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

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

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

  • STUDY: EPA chief Scott Pruitt has given more interviews to Fox than to all other major TV networks combined

    Pruitt shares the Trump administration’s preference for Fox News and right-wing media

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has appeared on Fox News twice as often as on other cable and broadcast networks combined, and he has frequently granted interviews to right-wing talk radio shows and other climate-denying outlets, Media Matters has found.

    Pruitt’s media strategy is right in line with that of his boss. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump eschewed mainstream media outlets; it's a pattern his administration has continued since the election, favoring conservative and right-wing media outlets that are friendly to President Trump's agenda. By following the same approach, Pruitt has been able to push misinformation, avoid tough questioning, and appeal to the president’s political base.

    Pruitt appeared on Fox News twice as often as he did on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and NBC combined

    Scott Pruitt has been a guest on Fox News a total of 12 times since his confirmation. From February 17, when he was sworn in, to August 14, Pruitt made twice as many appearances on Fox News (12) as he did on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and NBC combined (6).* With the exception of two appearances on Fox News Sunday, Pruitt rarely faced tough questions on Fox News and was able to use the network as a platform for pushing misleading talking points without rebuttal. Pruitt appeared most frequently on Fox & Friends, Trump’s favorite show, which some journalists have criticized as “state TV” and “a daily infomercial for the Trump presidency” for its sycophantic coverage of the president and his administration. Pruitt made the following appearances on Fox News:

    By comparison, Pruitt made only six appearances on the other major cable and broadcast television networks combined. From the time Pruitt took the helm at the EPA through August 14, he was a guest just six times total on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, and NBC, and he made no appearances at all on CBS. On each of these non-Fox programs, Pruitt faced questions either about whether Trump still believes climate change is a hoax or about Pruitt's own views on climate change. In response, Pruitt either avoided answering the question or repeated his “lukewarmer” stance that climate change is happening but we don’t know how much is human-caused. In all but one of these appearances, Pruitt repeated false or misleading talking points about the Paris climate agreement. Here are Pruitt's guest appearances on cable news and broadcast networks other than Fox:

    • One appearance on CNN’s The Situation Room on February 28.
    • One appearance on CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper on June 1.
    • One appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on June 6.
    • Two appearances on ABC’s This Week on March 26 and June 4.
    • One appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press on June 4.

    *Pruitt’s appearance on Meet the Press aired on both NBC and MSNBC, but for the purposes of this study, we only counted it as an NBC appearance.

    Pruitt has been a frequent guest on national right-wing talk radio shows

    Pruitt has also been a frequent guest on nationally broadcast right-wing talk radio shows since his confirmation, Media Matters found. We examined the top 10 shows listed on Talkers.com's Top Talk Audiences list, as well as numerous shows broadcast on the SiriusXM Patriot channel, and found the following:

    • Three appearances on Salem Radio Network’s The Hugh Hewitt Show on March 29, May 11, and June 2.
    • Two appearances on Fox News Radio’s Brian Kilmeade Show on April 27 and May 19.
    • One appearance on SiriusXM Patriot’s David Webb Show on April 26.
    • One appearance on SiriusXM Patriot’s Breitbart News Daily on June 5.
    • One appearance on Westwood One’s The Savage Nation on June 1.

    All of these hosts or outlets have denied climate change:

