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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) implored the media to run segments on attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions’ (R-AL) participation in the prosecution of an Alabama Klansman who lynched an African-American youth. But in his retelling of the 1981 prosecution, Cruz omitted key information, specifically that Sessions’ subordinate in the U.S. attorney’s office later testified that Sessions tried to dissuade him from pursuing prosecution in the case.
On March 21, 1981, Michael Donald, an African-American teenager, was lynched in Mobile, AL, by Henry Hays and another conspirator. Hays was acting on the orders of his father, who was second in command of Alabama’s Ku Klux Klan organization, to randomly kill an African-American in retaliation for the murder of a white police officer.
Local law enforcement severely botched the murder investigation. As reported by The Atlantic, one law enforcement officer told reporters that the murder was a case where “three junkies had killed this lowlife black man who thought he could take drugs from them and not pay.” Other members of law enforcement attempted to smear Donald with allegations of other criminal conduct.
At the time of the murder, Sessions was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. Following the failure of local law enforcement to properly investigate the case, an assistant U.S. attorney in Sessions’ office, Thomas Figures, became the “driving force” in securing the involvement of attorneys in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. During the subsequent prosecution, Sessions took on a “supervisory role,” working in concert with Figures, attorneys from the Civil Rights Division, and state prosecutors. Hays was convicted of murder, sentenced to death, and later executed.
Sessions lists his participation in the case as one of his biggest career accomplishments, and conservative media have repeatedly cited the case to defend Sessions against longstanding allegations of racism. (In 1986, the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected Sessions’ nomination to the federal bench amid testimony that he directed racially derogatory language toward Figures, who was black, and allegations that Sessions used his position as a prosecutor to unfairly target minorities.)
During the first day of Sessions’ confirmation hearings on January 10, Cruz cited the case and the statements of other attorneys who worked on the case who said that Sessions was cooperative and helpful during the prosecution. Cruz then issued a "challenge," saying, “I would encourage the news media: Cover this story. Tell the story on the six o’clock news about Jeff Sessions helping prosecute a Klansman who had murdered an innocent African-American man, and putting him on death row, and bankrupting -- helping bankrupt the Klan in Alabama. That’s a story that needs to be told.”
In his remarks, Cruz failed to mention Figures’ testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee during Sessions’ failed 1986 nomination. Figures testified that Sessions sought to prevent him from forming a prosecutable case, telling him at the time “that the case was a waste of time, that it wasn’t going anywhere, that I should spend more time on other things, and that, if the perpetrators were found, I would not be assigned to the case.” As Figures recounted, Sessions came on board only when it “became increasingly apparent that we were going to break the case.” During the 1986 hearing, Sessions denied Figures’ allegations. From The Atlantic:
In 1986, Figures testified before the Senate that while it was “literally true” that Sessions had not “obstructed the investigation of the murder of Michael Donald,” Sessions had “tried to persuade me to discontinue pursuit of the case.” Figures said that Sessions “remarked, with regard to the investigation, that the case was a waste of time, that it wasn’t going anywhere, that I should spend more time on other things, and that, if the perpetrators were found, I would not be assigned to the case.” Figures told the Senate that after the case went to the grand jury, and it “became increasingly apparent that we were going to break the case, Mr. Sessions attitude changed” and that he supported the prosecution.
Sessions’s statements to the Senate in 1986 about his supervisory role in the case are more modest than what he and his supporters say today, and while his testimony at the time generally did not directly contradict Figures’s account, Sessions insisted that he did not urge Figures to drop the case.
Significantly, Cruz’s secondary claim about Sessions helping to bankrupt the Klan greatly overstates Sessions’ involvement. It was actually Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center who conceptualized and executed the novel civil lawsuit that led to that outcome, using the facts of the Hays murder case to establish that the Klan had organizational liability for Donald’s murder. A 1987 New York Times article on the verdict makes no mention of Sessions, instead focusing on the members of Donald’s family, attorneys, and activists who played the primary role in securing the outcome.
The National Rifle Association’s NRATV defended attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) against allegations of racial bias by offering a bogus history of a controversial criminal case Sessions prosecuted when he was a U.S. Attorney.
The NRA has endorsed Sessions for attorney general. During the first day of Sessions’ hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, longstanding allegations of racial bias resurfaced during questioning. (In 1986, the Judiciary Committee rejected Sessions’ nomination to the federal bench amid testimony that he directed racially derogatory language toward a subordinate and allegations that Sessions used his position as a prosecutor to unfairly target minorities.)
During the January 10 broadcast of NRATV, host Grant Stinchfield defended Sessions by claiming that “when the left doesn’t agree with you, what they do is they throw out the race card and they accuse everybody of being a racist.”
NRATV commentator and conservative talk radio host Dana Loesch agreed and said she is “pretty damn tired of these racial accusations.” She claimed that critics of Sessions are “mad because he busted one group in Alabama who was engaged in voter fraud.” But in fact, the group in question was not engaged in voter fraud. Instead, Loesch was mischaracterizing the 1985 voter fraud investigation in Alabama, led by Sessions after civil rights activist and Martin Luther King Jr. adviser Albert Turner tried to help African-Americans vote using protections secured by the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The defendants were acquitted on all charges, and Sessions’ handling of the case was later cited as the primary reason the Senate considered him unfit to serve as a federal judge in 1986.
Here is what actually happened: Turner and two other activists formed the Perry County Civic League, aimed at helping African-Americans in their county register to vote. Like other organizations at the time, the Perry County Civic League helped people register to vote absentee. (At the time, polls in Perry County were only open for four hours on Election Day.) After a number of black candidates won in the 1982 elections, Sessions, who was then a U.S. attorney, headed up an investigation for voter fraud that culminated in a 29-count indictment against Turner and two other civil rights workers alleging mail fraud, conspiracy to commit voting fraud and voting more than once.
