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  • 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.

  • Trolls Chuck Johnson and Mike Cernovich launching websites to harass journalists

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Daily Caller reported that “alt-right”-affliated internet trolls Chuck Johnson and Mike Cernovich will be launching websites to “go after” reporters.

    Cernovich, a noted “men’s rights” activist and a host at conspiracy outlet Infowars, has a history of pushing conspiracy theories including “Pizzagate” and the idea that an April chemical attack in Syria was a hoax. He has launched numerous harassment campaigns against media figures, including a New York Times reporter, and has been promoted by people affiliated with President Donald Trump, including Kellyanne Conway and Donald Trump Jr. Chuck Johnson, the editor of fringe outlet GotNews, has also harassed numerous journalists, and along with Cernovich has made up part of the far-right alt-media echo-chamber that has worked in tandem with fake news purveyors to spread conspiracy theories and spur harassment against reporters and other figures.

    The Daily Caller, in a May 19 article, reported that Johnson and Cernovich were “each launching websites to go after reporters.” It quoted Johnson saying, “The American press no longer behaves properly, and they need to be held to account.” Cernovich also told the outlet that his website would “perform investigative journalism on people who are making the news and breaking the news and find out if these are trustworthy people.” From the report:

    Internet provocateurs and journalists Chuck Johnson and Mike Cernovich are each launching websites to go after reporters, The Daily Caller has learned.

    Johnson, who currently runs GotNews.com, told TheDC Thursday, “The American press no longer behaves properly, and they need to be held to account.”

    “They have decided to make themselves the story, and so if anyone has information on top journalists we will make them the story,” added Johnson, an infamous internet troll with reported ties to the Trump administration.

    Johnson has been banned from Twitter for harassment and previously was a freelance contributor for The Daily Caller. He also helped launch Wesearchr, which crowd-funded for information that sometimes pertained to journalists. Some of the “bounties” on the site were for Megyn Kelly’s divorce files, or a sex tape of Gawker founder Nick Denton.

    He said the website — he won’t reveal its name — will be a fusion of Wesearchr and Got News and will be launched by July 4. Johnson added that Cernovich might be involved.

    Cernovich, who has been described as a conspiracy theorist for spreading stories about pedophilia rings and Hillary Clinton having Parkinson’s, told TheDC Thursday that he has a website in the works called “Journalism on Journalists.”

    “It would perform investigative journalism on people who are making the news and breaking the news and find out if these are trustworthy people,” Cernovich said.

    [...]

    Cernovich said journalists “have this immense amount of power and they write profiles on people and the minute you turn the camera on them they act like you are some harasser or stalker.”

    He said that there is a “double standard” and that journalists aren’t held accountable if they “ruin someone’s life with disinformation.”

  • Professional sexist Tucker Carlson misses the point, declares victory on gender pay gap

    Carlson’s misleading portrayal of wage gap research blames pay inequity on women’s career choices

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Fox News host Tucker Carlson spun new research on the gender pay gap that finds the gap widens for women with children to claim it’s acceptable to pay women less than men because that’s the price of biology. Carlson is a professional sexist who has repeatedly dismissed the gender pay gap, which puts over 70 million women working in the United States at a disadvantage in the workforce.

    On May 13, New York Times correspondent Claire Cain Miller published an article, titled “The Gender Pay Gap Is Largely Because of Motherhood,” outlining the findings of two upcoming studies on the gender wage gap, which conclude that the earnings potential of American women falls in comparison to men as a result of both marriage and motherhood. According to the Times, research from economists Sari Kerr of Wellesley College, Claudia Goldin of Harvard University, Claudia Olivetti of Boston College, and Erling Barth of the Institute for Social Research in Oslo, finds the pay gap between men and women expands as a result of an unequal division of labor outside the workplace that results in women being more likely to pick up “more of the household chores and child care” than their husbands, as well as women being more likely to sacrifice their careers for the sake of their partners. From the Times:

    The big reason that having children, and even marrying in the first place, hurts women’s pay relative to men’s is that the division of labor at home is still unequal, even when both spouses work full time. That’s especially true for college-educated women in high-earning occupations: Children are particularly damaging to their careers.

    But even married women without children earn less, research shows, because women are more likely to give up job opportunities to either move or stay put for their husband’s job. Married women might also take less intensive jobs in preparation for children, or employers might not give them more responsibility because they assume they’ll have babies and take time off.

    [...]

