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Matt Gertz

Author ››› Matt Gertz
  • After his Fox News town hall, network hosts launched a propaganda onslaught against Pete Buttigieg

    Fox hosts called Buttigieg a "clown," a "slippery demagogue," and "Pope Pete," and mischaracterized his positions

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    South Bend, IN, Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s performance at a Fox News town hall garnered rave reviews Sunday night from journalists and pundits, with some arguing that his successful turn proved that Democratic presidential candidates should be making on-air appeals to the network’s viewers.

    “This is exactly why Dems' refusal to debate on FOX is so self-defeating,” argued political analyst Jeff Greenfield. “Well-prepared candidates would have chapter and verse to offer, and on a live debate or town hall there's no way for FOX to block or distort their points.”

    What pundits who offer opinions like these are really demonstrating is that they do not understand what Fox is and how it operates. Appearing on the network did give Buttigieg the opportunity to speak directly to its audience. But the town hall does not exists in a vacuum; Fox is a right-wing propaganda machine that constantly pushes disinformation in order to damage progressives and help conservatives. And within hours -- after the commentariat had stopped watching Fox -- the network began smearing Buttigieg in an effort that will likely minimize any gains he might have made with its viewers.

    Fox & Friends, the Fox morning show beloved by President Donald Trump, devoted significant time on Monday to undermining Buttigieg’s presentation. Buttigieg is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan; co-host Brian Kilmeade presented him as trying to undermine American patriotism, calling him a “clown” who wants to “erase our country’s history” for arguing that the Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson dinners should be renamed for people who didn’t own slaves. The candidate received a warm response from the town hall attendees; Kilmeade bizarrely claimed the crowd was enthusiastic only because it was stacked with his friends and relatives. Buttigieg is a gifted communicator; the program sliced and diced his town hall answers into a clip reel of disjointed quotes which the co-hosts warned prove he is a “very progressive” radical. “He had some interesting comments last night, sounds like a nice guy, but do you agree with his policies?” co-host Ainsley Earhardt said at one point before rattling off a misinformation-laden litany of Buttigieg’s purported positions.

    This onslaught will almost certainly continue throughout the day and into the night, when the network’s stars perform for an audience that will surely be much greater than Buttigieg’s. (UPDATE 5/21: Indeed, on their Monday evening programs, Tucker Carlson described Buttigieg as a “slippery demagogue,” Sean Hannity introduced a clip from the town hall by telling his audience to “take a look at this stupid proposal,” and Laura Ingraham mocked Buttigieg’s Christian faith.) That was also the trajectory Fox’s coverage tracked after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)  partnered with the network for a town hall recently.

    No matter how persuasive the candidates might be, they can’t reverse years of propaganda in a single evening. Fox’s programming is extremely effective, and the network has spent decades priming its audience to hate Democrats. To the extent that regular Fox viewers were tuning in to Buttigieg’s town hall, he had an opportunity to speak to them. But now that he’s no longer on their airwaves, Fox’s hosts, who have a much more extensive and durable relationship with their audience, get to rebut everything he said for hours on end. This suggests that any support Buttigieg gained from Fox’s viewers during the town hall will be ephemeral at best.

    Fox, on the other hand, reaped dramatic benefits from Democratic participation in its town halls. Because of both the network’s role as a malevolent force that shills for the president and the volatility and bigotry of its stars, Fox entered the spring in a state of crisis as advertisers fled the network for safer harbors. But these town halls allow the network to rebrand itself and thus make the case to advertisers that it is safe to return.

    As Fox faced disaster, Democratic presidential candidates bailed it out. And now the network will pay them back by doing whatever it can to undermine their message and ensure their defeat.  

  • Fox’s Seth Rich conspiracy theorists: Where are they now?

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News didn't deliver on its promised Seth Rich coverage investigation, so Media Matters is doing it instead. This is the fourth in a series marking the two-year anniversary of Fox’s publication of a story -- retracted seven days later -- that promoted the conspiracy theory that the murdered Democratic National Committee staffer, and not the Russians, had provided the DNC emails to WikiLeaks. Read part one, part two, part three, part four, and our timeline of events.

    No one has been held accountable for Fox News’ promotion of conspiracy theories about murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.

    Thursday marked the two-year anniversary of Fox News’ publication of a dubiously thin, hastily edited article pushing the debunked claim that Rich had provided DNC emails to WikiLeaks. After the story crashed and burned, Fox retracted it and promised to investigate what happened.

    With no explanation forthcoming and no punishments announced two months after the story’s retraction, some Fox staffers voiced their displeasure to CNN’s Oliver Darcy. One Fox staffer told CNN that “people need to start getting canned” over the story.

    But another senior Fox News employee quoted in the story was more resigned about the situation, arguing that the lack of transparency and accountability was unsurprising for the network: “No one ever gets fired from Fox for publishing a story that isn't true.”

    The more cynical Fox staffer was correct.

    Two years later, no one involved in producing or pushing the retracted Rich story has been publicly disciplined, and several have actually been promoted.

    It’s clear, as the anonymous senior Fox employee indicated, that the network has no interest in journalistic integrity or employee accountability. The purported “investigation” was a scam intended to make it look like Fox was taking its responsibilities seriously until the anger over its actions dissipated.

    Here is what has become of the network’s conspiracy theorists:

    Malia Zimmerman is the investigative reporter who wrote the original FoxNews.com story that the network later retracted. She still apparently works at the network but has not published a new story since August 2017, soon after she and the network were sued over the story.

    Greg Wilson, then deputy managing editor of FoxNews.com, reportedly edited Zimmerman’s story, rushing to publish it in spite of its flaws because a rival story on the subject was going viral. One month after the story’s publication, Fox promoted him to managing editor of FoxNews.com.

    Sean Hannity, one of the network’s star prime-time hosts, championed the Rich conspiracy theory on Fox long after the story had collapsed. Some Fox employees told The Daily Beast they were embarrassed by his antics and network executives reportedly directed him to stop talking about Seth Rich after he lost advertisers and jeopardized a major acquisition deal in the U.K. But he has retained his show, which moved to the more coveted 9 p.m. timeslot later that year, continued to show disregard for anything resembling journalistic ethics and pushed conspiracy theories about how WikiLeaks obtained the DNC emails as recently as this April.

    Porter Berry, the executive producer of Hannity’s Fox show at the time, was the recipient of a letter from Rich’s brother Aaron who urged him to find “decency and kindness” and stop promoting the conspiracy theories. In August 2018, Fox promoted him to vice president and editor-in-chief of Fox News Digital, a role in which he oversees all of the network’s digital content, including FoxNews.com, FoxBusiness.com, and the Fox News apps.

    Laura Ingraham, then a Fox contributor, suggested on-air that the Rich family was covering up his death for partisan gain. In September 2017, Fox announced that she would host her own prime-time show for the network.

    Newt Gingrich, a Fox contributor, claimed on-air that Rich had been “assassinated” for giving WikiLeaks DNC emails. He has repeatedly refused to retract his despicable comments. He still has his Fox platform.