    • Hugh Hewitt has a years-long record of climate denial: He wrote in a 2011 blog post that “we don’t know” how much humans contribute to global warming, adding “if it will be harmful or if there's anything we can do about it.” Hewitt also downplayed the threat of climate change in a September 2016 episode of his show in which he said that warming might be "a real problem over 500 years."
    • Brian Kilmeade has denied climate change, both as a host on his radio show and as a co-host on Fox & Friends. On a 2013 episode of his radio show (then called Kilmeade & Friends), Kilmeade suggested that only “corrupt” climatologists accept human-caused climate change. On the same day, Kilmeade disputed on Fox & Friends that it is “settled scientific collective thought” that human activity causes climate change. 
    • On the January 12, 2017, episode of the David Webb Show, Webb cast doubt on the scientific consensus around climate change, arguing that it's not significant that the vast majority of climate scientists publishing peer-reviewed research agree on the human causes of warming: "You can have 99 percent of peer-reviewed, but it doesn’t mean that the one percent like that guy named Copernicus won’t be correct about the fact that the Earth was not flat and we were not the center of the universe.”
    • Breitbart.com has a long track record of pushing blatant climate science misinformation and attacking climate scientists and climate science, calling researchers “talentless low-lives” and “abject liars” and climate change a “hoax.” Breitbart is also a go-to outlet for fossil fuel industry-funded academics who want to get publicity for their work.
    • Michael Savage has echoed Trump’s position on climate change, calling it a “scam” and a “hoax,” and has urged the president to continue denying that humans are the cause of global warming. During his June 1 interview with Scott Pruitt, Savage repeated the denier argument that human-made climate change is disproven by samples from the Vostok ice core in Antarctica and criticized Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) for promoting “fake science.” In response, Pruitt appeared to endorse Savage’s views and floated the idea of having a "red team" of skeptical scientists debate a "blue team" of mainstream climate scientists, a proposal Pruitt pushed again a few days later on Breitbart’s radio program:
    MICHAEL SAVAGE (HOST): Please explain to me how come ancient core samples from the Antarctic show that there was climate change going on hundreds of thousands of years before man industrialized. [Whitehouse] would not have an answer for us, Mr. Pruitt. The science is fake science that they’ve been foisting upon a gullible public.
    SCOTT PRUITT: You know what’s interesting, Michael? There was a great article in The Wall Street Journal to your point, by Steven Koonin, a scientist at NYU, called “red team/blue team.” I don’t know if you saw it or not. But he proposed that we should have a red team/blue team approach with respect to CO2. We should have red team scientists and blue team scientists, in an open setting, debate, discuss, and have an open discussion about what do we know, what don’t we know, and the American people deserve truth.
    SAVAGE: Amen to that, because we’ve had no debate whatsoever. All Obama told us was 98 percent of scientists agree. So what? There was a time when 100 percent of scientists said the Earth is flat. Did that make them right?
    PRUITT: No, look, I mean the reason there’s not consensus, through policy in Washington, D.C., is because, truly, the American people don’t trust what has happened in the past several years with respect to regulatory policy and this issue.

    Pruitt’s right-wing radio appearances have extended beyond nationally broadcast shows. E&E News reported in May that Pruitt appeared on “the local morning talk radio show of a North Dakota blogger who described the Obama administration's EPA as an enemy to the well-being of his state.” ThinkProgress noted that during a “state listening tour” in North Dakota earlier this month, “Pruitt stopped by the conservative talk radio show What’s On Your Mind to share his thoughts on a number of EPA-related issues.” During that conversation, Pruitt referred to the “so-called settled science” of climate change.

    And on August 10, Pruitt appeared on a Texas radio show, Politico reported, where he said his staff will assess the "accuracy" of a major federal climate report that's been drafted by scientists from 13 agencies. “Frankly this report ought to be subjected to peer-reviewed, objective-reviewed methodology and evaluation,” he said, ignoring the fact that the report has already undergone extensive peer review. Pruitt also used his appearance on the show to cast doubt on climate science in general.

    Pruitt has given interviews to other climate-denying outlets, including online publications and cable business shows

    In addition to his June interview on Breitbart’s radio show, Pruitt granted the Breitbart website an interview in March.

    Pruitt also sat for a lengthy video interview in July with the fossil fuel-funded Daily Caller, another denialist online outlet. And he gave an interview in May to The Daily Signal, an online news outlet run by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that casts doubt on climate change.

    Besides his appearances on cable news shows, Pruitt also went on cable business shows and networks that serve as platforms for climate denial -- most notably CNBC’s Squawk Box, where he told climate-denying host Joe Kernen that he did not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming. Pruitt has also frequently given interviews on Fox Business Network, which mirrors Fox News’ denialist stance on global warming. Pruitt made the following appearances on the Fox Business Network:

    Pruitt’s courting of conservative media is “on an entirely different level” from predecessors

    Scott Waldman of E&E News reported that after “weeks of blowback” from Pruitt’s appearance on Squawk Box, the EPA chief “shifted his media appearances to friendlier venues,” a move that “allowed him to tee off on a favorite series of talking points: Obama's energy policy was ‘America second,’ energy industry innovations have reduced the U.S. carbon footprint, the so-called war on coal is now over, EPA's job is to encourage business growth in concert with the environment, and the era of punitive action against energy companies is over.” Waldman also noted that Pruitt’s “courting of conservative media is on an entirely different level” from previous EPA administrators. From Waldman’s article:

    To be sure, all administrations seek out friendly press. President Obama talked about health care on the "Between Two Ferns" comedy program with Zach Galifianakis, which Republicans criticized as undignified. And former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy granted exclusive interviews to left-leaning outlets like Mother Jones and Grist.

