Media Structures & Regulations | Page 2 | Media Matters for America

Media Structures & Regulations

Issues ››› Media Structures & Regulations
  • Headlines can’t handle Trump’s lies, so it’s time to rethink them

    Quoting the president requires context. Fitting that into headlines and social media posts is a problem.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    It’s no secret that the president of the United States has a tumultuous relationship with the very concept of objective truth. Whether you call them lies or falsehoods, or simply chalk them up to his businessman bravado, anyone working in media knows by now that Trump’s statements should probably get a bit of scrutiny before being blasted out to the world as breaking news. Still, despite knowing this, news media continue falling into the same trap of publishing what the president said without providing relevant context. This week’s news around his expressed desire to end birthright citizenship (something that he campaigned on beginning in 2015) provided a prime example of how not to cover him.

    Across the country, headlines like “Trump says he will sign executive order banning birthright citizenship” from The Hill and “Trump Says He Will Void Birthright Citizenship Law Through Executive Order” from NPR spread like some sort of digital cancer extending from the web to the chyrons of news shows. The most egregious example probably came from Axios CEO and co-founder Jim VandeHei, who tweeted, “Exclusive: Trump to terminate birthright citizenship.”

    Another unfortunate tweet came from The Associated Press. The since-deleted tweet read:“Trump wants to order the end of birthright citizenship: ‘We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and that baby is essentially a citizen of the United States.” And while it’s true that he did say that, it was a false statement in itself. At least 30 other countries grant citizenship to anyone born within their borders. Not including that crucial bit of context in the tweet only amplifies Trump’s lie.

    Perhaps past presidents could be trusted to tell the truth about their own policies. It's not clear whether Trump even knows what's in his own.

    In spring 2017, as Republicans pushed their “Obamacare repeal and replace” bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), through Congress, Trump gave an interview to CBS’s John Dickerson in which he claimed, “Pre-existing conditions are in the bill. And I just watched another network than yours, and they were saying, ‘Pre-existing is not covered.’ Pre-existing conditions are in the bill. And I mandate it. I said, ‘Has to be.’”

    The AHCA, like all GOP health care bills, would have weakened the Affordable Care Act’s pre-existing conditions protections and allowed insurers to price people out of the market or exclude coverage of specific conditions. What Trump said simply wasn’t true, yet headlines that simply reported what he said were standard fare across political media: “Trump on health care: Pre-existing conditions will be covered” Politico wrote, “Trump guarantees coverage for people with pre-existing conditions in health care bill” CBS declared, and “Trump says coverage of pre-existing conditions will be in healthcare plan” The Hill stated.

    There are dozens of similar examples of headlines on any number of topics Trump has commented on since he took office. While the headlines themselves may technically be true -- since they report what Trump actually said -- omitting the fact that what he said was not true makes them misleading.

    Journalists need to grapple with an uncomfortable truth: Most people read only the headlines.

    Many of the examples mentioned above do note within the articles that Trump’s claim mentioned in the headline is false. Unfortunately for journalists, the overwhelming majority of people who see a headline won’t actually click through to read the article (a single-digit click rate is pretty standard on Twitter). Just think about how often you’ve scrolled past an article shared on social media, not clicking it, but still registering what it said. Sure enough, a 2016 study estimated that 59 percent of the time someone retweets an article, they actually never clicked on it first.

    Now, one could argue that it’s the responsibility of news consumers to better vet their sources and actually read articles. That’s totally fair! Still, there’s a question of why news producers should make it harder to get accurate information. Maybe omitting a tiny bit of context in the headline will create a “curiosity gap,” a deliberate effort to boost clicks by not telling the whole story in a headline. The curiosity gap was popularized by Upworthy (full disclosure: I worked at Upworthy between 2015 and earlier this year), but it was meant to draw people in to stories they otherwise wouldn’t have been interested in, not for use in straight reporting.

    For more insight on headlines and where things went wrong, I reached out to Eli Pariser. Pariser helped popularize the idea of “filter bubbles” in his 2011 book, The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think. Currently a fellow at the New America Foundation, Pariser co-founded Upworthy in 2012.

    Part of the issue, Pariser suggests, is the medium itself: “Unlike with a physical product, the headline [of an online news article] lives separately from the content and needs to be evaluated on its own.”

