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  • Video: How conspiracy theories and attacks on the Parkland shooting survivors spread across the internet and right-wing media

    Blog ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH & MILES LE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Survivors of the Parkland, FL, mass shooting, in which 17 people lost their lives, are speaking out and demanding action on gun violence. In response, right-wing media figures are spreading conspiracy theories and attacking these students, and online platforms, like YouTube and Facebook, are enabling the spread of these lies. (Videos spreading these conspiracy theories have gone viral, with one video even trending No.1 on YouTube.)

    These are some of the conspiracy theories and attacks the right-wing media figures have launched against the students:

    • Infowars' Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist and host of The Alex Jones Show, called the attack "the perfect false flag." (He also claimed that "there's a cover-up going on.")

    • CNN political commentator Jack Kingston doubled down on his earlier tweet that the “left-wing gun control activists” are setting up the Parkland high school students for political reasons. Kingston said on CNN that he doubted these students could plan a rally without “being hijacked” by pro-gun control groups.

    • A Twitter account that regularly peddles in "The Storm" conspiracy theory, accused the students of being “crisis actors” who should be “charged and sent to jail.” (The tweet has since been deleted.)

    • Discredited author Dinesh D’Souza mocked students on Twitter for speaking out.

    • Lucian Wintrich, The Gateway Pundit’s White House correspondent, called the students “little pricks” who are “completely entitled” and are “milking the deaths of their peers for careers.”

    • Tucker Carlson, while interviewing NRATV’s Dan Bongino, claimed anti-gun groups are using the students as “a kind of moral blackmail, where you are not allowed to disagree or you are attacking the child.”

    • TruePartisan, a fringe right-wing site, claimed that student survivor David Hogg, who spoke out about ending gun violence, was a plant because his father formerly worked at the FBI. (Donald Trump Jr. promoted this conspiracy theory.)

    • NRA board member Ted Nugent shared an article on Facebook that claimed David Hogg was “coached by cameraman.” (The post has since been deleted.)

    These attacks are nothing new. Whenever there is a mass shooting, right-wing and far-right figures and outlets spread conspiracy theories to avoid talking about the real problem: the need for gun reform. Students are tired of “thoughts and prayers.” They demand an end to gun violence. They want action, and they won’t stop until they get it.

  • Hannity says the Mueller indictment vindicates his Uranium One nonsense

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Fox News host Sean Hannity has decided that the real takeaway from special counsel Robert Mueller’s February 16 indictment of Russian nationals who allegedly meddled in the 2016 presidential campaign is that it vindicates his conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was bribed to help the Russian government purchase an American uranium company.

    The so-called Uranium One scandal was launched in 2015 by a discredited author who was employed by then-Breitbart.com head Steve Bannon and funded by top Trump donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer. The theory posited that Clinton played a "central role" as secretary of state in approving the 2010 purchase of mining company Uranium One by the Russian State Atomic Nuclear Agency because Russians and people linked to the deal had given money to her husband and to the Clinton Foundation.

    This was transparent nonsense and fell apart immediately under scrutiny. But Hannity has repeatedly returned to the story as various probes into the Russian effort to help Trump win the election continue, claiming that the Uranium One tale proves that Clinton was involved in the “real collusion” with Russia, not Trump. Earlier this month, for example, he relentlessly hyped the dubious claims of an FBI informant who was involved in an Obama-era federal investigation into the Russian nuclear industry. Justice Department officials reportedly deem the informant not credible, but Hannity claimed his story is a “huge bombshell.”

    Mueller's indictment on Friday of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities on alleged crimes stemming from Russian information warfare efforts on U.S. social media sites during the election has bizarrely provided Hannity with a new opportunity to talk about the mining deal.

    Hannity has echoed Republican Party operatives and the president himself in falsely claiming that Mueller’s Friday indictment vindicates Trump and his campaign aides. That’s deceptive, but frankly about what you expect from a pro-Trump propagandist. But Hannity has also used the indictment to make a truly absurd argument, citing Mueller's action in each of his last four programs as evidence that he has been on the right track in pushing Uranium One conspiracy theories.

    The indictment, Hannity explained on Friday night, shows “nothing short of a sophisticated effort by the Russians to gain influence in America.” According to Hannity, unlike the media, his show has been “telling you this, about Vladimir Putin, about Russian operatives, about how they've been involved in sophisticated schemes” -- like Uranium One.

    “Remember,” Hannity continued, “[Putin] had people, operatives on the ground with the purpose of breaking into America's uranium market. We also told you how those Russian operatives were involved and we knew it because we had an insider on the ground, an FBI informant that they were involved in bribery, in kickbacks, and money laundering, racketeering, all in a scheme, yes, tied to Hillary Clinton.”

    In fact, according to Hannity, Russia only tried to influence the 2016 election because it had been so successful in the Uranium One purchase. “Putin and Russia, they were successful in 2010, they got the uranium,” he explained. Four years later, he added, citing the indictment, “Russian nationals, they were working together, with a troll farm located in St. Petersburg, Russia, trying to influence the election,” he said. “Why wouldn't they after they got uranium?”

