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  • Alex Jones criticizes “liberal trendies” who were victims of the Manchester terror attack

    Jones: Victims are “the same people -- god love them -- on average who are promoting open borders, bringing Islamists in”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    From a May 22 video posted on Alex Jones’ YouTube channel:

    ALEX JONES: Trump didn’t just sign a deal for $350 billion over the next decade, the first tranche $105 billion to be paid out in the next year by Saudi Arabia and United States in an arms deal. He transferred to them linkage into a threat fusion center, the biggest in the world that’s been publicly shown. They won’t show the NSA and FBI threat fusion centers, they won’t show the CIA ones either, but they showed this giant center and I covered it earlier tonight, it’s on Infowars.com. So they’re transferred the weapons, they’re transferred the technology, they’re transferred access into the surveillance grid. And less than 24 hours after President Trump finishes that speech, a big bomb goes off at a pop star’s rock concert bombing a bunch of liberal trendies. The same people -- god love them -- on average who are promoting open borders, bringing Islamists in.

    Related:

    Alex Jones’ website Infowars broadcasts from the White House press briefing room

    A guide to Donald Trump’s relationship with Alex Jones

  • News reports on Trump's budget highlight human cost of his broken promises

    Budget proposal will include deep cuts to Medicaid and Social Security, programs Trump promised to protect during campaign

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Multiple news outlets have reported on the harsh human toll of President Donald Trump’s budget proposal, which is expected to gut programs that guarantee basic living standards, including parts of Medicaid and Social Security. These cuts directly contradict Trump’s promise to save the programs “without cuts.”

    The White House first hinted at slashing programs that help working- and middle-class Americans on February 26 when, according to Bloomberg, Trump floated proposals to increase defense spending by 10 percent while cutting programs including assistance for low-income Americans while still promising not to touch Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. The White House claimed these drastic cuts would help spur economic growth, an absurd claim that was resoundingly ridiculed by economists as “deep voodoo” and “wholly unrealistic.” The administration’s initial budgetary proposals were so drastic and poorly thought out that they stunned many observers and experts. The White House even advocated cutting assistance to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which would be particularly harmful to “small-town America,” and Meals on Wheels, which “doesn’t make economic sense” and would cruelly deny millions of elderly Americans basic companionship and a hot meal.

    On May 21, The Washington Post reported that the White House will unveil a formal federal budget proposal that goes even further than the administration’s earlier indications by proposing “massive cuts to Medicaid” and other anti-poverty public assistance programs. On May 22, Axios reported that the president plans to cut $1.7 trillion over 10 years from federal assistance programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which collectively serve tens of millions of people. (Axios incorrectly stated that Trump’s budget plan “won’t reform Social Security or Medicare,” before outlining Trump’s plan to cut SSDI and incorporate massive Medicaid restrictions that would become law if his Obamacare repeal plan is ever enacted.)

    As details of Trump’s budget plan continued to leak, some media outlets explained the devastating consequences for millions of Americans if the White House gets its way and these drastic cuts take effect. They also explained that Trump’s embrace of deep cuts to components of Medicaid and Social Security represent a betrayal of his promises from the campaign.

    CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans explained on the May 22 edition of CNN Newsroom that much of the money being cut from mandatory spending would come from Medicaid, which could see up to a 25 percent reduction in federal funding, pushing the financial burden onto the states and kicking 14 million people off their health insurance programs. Romans mentioned that protecting Medicaid is one of many campaign promises from Trump “that are turning out not to be true.”

    On the May 22 edition of MSNBC Live, host Chris Jansing went even further in breaking down the human toll of Trump’s budget cuts with NBC News senior editor Beth Fouhy and New York Times national reporter Yamiche Alcindor. The show aired part of an interview with a mother of two young children, who told Fouhy that if these cuts are enacted, the costs of care for her child with cerebral palsy will bankrupt her. Then they showed a clip of Trump on the campaign trail proclaiming that he would “save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without cuts.” Alcindor discussed a report she wrote for the Times earlier this month about the human costs of budget cuts that would lead eliminate programs that help provide small communities with access to clean drinking water, drug rehabilitation centers, and jobs programs:

  • Alex Jones’ website Infowars broadcasts from the White House press briefing room

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON & ERIC HANANOKI

    Conspiracy website Infowars’ Washington bureau chief, Jerome Corsi, conducted a live broadcast from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the White House, telling viewers that Infowars had obtained a temporary pass and was working to obtain permanent White House press credentials.

    Conspiracy theorist radio host Alex Jones operates Infowars, a disreputable outlet that has pushed conspiracy theories about tragedies such as the 9/11 attacks, Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Boston Marathon bombing, and Oklahoma City bombing. The site also posts false information in support of Trump, and it promoted the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory. Jones has said that he communicates with President Donald Trump and offers him advice.

    The outlet hired Corsi in January. Corsi has made a living pushing false conspiracy theories, including the claim that former President Barack Obama has a fake birth certificate, which he was instrumental in spreading.

    During the livestream, Corsi discussed an embargoed budget document and then used an iPad to give viewers a tour of the nearly empty briefing room.

    Corsi said that Infowars does not yet have permanent press credentials but that he wanted to emphasize that the site had obtained a temporary pass and was able to physically broadcast from the White House.

