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  • Key Fox shows are ignoring the network’s damning interview with Scott Pruitt

    Ed Henry’s interview received more coverage on MSNBC prime time than Fox News prime time

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Seeking to recover from a storm of ethical scandals with a tour of conservative news outlets, embattled Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt sat down with Fox News’ Ed Henry for an interview yesterday afternoon. Pruitt was surely hoping for the same softballs he has regularly received on the right-wing network. But to his credit, Henry grilled the EPA director, pushing back on Pruitt’s defenses of his conduct. Journalists from other outlets have rightfully praised the interview, with MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle commenting, “Ed Henry, good on you,” after airing a portion of it this morning.

    Observers have largely been struck by the dog-bites-man quality of a Fox reporter savaging one of President Donald Trump’s top appointees. But a review of Fox’s coverage of the interview demonstrates that the story is a bit more complicated. A network that pulls off a widely praised, newsy interview generally trumpets it in every hour of its coverage. The Henry-Pruitt sit-down, however, has been either completely ignored or significantly downplayed on several of Fox’s most-watched broadcasts.

    In fact, during prime-time hours from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET, MSNBC’s liberal hosts devoted more time to discussing Fox’s interview (roughly 14 minutes) than did Fox’s conservative ones (about nine minutes), according to a Media Matters review. Pruitt’s corruption just doesn’t fit the narrative of many of the network’s hosts, even when their own colleague is the one advancing that story.

    Ethical misdeeds have trailed Pruitt throughout his tenure at the EPA. The major recent allegations revolve around him racking up substantial costs to the taxpayer on first-class flights, paying below-market rent for a condo that is co-owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist, and exploiting a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act to raise the salaries of two top aides by tens of thousands of dollars against the wishes of the White House. Conservatives who appreciate that Pruitt has shredded important environmental regulations at EPA have rallied around him, even as Democrats and Republican members of Congress have called for his resignation.

    Pruitt defended his actions with regard to all the allegations under often-withering questioning from Henry.

    Portions of the interview first aired yesterday afternoon on Fox’s The Daily Briefing, and it also garnered substantial coverage that day on Special Report with Bret Baier, The Story with Martha MacCallum, and Shannon Bream’s Fox News @ Night.

    But the network’s two highest-rated programs, Hannity and Tucker Carlson Tonight, completely ignored the Pruitt interview, with the hosts instead devoting their programs to their usual paeans to President Donald Trump and attacks on “Big Tech,” Hillary Clinton, and the “fake news” media. Other Fox programs like Your World with Neil Cavuto and the panel show The Five also did not make time to talk about Pruitt.

    Meanwhile, over on MSNBC, Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow extensively discussed the Pruitt story, with each airing substantial portions of the Henry interview that his own colleagues had not mentioned.

    The third Fox prime-time show, The Ingraham Angle, did give Pruitt substantial airtime, with guest host Brian Kilmeade airing a chunk of Henry’s interview, discussing it with Henry, and leading a debate between conservative commentator Mollie Hemingway and Democratic operative Richard Goodstein about the story’s ramifications.

    But Kilmeade’s handling of the story nonetheless demonstrates the way the network’s right-wing hosts twist coverage to benefit conservatives. He introduced the story by claiming that the EPA director was “fighting back big time” after becoming “the latest Trump administration member targeted by the left and the mainstream media” and disparaging the “bizarre” criticism against him.

    The next day, on Fox & Friends, Trump’s favorite morning cable news show, Pruitt coverage was limited to two airings of a 40-odd-second news brief* featuring a portion of the Henry interview. The program, which the president regularly watches, and which provides a hagiographic look at his presidency, often relegates damaging stories about the Trump administration to the news briefs segments.

    There’s no ideological reason for conservatives to support government bureaucrats using loopholes to funnel raises to their aides, or living large on the taxpayer’s dime, or getting cut-rate housing arrangements -- indeed, it’s easy to imagine the same Fox personalities savaging the same behavior under a Democratic administration.

    But with Trump in the White House, many of Fox’s hosts are willing to provide cover, even when their own network has the scoop driving the story.

    Shelby Jamerson provided additional research.

