Media seized on President Donald Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress as an opportunity for him to “pivot” or “reset” his administration. This canard that he would at some point change course was repeated throughout the presidential campaign, yet any shifts that occurred were always short-lived.
As Trump Feuds With CNN, NBC Is Elevating Voices That Are Accommodating Trump
A lot of attention in recent days has been paid to the Trump administration’s decision to freeze out CNN. Rather than focusing on why Trump is lashing out at CNN, a better question to ask is: Why does the Trump administration feel so comfortable with NBC and MSNBC?
It was clear back in early January that NBC was building a Trump normalization machine when the network brought on former Fox News host Megyn Kelly, MSNBC brought on former Fox host Greta Van Susteren, and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough started talking daily about his chats with the president. Two weeks into Donald Trump’s presidency, it turns out that things are even worse than imagined.
Kelly has yet to start at NBC (and reportedly won’t for several months). Yet to make space for the former face of Fox News, NBC is removing Al Roker and Tamron Hall as co-hosts of the third hour of Today. Kelly, who, like Trump, built her name on racial demagoguery, is thus taking the space of two of the few people of color who host NBC news shows. Tamron Hall has since announced that she is leaving NBC. (Indeed, in recent years, Ann Curry, Alex Wagner, Karen Finney, Melissa Harris-Perry, and Michael Eric Dyson have all left NBC News shows, raising concerns that the network was marginalizing people of color). In short, maybe NBC should treat diversity as more than just a Twitter account.
As for Scarborough, Morning Joe of late is best understood as not just its own show but also a window into the heart of the Trump administration. Scarborough and co-host Mika Brzezinski are regularly meeting with and advising Trump. Scarborough defends some of Trump’s worst instincts. And, of course, there’s the obnoxious infighting with other advisers whom Scarborough blames when things go wrong. Trump himself watches the show. Even on the rare day when he criticizes Trump, Scarborough will say something apparently intended to protect his relationship with the president. If Trump’s administration is Apocalypse Now, Morning Joe is Hearts of Darkness.
Van Susteren, who debuted on the network with an effusive introduction from Rachel Maddow (“Greta Van Susteren is great!”) has continued her schtick of trading access for the type of softball questions and deferential approach you would expect from someone actually employed by the people she is interviewing. The show is clearly more concerned with booking big guests than with answering big questions. Van Susteren’s deferential interview with House Speaker Paul Ryan exemplified this approach, as was especially notable when she brought back the torture-substitute phrase “enhanced interrogation.” Somehow, the most newsworthy thing from a 22-minute interview with the speaker of the House was Ryan speculating about how Trump might eventually get Mexico to pay for the border wall.
Van Susteren’s interview with Trump aide Stephen Miller about the Muslim ban was even worse. Where to even begin? Van Susteren’s first question to Miller was literally, “Have at it!” It somehow managed to get worse from there.
The problem is not that Van Susteren is too far left or right. It’s that her style of access journalism itself enables misinformation. We are living in a post-truth era with an administration that lies even on routine matters. Giving deferential interviews to these liars only makes Van Susteren an accomplice. That she will do similar interviews with Democrats (or, one can imagine, with the few “Never Trump” Republicans left) is no defense. Journalism at its best speaks truth to power. Van Susteren’s show does the opposite.
NBC’s leading figures seem eager for politics to get back to some sort of “normal” -- to the point that they sometimes seem in denial about who Trump really is. When the intelligence community briefed then-President Obama and then-President-elect Trump on alleged ties between Trump and Russia, leading figures at NBC and MSNBC united to downplay the claims.
Andrea Mitchell praised the “reboot” of Sean Spicer’s first press conference (following his bizarre harangue directed at the media about inauguration size two days before), as if the Trump camp’s years-long war on the press was just a Hollywood franchise that needed a new beginning:
Chuck Todd bizarrely claimed during the inauguration that former Breitbart chief Stephen Bannon was “not ideological.” When Trump organized a reality TV-style circus to announce a Supreme Court nomination, Todd gushed over the presentation, saying Neil Gorsuch made “an incredible first impression.”
When NBC News chairman Andrew Lack began to make changes at MSNBC in late 2015, at first he was understandably putting more emphasis on breaking news capability. But things slowly began to change. Lack then touted extensive coverage of Trump on MSNBC even as the network was under fire for running a ridiculous number of Trump rallies. He also offered an assessment of geopolitics that was far more in line with Trump’s apocalyptic rhetoric than with reality. When Matt Lauer interviewed both candidates during a widely panned forum, two of the very few people who praised Lauer were Lack and Trump himself. The network botched coverage of Trump on tape bragging about sexual assault, even though it owned the footage. And just yesterday, NBC News president Deborah Turness was spotted in the West Wing.
It looks to a lot of people like NBC and MSNBC are shifting right in order to compete for the GOP audience and appeal to Trump himself. The Trump administration’s increasing comfort with MSNBC and NBC only reinforces this theory. But as Fox News could tell them, once you start giving in and moving to the right, you may have a hard time stopping.
Graphic by Sarah Wasko
In her past role at Fox News, new NBC News hire Megyn Kelly has invited onto her show a number of extremists and hate group leaders who spread and espouse anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant views, statements, and lies. Will she continue her practice of hosting bigotry in her upcoming daytime news and Sunday evening programs?
An article from The Washington Post highlighted how conservative media figures who once decried WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as a “deeply flawed individual” are now praising Assange for doing conservatives “a favor.”
During the 2016 election, Assange’s WikiLeaks released several batches of stolen emails from Democratic National Committee staff and Hillary Clinton aide John Podesta, sparking a conservative media holiday. Assange appeared on Fox for several interviews with hosts Megyn Kelly and Sean Hannity following the publication of the emails. Hannity has gone so far as to admit on his talk radio show that “the only reason” he no longer thought Assange and WikiLeaks were waging “war against the US” was that Assange’s release would do political damage to Clinton.
In a January 4 article, The Washington Post highlighted Sean Hannity’s most recent glowing interview with Assange and pointed to conservative media’s “stark departure from what was, until recently, a near-universal condemnation” of Assange, including Trump’s claim that he deserved the death penalty. From the article:
Assange’s interview with Fox News was conducted by Sean Hannity, who had evolved from a critic to a frequent booster. From Assange’s room in London, Hannity presented WikiLeaks in its favored terms — as a source of true, incorruptible journalism, bringing down the political elite.
Hannity, who told Assange last month that he had “done us a favor,” said Tuesday that he believes “every word” Assange says.
“You exposed a level of corruption that I for 30 years on the radio as a conservative knew existed, and I was shocked at the level of corruption, duplicity, dishonesty, manipulation,” Hannity told Assange. “Knowing what WikiLeaks revealed about the Podesta emails on Clinton corruption, on pay to play, on Bernie Sanders being cheated, all of this is revealed. Not a lot of this was covered.”
The Fox interview won other fans: Sarah Palin, who had once compared Assange to the editor of an al-Qaeda magazine, apologized on Facebook and credited him with releasing “important information that finally opened people’s eyes to democrat (sic) candidates and operatives.”
This treatment of Assange is a stark departure from what was, until recently, a near-universal condemnation of the Australian by conservative pundits and politicians as well as the national security establishment. Assange has inspired both admiration and hatred — sometimes by the same individuals — since his anti-secrecy organization first made global headlines in 2010.
On Fox News, legal experts debated the best legal course against Assange, who was decried by one guest as a “deeply flawed individual.” A column in the conservative publication National Review Online questioned why Assange wasn’t dead already — perhaps “garroted in his hotel.” Trump himself, in one of his then-frequent calls to Fox, called WikiLeaks “disgraceful” and added that “there should be like death penalty or something” for its releases.
