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Did Israel Play A Role In Targeting Iranian General For Assassination?

This article was produced by the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Last October Yossi Cohen, head of Israel’s Mossad, spoke openly about assassinating Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds Force in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

“He knows very well that his assassination is not impossible,” Cohen said in an interview. Soleimani had boasted that Israel tried to assassinate him in 2006 and failed.

“With all due respect to his bluster,” Cohen said, “he hasn’t necessarily committed the mistake yet that would place him on the prestigious list of Mossad’s assassination targets.”

Is Israel Targeting Iran’s Top General for Assassination?” I asked last October. On January 3, Soleimani was killed in an air strike ordered by President Trump.

Soleimani’s convoy was struck by U.S. missiles as he left a meeting at Baghdad’s airport amid anti-Iranian and anti-American demonstrations in Iraq. Supporters of an Iranian-backed militia had agreed to withdraw from the U.S. diplomatic compound in return for a promise that the government would allow a parliamentary vote on expelling 5,000 U.S. troops from Iraq.

The Pentagon issued a statement confirming the military operation, which came “at the direction of the president” and was “aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.” The Pentagon claimed that Gen. Soleimani was “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”

Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, under indictment for criminal charges, was the first and only national leader to support Trump’s action, while claiming that Trump acted entirely on his own.

“Just as Israel has the right to self-defense, the United States has exactly the same right,” Netanyahu told reporters in Greece. “Qassem Soleimani is responsible for the deaths of American citizens and other innocents, and he was planning more attacks.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani vowed retaliation for the general’s death, tweeting that “Iran will take revenge for this heinous crime.”

Soleimani was the most capable foe of the United States and Israel in the region. As chief of the Quds Force, Soleimani was a master of Iran’s asymmetric warfare strategy, using proxy forces to bleed Iran’s enemies, while preserving the government’s ability to plausibly deny involvement.

After the U.S. invasions of Iraq, he funded and trained anti-American militias that launched low-level attacks on U.S. occupation forces, killing hundreds of U.S. servicemen and generating pressure for U.S. withdrawal.

In recent years, Soleimani led two successful Iranian military operations: the campaign to drive ISIS out of western Iraq in 2015 and the campaign to crush the jihadist forces opposed to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. The United States and Israel denounced Iran’s role in both operations but could not prevent Iran from claiming victory.

Soleimani had assumed a leading role in Iraqi politics in the past year. The anti-ISIS campaign relied on Iraqi militias, which the Iranians supported with money, weapons, and training. After ISIS was defeated, these militias maintained a prominent role in Iraq that many resented, leading to demonstrations and rioting. Soleimani was seeking to stabilize the government and channel the protests against the United States when he was killed.

In the same period, Israel pursued its program of targeted assassination. In an effort to thwart Iran’s nuclear program, Mossad assassinated at least five Iranian nuclear scientists, according to Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman. Yossi Melman, another Israeli journalist, says that Mossad has assassinated 60-70 enemies outside of its borders since its founding in 1947, though none as prominent as Soleimani.

Israel also began striking at the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq last year. The United States did the same on December 29, killing 19 fighters and prompting anti-American demonstrations as big as the anti-Iranian demonstrations of a month ago.

Now the killing of Soleimani promises more unrest, if not open war. The idea that it will deter Iranian attacks may come to rank with George Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” in the annals of American folly.

“This doesn’t mean war,” wrote former Defense Department official Andrew Exum, “it will not lead to war, and it doesn’t risk war. None of that. It is war.”

The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida reported two years ago that Washington had given Israel the green light to assassinate Soleimani, as Haaretz recounted:

Al-Jarida, which in recent years… [has] broken exclusive stories from Israel, quoted a source in Jerusalem as saying that ‘there is an American-Israeli agreement’ that Soleimani is a ‘threat to the two countries’ interests in the region.’ It is generally assumed in the Arab world that the paper is used as an Israeli platform for conveying messages to other countries in the Middle East.”

Trump has now fulfilled the wishes of Mossad. After proclaiming his intention to end America’s “stupid endless wars,” the president has effectively declared war on the largest country in the region in solidarity with Israel, the most unpopular country in the Middle East.

Jefferson Morley is a writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a reporter and editor in Washington, D.C., since 1980. He spent 15 years as an editor and reporter at The Washington Post. He was a staff writer at Arms Control Today and Washington editor of Salon. He is the editor and co-founder of JFK Facts, a blog about the assassination of JFK. His latest book is The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster, James Jesus Angleton.

Why Giuliani’s Ukraine Sources Are So Untrustworthy

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney and a former New York City mayor, recently teamed up with One America News (OAN) and its White House correspondent, Chanel Rion, for a so-called “investigative special” that promised to “destroy” the Democratic case for impeaching Trump.

But Sergii Leshchenko, a journalist and an ex-member of Ukraine’s parliament, argued in an op-ed for the Kyiv Post that most of the interviewees Giuliani used could not be trusted and had strong ties to the Russian government.

Leshchenko writes, “As a journalist who has been covering Ukrainian politics for 20 years, I maintain that (former prosecutor general Yuri) Lutsenko and the rest of Rudy Giuliani’s interlocutors in Ukraine are not in the least trustworthy. Moreover, most of them have long had contacts with Moscow, which seeks to shift responsibility for interference in the 2016 U.S. elections from Russia to Ukraine. This scenario is actively supported by part of the corrupt Ukrainian establishment.”

Watch a preview for the OAN report below:

Teaming up with OAN — the right-wing cable news outlet that is even more aggressively pro-Trump than Fox News — Giuliani pushed the debunked conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the United States’ 2016 presidential election. And the main person Giuliani has used to promote that theory is Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch accused of bribery in the United States.

