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Conservative media claimed that Trump was just “playing,” drew a false equivalence with the Steele dossier, and attacked Hillary Clinton
After President Donald Trump sparked outrage when he admitted in an interview that he would “listen” to any damaging information on his opponent even if it came from a foreign government, pro-Trump media quickly came to his defense.
On June 13, ABC News host George Stephanopoulos asked Trump whether his campaign would accept, or hand over to the FBI, damaging information on his opponent if it came from a foreign source. Trump responded that “maybe” he would do both, saying, “You might want to listen. There isn’t anything wrong with listening.” Trump also pushed back on the idea that a foreign government providing information on a political opponent is election interference. He conceded that “if I thought there was something wrong, I'd go maybe to the FBI” but also asserted that “the FBI doesn’t have enough agents to take care of” what he characterized as “oppo research.” Trump also lied that he had never in his "whole life" called the FBI (he approached the FBI in the 1980s in a matter related to Atlantic City casinos).
The president’s comments came on the same day U.S. senators questioned his son Donald Trump Jr. about his connections with Russia. At the center of the scrutiny surrounding Trump Jr. is a meeting he took in 2016 -- along with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign head Paul Manafort -- with a Kremlin-linked lawyer to discuss “dirt” on former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The details surrounding the meeting are still in question.
As criticism of Trump’s comments poured in, pro-Trump media rushed to defend the president. Many immediately pointed to Hillary Clinton, a common scapegoat for right-wing media; others drew a false equivalency with the dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele on alleged connections between Trump and the Russian government to accuse Democrats and the media of a double standard when it comes to accepting foreign assistance during the election. But in fact, while it is illegal to accept contributions from foreign nationals for political campaigns (as Trump suggested he would do), “paying a foreign national fair market value for opposition research is generally not illegal,” as former chief counsel for the Federal Election Commission Lawrence Noble told The Washington Post. “It is considered a commercial transaction, which is not a contribution.”
Nevertheless, pro-Trump media figures still defended Trump’s recent comments, deflecting to Hillary Clinton and the Steele dossier and lambasting the media for their supposed double standards:
On her prime-time show, Fox host Laura Ingraham said that it “seems like he’s playing.” She then referenced Trump’s 2016 comments during a campaign rally when he asked Russia to find dirt on Clinton, framing the comments as “obviously a Trump joke.” Ingraham and Her guest Victor Davis Hanson, senior fellow at the Hoover Institute, said that the interview showed “you shouldn’t ever talk to George Stephanopoulos.”
On Fox & Friends, Fox host Sean Hannity cheered Trump’s comments as “the greatest set-up that Donald Trump has ever made” because he angered the “media mob.” He then drew a false equivalency, saying that “if you’re outraged in the media” about Trump’s comments, “how could you not be outraged Hillary Clinton literally empowered a foreign agent who produced a dossier for the Russian lies,” referring to the Steele dossier.
On his prime-time show the night before, Hannity had defended Trump’s comments, asserting that if offered campaign dirt, “you might want to listen.” He then claimed that “listening is much different than … lying, spying, and paying for Russian lies,” criticizing Clinton and chastising the media for not being more outraged at her.
On Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy claimed “there is so much oppo research floating around Washington, D.C. Perhaps that’s what the president’s talking about.”
Fellow Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt dismissed the notion that Trump should report foreign assistance to the FBI, asking “What’s the FBI going to do?” Earhardt concluded that the FBI’s response would be along the lines of “you’re crazy.”
On America’s Newsroom, Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz claimed that “fake outrage from the left and the media is part of a pattern.” He pivoted to criticizing the media for not showing any outrage about former President Bill Clinton’s paid speeches when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.
On Special Report with Bret Baier, The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway responded to Trump’s comments by pointing to Clinton, asserting that she “took information from a foreign government.” She claimed that “if this is a huge problem,” then Stephanopoulos “should be asking” Clinton and the DNC about the Steele dossier. She also said the media should be asking, “Why they created this hoax conspiracy theory.”
On Fox Business, The Washington Times’ Charles Hurt conceded that Trump’s comments were not good, but he urged people to first “think about what he has been through for the past three years.” Hurt also attacked Clinton over the Steele dossier and concluded that Trump is “in fighting mode” so “of course he’s going to say that.”
Fox host Mark Levin tweeted: “Uh, remember the dossier?” Levin then criticized the media -- calling them “these clowns” -- for being “appalled by Trump’s answer.”
