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  • Congress had a big chance to hold Google accountable. Legislators blew it. 

    Our lawmakers are so hung up on the idea that companies are instituting politically biased policies into their products that they’re ignoring real threats.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On Tuesday, at the request of congressional Republicans, Google CEO Sundar Pichai testified before the House Judiciary Committee. The goal of the hearing was to better Congress’ understanding of the search giant’s practices around data collection and use -- or at least it was supposed to be. Unfortunately, like in past hearings with tech executives, much of the questioning focused on the idea that the company has some sort of deep-seated anti-conservative bias that needs to be examined and eradicated.

    There’s nothing new about the false allegations that social media and tech companies are biased against conservatives. In fact, these claims are just the latest incarnation of a long-term effort to brand the mainstream American press as “liberal,” which dates back to at least a half-century ago, when Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater gave reporters covering his campaign pins that read “Eastern Liberal Press.”

    The claim of bias is little more than an attempt to “work the refs” or to get favorable treatment by calling foul. And given that House Republicans are just weeks from losing their power to call these sorts of hearings (as they will when the new Democratic-controlled House takes over), it made sense for them to hold one final show designed to make the McCarthy hearings look like a low-budget community theater production of The Crucible.

    It doesn’t actually matter that Republicans are lying when they claim bias, since they get their desired result anyway.

    In 2016, Gizmodo published a story titled “Former Facebook Workers: We Routinely Suppressed Conservative News.” It was an explosive if not particularly well-sourced story, based on the opinion of two of the site’s trending-section curators, one of whom openly identified as conservative. Other curators interviewed for that story couldn’t corroborate those claims. The argument seemed to be that sites like Drudge Report, Breitbart, Washington Examiner, and Newsmax weren’t treated with the same level of authority as The New York Times, BBC, and CNN. The practice isn’t censorship or anti-conservative bias, but rather just a decision to favor trusted, mainstream sources over aggregators and partisan outlets. In any case, the article handed the Republican Party a talking point, and that same day, the GOP published a blog post demanding that Facebook address the issue of censorship against conservatives:

    With 167 million US Facebook users reading stories highlighted in the trending section, Facebook has the power to greatly influence the presidential election.

    It is beyond disturbing to learn that this power is being used to silence view points (sic) and stories that don't fit someone else's agenda.

    Censorship in any form should give Americans who value their fundamental freedoms great pause.

    Now, most people likely understand that there are good reasons to trust newspapers and media organizations that do original reporting over aggregators like Drudge. But the narrative had been created, and the GOP jumped on it. Panicked, Facebook officials met with a slew of conservative media commentators and other right-wing leaders to try to put out the public relations fire. The goal was to force Facebook to institute a pro-conservative bias, and it worked. Facebook fired its human curators, replacing them with an algorithm that heavily promoted hoax news stories before eliminating the section altogether. Additionally, Facebook created a task force to root out liberal bias (which, again, doesn’t actually exist).

    Conservatives worked the refs, and Facebook caved. But by taking steps to appease the insatiable beast that is the conservative victimhood complex, Facebook sent a clear message: The tech industry fears conservatives, and that fear can be leveraged. Since then, Congress has held show trials masked as hearings about anti-conservative bias, leading social platforms and tech companies to take proactive steps to express pro-conservative views.

    Earlier this week, Wired published a story about leaked audio from a Google meeting in which executives at the company expressed their desire to build inroads with conservative organizations.

    “I think one of the directives we've gotten very clearly from Sundar [Pichai, Google’s CEO], his leadership is to build deeper relationships with conservatives. I think we've recognized that the company is generally seen as liberal by policymakers,” said Google’s U.S. head of public policy, Adam Kovacevich, according to Wired.

    The hearings may be getting results for conservatives, but they are one big swing and a miss in addressing the many actual issues with tech companies. There’s reason to be wary of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and others in the tech space. Legislatively, the U.S. hasn’t kept up with other countries. For instance, the European Union recently implemented the General Data Protection Regulation, a set of rules outlining the steps companies must take before gathering and storing user information. Though some states have taken steps to enact their own data policies, there aren’t any major consumer protections at the federal level to speak of.

    Now is the time for lawmakers to be having discussions with executives at these companies, but the topic needs to change from an overwhelming focus on the idea of political bias to questions of how our data is being collected and used. Frankly, it’s embarrassing that so many of our lawmakers are complete technological neophytes, with some still barely able to get beyond the basic misunderstanding of the internet then-Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) demonstrated in 2006 with his “series of tubes” comment. For example, on Tuesday, Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) wanted to know why his staff’s edits to his Wikipedia page kept getting removed, claiming that Google should be liable for the online encyclopedia’s content because the search engine has given it a “trusted spot.” (Google pulls some data from Wikipedia entries, but it’s worth noting that it’s actually against Wikipedia’s guidelines to edit your own page.) Rep. Steve King (R-IA) needed to be reminded that Google doesn’t make iPhones. Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) repeatedly asked -- while, like King, holding up an iPhone, which doesn’t come with Google software installed -- whether Google could track his movement within a room via the device.

    “I now know how it feels to work at the Genius Bar in Arlington,” tweeted New York Times tech writer Kevin Roose.

    Had these lawmakers been even slightly more tech adept (or at least willing to brush up on some of the current controversies facing companies like Gooogle), there’s a lot they could have actually accomplished. Vox reporter Emily Stewart published a list of topics committee members could have more thoroughly addressed had they not been so laser-focused on bias. For instance, how does Google use our data for mobile advertising? Does the company plan to make changes following a $5 billion judgment in an EU antitrust case? Or why didn’t Google self-report on the massive Google+ data breach the company discovered earlier this year?

    Political media seem less interested in issues of substance than in he said/she said accusations of bias -- and that’s a problem.

    Moments before the start of Pichai’s opening remarks, CNN’s Poppy Harlow hyped the event as “what could be a very tense hearing on Capitol Hill,” noting that “Google's CEO will testify publicly for the first time, facing allegations of political bias against conservatives.” That evening, CNN International’s Quest Means Business host Richard Quest interviewed media correspondent Brian Stelter, again discussing the question of bias.

    On Fox News, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) joined Tucker Carlson to talk about … bias. Jordan went on a short rant about Google and Twitter -- repeating a debunked claim that Twitter had “shadowbanned” conservatives -- and at Carlson’s suggestion, threatened to punish the companies with regulation and legislation that would scare them into making gestures to placate the political right.

    How tech companies handle our data and the effects of that data being handled poorly are not sexy topics. Certainly, the thought that there are politically motivated people putting their thumbs on the search engine scale to disadvantage one political party or another is a more exciting angle. While it’s not clear whether it’s lawmakers taking their cue from media or the other way around, news media do a major disservice to their audiences when they put so much emphasis on factually dubious claims of bias. Instead, they should be helping readers and viewers better understand why policymaking around data collection matters and what the real-world consequences of inaction by our legislators could be. As always, covering politics as though it’s some sort of sport makes the world a more divided and less understanding place. If media organizations feel compelled to cover claims of bias, they owe it to the public to plainly say that these allegations are simply not backed up by the facts.

  • Dan Bongino’s NRATV exit means the outlet is losing its primary Trump-Russia defender -- but not much else

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    NRATV host Dan Bongino will leave the outlet at the end of the year, according to reporting from The Daily Beast. During his brief run at the National Rifle Association's media outlet -- hosting his own show We Stand and making frequent appearances on other programming -- Bongino found his niche in launching conspiratorial rants about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into President Donald Trump. Other than trying to delegitimize the Russia investigation, Bongino offered little else to the network. His show, which he has hosted for less than a year, typically kicked off with scattered, nonsensical ramblings and went downhill from there.

    The Daily Beast reported on December 10 that, according to two sources, NRATV had “dropped” Bongino amid downsizing efforts during a period of financial problems for the NRA. It’s unclear what is next for Bongino, but the Daily Beast article pointed out that several weeks ago he was identified as a “former” NRATV contributor during a Fox News appearance, leading to speculation that he may soon join Fox News or Fox Nation.

    Bongino reacted to The Daily Beast’s reporting with a characteristically unhinged meltdown, calling the story “fake news,” claiming that he wasn’t fired but that he quit, and even threatening satirist Vic Berger for poking fun at his dismissal.

