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  • How conservative, far-right, and fringe media figures are defending Trump’s "tapes" threat to Comey

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    After President Donald Trump admitted in a June 22 tweet that “I did not make, and do not have” any “‘tapes’ or recordings of my conversations with [FBI Director] James Comey,” conservative and pro-Trump media figures and outlets tried to defend his original threat that claimed, “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” The media figures and outlets insisted the move was “brilliant,” “impressive,” and “a victory” and said it was a “smart way to make sure [Comey] stayed honest” in his congressional testimony.

  • Anti-abortion extremist group resurfaces to promote anti-choice misinformation in Wash. Times

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    After disbanding earlier this year, the anti-choice extremists behind Protest ABQ are back and operating under a new name -- and thanks to The Washington Times, they’re getting a bigger platform than ever to spread misinformation about late-term abortion and demonize abortion providers.

    In a June 20 article, The Washington Times gave an uncritical platform to a newly re-formed New Mexico anti-abortion group, Abortion Free New Mexico (AFNM). This group is the latest venture of longtime anti-choice extremists Bud and Tara Shaver. The Shavers are acolytes of Troy Newman, the head of the extreme anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, which has for years pushed violent rhetoric against, and harassment of, abortion providers. Prior to forming AFNM, the Shavers headed a similar campaign in New Mexico, called Protest ABQ. Protest ABQ operated from 2014 to March 2017 and not only targeted individual abortion providers and clinics, but also deceptively recorded comments made by clinic staff in order to allege wrongdoing. Before concluding the Protest ABQ campaign, the Shavers leaked their baseless information to a congressional panel investigating disproven claims against Planned Parenthood.

    According to the Times, AFNM and the anti-abortion group Priests for Life “have released a series of undercover audio recordings of abortion clinic workers” engaged in behavior they consider unlawful. Although there has been no external confirmation of these claims -- or validation of the recordings themselves -- the Times drew a comparison between AFNM’s recordings and a set of deceptively edited videos from the discredited anti-abortion organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP). The Times excluded the information that multiple investigations have disproved CMP’s claims of wrongdoing. Instead, the article credited AFNM for attempting to “to raise awareness about the prevalence of late-term abortion, especially in New Mexico,” via similar tactics.

    The Shavers launched AFNM in April, using a model touted by Newman in his book Abortion Free that centers on surveilling and harassing abortion providers. AFNM then began what it calls the #NewMexicoTrue project, a “6 Part Series exposing the [New Mexico] Abortion Cartel.” As part of this effort, AFNM began posting audio it claims represents illicit practices by abortion providers at clinics across the state. As of late June, AFNM had posted four videos that it alleges demonstrate discriminatory and dangerous practices by abortion providers. For example, in the most recent installment, AFNM claims that its “undercover recording … reveals just how arbitrary the standard is for determining which baby lives or dies” in New Mexico. Despite having no external corroboration, the Times not only promoted AFNM’s recordings, but also thus legitimized the tactic of deceptively filming and releasing video of abortion providers.

    Unfortunately, this is only the latest example of right-wing media giving a platform to an anti-abortion group that is attempting to manufacture outrage through deceptive “undercover” recordings. In May, when CMP released footage that identified abortion providers in violation of a court order, right-wing and anti-choice media did much of the legwork of spreading the organization’s disproven and malicious claims. 

    There is an even longer history of right-wing media figures assisting anti-choice groups by amplifying their attacks on individual abortion providers. For example, former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly spent years openly bullying abortion providers like Dr. George Tiller, who was assassinated in 2009. O’Reilly often referred to the doctor as “Tiller the baby killer” and insisted there was “a special place in hell for this guy.” Indeed, Newman praised O’Reilly in Abortion Free for how he “spoke passionately against Tiller’s late-term abortion business” and “often used television as a bully pulpit to denounce” Tiller. O’Reilly also actively collaborated with Newman to more effectively target Tiller, as Newman explained, helping “locate Tiller gassing his armored Jeep at a QuikTrip near his abortion clinic” so Fox News’ Jesse Watters could be filmed “surprising Tiller with questions about his late-term abortion business.”

