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The Ingraham Angle

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  • "Perfectly legitimate": How right-wing media figures tried to play defense for Roy Moore

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & ZACHARY PLEAT

    After The Washington Post published a report alleging that Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore had initiated sexual encounters with a then-14-year-old girl in 1979, when Moore was 32, several right-wing media figures jumped to his defense, attacking the accuser, asserting that “Roy Moore Did Nothing Wrong,” and demanding that media cover the supposed misdeeds of others instead.

  • Fox News' solution to Tuesday's GOP bloodbath: Candidates should embrace Trump more closely

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Last night, Republicans were walloped at the ballot box from coast to coast. Ralph Northam won the Virginia governorship for the Democrats, Phil Murphy took back the New Jersey governor’s seat after eight years of GOP control, and down-ballot races in both states look good for team blue. Voters in Maine approved a referendum expanding Medicaid in the state, while in Washington state, a Democratic victory in a key swing district should give the party total majority control of both houses on the state legislature along with the governorship.

    There’s no real secret to the nationwide Democratic victories: President Donald Trump is historically unpopular. His administration is shockingly corrupt, two of his top campaign aides were just indicted by a special counsel while a third aide pleaded guilty, his behavior is in turn grotesque, insulting, and authoritarian, most Americans hate his policy priorities, and he’s been unable to get them passed anyway. All this excited Democratic turnout and depressed Republican turnout.

    Here in the real world, the president is dragging down his party.

    But Trump’s media allies don’t live in the real world. And so, if you turned on Fox last night or this morning, you heard his sycophants saying that the lesson from last night’s Republican wipeout is that the party’s candidates need to hug Trump closer (Trump himself has made the same argument).

    On Fox & Friends, one of the president’s favorite shows, co-host Steve Doocy took issue this morning with the idea that the election results were a “Trump rebuke,” saying of the Republican gubernatorial candidates in Virginia and New Jersey, “Neither one of them really brought Donald Trump on board.” “It’s a wake-up call for establishment Republicans,” he added. “If you don’t embrace the leader of your party, why do you want to win and why do you think you can?”

    According to Fox host Laura Ingraham last night, Virginia’s Republican gubernatorial nominee, Ed Gillespie, lost because “there is no middle ground with conservative populism. … Maybe Gillespie wouldn’t have won if President Trump campaigned with him, but trying to be half-in, half-out was never going to work. If you dip your toe just in a little bit, you’re going to turn out like Ed Gillespie did, political roadkill.” She also suggested that Gillespie should have campaigned more vigorously on keeping up Confederate memorial statues and “law and order.”

    Shortly after announcing Northam’s victory last night, Tucker Carlson said, “It's hard to see Ed Gillespie as a Trump candidate.” He took issues with the “stories in the last week about how he was running on the Trump template.”

    When Trump’s friends at Fox weren’t blaming Republican candidates for insufficient fealty to the president, they were trying to ignore the news altogether. All Sean Hannity had to say about the results last night was that they did not come in “states Donald Trump won.” The Fox shows spent significant time talking about the president’s speech in North Korea, the dangers of progressive efforts to prevent gun violence, and the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination fight, as well as reminiscing over Trump’s election a year ago.

    The GOP is trapped. The party’s leader is historically unpopular among most Americans but remains popular among the base.

    And he’s still a hero to the right-wing media apparatus that party leaders count on to excite their voters every Election Day.

    Congressional elections are only a year away. Fox’s hosts are signaling that they plan to strap themselves to the mast of Trump’s sinking ship and ride it to the bottom of the ocean. Expect 12 more months of over-the-top coverage of Uranium One, NFL players who protest racial inequality, statues of Confederate heroes, and the perfidy of non-white immigrants and Muslims.

    The only question is whether the GOP’s candidates will follow along with their party’s communications arm and cleave to the president. If history is any guide, they will.

  • Fox’s Shannon Bream has a new show and a history of spreading misinformation about abortion

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    On October 30, Fox News’ Shannon Bream debuted the evening program Fox News @ Night. The show was new, but one thing stayed the same: Bream’s commitment to misinforming about abortion.

    As Mic noted, Bream’s program represents a “departure from a longtime tradition” of playing reruns of other “popular primetime shows” during the 11 p.m. hour. Bream herself has attempted to brand her program as “straight news, not opinion” and claimed the program “will be straight down the middle.” In reality, Bream has a long history of presenting misleading reporting about a number of reproductive rights topics -- and if the first episode of Fox News @ Night is any indication, having her own program won’t change anything. 

    For example, long after the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) and its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood were discredited, Bream gave CMP founder David Daleiden an unchallenged platform to push misinformation. Before that, Bream had played frequent validator for CMP’s claims -- going so far as to anchor a Fox News special on its content, titled Planned Parenthood: The Hidden Harvest. Beyond her emphasis on CMP’s inaccurate contentions, Bream also has a tendency to cite polls commissioned by anti-choice groups to suggest a lack of public support for abortion access. 

