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Breitbart Columnist: Get Vaccinated To 'Own The Libs'

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

John Nolte was a foot soldier in the Trump Revolution. A longtime Breitbart.com writer, Nolte made his bones writing anti-media screeds defending Donald Trump's most indefensibly bigoted comments. Nolte's influence (like that of Breitbart.com itself) waned in recent years as Trumpism took over the Republican Party and such defenses became commonplace in right-wing media. But it is reasonable to think that by writing for the Trump base for more than a decade, Nolte gained both credibility with those readers and insight into their thinking.

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How Right-Wing Media Promote Ivermectin Scams

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

The ivermectin debacle shows the lengths that influential right-wing media figures are willing to go to avoid encouraging their viewers to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Propagandists like Fox News star Tucker Carlson would rather promote an anti-parasite drug that health agencies say has not been shown to be effective against the virus than the vaccines they say are almost miraculously so.

But the saga also shows how the right-wing movement functions as a money-making operation that serves up its hapless members to scammers.

NBC News' Ben Collins and Brandy Zadrozny last month detailed a scheme to cash in on people who want ivermectin, but can't get a prescription from a responsible medical practitioner. SpeakWithAnMD.com, they reported, is a telemedicine website touted on anti-vaccination social media communities for serving as a pill mill for ivermectin. The website offers consultations for $90; asks prospective patients whether they are seeking ivermectin, the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, or another medication; and promises same-day delivery of prescribed drugs through an online pharmacy.

The telemedicine website has ties to the broader right-wing infrastructure, NBC News further reported. It partners with America's Frontline Doctors, a fringe-right medical organization that regularly promotes COVID-19 misinformation and has drawn sympathetic coverage from Fox News and other right-wing outlets. (That group's founder, Dr. Simone Gold, was arrested after storming the U.S. Capitol during the January 6 insurrection and charged with violent entry and disorderly conduct.)

This grift relies on three elements. First, demand for ivermectin is expanding due to its promotion by right-wing and contrarian media personalities and on social media platforms. Second, legitimate supply is limited because responsible doctors don't want to give their patients a drug that the Food and Drug Administration and the drug's manufacturer, among others, do not recommend as a treatment for COVID-19. And third, the drug is generally safe with proper dosing, limiting liability for the grifters. The marks are separated from their money but are otherwise fine -- unless they actually have or get COVID-19 and thought that ivermectin was a substitute for the vaccines or more proven therapeutics.

Wealthy right-wing propagandists like Carlson, his prime-time colleagues Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, and the litany of other notables who have touted ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment each play an essential role in this scheme, even if there's no reason to think they directly profit from it. By serving as hype men for a drug when there's little to no evidence it actually works, they are helping to fuel demand from an audience that trusts them. If they were to do otherwise -- if they were to reveal to their viewers that they were being taken advantage of by con artists -- the whole plot would likely collapse.

Right-wing media companies are built on this type of con culture. Outlets and personalities use ideological, often paranoid, political coverage to build connections with their audiences. They convince those audience members that mainstream information sources that present contradictory narratives can't be trusted. And then they bilk those marks for all they are worth.

The business model for Newsmax, the TV and digital empire overseen by Christopher Ruddy, revolves around this sort of grift. Its real moneymakers are its health and financial newsletters, authored by various charlatans, and its huge email lists, which consist overwhelmingly of older conservatives whom Ruddy gleefully sells out to any snake oil peddler or fraudster who can pay his fee. All of this has been well-known for years. But former President Donald Trump still goes on his close friend Ruddy's TV network; Trump's ludicrously dishonest first press secretary, Sean Spicer, is one of its hosts; Republican governors and members of Congress are frequent guests; and Newsmax's website publishes an array of columnists from all factions of the GOP. None of them care.

But Newsmax has simply perfected a business strategy seen throughout the right-wing press. Everywhere you turn, Republican luminaries and storied publications are renting their email lists to quacks hocking phony cures for Alzheimer's disease and financial conmen promising a path to riches for just a small fee. Commentators ranging from the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to the podcaster Joe Rogan to the "cool kid's philosopher" Ben Shapiro are all hocking brain pills of dubious effect. If you watch a few Fox commercial breaks, you'll hear all about the purported benefits of predatory reverse mortgages and how gold is the investment you need to protect yourself from the coming market crash.

All of these shady sales pitches boil down to a simple narrative: The experts and the mainstream press are conning you. They don't want you to know about Ronald Reagan's "secret cancer cure," or how to make your brain extra smooth, or how you can use their very affordable investment tips to escape ruin during the impending financial apocalypse, or about the survival food stockpile you'll need when the FEMA camps open. In fact, if you were one of the sheeple who watches the mainstream media, you probably wouldn't even know about the FEMA camps. Aren't you the lucky one?

These appeals are potent in part because they feed on the arguments that right-wing media have been making for decades. The lies and perfidy of the mainstream press and the secret knowledge available to right-wing media consumers are core precepts of the worldview that these outlets propagate.

None of these pathologies were paused for the pandemic. Instead, as the virus spread across the country, many right-wing media figures turned to peddling a host of fraudulent coronavirus treatments, at times drawing action from regulators. Conspiracy theorists and charlatans cashed in by rebranding themselves into contrarian COVID-19 gurus.And the leading lights of the right-wing commentariat have ping-ponged from one dubious therapeutic to another, while offering their followers a range of reasons why they may not want to take the safe, effective vaccines.

They've primed their audiences to believe bullshit, and there are plenty of grifters who are more than willing to take advantage. In right-wing media's long con, the dupes shell out while the propagandists get rich.

Bold Biden Enrages The Right’s Pro-COVID Propagandists

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

President Joe Biden's announcement that federal regulators will seek to compel businesses with more than 100 employees to require their employees to either be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be tested for the virus weekly isn't the ideal solution to the pandemic. But the right-wing echo chamber sabotaged the ideal solution a long time ago.

In a better world, safe, effective vaccines developed under a Republican administration and distributed under a Democratic one would not have become a partisan issue. Politicians from both parties would have worked together to vaccinate communities as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Right-wing, mainstream, and left-wing news outlets would all have pursued whatever messages they deemed most effective in getting their audiences to take life-saving shots. High vaccine uptake would have sent COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths plummeting.

But that's not what happened.

Instead, as Biden made the vaccination campaign a central focus, Fox News hosts decided that their network's self-declared role as Biden's "opposition" did not have a carveout for his effort to vaccinate the public and halt the deadly pandemic. They and many of their right-wing media colleagues decided that their interests lay in fueling skepticism toward the vaccines and undermining the vaccination campaign.

Since Biden took office, right-wing propagandists have falsely suggested that the vaccines are ineffective or unnecessary and that they might be killing thousands of Americans. They have lashed out against the prospects of vaccine mandates, whether imposed by private businesses, universities, or government agencies. They have wailed about requirements for proof of vaccination to enter certain venues.They have raised up vaccine refusers as culture war heroes. And they have denounced door-to-door campaigns to urge residents to get vaccinated as akin to the tactics of the Gestapo.

What if Fox News actually cared about you? www.youtube.com

With the Republican base so firmly ensconced within the right-wing media echo chamber, it was inevitable that these sentiments would spread to the party's political leaders. GOP members of Congress waged misinformation campaigns about the vaccines and denounced the vaccination effort. Republican governors who see themselves as potential presidential candidates fought to prevent businesses, schools, and even cruise ships from requiring proof of vaccination. Meanwhile more responsible party politicians just threw up their hands over why their voters weren't getting shots.

The situation is reminiscent of 2009, when Republicans and right-wing media realized that they could foil President Barack Obama's promise of unity simply by withholding their support for anything he tried to do. But this time, the stakes are bigger than whether a president is viewed as divisive.

You can see the results of the right-wing effort to politicize vaccination all around you. Polls routinely show that Republicans are less likely to say they have been or will be vaccinated. As the Delta wave crested in recent weeks, with hospitals strained to capacity and daily recorded COVID-19 death totals again exceeding 1,500, it's been clear that those claims are neither idle nor irrelevant. As The Washington Post's Philip Bump detailed, state vaccination rates are closely correlated with 2020 vote margins, with increased support for former President Donald Trump consistent with lower vaccination rates. Higher COVID-19 cases, hospitalization, and deaths during this wave are also all correlated with Trump votes.

Republican leaders and right-wing media outlets convinced their supporters not to get vaccinated, and it's killing them and threatening the vaccinated. The powerful hold they have on their supporters has stymied the Biden administration's messaging and policy efforts at cajoling them into voluntary vaccination. The remaining options were to give up and accept that the right-wing vaccine disinformation campaign will keep killing Americans, or try to sidestep that propaganda machine with vaccine and testing requirements. Biden chose the latter.

But the forces that have worked so hard to limit vaccine uptake aren't taking this lying down.

Republican governors are promising to sue the federal government over the vaccine mandates. Ambitious GOP politicians are trying to win primary fights with overheated calls for civil disobedience.

