Matt Gertz

Author ››› Matt Gertz
  • Milo Yiannopoulos Resigns From Breitbart

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Breitbart.com editor Milo Yiannopoulos announced Tuesday that he has resigned from the right-wing website following the emergence of a video in which Yiannopoulos apparently justified sexual abuse of a minor by an adult.

    “I would be wrong to allow my poor choice of words to detract from my colleagues’ important reporting, so today I am resigning from Breitbart, effective immediately. This decision is mine alone,” he said in a statement.

    Yiannopoulos, who has a long and well-known history of making virulent attacks against women, people of color, Muslims, and the transgender community, and is a key enabler of the “alt-right,” was hired by Breitbart when the site was run by Stephen Bannon, now White House chief strategist.

    But it took the circulation of the video for him to finally become too toxic for the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which rescinded its invitation for him to speak; Simon & Schuster, which pulled his book deal; and Breitbart, where employees were reportedly threatening to bolt if he was retained.

    As Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC, suggested, Yiannopoulos’ past comments were simply “controversies and disagreements among conservatives,” while “there is no disagreement among our attendees on the evils of sexual abuse of children.”

    Yiannopoulos has fans at the very highest levels of the federal government. “Bannon believes in Milo,” the site’s editor-in-chief, Alexander Marlow, reportedly told The Washington Post earlier this month. “He dedicated time and resources – both personally and with his businesses – to expanding Milo’s brand.” Earlier this month, President Donald Trump attacked the University of California, Berkeley and threatened to withdraw federal funds from the university after it canceled an event featuring the Breitbart editor.

    Earlier today, Marlow called the comments in the video “very troubling and upsetting” and “not defensible” and said Yiannopoulos would address “his future with Breitbart” during a press conference this afternoon.

    Marlow also laid the groundwork for turning Yiannopoulos into a martyr, saying that there are “millions of examples of the left normalizing behavior similar to what Milo describes” and that Yiannopoulos is the victim of a “coordinated hit” by liberals and anti-Trump conservatives. During his press conference, Yiannopoulos likewise said that “this is a cynical media witchhunt from people who don’t care about children. They care about destroying me and my career.” He also promised to announce his own media venture and new college speaking tour dates in the coming months.

    As I noted this morning, given that Breitbart is a sewer with no standards, Yiannopoulos leaving would "suggest that the website, amid a major advertiser boycott, has finally found a limit to the bad press it is willing to tolerate from one of its biggest stars. No matter what, Marlow wants to keep Yiannopoulos’ audience from leaving the website. Keeping Yiannopoulos is the best way to do that, but if that’s no longer financially viable, turning him into a martyr is the next best strategy."

  • Breitbart Editor-In-Chief Prepares To Turn Milo Yiannopoulos Into A Martyr

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Breitbart.com Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow is laying the groundwork to blame editor Milo Yiannopoulos’ critics following the emergence of a video in which Yiannopoulos apparently justified sexual abuse of a minor by an adult. According to Marlow, there are “millions of examples of the left normalizing behavior similar to what Milo describes,” and Yiannopoulos is the victim of a “coordinated hit” by liberals and anti-Trump conservatives.

    The Conservative Political Action Conference rescinded Yiannopoulos’ speaking invitation and Simon & Schuster canceled the publication of his book after video circulated of Yiannopoulos “condoning pedophilia.” Yiannopoulos’ long and well-known history of making virulent attacks against women, people of color, Muslims, and the transgender community, and his role as a key enabler of the “alt-right,” were not sufficient to stop him from receiving that invitation and book contract in the first place

    In an appearance this morning on the Breitbart News Daily show on SiriusXM, Marlow called the comments in the video “very troubling and upsetting” and “not defensible” and said Yiannopoulos would address “his future with Breitbart” during a press conference this afternoon. “You will get some answers today, just not right this second,” he promised his audience.

    Marlow described the video as “a total surprise to people in the Breitbart organization” and repeatedly condemned the comments, but also offered what he termed important “context” for Yiannopoulos’ remarks. This included assuring the Breitbart audience that Yiannopoulos says he himself has not sexually abused minors.

    Marlow, whose website supported Donald Trump during the presidential campaign even after audio emerged of him bragging about sexually assaulting women, then attacked liberals for “normalizing behavior similar to what Milo describes”:

    We have many examples on the left who have admitted to statutory rape. We have Lena Dunham had in her book talking about touching her sister’s private parts as a child. We have Roman Polanski, I mean, there are millions of examples of the left normalizing behavior similar to what Milo describes. There is no evidence that Milo has actually been a predator, and so I do think that that is also very important context.

    He went on to suggest that the real villains are the people who released audio of his employee apparently defending the sexual assault of minors, saying, “It does look like the forces of the left and some of the Republican establishment and of the sort of Never Trump movement, perhaps, seems to be growing evidence that this was all coordinated to wait for a peak moment when Milo was red-hot.” He added, “They sat on the story and they held it for maximum political damage, which is really sort of sickening, that they would keep this from the public if they had it, and instead try to wait until they could do the most damage to his career, and to Breitbart, and by proxy, people like Trump and [Stephen] Bannon.”