    This doesn’t make a lot of sense. The indictment doesn’t close the massive holes in the Uranium One story -- namely that Clinton has not been connected to any specific action in approving the deal. The suggestion that Trump, unlike former President Barack Obama, has boldly stood against the Russian threat clashes with Trump’s years of effusive praise for Putin and his unwillingness to this day to end questions about whether he actually thinks Russia tried to influence the election. And Hannity’s effort to link Russia’s success in purchasing Uranium One to its effort to help Trump win is both spurious and noxious.

    In the days that followed, Hannity and his crew of pro-Trump sycophants repeatedly returned to the Uranium One theme. Jeanine Pirro claimed Clinton’s purported Uranium One acts are the “real crime” and said that Mueller himself “should be the one being investigated” because “he was the head of the FBI when this attempt to find the uranium started.”

    Sebastian Gorka pushed the obvious falsehood that Clinton had personally approved the Uranium One sale and done so in spite of “laws on the book .. that say America must be self-reliant on uranium.”

    And Hannity himself has used the story to attack Obama, citing an oft-repeated but flagrantly false statistic in claiming that “no serious President would've allowed Vladimir Putin and Russia to get 20 percent of our uranium.”  

    Last night, Hannity hosted a panel of the pro-Trump journalists Sara Carter and John Solomon and the Uranium One informant’s right-wing lawyer Victoria Toensing before a live audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference. All three have played key roles in advancing the pseudo scandal, and Hannity praised them for it. “All these guys have been amazing in terms of helping us unpeel the onion,” he said after introducing them, adding that “they deserve Pulitzers at the end of the day.”

    After an extensive discussion of the Uranium One tale, Hannity asked, “Will this become bigger than any other scandal we are following?” The guests agreed that it would.

    It’s hard to rank the panoply of fabrications and conspiracy theories Hannity tries to use to protect the president, but I think they may be right. Uranium One always provides Hannity with exactly what he’s looking for -- a way to defend Trump from the Russia probe by attacking Clinton and Mueller. We’ll hear much more about this from him in the days to come.

  • Tucker Carlson promotes another social media platform full of bigotry

    First it was an app called a “haven for white nationalists,” now it’s a social media network with content even Google’s AdSense is trying to avoid

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Last night on his Fox News show, Tucker Carlson hosted Bill Ottman, co-founder of a social media network you might have not heard of -- Minds.com. Carlson helped Ottman push the right-wing narrative that tech companies are censoring “free speech,” without noting the racist, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic content found on Ottman’s site. From the February 21 edition of Fox’s Tonight with Tucker Carlson:

    Carlson opened the segment declaring that tech companies are “a far bigger threat to your civil liberties than the federal government ever was.” He asked Ottman how Google is “trying to censor” his site, Minds, which purports to be a “community-owned social networking platform that rewards” users for their “activity online with revenue and more views.” In response, Ottman asserted that Google had banned his company from its AdSense advertising platform and blamed its “out-of-control algorithms which basically blanket ban companies based on certain keywords with no real rationality.” When Carlson asked Ottman for reasons the site would have been banned, Ottman deflected, saying, “Probably some keyword that got caught up in their algorithms. But it's actually a symptom of a bigger problem of censorship.” Carlson failed to push back on Ottman’s vague answer and inform his audience about the hateful content found on Minds.com.

    Ottman also claimed his company was building its own ad network to “battle” Google’s policies. Google has been under pressure to do more to weed out hateful rhetoric from its platform, with companies growing increasingly reticent to display their advertisements next to “toxic content.”  (It has continued to fall short in its efforts, as evidenced by white supremacist content that still gets monetized on Google platforms.) Yet, both Carlson and Ottman failed to explain how the anti-Semitic posts or content offensive to women found on Minds would entice any brands to advertise on the platform.

    Here is a sample of the types of content found at Minds.com:

    Holocaust denial:

    Celebrating swastikas:

    Hijacking the #meToo movement with racist memes:

    Anti-Semitism:

    Pushing the misogynist "shit test":

    Sharing misogynist videos in support of Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW):​

    Besides being reluctant to condemn white supremacists, Carlson has a record of using his show to promote the dregs of the internet and stand up for white supremacist speech.​

  • The NRA’s new talking point about background checks is bullshit

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    The National Rifle Association’s (NRA) leadership has broken its silence following last week’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Comments made by its leadership at CNN’s February 21 town hall on gun violence and during speeches at CPAC indicate that the NRA is coalescing around a misleading talking point that attacks the national background check system for gun purchases.

    Three different times during a 24 hour period, NRA leadership bemoaned that states are not required to submit disqualifying records into the background check system:

    • At CNN’s town hall, NRA national spokesperson Dana Loesch said, “We had three lawmakers on this stage and only one of them hinted at reinforcing the background check system. It is only as good as the records submitted to it. Only one of them even got anywhere close to mentioning that. We have to have more than 38 states submit records.” Loesch also asked Stoneman Douglas student Emma Gonzalez, “Do you know that it is not federally required for states to actually report people who are prohibited possessors, crazy people, people who are murderers?”

    • Loesch used the talking point again during her February 22 speech at CPAC, saying, “I want you to all ask yourselves, where are the stories about how only 38 states submit less than 80 percent of criminal convictions to the background checks system. It’s only as good as what’s submitted to it. How many of you knew that? No. Why isn’t [Sen.] Dianne Feinstein [D-CA] calling for that? I have to question whether or not they want this system to fail.”

