Media Structures & Regulations

Issues ››› Media Structures & Regulations
  • Town Of Newtown, CT, Calls On Trump To Sever Ties With Sandy Hook Truther Alex Jones

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Los Angeles Times reported parents of victims of the Sandy Hook shooting believe Donald Trump is “nurturing the culture of exaggeration and paranoia” that leads conspiracy theorists to harass them, by not publicly denouncing Alex Jones.

    After noting “President Trump and his national security advisor, Michael T. Flynn, have been open enthusiasts of Alex Jones’ Infowars,” which promotes the baseless conspiracy theory “that Sandy Hook was staged by Democrats to advance a gun control agenda,” the L.A. Times reported “The town of Newtown is drafting an official letter to the White House demanding that Trump sever his ties to Jones.”

    The L.A. Times quotes an excerpt of this letter, which states “Jones repeatedly tells his listeners and viewers that he has your ears and your respect. He brags about how you called him after your victory in November. Emboldened by your victory, he continues to hurt the memories of those lost, the ability of those left behind to heal”:

    If there is anything worse than losing a child, it is losing a child and having people taunt you over the loss.

    That is what happened to the family of Noah Pozner, a 6-year-old with tousled brown hair and lollipop-red lips, the youngest of the 26 children and staff members gunned down in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

    In the years since the massacre that shook the country and opened new anxiety over gun violence, the family has received hate-filled calls and violent emails from people who say they know the shooting was a hoax. Photos of their son — some with pornographic and anti-Semitic content — have been distributed on websites.

    [...]

    President Trump and his national security advisor, Michael T. Flynn, have been open enthusiasts of Alex Jones’ Infowars, a Web-based radio and video network that has relentlessly pushed the theory that Sandy Hook was staged by Democrats to advance a gun control agenda.

    An unabashed Trump supporter during the campaign, Jones says he received a personal call of thanks from the president-elect days after the election.

    Although Trump has not spoken publicly about Sandy Hook, many residents here say he is nurturing the culture of exaggeration and paranoia on which conspiracy theorists thrive.

    [...]

    The town of Newtown is drafting an official letter to the White House demanding that Trump sever his ties to Jones.

    “Jones repeatedly tells his listeners and viewers that he has your ears and your respect. He brags about how you called him after your victory in November. Emboldened by your victory, he continues to hurt the memories of those lost, the ability of those left behind to heal,” reads an excerpt of the letter that was shared recently with the news media.

    Family members who lost children at Sandy Hook say they find themselves twice victimized.

    [...]

    “This cloud of disinformation and misinformation and fake news has been harmful to the community,’’ said Patricia Llodra, a Republican selectwoman for Newtown. “I’m not an angry person, but when I think about the hurtful things these hoaxers say, I want to ask, ‘How could you? How dare you question the pain that these families experience every day.’”
     

    The L.A. Times’ report follows Alex Jones’ prior attacks on the daughter of slain Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Hochsprung, who had asked Trump to not appear on Jones’ radio show. Jones responded to this request by repeatedly defending his promotion of Sandy Hook conspiracies.

  • Stop Airing Spicer's White House Briefings Live

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Cable news has given White House press secretary Sean Spicer nearly 15 hours of airtime to spout lies on behalf of the administration in the past two weeks, but it’s time for the networks to stop airing his press briefings live. Spicer has shown that he is incapable of living up to his pledge to tell the truth to the press, and cable news should stop giving him a platform to continue lying to the public.

    During his first official question and answer session with the press in the White House, on January 23, Spicer answered in the affirmative when ABC’s Jon Karl asked if he would “always tell the truth from that platform,” saying, “It is never our intention to lie to you, Jonathan. … I’m gonna come out here and tell you the facts as I know them.” This came two days after Spicer’s disastrous first official statement to the press from the White House briefing room, in which he repeatedly lied to reporters about the size of crowds at President Donald Trump’s inauguration and berated the media for not adhering to his falsehoods.

    At the time, CNN chose to not air Spicer’s statement live, a decision CNN media critic Brian Stelter explained as allowing the network to “monitor the statement [and] then report on it.”

