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Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren slandered a sitting senator and a 2020 presidential hopeful by accusing her of racism and amplified a hoax that originated from anonymous message boards. In the days since, Fox News has done nothing to hold Lahren accountable.
Four days after Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) announced that she was launching an exploratory committee to run for president in 2020, Lahren shared with her 1.2 million followers on Twitter the slanderous accusation that Warren had a racist ornament in her kitchen:
The screenshot of Warren’s kitchen is from a live Instagram Q&A session she did on New Year’s Eve. Lahren was amplifying and spreading a hoax that previously was spread in the anonymous message board 4chan and “r/The_Donald” subreddit on Reddit, in which a vase was misconstrued to be a racist figurine of a Black child eating a watermelon. As documented by Right Wing Watch, Lahren deleted her tweet but did not apologize or provide clarification to her massive audience. Fox News not only failed to acknowledge the slander, but Lahren’s Fox Nation shows, First Thoughts and Final Thoughts, continued to stream as scheduled on Fox’s online platform. The network also continued to book Lahren on its cable morning program, Fox & Friends.
Lahren’s Twitter feed is a constant stream of inaccuracies, falsehoods, and vitriol. She once apparently echoed the idiotic conspiracy theory that white supremacist Jason Kessler (who organized the 2017 racist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA) was a tool of the left. She tweeted that watching immigrants getting tear-gassed at the border was the highlight of her Thanksgiving weekend. And just this week, Lahren baselessly claimed that the remittances that undocumented immigrants send to their home countries are used to fund “cartel and criminal organizations.” Fox News kept her on air and even gave her a hosting gig on Fox Nation.
The network ignoring its host amplifying a easily-debunked hoax from 4chan shows the garbage that the network finds acceptable. The network also recently gave a pass to Rep. Steve King (R-IA), after King embraced white supremacy in an interview with The New York Times. Fox covered the story for a mere 42 seconds, framing its coverage as King “fighting back against a New York Times article” (a reference to King’s statement in response to the Times article).
What Fox does find unacceptable, however, is cursing. The day after Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) said “impeach the motherfucker” in reference to President Donald Trump, the network gave 52 minutes of coverage to her comment -- 74 times more than it gave to King’s white supremacy.
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After criticism from right-wing figures who usually push pro-Trump propaganda, President Donald Trump has backed away from previous plans and instead set up a potential government shutdown by demanding money for a border wall be included in any stopgap government funding bill.
Fox News spent last week pushing for a government shutdown, cheering on Trump when he firmly declared that he would be “proud to shut down the government.” But after the White House signaled earlier this week that it would back off its $5 billion demand to fund a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border in a resolution to keep the federal government funded until next year, right-wing media figures began criticizing Trump and goading him into shutting down the government. Many of his most ardent supporters began to perceive his decision to sign the bill as weak, calling on the president to change his mind and refuse to sign any proposed spending bill that does not include funding for the wall.
Responding to these criticisms, Trump sent a flurry of tweets adamantly defending his position just one day after CNN reported that the president “has become increasingly sensitive to criticism” from his base over the border wall. Trump then renewed his call for funding, telling lawmakers that he will not sign any bill that does not include funding for the border wall in an apparent nod to his supporters.
Here is a timeline of some of that recent criticism:
Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren, who has previously made it clear where she stands on the border wall, said on Fox & Friends that “if we need a government shutdown” to build a wall, “then a shutdown is exactly what we need.”
Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy declare that “effectively, the Democrats win because they didn’t want any money for wall. And the swamp wins because runaway spending, which is in the current budget, continues.”
Steve Doocy: “It looks as if he’s not going to get any wall money. … effectively, the Democrats win. Because they didn't want any money for wall. And the swamp wins, because runaway spending, which is in the current budget, continues.” pic.twitter.com/yOJPXkxziJ
— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) December 19, 2018
Doocy later in the show said that Trump will “look like a loser” to his supporters who “drew that line in the sand and said, ‘This is worth shutting down.’”
Fox & Friends guest Michelle Malkin said that she’s “not going to sugarcoat it” and “not going to spin it” if Trump backs down, describing his decision as “a cave” and “a blink.”
2000s has-been and Fox & Friends mainstay Michelle Malkin: “I’m not going to sugarcoat it and I’m not going to spin it. I wish I could but I can’t. This was a cave. This was a blink. … because [Mitch McConnell’s] afraid of a shutdown” pic.twitter.com/tSkVNCE96m
— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) December 19, 2018
On Fox’s Outnumbered, Fox Business host David Asman emphasized the importance of the wall to Trump’s supporters, saying that “if [Trump] is viewed by his base as caving on the issue, no matter how they try to spin at the White House, already some of the base is beginning to fray a little bit.” Referring to the White House’s pledge to find funding for the wall elsewhere, Fox host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery claimed that “if this were the Obama administration … we would all be up in arms.”
Rush Limbaugh attacked the Senate-passed resolution, saying, “Trump’s gonna get less than nothing because this compromise strips out the $1.6 billion for the wall that the Senate Appropriations Committee had already approved weeks ago.” He added, “You can’t say for four years, 'Well, I gotta do this and this and this and this and this before I can accomplish this ... He doesn’t have limitless time to do this."
