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  • Fox “news side” anchor Shannon Bream is keynoting a fundraiser for a Koch-linked group alongside Ron DeSantis

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Update (3/22/19): The James Madison Institute announced on March 22 that “Bream has had to cancel her appearance at our annual dinner.” JMI announced that the keynote speaker will instead be Jason Riley, “a Wall Street Journal columnist, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, Fox News commentator, and best-selling author.”

    Fox News anchor Shannon Bream, who is part of the network’s “news division,” is scheduled to keynote a fundraiser for a conservative group alongside Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

    Bream and DeSantis are set to speak at the James Madison Institute’s 2019 annual fundraising dinner on April 3. Tickets for the event start at $150. JMI also stated that sponsors to the event “get access to our VIP reception before the dinner with special guest Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody,” who is a Republican.

    JMI is a nonprofit organization that describes itself as “Florida’s premier free-market think tank.” The organization has ties to billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. In 2016 and 2017, the Charles Koch Foundation gave JMI a combined $392,000 for general operating support.

    While the organization states that it is nonpartisan, it has heavily praised Republican officials and their policies:

    In 2013, Progress Florida and the Center for Media and Democracy issued a report criticizing JMI on issues such as its anti-environmental policies and funding by the Kochs. From the report:

    Over the years, JMI has released several “studies” and reports that deny global warming is happening, call for an end to clean energy programs, advocate for expanded offshore drilling despite the risks to Florida’s shores from deeper wells (like BP’s Deep Water Horizon), and push for corporate tax breaks, all of which would directly benefit the Koch brothers’ corporate and personal interests.

    Bream is part of Fox’s purported “news division,” which Fox News executives point to when touting the channel’s alleged independence (in reality, the "news" and opinion sides are both cogs in the same propaganda machine). She said in a 2017 interview with TVNewser about her then-upcoming program Fox News @ Night: “I’m in the news division, so it will be all straight news, not opinion. Certainly we’ll have people on the program from all sides of the story, but it’s really about giving our viewers another straight hour of news.”

    DeSantis has frequently appeared on Fox News, including on Bream's program. Fox News helped DeSantis win both his Republican primary and general election campaigns and host Sean Hannity campaigned for DeSantis in Florida. 

    Media Matters has documented Bream’s long history of misinforming viewers about reproductive rights topics. She has also helped champion right-wing efforts to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

  • Fox News described Diamond and Silk as "hosts" and "contributors" until they appeared in a Trump campaign video

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News attempted to dodge questions about Diamond and Silk appearing in a video produced by President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign by claiming that “they are not Fox News contributors or employees.” That explanation may come as a surprise to some of their Fox News colleagues, who previously identified them as “Fox News Channel contributors,” “Fox Nation contributors,” and “Fox Nation hosts.”  

    Diamond and Silk, who joined Fox Nation as hosts in November, are North Carolina-based sisters whose official biography describes them as “Video Vloggers, Internet Sensations,” and “Influencers” who are known for “their out spoken and loyal support for President Donald J Trump.” They gained attention last year after falsely claiming that Facebook and YouTube censored them online.

    The Hollywood Reporter’s Jeremy Barr reported on March 19 that the conservative duo appeared in a campaign video for Trump’s reelection campaign, noting that the network previously suggested that host Sean Hannity shouldn’t have appeared in a September 2016 campaign video for Trump. Fox News public relations responded by claiming “the duo are not employees of the network: ‘Diamond & Silk license short weekly videos to Fox Nation – they are not Fox News contributors or employees. When they appear on FNC and FBN, they do so as guests.’"

    Yet Fox News has identified Diamond and Silk as “Fox Nation contributors” and “Fox News Channel contributors.” And here are four screenshots of them being identified on-screen as “Fox Nation hosts”:

    Diamond and Silk’s website states: “They Currently Work as Contributors on Fox Nation.”

    Fox hosts such as Jeanine Pirro, Pete Hegseth, Greg Gutfeld, and Lou Dobbs have been paid by Republican groups to headline fundraisers in recent years, as Media Matters has previously documented.

  • To attempt to make sense of QAnon, Politico turned to Pizzagate conspiracy theorists

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In what seemed like an attempt to demonstrate the rise of the QAnon conspiracy theory movement within the right-wing establishment, Politico tweeted out a video about QAnon “true believers” filmed at the most recent Conservative Political Action Conference. Unfortunately, the outlet missed an opportunity to truly explain the oversized impact that weaponized misinformation can have over entire political movements by relying on two notorious far-right conspiracy theorists for their expertise.

    The 8chan-originated conspiracy theory that developed around anonymous posts signed by “Q,” an anonymous poster claiming to hold a high security clearance, holds that there is a behind-the-scenes scenario in which President Donald Trump is kneecapping a ring of powerful pedophiles connected to “the deep state.” The theory -- and the movement of followers it has inspired -- deserves media coverage and expert analysis to explain its influence on right-wing politics. But Politico interviewed far-right conspiracy theorists Jack Posobiec and Mike Cernovich to make sense of QAnon, taking their opinions at face value, ignoring their own involvement in uncritically amplifying the conspiracy theory during its early stages, and downplaying their involvement in promoting the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory by noting just that they have been criticized for pushing the theory, rather than stating what they did to promote it.