    CORRECTION: This piece originally stated that the Fox & Friends news brief aired only once. Media Matters regrets the error.​

  • Media outlets are citing a hate group in reports about Trump's planned census change for 2020

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Media outlets are citing the anti-immigrant hate group Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) in reports about the Trump administration’s addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census, which experts say will jeopardize its accuracy.

    The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has called CIS founder John Tanton “the father of the modern nativist movement” and designated his organization a hate group because it “churns out a constant stream of fear-mongering misinformation about Latino immigrants.” Also contributing to the decision to designate was CIS' “repeated circulation of white nationalist and anti-Semitic writers in its weekly newsletter and the commissioning of a policy analyst who had previously been pushed out of the conservative Heritage Foundation for his embrace of racist pseudoscience.” CIS personnel have a record of making racist commentary and portraying immigrants as dangerous criminals. Yet, all too often, media outlets treat CIS as a credible voice in immigration debates, and they frequently fail to identify either its anti-immigrant views or its white nationalist ties.

    This is happening again in reports regarding the Trump administration’s announcement that it will add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census. At least a dozen states oppose the move and have indicated they will sue the administration to prevent the question from being added, and census and civil rights experts have said adding such a question will reduce response rates from immigrants, jeopardizing the census’ accuracy. Yet CIS has defended the addition of a citizenship question, and news reports from both conservative and mainstream outlets are discussing the organization’s support of the Trump administration move.

    A Minnesota Star Tribune article quoted CIS, as did a column from the Boston Herald’s Adriana Cohen. D.C.’s ABC affiliate station WJLA (owned by the pro-Trump Sinclair Broadcasting Group) also cited CIS research, and ABC Radio’s D.C. affiliate WTOP briefly cited CIS’ defense of adding the citizenship question. Four different Fox News shows also cited CIS in their March 27 coverage of the census change: Happening Now, Outnumbered Overtime, The Daily Briefing, and Special Report. A March 28 FoxNews.com column defending the administration’s move linked to a CIS study. Fox host Laura Ingraham’s radio show hosted CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian on March 27 to criticize Democrats’ response to the move, and Washington Examiner columnist Paul Bedard extensively quoted CIS to justify adding a citizenship question to the census.

    Only WTOP and the Star Tribune mentioned CIS’ agenda, saying simply that the group “pushes for decreased immigration” and has “advocated for tougher immigration regulations.” But those descriptors hardly inform voters about CIS’ problematic origins or its continuing associations with white nationalists and other bigots. Legitimate media outlets should not cite anti-immigrant groups as sources of unbiased information at all -- and if they do, they should clearly label them as such.

  • Fox & Friends is banging the drum for another special counsel

    Fox’s Jason Chaffetz: “The real investigation should be into the investigators”

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    In three separate segments today, Fox & Friends suggested the appointment of a “second special counsel to look into” the Department of Justice’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation and “into the investigators” on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team. Former congressman and current Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz appeared on Fox & Friends, the president’s favorite cable news program, alongside Fox’s Pete Hegseth to push for an investigation of the Department of Justice employing “a special prosecutor and the IG at the same,” something the president’s legal team has endorsed.

    Chaffetz’s call for a second special counsel followed two other segments in which the hosts hyped the possibility of an appointment of a second special counsel as “a debate being had right now.” Trump’s attorney general has so far resisted similar calls from Republican lawmakers. From the March 29 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    PETE HEGSETH (CO-HOST): I know you have called and some others have called for the need, potentially, for a second special counsel to look into this FISA abuse. The attorney general is now saying the [Department of Justice] inspector general will be looking into it. Is this a good development, and is it sufficient?

    JASON CHAFFETZ (FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR): Well, it means that they’re following the facts and that -- the inspectors general, they don't just go on fishing trips. He’s completing an investigation, nearly a year long. And what this indicates to me is he’s actually got some real evidence out there and he’s warning a second investigation.

    That should be coupled with a special prosecutor, because there are a number of people that have left the employment of the government and [Department of Justice Inspector General] Michael Horowitz, as good and as talented as he and his staff are, they don't have the jurisdiction to go talk to people who, like Mr. [former Deputy FBI Director Andrew] McCabe, for instance, who’s now left. If you couple a special prosecutor, then they have the investigative tools in place to go interview those people and to prosecute those people if they find anything where people have broken the law.

