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Trump Encourages Voter Fraud — And Major Media Outlets Shrug

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

It's entirely possible that President Donald Trump committed a felony on Wednesday when he instructed his supporters in North Carolina to vote twice as a way to test anti-fraud systems. This might come as a surprise to many voters, as the story was largely downplayed by many major media outlets; Trump's comments didn't even make it on the front pages of the Thursday editions of The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, or Chicago Tribune.

Speaking in Wilmington, North Carolina, Trump advised supporters to vote -- twice if necessary, once by mail and once in person.

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Journalists Obsessed With Trump’s Elusive ‘Changing Tone’

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

It's been more than five years since Donald Trump rode down the golden escalator of his eponymous New York City tower to a crowd containing actors paid to cheer for him. There, he announced his campaign for president. As months passed, it became clear that Trump had a legitimate shot at winning the Republican nomination while running a campaign filled with racist invective and incoherent policy goals. He was not presidential in any sense of the word, and mainstream news outlets struggled to come to terms with that.

Perhaps as a coping mechanism, playing to their own normalcy biases, the press desperately tried to find any glimmer of hope that the Republican frontrunner might not actually be the Trump that was barnstorming the country. Perhaps there was a different Trump beneath the surface. Perhaps, as candidates of the past had, Trump would become more moderate as he moved to win over voters across the political spectrum during the general election.

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Get Ready For QAnon Conspiracists Elected To Congress

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

"Gun-toting" restaurateur Lauren Boebert came out ahead of incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton in the Republican primary for Colorado's 3rd Congressional District. She was described as a "guns rights activist" by Twitter, USA Today's headline read, "5-term Rep. Tipton backed by Trump loses in Colorado primary, upset by businesswoman Lauren Boebert," and The New York Times' headline about her victory read "Lauren Boebert, Gun-Rights Activist, Upsets House G.O.P. Incumbent in Colorado."

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Facebook Reveals GOP Allegiance In Fox News Coronavirus Event

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

Fox News has a well-earned reputation as one of the most egregious distributors of COVID-19 misinformation, and yet that's the network Facebook decided to partner with for Thursday night's virtual town hall about the pandemic. Moderated by Fox anchor Martha MacCallum and featuring the likes of White House coronavirus task force members Dr. Deborah Birx and Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams, as well as Mike Rowe, the event was billed as a chance for "an informative, interactive and innovative television experience while all participants are adhering to social distancing guidelines and 'stay-at-home' orders." Rowe, it should be noted, has shared COVID-19 misinformation on his Facebook page.

The event itself wasn't particularly newsworthy. It aired commercial-free, and Fox News and Facebook announced a $1 million donation to Feeding America's COVID-19 Response Fund. It also effectively doubled as an hourlong promotion of Facebook's "Portal" device, which people used to submit questions to the town hall.

But Facebook's decision to team up with Fox News is just the latest gesture pandering to conservatives by the company and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

In the Trump era, Facebook has repeatedly caved to right-wing pressure campaigns built on the faulty premise that the site has a bias against conservatives. In January, The Washington Post reported that actually, the opposite is true: Facebook favors conservative viewpoints. The Post article featured a series of damning quotes from Facebook insiders, including former Republican operative and current Facebook Vice President for Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan, who defended the site's hands-off approach to dealing with hoaxes and fake stories by saying, "We can't remove all of it because it will disproportionately affect conservatives." A former Facebook chief security officer said he believed that the site's political advertising policies were built around an "explicitly partisan" fear of angering Republicans, and a former member of Facebook's "Integrity Team" said that the company's approach to Republicans was to "tell them 'yes' or they will hurt us."

In April 2019, at the behest of Kaplan, Facebook added Check Your Fact, a division of Fox host Tucker Carlson's far-right website The Daily Caller, to its list of fact-checking partners. (Prior to that, Facebook had been partnered with The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine that had since shuttered.) This created an obvious disparity in Facebook's fact-checking roster, which did not include any explicitly left-wing partners. Check Your Fact has used the power given to it by the social media platform to apply "false" labels to legitimate articles from outlets like Politico and NBC News. When asked about The Daily Caller's involvement in its fact-checking program during an October appearance before the House Financial Services Committee, Zuckerberg falsely claimed that Facebook wasn't responsible for choosing fact-checkers and incorrectly said that this was up to the International Fact-Checking Network.

In October, Bloomberg reported that Facebook would be including Breitbart in the Facebook News curation program. The addition of the far-right site once dubbed "the platform for the alt-right" came despite the fact that Facebook supposedly requires outlets featured in this new category "to abide by Facebook's Publisher Guidelines, these include a range of integrity signals in determining product eligibility, including misinformation — as identified based on third-party fact checkers — community standards violations (e.g., hate speech), clickbait, engagement bait and others."

Also in October, Facebook refused a request from Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's campaign asking to remove an ad posted by President Donald Trump's campaign falsely suggesting that Biden had offered Ukraine $1 billion to fire a prosecutor investigating a company connected to his son. Instead, Facebook left the ad up, a decision defended by the company's head of global elections policy, Katie Harbath, on the basis of a "fundamental belief in free expression" and "respect for the democratic process." (Harbath, like Kaplan, is a former Republican operative.) This decision came a month after Facebook lifted its ban on ads that include "deceptive, false, or misleading content, including deceptive claims, offers, or methods" by politicians and their campaigns.