    • NRA CEO LaPierre hit the same point to attack the press during his speech, saying, “No one gets ratings by telling the truth about how to stop mass killers. So they don’t report that 38 states submit less than 80 percent of their felony convictions to the system, leaving more than 7 million felony convictions in the dark.”

    There’s one major problem with this talking point: The NRA’s actions are the reason states can’t be required to submit disqualifying records into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

    During the 1990s, the NRA backed a lawsuit Printz v. United States that sought to block the implementation of NICS, which was created by the 1993 Brady Bill.  

    While the system eventually went into effect, the outcome of Printz damaged its effectiveness, as the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision in favor of the NRA’s argument that requiring states to perform background checks for a federal system violated the 10th Amendment.

    The ruling also had implications on whether states can be required to submit disqualifying records into the background check system. As the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence explains, “Federal law cannot require states to make information identifying people ineligible to possess firearms available to the federal or state agencies that perform background checks” because “case law suggests that a federal statute requiring states to disclose records to the FBI would violate the Tenth Amendment” due to the Printz ruling.

    As a result of this state of affairs, all Congress can do is encourage states to submit records using a carrot-and-stick system that provides incentives and disincentives for states to submit records.

    In Loesch’s CPAC comments, she asked “Why isn’t Dianne Feinstein calling for” more records to be put in the system. In fact, Feinstein is the co-sponsor of bipartisan legislation introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) that would further incentivize states to provide records into the system.

    LaPierre revived the NRA’s past claim today at CPAC that the NRA should be credited for the creation of NICS. But the reality is that when the law was being considered as legislation, the group tried to stymie it at every turn, and once it was enacted attempted to sue it out of existence.

  • Sunday shows' climate coverage in 2017 included few women, fewer minorities, and zero scientists

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Sunday news shows in 2017 largely excluded minorities and women, and completely excluded scientists and climate journalists, from discussions about climate change, a Media Matters analysis finds. This exclusion continues a multi-year trend on the shows.

    Media Matters analyzed guest appearances during broadcast network Sunday morning shows’ coverage of climate change in 2017. We reviewed segments on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and FOX Broadcast Co.'s Fox News Sunday.

    Although Sunday news shows often set the media and political agenda for the week, it is not only politicians, pundits, and other media figures who take their cues from them. The Sunday shows attracted a combined audience of more than 11 million viewers in the last quarter of 2017. With their wide viewership and political prestige, Sunday news shows play a crucial role in determining which issues and voices are included in the national dialogue.

    Key findings:

    • Only 13 percent of guests featured during climate-related segments in 2017 were minorities -- four out of 31 guests total. That's a slight improvement over 2016, when Sunday shows featured only one minority guest in climate discussions.
    • No scientists or climate journalists were featured in Sunday news shows’ 2017 climate coverage. It was the second consecutive year scientists and climate journalists were excluded.
    • Trump administration officials made up 35 percent of the Sunday show guests who discussed climate change in 2017.
    • Sunday news shows did air more coverage of climate change in 2017 than in 2016. In 2017, the four shows had 25 segments that addressed climate change, featuring 31 guests. In 2016, they aired just 10 climate-related segments that featured 10 guests.

    Minorities made up just 13 percent of Sunday news show guests discussing climate change in 2017

    Of the 31 guests featured during climate-related segments, only four were minorities. This is marginally better than in 2016 and 2015; during each of those years, minorities were only 10 percent of all Sunday show guests included in climate discussions.

    According to U.S. Census data, 39 percent of the U.S. population is nonwhite, so the Sunday news shows are failing to accurately represent the diversity of the American populace.

    In 2017, the four minority guests who participated in climate change discussions on Sunday shows were Republican political consultant Alex Castellanos on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley on Face the Nation, former Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) on Fox News Sunday, and Heather McGhee, president of the liberal think tank Demos, on Meet the Press. Castellanos is Cuban-American, Haley is Indian-American, and both Edwards and McGhee are African-American.

    Even when minorities were included in climate-related segments, the discussions were not particularly substantive. During his June 4 appearance on This Week, Castellanos justified President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, while Haley used her June 4 interview on Face the Nation to provide cover for Trump’s climate denial and his administration’s harmful environmental agenda. Edwards’ July 9 conversation on Fox News Sunday briefly mentioned Trump's decision to withdraw from Paris.

    Only McGhee, who appeared on the June 4 episode of Meet the Press, was able to engage in a relatively substantive conversation. In a back-and-forth with conservative pundit Hugh Hewitt, she argued that the fossil fuel industry is driving Republican climate denial and that we need to transition to clean energy solutions such as solar power.

    Women were 29 percent of Sunday show guests in climate-related segments in 2017

    Just 9 of 31 guests who appeared on the Sunday shows to discuss climate change were women. NBC had the most female guests, with three, while ABC, CBS, and FOX each had two women guests. Though an improvement from both 2016, when no women were featured in climate-related segments, and 2015, when 17 percent were women, the trend of males dominating Sunday news shows continues, in spite of the fact that females are 51 percent of the population.