    It is logical for couples to decide that the person who earns less, usually a woman, does more of the household chores and child care, Ms. Kerr said. But it’s also a reason women earn less in the first place. “That reinforces the pay gap in the labor market, and we’re trapped in this self-reinforcing cycle,” she said.

    These new findings add to volumes of existing evidence on the gender pay gap, including research previously highlighted by Miller, who wrote in March 2016 about data showing the professional contribution of women “simply isn’t valued as highly” as work done by men. Indeed, Miller noted that average pay in a particular industry or job sector tends to stagnate or drop when women enter that field -- “for the very same jobs that more men were doing before.”

    The nuances and caveats that determine the complex social interactions affecting men’s and women’s salaries were lost on Fox News, which instead used the Times report to dismiss the gender wage gap. Fox’s Tucker Carlson used the news -- in a classic example of not reading past the headline -- to absurdly claim that the Times “has finally admitted that the gender pay gap has nothing to do with sexism,” and bemoaned a supposed lack of “honesty” from the Times “during the eight years of Obama’s terms when demands to eliminate the sexism-based pay gap were never-ending.” From the May 18 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight:

    Carlson’s declaration of victory ignores a mountain of academic evidence that has concluded women face steep pay inequities compared to men in the U.S. In 2015, the Economic Policy Institute published an analysis showing that women earn less than men across the income spectrum. Similarly, according to data compiled by Glassdoor, the gender gap persists even after accounting for all other professional characteristics. The spring 2017 edition of the American Association of University Women’s (AAUW) gender pay gap report found that “women working full time in the United States typically were paid just 80 percent of what men were paid” in 2015. While the gap “has narrowed since 1960,” women are not expected to “reach pay parity with men” until 2059. The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) found that the persistent wage gap as it stood in 2015 would result in an average American woman earning over $400,000 less than an average man “over the course of a 40-year career.” According to a November 2016 report from NWLC, the pay gap for American mothers is even more stark: “Mothers who work outside the home full time, year round typically make just 71 cents for every dollar paid to fathers.”

    Despite the facts, Fox News has long promoted the myth that the gender pay gap doesn’t exist or is the result of women’s choices in the workplace. Carlson in particular has a history of using his Fox program as a vehicle for misleading characterizations of the movement for pay equity. Even before the notoriously sexist Carlson was promoted to his new prime-time perch, he used his appearances on other Fox programs to proclaim that “women get paid exactly what they’re worth” and bemoan the supposed persecution of working men.

  • Fox News' cynical and vulgar conspiracies about the slain DNC staffer fit a pattern

    Just ask Vince Foster's And Chris Stevens' families

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    CNN’s headline on Tuesday pretty much captured the latest example of how the fact-free conservative media often hype hollow conspiracies: “Story On DNC Staffer's Murder Dominated Conservative Media -- Hours Later It Fell Apart.”

    To recap: No, Seth Rich, the 27-year-old Democratic National Committee staffer who was killed last summer in Washington, D.C., the victim of an apparent botched robbery, did not provide WikiLeaks with more than 44,000 DNC emails. (Those emails were hacked by Russians, according to U.S. intelligence agencies.) No, the Clintons did not have Rich murdered. And no, there hasn’t been a sprawling political cover-up.

    None of the salacious allegations that Fox News, with the help of a local affiliate, peddled this week were based in reality, as the GOP outlets tried to jump-start a dormant conspiracy theory about the murder victim. (For good debunkings of the sorry charade that unfolded this week, see here, here, and here.)

    That conservative media would wildly overhype a bogus story for partisan reasons is hardly a revelation. (It’s kind of why they exist.) But the Rich story was especially galling because it fits a vile pattern.

    "The family is officially asking for a retraction and an apology from Fox News and from the Fox 5 DC affiliate for inaccurate reporting and damaging the legacy of their son," a Rich family spokesperson told CNN. 

    It’s one thing to pile on politicians and other very public partisan figures, lobbing made-up allegations and trying to connect conspiratorial dots. But to try to destroy the memory of a staffer who met a violent death is really just gross.

    What was particularly offensive about the Rich story this week was that it seemed like Fox was hyping the hollow tale as a way to avoid dealing with the unfolding meltdown at the White House this week. Desperate for a distraction and desperate not to acknowledge the news bombshells exploding around President Donald Trump, Fox opted to peddle bullshit concocted stories, based on shrouded, anonymous sources.