Ann Coulter unloaded on Trump in a podcast with The Daily Caller, accusing him of being “a joke presidency who scammed the American people.” Coulter said that she will not vote for Trump in 2020 without a border wall, adding, “nor will, I think, most of his supporters.” (Coulter had also vowed earlier in the week to not support Trump in 2020 if the wall was not built.) Within hours of these comments, the president unfollowed Coulter on Twitter.
Fox regular and former NRATV host Dan Bongino filled in as guest host for Sean Hannity’s prime-time Fox News show on Wednesday, discussing the spending bill and the border wall, which he described as “essentially the Trump-MAGA agenda.” Matt Schlapp, chair of the American Conservative Union, claimed that “the fact is is this: The president should veto this bill. This breaks the promise with his supporters.” Though Schlapp admitted that a shutdown “doesn’t mean you get all you want, but you send a message to the liberals” and “that’s why it’s critical for the president to not sign a bill which is a white flag.”
Erick Erickson criticized the negotiating skills of Trump and Republicans:
Central America gets $10.6 billion.
Planned Parenthood still funded.
ISIS gets a reprieve in Syria.
Well done, Republicans.
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) December 20, 2018
On her Fox News show, Laura Ingraham chastised Trump for not getting the funding, declaring that “not funding the wall is going to go down as one of the worst, worst things to have happened to this administration. … It’s a scandal that it hasn’t been built.” Fox regular and Trump legal adviser Joe diGenova agreed with Ingraham, saying: “I hope that when this thing runs out in February, the president says, ‘That’s it, no more. A wall or I’m shutting it down.’”
Breitbart's Joel Pollak said that he would prefer a shutdown:
On the wall: first, I've stated I prefer Trump to follow through on his threat of a shutdown over it because he made a threat and must follow through on threats if they are to be credible again -- as they will have to be when he tries to wield his veto against a Democratic House.
— Joel B. Pollak (@joelpollak) December 20, 2018
Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee said on Fox & Friends that Trump “has got to look in the mirror and remind himself he ran … on the idea of we’re going to secure the border.” Huckabee also downplayed the impact of a shutdown, saying that “the things that really matter to most Americans day-by-day will be funded.” Guest co-host Jedediah Bila responded by saying that “this is his signature issue, this is what arguably he won on,” claiming that she doesn’t “understand how he survives this personally, for his own legacy.”
Fox host Pete Hegseth, who is known to speak directly to Trump, called for Trump to shut down the government.
(2 of 3) ...Don’t listen to squish advisors. Your instincts are right. Dig in and fight. Veto a crap CR bill w/ no WALL funding. Make Dems own “open borders”. Disrupt Washington, DC. Make them all squirm. The American People are behind you.
No WALL = SHUT IT DOWN...
— Pete Hegseth (@PeteHegseth) December 20, 2018
On Fox & Friends, NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch called on Trump to shut down both the government and the border until he receives funding, saying that she “would love to see the president … just go ahead and shut down the border, and then shut down the government.”
On Fox’s America’s Newsroom, James Freeman of The Wall Street Journal downplayed the significance of a government shutdown, claiming that “if you look at recent history, shutdowns don’t actually do that much political damage.”
On Fox’s America’s Newsroom, Fox contributor and former acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Thomas Homan said that Trump “needs to veto any sort of continuing resolution” so that “he can stand up and say, ‘I have done everything I can to protect our border.’”
Ben Shapiro said Trump should veto "any funding that doesn't include the wall."
Shortly after it was announced that Trump would refuse to sign the bill to keep the government open, Limbaugh said that "the president has gotten word to me that he is either getting funding to the border or he’s shutting the whole thing down." Earlier in the show, Limbaugh had told him to do exactly that in order to be "a hero" to the far right.
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The threat of a partial government shutdown looms over Capitol Hill as the deadline to pass a spending bill by December 21 approaches. President Donald Trump has demanded that $5 billion be included in the final spending package for the southern border wall, which Democrats refuse to accept. Feeling the pressure of a Democratic-controlled House in January, Trump is threatening to shut down the government if he does not receive the funding -- and some at Fox are encouraging him.
Tomi Lahren, host of Fox Nation’s First Thoughts, expressed strong support for a government shutdown, telling Trump to “shut it down” because “the promise of a big, beautiful border wall” was at the “top of [her] list” when voting for Trump. She doubled down on her support by saying, “A good old-fashioned government shutdown spanking might be exactly what our politicians need.”
Lisa Boothe, a panelist on Fox News’ Outnumbered, claimed that she is “perfectly fine with shutting the government down” because “it’s a partial shutdown” and “people will forget about this by 2020,” so it will not “impact Republicans politically.” Some of her fellow panelists also suggested that a government shutdown would be a good idea.
Fox host Laura Ingraham expressed support for Trump's proposed government shutdown on her radio show, saying that if he doesn’t “get this wall built," then "we’ve lost the country anyway.”
