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  • A Fox "voter fraud" darling and Breitbart columnist lost big in federal court -- and got personally reprimanded

    The federal court judge ruled that Kris Kobach's law wrongly prevented people from voting; Fox News barely mentioned the trial

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Kansas secretary of state and Breitbart columnist Kris Kobach, who frequently pushes voter fraud misinformation on Fox News, spectacularly failed in his effort to mount a defense for his state’s voter registration law in a federal court trial in March. Federal judge Julie Robinson both struck down the Kansas law and ordered Kobach to take remedial classes after repeatedly violating the judge’s orders, including trying to introduce evidence after Robinson had specifically excluded it. Fox, which has pushed the debunked specter of widespread voter fraud for a decade, provided no coverage of the trial as it progressed between March 6 and March 19.

    In 2013, Kansas began enforcing the Kobach-backed Secure and Fair Elections (SAFE) law, which required residents who did not have a driver’s license to show proof of citizenship with documents such as a birth certificate or U.S. passport when registering to vote. In May 2016, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson temporarily blocked Kansas from enforcing the law after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit, arguing that the law violated the federal National Voter Registration Act, which requires state voter registration forms to merely “contain an attestation that the applicant meets” eligibility requirements, such as citizenship. According to the ACLU, the law blocked tens of thousands of voter registrations in Kansas.

    Kobach, who writes columns for Breitbart.com, has appeared on Fox News numerous times; a search of Nexis transcripts, which cover less than half of Fox’s shows, revealed nearly 60 appearances by Kobach. During a number of these appearances, he pushed an anti-immigrant agenda. He has also discussed the Kansas voter registration law at least twice on Fox News.

    Fox has spent years pushing bunk voter fraud claims and supporting Republican efforts to make voting harder in response to the fear they inspire.Considering that history, one might expect the network to closely cover Kobach’s chance to prove the necessity of stringent voter identification laws. But that hasn’t been the case; according to a search of closed-captioning transcripts on SnapStream and iQ media, Fox mentioned the trial only twice, in two short news updates on March 7, for a grand total of 50 seconds of coverage of a trial that stretched over six days.

    Perhaps Fox’s lackluster coverage was due to Kobach’s repeated blunders during the trial. Slate legal writer Mark Joseph Stern, in an article headlined “Kris Kobach is a loser,” wrote that the trial was “an unmitigated disaster for Kobach—a merciless rebuke of his professional life’s work.” And HuffPost voting rights reporter Sam Levine noted that a witness Kobach called forward during the trial to supposedly show how easy it was to register without the required documents actually “testified there was a burdensome process” to prove her citizenship and register to vote. (This sloppiness may have been foreseeable, as Kobach has been caught plagiarizing a column for Breitbart; one of Kobach’s citations for that Breitbart column was a white nationalist writer with a reported history of Holocaust denialism.)

    The following quotes from the daily coverage of the trial by Kansas City NPR member station KCUR show just how embarrassing Kobach’s performance was:

    Day 1: The judge scolded Kobach and his team for improperly trying to introduce new evidence and not knowing courtroom rules.

    • “Kobach and an attorney from his office, Sue Becker, got off to a rocky start when they were blocked from showing to the court — and asking witnesses questions about — multiple documents that Kobach’s team hadn’t formally introduced as evidence. ‘Evidence 101 — not going to do it,’ said Judge Julie Robinson.”
    • “Kobach’s side repeatedly stumbled on other rules, too, leading the judge to cut off some of their lines of questioning to the witnesses.”
    • “In another instance, Becker appeared not to understand the rules for referencing depositions in court. She stood and took directions from the judge.”

    Day 2: Kobach’s team again tried to improperly introduce evidence

    • “Kobach’s legal team continued to trip up on courtroom procedures, such as how to introduce evidence and quote from depositions while cross-examining witnesses.”

    Day 3: Kobach’s legal team again violated courtroom procedure.

    • “The day’s court session ended abruptly amid a string of admonishments from the judge for the Kobach team, which repeatedly tried maneuvers that would have violated trial procedure.”

    Day 5: Kobach still had trouble properly introducing evidence, and one of his witnesses repeatedly interrupted the judge.

    • “Kobach’s office faced more hurdles to entering evidence — things the legal team hadn’t provided in advance of trial. That included new calculations related to how often non-citizens vote.”
    • “In the afternoon, testimony from Old Dominion University’s Jesse Richman devolved quickly into argument. In the course of answering questions from the ACLU and Robinson about his data sources, the political science professor repeatedly interrupted the judge.”

    Day 6: Kobach team witness Jesse Richman admitted a racist method for flagging potential noncitizen voters and agreed Kobach’s and Trump’s claim of millions of illegal votes in the 2016 election is baseless.

    • “An ACLU lawyer asked him whether he would label ‘Carlos Murguia’ foreign, and when Richman replied he probably would, revealed Murguia is a federal judge in that very courthouse.”
    • “The ACLU also showed a 2016 video in which Kobach, while speaking with reporters, backs President Trump’s claims that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton because of millions of illegally cast ballots. Richman agreed with an ACLU lawyer that his research hasn’t shown this to be true and he doesn’t know of any research that has.”

    Day 7: The judge said a Kobach lawyer was “being schizophrenic” over failure to properly present witness testimony from a pollster.

    • “[Kobach’s team] struggled to include the pollster’s testimony in the trial, tripping up again on court rules that require disclosing expert witnesses in advance. Kobach lawyer Sue Becker argued Judge Julie Robinson had already said McFerron is an expert witness, which the judge promptly explained wasn’t true. Becker drew consternation from Robinson and ACLU lawyers by vacillating back and forth between treating McFerron as an expert witness or simply as a fact witness who was presenting poll results. ‘You're being schizophrenic,’ Robinson told Becker.”

