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  • First Amendment Watch: January 2017

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    During his 2016 campaign for president, Donald Trump launched an unprecedented war on the press. Since his election, Media Matters has tracked his and his team’s continuing attacks on the media and their abandonment of presidential norms regarding press access, which poses a dangerous threat to our First Amendment freedoms. Following is a list of attacks Trump and his team made against the media -- and instances in which they demonstrated disregard for the press -- from January 1, 2017, up to his January 20 inauguration as president.

  • In One Day, 17 Signs Of How Bad Press Treatment Will Be Under Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Yesterday’s press conference laid bare President-elect Donald Trump’s strategy for dealing with the press as president: He will seek to delegitimize news outlets that provide critical coverage, try to turn them against one another, reward sycophantic coverage from openly pro-Trump sources, and encourage others to follow in their lead. The candidate who waged an unprecedented war on the press will not be pivoting as president.

    In one day we saw Trump publicly punish members of the press for critical reporting, threatening one outlet with “consequences” for its actions and calling on another to apologize; thank members of the press who behaved in a way he found appropriate; and take a question from an outlet tied to his top aide about what “reforms” he wants to see from the press. We saw Trump aides publicly humiliate and jeer at reporters. We saw one news outlet respond to Trump’s criticism by throwing another under the bus. We saw journalists treat the attacks on the press as a sideshow while praising Trump’s performance. And we saw a U.S. congressman call for a reporter’s firing for being “disrespectful” to the president-elect.

    On Monday, CNN reported that top U.S. intelligence officials had presented information to President Obama and Trump that “Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.” The allegations were based on memos authored by a former British intelligence officer reportedly considered credible by the U.S. intelligence community. CNN obtained the memos and reported on, but did not publish, the documents because it had not been able to verify them. BuzzFeed subsequently published the memos, acknowledging that it had not verified them.

    Trump sought to use yesterday’s press conference to conflate the two stories and employ them to shatter the credibility of the news outlets that published them. The result was a horrifying day for press freedom.

    Here are some of the things that happened over the course of January 11:

    1. Sean Spicer, who will serve as White House press secretary, opened Trump’s press conference by attacking BuzzFeed as a “left-wing blog that was openly hostile to the president-elect's campaign” and calling its decision to publish the memos “outrageous and highly irresponsible.” He then said that both CNN and BuzzFeed were engaging in a “sad and pathetic attempt to get clicks.”

    2. Before introducing Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence declared that there has been “a concerted effort by some in the mainstream media to delegitimize this election and to demean our incoming administration” and accused CNN and BuzzFeed of pushing “fake news” that he said “can only be attributed to media bias, an attempt to demean the president-elect and our incoming administration.”

    3. In his opening statement, Trump thanked members of the assembled press who “came out so strongly against that fake news and the fact that it was written about by primarily one group and one television station.”

    4. Asked about the story during the press conference, Trump said that BuzzFeed was “a failing pile of garbage” and is “going to suffer the consequences” for its actions. He also criticized CNN, which he said was “going out of their way to build it up” and “ought to apologize.”

    5. CNN’s Jim Acosta then sought to ask a question of Trump given that his outlet had been attacked. Trump lashed out at Acosta’s “terrible” news outlet and refused to let him ask a question, declaring, “You are fake news!”

    6. The assembled press responded to Trump’s attack on Acosta by doing nothing.

    7. A few minutes later, Trump turned to Matt Boyle of Breitbart.com, letting Boyle ask a question. Breitbart’s executive chairman is top Trump aide Stephen Bannon, who has bragged about turning the website into the “platform” for the so-called “alt-right,” a noxious collection of white nationalists, nativists, and misogynists.

    8. Boyle, who has provided Trump with sycophantic coverage for years and is effectively an agent of Trump’s house news organ, was the only journalist provided with a reserved seat at the presser.

    9. Boyle had this question for Trump: “This decision to publish fake news and all the problems that we’ve seen throughout the media over the course of the election, what reforms do you recommend for this industry here?”

    10. Trump responded that he didn’t support “reforms,” just reporters who have “some moral compass,” before again saying that some of the reporters sitting in front of him work for “fake news” outlets.

    11. The press conference reportedly ended with Acosta being heckled by Omarosa.

    12. Trump “filled the room with paid staffers who clapped and cheered as he blasted members of the media as purveyors of ‘fake news,’” as Politico reported.

    13. After the press conference, Acosta reported that Spicer had warned him that if he didn’t stop trying to ask Trump questions, he would be “thrown out of this press conference.”

