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  • After the Michael Cohen reveal, revisiting the time Hannity bragged about the dirt he was gathering on Media Matters

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE

    After news broke that President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen provided legal advice to Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Vanity Fair reporter Gabriel Sherman reported: “Hannity hired Michael Cohen to help defend him against left-wing groups that were calling for boycotts.” This is a clear reference to Media Matters’ efforts to hold Sean Hannity accountable.

    Hannity’s appearance on Mark Levin’s radio show on May 30, 2017, gives some relevant context. The Fox host talked at length about a secret investigation on Media Matters that would later be revealed.

    MARK LEVIN (HOST): And as these things develop, we see it more and more and more. Well, of a sudden, I was a conspiracy nut, Media Matters put out this -- this grotesque smear job, where they try and destroy who you are, they cherry-pick things you’ve said out of context, things -- and they sent it to all the media, and the media were regurgitating it. Here’s my question to you --

    SEAN HANNITY: Mark, let me -- let me say something --

    LEVIN: -- among other things. Yeah, go ahead.

    HANNITY: We’ve done a very deep dive, and I don’t know when I’m going to release it, but I’m coming out with it.

    Number one, where the money’s coming from, number two, you want to talk about outrageous, insane, incendiary, over the top, vicious, vile hatred of -- and things that have been done and said?

    Oh, this guy that’s been on TV all week, I don’t even know his name, Carusone or something -- oh, you should see the things that I have on him, and what he’s said, and what this group is, and who funds -- remember, Hillary helped found this group, this Soros-Clinton group --

    LEVIN: Media Matters.

    HANNITY: Soros, and all these other people, it’s -- this is a concerted effort to silence talk radio, they want to destroy now the Fox News channel.

    The next day, Hannity talked with Melanie Morgan about Media Matters, saying he had talked to Media Matters’ President Angelo Carusone’s high school teacher.

  • NRATV correspondent compares a black waiter to President Obama, says that job "meets his qualifications" 

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    NRATV correspondent Chuck Holton tweeted a picture of himself with a black waiter on April 16, writing that he “ran into Barack Obama” in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, who finally has “a job which meets his qualifications.” 

    Holton appears daily as a commentator on NRATV’s news-of-the-day show Stinchfield and has guest hosted the program when the show's host Grant Stinchfield is out. He also co-hosts NRATV international affairs program Frontlines with Oliver North.

    Holton has a history of making disparaging and sometimes racially charged comments about the former president. In November 2016, Holton commented that a picture of President Donald Trump shaking Obama’s hand was a photo of “Trump grabbing a pussy.” Two days after Trump’s inauguration in 2017, Holton made a reference towards Obama’s race when he tweeted, “Let’s get busy scrubbing Obama’s mocacchino stain off of America!”

    In August 2016, Holton called into the NRA’s talk radio show Cam & Co. to say that white privilege is just “a culture of responsibility,” and told black Americans, “You’re welcome to come. All you have to do is join us in respecting authority and taking responsibility for your own actions.” During a July 2017 appearance on Stinchfield, Holton warned of the prospect of Black Lives Matter protesters committing mass rape and murder against white people.  

    He also frequently retweets Stefan Molyneux, a far-right commentator known for promoting scientific racism, eugenics, and white supremacy on his YouTube channel.

  • Sean Hannity is Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s secret client

    And Hannity reportedly hired him to go after us

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The mystery client that President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, fought in court to keep secret is Fox News host Sean Hannity, Cohen’s lawyer divulged on Monday.

    Cohen’s lawyers had acknowledged that Cohen had three legal clients since 2017 in a filing in federal court related to legal issues surrounding documents the FBI obtained by raiding his office, home, and hotel room last week. Two clients  -- Trump and GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy -- were publicly known. Attorneys for Cohen had argued that the identity of the third should remain secret. But Judge Kimba Wood rejected that argument, forcing Cohen’s lawyer to reveal his work for Hannity.

    Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman reported on MSNBC soon after that Hannity hired Cohen “to help defend him against left-wing groups that were calling for boycotts,” an apparent reference to Media Matterswell-publicized campaign to get advertisers to stop supporting Hannity’s program. Sherman added that Hannity may have hired “other lawyers and/or private investigators” as part of the effort.

    Hannity has not previously divulged employing Cohen as a lawyer, even as he extensively denounced the FBI’s raid on his Fox broadcast last week.

    On his show last Monday, for example, Hannity devoted his opening monologue (and much of the rest of the show) to arguing that the Cohen raid points to an “all-hands-on-deck effort to totally malign and, if possible, impeach the president of the United States” and the declaration of “a legal war on the president.” The next night, he said the raid was “an unprecedented abuse of power.”