    Though the trial ended on March 19, that wasn’t the end to Kobach’s problems regarding the ACLU’s lawsuit. On March 20, the same judge, Julie Robinson, presided over a contempt hearing stemming from Kobach’s apparent failure to enforce her May 2016 order to register the tens of thousands of voters blocked from his law. NPR reported that it didn’t go well for Kobach:

    Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach got a tongue lashing Tuesday from the judge who will decide whether he violated federal law by blocking tens of thousands of voter applications.

    Federal Chief District Judge Julie Robinson, a George W. Bush appointee, accused Kobach of engaging in "gamesmanship" and skirting her orders.

    In the nearly two years since Robinson ordered him to register those voters, she said, he has forced her and the American Civil Liberties Union to monitor his actions down to the tiniest details in an effort to get him to comply.

    "I've had to police this over and over and over again," she said.

    [...]

    Kobach, who hopes to be Kansas' next governor, asked the judge not to find him in contempt. The Republican candidate argued he doesn't control the county officials who carry out logistics such as sending postcards to voters to let them know where their polling stations are.

    [...]

    Robinson, at times sounding livid with the secretary, gave him a dressing-down.

    "These people are not second-class registered voters," she told him. "You assured me that they had or they would get the postcards."

    On April 18, Judge Robinson ordered Kobach to be held in contempt of court for disobeying her orders to register voters, mandating that Kobach pay for the ACLU’s attorney fees for the case. Two months later, Judge Robinson struck down Kansas’ law requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration. HuffPost’s Sam Levine reported on June 18 that the judge “found that the law violated the National Voter Registration Act and the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.” The court specifically rejected Kobach and Fox’s argument about voter fraud, finding that the law “acted as a deterrent to registration and voting for substantially more eligible Kansans than it has prevented ineligible voters from registering to vote.”

    Judge Robinson additionally “sanctioned Kobach with six hours of continuing legal education related to rules of civil procedure or evidence” due to his repeated violations of his rules throughout the trial.

    As of publishing, there is no word from Breitbart or Fox News on the ruling.

  • Local Virginia media failed to report that the newly elected GOP Senate nominee is a neo-Confederate with connections to white supremacists  

    Evening news programs virtually ignored Corey Stewart’s extremism. Virginia newspapers did only slightly better.

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters 

    On June 12, neo-Confederate Corey Stewart was elected to be the Republican nominee to challenge Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). Stewart is an ardent defender of Confederate symbols and a staunch opponent of immigrants’ rights, and he has been affiliated with white supremacists. Unfortunately for Virginians, local TV news in the state largely failed to mention Stewart’s extremism while reporting on his victory. While some Virginia newspapers did a better job in giving the context of Stewart’s background to audiences, others largely failed to mention his bigotry.

    Stewart, who is currently a member of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, was the Virginia state co-chairman of President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, has been described as a “mini-Trump,” and heavily courted the “alt-right” and figures who have self-identified with the movement. Shortly after he was fired from his position with the campaign in October 2016 for taking part in a protest against the Republican National Committee, Stewart gave an interview to Mike Cernovich, a far-right troll who has a history of promoting conspiracy theories. During the interview, Cernovich said that “he calls establishment Republicans ‘cucks’ because ‘they like to see Trump get screwed over by the media, that's what they get off on.’” Stewart replied, “Yeah, I would agree.” The term “cuck,” short for “cuckold,” is widely used within “alt-right” and pro-Trump circles.

    In January 2017, Stewart spoke out in support of Paul Nehlen, a white nationalist congressional candidate who holds and espouses deeply racist views, calling him one of his “personal heros.” According to CNN, Stewart later paid almost $800 to the "pro-White" Nehlen as a “fundraising commission.” And in February 2017, Stewart attended an event put on by “Unity & Security for America,” a group run by Jason Kessler, the white nationalist who would months later organize the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA. According to The Washington Post, Stewart himself claimed that white nationalists were “unfairly singled out” for their role in the rally. Stewart has since disavowed both men, but as The New York Times reports, Nehlen at least already had a history of making anti-Muslim slurs when Stewart initially praised him.

    Stewart is also a stalwart defender of Confederate symbols and has helped spearhead the movement against immigration and immigrants’ rights in Virginia. During his 2017 campaign for Virginia governor, he displayed a Confederate flag while recording a Facebook live segment, declaring, “Folks, this is a symbol of heritage. It is not a symbol of racism. It is not a symbol of slavery.” Stewart later claimed that “ISIS has won” after a Confederate monument was taken down in New Orleans, LA. During his time as a member of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, Stewart has supported aggressively anti-immigrant policies. He helped pass legislation to bar undocumented immigrants from receiving county services and often fearmongers about immigrants in Virginia, warning residents about the “scourge of illegal aliens who are preying on law-abiding United States citizens here in Fairfax County,” incorrectly stating that the city of Fairfax has “declared itself a ‘sanctuary city.’”

    Local TV news dropped the ball on acknowledging Stewart’s extremism

    Eight major TV news stations in two of Virginia’s largest media markets largely failed to inform viewers that the Republican nominee for Senate is an anti-immigrant, neo-Confederate extremist with ties to white supremacists. Media Matters reviewed local TV coverage of Stewart’s win during nighttime (11 p.m.; 10 p.m. for Fox affiliates) and evening (6 p.m. or 7 p.m.) news programing from 9 p.m. on June 12 (when Stewart was declared the winner) through June 14. Of the four stations carrying local news in the Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News media market, not one mentioned Stewart’s extremist past. Coverage in the Roanoke-Lynchburg media market wasn’t much better; two stations mentioned Stewart’s position on immigration and his advocacy for Confederate monuments, but none highlighted his relationships with white nationalists.

    • In the Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News media market, WVEC (ABC 13), WTKR (CBS 3), WAVY (NBC 10)and WVBT (Fox 43) all failed to mention Stewart’s advocacy for Confederate symbols, his extremism on immigration, and his previous association with white supremacists.  

