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As President Donald Trump ramps up a potential trade war with China, Fox News and Fox Business figures have been downplaying the damage his actions could do.
Since the beginning of 2018, President Donald Trump has been rolling out increasingly aggressive tariffs on Chinese goods. In January, the president announced new tariffs targeting solar panels and washing machines, goods that primarily come from China. In March, he announced further tariffs on steel imports. And this week, the U.S. announced $50 billion worth of new tariffs, prompting the Chinese government to retaliate, placing tariffs on “128 American-made products” and asserting that the U.S. tariffs “violate World Trade Organization rules.”
Following the news of China imposing retaliatory tariffs, CNN interviewed several economists who expressed concern that the increased economic hostility between the two nations might soon spiral into an all-out trade war. Joseph Brusuelas, chief U.S. economist at accounting and consulting firm RSM, told CNN, “This is a classic lose-lose proposition, no one wins.” After Trump threatened to impose additional tariffs, and the Chinese government promised to respond in kind, experts warned that additional tariffs would hurt both countries.
Despite experts’ concerns, Fox News and Fox Business figures are downplaying fears of a trade war:
On America’s Newsroom, Fox’s Maria Bartiromo dismissed concerns about trade, commenting that she’s “not worried” about trade fears because she looks “at the broader picture.”
On Fox News’ Fox & Friends, host Steve Doocy downplayed Trump’s trade moves by claiming, “there are no tariffs,” arguing that “this is the starting point,” and “it’s all a suggestion, it’s all a negotiation.”
Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce argued that “this is not about a trade war,” and compared America’s trade deficit with China to “a battered woman situation.” She also asserted that ““this will, in the end, because of Trump’s ability to negotiate, work out well.”
During the same broadcast, Fox Business’ Charles Payne claimed that “President Trump [has reminded] us that we’re not in a trade war,” because, “China already won that.”
On Fox News Radio's The Brian Kilmeade Show, Fox’s Brian Kilmeade dismissed the possibility of a trade war, claiming, “I do believe this is what we call the pre-fight, and so far, it's hype. It doesn't mean there's actually going to be a Showtime, HBO main event.”
Trump sycophant Lou Dobbs dismissed those who claim there is no trade war, claiming that there already is a trade war with China, but the United States simply wasn’t “fighting it until this president arrived in Washington.”
Fox Business' Stuart Varney explained away stock market backlash to Trump's tariffs as "an emotional response,” and claimed that “all this talk of a trade war” is “overblown.”
Frequent Fox guest Ron Meyer referred to China’s retaliatory tariffs as “minor.”
Fox’s Charles Payne claimed that the stock market drop following the announcement of China’s retaliatory tariffs was actually Wall Street “not only overreacting but trying to intimidate the White House."
On America’s Newsroom, Bartiromo claimed that she’s “not afraid of a trade war.” and that Trump’s actions are “more of a negotiation.”
During an appearance on America’s Newsroom, Payne dismissed fears about a trade war by claiming “we’re already in a trade war. We have been fighting with one hand behind our backs.”
On Fox News’ Outnumbered, Fox’s Geraldo Rivera argued that China’s retaliatory tariffs were insignificant and represented “chump change,” and expressed his confusion about why the market responded “so emotionally” to China’s tariffs.
During the same broadcast, Fox’s Trish Regan expressed her dismay at unfair Chinese trade policies, and said, “If it takes throwing around the idea of a few tariffs … maybe that works. Maybe it is, indeed, the art of the deal.”
Fox’s Sean Hannity dismissed concerns about a trade war on his radio show, claiming, “I don’t think there’s ever going to be a trade war.”
On Fox News’ Outnumbered, Fox’s Dagen McDowell defended Trump’s “approach with China,” claiming that there is a “method to this madness,” and that we don’t know if these “tariffs will ever be put in place.
On March 28, Fox News host Laura Ingraham tweeted a link to a Daily Wire article pointing out that Parkland survivor David Hogg was rejected by several colleges and accused him of whining about it. Ingraham’s attack on the teenage mass-shooting survivor is far from a shocking development given her and her Fox News colleagues' repeated slandering of the shooting victims.
