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  • Study: Analysis of top Facebook pages covering American political news

    Study of 463 leading Facebook pages shows that partisan pages have roughly equal engagement, but right-wing pages drastically outnumber left-wing pages

    ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ

    A Media Matters study of engagement, measured by interactions over a six-month period, on Facebook pages that regularly post content about American political news found that right-leaning Facebook pages had virtually identical engagement to left-leaning pages and received more engagement than other political pages.

  • Republicans run to Fox News to gloat about the Peter Strzok hearing that actually backfired on them

    Republicans and Fox News are outraged over some personal texts, but the hearing on supposed FBI bias failed to produce any evidence that Strzok acted on his beliefs

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Months of breathless hype and absurd conspiracy theories in conservative media about supposed anti-Trump bias in the FBI culminated yesterday in a charade of a congressional hearing featuring FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok. Strzok answered questions for nine hours about his handling of the 2016 investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server and the ongoing investigations into President Donald Trump and his campaign’s potential links to the Russian government. Afterward, Republican officials flocked to Fox News to declare victory, but neither could present any evidence that Strzok acted on the political beliefs expressed in his now-infamous text messages.

    Strzok has been at the center of a firestorm largely manufactured by Fox News after text messages he sent to a colleague, with whom he was romantically involved, were publicly released by Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz. The texts expressed animus toward then-candidate Trump and concern for American national security should Trump win the presidency. Fox News and congressional Republicans have since selectively and deceptively hyped the texts, alternately leveling absurd and unfounded personal attacks against Strzok, the FBI, and the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Sean Hannity was especially outraged by Strzok’s characterization of Trump supporters in southern Virginia, saying Strzok referred to them as “smelly hillbillies that like Walmart” (the comments in question actually read, “Just went to a southern Virginia Walmart. I could SMELL the Trump support,” and “Loudon is being gentrified, but it's still largely ignorant hillbillys (sic)”).

    According to a Media Matters review, Fox News helped congressional Republicans in advancing their baseless claims of bias by hosting seven Republican congressmen in the prime-time hours after the nearly 11-hour circus of a hearing. But even as Republicans and Fox News spiked the football, saying there was “evidence of a clear bias against Trump and for Hillary Clinton,” they failed to produce any concrete evidence that Strzok acted on his political beliefs. Moreover, Inspector General Horowitz has already issued a report noting, according to CBS News, that he “still did not think the Clinton probe was swayed for political reasons, as Strzok was not the sole decision-maker.” And the fact remains that in 2016, the FBI confirmed only one of its investigations into a presidential candidate in 2016 -- Hillary Clinton -- and that the only leaks that came out of the bureau in the run-up to the election about those investigations were about her, arguably hurting her and helping Trump win the election.

    Even though Fox News is trying to pull out all the stops to assist Republicans in advancing a narrative around another charade investigation -- all in an attempt to curb the Russia investigation -- the special counsel’s investigation into potential collusion continues. The federal trial on “bank fraud and other financial charges” levied at Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, begins on July 25, and prosecutors have asserted that the charges include a link to the Trump campaign.

  • Rep. Steve King’s anti-immigrant page cites a white nationalist website

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Rep. Steve King (R-IA) hosts a page on his congressional website about “illegal immigrant stories” that cites the white nationalist publication VDare.

    King is a racist congressman who has a history of pushing bigotry. He recently promoted British neo-Nazi Mark Collett on Twitter (the congressman has since claimed ignorance of Collett’s views).

    King’s house.gov website features a page titled “Illegal Immigration Stories” that contains information about “illegal aliens” allegedly committing crimes. King has frequently smeared immigrants as prone to criminality; in reality, studies show that immigration does not increase the rate of crime.

    One of King’s citations on that “Illegal Immigration Stories” page is an April 2016 VDare piece headlined “Drunk Driving Illegal Alien Kills Woman, Is Granted Bail and Disappears.” The VDare piece, by anti-immigrant writer Brenda Walker, begins by stating: “Funny how after all these years of Americans being run down by drunk driving illegal aliens, the crime of inebriated vehicle operation by unlawful foreigners is still not taken seriously by authorities.”

    The Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that VDare “regularly publishes articles by prominent white nationalists, race scientists and anti-Semites.” The Anti-Defamation League wrote that VDare is a racist site that “posts, promotes, and archives the work of racists, anti-immigrant figures, and anti-Semites.”

    Media Matters has documented past VDare headlines including: “One Problem With These Hispanic Immigrants Is Their Disgusting Behavior,” “Indians Aren`t That Intelligent (On Average),” “Diversity Is Strength! It’s Also…Hispanic Immigrants Taking Over FBI’s Ten Most Wanted,” “America Does Not Need ANY Immigrants From Africa,” and “Roll Over, JIHAD—There’s Also HIJRA, Muslim Conquest By Immigration.”

    King praised Peter Brimelow, the white nationalist founder and editor of VDare, while appearing with him during a 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) panel. Then-BuzzFeed reporter Rosie Gray wrote of King in February 2012:

    Iowa congressman Steve King is unconcerned about the implications of his appearance during a CPAC panel on "The Failure of Multiculturalism" featuring a white nationalist author, Peter Brimelow.