    Fox correspondent Griff Jenkins, the hosts of Fox & Friends and Fox & Friends First, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano were among the on-air network personalities who pushed the conspiracy theories. None appear to have been disciplined in any way.

  • Fox News' Seth Rich conspiracy theory, two years later: A timeline

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News didn’t deliver on its promised Seth Rich coverage investigation, so Media Matters is doing it instead. Two years ago, Fox published a story -- retracted seven days later -- that promoted the conspiracy theory that the murdered Democratic National Committee staffer, and not the Russians, had provided the DNC emails published by WikiLeaks.

    This timeline, the latest in our series on Fox's coverage of Rich, chronicles how it happened.

    Read part one, part two, part three, part four, and part five of our series.

    PDF design by Melissa Joskow. Video by John Kerr.

  • Jay Sekulow parroted Seth Rich conspiracy theories on Hannity’s Fox show -- then became the president’s lawyer

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fox News didn't deliver on its promised Seth Rich coverage investigation, so Media Matters is doing it instead. This is the fourth in a series marking the two-year anniversary of Fox’s publication of a story -- retracted seven days later -- that promoted the conspiracy theory that the murdered Democratic National Committee staffer, and not the Russians, had provided the DNC emails to WikiLeaks. Read part one, part two, part three, part five, and our timeline of events.

    Just a few weeks before he became President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show to express support for the vicious conspiracy theory that the July 2016 murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich had been in retaliation for Rich leaking internal emails to WikiLeaks.

    In May 2017, after Fox published a story on the subject that it eventually had to retract, Hannity became the most prominent champion of this vile conspiracy theory. Long after the story fell apart, the volatile Fox star was using his Twitter feed and his national radio and cable news shows to promote it as part of his partisan defense of Trump from allegations of Russian collusion. Day after day, as Rich’s family begged him to stop, Hannity argued that if the DNC staffer had given WikiLeaks the emails that the group released during the 2016 presidential campaign, it would debunk the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russian hackers were behind the DNC email hack and undermine its broader contention that Russia had been trying to secure Trump’s election.

    Sekulow, a conservative attorney and talk radio host with deep ties to the religious right and a fixture on Fox News and other conservative media outlets, was one of the guests Hannity leaned on most in the spring and summer of 2017 as the host sought to minimize the Trump-Russia reporting. In two May 2017 segments, their discussion turned to the Rich’s death, with Sekulow eagerly agreeing with Hannity’s adoption of the conspiracy theory.

    May 16, 2017, was a big day for the Seth Rich conspiracy theory. FoxNews.com published its dubiously thin, hastily edited story that morning alleging that Rich had been in contact with and given tens of thousands of DNC emails to a WikiLeaks operative, and that his murder had subsequently been covered up. Over the course of the day other news outlets debunked its various claims, the Rich family and the Washington, D.C., police issued denials, and the story’s only named source started walking back his claims. By the time Hannity began his Fox show at 10 p.m. EST, the story was in shambles.

    That didn’t stop Hannity from devoting a substantial portion of his opening monologue to the “massive breaking news story” or hosting Sekulow to tease out the story’s implications. Hannity asked the right-wing lawyer whether, based on the story, it is “possible that this whole Russia narrative was -- and the leaks really came from a DNC staffer and that the media's been wrong for almost a year.”

    “Well, Sean, the media has not been right yet,” Sekulow replied. “So the -- you know, the presumption should be that the media is wrong with where they're laying the blame on the leaks that are going on now.”

    Sekulow called the timeline of Rich’s death “troubling, to say the least,” adding, “It raises a serious issue and a serious concern that our national security is being jeopardized in ways we don't fully understand.”

    Two nights later, every other Fox program had stopped talking about the story and the Rich family had demanded a retraction and apology from the network for “damaging the legacy of their son.” But Hannity, with Sekulow’s help, was still pushing the conspiracy theory on his Fox show.

    This time, Sekulow speculated that some aspects of Rich’s death suggested that he had been targeted for death rather than being the victim of a botched robbery, as law enforcement had surmised. Sekulow, whose specialty is First Amendment law, claimed to be “familiar with this area.”

    “It does not fit the classic definition of robbery because the deceased -- nothing was taken,” he said. “So that means it really wasn't a robbery based on what we know but rather a murder. And there's a fundamental difference both to the criminality of that and to the way in which it would proceed through investigation.”

    “It sounds like murder one,” he added. “It sounds like premeditated murder; they targeted this individual.” He then raised questions about whether law enforcement was covering up what happened, saying, “The unfortunate situation is that it's been classified. I guess the police are classifying it as a robbery, the detectives.” Sekulow went on to speculate that Rich’s death was linked to his job at the DNC, saying, “There’s a lot more to this, I would suspect. I mean, you can’t ignore the fact that it was a DNC staff member.”

    Picking up on that thread, Hannity questioned whether the WikiLeaks emails had been leaked by someone “disgruntled at how they cheated Bernie Sanders. … Couldn't you see somebody seeing that gross injustice, saying this is outrageous, and wanting it exposed, the truth told?”

    “That happens all the time inside of a political campaign, so that's not unusual,” Sekulow replied. “The tragic aspect of it here is of course the media continuing to harp on the Russia source of the leaks which [WikiLeaks founder] Julian Assange pretty much denies, pretty unequivocally. ... That begs the question, and it's an unfortunate question to have to address, and that is there's a dead 27-year-old in Washington, D.C., who happened to be a DNC employee, and Julian Assange is at least making statements that it could be this individual.” (Special counsel Robert Mueller would later indict 12 Russian intelligence agents for hacking the DNC and other Democrats and conclude that Assange and WikiLeaks had made “a number of statements about Seth Rich,” which “implied falsely that he had been the source of the stolen DNC emails.”)

    “I think this whole Russian argument, Sean, is such subterfuge from reality,” Sekulow concluded.

    Sekulow and Hannity had laid out the entire conspiracy theory, based on little more than Assange’s claims and speculation. They didn’t want to believe that the Russians had given emails to WikiLeaks, because that could implicate Trump and prove the media correct. So instead they wove a story that suggested that Rich was an embittered employee who gave the organization the documents, then was mysteriously murdered in retaliation, with the police covering up the crime.

    Over the next few weeks, Rich’s grieving parents and brother would plead with conservative news outlets and Hannity in particular to find “decency and kindness” and stop their “unspeakably cruel” coverage. Hannity would continue to promote the conspiracy theory, even as advertisers fled his show.

    And Sekulow would be hired by Trump because the Fox-obsessed president reportedly thought he did “a good job defending him on TV."

  • Laura Ingraham’s astoundingly ghoulish attack on Seth Rich’s family

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News didn't deliver on its promised Seth Rich coverage investigation, so Media Matters is doing it instead. This is the third in a series marking the two-year anniversary of Fox’s publication of a story -- retracted seven days later -- that promoted the conspiracy theory that the murdered Democratic National Committee staffer, and not the Russians, had provided the DNC emails to WikiLeaks. Read part one, part two, part four, part five, and our timeline of events.