Far-right conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec wrote that his “favorite part of the exchange was when ABC asked Trump about receiving intel from foreigners and he responded: Everyone in Congress does it #BloodMoney”
Media Research Center’s NewsBusters: “It's absolutely amazing how many liberals can't recall that Hillary Clinton paid a foreign operative to get foreign dirt on Donald Trump. They think they're the most intelligent ones.”
Right-wing blog RedState sarcastically compared Trump’s comments to the Steele dossier: “Democrats are Apoplectic That Trump Would Listen To A Foreigner With Dirt On An Opponent.” The blog post calling media reaction “extraordinary,” “considering that the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC paid $12 million to a foreigner to not only dig up dirt on candidate Donald Trump, but to disseminate it among the Washington political community, the Intelligence agencies and then to the media.”
Right-wing troll Kurt Schlichter claimed, “I don’t accept that something is a crime only if it applies to my side.” He also wrote that the left decided that foreign election interference “is not a crime, so it is not a crime,” apparently referring to the Steele dossier, and said, “You might call this whataboutism. But my whataboutism is a moral necessity.”
Wash. Examiner correspondent Byron York attacked Politico for being “duly shocked, appalled by Trump foreign oppo research comment.” York misleadingly claimed that the same thing is “done by pros! On Nexis! Steele dossier seems to have slipped the mind.”
Daily Caller reporter Scott Morefield compared Trump’s affirmative openness to taking “foreign-obtained dirt” to Schiff being pranked by Russian radio hosts.
Conservative commentator Harlan Hill accused Democrats of “LYING THROUGH THEIR DAMN TEETH.” Hill’s comment was addressed at “any democrat saying they'd refuse to use oppo dropped on their doorstep regarding an opponent -- simply [because] they didn't like who dropped the oppo on their doorstep.” Hill also tweeted, “Democrats loved foreign interference in American elections when we were talking about the Anti-Trump Steele Dossier, a FAKE produced by a Brit and sourced by the Russians.”
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Following reports that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) wants to see President Donald Trump in prison after his presidency rather than impeaching him now, Fox host Sean Hannity lashed out, saying Pelosi "wants a political opponent locked up in prison? That happens in banana republics -- beyond despicable behavior."
Hannity's response is ironic considering that his show (like the Trump rallies) has featured numerous calls for former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to be imprisoned.
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Ahead of 2020, Fox News dehumanizes the homeless in an attempt to boost Republicans
Fox News has recently increased coverage of the problem of homelessness in America’s cities, using the issue as an excuse to chastise Democratic politicians and criticize proposals aimed at helping undocumented immigrants.
The network has painted a grim picture of American cities as “almost Third World in their decay,” facing “a complete breakdown of the basic needs of civilization,” and filled with “drugged-out zombies chasing barefooted babies.” Fox has largely focused on the issue in cities on the West Coast -- mostly focusing on cities in liberal California, with a few segments on Denver; Seattle; and Portland and Eugene, OR. Every city Fox highlighted has at least one thing in common: Democratic leaders. And the problem Fox identified in each city is more or less the same -- the Democratic leaders and their “rich friends” prefer to push “social justice initiatives,” “socialist solutions,” and “liberal compassion” instead of properly addressing mental illness or engaging in punitive crackdowns on homelessness (Fox's preference). One Fox host even suggested the solution in Los Angeles is to “bulldoze the 50-block radius” and “institutionalize everybody.”
Despite the attention Fox has been paying to the issue, the network has been silent about the Trump administration’s lack of serious interest in tackling America’s homelessness crisis. President Donald Trump’s White House “has twice proposed eliminating the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which coordinates efforts among more than a dozen federal agencies.” He has also proposed additional work requirements for federal housing aid and food stamps, and Trump’s tax reform bill “weakened the low-income tax credit, which is the primary tool we have to promote affordable housing.”
Instead, Fox hosts, anchors, and guests have repeatedly used degrading and dehumanizing terms to describe the homelessness problem and thus to attack Democratic politicians such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Some Fox figures have tried to suggest that the real victims of homelessness are not homeless people themselves, but the “normal people” who are confronted with the problem in public parks and libraries. Others have tried to contrast the issue with unrelated Democratic proposals to provide resources for undocumented immigrants, implying that it’s not fair to allocate resources to other marginalized people while homelessness still persists. One Fox guest discussing homelessness in Los Angeles claimed that Democrats “want to take that nationwide in 2020 with this presidential election,” and another said that LA’s homelessness is “a template of what the Democrats want to continue.”