Joe Scarborough, Megyn Kelly, Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice Connection, And Greta Van Susteren Will Just Make Things Worse
UPDATE: Greta Van Susteren's MSNBC show "For The Record" will reportedly begin January 9.
After running a proto-fascist campaign, President-elect Donald Trump will bring his hate, misogyny, and bigotry to the White House at the end of the month. And when he does, NBC will have a machine ready to normalize him. Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough is cozying up to Trump, the network is literally paying Trump through Celebrity Apprentice, and MSNBC is reportedly in talks to hire Greta Van Susteren, a longtime Fox News host with a history of treating Trump with kid gloves. And now Megyn Kelly, who famously buried the hatchet with Trump by lobbing him a softball interview and then withheld information about him until after the election, is also going to work for NBC.
By any measure, the Trump normalization effort at NBC begins at the top, with the network actually paying money to Trump as a result of his Celebrity Apprentice executive producer credit. The problem here is simple: NBC will have a fiduciary relationship with the president of the United States. The network now has an incentive to weigh aggressive reporting about the president-elect against what it might lose in revenue if Trump’s reputation is damaged. NBC, after all, is the network that had the hot mic tape of Trump bragging about sexual assault -- but it’s not the outlet that broke that news.
The tangles of the Trump-NBC connection were reflected in Matt Lauer’s recent interview with new Celebrity Apprentice host Arnold Schwarzenegger, in which the two downplayed the conflict of interest posed by Trump’s role in the show. Far from raising concerns about a financial arrangement between a network and the president, Lauer instead teased the increasing personal involvement Trump could have on the show as the season goes on. That’s normalization, and it’s driven by a desire for profit margin, plain and simple. As the Trump administration draws nearer, we’re seeing signs that this approach could repeat itself in the news division.
Megyn Kelly announced her move to NBC on Tuesday. Kelly’s schtick is old hat for those who watch Fox News closely. She’ll have one good moment that gets an absurd amount of press and defines the narrative, and she’ll follow it up by making numerous terrible remarks -- often involving bigotry or race baiting of some kind -- that mainstream journalists just seem to forget in the long run. In fact, promoting bigotry was something of a specialty for Kelly at Fox News, as she helped build her name by obsessively pushing the baseless conspiracy that the Obama administration had declined to pursue voter intimidation charges against the New Black Panther Party for racial and political reasons. She would later infamously declare that both Santa Claus and Jesus were white. As Gawker’s Sam Biddle put it, “To Megyn Kelly, black rage is pervasive when she wants you scared, insignificant when she wants you ignorant.”
The thing is, with a certain crowd of media elites, Kelly’s terrible remarks never stick the way the good moments do. Just look at all the mainstream positive puff pieces on Kelly. One is left to wonder how many of these people regularly watched her show.
Her experience with Trump during the 2016 election is typical Megyn Kelly: In the first presidential primary debate, she confronted Trump about his track record of insulting women. With that query, she cemented her reputation among two crowds: the media elites who loved it, and the “alt-right” misogynists who are railing against Kelly to this day.
But despite her very public feud with Trump, during the campaign, Kelly’s Fox News show was a perfect example of normalization. Even though she posed a tough question to Trump during the debate (and asked the occasional tough question to his surrogates), she also gave Trump a welcoming platform and reinforced the bigoted tropes that he built his campaign on.
Even weeks before the debate, Kelly had set the tone for her campaign, defending Trump’s racist remarks about immigrants by positively citing Ann Coulter’s book Adios America.
And then, just days after being showered with mainstream praise for her debate question, Kelly turned to disgraced former detective Mark Fuhrman for analysis about protests in Ferguson, MO. (Fuhrman is so racist that even Fox News host and Daily Caller founder Tucker Carlson has called him a bigot.) And in the weeks and months following the debate, while Trump raged about Kelly and the press ate it up, Kelly was mainstreaming a hate group, pushing bigotry against transgender people, complaining about a “thug mentality” in black communities, sneering at black protesters, and attacking a Department of Justice plan to address anti-Muslim rhetoric. Kelly blamed African-Americans who were the victims of police violence and even lashed out at one black protester for looking a police officer in the eyes. And all this was just in 2015, not to mention 2016. None of this behavior got the press that her big moment confronting Trump did.
And even when Kelly failed, it didn’t stick. Her prime-time show on Fox Broadcasting Co. last May was supposed to be a huge breakout moment. It was her chance to show she could be a “star” without the lower expectations that come with being a journalist on Fox News. Instead, the show was roundly considered a disaster, and it contained one of the worst Trump interviews of the entire election, up there with anything Sean Hannity aired. And yet, when news broke of Kelly moving to NBC, this catastrophe was largely forgotten.
That’s not all. Kelly met with Trump before the taping of that special and then withheld details about the meeting in order to make news with her book, Settle For More, released November 15. It was only after the election that Kelly revealed Trump was trying to bribe journalists behind the scenes. If Kelly’s secretive meeting with Trump sounds familiar, it’s because her new colleague Joe Scarborough is playing the same game.
Scarborough spent a good part of the election season carrying water for Trump. He questioned whether the timing of sexual assault allegations against Trump were “a coincidence.” He defended a Trump ad that the ADL condemned as anti-Semitic. He lied about Trump’s prior foreign policy positions. He mocked David Fahrenthold’s reporting for The Washington Post about the Trump Foundation. He called Trump’s racism and bigotry just part of a “character” that Trump was playing. He ignored Trump scandals. He excused Trump’s rhetoric, claiming Trump was “exhausted” from being on television. He credited Trump with a “dominating” debate performance. He dismissed Trump’s history of birtherism. He sneered at the idea that Trump was graded on a curve. He downplayed a comprehensive New York Times report on Trump’s treatment of women.
Like Kelly, when Scarborough and his co-host were given a high-profile prime-time interview with Trump, they completely dropped the ball, conducting a friendly chat rather than pressing him on any issue. (The casual tone continued when the cameras were off.) It’s no wonder that even a conservative radio host declared that Scarborough had “turned his show into a Trump Super PAC for six months.” An NBC pollster made a similar point. And Morning Joe devolved into a screaming match when Bill Kristol called out Scarborough for “rewriting history.”
From time to time, Scarborough was lucid about the danger Trump poses, even as late as August when Scarborough demanded the GOP ditch Trump as its nominee. Famously, Scarborough told viewers that Trump had allegedly asked during a security briefing why America cannot use its nuclear weapons. But Scarborough’s occasional Trump skepticism never lasted.
Since the election, Scarborough and Brzezinski have been all in for Trump. They have met with him in person and even boasted on air that they “speak frequently” with the president-elect. Scarborough said that he personally thinks Trump believes in climate science, despite evidence to the contrary. He also downplayed pro-Trump fake news, and he and Brzezinski both tried to whitewash the racism and bigotry out of Trump’s campaign.
Along with meeting with Trump and defending him on air, Scarborough and Brzezinski also regularly get scoops on his transition. In December, the pair, dressed in pajamas for their holiday show, broke the news that Trump was willing to start a nuclear arms race.
Scarborough also recently met with Trump at Mar-A-Lago during Trump’s New Year's’ Eve party.
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) January 2, 2017
Scarborough denied being there for a party, telling CNN’s Brian Stelter that he was meeting with Trump to lobby for an on-air interview and that he was surprised to see people in tuxedos when he arrived. On Monday, he spoke with CNN’s Dylan Byers about the uproar over the incident, repeatedly invoking other reporters’ relationships with various politicians to defend himself.