    There’s a long list of despicable comments that Fox News personalities have made over the past two years while promoting conspiracy theories about murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich -- from host Lou Dobbs claiming that there was a “partisan shroud” around Rich’s family to senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano asserting that Rich had been “killed assassination-style.” Host Sean Hannity ran a gruesome campaign on his shows and on Twitter to use Rich’s murder to counter the fact that the Russians had hacked the DNC servers and leaked its emails to help Donald Trump win the presidency.

    But after reviewing the network’s coverage as part of Media Matters’ investigation into Fox’s Seth Rich reporting, I’ve concluded that Fox host Laura Ingraham topped them all by suggesting that Rich’s parents were squelching efforts to find out the truth about their son’s death for partisan or monetary gain.

    Ingraham offered this sickening theory during a May 16, 2017, appearance on Fox & Friends. FoxNews.com had just published an article on the Rich case which used incredibly thin sourcing to report that Rich had been killed after he gave tens of thousands of internal DNC emails to WikiLeaks, and that his murder was being covered up.

    After reading from the article, co-host Steve Doocy turned to Ingraham for her take, saying, “So it looks like, this is a possibility, this is a guy who provided to WikiLeaks all those DNC email.” She responded by immediately raising questions about Rich’s death.

    “And he was shot in the back,” she replied. “He was shot in the back, nothing taken from his person. That’s just -- anyone at the time thought that was bizarre?”

    “He happened to work for the DNC, rumored to have had contacts with WikiLeaks, and then, he’s shot in the back; nobody takes his cell phone, his wallet, just found in the street in Washington, D.C.,” she continued.

    “It seems very suspicious,” co-host Ainsley Earhardt added, saying, “You know what’s interesting, that the parents aren’t pursuing it.”

    “I don’t know what to say about that,” Ingraham responded, before deciding that she actually did know what to say.

    “When people don’t want information to get out, and when an election is on the line,” she explained, “you know, again, reading between the lines, a lot of people will do a lot of things that otherwise they wouldn’t do when hundreds of millions of dollars are on the line.”

    Ingraham was suggesting that Rich’s parents were such bitter partisans that they weren’t interested in finding their son’s killer if doing so might show that he was assassinated for giving the emails to WikiLeaks. According to Ingraham’s apparent line of thinking, that would have helped Trump’s campaign by disproving the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that WikiLeaks had gotten the emails from Russian hackers.

    Ingraham’s ghoulish speculation was that Rich’s parents knew all this but wanted Trump to lose -- Seth was murdered almost four months before the 2016 elections -- so they made a calculated decision not to look into their son’s death.

    Ingraham went on to criticize the “aggressive lack of curiosity on the part of the frothing media,” adding, “Where’s the follow-up on this story?”

    That follow-up was forthcoming. Within hours, other media outlets reported on the gaping holes in the FoxNews.com story, which the network retracted seven days later.

    For her part, Ingraham never mentioned the story on Fox again, either on her own show or other programs on the network, according to a review of the Nexis, iQ media, and internal Media Matters databases.

  • This Fox “news” side correspondent helped push the Seth Rich conspiracy theory on-air

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News didn't deliver on its promised Seth Rich coverage investigation, so Media Matters is doing it instead. This is the second in a series marking the two-year anniversary of Fox’s publication of a story -- retracted seven days later -- that promoted the conspiracy theory that the murdered Democratic National Committee staffer, and not the Russians, had provided the DNC emails to WikiLeaks. Read part one, part three, part four, part five, and our timeline of events

    After the collapse of Fox News’ May 16, 2017, report pushing a conspiracy theory about murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, reporters and other staffers at the network told other outlets they were furious and confused with the network’s handling of the story. They anonymously savaged Fox star Sean Hannity for championing the falsehood that Rich was mysteriously killed after handing over tens of thousands of DNC emails to WikiLeaks. As months passed, they criticized the network brass for not updating them either on the internal investigation into how Fox’s digital operation published the false story or whether anyone responsible would be disciplined for it.  

    But Fox’s Rich debacle was not limited to Fox’s “opinion” commentators or its digital operation. One of the network’s on-air news reporters had also played a key role in the fiasco -- Griff Jenkins, a longtime correspondent in Fox’s Washington, D.C., bureau.

    On the night of May 15, 2017, local Fox affiliate WTTG ended up breaking Fox News’ then-unpublished story that Fox investigative reporter Malia Zimmerman had been writing. Rod Wheeler -- a Fox News contributor who had been investigating the Rich murder for his family and was the article’s only named source -- blabbed about it to one of WTTG’s reporters, who reported on his claims during the evening news. Within hours, the channel's report went viral on conservative online outlets and on social media.

    Fox & Friends, President Donald Trump’s beloved morning talk show, picked up the story early the next morning. This wasn’t surprising as the program has a long history of promoting dubious or fabricated stories from the internet without scrutinizing them, and it had previously dabbled in Seth Rich conspiracy theories. And in an apparent effort to prime that program, a businessman who had paid for Wheeler to investigate Rich’s murder on behalf of the family allegedly copied its co-hosts on an email the night before, urging them to use the Rich reporting to undermine the notion that Russia had hacked the DNC and distributed the emails as part of an effort to help Trump’s campaign.

    During the morning show, Jenkins also reported from Washington, D.C., in two early-morning segments on the Rich conspiracy theory, putting the credibility of Fox’s “news” side behind it.

    Jenkins opened his first report by detailing the “bombshell new evidence” from the WTTG report, namely Wheeler’s claims that there was evidence Rich had been in contact with WikiLeaks before his death and that the investigation was being stalled as part of a coverup. Over the course of the segment, Jenkins also pointed to purportedly suspicious aspects of Rich’s murder, which police have ruled a botched robbery, including that it happened in the city’s “most popular neighborhood” and that Rich’s wallet wasn’t stolen.

    Notably, Jenkins all but vouched for Wheeler, saying of the Fox contributor, “I’ve known Rod for a long time, and I know he’s been looking into this case for a long time in a parallel investigation.”

    He also indicated that he was hard at work on the story, explaining that he had been trying to reach the Washington, D.C., police department’s public information officer line since the department at opened at 6 a.m. (the live segment began at 6:17 a.m.) and reached out to other crime sources but “nobody [is] telling me anything.”

    “We are going to keep hunting this,” the correspondent added.

    An hour later, Fox & Friends brought Jenkins back for an update on the developing story. This time, Jenkins not only repeated many of the same details from WTTG’s report, but also provided fresh reporting of his own: an interview with Wheeler that Jenkins claimed to have happened “moments ago.” But the story Jenkins got from Wheeler wasn’t the same one Wheeler gave to WTTG.

    Jenkins reported that Wheeler told him, “Number one, a law enforcement source inside the investigation told him personally that he saw emails on a computer between Rich and a WikiLeaks contact, and he also says, number two, that the source told Rod he was instructed not to pursue the murder investigation 48 hours after Rich’s death.”

