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Justice with Judge Jeanine

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  • Trump’s favorite Fox News propagandists are avoiding reports about Paul Manafort’s legal troubles

    Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine have steered clear of reporting on Paul Manafort’s legal exposure, but they spent significant time on a judge’s strong words for the special counsel's team

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Update:

    On June 14, a federal judge revoked Manafort's bail for allegedly tampering with witnesses, landing him in federal prison until his trial.


    President Donald Trump’s favorite Fox News shows are all but ignoring the cascade of damning reports regarding former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his legal troubles. Since May 2017, special counsel Robert Mueller has been scrutinizing various relationships between the Trump campaign and Russian nationals closely tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin, appearing to focus closely on Manafort’s business history and associates. As the legal pressure ramps up against Manafort, the president’s propagandists at Fox News have sought to distance Manafort from Trump and, through selective reporting on Manafort’s legal troubles, discredit the probe against Trump’s former campaign manager.

    Since the beginning of 2018, Manafort’s legal exposure has grabbed mainstream media attention, but the topic has not managed to break through on Trump’s favorite Fox News programs. Media Matters reviewed transcripts and video of the first editions of Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine after significant reports surfaced about new developments regarding the investigations into Manafort this year. We found little to no coverage of notable turns in the multiple high-profile legal cases against Trump’s former campaign manager. But we did find extensive coverage of the strong words a judge had for the special counsel’s team.

    Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine all but ignored major turns in legal cases against Manafort

    Manafort sues Department of Justice, alleging special counsel exceeded mandate

    On January 3, NPR reported that Manafort was suing the Department of Justice, alleging that “Mueller's team has ‘diverged’ from its stated focus on potential collusion with the Russians who attacked the 2016 election and instead zeroed in on Manafort for ‘unrelated, decade-old business dealings’ in Ukraine.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the development.

    Company tied to former Manafort business associate and Russian oligarch sues Manafort and business partner

    On January 10, according to NBC News, “a company controlled and funded by” Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, a crony of Russian President Vladimir Putin and one-time business associate of Manafort’s, sued Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates for allegedly “bilk[ing] his company by taking $1.1 million in capital and paying it to themselves.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the lawsuit.

    Special counsel tells judge investigation has revealed “additional criminal conduct” by Manafort

    On February 16, according to Politico, the special counsel’s office submitted a court filing informing a federal judge of “additional criminal conduct that [the office has] learned since the Court’s initial bail determination” on Manafort’s federal case that “includes a series of bank frauds and bank fraud conspiracies.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the court filing specifically. Though a guest on Fox & Friends, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, briefly mentioned general “charges” against Paul Manafort, he downplayed them as “unrelated to the campaign.”

    Former Trump aide Richard Gates will “plead guilty” and has agreed to “testify against Manafort”

    On February 18, the Los Angeles Times reported that Gates, who is also a former Trump campaign aide, would “plead guilty to fraud-related charges within days” and that he “made clear to prosecutors that he would testify against Paul Manafort.” While the Times report was unverified by other media outlets at the time, according to a Media Matters review, Hannity and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the report. Fox & Friends briefly mentioned it but added that Catherine Herridge, Fox News’ chief intelligence correspondent, “says, as of now, no deal, and Gates is not cooperating.” Five days later, The New York Times confirmed that Gates would plead guilty “to financial fraud and lying to investigators” and “has agreed to cooperate with the special counsel inquiry.” According to a Media Matters review, Hannity and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the development. Fox & Friends all but ignored the report other than airing a 15-second teaser from co-host Brian Kilmeade (who did not identify how Gates is tied to the Trump campaign) and a softball question from co-host Steve Doocy during an interview with former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. Priebus also attempted to downplay the significance of the report, claiming Gates’ and Manafort’s conduct was “independent of the Trump campaign.”

    Dutch lawyer tied to Manafort business partner sentenced to 30 days in federal prison for pleading guilty to lying to federal investigators

    On April 3, according to CNN, Alex van der Zwaan, a “Dutch lawyer tied to former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates,” was “sentenced … to spend 30 days in prison and pay a $20,000 fine after he admitted to lying to” the special counsel regarding his “communications with Gates and a person with Russian intelligence ties.” According to a Media Matters review, Hannity briefly mentioned the sentencing, downplaying it as having “nothing to do with Russia collusion,” and saying, “In reality, it looks like a giant waste of your money.” Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the sentencing, which was the first in the special counsel’s investigation. Fox & Friends twice mentioned the development in passing while attempting to downplay its significance, once saying the sentencing is “unrelated” to Trump and Russia.

    Special counsel obtains seven new search warrants against Manafort

    On April 5, CBS News reported that prosecutors on the special counsel’s team “revealed in court filings ... that they had obtained on March 9 seven new search warrants against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort” for “various properties” including “a storage unit, bank accounts, email addresses and devices.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the report.

    Federal judge rejects attempt to get Manafort case dismissed

    On May 15, according to Politico, a federal judge “rejected an attempt by Paul Manafort … to get an indictment against him dismissed by claiming that special counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment was flawed.” The judge wrote that “given the combination of his prominence within the campaign and his ties to Ukrainian officials supported by and operating out of Russia, as well as to Russian oligarchs, Manafort was an obvious person of interest” for U.S. law enforcement. According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the judge’s decision.

