Zachary Pleat

Author ››› Zachary Pleat
  • “NATO RIP”: Journalists Horrified By Trump Waffling On Security Guarantees

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Media figures across the political spectrum reacted with dismay and disbelief after The New York Times reported that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump “called into question whether, as president, he would automatically extend the security guarantees” to members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) if they were attacked by Russia.

    In a July 20 interview with the Times, Trump “said that he would press the theme of ‘America First,’ his rallying cry for the past four months, and that he was prepared to scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada if he could not negotiate radically better terms.” Trump also suggested that he would not honor America’s treaty obligations to defend members of NATO from attack:

    He even called into question whether, as president, he would automatically extend the security guarantees that give the 28 members of NATO the assurance that the full force of the United States military has their back.

    For example, asked about Russia’s threatening activities that have unnerved the small Baltic States that are the most recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”

    Several journalists have documented the close ties and apparent affinity between Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

    On Twitter, liberal, nonideological, and conservative media figures alike reacted with horror and disbelief at Trump’s comments:

  • White Nationalist Website’s Tweet Featured Inside RNC Convention Hall

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    The Republican National Convention featured a tweet from the white nationalist website VDARE.com during the roll call vote following Donald Trump’s nomination for president. White nationalist groups and media have long supported Trump’s campaign.

    Weekly Standard web producer Alice Lloyd tweeted a photo of a tweet ticker inside the RNC convention hall in Cleveland, Ohio, showing a tweet from VDARE.com’s Twitter account praising a speech Rep. Chris Collins’ (R-NY) gave at the convention in support of Donald Trump’s nomination:

    VDARE.com’s Twitter account also tweeted a photo of the ticker as its tweet appeared:

    Trump’s campaign has long received support from white nationalist individuals and media outlets. VDARE.com is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “an anti-immigration hate website” with a white nationalist ideology that “regularly publishes articles by prominent white nationalists, race scientists and anti-Semites.”

    VDARE.com has bragged that Trump’s rise brought its “ideas … firmly in the mainstream,” and used this claim to solicit funds for its website. The site has praised Trump’s plan to halt Muslims from the United States and supported Trump’s racist attacks against Judge Gonzalo Curiel.

  • Conservatives Ridicule Gingrich’s “Kooky” And “Embarrassing” Plan To Test American Muslims’ Faith

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Conservative media figures ridiculed Trump vice presidential finalist and former Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich’s call on Fox News to “test every person” in America “of a Muslim background” to see if they “believe in Sharia,” stating that the proposal is “unconstitutional,” “embarrassing,” and “kooky.”

  • Trump’s Benghazi Lies Came From Fox News

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump used his June 22 campaign speech to parrot Fox News’ lies about presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s response to the 2012 attack on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.

    In his speech, Trump claimed Ambassador Chris Stevens was a “victim” of Clinton’s actions while she served as secretary of state, claiming that she was asleep throughout the September 11, 2012, attack at the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi. He later claimed that “to cover her tracks,” she “lied about” whether an anti-Islam YouTube video -- which led to widespread protests throughout the Middle East at the time -- inspired the attack.

    DONALD TRUMP: Among the victims of our late Ambassador Chris Stevens, I mean, she, what she did with him was absolutely horrible. He was left helpless to die as Hillary Clinton soundly slept in her bed. That's right. When the phone rang, as per the commercial, at three o’clock in the morning, Hillary Clinton was sleeping. Ambassador Stevens and his staff in Libya made hundreds and hundreds of requests for security. They were desperate. They needed help. Hillary Clinton’s State Department refused them all. She started the war that put them in Libya, denied him the security he asked for, then left him there to die. To cover her tracks, Hillary lied about the video being the cause of death, the famous video, all a lie, another Hillary lie.

