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  • Fox figures continue to smear Kamala Harris for The Breakfast Club interview after hosts debunk claim

    Blog ››› ››› COURTNEY HAGLE

    On February 13, hosts of the New York radio show The Breakfast Club dismissed overblown conservative outrage attempting to smear presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) over her responses to questions about marijuana and music during their show. Despite the host criticizing and debunking Fox’s version of events, some Fox figures have continued to use the incident to smear Harris’ character.

    On February 11, right-wing media attempted to scandalize an interview Harris did with The Breakfast Club, claiming she lied about smoking marijuana in college to seem relatable to voters. During the interview, Harris had said that she supports marijuana legalization and revealed that she smoked in college before answering one of the hosts’ question about what music she listens to. Right-wing media figures decided to interpret the sequence as Harris claiming she smoked marijuana in college while listening to Snoop Dogg and Tupac, which they noted would be impossible because their music wasn’t released until after Harris graduated from college. This trivial nitpicking of details gave right-wing media figures an opportunity to smear Harris as unrelatable.

    The hosts of The Breakfast Club debunked right-wing coverage of the story two days later on their show. Co-host Charlamagne Tha God criticized conservative outrage while praising HuffPost for accurately reporting what happened, saying, “Finally, someone with no agenda; someone with no bias; someone who is just reporting on the facts and not some alternative version of the facts simply because they don’t like Kamala Harris.” He added that HuffPostreported it exactly how it happened,” saying, “We can’t be reaching like this. All right? This [could be] dangerous.”

    Despite The Breakfast Club’s rebuke of the version of events right-wing outlets originally reported, some Fox News figures have continued to run with the lie.

    The same afternoon, Fox co-host Jesse Watters criticized the 2020 Democratic candidates for trying “to be everything to everybody,” adding, “Kamala, you’re not hip-hop. Trump’s more hip-hop than you are.” As Watters spoke, the chyron at the bottom of the screen read, “The art of the pander. 2020 hopefuls bend over backwards to impress voters.”

    From the February 13 edition of Fox News’ The Five:

    On her Fox Nation show First Thoughts the next day, Tomi Lahren dedicated a segment that lasted over two minutes to talking about the The Breakfast Club interview. She condescendingly berated Harris, calling her “Kam-Kam” multiple times and saying it is “another example of Ms. Harris saying and doing things [that] just don’t quite add up.”

    From the February 14 edition of Fox Nation’s First Thoughts:

    On Fox News’ Fox & Friends, guest Mark Steyn sarcastically said Harris “just lights up and suddenly Tupac is there in the room with her, six years before he’s made his first CD,” adding, “That’s a magical Valentine right there.”

    From the February 15 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

  • "This is not about immigration": Fox figures stress the border wall is about Trump's political standing and 2020 chances

    Blog ››› ››› LEANNE NARAMORE

    As President Donald Trump continues to cite an immigration “crisis” and demand funding from Congress to build a wall along the U.S. southern border, Fox News figures are admitting that the wall is especially crucial because it impacts Trump’s political standing and re-election chances.

    Fox contributor Dan Bongino explicitly said that Trump’s insistence on building a wall is about giving him a "political victory,” stating, "This is not about immigration. I think everybody at this table knows this.” Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy claimed Trump needs a wall "because he needs to start running for re-election." Fox’s Tomi Lahren argued, “When President Trump listens to his instincts on this, he is right, which is why he won the election in 2016. He will win on it again in 2020. But he has to hold firm on this. The American people want a wall.”

  • The social science explaining why Fox News wants you to believe masculinity is under threat

    It’s not just good TV -- it’s also good politics.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Gillette was probably hoping for a little bit of buzz when it released its Super Bowl ad a few weeks early. What it got was wall-to-wall coverage -- at least on Fox News.

    Titled “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be,” Gillette’s video begins with a play on its long-time slogan, asking, “Is this the best a man can get? Is it?” The video then cuts to scenes touching on bullying, the #MeToo movement, and behavior that people often justify by saying “Boys will be boys.” It’s provocative, and deliberately so. The core message is that men should be their best selves and set a good example for future generations because, as the ad concludes, “the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.”

    Fox News, as expected, didn’t take kindly to it, and the network put its outrage machine to work in response.

    During the January 15 edition of The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld said the ad “bashed men, men who fought wars, who built bridges -- they just bashed them.” Fox host Brian Kilmeade appeared on Fox Business’ Varney & Co. to say that, sure, there may be times boys will “show an aggression,” but “that’s just the way men are made up to be.” Even so, he continued, he doesn’t need a razor company telling him how to live his life.