    While giving the tour, Corsi added, “We’re here. I think that makes clear we’re going to get press credentials and we’ll do what we need to do to get here on a regular basis to get permanent press credentials.” He signed off by saying, “Let’s kind of end this now by just saying we’re here, we’re going to get more established as we go along, and I’m very, very pleased to have made this step today.”

    Earlier today, Corsi wrote on Twitter, “Jerome Corsi, Washington Bureau Chief, http://Infowars.com. We have WH PRESS CREDENTIALS. I'm in WH May 22, 2017”:

    An accompanying Infowars article said that the outlet delivered “an epic blow to the mainstream media’s control of the narrative” by gaining access to White House press briefings and that “Alex Jones may even attend some White House press briefings in person.”

    Earlier this month, Jones announced that Infowars had been granted a weekly press pass to the White House and was working “very hard” to get permanent credentials. In January, Jones claimed that his site had been offered a White House press credential. The White House press office denied the claim. Jones later claimed he meant that Infowars “can get them if we want them, guaranteed.”

    Infowars’ access means yet another dishonest, far-right entity is in the press room.

    Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) wrote on Twitter that Corsi’s presence in the White House made him want to “throw up” given Infowars’ ongoing role in promoting conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook shooting:

  • Facebook could have data relevant to the Trump/Russia investigation, but it’s not releasing it (yet)

    Experts call for Facebook to release its data to help the fight against fake news

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    An Oxford professor and researcher are calling on Facebook to cooperate with scientists and share its data on fake news and fake accounts in part because of its relevancy to the Trump/Russia investigation.

    During the 2016 presidential election, a considerable amount of fake news and misinformation was pushed on social media via artificial computer programs called "bots." The FBI is currently investigating how Russian bots used social media platforms during the elections to spread pro-Trump articles from Russian outlets and outlets affiliated with the “alt-right.” Meanwhile, bots continue to push misinformation to influence President Donald Trump’s administration. Due to these concerns surrounding fake accounts and fake news, multiple experts have previously called on Facebook to share its data, as its efforts to combat fake news have thus far failed.

    Oxford professor Philip Howard and Oxford researcher Robert Gorwa noted in a March 20 Washington Post op-ed that Facebook’s refusal to share data on fake news and fake accounts “has made it difficult to know how many voters are affected or where this election interference comes from.” They wrote that Facebook “has the metadata to identify precisely which accounts were created, where they operated and what kinds of things those users were up to during the U.S. election.” That could also mean that Facebook could help determine if “there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian influence operations” and could “prevent interference with democratic deliberation” going forward. From the op-ed:

    Facebook deployed a “cross functional team of engineers, analysts and data scientists” as part of a detailed investigation into possible foreign involvement in the U.S. election. They found fake groups, fake likes and comments, and automated posting across the network by unnamed malicious actors. The report’s authors claim that their investigation “does not contradict” the findings made in the U.S. Director of National Intelligence report published in January, which blamed Russia for a sweeping online influence campaign conducted in the lead-up to the election.

    Essentially, this confirms what researchers have suspected for several years: Large numbers of fake accounts have been used to strategically disseminate political propaganda and mislead voters. These accounts draw everyday users into “astroturf” political groups disguised as legitimate grass-roots movements. Unfortunately, Facebook’s refusal to collaborate with scientists and share data has made it difficult to know how many voters are affected or where this election interference comes from.

    [...]

    Facebook, of course, does not have the same issues with data access. It has the metadata to identify precisely which accounts were created, where they operated and what kinds of things those users were up to during the U.S. election. Their data scientists could probably provide some insights that the intelligence services cannot.

    [...]

    If there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian influence operations, Facebook may be able to spot that, too. In many ways, massive coordinated propaganda campaigns are just another form of election interference. If Facebook has data on this, it needs to share it. The House Intelligence Committee should call Facebook to testify as part of its investigation.

    While the outcome of the U.S. election is settled, major elections are coming up around the world. Facebook needs to tell us what it knows and demonstrate that it can prevent interference with democratic deliberation.

  • What’s behind Sean Hannity's disgraceful Seth Rich conspiracy theories

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Fox News/Screenshot

    Successful Americans, experts say, confront the “Sunday night blues” by spending time with their loved ones, organizing themselves for the coming work week, and unplugging from the internet before bed. Fox News host Sean Hannity spent last night sending an increasingly frantic series of tweets about a deranged conspiracy theory.

    Hannity devoted several editions of his TV and radio shows last week to diving into the fever swamp with widely debunked speculation that Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was murdered last summer by Democrats in retribution for leaking DNC emails to WikiLeaks. This evidence-free nonsense contradicts both the U.S. intelligence community’s finding that the emails were hacked and distributed by Russian intelligence services and law enforcement’s conclusion that Rich was likely the victim of a botched robbery.

    While Hannity was pushing new, quickly debunked developments in the story, Rich’s devastated, long-suffering family was demanding Fox retract its reporting on the murder and firing off a cease-and-desist letter to the “private investigator” behind the new wave of stories. But Hannity shows no signs of stopping -- over the weekend he invited on his show Kim Dotcom, a hacker “now fighting extradition to the United States on copyright infringement and wire fraud” who claims to have proof linking Rich and WikiLeaks (none of this makes sense).