    Fox News has long pushed the myth that both Clinton and President Obama were not responsive during the attack. But the fact is, congressional testimony has confirmed that Clinton was in close contact with military officials and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon throughout the night of the attacks. The former deputy chief of mission in Libya testified in 2013 that Clinton called him during the attack to be briefed on developments. Clinton also testified in 2013 that she spoke with administration officials and President Obama from her office at the State Department throughout the night.

    Fox also spent years denying the role the inflammatory anti-Islam YouTube video had in inspiring the attack and suggesting that administrations drawing such a link were politically motivated. But the intelligence community initially indicated that the video played a role in the attack, and interviews with some of the attackers revealed that the attack was “fueled in large part by anger” over the video. Fox News itself even reported -- the night that the attack occurred -- that the attack was “triggered by a movie produced in the United States that … is anti-Muslim.”

  • As Polls Show Rising Support To Confirm SCOTUS Nominee, Wash. Post Lauds "Remarkably Successful" Opposition

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    The Washington Post credulously called the efforts by the discredited conservative group Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) to prevent the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland "remarkably successful." But polls show the general public is increasingly at odds with JCN's position. Indeed, just last week the Post reported that the results of a new poll was evidence that "Democrats are winning the message war over Garland." The Post promoted the notion of JCN's success in an interview with chief counsel Carrie Severino, who was given a platform to rehash debunked smears about Garland's judicial record on guns and government regulations.

  • Scalia Opinion Further Undermines Koch-Backed Group's Attack That Merrick Garland Is Anti-Business

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Following the release of a misleading “scorecard” from the Koch-backed National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) -- which dishonestly represented Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland’s rulings on the D.C. Circuit as too deferential to government agencies -- the Alliance for Justice explained that Justice Antonin Scalia took “precisely the same view” as a dissent Garland joined. The dissent was related to an EPA case that the NFIB cited to criticize the nominee.

    The “judicial scorecard” released by NFIB on April 12 omitted important context to smear Garland as anti-business and overly deferential to federal government agencies. A Media Matters analysis of the 35 cases cited by NFIB, concerning Garland’s judicial opinions on the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Labor, and the National Labor Relations Board, found that one or more judge appointed by a Republican was on the same side as Garland in 28 out of 35 -- or 80 percent -- of the cases.

    Contacted by Media Matters about NFIB’s “scorecard” claiming that Garland's judicial record indicates he is anti-business, top legal experts derided the organization’s claims as “silly” and “nonsense.” While purporting to represent the interests of small businesses, NFIB has in fact campaigned against environmental, labor and health care policies that most small businesses support.

    An April 21 blog post by the Alliance for Justice’s director of justice programs, Kyle Barry, further demonstrated that NFIB’s attacks against Garland’s rulings lack merit. Barry explained that when American Trucking Association v. EPA -- one of the cases cited in NFIB's scorecard -- reached the Supreme Court, Justice Scalia's majority opinion adopted the same legal reasoning seen in a dissent that Garland joined, calling for the case to be reheard before the full D.C. Circuit.

    As Barry explained, Garland's position in the case “was dictated not by ideology or bias toward special interests, but by adherence to precedent that he swore a judicial oath to uphold”:

    Among the cases NFIB cites is American Trucking Association v. EPA, which held that the Clean Air Act’s requirement that the Environmental Protection Agency set air quality standards violates the “nondelegation” doctrine—in other words, that Congress impermissibly delegated legislative power to the EPA. Judge Garland didn’t participate in the panel decision, but he did vote to rehear the case with the full D.C. Circuit, and he did join Judge David Tatel’s dissent when rehearing was denied.

    Based on Judge Tatel’s dissent, NFIB concluded that Judge Garland “would have voted for the EPA,” and in this instance that’s totally fair. (This situation is very different from when a judge votes on a petition for review but doesn’t write or join any opinions, in which case the judge’s views are unknown.) Judge Tatel made clear that the Clean Air Act is in line with years of binding Supreme Court precedent. He wrote that the statute limits EPA discretion in ways “far more specific than the sweeping delegations consistently upheld by the Supreme Court for more than sixty years,” and complained that “[n]ot only did the panel depart from a half century of Supreme Court separation-of-powers jurisprudence,” it “stripped the [EPA] of much of its ability to implement the Clean Air Act, this nation’s primary means of protecting the safety of the air breathed by hundreds of millions of people.”

