• NY Attorney General: “Dark Money Machine” Is Using Media To Defend Exxon’s Climate Deceit

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has called out the “dark money machine” that is attacking him through the media over his investigation into whether ExxonMobil committed fraud by deceiving its shareholders and the public about climate change.

    Schneiderman launched his probe into ExxonMobil in November 2015 after investigations by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times found that Exxon officials knew about the science of climate change decades ago but continued to fund climate denial groups for many years. California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey have since followed suit and also launched investigations of Exxon.

    During an October 19 forum on public integrity, Schneiderman explained that fossil fuel front groups are “directing a disinformation campaign aimed at bolstering Exxon’s case,” Politico reported. Schneiderman specifically called out Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the Heritage Foundation, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), all of which are conservative organizations that have been heavily funded by fossil fuel industry interests, including Exxon. He also identified how these and other front groups pursue a media strategy, stating that they seemed to have “pulled a lever on the dark money machine,” and “60 or 70 op-ed columns or editorials” appeared attacking Schneiderman’s investigation. He added: “The challenge is, in most media markets in the country, all people have heard is the other side of the argument because [the conservative groups’] infrastructure is so remarkable.”

    Indeed, several of the nation's most widely read newspapers have provided a platform for fossil fuel front groups to deceptively defend Exxon. As of September 1, The Wall Street Journal had published 21 opinion pieces in less than a year criticizing government entities for investigating Exxon, including an op-ed written by CEI lawyers and a column that falsely claimed AFP has “never received a dime from Exxon.” The Washington Post also published an op-ed by officials from CEI, syndicated columns by George Will and Robert Samuelson, and a letter by the Heritage Foundation’s Hans A. von Spakovsky, all of which falsely claimed that the attorneys generals’ investigations violate Exxon’s First Amendment rights. And contributors at USA Today and Bloomberg View also peddled the false claim that the attorneys general are threatening Exxon’s right to free speech. (As Schneiderman noted, “The First Amendment is not designed to protect three-card monte dealers. … You can’t commit fraud and argue, ‘Oh, I’m exercising my First Amendment rights.'”)

    Other conservative media outlets have also provided space for CEI and the Heritage Foundation to defend Exxon and other oil companies that may have purposely misled the public on climate change to protect their profits, including the National Review, Townhall, and The Washington Times (on many occasions).

    Image at the top from Flickr user Azi Paybarah with a Creative Commons license.

  • Trump’s Attack On Late-Term Abortion Is Unconstitutional, Ignorant, And Fueled By Right-Wing Media

    “Partial-Birth” Abortion Is A Right-Wing Media Myth Used To Completely Eliminate Abortion Access After 20 Weeks

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    During the final presidential debate, Republican nominee Donald Trump invoked the right-wing media myth of “partial-birth” abortion to falsely allege that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton supported abortion procedures that “rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month [of pregnancy.]”

    Trump’s “scare rhetoric” about so-called “partial-birth” abortion is both misinformed and problematic, but the issue goes beyond his repetition of this particular stigmatizing, anti-choice talking point. Media take note: Trump isn’t just echoing right-wing media myths about abortions occurring moments before live full-term birth; he’s using them to advocate for an unconstitutional ban on all abortions after 20 weeks.

    If elected, Trump has promised a panacea to right-wing media’s favorite anti-choice complaints: He’s promised a “national ban on [all] abortions after 20 weeks,” committed to “defunding Planned Parenthood,” and even pledged to appoint “pro-life justices” who would “automatically” overturn Roe v. Wade.

    Trump’s anti-choice agenda, much like the right-wing media myths at its foundation, fails to account for the realities of abortion, or those who have them.

    The term “partial-birth” -- and by extension Trump’s misleading description -- is a fiction conjured up by anti-choice groups to vilify and shame individuals who have an abortion later in pregnancy. Although approximately 99 percent of abortions in the United States take place before the 20th week of pregnancy, the Supreme Court has explicitly protected the right to an abortion beyond this point when the life or health of the mother is endangered. As a result, some courts have rejected late-term abortion bans that either exclude these exemptions or attempt to restrict abortion prior to the point of fetal viability.

