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  • Andrew Napolitano Off Fox News “Indefinitely” After Media Matters Exposed His Lie About Britain Spying On Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Los Angeles Times reported that Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano “is being kept off the air indefinitely” after Media Matters exposed his false claim that President Barack Obama allegedly used British intelligence community to wiretap Trump Tower during the 2016 election. The claim originated from a discredited conspiracy theorist on the Kremlin-backed news network RT.

    On March 14, Napolitano told hosts of Fox News’ Fox & Friends that Obama asked “the British spying agency” for “transcripts of conversations involving candidate Trump” without “American fingerprints” to sidestep the American intelligence community. Napolitano’s claims were repeated by White House press secretary Sean Spicer while he was defending Trump’s baseless claims that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential election.

    The Trump administration’s promotion of Napolitano’s conspiracy theory resulted in an international incident with the U.K., and Trump faulted Fox News during a news conference with German President Angela Merkel. Fox News distanced itself from Napolitano’s claims in a statement explaining that the network “knows of no evidence of any kind that the now president of the United States was surveilled at any time in any way, full stop.”

    Media Matters first traced Napolitano's wiretapping conspiracy back to an interview on the state-sponsored Russian television network RT with the former CIA analyst and discredited conspiracy theorist Larry C. Johnson, who previously promoted false claims that Michelle Obama used a racial slur against Caucasian people. Following Media Matters’ post, The New York Times confirmed that Napolitano used Johnson as “one of the sources” for his bogus wiretapping claim on March 17. Media Matters also exposed Napolitano's history as a 9-11 truther, reporting that he told renowned conspiracy theorist Alex Jones that it is "hard for me to believe that" World Trade Center Building 7 "came down by itself."

    On March 20, the Los Angeles Times reported that Napolitano is “not expected to be on Fox News Channel any time in the near future” after being “conspicuously missing from the network’s coverage of the confirmation hearings” for Trump Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. From the article:

    Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano is being kept off the air indefinitely amid the controversy over his unverified claims that British intelligence wiretapped Trump Tower at the behest of former President Obama.

    Fox News did not respond to inquiries about Napolitano’s status Monday. Napolitano was conspicuously missing from the network’s coverage of the confirmation hearings on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch — an event in which he typically would have played a significant role. He has not been on the air since Thursday.

    People familiar with the situation who could speak only on the condition of anonymity said Napolitano is not expected to be on Fox News Channel any time in the near future. Napolitano was not available for comment.

    Media Matters President Angelo Carusone released the following statement:

    Media Matters’ war on Fox News may be over. But, we don’t need to be on a war footing to expose when they promote conspiracies that originated from a segment on Russian state media. Especially when that false information gets into Donald Trump’s brain and leads to an international incident, as it did this week with Andrew Napolitano’s Fox & Friends segment.

    Most people may not realize it, but Napolitano has long been one of Trump’s favorites (I’m sure that’s not just because he’s one of Trump’s tenants either). Just a few months ago, Trump confidant Roger Stone was predicting that Trump would eventually nominate Napolitano to the Supreme Court. And, don’t forget that Napolitano met with Trump on multiple occasions between election day and inauguration day to reportedly advise Trump on filling Supreme Court vacancies among other things.

    So, it’s somewhat ironic that Donald Trump is responsible for getting Andrew Napolitano booted from the airwaves. And, yes, it’s all Trump’s fault.

    Napolitano has been peddling convoluted conspiracies and false claims on Fox News for years. It wasn’t that long ago that Napolitano was bouncing back and forth between Alex Jones’ radio program and Glenn Beck’s since cancelled Fox News show, cross pollinating nonsense and lies.

    But, Napolitano’s conspiracies never mattered to Fox News before. They only mattered now because Trump parroted one and subsequently sparked an international incident with the United Kingdom. (A country, by the way, where Fox News owner Murdoch is currently being carefully scrutinized in order to secure regulatory approval to expand his media empire and take over Sky News).

    If Fox News was actually concerned with standards, they would have sanctioned Napolitano years ago -- and they would certainly do something about the litany of lies that Trump continues to consume by watching Hannity, Tucker, and Fox & Friends.”

    This post has been updated for clarity.

  • 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.

  • FBI Director Puts To Rest Two Weeks Of Fox Lies About Trump's False Wiretap Claim

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Since March 4, President Donald Trump and Fox News have been feeding each other evidence and defenses to back up Trump’s false claim that his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, ordered a “wiretap” at Trump Tower. Fox figures, including Andrew Napolitano, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly, have been backing up Trump’s claim, and Trump and White House press secretary Sean Spicer have in turn recycled their comments in their attempts to substantiate the original claim. On March 20, FBI Director James Comey debunked Trump’s original tweet accusing Obama of wiretapping, unequivocally stating, “I have no information that supports those tweets. … The Department [of Justice] has no information that supports those tweets.”

  • Neil Gorsuch's Alarming Relationship With A Serial Voting Rights Misinformer

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Newly released emails from President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, evidence an amicable relationship between the judge and National Review contributor and discredited conservative media legal analyst Hans von Spakovsky. The relationship is a sign that Gorsuch could continue Trump’s assault on civil rights from the high court.