    The problem for NFIB—and all those who wish to portray Judge Garland as a lawless anti-business radical—is that, on appeal in the Supreme Court, Justice Scalia wrote a unanimous opinion taking precisely the same view. Overturning the D.C. Circuit panel, Justice Scalia wrote that the Clean Air Act “is in fact well within the outer limits of our nondelegation precedents.” He explained that “a certain degree of discretion, and thus of lawmaking, inheres in most executive or judicial action,” and that the Supreme Court has “almost never felt qualified to second-guess Congress regarding the permissible degree of policy judgment that can be left to those executing or applying the law.”

    In other words, Judge Garland’s position was dictated not by ideology or bias toward special interests, but by adherence to precedent that he swore a judicial oath to uphold.

  • The Familial Ties That Bind The Anti-Garland Judicial Crisis Network To Its Dark Money Funder

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ & ZACHARY PLEAT

    A Media Matters investigation of the discredited right-wing group Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), the main source of baseless smears against, and false characterizations of, Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, reveals a familial web of self-dealing between the organization, a major dark money funder of JCN called the Wellspring Committee, and a third nonprofit that also receives funding from Wellspring.

    Judicial Crisis Network and Wellspring Committee

    Video by John Kerr, image by Sarah Wasko.

    JCN Has Emerged As Right-Wing Media's Primary Source Of Supreme Court Misinformation

    The Judicial Crisis Network Rebranded Itself To Whitewash Its Lack Of Credibility. In the weeks following the death of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) re-emerged as a major source of misinformation about potential nominees rumored to be under consideration by the Obama administration. JCN was founded as the Judicial Confirmation Network during the second Bush administration; its aim was to obfuscate the often-far-right records of that administration's judicial nominees in a push to guarantee an "up or down vote" on "every nominee." During the Obama administration, JCN pivoted to smearing nominations for the Supreme Court as well as nominees for other federal and state-level openings. [Media Matters, 3/18/16]

    JCN Has Falsely Characterized Merrick Garland's Record On Guns. On March 11, after the news broke that Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland was one of President Obama's likely choices to fill the court vacancy, JCN chief counsel and discredited right-wing legal analyst Carrie Severino published a column in National Review falsely claiming that Garland has a "very liberal view on gun rights." She also claimed that he upheld an "illegal Clinton-era regulation" that would have created a registry of gun owners. Numerous judicial experts noted that JCN and Severino had mischaracterized Garland's past decisions, but the false accusations were still promoted by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Fox News hosts Bret Baier and Bill O'Reilly, and used as talking points on ABC's This Week and Fox's Fox News Sunday. [Media Matters, 3/21/16]

    Dark Money Group Wellspring Committee Is A Major Funder Of JCN

    The Wellspring Committee Has Been Directly Funding JCN Since 2010. A March 23, 2015, Daily Beast story explained that a dark money group called the Wellspring Committee, created by political operatives tied to the industrialist Koch brothers for the purpose of "pumping funds to other dark money Koch-backed groups," has been a major source of JCN's funding, directly funding the organization since 2010. [The Daily Beast, 3/23/15]

    Wellspring Was Reportedly Founded By The Koch Brothers. A March 29 Daily Beast story reported that Wellspring was founded "in 2008 by none other than the infamous Charles and David Koch, together with their political Svengali, Richard Fink." The article cited Politico investigative reporter Kenneth Vogel in reporting that "Wellspring raised $10 million from attendees at the Kochs' donor seminars, right after it was founded." [The Daily Beast, 3/29/16]