    One of the conservative movement’s most powerful media figures is up to his neck in bullshit, with big implications for the future of his network. Here are a few potential theories for how Hannity got here:

    Hannity doesn’t realize what he’s doing. “Sean Hannity is actually a very nice guy,” Commentary magazine editor John Podhoretz tweeted on Tuesday night, after Hannity started talking about the conspiracy theory. “If he realized how horrible this is to the grieving Rich family, I'd bet he'd stop. Think, Sean.” Under this explanation, Hannity simply got ahead of his own good judgment, failing to properly vet the story and consider both the facts and the impact on Rich’s devastated family.

    An extremely charitable observer might be willing to grant Hannity that interpretation on Tuesday. But it is impossible to grant him plausible deniability when he has continued to push the story, even as the family seeks retractions and Hannity himself is faced with harsh criticism of his behavior on Twitter.

    Indeed, as the Fox host’s behavior continued, Podhoretz denounced Hannity’s “monstrous” conduct.

    Hannity really believes in the Seth Rich conspiracy theory. Hannity has suggested that Vince Foster, a close friend of Hillary Clinton’s and a former White House aide who committed suicide in 1993, was actually murdered mysteriously. During the 2016 presidential campaign, he hyped National Enquirer reporting about a Clinton “fixer” who helped “set up illicit trysts for Hillary, with men AND women,” and suggested that she might have Parkinson’s disease or suffer from seizures. He frequently claimed that President Barack Obama hadn’t released his birth certificate. He’s asserted that climate change data and job reports have been manipulated for political gain.

    Is it so hard to accept that Hannity might be fully aware of all the evidence against his Seth Rich theory as well as the pain the family is going through, but nonetheless remain convinced that the Democrats employ assassins to conduct contract hits in retaliation for their employees’ misdeeds? Perhaps Hannity is simply gullible and stupid. It is certainly difficult to rule that out.

    This sort of motivated reasoning (where individuals come to conclusions they are already inclined to believe, rather than accepting contrary information) is not unusual when a political movement is out of power -- see the recent obsession of some progressives with the absurd conspiracy theories of Louise Mensch and her ilk. But Hannity is running with these stories while his party controls the presidency and both houses of Congress. That speaks to a grave weakness for conservative media figures who remain more interested in attacking Democrats and smearing them with nonsense than they are with passing any positive agenda.

    Hannity is engaged in a cynical game for political and financial gain. Perhaps Hannity doesn’t really believe that the Democratic Party has John Wick on retainer and uses him only to eliminate low-level employees. Instead, he might simply be playing his audience to protect the president and boost ratings.

    Hannity, an unrepentant Trump toady, uses the Rich tale as a way to undermine the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia was trying to help Trump win the election, in part by hacking Democratic party organizations and leaking the contents. “If it was true that Seth Rich gave WikiLeaks the DNC emails,” Hannity said on May 18, “wouldn't that blow the whole Russia collusion narrative that the media has been pushing out of the water?”

    (Incidentally, it wouldn’t -- as The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel points out, “Very stupid people keep saying this, ignoring” two other separate hacks of Democrats that the intelligence community has attributed to the Russians.)

    Hannity’s audience is currently built around his over-the-top shilling for Trump. But because the president’s first few months have been an unmitigated series of disasters, Hannity needs to find something else to talk about. Last week’s stream of devastating headlines made that need all the more important. A conspiracy theory that allows him to attack the “deep state” and the press for covering up the truth, while presenting himself as a likely martyr, would seem like just the ticket.

    Hannity also desperately needs a new storyline because his audience is flagging badly. The longest-tenured Fox host in the light of Bill O’Reilly’s recent firing, Hannity has lost hundreds of thousands of viewers in recent months. As Eric Boehlert notes, he is no longer dominating his time slot, frequently getting crushed by MSNBC’s The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell in the crucial 25-54 demographic.

    How better to shore up that flagging demographic of young viewers than by making a play for the “alt-right” conservatives who are extremely interested in Seth Rich conspiracy theories and whether the people who rebut them are Jewish?


    Whatever his reasons, Hannity’s promotion of this garbage and Fox’s apparent inability or unwillingness to rein him in speaks to the network’s larger problems in the Trump era.

    Under President Obama, Fox defined itself in opposition to the president -- everything he did, large and small, was a disastrous attack on the fabric of America. During the 2016 campaign, the network defined itself in opposition to Clinton, who took on Obama’s mantle, and in support of Trump, whose flaws were airbrushed by Fox commentators.

    With Trump in the White House, engaging in investigative reporting or providing harsh analyses of potential administration misdeeds are effectively off the table. But with the administration spending much of its time in a defensive crouch, the network also can’t champion great conservative victories -- or even rally behind sustained White House pushes for policy priorities.

    Instead, the network’s hosts have to join the president’s aides in their foxhole, doing their best to convince their audience that Trump’s failures are simply the result of vicious attacks from the press, or the “deep state,” or the Democrats. Desperate to go on offense, Trump’s media allies are left with promoting conspiracy theories.

