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  • Conservative media use Gianforte assault to attack early voting

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Conservative media are using Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte’s alleged assault against a reporter to push for ending early voting, because voters who have already cast their ballots in today’s election would not be able to consider the assault charge. Right-wing media have repeatedly attacked early voting, even though it allows more people to participate, results in more accurate vote counts, and reduces barriers to voting, including for people of color. Experts also say most early voters are unlikely to change their votes at the last minute.

    After Gianforte, a Republican running for Montana’s lone seat in the House, was charged on May 24 with assaulting a reporter, conservative media figures used the incident to attack early voting. CNN’s Rick Santorum called the alleged assault “another good reason” to end early voting. MSNBC contributor Katie Packer Beeson tweeted that the incident is “another argument against early voting.” HotAir editor Jazz Shaw retweeted Packer Beeson, adding, “Only one of many examples.”

    Right-wing media have a history of attacking early voting, claiming “there’s no reason” for it and saying it “inevitably increases the potential for fraud.” Some have even argued that it violates the Constitution. These claims, however, have been thoroughly debunked.

    Early voting is extremely important. The Washington Post noted that allowing citizens to vote before the official election day  “addresses systemic barriers” minority voters face, and The New York Times reported that “cutbacks in early voting periods … disproportionately affect minorities.” In 2012, a federal appeals court ruled against early voting restrictions in Ohio, pointing out that decreasing early voting disproportionately hurts voters who are “women, older, and of lower income and education attainment.”

    Additionally, experts note that those who vote early tend to do so in the two weeks leading up to an election and are firmly decided on whom they are voting for, meaning last-minute events, however shocking, are unlikely to change their opinions. And while some may come to regret their decisions come Election Day, those numbers are nothing compared to the number of people who would be disenfranchised by eliminating early voting.

  • Politico Magazine contributor repeats tired NRA myths to suggest Democratic party give up on gun safety

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    In an analysis of the upcoming Montana special election, a Politico Magazine contributor questioned whether the Democratic party can “retake Congress by giving up on gun control,” erroneously blaming advocacy for such regulations for Democrats loses in the 1994 congressional elections and the 2000 presidential election.

    Evidence-based research into those elections has long disproved those theories, which have been promoted by the National Rifle Association in order to bolster its image.

    In the May 24 article, Politico Magazine’s Bill Scher accused Democrats of being “squeamish about gun control” ever since feeling the “backlash” in the 1994 midterms in response to President Clinton’s assault weapons ban and background checks bill. Scher went on to incorrectly blame Al Gore’s loss in the 2000 presidential election on his support for President Clinton’s firearms regulations:

    Democrats have been squeamish about gun control ever since they felt the backlash to President Bill Clinton’s enactment of a ban on assault weapons and “Brady Law” background checks, which shouldered some blame for the Democratic loss of Congress in 1994. But 2000 presidential nomine (sic) Al Gore doubled down. In the wake of the 1999 Columbine massacre and a liberal primary challenge from New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, Gore ran on a robust gun control package that included a ban on cheap handguns. When he lost gun-friendly states that Clinton had won—namely Arkansas, West Virginia and his own home state of Tennessee—guns were blamed again.

    Soon after, Democrats began keeping their voices down about gun control, even when mass shootings occurred. The Republican Congress let Clinton’s assault weapons ban expire without a vote, but Democrats didn’t fight exceptionally hard. Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean touted his “A” rating from the NRA during the 2004 presidential primary. The nominee that year, John Kerry, futilely tried to pick off Ohio, and leaven his support for reinstating the assault weapons ban, with an October goose hunting expedition.

    [...]

    At that point, Democrats won’t be able to sweep the gun issue under the rug. They will have to make a choice: to be or not to be the party of gun control. And if they are still going to be party committed to reducing gun violence, they had best not waste time figuring out how to do it.

    In actuality, factors other than gun violence prevention measures better explain the 1994 election outcome; Congress had raised taxes in 1993, passed NAFTA, failed to pass healthcare reform and according to a statistical analysis by political scientist Gary Jacobson, Republicans won the House “because an unusually large number of districts voted locally as they had been voting nationally.”

    The idea that support for gun regulations resulted in Gore’s 2000 loss is also a common media myth. According to then-American Prospect columnist, and former Media Matters employee Paul Waldman, "Any discussion of the 2000 election is complicated by the fact that the contest was so close that any of a multitude of factors could be described as decisive.” Waldman attributed Gore’s loss in southern states in particular to a partisan shift Republican support as opposed to the NRA’s opposition.

    As Waldman explained, “The 2000 presidential election was not an anomaly, but rather part of a steady trend away from the Democratic party in Tennessee. Bill Clinton won there in 1996 by only 2.4 points, less than he had in 1992. Gore lost there by 3.9 points, John Kerry lost in 2004 by 14.3 points, and four years later Barack Obama lost by 15.1 points." One 2000 study even found that Gore's position on guns offered him a slight benefit on Election Day with voters.

  • The GOP’s war on the press explodes into full view

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    First came the body slam, as Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte grabbed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs by the neck and lifted him off the ground Wednesday afternoon at a Montana campaign event. Then came the punches as Jacobs lay sprawled on the floor.

    Here’s how Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna described the jaw-dropping assault. She and two of her colleagues were in the room when the Gianforte attack took place:

    At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, "I'm sick and tired of this!"

    The candidate, who’s running in a special election today, has been charged for the assault.

    It’s all very shocking, but it's not surprising. It’s shocking that a grown man who wants to represent the voters of Montana in the halls and chambers of Congress decided to physically assault a reporter who was pressing the candidate with wonky questions about the Congressional Budget Office’s projections for the proposed GOP health care plan.