    Similar to QAnon, “Pizzagate” is a conspiracy theory that smeared powerful Democratic figures -- in Pizzagate’s case by accusing them of hiding a child trafficking network behind a Washington, D.C., pizzeria. It turned dangerous (as QAnon could) after a man claiming he wanted to “self-investigate” opened fire with a rifle inside the restaurant. Before that, Cernovich had told his audience that “Pizzagate is real” and Posobiec had livestreamed from the D.C. restaurant, speculating that “they have a big secret to hide.”

    Because Posobiec and Cernovich are grifters focused on sustaining their careers (which include publishing books and making films attacking the media), and they have recently made efforts to sanitize their public images and pivot away from the bigoted slurs, misogyny, conspiracy theories, and alliances with extremists that allowed them to grow their platforms during the rise of the MAGA internet. Politico’s decision to feature them talking about a conspiracy theory they played a role in creating -- without mentioning that connection to the audience -- helps them continue rebranding without any accountability.

    QAnon is misinformation being weaponized for political purposes, and it absolutely merits the attention and coverage of political media. But outlets can and must seek the expertise of real journalists and social media experts who understand the conspiratorial right without having been an unrepentant part of it. Don't just give a platform to two known grifters with long histories of weaponizing misinformation themselves.

  • Sean Hannity suggests people didn’t vote for Trump because “pee tape” rumors. The Steele dossier wasn’t released until months after the election.

    Blog ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET

    During the March 19 edition of his radio show, Sean Hannity falsely claimed that “maybe many Americans” had believed “there were two hookers in a Moscow Ritz-Carlton, Donald Trump room at the time, and they were urinating in his bed,” and “probably didn’t vote for Trump because of that.” Hannity continued, arguing “That’s election interference, using bought and paid for Russian lies. How does that not become a part of the Mueller -- the Mueller investigation?”:

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): Now, what did they do with the dossier? Well, they spread it like wildfire, we learned -- what, 12 different news agencies, different reporters, and it was disseminated, and to the American people, so that -- maybe many Americans actually believe there were two hookers in a Moscow Ritz-Carlton, Donald Trump’s room at the time, and they were urinating in his bed.

    And some people believed that, probably didn’t vote for Trump because of that. Well, that’s election interference, using bought and paid for Russian lies. How does that not become a part of the Mueller -- the Mueller investigation?

    Unfortunately for Hannity, Election Day was on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, and the “pee tape” rumor became public knowledge when Buzzfeed published the Steele Dossier on January 10, 2017 -- 63 days later. One part of the dossier is even dated December 13, 2016 -- after the election.

    Hannity’s laughable conspiracy theory is one of many convoluted attacks on the “pee tape” rumor, previously provided by Rush Limbaugh, Jesse Watters, and Mark Levin. Hannity has mentioned this rumor repeatedly on his Fox News show, in an attempt to discredit the various investigations into Trump and his associates.

  • Fox plays defense for Rep. Devin Nunes’ lawsuit against Twitter

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On March 19, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) filed a lawsuit against Twitter and three specific users, claiming that the site has censored him and allowed him to be the target of defamation. The Washington Post called the lawsuit's merits "questionable at best," but Fox hosts and contributors covered the lawsuit credulously, suggesting or even outright agreeing that Twitter tries to censor conservative accounts.  

    In the $250 million suit, Nunes argues that Twitter is routinely “shadow-banning conservatives” on its platform by allowing them to post but not letting other users see or interact with the content. Twitter denies that it shadow bans accounts, and CEO Jack Dorsey told Congress last year that the company has not found any evidence of a difference in the reach of tweets from conservative and liberal accounts. Following similar allegations of shadow banning last summer, The New York Times also found no evidence that Twitter engaged in the practice.

    In the suit, Nunes also takes issue with several specific users he claims Twitter allowed to defame him. Among them are @DevinNunesMom and @DevinCow, satirical accounts aimed at mocking Nunes. Some of the remarks that the suit specifically mentions as defamatory include a claim by the @DevinNunesMom account that Nunes was “voted ‘Most Likely to Commit Treason’ in high school,” and the @DevinCow account's tweet that “Devin’s boots are full of manure. He’s udder-ly worthless and its pasture time to move him to prison.”

    Some journalists have suggested that far from being a serious legal dispute, Nunes’ lawsuit is simply aimed at silencing critics. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake wrote:

    The legal merits of the case appear highly questionable at best. The standard for defamation of a public figure such as Nunes is much higher than for an average person. One expert The Washington Post talked to cited the landmark Supreme Court case in which Jerry Falwell sued Hustler magazine for a satirical advertisement in which his likeness was engaged in sexual activity with his mother in an outhouse. The court ruled that public figures aren’t protected from “patently offensive speech” if the statements couldn’t be understood as actual facts.