“Firtash is useful for Giuliani in helping him advance the conspiracy theory,” Leshchenko asserted in his op-ed. “For example, lawmakers Oleh Voloshyn and Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, both of whom are close to Firtash, are trying to start a ‘parliamentary inquiry’ into ex-Vice President Joe Biden’s activities in Ukraine.”

Another Giuliani source Leshchenko considers problematic is Viktor Shokin, a former prosecutor general in Ukraine. Giuliani used Shokin on Firtash’s recommendation.

“Giuliani’s strategy to promote his conspiracy theory looks like political schizophrenia,” Leshchenko writes. “But his actions also gave Russia great opportunities to advance its interests.”

Giuliani has previously accused Leshchenko himself of working with the Democrats to interfere in the 2016 election, and allegations the journalist vehemently denies.

Report: Russian 2016 Election Hacking Flashes Warning For 2020

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

A new report from Politico on Thursday highlighted the persistent and troubling concerns about the security of U.S. elections, diving deep into some of the still unresolved mysteries about Russia’s efforts to hack the 2016 election.

Much of the discussion of Russian election interference has focused on two separate prongs of the 2016 interference: the social media troll farms pushing propaganda and disinformation, and the hacking and dumping of emails from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair. But journalist Kim Zetter focused in Politico on the third, less-discussed and yet even more disturbing tactic — the hacking of U.S. election infrastructure.

We’ve known for years that U.S. intelligence believes Russian agents tried to — and in some cases were successful — hack into key aspects of the decentralized American voting infrastructure in the run-up to the 2016 Election Day. But there hasn’t been any solid evidence that Russia was actually able to affect the election result in any way at this vector. Some have speculated that they were just poking around, seeing what they could access, without risking a truly thunderous response from the U.S. by literally tampering with voter tallies.

Because it’s unclear whether this interference tactic actually produced any tangible consequences — unlike social media propaganda and hacked emails, which reached many millions of voters — it hasn’t garnered as much attention. But Zetter’s piece highlights that the risks posed by these kinds of cyberattacks are extreme, and many unanswered questions from 2016 leave open the possibility that the hacking influenced who ended up voting.

She recounts an incident in Durham County, North Carolina — a swing state — that pushed some people away from the polls on Election Day. County officials struggled to load voter roll data onto the necessary laptops ahead of the vote, data that confirms the voters who show up are registered. Officials contacted the Florida company VR Systems that managed the software, and they tried to help fix the problem. While the data was eventually loaded, problems emerged on Election Day:

Almost immediately, though, a number of [the county laptops] exhibited problems. Some crashed or froze. Others indicated that voters had already voted when they hadn’t. Others displayed an alert saying voters had to show ID before they could vote, even though a recent court case in North Carolina had made that unnecessary.

State officials immediately ordered Durham County to abandon the laptops in favor of paper printouts of the voter list to check in voters. But the switch caused extensive delays at some precincts, leading an unknown number of frustrated voters to leave without casting ballots.

To this day, no one knows definitively what happened with Durham’s poll books. And one important fact about the incident still worries election integrity activists three years later: VR Systems had been targeted by Russian hackers in a phishing campaign three months before the election. The hackers had sent malicious emails both to VR Systems and to some of its election customers, attempting to trick the recipients into revealing usernames and passwords for their email accounts. The Russians had also visited VR Systems’ website, presumably looking for vulnerabilities they could use to get into the company’s network, as the hackers had done with Illinois’ state voter registration system months earlier.

As has previously been reported, Zetter noted that hackers also successfully penetrated to country voters systems in Florida in 2016 — another swing state — though it’s unclear what they achieved.

The unanswered questions should disturb us. It’s more than three years on from that monumental election, and we still don’t have a comprehensive accounting of what happened. This is particularly problematic because, whatever happened in 2016, we’re heading for yet another high-stakes election in 2020. The results of the election are highly important, and so is the public’s confidence in the results, no matter who wins.

But under President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, election security has been grossly neglected. Republicans have blocked Democratic efforts to implement a robust response to the 2016 hacking and fortify U.S. voting infrastructure. Not only that, but Trump has been so obsessed with defending his shaky 2016 win and Russian President Vladimir Putin that he consistently casts doubt on the fact of the election interference. This means both that his supporters are less willing to do what it takes to counter the threat and, that should a repeat performance take place to swing the election in his favor, they’ll be predisposed to dismiss any allegations about the corruption of the election out of hand.

John Solomon Named 2019 ‘Misinformer Of The Year’

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

All sorts of frauds, miscreants, liars, grifters, and charlatans are drawn to right-wing media. Even amid such a wretched group, it stands out when multiple witnesses testify to Congress that a conservative columnist colluded with agents of the president to advance a fabricated story intended to blow up an entire presidential election. Even more so, he did that while aiding in a plot to extort a foreign government into supporting the effort, which has led to the president of the United States being impeached.

For all of that and more, John Solomon is the 2019 Misinformer of the Year.

Who is John Solomon?

Years before he became a Sean Hannity sidekick, Solomon was a mainstream reporter, writing for The Associated Press and The Washington Post. At the time, he was more than once criticized for shoddy work that furthered a right-wing narrative. In 2004, a Solomon report on John Kerry had “a strong resemblance to an RNC press release.” A 2012 Columbia Journalism Review profile noted that “Solomon has a history of bending the truth to his storyline” and that he “was notorious for massaging facts to conjure phantom scandals.”