    Manafort’s former son-in-law cuts plea deal, will testify against Manafort

    On May 17, Reuters reported that Manafort’s former son-in-law and “business partner” Jeffrey Yohai “cut a plea deal with the Justice Department” requiring him “to cooperate” with the special counsel’s prosecutors. According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the report.

    Special counsel accuses Manafort of attempting to tamper with witnesses

    On June 4, according to The New York Times, “federal prosecutors ... accused President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, of attempting to tamper with witnesses in his federal tax and money laundering case,” with one witness telling the FBI “that Mr. Manafort was trying to ‘suborn perjury.’” Yet again, according to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the court filing, even though the charges leveled against Trump’s former campaign manager can mean up to 20 years in federal prison if he is found guilty.

    Special counsel unseals additional charges against Manafort, Russian business associate

    On June 8, according to NPR, the special counsel’s office “unsealed more charges” against Manafort, alleging “that a Russian partner of Manafort's, Konstantin Kilimnik, helped him try to persuade witnesses to lie to the jury when Manafort's case comes to trial in Washington, D.C., this autumn.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine did not cover the additional round of charges against the president’s former campaign manager.

    But Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine all covered a judge’s sharp questioning of the special counsel’s motivations extensively

    On May 4, according to The Washington Post, “a federal judge in Virginia ... sharply questioned the motivations of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s fraud prosecution of President Trump’s former campaign manager.” According to the report, Judge T.S. Ellis III told prosecutors on Mueller’s team, “You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud. … You really care about getting information Mr. Manafort can give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump and lead to his prosecution or impeachment.” According to a Media Matters review, Fox & Friends, Hannity, and Justice with Judge Jeanine all covered the judge’s rebuke of the Mueller team extensively.

    On the May 4 edition of Hannity, host Sean Hannity spent a total of 14 minutes and 46 seconds discussing Judge Ellis’ comments, calling his remarks the “single biggest beatdown I have ever seen in my life by a judge.” The nearly 15 minutes Hannity devoted to Ellis’ comments were significantly more than the time he spent covering any development in the various cases against Manafort in 2018 combined, which totaled about 1 minute and 57 seconds.

    On the May 5 edition of Justice with Judge Jeanine, host Jeanine Pirro spent a total of 15 minutes and 27 seconds discussing Judge Ellis’ remarks. In contrast, Pirro did not mention any of the other stories regarding Manafort's legal troubles in 2018.

    On the May 7 edition of Fox & Friends, the hosts devoted 11 minutes and 5 seconds to Judge Ellis’ comments over three hours of airtime. Fox & Friends spent a total of 2 minutes and 43 seconds on the other turns in the various cases against Manafort, and during those reports the hosts usually downplayed the events as “unrelated” to Russia or “independent from the Trump campaign.”

    As Fox buries reports on Manafort, majority of Americans are unaware of numerous special counsel indictments

    Given Manafort’s past and the people he has been willing to associate with professionally, it is no wonder Fox News’ chief Trump propagandists have attempted to distance the president from him. According to The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer, Manafort’s career was built on lobbying on behalf of “dictatorial governments in Nigeria, Kenya, Zaire, Equatorial Guinea, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia, among others.” Manafort’s experience representing repressive regimes eventually landed him a job in Ukraine, assisting the “former gangsters,” as Foer wrote, in the Party of Regions in improving their image domestically, eventually guiding pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych to presidential victory in 2010.

    Fox News’ efforts to bury Manafort’s legal exposure seem to be having an impact. According to a recent survey conducted by Navigator Research, 59 percent of Americans are not aware that the special counsel’s investigation has uncovered any crimes, even though Mueller has amassed five guilty pleas and numerous indictments. Should the special counsel’s investigation turn up evidence that supports allegations of a criminal conspiracy between members of the Trump campaign and foreign actors, Manafort would surely be implicated as a key player.

    Suppressing reports regarding (arguably) the most corrupt member of Trump’s campaign team -- and following Fox’s usual playbook of downplaying and ignoring other consequential reporting on the special counsel’s investigation -- appears to be part of the network’s larger strategy to pre-emptively downplay any possible findings that could implicate the president and his campaign.

  • Jeanine Pirro calls for Jeff Sessions’ head (because she wants his job)

    Fox News’ loudest Trump propagandist aspires to be attorney general

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    The key to understanding how Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro operates is to realize that she is single-minded in her personal ambition while completely unencumbered by anything resembling shame, dignity, or professional integrity. As it stands, Pirro is one of the more influential pundits in the country by virtue of her close relationship with President Donald Trump. She uses her awful Fox News program, Justice with Judge Jeanine, to propagandize on Trump’s behalf, for which she is granted access to the president, interviews with key administration officials, etc.

    But that’s not enough for Pirro, who turned to televised punditry only after her once-promising political and legal career was left in smoldering ruin by her personal scandals and widely mocked campaign ineptitude. According to Politico, Pirro aspires to the lofty office of attorney general of the United States and has been telling the president’s advisers that “she’s interested in taking over as the nation’s top law enforcement official.”

    Ordinarily, it would seem ridiculous that a cable pundit would have any chance of serving as attorney general, but that was before the reality TV star president tapped two cable pundits to be his chief economic and national security advisers and nominated his doctor to run the Department of Veterans Affairs because he gave a good press conference.