In the month and a half since the shooting in Parkland, FL, Ingraham herself has said the Parkland students should not be given “special consideration” on gun policy; told her viewers that the March 14 student walkout wasn’t some sort of “organic outpouring of youthful rage,” but rather “nothing but a left-wing, anti-Trump diatribe”; and complained that anti-abortion protesters didn’t get the same attention. Two of Fox’s other primetime hosts, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, both dismissed the students as pawns being manipulated by gun control advocates. Carlson went a step further, calling the students “self-righteous kids” who “weren’t helping at all” and comparing them to Mao's Red Guards. The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway, who is also a Fox News contributor, dismissed the students as just “children, not founts of wisdom,” and Fox & Friends Weekend host Pete Hegseth responded to the student-organized March For Our Lives by angrily commenting, “Spare me if I don't want to hear the sanctimoniousness of a 17-year-old.” Fox’s sustained and hostile attacks on students in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting fit right into the network’s years-long pattern of insulting and belittling students and children.
In 2017, two Fox employees attacked 8-year-olds in the course of five months. In May, after a young boy followed Vice President Mike Pence to ask for an apology for bumping into him, Tammy Bruce called the child a “snowflake” who “needed a safe space” and said he “pretty much stalked the vice president afterward.” Months later, Rachel Campos-Duffy smeared a football team of 8-year-olds as “shameful” for kneeling during the national anthem at a football game.
Fox figures have consistently insulted college students and mocked them for attempting to make changes to their colleges and universities. A 2012 Fox panel dismissed students as “immature and irrational” after they attempted to persuade their school to divest from fossil fuels. In 2015, Fox contributor Judith Miller insulted student protesters, asking, “You want a safe space? Stay in your playpen,” and Fox anchor Martha MacCallum dismissed students’ push for safe spaces in response to racial injustice, suggesting that “if they want to see the violation of a safe space,” then they should “visit ground zero.” In 2016, then-Fox contributor George Will labeled students “snowflakes, these fragile little creatures who melt at the first sign of the heat of controversy.” Fox host Kimberly Guilfoyle laughed at students’ activism on offensive terminology and mockingly asked if an injured horse should “get a lawyer because the horse is offended” by being called “lame.” In September 2017, a Fox contributor derided college students who sought mental health care and compared them to teenage soldiers in WWII. Just two months ago, Fox & Friends ran a selectively edited hit piece against college students created by the conservative activist group Campus Reform. The show further edited the video and showed students' responses without giving sufficient context to the nature of the questions posed to them, making the students look ill-informed.
In 2015, Fox personalities repeatedly besmirched 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed, a Texas student arrested after bringing a homemade clock mistaken for a bomb to school. Then-Fox reporter Anna Kooiman claimed that Mohamed “might not be as innocent as he seems,” backing up her claim by noting that teen was once caught “blowing bubbles in the bathroom” at school. Fox contributor Mark Fuhrman, famous for committing perjury and spewing racial epithets during the OJ Simpson trial, assured viewers that he didn’t “feel sorry for Ahmed,” adding that the child seemed “passive aggressive” to him. Another contributor, Mike Gallagher, repeatedly compared Mohamed’s homemade clock to a bomb and suggested that the student should have been more "forthcoming" when he was interrogated by the police. And Brian Kilmeade asked whether Mohamed might be “extort[ing]” his former school district by suing.
Fox often attacks children who have immigrated to the United States or whose parents are immigrants. Fox personalities have repeatedly used the derogatory term “anchor baby” to belittle the children of immigrants. Tucker Carlson once responded to the notion that it is the United States' legal obligation to educate children who come into the country by saying, "But what about the rights of the kids who were born here?” Fox Business Networks’ Brenda Buttner questioned whether parents should be concerned with "a surge of up to 60,000 illegal kids in their classrooms." Buttner exclaimed, "Forget the Ebola scare. Is it really the back to school scare?" In 2016, Fox’s Heather Nauert and Brian Kilmeade slammed several refugee students who sued a school district in Pennsylvania after alleging their educational needs weren’t being met. Kilmeade smeared the students as “ungrateful,” and Nauert mocked their request, commenting that “going to our schools for free” was “apparently… not good enough for them.”
Fox hosts have also used their shows to attack transgender students. In 2013, during a conversation about a California bill aimed at allowing transgender students to use facilities and play on sports teams that correspond to their gender identities, Fox host Greg Gutfeld mocked the “gender-confused students” that would benefit from the bill. Two years later, in 2015, then-Fox host Megyn Kelly asserted that accepting transgender students causes “confusion” for other students.
