Zachary Pleat

Author ››› Zachary Pleat
  • Report: Breitbart Editor-Turned-Trump Official Is A "Sworn Member" Of "Nazi-Allied" Hungarian Group

    Sebastian Gorka Has Denied The Report

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Jewish news publication The Forward reported that Trump administration official Sebastian Gorka is a “formal member” of the Vitézi Rend, a far-right nationalist Hungarian group that, according to the State Department, operated under the direction of Nazi Germany during World War II. Gorka, a top counterterrorism adviser to President Donald Trump and former national security editor for “alt right” website Breitbart.com, denied that he was a member of the group when contacted by another publication.

    The Forward spoke to two leaders of the Vitézi Rend, Gyula Soltész and Kornél Pintér, who said Gorka is a sworn member of their organization. From the March 16 article:

    Gorka, who pledged his loyalty to the United States when he took American citizenship in 2012, is himself a sworn member of the Vitézi Rend, according to both Gyula Soltész -- a high-ranking member of the Vitézi Rend’s central apparatus -- and Kornél Pintér -- a leader of the Vitézi Rend in Western Hungary who befriended Gorka’s father through their activities in the Vitézi Rend.

    Soltész, who holds a national-level leadership position at the Vitézi Rend, confirmed to the Forward in a phone conversation that Gorka is a full member of the organization.

    “Of course he was sworn in,” Pintér said, in a phone interview. “I met with him in Sopron [a city near Hungary’s border with Austria]. His father introduced him.”

    The Forward explained that the Vitézi Rend “is listed by the State Department as one of many groups in Germany and the countries it occupied as collaborationist ‘criminal organizations’ with the Nazis as determined by the post-war International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.” Soltész also told BuzzFeed that Gorka is a current member of the Vitézi Rend. Gorka denied these ties to Tablet magazine, telling a reporter, “I have never been a member of the Vitez Rend. I have never taken an oath of loyalty to the Vitez Rend. Since childhood, I have occasionally worn my father’s medal and used the ‘v.’ initial to honor his struggle against totalitarianism.” (Foward’s article described how Gorka has signed testimony submitted to Congress and other documents with a “v.,” which “is an initial used by members of the Vitézi Rend” after they have taken a sworn oath.)

    Tablet added that Gorka’s father was “a dedicated member of the anti-Communist underground, and had risked his life to organize the Hungarian resistance and deliver vital information about the Soviets to western intelligence agencies, including the MI6. He was eventually arrested, badly tortured, spent two years in solitary confinement and some more in forced labor in the coal mines before eventually escaping to England.”

    Back in February, foreign policy blog LobeLog confirmed with an expert that a medal Gorka had worn to an inaugural ball was from the Vitézi Rend. Breitbart.com editor Joel Pollak defended Gorka in a February 14 article, calling claims about his connections to the Vitézi Rend a “smear” and defending the group by calling it “anti-communist.”

    USA Today reported that following Forward’s report, Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, said in a statement that “Sebastian Gorka must resign -- and President Trump must make it happen,” and that the National Jewish Democratic Council also urged Trump to fire Gorka. BuzzFeed quoted Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) calling the reports “deeply disturbing” and saying: “It’s shocking that with these revelations he’s not already fired by the president.” Representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Muslim Advocates, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and the Southern Poverty Law Center also told BuzzFeed that Gorka should resign or that Trump should fire him if the reports about his membership are further substantiated.

    A reporter for Talking Points Memo later tweeted a statement from the Anti-Defamation League, which stated "If true, [Gorka] needs to renounce his membership immediately and disavow their exclusionary message of hate. At a time of rising anti-Semitism around the world, it is essential for Mr. Gorka to make clear that he rejects the policies of far-right and nativist organizations such as Vitézi Rend and Jobbik, which have a long history of stoking anti-Semitism and intolerance in Hungary."