     “Not only that, but this investigator says there could be a cover-up. Wow,” host Brian Kilmeade exclaimed Tuesday morning of the private investigator who claimed to a Fox affiliate that Rich had communicated with WikiLeaks (a point he later retracted). Meanwhile, on the Fox News website the headline blared "DC MURDER MYSTERY."

    From there, the awfulness shifted into overdrive throughout the Trump-loyal media:

    Breitbart.com ran an article on its home page claiming that Fox’s article may prove that the hack of DNC emails was “an inside job.” The Drudge Report ran a screaming banner on its site claiming Rich “had contact” with WikiLeaks and linked to the Fox 5 DC article. 

    And more awfulness:

    Hannity remains undeterred by the family's pleas -- as of Thursday, he was still devoting time on both his radio show and Fox News program to peddling conspiracies about Rich's death, using it to undermine the idea that Russia was behind the DNC email hack. "Apparently I care more about why this kid was murdered than you do," Hannity told his critics.

    Basically, it was the “alt-right” idiocy of Pizzagate all over again. “This is what happens when a murder victim becomes a pro-Trump meme,” noted the Washington City Paper.

    True. But here’s a key point to remember: Conservatives, and specifically right-wing media, have been sponsoring these occasional campaigns for decades.

    For instance, the push to politicize the death of the former U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, was especially cruel. And the relentless, years-long smear campaign against Vince Foster and his legacy after the longtime friend of the Clintons committed suicide in 1993, helped define the Clinton Derangement Syndrome years of the 1990s.

    In all three cases, the Rich, Stevens and Foster families begged conservatives to stop using their dead sons and brothers in a morbid and fact-free way to push their own partisan agendas. Basically, they beseeched conservatives to show a little decency – and they were ignored.

    Almost from the moment Stevens was killed in 2012, two things happened simultaneously: His family asked that his death not be politicized, and Fox News immediately began politicizing his death, using it as cudgel to try to bludgeon both President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. 

    Last year, Stevens’ mother again called for for an "immediate and permanent stop" to the use of her son's name by GOP leaders and Trump, calling the efforts "opportunistic and cynical."

    That came in response to Trump’s stunningly tasteless campaign rhetoric during a written speech attacking Hillary Clinton. Echoing years’ worth of Fox News Benghazi hysteria, Trump said, “Her decisions spread death, destruction and terrorism everywhere she touched," Trump said. "Among the victims [was] our late ambassador, Chris Stevens. ... He was left helpless to die as Hillary Clinton soundly slept in her bed.”

    Incredibly, Trump also discussed Vince Foster last year when the cable pundit-turned-candidate told The Washington Post that the circumstances of Foster’s death were “very fishy” and that Foster “knew everything that was going on, and then all of a sudden he committed suicide.”

    Foster’s sister immediately criticized Trump: “For Trump to raise these theories again for political advantage is wrong. I cannot let such craven behavior pass without a response.”

    In 1993, Foster was the then-deputy White House counsel who committed suicide in Northern Virginia's Fort Marcy Park, just outside of Washington, D.C. His death, which sparked controversy when conservatives accused the president and his wife of being part of a plot to murder their friend, quickly came to symbolize the outlandish and despicable claims that were at the center of the anti-Clinton campaigns during the 1990s. (Independent counsel Robert Fiske’s 140-page report on Foster’s death concluded definitively that Foster had killed himself and that he had depression.)

    Without Fox News to broadcast and amplify every wild allegation (the network launched in 1996), the tasteless Foster conspiracies were spread via emerging online bulletin boardsfaxed newsletters, self-published exposés, and VHS tapes, like The Clinton Chronicles, which portrayed the president as a one-man crime syndicate.

    At the top of the Foster-feeding media pyramid stood Rush Limbaugh ("A report ... will be published that claims Vince Foster was murdered in an apartment owned by Hillary Clinton. ... The Vince Foster suicide was not a suicide"), The New York Times’ William Safire  (“What terrible secret drove Vincent foster, the Clintons’ personal lawyer, to a put a bullet in his head?”), and Robert Bartley's team of editorial writers at The Wall Street Journal, who spent eight years lost in a clueless Clinton pursuit.

    And the '90s witch hunt continued well into the new century. In 2007, for instance, Fox News host Sean Hannity hosted a segment about the "mysterious death" of Foster, hinting that the Clintons might have pulled off "a massive cover-up."