    For Trump and right-wing media to suggest women impudently or frivolously terminate pregnancies at the 20th week or beyond is not just insulting, but also a blatant misrepresentation of the circumstances many women face. As Vox’s Emily Crockett explained, women can obtain an abortion at this stage only when "there is something seriously wrong with either the fetus or her own health." She continued that "pretending otherwise" not only "misrepresents reality," but also “inspire[s] legislation that does real harm to women who have to make heartbreaking medical decisions very late in pregnancy” by eliminating their access to a necessary medical procedure.

    Unfortunately, these lived realities appear unimportant to Trump, who pushes what Talking Points Memo called “a grossly inaccurate view of abortion in the United States.” Rolling Stone concluded that “nowhere in [the third debate] was his ignorance on brighter, flashier display than on the subject of late-term abortion.”

    Following the debate, Breitbart News published its approximation of a fact-check: an inaccurate article claiming that Trump’s description of “partial-birth” abortions as “ripping babies apart” was “correct.” To reach this conclusion, the article conflated the “dilation and extraction” (D&X) procedure -- which it described as “puncturing the skull [of the fetus] with scissors” -- with the legal, and most common, late-term abortion procedure called dilation and evacuation (D&E).

    In Gonzales v. Carhart, the Supreme Court decided that although D&X procedures could be prohibited under the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, banning the vastly different -- and in fact, medically necessary -- D&E procedure constituted an “undue burden” on the constitutional right to an abortion. As Justice Kennedy explained, “The Act does not proscribe D&E,” which was found by a district court “to have extremely low rates of medical complications.” Clearly, the procedure being described by the Supreme Court as both legal and safe is a far cry from Breitbart News’ “partial-birth” abortion fever dream.

    In a similar show of ignorance, during the October 20 edition of The O’Reilly Factor, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly denounced women’s health exemptions for late-term abortion because “the health of the mother could be anything.” O’Reilly previously had the audacity to suggest that women abuse health exemptions by fabricating conditions like sprained hands or headaches because they have glibly decided to terminate pregnancies, even if the “kid is going to be born next week.”

    After a campaign steeped in misogyny, it’s not surprising that these are the right-wing media talking points Trump has adopted about abortion. And they are every bit as insulting, ignorant, and inaccurate as when anti-choice groups first invented them in order to stigmatize both abortion and those who exercise their constitutionally protected right to have one.

  • Trump Supporters Are Using Fox’s Contrived New Black Panther Scandal From 2010 To Defend His “Rigged Election” Claim

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Conservative media and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s presidential campaign are revisiting the debunked right-wing media pseudo-scandal of voter intimidation by the New Black Panther Party to defend Trump’s assertion that “large scale voter fraud” will affect the election.

    After the 2008 election of President Barack Obama, a video went viral of two members of the New Black Panther Party standing outside a Philadelphia polling station on Election Day. One was a registered Democratic poll watcher; the other held a nightstick. Under President George W. Bush, the Department of Justice (DOJ) opened an investigation into the incident after Republican poll watchers complained (no voters ever alleged that they were intimidated by the men). Later, under Obama’s administration, the DOJ obtained a default judgment against the member carrying the nightstick and dropped the case against the poll watcher, the organization, and its leader.

    Bush’s U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which at the time was packed with conservative activists, responded to the conclusion of the case by opening an investigation, even though the Republican vice chairwoman of the commission called the case “very small potatoes” and criticized the “overheated rhetoric filled with insinuations and unsubstantiated charges.” Nevertheless, J. Christian Adams, an activist Republican member of the commission, went on a lengthy crusade against Obama’s Justice Department for dropping the charges, resigning and claiming the decision showed unprecedented, racially charged corruption.

