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After nearly every school shooting, right-wing media scramble to find reasons why guns should not be blamed for gun violence.
After 10 people were killed during a mass shooting at a high school in Santa Fe, TX, pro-gun proselytizers in the conservative media sphere insisted that gun safety laws would not have prevented the shooting and instead pointed to other aspects of American culture that they said required reform. Here are some of the excuses right-wing pundits offered for the May 18 shooting:
In February, after the school shooting in Parkland, FL, claimed 17 lives, conservative media took the very same approach:
On May 18, a school shooting left at least eight dead and others injured in Santa Fe, TX.
As the news broke, Fox News hosted a guest, introduced as a former member of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces, who insisted that “the time has come to put armed police officers in schools.”
Just minutes later, Fox confirmed that there was in fact an armed security guard in the school, leading guest Buck Sexton, a Fox regular, to argue that armed security isn’t enough -- there should be more guns.
JULIE BANDERAS (CO-ANCHOR): It’s interesting that you point out that they did have an armed guard, somebody who was supposed to be watching over these kids. This person cannot be in every classroom at every minute of the day. So even if you have one person there who is armed and ready to defend these defenseless kids, I'm told there are over 1,400 kids in this high school. One person with a gun can't possibly defend that many kids.
BUCK SEXTON: Well, this is where I think the conversation about people on campus who are trained personnel, adults who have concealed carry permits, also comes into play.
BANDERAS: Are you referring to teachers?
SEXTON: Yes. Teachers, anyone -- it could be teachers, could be maintenance personnel, could be athletic coaches, anyone who has the proper training and skill set.
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Media outlets are citing the anti-immigrant hate group Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) in reports about the Trump administration’s addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census, which experts say will jeopardize its accuracy.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has called CIS founder John Tanton “the father of the modern nativist movement” and designated his organization a hate group because it “churns out a constant stream of fear-mongering misinformation about Latino immigrants.” Also contributing to the decision to designate was CIS' “repeated circulation of white nationalist and anti-Semitic writers in its weekly newsletter and the commissioning of a policy analyst who had previously been pushed out of the conservative Heritage Foundation for his embrace of racist pseudoscience.” CIS personnel have a record of making racist commentary and portraying immigrants as dangerous criminals. Yet, all too often, media outlets treat CIS as a credible voice in immigration debates, and they frequently fail to identify either its anti-immigrant views or its white nationalist ties.
This is happening again in reports regarding the Trump administration’s announcement that it will add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census. At least a dozen states oppose the move and have indicated they will sue the administration to prevent the question from being added, and census and civil rights experts have said adding such a question will reduce response rates from immigrants, jeopardizing the census’ accuracy. Yet CIS has defended the addition of a citizenship question, and news reports from both conservative and mainstream outlets are discussing the organization’s support of the Trump administration move.
A Minnesota Star Tribune article quoted CIS, as did a column from the Boston Herald’s Adriana Cohen. D.C.’s ABC affiliate station WJLA (owned by the pro-Trump Sinclair Broadcasting Group) also cited CIS research, and ABC Radio’s D.C. affiliate WTOP briefly cited CIS’ defense of adding the citizenship question. Four different Fox News shows also cited CIS in their March 27 coverage of the census change: Happening Now, Outnumbered Overtime, The Daily Briefing, and Special Report. A March 28 FoxNews.com column defending the administration’s move linked to a CIS study. Fox host Laura Ingraham’s radio show hosted CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian on March 27 to criticize Democrats’ response to the move, and Washington Examiner columnist Paul Bedard extensively quoted CIS to justify adding a citizenship question to the census.
Only WTOP and the Star Tribune mentioned CIS’ agenda, saying simply that the group “pushes for decreased immigration” and has “advocated for tougher immigration regulations.” But those descriptors hardly inform voters about CIS’ problematic origins or its continuing associations with white nationalists and other bigots. Legitimate media outlets should not cite anti-immigrant groups as sources of unbiased information at all -- and if they do, they should clearly label them as such.
