Sebastian Gorka | Media Matters for America

Sebastian Gorka

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  • Right-wing media's tantrum over a 2015 ad is stoking extreme anti-abortion rhetoric and harassment

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    Right-wing media and anti-abortion figures recently raised objections to a "horrible new ad” attributed to Planned Parenthood -- despite the so-called ad actually being a 2015 video from a political action committee, not Planned Parenthood. However, as conservative figures continued to express shock and disgust, people on social media started to make threats of violence against the health care organization citing shares of the 2015 video online. This isn’t the first time that right-wing media have manufactured outrage that resulted in harassment and threats toward abortion providers, patients, and clinics.

  • Sinclair stations are airing a dramatic special fearmongering about socialism, and it’s hosted by former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka 

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Local TV news stations controlled by the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group recently began airing a “special program” hosted by former Trump aide and current Fox News contributor Sebastian Gorka called Inside Socialism. In the 30-minute show -- which appears to be the first episode in a multipart series -- Gorka tells the audience he will “take an in-depth look at the appeal of a system that promises equality to all and what happens when the initial enthusiasm gives way to a sobering reality.”

    The program kicks off with stylized footage of a hammer and sickle being forged in flames and then clips of speeches by Democratic socialists Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Virginia state Del. Lee Carter, and New York Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, much of it set to ominous music.

    It is not understated.

    Gorka spends the majority of rest of the program discussing the history of various regimes across the globe, framed to show what happens when socialism goes wrong. The final block of the program features a package on Brazil’s political future from Sinclair reporter Jonathan Elias. A version of that package ran earlier in November as part of conspiracy theorist Sharyl Attkisson’s weekly Sinclair program Full Measure.

    Gorka signs off by saying he will “continue to follow the developments on this important issue” and telling viewers to “join us next time for another edition of Inside Socialism.”

    According to the iQ media database, the program aired on at least 18 Sinclair-owned or -operated local news stations between November 10 and November 13. Some clips featured in Inside Socialism -- none with Gorka -- have also been repackaged and posted on various Sinclair station websites under Elias' byline. 

    The special was produced by a company called Cisneros Media, which has helped create similar special programming for Sinclair in the past. A press release from a similar project from 2016 suggests Sinclair provided input on the programming’s content and that the program may air on more than 100 Sinclair stations nationwide.

    A separate special hosted by Gorka, called The Rise of Terrorism: A Clash of Cultures, aired on numerous Sinclair stations in March. In that program, footage labeled as "ISIS propaganda" and shots of terror attacks are followed by Gorka asking viewers, "Can the the teachings of Islam and western values ever be reconciled? Is it possible for the waves of refugees arriving in the west to assimilate and coexist peacefully?" At one point, b-roll footage is shown of a protest sign that says "Rapefugees." 

    A Sinclair-contracted spokesperson did not respond to a question about whether Gorka is an employee, though he has appeared in the company’s programming in the past. Last year, Gorka participated in a gun violence town hall for Sinclair’s Washington, D.C., station, WJLA, and made headlines for saying he believed “Black Africans” were killing each other “by the bushel.” In March, he appeared in a nationally aired news segment produced by Sinclair reporter Kristine Frazao about the so-called “deep state.”

    Gorka is best known for having parlayed his brief tenure in President Donald Trump’s administration into a right-wing pundit career despite his lack of expertise or qualifications -- and for his connections to the Hungarian Nazi-linked group Vitezi Rend. Last January, Gorka wore a Vitezi Rend medal to the Trump inaugural ball; by November, he had become a "national security strategist" for Fox News.

    And Gorka is not the only former Trump aide who can broadcast commentary on local news stations across the country thanks to Sinclair, either. In 2017, the media giant hired former Trump campaign and White House staffer Boris Epshteyn to serve as its chief political analyst. Epshteyn, who may be legally barred from criticizing the president, produces near-daily “must-run” segments for Sinclair stations that often defend Trump’s actions, mimic the president’s lines of attack on members of the press, or provide administration and Republican Party officials with platforms to push their messages.

    Update (11/19/18): Since publication, the special has aired on at least 23 more Sinclair-controlled local news stations, bringing the total to at least 41 stations in 27 states.

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Sebastian Gorka has banked almost $18,000 from GOP candidates

    Gorka's been cashing in on his ties to Trump while railing against "the swamp"

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    It’s been almost a year since off-brand James Bond supervillain Sebastian Gorka was fired or resigned (definitely fired) from his ill-defined job in Donald Trump’s White House, and Gorka is still finding ways to monetize his seven months of public pseudo service. He’s followed some well-worn D.C. insider tracks by signing on as a Fox News contributor and guest lecturer at the Heritage Foundation, but he’s also running a side hustle squeezing speaking fees and the occasional “honorarium” out of Republican congressional candidates.

    Since last December, Gorka has pulled in nearly $18,000 from GOP candidates seeking federal office, according to Federal Election Commission filings. His $2,500 check from Virginia’s E.W. Jackson, $5,000 speaking fee from Nevada Republican Danny Tarkanian, and $5,240 payment from Arizona GOP Senate candidate Kelli Ward have been previously reported. But the FEC database recently added an additional $5,000 payment to Gorka from Ward’s campaign dated April 16 and tagged as “Event Cost - Speaker.”