    Adams found a friendly and eager platform for his position in Fox News, particularly with host Megyn Kelly. In 2010, Fox News devoted at least 95 segments and more than eight hours of airtime in two weeks to the phony scandal, including more than 3.5 hours on Kelly’s America Live. Adams admitted that he had no first-hand knowledge of the conversations leading to the decision.

    One year later, an internal investigation at the Justice Department found that “politics played no role in the handling” of the case and that “department attorneys did not commit professional misconduct or exercise poor judgment.” Fox News spent only 88 seconds covering the debunking of a phony scandal of its own creation. Kelly spent only 20 seconds of her show covering the report.

    But the damage was already done, and the obsessive coverage of the non-event has bubbled back up in the 2016 presidential election.

    On October 17, Trump tweeted, “Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day.” As they tried to play defense for their candidate, right-wing media figures invoked the faux New Black Panther scandal. CNN’s paid Trump surrogates Kayleigh McEnany and Scottie Nell Hughes got in on the action, with McEnany claiming that Trump “doesn’t want a scenario where there's New Black Panthers outside with guns, essentially like intimidating people from coming into the polls” and Hughes saying that “voter suppression happened when the Black Panthers stood outside the election room.” (CNN’s Kristen Powers retorted, “There was not a single complaint from a single voter.”)

    Conservative radio hosts joined in, with Mike Gallagher asserting that “in Philadelphia we know all about the New Black Panther movement and what they did in Philadelphia at the polling places,” and Howie Carr accusing the Obama administration of “refus[ing] to prosecute” them for “roaming outside polling places, precincts in Philadelphia with baseball bats and threatening white people.”

    Key figures in creating the scandal have also resurfaced to defend Trump’s voter fraud narrative. Fox & Friends hosted J. Christian Adams to push the myth that “dead people are voting … and it’s going to affect the election” (in reality, claims of dead voter fraud are “plagued by recurring methodological errors” and actual instances of this kind of fraud are exceedingly uncommon). The Trump campaign also hired Mike Roman as head of a “nationwide election protection operation.” Roman is a Republican political consultant who shopped the 2008 video to Fox News, worked with Adams to push the scandal, and offered to contact every Republican voter in the Philadelphia precinct to determine if any were intimidated at the polling location.

    The New Black Panther Party pseudo-scandal’s resurgence is only the latest example of how obsessive right-wing coverage of a comprehensively debunked myth, followed by scant coverage of news that does not fit the narrative, can allow a myth to pass as truth for years. Fox’s infatuation with Benghazi still continues to this day and, like the New Black Panther Party issue and other myths, it is frequently revived to attack Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton or bolster ridiculous assertions by Trump. By bringing the overblown and debunked New Black Panther story back into the mainstream, Trump backers in the media are grasping at straws to defend his rigged election nonsense.

  • Fox & Friends Misleads On Trump And Clinton Budget Figures While Praising Tax Cuts For The Rich

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Fox & Friends berated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for her tax and economic policy agenda, arguing it wouldn’t do enough to curtail future spending, while giving Republican nominee Donald Trump a pass for his supposed pro-growth tax cuts that are projected to explode the national debt over the next decade.

    Fox Business host Stuart Varney joined the cast of Fox & Friends on October 21 to attack Clinton for claiming during the final presidential debate that her tax plan “will not add a penny to the debt.” Varney contended that Clinton’s statement was false because current federal spending is on track to accumulate roughly $9 trillion in debt over the next decade. During his critique, which cited the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) as its source on screen, Varney neglected to mention that, according to the CRFB, Clinton’s tax and spending plans would only add about $200 billion in new debt accumulation to the $9 trillion already baked into continuing federal spending. After accounting for the roughly $275 billion of new revenue that Clinton estimates her proposed business tax reforms will generate, her proposals are more or less balanced.