Sessions’ case was incredibly weak, giving rise to the accusation that he was motivated by racial animus. According to The New York Times, “During the trial, the prosecution adopted an exceptionally broad theory, arguing that it was a crime for a voter to sign a ballot that someone else filled out for him.” As a result, “The judge ruled that this theory was contrary to election law and the Constitution, and at the close of trial, threw out many of the counts against the Turners and Hogue. They were acquitted of the rest by the jury.”
The NRA’s scrubbing of Sessions’ 1985 prosecution isn’t surprising, given that the organization has campaigned for his “swift” confirmation. NRATV previously grossly exaggerated the number of murders that occur in Chicago in arguing that Sessions should be confirmed as attorney general.
From the January 10 edition of NRATV’s Live Updates with Grant Stinchfield:
GRANT STINCHFIELD (HOST): Any surprises so far during the hearing?
DANA LOESCH: No, Grant. I’m not surprised at all. This is what happens when a dying ideology and grievance-mongers lose the election. They have to whine like crybabies about it for weeks after. Al Sharpton has promised a season of civil disobedience. I would love to see Al Sharpton demonstrate just a week of common sense before he really attempts to go that far with it. Look, I am not shocked by any of this. Jeff Sessions is a threat to a politicized Department of Justice. The DOJ has been weaponized, and has been used to go after individuals. We all remember how the DOJ went after the press, how they went after -- I told you this yesterday, Associated Press reporters, a number of other individuals, how they allowed for voter fraud and inflated fraud to take place on voter rolls across the country. How they wouldn’t prosecute a lot of cases that really deserved the DOJ’s attention. Jeff Sessions is a threat to this. Also, Jeff Sessions upholds that recognition. He did it as AG of Alabama, he’ll do it as AG here of the United States of America, as [NRA top lobbyist] Chris Cox said. He’s going to uphold that recognition, the federal recognition that our right to bear arms doesn’t just stop at a state line and this is something that goes across all of the United States, which is why I’m happy to see national reciprocity. And I’m going to tell you too, Grant. I’m getting pretty damn tired of these racial accusations going up against Jeff Sessions because Democrats right now are repeating discredited arguments that have been discredited since 1986. When you have Thomas Figures, who was indicted on bribery -- he was one of two accusers who tried to make up some accusation that Jeff Sessions was a racist. The other was Gerald Herbert, who was publicly put down by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals because he acted with impropriety. These are the two completely ineligible for consideration people that Democrats are relying on for the whole of their racial argument about Jeff Sessions. And I’ll end with this, Grant. A number of associates with Jeff Sessions, black and white, have defended his character, they’ve defended his integrity, they’ve defended his record, and that’s why they’re coming together. And that’s why, from some of these Democrat senators, you’re seeing such soft questioning, because they’ve been there shoulder to shoulder with Jeff Sessions and they know he’s the DOJ America needs.
STINCHFIELD: Well you and I both know, Dana, that when the left doesn’t agree with you, what they do is they throw out the race card and they accuse everybody of being a racist. What really gets me is they look at Jeff Sessions as such a threat simply for one reason: He has vowed to uphold the law on the books already. That’s it, it's that simple. It’s how you change America around, it's how you make America safe again.
LOESCH: Well they’re mad because he busted one group in Alabama who was engaged in voter fraud. I don’t like how there are groups that exist and they try to hide behind the guise of calling themselves a civil rights group. ACORN did it.
Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ radio show used the January 6 mass shooting at an airport in Fort Lauderdale, FL, to urge viewers to buy body armor from Jones’ online store.
On January 6, a gunman killed five people and wounded six others when he opened fire with a handgun in the baggage claim area at Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport. The suspect, who was arrested at the scene, legally checked the firearm used for the shooting in his luggage on a flight from Anchorage, AK, to Fort Lauderdale.
The day of the shooting, two guest hosts on The Alex Jones Show -- Infowars’ Owen Shroyer and David Knight -- used the violence to urge viewers to buy body armor.
Citing the shooting and claiming “gun control areas are killing zones,” Knight said, “You need to make sure -- if they’re going to take your gun away, if they’re going to keep you defenseless -- you need to make sure that you can at least shield yourself. That’s why we’re selling tactical nanotechnology body armor that was previously available only to the military, only to law enforcement, is now available exclusively at InfowarsStore.com.”
As he spoke, the screen showed body armor -- some of which costs more than $1,000 -- available for purchase at InfowarsStore.com.
Apparently referencing the Fort Lauderdale shooting again, Knight then touted body armor inserts, saying, “You can get it in a vest form or you can buy something that you can stick into your backpack and turn your backpack into a shield, for you, for your children. So that when you’re in an airport where you're not allowed to carry a gun or you’re picking up your bags and you’ve got some idiot who decides he’s going to do this or you’re bunched up going through the TSA lines as they make you into a vulnerable target during their screening, you have something at least that will stop a bullet.”
There is no evidence that gun-free zones pose a danger to the public or that civilians with concealed weapons are an effective deterrent to mass shootings. A strong majority of mass shootings actually occur where guns can be carried.
Jones, a prominent conspiracy theorist and self-proclaimed “founding father” of the 9/11 Truth movement, has used The Alex Jones Show to claim that several high-profile incidents of gun violence were false flags carried out by the government, including the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 children and six educators dead.
Jones was an important media ally of President-elect Donald Trump’s during the 2016 election. Trump appeared on Jones’ show in 2015 to praise Jones’ “amazing” reputation. Following Trump’s victory, Jones claimed that Trump told him he would appear on his show in the coming weeks, although the promised appearance has not materialized.