    Unfortunately, CNN’s decision to monitor Spicer’s statements before airing them turned out to be the exception instead of the norm. And in the days since Spicer pledged to tell the truth, he has continued to lie from his spot behind the lectern on a variety of topics:

    • He doubled-down on his claims about inauguration viewers, while changing his tune to say he meant total viewership, not just in-person crowds. He said Trump had “the largest-watched inauguration ever,” even though, as The Washington Post reported, “there’s no evidence” to back up even that narrower claim.

    • He blamed the media for starting the “myth” that Trump had a “rift” with the intelligence community, even though, as Politico noted, there are “several specific instances” where Trump “publicly disparaged the intelligence community.”

    • He hyped Trump’s claim that “millions of people ... voted illegally” in the 2016 election, yet when officials searched for cases of voter fraud, they found “next to none,” as The New York Times reported.

    • He asserted that Trump had an “overwhelming” Electoral College victory, winning the most electoral votes of “any Republican since Reagan,” but his tally actually ranked 46th out of 58 elections in terms of the proportion of the electoral vote he received.

    • And he claimed that there had been no changes to the makeup of the National Security Council Principals Committee from prior administrations, though NPR reported that Trump’s decision to include his chief strategist (Stephen Bannon) on the committee is “a departure from any past administration.”

    Despite the lies the press secretary has told from the lectern, cable news networks are still giving Spicer a platform to spout his falsehoods. In nearly two weeks, Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC have devoted a combined 14 hours, 58 minutes and 49 seconds of uninterrupted airtime to Spicer’s briefings. Of that total, 3 hours, 19 minutes and 41 seconds were spent on Spicer’s introductions, where he reads, more or less, from a press release and spouts the administration’s talking points. Essentially, cable networks have relinquished airtime to show unfiltered White House propaganda. And it’s not just cable news; some broadcast networks have followed suit, breaking from scheduled midday coverage to listen to Spicer’s lies while other outlets stream the briefings live on Facebook.

    While Spicer is far from the only serial liar working in the White House -- that roster includes the president himself -- he is particularly visible. White House press briefings serve a vital role in fostering transparency and keeping an open dialogue between the administration and the press, but that doesn’t mean networks should air them live -- especially when the administration uses them to spread lies and propaganda. The role of the news media is to accurately inform the public. Giving Spicer an unfiltered platform to spout misinformation daily does a disservice to viewers, and cable news must stop this pattern.

  • Politico: Trump White House Admits They Placed A “Ban” On Officials Appearing On CNN

    White House Official Insinuates They Will Lift The Ban If Coverage Becomes More Favorable

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Politico reported the Trump “White House has refused to send its spokespeople or surrogates onto CNN shows, effectively icing out the network from on-air administration voices.”

    The January 31 report includes a White House official claiming “the ban is not permanent,” insinuating that they will allow officials back on the network if the coverage becomes more favorable, while “A CNN reporter, speaking on background, was more blunt: The White House is trying to punish the network and force down its ratings.”

    The Trump Administration’s decision to avoid sending surrogates and spokespeople to CNN follows their decision to blacklist CNN on the Sunday after Trump’s inauguration, and supports Media Matters’ documentation of the Trump Administration’s blackout on CNN. From Politico:

    The White House has refused to send its spokespeople or surrogates onto CNN shows, effectively icing out the network from on-air administration voices.

    “We’re sending surrogates to places where we think it makes sense to promote our agenda,” said a White House official, acknowledging that CNN is not such a place, but adding that the ban is not permanent.

    A CNN reporter, speaking on background, was more blunt: The White House is trying to punish the network and force down its ratings.

    “They’re trying to cull CNN from the herd,” the reporter said.

    [...]

    The last time an administration official was on CNN’s Sunday public affairs show “State of the Union” was Conway on January 8. She also appeared on CNN the following Wednesday with Anderson Cooper, the same day as then President-elect Trump's press conference where he derided CNN for publishing a report that intelligence officials had briefed both Trump and former President Barack Obama that the Russians may have negative information about Trump. At the press conference, the president-elect refused to take a question from CNN correspondent Jim Acosta, who shouted out to him to answer his question since he was attacking his news organization.