    Cohen is at least the third lawyer tied to Trump whom Hannity has recently employed. In April last year, after a far-right troll suggested that the CIA had targeted Hannity for surveillance, Hannity claimed that he had hired lawyers Jay Sekulow and Joseph diGenova to investigate and pursue a civil action. Trump would later hire Sekulow as a personal lawyer with regard to special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. In March, Sekulow announced that diGenova had been added to that team, only to state a few days later that “conflicts prevent” that from occuring.  

    UPDATE:  Hannity has responded on Twitter, claiming that Cohen provided him with legal advice for free:

    He also said on his radio show that he might have given Cohen $10 in order to ensure the conversation was covered by attorney-client privilege. As Business Insider's Josh Barro points out, this arrangement raises additional ethical questions for Hannity and Fox:

  • Sunday shows spent plenty of time talking about Trump bombing Syria, but almost entirely ignored Syrian refugees

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    On Friday, April 13, President Donald Trump announced joint cruise missile strikes with the U.K. and France against several Syrian chemical weapons facilities in retaliation for an apparent April 7 chlorine gas attack in Douma, Syria. Over the weekend, the Sunday morning political talk shows had plenty to discuss about the airstrikes, but not much to say about the ongoing plight of Syrian refugees.

    On Sunday, CNN’s State of the Union, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and ABC’s This Week all failed to mention Syrian refugees while discussing the airstrikes. The only mention of Syrian refugees on any of the Sunday morning political talk shows was on Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday, when host Chris Wallace asked UN Ambassador Nikki Haley just one question about them. 

    A few other Sunday morning programs on cable news channels did better in discussing concerns about refugees: There were segments on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS and New Day Sunday, which played (albeit briefly) a clip of earlier commentary from a Syrian chemical attack survivor. The Sunday edition of Fox & Friends Weekend also featured two passing mentions of the refugees across its four-hour broadcast; in both instances, the guests brought up the subject unprompted. 

    On MSNBC however, AM Joy did two segments concerning Syrian refugees, including this excellent example of how media should discuss the subject, particularly in light of American military action that is likely to displace more people:

    JOY REID (HOST): So, a truly humanitarian approach would be to welcome refugees to a democratic country that has the resources to protect and shelter them from the dangers they're trying to escape, yeah? Instead, the Trump administration says it initiated airstrikes as a symbol of support and solidarity for Syrians after the chemical attacks orchestrated by the Syrian president. But with only 11 Syrian refugees accepted into the United States this year -- not 1,100; 11 -- the Trump administration's concern for the Syrian people rings rather hollow.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of the word “refugee” on Sunday morning political talk and/or news shows on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Broadcasting Co., CBS, NBC, and ABC between 06:00 and 12:00. 

  • Fox & Friends weekend shows ignored stories about Trump associate Michael Cohen

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Donald Trump’s favorite Fox News program Fox & Friends’ weekend editions completely ignored a series of major damaging stories about Trump associate Michael Cohen. This continues the show’s pattern of playing defense for the president and ignoring damaging stories.

    On April 9, FBI agents raided Cohen’s hotel room, home, and office “seizing business records, emails and documents related to several topics, including a payment to a pornographic film actress.” Federal prosecutors in Manhattan revealed on Friday, April 13, that Cohen has been under investigation for months and that a grand jury has been convened that is separate from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Prosecutors emphasized that while Cohen has been called Donald Trump’s lawyer, he is being investigated over his business dealings and that Cohen “is in fact performing little to no legal work.” CNN also reported that during the raid, the FBI seized recordings between Cohen and Stormy Daniels’ former attorney.  

    Also on Friday, McClatchy reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has uncovered evidence that Cohen “secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign” after he “vehemently denied for months that he ever has been in Prague or colluded with Russia during the campaign.” If true, the evidence would corroborate parts of the Christopher Steele dossier “purporting to detail the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia.”

    Yet another Cohen-related story broke on April 13, when CNN reported that Cohen “facilitated a payment plan totaling $1.6 million last year to a former Playboy model who says she became pregnant by Elliott Broidy, a leading GOP fundraiser.” Broidy resigned as a result of the revelations.

    While Fox & Friends has been silent on Cohen, Trump has reportedly called Cohen. Trump also tweeted about the matter.