    The cancellation of We Stand follows other recent changes at NRATV. On November 28, veteran NRATV producer Cameron Gray announced that he and some of his colleagues had been laid off. That announcement came after news surfaced about the NRA’s recent tax filings -- which show a $55 million drop in revenue between 2016 and 2017 -- and about cost-saving measures being taken at NRA headquarters, such as eliminating free coffee for employees.

    Bongino, a Secret Service agent during the Obama administration who published a tell-all book after leaving the agency, came to NRATV after thrice failing to win congressional campaigns and sometimes guest hosting Sean Hannity’s radio show.

    Bongino’s NRATV show was announced in February 2018 with a promotional video attacking CNN host Don Lemon. In the video, Bongino put unpeeled lemons into a blender and then appeared to drink the juice, leading to widespread ridicule as that’s not how lemonade is made.

    The theme of Bongino’s show We Stand quickly became the Trump-Russia investigation. In an August report, Media Matters chronicled at length the bizarre and nonsensical ways Bongino used his show to try to absolve Trump and his administration from any wrongdoing and to call for an end to the investigation. (Bongino also talked about the Trump-Russia investigation during his frequent appearances on Fox News.) One typical example of Bongino’s rants is when he said on NRATV, “Fire Bob Mueller; fire this guy now. This is a disgrace. We investigate crimes -- we don’t investigate people.”

    One Russia-related topic that was not discussed on We Stand: During the 2016 presidential campaign, a Russian national with ties to that country’s intelligence service seemingly infiltrated the NRA at its highest levels and sought to use the gun group as a back channel to access Trump’s circle. (A woman arrested in connection with the scheme is set to plead guilty in court on Thursday, possibly revealing more about the NRA-Russia connection.)

    There was very little to Bongino’s show beyond his rants about Trump and Russia; it was as vacuous as it was angry and confusing.

    During an October NRATV broadcast, Bongino said, “I know I shouldn’t say this,” but “my entire life right now is about owning the libs. That’s it.” As expected, he again drew widespread ridicule.

    More recently, Bongino went on an NRATV rant in which he accused “the losers” at Media Matters and Mother Jones of living in “mommy’s basement” while “roasting your crappy s’mores,” saying, “Try to get unlosery. Can you do that for a moment?”

    The first few minutes of Bongino’s We Stand -- which currently airs on weekday afternoons -- are often especially painful to watch, as Bongino himself often noted during rambling introductions that he makes no plans for what to say on air before the show starts. Things often devolved from there during the 30-minute broadcast.

    It was also on NRATV that Bongino debuted a mantra for conservatives facing liberals in the political realm: “We win, you lose, the new rules are in effect,” meaning that conservatives should get to implement their agendas no matter what. (The antidemocratic undertones of the mantra didn’t seem to hamper Bongino’s glee in using the phrase.)

    Now, with his NRATV show canceled, Bongino will have to find a new place to “own the libs.”

    Update (12/11/18): This post has been updated with the new date of Maria Butina’s plea hearing.

  • Tucker Carlson Tonight is the local news broadcast from hell

    Fox News peppers its lineup with a “greatest hits” of local news stories designed to reinforce its audience’s existing beliefs

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Here’s what was in the news on February 28, 2018: Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart announced that they would be ending sales of “assault-style” rifles, President Donald Trump (briefly) came out in favor of raising the minimum purchase age on some guns, and an explosive report from the United Nations linked North Korea to Syria’s chemical weapons program.

    Viewers of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, however, would not be hearing about any of those stories. Instead, they got front-row seats to an exclusive interview with Ryan Wolfe, a Wake Forest student upset that the university had not pursued a “school judicial case” against other students after one photoshopped his face onto a picture of a saltine cracker 16 months earlier.

    “I assume that’s a slur against your ethnicity, correct?” Carlson asked Wolfe, referring to the photo. It was a patently ridiculous moment in television history, and it went on for four surreal minutes.  It was something you might expect to find in a school newspaper, or maybe hear a quick mention about on a local TV segment -- but almost certainly not something one might expect to see broadcasted to Carlson’s more than 2.5 million nightly viewers. Except it actually is, if you’ve kept up with the show at all.

    One way of thinking about Tucker Carlson Tonight is as less of a nationally broadcast news show, and more … local news from hell.

    Here’s what I mean by that. Local news broadcasts are known for including a few cutesy local interest stories or lighthearted takes on things that happened around town. Tucker Carlson Tonight functions as a sort of “greatest hits” round-up for local stories and minor controversies that feel custom-made for the Fox News audience. Now, I should be clear: This is pretty standard for Fox shows, but Carlson’s is truly the pièce de résistance of the whole lineup, the broadcast your local news outlet would tease with scary cliffhangers like, “This one common household item might kill you. Tune in at 9 to learn more!”

    A lot of the time, Carlson does this with the help of Cathy Areu during a regular segment called “The Liberal Sherpa.” Areu is introduced as the founder of Catalina magazine and, as Carlson said during his July 4 show, as someone “willing to defend pretty much any new fad on the left, whether it's hiding in cry closets or getting consent before you change your baby's diaper.”

    Recent “Liberal Sherpa” segments included discussion about Cleveland radio station WDOK’s decision to leave the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” off of its holiday playlists, a British university’s internal memo asking professors to avoid writing in all capital letters in correspondence with students, and a California school district’s new dress code.

    Others included debate over a college diversity network’s recommendation to curtail use of the phrase “as you know,” a pair of Massachusetts parents who’ve decided to raise their children gender neutral (Carlson called this “steep civilizational decline”),  a New Jersey high school that let all interested students join the cheerleading team without tryouts, a white Utah teen wearing a traditional Chinese dress to prom, as well as the aforementioned cry closet and diaper consent stories.

    Sometimes, as was the case in a February 23 segment about Purdue University urging students not to use words with “man” in them, Carlson & Company straddle the line somewhere between exaggerating and being willfully misleading.

    Areu is the Washington Generals to Carlson’s Harlem Globetrotters, reinforcing the audience’s perception of liberals as a whole.

    Areu’s role really does seem to be to defend anything Carlson puts forward as being a trend on “the left.” Watching these segments, you get the clear impression that the mainstream “left” would back every single one of these views, even taken to the absolute extreme. For instance, Carlson asked Areu during the “dress code” segment whether girls should just be allowed to come to school topless if they want; instead of telling him that’s ridiculous, she actually agreed that they should.

    These clips seem to exist primarily as a way to get Carlson’s audience worked up into a lather about how ridiculous or out of touch progressives are, and based on the responses they elicit when they’re posted on social media, it seems to work. It’s genuinely unclear whether Areu is being completely earnest in her Tucker Carlson Tonight appearances; in fact, there’s at least one thread on the pro-Trump r/The_Donald reddit forum asking whether she’s just playing a character.

    Is the average Democratic voter a gender-neutral, clothing-optional, lowercase-letter-using, cry-closet-dwelling, language-policing, prom-dress-hating, Christmas-song-averse parent who asks their babies for permission to change their diapers? No. On the local news broadcast from hell, however, that’s the party’s core constituency.

    These segments fuel the identity politics-driven culture war that conservative media blame on progressives.

    One way Carlson achieves this is by covering hot-button social issues, such as the ongoing debates over transgender rights, plucking examples of minor controversies around the country and overwhelming his audience with sheer quantity. For instance, as of this writing, someone has mentioned the word “transgender” on 35 episodes of Tucker Carlson Tonight in 2018. Sometimes, it comes in reference to a policy that has a legitimate place in national news, such as the Trump administration’s efforts to ban trans people from the military.

    Many of the others times, however, it’s just more local news stories blown up for effect. For example, in March, Carlson interviewed a college student who was reportedly “kicked out of class” for saying there were “only two genders.” Carlson has also used his show to discuss the results of a Connecticut track meet, the Boston Marathon’s entry rules, and a bizarre story involving the winner of the women’s 35-to-44 division cycling meet in Los Angeles -- all because the stories involved trans people.

    Very few, if any, of these stories were likely deserving of national airtime, and yet, Tucker Carlson Tonight was there to give them a boost. What makes the conservative media obsession with trans issues a bit maddening is that these outlets appear unwilling to admit that such a preoccupation exists at all. Carlson took time out of his July 24 episode to chide former Bernie Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver for the Democratic Party’s supposed “fixation” on “esoteric sexual politics like transgender bathrooms.”