    HEGSETH: So this inspector general was looking into the email server abuse potentially and the investigation into the Hillary Clinton. It seems the facts have broadened into the reality, the real investigation should be into the investigators themselves and the abuse of the FISA process. But you say they should be coupled together, need a special prosecutor and the IG at the same time?

    CHAFFETZ: This is also critical because [Former FBI Director and Special Counsel Robert] Mueller is evidently not doing his job based on the one-page directive that he was given. Not only was he supposed to look at directly at the Donald Trump and any collusion, even though we don't see any evidence of it, that was the directive that [Deputy Attorney General] Rod Rosenstein put in place, but point number two on that one page was to follow the evidence of anything else that he might’ve seen about meddling in the election. And there is a lot of evidence about the Democrats and the Hillary Clinton campaign coordinating and spending money overseas on this fake dossier. But it does not appear that Mueller is pursuing any of that, that’s why I think the inspector general coupled with a yet-to-be-named appointment of a special prosecutor, is going to have to go do that job.

  • Tech’s moral obligation to Parkland survivors

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN

    The Parkland student survivors behind the #MarchForOurLives are now public figures. Their social media presence is massive, they’re a fixture on TV news, and according to a poll from Public Policy Polling, they have a “56/34 favorability rating.” Their advocacy has inspired many Americans to engage (or re-engage) in the fight for gun safety. It’s also inspired a steady stream of harassment and hoaxes from the right.

    The latest attacks on the students, right after their wildly successful march, are particularly vile. They include doctored images, memes suggesting that the students support communist dictators or Nazis (apparently communism and fascism are one and the same now), and accusations that student David Hogg wasn’t actually present for the shooting (just for the record, we know Hogg was there because he recorded interviews with his fellow students during the shooting). Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones took things to another level entirely when he released videos depicting a Parkland survivor as a Hitler Youth member and transposing a Hitler speech over another’s words. The students were even mocked by Rep. Steve King, R-IA, a congressman, on his Facebook page.

    To be clear, these are high school students, most of whom are still minors, being attacked for over a month by adults who should know better. And tech companies allow their platforms to be weaponized over and over again for this purpose.

    None of this should feel normal but somehow it is. It’s the circle of life on the internet: If half of social media is building you up, the other half will inevitably be tearing you down. We’ve accepted bullying and harassment as the price we pay for a more connected society, and that includes the harassment of minors advocating for their right to be safe at school. Looking over the social media landscape, it’s hard to argue that this isn’t normal. Does it have to be?

    All of the tech platforms have policies against harassment in their terms of service, but none include special protections for minors who are harassed. All terms of service prohibit hate speech or harassment based on protected classes, including age, but only when the attack is made on the basis of that characteristic. So while disseminating doctored images of Emma Gonzalez supposedly tearing up a copy of the Constitution (she wasn’t) or memes suggesting that David Hogg is a Nazi or that he gave the Nazi salute at the #MarchForOurLives (he isn’t and he did not) are out of the bounds of human decency, they appear not to violate any one company’s terms.

    It’s understandable that tech companies would avoid taking political positions and do everything in their power to prevent the appearance that they’re censoring a political viewpoint. But doctoring images of the Parkland students and spreading false information about them and their families online isn’t expressing a political opinion; it’s harassment. People should be able to express political viewpoints without harassing minors. They should be able to disagree with the students’ views without superimposing their heads on Nazi uniforms. More important, tech companies should be able to understand the difference.

    The Parkland students survived one of the worst mass shootings in modern American history. They lost friends and classmates, and their lives were completely disrupted. Whether or not you agree with their views on gun safety, we should all be able to agree that teenagers have a right to advocate for their own safety at school without fear of weaponized social media attacks against them. It should never be acceptable to spread false information and doctored images that threaten the safety of anyone, especially if that person is still a student in high school. Tech companies shouldn’t allow their platforms to become dissemination engines for this type of attack. That’s not politics; that’s just human decency.

  • Steve Doocy suggests adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census will help its accuracy. Experts say the opposite.

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    On Fox News’ morning show Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy claimed that the Trump administration’s decision to include a citizenship question in the 2020 census will help with getting an “accurate headcount.” In fact, census and civil rights experts have explained that the move will lower confidence in the census and lead to some immigrants not filling it out, decreasing its accuracy.

