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  • Chris Wallace And The Banality Of Conservative Dishonesty

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA

    Fox News anchor Chris Wallace has received widespread praise for his performance as moderator of the final presidential debate, despite repeatedly injecting right-wing framing and misinformation into his questions. The celebration of Wallace’s performance highlights the extent to which conservative spin has become normalized in national politics.

    Following the October 19 debate, commentators across the political spectrum praised Wallace for his performance as moderator. Wallace was lauded for his “blunt questions,” “evenhanded approach,” and “sterling performance,” and he was even described as the “one clearcut winner” of the debate.

    Some of this praise is legitimate -- Wallace repeatedly grilled Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on questions of policy and at times forced him to stay on topic in his answers. And the most newsworthy moment of the debate -- Trump's refusal to say whether he’d accept the results of the elections -- came in response to Wallace’s pointed, repeated questioning near the end of the event.

    But Wallace also exposed his audience to a large dose of right-wing misinformation:

    • His question about the economy began with the false premise that President Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan damaged the economy.
    • His question about immigration took Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s 2013 comments about “open borders” grossly out of context.
    • His question about abortion access invoked the right-wing myth of “partial-birth” abortion, a non-medical term invented by anti-abortion groups.
    • His question about the national debt falsely alleged that programs like Social Security and Medicare are going to run out of money and add to the debt absent short-term cuts, echoing Republican talking points about entitlements.

    Wallace also failed to fact-check Trump’s frequent falsehoods -- following through on his promise not to be a “truth squad” during the debate.

    Wallace’s rave reviews from Republicans and Democrats alike highlight the extent to which right-wing dishonesty -- made ubiquitous by Fox News and conservative media -- has become normal in national politics. Wallace’s network has spent years repeating and mainstreaming these types of lies -- the stimulus failed, Democrats want open borders, et cetera. Viewers have heard them so often that it can feel passé to go through the motions of debunking them over and over. Journalists become so numb to the talking points that they can hear them being repeated by a debate moderator during a presidential debate without batting an eye.

    That’s how political propaganda works -- not by outright convincing people, but by treating a lie as so routine and unremarkable that people slowly stop being suspicious of it.

    Journalists’ willingness to accept and overlook Wallace’s bullshit is even greater when it’s being compared to the absurdity of Donald Trump. When Trump is on stage claiming his opponent should be disqualified from running for office or suggesting he might not accept the results of the election, it feels nitpicky to worry about the misleading nature of many of Wallace’s questions. Trump’s unhinged, out-of-control campaign style makes everything around him seem normal and tame by comparison. We’re willing to forgive Wallace’s occasional dishonesty because we’re so grateful that he pointed out Trump is literally threatening a core democratic principle.

    But becoming numb to Wallace’s casual, subtle dishonesty is incredibly dangerous. Fox News’ modus operandi is making right-wing misinformation so pervasive and constant that it becomes unnoticeable -- it becomes part of the noise we just take for granted in American politics. What makes Wallace such an effective purveyor of dishonesty is that he’s good at playing the part of the reasonable, “even-handed” journalist, even when what he’s saying is wrong.

    It’s easy to challenge bullshit when it’s being delivered wildly by Trump on a debate stage. It’s much harder to challenge it when it’s being subtly baked into questions from a moderator whose employer has spent years trying to blur the lines between serious journalism and right-wing fantasy.

  • Thanks To Trump, Right-Wing Media’s Voter Fraud Myth Is Backfiring On The Republican Party

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s refusal to say whether he will accept the election results during the October 19 presidential debate is proof that right-wing media’s effort to push the myth of widespread voter fraud is backfiring terribly on the Republican Party.

    Since August, Trump has claimed that the election is “rigged,” making the false claim that “People are going to walk in, they’re going to vote ten times,” and saying that there were “illegal immigrants voting all over the country,” including “people that died 10 years ago.” He ramped up the rhetoric at the final presidential debate when he refused to answer moderator Chris Wallace’s question on whether he would accept the election results, saying, “I will look at it at the time. I'm not looking at anything now. I'll look at it at the time.” Trump added “millions of people … are registered to vote that shouldn't be registered to vote.”

    These charges -- that people will be able to vote multiple times, that undocumented citizens can vote, that dead people can vote -- come straight from myths that right-wing media have pushed for years. Conservative media have repeatedly claimed that voter fraud is a rampant problem in elections, and similar to Trump’s charges, have often pointed the finger at immigrants and dead people.

    In truth, voter fraud is extremely rare. One 2012 study concluded that the rate of fraud is “infinitesimal” and that “in-person voter impersonation … is virtually non-existent.” Another found only 31 cases of potential voter fraud anywhere in the country between 2000 and 2014. Experts have also debunked the claim.

    Despite there being no actual evidence of widespread voter fraud, Republican state legislatures in recent years have seized on these claims to pass strict voter ID laws all over the country. Conservative media have defended these laws, claiming they are attempts to “fight voter fraud,” and baselessly insisting “the IDs are free and … no voter is turned away.”

    Now Trump has aimed that myth back at his own party. By claiming the elections are “rigged,” he is in effect claiming Republicans officials who oversee “the balloting in many of the hardest-fought states” would rig the election against him, as The New York Times noted. Many Republicans have condemned Trump’s allegation, such as Republican campaign lawyer Chris Ashby, who called Trump’s charge “unfounded” and “dangerous,” and Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, who said the claim was “irresponsible.” Trump’s debate comments were condemned by Republicans and Democrats alike.