On Fox Business' Lou Dobbs Tonight, Republican strategist Ed Rollins justified a government shutdown on Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight, saying, “The bottom line is you’re not shutting the whole government down. You’re only shutting a part of it down.” He also said that Trump needs to show that he means “serious business” and that he “needs this to hold his base.”
Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee said on Fox & Friends that Trump should shut the government down, justifying it by saying, “The terrible thing is to let the Democrats bully this president who was elected by the people of this nation.”
Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz argued that in a shutdown fight, “the president is on the winning side.”
On America's Newsroom, Republican political consultant and Fox News regular Brad Blakeman said that he supported Trump’s rhetoric on shutting down the government, arguing, “The president’s got to use leverage.”
Ned Ryun, founder and CEO of American Majority, argued on Fox & Friends that Trump “should shut down government because then we can have a conversation about what size government do we really want.”
On his daily radio show, Fox host Sean Hannity downplayed the impact of a government shutdown, saying that “essential services all continue” and characterizing a shutdown as a “free vacation” for bureaucrats.
Fox host Lou Dobbs asked his guest “who’s going to notice” a government shutdown, before falsely claiming that “the principal beneficiaries [of government programs] seem to be the estimated 22 to 30 million illegal immigrants in this country.”
On her Fox show, The Ingraham Angle, Ingraham also championed Trump’s decision to potentially shut down the government, claiming that a shutdown would “absolutely” yield positive results for Trump. Ingraham also claimed that the 2013 government shutdown “didn’t hurt the Republicans at all” and that Trump has “got to get that wall built.”
Update (12/12/18): This piece has been updated with additional examples.
We’re all being trolled by attention-starved wannabe media stars
When right-wing pundit Erick Erickson suggested last week that the U.S. cut foreign aid to Central American countries and instead use those funds to “prop up the next generation of Pinochet types,” it didn’t come as much of a surprise. A number of conservatives have a bit of a soft spot for the former Chilean dictator. When Erickson said that he was “hoping for some helicopters in this plan,” though, he raised a few eyebrows, as such a statement is designed to do.
His reference to helicopters was a nod to Augusto Pinochet’s history of having at least 120 political dissidents thrown to their deaths from helicopters into the “the ocean, the lakes and the rivers of Chile.” On his blog, The Resurgent, Erickson elaborated a bit on that tweet, still straddling the line between being serious and just joking around, and writing that he’s “not actually fully on board” with his own idea.
Does Erickson actually think helicopters are essential to this tweet, blog post, or political suggestion? Probably not. Certainly, he knows that the extrajudicial murder of political opponents is a reprehensible thing to praise. Why say it, then? Because it gets him attention, and in a sea of political media takes, attention is everything. Anyone who spends any significant amount of time watching political talk shows or cable news channels knows that it’s the loudest and most extreme voices that rise to the top of the punditry food chain. It’s as true for Erickson as it is for more recent additions to our national discourse, Tomi Lahren and Milo Yiannopoulos. The power to provoke has replaced intelligent discussion, and would-be commentators are catching on.
Erickson, along with the likes of Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, or any number of other conservatives coming out of the world of talk radio, have made entire careers based on saying things so outrageous that the rest of us ask whether they even mean what they’re saying. Does Coulter actually wish that Timothy McVeigh had bombed the New York Times building? Or that politicians who support immigration reform should face “death squads”? Probably not, but her many outrageous statements have helped make Coulter a bestselling author and mainstay in the world of political commentary for two decades running.
The truth is that you don’t have someone like Erickson or Coulter on your Sunday morning political talk show if you’re interested in an-depth discussion about policy. No, you have them on because of their potential to generate controversy. Their entire brand is built upon being predictably unpredictable.
The truth is that discussing politics can be boring, and maybe it should be. Deficit discussions and tax talk just aren’t sexy. Foreign policy is probably better considered with a sober seriousness, and the economy is best understood as a complex mess of systems only a technocrat could love. But people like their politics with a side of entertainment. After all, there’s a reason people tune in to CNN over C-SPAN, and this creates a major incentive for would-be commentators to embrace a politics-as-WWE approach.
Before becoming the poster boy for crude offense masked as commentary, Milo Yiannopoulos was the editor of The Kernel, an online tech and culture magazine he founded. Though he was never shy about his conservative beliefs, he was far from the firebrand who’d later publish Breitbart articles under such headlines as “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” and “Teenage Boys With Tits: Here’s My Problem With Ghostbusters.”
While he’d always had a reputation for his inflated ego and a tendency to pick fights, back in his days writing at The Kernel, Yiannopoulos could actually be -- dare I say -- thoughtful. Based on his writing, 2012’s Yiannopoulos would have almost certainly hated his 2018 self. Take, for instance, a 2012 blog post titled “The internet is turning us all into sociopaths,” in which he describes the rise of a new sort of anti-civility, online and off:
What’s disturbing about this new trend, in which commenters are posting what would previously have been left anonymously, is that these trolls seem not to mind that their real names, and sometimes even their occupations, appear clamped to their vile words. It’s as if a psychological norm is being established whereby comments left online are part of a video game and not real life. It’s as if we’ve all forgotten that there’s a real person on the other end, reading and being hurt by our vitriol. That’s as close to the definition of sociopath as one needs to get for an armchair diagnosis, though of course many other typical sociopathic traits are also being encouraged by social media.
