Brennan Suen

Author ››› Brennan Suen
  • Trump champion Hugh Hewitt gets his own show on MSNBC

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Conservative talk radio host and Trump supporter Hugh Hewitt will host his own show on MSNBC. Hewitt, who has called himself a “‘reluctant Trump’ voter," has a history of flip-flopping on Trump and his policies. He's been critical of Trump, even calling on him to be removed as the nominee twice during the presidential campaign, but has also defended him during his campaign, transition, and presidency. Hewitt's record suggests he will simply serve as a Republican shill on MSNBC and will continue spreading his right-wing punditry and misinformation.

  • London mayor was target of right-wing media long before Trump’s critical tweets

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    President Donald Trump attacked London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan on Twitter, taking his words out of context to falsely accuse him of saying there is “no reason to be alarmed” about the June 4 terror attack on the London Bridge. Khan’s full quote referred to the “increased police presence” in the area following the attack, not to the attack itself, and Trump’s tweet follows a year’s worth of right-wing media criticism of London’s first Muslim mayor.

    On June 4, Trump tweeted that Khan said that “there is ‘no reason to be alarmed,’” adding the following day that Khan “had to think fast” to come up with his “pathetic excuse” for the statement. He also accused the media of “working hard to sell it!” As explained by CNBC, Khan’s full quote was, “Londoners will see an increased police presence today and over the course of the next few days. There’s no reason to be alarmed.” In addition, a spokesperson for Khan said he “has more important things to do than respond to Donald Trump's ill-informed tweet that deliberately takes out of context his remarks urging Londoners not to be alarmed when they saw more police — including armed officers — on the streets.”

    Trump’s latest attacks on Khan did not occur in a vacuum. Right-wing media figures have attacked the London mayor since his election in 2016, and Trump made a series of disparaging comments about Khan during the 2016 U.S. election, including challenging him to an “I.Q. test,” after Khan criticized Trump’s rhetoric on Islam as “ignorant.” Khan also declined Trump’s proffered exemption from his proposed ban on Muslims entering the U.S.

    After Khan’s historic victory as the first Muslim mayor of a major Western capital and during a rift with Trump, Fox’s Dana Perino praised Khan by saying he’s “not like ISIS.” In June 2016, former Fox host Bill O’Reilly said there is a “huge Muslim component in England,” including London’s “Muslim mayor,” that contributed to the country’s decision to leave the European Union, saying “I think that the British people have had it, and they fear terrorism.” After four people died in an attack at the British Houses of Parliament in March, Fox prime-time host Tucker Carlson took comments Khan made in September out of context, saying that Khan said that “terror attacks are, quote, ‘part and parcel of living in a big city.’ In other words, it’s just part of the deal.” At that same time, Donald Trump Jr. faced backlash for criticizing Khan using the same quote. In reality, Khan was referring to major cities needing to be prepared for terror attacks.

    In May 2016, Breitbart attacked the Pope for applauding Khan’s election and saying that the election reflected Europe’s need “to rediscover its capacity to integrate.” Breitbart has posted multiple pieces of content disparaging Khan. Anti-Muslim extremist Pamela Geller called Khan “London’s new jihad mayor” in a May 2016 tweet, and current Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka, who wrote for Breitbart at the time, appeared on Fox after Khan’s election and call him “an apologist for the bad guys. Not good.”

  • NY Times' Farhad Manjoo shows how disinformation moves from message boards through Twitter and ends up on Hannity

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    The New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo reported on the ecosystem that allows disinformation to spread through Twitter and to mainstream and right-wing media, including a conspiracy theory surrounding the murder of a Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer that was cooked up in message boards and eventually promoted by Fox News host Sean Hannity.

    Though Facebook has enabled a fake news ecosystem that empowers total lies, anonymous Twitter bots have also played a part in undermining discourse and truth. Former FBI agent Clint Watts testified in front of the Senate intelligence committee in March about “how Russians used armies of Twitter bots to spread fake news using accounts that seem to be Midwestern swing-voter Republicans,” as NPR described it. And according to a McClatchy report, the FBI is investigating Russian operatives and far-right news websites for their use of bots to spread misinformation.