    After his inauguration, Trump has continued blasting CNN as “fake news."

    Since then, Conway, Spicer, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and even Vice President Mike Pence have made the rounds on the major Sunday shows but, notably, CNN’s “State of the Union" has been cut out.

  • White Supremacist Launches Harassment Campaign On Journalist For Tying Him To White Supremacy

    “Alt-Right” Figure Who Claimed That “Jews Control The News” And Regularly Tweets About “White Genocide” Insists He Is Not A White Nationalist

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Warning: This post contains content that is not safe for work.

    Tim Treadstone, an “alt-right” white nationalist who calls himself “Baked Alaska” on the internet and frequently tweets about “white genocide,” attacked Business Insider’s Kate Taylor for an article she wrote about pro-Trump boycotts of Starbucks that linked Treadstone to white supremacy.

    In her January 30 report, Taylor wrote that Treadstone “encouraged” his followers to protest Starbucks “in an effort to ‘normalize Trump’ and the white-supremacist alt-right movement.” In response, Treadstone directed his Twitter followers to attack Taylor for what he called “falsely smear[ing] me as a white supremacist,” and also called her a “fat feminist fake news ‘journalist.’” Treadstone’s following complied with hundreds of threatening tweets, including sexually explicit comments:

    [Twitter, 1/31/17]

    [Twitter, 1/31/17]

    [Twitter, 1/31/17]

    [Twitter, 1/31/17]

    [Twitter, 1/31/17]

    Treadstone, who has been featured on the "alt-right" platform Breitbart, regularly indulges an apparent obsession with “white genocide.” He has said that changes made to the eye colors of Apple emojis meant that the company must “want white genocide” and that he would illegally download Rogue One: A Star Wars Story rather than pay for a ticket because “they support white genocide.” Treadstone also asked, “If White Genocide isn’t real, why are we criticized for providing solutions to increase our declining birth-rate?”

    [Twitter, 12/14/16]

    [Twitter, 12/14/16]

    Treadstone is a friend of fellow white nationalist Richard Spencer and sparked a rift among the “alt-right" white nationalist movement over numerous anti-Semitic comments. He repeatedly said that “Jews control the News” and dismissed comparisons of “alt-right” figures to Nazis by calling the identifier “the new boogeyman ‘ur racist’ from the left.”

    Some figures in the movement tried to sanitize Treadstone’s blatant anti-Semitism by eliminating overt displays of white supremacy, such as Nazi salutes, and Treadstone was ultimately banned from the “alt-right” Trump inauguration event known as The DeploraBall, which featured a number of neo-Nazis and white nationalists without Treadstone’s presence.

    In response to being banned from the DeploraBall, Treadstone retweeted a photoshopped anti-semitic meme showing a knife bearing the Star of David stuck in his back, and a link to an article on the white nationalist website Daily Stormer, titled “Full Cucklapse: Thernovich Bans Baked Alaska from DeploraBall -- Invites Kike MILO Instead!”


    Treadstone’s abuse of Twitter to attack journalists for doing their job is part of the ugly face of the “alt-right’s” international abuse of the Internet to spread misinformation and sideline the truth.

  • Google Takes Step In Tackling Fake News, But There's Clearly More To Do

    Google AdSense Continues To Place Ads On Numerous Fake News-Purveying Sites, Despite Its “Misrepresentative Content” Policy

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & JARED HOLT

    On January 25, Google announced that it had banned “nearly 200 publishers” from its advertising network for violating its “misrepresentative content policy.” Yet numerous notable violators of the policy that Media Matters already reported to Google remain a part of Google’s AdSense program, showing that while Google may be on the right track, the company still has more work to do.