    Even though Varney seems to be a deficit scold, when Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt asked him which candidate had the better economic plan, Varney chose Trump’s plan, which the CRFB projects would add $5.3 trillion to the national debt on top of current spending. When CRFB compared the two plans side by side, Clinton’s left projected debt levels virtually unchanged while Trump’s contribution resulted in a doubling of the national debt over the next decade:

    Varney claimed Trump’s budget-busting plan would be better for the economy because of the debunked trickle-down economic “theory” that lowering taxes in the way Trump has proposed will generate 4 percent economic growth annually. Co-host Pete Hegseth agreed with Varney, claiming that tax cuts for the rich creating economic activity nationwide “has played out in reality in the past” as Varney cited the Reagan tax cuts of the 1980s and the Bush tax cuts of 2001 as examples.

    Varney’s misleading claim that previous tax cuts instituted by Republican presidents have led to increased economic growth has been a central theme of his repeated appearances on Fox & Friends. On October 11, Varney appeared on the show and claimed that Trump’s plan would get the American economy to “4 percent growth within a couple of years.” He admitted that the plan would “initially” increase the federal deficit before speculating that “over the longer term, the deficit, I think, comes down.” Varney also appeared on September 28 when he defended Trump’s tax cuts for the rich and claimed a huge tax cut for the wealthiest Americans is “how we grow the economy.”

    The assertion that the Reagan tax cuts of 1981 and the Bush tax cuts of 2001 created an economic boom is unsubstantiated by the facts. According to The Washington Post, the Bush tax cuts increased the deficit and income inequality, and, according to a review by CBS News, they did not positively impact economic growth. Economist Austan Goolsbee stated as much on the October 20 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, arguing that the Bush tax cuts “didn't get growth” that was promised and that Trump proposing an even larger tax cut “makes no sense.” The Reagan tax cuts did no better; PolitiFact rated claims that the Reagan tax cuts led to “exponential growth” as “mostly false,” and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman labeled the Reagan tax cuts “a one-hit wonder” where “the rich got much richer” while there was also an increase in poverty.

    According to a September 2014 report from the Brookings Institution, tax cuts do not always create economic growth and can even discourage growth by undermining economic incentives to invest. A September 2012 report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) similarly concluded that reducing top income tax rates does not correlate with increased economic growth, but lowering top rates does "appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution."

    Right-wing media consistently attack Democratic politicians for their supposedly irresponsible approach to deficit spending, while ignoring Republican tax plans that would explode deficits by an even greater amount. This kind of misleading equivalency was even a feature of Fox News host Chris Wallace’s questioning during the October 19 presidential debate. The fact remains that if right-wing media really care about the debt and deficit, they have to start caring about the budget-busting tax plans pushed by conservative politicians.

    Watch the full segment from Fox & Friends here:

  • Climate Silence Witnessed At Presidential Debates Extends To Key Battleground States

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    There were roughly 190 questions (including follow-ups) asked to the candidates during the presidential and vice presidential debates this year, and not one of them was about climate change. This stunning media failure has rightly drawn the attention of journalists, environmental groups, and at least one U.S. senator.

    But it’s also important to recognize that the climate silence we have witnessed on the national stage is not unique to the presidential election. Media Mattersdebate scorecard is tracking climate change questions in 18 of the most closely contested Senate and governors’ races across the country, and the results so far are troubling. We’ve found that just eight of the 37 debates held in these races through October 20 included questions about climate change. That's 22 percent.

    Climate change was not addressed in the Senate debate or any of the three governors’ debates in North Carolina, a state that was recently devastated by Hurricane Matthew, which featured record-breaking rainfall and flooding that scientists have linked to global warming. It was also ignored in the Senate debate in Arizona, which was recently identified as the western state that is most at risk from increased wildfires as a result of climate change, and in both governors’ debates in West Virginia, which suffered through flooding over the summer that was made worse by global warming.

    There have also been zero climate change questions in Senate or governors’ debates in Missouri, Montana, and Nevada, which are all among the states that are least prepared to deal with emerging climate-related threats, according to a report card produced by Climate Central and ICF International.

    The eight debates that have included climate change questions occurred in seven states: Florida (Senate), Indiana (Senate), New Hampshire (Senate), Ohio (Senate), Pennsylvania (Senate), Wisconsin (Senate), and Vermont (in two debates for governor).

