote in the Journal that the DOJ and the FBI “outright hid critical information from a congressional investigation," which could mean that the FBI had a spy linked to the Trump campaign.
      • Strassel wrote that “When government agencies refer to sources, they mean people who appear to be average citizens but use their profession or contacts to spy for the agency,” asserting that the FBI could have secretly planted a source who interacted with the Trump campaign.
      • ​According to Strassel, any such move on the FBI’s part would “amount to spying.”
      • Strassel also concluded that "Now we find [the FBI] may have also been rolling out human intelligence, John Le Carré style, to infiltrate the Trump campaign."
    • Strassel doubled down on her assertion during a May 11 appearance on Fox News, claiming, “The FBI was using human intelligence to spy on a presidential campaign.”

    Right-wing media is pushing the "spy" theory 

    Radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed he knows “who the spy is” and that this person was “like an operative employed by the FBI to basically entrap somebody who worked with the Trump campaign in a peripheral way.” He also said that Papadopoulos “was entrapped by three people, including the person who is reputed to be the spy."

    Fox’s Sean Hannity argued that there was a spy embedded in the campaign and called the Strassel op-ed a “stunning new development” that raises “serious concerns and questions about the possibility [of] the F.B.I. planting a mole inside the Trump campaign.”

    The hosts of Fox & Friends devoted multiple segments to Strassel’s op-ed and also highlighted Limbaugh’s theory that the FBI planted a “spy” to “entrap” Trump associates. Fox’s Pete Hegseth argued that Limbaugh is “on to something,” and co-host Steve Doocy asked, “Was the FBI out to frame candidate Donald Trump?”  

    Trump sycophant and Fox Business host Lou Dobbs tweeted: “#ExposeTheMole- FBI & DOJ planted an spy in @realDonaldTrump’s 2016 campaign & didn’t tell congressional investigators.”

    During an appearance on Hannity’s radio show, Fox’s Sara Carter claimed, “It appears [the FBI] had somebody that was reporting back on information inside the Trump campaign, which would mean that they had a mole connected to people in the Trump campaign or within the Trump campaign.” Carter repeated the report on Hannity’s prime-time Fox News show, claiming, “Yes, I believe [the FBI] did have an informant, somebody that was reporting back to them.”

    The Daily Caller pushed the narrative in an article about Rep. Ron DeSantis’ (R-FL) appearance on Fox News: “Ron DeSantis Says He May Know Who Was Spying On The Trump Campaign: ‘There Needs To Be Follow Up’.”

    Pro-Trump site The Gateway Pundit ran multiple articles by founder Jim Hoft that pushed the claim, including one in which Hoft claimed to know the “probable” identity of the “spy,” and another that argued there were multiple “deep state” sources.   

    Far-right fringe blog Zero Hedge posted Strassel’s op-ed with the headline, “WSJ: The FBI Hid A Mole In The Trump Campaign,” even though Strassel never claimed the “mole” was actually inside the campaign.

  • Sean Hannity’s effort to tie Robert Mueller to Whitey Bulger was bullshit

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Sean Hannity, the Fox News host and adviser to President Donald Trump who has turned his broadcast into a nightly attack on special counsel Robert Mueller, smeared the head of the Russia probe by referencing one of the darkest chapters in the FBI’s history on four consecutive broadcasts last week. “During Mueller’s time as a federal prosecutor in Boston, four -- four men wrongfully imprisoned for decades framed by an F.B.I. informant and notorious gangster, Whitey Bulger, all while Mueller’s office looked the other way,” Hannity said in one such report last Wednesday.

    That’s nonsense, according to Nancy Gertner, the retired federal judge who presided over the wrongful imprisonment trial of the four men and ordered the government to pay them and their families $101.7 million. As Gertner explains in a Wednesday op-ed in The New York Times, there is “no evidence” linking Mueller to the case -- and in fact, the case didn’t even involve Bulger, the infamous head of Boston’s Winter Hill Gang.

    The swift unraveling of Hannity’s latest shoddy effort to discredit Mueller points to Fox’s inability or unwillingness to restrain its top-rated host as he barrels through journalistic ethics rules and ignores basic fact-checking standards.

    The Bulger story has its roots in an apparently coordinated right-wing effort that kicked off last month after Trump lashed out at Mueller for the first time by name on Twitter. Those tweets, which followed reports that the special counsel had issued a subpoena for Trump Organization records, triggered a series of reports from pro-Trump sources about Mueller’s record that reportedly bore “the hallmarks of professional opposition research.”