    Right-wing media, however, have stood by Trump’s rigged election claims. Fox anchors agreed with Trump that dead people potentially could vote, and radio host Rush Limbaugh proclaimed, “What do you mean elections aren’t rigged? Of course they are!” Even Fox contributor George Will, an outspoken critic of Trump, gave credence to Trump’s accusations of a rigged election, saying “Mr. Trump has a point if he would just make it more clearly.” Some in right-wing media have even attacked Republicans criticizing Trump. CNN’s Scottie Nell Hughes, in response to Republican officials like Husted, said, “They are secretary of states, establishment politicians. They have not been for us since the very beginning.” Radio host Mike Gallagher, while interviewing Trump, said he was “baffled at certain Republicans who are pushing back” at Trump’s “suggestion that we better be careful about a rigged election” because Republicans “have always had concerns about voter fraud.”

    In fact, it is possible that Trump’s rigged election claim could lower turnout among his own Republican base. According to The Wall Street Journal, research shows that “[Trump’s] rhetoric could also have the impact of hurting his own campaign” by “lowering turnout among his own supporters.”

    It is not clear if Trump will accept the election results. What is clear, however, is that a myth pushed by right-wing media -- which has led to laws that Republicans have admitted help them politically -- is now boomeranging back on them. Because by running with right-wing media’s voter fraud myth to claim that the election could be rigged, Trump and his media supporters have not only called into question Republican officials' ability to oversee the election, but have also potentially hurt GOP voter turnout. And if conservative media continues to stand by Trump’s rigged election claims, the results could potentially be disastrous for both the country and the Republican Party on November 8.

  • Wash Post: Breitbart News, InfoWars Are "Ready To Claim" The GOP's Future

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Though the presidential election is barreling toward its end, the “axis of furious conservative activists and hard-right media that spawned Trump’s nationalist and conspiratorial campaign is determined to complete its hostile takeover of the GOP, win or lose,” writes The Washington Post’s Robert Costa. According to Costa, conservative media figures like Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon, InfoWars’ Alex Jones, and Fox News’ Sean Hannity have spawned a “grievance movement” seeking “to claim the [GOP’s] future as its own,” whose likely “first post-election target” will be House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).

    Trump and far-right media have been in lockstep throughout his presidential campaign: Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News, is Trump’s campaign chairman; Jones, a 9/11 truther who leads the conspiracy website InfoWars, feeds Trump conspiracy theories for campaign speeches; and Hannity, the far-right prime-time pundit on Fox, has gone to all lengths possible to defend and praise Trump. Trump’s engagement with hard-right, conspiratorial media figures has elevated and mainstreamed them, offering them a platform that has long been out of reach.

    On October 20, Costa reported in the Post that “the fringes of the GOP [are] now managing the Republican nominee” and that the party’s “Donald Trump-driven divisions will not cease on election night.” Costa wrote that the conservative media network -- which has seen “high-minded journals and Fox News … supplanted by a galaxy of websites such as Infowars” -- “stands ready to claim the party’s future as its own,” setting the stage for an intra-party showdown “that will haunt Republicans for months and years to come.” From the October 20 Washington Post article: 

    The axis of furious conservative activists and hard-right media that spawned Trump’s nationalist and conspiratorial campaign is determined to complete its hostile takeover of the GOP, win or lose.


    The first post-election target for the grievance movement is likely to be House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who has drawn Trump’s wrath for not supporting him more fully. Trump’s backers, both inside the House Republican caucus and out, are already talking about a takedown.

    Fox News host and Trump ally Sean Hannity said in an interview after the debate that Ryan was a “saboteur” and “needed to be called out and replaced.” Hannity said he would actively urge hard-line conservatives to launch bids against Ryan.


    At the fore of this conglomeration is Stephen K. Bannon, the former head of Breitbart who has become Trump’s most influential confidant. Bannon encouraged the candidate’s claims of voter fraud and references to a deeply corrupt global conspiracy of international banks and corporate-friendly politicians.

    Bannon has been a prominent backer of political assaults against Ryan and other Republican leaders over the past decade from the party’s fringes — boosting primary challengers against Ryan and others, and warning against compromise on hot-button issues such as immigration. But with the fringes of the GOP now managing the Republican nominee, a retreat is far from likely.

    Bannon’s friends say that he has become emboldened during his time with Trump, and that they expect him to work with his network of allies, super PACs and websites to battle Ryan and the Republican establishment throughout 2017 as that wing of the party tries to rebuild the GOP brand.


    It is not just Breitbart that stands ready to claim the party’s future as its own. The conservative media, once dominated by high-minded journals and Fox News, has been supplanted by a galaxy of websites such as Infowars, which is led by Alex Jones, who calls the 9/11 terrorists attacks an inside job.

    Articles on those outlets have found their way into Trump’s speeches and been spread widely across platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, often building into a frenzy that leaves traditional GOP messengers unable to shape the consensus within their own party.

  • Fox & Friends Host Falsely Suggests Clinton Revealed “A National Security Secret” That Outlets Have Reported On Since August

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy asked whether Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton revealed “a national security secret” that “there’s four minutes response time with the nuclear launch codes” during the final presidential debate, noting, “I did not know that.” However, multiple news outlets have reported on the “four-minute window” for nuclear launch decisions and have outlined the entire chain of command process for initiating a nuclear strike, spurred by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s cavalier statements about the use of nuclear weapons. From the October 20 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends

    STEVE DOOCY: One other stunning thing that I was noticing online this morning, did Hillary Clinton reveal a national security secret that we'd never heard before? At one point she revealed that it takes four minutes, there’s four minutes response time with the nuclear launch codes. Had we ever heard that before?

    AINSLEY EARHARDT: Yeah. You’re right.

    STEVE DOOCY: By the time somebody says, OK we're going to hit somebody until the time it actually is the point of no return, it takes four minutes. I did not know that.