    But critics say Pruitt's courting of conservative media is on an entirely different level.

    […]

    Liz Purchia, a former EPA spokeswoman under the Obama administration, said it's extremely unusual to place an administrator only on partisan outlets. She noted that McCarthy regularly interacted with reporters from outlets that produced coverage EPA officials did not appreciate.

    […]

    "Only talking to far right-wing media outlets, they are only talking to a small group of Americans that regularly follow them, and they are intentionally going to reporters who will only ask them questions they want to hear and aren't speaking to the broader American people about their actions," Purchia said.

    In Mother Jones, Rebecca Leber also reported that “since taking office, Pruitt has almost exclusively relied on a small number of conservative media outlets to tell an upbeat version of his leadership at the EPA, with occasional detours into the Sunday news shows,” creating “an echo chamber cheerleading the EPA’s regulatory rollbacks, Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, and its newfound anti-science denial.”

    Leber also quoted Purchia remarking on how Pruitt’s approach to media interviews “isolates him from most Americans and instead plays to Trump’s base”:

    Liz Purchia, an Obama-era EPA communications staffer, says the EPA’s attention to right-wing audiences resembles Trump’s tactics at the White House. “They’re tightly controlling [Pruitt’s] public events and interviews, which isolates him from most Americans and instead plays to Trump’s base,” Purchia said in an email. “They’re not trying to use communications tactics to reach a broad audience.”

    Charts by Sarah Wasko

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the following terms in Nexis, iQ Media, and TVEyes to find Scott Pruitt's on-air TV appearances from the date of his swearing in as EPA Administrator on February 17 to August 14: “Pruitt,” "EPA administrator," "E.P.A. administrator," "EPA chief," "E.P.A. chief," "EPA head," "E.P.A. head," "head of the EPA," "head of the E.P.A.," "head of the Environmental Protection Agency," "Environmental Protection Agency Administrator," or "Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency." We did not count instances of networks airing Pruitt’s appearance at the White House’s June 2 press briefing.

    For radio appearances, Matters Matters searched the same terms in Veritone for the top 10 programs in Talkers.com's Top Talk Audiences list and the following programs that air on SiriusXM Patriot: Breitbart News Daily, David Webb Show, Brian Kilmeade Show, and The Wilkow Majority.

  • "Personal Gestapo," "witness intimidation," and "a witch hunt": How pro-Trump media reacted to the Manafort raid

    ››› ››› KATHERINE HESS

    After President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was issued a search warrant regarding the Russia investigation, pro-Trump media -- including Fox personalities, fringe blogs, neo-Nazi sites, and fake news purveyors -- lashed out, stating that it was “not about Trump,” and insisted that this was a witch hunt and another attempt to undermine the 2016 presidential election. Others claimed the FBI was acting as “someone’s personal Gestapo,” and that the raid was a form of “witness intimidation.”

  • Fox & Friends might be all that stands between us and the nuclear apocalypse

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The United States may be on the brink of frightening conflict in East Asia. Since The Washington Post reported earlier this week that a U.S. intelligence agency believes North Korea possesses miniaturized nuclear warheads that can fit inside its missiles, President Donald Trump and the North Korean government have traded threats. It is in the interest of neither country to start a conflict that could quickly engulf the region and threaten the lives of tens of millions of people. But Trump has immense unilateral authority to dramatically escalate the situation -- including through the use of nuclear weapons -- and he is known for making snap decisions without fully consulting experts or his staff. And the biggest influence on his thinking may not be our diplomats or generals, but rather the hosts, producers, and bookers of the Fox News morning show Fox & Friends, who seem largely content to confirm the president’s biases and promote his worst impulses.

