The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Carlson Snidely Dismisses Paternity Leave That His Fox Colleagues Love

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Fox News host Tucker Carlson dismissed the importance of paternity leave while taking an anti-gay swing at Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg on Thursday. But in corporate materials his employer touts its parental leave policy, which his male Fox colleagues have praised for allowing them to take time off to care for their spouses and infants.

Read Now Show less

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

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."

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.

Kremlin Assets Aided Pro-Trump 2020 Documentary Featuring Caputo, Nunes

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Russian government proxies "helped produce a documentary that aired on a US television network" as part of the Kremlin's wide-ranging effort to influence the 2020 presidential election by falsely accusing President Joe Biden of corruption in Ukraine, the U.S. intelligence community revealed in a report Tuesday.

The report does not explicitly identify the documentary or network in question. But the timeline and subject matter match The Ukraine Hoax: Impeachment, Biden Cash, and Mass Murder, which the pro-Trump One America News Network aired in late January 2020. Former Trump aide Michael Caputo hosted that one-hour special, which featured separate interviews with a former Ukrainian official later sanctioned by the federal government for his role in a Russian influence operation and with Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), at the time the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

According to the report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized Russian influence operations aimed at undermining Biden's campaign and supporting then-President Donald Trump during the 2020 election cycle. The report assesses that Russian intelligence services and their Ukraine-linked proxies -- including "Russian influence agent" Konstantin Kilimnik and Ukrainian legislator Andriy Derkach -- sought to use U.S. media outlets and prominent Americans to launder allegations of corrupt ties between Biden, his family, and Ukraine, and to falsely accuse Ukraine of interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

The report does not specify which Americans or media outlets were caught up in the Russian plot. But it's clear to anyone who followed political news in 2019 that the intelligence community is referencing Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani's anti-Biden disinformation campaign. Giuliani sought to bolster Trump's reelection by working with shady Ukrainians, some with links to Russia, to dig up dirt on Biden and then spread itthrough right-wing writer John Solomon, Fox News, and OAN. The effort blew up in Trump's face when the then-president's corrupt effort to pressure the Ukrainian government to open an investigation into the Bidens became public, triggering his first impeachment by the House of Representatives later that year.

According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, as part of the effort by Kilimnik, Derkach, and their associates to use U.S. media outlets to damage Biden's political standing on behalf of the Russian government, the Russian proxies "helped produce a documentary that aired on a US television network in late January 2020."

That timeline matches the release of The Ukraine Hoax, which first aired on January 25, 2020. Moreover, the content of Caputo's film echoes the Kremlin-backed narratives described in the report, as well as other Russian government talking points.

OAN CEO Robert Herring Sr. described the special as "exactly what our One America News Investigates series is all about" in a press release announcing its premiere. That's undoubtedly true -- in keeping with his network's general aesthetic, The Ukraine Hoax is an hour of conspiracy theories united by slavish devotion to Trump. Caputo argues that Trump's impeachment is an unjust persecution that emerged from U.S. meddling in Ukraine, corrupt dealings by the Bidens, and joint efforts by Democrats and Ukrainians to stop Trump's election that resulted in Robert Mueller's special counsel probe. He concludes, "as Democrats pursue Trump, they're destroying America and Ukraine."

Caputo denied Russian government involvement in his film and said he had not talked to Derkach or Kilimnik, the proxies named in the report, in an interview with Mother Jones.

But Caputo's star interview is with Andrii Telizhenko, a former low-level Ukrainian diplomat and Giuliani ally who the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned in January for his role in a "Russia-linked foreign influence network associated with" Derkach.

Treasury's press release describes Telizhenko as a member of Derkach's "inner circle" and states that he participated in Derkach's disinformation campaign aimed at influencing the 2020 U.S. presidential election. According to the release, Telizhenko "orchestrated meetings between Derkach and U.S. persons to help propagate false claims concerning corruption in Ukraine." Telizhenko previously sought to distance himself from Derkach.

