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  • The Fox News pardon pipeline

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Hours after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s plea to overturn his 2010 criminal conviction and 14-year prison sentence on charges related to political corruption, his wife Patti Blagojevich appealed to a higher authority: Fox News.

    “If you could speak to the president, what would you say?” Fox host Tucker Carlson asked at the top of a sympathetic Monday night interview with her. “What would be your pitch to pardoning your husband?” As she explained why she thought the former governor deserved clemency for charges that he tried to sell off President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat, the caption "Will Trump intervene in Blagojevich case?" flashed across the screen.

    President Donald Trump himself, who spends hours each day consuming his favorite news network, may have been watching -- a spokesperson for Patti Blagojevich said she hopes he saw the segment. Even if he hasn’t personally seen it, the appeal may find favor with one of the network hosts or regulars whom Trump regularly consults.

    Appealing for presidential relief on Fox is a sound strategy, and one that more lawyers will likely attempt in the years to come. At this point in his presidency, all three of Trump’s pardons have had a Fox connection, and each avoided the standard, complex Justice Department procedures.

    With Trump largely ignoring the Office of the Pardon Attorney, the best path to clemency is getting the president’s attention. And no one has the president’s attention quite like the programs and staffers at Fox.

    Trump’s first pardon went to Joe Arpaio, the former Maricopa County sheriff notorious to most for the brutal, humiliating treatment undocumented immigrants suffered under his authority and his refusal to stop racially profiling the Latino community.

    But on Fox, Arpaio was a folk hero, the lawman who took undocumented immigration and the border seriously. The president likely had that image in mind when he issued the pardon with a statement praising Arpaio’s “life's work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration.”

    A Fox regular may have given Trump the idea in the first place. It was Gregg Jarrett, a Fox legal analyst and Trump sycophant, who broke the news that Trump was thinking about pardoning Arpaio, saying they discussed it at the president’s Bedminster, NJ, golf club. Jarrett, who clearly supported an Arpaio pardon, didn’t say who first raised the idea. For his part, Arpaio credits the work of pro-Trump conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for the pardon; Jones, in turn, has said Fox host Sean Hannity was involved.

    Kristian Saucier, a former Navy sailor who pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized possession and retention of national defense information, was the second recipient of a Trump pardon.

    Saucier’s lawyer specifically attributed the pardon to a Fox-centric strategy that included getting Saucier on Fox & Friends, the president’s favorite program and one he frequently live-tweets.

    I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a former White House aide, recently received the third pardon, which was widely perceived as a way for Trump to signal that pardons might be available to witnesses who don’t cooperate with the Russia probe.

    Here, too, Fox appears to have played a key role. Libby’s lawyer is Victoria Toensing, the Republican attorney who uses frequent Fox appearances to defend Trump from the Russia investigation and had been in talks earlier in the year to join the president’s legal team. She “declined to say what conversations she had with the White House about Libby in recent days and weeks” in a Washington Post interview after the pardon was announced.

    A president’s tenure typically includes a few controversial pardons that critics say were political. But under Trump, every single pardon has been of that sort, without the usual mix of ordinary citizens who served their time and appealed to the Justice Department.

    Criminal defendants and prisoners who lack resources and who don’t count professional political operatives among their friends -- like the nonviolent drug offenders who received pardons from President Barack Obama -- may be out of luck.

    Attorneys and applicants will likely draw lessons from the unusual way Trump has wielded the pardon power.

    Pardon seekers are more likely to be successful if they have some sort of connection to conservative politics, either as a politician like Arpaio, a cause célèbre like Saucier, or an operative like Libby.

    Trump has loudly proclaimed himself the victim of a political prosecution, and he seems more likely to respond to people making the same case.

    Hiring a lawyer with connections to the president has always been good advice. But under this administration, those connections may well be driven by the lawyer’s willingness and ability to shill for the president on television.

    And, of course, get on Fox if you can, and have your spouse or lawyer do it if you can’t. Thanks to the president’s obsession with the network’s programming, he may be watching.

    Even if Trump doesn’t see your segment, someone who has the president’s ear may.

    “On a show just before we were talking about the former governor of Illinois,” the lawyer Alan Dershowitz said on Hannity Monday, just minutes after Patti Blagojevich’s interview. “Gets 14 years in prison for what people do every single day in state legislatures all over the country, and yet we prosecute him and throw the book at him.”

    Last week, Dershowitz had dinner at the White House with Trump, a reward for making the president’s case on television. Next time he has that opportunity, perhaps he’ll suggest that the president fix a miscarriage of justice and offer Rod Blagojevich a pardon.

    The Fox pardon pipeline will be back in action.

    UPDATE: In addition to the three Trump pardons, the sole person to receive a Trump commutation also has a Fox tie.

    On December 20, Trump granted clemency to Sholom Rubashkin and ordered his release. Rubashkin had so far served eight years of his 27-year sentence on dozens of charges of financial fraud. Observers were puzzled by Trump’s decision to free him, noting that leniency for the owner of a meatpacking plant that had been the target of a huge immigration raid was at odds with Trump’s generally harsh stance on undocumented immigration.

