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FBI Director Christopher Wray

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

President Donald Trump's Fox News propagandists have been urging him for months to fire FBI Director Christopher Wray because they consider him insufficiently willing to pursue their conspiracy theories in order to boost Trump's political standing. In recent days, they've seized upon Wray's handling of the smear stories of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden in calling for his removal.

Their commentary is having an impact on their most powerful viewer. Trump has long held an authoritarian view of the federal law enforcement apparatus, treating it as an arm of his personal and political desires. Disappointed that Wray has proved unwilling to help his reelection campaign by publicly announcing an investigation into the Bidens, the president now reportedly wants to replace the FBI director.

"President Trump and his advisers have repeatedly discussed whether to fire" Wray "after Election Day," The Washington Post reported Wednesday, citing their complaints that Wray and Attorney General William Barr "have not done what Trump had hoped — indicate that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden or other Biden associates are under investigation."

The paper further reported: "People familiar with the discussions say Trump wants official action similar to the announcement made 11 days before the last presidential election by then-FBI Director James B. Comey, who informed Congress he had reopened an investigation into Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state after potential new evidence had been discovered."

The account follows a Daily Beast report earlier this month, which similarly found that Trump wants to oust Wray following the election due to the FBI director's "ongoing public divergences with Trump, and Wray's reluctance to settle Trump's scores" by pursuing right-wing claims of "deep state" malfeasance. Notably, the Beast linked the story to the president's media diet, reporting that Trump has brought up negative TV commentary he'd seen about Wray, including from Fox Business host Lou Dobbs.

Numerous Fox personalities have called for Wray's removal in the past. They view him as "part of the deep state," as Trump ally and Fox host Jeanine Pirro put it, and are angered by what they view as his failure to pursue their "Obamagate" conspiracy theory. Dobbs is perhaps Wray's loudest and most consistent critic -- he has been calling for the FBI director's firing since at least October 2017, and more recently has claimed that he should also be indicted.

In recent days, they've added Wray's handling of the Hunter Biden smear story to their case against him. The story is based on emails from a laptop computer allegedly left at a Delaware repair shop by Hunter Biden in April 2019. The laptop was reportedly turned over to the FBI in December 2019, while a copy of its contents was provided to Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who has used it to seed stories in right-wing outlets alleging corruption by the Bidens. While the story has consumed right-wing outlets like Fox, it has largely escaped widespread coverage by mainstream news outlets due to its lack of credibility. Like Trump, his Fox supporters want Wray to violate department policy and publicly announce that the Bidens are under investigation, hoping to recreate the electoral magic of the Comey letter. Because he hasn't done that, they're calling for him to be fired.

Pirro, a close ally of the president who played a key role in forcing out former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, claimed that Wray "needs to be hauled before Congress to find out under oath why he didn't share the information from the laptop with the Department of Justice" on her October 17 show, just days after the Hunter Biden story broke. "I told you months ago that Christopher Wray needed to be fired," she added.

Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett told Sean Hannity on his radio show two days later that Wray "must be fired and he must be fired now" because he "continues to cover this up." "The truth will never be exposed until Christopher Wray is sacked from his job as director of the FBI," Jarrett added, claiming that Wray has ignored "a treasure trove of evidence of illegality and corruption by Joe Biden and Hunter Biden."

"I think it's clear that Director Wray is not the transformative figure that we needed after James Comey," Fox contributor Jason Chaffetz told Dobbs on Wednesday. "I think it's time for him to go. I think Donald Trump, if he's, hopefully he's reelected, will fire him the day after the election."

"President Trump, after this election when he is reelected, needs to fire Christopher Wray. He is not doing his job," Fox contributor Sara Carter added later in the same program. "This story is fundamentally probably one of the most important stories of our time right now, and we need to get to the truth of what happened with Hunter Biden and if there was any criminality because there is a predicate for an investigation here."