Joy Reid Models Four Must-Do’s When Reporting On Reproductive Rights Topics During The Trump Administration
During the January 8 edition of MSNBC’s AM Joy, host Joy Reid put on a master class in how to cover anti-choice lawmakers’ latest attempts to defund Planned Parenthood.
The Sunday after House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that Republicans would prioritize defunding the essential health care provider, Reid demonstrated four best practices for reporting on reproductive rights topics: hosting diverse guests, discussing the material consequences of policy decisions, including personal testimony in reports, and emphasizing the disparate impact of anti-choice laws on marginalized communities.
Planned Parenthood is an essential health care provider for millions of Americans -- many of them low-income patients reliant on Medicaid to access primary care. To justify defunding Planned Parenthood, right-wing media and anti-choice politicians have falsely claimed that the organization’s primary goal is to coerce women into having abortions using taxpayer money.
In reality, this could not be further from the truth. Due to the Hyde Amendment, the federal government is already barred from funding abortion services. Instead, the government reimburses Planned Parenthood for non-abortion services provided to low-income patients via Medicaid -- just like any other health care provider. Although right-wing media argue that so-called “community health clinics” (CHCs) could absorb this patient demand should Planned Parenthood clinics close, experts agree that CHCs lack the capacity, experience, and resources to replace Planned Parenthood.
In its coverage of the defunding effort, AM Joy set the standard for reporting the consequences of congressional Republicans’ politically motivated attack on health care access -- and other outlets should take note.
During the January 8 segment, Reid hosted two women to discuss the impacts of defunding Planned Parenthood: the organization's president, Cecile Richards, and the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), Jessica González-Rojas.
In a previous study of prime-time cable news coverage of reproductive rights topics, Media Matters found that networks relied heavily on male panelists to discuss the consequences of policy decisions about abortion and reproductive rights issues. This problem of representation is also more generally borne out across the Sunday political talk shows, which have overwhelmingly relied on guests who are white, conservative, and male.
Hosting diverse guests is essential to providing in-depth, quality coverage of many topics. Non-white and non-male perspectives in newsrooms are often rare, a trend that should incite concern not only about equality but also about coverage accuracy.
AM Joy also focused on the material impacts of defunding Planned Parenthood -- not just the political spectacle of the legislative fight.
At the start of the segment, Reid immediately debunked the pervasive conservative arguments about the consequences of defunding Planned Parenthood:
JOY REID: Let’s be clear about this so-called defunding legislation -- what it would really do. It would prohibit Medicaid recipients from obtaining any kind of services from Planned Parenthood. We're not talking about abortion services because federal law already prohibits those being paid for with federal dollars. We're talking no cancer screenings, no contraception, no STD testing, no medical services as all. The defunding will be packaged with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, which is currently providing health insurance to 22 million people and counting.
Richards and González-Rojas each provided examples of the consequences that defunding Planned Parenthood would have for a number of patients across the country. As Richards explained, “Any senator who votes [to defund] is hurting women in their own home state” because they are “essentially saying to low-income women, 'You can't go to Planned Parenthood for your cancer screenings and birth control.’”
González-Rojas agreed, adding that when Indiana denied Planned Parenthood state Medicaid reimbursements, “we saw an STI outbreak,” and when Texas blocked the reimbursements, “we saw the rates of unintended pregnancy and birth increasing. We heard stories of women splitting birth control pills to make it last longer.”
Throughout the January 8 segment, Reid emphasized personal testimony from herself, Richards, and González-Rojas about relying on Planned Parenthood for essential health care.
Reid noted that Planned Parenthood was “the place where, when I graduated from college and had no money and was broke and had a low-paying job, [I] got all my health care.” Richards echoed the sentiment, explaining that “one in five women in this country go to Planned Parenthood for health care in their lifetime, including me, including you.”
AM Joy also provided a platform to discuss the disparate impact of anti-choice laws, which have a greater impact on marginalized communities than on other groups.
As González-Rojas explained:
JESSICA GONZÁLEZ-ROJAS: I think a good example comes from Texas when we saw the defunding of a lot of the family planning services in Texas. We saw a health crisis happen. We saw health disparities happen. Things like cervical cancer, which is largely preventable, Latinas had huge rates of cervical cancer and that's something that they shouldn't have happen in their life. If they have access to regular screenings, paps, mammograms -- all the services that Planned Parenthood provides -- those types of things would be prevented. So this is a disproportionate impact on communities of color, on immigrant communities, on low-income women and families, young people, so a fight against Planned Parenthood is a fight against our communities.
Because the economics of accessing necessary health care are already so precarious for many communities, networks and outlets should emphasize the disproportionate impact anti-choice laws have on these groups whenever possible.
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In her past role at Fox News, new NBC News hire Megyn Kelly has invited onto her show a number of extremists and hate group leaders who spread and espouse anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant views, statements, and lies. Will she continue her practice of hosting bigotry in her upcoming daytime news and Sunday evening programs?
With hate crimes against Muslims on the rise and an administration that frequently makes anti-Muslim statements on its way in, cable news shows must work harder to include Muslim experts, advocates, and community leaders in order to provide a good reflection of the diversity and authenticity of American Muslim experiences.
According to FBI statistics, anti-Muslim hate crimes have been on the rise for several years, shooting up 67 percent between 2014 and 2015 “from 154 in 2014 to 257 in 2015,” their highest since the year of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. Though FBI hate crime statistics for 2016 won’t be released until the end of 2017, according to a joint study by CAIR and ThinkProgress, there have been 111 reported anti-Muslim incidents in America since the November 13, 2015, terrorist attacks in Paris, 53 of them in the month of December 2015 alone.
Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, which tracked the connection between political rhetoric and anti-Muslim attacks during the the presidential campaign season, found that there have been approximately 180 reported incidents of anti-Muslim violence in the one year period after the first candidate announced his bid for the White House in March 2015. And since Trump’s election less than two months ago, there have been at least 150 reported hate incidents, 29 of which were inspired by anti-Muslim sentiment, according to a ThinkProgress analysis that “focuses on moments of more targeted harassment and hatred.”
Despite the undeniable upward trend of violence against American Muslims, right-wing media have consistently dismissed this trend and cast doubt on the discrimination American Muslims face. On December 7, 2015, the same day Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” Fox’s The Five co-hosts Kimberly Guilfoyle and Jesse Watters used the opportunity to criticize the Obama administration's call for tolerance toward Muslims by denying the existence of discrimination against people of that faith. Watters asserted, "Let me know if you see any Muslim backlash, I haven't seen a lot of it," with Guilfoyle adding, "I mean, who's vilifying any of the Muslims. Who's doing that?" The next day, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed, “Muslim hate crimes [are] not as big an issue as the White House would make you to believe,” and The O’Reilly Factor host Bill O’Reilly asserted, “there really isn't any evidence that Muslims are being mistreated in the USA.”
Of course, none of these Fox figures are Muslim, and neither of these segments featured Muslim guests. Their coverage is indicative of a larger problem: When cable news shows fail to invite Muslims to speak about their concerns, misinformed attacks are left unchecked and unchallenged and are repeated until viewers simply accept them as fact.
The Pulse Nightclub Shooting
The day after 49 people were killed at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, despite major print and online news stories about the outpouring of Muslim support for the shooting victims, positive portrayals of Muslims on cable news shows were almost non-existent. A Media Matters study of what voices were heard on cable news the day after the Orlando shooting found only 5 percent of guests on Fox News and MSNBC were Muslim, as well as only 7 percent of guests on CNN. What’s more, the three Muslim guests featured on Fox News did not adequately represent the Muslim American population; Maajid Nawaz is identified by Fox as a “former Islamic extremist,” Zuhdi Jasser has been described by the Council On American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) as “the de facto Muslim for anti-Muslim political leaders,” and Qanta Ahmed has warned that “it’s time for the United States, western democracies, Britain, France, to admit that we are under siege by an ideology called Islamism.”
Three days later, Fox’s Megyn Kelly invited anti-Muslim hate group leader Brigitte Gabriel, founder of ACT! For America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America,” onto her show to discuss the shooting. Fox’s post-Orlando coverage followed a familiar pattern of stereotyping, fear-mongering, and misplaced blame. Other Fox guests and contributors exploited the attack in order to call for mosque surveillance and a new version of the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Fox isn’t the only network that needs to improve inclusion of Muslim voices in important dialogues. On MSNBC, Maajid Nawaz, who was identified as a “former Islamist revolutionary member,” accounted for two out of four Muslim guest appearances. (He was also the same guest featured on Fox.) CNN featured the most diverse and numerous array of Muslim guests, but still only comprised 7 percent of guests on CNN that day.
Trump’s Attacks On A Gold Star Family
Another recent example of a major news story that impacted the Muslim community but didn’t ask them how was Trump’s attacks on a Muslim Gold Star family. On July 31, Gold Star mother Ghazala Khan penned an op-ed for The Washington Post debunking Trump’s July 30 claim that “maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say” about her son Humayun, an Army captain who was killed in the line of duty in Iraq. Trump’s attack, which played on the stereotype that Muslim women are expected to be subservient to their husbands, garnered sustained national attention, but on the morning shows of two major cable news networks, MSNBC and Fox, Muslim guests were barely featured. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, of 13 guests to discuss Trump’s attacks on the Khan family, only two were Muslim, the Khans themselves. On Fox’s morning show Fox & Friends, which covered the story significantly less, only one of three guests invited to discuss the Khan story was Muslim, and the one Muslim guest was Jasser. CNN’s coverage of the attacks on the Khan family was markedly more representative of Muslims. Out of 17 guests invited onto its morning show New Day, eight (including Khizr and Ghazala Khan) were Muslim. While this is a major improvement over MSNBC’s and Fox’s coverage of the story, only one guest other than Ghazala Khan was a female Muslim, despite the sexist nature of Trump’s anti-Muslim attack.
Post-Election Media Environment
Politicians engaging in anti-Islam rhetoric picked up in 2015, but no presidential candidate weaponized that brand of hate to the degree Donald Trump has. Throughout the course of his campaign, Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, said he would implement a registry and tracking system of American Muslims, and claimed that “Islam hates us.” Despite the unusual level of anti-Muslim sentiment coming from the president-elect, in the month following Trump’s election only 21 percent of evening cable news segments on issues affecting Muslims or, more specifically, segments on his anti-Muslim policy proposals and cabinet picks featured Muslim guests. Muslims are understandably outraged about Trump’s cabinet picks, and while discussion of those picks has dominated cable news shows during the transition, we aren’t hearing from Muslims on the primetime news shows.
Why This Matters
Media representation of Muslims has measurable effects on Americans’ views of Muslims and Islam. A December 2015 University of Michigan experimental study on exposure to Muslims in media found that “exposing participants to negative Muslim media footage, relative to neutral or no-video footage, increased perceptions of Muslims as aggressive, increased support for harsh civil restrictions of American Muslims, and increased support for military action in Muslim countries.” Fortunately, the opposite is also true -- media representations of Muslims in a positive context can produce the opposite effect. Moreover, the majority of Americans that personally know Muslims hold favorable views of them, a finding that holds across the political spectrum. But only 38 percent of Americans say that they know someone who is Muslim. Taken together, these findings make the case for increased representation of Muslims in news media -- since most Americans have limited interactions with Muslims, it’s incumbent that media help to get their perspectives across authentically.