Fox employees have also gone after other groups of students. In 2014, Fox News' "Medical A-Team" member Dr. Keith Ablow claimed that middle school girls can "certainly provoke" harassment by wearing leggings to school. In 2015, Megyn Kelly labeled a group of protesters in Missouri “angry black students.” That same year, the hosts of Fox News’ Outnumbered lamented that overweight children are allowed to feel confident in their bodies. Fox’s Sandra Smith bemoaned that kids “feel good about themselves when they shouldn’t.”
As David Hogg demands accountability for Laura Ingraham’s bullying, it is clear that Ingraham’s behavior was not a mistake or an anomaly, but representative of her network at large.
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The latest anti-Mueller bombshell actually amounts to a typo
President Donald Trump’s overzealous defenders at Fox News spent yesterday using a misinterpretation of a standard order from the judge overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecution of former national security adviser Michael Flynn to speculate that Flynn’s guilty plea is on the verge of being vacated.
Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in December and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election. But Judge Rudolph Contreras, who accepted Flynn’s plea, subsequently recused himself and was replaced by Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who issued an order that month directing Mueller to provide Flynn’s lawyers with any evidence they possess that is favorable to the defendant. The disclosure of this information can be required under the Brady rule, named after the 1963 case Brady v. Maryland.
That’s a huge deal, according to conservative media figures like Fox judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano, who have spent months spuriously attacking Justice Department and FBI officials for their conduct during the Russia investigation. “Why would [Sullivan] want that after Gen. Flynn has already pleaded guilty? That is unheard of,” Napolitano asked on yesterday’s Fox & Friends in a segment featuring the caption, “Will Flynn Reverse His Guilty Plea?” Napolitano then suggested an answer: “He must suspect a defect in the guilty plea. Meaning he must have reason to believe that Gen. Flynn pleaded guilty for some reason other than guilt.”
Other Fox programs picked up Napolitano’s theory over the course of the day. That afternoon, the Fox panel show Outnumbered portrayed the Sullivan order as an indication of “new questions about the circumstances” of Flynn’s guilty plea, with co-host Katie Pavlich falsely claiming that Sullivan’s order had explicitly told Mueller’s probe that “it’s very clear that you withheld some pretty important information.” And that evening, Fox host Martha MacCallum opened her show over the caption “Flynn Could Flip Guilty Plea,” discussing the order, which she described as “raising eyebrows,” in back-to-back interviews with Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, and Napolitano. Turley argued that “it's important not to read too much into this” and suggested it’s unlikely that the order will lead to any changes in Flynn’s plea. Napolitano said Sullivan’s move was very unusual and could indicate improper coercion by the Mueller team but walked back the explicit statement he made on Fox & Friends about Sullivan’s motivation, asking of the judge, “Does he suspect some defect in Michael Flynn's guilty plea? We don't know the answer to that.”
In this latest salvo in Fox’s monthslong campaign to undermine the Mueller probe by any means necessary, the network is picking up on a theory that ping-ponged through the right-wing media over the last week.
National Review’s Andrew McCarthy and The Washington Examiner’s Byron York were the first main proponents of the notion that the Sullivan order represents a “curious” or “unusual” turn in the Flynn case. The Federalist’s Margot Cleveland added a new twist over the weekend, arguing that a revised version of the order Sullivan issued Friday suggested that Flynn was about to withdraw his guilty plea. All three pieces have been widely aggregated by other right-wing outlets, far-right trolls, and fake news websites who are all rushing to declare the Flynn guilty plea is in jeopardy.
Notably, McCarthy and York placed the same sizable caveat in their pieces: In McCarthy’s words, “It could be that this is just Judge Sullivan’s standard order on exculpatory information, filed in every case over which he presides.” But oddly, while such caveats implicitly acknowledge that the story would be much less interesting if Sullivan is among the federal judges who issue standing Brady orders for every one of the criminal cases on their dockets, neither writer seems to have actually bothered to check if that is actually his practice.
I checked, and it is. As he explained in a 2016 law review article calling for the amendment of the rules of federal criminal procedure to incorporate such disclosures, “I now issue a standing Brady Order in each criminal case on my docket, which I update as the law in the area progresses.” Thus, Sullivan’s action was not “unusual” or “curious,” but simply what he does in every single criminal case he oversees.
