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The Trump administration drew media criticism in February for a misleading claim that 10 terrorists were intercepted crossing the U.S.-Mexico border each day in 2017. The claim has now resurfaced as “almost 4,000 terrorists” throughout 2018. It is still misleading.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders appeared on the January 4 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends to defend President Donald Trump’s stance on the ongoing government shutdown. She told the hosts that a border wall is needed because “last year alone, there were nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists” arrested along the U.S.-Mexico border.
About an hour later, White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley made the same claim on another Fox show, America’s Newsroom. Gidley said that there were “almost 4,000 terrorists, known or suspected, coming across the border” last year.
The White House’s claim of 4,000 terrorists invading through the southern border appears to be a rudimentary reframing of Vice President Mike Pence’s October statement that, in the 2017 fiscal year, “we apprehended more than 10 terrorists or suspected terrorists per day” trying to cross the southern border. (Eight months prior, Pence had said it was seven per day.) It seems Sanders and Gidley multiplied 10 terrorists by 365 days, then rounded the figure up to an even 4,000 for 2018. In recent days, congressional Republicans and prime-time host Sean Hannity have made similar claims on Fox.
Pence’s assertion was roundly debunked as a false claim last year. PolitiFact rated his initial claim “pants on fire” because the figure he referenced appeared to be for all points of entry to the country, not just the southern border. Similarly, The Washington Post said Pence’s later claim “quickly falls apart upon further inspection.” A Pence spokesperson also “tacitly” acknowledged to the Post that the vice president misstated the statistic.
On MSNBC Live with Stephanie Ruhle, national security reporter Julia Ainsley also noted that the White House “is likely rounding from this figure that we’ve heard from the administration before. ... What they’re taking that from is the number of all people who are stopped at all ports, especially airports.” Ainsley said that Sanders “seems to be rounding [the figure] and especially playing it off the border to make it seem as if these are people crossing the border to make the case for the president’s wall. When, in fact, we’re talking about airports where a wall wouldn’t do anything.”
Update (1/7/19): On January 6, Sanders appeared on Fox News Sunday to again push the myth that 4,000 suspected terrorists were attempting to cross the southern border. Sanders brought up the statistic after host Chris Wallace quoted the State Department’s statement that there is “no credible evidence of any terrorist coming across the border from Mexico.” When Sanders tried to bring up the statistic, Wallace said, "I know the statistic -- I didn’t know if you were gonna use it, but I studied up on this," and pointed out that “they're not coming across the southern border, Sarah; they’re coming and they are being stopped at airports.” Sanders ignored the factual basis of this claim, saying that terrorists “come by air, by land, and by sea.” In reality, zero immigrants have been arrested on terrorism charges while attempting to cross the southern border in recent years.
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A version of this post was originally published on Grist.
Right-wingers' efforts to derail media coverage of the National Climate Assessment backfired not once but twice.
First, the Trump administration tried to bury the National Climate Assessment by releasing it on Black Friday, but that tactic bombed. It turns out that "Trump tries to bury a new climate report" is a much sexier headline than "Scientists release a new climate report."
Then, climate deniers fanned out on TV networks to spread lies and deceptive talking about the report, but they got far more criticism than they expected, and that criticism kept climate change in the news.
Overall the report got loads of media coverage in the days after it was released. The quality was decidedly mixed -- some of it was good, some of it was awful -- but the good coverage appears to have outweighed the bad.
At least 140 newspapers around the country featured the National Climate Assessment on their front pages the morning after it was released, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. That included not just The New York Times and The Washington Post, which have strong teams of climate reporters, but also smaller papers all around the U.S., including 20 of them in California. A number of the papers highlighted the ways that climate change is hitting their regions, like the Portland Press Herald in Maine:
If the release of the climate change report really was timed to bury the news, it backfired badly. It’s on the front page everywhere today. We stripped it across A1 with a second story about Northeast/Gulf of Maine impact. Because this is the most important issue of our time. pic.twitter.com/hZELULzawR
— Steve Greenlee (@SteveGreenlee) November 24, 2018
MSNBC aired some strong segments. In one, host Ali Velshi mocked President Donald Trump's claim that his “gut” told him the report is wrong. He then interviewed climate scientist Brenda Ekwurzel of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a co-author of the assessment, who explained the report's findings and how scientists arrived at them.
