Pro-Trump CNN commentator uses platform to defend Trump's suggestion that violence might be justified
Video ››› ››› COURTNEY HAGLE
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In the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections, right-wing media and Republican officials have found a new favorite scare tactic: hyping nonsensical claims of radical Democrats and an “angry mob” of “scary,” violent, liberal protesters trying to disrupt American values and take over the country. This transparent effort at turning out Republicans to the polls has been parotted by a number of right-wing pundits paid by CNN for their political analysis.
Right-wing media, especially the Trump-aligned Fox News Channel, responded to the confirmation battle of now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh by accusing Democrats, protesters (many of whom were sexual assault survivors) and the left broadly of violent radicalism. Republican politicians, including the president, have been quick to echo these claims. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) argued that Democrats “encouraged mob rule” during the Kavanaugh hearings, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) commended Republicans for standing “up to the mob.” During an October 9 rally in Iowa, President Donald Trump -- who regularly called for actual violence during the 2016 campaign and who said last year that there were “very fine people” at a white supremacist rally that resulted in one person dying -- condemned Democrats as an “angry left-wing mob” that is “too dangerous to govern.” The president insisted that the party cannot be trusted with power because “you don't hand matches to an arsonist.”
Conservative denouncements of left-wing violence are obviously absurd, and markedly hypocritical, but that hasn’t stopped right-wing CNN pundits from fearmongering about the supposed “mob behavior” of the left. On CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, commentator Steve Cortes called it “scary” that the left has been using “mob tactics” and “violence” to a “dramatic degree.” During the October 9 edition of CNN Tonight with Don Lemon, political commentator Alice Stewart claimed that Republicans were correct in calling protesters a “mob” because they were “banging on the doors of the Supreme Court and chasing senators out of public restaurants and yelling at senators in an elevator.”
During the same segment, CNN’s Matt Lewis equated protesters to the alt-right and specifically white supremacist Richard Spencer before host Don Lemon interrupted him. He then accused the protesters of “mob behavior,” and got into a heated exchange with Lemon about whether activists disrupting people who are complicit in the administration’s inhumane policies constitutes mob action. And on The Lead with Jake Tapper, network contributor Scott Jennings argued that the Kavanaugh hearings showed conservatives “what life would be like if you let the angry mob take over,” and claimed that if he were running a campaign he would use “video of this angry mob.”
There is, of course, tremendous irony here; CNN hired Corey Lewandowski as a political commentator after Lewandowski was forced out of the Trump campaign for assaulting a reporter. CNN was also duped by conservatives earlier this year into fretting over “civility” as it conflated examples of liberals being rude with conservatives being racist.
CNN’s model of false balance and “both sides” punditry and its obsession with employing and hosting a roster of right-wing ideologues is nothing new, but it does continue to lead to the espousal of extremist opinions on the network.
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.”
CNN political commentator Steve Cortes, who regularly appears on the network to praise President Donald Trump, recently said that he “went over to CNN partly at the suggestion of the White House itself and the president himself.”
CNN hired Cortes in January as one of its pro-Trump political commentators. He previously did stints at Fox News and CNBC and worked as a surrogate for Trump’s 2016 campaign. Fox News reported in March that Cortes interviewed for the still-vacant White House communications director position “but is considered a dark horse.”
Cortes joined CNN despite previously criticizing the network as “fake news” and attacking both on- and off-air CNN employees for alleged bias against Trump. His commentary for CNN is unsurprisingly a parade of misinformation and over-the-top support for Trump.
Cortes explained his reasons for working at CNN during a May 17 appearance on the New Orleans-based WGSO-AM radio program Ringside Politics. The Republican commentator said that he “went over to CNN partly at the suggestion of the White House” and Trump. From the program:
JEFF CROUERE (HOST): Steve, my condolences for having to work at CNN and my real, just -- my heart goes out to you and I just want to know how in the world, Steve, can you do that?