And Fox's propagandists are furious, and they will surely expend far more effort trying to make their viewers angry about vaccine mandates than they ever did to try to cajole them to get shots.

All they had to do was show as much interest in life-saving vaccines as they did in hydroxychloroquine. But they were too devoted to opposing Biden to look out for their audience, and now here we are.

Debate Over Ivermectin Obscures Biggest Pandemic Problem

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Several national news outlets stepped on a rake over the weekend by credulously parroting an Oklahoma TV news station's apparently bogus report that the state's rural hospitals were flooded with people who overdosed while taking the veterinary form of the anti-parasite drug ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment. After the story was debunked, conversation on Twitter quickly turned to the practices of mainstream journalists, as well as to whether mocking conservatives for taking so-called "horse paste" is effective or counterproductive in getting them to take COVID-19 vaccines.

I think journalists should be much more skeptical about thinly sourced news stories and try to report them independently rather than simply accepting the accounts as true. But these debates also strike me as tangential to an issue that is more directly driving public health outcomes: Influential conservative media figures have spent much of this year assailing the effort to vaccinate Americans while falsely suggesting that COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe and ineffective, and their sabotage has been very successful in convincing Republicans not to get shots of potentially lifesaving drugs.

In this particular case, those influential conservatives have been touting ivermectin to their audiences as a COVID-19 treatment they could take instead of the vaccines, even as the relevant health agencies and the drug's manufacturer say there's no evidence that it works. Last month, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning following reports that some people had overdosed while taking the more-concentrated version of the drug intended for horses, rather than the formulation prescribed by doctors for humans.

Who's been talking up ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment? An incomplete list includes Fox hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Maria Bartiromo, Brian Kilmeade, Greg Gutfeld, and Will Cain, along with regular network guests Drs. Harvey Risch, George Fareed, and Ramin Oskoui; influential podcasters Joe Rogan and Bret Weinstein; an array of personalities on One America News Network; and PragerU founder Dennis Prager. Discussions of the drug are also rampant on social media platforms including Facebook.

Others on the right are spending their energy developing anti-anti-ivermectin positions. They may not be explicitly defending its use as a COVID-19 treatment, but they are focusing their fire on its critics.

All of these people have vastly more influence with right-wing vaccine skeptics than anyone on Twitter, in the mainstream press, or in the public health community does. The result of their commentary is a strong correlation between partisanship and interest in ivermectin, one that mirrors the correlation between partisanship and rejection of vaccination.

And the right-wing campaign against vaccination is ongoing.

Fox hosts have now turned to decrying the media's coverage of the Oklahoma ivermectin story -- while also continuing to promote the drug's use as a COVID-19 treatment.

"Ivermectin, by the way -- however it turns out, whatever you decide to do -- was developed and awarded a Nobel Prize back in 2015," Kilmeade said while guest-hosting Tucker Carlson Tonight on Tuesday. "It combats river blindness and tropical maladies. Sometimes drugs worked for different things. For some people, they chose to try it. It wasn't out there to make a mockery of."

We know what it looks like when Fox and its ilk go all-in on promoting a drug to their viewers -- it's the same 24/7 shilling that the network gave to the antimalarial medicine hydroxychloroquine last spring. But confronted with the existence of vaccines with near-miraculous effectiveness against COVID-19, they haven't done that. Instead, they've thrown up a host of objections to the vaccines and the campaign to get people to take them while instead promoting drugs like ivermectin that lack a fraction of the evidence in their favor.

It's worth contemplating the best possible way to reach unvaccinated conservatives. But we should be realistic about the potential impact even a maximally effective message might have on a group that gets information from sources within a near-seamless right-wing information bubble.

The people who are most skilled at influencing that audience don't seem to want them to get vaccinated. Until and unless right-wing media personalities decide they care as much about whether their viewers die lonely, painful deaths as they do about "critical race theory" or the availability of Dr. Seuss books, it will be an uphill fight.

Mainstream Media Ignored Afghan War For Years

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

When the Taliban reclaimed Afghanistan last month, their victory was the culmination of two decades of failures by U.S. political, military, and diplomatic elites across four presidencies.

It also starkly revealed the failures of the U.S. press, whose relatively minimal coverage of the country in recent years had allowed those responsible for faltering U.S. policy to escape accountability. Conveniently for those leaders and pundits, the recent spike in context-free negative coverage of the Taliban takeover has now helped make President Joe Biden the scapegoat for ordering the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Afghanistan was only treated as a major news story when U.S. forces invaded in 2001, when they evacuated last month, and to some extent during the Obama-era surge in troop levels. Over the last decade, even as events transpired that led inexorably to U.S. defeat -- the deaths of tens of thousands of Afghan soldiers and civilians to an ongoing civil war and terrorist strikes, the loss of the Afghan government's credibility amid a host of corruption scandals, a revived Taliban undeterred by U.S. airstrikes or the U.S.-trained Afghan military -- news coverage remained largely muted. As one Afghanistan specialist put it, "This is the least reported war since at least WWI."

To be clear, we know as much as we do about these events thanks to the essential coverage provided by American journalists and their Afghan colleagues. But their work was generally ignored by broadcast and cable news channels and rarely made the newspaper front pages. Without sustained media focus, it was relatively easy for the bipartisan foreign policy community to continue on its flawed course. Only in the frantic final days of the U.S. presence in the country -- when it was too late to change the outcome but just in time to assign blame -- did Afghanistan become a singular focus for major news outlets.

The New York Times, for example, ran 55 front-page stories about Afghanistan in August, according to a Media Matters review of the Nexis database. That figure is higher than in any single month other than October 2001 -- when the U.S. invaded the country -- and higher than in any full year since 2015. The Times averaged roughly three front-page stories about Afghanistan a month over the four years of the Trump administration; it has averaged nearly three such stories a day since August 16.

graph of ny times afghanistan coverage

The same pattern played out on TV. Afghanistan coverage on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News in August 2021 exceeded that of any full year since during the surge in 2010, according to the Stanford Cable TV News Analyzer. In fact, CNN and MSNBC spent more time covering Afghanistan last month than they did from 2017 to 2020 combined.

Here's what the coverage looks like by month:

graph stanford cable news afghanistan coverage

Coverage on the broadcast nightly news shows had also been sparse, according to data that researcher Andrew Tyndall provided to Responsible Statecraft:

broadcast nightly afghanistan coverage

The Taliban's swift seizure of territory culminating with the capture of Kabul as the government evaporated and the military dissolved; the U.S. evacuation of more than 120,000 Americans and Afghan allies; and the terrorist attack that killed 13 U.S. service members and scores of Afghans are all major stories that dominated last month's news coverage.

But when major stories happened in Afghanistan in previous years, they did not break through to nearly the same extent.

economist afghanistan chart

While U.S. combat fatalities waned in recent years, American service members continued to die in Afghanistan, and the ongoing civil war between the country's government and the Taliban remained deadly for Afghan forces and civilians alike. The discrepancy between those casualty figures may have made the war seem less pressing to Americans, but it is crucial to understand the context in which the Taliban swept across the country.

At the same time, Afghanistan's U.S.-backed government remained breathtakingly corrupt, destroying its legitimacy with the local public. Its U.S.-trained security forces engaged in rampant sexual abuse of children. Its capital was rocked by deadly terrorist attacks. Despite all this, the U.S. financial support for the regime kept flowing, at an estimated total cost of more than $2 trillion. The Trump administration dramatically expanded airstrikes, resulting in a surge of civilian casualties.

These failures have been documented both inside the government and outside it. The office of John Sopko, the Special Inspector General of Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), investigated and documented a wide array of U.S. strategic errors and failed policies over the years. Most recently, Sopko concluded that "the U.S. government struggled to develop a coherent strategy, understand how long the reconstruction mission would take, ensure its projects were sustainable, staff the mission with trained professionals, account for the challenges posed by insecurity, tailor efforts to the Afghan context, and understand the impact of programs."

U.S. officials knew the Afghan effort was going poorly, even as they bragged of their successes to the American public. And it's true that some outlets tried to puncture that facade. The Washington Post reported in December 2018 on the Afghanistan Papers, documents generated as part of SIGAR's investigations which revealed "explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public." Sopko told the Post that the documents show "the American people have constantly been lied to."

That's a dramatic statement that should have triggered a rethinking of U.S. policy in Afghanistan. But as with so much of the great Afghanistan journalism of the era, the story did not significantly break through on TV news and become part of the broader media understanding of the war.

As the Taliban swept to power in the face of the U.S. withdrawal and Afghanistan became the central story for the press to an extent not seen since the 2001 invasion, another weakness came back into focus.

Americans needed crucial context about the failure of the U.S. mission given the relatively minimal reporting on Afghanistan in recent years. But as coverage of the country dramatically ramped up over the last month, outlets instead frequently prioritized the views of Washington-based journalists and pundits who presided over the quagmire in the first place.