    In a May 31 report, the Times’ Manjoo detailed the role of Twitter in spreading disinformation, fake news, and conspiracy theories, using the story of murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich as one example. The report noted that though “Hannity pushed the theory the loudest, … it was groups on Twitter -- or more specifically, bots on Twitter -- that were first to the story and helped make it huge”:

    [T]he biggest problem with Twitter’s place in the news is its role in the production and dissemination of propaganda and misinformation. It keeps pushing conspiracy theories — and because lots of people in the media, not to mention many news consumers, don’t quite understand how it works, the precise mechanism is worth digging into.

    We recently saw the mechanism in action when another baseless conspiracy theory rose to the top of the news: The idea that the murder last year of Seth Rich, a staff member at the Democratic National Committee, was linked, somehow, to the leaking of Clinton campaign emails. The Fox News host Sean Hannity pushed the theory the loudest, but it was groups on Twitter — or, more specifically, bots on Twitter — that were first to the story and helped make it huge.

    Hannity’s obsession with Rich’s murder is a strong example of how this ecosystem shapes media narratives. Hannity has come under fire and lost a number of his advertisers for his relentless promotion of a conspiracy theory alleging that Rich’s 2016 murder was a result of his leaking DNC emails to WikiLeaks. Hannity’s promotion of the theory continued after Fox News retracted an online story making similar claims and after Rich’s family requested that Hannity stop pushing the story. Hannity has a long history of pushing conspiracy theories.

    Manjoo quotes an expert on internet propaganda who said Twitter bots amplify groups’ messages and allow them to “use Twitter as a megaphone” and eventually “manufactur[e] consensus” for ideas. Manjoo contextualized how that works for conspiracy theories. First, groups take to message boards like Reddit or 4chan or Facebook groups to “decide on a particular message to push.” Then bots “flood the network, tweeting and retweeting thousands or hundreds of thousands of messages in support of the story.” These tweets often include a “branding hashtag” such as #sethrich. The report noted that “the initial aim isn’t to convince or persuade, but simply to overwhelm,” and that as stories become Trending Topics, reporters are forced to respond, thereby aiding the propagandists’ spread of the story even as media outlets debunk it. Others, like Hannity, pick up the weaponized disinformation, attempt to legitimize it, and put it on a larger platform like his prime-time Fox News show or radio program:

    “Bots allow groups to speak much more loudly than they would be able to on any other social media platforms — it lets them use Twitter as a megaphone,” said Samuel Woolley, the director for research at Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project. “It’s doing something that I call ‘manufacturing consensus,’ or building the illusion of popularity for a candidate or a particular idea.”

    How this works for conspiracy theories is relatively straightforward. Outside of Twitter — in message boards or Facebook groups — a group will decide on a particular message to push. Then the deluge begins. Bots flood the network, tweeting and retweeting thousands or hundreds of thousands of messages in support of the story, often accompanied by a branding hashtag — #pizzagate, or, a few weeks ago, #sethrich.

    The initial aim isn’t to convince or persuade, but simply to overwhelm — to so completely saturate the network that it seems as if people are talking about a particular story. The biggest prize is to get on Twitter’s Trending Topics list, which is often used as an assignment sheet for the rest of the internet.

    I witnessed this in mid-May, just after the Fox affiliate in Washington reported that a private investigator for Mr. Rich’s family had bombshell evidence in the case. The story later fell apart, but that night, Twitter bots went with it.

    Hundreds of accounts with few or no followers began tweeting links to the story. By the next morning, #SethRich was trending nationally on Twitter — and the conspiracy theory was getting wide coverage across the right, including, in time, Mr. Hannity.

    [...]

    Because they operate unseen, bots catalyze the news: They speed up the process of discovery and dissemination of particular stories, turning an unknown hashtag into the next big thing. A trending hashtag creates a trap for journalists who cover the internet: Even if they cover a conspiracy theory only to debunk it, they’re most likely playing into what the propagandists’ want.