    Meanwhile, The Rachel Maddow Show, Carlson’s MSNBC counterpart, mentioned the word “transgender” during just six episodes over the course of the same period. Four shows were discussing Trump’s military ban, one was about Vermont’s Democratic nominee for governor, Christine Hallquist, and another addressed The New York Times’ bombshell October 21 report that the Trump administration was considering sweeping changes to the federal definitions of “sex” and “gender.”

    Whether it’s by design or not, the stories highlighted on Carlson’s show help build upon a conservative media alternate reality in which the deck is stacked against Republicans, where they’re the primary victims of discrimination, where the world is out to get them, and where every success they have comes in spite of all of this -- a topic I recently covered. The stories themselves surface from a number of places: other Fox News shows, other conservative outlets, or even 4chan. Once Fox covers a story, whether on Tucker Carlson Tonight or any of its other programming, it signals a sort of legitimacy to the rest of the world that this actually is worthy of national coverage. This has played out in the past with trumped-up “War on Christmas” narratives, and we’re seeing it happen now with overblown stories about free speech on college campuses.

    I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: Neither conservatives nor liberals benefit from portraying the most extreme elements of the opposing side as mainstream. This isn’t to say that one should adopt a Pollyanna approach to media coverage and pretend that “unity” is all we need to solve the very serious differences we have with one another. Let’s be real: We live in a particularly fraught moment in political history. The local news broadcast from hell serves only to convince us that things are somehow even worse and more divided than reality would show.

    Shelby Jamerson contributed research to this post. 

  • The path to conservative media success is paved with outrage-bait

    We’re all being trolled by attention-starved wannabe media stars

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    When right-wing pundit Erick Erickson suggested last week that the U.S. cut foreign aid to Central American countries and instead use those funds to “prop up the next generation of Pinochet types,” it didn’t come as much of a surprise. A number of conservatives have a bit of a soft spot for the former Chilean dictator. When Erickson said that he was “hoping for some helicopters in this plan,” though, he raised a few eyebrows, as such a statement is designed to do.

    His reference to helicopters was a nod to Augusto Pinochet’s history of having at least 120 political dissidents thrown to their deaths from helicopters into the “the ocean, the lakes and the rivers of Chile.” On his blog, The Resurgent, Erickson elaborated a bit on that tweet, still straddling the line between being serious and just joking around, and writing that he’s “not actually fully on board” with his own idea.

    Does Erickson actually think helicopters are essential to this tweet, blog post, or political suggestion? Probably not. Certainly, he knows that the extrajudicial murder of political opponents is a reprehensible thing to praise. Why say it, then? Because it gets him attention, and in a sea of political media takes, attention is everything. Anyone who spends any significant amount of time watching political talk shows or cable news channels knows that it’s the loudest and most extreme voices that rise to the top of the punditry food chain. It’s as true for Erickson as it is for more recent additions to our national discourse, Tomi Lahren and Milo Yiannopoulos. The power to provoke has replaced intelligent discussion, and would-be commentators are catching on.

    There’s nothing new about self-styled “provocateurs” in political media, especially among conservatives.

    Erickson, along with the likes of Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, or any number of other conservatives coming out of the world of talk radio, have made entire careers based on saying things so outrageous that the rest of us ask whether they even mean what they’re saying. Does Coulter actually wish that Timothy McVeigh had bombed the New York Times building? Or that politicians who support immigration reform should face “death squads”? Probably not, but her many outrageous statements have helped make Coulter a bestselling author and mainstay in the world of political commentary for two decades running.

    The truth is that you don’t have someone like Erickson or Coulter on your Sunday morning political talk show if you’re interested in an-depth discussion about policy. No, you have them on because of their potential to generate controversy. Their entire brand is built upon being predictably unpredictable.

    The truth is that discussing politics can be boring, and maybe it should be. Deficit discussions and tax talk just aren’t sexy. Foreign policy is probably better considered with a sober seriousness, and the economy is best understood as a complex mess of systems only a technocrat could love. But people like their politics with a side of entertainment. After all, there’s a reason people tune in to CNN over C-SPAN, and this creates a major incentive for would-be commentators to embrace a politics-as-WWE approach.

    Milo Yiannopoulos is one of the more fascinating cases of a commenter embracing the extreme for a taste of fame.

    Before becoming the poster boy for crude offense masked as commentary, Milo Yiannopoulos was the editor of The Kernel, an online tech and culture magazine he founded. Though he was never shy about his conservative beliefs, he was far from the firebrand who’d later publish Breitbart articles under such headlines as “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” and “Teenage Boys With Tits: Here’s My Problem With Ghostbusters.”

    While he’d always had a reputation for his inflated ego and a tendency to pick fights, back in his days writing at The Kernel, Yiannopoulos could actually be -- dare I say -- thoughtful. Based on his writing, 2012’s Yiannopoulos would have almost certainly hated his 2018 self. Take, for instance, a 2012 blog post titled “The internet is turning us all into sociopaths,” in which he describes the rise of a new sort of anti-civility, online and off:

    What’s disturbing about this new trend, in which commenters are posting what would previously have been left anonymously, is that these trolls seem not to mind that their real names, and sometimes even their occupations, appear clamped to their vile words. It’s as if a psychological norm is being established whereby comments left online are part of a video game and not real life. It’s as if we’ve all forgotten that there’s a real person on the other end, reading and being hurt by our vitriol. That’s as close to the definition of sociopath as one needs to get for an armchair diagnosis, though of course many other typical sociopathic traits are also being encouraged by social media.

    In “When ‘free speech’ means defending evil murderers,” Yiannopoulos lambasted social media companies that refused to take swift action against cyberbullying and extremist content. In another blog, he argued that “free speech has its limits,” and in yet another, he took one of his own cyberbullies to task. He called Laurie Penny’s book Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet “terrific,” writing, "We do need to think more carefully about how women are spoken to online."

    In 2013, The Kernel shuttered after being sued by former contributors over unpaid wages. It was acquired by a German company called Berlin 42 before being sold to the publisher of The Daily Dot. By 2014, Yiannopoulos was writing for Breitbart and fanning the flames of Gamergate, a controversy he would use to propel himself to U.S. stardom. The rest is, as they say, history.

    The blueprint to conservative media stardom is obvious to even the casual observer, making it easier than ever for young voices to grab the spotlight.

    Tomi Lahren went from hosting a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, political roundtable show in which she accepted the realities of climate change to becoming a Fox News megastar. The secret to her success: a newfound embrace of the theatrical and outrageous. Her road to stardom was paved with tweets calling the Black Lives Matter movement “The new KKK,” videos in which she said that the U.S. government during the Obama administration had a “be-friendly-to-Jihadis mentality,”  and more recently, a tweet saying that the “highlight” of her Thanksgiving weekend was watching the tear-gassing of migrants (including children) at the U.S.-Mexico border.

    Lahren found a shortcut to success, and she took it. How many of us can honestly say that we wouldn’t act out a more extreme version of ourselves if it meant a one-way ticket to the top? Because if it’s not Lahren filling the rage void in political media, it’d be someone else just as over-the-top and abrasive. If social media has shown us anything, it’s that there are always people waiting in the wings, longing to be discovered.

    The key to longevity is to muster up the ability to be totally earnest on occasion.

    The Yiannopoulos star burned bright, but for now, it’s fizzled. He knows that the only way to stay relevant is to say truly outlandish things, like when he told The Observer in June, “I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight.” He’s become the political embodiment of The Onion’s brilliant 2001 “Marilyn Manson Now Going Door-To-Door Trying To Shock People” article.

    He faded because the blueprint shifted ever so slightly. People got bored of watching an entirely unserious man shout slurs and call it commentary, because he couldn’t take off the “Milo” public persona he’d created for himself, even for a moment. He tried, as in the wake of comments he made that appeared to condone pedophilia, but it came off as hollow and insincere. The trick for media provocateurs is to offer a dash of humanity in with the vitriol. Lahren did this when she opened up about being pro-choice on an episode of The View. Erickson does this whenever he stops by a respectable talk show to promote civility or denounce conspiracy theories.

    As the rules change, so do the players. Uninterrupted trolling no longer has the power it once did. Maybe we can move the bar further still. Maybe the answer to professional trolls is to deny them the attention they so desperately need to remain relevant. Maybe I shouldn’t be writing about Erickson’s “helicopter” tweet at all. Maybe I shouldn’t bother to note when media figures hang a neon “pay attention to me” sign above their heads as they tweet things like “Can someone explain to me why I'm supposed to lose sleep over Saudi Arabia killing an Islamist political opponent?” about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, or when they tweet “I've found my Christmas card photo. #Caring” in response to a photo of a family running from tear gas on the border.

