The Daily Beast | Media Matters for America

The Daily Beast

Tags ››› The Daily Beast
  • Stop interviewing Steve Bannon

    How many “exclusives” can one discredited crank give?

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In late February, six months after he was unceremoniously fired from the White House, Steve Bannon sat down for a “wide-ranging and challenging conversation” with GQ, which wrote up the interview under the headline “Steve Bannon is hatching his comeback.” In early March, Bannon gave a “sprawling interview” to the New York Times about his “international mission” to “demolish [Europe’s] political establishment.” That same month he was a featured interviewee at a Financial Times Future of News conference.

    On April 4, Bannon gave an interview to Reuters about tariffs. Less than a week later, he gave another interview to the New York Times, also about tariffs. A couple of days after that, Bannon talked to The Washington Post about the Justice Department’s Russia investigation. On May 22, Bannon talked to the Post again ahead of a debate in Prague. The next day, Bannon gave an “exclusive” interview to the BBC about the Russia investigation.

    On June 1, he “spoke exclusively” to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria for a program the network hyped as “The Steve Bannon Interview.” Two weeks later, ABC’s Jon Karl went “one-on-one exclusively” with Bannon in what was billed as “his first Sunday morning show interview since leaving the White House.” Three days later, Bannon gave an interview to The National Interest. On July 8, he was interviewed by The Sunday Times. Ten days later, CNBC snagged an “exclusive interview” with Bannon. Two days after that, Bannon talked to The Daily Beast. A few days later, he talked to Reuters (again). Less than a week later, Politico interviewed Bannon about the Koch brothers.

    August 10: New York magazine. August 12: “a wide-ranging interview” with The Sunday Times (again). August 15: The New York Times (again). August 15: Politico (again). August 16: Axios.

    And tonight, Steve Bannon “will join anchor Ari Melber one-on-one for an exclusive television interview on MSNBC.”

    That’s at least 22 interviews over the course of six months (it’s entirely possible that I missed a few Bannon interviews while compiling this list, since he will talk to literally anyone). By now it seems reasonable to ask what, if anything, we stand to learn from this many-times discredited former White House official who is hanging out with far-right European extremists and whose most recent foray into U.S. politics was his failed attempt to elevate an accused child molester to the U.S. Senate.

    Back in March, I wrote that Bannon “is looking to prove once and for all that a whack job extremist -- no matter how disgraced or putrefied by white supremacist politics -- can still command the attention and respect of America’s elite.” Congrats, Steve: mission accomplished.

  • New EPA chief Andrew Wheeler has a fondness for right-wing media and climate-denier blogs

    But will he be as combative toward the mainstream press as Scott Pruitt was?

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Scott Pruitt, ousted administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), had cozy relationships with right-wing media outlets and combative relationships with the mainstream press. Andrew Wheeler, who's stepped in as acting administrator, has also shown a fondness for right-wing media and signs of disdain toward some mainstream media. But Wheeler has not interacted with the press in the same hostile and tribal ways that Pruitt did. Will Wheeler's approach to the media shift now that he's at the helm at EPA?

    On the topic of climate change, it’s easier to predict whether Wheeler will change course: probably not. Like Pruitt, Wheeler has long been skeptical of climate science and climate action, as evidenced not just by Wheeler’s public statements but also by his Twitter account. He has tweeted out links to climate-denying blog posts, including one post that declared, “There is no such thing as ‘carbon pollution.’”

    Pruitt leaned heavily on right-wing media

    Throughout his tenure at the EPA, Pruitt made heavy use of right-wing media outlets to spread his preferred talking points and fight back against media coverage he didn't like. During his first year, Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as all other major TV networks combined, Media Matters found, and Fox was less likely than other networks to cover Pruitt's scandals. Pruitt was also a frequent guest on national right-wing talk-radio shows, where he received soft treatment.

    After Pruitt got unexpectedly tough questions during an April interview with Fox's Ed Henry, he retreated to right-wing outlets that were even more likely to give him good press, giving interviews to the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Washington Free Beacon, and a Mississippi talk-radio show.

    Pruitt cultivated a particularly cozy relationship with right-wing outlet The Daily Caller, giving the site exclusive quotes and information. The Daily Caller in turn repeatedly defended Pruitt against scandals and attacked people who released damaging information about him. Even after Pruitt resigned, The Daily Caller continued to act as his attack dog, publishing pieces with headlines including "Source: A torrent of negative press ended Scott Pruitt's career at EPA" and "Jilted former EPA aide with sordid history takes full credit for Pruitt's resignation."

    Pruitt attacked and stymied mainstream media outlets

    Under Pruitt, the EPA press office repeatedly attacked, stymied, and manipulated reporters at mainstream news outlets, as Media Matters documented. The agency refused to release basic information about its activities, blocked journalists from attending official agency events, favored reporters who would provide positive coverage, and publicly insulted and retaliated against reporters and outlets whose coverage officials didn't like.

    One of many such attacks came in September, when the EPA sent out a press release that personally maligned Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker, accusing him of having "a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story." Another attack happened in June of 2018, when EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox called an Atlantic reporter "a piece of trash” after she asked for comment on one of Pruitt's aides resigning. 

    Pruitt appeared to attack the media on his way out the door, too. His resignation letter blamed "unprecedented" and "unrelenting attacks" on him.

    Wheeler liked tweets from right-wing media figures, defended Milo Yiannopoulos

    Wheeler, for his part, has also demonstrated an affinity for right-wing media figures and outlets, but he's done it in a different way -- via his personal Twitter account. He has "liked" many tweets by conservative media figures, including ones that criticize mainstream or liberal media outlets.

    Wheeler "liked" a July 3 tweet by Donald Trump Jr. that linked to a Daily Caller post lauding Fox News's high ratings and mocking CNN's lower ones:

    He "liked" a June 11 tweet by NRATV host and Fox regular Dan Bongino that bashed MSNBC:

    Wheeler "liked" a June 1 tweet by libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that criticized a HuffPost story: "HuffPo isn’t a place of journalism, it’s a place of Far Left activism." (Media Matters rebutted the misleading claims of right-wing figures who criticized the story.)

    He "liked" a May 22 tweet by NRATV host and NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch that knocked Planned Parenthood.

    He "liked" an April 3 tweet by conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel that inaccurately claimed Obama EPA officials spent as much on travel as Pruitt did.

    He "liked" a January 6 tweet by Fox News personality Brit Hume that mocked Al Gore.

    Wheeler has "liked" tweets from frequent Fox News guests Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens of the conservative group Turning Point USA, including this one:

    According to Daily Beast reporter Scott Bixby, in 2016 Wheeler tweeted out a conspiracy theorist's video that defended Milo Yiannopoulos, an alt-right troll and former Breitbart editor, but Wheeler later deleted the tweet:

    In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”

    Since being named acting head of the EPA last week, Wheeler appears to have deleted 12 more tweets from his feed.

    Wheeler tweeted links to climate-denier blog posts

    While EPA watchers have predicted that Wheeler is likely to differ from Pruitt in his demeanor, Wheeler has displayed the same attitude as Pruitt toward climate change.

    In 2011, when Wheeler was a lobbyist for the Murray Energy coal company, he tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA."

    Wheeler retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington and highlighted projections about India's rising coal use.

    In 2009, Wheeler sent a tweeted promoting a climate-denying blog post published on the conservative American Thinker site:

    On at least two occasions, Wheeler has tweeted links to posts on RealClearPolitics that questioned the science of climate change. A tweet in 2009 linked to a post titled "A Reason To Be Skeptical," and the tweet included the hashtag #capandtax, a conservative smear against cap-and-trade policies. The piece he linked to, which also appeared in The Denver Post, promoted “Climategate,” a bogus, manufactured scandal in which conservatives claimed that hacked emails showed climate scientists were fabricating evidence of warming temperatures. 

    And a tweet in 2015 praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'”

    This piece, which Wheeler called "great," largely dismissed climate science and criticized the media outlets and peer-reviewed journals that regularly report on climate change:

    Of course, we don’t have good data or sound arguments for decarbonizing our energy supply. But it sounds like we do. If you read Scientific American, Science, Nature, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and you take them at face value, you would have to agree that there is a strong likelihood that serious climate change is real and that decarbonization or geo-engineering are our only hopes.