  • How New York journalists overcame barriers to prison access and opened the world’s eyes to the horrors of Rikers

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    The media’s access to prisons is replete with roadblocks, which vary from state to state and can be as extreme as blanket denials to journalists. U.S. courts have found that journalists have no more right to access prisons than the general public does, and much of their reporting requires navigating complicated relationships with prison officials. Despite these challenges, dogged reporting from New York journalists covering the Rikers Island jail complex made it impossible for the public and officials to ignore injustices in the prison, which Mayor Bill de Blasio promised in March to shut down.

    Journalists face numerous barriers to prison access, which varies from state to state

    New York journalists' reporting on Rikers exemplified how to overcome many challenges to access

    Reporting on prisons is in the public interest


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Journalists face numerous barriers to prison access, which varies from state to state

    One of the first complexities journalists face in their reporting on prisons is different access policies across states. The Society for Professional Journalists (SPJ) developed a state-by-state media access policy resource after finding that several states “offer few guidelines for granting or denying media requests, simply leaving it up to ‘the discretion’ of whoever is in charge.” The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) even suggests reporters “try personally appealing to the head of the department” when they are unable to navigate the complex and often arbitrary policies. SPJ’s Jessica Pupovac interviewed a Wall Street Journal criminal justice reporter who compared prisons to “a fiefdom” with a “feudal system” in which “the warden is at the top.”

    Pupovac’s toolbox on prison reporting outlined other discrepancies between states. For example, some states permit face-to-face interviews with inmates “but reserve the right to terminate such conversations at any time,” while others may reject nearly all requests. An Alabama Department of Corrections spokesperson even admitted to Pupovac in 2012 that he does not “remember any times” the department has “granted access in the last year and a half.” Other prisons require that “any sources from within the prisons” be “hand-selected by staff.” According to “peer-to-peer educational platform” GenFKD, state-by-state access policies “appear to be arbitrary considering they can be based on previous legislation, administrative regulation, individual cases or a combination thereof,” and that there are only a handful of places with “due process for media to complain if they are denied” access.

    The law, however, generally does not guarantee any sort of journalist access to prisons, though journalists have successfully sued for that access. In a 2013 Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) cover story, Beth Schwartzapfel wrote, “The courts have repeatedly held that journalists do not have any rights of access greater than that of the general public. Of course, they have no fewer rights of access, either.” One Chicago journalist threatened a lawsuit “hom[ing] in on that right to equal access,” as prison officials had granted access to school and church groups, along with the prison watchdog group John Howard Association prior to then-Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn issuing “blanket denials to journalists seeking access to the state’s prisons.” Illinois’ Department of Corrections eventually granted access, and one of the reporter’s lawyers reasoned that it was because the department “knew that to give access to John Howard and not the media raised a significant equal protection claim under the Fourteenth Amendment.”

    But the challenges do not end even when a journalist is granted access. Journalists must “navigate a complicated relationship with correctional administrators whose goals and needs are often at odds with their own,” and, as Pupovac told CJR, “Openness, and transparency are ‘the exception to the rule.’” GenFKD noted that reporters also often “take statements from officials as truth without investigating further,” and “prisoners and guards alike will be dishonest and mislead regularly.”

    Former Los Angeles Times corrections reporter Jenifer Warren told CPJ that when journalists can’t get access through prison officials, they should follow “the paper trail,” noting that “prisons are functions of state governments, and state governments keep all sorts of records.” Warren also noted that though the media may not have access to current inmates, reporters can “interview former inmates,” “talk to people who just got out, people on probation and parole, and their friends and family.” And according to GenFKD, “Though corrections officials can make it hard to talk to inmates, they can’t make it impossible. Inmates are allowed to write letters, and most have access to phone calls if reporters are willing to pay hefty fees.”

    New York journalists’ reporting on Rikers exemplified how to overcome many challenges to access

    Many of these tactics were effectively employed by New York journalists reporting on the Rikers Island jail complex, which Mayor de Blasio has vowed to close, potentially within the next 10 years.

