The Story with Martha MacCallum | Media Matters for America

The Story with Martha MacCallum

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  • Broadcast morning shows and newspapers left out crucial information when reporting on Kavanaugh’s contrived Fox News interview

    Media failed to mention details of Kavanaugh’s formative years that lend credence to accusations against him

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his wife, Ashley Kavanaugh, gave an interview to Fox News in an effort to clean up his image after two women reported him for sexual misconduct in the last two weeks. Coverage of the interview from broadcast morning shows and major newspapers has aided Kavanaugh’s public relations effort by parroting his weak defenses while omitting critical information about his background.

    On September 16, The Washington Post published an interview with Christine Blasey Ford, a California college professor who said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were high school students in the 1980s. On September 23, The New Yorker published a story detailing a separate allegation from Deborah Ramirez, one of Kavanaugh’s classmates at Yale University, who said, as The New Yorker described it, that Kavanaugh “exposed himself” and “thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away” at “a drunken dormitory party” during the 1983-84 school year.

    On September 24, Kavanaugh and his wife took to Fox News to respond to the allegations. ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’s CBS This Morning, and NBC’s Today, as well as newspapers including The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Postuncritically echoed Kavanaugh’s responses, while neglecting to mention important details and follow-up reporting that seem to lend credibility to the allegations against him. Specifically, media described the interview as “deeply personal” and Kavanaugh as “emotional,” and fixated on details like his claim that he “did not have sexual intercourse” during the years in question without ever acknowledging a difference between sexual intercourse and sexual assault.

    Moreover, in their one-sided reporting on Kavanaugh’s unprecedented interview, media largely omitted relevant background reporting on his actions and environment as a young man. While a few reports included quotes from Kavanaugh’s freshman roommate at Yale which characterized the nominee as “a heavy drinker” who was “aggressive and belligerent” when drunk, media largely failed to highlight the misogynistic and boorish culture that Kavanaugh reportedly participated in at Georgetown Prep. A “former student” who attended the school with Kavanaugh told HuffPost:

    That was just normal then. It was an attitude where “No” didn’t necessarily mean “I’m going to stop.” It meant “I’m going to keep going,” and “I’m going to keep going because I’m privileged and I’m allowed to and I’m not going to get in trouble for it.”

    Kavanaugh joked about the school’s reputation during a 2015 speech, saying, “What happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep.” Moreover, almost every report on Kavanaugh’s interview failed to include details about Mark Judge -- the only alleged witness to Ford’s assault and Kavanaugh’s friend from Prep with a history of disturbing views about women -- or about Kavanaugh’s time at Yale, where the Supreme Court nominee was a member of the notoriously misogynistic Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity.

    Media’s failure to include these critical details in their reporting on Kavanaugh’s sham of an interview not only boosts Fox’s one-sided messaging, but it also assists Kavanaugh in rehabilitating his reputation and leaves audiences in the dark, denying them relevant information that lends credibility to Ford and Ramirez’s accounts.

  • The Fox News interview with Brett Kavanaugh was a sham. Here are seven reasons why.

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE & JULIE MILLICAN

    Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sat down for an interview with Fox News’ Martha MacCallum on Monday. Multiple women have come forward in recent days to report that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted them: Christine Blasey Ford has said Kavanaugh assaulted her at a party in high school; and Deborah Ramirez has said he exposed himself to her in college.

    Though MacCallum quickly received praise from right-wing media for the interview, she failed to highlight a number of crucial elements and did a poor job of following up on others.

    Here are seven ways the interview was a sham:

    Mark Judge’s history and credibility

    Ford reported that Kavanaugh’s high school friend Mark Judge was present in the room when Kavanaugh assaulted her. Judge clearly knew Kavanaugh and  wrote about attending his 2005 wedding. He is a conservative writer and recovering alcoholic who has extensively written about his misogyny and drunken escapades in high school. In one story, Judge even wrote about being a peeping Tom when he was younger. Judge’s ex-girlfriend told The New Yorker that he told her a disturbing story about him and his friends taking turns having sex with a drunk woman.

