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  • Trump’s Fox propagandists are trying to scuttle the bill to protect Mueller

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox hosts with close ties to President Donald Trump are denouncing Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) legislative effort to protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, blasting the senator for insufficient loyalty to the president and claiming his bill is unnecessary because Trump has said he does not plan to curtail the probe.

    Trump forced out Attorney General Jeff Sessions last Wednesday, replacing him with Matthew Whitaker, a Trump loyalist who had frequently criticized the Mueller investigation before joining the Justice Department. In response, a bipartisan group of senators tried to pass legislation to protect the probe yesterday, but they were blocked by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who argued that the bill was unnecessary because Trump has said he does not intend to fire Mueller.

    Flake, a co-sponsor of the bill, has said that he will not vote to advance judicial nominations in the closely divided Judiciary Committee or support them on the floor until the legislation receives a floor vote.

    The president’s Fox propagandists responded with fury last night.

    Trump confidant and Fox Business host Lou Dobbs argued that the “great president deserves the support of all Republican officeholders” and those pushing the Mueller bill are “separating themselves from his agenda and making, really, some rather silly and preposterous noises rather than standing tall and shoulder-to-shoulder with the president.”

    Sean Hannity, a close adviser to the president who appeared at a Trump election rally last week, smeared “Sen. Jeff Snowflake” for having “again today exposed himself, well, not as a conservative.” The Fox News host condemned Flake for “threatening the president” in support of a bill that “supposedly protects Mueller from being fired by the president, which isn't happening,” and said that the senator “should be ashamed” for “blocking conservative judges, breaking a promise to the people you represent in Arizona.”

    And Laura Ingraham, who was once considered for the post of White House press secretary, told her Fox News audience Flake was “trying to further harm his party before he leaves.” She asked Fox News contributor Andrew McCarthy about whether the bill is unconstitutional and discussed with former independent counsel Ken Starr the “young lawyers” whose confirmations will be put on hold due to Flake’s move. All three agreed that there is no real threat to the Mueller probe.

    Since Mueller’s appointment in May 2017, Fox hosts including Dobbs, Hannity, and Ingraham have told their audiences night after night that his work is illegitimate and intended to damage the president and that it should be halted as soon as possible. Now that the president is taking steps to curtail the probe, they are doing everything they can to prevent any action to stop him.

  • Just days after Democrats retake the House, conservative commentators insist that they’re doing it all wrong

    Conservative commentators are offering Democrats the same old advice: Move to the center.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about the tendency among conservatives, particularly of the “Never Trump” variety, to blame liberals and progressives for their own decisions. The idea behind it was pretty simple: Members of the conservative media suggest that if Democrats just made teeny-tiny changes, they could expect a windfall of support from right-leaning independents and disillusioned Republicans. They play the role of Lucy van Pelt, assuring Charlie Brown Democrats that this time would be different, that this time they wouldn’t pull the electoral football away at the final moment and would actually check the box for Dems who heeded their advice. Lulled into a tepid trust, Charlie Brown would declare, “This time I’m gonna kick that football clear to the moon!” before Lucy would pull the ball away, as always.

    With the 2018 midterms behind us, I want to revisit this concept and one very specific narrative that’s emerged in the post-electoral wake. That narrative is, simply put, that Democrats have veered too far to the left and need to make a strategic shift to the center if they’d ever like to retake power.

    The New York Times has a fantastic visualization, “Sizing Up the 2018 Blue Wave.” The data, as of publication on Wednesday morning, showed that while Democrats were able to flip 30 House seats from Republican to Democratic control, 317 out of the 435 congressional districts voted more Democratic than in 2016. Overall, the average district across all races shifted 10 percentage points left. (Since the Times published its analysis, results have further improved for Democrats.) It’s hard to say with any certainty what this suggests either political party should do in terms of strategy come 2020, but it’s also hard to firmly conclude, as Weekly Standard contributing editor Charlie Sykes did on MSNBC, that “the future for Democrats is, in fact, to move toward the center.”

    The math just doesn’t add up on the “move toward the center” messaging.