    For the second consecutive year, Sunday news shows failed to feature a single scientist in a climate-related segment

    Sunday news shows in 2017 and 2016 did not include any scientists in their climate coverage. The last time a scientist appeared in a Sunday show climate segment was the December 13, 2015, episode of Face the Nation

    Sunday shows also excluded journalists who focus on climate change and the environment. The eight media figures who took part in climate-related discussions were political journalists or generalists, which contributed to climate change being discussed within a narrow political framework. Nation Editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, during her June 4 appearance on This Week, was a rare example of a media figure who broadened a climate discussion. During an exchange about the Paris accord, she pointed out that mayors, governors, and business figures remain committed to the accord, and she called out the pervasive influence of fossil-fuel money in American politics.

    Trump administration officials made up more than a third of guests in climate segments in 2017

    Sunday news shows’ climate coverage focused almost exclusively on actions and statements by the Trump administration, as Media Matters found in its recent study of broadcast TV news coverage. That myopia was driven, at least in part, by guest lineups that leaned heavily on the Trump administration. Thirty-five percent of the guests who participated in the Sunday shows' climate conversations served in the Trump administration. This is a notable increase from the percentage of Obama administration guests who were featured in 2016 (10 percent) and 2015 (13 percent).

    Sunday shows continue to leave out the voices that need to be heard most in discussions about climate change

    Too little airtime was given to segments of the American populace that are most worried about and affected by climate change, and to those scientists who are most knowledgeable about it.

    Polling shows that nonwhites in the U.S. are more concerned about climate change than whites and more likely to say they feel its impacts. A 2015 poll of African Americans found that 60 percent ranked global warming as a serious issue, and 67 percent said that actions should be taken to reduce the threat of global warming. And a 2017 survey found that 78 percent of Latinos were worried about global warming, compared to 56 percent of non-Latinos, and that 53 percent of Latinos said they have personally experienced the effects of global warming, while only 39 percent of non-Latinos said the same. 

    Indeed, federal research finds that human-induced climate change “will have the largest health impact on vulnerable populations including … some communities of color, limited English proficiency and immigrant groups, Indigenous peoples,” and others. We saw signs of this last year, with hurricanes Harvey and Maria having particularly harsh impacts on African-American and Latino communities.

    Polls also indicate that American women are more worried about climate change than men. According to a 2015 survey, 69 percent of women in the U.S. are concerned that climate change will affect them personally, compared to only 48 percent of men.

    The complete exclusion of scientists is also egregious considering that they are often uniquely positioned to understand and explain climate trends. More than two-thirds of Americans -- 67 percent -- want climate scientists to play a major role in policy decisions related to climate change, according to a 2016 survey, and 64 percent of Americans think climate scientists have a fair or strong understanding of the best ways to address climate change.

    Considering all of this, it is incumbent on the Sunday news shows to not only provide their viewers with more substantive climate coverage, but also to include a much broader array of voices in their discussions about climate change impacts and solutions.

    Charts by Sarah Wasko.

    Methodology

    This report analyzes coverage of climate change between January 1, 2017, and December 31, 2017, on four Sunday news shows: ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS' Face the Nation, NBC's Meet the Press, and FOX Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday. Guest appearances for all four programs were coded for gender, ethnicity, and whether guests were media figures, administration officials, elected officials, scientists, or other.

    To identify news segments that discussed climate change, we searched for the following terms in Nexis: climate change, global warming, changing climate, climate warms, climate warming, warming climate, warmer climate, warming planet, warmer planet, warming globe, warmer globe, global temperatures, rising temperatures, hotter temperatures, climate science, and climate scientist. In addition, we counted all segments about the Paris climate accord as climate change segments, since the purpose of the accord is to address climate change. To identify segments on the Paris accord, we ran the following search in Nexis: paris climate, climate accord, paris accord, climate agreement, paris agreement, and climate deal.

    Our analysis includes any segment devoted to climate change, as well as any substantial mention (more than one paragraph of a news transcript or a definitive statement by a media figure) about climate change impacts or actions. The study did not include instances in which a non-media figure brought up climate change without being prompted to do so by a media figure unless the media figure subsequently addressed climate change. We defined media figures as hosts, anchors, correspondents, and recurring guest panelists. Because Sunday shows often feature wide-ranging discussions on multiple topics, we considered only the relevant portions of such conversations. 

  • NRA national spokesperson Dana Loesch lied to Stoneman Douglas student Emma Gonzalez

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Emma Gonzalez, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, had a simple question for National Rifle Association (NRA) national spokesperson Dana Loesch during CNN’s gun violence town hall: “Do you believe that it should be harder to obtain the semi-automatic ... weapons and the modifications for these weapons to make them fully automatic, like bump stocks?”

    Instead of providing the NRA’s well established positions on these questions, Loesch gave a series of dishonest explanations that sought to hide the NRA’s fringe absolutism against gun regulation.

    After some niceties, Loesch purported to answer Gonzalez's question by saying, “I don't believe that this insane monster should have ever been able to obtain a firearm, ever. I do not think that he should have gotten his hands on any kind of weapon. That's number one.”

    According to Loesch, “This individual was nuts and I, nor the millions of people that I represent as a part of this organization, that I'm here speaking for, none of us support people who are crazy, who are a danger to themselves, who are a danger to others, getting their hands on a firearm.”