    And yet, MacCallum made just passing references about Judge during the interview and Kavanaugh didn’t acknowledge him at all. Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are also resisting calling Judge to testify. Kavanaugh claimed over a dozen times to MacCallum that he wanted a “fair process.” It’s unclear why that process would exclude a key witness.

    Possible coordination between Kavanaugh, The White House, Senate Republicans, and operative Ed Whelan

    Conservative power player and writer Ed Whelan spun a conspiracy theory on Twitter that a doppelganger was the one responsible for the sexual assault of Christine Blasey Ford. The ridiculous theory backfired when it was met with widespread ridicule and Ford herself debunked it.

    After teasing Whelan’s revelation for days, conservative figures quickly denied that Kavanaugh had any prior knowledge of it. Whelan also denied any coordination with Kavanaugh or the White House.

    Whelan’s claim was undermined when Ford shared an email with The Washington Post that showed Whelan reviewed her LinkedIn page before Ford’s name was even public. Ford sent that email to the Post 90 minutes after the paper had asked the White House for comment.

    Sen. Orrin Hatch’s office denied being involved in any coordination with Whelan, even though a staffer appeared to have prior knowledge of what Whelan was about to do.

    There are a lot of questions about how something so unethical could have happened and who knew about it. While MacCallum did not ask about Whelan, Kavanaugh did imply that he thought it was possible that Ford could still be confused as to the identity of her attacker.

    Kavanaugh’s frequent tales of drunken parties and membership to misogynist fraternity and secret society

    Kavanaugh has repeatedly told stories about excessive drinking in college. In his Fox News interview, Kavanaugh implausibly suggested he wasn’t a heavy drinker and claimed that he never drank to the point of blacking out. Materials submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of his nomination contain text of several speeches in which Kavanaugh told stories about parties involving heavy drinking and drunken shenanigans. For instance, in a 2014 speech at a Yale Federalist Society banquet, Kavanaugh said:

    In the same speech, Kavanaugh bragged about arranging a party bus to go to a Boston Red Sox game:

    In a 2010 speech at the Yale Law Journal banquet, Kavanaugh also described drinking heavily before his own Law Journal banquet and characterized it as “not a good idea”:

    Kavanaugh also listed himself as the treasurer of the “100 Kegs or Bust” club in his high school yearbook, and multiple former classmates described the culture of the school to be one of frequent parties with excessive drinking. His former Yale roommate has stated of Kavanaugh: “He was a notably heavy drinker, even by the standards of the time, and that he became aggressive and belligerent when he was very drunk. ... I do remember Brett frequently drinking excessively and becoming incoherently drunk.”

    Additionally, Kavanaugh was a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity, which was “notorious for disrespecting women.” The Yale Daily News reported that at the time, a common task for pledges was to raid women’s rooms and take underwear that would be fashioned into a giant flag that was paraded around campus. The DKE fraternity was suspended from 2011-2016 “after videos circulated of fraternity recruits chanting ‘no means yes, yes means anal’ in front of the University’s Women’s Center.” Multiple members have been accused of sexual assault.

    The Yale Daily News also reported that: “In addition to DKE, Kavanaugh also belonged to Truth and Courage, one of Yale’s secret societies for seniors. Among some students, the all-male club, which was popular with athletes, was known by the nickname ‘Tit and Clit.’” Buzzfeed reported that according to alumni, the society was known for being “mostly about drinking.”

    Reports that Kavanaugh likes a “certain look” in his women law clerks.

    During the interview, Kavanaugh bragged about his record of hiring women law clerks. But MacCallum never mentioned recent reporting from The Guardian that a “top professor at Yale Law School who strongly endorsed supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as a ‘mentor to women’ privately told a group of law students last year that it was ‘not an accident’ that Kavanaugh’s female law clerks all ‘looked like models’ and would provide advice to students about their physical appearance if they wanted to work for him.” Multiple women reported that they were coached on how to dress for an interview with Kavanaugh, including one woman who stated she was told that Kavanaugh hired women “with a certain look.”  

    Does Kavanaugh actually want an FBI investigation or not?