CNN served up some highly problematic coverage -- more on that below -- but it also did some good interviews with climate scientists about the report, as well as three senators who are serious about addressing the climate crisis. And CNN took a novel approach to real-time fact-checking when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied about the report during a press briefing. The network showed live video of Sanders, but paired it alongside a text bar labeled "Facts First" that corrected some of her false claims:
CNN is airing the briefing -- but this "facts first" side panel seems like a new idea pic.twitter.com/xzZOIbFTFQ
— Lis Power (@LisPower1) November 27, 2018
All of the Sunday morning political talk shows discussed the report on the weekend after it was released. It was the first time in 2018 that every one of them addressed climate change on the same day. They rarely cover climate change at all.
Unfortunately, we would have been better off without some of that Sunday show coverage -- particularly the segments that gave airtime to rabid climate deniers. One of the worst ran on NBC's Meet the Press and featured Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank supported by the Koch brothers. She trotted out a favorite climate denier line -- "I'm not a scientist" -- and then proceeded to spout pure nonsense about how the globe is getting cooler.
Right-wing panelist on Meet the Press on climate change: "I'm not a scientist ... We need to also recognize we had two of the coldest years, biggest drop in global temperatures that we have had since the 1980s, the biggest in the last 100 years. We don't talk about that." pic.twitter.com/OLPUZOpoKR
— John Whitehouse (@existentialfish) November 25, 2018
Egregious drivel about climate change also cropped up on CNN's State of the Union, which asked not one but two climate deniers to weigh in on the report. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) offered bland, lukewarm climate denial: "Our climate always changes and we see those ebb-and-flows through time." Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) one-upped Ernst by going all in for scalding-hot climate denial, praising the Trump team’s attempt to bury the report and claiming that the scientists who wrote it were “driven by the money":
CNN's Rick Santorum praises Trump administration trying to bury report on climate change: "A lot of these scientists are driven by the money" pic.twitter.com/ndwpkQHUxH
— Media Matters (@mmfa) November 25, 2018
Santorum was roundly mocked on Twitter for making such a completely bogus claim. You might have thought that this would discourage other climate deniers from following suit, or at least discourage CNN from giving them a platform. You would have been wrong.
The following Monday, CNN hosted two more right-wingers who made the same ridiculous claim that climate scientists were in it for the money: Tom DeLay, who resigned as Republican House majority leader in 2005 after being convicted of money laundering and conspiracy, and Stephen Moore, a Trump-loving “economist” who's worked for Koch-funded groups.
The next day, on Tuesday morning, CNN seemed like it might be trying to redeem itself. It ran one segment in which CNN political analyst John Avlon fact-checked and thoroughly debunked the claim that scientists are getting rich by studying climate change, and another in which climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe explained that she and the other co-authors of the National Climate Assessment were paid "zero dollars" for their efforts.
But a few hours later, the bonkers claims were back. CNN yet again invited both Santorum and Moore to repeat the warmed-over lie that scientists are driven by a multi-billion-dollar climate change industry that has manufactured a false crisis. Santorum presented this ludicrous falsehood and many others in a panel discussion on Anderson Cooper 360°. Cooper had interviewed Hayhoe for that same episode, but her interview got bumped and was only posted online, while the segment with Santorum’s false claims aired during prime time.
Oh, and CNN also failed to note that Santorum, Moore, and DeLay have all received copious amounts of cash themselves from the fossil fuel industry.
Other media outlets bashed CNN and NBC for featuring climate deniers, and that led to still more coverage of climate change and the National Climate Assessment, most of which was good.
The New York Times published a fact-checking piece titled, "The Baseless Claim That Climate Scientists Are ‘Driven’ by Money," which cited and debunked statements made by Santorum and DeLay. PunditFact, a project of the fact-checking site PolitiFact, looked into Pletka's claims and labeled them "false."
New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg published a story titled "News Networks Fall Short on Climate Story as Dolphins Die on the Beach," which highlighted the false claims made by Pletka and Santorum and put them in the context of climate change impacts in Florida. The Washington Post's media columnist Margaret Sullivan tweeted out Rutenberg's story.
Climate scientist Hayhoe published an op-ed in The Washington Post that debunked the myths propagated on CNN by Santorum and DeLay, among others.
WNYC's On the Media hosted yours truly in a discussion about coverage of the National Climate Assessment, including the problem of featuring climate deniers on air.
Politico's Morning Media daily newsletter, written by media reporter Michael Calderone, highlighted problems with press coverage of the National Climate Assessment on four different occasions after the report came out.
ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd was just one of many influential media figures who tweeted their disapproval of segments that featured climate deniers:
— Matthew Dowd (@matthewjdowd) November 25, 2018
The fact that some members of the media screwed up their coverage so royally meant that other members of the media kept reporting on the story longer than they might have otherwise.
