Coleman Lowndes

Author ››› Coleman Lowndes
  • VIDEO: Debunking The "Rigged Election" Horror Story


    Donald Trump’s “rigged election” shtick is the product of years of conservative fearmongering about voter fraud and election stealing, and it poses a unique challenge to journalists who want to ensure voter confidence in the election process.

    Faced with dismal polling numbers in the final weeks of his presidential campaign, Trump has resorted to telling his supporters that the election will be “rigged” -- stolen from him because of widespread voter fraud. He’s repeated that warning frequently on the campaign trail, and nearly half of his supporters now believe him.

    The voter fraud talking point – the idea that Democrats will use voters who lie about their identities, dead voters, or undocumented immigrants to cast fraudulent ballots -- has been debunked ad nauseum in research, court decisions, and expert testimony. Politifact rated Trump’s “rigged election” claim a “pants on fire” lie, stating there’s simply no evidence that widespread voter fraud is a real problem, especially in presidential elections.

    But even before Trump’s campaign, a growing number of primarily Republican voters began to believe that voter fraud is a widespread problem.

    That’s thanks in part to conservative media’s near-constant, baseless fear mongering about voter fraud over the past few election cycles. Right-wing outlets, and especially Fox News, have bombarded audiences with exaggerated or misleading claims of voter fraud to create the impression that Democratic victories at the ballot box are largely the result of illegal election rigging. Stories about dead or non-eligible or non-existent voters appearing on voter rolls are regularly touted as proof of nefarious activity, even though those voter registrations never actually translate into votes.

    The most memorable example of this kind of fear mongering came during the 2008 controversy surrounding the non-profit group ACORN. A number of ACORN voter registration employees had been discovered submitting false or duplicate voter registration forms (the laws in many states require third parties who register voters to submit all forms they receive). Fox News devoted countless segments to the story in order to hype hysteria about widespread voter fraud, despite the fact that those forms never produced an actual fraudulent vote. ACORN was eventually cleared of charges of orchestrating voter fraud, but half of all Republican voters still believed ACORN helped steal the election for President Obama in 2012 -- two years after ACORN had closed down.

    Misinformation about voter fraud isn’t only the fault of conservative media. As GOP statehouses across the country have pushed for restrictive voter ID laws -- laws aimed at disenfranchising typically Democratic voters -- local news outlets have repeated Republican talking points about the threat of voter fraud without fact-checking them.

    That kind of round-the-clock saturation helps explain why so many voters have started to doubt the integrity of elections without evidence that it is a problem. And that doubt poses a real threat to a democracy, which relies on voters trusting and accepting the outcomes of elections.

    Trump’s “rigged election” shtick is just one element of a broader problem with media coverage of voter fraud. Regardless of who wins in November, journalists are going to have to be a lot more aggressive about fact-checking right-wing horror stories if they want to restore voter confidence in the election process.

  • VIDEO: CNN Has A Trump Surrogate Problem

    The Network Is Paying Professional Trump Supporters To Derail Negative Segments About Trump


    CNN’s decision to hire and pay full-time Trump apologists -- supporters who are willing to go on air and defend Trump’s missteps -- has resulted in some of the most explosive and viral news segments of the election. But it’s also turned CNN’s election coverage into a series of ridiculous, uninformative screaming matches that mainstream bullshit in the name of “balance.”

    Over the course of the 2016 election, CNN hired four Trump supporters -- Kayleigh McEnany, Scottie Nell Hughes, Jeffrey Lord, and Corey Lewandowski -- to act as full-time Trump surrogates and defend their candidate on-air. CNN has defended its hirings by suggesting that surrogates like Lewandowski are needed to provide “balance,” especially after several of CNN’s traditional Republican commentators expressed their opposition to the GOP presidential nominee.

    CNN’s decision to hire professional Trump apologists has made for some fascinating -- if not excruciating -- television. Their appearances frequently result in screaming matches, with hosts and other panelists trying desperately (and fruitlessly) to deal with the surrogates’ barrage of talking points, misdirection, and blind stubbornness. The Trump surrogates do a masterful job of avoiding being pinned down -- they change the subject, argue in circles, make things up, and generally do whatever they can to sidetrack any negative discussion about Trump.

    So a segment about Trump’s hesitance to disavow David Duke turns into an absurd argument about whether Democrats used to support the KKK.

