Matt Gertz

Author ››› Matt Gertz
  • Trump's Golfing Reveals The Shameless Hypocrisy Of The Right-Wing Media Bunker

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    “What do most men do when they retire?” Greg Gutfeld asked the other hosts of Fox News’ The Five, three days before President Barack Obama left office in January. “They play golf. But what if you've been playing golf for the last eight years of your job? He should go back and work. He should get a job.”

    A week later, when his colleague Eric Bolling claimed that President Donald Trump had already “accomplished possibly more than former President Obama accomplished in many, many years,” Gutfeld had a ready rejoinder: “That's what happens when you don't play golf.”

    Right-wing media figures like Gutfeld spent years turning Obama’s golf hobby into a ready-made attack. They cited the president’s golf game as evidence he hadn’t “really been that engaged,” and claimed that false rumors that he was a Muslim circulated because he “is much more diligent at golfing than he is at church attendance.”

    They criticized Obama for playing the sport during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while the economy was “doing really poorly,” during a Washington, D.C., earthquake, after a series of tornadoes hit the southeastern United States, following an earthquake in Japan, instead of attending the funeral of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, and in lieu of visiting the Gulf Coast to assess the response to the 2010 oil spill (which he had already done). In the eyes of these critics, the president shouldn’t play while “men and women in uniform are still getting killed in Afghanistan.”

    Obama’s rounds of golf -- either 306 or 333 over eight years, depending on the count -- became a shorthand way for conservatives to claim that he was lazy, disengaged, and self-indulgent.

    Those criticisms never made much sense.

    “Presidents have regularly turned to golf as a way to relax from their abnormally stressful job,” as CNN has noted. Given that presidents carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, it seems pointlessly cruel to begrudge them the leisure they need to recuperate. The specific criticism from the right wing -- that Obama was playing golf instead of doing something more important -- also never added up: When one is president, there is literally always something critical happening somewhere in the world. And indeed, polls showed that the American people largely found this line of criticism against Obama unfair.

    When Trump because president, conservative pundits suddenly stopped complaining about the “Golfer in Chief.” But 66 days after taking the oath of office, Trump has already taken 14 trips to golf courses.

    That’s still a far cry from the 1,200 and 800 rounds that Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Dwight Eisenhower played during their tenures in office. But there are a number of factors that make Trump’s golf habit worthy of note.

    First of all, Trump was one of those conservative media figures who regularly lashed out at Obama for golfing. “Trump was adamant that his predecessor, Barack Obama, spent too much time on vacation while president,” The Washington Post’s Philip Bump noted last month. “He tweeted his objections 38 times from 2011 to 2014.”

    On the presidential campaign trail, Trump continued to slam Obama in office. During one 2016 event in Virginia, he claimed that if he was elected, "I'm going to be working for you; I'm not going to have time to go play golf." Obama has “played more rounds just about than people who play professionally on the PGA Tour,” he complained at another rally.

    Meanwhile, just over two months into his presidency, Trump is visiting golf courses at a rate that translates to 77 trips per year, much more frequently than his predecessor, who played around 40 rounds per year. (The national average is reportedly 19 rounds. I have never played a round of golf.) And Obama didn’t play a round as president until April 26, 2009, more than three months into his tenure. By that time, he had negotiated through Congress and signed a $787 billion economic recovery bill, an expansion providing health care to 4 million children, and legislation making it easier to sue employers for wage discrimination based on gender. President Trump is still looking for his first legislative victory.

    Second, Trump’s golf trips are part of his broader tendency to visit properties that bear his name, which he has done “on 21 of the 66 days he has been in office, meaning that for the equivalent of three full weeks of his just-over-nine weeks as commander in chief, he has spent all or part of a day at a Trump property,” according to the Post. From the White House, Trump has made three trips to Trump National Golf Club in Potomac Falls, VA; in Florida, he has visited Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach 10 times and Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter once.

    Meanwhile, the president is calling his Mar-A-Lago resort -- which doubled membership fees following Trump’s inauguration -- the “Southern White House” and making regular weekend trips to his home there. And he’s stopped in at the Trump International Hotel in Washington for two meals as president. All of these businesses benefit from the publicity they received when Trump visits. And their success ultimately benefit Trump and his family financially.

    “It is normal for presidents to get out -- and it can be a boost for small businesses across the city and the country,” Robert Weissman, the president of the nonprofit Public Citizen, told The New York Times. “But with President Trump, he spends his down time as a walking advertisement for his businesses. It is a major departure from historic norm and degradation of the office.”

    Third, Trump’s White House is actively seeking to hide from the public whether he’s playing golf or not. Aides refuse to confirm to White House correspondents whether the president is playing golf when he visits his golf courses; reporters instead are piecing together what happened from social media posts of those Trump is playing with, concluding that he has played golf at least 12 times.

    “The level of secrecy around golf is new for the presidency,” CNN noted. “While the Obama administration was hesitant to allow cameras to regularly get shots of the President hitting the links, they would tell reporters who joined the President for each round. Trump's nascent administration has not done that.”

    In fact, press secretary Sean Spicer has tried to convince reporters not to assume that Trump is playing golf when he visits his golf courses. “Just because you go somewhere doesn’t necessarily mean you did it,” he told reporters last week. “So, on a couple of occasions, he’s actually conducted meetings there, he’s actually had phone calls. So, just because he heads there, it doesn’t mean that that’s what’s happening.”

    Of course, the White House has places to conduct meetings and make phone calls. What it doesn’t have is a golf course.

    Finally, it is difficult to apply to Trump the argument that the president is working really hard and so deserves whatever leisure time he wants. The president is spending several hours a day watching cable news. He was so manifestly ignorant of the details of his top-priority policy agenda item, repealing and replacing Obamacare, that he lacked “sufficient command of the policy details to negotiate” on the legislation with members of Congress. It wouldn’t hurt him to spend more time learning how to do his job, before he gets all of us killed.

    Nonetheless, the conservative commentators and Fox News hosts who spent years demonizing Obama’s golfing have gone silent under Trump.

    The change has been so dramatic that on one broadcast last month, The Five’s hapless liberal host, Bob Beckel, complained that he “used to listen to Eric and Kimberly talk about how much -- Greg -- how much golf Obama played.” But he noted that Obama hadn’t played a round in his first several months in office while “Trump didn't even wait a week.” “Well, he does have excellent company that he golfs with,” Kimberly Guilfoyle responded. “He was with Rory McIlroy this weekend.”