    It’s hard to parse Marlow’s comments. It is possible Yiannopoulos will use his press conference to resign from Breitbart. That would suggest that the website, amid a major advertiser boycott, has finally found a limit to the bad press it is willing to tolerate from one of its biggest stars.

    No matter what, Marlow wants to keep Yiannopoulos’ audience from leaving the website. Keeping Yiannopoulos is the best way to do that, but if that’s no longer financially viable, turning him into a martyr is the next best strategy. 

  • CPAC’s Chairman Just Condemned The “Alt-Right.” He Will Host Steve Bannon On Thursday.

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, which runs the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, said today that he condemns the “alt-right,” a loose affiliation of white nationalists, misogynists, and other deplorables that have gained increasing influence in the conservative movement. But don’t be too quick to congratulate him for his criticism of racists -- Schlapp will lead a Thursday CPAC panel featuring White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who has bragged about turning Breitbart.com into “the platform for the alt-right” during his tenure leading the site.

    The disconnect suggests leading conservatives want to get credit for separating themselves from the “alt-right,” while still drawing on its enablers for support.

    Schlapp made the comments in an interview on MSNBC in which he defended his organization’s initial decision to give Breitbart senior editor Milo Yiannopoulos a platform at CPAC. Last night, Schlapp withdrew the offer after video circulated of Yiannopoulos “condoning pedophilia.”

    Yiannopoulos had a long and well-known history of making virulent attacks against women, people of color, Muslims, and the transgender community, and he is a key enabler of the “alt-right.” None of those factors prevented CPAC from offering him a prominent speaking slot.

    For Schlapp, Yiannopoulos’ past comments were simply “controversies and disagreements among conservatives,” while “there is no disagreement among our attendees on the evils of sexual abuse of children.” This gives the lie to the conservative argument on free speech -- criticism of commentary is just being “politically correct” until the commentary is offensive to conservatives.

    At the end of Schlapp’s interview, Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough asked Schlapp if CPAC had “an official position on the alt-right.” Schlapp came out strong against the movement in response, suggesting that the “alt-right” is racist and while “there are those who flirt with it, who maybe don't fully understand it,” conservatives should want to have “nothing to do with” it. “We won't endorse it and we won't rationalize it,” he concluded.

    Schlapp’s opposition to the “alt-right” is so strong that he’ll be sitting down with Bannon at a CPAC panel on Thursday:

    Bannon, a revanchist ethno-nationalist who supports a “global revolt” against elites, turned Breitbart into a beloved news source and normalization engine for the “alt-right.” He bragged in July that the website had become “the platform for the alt-right.” Because of that work, white nationalists and neo-Nazis cheered when he was hired by Donald Trump's presidential campaign and praised his appointment to the White House.

    While Yiannopoulos will no longer be speaking at CPAC, attendees will have seven other opportunities to hear from Breitbart staffers. Editors and reporters James Delingpole, Joel Pollak, Sonnie Johnson, Raheem Kassam, Alex Marlow, Frances Martel, and John Carney will all give speeches or lead or participate in panel discussions at CPAC, the bastion of the conservative movement that supposedly wants its members to stay away from the “alt-right.”

    Breitbart has a big audience and thus is a power in the conservative movement. As Schlapp explained this morning, Yiannopoulos’ history of virulent commentary didn’t matter because “he is a big voice in this movement.” Until he said something that offended the wrong people, that was enough.

  • Here Are The Hacks In Charge Of Broadcasting Trump's Propaganda Internationally

    Trump Appointed Two Campaign Aides To Oversee The Transition Of The Broadcasting Board Of Governors

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The work of the U.S. government’s largest public diplomacy program is currently being reviewed by two of President Donald Trump’s former campaign aides. It would be difficult for the administration to have found less qualified candidates for the job.

    The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), whose mission is to “inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy,” oversees a global network of broadcasters. Through Voice of America, a government-run news agency that provides the world with news about the United States and its policies, and nonprofit grantees like Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which works to inform foreign populations that lack a free press about the news in their own nations, BBG reaches an audience of 278 million people in 100 countries and 61 languages.

    This is a critical moment for U.S. public diplomacy. Russia is fighting an information war in Europe and across the world in order to produce electoral victories for favored political parties and candidates. China continues to expand its economic influence in Asia and Africa. The Islamic State group uses a vast social media apparatus to recruit new adherents to violent extremism. U.S. efforts to counter those challenges depend in part on ensuring that accurate, meaningful information is conveyed to foreign communities.

    As the new administration takes over that vast apparatus, it has deputized Matthew Ciepielowski and Matthew Schuck “to the CEO suite at the BBG where they will work with senior management” to oversee the transition, Politico reported. "As is routine for many federal agencies during any presidential transition, yesterday we welcomed the two-person landing team from the Trump administration," BBG CEO John F. Lansing said in a statement to the publication. "We look forward to working with them as we continue to fulfill our mission, and support the independence of our journalists around the world."

