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  • The bigotry of Sean Hannity's early influencers

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    In a recent profile, Fox host Sean Hannity named three right-wing media figures from the second half of the 20th century -- Bob Grant (1929-2013), Taylor Caldwell (1900-1985), and Barry Farber (1930-present) -- as inspirations for his own political commentary. A Media Matters investigation into content produced by Grant, Caldwell, and Farber revealed a trove of bigotry; Grant “routinely” called black people “savages,” Calwell had a political allegiance with “one of the most virulent anti-Semitic propagandists in the United States,” and Farber is a self-professed "birther" who pushed conspiracy theories about former President Barack Obama.

  • New York Times Magazine profile of Sean Hannity missed a ton of his conspiracy theories

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Toward the end of his 8,000-word New York Times Magazine profile of Sean Hannity -- after touching on image-softening tidbits like how the Fox News host and talk radio host who was once fired for homophobic vitriol says he now has “gay friends” and the revelation that Hannity may have come to believe some of the women who say they were sexually harassed by Roger Ailes after trashing them publicly -- contributing writer Matthew Shaer considered the question of whether it’s possible the conservative media megastar and close adviser to President Donald Trump is actually a paranoid conspiracy theorist.

    “The problem for Fox News,” Shaer wrote, “is that while Hannity has risen to become the top ratings-earner of the nightly lineup, he is also a figure prone to barreling headfirst into the murky territory between opinion and out-and-out conspiracy theorism.” After highlighting a Vox.com study that found Hannity to be the “media’s top conspiracy theorist” and quoting Hannity rejecting that finding, Shaer appeared to agree with the host.

    “[T]o watch Hannity regularly is to observe how distant the host is from a figure like the Infowars proprietor Alex Jones,” Shaer concluded. “Jones endorses theories; Hannity almost never does, leaving that job to his guests. It is a dance that has the effect of nourishing the more wild-eyed beliefs of his fans while providing Hannity a degree of plausible deniability.”

    This is not a conclusion that can survive the slightest scrutiny from a regular observer of Hannity’s work. In fact, it is belied by the profile, which depicted Hannity promoting at least three conspiracy theories: that President Barack Obama needed to release his birth certificate to prove he was born in the United States, that Hillary Clinton pushed through the purchase of a uranium mining company by Russia in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation, and that a murdered Democratic National Committee staffer may have been killed because he supposedly gave the group’s emails to WikiLeaks. Those are only a handful of the numerous conspiracies and hoaxes Hannity has pushed on his radio and television programs over the years.

    In fact, Hannity’s entire oeuvre for much of the Trump presidency has been built around a massive, all-encompassing conspiracy theory: That a “Destroy Trump Alliance” composed of the press, the “deep state,” and critics from both major political parties have united in a coordinated effort to remove the president from office based on what the Fox host deems a “black-helicopter, tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories about so-called Trump-Russia collusion.” Hannity has detailed this theory in dozens of shows, warning against the depredations of the “deep state” and the “deeply corrupt” investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.

    On one occasion, Hannity described the nefarious plot as a “soft coup” which he claimed constitutes a “clear and present danger.” If that sounds to you like Hannity endorsing a conspiracy theory, you aren’t alone; The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple described Hannity’s “soft coup” claim as the Fox host “encroaching on Alex Jones territory.”

    Hannity’s conspiracy theory has several key benefits: It allows Hannity to delegitimize any possible sources of negative information about the Trump administration by tying them into the plot; it encourages his viewers to stick with the president because he is beset by such malicious foes; and, perhaps most importantly, it allows Hannity to shift attention from the possible malfeasance Mueller may discover in his investigation to the question of whether Mueller himself is a criminal running an illegitimate probe who must step down or be fired  , as the Fox host has demanded dozens of times.

