Eric Boehlert

Author ››› Eric Boehlert
  • Farewell To Fox News’ Benghazi Hoax

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    To the surprise of no one, the Republicans’ four-year partisan inquisition surrounding the terrorist attack on the American compound in Benghazi, Libya, is likely ending with a whimper. With the House Select Committee on Benghazi finally releasing its findings, and the report representing the eighth and (likely) final government investigation into the deadly event, the Benghazi hoax, as sponsored by Fox News for four years, finally comes to an impotent and ignominious end.

    Early indications are that the report, as expected, provides no major revelations. Already undercut by a report from Democratic members of the Benghazi committee that further debunked right-wing myths about the attack, the GOP’s long-awaited Benghazi report is in danger of being met with collective shoulder shrugs.

    Even Donald Trump seems relatively uninterested in kicking the Benghazi can around the campaign trail this year. Yes, he’s made a couple passing references to it and implied grave misdeeds by Hillary Clinton. But there’s been no serious push on his part to highlight the GOP’s endless pursuit. (Last year, Trump actually criticized the Republicans’ investigations as being incompetent.)

    So if Benghazi isn’t being used as an election year battering ram against the Democrats, what has been the point of committee chairman Trey Gowdy’s comically extended inquiry? Anybody with a pulse and a political calendar realized that the final GOP Benghazi report, with its 2016 summertime release, was designed to disrupt Clinton’s White House run. Why else would the committee’s work be extended for two-plus years when it likely could have been completed in six or seven months? (Two years to hold four hearings?)

    Unsure they could defeat Clinton at the ballot box, and lately even more unsure that Trump is competent enough to run a White House campaign, Republicans were hoping and praying for an investigative intervention to stop Clinton.

    It ain’t happening with Benghazi. But anyone who followed the facts, or who reads Media Matters, knew that a very long time ago.

    The whole mindless, partisan endeavor shines a light on what’s gone completely wrong with the Republican Party and the right-wing media. It’s about how shallow, endlessly debunked conspiracies and money-sucking investigations have replaced any attempt to govern and legislate.

    The fact that the GOP’s Benghazi gotcha pursuits have stretched through the entirety of Obama’s second term, and that Obama stands poised to leave office with surging approval ratings, tells you all need to know about the crippling disconnect between the right-wing media and the real world today. (Fox’s Eric Bolling: “I think Benghazi's a much bigger scandal than Watergate.")

    But let’s never forget that the Beltway press claims partial ownership of this slow-motion fiasco, too. The press certainly owns the first three years of the Benghazi charade when journalists breathlessly amplified every slipshod allegation leaked from Republicans on Capitol Hill, or followed Fox News’ lead in hyping an endless series of supposed revelations about the attacks. Sometimes we couldn’t tell who was more anxious to uncover an Obama or Clinton-related “scandal,” the press or partisan conservatives.

    If I had to estimate, I’d say it took until October 2015 -- three entire years of Benghazi news dead ends -- before the D.C. press mostly conceded there’s no there there with regards to this so-called scandal. It took Hillary Clinton testifying for 11 hours on Capitol Hill and Republicans completely unable to advance, let alone confirm, their wild conspiracy theories before the press largely seemed to acknowledge the futility of the whole enterprise. (Accidental truth telling in 2015 by some GOP House members regarding the motivation about the Benghazi committee likely also convinced reporters the endeavor was largely a scam.)

    Unfortunately, this was after several Beltway journalists’ reputations took serious hits when they were caught trusting dubious sources who lied about Benghazi revelations.

    Meanwhile, here’s some distressing context. I wrote this more than 1,300 days ago:

    Benghazi has entered the realm of churning, right-wing myth making. (Think Waco and Vince Foster). The story has become completely detached from reality, and the twisted narrative feeds off itself with constant misinformation that's repeatedly presented as 'fact.' 

    I certainly never thought in the fall of 2012 that four years later I’d still be pointing the Benghazi hoax and highlighting the obvious absurdity of the pursuit. Overall, Media Matters has posed hundreds of fact-checking items on Benghazi and we’ll continue to do so as long as conservatives cling to the fantasy. But that will be much harder to do now without a congressional inquiry to give the wild claims shape.

    The larger point is that Republicans and Fox News have wasted untold time, money and energy pushing a thoroughly discredited pipe dream about how Obama and Clinton are supposedly monstrous people who chose to let four Americans die at the hands of Islamic terrorists and then lied about it. Worse, Obama watched video "in real time" while the terrorists snuffed out American lives. "Support wasn't given," in the words of Karl Rove.

    Vile, vile lies.

    This whole endeavor has been a depressing reflection on how broken the conservative movement has become, and also how the Beltway press simultaneously takes its marching orders from the scandal-obsessed right wing. Like Republicans, journalists seemed to be eagerly holding out hope for an Obama or Clinton scandal to emerge from the Benghazi investigations.

    And of course that faulty blueprint hasn’t just applied to the Benghazi “scandal.” As noted in September last year, ABC World News TonightCBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News together spent just as much time covering Clinton’s email controversy as they spent covering the substance of her entire presidential campaign.

    If we’re truly bidding farewell to Fox News’ Benghazi conspiracy hoax (fingers crossed), there’s another point about context that’s worth stressing one last time. 

    I think one way the GOP and conservative media were able to string the serious press along on Benghazi was that they framed the Benghazi terror attack as an almost-unprecedented event in American history (sadly, it was not) and one that exposed unheard of security failures by Obama’s White House and Clinton’s State Department; it was supposedly an epic fiasco that demanded countless investigations. 

    What the press for most of the last four years refused to do is put the Benghazi terror attack in any kind of historical context.

    Consider these facts under President Ronald Reagan:

    *April 18, 1983: Bombing of U.S. Embassy in Beirut. 63 people were killed, including 17 Americans, including the CIA’s chief analyst in the Middle East, and the Beirut station chief. 

    *September 6, 1983: Two Marines were killed during a lengthy rocket assault on the Marine base at Beirut's airport.

    *Oct. 23, 1983: Bombing of Marine barracks in Beirut. A suicide bomber detonated a truck full of explosives at a U.S. Marine barracks; 241 U.S. service personnel were killed.

    *Sept. 20, 1984: Bombing of U.S. Embassy annex. A truck bomb exploded in Aukar, northeast of Beirut, outside the annex, killing 24 people, including two U.S. military personnel.

    During an 18-month span, U.S. facilities in and around Beirut were attacked by terrorists four times, killing 330 people, including 262 Americans.