  • Fake News Purveyors Echo Trump’s Bogus Claims Of Voter Fraud

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Following President Donald Trump’s vow to launch a federal investigation into his debunked claim that there was massive voter fraud in the 2016 election, numerous websites that Media Matters has identified as purveyors of fake news cheered on Trump’s call and falsely claimed there is massive voter fraud in the United States, an argument that has been repeatedly debunked. Nearly all of these websites are supported, in part, by revenue from Google’s advertising service.

  • Fake News Purveyors Run With Bigoted Attacks On Women’s March Organizer And Google Helps Them Profit

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    The dangerous ecosystem of fabricated news stories and hyperpartisan sites and social media accounts once again capitalized on anti-Muslim fearmongering to spread disinformation about and attacks on activist Linda Sarsour. And Google is still letting these fake news purveyors cash in on the hate.

    Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist and organizer born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, was one of four lead organizers of the record-breaking January 21 Women’s March held in Washington, D.C., and in sister cities internationally. She is the executive director of the nonprofit Arab American Association of New York and co-founder of Muslims for Ferguson, and she was recognized by the Obama White House for her roles in intersectional civil rights and racial justice organizing on the national level for years. Sarsour is also a practicing Muslim who wears a hijab.

    Predictably and painfully, hyperpartisan political blogs seized on Sarsour’s religion in an attempt to devalue the success of the march and stoke anti-Muslim sentiment among readers. The poorly sourced attacks on Sarsour stemming from the conservative blogosphere -- quintessential fearmongering common in post-9/11 right-wing news -- coalesced with complete fabrications pushed by an entire network of unaccountable websites and social media pages catering more openly to an anti-Muslim audience.

    Sarsour was “relentlessly trolled on Twitter since the Washington march,” but has now drawn support from thousands who fought back against this concerted anti-Muslim disinformation campaign against her. Even as the attacks on Sarsour appear to wind down, though, Google and other advertising networks are still allowing fake news purveyors to make money from their hateful fake news stories about Sarsour.

    Attack: Sarsour “Met” An “Ex-Hamas Operative”

    On January 21, the hyperpartisan right-wing site The Daily Caller -- “an outlet for opposition research paid for by the donor class” -- published a confusing report alleging that Sarsour “has family ties to terror group” Hamas and “recently met” an “ex-Hamas operative.” The outlet’s evidence for the latter claim appears to be a single photo of Sarsour posing with a group at a large-scale Muslim civics convention where she spoke. Among those pictured is a man named Salah Sarsour (no relation to Linda, as The Daily Caller even sort of acknowledges), who was identified as an alleged financier for Hamas in the 1990s, based on several statements made by his brother at the time. And that’s it. That’s the evidence.

    The other “ties” referenced in the article’s headline hinge on Sarsour’s work with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim advocacy group frequently attacked by conservative media, and a 2012 New York Times article in which Sarsour explicitly “denies having any contact with Hamas or other radical groups.” The 2012 article detailed a rise in anti-Muslim attacks spurred by the conservative tea party, including calls for Sarsour to resign from her Brooklyn neighborhood advisory panel because some “members of her family had been arrested on accusations of supporting Hamas.” Additional articles, which The Daily Caller did not cite, indicate that two distant relatives and a family friend of Sarsour’s were serving long sentences in Israeli jails. The writer of the 2012 Times piece explained, “Though she had several times denied any connections to radical Islamic groups, some people argue she should be held accountable for her relatives’ activities and views.”

    The Gateway Pundit, a right-wing blog notorious for hapless and irresponsible reporting that has pushed complete fabrications in the past, seized on this shoddy report from The Daily Caller  -- along with two of Sarsour’s tweets from May 2015 that joked about widespread conservative fearmongering around sharia law -- to make the additional claim that “Sarsour is pro-Sharia law with ties to Hamas.”

    Social media analytics site BuzzSumo shows that the Daily Caller article has been shared 170,000 times on various social media platforms since January 21. The Gateway Pundit post has been shared more than 405,000 times. The Daily Caller piece was also cross-posted at the Alex Jones website Infowars.