    • In the Roanoke-Lynchburg, WDBJ (CBS 7) and WFXR (Fox 27) both mentioned Stewart’s defense of Confederate monuments and referenced his stance on immigration, though neither highlighted his extremism on the topic; instead they noted, respectively, his interest in “cracking down on illegal immigration” and his “focus” on “illegal immigration.” Neither station acknowledged his history of associating with white nationalists.

    • WSET (ABC 13, a station owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group) and WSLS (NBC 10) failed to mention any aspect of Stewart’s extremist past.

    Some Virginia newspapers did better than TV news, but others missed the mark

    The Richmond-Times Dispatch did an admirable job detailing Stewart’s bigotry, The Roanoke Times failed to mention certain aspects of Stewart’s extremism, and The Virginian Pilot almost entirely dropped the ball. Media Matters reviewed three major Virginia newspapers’ coverage of Stewart’s victory from June 12 until June 15.

    • The Richmond Times-Dispatch ran five stories mentioning Stewart’s win. Three of those articles mentioned Stewart’s defense of Confederate symbols, or else branded him “pro-Confederate.” Two noted his focus on “illegal” immigration, and four discussed his connections with white supremacists and anti-Semites.  

    • The Roanoke Times ran only one story, an article it re-ran from The Richmond Times-Dispatch, announcing Stewart’s victory, and while it mentioned his association with both Kessler and Nehlen, it failed to identify his support for Confederate symbols or his anti-immigration stances. The Times did, however, run an editorial that accused Stewart of playing “footsie with white nationalists,” and mentioned his backing of Confederate symbols. 

    • The Virginian Pilot ran two articles, one partially re-published from The Washington Post, that mentioned Stewart’s victory. The Post article actually did mention Stewart’s support for Confederate monuments, his immigration stance, and his extreme associations, but this section of the article was taken out when it ran in the Pilot. The other article neglected to definitively acknowledge any aspect of Stewart’s extremism, instead noting that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has accused him of “cozying up to purveyors of dangerous white supremacy or anti-Semitic views."

    Methodology

    Using iQ media, Media Matters analyzed Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News and Roanoke-Lynchburg, two of the largest local news markets in Virginia, for “Corey Stewart,” “Stewart,” or “Republican primary” from 9 p.m. on June 12 through June 14. Relevant segments were reviewed during the stations' nighttime news program (11 p.m.; 10 p.m. for WVBT and WFXR) and during the 6 p.m. (7 p.m. for WVBT, which doesn't air 6 p.m. news) block of their evening news coverage (WFXR does not air evening news coverage).  

    Using Nexis, Media Matters searched three widely circulated Virginia-based print newspapers, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Virginian Pilot, and The Roanoke Times, from 9 p.m. June 12 to June 15 and reviewed relevant print articles that included the terms “Stewart” or “Republican primary.”

  • Sinclair and the midterms: California edition

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    If you live in a midsize city or battleground state, you are now more likely than ever to see pro-Trump propaganda and conservative spin on your local news -- just in time for the 2018 election season -- thanks to conservative media giant Sinclair Broadcast Group.

    Media Matters has identified communities that will see competitive congressional midterm races and that have Sinclair-owned or -operated news stations. Many Sinclair stations are already airing national news programming with a conservative slant, and they will be ramping up coverage of their local races.

    We’ve already tackled Nevada, Tennessee, New York, Florida, Virginia, and Ohio. Now, we’re taking a look at California.

    Key 2018 races

    There are seven key congressional district races in California, most labeled by Cook Political Report as toss-up or “lean Republican” races and some targeted as key races by political groups. One currently includes several communities with Sinclair news stations, and the rest may have at least one Sinclair station before Election Day.

    • House: California’s 21st congressional district (CA-21), in the central San Joaquin Valley, was considered a “likely Republican” race by Cook Political Report as of publication, but it is one of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s targeted races for 2018. Incumbent Republican Rep. David Valadao faces Democrat challenger TJ Cox.
    • House: There are six other key House races in California, many in districts that are part of Orange County and/or the greater Los Angeles area: CA-10, CA-25, CA-39, CA-45, CA-48, and CA-49.

    Sinclair stations in the state

    KMPH (Fox 26), KFRE (CW 59), and KMPH-CD in Fresno

    • Sinclair controls KMPH (Fox 26) and KFRE (CW 59), two main local stations in the Fresno area, including parts of CA-21. It also owns KMPH-CD, a separate, small station that relays Fox 26 broadcasts to certain parts of the media market. All three stations share a main studio address in Fresno.
    • Fox 26 regularly airs at least some of Sinclair’s “must-run” content, including some nationally produced news packages, fearmongering “Terrorism Alert Desk” updates, and “Bottom Line with Boris” pro-Trump commentary segments. It also aired the recent anchor-read scripted segments about media bias at least twice.
    • The CW 59 re-airs some newscasts from Fox 26, likely including some of these “must-run” segments.

    KBAK (CBS 29) and KBFX (Fox 58) in Bakersfield

    KRCR (ABC 7), KCVU (Fox 20), KUCO-LP (Univision), and KRVU-LD (MyNetwork) in Chico and Redding

    • Further north, Sinclair owns a group of four stations in the media market serving the areas around Chico and Redding: KRCR (ABC, News Channel 7), KVCU (Fox 20), and smaller stations KUCO-LP (a Univision affiliate) and KRVU-LD (a MyNetwork TV affiliate).
    • ABC 7 regularly airs at least some of Sinclair’s “must-run” content, including national news packages, “Terrorism Alert Desk,” and “Bottom Line with Boris.” It also airs Full Measure, and it ran the recent anchor-read scripted segments about media bias at least 17 times. Fox 20 airs a nightly KRCR newscast, likely including some of these “must-run” segments.

