Tom Fitton | Media Matters for America

Tom Fitton

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  • These conservative media figures are pushing Trump to declare a national emergency over a border wall

    ››› ››› COURTNEY HAGLE

    As President Donald Trump’s government shutdown continues with no clear end in sight, some in right-wing media have been clamoring for the president to use the powers under the National Emergencies Act of 1976 “to move funds around to build this border wall” and “release the shutdown.”  Conservative media figures have argued that if Trump were to do so, “nobody can second-guess him” and that he has “unfettered authority” to declare a national emergency.

  • President Trump opened the gates for a wave of authoritarian and anti-Semitic attacks on George Soros

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump’s Twitter attack last week on George Soros set off a round of anti-Semitic attacks on the Jewish financier, as well as authoritarian calls from key Trump supporters for the president to use state power to freeze or seize Soros’ assets.

    Conservatives have long been obsessed with Soros, a key figure on the left who has supported a raft of progressive organizations, including Media Matters. Right-wing commentators frequently attempt to draw links, however tangential or absurd, between Soros and virtually any protest or action that happens on the left, seeking to delegitimize grassroots energy as the work of a shadowy billionaire. At times, that criticism is steeped in classic anti-Semitic tropes that have been used for generations to justify attacks on Jewish people.

    In the latest attempt in this vein, conservatives have tried to blame Soros for the opposition to Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. On Friday, Trump, apparently responding to something he saw on TV, amplified that criticism. He tweeted that protests against the pending confirmation of Kavanaugh had been “paid for by Soros and others”:

    Not all criticism of Soros is anti-Semitic, any more than is all criticism of Sheldon Adelson, a major conservative donor who is also Jewish. Both are major players in their respective movements, and reporting on people who wield such influence is a vital journalistic endeavor. But such critiques must be made carefully because horrific acts have been justified by the notion that Jewish people control the political system.

    It is impossible to imagine Trump -- who has relied on anti-Semitic tropes in speeches, on Twitter, and in a campaign ad, and is beloved by anti-Semites and white supremacists -- treating the issue with the required care. Given the comment and its context, many commentators have suggested his tweet had anti-Semitic overtones. Trump-supporting denizens of far-right fever swamps certainly interpreted it that way -- they praised Trump for having “named the Jew,” a term bigots use for identifying the supposed Jewish masters of the world.

    The next day, Trump’s close allies began pushing for him to use the power of the presidency against Soros. Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, retweeted a comment calling Soros “the anti-Christ” and arguing, “Freeze his assets & I bet the protests stop”.

    Bill Mitchell, a fervent Trump superfan with a radio show and over 380,000 Twitter followers, publicly fantasized about jailing Soros and seizing his assets for “seditious conspiracy.”

    Many commentators have pointed out that those tweets also have anti-Semitic overtones. They also involve the president’s supporters literally asking him to do what dictators do -- use the power of the state to punish his political opponents, explicitly for the apparent crime of opposing him.

    That same morning on October 6, Tom Fitton, the head of the conservative foundation Judicial Watch, whose investigations are geared to benefit the president, honed in on Soros’ overseas pro-democracy work. Fitton, a favorite of the president and his Fox News propagandists, argued that the federal government should cut off its support for Soros’ non-governmental organizations. According to Fitton, Soros is aligned with the “Deep State” and the tax dollars funding the work of his NGOs abroad allow him to devote more of his own cash to backing progressive organizations in the U.S.

    Who benefits from cutting off funding to pro-democracy movements? Authoritarian leaders and nationalist parties across Central and Eastern Europe. The very forces that have spent the last several years demonizing Soros, often with anti-Semitic attacks that have driven rising concerns about the safety of Jews in their countries.

    Fitton is effectively arguing to help out Vladimir Putin in order to own the libs. And considering Giuliani's and Mitchell's Twitter activity, it wasn’t close to the most authoritarian suggestion of the weekend.