    "I don't know anything about that," King, who came to the event to talk about his English Language Unity Act, told BuzzFeed -- though he'd earlier told Brimelow that "I've read all your books!".

    VDare and Brimelow are also fans of King and Brimelow wrote a pro-King op-ed for The Daily Caller last year.

    While King’s “Illegal Immigration Stories” page also cites news outlets including The Associated Press and The Boston Globe, it additionally uses sources such as the anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform and Breitbart.com. Six of the Breitbart.com pieces cited by the page are by Katie McHugh, who was fired from the site for tweeting racist remarks last year (no small feat given the site’s open bigotry).

  • Sen. Ron Johnson and Rep. Devin Nunes are feeding the Fox News conspiracy pipeline

    Congressional Republicans team up with a credulous right-wing media to undermine the FBI’s Trump investigation

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The crusade by the Republican Party and its media allies to discredit the FBI’s investigation of President Donald Trump and his campaign is a fantastically dishonest and propagandistic farce, and the whole effort is conducted with transparent bad faith while grotesquely masquerading as an exercise in good-government oversight. The mechanism driving this disinformation campaign is a pipeline of bullshit that originates with Republicans in Congress, flows directly through Fox News, and sometimes ends up spilling out all over the president’s Twitter feed.

    To date, there have been two high-profile congressional sources for the “scandals” that have powered conservative media coverage of the FBI’s Trump investigation: Senate homeland security committee chair Ron Johnson (R-WI) and House intelligence committee chair Devin Nunes (R-CA). Both have been repeatedly caught lying and ginning up controversy where there is none, and both have had phenomenal success in propagating falsehoods through conservative media outlets that don’t care whether what they report is true or not.

    Late last month, Johnson went on Fox News to talk about “corruption at the highest levels of the FBI” as evidenced by a text message conversation between FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page that referenced a “secret society” -- presumably a cabal of powerful individuals plotting to illegitimately tar Trump’s presidency. The “secret society” talking point quickly permeated conservative media and became a focal point of outrage.

    A couple of days later, the truth about the “secret society” text came out -- it was an obvious joke between the two officials. There was no secret society, and Johnson backpedaled by acknowledging the “real possibility” that the supposedly nefarious text message he’d highlighted as proof of a conspiracy just days earlier might, in fact, be nothing more than a gag.

    Just a couple of weeks after that, Johnson was at it again. His committee released an “interim report” on the FBI’s investigation of the Clinton email scandal that once again highlighted specific texts between Strzok and Page. Among them was a September 2, 2016, text from Page regarding the creation of talking points for then-FBI Director James Comey. Page wrote that then-President Barack Obama “wants to know everything we’re doing.” According to the report, “This text raises additional questions about the type and extent of President Obama’s personal involvement in the Clinton email scandal and the FBI investigation of it.”

    Fueled by a credulous Fox News write-up of Johnson’s report, the text message shot like an electrical current through the conservative media, which leaped on Johnson’s suggestion that Obama might have meddled with the FBI’s investigation into Clinton. The president himself got in on the dissemination, tweeting that the “NEW FBI TEXTS ARE BOMBSHELLS” not long after his favorite Fox News morning program ran a segment on the report.

    And, once again, it all turned out to be false. As The Wall Street Journal reported last week, the text was referring to a briefing on Russian election interference, not a Clinton matter. The FBI’s Clinton investigation was closed by the time Page sent the text.

    Devin Nunes’ contributions to the fog of disinformation include last year’s “unmasking” fiasco, in which Nunes -- acting on information fed to him by the Trump White House -- wrongly accused Obama national security officials of inappropriately exposing  the identities of Trump aides captured on wiretaps. More recently, Nunes wrote a report that all but accused the FBI of illicitly obtaining a warrant to surveil a former Trump aide. The report’s key contention -- that the FBI hid the political origins of some of the evidence in its warrant application -- was quickly debunked.

    In each of these examples, the lies spread rapidly and had ample time to become entrenched as part of a conservative media narrative before the facts undermining them could be established. Claims that former Obama officials inappropriately “unmasked” Trump associates and that an anti-Trump “secret society” exists within the FBI formed the bases of countless Fox News prime time monologues before they were debunked. After the truth came out, the lies were either quietly shelved (per a Nexis search, Sean Hannity mentioned the “secret society” in three straight Fox News shows after Johnson highlighted it on January 23, but hasn’t brought it up since) or kept alive as nefarious-sounding buzzwords (casual, unelaborated references to “unmasking” still come up regularly in Hannity rants).

    The presence and power of the conservative echo chamber means that Republicans in Congress like Johnson and Nunes don’t really have to care when the obvious lies they’re peddling get debunked. They have a receptive audience for whatever conspiratorial claim they can manufacture, and they can be confident that they’ll face no factual challenge to their nonsense so long as they limit their media appearances to Fox News and other conservative safe spaces.