    Wheeler gives interviews and quotes primarily to mainstream outlets

    Though Wheeler's Twitter account seems to show a preference for right-wing outlets, he does not exhibit the same ideological bias when he gives interviews or quotes to media. Most of the interviews he's given during his career in Washington, D.C., have been to mainstream outlets.

    Media Matters has identified eight interviews Wheeler has granted to media outlets since October 5, 2017, when President Donald Trump nominated him to serve as deputy administrator of the EPA:

    During his years as a lobbyist from 2009 to 2017 -- when he worked for coal, nuclear, chemical, and utility companies, among others -- he was quoted at least eight times by E&E News, a subscription-based news organization aimed at professionals working in the energy and environment fields, and he sat for one video interview with E&E. He also gave quotes at least twice to another inside-the-beltway news organization, Politico, as well as to The New York Times and FoxNews.com.

    From 1995 to 2008, when Wheeler worked for Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), he gave at least four more video interviews to E&E News. He was also quoted in a Washington Post article in 2008.

    Right-wing media are already leaping to Wheeler's defense

    Whether on not Wheeler starts giving interviews or information to right-wing outlets, right-wing outlets are likely to defend him against criticism. They've already started.

    The Daily Caller, which had a tight-knit relationship with Pruitt and his press office, published a story on July 5 titled "Pruitt has been gone for less than a day and his replacement is already getting attacked." And Breitbart ran a piece on July 5 that quoted conservatives praising Wheeler and argued that "the media is already attacking him in much the same relentless fashion it did Pruitt."

    What's next for Wheeler and the EPA press office?

    It's not surprising that Wheeler gave quotes and interviews primarily to mainstream and inside-the-beltway publications while he was working for Inhofe and representing his lobbying clients. He was trying to reach influencers and mold public opinion.

    In contrast, Pruitt, who has been rumored to be plotting a run for Oklahoma governor or senator, has spent his time in D.C. trying to raise his profile and burnish his image with GOP donors and the conservative base of the Republican Party. He often turned to highly partisan right-wing outlets to achieve those ends.

    Now that Wheeler is the boss setting the agenda and determining strategy, will he continue his conventional approach of talking to mainstream media, or will he follow Pruitt's recent example and turn primarily to highly partisan right-wing outlets like Fox News and The Daily Caller? And under Wheeler's leadership, will the EPA's press office treat reporters more professionally than it did under Pruitt, or will it continue to be highly combative with the media?

    In the few days since Wheeler was announced as interim EPA chief on July 5, he seems to have taken a more traditional and conciliatory approach. He's given two substantive interviews to major newspapers, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. And according to Politico, Wheeler will be taking a different approach from Pruitt in terms of dealing with the press: "Wheeler will announce where he is speaking or traveling in advance, he will publish his full calendars 'frequently,' without litigation from groups pursuing public records, and he and other top political appointees will hold briefings for the media on major policy announcements."

    But even if the media approach changes, the policy approach won't. "EPA's agenda remains largely unchanged," Politico continued. "Wheeler will still pursue much the same policy platform — fighting the courts to roll back a slate of Obama-era regulations on climate change, air pollution, stream protection and more."

    Ted MacDonald, Evlondo Cooper, and Kevin Kalhoefer contributed research to this post.

  • The Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade. Don’t buy these right-wing excuses that it’s not a big deal.

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Following the announcement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, media have been speculating about the possibility of a nominee selected by President Donald Trump casting the deciding vote overturning Roe v. Wade.

    While some mainstream outlets have rightly warned about the likelihood and negative impacts of overturning, or even further hollowing out, Roe’s protections, many conservative outlets and figures deployed a variety of excuses either to suggest that Roe is not at risk or to downplay any potential negative effects such a move would have. But make no mistake -- the Trump administration and its anti-abortion allies haven’t been shy about their goal: making abortion inaccessible or even illegal in the United States, no matter what the consequences.

    In 2016, then-candidate Trump said in response to a debate question about whether he would overturn Roe: “Well, if we put another two or perhaps three justice on, that’s really what’s going to be — that will happen. And that’ll happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court.” Previously, in July 2016, then-vice presidential nominee Mike Pence said that he believed that electing Trump would lead to the overturning of Roe and that he wanted to see the decision “consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs.” In return, anti-abortion groups have also supported the administration -- a fact underscored by Trump’s keynote address at the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List’s (SBA List) gala in May.

    Despite the administration’s promise, conservative media and figures are deploying a number of inaccurate excuses to either deny or downplay the severity of the threat to abortion rights with another Trump-appointed justice on the court:

    1. Claiming that abortion rights are safe because Roe is precedent, and none of the current justices will vote to overturn it.

    In the aftermath of Kennedy’s announcement, some conservative media argued that abortion rights are not threatened because the sitting justices -- including Chief Justice John Roberts and Trump’s previous nominee Justice Neil Gorsuch -- would be reticent to overturn precedent.

    For example, an editorial in The Wall Street Journal argued that because “the Court has upheld [Roe’s] core right so many times, ... the Chief Justice and perhaps even the other conservatives aren’t likely to overrule stare decisis on a 5-4 vote.” Similarly, during a June 27 appearance on Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs Tonight, conservative lawyer Alan Dershowitz claimed that Roe is safe because “true conservatives also follow precedent,” and therefore any conservative appointee would not vote to overturn it. Short-serving former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci said it is unlikely that Roe would be overturned because “the court recognizes that there are certain fundamental principles that are in place and certain presidential precedent-setting principles in place." He concluded, “I know there are conservatives out there that want it to be overturned but I just don't see it happening."

    It appears highly unlikely that the new Supreme Court would keep Roe intact. Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern wrote that Kennedy’s retirement “ensured” that Roe will be overturned -- even if it ultimately will “die with a whimper” as the Supreme Court would allow anti-choice lawmakers to foist “extreme regulations on clinics, outlawing abortion after a certain number of weeks, or barring a woman from terminating a pregnancy on the basis of the fetus’ disability or identity.” As Stern concluded, “the constitutional right to abortion access in America is living on borrowed time.” This argument was also echoed by The Daily Beast’s Erin Gloria Ryan who contended that one more Supreme Court vote against abortion would mean that “the conservative minority in this country will have the power to uphold laws designed to force pregnant women into motherhood.” During the June 27 edition of MSNBC’s Deadline: White House, host Nicole Wallace explained that the impact of Kennedy’s retirement means “actually talking about a future generation growing up with abortion being illegal again” and “young women and men taking the kinds of risks that a generation now hasn't had to consider.”

    2. Arguing that Roe is “bad” law, and therefore a Trump nominee would only be correcting judicial overreach.

    In other instances, conservative media have argued that Roe is "bad" law because the constitution doesn't include a right to abortion. By this logic, they contend, a reversal of precedent is inconsequential because the new nominee would merely be helping correct previous judicial overreach.

    In an opinion piece for The Sacramento Bee, The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro argued that Roe v. Wade is a decision that was rendered “without even the most peremptory respect for the text and history of the Constitution,” but that “pleased the Left.” An improved Supreme Court, according to Shapiro, “would leave room for legislatures – Democrats or Republicans – to make laws that don’t conflict with the Constitution.”

    In National Review, Rich Lowry similarly said that Roe “is, in short, a travesty that a constitutionalist Supreme Court should excise from its body of work with all due haste.” Lowry concluded that Roe “has no sound constitutional basis” and implied that it should be overturned because it is an embarrassment for the court.

    The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway claimed on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier, “Even people who are pro-choice recognize that it was a poorly argued judicial decision.” She also said that Trump does not need to ask the judicial candidates about Roe v. Wade as “so many people regard it as such a poorly reasoned decision.” Fox News contributor Robert Jeffress also said on Fox News’ Hannity that Trump doesn’t need to ask about Roe because “there is no right to abortion.” Jeffress continued that though abortion is “nowhere in the Constitution” there is, however, a constitutionally protected “right to life that has been erased for 50 million children butchered in the womb since 1973.”