In September, after correctly flagging posts claiming "abortion is never medically necessary" as false, Facebook caved in response to a right-wing pressure campaign accusing the social media site of anti-conservative bias. Misinformation from right-wing outlets has long dominated abortion news coverage on Facebook. (More recently, right-wing Facebook pages and groups have also been a home for misinformation about the census and the global coronavirus pandemic.)

Facebook has allowed conservative sites like The Daily Wire to run inauthentic page networks in violation of its own rules to boost their numbers and amplify right-wing talking points to millions of Facebook users, even though the platform has previously "taken down smaller and less coordinated networks that promoted liberal content." Though reports have shown that social media companies have access to data disproving the "anti-conservative bias" charge, Facebook has repeatedly crumbled under right-wing pressure to favor conservatives in a Sisyphean effort to stop the false cries of unfairness.

Media Matters has conducted a number of studies finding the same thing each time: Conservatives are not being discriminated against on Facebook. Still, the platform hired former Republican Sen. Jon Kyl to conduct an audit looking for examples of nonexistent conservative bias.

Fox News is under increasing scrutiny over the network's reckless coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. Facebook's decision to join forces with the network right now should make clear where the company stands politically.

Mainstream Media Fail To Check Trump’s Lethal COVID-19 Misinformation

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

On Wednesday evening, President Donald Trump held a rare press conference in the White House briefing room to address the administration's response to COVID-19. During this press conference, Trump made a number of false or misleading claims about the coronavirus and U.S. preparedness — and it wasn't the first time his administration had done so.

Though Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the head of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Tuesday that the question of whether the virus would spread was "not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness," Trump insisted that he didn't think it was inevitable and the risk to Americans was "very low."

Though Trump claimed that a vaccine would be made available "in a fairly quick manner," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said it would be at least a year to 18 months before the public could expect a vaccine. Trump repeatedly downplayed the threat of the virus by emphasizing its similarities to the flu — there are some, but coronavirus is still very dangerous — and claiming that the number of cases is "going very substantially down, not up." (In fact, in the days since Trump delivered his remarks, dozens of new coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the U.S.)

At another point in the press conference, Trump blamed the Democratic debate for this week's stock market nosedive even though the debate didn't take place until after two straight days of declines, and he called Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer "'Crying' Chuck Schumer."

Trump's rambling address and responses to reporter questions were, World Health Organization adviser Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel said, "incoherent." But you wouldn't get that impression from a lot of the event's media coverage.

Reporters and the outlets they represent were eager to take Trump at his word that the U.S. was "ready" for the virus, quoting him in headlines and tweets without explaining the many reasons to be concerned about the country's preparedness. In May 2018, Trump ousted Rear Adm. R. Timothy Ziemer, the National Security Council's senior director for global health security and biodefense, eliminating his position and undercutting the country's pandemic response team. Even so, outlets like CNN and Bloomberg ran headlines reassuring the public that matters were under control. An article in The Guardian echoed his assertion that coronavirus spread is not inevitable.

CNN: "Trump says US is 'ready' for novel coronavirus outbreak as cases spread worldwideBloomberg: "Trump Says Coronavirus Outbreak May Worsen; U.S. 'Prepared'"The Guardian: "Trump says coronavirus spread not 'inevitable' - video"

On Twitter, Trump's message was amplified by outlets including Voice of America, The Associated Press and ABC.

Journalists from Yahoo, Roll Call, The Hill, ABC, The Guardian, and Cheddar all tweeted an amplification of Trump's false claim of only 15 cases in the U.S.

Even on issues not directly related to public health — like the president's absurd suggestion that Tuesday's Democratic presidential debate was the cause of the stock market cratering — reporters were happy to promote Trump's assertions. Journalists from The Hill, The Daily Mail, The Washington Post, NPR, CNN, Reuters, and ABC shared Trump's argument that Democrats were to blame for stock market woes.

The administration's bungled response to the crisis has already put lives at risk. There are plenty of reasons outlets should not have just uncritically amplified Trump's rosy assessment of the situation, including reports that officials ignored CDC advice and flew 14 infected U.S. citizens from Tokyo back to the U.S. along with more than 300 healthy passengers, and Trump's decision to put Vice President Mike Pence, a man who infamously enabled an HIV outbreak when he was governor of Indiana, in charge of the administration's response.

But Pence's failed HIV record was largely ignored in early coverage, and the administration's 2018 decision to disband the country's pandemic response team has remained little more than a footnote. There's also been administration-generated misinformation.

On February 25, acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf testified before a Senate appropriations subcommittee that the government was "several months" away from a vaccine. Earlier in the hearing, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar had said that a vaccine could be available "within a year." That same day, Trump claimed at a press conference in India that the U.S. was "very close to a vaccine," though it turned out that he had mixed up COVID-19 and Ebola.

When New York Daily News reporter Michael McAuliff noted the discrepancy between what Wolf and Azar said, DHS spokesperson Heather Swift pushed back, arguing that technically "several months" is "within a year." Neither figure was accurate, contradicted by Fauci's timeline of a year to 18 months.