    “The eye-witness accounts and the recordings have stunned us,” wrote the Billings Gazette, Montana’s largest newspaper, which withdrew its endorsement of Gianforte last night. “We must adopt zero tolerance for such behavior if freedom of expression means anything.”

    But it’s not surprising.

    It’s not surprising because the Republican Party, led by President Donald Trump, has been widening its war on the press at a breathtaking pace over the last two years.

    Unequivocally targeting journalists as the “enemy of the people,” Trump has signaled to the party and to the larger conservative movement that it’s open season on the news media.

    “I called the fake news ‘the enemy of the people’ -- and they are. They are the enemy of the people. Because they have no sources, they just make them up when there are none,” Trump announced during his media-bashing address at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February.  

    And during a visit to CIA headquarters, the new president bragged that he had “a running war with the media” and called reporters “among the most dishonest human beings on earth.” This while his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, demanded the media "keep its mouth shut."

    After that, Trump reportedly urged then-FBI Director James Comey to jail reporters.

    And of course, on the campaign trail last year, Trump regularly called reporters "disgusting" and "horrible people.” His ardent followers soon picked up his cues and began raining down insults and death threats on journalists covering the Trump campaign.

    And don’t forget that Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was charged with simple battery of a reporter last year (the local prosecutor ultimately decided not to prosecute him), and that a Time photographer was slammed to the ground during a Trump rally.

    Cumulatively, that has helped create a hothouse environment where reporters have perpetual targets on their back.

    HuffPost’s Michael Calderone recently rounded up just the very latest disturbing attacks on the First Amendment:

    Alaska Dispatch News reporter Nathaniel Herz told police earlier this month that Republican state Sen. David Wilson slapped him during an encounter over a recent story.

    West Virginia reporter Dan Heyman was arrested on May 10 while trying to ask a question of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who later praised police for their handling of the situation.

    And last week, CQ Roll Call reporter John M. Donnelly said he was pinned against a wall by security guards after trying to ask a Federal Communications Commission member a question in Washington.

    Sadly, we can now add the Jacobs assault to the mounting war on the press, sponsored and promoted by today’s Republican Party.

  • Sean Hannity is running the campaign against Sean Hannity

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Media Matters President Angelo Carusone released the following statement after advertisers including Cars.com, Leesa, Casper, Ring, USAA and Peloton reportedly pulled their ads from Fox News’ Hannity.

    “Put simply: Sean Hannity is running the advertiser campaign against Sean Hannity.

    That multiple advertisers have dropped from Hannity proves the point we’ve been making all along: that organizing a pressure campaign wasn’t even necessary at this juncture, because Hannity is so volatile that major brands would likely be uncomfortable associating with him. In the past few days, Hannity has put that volatility on full display with wild and reckless conspiracies and by antagonizing his employer Fox News. Sure enough and as predicted, companies started pulling their ads from Hannity because they know his volatility is bad for business.

    Tonight, Hannity further illustrated the pitfalls of his volatility by starting to actively encourage his fans to pressure his own advertisers. This is only going to send them running from him even faster.”

  • As advertisers begin to flee, Hannity brags about his smears of murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich

    Hannity brags that Fox News exercises no editorial control: “They leave me alone”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Media Matters

    Fox News host Sean Hannity bragged about his continued promotion of a baseless Seth Rich murder conspiracy and fringe-sourced smear, even as advertisers began to announce they would no longer be advertising on his Fox News show.

    In an interview with HuffPost, Hannity said “he received no pressure from Fox News brass or Rupert Murdoch … to back off the story,” which Hannity has continued to promote even “after Fox News’ website retracted a story featuring unproven claims of a link between Rich and WikiLeaks.” Instead, Hannity argued “There’s nothing that I did, nothing that I said, except they don’t like my position politically,” in reference to criticism of his ghoulish obsession with Rich.

    Hannity’s refusal to back down comes as advertisers are realizing that his history of bigotry, sexism, and penchant for spreading conspiracy theories might be too risky for their brands. As reported by Buzzfeed, multiple advertisers are dumping his show.

    From the May 24 HuffPost article:

    “I did it out of my own heart,” he said. “Nobody tells me what to say on my show. They never have and frankly they never will. I’m not that type of person you can say, ‘Go on air and say this.’ That’s been the beauty of Fox News all these years. They leave me alone.”

    A year ago, Fox News appeared invincible amid 15 years of rating dominance among cable news networks. But co-founder and chairman Roger Ailes left in disgrace in July following a sexual harassment scandal; he died last week. O’Reilly, the top-rated cable host, swiftly lost his perch in April following a social media-fueled boycott. Co-president Bill Shine, who Hannity personally advocated for on Twitter, was out weeks later.

    [Media Matters President Angelo] Carusone said he views Hannity “freaking out” on Twitter as evidence of “palpable fear and anxiety,” given those high-profile departures from Fox News. “I think it illustrates the anxiety he feels,” he said. Still, Carusone also said Hannity was exploiting the opportunity to attack the left.

    Last week, Media Matters launched a campaign ― “Know What You’re Sponsoring” ― that’s aimed at making sure “ad buyers know what their clients are sponsoring if they spend their ad dollars with Fox,” according to the group’s release. Carusone said posting the list of Hannity’s advertisers is “a continuation of that conversation,” and pointed out that Media Matters compiled it through publicly available information.

    Carusone said the problem with Hannity’s brand right now from an advertiser perspective is not that it’s conservative, but that it’s “completely volatile.”

  • MSNBC’s Elise Jordan faceplants while trying to find a silver lining in CBO’s new Trumpcare score

    The House-passed health care bill is arguably worse than the disaster from two months ago

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released another estimate of the budgetary and insurance market impacts likely to stem from the American Health Care Act (AHCA) if the version passed earlier this month by House Republicans becomes law. The score was arguably worse than a gruesome estimate first published on March 13, a fact seemingly lost on MSNBC conservative commentator Elise Jordan, who tried to defend the bill and failed.

