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  • Right-wing media's anti-abortion misinformation playbook for 2020

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump and other conservative candidates have already signaled that anti-abortion lies will be a core part of their 2020 playbook -- tactics that right-wing media are certain to amplify in order to fearmonger and rally support ahead of the election. In line with this, right-wing outlets have already been badgering Democratic candidates about their stances on abortion access, in some cases smearing them with sensationalized and inaccurate tropes about later abortions.

    Following the introduction of measures in New York, Virginia, and other states to ensure abortion access if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, right-wing media generated a firestorm of coverage that mischaracterized Democrats’ efforts to protect abortion rights as promoting “infanticide” or so-called abortion “up to birth.” In reality, the idea that abortions happen up to the “moment of birth” is a fiction fueled by right-wing media and does not reflect any actual medical procedures performed in the U.S. Rather, abortions that happen later in pregnancy are performed for complicated personal and medical reasons, with the people anti-choice advocates compare to murderers often having to make the difficult decision to end a wanted pregnancy. In other instances, people need abortions later in pregnancy due to anti-choice restrictions prohibiting or greatly delaying earlier access.

    Beyond broadly alleging that Democrats support abortion “up to birth,” right-wing media have also promoted the false claim that pro-choice candidates are in favor of denying care to babies “born alive” after so-called “failed abortions.” These alleged “born alive” abortions that right-wing media protest are not based in any medical practice or standard of care, as Rewire.News reported in 2013. Nevertheless, Republicans in Congress recently introduced the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act to aid so-called “abortion survivors” who are “born alive” following an attempted abortion procedure. As doctors Daniel Grossman and Jennifer Conti pointed out to The New York Times, it is more likely that the bill would force doctors to pursue treatment options that run counter to patients’ wishes -- such as ensuring that a fetus delivered “at the edge of viability” but unlikely to survive could not receive “comfort care” which would “allow the child to die naturally without extreme attempts at resuscitation.” In addition, as writer Robin Marty explained, the bill could also be used opportunistically by anti-choice opponents to prosecute abortion providers.

    Right-wing media and anti-abortion groups have used these manufactured controversies as part of a playbook for attacking abortion rights supporters and have already proven they'll deploy the same strategy against candidates. The playbook involves:

    1) Hounding candidates with anti-choice questions -- and spinning any abortion-related answers -- to generate an outrage-based news cycle

    2) Manufacturing fake “grassroots” support for anti-choice misinformation

    3) Using candidate comments about unrelated topics as a jumping-off point to criticize them about abortion

    1. Hounding candidates with anti-choice questions -- and spinning any abortion-related answers -- to generate an outrage-based news cycle

    The tactic

    Although right-wing media have long represented Democratic positions on abortion in bad faith, the campaign trail has given these outlets more opportunities to hound candidates with inaccurate and sensationalized questions about abortion to intentionally generate outrage. In addition, others in the right-wing and anti-abortion media echo chamber are then able to pick up these comments -- or really any comment from candidates on abortion -- and spin them to fit predetermined anti-choice narratives. Thus far, those anti-choice narratives have been focused on Democrats’ alleged support for abortion “up to birth” or even after.

    Unfortunately, this has permeated beyond right-wing media and several outlets outside of this ecosystem have adopted this inaccurate framing. Already in 2019, non-right-wing outlets have uncritically repeated dangerous lies about abortion from Trump’s State of the Union address and echoed the language used by right-wing media and Republicans about efforts to secure a vote for the so-called Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.

    Examples

    Beto O’Rourke

    Presidential candidate and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) received a flurry of inaccurately framed questions about his stance on abortion in March. On March 18, at a campaign event in Ohio, Millie Weaver (also known as “Millennial Millie”), a staffer from the far-right conspiracy outlet Infowars, questioned O’Rourke about his support for abortion access later in pregnancy. Relying on an inaccurate right-wing framing of the topic, Weaver asked:

    Are you for third-trimester abortion or are you going to protect the lives of third-trimester babies? Because there is really not a medical necessity for abortion. It’s not a medical emergency procedure because typically third-trimester abortions take up to three days to have. So, you would -- in that sense, if there was an emergency, the doctors would just do a C-section, and you don’t have to kill the baby in that essence. So, are you for or against third-trimester abortions?

    In her subsequent article about the event, Weaver continued to distort the premise of the question, as well as misrepresenting O’Rourke’s answer. Weaver claimed that she asked “if he supports up-to-birth abortions” and that his answer that abortion should be “a decision that the woman makes” showed he “endorses third-trimester abortions.”

    After that, O’Rourke was peppered with similar questions about abortion from other right-wing outlets and reporters. For example, after Weaver's question, The Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito -- known for producing “revealing dispatches from Trump country” that have drawn claims of fabrication and plagiarism -- asked O’Rourke whether he supported access to third-trimester abortions “to make sure” there was “clarity” about his previous answer. Zito ultimately wrote that “O’Rourke has refused to rule out abortions more than six months into a pregnancy,” but she noted on Twitter that supporters’ “cheers” in reaction to his answer “told me so much about the state of what Democrats want from their eventual nominee.” Apparently dissatisfied that his answer didn’t garner broader coverage, Zito followed up with another piece about O’Rourke’s “extreme abortion stance” days later, complaining:

    It is hard to find any D.C. reporters in a mainstream news organization writing about a viewpoint professed by a Democratic presidential candidate as being “extreme” or “radical.” Yet had this been a Republican candidate coming out in support of something the majority of Americans find impossible to support, it would be a headline for days, followed by asking every Republican running or holding office if they support that radical position as well.

    Right-wing media used O’Rourke's answers to these bad faith questions to claim that he supports abortion “up to birth” or beyond and to say that this view represents the Democratic “party line” on abortion. Fox News, Townhall, and The Daily Wire published articles condemning the alleged position of O’Rourke and the Democratic Party on abortion access. Right-wing media figures echoed this approach, with the Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro saying on Fox & Friends that “Beto O'Rourke and every other major Democrat feel forced to embrace this position, that you have to be for abortion up to and sometimes beyond the point of birth. It just demonstrates the radicalism of the Democratic Party.”