Larry Kudlow, director of the U.S. National Economic Council, told CNBC that the U.S. had "contained this … pretty close to airtight." This was flat-out untrue, and it directly contradicted what the CDC said. Nevertheless, CNBC shared the quote on Twitter without noting that it was false. The Hill and Political Wire's Taegan Goddard echoed it, as did NBC News Business.


On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that more than a dozen Health and Human Services workers were sent out to meet U.S. citizens evacuated from Wuhan, China, without protective gear, and were not tested for the virus. After reporting this to HHS officials, a whistleblower within the agency was reassigned in seeming retaliation and an attempt to cover up this glaring mistake. Also on Thursday, The New York Times reported that all communications related to the administration's response to the virus would go through Pence. Evidence keeps piling up about how the administration is bungling the response, which is all the more reason outlets should not just be uncritically amplifying the things Trump and others are saying about the outbreak.

After Trump called concerns about the virus a "hoax" during a campaign rally, The New York Times ran a credulous piece that lent credence to his claims of Democratic and media exaggeration.

The New York Times: "Trump Accuses Media and Democrats of Exaggerating Coronavirus Threat"

Shoddy reporting and an unwillingness to accurately represent this administration's actions put people in actual danger.

Patrick Dillon, who was a special assistant to former President Barack Obama, summarized the problem with the way so many of Trump's actions are covered in mainstream media. The version of Trump people get when they check the news is markedly different from the version of Trump people get when they watch one of these press conferences from start to finish.

Adam Jentleson, a former deputy chief of staff for then-Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), added to Dillon's point, tweeting that too often journalists "tell themselves they're editing out the noise, but they're really editing out reality and making Trump seem far more normal than he is."

While many politicians have to worry about small slip-ups plaguing them in the press for years to follow, Trump's mistakes are factored in and edited out. CNN frames Trump's press conference as a "victory lap" despite him pushing misinformation, but minor flubs like Obama saying "57 states" instead of "47 states" in 2008 continue to be brought up more than a decade later as though they're indicative of incompetence.

CNN: "Trump takes a victory lap early on in the coronavirus fight"

Many politicians have their every word scrutinized by news organizations, while Trump gets a comparatively free pass to lie, mislead, and smear his political enemies without much scrutiny. Many journalists are well aware of how much this administration has done to destroy its credibility through lies and general ineptitude, but some seem too worried about reporting facts for fear of coming off as biased, even though the decision to create a fictionalized version of the president is a form of bias in itself. Maybe this doesn't matter so much when the administration is talking about how many people attended Trump's 2017 inauguration or the size of his Electoral College win, but it particularly matters now. This willingness to share an idealized version of Trump in times of national crisis puts people at real risk of harm, and a frustratingly large segment of the press seems comfortable in its complicity.

How Gullible Press Corps Created Myth Of ‘Donald The Dove’

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

In April 2016, New York Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd published “Donald the Dove, Hillary the Hawk,” a now-infamous piece making the argument that of the two presumptive major party candidates, Hillary Clinton would be more war-prone than Donald Trump. Though the columnist hedged ever so slightly by calling Trump a “Quasi-Dove” and a “mix of dove, hawk and isolationist,” it’s emblematic of a certain set of terrible punditry that plagues modern media. Whenever Trump orders military action, screenshots and links to Dowd’s piece flood social media, serving as indictments of 2016 political media and pleas for less credulous coverage of this year’s election.

Days before “Donald the Dove, Hillary the Hawk” was published, the Times printed a feature by then-White House correspondent Mark Landler, who framed a Clinton-Trump matchup as “an unfamiliar choice: a Democratic hawk versus a Republican reluctant warrior.” Landler added, “[N]either Donald J. Trump nor Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has demonstrated anywhere near the appetite for military engagement abroad that Clinton has,” and later commented on Trump’s supposed opposition to the Iraq War without noting that Trump was originally in favor of the war.

The tendency to leave unchallenged Trump’s lie about his supposed opposition to the Iraq War was a common theme throughout 2016. Outlets including  NBCCBSCNN, and Bloomberg ran interviews with the then-candidate in which he repeated this lie without being corrected. In other instances, reporters and media figures were themselves responsible for pushing it, as journalists in The New York Times and The Washington Post did.

A July 2016 op-ed in The Guardian proclaimed that “at least President Trump would ground the drones,” with columnist Simon Jenkins suggesting that a shift toward isolationism brought on by a Trump presidency might be one fringe benefit to a potential Trump victory. In March 2016, the late William Greider used an article in The Nation to naively describe a recent interview with the Post as Trump “dropp[ing] a peace bomb on the neocon editorial writers at the Washington Post and the war lobby.” In its write-up, the Post called Trump’s approach to foreign policy “noninterventionist.”

In May 2016, Associated Press reporter Jill Colvin wrote that “on some points of policy, such as trade and national defense, the billionaire businessman could even find himself running to the left of Hillary Clinton.” This sentiment was identical to that of Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, who appeared on MSNBC that month to proclaim that “Donald Trump will be running to the left as we understand it against Hillary Clinton on national security issues.”