    If the expected response is reactive outrage, maybe deliberate disinterest is the answer. So, why am I writing about this, you might ask. I think it’s important to recognize the patterns at play. Starving the trolls of the attention they seek is a reasonable long-term goal. But in the meantime, we need to recognize that there are people toying with our national political discourse just for a shot at fame and fortune.

  • If Sinclair really didn't endorse Boris Epshteyn's commentary, the company wouldn't force its local news stations to air it

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Earlier this week, local news stations controlled by the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group aired a segment defending the use of tear gas on children and families traveling with a migrant caravan near the U.S.-Mexico border. Last night, the broadcast company finally issued a tepid statement, but there’s plenty more that Sinclair still needs to address.

    On November 26, Sinclair-owned and -operated local news stations across the country began airing a two-minute segment in which former aide to President Donald Trump and Sinclair chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn defended the use of tear gas and pepper balls on members of a Honduran migrant caravan attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego, CA. The crowd hit with tear gas included children. Epshteyn also characterized the group of migrants as “attempting to storm” the border in an “attempted invasion of our country.”

    This segment has since aired, often spliced into local news coverage, on Sinclair-controlled local news stations in at least 26 states, according to the iQ media database. Media Matters estimates that the segment aired on roughly 100 Sinclair news stations as part of the company’s infamous “must-run” lineup.

    News outlets ranging from the local to the national, in print and online, covered the rightful public outrage generated by Epshteyn's comments. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists released a statement saying that it’s reconsidering its professional relationship with Sinclair.

    This is what the broadcasting giant said in a series of tweets: 

    We'd like to take a moment and address some concerns regarding a commentary segment by @borisep that was aired on Sinclair stations this week. The opinions expressed in this segment do not reflect the views of Sinclair Broadcast Group. When Boris’s segments are aired on our stations, they are labeled clearly as commentary. We also offer our stations reporting from the Beltway and beyond that are not partisan or bias (sic) in any way. If you have any concerns about any of our content, we genuinely want to hear from you: https://wjla.com/content-concerns …. Above all, we are committed to fair, unbiased journalism across our stations nationwide and are truly honored to serve our communities. Local news always comes first. 

    There is no press release version on Sinclair’s website as of publication. Given the massive amount of attention the tear gas segment provoked, this statement is almost certainly a response to it -- but it's impossible to say, because it doesn't mention anything about the content of the segment in question. The words “tear gas” and “children” are nowhere to be found. Neither are words like “sorry,” “apology,” or “consequences.”

    Instead, the broadcasting giant is attempting to distance itself from its own employee. To be clear, Sinclair’s actions have proved that that distance simply does not exist.

    Sinclair hired Epshteyn fresh off his stint in the Trump White House last year and quickly invested in his regular “must-run” segments -- upping the frequency with which the segments are aired on local stations, rolling out a daily newsletter, hiring a producer (also an ex-Trump staffer) to work with Epshteyn, and sticking by him as he’s defended some of Trump’s worst, most racist moments.

    Epshteyn is currently creating new “must-run” segments for Sinclair about five days a week. This segment defending deploying tear gas on migrant families isn’t the first or last time Epshteyn has used his Sinclair platform to defend the indefensible with no clear consequences.

    In fact, the day after Epshteyn’s tear gas defense began airing, he was out with a new segment defending conspiracy theorist and anti-Muslim extremist Laura Loomer.

    Earlier this year, Sinclair stations ran a segment from Epshteyn minimizing the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of separating families and detaining children at the border.

    In January, an Epshteyn segment attempted to dismiss Trump’s reported reference to Haiti, El Salvador, and unspecified African nations as “shithole countries,” arguing that media had simply overblown some “salty language” from the president.

    And in August 2017, Epshteyn produced a “must-run” segment backing Trump in his “both sides” statements about a neo-Nazi protest in Charlottesville, VA, in which a white supremacist killed peaceful counterprotester Heather Heyer.

    Media Matters has documented plenty more examples, too.

    What’s more, there should be no reason for Sinclair to stick with Epshteyn in spite of all the unforced errors and grief he’s brought his employer. His “commentary” has no natural audience, which is probably why Sinclair has to force its stations to air these segments in the first place.

    And Sinclair is currently facing the possibility it will have to prove to the Federal Communications Commission that it still has the “basic character qualifications” to hold public broadcasting licenses. Running regular segments that defend cruelty and violence against specific groups of people probably doesn’t help its case.

    I can think of only three possibilities for why Sinclair continues to employ Epshteyn as its chief political analyst.

    The first is the access-above-all-else argument. Epshteyn often uses his commentary segments to interview Trump administration and GOP officials, including the president himself. If Epshteyn used those interviews to ask thoughtful, tough questions and to break news, that would absolutely be a reason to keep him on staff. But he does not. Instead, those softball interviews essentially serve as infomercials for Trump and the Republican Party. Epshteyn typically just nods along in agreement with whatever his interview subjects say. In fact, he may be legally barred from criticizing the president because of his work on the Trump campaign.

    The second potential reason is that hiring Epshteyn was a major investment that Sinclair hasn’t or can’t give up on, perhaps a contract that can’t be easily broken.

    And the third is that those in charge at Sinclair Broadcast Group -- -- which has a long history of meddling in elections in favor of Republicans, has plenty of other ties to the Trump administration, and is owned by an openly and vocally conservative family -- do, in fact, hold the same indefensible views as Epshteyn. It's probably why they hired him in the first place. 

  • Trump helped create Fox Business, which is now a key pro-Trump propaganda network

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    According to The Daily Beast, Donald Trump “helped” disgraced former Fox CEO and chairman Roger Ailes create Fox News' sister network, Fox Business.

    According to the report, “Prior to the Fox Business Network’s debut in 2007, late right-wing cable-news chief Roger Ailes consulted with then-reality-TV star Trump on how it should look and feel.” The report went on to note that Ailes and Trump “maintained their relationship well into the 2016 campaign, during which the disgraced and ousted Fox News chief briefly advised Trump.”

    Throughout the Trump presidency, Fox Business personalities such as Stuart Varney, Maria Bartiromo, and Lou Dobbs have consistently proven to be possibly even more sycophantically pro-Trump than their Fox News counterparts, pushing absurd conspiracy theories and even contradicting the public statements of their own network’s leadership in Trump’s defense. Fox Business’ programming in the Trump era also has earned the praise of noted conspiracy theorist and illustrious clown Alex Jones.

    From The Daily Beast’s November 21 report:

    Prior to the Fox Business Network’s debut in 2007, late right-wing cable-news chief Roger Ailes consulted with then-reality-TV star Trump on how it should look and feel, according to former Fox executives. The two maintained their relationship well into the 2016 campaign, during which the disgraced and ousted Fox News chief briefly advised Trump, the executives and a source close to Trump said.

    According to one source, Trump advised Ailes to angle the network more toward news, entertainment, and politics instead of only business coverage. It was Trump’s decade-old vision for Fox Business that would, especially during the Trump presidency, become reality.

    One of the reasons Fox Business has endured in political relevance is that the most powerful person in the world agrees with that sentiment.

    In the West Wing, Trump is still a frequent consumer of the Fox Business Network, former and current White House aides say, and is particularly taken by shows hosted by Dobbs and Maria Bartiromo. The president cites and praises both Fox Business stars regularly within the halls of the White House, both in official meetings and in casual conversations.

    Even without Trump’s physical presence at the Fox Business Network, the president’s fingerprints are all over the network 11 years later in that the channel has morphed from a right-leaning CNBC competitor into what can often be viewed as an even more fervently pro-Trump outlet than its big sister.

  • Foreign media outlets keep showing how to cover politics in the age of Trump. Will U.S. outlets learn their lesson?

    Access journalism and softball interviews fail the American people. U.S.-based media need a reality check.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    “Trump returns to his dangerous lying about elections, makes up story about massive voter fraud he says has cost the Republicans victories...and falsely adds that you need a ‘voter ID’ to buy cereal,” Toronto Star Washington correspondent Daniel Dale tweeted about a recent interview between the president and The Daily Caller, an outlet Dale called “horrific.”

