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  • Fox doesn’t know how to react to Giuliani’s Stormy Daniels bombshell

    On Hannity, Giuliani revealed that Trump reimbursed Michael Cohen for the hush money payment

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City and current member of President Donald Trump’s legal team, revealed on Fox News’ Hannity that Trump reimbursed his personal attorney Michael Cohen through retainer fees for a hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. After Giuliani’s bombshell revelation, Fox hosts and personalities scrambled to respond to the news with reactions ranging from downplaying Giuliani’s disclosure to saying that the idea that Trump did not know what he was reimbursing his lawyer for “is unworthy of belief.”

    Sean Hannity was noticeably startled after Giuliani’s revelation.

    Laura Ingraham, host of Fox’s Ingraham Angle: “I love Rudy, but they better have an explanation for that. ”

    Fox’s Brit Hume: “Is that what we’re down to? A dubious campaign finance reporting violation?”

    Fox & Friends hosts: “No one cares about Stormy Daniels.”

    Fox News chief judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano: “If Rudy wants the public to believe that Donald Trump reimbursed Michael Cohen $135,000 and didn’t know what it was for, … that is unworthy of belief.”

    Maria Bartiromo, host of Fox Business’ Mornings with Maria : “CNN was reporting this as such a bombshell. I don’t know, James, are you surprised? Is this -- I mean, I sort of knew that the president knew it and paid it back. ... I assumed.”

  • Russian trolls moved 340,000 Americans up the ladder of engagement

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Last night, The Washington Post revealed that Russian trolls “got tens of thousands of Americans to RSVP” to local political events on Facebook. We’ve known since last September that Russian trolls employed this tactic and often created dueling events at the same location and time, probably to incite violence or increase tension within local communities. But it is only now we’re learning the scale of that engagement. Per the Post, “Russian operatives used Facebook to publicize 129 phony event announcements during the 2016 presidential campaign, drawing the attention of nearly 340,000 users -- many of whom said they were planning to attend.”

    The new information comes via the Senate intelligence committee, which has been investigating potential Russian collusion in the 2016 U.S. elections and pressuring tech companies, especially Facebook, Twitter, and Google, to disclose more of what they know about just how much propaganda Americans saw on their platforms. Both Twitter and Facebook have agreed to let users know if they were exposed, but given that we’re still learning more about the scale of the operation, I’m skeptical that anyone knows how many Americans were exposed to Russian propaganda or how often. (If you’d like to check for yourself, I helped create a site that allows anyone to check the likelihood of them being exposed on Facebook.)

    By now most Americans accept that Russian propaganda appeared on their social media feeds in 2016. What concerns me is whether or not they believe that they themselves were susceptible to it. The fact that nearly 340,000 people RSVP’d to events created by Russian trolls -- that they moved up the ladder of engagement from consuming content to RSVPing to an event -- should make us all reconsider our own vulnerability, especially when you consider that many of these events were created to sow discord. Russia’s goal is to destabilize U.S. democracy. Stoking racial, cultural, and political tensions in local communities across the U.S. via creating events on Facebook is a cheap and effective way for Russian trolls to do this.

    Russia’s use of social media to disseminate propaganda and stoke political tension is an ongoing problem. Last fall, Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Mark Warner (D-VA), leaders of the Senate intelligence committee, issued a bipartisan warning that Russian trolls would continue their actions into the 2018 midterm elections and 2020 presidential elections to sow chaos. A ThinkProgress article on the now-defunct website BlackMattersUS.com illustrates how sophisticated propaganda operations can use content, online campaigns, offline events, and relationships with local activists to develop trust and credibility online. And as the successful dueling event demonstrate, all Americans, no matter what their political persuasion, are susceptible to these influence operations.

    As Recode Executive Editor Kara Swisher pointed out on MSNBC today, we’re in an “ongoing war.” There’s no easy way to tell if the content we see on our social media feeds comes from Russian trolls or other hostile actors. There’s no media literacy course or easily available resource that can teach individuals how to identify propaganda. That’s why regulation that protects consumers such as stricter disclosure of political ads and safeguards against fraud is so vital to solving this problem. Especially as tech companies have proven reluctant to make any real changes beyond what public pressure demands of them.