    New York magazine writer Jennifer Gonnerman’s long-form feature about Kalief Browder, who was incarcerated at Rikers, was a Pulitzer award finalist. Browder spent three years awaiting trial for allegedly stealing a backpack when he was 16, nearly two of which were in solitary confinement. He was pressured to plead guilty as his trial was repeatedly delayed, and he was eventually released without a trial because his accuser left the country and the prosecutor was therefore “unable to meet our burden of proof at trial.” Browder took his own life in 2015 after having attempted to do so “several times” during his time in Rikers. Gonnerman’s work brought national attention to Browder’s case, with former President Barack Obama citing his case in a Washington Post op-ed he wrote in 2016, and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy specifically citing Gonnerman’s reporting in a Supreme Court opinion. According to The New York Times, she was also credited with increasing public attention “on the plight of younger teenagers at Rikers” that led to the eventual plan to move 16- and 17-year-olds from Rikers “to a dedicated jail for youths in the Bronx.”

    In her reporting, Gonnerman interviewed Browder, who had already been released, as well as his lawyers and family. She also relied heavily on court filings, transcripts, and a report by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara. These reports were instrumental in corroborating Browder’s story, such as when he recounted officers beating him and telling him that he would be sent to solitary if he went to the medical clinic rather than back to bed. The group of guards had lined Browder and other inmates “up against a wall, trying to figure out who had been responsible for an earlier fight,” and Browder recounted that though “he had nothing to do with the fight,” the guards beat him and the other inmates. Gonnerman reported that “the Department of Correction refused to respond to these allegations, or to answer any questions about Browder’s stay on Rikers.” But she was able to substantiate his story by noting that Bharara’s report “recounts many instances in which officers pressured inmates not to report beatings.”

    The New York Times’ Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz have also covered Rikers extensively. Their 2014 reporting -- in conjunction with court reporter Benjamin Weiser -- that the city had omitted “hundreds of inmate fights … from departmental statistics” was referenced by Bharara when he warned that his office, as the Times reported, “stood ready to file a civil rights lawsuit against” New York City over conditions at Rikers. The Times obtained a confidential report that showed that the data was incorrect in those statistics and that the warden and deputy warden “had ‘abdicated all responsibility’ in reporting the statistics and that both should be demoted.” Bharara’s office eventually joined an existing class-action lawsuit against the city for brutality at the complex. Reflecting on their “high-impact journalism,” Winerip and Schwirtz wrote that it was “remarkable” that they were able “to see the results of our reporting almost immediately.”

    In an earlier landmark report on rampant brutality at Rikers, Winerip and Schwirtz also noted that a “dearth of whistle-blowers, coupled with the reluctance of the city’s Department of Correction to acknowledge the problem and the fact that guards are rarely punished, has kept the full extent of the violence” at the prison “hidden from public view.” Nevertheless, they uncovered “details on scores of assaults” through both interviews and by “reviewing hundreds of pages of legal, investigative and jail records”:

    The Times uncovered details on scores of assaults through interviews with current and former inmates, correction officers and mental health clinicians at the jail, and by reviewing hundreds of pages of legal, investigative and jail records. Among the documents obtained by The Times was a secret internal study completed this year by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which handles medical care at Rikers, on violence by officers. The report helps lay bare the culture of brutality on the island and makes clear that it is inmates with mental illnesses who absorb the overwhelming brunt of the violence.

    The study, which the health department refused to release under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, found that over an 11-month period last year, 129 inmates suffered “serious injuries” — ones beyond the capacity of doctors at the jail’s clinics to treat — in altercations with correction department staff members.

    Rather than simply report on the secret study, which “included no names and had little by way of details about specific cases,” Times reporters obtained “specific information on all 129 cases and used it to take an in-depth look at 24 of the most serious incidents.” In addition to many anonymous interviews with “inmates, correction officers and mental health clinicians at the jail,” Winerip and Schwirtz interviewed officials like Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte and the president of the correction officers’ union, Norman Seabrook. While reflecting on their reporting, they noted that “once we started publishing articles, insiders saw we were serious and came forward to help. Many of them could have lost their jobs if their names were published, but they were able to point us to documents that had been covered up, and to people who were in a position to speak honestly and openly.”