    In back-to-back segments during the October 30 edition, Bream also hosted NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to discuss a recent case involving the Trump administration’s denial of an abortion to an undocumented minor being held in federal custody. According to BuzzFeed, the minor (referred to as Jane Doe) did not ask for “the government to pay for the procedure or arrange the transportation” -- in fact, as Politico reported, she had already “obtained the money” for the procedure. Nevertheless, Fox News’ coverage of the case has focused on a made-up idea that taxpayers should be outraged about the possibility of funding abortions for undocumented immigrants like Doe -- an offshoot of the debunked, but oft-repeated, right-wing myth of so-called “taxpayer-funded abortion.” (In fact, no taxpayer money may go to abortions under the Hyde Amendment.)

    During the first segment, Bream not only pressed Hogue on a series of anti-choice talking points about the case (including the myth of taxpayer-funded abortion), but also directly channeled the concerns of anti-abortion groups. In one instance, after Hogue noted that opponents of Doe’s abortion want to “put Roe [v. Wade] on trial through this case,” Bream interjected that what she “heard from a lot of pro-life groups is they were worried this is Roe v. Wade 2.0.” Bream continued that these anti-abortion groups were concerned that Doe’s case was “not just about abortion, but it’s now encouraging -- they think -- in some ways, people coming here from other countries where maybe they can’t get an abortion.”

    Bream’s comment about having “heard from a lot of pro-life groups” is unsurprising. In but one example, the afternoon before Bream’s program debuted, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List, tweeted that Bream is a “friend” and that she “covers Life issues with fearlessness and fairness.”

    The Fox prime-time lineup has seen a lot of change over the past year. Following the ouster of Bill O’Reilly for numerous reports of sexual harassment (and more recent news of further settlements still), the network was forced to make changes to its evening talent. As a result, white nationalist golden boy and serial anti-abortion misinformer Tucker Carlson scored a prime-time spot -- a platform he has used to host anti-abortion activists and present their allegations in a way that appeals to his extremist base. In September, after Fox was forced to fire prime-time host Eric Bolling (again for reports of sexual harassment), the network announced Fox News @ Night, hosted by Bream at 11 p.m., and another program, The Ingraham Angle, hosted by longtime contributor Laura Ingraham (who has her own history of spreading misinformation about abortion).

    As Variety reported, Fox executives are hopeful that the addition of Ingraham and Bream will finally “cap a flurry of schedule changes” that audiences have endured over the past year. And although Bream has pitched her show as one that “will focus heavily on politics and events in Washington” -- a choice that one media professor told Variety will offer viewers “news, not more punditry” -- audiences shouldn’t be fooled.

    If the chyron previewing the abortion-related segment during the October 30 premier is any indication, Bream’s coverage of reproductive rights topics will be more of the same Fox News xenophobia and bluster:

  • Fox’s new prime-time lineup is Breitbart TV

    The network always backs the leading force in GOP politics. Right now, that’s Steve Bannon.

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Two months ago, Steve Bannon left his position as White House chief strategist and returned to his “weapons” at Breitbart.com. At the time, news reports were thick with rumors that Bannon might try to extend Breitbart’s brand from digital media and satellite radio to television. “Bannon has told friends he sees a massive opening to the right of Fox News, raising the possibility that he's going to start a network,” Axios reported.

    This talk has largely subsided. Perhaps Bannon has prioritized molding the Republican Party into the party of Trump; perhaps the formidable financial and logistical hurdles involved with launching a cable network have given the Breitbart executive chairman and his patrons, the right-wing megadonor Mercer family, pause. But it certainly doesn’t help the effort that Fox’s moves since President Donald Trump’s election have been geared toward infusing the channel’s prime-time programming with Breitbartian values.

    Last month, the network announced that it is turning over the 10 p.m. hour to longtime contributor Laura Ingraham, forestalling the rumors that Bannon might hire her away (there are no hard feelings; last week, Bannon and Breitbart hosted a party for Ingraham’s new book). On Monday, when her show debuts following the programs of rising Fox star Tucker Carlson and network stalwart Sean Hannity, Fox’s evening block will feature three consecutive hours of the same cocktail -- of anti-immigrant and anti-diversity invective, pro-Trump fanaticism, and vindictive opposition to the Republican establishment, the press, and cultural elites -- that made Breitbart a force on the right.

    Fox always takes on the spirit of the ascendant wing of the conservative movement. The network’s throughline is serving as the communications arm of the Republican Party, and its hires and the narratives they pursue tend to be in sync with the party itself. In this way, Fox mimics the official party organ, the Republican National Committee, which, following Trump’s election, hired pro-Trump pundit Kayleigh McEnany as its new national spokesperson.