    In fact, Fox is helping Trump’s White House hide his golf habit. Late Sunday afternoon, after Trump visited his Virginia golf club on two consecutive days, the network tweeted:

    “The sad thing about this tweet is that it really would be news if Donald Trump was at the White House working this weekend,” Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum commented. “But no: Trump played golf at his club in Virginia this weekend, so it's not clear what Fox was up to here. Perhaps they meant to say that by 5:26 pm on Sunday, Trump was back in the White House.”

    Fox could have told its audience the truth about the president’s weekend. But after eight years of priming its fans by attacking Obama for playing golf, the network knows exactly which buttons that would push.

  • Breitbart Denied Permanent Senate Press Gallery Credentials

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The credentialing committee for Capitol Hill reporters announced today that it will not grant Breitbart.com’s request for permanent credentials at this time, citing the website’s failure to demonstrate editorial independence from key supporters of President Donald Trump.

    Members of the Standing Committee of the Senate Press Gallery referenced several concerns with Breitbart’s bid for permanent status at a hearing this morning. These included the lack of evidence proving that former Breitbart chief executive and current White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon had actually separated himself from the website; questions about whether Rebekah Mercer, who owns part of the outlet and was a key funder of Trump’s presidential campaign, also plays an editorial role; the fact that some on the masthead have also received payments from the Government Accountability Institute (GAI), a nonprofit group funded by Mercer and previously led by Bannon; and issues surrounding Breitbart’s apparent use of office space not zoned for commercial leases.

    The committee is requesting more information from Breitbart by April 14.

    For Breitbart to receive a permanent congressional press pass, its leaders must follow gallery rules by demonstrating that the website’s principal business is "the daily dissemination of original news and opinion of interest to a broad segment of the public" and that it is “editorially independent of any institution, foundation or interest group that lobbies the federal government.”

    Breitbart fails these standards in a number of ways, as Media Matters documented in a December letter urging the members of the standing committee to reject its application. Bannon’s position in particular raises significant concerns, as even if he did actually separate himself from the publication, the possibility that he could return to his position after serving in the Trump administration suggests that Breitbart News cannot be editorially independent. Moreover, Bannon, at-large editor Peter Schweizer, and managing editor Wynton Hall each have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary from GAI while simultaneously working for Breitbart.

    These ties between Bannon, Mercer, and GAI suggest that Breitbart is and will remain a propaganda arm for President Trump, not an editorially independent news outlet.

    The conservative operation’s status as a provider of “original news and opinion” is also in question -- according to a Media Matters review of Breitbart’s October 2016 content, only 17 percent was original; 78 percent of the website’s articles were wire copy, and the remainder were aggregated.

    Permanent congressional credentials would represent a substantial step forward for Breitbart. As BuzzFeed reported: “For newer outlets in Washington, winning permanent congressional press passes is a tedious process — but an important one. The hard passes are seen as the first step towards joining the White House Correspondents’ Association, where member news organizations rotate their reporters to travel with the president at home and abroad. Reporters also use the hard passes to get into other events around Washington.”

    Below is the full text of the letter Media Matters president Angelo Carusone sent the standing committee in December:

    To the members of the Standing Committee of the Senate Press Gallery:

    Breitbart.com has reportedly come before the Standing Committee of the Senate Press Gallery seeking permanent Capitol Hill credentials. We urge you to reject the request based on Breitbart’s disqualifying inability to demonstrate editorial independence as required by your rules.

    According to Rule 4 of the standards for issuing a permanent congressional press pass, if an outlet does not have General Publication periodicals mailing privileges under U.S. Postal Service rules and publishes daily, then the outlet's principal business must be "the daily dissemination of original news and opinion of interest to a broad segment of the public."

    Additionally, “publications must be editorially independent of any institution, foundation or interest group that lobbies the federal government.” In rejecting the application of the Supreme Court reporting outlet SCOTUSBlog, the committee explained that editorial firewalls are insufficient when personnel are inextricably connected between the federal government and an applying publication.

    Breitbart fails these standards in several ways:

    a. Media Matters analyzed all content published on Breitbart.com in the month of October and found that Breitbart published 82.7 percent unoriginal content. In fact, 78 percent of all Breitbart.com articles in October were wire copy. By contrast, just over 17 percent of Breitbart's content was original.

    b. Breitbart Executive Chairman Stephen K. Bannon is on leave while working as the top adviser for President-elect Donald Trump, and he has been appointed chief strategist and senior counselor to Trump once he is sworn in as president. Bannon also serves on the board of the data mining company Cambridge Analytica, which is reportedly seeking White House contracts.   

    c. Even if Bannon completely severs his position with Breitbart, his likely financial interest and the possibility that he could return to his position after serving in the Trump administration suggests that Breitbart News cannot be editorially independent.

    d. Many of Breitbart's top staff members have regularly been involved in other activities that raise questions about their editorial independence. They are intertwined with the Government Accountability Institute, a non-profit conservative research organization

    • Stephen Bannon served as chief executive of both institutions, receiving $376,000 from GAI from 2012-2015.  

    • At-large editor Peter Schweizer received $778,000 over that term to serve as GAI's president, secretary and treasurer.

    • Managing Editor Wynton Hall received $600,000 from GAI over the same period to serve as its communications strategist.

    e. Additionally, Wyton Hall is the owner of Wynton Hall & Co., a celebrity ghostwriting agency. His website claims he has worked for "NBA stars, White House presidential officials, Hollywood producers and movie stars, Fortune 500 CEOs, college presidents, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks, NCAA Hall of Fame coaches, top international motivational speakers, TV celebrities, and fashion models," all of which could presumably be written about at Breitbart.

    f. Numerous media observers and former employees suggest that given Bannon’s position in the Trump administration, Breitbart could serve as a state-allied propaganda outlet.

    g. Rebekah Mercer, daughter of a major Breitbart investor, is reportedly serving on the executive committee of the Trump transition team, and could end up serving in the Trump administration.

    h. Breitbart has already engaged in similar conduct internationally. Notably, Breitbart London editor in chief Raheem Kassam left the website to become chief of staff to UK Independence Party’s Nigel Farage during the 2015 UK General Elections; rejoined the website following the elections and spent the next year using his editorial post to support and advocate for UKIP’s signature policy initiative, Brexit; then briefly ran for UKIP leader.

    It is simply not credible for an outlet to claim the editorial independence required under your rules given that their longtime executive chairman is about to become the closest advisor to the president.