    Winerip and Schwirtz’s reporting also demonstrated the need to not take officials’ words or reports at face value. Schwirtz talked about their reporting in another article, writing that “inmates can be, or be seen as, unreliable, and the correctional bureaucracies are often not forthcoming,” so he and Winerip had “to be creative.” They got help from prisoners’ “wives and girlfriends,” who passed information from their partners to the reporters, to report on brutal interrogations. They also used letters inmates wrote to the Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York, and the group’s lawyers then put the inmates in contact with the Times. Schwirtz and Winerip also spoke to inmates on the phone and were able to visit four of them. The State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision did not provide the “names of correction officers” with whom the reporters could speak and issued “only a short statement suggesting that allegations of abuse were under investigation.” 

    Reporting on prisons is in the public interest

    Reporting on prisons and incarceration is a matter of intense public interest and can expose real injustice, waste, and corruption. SPJ’s Pupovac noted that “what happens behind prison walls affects us all.” Taxpayers must pay for “an annual budget of more than $74 billion” to run U.S. prisons, and incarcerated people eventually re-enter their communities. Yet in CJR, Schwartzapfel noted that “compared to other areas that siphon significant public resources, such as healthcare, prisons get vanishingly little media attention.” Schwartzapfel also noted that “more than 600,000” incarcerated people “eventually go home” each year, and their experience in our prisons “has profound consequences for the society they return to”:

    [I]t is hard to overstate the importance of covering prisons. For starters: 95 percent of prisoners—more than 600,000 people each year—eventually go home. What happened while they were inside—whether they received job training, adequate healthcare, or learned positive life skills, or whether they were embittered, recruited into a gang, or made connections in the criminal underworld—has profound consequences for the society they return to. And the ripples extend far beyond the prisoners themselves: Almost two million children have a parent in prison—to say nothing of inmates’ parents, spouses, and siblings. Half a million correctional officers work behind the walls.

    There are entire organizations dedicated to investigating incarceration in America. The Marshall Project, a Pulitzer-winning nonprofit news organization, uses “award-winning journalism, partnerships with other news outlets and public forums … to educate and enlarge the audience of people who care about the state of criminal justice,” as well as to “create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system.” Organizations like the Marshall Project and reporting by journalists, such as those investigating Rikers, overcame barriers to prison access and shined a light on unacceptable conditions, helping spur positive change.

  • Hannity repeatedly pushed stories after Fox backed away from or retracted them

    He also has flouted ethical and employment guidelines

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Volatile Fox News anchor and right-wing conspiracy theorist Sean Hannity has repeatedly pushed stories even after his network retracted or backed away from them and has on multiple occasions broken ethical and employment guidelines. Hannity has pushed polls that the network had previously said “do not meet our editorial standards,” hyped debunked Muslim “no-go zones” in France after the network had to apologize for reporting about them, engaged in political activity without Fox’s knowledge or approval, and has used his Fox platform to benefit a sponsor of his radio show.

  • Listen to Sean Hannity contradict himself on human rights in Saudi Arabia within 5 minutes

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Right-wing Fox host and professional hypocrite Sean Hannity took two distinct positions on Saudi Arabia's human rights record and what it means for U.S. relations with the country within five minutes of each other on his radio show. As a sycophant for President Donald Trump, Hannity defended Trump’s decision to work with Saudi Arabia to combat terrorism, asserting that advances in human rights there would “come through better relations.” But just five minutes earlier, Hannity had attacked Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama for their interactions with the Saudis over the government’s oppression of women, religious minorities, and LGBTQ people. 

    Hannity has frequently cited Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses -- of which there are many -- in order to attack Clinton. However, his tone sharply changed on the May 22 edition of his show when discussing Trump’s trip to the country, which included negotiating “arms sales and infrastructure investments.” Hannity heaped praise on Trump’s speech in Saudi Arabia, saying that Trump was creating a “better future” by having the Saudis “working with the Israelis and the United States.” Hannity began to acknowledge the human rights abuses, saying he “got it,” but interrupted himself to say that human rights changes would “come through better relations.” He then indicated that fighting the Iranians and “Iranian-supported radical terrorists” comes first:

    SEAN HANNITY: But for the president, a better future now that you have the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Jordanians now working with the Israelis and the United States that is now being a part of it. And a president that said “radical Islamic terror” and described a better vision and future only if these nations drive out the terrorists and drive out the extremists: “Drive them out. Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land, and drive them out of this earth.” Was so powerful, especially comparing everything that happened under Barack Obama. And pledging cooperation, principled realism, rooting in partners, not perfection.