    After President Barack Obama’s election in 2008, for example, Fox executives declared the network the “voice of opposition” and “the Alamo,” standing shoulder to shoulder with Republican leaders who refused to compromise with the new administration. The network’s new star was conspiracy theorist Glenn Beck, hired away from CNN; Hannity and Colmes became Hannity as the longtime progressive co-host, Alan Colmes, was removed from the program; former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who emerged from the election as a leader on the right, joined the team soon after she resigned as Alaska's governor; and Fox’s endless promotion turned the tea party into a GOP force.

    As the 2012 election approached, a group of candidates who had kept themselves in the spotlight as Fox contributors fought for the GOP nomination on the network’s airwaves. When former Gov. Mitt Romney won, the network rallied around him as he pushed attacks on Obama ripped from Fox, stocked his campaign with network staffers, and picked the then-network hero Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his running mate.

    And over the past few years, Trump slowly swallowed the network until it became an authoritarian propaganda outlet for first his campaign and then his presidency.

    Since then, Trump and Bannon have dominated Republican politics. Most conservative and Republican leaders publicly extol the president’s virtues and prescriptions for the country; those who do not either lack power or are leaving office before they have to face the primary challenges Bannon is backing.

    With evening hosts Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly, and Eric Bolling all having left the network since the 2016 election, Fox had a rare opportunity to reload its lineup. The result is three hosts who channel the mentality of the ascendant Breitbart wing, each with a focus on a different facet of the website’s editorial thrust.

    Carlson both defends and apes the site’s winking relationship with white nationalism, which has earned him the adoration of racists and anti-Semites. He condemns the role of immigrants and Muslims in supposedly corrupting the “European culture” he holds so dear, frequently issues polemics on the dangers of diversity, and is much more interested in defending the rights of white supremacists than he is in condemning their hatred. Like the late Andrew Breitbart, Carlson seems to believe that “politics is downstream from culture,” and his show always has a new cultural enemy to mock and destroy, be it obscure college professors, “Gypsies,” people who tear down statues of Confederate generals, or witches.

    Hannity is the host most in line with Breitbart’s propagandistic loyalty to the president and drive to annihilate Trump’s foes, including recalcitrant Republicans. Both are particularly obsessed with convincing their audience that the mainstream press is so intrinsically opposed to Trump and other conservatives that it cannot be trusted, only replaced. Hannity’s fanaticism leads to him to provide the president with shockingly obsequious interviews and offer up despicable conspiracy theories on his behalf.

    Ingraham, the newest member of the lineup, shares many of the Breitbartian attributes of her colleagues, combining Hannity’s loyalty to the president and disdain for establishment Republicans and Carlson’s fixation on the perils of immigration and diversity. What she adds is Breitbart’s interest in trying to directly shape the Republican Party by pushing out officeholders considered insufficiently loyal to the president and his agenda. Indeed, Ingraham teamed up with Bannon to back a primary challenger to Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) earlier this month. Her show will likely end up featuring a parade of anti-establishment politicians seeking her support.

    Fox’s prime-time lineup has historically been extremely stable, and bearing future surprises, Carlson, Hannity, and Ingraham could spearhead the network for years to come. It’s in Fox’s interest to stay in Breitbart TV mode until a new aspect of the party gains preeminence, so we shouldn’t expect any of their shows to vary widely from what we’ve seen recently.

    The establishment wing of the Republican Party seems exhausted, unwilling to fight back against the insurgent Breitbarters who have seized control of the party’s base. Any shift in the conservative movement may be some time in coming.

    Until then, if Bannon turns on his television during Fox’s prime-time hours, he’ll have reason to smile.

  • Fox News' new prime-time lineup prepares to remake the GOP in Trump's image

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, whose prime-time Fox News program debuts in two weeks, will headline a kickoff event tonight for Arizona state Sen. Kelli Ward’s insurgent primary campaign against Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), a critic of President Donald Trump.

    A ticket to the general reception at the Hilton Scottsdale Report will cost you a $75 donation to Ward’s campaign (you’ll also get a free copy of Ingraham’s new book with admission). But attendees willing to shell out $2,700 will get access to a VIP reception, a signed copy of the book, a photo with the candidate and the radio host, and a shout-out at the event.

    It’s almost quaint to point out that this sort of openly partisan behavior, relatively normal for a Fox personality, wouldn’t come close to passing muster at any other network. But let’s set that aside for a moment and consider just how screwed the GOP’s leaders may be.

    The GOP establishment -- including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) -- is lining up behind Flake. When Ward ran against Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in the 2016 GOP primary, she had the help of the most conspiratorial wing of the right-wing press but few resources. She’s undoubtedly hoping that support this time around from prominent pro-Trump media figures like Ingraham and her colleague Sean Hannity will bring enough exposure to carry the day.