Dobbs replied that the Hunter Biden story is "second only to the largest scandal, the largest political crime in our country's history, and that is the assault on President Trump, the efforts to block his candidacy and then to overthrow his presidency and for now in the fourth year, we are watching this unfold, trying to protect and bolster the candidacy of his opponent."

Other Trump media allies are also pushing for Wray's removal over his handling of the Bidens. Former Trump aide Steve Bannon has called for him to be fired if he "doesn't have specific answers" about the FBI's pursuit of the story. Giuliani, meanwhile, told Bannon that Wray "should resign" and consider ritual suicide.

Fox has a back-up plan if it can't bend Wray to its will: The network has promoted calls for either Barr or Trump himself to appoint a special counsel to investigate the Bidens. An announcement during the campaign would presumably help Trump's reelection hopes, while appointing one afterward would amount to an unprecedented assault on the rule of law, a vengeful effort to either damage a potential Biden administration or punish his defeated opponent.

Fueled by Fox, Trump has raged against the "deep state" throughout his administration, repeatedly threatening or carrying out the removal of law enforcement officials his network friends said were not committed to pursuing their conspiracy theories. The result has been a corruption of the Justice Department without recent precedent. But the president is not satisfied -- and he never will be, as long as his network propagandists are telling him there's one more anti-Trump operative to root out, and one more partisan victory the law enforcement apparatus should be granting him.


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Rep. Bennie Thompson

Photo by Customs and Border Protection (Public domain)

Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) Friday afternoon announced the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack has issued subpoenas to 14 Republicans from seven states who submitted the forged and "bogus" Electoral College certificates falsely claiming Donald Trump and not Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election in their states.

The Chairman appeared to suggest the existence of a conspiracy as well, noting the "the planning and coordination of efforts," saying "these so-called alternate electors met," and may know "who was behind that scheme."

