The Story with Martha MacCallum | Media Matters for America

The Story with Martha MacCallum

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  • Only MSNBC hosted LGBTQ opponents of the Trump-Pence administration's plan to define away trans identities

    While MSNBC aired segments featuring six LGBTQ people, Fox News hosted anti-LGBTQ group leader Tony Perkins and two anti-trans gay women

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melisa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Trump-Pence administration is “considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth,” which would be “the most drastic move yet in a governmentwide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people,” according to an October 21 New York Times report. When TV news reported on the proposal, only MSNBC hosted LGBTQ guests to condemn it, while Fox hosted primarily anti-trans voices, including two gay women and major anti-LGBTQ group leader Tony Perkins.

    The Times reported that the definition would be established under Title IX, which bars “gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance.” Title IX is enforced in part by the “Big Four” federal agencies -- the departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Labor -- most of which currently employ anti-LGBTQ group alumni who would potentially implement the policy. According to the Williams Institute, there are roughly 1.4 million American adults who identify as transgender, all of whom would be impacted by the proposed change. CNN reported that “if adopted, such a definition could exclude transgender people from existing federal civil rights protections in education, employment and access to health care.” The move is part of a greater trend of the Trump-Pence administration going after transgender people, and transgender advocates and their allies have sounded the alarm about the proposal and are fighting back.

    How TV news covered the proposal

    Following the Times’ reporting on the Trump-Pence administration’s proposal, broadcast and cable TV news spent a moderate amount of time covering the issue. MSNBC turned to transgender and queer guests to discuss the impacts of the proposal, while Fox News hosted primarily anti-transgender guests, including Perkins. Though generally critical of the proposal, CNN’s segments relied entirely on CNN hosts, commentators, and reporters, none of whom openly identify as LGBTQ.

    In discussing the proposal, MSNBC hosted six LGBTQ people, four of whom identify as trans, who were able to explain the personal impact the Trump administration’s proposal would have on the trans community.

    On October 23, MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson hosted Laverne Cox, a transgender actress and activist, who outlined the Trump-Pence administration’s history of anti-trans policies, as well as those proposed around the country in state legislatures. Cox said that state legislatures “are continually trying to introduce legislation banning transgender people from public life” but noted that “we have fought those battles, and we have won.” She explained that “over and over again the courts have held that transgender people are covered by Title IX and Title VII.” Cox said, “They want to make us afraid, but we need not be afraid.”

    MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson aired an October 22 segment featuring National Center for Transgender Equality's (NCTE) Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, who was the first out transgender person to be appointed to a White House job. Freedman-Gurspan called the proposal “an abomination” and highlighted that the new definition does not align with medical consensus or the lived experiences of trans people. She also noted the many anti-trans actions and rhetoric of the Trump-Pence administration and highlighted activism by the trans community and their allies who are ready to fight the proposal. Freedman-Gurspan ended the segment by saying, “We won’t be erased. We are standing up. … We are going to get through this.”

    During other segments, MSNBC also hosted Mara Keisling, a trans woman and president of NCTE; Hannah Simpson, a trans woman and activist; Masha Gessen, an LGBTQ journalist; and Sarah Kate Ellis, a lesbian and president of GLAAD. Additionally, Rachel Maddow, an out lesbian, did a monologue on her October 22 show about the proposal in which she contextualized the history of Republican administrations rolling back LGBTQ rights.

    While MSNBC turned to LGBTQ people who were either transgender or trans allies for their insights on the potential impact of the Trump-Pence administration’s proposal, Fox News hosted primarily anti-transgender guests, including two gay women and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council’s (FRC) President Tony Perkins.

    In Fox News’ first substantial segment about the proposal, Fox News at Night with Shannon Bream aired a debate between liberal radio host Ethan Bearman and FRC’s Perkins, who was also appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in May. During the segment, Perkins praised the proposal and resorted to fearmongering when presented with historical facts about gender identity. Perkins also pushed the the thoroughly debunked myth that trans-inclusive policies pose a threat to the safety of women and girls. From the segment:

    What we’re doing by this policy that was put in place without an act of Congress -- this was the Obama administration -- we’re putting people at risk. We're actually denying people equal protection under the law, because under this, we would force women that are going to battered shelters for abused women, we would force them under government policy to be housed with men, biological men. This makes no sense.

    On October 23, Tucker Carlson, who has an anti-transgender track record himself, hosted Tammy Bruce, an anti-trans lesbian and president of the conservative group Independent Women’s Voice. In the past, Bruce has criticized trans-inclusive restrooms and compared being transgender to “a child” thinking they are “a cocker spaniel. She has also defended Jack Phillips, the Christian baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple and who was represented by extreme anti-LGBTQ powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom at the Supreme Court. During the segment, Carlson claimed that the government recognizing the trans community would hurt women, and Bruce leveraged her identity as a lesbian to dismiss the impact of the proposal on trans people.

    Additionally, Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum hosted Camille Paglia, also an LGBTQ-identified person who is critical of trans identities. During the segment, Paglia pushed anti-trans narratives about biology and said that trans-inclusive policies are “unfair” in areas like athletics. She also described herself as transgender while criticizing the trans community. Paglia has made similar comments in the past, saying, "Although I describe myself as transgender (I was donning flamboyant male costumes from early childhood on), I am highly skeptical about the current transgender wave." In other reporting, it appears that she identifies as gay and uses female pronouns.

    CNN had at least eight separate significant discussions, news reads, or reports covering the proposal but failed to host a single LGBTQ person in its reporting. Though the network’s coverage was generally critical of the proposal, CNN’s shows only used staff commentators and reporters to discuss it.

    Broadcast TV news outlets ABC and CBS barely covered the story at all, only airing news reads with no comprehensive segments or reporting, and both networks failed to feature any LGBTQ voices. NBC, however, aired a package on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt that included a clip from NCTE’s Freedman-Gurspan’s appearance on MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson. It also aired a report on Today.

    Additionally, PBS aired a segment featuring LGBTQ legal group Lambda Legal’s Sharon McGowan and was the only TV outlet so far to contextualize the anti-LGBTQ track record of Roger Severino, head of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, the department spearheading the proposal.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts for cable TV coverage appearing between October 21 and 23 on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- as well as transcripts of broadcast TV coverage on ABC, NBC, and CBS -- for mentions of the words “transgender” or “health and human services” as well as mentions of the words or variations of the words “trans,” “sex,” or “gender” occurring within 10 words of the words or variations of the words “memo,” “policy,” “definition” or “Trump.” Additionally, Media Matters conducted searches on Snapstream for the same time frame for the same terms. “Significant discussion” is defined as two or more speakers in the same segment discussing the proposal with one another.

  • 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.”