Solomon’s talent for conjuring “phantom scandals” was never more apparent than when he emerged as a Trump defender and anti-Robert Mueller figure on Fox News while working for Sinclair’s Circa website as chief operating officer. He and co-worker Sara Carter seemed to be primarily focused on undermining the origins of the Russia investigation to suggest Donald Trump’s campaign had been set up. 

Solomon left Circa in July 2017, becoming executive vice president of digital video at The Hill. He started pushing another “phantom scandal” — the Uranium One conspiracy theory, which originated with Peter Schweizer and Steve Bannon’s lie that Hillary Clinton corruptly sold the United States’ uranium to Russia because donors to her family’s foundation stood to benefit. None of it was true, but that sure didn’t stop right-wing media and their Republican allies in Congress from seizing on the claim to go after Clinton. Solomon’s main contribution to the conspiracy theory was reporting on an informant who he said could corroborate the accusations. Later, we learned that Justice Department officials deemed the informant not credible, and when the informant testified before a House committee, he was reportedly unable to provide any information. The informant’s attorney was Victoria Toensing, a notable connection that would play out repeatedly over the course of Solomon’s reporting.

While Solomon was at Circa — and continuing into his time at The Hill — he emerged as a key figure on Hannity’s Fox show. Circa under Solomon fueled Hannity’s show with pro-Trump stories on a nightly basis. It was during this stretch, all the way into 2019, that Hannity was working to spin a counternarrative to the charges of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Solomon’s “slanted reporting” was a fundamental part of Hannity’s conspiracy theories. Hannity even wanted to award Solomon (and others like him, including Carter) a Pulitzer Prize. Solomon has penned dozens of columns and made numerous appearances on Fox in attempts to undermine investigations into Russia’s interference with our elections to benefit Trump.

All of this work was a precursor to Solomon’s involvement with Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine.

Ukraine and The Hill

Solomon is one of the most critical figures in Trump and Giuliani’s plot to extort the Ukrainian government into meddling in our 2020 election to help the president. Giuliani — who the president hired in late 2018 as part of his legal team responding to the Mueller investigation — claims to have stumbled upon information late last year regarding former Vice President Joe Biden’s alleged prior corrupt behavior in Ukraine as well as evidence that it was really Ukraine that interfered with our 2016 election, doing so to hurt Trump and benefit Clinton. With a heavy assist from two Soviet-born con men who have since been federally indicted for alleged campaign finance violations, Giuliani set out to “investigate” these claims by enlisting a series of corrupt Ukrainian political figures.

In March 2019, Giuliani completed his “investigation” into Biden and his son Hunter in Ukraine and sent the results to the Department of State — and also to Solomon. Solomon then began laundering Giuliani’s claims through his opinion columns in The Hill. The conspiracy theory they wove was complex, but it fit neatly into the right wing’s ongoing campaign to absolve Trump as having benefited from Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The theory roughly boils down to this: Corrupt Ukrainian officials worked with equally corrupt American officials to frame Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort in order to discredit Trump and benefit Clinton. As with most conspiracy theories on the right, George Soros is supposedly involved, through anti-corruption organizations funded by his foundations that worked to expose Manafort’s illegal activities stemming from his work in Ukraine. (Manafort is currently serving a seven-and-a-half-year prison sentence due to these activities.) Additionally, the conspiracy theory posits that not only was the Ukrainian government working to do Trump dirty, but it was also aiding Biden in supposedly getting investigations into the Burisma gas company shut down because his son Hunter served on the board. Of course, consistent with Solomon’s history, none of this is true.

Starting on March 20, Solomon published 45 columns in The Hill aimed at discrediting the Russia investigation, 12 of which were primarily focused on planting the seeds of this new Ukrainian element of the conspiracy theory. These stories relied on Giuliani’s sources (like disgraced former Ukrainian prosecutors Viktor Shokin and Yuriy Lutsenko) and spelled out Giuliani’s conspiracy theory in detail. Solomon helped Giuliani not only to plant the seeds of a disinformation campaign against Biden, but to make public a behind-the-scenes smear campaign targeting the then-American Ambassador to the U.S. Maria Yovankovitch. The campaign was championed by Giuliani’s now-indicted associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, as they viewed Yovankovitch as an obstacle to a shady oil and gas deal the two hoped to broker in Ukraine. Parnas worked closely with Solomon, assisting in and helping to secure interviews with Giuliani’s sources and sometimes listening in as they occurred. Also consistent with Solomon’s reporting, at least three of these columns featured information that may have been leaked from Ukrainian pro-Russia oligarch Dmitry Firtash, a client of lawyer Toensing and her husband/legal partner Joseph diGenova. The material Giuliani gave to the State Department included an email in which Solomon forwarded a draft of one of his columns to Toensing, diGenova, and Parnas.

Turns out Toensing and diGenova were working closely with Giuliani on his disinformation campaign, even employing Parnas as part of their efforts. After word of these relationships began to come out following the release of a whistleblower report about the July 25 phone call in which Trump pressured Ukraine’s president — which led to the launch of the impeachment inquiry — we learned for the first time that Solomon himself is a client of theirs as well.

We know now that Parnas had been working with diGenova, Toensing, and Firtash and that Parnas would eventually be paid $1 million by the Russian government. ProPublica reported that Parnas closely worked with Solomon during this entire endeavor.

None of this information was disclosed when Solomon brought the conspiracy theory to Fox News and Fox Business, where he has appeared at least 92 times since March 20 to push elements of the conspiracy theory, in some cases alongside his attorneys diGenova and Toensing. Hannity gushed over Solomon’s work, hosting him at least 65 times during this same time period. Solomon’s efforts paid off when Fox News announced in October that it was hiring him as a contributor; he had recently announced his departure from The Hill.