    Before he was hired by the Trump administration, Gorka worked for Breitbart.com as a national security editor and was a paid adviser to the Trump campaign. In the past he has used anti-Muslim rhetoric and backed conspiracy theories. For example, after the Washington National Cathedral hosted an event with two Muslim groups in 2014, Gorka wrote an article for Breitbart.com with the headline “Muslim Brotherhood Overruns National Cathedral In DC," arguing that “if a place of worship is used by Muslims for their prayers, that territory subsequently becomes part of Dar al Islam, sacred muslim (sic) land. Forever.” Gorka also defended Trump’s false campaign claim that former President Barack Obama was the “founder of ISIS,” saying he “is absolutely right” if he meant the Obama administration “facilitated the growth of ISIS.”

  • Trump Rewards O'Reilly Minion Who Previously Aired Racist And Misogynist Reports

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT & CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Fox News host Jesse Watters will interview President Donald Trump for his show Watters World. Watters, who originally appeared on Fox as a correspondent for The O’Reilly Factor, has a track record of disparaging segments about immigrants, women, Asian-Americans and African-Americans. He has also produced reports in which he shamed homeless Americans, mocked members of the LGBTQ community, and “followed, harassed, and ambushed” a journalist.

  • Rep. King Finds Safe Haven For His White Nationalism On Jan Mickelson’s Radio Show

    Iowa Radio Host Mickelson Is Notorious For His Bigotry Against Muslims, LGBTQ Individuals, And Immigrants

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Rep. Steve King (R-IA) appeared on Iowa radio host Jan Mickelson’s show to address the outrage over his racist tweet in which he claimed that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Mickelson, who is notorious for his bigotry against Muslims and LGBTQ Americans, as well as for calling for undocumented immigrants to be enslaved, helped King defend his tweet, and the interview ended with King urging Mickelson’s listeners to read the novel The Camp of the Saints, which The Huffington Post called “breathtakingly racist.”

    On March 12, King drew fire after tweeting, “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” in apparent support of a prominent anti-Muslim Dutch politician, Geert Wilders. King’s tweet was cheered on by white nationalists and neo-Nazis, who rallied around the Republican congressman, calling him a “hero” for “openly endorsing White nationalism.”

    King defended his tweet during a CNN interview with Chris Cuomo on Monday, saying, “I meant exactly what I said,” and again on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, where the host agreed with King’s tweet. King additionally appeared on Mickelson’s show for a nearly 20-minute interview in which Mickelson offered defenses of King’s tweet by quoting John Jay, the country's first chief justice of the Supreme Court, criticizing diversity. Later Mickelson said, “You were accused of being a white supremist” (sic), but “you’re not talking about race, are you, at all?” CNN’s KFile first reported on this interview by highlighting a comment King made in which he predicted that “Hispanics and the blacks will be fighting each other” before they outnumber white people in America.

    Despite his claim that the tweet had nothing to do with race, at the end of the interview King recommended that Mickelson’s listeners read a novel titled The Camp of the Saints. The Huffington Post reported earlier this month that Stephen Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, has spent years telling people that this novel explains the European refugee crisis. The article explained why it’s so alarming that someone in power is citing this book:

    The book is a cult favorite on the far right, yet it’s never found a wider audience. There’s a good reason for that: It’s breathtakingly racist.

    “[This book is] racist in the literal sense of the term. It uses race as the main characterization of characters,” said Cécile Alduy, professor of French at Stanford University and an expert on the contemporary French far right. “It describes the takeover of Europe by waves of immigrants that wash ashore like the plague.”

    The book, she said, “reframes everything as the fight to death between races.”

    Upon the novel’s release in the United States in 1975, the influential book review magazine Kirkus Reviews pulled no punches: “The publishers are presenting The Camp of the Saints as a major event, and it probably is, in much the same sense that Mein Kampf was a major event.”

    Linda Chavez, a Republican commentator who has worked for GOP presidents from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush but opposed Trump’s election, also reviewed the book back then. Forty years later, she hasn’t forgotten it.