In “When ‘free speech’ means defending evil murderers,” Yiannopoulos lambasted social media companies that refused to take swift action against cyberbullying and extremist content. In another blog, he argued that “free speech has its limits,” and in yet another, he took one of his own cyberbullies to task. He called Laurie Penny’s book Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet “terrific,” writing, "We do need to think more carefully about how women are spoken to online."
In 2013, The Kernel shuttered after being sued by former contributors over unpaid wages. It was acquired by a German company called Berlin 42 before being sold to the publisher of The Daily Dot. By 2014, Yiannopoulos was writing for Breitbart and fanning the flames of Gamergate, a controversy he would use to propel himself to U.S. stardom. The rest is, as they say, history.
Tomi Lahren went from hosting a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, political roundtable show in which she accepted the realities of climate change to becoming a Fox News megastar. The secret to her success: a newfound embrace of the theatrical and outrageous. Her road to stardom was paved with tweets calling the Black Lives Matter movement “The new KKK,” videos in which she said that the U.S. government during the Obama administration had a “be-friendly-to-Jihadis mentality,” and more recently, a tweet saying that the “highlight” of her Thanksgiving weekend was watching the tear-gassing of migrants (including children) at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Bum-rushing the border is a CHOICE and has consequences. Watching the USA FINALLY defend our borders was the HIGHLIGHT of my Thanksgiving weekend. 🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼 https://t.co/jAkfcgzRuN
— Tomi Lahren (@TomiLahren) November 26, 2018
Lahren found a shortcut to success, and she took it. How many of us can honestly say that we wouldn’t act out a more extreme version of ourselves if it meant a one-way ticket to the top? Because if it’s not Lahren filling the rage void in political media, it’d be someone else just as over-the-top and abrasive. If social media has shown us anything, it’s that there are always people waiting in the wings, longing to be discovered.
The Yiannopoulos star burned bright, but for now, it’s fizzled. He knows that the only way to stay relevant is to say truly outlandish things, like when he told The Observer in June, “I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight.” He’s become the political embodiment of The Onion’s brilliant 2001 “Marilyn Manson Now Going Door-To-Door Trying To Shock People” article.
He faded because the blueprint shifted ever so slightly. People got bored of watching an entirely unserious man shout slurs and call it commentary, because he couldn’t take off the “Milo” public persona he’d created for himself, even for a moment. He tried, as in the wake of comments he made that appeared to condone pedophilia, but it came off as hollow and insincere. The trick for media provocateurs is to offer a dash of humanity in with the vitriol. Lahren did this when she opened up about being pro-choice on an episode of The View. Erickson does this whenever he stops by a respectable talk show to promote civility or denounce conspiracy theories.
As the rules change, so do the players. Uninterrupted trolling no longer has the power it once did. Maybe we can move the bar further still. Maybe the answer to professional trolls is to deny them the attention they so desperately need to remain relevant. Maybe I shouldn’t be writing about Erickson’s “helicopter” tweet at all. Maybe I shouldn’t bother to note when media figures hang a neon “pay attention to me” sign above their heads as they tweet things like “Can someone explain to me why I'm supposed to lose sleep over Saudi Arabia killing an Islamist political opponent?” about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, or when they tweet “I've found my Christmas card photo. #Caring” in response to a photo of a family running from tear gas on the border.
If the expected response is reactive outrage, maybe deliberate disinterest is the answer. So, why am I writing about this, you might ask. I think it’s important to recognize the patterns at play. Starving the trolls of the attention they seek is a reasonable long-term goal. But in the meantime, we need to recognize that there are people toying with our national political discourse just for a shot at fame and fortune.
I think it was the cake that broke me.
Roughly eight hours into my quest to watch as much programming as possible from Fox Nation, the right-wing cable network’s new streaming service, the debut episode of D-list conservative commentator David Webb’s Reality Check was interrupted when a gentleman with a magnificent beard walked onto the set unannounced and sat next to the host. It was, we learned after some baffled hemming and hawing from Webb, the executive pastry chef and sometime Food Network competitor Robert Teddy. Apparently scheduled to talk to the host about a charity that sends pastries to the troops, he had instead shown up with a cake shaped like a hot air balloon featuring a miniature model of Webb himself as a passenger, which was soon plopped on the table.
“You’ve thrown me all off here -- I’ve got my papers here everywhere,” Webb said, waving his pages of notes and desperately trying to transition to the next segment of a show that had quickly gone off the rails.
Fox Nation’s first day was a shit show. The execution was terrible, with shows frequently failing to load on the website, mishaps on the set, and a collection of on-air talent that is in no way ready for prime time (which is, perhaps, why their shows are running online in the first place).
But what Fox seems to be building -- shorn of the cable network’s pretenses of journalism, out of sight of mainstream audiences, and without fear of advertiser boycotts since the service currently features no commercials -- is a safe space to try out commentators and ideas that might otherwise be shunned. Fox is charging $5.99 a month for access to the service, and its executives clearly think that the audience wants angry far-right opinion programming.