    But, as legal analyst Bridgette Dunlap wrote for Rewire.News, these claims that Roe is bad law are part of a conservative tactic to invalidate abortion rights more broadly. She explained: “In order to portray abortion rights as illegitimate, conservatives like to argue—inaccurately—that the Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade by inventing a right to privacy that is not grounded in the Constitution’s actual text.” Instead, she noted, Roe is based on the idea that “using the force of law to compel a person to use her body against her will to bring a pregnancy to term is a violation of her physical autonomy and decisional freedom—which the Constitution does not allow.”

    In addition, Roe is not just an important acknowledgement of the right to legally access abortion care -- even if states have already chipped away at the accessibility of that care. As Lourdes Rivera of the Center for Reproductive Rights explained in the National Law Journal, overturning Roe would impact the right to privacy and mean “uprooting a half-century of judicial decision-making, with profound consequences for our most cherished rights and essential freedoms.” Lawyer Jill Filipovic similarly wrote for Time magazine that “if Roe is done away with under the theory that privacy rights don’t exist, this could mean that there is no constitutional right to birth control, either.” In addition, she said, “cases that came after Roe, including Lawrence v. Texas, which invalidated a Texas law that criminalized sex between two men, were decided on similar premises — and could be similarly imperiled.”

    3. Claiming that abortion would not be completely outlawed because regulatory power would merely be “returned to the states.”

    A common argument by conservative media -- and in some cases, Trump himself -- is that an overturning of Roe would merely return abortion regulations to the states and not completely outlaw the practice.

    For instance, according to Fox News guest and constitutional attorney Mark W. Smith, even if Roe were overturned, it wouldn’t “outlaw abortion” in the United States, it would just allow “states and voters [to] decide what to do about abortion.” Fox News commentator Andrew Napolitano also made this claim, saying the “worst case scenario” is that if Roe “were to be repealed or reversed, the effect would be the 50 states would decide” their own abortion regulations. This inaccurate claim was also made during segments on CNN and MSNBC. During a June 27 appearance on CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin, CNN legal commentator and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli argued that “all overturning Roe v. Wade does is” give the regulation power “to the states.” The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol made a similar claim on MSNBC Live with Velshi and Ruhle, when he argued that overturning Roe would merely “kick [abortion regulation] back to the states.”

    In reality, sending abortion regulation “back to the states” would functionally outlaw abortion access across large parts of the country. As Reva Siegel, a professor at Yale Law School wrote for The New York Times, returning the issue to the states would be disastrous because already, “27 major cities are 100 miles or more from the nearest abortion provider, and we can expect these ‘abortion deserts’ in the South and the Midwest to spread rapidly” if states are given free reign. New York magazine’s Lisa Ryan similarly reported that currently “there are only 19 states in which the right to abortion would be secure” if Roe is overturned.

    This landscape could easily worsen with anti-abortion groups turning their attention more directly to legislation on the state level rather than the federal level. As HuffPost’s Laura Bassett noted, a number of “abortion cases are already worming their way through the lower courts” that could further entrench abortion restrictions in a number of states. In 2016, ThinkProgress explained what a world before Roe looked like: “Wealthy women were able to access safe, though illegal, abortions, but everyone else had to risk their safety and sometimes their lives, and doctors had to risk going to jail.”

    4. Casting blame on abortion rights supporters for “overreacting” or trying to “attack” any Trump nominee on principle.

    Another common reaction among conservative media has been to cast blame back on abortion rights supporters. In this case, right-wing media have attacked supporters of Roe for “overreacting” to the potential loss of abortion rights, and accused others of opposing Trump’s nominee not on facts, but on principle.

    For example, during the June 27 edition of Fox Business’ Making Money with Charles Payne, guest and attorney Gayle Trotter argued that abortion rights supporters were just “trying to scare people” in order to “defeat the president’s nominee.” Federalist Society Executive Vice President Leonard Leo also echoed this argument during a June 27 appearance on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier. According to Leo, “The left has been using the Roe v. Wade scare tactic since 1982, when Sandra O’Connor was nominated. And over 30 years later, nothing has happened to Roe v. Wade.”

    Similarly, on June 29, Trump supporters and YouTube personalities Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, popularly known as Diamond and Silk, appeared on Fox News’ Fox and Friends to discuss potential replacements for Kennedy. During the segment, Diamond asked why Democrats were “fearmongering” and “going into a frenzy” before knowing the nominee or their position on abortion. After interviewing Trump on Fox Business about his thought process for nominating Kennedy’s replacement, Maria Bartiromo said on the Saturday edition of Fox & Friends Weekend she believed that “all of this hysteria” about a potential overturn of Roe was being "a little overdone” by the left.

    Pro-choice advocates are not “overreacting” to potential attacks on the protections afforded by Roe. As journalist Irin Carmon explained on MSNBC Live with Craig Melvin, Kennedy’s retirement “is the point that the conservative movement, that the anti-abortion movement, has been preparing for for 40 years” by “taking over state legislatures and passing laws that are engineered to chip away at the abortion right.” Carmon said that even with Kennedy on the bench, “access to abortion, and in many cases contraception, was a reality [only] on paper already.” Now, “it is disportionately Black and brown women who are going to suffer with the regime that is going to come forward.” Attorney Maya Wiley similarly argued on MSNBC’s The Beat that overturning of Roe would mean “essentially barring a huge percentage of women from huge swaths of the country from access” to abortion.

    5. Claiming that there’s no public support for Roe or abortion access.

    Polling shows a large majority of Americans support the outcome of Roe. But some right-wing media personalities have said that such findings ignore other polling about Americans’ supposed support for restrictions on later abortion.

    For example, The Weekly Standard’s John McCormack argued on Fox News’ Outnumbered Overtime that the claims of support for abortion access are inaccurate because there is a “great misunderstanding about Roe v. Wade” and the impact it has on abortion restrictions and that “there is actually pretty popular support for second trimester regulations.” This talking point has been used elsewhere, such as by the Washington Examiner and anti-abortion outlet Life News, in an attempt to discredit perceived support for Roe.

    The argument deployed by McCormack has also frequently been used by right-wing outlets in the past -- despite the disregard such an argument shows for the complexities involved in abortion polling. As Tresa Undem, co-founder and partner at the public-opinion research firm PerryUndem, wrote for Vox, most “standard measures” that are used “to report the public’s views on abortion ... don’t capture how people really think” about the issue. In contrast to right-wing media and anti-abortion claims, polling done by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Hart Research Associates shows that support for later abortions goes up when people realize that abortions in later stages of pregnancy are often undertaken out of medical necessity or for particular personal circumstances.

    As Trump prepares to announce his selection for the Supreme Court on Monday, July 7, right-wing and conservative media will only offer more of these excuses to downplay that Roe v. Wade is firmly in the crosshairs.

  • Scott Pruitt's EPA has cozy relationship with Daily Caller and Washington Free Beacon

    Under Pruitt, EPA feeds tips to right-wing outlets, gets fawning coverage

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Scott Pruitt’s Environmental Protection Agency has developed a remarkably cozy relationship with two conservative outlets: The Daily Caller and the Washington Free Beacon.

    While many other news outlets have been aggressively covering the myriad scandals dogging Pruitt, The Daily Caller and the Washington Free Beacon have gone above and beyond to defend Pruitt from charges of unethical behavior and try to discredit sources of damaging information, often by using mysteriously obtained internal EPA documents. Pruitt has also given exclusive interviews to The Daily Caller and used it as a platform for issuing policy announcements. In essence, The Daily Caller and the Washington Free Beacon are serving as de facto press offices for the EPA.

    This follows a pattern Media Matters has documented of Pruitt giving interviews or information to right-wing outlets and receiving favorable coverage from them. We found that in his first year at EPA, Pruitt gave more than twice as many interviews to Fox News as to the other major cable and broadcast networks combined, and Fox gave significantly less coverage to Pruitt's scandals than did other cable news channels.  

    Mainstream reporters and outlets, in contrast, have been repeatedly attacked and stymied by Pruitt's EPA. The New York Times recently revealed that the agency categorizes media outlets as “friendly” or “unfriendly” and selectively chooses to talk to reporters who it believes will provide positive, uncritical coverage.