    The citizenship question already exists on the smaller American Community Survey that goes out to a small portion of households every year, but this will be the first time it will be included on the full decennial census survey since 1950. According to The Wall Street Journal, it will ask “whether a person is a citizen by birth or by naturalization or isn’t a citizen. It won’t ask about the legality of an immigrant’s presence.” The census is used for, among other things, apportioning seats in the House of Representatives and distributing federal funding among the states.

    Census and civil rights experts have said that the addition of this question will decrease response rates from immigrants, thus making the census less accurate:

    • A bipartisan group of former Census Bureau directors in a letter sent to the commerce secretary: “We strongly believe that adding an untested question on citizenship status at this late point in the decennial planning process would put the accuracy of the enumeration and success of the census in all communities at grave risk.”
    • Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights President and CEO Vanita Gupta: “This untimely, unnecessary, and untested citizenship question will disrupt planning at a critical point, undermine years of painstaking preparation, and increase costs significantly, putting a successful, accurate count at risk.”
    • Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law President and Executive Director Kristen Clarke: "This is an arbitrary and untested decision that all but guarantees that the Census will not produce a full and accurate count of the population as the constitution requires."
    • Brennan Center Democracy Program Director Wendy Weiser: “This question is a dangerous move that could lead to a serious skewing of the final census results, which would have a deleterious effect on our system of representative democracy."
    • Census expert Terri Ann Lowenthal: “Between evidence that the administration is manipulating the census for political gain, and fear that the administration will use the census to harm immigrants, confidence in the integrity of the count could plummet. And the census is only as good as the public’s willingness to participate.”

    But none of this mattered to Fox & Friends’ Steve Doocy. According to him, the addition of a citizenship question will ensure an “accurate headcount” of people:

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): The Democrats say, look, you're just trying to intimidate the people who are in this country, maybe not legally, but in California they are.

    STEVE HILTON: Yes, but there's a real thing. Being a citizen is a real thing with real issues attached to it that should affect your rights and your responsibilities in this country. So, establishing who is and isn't a citizen is a perfectly reasonable thing for government to do.

    DOOCY: Maybe the Democrats out there are worried that if they have an accurate depiction of who is living out there, accurate headcount, it's not as many people as they think, they might lose federal money, they might lose congressional districts, who knows.

  • 60 Minutes’ interview with Stormy Daniels airs tonight. Here are 5 ways conservative media figures have attacked or downplayed her story.

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Adult film actress and director Stephanie Clifford, known professionally as Stormy Daniels, recorded an interview about her alleged affair with President Donald Trump, which is scheduled to air tonight on CBS’ 60 Minutes. Since she first came forward, some conservative media figures have chosen to attack her or to minimize her story.

    According to Daniels, she and Trump had an affair in 2006. She first gave an interview about the affair in 2011 with In Touch Weekly, but it was only published in full earlier this year. While Trump has denied the affair took place, one of his lawyers, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels $130,000 just a month before the 2016 presidential election to keep her from speaking publicly about it. Trump and Daniels have recently sued one another over the 2016 agreement.

    Trump’s lawyers reportedly considered legal action to stop the broadcast of Daniels’ pre-recorded 60 Minutes interview, which will air tonight on CBS. And in recent weeks, some conservative media figures have also run defense for the president.

    Smearing Daniels over her adult film career

    Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft: Daniels is a “washed up porn star.”

    [Gateway Pundit, 3/6/18]

    CNN conservative political commentator Jason Miller: “I think it is clear that Ms. Clifford is trying to essentially launch a second act to her career now.”

    CNN guest Michael Caputo: “Let's not forget, this is a woman who gets paid for sex wanting more money.”

    Telling other media outlets they shouldn’t be giving Daniels’ story much attention

    Fox host Sean Hannity dubbed CNN president Jeff Zucker the “‘porn king’ of cable news” for coverage of Daniels. Fox prime-time host Sean Hannity lashed out at CNN for covering Daniels’ allegations against Trump, calling CNN president Jeff Zucker the “porn king” of cable news. He also called CNN’s “non-stop coverage of Stormy Daniels” a “new obsession” of “basically soft-core pornography.” [Hannity.com, 3/23/18]

    Fox media critic Howard Kurtz suggested other media outlets were devoting too much coverage to Daniels and accused them of being “rather gleeful in covering these stories.”