    “It is really shockingly racist,” Chavez told The Huffington Post, “and to have the counselor to the president see this as one of his touchstones, I think, says volumes about his attitude.”

    Mickelson’s show is an interesting choice for King to defend himself from accusations of racism, given the radio host’s own bigoted statements. In late 2015, Mickelson repeatedly characterized Muslims in America as not culturally compatible with the country. Mickelson also called LGBTQ advocates “same-gender Nazis” and said they are part of a “gay Taliban,” agreed with ex-Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that homosexuality is “ugly behavior,” and, years earlier, suggested that God invented AIDS to punish homosexuality. In August 2015, Mickelson suggested that the U.S. enslave undocumented immigrants who don’t leave America.

  • US Attorney Preet Bharara Was Investigating Fox News When Trump Fired Him

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    President Donald Trump’s decision to fire U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara happened as Bharara’s office was reportedly probing Fox News over its alleged failure to inform shareholders about repeated settlements for allegations of sexual harassment and assault by former Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes and other executives against female employees. Reports indicate Trump may pick one of Ailes’ former lawyers to replace Bharara.

  • These Experts Have Great Advice For Journalists Crafting Trump Headlines

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Major news outlets have repeatedly failed to accurately portray President Donald Trump’s misleading and false claims in their headlines, including just his comments without noting that they’re false or without including crucial context. But some experts have advice for how journalists can write headlines that better inform their readers about the president’s claims and allegations.

    Many news organizations have fallen into the lazy trap of simply repeating whatever Trump claims in their headlines, without indicating whether it’s true or including necessary context. In fact, many of the country’s most prominent mainstream media outlets have been guilty of this practice. Here are some examples in their original format (some have since changed):

    • AP: “Trump Finally Admits President Obama Was Born In The US”
    • ABC News: “Donald Trump Takes Credit For Keeping A Kentucky Ford Plant From Moving To Mexico”
    • WSJ: “Donald Trump Alleges That ‘Millions of People’ Voted Illegally”
    • CNN.com: “Trump Accuses Obama Of Wiretapping Him”

    The first two failed to contextualize Trump’s statements, specifically failing to note that Trump had for years perpetuated the falsehood that former President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S., and that Ford had never planned to move its Kentucky plant, only to shift a fraction of its production. The last two headlines gave credence to Trump’s claims despite a total lack of evidence.

    Why is it important that headlines about Trump fully inform readers about what he says and does? Because a 2014 study by the Media Insight Project revealed that around 60 percent of American news consumers read only news headlines. When that many readers don’t go beyond the headline, including clarifying details only in the body of the piece is simply insufficient, leaving many people uninformed about the truth -- or lack thereof -- behind Trump’s claims.

    Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, discussed on CNN’s Reliable Sources the dilemma that Trump’s spurious claims create for journalists, and explained the need for headlines to make it clear when his comments lack proof:

    KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: [Trump] creates a dilemma for journalists because ordinarily journalists would say, "The president said," then would look for the alternative, then look for the documentation and play through that narrative. But when there's no proof, journalists have to find a way in the headline to say, "Without proof, Trump alleges" so that we don't put in place the allegation as if it has some legitimacy. Rather, we should be saying, “Where's the proof?” What Trump specializes in is shifting the burden of proof. Making a charge with no evidence and then asking for an investigation shifts the burden of proof. Now someone is supposed to disprove an unproven allegation.

    Jim Rutenberg, a media columnist for The New York Times, offered similar input on Fox News’ MediaBuzz when asked how to frame Trump’s latest evidence-free allegation that Obama wiretapped him:

    JIM RUTENBERG: Here is this amazing, huge allegation. So we need to drive for evidence. And so if there isn't any, we need to say it. Because if you do that headline -- and this is a big debate, you’ll see it unfold on Twitter and kind of publicly and I'm sure other shows like this one -- is if you do that headline, “President Trump accuses predecessor of spying on him,” that's a very flat statement. And if there’s no evidence, I think you do have to say there’s no evidence.