Scarborough’s defensive answers to Byers give away one major problem with his close relationship with Trump: The need to protect Trump’s reputation can cloud Scarborough’s judgment. Morning Joe’s absurd defense of Trump’s position on climate change is a perfect example. With no proof in his favor, Scarborough simply asserted that Trump believes in climate science, ignoring mountains of evidence to the contrary.
Trump’s increasingly gushing coverage on MSNBC may soon not be limited to Morning Joe. MSNBC reportedly may hire former Fox News host Greta Van Susteren for its 6 p.m. hour (Update: Van Susteren's move is now official). Van Susteren has given Trump a welcoming platform for years. Before the Republican primary, Trump appeared more times on Van Susteren’s On The Record than on the rest of the Fox News prime-time shows combined. During the Republican primary, Van Susteren had Trump on for over five hours, dwarfing other candidates. During these appearances, Trump pushed birtherism, claimed Obama didn’t write his own memoir, and made bigoted remarks about refugees. And Andrew Kaczynski chronicled more of Trump’s moments from Van Susteren’s show.
To be fair, On The Record was not the worst on Fox News, and Van Susteren may well have been playing to the conservative audience. But the absolute worst Trump hagiographic moment during his campaign came during her “documentary” interview with his campaign. Here’s how the special looks when you take out the Trump family’s answers.
Onlookers harshly criticized the special, with MSNBC host -- and potential future colleague -- Chris Hayes declaring that it was reminiscent of state media under a dictator.
A glimpse of what state media will look like after Glorious Leader Trump is victorious. https://t.co/5viCwg9OBg
— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) May 26, 2016
As of now, Van Susteren’s hiring is still a rumor and may not come to pass. But either way, a likely factor in MSNBC’s desire to add her to its lineup is her established track record of getting access to Trump, which she certainly didn’t accomplish because she subjected him to tough interviews.
There are other problem spots on NBC News and MSNBC. Meet The Press fell for Trump’s spin on climate change, just as it bought his take on North Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ law. The show has also at various points ignored or glossed over stories like the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Trump University settlement, the investigation of the Trump Foundation, the proven lawbreaking at the Trump Foundation, the Democracy Spring protests, some of Trump’s sketchy ties to Russia, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, and the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. The hosts did find time to let Iraq War architect Paul Wolfowitz relitigate the invasion. They also let Glenn Beck attempt to rehabilitate his reputation -- twice. And it’s not just one show. The spectre of increasing Trump normalization talk on MSNBC brings to mind the network’s shady history in the first term of the Bush administration.
MSNBC’s prime-time voices like Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, and Lawrence O’Donnell are resisting efforts to normalize Trump. But it’s unclear whether they can win that fight with the leading voices at MSNBC and NBC News pushing the other way, much less with the network itself in bed with Trump. And if Trump puts net neutrality rules on the table, NBC’s parent company, Comcast, would surely have an interest.
All of this bears close watching. But the long and short of it is that the network seems primed to become a Trump normalization machine.
In short, Fox News finally has competition.
Graphic by Sarah Wasko
New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman reports that according to Fox News insiders, Fox News host Megyn Kelly’s replacement on Fox “will be a pro-Trump conservative.”
On January 3, Megyn Kelly announced that she will be leaving Fox News for NBC, saying in a statement on her Facebook page, “I have decided to end my time at FNC, incredibly enriched for the experiences I've had."
According to insiders who spoke with Sherman, “the Murdochs will choose a woman” to replace Kelly in her nightly 9 PM slot, and all agree “that whoever replaces Kelly will be a pro-Trump conservative”:
Inside Fox News, staffers are speculating over who will replace Kelly. According to insiders I spoke with today, the consensus seems to be that the Murdochs will choose a woman to fill her 9 p.m. time slot. The leading internal contenders include Trish Regan, Shannon Bream, Sandra Smith, and Martha MacCallum. Two sources said Kimberly Guilfoyle is lobbying for the job.
The one thing Fox insiders are in agreement on is that whoever replaces Kelly will be a pro-Trump conservative. In the wake of Ailes’s ouster, some media observers speculated that 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch wanted to reposition Fox to the center, bringing it more in line with his moderate political views. But the selection of a pro-Trump host to fill Kelly’s slot would suggest that Fox is instead doubling down on its right-wing politics and planning to align itself with the new administration. After initially being hostile to Trump, Murdoch has made moves to curry favor with the president-elect. Fox insiders told me that Murdoch personally named pro-Trump anchor Tucker Carlson to replace Greta Van Susteren at 7 p.m.
Murdoch’s relationship with Trump has greatly improved since the depths of Trump’s battle with Kelly last year. “I really like Rupert Murdoch!” Trump told guests at Mar-a-Lago over the holidays, according to an attendee. “Roger Ailes was a friend of mine, but Fox’s coverage is so much better since he left.”
If Fox News’ politics ultimately solidify as more pro-Trump than they were during the campaign, that might be to the benefit of Murdoch’s business interests. According to a well-placed source, Trump has asked Murdoch to submit names for FCC Chairman. Murdoch, another source said, also wants conditions put on the AT&T-Time Warner merger, and he could lobby Trump to make that happen.
The new face of NBC News spent the final months of the presidential campaign withholding vital information about Donald Trump, revealing it only in the book she published days after the election.
Fox News host Megyn Kelly has been hired away by NBC, where she will play “a triple role in which she will host her own daytime news and discussion program, anchor an in-depth Sunday night news show and take regular part in the network’s special political programming and other big-event coverage.”
There are many reasons to be concerned with Kelly’s move, among them her history of using white racial anxiety to bolster her career, her willingness to defend and promote anti-gay "hate groups," and her ability to use a patina of unearned credibility to push out the same right-wing lies that her Fox colleagues spout. But among them must certainly be her decision to wait until after the election to reveal key facts about Trump's interactions with her network.
In her book, Settle for More, Kelly writes that she learned Trump had inside information from Fox about the question she would ask him at the first Republican primary debate. She confirms that during the campaign, former network chairman Roger Ailes was shilling for more positive coverage of the now president-elect. She reports that she was "offered gifts" by Trump "clearly meant to shape coverage," and details numerous death threats she received after Trump attacked her in interviews and on Twitter, which led her to hire security guards, and a Fox executive to warn to Trump’s lawyer that “If Megyn Kelly gets killed, it's not going to help your candidate.”
None of this came out during the campaign -- in fact, Kelly plugged her book in May by stating, “For the first time, I’ll speak openly about my year with Donald Trump.” “There are times,” The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple writes of the book, “when Kelly all but smacks the reader in the face with her scoop-preservation strategy.”
Kelly defends her conduct by saying she was prioritizing her family's safety. That's a valid reason to stay silent about the threats of violence from Trump supporters, but not to hide Trump's bribes or efforts inside the network to support him.
Reporters have a responsibility to provide news when it matters to the American people, not when the news is most convenient for their books sales. It’s unfortunate that NBC News doesn’t seem to agree.
With hate crimes against Muslims on the rise and an administration that frequently makes anti-Muslim statements on its way in, cable news shows must work harder to include Muslim experts, advocates, and community leaders in order to provide a good reflection of the diversity and authenticity of American Muslim experiences.