    In one such missive, headlined “Questions Still Surround Robert Mueller’s Boston Past,” Fox News contributor and Hannity fixture Sara Carter wrote on her personal website that the special counsel’s tenure as an assistant U.S. attorney and acting U.S. attorney in the 1980s “raised questions about his role in one of the FBI’s most controversial cases involving the FBI’s use of a confidential informant” -- whom she identified as Bulger -- “that led to the convictions of four innocent men, who were sentenced to death for murders they did not commit.”

    The story heavily drew on criticism from David Schoen, a civil rights and defense attorney who had previously linked Mueller to Bulger while appearing alongside Carter in a February Hannity segment. Carter’s report quoted Schoen claiming Mueller had been “neck deep” in the case.

    As Gertner explained in her Times op-ed, there’s no reason to believe any of this is true:

    Based on the voluminous evidence submitted in the trial, and having written a 105-page decision awarding them $101.8 million, I can say without equivocation that Mr. Mueller, who worked in the United States attorney’s office in Boston from 1982 to 1988, including a brief stint as the acting head of the office, had no involvement in that case. He was never even mentioned.

    The case wasn’t about Whitey Bulger but another mobster the F.B.I. was also protecting, the hit man Joseph Barboza, who lied when he testified that the four men had killed Edward Deegan, a low-level mobster, in 1965. Mr. Barboza was covering for the real killers, and the F.B.I. went along because of his importance as an informant.

    [...]

    Mr. Mueller is mentioned nowhere in my opinion; nor in the submissions of the plaintiffs’ lead trial counsel, Juliane Balliro; nor in “Black Mass,” the book about Mr. Bulger and the F.B.I. written by former reporters for The Boston Globe.

    Carter, a former reporter for the Sinclair Broadcast Group website Circa, regularly produces shoddy reports that appear to channel the talking points of Trump’s lawyers and Republican congressional investigators. But while she now writes only for her personal blog, she is a key player in the right wing’s anti-Mueller effort because she regularly appears on Hannity and other pro-Trump Fox programs to discuss her stories.

    In this case, Hannity hosted Carter and Schoen to discuss her “brand new report” on March 20, the night after she published it. Hannity termed Mueller’s purported connection to the wrongful imprisonment of the four men “one of the worst stains” on the special counsel’s record. He returned to the story on the next two editions of his show.

    Hannity did not mention the case again until last Monday, when he responded to the FBI’s raid of Michael D. Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer (who, as would later be revealed, had also done legal work for Hannity himself).

    During his unhinged performance that night -- promoted by the president on Twitter -- Hannity mapped out the “Mueller crime family,” which he said included Bulger. He trumpeted Mueller’s purported malfeasance in the case that night and during his next three broadcasts.

    Meanwhile, other players in the pro-Trump media, including radio host Rush Limbaugh and Boston Herald columnist and radio host Howie Carr, picked up the story. These conservative commentators, desperate to damage Mueller’s credibility in order to forestall his investigation and set the stage for his firing, don’t much care if these stories are true.

    “When Mr. Hannity and others say Mr. Mueller was responsible for the continued imprisonment of those four men, they are simply wrong — unless they have information that I, Balliro, the House investigators and the ‘Black Mass’ authors did not and do not have,” Gertner concluded, referring to a book by Boston Globe reporters about Bulger and the FBI. “If they do, they should produce it. If they don’t, they should stop this campaign to discredit Mr. Mueller.”

    Hannity doesn’t have any additional information, but don’t count on him to stop running with the talking point now that it’s been debunked -- or issuing a correction, as would happen at any other network. At Fox, there are no rules for Hannity.

  • Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue has become fully “red-pilled” by an 8chan conspiracy theory

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    It was concerning enough when in January 2018, the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue encouraged followers to look into the allegations of an anonymous conspiracy theorist on the 8chan message board. Now, it appears that Operation Rescue, with its history of violent rhetoric and harassment, has become fully converted and is seeking to cultivate anti-abortion followers into believers in a far-right conspiracy theory.

    Headed by longtime extremists Troy Newman and Cheryl Sullenger -- the latter has served time for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic -- Operation Rescue has been described as an organization dedicated to “shut[ting] down abortion clinics by systematically harassing their employees into quitting.” Operation Rescue initially signaled that they’d been “red-pilled” -- a term popularized by the “alt-right” to refer to an ideological conversion to “seeing the world as it really is” -- in a January 7 press release, in which the group signal-boosted a series of posts from a far-right community on 8chan.