  • Right-wing media are pushing Rachel Mitchell’s flawed memo about Christine Blasey Ford’s report of sexual assault by Kavanaugh 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT & BOBBY LEWIS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After professor Christine Blasey Ford testified on September 27 that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her in the 1980s, The Washington Post published a memo from Rachel Mitchell, the sex crimes prosecutor hired by Senate Republicans to interrogate Ford, explaining why she theoretically would not prosecute Kavanaugh.

    Multiple news outlets have noted that the conclusions in Mitchell’s memo -- among them that Ford’s claims are “even weaker” than a "'he said, she said’ case" -- cannot be seen as credible. The Washington Post pointed out that since there hasn’t been an actual investigation of the claims, Mitchell’s assertion of no corroborating evidence falls flat. Think Progress noted that while Mitchell questioned Ford extensively, she spoke to Kavanaugh, the alleged assailant, for just 15 minutes. Mother Jones reported that a former colleague of Mitchell’s, Matthew Long, dismissed her “willingness to author” the memo as “absolutely disingenuous,” and he asserted that the prosecutor “doesn’t have sufficient information to even draw these conclusions.” Long also criticized Mitchell for attacking Ford’s gaps in memory, noting that he was “trained by Ms. Mitchell about how trauma explicitly does prevent memory from happening” and concluding, “Ms. Mitchell knows better than that.”

    Additionally, as journalists and outlets have pointed out, a Supreme Court nomination is not a trial; it’s more akin to a job interview. The question of whether a prosecutor is willing to bring charges against Kavanaugh is not equivalent to that of whether he should serve on the highest court of the land.

    Desperate to undercut Ford, right-wing media figures have ignored the obvious problems in Mitchell’s memo and instead portrayed the document as credible evidence of Kavanaugh’s innocence:

    Fox & FriendsBrian Kilmeade: Mitchell “concluded that she would not -- this was a weak case and I never would recommend, wouldn’t think anyone would recommend, they prosecute this case.”

    Fox’s Laura Ingraham wrote, “Sex Crimes Prosecutor Rachel Mitchell’s report exhonerates (sic) Kavanaugh,” linking to a Gateway Pundit piece with a similar title. Radio host Bill Mitchell and Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton also shared the article.

    NBC’s Megyn Kelly: Mitchell “submitted a memo” saying that Ford’s case “doesn’t even satisfy by the preponderance of the evidence standard, … which is the lowest bar in any case. … And now we want the FBI to spend this week going back and scouring the Maryland neighborhood and … figuring out who renovated and when.”

    Fox contributor Lisa Boothe shared Mitchell’s report and wrote, “Can everyone please stop pretending like Dr. Ford is credible now? She is NOT credible. It’s painfully obvious. I feel like I’ve been living in the Twilight Zone.”

    NRA’s Dana Loesch quoted a Daily Mail article on Mitchell’s report, writing that “there is NOT enough evidence to back accuser's claims.”

    Former presidential candidate Herman Cain: “Even the lady that asked the questions during the judiciary committee [hearing], she wrote an eight-page report that said that there was no there there.”

    The Federalist’s Sean Davis: “This memorandum from Rachel Mitchell is a rather stunning indictment not of Kavanaugh, but of Ford and her story, which seems to change each time she tells it. The only consistent aspect of Ford’s story is how often it changes.”

    Townhall editor and Fox contributor Katie Pavlich: “I’d like to point out that nearly everyone in the media, minus a few (myself included), said Ford was ‘very credible.’ She wasn’t.”

    Gateway Pundit’s Jacob Wohl: “Sex crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell COMPLETELY EXONERATES Brett Kavanaugh,” and “finds Ford's allegations totally suspect, potentially fraudulent.”

    FoxNews.com’s Stephen Miller: “I believe Rachel Mitchell”

    Mark Levin: Mitchell, “a real sex crimes prosecutor,” did an “excellent job” of “exposing gaps & contradictions in Ford’s Senate testimony.”

    Townhall’s Guy Benson: Mitchell’s memo “is extremely compelling”

    Daily Wire’s Ashe Schow: “Mark my words, the media is currently looking for other sex crimes prosecutors to say they would absolutely take this case to court.”