According to FBI statistics, anti-Muslim hate crimes have been on the rise for several years, shooting up 67 percent between 2014 and 2015 “from 154 in 2014 to 257 in 2015,” their highest since the year of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. Though FBI hate crime statistics for 2016 won’t be released until the end of 2017, according to a joint study by CAIR and ThinkProgress, there have been 111 reported anti-Muslim incidents in America since the November 13, 2015, terrorist attacks in Paris, 53 of them in the month of December 2015 alone.
Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, which tracked the connection between political rhetoric and anti-Muslim attacks during the the presidential campaign season, found that there have been approximately 180 reported incidents of anti-Muslim violence in the one year period after the first candidate announced his bid for the White House in March 2015. And since Trump’s election less than two months ago, there have been at least 150 reported hate incidents, 29 of which were inspired by anti-Muslim sentiment, according to a ThinkProgress analysis that “focuses on moments of more targeted harassment and hatred.”
Despite the undeniable upward trend of violence against American Muslims, right-wing media have consistently dismissed this trend and cast doubt on the discrimination American Muslims face. On December 7, 2015, the same day Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” Fox’s The Five co-hosts Kimberly Guilfoyle and Jesse Watters used the opportunity to criticize the Obama administration's call for tolerance toward Muslims by denying the existence of discrimination against people of that faith. Watters asserted, "Let me know if you see any Muslim backlash, I haven't seen a lot of it," with Guilfoyle adding, "I mean, who's vilifying any of the Muslims. Who's doing that?" The next day, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed, “Muslim hate crimes [are] not as big an issue as the White House would make you to believe,” and The O’Reilly Factor host Bill O’Reilly asserted, “there really isn't any evidence that Muslims are being mistreated in the USA.”
Of course, none of these Fox figures are Muslim, and neither of these segments featured Muslim guests. Their coverage is indicative of a larger problem: When cable news shows fail to invite Muslims to speak about their concerns, misinformed attacks are left unchecked and unchallenged and are repeated until viewers simply accept them as fact.
The Pulse Nightclub Shooting
The day after 49 people were killed at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, despite major print and online news stories about the outpouring of Muslim support for the shooting victims, positive portrayals of Muslims on cable news shows were almost non-existent. A Media Matters study of what voices were heard on cable news the day after the Orlando shooting found only 5 percent of guests on Fox News and MSNBC were Muslim, as well as only 7 percent of guests on CNN. What’s more, the three Muslim guests featured on Fox News did not adequately represent the Muslim American population; Maajid Nawaz is identified by Fox as a “former Islamic extremist,” Zuhdi Jasser has been described by the Council On American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) as “the de facto Muslim for anti-Muslim political leaders,” and Qanta Ahmed has warned that “it’s time for the United States, western democracies, Britain, France, to admit that we are under siege by an ideology called Islamism.”
Three days later, Fox’s Megyn Kelly invited anti-Muslim hate group leader Brigitte Gabriel, founder of ACT! For America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America,” onto her show to discuss the shooting. Fox’s post-Orlando coverage followed a familiar pattern of stereotyping, fear-mongering, and misplaced blame. Other Fox guests and contributors exploited the attack in order to call for mosque surveillance and a new version of the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Fox isn’t the only network that needs to improve inclusion of Muslim voices in important dialogues. On MSNBC, Maajid Nawaz, who was identified as a “former Islamist revolutionary member,” accounted for two out of four Muslim guest appearances. (He was also the same guest featured on Fox.) CNN featured the most diverse and numerous array of Muslim guests, but still only comprised 7 percent of guests on CNN that day.
Trump’s Attacks On A Gold Star Family
Another recent example of a major news story that impacted the Muslim community but didn’t ask them how was Trump’s attacks on a Muslim Gold Star family. On July 31, Gold Star mother Ghazala Khan penned an op-ed for The Washington Post debunking Trump’s July 30 claim that “maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say” about her son Humayun, an Army captain who was killed in the line of duty in Iraq. Trump’s attack, which played on the stereotype that Muslim women are expected to be subservient to their husbands, garnered sustained national attention, but on the morning shows of two major cable news networks, MSNBC and Fox, Muslim guests were barely featured. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, of 13 guests to discuss Trump’s attacks on the Khan family, only two were Muslim, the Khans themselves. On Fox’s morning show Fox & Friends, which covered the story significantly less, only one of three guests invited to discuss the Khan story was Muslim, and the one Muslim guest was Jasser. CNN’s coverage of the attacks on the Khan family was markedly more representative of Muslims. Out of 17 guests invited onto its morning show New Day, eight (including Khizr and Ghazala Khan) were Muslim. While this is a major improvement over MSNBC’s and Fox’s coverage of the story, only one guest other than Ghazala Khan was a female Muslim, despite the sexist nature of Trump’s anti-Muslim attack.
Post-Election Media Environment
Politicians engaging in anti-Islam rhetoric picked up in 2015, but no presidential candidate weaponized that brand of hate to the degree Donald Trump has. Throughout the course of his campaign, Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, said he would implement a registry and tracking system of American Muslims, and claimed that “Islam hates us.” Despite the unusual level of anti-Muslim sentiment coming from the president-elect, in the month following Trump’s election only 21 percent of evening cable news segments on issues affecting Muslims or, more specifically, segments on his anti-Muslim policy proposals and cabinet picks featured Muslim guests. Muslims are understandably outraged about Trump’s cabinet picks, and while discussion of those picks has dominated cable news shows during the transition, we aren’t hearing from Muslims on the primetime news shows.
Why This Matters
Media representation of Muslims has measurable effects on Americans’ views of Muslims and Islam. A December 2015 University of Michigan experimental study on exposure to Muslims in media found that “exposing participants to negative Muslim media footage, relative to neutral or no-video footage, increased perceptions of Muslims as aggressive, increased support for harsh civil restrictions of American Muslims, and increased support for military action in Muslim countries.” Fortunately, the opposite is also true -- media representations of Muslims in a positive context can produce the opposite effect. Moreover, the majority of Americans that personally know Muslims hold favorable views of them, a finding that holds across the political spectrum. But only 38 percent of Americans say that they know someone who is Muslim. Taken together, these findings make the case for increased representation of Muslims in news media -- since most Americans have limited interactions with Muslims, it’s incumbent that media help to get their perspectives across authentically.
Unfortunately,TV news has done an abysmal job of this. A 2007-2013 study on Muslims in the media found that primetime TV news coverage of Muslims has gotten increasingly worse -- in 2013, over 80 percent of media portrayals of Muslims in U.S. broadcast news shows were negative. This kind of coverage has lasting impacts on attitudes about Muslims. Fifty-five percent of Americans hold either a somewhat or very unfavorable view of Islam, and over half of Americans believe that Muslim immigrants increase the risk of terror attacks in the United States.
Despite the false but persistent narrative of Muslims as violent aggressors, American Muslims face more discrimination than nearly every other demographic in the United States, and it dominates their day-to-day existence. A 2011 Pew study with Muslim American participants (the most recent to date) found that the six biggest problems facing Muslims in the United States were negative views of their community, discrimination, ignorance about their religion, cultural problems between Muslims and non-Muslims, negative media portrayals, and acceptance by society. Given this reality, it is even more important that American Muslims are invited into the national news media to inform non-Muslims and raise awareness about issues faced by members of the United States’ estimated 3.3 million Muslim population.
In the face of what has been called a “post-truth presidency,” being informed is more important than ever. That starts with representing the diverse demographics, perspectives, and opinions of Americans fairly and authentically. In 2016, TV news media viewers saw glimpses of media outlets’ understanding of the need to represent Muslims. Next year, these cable news producers need to constantly be asking themselves: Who does this story affect? What can we ask them? How can we learn from them? Asking Muslims, “What is life like in Trump’s America?” is a good place to start.
