Fox News changes tune on CDC mask guidance

After weeks of rabble-rousing coverage calling for new rules surrounding mask-wearing, Fox News abruptly shifted its tone on the matter Thursday — just hours after the Centers for Disease Control affirmed the network's calls to announce it was safe for vaccinated individuals to shed their masks indoors.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

Now, the new masking guidance appears to be a "distraction," according to a number of Fox News anchors and guests.

On shows across the board Thursday into Friday, hosts questioned the timing of the announcement. Jeanine Pirro went so far as to call the announcement "theater," and listed off a number of so-called crises that the White House was supposedly looking to distract the public from.

Will Cain, who hosts "Fox & Friends" on Friday mornings, even said viewers should question "whether or not science was the guide here."

It was a shocking turnaround for the network, which had for much of the previous year called mask mandates — and any COVID-19-related restrictions, really — a "permanent power grab" and evidence that Democrats "want [COVID-19] to continue indefinitely."

But just minutes after CDC Director Rochelle Walensky held a press conference to announce the agency's new guidance, host Dana Perino — who had herself repeatedly demanded Biden remove his mask in public settings — pointed to the news as a possible conspiracy to help the president's approval rating: "I'm just saying they're either extremely lucky or extremely skilled, and I admire it either way."

Watch the video below via Media Matters for America:

Rep. Chip Roy mounts last-minute campaign against Elise Stefanik for GOP conference chair

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, is officially launching a bid to replace Liz Cheney as Republican House conference chair, hoping to beat out New York Rep. Elise Stefanik for the role.

This article first appeared in Salon.

He told CNN "I'm running" Thursday while passing by a reporter on his way to hear Stefanik speak — though speculation about Roy entering the race had been circulating throughout the Capitol after he penned a letter to his House colleagues earlier this week expressing doubts about Stefanik's candidacy.

The Trump ally and GOP firebrand had been running unopposed, and remains the heavy favorite to win — especially after Trump himself weighed in on the contest late Thursday.

"Can't imagine Republican House Members would go with Chip Roy -- he has not done a great job, and will probably be successfully primaried in his own district," Trump wrote in a statement. "I support Elise, by far, over Chip!"

Cheney was ousted from the role Wednesday over what Republican critics say was insufficient loyalty to the former president. Cheney refused to endorse "The Big Lie," which falsely states that Trump won November's election due to widespread fraud.

"We must go forward based on truth. We cannot both embrace the big lie and the Constitution," she said Wednesday after being voted out.

"I will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office. We have seen the danger that he continues to provoke with his language. We have seen his lack of commitment and dedication to the Constitution. And I think it is very important that we make sure whomever we elect is somebody who will be faithful to the Constitution," Cheney added.

The election begins Friday at 8:30 a.m. ET

Inside the shadow campaign to tar the ‘deep state’ during Trump’s presidency

In their long-running plot to discredit so-called "deep state" actors within the federal government, loyalists of then-President Donald Trump enlisted the help of a British spy and a "network of conservative activists" to root out public officials they believed were insufficiently loyal to Trump, according to a bombshell report in The New York Times published Thursday.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

The group's wide-ranging operations allegedly targeted high-level officials, including Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, as well as FBI agents and other less prominent government employees.

It's the most brazen example to be made public thus far of the lengths to which Trump's most loyal supporters went to push out the government employees they saw as watering down the former president's agenda — although, according to the Times reporting, it remains unclear whether Trump or anyone within the upper echelons of the White House was aware of these efforts.

Project Veritas, the conservative group known for its long run of failed sting operations against Democratic officials and news outlets, apparently played a central role in the schemes. The Times reports that one of the organization's largest efforts involved a series of undercover missions against the FBI in which female recruits would arrange dates with bureau employees and attempt to record them making anti-Trump comments.

Erik Prince, the founder of shadowy military contractor Blackwater Worldwide and brother of Trump's education secretary, Betsy DeVos, plays an important role in the Times story for recruiting a former British spy, Richard Seddon, to train Project Veritas operatives to infiltrate trade unions and Democratic campaigns. Prince has a long history arranging intelligence training for the group, as The Intercept outlined in a 2019 investigation.