    Trying to distill a complex breaking news story into about 100 characters is a big challenge, leading Pariser to suggest “rethink[ing] headlining in general.”

    Algorithms rule the media world, but they have a history of rewarding the wrong things.

    Earlier this year, former Snopes Managing Editor Brooke Binkowski gave me a valuable tip during an interview.

    “If you're reading, viewing, or listening to a story that's flooding you with high emotion, negative or positive — whether it's fear, rage, schadenfreude, amusement at how gullible everyone else is — check your sources,” she told me.

    There’s even some evidence that the stronger the emotion a headline evokes in the reader, the more likely people are to share it with others. So while more straightforward headlines from sources like The Associated Press or Reuters might best help convey what actually happened in any given situation, it’s sites like Breitbart, The Daily Caller, Gateway Pundit, and The Federalist that tap into readers’ emotions. In turn, those sites get more shares, and as a result, get further boosted by algorithms designed to reward active engagement.

    So long as social media algorithms reward engagement, it’s hard to fault any profit-driven media outlet for playing along. Seeing a headline that contains an obvious lie or omitted context, such as The Hill’s “Trump says migrant caravans are ‘larger’ than reported” can tap into those sharable emotions (anger, rage, disgust, and so on), continuing to incentivize flawed coverage.

    Getting outlets to publish accurate headlines without sensationalist flourishes could be tough.

    As an industry, media is in a really rough spot. Pew Research Center found that newsroom employment dropped by 23 percent between 2008 and 2017. In a highly competitive industry, publishers need to find whatever edge they can get or risk going out of business. Optimizing headlines and photo choices for the most clicks, shares, and engagements possible is a big part of that. Going against the grain by trying to restore trust in media -- which dropped from 54 percent in 2003 to 41 percent in 2017 -- could destroy media outlets as a business before their impact is felt.

    I suggested to Pariser that maybe a large outlet with enough funding to stay afloat indefinitely, perhaps a paper like The Washington Post, can take the lead in setting new best practices for headlines. Or perhaps the Twitters and Facebooks of the world could be convinced to better factor in whether a headline is omitting key information or leaning into sensationalism when making changes to their algorithms.

    Pariser’s not sure of the best response to deceptive headline practices, but he thinks the focus should be on establishing and encouraging industry-wide norms: “My guess is that this has more to do with encouraging greater adherence to norms and journalistic culture than to any particular set of rules, which will always be game-able and have exceptions.”

    Trump's rise has shown media are ill-prepared to handle a serial liar as president.

    Have past presidents lied? Absolutely. But none have lied as frequently about topics big and small as Trump has. This calls for a new approach to journalism, top to bottom. In a September 2017 post to his PressThink blog, New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen explained that journalists have failed in acting as a check on the presidency, normalizing Trump’s abnormality in the process.

    Maybe journalists have been afraid to hold Trump to the same standards they held past presidents to because it would paint the picture of someone in way over his head with little understanding of, or desire to do, the job he was elected to do. That type of coverage, while honest, might sound biased against him, and so they give him a little extra leeway than they would have with, say, a President Clinton or President Cruz.

    Rosen has his own theory:

    If nothing the president says can be trusted, reporting what the president says becomes absurd. You can still do it, but it’s hard to respect what you are doing. If the president doesn’t know anything, the solemnity of the presidency becomes a joke. That’s painful. If they can, people flee that kind of pain. In political journalism there is enough room for interpretive maneuver to do just that.

    In other words, he believes media treat Trump with kid gloves because their job is only as prestigious as the office they cover -- and in the Trump administration, the realistic assessment of that prestige level could be “not very.” I emailed Rosen to ask him whether it even matters what the motivation is behind padded coverage. Here’s what he had to say:

    The motivation matters if we want to understand why it's happening and what might bring a change. For example, if the pattern is just about placating conservatives, well, conservatives are never going to be placated, so we may as well consider the pattern permanent. But if, as I believe, the press is attached to an image of the presidency in which they have a kind of psychological investment, it's possible that they can realize this investment is leading them astray in the case of the Trump presidency. I am not saying that is likely, or that it is happening now. But you asked, does the motivation matter? I think it does.