    Wash. Free Beacon cited EPA internal documents to concoct misleading defenses of Pruitt’s travel scandals

    After numerous news stories emerged about Pruitt’s exorbitant travel costs, the Free Beacon ran a March 21 article headlined “Obama EPA Administrators Spent Eight Times More Than Pruitt on International Travel.” The article cited “internal EPA documents provided to the Washington Free Beacon” -- which, according to Emily Atkin of The New Republic, came from EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox. The Free Beacon reported that the documents “reveal Obama administration EPA administrators jet setting cost taxpayers roughly $1 million. The EPA has spent $124,000 for Pruitt and his security detail to travel to the G-7 summit in Italy and a trip to Morocco.” But Atkin pointed out the many ways in which the comparison is “laughably inadequate" or "shockingly dishonest” -- including the fact that it compares one year of Pruitt's travel to eight years of his predecessors' travel and ignores domestic travel, which in Pruitt's case has included numerous first-class flights.

    The Free Beacon again defended Pruitt’s travel after a May 7 Daily Beast article described his June 2017 trip to Italy as more focused on tourism than business, based on his recently released schedule. On May 9, the Free Beacon disputed that charge, stating, “New details of Scott Pruitt's trip to Italy to attend the G-7 summit last summer undermine media reports painting the Environmental Protection Agency administrator's trip as a lavish tourist vacation. … Pruitt's schedule, obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, reveals the four-day trip was heavy on business dealings.”

    The May 9 Free Beacon article also addressed reports about Pruitt meeting during the trip with Australian Cardinal George Pell, a climate denier who was facing sexaul abuse allegations at the time and was subsequently charged. The Free Beacon claimed that Pruitt had only met with Pell “incidentally” and knew nothing about the charges. But New York Times reporter Eric Lipton called those claims “wrong” and pointed out that EPA staff began planning for the dinner with Pell in May 2017 and were aware that Pell was under investigation when they vetted the meeting.   

    None of these articles in the Washington Free Beacon noted how the publication obtained internal EPA documents, nor did any of the similar articles published in The Daily Caller. Mainstream news outlets, in contrast, typically note how they obtain such documents.

    Daily Caller and Wash. Free Beacon published attacks against former EPA staffer who told Congress of Pruitt’s unethical conduct

    Kevin Chmielewski, a former Trump campaign staffer, served as a politically appointed deputy chief of staff to Pruitt until he was placed on administrative leave without pay and eventually fired from the agency in March 2018, after raising concerns about Pruitt’s lavish spending. In April 2018, Chmielewski met with Democratic lawmakers’ staff and appeared on ABC's World News Tonight to detail a wide range of ethical abuses by Pruitt.

    Both The Daily Caller and the Washington Free Beacon published articles that aimed to discredit Chmielewski by citing another former EPA staffer, anonymous sources, and EPA documents.

    Shortly after Chmielewski presented his allegations of wasteful spending and unethical behavior to lawmakers’ staff, The Daily Caller published an April 23 article headlined, “SOURCES: Most Of What EPA’s Leaker Told Dems About Scott Pruitt Is ‘False,’” which cited “sources familiar with EPA’s inner-workings” and quoted an anonymous source saying of Chmielewski’s claims, “more than 60 percent is false, the other 40 percent is information he distorted.”

    On May 7, Pruitt’s former security chief, Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, gave his first interview since resigning from the EPA to The Daily Caller. According to multiple reports, Perrotta played an important role in justifying much of the EPA chief’s exorbitant spending. In the interview, Perrotta dismissed the barrage of negative stories about Pruitt as the product of a few “disgruntled employees,” and singled out Chmielewski in particular for criticism, accusing him of retaliating against the EPA over pay-related issues and spreading “false” information. The next week, on May 14, The Daily Caller published portions of a memo that Perrotta wrote in January detailing two phone calls he had with Chmielewski. According to The Daily Caller, the memo showed that “Chmielewski threatened to ‘retaliate’ against Administrator Scott Pruitt and others over a pay dispute.”

    The Washington Free Beacon took aim at Chmielewski in an April 27 article that accused him of inflating his military service on his résumé and “benefi[ting] from the same EPA hiring authority that he said EPA officials had used to dole out raises to two top Pruitt aides, according to knowledgeable sources and EPA documents.” The Free Beacon followed up with a May 7 article that cited “several administration officials and two people who worked with [Chmielewski] on the campaign” to claim that Chmielewski had “a long history of run-ins with law enforcement, including a warning from a Secret Service detail, debt problems and other red flags that could have sunk his mandatory background check.” The New York Times had previously reported that Chmielewski was placed on administrative leave without pay after he and others confronted Pruitt about his unusually large spending, according to “two of the people with knowledge of the situation.” But the Free Beacon instead claimed that Chmielewski was forced out of the EPA because of questions about his background and an occasional inability of EPA staff to locate him while he was assumed to be doing advance work.

    Daily Caller cited EPA statements, emails, and anonymous sources to dispute damning reporting

    The Daily Caller has frequently tried to rebut negative stories about Pruitt and his staff by citing EPA emails, anonymous sources, and statements from EPA spokespeople that did not appear in other outlets. Here are a few that Media Matters has identified in recent weeks:

    • April 19: After The Associated Press published an article, “EPA chief sat in coach when not flying on taxpayer’s dime,” The Daily Caller ran a piece criticizing the headline and quoting an EPA statement that did not appear in any other media reports. The Daily Caller article and the EPA statement both accused AP of downplaying the fact that the flights in question took place on Southwest Airlines, which does not have first-class seats.

    • April 27: During a congressional hearing on April 26, Pruitt appeared to admit to lawmakers that he knew about at least one of two pay raises approved for his staffers when he stated that he had delegated authority to give the raises -- an apparent contradiction of his previous statement that he was unaware of the pay raises. The day after the hearing, The Daily Caller claimed to have a scoop: “An EPA memo obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation shows Pruitt delegated personnel authority to Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson more than one year ago, not around the time of the controversial raises. … Based on the document and Pruitt’s testimony, he was not saying he gave Jackson authority to grant the two raises in question.” The Daily Caller article failed to address the fact that Pruitt gave differing answers about his knowledge of the raises, and neglects to mention that internal emails suggest and three administration officials have stated that Pruitt personally approved at least one of the controversial pay raises.

    • May 8: Following reports by The Washington Post and E&E News about an EPA memo used to justify Pruitt’s first-class travel, The Daily Caller attempted to discredit the reports by quoting two unnamed sources. It wrote, “the memo is not signed, and is addressed to Gail Davis, EPA’s travel coordinator. Two sources said Pruitt would have needed approval from Jeanne Conklin, the acting controller in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, to fly first class.”

    • May 8: The Daily Caller cited EPA emails as it pushed back against Democratic claims that Pruitt wanted to establish a new agency office in his hometown of Tulsa, OK. It wrote, “The Daily Caller News Foundation reviewed emails that show Pruitt asked EPA officials to find a place ‘where he could work’ when he was home in Oklahoma," but didn't ask them to open a new EPA office.

    • May 11: The Daily Caller cited an EPA email as it disputed a New York Times article that claimed Pruitt’s security head Perrotta drank beers with Patrick Sullivan, the assistant inspector general who oversees investigations at the EPA. The Daily Caller wrote, “An email casts doubt on a key detail of The New York Times’s profile on Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s former head of security — a detail that impugned the impartiality of a top official in the EPA inspector general’s office. … An email obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation provides more evidence that Perrotta and Sullivan did not drink at a bar together across the street from EPA offices.” The Times later corrected its story and reported that Perrotta and Sullivan did not drink beers together.  

    • May 14: The Daily Caller cited EPA emails to push back against reports that Pruitt requested a 24/7 security detail starting on his first day at the EPA. It wrote, “The Daily Caller News Foundation obtained emails that show EPA officials discussed options to enhance Pruitt’s security before the Senate confirmed him. In fact, a member of President Donald Trump’s ‘beachhead’ team at EPA requested beefed up security for Pruitt as a precautionary measure.”

    Pruitt unveiled major policy announcements in Daily Caller

    Media Matters has previously documented how Pruitt turns to conservative and right-wing outlets when he wants to unveil news. Pruitt’s earliest announcements of his planned "red team/blue team" exercise to debate climate science were in June 2017 on The Savage Nation and Breitbart News Daily.