Over the last month, news outlets all too often turned to the very people responsible for U.S. policy toward Afghanistan. These architects of failure were regular guests on TV, prioritized for quotes in print articles, and had their views splashed across the op-ed pages of major newspapers. By presenting the end of the war through the same perspectives which guided their coverage for two decades, news outlets took them off the hook for the calamities they helped bring about -- and allowed them to pass the blame to Biden.

The press is in a dangerous position when its interests align with the people it covers. And in this case, it shares with generations of U.S. politicians, diplomats, and military leaders a desire to escape nagging questions of its conduct over the longest war in U.S. history.

Methodology

Media Matters searched articles in the Nexis database for The New York Times for any variation of the term "Afghanistan" in the headline or lead paragraph of any article in the paper's A section on page 1 from January 1, 2001, through August 31, 2021.

Research contributions from Rob Savillo

Herschel Walker’s Fox-Fueled Senate Bid Scares GOP Leaders

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Herschel Walker, a former football star whose frequent Fox News appearances helped make him a MAGA sensation, launched a campaign on Tuesday for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by Georgia Democrat Raphael Warnock.

Walker's move is renewing fears among GOP leaders that the former football star will cost them a pick-up opportunity. "I don't know a single significant GOP operative who thinks Walker will lose the primary," well-connected right-wing talk radio host Erick Erickson tweeted. "I don't know a single significant GOP operative who thinks Walker will win the general."

Republicans have plenty of reasons to worry about Walker's chances of winning a general election in a swing state: He's a first-time candidate who is moving to the state for the race, he's a conspiracy theorist, and his wife is currently under investigation by state authorities for allegedly illegally voting in Georgia while living in Texas.

And last month, the Associated Press revealed that the candidate has "repeatedly threatened his ex-wife's life, exaggerated claims of financial success and alarmed business associates with unpredictable behavior."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly opposed Walker's potential campaign, and when the AP story dropped, one of McConnell's longtime senior advisers, Josh Holmes, called it "about as comprehensive a takedown as I've ever read," adding, "My lord." Erickson has subsequently suggested that the story was based on opposition research assembled by GOP operatives who were presumably trying to keep Walker out of the race.

But Walker had two of the most powerful forces in GOP politics behind him. Former President Donald Trump, who has a long personal relationship with Walker, publicly urged him to enter the race. And Fox, the propaganda outlet most trusted by the Republican base, helped him build a political brand by giving him frequent opportunities to appear on the network.

Walker has made at least 38 Fox appearances on the network since last June. First booked as a Black guest the network could turn to to criticize the nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality, Walker became a regular presence on the network discussing a range of topics -- including the false claims of election fraud which saturated Fox's coverage over the winter. "I think the president's got to get it right, and the people that need to go to jail need to go to jail," Walker said during a December 18 Fox appearance.

Walker's Fox hits helped turn the former NFL star into a MAGA sensation -- and prime-time star Sean Hannity helped turn him into a candidate. Nine of Walker's appearances came on Hannity's program. Beginning in February, the host repeatedly urged Walker on air to seek the Senate seat, and he started plugging Walker's potential candidacy during interviews of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Indeed, Trump issued his statement urging Walker to run the day after Hannity and Graham touted a possible Walker campaign.

Following the publication of the AP report, Walker followed the example of many other Republican politicians when faced with a potentially damaging story: He went on Hannity's show three days later for one of the host's typically fawning clean-up interviews.

This July 26 interview was, as far as I can tell, the only time the AP story has been even tangentially referenced on Fox. And Hannity never mentioned its content -- he simply said that he "read people starting to attack you a little bit," which he claimed shows that "there's a great fear that Herschel Walker is going to get in that Senate race in the state of Georgia, where you are one of the most loved figures." He then asked Walker, "Where are you on that decision?" Walker responded that he was considering the race and that "little articles like that ain't going to scare me."

Later in the program, Hannity again endorsed Walker's candidacy, saying that he "will be a phenomenal senator from Georgia" and "his policies will resonate with the people of Georgia and around the country."

Thanks to Hannity and his network, we might find out.

Update (8/25/21): Language updated for clarity.

Fox News Drowns FDA Vaccine Approval In Anti-Vax Propaganda

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

The Food and Drug Administration's announcement on Monday that it had granted full approval to Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine for people 16 years and older could have provoked a reevaluation at Fox News of the network's efforts to undermine the vaccination campaign. The announcement was a potential offramp for Fox personalities who have regularly suggested that coronavirus vaccines are unsafe and ineffective and that efforts to get the public vaccinated are overly coercive impingements on freedom, offering them a chance to pivot toward urging their viewers to take the potentially life-saving shots.

But Fox didn't take that opportunity. Instead, the network gave the news significantly less coverage than its competitors, while the network's right-wing propagandists weaponized it to stoke conspiracy theories and paranoia.

The FDA's much-anticipated announcement is a big deal. All of the coronavirus vaccines had previously been issued only under an emergency use authorization while the agency continued to study their safety and efficacy. While FDA officials, like other public health experts in government, had urged people to get the shots, the lack of full approval put organizations that wanted to require the vaccines in a legal dilemma until the FDA completed its laborious analysis. Full approval "is likely to set off a cascade of vaccine requirements by hospitals, colleges and universities, corporations and other organizations" and could convince some holdouts to get their shots voluntarily, which should trigger an uptick in vaccinations, as The New York Times reported after the FDA's announcement.

But Fox didn't treat the news as a game-changing development with the potential to save the lives of many Americans. Instead, Fox gave the FDA announcement significantly less coverage than CNN or MSNBC, as CNN's Brian Stelter reported. Some Fox programs, like flagship "news"-side show Special Report, provided only brief coverage buried in the broadcast, while others ignored the news altogether.

And Fox's treatment of the story took a dark turn when the evening "opinion" shows came on, as right-wing propagandists who have regularly sought to derail the vaccination campaign used the news to fearmonger against the effort.

"Today, the FDA approved Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine," host Jesse Watters said at the beginning of a segment on the erroneously named Fox News Primetime. But for Watters this was bad news, "opening the door for, you guessed it, more mandates." Warning that now, employees "are on the risk of being fired for refusing to get vaxxed," Watters suggested that this might "hurt the economic recovery." His guest, talk radio host Dana Loesch, argued that full authorization "doesn't change the fact that there are people who have questions," and she lashed out at "vaccine bullies trying to smear people who have questions as being anti-vax."

"You're not allowed to ask questions anymore, Dana, that's clear," Watters concluded. "Questions are dangerous."

Up next was prime-time star Tucker Carlson, perhaps the nation's foremostcoronavirus vaccine skeptic. But Carlson didn't even mention the FDA news. He did, however, find time to discuss HBO host Bill Maher's rant about not wanting to take a vaccine booster shot.

Fox host Sean Hannity, like Watters, first addressed FDA approval in warning that "now they're going to mandate employers" to force people to take the vaccine even if "your doctor says don't get it" (in fact, employer mandates often include medical exemptions). He also went on to decry "one-size-fits-all medicine."

In a rare break from the Fox prime-time norm, later in the segment, Fox medical contributor Dr. Nicole Saphier said that "the FDA approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at this point is another step forward to encourage people to get vaccinated," noting that the agency "poured through over 200,000 pages of data and over the 20,000 trial participants."

"There's a lot of safety and efficacy data there and they have done their due diligence on that," she added. But Saphier went on to criticize vaccine mandates, saying they "continue to ignite the personal accountability war."

Fox host Laura Ingraham similarly treated the FDA announcement as bad news for her viewers. "The FDA approved the Pfizer COVID vaccine today, I know you're shocked," she said at the top of a segment that started 51 minutes into her broadcast. "And of course, President Biden is using it as justification to take away your rights."

Hosting one of her regular "Medicine Cabinet" guests, Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, Ingraham asked, "Professor, did they not push this FDA approval too fast, especially when you compare it to the normal approval process?"

"They did," Bhattacharya replied. "Normally it would take years to get a vaccine tested and approved through the FDA approval process." He later added that "the FDA approval does not change the fact that we don't have long-term safety data with the vaccine."

The next morning's Fox & Friends opened with a clip of Ingraham saying, "the Biden administration is using the FDA' vaccine approval to punish more Americans." Over the rest of the three-hour broadcast, "vaccine" was mentioned only 10 times, according to a closed caption search. And the only full segment focused on the FDA approval was framed around the allegation that the Biden administration had gotten it to distract from the Afghanistan withdrawal.

After spending years convincing their viewers that other news outlets can't be trusted, Fox's hosts have a unique moral responsibility to try to get them vaccinated. But they've shirked that responsibility at every turn throughout the pandemic, and the FDA's authorization hasn't changed anything for them.

Capitol Police Testimony Moves Fox Anchor, But Network’s Pundits Sneer

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

When Fox News turned to Bret Baier for comment shortly after the conclusion of Tuesday's hearing of the House select committee investigating the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump rioters, the network's chief political anchor was adamant that it would be impossible for anyone to downplay the devastating testimony heard that day. Over the previous several hours, four police officers had described in searing detail how they had risked their lives defending Congress from a violent, bigoted throng that sought to halt the counting of electoral votes formalizing President Joe Biden's election.