Solomon wasn’t the only one to cash in on this conspiracy theory. While Giuliani claims to represent Trump for free, he reportedly was paid at least $500,000 by Parnas last year, ostensibly for assisting him with a sham oil and gas import startup. Toensing and diGenova have also reportedly earned at least $1 million to represent Firtash and to use his case to further the smear campaign against Biden, while also reportedly kicking Parnas another $200,000 to help with that case.

Solomon’s propaganda called out at impeachment inquiry

After the whistleblower flagged Trump’s phone call with new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Solomon’s work became a critical part of the subsequent impeachment inquiry.

Multiple witnesses (former diplomat Kurt Volker, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, former National Security Council official Fiona Hill, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman) testified that Solomon’s reporting was inaccurate. The three diplomats and Hill said the corruption claims Solomon published about Yovanovitch (which came from Lutsenko) were lies, and the former ambassador said his fabricated columns put so much pressure on her that the State Department couldn’t defend her and she was removed.

Here’s one example of Solomon’s faulty reporting: He published Lutsenko’s claim that Yovanovitch had given him a “do not prosecute” list. The Hill credulously put that claim in a headline, and from there it spread more. Within days, a Russian propaganda network also reportedly started circulating the claim. Several of the witnesses listed above testified before Congress that the idea of a “do not prosecute” list was absurd and ridiculous. Lutsenko subsequently walked back his claims before later doubling down on them after Giuliani continued to pursue dirt on Biden during Trump’s impeachment inquiry.

As the hearings went on, The Hill announced that it would review Solomon’s work; with the release of the House Intelligence Committee report into Trump and Giuliani’s plotting in Ukraine, the paper reiterated that it was planning this investigation. Included in the House Intelligence Committee report were phone logs that demonstrated the frequency with which Solomon was communicating with Parnas and Giuliani during crucial time periods in his reporting. Parnas’ attorney has also claimed that Solomon participated in a series of meetings at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., with Giuliani, Parnas, diGenova, and Toensing about their efforts in Ukraine. Solomon and his allies have loudly complained about the revelations. But their claims are baseless given the context.

Nothing Ends, Nothing Ever Really Ends

While Giuliani’s Ukraine plot has been exposed, it’s worth underscoring that the dishonest scheme at play here may yet still work, despite Trump’s impeachment. Removal seems unlikely, and with Biden still one of the Democratic front-runners for the presidential nomination, the entire incident has made Hunter Biden into the 2020 edition of Hillary Clinton’s emails. Giuliani, Trump, and their congressional allies have shown no sign of backing off of the Ukraine disinformation campaign they started. Fox News still runs with the story, and mainstream outlets are feeding into false comparisons between Biden and Trump. Further, it is often lost in the news around the impeachment that this Ukraine conspiracy theory is part of a larger effort to discredit the counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s 2016 campaign, an effort being led by Attorney General Bill Barr. Parnas, for his part, firmly believed that his efforts in Ukraine would also be beneficial for Barr’s investigation. Barr appears to be laying the groundwork to release the results of this investigation in the spring or early summer, just as the 2020 campaign hits a fevered pitch.

If 2020 plays out as 2016 redux, we will have John Solomon to thank.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

Veganuary, A Resolution We Can Skip

I never got the point of a vegan diet. I dislike its cultish mindset. And I regard New Year’s resolutions as prelude to failure. That gives Veganuary three strikes and an out as an obsession to commandeer my January.

The push to adopt a strictly vegan diet for the month of January speaks volumes about English-speaking peoples’ rocky relationship with food and affection for movements. Veganuary started in Britain.

A vegan diet is like a vegetarian one — no meat, fish or fowl — but it also bans animal byproducts, such as cheese, eggs and milk.

There’s always a new diet. There’s keto, a diet of very few carbs and very high fat, seen as a fast way to lose weight. There’s the paleo diet, based on what the earliest humans supposedly ate. It permits organic produce, naturally raised meats, wild-caught fish, eggs, nuts and seeds — but not dairy, processed foods and sugar. Oddly, both the keto and paleo diets forbid grains and legumes. (Rules are rules.)

Asked her opinion on the paleo diet, a nutritionist on Doctor Radio (a SiriusXM channel) responded that she had no idea what cavemen consumed. I know from a reliable source, however, that Fred Flintstone ate brontosaurus burgers.

I get vegetarian diets. I understand the reluctance to kill animals for food. I don’t share it, though I want the animals to have been treated as humanely as possible. After all, Rusty, my sweetheart mutt, wouldn’t hurt any creature except for rabbits, but he and I were given canine teeth for a reason.

Dietitians maintain that vegetarians who don’t load up on fatty vegetarian grub can be very healthy. And a lot of us should be eating fewer burgers and more cauliflower than we do.

But it’s harder to achieve good nutrition with veganism. In particular, vitamin B12 is found only in animal sources, so vegans are advised to take supplements, according to Harvard Women’s Health Watch. How natural are pills?

From an ethical standpoint, the vegan banning of eggs or milk makes no sense at all. The cow that provided milk for my coffee is doing just fine, and the chicken’s life was in no way shortened by the eggs that went into my omelet.

The vegan movement argues that industrialized dairy or chicken farms are bad for the environment. Thing is, crops such as soybeans, corn and grains are also industrially grown and produced with high use of chemical fertilizer, fungicides, pesticides and herbicides.

In a piece last year in the Guardian, Isabella Tree, who runs a “sustainable” livestock farm in England, makes the above point and others in questioning veganism. She endorses “traditional rotational systems, permanent pasture and conservation grazing” that actually “restore soils and biodiversity, and sequester carbon.”