    In more than half of these states, the climate questions were asked because voters spoke up and requested them. In Wisconsin, the climate question was submitted by a citizen via Twitter. In Vermont, the moderator asked a climate question submitted by a voter on Facebook. In Ohio, an audience member asked the climate question. And in Indiana, the climate question, while flawed, was submitted by a voter to the Indiana Debate Commission.

    The lesson from both the presidential debates and these Senate and governors’ debates is clear: If voters want to hear about climate change, they’ll need to continue to press moderators to ask about it and continue to take advantage of opportunities to make their voices heard.

  • NRA Passes Largest Pro-Trump Super PAC In Outside Spending Opposing Clinton

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    National Rifle Association committees making independent campaign expenditures to oppose Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton have spent more than $14 million on the race, surpassing the spending of the most active pro-Trump Super PAC.

    According to FEC filings collected by ProPublica covering spending through October 20, the NRA Institute for Legislative Action has spent $7,057,970 opposing Clinton and the NRA Political Victory Fund has spent $7,127,423:

    The combined $14 million is more money than Rebuilding America Now, a pro-Trump Super PAC, has spent. Additionally, the NRA has spent nearly $9 million so far on independent expenditures supporting Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, whom the NRA endorsed at its annual meeting in May.

    While other conservative outside spenders have backed away from Trump, the NRA has thrown its lot in with him -- and continues to do so despite Trump’s ongoing collapse in national polling amid multiple allegations of sexual assault and misconduct.

    As of October 12, the NRA had already spent a record-breaking $21 million attempting to get Trump elected, nearly double the $12 million the group spent in its failed “all in” effort to elect Romney in 2012.

    The NRA is showing no signs of letting up either. This week, it released a $5 million ad that distorted comments Clinton has made on the Second Amendment and on her use of a private email server in order to falsely brand her as a liar. Other NRA ads have pushed the falsehood that Clinton opposes all gun ownership, an NRA claim that has been repeatedly rated false by independent fact-checkers.

    As early as August, The New York Times reported that conservative outside spenders other than the NRA were backing away from Trump. The Times article reported that “Donald J. Trump’s candidacy has driven away throngs of Republican elected officials, donors and policy experts. But not the National Rifle Association,” noting that the NRA is “the institution on the right most aggressively committed to his candidacy, except for the Republican National Committee itself” and that the NRA “has spent millions of dollars on television commercials for Mr. Trump, even as other Republican groups have kept their checkbooks closed.”

    According to the NRA’s November magazine, the group is touting itself as “the key” to electing Trump and claiming he is the only candidate who can “save our freedom.”

  • VIDEO: How False Equivalence Ruins Trump-Clinton News Coverage


    News outlets covering the presidential election have made the mistake of treating Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as two equally flawed candidates. That false equivalence has made it harder for voters to understand the categorical differences between their options on November 8.

    In typical elections, news outlets often treat both major presidential candidates as relatively similar -- comparing their flaws, scrutinizing their respective scandals, and framing the election as a choice between two comparable options.

    That approach hasn’t been appropriate this election cycle. Clinton is not a flawless candidate -- her campaign has been dogged by conspiracies surrounding the Clinton Foundation and her use of a private email server as secretary of state. But she is a relatively conventional one -- abiding by both constitutional and political norms.

    Trump, on the other hand, represents a dramatic break from mainstream American politics. He threatens the First Amendment, demonizes minority groups, cozies up to white supremacists, championed the birther movement, invites Russian interference in the election, promises to arrest his political opponent, lies constantly, lacks the most basic interest in and knowledge of public policy, says he may not accept the results of the election because he believes it to be “rigged” -- the list goes on and on.

    These are not equally flawed candidates. But a number of news outlets have treated them as such, devoting similar amounts of attention and ink to Clinton and Trump’s respective controversies.

    The New York Times has been criticized for its disproportionate focus on Clinton’s email server and the Clinton Foundation, so much that the paper’s public editor penned a defense of the paper’s coverage:

    The problem with false balance doctrine is that it masquerades as rational thinking. What the critics really want is for journalists to apply their own moral and ideological judgments to the candidates.