  • Roy Moore paying big money to companies headed by shady consultant called out by Laura Ingraham

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Republican Roy Moore’s U.S. Senate campaign has paid over a quarter million dollars to a network of companies headed by a Republican consultant who was repudiated by Moore endorsee Laura Ingraham as a scammer and “PAC troll.”

    Moore is a twice-removed judge and far-right pundit -- he has said that “homosexual conduct should be illegal” -- who won Alabama’s Republican Senate primary against sitting Sen. Luther Strange. Conservative media figures such as Steve Bannon, Mark Levin, and Sarah Palin have supported Moore. Ingraham, who has her own history of extremism and anti-gay rhetoric, also endorsed Moore in the primary and hosted him on her radio program.

    While conservative pundits have supported Moore because he will “take on DC’s swamp monsters” (as Sarah Palin put it), the consultant behind a network of firms helping Moore has been dogged by ethical questions.

    Moore paid over $250,000 to the North Carolina companies Capital Square Funding Group, Tidewater Strategies, and Rightside Lists for consulting and list rentals from June through early September, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) data. Those firms are headed by Reilly O’Neal, who also leads the North Carolina Gun Rights PAC and the Principled Leadership Project PAC.

    Conservatives, including Ingraham, have criticized O’Neal for dodgy fundraising practices. The Principled Leadership Project PAC sent fundraising emails earlier this year asking people “to join our official Draft Laura movement,” which encouraged the radio host to run for Senate in Virginia. The PAC also set up a “Draft Laura” website that asked for readers’ email addresses and then contributions for a fundraising deadline.

    Ingraham publicly repudiated the efforts as a scam, writing in an April 25 tweet: “PAC TROLLS: Tell everyone NOT to give a DIME to the PrincipledPAC run by some guy named Reilly O'Neal, supposedly for my ‘Senate run.’”

    Media Matters and others have documented that the conservative movement has been infected with shady fundraising tactics and scam PACs that “critics say exist mostly to pad the pockets of the consultants who run them,” as Ken Vogel reported in 2015. Such PACs not only pay their consultants large salaries, but can also gather email addresses that they then rent to other entities. PACs that have fundraised off the names of Allen West, Ken Cuccinelli, and David Clarke, among others, have drawn criticism.

    A significant amount of the money raised by the Principled Leadership Project PAC around the time it was leading its supposed “official Draft Laura” movement went to O’Neal’s groups, according to a review of FEC records.

    WBTV, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte, NC, reported in June that O’Neal’s groups “have faced criticism for their questionable tactics” and spoke to an unnamed Republican lawmaker who said that “he has seen little advocacy from North Carolina Gun Rights.”  

    Media Matters asked O’Neal about conservative criticism of him and his involvement with the Moore campaign. He sent the following statement: “Tidewater Strategies and Capital Square Funding Group are proud to have very efficiently raised significant numbers of dollars for top-tier conservative projects -- from helping to win Judge Roy Moore the Republican Senate nomination in Alabama, to building grassroots conservative armies from Florida to Alaska.” Moore’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.

  • Megadonor Super PAC Parrots Media Spin To Attack Georgia’s Jon Ossoff For Out-Of-State Donations

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    A Republican-aligned super PAC released an attack ad against Jon Ossoff, a Democrat running for an open U.S. House seat in Georgia, that hypes a media-fueled smear focusing on his out-of-state donations. But the ad comes from a group that relies on big-money donations, most from donors outside of Georgia.

    The Congressional Leadership Fund released an attack ad on May 9 targeting Ossoff, who is running to fill the vacant seat in Georgia’s 6th congressional district. The ad, according to Roll Call, “draws attention to the out-of-state money that has boosted Ossoff.”

    The ad echoes similar smears made by both President Donald Trump, who slammed Ossoff for raising “major outside money,” and media figures who adopted Trump’s spin and glossed over Ossoff’s primary victory by highlighting his out-of-state donations.