    On Fox News, National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar made three separate pleas for Democrats to avoid moving “too far to the left.” His analysis appeared to hinge on his claim that unabashed progressives Beto O’Rourke, Stacey Abrams, and Andrew Gillum all lost their respective races. (In fact, as of this writing, both Florida and Georgia are still counting votes.) What makes this type of electoral interpretation all the more frivolous is that there’s little reason to believe that O’Rourke, Abrams, and Gillum didn't fare well because they weren’t closer to the center.

    The Associated Press declared Republican Ron DeSantis the initial winner of the Florida governor's race, beating Gillum by just 0.4 percentage points in a close contest that may be heading for a recount. In the state’s race for Senate, incumbent and moderate Democrat Bill Nelson (GovTrack’s 2017 Report Card has Nelson pegged as the third most conservative Democrat in the Senate) trails challenger and current Florida Gov. Rick Scott by 0.2 percentage points. It’s not exactly an apples-to-apples look, but it’s pretty close, and looking at these two statewide Florida races would seem to suggest that the ideological gap between Gillum (who Kraushaar might say is “too far to the left”) and Nelson (who seems to be the type of candidate analysts like Kraushaar would have wanted in Gillum’s place) was negligible when it came to vote totals.

    In Abrams’ bid for Georgia governor, she ran so close to Secretary of State Brian Kemp that it’s more than two full days after the election and CNN has yet to even call the race. As of this writing, Kemp’s lead over Abrams is just 63,198 votes. To put this in perspective, the last time a Democrat came this close to winning the Georgia governorship was 20 years ago, when Democratic nominee Roy Barnes beat Republican Guy Millner. 

    And in Texas, when Ted Cruz first ran for Senate in 2012, he handily defeated Democratic opponent Paul Sadler by 16.1 percentage points. In the run-up to that election, Sadler received an endorsement from The Dallas Morning News, which called him a “moderate Democrat” who could “continue a legacy that puts the state first, rewards civility and embraces moderation and bipartisanship.” In 2018, O’Rourke lost to Cruz by just 2.6 percentage points.

    But on Fox, Kraushaar pointed to the Senate as the place where Democrats blew it for not being moderate enough. Looking at the nine states that had been listed as toss-ups by The New York Times -- Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Texas -- it’s hard to see exactly how, through any reasonable analysis, that it was progressives that cost Democrats the chance to regain power. I’ve already addressed O’Rourke making Texas unexpectedly competitive, but beyond that, Nevada’s Jacky Rosen took a surprisingly progressive stance on immigration as she flipped the seat from red to blue, and in New Jersey, scandal-plagued Sen. Bob Menendez handily won re-election (he has a track record of being on the more progressive end of the Democratic caucus). The only moderate Democrats who did come away with strong showings were Sen. Jon Tester, winning re-election in Montana, and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, whose race for Arizona Senate was still too close to call as of Friday. Beyond that, moderates didn’t do so well: Nelson might lose in Florida, Phil Bredesen lost in Tennessee, Joe Donnelly failed to win re-election in Indiana, and Claire McCaskill was ousted in Missouri.

    This narrative isn’t supported by facts, but that’s not stopping right-leaning and conservative media from pushing it hard.

    Fox Business anchor Connell McShane questioned whether Democrats need to be more “pragmatic” if they hope to win in 2020. “If you want to win back some of those independents in the middle, and some of those Democrats that voted for Trump in 2016, you’ve got to be very, very careful that you don’t just cater to the liberal base,” Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody cautioned during a recent episode of The 700 Club.

    But what lesson was there for Republicans to learn? Simply go further to the right, apparently.

    “As we watched [the results] unfold, all I could think of is, what in the world were these candidates thinking? Because in so many instances, they had separated themself from rather than embracing the Trump agenda,” said Lou Dobbs on the November 7 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight. “Most of those who bucked the president on immigration, they crashed and burned!” said Laura Ingraham during the November 7 edition of The Ingraham Angle, calling lockstep support of the president’s hard-line immigration policies “a deciding factor.”