    The risk for the network, however, is if that begins to get stale -- if viewers decide that they no longer believe in Trump and thus are uninterested in Fox’s defense. As those viewers peel off, little by little, the remainder will be an ever-smaller rump audience of core Trump supporters. This could lead to a self-reinforcing cycle, where Fox reacts to its diminished  audiences by doubling down on Trump support to retain that core audience, only to see an ever-larger group of viewers leave. Or it could lead to the network shifting against Trump to chase those viewers, only to be abandoned by the Trump core.

    With Fox’s audience already on the decline, that decision point may be swiftly approaching.

  • As Trump unravels, so do Fox’s ratings

    Network slips behind MSNBC, CNN in key demo during prime time

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

    When Fox News architect Roger Ailes died last Thursday, one of the common threads through the coverage of his career was the ratings success he produced at the conservative news channel.

    “Roger Ailes, who built Fox News into a powerhouse, dies at 77,” read the CNN headline. The Associated Press agreed: “He helped start Fox News in 1996 and built it into a conservative news beacon and cable ratings powerhouse.”

    While Ailes was heavily (and deservedly) criticized over both the political legacy he left behind and the reports of serial sexual harassment that defined the end of his career, there was heated agreement within the press that Ailes was a television marketing master whose ratings success was untouched -- and that the Ailes model would outlive even his own presence as at the network. (He was forced out last July as reports of harassment snowballed.)

    All of which made Fox News’ ratings performance on the night Ailes died even more shocking: On Thursday, Fox News came in last place among the three cable news channels among viewers between the ages of 25 and 54. And it wasn’t a fluke.

    In a development that has sparked murmurs throughout the cable news business, Fox News in recent weeks has regularly finished in last place among advertising-friendly viewers between the ages of 25 and 54, or “demo” viewers, as they’re known in the industry. (In terms of total viewers, Fox News does better, thanks to its large stable of viewers over the age of 54.)

    “For first time this century, they aren’t in first place,” noted MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough last week. “In fact, for the first time this century, they are in third place.” Added CNN’s Brian Stelter, “This is an extraordinary moment in the cable news race.”

    And yes, a lot of this is President Donald Trump’s fault.

    Ever since Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on May 9, which seemed to then unleash an unending stream of breaking-news bombshells that rattled White House windows day after day, Fox News has seen its mighty ratings prowess threatened by MSNBC and CNN.

    Basically, the ongoing and ever-expanding list of scandals involving the Trump administration -- many revolving around Russia -- has depressed Fox News viewers while simultaneously spiking interest at CNN and MSNBC, driving Fox into the ratings basement. 

    Are we witnessing a sea change in cable news? Or is this simply an extended blip that’s drawing back the curtain and revealing Fox News’ programming flaws -- flaws that could be, at least in part, the result of endless personnel turmoil at the network for the last year.

    Whether it’s permanent or temporary, the current ratings malaise certainly raises larger questions for Fox News as it confronts a key transition period and figures out how to cover the Trump administration. So far, its "defend everything Trump does while complaining about liberal media bias" strategy doesn't seem to be paying off. 

    Keep in mind, last year Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly were posting blockbuster numbers at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. for Fox News. Today, they’re both gone and their replacement shows are struggling. Tucker Carlson Tonight is having trouble at 8 p.m., and The Five’s move to 9 p.m. has been, by Fox News standards, a ratings disappointment.

    Carlson’s decline at 8 p.m. must be especially troubling for Fox News executives since it’s a valuable time slot the network absolutely dominated for more than a decade with O’Reilly at the helm.  

    Nothing Carlson has tried in recent weeks amid the Trump scandal season has worked. Tucker has tried downplaying or ignoring the pile-up of bad news for Trump. And he’s also tried claiming the scandal coverage is all “hysteria”

    Keep in mind, O’Reilly had posted some staggering numbers earlier this year for Fox News at 8 p.m. -- numbers that, as of now, Carlson can only dream of equaling. (O’Reilly averaged nearly 4 million viewers during the first quarter of 2017; Carlson is routinely coming in 30-40 percent under those numbers.) 

    Carlson has also repeatedly finished behind CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 in the 25-54 demo, and twice last week landed in third place behind both Cooper and MSNBC’s All in with Chris Hayes.

    Overall, The Rachel Maddow Show at 9 p.m. has emerged as a ratings juggernaut for MSNBC this year, and especially this month.

    Meanwhile, MSNBC’s The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell has topped Hannity several times at 10 p.m. – both in the key demo and in overall ratings. That's the same Sean Hannity who, in the post-O’Reilly era, was supposed to be the network’s most powerful and influential attraction. Hannity’s “the alpha anchor right now,” Bloomberg suggested after O’Reilly’s departure. 

    But that hasn’t worked out.

    What’s so shocking about Fox News’ ratings woes is how swift the downward movement has been. “Through the first six months of 2016, FNC is enjoying the highest-rated year in its history in total day and primetime viewership,” The Wrap reported last June.

    One month later, in July 2016, Fox News’ implosion started when then-anchor Gretchen Carlson sued Ailes for sexual harassment. Since then, numerous key players have been publicly forced out at Fox, while others have walked away from the network.