    On the May 24 edition of MSNBC’s Deadline: White House, correspondent Kasie Hunt spent several minutes detailing the CBO estimate released just minutes earlier, noting that AHCA was estimated to reduce federal deficits by $119 billion through 2026 at the cost of increasing the uninsured population by 23 million. Hunt added that the CBO believes people living with preexisting health conditions would be “ultimately unable to purchase health insurance at premiums that are about what they face under current law” if they lived in states that use a waiver of these existing patient protections built into the AHCA.

    After Hunt concluded her segment by pointing out that the new CBO projections are not “dramatically different” than previous economic estimates, host Nicolle Wallace turned to a panel of guests to discuss possible political fallout for a bill that was already polling as low as 17 percent. Political analyst Dr. Jason Johnson predicted that the health care legislation would prove to be “a death knell for the midterm elections” before Jordan claimed the CBO estimate was “actually better than I expected” because “they do have a substantial savings of $119 billion, and it wasn’t looking that way in previous estimates of the prior plan.” Jordan pitched this report as proof that GOP-led health care reform could at least reduce government spending even if it couldn’t increase insurance coverage.

    Unfortunately for Jordan, she is not convincing anyone. In its March 13 estimate, the CBO predicted the AHCA would kick 24 million people off their health insurance over ten years and reduce deficits by $337 billion. A March 23 estimate also found that a new amendment to AHCA would reduce deficits by $150 billion while still kicking 24 million people off insurance. The May 24 estimate of the version of the AHCA actually passed by the House contains by far the least deficit reduction (just $119 billion over ten years) but still predicts almost the same number of insurance losses.

    More importantly, Jordan is egregiously exaggerating the significance of deficit reductions stemming from the bill. According to the CBO, the U.S. federal government will spend $49.9 trillion through 2026 and accumulate $8.6 trillion in additional deficit under current law, meaning the AHCA results in a meager deficit reduction of just 1.4 percent -- in exchange for virtually doubling the number of uninsured.

    Watch the full segment here:

    *This blog has been updated to clarify the AHCA's impact on long-term federal deficits.

  • Four facts reporters should include in stories about Texas’ pending attack on the transgender community

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    The Texas legislature is currently debating bathroom ban legislation which could potentially target transgender youth in public schools or the entire transgender community in Texas. Reporters covering the bathroom bill-type legislation should avoid parroting anti-transgender misinformation peddled by anti-LGBTQ hate groups, and instead report the facts about transgender people, particularly the safety and necessity of protecting transgender youth.

    On May 22, the Texas House passed a bathroom bill amendment to Senate Bill 2078, a bill focusing on emergency operation plans for public school districts. While some school groups have said that the exact implications of the amendment are open to interpretation, the crux of the amendment would prohibit transgender students in public schools from using restrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender identity. But that amendment did not go far enough for the more conservative Texas Senate, which rejected the amendment on May 23. In response, the Senate then tacked on a more expansive bathroom bill provision to an unrelated proposal on county governments -- but a Democrat in the House has promised to reject the changes. The legislature is expected to continue to push for some form of bathroom ban before the session ends May 29.

    In the past, journalists have often stumbled when reporting on transgender people’s access to bathrooms and locker rooms, sometimes parroting unfounded claims peddled by anti-LGBTQ hate groups. Here are four facts journalists should include in articles about pending public accomodation restrictions to ensure accurate, responsible reporting:

    1. Empirical data debunks the “bathroom predator” myth.

    Law enforcement and government officials in 16 states and the District of Columbia -- including experts in Austin, Dallas, and El Paso -- have all debunked the “bathroom predator” myth that sexual predators will exploit nondiscrimination protections for transgender people in public accommodations. Last year a national coalition of over 300 sexual assault and domestic violence prevention organizations also came out in opposition to anti-transgender bathroom bills and in favor of laws and policies that “protect transgender people from discrimination, including in accessing facilities that match the gender they live every day.”

    Additionally, school administrators from 23 school districts and four universities across the country with trans-inclusive nondiscrimination policies have debunked the notion that allowing transgender students to use school facilities that correspond with their gender identity is a safety risk, as claimed by Republican lawmakers in Texas. In total, these schools serve an estimated 1.5 million students each year without any incidents of sexual harassment, assault, or inappropriate behavior as a result of allowing trans students to access bathrooms that align with their gender identity (per reporting to Media Matters in 2014, 2015, and 2016).


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    2. National leading child welfare organizations oppose bathroom bills targeting transgender youth.

    Leading national child welfare and advocacy organizations oppose bathroom bills that single out transgender students for discrimination. Noting that empirical evidence already shows that transgender kids are “at heightened risk for violence, bullying and harassment,” last year leading national child welfare organizations signed a letter standing in opposition to “shameful” bathroom bans and called on “legislators across the country to reject these harmful measures.” Signees included the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Counseling Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Association of Social Workers, and the National Education Association.

    Reporters should also be wary of the anti-LGBTQ hate group the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds), a deceptively named extremist group with an estimated 200 to 500 members whose name is meant to be confused with the 60,000-member American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). ACPeds has been designated as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for spreading malicious lies about LGBTQ people and deliberately misrepresenting legitimate research to attack LGBTQ equality.

    3. Several federal courts have ruled that discrimination against transgender people is illegal sex discrimination.

    Earlier this year, the Supreme Court punted on ruling on whether a transgender Virginia high school student had the right to access restrooms and locker rooms appropriate for his gender identity. However, several lower courts have found that discrimination on the basis of gender identity is prohibited sex discrimination. From a 2016 New York Times analysis:

    The Supreme Court has not addressed whether the same language protects transgender rights, but several lower courts have. In 2004, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found that it does, and some other courts have since agreed. But in 2007, the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit made the opposite finding.