    If Trump is unequivocally more flawed than his opponent, that should be plenty evident to the voting public come November. But it should be evident from the kinds of facts that bold and dogged reporting unearths, not from journalists being encouraged to impose their own values to tip the scale.

    That approach, treating both candidates’ scandals equally and hoping voters come to the correct conclusion, is a big part of the reason that voters view Trump and Clinton as being similarly untrustworthy, and view their missteps as similarly concerning. Audiences internalize the way the media covers each candidate in relation to the other.

    Treating two wildly different candidates as if they’re equally flawed is not “fairness” -- it’s a journalistic failure. And news outlets that have failed to explain the categorical differences between the controversies dogging Trump and Clinton’s presidential campaigns have done a real disservice to voters who want to understand what’s at stake in November.

    Illustrations by Dayanita Ramesh.

  • Complaining That Trump Wallows In Conspiracies, Conservative Press Wallows In Latest Clinton Conspiracy

    Self-Awareness Deficit

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Caught up in this increasingly chaotic campaign season, sometimes it seems confused conservative media members can’t keep track of what both hands are doing. Confronted with a nominee who’s been rejected by key editorial outlets such as The Weekly Standard and National Review, conservative commentators often find themselves simultaneously condemning Trump’s behavior while trafficking in those same traits.

    For instance, on the one hand, lots of GOP commentators have forcefully criticized “unshackled” Trump for wallowing in endless, unsupported conspiracy theories, such as the candidate’s recent claim that the pending presidential election is “rigged” and that he might not accept the November election results.

    But on the other hand, the conservative press has been nearly unified this week in excitedly pushing yet another unsupported conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton’s emails, this one featuring a supposedly ominous “quid pro quo” arrangement between the State Department and the FBI. (Fact: The premise is completely bogus.)

    So yes, there are some major self-awareness issues on display during the final weeks of the campaign as the dysfunctional conservative media -- which for years (and for decades) has wallowed in wild, baseless conspiracies -- calls out Trump for wallowing in wild, baseless conspiracies.

    The disconnect is pronounced. “Mainstream Republicans are watching these developments at the top of the ticket with a growing sense of alarm, calling Trump’s latest conspiracy theories of a rigged election irresponsible and dangerous,” The Boston Globe reported.

    Really? Conservatives and Republicans are alarmed that Trump trumpets make-believe claims of “rigged” elections? That he might not concede defeat?

    “It is interesting that Republicans have chosen to draw the line at Trump’s completely unfounded claims,” noted Mark Joseph Stern at Slate. “For the past 16 years, the GOP has fervidly stoked Americans’ fears of voter fraud and repeatedly declared that Democrats were stealing elections without any basis in reality.” (Making it harder for people to vote has also become a hallmark of the GOP legislative agenda.)

    The GOP’s “stealing” claim goes double for right-wing media, which for years have delighted in fanning race-baiting flames about “voter fraud” and stolen elections. But Trump openly discussing “rigged” elections goes too far for the same community of pundits? Apparently the nominee’s sin isn’t claiming Democratic voters, and especially black Democratic voters, cheat at the ballot box, it’s that he lays it on too thick.

    I suspect the Republican and conservative media tsk-tsking over “rigged” rhetoric must be confusing for a political novice like Trump who’s trying to figure out which far-out conservative conspiracies are okay to campaign on, and which are deemed to be out of bounds.

    Here’s a possible cheat sheet for Trump:

    Claiming elections are “rigged” is bad, but insisting there’s been a wide-ranging Clinton email “cover-up” is good.  

    Pushing the Obama “birther” story is bad, but claiming Obamacare is built around “death panels” is good.  

    What’s also confusing is that the same conservative commentators and publications that are denouncing Trump conspiracies today are often busy simultaneously pushing their own dubious plots.  