    This suggests that Wheeler told Jenkins the same “law enforcement source” provided both details. But in the WTTG report Jenkins had discussed in the previous hour, Wheeler attributes the first claim to FBI sources, and the second claim to “a source inside the police department.”

    (FoxNews.com’s Rich report, published soon after this segment, quoted Wheeler claiming that his investigation “shows there was some degree of email exchange between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks” but did not include him claiming he had spoken personally to someone who had seen the emails. Later that day, Wheeler told CNN he had only heard about the supposed emails through Fox’s Zimmerman, and he would later sue Fox News claiming she had fabricated his quote in her article.)

    It’s unclear whether Wheeler was actively changing his story or if the details were muddled in Jenkins’ retelling, but either way the Fox reporter did not note the inconsistencies.

    After repeating several of the purportedly suspicious aspects of Rich’s murder he detailed in the first report, Jenkins concluded that the story “is clearly developing.”

    “You know, for a long time, on the internet and elsewhere, he has been rumored to have been the one who gave WikiLeaks the DNC emails,” co-host Steve Doocy responded. “So, if that is true, and we don’t know yet, looks like Russia didn’t give it to WikiLeaks. It was Seth Rich, perhaps.”

    As Jenkins was discussing WTTG’s story on-air, back in the newsroom a top network digital editor rushed to publish FoxNews.com’s own report. But hours later, the story started falling apart. Wheeler walked back his claims, other news outlets reported that there were gaping holes in the WTTG and FoxNews.com stories, that the Rich family and the district police both denied the reports, and that the family demanded an apology and retraction from each outlet.

    WTTG issued a clarification the next day noting Wheeler’s reversal, and Fox finally retracted its story on May 23 and announced that it would conduct an internal investigation into how it had been published.

    But if you got your news solely from Fox & Friends, you never learned that the Rich story you had seen on the program had been debunked. The show never returned to the subject to admit it had been promoting a conspiracy theory, according to reviews of the iQ Media and internal Media Matters databases.

    Those May 16, 2017, segments were also the last time Jenkins mentioned the Rich story on Fox. His colleagues on Fox’s vaunted “news” side didn’t pick up the slack either. According to a Media Matters review of the same databases, the network’s “news” programs did not mention the Fox’s Rich report until Wheeler filed a lawsuit against the network in August (Zimmerman’s story was updated to note that the Rich family had criticized Wheeler).

    Once the story started to dissolve, Fox’s “news” side was apparently no longer interested in “hunting” it.

  • Fox News' retracted reporting on Seth Rich is even worse than you remember

    The article was based almost entirely on two sources: one anonymous, one discredited

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News didn't deliver on its promised Seth Rich coverage investigation, so Media Matters is doing it instead. This is the first in a series marking the two-year anniversary of Fox’s publication of a story -- retracted seven days later -- that promoted the conspiracy theory that the murdered Democratic National Committee staffer, and not the Russians, had provided DNC emails to WikiLeaks. Read part two, part three, part four, part five, and our timeline of events

    When Fox News’ stable of unhinged propagandists draw public criticism, its executives tell observers to focus on the network's “news” side, which supposedly provides credible reporting and follows the industry’s standards. But it was the “news” side that was responsible for Fox’s most calamitous failure in recent memory, in which the network repeatedly promoted conspiracy theories about murdered former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich. And two years later, despite a purported internal investigation into what went wrong with the network’s coverage, no one at Fox has been held accountable.

    In July 2016, the online fever swamp linked together two unrelated events: Rich’s tragic murder on July 10 in what police determined was an unsolved botched robbery and WikiLeaks’ July 22 release of thousands of internal DNC emails whose contents damaged Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Conspiracy theorists speculated -- based almost entirely on the facts that Rich had worked at the DNC and that his murder had been unsolved -- that Rich been killed in retaliation for giving the emails to WikiLeaks.

    In reality -- as the U.S. intelligence community concluded in January 2017, as did special counsel Robert Mueller in 2019 -- Russian hackers had given the emails to WikiLeaks as part of a successful effort approved at the highest levels of the Kremlin to support Donald Trump’s presidential run. But in order to raise doubts about that conclusion, prominent U.S. conservatives and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange would repeatedly suggest that Rich had been the real source of the emails.

    On May 16, 2017, 10 months after Rich’s death, Fox News put itself firmly behind that conspiracy theory with a despicable and eventually retracted online article and a series of on-air segments.

    Rereading the original FoxNews.com story, it’s still disturbing that something so poorly conceived and thinly-sourced could have made it to Fox’s website in the first place.

    Fox’s story was the result of a collaboration between an unlikely trio: Fox News investigative reporter Malia Zimmerman, who “has a history of publishing questionable stories” based on anonymous sources and claimed to have been working on the story for 10 months; Fox contributor Rod Wheeler, a private investigator who had been hired by the Rich family to review the case; and Ed Butowsky, a businessman and “reliable Republican surrogate” who Wheeler says had connected him to the Riches, paid for his work, and brought him to Zimmerman’s attention.

    The result was what Fox termed a “bombshell” story that included three extraordinary claims. Zimmerman’s report suggested that Rich had been in contact with a WikiLeaks representative before he died, that he had provided that contact with tens of thousands of DNC emails, and that a vast conspiracy theory helmed by the DNC and Clinton had covered up the truth.

    By the time Fox ran Zimmerman’s story, the notion that Rich had given the DNC emails to WikiLeaks was widely recognized as a conspiracy theory, one contradicted by the U.S. intelligence community’s findings in its January 2017 report that Russian intelligence agents had hacked the DNC and given the emails to WikiLeaks.

    One would expect a story purporting to dispute the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community to provide substantial and serious evidence. Instead, Zimmerman’s report for Fox was based almost entirely on two sources -- one anonymous and one discredited.

    Fox prints a claim from a single anonymous source that Rich gave WikiLeaks the DNC emails

    Zimmerman’s anonymous source -- a “federal investigator” from an unnamed agency -- purportedly told her that he had read an FBI report that detailed the contents of Rich’s computer, had “seen and read the emails” between him and WikiLeaks Director Gavin MacFadyen, and that Rich had sent thousands of DNC emails exchanged between January 2015 and late May 2016 to MacFadyen before May 21, 2016.

    Zimmerman claimed to have spent 10 months investigating Rich’s death, but she provided no other information corroborating the source’s statement. MacFayden had died of lung cancer in October 2016, so he couldn’t be reached to corroborate the story. But Zimmerman had no comments from any of his associates verifying that he received documents from Rich either.

    The U.S. intelligence community is not infallible, but it beggars belief that a news outlet would publish a purported debunking of its claims based on such scanty evidence.

    Fox prints its contributor’s unsupported claim of a Rich cover-up

    Later in the article, Zimmerman included this extraordinary claim:

    Wheeler believes powerful forces are preventing the case from a thorough investigation.

    “My investigation shows someone within the D.C. government, Democratic National Committee or Clinton team is blocking the murder investigation from going forward,” Wheeler told Fox News. “That is unfortunate. Seth Rich’s murder is unsolved as a result of that.”