    There was exactly one congressional investigation into the Beirut debacle.

  • For Clinton, All News Is Bad News: Brexit Edition

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Deciding that a national referendum staged thousands of miles away offers deep insight into America’s pending presidential election -- and that Hillary Clinton’s campaign in particular may be damaged by a vote in Europe -- several pundits in recent have days have stressed the Bad News angle for the Democrat.

    Reading all kinds of American implications into the United Kingdom’s vote to exit the European Union, known as “Brexit,” commentators seemed to be straining in order to stick to their preferred all-news-is-bad-news pattern when covering Clinton.

    Meet The Press host Chuck Todd insisted that in the wake of Brexit, Clinton “has to learn a lesson here” because she represents “the establishment.” Or “the status quo,” as The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza suggested during the same segment.

    On ABC’s This Week, Greta Van Susteren agreed that the “status quo really needs to be worried” and that Brexit “hurts Secretary Hillary Clinton, because she is going to be pinned with status quo.”

    And because Clinton’s such a supposedly stagnant candidate with so little vision, the vote in the U.K. set off “panic” inside “Democratic circles,” according to Time.

    But does that framing of the Brexit vote reflect reality? Clinton’s the first woman to ever win a major party’s presidential nomination in American history and her party’s newly drafted platform is the most aggressively progressive in decades, yet the press depicts her as “status quo” and out of touch with voters urging change. 

    The New York Times seemed to take the lead over the weekend in ringing the Brexit alarm bells for Clinton. On Sunday’s front page, the Times insisted the U.K. outcome casts a “shadow” over Clinton’s White House run, which seems odd since Clinton played no role in the British vote. But the Times was certain the referendum represented the type of outcome she “fears” in November.


    According to their friends and advisers, Mrs. Clinton and former President Bill Clinton have worried for months that she was out of sync with the mood of the electorate, and that her politically safe messages — like “I’m a progressive who gets results” — were far less compelling to frustrated voters than the “political revolution” of Senator Bernie Sanders or Mr. Trump’s grievance-driven promise to “Make America Great Again.”

    Fact: Clinton just defeated Sanders by approximately 3.7 million votes in the Democratic primary, and she leads Trump by 12 points in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. But the Times hypes anonymous concerns her "safe" message isn’t resonating? (What would the polls look like today if Clinton’s message was resonating?) More importantly, since when is the candidate who tallies the most votes depicted as being out of touch with voters?

    In a strange attempt to prove its point, the Times noted, “Mr. Sanders and Mr. Trump won a combined 25 million votes during the primary season, compared with 16 million for Mrs. Clinton.”

    Clinton won more votes than either Sanders or Trump this year. But because combined they tallied more than her that means a referendum in Europe is bad news for her; that she’s “out of step.” That seems illogical.

    More Times oddities:

    In swing states like Ohio, many Democrats and Republicans yearn for an economic comeback and are not confident that Mrs. Clinton understands their frustrations or has the ideas and wherewithal to deliver the sort of change that could satisfy them.

    Democrats in Ohio aren’t sure Clinton “understands” their concerns, even though three months ago Democrats in Ohio selected Clinton as the winner of the state’s primary contest by almost 14 points.

    Meanwhile, since when are national votes in foreign countries even considered to be precursors for American elections? Or is the press only leaning on that angle now because pundits think it represents bad news for the Democrat?

    If that’s the rubric, journalists ought to be consistent. If votes in foreign countries, and specifically countries that resemble the U.S. population, are deemed to be bellwether events for U.S. presidential elections, shouldn’t the press treat other recent votes as being preludes to U.S. election results?

    For instance, what was the lesson Clinton was supposed to have learned from Canada last October when voters there overwhelmingly elected a liberal prime minster? Or did that referendum not matter since the results were in sync with Clinton’s campaign message of inclusion and progress?

    If for some reason Clinton had made Brexit a central issue in her American campaign, or if overseas referendums served as well-established indicators for U.S. election results, pundits might be safe in drawing sweeping conclusions about the Democrat’s chances in the wake of the U.K. vote.

    Instead, lots of the commentary looks and sounds like a kneejerk attempt to assume big news is bad news for Clinton’s White House hopes.

  • Is Trump’s Campaign Just Another Conservative Con? And Should The Press Cover It That Way?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    "Conservatism is a racket for a lot of people to get very, very rich. With no thought of winning elections.” MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, 2012.

    Stunned reporters this week have been unrelenting in depicting Donald Trump’s campaign as one whose wheels have not only come loose, but whose doors and windows have also flown off the hinges.

    Journalists, who are fascinated by fundraising totals and are forever stressing their importance in terms of judging campaign strength, were gobsmacked to learn Trump has just over $1 million in his campaign coffers after raising just $3.1 million in May.

    The total is unbelievably paltry for a major party nominee,” reported The Huffington Post, which labeled Trump’s recently released campaign finance report a “dumpster fire.” By comparison, four years ago Mitt Romney’s campaign raised $23.4 million in May. And by comparison, Hillary Clinton raised $4.5 million in just one day of fundraising this month.

    Donald Trump’s May fundraising totals are disastrously bad,” announced a Washington Post headline.

    But it’s not just Trump’s finances. It seems with every important campaign measurement -- staffing, get out the vote, communications, etc. -- Trump not only languishes; he barely competes.

    It's certainly possible, given Trump's history and lack of political experience, that his campaign's problems stem largely from basic incompetence. But something else might be in play here.

    Republicans have been staging modern White House campaigns for decades. Sometimes they’re successful and sometimes they’re not, but the party always manages to build an apparatus and support system that’s designed to compete on the national stage. So why would that formula suddenly elude Trump? Why would this nominee not to be able to pull off Campaign 101 as the calendar readies its flip to July?

    Just as importantly, why is Trump’s campaign pouring so much money into paying Trump’s own companies for goods and services?

    Why would Trump, whose campaign is in crisis at home, set aside two days this week to fly to Scotland to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of a golf resort? The answer, of course, is that Trump owns the luxury golf club.

    Do the two red flags of Trump’s seeming unwillingness to commit resources to genuinely compete for the White House, combined with his desire to fill his companies’ own coffers, suggest that his campaign is actually some sort of large-scale scam or con? And if it is, is that how the press should cover his campaign and drop the assumption that the Trump run represents a traditional GOP march toward the White House?