    More recently, when the health official who had verified President Obama's birth certificate was killed in a plane crash in 2013, conspiracy outlets were quick to suggest foul play. The future president, of course, was not far behind. "How amazing, the State Health Director who verified copies of Obama’s 'birth certificate' died in plane crash today. All others lived," Trump tweeted.

    This week, surveying the moral wreckage in the wake of the Seth Rich cover-up hoax, the family spokesperson condemned the media players behind the cruel offensive: "I think there is a special place in hell for people like that."

    Sadly, those people already have a place at Fox News.

  • Did "alt-right" hoaxster and troll Jack Posobiec plant fake protest signs at a net neutrality protest?

    It wouldn't be the first time Posobiec infiltrated a protest.

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Noted "alt-right" troll and hoaxster Jack Posobiec took to Periscope on May 18 to highlight a group of supposed “protesters” at a net neutrality event in Washington, D.C. who were “holding signs calling for bans on Breitbart, Drudge, and Infowars.” Posobiec has previously been caught staging protests in attempt to characterize his political opponents as extreme.

    On May 18, Posobiec tweeted a video and link to a report about a net neutrality protest in Washington, D.C., specifically highlighting a group of masked protesters who recognized Posobiec and appeared to be “holding signs calling for bans on Breitbart, Drudge, and Infowars.” The claim was quickly picked up by right-wing outlets such as Infowars, Gateway Pundit, and Washington Free Beacon.

    Posobiec, known for pushing conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate, also has a history of arranging inflammatory chants and signage that are meant to paint progressives as extremists. In January, BuzzFeed’s Joseph Bernstein reported that a “Rape Melania” sign seen at an anti-Trump rally was “the culmination of a disinformation campaign by Posobiec and others intended to paint the anti-Trump rallies as violent and out of control,” and “according to a source, it is Posobiec himself holding the ‘Rape Melania’ sign in the photographs.” Bernstein added that Posobiec “claimed that he’d started an ‘assassinate Trump’ chant to goad protesters into copying him, with the intention of filming them.”

    UPDATE: In a conversation with Media Matters on May 19, Matt Wood, the policy director for Free Press, one of the nation's leading independent net neutrality advocacy organizations and a convener of the rally, described his interaction with the supposed protesters.

    As explained by Wood, the masked protesters who were holding signs advocating for the "banning" of right-wing sites immediately raised the alarm of rally goers who have been involved in the struggle for net neutrality. Not only were the protesters "wooden" and seemingly playing caricatures that served as "dog whistles for conservative media," as detailed by Wood, but the messages and chants they used -- especially their focus on banning conservative websites -- have nothing to do with the actual goals of net neutrality. Instead, as recounted by Wood, who both interacted with the supposed protesters and observed their interviews with The Daily Caller and Rebel Media, they offered nonsensical justifications for their signs calling for Infowars and similar right-wing sites to be banned. And they countered some who questioned their off-message signage with the following claim: "I oppose the fascists. If you don't agree, you're a fascist."

    When Wood attempted to question the protesters in order to determine who they were and to explain that their calls to ban conservative sites were not aligned with net neutrality, they mostly refused to identify themselves or their organization, although one did respond to Wood's question about "who sent" them by saying it was "a woman."

    When staffers from Media Matters who were present at the rally attempted to interview four of the other supposed protesters, they declined. Two of the protesters said they "were waiting for someone." At another point, Media Matters filmed a staffer for Rebel Media (wearing a Rebel shirt and carrying other Rebel paraphernalia) following the fake protesters and taking pictures. You can see that in the background of this first video, and in the second video we also filmed as one of the fake protesters was confronted:

    UPDATE #2: After publication, Harold Feld, Senior Vice President at Public Knowledge, another of the rally's participants, contacted Media Matters and stated that he too approached the supposed protesters and they refused to identify themselves. When Feld asked if he could interview them, they said "we don't give interviews," and when he asked for their names the same protester said "we don't give names." Feld asked who the protesters were with, and the reply was "we don't talk to press." Below, watch video of Feld call out the "trolls" in a speech at the rally and point out that their bizarre calls for censorship of right-wing sites were not only antithetical to the goals of the net neutrality movement, but were also part of a pattern of suspicious behavior meant to discredit efforts to keep the internet open to all:

    HAROLD FELD: First, I got to point out, and I hope everybody will take a look and get some airtime to the guys with the "ban Drudge" and the "ban hate speech online." If trolls could cosplay, this would be -- God, they got it all, they've got the bandanas, they've got the angry looks, but guys, you are all confused. If you want to ban speech, you need the pro-[FCC Chairman Ajit] Pai rally. Because, when you get rid of Title II, then anyone can discriminate. God knows, I hates me all the racism on 4chan and all that stuff, but I think it's a damn good thing that nobody can cut it off, because I know everybody here, especially those who have worked in civil rights, who have worked for the betterment of people, understand that it would be like that to get big companies -- "responsible" companies -- to cut us off as hate speech or disruptive.