    Attack: Sarsour Pictured “Promoting The ISIS Unity Finger Sign”

    On January 22, a Twitter user posted a 2015 picture of Sarsour holding up a single finger, next to two unrelated pictures seemingly of unidentified ISIS members. The tweet asked whether “pro-Sharia” Sarsour was “promoting the ISIS unity finger sign.” 

    The January 22 tweet was retweeted less than 1,000 times, but it appears to have served as the primary evidence backing several posts from sites known for pushing fake news. The Gateway Pundit, most notably, cited the tweet in a January 23 post titled “Organizer For DC Women’s March Against Trump Pictured Flashing The ISIS Sign.” According to BuzzSumo, the post has already been shared nearly 40,000 times on social media since it was posted yesterday.

    Missing from the original tweet, the Gateway Pundit post, and the countless subsequent posts about Sarsour’s allegedly pro-ISIS stance was the context of the original photo, which was part of a social media campaign meant to show solidarity with students who had been attacked by anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller for also simply holding up their index fingers. Here is the caption Sarsour wrote for the photo:

    Pamela Geller recently was given a platform to spew hate and misinformation at Brooklyn College, thankfully booed off the stage. After the event, she circulated a picture of Muslim Brooklyn College students holding up their index fingers and associated them with terrorists. As a result of her outrageous claims, these young people have felt targeted and threatened. For me, it meant you are #1, cause you had the courage to stand up to her! I stand in solidarity with them and want them to know that they should never let an evil woman like Geller make them feel less than. Stay proud, stay strong. We got your back. #PamHates #indexfingers#OneLove #UnityAtBC #takeonhate

    Fake News Stories Combined The Baseless Attacks And Harnessed Facebook For Smear Campaign

    An avalanche of unaccountable websites pushing fake news stories, boosted by active Facebook pages drumming up shares and likes, have copied or co-opted the claims from The Daily Caller and The Gateway Pundit to spread dangerous disinformation about Sarsour across the internet. Many are lifting each other’s text directly, adding some deceptive sheen of proper citation or reporting, to fearmonger among their audiences and validate bigotry -- and they’re harnessing Facebook’s algorithm to boost clickbait headlines, misleading photos, and fabricated information. The following examples come from fake news purveying sites that rely heavily on Facebook to drive traffic to their pages, and tend to share dozens of posts per day on the social media site to generate maximum Facebook audience engagement and click-throughs to their websites.

    From fake news purveyor TruthFeed, these two posts received a combined nearly 59,000 social media engagements since they were posted on January 22 and 23:

    From fake news purveyor World Politicus (shared 13,000 times):

    And from fake news purveyor The Angry Patriot (shared 11,000 times):

    Google And Other Advertising Platforms Allow Fake News Purveyors To Profit From The Hate

    Purveyors of fake news stories not only churn out increasingly unadulterated bigotry using the power of Facebook; they also harness advertising networks -- like Google AdSense -- to profit from it. The stories highlighted above, for example, all featured Google AdSense advertising accompanying the posts about Sarsour.

    As TechCrunch explained, while mainstream outlets “may be held accountable for exaggeration,” fake news purveyors “can focus on short-term traffic and ad revenue,” which “incentivize(s) misinformation.” Google turns billions in profits by allowing advertisers to use its advertising service on third-party websites, thereby also allowing the sites that host ads to also profit.

    The Washington Post’s Abby Ohlheiser detailed how fake news writers make money, with one interviewee telling her he makes “$10,000 a month from AdSense.” David Carroll, an expert in advertising technology and professor at the New School, estimated that one fake-news share from a person within the Trump campaign “could earn the lucky hoaxer as much as $10,000 in extra revenue” and called it a “‘huge economic incentive to create stories that they want to distribute.’”

    Google AdSense is not the only advertising network to place ads directly next to bigoted fake news stories like the ones smearing Linda Sarsour; these sites are often plastered in ads placed by multiple networks including Revcontent, Taboola, and Criteo. But this latest example is further proof that -- months after Google added and then quietly deleted new language to their AdSense policy that would theoretically crack down on fake news -- Google’s still willing to let fake news purveyors profit from spreading hateful lies.