    Conservative talk radio host Mark Simone: “Media [are] now in collusion with DNC to influence the next election” by covering Daniels.

    [Twitter, 3/11/18]

    Accusing Daniels of faking evidence

    Pro-Trump writer Jacob Wohl pointed to one photo to claim Daniels’ reported polygraph test was fake. NBC News acquired a report of a 2011 polygraph test Daniels took about her relationship with Trump, which came with a sworn declaration from the examiner about its authenticity. According to NBC, “the examiner found there was a more than 99 percent probability she told the truth when she said they had unprotected sex in 2006.” Jacob Wohl of The Washington Reporter used an image taken from a video of the polygraph test to claim it was fake.

    [NBC News, 3/20/18; Twitter, 3/21/18]

    Downplaying the relevance of the interview

    Fox News contributor Marc Thiessen: Conservative Christians will stand by Trump because he keeps his promises to them. Fox News contributor and Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen defended conservative Christian supporters of President Trump from accusations of hypocrisy for violating their espoused values because he “does have one moral quality that deserves admiration: He keeps his promises.” From Thiessen’s March 23 FoxNews.com column:

    During the 2016 campaign, Trump pledged to defend religious liberty, stand up for unborn life and appoint conservative jurists to the Supreme Court and federal appeals courts. And he has done exactly what he promised. The abortion-rights lobby NARAL complains that Trump has been "relentless" on these fronts, declaring his administration "the worst .?.?. that we've ever seen." That is more important to most Christian conservatives than what the president may have done with a porn actress more than ten years ago.

    [...]

    No one upholds Trump as moral exemplar. He is not the most religious president we have ever had, but he may be the most pro-religion president. Christian conservatives are judging Trump not by his faith, but by his works. And when it comes to life and liberty, his works are good. [FoxNews.com, 3/13/18]

    National Religious Broadcasters president Jerry Johnson: “People knew the accusations against the president” but didn’t care about them. In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) about Daniels upcoming 60 Minutes interview, National Religious Broadcasters president Jerry Johnson said conservative Christians just don’t care that Trump allegedly cheated on his wife Melania:

    "Christians want the president to be pastoral. We like that but that isn't really the job assignment," National Religious Broadcasters president Jerry Johnson told CBN News. "People knew the accusations against the president before he was elected and they said, 'Actually, we care about security. Actually, we care about the economy.' "

    Johnson added that Christians "should identify with Christ" before any politician and called his vote in the 2016 election a "prudential" one. "You've got to vote. You have a choice. Who are you going to vote for?" Johnson said. "I voted for Mr. Trump. I don't regret that vote. I don't think Christians who voted for him regret that vote. We knew this was in the past, but his job is to keep us safe and to keep the government out of the way of business so the economy can grow and I think he's doing that." [CBN, 3/23/18]

    Anti-gay hate group Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins: Trump’s behavior was in the past. Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay Family Research Council, also told CBN that Trump’s past behavior doesn’t matter because he’s keeping political promises he made to conservative Christians:

    Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, echoed the same sentiment to CBN News and said Trump should be judged on his behavior and accomplishments in office.
     
    "To date, what has the president done?" Perkins asked. "The president has not engaged, to our knowledge, and I think we would know, in any of the behavior that he did in the past, prior to the election. What he has done is he's actually followed through on political promises." [CBN, 3/23/18]

    Barely mentioning Daniels’ alleged affair with Trump

    In early through mid-March, Fox News barely mentioned Daniels’ story. The news explainer website Vox examined cable news transcripts and found Fox News has barely even mentioned Daniels’ name, especially compared to its main competitors.

    [Vox, 3/21/18]

  • Trump’s panel of “experts” on trans military ban included anti-LGBTQ hate groups and extremists

    Blog ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    An article published in Slate highlighted the influence of anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council (FRC) and anti-trans extremist Ryan T. Anderson in crafting the White House’s newly released policy banning transgender troops from serving in the military.