    Fox News host Sean Hannity dedicated an entire opening monologue on March 19 to this claim. Hannity claimed that O’Rourke’s comments were further evidence of the Democratic Party’s “barbaric abortion agenda” and said, “If Democrats get their way, well, third-trimester abortion, including infanticide during and after birth -- well, that would be perfectly legal and readily available. Sadly, they’re fighting for that. They would protect infanticide seemingly above all else.” To further his point, he also displayed this on-screen graphic:

    Anti-abortion groups and other conservative figures signal-boosted right-wing media’s claims about the alleged “extremism” of O’Rourke’s position (and by extension, the Democratic Party’s). For example, American Conservative Union chair Matt Schlapp presented the comments as part of Democrats’ efforts to allow so-called “post-birth abortion.” Anti-abortion group Live Action claimed O’Rourke “barbarically defends abortion until birth." Kristan Hawkins, president of anti-abortion group Students for Life of America, tweeted:

    Anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List even sent supporters a fundraising appeal citing O’Rourke’s comment, saying the organization needed followers to make “a pro-life contribution” to help the group “fight back in the name of saving ALL babies and to STOP Beto O’Rourke’s extreme pro-abortion and pro-infanticide agenda.”

    Outlets outside of the right-wing media ecosystem have also adopted this framing at times without offering pushback. Newsweek published Weaver’s question to O’Rourke (but identified her as “a crowd member”) and O’Rourke’s response, but did not provide adequate context about what support for abortions later in pregnancy means or dispute the flawed premise of Weaver’s question. The Hill also reported on O’Rourke’s responses to Weaver and to the Washington Examiner, but focused on his “fundraising status” and "national prominence” without noting the flawed basis of the questioning itself.

    Bernie Sanders

    During a Fox News town hall event, candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was also asked an inaccurate question based on anti-abortion misinformation. Notably, Fox News is attempting to leverage Democratic candidate town halls to sanitize the network’s image, which is currently suffering as companies become less willing to associate with its toxic commentary. During Sanders’ town hall, anchor Martha MacCallum -- who works on Fox’s “news” side but has a history of pushing anti-abortion lies -- asked Sanders, “With regard to abortion, do you believe that a woman should be able to terminate a pregnancy up until the moment of birth?”

    Sanders’ answer that abortion in the third-trimester "happens very rarely” and “the decision over abortion belongs to a woman and her physician” predictably evoked the ire of right-wing and anti-abortion media, with one headline proclaiming “Bernie Sanders Supports Abortions Up to Birth, Okay to Kill Babies Up to Birth Because ‘It’s Rare.’” During the April 16 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson said of Sanders’ comments, “Like 10 years ago, that would be considered like an extreme position. Today, it's the moderate position in the Democratic Party. Some are defending ‘infanticide’ just flat-out. Safe, legal, and rare. No. That's not at all the position today. It should be free, frequent, and horrifying.” Anti-abortion advocate Lila Rose similarly (and inaccurately) summarized Sanders’ response:

    Elizabeth Warren

    In March, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) received a question about the so-called “Born Alive” bill when someone in a crowd shouted at her, “What about the babies that survive abortion? How come they can’t have health care?” Warren replied that “infanticide is illegal everywhere in America” and moved on. Despite Warren’s accurate characterization of the bill, right-wing outlets spun the answer as Warren defending her “abortion extremism” or intentionally avoiding answering the question.

    Cory Booker

    In April, candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said people have started to ask him if he voted for a bill that allows “us to kill babies when they’re born.” Booker responded by saying, “That is a felony” and explaining that the bill (meaning the “Born Alive” bill) was “put forth to try to create schisms and differences between us.” Predictably, anti-abortion and right-wing media claimed Booker was “defending voting for infanticide.”

    Pete Buttigieg

    Right-wing and anti-abortion media utilized comments from South Bend, IN, Mayor and candidate Pete Buttigieg about abortion and reproductive rights to push misinformation -- with at least one outlet outside of right-wing media circles falling for this false premise in subsequent coverage.

    Following comments from Buttigieg in March that he supported measures introduced to protect abortion access in Virginia and New York, National Review’s David French argued that Buttigieg “has zero appeal to religious conservatives so long as he holds to the Democratic party line on the right of a woman to hire a doctor to kill a viable, living unborn baby.” During Buttigieg’s candidacy announcement speech, he said that “women’s equality is freedom, because you’re not free if your reproductive health choices are dictated by male politicians or bosses.” Fox News host Laura Ingraham argued during the April 15 edition of her show that Buttigieg’s vision of “reproductive freedom” apparently does not include “the unborn child in the womb or, for that matter, the child born ... after a botched abortion in this new Democrat Party. I don't see the freedom there.”

    This framing spread beyond the right-wing media echo chamber on the April 18 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe. During the segment, co-host Willie Geist asked Buttigieg about third-trimester abortions, and, after Buttigieg noted that it can be an “incredibly painful set of decisions in these horrifying medical cases,” Geist said, “But to people who would criticize that, they’d say, ‘Actually there is a pretty easy answer -- that’s a fundamental child in the third term … of pregnancy, that is a human being who could be born alive and have a great and full life,’ and so it is a pretty easy question to people who would criticize your answer.” Geist’s question relied on right-wing framing and anti-abortion misinformation that he and the other hosts did not refute. The back-and-forth was picked up by right-wing and anti-abortion outlets, which spread further misinformation about Buttigieg’s answer, with LifeNews.com tweeting that Buttigieg “is perfectly fine with killing defenseless unborn babies in abortions right up to birth.” 

    In each instance, right-wing media relied on either inaccurately framed questions or dishonest spin to generate outrage and drive additional news cycles about alleged Democratic extremism on abortion.

    2. Manufacturing fake “grassroots” support for anti-choice misinformation

    The tactic

    Beyond peppering Democratic candidates with incendiary and inaccurately framed questions about abortion, right-wing media have also attempted to propagate the idea that there is “grassroots” opposition to supporting abortion access. Following the introduction of Virginia and New York’s recent measures, right-wing media heavily promoted the narrative that Democrats are pushing an “extreme” position on abortion that is not supported by their base. This is an approach that the Republican Party -- including Trump himself -- has adopted as part of a 2020 election strategy at both the federal and the state level. Right-wing media and Republicans previously deployed this strategy during the ultimately failed 2017 special election for U.S. Senate in Alabama.

    Right-wing media have also attempted to extrapolate about voters’ probable opposition to a candidate’s position on abortion based on polling about specific abortion policies or viewpoints. Most frequently, right-wing media have touted polls claiming to represent likely voters’ support for bans on abortion after 20 weeks -- which would include procedures performed in both the second and the third trimester. While some polls have suggested that support for abortion access decreases as a pregnancy advances, polls that provide adequate context about the specific circumstances surrounding why a person would choose to have an abortion after 20 weeks don’t show the same results. In fact, as experts have explained, these polls better reflect the reality of abortion later in pregnancy and thus show that people support maintaining this health care option.

