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  • First Amendment Watch: January 2017

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    During his 2016 campaign for president, Donald Trump launched an unprecedented war on the press. Since his election, Media Matters has tracked his and his team’s continuing attacks on the media and their abandonment of presidential norms regarding press access, which poses a dangerous threat to our First Amendment freedoms. Following is a list of attacks Trump and his team made against the media -- and instances in which they demonstrated disregard for the press -- from January 1, 2017, up to his January 20 inauguration as president.

  • Yes, CIA Director Nominee Mike Pompeo Needs To Answer Questions About Climate Change

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    After Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) grilled CIA director nominee Mike Pompeo on climate change during his January 12 Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing, Fox News responded to Harris’ inquiries with mocking condescension. But the fact is, the intelligence community has taken climate change very seriously under both the Bush and Obama administrations, and Harris has every reason to press Pompeo on whether that will remain the case in the Trump administration.

    During the hearing, Harris began by asking Pompeo whether he has “any reason to doubt the assessment” of CIA analysts that climate change is one of the “deeper causes of rising instability in the world.” Pompeo responded that it’s the CIA’s role to gather foreign intelligence and understand global threats, and that “to the extent that changes in climatic activity are part of that foreign intelligence collection task, we will deliver that information to you all and to the president.”

    Harris then pointed out that Pompeo has previously “questioned the scientific consensus on climate change,” and asked whether he has any reason to doubt NASA’s statement that multiple studies show “97 percent or more of actively published climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.” Pompeo responded by claiming that his political commentary has been primarily focused on critiquing the effectiveness of climate policies, and he added that he hasn’t “looked at NASA's findings in particular” and couldn’t give Harris “any judgement about that” during the hearing.

    Pompeo also made this very telling remark: “I, frankly, as the director of CIA, would prefer today not to get into the details of climate debate and science. It just seems my role is going to be so different and unique from that.” In doing so, Pompeo signaled that climate change will not be a focus of the CIA under his leadership, which “could leave the CIA without crucial context as it evaluates threats around the world,” as Climate Central reported.

    At the same time, Pompeo’s remark has inspired several Fox News pundits to mock Harris for choosing to ask about climate change -- beginning with Fox News contributor and Libre Initiative spokesperson Rachel Campos-Duffy, who like Pompeo himself, has deep ties to the oil billionaire Koch brothers.

    On the January 12 edition of Outnumbered, Campos-Duffy declared that Harris had asked a “dumb question.” Later that evening, The Five co-host Eric Bolling said Harris’ question was “ridiculous,” adding, “This is a spy agency. They are supposed to gather intel on bad guys, not the weather.” And on the January 13 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy joked, “Maybe [Harris] thinks the C in CIA stands for climate, but it doesn't. It stands for Central.”

    What these Fox pundits either don’t understand or are unwilling to acknowledge is that evaluating climate change impacts is a critical component of the CIA’s mission. According to a September 2016 report prepared by the National Intelligence Council and coordinated with the U.S. intelligence community, “Climate change and its resulting effects are likely to pose wide-ranging national security challenges for the United States and other countries over the next 20 years.” As Harris mentioned, current CIA director John Brennan has also spoken to the importance of the agency accounting for climate change, stating in a 2015 speech that climate change is aggravating existing security problems and “is a potential source of crisis itself.”

    And lest you think that only the Obama CIA views climate change as a priority for the intelligence community, a 2008 National Intelligence Assessment completed under the Bush administration also concluded that climate change poses a national security threat, as Grist reported at the time.

    This is far from the first time that Fox News has dismissed the national security implications of climate change, but if the CIA itself adopts that misguided view, it will be a dramatic shift that should concern all Americans.

  • Headlines Tout Trump’s False Claim That Intel Briefing “Was Delayed,” Omitting Intelligence Community’s Pushback

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Multiple outlets pushed President-elect Donald Trump’s false claim on Tuesday, January 3, that an intelligence briefing had been “delayed until Friday” because officials “needed” extra time “to build a case” regarding Russian meddling in the 2016 election. While some outlets noted in their headlines that intelligence officials have said that there was never a briefing scheduled for January 3, many others simply framed their headlines around Trump’s false claim that the briefing had been “delayed.”

  • After Weeks Of Denials, Fox News Independently Confirms Russian Interference In US Election

    Catherine Herridge: “These Operations Were Sanctioned By The Highest Levels Of The Russian Government”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox News’ chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge reported that Fox News has independently verified Russian-backed cyber militias targeted US systems in “an effort to interfere in the US election.” Herridge’s report comes after weeks of Fox News denying the Russian government could have anything to do with the election hack.