    But here's the funny thing: We've had, for a couple of weeks now, an ID-stealing spambot filing forged comments -- pro-Pai, forged comments -- to the FCC. If you look on your Twitter feeds, you can see Pai's staff are tweeting up a storm about our trolls over here. Where the hell is action on an actual illegal hack of the FCC? I'm telling you, what did Trump do when Putin came to hack our democracy? He said, "well, I certainly hope they found Hillary's emails," and when he's in trouble for hacking our democracy, Trump's like, "no one has been treated worse than me."

    So, I've got to say to Chairman Pai and his staff, who are real busy and deeply, deeply concerned that the trolls showed up at the wrong rally, because, of course, there is no pro-Pai rally, because nobody else likes that plan. But, word one about an actual federal crime? Word one about pro-Pai supporters hacking, according to Pai, the comments system so that people opposed to his giveaway of the internet to the companies instead of to us, letting us say what we want to say, that, he doesn't have any time to pursue? That's a crime, man. That's a hack.

  • Press Advocates Appalled By Trump’s Reported Call To Jail Journalists

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Media law experts and journalism advocates are sounding the alarm about President Donald Trump's reported call to jail journalists for publishing classified information, saying the move amounts to “threatening to take away the right of free speech.”

    The New York Times reported that former FBI Director James Comey said Trump told him that he “should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.” The request reportedly happened during the now-infamous February meeting where Comey also claims he was asked to shut down the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Trump's alleged call to jail journalists is just the latest in his administration's ongoing and vicious war on the press.

    Several journalism veterans and legal experts expressed alarm over Trump’s reported comments, which they say go against decades of legal practice.

    “We never like to hear words like that coming out of the mouth of the leader of our country. It is an attack against the freedoms that are guaranteed in our country,” said Lynn Walsh, president of the Society of Professional Journalists. “By saying you want to lock up journalists, you are threatening to take away the right of free speech, which is guaranteed in this country.”

    George Freeman, executive director of the Media Law Resource Center and former vice president and assistant general counsel for The New York Times, said such an action would be unprecedented.

    “That would be a game changer because that has never happened before,” Freeman said. “That would change the whole balance between the government and the press in incalculable ways. It would be criminalizing behavior that goes on every day.”

    Lucy Dalglish, former executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and current dean of the journalism school at the University of Maryland, said most prosecution of reporters has related to their refusal to reveal sources rather than the content of what they publish.

    “The government has never actually charged a journalist for publishing secrets, publishing national security information. They have always gone the route of charging the leaker, not the reporter,” Dalglish said. “It would have a dramatic and instant stifling effect on the flow of information about what is going on in that administration to the public. It would be almost instantaneous.”

    Freeman cited two historic examples of previous administrations seeking to stop the publication of information in The New York Times over what they considered to be classified or protected, the 1971 Pentagon Papers and the 2005 warrantless wiretapping story.

    “Bush and Cheney publicly said the Times should be prosecuted, but it never happened,” Freeman recalled of the 2005 issue. “It was so unprecedented.”

    He also pointed out that in the case of the Pentagon Papers, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that publishing the secret report on the Vietnam War was not a violation of law.

    “The Supreme Court has said you can’t be punished for publishing something that’s truthful, that’s newsworthy, and that you did nothing illegal to obtain,” Freeman said.

    Freeman and other journalism veterans said that distinction, between prosecuting reporters for what they publish and not just their failure to reveal sources, is a key element of journalistic protection that Trump’s suggestion would destroy.

    “The uncertainty and the context in which these threats are made or attempted makes it a little more uncomfortable for journalists,” said Phil Bronstein, executive chair of The Center for Investigative Reporting and former editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. “We ought to pay close attention to anyone who threatens the ability of reporters to do their job.”

    Bronstein recalled when two of his former Chronicle reporters, Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, faced jail time in 2006 for failing to reveal sources in their exposé of BALCO, a Bay Area firm that was illegally distributing performance-enhancing drugs.