For coverage of the Khan family story, Media Matters used iQ media to review the August 1, 2016, editions of morning news shows on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News -- CNN’s New Day, MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and Fox News’ Fox & Friends -- between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. for segments and panel discussions dedicated to the Khan story. We excluded network hosts and reporters in our count of show guests. For coverage of the Pulse nightclub shooting, segments featuring Muslim guests were reviewed in iQ media to determine their identity. For post-election cable news coverage of issues affecting American Muslims, Media Matters used Nexis to search for mentions of “Islam," “Muslim,” “Middle East,” and “registry” in show editions of CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News from the hours of 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. aired between November 14 and December 14, 2016. Fox News’ The Five, a primarily panel-based show which rarely has guests, was excluded. Bloomberg’s With All Due Respect, which airs on MSNBC, was also excluded because transcripts are not available in Nexis.
Segments included are defined by either a panel discussion or an interview where the stated topic of the segment is Islam, Muslims in the United States, or policies and/or presidential cabinet appointments affecting Muslims. We identified a guest’s religion by one or more of the following details: the host’s spoken introduction, onscreen text or graphics produced by the network, self-identification, or consultation of publicly available online biographies.
An anti-intellectual alliance of misogynists and white nationalists is using cult tactics to harass and abuse Americans. They systematically attempt to discredit reputable sources. They replace logic with paranoia. They horrifically harass perceived political opponents. And this campaign, which has dangerous historical precedents, has been empowered by a fake news ecosystem and a tech industry that profits off the phenomenon.
While reporting real news requires a newsroom and some sort of process that can be critiqued and examined, “fake news” is built to obfuscate and hide sources. Its creators are varied, from a random American making $10,000 a month from his fabricated Facebook posts to a group of teenagers in Macedonia running more than a hundred pro-Trump websites. The business model is simple: identify the news that people want to read, and give it to them, regardless of the truth and with no effort whatsoever put into actual reporting.
There is no question that fake news got lots of attention in 2016, in part because the president-elect himself -- and several people close to him -- pushed fabricated information. That’s deeply concerning, because data shows that not only do Americans believe lies they see on Facebook, but also that Americans across party lines say fake news is a real problem.
No one is more responsible for the rise of fake news than Facebook. It was Facebook’s platform that allowed fake news to spread far and wide. In fairness, the basic nature of the social media giant ensures that users will share lies to some extent. But the structures that Facebook built also made it easy to game. All content looks the same on Facebook, and the name of the source shows up in a small and almost unreadable font. The pages look nearly identical, regardless of their purpose or who is operating them. Of course, these factors have been in place since Facebook’s inception, but in 2016, other factors changed as well.
In its own way, fake news is more sophisticated than real news. Sure, real news actually examines complexities that exist in the real world while fake news just makes stuff up. But fake news can be targeted to appeal to exactly what people want to see. On Facebook in particular, content can be fine-tuned to target exactly what people are likely to click on. Many private companies do this: It is called advertising. Whereas real news outlets generally post a piece once and people either read it or not, fake news can be tweaked again and again until it finally breaks through and becomes viral. And fake news outlets sometimes do have the data to go viral: Breitbart.com and Trump political benefactor the Mercer family has a company, Cambridge Analytica, that conveniently owns a lot of data on private citizens. And sitting on the board of Cambridge Analytica is Trump’s chief adviser, and the former CEO of Breitbart, Stephen Bannon.
Facebook’s algorithm has always been extremely prone to confirmation bias, but changes in recent years seem to have allowed fake news to rise much more easily (as the algorithm is proprietary, no one outside Facebook can know for certain). In the past, at the very least, there were human editors who could manually prevent outright lies from making it onto the site’s list of trending topics. But when Facebook fired them after conservatives complained this summer, fake news really took off.
As John Herrman explained in The New York Times:
This year, political content has become more popular all across the platform: on homegrown Facebook pages, through media companies with a growing Facebook presence and through the sharing habits of users in general. But truly Facebook-native political pages have begun to create and refine a new approach to political news: cherry-picking and reconstituting the most effective tactics and tropes from activism, advocacy and journalism into a potent new mixture. This strange new class of media organization slots seamlessly into the news feed and is especially notable in what it asks, or doesn’t ask, of its readers. The point is not to get them to click on more stories or to engage further with a brand. The point is to get them to share the post that’s right in front of them. Everything else is secondary.
While web publishers have struggled to figure out how to take advantage of Facebook’s audience, these pages have thrived. Unburdened of any allegiance to old forms of news media and the practice, or performance, of any sort of ideological balance, native Facebook page publishers have a freedom that more traditional publishers don’t: to engage with Facebook purely on its terms. These are professional Facebook users straining to build media companies, in other words, not the other way around.
Google is also responsible for this burgeoning fake news empire. Google’s third-party advertising platform, AdSense, is driving mass profitability on many of these websites. When pressure started to rise about fake news, Google said it would be taking action to remove these actors from its advertising network, eliminating their ability to generate revenue. Our review showed that the company still has much work to do.
While some fake news is created simply for profit (think of the Macedonian teens who just see their sites as an easy way to make money), the misogynist and white nationalist “alt-right” embraces it for a more dangerous purpose: to encourage fake news readers into harassing individuals and discouraging people from taking part in public life. The fake news ecosystem is broader than just lies; many of these lies are purposeful.
The “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory proved this link. A fake news story emerged from the depths of the internet claiming that a D.C. pizzeria with ties to certain political figures was running an underground child sex-trafficking ring. It was patently untrue. And yet mainstream reports on the story, even great in-depth reporting from truly credible sources, treated the fake news as separate from the harassment that pizzerias across the country endured from believers of the bogus claims as they spread to include other restaurants.
Harassment is a deeply entrenched aspect of the “alt-right” community. It came to prominence with Gamergate, and then there was a wretched, bigoted campaign against black actress Leslie Jones. “Alt-right” figure Milo Yiannopoulos has now taken his harassment tactics with him on a college tour. Another example is the recent smear campaign against satirist Vic Berger by “alt-right” figure Mike Cernovich. Cernovich is no stranger to such tactics, having bragged previously about his ability to game Google to get other outlets to pick up on his smears, spreading the lies to more false headlines and more viewers. Comedian and producer Tim Heidecker has also spoken out about abuse he has received, including death-threats, as a result of "alt-right" criticism.
The New York Times’ John Herrman took special note of commenters on pro-Trump Facebook pages:
Nearly every page operator I spoke to was astonished by the tone their commenters took, comparing them to things like torch-wielding mobs and sharks in a feeding frenzy. No doubt because of the [Make America Great] page’s name, some Trump supporters even mistake [operator Adam] Nicoloff’s page for an official organ of the campaign. Nicoloff says that he receives dozens of messages a day from Trump supporters, expecting or hoping to reach the man himself. Many, he says, are simply asking for money.
It is not clear to what extent this vitriol on Facebook overlaps with the “alt-right” proper (to whatever extent there even is an “alt-right” proper). But Facebook crowd-sourced virulence is at least overtly reminiscent of what is seen from the “alt-right.”
A particular hub for the “alt-right” is Reddit’s “r/The_Donald” subreddit. As Bryan Menegus explained for Gizmodo:
Reddit’s The_Donald subreddit was founded a year ago as the premier online meeting place for Trump supporters. It has since sought to—in CEO and co-founder Steve Huffman’s words—“dominate the conversation” on the site. Its members spread coded hate speech, openly antagonize other Redditors, and break the site’s most basic rules with impunity while moderators feel the brunt of the abuse, and Reddit leadership fail to adequately address the problem.