    Echoing a point Pariser made about the disconnect between print and digital, Rosen said he believes sloppy headlines to be the result of a “cultural lag,” with digital publications hanging onto the tabloid tradition of going a bit over the top for effect, to get people’s attention, or to sound clever. He points to the famous “Headless body in topless bar” as an example of using a headline to draw a reader in:  

    It was probably never harmless, but it was certainly thought harmless, and generations of reporters learned to say, ‘Hey, I don't write the headlines’ when there was criticism. There was always a wink, wink, nudge, nudge element to this practice. When newspapers went online it was ported over to the new cultural space without a lot of thought. That was not smart.

    Changing these old habits might be hard, but in the meantime, Rosen suggests encouraging use of the “truth sandwich” approach to social media and headlines: Say what’s true, then say what’s false, and then say what’s true once again.

    It may not be perfect, but it’s a start.

  • Trump’s unhinged “Jobs not Mobs” video comes from Reddit’s r/The_Donald cesspool

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    An unhinged get-out-the-vote video shared by President Donald Trump on Twitter was popularized on Reddit’s r/TheDonald subreddit.

    The video presents viewers with “two choices on November 6th,” between “the GOP’s America” -- shown as a prosperous economy -- and “the left’s America” -- shown as widespread violence.

    The video does not appear to have been created by Trump’s staff, but rather was a popular post on r/The_Donald. Since being posted on October 19, the video has nearly 7,400 upvotes on Reddit. The link in the r/The_Donald post goes to a YouTube video posted on October 17 with the description “RETWEET so Trump and others will see.”

    The YouTube account is associated with a Twitter account that highlighted actor and conservative troll James Woods, who shared the video on October 20. The video was also promoted in an October 19 post at Erick Erickson’s The Resurgent, which attributed the video to “a random Youtuber.”

    Like the video Trump promoted, the slogan “Jobs not Mobs” -- which Trump has adopted in recent days -- also originated on social media, reportedly from a Twitter user with less than 500 followers.

    According to a 2017 report published at Politico, by the end of the 2016 presidential campaign, “a team in the war room at Trump Tower was monitoring social media trends, including The_Donald subreddit—a message board that acted as a conduit between 4Chan and the mainstream Web and refers to its users as ‘centipedes’.” Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, reportedly visited the r/The_Donald subreddit on a daily basis in 2016 when he worked on Trump’s digital team.

    Leading up to the midterm elections, Trump and his conservative media allies have used the baseless claim that Democrats stand ready to kill conservative voters as a major part of their messaging.

  • Fox News downplays Khashoggi's murder: “Saudi Arabia is one of the safest places to be a journalist in the world”

    Fox host Neil Cavuto:It is a reminder how this one journalist death, tragic though it is, has disproportionately skewed the picture”

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News contributor Jonas Max Ferris downplayed the murder of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi by arguing that Saudi Arabia “is one of the safest places to be a journalist in the world” and touting the country’s investments in U.S. businesses.

    In response, host Neil Cavuto acknowledged that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of the country, has engaged in oppressive practices against critics. But he also downplayed Khashoggi's murder, saying, “It is a reminder how this one journalist death, tragic though it is, has disproportionately skewed the picture.”

    Khashoggi, who was critical of the Saudi government, was killed during a visit to a Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey earlier this month. After initially claiming that Khashoggi had left the consulate after his October 2 visit, the Saudi Arabian government has now acknowledged that he was killed, implausibly claiming that he died after a fight broke out inside the diplomatic facility.

    Reacting to those developments, Ferris argued that “investors know Saudi Arabia isn’t really the enemy” and that “Saudi Arabia is one of the safest places to be a journalist in the world” during the October 20 broadcast of Cavuto Live:

    JONAS MAX FERRIS: They’re turning their oil revenue slowly into an investment fund of epic proportions that keeps Silicon Valley -- it’s one of the major sources of cash --

    NEIL CAVUTO (HOST): And we want to be part of that.

    FERRIS: Of course we do, which is why in some ways the president’s not being diplomatic, which is possibly good. The end of the day, investors know Saudi Arabia isn’t really the enemy. Saudi Arabia is one of the safest places to be a journalist in the world, believe it or not. If you go to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which is a very excellent site with a database, it’s almost 1,000 journalists killed since 1993. It’s only one in Saudi Arabia and that was by Al Qaeda in 2004.