    MacCallum asked Kavanaugh’s wife whether she wanted an FBI investigation into these (and any subsequent) reports. Kavanaugh intervened, giving a non-answer. Instead of pressing for a clear response, MacCallum  instead started a line of questioning about how unfairly Kavanaugh thinks he’s being treated.

    Here’s the transcript, via The Washington Post:

    MACCALLUM: Do you believe there should be an FBI investigation into these allegations and that a pause should happen and, you know, sort it all out? If there’s nothing to worry about and nothing to hide, why not have that process, Ashley? And then I’ll ask you that, Brett.

    KAVANAUGH: I mean, I’ve said all along and Ashley, too, I want to be heard. I was first interviewed last Monday, the day after the allegation appeared by the committee staff under penalty of felony, and I denied this categorically and unequivocally and I said twice during that, I said, “I want a hearing tomorrow,” last Tuesday, a week ago.

    I want an opportunity – a fair process. America’s about fairness, I want a fair process where I can defend my integrity and clear my name as quickly as I can in whatever forum the Senate deems appropriate.

    MACCALLUM: When you hear senators who are on the committee – Senator Mazie Hirono and then you hear from others, you know, the New York Senator Gillibrand, she says, “I believe this woman. I believe all of them. They’re credible, and we all have to believe them.”

    When you hear United States Senators who are making judgments, final judgments, what does that make you think about the presumption of innocence in this country?

    KAVANAUGH: In America, we have fairness. We hear from both sides. I’ve spent my life in the judiciary, the – our judicial system, and part of the judicial systems as I’ve said during my first – my hearing was process protectium (ph). That’s what judges believe that’s what our system was built on, the rule of law, about fair process.

    MACCALLUM: Do you feel unprotected by the process?

    KAVANAUGH: Fair process means hearing from both sides, and I think the process – I want to have an opportunity to defend my integrity and clear my name and have a fair process. A fair process at a minimum – at a bare minimum requires hearing from both sides before rushing –

    MACCALLUM: Right. Let me ask you this. Separately from these allegations, is it fair to judge someone on something they did before they were 18-years-old? When they were 17-years-old, should anything they did then follow them later in life or should it enter into any decisions made about them later in life?

    KAVANAUGH: What I’m here to do is tell you the truth, and this allegation from 36 years ago is not –

    MACCALLUM: But separately from what you’re being accused of just as a judge, if you were looking at this case as a part of what you’re going through and someone said, “This person did that at 17-years-old,” is it fair to judge them on something that when they’re in their 50s, 60s year old?

    KAVANAUGH: I think everyone is judged on their whole life. I’m a good person. I’ve led a good life. I’ve tried to a lot of good for a lot of people. I am not perfect, I know that. None of us is perfect. I’m not perfect, but I’ve never, never done anything like this.

    According to the transcript, Kavanaugh mentioned “fair process” 17  times. And yet thanks to Fox News, we still don’t have a clue what he thinks a fair process would look like, given that he seems to have dismissed the fairest procedure available out of hand.

    At least he’s not up for a job that oversees the entire United States’ justice system.

    The idea that being a virgin in high school would in any way exculpate Kavanaugh

    The weirdest part of the interview was also a non sequitur.

    MacCallum failed to clarify that being a virgin or not has no bearing on whether one attempted sexual assault. Any journalist for a real news network would, at least.

    Some have defended the relevance of the answer by noting that this answer was in response to the account raised by attorney Michael Avenatti. But subsequent discussion between Kavanaugh and MacCallum implies that this is relevant to all of these accounts. At the very least, MacCallum had a responsibility to clear things up. That did not happen.

    The corroborating evidence for Christine Blasey Ford’s report

    MacCallum alleged that there is no corroboration of Ford’s account. That is simply not true.

    The Washington Post reviewed notes from Ford’s therapy sessions and spoke with her husband who also noted that Ford had shared her account in couples therapy in 2012. On the advice of her attorney, Ford also took a polygraph test in August; the results showed she was being truthful in relaying her account of the incident.

