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  • Breitbart Denied Permanent Senate Press Gallery Credentials

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The credentialing committee for Capitol Hill reporters announced today that it will not grant Breitbart.com’s request for permanent credentials at this time, citing the website’s failure to demonstrate editorial independence from key supporters of President Donald Trump.

    Members of the Standing Committee of the Senate Press Gallery referenced several concerns with Breitbart’s bid for permanent status at a hearing this morning. These included the lack of evidence proving that former Breitbart chief executive and current White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon had actually separated himself from the website; questions about whether Rebekah Mercer, who owns part of the outlet and was a key funder of Trump’s presidential campaign, also plays an editorial role; the fact that some on the masthead have also received payments from the Government Accountability Institute (GAI), a nonprofit group funded by Mercer and previously led by Bannon; and issues surrounding Breitbart’s apparent use of office space not zoned for commercial leases.

    The committee is requesting more information from Breitbart by April 14.

    For Breitbart to receive a permanent congressional press pass, its leaders must follow gallery rules by demonstrating that the website’s principal business is "the daily dissemination of original news and opinion of interest to a broad segment of the public" and that it is “editorially independent of any institution, foundation or interest group that lobbies the federal government.”

    Breitbart fails these standards in a number of ways, as Media Matters documented in a December letter urging the members of the standing committee to reject its application. Bannon’s position in particular raises significant concerns, as even if he did actually separate himself from the publication, the possibility that he could return to his position after serving in the Trump administration suggests that Breitbart News cannot be editorially independent. Moreover, Bannon, at-large editor Peter Schweizer, and managing editor Wynton Hall each have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary from GAI while simultaneously working for Breitbart.

    These ties between Bannon, Mercer, and GAI suggest that Breitbart is and will remain a propaganda arm for President Trump, not an editorially independent news outlet.

    The conservative operation’s status as a provider of “original news and opinion” is also in question -- according to a Media Matters review of Breitbart’s October 2016 content, only 17 percent was original; 78 percent of the website’s articles were wire copy, and the remainder were aggregated.

    Permanent congressional credentials would represent a substantial step forward for Breitbart. As BuzzFeed reported: “For newer outlets in Washington, winning permanent congressional press passes is a tedious process — but an important one. The hard passes are seen as the first step towards joining the White House Correspondents’ Association, where member news organizations rotate their reporters to travel with the president at home and abroad. Reporters also use the hard passes to get into other events around Washington.”

    Below is the full text of the letter Media Matters president Angelo Carusone sent the standing committee in December:

    To the members of the Standing Committee of the Senate Press Gallery:

    Breitbart.com has reportedly come before the Standing Committee of the Senate Press Gallery seeking permanent Capitol Hill credentials. We urge you to reject the request based on Breitbart’s disqualifying inability to demonstrate editorial independence as required by your rules.

    According to Rule 4 of the standards for issuing a permanent congressional press pass, if an outlet does not have General Publication periodicals mailing privileges under U.S. Postal Service rules and publishes daily, then the outlet's principal business must be "the daily dissemination of original news and opinion of interest to a broad segment of the public."

    Additionally, “publications must be editorially independent of any institution, foundation or interest group that lobbies the federal government.” In rejecting the application of the Supreme Court reporting outlet SCOTUSBlog, the committee explained that editorial firewalls are insufficient when personnel are inextricably connected between the federal government and an applying publication.

    Breitbart fails these standards in several ways:

    a. Media Matters analyzed all content published on Breitbart.com in the month of October and found that Breitbart published 82.7 percent unoriginal content. In fact, 78 percent of all Breitbart.com articles in October were wire copy. By contrast, just over 17 percent of Breitbart's content was original.

    b. Breitbart Executive Chairman Stephen K. Bannon is on leave while working as the top adviser for President-elect Donald Trump, and he has been appointed chief strategist and senior counselor to Trump once he is sworn in as president. Bannon also serves on the board of the data mining company Cambridge Analytica, which is reportedly seeking White House contracts.   

    c. Even if Bannon completely severs his position with Breitbart, his likely financial interest and the possibility that he could return to his position after serving in the Trump administration suggests that Breitbart News cannot be editorially independent.

    d. Many of Breitbart's top staff members have regularly been involved in other activities that raise questions about their editorial independence. They are intertwined with the Government Accountability Institute, a non-profit conservative research organization

    • Stephen Bannon served as chief executive of both institutions, receiving $376,000 from GAI from 2012-2015.  

    • At-large editor Peter Schweizer received $778,000 over that term to serve as GAI's president, secretary and treasurer.