    There are, however, some major obstacles to Pirro landing her dream job: chief among them, the guy currently holding it. She can’t be attorney general while Jeff Sessions is still in office. So Pirro is taking matters into her own hands and using her cable news program to undermine her supposed rival and publicly call for his resignation (or ouster).

    Here’s Pirro on June 2 saying, “If Jeff Sessions can’t do his job because he’s too scared or recusing himself, maybe he ought to resign himself. But that’s just me.”

    And here she is one week before that calling Sessions an “absentee attorney general” and asking White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, “Isn’t it time to get a working attorney general on staff?”

    And here she is one week before that calling Sessions “the most dangerous man in America” because he refuses to use the awesome powers of his office to protect Donald Trump and arrest the senior staff of the Justice Department (seriously):

    This is all quite insane and grotesquely unethical and fatally shot through with toxic self-interest. All those characteristics should, under normal circumstances, prevent Pirro from having her name even briefly considered for any government position, let alone attorney general. But these are strange times in which a televised authoritarian harangue in support of turning the Justice Department into a weapon against the president’s political enemies can win you plaudits in the Oval Office. “Attorney general nominee Jeanine Pirro” would be a sad, surreal joke, but there’s absolutely no guarantee that it won’t happen.

  • Introducing the Sean Hannity Expanded Universe, Fox’s anti-Mueller alternative reality

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Conservatives often bemoan liberal dominance of Hollywood. But since Donald Trump’s election, Fox News’ Sean Hannity has built the closest thing the right wing has to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the wildly successful superhero franchise. Where Marvel’s superheroes fight alien invaders, the stars of the Sean Hannity Expanded Universe (SHEU) position themselves as the last bulwark against special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. But while the superheroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe fight villains like Thanos on their own, Hannity and his compatriots want to go a step further and enlist their audience to support a frightening and anti-democratic response by Trump.

    Hannity has cast himself as his series’ Iron Man, the only visionary clear-sighted enough to identify an existential threat. The sprawling team assembled around him includes bankable leads, aging stars seeking new relevance, promising new faces, and ensemble players, all crossing over into each other’s storylines to build common narratives. Their overarching tale is that Mueller’s Russia probe is a “witch hunt,” the result of the fabrications of a shadowy cabal of journalists, Democrats, and “deep state” operatives. The happy ending they seek is the president saving himself by curtailing Mueller’s probe and instead ordering investigations into his political enemies. 

    For more about Hannity's conspiratorial narrative and the authoritarian endgame he's pushing, see our study reviewing his coverage of the first year of the Mueller probe.

    President Trump is simultaneously the audience for this story, the victim who needs to be saved, and, in Hannity’s telling, the potential hero. The SHEU’s proposed solution to the Mueller investigation is in line with the authoritarian model for law enforcement Trump prefers, casting the Justice Department’s function as protecting the president and punishing his enemies. Unlike Marvel fans, Trump is able not merely to watch members of the SHEU on Fox broadcasts, but to break the fourth wall and go on their shows for fawning interviews, highlight particular segments for his Twitter followers, promote their programs and books, and even call on a select few for advice.

    That might be a fanboy’s fantasy. But it has real and frightening consequences. The SHEU is reaching out from the Fox News screen and encouraging the president to act on his authoritarian impulses. Hannity and his teammates are preparing their viewers to support Trump no matter what norms he shatters. They have great power, and if Trump takes their advice, they will bear great responsibility.

    Anti-Mueller conspiracy theories have permeated nearly every corner of Fox. But only the true stalwarts merit inclusion in the Sean Hannity Expanded Universe:

    • A weekly guest spot with the Fox & Friends crew helped turn Trump into a political phenomenon, and he’s remained a loyal viewer throughout his presidency. If you see Trump angrily tweeting about the Mueller probe early in the morning, Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, Brian Kilmeade, or one of their guests is almost certainly responsible.

    • Lou Dobbs’ cable news career seemed over when his bigoted commentary finally forced CNN to push him out in 2009, but he soon found a new home at Fox Business. Even at Fox, he’s distinguished himself as a shameless pro-Trump sycophant whose calls to not just fire but jail Mueller and the FBI and Justice Department leaders who have defied Trump are genuinely unnerving.

    • A longtime friend of Trump’s whom he considered for a senior Justice Department position, Jeanine Pirro has a Saturday night program that’s a must-watch for both White House aides and observers hoping to predict Trump’s messaging. She drew attention for her disturbing call for a “cleansing” of the FBI and DOJ and the arrests of top officials she considers insufficiently loyal to the president.

    • Gregg Jarrett spent much of his career as a marginal legal commentator and weekend Fox anchor. But he raised his profile by becoming the go-to analyst for hosts like Dobbs and Hannity, who value having someone with a law degree claim that Trump’s associates are innocent because collusion isn’t a crime and condemn their FBI pursuers for acting like “the old KGB.”

    • Jarrett’s a hack, but at least he’s Fox’s hack. Other attorneys regularly called upon to dismiss the investigation include Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow and the husband-and-wife team of Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, who were briefly considered for Trump’s legal team and have represented several figures under Mueller's investigation. All three are mainstays in the right-wing legal community -- and each has done legal work for Hannity.