    This type of targeted harassment and monitoring of abortion providers breeds conditions for anti-choice violence. According to a recent report from the National Abortion Federation, in 2016, there was “an increase in a wide range of intimidation tactics meant to disrupt the provision of health care at facilities, including vandalism, picketing, obstruction, invasion, trespassing, burglary, stalking, assault and battery, and bomb threats.”  

    Late-term abortion is an essential and legal medical service in the United States -- and neither patients nor providers should be demonized for receiving or performing the procedure. Nearly 99 percent of abortions performed in this country take place “before 21 weeks” of pregnancy, according to Planned Parenthood. After the 20th week, the Supreme Court has explicitly protected a woman’s right to an abortion if it is “necessary to preserve [her] life or health.” By promoting the work of anti-abortion groups like AFNM, the Times and other right-wing media are not only encouraging such groups to use deceptive tactics, but also enabling the type of targeted harassment that endangers abortion providers, patients, and clinics.

  • After the Senate bill is released, cable news fails to offer diverse voices on health care

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Once again, cable news largely failed to present diverse voices when reporting on the ongoing health care debate, missing an opportunity, yet again, to inform audiences of the personal cost millions of Americans will incur if Republicans pass their bills into law.

    Over six weeks after the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA) on May 4, Senate Republicans finally publicly introduced their health care proposal on June 22. The Senate committee that drafted the bill was roundly criticized for its “almost-unprecedented opacity” and lack of diversity. Leading up to that introduction, cable news coverage of the bill didn’t fare much better. And when cable news did cover the bill prior to its release, the guests were almost always white men.

    The day the Senate Republicans released the bill, cable news figures had an opportunity to redeem themselves. Sadly, they did not rise to the challenge:


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

    • CNN featured 105 guest appearances during discussions of the bill. Of those guest appearances, 92, or about 88 percent, were made by white guests. Eight appearances, or nearly 8 percent, were made by African-American guests, and five appearances, or almost 5 percent, were made by Asian-American guests. The network hosted no Hispanic guests to discuss the bill
    • Fox News featured 41 guest appearances during discussions of the bill. Of those guest appearances, 37, or just over 90 percent, were made by white guests. Only four appearances, or about 10 percent, were made by African-American guests. The network hosted no Asian-American or Hispanic guests to discuss the bill.
    • MSNBC featured 94 guest appearances during discussions of the bill. Of those guest appearances, 84, or just over 89 percent, were made by white guests. Only four appearances, or about 4 percent, were made by African-American guests, and six appearances, or about 6 percent, were made by Asian-American guests. The network hosted no Hispanic guests to discuss the bill.


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

    • CNN featured 105 guest appearances -- 61 appearances by men and 44 by women -- during discussions of the bill, meaning men comprised 58 percent of guest appearances, while women comprised about 42 percent.
    • Fox News featured 41 guest appearances -- 31 appearances by men and 10 by women -- during discussions of the bill. Thus, almost 76 percent of guest appearances were made by men, while only 25 percent were made by women.
    • MSNBC featured 94 guest appearances -- 61 appearances by men and 33 by women -- during discussions of the bill, meaning men comprised about 65 percent of guest appearances, while women comprised about 35 percent.

    It is necessary to include diverse voices in discussions about a bill with such dire consequences. African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, women and low-income people greatly benefited from the Affordable Care Act and stand to lose disproportionately if it is rolled back. Diversifying the discussion on cable news will help bring needed attention to the devastating harm that will occur if the Republican bills become law. 

  • How Fox News botched a Comey story and then furiously tried to backtrack

    Fox & Friends' lack of journalistic standards: A story in 3 parts

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Throughout the June 23 edition of Fox & Friends, the morning show hosts had to continuously walk back and correct a report in which they claimed that former FBI Director James Comey had visited The New York Times the night before. Fox & Friends’ initial incorrect reporting, which was eventually walked back through two follow-up segments, highlights the lack of journalistic standards on Fox News’ flagship morning show. 
     
    In the first report, Fox & Friends reporter Jillian Mele stated, “The New York Times gets a special visitor,” to which guest host Ed Henry replied, “Wonder what James Comey was doing at The New York Times. It’s so odd.”
     

    JILLIAN MELE: The New York Times gets a special visitor. The Daily Mail got these pictures of former FBI Director James Comey stopping by their office in Manhattan. He reportedly spent three hours inside.
     