    JCN Received Over $9 Million In Grants From Wellspring Between 2012 And 2014. Wellspring's Form 990 financial disclosure documents show that from 2012 through 2014, Wellspring granted over $9 million to JCN. According to the forms, Wellspring granted $1.155 million to JCN in 2012, $1.435 million in 2013, and $6.665 million in 2014. In each of those years, JCN was by far the largest grantee of the Wellspring Committee, receiving 53 percent, 40 percent, and 80 percent of Wellspring's granted funds, respectively. [GuideStar.org, accessed 3/21/16]

    Wellspring Grants Represented 30 Percent Of JCN's Revenue In 2012 And 25 Percent In 2013. JCN's 990 financial disclosure forms show that the grants reported in Wellspring's 990 forms comprised approximately 30 percent of JCN's revenue in 2012 ($4.99 million total) and 25 percent ($5.775 million total) of its revenue in 2013. JCN's 2014 Form 990 was unavailable. [Foundation Center, accessed 3/21/16]

    Wellspring Received All Of Its 2014 Revenue -- $7.8 Million -- From Just Three Undisclosed Donors. A November 24 article from the Center for Responsive Politics on Wellspring's $6.6 million grant in 2014 to JCN explained in part how Wellspring is funded: "Wellspring received all of its 2014 revenue of $7.8 million from just three contributions -- one of which was a transfer of $6.95 million, according to the annual form 990 it filed this month. Like other (c)(4) organizations, Wellspring is not required to disclose the identities of its donors." [Center for Responsive Politics, OpenSecrets.org, 11/24/15]

    Wellspring, And JCN Have Family Ties Among Officers And Through Another Wellspring Recipient, The Catholic Association Inc.

    Wellspring's President Helped Launch JCN And Is Married To JCN's Treasurer. The November 24 article from the Center for Responsive Politics reported on Wellspring and JCN's family ties, explaining, "Wellspring was founded and is still headed by Ann Corkery, a lawyer who for years has been involved in conservative fundraising and also helped launch JCN. Her husband, Neil, is JCN's treasurer. Their daughter, Kathleen, is on Wellspring's board. [Center for Responsive Politics, OpenSecrets.org, 11/24/15]

    JCN Paid Wellspring President's Husband $98,000 In 2011-13. JCN's financial disclosure forms show that between 2011 and 2013, it paid $98,000 in compensation to Neil Corkery, the treasurer of the organization, who is married to Wellspring's president Ann Corkery. [Foundation Center, accessed 3/30/16]

    Wellspring Granted Over $1 Million To Catholic Association Inc. Between 2012 And 2014. Wellspring's 990 financial disclosure forms show that from 2012 through 2014, Wellspring granted more than $1 million to the Catholic Association Inc. According to the forms, Wellspring granted $440,000 to the group in 2012, $60,000 in 2013, and $650,000 in 2014. [GuideStar.org, accessed 3/21/16]

    Wellspring Secretary And Treasurer Michael Casey Is Son Of JCN Board Member And Catholic Association Inc. Officer Dan Casey. Michael Casey, who is listed on Wellspring's 990 financial disclosure forms as its secretary and treasurer, is the son of Republican operative Dan Casey, who is a member of JCN's board and is reportedly "the political and PR brains" of the organization. Dan Casey is also listed on the Catholic Association Inc.'s 990 financial disclosure forms as its secretary and one of its directors. [GuideStar.org, accessed 3/21/16; The Daily Beast, 3/23/15]

    Catholic Association Inc. Paid Wellspring President's Husband And JCN Treasurer Neil Corkery $50,000 Over 2013 And 2014. The Catholic Association Inc.'s 990 financial disclosure forms show that in 2013, it paid $20,000 in compensation to Neil Corkery, and in 2014 it paid $30,000 in compensation. Neil Corkery was listed as the Catholic Association Inc.'s treasurer and one of its directors. [GuideStar.org, accessed 3/21/16]