    KAEF (ABC 23), KBVU (Fox 28), KECA-LD (CW), and KEUV-LP (Univision) in Eureka

    • Sinclair also controls a group of four stations in the Eureka media market, which neighbors the market serving Chico and Redding. It owns KAEF (ABC 23), KBVU (Fox 28), and smaller stations KECA-LD (a CW affiliate) and KEUV-LP (a Univision affiliate.) ABC 23 and Fox 28 -- together branded as “North Coast News” -- share a website with the Sinclair-owned ABC and Fox affiliates in Chico and Redding.
    • Data is not currently available for ABC 23 or Fox 28’s airing of “must-run” segments. ABC 23 does air Sinclair’s weekly news show Full Measure and appears to likely share some news resources with KRCR (ABC 7) in nearby Redding, which airs “must-run” content.   

    Coming soon: KTLA (KTLA 5, CW) in Los Angeles

    • Sinclair is set to purchase several more California local news stations via its pending acquisition of Tribune Media, including KTLA (KTLA 5, a CW affiliate) in Los Angeles, one of the largest local media markets in the country.
    • KTLA serves parts of CA-25, CA-39, CA-45, CA-48, and CA-49.

    Possibly coming soon: KSWB (Fox 5) in San Diego and KTXL (Fox 40) in Sacramento

    • Sinclair also plans to acquire KSWB (Fox 5) in San Diego, which serves parts of CA-49. However, Sinclair has agreed to sell the station to 21st Century Fox in order to comply with current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ownership limits.
    • Sinclair plans to use the same strategy for KTXL (Fox 40) in Sacramento, which serves parts of both CA-10 and CA-21. It will also acquire the station from Tribune Media and has agreed to sell it to Fox.

    Are there Sinclair stations near you?

    Use Media Matters’ interactive map at FindSinclair.com to learn more.

    Graphics by Sarah Wasko

  • Right-wing pundit and congressional candidate Seth Grossman posted bigoted commentaries about Black and Muslim people

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Seth Grossman, a Republican pundit who is running for Congress, repeatedly posted bigoted commentaries about Black and Muslim people online. Grossman claimed he knew “of many Africans who wish their ancestors had been taken to America as slaves,” promoted an anti-Black piece on a white nationalist website, and called Islam “a cancer" that has "already infected a billion people."

    Grossman is a lawyer who has also been a radio host and a newspaper columnist. He heads the nonprofit organization Liberty and Prosperity 1776 Inc. and writes commentaries on its website. Grossman won the Republican nomination for New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District on June 5.

    The Republican commentator has been under scrutiny this week because of recently released remarks he made at an April forum in which he said, “The whole idea of diversity is a bunch of crap and un-American.” That remark was captured by American Bridge 21st Century PAC (American Bridge founder David Brock is also the founder of Media Matters).

    Before he started running for Congress, Grossman also frequently posted bigoted and racist remarks about Black and Muslim people in commentary pieces and on social media, according to a Media Matters review. Here are numerous examples:

    “Blacks were not enslaved by whites. They were enslaved by other blacks and then sold to whites. … I do know of many Africans who wish their ancestors had been taken to America as slaves.” From a March 7, 2017, post on Grossman’s Facebook page:

    Fifty years of welfare programs, public and college ‘education’, and media and Hollywood pop culture run by ‘progressive’ Democrats did far more long term damage to blacks in America than 230 years of slavery.” From a July 17, 2016, post on Grossman’s Facebook page:


    “Democrats today constantly talk of wrongs done by some whites to some blacks more than a hundred years ago. The purpose is for blacks to blame whites for their problems instead of the liberal officials and policies that are truly responsible.” From an April 4, 2012, piece by Grossman in the Current and Gazette newspapers of Atlantic and Cape May counties, which was also posted on libertyandprosperity.com:

    As I got older, I paid attention to the conversations of the adults at the Passover dinner. My grandmother was always amazed at how much our family enjoyed both holidays, and how lucky we were to live in America.

    In bits and pieces I learned how my experiences with these holidays were so different from hers. To my grandmother who lived in Moldavia, a Romanian-speaking province in the old Russian Empire, Passover and Easter were holidays of fear and death.

    There was no First Amendment in Russia. The government and the churches were run by a dictator called the Czar. His officials used the churches to get people angry at Jews, rather than the corruption and incompetence of the government.

    What they did was like how Democrats today constantly talk of wrongs done by some whites to some blacks more than a hundred years ago. The purpose is for blacks to blame whites for their problems instead of the liberal officials and policies that are truly responsible.

    Grossman promoted a piece from a white nationalist site that claimed Black people “are a threat to all who cross their paths, black and non-black alike.” On December 30, 2014, Grossman posted a link to a piece on the white nationalist website American Renaissance. The piece’s author wrote that he is “a public defender in a large southern metropolitan area” and his “experience” has taught him “that blacks are different by almost any measure to all other people. They cannot reason as well. They cannot communicate as well. They cannot control their impulses as well. They are a threat to all who cross their paths, black and non-black alike.”

    “Islam has nothing in common with other modern world religions like Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, or Hinduism.” Grossman wrote a July 18, 2016, piece on libertyandprosperity.com that purported to explain why Muslims “attack and kill us” by listing “12 simple facts about Islam.”

    Grossman’s list including virulently anti-Muslim claims, including that the religion has “nothing in common with other modern world religions”; “Islam is stuck in the barbaric, cut-throat world of Arabia 1,400 years ago”; and “Good Muslims who believe and support these principles of Islam cannot be good Americans. Only ‘bad’ Muslims who reject their religion can be good Americans.”