Unfortunately,TV news has done an abysmal job of this. A 2007-2013 study on Muslims in the media found that primetime TV news coverage of Muslims has gotten increasingly worse -- in 2013, over 80 percent of media portrayals of Muslims in U.S. broadcast news shows were negative. This kind of coverage has lasting impacts on attitudes about Muslims. Fifty-five percent of Americans hold either a somewhat or very unfavorable view of Islam, and over half of Americans believe that Muslim immigrants increase the risk of terror attacks in the United States.
Despite the false but persistent narrative of Muslims as violent aggressors, American Muslims face more discrimination than nearly every other demographic in the United States, and it dominates their day-to-day existence. A 2011 Pew study with Muslim American participants (the most recent to date) found that the six biggest problems facing Muslims in the United States were negative views of their community, discrimination, ignorance about their religion, cultural problems between Muslims and non-Muslims, negative media portrayals, and acceptance by society. Given this reality, it is even more important that American Muslims are invited into the national news media to inform non-Muslims and raise awareness about issues faced by members of the United States’ estimated 3.3 million Muslim population.
In the face of what has been called a “post-truth presidency,” being informed is more important than ever. That starts with representing the diverse demographics, perspectives, and opinions of Americans fairly and authentically. In 2016, TV news media viewers saw glimpses of media outlets’ understanding of the need to represent Muslims. Next year, these cable news producers need to constantly be asking themselves: Who does this story affect? What can we ask them? How can we learn from them? Asking Muslims, “What is life like in Trump’s America?” is a good place to start.
For coverage of the Khan family story, Media Matters used iQ media to review the August 1, 2016, editions of morning news shows on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News -- CNN’s New Day, MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and Fox News’ Fox & Friends -- between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. for segments and panel discussions dedicated to the Khan story. We excluded network hosts and reporters in our count of show guests. For coverage of the Pulse nightclub shooting, segments featuring Muslim guests were reviewed in iQ media to determine their identity. For post-election cable news coverage of issues affecting American Muslims, Media Matters used Nexis to search for mentions of “Islam," “Muslim,” “Middle East,” and “registry” in show editions of CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News from the hours of 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. aired between November 14 and December 14, 2016. Fox News’ The Five, a primarily panel-based show which rarely has guests, was excluded. Bloomberg’s With All Due Respect, which airs on MSNBC, was also excluded because transcripts are not available in Nexis.
Segments included are defined by either a panel discussion or an interview where the stated topic of the segment is Islam, Muslims in the United States, or policies and/or presidential cabinet appointments affecting Muslims. We identified a guest’s religion by one or more of the following details: the host’s spoken introduction, onscreen text or graphics produced by the network, self-identification, or consultation of publicly available online biographies.
2016 was a red letter year for xenophobia and misinformation. From smears about Muslims to hostility over LGBT rights, media have had to push back against a torrent of lies and distortion. Here are 12 times the media rebuffed right-wing lies and deceit.
As sexual assault allegations against President-elect Donald Trump piled up in the months before the election, CNN and Fox News each relied on paid Trump surrogates and media allies to peddle some of the worst sexual assault apologism of the past year.
After uncovered 2005 audio showed Trump bragging about sexual assault, a number of women came forward with specific allegations against the then-candidate. In CNN and Fox’s coverage of Trump’s despicable comments, his media allies downplayed the severity of sexual assault and attacked the credibility of those who spoke out, while both networks initially characterized the comments as merely “vulgar” or “lewd.” When women came forward with specific accounts of being sexually assaulted or harassed by Trump, CNN and Fox gave ample airtime to paid surrogates and media allies who minimized and made excuses for Trump’s actions.
Sexual violence has no place in our society, let alone on cable news networks. So why did CNN and Fox spend the end of 2016 subsidizing media personalities to deny allegations and engage in pure sexual assault apologism?
As Media Matters previously noted, CNN’s decision to hire and pay a number of professional Trump surrogates made the network a consistent platform for the campaign to trivialize the severity of sexual assault. CNN’s Trump surrogates -- Corey Lewandowski, Jeffrey Lord, Kayleigh McEnany, and Scottie Nell Hughes -- systematically dismissed Trump’s comments,calling them a “distraction” and framing them as normal “locker room” talk.
For example, Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, flippantly claimed that “nobody cares” that the nominee of a major political party was caught on tape bragging about sexual assault. Scottie Nell Hughes similarly argued that Trump’s deplorable comments were unimportant because “no woman woke up affected by these words” -- ignoring the sheer number of social and political risks survivors face when reporting sexual assault and harassment.
Once women began to make their allegations public, CNN’s Trump surrogates focused their attention on normalizing sexual assault and attacking the credibility of the alleged survivors. Lewandowski questioned the timing and veracity of the reports, before deflecting questions by invoking discredited attacks on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s work as a court-appointed defense attorney in the 1970s. When asked by CNN’s Anderson Cooper about the connections between the 2005 recording and specific allegations against Trump, paid apologist Kayleigh McEnany called the claims baseless and blamed Trump’s accusers because they “let him do X, Y, or Z. That implies consent.”
Fox fared no better in its coverage of Trump’s unacceptable comments. In addition to similarly dismissing Trump’s statements as “locker room talk,” “frat house language,” and “guy talk,” Fox employees also joined the effort to undermine the credibility of Trump’s accusers.
On the October 13 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, Trump surrogate Ben Carson (now nominated to be a member of his cabinet) accused the “biased” press of manipulating the public by creating incentives for people to “come out and say something” in order to garner “fame.” Carson added, “What a bunch of crap.”