    [...]
     
    ED HENRY (CO-HOST): Wonder what James Comey was doing at The New York Times. It's so odd.
     
    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Why would he go right in the front door?
     
    AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): I know. He’s not even trying to hide.
     
    HENRY: He’s wearing sunglasses.

    Fox & Friends began to backtrack in its second segment on the matter, noting that a spokesperson for The New York Times had stated that Comey hadn’t gone to the paper's offices, and admitting that Comey could have entered other offices within the New York Times building. The hosts semi-acknowledged that “there may be a law firm in that building that had some sort of event for abused children” that Comey actually attended. (Reporting from the previous night had pictures of Comey at that event.) The hosts, however, continued to cast doubt, stating, “We just don’t know.”

    STEVE DOOCY: Well, yesterday, just about four blocks from where we’re sitting right now, somebody realized, hey, who’s that really tall guy going into The New York Times?
     
    ED HENRY: I’ve seen him on TV.
     
    DOOCY: He’s wearing sunglasses. There he is right there, he’s holding his coat. He’s going in with his wife, and he came out with his wife, and --
     
    HENRY: It’s James Comey.
     
    DOOCY: -- and sunglasses off. It's the former FBI director going into the New York Times building.
     
    AINSLEY EARHARDT: Clearly didn't want to hide it. He’s going in the front door, not the even a back door. He was in there for three hours. 
     
    DOOCY: Yeah. The New York Times spokesperson says he did not visit the New York Times newsroom, however, there are other businesses in that building. Also, didn't go to the newsroom, could have gone to another part. 
     
    EARHARDT: It just doesn’t look good. After he admitted to leaking to his friends that work in, that are his journalist friends, it doesn't look good. 
     
    HENRY: There are reporters for The New York Times, we should say, who are tweeting last night and this morning that there may be a law firm in that building that had some sort of event for abused children and that James Comey and his wife may have been visiting them as a charitable thing. They were in there for a couple of hours. Whether they visited more than one office we simply don't know. 
     
    DOOCY: So, it would just be a coincidence that he also leaked stuff to somebody who leaked to them. 
     
    HENRY: Yeah, might be a coincidence, yeah.
     
    EARHARDT: Could be a Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton thing. They talked about grandkids, but they were in the plane for a long time; he was in there for three hours.
     
    HENRY: What kind of sunglasses to wear.

    In the final report on this topic, hosts continued to walk back their own reporting and speculation, claiming that “now we’re learning more,” despite the fact the tweet they were referring to was sent the previous evening. Host Steve Doocy noted that “there was some speculation” that Comey was at the New York Times building to meet with reporters, failing to note that he and his co-hosts contributed to the speculation, but adding, “As it turns out, that is not the case.” 
     

    STEVE DOOCY: Speaking of talk, yesterday there was extremely tall man with glasses seen walking into the New York Times building.
     
    ED HENRY: There he is.
     
    DOOCY: Does that look familiar? 
     
    HENRY: That’s James Comey. 
     
    DOOCY: That is James Comey.
     
    HENRY: He’s going into the New York Times building. 
     
    DOOCY: Three hours later there he comes out. There’s a great big story on Daily Mail about James Comey spotted at the New York Times building. We reported that this morning. We said that the New York Times spokesperson said that he did not visit the newsroom, and now we're learning more from, I think, Maggie Haberman at The New York Times -
     
    HENRY: Yeah, saying he didn't visit the newsroom. A person close to him said that he and his wife went to a ceremony for CASA, at Covington & Burling, a major law firm, which is also in the New York Times building, and apparently that law firm was hosting some sort of charity event for abused kids. There’s some photos on Twitter of James Comey and his wife talking to those kids. Sounds like a wonderful cause. If that’s what he was doing, hats off to him.
     
    DOOCY: Sure. And there was some speculation -- well, maybe he went to The New York Times because it wasn’t so long ago he gave that Columbia professor his notes so that they could leak it to the Times. As it turns out, that is not the case. He was there --
     
    HENRY: Great if he was doing charity work. It does not erase the fact there’s been all kinds of leaks at The New York Times. Period, end of story.

