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Grisham Gives First TV Interview To Sinclair’s Eric Bolling, A ‘Birther’

New White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham gave her first TV interview in the role to Sinclair’s Eric Bolling. Bolling, a former Fox News host who was fired amid sexual harassment reports, hosts a weekly online show for Sinclair. Despite Bolling’s history of pushing conspiracy theories and toxic rhetoric — and the circumstances surrounding his Fox News exit — his Sinclair program has become a regular stop for administration officials and Republican members of Congress.

Grisham was appointed White House press secretary on June 25. Since then, she has largely followed in her predecessor’s footsteps by continuing to avoid press briefings and offering weak, lie-filled defenses of the president’s actions. And she has now joined her predecessor in giving an exclusive interview to Bolling.

On the August 14 edition of Sinclair’s America This Week, Grisham sat down for an eight-minute interview with Bolling. They discussed at length a feud between President Donald Trump and former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci (who appeared earlier in the program), and Grisham also took the opportunity to deny that the president is racist. Bolling asked Grisham if she would consider bringing back regular press briefings and Grisham demurred, saying, “We’re going to talk about it. … The president, also, he’s so accessible so right now I think that that’s good enough.” She concluded, “It’s not all about a press briefing, and honestly the president is his best spokesperson.”

America This Week streams on the websites of Sinclair-controlled local TV news stations across the country, and airs (in part or in full) on some of those stations after it’s released online on Wednesdays. So far, a handful of Sinclair stations have aired the same clip from the interview — Grisham discussing Scaramucci and denying the president’s racism — and directed viewers to view the full show on their websites or watch it when it airs on Sunday night.

Bolling began hosting his own show for Sinclair in April, and he had been making appearances on its national programming for months beforehand. He also hosts a streaming show on the website of right-wing outlet BlazeTV.

He was previously a host and co-host at Fox News, where he regularly trafficked in conspiracy theories, misogyny, and race-baiting; he was a central figure in pushing the racist conspiracy theory about President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. He left the network in 2017 amid reports that he sent multiple colleagues unsolicited images of genitalia.

In the months since his Sinclair show premiered, Bolling has used the platform to give embarrassingly easy interviews to President Donald Trump, numerous other Trump administration and Trump campaign officials, Republican lawmakers, and a host of right-wing media mainstays and extremist figures.

Additionally, Bolling has used the platform to elevate a variety of right-wing extremists, conspiracy theorists, and media hacks including former Breitbart chief and former Trump strategist Steve Bannon; longtime Trump adviser and racist, sexist conspiracy theorist Roger Stone (twice); Turning Point USA’s diaper enthusiast Charlie Kirkconservative darling and MyPillow founder Mike Lindell; video huckster James O’Keefe; fellow disgraced former Fox host Bill O’Reilly; discredited right-wing author Peter Schweizer; guns misinformer John Lott (twice); and the right-wing Judicial Crisis Network’s Carrie Severino.

And Sinclair contributor Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump administration official with neo-Nazi ties, regularly sits on the show’s panels.

Sinclair Personality Faces Boycott After Saying He Wants To “Ram A Hot Poker Up David Hogg’s Ass”

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

UPDATE: Asked about Allman’s comments about David Hogg by The Washington Post, a spokesperson for Sinclair said, “We have accepted Mr. Allman’s resignation, and his show has been cancelled.”

ORIGINAL POST:

Conservative TV and radio host Jamie Allman, Sinclair’s primary local news personality in St. Louis, MO, is now facing a boycott after tweeting on March 26 that he wants to “ram a hot poker up David Hogg’s ass.” The horrific attack on the Parkland, FL, high school shooting survivor is just the latest from Allman, who has a history of engaging in unhinged online abuse and hateful commentary.

On April 6, local alt-weekly the Riverfront Times reported on a threatening tweet that had been circulating around social media in which Allman stated that he’d “been hanging out getting ready to ram a hot poker up David Hogg’s ass tomorrow . Busy working. Preparing .”

Allman hosts both a morning radio show and a nightly news show called The Allman Report on KDNL (ABC 30), the St. Louis TV news station owned and operated by Sinclair Broadcast Group. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that, in response to Allman’s tweet, state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) called for an advertiser boycott of Allman’s show — and some advertisers have now discontinued their spots on his radio show.

Allman’s disgusting attack on the high school student echoes obsessive targeting of Hogg by far-right conspiracy theorists and should be no surprise to local viewers and others familiar with Allman’s history of online harassment and abusive rhetoric. Media Matters first documented Allman’s extremism in October, noting his promotion of fringe conspiracy theories, use of anti-immigrant slurs and race-baiting language on air, and frequent misogynist tweets. Many of these examples predated his hiring by Sinclair — but none of this seems to matter to the local TV news giant.