    According to emails released by the Senate Judiciary Committee, first reported on by The Nation’s Ari Berman, Gorsuch’s communications with or about von Spakovsky paint a picture of their  friendly relationship. In 2005, Gorsuch wrote “Good for Hans” after then-President George W. Bush nominated von Spakovsky to the Federal Election Commission. In another email that year, Gorsuch praised von Spakovsky for participating in a Bush-era Justice Department conference on the election system at a time when "Though the Justice Department was supposed to investigate both voting discrimination and voter fraud, the latter cause took priority and eventually led to Republican US Attorneys’ being wrongly fired from their jobs for refusing to prosecute fraud cases," as explained by Berman.

    As Berman wrote, “the emails suggest Gorsuch was friendly with von Spakovksy. But it’s far more disturbing if Gorsuch shares Von Spakovsky’s views on voting rights.” As Berman previously pointed out, Gorsuch’s “paper trail on civil-rights cases is slim,” and little is known about his views on voting rights. However, this relationship with von Spakovsky does nothing to reassure voting and civil rights advocates.

    Von Spakovsky is one of the leading conservative media misinformers on voting rights, frequently hyping the false narrative that voter fraud is widespread. In November, von Spakovsky and his frequent partner, John Fund, rehashed discredited evidence to fearmonger about noncitizen voting in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. The op-ed was published even though noncitizen voting is incredibly rare and studies that claim otherwise have been found to be flawed. Von Spakovsky has also erroneously suggested that double voting is not only a problem, but that it could be solved by strict voter ID laws. In 2012, von Spakovsky and Fund wrote a book filled with lies about voting rights.

    Von Spakovsky has used these lies to relentlessly advocate for unnecessarily strict voter ID laws across the nation, which have been shown to systematically disenfranchise voters, especially voters of color. To promote these laws, von Spakovsky has hyped myths and misleading details, claiming that the laws don’t lead to voter disenfranchisement and that they actually speed up the voting process. Additionally, von Spakovsky has also praised blatantly illegal voter suppression tactics.

    While von Spakovsky is often held up as a conservative expert on voting rights, his talking points are incredibly misleading and discredited, and his tactics are shady. His apparent disdain for civil rights and access to justice is supported by more than just his disregard for half a century of progressive voting rights jurisprudence. He has called the modern civil rights movement “indistinguishable” from “segregationists.” Von Spakovsky also has been a proponent of forced arbitration clauses, which are when an “employee or consumer is required to waive their right to sue, to participate in a class action lawsuit, or to appeal.” Forced arbitration is terrible for consumers, and according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, gives less consumers eligibility for financial redress than they would have through class-action settlements.

    Gorsuch’s friendly emails to and about von Spakovsky should trigger alarms among those who are worried about voting rights and civil rights in general. If confirmed, Gorsuch would be ruling on many of these issues from the bench. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 68 bills have been introduced in 2017 alone to restrict access to the ballot in 27 states -- and Trump’s lies about the election and voter fraud are only paving the way for an even wider assault on voting rights. This is to say nothing of Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who has a record of being incredibly hostile toward civil rights, even calling the Voting Rights Act “intrusive.” If Gorsuch’s correspondence with von Spakovsky is any hint, access to basic rights and liberties may only get worse.

  • Report Confirms Fox News’ Napolitano Repeated Russian Media For His British Intelligence Conspiracy Theory

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The New York Times has confirmed that Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano sourced his false allegation that former President Barack Obama asked British intelligence to spy on President Donald Trump to a discredited former CIA analyst. This analyst, Larry C. Johnson, floated the conspiracy theory on the Russian state-sponsored news network RT on March 6, the week after Trump’s original accusation that Obama was responsible for an illegal wiretap.

    On March 13, Napolitano told hosts of Fox News’ Fox & Friends that Obama circumvented the American intelligence community to ask “the British spying agency” for “transcripts of conversations involving candidate Trump” without “American fingerprints.” Napolitano’s claims were cited by White House press secretary Sean Spicer while defending Trump’s baseless claims that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential election.

    On March 14, Media Matters uncovered the link between Napolitano's claims and an interview Johnson gave to RT. The New York Times confirmed Media Matters'  reporting that Napolitano used Johnson as “one of the sources” for his “claim about British intelligence.” The Times also noted Johnson’s direct involvement in spreading false rumors that video existed of Michelle Obama using a racial slur against white people. From the March 17 article:

    Mr. [Andrew] Napolitano’s unlikely leap into global politics can be explained by his friendship with Mr. Trump, whom he met with this year to discuss potential Supreme Court nominees. Mr. Napolitano also has a taste for conspiracy theories, which led him to Larry C. Johnson, a former intelligence officer best known for spreading a hoax about Michelle Obama.

    [...]

    Mr. Johnson, who was himself once a Fox News contributor, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Napolitano called him on Friday and requested that he speak to The New York Times. Mr. Johnson said he was one of the sources for Mr. Napolitano’s claim about British intelligence.

    Mr. Johnson became infamous in political circles after he spread false rumors in 2008 that Michelle Obama had been videotaped using a slur against Caucasians. In the interview on Friday, Mr. Johnson acknowledged his notoriety, but said that his knowledge of surveillance of Mr. Trump came from sources in the American intelligence community. Mr. Napolitano, he said, heard about his information through an intermediary.