    After 17 intelligence agencies reported that the Russian government was involved with hacking political organizations’ emails, Fox News repeatedly attempted to cast doubt on the reports by calling the agencies political. Fox host Sean Hannity derided the CIA’s conclusions as “politically motivated” “fake news,” and his colleague Tucker Carlson has repeatedly downplayed the possibility of Russia influencing the election and attacked anybody supporting the thesis. And Fox News contributor John Bolton even claimed that the “ridiculous” allegations of Russian interference could be a “false flag.” 

    Despite Fox’s campaign to cast doubt on the possibility of the Russian government seeking to undermine American elections, a December 15 report from chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge said that “Fox News has independently confirmed that Russian backed cyber-militias were targeting US systems and influential US persons in the summer of 2015,” an operation which “evolved into an effort to interfere in the US election … sanctioned by the highest levels of the Russian government.” From the December 15 edition of Fox News’ The Kelly File:

    CATHERINE HERRIDGE: Fox News has independently confirmed that Russian-backed cyber militias were targeting US systems and influential US persons in the summer of 2015, and the operation evolved into an effort to interfere in the US election. These operations were sanctioned by the highest levels of the Russian government. 

    After the FBI director’s July statement about the Clinton email investigation, a government source says there was a reluctance to further insert government institutions and their assessments into an already deeply politicized election cycle. A leading cybersecurity expert says the intelligence community reviewed the techniques, tactics, and procedures leveraged in the attacks and made the link to Russia. In October, the agencies and Homeland Security, or DHS, went on the record, though Putin was not mentioned by name. 

  • CIA Report Of Russian Interference Proves That Right-Wing Media Will Call Anything They Don't Like "Fake News"

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Conservative media continued to use the phrase “fake news” incorrectly in an attempt to delegitimize news that does not fit their agenda -- in this case reports about alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. In doing so, conservatives are fueling President-elect Donald Trump’s effort to stymie credible news as well as trying to undermine the real concerns about the spread of actual false information packaged as legitimate news.

    Right-wing media sought to dismiss news that the CIA concluded that Russia meddled in the 2016 election to actively help Trump by claiming that the report is merely “fake news.” On the December 12 edition of his radio program, Rush Limbaugh asserted, “This whole business of Russia hacking our election is fake news with the imprimatur of intelligence agencies and the CIA, and it's brought to us by the same newspapers that took out, tried to take out Richard Nixon.” Fox News host Sean Hannity also drew the same conclusion, saying on his radio show that “this is another liberal fake news story that they’re all falling for, and it’s politically motivated.” Right-wing outlets Breitbart and InfoWars ran headlines dismissing the reports as “fake news.”

    Trump transition spokesman Sean Spicer and Trump adviser and Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich have also tried to hijack the term “fake news,” claiming that reports from legitimate news outlets such as The New York Times were “fake news” in an attempt to delegitimize pieces that did not fit their agenda.

    While there is no standard definition for fake news, a variety of outlets and experts have defined these types of pieces as entirely fabricated stories seeking to imitate the style of legitimate news outlets to fool readers. This definition certainly does not apply to the several reports highlighting the CIA’s findings that Russia meddled in the U.S. presidential election to help Trump, which was reported in The Washington Post and did not seek to intentionally mislead readers.

    As The Washington Post‘s Ruth Marcus wrote, “there is a difference between inevitably flawed and intentionally false. To deliberately blur this distinction is to seek to undermine the central role of media in a free society.” This pattern from conservatives and right-wing media follows Trump’s use of “demagogic techniques,” as former Time Inc. Editor-in-Chief John Huey argued on CNN’s Reliable Sources, to “inoculate” himself from thorough, investigative reporting. It is also an attempt by purveyors of fake news such as InfoWars to try and whitewash the meaning of “fake news” and downplay the dangers that come from spreading it.

    Trump has waged a long term war on the press; it appears that this is just another attempt from his allies in conservative media to delegitimize news they don’t like.

  • Here Is How Trump's Media Allies Reacted To CIA Report That Russian Government Intervened In Election To Help Trump

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    After an anonymous source within the Central Intelligence Agency told The Washington Post the agency has “high confidence” that the Russian government intervened in the 2016 election to assist President-elect Donald Trump, right-wing media outlets quickly sought to delegitimize the allegations by claiming the CIA is too partisan to be trusted, or that the hacking was in reality a “false flag” attack by another actor. 