    So feel free to chuckle about the spectacle of Devin Nunes suing “Devin Nunes’ cow” — especially given Nunes’s past opposition to “frivolous lawsuits” — but know that this most likely isn’t about his purported cow or what it said. Nunes is telegraphing an expansive effort to go after people who hurt Republicans with their public discourse. Its potential impact, not so much legally as from personal behavioral standpoint, shouldn’t be so casually dismissed.

    Fox hosts and contributors took a different approach than others in the media, choosing to take Nunes at his word and cheering on the lawsuit.  

    After news of Nunes’ suit broke, Fox’s Sean Hannity hosted the congressman on his show and allowed him to rant about Twitter’s alleged political bias and supposed censorship.

    During the March 19 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed that Twitter is “already suppressing people like Don [Trump] Jr. and conservatives.” Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano also argued that Nunes is “focusing a spotlight on Twitter’s bias.”

    Later in the day, on Fox Business’ Varney & Co., Kilmeade told host Stuart Varney that Nunes is making a “very courageous move.” Varney responded, “I think it’s about time we had it out about censoring conservatives on social media.”

    On Fox’s America’s Newsroom, Fox contributor Ken Starr said the lawsuit is proof that litigation can be “a powerful engine for getting the truth.” He also argued that the suit could be “one of those action-forcing events. It’s calling Twitter, and more broadly these social platforms, into the age of accountability.”

    Fox contributor Bill Bennett argued on America’s Newsroom that Nunes “has a very important point” and contended that “there is bias in a lot of these [tech] companies.”

    Fox contributor and former Arkansas Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee told America’s Newsroom co-host Sandra Smith that he is “so proud of the congressman” because the lawsuit will “hold these social media companies’ feet to the fire.” He claimed the tech companies have been “shadow banning conservatives, they’ve been making it very difficult for conservatives to get the message out,” and “they are in essence a contributing force to the Democratic Party and a contributing force against Republicans.”

  • Right-wing media’s meltdown about Beto O’Rourke's abortion comment is as opportunistic as it is obvious

    Conservatives are relying on anti-abortion fearmongering for the 2020 elections. Right-wing media aren’t being subtle about helping that effort.

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Right-wing media haven’t been subtle about manufacturing controversy over inaccurate characterizations of abortions undertaken later in pregnancy. But the messaging strategy fueling this latest meltdown -- over comments Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke made about abortion -- is as opportunistic as it is obvious. President Donald Trump has centered anti-abortion fearmongering in his 2020 election messaging, and as this latest outrage demonstrates, right-wing media will continue to be in lockstep.

    During a March 18 event, O’Rourke was asked by a staffer from the far-right conspiracy outlet Infowars (which is currently banned from YouTube and other platforms) whether he supports later abortion access. In particular, the staffer asked O’Rourke if he would “protect the lives of third-trimester babies because there’s really not a medical necessity for abortion,” echoing inaccurate right-wing talking points about the necessity of abortions later in pregnancy. O’Rourke responded that he supported abortion access broadly and that it “should be a decision that the woman makes,” adding that he trusted people to make their own decisions. Although innocuous, O’Rourke’s comments sparked an outcry from right-wing and anti-abortion media outlets, which pointed to the moment as the latest example of so-called Democratic extremism on abortion.

    National Review accused O’Rourke of refusing to address “the morality of third-trimester abortion” and argued that his answer was “reflective of the Democratic presidential field, which comprises lawmakers who maintain a blanket opposition to abortion restrictions regardless of gestational age.” Townhall argued that O’Rourke’s support for abortion “past the point of fetal viability” is unpopular and that he was “not the only one in his party defending abortion up until birth.” On social media, right-wing and anti-abortion figures similarly attacked O’Rourke and other Democrats as “despicable,” “ghoulish,” and extreme. Although many criticisms focused on casting Democrats as “the party of late-term abortion in 2020,” some anti-abortion groups like the Susan B. Anthony List took this rhetoric further, alleging that O’Rourke and other Democrats support “abortion up until birth.”

    Cries of Democratic “extremism” have been building in the right-wing echo chamber since earlier this year, when abortion rights measures in New York and Virginia sparked widespread conservative outrage. Fox News, and right-wing media more broadly, spent weeks whipping audiences into a frenzy over various inaccurate depictions of later abortion -- alleging that Democrats supporting these measures were endorsing “infanticide” or so-called abortions “up to birth.” In reality, neither of these characterizations accurately reflects abortion procedures or the specific circumstances faced by those patients needing an abortion later in pregnancy. Similarly, although right-wing media often claim that supporting abortion rights is harmful for Democrats electorally and that polling supports this allegation, clear and accurately phrased polling actually demonstrates the opposite. In particular, support for abortions later in pregnancy increases when people are given context about the medical or logistical circumstances necessitating later abortions.