"If you were watching, you saw compelling, at times damning, emotional testimony from these four officers who fought the line to try to protect the Capitol and the lawmakers inside," Baier said. Highlighting the officers' descriptions of how they "fought to hold on to their lives," he added that while Republicans are trying to argue that the investigation is politically motivated, "you can't watch the testimony and say that's not a big deal."

Baier was describing an emerging consensus that is damaging to Republicans. But Fox exists in part to manufacture dissent, disrupting such consensuses with narratives that are more palatable to its right-wing audience. And so that evening, Baier's colleagues -- who helped lay the groundwork for the riots by trumpeting Donald Trump's baseless claims of a stolen 2020 election and then spent the last seven months downplaying and concocting justifications for the resulting insurrection -- went to work.

"We're being lectured by phony politicians about threats to our country," The Five co-host Greg Gutfeld sneered amid a whataboutist rant, going on to describe the January 6 Capitol riots as "having politicians' jobs disrupted for two hours." He added that the hearing was "a circus" and "a clown show."

Fox's star prime-time host Tucker Carlson literally snickered after playing a clip of Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone saying that he's "been left with psychological trauma and emotional anxiety" from the Capitol riots. (Fanone described being "grabbed, beaten, tased, all while being called a traitor to my country"; the assault resulted in a heart attack.)

Mocking the testimony of Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, who compared the riots to his Army deployment in Iraq, Carlson described the events of January 6 as follows: "Officers let the rioters into the Capitol. They had casual conversations with them inside the Senate Chamber. Some of the rioters had face paint and carried American flags."

Carlson also made fun of the emotional responses some members of the committee had to hearing the testimony.

Sean Hannity picked up the next hour where Carlson had left off, denouncing the investigation as a "political charade" with a "predetermined outcome" intended to "smear and slander" Trump and the Republican Party.

What followed was a parade of whataboutism, with Hannity and his guests highlighting how Democrats were fixated on the sacking of the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob intent on stopping the peaceful transition of power rather than homicides in Chicago or violence at last year's protests against police brutality.

Later that night, from her platform on Fox's 10 p.m. ET hour, Laura Ingraham described the hearing as "nothing more than performance art." She went on to announce "The Angle awards for today's best performances," including the award for "best use of an exaggeration in a supporting role" to Gonell, "blatant use of partisan politics when facts fail" to Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, and "best performance in an action role" to Fanone.

Over the prime-time block, Carlson and Ingraham aired clips from the hearing only to mock the speakers, while Hannity bashed the event without actually airing clips from it.

Whether or not they watched the hearings as Baier did, Fox's right-wing propagandists did their best to leave their audiences thinking that the testimony that day was not actually a "big deal." And by this morning, the hearings had all but disappeared from the network's airwaves.

The same phenomenon has happened over and over again: Fox's "straight news" side describes events as damning for Republicans or helpful for Democrats, only for the "opinion side" to go into overdrive to hide that from its audience.

The cycle played out after professor Christine Blasey Ford testified that then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had attempted to rape her when they were in high school in the early 1980s. It happened again during the 2019 impeachment hearings over Trump's abuse of power in Ukraine. And it happened after Biden called for "uniting our nation" and ending "this uncivil war that pits red against blue" during his inaugural address.

Fox isn't in the business of telling its viewers what happened. It's in the business of telling them what they should think about what happened.

Research contributions from Will DiGravio

Right-Wing Backlash Over Vaccination Remarks Spooks Craven Hannity

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Fox News host Sean Hannity disclosed during his radio show on Friday that he had made peace with a fellow right-wing radio host whose content mill had warned that Hannity's "feverish support of the vaccine" against the novel coronavirus betrayed his conservative audience.

"By the way, I talked to our friend Wayne Dupree," Hannity said of the Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist, who described the grieving parents of murdered children as "crisis actors." "And he put up a nice tweet saying, 'You know what, somebody on my staff put that article up, I didn't see it,' and he rightfully corrected it."

Hannity's remark closed the books on a multi-day saga during which the Fox host had offered a vaguely pro-vaccine comment, only to backpedal wildly after drawing largely unearned praise from mainstream journalists and a backlash from the right. The incident demonstrates how Fox's cowardly refusal to defy the right-wing media's incentive structure by promoting the COVID-19 vaccine is now risking the lives of its viewers.

On his July 19 Fox program, Hannity urged viewers to "take COVID seriously" and said that he "believe[s] in the science of vaccination." It was a fairly banal comment and came in the middle of a lengthy segment in which Hannity denounced universities that require their students to get vaccinated.

But Fox's coverage of the COVID-19 vaccines has been so abhorrent and irresponsible that an out-of-context snippet of the monologue circulating on Twitter went viral on Monday night, as commentators rushed to praise Hannity's segment as a divergence from the network's norm. Over the following days, mainstream news outlets incorrectly highlighted the remark as an endorsement of the vaccines, and even cited it as evidence that "Suddenly, Conservatives Care About Vaccines," as a headline in The Atlantic put it.

Fox's PR team appreciates this sort of coverage because it helps shield the network from the accurate assessment that it serves as a conspiracy theory-addled right-wing propaganda outlet that is more than willing to endanger the lives of its viewers. But for Hannity, who regularly lashes out at the mainstream press, this sort of praise is useless at best and actively harmful to his reputation at worst. Hannity's audience -- and the right-wing rivals who might try to poach away those viewers and listeners -- are what matter to him. And from them, the Fox host received little support.

Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, Hannity's Fox prime-time colleagues, spent the week engaging in frenzied attacks on the vaccination campaign. Carlson explicitly criticized CNN -- but implicitly undermined Hannity -- when he dingedthe network for having "a position on whether you should take" the vaccine two nights after Hannity's viral monologue.

Hannity received more direct right-wing criticism for his supposed support for vaccination from outside the network, and a post on Dupree's website went after his audience directly.

"Hannity is raising ire with a lot of his supporters because of his feverish support of the vaccine," the author wrote, highlighting a series of online comments from conservatives dismayed by the Fox host "pushing" the vaccine. Dupree himself subsequently shared the post on Twitter.

screenshot

A July 20 post on Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist and radio host Wayne Dupree's website targets Sean Hannity's audience over his purported vaccine advocacy.

Hannity responded by vigorously backtracking. On July 22, he assured both his radio and Fox audiences that he "never told anyone to get the vaccine" and criticized mainstream news outlets for suggesting otherwise.

Hannity made it clear on his radio show that the Dupree post had struck a nerve. He said that the story had been flagged for him as important by one of his employees, and he seemed dismayed that Dupree, "who I've always liked," was coming after him.

"Wayne, we hope you are listening, and maybe you understand what's really going on here and stop listening to fake news," commented Hannity's producer, Lynda McLaughlin, before playing audio to clear Hannity's name.

Hannity's walkback appears to have satisfied Dupree. The story on his website that criticized Hannity was taken down some time the following day, as Dupree offereda "CORRECTION" on Twitter.

Why would Hannity go to such lengths to respond to and assuage the concerns of a Z-list crank like Dupree? Because in the right-wing media, you gain an audience by producing propaganda drenched in conspiracy theories that assures conservatives that their grievances and intuitions are correct -- and you can lose it just as quickly if that audience thinks you've gone soft.

This dynamic has been playing out on Fox since November, when the network's fringe-right rivals stole some of its market share by presenting themselves as more supportive of former President Donald Trump's lies that the 2020 election had been stolen. Ever since, Fox hosts have desperately pandered to the most extreme elements of the right in hopes of slowing the bleeding and rebuilding their audiences.

The vaccination effort has proven no different. Fox hosts could play a critical role in informing their viewers about the vaccine and helping to convince them to take it. They have a moral responsibility to try. But if they were to do so, a constellation of smaller, more adamantly anti-vax right-wing outlets is ready to lash out at the market leader and siphon away some of their viewers. So instead, they pander to the anti-vaxxers.

It's a vicious cycle. And it's getting Fox's viewers killed.

While GOP Pushes Anti-Vax Message, McConnell Claims To Be ‘Perplexed’

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Tuesday that he is "perplexed" by the ongoing unwillingness of some Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

"We need to keep preaching that getting the vaccine is important," he told reporters. "Part of it is just convincing the American people of the importance of doing this."

While McConnell didn't say as much, that message is particularly important for members of his own party. Republicans and conservatives are much more likelythan others to tell pollsters that they have not and do not plan to take the vaccines, even amid a surge of new U.S. cases and with data showing hospitalizations and deaths almost entirely concentrated among unvaccinated populations.

What is driving this refusal by Republicans to get vaccinated? One factor is their party's success in inoculating them against something conservatives have long considered a major threat -- mainstream journalism.