    There are several major problems with this claim. First, Zimmerman provided no additional sources in the police department or elsewhere signing on to this theory -- it relied entirely on Wheeler’s say-so.

    Second, Zimmerman published this claim without including any information about why Wheeler believed this to be the case. He questioned why the police hadn’t been forthcoming about releasing video of Rich's murder Zimmerman's sources say exists and speculated that Rich may have given police information about his murderer before he died. But Zimmerman gave no explanation about why this led Wheeler to conclude that “powerful forces” were behind the events, much less why he named the DNC or Clinton specifically.

    Third, Wheeler is not a credible source for information -- as BuzzFeed reported, before his involvement in the Rich case, he was “mostly known for saying outrageous things on air” as a Fox contributor.

    And fourth, Wheeler subsequently alleged in a lawsuit that Zimmerman fabricated that quote, which either shows massive malfeasance on her part or provides more evidence that he is not a reliable narrator whose claims should be taken seriously. (In dismissing the suit, a federal judge concluded that Wheeler had not proved he was misquoted and that having “embarked on a collective effort to support a sensational claim regarding Seth Rich’s murder” he “cannot now seek to avoid the consequences of his own complicity and coordinated assistance in perpetuating a politically motivated story not having any basis in fact.”)

    Fox relies on the same two sources to “corroborate” report that Rich was WikiLeaks' source for the DNC emails

    Zimmerman’s only “corroboration” of her anonymous source’s claim that he read the FBI report that showed Rich and WikiLeaks’ MacFayden were in contact was that the claim “is consistent” with Wheeler’s probe. She reported that Wheeler told her: “My investigation up to this point shows there was some degree of email exchange between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks. … I do believe that the answers to who murdered Seth Rich sits on his computer on a shelf at the DC police or FBI headquarters.” But again, Zimmerman presented this assertion without producing any evidence to back it up, and Wheeler later claimed that that quote had also been fabricated.

    This was all the evidence Fox apparently required to publish a story promoting the conspiracy theory. And the network’s on-air talent picked it up from there, with Zimmerman’s report trumpeted to audiences of millions on shows like Fox & Friends, Lou Dobbs Tonight, and Hannity.

    Fox reportedly published the story because it had been scooped

    How could did this happen? CNN’s Oliver Darcy provided an explanation in an August 2017 report. In this telling, the “frenzied saga” that led to the story’s publication “took place over a period of less than 24 hours”: Zimmerman had filed a draft of her story, but it had “no concrete publish date.” But Wheeler set the wheels in motion by telling a reporter for local Fox affiliate WTTG all about the story that he said Fox News was preparing to publish. Within hours on May 15, WTTG ran a segment pushing the Rich conspiracy theory based on the reporter’s interview with Wheeler.

    CNN reported that when that story went viral on conservative media outlets, a top Fox News digital editor responded by publishing Zimmerman’s story without subjecting it to the usual editorial process:

    By the time Greg Wilson, who was at the time deputy managing editor of FoxNews.com, entered the office on the morning of May 16, the story was everywhere. Even "Fox & Friends," the network's morning show, did two segments on the case based largely on WTTG's report. Wilson rushed to prepare Fox News' own article -- which included quotes attributed to Wheeler -- for publication and set it live on the website. Zimmerman's story soon replaced the previous text on the Fox News website and was featured on the homepage as the top story.

    It's not clear exactly what kind of vetting, if any, the article went through during the rush to publish it and stake Fox News' claim to the story. A person familiar with the situation told CNN that at least two steps in the usual vetting for an article like this -- review by Refet Kaplan, managing director of FoxNews.com, and by the network's legal team -- did not happen.

    Zimmerman’s story began collapsing almost immediately under scrutiny from more credible news outlets, which reported that the FBI was “not involved in the case” and that Rich’s computer email activity did not indicate he had even been in contact with WikiLeaks. The other reporting also included denials from the Rich family and the Washington, D.C., police and looked into both Wheeler and Butowsky. Meanwhile, Wheeler began walking back the article’s claims.

    Fox promised an investigation into the story, then went quiet

    Following a week of brutal coverage, Fox finally retracted Zimmerman’s article. The piece was replaced with an editor’s note which claimed that the article “was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting” and that upon further review, it was “found not to meet those standards.”

    The note further promised to investigate how the story had been published and release that information publicly. But two years later, no such updates have been provided. Does Fox believe that Zimmerman’s anonymous source wasn’t credible? Does the network feel that its own contributor’s investigation was not sufficient to report on? We still don’t know.

    Fox has not held any of the people involved in the story’s publication accountable either. Zimmerman is apparently still a Fox reporter; Greg Wilson, the story’s editor, was subsequently promoted; and none of the on-air talent that promoted the conspiracy theory even apologized.

    And with no accountability for such a monstrous failure from the network’s “news” side, there’s every reason to suspect that something like this will happen again.

  • Study: Major media outlets' Twitter accounts amplify false Trump claims on average 19 times a day

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ & ROB SAVILLO


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Major media outlets failed to rebut President Donald Trump's misinformation 65% of the time in their tweets about his false or misleading comments, according to a Media Matters review. That means the outlets amplified Trump's misinformation more than 400 times over the three-week period of the study -- a rate of 19 per day.

    The data shows that news outlets are still failing to grapple with a major problem that media critics highlighted during the Trump transition: When journalists apply their traditional method of crafting headlines, tweets, and other social media posts to Trump, they end up passively spreading misinformation by uncritically repeating his falsehoods.

    The way people consume information in the digital age makes the accuracy of a news outlet’s headlines and social media posts more important than ever, because research shows they are the only thing a majority of people actually read. But journalists are trained to treat a politician’s statements as intrinsically newsworthy, often quoting them without context in tweets and headlines and addressing whether the statement was accurate only in the body of the piece, if at all. When the politician’s statements are false, journalists who quote them in headlines and on social media without context end up amplifying the falsehoods.

    Anecdotally, it’s been clear for some time that journalists have not adjusted their practices for the Trump era in which, according to The Washington Post, the president has already made more than 10,000 false or misleading claims. In recent months, Media Matters has explored how news outlets have passively misinformed the public by passing along misinformation from Trump administration figures on topics like threats of violence against journalists, special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, potential conflict with North Korea, Special Olympics funding, and whether the Obama administration was “spying” on Trump associates.

    But in order to assess the scope of the problem, Media Matters reviewed the more than 2,000 tweets that 32 Twitter feeds controlled by major news outlets sent about Trump comments from January 26, when legislation took effect that ended a lengthy federal shutdown and temporarily funded the government, through February 15, when Trump agreed to a longer extension of federal funding and declared a national emergency on the border.

    We coded all the tweets that referenced a Trump comment for whether it was false or misleading according to The Washington Post’s database, and if so, for whether the tweet had disputed the false or misleading claim. (Read the full methodology here.)

    It's important to keep in mind the narrowness of our scope: We reviewed how media outlets treated false claims only from the president, not from members of his administration who mimic his disregard for the truth. But even then, the results were striking, demonstrating that media outlets have a serious, ongoing problem dealing with passive misinformation.