Meanwhile, the folks over at Trump's favorite network were living in their own universe, as usual. Fox News gave the National Climate Assessment very little airtime. A few straight-news segments covered it, but the most popular Fox shows didn't. CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter pointed out that on the day of the report's release, Fox spent more time discussing the shoes of Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) than it did discussing climate change.
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) November 25, 2018
Considering what Fox's top personalities would have been likely to say about the report had they bothered to cover it, it's probably just as well that they stayed mum.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders shared an edited Infowars video to prop up the White House’s lies about CNN’s Jim Acosta
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders shared a deceptively edited video from Paul Joseph Watson, the editor-at-large at Infowars, as evidence for the administration’s false claim that CNN’s Jim Acosta assaulted a White House intern during a press conference.
Infowars head Alex Jones has repeatedly claimed that his operation passes material to President Donald Trump and White House staff.
Acosta and Trump had a contentious exchange during a November 7 press conference where a White House intern attempted to take a microphone from Acosta’s hand. During the exchange, “Acosta’s hand appeared to briefly brush her arm.” But Sanders subsequently accused Acosta of “placing his hands on a young woman” and announced that his White House press pass was suspended.
In an attempt to bolster her false claim, Sanders posted a video that purported to back her version of events:
We stand by our decision to revoke this individual’s hard pass. We will not tolerate the inappropriate behavior clearly documented in this video. pic.twitter.com/T8X1Ng912y
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) November 8, 2018
Observers on Twitter quickly pointed out that the clip in question originated from a tweet by Watson and that the video was altered. According to HuffPost, “The footage Sanders shared was missing the audio, zoomed in and repeated. Critics on social media said the speed of the footage was altered as well.”
Sarah Sanders claims Jim Acosta 'placed his hands on a woman'.
Jim Acosta says this is a "lie".
Here's the video.
You be the judge. pic.twitter.com/rhkyDD9H8t
— Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) November 8, 2018
In recent months, several social media platforms have either outright banned Jones and his outlet or placed restrictions on his activities. But Jones and his Infowars colleagues still appear influential enough that their content can quickly reach the White House.
Ever since Trump appeared on Jones’ show in 2015 and praised his “amazing” reputation, Jones has often claimed to have close access to Trump and administration personnel. One high-profile example of the Infowars-White House pipeline is when Trump pardoned disgraced former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. As the pardon announcement neared, Arpaio appeared on The Alex Jones Show and thanked Jones and Infowars for getting his story to the president. As recently as September, Jones claimed on his show, “I have specifically had the White House and the president thank me recently for the fact that I’m covering the hard topics no one else will to hit the barbed wire.”
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Sinclair’s Boris Epshteyn to local news viewers: “The way many in the media treat White House press secretary Sarah Sanders is disrespectful and despicable”
Amid her regular routine of deflecting hard questions from journalists (last week, specifically about the Trump administration’s inhumane family separation policy), White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made time to sit down for a softball interview with Sinclair Broadcast Group to talk about liberal “media bias.”
In a two-part interview conducted on June 20 and released on June 21 and June 25, Sanders joined Sinclair chief political analyst and former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn to talk about the ways so-called liberal media outlets are biased against her and the president and to discuss President Donald Trump’s recent summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. These parts of Epshteyn’s interview are now airing as “must-run” segments on more than 100 Sinclair-owned and -operated local TV news stations across the country, sandwiched between sports and the weather.
In the latest “Bottom Line With Boris” segment, Sanders and Epshteyn discuss the “disrespectful and despicable” ways that “many in the media” treat Sanders. According to a Media Matters search of the iQ media database this morning, this segment has already aired on local news stations in at least 21 states.
The entire astonishing two-minute spot is worth watching, if only to understand the propaganda that will now be broadcast into living rooms across the country. Below is a full transcript and video.
BORIS EPSHTEYN: The way many in the media treat White House press secretary Sarah Sanders is disrespectful and despicable. Here is what she told me about her relationship with the press.
EPSHTEYN: What would you say the reason is for some of the overarching and really over-the-line heat that you have faced from some folks, sometimes very personal. What is the root, you think, of some of the treatment you’ve received?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think some people, Democrats in particular, at some point they’re going to have to decide if they love our country more than they hate this president. And I hope that they’ll make the right decision in that process. But there’s certainly a lot of anger and a lot of hostility, and I think in large part it’s because they’ve got somebody like President Trump, who always beats them at their own game. He always overcomes the things that they say are not possible. They said he’d never run for president. He did. They said he’d never win. He did. They said he couldn’t get tax cuts done. He did. They said that the economy would completely crash. It’s the best it’s been since World War II. I mean, every single time that they try to tell him he can’t do something or that really bad things are going to happen, he proves them wrong, and I don’t think that they like that a lot.