    • Managing Editor Wynton Hall received $600,000 from GAI over the same period to serve as its communications strategist.

    e. Additionally, Wyton Hall is the owner of Wynton Hall & Co., a celebrity ghostwriting agency. His website claims he has worked for "NBA stars, White House presidential officials, Hollywood producers and movie stars, Fortune 500 CEOs, college presidents, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks, NCAA Hall of Fame coaches, top international motivational speakers, TV celebrities, and fashion models," all of which could presumably be written about at Breitbart.

    f. Numerous media observers and former employees suggest that given Bannon’s position in the Trump administration, Breitbart could serve as a state-allied propaganda outlet.

    g. Rebekah Mercer, daughter of a major Breitbart investor, is reportedly serving on the executive committee of the Trump transition team, and could end up serving in the Trump administration.

    h. Breitbart has already engaged in similar conduct internationally. Notably, Breitbart London editor in chief Raheem Kassam left the website to become chief of staff to UK Independence Party’s Nigel Farage during the 2015 UK General Elections; rejoined the website following the elections and spent the next year using his editorial post to support and advocate for UKIP’s signature policy initiative, Brexit; then briefly ran for UKIP leader.

    It is simply not credible for an outlet to claim the editorial independence required under your rules given that their longtime executive chairman is about to become the closest advisor to the president.

    In addition to these documented, inextricable, and disqualifying links between the outlet and the Trump administration, Breitbart has secretive business ties that it refuses to disclose as a matter of policy, including financial ties to foreign businessmen that are kept equally secret. The Committee should also be wary of granting additional credibility to an extremist website -- Bannon himself called it “the platform of the alt-right,” an ideology that features white nationalism.

    Given these facts, I urge the Standing Committee to reject the Breitbart application.

    Respectfully,

    Angelo Carusone

    President, Media Matters for America

  • Wash. Post Editorial Board Debunks Susan B. Anthony List’s Baseless Planned Parenthood Attack Ad

    Editorial Board: The Ad Is “Effective,” But “It Is Easy To Make A Point If You Cherry-Pick Information.”

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On March 26, The Washington Post’s editorial board highlighted the misleading tactics of the latest Planned Parenthood attack ad from the anti-abortion group the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List).

    SBA List released an ad in February titled “What is Planned Parenthood really about?” to encourage congressional support for defunding Planned Parenthood -- despite the organization’s essential role as a safety net health care provider. The ad contained several points of misinformation about Planned Parenthood’s services and the feasibility of other providers filling the resulting gap if Congress succeeds in defunding its clinics.

    As the Post’s editorial board noted, however, while SBA List’s ad may seem “effective in delivering its message ... it is easy to make a point if you cherry-pick information and don’t worry about staying true to the facts.” For example, the ad repeated the frequently debunked argument that defunding Planned Parenthood would create more resources for "real health-care centers for women." As the editorial board explained, the “truth is that a cutoff would tear a huge hole in the safety net for the 2.5 million patients - the majority of them low-income."

    From the March 26 editorial:

    Not “even a scintilla of evidence.” That was the judgment of a federal judge last month in Texas about allegations of wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. He was not alone in finding that the health-care organization did not illegally profit from fetal-tissue donation: Three Republican-led congressional investigations, 13 states and a Texas grand jury all could find no substance to claims about the alleged sale of “baby body parts,” which gained currency through videos released by anti-abortion activists.

    It is important to point out these facts in light of an advertising campaign that uses misleading data and half-truths in a bid to whip up support in Congress for a cutoff of federal support to Planned Parenthood. While the would-be cutters suffered a setback with last week’s collapse of the Republicans’ attempted overhaul of health care, which also targeted Planned Parenthood, it is clear the threat remains and that misinformation will continue to be a key weapon.

    [...]

    The ad is effective in delivering its message — but then, it is easy to make a point if you cherry-pick information and don’t worry about staying true to the facts.

    [...]

    The ad’s most pernicious distortion centers on the argument that Congress should redirect the federal dollars that go to Planned Parenthood to “real health-care centers for women.” Studies and real-life practice have established that there simply are not enough community health centers to fill the gap that would be created if Planned Parenthood lost Medicaid funds. The truth is that a cutoff would tear a huge hole in the safety net for the 2.5 million patients — the majority of them low-income — who each year go to Planned Parenthood centers for basic medical needs. Congress should reject it.

  • Conservative Media Cracking Under The Pressure Of Trump Era

    Internal Divisions Flare Up At Fox, Breitbart, The Blaze, IJR

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Peering into his laptop camera while filming a fidgety monologue for his Periscope audience last week, Breitbart.com investigative reporter Lee Stranahan spelled out an internal crisis that was unfolding at the "alt-right," pro-Trump media hub.

    Convinced he was sitting on "the biggest political story in the world," Stranahan announced that his boss, Washington political editor Matthew Boyle, had ordered him to stay away from future White House briefings, which meant Stranahan couldn’t ask press secretary Sean Spicer about the supposed blockbuster. (Short version: Stranahan has strung together a conspiracy theory that would suggest the Russian hacking narrative is a complete fabrication by so-called deep state actors and a firm called Crowdstrike.)

    “I’m probably going to lose my job,” Stranahan lamented during his televised update, noting “I have five kids to feed. … But I’m not going to let this story get killed.”

    Indeed, by week's end, Stranahan was gone from Breitbart. He said he will now team up with The Gateway Pundit, the hyper-dishonest “alt-right” site that now boasts a White House press pass and commits itself to trolling journalists on the presidential beat.