    It’s no surprise then that Pruitt’s EPA has often used The Daily Caller to announce major policy changes at the agency. In March, Pruitt gave an exclusive interview to The Daily Caller to announce a plan to severely restrict the type of scientific data the agency can use for policymaking, which could undermine clean air regulations. Instead of giving other reporters information about the plan, the EPA sent out a press release that linked to the The Daily Caller article.

    Other announcements first reported in The Daily Caller included plans to drop a requirement for new power plants to have carbon-capture technology, the submission of a proposal to roll back the Waters of the United States rule, and the "evolution" of the "red team/blue team" exercise.

    UPDATE (5/22): The EPA barred The Associated Press, CNN, and E&E News from attending a national summit on harmful water contaminants convened by Scott Pruitt. The AP reported that one of its reporters asked to speak to an EPA public affairs person after being denied entry and was then grabbed by the shoulders and shoved forcibly out of the building by security. In a statement, EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox said, “This was simply an issue of the room reaching capacity” -- though reporters noted there were empty seats in the room. He continued: “We were able to accommodate 10 news outlets and provided a livestream for those we could not accommodate.” One of those reporters in attendance was The Daily Caller’s Jason Hopkins, who claimed to have witnessed the episode with the AP reporter and disputed that the reporter was “‘forcibly’ grabbed.” But a CNN photographer's account of the events supports the AP’s report.

  • Report: Trump puts pro-Trump propagandist Lou Dobbs on speakerphone during Oval Office meetings

    Dobbs’ Fox Business show treats Trump less as a president than a cult leader

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A report from The Daily Beast shed light on the close relationship between President Donald Trump and Fox Business’ resident Trump sycophant Lou Dobbs.

    Dobbs joined Fox Business in 2010 and, over the last several years, has transformed his show Lou Dobbs Tonight into a pro-Trump propaganda machine. The show’s overt adulation for Trump hasn’t gone unnoticed by the president, who watches Dobbs' program and often showers him with praise. An April 2 article from The Daily Beast demonstrated the depths of Trump’s appreciation for “O.G. Trumpist” Dobbs, reporting that Trump often invites the Fox Business host to offer advice via speakerphone in the Oval Office, sometimes “before and after his senior aides or Cabinet members have spoken.” From The Daily Beast’s report:

    Dobbs doesn’t get to just interview and socialize with the president, he is involved in some of the administration’s more sensitive discussions. During the first year of the Trump era, the president has patched Dobbs in via speakerphone to multiple meetings in the Oval Office so that he could offer his two cents, according to three sources familiar with these conversations. Trump will ask Dobbs for his opinion before and after his senior aides or Cabinet members have spoken. Occasionally, he will cut off an official so the Fox Business host can jump in.

    Dobbs, these sources all independently recounted, has been patched in to senior-level meetings on issues such as trade and tax policy—meetings that featured officials such as senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, former top economic adviser Gary Cohn, former chief strategist Steve Bannon, trade adviser Peter Navarro, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

    During the more intense days of the tax-bill push, Trump made sure to have his White House personal secretary get Dobbs on the line. And toward the conclusion of one memorable meeting, when the line was disconnected and Dobbs said farewell, Trump looked up, smiled, and simply told the room, “Love Lou.”

    Media Matters’ Simon Maloy recently examined Dobbs’ pro-Trump propaganda:

    The running theme of Lou Dobbs Tonight is easy to suss out: Trump is single-handedly restoring American glory despite the subversive opposition of his many internal enemies. The president’s adversaries include Hillary Clinton, Democrats, Republican congressional leaders, the “deep state,” the left-wing media, and countless other supposed malefactors. For Dobbs, one critical word aimed at the president is enough to make you a “subversive” and an enemy of the American people.

    [...]

    Over-the-top hosannas to the massively unpopular president aren’t enough to fill an entire hour of programming. Nor do they adequately stimulate the overdeveloped rage centers of your average cable news viewer’s brain. So, to complement his fawning adoration of the president, Dobbs sprays hot venom at anyone and everyone who he believes has committed the figurative -- or, as we’ll see in a moment, literal -- crime of showing insufficient deference to Donald Trump.

    There are a lot of people Dobbs wants to see sanctioned by law enforcement and/or thrown in prison, and the most prominent among them is former President Barack Obama. Last November, Obama went on an overseas trip and, while in Paris, obliquely criticized Trump for backing out of the international climate accord that bears that city’s name. Dobbs, as you might imagine, was not happy about this.

     

  • Marco Rubiowned

    There’s no great mystery to why Parkland teens pile on their senator

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    One of the unlikely stars of the post-Parkland political debate over gun violence has been longtime Second Amendment maximalist and NRA money hole Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). His high-profile role in this debate is due in part to the fact that he’s softened some of his stances on gun rights, but for the most part, people are talking about Rubio because he keeps getting relentlessly and savagely owned by the Florida teenagers who are leading the movement to curb gun violence.

    The student leaders of the Parkland movement are accurately and pointedly attacking Rubio as a tool of the gun lobby. They’ve demonstrated absolutely zero faith that Rubio -- whatever he says in public -- can be counted on as an ally in their cause. And it’s clear that they are not about to be mollified by his quarter-steps away from gun-rights absolutism.

    For some conservative pundits, this is a preposterous and altogether unconscionable defamation of Rubio’s character. At The Daily Beast, Matt Lewis complains that Florida’s junior senator is being unfairly attacked, observing that “there’s something about Marco Rubio that people just seem to hate” and that “it’s impossible to know, for sure,” what it is. There’s “something” all right, but it’s not some indefinable aspect of Rubio’s character that inspires such opprobrium. In fact, the reasons for the mistrust and anger directed at Rubio are easily identified; it’s just that certain conservatives choose not to recognize them.

    There is no mystery to who Rubio is or how he operates. The senator and those who support him eagerly promote the idea that he represents the next generation of conservative leadership: a youthful political phenom whose heritage, life story, and political talent put him on a steeply rising arc toward greatness. That, at least, was how Rubio campaigned for the White House in 2016, and he got smoked. The reason he got smoked is because that flimsy construct couldn’t conceal the relentlessly ambitious fraud that stood behind it.

    Take, for example, Rubio’s position on immigration. Lewis credits Rubio for having “worked hard to pass bipartisan immigration reform in 2013, taking on the role of selling the bill to conservative talk radio.” When Rubio “determined that the bill didn’t have a chance of making its way through the House, he walked away--a move that is hardly impractical but was nevertheless interpreted as cowardice,” Lewis added. That’s about as sanitized a retelling of Rubio’s history with the 2013 immigration reform bill as one could offer.

    Rubio did work to pass the legislation. He did those talk radio hits and pushed for border security amendments to make the bill more palatable to House conservatives. Then, almost immediately after the bill passed the Senate, he dropped the issue entirely and began blaming President Barack Obama for its floundering in the House. Rather than use what influence he had to twist arms and convince enough House GOP colleagues to join with Democrats in support of a bill that he called “the right thing for our country,” Rubio recognized how politically exposed his right flank was and tried to worm his way out of danger.

    When it came time for Rubio to position himself for a White House run, he started pushing a self-serving and dishonest history of the immigration bill in which he was a prophetic critic of flawed legislation that he never believed would become law. Under attack from Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, he lurched hard to the right and tried to posture as a hard-line immigration opponent. The only consistency in Rubio’s persistent squirming on immigration was that he adopted whatever position he felt best served his ambition at that moment.

    This is a defining feature of the Rubio experience. As a presidential candidate, Rubio proudly identified as a #NeverTrump conservative, but also pledged to support Donald Trump if he won the nomination. While running for the White House, Rubio made a show of the fact that he wasn’t running for re-election to the Senate, which he lambasted as a sclerotic and ineffective vehicle for change. But shortly after ending his presidential campaign, Rubio discovered that maybe being a senator isn’t so bad after all and decided to run again. To win re-election, he promised Florida voters that he would be a “check and balance” on Trump, but as a senator he’s been a lockstep supporter of the president and an apologist for his self-destructive antics. The closest Rubio came to actually opposing Trump was his high-profile criticism of Rex Tillerson’s nomination as secretary of state. When it came time to vote, Rubio fell in line and voted to confirm.