    Family Research Council has a history of pushing anti-trans misinformation to justify harmful and discriminatory policies. When the transgender military ban was first announced in July 2017, FRC senior fellow Peter Sprigg published a report with the false claim that over the next ten years, allowing transgender people to serve in the military could cost “as much as $1.9 to $3.7 billion,” an estimate significantly higher than those from the Pentagon-commissioned Rand Corp study and research from the Palm Center. In the past, FRC and its representatives have also spread misinformation about transgender-inclusive restrooms, promoted conversion therapy, claimed that LGBTQ youth suicide rates would drop if the teenagers were “discourage[d] from self-identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual,” and suggested that being transgender is a “cultural phenomenon.”

    In July, FRC president Tony Perkins admitted that FRC worked with the White House on the transgender military ban, and in August, Foreign Policy reported that FRC was lobbying Congress to keep the Pentagon from using government funds to “provide medical treatment related to gender transition.”

    Another of Trump’s “experts,” anti-trans extremist Ryan T. Anderson, has repeatedly used biased and junk science to justify bigotry against the transgender community. In February, he published When Harry Became Sally, an entire book dedicated to discrediting the transgender experience. The book falsely argues that transgender people are mentally ill and would have better outcomes if they did not transition.

    As Slate reported, “the policy issued by the White House on Friday combines anti-trans propaganda with baseless, discredited concerns about the alleged danger of open transgender service,” including false claims about military readiness, privacy, and cost. And as Slate pointed out, “given its authors, the Trump report’s conclusions are unsurprising.” From the March 24 article:

    Yet behind the scenes, a ‘panel of experts’ has been crafting a report, also released on Friday, designed to provide pretextual justification for Trump’s ban. According to multiple sources, Vice President Mike Pence played a leading role in the creation of this report, along with Ryan Anderson, an anti-trans activist, and Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, an anti-LGBTQ lobbying group.

    [...]

    Given its authors, the Trump report’s conclusions are unsurprising.

  • A pro-Trump “coup” could turn a government media agency into a “propaganda machine”

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Whistleblowers allege that top staffers at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the agency that oversees U.S. government-backed news outlets around the world, plotted to illegally replace the BBG’s CEO in an effort to slant the agency’s coverage in a manner more favorable to President Donald Trump’s administration, according to a letter from the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

    The board, through news outlets like the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, promotes democracy and provides independent news coverage to people around the world, with a particular focus on countering propaganda by authoritarian governments. With an audience of 278 million people in 100 countries and 61 languages, the agency has tremendous power to shape the perception of the United States around the world -- or to serve as a Trump propaganda outlet.

    In his letter to the agency, first reported on by CNN last night, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) wrote that according to whistleblowers, the Trump administration planned to remove current BBG CEO John Lansing and replace him with BBG Chief Information Officer/Chief Technical Officer Andre Mendes, “presumably with the aim of pushing the BBG's journalism toward a viewpoint favorable of the Trump Administration.” Mendes, BBG senior adviser Jeffrey Scott Shapiro, and White House Associate Director of Presidential Personnel Jennifer Locetta “allegedly prepared a memorandum for the White House outlining this scheme and are pushing for Presidential action,” Engel wrote, citing “multiple sources.”  

    According to Engel, the plot would be unlawful because only the board itself can name an interim CEO until one is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. He said that the whistleblowers described the alleged effort as “a coup at the BBG.” Engel requested that BBG provide his staff with the memorandum and all related documents by the end of the week.

    Mendes and Locetta both denied to CNN that they had conspired to remove the BBG CEO. Lansing reportedly announced in a note to BBG staff on Tuesday that Mendes was leaving the agency and joining the Department of Commerce.

    The BBG’s networks pride themselves on providing accurate information, not propaganda, stressing the “firewall” separating those news services from government interference. Conservative critics have complained that those outlets are insufficiently supportive of U.S. government policies.

    Shapiro, a former Breitbart.com reporter who joined the agency in July, is one of the right-wing Trump appointees who have apparently been embedded in the agency to alter its coverage.

    BBG sources told CNN in October that Shapiro represented himself to staff there as a close associate of Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart CEO whose stormy tenure as White House chief strategist ended abruptly over the summer, with a mandate to purge the agency of personnel insufficiently loyal to the president and turn the BBG into a “Bannon legacy.”