    Key Takeaways:

    • 30% of the tweets by major media outlets’ Twitter accounts about Trump remarks referenced a false or misleading statement.

    • Nearly two-thirds of the time, the outlets did not dispute that misinformation.

    • That means the outlets amplified false or misleading Trump claims without disputing them 407 times over the three weeks of the study, an average of 19 times a day.

    • The extent to which outlets’ Twitter feeds passively spread Trump’s misinformation depended on the platform in which Trump made his comments. For example:

      • 92% of false or misleading Trump claims went undisputed when he was speaking at a press gaggle or pool spray.

      • 49% of false or misleading Trump claims went undisputed when outlets were responding to comments he made during formal speeches.

    • @TheHill was the worst actor and sent more than 40% of the tweets that pushed Trump’s misinformation without disputing it during our entire study.

     

    Passive misinformation is a problem for outlets across the board

    Trump makes false claims frequently, and the media outlet Twitter feeds we studied frequently repeat his lies.

    Media outlets put a great deal of focus on Trump’s comments -- roughly one out of every five tweets mentioning Trump was about a particular quote. We found that that content strategy leaves outlets vulnerable to passing on the president’s misinformation, as 30% of those Trump quotes contained a false or misleading claim.

    News outlets can report on Trump’s falsehoods without misleading their audience if they take the time to fact-check his statements within the body of their tweets. But we found that that isn’t happening consistently -- in nearly two-thirds of tweets referencing false or misleading Trump claims, the media outlets did not dispute Trump’s misinformation.

    All told, the Twitter feeds we studied promoted false or misleading Trump claims without disputing them in 407 tweets over a three-week period -- an average of 19 undisputed false claims published each day.

    When a tweet about a false or misleading Trump comment included a link -- which often indicates that the tweet’s text is the headline of the article found at that link -- the outlet failed to dispute the misinformation 56% of the time. We found a total of 258 such tweets.

    Media outlets performed even more poorly when they sent tweets about Trump claims that featured embedded video, a format often used to report on comments the president has just made. Outlets tweeting embedded video did not dispute false or misleading Trump comments 94% of the time. We found a total of 143 such tweets.

    Outlets passively spread Trump’s misinformation regardless of his platform

    Trump spews misinformation whenever he speaks or tweets. However, we found that media outlets responded to his misinformation differently depending on the venue where the president made his comments.

    • The Twitter feeds we followed performed the worst when Trump was speaking at a press gaggle or pool spray, passing along his false or misleading claims without disputing them 92% of the time -- a total of 61 tweets.

    • Seventy-three percent of tweets featuring a false or misleading claim Trump made during an interview did not dispute the misinformation. There were a total of 38 such tweets over the course of the study.

    • Two-thirds of tweets featuring a false or misleading claim Trump made during a press conference did not dispute the misinformation. This sample was very small, with only six such tweets.

    • Just over three-quarters of tweets featuring a false or misleading claim Trump tweeted did not dispute the misinformation. We found 166 tweets that fit that category.

    • We found that outlets performed “best” when they were responding to claims Trump made during speeches. In those circumstances, only 49% of false or misleading Trump claims went undisputed, a total of 136 tweets.

    The State of the Union exception

    The data for Trump claims during speeches is likely skewed by the media’s performance during the State of the Union.

    In our March review of the tweets media outlets sent in the 24 hours following that event, we wrote that the State of the Union likely represented a high point for the news media’s performance in responding to Trump falsehoods in real time because the night’s prominence led news outlets to devote substantial resources to fact-checking that speech.

    That hypothesis was supported by the results of our broader study. In the 24 hours after the speech began, outlets disputed 53% of false Trump claims that they tweeted about, compared to only 27% during the remainder of the study. Notably, February 5, the date of the speech, and the day before, when outlets were preparing for the speech, were the only two days over the course of the study when the number of tweets disputing Trump’s misinformation exceeded tweets failing to dispute his claims.

    In particular, some of the outlets we praised for using extensive graphics to point out misleading elements during their coverage of Trump's State of the Union speech did substantially worse in responding to his misinformation over the remainder of the study. The New York Times’ main Twitter feed and politics feed disputed every misleading Trump comment they tweeted about during the 24 hours following the State of the Union, but they did so only 38% of the time over the rest of the period. Similarly, Politico’s feed disputed more than four out of five misleading Trump claims during our March State of the Union study but did so only 8% of the time before and afterward.

    The news outlets that spread the most passive misinformation

    The outlets we studied vary in how often they report on the president’s comments, how often they highlight Trump statements that are false, and how diligent they are in fact-checking those remarks. All of these factors affect how frequently they provide passive misinformation to their audiences on Twitter.

    The Twitter feed of The Hill, which has 3.25 million followers, was by far the worst offender we reviewed, producing more than 40 percent of the tweets that pushed Trump’s misinformation without context over the entire study. It promoted Trump’s falsehoods without disputing them 175 times -- an average of more than eight per day. These numbers are so high in part because the outlet tweets about Trump far more frequently than other outlets, generating about a quarter of the total data. That high volume led to the outlet tweeting about false or misleading Trump claims 200 times. The feed rarely disputes the Trump claims it tweets about, instead simply passing along the misinformation 88% of the time. The Hill also frequently resends the same tweet at regular intervals, not only amplifying his falsehoods, but also making it more likely that the misinformation will stick with its audience through the power of repetition.

    Several Twitter feeds controlled by ABC News that we reviewed also stood out, failing to fact-check the president’s misinformation 71% of the time. Many of these cases came when the feeds tweeted Trump quotes and embedded video without additional context during or immediately following Trump events.

    • ABC News’ main Twitter feed (14.3 million followers) sent 23 tweets promoting false or misleading Trump claims, failing to dispute the president’s misinformation 74% of the time.

    • The network’s politics feed (733,000 followers) sent 25 tweets promoting false or misleading Trump claims, failing to dispute the president’s misinformation 64% of the time.

    • The feed for its evening news broadcast, World News Tonight (1.35 million followers), sent 13 tweets promoting false or misleading Trump claims, failing to dispute the president’s misinformation every single time.

    • The feed for its Sunday political talk show, This Week (166,000 followers), sent 21 tweets promoting false or misleading Trump claims, failing to dispute the president’s misinformation 64% of the time

    CBS News’ Twitter feeds also performed poorly, passing along the president’s falsehoods without disputing them 87% of the time. The network’s general feed (6.71 million followers) and the ones for its nightly news broadcast, CBS Evening News (304,000 followers), and Sunday political talk show, Face The Nation (473,000 followers), passed along Trump’s misinformation in 11, 13, and 16 tweets, respectively, failing to correct it 92%, 72%, and 100% of the time. Notably, the feeds for Face The Nation and CBS Evening News each quoted Trump in their tweets about him more than 41% of the time -- the highest rates of any feeds in our study. Considered together, that data means those two feeds are not only largely failing to assess whether the president's statements are accurate, but also using Trump's misinformation as their lens to cover his administration more than other outlets.