    Dale, who is known for his meticulous fact checks on Trump’s statements to the press and at rallies, was right: The interview with The Daily Caller was riddled with unchallenged errors and nonsensical statements. For instance, he lied about his border wall and about his attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He claimed that undocumented immigrants were voting in California and that Massachusetts residents had been bused into New Hampshire during the 2016 election, flipping the state to Hillary Clinton’s favor. He accused people of voting twice by putting on disguises and changing clothes and, as is almost always the case, he also peppered his responses with half-truths and exaggerations.

    Daily Caller editor Amber Athey responded to Dale’s criticism with a tweet of her own: “Why don't you let American outlets handle interviewing the president?”

    Maybe U.S. outlets, including mainstream organizations, simply aren’t up to the task of holding the powerful accountable.

    The Daily Caller has a conservative bent, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that this was a friendly interview. After all, one of the two people conducting the site’s interview with Trump was “lib-owning” enthusiast Benny Johnson, a serial plagiarist and publisher of conspiracy theories.

    But it’s not just the Daily Callers, Fox Newses, and Breitbarts of the world that give members of the Trump administration and its surrogates a pass. Even the most mainstream, nonpartisan news outlets in the country often let the administration spread rumors and outright misinformation during interviews without follow-up.

    For example, take a look at Trump’s October interview with The Associated Press. At one point, an AP interviewer asked if Trump had any plans to pardon Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman. During his response, which trailed off into a comment on Russians who had been indicted for hacking Democratic National Committee emails, the president said, with absolutely zero proof or explanation, “Some of [the hackers] supported Hillary Clinton.” Rather than question him about this bombshell accusation, the interviewers moved on to their next subject: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s planned trip to Saudi Arabia. At another point in the interview, Trump repeated well-known lies about a law requiring the U.S. to separate undocumented children from their parents at the border and another about members of the military receiving a raise for the first time in 11 years. On both occasions, there was no pushback from the interviewers.

    Another example comes from Trump’s recent on-camera interview with Jonathan Swan and Jim VandeHei of Axios. During the outlet’s November 4 HBO special, Swan asked Trump about his campaign promise to end birthright citizenship, as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment (emphasis added).

    DONALD TRUMP: You can definitely do it with an act of Congress. But now they're saying I can do it just with an executive order. Now, how ridiculous -- we're the only country in the world where a person comes in, has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years, with all of those benefits. It's ridiculous. It's ridiculous. And it has to end.

    But we’re not actually “the only country in the world” with birthright citizenship. While Axios does note on its website that there are, in fact, more than 30 other countries that offer birthright citizenship, people who saw the viral Youtube clip likely wouldn't know this, as neither Swan nor VandeHei corrected the false statement at the time. 

    Last week, a video of journalist Mehdi Hasan interviewing Trump campaign adviser Steven Rogers accumulated millions of views on social media. The video shows Hasan, who hosts UpFront and Head to Head on Al-Jazeera English and writes a column for The Intercept, asking a series of questions about: birthright citizenship, Trump’s claim that there were riots in California, and a frequent Trump lie about American Steel announcing plans to open new plants in the U.S. when it has done no such thing. Unlike the aforementioned examples of journalists passing on the opportunity to push back on false statements in real time, Hasan continued following up on the same issue until he got something resembling an honest answer out of Rogers.

    MEHDI HASAN: He said during the campaign that there’s six to seven steel facilities that are going to be opened up. There are no -- U.S. Steel has not announced any facilities. Why did he say they’ve announced new facilities? That’s a lie, isn’t it?

    STEVEN ROGERS: No, it isn’t, because there are a lot of companies opening up -- there are steel facilities that are going to be opening up or I think they actually, one opened up in Pennsylvania.

    HASAN: Sorry, Steven, that’s not what he said. I know it’s difficult for you. I know you want to try and defend him.

    ROGERS: No, it isn’t difficult for me.

    HASAN: Well OK, let me read the quote -- let me read the quote to you. “U.S. Steel just announced that they’re building six new steel mills.” That’s a very specific claim. U.S. Steel have not announced six new steel mills. They have said they’ve not announced six new steel mills mills. There’s no evidence of six new steel mills. He just made it up. And he repeated it. He didn’t just say it once.

    ROGERS: Look, I don’t know of what context these statements were made, but I can tell you this, the president of the United States has been very responsive to the American people, and the American people are doing well. Look, people can look at me and say, “Steve Rogers lied --”

    HASAN: The American people can be doing well, and the president can be a liar. There’s no contradiction between those two statements.

    ROGERS: I am not going to say the president of the United States is a liar. I’m not going to do that.

    HASAN: No, I know you’re not! But I’ve just put to you multiple lies, and you’ve not been able to respond to any of them.

    It’s not a matter of partisanship, either. In the past, Hasan has grilled Obama administration deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes over U.S. intervention in Syria and Obama adviser Derek Chollet on the former president’s foreign policy legacy. 

    It says a lot about the state of U.S. journalism that Hasan’s clip got attention for just being the type of interview journalists everywhere should be conducting.

    Journalist Mehdi Hasan Brilliantly Grills Trump Official On President’s Lies,” read one HuffPost headline. “Al Jazeera Host Pummels Trump Adviser With Examples of His Lies: ‘The President Lies Daily,’” read another over at Mediaite.

    In July, BBC journalist Emily Maitlis won similar praise after forgoing softball questions in favor of something a bit more substantive when interviewing former White House press secretary Sean Spicer. So used to friendly interviews, Spicer characterized the questions -- which included queries about the infamous Access Hollywood tape, Spicer’s lie about the crowd size at Trump’s inauguration, and about how he could both care about democracy and serve as the “agent” for a president who repeatedly lied -- as “extreme.” Maitlis told The New York Times, “That is what we do: We hold people accountable in robust interviews. It was not about me versus Sean Spicer at all.”

    In an exchange with me via Twitter direct messages, Hasan offered tips to journalists at U.S.-based outlets. On brushing off bad-faith accusations of bias and resisting the impulse to preserve access, Hasan borrows from a conservative catchphrase: “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” He writes:

    If journalists are posing tough but factual questions, then who cares how conservatives -- or liberals, for that matter -- feel about that? U.S. conservatives, of course, have a long, tried-and-tested history of 'playing the ref' and pressuring media organizations to soften their coverage with bad-faith accusations of liberal bias.

    One way around this is for interviewers to establish reputations for being tough with politicians from across the spectrum. Only a handful of U.S. cable news interviewers do this -- Jake Tapper and Chris Wallace, off the top of my head. But they're still not tough enough -- especially with Trump administration officials and supporters who like to tell brazen lies live on air.

    But being a tough interviewer isn’t without its downsides. For instance, in June 2016, CNN’s Jake Tapper interviewed then-candidate Trump. Tapper grilled Trump about his comments that Judge Gonzalo Curiel -- who was presiding over a case involving Trump University -- had a conflict of interest in the case because his parents were Mexican immigrants and Trump wanted to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. The interview, which aired during the June 5 edition of State of the Union with Jake Tapper, left Trump looking foolish and unable to defend his Curiel comments. The interview was hard-hitting. Trump has not given another interview to Tapper in the more than two years since.

    Hasan has thoughts about how journalists can avoid the access trap, but it involves a bit of teamwork. He wrote: “Unless all interviewers toughen up their act, it'll be very easy for politicians to pick and choose between tough and soft interviewers and decline requests from the former.” That is to say, journalists all need to up their games.

    He and his team on UpFront devote a lot of time to researching the people and issues they plan to discuss in advance. The team will watch past interviews the guest has done to see “what works and what doesn’t.” Importantly, they think realistically about how much ground an interview can or should cover in the time allotted. It’s an important question: Is it better to cover a dozen topics with zero follow-up questions, or does it make more sense to really drill down on three or four questions? The answer is probably the latter.

    “It's not rocket science: if you can't be bothered to prepare, to turn up for an interview equipped with relevant information, with facts and figures, don't be surprised if you're unable to hold an evasive guest to account,” writes Hasan. “Despite what Kellyanne Conway might want you to believe, facts are facts and facts still matter.”

    “Also: you're not there to make friends. You're there to speak truth to power. Don't be charmed, don't be bullied, don't be distracted. Focus,” he adds. “And if you let your guest get away with a brazen lie, in my view, you're complicit in the telling of that lie.”