    A segment on Trump’s attacks on Alicia Machado’s weight becomes a debate about whether it’s actually offensive to be called an “eating machine.”

    And a segment about Trump’s recorded comments describing sexually assaulting women gets sidetracked into a decade-old smear about Hillary Clinton’s work as a court-appointed defense attorney in the 1970s..

    By the end of most segments, everyone else on the panel is yelling, in shock, or has been flustered to the point of giving up.

    This isn’t entirely the fault of the professional Trump surrogates. CNN pays them to be Trump apologists; their jobs depend on them defending their candidate regardless of how ridiculous it makes them sound. In other words, the network incentivizes them to be intractable.

    That’s especially true in the case of Lewandowski, who is still effectively working for -- and, until recently, being paid by -- the Trump campaign while being employed at CNN. Lewandowski likely signed a non-disparagement agreement with the Trump campaign, meaning he can’t speak ill of his former boss on CNN even if he wanted to.

    None of this is meant to suggest that Trump gets a free pass on the network. CNN’s Trump surrogates are regularly grilled and challenged, both by other panelists and by hosts.

    And it all makes for highly entertaining reality television.

    But for a news network, these segments are a disaster. These constant screaming matches offer nothing of substance to audiences who want to make sense of the election. Instead, they desensitize voters to bullshit -- elevating ridiculous and even blatantly dishonest defenses of Trump’s campaign into mainstream political debates. The presence of CNN’s Trump surrogates makes any segment they appear in more likely to devolve into the kind of absurdist bickering that makes many viewers tune out or give up on being politically engaged altogether.

    If CNN wants to feature pro-Trump voices in its election coverage, it can rely on guests who actually work for the campaign. But rewarding professional bullshit artists like Hughes, McEnany, Lord, and Lewandowski with CNN salaries and job titles sets a dangerous precedent for a news network: a move toward “balance” even when it comes at the cost of reasonable, useful coverage.

  • VIDEO: Alex Jones Melts Down After Julian Assange's Failed October Surprise

    Blog ››› ››› COLEMAN LOWNDES
  • VIDEO: Trump Is Dodging Interviews With Spanish-Language News Networks


    Donald Trump hasn’t done an interview with a Spanish language news network in 14 months, magnifying a dangerous rift between the Republican Party and networks like Univision and Telemundo.

    The last time Trump sat down for an interview with a Spanish language news network was in June 2015. Trump had just launched his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants “criminals” and “rapists,” and Telemundo’s José Díaz-Balart was ready for him. Díaz-Balart grilled Trump on his comments, using statistics to debunk his fearmongering about immigrants and asking “is this what you think of the Latino community in the United States?”

    Since then, Trump has essentially declared war on Telemundo and Univision, the two largest Spanish speaking news networks in the country.

    He filed a $500 million lawsuit against Univision after the network dropped its coverage of Trump’s Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants. When Univision’s Jorge Ramos sent Trump a handwritten letter asking for an interview, Trump published the letter -- along with Ramos’ personal cellphone number -- and mocked the network for “begging” him for an interview.

    At a July 2015 press conference, Trump shouted down Díaz-Balart after being asked again about his immigration comments, calling the question a “typical case of the press with misinterpretation” and saying “Telemundo should be ashamed.” In August 2015, Trump infamously threw Jorge Ramos out of a press conference, telling Ramos to “go back to Univision.” His campaign went on to deny press credentials to an Univision correspondent in October 2015.

    The standoff has continued into 2016, with the Trump campaign denying the networks’ repeated requests for interviews and even taunting Ramos’ interview requests by soliciting him for a campaign donation.

    The lack of outreach to Spanish speakers goes beyond just interviews -- Politico noted that Trump’s “English-only campaign” has failed to create a Spanish-language version of Trump’s website or purchase any Spanish-language ads.

    But the problem extends beyond Trump. RNC officials are growing increasingly skeptical of their relationship with Spanish-language networks. For the first time in 3 election cycles, Republicans didn’t have a presidential forum hosted by Univision. And the RNC tried to pull the plug on a Telemundo Republican primary debate, citing concerns about fairness. Telemundo eventually joined with CNN to host a Republican debate, during which Trump answered a question about his support with Latino voters by declaring “I don’t believe anything Telemundo says.”