    "Islam is a cancer. The fact that it already infected a billion people is even more reason to fight it every way we can.” From a March 27, 2016, post on Grossman’s Facebook page:

    “Why are we inviting thousands of Muslim immigrants to our towns and neighborhoods when we are in the middle of a war with Islam?” From a February 28, 2015, post on Grossman’s Facebook page:


    Grossman shared a graphic that attacked then-President Barack Obama for having “flooded our cities with Muslims.” From a January 10, 2016, post on Grossman’s Facebook page:

  • Report: Breitbart recruited an activist to encourage black voters to vote Trump or stay home

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT

    A May 29 Bloomberg story revealed that during the 2016 election, a Breitbart reporter worked as an “off-the-books political operative” for the Trump campaign, encouraging a former Bernie Sanders backer to help convince black voters to vote for Donald Trump or sit out the election entirely.  

    The Bloomberg report detailed how Breitbart’s Dustin Stockton recruited Black Men for Bernie founder Bruce Carter to work on behalf of the Trump campaign. Stockton introduced Carter to Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News who served as chief executive officer of the Trump campaign. Bannon subsequently put Carter in contact with Karen Giorno, a senior Trump campaign adviser. The three agreed that Carter would target swing states and work to convince black voters that “Donald Trump is the only option,” but if they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for him, they ought to “simply stay home on Election Day.” From the May 29 report:  

    Carter’s unlikely conversion to cheerleader for Trump started in mid-summer 2016 with a call from Stockton. Broad-chested and 6 feet, 2 inches tall, Carter had become something of a B-list celebrity on the campaign trail, showing up at Sanders’s events in a tour bus emblazoned with the Vermont senator’s photo and yelling through a bullhorn to rally anybody who would listen. He spent months on the road for Sanders, with three of his teenage daughters accompanying him, selling T-shirts and other merchandise to help fund their tour.

    ...

    The two chatted regularly after the convention by phone. On Aug. 17, Bannon, then Breitbart’s executive chairman, was named chief of the campaign. The announcement coincided with a push by Stockton to formalize Carter’s role. He says Stockton dangled an intriguing promise—a chance to engage with Bannon. That pushed him over the top: He endorsed Trump.

    ...

    While it’s impossible to precisely measure Carter’s effectiveness, Trump performed particularly well in the areas Carter targeted, says Dustin Stockton, the Breitbart reporter who recruited him.

    The article also noted that after Stockton spent months recruiting Carter, Breitbart published a “carefully orchestrated” and “exclusive” story about Carter’s work in August “that went viral.” Bloomberg reported that Carter’s work for the Trump campaign and Stockton’s “unusual role” in the saga may also have violated campaign finance rules, and quoted a former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission as saying, “There are some real problems here.”

  • Sinclair and the midterms: Ohio edition

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    If you live in a midsize city or battleground state, you are now more likely than ever to see pro-Trump propaganda and conservative spin on your local news -- just in time for the 2018 election season -- thanks to conservative media giant Sinclair Broadcast Group.

    Media Matters has identified communities that will see competitive congressional midterm races and that have Sinclair-owned or -operated news stations. Many Sinclair stations are already airing national news programming with a conservative slant, and they will be ramping up coverage of their local races.

    We’ve already tackled Nevada, Tennessee, New York, Florida, and Virginia. Now, we’re taking a look at Ohio.



    Key 2018 races

    • Governor: Current Gov. John Kasich (R) cannot seek a third term, and the race to elect a new governor was rated “lean Republican” by Cook Political Report as of publication (and dubbed “one of 2018’s most bizzare campaigns” by Vox.) The candidates are current state Attorney General Mike DeWine (R); former state Attorney General Richard Cordray (D), who is also the former director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; and Green Party candidate Constance Gadell-Newton.
    • House: Ohio’s first congressional district (OH-1), in the southwestern corner of the state, was rated “lean Republican” by Cook Political Report as of publication. Republican incumbent Rep. Steve Chabot faces Democratic challenger and current Hamilton County clerk Aftab Pureval and independent candidate Mike Goldschmidt.
    • House: Ohio’s 12th congressional district (OH-12), located in central Ohio, has an open seat for the first time in 18 years after the January resignation of Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R). The seat will be filled in a special election in August, rated a toss-up by Cook Political Report as of publication. The Republican candidate is state Sen. Troy Balderson and the Democratic candidate is Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor.

    Sinclair stations in state

    WSYX, WTTE, and WWHO in Columbus

    WKRC (Local 12) and WSTR (Star 64) in Cincinnati

    • Sinclair has a hand in news programming at two stations serving the Cincinnati area, most of which is located in OH-1. It owns and operates the CBS-affiliated WKRC (Local 12), and it provides “certain services” to Deerfield Media-owned WSTR (Star 64). The two stations share a main studio address in Cincinnati.
    • Local 12, a CBS affiliate, airs some of Sinclair’s “must-run” content, including some national news packages, “Bottom Line with Boris,” and Full Measure. It also aired the recent anchor-read scripted segments about media bias at least seven times.
    • Star 64 airs Local 12 newscasts and at least some of Sinclair’s “must-run” content, including “Terrorism Alert Desk” and “Bottom Line with Boris.” It aired the recent anchor-read scripted segments about media bias at least three times.

    WKEF (ABC 22 Now) and WRGT (Fox 45 Now) in Miamisburg

    WNWO (NBC 24) in Toledo

    WCHS (ABC 8) and WVAH (Fox 11) in Charleston, WV

    Possibly coming soon: WJW (Fox 8) in Cleveland

    • WJW (Fox 8) in Cleveland is currently owned by Tribune Media and will soon be owned (at least briefly) by Sinclair if the company’s pending acquisition of up to 42 Tribune stations is approved.
    • Sinclair indicated it will sell the station to 21st Century Fox after the deal goes through in order to comply with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ownership rules. Sinclair’s track record suggests the company may continue to operate the station in some capacity through legal loopholes -- though reporting says the station will be owned and operated by Fox.

    What else you need to know

    The winner of the Ohio governor’s race will have significant say over state redistricting for U.S. House seats following the 2020 Census.