    Ferris cited a database maintained by Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) to claim that Saudi Arabia is a safe country for journalists. While he is correct that the database includes the murder of only one journalist in the country, in 2004, Ferris failed to note that Salman has ratcheted up oppression of journalists leading up to Khashoggi being targeted for murder.

    CPJ -- which has called Saudi Arabia’s explanation for Khashoggi’s death “ridiculous” and said that the government “lied to the world” -- has documented the oppressive conditions journalists work under in Saudi Arabia.

    As CPJ explained in an October 6 statement about Khashoggi, “Saudi Arabia's repression of journalists has intensified since Crown Prince Salman rose to power as the apparent heir to the king last year. CPJ recently documented a steadily increasing number of bloggers and journalists detained in unknown locations without charges since the start of what Saudi authorities term an anti-corruption campaign in September 2017.”

  • What you need to know about One America News’ reported upcoming interview with the president

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    According to One America News Network (OANN) CEO Robert Herring, President Donald Trump will sit down for an interview with the sycophanticnews” outlet’s White House correspondent, Emerald Robinson. A closer look at Robison’s background reveals the “correspondent” to be an unabashed stooge for the Trump administration who traffics in conservative misinformation originating from the right-wing Twitter fever swamps -- a perfect fit for the propagandistic and serially insane OANN, which has apparently been granted exclusive access to the president of the United States for an interview.

    On October 18, Herring tweeted that the network’s White House “correspondent” would sit down for an interview with the president:

    Robinson is a former infomercial actress and former host of a “science news show” called the Daily Orbit. She also hosted a video series called Hotnomics produced by right-wing lobbying group the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, in which she railed against “big government” and taxation. Robinson has written a series of columns for the conservative outlet The American Spectator that include crude mockery of her colleagues in the media, unabashed Trump sycophancy, and attacks on NFL players protesting police brutality in which she called them “Rococo Marxists and millionaire Black Panther athletes.” In a long screed attacking the “low-testosterone, dilettantish strain” of “intellectual” conservatives, Robinson complained of an apparent “disconnect” among factions within the conservative movement, writing that the "Never Trump intellectual crowd" are "Jewish and agnostic,” whereas “the Republican Party is overwhelmingly Caucasian and Christian.”

    In May, OANN brought Robinson on as its chief White House “correspondent” (in practice, she is a pundit), where she has had the opportunity to continue the network’s tradition of providing relief to Trump and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders with softball questions during otherwise contentious interactions with the White House press corps. In August 2017, Trump gave a shout out to OANN reporter Trey Yingst during a press briefing, saying, “I want to congratulate you on the network, it’s a great network,” which the outlet then proudly highlighted.

    As has been repeatedly documented, OANN is a fawning pro-Trump outlet that has pushed disgraceful and shameful conspiracy theories and whitewashed overt racism. A July 5, 2017, report in The Washington Post paints a picture of the network as a propaganda outlet with a CEO who “has directed his channel to push Trump’s candidacy, scuttle stories about police shootings, encourage antiabortion stories, minimize coverage of Russian aggression, and steer away from the new president’s troubles, according to more than a dozen current and former producers, writers and anchors, as well as internal emails from Herring and his top news executives.”

  • The chair of a major pro-Trump super PAC is reportedly trying to buy Tribune Media's TV stations

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Why would Thomas Hicks Jr., the latest potential bidder for Tribune Media Company, want to purchase its 42 local television stations? The best bet is because he wants to use them to help President Donald Trump get re-elected.

    The Federal Communications Commission effectively spiked conservative local news goliath Sinclair Broadcast Group’s planned acquisition of Tribune in July, opening up the potential of new suitors coming in to buy its stations.

    Hicks, a partner at his father’s investment firm, is planning to bid for the company, the New York Post reported yesterday. Hicks doesn’t currently own any TV stations, which the Post’s sources say is a “possible edge” since he will be able to avoid the regulatory struggles that entangled Sinclair.

    Hicks has deep ties to Trump’s political apparatus.

    The Texas scion served as national finance co-chair for Trump’s presidential campaign and finance vice chair of his inauguration committee, and he now chairs the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action and its associated nonprofit, America First Policies. While the organizations have been criticized for spending too much money throwing parties and feathering the nests of Trump hangers-on, America First Action has spent $16 million to support Republican politicians this election cycle.