    In 2011, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled that discriminating against a transgender person was sex discrimination — not based on the civil rights statute, but based on the 14th Amendment. And last month, relying on a 1972 law, Title IX, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that a high school must allow a transgender student who was born anatomically female to use the boys’ bathroom.

    In 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled, as the Sixth Circuit did, that discrimination against transgender people violated the Civil Rights Act’s ban on sex discrimination, a decision hailed by advocates as the executive branch’s first unequivocal statement to that effect.

    4. Anti-LGBTQ hate groups and extremists with high-level Texas government connections are behind the push for bathroom bills.

    For over two years, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) -- the nation’s largest anti-LGBTQ hate group -- has been leading the fight against transgender student rights. By drafting model legislation and policies, testifying at hearings, and suing school districts, ADF has used its mammoth network of over 4,000 affiliated lawyers to convince local school boards, and last year North Carolina (via the infamous House Bill 2), to pass anti-transgender policies. ADF has high-level government connections throughout the country, including three former staff members in Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office.

    In addition to ADF representatives, a number of anti-LGBTQ extremists with high-level government connections have been pushing for a bathroom bill since before the 2017 legislative session began. Those extremists include:

    • Steven Hotze and Jared Woodfill of the anti-LGBTQ hate group the Conservative Republicans of Texas, which has called the word transgender a “euphemism, a weaker alternative, for the term pervert”;
    • Dave Welch, executive director of the Texas Pastor Council, who once compared repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to letting loose a “poisonous cloud of chemical weapons” that would “release GLBTQIA activists onto our soldiers like hound dogs of hell”; and
    • Jonathan Saenz of Texas Values, who has said that gay sex is a “dangerous and risky sexual activity that can fiercely jeopardize a person's well-being.”
  • Experts point out Trump’s budget “just doesn’t add up”

    White House budget proposal bases its revenue numbers on unrealistically high economic growth projections

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Experts and journalists have pointed out that President Donald Trump’s budget numbers for the 2018 fiscal year do not add up, as they rely on unrealistic growth expectations. Nonpartisan experts say the gap between the White House’s estimates and the Congressional Budget Office’s is “the largest on record.”

    On May 23, the White House released its full budget proposal, which not only calls for kicking millions of working- and middle-class Americans off vital public assistance programs to make room for gigantic tax cuts for top income earners, but also bases its tax revenue projections on expected annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 3 percent by 2020. While right-wing media commentators have repeatedly defended trickle-down economic fantasies that predict unlikely levels of economic growth because of tax cuts for the rich, assuming such growth when determining revenue projections for the federal budget hides the true cost of Trump’s devastating budget plans.

    Experts and journalists quickly noted the absurdity of Trump’s projections in their coverage of the budget request. In a Washington Post blog, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, an economist at Harvard University, called the logic of Trump’s growth assumptions “simply ludicrous” and compared it to believing in the tooth fairy. On the May 23 edition of MSNBC Live, economist Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), told host Ali Velshi that Trump’s budget “does not add up at all” while noting that economic growth “is a function of the growth of the labor supply,” and that’s going to slow as the country grows older. Bernstein compared the chances of Trump’s projections coming true to the chances of a kitchen appliance coming to life to sing and dance, concluding that it is reckless for budget numbers to be “based on on these kinds of fairy tales”:

    On May 23, Vox correspondent Matt Yglesias pointed out that for anyone over 35, annual growth of 3 percent “doesn’t sound outlandish” because it is reminiscent of GDP growth during the 1990s. But Yglesias noted that if the United States did manage today to replicate 1990s-level growth in the labor force, productivity, and capital investment, “even under that rosy scenario” the growth rate would not hit 3 percent:

    In a May 24 column for Vox, economist and former Obama adviser Jason Furman explained in even more detail why 3 percent economic growth was “extremely unlikely,” with a specific focus on the slowing growth of the labor force. Furman also noted that the American economy is already growing faster than other advanced economies around the world, which have struggled to keep pace.

    As FiveThirtyEights Ben Casselman explained, the reason this level of growth is not currently attainable is that during the 1990s, the U.S. saw “rapid growth in its labor force and rapid gains in the productivity of that labor force.” By comparison, the baby boom generation today is retiring, not entering the workforce, which slows labor force growth, and “growth in productivity has slowed to a crawl” as electronic and internet-based technologies from the 1990s have matured.

    On May 24, The Washington Post’s Ana Swanson also looked at how realistic Trump’s growth projections would be with regard to labor force growth after Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told reporters that much of the growth could come from getting the 6 million Americans marginally attached to the workforce to be fully employed. Yet, as Swanson noted, adding 6 million workers to the 160 million Americans already in the labor force would generate only 2 percent growth.

    Trump’s budget projections were not just debunked for lacking numbers based in reality; CBPP pointed out the historic gap between the White House’s economic growth projections and those of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). According to a May 22 CBPP blog post, Trump’s budget proposal projects $3 trillion less in deficit accumulation using its 3 percent growth model than it would using the CBO’s less optimistic economic forecasting. The difference is even more striking because, as CBPP pointed out, the gap between the White House’s proposal and CBO forecasting is “the largest on record”:

  • How the murder of a DNC staffer turned into a right-wing conspiracy

    The story goes through nearly everyone in right-wing media: Sean Hannity, Roger Stone, Louise Mensch, Megyn Kelly, Jim Hoft, Julian Assange, and more

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    It started with a late night walk on July 10, 2016. Seth Rich was talking with his girlfriend while walking through the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington, D.C., when there was some sort of altercation. Rich was shot multiple times and died shortly thereafter.