    It’s true that journalists are aggressively detailing his campaign’s many shortcomings. But most of the coverage suggests Trump and his team just haven’t mastered the campaign game, or that Trump’s simply too mercurial, which is causing trouble for him.

    But if the whole endeavor turns out to be more focused on bolstering Trump’s brands and launching his future media career than mounting a serious campaign, shouldn’t that be reflected in the real-time coverage?

    The crass self-dealing isn’t a new trend in the conservative movement. Media Matters has documented for years how fundraising scams remain a constant on the right, with high-profile media and political figures cashing in.

    Ben Carson’s presidential campaign this year nicely captured the grifter angle as the candidate plowed a huge percentage of his fundraising donations into paying for more fundraising.

    It sure looks like Carson's campaign is a self-perpetuating machine in which money is raised to pay mostly for more money being raised — and the people doing the direct mail and phone calls are making out quite nicely,” noted The Week’s Paul Waldman last year. (This, while Carson gave lucrative paid speeches during the presidential campaign season.)

    Trump now seems determined to further that dubious GOP tradition.

    When Trump flies, he uses his airplane. When he campaigns, he often chooses his properties or his own Trump Tower in New York City, which serves as headquarters. His campaign even buys Trump bottled water and Trump wine,” the Associated Press recently reported.

    His campaign has been writing very large checks to Trump’s TAG Air, Trump Tower Commercial, the Trump Corporation, Trump’s private Mar-a-lago Club, Trump National Doral and Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, according to the AP. And "Trump's relentless product branding while on the campaign trail" might also be boosting the bottom lines of companies like Trump Ice, his bottled water company.

    But again, it’s not just the obvious self-dealing within the Trump campaign that raises doubts about the possibility of a con. It’s also Trump’s refusal to mount an actual, physical campaign operation. “Trump essentially has no campaign at this point,” The Washington Post reported on June 20.

    For instance, Trump has not aired any general election ads in eight key battleground states.

    And speaking of swing states, Trump hasn’t been to the important swing state of Ohio since March, while Hillary Clinton made two Buckeye stops in the span of eight days this month. "Democrats say they now have 150 full-time employees on the ground in Ohio" working to help Clinton and state-level Democrats win their races. But “Trump doesn't have a campaign operation in Ohio,” CNN recently reported.

    In May, Trump had just 69 paid staffers in total, compared to Clinton’s 685. Trump’s entire communication outreach effort seems to consist of Hope Hicks, “who is essentially the lone media contact for reporters,” MSNBC reported.

    Ground game? Last week in Phoenix, Trump’s rally drew approximately 4,500 supporters to an arena that accommodates 15,000. As for Trump’s field organization, it consists of “a patchwork of aides, some paid, some retained on a volunteer basis and many left over from the Republican primaries,” according to CNN.

    It would be one thing if Trump crassly touted and boosted his myriad businesses while running a muscular presidential run. But to try to cash in while running an at-times-invisible campaign certainly raises doubts about his pursuit.

    If the whole thing is built to be a con, shouldn’t the press say so?

  • With Gun Votes Pending, New York Times Again Whitewashes GOP’s Radical Obstruction

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Trying to jump-start the gun debate in America, Democrats last week, led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), were forced to stage a nearly 15-hour talking filibuster in the wake of the Orlando gun rampage that left 49 people dead at a gay nightclub. The marathon event was held in order to champion two gun measures. One would give the Justice Department authority to block gun sales to people on the  terror watch list (the "terror gap"), and the other would require background checks on nearly all gun sales. 

    Those votes are scheduled for Monday evening as amendments to a DOJ spending bill. Republicans will also put forward two measures; one purports to straighten the background check system while actually weakening it, and the other purports to block sales to suspected terrorists but has "an unworkable standard" in actually stopping any sales. 

    But The New York Times has already been downplaying any chance of Congress passing the Democrats' proposals. “Why the Orlando Shooting Is Unlikely to Lead to Major New Gun Laws,” read a June 16 headline.

    Why were the background check and terror gap efforts supposedly doomed? “Largely because of hotly contested Senate races in a bitter election year,” the newspaper reported. “Election-year politics will make a bill to expand background checks an uphill climb,” the Times stressed.  

    For readers, the storyline was clear: The two sides simply can’t agree on this one. Maybe next year -- because for now, Republicans just don’t see eye-to-eye with Democrats on gun legislation.

    But none of that glossed-over analysis is applicable to what’s happening today. And the framing the Times uses -- which was also employed by other news organizations -- categorically ignores what’s been unfolding in American politics since President Obama was elected, and specifically it ignores how the Republican Party has tried its best, via radical obstructionism, to thwart Obama in every conceivable way. And Republicans are doing it in a manner that’s unprecedented in modern American politics.

    Here’s the political context that’s been flushed down the memory hole since the Orlando massacre: Republicans don’t simply disagree with Obama on gun legislation; they disagree with him on everything. ("If he was for it, we had to be against it," former Republican Ohio Sen. George Voinovich once explained.) Yet too many in the press still downplay that central fact.

    Indeed, so much of the congressional gun coverage last week glossed over the fact that Democrats had to stage a nearly 15-hour filibuster just to get Republicans to allow votes on gun legislation in the wake of another gun massacre. And these were gun amendments whose measures enjoy overwhelming, bipartisan support among voters.

    Media Matters has been documenting this journalism shortcoming for a very long time. Here was a recent thumbnail sketch of what blanketed GOP obstruction has looked like under Obama:

    Today's Republican Party is acting in a way that defies all historic norms. We saw it with the GOP's gun law obstruction, the Violence Against Women Act obstruction, the sequester obstruction, Supreme Court obstruction, minimum wage obstruction, 9/11 first responder obstruction, government shutdown obstruction, immigration reform obstruction, Chuck Hagel's confirmation obstruction, Susan Rice secretary of state obstruction, paid leave obstruction, Hurricane Sandy emergency relief obstruction, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act obstruction, and the consistent obstruction of judicial nominees.

    Good luck finding any of that context in the current coverage about the congressional gun votes. Instead, news consumers are supposed to pretend the last eight years of GOP obstruction never happened and that the gun votes this week are taking place in a vacuum.

    They’re also supposed to pretend one party in particular doesn’t sponsor obstructionism. Look at this June 14 Times article about the Orlando shooting and gunman Omar Mateen (emphasis added):

    Even if Mr. Mateen had remained on the watch list, it would not have stopped him from buying a gun. Congress blocked an attempt last year to give the F.B.I. the power to block gun sales to people on terrorism watch lists.