    8chan is a message board system -- similar to 4chan and Reddit -- that enables users to engage in discussions anonymously. This has made such communities hotbeds of racist commentary, misogyny, and politically motivated harassment campaigns, in addition to serving as fertile ground for those in the so-called “alt-right” or white nationalist movement. As Mother Jones’ Mariah Blake explained, “men’s rights forums on sites like 4chan and Reddit are awash in misogyny and anti-feminist vitriol” -- a trend that has turned such sites into what Vox’s Aja Romano called a “gateway drug” that leads people into the “alt-right.” 

    In the January 7 release, Operation Rescue focused on an 8chan conspiracy theory called “The Storm” in which a user who refers to himself as “Q” claims to be a “high-level government insider” secretly sharing clues to “inform the public about POTUS’s master plan to stage a countercoup against members of the deep state.” The scope of the conspiracy theory has expanded to encompass all types of events, ranging from a fire at Trump Tower to a train accident involving Republican members of Congress. Most recently, followers of The Storm have joined a campaign calling for the release of a four-page classified memo drafted by House intelligence committee Republicans that allegedly shows illicit behavior by the FBI and Justice Department during the early phases of investigating connections between Trump associates and Russia -- a campaign organized around the Twitter hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo. According to The Daily Beast, right-wing figures as well as online message board communities “have since turned the hashtag into a rallying cry, imploring fans to tweet the hashtag.” On February 2, the President Donald Trump authorized the release of the memo, despite explicit warnings from the FBI about the veracity of its contents.

    In the January 7 press release, Operation Rescue acknowledged that "Q" is a conspiracy theorist -- or at least inspires conspiracy theories. Since then, the social media activity of the group and its leadership indicates that they’ve gone full Sean Hannity. Between January 7 and February 12, both Sullenger’s Twitter account and the official Operation Rescue account have increased their engagements with accounts promoting #ReleaseTheMemo and related hashtags (#Qanon, #TheGreatAwakening, #FollowTheWhiteRabbit). In the past month alone, Sullenger’s changed her account handle to “CherylS sez #ReleaseTheMemo” and followed a number of right-wing media personalities’ accounts, including Alex Jones, Jerome Corsi, Paul Joseph Watson, Mike Cernovich, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Mark Levin, and Sara Carter.

    Since January 2018, Sullenger and Operation Rescue’s social media accounts have demonstrated a precipitous slide into full-embrace of The Storm and #ReleaseTheMemo:

    Cheryl Sullenger

    • January 10 -- Sullenger tweeted a National Review article and included the hashtag #Qanon.

    • January 16 & 17 -- Operation Rescue sent a press release, calling on followers to participate in the “Mother of All Tweet Storms.” According to the release, followers of The Storm were “asked to create memes that express truths that have been misreported or ignored by the Main Stream Media (MSM) and call them out for their dishonest reporting.” Operation Rescue characterized the event as “a tweet war of Biblical proportions with folks joined together in a concerted effort to break through to the masses with the truth about governmental corruption, human trafficking, and even Planned Parenthood.” The Operation Rescue Twitter account then spent the better part of January 17 tweeting a variety of memes attacking Planned Parenthood and promoting hashtags related to The Storm.

    • January 22 -- Sullenger tweeted #ReleaseTheMemo and included a screenshot from Fox News’ Hannity, in which host Sean Hannity was talking about it. Hannity has been an active promoter of so-called “deep state” conspiracy theories.

    • January 24 -- Sullenger reacted to news that Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards is leaving the organization sometime in 2018, by tweeting multiple memes of Richards depicted in prison with the hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo. The official Operation Rescue account also tweeted a press release about Richards’ departure using the hashtags #ReleaseTheMemo and #FollowtheWhiteRabbit. Sullenger also tweeted a link to a YouTube video about #Qanon, calling it, “Must watch!” In addition to Sullenger’s Twitter activity, the Operation Rescue account also liked a tweet about #ReleaseTheMemo.

    • January 27 -- Sullenger retweeted a Jerome Corsi tweet about #ReleaseTheMemo, featuring a story from far-right blog The Gateway Pundit about Hannity and the memo. Sullenger additionally tweeted an explainer video about The Storm, writing, “#TheStorm is real. #ReleaseTheMemo.” Sullenger also tweeted @realDonaldTrump, asking him to read the memo during the State of the Union address because “Americans need to know the #truth.” Meanwhile, The Operation Rescue account liked a tweet about #GreatAwakening and #QAnon.