Tree’s cattle graze on wildflowers and grasses. The pigs poke around for rhizomes and dive into ponds. All this animal action creates opportunities for other species of small mammals and birds. Animal dung, Tree explains, “feeds earthworms, bacteria, fungi and invertebrates such as dung beetles, which pull the manure down into the earth.”

Out of curiosity, I visited Veganuary’s UK-based website. It asked visitors to take the Veganuary pledge. I clicked “Take the Pledge.” Then it asked for my email address, which I also provided. But then — before letting me see the recipes and meal plans — it demanded more information including gender, age and telephone number. Could requests for money and sales pitches for products be far behind? I was out of there.

My diet for January will be restricted to meat, fish, fowl, vegetables, nuts, yogurt, cheese, milk, fruits, beans and grains, with the occasional cookie sprinkled with sugar. Hope I can stick to it.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

IMAGE: Via Flickr by Ella Olson. https://www.flickr.com/photos/ellaolsson/42019058960

2019 Marked Another Year Of Fox News ’Non-troversies’

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

2019 was dominated by conflict and change in the U.S. and across the world. Massive pro-democracy protests erupted in major cities; there was a continuing international rise of authoritarian governmentswhite nationalist hatred continued to spread around the globe; the Trump administration faced an existential threat as House Democrats launched an inquiry into the president’s conduct with Ukraine and brought articles of impeachment against him; and the number of mass shootings outpaced the number of days this year. And yet, Fox News still found time to be outraged about a series of faux controversies in 2019.

As the year comes to a close, it seemed appropriate to look back at some of the most ridiculous non-troversies Fox News aired.

Gillette ad

In January, shaving company Gillette released an advertisement directed toward men in the #MeToo era. The advertisement showed clips depicting bullying among young boys along with sexism in the corporate world and entertainment media. The ad was crafted as a rebuttal to toxic masculine culture and encouraged men to step up, “say the right thing,” and “act the right way.” While many saw the advertisement as an attempt to promote a better society, Fox News blasted the ad and Gillette for attacking men in an unfair and derogatory manner.

Female 007

Lashana Lynch would be cast as 007 in an upcoming James Bond film, “taking over Bond’s secret agent number after his character leaves MI6.” Though Daniel Craig, the current Bond, retained the title role, in September, he and former Bond actor Pierce Brosnan expressed support for the idea of casting a woman for the role in the future. Of course, on Fox News, such rumors of a woman character taking the 007 code name were met with deep-seated outrage and contempt.

Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A has long been on the frontlines of right-wing media’s culture wars. In November, however, the company announced that it would no longer donate to anti-LGBTQ organizations. Whenever Chick-fil-A happened to be in the news, Fox News was previously quick to trumpet its support for the fast food business. But in this particular case, the network showed deep consternation over what it viewed as the company crumbling in the face of “leftist” attacks.

Nike’s Betsy Ross shoes

Nike planned to release a new shoe for the Fourth of July that would have displayed the 13-star American flag associated with the Revolutionary War and Philadelphia seamstress Betsy Ross. After former NFL player Colin Kaepernick privately criticized the design to the company, Nike cancelled its planned release of the flag-emblazoned shoe. Fox News took Nike’s cancellation of the Betsy Ross shoe as further proof that “the left” was labeling America and all those who loved it as racists.

The Hunt

After the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, this summer, Universal Pictures first pulled the ads and then cancelled the planned September release of its new film, The Hunt. The film depicted “deplorables” being hunted by “elite liberals” and drew widespread condemnation from right-wing media. On Fox News, the film was presented as evidence of the hypocritical left which wants to sow divisions in the country and pour ridicule on Trump voters.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside”

Singers John Legend and Kelly Clarkson announced plans to release an updated edition of the classic 1944 Christmas song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” The song has recently been the subject of controversy for its lyrics, which hint at sexual harassment. Fox News took this new edition as another sign of “the Left’s” relentless drive to destroy all things fun and nostalgic. 

Ms. Monopoly

Toy and board game company Hasbro announced an updated version of their classic game Monopoly this year. Ms. Monopoly would pay women more than men at the beginning of the game and whenever they passed “Go.” The game sought to highlight the ongoing existence of the gender pay gap, something conservatives often dismiss. Fox News greeted the new game by fearmongering about the rise of socialism in America and claiming that it merely patronizes women.

The “War on Thanksgiving”

Fox News’ holiday culture war vitriol just keeps beginning earlier every year. This year, it was a “War On Thanksgiving.”

Special Gifts For Special People

Ho-ho-ho. Wait till you hear about the gifts I gave to some of America’s power elites for Christmas.

To each of our Congress critters I sent my fondest wish that from now on, they receive the exact same income, health care and pension that we average citizens get. If they receive only the American average, it might make them a bit more humble — and less cavalier about ignoring the needs of regular folks.

To the stockings of GOP leaders who’ve so eagerly debased themselves to serve the madness of President Donald Trump, I added individual spritzer bottles of fragrances like Essence of Integrity and Eau de Self-Respect to help cover up their stench. And in the stockings of Democratic congressional leaders I put Spice of Viagra and Bouquet du Grassroots to stiffen their spines and remind them of who they represent.

For America’s CEOs, my gift is a beautifully boxed, brand-new set of corporate ethics. It’s called the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Going to pollute someone’s neighborhood? Then you have to live there, too. Going to slash wages and benefits? Then slash yours as well. Going to move your manufacturing to sweatshops in China? Then put your office right inside the worst sweatshop. Executive life won’t be as luxurious, but CEOs will glow with a new purity of spirit.