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson has resigned from his position after members of the Trump administration, including the agency's leadership, made false statements blaming the mayor of Oakland for over 800 individuals eluding an ICE raid. The disputed claim has been a central point of Fox News’ coverage of the Bay Area raid and of its subsequent criticism of Oakland’s mayor.
On February 24, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf warned residents about an impending ICE raid in California's Bay Area, advising immigrant families to seek assistance and learn their rights. Several days after the raid, which resulted in 232 arrests, ICE issued a statement quoting acting director Thomas Homan, who blamed Schaaf for the operation not resulting in more arrests. Attorney General Jeff Sessions later pointed to the statement in a speech. According to ICE's press statement (emphasis added):
“The Oakland mayor’s decision to publicize her suspicions about ICE operations further increased that risk for my officers and alerted criminal aliens – making clear that this reckless decision was based on her political agenda with the very federal laws that ICE is sworn to uphold,” said ICE Deputy Director Thomas D. Homan. “Thanks to the dedicated and professional work of ICE deportation officers, we were able to remove many public safety threats from the streets of the Bay Area during the past few days. However, 864 criminal aliens and public safety threats remain at large in the community, and I have to believe that some of them were able to elude us thanks to the mayor’s irresponsible decision.”
Homan appeared on Fox & Friends on February 28 to again blame Schaaf, saying, “There’s 800 [criminals] that we were unable to locate because of that warning.” Homan also likened the mayor to “a gang lookout yelling 'police' when a police cruiser comes in the neighborhood.”
But according to the (now former) San Francisco spokesperson for ICE, Homan’s claim is false. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on March 12:
The San Francisco spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement resigned after the agency’s recent Northern California sweep, saying he couldn’t continue to do his job after Trump administration officials made false public statements about a key aspect of the operation.
James Schwab told The Chronicle on Monday that he was frustrated by repeated statements by officials, including U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, that roughly 800 undocumented immigrants escaped arrest because of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s Feb. 24 warning to the public about the four-day operation, issued the night before federal officers began staking out homes and knocking on doors.
Schwab wanted the agency to correct the number, which he understood to be far lower, and didn’t want to deflect media questions about it, he said.
“I quit because I didn’t want to perpetuate misleading facts,” said Schwab, 38, who was hired in 2015 and resigned last week. “I asked them to change the information. I told them that the information was wrong, they asked me to deflect, and I didn’t agree with that. Then I took some time and I quit.”
Fox News today is still pushing Homan’s claim that Schaaf is to blame for individuals getting away. The network has yet to note that ICE’s San Francisco spokesman quit after disputing that very claim.
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Fox has nearly perfected the art of moving the goalposts after its so-called bombshells have been debunked. (They’ve had a lot of practice.)
It started out as a “bombshell” alert. Text messages, according to Fox News, showed then-President Barack Obama might have been improperly involved in the Clinton email investigation. By midday, it had been debunked (the texts weren’t about the Clinton email investigation at all), but it morphed into a sad charade by the network to pretend that Obama being briefed about Russian interference into the election was somehow a scandal of its own.
Relentlessly pushing pseudo-scandals is Fox News’ bread and butter. The network essentially throws anything at the wall to see what sticks, and the Obama-FBI text message “scandal” is just the latest example. Here’s a breakdown of how Fox News messed up and is now trying to move the goalposts on its fraudulent claims.
At 6:00 a.m. on February 7, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee published an interim report titled “The Clinton Email Scandal And The FBI’s Investigation Of It,” prepared by committee Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI). The report pointed to a text FBI lawyer Lisa Page sent to FBI Agent Peter Strzok about preparing talking points for then-FBI Director James Comey that read “Potus wants to know everything we’re doing.” The report claimed this text “raises additional questions about the type and extent of President [Barack] Obama's personal involvement in the [then-Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton email scandal and the FBI investigation of it."
From the moment Fox’s morning show Fox & Friends started on February 7, it was clear there was a new “scandal” emerging in the network’s ecosystem. Co-host Steve Doocy opened the show with a “Fox News alert and a bombshell exclusive.” The bombshell: “New messages” that referenced Obama “now raising even more questions” about the Clinton investigation.