Generations of GOP leaders urged their supporters to ignore the mainstream press and instead patronize and trust a parallel apparatus of right-wing propaganda outlets. This campaign encased the Republican base in an impermeable bubble of lies, paranoid demagoguery, and reflexive opposition to Democrats, creating a politically potent echo chamber that served the party well for years.

But now -- whether from hope of political gain, fear of losing market share, genuine stupidity, or some combination thereof -- that right-wing media apparatus is using the same tools to sabotage the coronavirus vaccination campaign for its own audience.

Fox News, the crown jewel of the right-wing effort to create a parallel media, has for months aired a steady drumbeat of segments undermining the vaccines.

Hours after McConnell spoke to reporters, Fox prime-time host Laura Ingraham devoted a segment to the superiority of "natural immunity" -- achieved by getting and recovering from the virus -- over vaccination. Earlier Tuesday evening, Lara Trump, former President Donald Trump's daughter-in-law and a Fox contributor, told Sean Hannity that the vaccination effort is part of a public health approach that has "been about control from day one." Tucker Carlson, the face of the network, offered a similar comment about the vaccine as "social control" on Monday.

Fox's right-wing cable TV competitors are, if anything, even less responsible.

Newsmax viewers have been subject to a broad network campaign to dissuade them from taking the vaccine; one of its hosts recently made news by claiming that vaccines go "against nature" because some diseases are "supposed to wipe out a certain amount of people."

And over on One America News, this week alone the audience has been told that the vaccines are "a threat to everyone that gets them" and that the mainstream media have ignored the "man-made disaster" of mounting "deaths from the coronavirus vaccines."

Those outlets have smaller audiences and are less influential than Fox, but their behavior creates a strong incentive for Fox to behave irresponsibly to retain its market dominance.

Republicans are getting the same message of skepticism about the vaccines and the vaccination campaign from other parts of the right-wing media apparatus, from digital outlets to talk radio to podcast shows to Sinclair Broadcast stations to the new generation of social media influencers. There are a handful of conservative media figures who try to push back against this tide, but they largely lack influence, having been marginalized within the movement for their insufficient Trump support.

McConnell wants more "preaching" to help get the Republican flock vaccinated. But the media figures who the GOP's strategy placed in the pulpit have lined up against the effort. It's going to get their audience members killed, and they don't seem to care.

Why Fox News Has Mostly Ignored Carlson’s NSA ‘Surveillance’ Complaints

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Tucker Carlson's week-old claim that the National Security Agency is illegally "monitoring" his "electronic communications and is planning to leak them in an attempt to take this show off the air" finally made it to another Fox program when he gave an interview to Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo on Wednesday. The Fox star's incendiary allegation last Monday night had brought widespread news coverage, a rare denial from the NSA, and demands for investigations from congressional Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). But one party remained notably silent about the host's description of a government plot to destroy his show until this morning: Fox.

Carlson's colleagues and bosses don't seem to buy his NSA claims. No other Fox News or Fox Business program had mentioned his allegations since he first offered them last Monday, even as Carlson returned to the topic the following three nights. That is significant because Carlson is the face of the network and his program's "reporting" often becomes grist for shows up and down the Fox lineup. Meanwhile, reporters asking Fox to comment on Carlson's claims have come up empty. That silence is particularly extraordinary given that Carlson is alleging that the Biden administration is illegally targeting the network's employee in order to destroy its 8 p.m. broadcast. If the Fox brass believed that was happening, they'd presumably shout it from the rooftops.

But Fox is right to tread carefully because its biggest star is a huge liar and has historically proven particularly dishonest in describing his own supposed persecution. Indeed, Carlson's dark and fraudulent tales of oppression by powerful enemies mirrors the network's effort to recast its viewers as targeted victims in an endless culture war.

It's unclear what, if anything, actually happened to Carlson. It's impossible to rule out the possibility that Carlson's communications were collected illegally given the dubious record of U.S. intelligence agencies -- though you'd expect a network with higher standards to demand more vetting and confirmation than a single unnamed source. Experts have also pointed to the possibility that Carlson was communicating with a legal foreign NSA target and his communications were swept up in the agency's routine surveillance of that person. (Earlier this year, for example, Carlson had interviewed the president of El Salvador.) Or Carlson's "whistleblower" could be wrong, or lying, or a figment of his imagination.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Axios reported Wednesday evening that "Tucker Carlson was talking to U.S.-based Kremlin intermediaries about setting up an interview with Vladimir Putin shortly before the Fox News host accused the National Security Agency of spying on him." As Axios notes, many possible scenarios could explain and justify the NSA's surveillance of Kremlin associates who interacted with Carlson.]

It's hard to assess Carlson's claim because he often offers grandiose, conspiracy-minded claims about the forces arrayed against him that subsequently fall apart under scrutiny or die away.

If you're like me, you've endured the frustration of having a package delayed. If you're like Carlson, you've vented that frustration on your nationally televised cable news show by suggesting that nefarious forces at UPS may have seized your delivery as part of a plot to elect Joe Biden president. Just days before the 2020 election, Carlson claimed on-air that a cache of documents about Biden's family that his staff had sent across the country to him had mysteriously vanished. When UPS subsequently tracked down the thumb drive in question, which had been separated from its packaging in a facility, Carlson's response was to tell his audience, "Someone, for some reason, opened our package and removed a flash drive containing documents that were damaging to the Biden family." Strangely, Carlson never reported on the supposedly election-shifting documents in question.

Some people don't enjoy being reported on. Carlson is the sort of person who responds to reporting about him he doesn't like by lying about it on his show, resulting in a stream of abuse and threats directed at the journalists conducting it. In July 2020, Carlson claimed that The New York Times was about to do "a story on the location of my family's house" and suggested that the article would reveal his address and endanger his family -- claims he knew were false. He called out the two freelance journalists involved in the story by name; one told The Washington Post's Erik Wemple that he subsequently received "thousands" of abusive emails, while the other may have experienced an attempted home invasion.

Carlson himself had previously claimed to have been the victim of a similar attack. He told the Post in November 2018 that his wife was home alone when violent protestors arrived at their Washington, D.C., home after dark. The protesters, he claimed, were "threatening me and my family" and one "started throwing himself against the front door and actually cracked the front door."

I wrote on Twitter at the time that the activities described were "way over the line" and "unacceptable." They also don't appear to have actually happened. Local police told CNN they observed no damage to Carlson's door. Wemple found it undamagedwhen he went by the following afternoon. And my friend and former colleague Alan Pyke was reporting from the protest for Think Progress and described it as a roughly 10-minute event in which "a small group knocked on Carlson's door, shook a tambourine, and chanted slogans aimed at his chosen career hyping hateful speech aimed at racial minorities and political opponents, then left." (I still think protests at people's homes are generally a bad idea.)

Carlson's claim that the NSA is "monitoring" him as part of a plot to destroy his program came days after the New York Times reported that he is a major source for DC journalists -- a report which in turn was published amid a media firestorm over his suggestion that the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was a false flag effort planned by "FBI operatives."

On Fox News, ‘Concerned Parents’ Are Actually GOP Activists

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Nearly a dozen of the Fox News guests the network has presented as concerned parents or educators who oppose the teaching of so-called "critical race theory" in schools also have day jobs as Republican strategists, conservative think-tankers, or right-wing media personalities, according to a Media Matters review.

Critical race theory is an academic legal framework which examines the systemic impact of racism in the United States. But "critical race theory," like "cancel culture" and "political correctness" before it, also functions as an umbrella term the right-wing movement uses to turn its mostly white adherents' racial anxiety into political energy.

In this case, a sophisticated, nationwide network of conservative think tanks, advocacy groups, media outlets, and GOP officials have seized on the term and, in the words of Christopher Rufo -- a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute and a key player in the effort -- sought to render it "toxic" and apply to it "the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans." Republicans have proposed or passed a slew of legislation restricting "critical race theory" and hope to use it as a core part of their political strategy in upcoming local, state, and federal elections.

Fox, the leading propaganda outlet for the GOP, plays a key role in this strategy. The network has mentioned "critical race theory" nearly 1,300 times over the past three and a half months. The purportedly sinister spread of "critical race theory" provides a perfect framework for Fox's technique of highlighting local concerns to fuel the culture war. The network supercharges the individual, at times dubious, stories that filter up with the help of nationally backed local activists, other right-wing outlets, and social media. Fox has targeted the purported influence of "critical race theory" in corporate America, the military, and particularly schools, hosting parents, teachers, and other educators to talk about how they don't want it taught in their communities.

In several of those cases, the locals Fox has highlighted are also Republican strategists, conservative think-tankers, or right-wing media figures -- ties the network has downplayed or ignored altogether. This trend is particularly notable when Fox covers "critical race theory" controversies in Northern Virginia, a bedroom community for Washington, D.C., in a state where GOP gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin has sought to make his opposition a central issue in the fall.

"The first test will be here in Virginia," Fox chief Washington correspondent Mike Emanuel reported last month. "If this issue works in the governor's race in November, it will likely be part of the GOP campaign playbook in the midterm elections next year."