    14. CNN responded to Trump’s attacks on the network by rushing to declare that it hadn’t done anything wrong, and that it was BuzzFeed that rightfully deserved Trump’s wrath. It is telling that when the network came under fire, its executives and journalists sought not just to defend themselves, but to point Trump toward a more palatable target.

    15. The Washington Post reported that Trump had a “decent press conference” in which, “remarkably, he offered kind words for news organizations.” (The Post’s headline was later changed, replacing “decent” with “aggressive.”)

    16. Politico’s influential Playbook reported, “Journalists didn’t like his attacks on them, but for most people who watched Trump yesterday, it was a pretty good performance.”

    17. Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX) tweeted that Acosta “should be fired & prohibited from any press briefings” because he was “disrespectful to Trump.”

    Trump will be sworn in as president in eight days. Things can still get much, much worse.

  • Here Are 5 People Close To Trump Who Have Propagated Fake News

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & CHRISTOPHER LEWIS

    Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and continuing into the transition period, President-elect Donald Trump has surrounded himself with people who have helped propagate fake news, which got more attention than real news did on Facebook toward the end of the election cycle. That list includes two of his sons, his former campaign manager, his pick for national security adviser, and the adviser’s son, who was involved in the transition until recently. The fake news stories they pushed included a piece claiming Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton paid people to protest Trump’s election and a fake claim that Clinton and her campaign were involved in a child trafficking ring.

  • Report: Fake News Outperformed Real News On Facebook During Home Stretch Of 2016 Campaign

    One Fake News Writer Spoke Out About His Work In Wash. Post Interview

    Blog ››› ››› THOMAS BISHOP

    An analysis by BuzzFeed News found that during the 2016 election, fake news stories generated more engagement on Facebook than did the top election articles from major news outlets.

    BuzzFeed’s analysis comes amid growing criticism of Facebook’s lack of effective action against fake news. It was recently revealed that Facebook shelved plans to combat the epidemic of fake news stories due to fear of backlash from conservatives because the move would have “disproportionately impacted right-wing news sites by downgrading or removing that content from people’s feeds.”

    That fear of conservative backlash resulted in further fake news stories, which then generated “more engagement” on Facebook than did “the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and others,” a Buzzfeed analysis has found:

    In the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and others, a BuzzFeed News analysis has found.

    During these critical months of the campaign, 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.

    Within the same time period, the 20 best-performing election stories from 19 major news websites generated a total of 7,367,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.

    [...]

    This new data illustrates the power of fake election news on Facebook, and comes as the social network deals with criticism that it allowed false content to run rampant during the 2016 presidential campaign. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said recently it was “a pretty crazy idea” to suggest that fake news on Facebook helped sway the election. He later published a post saying, “We have already launched work enabling our community to flag hoaxes and fake news, and there is more we can do here.”

    Amid this criticism, The Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey interviewed Paul Horner, a “38-year-old impresario of a Facebook fake-news empire.” Horner described the rise of fake news in 2016 and said the Trump campaign even helped push it:

    You’ve been writing fake news for a while now — you’re kind of like the OG Facebook news hoaxer. Well, I’d call it hoaxing or fake news. You’d call it parody or satire. How is that scene different now than it was three or five years ago? Why did something like your story about Obama invalidating the election results (almost 250,000 Facebook shares, as of this writing) go so viral?

    Honestly, people are definitely dumber. They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it. It’s real scary. I’ve never seen anything like it.

    You mentioned Trump, and you’ve probably heard the argument, or the concern, that fake news somehow helped him get elected. What do you make of that?

    My sites were picked up by Trump supporters all the time. I think Trump is in the White House because of me. His followers don’t fact-check anything — they’ll post everything, believe anything. His campaign manager posted my story about a protester getting paid $3,500 as fact. Like, I made that up. I posted a fake ad on Craigslist.

    (Twitter via Mediaite)

    Why? I mean — why would you even write that?

    Just ’cause his supporters were under the belief that people were getting paid to protest at their rallies, and that’s just insane. I’ve gone to Trump protests — trust me, no one needs to get paid to protest Trump. I just wanted to make fun of that insane belief, but it took off. They actually believed it.

    I thought they’d fact-check it, and it’d make them look worse. I mean that’s how this always works: Someone posts something I write, then they find out it’s false, then they look like idiots. But Trump supporters — they just keep running with it! They never fact-check anything! Now he’s in the White House. Looking back, instead of hurting the campaign, I think I helped it. And that feels [bad].

    The entire interview is worth reading.