    Loesch was lying.

    The NRA opposes adding prohibiting categories to the gun background check system that could have included the Stoneman Douglas gunman. As the NRA’s website states, “NRA opposes expanding firearm background check systems, because background checks don’t stop criminals from getting firearms.” It also opposes a policy called a “Gun Violence Restraining Order” or a “Red Flag” law that has been widely cited as a policy that could have stopped the gunman from having access to firearms. These laws allow family members and law enforcement to petition courts to temporarily remove people’s access to firearms who are a danger to themselves or others.

    Loesch’s dishonesty didn’t stop with that claim. Moments later, while talking about the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), Loesch said, “It is not federal law for states to report convictions to the NICS system. It's not federally mandated.” Loesch also argued that the states can convict a person, they "can adjudicate the mentally unfit," but "if a state does not report it to the National Crime Information Center, when you run that form, this individual -- this madman passed a background check." (NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre also used this talking point in his February 22 speech at CPAC.)

    What Loesch failed to mention is that states can’t be required to report disqualifying records because of the outcome of a 1997 NRA-backed lawsuit Printz v. United States.

    The lawsuit was the NRA’s attempt to invalidate the entire national background check system in court before it could be implemented. While the system eventually went into effect, the outcome of Printz damaged its effectiveness, as the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision in favor of the NRA’s argument that requiring states to perform background checks for a federal system violated the 10th Amendment.

    The ruling also had implications on whether states can be required to submit disqualifying records into the background check system. As the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence explains, “Federal law cannot require states to make information identifying people ineligible to possess firearms available to the federal or state agencies that perform background checks” because “case law suggests that a federal statute requiring states to disclose records to the FBI would violate the Tenth Amendment” due to the Printz ruling.

    So far, none of Loesch’s answers were actually about semi-automatic weapons or bump stocks. Gonzalez then interceded to say, “I think I'm gonna interrupt you real quick and remind you that the question is actually, do you believe it should be harder to obtain these semi-automatic weapons and modifications to make them fully automatic, such as bump stocks?”

    Loesch didn’t mention semi-automatic weapons, but offered some muddled comments about bump stocks and said, “So, that answers your question.” (The organization has a deceitful position on the issue that decreases the chances they will be eventually banned.)

    The NRA had a responsibility to offer straightforward, honest statements about gun policy at CNN’s gun violence town hall, but instead what Loesch offered were lies and spin.

  • Two fake news websites are trying to make an already bad flu season worse

    Their false stories have gone viral via Facebook and some have been monetized on YouTube

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Two fake news websites have spent the last month posting fabricated stories claiming that flu-related deaths this year have been the direct result of the flu shot. Several of those posts have gone viral, potentially having the effect of worsening an already severe flu season.

    The 2018 flu season has seen “the number of people seeking care at doctors' offices and emergency rooms” surging “to levels not reported since the peak of the 2009 swine flu pandemic,” according to The Washington Post.

    On January 15, in the midst of this unusually severe flu season, the fake news site YourNewsWire published a story claiming that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had said that flu shots have caused the “deadly flu epidemic.” The fake story went viral, with more than 819,000 Facebook engagements so far, and it is the fourth most viral piece YourNewsWire has ever published, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. Other websites, including fellow fake news website Neon Nettle, also pushed similar versions of the piece.

    Since then, YourNewsWire (which already had a history of fearmongering about the flu shot) and Neon Nettle have gone into overdrive, pumping out several fake and misleading stories in a short period of time that directly link deaths to the flu shot. One of these is now Neon Nettle’s most viral post ever, headlined “Expert Confirms Flu Shot Behind Deadly Epidemic That's Killed Thousands,” which has almost 700,000 Facebook engagements so far. Other posts include:

    Other platforms and actors have helped expand the reach of these false stories. Some have been copied by what appear to be Macedonian and Kosovan websites. Some have also been posted on YouTube, and a handful of those are being monetized. Some celebrities have also shared some of the false stories.

    It is likely that YourNewsWire and Neon Nettle will continue to peddle these lies about flu deaths. Both websites carry advertisements that monetize their fake stories, incentivizing them to produce more of these fake stories as long as they continue to drive traffic. And as long as these websites continue to produce these stories, which is likely given the current monetary incentives, these baseless claims and fake stories about the flu will continue to spread, increasing unearned doubts about the flu shot and possibly worsening a public health crisis.

  • Texas business association cancels Dinesh D’Souza event after his comments mocking school shooting survivors

    Organizations should stop booking the idiot troll in the first place

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Fulshear Area Chamber of Commerce in Texas has canceled its event with conservative author and pundit Dinesh D’Souza after he mocked the student survivors of the Parkland, FL, school shooting.

    An organizer for the event confirmed to Media Matters in an email today that the event has been canceled. 

    The event, titled “Dinesh D'Souza - The Case for Capitalism," was scheduled for February 23 and was sponsored by local groups and financial institutions like NewFirst National Bank and First Financial Bank (a cache of the event page, which has been taken down, is available here).

    Student survivors of the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have been speaking out against gun violence, calling for new gun laws, and organizing rallies. Right-wing media personalities, however, have smeared the students with attacks and conspiracy theories.  