    On that morning’s episode of Fox & Friends, guest Darrin Porcher said the ad represented “an atrocity,” adding, “We should be seen as equal to women, not as beneath.” Overall, the show devoted 12 minutes of discussion time to the Gillette ad while providing just 30 seconds for the House of Representatives’ decision the night before to strip Rep. Steve King (R-IA) of his committee assignments after he made comments in support of white supremacy. That’s 24 times more coverage for the razor ad than for an objectively huge story within the world of politics.

    The next day, The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh appeared on Fox & Friends to denounce the ad as “clearly insulting,” saying, “I didn't learn anything from the #MeToo movement.” The last bit is not so surprising, as he’s already written articles and published videos on why the movement has “overstayed its welcome.”

    But the furor over facial hair is just a small part of it. Fox News frequently puts an odd focus on supposed threats to masculinity.

    While segments about a war on masculinity do appear to have increased in frequency in recent years, at least at first glance, the theme is not exactly new. It’s a catch-all designed to give a sense of urgency and create a personal investment between viewers and issues they otherwise might not feel motivated to act on. And there’s actually a fair amount of social science explaining why this sort of laser-focus on masculinity is a politically savvy move for a politically motivated media outlet.

    “Men have been emasculated, they have been feminized by the left that has pushed us on a culture, and they do see Donald Trump as someone who speaks for them,” said then-Fox host Andrea Tantaros during the December 22, 2015, edition of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor. A year earlier on the same program, she claimed that “young men … have been completely feminized,” leading to educated women “having the government subsidize their sex lives.” Months before that, she warned that the left “would love to feminize” the NFL, adding, “The White House has been weighing in on the NFL on concussions and other issues.”

    In October 2015, when Playboy made the decision to no longer publish nude photos, T.J. McCormack penned for FoxNews.com something of a requiem for the magazine and America’s collective masculinity:

    A Playboy magazine was a last refuge where a man could be a man, read some great political pieces, get some good fitness advice, hear the straight scoop in incisive interviews, and yes, indulge and behold the overwhelming perfection that is woman. Men were certainly men well before Playboy. Hugh Hefner only ushered in an era of enhanced masculinity. Now, as that masculinity is under attack, we’re doomed to become a watered-down gender. A bunch of boobs.

    In response to a May 2017 article in Vox about the U.S. Marine Corps’ inaction over a revenge porn scandal among its ranks, Fox host Todd Starnes took a jab at “the emasculated pajama boys” who “seem to want our Marines to prance into battle wearing high heels and camouflage rompers.”

    More recently, just days before the outrage over the Gillette ad, Fox took aim at a new report from the American Psychological Association (APA) about the destructive potential of “traditional masculinity.”

    The report came as a set of guidelines designed to help psychologists work more effectively with men and boys. Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce appeared on the January 10 edition of Fox & Friends to decry the APA’s findings and recommendations, mounting a defense of masculinity as a force for good:

    If we didn't have men's courage, and aggressiveness, and focus, and determination, we'd still be living -- we would be living in caves right now. So, you have -- the modern world is the result of the male framework of wanting to move forward and create things, and it is, I think, obscene, and everyone should complain that those attributes of men are being determined to be negative and something that is either a sickness, or a mental illness, or wrong, or even artificial. This is the liberal political ideology of arguing about gender fluidity, and we can have that argument, but it's not a zero-sum game. You don't -- in order to liberate men who don't fit within, let's say, a cultural norm, you don't need to obliterate every other man in that process.

    The way Bruce and others on Fox described the guidelines, you’d think the APA had republished Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto and was calling for elimination of the male sex. The guidelines weren’t created to blame men or masculinity, but to help men and boys by giving psychologists the same kind of specialized tools for working with them that APA provided for working with women and girls in 2007. The guidelines aren’t anti-masculinity, either. In fact, just a quick look shows that their aim is to help men embrace their masculine traits in healthy and appropriate ways and develop a deeper understanding of themselves.

    In fact, during the January 3 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson pointed to the male suicide rate in America as a problem that must be specifically addressed. Carlson suggested that the one solution is to promote marriage, while his guest, the Manhattan Institute’s Heather MacDonald, stressed the “need to valorize males,” citing the “uniquely male” characteristics of “valor, courage, chivalry, heroism in war.”