    On-air interviews are rare opportunities for politicians to show how brave they really are. Voters should expect elected officials to take risks and to be able to defend their positions in unscripted environments.

    A good on-air interview can tell the voting public more than any debate or print interview ever could. Hasan explains:

    Interviews on television are one of the few times that a politician has his or her feet held to the fire in a sustained or coherent way. Print interviews tend to be softer, and done in private. TV debates between candidates tend to be an exchange of hackneyed and partisan talking points. A TV interview is an opportunity to perform a robust interrogation of a politician's views, positions, policies and statements. If it's not probing and challenging, what's the point of it? Why bother doing it?

    News consumers and voters should encourage politicians to take on the toughest interviewers they can find. Politicians who can’t explain and defend their policy positions are politicians who probably shouldn’t hold office at all. So long as interviewers are fair, fact-based, and focused on relevant issues, there’s no reason a tough interview isn’t also one that can win over both skeptics and supporters. Friendly interviews have their place, but they’re not especially helpful when it comes to giving voters the information they need to make informed choices about who they want representing them.

    Unfortunately, we’ve come to expect that presidents and other politicians will seek out the easiest, most slam-dunk interviews they can book. For instance, during the 2016 campaign, the Trump campaign forged an agreement with Sinclair Broadcast Group to air exclusive (and exceptionally friendly) interviews with Trump.

    The 2016 election demonstrated not just that candidates were afraid to take the risk of engaging in difficult interviews, but also that journalists were afraid to offer them.

    A study by Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy found that during the 2016 presidential election, there wasn’t a whole lot of policy being discussed. According to the report, 42 percent of all election media reports were dedicated to horse race coverage, with 17 percent focused on controversies. Just 10 percent of all election coverage was centered on policy issues.

    Perhaps news and entertainment have become too intertwined, with too much focus on viewership and not nearly enough emphasis on what should be the primary goal of informing the American people. Infotainment simply does not make for an informed electorate, and it’s a shame that we live in a world where interviews like Hasan’s are the exception and not the rule.

  • 40+ times the Trump administration specifically targeted Jim Acosta and CNN

    In response to First Amendment lawsuit, White House insists Acosta's recent ban has nothing to do with the content or viewpoint of CNN's reporting

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    CNN and its chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta have sued President Donald Trump and various administration officials for violating the First Amendment when Acosta was banned from the White House. The lawsuit specifically notes that the president and White House officials have shown animus toward the media in general, and CNN and Acosta in particular. In response, the president’s lawyers have claimed the White House has not demonstrated the type of content and viewpoint discrimination that is impermissible under the First Amendment. The evidence indicates otherwise. 

    Throughout the first year of his presidency, Trump and his administration attacked various media outlets and journalists more than 400 times, specifically targeting CNN verbally and on Twitter dozens of times. The attacks on the media didn’t let up in 2018. These facts and the 42 examples of the Trump administration’s attacks on Acosta and CNN gathered below support the network's complaint that the Trump administration took action against Acosta and CNN for the “contents of their reporting”:

    Trump: “Jim Acosta is a very unprofessional man. … I don’t think he’s a smart person.” [Faceba.se, 11/9/18]

    Trump: “So funny to see the CNN Fake Suppression Polls and false rhetoric.” [Twitter, 11/5/18]

    Trump: “CNN and others in the Fake News Business keep purposely and inaccurately reporting that I said the ‘Media is the Enemy of the People.’ Wrong!” [Twitter, 10/29/18]

    Trump: “Facebook has just stated that they are setting up a system to ‘purge’ themselves of Fake News. Does that mean CNN will finally be put out of business?” [Twitter, 10/21/18]

    Press secretary Sarah Sanders: “Can’t imagine why @CNN has such low ratings when during the day they break from live coverage to show reruns.” [Twitter, 9/4/18]

    Trump: “CNN is working frantically to find their ‘source.’ Look hard because it doesn’t exist. Whatever was left of CNN’s credibility is now gone!” [Twitter, 8/30/18]

    Trump: “The hatred and extreme bias of me by @CNN has clouded their thinking and made them unable to function. But actually, as I have always said, this has been going on for a long time. Little Jeff Z has done a terrible job, his ratings suck, & AT&T should fire him to save credibility!” [Twitter, 8/30/18]

    Trump: “CNN is being torn apart from within based on their being caught in a major lie and refusing to admit the mistake.” [Twitter, 8/29/18]

    Trump: “Look at the lie that Fake CNN is now in. They got caught red handed! Enemy of the People!” [Twitter, 8/29/18]

    Trump: “If you are weeding out Fake News, there is nothing so Fake as CNN & MSNBC, & yet I do not ask that their sick behavior be removed.” [Twitter, 8/18/18]

    Sanders on the White House canceling national security advisor John Bolton’s interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper: “Actually a @CNN reporter disrespected @POTUS & PM May during their press conf. Instead of rewarding bad behavior, we decided to reprioritize the TV appearances for administration officials.” [Twitter, 7/14/18]

    Trump: “So funny! I just checked out Fake News CNN, for the first time in a long time (they are dying in the ratings), to see if they covered my takedown yesterday of Jim Acosta (actually a nice guy). They didn’t! But they did say I already lost in my meeting with Putin. Fake News.” [Twitter, 7/14/18]

    Trump: “Real @FoxNews is doing great, Fake News CNN is dead!” [Twitter, 6/2/18]

    Trump: “The Washington Post and CNN have typically written false stories about our trade negotiations with China.” [Twitter, 5/16/18]

    Trump: Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper “is a lying machine who now works for Fake News CNN.” [Twitter, 4/28/18]

    Trump: “Check out the fact that you can’t get a job at ratings challenged @CNN unless you state that you are totally anti-Trump? Little Jeff Zuker, whose job is in jeopardy, is not having much fun lately. They should clean up and strengthen CNN and get back to honest reporting!” [Twitter, 4/3/18]

    Trump: “The Fake News Networks, those that knowingly have a sick and biased AGENDA, are worried about the competition and quality of Sinclair Broadcast. The Fakers’ at CNN, NBC, ABC & CBS have done so much dishonest reporting that they should only be allowed to get awards for fiction!” [Twitter, 4/3/18]

    Trump: “Bad ratings @CNN & @MSNBC got scammed when they covered the anti-Trump Russia rally wall-to-wall. They probably knew it was Fake News but, because it was a rally against me, they pushed it hard anyway. Two really dishonest newscasters, but the public is wise!” [Twitter, 2/20/18]

    Trump: “Jake Tapper of Fake News CNN just got destroyed in his interview with Stephen Miller of the Trump Administration. Watch the hatred and unfairness of this CNN flunky!” [Twitter, 1/17/18]

    Acosta: Sanders “issued a warning to me. She said if I asked a question of Trump at the bill signing ‘I can't promise you will be allowed into a pool spray again.’ Sorry Sarah.. we won't be intimidated.” [Twitter, 12/12/17]

    Trump: “I seldom, if ever, watch CNN or MSNBC, both of which I consider Fake News.I never watch [CNN’s] Don Lemon, who I once called the ‘dumbest man on television!’ Bad Reporting.” [Twitter, 12/11/17]

    Trump: “CNN’S slogan is CNN, THE MOST TRUSTED NAME IN NEWS. Everyone knows this is not true, that this could, in fact, be a fraud on the American Public.” [Twitter, 12/9/17]

    Sanders on news that CNN will boycott a White House Christmas function: “Christmas comes early! Finally, good news from @CNN.” Trump quote-tweeted her, adding: “We should boycott Fake News CNN. Dealing with them is a total waste of time!” [Twitter, 11/28/17, 11/29/17]

    Trump: “We should have a contest as to which of the Networks, plus CNN and not including Fox, is the most dishonest, corrupt and/or distorted in its political coverage of your favorite President (me). They are all bad. Winner to receive the FAKE NEWS TROPHY!” [Twitter, 11/27/17]

    Trump: “CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!” [Twitter, 11/25/17]

    Trump: “While in the Philippines I was forced to watch @CNN, which I have not done in months, and again realized how bad, and FAKE, it is. Loser!” [Twitter, 11/15/17]

    Trump: “People are just now starting to find out how dishonest and disgusting (FakeNews) @NBCNews is. Viewers beware. May be worse than even @CNN!” [Twitter, 10/12/17]