    Nearly a year later, his death has become a cause célèbre among right-wing media and the fringiest elements of pro-Trump media, simply because he worked as a staffer for the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

    The conspiracy theories started immediately. The day after Rich was killed, a Twitter user connected the murder with a lawsuit filed by Bernie Sanders supporters against the DNC. (This lawsuit would later be the subject of right-wing conspiracy theories after the death of a process server that the coroner would later conclude was caused by accidental polypharmacy, or a combination of drugs.)

    The first right-wing version of the conspiracy theory was about confirming right-wing allegations against the Clinton Foundation. On July 13, conspiracy theory website WhatDoesItMean.com (previously cited by pro-Trump media) ran a piece, sourced to the Kremlin, claiming that Rich thought he was on his way to meet with the FBI about the Clinton Foundation when a “hit team” put in place by the Clintons killed him. The article also linked the conspiracy theory with two Russian diplomats who were expelled by the United States two days before Rich’s murder, and it concluded by claiming the hit team was captured on July 12 in Washington, D.C. The actual police events of July 12 had nothing to do with any of this. On July 14, Snopes debunked this conspiracy theory.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On July 22, WikiLeaks released 20,000 emails that had been stolen from the DNC, and Redditors immediately started guessing that Rich was the source of those emails. Heat Street, a News Corp. publication then run by Louise Mensch, ran a roundup of these rumors. In the post, Heat Street simply went through the “r/The_Donald” subreddit, listing different conspiracy theories that users had come up with, even comparing one theory to the work of mathematician John Nash and the movie A Beautiful Mind. Heat Street had also mentioned the FBI rumor in the bottom of a previous post about Rich’s murder, noting that there was no evidence to substantiate it.

    The one entity that did claim to be the WikiLeaks source was Guccifer 2.0. As The New York Times explained on July 27, while American intelligence services believed Guccifer 2.0 to be a front for Russian spies, the hacker claimed to be Romanian. In the report, the Times detailed evidence linking the emails to Russia, including “metadata hidden in the early documents indicating that they were edited on a computer with Russian language settings.”


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Notorious dirty trickster Roger Stone, a contributor to Alex Jones' conspiracy theory website Infowars, and WikiLeaks began pushing the conspiracy theory in earnest in August. In an August 8 tweet, Stone included Rich in a group of four murdered people for whom he blamed the Clintons, referencing the FBI version of the conspiracy theory. A day later, WikiLeaks announced that it was offering $20,000 for information, and founder Julian Assange himself brought up Rich unprompted on a Dutch TV program, implying that Rich was a source. The host was taken aback by Assange’s suggestion and tried to push him on what he was implying, but Assange did not clarify his remark:

    Pro-Trump media jumped on the interview. Mike Cernovich immediately promoted the interview while stating point-blank that Rich was the source -- something that even Assange never said. On August 10, Hannity discussed the interview on his radio show, saying that it wasn’t the Russians who gave WikiLeaks the information. Later in the show, he discussed the matter with Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft and Townhall’s Rachel Alexander. Hoft was befuddled as to why the Rich family would not want the matter politicized, saying that it could only increase the information about the murder.

    Also on August 10, Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson published a video about Assange’s implication, expressing concern that Assange could be assassinated:

    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also jumped on Assange’s interview on the same day, telling Mike Gallagher on August 10 that the conspiracy theory was “worth talking about.”

    WikiLeaks also issued a similarly vague statement on August 10.

    On August 11, WikiLeaks started sowing distrust in Rich’s family when it tweeted that the family’s spokesperson was a “professional Democrat” -- even though the same could be said for Rich himself.

    In the days that followed, Infowars ramped up its coverage. Watson cited a “source close to the Democratic party” who said his reporting was “on the money.” Infowars dutifully picked up Gingrich’s interview and used it to confirm its own assertions. The conspiracy theory site was particularly incensed that the Rich family would hire a spokesperson to quash conspiracy theories. And it went on to publish multiple pieces about Rich that included accounts of WikiLeaks’ assertions and implications about Rich.

    Assange would resurface and again hint that Rich was his source on the August 25 edition of The Kelly File, again declaring his interest in the case without actually saying anything about Rich himself. While Laura Ingraham and some others ran with what Assange said to Kelly File host Megyn Kelly, Fox host Greg Gutfeld hit Assange for pushing the conspiracy theory -- to the distaste of fellow Fox host Eric Bolling:

    The conspiracy theory machine would turn away from Rich for most of September and October, though during this time Hannity frequently talked with Assange on his radio show, eager for new leaks that could be damaging to Clinton. In September, Rich’s girlfriend and his family spoke with Chris Hansen of Crime Watch Daily about the case, condemning the claims. GOP lobbyist Jack Burkman also began working with the Rich family at this time, offering more than $100,000 in rewards for information. Burkman would later say that he could “rule out attempted robbery” based on his canvassing of the neighborhood.

    On October 7, The Daily Beast reported that “Russia’s senior-most officials” ordered the DNC hack. On November 2, fake news purveyor DC Gazette published a post saying that WikiLeaks’ source was neither Russia nor Seth Rich, but instead dissatisfied government staffers. On December 9, The Washington Post reported on a CIA assessment that Russia was behind leaks targetting the DNC, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.

    This Post story would touch off a new round of conspiracy theories about Rich, and once again they began with Louise Mensch’s Heat Street. On December 14, the site aggregated comments on Twitter saying that it was Seth Rich and not Russia that provided WikiLeaks with the emails. The piece offered no theory as to how Rich could have gotten access to DCCC or Podesta emails; indeed, it’s unclear from the story if the author even understood that there were multiple hacks, even though Mensch herself turned up in the hacked Podesta emails (which the piece did not disclose). Weeks after this post, it was announced that Mensch had left Heat Street in “mid-December.” There is no indication if Mensch was still at Heat Street when this post was published.