    Nevertheless, Trump and the Republican Party have already adopted right-wing media talking points about abortion as a core part of their 2020 messaging strategy. Anti-abortion misinformation and allegations of Democratic extremism have transitioned from Fox News fodder, to Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address, to various speeches at the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference, and statements from White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.

    Right-wing media and conservative politicians aren’t being subtle about using anti-abortion misinformation as a cudgel to stoke outrage -- because they don’t have to be. Especially when other media outlets have already demonstrated that they will uncritically parrot inaccurate framing and talking points borne of the right-wing outrage machine. Anti-abortion fearmongering isn’t going anywhere as coverage around the 2020 election ramps up. Already, conservative media are trying to spark a secondary round of coverage over O’Rourke’s comments. It’s only a matter of time before right-wing media gin up another candidate-based controversy to attack abortion access and those who support it, no matter what the consequences may be.

  • Instagram is the new home for Alex Jones and Infowars

    Since December, Alex Jones has used Instagram to post Infowars videos featuring hate speech, conspiracy theories, and extremist figures who are banned from the platform.

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / MMFA

    Update (3/22/19): Six posts and one IGTV video featuring Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes have been removed from the @real_alexjones account since this article was published. They appear to have been removed by Instagram for violating their community guidelines.

    Update (3/20/19): Since the publication of this article, three videos containing anti-LGBTQ speech and three videos containing white nationalist content have been removed from the @real_alexjones account. They appear to have been removed by Alex Jones, not Instagram.

    Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been using Instagram to regularly post Infowars videos that often include hate speech, conspiracy theories, and appearances from other extremist figures banned by the platform. Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, is the only major social media platform that still permits Jones’ use after he and several other Infowars-affiliated accounts were banned from Facebook, YouTube, Apple, and Spotify in August 2018. In the wake of those bans, Jones has made Instagram his new home on social media.

    Jones’ Instagram account, @real_alexjones, gained over 100,000 followers in the months following his Facebook ban. And since December, Jones has been posting short clips, longer IGTV episodes, and live broadcasts of the widely banned conspiracy theory outlet Infowars. Most of the descriptions attached to these Instagram posts also contain links to Infowars’ site.

    Jones’ Instagram following has grown significantly in the months since his ban from other tech platforms.

    Jones’ number of followers has continued to increase over the past few months. The first bump in his follower count came between Jones’ temporary suspension from Facebook, starting on July 27, and his permanent ban, issued on August 8. Jones’ Instagram handle had over 199,000 followers the week of July 29; the following week, he had over 209,000.

    Between August 2018 and February 2019, Jones’ follower count steadily increased until February 28, when Jones saw a bigger increase, of more than 10,000 followers. This bump came one day after Jones appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcast The Joe Rogan Experience.

    As of March 19, Jones had about 314,000 followers -- a 57 percent increase in followers since Jones’ Facebook ban seven months ago.

    Since December, Jones has been regularly posting Infowars videos on Instagram -- some featuring conspiracy theories, hate speech, and extremist figures.

    Before the wave of tech platform bans, Jones’ Instagram account posted somewhat infrequently. The handle @real_alexjones had been active since 2015 and its content primarily consisted of memes and GIFs, often promoting conservatives, mocking liberals, announcing future guests on the show, and self-parodying Jones’ persona and show. Jones’ Instagram content essentially served as a sanitized profile for promoting some of the more comedic and mainstream-conservative elements of Infowars’ show, and leaving out his far-right conspiracy theories and explicitly bigoted coverage.

    But a couple months after Infowars was banned from Facebook and other tech platforms, Jones started publishing Infowars clips and livestreams and extreme, hateful content to Instagram. Since Jones began regularly posting content on December 13, his handle has earned over 5.7 million video views.

    Jones posted multiple videos containing derogatory language targeting transgender, nonbinary, and queer people.

    A March 6 post by Jones featured an Infowars clip of white nationalist and VDare writer Faith Goldy recapping events at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference. In the clip, Goldy uses an anti-trans slur, pushes a conspiracy about a “trans lobby” influencing CPAC, and derogatorily refers to trans people as “men” dressed in “ostentatious ball gowns.”

    FAITH GOLDY: We actually have a very apparent-to-the-naked-eye trans lobby now, full of transvestites, transgenders, call them what you want, that were on the ground at CPAC. We’re talking about discernible men dressed in things like ostentatious ball gowns, etc. And so, you know, the conservative -- the so-called conservative, read neoconservative -- movement that is just grasping at the heels of Donald Trump are OK with everyone. No matter where they come from, no matter what they think or how they live their lives. They pass no judgement unless you believe in America First.

    In another post from Jones on March 1, Infowars host Owen Shroyer referred to gay people as “mentally ill” and biologically “abnormal.”