EPSHTEYN: What is something that people at home may not know about you, that they’re not seeing when you’re sparring with the media or representing the president?
SANDERS: That maybe that I’m a little nicer than sometimes --
EPSHTEYN: I think you’re very nice.
SANDERS: -- than the media wants to make me out to be. Again, I’m a pretty, I think, happy person. I love life. And I’m a lot nicer, I think, than they make me out to be in the press.
[END OF INTERVIEW CLIP]
EPSHTEYN: Here is the bottom line: Sarah is a good person, a mother of three, and a public servant. I hope that all members of the press start treating her with the respect that she deserves.
The June 21 segment of the interview focused on all the ways Sanders and Epshteyn believe the North Korea summit was successful; it has now aired on stations in at least 22 states. Here is a partial transcript of what local news audiences heard about the meeting:
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: And the president is a true leader on the global stage. And it was really magnificent to watch.
BORIS EPSHTEYN: Do you think that North Korea will end up denuclearizing?
SANDERS: As the president likes to say, we'll see what happens, but it was definitely a step in the right direction and we’re continuing to work towards denuclearization. We're going to keep pushing.
EPSHTEYN: Last questions on this topic. What about the criticism -- the president has been criticized by some folks, expectedly -- for being "too nice" to Kim Jong Un. What do you say to that?
SANDERS: I think those are people that are more worried about attacking this president than looking for the good that is happening both within our country and across the world.
[END OF INTERVIEW CLIP]
EPSHTEYN: Here is the bottom line: As you just heard from one of the few Americans who have met with Kim Jong Un face to face, the summit was a success.
Sanders is far from the first Trump administration official (or personal affiliate of Trump’s) to retreat to the Sinclair safe space in order to escape criticism. Just last month, comically corrupt Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt sat down with Epshteyn for a softball interview. “Bottom Line With Boris” has previously featured interviews with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Small Business Administration head Linda McMahon, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, and then-Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin.
And the friendly relationship between the Trump administration and Sinclair may be mutually beneficial. Thanks to the Trump Federal Communications Commission, segments like these could soon air on even more local TV news stations -- including in major cities and battleground states across the country -- ahead of the midterms, reaching 72 percent of U.S. television households.
On Saturday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted about being denied service at a restaurant in Lexington, VA, over her complicity in anti-transgender and anti-immigrant Trump administration policies. Sanders’ tweet helped set off a wave of media opinions that opponents of bigotry should “let the Trump team eat in peace,” and that vocally opposing bigoted policy “violates the spirit of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt: ”The lady who owns this restaurant, is she allowed to do that? Is that discrimination? Are you allowed to just kick someone out because you don't agree with their policies or beliefs?”
Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations claimed on an all-white MSNBC panel that denying Sanders service at a restaurant “violates the spirit of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
Fox correspondent called protests against Trump officials a “quiet civil war.”
New York Post’s Karol Markowicz invoked Anthony Bourdain, claiming that his fans said last week that Bourdain “was amazing because he taught us about breaking bread with different kinds of people.” (Bourdain also famously said that Henry Kissinger “should not be able to eat at a restaurant in New York.”)
Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan: “The history in our country of denying people access to restaurants, to water fountains and even bathrooms is too raw, too real.”
CNN’s David Axelrod said, “Kind of amazed and appalled by the number of folks on Left who applauded the expulsion of @PressSec and her family from a restaurant.”
Fox & Friends Weekend host Pete Hegseth said on the show, “It’s so ironic … you’ve got this tolerant leftist running this restaurant” but she refused to serve a Trump official.
The Washington Post’s David Ignatius tweeted, “Hard to imagine an incident that would be more helpful to Trump White House and more harmful to its critics than this refusal to serve a senior government official, however troubling her views.”
On Saturday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted via her official Twitter account that the owner of the Red Hen in Lexington, VA, had asked her to leave the restaurant because of the Trump administration’s policies.
Last night I was told by the owner of Red Hen in Lexington, VA to leave because I work for @POTUS and I politely left. Her actions say far more about her than about me. I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) June 23, 2018
Following her tweet, supporters of President Donald Trump and pro-Trump trolls started targeting the restaurant, its staff, its owner, and her family online. The avalanche of harassment so far has included doxxing her (publishing her personal contact information) on multiple online platforms including Twitter, Facebook, and message boards Voat and 4chan. Previous harassment campaigns organized by pro-Trump trolls have had dangerous, real-life consequences for their targets, including acts of violence and potentially dangerous pranks.