    On the one hand, Democrats should move to the right because you can’t elect an extremist, and it’s important to understand that not all districts around the country are the same. On the other, Republicans need to become mini-Trumps or suffer the consequences. Am I getting that right?

    It’s almost as if this isn’t meant as an altruistic gesture to help Democrats defeat Republicans at all, and rather it’s just a clever way for conservative pundits to try to push the nation’s politics closer to their own ideals.

    That couldn’t be the case -- or could it? Thankfully, the world has Meghan McCain. On the November 7 edition of The View, McCain laid out some of the same move-to-the-center rhetoric heard elsewhere, but it’s at the very end that she gives away the game a bit.

    MEGHAN MCCAIN: The serious lesson for Democrats also is that Republicans are not going to vote against their own agenda and against their own interests. Meaning, I think there’s an impression sometimes, if you don’t watch Fox News, that all Republicans if you’re against Trump or you have issues with his rhetoric that automatically I have somehow morphed into a liberal, that every ideology and principle I have ever agreed on, the principles that make me who I am, the conservative that I am, have flown out the window. And all of a sudden, I’m a Democrat. That is not the case.

    Republicans are going to vote for their own agenda and they did a lot last night, especially in Senate and gubernatorial races. And I think the Democrats that were really competitive were the ones that were more moderate. So that is a lesson I would take away.

    SUNNY HOSTIN: That was disappointing to me, actually, because when you look at the Republicans --

    MCCAIN: Of course it’s disappointing. You’re a Democrat. It’s not disappointing for me. I’m a Republican. I’m going to end up voting for Republicans, and there’s a way to differentiate Trump from candidates.

    On Twitter, CNN’s Amanda Carpenter, a self-described conservative and former staffer for Sens. Ted Cruz and Jim DeMint (R-SC), offered a similar point of view:

    “I can’t believe it. She must think I’m the most stupid person alive,” says Charlie Brown.

    The idea that there’s some level of conservatism that Democrats can achieve in hopes of pulling in Republican voters is a myth, and Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District is proof.

    IL-03, which covers some of Chicago’s southwest side and surrounding suburbs, is about as reliably Democratic as it gets. The district hasn’t been held by a Republican since 1975. For the past 25 years, it’s been held by the Lipinski family -- Bill from 1993 until 2005, and his son Dan from 2005 until today. In the past four elections in which the current Lipinski faced off against a Republican in the general election (he ran unopposed in 2016), the Republican challengers won 35.4 percent, 31.5 percent, 24.3 percent, and 21.4 percent of the vote, according to Ballotpedia.

    In this year’s election, Lipinski’s Republican opponent, Arthur Jones, received 56,350 votes, or 26.5 percent. There is nothing out of the ordinary about this number. In fact, it falls neatly in the middle of the previous range.

    The one thing that is out of the ordinary: Lipinski’s opponent was a Nazi.

    Now, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of, You know, you can’t just call everyone you disagree with a Nazi. Let me be clear: He’s a literal neo-Nazi. In a 2012 interview with Oak Lawn Patch about plans to run for Congress, Jones said, “As far as I’m concerned, the Holocaust is nothing more than an international extortion racket by the Jews. It’s the blackest lie in history. Millions of dollars are being made by Jews telling this tale of woe and misfortune in books, movies, plays and TV. The more survivors, the more lies that are told."

    Oak Lawn Patch continues, describing him like this:

    A member of the Nationalist Socialist Party in his younger days, Jones took part in the Nazis’ march on Chicago’s Marquette Park in 1978. While he doesn’t deny nor repudiate his “past affiliations,” he says he votes Republican “90 percent of the time.”

    “Philosophically, I’m a National Socialist,” Jones said. “Officially, I don’t belong to any party except my own, the America First Committee.”

    Finally making it on the ballot in 2018, Jones racked up a lot of attention for, well, being a Nazi who ended up running unopposed in that district’s primary and winning the nomination.