    Examples

    To prove allegations of so-called Democratic extremism, right-wing media have cherry-picked examples of people opposing abortion and presented these views as being widely held. For example, after O’Rourke responded to Infowars' question, Fox & Friends First aired two segments that shared the thoughts of random Twitter users who disliked his answer:

    On Fox News’ Hannity, Fox News contributor Lawrence Jones was sent to Texas to ask voters about O’Rourke’s alleged position on abortion, with many in the resulting segment claiming he was problematically extreme.

    Some right-wing media also specifically noted when questions came from non-media participants in an effort to imply that those questioners represented the views of many voters. For example, on One America News’ The Tipping Point, host Liz Wheeler applauded a “student who asked a question” about abortion, saying “professional reporters” wouldn’t do it “because Beto’s a Democrat, and the mainstream media wants to protect the left.” Conversely, many right-wing media outlets failed to note that Weaver, who asked O’Rourke if he would “protect the lives of third-trimester babies,” works for Infowars. The Daily Caller, Fox News, TheBlaze, Washington Free Beacon, and National Review credited either an “attendee” or “a woman” at the event for the question.

    Right-wing media have also pointed to imprecise polling on abortion and a supposed lack of public support for the health care staple in discussions of candidates' answers. Townhall’s Lauretta Brown wrote that O’Rourke’s answer about abortion to Infowars “marks a significant departure from public opinion and state laws.” CBN News said the Democratic presidential candidates “are out of step with the public.” After candidate Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) answered a question on abortion during MSNBC’s Morning Joe by saying “the reality of it is that you got to protect the woman’s right to choose,” Townhall’s Guy Benson tweeted that Ryan was “pandering to” a supposedly extreme position that he claimed was only “shared by roughly one-fifth of the electorate.” The Washington Free Beacon also wrote that Booker had cast votes against anti-abortion legislation “despite popular public opinion” supporting them.

    These assertions are largely based on polling that asks generic questions about abortion. However, polling that puts into context why someone would have an abortion after 20 weeks shows a different result. There’s a drastic drop in support for 20-week bans when people realize that abortions in later stages of pregnancy are often undertaken out of medical necessity or for particular personal circumstances. For example, a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study found that when asked in the abstract about later abortion, “less than a quarter of people (23%) believe women should have access to a legal abortion after 24 weeks.” However, that flipped when people were asked about access to a later abortion when a pregnant person had been infected with the Zika virus -- with results showing “a majority of Americans (59%) believe a woman should have access to a legal abortion after 24 weeks” in that situation. In other words, as Hart Research Associates found, “once voters consider the range of circumstances in which abortions would be made illegal under most 20-week abortion ban proposals, a majority of Americans oppose them.”

    In each instance, right-wing media have relied on selective samples of public opinion and opinion polling to give the appearance of widespread opposition to Democratic support for abortion access. In reality, right-wing media have been intentionally fearmongering about so-called Democratic extremism on abortion as part of a 2020 strategy being pushed by Trump and other members of his administration.

    3. Using candidate comments about unrelated topics as a jumping-off point to criticize them about abortion

    The tactic

    Anti-abortion groups and right-wing media have also tried spinning non-abortion comments from candidates to fit anti-abortion groups' stereotypes about Democrats. Right-wing media relied on this approach to spread misinformation and stigma before, employing similar spin to try to connect abortion to the Parkland school shooting, the Trump administration’s family separation policy, and Christine Blasey Ford’s report that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were in high school.

    Examples

    At a CNN town hall, when Warren said her “favorite Bible verse” includes the lesson that “there is value in every single human being,” the anti-abortion group Concerned Women for America asked, “But only the ones that are wanted? What about the ones who survive an abortion?” Warren repeated this comment on her Twitter account, prompting The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh to claim that her comment proved Democrats “will actually jump on any opportunity to extol the virtue of human life and the value of human life,” but “you would think they would avoid talking about that because they know 60 million babies have been slaughtered in the womb and they are perfectly OK with that.” He also asserted:

    Even though the Democratic Party is the party of Satan, and even though it has embraced satanism and it has embraced infanticide and all of these forms of just the most -- the darkest, most debauched, evil you can imagine, even in spite of all that, still most Democrats feel the need to pretend to be Christian.

    In response to a tweet from candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) explaining her belief that “housing is a basic human right,” anti-abortion activist Lila Rose replied, “If housing is a basic human right, then I imagine you’re even more passionate about the right for a child to be born?” Following comments from Buttigieg about Trump’s religion, Fox News contributor Rachel Campos-Duffy dismissed his criticism because Buttigieg “is a guy who is on the record as a supporter of late-term abortion.” Tucker Carlson said on his show of Buttigieg, “This is a guy telling us what a great Christian he is, who’s for abortion up until birth and for sex-selection. Spare me your Christian talk, please. It's absurd.”

    Similarly, when candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called Trump “a coward,” right-wing radio host Stacy Washington replied, “You believe in abortion up to birth, gun confiscation, open borders and limp-wristed governance. You have no room to call anyone a coward.” When Gillibrand later tweeted about legislation she introduced that would “limit opioid prescriptions for acute pain to 7 days,” Fox News’ Brit Hume replied with an inaccurate comparison between her comments and the idea that abortion should be between a patient and a doctor. He wasn’t the only one to make this inaccurate “joke.”

    Anti-abortion activist Alveda King wrote a piece for Newsmax claiming that “Booker is touting a new reparations bill for African Americans while secretly supporting an agenda of genocide and infanticide by abortion of millions of black babies.” After comments from candidate Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) that the “number one cause of death for a black child in America today is gun violence,” LifeNews.com tweeted, “Actually @ericswalwell the #1 killer of black children is abortion.”

    Right-wing media regularly dominate the conversation about abortion -- so it is unsurprising that these outlets are working overtime to drive an inaccurate narrative in advance of the 2020 election. Trump and the GOP have emphasized anti-abortion misinformation as a core part of their electoral strategies, and right-wing media have already shown their willingness to manufacture or signal boost these attacks. It is crucial for other media outlets to recognize these tactics and provide important context, rather than repeating lies and misinformation from these sources.

    Graphics by Melissa Joskow

  • GOP payments, Trump venues, conflicts of interest: Fox figures’ speeches have been an ethical disaster

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Click here to access a PDF version of this report.

    For years, Fox employees have spoken at events for conservative groups and Republican Party organizations, using their cable news celebrity to help those organizations raise money and gain publicity.

    According to a new Media Matters analysis, Fox figures have taken more than $500,000 from Republican Party groups to speak at events. They have interviewed Republicans officials shortly after co-headlining events with them. And they have financially helped President Donald Trump by keynoting speeches on Trump properties.