    Male suicide is one of the primary issues the APA’s guidelines aims to address (emphasis added):

    Men commit 90 percent of homicides in the United States and represent 77 percent of homicide victims. They’re the demographic group most at risk of being victimized by violent crime. They are 3.5 times more likely than women to die by suicide, and their life expectancy is 4.9 years shorter than women’s. Boys are far more likely to be diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder than girls, and they face harsher punishments in school—especially boys of color.

    On the January 8 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson and guest Christina Hoff Sommers discussed the APA guidelines, with Carlson lamenting that the report concluded that “the problem with men is their maleness,” adding, “Newly issued guidelines argue that ‘traditional masculinity’ is harmful and that psychologists should somehow undermine it.” It should be noted that this isn’t what the guidelines actually suggest.

    So Fox News is upset that nobody wants to address challenges that disproportionately affect men, but when a professional organization invests 13 years in developing guidelines designed to address those issues, that is also … bad. It’s almost as though commentators like Carlson and Bruce are more interested in using these problems as talking points than in actually finding solutions.

    It’s important to the Fox News narrative that men are regularly reminded that their masculinity is under attack -- and Tucker Carlson is the man to deliver that message.

    Throughout March 2018 -- Women’s History Month -- Carlson used his massive platform at Fox to shine a light on the supposed plight of American men. In many of these shows, he could be found parroting the talking points of YouTube misogynists such as Gavin McInnes, Paul Joseph Watson, and Stefan Molyneux, and playing host to the likes of Jordan Peterson.

    “The patriarchy is gone: Women are winning; men are failing,” he said during a March 28 episode. Two weeks earlier, he had argued that undocumented immigrants cause lower wages, which in turn reduce “the attractiveness of men as potential spouses, thus reducing fertility and especially marriage rates.” A week before that, he delivered a monologue about how “something ominous is happening to men in America. Everyone who pays attention knows that.”

    The theme has carried on to more recent months, as well. During the October 11 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson warned that Democrats were waging war on the very concept of fatherhood:

    To [Democratic] party leaders, fathers in the home are at best irrelevant. At worst, they're an impediment to political power. Married women tend to vote Republican and they know that. When prominent Democrats attack the patriarchy, what they're attacking is fathers. When they wage war on toxic masculinity, what they're trying to suppress is masculinity itself. Everybody knows this. Few are brave enough to say it out loud.

    During the show’s August 23 episode, Carlson defended a video from conservative commentator Allie Stuckey that Facebook had temporarily removed and which stoked fears that “the current trend is to feminize young men in the hopes of achieving some Utopia notion of equality and peace. It's not masculinity that is toxic. It is the lack of it.”

    Whether or not these perceived attacks on masculinity have any basis in reality, these stories make sense from a political and psychological stance.

    Why is Fox News so obsessed with the idea that masculinity is under attack? The concept may have its roots in beliefs about what it means to be a man. There’s a theory in psychology -- the precarious manhood theory -- that our society views men’s status as something to be earned -- and something that can be easily lost. To oversimplify it a bit, it’s the theory that men view their maleness as though a “man card” were a real thing that could be revoked for not meeting social expectations of masculinity. In turn, the fear of losing status prompts men to make public displays of masculinity and rejection of what they perceive as feminine.

    A 2015 study published in the journal Social Psychology explored what happens when men feel their masculinity is under threat.  The article looked at threats to masculinity as political motivators, theorizing that perceived threats would inspire “men's efforts to reestablish their power over women via the promotion of ideologies that implicitly subordinate women.”

    The authors found that “men’s power over women is a key aspect of men’s masculinity” and that threats to masculinity “led to greater public discomfort, anger, and ideological dominance” among those studied. That anger “predicted greater endorsement of ideologies that implicitly promote men’s power over women.”

    Something called social dominance theory offers an explanation for how people justify hierarchies and inequality within a society. For much of history, men held virtually all power in government and business -- a patriarchy. In just the past hundred years or so, women emerged from their position as second-class citizens and demanded equal rights and treatment. While most men likely understand that there’s no good excuse to oppose equality between men and women, social dominance theory gets at how those with the most to lose -- men, in this instance -- might subconsciously try to preserve the status quo while convincing themselves that they treat all people equally.

    Through what are called “legitimizing myths,” people in positions of power can convince themselves that there aren’t any structural barriers to success, that the playing field is already level. For instance, some could justify the dearth of women in positions of power in government and business by saying that maybe women are simply too emotional to lead, that perhaps men just happen to be the ones best suited for a specific position.

