Media Matters staff

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  • Debunking right-wing media's bogus Ukrainian collusion narrative

    Wash. Post report shows why Hannity's defense for Trump Jr. is nonsense

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A report from The Washington Post debunked a prominent right-wing media claim that former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign worked with the Ukrainian government during the 2016 election cycle.

    In response to reports that Donald Trump Jr. welcomed potential information from the Russian government that would have been harmful to Clinton, right-wing media have suggested that Clinton, her campaign, and the Democratic Party colluded with Ukraine in a similar manner. Besides Trump propagandist Sean Hannity, prominent right-wing media outlets and figures, such as The Daily Caller, The Gateway Pundit, The Daily Wire, Fox’s Eric Bolling, and far-right conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich, pushed the claim. Trump attorney Jay Sekulow and deputy assistant to the president Sebastian Gorka, a former Breitbart editor, also appeared on news outlets and repeated the claim.

    In a July 11 report, the Post’s Philip Bump wrote that the claim that Clinton’s campaign colluded with Ukraine, which originates from a Politico article from January, relies specifically on “one person who was researching [former Trump campaign chairman Paul] Manafort with help from inside the Ukrainian Embassy and who, at some undetermined point, provided info to the Clinton campaign.” As Bump wrote, the “Ukrainian plot that’s been revealed” is, in reality, “a weak link to the Ukrainians and a weaker link to the Clinton campaign.” By contrast, “U.S. intelligence agencies believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed his intelligence agencies to hack into and release private information from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.” According to the article, “American intelligence agencies saw signs that people allied with Trump’s campaign may have been aiding the Russians in that effort.” Bump also spoke with a legal expert about the Clinton-Ukraine narrative, who said, “The difference is that there is not clear evidence of the Clinton campaign coordinating with a foreign national or encouraging or accepting their help.” From the article:

    It centers on a woman named Alexandra Chalupa, who worked as a consultant for the Democratic Party throughout the 2016 cycle through her firm, Chalupa & Associates. Her role with the party was outreach to ethnic communities, but, a Ukrainian American herself, Chalupa had been researching Paul Manafort’s work in that country even before he was tapped to serve as Donald Trump’s campaign chairman in March of last year. Chalupa, Politico said, “occasionally shared her findings with officials from the DNC and [Hillary] Clinton’s campaign” — though the timing on this sharing isn’t clear.

    [...]

    While the Politico story does detail apparent willingness among embassy staffers to help Chalupa and also more broadly documents ways in which Ukrainian officials appeared to prefer Clinton’s candidacy, what’s missing is evidence of a concerted effort driven by Kiev.

    U.S. intelligence agencies believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed his intelligence agencies to hack into and release private information from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. That effort included hackers from two different intelligence agencies which spent months inside the DNC network before releasing thousands of pages of documents to the public.

    What’s more, they coordinated a widespread campaign to amplifying unflattering stories about Clinton and promote Trump. Russia also repeatedly probed American election systems, prompting an unusual warning to states from the federal government.

    American intelligence agencies saw signs that people allied with Trump’s campaign may have been aiding the Russians in that effort. That’s why this is all being discussed right now, of course, since Trump Jr.’s emails draw the clearest line between the Russians and the campaign we’ve yet seen. The FBI began a counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s meddling a year ago.

    By contrast, Politico’s report details the work of one person who was researching Manafort with help from inside the Ukrainian Embassy and who, at some undetermined point, provided info to the Clinton campaign, though she worked for the DNC as a consultant until shortly before the party conventions. That, coupled with the Manafort ledger revelation, is the full scope of the Ukrainian plot that’s been revealed. A weak link to the Ukrainians and a weaker link to the Clinton campaign.

    [...]

    Lawrence Noble, general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, spoke with The Washington Post on Tuesday about how Trump Jr.’s emails might pose a legal risk to him. Over email, he weighed in on the Politico story as well.

    “I think the article raises some troubling questions about Ukraine involvement in our elections,” Noble said. “The difference is that there is not clear evidence of the Clinton campaign coordinating with a foreign national or encouraging or accepting their help.”

  • The Daily Beast details how Circa, a Sinclair Broadcast Group subsidiary, rebuilt itself as a pro-Trump outlet

    Media Matters' Angelo Carusone explains Sinclair and Circa's "insidious" positioning in the "conservative media echo chamber": "They understood that they had to have a veneer of journalism for their political content"

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    A report from The Daily Beast explained how the right-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group “remade Circa [News] in its own image.” According to the article, Circa now "is considered ... friendly to the Trump White House" and even has something of a "robust partnership" with Trump sycophant Sean Hannity.  

    In 2015, Sinclair bought Circa, which The Wall Street Journal described at the time as a “defunct mobile news site.” Sinclair has a history of pushing right-wing commentary that has been compared to “propaganda” and of selectively omitting stories that don’t fit its agenda. White House senior adviser Jared Kushner reportedly “struck a deal” with Sinclair during the campaign to “secure better media coverage” for then-candidate Donald Trump in exchange for “more access to Trump and the campaign.” Additionally, Sinclair has also made a series of conservative hires, including discredited former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson and former Trump White House aide Boris Epshteyn. Just this week, Sinclair announced it would be tripling the number of segments featuring Epshteyn that are sent to stations as “must-run” packages -- a typical practice for the company.

    And as The Daily Beast pointed out, Harvard’s Nieman Lab found that since Circa relaunched under Sinclair, there has been “a tendency for its stories to be picked up by Fox News.” As the Nieman Lab piece noted, Circa national security correspondent Sara Carter “appeared on [Fox News’] Hannity 11 times in March, six times in April, five times in May, and 12 times in June.” Additionally, The Daily Beast reported, Trump’s personal attorney “was planning to use the site to counter all the damaging stories in the legacy media surrounding Don Jr.’s Russia/email debacle.”

    Media Matters President Angelo Carusone told The Daily Beast that Circa is part of the “conservative media echo chamber” and “Trump sycophants are now using that brand in order to promote what’s supposed to original reporting but aligns very closely with Trump’s agenda.” From the July 12 Daily Beast report:

    [P]ress critic Angelo Carusone, president of the liberal-leaning watchdog group Media Matters, said that unlike conservative-leaning outlets of years past, Circa News cleverly presents itself as a straight-down-the-middle news site whose ideologically driven content is subtly masked.

    “What’s different about Circa and Sinclair as well is the way in which they position themselves in the conservative media echo chamber,” Carusone told The Daily Beast. “It’s so insidious. They understood that they had to have a veneer of journalism for their political content… They’re building up this veneer of credibility the way they’re positioning themselves to appeal to disaffected millennials.”

    [...]

    “They’re using a clean brand that doesn’t really have any baggage affiliated with it,” Carusone said. “It’s hollowed out, and they fill it not just with conservative misinformation but, in this case, Trump sycophants are now using that brand in order to promote what’s supposed to original reporting but aligns very closely with Trump’s agenda.”

    UPDATE: The block quote in this piece has been edited for brevity.