    D’Souza has recently mocked the student survivors and said their grief “strikes me as phony & inauthentic”:

    D’Souza’s remarks drew widespread criticism. The Conservative Political Action Conference, where D’Souza spoke in the past, said “his comments are indefensible.” On Twitter, activists criticized the Texas event and its listed sponsors. While D’Souza claimed he was “sorry,” there’s little in his history to suggest he actually cares about basic decency.  

    As Daily Beast Senior Editor Andrew Kirell summarized in a piece wondering why D’Souza is on the National Review’s masthead:

    And yet, his comment about the teenagers was no isolated incident. And National Review's own star editors and writers are well-aware of that.

    Over the past year, D’Souza has: suggested the Charlottesville white-supremacist rally (which led to the murder of an anti-racism protester) was a “staged event” designed to make the right look bad; shared a meme calling former President Barack Obama a “gay Muslim” and suggesting Michelle Obama is a man; started a conspiracy theory that the media covered up Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock’s background as an anti-Trump activist (he wasn’t); used a photo of a grieving military widow—despite her protests—to attack football players kneeling during the national anthem; and defended Adolf Hitler, who sent thousands of gay people to death camps, as being “NOT anti-gay.”

    In 2014, a federal judge sentenced D’Souza to a five-year probation, “with eight months during the first year to be served in a community confinement center, after having pled guilty to violating the federal campaign election law by making illegal contributions to a United States Senate campaign in the names of others.”

    D’Souza’s resume -- both before and after his tweets about Parkland -- is so toxic that any legitimate organization should avoid him. Still, he recently headlined a February 16 Republican Party event in Nevada that was attended by Nevada Republican officials like Sen. Dean Heller and state Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt.

    And in 2017, D’Souza headlined fundraisers for groups such as the Florida State University College Republicans, the Washington County Republican Party in Utah, and the Ector County Republican Party in Texas.

    While the Fulshear Area Chamber of Commerce canceled D’Souza’s appearance, he is still set to appear at other events in the near future. He is scheduled to:

    • speak at an event sponsored by the Flathead County Republican Party (MT) in March;  
    • appear at the 14th Annual Vero Beach Prayer Breakfast (FL) in March; and
    • headline the Bonneville County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Banquet (ID) in April (that event will include a “shotgun giveaway”);

    Requests for comment to those three groups were not returned.

  • David Clarke on Parkland shooting survivor: “My dad would have backhanded me” for “popping off to an authority figure”

    Will CPAC still host Clarke?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    David Clarke attacked a survivor of the Parkland, FL, school shooting for speaking out about gun violence, saying “my dad would have backhanded me” for “popping off” against an authority figure like President Donald Trump. Clarke is scheduled to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which has claimed it finds attacks on Parkland students “indefensible.”

    Clarke is the former sheriff of Milwaukee County who is now a right-wing pundit and spokesperson for the pro-Donald Trump super PAC America First Action. He is a frequent speaker at the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) annual meeting and is regularly featured and promoted by the NRA's media operations. He has a history of toxic rhetoric about people ranging from former President Barack Obama to artist Beyoncé.

    Since the February 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, student survivors have been speaking out against gun violence, calling for new gun laws, and organizing rallies. Right-wing media personalities, however, have been mocking and attacking the students and engaging in conspiracy theories about their efforts.

    Clarke smeared the students’ efforts during a February 19 appearance on Compass Media Networks’ The Joe Pags Show, stating that his dad would have “backhanded” him for similar remarks about the president and claiming that the left is using the students as pawns.

    Host Joe Pagliarulo began the segment by attacking Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior Emma Gonzalez, who he said “is a far-lefty propagandist -- well I don’t know that she’s a propagandist. She’s just 17 years old [editor's note: Gonzalez is 18]. Maybe her parents are, maybe the community is. But her attacks are on the president, they’re on the NRA.”

    Later in the segment, after criticizing school districts for supposedly having “no will” to “protect these kids,” Clarke returned to the topic of students speaking out, though he appears to have misheard Pagliarulo as he referred to an unnamed male instead of female.

    “Then, of course, the left, the anti-gun movement, moves in, they exploit the issue, they’re exploiting these kids. As a 17-year-old kid that you were talking about the other day. First of all, he shouldn’t be popping off against the president of the United States,” Clarke said.

    “My dad would have backhanded me at 17 years old if he would have heard me popping off to an authority figure.”

    Pagliarulo then interjected that Emma Gonzalez’s “parents were standing next to her like patting her on the back and people were cheering and it was nothing but misinformation” and she’s being used “as a pawn.”

    Clarke responded by attacking Gonzalez’s parents for purportedly allowing their daughter to be exploited, claiming: “They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree -- so her parents -- I don’t know her parents and I’m not going to disparage them, but they’re probably anti-gun ninnies too.”

    From the segment:

    JOE PAGLIARULO (host): I want to start with the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. That’s not far from where I grew up. I had a survivor on last Thursday that the media has widely ignored who says that she and her parents still want there to be armed teachers and armed guards at schools to protect the kids. But the loudest voices that are getting the attention are voices like this Emma Gonzalez, who is a far-lefty propagandist -- well I don’t know that she’s a propagandist. She’s just 17 years old. Maybe her parents are, maybe the community is. But her attacks are on the president, they’re on the NRA.