In fact, in 2015, the Sinclair station began running what it calls Allman’s “non-traditional newscast” in place of any straightforward local news broadcast, airing each edition three times per weekday during time slots typically reserved for news updates.

And Allman has discussed Hogg twice on his Sinclair news show since his March 26 tweet. On the March 30 edition of The Allman Report, he tried to make a case for attacking the teenagers, arguing that Hogg “can’t have it both ways” and had to choose between being a “kid” or being “a revolutionary.” Allman went on to accuse the Parkland students of “grabbing [their] blanket” whenever they were criticized.

On April 3, Allman again mocked Parkland students for their opposition to some heightened security measures at the school, such as being required to use clear backpacks. At one point he imitated a student whining, “This place feels like a prison!” Allman also zeroed in on Hogg specifically and suggested it was “very confusing” that Hogg would advocate for the right to carry different types of backpacks but not different types of guns.

Sinclair was largely silent in response to the publication of Media Matters’ research on Allman last October. Allman, however, locked down his Twitter account briefly before unlocking it to tweet bonkers, sometimes threatening messages at this author for an hour straight, between 2 and 3 a.m. one morning. The tweets included photoshopped images of me, images of Carrie (from the eponymous film) covered in blood, and claims I hate my father and have a drinking problem.

Allman has now locked down his Twitter account again and, according to the Riverfront Times, the account was silent yesterday after spending two days retweeting supporters in defiance. Because I had reported the account previously, I received a vague update from Twitter yesterday that Allman’s account has now been found in violation of the platform’s rules against abusive behavior.

Header image by Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Weinstein Scandal: Silence Always Enables The Abuser

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

Last Thursday, New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey published a gut-wrenchingly detailed and thorough article revealing decades of sexual harassment reports made against prominent film producer and serial sexual predator Harvey Weinstein.

The report led to resignations of Weinstein Company board members and legal advisers, a bizarre and public non-apology from Weinstein, Weinstein’s firing from the company that bears his name, and statements from more women in the film industry who say they’ve experienced harassment or assault by Weinstein and other powerful men in Hollywood. A subsequently published report from NBC’s Ronan Farrow in The New Yorkerdetailed horrific new reports of rape and sexual assault committed by Weinstein, spanning decades and from multiple women, corroborated by many others who’ve encountered the producer. The Times has now followed up with further on-the-record reports of sexual harassment from more women.

Some of the women who spoke out did so anonymously, fearing retribution from an extremely rich and powerful man with millions of dollars and high-profile connections at his disposal and a loudly and frequently discussed penchant for personally attacking women he’s already attempted to victimize. Others, including well-known actresses Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Angelina Jolie, have also spoken on the record about Weinstein’s harassment. It is likely, given the nature of these accounts and the prevailing culture of dismissing and demeaning survivors, that more will choose to speak out, and still others will choose not to.

The primary public conversation beginning to play out now is familiar: How has our culture — in film, in politics, across all partisan divides — allowed this violence to persist for so long? Why and how do our current systems work to keep women fearful and silent? Will any of it change? It remains to be seen if any of these questions will earn an answer, or whether they will, once again, fade back out of the spotlight, labeled as persistent, unsolvable issues. Nothing can be done to protect the vulnerable from the powerful, it seems.

A secondary conversation is also emerging, centered more squarely on the media: What is the responsibility of journalists — tasked with reporting the facts and acting in the public interest — when they encounter serial interpersonal violence that’s been allowed to persist without public knowledge?

The fact remains that journalists have a choice, every time: Do what can be done, following industry standards, to expose the truth and aide the powerless, or resort to becoming a tool for exploitation.

The Weinstein reports — and before them the Bill O’Reilly reports, the Roger Ailes reports, the Bill Cosby reports, the Woody Allen reports, the Roman Polanski reports, the Donald Trump reports, on and on — have showcased these options repeatedly.

The New York Times doggedly reported on multiple sexual harassment lawsuits against Fox News host Bill O’Reilly in April. Fox fired O’Reilly only when it was finally forced to do so. The network paid him $25 millionon the way out, then invited him back onto Hannity months later because it was scared of Rachel Maddow and, besides, O’Reilly had a new book to promote. O’Reilly also appeared on NBC’s Today for an uncomfortable and unnecessary interview with Matt Lauer in which he attempted to publicly disparage a woman who had reported him. He referred to an article on the right-wing site Newsmax.com, cross-posted to O’Reilly’s personal website, that he touted as a redeeming investigation.