It is clear that Fox plans to make this topic a part of its strategy ahead of 2020 by using the real and serious problem of homelessness to demonize Democrats and fearmonger about socialism. Below is a rundown of some of the network’s recent attacks:
Hannity began an April 3 segment about crime and homelessness by saying that “liberal cities all across the country” are in a “growing huge crisis as a result of failed policies implemented by the Democratic leaders.” Hannity stressed that these cities have “one commonality” -- “This is happening in big cities where they have massive amounts of taxation.” His guest Pam Bondi claimed that “Democrats abandoned our inner cities, our most vulnerable populations, a long time ago when they started talking about a centralized government, their socialist solutions,” warning that “they want to take that nationwide in 2020 with this presidential election.” Fox contributor Mike Huckabee said that the problem of homelessness in Los Angeles and other cities “is Third World stuff,” pointing to “rat infestation” and “bubonic plague.” Hannity repeated that there is homelessness “a mile from Nancy Pelosi’s, you know, gated community,” asking why “she can’t raise money from all those rich San Francisco liberals that she lives next to.” Huckabee agreed, stressing the “hypocrisy of liberalism, the insanity of liberalism” and adding that “this is a discussion about whether or not we're going to survive as a civilization if we keep going in this direction.” [Fox News, Hannity, 6/3/19]
On The Five, co-host Jesse Watters described homeless people in Los Angeles as “drugged-out zombies chasing barefooted babies through piles of garbage with hypodermic needles and fire everywhere.” He then claimed that “you only have one solution” to homelessness in the city: “You bulldoze the 50-block radius and you institutionalize everybody and detoxify them, and then you let them out.” [Fox News, The Five, 6/3/19]
On Fox & Friends, co-host Ainsley Earhardt introduced “shocking photos" that "show just how bad the conditions are getting in downtown Los Angeles.” Guest Jim Breslow complained that he has to deal with homelessness in his community, “which is an affluent community.” The chyron during the segment read “LA plagued with trash, rats, and typhoid fever.” The segment ended with Breslow criticizing California’s Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom for appearing “to be more focused on global issues” before praising Trump’s “America First” agenda. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 6/3/19]
On The Ingraham Angle, guest Dr. Drew Pinsky described Los Angeles’ homelessness and its related health issues as “a complete breakdown of the basic needs of civilization.” Pinsky fearmongered that he is “hearing from experts that bubonic plague is likely -- it’s already here.” He described the situation as “medieval” and said “Third World countries are insulted if they are accused of being like [Los Angeles].” Host Laura Ingraham used Los Angeles’ homelessness to fearmonger about undocumented immigrants. [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 5/30/19]
On his prime-time Fox show, Sean Hannity aired a segment in which Fox News correspondent Lawrence Jones spoke to people in Portland, OR, about homelessness. Hannity used the segment to attack liberal politicians in other West Coast cities, pointing to the “beautiful, walled, gated community of Nancy Pelosi.” His guest, Pam Bondi, chastised Pelosi “and all her rich friends” for not doing more to address mental health and drug problems in San Francisco, such as building more shelters and public bathroom facilities. His other guest, Emily Compagno, complained that the “compassionate approach” to homelessness is “paralyzing these cities” and “wasting our tax dollars.” Compagno added that "the sufferers are not only those homeless" but also "the constituents whose tax dollars are being absolutely wasted." [Fox News, Hannity, 5/30/19]
On Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade criticized Pelosi for contributing to the “homeless capital of the world, where drugs run rampant.” Jones chimed in that there are “needles all over the ground,” and Kilmeade added that San Francisco “basically ha[s] a sewer for a sidewalk.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/29/19]
In a “straight news” report on America’s Newsroom, correspondent Dan Springer described a “social justice initiative” in Seattle that requires “every department of city government look at how their policies affect the poor and people of color.” He claimed that “critics say it’s simply led to people skating justice,” pointing to Seattle’s homelessness problem. Springer said that “one likely reason” for the city’s large homeless population is because “Seattle doesn’t enforce its anti-camping law, so there are thousands of people living in tents, many of them addicted to drugs, which are often used in public.” He said that because prosecutors “won’t charge people with possession of less than a gram” of drugs, there is “no fear of jail time” and people are “not going to get hauled into court for getting caught not paying a bus fare and then not paying the fine” -- a policy that he admitted disproportionately hurt minorities and poorer people. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 5/24/19]