    I can’t say I’m shocked by Fox News’ current ratings slump. Earlier this month, in the wake of O’Reilly’s forced departure, which was then followed by the forced departure of the channel’s co-president, I noted that Fox was poised for some tough times: “I also think the drip, drip, drip of on-air changes and off-camera firings and departures could unquestionably alter the dynamics for the long-running ratings winner."

    That internal turmoil, coupled with Trump’s scandal-plagued presidency, which shows no signs of abating, could signal a new ratings era in cable news.

    UPDATE:

    According to HuffPo, MSNBC "scored its best week in its 21-year-history" the week of May 15 "by beating out both CNN and Fox News in total prime-time viewers and among the demographic prized by advertisers."

  • For-profit tactics might be coming to public universities, and no one is talking about it

    Blog ››› ››› BRETT ROBERTSON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Unless you’re a resident of Indiana, you probably haven’t heard about Purdue University’s recently announced acquisition of troubled online for-profit college Kaplan University. This acquisition is highly unusual and has many unknown implications for Indiana students and educators and beyond -- and media’s limited and uncritical coverage of the unprecedented merger is exactly what the leadership behind the deal wants.

    On April 27, Purdue University announced the deal to acquire Kaplan University, in a first-of-its-kind move to bring a for-profit college under the umbrella of a public university. Many details of the deal remain unclear, including whether the unnamed new university will operate more like a for-profit or a public college. Purdue issued a press release stating that “the creation of a new public university ... will further expand access to higher education.” Purdue President and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said in the same press release that he wants “Purdue be positioned to be a leader “ in online education.

    Daniels’ rhetoric mirrors common right-wing media defenses of “innovative” (actually troubled) for-profit institutions that take advantage of students and often underserve communities that need accessible higher education most. Kaplan’s track record is no different.

    Kaplan’s troubling history

    Kaplan University is among many high-profile institutions in the for-profit online college industry that have been investigated for troubling practices that hurt students. In an April 30 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, for-profit college accountability expert Robert Shireman wrote that “a U.S. Senate committee investigation revealed that Kaplan in 2009 allocated more money to marketing … than to actually teaching students”:

    Kaplan’s sales operation trained recruiters to steer prospects away from comparing Kaplan’s programs to other options by using a "fear, uncertainty and doubt" strategy aimed at getting prospects to enroll right away. A U.S. Senate committee investigation revealed that Kaplan in 2009 allocated more money to marketing and profit than to actually teaching students. The recruitment process was designed to get students to sign enrollment contracts — complete with clauses denying them the ability to go to court if there was a dispute — before they even spoke to financial-aid counselors about the details of financing the degree.

    [...]

     Kaplan tripled its enrollment between 2003 and 2010, mostly by signing up older students who would qualify for the maximum amount of federal student loans. In an industry already known for poor student outcomes, Kaplan’s tactics gave it among the worst withdrawal rates and loan-default rates of the 30 companies investigated by the Senate committee. In several majors at Kaplan, far more former students ended up defaulting on their loans than earned degrees.

    In addition to the federal investigation, Kaplan has been or is currently under investigation in at least six states. Kaplan has settled lawsuits for using misleading advertising in Massachusetts and employing unqualified instructors in Texas.

    For-profit colleges in general have come under increased scrutiny in recent years due to their low graduation rates and high student loan default rates. This scrutiny has led to calls for harsher guidelines to better hold for-profit colleges accountable for serving students.

    Enrollment has steeply dropped across the for-profit college sector in recent years. As Fortune magazine’s Kaitlin Mulhere wrote, Kaplan University’s “enrollment fell 22% in 2016 and its revenue is down 40% from 2014, according to an annual report from Graham Holdings, which own[ed] Kaplan.” Kaplan’s rapidly declining business and dings to the for-profit industry’s reputation across the board mean that the Purdue deal is a timely opportunity for the troubled Kaplan University to reinvent itself.

    And the marriage of Purdue and Kaplan also raises the possibility that the problematic behaviors of online for-profit colleges will be introduced into public universities.

    Purdue-Kaplan merger was announced with little community input

    A second aspect of the Purdue-Kaplan merger that ought to raise red flags for journalists is the manner in which the deal was developed and announced, and the lack of accountability built into it.

    Purdue’s faculty members say they were not informed of the merger until an hour before the acquisition was announced, a misstep that angered many who viewed the lack of consultation as a violation of shared governance. The Purdue faculty senate has voted against the deal, calling on Daniels and the board of trustees to rescind it, although Daniels asserts that the senate does not “dictate” matters pertaining to the new university.

    The unnamed Purdue-Kaplan school labels itself “the World’s Next Public University”-- but the specifics of the deal suggest the public will have little information about the school’s operations. Indiana Republican state senator Brandt Hershman surreptitiously added language into the new state budget specifically to allow the new university to avoid public disclosure laws. According to higher education reporter Goldie Blumenstyk, “in some ways, the new institution will be even less public than a for-profit college.”

    As Journal & Courier’s Dave Bangert wrote on May 2:

    Steve Schultz, Purdue’s legal counsel, said the [public records] exemptions were put into the bill intentionally to be clear that the new online university will be a different animal that Purdue and its regional campuses.

    First, Schultz said, it won’t receive state money. And second, the New U will operate more like a nonprofit corporation and will not, he said, “meet the definition of a ‘public agency’” under state open records or open meetings laws.

