Welcome to Newscoop “Footnotes”—a weekly review of important news no one’s talking about.
Hi, I’m Zoe Licata, with Newscoop Footnotes for April 16-22.
First, let’s review what looks like a critical conflict of interest in the U.S. media. President Donald Trump has often been heard railing about what he calls “fake news.” Two different news reports this week have us looking closely at two talk show hosts that Trump has held up as examples of what he considers real news.
Fox host Sean Hannity was an early and vociferous supporter of President Trump. He also quite regularly promoted proven falsehoods, and promoted some rather outrageous conspiracy theories — including questioning the birthplace of President Obama, and making wholly unsubstantiated claims about the murder of DNC employee Seth Rich. He has regularly blasted special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion of the Trump campaign, and expressed outrage at the Feds having raided the home and offices of Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen — calling it all a “witch hunt.” None of that’s terribly unusual for a talk show host who peddles in controversy and outrage. What is unusual is what was revealed last Monday: that Hannity is himself a client of Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen. And Hannity never told his listeners.
Then there was the Alex Jones news. Jones is a radio show host who is also fond of conspiracy theories. In fact, he was given the dubious distinction by New York magazine of being “America’s leading conspiracy theorist.” Jones has for years contended that the U.S. government faked moon landings, was itself involved in the 2011 World Trade Center attacks, and even fabricated the horrific 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Now, last Tuesday, the parents of two young children killed at Sandy Hook filed a lawsuit against Jones for his claims about them and the tragedy. And what did Jones do in response? He took it back. Now he says Sandy Hook really did happen.
The real news here (pun intended) is that these two talk show hosts – Sean Hannity and Alex Jones – are reportedly Donald Trump’s primary source of news. President Trump watches and listens to their shows regularly, and is said to speak to Hannity several times a week. He even appeared on Jones’ radio show – praising his “amazing reputation.”
Next, the Democratic National Committee filed a lawsuit in New York’s federal court last Friday that captured the attention of Washington – which isn’t easy to do these days. The lawsuit – which names as defendants the Russian Federation and related Russian individuals, the Trump campaign, Donald Trump Jr, WikiLeaks, Jared Kushner, Trump advisor Roger Stone and others – purports to protect the integrity of future U.S. elections. Will be interesting to see where it goes.
And lastly, a development that could have major implications for peace and the balance of power in the Middle East. The Guardian reported on Wednesday that the Trump administration has been in talks with the Saudis about withdrawing all U.S. troops from Syria, and deploying instead an all-Arab mercenary force. Trump’s new national security advisor John Bolton is said to have been in touch with Egypt about their participation, and Erik Prince (brother of education secretary Betsy DeVos) is lobbying for a major role for himself and his military contractor firm, formerly known as Blackwater. Prince has for several years been working with the United Arab Emirates on setting up a mercenary military force for that country, both for self defense and to fight the country’s foreign wars. In August 2017, Prince had also pitched his own services and a mercenary force as the way to “save Afghanistan.” (As an aside, the UAE set up the infamous meeting for Prince in the Seychelle islands last year with someone close to Putin, just before Trump was inaugurated, reportedly to set up a back channel of communication between Trump and Putin. That meeting is now under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.)
Bottom line: aside from the Trump administration, Erik Prince, the UAE and the Saudis, not many see an upside in the Arab-mercenary-force-for-Syria idea. There are far too many unsettled differences in the region that would confound the success of such a military force. Few countries in the Middle East (or the world, for that matter) have been greater sponsors of terrorism than the Saudis, but that did nt stop them from sponsoring in 2015 a 34-state anti-terrorism military alliance. And the Saudis and Emiratis are still blockading Qatar, which hosts the Al Udeid Air Base, home of U.S. Central Command in the Middle East. Lastly, giving the Saudis and UAE a primary role in establishing such a force would be to set up an even greater confrontation between them and Iran, which is already involved in the Syrian conflict (and with which they are already fighting a proxy war in Yemen).
This has been Newscoop Footnotes – important events getting far too little attention. Tune in next week for more.