    This is why people pile on Marco Rubio: His many attempts at standing on principle and providing moral leadership have been expeditiously unmade by his own ambition. At this point it’s just good sense to assume that whatever position he holds on gun violence won’t survive the next delicate shift in the political winds. The Rubio faithful, however, choose to view his track record much differently. “Marco Rubio is the living embodiment of a very old maxim,” writes Lewis: “No good deed goes unpunished.”

    Conservative pundits who saw Rubio as a transformational leader are still pretending that he’s something other than a vacant opportunist because they don’t really have much choice. Who else but Rubio can serve as the standard bearer for the consultant-class conservatism that Trump’s election revealed was a largely vestigial element of today’s Republican Party? Marco Rubio gets attacked so viciously because pretty much everyone has seen through his bullshit -- except the people who want to believe that the Republican Party they used to know is just a few Marco Moments away from roaring back.

  • Conversion therapy is discredited torture, but media outlets are letting its advocates spread lies about the practice

    ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY

    As states across the country consider legislation that would protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, the ineffective and dangerous practice that seeks to turn LGBTQ people straight or alter their gender identity, some media outlets are turning to prominent conversion therapy proponents and practitioners who use the opportunity to spread misinformation and myths. Many of these therapists are associated with national pro-conversion-therapy organizations, but local broadcast-media outlets that quoted them usually failed to explain their affiliations or contextualize their work. At least four major national proponents have been featured in coverage of municipal and state efforts to protect youth from conversion therapy, sometimes in states where they do not reside or practice: Christopher Doyle, Julie Hamilton, Joseph Nicolosi Jr., and David Pickup.

  • Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue has become fully “red-pilled” by an 8chan conspiracy theory

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    It was concerning enough when in January 2018, the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue encouraged followers to look into the allegations of an anonymous conspiracy theorist on the 8chan message board. Now, it appears that Operation Rescue, with its history of violent rhetoric and harassment, has become fully converted and is seeking to cultivate anti-abortion followers into believers in a far-right conspiracy theory.

    Headed by longtime extremists Troy Newman and Cheryl Sullenger -- the latter has served time for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic -- Operation Rescue has been described as an organization dedicated to “shut[ting] down abortion clinics by systematically harassing their employees into quitting.” Operation Rescue initially signaled that they’d been “red-pilled” -- a term popularized by the “alt-right” to refer to an ideological conversion to “seeing the world as it really is” -- in a January 7 press release, in which the group signal-boosted a series of posts from a far-right community on 8chan.

    8chan is a message board system -- similar to 4chan and Reddit -- that enables users to engage in discussions anonymously. This has made such communities hotbeds of racist commentary, misogyny, and politically motivated harassment campaigns, in addition to serving as fertile ground for those in the so-called “alt-right” or white nationalist movement. As Mother Jones’ Mariah Blake explained, “men’s rights forums on sites like 4chan and Reddit are awash in misogyny and anti-feminist vitriol” -- a trend that has turned such sites into what Vox’s Aja Romano called a “gateway drug” that leads people into the “alt-right.” 

    In the January 7 release, Operation Rescue focused on an 8chan conspiracy theory called “The Storm” in which a user who refers to himself as “Q” claims to be a “high-level government insider” secretly sharing clues to “inform the public about POTUS’s master plan to stage a countercoup against members of the deep state.” The scope of the conspiracy theory has expanded to encompass all types of events, ranging from a fire at Trump Tower to a train accident involving Republican members of Congress. Most recently, followers of The Storm have joined a campaign calling for the release of a four-page classified memo drafted by House intelligence committee Republicans that allegedly shows illicit behavior by the FBI and Justice Department during the early phases of investigating connections between Trump associates and Russia -- a campaign organized around the Twitter hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo. According to The Daily Beast, right-wing figures as well as online message board communities “have since turned the hashtag into a rallying cry, imploring fans to tweet the hashtag.” On February 2, the President Donald Trump authorized the release of the memo, despite explicit warnings from the FBI about the veracity of its contents.

    In the January 7 press release, Operation Rescue acknowledged that "Q" is a conspiracy theorist -- or at least inspires conspiracy theories. Since then, the social media activity of the group and its leadership indicates that they’ve gone full Sean Hannity. Between January 7 and February 12, both Sullenger’s Twitter account and the official Operation Rescue account have increased their engagements with accounts promoting #ReleaseTheMemo and related hashtags (#Qanon, #TheGreatAwakening, #FollowTheWhiteRabbit). In the past month alone, Sullenger’s changed her account handle to “CherylS sez #ReleaseTheMemo” and followed a number of right-wing media personalities’ accounts, including Alex Jones, Jerome Corsi, Paul Joseph Watson, Mike Cernovich, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Mark Levin, and Sara Carter.

    Since January 2018, Sullenger and Operation Rescue’s social media accounts have demonstrated a precipitous slide into full-embrace of The Storm and #ReleaseTheMemo:

    Cheryl Sullenger

    • January 10 -- Sullenger tweeted a National Review article and included the hashtag #Qanon.

    • January 16 & 17 -- Operation Rescue sent a press release, calling on followers to participate in the “Mother of All Tweet Storms.” According to the release, followers of The Storm were “asked to create memes that express truths that have been misreported or ignored by the Main Stream Media (MSM) and call them out for their dishonest reporting.” Operation Rescue characterized the event as “a tweet war of Biblical proportions with folks joined together in a concerted effort to break through to the masses with the truth about governmental corruption, human trafficking, and even Planned Parenthood.” The Operation Rescue Twitter account then spent the better part of January 17 tweeting a variety of memes attacking Planned Parenthood and promoting hashtags related to The Storm.

    • January 22 -- Sullenger tweeted #ReleaseTheMemo and included a screenshot from Fox News’ Hannity, in which host Sean Hannity was talking about it. Hannity has been an active promoter of so-called “deep state” conspiracy theories.

    • January 24 -- Sullenger reacted to news that Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards is leaving the organization sometime in 2018, by tweeting multiple memes of Richards depicted in prison with the hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo. The official Operation Rescue account also tweeted a press release about Richards’ departure using the hashtags #ReleaseTheMemo and #FollowtheWhiteRabbit. Sullenger also tweeted a link to a YouTube video about #Qanon, calling it, “Must watch!” In addition to Sullenger’s Twitter activity, the Operation Rescue account also liked a tweet about #ReleaseTheMemo.

    • January 27 -- Sullenger retweeted a Jerome Corsi tweet about #ReleaseTheMemo, featuring a story from far-right blog The Gateway Pundit about Hannity and the memo. Sullenger additionally tweeted an explainer video about The Storm, writing, “#TheStorm is real. #ReleaseTheMemo.” Sullenger also tweeted @realDonaldTrump, asking him to read the memo during the State of the Union address because “Americans need to know the #truth.” Meanwhile, The Operation Rescue account liked a tweet about #GreatAwakening and #QAnon.

    • January 28 -- Sullenger attacked Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) -- a frequent right-wing target -- on Twitter, citing a clip from Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight. This tweet included the hashtags #GreatAwakening and #ReleaseTheMemo. In addition to her own tweet, Sullenger also retweeted content from Jerome Corsi and Hannity about #ReleaseTheMemo.

    • January 29 -- Sullenger quote-tweeted a claim from Corsi about the memo, writing that she would not “be happy until we can all see the memo with our own eyes.” In addition, Sullenger also tweeted about the resignations of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and Democratic National Committee CEO Jess O’Connell from their positions -- linking each to #ReleaseTheMemo. Notably, Sullenger shared an image from an account (@Thomas1774Paine) about the memo supposedly being delivered to the White House -- writing in a public post on her Facebook that “we are on the brink of history!” The Operation Rescue Twitter account retweeted a user, @LadyStephC, calling the memo “the tip of the iceberg” and including a number of hashtags related to The Storm.

    • January 31 -- After a train crash involving Republican members of Congress, Sullenger retweeted a conspiracy theory from Corsi that suggested the accident was part of a “deep state” plot to stop the Republicans from releasing the memo.

    • February 1 -- Sullenger tweeted several memes linked to the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign, suggesting that if the memo is released some Democratic politicians will go to jail. Another meme that she tweeted showed "Q" as a revolutionary standing up to the "deep state" and implied the only way Americans would be "free" is by following him. Sullenger retweeted “alt-right” troll Jack Posobiec, in addition to tweeting a screenshot of an 8chan message board comment (allegedly from “Q”) and including the hashtags #ReleaseTheMemo and #Qanon.