On America’s Newsroom, a panel discussed a New York Times opinion piece on homelessness. Daily Caller News Foundation Editor-in-Chief Chris Bedford claimed Seattle’s homelessness problem is because “the police are not enforcing the laws.” Fox Business host Cheryl Casone said that in San Francisco, she was “appalled to find out they were actually giving out checks to the homeless there,” adding, “That’s a liberal policy that has obviously failed that city.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 5/23/19; The New York Times, 5/22/19]
While discussing health care on Fox & Friends, Kilmeade and Fox Nation host Tomi Lahren pitted homeless people in California against undocumented immigrants. Kilmeade told Lahren that he “hear[s] there’s a massive homeless issue in California,” but the state’s population is “making a choice” by saying that “illegals are more important than the people on the streets who obviously need medical attention.” Lahren pointed to “veterans dying on VA waiting lists” and said, “But yet, they’re arguing over how much more they want to spend on illegal immigrants. It’s absolutely infuriating.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/22/19]
On Lou Dobbs Tonight, Dobbs said that undocumented immigrants “should be thrilled” because “they are getting more benefits in many cases than destitute Americans.” His guest Michael Goodwin asked, “Where is the compassion for the Americans?” adding, “This is very much why Donald Trump won in 2016 -- the same dynamics of people putting other countries first.” [Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 5/21/19]
On Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson aired a five-day series titled “Homeless in America,” in which his producer Charles Cougar went on an eight-day trip to visit seven cities in America. On May 16, Carlson discussed a Wall Street Journal article about homeless people living on boats in San Francisco, “and not quaint boats” or “yachts,” but “a ragtag flotilla.” He then turned to a segment about homelessness in Eugene, OR, where Cougar complained that while he was out to get breakfast at an "upscale bakery," he saw a “homeless man rifling through a trash can." He claimed Eugene’s “permissive cultura, its temperate climate, and generous social services attract vagrants and addicts from around the country.” The segment also showed b-roll footage of unsuspecting homeless people in Oregon and Carlson described citizens who are not homeless as “victims” of homelessness. [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 5/16/19; Wall Street Journal, 5/16/19]
On May 15, Carlson argued homelessness is the result of liberal leaders backing off prosecuting petty crime and described Seattle as “a kind of mecca for drug addicts.” Carlson shared “a video of a man passed out in a popular park,” a picture of “urine on a public staircase near City Hall,” and another picture of “human waste a few steps above that.” He claims this is because Seattle’s leaders have become “more lenient on petty crime” and that “because of their liberal attitudes and the mild climate, the city is a magnet for vagrants.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 5/15/19]
On May 14, Carlson began his segment by saying that “California has more homeless than any other state,” but state leaders “don’t seem to care.” He berated the “leaders of the state of California” for not doing more to curb “this horrifying problem” of homelessness. He blamed California’s “strict building codes and environmental regulations” for the state’s homeless problem. [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 5/14/19]
On May 13, Carlson described the situation in cities “across the West” as being “almost Third World in their decay and disorganization and the chaos.” His series began with San Francisco, describing its “flourishing drug scene” before airing footage of homeless people, including “junkies shooting up in broad daylight and homeless people wielding makeshift knives.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 5/13/19]
On Hannity, Hannity claimed that “liberal cities are in a major crisis” and framed the homelessness issue as “liberal compassion in action.” Hannity emphasized the homelessness “within walking distance to Pelosi’s home and her office.” Like others on Fox, his guest Pam Bondi blamed San Francisco’s homelessness problem on city leaders’ decision not to prosecute petty crimes. Bondi and Hannity’s other guest, radio host Larry Elder, agreed that nonprofits and charity groups are best equipped to deal with homelessness, “not the government.” [Fox News, Hannity, 5/13/19]
On The Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham complained of “hundreds of thousands of homeless on the street, including too many just a couple of blocks from where we broadcast,” to criticize Democratic plans to provide health care for undocumented immigrants who pay taxes. [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 5/13/19]
On The Ingraham Angle, a chyron during a segment on homelessness claimed Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is “tackl[ing] homelessness with murals.” Guest Shirley Husar called Garcetti a “joke” and pointed to mental illness and diseases in homeless populations. She claimed that in terms of its approach to homelessness, Los Angeles is “a template of what the Democrats want to continue to further." [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 5/9/19]