    MacCallum disappeared that evidence, saying, “And to this date, no one has corroborated the story that she has told.”

    The interview was a stilted, overproduced sham, and you have Bill Shine to thank.

  • Fox News’ coverage of Mollie Tibbetts’ death spiked after it was linked to an undocumented immigrant

    The story served a two-fold purpose for the network: distract from bad Trump news and ratchet up anti-immigrant sentiment

    Blog ››› ››› ROB SAVILLO


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News' August 21 coverage of the tragic death of Mollie Tibbetts spiked after law enforcement identified their suspect as an undocumented immigrant. In the eight hours between reports that the 20-year-old University of Iowa student's body had been found and the announcement of the suspect's alleged legal status, the network discussed the story for 21 minutes; after law enforcement announced that the suspect was undocumented, that coverage spiked to over three times as much throughout the next seven hours.

    The news of Tibbett’s body being found broke around 9 a.m. that day, and Fox spent 21 minutes on the story during the next eight hours. But once local authorities identified the suspect as an undocumented immigrant during their 5 p.m. press conference, Fox’s coverage jumped to 69 minutes for the remainder of the evening. The spike in coverage occurred despite Fox airing President Donald Trump’s rally for over an hour and news breaking that former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort had been found guilty on eight counts and former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen had pleaded guilty to two felony campaign finance charges in which he directly implicated the president.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The story of Tibbetts' death was featured on Fox’s entire evening schedule from 5 p.m. to midnight. Every single mention, tease, news correspondence, interview, and panel -- save one, a less than 30-second comment on Tucker Carlson Tonight -- noted the suspect’s alleged immigration status.

    Shortly after the press conference began, commentators on Fox were already weighing in on how Trump could use the revelation about the suspect’s legal status politically, while downplaying the developments in the Manafort and Cohen cases.

    The Five co-host Dana Perino suggested that Americans don’t necessarily care as much about Manafort and Cohen’s convictions -- what they really care about is the immigration status of the suspect in Tibbetts' case:

    One thing I think that the president might do is -- maybe he won’t comment on either of these two things [Manafort and Cohen] at all given that we just heard from the police in Iowa with the Mollie Tibbetts case that they are holding -- the federal government is holding a man, illegal immigrant, as a suspect in that case, in that murder. And to me -- thinking about the fact that the Mueller thing is a little bit complicated; the Cohen thing is interesting, and it is explosive, no doubt. But if you are out there in America and you’re watching this and you’re thinking, “What do we really care about right now?” I think the president will probably be talking a lot about that.

    Co-host Greg Gutfeld agreed, stating, “I just have to piggyback on what Dana said. I think that right now Trump’s main argument [on immigration] has now just been backed up by a very ugly reality. And I can’t see how that isn’t -- when you stack that up against these other tax evasions and guilty pleas, for an average American, [the Tibbetts case] resonates.” Later in the show, Gutfeld said, “In terms of what is important, I think no one at the Trump rally tonight will give a damn about Manafort or Cohen, but this will probably be fresh in their minds.”

    Introducing the topic of Trump’s West Virginia rally that evening, host Bret Baier stated during Special Report: “We’re likely going to hear a lot about Mollie Tibbetts and this illegal immigrant who’s in custody in Iowa.” Matthew Continetti of the conservative Washington Free Beacon replied, “That’s, of course, safe political terrain for Trump where he has a real point about the problems that illegal immigration are causing in the United States of America, and here we have the most visceral and tragic example of it with Mollie Tibbetts.”

    Right before Trump’s rally, The Story host Martha MacCallum asked her guest David Wohl, “What do you expect the president might say about this case tonight?” Wohl replied, “He is going to go over this extensively tonight. ... This is the number one story, Martha. Michael Cohen’s being indicted for campaign issues that Trump had nothing to do with is secondary completely to this story, Martha. This is what parents care about.”

    After the rally concluded, the remaining lineup on Fox all discussed Trump’s comments about the Tibbetts case and the suspect’s alleged immigration status. Tucker Carlson Tonight, Hannity, The Ingraham Angle, and Fox News at Night all included a clip of Trump’s speech at the start of segments about Tibbetts.