    To point out that a playing field isn’t already level or promote institutional change is to threaten the existing hierarchies of society. Some people respond to these threats by gravitating to political ideologies associated with the preservation of existing social norms. In other words: conservatism. Fear and anger are a powerful political motivators, and Fox News knows how to bring those emotions out: by creating the appearance of a threat.

    It’s not a huge stretch to see how the success of women in comparison to men can function as a threat to masculinity in itself. If, for instance, a media outlet wanted to sway voters toward candidates who embody certain identities -- white, male, and Christian, for example -- one of the most obvious things it could do is bombard the public with the idea that those very identities are under attack. If an outlet wanted to sway people from voting for a woman, or for a candidate running on pledges to upend the current system of male social dominance, it would regularly promote stories that evoke a type of existential threat to manhood. This is what Fox News does.

    Candidates themselves might try to adopt a more masculine public image -- Donald Trump did this often, once donning a hard hat to promote his support for coal miners, bragging about the size of his hands (and, indirectly, his penis) during a debate, and making frequent claims that his female opponent simply didn’t have the “stamina” to be president. But it is the news media that shapes the underlying narrative. It’s for exactly this reason that things aimed at helping men and promoting healthy masculinity -- such as the APA guidelines or the Gillette ad -- are twisted into attacks on male identity.

  • Fox News uses award shows to reinforce the idea that pop culture exists to marginalize conservatives

    The day after award shows is the most predictable day on the network.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    As I watched Fox News’ coverage of Time’s 2018 “Person of the Year” announcement, something struck me: I’d seen it before. Several times, in fact. This year, the distinction was given to “The Guardians and the War on Truth,” highlighting journalists lost to violence (such as Jamal Khashoggi and the staff at the Capital Gazette) or arrested for their work (such as Reuters’ Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were arrested while reporting on the killings of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, or Maria Ressa, who the Philippines government charged with tax fraud over reporting for her site, Rappler).

    The truth is that it didn’t actually matter whom Time picked -- at least in terms of how Fox News would cover it. Regardless of the choice, various commentators across the network would chide the decision as somehow anti-Trump or self-serving before telling viewers whom it should have been. It’s what they’ve done in the past. After Time highlighted the #MeToo movement by choosing “The silence breakers” in 2017, Fox hosts suggested it should have also gone to Trump’s Twitter account. In 2012, Fox personalities Andrea Tantaros and Dennis Miller derided Time’s inclusion of reproductive-rights activist Sandra Fluke in its list of finalists. In 2010, Bill Hemmer suggested it could have gone to the tea party movement instead of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Glenn Beck wove together a conspiracy theory about how George Soros was responsible for Beck’s own low numbers in Time’s online poll. In 2008, Sean Hannity suggested that then-President-elect Barack Obama was named Person of the Year because Vice President-elect Joe Biden hired the magazine’s Washington bureau chief as his communications director.

    Fox’s coverage of the 2018 unveiling was extremely predictable.

    On the December 11 edition of The Ingraham Angle, Laura Ingraham played host to Raheem Kassam, whose Daily Caller essay “Time’s Failing ‘Person of the Year’ List a Product of Cultural Decline” had been published that morning. Ingraham would close out the evening’s show with her own picks, a tie between first responders to the California wildfires and Border Patrol agents.

    On that day’s edition of The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld suggested the title go to “the intellectual leaders that we talk about who are challenging the anti-speech mob” such as Claire Lehmann, Jordan Peterson, Dave Rubin, Joe Rogan, Sam Harris, and other members of the so-called “intellectual dark web.”

    There was one moment, however, that came across as genuinely refreshing. Watch this, from that same December 11 edition of Fox News’ The Five:

    JESSE WATTERS (CO-HOST): All right. Dana, you've seen these things before. Is Time magazine Person of the Year -- is this a thing of the past? Does anybody care anymore?

    DANA PERINO (CO-HOST): Well, all I know is we do this segment every single year --

    WATTERS: Everybody does.

    GREG GUTFELD (CO-HOST): Because it's fun.

    Jesse Watters is probably right when he suggests people don’t care much about the magazine cover anymore, and Perino is right on the money when she acknowledges that they keep covering it anyway.

    If you consume enough conservative media, you’ll begin to see this pattern play out in all sorts of ways, and it’s almost certainly not accidental.

    Whether it’s Time or any other magazine’s Person of the Year choices, the Oscars, the Grammys, the Emmys, or Golden Globes, Fox News follows a brilliant formula designed to reinforce the idea that pop culture exists largely for the purpose of marginalizing conservatives.