    Here are five takeaways from an examination of speeches by Fox figures over the years:

    • Fox hosts Tucker Carlson, Lou Dobbs, Greg Gutfeld, Sean Hannity, Pete Hegseth, Laura Ingraham, and Jeanine Pirro have received over $500,000 combined in speaking fees from Republican groups while working at the network.
    • Members of Fox's purported "news" division, such as anchor Shannon Bream and Fox News Senior Vice President of business news Neil Cavuto, have also headlined conservative events, including alongside Republican officials. In one instance, Bream spoke at a conference that also featured then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (whom she later interviewed on her program).
    • Fox News employees have spoken at events that have financially benefited President Donald Trump. For instance, Chris Stirewalt -- a member of Fox’s “news” division -- spoke at an event for the petroleum industry at Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C. And Jeanine Pirro has done events in which the proceeds went to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida.
    • Republican groups paying Fox News hosts has unsurprisingly created numerous conflicts of interest. For instance, Pete Hegseth repeatedly interviewed then-Senate candidate John James after headling a fundraiser with the Michigan Republican; and Pirro interviewed Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) the day after appearing with him at a fundraiser.
    • Three Fox News hosts -- Brian Kilmeade, Pete Hegseth, and Shannon Bream -- have cancelled speeches at conservative events this year following Media Matters reporting.

    (Media Matters obtained speaking fees through searches of various government campaign finance databases. The fees were either paid to the Fox figures or to their speaking bureaus.) 

    Here are more than 50 notable examples of Fox News speeches since 2007: 

    2007-2016

    November 1, 2007. Sean Hannity speaks at a fundraising event for the Alachua County Republican Party in Florida, reportedly receiving $75,000. The GOP group’s website stated at the time that Hannity would “broadcast the Sean Hannity half of Hannity and Colmes via satellite from the Ronald Reagan Black Tie and Blue Jeans BBQ. We had lobbied the powers that be that control such thing because it will greatly de-compress the day and the event. They informed us a few days ago that we got our wish. After the reception and during the main event, the reception hall at Canterbury Equestrian Showplace will get turned in to a mini TV studio. The[re] will be no audience in the reception hall, during Hannity and Colmes. … We will be broadcasting Hannity and Colmes on our big screens in the arena.”

    August 2, 2008. Fox News Washington Managing Editor Bill Sammon says in a speech aboard a cruise for Hillsdale College that he lied repeatedly during the closing days of the 2008 presidential campaign when he speculated on-air "about whether Barack Obama really advocated socialism." The remarks were unearthed by Media Matters three years later and caused major embarrassment for the network.

    April 15, 2009. Fox News hosts Neil Cavuto, Greta Van Susteren, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity attend tea party rallies across the country, with the network labeling them “FNC Tax Day Tea Parties.” Beck and Van Susteren are no longer with the network, but Cavuto, in addition to hosting programs on Fox News and Fox Business, “oversees business news content for both networks” as its senior vice president and managing editor of business news.  

    March 23, 2010. Hannity keynotes a fundraising dinner for the National Republican Congressional Committee. The GOP group stated that it “raised over $7 million” for the annual event.

    April 15, 2010. Hannity plans to broadcast his Fox News program from a Tea Party rally in Cincinnati but Fox News executives force him to abandon his plans. The Cincinnati Enquirer first reported on the event, and Media Matters added additional reporting and criticism before Hannity’s appearance was cancelled. Though Fox News executives were reportedly angry with Hannity, the Times later reported, “While there have been post-mortem discussions about the incident, it does not appear that they have resulted in any serious disciplinary measures taken against any staffers involved.”

    September 25, 2010. Tucker Carlson -- then a Fox News contributor -- reportedly speaks at an event hosted by the Moore County Republican Party in North Carolina, receiving $10,000.

    March 29, 2011. Carlson speaks at a fundraising event for the Lane County Republican Party in Oregon, receiving $23,500.

    May 25, 2011. Then-Fox News contributor Dick Morris speaks a fundraising event for the Oakland County Republican Party in Michigan. He would later treat GOP donors to a tour of Fox News and tapings of Lou Dobbs Tonight and Hannity.

    March 9, 2012. Morris speaks at a fundraising event for the Republican Party of Lake County in Florida and auctions off a personal guided tour of Fox News' New York studios for GOP donors. Fox News “reprimanded” Morris following Media Matters’ report.

    February 7, 2013. Ingraham speaks at a fundraising event for the Republican Party of Palm Beach County at Mar-A-Lago, FL, receiving $12,500. Trump introduced Ingraham.

    July 1, 2014. Media Matters releases a report documenting 15 Fox News hosts and contributors who have campaigned in the past few years with two political organizations created and heavily funded by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. The Fox employees include current Fox hosts Tucker Carlson, Greg Gutfeld, Laura Ingraham, Charles Payne, and Dana Perino.

    February 21, 2015. Jeanine Pirro speaks at a fundraising event for the Manatee County Republican Executive Committee, receiving $20,000.

    May 4, 2015. Ingraham speaks at an event for then-Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). Blackburn became a senator in 2019.

    February 11, 2016. Ingraham speaks at a fundraising event for the Sangamon County Republican Central Committee in Illinois, receiving $12,500.

    March 20, 2016. Ingraham speaks at a fundraising event for the Republican Party of Palm Beach County at Mar-A-Lago. Trump, who was the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination then, also spoke at the event.

    May 5, 2016. Brian Kilmeade speaks at an event for the Queens Village Republican Club in New York.

    May 13, 2016. Carlson -- then a co-host on Fox & Friends Weekend -- speaks at an event for the Republican Party of Arkansas, receiving $23,500.


    Photo from the Republican Party of Arkansas' Facebook page

    2017

    January, February, and March: Jeanine Pirro receives a “speaker’s fee” payment of $5,000 each month, for a total of $15,000, from the New Jersey Republican State Committee for an unspecified event.

    January 26. Pete Hegseth speaks at a fundraising event for the Republican Party of Brazos County in Texas, receiving $5,000.

    February 18. Pirro speaks at a fundraising event for the Kent County Republican Committee in Delaware, receiving $12,000.

    March 4. Lou Dobbs speaks at a fundraising event for the Manatee County Republican Executive Committee in Florida, receiving $25,000.

    March 9. Pirro speaks at a fundraising event for the Erie County Republican Committee in New York, receiving $7,579.34.

    March 13. Pirro speaks at a fundraising event for the Georgia Republican Party, receiving $15,000.

    March 20. Pirro speaks at a fundraising event for the Republican Committee of Lower Merion and Narberth in Pennsylvania, receiving $5,284.