    Hicks’ entree into the Trump orbit came through his friendship with Donald Trump Jr. -- as sons, namesakes, and longtime employees of billionaire fathers famed for their dealmaking prowess, the pair have much in common. Hicks was reportedly responsible for the hiring of Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former Fox News host and Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, as America First Action’s new vice chairwoman.

    While Hicks currently owns no TV stations, he does have strong feelings about the media, arguing that outlets are unfair to the president.

    In an “Open Letter to the Colluding Press,” Hicks and Sean Spicer, America First Action’s senior adviser and the former White House press secretary, responded to The Boston Globe’s effort to organize hundreds of newspapers to publish simultaneous editorials criticizing the Trump administration’s attacks on the press.

    In the letter, Hicks and Spicer criticize media for having “failed to live up to their responsibility,” attacking journalists for producing “inaccurate” and “biased” reporting about Trump’s administration while failing to report on his triumphs. The pair provides an “indisputable list” of Trump’s “accomplishments,” adding that “in the name of a free and fair press, we implore all journalists to start sharing them—instead of their own personal biases.”

    If Hicks’ bid is successful, he won’t just be able to “implore” journalists to print pro-Trump talking points; he’ll be able to compel them to do so in dozens of communities, broadcasting to major cities and swing states alike.

  • Sinclair's recent must-runs were a series of Trump interview excerpts about how great his administration is doing and how unfairly he’s treated

    Trump in must-run: “I am treated less fairly than anybody who's probably ever lived"

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    In perhaps the most egregious example yet of the pro-Trump alternate reality Sinclair Broadcast Group presents to its viewers, six “must-run” commentary segments the media company has created since September 21 have all been excerpts of a softball interview of President Donald Trump conducted by a former Trump aide.

    Amid last week’s overwhelming news, including Professor Christine Blasey Ford’s powerful testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee (and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s blatantly false testimony the same day), Sinclair subjected its local news viewers to a total of six separate “must-run” segments consisting of excerpts from a Trump interview.

    The overwhelming themes of the segments boiled down to: The Trump administration is doing great things, and the left and the liberal media aren’t being fair to Trump. The interviewer, Boris Epshteyn -- a former Trump aide, apparent personal friend of Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., and Sinclair’s chief political analyst -- mostly nodded along or added details in an attempt to back up Trump’s bonkers statements.

    Segment 1: Trump touts Kavanaugh’s “unblemished record” while Epshteyn nods

    The series of six consecutive “must-run” segments -- each of which has now aired on an estimated 100 local news stations across the country -- kicked off on September 21 with a segment focused on what Trump called Kavanaugh’s “unblemished record.” The interview was conducted that day, five days after Ford first shared the details of her account publicly in The Washington Post. In the interview, Trump briefly repeated vague White House talking points about making sure Ford is heard, before saying he believed Kavanaugh would ultimately be confirmed.

    Segment 2: Trump rambles about how everyone says there was “no collusion,” and Epshteyn again just sort of nods

    In the second interview segment, posted on September 24, Epshteyn asked one of just a handful of actual interview questions about Trump’s walk-back on declassifying documents related to the ongoing investigation into Russian collusion during the 2016 presidential election. Trump fumbled through his response, answering mostly by citing different Republican lawmakers who say there was “no collusion.” Epshteyn concluded that Trump is committed to transparency.

    Segment 3: Trump says the current economy could be “the greatest we’ve ever had” and Epshteyn passively nods

    The third segment, from September 25, began with Trump declaring that the current economy “could be the greatest we’ve ever had.” Epshteyn then asked him about renegotiating the NAFTA trade deal in the following extremely unbiased way (emphasis added):

    EPSHTEYN: You mentioned NAFTA. Mexico has already agreed to renegotiate a deal -- something that most people said you couldn't get done. You got that done. Now it's up to Canada. Do you think that Canada, with Justin Trudeau as their leader, will capitulate and join the new deal?