    Shapiro’s reporting at Breitbart raises questions about his view of the types of stories journalists should pursue. In an April 2011 piece published shortly after President Barack Obama responded to Trump’s birther attacks by releasing his long-form birth certificate, Shapiro criticized the press for being insufficiently dogged in questioning Obama’s citizenship.

    “Journalists did not address the fact that the president was refusing to resolve an issue about his constitutional eligibility,” he wrote. “Instead, they covered the ‘birther’ movement in an effort to discredit any American who had a legitimate question.”

    Shapiro, who got his start in journalism at the tabloid Globe, has most recently written for the conservative Washington Times, where he criticized “the tarring of Steve Bannon” as a white nationalist.

    Shapiro joined Matthew Ciepielowski and Matthew Schuck, who were deputized to BBG to oversee the transition to the Trump administration in 2017 after serving on Trump’s campaign team. In his letter, Engel warns that Trump’s supporters at the agency appear driven “to remake the BBG into an agency aimed at promoting the Trump Administration’s agenda,” turning it into “a propaganda machine”

    Even if the Mendes “coup” fails, Trump will have the opportunity to appoint leadership more to his preference. Michael Pack, a conservative documentarian who has worked with and praised Bannon, is expected to be Trump’s nominee to replace Lansing, though he would need to be confirmed by the Senate.

    The next BBG CEO will have broad power to shape the agency, thanks to bipartisan legislation passed shortly after the 2016 presidential election that eliminates the board of governors.

  • YouTube outsources truth to Wikipedia

    YouTube’s solution to conspiracy theory videos? Let Wikipedia handle it. There are three big reasons that will not work.

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    YouTube has a conspiracy theory problem. The platform is full of conspiracy theory videos, and its algorithm moves viewers up a ladder of engagement. YouTube encourages consumption of more videos on a daisy chain of content that becomes more radical with each new suggested video. Last week, Zeynep Tufekci outlined this process in an op-ed for The New York Times, making the point that what “keeps people glued to YouTube” is that its “algorithm seems to have concluded that people are drawn to content that is more extreme than what they started with — or to incendiary content in general.”

    Conspiracy theory videos that correlate to news events go viral on YouTube with alarming regularity, often spreading misinformation and lies about real people in the process. Last month, YouTube was forced to remove a conspiracy theory video alleging that underage Parkland student David Hogg was a paid crisis actor after it became YouTube’s top trending video. False information about Hogg and his family spread on YouTube for days before the company removed the smears. This week, YouTube admitted that it didn’t know why an “InfoWars video claiming that Antifa members are the ‘prime suspects’ in the mysterious package bombings in Austin, Texas appeared at the top of search results.” YouTube has reportedly informed InfoWars that the site is on its second strike and dangerously close to being permanently banned from the video-sharing platform. But even if YouTube follows through with its threat, InfoWars is merely a drop in the bucket.

    YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki was asked about the problem during a panel at South by Southwest (SXSW) this week and previewed the platform’s latest attempt at a solution: information cues. YouTube will apparently keep a running list of known conspiracy theories, and videos referring to these conspiracies will include a text box underneath them with links to Wikipedia articles challenging the claims. You can see how this would look on YouTube’s platform here.

    I have some bad news for Wojicki. Adding “information cues” isn’t going to solve the problem. It might actually make it worse.

    It passes the buck: Tech platforms don’t want to be held responsible for the content on their sites. Both Facebook and Twitter have made it clear that they don’t want to be “arbiters of truth.” The platforms have also pushed back hard against the idea that they are media companies, continually arguing that they’re neutral platforms for individuals and media companies to publish content. Yet the tech platforms seem more than willing to outsource the truth to other entities like Snopes, The Associated Press, and now Wikipedia. Determining what is and isn’t true isn’t something tech platforms should feel free to outsource, especially to an organization of volunteer editors at Wikipedia who weren’t informed in advance, much less consulted, about the feasibility of using their website in this way.