In his interview with Caputo for OAN, Telizhenko falsely claimed that the Ukrainian government, with the encouragement of the Obama administration, interfered with the 2016 U.S. presidential election on behalf of Hillary Clinton.


Telizhenko became a fixture in right-wing media circles for that allegation because it allowed Trump propagandists to argue that Clinton, and not Trump, had been the real beneficiary of foreign interference in the 2016 election. The intelligence community report released Tuesday describes the effort to "falsely blame Ukraine for interfering in the 2016 US presidential election" as one of the aims of the Russian proxies.

The documentary also features an interview with then-House Intelligence Committee chairman Nunes. Nunes was one of several Trump allies that congressional Democrats said received materials from Derkach aimed at smearing Biden during the impeachment push.

In his interview, Nunes criticized pro-democracy organizations backed by American philanthropist George Soros, saying that they "have agendas" and that Soros "is extreme left-wing and he supports extreme left-wing causes." He apparently agreed with Caputo's claim that Soros was "building an extreme left-wing government" in Ukraine. Nunes also lashed out at "the Russia hoax," saying that "if people are not held accountable, you're going to have generations of Americans, part of the Republican Party, who will never trust the FBI, the Department of Justice, the CIA."

Elsewhere in the film, Caputo described the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, in which protesters ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, as a violent coup instigated by the U.S. government and Soros.


The description of the revolution as a U.S-backed coup echoes language used by Putin in defending Russia's invasion of Ukraine later that year, while the Russian presidentand Russian-backed governments have for years targeted Soros over his pro-democracy efforts.

Caputo also revived the false right-wing smear that as vice president, Biden improperly pushed the government of Ukraine to fire Viktor Shokin, the country's prosecutor general, to stop the investigation of a Ukrainian company and benefit his son Hunter Biden. The Ukraine Hoax includes clips from Shokin himself making that claim.

In fact, Shokin had been widely faulted by Western governments and Ukrainian anti-corruption activists for failing to prosecute corruption, including corruption by the company's founder; the probe had reportedly been "shelved" under Shokin; and his successor acknowledged that there is no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens. The intelligence community report appears to reference this false claim, stating that the Russian proxy network "sought to discredit the Obama administration by emphasizing accusations of corruption by US officials."

After producing a pro-Trump documentary, allegedly with Russian assistance, Caputo went on to bigger and better things. Less than three months after OAN aired his special, Caputo joined the Trump administration as assistant secretary for public affairs in the Department of Health and Human Services. He subsequently drew criticism for politicizing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports about the coronavirus pandemic, and took a leave of absence after his Facebook video accusing CDC scientists of "sedition" became public.

In an interview promoting his special with OAN correspondent and Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec, Caputo bemoaned that some of the people he wanted to interview "ghosted" him during the filming process. But apparently he found help from other sources.

Fox News Buried Trump’s Endorsement Of Vaccination Campaign

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Former President Donald Trump urged Americans to take the coronavirus vaccine on Tuesday night. "I would recommend it to a lot of people that don't want to get it — and a lot of those people voted for me, frankly," he said during a Fox News interview with Maria Bartiromo. "It is a safe vaccine and it is something that works." While Trump caveated his comments by saying that "we have our freedoms and we have to live by that," his comments were nonetheless significant because, as he indicated, polls show Republicans are particularly hesitant to take the vaccine.

But Trump's remarks will have an impact only if his supporters hear them. And while his comments originally aired on Fox, that network -- by far the most popular and influential among Trump voters -- has largely ignored them since.

In the 36 hours following Trump's vaccine endorsement, Fox devoted only about six and a half minutes to the remarks. Only a handful of programs covered the remarks; flagship "straight news" broadcast Special Report and popular opinion shows The Five, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and The Ingraham Angle are among those that have not aired or referenced the comments.

Sean Hannity became the only Fox prime-time host thus far to discuss Trump's vaccine endorsement when he briefly mentioned it (without playing the clip) on Wednesday night. But that aside came in the context of criticizing mainstream media for "chastising" Republicans for not wanting to get vaccinated.