    Lansing joined the BBG in 2015 following nine years as president of Scripps Networks, where he oversaw a $2.5 billion portfolio of six cable television networks and a digital division. Before that, he managed 10 television stations. He also had experience running a marketing association composed of 90 U.S. and Canadian television programmers. He got his start as a field producer in broadcast television and worked his way through newsrooms in that industry.  

    In short, Lansing has decades of experience managing media bureaucracies, working with foreign journalism outlets, and working as a reporter himself.

    Trump has sent two hacks with little to no experience in journalism and none at all in public diplomacy or international relations to review Lansing’s work.

    Matt Ciepielowski: The Ineffectual Political Operative

    Ciepielowski is a 2011 graduate of Quinnipiac University, where he majored in political science and public relations, according to his LinkedIn profile. He was news editor and senior managing editor for the Quinnipiac Chronicle; the school paper’s archive shows his byline on 11 news stories or opinion pieces between September 2010 and March 2011. He once interned with the marketing firm Silver Lake Productions. That is the sum total of what could, under the most charitable circumstances, be described as his journalism background.

    In an unusual twist for someone now helping to oversee a massive U.S. public diplomacy effort, Ciepielowski titled one of his college opinion pieces “Truth doesn’t kill people, our government does.” In that essay, Ciepielowski praises Wikileaks for releasing U.S. diplomatic cables, disparages Julian Assange’s arrest on Swedish rape charges, and states that the U.S. military “has killed thousands upon thousands of innocent civilians” in Afghanistan.

    After graduation, Ciepielowski spent three and a half years as a field organizer, first for former Rep. Ron Paul’s (R-TX) presidential campaign in Louisiana and then for the Koch brothers’ organization Americans for Prosperity in New Hampshire. In March 2015, he became one of the first hires to Trump’s presidential campaign when he was named New Hampshire state director. Corey Lewandowski’s hiring was announced the same day.

    Ciepielowski does not appear to have been very good at his job. During the New Hampshire primary, a more veteran operative was moved into the state due to reported fears that Ciepielowski was “in over his head.”

    Trump won the primary and Ciepielowski remained in the role, but he still didn’t seem to make much of an impact. In August, he was the subject of a Politico article detailing how “Veteran Republican operatives and key leaders from several critical battleground states say that at best, they've never heard of Trump's state directors or have only limited familiarity with them — and at worst, they know them, and question their ability to do the job.”

    Ciepielowski was also a central figure in a Trump campaign finance scandal. In July, experts highlighted “red flags” in Trump’s Federal Election Commission filings, including a potentially illegal pattern of “what appeared to be double reimbursements” for the same employee expenses, according to CNBC. Ciepielowski “received the most money, bringing in $7,199 — all tax free,” according to the channel.

    The Trump campaign paid Ciepielowski nearly $200,000 for his work, federal filings show.

    It’s unclear whether Ciepielowski’s radical theories about the correct size of government allow room for public diplomacy. During a 2014 appearance on the libertarian Rebel Love Show, Ciepielowski was asked, “Are you participating [in politics] because you want to do whatever you can and take it down from within?” He replied, “It doesn’t even necessarily have to be take it down -- I want to do whatever I can to lessen the boot of the state on people’s throats as we go along.” Asked, “If you could get rid of that boot, would you?” he responded, “Once we get the government down to 20 percent, 10 percent, 5 percent of the size it is now, then I would be more ready to have that conversation.”

    Matt Schuck: The Right-Wing Media Hack

    After graduating in 2012 from Montgomery College, where he studied broadcast radio and mass communications, Schuck rotated between jobs in the right-wing media and conservative and corporate public relations gigs before becoming Trump’s Wisconsin communications director in August.

    Schuck got his start in radio, helping launch the Heritage Foundation’s show and working as an executive producer for the Virginia-based right-wing radio host John Fredericks. He has flacked for the Koch-funded Conservative Veterans for America and for the Online Lenders Alliance, the trade organization for the disreputable payday-lending industry.

    Between PR jobs, Schuck spent 18 months working for second-tier conservative media outlets.

    First he was a staff writer at Jason Mattera’s Daily Surge. Mattera was once a conservative wunderkind, becoming the editor of the venerable right-wing magazine Human Events in 2010, at age 26. He was terminated two years later, soon after accidentally conducting an ambush interview of a Bono impersonator (he thought he was actually ambushing Bono).

    At Daily Surge, Schuck produced garden-variety right-wing clickbait and aggregation, along with a hefty helping of culture war outrage. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to get him a job as a political correspondent at One America News Network (OANN), the then-two-year-old conservative cable news network which has positioned itself as a more conservative competitor to Fox News.

    At OANN, Schuck conducted softball interviews with a wide variety of Republican and conservative leaders, including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Citizens United’s David Bossie, and American Conservative Union’s Matt Schlapp.

    One such interview stands out. In September 2015, Trump announced that he had decided to boycott Fox News for “treating me very unfairly.” Fox responded by saying that Trump’s tweet came after the network had canceled a scheduled interview with him because of his “personal attacks on our anchors and hosts.”