    In addition to these documented, inextricable, and disqualifying links between the outlet and the Trump administration, Breitbart has secretive business ties that it refuses to disclose as a matter of policy, including financial ties to foreign businessmen that are kept equally secret. The Committee should also be wary of granting additional credibility to an extremist website -- Bannon himself called it “the platform of the alt-right,” an ideology that features white nationalism.

    Given these facts, I urge the Standing Committee to reject the Breitbart application.

    Respectfully,

    Angelo Carusone

    President, Media Matters for America

  • The Life Cycle Of A Donald Trump Lie

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    On March 4, President Donald Trump declared himself the victim of a scandal on the level of the the Watergate crimes that brought down President Richard Nixon. In an early-morning tweetstorm apparently triggered by reading a Breitbart article, the president claimed that President Barack Obama “had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower” in an October effort to influence the election.

    Over the past three weeks, Obama’s spokesperson, his director of national intelligence, the directors of the National Security Agency and FBI, Trump’s Justice Department, and the bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees have all said that this isn’t true, and the claims have been widely ridiculed by the press.

    But Wednesday, after a bizarre press conference in which House intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) said that he had just learned that “on numerous occasions the Intelligence Community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition” -- an effort he described as “legal” -- Trump’s conservative media allies rushed to declare that the president had been right all along.

    “President Trump vindicated on his wiretap claim,” claimed Sean Hannity, adding, “We’ve been telling you for two weeks, and the rest of the alt-left-propaganda-destroy-Trump media with egg on its face once again.” At Breitbart.com, the headline was “Nunes ‘Unmasking’ Report Vindicates Trump Claims on Surveillance.” Rush Limbaugh declared that Nunes’ remark “is what Trump meant” and that “Trump’s record remains 100 percent; the things he says generally have happened or do happen.”

    On its face, these claims make no sense.

    As The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake noted last week, it is deceptive to suggest that this sort of “incidental collection” is evidence of Trump’s claims because “Trump claimed the surveillance was targeted at him -- and directed by Obama. Incidental collection is, by definition, incidental -- i.e. unintentional. The wiretap wouldn't be of Trump Tower; it would be of whomever was contacting Trump Tower.”

    (Trump associates’ communications could also have been legally collected as part of the FBI’s investigation into “the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”)

    “It's not difficult,” Blake warned, “to see evidence of incidental collection eventually emerging and the Trump team saying, ‘See! We told you they were surveilling us!’”

    And indeed, in an interview with Time magazine conducted after the Nunes press conference and published yesterday, the president declares that Nunes’ assertion “means I’m right.”

    When the reporter noted that the incidental collection Nunes references “would not be wiretapping of you,” and thus would not support Trump’s initial statement, the president responded, “Who knows what it is? You know, why, because somebody says incidental.”

    Hours later, Trump lashed out at NBC and ABC over their “totally biased and fake news reports of the so-called Russia story.” And Spicer spent much of the press briefing later that day attacking the press for its coverage of the story.

    A pattern is emerging:

    This cycle is part of the White House’s effort to delegitimize any source of information that gets in the way of Trump’s propaganda. He appears to believe that everything he says is true, and he treats any information that confirms his biases as accurate -- any information that doesn’t is “fake news” from dishonest people.

    Trump and his team are doing everything they can to create an atmosphere of uncertainty in the which people will trust Trump over all other sources. And so they tear down the media, and the Congressional Budget Office, and federal government employees.

    But this only works if Trump is perceived as honest. And so Trump never admits that he was wrong, never acknowledges if his story has changed, claims that it is the people who say that he’s pushing falsehoods who are the real liars, and kicks up as much dust as possible around his falsehoods.

    This turns every lie he tells into a polarized argument, with him and his media allies on one side and his perceived enemies on the other. The pro-Trump team rallies his supporters to believe him over the facts. Those in the middle, who don’t follow news closely, are confused; the story they end up hearing is that there is a dispute over what the president said, not that he is a liar.

    Trump’s handling of the Time interview is instructive. The president was talking to the magazine for a cover story whose premise was that he lies all the time.  And yet, throughout the interview, Trump never gave an inch to the reporter’s suggestions that he sometimes told untruths. Instead, he claimed that he had been right all along, either because his statements had been accurate or because he had only been citing someone else’s reporting. The interview ends up reading as a debate between one person who is insisting, with increased alarm, that the other person acknowledge that the sky is blue, while the second person blithely claims that, in fact, it is green.

    During the Time interview, the president also helpfully pointed to a few of his past falsehoods that fit the cycle.

    “Thousands And Thousands” Of Americans Celebrated 9-11

    1) At a November 21, 2015, rally, Trump claimed that “I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.”

    2) Fact-checkers and other journalists promptly debunked Trump’s claim.

    3) Right-wing media figures who support Trump assembled scraps of evidence from news reports that they claim “vindicate Trump’s claim of 9/11 Muslim celebrations.” One of these stories was a Washington Post report written by Serge Kovaleski stating that authorities “questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks.” No proof of the “thousands” Trump claimed ever materializes.

    4) Trump followed his allies and cited Kovaleski’s story on Twitter to support his initial claim, saying, “I want an apology! Many people have tweeted that I am right!” Trump was trying to move the goal posts, suggesting that his statement should be considered accurate if there was credible evidence of ANY people celebrating. Kovaleski issued a statement saying that he did not recall “anyone saying that thousands or even hundreds of people were celebrating.”

    5) Trump mocked Kovaleski’s muscular disorder in a subsequent speech in which he claimed he had “shut a lot of people up” by citing the reporter’s article and that Kovaleski had then been compelled to lie about what he had seen. Trump has since falsely claimed that he did not know who Kovaleski was at the time and that Trump was not mocking his disability on the stump.

    Asked about the claim by Time magazine more than a year later, Trump responded, “Well if you look at the reporter, he wrote the story in the Washington Post.”

    “You Look At What’s Happening Last Night In Sweden.”

    1) During a February 18 rally, Trump “referred to several countries that have taken in a disproportionate number of refugees and that have recently been the target of attacks. ‘We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany. You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?’ Trump went on to refer to Paris, Nice, France, and Brussels, European cities where attacks have occurred in the past two years.” The president was apparently referencing a segment that aired on Fox News the previous night.

    2) The president was widely ridiculed by Swedish politicians who pointed out that there had been no terror attack in the country that night.

    3) A few days later, riots erupted in a Stockholm neighborhood largely populated by immigrants.