Republican strategists have every right to advocate for their children and their communities, if not to manipulate nationwide education priorities. But since Fox has identified opposition to "critical race theory" as central to the party's political strategy, the network has a responsibility to inform its viewers about exactly who it's talking to.

Ian Prior

Ian Prior

Fox has hosted Ian Prior at least 15 times to discuss various "critical race theory" stories, according to Media Matters' database of weekday cable news guests. Fox hosts and anchors have given him various introductions including "Loudoun County parent"; a "father" who "has gone from concerned parent, like many of you, to legal activist"; and "a Loudoun County, Virginia, parent and founder of FightForSchools.com."

Fight for Schools, which Prior leads, is a political action committee launched this year to support "common sense candidates" who oppose "critical race theory" in schools.

What Fox personalities tend not to mention is Prior's long career as a Republican political operative. He worked in top communications roles during the 2016 election cycle for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the Karl Rove-fronted super PAC American Crossroads, and the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC that works to elect Republican senators which was founded by allies of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. He then spent a year and a half as a top public affairs aide to Trump's first attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

Prior currently runs his own political communications consulting firm, is co-founder of a political newsletter, and is a senior counsel and spokesperson for Unsilenced Majority, "a grassroots conservative advocacy organization opposed to cancel culture in all forms" helmed by other Republican and right-wing media figures.

Prior had made dozens of appearances on Fox to discuss a range of issues before becoming a regular anti-critical race theory guest on the network earlier this year.

Quisha King

Quisha King

Fox host Tammy Bruce identified Quisha King as an "everyday American," "a Florida mom who took a bold stance against critical race theory" and as "that hero, the Northeast Florida co-chair of Moms for Liberty" during a June 11 appearance on Fox News Primetime; on-screen text also stressed her role as a "mom" and "parent." Anchor John Roberts likewise described King as "one mom" who is "going viral" for criticizing "critical race theory" and noted her Moms for Liberty affiliation during a June 14 segment on the "straight news" program America Reports; on-screen text during the segment also described her as a "mom of two daughters."

But King is also a Republican strategist. She was regional engagement coordinator for the Republican National Committee in 2020 according to her LinkedIn page, which states that she now runs her own political media consulting firm. On Twitter, she calls herself a "@gop 2021 Rising Star."

On Fox, King said teachers unions "want to remake America" and are "trying to raise up a generation that believes everything that they're pushing; they're trying to raise little woke Marxists" through "critical race theory," which she later added is actually "aligned with the KKK and true white supremacy."

Patti Hidalgo Menders

Patti Hidlago Menders

On June 4, Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt described Menders and two other guests who oppose the supposed teaching of "critical race theory" in their schools as "three parents from Loudoun County, Virginia," and mentioned that she is "president of the Loudoun County Republican Women's Club."

Menders is also a Republican strategist. She is "Virginia State Strategist" for Majority Strategies, a GOP media consulting firm, according to her bio at the firm, which also calls her "the creator of the Loudoun Conservatives Care, a state PAC that fundraises for Republican candidates by organizing large scale events." Majority Strategies bills itself as "the only firm to work with every official GOP presidential nominee since 2000" and counts Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and two past Speakers of the House among its current or former clients.

Lilit Vanetsyan

Lilet Vanetsyan

Fox anchor Dana Perino described Lilit Vanetsyan as "one of the teachers who was at that school board meeting" in Loudoun County, Virginia, and suggested she was part of a "grassroots movement" during a June 9 interview on America's Newsroom. Bruce similarly identified Vanetsyan as a "Fairfax County teacher" when she was on the June 10 edition of Fox News Primetime.

Vanetsyan is also a right-wing media personality. She is affiliated with the Trumpist youth organization Turning Point USA and runs a "Teachers for Trump" Instagram account (which now largely posts about "critical race theory"). Vanetsyan was a reporter for the pro-Trump Right Side Broadcasting Network, according to a since-deleted bio on its website that calls her "a passionate educator who never hesitates to expose the public education system, the teacher unions, and the corrupt curriculum our children are spoon-fed." That bio also says Vanetsyan's goal is to open the "The Donald J. Trump School of Excellence" and quotes her saying, "If we want to change the world, we must start with the youth."

On Fox, Vanetsyan described "critical race theory" as an attempt to "indoctrinate our children."

Barry Bennett

Barry Bennett

On May 18, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade described Barry Bennett as an "AlexandrIa Little League parent and an informal adviser to the 2016 Trump campaign," and on-screen text throughout the segment identified him as a "Virginia Little League Parent."

Bennett, elsewhere described as a "senior adviser" to Trump's 2016 campaign, is also "one of the most prominent lobbyists of the Trump era," according to Politico. He co-founded Avenue Strategies with Corey Lewandowski, a former Trump campaign manager, after Trump's victory, billing the firm as "your sherpa through turbulent times" (Lewandowski left in 2017). After Trump's 2020 defeat, Bennett shuttered the company, which had been "loaded with lobbyists who had ties to Trump and the Republican Party," and founded Bennett Strategies, a government relations and political consulting firm.

Nicole Neily

Nicole Neily

Fox host Laura Ingraham introduced Nicole Neily as one of "two parents fighting against CRT in their schools" (Prior was Ingraham's other guest) and as "president and founder" of the organization Parents Defending Education during the May 26 edition of her prime-time show.

Neily has spent her entire career working in and for libertarian and conservative political advocacy organizations and think tanks, including stints at FreedomWorks, the Cato Institute, the Independent Women's Forum, the Franklin Center for Government and Public Policy, and Speech First, before launching Parents Defending Education in January.

Elizabeth Schultz

Elizabeth Schultz

Fox "news side" anchor Dana Perino introduced Elizabeth Schultz for a May 20 America's Newsroom interview by calling her a "former Fairfax County [Virginia] school board member." On-screen text echoed that description and also noted her affiliation with the group Parents Defending Education.

Schultz is also a former Trump administration official. She became locally notorious during her tenure on the Fairfax County School Board for voting against "expanding the school system's sex-education curriculum to include lessons on gender identity and transgender issues" and supporting armed teachers in classrooms. After losing a reelection bid in 2019, she became deputy director of the Office of Educational Technology at the Department of Education, according to her LinkedIn profile. In March, she joined Neily's Parents Defending Education group as a senior fellow.

On Fox, Schultz alleged that "our education system is being weaponized by school boards" that are "using taxpayer money to embed things like critical race theory." She plugged Parents Defending Education and its website and urged parents to "take back your schools."

Carrie Lukas

Carrie Lukas

Fox anchor Martha MacCallum introduced Carrie Lukas as a "a Virginia mom of five" on the April 27 edition of The Story. For much of the segment, on-screen text highlighted that she is a "VA mother," "parent," and a "Virginia mother of five," though the chyron briefly acknowledged toward the end of the segment that she is also "Independent Women's Forum President." She was interviewed alongside her daughter, an eighth-grader.

Lukas has worked at the Independent Women's Forum, a conservative think tank that says it works to "reduce government red tape and return resources and control to people," since 2003, according to her LinkedIn profile. She is also a contributor to National Review and the author of Checking Progressive Privilege, a book arguing that conservatives are "marginalized and stereotyped" in U.S. culture. She previously worked as a policy analyst for congressional Republicans and at the libertarian Cato Institute.

On Fox, Lukas said that instead of trying to "improve equity," Virginia should provide vouchers so that parents could use public funds to enroll their children in private schools.

Bridget Ziegler

Bridget Ziegler

Roberts introduced Bridget Ziegler as "the mother of three girls and a Sarasota County [Florida] school board member" on the June 10 edition of America Reports; on-screen text also described her as a "FL Mom" and a "Mother of 3 Girls."

Ziegler is also a Republican activist. She is a precinct committeewoman for the Republican Party of Sarasota County and a member of seven different local GOP organizations, according to her school board candidate bio.

On Fox, Ziegler said she is "so appreciative" of Florida's "great governor" Ron DeSantis for opposing the teaching of "critical race theory" in the state's schools. That "is why we call it 'Freedom Florida' here," she added, "because he's working and fighting for families to make sure that our children are going to be great, successful people and not be felt guilty by the content of their skin, or felt that they can't success because of the color of their skin, and that is exactly what this particular critical race theory or the anti-American issues that they are pumping into schoolhouses across America and in Florida [do]."

Deborah Flora

Deborah Flora

America's Newsroom anchor Bill Hemmer introduced Deborah Flora on June 3 as a Colorado "mother of two" who is also "president and founder of Parents United America." On-screen text also identified her as a "Douglas County School District mom." Flora later described Parents United America as "not political; it's nonpartisan. This isn't left or right; it's right and wrong."