    The Times appears to have missed all this. Indeed, for someone claiming to be steeped in Hannity’s work, Shaer appears to have largely ignored Hannity’s discussion of the Russia investigation, perhaps the most important story of the year. The profile does not mention Mueller at all, and references Russia only a handful of times. A few of the dots are there -- the Times writer mentions, for instance, that Hannity’s Seth Rich theory was intended to undermine the case for Russia’s role in hacking the DNC to bolster Trump, and that Hannity views the Uranium One conspiracy as a way to “boomerang” the Russia investigation on Democrats -- he just doesn’t quite pull them together. And given how wild Hannity’s claims have become -- and the potential results they might have if his most powerful fan were to act on him -- that’s a big miss.

    Take last night’s edition of Hannity. Monday morning, ABC News reported that the lawyer for Michael Flynn, who served as Trump’s national security adviser until he was forced from office following revelations about his conversations with Russian officials, had met with members of Mueller’s team, potentially to discuss a plea deal which might include Flynn testifying against the president or top White House aides. Mueller reportedly has amassed enough evidence to charge Flynn with federal crimes, and Flynn’s role in several key interactions involving Trump associates and Russia could make him an invaluable witness.

    But if you were one of the 3-million-plus viewers to turn in to Hannity’s show last night -- perhaps including the president -- you saw him assemble a case aimed at encouraging the audience to disbelieve anything Flynn might say following a plea deal, and instead direct their fire at Mueller’s team. Or, as Fox judicial analyst Gregg Jarrett, a Hannity regular, described them, a “cartel, the equivalent of the Mob” composed of former FBI director James Comey, Mueller, and his team, an “illegal syndicate that’s acting under the guise of the law.” Contra Shaer, Hannity did not just stand by while his guests push conspiracy theories about how Mueller might suborn perjury from Flynn against Trump, he actively participated in constructing them:

    SEAN HANNITY: How could this happen in the United States of America, Gregg? This is not a banana republic here.

    GREGG JARRETT: Because the Department of Justice, and particularly the FBI and Comey and Mueller at the FBI, have turned into this renegade rogue deep state that operates under their own rules.

    HANNITY: Do they really -- they don't want Manafort. They don't want General Flynn. They want Trump.

    JARRETT: Yes. And what I worry about are ruthless prosecutors who suborn perjury. What they do is they make promises and threats to defendants. You’re gonna spend 10 years behind bars unless you sign this statement and the witness says, “but that's a lie,” and the prosecutor doesn't seem to care.

    HANNITY: Or I’m gonna go after your son.

    JARRETT: It's extortion. It's bribery. When they do it it's legal. When you and I do it it's illegal. It's got to stop.

    That’s the message going out to Hannity's millions of viewers, perhaps including the president: Trump is being persecuted by an illegal cartel that will do anything and lie to anyone to force the innocent Trump from office. The only plausible deniability Hannity has is that which people like Shaer are willing to grant to him.

    As for how different Hannity’s show is from Jones’, the nation’s leading 9-11 truther has weighed in on the subject. “Sean Hannity is currently the main leader of the resistance against the globalists outside of Trump and then of course myself,” Jones declared in June. “The Sean Hannity Show, he added in August, “is now The Alex Jones Show.”

  • 5 must-read debunks of the junk science abortion reversal scam

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    A so-called abortion reversal procedure lacks sound scientific support, but that hasn’t stopped anti-abortion groups from promoting it to inaccurately suggest patients inherently regret their decision to have an abortion. As anti-choice groups increasingly lobby for the elimination of abortion access, media often treat anti-choice pseudo-science, like abortion reversal, as the “other side” of the issue. But five media outlets recently provided comprehensive debunks that show how their counterparts should be reporting on abortion reversal and the junk science behind the procedure.

  • Leading Up To The Election, Media Outlets Highlight The Importance Of LGBT Voters

    ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    Over the past few weeks, media outlets have pointed out the potential impact of LGBT voters in both swing states and local races in the 2016 election, highlighting the “biggest and most sophisticated get-out-the-vote effort ever” organized by the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy organization, the Human Rights Campaign, and noting that LGBT voters “might help tip the scale red or blue.” Journalists have also focused on the swing state of North Carolina, where anti-LGBT law House Bill 2 (HB 2) has the potential to be a “critical driver” of voter turnout.