    The spike in Fox News’ coverage after local authorities linked Tibbetts' murder to an allegedly undocumented immigrant made two things clear: The network was looking for a story to take some heat off the Cohen and Manafort news, and its streak of exploiting stories to hype "immigrant crime" remains unbroken.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the Snapstream video database’s transcript and closed-captioning archive on August 21 for variations (including misspellings) of the terms “Tibbetts,” “Mollie” within close proximity to “Tibbetts”, or “Tibbetts” within close proximity of “immigrant,” “killed,” “murder,” or “missing” on Fox News Channel from 5 a.m. to midnight. We timed all mentions, teases, news correspondence, interviews, and panels only for relevant speech about the Tibbetts case.

  • No crime but a witch hunt: Pro-Trump media’s off-the-wall reactions to Manafort's conviction and Cohen's guilty plea

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    After former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump attorney Michael Cohen were found guilty and pleaded guilty, respectively, each on eight criminal counts, right-wing media immediately rose to President Donald Trump’s defense. Multiple media figures claimed that none of the charges had anything to do with Trump and that Trump’s former associates pleaded guilty to crimes that “don’t exist.”

  • Fox News added more female hosts but still had the same abortion misinformation problem

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT & SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    When Media Matters last crunched the numbers on Fox News programming responsible for the most abortion misinformation, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and Tucker Carlson were unsurprisingly the worst culprits. However, as allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against O’Reilly (and other network figures including Eric Bolling) and he was eventually fired, Fox News transitioned to an evening lineup with more female hosts -- Shannon Bream, Martha MacCallum, and Laura Ingraham. But this change has not come close to fixing the network’s abortion misinformation problem.

    Media Matters analyzed evening prime-time news programs on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN from March 1, 2017, through March 1, 2018, and identified segments featuring a substantial discussion of abortion and reproductive rights. The resulting 211 segments were then coded for the number of accurate or inaccurate statements made about four abortion-related topics: the discredited anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP), abortion funding rules, Planned Parenthood’s essential services, and so-called extreme abortion procedures. We found that Fox News dominated the conversation about abortion -- airing 114 of the 211 total segments across all cable news networks (54 percent) -- and that its coverage of the four abortion-related topics was inaccurate 77 percent of the time. And 44 percent of its 114 segments were aired on programs Bream, MacCallum, and Ingraham anchored.

    The shows Bream, MacCallum, and Ingraham hosted had 107 statements about the four abortion-related topics, out of which the hosts either personally spread -- or gave a platform to those spreading -- anti-abortion misinformation 76 times (71 percent). Here’s a sample of what each host has offered her viewers in the last year:

    Shannon Bream

    Overall, Bream made 30 appearances on Fox News where a substantial discussion of abortion occurred. Although Bream entered the prime-time lineup when she started hosting her own show, Fox News @ Night, on October 30, 2017, she had previously regularly appeared as a guest or a correspondent during The First 100 Days and Special Report. Bream individually made 35 total statements about CMP, abortion funding rules, Planned Parenthood’s essential services, and so-called extreme abortion procedures. Of these 35 statements, 23 contained misinformation (66 percent).

    As Media Matters documented after Fox News @ Night debuted, Bream appears well-attuned to the talking points and interests of the anti-abortion movement; an anti-abortion leader even celebrated her promotion, tweeting that Bream “covers Life issues with fearlessness and fairness.” Since then, Bream has promoted anti-abortion talking points and myths -- suggesting they were simply concerns she “heard from a lot of pro-life groups” -- including by asking a misleading question about taxpayers paying for the abortions of undocumented minors who come to the United States.

    As a host, Bream has been consistent in repeating misinformation about anti-abortion group CMP, which engaged in a smear campaign against Planned Parenthood by releasing deceptively edited videos. Just as she had done repeatedly in the past, Bream promoted CMP and said its actions caused Planned Parenthood to become “mired in scandal” and that CMP’s videos showed “Planned Parenthood officials discussing pricing for fetal body parts and tissue left over after abortions.”