    While Fox tried to patch things up, Trump did an interview with Schuck instead. Schuck introduced the segment by stating that Trump had just appeared before “a room packed full of supporters” to discuss, among other topics, “why Donald Trump will make America great again.” In the interview, Schuck offered Trump an open forum to discuss his grievances with Fox and repeat talking points. He also interviewed a Trump supporter. Schuck closed the segment by declaring that “one thing is clear: Donald Trump is in it to win it.”

    Trump apparently enjoyed the interview:

    A few weeks later, Schuck highlighted Trump’s praise of OANN:

    Schuck left OANN the next month to become communications director for the Online Lenders Alliance. In August 2016, he joined the Trump campaign. And now he’s helping to lay the groundwork for our international public diplomacy efforts.

  • What It Would Mean To Have Infowars In The White House Press Room

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The day after he was sworn in, the president of the United States sent his press secretary to lie to the White House press corps about the attendance at his inauguration. President Trump apparently believes that up to 5 million people illegally voted and is reportedly initiating an investigation into nonexistent voter fraud based on the story of a German golfer who was stopped from voting while people “who did not look as if they should be allowed to vote” were allowed to cast ballots. Trump is spending a considerable of time watching cable news and issuing policy statements based on what he sees. His aides reportedly “talk about taking away his telephone or canceling his Twitter account,” worry that he has become fixated on his popularity and personal slights, and say he is “at his most self-destructive when the stakes are high.” A constitutional crisis seems imminent.

    Donald Trump has spent his 12 days in office demonstrating that he is temperamentally unfit for the job, and driving me to check Nukemap to determine if my Washington, D.C., apartment is in the blast zone in the event that he triggers a nuclear apocalypse, either accidentally or out of pique.

    There’s too much crazy shit happening to keep track of it all. But let’s take a moment to reflect on the fact that Alex Jones, the nation’s leading conspiracy theorist and an ally of the president, appears to be on the verge of getting White House briefing room access for his conspiracy website.

    “I know I can get White House credentials, we've already been offered them, we're going to get them, but I've just got to spend the money to send somebody there,” Jones said in a video posted to his YouTube account last week. “Might be good to put a few reporters there, it's just all a money issue.”

    After we reported Jones’ comments, a White House press aide issued a non-denial denial, telling BuzzFeed News that Jones himself “is not credentialed” and that the “White House press office has not offered him credentials.” Jones then claimed he had been taken out of context and was just considering applying for credentials.

    But on Tuesday, Jerome Corsi -- Infowars’ newly-minted Washington, D.C., bureau chief and the author of the birther tome Where’s The Birth Certificate? -- announced that he had submitted the pertinent information to the White House to receive credentials. According to Corsi, the “White House press office today didn’t think there would be any problem in Infowars and Alex Jones and me getting press credentials.”

    Here’s a brief list of Jones’ panoply of horribles:

    Jones has repeatedly claimed that the 9/11 attacks were an “inside job” perpetrated by the government and that Osama Bin Laden worked for the CIA. He alleged the Oklahoma City bombing was a “staged event” by “criminals in Washington” to get sympathy to pass President Clinton’s policy agenda. He claimed mass shootings in Sandy Hook, Aurora, Columbine, Tucson, San Bernardino, and Orlando were false flag events. And Jones said the Boston Marathon bombing was “staged” and the bombers were “recruited by globalist intelligence agencies and set up horribly.”

    He’s also pushed fringe conspiracy theories about how government elites are trying to manipulate or control the world through other covert actions. Jones claimed the government is secretly encouraging “homosexuality with chemicals so that people don't have children.” He’s claimed vaccines are part of a covert population-control program to give the country cancer or autism. And he also said the government is controlling weather through a “weather weapon,” spraying chemicals into the air for “genocide and population reduction,” and that the singer Beyoncé is a CIA operative who's been deployed to cause mayhem in cities.

    His Infowars website, which presumably would receive the press credential, is a trash heap of paranoid conspiracy theories and fake news. And Corsi has a long history of pushing conspiracy theories, including reports on how President Obama is secretly gay, Muslim, and foreign-born to an Indonesian father.

    This wouldn’t be the first time that a conspiracy theory-touting website has been granted access to the White House -- the right-wing radio host and gadfly Lester Kinsolving spent years reporting from the briefing room for WorldNetDaily, the internet home of birther lies and Corsi’s previous employer.

    But Kinsolving never had the relationship or mind meld with a president that Jones and Trump share.

    Trump appeared on Jones’ radio show in December 2015, praising the host’s “amazing” reputation and promising, “I will not let you down.” In the subsequent 13 months, Jones has repeatedly spoken of conversations he says he had with Trump. The now-president frequently echoed Jones’ conspiracy theories during the campaign, to the point where Jones remarked that it is “surreal to talk about issues here on air and then word for word hear Trump say it two days later.”

    Top Trump ally Roger Stone, who has his own long history of pushing conspiracy theories, became Trump’s envoy to the program. He made regular appearances on Jones’ show, working to cultivate his audience for Trump; he now occasionally guest-hosts on the network. Stone has called Jones a “valuable asset” who can “rally the people around President Trump’s legislative program.”