    For instance, in July, The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes admonished “crazy” Trump for pushing nutty schemes, like suggesting Sen. Ted Cruz’s father played a role in the JFK assassination, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia may have been murdered, and that thousands of people in Jersey City, N.J., celebrated in the streets when the towers at the World Trade Center collapsed on 9/11.

    Trump’s conspiracy gibberish sounded like something “one might expect from a patient in a mental institution” wrote Hayes.

    So Hayes is adamantly opposed to political conspiracies and thinks Trump looks foolish pushing them. But guess who authored The Weekly Standard article that recently launched the debunked FBI/Clinton email conspiracy? And guess which Weekly Standard writer spent three years concocting or running with unsubstantiated claims about the terror attack in Benghazi?

    Stephen Hayes.

    Hayes and The Weekly Standard aren't alone in their hypocrisy. Last year, National Review Online also criticized Trump for his support of the absurd birther conspiracy theory. More recently, NRO has attacked Trump for hyping the “rigged” allegations: “This is reckless in the extreme.”

    Indeed, for conservative commentators who have refused to back Trump this year and who have openly disparaged his candidacy and his nomination, his love of unproven conspiracies has served as a central plank for their opposition. 

    But like The Weekly Standard, NRO this week eagerly pushed the tall Clinton/FBI email conspiracy tale. Separately, NRO has claimed the reason Clinton wasn’t prosecuted for her use of private emails was because the Obama administration covered up the Clinton “felony” in order to protect the president’s equally illegal email use.

    Or something.

    Thinly sourced plots that supposedly reveal Democratic criminality (and worse!) have certainly defined the conservative press during the Obama administration. Just look at Benghazi, the three-year conspiracy-palooza proudly presented by Fox News and the entire conservative media galaxy. 

    Media Matters spent years debunking the endless claims.

    Simply put, this is a conservative movement that’s so addicted to dopey conspiracy plots and to connecting non-existent dots, and has so normalized the practice in the pursuit of partisan politics, that it can’t even recognize Trump is simply channeling their own paranoia into a national campaign.

    Watching Trump’s ugliness projected onto a big screen, conservatives recoil. But they’re really just watching a self-portrait.

  • Washington Post Finds More “Factual Problems” With Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Reagan 

    O’Reilly And His Killing Books Have A History Of Historical Inaccuracies

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple reported “factual problems” with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s book, Killing Reagan, which examined the attempted assassination of former President Ronald Reagan. Killing Reagan in particular drew intense criticism from Reagan biographers and aides, who said the “garbage, total BS” book “does a disservice to history.” The criticism led to an extended feud with conservative columnist and former Reagan speechwriter George Will after Will called O’Reilly “a hack” who “slander[ed]” Reagan.

    On October 20, Wemple examined a passage in Killing Reagan alleging that during a 1984 photo-op, “Reagan faltered under tough questioning from commonly tough questioner Sam Donaldson” of ABC News, because of injuries related to the assassination attempt. However, Donaldson told Wemple himself that he “wasn’t there” at the photo-op. Wemple “requested video of the press availability from the Ronald Reagan Library” and found that pool reporters who quizzed the president didn’t “get very far” because “the entire Q&A lasted less than a minute.” Contrary to O’Reilly’s characterization, the exchange “doesn’t come off very dramatically,” and O’Reilly’s “confrontation” was “was merely [a journalist] asking a reasonable question and then following up very quickly with a clarification.”

    As this blog noted on Saturday, this passage has factual problems. Donaldson, for one, tells the Erik Wemple Blog, “I wasn’t there.” The 82-year-old retired newsman says he was in Santa Barbara with other members of the press, while a small contingent of rotating pool members went to the ranch to photograph and question Reagan. Charles Bierbauer, a former CNN correspondent who covered Reagan, told us that he, in fact, was the one who’d asked these questions.


    Eager to learn a bit more about this episode, the Erik Wemple Blog requested video of the press availability from the Ronald Reagan Library. It’s embedded at the top of this post. Starting at the 1:38 mark, pool reporters begin quizzing the president about various topics. They don’t get very far. “I’m not going to take any questions at a — at a photo opportunity,” says Reagan at one point.

