Media Structures & Regulations

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  • Breitbart Helped Boost A Man Vying To Become The Next Dutch Prime Minister: Geert Wilders, Dubbed The "Dutch Trump"

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    Breitbart.com provided a platform for far-right Dutch political leader Geert Wilders, who is running for prime minister of the Netherlands in the March 15 election, by publishing columns he wrote. Wilders used Breitbart to boost his anti-Muslim brand among factions of the white nationalist “alt-right” in 2016.

    Wilders, leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV), has been labeled “the Netherlands' Donald Trump.” Like President Trump, Wilders gained prominence with a candidacy driven by anti-Muslim rhetoric and populist sentiment, courting key figures among the far-right factions overtaking conservative politics globally. Recent I&O Research polling showed Wilders trailing among voters, but NBC News noted that Wilders successfully pulled mainstream Dutch politicians toward the extreme right -- a dangerous victory for anti-immigrant populists in Europe.

    In 2016, Wilders’ anti-immigrant rhetoric found a platform on Breitbart under Stephen Bannon, who later left the site to run Trump’s presidential campaign and who now serves as chief strategist and senior counselor to the president. Wilders' columns have been published on both the American version of Breitbart.com and the "Breitbart London" site, which is apparently in charge of the outlet's desired expansion into other European markets.

    In a column published by Breitbart in February 2016, Wilders described the growth of Islamic faith as “an existential threat to our Western freedoms and our Judeo-Christian civilization.” Wilders argued that Western nations have a “duty” to “stop Islam … as a matter of survival” and advocated a Western freeze on “all immigration from Islamic countries.”

    The columns Wilders published at Breitbart all contained similar inflammatory anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant commentary. In another column published in September 2016, Wilders stated that Muslim immigrants “carry our passports, but they do not belong to us” because they “spit on” Dutch identity “and behave like conquerors.” Wilders went on to describe Islam as “an existential threat to” the Netherlands’ “survival as a free nation.”

    This isn't the first time Breitbart has gone to bat for far-right European parties and politicians. The site has consistently promoted Marine Le Pen and The National Front, France's most prominent far-right political party; Germany's Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, a far-right, anti-immigrant, nativist political party; and the United Kingdom's UK Independence Party, a group that has been denounced for pushing "open, explicit racism."

    Breitbart under Bannon and beyond also played an instrumental role in the success of Trump’s candidacy, acting as the de facto propaganda arm of the Trump campaign. In the year leading up to the 2016 election, Breitbart defended Trump’s claim that Mexicans were “rapists,” attacked a Mexican-American federal judge on behalf of Trump, and smeared Gold Star father Khizr Khan. Trump often repeated conspiracy theories published on Breitbart during his campaign, and Trump’s administration has continued to give special access to Breitbart in the White House.

  • Fox News’ Reporting On Fired US Attorney Ignores His Investigation Of Fox News

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & CHRISTOPHER LEWIS

    In over 40 segments from March 11 through 13 that discussed President Donald Trump’s firing of Preet Bharara, who was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Fox News failed to disclose that Bharara was investigating multiple potential crimes committed by the network, including allegedly hiding financial settlements paid to women who accused former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes of sexual harassment.

  • Sean Hannity Asks WikiLeaks To Confirm His Russia-CIA Conspiracy Theory

    Hannity Has A History Of Courting WikiLeaks To Support His Trump Defenses

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Following Fox host Sean Hannity's March 8 conspiracy theory that the CIA framed the Russian government for election interference, Hannity tweeted at WikiLeaks on March 9 asking them to confirm his suspicion. This tweet is just the latest example of Hannity’s increasingly far-fetched attempts to defend President Donald Trump against any and all Russia-related allegations follows his months-long courting of WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.

    On March 9, Hannity tweeted at WikiLeaks, asking “Is it possible, likely or can you confirm instances where the CIA used Malware to ‘Attribute’ cyberattacks to other nations? Possibly Russia”:

    This is just the latest example of Hannity's embrace of WikiLeaks. Throughout the 2016 election, Hannity and WikiLeaks developed a relationship of mutual admiration and promotion of one another. Hannity, who called for Assange’s arrest in 2010, had a change of heart once WikiLeaks started attacking Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Hannity went on to host Assange for multiple interviews on his radio and television shows, and the Fox host has described Assange as “the modern day Woodward and Bernstein,” a reference to the Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate story. Hannity’s newfound love for WikiLeaks led him to defend the organization’s conduct, even after it was confirmed that the documents they published originated from Russian-backed hacking intended to interfere in the 2016 election, because WikiLeaks “reveal[ed] how corrupt the liberal media is.” WikiLeaks, in turn, has promoted Hannity’s Assange interviews several times and has twice recently tweeted a Hannity segment featuring right-wing talk radio host Laura Ingraham talking about the “deep state.” 

    Though Hannity has always fervently defended Trump and lashed out at the president’s critics -- including accusing the media of “purposefully distorting” Trump’s request that the Russian government “find the 30,000 emails that are missing” -- Hannity’s Trump defenses have become increasingly conspiratorial. Hannity decried the entire story of alleged ties between Trump and Russia as “politically motivated” “liberal fake news.” He also called the consensus of 17 U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia attempted to disrupt the election “fake news,” claiming that there are not 17 intelligence agencies (there are.) So far, Hannity’s conspiratorial navel-gazing has culminated (in addition to the aforementioned CIA conspiracy theory) in the absurd allegation that former President Barack Obama’s campaign database is proof of “a shadow government” undermining the Trump administration, a claim also made by several fake news purveyors.