    March 31. Pirro speaks at a fundraising event for the Bonneville County GOP in Idaho, receiving $14,000.

    April 21. Hegseth speaks at a fundraising event for the Snohomish County Republican Central Committee in Washington, receiving $5,547.60.  

    July 28. Pirro speaks at a fundraising event for the Republican Party of Arkansas, receiving $15,000.

    July 29. Hegseth speaks at a fundraising event for the Larimer County Republican Party in Colorado, receiving $5,000  

    September 21. Host Greg Gutfeld speaks at a fundraising event for the Washington State Republican Party, receiving $36,609.41.

    October 8. Pirro speaks at a fundraising event for the Volusia County Republican Party in Florida, receiving $20,000.

    October 13. Cavuto speaks at an event for the conservative and Koch-funded Washington Policy Center alongside Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

    October 17. Ingraham speaks at a “campaign kickoff event” for then-Senate candidate Kelli Ward (R) in Arizona. The New York Times reported, “Fox News hosts are not usually allowed to stump for candidates, but Ms. Ingraham was granted an exception because her show had not yet begun.”

    October 21. Pirro speaks at a fundraising event for the California Republican Party, receiving $20,000.

    November 2. Hegseth speaks at a fundraising event for the Montgomery County Republican Women's PAC in Texas, receiving $6,500.

    November 9. Pirro speaks at a fundraising event for the Alachua County Republican Party in Florida, receiving $15,000.

    December 6. Hannity speaks and accepts an award at a United in Purpose luncheon hosted by Ginni Thomas at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

    2018

    January 18. Pirro speaks at an event for the Trumpettes USA club at Mar-a-Lago. The Washington Post reported that “the event followed the format of a Palm Beach charity ball — without the charity. [Trumpettes co-founder Toni Holt] Kramer was clear that the money would all go to the president's club.”

    February 8. Pirro speaks at a fundraising event for the Sangamon County Republican Central Committee in Illinois, receiving $13,250.

    February 17. Gutfeld speaks at an event for the Morris County Republican Committee Fundraiser at Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey, reportedly receiving $30,000.

    February 23. Hegseth speaks at a fundraising event for the Alabama Republican Executive Committee, receiving $10,600.

    March 5. Chris Stirewalt, Fox News’ politics editor who “helps coordinate political coverage across Fox platforms,” gives a keynote speech at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., for the Independent Petroleum Association of America. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) spoke at the gathering the following day.  

    March 16. Pirro speaks at a fundraising event for the Kern County Republican Central Committee in California that also features then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Pirro, who received $25,000 for speaking at the event, would interview McCarthy the following the day on her Fox News program without disclosing the payment.

    May 17. Hegseth speaks at a fundraising event for the Benton County Republican Central Committee in Washington, receiving $8,500.

    May 24. Hegseth speaks at a fundraising event for the Livingston County Republican Party in Michigan with then-Republican Senate candidate John James. Hegseth, who received $10,239.55 for the engagement, would later interview James on Fox & Friends Weekend on July 28, September 9, October 14, and October 28, without disclosing his financial conflict of interest.

    June 28. Hannity speaks at a Manhattan Republican Party event honoring him.

    June 30. Fox News Radio host Todd Starnes speaks alongside Republican officials at a fundraising event for the Fayette County Republican Party in Tennessee. Starnes has also worked as an anchor and reporter for Fox News Radio.

    July 2. Hannity participates in campaign rallies for two Florida Republicans: gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis and congressional candidate Rep. Matt Gaetz.

    August 11. Shannon Bream speaks at the conservative Steamboat Institute’s 10th Annual Freedom Conference & Festival and praised the recently passed GOP tax bill and said that Trump has been “rolling back regulations that we've heard from businesses, from the IRS to the EPA, have made it tougher for them to survive and be profitable in America.” Bream made the remarks despite stating that she’s “in the news division” and doesn’t “have an opinion publicly.” Then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke also appeared at the conference; Bream interviewed Zinke on her show in November.

    October 10. Pirro speaks at an event for Scott Wagner for Governor (R) in Pennsylvania, receiving $35,000.

    November 5. Hannity and Pirro both appear and speak at a campaign rally with Trump ahead of the midterm elections. The network responded by falsely claiming it “does not condone any talent participating in campaign events.”

    2019

    January 17. The Williamson County Republican Party in Tennessee announces that “Brian Kilmeade will not be speaking at” its February 16 “Reagan Day due to scheduling conflicts.” Media Matters had earlier that month criticized the Fox & Friends host for agreeing to participate in the partisan fundraiser.

    January 24. The Bridgeport Republican Town Committee in Connecticut announces that Pete Hegseth will no longer be speaking at its April 25 fundraiser “due to circumstances beyond our control.” The cancellation came a day after Media Matters reported on the event.

    February 23. Pirro again headlines a Trumpettes USA party at Mar-a-Lago that benefits Trump’s club, as The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple reported.

    March 22: The James Madison Institute announces that Shannon Bream has cancelled her speech at its April 3 fundraiser. Media Matters had previously reported on the event, noting that Bream belongs to Fox’s “news” division yet was scheduled to speak at the fundraiser for the Koch-linked group alongside Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

    May 31. Fox Nation host and Fox News contributor David Webb is scheduled to emcee a fundraising event for the Belknap County Republican Committee in New Hampshire. Webb has also emceed the committee’s events in previous years.

  • Fox’s Seth Rich conspiracy theorists: Where are they now?

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News didn't deliver on its promised Seth Rich coverage investigation, so Media Matters is doing it instead. This is the fourth in a series marking the two-year anniversary of Fox’s publication of a story -- retracted seven days later -- that promoted the conspiracy theory that the murdered Democratic National Committee staffer, and not the Russians, had provided the DNC emails to WikiLeaks. Read part one, part two, part three, part four, and our timeline of events.

    No one has been held accountable for Fox News’ promotion of conspiracy theories about murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.

    Thursday marked the two-year anniversary of Fox News’ publication of a dubiously thin, hastily edited article pushing the debunked claim that Rich had provided DNC emails to WikiLeaks. After the story crashed and burned, Fox retracted it and promised to investigate what happened.

    With no explanation forthcoming and no punishments announced two months after the story’s retraction, some Fox staffers voiced their displeasure to CNN’s Oliver Darcy. One Fox staffer told CNN that “people need to start getting canned” over the story.

    But another senior Fox News employee quoted in the story was more resigned about the situation, arguing that the lack of transparency and accountability was unsurprising for the network: “No one ever gets fired from Fox for publishing a story that isn't true.”

    The more cynical Fox staffer was correct.

    Two years later, no one involved in producing or pushing the retracted Rich story has been publicly disciplined, and several have actually been promoted.