    The weird public Stranahan meltdown was just the latest example of far-right media outlets seemingly cracking under the strain of the Trump era. Along with at Breitbart, internal dramas have recently played out publicly at Fox News, TheBlaze and Independent Journal Review, as right-wing media sources struggle to find their footing with Trump now in charge, and with the attention that comes with that.

    Accustomed to robotically blaming Democrats for all the supposed evils in the world, conservatives now have to deal with a political landscape where Republicans control the White House, the Senate, the House, and, possibly soon, the Supreme Court.

    Is dissent allowed? Or is the new role to simply cheer whatever Republicans do, and serve as a convenient shield for the administration?

    “For years, conservatives breathlessly accused the media of being too easy on President Barack Obama and acting like a bunch of sycophantic boot-lickers for his administration. Turns out, some only wanted the chance to try it out for themselves once a Republican was in office,” conservative commentator Amanda Carpenter wrote in Politico. “Some of those who used to be the conservative movement’s most loyal government watchdogs are nothing but lapdogs now for Trump.”

    At Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze, popular conservative host Tomi Lahren was temporarily suspended after she went on The View and made comments critical of anti-abortion activists. (Lahren: “I can’t sit here and be a hypocrite and say I’m for limited government but I think that the government should decide what women do with their bodies.”)

    In an usual display of newsroom friendly fire,  Lahren’s comment was immediately condemned by her own colleagues at TheBlaze:

    Soon after Lahren’s tweet, a reporter at The Blaze, Kate Scanlon, tweeted, “There is no ‘my truth.’ There is only the truth.”

    Another reporter at The Blaze, Kaitlyn Schallhorn, tweeted soon after: “Even Hillary Clinton didn’t call pro-life conservatives hypocrites.”

    Beck himself soon joined the pile-on. “It takes intellectual honesty, and it takes a willingness to actually think these things through and to do more than just read Twitter or Facebook to get your news and your political opinions,” Beck said on his radio show while denouncing Lahren, according to The Daily Caller.

    Beck has now reportedly fired the host. “Glenn is reminding the world of his conservative principles by sidelining Tomi after she insulted conservatives by calling them hypocrites,” one Beck "insider" told the New York Post.

    Over at Fox News, executives were recently left scrambling when the White House pointed to Fox senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano as a source for the inexplicable claim that former President Barack Obama had asked British intelligence to spy on Trump during the campaign. It was part of the White House’s larger failed attempt to support Trump’s baseless claim that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential election.

    The claim of British involvement sparked an international incident.

    Initially, a Fox News spokeswoman reported that Napolitano “stands by his report on FOX & Friends,” but then the full-on retreat began. By March 20, Fox had taken the extraordinary step of yanking Napolitano off the air “indefinitely.”

    Vanity Fair's Sarah Ellison spoke with a "Fox News insider" who told her: “The key thing Judge Napolitano did was to say ‘Fox News is reporting that ... ,’ and he can’t say that.' That breaks the trust, and you saw what it cost him. He is not a reporter and knows he's not a reporter." The source claimed that Napolitano’s comments, and Trump’s championing of them, had created what Ellison described as "an internal headache" for Fox News: “It’s a disaster," said the source. "It’s a nightmare.”

    Speaking of headaches, Independent Journal Review (IJR) handed out suspensions last week after the GOP-friendly news site published a bizarre column suggesting Obama might have pressured the federal judge in Hawaii whose ruling halted Trump’s latest attempt to establish a travel ban for six Muslim-majority countries. (IJR column headline: "Fmr President Obama Made 'Surprise Visit' to Hawaii, Days Before Judge Issued Travel Ban Ruling.")

    IJR editors later apologized for and retracted the story, but not before one staffer reportedly quit over the embarrassing episode. The site then suspended its chief content officer and two editors. (On March 27, Politico’s Hadas Gold reported that IJR video producer Colin Chocola also reportedly quit, citing issues he had with the “direction” of IJR that predated the Hawaii conspiracy theory flap.)

    The dust-up was significant because the conservative-leaning IJR, founded in 2012 by former Republican operative Alex Skatell, was the only media outlet allowed to accompany Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on his recent trip to Asia -- a trip that yielded a laudatory puff piece published by IJR.

    The move to invite IJR was "part of an effort to include a broader representation of U.S. media,” according to the State Department.

    “If willingness to tar a former president with conspiratorial garbage constitutes an element of media diversity, then the State Department succeeded,” quipped Erik Wemple at The Washington Post, after IJR published its conspiratorial column about Obama.

    Last week, Business Insider provided a detailed look at the internal dissension swirling within IJR since Trump’s election, as editorial factions battle over how far to the right the site should tilt. “It's basically becoming a giant native ad for the Trump administration," one former IJR staffer complained.

    For eight years, Obama bashing largely unified the right-wing media in America. Now without that security blanket to cling to, they’re finding life in the spotlight’s much more complicated.

  • Activists Call On iHeartRadio To Break Its Silence On Racist Radio Host

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A coalition of 21 civil rights and gun violence prevention groups signed a letter expressing concern that iHeartRadio has not confirmed whether it gave a “talk personality of the year” award to a conservative radio host who regularly featured a racially charged segment dedicated to mocking victims of Chicago gun violence.