Earlier, Fox also pushed out Roger Ailes when it was finally forced to do so. It handed the former Fox News chairman and CEO $40 million as he left, and the people who enabled his serial harassment simply closed ranks. The culture didn’t change. When Ailes died months later, he was fondly and emotionally eulogized on air, with no thoughtful discussion of his real legacy of hurting and silencing women.

Like Weinstein’s behavior, Cosby’s violent misconduct was an “open secret” in their industry, allowed to persist in part because society has taught us not to listen to women when they do come forward, and in part because women have been silenced by the culture around them and terrified of retaliation should they speak out. According to one account, actors Matt Damon and Russell Crowe may have personally worked to quash a 2004 New York Times article about Weinstein’s serial predatory misconduct. Weinstein also reportedly bragged about placing negative articles about people who dared to speak out about him. Indeed, even as he issued his non-apology, Weinstein was threatening to sue the Times.

Just over a year ago, The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold published audio of President Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women. NBC, then-employer of TV host Billy Bush who was also featured in the tape, subsequently fired Bush. Network executives reportedly knew about the tape but hadn’t reported on it yet, instead beat to the story by a competitor. (This week, Ronan Farrow wrote of new sexual assault and rape reports against Weinstein in The New Yorker — though he is an NBC employee.) And in the months prior to the release of the Trump recording, television news writ large remained virtually silent on another report of sexual harassment and sexual assault committed by Trump.

Responsible journalists recognize that serial sexual violence, particularly when perpetrated by society’s most powerful, is a difficult story to tell. Survivors are rightfully fearful of retribution, in keeping with the warped and disgusting power dynamic reaffirmed by the personal violence they’re already endured. They’re also often stymied by the culture of silence around sexual harassment and assault. The powerful people reported for misconduct — frequently white, almost always men — have the best lawyers their millions can buy. They have friends — also frequently white, frequently men, always wealthy — who will stand by them, defend them on TV, make movies with them, call newspapers to keep the story under wraps for another day.

Reporters have a responsibility to report the truth, particularly when it challenges the abuse of power, with all available tools and at any cost. They have a responsibility to work against those abuses of power, giving voice to the voiceless without compromising their safety and sparing no question. They have a responsibility to afford no comfort to powerful men who have not earned protection, but instead have used their outsized power to steal that of others. Kudos to those doing this hard and crucial — in fact, morally imperative — work; they should be examples to the rest.

 

Header image by John Whitehouse / Media Matters

Is Bannon’s Breitbart Mansion An Illegal Squat?

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

 

Former Trump adviser and once-again Breitbart.com chief Stephen Bannon sat down for an interview with CBS’ Charlie Rose this week, which aired on Sunday’s edition of 60 Minutes. Rose certainly had plenty of worthy topics to choose from in developing his questions for Bannon. There’s the far-right mastermind’s ongoing relationship with President Donald Trump, and his plans for the future of his cesspool website that openly appeals to the most hateful segments of the population. There’s also his shady involvement with the billionaire Mercer family and its groundbreaking and dangerous use of online data analytics during the 2016 election, which somehow didn’t make the cut. And there was one even more obvious question Rose ought to have asked outright during his sit-down with Bannon at the famed “Breitbart Embassy”: Is Breitbart even allowed to be there?

Breitbart has used a Capitol Hill town house, widely known as the “Breitbart Embassy,” as its headquarters since at least 2011. In various interviews and reported pieces over the years, the property has been referred to as “offices,” a “workspace,” Bannon’s “living quarters,” and Bannon’s personal home. And in last night’s 60 Minutes interview, Rose described the property as Bannon’s “home in Washington, which doubles as the headquarters of Breitbart News,” and showed footage of Bannon meeting with editorial staff at the dining room table. In fact, the circumstances under which Breitbart.com occupies the residence in Capitol Hill are far murkier than any of those labels suggests; a few months ago, the committee that controls congressional press credentials cited the site’s use of the house, which is not zoned for commercial activity, as part of the reason for denying it permanent credentials.

Contrary to some reporting, the residential property is not owned by Bannon; Breitbart News rents it from Egyptian businessman and former politician Moustafa El-Gindy. The terms of the lease are not publicly available, and El-Gindy has insisted he is nothing more than a landlord, though Breitbart.com has promoted him as an expert and quoted him in articles at least four separate times without disclosing the landlord relationship. While Bannon was working in the Trump White House, this lease arrangement was particularly questionable, as he had claimed to no longer be affiliated with Breitbart, yet it could have been paying his rent, or at least sharing its offices with his personal residential space.