    It’s clear, as the anonymous senior Fox employee indicated, that the network has no interest in journalistic integrity or employee accountability. The purported “investigation” was a scam intended to make it look like Fox was taking its responsibilities seriously until the anger over its actions dissipated.

    Here is what has become of the network’s conspiracy theorists:

    Malia Zimmerman is the investigative reporter who wrote the original FoxNews.com story that the network later retracted. She still apparently works at the network but has not published a new story since August 2017, soon after she and the network were sued over the story.

    Greg Wilson, then deputy managing editor of FoxNews.com, reportedly edited Zimmerman’s story, rushing to publish it in spite of its flaws because a rival story on the subject was going viral. One month after the story’s publication, Fox promoted him to managing editor of FoxNews.com.

    Sean Hannity, one of the network’s star prime-time hosts, championed the Rich conspiracy theory on Fox long after the story had collapsed. Some Fox employees told The Daily Beast they were embarrassed by his antics and network executives reportedly directed him to stop talking about Seth Rich after he lost advertisers and jeopardized a major acquisition deal in the U.K. But he has retained his show, which moved to the more coveted 9 p.m. timeslot later that year, continued to show disregard for anything resembling journalistic ethics and pushed conspiracy theories about how WikiLeaks obtained the DNC emails as recently as this April.

    Porter Berry, the executive producer of Hannity’s Fox show at the time, was the recipient of a letter from Rich’s brother Aaron who urged him to find “decency and kindness” and stop promoting the conspiracy theories. In August 2018, Fox promoted him to vice president and editor-in-chief of Fox News Digital, a role in which he oversees all of the network’s digital content, including FoxNews.com, FoxBusiness.com, and the Fox News apps.

    Laura Ingraham, then a Fox contributor, suggested on-air that the Rich family was covering up his death for partisan gain. In September 2017, Fox announced that she would host her own prime-time show for the network.

    Newt Gingrich, a Fox contributor, claimed on-air that Rich had been “assassinated” for giving WikiLeaks DNC emails. He has repeatedly refused to retract his despicable comments. He still has his Fox platform.

    Fox correspondent Griff Jenkins, the hosts of Fox & Friends and Fox & Friends First, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano were among the on-air network personalities who pushed the conspiracy theories. None appear to have been disciplined in any way.

  • Jay Sekulow parroted Seth Rich conspiracy theories on Hannity’s Fox show -- then became the president’s lawyer

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox News didn't deliver on its promised Seth Rich coverage investigation, so Media Matters is doing it instead. This is the fourth in a series marking the two-year anniversary of Fox’s publication of a story -- retracted seven days later -- that promoted the conspiracy theory that the murdered Democratic National Committee staffer, and not the Russians, had provided the DNC emails to WikiLeaks. Read part one, part two, part three, part five, and our timeline of events.

    Just a few weeks before he became President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show to express support for the vicious conspiracy theory that the July 2016 murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich had been in retaliation for Rich leaking internal emails to WikiLeaks.

    In May 2017, after Fox published a story on the subject that it eventually had to retract, Hannity became the most prominent champion of this vile conspiracy theory. Long after the story fell apart, the volatile Fox star was using his Twitter feed and his national radio and cable news shows to promote it as part of his partisan defense of Trump from allegations of Russian collusion. Day after day, as Rich’s family begged him to stop, Hannity argued that if the DNC staffer had given WikiLeaks the emails that the group released during the 2016 presidential campaign, it would debunk the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russian hackers were behind the DNC email hack and undermine its broader contention that Russia had been trying to secure Trump’s election.

    Sekulow, a conservative attorney and talk radio host with deep ties to the religious right and a fixture on Fox News and other conservative media outlets, was one of the guests Hannity leaned on most in the spring and summer of 2017 as the host sought to minimize the Trump-Russia reporting. In two May 2017 segments, their discussion turned to the Rich’s death, with Sekulow eagerly agreeing with Hannity’s adoption of the conspiracy theory.

    May 16, 2017, was a big day for the Seth Rich conspiracy theory. FoxNews.com published its dubiously thin, hastily edited story that morning alleging that Rich had been in contact with and given tens of thousands of DNC emails to a WikiLeaks operative, and that his murder had subsequently been covered up. Over the course of the day other news outlets debunked its various claims, the Rich family and the Washington, D.C., police issued denials, and the story’s only named source started walking back his claims. By the time Hannity began his Fox show at 10 p.m. EST, the story was in shambles.

    That didn’t stop Hannity from devoting a substantial portion of his opening monologue to the “massive breaking news story” or hosting Sekulow to tease out the story’s implications. Hannity asked the right-wing lawyer whether, based on the story, it is “possible that this whole Russia narrative was -- and the leaks really came from a DNC staffer and that the media's been wrong for almost a year.”

    “Well, Sean, the media has not been right yet,” Sekulow replied. “So the -- you know, the presumption should be that the media is wrong with where they're laying the blame on the leaks that are going on now.”

    Sekulow called the timeline of Rich’s death “troubling, to say the least,” adding, “It raises a serious issue and a serious concern that our national security is being jeopardized in ways we don't fully understand.”

    Two nights later, every other Fox program had stopped talking about the story and the Rich family had demanded a retraction and apology from the network for “damaging the legacy of their son.” But Hannity, with Sekulow’s help, was still pushing the conspiracy theory on his Fox show.

    This time, Sekulow speculated that some aspects of Rich’s death suggested that he had been targeted for death rather than being the victim of a botched robbery, as law enforcement had surmised. Sekulow, whose specialty is First Amendment law, claimed to be “familiar with this area.”

    “It does not fit the classic definition of robbery because the deceased -- nothing was taken,” he said. “So that means it really wasn't a robbery based on what we know but rather a murder. And there's a fundamental difference both to the criminality of that and to the way in which it would proceed through investigation.”

    “It sounds like murder one,” he added. “It sounds like premeditated murder; they targeted this individual.” He then raised questions about whether law enforcement was covering up what happened, saying, “The unfortunate situation is that it's been classified. I guess the police are classifying it as a robbery, the detectives.” Sekulow went on to speculate that Rich’s death was linked to his job at the DNC, saying, “There’s a lot more to this, I would suspect. I mean, you can’t ignore the fact that it was a DNC staff member.”

    Picking up on that thread, Hannity questioned whether the WikiLeaks emails had been leaked by someone “disgruntled at how they cheated Bernie Sanders. … Couldn't you see somebody seeing that gross injustice, saying this is outrageous, and wanting it exposed, the truth told?”