To the Wall Street hedge fund hucksters who’ve conglomerated, plundered and degraded hundreds of America’s newspapers, I’ve sent copies of Journalism for Dummies and offered jobs for each of them in their stripped-down, Dickensian newsrooms. Good luck.

And what better gift to the Trump family — Donald; Ivanka and Jared; Eric; Donnie Jr.; and the whole nest of them — than a wish that they live with one another constantly and permanently. No, really, each of you deserves it.

Yes, I have finally mastered the art of finding perfect gifts for people on my list — gifts that rise above crass commercialism and are genuinely appreciated by the people who receive them. I wholeheartedly recommend such gift-giving to you.

For example, I gave a goat to my mother, Lillie, for her birthday, even naming the animal after her. Although she was raised on a farm, Momma was 103 on her last birthday and really didn’t really want to tend to a goat — but she loved getting it. That’s because the beloved critter wasn’t delivered to her but to an impoverished family in Nepal that desperately needs the nutritional, economic and life-affirming benefits that can flow from something as basic as a goat.

Her gift — which indeed will keep giving — was made possible by Heifer International, a terrific charitable organization based in Little Rock, Arkansas, that copes with global poverty one animal at a time. Heifer publishes a gift catalogue that lets you and me make a donation and choose to send anything from a flock a baby chicks (for $20) to a water buffalo (for $250). Heifer International then places the animals with families around the world who put these living donations to work, lifting them from abject poverty. Not only does Heifer connect us to specific needs; it also has teachers and development experts on staff who work directly with the recipients to … well, to make the gifts work.

There are dozens of good groups that offer such gifts that matter. For example, one Christmas, my gift to Momma came from the catalogue of The Nature Conservancy. She became the symbolic owner of two acres in Appalachia that are part of the group’s conservation efforts.

For her — and for me — this kind of giving is a lot more satisfying (and a lot truer to the spirit of giving) than buying another thing that she doesn’t need. For information about these groups and more, go to www.CharityNavigator.org.

Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes “The Hightower Lowdown,” a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America’s ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.

How Fox News (And White Nationalists) Fabricated The ‘War On Christmas’

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

On December 3, 2004, Fox News’ now-defunct The O’Reilly Factor debuted a recurring segment called “Christmas Under Siege.” Though Christmas was not and has never been “under siege” in any meaningful way, disgraced former host Bill O’Reilly and Fox were set on pushing this victimization narrative, laying the groundwork for what became known as the “War on Christmas.” In the 15 years since, onlookers watched the very concept of objective reality fracture along political lines. Consumers of conservative media drifted ever deeper into a world where a school’s nonexistent ban on red and green clothing became national news and paranoid delusions were freely floated about a future in which people may be prohibited from displaying Christmas decorations.

For 15 years, cable news Don Quixotes have battled these windmills, rejoicing in their victories and basking in their acts of bravery while warning their audiences to remain vigilant. Imaginary culture war issues like the War on Christmas make for good politics, as the people arguing that these are real issues can at any time simply dust off their hands, declare victory, and pat themselves on the back for a job well done. Like Lisa Simpson and her tiger-repelling rock, the protectors of Christmas are simply saving the holiday from nonexistent threats.

Deep down, they must know that there’s no actual “war” on Christmas, but it makes for good politics. Rather than having to address issues actually facing Americans — such as health care, the economy, and climate change — the fake battles in the fake War on Christmas give right-wing media a convenient way to manufacture divisions between the left and the right. The bombardment of misinformation playing up imaginary (or wildly overblown) examples of political correctness run amok are intended to scare and create a seeming sense of partisanship even on issues that are agreed upon nearly universally.

In a 2016 interview, Eric Trump explained why his father ran for president (emphasis added):

He opens up the paper each morning and sees our nation’s leaders giving a hundred billion dollars to Iran, or he opens the paper and some new school district has just eliminated the ability for its students to say the Pledge of Allegiance, or some fire department in some town is ordered by the mayor to no longer fly the American flag on the back of a fire truck. Or, he sees the tree on the White House lawn has been renamed “holiday tree” instead of “Christmas tree.” I could go on and on for hours. Those are the very things that made my father run, and those are the very things he cares about.

Each of those claims is dubious at best, but the idea that the White House Christmas tree was renamed the “holiday tree” is flat-out false

In 1921, industrialist and notorious anti-Semite Henry Ford published a piece decrying the secularization of Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter:

Last Christmas most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone’s Birth. Easter they will have the same difficulty in finding Easter cards that contain any suggestion that Easter commemorates a certain event. There will be rabbits and eggs and spring flowers, but a hint of the Resurrection will be hard to find.

Ford’s sentiment is quite similar to that of O’Reilly in 2004:

All over the country, Christmas is taking flak. In Denver this past weekend, no religious floats were permitted in the holiday parade there. In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg unveiled the holiday tree and no Christian Christmas symbols are allowed in the public schools. Federated Department Stores, [that’s] Macy’s, have done away with the Christmas greeting, “Merry Christmas.”

And to the claims in this piece from conservative columnist Jay Nordlinger in 2010:

Some have said, “You just can’t find cards that say ‘Merry Christmas.’ It gets harder and harder.” I know. Kind of like trying to find products not made in China (for who’s to say whether they come from laogai, the gulag?). I gave up on the China front long ago. Shameful, I know. But have you ever tried to buy an umbrella not made in China? Also, globalization has done wonders for the average Chinese, gulag or no gulag. Kind of a thorny, upsetting issue.

I gave up on the “Merry Christmas” front too, where cards are concerned. I just get a pretty card that says “Season’s Greetings” or “Whass Happenin’ on the Holidays?” or whatever. Life’s too short to hunt down “Merry Christmas.”