Take Tomi Lahren, the former host on One America News Network and Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze whom Fox has made the face of Fox Nation. Her Tuesday shows bookending the streaming service’s live programming were rants unhinged even by Fox News’ standards. She began the day by denouncing the “invasion” by migrants attempting to seek asylum in the U.S. and mocking the “ungrateful” people because “apparently tortillas and refried beans aren't good enough for these so-called asylum seekers, imagine that.” She also said, “Here’s some advice: If you don’t want to be tear-gassed when you rush the border, don’t rush the border.” Lahren ended the day by denouncing singer Barbra Streisand for her recent comments about the 2016 election, shouting through a litany of reasons she had supported Trump, arguing that “President Trump isn’t assaulting democracy or institutions; he’s saving them from the socialist utopia people like you dream of” … and attacking Streisand’s dog.
Throughout the day, Fox Nation’s commentators pushed this sort of virulent commentary, hitting all the usual sweet spots for Fox viewers -- denunciations of immigrants, Democrats, college students, and the media, and hosannas for Trump -- with little indication that the service is trying to put in place any sort of guardrails. The sorts of factors that typically cause the network to at least pretend to hit the brakes -- unnerved staffers from the network’s “news” side and advertisers wary of being tarred with the network’s bigotry -- don’t really apply.
Beyond political red meat, Fox Nation provides a home for the soft-focus passion projects of Fox News’ higher-profile personalities: Fox & Friends’ Steve Doocy has a cooking show, his co-host Brian Kilmeade travels the country visiting sites relevant to the nation’s history on What Made America Great, The Five’s Dana Perino hosts an interview series featuring prominent authors, and Rachel Campos Duffy has a show about motherhood.
The service pads out the original offerings with a large assortment of old Fox News specials that have aired over the years, which fall neatly within the ideological contours of the network’s hosts and audience. If you have an urgent need to re-watch Fox News host Bret Baier’s 2006 hagiography of Bush administration Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, his 2014 documentary purportedly showing the “smoking gun of Benghazi,” or his 2015 look at “The Tangled Clinton Web,” you can call them up on demand. You also have access to 95 episodes of National Rifle Association President Oliver North’s Fox show War Stories.
In its initial offerings, Fox Nation is leaning heavily on its close ties to the Trump administration and family. One of the service’s premiere shows is The First Family: Donald J. Trump, which promises an “exclusive look” at how the president’s children are “balancing their own home lives, yet also dealing with the spotlight of their father being the President of the United States.” The first episode features Fox Business host and Trump cheerleader Maria Bartiromo’s softball interview with Eric Trump and footage of him at home with his wife, son, and dog, at the Trump Organization headquarters in New York City and at the Trump Winery in Charlottesville, VA. Likewise, Kilmeade’s show features him getting a tour of the Naval Observatory with Vice President Mike Pence’s wife Karen and climbing Mount Rushmore with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
There are a few flaws in the Fox Nation plan thus far, beyond the shoddy production values.
The talent level of the service’s newly branded hosts may prove a problem. Fox founder Roger Ailes was a monster who created a propaganda machine that has been terrible for the country. But he was also a shrewd judge of talent. In his absence, Fox appears to be throwing stuff at the wall to see what will stick, lifting up people like Lahren -- a grifting Trump sycophant with no real principles whose first Fox Nation offerings suggest that she recently discovered sarcasm and air quotes. Fox is rounding out the service’s programming by giving shows to decidedly third-tier talents like Webb and Todd Starnes.
Then again, Fox News has managed to retain viewers while rather drastically shifting its lineup since Ailes’ 2016 downfall, suggesting that perhaps the audience is willing to sit through whatever right-wing commentator the network serves up.
There’s also a question of who the service is for. Fox is billing it as a product for the network’s “superfans,” the “folks who watch Fox News every night for hours at a time, the dedicated audience that really wants more of what we have to offer,” as Fox executive John Finley told The New York Times in February.
But Fox News is a 24/7 news network, and its superfans also have access to the network’s B team on Fox Business, so when are they supposed to be tuning in to Fox Nation? The network’s schedule gives a strong hint -- daily streaming shows are almost entirely running during daytime hours, when the network is purportedly devoted to “news” programming as opposed to its morning and evening “opinion” shows. The bet is presumably that there's an audience that would watch C-team opinion programming or old Fox documentaries but isn’t interested in the network's news hours -- and the risk is that Fox Nation ends up cannibalizing Fox News’ daytime ratings.
The truth, of course, may be more cynical than that. Maybe, given the advanced age of the network’s typical viewer, the audience for Fox Nation is actually people who have trouble unsubscribing after signing up for services. Perhaps the hope is if the network promotes this schlock enough on Fox News, enough of its fans will sign up and then forget that they did so, making it a lucrative revenue stream, even if its audience is low.
Either way, here’s what that audience is getting, based on the 10 hours or so I spent pursuing the programming on Tuesday:
Rob Schmitt and Carley Shimkus do brief intros for segments from Fox News’ prime-time programs -- one each for Tucker Carlson Tonight, Hannity, and The Ingraham Angle. Think of it as the worst possible version of the Academy Awards, complete with one host finishing the other’s sentences.