    Other media Twitter feeds we reviewed that sent 10 or more tweets passing on false or misleading Trump comments include MSNBC’s main feed (2.41 million followers, 11 such tweets, failing to dispute 55% of the time); NBC News’ main feed (6.52 million followers, 13 such tweets, failing to dispute 52% of the time); Politico (3.8 million followers, 14 such tweets, failing to dispute 58% of the time); and Roll Call (359,000 followers, 10 such tweets, failing to dispute 83% of the time).

    Notable exceptions

    Some feeds entirely avoided passing on Trump’s misinformation over the course of the study. NPR’s main feed, which tweeted only 20 times about Trump quotes, debunked the misinformation in all four false claims it tweeted about.

    Other Twitter feeds limited the exposure their audience had to Trump’s misinformation by minimizing their focus on Trump’s comments. For example, the feed for Meet The Press, the NBC News Sunday political talk show, failed to dispute Trump’s falsehoods 83% of the time. But it rarely tweeted about Trump comments, with such tweets making up only 9% of the outlet’s total tweets about Trump. CNN’s main Twitter feed similarly referenced Trump quotes in only 11% of the tweets about him, while doing somewhat better at fact-checking Trump, disputing his false claims 75% of the time.

    The Washington Post’s feed disputed Trump’s misinformation at the highest rate of any feed we studied that tweeted about 10 or more false Trump claims. Out of 37 tweets about false or misleading Trump claims, the outlet disputed the misinformation 33 times and failed four times, a success rate of 89%.

    Methodology

    Media Matters reviewed more than 54,000 tweets sent between 12 a.m. EST on January 26 and 12 a.m. EST on February 16 from the following Twitter feeds of U.S. wire services; major broadcast, cable, and radio networks; national newspapers; and Capitol Hill newspapers and digital outlets that cover Congress and the White House: @AP, @AP_Politics, @Reuters, @ReutersPolitics, @ABC, @ABCPolitics, @ABCWorldNews, @ThisWeekABC, @CBSEveningNews, @CBSNews, @FaceTheNation, @NBCNews, @NBCNightlyNews, @NBCPolitics, @CNN, @CNNPolitics, @FoxNews*, @BreakingNews, @MSNBC, @NPR, @nprpolitics, @nytpolitics, @nytimes @politico, @postpolitics, @washingtonpost, @WSJ, @USAToday, @latimes, @axios, @thehill, and @rollcall.

    We chose that time frame both because it involved a period of high-stakes political turmoil in which the information the public received was especially crucial, and because the president made public remarks at that time in a variety of ways, including the State of the Union, other speeches, press gaggles and pool sprays, interviews, a press conference, and innumerable tweets.

    Media Matters narrowed the universe down to the roughly 11,000 of those tweets that mentioned "Trump," and identified of that group more than 2,000 tweets that referenced a comment Trump had made. We then coded those tweets for whether they referenced a remark that’s included in The Washington Post Fact Checker’s database of false or misleading Trump claims. In such cases, we reviewed whether the outlets’ tweets had disputed the Trump claim. We reviewed the text and images embedded in the tweets, but did not review embedded videos.

    *@FoxNews did not tweet during the period of the study.

  • The Daily Caller has published white supremacists, anti-Semites, and bigots. Here are the ones we know about.

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    This piece from September 5, 2018, has been updated to include an additional example.

    A former deputy editor for The Daily Caller severed ties with the conservative news site in light of the revelation that he had also written for a white supremacist website under a pseudonym, The Atlantic’s Rosie Gray reported Wednesday. Scott Greer, who stepped down from his editorial role earlier this year to write a book, said he would no longer contribute to the Caller after Gray presented him with evidence he had been “writing as ‘Michael McGregor’ for Radix, the online publication founded by the ‘alt-right’ leader Richard Spencer, who wants to turn America into a white ethno-state.”

    The difference between Greer’s writing under his own name and at Radix appears to be one of degree, not of kind. At the Caller, Greer had defended the Confederate battle flag and referenced other white nationalist tropes, the Southern Policy Law Center reported last year in a piece documenting Greer’s ties to white nationalists. And his book No Campus for White Men: The Transformation of Higher Education into Hateful Indoctrination was favorably reviewed by white nationalist websites. As “Michael McGregor” at Radix, Gray reported, Greer “expressed racist antiblack views and anti-Semitism” and “disparaged other groups including feminists, immigrants, Christian Zionists, and the pro-life movement.”

    The Caller’s leadership is reportedly shocked at the news that the publication employed someone with ties to white nationalists. Just last month, Editor-in-Chief Geoffrey Ingersoll had defended Greer from such allegations. But in light of The Atlantic’s reporting, the website’s co-founder and publisher Neil Patel said in a statement to Gray: “We won’t publish him, anyone in these circles, or anyone who thinks like them. People who associate with these losers have no business writing for our company.”

    But as Gray notes, the Greer story shows that “members of an underground white-nationalist scene—emboldened by the rise of Donald Trump during the 2016 election—were able to operate relatively undetected in conservative institutions.” And the Caller has been ground zero for that phenomenon, publishing at least half a dozen writers with such ties over the last few years, in some cases cutting ties with the writer under scrutiny, in others ignoring the controversy. Notably, the Caller was co-founded by Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host whose show is beloved by neo-Nazis and white nationalists because he promotes their talking points against racial diversity and immigration and in favor of white anxiety.

    Below are the writers with white nationalist sympathies and ties that we know about. Some were hiding in plain sight, publishing bigoted commentary at the Caller itself. But Greer’s pseudonymous work for a white-supremacist website suggests there may be others who have yet to arise.

    Peter Brimelow 

    Brimelow wrote four op-eds for the Caller in 2017. He is a “zealous promoter of white-identity politics” whose anti-immigrant website VDare.com is “popular with the alt-right” and, by Brimelow’s own admission, publishes white nationalist writers, according to The Washington Post. Brimelow was a guest at the home of Larry Kudlow, President Donald Trump’s chief economic advisor, in August. His first piece for the Caller, in March 2017, defended Rep. Steve King’s (R-IA) racist remark that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

    Jason Kessler

    The Caller contracted with Kessler in spring of 2017 “to contribute reportage,” and he produced three pieces for the site. The Caller suspended its relationship with him in May 2017 after ProPublica reported that Kessler “is supportive of white supremacist groups” and had “praised fascist and racist organizations.” Kessler subsequently organized the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA, which featured white supremacists and neo-Nazis. The site removed Kessler’s author page and all his pieces shortly after Media Matters reached out for comment about his relationship with the site.

    Ian Smith 

    Smith wrote dozens of op-ed pieces for the Caller between 2014 and 2017, many of which call for harsher restrictions on immigration. Following Trump’s election, he joined the Department of Homeland Security, where he attended White House meetings on immigration policy, before resigning last month “after he was confronted about his ties to white nationalist groups.” Smith had also written for National Review and The Hill “during the period he was in communication with white-supremacist groups,” the Post reported.