    • Once colleagues at the right-wing website Circa News, John Solomon has moved on to The Hill while Sara Carter is a Fox contributor who publishes her reporting at her personal blog. Their slanted reporting based on conservative sources helps fuel anti-Mueller Fox hosts eager for information confirming their dire theories, and it garners the pair regular appearances throughout the SHEU -- and Hannity’s call to award them with Pulitzer Prizes.

    • A former Secret Service agent, Dan Bongino parlayed three failed bids for federal office into a career as a mid-level right-wing pundit, a gig on the National Rifle Association's media operation NRATV, and regular appearances on Fox & Friends and Hannity. Keep an eye on this one -- someone willing to call the Russia probe “an obvious frame job” could go far in this morally bankrupt movement.

    • Sebastian Gorka, who joined Fox after being canned from his poorly defined White House job after only seven months, has argued that Clinton should be put to death for treason.

    • After spending years attacking the ethics of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton now uses his Fox appearances to urge Trump to pardon everyone implicated by the Mueller probe and describe the FBI as “a KGB-type operation.”

  • While Fox News figures push Trump to fire Rosenstein and Mueller, Fox & Friends blames "the media"

    Brian Kilmeade: "It almost seems like the media is pushing the president to fire Rod Rosenstein, pushing the president to fire Robert Mueller, as if they are saying please, create a constitutional crisis”

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    On the April 11 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade said that “it almost seems like the media is pushing the president to fire [Deputy Attorney General] Rod Rosenstein, pushing the president to fire [special counsel] Robert Mueller, as if they are saying please, create a constitutional crisis.” Kilmeade added that “clearly the president feels ill-served, clearly the president feels boxed in, clearly he is irate” by the Mueller investigation about his campaign’s possible ties to Russia. 

    In his pearl-clutching moment, Kilmeade failed to acknowledge that Fox News figures -- including Kilmeade himself -- have helped lead the attacks on Mueller, Rosenstein, and the entire Russia investigation. 

    President Donald Trump is a devoted viewer of Fox News, especially its morning show Fox & Friends, and he often responds directly to the network’s programming. So, when Fox stars say the “illegitimate and corrupt” Russia investigation is “tortur[ing]” and “tearing this country apart,” while demanding that the Department of Justice be “cleansed” of Trump’s enemies, the president is listening closely. 

    Here are just a few of the times Fox News has attempted to undermine the Russia investigation, including by directly attacking Mueller or Rosenstein:

    Kilmeade: “America’s being tortured by Robert Mueller’s worldwide mystery tour.” 

    Kilmeade: “The special counsels (sic) … are ripping this country apart. The Robert Mueller investigation is tearing this country apart.” 

    In August 2017, Kilmeade called for an end to the Mueller investigation: “Six months is enough.”

    Host Sean Hannity: "Mueller and Rosenstein have declared what is a legal war on the president. … Mueller’s investigation is way out of control."

    Guest Joe diGenova, formerly a candidate to be Trump’s personal attorney, on Lou Dobbs Tonight: “They should move to impeach” Rosenstein.

    Host Jeanine Pirro: The FBI and DOJ need “to be cleansed of individuals who should not just be fired but who need to be taken out in handcuffs.”

    Hannity regular Gregg Jarrett: “The Mueller investigation is illegitimate and corrupt. … It’s like the old KGB that comes for you in the dark of the night.” Sean Hannity responded, “This is not hyperbole you are using here.”

    These clips show only a fraction of the times that Fox News figures have denounced what Pete Hegseth called the “special impeachment counsel,” attacks that carry weight with Trump. Jarrett and Hannity (a friend of Trump’s who also advises him) called for Mueller to be fired at least 39 times in June 2017 -- the same month that Trump actually did attempt to fire Mueller. And between May and December, Hannity and his guests questioned Mueller's legitimacy at least 79 times and claimed he and his team have conflicts of interest over 364 times.

    In addition to making specific attacks against officials involved in the investigation, Fox personalities actively support the conspiratorial mindset that “the deep state” is in the midst of “what essentially amounts to a coup d’etat” against Trump, and that “it may be time to declare war outright” against the government employees that Fox perceives as the president’s enemies. 

  • Trump's border wall proposal is exactly what Ann Coulter pitched on Fox News Saturday night

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    On March 25, President Donald Trump released a cryptic tweet proposing to use funds dedicated to national defense to build a wall along the southern border, a plan conservative commentator Ann Coulter had proposed hours earlier on one of Trump’s favorite Fox News shows, Justice with Judge Jeanine.

    On Sunday morning, Trump tweeted:

    The tweet was widely interpreted as a proposal to use military funding to build a border wall, a proposal Coulter had made the night before on Justice with Judge Jeanine. The show's host, Jeanine Pirro, is a longtime friend of Trump’s and has earned a special place on his watch list through her fawning coverage.

    JEANINE PIRRO (HOST): What can the president do? What can the president do as commander-in-chief?

    ANN COULTER: Look, on the day after his inauguration, it's his authority under the Constitution that cannot be taken away from him by any legislature, by any court -- I'm quite confident the Supreme Court would uphold this -- to defend our borders. I mean, he has -- the last war that had a declaration of war from Congress in it was World War II, and we engage in a lot of military actions around the world. I think it can be done right on our border as part of the defense. Have the Seabees do it. But if he needs to --

    PIRRO: OK, so where does he get the money? Where does he get the money to build the wall that you can say he can build as national defense. Where does he take the money from?