    After Trump’s election, Jones said he had received a call from the president-elect to thank him for his support. Walking the streets of Washington, D.C., before the inauguration, he remarked, “It’s like Alex Jones is the president.” The next day, he declared that “the message we heard in this [inauguration] speech has been my message for over a decade.”

    Letting Infowars into the White House would provide the Trump administration an ally -- if a volatile one -- in the press room, one it could count on not to push stories damaging to the president. Jones himself has indicated that this is part of the plan, saying yesterday that “just by being there” in the White House they would be able to move news organizations that publish mainstream news stories “out of the way."

    If Jones and Corsi are right and Infowars is on the verge of receiving White House credentials, we will have seen the next step in press secretary Sean Spicer’s effort to flood the press briefings with sycophants and pro-Trump propagandists. Laura Ingraham’s LifeZette, Breitbart.com, One America News Network, and Newsmax have all had opportunities to ask questions last week.

    In the video in which he first suggested a White House press credential was imminent, Jones stood with other Trump media allies like Newt Gingrich and Sean Hannity in calling for delegitimizing and diminishing the access of critical news outlets in order to make room for journalists who support the Trump line. “What’s CNN doing in the front row, when Spicer keeps going to them?” Jones asked. “You should see Breitbart and Drudge, and also just reporters that are known to tell the truth from mainstream, whatever, promoted and put up to the front of those briefings, to bring up real questions, not just a battle where they're just attacking with fricking lies.”

    Trump wants an army of Jeff Gannons in the White House press room. That team is starting to assemble.

    Sign Media Matters’ petition urging the White House press corps to “close ranks and stand up for journalism” against Trump’s attacks.

  • Sean Spicer Says It’s Unfair To Say Trump Has Demonized The Press -- But If He Did, They Deserved It

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Since his inauguration, President Donald Trump has said he is in a “running war with the media,” which he described as “very, very dishonest.” His chief of staff promised to “fight back” against the media for trying to “delegitimize this president.” His chief strategist called the press “the opposition party” and said it “should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.” At least two of his top aides have suggested that journalists should have been fired for their reporting during the campaign.

    “This kind of speech not only undermines the work of the media in this country, it emboldens autocratic leaders around the world," said Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. "These leaders -- like Putin in Russia and Erdogan in Turkey -- have consolidated power by marginalizing independent media. We can't allow that to happen in the United States.”

    It was in that context that White House press secretary Sean Spicer sat down with former CNN Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno before an audience at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs to discuss the administration’s contentious relationship with the press.

    Over the course of 40 combative minutes, Spicer frequently lashed out at reporters, both by name and as a group. But the most concerning exchange came when Sesno highlighted the Trump administration's attacks on the press and Simon’s warning, and asked, “Will you make a commitment, now and here, that as White House press secretary and communications director, you will not be party to efforts to marginalize, and I’ll add the word demonize, independent media?”

    In his response, in turn shifty and aggressive, Spicer never said “no.”

    Instead, Spicer rejected the premise, demanding, “Give me an example of what we have done to bring up the question.”

    After Sesno noted that he had just cited Simon’s comments, Spicer sneered at the “nice fluffy statement” and asked for “one example of how we’ve done that.” Sesno explained that when Trump attacks the honesty of the press before an audience of CIA officers, “that undermines faith and confidence … in the institution of the media.”

    At this point, having repeatedly denied that the administration had demonized the press only to be confronted with evidence it had done so, Spicer suggested that the journalists had it coming.

    “At some point, though, there is an obligation in the media to get the facts right,” Spicer said. Sesno agreed but noted that criticizing inaccurate reports isn’t the same as “an ongoing running attack on the media as an institution.”

    Spicer replied by again complaining that journalists “consistently get things wrong” and lying about the membership of the president’s National Security Council Principals Committee. “At some point,” he added, “I think there is a bit of reflection that the media needs to do to figure out if they are getting basic facts right.”

    During the same interview, Spicer defended his lies about the size of Trump’s inaugural crowd, lashed out at CNN’s Jim Acosta, and warned that the press is “not the only game in town anymore.”

    The White House press secretary has lied to the press. He has tried to gaslight them. And now he refuses to say that he won’t participate in an effort to demonize the press. In Trump’s war on the media, Spicer has no intention of being a conscientious objector.

  • The Breitbart Clauses In Trump’s Executive Orders

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Two executive orders signed by President Donald Trump last week include clauses that seem designed to provide Breitbart.com and other xenophobic right-wing media outlets with fearmongering content about the supposed criminality and dangerousness of immigrants, particularly Muslim ones.

    The orders create a feedback loop between the Trump administration and the right-wing media: Both want to crack down on immigration and immigrants, so the administration is providing its media allies with fuel to inflame their audience, building support among Trump’s base for those policy shifts.

    A little-noticed clause in Trump’s executive order temporarily banning nationals from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States and barring admission of refugees, signed Friday, states that in order to “be more transparent with the American people,” the federal government will release biannual reports detailing terrorism-related offenses and gender-based violence and honor killings committed in the U.S. by foreign nationals.