    On Twitter, Illinois’ Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, urged people to vote for “anybody but Arthur Jones,” adding, “Nazis have no place in our country and no one should vote for him.” The Illinois Republican Party told the Chicago Sun-Times, “The Illinois Republican Party and our country have no place for Nazis like Arthur Jones. We strongly oppose his racist views and his candidacy for any public office, including the 3rd Congressional District.” The right-leaning Chicago Tribune editorial board said not to “accidentally vote for the neo-Nazi.”

    Easy enough: Don’t vote for the Nazi. But then people voted for the Nazi.

    This was a perfect time to test the theory that if Democrats run centrist candidates, they’ll win over Republicans when the Republican nominee is, say, a Nazi. For a Democrat, and especially one representing a reliably blue district, Lipinski holds many extremely conservative positions. He is anti-abortion, anti-Obamacare, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-immigration reform. A proud “Blue Dog,” Lipinski is about as close to being a “Democrat In Name Only” as possible.

    This could have been a slam-dunk, 100 percent to zero. So why wasn’t it? Like Meghan McCain said, Republicans are “going to end up voting for Republicans.” (The opposite is also true.) When the Sun-Times caught up with one Jones voter, she told the paper, “If I’d known I would not have voted for him. I regret it.”

    Sadly, for many people on both sides of the aisle, their vote isn’t as much about a candidate’s ideology or specific positions as it is about the tiny “D” or “R” next to their names. I have no advice for political parties or candidates, but I would urge political media figures to dial it back on half-baked analysis that always just so happens to support their personal political worldviews. It does none of us any favors. Perhaps it’s best that rather than trying to prescribe who candidates should be and what they should believe, we let candidates tell and show us who they are. It’s certainly a more productive use of our platforms.

  • Leading members of Trump’s Fox cabinet support Jim Jordan’s House GOP leader bid

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), the leader of the far-right House Freedom Caucus and a loyal ally of President Donald Trump, announced Wednesday that he will challenge Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to lead the party’s caucus as House minority leader. McCarthy’s current position as the party’s number two, behind retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), makes him the consensus front-runner. But Jordan will be able to draw on the support of some of the most powerful figures in Republican politics -- the Fox hosts who helped power Trump to the Republican nomination and have privately advised him in the White House.

    Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs are two of Jordan’s biggest boosters. Like other right-wing leaders who have endorsed his bid, they like his politics -- Jordan’s House Freedom Caucus contains the House GOP’s most extreme members. But their support is driven by the trio’s shared obsession with defending Trump from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

    Dobbs and Hannity use their nightly shows to denounce Mueller and his colleagues and defend the president, who they claim is the victim of a “witch hunt” by the media and the “deep state.” Their diatribes are often fueled in part by Jordan, who has used congressional hearings and regular appearances on their shows and others at Fox to denounce the efforts of Mueller and his colleagues at the Justice Department and FBI. Since Trump’s inauguration, the pair have interviewed him a combined 45 times, according to a search of the Nexis database.

    Hannity first endorsed Jordan to lead the House Republican caucus in the spring. “Frankly, I would like to see you be the next speaker,” Hannity told him during an April 22 interview on his Fox show to discuss “deep state corruption.” “For the record, I'm supporting Jim Jordan. I just endorsed him,” he added later in the program. On July 27, the day after Jordan announced that he planned to seek the top GOP slot after the election, Hannity gave him a lengthy interview to talk up his bid.

    Dobbs took longer to get behind Jordan. But after several of Jordan’s House Republican colleagues told Dobbs that they were supporting the bid, Dobbs said in September that he was also endorsing the Ohio congressman.

    Jordan took his campaign to Dobbs’ show on Thursday night, where the host showered him with accolades, calling him “one of the more prominent Republican leaders in the country.” He closed the interview by saying, “I have to say that the right person is in the Oval Office and we hope that the right person will be leading the minority in the House along with Majority Leader [Mitch] McConnell. It would be -- it's still not a fair fight for the Dems but there it is. Congressman, good to have you with us, we wish you all the luck.”