I was ready for a Bartiromo interview with Eric Trump to feature questions like “Tell me about, like, growing up with this bigger-than-life father” (answer: “He’s so unconventional, but also incredible”) and “Who’s your mentor?” (“My father”). I wasn’t expecting the show to turn into an extensive infomercial for the Trump Winery and the adjacent hotel in Virginia (according to Trump, “the Mar-a-Lago of the South,” which is strange since Virginia is north of Florida), complete with a tour of the Jefferson Suite. What an incredible grift.
“This day in U.S. history” as presented by Fox’s Bill Bennett, who served in President Ronald Reagan’s cabinet. Tuesday’s offering was about the U.S. Senate voting to confirm Gerald Ford as vice president. The segment did touch on President Richard Nixon’s subsequent resignation, though curiously did not discuss the reason behind it.
This program airs immediately after Fox & Friends, apparently with a cast wholly unprepared to host the show. Tuesday’s version included Janice Dean discussing her neck pain, Steve Doocy mixing up the names of two members of the crew, and Jillian Mele declaring, “Fox Nation, I swear we’re better than this.” They are not.
This is a mini-cable news program featuring Fox’s Andrew Napolitano interviewing former independent counsel Kenneth Starr and then doing a “news I like and news I hate” lightning round. This was by far the most professionally done program on Fox Nation. Who knows how long it will last, though -- the “news I like and news I hate” segment included the sole criticisms of Trump I saw, with Napolitano denouncing Trump’s recent comments about special counsel Robert Mueller, General Motors, and the need for a state TV network.
Brian Kilmeade is traveling the country visiting historic sites. One episode featured his visit to President Andrew Jackson’s Nashville, TN, home, The Hermitage. In the second, he visited Mount Rushmore, climbing to the top with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Kilmeade had no questions for the interior secretary about the series of scandals he’s overseen, but he did give Zinke the opportunity to declare that “the president is a builder; it’s time to rebuild our parks.” In the third episode, Kilmeade received from Karen Pence what he called “a tour of One Observatory Circle that no member of an administration has ever given before.” As he played fetch with the Pences’ dog, he declared, “Not only is your husband a really good legislator, a great politician, and the second most powerful person in the country -- he also can train a great dog.”
In the first episode, four people who agree with each other talked about whether American college students can “still exercise free speech and free minds.” These people were: The Wall Street Journal editorial page’s James Freeman (who is also the host), his colleague at the Journal Jillian Melchior, CampusReform.org Editor-in-Chief Lawrence Jones, and Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz. The segment began with Freeman warning his viewers that “Deep Dive is not a safe space and ... microaggressions against the dominant campus culture will be not only tolerated, but even encouraged.” Somehow, it got worse from there.
Somehow, Fox Business’ Stuart Varney also arranged to do his Fox Nation show about how “free speech is being silenced” and also booked a CampusReform.org staffer to discuss it with him. Varney broke new ground in stopping the interview to complain that some of his own staffers had suggested it might be inappropriate to use the word kowtow, adding, “Can you imagine this? You can’t even -- you have to think about using the word” -- and here he attempted a Chinese accent -- “do the kowtow.”
Fox News Politics Editor Chris Stirewalt and producer Brianna McClelland sit in front of his desk and discuss which stories will run in Stirewalt’s daily newsletter. This is exactly as boring as it sounds.
Dana Perino’s second episode features Joseph Ellis, the eminent historian of the founding fathers who won a National Book Award for American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson and a Pulitzer Prize for Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation.
The first episode features Fox colleague Greg Gutfeld, whose books include The Joy of Hate: How to Triumph over Whiners in the Age of Phony Outrage.
This is a pretty traditional cable news-style show, with an opening monologue and guests. Webb also managed to book an actual congressman, Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA), who offered this rambling promise: “You and I are on the same page. We’re going to come after it, we’re going to be strong, we’re going to stay together, and we’re going to prove to America that in 2020, we’re coming back into power and we’re going to continue to make America great again every single way.”
In another traditional cable news-style show, Fox Radio host and noted bigot Todd Starnes is extremely angry that “an invading army of illegal aliens tried to storm our border,” which he termed “an act of war” in which border patrol agents “were forced to use tear gas and defend themselves and the American people from hundreds of invaders.” In case you weren’t clear that Starnes is a bigot, later in his opening monologue, Starnes vigorously name-checks “Barack Hussein Obama, BH Obama.” Starnes also slams the press as “the state-run media and ... the propaganda arm of the Democrats” -- during an interview with Mike Huckabee, a Fox commentator whose daughter is Trump’s press secretary. There’s also a “Heartland Headlines” segment featuring culture war controversies from around the country, like a school administrator who had recited the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish, that Starnes yells about.