This is abuse, and it is abuse for a particular political purpose. Whether it is under the guise of news or commentary, the fabricated stories bouncing around r/The_Donald, often cloaked in shockingly venomous rhetoric, do not adhere to and cannot be judged by traditional journalistic standards. This type of fake news needs to be understood in tandem with its context and purpose. Some of it is just for profit. But other pieces are intended to serve as weaponized propaganda meant to inspire harassment or even worse.
The “alt-right” movement has been equated to white supremacy and neo-Nazis. That is broadly accurate, but the reality is a bit more complicated. More often than not, the gateway drug for this movement is sexism -- "extreme misogyny evolving from male bonding gone haywire,” as Aja Romano put it for Vox. White nationalism and neo-Nazism often come later.
This framework also explains why the “alt-right” tilts at so many cultural windmills. Whether with boycotts against Star Wars this year, or boycotts against Star Wars last year, or boycotts against Ghostbusters or Hamilton or other notable events that women and people of color are involved in, the intent of the “alt-right” is not necessarily to be successful in the short run: The protests are intended as a statement of white patriarchy. Anyone talking about the boycott is surreptitiously sharing the message of white, male-centric cultural identity.
Jason Wilson perfectly characterized the misogyny and bigotry of the "alt-right" when describing Yiannopoulos and his tactics:
Yiannopoulos and the alt right certainly shared a couple of traits. First, there was a willingness to dispense with the American right’s trusty dog whistle and offer frank views on race (all the while disparaging those conservatives who were more attuned to euphemism and conciliation as ‘cucks’). Second, they shared a desire to restore white masculinity to its position as the central, reigning political identity.
In Eugene, [OH], Yiannopoulos endorsed Trump’s call to end Muslim immigration on the grounds that fundamentalists ‘want to kill people like me’ – a preview of the full-throated Islamophobic appeal that he and others made to the LGBT community after the Pulse nightclub shooting the next month.
But the meat of his address was a repetition of a claim he has made repeatedly in his writings and on social media: that white men, especially the working class, are being oppressed with an elitist doctrine of political correctness.
Referring to lesbians as ‘horrendous, quivering masses of horror’ and feminism as ‘cancer’, Yiannopoulos generally castigated the ‘awful, awful, terrible, diseased and damaged people lecturing and hectoring the working class’ – those he sees as the enforcers of ‘the oppressive hegemony of social justice’. The only solution, he said, is a Trump administration.
Members of the "alt-right" don't just preach this hatred. They mobilize it. Jesse Singal examined the many similarities the “alt-right”/fake news ecosystem shares with cults, and the role misogyny plays in attracting new members:
But it’s the alt-right concept of so-called red-pilling where this subculture appears more similar to “traditional” cults and extremist groups. Adapted from The Matrix, “taking the red pill” or “getting red-pilled” simply means seeing the world as it really is. In the online subcultures that gave rise to the alt-right, its most famous meaning is in reference to feminism: After you take the red pill, the scales fall from your eyes and you can see that feminism is really just an attempt to emasculate and bully men, to allow social-justice warriors to run rampant over masculine (and traditional) values and ideals in favor of a shrill and judgmental far-left radicalism. Recently, the definition has expanded a bit — these days, in an alt-right context “getting red-pilled” probably means something more like “understanding that progressivism is a lie and part of a large-scale effort to hurt you and people like you.” But the basic point is the same: This is the moment at which you start to see things as they really are.
This is exactly the sort of transformative experience offered by cults and extremist movements: After this, things won’t ever be the same for you. After this, you will have a role to play in an important battle that will determine the fate of the world. Your life will take on an enhanced meaning.
At its core, the “alt-right” is just a bunch of men who feel powerless and resent women because of it. That’s why Gamergate is so crucial to understanding the movement; it truly was a galvanizing political event for a fringe movement that far too many mainstream people had overlooked because they were not the ones being harassed.
The “alt-right” weaponizes fake news stories that others drum up to harass and abuse opponents. Its members attack women, people of color, and the poor -- and their allies and advocates -- from “Gamergate” to Leslie Jones, to “Pizzagate” and now to Vic Berger (also see Megyn Kelly below). Radio host Alex Jones ties the conspiracy theories together and gives everything a common language. Reddit allows the herd to self-organize and quickly pivot from one harassment campaign to another. The Drudge Report tries to push these things into the mainstream. And tying the whole enterprise together is Breitbart, which was up until recently run by Bannon, now President-elect Donald Trump’s chief strategist. Breitbart is now even admitting that it will take on any Republicans who try to hurt Trump, again neatly echoing oppressive regimes of the past. Meanwhile, Trump is deliberately trying to undermine the reliability of truth itself, in a hope to push as many people as possible toward this ecosystem.
It is possible that this abuse and harassment could escalate in the near future. While the digital tactics of pushing fake news and harassing people via social media are new, there is a precedent for this type of behavior: the “struggle sessions” in Mao’s China.
Max Fisher explained how struggle sessions worked in The Washington Post:
During Mao Zedong's totalitarian and often ruthless rule over China, from the early 1950s through 1976, one of the Communist Party's most unpleasant tactics for maintaining control was something called a "struggle session." On the surface, the idea was that everyone had to suss out "class enemies" and try to better their own commitment to the Communist revolution by attending regular "struggle session" meetings where they'd admit their own revolutionary failures and try to do better as individuals and communities. In practice, though, it was a form of self-reinforcing terror, a means of purging political enemies real and imagined, a tactic for working people into ideological fervor, sometimes in mass "sessions" with thousands of people.
The systematic harassment campaign that the “alt-right” has waged through the guise of journalism is remarkably similar. Like the struggle sessions, the harassment is meant to create a sense of terror among political enemies while building a feeling of community among allies. It spreads extreme fear through communities across the country, deterring any theoretical political resistance. This abuse is meant to crush meaning in society. The more you discuss whether pizzerias have established a secret child sex ring, the more real it becomes. The more outlandish the accusation, the more effective it becomes. For both the struggle sessions and the “alt-right,” truth is no defense: You will be forced to submit. As long as members use the fake news to harass, then it is worthwhile. Engagement is not the means; engagement is the end.
The next logical step would be something akin to book burning, which The Daily Beast says is “a peculiar form of censorship in that the act itself is intended to send a message. This is why book burning is a public spectacle. It is designed to express outrage and contains within it the notion that the ideas contained in the books or other works of art should be obliterated entirely.”
Among American pundits, Walter Lippman alone understood the significance of what was happening when books were burned in the 1930s in Germany:
The Nazis deliberately and systematically mean to turn the minds of the German people to war. These acts symbolize the moral and intellectual character of the Nazi regime. For these bonfires are not the work of schoolboys or mobs but of the present German Government acting through its Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment.... For example ... they burn with conspicuous zeal ... Erich Maria Remarque's [anti-war book] All Quiet on the Western Front. The ominous symbolism of [this burning and] these bonfires is that there is a Government in Germany which means to teach its people that their salvation lies in violence.
The only thing standing in the way of the “alt-right” is that it is not yet big enough to take on the entirety of American culture so directly. And yet it seems entirely possible that the movement could do something like that soon, especially if it grows emboldened by having allies in the White House. After an ISIS attack under President Trump, one can imagine the “alt-right” organizing some kind of book burning. Breitbart may even promote it.
The “alt-right” is the engine driving this harassment, and fake news is the tool. But it’s clear that failure of others in the media landscape helped the perverse movement get this far.