    OWEN SHROYER: Whosever (sic) raising this girl is mentally ill. And that’s not because they’re gay. They’re mentally ill -- it’s a totally separate thing. They have become radicalized by their sexuality or whatever, and I guess they don’t feel normal in society. I mean, OK, yeah, biologically, you’re supposed to be with the opposite sex. So, sorry, biology says you’re abnormal. But society doesn’t. But see, they can’t accept that. They want their biology to be normal. That’s why they want to erase the science of biology. So what you have here is two radical, sexualized whatevers who are now using their daughter as a political pawn to make their abnormal behavior normal. To normalize that into society, folks. And I’m telling you, because of the politically correct culture, we are letting mentally ill people dictate our society now. 

    And on January 2, Jones posted a clip from Infowars show Prison Planet of Paul Joseph Watson calling Louis C.K.’s attacks against nonbinary people during a stand-up routine “the truth.”

    PAUL JOSEPH WATSON: Louis C.K. offended a bunch of whiny millennial imbeciles by attacking nonbinary people. “He punched down.” Oh wait, he didn’t attack anyone. He merely told the truth and was funny.

    Other posts by Jones pushed white nationalist anti-immigrant talking points.

    One post from March 8 featured anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant extremist Katie Hopkins describing immigrants “snaking their way” through Europe and pushing out “white Christians” and “Christian culture.”

    KATIE HOPKINS: It’s one of the things that’s not spoken about, because migration to us is about caravans of people at the border or migrants coming across the Med. You know, snaking their way through the countryside. But there’s a quiet migration underway, one that no one is talking about. And that is the exodus of Jews from places like Paris and Germany. And the movement of people like myself, Christian -- white Christians or Christian Brits, Christian culture really, looking for a new place to call home. So I’ve just spent a few months from France, from Israel, in Germany, and in the North of England, where people are looking for their Judeo-Christian heritage. They’re looking for a new place to start afresh.

    On December 14, Jones posted an Infowars clip claiming that “globalists” (a term with anti-Semitic connotations) in the U.N. are “flooding nations with millions of foreigners who have no intention to assimilate and who are not held accountable for their criminal actions.” This white supremacist talking point -- that migrant caravans are evidence of a Jewish plot to replace white people -- was embraced by the shooter who went into a synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, and killed 11 Jewish people last October.

    NARRATOR: The United Nations Global Compact for Migration was adopted on Monday by 164 governments at an international conference in Marrakech, Morocco. The historic event was described by U.N. chief António Guterres as the creation of a roadmap to “prevent suffering and chaos.” More double speak from the failing globalist agenda. Flooding nations with millions of foreigners who have no intention to assimilate and who are not held accountable for their criminal actions is perhaps the most potent recipe for suffering and chaos the world has ever known. 

    A post from January 10 pushed the white nationalist conspiracy theory that a white genocide is occurring in South Africa. The video featured an interview with Simon Roche, a member of a white nationalist South African group. The video description claimed there was an “Anti-White Liberal Indoctrination In South Africa” that has led to the “#persecution of #whitefarmers.”

    In a video posted January 7, kickboxer Emory Andrew Tate III went on an anti-immigrant tirade, saying he supports “openly divisionist” countries and criticizing the mayor of London for being Muslim.

    EMORY ANDREW TATE III: They’re upset with it because Russia is a country that understands -- they have no problem in being openly nationalist. If you go to Moscow, they will have apartment -- let's say for apartments, you can rent apartments. I’ve been there. And some of the apartments say, “We only rent to Russians. We only speak Russian, we only rent to Russians.” They’re openly divisionist. They’re openly like, “This is our country, it’s our rules. This is how we play by the rules. If you don’t like it, get out.”

    TATE: Absolutely, they won’t collapse. You cannot go to Russia and tell them how to be. This is the problem with, is -- I don’t have a problem with Muslims specifically --

    TATE: Absolutely, the mayor of London is a Muslim. When will the mayor of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia be a white Christian? Never. It will never happen.

    Jones’ account has also featured videos promoting extremists who have been banned from Instagram.

    Gavin McInnes, founder of violent gang the Proud Boys, has appeared in at least eight posts from Jones’ handle and one IGTV video since McInnes was banned from Instagram in October, along with other accounts affiliated with the Proud Boys. Some of these videos posted by Jones have promoted the Proud Boys. One post comedically assembled clips from an Infowars episode in which McInnes “initiated” Jones into the Proud Boys gang by punching him repeatedly while Jones listed cereal names.

    In another post, which has been deleted or removed, McInnes defended Proud Boys members who were arrested after attacking a group of protesters while yelling anti-queer slurs. McInnes claimed the Proud Boys were “defending themselves” -- a claim that was debunked by surveillance footage soon after McInnes’ appearance.

    GAVIN MCINNES: I appreciate your support. And it is time to fight. But you know, when your friends are facing years in prison for defending themselves, you get to the point where you think, “I fought the law and the law won.”