While O’Reilly’s frustrations were aired during an episode of The O’Reilly Factor and Nordlinger’s were published in the National Review, Ford’s came in the second volume of a collection titled The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem, hammering home what the War on Christmas was actually about for Ford: antisemitism and Christian supremacy. 

In 1959, the right-wing John Birch Society published a pamphlet titled There Goes Christmas?! in which its authors argued that the United Nations and communists were trying to “take Christ out of Christmas.” In 2000, white nationalist blog VDare published what’s thought to be the first online mention of the “War Against Christmas,” warning that Amazon’s use of the phrase “Happy Holidays” in an email was symbolic of “the struggle to abolish America.”

The out-groups supposedly responsible for attacking Christian traditions may have changed over the years, but from Ford to Fox, the backbone of the War on Christmas conspiracy theory has always been that of Christian nationalism.

A brief history of right-wing media’s War on Christmas:

With a series of lies, half-truths, and distortions, Fox News and other right-wing media figures have kept the Christmas culture war at the forefront of American politics for 15 years, maintaining a cache of examples they can pull from when they need to distract from an unfavorable news cycle. These stories are almost always framed around the idea that political correctness has gone too far and treat the issues brought up as though they are a development of recent decades.

2004: O’Reilly and other right-wing pundits falsely claim that a Washington grade school “banned” a production of A Christmas Carol. Fox Business host Lou Dobbs (then with CNN) claims that the words “Happy Holidays” “exclud[e] everyone who is celebrating Christmas.” Christian Broadcasting Network founder and host Pat Robertson tells people who don’t like Christmas to go to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or Sudan. Conservative commentators attack Target for “banning” the Salvation Army from its stores when in fact the store was just  enforcing existing policy. Then-MSNBC analyst Pat Buchanan claims that minor controversies around parade names or store greetings amount to “hate crimes against Christianity.”

2005: O’Reilly promises to “use all the power” he has “on radio and television to bring horror into the world of people” who “diminish and denigrate the [Christmas] holiday.” He baselessly suggests that former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry would have “abolished” Christmas as a federal holiday had he won the 2004 election, replacing it with “winter solstice or something.” He declares “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings” offensive to Christians before taking the exact opposite position next month, saying, “‘Happy Holidays’ is fine. Just don’t ban ‘Merry Christmas.’” O’Reilly compares Catholic leaders’ silence over the War on Christmas to the church’s handling of its pedophilia scandal. He bizarrely claims that Martin Luther King, Jr. “would be appalled” by “the attacks on Christmas.” He also pushes Samuel Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court, claiming that he’d be an ally in the fight to protect Christmas. The Fox host falsely claims that the U.S. Postal Service no longer offers stamps with a “spiritual” theme. 

2006: In January, O’Reilly misleadingly claims that a Wisconsin elementary school changed the lyrics to “Silent Night” to be more politically correct during a 2005 Christmas performance. (The lyrics were from a Christmas play about a lonely tree lamenting its state to the tune of “Silent Night.”) O’Reilly claims that retailers Best Buy and Crate & Barrel are “still ordering their people not to say ‘Merry Christmas’” under threat of being fired even though neither store had any such policy. Conservative radio host Bob Newman misleadingly claims that the American Civil Liberties Union was suing a Tennessee school over Christmas carols.

2009: Fox News plays up a fabricated controversy focused on the inclusion of three controversial ornaments on the Christmas tree in the White House’s Blue Room, when in fact those three ornaments — out of 800 on the tree — had been among hundreds donated by local organizations. Anti-Muslim bigot Pamela Geller says that the Senate holding a vote on Christmas Eve is “an act of treason and blasphemy.” Fox’s “straight news” hosts misrepresent a Boston school’s policy prohibiting the sale of religious items in its gift shop as proof of the War on Christmas.

2010: Fox & Friends claims that the city of Tulsa’s decision to host a “holiday parade” instead of a “Christmas parade” is a “topic of national controversy.” Fox host Sean Hannity demands “tolerance” from his Jewish guest after talking about this topic. Fox & Friends pushes a bogus story about a central Florida school banning “traditional Christmas colors.” National Review writer Jay Nordlinger lies about a lack of Christmas greeting cards. Fox’s website accuses the NBA of attacking Christmas by scheduling games on the holiday, seemingly oblivious to this long-standing tradition. Fox claims that it’s anti-Christmas for lawmakers to work during the final weeks of December.

2011: Then-Fox host Gretchen Carlson suggests that debate moderators ask 2012 presidential candidates “how important would it be for you to address the political correctness in our society” including the war on Christmas and warns, “Maybe Christmas won’t be a federal holiday coming up if it continues down this path.” Carlson speculates that it may soon be illegal for her to display Christmas decorations in her home. Hannity and other conservatives criticize the Obamas for having too many Christmas decorations. Fox contributor Tammy Bruce accuses Obama of “pandering to Muslims” and showing “contempt for Christianity” by implementing a “Christmas tree tax,” which actually originated through an industry-led program under the Bush administration and was levied to establish a marketing campaign promoting the sale of fresh Christmas trees. Then-Fox host Eric Bolling implies Obama favors Islam over Christianity while a sign in the background says “Obama’s War on Christmas.” O’Reilly devotes more time to the War on Christmas than he does to actual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Right-wing media rage that a child made an ornament saying “I love President Obama” for an unofficial Capitol Christmas Tree that the Obama administration had zero involvement with. Dobbs and Tony Perkins say Rhode Island’s “holiday tree” is an assault on religion. Then-Fox host Alisyn Camerota promotes the War on Christmas narrative by falsely claiming that “you can’t call a Christmas tree a Christmas tree in Rhode Island.” An article on Fox Nation declares, “We’re Winning the War on Christmas.”