    “That happens all the time inside of a political campaign, so that's not unusual,” Sekulow replied. “The tragic aspect of it here is of course the media continuing to harp on the Russia source of the leaks which [WikiLeaks founder] Julian Assange pretty much denies, pretty unequivocally. ... That begs the question, and it's an unfortunate question to have to address, and that is there's a dead 27-year-old in Washington, D.C., who happened to be a DNC employee, and Julian Assange is at least making statements that it could be this individual.” (Special counsel Robert Mueller would later indict 12 Russian intelligence agents for hacking the DNC and other Democrats and conclude that Assange and WikiLeaks had made “a number of statements about Seth Rich,” which “implied falsely that he had been the source of the stolen DNC emails.”)

    “I think this whole Russian argument, Sean, is such subterfuge from reality,” Sekulow concluded.

    Sekulow and Hannity had laid out the entire conspiracy theory, based on little more than Assange’s claims and speculation. They didn’t want to believe that the Russians had given emails to WikiLeaks, because that could implicate Trump and prove the media correct. So instead they wove a story that suggested that Rich was an embittered employee who gave the organization the documents, then was mysteriously murdered in retaliation, with the police covering up the crime.

    Over the next few weeks, Rich’s grieving parents and brother would plead with conservative news outlets and Hannity in particular to find “decency and kindness” and stop their “unspeakably cruel” coverage. Hannity would continue to promote the conspiracy theory, even as advertisers fled his show.

    And Sekulow would be hired by Trump because the Fox-obsessed president reportedly thought he did “a good job defending him on TV."

  • With the Mueller investigation over, conservative media declare it’s time to investigate the investigators

    Right-wing media, predominantly Fox News figures, use the end of the Mueller investigation to call yet again for investigations into Hillary Clinton, President Obama, the FBI, and more

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On Thursday, April 18, the Department of Justice released a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian election interference. Since then, several right-wing media figures, including hosts, anchors, and guests of President Donald Trump’s favorite TV channels Fox News and Fox Business, have declared that now is the time to investigate the investigators. (Republican National Committee spokesperson Elizabeth Harrington has also joined the chorus.)

    • New York Post’s Michael Goodwin: “The whole thing about the Russian dossier, the use of it by the FBI, [former FBI Director] James Comey, [former Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper, [former CIA Director John] Brennan, [former national security adviser] Susan Rice, on and on. All of their actions are subject, we hope, to a true investigation.”

    • The Wall Street Journal’s James Freeman: “How did this begin? How did this use of surveillance tools against the party out of power get started? And that's really what we haven't learned. ... Now I think we'll learn more about how the government came to spy on a political opposition.”

    • Fox Business host Stuart Varney: “I would simply like to know what did President Obama know about an ongoing spying operation into a competitor's political presidential campaign? … Will we find out what Hillary was doing?”

    • Fox contributor John Sununu: “When Lindsey Graham starts his investigation on the Clinton side of the issue, [Democrats] will have a difficult time with dealing that. And the more and more they get into the weeds, the more and more the American public is going to understand how political they are rather than trying to get legislation passed.”

    • Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk on The Story: “I actually believe you cannot allow the people from the internal, high levels of the FBI to get away with what they did here. ... There’s a lot of information, a lot of questions that still needs to be answered because this should never be allowed to happen to any other president again.”

    • Fox News chief political anchor Bret Baier: Baier falsely gave credence to the idea that investigators need to be investigated, saying, “We don't yet know about the origins of the investigation, the [inspector general] may shed some light on this, as other investigations in the early stages.”

    • Fox contributor Katherine Timpf on Outnumbered: “We already have evidence that there were some people who were involved in this investigation who were politically motivated. They wanted to get the president. That's not something we wondering about, it's something we know. So knowing that, why wouldn’t you want to know more?”

    • Outnumbered co-host Lisa Boothe: “I would love to know at what point Mueller knew there was no collusion and why the investigation went past that point. I question the origins of the investigation to begin with. ... I question all of it, and I sincerely think we need to get to the bottom of it.”

    • Fox Business’ David Asman on Fox's Outnumbered: “It’s probably one reason why they are attacking [Attorney General William] Barr now is because they are afraid of what he might dig up as a result of investigating all this.”

    • Fox Business host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery: “If there is a possibility that the deep state exists and it is so politicized, and at the president's disposal, shouldn't all of the people running for president as Democrats want an investigation to make sure what happened in 2016 doesn't happen in 2020?”

    • Breitbart’s Alana Mastrangelo responded to a Trump tweet about the Mueller report with “Now let’s investigate the investigators.”

    • Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce on Varney & Co.: “We aren't fatigued with justice. We want it, and I think that especially in this case we know this investigation was based on something that didn't occur.”

    • Fox News host Laura Ingraham: “Will we ever see these underlying documents? We've got transparency from the Trump team, … and we still don't really know, do we, what happened with Comey and the edits and why he came out into a press conference?”

    • Ingraham: “Every effort should be made to investigate the origins and motivations of this Mueller investigation.”

    • Fox News contributor Trey Gowdy on Fox's The Story: “I would think everybody would want to know was there sufficient factual predicate for the launching -- the initiating of this investigation? … What you will see is Republicans going to investigate the origins.”

    • Fox Business host Lou Dobbs: “Everyone involved, the Dems who funded it, the Christopher Steeles and the law firms, that aided and abetted in this farcical attempt to overthrow a president … should be in orange jumpsuits.”

    • Dobbs: Barr is “the first attorney general I've seen in decades who, I believe, has the capacity and the talent and the integrity to … clean up this mess that is the leadership of the FBI and the Department of Justice.”

    • Lou Dobbs Tonight guest Harmeet Dhillon: “We are going to see more leadership changes [at DOJ] I hope, and that Bill Barr is able to be given all the rope and the ammunition that he needs to go forward.”

    • Fox regular Joe diGenova: “It is now abundantly clear that in order to restore the integrity of DOJ and FBI, there has to be a full-scale federal grand jury of the Obama DOJ and FBI, CIA, and director of national intelligence."

    • The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway on Fox's Special Report: “The country was basically held hostage by a collusion theory -- a theory that the president of the United States was a foreign agent. … It was a very negative thing. There needs to be accountability; we are being given indications that there will be accountability for this.”

    • Hemingway on Fox & Friends: “We should continue to investigate, but what we should investigate is how [the media and Democrats] were able to get away with saying [that there was collusion] for so many years without evidence, and how it was that our own law enforcement and intelligence agencies were taken over by this.”

    • Fox host Jesse Watters: “They used false information to spy on the Trump campaign, so that needs to be investigated. … Why aren't reporters at Chappaqua [NY] right now, waiting for Hillary?”