Fox’s Brian Kilmeade argued that “none of them are vetted” -- referring to the accusers -- and it was entirely possible that “they all could be lying.” Others questioned the timing of the myriad allegations against the Republican nominee, calling them “a little coordinated… a little too convenient,” and claiming that the proximity to the election meant “it’s fair to question why is this coming out now.” In reality, multiple media sources have corroborated most of the claims brought forth by Trump’s accusers.
In some cases, Fox personnel openly attacked individual women for speaking out, as seen in senior political analyst Brit Hume’s tirade against Jessica Drake -- a Trump accuser who directs and performs in adult films. Hume responded to Drake’s allegations that Trump had “grabbed” and hugged and “kissed” her “without asking permission” with a series of tweets suggesting she could not be offended because of her profession.
Sexual assault is a serious issue. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that “one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives,” while the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that “nearly half”of its survey respondents (47 percent) “were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.”
Despite widespread fearmongering from right-wing media that false rape reports are common, these incidents are actually a statistical minority -- representing between 2 and 8 percent of all reported cases. Meanwhile, according to research by the Rape, Abuse & Incest Network (RAINN), 67 percent of rapes go unreported to law enforcement.
Reporting on rape and sexual assault has long been a challenge for journalists, regardless of who is involved. When the accused occupies a position of prominence, journalists and networks must refuse to let threats of lost access or demands for false balance sanitize their reporting. In May 2016 -- before the Trump allegations -- Woody Allen’s son Ronan Farrow published an article blasting the media for cultivating a “culture of impunity and silence” around reporting on sexual assault allegations. As Farrow explained, although it’s not the media’s job “to carry water” for those making accusations against powerful men, the media do have an “obligation to include the facts, and to take them seriously.”
On each of these charges, CNN and Fox clearly failed -- enabling some of the worst sexual assault apologism of 2016.
*Image provided by Sarah Wasko
Ostensibly a news organization, the National Rifle Association’s NRATV is actually a pro-Trump propaganda effort that routinely labels protected-speech reporting on the president-elect as a plot to destroy the United States, “anti-patriotic,” and an “assault against freedom and the Constitution.”
In fact, the opposite is true. Freedom of the press is enshrined in the First Amendment, which reads in part, “Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
The protections afforded to the press by the First Amendment are, of course, not absolute. The publication of defamatory material can have legal repercussions. But the type of press activity NRATV describes as oppositional to the U.S. Constitution is actually accurate and sourced reporting on important matters of public interest.
NRATV, a rebranding of NRA News, launched in October with the stated mission of providing “the most comprehensive video coverage of Second Amendment issues, events and culture anywhere in the world.” It brought on conservative radio's Grant Stinchfield to serve as a host, interjecting live hourly updates into a 24-hour video feed featuring archived material and other live programing. His initial updates, which signaled the NRA’s efforts to elect Trump as president, quickly took on an anti-democratic tone.
During an October 26 broadcast, Stinchfield warned viewers about “the mainstream media’s assault against freedom and the Constitution” that “played out every night on the airwaves of America.”
Just how was the “mainstream media” assaulting the Constitution? According to NRATV, it was by reporting on numerous allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Trump instead of “important topics we need to be talking about, like save the Second Amendment.” As Stinchfield -- citing a report by Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly on allegations against Trump -- explained, “Overwhelmingly biased attacks against Donald Trump” were being “cloaked as real news”:
GRANT STINCHFIELD (HOST): The mainstream media’s assault against freedom and the Constitution has played out every night on the airwaves of America. The overwhelmingly biased attacks against Donald Trump are usually cloaked as real news, when in reality it’s a diversion from the important topics we need to be talking about, like save the Second Amendment. Megyn Kelly performed this sleight-of-hand magic trick last night while she was interviewing former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. She only wanted to talk about the sexual allegations leveled against Donald Trump, but the speaker fought back.
Reporting on allegations of sexual assault against a presidential candidate -- often while quoting victims on the record and confirming that they spoke of the alleged incidents contemporaneously with others -- is not an assault on the U.S. Constitution, but rather an exercise of freedom of the press.
Following Donald Trump’s victory, NRATV has adopted an even more authoritarian tone. During a November 29 broadcast about the “dishonest and downright dirty” mainstream media, Stinchfield argued that it is “anti-patriotic” to report on Trump and his transition team if those reports raise critical questions. Claiming that “the media needs to get on board,” Stinchfield said, “They talk about being anti-patriotic; when you call into question every single thing that this president-elect does and his transition team does, it’s the media that is trying to destroy our republic. They are trying to tear it down piece by piece by sending you false information.”
There is nothing “anti-patriotic” about the press or others raising questions about the actions of the president-elect or his transition team. And calling for the media “to get on board” with Trump is dangerous rhetoric that discounts the crucial role of dissent in democracy.
NRATV has suggested that its programming can serve as a replacement for traditional media. Stinchfield has claimed that mainstream media outlets “stoop to levels so low it’s time the American people find new sources of information,” before saying, “We here at NRATV are clearly filling a much-needed void.”
Based on NRATV's coverage of Trump’s candidacy and his first weeks as president-elect, its leadership apparently thinks a more appropriate way for media outlets to cover Trump and his administration is through blatant cheerleading -- like when Stinchfield guaranteed that “you will be safer” under President Trump -- and spreading misinformation about his adversaries. For months, NRATV (and the NRA itself, through massive amounts of advertising) openly campaigned on behalf of Trump.
An example of NRATV’s desperate attempts to help Trump get elected is an Election Day segment in which Stinchfield presented an article clearly marked as “fiction” as real news in order to attack Hillary Clinton.
During NRATV’s November 8 broadcast, Stinchfield said that “America’s 1st Freedom magazine published an eye-opening piece about what the country would look like in 2020 if Hillary Clinton is elected president today” that included the “projections” such as that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg would be appointed U.N. ambassador and that he would use his position to “limit our ability to purchase guns here in the United States.”