On Fox & Friends, Trump 2020 campaign advisory board member Jason Meister criticized liberal cities for struggling to sell real estate. Meister began by pointing out that what all these cities have in common is that they “are run by Democrats.” Meister claimed that “the economic and policy environment right now in New York City, run by incompetent leadership like Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo,” is “forcing high net-worth individuals who create the jobs” out of the city, increasing homelessness. Doocy also pointed to the fact that the three cities mentioned in the segment -- San Francisco, New York, and Washington, D.C. -- are “sanctuary cities”; his guest agreed that it “adds to that environment” that is “anti-business, anti-success, anti-wealth, anti-job creation.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/1/19]
On Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson complained that homeless people are “blocking sidewalks [and] filling parks inside of what were once America’s most beautiful cities.” He claimed that homelessness is preventing families from going to parks in these cities, pointing to Denver as his example. He said Denver is “not yet world famous for its homelessness problem, but that may change,” pointing to Denver’s proposed “right to survive” initiative -- a law that would “allow any individual to engage in activities, such as resting and sheltering oneself in a non-obstructive manner, in outdoor public places.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 5/1/19; Ballotpedia, accessed June 2019]
In April, Carlson claimed that “America’s homeless epidemic is getting worse by the day,” chastising politicians on “the left” for “virtue signaling.” He pointed to Denver’s potential “right to survive” proposal as an example, which would make it legal for homeless people to live in tents on public property. He claimed that “normal people” are the actual victims of homelessness and that these laws are aimed to “make their lives even more unpleasant,” adding, “If only families had a political party that was looking out for them.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 4/29/19]
On Special Report with Bret Baier, anchor Baier aired Fox national correspondent William La Jeunesse’s report on homelessness in Los Angeles, describing “rotting food, trash, used syringes, [and] human waste” in the city. La Jeunesse described the health risks to police officers interacting with homeless people and reported that “homeless crime [is] up 50% according to LAPD.” The chyron during the segment depicted homelessness as a “festering danger” and a “disease threat” and described homeless people themselves as an “intractable burden,” claiming that the “needs of 55,000 homeless strain nearby communities.” [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 6/3/19]
Video by Miles Le
Fox News host Sean Hannity is a conspiracy theorist and a shill. But he also seems to have more access to President Donald Trump -- his personal friend and political lodestar -- than virtually anyone else in the press. Hannity is so enmeshed in White House operations as an outside presidential adviser that aides refer to him as the shadow chief of staff. Trump, in turn, frequently watches Hannity’s show and provides the Fox host with feedback about how to shape his broadcasts during their near-nightly conversations. The result is that Hannity’s show plays a unique role in the media ecosystem because the president is effectively its uncredited co-producer.
That means Hannity can function in any of three distinct modes: as an "indicator" of the president’s current thinking, as a “fucked-up feedback loop” driving Trump to exercise his most destructive impulses, or as a harbinger of things to come. Friday’s broadcast, a special edition devoted to what Hannity termed “Act 2, ‘The Deep State’s Day of Reckoning,’” may have served as all three.
Trump certainly interpreted the broadcast as a milestone. Hours before it aired, the president tweeted to his tens of millions of followers that the program would be “a must see.”
During Friday’s special -- impenetrable to viewers not deeply versed in Hannity’s oeuvre -- the host and his “all-star ensemble cast” of frequent guests laid out the narrative they have developed over the last two years to counter special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. On Hannity’s show, Mueller’s probe was fruitless and the real story is that it originated with a sinister conspiracy by treasonous, politically motivated law enforcement officials, who are members of what Hannity terms the "deep state." Those officials, the story goes, let Hillary Clinton off the hook while persecuting Trump, and they should themselves be investigated and prosecuted for their purported crimes.
“The Mueller report is over, it is dead, it is buried,” Hannity explained at the top of Friday’s broadcast. “It's now boomeranging right on to those who did abuse power, did try to influence the outcome of an election and then overturn a duly elected president.”
“Act 1 is over,” he continued. “The curtain is beginning to rise. Act 2 begins.”
The program seems to be both an accurate indicator of Trump’s current state of mind -- fixated on using the power of the federal law enforcement apparatus against his perceived enemies -- and a feedback loop intended to keep him there. Throughout the program, Hannity and his guests warned that if there is no investigation of the investigators, “we lose the country” and the public will be “rent asunder,” apocalyptic language likely intended to steel the president’s resolve.