    COULTER: The same place Reagan took the money to invade Grenada. The same place he took the money to bomb Syria. He has money to spend on national defense, and this is a much bigger problem of national defense. This is our people being attacked with chemical warfare, not allegedly Syrians.

  • The insane, toxic Trump adulation of Jeanine Pirro

    Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro sold out her public image and debased herself to become one of President Trump’s go-to pundits

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    If you were to ask me who Jeanine Pirro works for, I’m not sure I could give you a straight answer. On paper, at least, she is an employee of Fox News, which pays her money to host a weekly show called Justice with Judge Jeanine. It’s a terrible program that exploits the well-worn cable news trope of using a crackpot pundit’s career in law enforcement to give unearned credibility to their howlingly stupid opinions. In theory, Justice with Judge Jeanine is a platform for Pirro (a former judge, former district attorney, failed Senate candidate, and speed-limit scofflaw) to give her take on the week’s top legal stories.

    In practice, however, Pirro serves as a combative and vocal propagandist for President Donald Trump. Pirro makes it her business to be the loudest pro-Trump voice in whatever room she happens to find herself in, and she moonlights as an informal adviser to Trump, who reportedly seeks her out for her counsel. Pirro’s advocacy for the president is so aggressive that it often borders on insane -- some of her commentary would be at home in an authoritarian state media apparatus. And she has enthusiastically sold out the cause she built her career in public life on -- advocating for women who were victims of abuse -- to become a sneering and poisonous sycophant to the most powerful elected official in the country.

    An ambitious rise and embarrassing fall

    Jeanine Pirro does not lack for ambition. Her career in public life saw her score a series of firsts: She helped create and lead what was then called the Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Bureau for Westchester County, New York; she was the first woman to be elected as a judge on the Westchester County court; and she was the first woman to serve as the county’s district attorney. Her ex-husband, Al Pirro, was a well-connected real estate lawyer and GOP fundraiser who knew all the power players in New York -- one of his biggest clients in the late 1990s was Donald Trump, back when he was still in the real estate game.

    She had a talent for drawing media attention and relentlessly marketed herself as a hard-charging prosecutor who brought legal hell down upon sex offenders and domestic abusers. Pirro positioned herself as an advocate for women at a time when victims of domestic abuse were an afterthought in the criminal justice system. Her political ascent was durable enough to survive Al Pirro’s 2000 conviction on charges of tax fraud and conspiracy.

    All this success and exposure made her a star within the New York GOP, which, in the mid-2000s, was desperately looking for someone to derail the re-election of then-Sen. Hillary Clinton. Pirro, the crusading, media-savvy district attorney, seemed like an obvious choice, and in August 2005, she announced her campaign for the U.S. Senate. She came into the race with a ton of hype and lofty expectations, and almost immediately Pirro proved she was completely out of her depth.

    Pirro’s campaign was an unalloyed fiasco from the start. Her speech announcing her candidacy became a nationwide joke after she spent half a minute silently fumbling for a missing page of her prepared remarks (The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart cracked that she observed “32 seconds of silence in memory of the premature death of her campaign”). Her first campaign ad didn’t directly state that she was running for a seat in Congress, and she showed up at the wrong location for a press conference announcing the ad buy. Pirro was also a fantastically inept fundraiser. Her campaign pulled in just $438,555 in its first fundraising quarter, compared to Clinton’s $5.3 million. (Amusingly, $900 of Clinton’s haul that quarter came from Donald J. Trump, according to campaign finance records.)

    With no money, no traction, and almost exclusively negative press attention, Pirro came under pressure from New York Republicans who wanted her to get out of the race so another candidate could take on Hillary. Among the high-profile Republicans plotting against Pirro’s ambition was her own husband, who reportedly urged state GOP officials to convince her to end the campaign.

    Pirro quit the Senate race after just four months and opted instead to run for New York attorney general. She won the Republican nomination running unopposed. But whatever slim hope Pirro might have nurtured for a comeback was crushed in September 2006 when she herself came under federal investigation for conspiring to wiretap her husband, who she suspected was cheating on her.

    No charges ended up being filed, Pirro lost the race to future New York governor Andrew Cuomo by 20 points, and she and her husband separated a year later. With her political career left a smoldering ruin, Pirro made the move to television. After a short run as host of a low-rated Judge Judy-like courtroom reality program, Pirro jumped to Fox News and started hosting Justice with Judge Jeanine in 2011.

    Pirro enthusiastically sells out for Trump

    Pirro’s affinity for Trump makes sense in a lot of ways: They’ve been friends for decades, they’re both Republicans, they’re both combative New Yorkers who crave media attention. But in one very important aspect, Pirro and Trump should -- at least in theory -- be irreconcilably opposed.

    Remember that Pirro’s entire public image was built around her work on behalf of victims of abuse: women who had been cowed into silence by their abusers and left unrepresented by the law and the courts. Her career as a politician was rooted in the idea that she was a tireless and hellacious enemy of sexual predators, wife beaters, and perpetrators of domestic violence. A 2005 profile of Pirro in the New York Observer described her as “half crusading cop, half crusading mom” and said her career was defined by “work with victims of spousal abuse and sexual abuse, murder, stalking, rape, [and] torture.”