    Are there Sinclair stations near you?

    Use Media Matters’ interactive map at FindSinclair.com to learn more.

    Graphics by Sarah Wasko.

  • Can tech platforms protect election integrity?

    Google and Facebook have rolled out new policies for political ads. Here’s what you need to know.

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN

    Shadowy online ads are a staple of American elections in the digital age. In the last election cycle, voters targeted with digital ads had no way to see who purchased the ad unless they clicked through, and even then, there was sometimes no disclosure. There was no way to learn why you were being targeted or how much money was being spent on your demographic segment. (FEC disclosure requirements for online advertisements are pretty basic. Most of the time you can see only how much was spent -- and not who was targeted, for example -- on a digital buy that might include multiple platforms.) And that lack of transparency is particularly problematic given that thousands of ads on Facebook and Twitter came from Russian trolls and other hostile actors who were targeting American voters, a practice voters were unaware of until nearly a year after the elections.

    In 2016, Facebook’s terms of service did not explicitly prevent foreigners, including Russians, from purchasing political ads on digital platforms. Its ad policy simply stated, “Advertisers are responsible for understanding and complying with all applicable laws and regulations.” But it’s not even clear if it’s against the law for foreign trolls to purchase ads targeting American voters. And it’s highly unlikely that the law will change before the midterm elections, even though lawmakers have introduced The Honest Ads Act, a bipartisan bill to provide more transparency in digital political ads, and it has the support of several government reform organizations and both Facebook and Twitter.

    Facebook and Google have rolled out changes in their ad policies that could start to tame the Wild West atmosphere. Anyone who wants to run election ads will have to verify their identity before they can make the buy. Both platforms have promised to let users examine all political ads as well as their targeted demographics. Additionally, Facebook will indicate when an advertisement is explicitly political.

    Verifying the identity of ad buyers and giving users more information about the ads they’re seeing is a good start, and it puts both Facebook and Google ahead of what the law currently requires. But it’s not enough to stop hostile actors from buying ads. Facebook has also rolled out a policy specific to issue ads -- which requires authorization and labeling, according to Axios -- and Google has indicated it is looking into developing something similar. Facebook’s initial list of topics that would qualify an ad as “issue”  is interesting, especially the last one: “Abortion, budget, civil rights, crime, economy, education, energy, environment, foreign policy, government reform, guns, health, immigration, infrastructure, military, poverty, social security, taxes, terrorism, and values.”

    Most of the Russian ads from 2016 would probably fall into Facebook’s values category. Including values on the list gives Facebook the power to scrutinize ads that are more cultural than political at first glance but are in fact meant to pit Americans against one another. And if an ad is rejected, Facebook also offers an appeal process. If hostile actors intend to game Facebook by spreading propaganda in 2018, cutting off their ability to give their content an initial boost by using targeted ad buys would eliminate a tool they used effectively in 2016. Having values on the list of issue topics suggests to me that Facebook understands this reality.

    This will be an ongoing battle. I have no doubt that those behind the last election interference are already hard at work looking for workarounds, and it’s likely that they’ve found at least a few already. But the tech platforms are finally taking election integrity seriously, and unlike in 2016, we now know to be on the lookout for signs of trouble. Systemic change is our best opportunity to protect the integrity of our elections, and since we’re unlikely to see any laws passed soon, ad policy changes from tech platforms are the best form of protection Americans have.

  • Sinclair and the midterms: Virginia edition

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    If you live in a midsize city or battleground state, you are now more likely than ever to see pro-Trump propaganda and conservative spin on your local news -- just in time for the 2018 election season -- thanks to conservative media giant Sinclair Broadcast Group.

    Media Matters has identified communities that will see competitive congressional midterm races and that have Sinclair-owned or -operated news stations. Many Sinclair stations are already airing national news programming with a conservative slant, and they will be ramping up coverage of their local races.

    We’ve already tackled Nevada, Tennessee, New York, and Florida. Now, we’re taking a look at Virginia.
     

    Key 2018 races

    • House: Virginia’s second congressional district (VA-2), which includes easternmost parts of the state around the Chesapeake Bay, was rated “lean Republican” by Cook Political Report as of publication. Republican incumbent Rep. Scott Taylor faces a primary challenger, and several others are seeking the Democratic nomination for the race.
    • House: Virginia’s fifth congressional district (VA-5), spanning a large area in the center of the state, was rated “lean Republican” by Cook Political Report as of publication. Republican incumbent Rep. Tom Garrett faces Democratic challenger Leslie Cockburn, a former journalist.
    • House: Virginia’s seventh congressional district (VA-7), which includes Richmond suburbs and parts of central VA, was rated “lean Republican” by Cook Political Report as of publication. Two Democrats are competing for the nomination to challenge Republican incumbent Rep. David Brat.
    • House: Virginia’s 10th congressional district (VA-10), which includes Washington, D.C.'s western suburbs, was rated a toss-up by Cook Political Report as of publication. Republican incumbent Rep. Barbara Comstock faces a long list of potential challengers in the race, which Politico dubbed one of the “top 10 House races to watch in 2018.”

    Sinclair stations in state

    WSET (ABC 13) in Lynchburg

    WRLH (Fox Richmond) in Richmond

    • Parts of VA-7 are currently served by Sinclair-owned WRLH (Fox Richmond) in nearby Richmond. Sinclair reportedly does not produce Fox Richmond’s regular newscasts; the channel contracts with another local station for news production, so it apparently does not currently air Sinclair’s national “must-run” content.
    • Sinclair has indicated it will sell Fox Richmond if its pending acquisition of Tribune Media stations is approved. The media company would sell the station to Standard Media in order to comply with the Federal Communications Commission’s current media ownership rules. However, Sinclair’s track record suggests the company may continue to operate the station in some capacity through legal loopholes.