Hannity, to his credit, said that he personally plans to get the shot and acknowledged Trump's comments, but then pivoted to arguing that "it isn't really anyone's business" who gets vaccinated and that "you need to make your own decision" no matter what liberals say.


It's not hard to tell when Fox's hosts and executives want the network's viewers to hear a politician's comment -- the clip will air over and over again across the network's programming, interspersed with segments dissecting it.

That's what happened when President Joe Biden described Republican governors who lifted COVID restrictions, including mask mandates, as engaged in "Neanderthal thinking" on March 3.

Fox ran roughly 1 hour and 20 minutes of coverage about the purported controversy over the following 36 hours — 12 times as much coverage as it later devoted to Trump's vaccine endorsement. The "Neanderthal" commentary spanned almost the entire Fox lineup during that timespan, with several shows featuring multiple segments of discussion.

Fox could have treated Trump's comments with the same urgency that it did a random Bidenism, using the network's megaphone to encourage their viewers to be safe. But Fox's hosts are apparently more interested in making their audiences feel victimizedthan they are in keeping viewers healthy and alive, and its executives, including the Murdochs, are willing to let them as long as the money continues rolling in.

Bar chart comparing Fox coverage of Trump endorsing vaccines vs. its coverage of Biden's "neanderthal" comment

I keep coming back to this because it's true: Fox has a unique moral responsibility, having successfully convinced viewers not to believe anything mainstream news outlets report. There are vanishingly few other vehicles available to reach the network's audience with critical public health information. The network could be trying to create a permission structure to help viewers decide to take safe, effective shots in order to drastically reduce their personal risk from a deadly virus that has killed more than 530,000 Americans.

But Fox is instead failing its viewers, as it has throughout the pandemic. The network's most popular hosts would rather pander to anti-vaxxers for ratings and clout than tell their viewers, "I am going to get vaccinated, just like our founder Rupert Murdoch did, and you should too."

It's disgusting and cowardly and everyone involved should be ashamed.

Methodology

Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on Fox News Channel for any variation of the term "vaccine" within close proximity of the term "Trump" from March 16 through 8 a.m. EDT March 18, 2021.

We also searched the transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on Fox News Channel for the term "Neanderthal" from March 3 through March 5, 2021.

We timed any segments, which we defined as instances when either story was the stated topic of discussion or when we found "significant discussion" of either topic. We defined "significant discussion" as instances when two or more speakers discussed either topic with one another. We also timed teasers for segments coming up later in the broadcast, and we timed passing mentions of either story, which we defined as instances when a single speaker mentioned either topic without another speaker in the same segment engaging with the comment.

We included any instances that fell within the first 36 hours after Biden and Trump's comments. We rounded all times to the nearest half-minute.

Research contributions from Lis Power and Rob Savillo

Fox Isn’t Even Pretending To Be A ‘News Channel’ Now

Fox News faced a stark choice in light of President Donald Trump's defeat and the January 6 storming of the Capitol that followed his -- and the network's -- constant lies about election fraud costing him the election.

Fox could have committed itself to journalistic principles, enhanced the influence of its "news" side, and competed for viewers with CNN and MSNBC by offering conservative-leaning but reality-based programming. Instead, its executives have sided with its rabidly pro-Trump "opinion" side, signaling that it intends to compete with fringe-right Newsmax and One America News Network by doubling down on the inflammatory propaganda and conspiracy theories that incited its viewers over the last four years, culminating in January 6's attempted coup by pro-Trump rioters.

Read Now Show less

Culpable For Thousands Of Deaths, Fox News Is ‘Misinformer Of The Year'


Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

In 2019, the United States government ran a simulation of a global influenza pandemic. A draft report on the effort, published earlier this year by The New York Times, pointed to a host of flaws in the simulated response that now appear prescient as the country continues to grapple with the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. But one crucial element appears missing: No one contemplated that a major national news source would try to stymie the response -- or that the outlet could convince the president to take its side against the government's public health experts.