    But of course, “Congress” didn’t block the attempt in 2015; Republicans did.

    If you’re sensing déjà vu about gun massacres and jockeying over congressional votes, that’s because following the deadly rampage at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, CT, Republicans, at the urging of the National Rifle Association, blocked any attempt to vote on a gun safety bill to strengthen background checks.

    At the time, Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-PA) was among the few Republicans who tried to fashion together a compromise. In the end, the GOP abandoned that effort. Pressed to address the failure, Toomey explained:

    In the end, it didn't pass because we're so politicized. There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.

    Three years ago, Toomey revealed the underlying truth; he articulated his own party’s obstructionist blueprint. But most journalists politely filed that quote away, and they certainly haven’t dwelled on it in recent days as new gun votes loom.

    Meanwhile, back to the Times coverage. You know what would have provided additional context for the Times article, which chose to view the pending gun votes through the narrow prism of a soda straw? Polling data. The same day of the Times piece, new polling information showed that 86 percent of Americans support denying gun sales to anybody who’s on the government’s terror watch list, including 87 percent of Republicans. Numerous polls over the past few years have indicated that around 90 percent of Americans favor a background check for every gun sale. 

    As for the idea that Republicans can’t find common ground with Democrats on gun legislation because this year is an election year? That just defies logic and whitewashes what’s transpired for the last eight years.

    How do we know current Republican obstruction isn’t about election year positioning? We know because Republicans have been radically obstructing Obama every year he’s been in office, regardless of balloting.

    Remember these two initiatives that the GOP bizarrely blocked when no significant elections were pending:

    *Disaster relief for Hurricane Sandy victims (January 2013)

    *The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act (December 2014)

    And don’t forget about the GOP’s illogical government shutdown of 2013 and the equally loopy sequestration that same year.

    It’s simply not credible to blame possible failed gun votes this week on “election year” politics. After eight years, we know the Republican Party’s radical obstructionist streak pays no attention to the calendar.

  • Pushing For Mosque Surveillance, Fox News Is Fighting The Last War

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Reaching for one of its favorite War on Terror talking points, Fox News is leading a charge in the wake of the Orlando gun massacre to push for surveillance of mosques in America. Convinced that a pressing response to the attack on a gay nightclub is for law enforcement to keep close tabs on Muslims at prayer, Fox News continues to hype the initiative as a solution to pending terror threats in the United States -- and specifically, to stem the tide of ISIS recruitment in America.

    But there’s no indication domestic mosque surveillance uncovers useful terror information. Just ask the New York Police Department, whose extensive, post-9/11 Muslim surveillance program turned out to be a “failure by any reasonable standard,” according to the Cato Institute.

    And now with ISIS focusing its recruitment online and hoping for self-radicalization among converts, the notion that law enforcement can round up ISIS sympathizers meeting and plotting inside American mosques runs counter to the facts.

    Nonetheless, Fox News is pushing for the divisive, Bush-era tactic to be revived and embraced. “How stupid is it to pull police officers out of the mosques? Absolutely stupid,” Rudy Giuliani complained on Fox News this week, while Greg Gutfeld compared Islam to biker gangs and suggested both needed to be watched closely to head off crime sprees.

    Not surprisingly, Fox News is echoing allegations often made by members of the Republican Party about how mosques are a breeding ground for homegrown terrorism and need to be spied on.

    "I want surveillance of certain mosques if that's OK," Republican Party presumptive nominee Donald Trump told a crowd in Birmingham, Ala. last November. That same week Trump announced he’d "strongly consider" shutting down mosques in the U.S. Trump raised the idea again earlier this week at a rally in Atlanta, saying, "We have to maybe check, respectfully, the mosques and we have to check other places because this is a problem that, if we don't solve it, it's going to eat our country alive." 

    For years, New York Republican Congressman Peter King, with the help of Fox News, led an anti-mosque crusade, complete with congressional hearings that were denounced as being McCarthy-like.

    Today’s endorsement of mosque surveillance represents Fox News’ long-running attempt to collectively criminalize Islam in America and to often portray Muslims as would-be terrorists. (Recall the open hysteria Fox News helped foment in its opposition to the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” in 2011.)

    But Fox News’ advocacy for mosque surveillance, and its suggestion that it would help ferret out dangerous ISIS sympathizers, runs counter to recent events and counter to research that indicates those handful of American Muslims who embrace deadly violence are mostly self-radicalized and they become that way online, not by listening to sermons from radical Imams in U.S. mosques.

    In the wake of recent terror attacks in Boston, San Bernardino and Orlando, there were no findings that the bombers and gunmen were radicalized in their local mosques or planned their attacks there; that the mosques were in any way directly connected to the acts of violence. There were no sweeping indictments made by law enforcement.

    In fact in Boston, bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been threatened with expulsion from his mosque after he angrily interrupted a speaker who compared Prophet Muhammad with Dr. Martin Luther King. “The congregation shouted him out of the mosque,”said a spokesman for the mosque.

    And that fits what researchers have been reporting in recent years.

    Last December, George Washington University’s Program on Extremism issued a report, “ISIS in America: From Retweets to Raqqa.” It showed “how social media plays a crucial role in the radicalization and, at times, mobilization of U.S.-based ISIS sympathizers,” according to the university.

    Key points from the report included:

    • "Several thousand Americans consume ISIS propaganda online creating what has been described as a 'radicalization echo chamber.' "
    • “Twitter is ‘by far the platform of choice’ for American activists to connect. Other routes include Facebook, Google+ and Tumblr, along with messaging services like ‘Kik, Telegram, surespot, and the dark web.’”

    Additionally, the report noted that jihadist radicalization in the United States is “significantly smaller” than in most European countries, in part because of fewer “radicalizing agents” in America, such as “radical mosques, extremist preachers, and recruiting networks.”

    Also last year, Scott Atran, co-founder of the Center for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict at Oxford University, reported his research indicated, “More than 80 per cent who join the Islamic State do so through peer-to-peer relationships, mostly with friends and sometimes family. Very few join in mosques or through recruitment by anonymous strangers.”

    The Associated Press reported that Atran told a meeting of the United Nations’ Security Council's counter-terrorism committee that "radicalization rarely occurs in mosques.”

    Meanwhile, a 2010 study by researchers at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that the number of radicalized Muslims in the U.S. was relatively low and that Muslim-American communities effectively prevent radicalization. 