    Trump’s executive order on immigration enforcement likewise included a clause calling for the weekly publication of “a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens” in jurisdictions that don’t honor federal requests to hold arrestees in jail due to their immigration status (so-called “sanctuary cities”).

    Critics note that the data does not support the implication that “large numbers of foreigners are coming to the United States and committing acts of terrorism here.” Likewise, studies show immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans.

    But the purpose of these orders is not to provide the American people with accurate information in proper context. It’s to scare the hell out of them -- particularly Trump’s base -- by taking advantage of a network of right-wing outlets that have spent years driving their audiences into a frenzy with horror stories of crimes committed by foreign nationals.

    Steve Bannon is the nexus point for this strategy. As Trump’s chief strategist, he reportedly helped draft the Muslim ban. And before joining the Trump campaign, he helped turn Breitbart, where he served as chairman, into the “platform for the alt-right,” in part by driving these xenophobic storylines.

    The website infamously has a tag devoted to “Black Crime” that aggregated stories of offenses committed by African-Americans. They’ve used similar practices to dehumanize undocumented immigrants and Muslims living in the United States and abroad.

    Breitbart aggregates reports of Muslim “honor killings” from around the globe. As with “black crime,” they have an entire tag devoted to the subject. They have a similar tag for stories about child marriage in Muslim countries. And one detailing instances of “female genital mutilation.” They also regularly suggest that American Muslims are secret operatives of the Muslim Brotherhood.

    Breitbart’s reports often portray Muslim refugees as disease-carrying criminals who are a danger to the countries in which they seek asylum, and specifically to those countries’ women. As they have sought to expand their presence in Europe, the website has frequently attacked Muslim communities in European nations and highlighted friction between those communities and white Europeans.

    Here are some headlines Breitbart has published about Islam, Muslims, and refugees:

    Likewise, Breitbart regularly aggregates reporting on crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. Their singular focus creates the false impression that such crimes are far more prevalent than the data show. Here are some Breitbart headlines on undocumented immigrants:

    Thanks to Bannon and Trump, Breitbart’s efforts to stoke fears about refugees, Muslims, and immigrants will have the official aid and imprimatur of the federal government.

    The actual numbers of cases the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department will report will likely end up being relatively low. But because they will come in a steady stream, on a weekly or semi-annual basis, the reports will generate a regular set of fresh news hooks for right-wing media to stoke outrage.

    This creates a synergy between the right-wing media and the Trump administration. The Trump administration wants excuses to limit immigration and crack down on undocumented immigrants, so they need an inflamed base focused on those issues.

    Outlets like Breitbart want to be able to report horror stories about refugees, American Muslims, and undocumented immigrants, both for ideological reasons, and presumably because such stories get good traffic with Trump’s base.

    By making the information available, Trump and Bannon help those outlets, and thus gain momentum to push even harsher anti-immigrant policies.

  • Steve Bannon To Journalists: Kneel Before Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    President Trump’s chief strategist just said flat out what has been clear for weeks: This administration considers journalists the enemy and plans to do everything it can to weaken and delegitimize the free press over the next four years.

    “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for awhile,” Steve Bannon told The New York Times yesterday. “I want you to quote this. The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”

    “The mainstream media has not fired or terminated anyone associated with following our campaign,” Bannon added. “Look at the Twitter feeds of those people: they were outright activists of the Clinton campaign. … That’s why you have no power. You were humiliated.”

    Bannon has laid bare the Trump administration’s expectations for the press. Trump’s team has no respect for the place of adversarial journalism in the democratic process. The president and his administration's officials want -- and believe they deserve -- favorable coverage. And if they don’t get it, they will lash out at reporters, outlets, and the media as a whole.

    Sycophants and propagandists -- like Breitbart.com, the pro-Trump website Bannon ran until joining the Trump campaign last year -- will be favored. Those who dare to publish stories that damage the administration, or point out Trump and his administration’s lies, will be punished.

    Throughout his campaign, Trump laced into the press, blacklisted journalists and outlets who provided critical coverage, threatened to use the power of the government against them and open up libel laws, and condemned them to press pens where he could mock them for the surrounding crowd. His former campaign manager physically battered a reporter who got out of line.

    Now he’s president, and there is no sign of a pivot. Instead, his performance draws eerie parallels to the actions of authoritarian regimes that have targeted and crushed the independence of the press in their own countries.

    Reporters can stand up for the principles they hold dear, or they can be steamrolled and humiliated.

    On Friday, Trump will give his first press conference as president. It will be his next opportunity to bend them to his will -- and their next chance to do something about it.

  • Donald Trump, Sean Spicer, And The George Costanza Rule Of Lying

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    In a seminal episode of the sitcom Seinfeld, Jerry Seinfeld turns to his mendacious friend George Costanza for advice on how to beat a lie detector test. After first comparing the request to asking famed Italian opera star Luciano Pavarotti how to sing like him, George replies, “Jerry, just remember. It's not a lie ... if you believe it.”

    Journalists have an understandable hesitance toward using the blunt word “lie” to describe the statements of politicians. But at some news outlets, this hesitance has drifted into acceptance of the George Costanza Rule of Lying: a statement cannot be termed a “lie” unless there is demonstrable evidence that the speaker truly believes it to be false. Since reporters can’t read minds, it is virtually impossible to meet this standard.