STEVE CORTES: Right. Well, it’s a very different job. I used to be at Fox News, which was a whole different world. I went over to CNN partly at the suggestion of the White House itself and the president himself because -- and I wanted to do it also because I saw a narrative there that I thought was unfair to the president, and I want to try to be a counter voice. I want to be an alternative voice on CNN and I hope a voice of reason. So I hope that I am over there, to put it in sort of religious terms, I hope I am winning over some pagans. And some of the unchurch folks.
While Cortes said that “CNN has been great to me,” he agreed with host Jeff Crouere’s criticism that CNN’s guest lineup is unfair to Trump.
STEVE CORTES: And honestly, I will say this. Look, CNN has been great to me, has certainly given me a platform. I like a lot of the people there even though I clearly don’t agree with what they say on air. But, for instance, today I’m going to be on three times and, believe me, I’m going to be advocating strenuously for the president’s position and for the renewal of this country, which I think is already happening and is going to accelerate going forward.
JEFF CROUERE: Well, let me congratulate you on working in that environment and being able to put up with all of that. Whenever I see a CNN panel it’s like one token conservative surrounded by four or five liberals.
CROUERE: Or they’ll have some Never Trump Republicans on there who hate the president even more than the Democrats do.
CORTES: Right. And that often happens. Right.
CROUERE: And it just seems like it’s totally skewed and unbalanced.
CORTES: If it’s a four-person panel they’ll say it’s two Republicans and two Democrats but the problem is at least one of the Republicans despises President Trump.
Cortes’ path to a CNN job has some similarities to that of former commentator Jeffrey Lord, who, as CNN reporter Brian Stelter noted, was “the first explicitly pro-Donald Trump commentator to join the network, back in August 2015.”
The New York Times Magazine's Jonathan Mahler reported last year that after Trump appeared on Anderson Cooper 360 in 2015, the Republican "complained to CNN that his interviews on the network were always followed by conversations among panelists who all seemed to hate him. The network asked Trump to suggest the names of some people who would defend him. One of those whom he mentioned was Jeffrey Lord. … Lord made his CNN debut in July 2015. Two weeks later, CNN offered him a job as the network’s first pro-Trump contributor. (CNN said it was already considering Lord and that Trump’s suggestion had no effect on their decision to hire him.)” CNN fired Lord in August 2017 after he tweeted a Nazi salute at Media Matters President Angelo Carusone.
Numerous observers have criticized CNN for hiring pro-Trump commentators. Carlos Maza, a former Media Matters staffer who now produces Vox’s Strikethrough video series, wrote in April 2017: “CNN’s Trump supporters derail segments critical of the president, misrepresent Trump’s positions to avoid tough questions, and peddle false and misleading information on national TV while being paid by the network. In many cases, CNN’s Trump supporters repeat the same lies and talking points that CNN’s serious journalists spend all day trying to debunk. That might explain why Trump has quietly pushed his surrogates to appear on CNN, even while publicly feuding with the network.”
As Maza noted, BuzzFeed reported in March 2017 that “Trump has harsh words for CNN publicly, but he also is telling key surrogates to get airtime on the network.” According to the article, “Trump had advice for [one] surrogate, who now works at a rival network. ‘Looking to 2018 it would be better for us if you dive back into that fire at CNN,’ the source recalled the president saying. Trump offered to help get the surrogate on CNN.”
Media Matters asked CNN for comment on Cortes’ remarks about his hiring but did not receive a reply.
CNN political commentator Steve Cortes has a lot of qualities that President Donald Trump looks for in a pundit: He’s devoted to Trump, he pushes misinformation in the media, and he has claimed that CNN is “fake news.”
Trump praised Cortes and shared an op-ed of his on Twitter last week, writing, “Thank you to the Washington Examiner and @CortesSteve on the great article - on WINNING!” Cortes had claimed in the May 15 piece that “America is winning under Trump’s leadership.”