Doocy noted Johnson’s report and questioned, “Are they talking about Barack Obama? Does that mean he was involved in whatever they were doing? That's a bombshell.”
A bombshell it was not. But here’s how the story progressed on Fox News’ flagship morning show:
Brian Kilmeade: “There’s a story here at the very least, don’t you agree.”
Doocy: “New messages now raising even more questions about what the FBI and former President Obama knew about the Clinton investigation and when.”
Griff Jenkins: “We’re taking a look at this, and it is raising a lot of questions. And it’s shocking. … Investigators telling Fox News this now raises questions about President Obama’s personal involvement in the Clinton email investigation.”
Doocy (again): “Those text messages now raising even more questions about the FBI and perhaps President Obama’s involvement during the Clinton investigation of her email server.”
And on, and on.
Fox’s so-called “straight news” shows didn’t fare much better.
During America’s Newsroom, Fox News contributor Guy Benson claimed the text message “might suggest undue presidential interest and/or influence.” Anchor Bill Hemmer responded, “Boy, that opens up a whole new can of worms, Guy.”
During the next show, Happening Now, Fox contributor Rachel Campos-Duffy stated that the text referring to POTUS “looks like it was about the Hillary Clinton investigation,” adding, “President Obama clearly had a stake in her being exonerated and Trump not winning the election.” She went on to say, “This is just like a mystery. It keeps unfolding and unfolding, and it gets dirtier and dirtier. And now we know it goes to the top.”
The debunks of Fox’s most recent “bombshell” began to roll out around noon. ThinkProgress, focusing on the timeline of events, called it “a total fraud.” Vox’s headline: “Trump says new FBI texts are a ‘bombshell.’ They’re not.” Even the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal poured cold water on the narrative being shouted on Fox News all day; according to the Journal, the text messages Fox used to suggest Obama had been “meddling” in the Clinton email investigation actually referred to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. CNN came to the same conclusion.
When the narrative that Fox News helped spearhead started to fall apart, the network’s hosts, guests, and anchors ran through a couple different plays. At first, they attempted to erase the network’s role in hyping and fueling the “bombshell report.”
On Special Report, guest host Shannon Bream brought up Obama and the FBI officials’ texts, noting, “There was some speculation that was about the Hillary Clinton email investigation, but now there’s talk that that was about the Russia potential collusion investigation, A.B. But it's now raising more questions and more criticism.” Panelist Mollie Hemingway also noted, “Initially, some people thought it had to do with the old Hillary Clinton email investigation.”
Note that neither of them mentioned it was the very network they were on that had invented the “speculation.”
Perhaps there is no better example of these acrobatics than Sandra Smith’s reporting on consecutive days. On Wednesday, Smith hyped “bombshell text messages” that were “rocking the FBI, revealing additional evidence of anti-Trump bias, and raising new questions about President Obama’s personal involvement in the Hillary Clinton email investigation.” On Thursday, she vaguely alluded to “a lot of conclusions drawn that these were exchanges about Obama wanting to know everything when it came to the Hillary Clinton email investigation which was closed at the time,” noting the Journal’s debunk that it was actually about Russian meddling.
Another tactic Fox tried was to claim that the details were “still up for debate.” During the 7:00 p.m. hour -- after the story had already fallen apart -- host Martha MacCallum introduced a segment on the topic, asking, “What was [Obama] keeping tabs on? That part of the story is still up for debate.” And correspondent Ed Henry noted the Journal’s debunk, but also argued that what the text message really referred to was “up for debate.”
Lastly, Fox personalities shifted the goalposts. The initial scandal, that Obama supposedly was caught interfering in the Clinton email investigation, morphed into a different, supposed scandal, but one with the same cast of characters. Fox began arguing that, even if the text was referring to the investigation into Russian interference, that constituted a scandal on its own. Henry tried to make this case, saying, “Nonetheless, we should note that in April 2016, Obama insisted to our own Chris Wallace he never spoke to the attorney general or the FBI director about any pending investigations at all.” Hemingway used a similar tactic, stating “learning that it’s in fact about the Trump-Russia meddling election is far more interesting,” adding, “This is just, again, just a tiny part of a much larger scandal.”