    For several years, conservative syndicated radio host Michael Berry hosted a “Butcher Bill” segment in which he ridiculed Chicago’s gun violence victims and smeared the Black Lives Matter movement. Berry also played “bingo” with the victims’ injuries and mockingly suggested that if “you don’t want to hear shots and feel pain” in Chicago -- referring to the common police blotter description of what happened to victims -- you should wear “earmuffs.” In a February 27 press release, Talkers magazine announced that Berry would receive an award for “best news/talk” personality of the year at the March 5 iHeartRadio Music Awards in Los Angeles.

    After receiving criticism for his segment, Berry announced that The Michael Berry Show would stop airing the weekly “Butcher Bill” segment, saying he has “to make better decisions.” But it is not clear whether he actually received the award, and iHeartRadio has not answered questions about the matter.

    Media Matters and 20 other civil rights and gun violence prevention groups are asking iHeartRadio to break its silence and publicly state whether it honored Berry. From the March 24 letter:

  • Milwaukee Journalists: Sheriff David Clarke Is “Missing In Action”

    “It’s Horrible. He’s Got People Dying In His Own Jails And He Is Nowhere To Be Found”

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee County in Wisconsin has become a fixture on Fox News and at conservative political events, regularly serving as a shameless advocate for President Donald Trump.

    But local journalists who report on the 15-year sheriff of Wisconsin’s most populous county say his newfound national spotlight sharply detracts from his law enforcement duties. They note that he spends much of his time away from home, either promoting Trump or pushing his new book, Cop Under Fire: Moving Beyond Hashtags of Race, Crime and Politics for a Better America

    Wisconsin reporters also point out that his local approval ratings continue to fall as he ignores his responsibilities, as well as a string of troubling incidents that have occurred in the past few years. Chief among the concerns are four inmate deaths that occurred in his jails in 2016, which Clarke has failed to adequately explain, they say.

    “It gives the impression that he is missing in action and that he is an advocate for the Trump administration,” Daniel Bice, a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel who has reported extensively on Clarke, said about his recent actions. “The perception is that he has gone from being the sheriff to being an advocate for Trump -- that is his primary role right now.”

    Clarke, a Democrat and African-American, is among Fox News' favorite guests. A search of Fox News transcripts on Nexis since 2015 finds he has made prime time appearances more than 100 times, in most cases to discuss national issues, not his home county. (Nexis does not capture Fox News appearances on morning and daytime programming.)

    In addition, a recent Journal Sentinel review of Clarke’s outside income disclosure statements found he had earned more than $220,000 in 2016 from speaking fees and related expenses, along with other gifts, during speeches to 34 different groups in 20 states outside of Wisconsin. These earnings outpace his sheriff salary which is $132,290.

    “He’s not around and he’s not doing his job and not providing any leadership,” said Charlie Sykes, a longtime conservative Wisconsin talk show host now appearing on MSNBC and WNYC Radio in New York. “His approach has been to refuse to comment, refuse to be transparent in any way, and attack anyone who raises questions about it.”

    And then there are the questionable incidents involving Clarke, ranging from his tweet calling CNN’s Marc Lamont Hill a “jigaboo” to his alleged harassment of a fellow airplane passenger.

    Clarke also called for a boycott of a local Fox affiliate, claiming it presented “fake news” and “racist” coverage.

    “He doesn’t talk to the local press except through the county sheriff’s Facebook page, but he does talk to Fox News, which is a contrast,” Bice said. “The assumption nationally among the conservatives is that he is beloved here, but even conservatives are frustrated with how long he is gone and not doing his job.”

    Clarke was first appointed sheriff in 2002, winning re-election later that year and again in 2006, 2010 and 2014. He is up for re-election again in 2018.

    But he didn't gain national prominence until his last election, when groups of gun-safety advocates helped support an effort to have him voted out.

    When he won that election, local reporters say, he started getting national attention as a gun-rights advocate and law enforcement voice. He drew further attention last year when he spoke out against the Black Lives Matter movement, calling it a hate group. He was also an early Trump supporter.

    One of the misconceptions about Clarke, however, is his image as a crime-fighter, local journalists say. His office does very little in the way of policing, with most of its work focused on the county's jails, highways, and parks.

    “The county sheriff has almost nothing to do with crime. The police handle the crime,” said Bruce Murphy, editor of UrbanMilwaukee.com, former editor of Milwaukee Magazine and onetime Journal Sentinel reporter. “He’s the classic example of all hat and no cattle. He talks tough and he has the impression of being this guy who is taking care of crime, and he has very little to do with it.”

    A January 31 report from Public Policy Polling found that Clarke had a 31 percent approval rating among local voters, and it noted that “voters consider him to be somewhat of a national embarrassment.” It also revealed that 65 percent believed Clarke has had a negative impact on Milwaukee County’s image.

    PolitiFact, meanwhile, has deemed 75 percent of his statements that it reviewed false or mostly false.

    “He’s very thin-skinned. He enjoys the limelight, likes the big checks and flying first class,” said Mike Crute, a talk show host on WRRD News Talk 1510 in Milwaukee. “It’s horrible. He’s got people dying in his own jails and he is nowhere to be found.”