    4) Conservative media outlets respond to the riots by stating that Trump was right about Sweden, even though that event happened after Trump’s comments. Trump told Time that the “massive riot in Sweden” was “exactly what I was talking about” and claimed he was “right about that.”

    5) During the Time interview, Trump lists his comments about Sweden as one of the instances where he has been right and the media has been wrong to attack him.

  • Andrew Napolitano's International Embarrassment Could Put Murdoch's Sky Bid In Jeopardy

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The reason Fox News benched senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano isn’t that he pushed a bogus conspiracy theory that the network was unable to confirm.

    Wild fantasies are Napolitano’s bread and butter. He regularly appears on Fox to fulminate over the alleged crimes of progressives. He has used his Fox platform to champion 9/11 trutherism, suggest that Osama bin Laden wasn’t really dead, and blame President Abraham Lincoln for having "set about on the most murderous war in American history" over slavery.

    Those incidents did not inspire Fox to examine Napolitano’s reporting, publicly declare that the network could not substantiate it, and pull the former judge from the airwaves.

    So what led the network to take those steps over the past few days, after Napolitano’s claim that President Barack Obama had used the British intelligence service GCHQ to surveil President Donald Trump’s communications last year fell apart?

    The White House supercharged the story when press secretary Sean Spicer read Napolitano’s comments from the press room podium. Napolitano’s typical practice of spitballing a conspiracy on Fox’s morning news show suddenly spurred an international news story that threatened U.S. relations with the United Kingdom.

    And that firestorm of coverage in the U.K. around Napolitano’s comments threatens Rupert Murdoch’s dream of owning the satellite broadcasting company Sky, which owns that nation’s Sky News network and pay-TV operations in the U.K., Germany, Austria, and Italy.

    Murdoch's 21st Century Fox, which owns a minority position in Sky, has bid $14.3 billion for the remaining stake. 21st Century Fox is Fox News' parent company. The bid is currently under review by the British media regulator Ofcom.

    The international news mogul previously sought to take over Sky (then known as BSkyB) in 2010. But he was forced to withdraw that bid in response to the investigation of phone hacking at his U.K.-based papers.

    Losing out on BSkyB was part of a long series of humiliations Murdoch endured due to the phone hacking scandal, culminating with a parliamentary committee’s declaration that he “is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of major international company."

    But those were humiliations ultimately driven by the failures of his son James, who was overseeing the family’s newspapers as head of News International, and who remains an heir to the Murdoch media empire. He surely has no intention of suffering a similar fate due to the actions of a random Fox News commentator.

    And yet, Napolitano’s actions put Murdoch’s massive Sky bid in jeopardy. Days after Britain's culture secretary asked Ofcom to review whether 21st Century Fox is sufficiently “committed to the required editorial standards, such as accuracy and impartial news coverage,” U.K. newspapers were filled with stories about how a Fox News commentator’s anonymously sourced, unverified claim had damaged that nation’s relationship with its closest ally.

    Yesterday, hours before the network acknowledged that Napolitano was “being kept off the air indefinitely,” Britain woke up to a front-page story in The Guardian reporting that the “former British ambassador to Washington, Sir Peter Westmacott, has issued a withering criticism of Donald Trump and his inner circle, accusing them of making absurd, unthinkable and nonsensical claims about the UK’s involvement in alleged wiretapping of Trump Tower that he warns could damage close ties between the two countries.”

    In a Guardian op-ed, Westmacott wrote of Spicer’s repetition of Napolitano’s claim that “anyone with any knowledge of the intelligence world knew the suggestion was absurd.”

    The Napolitano-sourced allegation was also torched in British media by a spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May (“ridiculous and should have been ignored”); the former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind ("foolish and very dangerous"); GCHQ, the British intelligence service that Napolitano accused (“nonsense”); Dominic Grieve, chairman of the parliamentary committee which oversees the U.K.'s spy agencies (“I echo [GCHQ’s] sentiment”); Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader in Parliament ( “shameful”; "harms our and US security"); and Richard Ledgett, deputy director of the NSA ("just crazy").

    The story has been discussed on the BBC and Sky News, as well as in the pages of The Telegraph, The Times, The Daily Mail, The Independent, The Daily Express, and The Daily Mirror, among others.

    Some of the most brutal headlines on the story over the past few days have been published by a Murdoch-owned tabloid, The Sun.

    Several British papers produced articles on Fox removing Napolitano from the airwaves. But the story won’t end there. According to Murdoch’s Times, the incident is likely to come up when Jeremy Fleming, the incoming director of GCHQ, next visits the United States. "Jeremy will be expected to make a trip to the US very early on to seek reassurances from our partners," a source told that paper.

    The more that story stays in the news, the less likely British regulators may be to allow the company that started it to dominate the U.K. airwaves.

  • Spicer Shuts Down Press Briefing Following Questions About His International Incident

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    White House press secretary Sean Spicer shut down today’s press briefing after he was asked about the international incident he caused last week by reading a Fox News transcript that accused a British intelligence service of spying on President Donald Trump last year on behalf of then-President Barack Obama.

    Last week, the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees publicly acknowledged that they have seen no evidence to support Trump’s claim that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the presidential election. In an effort to defuse the situation during the March 16 press briefing, Spicer read aloud from a series of news articles that he falsely claimed supported Trump’s statement. This included Fox senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano’s March 13 statement on Fox & Friends that, according to “three intelligence sources,” Obama relied on “GCHQ,” the “British spying agency,” to obtain transcripts of “conversations involving President-elect Trump” with “no American fingerprints on this.”

    The comments generated a “diplomatic row,” which Spicer reportedly tried to contain by contacting Britain's U.S. ambassador.

    Roughly 45 minutes into today’s briefing, National Journal’s George Condon raised the issue, asking Spicer if reporters could assume that when he reads news articles from the White House podium, he is “vouching for the accuracy of those articles.” This was a clear reference to Spicer’s Thursday recitation of Napolitano’s claim. Spicer replied that this was a “silly assertation (sic)” and that “reading a story ... is not vouching for it.”

    Condon followed up, asking Spicer to discuss his conversation with the British following those comments. Spicer replied, “There was merely an explanation of what we did and why we did it, which is what I just said to you. And that was it. Simply that.” And then Spicer ended the briefing before any other reporters could ask the press secretary more questions about the incident.

    Since Spicer’s March 16 briefing:

    • The British intelligence service has denied the charge.