That's what Fox News did this year. The right-wing network has promoted coronavirus misinformation an estimated 13,551 times on its weekday programs over the course of the pandemic. And its lies had a deadly impact.

President Donald Trump spends much of each day watching and tweeting along with Fox. The network, long a uniquely destructive force in American political life, reinvented itself as his personal propaganda outlet over the course of his presidency. The Fox obsession shapes Trump's worldview, provides him with his most trusted advisers, encourages his worst impulses, and in 2020 thus far triggered at least 475 live tweets of Fox News and its sister network, Fox Business. Once a curiosity that served to explain his most bizarre tweets, this insidious Trump-Fox feedback loop came to set the course of our nation's politics.

And this year, the country has suffered the consequences of Fox's unrivaled influence on the president and federal government. The feedback loop fueled Trump's disastrous handling of a pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 300,000 Americans to date. It stoked bigotry and violence amid a national reckoning on racism and police brutality as the network's typically abhorrent treatment of Black Americans turned uglier than ever. And as the year came to a close, the feedback loop was powering Trump's attempt to overthrow the election, shaking our political system to its foundations.

For the first time, Media Matters is naming Fox News its Misinformer of the Year for 2020. While we have previously given that title to specific Fox leaders and employees, it has never gone to the network as a whole. But never before have its personalities and executives had the blood of this many Americans on their hands.

The Virus


Fox spent 2020 recklessly minimizing the pandemic as it took the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans. It's impossible to calculate how many might still be alive if the network had treated the coronavirus as a real threat to the health of its viewers and the general public rather than a political obstacle for its beloved president.

The network's viewers desperately needed credible information about the threat posed by the virus in late February and early March, as public officials sounded alarms about its first wave spreading across the country. Instead, they got propaganda.

Fox painted the virus as a minor problem, no more dangerous than the flu, and claimed that Democrats and journalists arguing otherwise were ginning up fears to damage Trump politically. Those raising concerns, the network's hosts told their audiences, were simply trying to "bludgeon Trump with this new hoax" in "another attempt to impeach the president."

How Fox News lied about the pandemic www.youtube.com

Fox briefly took the coronavirus somewhat more seriously after Trump declared a national emergency to slow its spread. But on April 7 -- around the time it became clear that the virus's victims were disproportionately Black and brown -- the network's prime-time hosts effectively declared victory, arguing that public health experts had exaggerated the danger it posed and giving their predominantly white viewers license to ignore the measures designed to curb it.

The U.S. outbreak was still in its early days, with only a tiny fraction of the current total of coronavirus cases and deaths recorded. But Fox's pivot to demands for ending public health restrictions and reopening the economy had already begun. The network's commentators never looked back for the rest of the year, undeterred by overflowing hospitals and soaring death totals as they preached the need to preserve businesses rather than people.

It's difficult to imagine what prime-time stars Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham might have done differently if they were deliberately trying to get as many Americans killed as possible. The hosts and the assemblage of kooks and cranks they brought on for supposed expertise used their massive platforms to wage a nightly, systematic assault against virtually every measure that public health officials supported.

They denounced social distancing, masks, quarantines, and increased testing as ineffective and dictatorial, while praising both the purportedly miraculous properties of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, which studies show is ineffective against the coronavirus, and the less-restrictive response of Sweden, which ultimately failed. They baselessly claimed at first that the coronavirus death toll had been inflated, and eventually stopped mentioning those figures altogether. They embraced protests against stay-at-home orders, valorized small business owners who flouted coronavirus restrictions, and denounced credible experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci. Over a single week in July, their shows combined to push misinformation about the virus at least 83 times.

But while those hosts stand out, the entire network has been complicit in its campaign of deception, with the network's purported "straight news" shows often hammering the samemisinformation as its "opinion" programming.


How Fox News dismissed the pandemic's death toll www.youtube.com

As the year came to a close, the U.S. daily death toll from COVID-19 had crested 3,000, a horrific rate that the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said could continue for two to three months. Fox, meanwhile, was hiding that staggering death toll from its viewers while encouraging them to violate coronavirus restrictions and gather together for the holidays.