    Crute added: “He is a guy who undermines the office and the public service office. It’s all narcissism, building himself as a TV brand, following Trump’s example. The sheriff’s office and its duties are just tedious to him. He doesn’t do anything.”

    James Wigderson, assistant editor of the conservative website RightWisconsin.com, called the outside appearances “a distraction.”

    “The fact that he probably earns more from speaking fees than he does at his day job leads you to believe that his day job has to be suffering at some point in this process,” Wigderson said. “It’s a mixed bag in Milwaukee County when you are more frequently appearing on Fox News nationally than you are on the local news discussing what is going on in Milwaukee County.”

    Journalists also say that he has not properly addressed the jail deaths or his constant trips out of town. When Media Matters approached him at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference in February outside Washington, D.C., Clarke declined to comment on either.

    Most reporters who cover Clarke believe he will not run for re-election in 2018, due in part to his diminishing local image and popularity, but also because of his continued support for Trump, as many believe he still hopes to serve the president in some capacity.

    “He’s become a Fox News commentator/Trump surrogate and at that point has become almost completely disconnected with the community,” said Sykes.

    In response to a request for comment, Fran McLaughlin at Clarke's office sent the following:

    I spoke with the sheriff :

    The left (Progressives, Democrats) doesn't think a black guy is capable of handling many things at one time. Let me introduce them to Sheriff David Clarke. He's added Tammy Baldwin to the list. He's EVERYWHERE! He's too busy to talk to you right now though. #MakeAmericaGreatAgain

  • USA Today Report Raises New Questions About Stephen Bannon And The “Breitbart Embassy”

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    White House senior adviser Stephen Bannon’s housing and financial arrangements are unusually complicated. Many reporters have attempted to tackle the intricate and conflicting network of connections between Bannon, the extreme-right Breitbart.com site that he used to run, far-right billionaires, a tangle of small companies and financial holdings, and President Donald Trump. USA Today’s new report on the Washington, D.C., town house near Capitol Hill known as the “Breitbart Embassy” hints at another set of potential conflicts of interest for the senior White House official.

    The “Breitbart Embassy” has been a D.C. staple since Breitbart (then a fringe conservative site) began operating out of the residential property in 2011. As early as 2013, the town house was described as then-Breitbart chief Stephen Bannon’s house -- though it’s actually owned by an Egyptian businessman and politician named Moustafa El-Gindy. Until recently, there have been conflicting reports on the nature of any official relationships between Breitbart or Bannon and the actual owner of the property, including the nature of any financial or leasing agreements among the different parties.

    Now that Breitbart executive Larry Solov has said Bannon “resigned” from Breitbart “via phone” (though offering no proof, yet, of this separation), USA Today’s Paul Singer investigated potential current or past conflicts of interest and legal liabilities associated with the use of the “Breitbart Embassy” property -- and his findings pose some additional conflict-of-interest questions.

    Is Bannon Still Living At The “Breitbart Embassy”?

    In 2014, a writer for Vice visited the house, which he later described as “a handsome living quarters for Bannon and other company brass” at Breitbart as well as a “workspace for the website's D.C. reporters.” An October 2015 profile in Bloomberg News -- which featured original quotes and photographs of Bannon in the house -- similarly described the property’s dual usage as a workspace and Bannon’s living quarters. A week after the 2016 election, The Washington Post reported that the town house "holds offices sometimes used" by Breitbart but "isn't typically the site of the media organization's day-to-day operations." However, Bannon "would often hold team meetings around its elegant dining table” and “reportedly uses the upper levels of the four-bedroom residence as his Washington crash pad.”

    In his article, Singer implied Bannon no longer lives in the home, but he couldn’t locate documentation to back up Bannon’s living situation. When he knocked on the door of the “Embassy,” a staffer for one of Bannon’s film companies who has also written for Breitbart answered.

    If Bannon was previously living in the space -- which he does not own -- was he paying rent to either the owner or to Breitbart as a subletter? Did he continue to either pay rent to the media outlet or live there on the outlet’s dime after he joined the Trump campaign or even the administration? Could he still be doing so today?

    Did Breitbart Lease The Residential Space For Commercial Reasons?

    Though the residential property is reportedly “still the official address of Breitbart’s Washington bureau,” a Breitbart spokesperson told Singer the site was “transitioning people out of the house” and, soon, into what Singer described as “a regular office in downtown D.C.” He also noted that “the Embassy is in a residential neighborhood where it is generally not legal to run an office.” Singer also spoke with a locally elected official familiar with zoning rules, who explained what commercial uses are allowed in such a residential space and noted that Breitbart’s uses “appear to violate” the rules: 

    Breitbart CEO Larry Solov told the Senate press gallery that the company has a soon-to-expire lease in the building for corporate housing, offices and entertainment. But zoning rules for the block do not allow commercial leases.

    “That area of Capitol Hill is zoned only for residential uses, with a very narrow set of ‘home occupation’ exceptions allowing a resident (as opposed to a rotating group of occasional visitors) to work as an in-home tailor, music tutor, doctor, or the like, or to run a small bed & breakfast,” said Mark Eckenwiler, longtime chair of the zoning committee for the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, the city government unit for that area.