For one, the tech industry is profiting from this activity every step of the way. Twitter’s failure to stop harassment is legendary. The Trump subreddit has grown completely out of hand. Facebook’s complicity in the spread of fake news is clear. The tech industry is so concerned with engagement that companies have been reluctant to act even when it is clear that some of that engagement is outright abuse and harassment.
While mainstream media outlets seem to realize that fake news is a problem, they largely raise concerns only to the extent that fake news is a competitor or when the abuse is big enough that they can easily see it. There is surely fake news of every political stripe, and it should all be disincentivized. But there is no built-out ecosystem to weaponize it anywhere like there is with Breitbart, Alex Jones, Reddit, and the “alt-right.” That’s what mainstream media’s scolding about fake news and “both sides” gets wrong, time and again. In their reluctance to show the unique damage that fake news has on the right, mainstream media are continuing their biggest mistake of the Bush and Obama years: ignoring the growing radicalization of the right in America.
And this ecosystem of fake news and the “alt-right” is entirely different from the previous right-wing media ecosystem. The previous model involved moving the audience from mainstream news to Fox News and then to the deeper trenches of talk radio and online email lists, where right-wing operators can often bilk their recipients financially. Now, things are different. Fox News’ brand of right-wing misinformation is pervasive, and over recent decades fewer people are watching mainstream news networks.
The independence of the fake news/“alt-right” ecosystem has interesting consequences. First, members feel empowered to attack Fox News, framing it as part of the establishment media rather than an alternative to traditional sources. Aside from “Pizzagate,” the clearest example of this ecosystem is the harassment directed at Fox anchor Megyn Kelly. The first fake news story to trend on Facebook after the company fired its editors was about Kelly, falsely claiming that Fox fired her for being “‘a closet liberal who actually wants Hillary to win,’” according to CBS. Versions of this fake story featured language like “Megyn Kelly has gotten into a lot of hot water for her many attempts to smear Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump.” Another fake news story called her a “traitor” for her behavior toward Trump. As Kelly has now recently explained, she also was the recipient of torrents of online abuse from Trump supporters. The harassment may not have begun with the fake news story, but their connection seems clear. And the attacks on Fox News are not limited to Kelly -- Alex Jones attacks the network regularly.
Secondly, traditional figures like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly are functionally irrelevant to the "alt-right." They may support Trump on a given day or they may not, but the “alt-right” operates independently of anything they say or do. Alex Jones or Breitbart issuing a call to action will move people, while Limbaugh and O’Reilly are now glorified book salesmen.
And yet, right-wing media are still allied with and permissive of the “alt-right,” continuing to train their focus on mainstream media. Rather than concerning themselves with the issue of fake news, right-wing media use the term to attack mainstream outlets.
In fact, right-wing media go out of their way to give space for the “alt-right” to operate. Fox News dramatically undercovered “Pizzagate” compared to other mainstream outlets. Fox News reporters (not just pundits) have dismissed the concept of “fake news” and defended the “alt-right” on air. When Facebook announced its plan to alleviate its fake news infestation, the most aghast were right-wing pundits.
It is unclear where the phenomenon is going, but one clue may be Fox’s newest host. Tucker Carlson, Fox News’ Elf on the Shelf, is a huge favorite of “alt-right” trolls. If Carlson’s show is a success, Fox News in the future could drift more toward the “alt-right” model. (Worth noting is that Rupert Murdoch is reportedly a fan of Carlson's.) And the biggest glue tying together traditional right-wing media and the fake news ecosystem are the NRA and The Drudge Report, both of which were undoubtedly further empowered this election season.
Many of the proposed solutions to fake news ring exceptionally hollow. Noting that the fake news ecosystem pushes lies will not stop the abuse; merely calling out the lies is like pointing out that rain originates in the clouds. The objective now is to protect people from the lies.
It is long past the time for mainstream outlets to realize that the yoke of false balance empowers this ecosystem even more. The “alt-right” will turn any journalistic mistake into propaganda the very moment it occurs. A factual error will become an accidental truth. A correction will become censorship.
There’s never been such a challenging time to be an informed citizen. Independent media are struggling financially, and mainstream media are obsessed with making everything about both sides, lest they lose a small portion of their audience. Right-wing media are telling all the traditional sorts of lies. Now a fake news ecosystem is feeding into the worst instincts of humanity while punishing anyone who dares stand up against them.
And soon there will be a president who will validate those feelings.
Scavino Uses His Twitter Feed To Push Conspiracy Theories And Harassment
President-elect Donald Trump’s newly announced assistant to the president and director of social media, Dan Scavino, frequently used social media while working on the Trump campaign to share links from sites that push fake news and conspiracy theories. He was also responsible for an anti-Semitic Trump campaign tweet and routinely attacked Fox News host Megyn Kelly, who cited Scavino as a reason she received death threats during the campaign.
Kelly Downplays Her Obsessive, Race-Baiting New Black Panther Coverage As She Competes For Contracts
In an interview with The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple Blog, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly -- who is reportedly competing for a new contract among networks -- downplayed her role in pushing the pseudo-scandal that the Department of Justice was covering up voter intimidation by the New Black Panther Party and admitted she could not name any African-American people on her staff.
In 2010, Kelly devoted more than 3.5 hours of her then-show America Live to hyping a contrived scandal about the Justice Department. The claim was that the department engaged in racially charged “corruption” in its handling of voter-intimidation claims about two members of the New Black Panther Party who appeared in a video standing outside a Philadelphia polling station during the 2008 election, one of them holding a nightstick; the other was a registered Democratic poll watcher. No one came forward to say he or she was intimidated by the two men. The story resurfaced during the 2016 election when supporters of Donald Trump used it to defend his false “rigged election” claim.
Kelly was sharply criticized for her sensationalistic coverage of the supposed scandal, with Dave Weigel -- then of The Atlantic -- calling Kelly’s coverage a “minstrel show.” Kelly’s focus on the Black Panthers constitutes just one part of her consistently insensitive and out-of-touch coverage on race issues.
During the interview, Wemple asked Kelly if it was a “fair reading” to use the Black Panthers incident to justify “Trump’s claims of the possibility of a rigged election.” Wemple, linking to Media Matters’ research in the transcript, also asked Kelly if her “pushing” of the incident “is where people draw their memory from,” to which Kelly responded, “next question.” Kelly also conceded that her show The Kelly File may not employee any African-Americans “at the moment.” Kelly’s deflection on her record comes as she is reportedly competing for contracts between networks. From the December 19 article:
[ERIK WEMPLE BLOG]: I was interested to see the photographs in your book. And you have a photograph of your staff and it sprung a question for me: You do all kinds of aggressive coverage, including on race. That staffing picture looked pretty much white, although there could be a couple of minorities in there. Do you think that for as aggressive as you are on racial issues, that you could use more diversity on the staff?
[MEGYN] KELLY: Well, I don’t know about the first part of your question. That’s not the reason. The reason to have more racial diversity on any team is because it’s helpful to have different perspectives on any issue. And I also believe that. It’s easier said than done, unfortunately. At Fox we started — this is one of Roger’s good legacies, the Ailes Apprentice Program, and that’s been pretty good about getting more people of color into the TV news ranks. But we don’t have enough, that’s just a fact. We don’t. And we can do better at that, just like most of the news networks can.
EWB: Do you have anyone who’s African American on the staff at this point?