  • The Problem With The Media’s ‘Trump Is Pivoting’ Narrative

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Media figures have repeatedly claimed that presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is “pivoting” to the general election every time he does something that they think makes him look or sound “presidential.” Media’s constant search for Trump’s “pivot” effectively whitewashes all of the racist, sexist, slanderous, and conspiratorial attacks Trump has doled out, and mainstreams the idea that Trump’s past diatribes can be forgiven so long as he assumes a veneer of conventional, tempered behavior.

    Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump and the media have engaged in a cycle wherein Trump launches offensive broadsides and character attacks; He gets bad press; Republican leaders clamor for Trump to tone down his rhetoric; Trump obliges, often using a teleprompter to restrain himself; Media figures claim Trump has “pivoted” and is “becoming more presidential”; and repeat.

    As MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace said, Trump constantly shatters the “pivot” narrative “by trotting out conspiracy theories” -- or, as others have noted, outrageous insults -- within hours of being lauded as “presidential.” 

    In following this pattern, the media are both applauding Trump for having simply mastered “campaign 101,” as CNN’s David Gregory noted, and excusing his past remarks as political maneuvering and electoral showmanship.

    In early June, after Trump launched a multiday racist crusade against Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over Trump University lawsuits, Republican leaders beseeched Trump to “get on message” and “quit attacking … various minority groups in the country.” That very night, Trump delivered a speech -- devoid of any attacks and with the aid of a teleprompter -- that “sought to calm fretful Republicans bolting from his side over his latest controversy,” CNN reported.

    Media figures immediately claimed that Trump’s restraint showed he was “pivoting.” NBC News reporter Ali Vitali wrote that Trump “acted presidential” in the speech, which “finalized his pivot to the general election.” CNN host Don Lemon said the “new, more presidential Donald Trump” is what “people in Washington wanted to see.” Unsurprisingly, Trump also received praise from right-wing media for sounding “more presidential than ever.”

    CNN political commentator Marc Lamont Hill explained the phenomenon:

    “It's kind of a good outcome for Trump, because we're not talking about a Mexican judge anymore. We're not talking about something controversial. We're talking about Trump changing the direction of his campaign. That can only be good news for him, based on what the last three weeks have been.”

    GOP leaders condemned Trump’s repeated “offensive” suggestions that President Obama had sympathies for terrorists, but changed their tune once Trump delivered his next teleprompter-guided speech following the mass shooting in Orlando, FL. Some media figures said Trump sounded “more presidential” and was “behaving like general election nominees behave,” and Trump’s slanderous accusations against the president quickly fell out of the news cycle.

    The “pivot” claim, which has repeatedly surfaced since at least February, has also helped wash away many of Trump’s past actions and comments: his doubling down on his proposed Muslim ban, his accusations that Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) father was involved in the John F. Kennedy assassination, and his questioning of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s faith.

    Some media figures have noted the journalistic malpractice associated with the constant fallback on the “pivot” narrative. New York Times Magazine correspondent Mark Leibovich, calling the narrative “absurd,” wrote:

    But really, how do you pivot away from saying that Mexicans are rapists? (Will he negotiate “great deals” with more moderate Mexican rapists?) If your campaign is a cult of personality, how can you modulate that personality and still have the cult? In Trump’s case, a “pivot” would constitute a complete overhaul of his very essence.

    Similarly, Washington Post opinion writer Kathleen Parker lambasted media’s “softening of criticism” of Trump and warned “the commentariat,” “Nothing makes Trump more acceptable today than yesterday or last week — or six months ago.”

    The "pivot" narrative has become a reset button, allowing media to excuse or forget all of Trump’s past rhetorical assaults. Media figures are essentially condoning all of his racism, sexism, and conspiracies, so long as he sounds and acts subdued and presidential.

    Image by Dayanita Ramesh and Sarah Wasko. 

  • NY Times Magazine Attacks The Obama Administration With Fact-Free Allegations

    David Samuels Falsely Attacks President Obama And Ben Rhodes, Fails To Disclose Conflict Of Interest

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    New York Times Magazine profile of the Obama administration’s push to cement the Iran nuclear deal baselessly claimed that President Obama and a top White House aide, Ben Rhodes, “largely manufactured” a narrative about the deal and “actively” misled the public to win support, despite reports to the contrary. The author, David Samuels, also failed to disclose his past criticism of the Iran deal and advocacy for bombing Iran.