Stand-up comedian and Fox contributor Tom Shillue has a show in which he quizzes people. This happened:
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How Fox News helped Trump transform migrants seeking safety into a xenophobic caricature looming over the midterms
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Ford said Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when they were high school students, but many media conservatives attacked her or say Kavanaugh should be confirmed anyway
The Washington Post reported on Sunday that Christine Blasey Ford had written a letter this summer to a Democratic lawmaker saying that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both high school students. Soon after Ford’s account was published, right-wing media figures and outlets began attacking her credibility, publicly discounting her story, or calling on Kavanaugh to be confirmed by Republicans anyway.
Details from the letter, which she wrote to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), leaked out several days earlier, and then Ford “decided that if her story is going to be told, she wants to be the one to tell it.” From the Post’s story:
Speaking publicly for the first time, Ford said that one summer in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh and a friend — both “stumbling drunk,” Ford alleges — corralled her into a bedroom during a gathering of teenagers at a house in Montgomery County.
While his friend watched, she said, Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed on her back and groped her over her clothes, grinding his body against hers and clumsily attempting to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it. When she tried to scream, she said, he put his hand over her mouth.
“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” said Ford, now a 51-year-old research psychologist in northern California. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”
Ford said she was able to escape when Kavanaugh’s friend and classmate at Georgetown Preparatory School, Mark Judge, jumped on top of them, sending all three tumbling. She said she ran from the room, briefly locked herself in a bathroom and then fled the house.
Ford said she told no one of the incident in any detail until 2012, when she was in couples therapy with her husband. The therapist’s notes, portions of which were provided by Ford and reviewed by The Washington Post, do not mention Kavanaugh’s name but say she reported that she was attacked by students “from an elitist boys’ school” who went on to become “highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington.” The notes say four boys were involved, a discrepancy Ford says was an error on the therapist’s part. Ford said there were four boys at the party but only two in the room.
Notes from an individual therapy session the following year, when she was being treated for what she says have been long-term effects of the incident, show Ford described a “rape attempt” in her late teens.
Kavanaugh has denied the report after Ford went public, calling it “a completely false allegation.” He previously said, “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation.” The immediate reaction from many conservative media figures was terrible: Many cast doubt on her account, others suggested they might believe her but said Kavanaugh should be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice anyway, and others impugned her motives, suggesting a political or personal grudge.
Breitbart’s John Nolte: “GOP blows Kavanaugh, falls for this, they will be massacred in November.”
Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones mocked Ford’s accusation: “Brett Kavanaugh in 1986 came to Dallas, TX, and I was in high school, and he raped me.”
Trump ally and conservative political operator Roger Stone: “This is a woman looking for her Anita Hill moment. This is her 15 minutes.”
Turning Point USA’s Candace Owens: “Nothing to see here, folks,” Ford is “just another woman who conveniently tripped and fell out of amnesia.”
Conservative radio host Erick Erickson: “If the GOP does not stand up to this character assassination attempt on Kavanaugh, every judicial nominee moving forward is going to suffer last minute sexual assault allegations.”
Erick Erickson: “I do not believe Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser. I do believe there is a Democrat PR firm working this story.”
Erick Erickson: “People who want to keep killing kids really shouldn’t be throwing Jesus in the face of those who don’t believe the accusation against Kavanaugh.”
Fox News’ Tomi Lahren: “Decades-old allegations against Kavanaugh come out just days before a vote….victim or opportunist?”
Tomi Lahren: "Female empowerment is NOT using sexual assault allegations to torpedo someone you disagree with politically."
Fox contributor Tammy Bruce: Report of assault by Kavanaugh is “an attempt at a political assassination.”
Newsmax’s John Cardillo: “No, 35+ year old dubious allegations about a non-crime made by a left-wing activist … do not hold water.”
NRATV’s Grant Stinchfield: “I have no idea if Judge Kavanaugh pushed this woman down on a bed at a high school house party where she wriggled free and ran away or not. What I do know is in the 35 years since, not one other woman has raised such an allegation. Sixty-five other women have, in fact, now come to his defense.”
Fox Business host Dagen McDowell: “You have to press [Ford] on any potential bias that’s there” against Republicans.
Fake news site TruthFeed: Ford’s story has “more holes than a slice of swiss cheese.”
The despicable Democrats are pulling out all the stops to try and derail the Judge Kavanaugh vote for SCOTUS.
They’re now claiming that Judge Kavanaugh attacked a woman in high school, nearly killing her. The woman, whose story has more holes than a slice of swiss cheese, claims there was a man in the room who witnessed the entire thing.
One big problem. That man, says it never happened.
Facebook page Silence is Consent posted a meme misleadingly claiming Ford was “so ‘devastated’” by incident “she contacted Feinstein 35 years later.”
Fox Business host Bob Massi: “The thing that’s remarkable to me” is that someone “with amazing credentials, amazing resumes, and an allegation like this comes out … and their entire career credibility is gone. … That’s the trouble with this.”
Sean Hannity radio show guest David Schoen: "The real crime here that happened" is Sen. Dianne Feinstein "presenting this thing under ... this veil of mystery."
Fox News host Sean Hannity cast doubt on Ford's accusation because of "everything else you see about Judge Kavanaugh's life ... this is a guy that spends a lot of time feeding the homeless."
CRTV's Gavin McInnes: Ford is "clearly full of crap."