    White House press secretary Sean Spicer sought to exploit this vulnerability in Monday’s press conference. After he offered a series of obviously false and easily disprovable statements on Saturday about the crowd size at President Trump’s inaugural festivities, many journalists abandoned their typical hesitance and branded his statements as “lies.”

    Spicer doesn't want reporters calling him a liar because that would make it impossible to do his job. And he definitely wants to ensure that they don't use that terminology to refer to President Trump. So he used his first press briefing to claim that his statements aren’t lies if he believes them.

    Asked by ABC’s Jonathan Karl whether it is “your intention to always tell the truth from that podium, and will you pledge never to knowingly say something that is nonfactual,” Spicer responded that his “intention is never to lie,” but at times he will unknowingly pass along incomplete or inaccurate information. He explicitly compared this to the mistakes that journalists make, saying that while sometimes news outlets have to publish corrections, “that doesn't mean that you were intentionally trying to deceive readers and the American people” and thus it would be unfair to “turn around and say, ‘OK, you were intentionally lying.’”

    Spicer’s statement had two aims. First, he was trying to establish the circumstances under which it would be appropriate for journalists to accuse him and others in the Trump administration of lying. Rather than journalists making that assessment based on context -- whether the false statement has been repeated after being disproven, or whether it is so false on its face that it defies other explanations -- he wants them to reserve the term for cases where they can prove the speaker doesn’t believe their words. This is a standard so high as to be virtually impossible to meet.

    Second, he appealed to journalists’ sense of fairness by suggesting that his errors and those of journalists are similar, and thus it would be wrong to hold him to a different standard, since surely they wouldn’t want to be accused of “lying” every time they misreport a story.

    Neither prong of this argument stands up to scrutiny.

    Trump and his ilk make false statements with such frequency, brazenness, and repetition that the best way to characterize what's happening is to say they are lying. You don't need a mind-reading device to know that if someone is repeating a false statement over and over again after it's been pointed out that it's inaccurate, they are doing it deliberately and thus lying.

    The sheer volume of falsehoods that Spicer crammed into his Saturday statement -- at least four blatant ones and a fifth misrepresentation, all in service of his claim that “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration -- period -- both in person and around the globe” -- should convince journalists that he doesn’t deserve their trust.

    Likewise, Trump’s habitual lying, at a rate far beyond what is typical for politicians, suggests that journalists should not assume that he is acting in good faith, but rather that he is trying to deceive them. News outlets that refuse to suggest that the president is lying under those circumstances are doing their audiences a disservice.

    The good news is that some outlets have been willing to cross that bridge and acknowledge when the president is deliberately speaking falsehoods.

    Spicer today responded to a question about Trump’s lie that millions of illegal votes were cast during the election by saying, "The president does believe that.” This is consistent with Spicer’s message that it can’t be a lie if Trump believes it, regardless of how many times he’s been told it’s wrong or the evidence amassed against his position.

    Spicer also said on Monday that reporters should assume that when he says things that are not true, he is acting in good faith and making simple mistakes -- in the same way that reporters who misreport events should be considered to have erred rather than lied.

    But Trump and Spicer don’t actually adhere to that standard -- in fact, they constantly accuse their enemies (including the press) of lying.

    The impetus for this entire argument was Spicer’s Saturday night claim that the press had deliberately lied about the inaugural crowd size. He did not assume they had acted in good faith and made a mistake, but instead suggested they were lying and ascribed motive, saying that photographs of the inaugural proceedings had been “intentionally framed” to “minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall.”

    Likewise, on Saturday morning, Trump called the press liars. He said they were “among the most dishonest human beings on Earth,” and that they had deliberately undercounted the inaugural turnout. He added, “We caught them, and we caught them in a beauty. And I think they're going to pay a big price.” He also accused them of fabricating a rift between him and the CIA.

    This is not an anomaly. In addition to frequently portraying the press at large as “lying” or “dishonest,” Trump has singled out outlets like The New York Times, Politico, The Washington Post, CNN, the Associated Press, and The Wall Street Journal, as well as journalists and pundits including the AP’s Jill Colvin and Jeff Horwitz, Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins, ABC News’ Tom Llamas, NBC News’ Katy Tur and Chuck Todd, CBS News’ Sopan Deb (now at the Times), syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, NY TimesJonathan Martin and Charles Blow, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, and Politico’s Ben Schreckinger.

    In addition to journalists, Trump frequently accused President Obama and 2016 opponents Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio of lying. He even gave Ted Cruz the nickname “Lyin’ Ted.”

    The Trump administration wants impunity to spew falsehoods at an unprecedented rate, allowing the president and his team to shape the information ecosystem and push through their extremist agenda. But for that to happen, they also need journalists to give them the space to lie by refusing to call them out on their practices. At this late date, that's getting harder and harder to justify.

    Sign Media Matters’ petition urging the White House press corps to “close ranks and stand up for journalism” against Trump’s attacks.