    And George Lakoff, a retired University of California, Berkeley cognitive science and linguistics professor, gave a more in-depth explanation on Reliable Sources on how to best report on Trump’s comments -- in short, state the truth before introducing Trump’s claim or quote:

    GEORGE LAKOFF: Well first of all, you do need the facts, but you need to know how to present those facts because if you just negate what [Trump’s] saying, you're going to just strengthen him. So, remember, Richard Nixon said, “I am not a crook,” and people thought of him as a crook. I wrote a book called Don't Think of an Elephant. It makes you think of an elephant. If you say -- repeat what Donald Trump says, and then negate it and say “no,” and then you repeat what he says and say it's false, what you're doing is strengthening that, because in your brain, the neural circuits have to activate what you are negating in order to negate it, and that strengthens what you're negating. So every time you negate it, you help the other side.

    What you can do is the opposite. What Trump is doing in these cases is diverting attention from real issues. Real issues like Russia, for example. Like his foreign policy, like his business connections, and on and on. Lots of real issues that he's diverting attention from. What you can do in reporting this is talk first about the truth about what he's diverting attention from, the real issues. Then go and say, “Here’s what he said in his tweet because his tweet is strategic, trying to divert attention.” Then you can say, “This is an attempt to divert attention from this and it's false. Here is why it's false. Let's go back to the real issues,” and you go on. With about 30 seconds on Trump, rather than all the time on Trump. The more time you spend on Trump on putting him out there, the more you help him.

    BRIAN STELTER (HOST): I'll take an example from that sound bite we just played. We played the president talking about Obamacare. So you're saying the better way to handle this is to do the following: to say Obamacare supports 22 million people, but President Trump today said very few people have Obamacare. Is that the better way?

    LAKOFF: Well, the fact is that it's false. And what he's trying to do is divert attention from the truth -- again. And that's exactly what you say. When you report it, you point out first, frame first, that Obamacare took care of 22 million people, more than were before. That attempts to get rid of it would get rid of care for many millions of people. Then you can say, “But the president, diverting attention from this, said the following.” Then you give his quote, and you say, “He missed, of course, the fact that 22 million people is not a few number of people.”

    [...]

    LAKOFF: You frame first. You frame with the truth first. Your job is to present the truth for the public good. And you do it first because if he gets to frame it first, that's how people understand the situation.

  • Five Things Media Figures Demanded Obama Attorneys General Resign Over That Are Less Serious Than Lying Under Oath

    And Trump’s Chief Of Staff Twice Called For Eric Holder’s Resignation

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Lawmakers began calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ resignation after news reports published on March 1 revealed that he had spoken to Russia’s ambassador to the United States during the 2016 election, when he was serving as a campaign surrogate for then-candidate Donald Trump. The reports contradict sworn testimony Sessions provided during his confirmation hearing, when he said he “did not have communications with the Russians.” During the Obama administration, conservative media figures and Republicans demanded that his attorneys general resign or be fired for supposed outrages far less damaging than lying to Congress, none of which were criminal in nature, and were in many cases completely phony.

  • Trump Calls On Only Right-Wing Outlets, Again Avoiding Questions About A Top Adviser Possibly Breaking Federal Law

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    For his second straight press conference, President Donald Trump called on only conservative reporters, this time during a joint presser with the Canadian prime minister. By responding solely to friendly press, Trump avoided answering any questions about reports that national security adviser Michael Flynn may have violated federal law.

    Reporters have been questioning whether Flynn can retain his job after multiple current and former American officials told The New York Times that he discussed lifting Russian sanctions with the country’s ambassador prior to Trump’s inauguration -- a potential violation of the Logan Act, “which prohibits private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments in disputes involving the American government.” Vice President Mike Pence previously denied that Flynn had discussed this topic, but his assurance relied solely on Flynn’s recollection of the conversation.