The scheme to tar McMaster, which also involved a woman surreptitiously recording her interactions with the retired three-star general, sputtered out when he resigned for unrelated reasons in 2018, the Times reports. And though there were several Project Veritas members involved in the plot, the Times notes that it is unclear whether the group itself was directing the operation.

Barbara Ledeen, a former staff member for the Senate Judiciary Committee, alleged that she was recruited to assist in the sting by someone "with access to McMaster's calendar" — though it is not clear in context whether that meant the person she mentioned worked in the White House.

James O'Keefe, the founder of Project Veritas, responded to the Times in a defiant statement, calling the paper's reporting a "smear piece" and attributing the Times' interest in the story to a defamation lawsuit his group is currently litigating against the Gray Lady. He also released a video late Thursday in which he denied any involvement in the undercover plot against McMaster.

"Because The New York Times is losing to Project Veritas in a court of law, it is trying to smear Project Veritas in the court of public opinion," he told the newspaper. "I think the court, like me, may well be appalled at The New York Times's continued pattern of defamation of Project Veritas."

Read the full report here.

Twitter will never truly be rid of Trump — but their game of whac-a-mole is working: Tech experts

Twitter continued its high-stakes game of whac-a-mole Thursday by suspending several accounts that were reportedly used to re-post the musings from the blog of former President Donald Trump, who is currently banned from the platform.

This article was originally published at Salon

At least four of these high-profile Trump clones were locked down quickly after their creation, including @DJTrumpDesk, @DeskofDJT and @DeskofTrump1 and@DJTDesk, which had amassed several thousand followers before it went dark. It remains unclear if any of the accounts were affiliated with Trump or his inner circle.

"As stated in our ban evasion policy, we'll take enforcement action on accounts whose apparent intent is to replace or promote content affiliated with a suspended account," a Twitter spokesperson told the technology site Mashable.

It's a Sisyphean task that several technology experts tell Salon the platform can never truly accomplish — as soon as you ban one page reposting the former president's comments another five will pop up to take its place.

"There's no way these platforms can completely 'ban' someone — especially someone with such a public profile," said Scott Talan, a professor of communication at American University. "But that doesn't mean what they're doing isn't working, at least partially."

Jonathan Nagler, a co-director at New York University's Center for Social Media and Politics who has studied the effects of Twitter's previous interventions on Trump and other users, said the efforts do seem to be having, at least for now, a marked impact on the reach Trump is able to command.

"Absolutely, positively, when Twitter does a hard intervention, they are able to stop discussion of something very quickly," said Jonathan Nagler, a co-director at New York University's Center for Social Media and Politics. "They'll never really be able to [stop Trump's statements from being relayed] with 100 percent certainty, but if they can say 10 people, 100 people, even 1000 people saw something — versus a million, I think that's a win for them."

The escalating game of cat-and-mouse between Twitter and the numerous Trump clone accounts began when he introduced a new website earlier this week, called "From the Desk of Donald J. Trump," where the former president has begun to share Tweet-length thoughts which are seemingly meant to be reposted to social media, with prominently placed share buttons on the interface.

One recent note reads, "What Facebook, Twitter, and Google have done is a total disgrace and an embarrassment to our Country. Free Speech has been taken away from the President of the United States because the Radical Left Lunatics are afraid of the truth, but the truth will come out anyway, bigger and stronger than ever before."

But when several accounts tried to share even partial posts from Trump's new "platform," they were met with a suspension for violating the terms of Trump's existing ban — though it appears users can still share links to the website as long as they do not include snippets of the text.

Facebook, for its part, told the Washington Post that it had already removed two accounts which falsely purported to represent Trump's new website — though it remains unclear what the company will do when users try to share the text of his posts. Facebook dealt another blow to Trump's online audience this week when its Oversight Board refused to allow him back onto the site, though the company will have to decide if it wants to make that decision permanent.

It's a new reality for the social media behemoths following the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, which spurred both companies to institute the blanket bans on then-President Trump.