    Several other Fox personalities and guests on the network have also praised Jordan and his efforts to hamstring the Mueller probe:

    In addition to shilling for his leadership bid, Dobbs and Hannity both did yeoman’s work defending Jordan after several former Ohio State University wrestlers said over the summer that they believed Jordan knew about alleged sexual misconduct by an athletic doctor when he was the team’s assistant coach from 1987 to 1995. Soon after the story broke, Dobbs said Jordan had been “dishonorably attacked by the left,” and questioned why Ryan was “so classless as not to stand up for the right of this man.” Hannity hosted Jordan for one of his patented softball interviews, which he began by saying, “Welcome to the club. If you support Donald Trump, you had to know the lies, the smears against you are obviously a political attack. I'm sorry you are going through that.”

    Video by Miles Le

  • Fox figures constantly parrot Trump in attacking the media

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT, COURTNEY HAGLE & ZACHARY PLEAT

    Fox News and some of its high-profile hosts are attempting to distance themselves from President Donald Trump’s constant attacks on the media, which he has famously smeared as the “enemy of the people.” Martha MacCallum, host of Fox’s The Story, told Politico that she finds Trump’s rhetoric “wrong” and “disturbing.” Brian Kilmeade, a co-host of Fox & Friends, told viewers that he wished the president would “lose” the term “enemy of the people.” Pointing to Kilmeade’s comment, a Fox spokesperson argued to Forbes that “many of the FNC and FBN programs regularly push back on the Trump narrative.”

    These halfhearted deflections are undoubtedly an effort to avoid any blame for recent attempted violence amid calls for a boycott of the network’s advertisers. But in reality, Fox hosts, contributors, and guests have directly contributed to hostility against journalists and the media by regularly launching Trumpian attacks at outlets and reporters. They dismiss media outlets as “fake news,” label the media “the enemy of the people,” vilify individual journalists, and call for the Trump administration to crack down on the free press.

    Video by Miles Le

    Attacks on the media are frequent and vicious on Fox

    Fox’s Pete Hegseth has smeared the media as “the opposition party, the left-stream media, the legacy media, whatever you want to call them,” and argued that journalists “ continue to expose themselves because they can't hold back on their dedication to tearing down any single member of the Trump administration.”

    Fox’s Sean Hannity complained that “the propaganda media” is “out to destroy Trump. That is their main purpose. They want to advance the interests of liberal Democrats and the left. Now -- they're not journalists. They’re not reporters. They’re rigid, radical left-wing ideologues.”

    Hannity also said: “The alt-left propaganda media is getting worse every single day. They’re now at war with you, the American people.”

    Fox guest and Daily Caller writer Stephanie Hamill said: “Some of these journalists have an agenda, and they’re pushing a globalist agenda. And so when Trump calls the media the fake news media, the enemy of the people. They are the enemy of the people when they’re not being honest.”  

    Frequent Fox guests Diamond and Silk: “Not only are [the media] the enemy of the people, they are the enemy of the truth. Because they spread lies, and that’s why we call them the fake news.”

    Fox Business host Lou Dobbs referred to planned editorials criticizing Trump’s rhetoric about the media as “anti-Trump screeds” and “coordinated national left-wing fake news.”

    Dobbs argued that “the left-wing media” was aiding the Democratic Party in carrying out “a coup d'etat against President Trump.”

    Fox host Laura Ingraham accused the media of “actively concealing the heinous actions” of groups like antifa “because they serve their ends.”

    Fox’s Jesse Watters said the press, along with leakers, comprise “the official Democratic Party opposition.”

    In response to newspapers’ condemnation of Trump’s rhetoric, Fox Business guest host Ashley Webster and Wall Street Journal editorial board member James Freeman defended Trump’s rhetoric that the media are “the enemy of the people,” pushing Trump’s ridiculous claim that his critique applies only to “fake news.”

    Frequent Fox guest Michelle Malkin: “The media is the opposition party. I gotta get that on a bumper sticker.”

    Fox host Steve Doocy: The media want “to destroy [Trump] for the most part, because they didn’t like him. Look, nobody in the mainstream media for the most part predicted or wanted Donald Trump to win. He won, ha ha, he would go, and now, look, it’s the state of journalism today.”