2012: Fox & Friends interviews a professional “Santa” about Christmas being under attack. O’Reilly agrees with a guest who says that the War on Christmas is the left’s attempt to advance abortion and gay rights “because Christianity is against those things.” O’Reilly again devotes more time to the War on Christmas than he does to actual wars. Frequent Fox guest Ben Stein claims that people who don’t like Christmas are mentally ill.

2013: O’Reilly again says “secular progressives” want to ban Christmas to achieve policy goals including “unfettered abortion” and gay marriage. O’Reilly diagnoses the U.S. with “‘Happy Holidays’ syndrome.” Then-Fox host Megyn Kelly tells her audience that Jesus and Santa are both white, and O’Reilly backs her on his show. Fox’s Tucker Carlson warns during a “War on Christmas” segment that not believing in God leads to “killing a ton of people.” O’Reilly declares victory in the war. Radio host Rush Limbaugh baselessly says that the left “would totally eliminate” Christmas if given the opportunity. During the Veterans Day episode of his show, Hannity devotes twice as much time to the War on Christmas as to veterans of actual wars.

2014: O’Reilly invites a psychotherapist on The O’Reilly Factor to diagnose people who are supposedly waging a war on Christmas. After a school district opts to not list religious holidays on its school calendar rather than adding two major Muslim holidays, O’Reilly cites the decision as evidence that people are “wip[ing] out all our traditions” as part of a War on Christmas. O’Reilly once again declares victory. Fox & Friends hypes an op-ed written by actor Chuck Norris wrongly claiming that Obama hadn’t spoken out about his Christian faith, using as evidence the fact that Obama didn’t weigh in on a school district’s decision to remove all religious holidays from its calendar.

2015: Fox & Friends hypes the War on Christmas with a story about a town’s decision to continue displaying a nativity scene on public property. Then-Fox analyst Peter Johnson Jr. asks if the San Bernardino, California, terrorist attack is proof of a “literal war on Christmas.” Bolling falsely claims that a New York City school “banned parents and teachers from explicitly mentioning Christmas or Santa Claus at school functions.” Fox & Friends First claims Starbucks is trying to “bah humbug Christmas” by going with a more minimal red design, rather than Christmas images, for its annual holiday cup. Hannity guest Todd Starnes claims, “This year, the war on Christmas has really been waged on college and university campuses.” O’Reilly guest Dennis Miller says that an Ohio man’s zombie nativity display is proof that “it’s open season” on Christians.

2016: Fox & Friends Weekend, along with Starnes and Breitbart, report on the cancellation of one school’s production of A Christrmas Carol, causing the family at the center of the controversy to leave town temporarily for fear of doxxing.   

2017: Dobbs says that thanks to Trump, he is “seeing far more in the way of Christmas displays, Christmas lights … and so much obvious joy.” After the Metro rejected an ad from the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., because it depicted a religious scene, Fox & Friends claims, “The war on Christmas is gaining speed.”

2018: Fox & Friends guest Mike Slater laments people “abusing freedoms here” instead of “worshipping God” during a War on Christmas segment. On her radio show, Ingraham obsesses over a made-up story about people on the left wanting to “ban” Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer based on a video HuffPost published jokingly calling the 1964 Christmas film “the worst.” Fox News reports on the video as though it is a sincere call to ban the film and runs multiple stories about it online. Fox and a number of other right-wing media outlets run stories about a supposed push by some to make Santa Claus “gender-neutral,” based on an extremely dubious and leading poll by a graphic design company. Fox contributor Tammy Bruce and Tucker Carlson commiserate over a decision by a coffee shop in the Scottish Parliament building to no longer call its gingerbread cookies “gingerbread men.”

2019: The season began early with the Fox News invention of a new seasonal war, this time on Thanksgiving. But it’s not as though there weren’t Christmas grievances to air. Fox Business host Trish Regan became irate over the fact that Starbucks’ annual holiday cups say “Merry Coffee” instead of “Merry Christmas,” a move she was convinced had been driven by political correctness. In an interview with Jeanine Pirro, Lara Trump celebrated the ability to “say ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”

Every so often, a prominent mainstream columnist will publish an op-ed making the case for people on the left to be less concerned with cultural issues. The argument goes, for example, that Democrats were too worried about trans rights in 2016, and that cost them the election. Or perhaps a columnist will write that Black Lives Matter is too divisive. The truth, however, is that people on the right seem particularly  dedicated to latching onto culture war topics for electoral gain.

Following the 2016 election, there were a number of articles blaming the Democrats’ loss on an obsession with “identity politics.” It was Democrats who were supposedly obsessed with trans people and bathrooms; it was Democrats who sunk too much time, money, and energy into protecting abortion rights. In reality, what interest Democrats did have in these issues (which hardly made up a significant portion of their platform or campaign strategy) came in response to things Republican politicians did to restrict trans and reproductive rights. But there’s no real action that the War on Christmas is responding to — it’s just a series of minor, trumped-up stories. In reality, this supposed “war” lives entirely in the minds of the people pushing the narrative. Its staying power and success have served as the blueprint for related “wars” on Easter and Thanksgiving.

The War on Christmas is the backdrop for a world in which “political correctness” will be forever running amok, the left’s goal will always be to “destroy everything that is wholesome in our country and in our Judeo-Christian civilization,” and Democrats will be stuck in a perpetual state of trying to ban your favorite hobbies and foods. Of course, none of this is true. The slightest resistance to right-wing culture creep will always be framed as a direct assault on their way of life, even if that resistance is just a defense of the status quo. What, if anything, has the left learned after 15 years?