"He's been kicked off, but Trump still has powerful tentacles online," Talan said. "Moving forward, the companies are going to have to dedicate more resources and more staff to chopping off those tentacles. I don't really see another way forward."

Donald Trump relocating to New Jersey to jumpstart fundraising efforts for 2024 campaign: report

Former President Donald Trump is headed north for the summer, and will move temporarily to his resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, according to a new report.

Trump has spent the first few months of his post-presidency life at Mar-a-Lago, the beachside club in Palm Beach, Fla., that the New York real estate mogul has owned since 1985. But sources close to the former president told Business Insider that Trump is relocating temporarily and plans to use the move to jumpstart fundraising efforts for his 2024 campaign effort — not exactly an unexpected move for those in Trump's orbit.

Mar-a-Lago traditionally closes for the season after Memorial Day, when the moneyed membership disperses to escape the state's cloying summer heat — the club's peak season usually lasts from Thanksgiving to Easter, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the local newspaper that covers Palm Beach.

This doesn't appear to be a permanent address change — Trump made that switch in advance of the election, declaring in a 2019 Declaration of Domicile, "I hereby declare that my above described residence and abode in the state of Florida constitutes my predominant and principal home and I intend to continue it permanently, as such."

The move to Mar-a-Lago has already been a personal boom for Trump, who has raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars by hosting speeches and events for the Republican National Committee at the club — and the bonanza doesn't appear to be ending anytime soon.

Right-wingers of all stripes have flocked to the property in recent months, including a recent event at which Trump's former CIA Director Mike Pompeo was spotted hobnobbing with anti-Muslim internet provacateur and former Florida congressional candidate Laura Loomer.

This week, Sean Hannity even dropped $5.3 million on a condo just a few miles away, joining a number of other Fox News personalities who now call the wealthy enclave home.

Republican attacked Cardi B on the House floor -- and it backfired spectacularly

Rapper Cardi B snapped back at a Republican congressman on Thursday after he decried her more than month-old performance at the 2021 Grammy Awards during a speech from the House floor, saying it was "inconsistent with basic decency" and should have been censored by the FCC.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

The speech from Rep. Glenn Grothman, a Republican from Wisconsin, was a return to the raging culture wars surrounding Cardi B and Megan thee Stallion's "Wap" — which stands for "wet a** pussy" — a song that conservative pundits and legislators alike pounced on as a sign of what they see as, in Grothman's words, the "moral decline of America."

But Cardi B, a Grammy Award-winning artist, was quick to strike back on Twitter, telling the congressman that there were bigger things that he should be worried about — namely, a spate of high-profile police killings and the subsequent nationwide protests over police violence.

"I think we all been on the edge this week since we seen police brutality back to back including watching one of the biggest case in history go down DUE to police brutality," the "WAP" singer wrote. "But wait ! This is what state representative decide to talk about."

It was the latest media misstep from Grothman, who has made a career out of strange statements going back all the way to his days in the Wisconsin state Senate.

In a 2010 speech, Grothman, who was at the time embroiled in a contentious Republican primary, said a "war on men" was destroying America, and that "gals" have an unfair advantage at work in the form of undeserved promotions. Though, "in the long run, a lot of women like to stay at home and have their husbands be the primary breadwinner." In 2014, he led a campaign against the weekend, saying that taking days off from work was "goofy" and "a little ridiculous," while promoting the idea that "all sorts of people want to work seven days a week."

He's also a staunch supporter of voter ID laws and other restrictive voting measures, like the slate of reforms recently passed in Georgia, and let slip in 2016 that he believes these measures will help the GOP win elections in the long term. More recently, Grothman made a bizarre local television appearance on St. Patrick's Day to talk about the Marxist and "anti-family" roots of the Black Lives Matter Movement — all while wearing a discount-store sparkly green top hat.

Rather than focusing on pop culture, Cardi B also suggested in a later tweet that the Wisconsin congressman should be paying attention to his own state, and using his platform to demand justice for Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot and paralyzed by a white officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The "Bodak Yellow" rapper also called on U.S. voters to stop "giving seats to F***** IDIOTS" and blamed Republicans for the lack of justice for the victims of police brutality.