    Rather than being a spawning ground for extremism, there are indications mosques are actively working to thwart it. That same 2010 study found “48 of the 120 Muslims suspected of plotting domestic terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, 2001, were turned in by fellow Muslims, including parents, mosque members and even a Facebook friend,” The New York Times reported.

    Last year, the Times examined ISIS’ recruiting efforts in the United States and detailed one example of a local Imam dissuading a possible convert named Amir: 

    Amir then had some long talks with Imam Magid, who pointed him to passages in the Quran that forbid killing other Muslims, innocent women and children. Amir concluded that the Islamic State was only sowing chaos and hatred, which the Prophet Muhammad abhorred.

    That kind of pushback against extremism from mosque leaders might be one reason why the NYPD’s massive surveillance program produced so little useful information. The operation, which remained secret for years, not only infiltrated mosques, but assigned detectives to map out entire Muslim communities, as well as track Muslims’ daily activities, and investigate college students.

    The goal was to “sniff out would-be terrorists before they could launch attacks,” according to the Cato Institute.

    Fox News likes to pretend it was an intelligence success, which is why it must be resuscitated. “We broke so many, so many plots by eavesdropping on these radical mosques,” Fox News’ Bo Dietl claimed last year.

    In fact, the exact opposite was true.

    “In more than six years of spying on Muslim neighborhoods, eavesdropping on conversations and cataloguing mosques, the New York Police Department's secret Demographics Unit never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation, the department acknowledged in court testimony unsealed late Monday,” the Associated Press reported.

    Correct. Six years of mosque surveillance in New York City in the wake of 9/11 did not produce a single lead or trigger one terrorism investigation for the NYPD.

    But now Fox News thinks in an age of online recruiting, snooping on U.S. mosques is the answer to unearthing terror threats?

  • It’s Not Just Trump: Suggesting Obama’s A Terrorist Sympathizer Has Been A Cornerstone Of The Conservative Media

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Of course Donald Trump went there. But should anyone be surprised?

    In the wake of the terror attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee seemed to suggest that President Obama isn’t waging a war on terror because he doesn’t want the terrorists defeated; because Obama somehow sympathizes with their cause.

    “He doesn't get it or he gets it better than anybody understands. It's one or the other,” Trump told Fox News on Monday. “We're led by a man that either is, is not tough, not smart, or he's got something else in mind.” Trump added, “People cannot — they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the ways he acts and can't even mention the words radical Islamic terrorism. There's something going on. It's inconceivable."

    Suggesting Obama won’t defend the homeland or try to keep Americans safe ranks among the most reckless allegations a politicians can make. What would the Democratic equivalent be, just in terms of pure shock value? It would be like if Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 campaign claimed President George W. Bush had prior knowledge of the 9/11 terror attacks. It’s hard to even comprehend what the corresponding conspiracy claim would look like. And it’s unthinkable that a Democratic nominee would campaign on it.

    But if Trump’s thinly veiled suggestion about Obama’s allegiance today has produced shock among political reporters and pundits, and if anyone in the media is surprised that a major party nominee would sink to such depths on the campaign trail, they shouldn’t be.

    The sad fact is the right-wing media has been wallowing in this fever swamp for a very long time. (And yes, the press has mostly looked away from the radical turn.) Trump’s now just borrowing their hare-brained allegation suggesting Obama can’t be trusted to defend the American way of life because Obama doesn’t really endorse it, and he’s using the attack line as a general election talking point. (Candidates traditionally use surrogates if they want to lob dark, unseemly allegations against their opponent. Not Trump.)

    Recall that Trump himself was a central protagonist in the birther charade of 2011 when he was going on Fox News and suggesting Obama was hiding his birth certificate “because maybe it says he is a Muslim.”

    Following widespread criticism, the Trump campaign is trying to walk things back with implausible explanations. Via spokeswoman Hope Hicks, Trump sent a statement to Bloomberg claiming he was “referring to the fact that at times President Obama seems more in support of Muslims than Israel.” (Trump also announced he was revoking The Washington Post’s press credentials for reporting on his comments yesterday.)

    But his comments on Fox & Friends weren’t even the first time Trump has made bizarre insinuations about President Obama’s allegiances. Trump told right-wing radio host Michael Savage that perhaps Obama “doesn’t want to get rid of the problem” of Islamic terrorism. “I don’t know exactly what’s going on.” (Savage, for his part, thinks “someone” in the White House “is playing for the other side.”)

    As Right Wing Watch reported, at a rally last November, Trump said about Obama’s handling of the alleged threat from Muslims, “We can’t close our eyes. I don’t know what’s wrong with Obama, he wants to close his eyes and pretend it’s not happening. Why is he so emphatic on not solving the problem? There’s something we don’t know about. There’s something we don’t know about.”

    And it's not just Trump who's been wallowing in that outrageous rhetoric this election cycle. After the Paris terror attack last year, Ted Cruz claimed Obama "does not wish to defend this country." (A Cruz advisor claimed Obama had “switched sides” in the war against terror.)

    Today there’s a certain irony in Trump trying to mainstream this ugly attack, considering Obama’s enjoying some of his highest approval ratings in years, confirming that the terrorist-sympathy claim resides on the fringes of American politics.

    The disconcerting nonsense all stems from a failed, eight-year campaign by the right-wing media to portray Obama as foreign and an other, as not like you and me; to depict him as untrustworthy because he supposedly doesn’t subscribe to American values. It’s a claim that’s been embraced as the gospel among Fox News and GOP faithful.

    “Barack Obama does not have the will of the American people, Americanism in his soul,” Fox News’ Keith Ablow once declared.

    Obama haters have been told for years that not only does the president not love America, and doesn’t “give a shit” about protecting it from terror, but it’s probably because he tilts toward terrorist sympathies.

    The day after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, when Fox News' Bill O’Reilly wondered why Obama refused to condemn radical Islam, radio host Bill Cunningham suggested “maybe his middle name is a clue, as well as the fact that he spent his childhood practicing the Muslim faith.”

    Later that year when President Obama orchestrated the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay, Fox News’ Ablow denounced the move and speculated it happened because the commander-in-chief “doesn’t affiliate with patriotism” and “wants out of America.”

    Last November, O’Reilly regular guest Dennis Miller claimed Obama wouldn’t get “nasty” with ISIS because the president has “Islamic sympathies,” while O’Reilly stressed, “he certainly doesn't want any part in the war on terror.”

    And then there was Benghazi.