This coverage had an impact. Fox's viewers consistently told pollsters they were less worried about the virus than did people who got their news elsewhere, triggering fears among party leaders that the network's programming was endangering the lives of the GOP base. And because of the nature of infectious disease, Fox viewers who did not change their behavior because they were convinced the virus was overblown also endangered those around them.

But Fox's unique hold on the president's attention, and his eagerness to seek out advice on how to handle a deadly pandemic from its personalities, pushed the impact of its coronavirus coverage far beyond its own audience.

Trump didn't just live-tweet Fox coronavirus coverage at least 89 times, or parrot the network's most unhinged coronavirus conspiracy theories, though he did do that. He ensured that the federal government's response would track the complaints, obsessions, and blind spots of its right-wing ideologues. The network's fingerprints are everywhere, from the lax attention paid to the virus during its early spread, when Fox was telling Trump it wasn't a problem; to the stockpiling of unproven and ineffective drugs; to Trump's unwillingness to serve as a positive example by wearing a mask and forswearing heavily attended indoor events; to his refusal to provide desperately needed funds to state and local governments.

Most dangerous of all, Fox's promotion of Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist and right-wing think-tanker with a contrarian take on the pandemic, attracted Trump's attention. Trump liked that Atlas told him what he wanted to hear -- that the virus was no big deal and he was handling it brilliantly -- so he gave him a position on the White House coronavirus task force. From that post, Atlas increased his power and reportedly called for deliberately allowing the virus to spread in order to reach "herd immunity." By the time he left office on December 1, the nation had completely lost control of the pandemic. A few weeks later, the day's death toll exceeded that of the 9/11 terror attacks.

The failure of Fox's pandemic strategy was predictable -- and indeed, Fox's executives knew better than to try to implement it for their own employees. Even as the on-air talent urged a premature return to normalcy, the network largely shuttered its offices and told its employees to wear masks.

But those executives refused to take responsibility for the network's output. During the spring, facing public outrage over Fox's pandemic disinformation, they parted ways with a handful of low-level employees who had made particularly egregious claims. But Fox stars who had produced virtually identical commentary avoided accountability and continued to lie to their viewers and downplay the pandemic.

For Fox, mass death was simply the cost of doing business.


The Protests

As Americans joined nationwide protests against racial injustice following the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd this year, Fox's response was vicious and divisive. The network painted Black activists seeking an end to police brutality as violent terrorists endangering the lives of its viewers and civilization itself, while Fox celebrated white, right-wing vigilantes as heroes, the true victims of law enforcement.


The network's coverage revolved around terrorizing its audience by fixating on instances of rioting, arson, looting, and property damage, at times citing hoaxes or other misinformation. Carlson in particular lashed out at the "thugs" of the Black Lives Matter movement and its supporters. The moment, he claimed at one point, "is definitely not about Black lives. And remember that when they come for you." "Vigilante justice," he suggested, might be needed against demonstrators in the streets. And when that inevitably came to pass, with lethal consequences, he praised its perpetrator.


Tucker Carlson's racist attacks on Black Lives Matter in 2020 www.youtube.com

Fox traditionally tolerates, and even rewards, on-air bigotry. But its coverage of the protests was so horrific that its Black employees reportedly began confronting executives. One staffer even told a reporter that executives "created a white supremacist cell inside the top cable network in America, the one that directly influences the president."

And indeed, the president was watching the network's coverage of the protests, live-tweeting its programming at least 58 times, and taking action in response. Trump stokedracial tensions, abandoned bipartisan police reform legislation and ordered federal law enforcement deployed to U.S. cities, put Carlson's demagogic message at the center of his campaign, and echoed Carlson's talking points by making the racist appeal to white suburbanites that Biden wanted to destroy their hometowns by importing low-income people.

The result was more indiscriminate violence, as law enforcement attacked protestors and reporters with impunity, cheered on by the president and his propagandists.