    Local print media covered the story critically, but few national outlets did

    Since the Purdue-Kaplan acquisition was first announced, major national broadcast and print outlets have largely stayed silent on the deal. And when some media outlets have covered the story, they’ve largely failed to mention Kaplan’s troubled history with high student loan default rates, low graduation rates, and federal and state investigations into its problematic practices, as well as the transparency issues that plagued the deal.

    Database searches of transcripts from major broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, and NBC -- and cable news networks -- CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News -- found no mention of the Purdue-Kaplan merger for 23 days, despite the important implications it has for higher education beyond Indiana. On May 20, Fox provided the first national television coverage of the Purdue-Kaplan deal. Daniels gave a seven-minute interview to Paul Gigot on America’s News Headquarters. The segment briefly mentioned faculty dissatisfaction with how the deal was negotiated. There was no reference to Kaplan’s problematic history or the lack of transparency around the deal.

    Among five major national newspapers -- The New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post -- only the Post and the Journal covered the deal. The Post published one article that discussed the state and federal investigations of Kaplan. The Journal published three news stories and one op-ed about the deal. Between these four pieces, the Journal made no mention of the federal and state investigations into Kaplan, but two pieces discussed faculty complaints about being excluded from the decision-making process (one of them just passingly) .

    Local Indiana broadcast outlets ran 41 total segments about the Purdue-Kaplan merger on 11 different local stations of CBS, Fox, ABC, and NBC outlets in the Lafayette, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, and Terre Haute markets. None of these segments discussed Kaplan’s history of student loan defaults, its low graduation rates, its open records issue, or the federal investigations into its practices.

    Indiana print outlets have published by far the most critical and comprehensive coverage of the Purdue-Kaplan deal, though they still failed to provide important context in some instances. Lafayette’s Journal & Courier has provided the majority of analysis on the deal, some of which was also featured in The Indianapolis Star and Evansville Courier & Press. The South Bend Tribune also reported on the merger. In all, 12 stories were written in seven local Indiana newspapers on the Purdue-Kaplan deal, six of which were reprinted in other local newspapers. Most -- though not all -- of these stories mentioned Kaplan’s problematic history and the merger’s transparency problems. Of the 12 articles, four discussed state and federal Kaplan investigations and six mentioned the lack of faculty input on the deal. Four articles mentioned Kaplan’s record on high student debt loads and default rates and just two touched on Kaplan’s low graduation rates. More than a third of the local articles discussed the open records exemptions for the new university.

    More comprehensive media coverage of the Purdue-Kaplan deal and other efforts to privatize public education would be in the public interest. Local communities should be informed about education matters like the Purdue-Kaplan deal that utilize taxpayer money in potentially harmful ways, and they should have a say in whether they want their public institutions to be privatized. Because the deal has not cleared all regulatory hurdles, local and national media still have an opportunity to dig deeper into this story in the coming weeks and months.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched Nexis news program transcripts for CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, ABC, CBS, and NBC for all mentions of “Purdue” and “Kaplan” from April 27 through May 18. Nexis transcripts include all-day programming at CNN; programming from 5-11 p.m. on MSNBC and Fox News; and morning, evening, and Sunday show news programming on ABC, CBS, and NBC. Media Matters also used video databases Snapstream and iQ media to search for transcript mentions of “Purdue” and “Kaplan” on MSNBC and Fox News programs that are not included in Nexis, and on local broadcast news programs in the Indiana media market.

    To analyze print coverage, Media Matters searched mentions of “Purdue” and “Kaplan” in major print publications The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. Media Matters also conducted this search for all Indiana print publications included in Nexis: Vincennes Sun-Commercial, Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, Evansville Courier & Press, Fort Wayne Journal, Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, The Indianapolis Business Journal, The Indianapolis Recorder, The Indianapolis Star, Lafayette Journal and Courier, The Noblesville Ledger, Palladium-Item, South Bend Tribune, and The Star Press.

  • Experts and Tribune Media unions raise concerns about Sinclair’s history of pushing conservative “propaganda”

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

    Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s recent purchase of Tribune Media is drawing serious concern from Tribune employees and their union leadership, as well as broadcasting experts who fear the company will continue its long history of aggressively slanting local news coverage to the right.

    Sinclair, now the nation’s largest owner of local television stations, announced earlier this month it will acquire more than 42 stations from Tribune Media, which will make the company more politically powerful than ever.

    The purchase includes stations in numerous markets in key swing states, and also includes three of the biggest independent news stations in the country in the three largest markets: WPIX in New York City, WGN in Chicago, and KTLA in Los Angeles. All three have strong news operations, while WGN also includes WGN America, a super cable station that serves many markets. (Some observers have speculated that Sinclair could try to turn WGN America into a Fox News competitor.)

    Sinclair's well-established pattern of using its stations to boost Republicans politically was on display during the 2016 election, when the company reportedly cut a deal with the Trump campaign for increased access in exchange for more Trump-friendly coverage. (The recent Tribune purchase was made possible thanks to Trump’s FCC commissioner rolling back a regulation designed to prevent excessive media consolidation.)