    The entire Q & A took less than a minute. And contrary to the “action-packed” description in “Killing Reagan,” it doesn’t come off very dramatically, either. (Efforts to secure comment from O’Reilly, Dugard and the publisher of “Killing Reagan” have failed). It sounds like a few journalists trying to get a snippet of newsworthy material from the president on a midsummer day. Where O’Reilly sees Donaldson in “full confrontational mode,” the video indicates that Bierbauer — now dean of the College of Information and Communications at the University of South Carolina — was merely asking a reasonable question and then following up very quickly with a clarification.

    O’Reilly and his Killing series of books have both come under repeated scrutiny for misrepresenting or lying about the history he sets out to examine. O’Reilly himself has been widely criticized for lying about his experiences during multiple historical events, including the Falklands War, the 1992 Los Angeles riots, terrorist bombings in Northern Ireland, and the execution of four Americans in El Salvador.

  • Media Critics: CNN’s Use Of Pro-Trump Surrogates Undercuts The Network’s Journalism

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW LAWRENCE

    Media critics say CNN’s use of paid pro-Trump surrogates has undercut the network’s journalism and the “goal of informing its audience.”

    After the third and final presidential debate, Trump surrogates scrambled to spin Donald Trump’s statement that he may not accept the results of the election, putting forward a litany of absurd claims. On CNN, that role was filled by the network’s roster of paid contributors who were specifically hired for their willingness to defend Trump.

    New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen criticized the “candidate surrogate” system CNN invested in during this campaign cycle, explaining that CNN’s “Surrogates are unwilling to defend Trump, so they change him into a man more defensible.” He added that because CNN’s Trump surrogates frequently attempt to mislead the network’s audience, CNN has “wasted our time, undermined the work of their journalists, and made the election-year discussion more opaque [than] it would have been if they had never invited these people on set.”

    The Columbia Journalism Review’s David Uberti similarly wrote that having the Trump surrogates on-air to spin the widely condemned remarks made by Trump during the debate “overstepped CNN’s reporting and undercut its purported goal of informing its audience”:

    The consensus headline from the third and final presidential debate was Republican candidate Donald Trump’s refusal to commit to accepting the 2016 election results. It was a stunning rebuke of American political norms from the nominee of a major political party, and it quickly dominated coverage online Wednesday night and in major print newspapers Thursday morning.The Associated Press’ lede said Trump is “threatening to upend a fundamental pillar of American democracy.”

    At CNN, however, confusion initially reigned. The network’s journalists expressed shock at Trump’s comments within seconds of the debate’s conclusion. “One of the most stunning things I’ve ever heard in a presidential debate, ever,” said Jake Tapper, the network’s chief Washington correspondent.


    But pro-Trump contributors attempted to muddle this point during a panel discussion after the debate, when viewership was likely highest. Their baseless speculation that the election might somehow be rigged overstepped CNN’s reporting and undercut its purported goal of informing its audience. The comments, which drew stern rebuttals from other CNN on-air talent, highlight how the network’s pursuit of the appearance of objectivity in 2016 has distorted its final product on television. It also provides a clear example of how the channel’s model puts CNN journalists in the awkward position of fact-checking CNN contributors in real time.

    Uberti concluded: “CNN pays pro-Trump contributors to provide it with a shinier veneer of objectivity. But it’s become all too clear in recent months that this mission actively harms its journalists’ pursuit of the truth. The news organization must clarify where its real priorities lie.”

    CNN’s reliance on Trump surrogates to provide defense for a “candidate who doesn’t exist” has come under increased scrutiny over recent weeks, with their decision to hire former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who was still receiving payment from the Trump campaign, as a paid political analyst.

    Media Matters’ Carlos Maza highlighted CNN’s Trump surrogate problem, noting how surrogates refuse to answer legitimate questions about Trump’s positions and controversies and instead point unrelated discussions that devolve into personal attacks.