    • February 2 & 3 -- Retweeting a comment from Trump’s Twitter account about opposition research firm Fusion GPS, Sullenger argued that the same firm had “issued fake ‘forensic analysis’” in order to “cover up [Planned Parenthood]'s illegal baby parts trafficking” -- referring to a debunked allegation from the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. In her tweet, Sullenger included the hashtags #ReleaseTheMemo and #ThesePeopleAreSick. Sullenger also retweeted right-wing media personality Mark Levin. After the release of the disputed memo, Sullenger retweeted several of Corsi's tweets hyping allegations of widespread wrongdoing by government entities. On February 3, Sullenger retweeted Trump claiming that the memo "totally vindicates" him.

    • February 4 -- Sullenger tweeted a video alleging that Super Bowl LII attendees were at risk of being targeted by terrorists, commenting, "Better safe than sorry!" For good measure, Sullenger also tweeted a Life News article about Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards calling her "evil" and using the hashtags #LockHerUp, #AbortionIsMurder, and #GreatAwakening. 

    • February 5 -- Retweeting an account that previously shared screenshots from 8chan, Sullenger commented that both Clinton and Planned Parenthood "both must pay for crimes." Sullenger also shared a press release published by Operation Rescue further connecting the memo to the organization's typical talking points about Planned Parenthood. 

    Troy Newman

    Throughout much of this timeline, the social media accounts of Troy Newman did not engage as often with topics related to The Storm, #ReleaseTheMemo, or even right-wing media personalities. However, on January 31, a public post on Newman’s Facebook page directed followers to what appears to be a conspiracy theory blog for a man named Jim Stone.

    The site seems to house blog posts about a number of conspiracy theories, including one about an alleged plot by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to smuggle a gun into the State of the Union and assassinate Trump:

    Among other extreme conspiracy theories, Stone claimed the January 31 train accident occurred because Republican members of Congress had “received death threats over the memo, and were heading to a safe place when they were stopped by a staged ‘accident’”:

    Perhaps the most outlandish conspiracy theory of all: "If Trump gets killed, they can produce a fake Trump and have him say whatever they need him to say in real time." The blog continued that this technology had been used "with Hillary [Clinton] during the campaign" and that it was "critical information you cannot skip seeing": 

    After the memo was released on February 2, Newman tweeted and posted on Facebook, wondering if it was "too early to call this an attempted coup" against Trump. 

    One thing is certain: If Sullenger and other members of Operation Rescue have been fully “red-pilled,” they are not only exposing their audience to a wellspring of conspiracy theories, but also potentially becoming further radicalized themselves. And if exposure to rapidly misogynist online communities is truly a “gateway drug,” as Romano warned, the cross-pollination between these 8chan conspiracy theorists and anti-abortion extremists is an incredibly dangerous prospect.

  • David Brooks gets everything wrong about abortion after 20 weeks

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    After The New York Times published an op-ed by columnist David Brooks claiming Democrats need to support a 20-week abortion ban to remain electorally competitive, several media outlets and pro-choice groups wrote responses that called out Brooks’ inaccurate assumptions. These responses not only highlighted how 20-week bans are based on junk science, but also underscored how the reality of later abortions makes support for abortion access a winning issue for Democrats.

  • Sebastian Gorka was hired by a far-right media outlet. He still works for Fox News.

    Gorka is a conspiratorial bigot and frequent Hannity guest

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Sebastian Gorka, former Trump aide, recently-hired Fox News strategist, and frequent Hannity guest, has been hired by Canadian far-right media outlet Rebel media. Gorka is just the latest bigoted commentator to be hired by a network equally known for its hateful anti-Muslim commentary and sympathy for white supremacists. He’s also still employed by Fox News.

    On February 1, Rebel media promoted the first episode of Gorka’s new and recurring segment for the network, “The Gorka Briefing.” In the video, Gorka claimed to “untangle” various narratives about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections, something he does regularly as a guest on Fox News. Just last night, Gorka appeared on Fox show Hannity, and helped host Sean Hannity further his long-standing campaign against the validity of the Russia probe when he accused former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton of colluding with Russia and the media of advancing a “false” narrative about the issue. Since August 2017, Gorka has appeared on Hannity 46 times, making him one of Hannity’s three most frequent guests, according to a Media Matters analysis.

    Gorka also briefly advised pro-Trump super PAC MAGA Coalition after he left the White House and, as The Daily Beast reported last night, was paid $40,000 for his work. The MAGA Coalition is a political group founded by “right-wing conspiracy theorists,” and was engaged in spreading the almost deadly “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that falsely accused members of Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign of being part of a pedophilia ring operating out of a pizza parlor.

    Aside from Gorka’s penchant for conspiracy theories, he boasts a long history of bigoted and incendiary rhetoric, aimed at Muslims in particular, and has apparent ties to a Hungarian Nazi-allied group called Vitézi Rend. He was also reportedly fired from the FBI for his “over-the-top Islamophobic rhetoric” and was apparently ousted from his role in the Trump administration for partly the same reason.

    With his extreme anti-Muslim views and reported ties to a Nazi-allied group, Gorka may be a perfect match for Rebel media, an outlet that once employed someone who published a “satirical video” titled “Ten Things I Hate About Jews.” After the Canadian outlet lost several other high-profile contributors in the wake of its sympathetic coverage of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, it is now seeking to re-establish its brand and further expand its global platform of anti-Muslim ideology.

    In addition to hiring Gorka, the outlet recently hired former Daily Mail columnist turned far-right agitator Katie Hopkins. Most recently, Hopkins was apparently banned from South Africa for fomenting racial hatred while in the country reporting for The Rebel. But she is perhaps best known for her shameless anti-Muslim rhetoric. Hopkins once called for the use of “gunships to stop migrants,” actively supported a mission to disrupt humanitarian rescues of refugees in the Mediterranean Sea, and floated the idea on Fox News of putting Muslims in internment camps in the wake of the Manchester terror attack.

    Rebel media is also slated to hire extreme “Muslim reform” activist Raheel Raza, who has cheered Trump’s Muslim ban, is affiliated with SPLC-designated anti-Muslim hate groups ACT for America and The Clarion Project, and serves as a senior fellow for The Gatestone Institute, whose founder is a major funder of anti-Muslim activism.

    Despite Gorka’s long history of bigotry and, now, open affiliation with a far-right outlet, one of America’s top cable networks still considers him a trusted "strategist." Gorka’s joint employment is just the latest evidence that Fox News has no interest in distancing itself from the network’s most extreme voices.

  • Republicans want the media to ignore their draconian abortion bill. So far, the media is playing along.

    The House passed a 20-week abortion ban based on junk science -- and if anti-choice groups get their way, the Senate will do the same

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN, MILES LE & DAYANITA RAMESH


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Anti-choice politicians are making moves on an extreme anti-abortion bill -- but if you’re watching cable news, you might not have heard much about it.

    In October 2017, members of the House of Representatives passed a bill that would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy -- and if anti-abortion leaders and their legislative allies get their way, the Senate may soon vote to do the same. In a January 24 article, Bustle warned that a procedural vote on the 20-week ban could come as early as “the start of next week” and described the effort as “a new and more aggressive chapter in the Republican fight against women’s reproductive freedoms.” This comes on the heels of President Donald Trump’s Rose Garden speech addressing the 2018 March for Life participants, where he called on lawmakers to pass the 20-week ban and send it to his desk.  

    But if you’re watching cable news, you might not hear much about this draconian measure or the junk science used to justify the harmful and medically unnecessary restriction. Unfortunately, right-wing media are taking full advantage of the silence since last October to fill the void with anti-abortion misinformation and spin:

    Twenty-week abortion bans are built on the inaccurate claim that fetuses can feel pain by 20 weeks in pregnancy, despite the wealth of scientific evidence to the contrary that such claims do not track with the majority of scientific consensus.

    For example, Dr. Anne Davis, an abortion provider and consulting medical director at Physicians for Reproductive Health, told Salon in 2013 that the push for 20-week bans caused patients to begin asking her about fetal pain, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that the fetus does not feel pain at 20 weeks. Davis said, “It’s just another thing these women have to struggle with. And why? These are created concerns. They are not based in science, they are based in politics.”