    During Trump’s February 13 press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, reporters had a chance to ask the president about this pressing issue, but Trump skirted that possibility by calling on only reporters for conservative outlets friendly to Trump -- Scott Thuman of the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s WJLA, the Washington, D.C., affiliate of ABC, and Kaitlan Collins of The Daily Caller, a pro-Trump outlet founded by Trump shill Tucker Carlson.

    During the election, Sinclair reportedly struck a deal with the Trump campaign to “secure better media coverage” in exchange for “more access to Trump and the campaign.” Thuman, who is also a political correspondent for conspiracy theorist Sharyl Attkisson’s Full Measure, asked Trump about how his philosophical differences with Trudeau would affect cooperation on trade and terrorism:

    The next question came from Collins, who also failed to ask about Flynn but did question Canada’s security measures surrounding refugees. Her previous work on refugees includes an article about Syrian refugees who she dubbed “Syria-sly hot,” suggesting governors opposed to allowing refugees into the country would change their minds if they saw these women:

    Many journalists criticized the selection of these reporters. Even Fox News’ national security correspondent, Jennifer Griffin, asked if the queries were “planted questions”:

    On CNN, Wolf Blitzer immediately followed the end of the presser by highlighting the lack of questions about Flynn’s future, explaining, “Presumably that’s what the White House wanted.” CNN’s Gloria Borger also questioned whether “they arranged that in advance.”

    The press conference with Trudeau followed a similar one from February 10 featuring Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, where Trump also took questions from only two reporters representing a couple of conservative media tycoon Rupert Murdoch’s media outlets, the New York Post and Fox Business Network. Those reporters likewise avoided asking about Flynn, even though the reporting on his possible violation of the Logan Act had come out the previous day.

  • Fox’s Chris Wallace Ignored Constitutional And Diplomatic Concerns Over Trump’s Muslim Ban

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace failed to mention any of the constitutional and diplomatic problems with President Donald Trump’s executive action banning visitors, immigrants, and refugees from several Muslim-majority countries in an interview he conducted with White House counselor Kellyanne Conway about the order.

    According to CNN, the executive order “bars all persons from certain ‘terror-prone’ countries from entering the United States for 90 days and suspends the US Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days until it is reinstated ‘only for nationals of countries for whom’ members of Trump's Cabinet deem can be properly vetted.” The executive action impacts immigrants and refugees from seven majority-Muslim countries, including Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia. The order has a religious exception, giving “the Department of Homeland Security leeway to prioritize refugee claims made by people ‘on the basis of religious based persecution.’” Trump himself said he will prioritize Christians refugees over Muslims refugees in an interview with the Christian Broadcast Network.

    After Trump’s executive action caused chaos for incoming refugees and immigrants at airports nationwide, a federal judge “blocked deportations nationwide late Saturday of those detained on entry to the United States after” Trump had already signed the order.

    Many cable and network news shows on Sunday explained the array of legal and diplomatic problems associated with Trump’s order. NBC’s Chuck Todd questioned the constitutionality of green card holders reportedly also being subject to the executive order. CBS’ John Dickerson grilled White House chief of staff Reince Priebus about the diplomatic backlash of the order from allied countries. ABC’s Terry Moran explained that Trump’s insistence that Christians would receive special treatment is “probably unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause.” On CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS, ACLU president Anthony Romero gave a thorough explanation of how Trump’s executive order violates international treaties, several clauses and amendments of the Constitution, and federal statutes. And Republican strategist and CNN commentator Ana Navarro pointed out that the order amounts to -- and is perceived widely as -- a Muslim ban.

    Yet Wallace noted none of those constitutional and diplomatic problems in his interview with Conway. He briefly mentioned the judges that temporarily blocked some parts of the order, but neglected to explain why, and allowed Conway to dismiss the effect of the rulings on Trump’s order without any pushback. Watch Wallace’s interview of Conway about the executive order below:

  • 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.