    • The Trump administration was forced to discuss the incidents with the British government.

    • When a reporter asked Trump about the incident during a press conference with a foreign leader, the president claimed that “all we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television.”

    • Fox News admitted that it could not substantiate Napolitano’s claim.

    • Napolitano acknowledged that one of his sources was a well-known conspiracy theorist.

    • That conspiracy theorist said that Napolitano had botched the story.

    • A British newspaper owned by Fox chief executive Rupert Murdoch reported that the story may have been the result of a Russian intelligence operation.

    • The deputy director of the National Security Agency told BBC News that the charge was “arrant nonsense.”

    Questions that remain regarding the incident include:

    • Who brought the Napolitano segment to Spicer’s attention? Was it Trump, who regularly watches Fox & Friends and trusts its reporting?

    • Did Spicer make any effort to corroborate Napolitano’s comments before repeating them to the White House press corps?

    • Does the White House consider Napolitano a credible source for information?

    • Was Spicer aware that Napolitano has said that it is "hard for me to believe that" World Trade Center Building 7 "came down by itself," and that "20 years from now, people will look at 9/11 the way we look at the assassination of JFK today. It couldn't possibly have been done the way the government told us"?

    • Why doesn’t Spicer believe he owes the British an apology?

    • Does the U.S. government agree with reports that Napolitano’s story may have been the result of a Russian intelligence operation?

    Reporters should follow up on the story tomorrow, rather than allowing Spicer to turn the page.

  • The Bigotry And Idiocy Of Donald Trump's Favorite News Show

    The President Of The United States Has Made Fox & Friends' Lack Of Journalistic Standards A National Security Issue

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    “For the record,” a top Fox News executive explained to the network’s newsroom a decade ago, “seeing an item on a website does not mean it is right. Nor does it mean it is ready for air on FNC.”

    John Moody, at the time Fox’s vice president for news, issued that missive after Fox & Friends co-hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade highlighted for their millions of viewers a right-wing outlet’s quickly debunked report that then-Sen. Barack Obama had gone to school at an extremist Islamic madrassa as a child. “The hosts violated one of our general rules, which is know what you are talking about,” Moody told The New York Times. “They reported information from a publication whose accuracy we didn’t know.”

    Ten years later, the denizens of the program’s curvy couch still frequently don’t know what they are talking about. But now, their conspiracy theories and bogus claims are repeated by the White House as if they were credible reports from distinguished journalists. Under the Trump administration, the hosts and guests of Fox & Friends are setting the national agenda, thanks to their biggest fan, the president of the United States.

    Last week, Fox senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano stopped by the set of Fox & Friends and claimed that unnamed intelligence sources had told him that late last year, a British spy agency had surveilled now-President Donald Trump on behalf of then-President Barack Obama.

    The incident was typical for Napolitano, a 9/11 truther who regularly uses his Fox airtime to push paranoid conspiracy theories. But the response from the Trump administration was remarkable.

    Two days later, White House press secretary Sean Spicer cited Napolitano’s claim during a briefing. Since then:

    • The British intelligence service has denied the charge.

    • The Trump administration was forced to discuss the incidents with the British government.

    • When a reporter asked Trump about the incident during a press conference with a foreign leader, the president claimed that “all we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television.”

    • Fox News admitted that it could not substantiate Napolitano’s claim.

    • Napolitano acknowledged that one of his sources was a well-known conspiracy theorist.

    • That conspiracy theorist said that Napolitano had botched the story.

    • A British newspaper owned by Fox chief executive Rupert Murdoch reported that the story may have been the result of a Russian intelligence operation.

    • The deputy director of the National Security Agency told BBC News that the charge was “arrant nonsense.”

    “There was a time when a guy like Judge Andrew Napolitano could make some marginal remarks on Fox News, and only a large plume of non-White House officials would take him seriously,” The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple noted Friday. “Perhaps a website or two would pick up on them. Then everyone would move on to other matters. … Warning to Judge Napolitano: People in power are now listening to you. They’re case-building off of your reporting.”

    If Trump can be said to treat Fox News personalities as his advisers, then the hosts of Fox & Friends are his kitchen cabinet. While the president regularly assails journalists as lying members of the “opposition party,” he praises Fox for producing “the most honest morning show” and calls its hosts “honorable people.”

    Trump has said that he may owe his presidency to his years-long weekly interview segment on Fox & Friends, telling the show’s hosts earlier this year that “maybe without those call-ins, somebody else is sitting here.” Since becoming perhaps the most powerful person on the planet, Trump has continued to regularly watch the morning show, sometimes for hours at a time. He frequently tweets along with the program, commenting on the stories he sees and retweeting the broadcast’s feed. And those presidential comments set the news agenda for the rest of the press.

    Given the president’s tendency to run with thinly sourced claims he gets from right-wing outlets, this is not a good sign.

    Doocy and Kilmeade, who have hosted since the show’s debut in 1998, regularly expose themselves as bigoted misogynists. (Ainsley Earhardt, the program’s third co-host for the past year, provides run-of-the-mill conservative-inflected Fox commentary.)

    Notably, Kilmeade has declared that “all terrorists are Muslims” (he later said he misspoke) and issued a shockingly racist rant about how Americans don’t have “pure genes” like the Swedes because “we keep marrying other species and other ethnics” (he subsequently apologized). Former Fox & Friends host Gretchen Carlson accused Doocy of engaging in “a pattern of severe and pervasive mistreatment” on and off air in her sexual harassment lawsuit against the network’s founder and chairman, Roger Ailes; while Ailes was pushed out, no public action was taken against Doocy.

    They are also two of the dumbest people in the news business.

    Lest you think I am exaggerating, please watch this clip of Trump’s favorite morning show hosts attempting to roast marshmallows over an open fire using a plastic spoon and their bare hands. Pay special attention to the look on Chris Wallace’s face as he observes the antics from a remote site with increasing disbelief, and eventually halts the segment to call them “dopes.”

    The gullibility and stupidity of Fox’s morning hosts is now an issue of national import. They frequently push obviously false and easily debunked claims, often based on dubious reports from sources that lack credibility. Some past examples include:

    The Time A Federal Judge Scolded Them For Credulously Reporting A Parody Story. In 2007, just a few months after the hosts’ madrassa commentary spurred the network executive to warn them not to believe everything they see on the internet, they reported that a middle school student had been suspended for leaving a ham sandwich on a lunch table near Muslim students. At one point during the segment, Kilmeade said, "I hope we're not being duped," to which Doocy replied, "We're not being duped. I've looked it up on a couple of different websites up there." They were being duped; their source was a fabricated story from the hoax website Associated Content. Doocy subsequently issued a retraction and apology.  A federal judge later criticized the “gullible” hosts over the incident, saying their actions “should provide grist for journalism classes teaching research and professionalism standards in the Internet age.”