On an August 11, 2015, episode of Fox & Friends, Trump declared that he was “the most militaristic person there is.” Throughout the campaign, Trump touted the importance of being “unpredictable” when it comes to military strategy, refusing to rule out using nuclear weapons against ISIS or in Europe if he saw that as necessary. MSNBC’s Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough claimed knowledge of a foreign policy briefing in which Trump supposedly asked of nuclear weapons, “If we have them, why can’t we use them?” He pledged that if he was elected, he would send 20,000 to 30,000 troops into Syria to fight ISIS, and he left open the door to attacking Iran if the country threatened Saudi Arabia. He said that he would consider allowing Japan and South Korea to develop nuclear weapons. He said that he would “take out” families of terrorists, a move widely viewed as a war crime if carried out. His yearslong obsession with seizing Middle East oil fields, an action that would also likely be considered a war crime. He vowed to bring back waterboarding and “much worse” because “torture works.” He called for massive increases in military spending.

Yes, he did say, “We’re getting out of the nation-building business and instead focusing on creating stability in the world,” during a 2016 speech. Yes, he did say the U.S. would “stop racing to topple foreign regimes.” Yes, he did promise to “avoid the endless wars we are caught in now.”

There’s always been a sizable disconnect between what Trump says during his scripted remarks and what he says when he’s simply speaking his mind. Many of the statements that would make him a “dove” came from the teleprompter and were little more than platitudes aimed at connecting with war-weary voters. But this was a man who, before his political career began in earnest, supported military action in Iraq and Libya. This was a man who trafficked in displays of macho chest-thumping, who had always sought to leave the biggest and most garish mark on the world around him possible.

With decades of knowledge about the type of man Donald Trump was, how could anyone reasonably look at the incoherent cluster of incompatible positions laid out during the campaign and guess that he’d opt for the one with fewer explosions? It was foolish for reporters to look at a man who spent years declaring his intent to commit war crimes and conclude that he would usher in a new age of peace through diplomacy.

Just as the narrative that Trump was pro-LGBTQ was the creation of a credulous media, so too was “Donald the Dove.” And as was the case on LGBTQ issues, he benefited from being compared to his competition. In that case, his antipathy for LGBTQ individuals was always measured against his more openly and vocally anti-LGBTQ Republican primary opponents. His supposed dovishness existed only as a contrast to Clinton’s reputation as a hawk. In neither situation was Trump judged on his own merits.

Instead, in some search for ideological balance, reporters and commentators projected onto him ideologies that contrasted with his opponents. From incoherence, journalists are faced with the option of either portraying a complicated truth or a simple fiction. Many, intentionally or not, chose the latter.

In many ways, he’s done exactly what he promised. In 2018, he reportedly asked CIA officials why they didn’t murder a terrorist’s family when they had the opportunity. He brags about increases to military spending. He’s displayed exactly the type of disregard for civilian casualties his anti-“political correctness” views suggested he would. On that same basis, he’s defended people accused of war crimes and attacked those who try to hold their fellow service members to account.

“Donald the Dove, Hillary the Hawk” made for a clever use of alliteration, but it didn’t do much to tell us about what people should come to expect under a Trump presidency.

Afghan War Deceptions Should Provoke Skepticism On Iran Conflict

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Just last month, The Washington Post published investigative reporter Craig Whitlock’s bombshell report exposing dark truths about the war in Afghanistan. The six-part series offered a blistering look at the disparities between what the U.S government knew to be true and what it told the public. This evidence — along with the long history of the government lying to justify armed conflict — should give journalists pause when considering how they cover escalating tensions with Iran.

“U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable,” Whitlock wrote in the project’s opening, based on government documents with interviews of “more than 400 insiders.”

“If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction … 2,400 lives lost. Who will say this was in vain?” Ret. U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the White House war czar for Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013, is quoted as saying in one of the documents Whitlock obtained. 

“Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public, Whitlock wrote. “They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul — and at the White House — to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case.”

As Media Matters reported at the time, network nightly news broadcasts largely ignored Whitlock’s report. Neither ABC’s World News Tonight nor NBC’s Nightly News covered the story in the days after it broke, while CBS Evening News devoted a single segment to it on December 9. Now, less than a month removed from the publication of concrete evidence that the U.S. government has been lying to the American people about an ongoing $2 trillion war that’s taken the lives of tens of thousands of Afghan civilians and more than 2,400 U.S. service members, we appear to be on the brink of another nebulously defined armed conflict, this time with Iran.

As news organizations cover this unfolding event, the public can only hope that publishers and broadcasters have learned to treat the government’s messaging and justification with due skepticism. Unfortunately, there’s already cause for concern.

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

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Flimsy Claims, Right-Wing Figures Constantly Demanded Obama Impeachment

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

As Donald Trump finds himself at the center of an impeachment inquiry, his backers in right-wing media have been working overtime to play defense for the embattled president. From Fox & Friends in the morning to Hannity and Tucker Carlson Tonight in the evening, Fox News has remained (mostly) unwavering in its defense of Trump. BreitbartThe Daily Wirethe New York PostThe Wall Street Journal, and so many other constants of conservative commentary have dutifully deflected and defended their political champion.

However, it wasn’t so long ago that conservative media sang a different tune on impeachment. Barack Obama’s time in office marked a period of rapid-fire demands from right-wing media for the president’s removal from office. It’s instructive to see how much the bar for “high crimes and misdemeanors” has shifted since then, helping gauge how seriously we should take the words of conservative pundits when the president is a member of their own party.