    Jones also posted an Infowars clip featuring British anti-Muslim bigot Tommy Robinson on March 7 -- one week after Robinson was banned from the platform for violating hate speech content policies. In this clip, Robinson claimed that far-left groups, media outlets, and “Muslim organizations” were all conspiring together to bring him down.

    Jones uses Instagram to rehash conspiracy theories and spread disinformation.

    On March 8, Jones shared video of a congressional hearing in which Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) expressed opposition to mandating flu vaccines. The post described the video as “Infections From Vaccines In 3 States While 30 States Push Mandatory Vaccines.” Jones posted the video one day after Facebook announced it would ramp up efforts to reduce the spread of vaccine misinformation.

    In a post from March 6, Jones mocked a video of Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt speaking at a panel on the rise of global anti-Semitism. While Greenblatt was explaining that conspiracy theories targeting George Soros are rooted in anti-Semitism, Jones interjected, calling Soros “that poor baby” and repeating the false smear that he was “a Nazi.”

    Jones is not the only Infowars-affiliated account on Instagram.

    In addition to @real_alexjones, other Instagram handles which appear to be affiliated with Infowars have been active on the platform. These include @redpilledtv, @thenewswars, and @warroomshow. An account purporting to be Infowars personality Paul Joseph Watson (@pauljosephwatson) regularly posts videos of his Infowars program Prison Planet. Watson has not been banned from any major platform despite his employment with Infowars, and he recently announced he is launching a new project to “generate the next generation of YouTubers.”

    Charts by Melissa Joskow.

  • Maddow's bombshell that the Trump administration tracked immigrant pregnancies also reveals how bad Fox's coverage was

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    After numerous controversies and advertiser losses, Fox News has been scrambling to erect an imaginary firewall between the network's so-called "news" and "opinion" sides. But recent reporting from MSNBC's Rachel Maddow about a 2017 case involving the treatment of pregnant detained teenagers underscores the reality about the two sides: Fox's "news" hosts are in lockstep with their so-called “opinion” colleagues and seemingly have been for some time.

    During the March 15 edition of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, Maddow reported on spreadsheets kept by President Donald Trump's administration containing details about unaccompanied immigrant girls’ pregnancies in an attempt to delay or prevent wanted abortions. In 2017, the Trump administration made a policy change that shelters could not facilitate abortion access for detained minors without “direction and approval” from Scott Lloyd, the then-director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. An undocumented teen (referred to as Jane Doe) who was being held in federal custody and was blocked from obtaining a wanted abortion brought suit, and a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to allow her to access abortion care.

    Although it had been previously reported that Lloyd tracked pregnant teens in the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s (ORR) custody using a spreadsheet, the March 15 edition of The Rachel Maddow Show showcased the exclusively obtained spreadsheet and shared previously unseen details. As Maddow said of the 28-page document:

    This is the federal government, with your tax dollars, keeping an individualized record of pregnant teenage girls’ menstrual cycles, whether they've had a positive pregnancy test, what the government knows about how they believe the girls got pregnant, how they believe this individual girl got pregnant, and whether this girl has requested an abortion.

    As Maddow explained, “This was essentially a spreadsheet designed to facilitate federal government action to block these girls from getting any abortion they might want.” In addition, Maddow noted, Lloyd kept tracking the girls’ pregnancies and cycles even after the court ordered ORR to stop blocking teens from obtaining abortions.

    Back in 2017, The Rachel Maddow Show had reported that Lloyd, an anti-choice extremist, used his position to push an anti-abortion agenda on the undocumented minors in his care. He allegedly visited at least one of the pregnant teens to try to talk her out of an abortion and made others go to anti-abortion fake health clinics for the same purpose. He had also reportedly inquired about whether a teenager in ORR custody could have her abortion “reversed,” an anti-abortion scam that is not based in science. Lloyd left ORR to join the Health and Human Services Department (HHS)’s Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives in November 2018.

    The updated story about Lloyd keeping tabs on teenage girl's menstrual cycles shines a light on the slanted lens through which both Fox's opinion and "news" sides present stories. Those who get their news from Fox are unlikely to hear about this invasive spreadsheet -- just as they were unlikely to hear about Lloyd’s actions in 2017. Instead, the network’s stories about the Jane Doe case that year focused on anti-abortion misinformation and fearmongering about immigrants.

    For example, during a 2017 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson falsely claimed the Jane Doe case was about “liberals … arguing that U.S. taxpayers somehow have an obligation to fund abortions for illegal aliens,” though Jane Doe had obtained private funding for the abortion. On The Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham claimed that, because of a related court decision to allow undocumented minors to access abortion, the United States would become “an abortion magnet.” Notably, Ingraham opened the segment by downplaying the experiences of the pregnant detained minors impacted by the decision, mockingly saying: “Underage and need an abortion? Well, just come to America. … No visa needed.”

