Jeff Sessions

Tags ››› Jeff Sessions
  • 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.

  • NRATV Offers Up A False History To Whitewash Sen. Sessions' Prosecution Of Civil Rights Workers 

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    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. 

  • NRATV Grossly Exaggerates Chicago Violence To Push For Jeff Sessions As Attorney General

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    The host of the National Rifle Association’s NRATV made the false claim that someone is murdered every 11 minutes in Chicago in order to push for a “swift” confirmation of Trump attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).

    If that statistic were true, Chicago would have almost 50,000 murders per year, a figure 62 times higher than the actual total number of murders in Chicago in 2016. The claim, which was made during a January 9 broadcast by host Grant Stinchfield, is an example of the NRA’s repeated attempts to claim that violence in Chicago is a result of the city’s strict gun laws.

    In fact, NRA claims about Chicago ignore cities with weaker gun laws and a far greater homicide rates per capita, such as St. Louis and New Orleans.

    Stinchfield used his false statistic to push for the “swift confirmation of attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions,” and claimed “lives depend” on his appointment because Chicago politicians supposedly refuse “to enforce the laws already on the books.” In actuality, it is the NRA that has engaged in a decades-long campaign to hinder the efforts of the the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearm, the Department of Justice subsidiary responsible for enforcing federal gun laws.

    From the January 9 edition of NRATV’s Live Updates with Grant Stinchfield:

    GRANT STINCHFIELD (HOST): It’s a new year in Chicago, and the violence continues. A person is shot every two minutes and murdered every 11. Yet the mayor thinks more jobs for the heartless killers is the way to solve the city’s crime woes. It is not. Pro-active policing and tough on crime judges could make an immediate impact. It’s why the NRA’s executive director for the Institute for Legislative Action is calling for the swift confirmation of attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions.

    [...]

    STINCHFIELD: His confirmation hearing starts tomorrow and they should get this done in swift order. I am telling you, lives depend on the appointment of Jeff Sessions. If Senator Chuck Schumer tries to hold this up, he will have blood on his hands because people are dying on the streets of Chicago, simply because leaders there do not want to enforce the laws already on the books.

  • How To Overwhelm The Media

    Stacking A Press Conference and Six Confirmation Hearings On One Day, Trump And McConnell Try To Avoid Scrutiny

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    President-elect Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have scheduled several Senate confirmation hearings for Trump’s cabinet picks -- as well as Trump’s first (and likely only) press conference of the transition -- on a single day next week. The strategy seems designed to ensure that the media is unable to devote sufficient scrutiny to each story and to reduce the possibility of an educated public responding.

    Trump announced yesterday that he will hold a “general news conference” on January 11. It will be the first Trump press conference since July 27, a stretch of 168 days. By contrast, President Barack Obama fielded questions from the White House press corps 18 times as president-elect; President George W. Bush did so on 11 occasions.

    Trump previously promised to hold a December 15 press conference to address the conflicts of interest his business empire creates for his presidency, but he canceled it. Those conflicts -- including the possibility that Trump will be in violation of both the Constitution and a contract with the federal government immediately upon taking office -- should be a top priority for journalists on January 11. But by refusing to give a press conference for so long, while simultaneously scaling back on media appearances, Trump has created such a backlog of potential issues that it will be impossible for reporters to give all of them the time and coverage they deserve.

    Meanwhile, McConnell has done his best to fracture journalist attention by ensuring that six different confirmation hearings are scheduled for the same day. Wednesday will see hearings for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the nominee for attorney general; ExxonMobil chairman Rex Tillerson, the nominee for secretary of state; billionaire conservative activist Betsy DeVos, for secretary of education; Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), for CIA director; Gen. John Kelly, for secretary of homeland security; and Elaine Chao, for secretary of transportation.

    Several of these nominations are extremely controversial. The American people deserve to know more about Tillerson’s ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin, learn why white nationalists are so excited about Sessions’ nomination, hear what Pompeo thinks about Trump’s reported plan to gut the CIA after the agency produced information about Russia’s influence on the 2016 election that he didn’t want to hear, and determine whether DeVos would use her post to destroy public education.

    But with all the hearings stacked on the same day, on top of Trump’s press conference, it’s impossible for the media to provide the information people need. And that’s the point -- it appears to be a deliberate effort to manipulate both the press and the public.

    There are only so many column inches on Page 1. There are only so many segment blocks in a cable news show. The evening broadcast news programs -- watched by millions but with extremely little time for hard news -- will have to juggle a multitude of stories.

    TV newscasts in particular will be put in an impossible situation. They can try to drill down and give in-depth coverage to the stories they consider the most newsworthy and important and let the rest escape scrutiny altogether. Or they can try to cover them all, but provide only glancing attention to each. Either way, Trump and McConnell will have dramatically reduced the agenda-setting power of the press.

  • Fox News Media Critic Has The Worst Take On Trump Being Normalized

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Fox News media critic Howard Kurtz lambasted the media for failing to “normalize” President-elect Donald Trump, but nothing about Trump’s campaign or his transition is normal -- nor should the media consider it as such. 

    Kurtz’s November 20 column on FoxNews.com criticized “many in the media, mostly on the liberal side,” who say Trump “should not be normalized,” which Kurtz incorrectly interpreted as a denial of the validity of the presidential election results. To back up this assertion, Kurtz wildly claimed that the media's valid questions about many of Trump’s actions are akin to the racist attacks that began about President Obama's faith and birthplace after he was elected, many on Kurtz’s own network. Kurtz’s strawman argument ignores the conduct that demands Trump not be normalized: his campaign of bigotry and division and his cabinet appointees rumored and actual who despise the press, have long histories of hatred, and, in one case, support white nationalist ideology.

    Trump’s policies and behavior are not normal and should not be treated as such, and it is media’s role to hold elected officials accountable. Trump’s team has already soft-pitched internment camps as “precedent” for a Muslim registry, and Kurtz’s Fox News colleagues are already defending the fundamentally anti-American idea. Not only that, but Trump’s transition has raised eyebrows about “mind-boggling” conflicts of interest with the Trump Organization, potential self-enrichment by Trump’s children, and Trump’s extremely disturbing habit of ditching the press as president-elect to maneuver in secrecy, which Kurtz already said is not a problem. This is not normal.

    Trump’s cabinet is similarly filling up with people who espouse horrific beliefs. His appointees so far includes a national security adviser who shares fake news and tells people “fear of Muslims is rational,” a chief strategist who is described as a “white nationalist” by opponents and supporters alike, and an attorney general who was once denied a federal judgeship for being too racist, a fact that Kurtz’s Fox colleagues repeatedly dismissed. Other potential appointees include a bigoted press secretary who hates the press, a commerce secretary who wants to know “what’s with all the hoods in the hizzy,” and a homeland security secretary who calls civil rights activists “primitive,” “unmanageable misfits.” This is not normal.

    When media outlets resist “normalizing” Trump, they are resisting the normalization of racism, Islamophobia, sexism, homophobia, and other types of division and discrimination present in his growing administration. Many outlets, however, are already failing this test. When Trump’s hostilities toward women and minorities are paired with his regular threats against the free press, the media’s role in naming bigotry wherever it is found -- even in the White House -- is more important than ever.