KELLY: Not at the moment. Don’t hold me to that, Erik, because I’m probably forgetting somebody. Definitely we have some crew who work with me who are African American but . . . to be perfectly honest with you, I have never asked. We . . . have a couple of mixed-race people . . . I don’t know if they identify as mixed race or African American, so I don’t want to guess.
EWB: Obviously you know a lot about the whole New Black Panther issue, Philadelphia; you were famous for that. I didn’t see much mention in the book, but now, eight years later, a couple CNN pro-Trump commentators cited that incident sort of in the context of Trump talking about a rigged election. Do you think that’s a fair reading of the New Black Panther issue, sort of as grist for justifying Trump’s claims of the possibility of a rigged election?
KELLY: What do you mean, that guys like those New Black Panthers [inaudible] at the polls?
EWB: I believe Kayleigh McEnany said something to the effect that Trump “doesn’t want a scenario where there’s New Black Panthers outside with guns, essentially like intimidating people from coming into the polls.”
KELLY: That was not a widespread incident as far as we knew. That was a couple of rabble-rousers who showed up causing a bunch of nonsense at one Philadelphia polling station. I wouldn’t say you could extrapolate that to a general concern, especially because I don’t believe we saw it again in 2012. I believe it was these two guys trying to make a point in 2008; their point was made and I assume they understood the ramifications of it after the Department of Justice got involved.
EWB: Do you think that your pushing that incident is where people draw their memory from?
KELLY: Come on, Erik, next question.
EWB: No? I just wondered. I mean, you did scores of segments on it.
KELLY: You should take those scores of segments numbers with a huge grain of salt because that was some tabulation done by Media Matters that included teases. Teases!
Catherine Herridge: “These Operations Were Sanctioned By The Highest Levels Of The Russian Government”
Fox News’ chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge reported that Fox News has independently verified Russian-backed cyber militias targeted US systems in “an effort to interfere in the US election.” Herridge’s report comes after weeks of Fox News denying the Russian government could have anything to do with the election hack.
After 17 intelligence agencies reported that the Russian government was involved with hacking political organizations’ emails, Fox News repeatedly attempted to cast doubt on the reports by calling the agencies political. Fox host Sean Hannity derided the CIA’s conclusions as “politically motivated” “fake news,” and his colleague Tucker Carlson has repeatedly downplayed the possibility of Russia influencing the election and attacked anybody supporting the thesis. And Fox News contributor John Bolton even claimed that the “ridiculous” allegations of Russian interference could be a “false flag.”
Despite Fox’s campaign to cast doubt on the possibility of the Russian government seeking to undermine American elections, a December 15 report from chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge said that “Fox News has independently confirmed that Russian backed cyber-militias were targeting US systems and influential US persons in the summer of 2015,” an operation which “evolved into an effort to interfere in the US election … sanctioned by the highest levels of the Russian government.” From the December 15 edition of Fox News’ The Kelly File:
CATHERINE HERRIDGE: Fox News has independently confirmed that Russian-backed cyber militias were targeting US systems and influential US persons in the summer of 2015, and the operation evolved into an effort to interfere in the US election. These operations were sanctioned by the highest levels of the Russian government.
After the FBI director’s July statement about the Clinton email investigation, a government source says there was a reluctance to further insert government institutions and their assessments into an already deeply politicized election cycle. A leading cybersecurity expert says the intelligence community reviewed the techniques, tactics, and procedures leveraged in the attacks and made the link to Russia. In October, the agencies and Homeland Security, or DHS, went on the record, though Putin was not mentioned by name.
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Fox News host Megyn Kelly and Breitbart editor-at-large Joel Pollak traded attacks about the "alt-right’s" “potentially dangerous” influence in media and their role in the 2016 presidential campaign.
In a December 7 interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, host Terry Gross discussed the misogynistic attacks and threats from Trump supporters which made it necessary for Kelly to use security for the entire year. Kelly also spoke about the dangers of empowering the "alt-right," and noted the problems one young woman had with Breitbart.com and their "alt-right" supporters when she dared “to say something about the fact that Corey Lewandowski laid hands on her.“ Kelly praised Breitbart’s founder Andrew Breitbart, but said, “if you look at what’s happened to Breitbart over the past three years, it’s shocking:”
TERRY GROSS (HOST): This is an example of how the “alt-right” -- and the “alt-right” is a rebranding of white nationalists and people who are misogynist, racist -- so, the alt-right has kind of gone after you, ever since your dust-up with Trump at the debate. Are you concerned that president-elect Trump seems to have empowered these people?
MEGYN KELLY: Well, I do think they are a potentially dangerous force. And you know, even when it comes to the book review -- look, I have a powerful platform. I can come talk to Terry Gross for an hour, but a lot of authors who are on the wrong side of Trump -- take Michelle Fields, right? The one who alleged that Corey Lewandowski had physically assaulted her, Trump’s old campaign manager, she had a book. She doesn’t have the powerful platform.
She worked for Breitbart, and left when they failed to defend her, and she got targeted by these folks on Amazon, and they killed her book, and that’s not okay. Alright? This woman hasn’t done anything wrong, anything, other than find herself on the wrong end of these folks, for whom she used to work. But even that wasn’t enough to engender any loyalty, or affection for her, because she decided to say something about the fact that Corey Lewandowski laid hands on her. This is a man who threatened me explicitly as well.
And look, Trump’s got bigger things to worry about than this particular group, but it is also a dangerous game to empower them, as clearly has happened. I mean, Steve Bannon is -- he’s chief advisor to our president-elect. And I understand the argument that he’s just a provocateur, and he comes up with these crazy headlines, and they want clicks, but if you look at what's happened to Breitbart [News] over the past three years, it's shocking.
I knew Andrew Breitbart very well and he was great. I loved him. He was a true provocateur who would be fun about it, you know. He'd show up at a democratic protest and engage with the protesters and then he'd go have a beer with them. This is something else entirely, and I don't know that Trump can stop it. I don't know who, if anyone, can stop it.
GROSS: How do you see your role as a journalist in covering the “alt-right?”
KELLY: It’s precarious, because they will come after you. I mean, they will target you, and they will be relentless about it. But -- so I, again, have this great platform, and I have this powerful company behind me, and I’m lucky to have a company that can look at it with that perspective. I think other organizations need to keep that in mind, that it doesn’t -- when I say you’re going to have to steel your spine, you know, to cover this White House and deal with some of Trump’s supporters, I mean it could affect your pocketbook as a news organization.
KELLY: Look at my case, Terry. If somebody gets targeted by this group physically, and they have death threats, how much money can a news organization expend to provide that person with a bodyguard? At some point, real dollars get involved here in these decisions. And, you know, that’s -- that’s when these news organizations are going to have to find their inner strength.
In response to Kelly’s criticism of Breitbart and its elevation of “alt-right” white nationalist movement, Breitbart editor-at-large Joel Pollak tweeted Kelly “bashes Breitbart. I’ve never been a critic. Until now, maybe. Would she dare let me defend? I doubt it.”
— Joel B. Pollak (@joelpollak) December 7, 2016
The conflict between Megyn Kelly and Breitbart revives long-standing tensions between the Fox News host and the far-right outlet. In March, Kelly invited Michelle Fields, a former Breitbart employee who spoke out against Breitbart leadership’s attempts at “smearing” her reputation. In return, Breitbart has run articles with headlines such as “Steve Bannon: I Warned Roger Ailes That Megyn Kelly Would Turn On Him,” and described Newt Gingrich’s insult-laden rant against Kelly as “Gingrich Slams Megyn Kelly For Treatment Of Trump -- ‘You Are Fascinated With Sex And You Don’t Care About Public Policy.”