"This is why people gotta vote, elect better people cause you got these dum a**es representing states."

Sean Hannity drops $5 million on Florida home — just a few miles from Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club

Fox News host Sean Hannity dropped $5.3 million on a Florida home just a few miles from pal Donald Trump's new permanent residence at his Mar-a-Lago Club, according to reports.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

With the purchase of the three-bedroom, five-bathroom beachfront condo in swanky Palm Beach, which is colloquially known as "Billionaire's Row," Hannity joins a number of conservative firebrands who have decamped south to Florida — including fellow Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Newsmax owner Chris Ruddy, former Republican presidential candidate turned "Borat 2" star Rudy Giuliani, and commentators Ann Coulter and Ben Shapiro. The late conservative radio star Rush Limbaugh and the late Fox News CEO Roger Ailes were also residents of Palm Beach prior to their deaths.

Hannity bought the home on April 15, according to The Palm Beach Post, the outlet which first reported the sale. He spent more than $1 million more in the off-market deal than the previous owners paid despite the fact that they were only in possession of the condo for about a month.

It's a part of "The Residences at Sloans Curve," which sits 2.7 miles away from Mar-a-Lago. The property has 5,086 square feet of living space and includes a private pool and two-car garage, The Post reported, citing property records. The development also features a gym, tennis courts, multiple community pools and 24-hour staff.

Hannity is well known as a prolific real estate investor, whose more than $90 million real-estate empire was revealed after a 2018 investigation by The Guardian found that he owned at least 870 homes in seven states. Many of those properties were owned by shell companies connected to Hannity — and some were even purchased with help from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a fact which he failed to disclose when publicly criticizing former President Barack Obama's handling of the foreclosure crisis. In contrast, the Fox News host repeatedly praised Ben Carson, the former HUD secretary under Trump, on his show.

A spokeswoman for Fox News and Hannity declined a request for comment from The Post regarding the townhouse deal.

These 12 white megadonors contributed $1 of every $13 spent on US elections since Citizens United: report

Just 12 megadonors contributed roughly $1 in every 13 dollars spent on recent campaigns for federal office, as well as the political groups that make up the U.S. campaign finance system, according to a new report on the influence of money in politics.

This article was originally published at Salon

The staggering sum of these contributions — which represent more than $3.4 billion over the last decade — was revealed on Tuesday by Issue One, a nonpartisan group dedicated to reducing "the corrosive influence of big money in politics."

The findings offer a stark quantification of the role that a shrinking number of super-rich megadonors, both individuals and couples, have played in American politics following the Supreme Court's 2009 Citizen's United ruling. According to the report, all 12 of the country's top political donors are white, and the group represents more than a quarter of all donations from the top 100 zip codes by political contributions — which are more likely to skew white and affluent.

"Our government can't be responsive to all Americans if our elected officials are beholden to the elite donor class," Nick Penniman, Issue One's founder and chief executive, said in a statement. He added that Congress should act immediately to "pass sweeping reforms to create a democracy that works for everyone."

The top 12 donors were split equally down the middle among Democrats and Republicans. They were led by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and hedge fund manager Tom Steyer. Both men self-funded their own Democratic presidential campaigns in 2020, with Bloomberg reportedly putting more than $1 billion and Steyer more than $200 million toward their doomed White House bids.

Top Republican donors included the late casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and Dr. Miriam Adelson, his widow who received the Medal of Freedom under former President Donald Trump; shipping magnates Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein; hedge fund manager Ken Griffin; Timothy Mellon, the scion of one of America's wealthiest industrial-age families; TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts and his wife Marlene; as well as hedge fund manager Paul Singer.

On the Democratic side, other top contributors included hedge fund managers Donald Sussman and Jim Simons, media mogul Fred Eychaner and Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz.

The list does not include state and local level donations.

These trends lend to a climate where Americans are "losing faith in our democratic institutions," Issue One Executive Director Meredith McGehee said in a statement. "Congress must urgently act to restrain the growing influence of money in our politics and build a system that truly represents all Americans — not just the wealthy few."

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