According to Stinchfield, “That alone should be enough motivation to head to the polls right now. It is our last chance to stop Hillary Clinton.”
America’s 1st Freedom is an NRA publication. The article in question did not include any reporting supporting its suggestion that Bloomberg was likely to be picked by Clinton. In addition, the article included a “disclaimer” labeling the piece “a work of fiction.” (At the time of its publication, Media Matters highlighted other fantastical predictions contained within the article, including the prospect of Syrian refugees establishing an “Islamic State in the United States” culminating in a nuclear attack on U.S. soil.)
While the America’s 1st Freedom article was comically overwrought, the NRA at least labeled it as “fiction.” But the NRATV broadcast presented it as some type of “eye-opening” analysis, and raised Bloomberg’s possible appointment as a legitimate reason to vote against Clinton.
Trump has made attacks on the press, including calls for curtailment of press freedoms, a hallmark of his campaign and transition period. And following his victory, NRATV has egged him on, telling the president-elect to “not stop holding the media accountable” and to not “stop his tough straight talk about the dishonesty of the media.”
As Trump’s inauguration rapidly approaches, one thing is clear: If, as president, Trump attempts to tamp down on First Amendment protections for the press, he will have the organization that purports to defend another part of the Bill of Rights -- the Second Amendment -- firmly at his side.
It turns out Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich, and Rudy Giuliani aren’t the only famous Republicans who are emerging as prominent losers in President-elect Donald Trump’s transition sweepstakes. Among those who were also expected to play a potential role in shaping the new Republican administration was Fox News founder Roger Ailes.
Touted in the press as a marketing whiz, it was Ailes who allowed Trump to use Fox as his personal megaphone for much of the last two years and actively coached Trump during his Republican primary run.
With Ailes returning to his roots as a GOP image-maker, he and Trump seemed to represent the same side of a dark coin: paranoid, vindictive, deeply Islamophobic, and big proponents of race-baiting, especially when it comes to President Obama. Indeed, Trump mirrors the often-tasteless brand of divisive rhetoric that Ailes hallmarked at Fox for decades.
Known for whipping up partisan fears and corralling voter suspicions of the other, Ailes is a logical choice to occupy a vaunted position on Team Trump after the election. Yet Ailes seems to have joined the ranks of the disappeared in recent weeks. (The Trump campaign quickly, and publicly, shot down recent media chatter that Ailes might be tapped for a State Department post.)
It’s been an astonishing fall from grace, considering Ailes began the year at the peak of his powers. Watching Trump race out to a big lead in the Republican primary, and guiding Fox News through several flare-ups with the candidate, Ailes seemed poised to ride the Trump wave all year.
And then July 6 happened.
That was the day former Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson detailed the harassing office culture at Fox when she filed a lawsuit against Ailes, claiming he had once said to her, “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better.” Carlson’s lawsuit alleged Aile
Her startling allegations were many, but they were just the beginning. As Fox’s parent company launched an internal investigation into Ailes’ behavior, more women came forward with their own claims of harassment by Ailes.
Fox’s Megyn Kelly told investigators that Ailes made unwanted sexual advances toward her a decade earlier, according to New York magazine. (Ailes resigned two days after Kelly’s allegations were reported.)
“Current and former employees described instances of harassment and intimidation that went beyond Mr. Ailes and suggested a broader problem in the workplace,” The New York Times soon reported. “The Times spoke with about a dozen women who said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment or intimidation at Fox News or the Fox Business Network, and half a dozen more who said they had witnessed it.”
According to a Washington Post exposé, Ailes made “jokes that he liked having women on their knees,” and women at Fox did not want to be alone with Ailes in closed-door meetings. Also, Ailes allegedly grabbed the buttocks of a young intern in 2002 after she rebuffed his sexual advances.
Then came the chilling report in New York magazine about former Fox News booker Laurie Luhn and her alleged years-long “psychological torture” and harassment by Ailes. Luhn alleged that Ailes “instructed her to recruit young women for him,” demanded she engage in “sadomasochistic sex with another woman while he watched,” and set her up with a no-show job. After she alleged a pattern of harassent by Ailes, Luhn reportedly signed "a $3.15 million settlement agreement with extensive nondisclosure provisions," which "bars her from going to court against Fox for the rest of her life."
In all, at least 25 women detailed allegations against Ailes and the cable channel.
Even Fox News’ Howard Kurtz conceded, “This has been a painful and embarrassing period for the network." Yet at the outset of the scandal, Fox News pretended Carlson was the problem, not Roger Ailes.
Greta Van Susteren suggested Carlson falsely accused Ailes of sexual harassment because she was “unhappy that her contract wasn’t renewed.” (Months after Ailes' departure, she expressed regret for her comments.) Bill O’Reilly compared Carlson's allegations to a "frivolous lawsuit," and announced, "I stand behind Roger 100 percent." Jeanine Pirro called Carlson’s allegations “absurd” and tagged Ailes as a “no-nonsense guy,” adding, “I just loved him.”
And Fox’s Kimberly Guilfoyle claimed she had spoken to other women at Fox and “nobody believed” Carlson’s allegations. She insisted that Ailes “is a man who champions women.”
Trump himself weighed in, initially calling the claims against Ailes “totally unfounded based on what I’ve read,” and stressing that Ailes is “a very, very good person” and “a friend of mine for a long time.”
As for Fox defending Ailes, two months after Carlson’s lawsuit, Fox News’ parent company reached a $20 million settlement with her and issued an apology. That concession made a mockery of the staff wide victim-blaming that had gone on at Fox on behalf of Ailes.
Post-Ailes, were effusive, public apologies offered up to women working at Fox? Was there any attempt to make wholesale changes among top managers at Fox? Of course not.