    It’s clear now that Facebook must take concrete steps to combat fake news -- regardless of the conservative or liberal criticism the company might face. Join Media Matters in asking Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook to fix their fake news problem by signing our petition.

  • BuzzFeed: Supposedly “Apolitical” Media Group Tried To Place Right-Wing Stories In Black Newspapers Before Election

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    BuzzFeed reports that the American Media Institute (AMI) “proposed an 11th-hour effort to place news articles critical of Hillary Clinton and other Democrats in black newspapers in the runup to the November election.”

    AMI bills itself as an “independent source of exclusive in-depth investigative journalism,” but the non-profit is largely funded by right-wing donors and is headed by Richard Miniter, a conservative author and journalist with a long history at right-wing publications. 

    In recent months AMI has placed “investigations” with a right-wing tilt in mainstream outlets including Fusion, Politico Magazine, and U.S. News & World Report. AMI’s 2014 tax filings indicate that it is largely funded through Donors Trust, a right-wing group that has been called “the dark-money ATM of the conservative movement.”

    Buzzfeed reported that AMI “approached Republican donors to finance” articles attacking Clinton to be distributed through AMI’s Urban News Service. A source told Buzzfeed that the plan “looks like voter suppression” intended to decrease Democratic turnout:

    A right-leaning nonprofit has proposed an 11th-hour effort to place news articles critical of HIllary (sic) Clinton and other Democrats in black newspapers in the runup to the November election, BuzzFeed News has learned.

    The American Media Institute has approached Republican donors to finance the articles, three sources said. They were to run in a nominally apolitical black wire service that serves the black press, the sources said.

    One source shared details of the plan with BuzzFeed News out of concern that the proposal “looks like voter suppression,” the source said. The group’s founder, Richard Miniter, adamantly denied that charge. It is also unclear whether any donors have committed to financing the project in the election’s final weeks.

    Miniter, a former Washington Times editorial page editor who is CEO and founder of the American Media Institute, has told associates that the that the stories would be distributed by the nonprofit’s Urban News Service, adding that the articles would include attacks on Obamacare and on the Clintons’ failures regarding people of color.

    Miniter’s pitch, according to a source closely familiar with its details, centers on the prospect of reaching black voters through news articles, rather than obvious opinion pieces or advertisements.

  • Trump’s Anti-Establishment Campaign Was Conservative Media’s Dream Come True, But Now It’s Failing Him

    ››› ››› NINA MAST

    Journalists are pointing out that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s “extraordinary display of personal animus” against Republicans leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), is a deliberate campaign strategy that was pushed by Breitbart News’ Steve Bannon -- and encouraged by conservative media for years -- but that it could cost Trump and the GOP the election.

  • The Guide To Donald Trump's War On The Press (So Far)

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has an extensive history of attacking the media, and his campaign and supporters have joined in the fight throughout the election. The nominee, his surrogates, and his supporters have called media outlets and reporters across the spectrum “dishonest,” “neurotic,” “dumb,” and a “waste of time,” and until recently, the campaign had a media blacklist of outlets that weren’t allowed into campaign events.

  • BuzzFeed News: Roger Ailes “Is Playing A Much Larger Backstage Role” In Trump’s Campaign Than Most Realize 

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    BuzzFeed News’ McKay Coppins reported that former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes -- who was ousted from the network after a sexual harassment lawsuit was filed against him, followed by a slew of other sexual harassment allegations -- “is playing a much larger backstage role in handling Trump than most people realize.”

    The disgraced ex-Fox head has reportedly joined the Trump campaign as an informal adviser, taking on an influential role in Trump’s debate preparation and offering guidance on leadership and advertising decisions for the campaign. Ailes’ involvement follows his departure from Fox in the wake of “shocking allegations” of sexual harassment made by multiple women in and outside of Fox News. 

    In a September 26 article, Coppins wrote that, while Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway has been given credit for the campaign’s “recent turnaround,” her “‘Trump-whisperer’ status is more made-for-TV myth than reality.” Instead, Coppins reported, Ailes “is playing a much larger backstage role” in advising Trump than most anticipated and “is said to be actively advising the candidate ahead of Monday night’s debate.” Coppins noted a Republican source who said that “Trump doesn’t listen to anyone … But he does listen to Roger sometimes”:

    No one has gotten more credit (or blame) for the recent turnaround at the Trump campaign than Kellyanne Conway, the always-on-TV Republican pollster who was promoted last month to campaign manager.

    [...]

    It’s a meme that’s only likely to grow if, as many predict, Trump uses Monday’s presidential debate stage to debut a newly chivalrous persona — but some insiders question how much influence Conway actually has over the candidate.