    Martha MacCallum

    MacCallum made 14 appearances in Fox News segments that had a substantial discussion of abortion. All these segments were on the two Fox News programs she hosted during the study period -- The First 100 Days and The Story. During those appearances, MacCallum made nine statements in total about CMP and so-called extreme abortion procedures, all of which were inaccurate (100 percent). MacCallum also frequently relied on extreme and stigmatizing rhetoric about abortion.

    When discussing CMP, MacCallum often treated the discredited organization and its deceptive smear videos as credible sources of information. For example, during a March 2017 segment of The First 100 Days, MacCallum not only played a long excerpt from one of the videos, she also said that it was “still hard to watch,” implying that it accurately depicted that Planned Parenthood was engaged in the sale of fetal body parts. In an interview with Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), MacCallum focused on Blackburn’s phrasing in one of her campaign ads, which Twitter briefly blocked her campaign from promoting. In the ad, Blackburn referred to her time on the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, saying, “I fought Planned Parenthood and we stopped the sale of baby body parts.” Instead of questioning Blackburn on her inaccurate phrasing or talking about the smear campaign that Blackburn and the panel had engaged in against Planned Parenthood, Bream accepted her narrative, saying, “You fought hard, as you say, to ban the sale of baby body parts. I mean, it’s such a difficult phrase even to say and I think you’ve fought very hard for it.”

    Similarly, during a July 2017 segment on The Story, MacCallum pushed several myths about the existence and widespread practice of so-called sex-selective, late-term, and full-term abortions. In reality, these are inaccurate descriptions of abortion, created by anti-abortion groups to vilify those accessing legal health care. In one example, MacCallum said that an Oregon bill (now law) that ensured protection of reproductive rights for all -- including undocumented immigrants -- would allow for “sex-selective” and “late-term, even full-term, abortions for an illegal immigrant.” MacCallum continued to push the misinformation, asking her guest, political commentator Danielle McLaughlin, whether she thought it was “OK for someone to decide because they don’t like the sex of their baby to abort it at eight months” and demanding to know, “Why would any state want to pass a law that would allow that?”

    Laura Ingraham

    During the study period, Ingraham made 10 appearances in Fox News segments where there was a substantial discussion of abortion. Like Bream, Ingraham started hosting her own show, The Ingraham Angle, on October 30, 2017, and before that, she had also occasionally appeared as a guest on Special Report and Hannity. Although Ingraham made only three statements total about the four abortion-related topics, two of these statements were inaccurate (67 percent).

    Despite only making 10 appearances during the period of study, Ingraham made a splash with her frequent use of alarmist and stigmatizing rhetoric. In one appearance, Ingraham called Planned Parenthood a “monstrosity of killing.” A December 2017 segment of The Ingraham Angle may be the most bewildering segment of the year about abortion. It started as a fairly regular Fox News segment about abortion, with Ingraham fearmongering that because of a court decision to allow undocumented minors abortion access, the United States would become “an abortion magnet.” Then, Ingraham insisted that a picture of a baby be put up on screen and demanded that her guest, attorney Rachel Self, “look at the screen.” Self calmly explained that she was unable to see the image because she was not in studio. Undeterred, Ingraham escalated the situation and eventually cut Self’s mic off, saying, “I can’t hear her talking over me.”

    Fox News added more female hosts to its prime-time lineup, but having greater gender representation didn't translate to accurate and nuanced coverage of abortion. Bream, MacCallum, and Ingraham show that a push for gender parity in the cable news world cannot happen in a vacuum and must go hand-in-hand -- particularly for abortion-related issues -- with a commitment to frank, fair, and accurate coverage.

  • Right-wing media are filling a void of abortion-related coverage with misinformation

    Fox News is dominating the conversation about abortion on evening cable news -- and the network is doing it all wrong

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    A 12-month-long Media Matters study of evening cable news programs found that Fox News dominated discussions of abortion and reproductive rights and that the network was wrong about four common abortion-related topics 77 percent of the time.

  • Fox News repeatedly claims information obtained by torture led to Osama bin Laden’s death. It didn't.