    Given how anti-immigrant extremism -- has come to define the GOP front runner’s campaign, it’s not surprising that Trump has avoided contact with Spanish-language news networks. But blacklisting Spanish news networks means not talking to a huge chunk of American voters and setting a troubling precedent for Republicans who want to avoid answering tough questions.

  • VIDEO: Trump Backers Alex Jones And Roger Stone Humiliated Themselves During Their Debate Coverage


    Trump supporter Alex Jones and Trump adviser Roger Stone pushed bizarre conspiracy theories about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s health during Jones’ coverage of the first presidential debate.

    During the live-stream of the debate at Jones', Jones and Stone told viewers that Clinton suffered a series of medical incidents before, during, and after the debate, even as the footage of the debate belied their claims.

    Jones, one of the founders of the 9/11 truther movement and America’s leading conspiracy theorist, has been at the forefront of pushing conspiracy theories about Clinton’s health that have spread to conservative media and in some cases been legitimized by mainstream outlets. Stone, a longtime Trump adviser, has claimed that Clinton suffers from amnesia and other serious medical conditions.

    Following the September 26 debate, political observers, focus groups, and scientific polls all concluded that with her confident performance, Clinton won a decisive victory over Republican nominee Donald Trump.

    But Stone, Jones, and other members of the broadcast team claimed that Clinton, suffering from an “advanced form of epilespy,” arrived in a “medical van,” that the debate started several minutes late because Clinton was having a “diaper change,” that Clinton was “hopped up” on “anti-seizure medication” causing her to “barely keep her eyes open” during the debate, and that after the debate Clinton could “barely walk” so she “immediately” left the stage to go on an “oxygen tank.” Infowars’ own live-stream of the debate contradicted these descriptions. For example, instead of leaving “immediately” following the debate, Clinton was seen on the Infowars stream talking and shaking hands on the stage.

    Clinton’s performance in the debate has left Clinton health conspiracy theorists scrambling. The morning after the debate, the Drudge Report published a video titled “HILLARY MORNING AFTER: Both hands on rail…” In the video, a smiling Clinton is seen briefly placing both of her hands on the railing of an airstair before removing her hands to gesture toward a member of the press as she ascends the stairs:

  • VIDEO: Lester Holt Proved We Need Fact-Checking In Debates


    Lester Holt challenged Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on claims he made during the first presidential debate, highlighting the value of having moderators who are willing to fact-check false claims in real-time.

    During the September 26 presidential debate, moderator Holt challenged Trump on inaccurate claims the candidate made about releasing his tax returns, promoting the birther conspiracy, and supporting the war in Iraq:

    Holt stayed out of much of the debate, but intervened when Trump made glaring factual errors about his own record. Holt’s restraint made his fact-checks more powerful, drawing significant attention to Trump’s falsehoods, and tripping up the candidate before he could turn those lies into attacks on his opponent.

    Holt’s fact-checking likely had a significant impact on the millions of voters for whom the debate was a first hard look at the candidates. But it’s just one battle in the larger struggle over whether moderators should fact-check the candidates in real-time. Both campaigns have argued over the issue, with Trump’s campaign predictably arguing that moderators should stay out of factual disputes during the debates.

    That argument has gained some notable supporters -- NBC’s Matt Lauer was harshly criticized for failing to fact-check Trump’s claims about opposing the Iraq War during this month’s presidential forum. Fox News’ Chris Wallace, who will moderate the final presidential debate, has already said he doesn’t believe it’s job to be a “truth squad.” Even the executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates told CNN recently that moderators shouldn’t be fact-checkers.

    But leaving the fact-checking to the candidates, rather than the moderators, can contribute to spreading misinformation among voters. Research suggests that audiences that watch this kind of “he said/she said” debate end up feeling less capable of figuring out the truth, causing some to give up trying to resolve factual disputes altogether. Moderators who can carefully choose to intervene during important factual disputes offer a powerful antidote to that kind of passive misinformation.

    Lester Holt’s performance set a powerful example of the value that measured fact-checks can have in keeping candidate’s honest. If the other debate moderators follow his lead, they’ll be doing voters, and the whole of campaign journalism, a real service.