    On December 15, Craig Murray, a “close associate” of Julian Assange, told the Daily Mail that he was a middleman for the leaks and that the handoff took place in D.C. in September. People immediately began tying Rich to Murray, even though Murray’s supposed handoff date (of which there was no evidence) took place months after Rich was murdered.

    Later that day on the radio, Hannity would cite Murray’s account as evidence that Russians were not behind the hacking. Later in the program, Hannity brought up Fox contributor John Bolton’s conspiracy theory from December 12 that if something looked like it was the Russians hacking, it might actually be a false flag in which someone made it look like it was the Russians. Assange agreed with the theory on Hannity’s show: 

    Hannity also called Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) an “idiot” for saying that Russians were involved in hacking:

    Weeks later, on January 3, Hannity returned to Rich, again saying that Rich may have been the source for Wikileaks:

    On January 6, U.S. officials released a report saying that Russians were behind the hacking. Suddenly, Hannity admitted that Russians have been hacking Americans for years:

    On January 12, Guccifer 2.0 denied the report that Russia was behind the hacking.

    Once again, the conspiracy mill died down, with occasional posts on 4chan and Reddit keeping the conspiracy theory alive.

    On February 27, Jack Burkman, the GOP lobbyist who at one point was allied with the Rich family, told the Daily Mail that he had evidence that the Russians killed Rich because Rich had evidence that they were the ones behind the hacking. Burkman’s only source was a “former U.S. intelligence officer” -- “an older man, 65-70 years old, who claims to have been a contractor in Iraq in the 1970s.” None of Rich’s friends or family members have given any indication that Rich had such an explosive secret.

    In mid-March, Stone admitted contact with Guccifer 2.0, but he claimed it was innocuous.

    On March 23, Burkman talked to Sinclair station WJLA in Washington, D.C., about launching a new investigation. Claiming that the investigation would be launched out of “the Seth Rich Center for Investigations” in Arlington, VA, Burkman now claimed to have a team including “a forensic physiologist, a security specialist and George Washington grad students.” But the piece also noted that the Rich family had no part in this effort.

    On April 8, a new conspiracy theory emerged alleging that Guccifer 2.0 was the middleman between RIch and WikiLeaks. Model Robbin Young published screenshots on her website of a purported direct message conversation she had with Guccifer 2.0 from August 25. In it, Guccifer 2.0 claimed that the DNC leak came from someone named “Seth” and responded affirmatively when Young talked about Rich’s murder. WikiLeaks, the subreddit “r/The Donald,” Gateway Pundit, Heat Street, and others immediately ran with the claim.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The conspiracy theory came to its most public stage on May 15. That was a week after Obama intelligence chief James Clapper and former acting attorney general Sally Yates testified before the Senate partially on issues relating to Russian hacking, days after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey as a result of the Russian investigation, and hours after The Washington Post reported that Trump gave highly classified information to Russian diplomats in the Oval Office that compromised a valuable intelligence source.

    On that day, Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler told Fox 5 DC, a station owned and operated by Fox News’ parent company, that he had evidence that Rich was in contact with WikiLeaks.

    Sean Hannity pushed the story on his Twitter account shortly after midnight, including by quote-tweeting a vague allegedly hacked email of Podesta’s:

    After retweeting a video of the Fox 5 segment, Hannity affirmatively quote-tweeted someone claiming that Assange had previously said that Rich was his source (which, again, Assange had never actually said).

    The story exploded as conservatives latched onto a tale that ostensibly showed that the focus on Russia was misplaced. Drudge put the story on the top of the site. The subreddit “r/The Donald” went crazy. Pro-Trump media pushed the story hard. Fox News joined in on Tuesday morning. By 10 a.m., Hannity was lashing out at CNN's Oliver Darcy for noticing the trend.

    Hannity then quote-tweeted Robbin Young, whose story about Seth Rich was different from the one Wheeler was pushing and that Hannity was touting. (Guccifer 2.0 claimed that they served as the middleman between Rich and Wikileaks; Assange had implied and Wheeler had stated that Rich was in touch with WikiLeaks directly.) At no point then or later did Hannity ever seem to notice the discrepancy.

    At one point, Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson even claimed that the Washington Post story about Trump giving highly classified information to the Russians was a hoax intended to cover up the Rich story -- a claim based on Watson completely misreading time stamps on the stories (the Post’s went up before the Fox 5 piece did).

    But soon, the Rich story fell completely apart. The Fox station admitted on May 16 that D.C. police said that Wheeler’s claim was false. Wheeler’s contact with the Rich family turned out to be frequent Fox News guest and Breitbart author Ed Butowsky. Wheeler himself admitted to CNN that he actually had no evidence. Wheeler instead claimed that his comments were reflective of the FoxNews.com piece that ran. Fox News’ piece, by Malia Zimmerman, cited Wheeler as the source of the claim.

    And yet, the transparent bullshit was still enough for pro-Trump media. On May 16, echoing Benghazi conspiracy theories, Gateway Pundit claimed there was a “stand down” order given to police regarding the Rich investigation. An “alt-right” troll asked Trump himself about Rich in the White House, getting no response. Anonymous posts on 4chan linked Rich to Pizzagate, Antonin Scalia’s death, Michael Hastings’ death, and even Media Matters. An anonymous post on 8chan even suggested that Rich was illegally surveilled and then improperly unmasked by former national security adviser Susan Rice.

    Lou Dobbs on Fox Business picked up the line of attack on Rich’s family that had previously begun with WikiLeaks and Infowars, saying there was “a partisan shroud” on Rich’s family:

    Later on May 16, Hannity even declared that Rich’s murder “could become one of the biggest scandals in American history”:

    Later in the show, Hannity talked with American Center for Law and Justice’s Jay Sekulow and former Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie, focusing on the media being wrong about Russia. Hannity continually brought Rich into the conversation:

    Hannity then had Wheeler himself on the show. Wheeler continued pushing the conspiracy theory, even while admitting that he never had seen the evidence.