On Voat, pro-Trump trolls called for a comprehensive harassment campaign and posted the personal online profiles of the members of the restaurant’s culinary team:
Trolls uploaded pictures of the owner’s family, including her son, on 4chan threads that included death threats. They also posted what seemed to be her personal phone number on a now-archived thread:
Another since-archived thread included her personal address and called on people to send her some “love mail”:
On Twitter, even though the platform specifically prohibits users from sharing such sensitive information, people shared the restaurant owner’s personal phone number:
Pro-Trump pages on Facebook were also part of it:
The doxxing has been accompanied by promises of violence, and prominent trolls are already connecting the restaurant to the dangerous “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory and to “Q,” a fictitious person from a related conspiracy theory about the “deep state,” “QAnon.” Pro-Trump trolls pushed the Pizzagate conspiracy theory during the 2016 presidential election, claiming that celebrities and Democratic politicians had links to a pedophilia ring hidden in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria. Even though the conspiracy theory was debunked, the story still inspired a man to open fire inside the family restaurant, which he claimed he had entered to self-investigate.
so looks like it took just 24 hrs for the Red Hen to get Pizzagate'd. jesus. pic.twitter.com/doJfh0mPTi
— Charlie Warzel (@cwarzel) June 25, 2018
It is extremely worrisome to see trolls sharing the restaurant owner’s personal information, particularly given the dangerous incident that followed the targeted harassment of Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg. After trolls made his personal information public and spread it on message boards, someone made a prank call to the police and claimed there was a hostage situation inside Hogg’s home, prompting deployment of an armed police team. The act is known as “swatting,” and it’s a harassment tool that trolls aim at their targets; on at least one occasion, it has proved fatal.
Another terrifying consequence of harassment campaigns unleashed by pro-Trump trolls is that they sometimes target parties with no connection to the situation spurring the attacks. In this case, a D.C. restaurant with the same name as the Lexington establishment has been "bombarded with calls, emails," and "death threats" -- and was egged over the weekend -- despite having no connection to the Virginia Red Hen. Similarly, after the February school shooting in Parkland, FL, Infowars host Alex Jones accused an innocent man of being the shooter, unleashing “ridicule, harassment, and threats of violence” against him.
Media outlets, however, seem to be focusing their coverage on whether the actions of a private business owner who followed her conscience reflect intolerable incivility. Meanwhile, reporting on the dangerous harassment and attacks that have followed is taking a back seat.
The fact that Trumpers physically assaulting a restaurant unrelated to the controversy will attract less coverage than Red Hen declining to serve Sanders is a reminder that the actual issue here is the disproportionate clout of conservative propaganda television and not civility.
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) June 25, 2018
Natalie Martinez provided research for this piece.
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Fox News' evening shows also virtually ignored the allegations against Porter
Fox & Friends didn't mention that a top White House aide has abruptly resigned amid allegations of physical domestic abuse, but found time to attack former President Barack Obama by name about various pseudo-scandals at length.
Rob Porter, a top White House aide with direct access to President Donald Trump, resigned abruptly on February 7 amid allegations of years of domestic abuse, including physical violence, from two ex-wives. After the allegations were first reported by the Daily Mail, CNN interviewed both women, who detailed years of physical and emotional abuse in their respective marriages over a ten-year period, including punching, choking, and throwing fits of rage.
White House chief of staff John Kelly initially released a statement of support for Porter, calling him “a man of true integrity and honor” (in a new statement, he condemned the abuse); shortly after, media began reporting that Kelly had prior knowledge of the abuse allegations, which were part of why Porter was denied his FBI security clearance. Since the story broke, a third, unnamed woman who currently works in the federal government and previously dated Porter has said she suffered "repeated abuse" by him as recently as 2016. Though he has resigned, Porter denied all allegations, calling them "outrageous" and "simply false."
From the time the story broke on Wednesday through 9 a.m. Thursday, Fox mentioned Porter’s name ten times over four shows (seven of the mentions occurred in just two reports). Fox first covered the allegations only after White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was pressed on the allegations in the February 7 White House briefing. Fox’s prime-time shows did not mention Porter at all aside from a brief report on the 6 p.m. hour. Fox & Friends the following morning also didn't mention Porter.
While Fox & Friends didn’t find time to report on the resignation of a top aide close to Trump stemming from domestic abuse allegations, the show hosts did mention former President Barack Obama by name 18 times in relation to various contrived scandals, including Uranium One and the private text messages of two FBI employees.
Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of "Porter" on Fox News between February 6 and February 9, 2018 and "Obama" on the February 8 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends. Pronouns "he," "his," and "him" were excluded. Mentions of Porter by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders during the live airing of the press briefing were also excluded.