    The Time Doocy Claimed Obama Fabricated An Earthquake (He Didn’t). In March 2010, Obama said a proposal to adjust Medicaid reimbursement rates for states affected by natural disasters "also affects Hawaii, which went through an earthquake." Doocy suggested that Obama had made the earthquake up, noting that previous Hawaiian earthquakes came in 1868 and 1975. His allegation came from Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft, the dumbest man on the Internet and, not surprisingly, a regular source of Fox & Friends stories; an earthquake struck Hawaii in 2006.

    The Time Fox & Friends Investigated Whether A Terrorist Ghostwrote Obama’s Autobiography. In March 2011, the program hosted WorldNetDaily columnist and noted conspiracy theorist Jack Cashill to discuss his claim that Obama's first book, Dreams from My Father, was actually written by former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers.

    The Time Doocy Told Trump That Obama "Could End It Simply -- Just Show [The Birth Certificate] To Us." In a series of segments in March and April 2011, the hosts supported Trump’s fact-free claims that Obama had not produced his birth certificate. During their regular interview segment, Doocy responded to Trump's false statement that President Obama "has not given a birth certificate" by saying, "He could end it simply -- just show it to us, and it'd be over."

    The Time The Show Invented A TSA Program To Test Airline Passenger DNA. The program ran a March 2011 segment suggesting that the Transportation Security Administration would soon begin testing airline passengers' DNA at airports. Napolitano criticized the purported effort, saying it “offends the Constitution” and “feeds the government's voracious appetite to control people”; Kilmeade defended TSA for “trying to stop illegal human trafficking.” Arguments about civil liberties aside, the entire story was made up, as Doocy acknowledged when he apologized for the “error” the next day.

    The Time Fox & Friends Claimed Obama Wanted To Apologize To Japan For Hiroshima. In October 2011, the hosts lashed out at Obama because he supposedly had wanted to apologize to Japan for the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, but Japan had nixed the idea. The next day, Doocy sought to “clarify” the story by removing the portion of the story that had angered them, stating: “We want to be very clear. There was never a plan for President Obama to apologize to Japan. We should have been clear about that, and we're sorry for the confusion.”

    The Time They Falsely Claimed Obama Met With A Pirate But Not Netanyahu. Channeling a story from The Drudge Report, the hosts claimed in September 2012 that Obama had time to meet with a man in a pirate costume for Talk Like a Pirate Day, but had been “too busy” to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In fact, the photo of Obama and the pirate that the White House had tweeted out the previous day had been taken three years earlier for use during that year's White House Correspondents' Dinner. Doocy and Fox & Friends subsequently acknowledged that fact on social media.

    The Time They Pretended Obama Wanted To Take Kevlar Helmets Away From Cops. After a police officer survived the June 2016 mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL, because he had been wearing a Kevlar helmet, Doocy suggested that the Obama administration had been “pushing to take away life-saving armor” like the helmet through a ban on the federal government transferring military equipment to police departments. Kevlar helmets are not on the list of banned equipment, as Doocy acknowledged in a clarification the next day.

    The Time Fox & Friends Pushed The Conspiracy Theory That Google Was Manipulating Search Results To Help Hillary Clinton. In June 2016, Kilmeade and Napolitano accused Google of “manipulating the search [results] for Hillary [Clinton] to bury the bad stuff.” Napolitano said that “we know” Google “has” manipulated search results relating to Clinton according to a "very extensive test," and that the result is an example of “the Google, Eric Schmidt [executive chairman of Google’s board of directors], President Obama, Democratic National Committee, West Wing circle that we all know exists.” But, according to CNNMoney, “Despite what you might have seen online, Google is not manipulating its search results to favor Hillary Clinton.”

    The Time Doocy Pushed A Conspiracy Theory About A Murdered Democratic Staffer. In July 2016, Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer Seth Rich was murdered while walking home in his Washington, D.C., neighborhood. Conservatives subsequently suggested that he may have been murdered because he had helped WikiLeaks gain access to the DNC’s email servers (his family condemned these conspiracy theories). Fox & Friends picked up the story, with Doocy stating on air, “Some on the internet are suggesting, wait a minute, was [Rich] the source of the WikiLeaks DNC leaks?”

    Now when Doocy and Kilmeade run credulous reports based on something they saw "on the internet," the president is watching -- and taking them seriously.

  • NY Times Public Editor Helps Out An "Alt-Right" Harassment Campaign

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    What is wrong with Liz Spayd?

    This morning, The New York Times’ public editor fell for an “alt-right” harassment campaign against a reporter of color for the paper, devoting her entire column to scolding the writer over a tweet.

    On Wednesday, the rapper Bow Wow sent an ugly tweet warning President Donald Trump to stop criticizing the rapper Snoop Dogg “before we pimp your wife and make her work for us.” Times culture writer Sopan Deb responded on Twitter by first criticizing the rappers and then by joking that “The outrage from @BreitbarkNews” -- a satirical Twitter feed that uses dog puns -- “is going to be through the woof.”

    Mike Cernovich -- a racist, misogynist writer who frequently directs his Twitter followers to launch harassment campaigns -- immediately set his sights on Deb. In a series of tweets, Cernovich declared that Deb thinks “rape threats against the President’s wife" are funny, repeatedly asked Spayd to comment, and urged his fans to email her to “ask about @SopanDeb’s view that human trafficking is funny.”

    To be clear, this is what Cernovich does: unleash his followers on what he considers his enemies in order to make them miserable. He was one of the leading proponents of “pizzagate,” a conspiracy theory that baselessly alleged Hillary Clinton’s inner circle was orchestrating a child sex-trafficking ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria. After Cernovich and and others in the “alt-right” pushed the story on social media, the pizzeria’s staff received a host of “abusive social media comments” and phone calls. Eventually a man who was trying to “self-investigate” the claims entered the business and fired a gunshot.

    Cernovich’s campaign against Deb worked. Times public editor Liz Spayd devoted today’s column to scolding Deb over his tweet; she explicitly links her decision to receiving numerous emails yesterday from critics. As Spayd relates in excruciating detail, she interviewed Deb, the paper’s culture editor, and the paper’s associate managing editor for standards, and consulted the Times guidelines on social media for the piece.