Let’s take a look back at some of the “scandals” that set off right-wing media.

Executive Actions, Hatred Of America, And Supposedly Being Born Outside The U.S.

Less than two months after Obama took office, right-wing radio host Michael Savage declared, “I think it is time to start talking about impeachment.” He was angry about Obama’s use of executive actions, and he called the American people “a bunch of schmucks” for sitting idly as they were “watching a dictatorship emerge in front of their eyes.” Despite occasional criticism, Savage has been largely supportive of Trump and recently accused Nancy Pelosi of being an “illegitimate speaker” of the House intent on destroying the Constitution by opening a Trump impeachment inquiry.

In October 2009, conservative radio host Tammy Bruce denounced Obama on Fox News because, she said, “he seems to have, it seems to me, some malevolence toward this country, which is unabated,” and World Net Daily quoted her to argue for impeachment. Around that time, the “Impeach Obama” movement started gaining momentum in conservative circles, never quite tethered to a specific or verifiable accusation. For instance, Republican strategist Floyd Brown campaigned to impeach Obama on account of  “fascism, socialism, Obamaism… take your pick?” (along with his supposed birthplace).

In September 2011, Fox Business promoted conspiracy theorist and former Rep. Tom Tancredo’s list of “12 impeachable offenses” Obama committed, including his supposed failure to secure the borders and his “contempt for the Constitution.” In 2012, Fox Business host Neil Cavuto asked whether making recess appointments could be an impeachable offense. While many of these claims from the right were unstructured and unfocused, there were others that carried specific charges.

Job Offer To Joe Sestak

By May 2010, Fox News had begun pushing a bogus claim that the Obama administration had committed a crime by offering then-Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) a job if he didn’t run in the Democratic primary for a Senate seat. Then-Fox contributor Dick Morris claimed that the offer was “clearly a violation of law” and that it was like “Valerie Plame, only 10 times bigger because it’s illegal,” referencing the Bush administration’s leak of the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame. Of course, it wasn’t illegal. Meanwhile, Trump defender Morris’ most recent blog post is titled “Impeachment? Over What?” And Morris wasn’t alone. Sean Hannity declared the Sestak offer an “impeachable offense,” while Glenn Beck told listeners of his radio program, “If this guy from Pennsylvania is telling the truth, then someone has just committed an impeachable offense, a felony. There is prison time.”

Advancement Of LGBTQ Rights

In February 2011, the Obama administration announced that it would no longer defend the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act in court. This came at a time when marriage equality cases were making their way through the courts, setting up an eventual Supreme Court decision on the law, which banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

In an interview with Newsmax, Fox contributor Newt Gingrich called Obama’s decision “a violation of his constitutional oath,” saying, “Clearly it is not something that can be allowed to stand.” He later backtracked on this position, but it was promoted by Fox Nation.

The Arab Spring And U.S. Involvement In Libya And Syria

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was removed from office in February 2011 during what became known as the “Arab Spring.” Mubarak’s removal triggered a new fight for power as the country went through continued political turmoil. After Mubarak said he would not seek another term in office, Obama — who had till then avoided taking a position on the situation in Egypt — welcomed the announcement.

Tammy Bruce used this statement as an opportunity to call for Obama’s impeachment, tweeting, “If it is found that Obama secretly facilitated or *encouraged* an Islamist takeover of Egypt, an ally, he should be impeached.” In another tweet, she wrote, “Impeachment? We have a President in up to his elbows in an Islamist takeover of Egypt while he ignores a Fed Judge order to void ObamaCare.”

Various foreign policy maneuvers led to impeachment talk, as well. In 2011, after the administration bombed Libya, John Walsh wrote in The American Conservative, “The time has come to begin impeachment proceedings against President Barack H. Obama for high crimes and misdemeanors.” As the White House mulled a decision over whether to support Syrian rebels in 2013, Glenn Beck and Pat Buchanan sounded the alarm. Buchanan called for then-Speaker John Boehner to reconvene the House to threaten Obama with impeachment should he take action in Syria in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons attack on his own people.

Opposing Voter ID Laws

In June 2012, right-wing radio host Mark Levin accused Obama of a litany of “impeachable offenses” during an interview with Fox’s Sean Hannity, bizarrely including the administration’s opposition to voter suppression efforts like so-called voter ID laws. That March, the Obama administration had blocked a Texas law that would require voters to display a photo ID before voting on the grounds that it could disenfranchise citizens who didn’t have such documents.

Benghazi

The September 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, provided more fodder for right-wing media figures in their quest to take down Obama. Conservative lawyer Jay Sekulow, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, and Fox News Radio’s Todd Starnes all called on Congress to impeach Obama over the attack. Pirro called Benghazi the “biggest cover-up since Watergate” and said that Obama’s “dereliction of duty as commander-in-chief demands [his] impeachment.” Right-wing commentator Michelle Malkin demanded impeachment for his Benghazi “jihadi-coddling.”

The IRS ‘Scandal’

In 2013, Glenn Beck said, “It is time to appoint a special counsel to explore impeachment of this president.” Beck was referencing a since-debunked scandal about the IRS withholding tax-exempt status from tea party organizations. In 2014, Rush Limbaugh said he wanted Obama impeached for “using the IRS to damage his political opponents.”