    Trump: “NBC news is #FakeNews and more dishonest than even CNN. They are a disgrace to good reporting. No wonder their news ratings are way down!” [Twitter, 10/4/17]

    Trump: “Fake @NBCNews made up a story that I wanted a ‘tenfold’ increase in our U.S. nuclear arsenal. Pure fiction, made up to demean. NBC = CNN!” [Twitter, 10/11/17]

    White House staffer Dan Scavino: Acosta “loves to seek attention & make the news all about himself.” [Twitter, 9/15/17]

    Trump to Acosta: “I like real news, not fake news. You’re fake news.” [Fox News, Shepard Smith Reporting, 8/14/17]

    Then-Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka: Acosta is a “grandstanding” reporter. [The Daily Caller, 8/3/17]

    Trump adviser Stephen Miller during a press briefing: “Jim, that is one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant, and foolish things you've ever said. … It reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree.” [Media Matters, 8/2/17; Politico, 8/2/17]

    Trump tweeted a video of him knocking over a person with CNN logo imposed on his face: “#FraudNewsCNN #FNN.” [Twitter, 7/2/17]

    Trump: “I am thinking about changing the name #FakeNews CNN to #FraudNewsCNN!” [Twitter, 7/1/17]

    Trump: “I am extremely pleased to see that @CNN has finally been exposed as #FakeNews and garbage journalism. It's about time!” [Twitter, 7/1/17]

    Then-press secretary Sean Spicer about Acosta: “I think some of these reporters are more interested in their YouTube clips than they are in getting factual news.” [Fox News, MediaBuzz, 6/25/17]

    Trump: “FAKE NEWS media knowingly doesn't tell the truth. A great danger to our country. The failing @nytimes has become a joke. Likewise @CNN. Sad!” [Twitter, 2/24/17]

    Trump: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!” [Twitter, 2/17/17]

    Trump to Acosta: “Your ratings aren’t as good as some of the other people that are waiting.” [WhiteHouse.gov, 2/16/17]

    Trump to Acosta: "I sort of understand there's a certain bias" at CNN. [WhiteHouse.gov, 2/16/17]

    Trump: “I watch CNN — it’s so much anger and hatred and just the hatred.” [WhiteHouse.gov, 2/16/17]

  • Fox News president says his network "supports CNN," but Fox News personalities have been attacking CNN and Jim Acosta on air

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In the wake of the White House’s decision to pull CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s press pass after a verbal spat with President Donald Trump during a press conference, and CNN’s subsequent lawsuit against the Trump administration to restore Acosta’s credentials, Fox News President Jay Wallace issued a statement saying his network “supports CNN in its legal effort to regain its White House reporter's press credential.” But Wallace’s own on-air talent doesn’t seem to agree.

    In fact, several Fox News personalities praised the White House on air for revoking Acosta's hard pass and have been attacking Acosta personally. Sean Hannity said that Acosta's pass had been "rightfully revoked"; Laura Ingraham hosted Matt Schlapp, a frequent Fox guest and the husband of White House Director of Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp, who called revoking the pass "the right decision"; and Fox contributor and former Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie said that he was “so happy that the White House has revoked [Acosta’s] press credential.”

    Immediately following the November 7 incident, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace blasted Acosta’s “shameful” behavior. Fox Business hosts Stuart Varney and Trish Regan also went on to trash Acosta; Varney called him “a disgrace to the White House press corps” and Regan suggested that a background in sexual assault was useful for analyzing Acosta's interaction with the White House intern who attempted to wrestle the microphone from his hand during the contentious briefing. Laura Ingraham characterized Acosta’s attempt to ask a question of the president a “disgraceful performance,” and frequent Fox guests Diamond and Silk referred to Acosta as “the enemy of the people” and “the enemy of the truth.”

  • Sinclair is already gearing up for Trump 2020 

    New “must-run” segment airing a week after midterms boosts Trump and dismisses Democratic chances in 2020

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Less than one week after the 2018 midterm elections, Sinclair Broadcast Group is already pushing “must-run” segments minimizing Democratic chances in 2020 and boosting President Donald Trump’s re-election bid.

    A new “must-run” commentary segment about the 2020 elections began airing on Sinclair’s local stations on November 12. It’s part of Sinclair’s ongoing series called “Bottom Line with Boris,” which features chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn. Epshteyn worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign and may have signed a nondisparagement agreement during that time that would prevent him from criticizing the president.

    In the segment, Epshteyn tells viewers that the Democratic Party has “too many competing messages and varying factions” that will prevent “a clear path to victory in their primaries." He cited eight potential 2020 contenders for the Democratic nomination, ranging from party members like Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who supposedly wants to take the party in "a radical direction of open borders and single-payer health care," to "centrist, pro-business old guard" like former Vice President Joe Biden. Epshteyn said that the Republican Party is very united behind Trump, whom he called a “very formidable candidate” and an “active and strong campaigner.”

    With the 2018 midterms behind us, the country now turns toward the 2020 election cycle, including what is sure to be a hotly contested re-election race for President Trump.

    President Trump will continue to be an active and strong campaigner. Potential Democrat candidates, like Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris, want to take their party in a radical direction of open borders and single-payer health care.

    Other rumored candidates, such as former Vice President Joe Biden and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, represent the centrist, pro-business old guard of the Democrat Party. There’s also a chance that Democrats go local and nominate a former young mayor in either Mitch Landrieu from New Orleans or Eric Garcetti from Los Angeles.

    Headed into 2020 you'll hear a lot about how the GOP is equally as divided as Democrats. Ignore that. The president’s approval rating is at about 90 percent among Republicans. The “Never Trump” movement is now largely a figment of imagination perpetuated by the flood of former Republican operatives who are paid to make frequent appearances on the networks so they can bash the president and the Republican Party.

    Here's the bottom line: Right now, there are too many competing messages and varying factions vying for the Democratic nomination for there to be a clear path to victory in their primaries. Democrat candidates will have to declare their intentions very soon. It will be interesting to see which direction their party chooses to take in trying to defeat a very formidable candidate, and unquestionably the leader of the Republican Party, in President Trump.

    Epshteyn also teased in his morning newsletter another “must-run” to be released later today, which will focus on “a potential 2020 presidential run for Hillary Clinton.” Both of these segments will air on an estimated 100 local TV stations nationwide, including in major battleground states.

    Epshteyn’s -- and his employer’s -- early shift to 2020 makes perfect sense, since he spent the year leading up to the 2018 elections using his platform to essentially campaign for Republicans. In his “Bottom Line With Boris” segments, he focused specifically on the midterms at least 13 times this year and more broadly made the case for Republican policies countless others. Some segments skipped the usual commentary altogether, instead featuring excerpts from softball interviews he conducted with Trump and five Republican politicians on ballots last week, including Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis and newly re-elected Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

    Taking into account Sinclair’s yearlong effort to put its thumb on the scales in 2018 along with its longer history of political meddling during election seasons, local news viewers should unfortunately expect more Trump 2020 messaging on Sinclair stations for the next two years.

  • Fox News attacks CNN’s Jim Acosta, praising the White House for revoking his press pass

    Blog ››› ››› COURTNEY HAGLE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News is going all in on attacking CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta after a heated exchange between Acosta and President Donald Trump. The incident ended with a White House intern unsuccessfully reaching to seize Acosta’s microphone as he spoke, a moment that led the White House to accuse Acosta of acting aggressively toward the intern. A few hours after the event, the White House announced that it was revoking Acosta’s White House access -- his "hard pass" -- claiming that he put “his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job.”

    CNN responded by accusing the White House of basing its decision on “fraudulent accusations,” arguing that the real reason Acosta had his press privileges revoked was “retaliation for his challenging questions at today’s press conference.” The White House Correspondents’ Association also condemned the White House’s decision as “unacceptable,” saying that the association “strongly objects to the Trump administration’s decision” to use press credentials “as a tool to punish a reporter with whom it has a difficult relationship.” There have been additional accusations that a video put out by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was doctored to intentionally make Acosta appear more aggressive.

    Since the incident, Fox News has responded by applauding the White House response and celebrating Trump’s  “smackdown” of Jim Acosta.

    On his nightly Fox show, Hannity, Sean Hannity referred to the incident as “the president’s smackdown of CNN’s Jim Acosta” and argued that Acosta’s press credentials have been “rightfully revoked.”