  • The New York Times' New Myth Is That Hillary Clinton Is More Hawkish Than Donald Trump

    ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS & JARED HOLT

    The New York Times' Mark Landler and Maureen Dowd are baselessly claiming that Hillary Clinton would be more likely to bring the nation to war if elected president than Donald Trump, in part due to Trump's claims of opposition to the Iraq War. In fact, Trump supported the Iraq War, has refused to rule out using nuclear weapons in the Middle East and Europe, has floated military engagement with Iran, and called for U.S. invasions of Libya and Syria.

  • Former NYT Editor Rebuts Stephen Jimenez's Claim About Matthew Shepard Story

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Author Stephen Jimenez's suggestion that The New York Times Magazine killed a 2004 story he had written about the murder of Matthew Shepard because it was too politically sensitive is false, according to the former Times editor who worked on the story.

    Jimenez claimed in the story -- and in a new book -- that Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student murdered in 1998, was not killed in an act of anti-gay hate, but instead as a result of a drug-induced rage. Shepard's murder became a rallying call for the LGBT movement; a hate crimes prevention law named after him was signed into law in 2009.

    Paul Tough, who was an editor at the magazine in 2004 and the one Jimenez says reviewed his piece, said the spiking of the story had nothing to do with politics. It just wasn't good enough.

    "My recollection is definitely that it was not killed because it was politically sensitive, but that the story just wasn't there for all of the reasons that stories sometimes aren't there," said Tough, now an author himself and Times magazine contributor. "I remember being really interested in the idea and I think the Times Magazine doesn't shy away from controversy and we're interested in new takes on things and the only reason we had assigned the story was this new idea."

    "But for whatever reason," Tough added, Jimenez "was a person I think who didn't have a lot of experience in long-form magazine writing. And so the story never got to the level where we could publish it ... it was not killed for political reasons at all."

    Shepard truthers in the right-wing media have cited Jimenez's new book, The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths about the Murder of Matthew Shepard, to assail hate crime legislation and the larger push for LGBT rights. But Jimenez's argument is tainted by its reliance on wild extrapolation, questionable and often inconsistent sources, theories that critics of his work are engaged in a "cover-up" of politically sensitive truths, and the dismissal of any evidence that runs contrary to his central thesis.

  • Glenn Beck Doesn't Want To Impeach Obama (Except He Does)

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Glenn Beck sat down with the New York Times Magazine for an interview about his plans for a new media empire, and did what he usually does when talking to mainstream press outlets: he dropped his flamethrowing, end-times routine and adopted the posture of an ambitious, misunderstood entrepreneur. Beck wants to reach a larger audience and doesn't want to freak out Times readers, so when the Times asked him about the political focus of his show, Beck tried to come off as reasonable. "What people don't ever understand is this: I'm the guy who lives in Dallas who did not get an invitation to the George Bush Presidential Library opening," Beck said. "He didn't like me. I had called for his impeachment. I didn't call for Obama's impeachment. People think I just hate this president. No, I hate power and those who do everything they can to hold onto it."

    It's simply not true that Beck "didn't call for Obama's impeachment." Back in May, as the political media were obsessing over Benghazi hearings and the since-deflated IRS scandal, Beck called for a special counsel to be appointed to "explore the impeachment of this president." In April, after Beck led the reprehensible effort to link an innocent Saudi man to the Boston marathon bombings, Beck said that Americans should "demand impeachment" because, in his view, the government was covering up the Saudi's non-existent role in the attack. If Americans didn't do so, Beck said, "we don't stand a chance."

    At a Tea Party rally in June at the Capitol, Beck was asked about impeachment, and he said that impeaching Obama wouldn't go far enough. "If they can take it to impeachment -- I personally think there's a lot of people on both sides of the aisle who shouldn't be impeached, they should go to jail," Beck said. Asked if Obama was one of them, Beck replied: "Yeah."