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Chris Cuomo

News Literacy Week 2022, an annual awareness event started by the News Literacy Project, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to making everyone “smart, active consumers of news and information and equal and engaged participants in a democracy” has closed out. From January 24 to 28, classes, webinars, and Twitter chats taught students and adults how to root out misinformation when consuming news media.
There’s no downplaying the importance of understanding what is accurate in the media. These days, news literacy is a survival tactic. One study estimated that at least 800 people died because they embraced a COVID falsehood — and that inquiry was conducted in the earliest months of the pandemic. About 67 percent of the unvaccinated believe at least one COVID-19 myth, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
It’s not that accurate information isn’t available; people are rejecting reports of vaccine efficacy and safety because they distrust the news media. A third of Americans polled by Gallup said they have no trust at all in mass media; another 27 percent don’t have much at all.
Getting people to believe information presented to them depends more on trust than it does on the actual data being shared. That is, improving trust isn’t an issue of improving reporting. It’s an issue of improving relationships with one’s audience.
And that’s the real news problem right now; some celebrity anchors at cable news outlets are doing little to strengthen their relationships with their audiences and a lot to strengthen their relationships with government officials.
The most obvious example is how CNN terminated Prime Time anchor Chris Cuomo last month for his failure to disclose the entirety of his role in advising his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on the sexual harassment accusation that unfolded in Albany, a scandal that eventually led to Andrew Cuomo’s resignation.
But there are others. Just this month, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol revealed that another anchor on another cable news network, Laura Ingraham of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, texted then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows last January, advising Meadows how Trump should react to reports of possible armed protests at state capitols around the country. This revelation followed the story that Sean Hannity, host of the eponymous news hour at Fox News, also texted Meadows with advice last year.
And while he didn't advise a government official, CNN anchor Don Lemon revealed information not available to the public when he texted embattled Empire actor Jussie Smollett to tip him off about the Chicago Police Department’s wavering faith in his story about an assault. That’s from Smollett’s own sworn testimony.
When English philosopher Edmund Burke joked about the press being the Fourth Estate — in addition to the First, Second and Third (the clergy, nobility and commoners, respectively) — his point was that, despite their influence on each other, these “estates” — bastions of power — are supposed to be separate.
The Fourth Estate will always be an essential counterweight to government. But, since Donald Trump was elected in 2016, we’ve been so focused on stopping an executive branch from pressing the press to support an administration's agenda — either by belittling journalists or threatening to arrest them for doing their jobs — that we’ve ignored the ways that it affects and influences other Estates, and not necessarily through its reporting.
That is, we have news personalities-cum-reporters who are influencing government policy — and not telling us about it until it’s too late.
The United States has fostered an incredible closeness between the Second Estate — which in 2021 and 2022 would be political leaders — and the Fourth Estate. About a year ago, an Axios reporter had to be reassigned because she was dating one of President Biden’s press secretaries. Last year, James Bennet, the former editorial page editor of the New York Times and brother of Colorado Senator and 2020 Presidential candidate Michael Bennet, had to recuse himself publicly from the Gray Lady’s endorsement process. In 2013, the Washington Post reported at least eight marriages between Obama officials and established journalists.
To be clear, there aren’t any accusations that anyone just mentioned engaged in anything other than ethical behavior. But I, for one, don’t believe that James and Michael Bennet didn’t discuss Michael’s campaign. I don’t think the Axios reporter and her West Wing-employed boyfriend — or any journalists and their federally employed spouses, for that matter — didn’t share facts that the public will never know. Such is the nature of family and intimacy.
And as long as those conversations don’t affect the coverage of any news events, there’s nothing specifically, technically wrong with them. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t damaging.
As these stories show, when we don’t know about these advisor roles, at least not until someone other than the journalist in question exposes them, it causes a further erosion of trust in news media.
What’s foolish about the Cuomo, Ingraham, Hannity, and Lemon improprieties is that they don't necessarily need to be the problem they’ve become. Cuomo’s show contained opinion content like 46 percent of CNN’s programming. An active debate rages on as to whether Fox News is all opinion and whether or not it can rightly even be called opinion journalism since its shows are so studded with inaccuracies and lies.
What that means is that Cuomo, Ingraham, Hannity, and Lemon are allowed to take a stand as opinion journalists; Cuomo and Lemon never really worked under a mandate of objectivity and Ingraham and Hannity likely wouldn’t honor it if they did. Indeed, a certain subjectivity — and explaining how it developed for the journalist — is part of an opinion journalist’s craft. To me, little of these consulting roles would be problematic if any of these anchors had just disclosed them and the ways they advised the people they cover.
But they didn’t. Instead, the advice they dispensed to government employees and celebrities was disclosed by a third party and news of it contributes to the public’s distrust in the media. While personal PR advisory connections between journalists and politicians haven’t been pinpointed as a source of distrust, they may have an effect. Almost two-thirds of respondents in a Pew Research poll said they attributed what they deemed unfair coverage to a political agenda on the part of the news organization. No one has rigorously examined the ways in which individual journalists can swing institutional opinion so it may be part of the reason why consumers are suspicious of news.
Cleaning up ex post facto is both a violation of journalistic ethics and ineffective. Apologies and corrections after the fact don't always improve media trust. In other credibility contests, like courtroom battles, statements against one’s interests enhance a person’s believability. But that’s not necessarily true of news; a 2015 study found that corrections don’t automatically enhance a news outlet’s credibility.
It’s a new adage for the 21st century: It’s not the consulting; it’s the cover-up. Journalists need to disclose their connections to government officials — up front — to help maintain trust in news media. Lives depend on it.

Chandra Bozelko did time in a maximum-security facility in Connecticut. While inside she became the first incarcerated person with a regular byline in a publication outside of the facility. Her “Prison Diaries" column ran in The New Haven Independent, and she later established a blog under the same name that earned several professional awards. Her columns now appear regularly in The National Memo.

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