The Prisoner Trade To Retrieve Bowe Bergdahl

Another push to impeach Obama floated through conservative media following the trade of five Taliban figures for then-Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. National Review writer Andrew McCarthy, one of the most prominent voices in this push, wrote a book titled Faithless Execution: Building The Political Case For Obama’s Impeachment. It pointed to so-called issues like Benghazi, the Affordable Health Care Act, and, bizarrely, the Justice Department’s treatment of the New Black Panther Party to call for impeachment. McCarthy’s actions seem ironic considering his latest book is a defense of Trump against people trying to unfairly “destroy” his presidency, titled Ball of Collusion: The Plot to Rig an Election and Destroy a Presidency. And of course he appeared on Fox News on Wednesday to assure viewers that Trump’s reported actions around Ukraine don’t hit the bar for impeachment.

Immigration

In 2011, Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett mentioned Obama’s immigration policy and said Andrew Johnson “was impeached for a very similar reason.” In 2013, Limbaugh said Obama had committed “an impeachable offense” by releasing and monitoring immigration detainees before making budget cuts. Right-wing media again clamored for impeachment following Obama’s 2014 executive order deferring deportation proceedings for some undocumented immigrants. Current and former Fox News hosts Megyn KellyChris WallaceAndrea Tantaros, and Bill O’Reilly all suggested that the action could lead to calls of impeachment. Months earlier, former Fox News contributor Sarah Palin had compared America to a “battered wife” who needed to say “no mas” to Obama because of his immigration policies. Fox News anchor Bret Baier and hosts Brian Kilmeade and Jedediah Bila also offered warnings about impeachment prior to Obama’s executive action.

Bad-faith Actors

Many of the same people who were willing to demand Obama’s head on a pike over a bad investment in green energy don’t seem all that bothered by Trump’s end-run around Congress to funnel money to failing coal plants. The same people who thought the auto bailouts were grounds for Obama’s removal don’t have anything to say about Trump’s decision to spend more than twice as much bailing out farmers over a trade war he started. Those who relied on massive amounts of inference to convince themselves and others that Obama was engaging in unconstitutional shakedowns will undoubtedly insist that there was no “quid pro quo” in Trump’s mafia-style discussion with the Ukranian president.

Right-wing media outlets have always been a place where unprincipled arguments and double standards thrive, but through the corruption and scandal of the Trump administration, they’ve only gotten worse. These contradictions and hypocrisy make one thing abundantly clear: These are not good-faith actors.

How Right-Wing Media Falsified What Ilhan Omar Said — To Attack Her

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

On March 23, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) spoke at an event put on by the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Woodland Hills, CA. The roughly 20-minute speech, which centered on some of the challenges American Muslims face such as anti-Muslim rhetoric, is attracting new attention weeks later for a line mentioning 9/11.

In context, what she said was clear: No matter how “good” American Muslims are, they’ll continue to be treated as second-class citizens because of anti-Muslim attitudes and government policies that intensified in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. American Muslims are still treated with suspicion and subjected to undue scrutiny by the government and public alike. The argument Omar was making in her speech was very clearly about how unfair it is to be lumped in with terrorists and constantly stereotyped on the basis of faith. While saying this, she referred to the 9/11 hijackers as “some people.” When put in context, that choice of words was clearly meant to differentiate between terrorists and American Muslims. The controversy surrounding this line (in bold below) is based on misinterpreting what she said as downplaying the 9/11 attacks — something that she never did.

Below the video of Omar’s speech is a partial transcript:

 

The truth is you can go to school and be a good student. You can listen to your dad and mom and become a doctor. You can have that beautiful wedding that makes mom and dad happy. You can buy that beautiful house. But none of that stuff matters if you one day show up to the hospital and your wife, or maybe yourself, is having a baby, and you can’t have the access that you need because someone doesn’t recognize you as fully human.

It doesn’t matter how good you were if you can’t have your prayer mat and take your 15-minute break to go pray in a country that was founded on religious liberty. It doesn’t matter how good you are if you one day find yourself in a school where other religions are talked about, but when Islam is mentioned, we are only talking about terrorists. And if you say something, you are sent to the principal’s office. So to me, I say, raise hell; make people uncomfortable.

Because here’s the truth — here’s the truth: Far too long, we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen, and frankly, I’m tired of it, and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it. CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties. So you can’t just say that today someone is looking at me strange, that I am going to try to make myself look pleasant. You have to say, “This person is looking at me strange. I am not comfortable with it. I am going to go talk to them and ask them why.” Because that is a right you have.

A bad-faith reading of Omar’s speech sparked the latest in an increasingly long line of attacks on the congresswoman.

On April 8, Imam Mohamad Tawhidi tweeted a 19-second clip from the speech, falsely stating that Omar doesn’t consider 9/11 a terrorist attack. He also called CAIR a “terrorist organization.”

By the afternoon of April 9, right-wing media were all over this story, perhaps nudged on by tweets from Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, the latter of whom accused Omar of being “anti-American.”