    Again, this is the Beck routine. When he's talking to his usual audience or the Tea Party faithful, he's calling for impeachment and inveighing against progressives with the most inflammatory language he can muster. When he's talking to The New York Times, he says things like this:

    Can we stop dividing ourselves? Do racists exist? Yes. Do bigots exist? Yes. But most of us are not. Most Americans just want to get along. Why can't we do that? What has happened to us?

    Funnily enough, the Times interviewer later asked Beck about his commitment to "hunt down progressives like an Israeli Nazi hunter," and Beck -- mere moments after bemoaning the instinct to "divide ourselves" -- briefly reverted to type: "Oh, I will. I think these guys are the biggest danger in the world. It's the people like Mao, people that believe that big government is the answer, it always leads to millions dead -- always."

  • Why Ignoring The Right-Wing Media Isn't An Option

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    While traveling with the president to California on Wednesday, White House correspondents quizzed Obama spokesman Jay Carney about the issues of the day, and this exchange took place [emphasis added]:

    Q: Can I ask you about the California fundraisers, in particular? The President is getting a lot of heat over cavorting with showbiz types. Rush Limbaugh is referring to him as Barack Kardashian, can you believe. What is your response to that?

    The claim that Obama spends too much time with celebrities is one that the president's critics have been making for years. And the White House reporter who quizzed Carney about the rather dubious topic could have referenced Republican leaders who have made the claim in the past. Instead, the reporter quoted Rush Limbaugh and wanted to know what the White House reaction was to a talker from the right-wing media world who compared president to a reality TV personality.

    That was on Wednesday. Over the weekend, writing in the New York Times Magazine, Steve Almond, a self-described liberal, announced the problem with liberals today is they spend too much time obsessing over, and monitoring, the right-wing media:

    Media outlets like MSNBC and The Huffington Post often justify their coverage of these voices by claiming to serve as watchdogs. It would be more accurate to think of them as de facto loudspeakers for conservative agitprop. The demagogues of the world, after all, derive power solely from their ability to provoke reaction. Those liberals (like me) who take the bait, are to blame for their outsize influence.

    Instead, Almond instructed, liberals and Democrats should simply ignore the likes of Limbaugh and Fox News and the far-right blogosphere. If liberals do, he says conservative media players would be rendered powerless because if liberals stop paying attention to them, the Beltway press is sure to follow.

    Almond's advice strikes me as being singularly misguided. Indeed, the let's-ignore-right-wing-media guidance represents a truly naïve argument that reflects very little about what's going in American politics and media today.

  • NY Times Whitewashes O'Keefe's ACORN, NPR Video Scams

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Assigning a Rush Limbaugh fan and biographer to profile right-wing activist James O'Keefe wasn't exactly a daring choice by editors at The New York Times Magazine. The fact that the resulting puff piece is a predictably soft retread of O'Keefe's often-told tale should surprise no one.

    What is odd is that the Times would publish such comically inaccurate characterizations of O'Keefe's adventures in undercover video stings; stings that have proven time and again he's incapable of telling the truth.

    Those are the facts. They are not in dispute. But in the loving hands of Times writer Zev Chafets, O'Keefe is portrayed as an enterprising, muckraking journalist. And in the loving hands of Zev Chafets, O'Keefe is portrayed exactly the way O'Keefe wants to be portrayed.

    I realize that's Chafets' niche at the Times, to bring his partisan, conservative perspective when writing profiles of partisan conservative media figures, and to do his best to paper over anything unflattering about the subject at hand. That's what he did with his New York Times Magazine cover story on Limbaugh in 2008. (The super-soft profile helped Chafets land a Ditto-ography book deal.)

    And I understand why Chafets likes the very easy gig. It makes little sense, though, why the Times would be interested in publishing this kind of predictable feature about O'Keefe. Regardless of the motivation, what about the facts? What about O'Keefe's ACORN and NPR stings for instance, and the controversy that soon engulfed him over allegations he had edited his clips in order to concocts sinister stories? How does the Times deal with those issues?

    Not well.