    WTVZ (MyTVZ) in Norfolk

    WJLA (ABC 7) in Washington, D.C.

    WLFL and WRDC in Raleigh, NC

    • Some of the southernmost areas in VA-5 are served by the Sinclair-owned and -operated WLFL (The CW 22) and WRDC (MyRDC) based in Raleigh, NC.
    • The CW 22 currently airs newscasts from a non-Sinclair-affiliated local station.
    • MyRDC does not appear to air any local news programming.

    Coming soon: WTKR and WGNT in Norfolk, WTVR in Richmond, WDCW in Washington, D.C.

    • Sinclair is set to purchase Richmond-based station WTVR (CBS 6) in its pending acquisition of up to 42 Tribune Media stations. Should the deal go through, Sinclair has indicated it will sell its current Richmond-based station, WRLH Fox Richmond (and presumably keep the newly acquired CBS 6) in order to comply with FCC rules.
    • Sinclair is also set to purchase Tribune stations WTKR (CBS 3) and WGNT (CW) in Norfolk. Its current Norfolk-based station, MyTVZ, does not air local news programming, but if Sinclair develops a local newscast, likely based at the largest station, CBS 3, up to three different channels in the Norfolk area could soon air at least some Sinclair news programming.
    • Sinclair will also acquire WDCW (DCW50) in the Tribune purchase.

    What else you need to know

    Former WSET (ABC 13) reporter Suri Crowe recounted to BuzzFeed News in April that Sinclair management had insisted she add false balance in news stories about climate change and gun violence. Crowe was reprimanded for refusing to “seed doubt about man-made climate change,” as BuzzFeed put it, and add more conservative “balance” to her stories. She was ultimately forced out in 2017.

    Sinclair’s main operations are primarily centralized in the Beltway areas of Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland. Its headquarters are located in Hunt Valley, MD, not far from its flagship station, WBFF (Fox 45), in Baltimore. And at least some of Sinclair’s “must-run” content and weekly news programming is produced at the WJLA studios in Arlington, VA, including the fearmongering “Terrorism Alert Desk” segments, “Bottom Line With Boris” pro-Trump commentary segments, many of the national news packages, and Full Measure.

    WJLA (ABC 7) is one of four stations that recently ran an anti-Sinclair ad campaign by progressive consumer watchdog group Allied Progress -- but the station reportedly sandwiched the ad between Sinclair-provided video that characterized it as “hysteria and hype.”

    Are there Sinclair stations near you?

    Use Media Matters’ interactive map at FindSinclair.com to learn more.

    Graphics by Sarah Wasko.

  • As the midterms approach and foreign interference looms, just how screwed is America?

    What reporters and voters need to keep an eye on leading up to November

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN

    Midterm elections are less than 200 days away. We know that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election and weaponized our favorite social media platforms -- Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Reddit, and even Pinterest -- against us. We know that Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee and released some of its emails via WikiLeaks. We know that despite sanctions from the U.S., Russian trolls continue this activity and will continue their influence operations at least through the 2018 elections.

    America isn’t the only country facing this problem. Earlier this year, Facebook admitted that social media can be bad for democracy. Social media manipulation is a global problem, and Russian trolls aren’t the only hostile actors looking to weaponize the internet to disrupt democracies. Cambridge Analytica openly bragged to potential clients about its ability to disrupt elections, touting online targeting in a laundry list of offerings that included, according to U.K.’s Channel 4 News, “bribes, ex-spies, fake IDs and sex workers.”

    The tech platforms have all promised to do better in 2018. Facebook and Google have both recently announced changes in their ad programs that theoretically will make it more difficult for hostile actors to game their systems. Reddit and Tumblr banned all known Russian trolls on their platform and also listed their handles so that users who had interacted with them online could better understand their own exposure. Nearly two years after the presidential election, the tech platforms finally seem to be taking this problem seriously and cooperating with Congress and the special counsel’s office.

    But we still have a lot more questions than answers. There’s no public map of Russian activity online available to voters. We don’t know what, if anything, our government is doing to protect us from social media manipulation, and while it seems obvious that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, we don’t have a complete picture of what happened or what other political entities might have been involved. We don’t know if tech companies are collaborating to fight back against social media’s weaponization or if they’re focused only on their platforms’ individual issues. This is unsettling.

    Even more unsettling is that campaign staff on both sides of the aisle seem unaware of or unconcerned about foreign meddling in this year’s midterm elections. A survey of campaign staffers from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy found that “two-thirds (65%) reported they are not ‘very concerned’ or ‘not concerned at all’ about foreign threats to campaign cybersecurity.”

    For those observing this issue, whether from the perspective of a voter, campaign staffer, or political reporter, there are some reports/proceedings on the horizon which should give more insight into Russian interference in 2016 elections and hopefully will provide some more answers. Keep an eye out for these:

    • First, House Democrats plan to release all 3,000 Russian-linked Facebook ads as soon as this week. The cache will show “images of the ads, which groups the ads targeted, how much they cost and how many Facebook users viewed them.” Finally having access to targeting data should give us insight into how Russian trolls segmented the population and might also provide clues as to where they got the data to do so.

    • Second, Senate intelligence committee Chairman Richard Burr said in February that he was hopeful the committee would be able to make public parts of its report on Russian influence in 2016 before the 2018 primaries begin. He promised that there would be another open hearing on election security. Assuming that the Senate intelligence committee is still on track, we should see that report soon.

    • Finally, we could see a report or further indictments from special counsel Robert Mueller before the midterm elections. Conventional wisdom suggests that Mueller will either wrap up his investigation shortly or go dark until after the midterms. Should the former happen, the public will likely get more information about the 13 Russians indicted for interference in the 2016 U.S. elections as well as answers about the Trump campaign’s working relationship with Russian operatives.