    Rubashkin had one advantage, though -- his lawyer was Alan Dershowitz. Dershowitz had been working on the case for five years and told The New York Times that he had personally asked Trump to consider commutation.

    According to Forward, Dershowitz brought up Rubashkin during a meeting with the president to discuss the Middle East peace process in fall 2017. August of that year saw the publication of Dershowitz’s latest book, which argues that the Russia probe is the result of the “criminalization of political differences” and highlights his Fox & Friends appearances in publicity materials. He regularly made the same arguments on Fox in the months and weeks leading up to the pardon.

    On December 4, a few weeks before Trump issued the commutation, the president flagged one such Dershowitz appearance on his Twitter account:

  • 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."

  • Complaints about Facebook selectively silencing conservatives are not based in reality

    Users across the political spectrum are feeling the effects of Facebook’s haphazard approach to battling fake news and hate speech

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Republican lawmakers repeatedly asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about alleged anti-conservative political bias on Facebook during two days of hearings on Capitol Hill this week. But this perceived bias has largely been fabricated or exaggerated by conservative media figures who complain that Facebook’s effort to address misinformation and online abuse is a front for suppressing conservative opinion. If anything, Facebook’s problem is its lack of transparency and inconsistent policy enforcement.

    Leading up to the hearings, which were initially billed as focused on Cambridge Analytica and Facebook’s use of user data, conservative media figures had focused on supposed suppression of conservative views.

    Fox host Sean Hannity, Fox’s Tucker Carlson, Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson, The Gateway Pundit, and others had complained about supposed censorship by Facebook. In recent days, far-right commentators Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, who go by Diamond and Silk, had also pushed the issue, appearing multiple times on Fox News and claiming that Facebook was trying to silence them by labeling their content “unsafe.”

    Facebook has said this was an enforcement error. Subsequent reporting showed that it was also a hoax: Think Progress has debunked their claim that they are being censored, citing data from CrowdTangle to report that their comments are “totally without merit.” Conservative commentator Erick Erickson published an email from Facebook contradicting what the two said on Fox News. In addition, their website -- diamondandsilkinc.americanewscentral.com -- is part of the same Young Conservatives LLC network that Media Matters highlighted in March. As BuzzFeed's Craig Silverman has previously explained, websites affiliated with Young Conservative "are using an increasingly popular tactic of quickly hopping from one domain name to another in order to blunt the impact of Facebook’s recent News Feed algorithm changes." 

    Despite these facts, during Zuckerberg’s testimony, multiple Republicans used a rare opportunity to question one of the world’s most powerful people to ask about Diamond and Silk. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in particular drew online applause from conservatives for pursuing this angle.

    Recent data from the social media analytics company NewsWhip found the overall claim of conservative bias to be unfounded as well: Conservative websites continued to get more engagements than left-wing websites even after Facebook changed its algorithm to prioritize news shared by friends over news shared by publishers. And there have been a number of instances in which Facebook has banned posts made by liberal and other non-conservative users -- or even suspended them:

    • Journalist and activist ljeoma Oluo was suspended from Facebook after she posted screenshots of racist comments and threats against her. Facebook  later apologized.
    • Facebook removed a quote from black blogger Layla Saad’s page and then censored a follow-up post. Facebook later apologized for the error.
    • Facebook wrongfully deleted a post from a black woman describing verbal abuse she and her sons encountered for her race at a grocery store (later restoring it) as well as posts from a Muslim activist detailing Islamophobic threats against a mosque (she later received an automated apology and one post was restored).
    • Facebook banned posts from a group of Rohingya Muslims fighting persecution in Myanmar. (The company has also drawn criticism from the United Nations for its role in the spread of hate speech in the country.)
    • Black and transgender activists organized a petition against Facebook’s often-unjustified censorship of minority voices.

    Conservatives have long alleged that there is an anti-conservative bias in the media, and their complaints about social media may well be an outgrowth of that perception. But another factor in their disproportionately loud outcry likely stems from Facebook’s efforts to crack down on fake news, conspiracy theories, and online harassment, which are more prevalent in conservative circles than in others. While Facebook and other media companies are still struggling to deal with these problems in a transparent and consistent way, there is evidence that some right-wing users may be using these platforms irresponsibly and thus feeling the impact more strongly than others.

    And there’s a real opportunity cost in focusing on this outcry. During the hearings, Zuckerberg was asked just one question about Facebook’s role in the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar, according to The Daily Beast. Lawmakers also showed a reluctance to confront Zuckerberg over many other serious questions about the social media giant. Facebook and other tech platforms have serious problems to deal with; forcing them to focus on dubious issues distracts from efforts to solve them.