    [...]

    If you create, like sort of like Sun Tzu and The Art of War, alliances against one common enemy, just like we allied with the former Soviet Union in World War II to defeat Nazism. The world can be a much better, safer place with less evil in it. And in that sense, would I prefer the president talk about human rights abuses? Yeah, I got it, but -- and the oppression of women, and persecution of Jews, and slaughter of Christians, and that’s all going to come through better relations. But the first big elephant in the room here is, we better all understand if you want your lives not to be -- because remember, they’re in close proximity. The Iranians want hegemony. Iranians are willing, they are now fighting proxy war after proxy war. Who do you think is fighting the Saudis out of Yemen? That would be the Iranian-supported radical terrorists there. They’re doing the bidding of the Iranians. The Iranians being Shia and the Sunni Arab nations that I’ve been discussing here like the Saudis.

    Less than five minutes prior, however, Hannity had applauded Trump for being willing to “go up against evil, and confront evil, and identify evil,” saying there's a "distinction" between that approach and the actions of Obama and Clinton. In addition, he specifically attacked Clinton for the Clinton Foundation receiving money from Saudi Arabia because of the human rights abuses there, saying, “They oppress women, and kill gays and lesbians, and oppress Christians and Jews”:

    HANNITY: There you have a tale of two presidents. You have [Barack Obama] the apologist, the appeaser, versus [Donald Trump] the realist, and the individual that is willing to go up against evil, and confront evil, and identify evil.

    [...]

    You have money in the Clinton Foundation. You have the Saudis and all these corrupt governments that adhere to Sharia law, giving millions to the Clinton Foundation, buying her silence. Meanwhile, they oppress women, and kill gays and lesbians, and oppress Christians and Jews. Such a distinction.

    This was not the first time that Hannity contradicted himself on human rights in Saudi Arabia or on the country’s relationship with Democratic politicians. According to The Washington Post, Trump has business ties to the Saudis, something that Hannity has not acknowledged in his frequent bashing of the country’s donations to the Clinton Foundation.

    Hannity’s so-called concern for the murders of “gays and lesbians” and the “oppression of women” rings hollow given his storied history of sexism and homophobia. He has frequently dismissed women who give their opinions or seek power. Hannity has also said that “you could argue that Bill Cosby probably helped women in their careers,” despite numerous reports of Cosby sexually assaulting women. Hannity was fired from a short-lived radio show after making a series of homophobic remarks, including spreading the myths that gay men are prone to HIV/AIDS because they consume each other’s feces, engage in fisting, and insert gerbils into their rectums. He also agreed with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that the 2015 Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage across all 50 states marked “some of the darkest 24 hours in our nation’s history.”

  • This is how right-wing media reacted to ISIS terrorism under President Obama

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN, NINA MAST, BRENNAN SUEN & CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    ISIS has claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack in Manchester, England, which killed more than 20 people. During Barack Obama’s presidency, right-wing media figures exploited terrorist attacks that ISIS claimed responsibility for to blame, criticize, and attack the president. Additionally, right-wing media figures castigated Obama for not leaving a foreign trip in the aftermath of an attack.

  • On foreign trip, media figures praise Trump as “presidential” for not acting like a child

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Media figures praised President Donald Trump as “presidential” for not yet causing an international controversy on this week’s five-country trip, his first venture out of the country since the inauguration. They said the trip was “uncharacteristically normal” and praised Trump for not sounding “like the guy at the end of the bar popping off.”