Instead, Fox News simply flushed the Ailes scandal down the memory hole and promoted Ailes’ longtime lieutenant Bill Shine.
That’s the same Bill Shine who reportedly “played an integral role in the cover up” of sexual harassment claims against Ailes. Shine, according to reporter Gabriel Sherman, was involved in “rallying the women to speak out against” Ailes’ accusers. Shine also reportedly played a role in “smearing” Fox News reporter Rudi Bakhtiar, who claimed she was fired after complaining about sexual harassment.
Clearly lessons have not been learned, and apparently being Fox News means never having to say you’re sorry. Even when your founder and archetype spends 2016 exposing the channel as a haven for sexual harassment.
Loesch: Use FedEx To Send Gun Safety Groups “A Bag Of Richards”
Conservative radio host and NRATV commentator Dana Loesch criticized members of the gun safety movement following the launch of a campaign asking shipping company FedEx to end its business relationship with the National Rifle Association.
Gun safety group Guns Down is currently leading a campaign to ask FedEx to leave the NRA’s Business Alliance. As a member of the alliance, FedEx currently offers NRA members discounted shipping services.
A petition issued by Guns Down calls for FedEx to “cease supporting a reckless organization that puts the public safety of Americans at risk in the name of corporate profits.” It says the NRA’s agenda includes accepting “millions of dollars from gun manufacturers every year to advance an extremist pro-gun agenda, including eliminating gun-free zones at schools and houses of worship, gutting criminal background checks for gun sales, and allowing open carrying of guns in all public places.” Media Matters joined other organizations in signing a letter Guns Down sent to FedEx asking the shipping company to drop the NRA.
Loesch, who is an NRA employee, attacked the campaign during the December 21 broadcast of The Dana Show by insulting “those harpies from the Moms Demand Box Wine” (a reference to gun safety group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America). Loesch’s rant culminated in her suggesting that people use FedEx to send gummy penises to gun safety organizations.
From the December 21 edition of The Dana Show:
DANA LOESCH (HOST): The gun control lobby, they’re mad. Because FedEx offers NRA members a discount. A lot of people get discounts with FedEx, but NRA members get a discount with FedEx and it’s sort of just like how some of the gun control groups -- they can fundraise off Amazon. You know how you can do like a charity donation, or something with Amazon? They can do all of that. And so they’re ticked off because FedEx, which I’ve had all my stuff shipped with FedEx this Christmas, because they have an NRA discount. So the gun control lobby is freaking out over FedEx. If you’re online, give FedEx some love. Because they’ve got those harpies from the Moms Demand Box Wine and those pedophile moron members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. There were convicted members of that so try to bring that up. And then the folks over at Everytown, they’ve been slamming FedEx because NRA has a discount. But at the same time they’re telling everybody go shop at Amazon and use this to fundraise for Everytown. You don’t see me freaking out over that, do you? Of course, I have the courage of my convictions. They don’t. Oh, yeah, maybe we should FedEx them -- there’s some funny gummy things, bags of gummy things that you can FedEx people that I’m -- seriously.
PRODUCER: Yeah, a whole bag of richards.
LOESCH: A whole bag of richards. You can really send that, that’s great. Bag of richards, write that down, that’s another band name. Bag of richards, that is a great band name.
Texas media are omitting crucial information in reports on the state’s move to cut off Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood, including that Texas’ decision was largely based on debunked videos by an anti-abortion activist group, the Center for Medical Progress, and that the move will negatively impact women’s health. In contrast, reporting by online outlets geared toward women put Texas media to shame, explaining that the evidence behind the policy decision is misleading and that the defunding will have dire consequences for women’s health in Texas.
NRATV Host: “Imagine You Have Little Mental Capacity, You Can’t Do Anything But Sweep The Floor. To A Business You Are Not Worth Eight, 10, Or Certainly Not $15 An Hour”
The National Rifle Association’s NRATV defended President-elect Donald Trump’s pick of fast food CEO Andy Puzder for labor secretary by claiming that “minimum wage is the most discriminatory regulation ever enacted.”
Puzder, who heads Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, has attacked calls for a higher minimum wage and claimed low-wage employees would turn down promotions because they "don't want to lose the free stuff from the government.”
The December 15 broadcast of NRATV took things even further with host Grant Stinchfield defending Trump’s selection by calling for the total elimination of the minimum wage in the name of “freedom,” arguing that imposing a minimum wage amounted to discrimination against “low-level workers.” Stinchfield claimed, “Now imagine you have little mental capacity, you can’t do anything but sweep the floor. To a business you are not worth eight, ten, or certainly not $15 an hour”:
GRANT STINCHFIELD (NRATV HOST): As the media continues to freak out over the election of Donald Trump, it continues to spew negative stories about him none of which are based in fact. As The Wall Street Journal points out, we are being told that we can’t trust any of Trump’s cabinet picks. Mainstream reporters tell us they are all a threat to our nation. Take the pick of Andy Puzder for labor secretary. They say he’s unacceptable to the left because he is against the minimum wage hike. But the left fails to realize the minimum wage is the most discriminatory regulation ever enacted. You see, we at NRATV are all about freedom. That includes freedom to make decisions and deals for yourself. Now imagine you have little mental capacity, you can’t do anything but sweep the floor. To a business you are not worth eight, 10, or certainly not $15 an hour. Now that might sound harsh, but the minimum wage is harsher. With it, the government just barred you from working. Even if someone wants to pay you five dollars an hour, they can’t. Meaning the minimum wage leaves millions of low-level workers on the sidelines. Do away with the minimum wage and you put millions of Americans back to work tomorrow. Now that’s freedom. It’s also something the left refuses to acknowledge, just as it can’t acknowledge gun ownership equals freedom too.