The Coup

As this piece was written, Trump was still seeking to overturn the results of a free and fair election because he lost. Even as his lawyers have been laughed out of court for alleging nonexistent election fraud, he continues to denounce the results as rigged and seek to toss out millions of votes and have himself declared the victor. For all intents and purposes, he's attempting a coup in broad daylight -- and his Fox propagandists are eager accomplices to his would-be authoritarian power grab.


No one can say they didn't see this coming. Since the spring, Trump has been promoting Fox's warnings of inevitable election fraud as the network laid the groundwork for him to steal a close election. Unfortunately for the plan, Biden won in a relative landslide, with his victory confirmed by Fox itself.


Much attention has been paid to Trump's rage at Fox after its decision desk called first Arizona and then the election for Biden. But the network's "news" and "opinion" sides both trumpeted his baseless fraud allegations in the days following his defeat, with stars like Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, and Maria Bartiromo gleefully aiding the president's cynical effort to subvert the vote and usher in the end of American democracy.


Fox cast doubt on or pushed conspiracy theories about the election results nearly 600 timesover the nine days after the network declared Biden had won, and that treatment has not abated since. Trump himself has repeatedly promoted the network's election fraud lies on social media, apparently after watching his favorite shows. Indeed, dating back to the spring, he sent at least 89 live tweets calling the election's legitimacy into question in response to Fox programming.


Fox in denial of 2020 election results www.youtube.com


The result is that Fox's audience doesn't believe Biden actually won, while the network is responding to criticism by promoting increasingly unhinged lies about the election in order to tell its viewers that Trump's victory is imminent. The results could prove catastrophic, sending the nation into the abyss.

The Crisis

When historians look back at 2020 in the decades to come, it will likely also be remembered as yet another year in which the U.S. did not act to stop the climate crisis.

Fox's routine promotion of climate science denial was identified as a key obstacle to preventing change more than a decade ago. The increasing urgency of the impending calamity -- and the network's stranglehold on the president's attention span -- has only made its intransigence more critical.

In 2020, as massive wildfires stoked by the changing climate raged across the Australian interior and American west, Fox responded by ignoring, downplaying, and denying the situation. Trump, in turn, continued to contradict science and refuse to act, as the threat grew.

The Misinformer

Fox's misinformation had a direct impact on the lives of every single American this year, whether they watched the network or not. Its propagandists helped wreck the response to a deadly pandemic that killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, tried to drown a movement for justice out of racism and fear, and, as the year came to a close, waged an assault on America's democracy.

This year was a low point in the network's shameful history, and none of its employees should ever live it down. They betrayed their viewers and endangered their fellow Americans because they wanted to protect the president and preserve their position as his state TV outlet of choice.

Fox News is 2020's Misinformer of the Year.

Right-Wing Media Figures Still Refuse To Admit Biden Won

The new era of competition between Fox News and its would-be rivals, Newsmax and One America News Network, appears to be fueling an unwillingness by commentators at all three networks to accurately describe Joe Biden as the president-elect, even after the Electoral College met this week.

Since losing the election, President Donald Trump has increasingly trained his criticism on Fox News. He has ranted that his personal propaganda outlet has proven insufficiently supportive of his illegitimate effort to overturn the results based on phony voter fraud claims, urging his supporters to instead watch Newsmax or OAN. Fox has aggressively course-corrected in hopes of maintaining its audience, while the smaller networks have lashed out at the dominant player in hopes of ripping away more of its viewers.

Read Now Show less

The Staggering Human Cost Of Trump’s Scott Atlas Debacle

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Dr. Scott Atlas resigned from his post on the White House's coronavirus task force on Monday, ending an experiment in governance by Fox News that has caused skyrocketing COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, with even darker weeks ahead.

Atlas' appointment in August represented the purest example of the disastrous impact of the feedback loop between President Donald Trump and Fox's propaganda. An unqualified ideologue launched to power because the president liked his Fox hits, under his guidance Trump oversaw a predictable and horrifying surge in the virus that repeatedly reached the White House itself.

Read Now Show less