    In the hours after the deadly attack on the U.S. compound in Libya in September 2012, then-Republican Party nominee Mitt Romney staged a late-night press conference to attack Obama [emphasis added]:

    “I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi,” he said. “It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

    Candidate Romney only toyed with that premise in 2012. But for years, the fervent idea of Obama’s questionable sympathies became a strong undercurrent of the right-wing media’s Benghazi obsession. The churning, man-made controversy allowed Obama’s haters to project their ugliest fantasies and depict the president as a traitor who chose to let Americans die in Libya at the hands of Islamic terrorists.

    And it fed the flames of the ugly allegations about Obama being a Manchurian Candidate who let Americans die in Benghazi and "sacrificed American lives for politics."

    This is nasty, vile right-wing media stuff. And now the Republican Party is championing it during an election year. 

  • New York Post Columnist Claims Obama Blamed America For Orlando Terror Attack

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    New York Post columnist John Podhoretz asserted in the wake of Sunday’s mass murder at a gay nightclub in Orlando that President Obama suggested Americans were to blame for the terror attack. The column ran under the Post headline, “Obama: ‘we’ are to blame, not Islamic terrorism, for massacre.”

    Podhoretz’s claim is categorically false and is easily debunked by a simple reading of Obama’s statement. That a columnist for a major market American newspaper would publish such a purposefully false allegation about the president at a time of national mourning is rather disturbing.

    The allegation stands as a stark example of how Obama’s conservative critics routinely misinform during times of national tragedy.

    If, as a partisan, you don’t agree with how Obama’s fighting terror, if you want to detail ways the United States could be more forcefully and effectively dealing with the threat, go for it. Write a column. Call out the president for being wrong-headed if you think he is.

    But to have published a column even before the 50 dead bodies had been removed from the Orlando nightclub and completely fabricate the claim that Obama blamed American society for the Florida gun rampage? That’s beyond the pale and Podhoretz ought to be entirely ashamed of himself.

    Podhoretz essentially lied to his readers about what Obama said on Sunday, probably assuming they’d never double check the facts.

    Obviously, Obama never said “we” are to blame for the terror attack, as the Post headline suggested. Why on earth would he? It’s an illogical premise to even start with and I can’t imagine any American president ever entertaining such a notion. Worse, Podhoretz doesn't provide any evidence to support the falsehood that Obama claimed “we” are to blame for the massacre -- none.

    Podhoretz laments that Obama -- in comments he labeled "disgusting" and "astonishing" -- was supposedly trying to distract from the terrorism angle by saying "'we need the strength and courage to change' our attitudes toward the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community." Here's what Obama said:

    In the coming hours and days, we’ll learn about the victims of this tragedy. Their names. Their faces. Who they were. The joy that they brought to families and to friends, and the difference that they made in this world. Say a prayer for them and say a prayer for their families -- that God give them the strength to bear the unbearable. And that He give us all the strength to be there for them, and the strength and courage to change. We need to demonstrate that we are defined more -- as a country -- by the way they lived their lives than by the hate of the man who took them from us.

    As we go together, we will draw inspiration from heroic and selfless acts -- friends who helped friends, took care of each other and saved lives. In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another. We will not give in to fear or turn against each other. Instead, we will stand united, as Americans, to protect our people, and defend our nation, and to take action against those who threaten us.

    In Podhoretz's view, a call for unity is "disgusting." 

    Still railing against Obama, Podhoretz insisted, “We Americans do not bear collective responsibility for this attack. Quite the opposite.” But in his subdued comments while trying to unite the country, Obama never said anything about Americans shouldering "collective responsibility" for the attack.

    Does this sound like Obama’s was blaming Americans? From his remarks: 

    So this is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American -- regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation -- is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country. And no act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans.

    The columnist simply fabricated that premise in order to denounce the president. 

  • O'Reilly Is Now Challenging Hannity As Trump's Biggest Fan At Fox News

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    At a time when the roof seemed to be collapsing in on his campaign, Donald Trump found some recent refuge in the form of Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News program.  

    Stumbling through a self-inflicted crisis that was sparked when Trump suggested that an American-born judge with “Mexican heritage” could not be impartial presiding over lawsuits pending against Trump University, the presumptive Republican nominee found himself under constant attack. The denunciations came even from within the conservative media and from members of the Republican Party.

    But amid the hailstorm of contempt, O’Reilly provided temporary shelter this week when he told Fox viewers that the federal judge in question ought to recuse himself from the Trump U. lawsuit as Trump had insisted. O’Reilly didn’t sign off on the idea that the judge’s heritage made him untrustworthy. But the Fox talker did suggest Trump had created such a controversy with his comments that it would just be better for the judge to step aside.

    In other words, O’Reilly wanted to reward Trump for his bullying tactics. He wanted to reward Trump’s novel strategy of trying to create conditions for a judge’s recusal by manufacturing a controversy about the judge. Or as The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple put it, “In Bill O’Reilly’s world, friends excuse friends for being racist.”

    O’Reilly also recently laid down a marker when he announced it was completely out of bounds to discuss whether Trump’s a racist. “You don’t use the ‘R word’ unless you are David Duke,” O’Reilly told Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX). “Unless you have got a history of trying to denigrate minorities or other people.”

    O’Reilly insists he knows Trump’s not a racist because O’Reilly’s known him a long time. But of course, the Republican has a very clear “history of trying to denigrate minorities or other people.” (Including suggesting that Mexican immigrants are “rapists” and proposing that Muslims be banned from entering America.)

    In a campaign season that’s featured an unusual amount of squabbling between the GOP nominee and Fox personalities -- two forces normally united in their partisan pursuits -- O’Reilly’s willingness to stand beside Trump and his bizarre attack on a judge suggests O’Reilly might be picking his lane for the general election within Fox News by cozying up -- even more than he already was -- to the unpopular GOP nominee.

    For good reason, Sean Hannity has largely served as the poster boy for Fox News’ willingness to embrace Trump’s candidacy. Hannity’s fawning Trump coverage has led to widespread ridicule, including heated arguments with Trump’s former chief rival for the nomination, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).  

    But O’Reilly’s handling of Trump has been just as embarrassing. O’Reilly has given Trump the kid gloves treatment over any number of scandals during the course of the campaign, and as the calendar shifts to the general election, things only seem to be getting friendlier between the two.

    There’s little doubt that Hannity sycophantic programming has produced ratings dividends. In May, his show enjoyed the largest year-to-year ratings boost among viewers 25-54 at the network. Hannity’s 35 percent bump helped him pass Megyn Kelly and become Fox’s second-highest rated show.