    The obsequious relationship between Fox & Friends and Trump has been well documented, with Trump’s tweets frequently lining up with segments and talking points from the right-wing morning show. Media Matters has repeatedly highlighted the feedback loop between the show and Trump, including how Trump has made policy announcements responding to its segments. Fox & Friends has also repeatedly ignored damaging stories about Trump and the Russia investigation.

    Methodology:

    Media Matters searched Snapstream transcripts of Fox & Friends Saturday and Sunday for mentions of the word “Michael” or “Cohen.”

  • Fox News has spent years claiming that Scooter Libby's conviction was unjust. Trump just pardoned him.

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    President Donald Trump on April 13 pardoned Scooter Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, saying, “I don’t know Mr. Libby, but for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly.” In the past year, Fox hosts, contributors, and guests have repeatedly compared special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion of the Trump campaign with Russia with Libby’s case and subsequent conviction. Libby was convicted of four felonies including for obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI during an investigation into who leaked the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame to journalists.

    Various figures on Fox primetime have made repeated claims in the last year that Scooter Libby was unfairly prosecuted. On February 1, conservative radio host and author Mark Steyn said on Tucker Carlson Tonight that the Scooter Libby investigation was “disgraceful.” On January 29, Libby’s lawyer Victoria Toensing (who almost joined Trump’s legal team in March along with her husband Joe diGenova) bemoaned Libby’s fate on Fox News At Night, saying he “didn’t lie” to investigators and was indicted “without one other minutia of evidence.” Fox host Sean Hannity said on January 25 that Libby was given “a raw deal” and said the next day that he was “innocent.”

    Nexis transcripts show various mentions of Libby in 2017 when Fox personalities talked about the supposed unfairness of the Mueller investigation. On November 8, Fox host Laura Ingraham said on her show that officials like Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor who led the investigation of Libby, are “out of control.” On August 7, Hannity also made a reference to Libby, saying that Libby was caught in a “perjury trap” (a claim he repeated on June 13 and 19) because he “wouldn’t give up the vice president.” During his August 1 show, Hannity cited Libby as a victim of “investigative creep,” which is “a real problem with all special counsels” -- a point he also made on July 21 when he said he’s “been warning about this investigative creep.” Former Fox contributor Monica Crowley, who was slated to join the Trump administration but chose not to amid allegations she heavily plagiarized a 2012 book and parts of her PhD dissertation, said on the June 8 edition of Fox News’ Hannity that prosecutors went after Scooter Libby “as a way to go after Dick Cheney,” Fox contributor Newt Gingrich appeared on Hannity on May 30 and said, “I have said over and over again that the conviction of Scooter Libby in the Bush administration is one of the greatest scandals in modern America.”

    Plame’s covert status as a CIA operative was blown in July 2003 after The Washington Post published a column by Robert Novak that outed her as “an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction.” The outing happened after Plame’s husband Joe Wilson revealed evidence casting doubt on the George W. Bush administration's claims Iraq was seeking to obtain uranium. Fitzgerald, who was appointed to investigate this leak, explained to the media that Libby “was the first official known to have told a reporter” about Plame’s CIA employment. Libby was convicted “in 2007 of lying to the FBI and obstruction of justice.” President George W. Bush commuted his sentence, but did not pardon him.

    Trump may have also heard personal appeals from Toensing and Fox regular Alan Dershowitz. Toensing, who is also one of Libby’s lawyers, met with the president in March along with her husband when he was considering adding both of them to his personal legal team. Dershowitz, who worked on Libby’s appeal of his conviction, reportedly had dinner with Trump just days ago. According to CNN, “Trump did not follow his predecessors' practice of consulting with lawyers at the Justice Department before announcing his decision.”

  • Don't believe the right-wing lie that auto fuel-economy standards make cars more dangerous

    WSJ and SFC also push false notion that strong fuel-economy standards kill people

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On the heels of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s announcement this month that his agency will weaken the 2012 vehicle fuel-economy standards set by the Obama administration, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed celebrating the rollback and arguing that President Barack Obama's standards would have led to more vehicle crash fatalities. Other news outlets, both right-wing and mainstream, have also published pieces pushing the message that ambitious fuel-economy rules kill people. But it’s an unsupported claim based on decades-old data. More recent research has found that strengthening the standards can actually improve road safety and save lives.

    WSJ and other outlets push outdated claim that efficient, lightweight cars lead to more fatalities

    On April 2, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt announced his intention to revise the Obama-era Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, which would have required new cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. to get an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. In doing so, he ignored demands from many states, environmental groups , and consumer protection organizations to keep the Obama-era standards in place.

    Two days later, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed titled “Coffee Won’t Kill You, But CAFE Might,” written by Sam Kazman, who's identified under the piece as "general counsel of the Competitive Enterprise Institute." The Journal failed to note that the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) has funders with an economic interest in fuel-economy rules: the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and auto companies like Ford and Volkswagen; the American Petroleum Institute and oil companies like ExxonMobil; and the Koch brothers

    "CAFE kills people by causing cars to be made smaller and lighter," Kazman asserted. To make this point, he relied on one study published in 1989 and another study from 2002 that analyzed 1993 data. Kazman wrote

    A 1989 Harvard-Brookings study estimated the death toll [from CAFE standards] at between 2,200 and 3,900 a year. Similarly, a 2002 National Academy of Sciences study estimated that CAFE had contributed to up to 2,600 fatalities in 1993. This was at a relatively lenient CAFE level of 27.5 miles per gallon. Under what the Obama administration had in store, CAFE would soon approach levels twice as stringent.

    After citing these outdated studies, Kazman tried to make the findings seem relevant today:

    Advocates of stringent standards claim that automotive technologies have advanced since that 1992 court ruling, making vehicle mass less significant. But the basic relationship between size and safety has not changed. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which closely monitors crashworthiness, still provides the same advice it has been giving for years: “Bigger, heavier vehicles are safer.”

    Other news outlets have also given industry-friendly voices a platform over the past two weeks to claim that CAFE standards boost fatalities, often citing the same outdated research and CEI staffers. These outlets include: the San Francisco Chronicle, which published an op-ed by CEI senior fellow Marlo Thomas; the Washington Examiner, The Epoch Times, and the Media Research Center, which published pieces by their own contributors; and conservative websites Townhall and CNSNews.com, which published versions of the same piece by Paul Driessen, a senior policy analyst at the oil industry-funded Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow.

    Latest research undermines claim that CAFE has increased road fatalities

    The National Academy of Sciences revised its view in 2015. The arguments from Kazman and others hinge on a 2002 study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), which analyzed deaths in 1993 -- a 16-year-old study based on 25-year-old data. Basing their claims on such dated information is highly questionable; automotive safety technology and design have advanced substantially in the past quarter century.

    Also, the 2002 NAS study included an appendix with a dissent by two of the report’s authors who argued, “The relationship between fuel economy and highway safety is complex, ambiguous, poorly understood, and not measurable by any known means at the present time.” As such, the two wrote, the study's conclusions on safety were “overly simplistic and at least partially incorrect.”

    Kazman and his fellow CAFE critics also ignored how the government adjusted rules to improve safety after the 2002 study was released, and they neglected to mention a more recent 2015 National Research Council study. The 2002 NAS study recommended tying fuel-economy goals to vehicle attributes such as weight, and the federal government implemented these recommendations in 2009. By 2015, researchers concluded that these changes had yielded appreciable benefits to highway safety.

    As a February 12, 2018, Bloomberg article explained:

    The [2002 NAS] study recommended several changes to the efficiency regulations, including basing fuel economy on an attribute such as vehicle weight. That would mitigate an incentive for automakers to sell smaller, fuel-sipping cars to offset sales of gas-guzzling trucks.

    That change was made in 2009, when NHTSA [the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] began tying fuel economy targets to a vehicle’s "footprint," the area between an automobile’s four wheels.

    In 2015, the academy released a new study that concluded the change to a footprint measurement had satisfied many of its safety concerns.

    From a press release describing the 2015 study conducted by the National Research Council, the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences: “Manufacturers are likely to make cars lighter in their efforts to improve fuel economy. The most current studies support the argument that making vehicles lighter, while keeping their footprints constant, will have a beneficial effect on safety for society as a whole, especially if the greatest weight reductions come from the heaviest vehicles, the report says.” Still, researchers recommended that NHTSA monitor and mitigate safety risks as automakers transition to lighter cars.

    The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety supported Obama's CAFE rules. Kazman also cited the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as he tried to argue that Obama-era fuel-economy rules were dangerous. But a spokesperson for the institute, Russ Rader, said that it supported the Obama plan. "The Obama-era changes to the rules, essentially using a sliding scale for fuel economy improvements by vehicle footprint, addressed safety concerns that IIHS raised in the past," Rader told Bloomberg in February. 

    A 2017 study found that CAFE standards can cut down on deaths. Research released last year found that fuel-economy standards could actually decrease fatalities. The 2017 study on pre-Obama CAFE standards, conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, concluded that "on net CAFE reduced fatalities.” The Washington Post summed it up with this headline: "Scientists just debunked one of the biggest arguments against fuel economy standards for cars." The Post article explains how lighter cars might lead to fewer deaths:

    Say you observe a crash between two SUVs, both around the same size. If you downsize one of those vehicles to a Smart car, the chance of its passengers being injured or killed may increase. On the other hand, if you downsize both vehicles, the overall risk of fatality might actually become smaller than it was to begin with.

    The researchers argue that, in the past, critics have only examined the effects of reducing an individual vehicle’s weight and not the standards’ overall effects on all vehicles in circulation — an important distinction.

    […]

    “I think one of the findings of this study is that these [safety] concerns have been drummed up as the reason to get rid of this standard,” [study coauthor Kevin] Roth said. “We’re essentially showing that these concerns are probably overblown.”

    Another coauthor of the study said that the safety benefits on their own are a good argument for maintaining fuel-economy standards, even without considering environmental benefits.

    Because the science underpinning vehicle efficiency and safety is complex, industry-aligned organizations such as CEI are able to cherry-pick and manipulate specific data to meet their predetermined conclusions. For those who want to obtain a comprehensive understanding of vehicle efficiency standards and their myriad benefits, there are many useful resources, including a 2012 report jointly produced by the EPA and NHTSA, which details how the agencies took safety into account as they formulated the CAFE standards that the Trump administration intends to roll back.

  • Fox hasn't stopped helping Diamond and Silk lie about Facebook

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    In a series of Fox News interviews this week, the pro-Trump YouTubers who go by the stage names “Diamond and Silk” declared themselves the victims of politically motivated censorship by Facebook.

    The network’s hosts have all but applauded the pair’s repeated claims that the social media giant deliberately kept their content from reaching their audience because the company is biased against conservatives, and that the company had not reached out to them to fix the purported problem. Fox trumpeting the story encouraged press-hungry Republican lawmakers to grill Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the allegations when he testified on Capitol Hill, which in turn generated newsy clips for the network to highlight in its reports on the hearings.

    There’s just one problem: Diamond and Silk’s allegations don’t appear to be true. But that hasn’t stopped Fox from continuing to host them to attack Facebook, even after their story was debunked.

    The vloggers, sisters whose real names are Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, developed a fervent following during the 2016 presidential campaign because of their unyielding devotion to Donald Trump and their willingness to barnstorm the country on his behalf. The duo rose with Trump, and they currently have an audience of more than 144,000 YouTube subscribers and roughly 1.5 million followers on Facebook.

    But that rise, they claim, has been stymied by Facebook. Beginning with a Friday night post on their Facebook page and continuing in six subsequent Fox News interviews, Diamond and Silk have alleged that the company has been deliberately keeping those followers from seeing and interacting with their content since September 2017. After months of getting “the runaround,” they say, the company sent them an email stating that “they deemed our content and our brand unsafe to the community” (in a statement, Facebook said the message had been “inaccurate”). And that, in their telling, was their last communication with Facebook. They say that the company is biased against them because they are black women who support Trump.

    Facebook’s opacity and power leaves the company unusually vulnerable to criticism that it is choking off public debate. A change in Facebook’s algorithm can make or break news outlets and content providers, causing drastic changes in web traffic and thus ad revenue. But its willingness to bend over backward in response to conservative pressure campaigns also leaves it vulnerable to liars and grifters. And that appears to be what happened here.

    On Thursday, after Zuckerberg was battered by Republican legislators obsessed with the Diamond and Silk story and following several days of credulous Fox coverage, The Resurgent’s Erick Erickson and The Daily Beast’s Andrew Kirell reported that contrary to the pair’s claims on Wednesday that Facebook had not contacted them beyond the “unsafe” email, the company had reached out to them by email as early as Monday and by phone on Tuesday.

    The root of Diamond and Silk’s issue, Erickson wrote, appeared to be new Facebook monetization guidelines the company had released in September 2017 that applied across Facebook, not a narrow effort to censor them. “I think Facebook made some mistakes, but that it was not intentional, not malicious, and not nearly as bad as it seemed,” he concluded.

    The same afternoon, ThinkProgress’ Judd Legum reviewed Facebook data about Diamond and Silk’s page and concluded that their claim that the company is deliberately ensuring they reach fewer people due to political bias “is totally without merit.” He determined that their Facebook page interactions actually grew from March 2017 to 2018 -- as liberal-leaning pages similarly focused on posting videos saw sharp declines -- and that while the reach of their videos has declined, it was to a lesser extent than those of liberal pages.

    “Any changes to their page performance over the last few months were not targeted at them, but the result of broader shifts across Facebook,” Legum concluded. “Indeed, many pages, including liberal pages, have suffered large declines because Facebook has reduced the distribution of videos and other content published by pages in favor of content from ‘friends and family.’”

    So Fox was used as a pathway to promote Diamond and Silk’s lies. And the network doesn’t appear to care. On Thursday afternoon, after Erickson, Kirell, and Legum had demolished their story, the pair was back on Fox. The host who interviewed them, Neil Cavuto, was nonplussed by their statements that the network had tried to contact them only via Twitter, or their claim that they had been targeted because they support the president. “Do you think Mark Zuckerberg does have a bias against conservative sites -- conservative participants?” he asked at one point. “Yes, we do,” Diamond replied. Indeed, while Fox had championed their tale in numerous reports, the network has yet to report on the new information debunking it.

    Why is Fox unwilling to set the record straight? Probably for the same reason the network first reported on Diamond and Skil’s claims: Their narrative fits cozily into Fox’s broad conceit that, in spite of controlling all three branches of government, conservatives in America are constantly being censored and stigmatized.

    The network appears particularly enamored of Diamond and Silk’s claim that they have been “silenced” because of their race. Here’s how Laura Ingraham -- currently trying to escape an advertiser boycott apocalypse by rebranding herself as a First Amendment crusader -- discussed the story Monday night:

    LAURA INGRAHAM: Silk, isn't it the case that the reason -- I mean, we all know the reason that Facebook didn't want your post to reach your followers is because you’re black, you’re conservative, you support Trump, and you tell it like it is and you call it as you see it. That's offensive to the left because they want to silence people like you, both you, Diamond and Silk -- doesn't matter if it was just Silk or Diamond or Diamond and Silk -- they do not want you to reach people. I'm sorry and I'm going to say it until I'm blue in the face.

    SILK: Say it.

    INGRAHAM: They are afraid of both of you. They don't want your views out.

    Perhaps the revelation that Fox was used to promote a lie will lead the network to be more reticent in giving Diamond and Silk airtime. But I rather doubt it -- I think it’s much more likely that the pair will end up on Fox’s payroll. They’re pro-Trump conservatives with a victim narrative, and at Fox, that’s probably enough.

  • Sinclair and the midterms: Nevada edition

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    If you live in a midsize city or battleground state, you are now more likely than ever to see propaganda bolstering President Donald Trump and conservative spin on your local news -- just in time for the 2018 election season -- thanks to conservative media giant Sinclair Broadcast Group.

    Media Matters has identified communities that will see competitive congressional midterm races and that have Sinclair-owned or -operated news stations. Many Sinclair stations are already airing national news programming with a conservative slant, and they will be ramping up coverage of their local races.

    First, we’re looking at Nevada.

    Key 2018 races

    • Senate: The contest between incumbent Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Democrat challenger Rep. Jacky Rosen is rated a toss-up by Cook Political Report as of publication.
    • House: Nevada’s third congressional district (NV-3) south of Las Vegas is an open race rated as “lean Democratic” by Cook Political Report as of publication.  
    • Governor: Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) is not eligible to run in 2018. The election is thus an open race, and it was rated a toss-up by Cook Political Report as of publication.  

    Sinclair stations in state

    KSNV (NBC 3) and KVCW (The CW) in Las Vegas

    KRXI (Fox 11), KRNV (NBC News 4) and KAME (My21) in Reno

    • Sinclair owns and operates KRXI (Fox 11). A Media Matters search of the iQ media database found that Fox 11 aired the scripted promotional segment narrated by Bill Frankmore and Melissa Carlson at least six times between March 23 and March 30.
    • Sinclair also provides operations support for two other stations in Reno, KRNV (NBC News 4) and KAME (a MyNetwork affiliate branded as My21), through shared service agreements. All three Reno stations also share a studio space, and My21 does not appear to have its own website, instead posting its schedule on the Fox 11 site.

    KENV in Elko

    • KENV is licensed to serve Elko -- considered part of the Salt Lake City, UT, media market -- but serves as a semi-satellite to KRNV in Reno, meaning that it airs some of the same news programs but may have different branding. It also shares a studio space with KRXI, KRNV, and KAME in Reno. 

    What else you need to know

    Sinclair’s political action committee gave $1,500 to Heller’s re-election campaign committee in September 2015. Heller serves on the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, including on its subcommittee related to communications and technology -- an important subcommittee for Sinclair.

    In January and February press releases, Heller touted Sinclair, among other businesses, for giving “their employees special bonuses and raises” after the passage of the Trump/GOP tax law.