    Bob Daraio, a local representative for the NewsGuild of New York CWA Local 31003 -- which represents most WPIX writers and producers -- told Media Matters that Sinclair’s pattern of influencing coverage is worrisome to many of the union’s members.

    “Sinclair is a very right-wing, conservative, almost alt-right in their political beliefs,” Daraio said. “This brings a concern about objectivity. The fewer companies that own media outlets, the less diversity in the point of view that viewers get to see.”

    “Sinclair’s business model is going into a market, buying multiple stations, moving them all to one facility, and firing three quarters of the staff to get as much work with the fewest employees,” he added. “The concern about this media consolidation is it limits diversity. It also creates a barrier to entry into the business for smaller minority- and women-owned companies.”

    David Twedell is a business representative in charge of broadcast for International Cinematographers Guild Local 600, which represents two Tribune Media stations slated for Sinclair takeovers: KTLA in Los Angeles and WJW in Cleveland

    He said members are concerned about Sinclair’s past actions and how that might affect their work environment.

    “Our employees are very nervous about the situation,” he said. “It is a combination of political influence and that Sinclair is extremely anti-union in dealing with its employees. What is it going to mean? It’s a concern and we will be scheduling a membership meeting to talk about it.”

    Twedell knows Sinclair’s approach well as a representative for two current Sinclair stations, KATU in Portland and KOMO in Seattle.

    Twedell has previously flagged concerns from union members about Sinclair’s practice of creating “must-run” videos with messages that the local stations are required to broadcast. As The Washington Post reported, in a “must-run” video from this March, Sinclair vice president for news Scott Livingston railed against members of the “national media” who “push their own personal bias,” and echoed Trump’s complaints about the mainstream media pushing “fake news stories.” (The New York Times did a larger look at Sinclair's use of conservative "must-run" commentaries last week, including a 2016 video "that suggested in part that voters should not support Hillary Clinton because the Democratic Party was historically pro-slavery.")

    “It is a matter of supreme frustration amongst everyone in the newsroom,” Twedell told Media Matters. “When they have these must-runs dropped into the programming, it definitely affects the credibility of the product, and that is something our people are nervous about.”

    Eric W. Chaudron, executive director of Chicago’s SAG-AFTRA local, which represents most WGN on-air employees, expressed concerns over excessive consolidation. 

    “We are watching the Sinclair/Tribune deal very closely. WGN TV is the flagship station of the Tribune Media Company, and it has always prided itself on locally focused news content. We are especially concerned that WGN TV continues to maintain its reputation as ‘Chicago’s Own’ station,” he said via email. “We have consistently expressed deep concern over the impact of deregulation and media consolidation on those who work in the industry. Moreover, we believe that professional broadcasters must always serve the public interest of maintaining a diversity of opinion and voices in the media.” Chaudron added, “We are encouraged by Sinclair’s statement that it plans to use the acquisition ‘to strengthen [its] commitment to serving local communities.’”

    Broadcasting experts and veterans, meanwhile, offered their own concerns given Sinclair’s history and political agenda.

    “They have an ideological position with news and they promote that in their local stations,” said Mark Effron, a clinical specialist in the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University and a former WPIX vice president of news.                                                   

    He cited Sinclair’s hiring of Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump campaign adviser, as an analyst last month.

    “During the campaign they ran stories that decidedly had a pro-Trump bent to them,” Effron said. “Some of the stations they are taking over have a proud history of reporting. Not only will they be the largest chain in America, but there is a focus and an ideological bent to what they are doing locally. That gives me great concern.”

    Jeff Jarvis, a professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, a former TV Guide editor and BuzzMachine creator, called some of Sinclair’s past actions “overtly propaganda.”

    “Yes, I worry about that,” he said in an interview. “In this case, when it is consolidated under a blatant or subtle ideological bent, I’m worried. It is influencing the world view of local reporting, how national agendas seep into local coverage; immigration, abortion, guns.”

    Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member for broadcast and online at The Poynter Institute, pointed to Sinclair’s decision in 2004 not to air an episode of Nightline that included images and names of Americans who died in the Iraq War on its seven ABC affiliates. The move drew a harsh rebuke from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

    “The Nightline episode was the flag in the ground, a really big shot that they are different. That’s a pretty big deal,” Tompkins said, later adding, “They do have some right-wing leanings, that’s for sure. … One of the telltale signs is if [Sinclair's conservative slant] shows up in the mid-term elections, that may be a chance for them to differentiate themselves.”                                               

    One veteran television reporter at a Tribune Media station who requested anonymity said, “Anytime you’re bought by somebody, you wonder, you worry about what’s coming. You’d rather have the devil you know versus the one you don’t. I’ve read the press clippings about their style, their bent in some markets.”

    A journalist at a separate Tribune Media station said the company's conservative history is a "concern." "You know about them,” the person added.

  • Seth Rich's family sends cease and desist to Fox News contributor behind evidence-free smears

    Rich family: “Your statements and actions have caused, and continue to cause, the Family severe mental anguish and emotional distress”

    Blog ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ

    According to NBC News, the family of murdered DNC employee Seth Rich sent a cease and desist order to Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler after his recent allegations led right wing media figures to smear Rich as the person responsible for providing WikiLeaks with DNC emails. Wheeler alleged that the murder was somehow related to a purported relationship between Rich and WikiLeaks, despite finding no evidence that Rich had ever been in contact with WikiLeaks. The Rich family previously demanded an apology but did not receive one.