Now absent that potential conflict of interest, the “Breitbart Embassy” is still saddled with at least a few more that haven’t gone away quite so easily. As USA Today’s Paul Singer reported in March, a local elected official familiar with zoning rules stated that Breitbart’s various uses for the town house “appear to violate” zoning regulations for the neighborhood. The house is zoned for residential use only — and El-Gindy, in fact, was until recently receiving a deduction for the house that suggests it’s his residence — but it’s clearly used as a commercial workspace.

At the time of Singer’s investigation, a Breibart spokesperson told the reporter — and the Senate press committee — that the site was “transitioning” out of the house and actively looking for a new workspace in downtown D.C. It’s now been more than five months, and Bannon is instead giving high-profile, on-camera interviews there.

So the question is: Does Bannon believe that he can freely and openly ignore the law now that he’s out of the White House?

 

Sexist Harassment Continues At Fox

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

 

Another day, another report of workplace sexual harassment perpetrated by a 21st Century Fox employee. Horrifyingly, this will probably keep happening — because Fox has proven time and again that it only takes measures to protect women when others are watching.

Fox Business host Charles Payne has been suspended from the network after a frequent Fox guest reported that Payne had coerced her into a years-long relationship “under threat of reprisals.” The Los Angeles Times reported on July 6 that the Fox guest (whom the Times did not identify) reported sexual misconduct to Fox’s law firm in June, stating that “she believed she was eventually blackballed from the network after she ended the affair in 2015 and tried to report Payne to top executives at Fox News.” HuffPost reported that the woman who came forward is political analyst Scottie Nell Hughes, and that Hughes believes that not only did Payne retaliate against her for ending the relationship, but that then-Fox News and Fox Business co-President Bill Shine and the network itself were involved. (Payne is denying the report.)

Payne’s suspension was announced one year to the day after former Fox News personality Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit against former Fox chief Roger Ailes, who died in May, for serial sexual harassment. At least 25 women came forward to report similar harassment by Ailes in the aftermath of the Carlson lawsuit, citing incidents that spanned decades. Carlson’s lawsuit helped to expose a hostile work culture of silence and harassment at 21st Century Fox that has undoubtedly persisted since Ailes was forced out.

In the year since Ailes resigned, Fox fired former host Bill O’Reilly (and paid him tens of millions on the way out) after news broke that five women had reported him for sexual harassment. On the same day that O’Reilly’s firing was announced, Fox News co-host Greg Gutfeld sexually harassed his fellow co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle on-air. Soon after, Ailes’ “right-hand man” Bill Shine was fired from his top executive spot at Fox amid reports that he had attempted to silence and retaliate against women who came forward to report harassment at the network.

In March, former Fox News contributor Tamara Holder reached a legal settlement with 21st Century Fox after she reported sexual assault by Fox News Latino executive Francisco Cortes at company headquarters in 2015. The company subsequently fired Cortes. Just days ago, Fox Sports fired Jamie Horowitz, its head of sports programming, amid an investigation into sexual harassment reports.

The common thread in this series of high-profile firings is that they were exactly that — high-profile. Fox’s response to a systematic, decades-long workplace culture problem that transcends time, a single perpetrator, a single survivor, or any sort of isolating detail, has been to do the absolute bare minimum to make immediate criticism go away.

21st Century Fox has proven that it only cares about its women employees when the public — or its bottom line — forces the issue. It will continue to treat each report of workplace harassment as a singular incident, offering a response that categorically hinges on the number of bad headlines, threats of advertiser boycotts, dollar amounts of lawsuits, or persistence of public outcry a story has garnered.

O’Reilly was fired amid an activist-driven advertiser boycott, as hundreds of sexual harassment survivors publicly asked Fox to do better. The network has fired Cortes and Horowitz and suspended Payne as it faces intense scrutiny from British regulators who are weighing whether to approve its bid to acquire the Sky PLC television company (and thus allow Fox to expand its toxic workplace culture).

Shine was replaced by two longtime Fox executives from the Ailes era, one of whom, Suzanne Scott, was reportedly also involved in silencing, ignoring, and retaliating against women who reported harassment at the network. And it took Fox nearly a year to fire Shine, even after former Fox News personality Andrea Tantaros named him in a sexual harassment lawsuit last August; it took more pressure from advertisers and the public before Fox would start to hold Shine accountable.