  • VIDEO: Inside The “Alt-Right’s” White Nationalist, Pro-Trump Press Conference

    “We Have Not Been Made By Trump, But We Want To Make Trump”


    On September 9, three of the country’s most notorious white nationalists held a press conference in Washington, D.C., titled “What Is The Alt-Right?” The event, organized by the white nationalist “think tank” the National Policy Institute (NPI), came in response to growing media interest in the “alt-right” movement. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has helped mainstream the racist movement, including by hiring Breitbart News executive chairman Stephen Bannon as his campaign CEO. As the Southern Poverty Law Center has noted, under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart has “has been openly promoting the core issues of the Alt-Right, introducing these racist ideas to its readership.”

    The press conference, which mixed plainly racist propaganda with praise for Trump’s campaign, highlights the “alt-right’s” desire to become a mainstream, professional, and legitimate part of American politics. Trump’s extreme position on immigration and other issues has propelled members of the “alt-right” into the spotlight, giving them unprecedented access to news networks and national audiences.

    But while the speakers at the conference acknowledged that the movement had been “riding [Trump’s] coattails,” they also made clear that they weren’t interested in being a “Trump cheerleading squad.” For them, this election is an opportunity to make the case for a pro-white political agenda that goes far beyond 2016. “The ideas of the alt-right are gaining ground rapidly, Trump or no Trump,” said one speaker. “We are gaining ground because we are right.”

  • VIDEO: Inside The RNC Conspiracy Theorist Rally That Explains The Trump Campaign


    Two of Donald Trump’s favorite right-wing conspiracy theorists headlined a “Unity Rally” just outside of the Republican National Convention this week. The event further highlighted how Trump’s candidacy has helped bring fringe extremists  into mainstream Republican politics.

    On July 18, just blocks away from the site of the Republican National Convention, Trump supporters attended the “America First Unity Rally,” an event hosted by Citizens for Trump and longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone.

    The rally -- which was not an official Trump campaign event -- was billed as “a massive victory rally & parade celebration of Mr. Trump’s nomination.” In reality, the few hundred attendees were treated to an afternoon of conspiracy theories about the Clintons, 9/11, and the threat posed by anti-American “globalists.”

    Jones, Stone Represent Trump’s Fringe Supporters

    The event’s central headliners were Stone and founder Alex Jones -- two prominent Trump supporters with long histories of peddling bizarre conspiracy theories.

    Stone has claimed the Clintons and Bushes have secretly murdered dozens; the collapse of World Trade Center Building 7 is “suspicious”; President Lyndon Johnson killed President John F. Kennedy; President George H.W. Bush tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan; and the Clintons killed John F. Kennedy Jr.

    Jones is a radio host well-known known for his own brand of conspiracy theories -- he claims the government was behind 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing, mass shootings in Aurora, CO, and Newtown, CT, among other events. Jones claims these “false flag” operations are part of a broader plot by “globalists” in both parties to take away Americans’ guns and take over the country.

    Stone and Jones brought their unique brand of lunacy to the rally. Stone repeated the long-debunked claim that the Clinton’s were involved in a cover-up surrounding the death of White House aide Vince Foster, while Jones celebrated that American voters were finally waking up to the globalist agenda in American politics.

    Trump Is Helping Mainstream Conspiracy Theorists

    It’s tempting to dismiss events like the America First Unity Rally as merely a fringe element of Republican politics, but the Trump campaign has shown a real interest in relying on conspiracy theorists like Stone and Jones to appeal to far-right voters. Stone states he is still in frequent contact with the GOP nominee -- even claiming he was late to the rally because he was meeting with members of Trump’s staff. Trump has appeared on Jones’ show and praised his reputation, promising not to let him or his listeners down. Jones has returned the favor -- many of the attendees at the rally stated that Jones’ praise convinced them to support Trump as the GOP nominee.

    Trump’s willingness to mingle with the most extreme and unhinged factions of the far right helps normalize them, pulling them into the Republican mainstream. Stone has become a regular fixture in mainstream election coverage. The day after appearing at the rally, Stone appeared at a discussion hosted by Politico at the convention.

    It also impacts the way Trump views the world -- as The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin explained in May, Trump’s “whole frame of reference” revolves around the fringe conspiracies peddled by outlets like Jones’ Infowars. Trump has already shown a willingness to make anti-Clinton conspiracy theories -- including the Vince Foster allegations -- a part of his general election strategy.