  • HuffPost: Data Analytics Firm Tied To Trump And Bannon Threatening To Sue Guardian After Paper Investigated Links To Brexit

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    On May 17, HuffPost reported that data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica -- principally owned by Republican Party megadonor Robert Mercer -- has threatened to sue U.K. newspaper The Guardian for publishing “a series of articles investigating links between the conservative billionaire and last year’s Brexit vote to leave the European Union.” Mercer is also an ally of President Donald Trump and White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon.

    The Washington Post reported in October 2016 that Cambridge Analytica was paid “millions of dollars by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign” for its data analytics program. The program used “a psychological model for identifying voters that can ‘determine the personality of every single adult in the United States of America’” by using “up to 5,000 pieces of data” per adult. According to at least three Republican strategists, the Trump campaign brought the firm onboard at the urging of Robert Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah Mercer.

    Bannon was vice president of Cambridge Analytica’s board at the time, and The New York Times reported in March that he “had a stake in the company that he valued at $1 million to $5 million, which he plans to sell.” Federal Election Commission reports also indicated that millions of dollars allegedly paid by a pro-Trump super PAC to Cambridge Analytica were mysteriously sent to a California address registered to Bannon. The firm has no publicly listed address in California.

    According to HuffPost’s May 17 report, Cambridge Analytica’s attorneys sent The Guardian a “Pre-Action Protocol for Defamation” after writer Carole Cadwalladr reported that the firm and its British affiliate “tied to competing pro-Brexit Leave campaigns … hadn’t disclosed a partnership” and potentially violated British election law. According to The Guardian’s Sunday edition, The Observer, Cambridge Analytica said that the reporting “contained significant inaccuracies and amounted to a sustained campaign of vilification designed to paint a false and misleading picture of their clients,” also alleging that the newspaper was “conducting a concerted campaign to undermine their clients and cause them damage.” From the report:

    Cambridge Analytica, a U.S. data analytics firm backed by Robert Mercer, and its British affiliate, SCL Elections Limited, have threatened to sue The Guardian following a series of articles investigating links between the conservative billionaire and last year’s Brexit vote to leave the European Union.

    On Wednesday, The Guardian informed staff that the firms had threatened legal action and it added a disclaimer to more than a half-dozen articles and editorials, including “Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media” and “Revealed: how US billionaire helped to back Brexit” from February and this month’s “The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked.” 

    “These articles are the subject of a legal complaint on behalf of Cambridge Analytica LLC and SCL Elections Limited,” the disclaimer reads.

    [...]

    The aforementioned articles were written by Carole Cadwalladr, who reported Sunday that two data firms tied to competing pro-Brexit Leave campaigns, Cambridge Analytica and Canada’s AggregateIQ, hadn’t disclosed a partnership, a possible violation of British election law. The firms denied such a relationship.

    That most recent line of inquiry appeared to especially rankle Cambridge Analytica and SCL Elections, as Cadwalladr tweeted that the firms’ lawyers approached the paper on Saturday.

    Cadwalladr said the firms’ attorneys, Squire, Patton & Boggs, sent the paper a “Pre-Action Protocol for Defamation.”

    And the firms’ displeasure with Cadwalladr’s reporting was made clear in the article, which was published in The Observer, The Guardian’s Sunday newspaper.

    Lawyers for Cambridge Analytica and SCL Elections wrote to the Observer on Saturday to complain about our previous stories, which they said contained significant inaccuracies and amounted to a sustained campaign of vilification designed to paint a false and misleading picture of their clients. They said we were conducting a concerted campaign to undermine their clients and cause them damage. They said their clients have done no wrong, broken no laws and breached no one’s rights and had not been part of a ‘shadowy’ or unlawful campaign to subvert British democracy or dupe the British public.

  • Here Are The Excuses Right-Wing Media Are Using To Defend Trump Asking Comey To Drop Investigation Into Flynn

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Right-wing media figures -- particularly the hosts of Fox & Friends -- defended President Donald Trump after revelations that he asked former FBI Director James Comey to end the investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Conservative figures attacked Comey, even suggesting he broke the law, cast doubt on the accuracy of Comey’s memo quoting Trump, and parsed Trump’s words to suggest that he did not request an end to the investigation.