    The evolution and complete breakdown of Fox & Friends' initial reporting highlights the complete lack of journalistic standards on Fox’s morning show. Earlier this month, the hosts cited a story relying solely on “one of the online blogs.” The Fox & Friends hosts have consistently shown that they will report on a story without looking for the facts or truth behind the narrative they want to push; no one should take them at their word.

  • Fox & Friends is Donald Trump's safe space

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko and Dayanita Ramesh / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump loves rallies, but he can't hold a rally every day. Sometimes he has to turn to Fox & Friends.

    Amid a series of moves closing off access to the administration for journalists -- including recent major changes to the frequency and format of official press briefings --  the president and first lady Melania Trump are taping an exclusive interview today with Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt, his first televised, in-person interview in six weeks. (The interview is set to air Friday.) This move makes perfect sense for Trump, who is mired in countless major scandals and can expect to avoid being grilled about any of them on Fox & Friends, known more for its family-barbecue brand of casual, coded racism and xenophobia than for actual journalism.

    The interview also speaks to a larger trend in the president’s approach to the press, as he increasingly elevates and prioritizes loyal conservative sycophants over actual news outlets. After tomorrow’s Fox & Friends interview, Trump will have given as many interviews to Fox & Friends (three) during his presidency as he has to ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN combined.

    Since his inauguration, Trump has given 10 televised interviews in total to Fox News (and one to Fox Business), one each to CBS, ABC, NBC, MSNBC, and the Christian Broadcasting Network, and none to CNN. 

    Trump's decision to grant another sit-down interview to his friends at Fox & Friends comes 40 days after his last one-on-one interview with Fox’s Jeanine Pirro, who also asked him predictable softball questions. It is an ideal move for a president who wants to appear as if he’s granting media access without being accessible to any members of the media who might actually ask him a critical question. (The last time he allowed that to happen, he stepped on a James Comey-shaped rake courtesy of NBC’s Lester Holt.)

    Trump’s retreat to his friends at Fox is happening in the midst of his administration’s unprecedented war on the press at large. On the same day the president and first lady are sitting down with Earhardt, elsewhere in the White House, deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders conducted yet another bizarre and pointless press briefing that barred video recordings. The frequency of the White House press briefings and gaggles -- recorded or otherwise -- has been sharply declining in recent months. The Washington Post’s Callum Borchers calculated that the total White House press briefing time for June will shrink to about a third of what it was in March.

    Trump also lags far behind his predecessors in holding solo presidential press conferences. So far, Trump has held just one press conference, in which he called CNN’s Jim Acosta “fake news”; at this point in previous administrations, President Barack Obama had held six, President George W. Bush had held three, and President Bill Clinton had held seven solo press conferences.

    Fox News (and Fox & Friends, in particular) is predictably the runaway favorite when Trump is compelled to branch out from public interaction via Twitter and rallies. As Politico’s Joanna Weiss wrote last month:

    Trump’s cozy relationship with “Fox & Friends” has become one of the great curiosities of his unusual presidency. A well-known cable TV devotee, Trump has found inspiration for his Twitter timeline in various programs—but none so much as Fox News Channel’s 6-9 a.m. talk show.

    […]

    It’s not hard to understand the show’s appeal. While the rest of the media frets and wails over Trump’s policies and sounds the alarm over his tweets, “Fox & Friends” remains unrelentingly positive. It’s pitched to the frequency of the Trump base, but it also feels intentionally designed for Trump himself—a three-hour, high-definition ego fix. For a president who no longer regularly receives adulation from screaming crowds at mega rallies, “Fox & Friends” offers daily affirmation that he is successful and adored, that his America is winning after all.

    On Twitter, his preferred mode of communication with the public, the president has repeatedly lavished Fox & Friends with praise since taking office. Trump routinely appeared on the show throughout his campaign, often calling in just to talk or complain about whatever was bothering him, including on Election Day. For years beforehand, he even had a weekly call-in segment on the show to share this thoughts about the news of the day. 

    The warm and familiar embrace of Fox & Friends is where Trump turns for unconditional support in furthering an alternate reality where his presidency is historically successful and his critics are merely unfair or needlessly mean. Perhaps that's why Ivanka Trump is also now frequenting the show -- her own one-on-one interview with Earhardt was pushed back to accomodate her father's, but it will air on Monday.  

    Rob Savillo contributed original research to this post.