    [...]

    DAVID CLARKE [6:08 minutes into the audio clip]: There’s some things we can do, but like I said, we can do these things right away but there’s no will on the part of these school districts and these other soft targets to protect these kids. And then, of course, the left, the anti-gun movement, moves in, they exploit the issue, they’re exploiting these kids. As a 17-year-old kid that you were talking about the other day. First of all, he shouldn’t be popping off against the president of the United States.

    PAGLIARULO: Right.

    CLARKE: My dad would have backhanded me at 17 years old if he would have heard me popping off to an authority figure.

    JOE PAGLIARULO: Well, well her parents were standing next to her like patting her on the back and people were cheering and it was nothing but misinformation, sheriff. I mean, she wasn’t saying things that will solve the problem. She was screaming about President Trump. I’m not sure I understand. She was screaming about the NRA. And, of course, if you counter it with, “Yeah but Planned Parenthood spent 38 million dollars trying to get Hilary Clinton elected. I’m not sure I understand why you support the killing of 300,000 unborn children every year.” To make it political is stupid. And to use a 17 year old as a pawn is stupid. But our media and our social media -- and you’ve seen this. They’ve used this poor young lady who is indoctrinated with these thoughts as some sort of hero. Nothing she said will solve the problem, will it?

    CLARKE: Nothing. And that’s the shame. Her parents there should provide a little more parental guidance than they did. But that’s not what we get in this situation. They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree --

    PAGLIARULO: Yeah. 

    CLARKE: -- so her parents -- I don’t know her parents and I’m not going to disparage them, but they’re probably anti-gun ninnies too. And you get that situation, they sit there -- I wouldn’t allow my kid to be exploited like this, especially after a tragedy like this.

    PAGLIARULO: Right.

    CLARKE: I’d be more interested in having my child be able to recover, watch for signs of PTSD, that sort of thing, instead of putting them in front of a TV camera before God and country to be exploited by the anti-gun left.

    On February 20, Clarke also pushed the right-wing conspiracy theory that liberal philanthropist (and prior Media Matters donor) George Soros has his “FINGERPRINTS ALL OVER” the students’ efforts.  

    Clarke is an upcoming speaker at CPAC. The conference recently denounced the “indefensible” rhetoric of prior speaker Dinesh D’Souza, who has mocked and attacked the school survivors (D’Souza later claimed he was sorry). Conspiracy theorist and serial misinformer Jim Hoft was also removed from a scheduled CPAC panel because of his attacks on the student survivors (note: this sentence has been updated with additional information).

    CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski tweeted in response to Clarke’s tweet about Soros: “Hey @CPAC, here's a speaker for your conference promoting a conspiracy Florida students are George Soros pawns. … Very interested in how @mschlapp and @CPAC respond to this. Easy to condemn D'Souza when he's not speaking/affiliated. This is a prominent speaker.”

    In 2017, Clarke withdrew from joining the Department of Homeland Security after, as CNN reported, his “potential appointment faced numerous problems.”

  • Misinterpreting a judge’s order, right-wing media have convinced themselves that Michael Flynn is about to reverse his guilty plea

    The latest anti-Mueller bombshell actually amounts to a typo

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump’s overzealous defenders at Fox News spent yesterday using a misinterpretation of a standard order from the judge overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecution of former national security adviser Michael Flynn to speculate that Flynn’s guilty plea is on the verge of being vacated.

    Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in December and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election. But Judge Rudolph Contreras, who accepted Flynn’s plea, subsequently recused himself and was replaced by Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who issued an order that month directing Mueller to provide Flynn’s lawyers with any evidence they possess that is favorable to the defendant. The disclosure of this information can be required under the Brady rule, named after the 1963 case Brady v. Maryland.

    That’s a huge deal, according to conservative media figures like Fox judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano, who have spent months spuriously attacking Justice Department and FBI officials for their conduct during the Russia investigation. “Why would [Sullivan] want that after Gen. Flynn has already pleaded guilty? That is unheard of,” Napolitano asked on yesterday’s Fox & Friends in a segment featuring the caption, “Will Flynn Reverse His Guilty Plea?” Napolitano then suggested an answer: “He must suspect a defect in the guilty plea. Meaning he must have reason to believe that Gen. Flynn pleaded guilty for some reason other than guilt.”

    Other Fox programs picked up Napolitano’s theory over the course of the day. That afternoon, the Fox panel show Outnumbered portrayed the Sullivan order as an indication of “new questions about the circumstances” of Flynn’s guilty plea, with co-host Katie Pavlich falsely claiming that Sullivan’s order had explicitly told Mueller’s probe that “it’s very clear that you withheld some pretty important information.” And that evening, Fox host Martha MacCallum opened her show over the caption “Flynn Could Flip Guilty Plea,” discussing the order, which she described as “raising eyebrows,” in back-to-back interviews with Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, and Napolitano. Turley argued that “it's important not to read too much into this” and suggested it’s unlikely that the order will lead to any changes in Flynn’s plea. Napolitano said Sullivan’s move was very unusual and could indicate improper coercion by the Mueller team but walked back the explicit statement he made on Fox & Friends about Sullivan’s motivation, asking of the judge, “Does he suspect some defect in Michael Flynn's guilty plea? We don't know the answer to that.”