    The uses Solov described to the press gallery “appear to violate the D.C. zoning regulations applicable to that location,” Eckenwiler said. Since the lease is not public, it is impossible to know whether the terms meet the neighborhoods restrictions.

    Does El-Gindy Maintain Residence At The “Embassy,” In Accordance With The Tax Deduction Requirements?

    As the USA Today report also notes, the Capitol Hill home is not technically Bannon’s -- it’s actually owned by an Egyptian politician and businessman named Moustafa El-Gindy. Washington, D.C.’s public records show that El-Gindy purchased the property in 2009 and appears to have been renting to Breitbart since 2011. As reported by BuzzFeed in August, El-Gindy told an Egyptian reporter he is “just a landlord” and that he rents the house because tourism has slowed in Egypt. But the article points out that El-Gindy may stay at the town house sometimes, and appears to get friendly coverage from Breitbart. He’s been quoted in Breitbart articles without any disclosure of his relationship to Bannon or the outlet at least four separate times.

    The nature of any type of lease between El-Gindy and Breitbart -- or Bannon himself, for that matter -- is not clear. Singer’s investigation adds an interesting wrinkle in the story:

    El-Gindy is receiving a homestead deduction on the property, a $72,000 tax credit that requires the owner to maintain residence in the building. He could not be located for comment on this story.

    In Washington, D.C., individuals qualify for this tax deduction if the property is their “permanent home” or if they own the property and consider it to be their “principal residence.” The Washington, D.C., Office of Tax and Revenue website indicates that violations of this tax rule could result in the property owner owing back taxes, interest, and a penalty to the district.

    There are still more questions than answers when it comes to the connections between Bannon, Breitbart, and El-Gindy -- maybe because the answers could point to questionable legal practices, tax violations, and conflicts of interest. 

  • Obamacare Repeal And The Myth Of Trump As The "Great Negotiator"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Before House Republicans and President Donald Trump were forced to pull the American Health Care Act (AHCA), their ill-fated first attempt to gut health care reform and repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), media repeatedly trumpeted Trump's supposed ability to get the bill passed because of his mastery of the "Art of the Deal." Here's a look back at how they described the "great negotiator," which was "the whole point of Trump":

  • Alex Jones Apologizes For Pizzagate Coverage, Blames Other Media Outlets

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

    Conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones was pressured to air an apology for his role in spreading the false “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, which led to a Jones listener firing a gun inside a Washington, D.C. pizzeria. Jones aired a pre-taped video in which he acknowledged that he made commentary about the pizzeria owner that “in hindsight I regret, and for which I apologize to him.”

    Watch Jones’ statement here (transcript here):

    On December 4, Edgar Maddison Welch entered Comet Ping Pong during business hours while wielding an assault weapon to “self-investigate” the false conspiracy theory that the restaurant was helping the campaign of Hillary Clinton traffic children. After patrons and employees fled, Welch fired several shots. On March 24, The Washington Post reported that Welch had pleaded guilty to two violations of federal and local gun laws.

    The New York Times interviewed Welch several days after the shooting, and he told the paper that he was a listener of Jones’ show and that Jones “touches on some issues that are viable,” but that sometimes Jones “goes off the deep end.” The criminal complaint against Welch alleged that he shared a YouTube video with the message “Watch PIZZAGATE: The Bigger Picture.” Alex Jones’ website Infowars published a December 1 article with the headline “Pizzagate: The Bigger Picture” which included an Infowars YouTube video.

    Following the Comet incident, Jones claimed that Welch is an “admitted actor” and that the incident “is classic scripting. I’m not saying it’s scripted -- it has all the telltale signs, they’ve been caught doing it before.”

    Infowars also scrubbed some Pizzagate-related content from its website and YouTube, including a video posted before the Comet incident in which Jones told his listeners to personally “investigate” the conspiracy theory.

    A February Infowars article falsely denied that Infowars had promoted the conspiracy theory.

    Jones, a top media ally of President Donald Trump, is a self-proclaimed founder of the so-called 9/11 Truth movement and has repeatedly alleged that the September 11, 2001, terror attacks were carried out by the U.S. government. He frequently claims that calamities such as natural disasters, mass public shootings, and terror attacks are “false flag” events orchestrated by the government.

    In particular, Jones has promoted conspiracy theories about the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, that left 20 children and six educators dead. Family members have said they have been regularly harassed and threatened by conspiracy theorists, and they have criticized Jones for his smears.

    Jones has close ties to Trump. During a December 2015 appearance on The Alex Jones Show, Trump praised Jones as having an "amazing" reputation and promised, "I will not let you down." Following Trump’s victory, Jones said Trump had called him to “thank” his audience. Jones has also bragged in recent months that the president calls him.

    Transcript (emphasis added):

    ALEX JONES (HOST): First, an important piece here when it comes to being accurate, dealing with Pizzagate. Here it is.