CRTV's Mark Levin on Ford's accusation: "This whole thing to me sounds like a sham and a setup. ... This is an entire political scam and sham as far as I'm concerned."
Ethics and Public Policy Center Lance Morrow's Wall Street Journal op-ed likened Ford's accusation to Salem Witch Trials, diminished alleged rape attempt: "No clothes were removed, and no sexual penetration occurred."
The Salem witch trials turned on what was called “spectral evidence.” That was testimony from witnesses—either malicious or hysterical—who claimed the accused had assumed the form of a black cat or some other devilish creature and had come visiting in the night in order to torment the witness with bites and scratches, or to rearrange the bedroom furniture, or to send the baby into paroxysms.
Three hundred twenty-six years later, an anonymous woman—a spectral and possibly nonexistent woman, for all that one knew when the story emerged—accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her 36 years ago, when he was a high-school student. It seemed as if the American constitutional process might be drawn back to the neighborhood of Salem, Mass. According to this phantom testimony, 17-year-old Brett held the girl down, pawed her and tried to force himself upon her, and held his hand over her mouth when she screamed, until a second prep-school devil piled on top, they all tumbled to the floor, and the girl managed to slip away. The boys were “stumbling drunk,” according to the account.
The thing happened—if it happened—an awfully long time ago, back in Ronald Reagan’s time, when the actors in the drama were minors and (the boys, anyway) under the blurring influence of alcohol and adolescent hormones. No clothes were removed, and no sexual penetration occurred. The sin, if there was one, was not one of those that Catholic theology calls peccata clamantia—sins that cry to heaven for vengeance.
The offense alleged is not nothing, by any means. It is ugly, and stupid more than evil, one might think, but trauma is subjective and hard to parse legally. Common sense is a little hard put to know what to make of the episode, if it happened. The dust of 36 years has settled over the memory. The passage of time sometimes causes people to forget; sometimes it causes them to invent or embellish. Invention takes on bright energies when its muse is politics, which is the Olympics of illusion.
Federalist contributor Tom Nichols: “I’m good with the story being true,” but it shouldn’t “derail [his] nomination.”
Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh: Ford’s report can’t be proven, “so he should be confirmed.”
Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro: “The Senate should just vote” on Kavanaugh.
The Federalist: Kavanaugh “should be confirmed” despite Ford’s report.
Townhall.com editor Guy Benson: “Absent additional evidence, I don’t know how it would be remotely just to derail the nomination” of Kavanaugh.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board suggested Ford possibly misremembered "in the cauldron of a therapy session to rescue a marriage," and stated that letting Ford's accusation "stop Mr. Kavanaugh's confirmation would ratify what has all the earmarks of a calculated political ambush."
The woman accusing Brett Kavanaugh of a drunken assault when both were teenagers has now come forward publicly, and on Monday it caused Republicans to delay a confirmation vote and schedule another public hearing. Yet there is no way to confirm her story after 36 years, and to let it stop Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation would ratify what has all the earmarks of a calculated political ambush.
Mr. Kavanaugh denies all this “categorically and unequivocally,” and there is simply no way to prove it. The only witness to the event is Mr. Kavanaugh’s high school male friend, Mark Judge, who also says he recalls no such event. Ms. Ford concedes she told no one about it—not even a high school girl friend or family member—until 2012 when she told the story as part of couples therapy with her husband.
The vagaries of memory are well known, all the more so when they emerge in the cauldron of a therapy session to rescue a marriage. Experts know that human beings can come to believe firmly over the years that something happened when it never did or is based on partial truth. Mistaken identity is also possible.
This is simply too distant and uncorroborated a story to warrant a new hearing or to delay a vote. We’ve heard from all three principals, and there are no other witnesses to call. Democrats will use Monday’s hearing as a political spectacle to coax Mr. Kavanaugh into looking defensive or angry, and to portray Republicans as anti-women. Odds are it will be a circus.
Letting an accusation that is this old, this unsubstantiated and this procedurally irregular defeat Mr. Kavanaugh would also mean weaponizing every sexual assault allegation no matter the evidence. It will tarnish the #MeToo cause with the smear of partisanship, and it will unleash even greater polarizing furies.
Mike Cernovich: “Christine Blasey is a far left wing activist. ... this is straight activism on her part.”
The Gateway Pundit: Ford is a “far-left activist.”
Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft: Ford is an “unhinged liberal professor who former students describe as dark, mad, scary and troubled.”
Fox News host Laura Ingraham: “Apparently this accuser was fine with leaving Brett Kavanaugh on the second highest court of the land. … But it was when he was up for the Supreme Court that suddenly the stakes got higher.”
Laura Ingraham: "This all has the whiff of a political smear masquerading as a sexual assault allegation."
Fake news site RedstateWatcher: Ford is a "registered Democrat and Democrat activist.”
Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh: Ford is "a political activist. She's an angry political activist. She's much more than just a victim of alleged attempted rape."
Fox News host Tucker Carlson: "Does anyone really believe this story would have surfaced if Brett Kavanaugh had pledged allegiance to Roe v. Wade? Of course it wouldn't have."
Alex Kaplan and Natalie Martinez contributed research to this post.