    The duo had reported on leaked testimony from the secret grand jury testimony of former San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds in which he admitted using banned substances. They were held in contempt of court and faced 18 months in prison for refusing to reveal the source of the leak. But the order was removed when the source came forward.

    Bronstein stressed that even in that case, the paper faced no punishment for reporting the leaked information, a standard Trump’s request would change drastically.

    “I think we have to be prepared for those things to happen,” Bronstein said. “Have good lawyers. Have great lawyers.”

    Bill Church, president of the Associated Press Media Editors, said Trump’s approach would actually hurt the public good: "Protecting the First Amendment shouldn't be a felony. Jailing journalists for looking after the public's interests makes as much sense as requiring Superman to get FAA clearance before saving the world."

    Trump’s suggestion also brought condemnation from Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, who issued this statement:

    "The comments attributed to President Trump cross a dangerous line. But no president gets to jail journalists. Reporters are protected by judges and juries, by a congress that relies on them to stay informed, and by a Justice Department that for decades has honored the role of a free press by spurning prosecutions of journalists for publishing leaks of classified information. 

    "Comments such as these, emerging in the way they did, only remind us that every day public servants are reaching out to reporters to ensure the public is aware of the risks today to rule of law in this country. The president’s remarks should not intimidate the press but inspire it."

    Two of the top newspaper editors in the U.S. also spoke out against Trump’s idea.

    Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron told the Times, “Suggesting that the government should prosecute journalists for the publication of classified information is very menacing, and I think that’s exactly what they intend. … It’s an act of intimidation.”

    Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet, meanwhile, told the Post that Trump “doesn’t understand our role. He wants ‘Fox & Friends’ coverage instead.”

  • Report: Congressional Trump/Russia Probe Looking Into Breitbart And Cambridge Analytica

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Time magazine reported that congressional investigators looking into Russia’s role in the 2016 election are investigating both Breitbart and data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica.

    Breitbart, which was formerly headed by current White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, is reportedly under investigation by the FBI for Russian bots allegedly pushing pro-Trump stories from the website. The website has also repeatedly tried to delegitimize stories of ties between Russia and President Donald Trump. Cambridge Analytica is primarily owned by major Trump donor Robert Mercer. Breitbart and Mercer have a symbiotic relationship; he finances the website, and Breitbart regularly promotes the Mercer family’s interests. Bannon also reportedly had a financial stake in Cambridge Analytica, and Federal Election Commission reports have indicated that millions of dollars allegedly paid by a pro-Trump super PAC to the firm were mysteriously sent to a California address registered to Bannon. The Trump campaign also hired the firm and reportedly paid it millions of dollars at the urging of Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah Mercer.

    Time, in a May 18 report titled “Inside Russia’s Social Media War on America,” reported that “congressional investigations are probing not just Russia's role” in the 2016 election, “but whether Moscow had help from the Trump campaign.” The investigators, according to Time, are focusing on “two Trump-linked organizations,” Cambridge Analytica and Breitbart. It added that investigators were specifically “looking at ties between those companies and right-wing web personalities based in Eastern Europe who the U.S. believes are Russian fronts.” From the report:

    Russia plays in every social media space. The intelligence officials have found that Moscow's agents bought ads on Facebook to target specific populations with propaganda. "They buy the ads, where it says sponsored by--they do that just as much as anybody else does," says the senior intelligence official. (A Facebook official says the company has no evidence of that occurring.) The ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner of Virginia, has said he is looking into why, for example, four of the top five Google search results the day the U.S. released a report on the 2016 operation were links to Russia's TV propaganda arm, RT. (Google says it saw no meddling in this case.) Researchers at the University of Southern California, meanwhile, found that nearly 20% of political tweets in 2016 between Sept. 16 and Oct. 21 were generated by bots of unknown origin; investigators are trying to figure out how many were Russian.

    As they dig into the viralizing of such stories, congressional investigations are probing not just Russia's role but whether Moscow had help from the Trump campaign. Sources familiar with the investigations say they are probing two Trump-linked organizations: Cambridge Analytica, a data-analytics company hired by the campaign that is partly owned by deep-pocketed Trump backer Robert Mercer; and Breitbart News, the right-wing website formerly run by Trump's top political adviser Stephen Bannon.