    Laura Ingraham invited a panel of guests onto The Ingraham Angle to berate Acosta for the incident. Ingraham called the press conference a “disgraceful performance.” Panelist and NRATV host Dan Bongino said, “I don’t know what’s more embarrassing, Acosta and the press corps’ behavior or Jim Acosta singlehandedly changing the conversation from the Democrats’ House takeover to a conversation about Jim Acosta.” And Matt Schlapp, a Fox News regular and the husband of White House Director of Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp, called the revocation of Acosta’s hard pass “the right decision.”

    On Lou Dobbs Tonight, conservative personalities Diamond and Silk called Acosta “the enemy of the people,” calling “for his press credentials to be removed” before the White House announced it had stripped his hard pass.

    Fox contributor David Bossie declared on Trish Regan Primetime that Acosta is “an embarrassment to his so-called profession” and “despicable.” Bossie also said that he was “so happy that the White House has revoked [Acosta’s] press credential.” Trish Regan added that it was “completely inappropriate” for Acosta to “hang on to [the microphone] and keep asking questions” because “he’s bigger and stronger” than the intern.

    Fox News’ Stuart Varney chided Acosta’s actions as “an awful display” and “shameful,” describing the media as “rude and unruly.”

    Fox radio host Todd Starnes tweeted that Acosta “bullied a female White House press staffer. His press credentials should be revoked and he should be thrown out of the building.”

    Fox news contributor Monica Crowley criticized CNN and the media, referring to the incident as a “presidential bitch-slap” of CNN and Acosta and applauding Trump and the White House for putting “the dishonest, hostile, biased, rude fake news in its place.”

    Fox host Mark Levin called on media to denounce Acosta, saying that “if the media have an ounce of integrity left they will condemn Acosta.”

    Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich accused Acosta of “grandstanding,” condemning him for taking up “far more time than he should, to focus on himself” and calling it “disrespectful to his peers.” In a separate tweet, Pavlich alleged that Acosta was “slamming down the arm of a woman doing her job.”

  • The Infowars-White House pipeline is alive and well

    Sarah Huckabee Sanders shared an edited Infowars video to prop up the White House’s lies about CNN’s Jim Acosta

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders shared a deceptively edited video from Paul Joseph Watson, the editor-at-large at Infowars, as evidence for the administration’s false claim that CNN’s Jim Acosta assaulted a White House intern during a press conference.

    Infowars head Alex Jones has repeatedly claimed that his operation passes material to President Donald Trump and White House staff.

    Acosta and Trump had a contentious exchange during a November 7 press conference where a White House intern attempted to take a microphone from Acosta’s hand. During the exchange, “Acosta’s hand appeared to briefly brush her arm.” But Sanders subsequently accused Acosta of “placing his hands on a young woman” and announced that his White House press pass was suspended.

    In an attempt to bolster her false claim, Sanders posted a video that purported to back her version of events:

    Observers on Twitter quickly pointed out that the clip in question originated from a tweet by Watson and that the video was altered. According to HuffPost, “The footage Sanders shared was missing the audio, zoomed in and repeated. Critics on social media said the speed of the footage was altered as well.”

    In recent months, several social media platforms have either outright banned Jones and his outlet or placed restrictions on his activities. But Jones and his Infowars colleagues still appear influential enough that their content can quickly reach the White House.

    Ever since Trump appeared on Jones’ show in 2015 and praised his “amazing” reputation, Jones has often claimed to have close access to Trump and administration personnel. One high-profile example of the Infowars-White House pipeline is when Trump pardoned disgraced former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. As the pardon announcement neared, Arpaio appeared on The Alex Jones Show and thanked Jones and Infowars for getting his story to the president. As recently as September, Jones claimed on his show, “I have specifically had the White House and the president thank me recently for the fact that I’m covering the hard topics no one else will to hit the barbed wire.”

  • Alex Jones’ Infowars still uses Facebook to spread hate, dehumanization, and harassment

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Mellisa Joskow / Media Matters

    Update (11/9/18): Following publication of this post, Facebook removed all of the War Room videos referenced here. Facebook did not take action against the War Room page itself, which remains active.  

    In August, Facebook took action against conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, deleting several of the primary pages he used to broadcast content from his Infowars outlet for violating the social media site’s community guidelines.

    But the ban wasn’t total. One of Infowars’ main programs, War Room, is still broadcast on Facebook, and it is a cesspool of harassment and hate.

    War Room is a three-hour weekday broadcast hosted by Infowars’ Owen Shroyer and Donald Trump confidant Roger Stone that airs following The Alex Jones Show. The War Room Facebook page is officially affiliated with Infowars, listing the outlet’s website for its contact information; it also “likes” several other active pages associated with Infowars.

    In addition to being broadcast on Facebook, War Room airs on Infowars.com and through terrestrial radio. Jones himself is a frequent guest of the show, and the War Room Facebook page also posts full segments of The Alex Jones Show, Infowars’ flagship program, whose page was banned by Facebook.

    A Facebook spokesperson declined to address questions about the War Room page.

    On War Room, Shroyer acts as Jones’ surrogate by pushing the same hateful messages his boss touts. This pattern can be seen in the program’s harassment of Christine Blasey Ford, who came forward during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh to say Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school.

    During the show’s September 25 Facebook broadcast, Shroyer called Ford a “high school floozie who may or may not have drunkenly fell into bed with one man or 100 men.” Two days later, Shroyer made comments that highlighted how Facebook allows him to say things about Ford that other online platforms don’t permit, commenting that Twitter had banned him for calling Ford a “floozie.” Apparently taking advantage of his carte blanche from Facebook, Shroyer went on to repeatedly call her “floozie Ford” while mocking her voice. During an October 8 broadcast, Shroyer joked that Ford had been sexually assaulted by “Barney the Dinosaur” or “the Kool-Aid Man,” while again mocking her voice.

    The War Room Facebook page also aired a September 20 video in which Jones made a number of disgusting sexist comments about Ford. The video, which is comprised of clips from War Room and The Alex Jones Show, includes Jones falsely claiming that Ford was photographed “spreading her legs” in her high school yearbook and saying she “appears to be a hussy.” Jones also called on his supporters to harass Ford during her testimony before Congress by holding signs showing her spreading her legs.

    Harassment on the War Room page also extends to elected officials. During a September 21 broadcast, Shroyer described a scenario in which Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), a favorite target of Jones’, is a murderer and child rapist. Shroyer asked, “Do the Democrats having to be raping your daughter and stabbing you in the freaking neck for you to realize who these people are? Seriously -- does Eric Swalwell have to come to your house and rape your child and stab your granny in the neck just for you to see how crazy he is?”

    War Room’s Facebook page is also a platform for videos of Shroyer’s in-person harassment. During the show’s October 29 broadcast, Shroyer played a video of him harassing several Black people outside of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. In the video, Shroyer tells the people they are in “the cult” and “choose not to be part of the African-American revolution that’s happening right now.”

    The War Room page additionally features violent commentary from Shroyer, such as when he took issue with a reporter for liberal outlet Raw Story who was critical of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA). During the October 8 broadcast, Shroyer asked, directing his comment at the reporter, “What if some radical conservative showed up to your house and shot you in the leg, you little punk ass bitch?”

    Anti-Semitism also has a home on War Room’s Facebook page. During a video hawking Infowars products posted on October 8, Jones falsely claimed that philanthropist George Soros, who is Jewish, is a “Nazi collaborator piece of crap” who killed “a bunch of innocent Europeans,” and added, “Fuck you, Soros.” The false claim that Soros collaborated with the Nazis is an anti-Semitic smear used frequently to attack him.

    During another Infowars commercial that has broadcast on the War Room Facebook page, Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson mocked people who have autism, claiming that buying Infowars products will “trigger the verified libtards on Twitter” and cause an “autistic screeching fit.”

    The Washington Post reported on November 5 that NewsWars, another page affiliated with Jones, was also untouched by Facebook’s earlier enforcement action. In an interview, Jones “acknowledged that his social media staff sometimes suggests content to the NewsWars Facebook page.” The article noted:

    The continuing popularity of Jones’s videos on Facebook, including those focusing on the migrant caravan in Mexico and claims that pipe bombs sent to prominent Democrats were hoaxes, also highlights Silicon Valley’s struggle to crack down on hate speech even in cases when tech companies have publicly singled out perpetrators for punishment.