And it may also be a harbinger of future events. “We are only days away from the release,” Hannity claimed, of newly declassified “major documents that will all expose the real election scandal,” supposedly revealing “the real efforts to spy on the Trump campaign, FISA applications, 302s, Gang of Eight intel material, exculpatory material.” While Hannity’s summary of the contents of any such documents should not be taken at face value, his direct line to the president and cozy relationships with top congressional Republicans give credibility to his prediction of a forthcoming document “avalanche.”
Over the last two years, Hannity, his guests, and other members of Fox’s pro-Trump propaganda machine have successfully convinced both the president and the network’s audience that the president was the victim of “sabotage” by the “deep state.” As of last year, however, their demands for criminal investigations of Trump’s investigators were going nowhere.
But as Hannity and his guests explained on Friday, something changed that has brought their dreams closer to fruition: William Barr’s confirmation as attorney general in January.
“There is a new sheriff in town and his name is Bill Barr,” Hannity explained at the top of the show.
“The president of the United States picked the perfect man at this great inflection point in history, Bill Barr,” offered Joseph DiGenova, a lawyer with deep ties to the Republican Party who was briefly announced as a member of Trump’s legal team. “He will not be stopped. He's going to get to the bottom of this.”
“Wouldn't history have been so profoundly different if William Barr had been the initial pick to be the attorney general of the United States by Donald Trump?” asked Fox correspondent-at-large Geraldo Rivera.
The commentators were drawing a distinction between Barr and his predecessor, Jeff Sessions. Trump and his Fox propagandists seem to think that a good attorney general is someone who uses the Justice Department to protect the president’s personal interests and punish his enemies. But Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from investigations related to the 2016 election led to Mueller’s appointment, and he was largely unwilling to bend to calls to investigate Trump’s perceived foes. That led to relentless criticism from the president and frequent calls from Hannity and his allies for Sessions’ firing, which eventually culminated in Trump pushing him out in November.
With Barr, Hannity and the rest got exactly what they were looking for. As head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, Barr favored an expansive interpretation of presidential power, pushed back hard against congressional oversight efforts, and advised Bush to pardon six Reagan administration officials involved in the Iran-Contra scandal. During the Trump administration and before his nomination, Barr said a federal investigation into one of Fox’s conspiracy theories would be appropriate, criticized the Mueller probe, wrote an op-ed defending Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, and sent a memo to the Justice Department officials -- which he also shared with Trump’s personal lawyers -- calling the notion that Trump’s interactions with Comey constituted obstruction of justice “fatally misconceived."
Fox commentators cheered Barr’s nomination, calling him “an absolutely brilliant choice” of “great integrity.” But as Hannity made clear on the day he was confirmed, the network’s propagandists were hoping that Barr would carry out their agenda of protecting Trump while opening politically motivated prosecutions.
So far, he has vindicated their praise. Barr’s smokescreen of a memo purportedly relating Mueller’s findings successfully hoodwinked news outlets into reporting that the president had been exonerated. He pushed Fox’s talking points and fueled conspiracy theories by accusing the Justice Department of “spying” on the Trump campaign in congressional testimony. And last month, he selected John H. Durham, the U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut, to investigate the early stages of the investigation into Russian interference (despite being unable to identify any actual investigative irregularities) and received unprecedented authority from Trump to unilaterally declassify any information he chooses to in support of his own review of that probe.
Several commentators have noted the parallels between Barr’s actions and Fox’s unhinged coverage, saying that he “talks like Sean Hannity” and sounds like he “watches too much Fox,” while the network’s hosts have lavished him with praise.
The presence of a Fox News attorney general at the Justice Department poses a unique test for the press, particularly given Hannity’s prediction that Barr will soon release documents intended to undermine the origins of the Mueller probe. Barr’s handling of the Mueller report shows his willingness to mislead the public in support of Trump. The media’s response to his actions shows how vulnerable they are to such disinformation campaigns, and it raises questions about how they will deal with any future materials Barr sends out.
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Fox News figures spread multiple falsehoods about special counsel Robert Mueller’s May 29 press conference in which he explained that his team could not consider charging President Donald Trump with any crimes because of Justice Department policy, while also saying that if he had been confident Trump hadn’t broken any laws, he “would have said so” -- but didn’t. These falsehoods about Mueller’s statement from Fox hosts and commentators include claims that Trump was exonerated; that it was the special counsel’s job to determine charges against the president; that Mueller never presented evidence Trump may have obstructed justice; that Trump wasn’t charged with any crimes because of a lack of evidence; and that an “underlying crime” was necessary for Trump to criminally obstruct justice.
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