    In exchange for the thousands of dollars it costs to have Gorka speak on their behalf, these candidates get a full dose of the only commodity Gorka has to offer: his proximity to Trump.

    Here’s one of the speeches Gorka gave on behalf of Kelli Ward -- it largely consists of Gorka talking about how Trump is the greatest and oh by the way, he was once Gorka’s boss. “This is a woman who gets things done, just like somebody else I know. … I want to talk to you about my old boss, OK? ... What’s he really like behind closed doors? What’s he like in the Oval? … We flew on Air Force One to Youngstown, Ohio.” In that same speech, in which he transformed his connections to the politically powerful into monetary gain for himself, Gorka railed against “the swamp.”

    Obviously this is a good deal for Gorka; all he has to do is show up and ramble for a few minutes about the president and he gets a tidy little sum to finance his suede-vest-and-tourniquet lifestyle. But is it worth it for these campaigns to pay Gorka to hear him drone quite Britishly about the unblemished greatness of Donald Trump?

    Yeah, probably … for now. Ever since the 2016 election, Republican politics has devolved into a grim and undignified competition over who can best communicate their slavish and self-debasing loyalty to the president. For as long as that dynamic lasts, having a Trump-adjacent minor celebrity like Gorka on hand to lend a bit of insider credibility doesn’t hurt, just so long as everyone agrees to overlook the fact that the transactional nature of the relationship is the very essence of the “swamp” they all claim to loathe.

    Gorka’s sinecure at Fox News is also quite swampy. As I wrote when Gorka was first hired by the right-wing cable network as a “national security strategist,” Gorka had no actual national security role in the White House, and real security experts view him as a jumped-up charlatan. He’s functionally useless at the specific role Fox News hired him for, and Fox News apparently acknowledges as much.

    The Daily Beast reported last week that the network has effectively banned Gorka from appearing on its supposed “hard news” programming and siloed him to its rabidly pro-Trump opinion shows: Hannity, Fox & Friends, etc. “Fox’s news division simply does not view Gorka as credible enough to regularly comment on subjects on which Gorka has branded himself a longtime expert, or to analyze the administration of which he was a member,” The Daily Beast reported. (Gorka is also apparently passing around fake Fox News business cards, just to add to the aura of sadness.)

    Once again, Gorka’s only valuable contribution to Fox News is his relationship to Trump, who apparently loves watching Gorka’s cable hits. The network’s pro-Trump propagandists understand this, so they invite the nominal “national security strategist” to bark about whatever story they’re chasing on a given evening. Sometimes those stories are national security-related, but more often than not Gorka is brought on to inveigh against the media or the Russia investigation or “the cesspit, the cesspool that is Hollywood.” It’s a racket that’s made possible only by the president’s affection for Gorka’s brand of combative nonsense.

    Gorka is a bleak manifestation of this rancid era in politics. Through dogged loyalty to a corrupt politician, he briefly rose to an official position that far exceeded his qualifications. Now he’s running tidy little scams wherever he can and eagerly invoicing whomever is willing to hear increasingly stale anecdotes about his undistinguished few months spent in service to Donald Trump.

  • After calls from right-wing media, Trump considers revoking the clearances of several former US officials

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    During a July 23 press conference, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that President Donald Trump is considering revoking the security clearances of several former high-ranking U.S. officials. Right-wing media figures -- including several people on Trump’s favorite cable network, Fox News -- have pushed the possibility of pulling the clearances of these officials in recent months, and have boosted Sen. Rand Paul's (R-KY) recent efforts on the matter.

    According to Sanders, Trump is taking aim at the clearances of former CIA Director John Brennan, former FBI Director James Comey, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden, former National Security Agency Director Susan Rice, and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

    On April 30, conspiracy theory site The Gateway Pundit published an article complaining that “corrupt” and “Trump-hating” Brennan and Clapper still had clearances despite “working with the ‘destroy Trump media.’” Less than a month later, Fox News strategist Sebastian Gorka called for the Trump administration to revoke clearances of former officials during an appearance on Fox News’ Hannity. Gorka argued that Trump “needs to pull the clearances of Clapper, Comey, Brennan, and Hillary [Clinton].” Guest host Jeanine Pirro responded, “Hold on a second. These people are not in office anymore, and they still have security clearances?” She then agreed with Gorka, saying that Trump ought to “take their security clearance.”

    More recently, Sen. Paul has begun to champion stripping the former officials of their clearances, and right-wing media has been happy to publicize his efforts. On July 20, Fox’s Tucker Carlson hosted him to discuss the issue, calling it “terrifying” that “out-of-the-closet extremist” John Brennan still has a clearance, arguing that Brennan “is not the only reckless partisan with a history of dishonest who retains a security clearance," and complaining that James Clapper and Michael Hayden also still have clearances. 

    And just this morning, The Gateway Pundit published a post headlined "Senator Rand Paul Meeting With Trump to Request John Brennan’s Security Clearance Be Revoked."

    Despite right-wing media’s calls and the White House’s apparent interest, it is unclear whether all of these officials still have clearances at this point.