    The congressional investigators are looking at ties between those companies and right-wing web personalities based in Eastern Europe who the U.S. believes are Russian fronts, a source familiar with the investigations tells TIME. "Nobody can prove it yet," the source says. In March, McClatchy newspapers reported that FBI counterintelligence investigators were probing whether far-right sites like Breitbart News and Infowars had coordinated with Russian botnets to blitz social media with anti-Clinton stories, mixing fact and fiction when Trump was doing poorly in the campaign.

    There are plenty of people who are skeptical of such a conspiracy, if one existed. Cambridge Analytica touts its ability to use algorithms to microtarget voters, but veteran political operatives have found them ineffective political influencers. Ted Cruz first used their methods during the primary, and his staff ended up concluding they had wasted their money. Mercer, Bannon, Breitbart News and the White House did not answer questions about the congressional probes. A spokesperson for Cambridge Analytica says the company has no ties to Russia or individuals acting as fronts for Moscow and that it is unaware of the probe.

  • How To Remember Roger Ailes

    (As A Liar And Enabler Who Hurt Women)

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    “He went out in such a sad way, but who doesn't have sins? We all have our sins, we all have our cross to bear.”

    That’s how Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt addressed the death of former Fox CEO Roger Ailes on Fox & Friends this morning. A few hours later, Fox News’ Happening Now co-anchor Jon Scott similarly said of Ailes, “Yes, he had his faults. We all do.” The “sins” and “faults” they’re referring to -- the ones “we all have” -- include Ailes’ serial sexual harassment of Fox News employees spanning decades. They also include the creation of a culture, on and off the air, that repeatedly told women that their bodies were not their own, but rather are subject to the sometimes-violent whims of men.

    Roger Ailes hurt women. A lot of women -- probably more than we know. And if those facts are lost in praise about the ways Ailes “forever changed the political and the media landscape,” or reduced to “kind of a sad ending to an incredible career,” it will be another message that those women don’t matter.

    In addition to the incalculable damage Ailes' signature creation has done to the political landscape in this country, his real legacy is the pain he caused for countless people: the 25 women who reported his sexual misconduct and harassment, the employees who were silenced or surveilled by Ailes and his cronies, the women and black employees who were serially harassed by others under Ailes’ watch, the surely many more Fox employees who went to work every day scared, the viewers who watched harassers deliver the news each day with Ailes’ stamp of approval, and the survivors who hear the stories about Ailes’ serial harassment and are reminded of their own pain.

    These are not “sins” that we all have committed; these are atrocities.

    Ailes’ real legacy is the message that if you’re a wealthy, powerful white man, you can hurt as many people as you want and probably get away with it. You can do it for decades, building up an environment where no one even talks about the pain you cause. And when women speak up, you can spy on them, dismiss them, and harass them.

    And when people listen to those women despite your best efforts to stop them, you can walk away with a “tarnished legacy” and an extra $40 million.

  • Downsizing Car Companies Burst Media Narrative Of Trump As A Jobs Savior

    Trump Benefitted From Fawning Media Coverage After Claiming Credit For Job Creation At Ford And GM

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    On May 15, The Wall Street Journal reported that Ford Motor Co. may lay off up to 10 percent of its global workforce in a move that could threaten thousands of American jobs. The news that Ford may shed workers highlighted the problematic way media outlets had previously promoted President Donald Trump claiming personal credit for job creation at the company. On May 17, the Journal reported that sliding stock prices at Ford and General Motors (GM), coupled with GM’s plans “to lay off more than 4,000 workers,” may be indicative of an industry-wide slowdown that flies in the face of Trump’s boasts. Mounting job losses and slowing sales at GM would make it the second major car company to face turmoil since Trump falsely claimed credit for the company creating new jobs. From the Journal:

    Detroit has been an engine of growth for U.S. employment since the financial crisis, with General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV adding tens of thousands of jobs to keep pace with growing demand and fund autonomous-car engineering and other moonshot programs. Earlier this year, company executives promised to add head count at certain factories in response to criticism from President Donald Trump.

    Now, those executives are quickly retreating. GM and Ford are making cuts to their U.S. workforces that could far outpace the job commitments made in recent months amid political pressure. Armed with union contracts that were reworked a decade ago, domestic car companies can respond more rapidly to investor concerns about the bottom line.

    [...]

    [...]

    GM in recent months has disclosed plans to lay off more than 4,000 workers as demand for certain passenger cars, such as the Chevrolet Malibu and Cadillac CTS, dwindles. Ford is planning to cut 10% of its staff to shore up sagging profit.