  • The White House Press Secretary Pivots From Attacking The Press To Gaslighting Them

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    On Saturday night, White House press secretary Sean Spicer unleashed a brutal thrashing of the press, repeatedly lying about the size of the crowd that attended President Trump’s January 20 inaugural festivities. His bizarre, reality-defying statement was widely disparaged by journalists across much of the political spectrum.

    Today, in the first official White House press briefing of the Trump administration, Spicer instead offered a gentler gaslighting. The effect was just as insidious -- he manipulated the press and tried to delegitimize criticism with falsehoods. But the method -- without Saturday’s yelling and direct attacks on the media -- went down much easier with his targets.

    Some journalists and pundits rushed to praise his effort and suggest it represented a “reboot” of the Trump administration's relationship with the media:

    In fact, Spicer peppered his press briefing with a series of comments that implicitly urged reporters and the public to defy their own memories of past events and set the stage for a new reality in which facts are malleable. Here are four such cases.

    “Sometimes We Can Disagree With The Facts”

    Roughly 20 minutes into the question and answer period, ABC News’ Jonathan Karl raised the issue of Saturday’s press statement, asking Spicer, “Is it your intention to always tell the truth from that podium, and will you pledge never to knowingly say something that is nonfactual?” Spicer responded, “It is” -- then went on to say that “sometimes we can disagree with the facts.” He explained that he might occasionally pass on information that is incomplete, but his “intention is never to lie to you,” adding that he would “tell you the facts as I know them, and if we make a mistake, I’ll do our best to correct it.”

    Spicer went on to call this a “two-way street,” comparing administration falsehoods to the media making mistakes and saying that it wouldn’t be appropriate in those cases to say the press was “intentionally lying.”

    Spicer’s remarks demand that reporters forget that he had, reading from a written statement, accused the press of deliberately lying on Saturday night. He said photographs of the inaugural proceedings had been “intentionally framed” to “minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall.”

    The latest comments also demand that reporters forget that President Trump, in a speech at CIA headquarters that day, also accused the press of deliberately lying. He called them “among the most dishonest human beings on Earth,” and accused them of deliberately undercounting the inaugural turnout, saying, “We caught them, and we caught them in a beauty. And I think they're going to pay a big price.” Again, this happened two days ago.

    Believing Spicer’s too-cute claim that he just happened to err, the way that journalists sometimes makes mistakes, also requires reporters to ignore the vast array of false statements that Spicer crammed into his brief statement Saturday, all of which, curiously, happened to aid his premise that the press had been lying and the Trump inauguration had a record turnout.

    "For Too Long It's Been About Stats"

    That’s a reporter spending three minutes trying to pin Spicer down on which unemployment statistic the administration considers official -- and thus on which it should be judged. Spicer refuses to provide a straight answer, saying that “for too long it’s been about stats, ... about what number we are looking at, as opposed to what face we are looking at.”

    Trump spent more than a year on the campaign trail using a variety of statistics to falsely claim that up to 42 percent of American people were unemployed. That stat was widely denounced for including all people “not in the workforce,” including retirees and stay-at-home parents. Spicer would like reporters to forget about that -- and create a reality in which unemployment statistics are irrelevant, and thus Trump cannot be held accountable for them.

    “I Don’t Know How You Can Interpret It Differently”

    You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me with this:

    REPORTER: So are you retracting your claim on Saturday that it was the largest crowd “in person” for an inauguration?

    SPICER: That’s not what I said.

    REPORTER: Well you said, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period. Both in person and around the globe.”

    SPICER: Right.

    REPORTER: Both in person –

    SPICER: To witness – and around the globe. Yes, in total audience it was.

    REPORTER: In total audience but not simply in person.

    SPICER: But that – right, but again, I didn’t say in person, both in person and around the globe. To witness it.

    REPORTER: You’re saying those together?

    SPICER: No, that’s actually what I said. It’s not – I don’t know how you can interpret it differently, that’s literally what I said. To witness it in person and around the globe. Total audience, yes.

    Literally everyone interpreted it differently because that’s what that collection of words -- words written ahead of time to be delivered publicly, not comments off the cuff -- actually mean when they are placed next to each other.

    “This Rift That So-Called Exists”

    Asked why Trump had chosen the CIA headquarters as the venue for a speech to discuss his crowd size, Spicer claimed that Trump “kept hearing about this rift that existed” with the CIA and wanted to go before their staff to tell them that “what you are hearing on television or in reports about this rift are” are incorrect. He added that Trump’s message to the CIA was, “You see and hear all this stuff on TV about this rift that so-called exists,” but “it doesn't matter.” According to Spicer, Trump also wanted the CIA to hear “how much he respects them -- how much he wanted to dispel the myth that there was a quote-unquote ‘rift.’”

    Where did the “myth” come from and why are there so many “reports” on it? As dictated by Spicer, it came out of nowhere, the result of the media. Trump himself attributed it to his “running war with the media,” composed of “the most dishonest human beings on earth,” who “sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community.”

    Here’s why journalists reported on the “rift that so-called exists”:

    After Spicer’s briefing today, Media Matters president Angelo Carusone broke down the impact of the last three days: