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  • Reporters fall into the “alt-right” trap with Julius Caesar stunt

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Ever since President Donald Trump hired then-Breitbart.com chief executive Stephen Bannon to run his presidential campaign, the press has been struggling to comprehend the “alt-right” movement that his website helped promote. While many journalists have done yeoman’s work catching up on the assortment of white nationalists, misogynists, and conspiracy theorists behind this new wave of fringe media outlets, they’ve been less effective in learning about the tactics those figures use to manipulate the press. That failing was evident over the weekend, as major news outlets reported on Friday night’s “alt-right” interruption of a performance of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

    That controversy, which triggered stories by The Associated Press, CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications, demonstrated that the news judgment of mainstream news outlets has yet to adjust to the new reality. And it is a sad reminder that the “alt-right’s” greatest strength is its ability to exploit the media for its own ends.

    Conservative criticism of the Public Theater’s production of Julius Caesar in New York’s Central Park, which debuted in late May and concluded Sunday night, hit the public consciousness on June 11 after it came under attack from Fox News. In an appearance on the weekend edition of the network’s Fox & Friends morning show, TownHall.com Political Editor Guy Benson denounced the play for placing a Trump look-alike in the titular role of the Roman leader who is assassinated onstage.

    As other conservative media figures and Trump’s own sons joined the chorus, Delta and Bank of America ended their corporate sponsorship of the production. And after a gunman targeted Republican members of Congress practicing on a baseball field last week, wounding Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), right-wing commentators linked the attack to the play.

    These arguments are foolish and made in bad faith. Caesar’s assassination is not glamorized in the production -- indeed, the message of the play is that misguided political violence will inevitably breed disastrous consequences. “Likening Shakespeare’s monarchs and politicians to real-life figures is a long-standing performance practice, seized by directors with sometimes illuminating, sometimes boneheaded results,” Slate’s Issac Butler noted after the initial complaints, pointing out that performances of Julius Caesar have featured then-President Barack Obama in the titular role without incident.

    The controversy culminated in a "protest" at Friday night’s performance, when the production was interrupted for roughly a minute when the “alt-right” online outlet Rebel Media’s Laura Loomer stormed the stage, shouting, “Do you want Trump to be assassinated?” She was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and criminal trespass. Jack Posobiec, another “alt-right” figure, also interrupted the performance, yelling, “The blood of Steve Scalise is on your hands” and comparing the audience to the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels before being removed from the theater. Posobiec taped the disturbance and posted it on Twitter, where it quickly circulated.

    Why did they do it? The incident has the hallmarks of a grift: The disturbances came after “alt-right” personality Mike Cernovich offered a $1,000 bounty to anyone who successfully interrupted the performance, and Loomer is seeking to crowdfund $25,000, supposedly for her legal defense.

    It’s not unusual for protesters to use civil disobedience to garner media attention for their cause. But this "protest" had no real aim other than the aggrandizement of its participants. It had all the moral force of a pair of drunken assholes running onto the field to halt a baseball game, and deserved a similar degree of attention from the media. Instead, mainstream reporters have been transfixed by the story, generating reams of coverage that bolster the profiles of Posobiec and Loomer. For the cost of a ticket, they were able to troll the public with their nonsense claims, with mainstream outlets regurgitating their trolling at the top of their stories and burying the reasons not to believe them.

    This manipulation of the mainstream press by subversive elements who don’t play by the traditional rules of journalism should be an ongoing concern. We’ve seen the press fall for these efforts time and time again -- indeed, NBC News spent most of last week getting outmaneuvered at every turn by Infowars chief Alex Jones.

    Mainstream reporters rightfully feel compelled to cover the rising tide of fringe-right outlets because of their close ties to the president, and the manner in which their seemingly-absurd conspiracy theories have translated into harassment. Their claims about a pedophile ring operating out of a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor led to gunfire at the restaurant; Seth Rich’s family was hassled following their allegations that the murdered Democratic staffer was actually bumped off by Hillary Clinton’s campaign; their lies that the Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax turn the lives of the victims’ parents into waking nightmares.

    But the pro-Trump fringe has become adept at taking advantage of those inclinations to increase its own influence. As they come under more scrutiny, these “alt-right” figures are learning how to gin up grievances, manufacture new controversies, and troll the press to garner attention and make money.

    Reporters need to show better news judgment when they engage with the “alt-right.” When the movement’s media personalities are stirring controversies that have a real impact on people’s lives, they have earned national attention.

    But when the “alt-right” personalities are deliberately screwing with journalists to bolster their own profiles, the best thing journalists can do for their readers is refuse to play their game.

  • Visibility for immigrants in detention increasingly urgent in Trump era

    Univision sets an example for how to report on immigrant detention

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    New revelations from Univision’s exclusive report on a private immigration detention center demonstrate that a well-rounded investigative report of detention centers requires detainees’ perspectives, especially as the current administration continues to embolden private immigrant detention centers and strip detainees of protections.

    Univision correspondent Luis Megid spoke to two undocumented immigrants being held at Adelanto Detention Center in Adelanto, CA, the largest immigrant detention center on the West Coast, which is owned and operated by private prison company GEO Group. One detainee, Omar Riveras, talked about the night he was abruptly removed from his home. In a moment rarely seen in mainstream media outlets, an undocumented immigrant was presented with a face, a name, and a story, rather than just a slur of a label.

    Another detainee, who chose not to be identified by name, offered startling revelations about what immigrants face while detained at Adelanto, claiming that they are barred from using outdoor facilities and that “mistreatment is something that happens on a daily basis.” From the June 1 edition of Noticiero Univisión:

    Both testimonies shed light on the personal journeys of detained immigrants and on life inside detention centers, details that are too often left out of media reports. And notably, one detainee revealed that the experience inside Adelanto Detention Center may not be what GEO Group officials and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) suggest.

    GEO Group has boasted about its spacious, clean facilities, but the private prison company has drawn backlash from undocumented immigrant detainees for years. Just this week, a hunger strike and sit-in protest at Adelanto turned violent when nine protesters requesting more reasonable bail and other basic accommodations, such as unused underwear and clean water, were pepper sprayed and beaten, they said. ICE is claiming that the strike is over, but groups in contact with the detainees are reporting that nearly 30 women have joined the ongoing hunger strike. La Opinión recently reported that ICE and GEO Group have recognized that officials used excessive force in their June 12 confrontation with protesters and that they would be launching an investigation into the matter.

    In the last three months, three immigrants have died at Adelanto. Detainees at another GEO Group facility have accused the facility of violating anti-slavery laws, and according to ICE statistics, the detention centers with the most complaints of sexual harassment are operated by GEO Group or CoreCivic, one of the other major private detention center companies. Other instances of abuse involve “significant and life-threatening delays or denials of medical and mental health care,” “verbal abuse, employee theft, retaliation, [and] abusive solitary confinement.”

    President Donald Trump’s misguided immigration policies are only serving to exacerbate the problem. A New York Times report suggests that the administration is considering rolling back basic standards for how undocumented immigrants are held in detention at a time when there is already “little accountability” for enforcing these standards, as the graph below indicates (data, graph, and information from Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), available at http://www.endisolation.org/resources/immigration-detention):

    At the same time, the administration is moving to end “catch-and-release,” a malignant term for the practice of allowing undocumented detainees out of the detention centers “while awaiting a deportation court hearing.” Arrests of noncriminal undocumented immigrants has “more than doubled” since Trump took office, and a White House memo called for nearly doubling the number of immigrants in detention to 80,000 per day. GEO Group was given the first immigrant detention center project in the Trump era.

    As right-wing media ramp up their efforts to sell Trump’s anti-immigrant crackdown as sound policy, journalists have an obligation to portray immigrant detention accurately.

    According to Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), an organization that supports undocumented immigrant detainees, there was three times more reporting on immigrant detention in 2016 than in 2009, but “the complex realities of the detention system remain hidden from public view and there remains a dearth of first-hand migrant accounts.” CIVIC recommended that media should “increase their efforts to include first-hand migrant accounts in their reporting, and collaborate with organizations like CIVIC that serve migrants in detention and affected communities.”

    Reporting in recent years about Rikers Island prison serves as a case study of how first-hand testimonies from inmates or detainees can have a palpable effect on readers and decision-makers. Journalists who homed in on inmates’ stories brought the reality of violence at Rikers to the forefront of the conversation on prison and criminal justice reform, and their stories -- particularly The New Yorker’s profile of Kalief Browder -- put enormous pressure on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who eventually promised to close the prison. Documentaries depicting life at Rikers continue to put inmates' harrowing experiences at the top of peoples' minds.

    Journalists reporting on immigrant detention can also take cues from these reporters on how to overcome barriers in communicating with inmates. In Browder’s case, journalist Jennifer Gonnerman interviewed him after he was released from Rikers, sidestepping the problem of accessing the prison itself. Other reporters have suggested following “the paper trail” of documents that prisons are required to keep in order to tell a more detailed story.

    Spanish-language outlets often use telephone interviews with undocumented immigrant detainees to hear their stories directly or speak to detainees’ family members. Immigrant advocacy groups that are in frequent communication with detainees are also a valuable resource for reporters.

    While the stories of undocumented immigrants in detention usually do not make it into mainstream media, they have the power to impact even far-right conservatives.

    For the sake of transparency, accountability, and quality reporting on undocumented immigrant detention, it is critical that journalists overcome barriers to make the detainees’ voices heard.

  • NRATV calls London attack on Muslims a "maybe attack"

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    Hours after police called an attack on pedestrians outside a Finsbury Park mosque in north London an act of terrorism, the National Rifle Association’s news outlet, NRATV, attempted to cast doubt on that determination. During the 10 am edition of his June 19 show, host Grant Stinchfield claimed that “something just seems odd” about the attack and referred to the violent incident as a “maybe attack.” London Metropolitan Police declared that the attack was an act of terrorism eight minutes after a 48 year-old-man drove a van into a crowd of people outside a mosque, killing one and injuring ten. Despite this, Stinchfield said that he would “like to get more information about what really happened there.” From the June 19 edition of NRATV’s Stinchfield

    GRANT STINCHFIELD (HOST): I was going to first ask you about the maybe attack in London, where again we had a van drive through folks it appears, in front of a mosque. What do you make of early this morning's events?

    DAN PERKINS: Well it's interesting, it’s 180 degrees from the last one. This attack was civilians on the Muslims. They ran into, right outside of a mosque as people were coming out from the worship services for Ramadan. And the guy was shouting, basically he was saying, "it's our turn, this is for the people [that] you killed earlier.” So he was specifically out after Muslims, not after British citizens, per say. But in retaliation for the recent attacks in London. One guy decided he was going to do something about it, and he ran his van, he killed one person and injured a bunch of others. But it was at a mosque in London.

    STINCHFIELD: Alright, so we see an escalating number of attacks, as that is still under investigation. And I would like to get more information about what really happened there, as it’s still very early in this investigation. But something just seems odd about the whole thing to me.

    Immediately after two previous attacks in London, in March and in June, Stinchfield used the violent events to advocate for increased gun ownership both in the U.S. and in the U.K. -- going so far as to calling unarmed victims “sheep.”

  • Will right-wing media call out Georgia GOP leader for politicizing Scalise’s shooting?

    Conservatives have repeatedly slammed lawmakers “politicizing” tragedy by merely talking about gun violence in the wake of a shooting

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Right-wing media have been quick to criticize politicians and activists for “politicizing” mass shootings by talking about gun violence prevention in their wake. But after a GOP official in Georgia suggested that the June 14 shooting in Alexandria, VA, which critically injured House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) and four others, “is going to win this election for us,” will conservatives care enough to call out the clear exploitation and politicization of the shooting?

    The Washington Post reported that ahead of the June 20 special election for a congressional seat in Georgia’s sixth district, Brad Carver, the chairman of the Republican party in a neighboring district, said, “I’ll tell you what: I think the shooting is going to win this election for us,” adding, “moderates and independents in this district are tired of left-wing extremism.”

    In the past, Fox News and others in conservative media have derided officials for “politicizing” tragedies because they spoke out about gun violence prevention in the wake of shootings. After the June 12, 2016, shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL, then-Fox News contributor Stacey Dash lambasted former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for “politicizing” the shooting in order to “advance an anti-gun agenda.” After an August 2015, shooting in Virginia, Sean Hannity called out Obama, saying he “tried to politicize” the shooting by talking about gun violence. And after an October 2015 mass shooting in Oregon, Fox’s Kevin Corke criticized Obama for “politicizing” gun violence, saying, “Politicizing gun violence usually is a terrible decision.”

    Carver isn’t advocating for a solution to gun violence, but rather he is celebrating the potential political advantage the shooting could bring. Despite Carver’s blunt politicization of the shooting, it seems unlikely that right-wing media will break from their campaign against Democrat Jon Ossoff to speak out against it.

  • Megyn Kelly's Alex Jones segment shows how public pressure works

    It could have gone worse, but a competent report won't undo the damage done

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A well-deserved firestorm of denunciations from the families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting and other critics forced Megyn Kelly to turn a report that was originally billed as a self-promotional head-to-head showdown with Alex Jones into a well-edited investigation of the dangers posed by an unstable megalomaniac with millions of loyal fans, including one in the Oval Office.

    But Kelly deserves little credit -- she acted in response to overwhelming public pressure, and the network’s impotent reaction to Jones’ own grabs for media attention may allow the nation's biggest producer of conspiracy theory media to come out the winner of tonight’s program.

    At no point since Kelly teased her interview with Jones at the end of last week’s show has she or NBC been able to control the narrative spinning out of her own show. It’s a shocking failure for one of the media’s savviest manipulators of her own image, and the network that hired her.

    Immediately after last week’s Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly, Sandy Hook family members began speaking out. They said they had suffered years of torment and harassment due to Jones’ claims that the shooting was a “hoax,” and denounced Kelly for granting him a platform. Desperate to salvage the situation as brutal headlines rolled in, NBC all but promised its critics that the segment would be edited to portray Jones as negatively as possible.

    That’s exactly what happened. The segment benefited from devoting very little time to Kelly’s interview with Jones, minimizing his opportunity to appeal to her audience. Instead, through strong voiceover, clips from Jones’ program featuring the host spouting conspiracies, and interviews with a conservative commentator who opposes Jones’ influence and the father of a child who died at Sandy Hook, Kelly explained how Jones operates, the harassment his targets experience, and his close ties to President Donald Trump.

    The segment reportedly went through drastic changes following the spate of condemnation, with NBC adding an interview with a Sandy Hook family member and slicing and dicing the footage of Kelly’s sit-down with Jones to make it more damaging to him. It’s not unusual for networks to edit stories right up until airtime. But last week’s public relations nightmare clearly played a role in the segment NBC ended up running.

    NBC deserved that nightmare. Kelly was hired to be a new face of the network and given a program aimed to challenge CBS’ 60 Minutes for newsmagazine primacy. But after the first episodes of her newsmagazine show suffered from poor ratings and reviews criticizing her interviewing skill, NBC took a chance with a Jones sit-down, which offered Kelly the opportunity to reset the show’s reputation with a viral moment.

    That the network’s executives apparently didn’t realize that news of the segment would trigger a backlash from Jones’ victims shows a tremendous lack of foresight and ignorance of the subject matter. NBC paid for that failure with a series of awful news cycles pitting their new star against traumatized families who had lost their children who castigated Kelly for giving Jones a platform.

    I believe Jones is a newsworthy subject for national news outlets. It is important for the American people to learn how the nation's most prominent conspiracy theorist has garnered a large audience and gained the ear of Trump (the circumstances were different earlier in the decade, when Media Matters criticized several networks for giving him a platform). But as I argued last week, interviewing Jones’ victims would be more likely to shed light on his character than Kelly’s initial approach of focusing on a head-to-head showdown. The week of controversy drastically changed NBC’s calculus, producing a significantly better segment than suggested by last Sunday’s preview.

    It’s too early to tell whether the Sandy Hook families who criticized the decision to interview Jones will be satisfied with the result, or if they will deal another blow to Kelly’s stature. But while Jones isn't having a meltdown, he can't feel good about the segment's clear implication that he is a dangerous extremist. And given how badly the radio host beat the network’s PR team this week, they may have something to fear from him as well.

    Kelly and her network were caught flat-footed, unable to either anticipate or successfully react as Jones repeatedly outmaneuvered them, taking control of the narrative and successfully framing the story for the national media through the propagandistic manipulations that make him such a dangerous force.

    Jones “has learned how to program the mainstream news by inciting outrage online that is then discussed and covered by mainstream media,” BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel reported after Jones released embarrassing audio of phone calls in which Kelly tries to talk him into doing the interview. “But Kelly and NBC were ill-equipped to deal with the pro-Trump media apparatus. Instead, they adhered to the traditional rules of a big television interview that assume a good-faith relationship between interviewer and interviewee.”

    Jones escalated his public relations offensive as the interview approached, releasing a Father’s Day video in which he offered “sincere condolences” to the Sandy Hook families, lied about his previous comments about the attack, and lashed out at NBC. Jones was live on the air before Kelly’s show aired, spreading rumors about Kelly and threatening to release his own recording of their interview if he was displeased with the result. After it aired, seeking to bolster the image that he won the night, he and his cronies drank a champagne toast on camera. As Jones again tried to take over the story online, the NBC News and Megyn Kelly twitter feeds went dark, ceding him the social space.

    The radio host wanted more attention, and he got it, seeking to build his audience by portraying himself as the mainstream media’s victim. Thanks to Kelly’s failure to control her own narrative, he may well succeed.

    Kelly’s segment demonstrates that, with enough pressure, broadcast outlets can produce adequate reports on the pro-Trump fringe. But the last week shows they still haven’t learned enough to effectively defend their work against an alternative media assault. And it remains to be seen whether NBC’s failure to control the narrative around Jones’ interview helped him more than an otherwise competent segment hurt him.

  • How Trump uses Twitter to show his love for Fox News

    And his dislike of almost everyone else

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The mutually beneficial relationship between President Donald Trump and Fox News has been readily apparent for a while, partly because of the network’s Trump mania during the campaign. But after nearly 150 days of Trump’s presidency, Fox -- and in particular Trump’s favorite morning show, Fox & Friends -- has essentially become a propaganda outlet for the president. In return, Trump has praised Fox and echoed claims made by the network, while also attacking Fox News’ competitors as “fake news.”

    One of the main ways Trump shows his adoration for Fox is through his Twitter account, where the president has often been explicit in his appreciation for the network’s coverage. According to a Media Matters search on the Trump Twitter Archive, along with a manual search of Trump’s tweets, between Inauguration Day, January 20, and June 16, Trump has:

    • tweeted at Fox & Friends (@foxandfriends) 16 times;

    • retweeted Fox & Friends (@foxandfriends) 15 times;

    • tweeted or retweeted a link to Fox News or Fox Business’ website at least nine times; and

    • tweeted at Fox News (@FoxNews) 11 times.

    Trump oftentimes retweets misleading or inaccurate Fox reports and graphics. For example, Fox’s tweets highlighting employment gains in the February jobs report failed to note that much of the gains were part of a pattern that preceded Trump’s presidency. In March, Trump retweeted a highly misleading Fox & Friends report claiming terrorists were using religious visas to enter the U.S., even though the report did not cite even one example. And in May, despite his past criticism of anonymous sources, Trump retweeted Fox pushing a dubious report from a single anonymous source who claimed Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, did not suggest to the Russians that they establish a secret communications channel, which was contrary to other reporting.

    In addition, Trump has also shared at least 11 Fox videos and graphics, frequently using them to highlight Fox’s misleading portrayal of economic news, which has been framed to look positive for Trump. Trump also seems to nearly exclusively rely on Fox whenever he wants to share footage of himself from events and ceremonies, such as an inaugural ball, the signing of executive orders, and his speech at a NATO gathering. Trump as president has also tweeted links to Fox stories more than to those of any other individual outlet, tweeting at least seven Fox articles.

    Trump on multiple occasions has even used his Twitter account to laud Fox’s reporting, saying “@foxandfriends is great,” referencing its “great reporting,” praising its segments, and congratulating the show on its ratings. In return, Fox has at least on some occasions showed or read on air tweets by Trump that mention the network. Most recently, on June 16, Trump retweeted Sean Hannity's tweet that he would have on his show a "monologue on the Deep State’s allies in the media."

    Perhaps what makes Trump’s online fawning over Fox most jarring is the sharp contrast to how he talks about other media outlets on Twitter. In line with his administration’s war on the press, Trump has regularly attacked other outlets by name, often calling them “fake news” and even once going so far as to call some media outlets the “enemy of the American People.” Just last week, Trump tweeted, “Sorry folks, but if I would have relied on the Fake News of CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, washpost or nytimes, I would have had ZERO chance winning WH.”

    From a Media Matters analysis:

    • Number of tweets in which Trump invoked “fake news”: at least 49

    • Number of tweets in which Trump attacked The New York Times: 18

    • Number of tweets in which Trump attacked ABC: five

    • Number of tweets in which Trump attacked NBC or MSNBC: eight

    • Number of tweets in which Trump attacked CBS: two

    • Number of tweets in which Trump attacked CNN: nine

    • Number of tweets in which Trump attacked The Washington Post: three

  • Roger Stone is calling for Robert Mueller and Rod Rosenstein to be fired for their “witch hunt” against Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Roger Stone says President Trump should fire special counsel Robert Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for “wasting the taxpayer’s money” in what he called, a “witch hunt” to take down the president.

    During an interview with CNN Money, Stone, a close ally and longtime adviser of Donald Trump blasted the investigation into alleged collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Russians calling it a wasteful “witch hunt.” Stone’s comments come after Trump tweeted similar remarks earlier in the day calling the investigation a “witch hunt” and cryptically claiming he is being investigated by “the man who told [him] to fired the FBI Director,” an attack presumably accusing Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein of investigating him for firing former FBI Director Comey at his direction.

    Stone sells himself as Trump’s inside man and has openly talked about his official and unofficial roles in Trump’s presidential campaign. He has been under FBI scrutiny for his role in allegedly “colluding with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton and put his friend in the White House.” Stone maintains his innocence despite the investigation and continues to downplay his role in coordinating with the Russians during the election.

    JEFF ZELENY: Now as the president returns to the White House in this hour, one question above all that he's facing is what is his relationship with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein? Now, the president has said through his aides he does not plan, at this time, to try and fire the special counsel Bob Mueller, but there's one person recommending he does just that. Jake [Tapper], Roger Stone, the president's longtime friend and associate told CNN Money earlier today this, “I'd fire Mueller and Rosenstein for wasting the taxpayer's money. This is a witch-hunt.” Those words sound familiar.

  • Here's why no one should listen to Newt Gingrich

    Gingrich, who accused Bill Clinton of obstruction of justice, claims presidents can’t obstruct justice

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    In his flimsiest statement yet in his crusade to delegitimize the ongoing FBI investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign, Fox News contributor and Trump adviser Newt Gingrich falsely proclaimed that "technically, the president of the United States cannot obstruct justice."

    From the June 16 event at the National Press Club:

    Twitter users were quick to point out that Gingrich, during his time as speaker of the House, helped impeach then-President Bill Clinton, in part for obstructing justice.

    But this is only the latest instance in which Gingrich has stretched the truth -- or flat-out lied -- to defend Trump. Gingrich and his right-wing media allies are currently engaged in a campaign to discredit former FBI Director James Comey and the current special counsel in charge of the investigation, Robert Mueller, even resorting to baseless conspiracy theories. Gingrich and other conservative media figures are attempting to smear Mueller as biased or having an “agenda,” with Gingrich commenting, “Republicans are delusional if they think the special counsel is going to be fair.” These same media figures have praised Mueller in the past, and Trump himself considered Mueller as a replacement for Comey to lead the FBI.

  • What Megyn Kelly says in leaked audio from Alex Jones

    Kelly soothes Jones’ fragile ego, assures him the interview will not be contentious, tells him that her show is about “fun,” and even promises to let Jones review any clips they use.

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

    Just days ahead of Megyn Kelly’s June 18 interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, the Infowars founder leaked purported audio of him and the NBC anchor. Jones was seeking to defend himself because he believed that Kelly, whom he called a “modern-day Medusa,” would edit her report to make it a hit piece on Jones.

    There is no doubt that the audio was edited by Infowars. Jones released it to portray himself in a favorable light and “set the record straight” after he didn’t like NBC’s promo of his interview. Though Jones admits at points that he has done things that he is not proud of, the phone call includes several telling moments about Kelly and NBC:

    Kelly wooed Jones by downplaying his lying, conspiracy theories, and connections to harassment

    • “The reason you are interesting to me is because I followed your custody case, and I think you had a very good point about the way the media was covering it and for some reason treated you and your family and what was going on as fair game when they never would have done that, if you will, of a mainstream media figure. And I saw a different side of you in that whole thing. You just became very fascinating to me.”
    • “I just sort of thought you were this maybe, you know, one-dimensional guy. Like this is your thing. And the comments I heard from you during the course of that trial, and your plea to the media to be respectful of you and your kids just reminded me that you’re just like anybody. You know, you’re a dad.

    Kelly pledged that she wouldn’t ask Jones tough questions, that her show was “fun,” and that the interview would not be a “gotcha hit piece”

    • After Jones asked if Kelly would bring up his controversies, including his comments about Sandy Hook and Pizzagate: “No, I can ask you about that. This is not going to be a contentious, sort of, gotcha exchange. Right? That’s not what this show is and that’s really not what I want to do. I want to do in-depth profiles on people. Just interesting people. So I can ask you that, this is what the critics say. But this isn’t going to be ah-ha, let’s play a clip.
    • “I’m trying to create a different kind of program. And it’s fun. I’ll ask you about some of the controversies, of course. And you’ll say whatever you want to say. But, it’s not going to be some gotcha hit piece. I promise you that."
    • I’m not looking to portray you as some boogeyman, or, you know, do any sort of a gotcha moment. I just want to talk about you. I want people to get to know you. And the craziest thing of all would be if some of the people who have this insane version of you in their heads walk away saying, ‘You know what? I see, like, the dad in him. I see the guy who loves those kids, and who is more complex than I’ve been led to believe.’”

    Kelly told Jones he would have oversight of portions of the interview

    • “I will promise you to personally look at any clips we want to use of you. And have a producer run by you whether we are taking it in context and what you are saying about it.
    • “If I ask you about any controversy, you’ll have the chance to address it fully. And I’m not going to cut you in a way that’s going to take out the heart of your explanation or the real substance of it. I won’t do that.”
    • “We’ll do like a walk-and-talk and we’ll set up something nice. Or we can -- one of my producers will weigh in on that because they know how to make it look beautiful. And they’ll work with you and do something that’s acceptable to you.”

    Kelly referred to her audience on NBC as “the left”

    • “My goal is for your listeners, and the left who will be watching, some, on NBC, to say, ‘Wow, that was really interesting.’ All I can do is give you my word and tell you if there’s one thing about me, I do what I say I’m going to do, and I don’t double-cross. So I promise you, when it’s over you’ll say, ‘Absolutely, she did what she said she was going to do.’ And you’ll be fine with it.”

    Kelly highlighted the lack of editorial standards in cable news, such as her previous employer Fox​

    • “Truly, it’s like a whole new world over there [at NBC]. They deeply care about this kind of thing. And, it’s not that we didn’t care on cable. It’s just a different game on cable. You know, you move faster and it’s more real time. And it’s just the fact that more mistakes get made."

    Ever since Kelly floated the idea of this interview to Jones, he has been manipulating her and NBC with near impunity. As BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel wrote, “Jones has been in control of Kelly’s interview and delighting his audience every step of the way. He broke the news of the interview on his show in late May; he was the first to post teaser photos of Kelly in the Infowars studio online; he got out in front of the interview last week with a misogynistic tirade about how he wasn’t attracted to Kelly and called her and the interview ‘fake news.’”

    This trolling comes at a cost. Search traffic for Jones is at a multiyear high:

    Julie Alderman and John Whitehouse contributed to this piece. Language has been updated for clarity.

  • Pro-Trump media push conspiracy theory that acting FBI director is a “ringleader” in plot to take down Trump

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    An “alt-right”-affiliated outlet and fake news purveyors are pushing a highly dubious conspiracy theory from a fringe blog that acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe is a “ringleader” in a plot against President Donald Trump.

    Big League Politics, a fringe blog founded by former Daily Caller writer Patrick Howley, cited an “inside source” to claim that McCabe was the “ringleader” behind a collaboration “against” Trump by McCabe, former FBI Director James Comey, and Russia probe special counsel Robert Mueller. According to Howley, the source also called the three men “creatures of the swamp.” The blog also employs “alt-right” figure Cassandra Fairbanks, and it previously helped revive a fringe smear that Comey was biased in his investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email server due to his brother’s supposed connections to the Clintons. The McCabe article has drawn slightly more than 100 Facebook engagements so far, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo.

    Soon after it was published, the report was picked up by “alt-right”-affiliated blog The Gateway Pundit, which wrote that the revelations showed that Mueller is “in bed” with McCabe and Comey, that the three are working to “undermine” Trump, and that McCabe is the “real treat” of this “swamp fiasco.” Though The Gateway Pundit regularly pushes false stories, Fox News and Trump have regularly cited its content, the White House has given its correspondent press credentials, and the site is currently trying to get congressional press credentials. The Gateway Pundit’s McCabe article has received at least 6,200 Facebook engagements, according to BuzzSumo.

    Thanks to the Gateway Pundit article, fake news purveyors then spread this dubious claim. Before It’s News wrote that the report meant “FBI directors past and present apparently have it in for” Trump, and The Political Insider said that it showed “the deep state is preparing for war.” Mad World News and Washington Feed wrote that McCabe was “execut[ing]” Comey’s “treacherous” “backup plan” and that Trump needs to “get rid of” these “deep state hacks.” Freedom Daily called the report a “bombshell” that showed a “treasonous plot” that “shady” McCabe was “execut[ing]," and that Trump needed to “act quickly” to “get rid of” him. The Political Insider, Mad World News, and Freedom Daily articles have received at least 2,000, 1,600, and 5,500 Facebook engagements, respectively, according to BuzzSumo.

    The “alt-right”/fake news ecosystem pushing this dubious new charge has essentially been a propaganda machine for Trump, and the network continues to target Comey and Mueller as they become potential threats to the president. Mueller is leading the investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign in the 2016 election, and Comey has testified that he believes Trump fired him due to the probe. The new claim also comes as Trump tweeted that he is “being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director” and that he is the target of a “witch hunt.”