    Fox’s Tucker Carlson: Media coverage “enrages” the president, “and I understand why. And I think he’s probably right to be mad.”

    Hannity criticized the media for being "filled with all opinion" and "kissing [Obama's] ass,” instead of holding government accountable.

    Hannity dismissed claims that he was  “inciting violence” by criticizing the “fake news media” for “reporting fake news almost every night”:

    Fox hosts regularly insult the media’s coverage of stories that reflect negatively on Trump or Republicans  

    Lou Dobbs slammed the “national left-wing media” for covering Florida gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis’ racist comment about his opponent, Andrew Gillum.

    Sean Hannity smeared media coverage of the package bomber targeting high-profile Democrats and CNN, calling it “so over the top, so outrageous, so disgustingly partisan.”

    Hannity complained that media “betrayed the American people” in their coverage of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian investigation.

    Hannity also slammed the media for covering his disastrous interview with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, calling reporters “lazy, … abusively biased echo chamber people in the fake news overpaid media.”

    Fox’s Jeanine Pirro whined that coverage of Trump and Russia is “like propaganda.”

    Fox routinely celebrates Trump’s hostility toward the media

    In response to a particularly vicious press conference in which Trump “launched an extraordinary denunciation” of the media, according to CNN, former Fox host Eric Bolling claimed that the room “looked like a WWE arena, with the mainstream media having fits about being called out for their unfair reporting.”

    Fox’s Kimberly Guilfoyle called the same press conference “wildly entertaining.”

    While interviewing the president, Fox’s Pete Hegseth asked him which  is his biggest opponent -- the Democrats, the “deep state,” or the “fake news media.”

    Fox & Friends celebrated Trump’s made-up "awards" attacking media: “Excitement for President Trump's fake news awards is so off the charts.”

    Fox figures often target specific outlets and individual journalists

    When the White House banned CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins from an open press event, Lou Dobbs celebrated the move: "It's about time there were consequences for disrespectful behavior."

    Dobbs smeared CNN’s Jim Acosta as “triggered” and “delicate” after Trump supporters harassed him at a rally.

    Fox contributor Tammy Bruce: Acosta's conduct makes him "an enemy to the American people."

    Hannity argued that the president shouldn’t “do any more interviews with Lester Holt, which then is sent over their cable channel and CNN so they can rip it apart.”

    Hannity also claimed that “corporate jihad” is “being waged by NBC News against President Trump,” and he went on to attack the “alt-left propaganda, destroy-Trump-at-all-costs media.”

    Fox contributor Michael Goodwin attacked The New Yorker's Jane Mayer for her reporting on sexual assaults: "She's been on this rampage for 25 years.”

    Fox & Friends defended Trump after he launched a sexist attack on MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski, saying the media had a “melt down” over the comment and arguing that Brzezinski “make[s] a living insulting” Trump.

    After Trump tweeted a photoshopped GIF of him “body slamming” CNN, Fox & Friends Sunday praised and joked about the GIF.

    Brian Kilmeade claimed CNN “went unhinged” after Trump posted the GIF, and Fox’s Geraldo Rivera argued that the network has “this unremitting hostility to Donald Trump.”

    Fox personalities have called for a crackdown on the free press

    Fox’s Newt Gingrich urged the administration to “close down the press room, send the reporters off. They can sit over at the Hay-Adams. They can go to Starbucks across the street. I don't care where they go.” Sean Hannity rejoiced at the idea: “The media will implode! They would not know how to deal with this.”

    Gingrich argued that the White House should “suspend” CNN’s Jim Acosta “for 60 days… as a signal, frankly, to all the other reporters that there are going to be real limits” on how they’re allowed to behave.

    Gingrich claimed that if he were the president, he “would kick some of the [news] organizations out. I would flood the White House press corps with lots of people,” adding that Trump should recognize “this is a real war.”

    Hannity: “As long as they keep reporting fake news, bizarre conspiracy theories, and show this bizarre fascination and paranoia about Russia, how about no more press conferences for the Hillary Clinton-colluding media?”