    Ward will not be alone. The Republican electorate is angry that the party’s promises have yet to materialize. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is trying to channel that rage into far-right primary challenges against half a dozen Republican senators, using the resources of his benefactors the Mercers and the editorial staff of Breitbart.com. Bannon wants McConnell out as majority leader and senators he considers insufficiently loyal to the president out of office. McConnell’s allies have largely laughed off Bannon’s influence, but no one can ignore the power Fox holds over the GOP electorate.

    Ingraham’s fundraising jaunt for Ward could mark the beginning of a nightmare scenario for McConnell: Fox hosts using their shows to promote primary challengers to their audience of millions and shape the future of the party. If Ingraham, Hannity, and others at Fox use the network’s airwaves to attack Republican senators, host and praise their challengers, and urge their viewers to get behind candidates like Ward, they could pull off a GOP purge that would reshape the party in Trump’s image for a generation.

    The mechanism is in place; it just needs to be re-aimed.

    For decades, Fox has served as the communications arm of the Republican Party. The network is an incubator for GOP talking points, a steady paycheck for former and current party officials, a launching pad for right-wing movements, and the battleground for the party’s presidential primaries. It’s also proved to be a welcoming environment for the party’s candidates to field pillow-soft questions, flog their campaign websites, and ask the Fox audience for donations.

    Fox has more credibility with GOP activists and voters than virtually anyone except for Trump himself. And while Trump’s election gave the GOP unified control of all the levels of government, the party’s failure to pass key legislation and provide sufficiently unceasing support for the president has led to the possibility that the network’s power will soon be turned against Republican leaders.

    Ingraham’s ascension to Fox’s prime-time lineup gives the insurgent effort a big boost. Panel shows like The Five don’t provide a venue for Republican candidates to promote themselves, while other hosts like Tucker Carlson and his predecessor Bill O’Reilly focus primarily on the culture war, not intraparty fights. Ingraham, by contrast, is keenly interested in Republican Party politics and willing to throw elbows. She regularly uses her platforms to interview, promote, and endorse Republican politicians, she spoke at the 2016 Republican National Convention, and, as in the case of Ward, she raises money for GOP causes.

    In 2014, journalists credited Ingraham’s early and steady support for Dave Brat’s shocking defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). “Few people did more than Ms. Ingraham to propel Mr. Brat, a 49-year-old economics professor who has never held elected office before, from obscurity to national conservative hero,” The New York Times reported after his victory. Unsatisfied with Cantor’s position on immigration, Ingraham championed Brat’s nascent candidacy, endorsed him, appeared at rallies to support his candidacy, headlined a fundraiser to help him raise money, and hosted him on her program. Her effort, in the words of the Times, helped “fill a void left by the absence of support from national Tea Party organizations and boldface Republican Party names.”

    After championing Trump’s presidential run, Ingraham came up short on her bid to become White House press secretary, then considered her own run for Senate. But the cancellation of Fox host Eric Bolling’s show following reports that he had sexually harassed colleagues opened up room in the network schedule for Ingraham, a longtime Fox contributor, to get her own prime-time program. Now she has a new opportunity to try to repeat the Brat insurgency on a bigger stage.

    “It’s time for a new generation of conservatives,” Ingraham said on Fox last week. “We've tried the establishment Republican things -- it hasn't won since 2004 nationally. So that -- the Bush GOP -- is over. I mean, they might not know it yet, but it's over." That means senators like Flake are out, and candidates like Ward -- whom Ingraham endorsed in August as “a stalwart supporter of this president” -- are in.

    Ingraham will likely be joined in this anti-establishment effort by Hannity, another fervent Trump supporter who considers the “weak,” “timid,” “spineless,” “feckless” establishment Republicans little better than the Democrats who openly oppose the president. In recent months, Hannity has become increasingly critical of McConnell, even suggesting that it is time for him to step down. Hannity endorsed Ward on his radio program in August, pointed out that he had hosted her in 2016, and promised her his “support.”

    Some conservatives warned in 2016, after Fox’s heavy promotion of Trump helped him vanquish the field of primary candidates, that right-wing media’s power had become too great, creating an echo chamber that divorced the party’s voters from reality. According to these critics, the movement’s leading media players, -- especially Fox hosts like Hannity -- were more interested in their own bombast and bottom lines than in growing a responsible, sane political movement. Some hoped that a Trump defeat in the general election would lead to a reckoning that would diminish their influence.

    But Trump won, and the Hannitys and Ingrahams are more powerful than ever. And if they start using the power of the Fox megaphone to target Republican senators, they’ll be shaping the GOP like never before.