Flora is also a right-wing media personality and activist. She hosts The Deborah Flora Show, a right-wing radio program airing on Denver's KNUS that brings on a variety of state and local Republican politicians and conservative activists. The station is owned by Salem Media Group, the right-wing radio giant that features hosts like Hugh Hewitt and Sebastian Gorka and reportedly pressured hosts to be more pro-Trump; former KNUS host Craig Silverman claimed in 2018 that his mic had been cut and he had been fired in the middle of his show for criticizing Trump (the station denied it). Flora is also "the Director of Public Policy for Salem Radio Denver." She became a right-wing celebrity in 2006 when she produced and starred in the anti-abortion film A Distant Thunder and later reportedly hosted "the first Beverly Hills 'Tea Party' rally" with the actor Pat Boone.

On Fox, Flora said that "equity policy is the same as critical race theory" and that it "divides … innocent children into oppressors and oppressed" which "damages both."

Joe Mobley

Joe Mobley

Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy introduced Joe Mobley on June 14 as a "father of three and U.S. Army vet" who had "rallied for education, not indoctrination" over the weekend in Loudoun County.

Mobley also hosts The Joe Mobley Show, a political self-help podcast that purports to teach conservative listeners how to respond to criticisms from liberals who engage in "massive misinformation campaigns" about them.

On Fox, Mobley agreed that "critical race theory" is racist, adding that its "singular purpose" is "to divide."

Research contributions from Tyler Monroe

Correction (6/17/21): This piece has been updated to correct a misspelling of Lilit Vanetsyan's name.

Tucker Carlson Tries To Start A 1/6 ‘Truther' Movement (Of The Stupid)

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

In the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks came the so-called "9/11 Truth" movement, whose adherents claimed that the attacks had actually been an "inside job" perpetrated by the U.S. government. This crackpottery had few prominent advocates, but enough Americans bought into it to lift up people like Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist radio host who has claimed that the feds used "controlled demolitions" to bring down the World Trade Center and whose website has described him as one of the "founding fathers" of the movement.

Nearly two decades later, the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by violent Trumpists has generated new cries of an inside job. But this time, the conspiracy theory is backed by the most-watched host on cable news, Fox News prime-time star Tucker Carlson.

On Tuesday, Carlson alleged that "some of the key people who participated on January 6 have not been charged," citing charging documents in which "the government calls those people unindicted co-conspirators." He then exclaimed: "What does that mean? Well, it means that in potentially every single case they were FBI operatives. Really? In the Capitol on January 6?"

Carlson was citing a report from Revolver News' Darren Beattie, who he then brought on. Beattie is not a credible source -- he left his job at the Trump White House after CNN asked about him speaking at a 2016 conference alongside well-known white nationalists. But even Beattie suggested that Carlson was taking his work too far -- when Carlson said that his piece explains that "the FBI was organizing the riots of January 6," he replied that it only "suggests that possibility."

In fact, this theory, which rests on the premise that "unindicted co-conspirators" are by definition "FBI operatives," collapses with the slightest scrutiny, and suggests that Carlson either a) lacks a basic understanding of federal investigations or b) thinks his viewers are rubes.

"Legal experts say the government literally cannot name an undercover agent as an unindicted co-conspirator," The Washington Post's Aaron Blake reported in a filleting of Carlson's segment, pointing out that better explanations for the unindicted conspirators include that they might be cooperating with the federal government. Blake noted that while it's not literally impossible that the government is violating that stricture, there's also no evidence to believe that is the case.

But Carlson doubled down on Wednesday, stating as fact, "The events of January 6 ... were at least in part organized and carried out in secret by people connected to federal law enforcement." Again, there's no evidence at all for this, but Carlson nonetheless said, "It's hard to think of a bigger potential scandal than this one." Taking the conspiracy theory a step further, he went on to allege that the government won't release Capitol surveillance footage of the riot because "people they know are on the tape."

Carlson is one of the most powerful figures in the modern right. He is the face of Fox and an increasingly influential force in Republican politics. When he takes a stand, others follow. His January 6 conspiracy theory quickly drew support from far-right influencers and media figures and even GOP members of Congress.

The Fox host's "false flag" theory fits into a broad and largely successful effort by elements of the GOP and right-wing press to confuse the public and shatter the initial, fragile consensus that the events of January 6 had been bad and reflected poorly on then-President Donald Trump and his supporters.

Carlson himself has sought to create an alternate-reality version of the events of the day, denying that it was an "insurrection" that featured the involvement of violent right-wingers including Proud Boys and white supremacists.

In his initial response to the riots, Carlson validated the concerns of the perpetrators, but nonetheless said that they went too far.

"What happened at the Capitol last Wednesday was wrong," he said on January 14. "We've said that very clearly at the time. We've said it very clearly every day since. And we'll continue to say it."

But he did not continue to say it. As those events passed further into memory, he shifted how he talked about them. Here's how he started his April 6 broadcast, in a monologue dripping with sarcasm:

Today is the three-month anniversary of January 6. For those of you who aren't good at dates or don't have calendars, this is the day that we pause to remember the white supremacist QAnon insurrection that came so very close to toppling our government and ending this democracy forever.
You saw what happened. It was carried live on television, every gruesome moment. A mob of older people from unfashionable ZIP codes somehow made it all the way to Washington, D.C., probably by bus.
They wandered freely through the Capitol like it was their building or something. They didn't have guns, but a lot of them had extremely dangerous ideas. They talked about the Constitution and something called their rights.
Some of them made openly seditious claims. They insisted, for example, that the last election was not entirely fair. The whole thing was terrifying.

And now, Carlson has become a founding father of the 1/6 Truth movement. It's winning him plaudits from his predecessor, Jones, who took credit on Wednesday for alerting Carlson to Beattie's story. That could be a lie -- Jones is a liar, after all -- but Carlson has previously sourced footage from one of Jones' employees, and he appeared regularly on Jones' show as recently as 2015.

"I made the decision not to get into this until it broke on Tucker because I thought he'd do a better job than I did," Jones explained. "He did. He did a great job."

Shortly after, he brought on Beattie to discuss the same theory he had detailed for Fox's audience.

With Murdoch’s Encouragement, Carlson Promotes White Nationalist ‘Replacement’ Theory

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

When Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch replied in April to the firestorm caused by his star Fox News host, Tucker Carlson, passionately invoking the "great replacement" conspiracy theory favored by white nationalists, Murdoch chose to lie.

"A full review of the guest interview indicates that Mr. Carlson decried and rejected replacement theory," Murdoch wrote. This was obviously and insultingly false. Carlson had explicitly endorsed its core tenets during the April 8 segment, saying that "the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World." White nationalists themselves knew better: They praised the Fox host for bringing their talking points to his massive audience.

His boss' dishonest comment was a green light for Carlson to continue to promote that conspiracy theory -- and the host took it as such. Over the past two months, as Carlson became the face of Fox, "replacement" has proven a dominant theme of his program. It also spread to other Fox personalities and, increasingly, to Republican political operatives and politicians as well. Given Carlson's sway over both his network and the GOP, that trend is likely to continue.

Here are eight examples of Carlson pushing the white nationalist "great replacement" theory in the two months since Murdoch claimed that he had actually repudiated it, most recently on Monday night. While Carlson is generally careful not to directly say that Democrats want white people replaced by nonwhite ones, his remarks -- referencing migrants from Congo, Haiti, and across the U.S.-Mexico border -- leave no one confused that that is what he is talking about.

June 7: "How did migrants get from Congo to Lewiston, Maine, and why?" Carlson asked about President Joe Biden's immigration policy. "Well, because [Biden White House adviser] Susan Rice and ideologues like her very much want to change Maine's demographics as well as the population mix in every other state in the union." He went on to accuse Democratic leaders of "importing huge numbers of new voters into the United States" because they "no longer believe in democracy as constituted, and they definitely don't plan to lose another election," calling this "the most radical possible attack on the core premise of democracy."

May 24: After the Biden administration extended temporary protected status preventing the removals of Haitian nationals residing in the U.S. who fled following a 2010 earthquake in that country, Carlson accused the Democrats of "trying to change the population of the United States, and they hate it when you say that because it's true, but that's exactly what they are doing." During the segment, a chyron read, "Dems want to import millions of new voters."

May 21: Responding to a guest who claimed that COVID-19 case counts were spiking in border states due to migrants spreading the virus, Carlson commented, "Public health doesn't apply when we're changing the demographic mix to favor the Democratic Party."

April 30: Carlson accused Democrats of "an attack on our democracy" because "they only care about stacking the electorate." He added: "They want to change who votes, so they win. They're diluting the votes of Americans, of all backgrounds, and that is an attack on democracy, period."

April 29: Carlson described the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 as "an assault on democracy, a permanent one." The law repealed the national origins quota system that "was designed to favor Western and Northern European countries and drastically limit admission of immigrants from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Southern and Eastern Europe," according to the Migration Policy Institute. Carlson explained: "That law completely changed the composition of America's voter rolls, purely to benefit the Democratic Party." (In fact, the bill passed by huge bipartisan margins, and Republican presidential nominees won five of the next six elections.)