Napolitano and his ilk seem to have picked up the story York and McCarthy put forth, but stripped off their caveat and instead asserted as fact that Sullivan’s action must be because he suspects some sort of malfeasance from Mueller, or even because, as Napolitano suggested, Flynn was not guilty to begin with.
The Federalist’s Cleveland makes a slightly different argument. On Friday, after the publication of York’s and McCarthy’s pieces, Sullivan issued a second, slightly different order. Cleveland focuses on this second order, which she writes “added one sentence specifying that the government’s obligation to produce evidence material either to the defendant’s guilt or punishment ‘includes producing, during plea negotiations, any exculpatory evidence in the government’s possession.’” According to Cleveland, this is a big deal “because it indicates that, if the government did not provide Flynn material evidence during plea negotiations, Flynn has grounds to withdraw his plea.”
Cleveland concludes that this second order reveals that “a motion by Michael Flynn to withdraw his guilty plea based on government misconduct is likely in the works,” even though Cleveland acknowledged that even in that scenario, “the Supreme Court has never addressed the question of whether a defendant may withdraw a guilty plea if the prosecution withholds exculpatory evidence during plea negotiations.”
It’s theoretically possible Sullivan really has come to suspect some sort of improper behavior by the Mueller team. But the docket in the case provides a far simpler, more banal explanation for what is happening.
As legal blogger and attorney Susan Simpson noted in a tweetstorm about the Sullivan conspiracy theories, Sullivan explained that in December, he had accidentally entered an older version of the Brady order that he issues in every criminal case, rather than the “current version,” and was seeking to remedy that error. It’s not a bombshell, it’s effectively a typo.
The right-wing claims that Flynn’s guilty plea may soon be vacated come amid a broader, furious effort to vindicate him.
Flynn’s fierce defenses of Trump, declaration that Hillary Clinton should be locked up, and willingness to interact directly with right-wing conspiracy theorist trolls like Mike Cernovich made him a hero to the dregs of the “alt-right.” And over the last month, those conspiracy theorists have rallied behind him.
Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone kicked things off on February 5, claiming on Infowars that Flynn’s lawyers were on the verge of filing a motion to dismiss the charges against him on the grounds that “that Assistant FBI Director Andrew McCabe told a teleconference of law enforcement officials, ‘first we fuck Flynn, then we fuck Trump.’” Stone claimed that pro-Trump outlets The Hill and Circa had confirmed that quote from McCabe, a longtime target of Trump supporters, but I found no evidence to support that. The quote does, however, appear in a March 2017 piece from the website True Pundit, which is notorious for publishing fabrications and fake news stories.
“Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec has also been a leading Flynn champion, highlighting many of the reports about the Sullivan orders to buttress the #ClearFlynnNow campaign Posobiec has been promoting all month. According to Posobiec, the campaign is needed because “Flynn was framed.”
That online campaign is part of the “increasingly bold calls for presidential pardons” Trump’s supporters are demanding for those implicated by the Mueller probe, especially Flynn, Politico reported February 19.
Meanwhile, as the pro-Trump media struggle to construct an alternate reality in which the Mueller probe is constantly on the verge of collapse, yesterday also brought the news that lawyer Alex van der Zwaan had pleaded guilty after Mueller charged him with lying to FBI investigators about other aspects of the Russia probe.
van der Zwaan -- who has worked on behalf of indicted former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and whose father-in-law is a Russian oligarch -- joins 18 other people and three companies who have been indicted or have pleaded guilty due to the Mueller investigation.
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While a NYT report reveals the real impetus of the Russia investigation, Fox is running with the unfounded conjecture of fake news, pro-Trump trolls, and Republican congressmen
In a continuation of the network’s pattern of sycophantic defenses of the president, Fox News hosts dismissed reporting from The New York Times that provided new details about what sparked the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, muddying the waters by pushing baseless conjecture espoused by pro-Trump internet trolls and fake news websites alike.
A December 30, 2017 report by The New York Times explained that a conversation between Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos and an Australian diplomat at a bar prompted FBI officials in June 2016 to investigate the connection between Russia and the Trump campaign. The report disrupted a well-established far-right and right-wing media claim that the investigation was prompted solely on information provided in a partially unverified opposition research dossier produced by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, noting:
The information that Mr. Papadopoulos gave to the Australians answers one of the lingering mysteries of the past year: What so alarmed American officials to provoke the F.B.I. to open a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign months before the presidential election?