    But the Congressional Leadership Fund itself takes millions of dollars from major right-wing campaign donors like the Adelson family as well as dark money groups like the American Action Network. The Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) pointed out that the American Action Network, an “out of state dark money” nonprofit, “contributed $3.5 million to its ‘sister’ super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund.” The PAC used over $2.5 million of that money, according to CREW, in an attempt to defeat Ossoff.

    In the 2016 election cycle, the biggest donors to the Congressional Leadership Fund -- which The Atlanta Journal Constitution described as “a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan” -- included Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who own the Las Vegas Review-Journal; Republican mega donor Paul Singer; and investor Charles Schwab. Additionally, according to the group’s pre-special election Federal Election Commission filing report, which details contributions to the PAC up until March 29, it has received only one contribution from an organization or person in the state of Georgia -- Southern Company Services, an electric and power distribution company based in Atlanta, GA, that operates “fossil fuel generating plants.” Most of the big money donations to the PAC leading up to the special election came from the American Action Network, major corporations like the oil and gas company Chevron and Geo Corrections, a for-profit prison firm based in Florida, and Republican megadonors, such as Thomas McInerney.

    In addition, despite the portrait painted by the misleading ad, many of the donations in the race overall have come from outside of Georgia and have primarily gone toward opposing Ossoff. As The Center for Public Integrity noted, ahead of the April primary, Republican-aligned super PACs had spent $5.8 million dollars opposing Ossoff or about 65 percent of all non-candidate spending. In addition, “just one of [the] outside groups spending money to influence the Georgia 6th election ... is headquartered within state lines" and it supported Ossoff to the tune of $1,070 in total. The Center for Public Integrity noted that Ossoff's opponent, Karen Handle, has also taken in outside funds and that "23 percent of Republican candidate Karen Handel's big dollar contributions -- more than $200 per donor -- came from out of state sources."

  • Media Figures Adopt Trump’s Spin To Whitewash Ossoff’s Showing In Special Election Primary

    Reports On Ossoff’s Fundraising Ignore Advantage Republicans Have From Outside Spending

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Following the special election primary for a vacant House seat in Georgia, media figures are repeating President Donald Trump’s spin highlighting out-of-state donations that helped Democrat Jon Ossoff. The focus on Ossoff’s fundraising, however, ignores the disproportionate advantage the Republican Party and Republican candidates got from outside groups in the race.

  • Racists, Corruption, And Tabloids: The Story Of Donald Trump's Newspaper Endorsements

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has received endorsements from four national newspapers -- all of which either have familial or financial connections to his campaign, have repeated falsehoods and conspiracy theories to advocate for conservative causes, or have espoused outright racist views. Meanwhile, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s newspaper endorsements include a number of Republican-leaning publications that find Trump too “dangerous” to support.

  • After Saying He Would Be An “Uncompensated” “Volunteer,” Roger Stone Pockets Pro-Trump Super PAC Money

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Roger Stone received $12,000 from his pro-Trump super PAC despite previously bragging that he was working for the group as an “uncompensated” “volunteer.”

    Stone is a longtime ally and adviser to the Republican presidential nominee. In December 2015, he announced that he was joining the Committee To Restore America’s Greatness to support Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

    After Stone joined the super PAC, he reportedly “said ‘it would probably be wise’ for him to cease conversations with Trump about the campaign due to conflict of interest rules which bar coordination between the two entities.” Stone has nonetheless continued to talk regularly with Trump throughout the campaign and informally advises his campaign on strategy.

    When Stone made the move from the campaign to the super PAC, he dismissed the idea that he was trying to cash in on his Trump connections and emphasized on Twitter: “I am a volunteer and uncompensated as a matter of fact.”

    Stone has apparently changed his mind about taking contributor money, according to the Committee To Restore America’s Greatness’ recently filed Federal Election Commission report covering July 1 through September 30 of this year. The super PAC paid $12,000 in July to Drake Ventures for “consulting.” Stone owns Drake Ventures and used the LLC when he worked as a consultant for Trump’s presidential campaign last year. (The business registration is now technically inactive as it was revoked in September 2015 because of a failure to file an annual report, according to the Florida Department of State's website database).

    The Committee to Restore America’s Greatness' activities include spending $32,000 on its “Super Trump” advertisement   in Florida and the non-swing state of New York.