  • Fox’s Steve Doocy uncritically pushes Russian smear about Syrian first responders

    Other pro-Trump and right-wing media figures have suggested the alleged chemical attack was a “false flag”

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    During the coverage of possible American strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy uncritically pushed a Russian-backed smear against an organization of first responders on the ground in Syria called the Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets. While discussing the potential American response to the April 7 apparent chemical attack outside Damascus, Doocy said, “Some of it could be Russian propaganda, but I was reading this morning in Newsweek … that apparently this group called the White Helmets, … there are stories that they staged bodies to make it look like there was a gas attack.” From the April 12 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): There are these stories out there, and you've got to figure some of it could be Russian propaganda, but I was reading this morning in Newsweek, online because there is no print edition anymore, that apparently this group called the White Helmets, which used to be the Syrian defense organization, there are stories that they staged bodies to make it look like there was a gas attack. Meanwhile, you've got Russian media saying, "We sent investigators in, our military did, and they could not find any traces of any toxins or gas on any of the bodies."

    Doocy's co-hosts Brian Kilmeade and Ainsley Earhardt pushed back on Doocy’s comment, with Kilmeade saying, “Unbelievable, they really expect us to buy that?” What Doocy inadequately stipulated “could be Russian propaganda,” is, in fact, Russian propaganda. As it has been well-documented, the White Helmets have been “the target of an extraordinary disinformation campaign” that is “propagated online by a network of anti-imperialist activists, conspiracy theorists and trolls with the support of the Russian government (which provides military support to the Syrian regime).” According to Wired, the “smear campaign” against the first responders is “designed to bolster the regime of Syrian president Bashar Assad and undermine its opponents, including the United States.”

    Doocy’s uncritical parroting of a smear against the Syrian first responders comes as numerous pro-Trump and right-wing media figures, such as Tucker Carlson, Alex Jones, Michael Savage, and other conspiracy theorists have suggested the April 7 chemical attack was a “false flag.”

  • Tucker Carlson is using his Fox News show to mainstream white nationalism 

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN KERR & ALAZAR MOGES

    Ever since Tucker Carlson took over the reigns of the 8 p.m. slot in Fox News’ prime-time lineup with his show Tucker Carlson Tonight, he has been using the hour to mainstream white nationalism. Carlson, a beloved figure of the white nationalist community, dedicates significant time to fearmonger about immigration, defend white nationalists, complain about racism against white people, or regularly provide a platform for bigots, all the while accusing "the left" of making everything about race. Watch:   

  • On Fox News, Mark Steyn promotes “stunningly racist” anti-immigrant French novel

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In his April 2 appearance on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, Mark Steyn praised Jean Raspail’s The Camp of the Saints, a novel described by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a “favorite racist fantasy of the anti-immigrant movement” and “revered by American white supremacists.” Steyn claimed the novel “actually predicted what is happening before our eyes.” The novel describes “an invasion of France and the white Western world by a fleet of starving, dark-skinned refugees.”

    Steyn previously cited the racist novel in a prior appearance on Fox News, when he asked if The Camp of the Saints was “playing out simply incrementally with smaller boats” across Europe.

    MARK STEYN: There was a French novel published 45 years ago --

    TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): Yeah.

    STEYN: -- by Jean Raspail, “The Camp of the Saints.” A lot of people on the left don't like it, but it actually predicted what is happening before our eyes. A bunch of people got in a ship in India and sailed for the south of France in this novel, and all of the media commented, like the CNN guy you just quoted, ‘what is the big deal about this? We are the ones -- we are the sinful ones. We are the ones who have the stain of all of the wicked ‘-isms’ on our past, imperialism, colonialism, racism, these people are the virtuous ones, let them in and they will redeem us.’

    CARLSON: Do you ever get the impression you’ve been softened up for this exact moment? That people have been telling you to shut up and obey, and that you have no moral standard, and you’re not allowed to give your opinion -- basically, so we get to the moment where you can just be told to step aside, and let people come in, in your place?

    From the SPLC summary of The Camp of the Saints (emphasis added):

    A French novel, The Camp of the Saints, has become the favorite racist fantasy of the anti-immigrant movement in the US. Published by The Social Contract Press, the book is revered by American white supremacists.

    Le Camp des Saints, a 1973 novel by Frenchman Jean Raspail, was first translated into English as The Camp of the Saints in 1975. It has been published a total of five times in the United States, most recently by The Social Contract Press (TSCP), an outfit that specializes in hard-line anti-immigration propaganda.

    The book is a racist fantasy about an invasion of France and the white Western world by a fleet of starving, dark-skinned refugees, "a haunting and prophetic vision," TSCP says, "of Western Civilization overrun by a burgeoning Third World population."

    The book characterizes non-whites as horrific and uncivilized "monsters" who will stop at nothing to greedily and violently seize what rightfully belongs to the white man.

    Related:

    HuffPo: This Stunningly Racist French Novel Is How Steve Bannon Explains The World

    Previously:

    Fox News guest host on refugees: "Life's a beach and then the people that are going to kill your civilization wash up on it"

    Radio Host Mark Steyn: "The More Muslims You Have, The More Terrorism You Have"

    Tucker Carlson guest defends white supremacists and claims that Hispanics in Arizona represent the end of American society