    It tips off the trolls: If we’ve learned anything over the past couple of years, it’s that trolls are quite good at organizing to keep ahead of the tech platforms’ attempts to curb them. Whether it’s Russian trolls getting Americans to RSVP for events on Facebook, white nationalists attempting to flood Rotten Tomatoes with fake movie reviews, or Nazis taking on the video gaming platform Steam, there’s no denying that trolls are constantly manipulating the rules of the game. The platforms can’t keep up with things as they are, let alone plan for the next thing. And now Wojcicki’s “information cues” announcement gives trolls a heads-up. Informations cues aren’t even live yet, but hostile actors foreign and domestic can already start to plan how they’ll game Wikipedia pages that debunk conspiracy theories. I’m sure the volunteer editors at Wikipedia are really looking forward to the onslaught!

    It won’t have the desired effect: Information cues have been tried before and failed miserably. Recall Facebook's attempt to have fact-checkers such as Snopes dispute fake news. It failed, causing Facebook to alter the program in December so that fact checks now show up simply as “related articles.” It turns out that flagging content as potentially untrue can backfire, further entrenching mistaken beliefs. Other research on misinformation found similar effect. YouTube’s information cues have the potential to make their already viral conspiracy problem even worse.

    As long as conspiracy theories are allowed to live online, they’ll continue to flourish. The trolls who disseminate them have mastered almost every platform and they know that tech companies will take only half steps to stop them. Meanwhile, tech companies offer no protection for real people who become entangled in organized conspiracy theory campaigns and whose professional and personal lives can be upended as a result.

  • An ICE spokesperson opted to quit rather than defend a false claim. Fox News has run with that claim repeatedly.

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson has resigned from his position after members of the Trump administration, including the agency's leadership, made false statements blaming the mayor of Oakland for over 800 individuals eluding an ICE raid. The disputed claim has been a central point of Fox News’ coverage of the Bay Area raid and of its subsequent criticism of Oakland’s mayor.

    On February 24, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf warned residents about an impending ICE raid in California's Bay Area, advising immigrant families to seek assistance and learn their rights. Several days after the raid, which resulted in 232 arrests, ICE issued a statement quoting acting director Thomas Homan, who blamed Schaaf for the operation not resulting in more arrests. Attorney General Jeff Sessions later pointed to the statement in a speech. According to ICE's press statement (emphasis added):

    “The Oakland mayor’s decision to publicize her suspicions about ICE operations further increased that risk for my officers and alerted criminal aliens – making clear that this reckless decision was based on her political agenda with the very federal laws that ICE is sworn to uphold,” said ICE Deputy Director Thomas D. Homan. “Thanks to the dedicated and professional work of ICE deportation officers, we were able to remove many public safety threats from the streets of the Bay Area during the past few days. However, 864 criminal aliens and public safety threats remain at large in the community, and I have to believe that some of them were able to elude us thanks to the mayor’s irresponsible decision.”

    Homan appeared on Fox & Friends on February 28 to again blame Schaaf, saying, “There’s 800 [criminals] that we were unable to locate because of that warning.” Homan also likened the mayor to “a gang lookout yelling 'police' when a police cruiser comes in the neighborhood.”

    Homan’s claim was continuously repeated on Fox News shows, including Hannity, Special Report, America’s Newsroom, Happening Now, and The Daily Briefing.

    But according to the (now former) San Francisco spokesperson for ICE, Homan’s claim is false. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on March 12:

    The San Francisco spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement resigned after the agency’s recent Northern California sweep, saying he couldn’t continue to do his job after Trump administration officials made false public statements about a key aspect of the operation.

    James Schwab told The Chronicle on Monday that he was frustrated by repeated statements by officials, including U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, that roughly 800 undocumented immigrants escaped arrest because of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s Feb. 24 warning to the public about the four-day operation, issued the night before federal officers began staking out homes and knocking on doors.

    Schwab wanted the agency to correct the number, which he understood to be far lower, and didn’t want to deflect media questions about it, he said.

    “I quit because I didn’t want to perpetuate misleading facts,” said Schwab, 38, who was hired in 2015 and resigned last week. “I asked them to change the information. I told them that the information was wrong, they asked me to deflect, and I didn’t agree with that. Then I took some time and I quit.”

    Fox News today is still pushing Homan’s claim that Schaaf is to blame for individuals getting away. The network has yet to note that ICE’s San Francisco spokesman quit after disputing that very claim.