Cortes previously worked as a Trump campaign surrogate and has done stints at Fox News and CNBC. He is now part of CNN’s roster of problematic pro-Trump political commentators. His decision to join the network in January -- and CNN’s choice to hire him -- is odd given that Cortes previously tried to delegitimize the network by calling it “fake news” and suggested he was “very happy” to work at Fox News instead of CNN.
On June 13, 2017, Cortes wrote a Medium.com post in which he criticized on- and off-air employees of CNN and MSNBC for their alleged “visceral disdain for Trump”:
As a veteran of the campaign and surrogate who gave hundreds of cable news interviews, most of them highly adversarial on outlets like MSNBC and CNN, I can attest to the utter, visceral disdain for Trump shared among almost all TV producers and on-air talent, save for Fox News (where I am now a contributor). Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government recently published a revealing study on this bias and determined, for example, that 96% of all mainstream media coverage of Trump on immigration topics was negative.
During a June 26 appearance on Fox Business’ Varney & Co. with host Stuart Varney, Cortes said he was “very happy” to work for Fox News, explaining that he has been on CNN and MSNBC and “from what happened on air, from what happened behind the scenes, their disdain for President Trump is visceral. It is real. And it is fake news. CNN keeps having to retract stories”:
STEVE CORTES: I think the CNN story is crucially important. And I’ll tell you, Stuart, I’m very happy to be a Fox News contributor now. But in 2016, I worked for the Trump campaign and I primarily was on competitor networks of ours. A lot of CNN hits, a lot of MSNBC, and I can tell you, I was often the lone Trump person on a panel of eight Trump opponents, and I can tell you from what happened on air, from what happened behind the scenes, their disdain for President Trump is visceral. It is real. And it is fake news. CNN keeps having to retract stories, and by the way, the way this happens, what they do is they shout from the mountaintops the allegations, the unfounded allegations, and then the retraction, they whisper in the hallway so that almost no one can hear, right?
STEVE CORTES: But the more important thing, I think, is that we're making a point of the American people that, by the way, when Trump says fake news, he's not lying. This has been a very good week for Trump in that regard. Between this lawsuit, between CNN, between what Project Veritas has shown us about CNN, this wasn't a paranoia on Trump's part. OK? There is fake news out there, and there is such antagonism and laziness in the mainstream media that they will go to almost any means, even disingenuous ones, to try to make the president and his allies look bad.
Cortes’ CNN appearances have featured him pushing misinformation and over-the-top arguments in support of Trump. On May 15, for instance, he falsely claimed that “there is evidence of widespread voter fraud” during the 2016 elections.
And during an April 9 appearance, Cortes complained about CNN, stating to CNN Tonight host Don Lemon: “Your show, and this network for months, and months have screamed Russia, Russia, Russia. Guess what? There's nothing there that connects to President Trump.” He also said that Trump “needs to fire [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions. He needs to fire [Deputy Attorney General Rod] Rosenstein. He needs to fire [special counsel Robert] Mueller. This is a sham investigation. This is his own Justice Department trying to usurp the power of the presidency.”
Cortes’ anti-CNN remarks are similar to some of those made by Ed Martin, a pro-Trump commentator whom CNN eventually fired for an unspecified reason. Prior to joining the network, Martin claimed that CNN is “fake news” and hasn’t “been credible for a long time.” While employed at CNN, Martin attacked two fellow CNN commentators as “black racists,” suggested that CNN was “the swamp,” and praised Trump for ordering CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta out of the Oval Office, among other asinine remarks. In January, Martin said that "CNN terminated" him “for cause."
Media Matters contacted CNN for a comment about Cortes but did not receive a response.
On March 6, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against the state of California, Gov. Jerry Brown, and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, claiming that three of the state’s immigration laws violate the supremacy clause of the Constitution. The lawsuit is the culmination of an ongoing battle between California and the federal government over the latter’s anti-immigrant policies -- a battle in which Fox News is playing a crucial role.