    Hannity claimed that the president shouldn’t “do interviews with the network so they can spend hours and hours and hours tearing up every word this president says, something they'd never do to Obama. End it. He doesn't need the press.”

  • Lou Dobbs laughs at Fox’s effort to restrain anti-Semitism on his show

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Lou Dobbs thumbed his nose on Wednesday at Fox News and Fox Business' attempt to curtail the use of their airwaves to broadcast anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about billionaire philanthropist George Soros, raising more questions about Fox’s willingness to enforce its standards on its biggest stars.

    At the end of an interview about a caravan of Central American migrants seeking asylum in the United States, as Dobbs tried to rush him off the air to go to a break, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) interjected, “It’s not anti-Semitic to criticize” billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who is Jewish, “and Israel issued a statement a year ago saying just that.”

    Laughing, Dobbs replied, “I’m certainly glad that I didn’t just break away there.”

    Gohmert’s comments aren’t wrong on their face -- I wrote last month that “not all criticism of Soros is anti-Semitic,” adding that “such critiques must be made carefully because horrific acts have been justified by the notion that Jewish people control the political system.” But Gohmert’s assertion was made following Fox’s half-hearted attempt to cordon off an attack on Soros made on Dobbs’ show that was criticized for explicit anti-Semitism. In this context, Dobbs’ laughter should be taken as a sign that he is uninterested in playing by any rules the network tries to establish.

    Over the weekend, Fox News and Fox Business banned Judicial Watch’s Chris Farrell from their networks. The decision came in response to Farrell falsely accusing Soros of masterminding the caravan during an interview on Dobbs' show. The episode containing the interview was rebroadcast hours after an anti-Semitic gunman who had spouted similar conspiracy theories allegedly murdered 11 people at a Pittsburgh, PA, synagogue, triggering a media firestorm.

    But Fox’s brief statement condemning Farrell’s “rhetoric” carefully avoided explaining specifically how Farrell erred -- perhaps because the networks can’t lay down a firm line on conspiracy theories about Soros when they are so common on Dobbs’ show in particular and Fox more broadly.

    Dobbs himself did not push back on Farrell’s comments at the time, and has not explicitly mentioned the controversy on air since. But his discussion with Gohmert -- one of several Fox hosts and guests to baselessly link Soros to the caravan last month with no repercussions -- was an obvious winking commentary on that affair, and it came only days after Dobbs tweeted that the bombs sent to Soros and a host of other progressive and Democratic leaders were “Fake News.” According to CNN, “A Fox Business Network spokesperson declined at the time to comment on Dobbs' tweets, and wouldn't say whether they violated the network's standards.”

    Like Sean Hannity, Dobbs has high ratings and close ties to President Donald Trump that have made him virtually untouchable at Fox. To the extent that his network actually has rules, it is either unable or unwilling to really compel him to follow them. He knows it, and that’s why he’s having the last laugh.

  • Lou Dobbs Tonight and Fox’s standards for anti-Semitic and bigoted commentary

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    During a Thursday night appearance on Fox Business, Judicial Watch’s Chris Farrell falsely accused the billionaire philanthropist George Soros of masterminding a caravan of migrants headed toward the U.S. border from Central America. Farrell’s remarks about Soros, whose donations to progressive organizations (including Media Matters) have long drawn the ire of right-wing news outlets, drew no controversy at the time. But on Sunday, Fox condemned Farrell’s “rhetoric” in a short statement and said he would no longer be hosted on Fox Business or its sister network, Fox News.

    Why did Fox suddenly decide that Farrell’s comments were beyond the pale? Thursday’s episode of Lou Dobbs Tonight was rebroadcast on Saturday night, hours after a gunman murdered 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue. In that context, Farrell’s description of the caravan as funded by the “Soros-occupied State Department” caught the eye of Josh Marshall, editor and publisher of TPM, whose tweets generated a firestorm on Twitter when he noted its similarities to the “Zionist-occupied government” rhetoric common to neo-Nazi literature. Soros, a Hungarian-born Jewish financier, is the frequent target of conspiracy theories with anti-Semitic overtones.