    The 2014 Senate torture report revealed that the US collected key intelligence on bin Laden’s location without torture

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In the coverage leading up to and following CIA acting Director Gina Haspel’s confirmation hearing to become director, multiple Fox News personalities and guests have asserted that torture helped lead to the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011. However, the Senate’s 2014 investigation of the CIA torture program indicates that there is no evidence for this claim. 

    In recent days, Fox figures and guests have made bold claims that torturing detainees at secret CIA prisons known as “black sites” resulted in valuable intelligence that helped track down the former leader of Al Qaeda:

    • On his May 7 Fox show, Sean Hannity cited an earlier guest to claim that if there had been “no waterboarding we wouldn't have found Osama bin Laden's courier and we wouldn't have gotten bin Laden.” Hannity made the same claim the following night. 
    • In an May 8 appearance on Fox’s The Story with Martha MacCallum, former Vice President Dick Cheney said that the torture program “gave us clues that led directly to helping identify the location of Osama Bin Laden.” Cheney repeated the claim two days later on Fox Business. 
    • On the May 9 edition of Fox News’ The Five, co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle asserted that “the water boarding led them to Osama Bin Laden's house.”
    • On May 10, all three co-hosts of Fox & Friends agreed that “you don’t get bin Laden” without torture.
    • On the May 11 edition of Fox & Friends, Geraldo Rivera commented that “torture in retrospect may seem regrettable, but there’s no denying that it did lead to the courier that did lead us to the terror mastermind” Osama bin Laden.

    In 2014, the Senate investigated the CIA’s torture program. According to a Vox summary of the 525-page document, the Senate report reveals that the CIA extracted “key intelligence” on bin Laden courier Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti -- “‘including information the CIA would later cite as pivotal’ in finding Bin Laden” -- by 2002. However, “the CIA didn't acquire any intelligence on al-Kuwaiti via torture until 2003. The CIA had begun trying to find and identify al-Kuwaiti well before any of that information was in.”

    In 2004, the CIA torture program did capture a man named Hassan Guhl who told the U.S. government that al-Kuwaiti was a bin Laden assistant and that the Al Qaeda leader "likely lived in a house with a family somewhere in Pakistan," according to Vox. However, “Ghul told the CIA all of that before they decided to torture him.” The Senate report explains that “during and after the use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques, Ghul provided no other information of substance on al-Kuwaiti." From the Senate’s report on CIA torture, via NPR:

  • Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has appeared on Fox News four times more than on the other major TV networks combined

    Like other Trump officials, Zinke heavily favors the president's favorite network

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has appeared on Fox News four times more often than on the other major cable and broadcast networks combined, Media Matters has found. And for the last nine-plus months, as Zinke has been increasingly dogged by scandals, he has not given interviews to any major channels other than Fox networks.

    In exhibiting a clear preference for Fox News during his 13-plus months in office, Zinke is following the same pattern as many of President Donald Trump’s other cabinet officials and top aides, including Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt.

    Zinke has gotten soft treatment on Fox News. During his interviews, the network's hosts and journalists rarely asked about his scandals. Instead of confronting him with tough questions, they let him peddle Trump administration talking points and trumpet brand-burnishing policies such as “Bring Your Dog to Work Day.” 

    Zinke appeared on Fox News 13 times and other major networks three times since he took office

    Zinke gave 13 interviews to Fox News and one each to CNN, MSNBC, and CBS. From March 1, 2017, when Zinke was sworn in, to April 17, 2018, Zinke appeared on Fox News 13 times. He granted only one on-air interview apiece to the other major cable news networks, CNN and MSNBC. On broadcast TV, Zinke appeared only on CBS; he gave no interviews to ABC or NBC.

    Zinke appeared most often on Fox & Friends, a show that shapes Trump’s decision-making. Here are all of Zinke's appearances on Fox News during his time as interior secretary:

    Fox & Friends’ interviews with Zinke were good examples of how he was treated across the network. When the hosts were not feting him for his Navy Seal service or lauding him for enacting Trump's deregulatory agenda, they allowed Zinke’s statements on policy to go unchallenged. Zinke's September 20 appearance on Fox & Friends stands out for its breeziness. Host Brian Kilmeade accompanied Zinke on a tour of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and neglected to ask the secretary about a controversial recommendation Zinke had made just days earlier to shrink four national monuments, including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah.