    Segment 4: Trump uses the Sinclair platform to tell viewers to vote for Republicans in the midterms

    Epshteyn kicked off the fourth interview segment -- also focused on the economy -- with another very normal and not biased question for his former employer:

    EPSHTEYN: Sir, it’s almost been two years. The economy is roaring. The stock market is way up. Unemployment, way down. GDP growth -- it's much better than anybody expected. What do you think can be done to make sure it's long-term sustainable economic growth?

    The two men then continued to agree with each other about how great the economy is, before Trump told viewers that they ought to vote for Republicans in the midterm elections (emphasis added):

    TRUMP: We have a great economy. This is possibly the greatest economy our country's ever had. That's why, when it comes to the midterms, I hope people are going to remember us because we need Republicans. And I'm not running, but I am in a way running because, you know, friends of mine and people that have our values and our thoughts, they're running. So, we need a lot of help for the midterms and I think we're going to do well, you know, based on the economy and based on the success.

    Segment 5: Trump unintelligibly rants about his relationships with North Korea and Iran, while Epshteyn nods along

    In the fifth segment, released on September 27, Trump incoherently discussed relations with North Korea, frequently interrupted by Epshteyn signaling his agreement with everything the president says even though it makes no sense. The one substantive thing Epshteyn said in the entire excerpt was to offer an additional point that backs up Trump’s claim that, with North Korea, “We’re doing a lot of speed. So it’s really coming along well.”

    Segment 6: Trump says he is “treated less fairly than anybody who's probably ever lived” by the media, Epshteyn agrees

    Epshteyn finished off the series of interview must-runs on September 28 with an excerpt that sounded like it was ripped straight from a Trump rally: an almost entirely uninterrupted rant from Trump about how he is “treated less fairly than anybody who’s probably ever lived” by the overwhelming “fake news media.”

    Just watch this, then imagine flipping channels as you make dinner and landing on your local news and this is what’s playing. 

    EPSHTEYN: President Trump feels that he is not treated fairly by most of the media. He spoke about that extensively during our exclusive one-on-one interview.


    TRUMP: I am treated less fairly than anybody who's probably ever lived. I almost ask why, you know, what’s the point. We have the best economy we’ve ever had. So many things are going well. You know, the media is really dishonest and reports came out -- even when I do really good stuff, they make it look as bad as possible. And when I do stuff that’s OK, it’s like a disaster.

    EPSHTEYN: Right.

    TRUMP: OK? But when I do things that are really phenomenal, like, as an example, North Korea. We’re doing a phenomenal job in North Korea. We were going to go to war. Before I got in, we would have had a war. We didn’t give anything. We got our hostages back. We got so many different things.

    EPSHTEYN: The remains.

    TRUMP: We got the remains. No more missile testing. No more rocket testing. No more nuclear testing. And I met. And they said, “He met, he met. Therefore he lost.” Because I met. In other words, they couldn’t get anything substantive so they said, “Ah, the fact that” -- now I will say, when it was announced that I was going to meet, until they got their, you know, little dialogue straightened out, they thought it was incredible. But you know, about, within 24 hours --  

    EPSHTEYN. Sure.

    TRUMP: they said we -- you know, the media’s unbelievably dishonest. And I actually say that the fake news media is truly an enemy of the people. It hurts our country tremendously.

    EPSHTEYN: But the people see through it. Don’t you think?

    TRUMP: And I had a rally last night here where they had thousands and thousands of people. They sent away thousands of people. They couldn’t get into the convention center. And it was really incredible. So I guess the bottom line is they must.


    EPSHTEYN: Here’s the bottom line: Let’s hope that the press can start concentrating on facts and issues that matter to the American people, and not gossip and innuendo.  

    So to recap, Epshteyn secured an interview with a leader of the free world, with excerpts airing on local news stations all over the country. With this opportunity, here is a list of every question or statement Epshteyn uttered throughout the six interview excerpts. They are presented in chronological order:

    • Right.
    • Do you think he will get confirmed in the end?
    • A couple issues on the home front. Let's talk about the declassification of documents. Earlier this week you said you were going to declassify. Now you're saying that you want the inspector general of the Department of Justice to review the documents first. What happened? What's the motivation?
    • Don’t declassify?
    • It’s true.
    • OK. Do you think that in the end the American people should have an eye, have a view into these documents?
    • You mentioned NAFTA. Mexico has already agreed to renegotiate a deal -- something that most people said you couldn't get done. You got that done. Now it's up to Canada. Do you think that Canada, with Justin Trudeau as their leader, will capitulate and join the new deal?
    • Right.
    • Sure.
    • Right.
    • Horrible.
    • Right.
    • Mm-hm.
    • Right.
    • Right.
    • Sir, it’s almost been two years. The economy is roaring. The stock market is way up. Unemployment, way down. GDP growth -- it's much better than anybody expected. What do you think can be done to make sure it's long-term sustainable economic growth?
    • Right.
    • The new normal, right?
    • Mm-hm.
    • Highest wage growth since the start of the recession, in fact.
    • No doubt.
    • Right.
    • Kim Jong Un just actually said to Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, that he's very thankful for the summit and thinks it's the relationship has stabilized in the Korean Peninsula because of your efforts.
    • Mm-hm.
    • Right.
    • Right.
    • The remains.
    • Right.
    • Sure.
    • But the people see through it. Don’t you think?

    The good news: Virtually no one seems to be seeking out these segments on purpose. By all accounts, a new one-on-one interview with direct, potentially newsworthy quotes from the president of the United States is a huge get. And yet, as of publication, each of these interview segments has been watched less than 200 times on Ephsteyn's YouTube channel. Five of the six segments -- all but the segment that Media Matters already wrote about -- have gleaned less than 50 views. (This is embarrassingly typical of Epshteyn’s audience numbers.)

    The bad news: Epshteyn’s lack of an eager audience hasn’t stopped numerous other conservative leaders from giving him “interviews” to exploit his platform, thus beaming their messages to millions of unwitting local news viewers just in time for the midterm elections.

    This year, Epshteyn has aired interviews with seven other members of the Trump administration, eight Republican congressmen, and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. The appearances include: then-Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Vice President Mike Pence, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, Council of Economic Advisers Chair Kevin Hassett, and Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI). DeSantis, McCarthy, Rooney, and Duffy are all on ballots this year.

  • Infowars uses 9/11 anniversary to promote conspiracy theories about the attacks, sell products on Facebook

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Alex Jones’ Infowars outlet marked the 17th anniversary of 9/11 by posting a video to Facebook that pushed conspiracy theories about the terror attacks while urging listeners to buy Infowars brand nutritional supplements.

    While Facebook banned four pages associated with Jones in August for repeatedly violating the website’s hate speech and bullying policies, it took no action against a page operated by the Infowars show War Room. During the evening of September 10, War Room posted a video with the title “Do American’s (sic) Still Believe the Official 9/11 Story” to its page. The 15-minute video is a clip from that day’s edition of War Room, which is broadcast on Facebook, among other places.

    During the video, War Room co-host Owen Shroyer pushed a panoply of conspiracy theories about the 9/11 attack. (Infowars founder Alex Jones calls himself one of the “founding fathers of the 9/11 truth movement.”)

    The discussion of 9/11 began when a caller claimed that the hijackers who carried out the attack were “patsies.” Shroyer then called on the “Infowars army” to do man-on-the-street interviews to ask people, “Do you believe the official narrative of 9/11? Did you know about Building 7? Do you know about [World Trade Center leaseholder] Larry Silverstein taking out an insurance program just a week before? Did you know [then-national security advisor] Condoleezza Rice was warned not to get on an airplane that day?”

    9/11 conspiracy theorists often claim that Building 7, a property adjacent to the Twin Towers that collapsed following the attacks, was actually brought down by a controlled demolition. Silverstein was required to buy insurance for the World Trade Center, although conspiracy theorists such as Shroyer use the purchase of the policy to claim he had advance knowledge of the attacks. Likewise, conspiracy theorists have also claimed that Rice had pre-knowledge of the attacks due to the unsubstantiated claim that she warned then-San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown not to fly on that day.

    Later in the video, while showing video of one of the World Trade Center plane strikes, Shroyer said that “some people” say that footage of the attacks was a “projected image.”

    The 9/11 conspiracy theories Shroyer pushed were sandwiched in between two promotional segments for Infowars products that accounted for about five minutes of the 15-minute video. During the first pitch, Shroyer said that people should buy the products because Infowars’ situation is “desperate.”  If Infowars is actually in financial peril, at least it can still count on using Facebook to help fund the operation and line Alex Jones’ pockets.