    The next day, even more claims collapsed. Newsweek reported that the FBI is not investigating Rich’s death, contra Wheeler’s claims, and a family spokesperson confirmed that D.C. police found no evidence of stolen emails ever being on Rich’s laptop. Fox 5 added an editor’s note that Wheeler had backtracked from claims that he made, but it did not retract the story. The story was in shambles. The Rich family demanded full retractions from Fox 5 and Fox News.

    Still, conservative media persisted.

    On May 18, after Mediaite published a post highlighting people mocking Hannity, Hannity again tweeted his belief in the conspiracy.

    Hannity then discussed the case at length on his show, re-airing Assange’s Dutch TV interview and previous radio interviews.

    On May 19, the Rich family sent a cease-and-desist letter to Rod Wheeler.

    The Russian Embassy in the U.K. trolled everyone when it stated as a fact that Rich was WikiLeaks’ source. Meanwhile, Infowars claimed that The Washington Post was reporting on the Comey memos only as a distraction from the Rich story.

    May 19 is also when Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom inserted himself into the story. Dotcom alleged that he had bombshell information on the case. As Dotcom, who lives in New Zealand, is fighting extradition to the United States to avoid trial for charges including conspiracy to commit racketeering, nearly everyone on the planet saw through the ruse, save for Sean Hannity.

    Hannity brought up the conspiracy theory again that night on his show with Jay Sekulow, apparently just for the purpose of saying that it is important because if true, it would clear Russia entirely.

    Over the weekend, it got even stranger.

    Stone escalated attacks on Rich’s parents, claiming on his radio show Stone Cold Truth they were engaging in “suspicious” behavior.

    Stone also told obvious lies. For instance, he claimed that Craig Murray said Rich was his source. First, Murray did not mention Rich in his comments about serving as a middleman for the emails. Second, Murray said he met his source in September, months after Rich had already been murdered. Third, nothing about what Murray actually did say is credible in the least -- there’s no evidence and nothing has been corroborated. There were other factual errors as well, though “Roger Stone says something factually incorrect” is the rule, not the exception.

    “Dumbest man on the internet” Jim Hoft jumped head-first into the Dotcom conspiracy, even one-upping Hannity by picking up an anonymous 4chan poster whose only claim to knowledge is “I work in D.C.” The post claimed there’s a “panic” in D.C. over the Rich conspiracy theory that right-wing media had been pressing.

    The following day, Hannity would echo this post:

    Hannity even admitted that it was about the Russia story:

    Also on Sunday, Newt Gingrich joined Fox & Friends Sunday and stated outright that Rich was WikiLeaks’ source for DNC emails, even though he had avoided that conclusion in August. Pro-Trump media jumped to promote the interview.

    Another Gateway Pundit post took a video that the Rich family did thanking donors to a GoFundMe campaign and stated that it was actually done to thank conservative media for pushing the conspiracy.

    Elsewhere, self-described “rogue journalist” Caitlin Johnstone said that someone had edited Rich’s Reddit posts. Soon after, she added a “retraction” note to the post following a statement from the Pandas For Bernie Facebook group.

    Early on May 22, Assange was still playing coy about Rich and WikiLeaks

    But by this point, the story was getting attention in the mainstream media -- but only as a conspiracy theory run amok in right-wing media. As Hannity’s conspiracy-mongering had drawn attention, he became a focal point of criticism. The Daily Beast ran a story about Fox News personalities embarrassed by Hannity’s actions.

    Hannity was undeterred:

    On his radio show, Hannity said that he was right about Rich because he had been right about Trayvon Martin, the black teenager shot and killed while walking through a Florida neighborhood:

    (He wasn’t right about Trayvon Martin, by the way.)

    Geraldo Rivera, a perpetual gadfly when it comes to pushing terrible things, also jumped on the conspiracy.

    Elsewhere, the subreddit “r/The Donald” announced plans for a march on D.C. about Rich’s death on its anniversary, claiming 1.1 million people could show up.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On May 23, everything came to a head. Rich’s brother personally asked Hannity to stop pushing the conspiracy theories. Shortly thereafter, Fox News retracted its story about Rich, the one that Rod Wheeler originally cited as the basis for his story. A statement from Fox News said that the story did not meet the site’s editorial standards.

    And yet after all of this, Hannity continued to push the story on his radio show.

    On Twitter, Hannity ecstatically promoted Kim Dotcom’s “revelation,” which was a big nothingburger.

    The Rich family then published an op-ed in The Washington Post begging commentators to stop pushing conspiracy theories about their son.

    Hannity then tweeted about the op-ed as if it wasn’t just about him

    Shortly before his television show, Hannity tweeted that he still stood behind everything he had said on the topic, but also that he just was on a call with three of his attorneys:

    On his show, Hannity said that he was stopping talking about the matter “for now” at the request of the Rich family:

    And yet before his show was over, Hannity hinted on Twitter that he was still looking at the story.

    He even retweeted gratuitous praise from Kim Dotcom.

    Meanwhile, Oliver Darcy, who followed the story closely from the beginning, had a list of good unanswered questions for Fox News about Hannity’s despicable and ghoulish actions.

    Hannity then begged for fans to spread the conspiracy theory.

    By morning, a Republican congressman was echoing Hannity.

    Newt Gingrich, after pushing the conspiracy both in August and again on May 21, suddenly said that he didn’t know anything about it, telling The Washington Post, “I don’t know anything about it. … I know exactly what has been said on the various blog sites. ... I think it is worth looking at.”

    The retractions and hedging were much too little and far too late. In the bowels of pro-Trump media, Hannity had become a martyr and the Seth Rich conspiracy theory was gospel.

