The conspiracy theories and lies of CNN’s latest hire, Sean Duffy

Citation Video by Miles Le

This week, former Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) used his first two appearances as a CNN political commentator to push a baseless conspiracy theory (that the network had already debunked) about President Donald Trump’s unfolding impeachment scandal. But Duffy’s embrace of an absurd conspiracy theory is not new -- he has a history of distorting the truth and pushing false claims during his time in Congress.

On America’s Newsroom, Duffy claimed that Democrats “like open borders” and are “OK with people flooding into the country” because “they don’t believe that you have to be an American citizen to vote in our elections” -- which echo themes of the white nationalist “great replacement” conspiracy theory. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 6/12/18; Media Matters, 8/5/19]

Appearing on Fox’s The Next Revolution, Duffy pushed the long-debunked myth that former President Barack Obama used the IRS nefariously “to go after tea party individuals.” He also claimed that the Mueller investigation amounted to “federal employees, in conjunction with the Obama administration -- maybe even including Barack Obama himself and the vice president, Joe Biden -- trying to get a coup d’etat on President Trump, trying to undo the will of the American people” by investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. [Fox News, The Next Revolution, 6/2/19; Media Matters, 6/26/13]

Discussing the Green New Deal on Fox’s Watters’ World, Duffy falsely claimed that Democrats “want to kill all my cows.” [Fox News, Watters’ World, 3/16/19]

In February 2017, Duffy defended Trump’s ban on refugees from several Muslim countries by arguing that Middle Eastern terrorists are a bigger threat than white domestic terrorists, who commit “one-off” incidents. Duffy also pointed to “the good things that came from” a 2015 mass shooting in which a white supremacist killed Black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, such as that state’s governor taking down the Confederate flag, which was “great.” During the segment, Duffy also claimed that a “Marxist … a leftist guy” shot former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) and “took her life,” citing it as an example of left-wing violence supposedly ignored by CNN. In reality, Giffords survived an assassination attempt and is still alive. [HuffPost, 2/7/17]

Following a recount of ballots in the 2016 election, Duffy argued on Fox News that Dane County, Wisconsin, is the “one county that's hand counting the votes” because it includes “the progressive-liberal-Communist community of Madison.” According to PolitiFact, 47 Wisconsin counties carried out a recount by hand. [PolitiFact, 12/9/16]

In October 2016, Duffy claimed on CNN that he “heard that one of George Soros' companies has provided some of the [voting] machines” in some states ahead of the presidential election and noted, “Obviously, Mr. Soros leans left.” Duffy conceded that he hadn’t “personally verified” the claim, but his remark came a week after Snopes debunked the conspiracy theory and three days after The Washington Post debunked it. [Politifact, 10/31/16]

During the 2016 campaign, Duffy claimed on CNN that Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin has “ties to the Muslim Brotherhood,” adding that “the information is out there that she does have these ties.” There is no evidence that Abedin has any ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. [PolitiFact, 9/14/16]

Duffy has a history of repeating right-wing talking points and other misinformation when discussing abortion:

During an appearance on Fox & Friends following Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address, Duffy repeated the president’s dangerous lie that the Democratic Party promotes “infanticide” by supporting abortion access. Duffy said, “It shows how far and extreme the Democrats have gotten where they are proponents of infanticide.” Duffy has also repeatedly pushed this lie on Twitter. [The Daily Caller, 2/6/19; Media Matters, 2/4/19; Twitter, 3/29/19, 4/2/19]

In a 2018 appearance on The Ingraham Angle, Duffy responded to criticism from Democrats that then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh posed a threat to women’s rights by arguing, “How about protecting a woman when she’s in the womb as an infant?” [Media Matters, 7/12/18]

Following the Parkland school shooting in 2018, Duffy went on Tucker Carlson Tonight and partly blamed abortion, saying, “We dehumanize life in those video games, in those movies, and with abortion.” Duffy returned to this defense during an appearance on Fox’s The Ingraham Angle, claiming that, instead of going after the National Rifle Association, “I would look to the Democrat Party and Planned Parenthood and the left-wing media. And Planned Parenthood killed 300 of the most defenseless, voiceless, little babies last year alone.” [Media Matters, 2/27/18]

In 2015, Duffy championed baseless allegations from the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) that Planned Parenthood was involved in the illegal sale of fetal tissue. Duffy was on the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives established by congressional Republicans to investigate CMP’s false claims, and he alleged that a so-called “aborted fetal parts order list” represented a “wishlist” or “a shopping list” that would be “sent from the tissue provider to the abortion technician.” He also said during the panel hearings that the donation consent form given to patients was inadequate because it failed to disclose “that the technician has a financial interest” in procuring tissue. [Media Matters, 12/5/16, 3/7/16]

While promoting a scientifically unsound ban on abortion at 20 weeks, Duffy repeated common right-wing media misinformation about fetal pain. Duffy said, “Don’t talk to me about cruelty in our bill — when you look at little babies being dismembered, feeling excruciating pain, if we can’t stand to defend these children, what do we stand for in this institution?” [The Daily Beast, 5/19/16; Media Matters, 10/2/17]

In 2016, Duffy criticized members of the Congressional Black Caucus for focusing on “targeting and unfair treatment of African Americans in the criminal justice system,” by “big financial corporations,” and by “police and law enforcement,” but not by “the abortion industry.” Duffy said, “There is no one more hopeless and voiceless than an unborn baby, but their silence is deafening. I can’t hear them. Where are they standing up for their communities, advocating and fighting for their right to life? Black lives matter. They do. Indian, Asian, Hispanic, and White, all those lives matter. We should fight for all life, including the life of the unborn.” [The Washington Post, 1/15/16]