  • Possible Trump Pick John Bolton Says Allegations Of Russian Electoral Interference Could Be A “False Flag”

    Bolton Previously Suggested Sanders Supporters May Have Hacked DNC In A “Disinformation” Effort To Implicate Russia

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Fox News contributor John Bolton aided President-elect Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine the CIA’s assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf, repeatedly suggesting the hacking could be a “false flag operation.” Bolton was previously under consideration for secretary of state and is currently a front-runner for deputy secretary of state in the Trump administration.

    The Washington Post reported on December 9 that “the CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency.” An anonymous U.S. official briefed on the intelligence said this was “the consensus view” of the intelligence community. Trump, in a Fox News Sunday interview that aired on December 11, called the assessment “ridiculous,” adding that he doesn’t “believe it at all.”

    Bolton, in appearances on Fox News on December 11 and 12, suggested that the hacking could have been a “false flag operation” meant to misleadingly implicate Russia.

    On Sunday’s America’s News Headquarters, Bolton acknowledged the seriousness of a foreign government intervening in the presidential election, but questioned the assessment that Russia did so. Bolton said, “It’s not at all clear to me, just viewing this from the outside, that this hacking into the [Democratic National Committee] and the [Republican National Committee] computers was not a false flag operation.” Bolton claimed that, because the FBI was unable to find evidence that Russia had hacked Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s private server, it was unlikely that Russia would have hacked the DNC and RNC computers and left fingerprints for the CIA to find. Bolton’s claim was based on the unfounded assumption that Russia did successfully hack Clinton’s computer. Bolton also suggested that it was possible someone in the Obama administration or the intelligence community was behind the alleged false flag, answering that “we just don’t know” when asked if he believed that could have happened.  

    Later Sunday on Fox Report, Bolton defended his assertion, saying that he meant to call the CIA’s assessment a “false flag in the sense that this conclusion that the Russians did it, I think, is arrived at too easily.”

    On Monday’s Fox & Friends, Bolton then said, “I think it’s at least a question to be asked, whether or not this was a false flag operation with some foreign government other than Russia.”

    During his Fox & Friends appearance, Bolton also addressed news reports about his comments from the previous day, saying they claimed "I said on Fox yesterday that I thought the Obama administration had conducted the hack into the RNC and the DNC," and calling it “typical bad reporting." He added, “I have never believed that. I didn’t believe that yesterday, I don’t believe it today.” But both CBS News and Politico explained that Bolton in fact did suggest just that. From the CBS News article (emphasis added):

    Though Bolton didn’t elaborate on the term “false flag,” he seemed to be suggesting that someone in the Obama administration or the intelligence agencies could have been attempting to falsely lead the public into believing Russia was to blame for the hacking.

    Shawn followed up by asking, “Are you actually accusing someone here in the administration or in the intelligence community of trying to throw something?”

    Bolton was not specific: “We just don’t know,” he replied. “But I believe that intelligence has been politicized in the Obama administration to a very significant degree.”

    After Bolton made his third appearance on Fox to claim that the hacking could be a “false flag operation,” former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page said the “U.S. government might have deliberately orchestrated cyberattacks to make it look as though they were coming from Russia,” according to New York Times reporter Ivan Nechepurenko.

    This is not the first time Bolton has tried to discredit accusations that Russia interfered in the election. In July, while discussing the first dump of DNC emails by WikiLeaks, Bolton suggested that supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders might have actually hacked the DNC and framed Russia. Bolton claimed, “Somebody who wanted to cast blame on the Russians could put in those indications of other Russian hacking efforts. If I were a Bernie Sanders supporter, and I wanted [the DNC emails] out, and I were good at computers, maybe I'd do that.”

  • Architect Of CIA's Waterboarding Program And Fox & Friends Host Mislead About Torture

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Fox host Brian Kilmeade praised waterboarding, claiming it “yield[ed] tremendous results,” during an error-filled interview with psychologist James Mitchell, the man who created the CIA’s so-called “enhanced interrogation” program. Mitchell and Kilmeade promoted numerous misleading arguments about the supposed effectiveness of torture as a form of interrogation while promoting Mitchell's upcoming memoir. Fox figures have previously spoken out in support of reinstating waterboarding as an interrogation technique, even though experts have condemned the practice, saying that it constitutes torture, is illegal under American and international law, and “yielded no intelligence.”