To add insult to injury, Fox’s shallow attempt to address systemic culture issues in its office appears to have been a sham. After Carlson filed her lawsuit, Fox retained the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to lead an internal investigation into the claims. The agreement between Fox and the law firm allowed for both an investigation and for the firm to give “legal advice” to the company, leading some to doubt its true independence. And after the Carlson lawsuit was settled in September, Vanity Fair reported that the so-called investigation “never officially expanded to examine the broader culture of Fox News” but instead “simply got a revenue machine back on track.”

Paul, Weiss was also the law firm Fox retained in April to investigate at least one report of sexual harassment against O’Reilly. And Paul, Weiss is where Hughes went last month with her account of Payne’s misconduct — around the same time Fox renewed Payne’s contract for multiple years. HuffPost reported the firm will lead another internal investigation into Hughes’ report.

If past behavior is any indication, this investigation, too, will end with some public lip service until the news cycle passes, maybe a high-profile firing, and little concrete action to actually protect the women who work at Fox. Have executives and on-air personalities begun to treat women and people of color with more respect yet? The results are inconclusive.

Here’s what is clear: Fox seems hellbent on only doing what is asked of them and nothing more. So don’t stop asking.

Header image by Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Trump’s War On Press Reflects Authoritarian Aims

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

While people across the United States celebrated Independence Day weekend with barbecues and fireworks, President Donald Trump spent the holiday threatening reporters on Twitter.

Trump tweeted a video of him wrestling and punching a man with the CNN logo superimposed on the man’s face, and used a hashtag to call the news network a “fraud.” The video originated in a GIF format from an anonymous Reddit user who, the Anti-Defamation League says, has “an 18-month record of vile comments and memes against Muslims, African-Americans, Jews and others.” Days earlier, the president had posted several revoltingly sexist tweets about MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski.

Trump’s recent Twitter behavior and the rapidly fading long-held norms for White House relations with the press signal that the president’s two-pronged campaign against an informed public is ramping up. We warned about this the week Trump was sworn into office and it’s truer than ever now: Trump is waging both a war against facts, and a war against those who report them.

Trump has been in office for nearly six months, and his major presidential message to the American public is dangerously clear: Only trust information that comes directly from him or the swath of fringe propaganda outlets that do his bidding.

Trump’s actions are straight out of the authoritarian playbook, and their goal is to denigrate and delegitimize the news media while simultaneously building an alternative media of sycophants. He has been threatening the press since before he took office — and these attacks will only get more intense. We can’t let him get away with making journalists the enemy because someone will get hurt.

On and off Twitter, Trump is elevating his own propagandists as he attempts to delegitimize actualjournalism. Some of these fringe outlets have even ended up in the White House press briefing room (when the briefing room is used at all). Here, too, Trump’s war against facts has taken a more overtly sinister and violent tone. Some of the most sycophantic members of the pro-Trump media have a history of hateful rhetoricand ties to white nationalism, just like the anonymous Redditor Trump borrowed from this weekend.

It’s a sign of the times: Press freedom groups that have detailed threats against the media in other countries for decades are now beginning to document threats against reporters in the United States.

Trump is ramping up his personal attacks against the news media in an obvious effort to discredit its members. At the same time his administration is cutting off press access of legitimate outlets in unprecedented ways.

And Trump needs it to work. His legislative agenda is stalling, his approval ratings are tanking, and several investigations are tightening around him. In the face of these failures, the Trump administration is borrowing from a despotic playbook to push — more forcefully than ever — a set of “alternative facts” about his accomplishments and views.

As Columbia Journalism Review Editor-in-Chief Kyle Pope noted this morning, reporters “aren’t obligated to cede the media agenda to this or any other administration.” While documenting Trump’s frequent (and disturbing) attacks on the press is important, it can be counterproductive when the attention devoted to the president’s temper tantrums completely overwhelms reporting on vitally important policy issues. One way journalists can help fight back is to make sure Trump can’t count on his attacks on the press to drown out coverage of the implications of his policy priorities, like the Republicans’ health care bill.

In the earliest days of the Trump administration, facts were inconvenient. Now, they are the enemy. And if the press doesn’t stand up to these clear attempts at mimicking the media environment of an authoritarian state, facts will soon become indistinguishable from lies. The White House Correspondents’ Association has repeatedly fallen short in its efforts to protect a fiercely independent free press from this president’s attacks. Will its duty to report what’s in the public interest extend to protecting itself, in the same interest, from a devolution into full-blown state-controlled media?

Will the war only end when Trump’s dangerous sycophants occupy the entire press briefing room, or when the briefing room no longer exists? And more importantly, will the casualties be a slew of American institutions that preserve and protect a free press, or something even worse?

Header image photo by Sarah Wasko / Media Matters