    Interviews this week with more than half a dozen GOP sources close to the campaign suggest her “Trump-whisperer” status is more made-for-TV myth than reality.

    [...]

    Meanwhile, two sources close to Roger Ailes said the former Fox News chief is playing a much larger backstage role in handling Trump than most people realize. More than anyone, they said, it is Ailes — a master of political communications and media — that has succeeded in getting Trump to stay on script and soften his tone.

    One source predicted that Ailes would get plenty of ink in the various post-2016 insider campaign books, but said he was “happy for now having his role downplayed.” Though Ailes is not on the campaign’s payroll, he is said to be actively advising the candidate ahead of Monday night’s debate.

    “Trump doesn’t listen to anyone,” said a Republican close to Ailes. “But he does listen to Roger sometimes.”

  • Racist Radio Host David Duke Praises Mike Pence’s "Reject[ion]" Of The Media's Call To Denounce Him

    David Duke: It’s “Good To See An Individual Like Pence And Others Start To Reject This Absolute Controlled Media”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In an interview with Buzzfeed News, radio host and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke praised Republican Vice President nominee Mike Pence, following Pence’s refusal to call Duke “deplorable” during an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

    Following Pence’s CNN interview, Buzzfeed reported that Duke called it “good to see an individual like Pence and others start to reject this absolute controlled media.” Duke argued that “the Republican Party is a big tent,” and bragged that he “had a perfect Republican voting record”:

    Louisiana Senate candidate and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke says he’s pleased that vice presidential nominee Mike Pence declined to call him “deplorable” in an interview on Monday.

    “It’s good to see an individual like Pence and others start to reject this absolute controlled media,” Duke told BuzzFeed News. “The truth is that the Republican Party in Louisiana — I received the vast majority of Republican votes for United States Senator before and for governor before that in my state. The truth is the Republican Party is big tent. I served in the Republican caucus. I was in the Republican caucus in the legislature. I had a perfect Republican voting record. It’s ridiculous that they attack me because of my involvement in that non-violent klan four decades ago.”

    In an appearance on CNN on Monday, Pence was asked about Duke’s support of his running mate Donald Trump. Pence replied, “We don’t want his support and we don’t want the support of the people who think like him.”

    Asked if Duke is “deplorable,” Pence said, “I’m not in the name-calling business.”

  • Broadcast News Widely Covers Anthony Weiner Story, Ignores Abuse Accusations Against Trump Campaign CEO

    Wash. Post, NY Times Also Give More Prominence To Weiner Saga In Print Than Abuse Allegations Against Trump Campaign CEO

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Broadcast network news programs devoted significantly more time to lewd behavior from Anthony Weiner, the husband of an aide to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, than to allegations that Donald Trump's campaign CEO engaged in domestic violence and workplace sexual harassment. The outlets treated the Weiner story as a major campaign issue even though Weiner is playing no direct role in the Clinton campaign.

    Politico reported on August 25 that Trump’s campaign CEO, Stephen Bannon, “was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence, battery and dissuading a witness following an incident with his then-wife in 1996.” The charges were later dropped, but the police report says that Bannon’s wife claimed that he “pulled at her neck and wrist during an altercation over their finances, and an officer reported witnessing red marks on her neck and wrist to bolster her account.” BuzzFeed on August 29 reported that Bannon had also been accused of sexual harassment by a co-worker while working as an investment banker in the 1990s. 

    On August 29, a top aide to Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin, announced that she was separating from Weiner following reports that he had sent lewd photos of himself to another woman.

    One might think media would focus more on the Bannon story, which involves allegations of criminality against the CEO of a presidential campaign, than on the dissolution of the marriage of a candidate's aide. That was not the case.

    ABC, CBS, and NBC devoted more than half an hour of coverage to the Weiner-Abedin story -- roughly 10 minutes for each network -- according to a Media Matters review of their morning and evening news shows (NBC’s Today and Nightly News, ABC’s Good Morning America and World News Tonight, and CBS’ CBS This Morning and Evening News) on August 26, August 29, and the morning of August 30. Those same programs devoted only 39 seconds in total to covering either of the Bannon stories, with all of that coverage coming from Good Morning America.

    Two of the nation’s leading newspapers for national political coverage, The New York Times and The Washington Post, similarly gave the Weiner-Abedin story more emphasis in their print editions. Both papers devoted 1,400-word front page articles to their separation. By contrast, the Times placed its August 26 story on Bannon’s alleged abuse on page 13, along with a portion of a page 10 August 27 piece and a single sentence of a page 1 August 27 piece. The Post devoted a large portion of a page A04 article on August 27 to the allegation. Neither paper covered the sexual harassment allegation in their respective print editions.