    (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

    JONES: Alex Jones here with an important note to our viewing, listening, and reading audiences. I’m going to read to you from a statement that is also posted to Infowars.com that I wrote yesterday.

    Last fall, before the presidential election, a large number of media outlets began reporting on allegations arising from emails released by WikiLeaks that appeared to come from John Podesta, who served President Clinton and Obama and was the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

    Dozens of those stories and articles raised or discussed theories that some of Podesta’s emails contained code words for human trafficking and/or pedophilia. Stories also included allegations connecting members of the Democratic Party with a number of restaurants allegedly involved with a child sex ring. These stories were cited and discussed in social media and went viral on the internet.

    One of the persons mentioned in many of the stories in the media was a Washington, D.C., restaurant owner named James Alefantis, and his pizza restaurant Comet Ping Pong. It is fair to say that Mr. Alefantis is a prominent individual who has been mentioned as a power player in Washington. Mr. Alefantis and his restaurant were mentioned in many stories published by a lot of different outlets. Mr. Alefantis was quoted in many subsequent stories, and he denied any involvement in such reported child sex rings. These denials were reported in the national media and many other outlets and news websites.

    The volume of stories was substantial, generating national headlines and came to be known across the country as “Pizzagate.” We at Infowars became part of that national discussion. We broadcast commentary about the allegations and the theory that the emails contained code words. We raised questions about information in Mr. Podesta’s emails and the Comet Ping Pong restaurant. We believed at the time that further investigation was necessary. In December of 2016, we disassociated ourselves from the “Pizzagate” claims and theories, a position we reiterated last month after being contacted by Mr. Alefantis.

    In late February of 2017, we received a letter from Mr. Alefantis asking that we retract certain statements that he says were made in seven of our broadcasts between the last week of November and the first week of December in 2016. We have attempted, through our lawyers, to contact Mr. Alefantis to discuss with him what sort of statement he would like to see made.

    In our commentary about what had become known as Pizzagate, I made comments about Mr. Alefantis that in hindsight I regret, and for which I apologize to him. We were participating in a discussion that was being written about by scores of media outlets, in one of the most hotly contested and disputed political environments our country has ever seen. We relied on third-party accounts of alleged activities and conduct at the restaurant. We also relied on accounts of reporters who are no longer with us. This was an ever-evolving story, which had a huge amount of commentary about it across many, many media outlets.

    As I have said before, what became a heightened focus on Mr. Alefantis and Comet Ping Pong by many media outlets was not appropriate. To my knowledge today, neither Mr. Alefantis, nor his restaurant Comet Ping Pong, were involved in any human trafficking as was part of the theories about Pizzagate that were being written about in the media outlets and which we commented upon.

    I want our viewers and listeners to know that we regret any negative impact our commentaries may have had on Mr. Alefantis, Comet Ping Pong, or its employees. We apologize to the extent our commentaries could be considered as negative statements about Mr. Alefantis or Comet Ping Pong, and we hope that anyone else involved in commenting on Pizzagate will do the same thing.

    Here’s what we have done to clarify to the public. Months ago, we took down the majority of broadcasts and videos including ones that only passingly mentioned Pizzagate. This happened months before we were even contacted by Mr. Alefantis. Mr. Alefantis objected to portions of seven particular radio/TV broadcasts. We have taken down those seven broadcasts and we have attempted to take down any broadcasts that mentioned Mr. Alefantis or Comet Ping Pong. We have attempted to do so not just on our website but also on social media sites such as our YouTube channel. If Mr. Alefantis has any other objections, we invite him to let us know. Two reporters who used to be associated with us are no longer with us. In a recent broadcast, I invited Mr. Alefantis on our program to state what he wanted to, and I again do so here. He has given interviews to many media outlets, and he is welcome to come on our show.

    In issuing this statement, we are not admitting that Mr. Alefantis, or his restaurants, have any legal claim. We do not believe they do. But we are issuing this statement because we think it is the right thing to do. It will be no surprise to you that we will fight for children across America. But the Pizzagate narrative, as least as concerning Mr. Alefantis and Comet Ping Pong, we have subsequently determined was based upon what we now believe was an incorrect narrative. Despite the fact that we were far from the genesis of this story, it is never easy to admit when your commentaries are based on inaccurate information, but we feel like we owe it to you the listeners, viewers and supporters to make that statement, and to give an apology to you and to Mr. Alefantis, when we do.

    We encourage you to hold us accountable. We improve when you do.

    (END VIDEO CLIP)

    JONES: And again, ladies and gentlemen, that was -- we got distracted off by MSM on this stuff in D.C. when it was all going on in New York and that’s why day one, I saw it, I saw the media, and I said, “Get off that.” And I did that because we’re not psychopaths, we actually look at what is reality and then focus on that. We don’t go like MSM with their misinfo and just cold-bloodedly spew lies, this person’s a racist, this person’s this, this person’s that. Just because it gets us ahead in what we’re doing, we’re all about integrity, and that’s why we make mistakes by covering MSM, focusing on it, and the huge debate. We will absolutely own up to it, and make right for it, as we just did. 