April 21: After Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) responded to Rep. Scott Perry's (R-PA) invocation of the "great replacement" theory by tweeting, "with every passing year, there will be more people who look like me in the US," Carlson glossed Lieu's remarks as follows: "In other words, you're being replaced, and there's nothing you can do about it. So, shut up."

April 15: Carlson claimed that Democrats "are changing everything, whether we like it or not," including "a brand-new national population." He called that a "revolution" reminiscent of how "Germany got Hitler."

April 12: The day after Murdoch sent his letter claiming that Carlson had actually repudiated "replacement" theory, Carlson said on his program that "the secret to the entire immigration debate" is that "demographic change is the key to the Democratic Party's political ambitions. In order to win and maintain power, Democrats plan to change the population of the country." He added, "All across the country, we have seen huge changes in election outcomes caused by demographic change."

Over the same period, Carlson has also claimed that immigration "makes the country more volatile," that migration across the U.S.-Mexico border should trigger "a real insurrection," and that Democrats who supposedly support open borders "hate" America" and are "trying to destroy it."

Incendiary, xenophobic rhetoric like Carlson's can have dire consequences. Murdoch's statement came in response to a letter from the Anti-Defamation League's Jonathan Greenblatt, who noted that the theory Carlson espoused on April 8 is linked to "explosive hate crimes, most notably the hate-motivated mass shooting attacks in Pittsburgh, Poway and El Paso, as well as in Christchurch, New Zealand."

Indeed, those terrorist attacks came after Carlson and others at Fox embraced the same theory in 2018 and 2019.

Trump Aide Meadows Pushed Election Conspiracies On Justice Department

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

A new report provides more detail on how top officials in then-President Donald Trump's administration relied on the lowest dregs of the internet fever swamps following Trump's 2020 defeat, as they tried to use the federal government to leverage false conspiracy theories about voter fraud to nullify the results.

Trump himself had long consumed far-right media content, and after the election he promoted a bevy of fantastical lies from Fox News, OAN, Newsmax, and others purportedly providing evidence that the election had been stolen from him. His paranoid rants put American democracy at risk, and ultimately helped spur the January 6 riot aimed at preventing the certification of Joe Biden's victory at the U.S. Capitol.

Trump had help, as a Saturday New York Times report based on emails reviewed by the paper makes clear. In a January 1 email, Mark Meadows, Trump's chief of staff, asked Jeffrey A. Rosen, then the acting attorney general, to examine "Italygate," the conspiracy theory that "people in Italy had used military technology and satellites to remotely tamper with voting machines in the United States and switch votes for Mr. Trump to votes for Joseph R. Biden Jr.," according to the account.

The Times reported that Meadows' request "violated longstanding guidelines that essentially forbid almost all White House personnel, including the chief of staff, from contacting the Justice Department about investigations or other enforcement actions."

On what basis was Meadows willing to breach those restrictions? The Times further reported:

Mr. Meadows sent Mr. Rosen a YouTube link to a video of Brad Johnson, a former C.I.A. employee who had been pushing the theory in videos and statements that he posted online. After receiving the video, Mr. Rosen said in an email to another Justice Department official that he had been asked to set up a meeting between Mr. Johnson and the F.B.I., had refused, and had then been asked to reconsider.

Election Day ended with a "red mirage" showing Trump in the lead, only for there to be a "blue shift" afterward as key states counted ballots that heavily favored Biden, just as election experts had long predicted. But Johnson's theory, as detailed in a 13-minute video available online, is that Trump's early lead actually evaporated because nefarious forces changed the vote totals to swing the election to Biden.

This is a variation on repeated, baseless lies from pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell and her right-wing media allies. But while Powell and company attributed the supposed switched votes first to a U.S. government computer system called "Hammer" and a software program known as "Scorecard," and later to the election technology companies Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic (which she hinted may have been working on behalf of Venezuela), Johnson instead points to an operation revolving around a military satellite controlled by the Italian defense contractor Leonardo SPA, overseen by an anti-Trump State Department official in the U.S. Eembassy in Rome with the help of British and U.S. intelligence services.

"The U.S. elections were changed, the results were changed in those five or six key states," Johnson claimed, after initial results were "uploaded and sent to Rome" through the Leonardo military satellite. In Rome, that "raw data" was scrutinized by the conspirators, who are "the ones who said, 'shut down all those five states or six states,' at the exact same time, and the problem was that the algorithms were overloaded, that what they had planned on didn't work because Trump got so many votes."

"So they upload all of the stuff — it gives them time to analyze all of this and create new analogues that then would allow the vote to come out in favor of Biden," he continued. "And that, then, once they created all the new data and manipulated all the data that was there, they sent these new numbers back up through this military satellite, Italian military satellite, run and operated by none other than Leonardo."

"That blast of information is what everybody sees on those number charts where it shows all the votes, and it shows the red line and the blue line going up like this, and Trump's ahead, Trump's ahead, and then all of a sudden, boom, and up above goes all of those votes for Biden," Johnson concluded. "That blip is that data being retransmitted back down through this military satellite back down into these machines that were all hooked up to the Internet."

In reality, the "blip" Johnson describes in which the tallying of large numbers of Biden votes changed the leader in several states was the expected result of largely Democratic counties reporting their totals at once and states adding mail-in ballots, which skewed Democratic, to their counts.

Johnson's video circulated on right-wing conspiracy theory sites, and as my colleague Parker Molloy documented, variants of "Italygate" spread on far-right message boards and social media platforms. It doesn't seem to have broken through on Fox, or even lesser right-wing outlets like OAN or Newsmax -- but it somehow made its way into an official communication, from the White House chief of staff to the head of the Justice Department, seeking an official investigation.

This level of dangerous absurdity did not end with Trump's administration. The former president himself continues to lie about the election result, echoing what he sees on his television. But what is even more concerning is that his party and propagandists are turning the falsehood that the election was stolen into the GOP's core precept -- and driving out those, like Rosen, who won't play along.

New Book: Sean Hannity Wrote Trump 2020 Campaign Ad

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Fox News host Sean Hannity's role as an off-the-books political operative to former President Donald Trump extended to writing copy for one of the Trump campaign's commercials, according to a new report.

Mike Bender, the Wall Street Journal''s senior White House reporter, reports that Hannity played a role in scripting a Trump campaign ad in his forthcoming book, Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story Of How Trump Lost. According to a write-up in PunchBowl News, "The ad was known in the Trump campaign as 'the Hannity ad' and 'the one Hannity wrote,'" and Bender describes internal Trump campaign emails which "referred to the spot simply as 'Hannity'" or "the 'Hannity-written' spot."

The ad, like Hannity's show during the campaign, is a semi-coherent mashup of pro-Trump and anti-Biden talking points that lacks a clear narrative.

And indeed, according to Bender, the ad was widely mocked within the Trump campaign and aired only once, on Hannity's program, at a cost of $1.5 million.

Hannity vaguely denied writing the ad copy, telling Bender, "The world knows that Sean Hannity supports Donald Trump. But my involvement specifically in the campaign -- no. I was not involved that much. Anybody who said that is full of shit."

It's hard to know what to think about a statement like this from a notorious liar. But one reasonable interpretation is that this helps to establish an outer bound for the type of political behavior Hannity thinks his employer would let him get away with. The statement suggests that he believes that Fox would have a problem with him openly accepting responsibility for writing one of the former president's campaign ads.

This is, of course, an absurdly low bar for a cable news host. But as I noted last year, Hannity regularly violated basic tenets of journalistic ethics throughout the Trump years, with the network brass either ignoring his behavior or offering slaps on the wrist:

2016: Amid a presidential campaign that saw Hannity actively using his show to boost Trump's candidacy and promoteunhinged conspiracy theories about his opponent, Hillary Clinton, Hannity endorsed Trump in a promotional video for his campaign, leading to a stern statement from Fox.
2017: Hannity triggered an advertiser exodus and internal dismay when he tried to defend Trump against reports linking his campaign to Russian interference in the 2016 election by championing the Seth Rich conspiracy theory.
2018: Profiles in The Washington Post and New York magazinedetailed the scope of Hannity's White House influence and regular conversations with Trump. He was revealed as a secret client of Trump's longtime lawyer Michael Cohen, a fact the Fox host had not disclosed in his commentary on Cohen's case. And he appeared on stage and spoke at a Trump political rally on the eve of the 2018 midterm elections.
2019: Hannity was a central figure in the Ukraine disinformation plot that triggered Trump's impeachment by the House of Representatives.
2020: Documents uncovered by BuzzFeed News showed that Hannity had served as a backchannel between Trump and his associates under investigation during special counsel Robert Mueller's probe.

Since then, Fox has become even less ethical and more propagandistic. The network hired a slew of former Trump administration officials. The list includes 2024 presidential hopeful Mike Pompeo, as well as the former president's daughter-in-law, would-be Senate candidate Lara Trump. One Fox contributor, Newt Gingrich, is working with Trump to develop the GOP's policy agenda for the 2022 elections.

But taking ownership of a campaign ad appears to still be a step too far.