    Not only was the amount of coverage uneven, but in its coverage the broadcast news shows repeatedly framed the Abedin-Weiner story as something that could harm Clinton’s campaign as well as recall for voters Clinton’s own marital problems, a frame that wasn’t applied to the Bannon story. 

    NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell on Today claimed “of course” there would be political fallout for Clinton, connecting the Abedin story to Clinton not having a press conference and suggesting that it would remind voters “about Hillary Clinton's own choices 20 years ago, 19 years ago,” an apparent reference to Clinton’s decision not to leave her husband after he had an affair.

    CBS anchor Norah O’Donnell on Evening News said it was “about the last thing Hillary Clinton's campaign needed, a scandal involving the husband of her top aide Huma Abedin.” O’Donnell also asked CBS political director John Dickerson if the story “change[d]” things for Clinton and her campaign. 

    ABC correspondent Cecilia Vega on Good Morning America noted that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attempted to turn the separation “into a political attack,” adding that Trump “is not holding back, so is the Clinton campaign worried that this will be a distraction for them?” ABC political analyst Matthew Dowd also claimed the story “is a problem for the Hillary campaign” because “independents out there look at it and say, ‘Do we really want to go back to all this again?’”

    The Times and the Post’s coverage made the same connection. The Times alleged the Weiner story “threatens to remind voters about the troubles in the Clintons’ own marriage over the decades” and “evokes the debates that erupted over Mrs. Clinton’s handling of the [Monica] Lewinsky affair.” The Post also pointed to “a different ending to the parallel between Bill and Hillary Clinton and each wife’s public embarrassment by the sexual indiscretions of her politician husband.”

    The only mention of either Bannon story on broadcast news shows was during Good Morning America’s August 26 edition, which treated Bannon’s alleged spousal abuse as a passing issue. ABC correspondent Jonathan Karl briefly stated that the domestic violence allegation could cause “more turmoil ahead for the Trump campaign CEO,” but he didn't mention any impact on the overall campaign or Trump specifically. ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos also briefly brought up the domestic violence allegations with Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway to ask if Trump was “aware of [the allegation], is he OK with it,” to which Conway claimed ignorance and Stephanopoulos quickly moved on. 

    The coverage of Bannon’s alleged abuse in the Times and the Post​, while given less prominence than its Weiner-Abedin coverage, did mention a potential negative impact to Trump’s campaign. The Times claimed that while Bannon’s appointment was “part of an effort to reset a candidacy that has stumbled with minority and female voters,” Bannon “brings to the post his own bumpy background that includes misdemeanor charges of domestic violence.” In an article the next day, the Times noted the abuse allegation has “created distractions for Mr. Trump’s campaign and raised questions about [Trump’s] management style.” The Post also made the same case in an article that same day. However, none of this coverage, in broadcast or print, noted that the Bannon allegations came on the heels of other women claiming Trump had sexually harassed them in the workplace.

  • The Conservatives Who Said That Trump’s New Campaign Chief Betrayed Breitbart's Memory By Backing Donald Trump

    ››› ››› OLIVIA KITTEL

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s new campaign chief Stephen Bannon is the executive chairman of conservative website Breitbart News, which has been embroiled in a civil war over the publication’s Trump support. Numerous conservative media figures have slammed Bannon -- who is taking a leave of absence to work for Trump -- and Breitbart News for destroying the legacy of the site’s founder Andrew Breitbart, who said in 2011 that Donald Trump is “not a conservative.”

  • Right-Wing Media Monitor, Film Attendees Inside All-Gender Restroom At Democratic Convention

    ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    Right-wing media monitored and filmed people using the designated all-gender restroom at the Democratic National Convention, looking for “obviously transgender” convention attendees in the bathroom. Conservative media have long peddled the bogus myth that nondiscrimination protections for transgender people will allow male sexual predators to sneak into women’s bathrooms by pretending to be transgender, leading to an increase in assault and misbehavior in restrooms.

  • Fox Overlooks Trump’s Middle East Business Ventures While Hyping His Clinton Foundation Criticism

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    While pushing presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s criticisms of the Clinton Foundation for accepting charitable donations from Middle Eastern countries, Fox News personalities failed to note Trump’s business ties in the Middle East and his campaign manager Paul Manafort’s previous work with dictatorial regimes.