    That Fox waited until reporters contacted the network over the weekend rather than taking action after the segment ran on Thursday night -- or when Farrell made similar comments in May -- suggests that the network doesn’t have proactive standards for unacceptable rhetoric, but it merely reacts to limit the damage when bigoted commentary creates a PR crisis.

    Fox’s statement is a brief and blanket condemnation of Farrell’s “rhetoric” that does not indicate how specifically he erred. This is likely not an accident. For the past 15 years, ever since Soros announced that he would donate to an advertising campaign opposing then-President George W. Bush’s re-election, Fox commentators and others in right-wing media have regularly attacked him. It is difficult to disaggregate Farrell’s comments from the broader pattern of Soros commentary that permeates the network’s programming.

    Fox and others on the right have also long attacked progressive causes by linking them to Soros “in an attempt to argue that any organic protest or outcry on the left is really the work of one sinister, shadowy (foreign) billionaire,” as Vox.com’s Jane Coaston has noted. Then-Fox host Bill O’Reilly sought to undermine Media Matters’ criticism of the network by falsely tying us to Soros in this manner. Half a decade ago, the Soros conspiracy theories were regularly promoted on then-Fox host Glenn Beck’s program. His smears of Soros, whom he termed “the puppet master,” drew condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League in 2010.

    But the Soros smears have taken on a new urgency and an international character in recent years. “For the far right, from Russia to central Europe and increasingly, America, Soros is the latest Jewish manipulator whose extreme wealth finances puppet groups and publications to drain the prosperity of the Herrenvolk,” The Daily Beast’s Spencer Ackerman reported after Trump lashed out at the progressive donor earlier this month. “The attack on Soros follows classic anti-Semitic templates, grimly recurrent throughout western history.”

    If Fox explained what it found unacceptable about Farrell’s comment, the network would likely also have to explain why it wasn’t taking action against other Fox guests and its on-air talent who had made similar remarks.

    Take Dobbs himself. Fox is now condemning Farrell’s remark, but Dobbs, Fox Business’ highest-rated host, did not push back on it at the time and hasn’t mentioned the incident on-air since. And why would he? As CNN’s Oliver Darcy noted, Dobbs has referred to Soros as an "evil SOB" and "insidious" on Twitter and “has also peddled various conspiracy theories” about him.

    This year alone, on his Fox Business program, Dobbs has said that Soros is “spending tens of millions of dollars to pursue an election system that would be the envy of the KGB”; accused the “left wing globalist and billionaire” of “trying to subvert democracy in Europe to advance their open border agenda”; and said that Soros has been running a “global left-wing conspiracy on the taxpayer dime” with former President Barack Obama.

    A host of other Fox personalities and guests have also floated the falsehood that Soros is behind the caravan, including Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo, Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Jeanine Pirro, Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano, and Republican congressmen Matt Gaetz of Florida and Louie Gohmert of Texas.

    Will Fox take action against Dobbs in the wake of the network banning Farrell? Will it take action against its other personnel for pushing these conspiracy theories? Are Gaetz and Gohmert still welcome on its airwaves?

    Farrell’s remarks were not an anomaly, but part of a campaign by the conservative organization Judicial Watch to “expose” Soros and his “schemes.” The federal government is currently investigating how one of its state-funded broadcasters used Judicial Watch research and aired a report attacking Soros as an insidious “multimillionaire Jew” who uses “his lethal influence to destroy democracies,” according to a Daily Beast report. “Deep State aligned with Soros & uses State Dept to push its radical agenda,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, who regularly appears on Fox programs, wrote on Twitter earlier this month. “And your tax dollars for Soros abroad help free up resources for his activities here in the United States.”

    The distance between Fitton’s statement and Farrell’s reference to the “Soros-occupied State Department” is vanishingly small. Will Fox extend its ban on Farrell to Fitton?

    The answer to all of these questions is almost assuredly, “No.” Fox only acts when its hand is forced. The network has no real standards other than to limit bad publicity as much as possible to keep the money rolling in.