  • Following Dramatic Drop In Coverage, U.S. Senators Condemn Irresponsible Lack Of Climate Change Coverage

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    U.S. senators are calling on broadcast networks to fulfill their duty and bolster their news coverage of climate change, after a Media Matters study found that the networks dramatically decreased their coverage of climate change in 2016, during a campaign in which the U.S. elected a climate denier as president.

    Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) issued statements this week calling on the major broadcast networks to fulfill their responsibility and provide audiences with essential reporting on the impacts of and science surrounding climate change, as well as related policies. The senators’ statements were made in response to a study by Media Matters finding that in 2016, evening newscasts and Sunday shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as Fox Broadcast Co.'s Fox News Sunday, collectively decreased their total coverage of climate change by 66 percent compared to 2015.

    Sen. Whitehouse stated: 

    The Trump presidency has brought into sharp focus the critical responsibility of an independent news media to cover the science and policy of climate change. … Donald Trump ran a campaign blissfully unconcerned about climate change, even referring to it as a "hoax." Now President Trump has an ardent climate change denier who received millions from big polluters running the EPA, the former CEO of ExxonMobil heading up the State Department, and other industry operatives making decisions that affect the health and safety of American families. More than ever, Americans will need the free press to deliver the real facts on climate change. We don’t have time to waste on alternative ones.

    Sen. Schatz echoed Whitehouse’s sentiment, stating: 

    In a year when the American people were deciding who our next leader should be, you would think there would have been more discussions about climate change in our news programs, not less. This isn’t just shameful, it’s irresponsible. The climate is changing, and it’s affecting everything from the weather to our national security and our economy. Its impacts are already being felt and the American people deserve to know more about it.

    Indeed, as Media Matters found, during the campaign, ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox did not air a single segment about the ramifications and impacts of a Trump or Hillary Clinton administration as they relate to climate change. 

  • Advertisers Are Fleeing YouTube To Avoid “Directly Funding Creators Of Hateful” Content

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    YouTube is losing advertisers as big-name companies pull ads from the site because, according to a report from The New York Times, “The automated system in which ads are bought and placed online has too often resulted in brands appearing next to offensive material on YouTube such as hate speech.”

    More and more major companies are abandoning the ad services of YouTube's parent company, Google, amid concerns that ads for their brands are being placed next to extremist material. On March 22, The New York Times reported that AT&T and Johnson & Johnson “were among several companies to say Wednesday that they would stop their ads from running on YouTube and other Google properties amid concern that Google is not doing enough to prevent brands from appearing next to offensive material, like hate speech.” The decision by advertisers comes as Google has struggled in its efforts to prevent websites that peddle fake news from using its online advertising services to profit. It also comes as Google and YouTube have been criticized following a BuzzFeed News report for driving revenue for conspiracy theorists who broadcast to millions and monetize conspiracy theories like “Pizzagate,” which led to an armed confrontation in a DC-pizza shop.

    Now, The New York Times reports that “the technology underpinning YouTube’s advertising business has come under intense scrutiny” as “other deep-pocketed marketers [are] announcing that they would pull their ads from the service.” According to the Times report, the problem “is particularly jarring” for YouTube specifically, because “YouTube splits advertising revenue with its users, meaning advertisers risk directly funding creators of hateful, misogynistic or terrorism-related content.” From The Times’ March 23 report:

    YouTube is now one of the pillars of Google’s advertising business and the most valuable video platform on the internet. In recent years, advertisers, unable to ignore its massive audience, flocked to YouTube to reach younger people who have started to shun traditional broadcast television.

    But the technology underpinning YouTube’s advertising business has come under intense scrutiny in recent days, with AT&T, Johnson & Johnson and other deep-pocketed marketers announcing that they would pull their ads from the service. Their reason: The automated system in which ads are bought and placed online has too often resulted in brands appearing next to offensive material on YouTube such as hate speech.

    [...]

    That technology, known as programmatic advertising, allows advertisers to lay out the general parameters of what kind of person they want to reach — say, a young man under 25 — and trust that their ad will find that person, no matter where he might be on the internet. This approach plays to the strengths of tech giants like Google and Facebook, allowing advertisers to use automation and data to cheaply and efficiently reach their own audiences, funneling money through a complicated system of agencies and third-party networks.

    But more than 400 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every minute, and while Google has noted that it prevents ads from running near inappropriate material “in the vast majority of cases,” it has proved unable to totally police that amount of content in real time. And that has advertisers increasingly concerned.

    [...]

    While brands have expressed concern about showing up next to unsavory photos and videos uploaded to digital platforms by users — like pornography on Snapchat — the situation with YouTube is particularly jarring. YouTube splits advertising revenue with its users, meaning advertisers risk directly funding creators of hateful, misogynistic or terrorism-related content.

    The revenue-sharing model has minted stars, some of whom gain cultlike followings for edgy and inappropriate content. Last month, the platform cut business ties with its biggest star, Felix Kjellberg, known to his 54 million subscribers as PewDiePie, after The Wall Street Journal reported on crude anti-Semitic jokes and Nazi imagery in his comedy videos. He was part of YouTube’s premium advertising product called Google Preferred — a category of popular, “brand safe” videos on YouTube.