    Stone also heads the connected 527 group Stop the Steal, which aims “to stop the Democrats from stealing the election from Donald Trump.” The Guardian noted that Stone claims he has “around 1,300 volunteers” who will conduct “their own crowd-funded exit polling on election day, ostensibly due to fears that electronic voting machines in certain areas may have been ‘rigged.’” However, election experts told the newspaper that the tactic “could intimidate voters” and “exit polls in particular were a dangerously inaccurate way to gauge the legitimacy of an election.”

    Stop the Steal’s third quarterly report to the IRS stated that the group received only $7,162 during that period and transferred $63,000 to the Committee to Restore America's Greatness to “provide for programs of Stop the Steal.” (The committee gave Stop the Steal $50,000 in April.) Both Stop the Steal and the Committee to Restore America's Greatness share the same address and contact person.

    Stop the Steal’s website is currently signing up volunteers to be “vote protectors.” Its website also features headlines from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ website and a bizarre “exit polls” map:

     
  • Right-Wing Media Use Misleading Report To Boost Trump’s Claim Of Media Bias

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Conservative media are using a report from the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) to reinforce Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s claim that the media is rigged against him, pointing to the report’s claim that media figures have donated more to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign than Trump’s. But according to The Washington Post, the report doesn’t “tell the whole story” and doesn’t prove “widespread bias” because it does not include any campaign trail reporters who influence coverage of the election.

  • STUDY: Networks Cover Trump's Illegal Pam Bondi Donation Three Times Less Than AP's Clinton Story

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    In just two days, broadcast news networks devoted more than three times as much airtime to baselessly scandalizing a flawed Associated Press (AP) report on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton than covering a story about an illegal donation by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. The AP piece examined meetings Clinton took with Clinton Foundation donors as secretary of state, while the Trump story centered on an illegal donation he made to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

    In the two days after the AP report was published, the broadcast news networks ABC, CBS, and NBC devoted 19 minutes and 10 seconds to covering the flawed August 23 report -- which dubiously hyped “possible ethics challenges” on behalf of Clinton. The same networks devoted merely six minutes of coverage to Trump’s illegal donation to Pam Bondi in the week following the revelation.

    In the report, the AP claimed that “More than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money -- either personally or through companies or groups -- to the Clinton Foundation.” Journalists and media critics widely derided the report for "ignoring well over 1,000 official meetings with foreign leaders and an unknown number of meetings with domestic US officials" Clinton held at the State Department. Some in the media -- including broadcast and cable networks -- nonetheless hyped the report for the “breathtaking” and “disturbing” “optics,” even though the report found “no evidence” of “ethics breaches.” Despite the backlash, the AP issued a statement claiming it was “transparent in how it has reported this story.”

    The Washington Post reported on September 1 that the Trump Foundation paid the IRS a penalty after he illegally donated to a campaign group in 2013 for the re-election of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. The Post explained that Trump paid the IRS a $2,500 penalty for “violat[ing] tax laws” with his donation. Bondi personally solicited the donation from Trump around the same time her office was considering joining the New York attorney general’s fraud investigation against Trump University. Shortly after Bondi received Trump’s donation, she decided not to join the case. Cable news hosts called the episode “ugly” and “a classic example” of pay-to-play politics.

    The Trump Foundation’s donation is also yet another example of Trump’s history of “breaking campaign finance laws” and “evading” legal donation limits, as CNN’s Jeff Zeleny explained. The New York Times wrote that Trump’s donation to Bondi was part of his “decades-long record of shattering political donation limits and circumventing the rules governing contributions and lobbying.”

    Methodology:

    Media Matters searched Nexis and SnapStream for coverage of Donald Trump's donation to Pam Bondi between September 1, 2016, and September 7, 2016, on CBS, NBC, and ABC's morning, evening, and Sunday news programs using the terms: "Trump AND Bondi." Media Matters searched SnapStream for coverage of the AP report on meetings Clinton took with Clinton Foundation donors between August 24, 2016, and August 25, 2016, on CBS, NBC, and ABC’s morning and evening news programs using the terms: “Clinton OR Clinton Foundation.”