    In a May 15 article and subsequent newscast, Fox 5 quoted Rod Wheeler as saying  “a source inside the police department” told him the department was “told to stand down on this case.” Wheeler also claimed it was “confirmed” that Rich had links to WikiLeaks. According to CNN, “no real evidence has been provided to support such claims and Washington's Metropolitan Police Department.”

    Right-wing media seized on this story with Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs smearing Rich as potentially being behind the WikiLeaks release of DNC emails.  The right-wing One America News Network has also fueled the conspiracy, even offering $100,000 for information about Rich’s death during a conspiracy-fueled report.

    Conservative media’s exploitation of the Seth Rich murder spurred the family to threaten Wheeler with legal action, saying, “Your statements and actions have caused, and continue to cause, the Family severe mental anguish and emotional distress. Your behavior appears to have been deliberate, intentional, outrageous and in patent disregard of the Agreement and the obvious damage and suffering it would cause the family.” From a May 19 NBC News report:

    The family of slain Democratic staffer Seth Rich is threatening legal action against a private investigator after his "outrageous behavior" has given fuel to right-wing conspiracy theories about the unsolved murder of their son.

    An attorney representing the family of Rich, who was 27 when he was killed last July, sent a cease and desist letter Friday to Rod Wheeler, a Fox News contributor and former Washington, D.C., homicide detective who was employed by the family and earlier this week told a Fox affiliate that he believed police were covering up details about the crime.

    "Your statements and actions have caused, and continue to cause, the Family severe mental anguish and emotional distress. Your behavior appears to have been deliberate, intentional, outrageous, and in patent disregard of the Agreement and the obvious damage and suffering it would cause the Family," wrote Joseph Ingrisano of the law firm Katuk Rock, according to a copy of the letter shared exclusively with NBC News.

    "Your improper and unauthorized statements, many of which are false and have no basis in fact, have also injured the memory and reputation of Seth Rich and have defamed and injured the reputation and standing of the members of the Family," Ingrisano continued.

    The letter demands Wheeler "immediately and permanently" cease and desist from making any comments about Seth Rich or his death and suggests he could face further legal action either way.

  • House Science Committee Dems tell Trump: Stop falling for fake news

    Democrats are alarmed that the president was duped by a climate-denier internet hoax

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump fell for an internet hoax and popular right-wing myth about global cooling, and that has Democrats on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology worried.

    "We are concerned about the process by which you receive information," seven committee Democrats wrote in a May 18 letter to Trump, first reported by Popular Science. "Disseminating stories from dubious sources has been a recurring issue with your administration."

    The letter cited an anecdote from a May 15 Politico story: Deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland put a printout on the president's desk with two Time magazine covers, one from the 1970s about a "coming ice age" and one from 2006 about climate change. "Trump quickly got lathered up about the media’s hypocrisy," Politico reported. "But there was a problem. The 1970s cover was fake, part of an internet hoax that’s circulated for years." The hoax and the broader global cooling myth have been thoroughly discredited.

    That's what you get when you take a Fox News analyst and give her a job she's not qualified for, as was the case with McFarland. "That views on climate change at the highest level of government are being shaped by this nonsense is ... horrific," wrote David Roberts at Vox.

    McFarland, who spouted numerous misleading and bizarre comments during her time at Fox, is so unsuited for her deputy national security adviser position that retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward, an accomplished and decorated Navy vet, refused Trump's offer to serve as national security adviser because he didn't want her on his team. McFarland is now slated to be ousted from the National Security Council and nominated as ambassador to Singapore; she has already been "largely sidelined" at the agency, Politico reported, as she waits for a successor to be put in place.

    The committee members' letter also cited examples of Trump "peddling fake news" promoted by right-wing media, like when he charged that there was massive voter fraud in the November 2016 election "after reading about subsequently-debunked 'research' pushed by alt-right websites."

    The representatives offered a suggestion to help Trump avoid being influenced by fake science news: "If you appoint a qualified [Office of Science and Technology Policy] Director, you will have a reliable source of policy advice for matters related to science and technology, which forms the bedrock of our national security and economic power."

    Don't hold your breath. Trump has been removing qualified science advisers, not hiring them.

    Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency dismissed several members of a major scientific review board; administrator Scott Pruitt is considering replacing them with industry representatives. Also, the Interior Department recently froze the work being done by more than 200 advisory boards, committees, and subcommittees, about a third of which work on scientific issues. Meanwhile, dozens of science and technology positions in the administration remain unfilled, and the Trump cabinet is stacked with officials who reject or distort mainstream climate science.

    When the Trump administration does hire science advisers, it prefers the unqualified kind -- like Sam Clovis, a climate-denying radio talk show host with no scientific background, who is Trump's reported pick to serve as chief scientist at the Department of Agriculture. That post is traditionally filled by a scientist with a background in agricultural research.

    Even if Trump did appoint a qualified director for the White House science office, it wouldn't help. He prefers to get his advice from Fox News, right-wing media figures, and conspiracy theorists.