    Spayd concludes that Deb’s “intentions were innocent,” and even acknowledges that the emails she received may have been the result of a campaign by what Deb told her were “far-right conservative groups [that] have latched onto his tweet for their own purposes.”

    But having learned that the dogs were rabid, she nonetheless decided to throw them a bone, validating a fringe campaign against her paper’s own writer. According to Spayd, “The problem is, not everyone is ‘in’ on the joke. Conservatives may use such tweets -- or retweets -- to further their case that the ‘liberal media’ will do and say anything.”

    This is nonsense. Deb isn’t being criticized by earnest people who really think that he was joking about violence against women. He’s the target of a campaign by professional trolls who want to hurt Deb and have seized on the tweet as an opportunity. As Commentary associate editor Noah Rothman noted, “It's not about conservatism but a willful effort to find offense in humor” by people who are “trying to be offended.”

    And Spayd played right into their hands by treating them as if they have a legitimate grievance. Now Cernovich has the opportunity to demonstrate to his fans that they can have an impact by marching to his tune, and he’s taking a curtain call, while continuing to push the envelope

    It’s not the first time Spayd has bowed to pressure from conservatives whose only interest is hurting the paper. In December, Spayd denounced tweets from three Times reporters during an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who read the tweets on-air. She drew opprobrium from the rest of the press for saying the tweets in questions were “over the line” and should have been met with “some kind of consequence.” Carlson, of course, isn’t interested in journalistic standards -- he founded the Daily Caller and has a show on Fox -- but he is very interested in trying to delegitimize the Times.

    Spayd is an obvious, easy target for these campaigns. A central throughline of her columns as public editor has been that conservative complaints that the Times is too liberal need to be treated with respect and responded to promptly. The decades-long effort by Republican activists, politicians, and conservative media outlets to convince conservatives that only avowed right-wing sources can be trusted seems to have escaped her.

    That’s frankly par for the course, and at this point I can’t imagine Spayd’s work improving. But perhaps this horrendous failure will at least convince her to pause and reflect before doing the “alt-right”’s dirty work.

  • Sean Spicer Caused An International Incident By Citing Fox News To Defend Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The U.S. government has issued a formal apology to the United Kingdom after White House press secretary Sean Spicer cited a Fox News report to accuse a British intelligence service of spying on Trump Tower on behalf of then-President Barack Obama.

    The British newspaper The Telegraph reports that U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster “contacted Sir Mark Lyall Grant, the Prime Minister's National Security adviser, to apologise for the comments. Mr Spicer conveyed his apology through Sir Kim Darroch, Britain's US ambassador.”

    Over the past two weeks, Spicer has issued a series of increasingly frantic statements to support President Donald Trump’s baseless conspiracy theory that Obama wiretapped him during the 2016 presidential campaign. Yesterday, after the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees said that they have seen no evidence to support Trump’s claim, Spicer read aloud from a series of news articles that he falsely claimed supported Trump’s statement.

    Amid this litany, Spicer cited Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano’s anonymously sourced March 13 statement that Obama had relied on the U.K. Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to obtain transcripts of “conversations involving President-elect Trump” with “no American fingerprints on this.”

    As I noted yesterday, in making the comments, Spicer imperiled our relations with our closest ally in order to buttress an obviously false Trump statement. Napolitano is a conspiracy theorist who has suggested the government may have been involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. His claim about British intelligence appears to have originated with a report on the state-sponsored Russian news network RT, and a British security official denied the claim, telling Reuters it was "totally untrue and quite frankly absurd."

    Spicer’s decision to make the same allegation from the White House podium drew a furious response from GCHQ, as The Telegraph reported:

    In a break from its normal practice of refusing to comment on allegations about its activities, a spokesman for GCHQ said: "Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct 'wiretapping' against the then president elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored."

    The increased scrutiny of Fox News in the U.K. comes at an inopportune time for the network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, and its CEO, Rupert Murdoch. 21st Century Fox is currently trying to take full control of the United Kingdom satellite broadcasting company Sky, which oversees Sky News. Yesterday, the British culture secretary, Karen Bradley, referred the $14.3 billion bid to British media regulator Ofcom, in part over concerns about whether the company is “whether Fox is committed to the required editorial standards, such as accuracy and impartial news coverage,” according to The Guardian.

    The White House’s open insult to the British government comes after conservatives spent years trumping up baseless claims that Obama was trying to undermine our relationship with the United Kingdom.

    Right-wing media figures for years decried the return to the U.K. of a bust of Winston Churchill that President George W. Bush had kept in the Oval Office when Obama took office, citing the move as evidence that Obama hated the British and had grievously insulted our strongest ally. When Trump had the bust returned to the Oval Office following his inauguration, conservative media outlets swooned.

    Less than two months later, the White House has had to apologize to the British government for baselessly accusing the country of spying on Trump.

    UPDATE: There is now an apparent dispute within the Trump administration over whether the White House actually apologized to the British. "US officials... disputed whether the Trump administration had gone as far as an apology," according to BuzzFeed. But earlier this morning, CNN's White House reporter said that White House sources had told him McMaster and Spicer had apologized.

    UPDATE 2: Asked about Spicer’s comments by a German reporter at today’s joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump said that he and Merkel had “something in common” --suggesting the Obama administration had spied on them both. Trump added: “And just to finish your question, we said nothing. All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn't make an opinion on it. That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox. And so you shouldn't be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox.”

    UPDATE 3: According to Fox News anchor Shep Smith, “Fox News cannot confirm judge Napolitano's commentary. Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the president of the United States was surveilled at any time in any way, full stop.”

  • Sean Spicer Cited A 9/11 Truther To Accuse The British Of Spying On Trump For Obama

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    White House press secretary Sean Spicer cited Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano’s claim that the British intelligence service surveilled President Donald Trump on then-President Barack Obama’s behalf. Napolitano has promoted conspiracy theories about the 9/11 terror attacks and other events, and a British security official has denied the “absurd” claim, suggesting that Spicer is willing to imperil the “special relationship” with the United Kingdom to bail out the president.