    Hannity still trails O’Reilly, who’s in no danger of losing his 16-year streak as Fox’s best-rated host. And it’s possible O’Reilly was always going to end up serving as Trump’s television consigliere. (The two have been pals for decades.) But O’Reilly also sees the Nielsen needle moving and understands what produces good ratings at Fox: being nice to Donald Trump. (New York recently reported that, "According to one Fox News producer, the channel's ratings dip whenever an anti-Trump segment airs.”)

    In general, you don’t get the feeling O’Reilly has posters of Trump hanging in his basement the way viewers might assume Sean Hannity does at home. But there’s little doubt that O’Reilly now functions as a de facto Trump campaign advocate. (Even though O’Reilly gets defensive about that claim.)  And there’s also little doubt that O’Reilly wants to cash in on that Trump champion role between now and November and make sure nobody else at Fox News passes him while cornering the Trump cheerleading market.

    There’s no question within Fox News, ratings envy fuels rivalries between program hosts. When Megyn Kelly enjoyed a star turn last year in the wake of being publicly attacked by Trump, CNN reported that O’Reilly resented her success. In fact, O’Reilly even lobbied internally that a post-debate special Kelly hosted which garnered huge audiences shouldn’t be counted toward her regular ratings tally, according to CNN.

    Amidst hostilities between Fox News and Trump in February, O’Reilly hosted the GOP politician for an interview where he unloaded more criticism on Kelly. Noticeably, O’Reilly did nothing to defend his Fox colleague during the interview. Kelly later told More magazine, “I do wish that O’Reilly had defended me more in his interview with Trump. I would have defended him more.”

    And increasingly, that has become O’Reilly’s permanent role, to serve as a Trump protector. “Trump appears on the O’Reilly Factor almost weekly, engaging in pointless blather with its host—they joke about their friendship, while O’Reilly lobs softball questions (before spending the rest of the show telling his other guests how tough an interview he just conducted),” noted Isaac Chotiner at Slate recently

    Added Erik Wemple at the Post, “Three decades of [sharing] ballgames and vanilla milkshakes have turned ‘The O’Reilly Factor’ into a laundry room for Trump. His messes come in, and O’Reilly, OxiClean in hand, cleans them up for him.”

    O’Reilly No Spin Zone has been turned into a Soft Landing Zone for Trump.

  • Dear CNN, It’s Not Too Late To Fix Your Jeffrey Lord Problem

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The good news for CNN was that a panel discussion Tuesday night featuring Donald Trump surrogate Jeffrey Lord went viral and produced all kinds of media buzz. The bad news for CNN was that lots of people were mocking the segment and shaking their heads at the idea that Lord is employed by the network as a political analyst.

    After months of watching Lord continually stretch the boundaries of good taste and common sense on CNN, observers were collectively gobsmacked that the news channel continues to give someone so “inane” a national platform.

    The recent fury erupted when, doing his best to defend Trump from his racist suggestion that an American judge with “Mexican heritage” could not be impartial, Lord suggested it was Trump who was righting a wrong by attacking the judge. (Pretzel logic barely describes Lord’s attempted spin.)

    As the general election season now unfolds, the CNN train wreck on Tuesday night likely represented a glimpse of what’s to come during the showdown between Trump and Hillary Clinton. And that’s why CNN ought to figure out what to do about its ongoing Jeffrey Lord problem as he quickly becomes the face of CNN’s campaign coverage.

    As Vox’s Matthew Yglesias suggested on Twitter, “CNN really needs to reevaluate the news value of Jeffrey Lord.”

    I’m sympathetic to the unique booking challenges a Trump campaign poses for a news channel like CNN. Traditionally during a White House run when seeking out balance, producers find a cadre of skilled media folks who can articulate or defend a candidate’s position and match them up with advocates from the other side. That’s done in the name of equality and it’s done in the hopes of producing entertaining debates.

    But with Trump, large swaths of the conservative media complex are out of play for producers because in a historic move, so many Republican-friendly pundits refuse to endorse the Republican nominee or are actively rallying readers and viewers against him. So the pundit pool is much smaller this election cycle, which means choices for producers are limited.

    And it’s not as if Lord’s reckless claims are going unchallenged on CNN. As The New Republic noted, eight different people Tuesday basically took turns telling Lord “he was an idiot” for defending Trump’s attack on the judge overseeing a Trump University lawsuit.

    Some CNN pundits have made it clear that they’re not happy, or at least annoyed at having a national “debate” while being anchored down by someone like Lord who pushes baffling, nonsensical claims. “It really is just too much for me on an empty stomach in the morning, Jeffrey,” CNN’s Ana Navarro scolded Lord recently, after he compared Trump to Abraham Lincoln.

    Towing around Lord during a panel debate is like have a sports car hitched to an RV; it’s really hard to get out of second and third gear. Why? His insistence on defending every indefensible Trump utterance.

    Remember when Trump said he could stand on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and still no lose support among Republican primary voters? You get the sinking feeling that if Trump actually did gun someone down on the sidewalk, Lord would pop up on CNN defending the shooting.

    This was the inevitable hurdle CNN faced last summer when it put Lord, a previously fringe media player who has pushed for Obama’s impeachment, on its payroll as a virtual hand-picked surrogate from Trump himself.

    Media Matters instantly raised red flags about what the long-term implications would be for the news cable channel:

    Lord has a history of pushing fringe rhetoric and misinformation. He engaged in a "profoundly ahistorical" crusade to deny the lynching of a black man, pushed bogus conspiracies about Democrats, compared his political opponents to Nazis and the KKK, and defended Donald Trump's anti-immigrant remarks.

    CNN is first and foremost a news organization and its primary duty is to inform viewers. But I understand it wants to post healthy ratings and I’m guessing executives think Lord helps do that by generating buzz and outrage.

    However, does anyone honestly think in an election year when viewers are flocking to cable news that CNN would take a substantial ratings hit if it no longer regularly featured in primetime a Trump fan who defends Trump's hesitancy to denounce white nationalists and regularly spouts tasteless rhetoric about racism in America?

    I’m not advocating firing Lord. I don’t think pundits should be run off the air just because I disagree with them. And I certainly don’t think news channels should be punished if an on-staff pundit once or twice says something dopey and unsubstantiated on television.