Several of these tactics were also used on Sean Hannity’s show that night. Introducing the story with Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton, Hannity noted, “Wall Street Journal says it was not about the email investigation, but from earlier comments I saw that you made, you have your doubts about that.” Fitton responded, “Pick your poison in terms of presidential involvement in these sensitive criminal investigations,” essentially arguing that, whether the text message was about Obama wanting to know about Clinton or Russia, it was bad either way.
By the following morning, the network had coalesced around this new narrative. Now, the scandal wasn’t that Obama was being informed about the Clinton email investigation; the scandal, somehow, was that Obama, the U.S. president and commander in chief, was being informed about the investigation into foreign interference in the upcoming U.S. election. Fox & Friends repeatedly used that argument during its February 8 edition, even bringing on Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald Trump, to make the same (but new) argument. America’s Newsroom continued on with the new charade of pretending that Obama being briefed on the investigation into Russian interference was somehow a problem.
And so it continues.
It’s hard to keep track of all the pseudo-scandals that Fox News runs through in a given week. The network, especially on Fox & Friends and Hannity, puts out wild trial balloons to see what sticks. Sometimes, as with their fixation about the “secret society” scandal (which, incidentally, was started on Fox, also in part by Sen. Johnson), it blows up in their face. But as with any other good propaganda outlet, they don’t stop blurring the facts and insisting that there are still new “questions,” “concerns,” and “allegations” that need to be investigated -- even if the so-called scandal was already debunked.
Fox ran with the rumor that Rogelio Martinez was killed by undocumented immigrants. The FBI has ruled out that possibility.
In November, Fox News zealously and repeatedly reported that Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez’s death was a murder committed by undocumented immigrants along the US-Mexico border, despite the fact that a local sheriff said that “evidence gathered at the scene does not suggest an assault.” Yesterday, the FBI also announced that it has found no evidence of an attack.
Officials from the National Border Patrol Council labor union, many of whom have made their anti-immigrant views quite clear, told reporters that Martinez and his partner were ambushed by immigrants along the border, a claim that contradicted medical evidence and other accounts of the incident that suggested it was an accident. Fox News took the union officials’ account as fact, reporting that the “vicious attack” vindicated President Donald Trump’s draconian immigration policies. Fox co-host Sandra Smith reported the incident as an "apparent ambush," and host Tucker Carlson claimed that Martinez was “attacked at the border in the most gruesome possible way." At one point, Smith briefly acknowledged the possibility that Martinez’s death was the result of a deadly accident, but others on the network continued to report that it was a homicide, with Happening Now co-host Julie Banderas claiming, "a killer killed" and beat Martinez "by rocks."
In the past, Fox has covered stories involving immigrants in ways that depict them as criminals without reporting all of the facts. Then, when more facts are revealed that refute the network’s reporting, the full context is only mentioned in a brief whisper, if at all. In Martinez’s case, The Washington Post reported that the FBI has released its findings and “has found no evidence of a homicide, despite mobilizing significant resources involving 37 field offices to investigate Martinez’s death.” Predictably, only Smith briefly mentioned the news on February 8; the network has not yet issued a correction for its deceptive reporting:
SANDRA SMITH (CO-HOST): New questions surrounding the November death of a U.S. Border agent. The FBI now says there's no evidence suggesting the agent and his partner were attacked. Rogelio Martinez died from severe head wounds hours after the two men were discovered lying in a drain near the Texas-Mexico border. The agents had been responding to reports of unknown activity. Martinez's partner suffered head injuries and says he can't remember what happened. The FBI says it will continue to investigate.
On January 16, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a report in concert with the Department of Justice (DOJ) alleging that, among other things, “three out of every four, or 402, individuals convicted of international terrorism-related charges in U.S. federal courts between September 11, 2001, and December 31, 2016 were foreign-born.” Fox News immediately promoted the study over criticism from homeland security experts, and then went silent about the report’s integrity after it was revealed that the administration had sidestepped DHS experts and statistics to produce it.