    Trump is obsessed with Fox & Friends, regularly watching the program, tweeting along with it, and praising its hosts. That gives Fox & Friends incredible power, and the show’s hosts use it, apparently tailoring the show to the most powerful cable news viewer in the world. According to a Vox study, hosts Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and Brian Kilmeade and their guests “increasingly view their role as giving advice to the president.”

    That “advice” is all the more important with the nation careening toward a flashpoint. The president apparently watched Fox & Friends the last two mornings, as the North Korea situation became more serious. What he saw was the program’s hosts and guests repeatedly assuring him that he was doing everything right, and that his critics were not only wrong, but partisans who are undermining the country.

    Much of the Fox & Friends discussion has revolved around Trump’s ill-advised, improvised warning on Tuesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will face “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if he continues to threaten the U.S. Democrats and Republicans alike criticized the statement, as did analysts and experts from the U.S. and across the region, with many interpreting Trump’s remarks as threatening a nuclear strike.

    But on Fox & Friends, Trump’s statement was viewed as “right on target,” in the words of Kilmeade. The president had been “measured,” according to Earhardt: “He thought about what he was going to say before because he repeated it twice.” “Keep in mind the president's point was North Korea's threats are intolerable,” Doocy said this morning. “Also, at the same time, while he was talking about fire and fury, he did not set any red lines. Was he hyperbolic? Sure. But we know that this president has been hyperbolic in the past.”

    The hosts played into Trump’s own natural inclination, portraying all of his critics as enemies of the president -- "Liberal Media Slams President's Rhetoric" and "Media Blasts President's 'Fire And Fury' Message" were two chyrons that appeared on today’s show -- who just want to tear him down and would prefer the U.S. make no response at all to Kim. They warned that the critics were not just wrong but were endangering America. North Koreans “see the Democrats ridiculing the president, and they think the president shouldn’t be taken seriously, which is dangerous,” Kilmeade commented today.

    This behavior is fairly typical for the program, which constantly supports everything Trump does and is quick to lash out at his perceived foes. But there’s a real danger in Trump’s rhetoric; as Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, put it, Trump’s statements only “exacerbate” concerns of potentially “stumbling into an inadvertent nuclear war on the Korean peninsula.” By sending Trump the message that he’s making the right decision and his critics are acting in bad faith, Fox & Friends is increasing the possibility that Trump repeats his behavior, with potentially dire consequences.

    Given the unsettling power of the show and the gravity of the moment, I find myself grasping at straws, straining to read the program in a way that could lead the president to avoid the worst. At times, the program’s guests have pointed out that it’s unlikely Kim would attack us because he knows our retaliation would bring down his regime, and that a U.S. offensive against North Korea would have a serious “collateral effect.” The show featured a pastor who says the Bible gives Trump the authority to attack North Korea, but at least it put him up against a priest who urged restraint rather than endorsing the sentiment outright. Even Doocy has pointed out that the danger from North Korea may not be that extreme because of the instability of its missiles.

    On the other hand, over the last two days the show’s hosts have also: casually discussed deploying U.S. nuclear missiles to South Korea; said of Kim, "This guy is crazy. We have got to prevent him from killing all of us”; and claimed that if the U.S. strikes North Korea from Guam, it doesn't need to ask South Korea or Japan for permission. “What is scary is how quickly [a North Korean nuke] could make it to you, to me, to your family. Look at this map -- we're going to show you,” Earhardt said yesterday, before explaining how long it would take for an intercontinental ballistic missile to strike New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Hawaii.

    This is the crack team that has the ear of the president. We are all in a lot of trouble.

  • The email that gives away the pro-Trump media’s Seth Rich game

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A Republican operative’s email, revealed in a new lawsuit, turns the subtext behind the last year of Seth Rich conspiracy theories into text: Conservatives have been cynically deploying the murder of the Democratic National Committee staffer in an effort to protect President Donald Trump from the damning Russia story.

    Conspiracy theorists have claimed since shortly after Rich’s July 2016 murder that he had leaked DNC emails to WikiLeaks and had been killed in retaliation; according to U.S. intelligence agencies, hackers linked to Russian intelligence stole the emails as part of an effort by the Kremlin to help Trump win the election. Originally floated on Internet message boards, the story was amplified by key Trump media allies like Fox News’ Sean Hannity, longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, and the conspiracy site Infowars.