BreitbartThe Washington Times, and the Christian Broadcasting Network published articles about the video. The Daily Wire’s Ryan Saavedra, who called Omar an “idiot” earlier in the week, wrote that Omar “trivialized the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history.” Conservative Review went so far as to baselessly suggest that Omar appeared “to be entertaining a conspiracy theory when she [said] that ‘some people did something.’” On the April 9 edition of The Glenn Beck Program, co-host Pat Gray commented on the clip, saying that Omar “makes American Muslims sound like the victims of 9/11. They weren’t.”

During his April 9 Fox News show, Sean Hannity criticized Omar, referring to the “just unearthed” video. Describing the video as “unearthed” might give the impression that there was an attempt to hide it, but it was actually posted on YouTube, and Fox News even streamed it live on Facebook.

On the April 10 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade questioned whether Omar was sufficiently American, saying, “Really? ‘Some people did something’? You have to wonder if she is an American first. … Can you imagine if she was representing your community, and you were in her district, how embarrassed you must feel today.”

Kilmeade continued: “This would’ve been an opportunity for a Muslim American to say, ‘Let me just tell you how Al Qaeda, ISIS, al-Shabab, and others don’t represent our religion and that maybe we got lumped in together.’” He also said that the U.S. is “trying to contain this infection which is Muslim extremists. Why she wouldn’t use herself and her leadership position to separate the American Muslim from that school of thought is beyond me.”

Obviously, it wouldn’t have made much sense for Omar to explain to an audience of Muslims at a Muslim advocacy organization fundraiser something they very obviously already know — that they’re not the same as the 9/11 terrorists. Kilmeade didn’t let that stop him, however.

This is the latest example of right-wing media willfully offering obtuse and sinister interpretations of something a Democrat said.

Recently, the RNC published an 18-second clip of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) saying, “We need comprehensive immigration reform. If you are in this country now, you must have the right to pay into Social Security, to pay your taxes, to pay into the local school system, and to have a pathway to citizenship.”

A reasonable interpretation of what she said is that many undocumented immigrants pay into our systems as it is, and these productive members of society should have a right to pursue citizenship if they want to. The right-wing narrative, however, coalesced around an obviously false claim that she was suggesting giving Social Security money to undocumented immigrants.

The same thing happened last year after a clip of former Attorney General Eric Holder was widely spread with the claim that he was calling for violence when he said “when they go low, we kick them,” even though he went on to very explicitly say what he meant by “kick.”

In addition to being undercut by the context of the event, their argument against Omar’s speech is further demolished when you consider that President Donald Trump has a history of referring to terrorists as “losers” — which Fox News defended at the time. The one real point they might have is that she misstated when CAIR was founded. The organization was founded in 1994, not after the 9/11 attacks.

Update: Right-wing media continued their anti-Omar pile-on into the evening and morning after this piece was originally published. During the April 10 edition of Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight, Dobbs and guest Tammy Bruce laid into Omar for the “some people did something” line.

“She sounds like she hates America, Tammy,” said Dobbs. “She sounds like she hates Jews; she hates Israelis. What is it she doesn’t hate?”

Bruce then baselessly claimed that the line was intended to convey a belief that “we deserve, perhaps, what happened to us [on 9/11]. That those innocent victims deserve that in some fashion.”

On April 11, the New York Post published a front page story based on the distorted comment accompanied by a photo of one of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center and the headline “Here’s your something.” This, again, doesn’t fairly reflect what she said.

The message of her speech was specifically that American Muslims often get unfairly lumped in with terrorists. On March 1, NBC reported that the West Virginia Republican Party allegedly set up an anti-Muslim display in the state capitol building. Among the items was a picture of the World Trade Center being hit by a plane with the words “‘Never forget’ – you said..” Below that was a photo of Omar with the text “I am the proof – you have forgotten.”

In February, a Coast Guard lieutenant named Christopher Paul Hasson was arrested on drug and gun charges, and prosecutors found that he had been creating a hit list of prominent Democrats and journalists to attack. Omar was among the names. In early April, a Trump supporter named Patrick W. Carlineo was arrested for threatening to assassinate Omar.

Ramping up anti-Omar sentiment based on a willful misreading of something she said will only put her in more danger.

Don Jr. Promotes Fake Story About ‘Illegal Voters’ In Florida

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

Is it true that “nearly 200,000 Florida voters may not be citizens?” No, but that didn’t stop some prominent conservative social media accounts — including that of the president’s son — from spreading a since-debunked 2012 story making that claim.

To understand how this happened, it’s good to know a little background about Florida’s brush with “anti-fraud” initiatives in recent years.

In May 2012, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced a partnership between the Florida Department of State and Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to remove possible noncitizens from the state’s voter rolls ahead of that year’s election. The departments would cross-check data with each other for voter inconsistencies, flag them, and send them to the state’s Supervisors of Elections for review and, if needed, removal of registrations.

It was a massive debacle. What began as a review of roughly 2,600 possible inconsistencies at the time the partnership was announced had ballooned to nearly 182,000 names within days. That’s when NBC Miami ran with the somewhat sensational headline “Nearly 200,000 Florida Voters May Not Be Citizens.”