    Fox News’ so-called “straight news” hosts covered the 2017 case similarly. Bret Baier and Shannon Bream also pushed abortion misinformation about the Jane Doe case -- as they’ve frequently done for other abortion-related stories. During a 2017 edition of Special Report, host Baier opened a segment about Jane Doe’s case by posing the misleading question of whether viewers and their “fellow taxpayers [would] be required to pay for an abortion for an illegal immigrant.” In that same segment, Bream appeared as a correspondent and alleged that some people “think this could open the door to the U.S. providing abortions for minors who would seek to cross the border illegally solely for that purpose.” On her own program, Fox News @ Night, Bream continued promoting anti-choice groups’ talking points, pointing to comments from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, worrying that his state would become “a sanctuary state for abortions” due to the Jane Doe case.

    MSNBC’s new reporting further highlights the failures of Fox News’ work on this story -- on both the “news” and “opinion” sides. Fox News has a vested interest in proving (no matter how inaccurate) that the network's news hosts are somehow different from the network's opinion hosts. But hosts on both sides of Fox's artificial divide have prioritized anti-abortion misinformation and xenophobia over accurate reporting on Scott Lloyd's tenure at HHS. Given the amount of energy the network has spent fearmongering about abortion this year, it seems unlikely that viewers will hear anything accurate about the spreadsheets -- or, perhaps, anything at all.

  • How Fox News uses “news side” anchors like Shepard Smith to save its brand

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump, Fox News’ most powerful viewer, wants his supporters to know that he doesn’t like network anchor Shepard Smith.

    On Sunday afternoon, Trump tweeted that Smith is Fox’s “lowest rated anchor” and “should be working” at CNN, the network the president frequently attacks for failing to provide the obsequious coverage he expects from the press. Trump regularly watches Fox’s programming and often praises other network figures, like Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro. His criticism of Smith stood out, spurring media coverage and praise for the Fox anchor from some journalists.

    The president’s comments marked the second time in a week that the contrast between Smith and his Fox colleagues had driven headlines. Receiving an award on Wednesday night, Smith said in his acceptance speech that the primary mission of journalism is to be “accurate and honest and thorough and fair.” “We must never manipulate or invent,” he added. “We must never knowingly deceive. Because to do so is a disservice to our audience and potentially injurious to our society.”

    Coming from another journalist, these words might have seemed like platitudes. But because Smith’s employer is a propagandistic misinformation factory, it was unsurprising that an observer like CNN’s Brian Stelter described the speech as a “subtweet” of the Fox stalwart’s “opinion side colleagues.”

    These two divergences from the Fox norm are not unusual for Smith. Unlike other Fox “news side” figures like Bret Baier, Smith has actually earned his reputation as a solid journalist, regularly pushing back against right-wing lies propagated elsewhere on the network and at times his colleagues. That makes it easy for some commentators to fall into the trap of thinking of Smith as Fox's "voice of reason,” the resistance inside Fox to the network’s depredations and chicanery.

    But Smith doesn’t have his job despite his deviations from the Fox line -- he is supremely valuable to the network because of them. Fox’s core business model depends on stoking the fears of its viewers to keep them coming back, but its public relations strategy relies on being able to point to people like Smith as evidence that the network isn’t purely a right-wing megaphone. Instead, the network brass argues, Fox simply has separate “news” and “opinion” divisions like other outlets.

    The result is a mutually beneficial relationship in which Fox showers Smith with wealth in return for priceless PR value. In 2007, the network signed Smith to a contract that reportedly paid him more than $7 million a year. At the time, that salary was greater than that of anyone at CNN and on par with those of broadcast network evening news anchors, who historically command bigger paydays.

    A New York Times write-up of his contract is filled with tropes familiar to present-day Fox observers: A Fox executive praises Smith for his focus on “hard news,” not opinion, and the Times reporter contrasts that approach with other network programming and highlights criticism Smith receives from the right because of his willingness to contradict conservative bromides.

    Smith has repeatedly renewed his contract at Fox since then (in 2013, he lost his 7 p.m. show and gained the role of breaking news anchor), most recently in 2018. The terms of that deal were not disclosed, but given how much he was being paid in 2007, it is likely that he’s drawing an eight-figure salary.

    That figure seems absurd for someone who anchors the 3 p.m. hour on a cable news network and whose show was drawing just 1.6 million viewers at the time he signed his latest contract. But Fox is getting much more than the host for a weekday afternoon block for its money. The news of Smith’s new contract brought glowing coverage highlighting Smith’s independence and burnishing the network’s brand, from, among others, Time magazine:

    As Fox has tacked further to the right in its opinion programming, Smith’s role has at times seemed like a challenge. Being the old-fashioned anchorman and reporter at a network known for new-fashioned provocation and opinion may be the hardest job at Fox News, and one Smith mused about walking away from over the course of two interviews this winter. On March 15, the network announced Smith would stay and that he had signed a multiyear contract renewal. Which means Smith is going to have many more chances to tell viewers what they don’t want to hear.

    Copy like this tells Time’s readers -- including reporters, advertisers, and other elites who may not come into contact with Fox on a regular basis -- exactly what Fox wants them to hear: that the network has a “news side” stocked with legitimate journalists trying to tell the audience the truth.