    But I do think that as Trump’s often offensive campaign drags on, it’s become increasingly clear that Lord’s insights and analysis don’t rise to the level of debate that CNN ought to be producing. And in fact, much of his commentary is becoming downright offensive and reckless. Meaning, does CNN want to cover the Trump campaign freak show, or does CNN want to help co-produce it?

    Referencing Tuesday night’s Lord fiasco, Crooks and Liars' John Amato wrote of CNN, “This was an important, historic night in the history of the United States, and your coverage was hijacked by a paid partisan who is either consciously disruptive, or else is just plain crazy.”

    The problem is that like Fox News did with Glenn Beck, CNN is in a way sponsoring the mainstreaming of some very toxic and utterly unsubstantiated rhetoric, along with indefensible misinformation via Lord (i.e. “The Ku Klux Klan is a leftist group”).

    So CNN faces some choices: Does it want Lord to be the face of its election season, and is the entire point of campaign coverage to be noticed and generate debate, regardless of how debasing that conversation is? If that’s the goal, CNN and Lord are currently succeeding.

  • Conservative Media Struggles To Defend Trump And His Widening University Scam Scandal

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    What good is having a right-wing echo chamber if it’s not cranked up and blaring out a disciplined message during the presidential campaign? The conservative movement continues to grapple with that propaganda question in the wake of Donald Trump clinching the nomination, which has created deep fissures within the right-wing media and its historically united front.

    For decades, conservatives have taken pride in their media bubble that not only keeps Republican fans selectively informed about breaking news, but also bashes away at all political foes. In full-fledged campaign mode, the right-wing media can effectively serve as a battering ram that Republicans use to attack their enemies or fend off in-coming volleys.

    But Trump has scrambled that long-held equation. Embracing positions that often fall outside the orthodoxy of modern-day conservatism, while simultaneously rolling out non-stop insults, Trump has presented conservative pundits with a monumental headache: How do you defend a creation like Trump? Or as one National Review Trump headline lamented last month, “What’s a Conservative to Do?”

    That riddle is especially tricky when Trump puts would-be allies in the uncomfortable position of having to defend the truly indefensible, like the widening scandal surrounding Trump University, the presumptive nominee’s former real estate seminar business. Over the years the dubious venture has been the subject of several ongoing fraud investigations and lawsuits, including one by the state of New York on behalf of 5,000 alleged victims.

    “It’s fraud. … straight-up fraud,” the state’s Democratic Attorney General Eric Schneiderman reiterated during an MSNBC interview last week after a judge unsealed court documents from one of the Trump U. lawsuits and allowed for a more detailed look into the allegations of deceit.

    The strange part? Some key conservative voices agree with the Democrat’s legal assessment. That’s why back in February, a National Review writer denounced the Trump seminars as “a massive scam.” And last month, The Weekly Standard warned that Trump U. represented a “political time bomb” that could doom the candidate’s November chances: “Democrats will see to that.” (Both magazines have opposed Trump for months and have pointed to Trump U. as a reason for their opposition.)

    That’s what’s so startling about watching the conservative media this campaign season: It’s been completely knocked off its game. Known for its regimented messaging and willingness to almost robotically defend any Republican front-runner and nominee, Trump is finding only a smattering of defenders when it comes to damning allegations about his scam seminars.

    And when Trump recently escalated the Trump U. story by attacking Judge Gonzalo Curiel and insisted he couldn’t be impartial because of his “Mexican heritage,” the presumptive nominee found himself even further isolated within the conservative movement. (The Wall Street Journal editorial page called Trump’s judiciary attack “offensive” and “truly odious”; Bill O'Reilly did defend Trump last night.)

    As for the scamming allegations, even for members of the conservative media who are willing to try to assist Trump, there’s very little to grab on to in terms of defending the scandal-plagued Trump U. Based on mountains of allegations and complaints from angry students -- students with no partisan political ax to grind -- all indications point to a widespread fraud operating under Trump’s name and one that bilked victims out of millions of dollars.

    As The Atlantic noted after reviewing previously secret training materials for Trump U., “the playbook focuses on the seminars’ real purpose: to browbeat attendees into purchasing expensive Trump University course packages.” According to an affidavit from former student Richard Hewson, he and his wife “concluded that we had paid over $20,000 for nothing, based on our belief in Donald Trump and the promises made at the free seminar and three-day workshop.”

    The con appeared to touch every aspect of the real estate selling events. Instead of getting an implied, in-person meeting with Trump at one three-day seminar, some attendees were allowed to take their picture with a cardboard cutout of him. That’s one reason Schneiderman dubbed the whole program an “elaborate bait-and-switch” scheme. (Trump’s personal, immersed involvement was a key selling point.)

    Still, some loyal conservative have tried to explain away the allegations. Last week on Fox, Tucker Carlson tried to downplay the damage by wondering if Trump U. was a “scam” the same way Princeton is a “scam.” Over at Outnumbered, co-host Jedediah Bila asked if Trump U.’s allegedly fraudulent practices weren’t just good "aggressive sales tactics.” She added, “I mean when the public hears this story, I'm wondering do they just see this as non-story?”

    Bila’s co-host Melissa Francis also didn’t see what the big deal was: “You know, it goes to the story of him as an aggressive businessperson who wanted to sort of profit at all costs which is kind of what business is all about.”

    And former Republican candidate Ben Carson assured Sean Hannity that, “I recently talked to a physician who went to Trump University, and this man is very wealthy, but he's not wealthy from being a physician. He's wealthy from what he learned at Trump University and learning how to do investments.”

    Note that many of Trump’s other friends at Fox have been a bit more suspect on the matter. “Trump has a simple assignment, find five people who are graduates who are willing to go on TV and say, you know, my life was improved, my income went up, it was a good experience,” announced Newt Gingrich on Sean Hannity’s show, rather than categorically defending the dubious seminars. (To date, Trump has struggled to produce a multitude of satisfied graduates.)

    Conservative talk show host Larry Elder also appeared on Hannity’s show last week to discuss Trump U. and insisted that while it was a “minor issue,” nonetheless “Trump should have settled this a long time ago.”

    Even Trump’s fiercest media defender,, has taken a timid approach to the Trump U. fraud story, with the site refusing to offer up a full-throated defense of the alleged scam.

    The ferocious conservative echo chamber isn’t built for nuance and it’s not designed for internal debate. But by sparking so much general dissention and by putting conservatives in the position of having to defend something as noxious as Trump U., the nominee is helping to mute the right-wing media voice this campaign season.