  • Report: Trump Supporters Are Trying To Manipulate French Social Media To Artificially Boost The Far-Right

    BuzzFeed News Discovers An “'Agenda … To Get Far Right, Pro-Russian Politicians Elected Worldwide'” Via “'Chaos On Social Media'”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    BuzzFeed News reported on a secretive online campaign, organized in the “private chatrooms [of] Trump supporters,” to “create as much chaos on social media as possible to make right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen and her supporters in the National Front (FN) seem like the most legitimate voice in French politics” ahead of French elections. 

    The manipulation of social media by trolls, shell accounts, and bots has had a significant impact on Western elections in recent years. Elections in the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy, and Germany have all been affected by a surge of hyper-partisan social media posts sowing confusion about basic facts to support right-wing candidates. Breitbart News, which also pushes false, misleading, hyper-partisan stories, is undertaking an expansion into France, Germany, and Italy, compounding concerns that the site will promulgate misleading or outright fake news to provide a boost to far-right candidates.

    The January 24 BuzzFeed report investigates “a chatroom called The Great Liberation of France,” an organized hub for “creating fake Facebook and Twitter accounts to manipulate French social media users.” In a Google Doc labeled “‘MEGA GENERAL’ — ‘Make Europe Great Again,’” group members, mainly Trump supporters, “teach fellow right-wing trolls how to make memes that would be believable in their country” and then direct “users to 4chan’s politics message board, 8chan’s The Bureau of Memetic Warfare, and Reddit’s /r/The_Europe” to “post pro-FN memes and jokes about François Fillon,” the front-runner for the French presidency. The “Great Liberation of France” is but one “part of a larger constellation of private rooms” that are working together to, in the words of one anonymous member, “pull the next revolution in France”:

    The large majority of the work being done in “The Great Liberation Of France” is based around creating fake Facebook and Twitter accounts to manipulate French social media users.

    The users in “The Great Liberation Of France” want to create as much chaos on social media as possible to make right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen and her supporters in the National Front (FN) seem like the most legitimate voice in French politics.

    [...]

    The chatroom’s admins have instructed users to make fake Facebook accounts that are “ideally young, cute girl, gay, Jew, basically anyone who isn’t supposed to be pro-[FN].” Users are then instructed to lock down these dummy accounts so no one can tell they’re fake. Once they have their fake Facebook profiles, they’re told to infiltrate the comment sections of large French Facebook pages and post pro-FN memes and jokes about François Fillon, France’s current frontrunner for the presidency.

    [...]

    The group has made it extremely easy for English-speakers to participate, as well. They have a Google Doc labeled “MEGA GENERAL” — “Make Europe Great Again” — that they use for planning out social media campaigns.

    It has instructions for how users can help teach fellow right-wing trolls how to make memes that would be believable in their country. “You have to provide reconnaissance for us. WE DON’T KNOW SHIT about your internet segment,” one section reads.

    [...]

    The document ends by directing users to 4chan’s politics message board, 8chan’s The Bureau of Memetic Warfare, and Reddit’s /r/The_Europe.

    [...]

    The “Great Liberation Of France” Discord group is part of a larger constellation of private rooms and they will share links between each other.

    [...]

    The user who initially invited BuzzFeed News to “The Great Liberation Of France” wished to remain anonymous and said he believes the Discord group is mostly made up of 4chan users.

    “Immediately after the election, this dude coming from a bunch of [IP addresses] posts regular threads on 4chan, inviting people to join his little troll army to pull the next revolution in France,” the anonymous user said. “The chat has been much quieter in weeks, but I suspect that’s because they have moved more to private twitter chats.”

    [...]

    “The shared agenda is to get far right, pro-Russian politicians elected worldwide. It’s not so much a conspiracy as it is a collaboration,” the anonymous user said. “The alt-right sees the US as compromised and Russia as the good guys who will ‘remove kebab’ (kill Muslims).”

    It’s simply that they’re learning from each other and figuring out how to spread their pro-fascist memes.