    As a pundit, however, she has fanatically aligned herself with the nation's most prominent accused sexual assaulter. Donald Trump has faced too many credible allegations of assault against women to simply wave off, but Pirro has done exactly that, making every excuse for him, even when Trump got caught describing his own sexual misconduct.

    “The comments are shameful and cringeworthy. The words are disgusting, devastating, and embarrassing. It’s the kind of locker room and frat house talk that personally infuriates me,” Pirro said on her program following the release of the Access Hollywood tapes in which Trump boasted of groping women by their genitalia. “But guess what: I still without a doubt support Donald Trump.” Her rationale aligned perfectly with the excuse offered by Trump: that his comments were just “words” and not to be taken as an admission of sexual assault. And regardless of what Trump said, she argued, he was still better than “double-talking woman” Hillary Clinton.

    Pirro mortgaged her own reputation to defend Trump from his own self-incrimination. “He has always been a gentleman,” Pirro said on Fox & Friends in October 2016. “I know the man, and I can speak as a woman who has fought for battered women, I have crusaded for women my whole career to level the playing field for women who are victims of crime.” When multiple women came forward with their stories about Trump’s sexual assault, Pirro dismissed them as not credible and perhaps part of an anti-Trump conspiracy. “It’s a little too convenient. All of the sudden all of these people on one day on the day when WikiLeaks starts coming out,” she said.

    Last month, during one of the “Opening Statements” that she starts each show with, Pirro lashed out at former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who resigned from the White House amid allegations that he’d physically abused his ex-wives. Pirro called Porter a “batterer” and lamented that “he doesn’t walk around with a scarlet letter or a sign on his forehead that says ‘I beat women.’” But she also went out of her way to exculpate the people in the White House who protected Porter for months, like chief of staff John Kelly, casting them as victims of anti-Trump hysteria. “You want to stop a four-star general who is running the White House, who believes in chain of command, who makes a decision within 40 minutes because you hate Donald Trump?” she asked before absurdly suggesting that the Rob Porter scandal was actually Barack Obama’s fault somehow. “Find another scapegoat. You might want to look at the last president.”

    The reason Pirro has so enthusiastically set fire to her reputation like this is that Trump is her avenue to power and influence. She protects and champions Trump in the face of all the damning evidence because he’s her friend, and because he’s the president of the United States and he gives her access.

    Softballs and poison

    Jeanine Pirro’s access to Trump comes in several different forms. She’s not just a pro-Trump pundit -- she’s also an adviser whom the president routinely seeks out. The New York Times reported in November 2017 that Pirro had once interviewed to be Trump’s deputy attorney general and that she had met with Trump in the Oval Office to “excoriate” Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Daily Beast reported that Trump regularly consults Pirro “privately for advice on political and policy matters.” Pirro was the keynote speaker at a January event at Mar-a-Lago put on by a pro-Trump political group, and she’s reportedly discussed with Trump the possibility of writing a rebuttal book to Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury.

    As a media figure, Pirro has scored two interviews with Trump since his inauguration; both were embarrassing spectacles that set new boundaries for the definition of “softball.”

    Her most recent sit-down with Trump was on February 24. The “questions” she asked him were, in several instances, just direct invitations for Trump to praise himself. This, for example, is an actual question posed to the president of the United States by Jeanine Pirro:

    Mr. President, your approval rating is soaring. And we can talk about the economy and the low unemployment and the stock market and all of the great things that have been happening with the economy. But you have accomplished all of this -- and, by the way, there’s a poll that put you at 50 percent, and at CPAC you were at 93 percent approval rating -- you did all this in one year with the economy. To what do you attribute these incredible advances?

    “I know that you support the military and you’re giving them the resources they need -- are we going to have a parade?” she asked at another point. The parade (one of Trump’s favorite pet issues) elicited a follow-up from Pirro: “When do you think we can have this parade? Because I want to go to the parade!”

    Her previous interview with Trump, on May 13, 2017, came in the immediate aftermath of his massively controversial firing of former FBI Director James Comey. Pirro used the opportunity to soothe Trump’s ego. “The media’s in a frenzy, and so given that some of these congresspeople thought he should have been fired … doesn’t it suggest to you that it isn’t even about Comey, it’s about anything that you, as president, do?” (Trump, of course, agreed.) That question wasn’t nearly as sycophantic as Pirro’s take on the messaging disarray within the administration. “Are you moving so quickly that your communications department can’t keep up with you?” Pirro asked. “Yes, that’s true,” Trump responded.

    I’d like to think that any media personality bearing even the spindliest shred of professional integrity would choke on the idea of being so exuberantly obsequious to the most powerful politician in the country. Pirro, however, is not so encumbered.

    The obverse side to Pirro’s gross deference to Trump is the noxious vitriol she spits at anyone who crosses the president, be they political adversaries or government officials who’ve drawn Trump’s ire.

    Like her Fox Business Network colleague (and fellow presidential propagandist) Lou Dobbs, Pirro is a staunch advocate of arresting and prosecuting Trump’s perceived enemies for the crime of opposing Trump. On December 9, 2017, she caused a stir by calling for a “cleansing” of the FBI and the Justice Department (DOJ), which she said were full “of individuals who should not just be fired, but who need to be taken out in handcuffs” and whose “corruption and lawlessness” require that they made into “examples.” Her fervor for “cleansing” the DOJ was undercut by her difficulty in identifying any actual crimes committed by the people she wanted purged -- special counsel Robert Mueller’s arrestable infraction, for example, was that “in a year, with a team dedicated to destroying Donald Trump, he can’t come up with one piece of evidence.”

    That insane harangue caused a media backlash driven largely by the fact that Pirro herself was a former law enforcement official calling for a purge of law enforcement. The following week she responded with an escalating series of attacks on the DOJ, grandiosely declaring: “I hereby double down.” She said there is “a criminal cabal in our FBI and the Department of Justice who think they know better than we do who our president should be,” describing it as “a crime family like in the movies except this time the FBI is the crime family.”

    Hillary Clinton also features prominently in Pirro’s weekly diatribes, likely due to Trump’s ongoing obsession with his former rival and Pirro’s own history as a failed Clinton foil. Last week saw huge stories break on guns, trade, and White House staffers, but Pirro’s “Opening Statement” on Saturday’s show focused on a tweet by Clinton about Trump and Russia. “The woman is even dumber than I thought,” she said as the starting point for a six-minute screed aimed at a candidate who lost an election 16 months ago.

    Earlier this year, Pirro filmed a “Street Justice” segment in which she wandered around Chappaqua, NY, pestering locals with inane questions about the Clintons. “Does Hillary Clinton drop off her pantsuits here?” she yelled through the open door of a dry cleaner (the employee inside ignored her). Then she tromped through the local woods “looking for Hillary,” apparently because Clinton was spotted hiking there after the election. The segment was confusing and pointless but extremely amusing to Pirro. “You think she’s home writing another book? Or maybe she’s still reading ‘What Happened’ because she can’t figure out what happened!” she said, taking obvious delight in what she believed to be a joke.

    The wages of propaganda

    Like other pro-Trump propagandists in the Fox News family, Jeanine Pirro understands that the way to attract and maintain the president’s attention is through grandiose, inflammatory demonstrations of dog-like loyalty. Trump watches a disgusting amount of cable news and loves pundits who posture as fighters and scrappers. Pirro markets herself precisely that way: a brawler who brings the principled, no-nonsense sensibility of a crusading judge to her weekly program. But Pirro has no principles and her only crusade is deifying Trump. And for her service, she is rewarded with access to the White House and the president.

    Corrupt arrangements like these have a baleful influence on how media figures behave. The most unethical and least principled actors in the media ecosystem are the ones who enjoy the best access and benefit from the exposure granted by their proximity to the president. This perverse incentive structure makes flagrant toadyism and barking lunacy desirable attributes (or, at the very least, it makes them less intolerable as trade-offs for access). The rise of unscrupulous pro-Trump whack jobs like Jeffrey Lord and Ed Martin speaks to this dynamic: inflammatory, manifestly untrustworthy voices given positions of prominence by media outlets because their slavish devotion to the president.

    This rotten dynamic puts a sycophant and sellout like Jeanine Pirro on the inside track, and it makes the Trump worship and scalding venom of Justice with Judge Jeanine a formula to be emulated.

  • Right-wing media figures have led Trump's purge of Department of Justice officials they perceive as threatening

    Here’s who they have left

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS & GRACE BENNETT

    Right-wing media have consistently lined up behind Donald Trump to defend him against any and all allegations regarding Russian interference in the presidential election. Led primarily by Fox News and primetime host Sean Hannity, right-wing media figures have denounced, undermined, or maligned Department of Justice and FBI officials involved in the broader Russia investigation since it began. 

  • Fox News allows host Jeanine Pirro to work as a paid GOP fundraising speaker

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox News host and legal analyst Jeanine Pirro has found a lucrative side gig headlining Republican Party fundraisers. The network has claimed that it prohibits hosts from stumping for political candidates but has no apparent objection to hosts fundraising for party committees.

    Pirro is a longtime friend of President Donald Trump who hosts the weekend program Judge Jeanine, where she pushes pro-Trump propaganda. The New York Times recently reported that Trump “rarely misses” her show and that Pirro “interviewed to be the deputy attorney general, according to three transition officials.”

    It’s not surprising that Pirro would want to help Republicans given her openly partisan background. But Fox News has suggested it has some rules for its opinion hosts. The Times reported in an October 25 profile of Laura Ingraham, who headlined a campaign fundraiser for Senate candidate Kelli Ward (R-AZ), that “Fox News hosts are not usually allowed to stump for candidates, but Ms. Ingraham was granted an exception because her show had not yet begun.”

    That reported prohibition seems meaningless in the context of Pirro’s fundraising efforts. She has done at least 10 fundraisers this year for Republican Party organizations that help elect GOP candidates, according to a Media Matters review.

    While campaign finance data for all of those events is not publicly available, Media Matters found that Pirro was paid for speaking in at least five instances by the hosting group, either through her corporation Judge Jeanine Pirro Inc. or the speakers bureau that represents her.  

    Pirro has made no secret that she’s helping raise money for Republican Party groups. On her April 22 program she said that she “gave a good speech" at a Republican fundraiser in Morgantown, WV, and received a scarf as a gift. The hosting group, the Monongalia County Republican Executive Committee, wrote on Facebook in response: “Judge Jeanine Pirro wearing, on national television, the scarf of ‘Presidents Signatures’ given to her by our Chair Gina Brown on behalf of the Committee as a thank you gift for her speaking at our Reagan Dinner! She mentioned us and our Committee while closing her show tonight!”