    In 2018 alone, there’s been Sean Hannity’s post-Oscars rant accusing Hollywood of hypocrisy for the #MeToo movement, Greg Gutfeld and Michelle Malkin’s accusations that Oscar attendees who spoke out about gun violence were “virtue signaling,” Jason Chaffetz taking on “Hollywood’s cultural rot” (i.e. Kevin Hart getting in a few jokes at the president’s expense during the MTV Video Music Awards), Martha MacCallum pulling a joke out of context to slam the Emmys, and Howard Kurtz’s bizarre claim that the Oscars and Emmys have “obligatory Trump-bashing moments.” These are among the many examples of Fox News using pop culture events to reinforce the “us versus them” mindset in its viewers.

    In September 2017, Tucker Carlson called the Emmys “an expression of the contempt America's ruling class has for the rest of the country,” seemingly oblivious to the irony of labeling liberals “America’s ruling class” as Republicans controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress. Carlson would bring back his “ruling class” comment during his November 15, 2017, show by criticizing Maxine Waters’ appearance at the Glamour Women of the Year awards. And when GQ put Colin Kaepernick on the cover of its magazine as the 2017 “Citizen of the Year,” The Five’s Watters said he’d prefer the award went to NFL star J.J. Watt.

    In 2016, Bill O’Reilly took Oscars host Chris Rock to task for feeding the “grievance industry,” adding, “So OK. ‘Our ancestors got lynched and raped by white people.’ OK. Every group in the world can say that -- not to the extent that African-Americans can say that -- but is it doing any good?”

    During the Fox & Friends coverage of the 2015 Oscars, Stacey Dash slammed Patricia Arquette for her on-stage discussion of pay inequality. Also in 2015, The Five mustered up the courage to at least pretend to care about the ESPY Awards if only to express discomfort with the decision to give Caitlyn Jenner that year’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award, instead of college basketball player Lauren Hill, who spent her final days raising awareness about cancer among young people.

    Fox News uses manufactured outrage as a tool, and it's become so useful that some of its viewers have tuned out pop culture as a whole.

    Can a piece of art change the world? Maybe. Can a speech delivered from the Oscars stage heal a country? I suppose it’s possible, even if extremely unlikely. Yet, if you’re someone with a vested interest in preventing forward social change or you rely on resentment of “elites” to fuel your own political agenda, it would be beneficial to sow distrust of the people making that art or giving that speech. If you can convince your target audience that the artists can’t ever truly understand America, that they’re all rich elitists -- though many are less “rich” and arguably less “elite” than the people delivering messages on your side of this culture war -- you can use even the most anodyne cultural events to your advantage.

    The morning after the 2018 Oscars, Fox & Friends asked its viewers whether they had tuned in. The responses they received, or at least the ones they decided to read on air, show just how successful this campaign has been.

    “Of course we didn’t watch. We are looking to be entertained, not aggravated by a steady stream of mindless drivel from liberals who live in a bubble,” read one message.

    “Very happy to report I did NOT watch the Oscars last night. Watching self-aggrandizing Hollywood elites speaking into their echo chamber isn’t something I enjoy doing,” read another.

    “The REAL winner at the Oscars was me. I didn’t waste my time watching because of all the liberal, anti-Trump political rhetoric.”

    By their own accounts, these viewers didn’t actually watch the Oscars, but they knew the awards show was bad -- instinctively. Even moments seemingly geared toward winning conservative kudos -- such as the tribute to war films -- were labeled insulting because the audience didn’t rise to its feet for a standing ovation. The pop culture well has been poisoned, and anything short of explicitly conservative propaganda will be met with unease.

    When it comes to pop culture criticism, conservative media aren’t acting in good faith. I don’t see that changing any time soon.

    Ahead of award shows, some people like to make predictions about who will take home what honors. My predictions are a lot simpler. In 2019, 2020, and beyond, it’s a safe bet that Fox News will pan all the major awards shows, scoff at magazine covers as “identity politics,” and continue to cultivate the resentment that is so core to its brand identity.

    None of this is to say that everything said at the Oscars will be profound, nor will every Grammy serve as a reward for advancing some sort of social agenda. What I am saying is there is something we can all do as media consumers to bridge cultural divides: We can go into experiences with open minds and open hearts. This can mean different things to each of us, and it could be as simple as stepping outside your comfort zone when it comes to choosing what to put on your morning playlist, which movies to check out while they’re in theaters, and which news sources you give a chance.