    What we don’t know about Russian interference is terrifying. Information warfare, including via weaponized social media and cyberattacks, is a threat to democracy both in America and abroad. Leading up to the U.S. midterms, it’s up to news media and pro-democracy activists to sound the alarm. American voters need to understand what happened to them in 2016 and what’s at stake for our democracy this November.

  • Sinclair and the midterms: Florida edition

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    If you live in a midsize city or battleground state, you are now more likely than ever to see pro-Trump propaganda and conservative spin on your local news -- just in time for the 2018 election season -- thanks to conservative media giant Sinclair Broadcast Group.

    Media Matters has identified communities that will see competitive congressional midterm races and that have Sinclair-owned or -operated news stations. Many Sinclair stations are already airing national news programming with a conservative slant, and they will be ramping up coverage of their local races.

    We’ve already tackled Nevada, Tennessee, and New York. Now, we’re taking a look at Florida.

    Key 2018 races

    • Senate: Current Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) is challenging incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) in what may be “one of the most expensive campaigns in 2018.” Cook Political Report rated the race a toss-up as of publication.
    • Governor: The race to fill the Florida governor seat vacated by Scott is open, with 20-plus candidates currently seeking the position. The race was rated a toss-up by Cook Political Report as of publication.
    • House: Florida’s 18th congressional district (FL-18) in southeast Florida was rated “lean Republican” by Cook Political Report as of publication. Incumbent Brian Mast (R) currently has several challengers, with the filing deadline approaching on May 4.
    • House: Florida’s 26th congressional district (FL-26) near Miami was rated a toss-up by Cook Political Report as of publication. The incumbent, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R), currently has several Democratic challengers.
    • House: Florida’s 27th congressional district (FL-27) in south Florida was rated “lean Democratic” by Cook Political Report as of publication. The election is an open race with many Democratic, Republican, and independent candidates.
       

    Sinclair stations in state

    WPEC (CBS 12), WTVX (The CW West Palm), WWHB (Azteca 48), and WTCN (My15) in West Palm Beach

    • Parts of FL-18 are served by Sinclair-owned WPEC (CBS 12), WTVX (The CW), WWHB (Azteca 48) and WTCN (My15). All four stations broadcast in the West Palm Beach/Fort Pierce media market in south Florida and share a main studio address in West Palm Beach.
    • CBS 12 regularly airs at least some of Sinclair’s “must-run” content, including nationally produced news packages, fearmongering “Terrorism Alert Desk” updates, and weekly shows Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson and The Armstrong Williams Show. It also aired the recent anchor-read scripted segments about media bias at least 33 times. The CW West Palm airs some of CBS 12’s daily local news programming, along with Full Measure.
    • My15 appears to occasionally re-air some of CBS 12’s local news programming, but it does not include any newscasts in its schedule on a daily basis.
    • The Spanish-language affiliate Azteca 48 posts local news updates online and airs Azteca-produced national news programming, but complete data about the extent of its daily local news programming is not available.

    WGFL (CBS 4), WNBW (NBC 9), and WYME (Antenna TV) in Gainesville

    • WGFL (CBS 4) is owned and operated by New Age Media Management LLC but “receives certain services from an affiliation of Sinclair.” WYME, also owned by New Age Media, is a low-power station affiliated with Antenna TV and operated in some capacity by Sinclair. WNBW (NBC 9) is owned by MPS Media but is operated, in some capacity, by Sinclair as well. All three stations share a main studio address in Gainesville, and all of their schedules and information are found on the CBS 4 website.
    • CBS 4 airs at least some of Sinclair’s “must-run” content, including nationally produced news packages, fearmongering “Terrorism Alert Desk” updates, and the weekly show Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson.
    • NBC 9 also airs CBS 4 newscasts and appears to air the same Sinclair “must-run” segments as CBS 4. Antenna TV does not air any local news programming.

    WTWC (NBC 40/Fox 49) and WTLF (The CW) in Tallahassee

    WEAR (ABC 3) and WFGX (MyTV 35) in Pensacola

    Possibly coming soon: WSFL (The CW South Florida) in Fort Lauderdale

    • WSFL (The CW South Florida) in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale media area is currently owned by Tribune Media and will soon be owned (at least briefly) by Sinclair if the company’s pending acquisition of up to 42 Tribune stations is approved.
    • Sinclair indicated it will sell the station after the deal goes through in order to comply with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ownership rules to a yet-undisclosed buyer. (The New York Post’s reporting has suggested the buyer is Fox.) However, Sinclair’s track record suggests the company may continue to operate the station in some capacity through legal loopholes.
    • Depending on the circumstances of the Sinclair-Tribune deal, The CW South Florida could be operating as a Sinclair station serving parts of FL-26 ahead of Election Day.

    What else you need to know

    Sinclair’s political action committee donated a total of $4,500 to Sen. Nelson’s re-election campaign committee between March 2015 and March 2018. Nelson is the ranking member of the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation -- an important committee for Sinclair, since its jurisdiction includes the communications industry. Nelson has said Sinclair lobbied him last year in order to tamp down on potential Democratic opposition to the Tribune deal. But he has led at least two efforts by Senate Democrats in recent months that have targeted the FCC's role in regulating Sinclair's expansion. 

    Sinclair is currently suing two former WPEC (CBS 12) reporters, claiming the former employees owe Sinclair thousands of dollars each for leaving the station before the end of their respective contracts. One of the reporters, Jonathan Beaton, cited a “clear-cut conservative agenda” in the newsroom as one reason he decided to leave. Recently leaked contracts from other Sinclair-owned stations reveal a pattern of harsh financial penalties that discourage employees from leaving or speaking out against the company.

    The four Sinclair-owned and -operated stations currently broadcasting in West Palm Beach are part of the local media market for Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s resort in Florida.

    Are there Sinclair stations near you?

    Use Media Matters’ interactive map at FindSinclair.com to learn more.

    Graphics by Sarah Wasko.