It was not, as Mr. Trump and other politicians have alleged, a dossier compiled by a former British spy hired by a rival campaign. Instead, it was firsthand information from one of America’s closest intelligence allies.
In a January 2 New York Times op-ed three days after the December 30 report, Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, founders of Fusion GPS, the research firm that funded the dossier, echoed the Times’ earlier reporting, writing that rather than the Steele dossier being the major impetus for the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling, their sources told them “the dossier was taken so seriously because it corroborated reports the bureau had [already] received from other sources, including one inside the Trump camp.”
But in a segment responding to the the op-ed today, the panel of Fox News’ Outnumbered didn’t even mention Papadopoulos’ name. Instead the panel members deflected from the revelations by launching baseless claims, including the notion that Fusion GPS exerted influence on the FBI and that the “fake report” (which has in fact been at least partially verified) was used to obtain a FISA warrant to spy on Trump, itself a fallacy promoted by Breitbart. From the January 3 edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered:
MELISSA FRANCIS (CO-HOST): Fox News has reported that Fusion GPS was being paid by a Kremlin-linked law firm at the same time that it was digging for dirt on then-candidate Trump. And human rights activists have accused Fusion GPS of secretly working for the Russians. Congressman Jason Chaffetz is here.
JASON CHAFFETZ: I did I read that op-ed from Fusion GPS. First of all, if they want to maximize openness and transparency, there is nothing, nothing that holds back Fusion GPS from releasing all the documents and all the financial transactions.You have the House intelligence committee having to issues subpoenas in order to get that information.
SANDRA SMITH (CO-HOST): That's a great point.
CHAFFETZ: But today they could release all of that information if they want. So, don't blame the House intelligence committee. It is against the law to go out and hire a foreign national to engage in these activities during the campaign. So, they potentially broke the law there. You have Marc Elias who was general counsel for the DNC. Hillary Clinton is involved in this. You’ve got the Podesta group involved in this. There is some really nefarious things, and you have a top official at the FBI whose wife works at Fusion GPS at the same time that they're doing an investigation, so don't call it a fake investigation. Let's get all the truth out there. That's what [South Carolina Republican Congressman Trey] Gowdy and [California Republican Congressman Devin] Nunes and everybody is after.
KATIE PAVLICH (CO-HOST): They have a responsibility on their end to the American people now because they are so involved and because they did have influence in the FBI based on the dossier. And again we have people connect to the dossier also connected to the Department of Justice under President Obama. And those are questions that are unanswered and that deserve answers to the American people.
FRANCIS: I think what people in the audience should remember and probably what you care about a lot is this idea that when originally we gave the government special powers to collect data, to listen in on your phone calls, it was a time when we were all frightened and still are about terror, about national security. The warning at the time was that in the end, this FISA warrant, this whole idea could be used to listen in on political opponents and become a political weapon. In this case, it looks like that's very much what happened, that a fake report was used to get a FISA warrant to spy on a political opponent. That's a very dangerous thing in this country. And that's what I think we should be chasing down and focused on.
Pro-Trump media outlets have long attempted to discredit the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s relationship with the Russian government, and Trump’s defenders on Fox have spent months baselessly claiming that the FBI used the dossier as sole evidence to get a FISA warrant to surveil and investigate Trump and members of his presidential campaign. Fox’s Jeanine Pirro even suggested that FBI and the Department of Justice officials should be jailed for their implication in this alleged conspiracy.
Following The New York Times’ December 30 report, right-wing media figures attempted to discredit the story by downplaying Papadopoulos’ influence, attacking the article’s anonymous sourcing, and castigating the reporting as distraction from the Mueller investigation that the network has deemed a “witch hunt.” Other right-wing outlets like Red State, the National Review, as well as other pro-Trump media outlets, fake news websites, and internet trolls have levied similar attacks in attempts to discredit the story.
Anti-Muslim hate crimes increased for the second consecutive year in 2016, according to the latest FBI numbers. During this climate of bigotry, the right-wing media figures used their platforms to blatantly spread fear and misinformation, demonizing Muslims all over the world. Some explicitly called for American Muslims to be put in internment camps, while others denied the existence of Islamophobia in our schools (Islamophobia actually increased in 2016), and claimed that Muslim immigration means more terrorism (there's no connection).
Here is a glimpse of some of the most absurd things the right-wing media figures said about Muslims in 2017.
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