    Here’s footage of NBC 3 airing a March “Bottom Line with Boris” segment in which former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn downplayed a potential Democrat wave in 2018 midterms:

    Are there Sinclair stations near you?

    Use Media Matters’ interactive map at FindSinclair.com to learn more.

    Graphics by Sarah Wasko. 

    UPDATE: This post has been updated to include the Nevada gubernatorial race. 

  • Lack of diversity is at the core of social media's harassment problem

    Right-wing figures and far-right trolls mocked questions to Facebook's Zuckerberg about diversity. But it's crucial to understanding how platforms enable harassment.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    This week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was questioned on racial diversity within his company as he appeared before House and Senate committees to address Facebook’s handling of user data. Facebook -- and more generally, the tech industry -- has often been criticized for its lack of diversity, an issue that, as members of Congress pointed out, can hinder the platform’s ability to respond to discrimination against African-American users and fake news.

    Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) discussed the relationship between Facebook’s fake news problem and lack of diversity within the company itself:

    Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) asked Zuckerberg about racial discrimination enabled by Facebook and indicated a "growing distrust ... about Facebook's sense of urgency” in addressing such discrimination:

    Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) questioned Zuckerberg on Facebook’s lack of diversity:

    REP. G.K. BUTTERFIELD (D-NC): You and your team certainly know how I feel about racial diversity in corporate America, and [Facebook Chief Operating Officer] Sheryl Sandberg and I talk about that all of the time. Let me ask you this, and the Congressional Black Caucus has been very focused on holding your industry accountable -- not just Facebook, your industry -- accountable for increasing African-American inclusion at all levels of the industry. And I know you have a number of diversity initiatives. In 2017, you’ve increased your black representation from 2 to 3 percent. While this is a small increase, it's better than none. And this does not nearly meet the definition of building a racially diverse community. CEO leadership -- and I have found this to be absolutely true -- CEO leadership on issues of diversity is the only way that the technology industry will change. So, will you commit, sir, to convene, personally convene a meeting of CEOs in your sectors -- many of them, all of them perhaps, are your friends -- and to do this very quickly to develop a strategy to increase racial diversity in the technology industry?

    MARK ZUCKERBERG: Congressman, I think that that's a good idea and we should follow up on it. From the conversations that I have with my fellow leaders in the tech industry, I know that this is something that we all understand, that the whole industry is behind on, and Facebook is certainly a big part of that issue. We care about this not just from the justice angle, but because we know that having diverse viewpoints is what will help us serve our community better, which is ultimately what we're here to do. And I think we know that the industry is behind on this.

    Right-wing media figures and far-right trolls scoffed at the idea of questioning the tech industry’s lack of diversity

    Right-wing figures and far-right trolls scoffed at these questions on different social media platforms -- including Gab, an alternative to Twitter that has been called a "haven for white nationalists" and has on occasion served as a platform to coordinate online harassment -- dismissing them as “insane” and describing efforts to increase racial diversity as discrimination “against white people.” 

    But experts have criticized Facebook and other platforms for the lack of racial diversity within their ranks and explained that diversity is at the core of social media’s harassment problems

    Members of Congress were not alone in their concern that Facebook’s racial homogeneity might diminish its capacity to create a safe environment for every user and protect user data. Bärí A. Williams, formerly a senior commercial attorney at Facebook, explained that racial diversity specifically would improve the platform’s ability to respond to data breaches, “fill blind spots,” and improve “cultural competency” through “lived experience.”

    While Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s intention to rely on Artificial Intelligence (AI) to adress many of the social network’s shortcomings, Molly Wood, host of the Marketplace Tech radio show, pointed out that AI is not a substitute for a racially inclusive workforce:

    A lack of racial diversity in companies’ ranks is at the core of the harassment problem on their social media platforms, as online harassment disproportionately targets minorities of color. According to Pew, “harassment is often focused on personal or physical characteristics; political views, gender, physical appearance and race are among the most common,” with African-Americans experiencing more harassment because of their ethnicity than other groups, and women experiencing more harassment than men:

    Some 14% of U.S. adults say they have ever been harassed online specifically because of their political views, while roughly one-in-ten have been targeted due to their physical appearance (9%), race (8%) or gender (8%). Somewhat smaller shares have been targeted for other reasons, such as their religion (5%) or sexual orientation (3%).