    Undeterred, right-wing media seized on the passage of the House bill to promote anti-choice misinformation. Outlets such as Townhall and Breitbart lauded the House vote, with the latter arguing that the legislation was “based on the science” that a fetus can feel pain “as early as 18 weeks.” The Washington Examiner claimed that there was “no doubt” about fetal pain or the necessity of banning abortions at 20 weeks. The Daily Signal criticized the Journal of American Medicine Association for disputing the occurrence of fetal pain by 20 weeks and alleged that there were “subsequent studies finding otherwise.”

    Even the researchers behind studies commonly cited by anti-abortion groups and politicians reject such use of their findings. As The Daily Beast explained in a May 2016 article, one researcher “told The New York Times that his frequently-cited research ‘did not deal with pain specifically’” and was being misrepresented by anti-abortion advocates.

    Although the science behind 20-week bans may be scarce, the harm such restrictions do is anything but.

    A ban on abortion at 20 weeks would disproportionately impact low-income people. As the Guttmacher Institute explained, these patients may have to delay an abortion to later in pregnancy “because they had difficulty raising funds for the procedure and travel costs, or because they had difficulty securing insurance coverage.” But anti-choice politicians and right-wing media frequently vilify people who have later abortions and largely ignore the reality that people who seek these procedures do so for a variety of personal and medical reasons. 

    The bottom line is this: Right-wing and anti-choice media are going to talk up unsupported claims of “fetal pain” before 20 weeks and the harmful legislation that follows. Journalists have an obligation to debunk the junk science and right-wing talking points behind this 20-week ban as it moves through the Senate

  • Florida broadcast media should learn from mistakes of West Palm Beach's coverage of ban on harmful anti-LGBTQ conversion therapy 

    ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE

    Broadcast media in Florida must learn from the mistakes of West Palm Beach broadcast coverage of Palm Beach County’s passage of a ban on anti-LGBTQ conversion therapy, which is a harmful and discredited practice based on the false notion that sexuality can change. During the month in which the vote took place, West Palm Beach media coverage featured considerably more voices supportive of the discredited practice that is opposed by every mainstream medical and mental health organization in the country. West Palm Beach media also turned to a prominent advocate of the practice without noting her anti-LGBTQ advocacy. Nearly 90 percent of segments failed to note that conversion therapy is a discredited practice and that sexuality cannot be changed.

  • How adopting right-wing spin about Doug Jones' support for abortion access led media astray

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On December 12, Alabama voters elected Democrat Doug Jones to the U.S. Senate -- ending a 25-year streak in which Democrats were unable to win a single seat in the state. Jones’ victory put to rest weeks of media hand-wringing and speculation about what would be more offensive to Alabamians: Republican candidate Roy Moore’s reported sexual misconduct with teenagers when he was in his 30s or Jones’ allegedly “extreme” position on abortion.

    In November, The Washington Post reported multiple women’s accounts of experiencing inappropriate conduct from Moore when they were in their teens, including one account of Moore pursuing a 14-year old girl. A few days later, another woman reported that Moore sexually assaulted her when she was a teenager. In response, Moore largely avoided granting interviews to media, with the exception of a few friendly outlets such as Breitbart and One American News Network. To counteract these reports, right-wing outlets began leveraging what they claimed were Jones’ “extreme” views on abortion access against allegations of wrongdoing against Moore.

    In reality, as Jones has explained, he supports upholding current Alabama law, which allows patients to seek an abortion up to 20 weeks of pregnancy with limited exceptions for “medical necessity” beyond that point. During a September 27 interview with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, Jones stated that he was “a firm believer that a woman should have the freedom to choose what happens to her own body.” Despite this, many outlets not only adopted right-wing media’s inaccurate spin that Jones’ stance was “extreme,” but also went on to claim that Jones’ support for abortion access would ultimately cost him the election.

    From early in the campaign, right-wing media consistently pushed the talking point that Jones’ position on abortion access was “extreme.” For example, during the November 15 edition of Fox News’ The Five, co-host Jesse Watters described Alabama voters as having to decide between Moore, who “may have done inappropriate things with young girls 40 years ago,” and Jones, who he claimed supported so-called “‘partial-birth’ abortion” (a procedure that doesn’t exist but was invented by anti-abortion groups to shame those seeking abortions). In another example, Fox’s Marc Thiessen tried to equate Moore’s predatory behavior and Jones’ stance on abortion by calling them “two extremes.” Beyond this, Fox hosts and contributors alike leveraged a variety of inaccurate claims about Jones’ position on abortion -- saying he was for “abortion on demand,” claiming he was “a person who supports abortion at every level,” or parroting that he supported “abortion through all nine months” of pregnancy. In a particularly ill-fated exchange on the night of the election, Fox's Tucker Carlson and Brit Hume predicted that Jones' support for abortion would be his undoing:

    Unfortunately, rather than debunking such obvious anti-choice talking points, some outlets instead adopted this right-wing spin about Jones.

    During a November 27 discussion on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, co-host Joe Scarborough claimed that Democrats would be better off if they had run “somebody who were, let’s say, conservative to moderate on abortion … but with Democrats on 99 percent of the other issues.” The following day, a panel on Morning Joe continued this line of argument with MSNBC political analyst Elise Jordan stating that adopting an anti-abortion viewpoint “would have taken Doug Jones easily over the finish line.” Beyond Jordan’s claims, during the same discussion MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki also promoted the right-wing argument that Jones supported “no restrictions on abortion at all.”

    On CNN, contributor Stephen Moore also adopted the right-wing spin about Jones, arguing that he supported “partial-birth abortion, which a lot of people in Alabama think is tantamount to murder.” While at The Daily Beast, Matt Lewis speculated that Alabama voters may not be able to cast a vote for Jones because of his “extreme position on what many see as a definitive life or death issue.” Lewis concluded that Jones “would be in a much better position” to win if his views about abortion weren’t “so radical.”

    As election day drew nearer, other outlets continued to run with the argument that not only was Jones’ position “extreme,” but that it would also cost him the election. For example, The Boston Globe claimed that for Alabama voters, Jones’ stance was “a deal-breaker” and that if Moore was “running against a Democrat less doctrinaire on abortion, the revelations about Moore’s pursuit of young girls would likely have sunk his campaign.” NPR reported on December 8 that “for some Alabama voters, supporting abortion rights may be a sin worse than some of the sexual misdeeds Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore has been accused of.” On the night of the election, MSNBC’s Chuck Todd said that he’d been told that “if Doug Jones loses, it will be a one word answer: Abortion.”

    This is far from the first time that media have gotten carried away with the argument that support for abortion access costs votes or elections for Democratic or progressive candidates. In early 2017, The New York Times published an op-ed titled, “To Win Again, Democrats Must Stop Being the Abortion Party” -- kicking off wave of responses rebutting the false dichotomy that Democrats must sacrifice reproductive rights to win voters.

    As HuffPost reported on December 4, however, there was ample reason to believe that Jones’ support for abortion access wouldn’t be a hindrance. According to polling performed by Clarity Campaign Labs, “Abortion wasn’t really in the top couple issue” when likely Republican voters explained why they wouldn’t support Jones over Moore.

  • "Late-term" abortion is made up and so is Doug Jones' so-called abortion "extremism"

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    After reports surfaced that Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore sexually assaulted and harassed several teenagers when he was in his 30s, right-wing media outlets rushed to characterize Moore’s Democratic opponent Doug Jones as supporting “partial-birth” abortions, abortions up to the moment of birth, or so-called “late-term” abortions. Other outlets have adopted the right-wing media spin, claiming Jones is too “extreme” for Alabama voters.

  • What you need to know about Fox News' newest hire, Sebastian Gorka

    Gorka has deep ties to the far-right, recently floated the idea of executing Hillary Clinton, and was fired by the FBI for “over-the-top Islamophobic rhetoric”

    ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT

    On Wednesday, Sean Hannity announced that former White House national security aide Sebastian Gorka would be joining Fox News as a national security strategist. Experts have repeatedly questioned Gorka’s supposed national security expertise. He has apparent ties to a Nazi-allied Hungarian group and has a long history of using incendiary, conspiratorial, and racist rhetoric. Here is what you need to know about Fox News’ newest hire.