But the system was embarrassingly rife with false positives, leading to a lawsuit over the disenfranchisement of U.S. citizens who were removed but actually eligible to vote. In the end, out of those 182,000 names, just 85 were found to be ineligible — an error rate of 99.95 percent. The following year, the state enrolled in Crosscheck, the interstate anti-fraud program championed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Similar to the results of Florida’s 2012 in-state program, Kobach’s Crosscheck program also “gets it wrong over 99 percent of the time,” a Washington Post analysis concluded. In April 2014, Florida exited the Crosscheck program, only to later accidentally release the partial Social Security numbers of nearly 1,000 Kansas voters.

This week, as conservative media push the unfounded idea that the current election in Florida is being “stolen,” this old story that confirmed all their worst fears seemed too good to be true: And it was.

We know by now that most people simply don’t read past the headline of stories they see in their social media feeds. And headlines suggesting that there are an equivalent number of noncitizens voting illegally in Florida as there are people living in Tallahassee are eye-catching. That would be outrageous to people on any end of the political spectrum. But even based on the facts known at the time, the story wasn’t quite accurate.

Rounding “nearly 182,000” up to “nearly 200,000” is a needless inflation of even the most sensationalized true version of the story, and saying “voters might not be citizens” suggests that these people have actually voted — when the numbers actually refer to voter registrations. Both points probably could have been more artfully and accurately addressed in the original headline. Also, the word “might” is doing a lot of work here.

It’s those small embellishments that made the story perfect for the era of weaponized headlines.

The NBC headline, as some might say, aged poorly. And here’s how it spread:

On November 10, the link was shared in a number of pro-Trump Facebook groups. On Twitter, the story got a boost from Instapundit, a conservative account which has more than 105,000 followers:

A bit later, David Wohl, attorney and occasional Fox News guest, shared it on Twitter to his more than 26,000 followers.


Harlan Hill, a member of the Trump 2020 campaign advisory board, tweeted, “200,000 non citizens voting in Florida!?!? But I thought Democrats said voter fraud was a myth? We have got a SERIOUS problem on our hands. #StopTheSteal #MAGA”


Then, in a since-deleted tweet, Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk wrote, “This is an absolute disgrace to our country. Foreign interference in our elections. Every single one of these people should be arrested, deported, and never allowed reentry. RT to spread this!”

And finally, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted the link out, adding, “Amazing, but not shocking at all anymore.”

Townhall.com also published a story on the topic that, while updated, still maintains that “200,000 non-citizens might have voted in the state’s elections” in 2012.

While it’s hard to put the #FakeNews (like, you know, actual fake news) toothpaste back in the proverbial tube, one woman tried, and she was actually kind of successful at it.

Brooke Binkowski is a former managing editor at Snopes, and she currently runs the fact-checking site TruthOrFiction.com. When she saw the post begin to spread, she took quick action. First, she tweeted at people who might have known the article was old and didn’t accurately represent how that story concluded but shared it anyway “for approval and to fit in,” hoping to convince them to delete their posts and stem the spread of misinformation.

“That headline hijacks intellect and goes straight to the amygdala if you’re fearful,” she tells me over a Twitter direct message. “‘Oh no! 200,000 non citizens trying to STEAL OUR ELECTION! they’re gonna turn this country into a banana republic!’ and whatever else people think when they’re too busy to click on the story.”

When that didn’t work, she called the NBC station that ran the original story in hopes of getting the staff to update the article to reflect that it isn’t a current story. She explained the situation as best as she could, asking the station to add “STORY FROM 2012:” in the headline so it would show up in shares across social media.

“Clickbait is one thing, but when you are actively interfering in what should be an open electoral process — as I said in my email to them — that’s quite another,” she adds. She continued:

People don’t realize how much damage buffoons like Jacob Wohl and Gateway Pundit and Donald Trump Jr. and all the rest of those people can do. They push this completely idiotic stuff and then it gets laundered by bots and turned into a story that’s used to influence policy. It’s now crystal clear that’s what they are doing and that it is semi-coordinated, that there’s a network of people who are pushing all this information to make it seem respectable, and they are mixing a little tiny bit of truth in to make it seem plausible.

NBC Miami did end up updating the headline, adding “2012 Election:” at the very beginning. It also added an editor’s note at the top of the article:

Editor’s note on Nov. 12, 2018: This story was published in May 2012.

The initial list of 180,000 names was whittled to 2,625, according to the Florida Department of State. The state then checked a federal database and stated it found 207 noncitizens on the rolls (not necessarily voting but on the rolls). That list was sent to county election supervisors to check and it also turned out to contain errors. An Aug. 1, 2012, state elections document showed only 85 noncitizens were ultimately removed from the rolls out of a total of about 12 million voters at that time.

While the story continues to be shared on social media as fresh news, the updated headline and editor’s note do seem to have had the effect of cooling its spread among influencers. Plus, the added context, including the disparity between “nearly 200,000” figure and the actual total of 85, has given people a way to quickly understand the facts of a somewhat complicated local story.

Binkowski stresses that it’s important to understand that there are a lot of people who simply are not making statements or arguments in good faith. “If you are a news person, please be aware of this cycle and your massive responsibility. If you are a news executive, please pay your journalists a living wage,” she said, noting that “they are up against something new and nightmarish and trying to inoculate the world against it and could use all the support they can get.”

Header image by Melissa Joskow / Media Matters