    • Fox Nation personalities Diamond & Silk: “The government officials that participated, that masterminded, that orchestrated all of this here collusion mess -- they need to be brought to justice. It’s time to investigate the investigators.”

    • Fox guest Francey Hakes: “How did this entire investigation get started, and did the US government actually run an asset at George Papadopoulos to plant information that was then later used as the basis of the entire investigation? … Public corruption must be examined.”

    • A Hannity panel comprising Fox’s Gregg Jarrett, right-wing journalist Sara Carter, and former independent counsel Ken Starr agreed that the investigators need to be investigated. Jarrett: “If I were James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Brennan Clapper, I wouldn't be sleeping very well tonight or many nights to come.”

    • Fox host Sean Hannity: “If any of this started before July 31, the alleged beginning of the FBI's collusion investigation, we need to know when it started. And finally, we need to know this big question: What did he know? What did President Obama know? And when did he know it?”

    • Hannity on his radio show: “Is Robert Mueller going to be reappointed and maybe he’ll hire only Republican donors? … Maybe they'll hire Sean Hannity. ... This is now the beginning of the real investigation into the investigators.”

    • Trump attorney Jay Sekulow on Hannity: “For the country’s sake, we don’t let this happen again -- ever again. When a situation like this -- that’s why you got to find out how you started. I think the attorney general is going to do the right thing.”

  • It’s been 700 days since Fox said it would investigate its Seth Rich reporting. We’re still waiting.

    Robert Mueller's entire investigation lasted only 674 days

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Monday marked the 700th day since Fox News promised to investigate how it had come to propagate fact-free conspiracy theories about murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich and to “provide updates as warranted." As of yet, the network has not revealed why it put Rich’s family through hell by pushing a vicious smear dredged from the right-wing fever swamps, and it probably never will.

    In May 2017, Fox’s nonexistent editorial standards and unhinged prime-time personalities plunged the network into crisis. For nearly a year, right-wing online conspiracy theorists had postulated that Rich had provided thousands of stolen DNC emails that WikiLeaks published during the 2016 presidential campaign. With several ghoulish on-air segments and a credulous online report that quickly collapsed, Fox pushed that discredited hypothesis into the mainstream.

    Fox was engaged in a cynical, partisan effort to undermine the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia had hacked the DNC and leaked the emails through WikiLeaks to aid Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. But the effort backfired almost immediately as the network faced widespread public condemnations, internal dissent from embarrassed network staffers, and pleas from Rich’s anguished family. (“With every conspiratorial flare-up, we are forced to relive Seth’s murder and a small piece of us dies as more of Seth’s memory is torn away from us,” his parents wrote in The Washington Post.) The incident sent a clear signal to the rest of the press that the network had become a propaganda arm of Trump’s White House, putting the network’s brand in jeopardy.

    Fox executives took what was, for the network, an unheard-of stab toward accountability in response. They retracted the original FoxNews.com and replaced it with a promise that Fox would review how it had published materials that didn’t meet the network’s standards and "provide updates as warranted." But it quickly became apparent that Fox’s actions weren’t on the level. Two months later, as confused network employees questioned why no results had been forthcoming, a top Fox executive told CNN the investigation was ongoing but provided no sense of when it might conclude.

    No one at Fox has faced consequences for Rich commentary

    That internal probe has now lasted longer than special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. To date, Fox has provided no public accounting of what went wrong, and it has announced no disciplinary action against anyone involved with promoting the conspiracy theory.

    The author of the initial FoxNews.com story apparently still works at the network (though she hasn't published a story since August 2017), its editor has been promoted, and on-air commentators who pushed the conspiracy theory such as Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, and Steve Doocy are still comfortably ensconced at Fox.

    The subsequent years have provided more evidence that Fox’s Rich reporting was bogus. But as Mueller indicted Russian intelligence officers for the hack of the DNC, Attorney General William Barr publicly acknowledged that Mueller’s probe had found that Russians were responsible for the hacked emails, and the likes of the conservative Washington Times and prominent birther Jerome Corsi retracted and apologized for some of their own flawed Rich stories, the network has kept its internal probe under wraps.

    Fox served as a vehicle for WikiLeaks’ reported disinformation

    Last week brought a new opportunity for Fox to explain what went wrong. The Mueller report explicitly cleared Rich of providing the DNC emails to WikiLeaks, finding that the group had received them from their real source, Russian hackers, after Rich’s death. The report also criticized WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, for misleading the public by suggesting that Rich had been their source. “WikiLeaks and Assange made several public statements apparently designed to obscure the source of the materials that WikiLeaks was releasing,” the report states.

    Fox provided a willing venue for this misinformation campaign. Assange repeatedly and unequivocally told Hannity that the Russian government was not his source during a January 2017 interview, a claim that the Fox host accepted both at the time and over the intervening years because it bolstered his talking point that Russia hadn’t tried to help Trump’s campaign. During the interview, Hannity asked Assange about a report that WikiLeaks had received documents from a “disgruntled Democrat,” whom Hannity later noted on his radio show may have been Rich (Assange demurred).

    At a normal media outlet, news that the network had been used as part of a deliberate disinformation campaign might trigger an outraged response. But at Fox, producing propaganda that helps conservatives is simply the business model. The network’s PR team is still refusing to answer questions about how its Rich reporting went wrong, its reporters have not addressed the Mueller report’s revelations about Rich in detail on-air, and Hannity himself has been lashing out at other media outlets while ignoring his own failures.

    Fox’s Seth Rich internal report seems like a sham

    It’s probably safe to assume that we will never see the results of Fox’s internal investigation. Fox rarely has an actual interest in ensuring its personnel are meeting the basic ethical standards accepted at other newsrooms.

    But the network is deeply concerned with its brand, and that’s the best way to think of this probe -- as the sort of PR gambit that its executives try in order to reduce public pressure until the media moved on.

    In a Friday statement, Rich’s brother Aaron Rich responded to the release of the Mueller report last week by saying it provides “hard facts that demonstrate this conspiracy is false.” He continued:

    I hope that the people who pushed, fueled, spread, ran headlines, articles, interviews, talk and opinion shows, or in any way used my family’s tragedy to advance their political agendas — despite our pleas that what they were saying was not based on any facts — will take responsibility for the unimaginable pain they have caused us.

    But people like Hannity aren’t going to apologize for what they did to the Rich family, and Fox hasn’t done anything about the network’s Rich reporting because its executives don’t really care about them either.

    Fox is a propaganda outlet geared toward ensuring the continued dominance of Trump and his movement.

    The pain of Rich’s family is simply the cost of doing business.