    Over the past 24 hours, the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have said that they have seen no evidence to support Trump’s claim that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the presidential election. In an effort to defuse the situation during today’s press briefing, Spicer read aloud from a series of news articles that he falsely claimed supported Trump’s statement. This included Napolitano’s March 13 statement on Fox & Friends that, according to “three intelligence sources,” Obama relied on “GCHQ,” the “British spying agency,” to obtain transcripts of “conversations involving President-elect Trump” with “no American fingerprints on this.”

    Here is Spicer suggesting that our allies in the U.K. spied on the current president on behalf of his predecessor, based on Napolitano’s reporting:

    And here is Napolitano telling Alex Jones, the founder of the 9/11 Truth movement -- which claims the U.S. government carried out the 2001 terror attacks -- that it is "hard for me to believe that" World Trade Center Building 7 "came down by itself," and that "twenty years from now, people will look at 9/11 the way we look at the assassination of JFK today. It couldn't possibly have been done the way the government told us":

    Napolitano has pushed a wide array of conspiracy theories over the years, including floating the possibility that Osama bin Laden was still alive and the government was “pulling a fast one to save Obama's lousy presidency."

    The suggestion that Obama asked British intelligence to surveil British intelligence appears to originate in part from conspiracy theorist and former CIA official Larry Johnson, who made the claim during an interview on state-sponsored Russian news network RT. The interview was widely circulated by hyperpartisan and conspiracy theory websites in the days before Napolitano’s appearance.

    A British security official denied the claim on March 14, telling Reuters it was "totally untrue and quite frankly absurd." But now it’s been promoted from the podium by the president’s spokesman.

    Spicer also cited commentary from Fox host Sean Hannity to support Trump’s claim. As he was speaking from the podium, Hannity was on his radio show suggesting that President Obama and U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson, who last night granted a temporary restraining order against Trump’s revised Muslim ban, may have been “best friends in Hawaii” and used drugs together.

  • How Sean Spicer Packs His Press Briefings With “Skypeophants”

    Eight Of The 20 “Skype Seat” Questioners Have Been Right-Wing Commentators

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    When the White House press corps convenes today for press secretary Sean Spicer’s daily briefing, the journalists in the room will be joined via Skype by Bryan Crabtree, an Atlanta-based right-wing talk radio host who wrote last year that Donald Trump is “the future of this country” and that if he was not elected president, “America as we know it is ‘done.’

    In recent columns for the conservative website TownHall.com, Crabtree has called for the purge of federal employees in response to the “system-wide effort to sabotage President Trump's White House”; predicted that Trump will destroy the Democratic Party by “produc[ing] an economy that he has promised”; and claimed that protesters at the Women’s March on Washington were “stuck between delusional and mental instability.”

    In late January, Spicer announced that he planned to occasionally provide “Skype Seats” to “a diverse group of journalists” who live outside of the Washington, D.C., area, in order to “benefit us all by giving a platform to voices that are not necessarily based here in the Beltway.” CNN media reporter Brian Stelter warned at the time that the development “could be a great thing, or it could be a way to stack the room with pro-Trump media outlets.”

    Two months later, it is clear that Spicer is using this innovation to pack the briefings with what SiriusXM White House correspondent Jared Rizzi has termed “Skypeophants”: “super-friendly questioner[s] used to burn up briefing time.”

    Twenty people have been hand-picked by Spicer to ask questions at briefings via Skype thus far. Twelve were mainstream journalists from regional outlets, like WMUR political director Josh McElveen, KXTX-Dallas news anchor Norma Garcia, and Hearst Connecticut Media Group reporter Neil Vigdor.

    The other eight were right-wing political commentators who have provided Spicer with a way to reward supporters while ensuring that he has a respite from tough questions. At least one right-wing talking head has asked a question at each “Skype Seats” session.

    In the first of these briefings, conservative talk radio host Lars Larson and newspaper publisher Jeff Jobe, a Trump endorser who has run for office as a Republican, were among the lucky recipients. Larson asked whether Trump could “tell the Forest Service to start logging our forest aggressively again to provide jobs for Americans.” Jobe prefaced his question by saying that “anyone paying attention will see that President Trump is aggressively acting on his campaign promise” before asking when the president plans to reverse coal mining restrictions.

    Boston Herald Radio columnist Adriana Cohen is a Trump supporter perhaps best known for blowing up a CNN segment during the Republican primary by citing the National Enquirer to accuse fellow panelist Amanda Carpenter of having had an affair with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). On February 8, Spicer rewarded her with a Skype Seat, and she asked about Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s “vow to house illegal immigrants in Boston City Hall to shield them from the Trump administration.”

    The next week, Jason Stevens, an author for the hyperpartisan right-wing website the Federalist Papers Project, had the privilege to attend via Skype. After stating that his readers want to return “the country to the first principles of republican government as understood by the American founders,” he asked, “What are the president’s future plans for rolling back the expensive and burdensome regulations of the administrative state, most of which are the product of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats who never received the consent of the governed to do anything, let alone make law?”

    Conservative talk radio hosts Dale Jackson, Michael MedvedSteve Gruber, and Joyce Kaufman round out the list.

    Spicer isn’t simply creating the space for more geographic and ideological diversity in the White House press briefing room -- as SiriusXM’s Rizzi told The New Yorker, he’s creating “diversity of journalistic practice” by hand-picking friendly commentators, rather than reporters, to ask questions at the briefings.

    The press secretary’s actions seem geared toward creating an equivalence between those right-wing voices and the reporters in the press briefing. In doing so, Spicer suggests that he is simply providing a counterpoint to purportedly left-wing reporters for outlets like The New York Times and CNN.

    As implemented, the Skype Seats represent another salvo in the White House’s effort to delegitimize credible press outlets and lift up voices that bolster Trump’s worldview.

    Trump and his officials are at war with the media, lashing out at journalists on a near-daily basis for providing information critical of the president. At the same time, they are encouraging pro-Trump outlets to attend the briefings to troll journalists; handing out passes to “alt-right” figures; and, at times, calling solely on right-wing outlets at press conferences.

    As the administration flounders and the president pushes absurd conspiracy theories, Spicer is defending the indefensible on a daily basis. It helps to be able to phone a friend.

    UPDATE: After being grilled with a series of questions about Trump's baseless claim that President Barack Obama tapped his phones, Spicer bailed out by calling on Crabtree, who thanked him for "taking questions from a talk radio host right here in Georgia, and not in the D.C. swamp." While earlier press briefings featured multiple "Skype Seat" recipients, this was the second time in a row that a conservative radio host was the only hand-picked person to call in.

    Media Matters Research Analyst Rob Savillo provided data for this piece.