    The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles: “I believe Rachel Mitchell. #IBelieveWomen”

    The Daily Caller’s Benny Johnson: “BELIEVE 👏 ALL 👏 WOMEN 👏”

    Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin’s site Twitchy: “RUH-ROH: Rachel Mitchell’s independent analysis spells even BIGGER trouble for Senate Dems and Ford’s attorneys.”

    Frequent Fox guest Morgan Ortagus: “A professional prosecutor is saying… there’s too many inconsistencies with the story. ... I know you’re shaking your head, but, I mean, she’s spent a lifetime as a career prosecutor working on this.”

  • Right-wing media figures are defending Trump’s lies about the Puerto Rican death toll 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On Thursday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted that he did not believe the official death toll from Hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico last year, claiming that Democrats inflated the number to make him look “as bad as possible.” An independent study commissioned by the Puerto Rican government estimated that nearly 3,000 people died as a result of the storms, but Trump rejected this figure, claiming the high number was just "bad politics."

    The president’s comments come as multiple states are readying to face another dangerous (and “tremendously wet”) storm, and two days after Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló forcefully rejected the president’s earlier assertion that the federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria was “incredibly successful.” Instead of focusing on incoming Hurricane Florence, which has the potential to cause massive damage and threaten lives on the East Coast, the president is trying to gaslight the public, asserting with absolutely no evidence that Democrats inflated the death toll in Puerto Rico. This isn’t the first time the president has taken to Twitter to lie to the American public.  

    Unsurprisingly, right-wing media figures have once again answered the call to excuse the inexcusable:

    Fox’s Geraldo Rivera responded to news of Trump’s tweets by arguing that it is “grotesquely unfair” to blame Trump for the federal government’s response to the hurricanes and claiming that the problem with Hurricane Maria coverage is that “intense politically motivated hatred of President Trump deflects attention from what’s really needed.”

    Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton: “The dramatic increase in death toll due to hurricane in Puerto Rico is result of statistical guess work. … we should be suspicious of a guess that moves it up to nearly 3,000.”

    NRATV’s Grant Stinchfield: “I’m there with Donald Trump -- I call bogus on the 3,000 deaths."

    The Resurgent’s Erick Erickson: “The President would be more willing to accept the truth about the thousands dead in Puerto Rico if news outlet in the country weren't trying to blame him for the deaths.”

    Breitbart White House correspondent Charlie Spiering: “He’s right. The 2,975 who died did not die ‘IN’ the storm but in six month period AFTER the storm.”

    Fox News’ Cody Derespina attempted to equivocate over the “official” death toll. Using deaths that resulted from 9/11 as an analogy, he suggested that many of the hurricane deaths shouldn’t be considered in the “official tally” because many of them occurred in the months afterward.

    Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell: “Dems learned how to politicize natural disasters when Katrina hit New Orleans. It worked against Bush 43 so now they’re trying it against @realDonaldTrump with his response to Maria in Puerto Rico last year.”

    In addition, Fox News ignored Trump's denialism for several hours, at which point the network's reporter downplayed it as Trump merely continuing his "feud with Puerto Rican officials." 

  • “It seemed pretty dangerous”: Right-wing and pro-Trump media lash out at Kavanaugh confirmation hearing protesters

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Members of the right-wing and pro-Trump media -- typically the self-proclaimed vanguards of “free of speech” -- are lining up to attack protesters who are exercising their First Amendment rights by voicing their opposition to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. They’ve attacked protesters as “venomous” and “dangerous” and even leveled sexist digs at female protesters, saying that they “are showing how truly ugly women can be.”

  • 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.”

  • The right-wing media figures defending Sean Hannity’s relationship with Michael Cohen

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & BOBBY LEWIS

    Right-wing media figures are jumping to defend Fox News host Sean Hannity after it was revealed that Hannity has been a client of longtime lawyer to President Donald Trump, Michael Cohen. Hannity’s defenders are suggesting that he has “been victimized” by the revelation of his name, claiming that he “wasn’t engaging” Cohen “as a lawyer,” and even arguing that Hannity possibly “did not know he was a client of Michael Cohen."