    From the beginning, Trump’s allies used these conspiracy theories to try to kick up dust around the Russia story. As more stolen Democratic emails entered the public sphere, they cited Rich’s murder and his purported ties to WikiLeaks as pushback against the crystallizing evidence that Russian intelligence services were playing a key role in the election. But at the same time, the conspiracy theorists often presented themselves as the ones who really had the best interest of the Rich family at heart; the only ones interested in finding the real killer.

    Fox gave the story new life in mid-May when it produced reporting prompted by the efforts of Ed Butowsky -- a Trump supporter and unpaid Fox commentator. Butowsky had hired Rod Wheeler, a private investigator and Fox contributor, to investigate Rich’s murder; Wheeler was cited in the network’s May 15 FoxNews.com report that Rich had been in contact with WikiLeaks.

    The president’s media sycophants immediately sought to use the Rich story to defuse the Russia allegations. But Fox had to retract the story after it fell apart, and a humiliated Wheeler is now suing Butowsky and the network for damaging his reputation.

    Wheeler’s lawsuit reveals that Butowsky’s concern with the Rich investigation had little to do with getting elusive justice for the murdered DNC staffer. It was a political operation aimed at protecting the president from the Russia scandal -- one that Fox was eager to support.

    Butowsky made that clear in an email he sent to a list of Fox staff hours before the FoxNews.com’s story’s publication. “One of the big conclusions we need to draw from this is that the Russians did not hack our computer systems and ste[a]l emails,” he wrote, “and there was no collusion like trump with the Russians.” The pro-Trump press had been searching for a way to defuse the collusion bomb, and Butowsky hoped he had found it.

    In the days that followed, pro-Trump Fox hosts Steve Doocy, who had received Butowsky’s email, and Sean Hannity, the most prominent champion of Rich conspiracy theories, promoted the story using Butowsky’s language (emphasis added):

    • May 16: Doocy reports, “For a long time on the internet and elsewhere, he has been rumored to have been the one who gave WikiLeaks the DNC emails. So, if that is true, and we don't know yet, it looks like Russia didn't give it to WikiLeaks. It was Seth Rich, perhaps.”
    • May 16: Hannity claims that “explosive developments” in the Rich story “could completely shatter the narrative that in fact WikiLeaks was working with the Russians, or there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
    • May 18: Hannity claims: “If Rich, in fact, was WikiLeaks' source for DNC email leaks, it would confirm Russia was not involved. … Wouldn’t that blow the Russian collusion narrative that the media has been pushing out of the water?
    • May 19: Hannity claims: “What if it was somebody that was so disgruntled in the DNC at how they cheated Bernie and how the fix was in, if that turned out to be true that somebody did that, wouldn't that completely wipe out the entire Russia lie we've heard for months and months?

    The lawsuit also adds new details that suggest that the story, published amid a slew of negative stories about the president and Russia, was deliberately timed to blunt the Russia debacle:

    • On May 8, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified to Congress about Russian interference. Yates testified that she had warned the White House in January that former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn could be "essentially blackmailed by the Russians."

    • On May 9, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who had been leading the federal criminal investigation into whether Trump’s advisers had colluded with Russia.

    • On May 10, according to Wheeler’s suit, Butowsky and the Fox reporter he had been working with told him they had “supposedly secured a source at the FBI who confirmed that emails were sent between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks.”

    • On May 11, Wheeler says he saw a draft of the story. The same day, Trump told NBC News that he had fired Comey because he was unsatisfied with Comey’s handling of the Russia investigation, and The New York Times reported that Trump had asked Comey to pledge loyalty to him over a private dinner at the White House.

    • On May 15, Washington reeled from a report that Trump had revealed classified information to Russian diplomats in an Oval Office briefing.

    • Later that day, Fox published the Rich story.

    Conservatives wanted to help a president badly damaged by mounting evidence that he owed his election to a foreign adversary. Rich was just a pawn in their game -- he was an instrument they could use to further their argument. There are no limits to the depths the president’s media allies are willing to sink in their quest to defend the indefensible.