    Certain groups are more likely than others to experience this sort of trait-based harassment. For instance, one-in-four blacks say they have been targeted with harassment online because of their race or ethnicity, as have one-in-ten Hispanics. The share among whites is lower (3%). Similarly, women are about twice as likely as men to say they have been targeted as a result of their gender (11% vs. 5%)

    During a conversation with Wired about how Silicon Valley can address harassment in social media platforms, Black Lives Matter’s Chinyere Tutashinda talked about her experiences online as a black social activist, confirming Pew’s findings by remarking on the ways that people of color are targeted disproportionately online:

    CHINYERE TUTASHINDA: I work within the social justice movement, and there’s no one, especially in the black community, who doesn’t expect harassment online. It’s just replicating what happens in the real world, right? How do we make other people know and care?

    [...]

    There is a lack of diversity in who’s creating platforms and tools. Too often it’s not about people, it’s about how to take this tool and make the most money off it. As long as people are using it, it doesn’t matter how they’re using it. There’s still profit to earn from it. So until those cultures really shift in the companies themselves, it’s really difficult to be able to have structures that are combating harassment.

    [...]

    Diversity plays a huge role in shifting the culture of organizations and companies. Outside of that, being able to broaden the story helps. There has been a lot of media on cyberbullying, for example, and how horrible it is for young people. And now there are whole curricula in elementary and high schools. There’s been a huge campaign around it, and the culture is shifting. The same needs to happen when it comes to harassment. Not just about young people but about the ways in which people of color are treated.

    Experts have weighed in on the specific implications of social media platforms lacking racial diversity among their ranks. As Alice Marwick, a fellow for the Data & Society Research Institute, pointed out on Quartz,“the people who build social technologies are primarily white and Asian men” and because “white, male technologists don’t feel vulnerable to harassment” in the same way that minorities or people of color do, they often fail to incorporate protections against online abuse in their digital designs.

    To illustrate Marwick’s point, take Twitter’s mute button, a feature that can filter unwanted content from users' timelines, making it easier for users to avoid abusive content directed at them. As Leslie Miley -- a black former engineering manager at Twitter who left the company specifically because of how it was addressing diversity issues -- told The Nation, the feature wasn’t perfected until a diverse group of people worked together to fix it:

    [Leslie] Miley was a part of a diverse team at Twitter that he says proves his point. His first project as the engineering manager was to fix Twitter’s “mute” option, a feature that allows users to filter from their timelines unwanted tweets, such as the kind of harassment and personal attacks that many prominent women have experienced on the platform.

    “Twitter released a version in the past that did not go over well. They were so badly received by critics and the public that they had to be rolled back. No one wanted to touch the project,” says Miley. So he pulled together a team from across the organization, including women and people of color. “Who better to build the feature than people who often experience abuse online?” he asks. The result was a new “mute” option that was roundly praised as a major step by Twitter to address bullying and abuse.

    The blind spots caused by racial homogeneity might also delay platforms’ responses to rampant harassment. As documented by Model View Culture magazine, far-right troll and white nationalist sympathizer Milo Yiannopoulos was allowed to rampantly harass users for years on Twitter before getting permanently banned for his “sustained racist and sexist” harassment of African-American comedian Leslie Jones. As Model View Culture points out, racial diversity could be extremely helpful in addressing the challenge social media platforms face in content moderation:

    From start to finish of the moderation pipeline, the lack of input from people who have real, lived experience with dealing with these issues shows. Policy creators likely aren’t aware of the many, subtle ways that oppressive groups use the vague wording of the TOS to silence marginalized voices. Not having a background in dealing with that sort of harassment, they simply don’t have the tools to identify these issues before they arise.

    The simple solution is adding diversity to staff. This means more than just one or two people from marginalized groups; the representation that would need to be present to make a real change is far larger than what exists in the population. Diversity needs to be closer to 50% of the staff in charge of policy creation and moderation to ensure that they are actually given equal time at the table and their voices aren’t overshadowed by the overwhelming majority. Diversity and context must also be considered in outsourcing moderation. The end moderation team, when it comes to social issues specific to location, context and identity, needs to have the background and lived experience to process those reports.

    To get better, platforms must also address how user-generated reports are often weaponized against people of color. Although there’s nothing that can be done about the sheer numbers of majority-White users on platforms, better, clearer policy that helps them question their own bias would likely stop many reports from being generated in the first place. It may also help to implement more controls that would stop targeted mass-reporting of pages and communities by and for marginalized people.

    Ultimately, acknowledging these issues in the moderation pipeline is the first step to correcting them. Social media platforms must step away from the idea that they are inherently “fair,” and accept that their idea of “fairness” in interaction is skewed simply by virtue of being born of a culture steeped in White Supremacy and patriarchy.