    The enduring tragedy of the episode is that the Rich family will likely have to live with this delusion bubbling up for a very long time. Even worse, pro-Trump media will say that they are part of it.

    No family deserves that.

    Research assistance provided by Bobby Lewis

  • Journalists and experts slam Trump's budget plan to eliminate HUD program that mostly benefits "low-income groups"

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    While many conservative media voices have been cheering President Donald Trump’s proposed budget that would cut billions in vital programs for the impoverished and disadvantaged, experts and reporters who focus on one of the most far-reaching programs -- Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) -- say its proposed elimination would impact more citizens than most.

    Trump initially proposed eliminating the CDBG funds earlier this year when his budget blueprint was first announced. His full budget, released Tuesday, still includes a total CDBG elimination.

    The 42-year-old program, enacted by the Ford administration as a program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), provides some $3 billion for local communities to use for everything from senior centers to housing and road construction to drug treatment, say experts.

    And when the cuts were first proposed in March, reporters who cover such programs contended that claims of waste and corruption in the funding are misleading.

    “They just think it's government waste, that these are slush funds of local officials and particularly that they were funneled to special projects,” Liz Farmer, public finance writer for Governing magazine in Washington, D.C., said of critics. “But the block grants hit everybody, particularly needy populations because that is what local governments tend to want to spend the money on.”

    Since Trump’s budget blueprint was revealed on March 16, many conservative commentators have cheered the spending plan for its efforts to cut programs from climate research to public broadcasting.

    Several have also taken on the CDBG program specifically. Among them is Reason magazine’s Scott Shackford, who wrote, “The CDBG program is chock full of cronyism and corruption and should be eliminated. Much like the corrupt city redevelopment agencies, what actually ends up happening is that this money gets funneled by politicians to friends with connections for various projects that aren't really about helping the poor at all.”

    Similar anti-CDBG pieces have been published at Breitbart.comWashington Examiner and The Washington Times.

    But those who rely on the funding, and others who report on it, say such claims are unfounded and the program actually helps more people in more places than many other federal funding sources do.

    “In Philly, they help residents who are facing foreclosure to keep their houses, foreclosure assistance, and for homeowners who are low-income and own their houses, they help with repairs of those houses,” Aubrey Whelan, a local government and community services reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer, said when the cuts were initially revealed. “It is a lot for commercial development, aid to small businesses.”

    She said Philadelphia alone receives about $39 million in CDBG funds, with much of it going to affordable housing and providing assistance to small businesses in hard-hit low-income neighborhoods.

    “City officials said it would wholesale eliminate programs, not just have them operating at a limited capacity,” said Whelan. “It’s something that people are pretty concerned about here. It affects a lot of different people.”

    Whelan, Farmer, and other journalists we spoke with when the CDBG elimination was first proposed said they find little to no problems in CDBG management, contrary to claims found in conservative media.

    Most said the real story is how the cutbacks would hurt the most needy in many of their communities.

    “Palm Beach County has been using this funding to address underserved areas, to tackle homelessness and for vulnerable groups,” said Skyler Swisher of the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, FL. “If those funds are going to be cut, you are going to have some local officials who are not going to be very happy.”

    Swisher, who covers the county that is home to Trump’s Mar-A-Lago club, said the county receives about $5.8 million in CDBG funds each year, which has helped with abandoned building demolition, code enforcement, water and sewer improvements, and a homeless shelter's operation. It has also supported transitional housing for those impacted by domestic violence. 

    He also pointed out that the proposed cuts would come while Trump costs the county $60,000 per day in overtime for police officers every time he visits, according to the county sheriff’s office.

    “The biggest beneficiaries are some of the most low-income communities of Palm Beach County,” Swisher said of the grants.

    Another place that would feel the pain is El Paso, TX, which receives about $6 million in CDBG funds, according to Veronica Soto, the city’s director of community and human development.

    “We use the bulk of the money to do investments, reinvestments into low-income neighborhoods,” Soto said earlier this year. “We have funded improvements to parks in lower and moderate income areas, we have senior centers, we have done curb cuts, sidewalk gaps. It would mean those projects would not move forward. Because a lot of our money goes to parks, the kids would be impacted.”

    She said the Trump budget cuts would also mean cutting 33 city jobs, nine in her department.

    “I would have to lay myself off,” Soto said. “Seventy-five percent of my salary is from grants.”

    Kevin Howard, manager of the community development division for Little Rock, AR, said the cuts would affect about 10,000 people in his community.

    “The citizens benefit from this in different ways,” he said. “We do a lot of homeowner-occupied rehabs and public service grants for health services, meals on wheels, and private wheelchair ramps for senior citizens.”

    Asked about claims by some in the media that these programs are wasteful or mismanaged, he replied: “These are not handouts; these are people who cannot do it themselves. I have never seen any corruption or mismanagement.”

    Roland Garton, president of The Grant Helpers of Champagne, IL, a grant writing consulting firm that aids local communities in filing for such grants, said CDBG cuts would hurt the neediest.

    “Since they tend to target low-income groups, those would be the hardest hit,” Garton said. “This is money that big cities and small cities both have access to. There are a lot of programs that focus on one or the other. But these have broad applications to all cities. The hits would be broad. States that are weak economically would be hardest hit.”

    The proposed cuts have also been criticized by the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Republican Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. He issued a statement in March condemning the proposed cuts: 

    “Community Development Block Grants are the only federal funding source that gives city leaders some discretion in how the money is spent, and mayors have used them to leverage private investment, create affordable housing, spur economic development, rebuild infrastructure and provide services that strengthen metro areas. America’s mayors will continue to work with our many champions in both the House and Senate to ensure that critically-needed tools like CDBG funds and the HOME Investment Partnership are fully funded.”