    • January 28 -- Sullenger attacked Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) -- a frequent right-wing target -- on Twitter, citing a clip from Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight. This tweet included the hashtags #GreatAwakening and #ReleaseTheMemo. In addition to her own tweet, Sullenger also retweeted content from Jerome Corsi and Hannity about #ReleaseTheMemo.

    • January 29 -- Sullenger quote-tweeted a claim from Corsi about the memo, writing that she would not “be happy until we can all see the memo with our own eyes.” In addition, Sullenger also tweeted about the resignations of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and Democratic National Committee CEO Jess O’Connell from their positions -- linking each to #ReleaseTheMemo. Notably, Sullenger shared an image from an account (@Thomas1774Paine) about the memo supposedly being delivered to the White House -- writing in a public post on her Facebook that “we are on the brink of history!” The Operation Rescue Twitter account retweeted a user, @LadyStephC, calling the memo “the tip of the iceberg” and including a number of hashtags related to The Storm.

    • January 31 -- After a train crash involving Republican members of Congress, Sullenger retweeted a conspiracy theory from Corsi that suggested the accident was part of a “deep state” plot to stop the Republicans from releasing the memo.

    • February 1 -- Sullenger tweeted several memes linked to the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign, suggesting that if the memo is released some Democratic politicians will go to jail. Another meme that she tweeted showed "Q" as a revolutionary standing up to the "deep state" and implied the only way Americans would be "free" is by following him. Sullenger retweeted “alt-right” troll Jack Posobiec, in addition to tweeting a screenshot of an 8chan message board comment (allegedly from “Q”) and including the hashtags #ReleaseTheMemo and #Qanon.

    • February 2 & 3 -- Retweeting a comment from Trump’s Twitter account about opposition research firm Fusion GPS, Sullenger argued that the same firm had “issued fake ‘forensic analysis’” in order to “cover up [Planned Parenthood]'s illegal baby parts trafficking” -- referring to a debunked allegation from the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. In her tweet, Sullenger included the hashtags #ReleaseTheMemo and #ThesePeopleAreSick. Sullenger also retweeted right-wing media personality Mark Levin. After the release of the disputed memo, Sullenger retweeted several of Corsi's tweets hyping allegations of widespread wrongdoing by government entities. On February 3, Sullenger retweeted Trump claiming that the memo "totally vindicates" him.

    • February 4 -- Sullenger tweeted a video alleging that Super Bowl LII attendees were at risk of being targeted by terrorists, commenting, "Better safe than sorry!" For good measure, Sullenger also tweeted a Life News article about Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards calling her "evil" and using the hashtags #LockHerUp, #AbortionIsMurder, and #GreatAwakening. 

    • February 5 -- Retweeting an account that previously shared screenshots from 8chan, Sullenger commented that both Clinton and Planned Parenthood "both must pay for crimes." Sullenger also shared a press release published by Operation Rescue further connecting the memo to the organization's typical talking points about Planned Parenthood. 

    Troy Newman

    Throughout much of this timeline, the social media accounts of Troy Newman did not engage as often with topics related to The Storm, #ReleaseTheMemo, or even right-wing media personalities. However, on January 31, a public post on Newman’s Facebook page directed followers to what appears to be a conspiracy theory blog for a man named Jim Stone.

    The site seems to house blog posts about a number of conspiracy theories, including one about an alleged plot by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to smuggle a gun into the State of the Union and assassinate Trump:

    Among other extreme conspiracy theories, Stone claimed the January 31 train accident occurred because Republican members of Congress had “received death threats over the memo, and were heading to a safe place when they were stopped by a staged ‘accident’”:

    Perhaps the most outlandish conspiracy theory of all: "If Trump gets killed, they can produce a fake Trump and have him say whatever they need him to say in real time." The blog continued that this technology had been used "with Hillary [Clinton] during the campaign" and that it was "critical information you cannot skip seeing": 

    After the memo was released on February 2, Newman tweeted and posted on Facebook, wondering if it was "too early to call this an attempted coup" against Trump. 

    One thing is certain: If Sullenger and other members of Operation Rescue have been fully “red-pilled,” they are not only exposing their audience to a wellspring of conspiracy theories, but also potentially becoming further radicalized themselves. And if exposure to rapidly misogynist online communities is truly a “gateway drug,” as Romano warned, the cross-pollination between these 8chan conspiracy theorists and anti-abortion extremists is an incredibly dangerous prospect.