    This closeness between the GOP nominee and the right’s most extreme conspiracy theorists deserves special attention over the next few months.

    Stone and Jones may have held their rally outside of the Republican National Convention, but Trump’s campaign is helping bring them closer and closer to the Republican mainstream.

  • VIDEO: The Flawed Way The Media Covers High-Profile Rapists

    Why Did News Outlets Highlight Brock Turner's Swimming Abilities After He Was Found Guilty?


    After a jury found former Stanford student Brock Turner guilty of sexual assault, The Washington Post published an article that highlighted Turner’s accomplishments as an All-American swimmer. The article drew widespread condemnation from critics who argued the Post was irresponsibly emphasizing Turner’s swimming abilities rather than focusing on the crime he committed.

    But the Post’s report isn’t an isolated incident -- it’s an example of a media tendency to treat high-profile sex offenders with kid gloves, even after they’ve been found guilty.

    After two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio, were found guilty of raping a minor, news outlets highlighted their athletic abilities and previously promising futures. After a former college football player in Oklahoma City was found guilty of raping multiple women as a police officer, media outlets highlighted his physical strength and athletic accomplishments.

    News outlets don’t highlight these kinds of details by accident -- they do it because those details run counter to audiences’ expectations about what sex predators look like. People don’t expect sex predators to be successful, popular, rich, or white, so when someone like Brock Turner is found guilty, news outlets jump at the chance to tell a “fall from grace” story.

    The problem with the “fall from grace” narrative is that it can make audiences naturally sympathetic towards offenders. Spend enough time hearing about someone’s athletic accomplishments or academic success, and you might start wondering, “How could someone so great have done something so awful?”

    Taken to its extreme, that framing can produce coverage that ends up treating offenders like victims. The Washington Post’s write-up stated that Turner’s “extraordinary yet brief swim career is now tarnished, like a rusting trophy.” After the Steubenville verdict, CNN’s Poppy Harlow seemed to fixate on what impact the decision would have on the perpetrators, saying they “literally watched as they believed their life fell apart.”

    That kind of sympathetic news coverage is arguably even more dangerous when a trial is still ongoing. Jurors are humans, and this kind of coverage doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Glowing reports about the accused’s prior accomplishments or reputation could influence the biases and assumptions that jurors bring in with them when they enter a courtroom.

    The reality is that all crime reporting can be tricky -- people are innocent until proven guilty, and conflicting testimony means that news networks will always have to worry about sounding sympathetic to either side. But the coverage of Brock Turner’s case is a reminder that a bizarre double standard exists when it comes to high-profile sexual assault and rape reporting -- a double standard that almost works against victims who come forward.

  • VIDEO: Why Are Trump Supporters So Afraid Of Immigrants?


    Donald Trump has made attacking immigrants a central part of his presidential campaign, tapping into anti-immigrant sentiment that’s been brewing for years thanks to a concerted effort by right-wing media outlets like Fox News.

    Trump’s campaign has been defined by his animosity toward immigrants: he launched his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and criminals, called for a ban on Muslims entering the country, and, most recently, argued that an American-born federal judge with Mexican heritage can’t be trusted to do his job.

    Trump’s attacks on immigrants are copied and pasted from right-wing media, which have spent the better part of a decade warning Republican voters that immigrants are pouring across the border to take their jobs, commit crime, and spread disease. That constant barrage of misinformation has pulled Republican voters to the right -- Fox News Republicans have a considerably more negative view of immigrants than other Republicans.

    That coverage has also had an effect on GOP lawmakers and candidates, who know that sounding too moderate on immigration might make them targets for right-wing pundits. The fear of retaliation from conservative media helps explain why, by the end of the GOP primary, Trump’s opponents sounded a lot like him when it came to immigration.

    The Republican Party’s embrace of Trump’s anti-immigrant bigotry is a dramatic shift from the “compassionate conservative” approach touted during the Bush years, and demonstrates the power of right-wing media to influence Republican voters. A paper from the Harvard Kennedy School last year concluded that conservative media now dictate the direction of the Republican Party on immigration, driving it far to the right.

    Regardless of what happens in November, the Republican Party will need to come to terms with the anti-immigrant monster that right-wing outlets like Fox News have created.