For years, Fox has repeatedly accused California lawmakers of “placing illegal immigrants and illegal activity over citizens” and violating federal law. Now, the network is using the administration’s very own talking points and propaganda in an attempt to tip the scales in the lawsuit.
Fox host Harris Faulkner and Fox News contributor Steve Cortes have both adopted Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ bizarre talking point comparing California to states that seceded during the Civil War.
Fox host Laura Ingraham recited claims from the White House about undocumented immigrants who allegedly committed crimes and were released from local jails despite requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold them past their proper release dates. Fox’s Harris Faulkner welcomed Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-CA) sweeping depiction of undocumented immigrants as members of the gang MS-13 -- a frequent characterization made by President Donald Trump -- and joined him in hyping the idea of immigrants as criminals. Faulkner later falsely claimed that ICE is targeting for deportation only “people who have so been identified that they endanger the rest of us.”
In reality, only about half of the immigrants detained by ICE during the most recent raid in California had serious criminal histories, and ICE has made clear that any undocumented immigrant caught up in a raid is subject to “"immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States." According to CNN, ICE arrested 46,000 people without criminal records in Trump’s first year in office, “a 171% increase in the number of non-criminal individuals arrested over 2016.”
Even a Fox correspondent who, presumably, should report the news without bias characterized undocumented immigrants as “fugitives” who “remain at large.” CNN has reported that ICE has recently added “ICE fugitives,” which originally referred to people with final orders of deportation, to the category of “convicted criminals,” allowing the agency to misleadingly claim that 92 percent of immigrants arrested under Trump had criminal convictions when in reality that number is closer to 70 percent.
Regardless, Fox News has taken a clear position in favor of deportations and has taken to cheering on ICE raids despite the devastation they reap on local communities and families:
And while Fox has criticized California laws that prohibit local law enforcement and private employers from cooperating with ICE, the network has made little mention of a third aspect of the DOJ lawsuit that aims to prevent California from overseeing federal immigrant detention centers, which are rife with human rights abuses. This is unsurprising given the network’s indifference to the mistreatment of immigrants in detention.
While Fox News has long been a purveyor of false information surrounding immigration, the network has of late taken a decisively aggressive and propagandistic tone in the spirit of advancing the policies of a fiercely anti-immigrant administration.
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Steve Cortes' disgraceful performance was even labeled as a "Baghdad Bob" moment by a Fox colleague
Fox News contributor Steve Cortes, who acted as a Trump campaign surrogate during the 2016 presidential election cycle, pulled out all the stops in response to breaking news that former Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with agents of the Russian government. Cortes downplayed the bombshell news, saying it wasn’t “even a firecracker,” claimed the whole narrative was a “collusion delusion,” and asserted that “regular Americans” are not concerned with Russia.
President Donald Trump’s numerous other right-wing media defenders also downplayed the significance of reports that Flynn had agreed to plead guilty to charges emanating from special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and attempted to deflect attention to other pseudo-scandals. The White House also issued a statement to further downplay the severity of the situation.
Cortes’ performance during a December 1 appearance on Fox's Outnumbered Overtime offered arguably the most succinct synopsis of these defensive talking points you'll find anywhere, including:
Minutes later, Weekly Standard editor-in-chief and long-time Fox contributor Steven Hayes appeared on the same program and expressed disbelief at Cortes’ performance, comparing him disfavorably to the infamous Iraqi propagandist Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, known colloquially as “Baghdad Bob.”
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Experts agree that hardline immigration policies correlate with an increase in immigrant deaths
Ten immigrants were killed and many others hospitalized after human traffickers promising to smuggle them into the United States failed to provide them with adequate ventilation or water for the journey. Conservative media figures have responded to the tragedy with calls for stricter immigration laws -- in particular, stricter border enforcement policies and anti-sanctuary city laws -- that experts have said would serve only to exacerbate the problem by diverting immigrants to more dangerous routes and empowering human traffickers without addressing the root causes of immigration.
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