    Milo Yiannopoulos 

    In November 2017, the Caller published what it described as the “first installment in [a] new weekly column” from Yiannapoulos, a notorious troll who worked with the “alt-right” to smuggle white nationalist ideas into Breitbart.com articles. Following an outcry, Yiannopoulos and the Daily Caller’s opinion editor, Robert Mariani, were fired.

    Moses Apostaticus

    In August 2016, the Caller published a piece by the pseudonymous writer Moses Apostaticus titled “The Alt-Right: Young White Men Sick of Being Hated,” in which he criticized the idea that “white men being as proud of their race and identity as black men or white women is profoundly disturbing.” He contributed more than 20 op-eds to the website over the next eight months, under headlines like “Go Home, Barry Soetoro” and “Donald Trump Is America’s Julius Caesar.” In May, Vox.com’s Jane Coaston pointed out Apostaticus’ history of anti-Semitic commentary.

    Ilana Mercer 

    The Caller published roughly 30 pieces from Mercer between December 2016 and November 2017. Her first piece, “The Curious Case of America’s Waning Whites,” argued that white birth rates are declining due in part to “systemic racial demonization” of poor whites. And her last, “Why Hatred of Whites is Here To Stay,” pushed the myth that white South Africans are experiencing genocide. The SPLC previously reported on Mercer’s writing for the Caller.

    Ian Miles Cheong

    A former Daily Caller contributor who last wrote for the site in May, Cheong “appeared on an alt-right podcast two months ago alongside hosts from the white supremacist podcast network The Right Stuff during which he told the hosts that he supported both nationalism and socialism,” according to Right Wing Watch.

    Dave Brooks (added 5/2/2019)

    In April 2019, Daily Caller News Foundation managing editor Dave Brooks was fired after BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray inquired about email correspondence suggesting he had contacts with white nationalists. The emails show that after Breitbart fired Katie McHugh for bigoted tweets, Brooks asked her whether she would “have any interest in working for [white nationalist publication American Renaissance] if I talked to Richard?” and saying that “I also know [white nationalist] Jared Taylor has been looking for an investigative reporter.” Brooks told Gray, “I am not friends, professionally or personally, with these people. I inquired on [McHugh’s] behalf through people I knew, and I haven't spoken to any of them in years.”

  • Trump has referenced Fox News in 43% of his recent tweets about Mueller

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On March 25, just hours after Attorney General William Barr sent a letter to Congress giving his summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report detailing his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, President Donald Trump began his day by tweeting out an unsurprisingly rosy take on the news from Fox News’ Fox & Friends.

    The conservative propagandists at Fox had spent years concocting a perverse counternarrative about the probe, and over the subsequent weeks, as Barr’s letter was exposed as a deceptive gloss on the far more damning contents of the Mueller report, they rallied to the president’s defense. Trump, in turn, has repeatedly sought to shape the debate by promoting Fox commentary and urging his followers to tune in to its programs.

    Trump referenced Fox News or Fox Business in some way in 43 of the 100 tweets he sent about the Mueller probe between the release of Barr’s summary on March 24 and April 29, according to a Media Matters review. And this number likely undercounts the network’s influence on the president’s thinking, as I have not included cases in which Trump’s tweets about Mueller probably came in response to the network’s programming but he did not specifically indicate that’s what he was doing.

    In 17 of the tweets, Trump referenced a quote from a Fox show or otherwise indicated that he was responding to the network. In 20, he (or someone he employs) shared video clips from Fox programming about the investigation.

    He has also promoted Fox shows at least eight times in recent weeks, and he tweeted thanks to particular Fox personalities five times. In addition to posting his own tweets, the president retweeted Fox-related content about Mueller 16 times.

    The comments Trump elevated typically further the alternate-reality narratives that he and the network have been pushing for years: The investigation was a “hoax,” there was “no collusion” between the president’s associates and Russia or presidential obstruction of the investigation, the media were deliberately lying to the public in order to hurt Trump, and the real scandal was the probe itself.

    Trump has an unprecedented relationship with Fox, and there has long been a feedback loop between the president and the conservative cable network he loves to watch. But the sheer number of such instances over this period stands out, as Trump has sought to drive the national conversation into the alternate reality his Fox supporters have created.

    In 17 of the tweets over this period, Trump tweeted a quote from a Fox show or otherwise indicated that he was responding to the network. This typically indicates that the president was watching the program, either in real time or on tape delay, and decided to highlight a particular comment for his followers.

    Sometimes the president included his own comments in response to the Fox personalities he quoted.

    Other times, he promoted their quotes without additional context.

    On other occasions, Trump (or someone he employs to help run his Twitter account) shared video clips from Fox programming about the investigation, doing this 20 times over the period I studied. The president apparently trusts his followers to watch the clips, as these posts generally provide little or no context for videos that can run as long as 22 minutes.

    He has also served as a network promoter, urging his followers to watch Fox or praising its programs at least eight times in recent weeks.

    On several occasions, Trump has tweeted thanks to the personalities featured in the videos, doing this for Fox Business host Trish Regan, Fox News host Jesse Watters and contributor Dan Bongino, Fox News host Steve Hilton, Fox News host Mark Levin, and radio host Rush Limbaugh, who had made a guest appearance on Fox News’ The Story.

    Trump’s promotion of Fox’s programming has added the imprimatur of the president to particularly disturbing, conspiracy-minded content.

    After telling his followers to tune in to the April 20 edition of Levin’s broadcast, Trump tweeted video of the Fox host alleging during that broadcast that “our republic is at stake” because Trump is facing a “coup” by “the people who have set [the Mueller probe] up who despise their country and despise our election system.” The clip ends with Levin shouting, “This is a disgrace what's being done to this country by the Democrat Party and by the media -- one and the same. It is a disgrace!” Trump tweeted the clip with the note, “Thank you @MarkLevinShow! #MAGA.”

    Trump has amplified a wide array of Fox programs in his tweets about Mueller. Some shows received this treatment regularly -- the president tweeted about the Mueller coverage of favorite programs like Lou Dobbs Tonight seven times, Fox & Friends six times, and Tucker Carlson Tonight five times. But he also lifted up segments from America’s Newsroom; Cavuto Live; Fox News Sunday; Hannity; The Journal Editorial Report; Justice with Jeanine Pirro; Life, Liberty, and Levin; Special Report; Mornings with Maria; The Five; The Next Revolution; The Story; Trish Regan Primetime; Varney & Co.; and Watters World.

    The Fox narratives Trump is pushing diverge substantially from the facts Mueller laid out in his report. But according to a recent HuffPost-YouGov poll, the network’s viewers believe the story Fox has been telling them. The poll shows, for example, that Fox viewers were “more likely than Republicans overall to say that no one associated with Trump’s campaign committed any crimes -- a statement that seems to be at odds with several of the indictments obtained by Mueller’s team,” as The Washington Post’s Philip Bump noted.

    It's in Trump’s interest to ensure that as many of his supporters as possible get caught in that Fox news bubble.