    What it ignores, however, is that Smith’s efforts to debunk misinformation found elsewhere on the network may break through as viral media stories, but they are buried at Fox itself under the weight of falsehoods and conspiracy theories from its higher-profile stars.

    When Trump lashes out at Smith, he is helping Fox make its case. When Smith appears to criticize his prime-time colleagues while accepting a journalism award, he is too. And Fox needs the help right now -- this week’s Smith stories came out against the backdrop of firestorms involving the bigoted comments of two different network stars and desperate efforts to keep advertisers from fleeing.

    Smith can keep using his 3 p.m. show to debunk the lies his network airs around the clock. He can call out the conservative hosts who receive bigger platforms and better time slots from Fox. He can tell reporters -- and even himself -- that the real reason he keeps signing Fox’s lucrative contracts is because he’s worried about what the network would replace him with.

    What Smith apparently can’t do is keep Fox from treating “accurate and honest and thorough and fair” journalism as anything more than a PR strategy.

  • Actor James Woods is a main conduit for content from the far-right fever swamps to millions on Twitter

    Woods has a history of using his Twitter account to amplify far-right message board narratives, conspiracy theories, and hoaxes

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melisa Joskow / Media Matters

    James Woods, a far-right Hollywood actor with a large Twitter following, has increasingly become a megaphone for content from the internet fever swamps, amplifying it by pushing it to his followers -- a role that has been noted by journalists, social media analysts, and far-right users themselves.

    Woods, whose verified Twitter account has more than 2 million followers, is a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, and his criticism of the left regularly receives positive coverage from conservative media publications. Some right-wing outlets have even characterized Woods as a potential California gubernatorial candidate and championed him as a possible Academy Awards host. His tweets have been retweeted by Fox News host Laura Ingraham and Donald Trump Jr.

    When Woods was briefly suspended by Twitter in September after posting a meme from 4chan that falsely claimed Democrats were urging men not to vote in the midterm elections, the right-wing media ecosystem rushed to his defense. Trump Jr. said Woods was “a strong conservative voice,” and Media Research Center’s Brent Bozell called him “one of the top conservatives” on Twitter. Woods later claimed Twitter told him it would delete his offending tweet and let him back on the following month.

    Yet Woods has continued to use his wide reach on Twitter to regularly share smears, hoaxes, conspiracy theories, and other content that can be traced back to anonymous message boards that are popular with far-right users, like 4chan’s “/pol/,” 8chan’s “/qresearch/,” “The_Donald” subreddit (a forum on Reddit for Trump fans), and to white nationalist hotspot Gab. Just this year, Woods has played a crucial role in amplifying the following far-right narratives:

    • In January, while Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was recovering from surgery and missed oral arguments at the Supreme Court, followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory baselessly speculated that Ginsburg was incapacitated or had died. Later that month, with the false claim and hoaxes supporting it spreading on social media, Woods started repeatedly pushing the conspiracy theory and the hashtag #WheresRuth. A SCOTUSBlog analysis found Woods to be one of the most followed accounts that pushed the conspiracy theory, while The Washington Post noted Woods “helped get the hashtag #WheresRuth trending on Twitter.”

    • In January, soon after Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) announced her presidential campaign, “The_Donald” subreddit and 4chan’s “/pol/” relentlessly smeared Harris by claiming she used an extramarital affair with former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown to boost her political career. As far-right message board users were creating memes and misogynistic nicknames attacking Harris, Woods tweeted multiple hashtags such as #HorizontalHarris, #HeelsUpHarris, #WillieWanker, and #FreeWillie to push the smear to his Twitter audience.

    • In January, a Gab account falsely claimed that former President Barack Obama was behind recent mass layoffs from media outlets due to a 2016 law he signed. The Gab post was picked up by message boards and far-right social media accounts, and Woods tweeted an article pushing the conspiracy theory days later. A Gab user cheered Woods’ tweet, noting it went “to his nearly 2 MILLION followers" and suggesting he was the tipping point in getting the claim to spread broadly.

    • At the end of January and beginning of February, far-right message boards pushed a conspiracy theory that actor Jussie Smollett had coordinated with Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Harris in staging what he said was an anti-queer and racist attack on himself to help pass the anti-lynching legislation they had introduced. Smollett has since been indicted for filing a false police report, but there is no evidence that the senators were involved. The conspiracy theory became popular in far-right circles, and Woods tweeted an article pushing the false claim on February 22. An analysis from Storyful found that “Woods’ tweet prompted thousands of users to engage with the theory.”

    Woods’ amplification of fever swamp content has extended to multiple other cases as well:

    • He has repeatedly tweeted screenshots of 8chan posts from “Q,” the central figure of QAnon, and once tweeted and deleted a post simply saying “Q” that QAnon supporters interpreted as an endorsement. He also pushed a hoax about Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) that was popularized by a QAnon account.