    Here are Zinke's appearances on major networks other than Fox:

    On cable business news networks, Zinke appeared on Fox Business seven times and CNBC once

    Zinke’s preference for Fox extended to the Fox Business Network, which he has appeared on seven times, compared to once on rival CNBC. Fox Business, like Fox News, regularly echoes Trump administration talking points and attacks the administration's perceived enemies. Fox Business host Lou Dobbs even has the ear of the president, who has invited Dobbs to participate in senior-level meetings via phone.

    Here are Zinke's appearances on Fox Business programs:

    Zinke's sole appearance on CNBC was on Squawk Box on June 29, 2017

    Zinke appeared only on Fox News and Fox Business after becoming embroiled in scandals

    Zinke started getting a notable amount of bad press last summer after an article published on July 26 revealed that he tried to strong-arm Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) into voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Since then, Zinke, like Pruitt and others in Trump's cabinet, has been at the center of numerous scandals involving excessive travel expenses, favors for donors, and undisclosed financial ties to companies that could benefit from his agency’s decisions.

    All of the TV interviews Zinke did with networks other than Fox or Fox Business happened prior to July 26, 2017, after which point his controversies began generating significant media attention.

    Once scandals cropped up, Zinke retreated fully to his safe space. For more than nine months now, Zinke has not granted a single interview to any major TV network other than Fox News or Fox Business.

    Fox News covered a key Zinke travel scandal less than CNN and MSNBC

    On September 28, The Washington Post and Politico reported that Zinke spent more than $12,000 of taxpayer funds to charter a flight from Las Vegas to near his Montana home on a plane owned by oil and gas executives. Commercial flights between the airports run daily and cost as little as $300, the Post reported. Zinke's jaunt was widely reported across cable news the week after the story broke, but more widely on MSNBC and CNN than on Fox.

    From September 28 to October 4, MSNBC ran 27 segments that mentioned Zinke’s travel, while CNN ran 23. The networks' hosts, correspondents, and guests usually brought up Zinke’s travel scandal during wider conversations that included mention of other cabinet members' extravagant travel.

    During the same period, Fox News ran 12 segments about Zinke’s travel -- roughly half as many as each of the other cable news networks. Most of Fox's mentions of Zinke's travel were news alerts restating basic facts from the Post article. When Fox News hosts and correspondents discussed the story on air, they usually downplayed or excused the scandal. For example, on America’s News Headquarters on September 29, White House Correspondent John Roberts said that Zinke was “taking The Washington Post to task” before airing Zinke’s defense for taking private flights. Later in the show, host Sandra Smith remarked, “Zinke makes a fair point,” and noted that he got approval for other controversial flights he took on government planes.

    On April 16, 2018, the Interior Department’s (DOI) inspector general released a report that found Zinke's $12,375 charter flight "could have been avoided." Zinke took the chartered flight so he would have time in his schedule to give a motivational speech to a hockey team owned by a major donor to Zinke's former congressional campaign. The speech did not mention Zinke's work at the Department of Interior. The inspector general’s report concluded, "If ethics officials had known Zinke’s speech would have no nexus to the DOI, they likely would not have approved this as an official event, thus eliminating the need for a chartered flight. Moreover, had ethics officials been made aware that the Golden Knights’ owner had been a donor to Zinke’s congressional campaign, it might have prompted further review and discussion."

    Kevin Kalhoefer contributed research to this report. Charts by Sarah Wasko.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the following terms in Nexis and iQ media to find Zinke’s on-air TV appearances from the date he was sworn in as secretary of the interior on March 1, 2017, to April 17, 2018: “Zinke OR Zinky OR Interior Secretary OR Secretary of the Interior OR Secretary of Interior.” We used the same terms to search cable news networks’ coverage of Zinke’s travel controversy from September 28 to October 4, 2017.