Reporting on the study on the day of its release, The New York Times noted that “the 11-page report, parts of which were confusing and in some respects misleading, highlighted cases in which immigrants were linked to terrorism plots.” MSNBC security analyst Matthew Miller was one of the first to point out that the report “includes people who committed terrorist acts overseas, were arrested overseas and brought here to face trial” and explained that “it also doesn’t count incidents of domestic terrorism,” meaning terrorists who are American citizens and who perpetrated attacks on U.S. soil were excluded.
Essentially, the report focused on international terrorism, but the way it was presented suggested that immigrants were disproportionately responsible for domestic terrorism, particularly because it was published amid immigration policy negotiations. Adding to the confusion, President Donald Trump tweeted a deceptive summary of the report, excluding the word “international”:
New report from DOJ & DHS shows that nearly 3 in 4 individuals convicted of terrorism-related charges are foreign-born. We have submitted to Congress a list of resources and reforms....
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 16, 2018
As criticism around the study mounted, Fox reported on its findings by uncritically parroting the Trump administration line. Fox’s Bret Baier commented that the report includes “some amazing statistics, and scary ones.” Sandra Smith also promoted the misleading study without mentioning its many flaws. Peter Doocy pointed to the study as justification for why “the White House is not budging on immigration talks.” Fox host Julie Banderas used the report to fearmonger about “convicted terrorists in this country who have come over as young adults, if not children, and their families brought them over here, and they went ahead and killed Americans,” even though U.S. vetting procedures make the possibility of that happening incredibly rare. Tucker Carlson, who regularly uses his platform for anti-immigrant misinformation, also gladly hyped the details of the report, declaring, “According to federal numbers released today, America's terror threat is clearly, among other things, an immigration issue”:
But yesterday, the Daily Beast revealed that career experts at DHS told DOJ officials that DHS does “not track or correlate international terrorism data by citizenship or country of origin, and have warned the Trump administration that doing so risks a misleading portrait of both terrorism and immigration.” As explained by Spencer Ackerman, “The result was that the document released last week did not include the contributions of those career DHS officials tasked with providing professional and objective analysis. They were not asked to participate, and so the document did not reflect their input.” In short, on top of the flawed methodology and cherry-picked statistics, the Trump administration willfully sidestepped homeland security experts to produce a report that would vindicate the president’s insistence on linking immigration to crime and terrorism.
Fox News is ignoring this glaring problem with the report, demonstrating once again that the network prioritizes its anti-immigration agenda over honesty in reporting.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL): Actions of senior FBI officials “pose a clear and present danger to our democracy”
Following FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s December 19 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee as part of its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) took to Fox News to complain that “the FBI [has] been infected with an intractable bias” that favors Hillary Clinton and is out to get President Donald Trump.
Gaetz’s comments come as Fox News figures have attempted to muddy the waters of the investigation by attacking the FBI, baselessly alleging conflicts of interest in the investigation, and even going so far as to outright advocate for the Trump administration to remove Mueller. Now, following Fox host Jesse Watters suggesting that Mueller’s probe could be “a coup in America” and Fox contributor Kevin Jackson floating a conspiracy theory that the FBI might have planned to assassinate Trump, it appears as though Gaetz has followed Fox’s lead in the effort to smear Mueller and the FBI. In a December 20 interview on Fox News, Gaetz stated that “the senior levels of the FBI have been infected with an intractable bias that seems to favor Hillary Clinton and work against Donald Trump.” Gaetz went on to accuse “the FBI's senior leadership” of “hatch[ing] a scheme to deprive Donald Trump the presidency both before and after his election.” From the December 20 edition of Fox News’ Happening Now:
JON SCOTT (CO-HOST): You’re not very happy with the FBI’s behavior in all of this lead up to the announcement of Bob Mueller’s investigation, and so forth.
REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Well, the senior levels of the FBI have been infected with an intractable bias that seems to favor Hillary Clinton and work against President Donald Trump. Andrew McCabe gave testimony yesterday behind closed doors, but we’re calling for open sworn testimony under oath so the American people can see the truth about what’s going on. Andrew McCabe was present when the FBI’s senior leadership hatched a scheme to deprive Donald Trump the presidency both before and after his election. That is totally unacceptable and it poses a clear and present danger to our democracy. That’s why we’ve got to expose the truth.
SCOTT: Are you referring to the ‘meeting in Andy’s office’ that is contained in those Peter Strzok texts to his mistress?
GAETZ: Absolutely. That’s right, Peter Strzok was texting his mistress that he praised her for the plan that she hatched in Andy’s office. So, the current deputy director of the FBI is a key witness in a potential scheme to deprive President Trump his ascension to the office he was elected to serve in. It’s absolutely outrageous.
Fox distorted facts of Steinle's case to criminalize undocumented immigrants. It's applying the same failed logic to Rogelio Martinez's case.
Fox News' reporting on undocumented immigrants was discredited not once, but twice this week. On Wednesday, new reporting suggested that the death of Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez -- which Fox had immediately declared “a vicious attack” by undocumented immigrants before any investigation had taken place -- may have been the result of a traffic accident. And on Thursday, a jury found Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, an undocumented immigrant who Fox had dedicated significant airtime to accusing of cold-blooded murder, not guilty of the murder charge. The revelations demonstrate Fox's habit of jumping to conclusions and distorting facts in order to hype crime committed by undocumented immigrants for political purposes.
On November 18, Martinez and another Border Patrol agent were discovered badly injured in a ravine area along the southern border, where they were responding to a sensor that had been triggered that signaled movement along the border. Border Patrol union officials claimed the agents were attacked with rocks by a group of undocumented immigrants. However, a local sheriff told Dallas Morning News that “the evidence is not obvious as to what happened out there” and that “the injuries to [Martinez], after talking to his doctors, were consistent with a fall.” On November 29, Dallas Morning News reported more updates, writing, “Evidence gathered at the scene does not suggest an assault, multiple sources with direct knowledge of the investigation say. The possibility that Rogelio Martinez and his partner were sideswiped by a tractor trailer’s side mirror on a moonless night is growing theory, they said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.”
Nonetheless, Fox was quick to report the union officials’ account as fact. Fox host Tucker Carlson claimed that Martinez was “attacked at the border in the most gruesome possible way,” asking, “Will this change any minds about addressing illegal immigration and securing the border once and for all?” Host Laura Ingraham described the incident as “a vicious attack” and used it to justify Trump’s call for a border wall. Sandra Smith reported it as an “apparent ambush.” Even after Fox finally acknowledged Tuesday morning that “investigators also say they have not ruled out an accident” and that the sheriff was “cautioning people not to jump to conclusions just yet” because “there is some discussion that these agents fell … by accident,” Fox anchor Julie Banderas used the incident as a way to misleadingly sow fears about immigration and sanctuary cities:
Fox's coverage of Martinez's death is reminiscent of how the network covered the death of Kate Steinle, who was accidentally shot by an undocumented immigrant in 2015. For years, Fox has pointed to Steinle as justification for cracking down on so-called sanctuary cities, exploited her death to paint immigrants as criminals, and even proposed anti-immigrant legislation based on a distorted view of the case. As it turned out, the defendant in the Steinle case was acquitted on charges of murder, manslaughter, and assault with a deadly weapon, and was convicted only of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Similary, Tucker Carlson repeatedly had touted a case out of Rockville, MD, in which two undocumented immigrants were accused of raping a 14-year-old girl. As The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple wrote, “Carlson demagogued a rape case involving immigrants. Then they were cleared.”
It may turn out, once the investigation has been completed and the facts established, that Martinez was in fact murdered. Fatal on-duty attacks on Border Patrol agents are extremely rare, but they happen. But as the investigation continues and the evidence points toward an accident, it is eminently clear that Fox has little interest in waiting for the facts of the case and instead prefers to once again exploit a tragedy to criminalize all immigrants and push for their anti-immigrant policy agenda.