    Fox News and Pirro did not respond to requests for comment or clarification about the network's policies.

    Pirro has been an active fundraiser for Republican Party organizations this year. For instance:

    • Pirro was the headline speaker for the Alachua County Republican Party’s Ronald Reagan Black Tie and Blue Jeans BBQ in Florida on November 9.
    • Pirro was the keynote speaker for the Volusia County Republican Party’s October 8 Lincoln Day Dinner in Florida. The organization paid a little more than $20,000 to Pirro for her speaking fee and book purchases, according to Federal Election Commission data. (Note: Pirro’s fee amount was updated with new FEC information that was filed after the publication of this piece.)
    • Pirro was the featured speaker for the Republican Party of Arkansas’ Reagan Rockefeller Dinner on July 28. The party disbursed $15,000 to Pirro, according to the organization's state campaign finance report.
    • Pirro was the keynote speaker for the Monongalia County Republican Executive Committee’s April 21 Reagan Dinner in West Virginia.
    • Pirro was the headline speaker for the Bonneville County GOP’s Lincoln Day Banquet on March 31 in Idaho. The organization later posted a picture on Facebook of Pirro at her Fox News set with the caption: “The freedom mink and gold nugget necklace we gave Judge Jeanine Pirro are sitting right on her desk!”
    • Pirro was the headliner for the Republican Committee of Lower Merion and Narberth’s Lincoln Day Dinner on March 20 in Pennsylvania. The organization paid a little over $5,000 for the appearance, according to the group’s state campaign finance report.
    • Pirro was the featured speaker at the Columbiana County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner on March 23 in Ohio.
    • Pirro was the special guest for the Erie County Republican Committee’s Lincoln Leadership Reception on March 9 in New York. The committee paid Pirro roughly $7,500, according to the group’s campaign finance report.
    • Pirro was the keynote speaker for the Kent County Republican Committee’s February 18 Lincoln Day Dinner in Delaware.
    • Pirro was the headliner for the Georgia Republican Party’s President’s Day Dinner on March 13. The organization paid the Premiere Speakers Bureau, which represents Pirro, $15,000 on the day of the event for “Speakers Fee - Presidents Day Dinner.” 

    Those Republican organizations routinely featured Pirro’s Fox News affiliation to sell tickets. Here are two examples:

    Pirro’s fundraising appearances will continue into 2018: The Sangamon County Republican Central Committee in Illinois recently announced that Pirro will headline the group’s February 8 Lincoln Day Dinner.  

    Media Matters has documented how Fox News hosts and commentators -- in addition to their on-air conservative rhetoric -- actively help Republican-aligned groups grow their coffers at partisan events. The pro-Trump group Great America Alliance recently created a fundraising page prominently featuring Fox News’ logo and celebrating the news that senior adviser Tomi Lahren had been hired as a Fox News contributor. That page was taken down after Media Matters asked Fox News whether it had approved the use of its logo.

  • Right-wing media falsely call crucial ACA subsidies "bailouts" to defend Trump's decision to halt them

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    President Donald Trump and right-wing media have repeatedly referred to cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments -- a key subsidy under the Affordable Care Act that helps working class people afford insurance -- as a “bailout” for the insurance industry to defend Trump’s decision to cease making the payments. Fact-checkers have refuted the characterization of these payments as “bailouts,” and experts note that failure to make these payments could wreck havoc on the insurance industry and would end up costing the federal government billions.

  • This is how Fox News reacted to Trump pardoning disgraced former Sheriff Joe Arpaio

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    On August 25, President Donald Trump exercised his pardon power for the first time, choosing to pardon former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona’s Maricopa County, who was convicted of criminal contempt of court in July. Fox News’ varied responses to the president’s decision have included calling the judicial process a “persecution,” dubiously comparing the pardon to past pardons and commutations issued by former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and complaining about Republican members of Congress who “are not backing the president” on his decision.

  • Trump’s remarks defending neo-Nazis were full of right-wing media talking points

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President Donald Trump parroted multiple right-wing media talking points during a press conference as he responded to questions about deadly white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, VA,. Trump, following in the footsteps of right-wing media personalities, mostly from Fox News, called counter-protesters the “alt-left,” suggested that calls to take down Confederate statues is a slippery slope that could lead to demands to take down statues of other historical figures, and defended his failure to condemn white supremacists in his initial response to the violence.

  • Trump is reportedly considering fulfilling a months-long right-wing media fantasy to fire Robert Mueller

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President Donald Trump and his legal team “are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest,” according to a Washington Post report. The president’s right-wing media allies have waged a months-long campaign against Mueller and his team, calling for Mueller to be fired or his investigation “to be shut down,” and citing supposed “conflicts of interest” among members of Mueller’s investigative team and even of Mueller himself.

  • Here's how right-wing media have reacted to months of setbacks for Trump's Muslim bans

    ››› ››› NINA MAST

    As President Trump's executive orders banning immigration from first seven, then six, majority-Muslim nations have moved through the U.S. court system, they've been met with a series of legal setbacks and direct action and have drawn extensive media coverage. What follows is a timeline of events surrounding the ban, with a focus on right-wing media hypocrisy, denial, and defense of the president's increasingly indefensible policy. This post will be updated.