    In this latest salvo in Fox’s monthslong campaign to undermine the Mueller probe by any means necessary, the network is picking up on a theory that ping-ponged through the right-wing media over the last week.

    National Review’s Andrew McCarthy and The Washington Examiner’s Byron York were the first main proponents of the notion that the Sullivan order represents a “curious” or “unusual” turn in the Flynn case. The Federalist’s Margot Cleveland added a new twist over the weekend, arguing that a revised version of the order Sullivan issued Friday suggested that Flynn was about to withdraw his guilty plea. All three pieces have been widely aggregated by other right-wing outlets, far-right trolls, and fake news websites who are all rushing to declare the Flynn guilty plea is in jeopardy.

    Notably, McCarthy and York placed the same sizable caveat in their pieces: In McCarthy’s words, “It could be that this is just Judge Sullivan’s standard order on exculpatory information, filed in every case over which he presides.” But oddly, while such caveats implicitly acknowledge that the story would be much less interesting if Sullivan is among the federal judges who issue standing Brady orders for every one of the criminal cases on their dockets, neither writer seems to have actually bothered to check if that is actually his practice.

    I checked, and it is. As he explained in a 2016 law review article calling for the amendment of the rules of federal criminal procedure to incorporate such disclosures, “I now issue a standing Brady Order in each criminal case on my docket, which I update as the law in the area progresses.” Thus, Sullivan’s action was not “unusual” or “curious,” but simply what he does in every single criminal case he oversees.

    Napolitano and his ilk seem to have picked up the story York and McCarthy put forth, but stripped off their caveat and instead asserted as fact that Sullivan’s action must be because he suspects some sort of malfeasance from Mueller, or even because, as Napolitano suggested, Flynn was not guilty to begin with.

    The Federalist’s Cleveland makes a slightly different argument. On Friday, after the publication of York’s and McCarthy’s pieces, Sullivan issued a second, slightly different order. Cleveland focuses on this second order, which she writes “added one sentence specifying that the government’s obligation to produce evidence material either to the defendant’s guilt or punishment ‘includes producing, during plea negotiations, any exculpatory evidence in the government’s possession.’” According to Cleveland, this is a big deal “because it indicates that, if the government did not provide Flynn material evidence during plea negotiations, Flynn has grounds to withdraw his plea.”

    Cleveland concludes that this second order reveals that “a motion by Michael Flynn to withdraw his guilty plea based on government misconduct is likely in the works,” even though Cleveland acknowledged that even in that scenario, “the Supreme Court has never addressed the question of whether a defendant may withdraw a guilty plea if the prosecution withholds exculpatory evidence during plea negotiations.”

    It’s theoretically possible Sullivan really has come to suspect some sort of improper behavior by the Mueller team. But the docket in the case provides a far simpler, more banal explanation for what is happening.

    As legal blogger and attorney Susan Simpson noted in a tweetstorm about the Sullivan conspiracy theories, Sullivan explained that in December, he had accidentally entered an older version of the Brady order that he issues in every criminal case, rather than the “current version,” and was seeking to remedy that error. It’s not a bombshell, it’s effectively a typo.

    The right-wing claims that Flynn’s guilty plea may soon be vacated come amid a broader, furious effort to vindicate him.

    Flynn’s fierce defenses of Trump, declaration that Hillary Clinton should be locked up, and willingness to interact directly with right-wing conspiracy theorist trolls like Mike Cernovich made him a hero to the dregs of the “alt-right.” And over the last month, those conspiracy theorists have rallied behind him.

    Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone kicked things off on February 5, claiming on Infowars that Flynn’s lawyers were on the verge of filing a motion to dismiss the charges against him on the grounds that “that Assistant FBI Director Andrew McCabe told a teleconference of law enforcement officials, ‘first we fuck Flynn, then we fuck Trump.’” Stone claimed that pro-Trump outlets The Hill and Circa had confirmed that quote from McCabe, a longtime target of Trump supporters, but I found no evidence to support that. The quote does, however, appear in a March 2017 piece from the website True Pundit, which is notorious for publishing fabrications and fake news stories.

    “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec has also been a leading Flynn champion, highlighting many of the reports about the Sullivan orders to buttress the #ClearFlynnNow campaign Posobiec has been promoting all month. According to Posobiec, the campaign is needed because “Flynn was framed.”

    That online campaign is part of the “increasingly bold calls for presidential pardons” Trump’s supporters are demanding for those implicated by the Mueller probe, especially Flynn, Politico reported February 19.

    Meanwhile, as the pro-Trump media struggle to construct an alternate reality in which the Mueller probe is constantly on the verge of collapse, yesterday also brought the news that lawyer Alex van der Zwaan had pleaded guilty after Mueller charged him with lying to FBI investigators about other aspects of the Russia probe.

    van der Zwaan -- who has worked on behalf of indicted former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and whose father-in-law is a Russian oligarch -- joins 18 other people and three companies who have been indicted or have pleaded guilty due to the Mueller investigation.