  • Locked-Out Media Watch While Trump Administration Retreats Into Secrecy

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    “We want to ensure at all times, if confirmed, that the secretary of state and the State Department is fully transparent with the public.” - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at his January 11, 2017, confirmation hearing.

    On Tuesday, bureau chiefs for major news organizations held a conference call to discuss the fact that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is not going to allow the press to travel with him on his plane during an upcoming trip to Asia. According to Poynter.org, which reported on the call, not allowing reporters on Tillerson’s government plane would be would be “very unusual, if not unprecedented, certainly in recent annals, with substantial access given by recent Secretaries of State, including John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice.”

    As Poynter explained, “[T]he logistics of keeping up with [Tillerson] by assembling stringers or hopscotching about on commercials flights makes coverage exceedingly difficult, if not impossible.” According to CNN, a senior official "told reporters Tuesday Tillerson prefers to travel on a smaller plane and 'carries a much smaller footprint.'" Tillerson’s plan to exclude the press from traveling with him overseas represents a stunning State Department policy reversal, while further cementing his image as a secretive cabinet figure who has had virtually no contact with journalists since being sworn in. “The secretary of state has given only a handful of prepared statements to the press and has not taken any questions,” CNN noted.

    That veil of secrecy has quickly emerged as the hallmark for this shadowy administration.

    It’s important to note that while President Trump’s ongoing war on the press has received most of the attention this year as he threatens journalists and restricts their access, there are plenty of indications that the rampant secrecy and disdain for transparency is widespread. “The retreat from the press has taken place administration-wide,” Politico noted.

    There seems to be a collective closing of the gates now underway in terms of the federal government separating itself from journalists.

    Just look at what unfolded on Monday:

    • Tillerson, along with Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, held an event with journalists to announce the administration’s latest attempt to restrict travel to the U.S. from six Muslim-majority countries. But none of the men responded to press questions about the controversial initiative.
    • Unlike how the administration treated the original travel ban signing, Trump signed the revised travel ban executive order without photographers or reporters present to record the event.
    • When the White House held a background conference call with reporters to discuss the updated travel ban it did not identify officials on the call, which prompted a New York Times reporter to tweet:

    The next day, NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell was escorted from a photo-op with Tillerson and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin after trying to ask several questions. The questions were "met with silence."

    All of that constitutes an historic effort by the Trump administration to lock out the press from the government’s official duties and business.

    This, of course, comes after the White House’s radical move to banish several major news outlets from a press “gaggle,” likely because the administration was unhappy with what the organizations were reporting. What followed was a highly unusual, weeklong blackout in terms of televised press briefings from White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

    That drawing of the curtain is part of a larger administration effort to march back transparency. For instance, in recent weeks there’s been a paucity of senior administration officials available for on-the-record interviews. Traditionally, senior officials, including cabinet members, have been made available for in-depth interviews, especially on the Sunday morning shows. But not the Trump team.

    The White House seems to have specifically singled out CNN, repeatedly, and refused to provide officials for interviews there.

    Overall, the administration remains reluctant to engage. Just six weeks into Trump’s term and Sunday morning show producers have been reduced to booking (or not booking) the White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for the weekly programs.

    Those who didn’t decline Sanders might’ve wished they had. In her appearance on ABC’s This Week, when confronted about Trump’s wholly unfounded claim that former President Barack Obama had bugged Trump Tower, Sanders said, “I will let the president speak for himself,” to which host Martha Raddatz responded, “You’re his spokesperson.”

    The next day, Sanders appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America and tried to argue that Trump’s fantastic claims about Obama and wiretapping were supported by mainstream news reports. (They’re not.) Watching Sanders’ spectacle of unending misinformation and non sequiturs, New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen tweeted, “You have to use terms like sadism to describe the WH press office now.”

    Unable to explain or add context, Trump’s press office remains of little use to working journalists and signifies the administration’s sustained retreat from information.

    Perhaps nowhere outside the West Wing is that retreat more apparent than at the State Department, which for the first six weeks of the Trump administration essentially shut off all communication with the public and the press.

    Between January 20 and March 6, there were no State Department press briefings. This, despite the fact the media Q & A’s “have been held on a near-daily basis on weekdays since the 1950s, when John Foster Dulles was secretary of state,” according to the Washington Times.

    The only explanation given for the State Department silence under the Trump team was that they “needed time to get organized.” But note that the Obama administration quickly began daily State Department briefings as soon as Hillary Clinton was sworn in as secretary of state on January 22, 2009.

    Under Trump, the State Department’s chief spokesperson wasn’t even hired until last week. Tillerson himself is still lacking key deputies. “Of the 44 highest-ranking positions at the State Department, the Trump administration has filled one: Tillerson's,” Bloomberg reported last week. (To date, just a handful of ambassadors have been appointed.)

    On Tuesday, the State Department finally held its first press briefing, but reporters suspect future briefings will be drastically scaled back to perhaps just twice a week. That would represent another sweeping break from the department’s tradition of media accessibility.

    And now we get word that Tillerson’s not bringing the press on his plane for his trip to Asia.

    Recall that during his confirmation hearing in January, Tillerson was specifically asked by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) whether his State Department would maintain open and transparent relations with the press, including reporters traveling with him.

    He insisted it would:

    During the hearing, Booker noted that his staff had tallied the number of press interactions Hillary Clinton and John Kerry had had over the years while serving as secretaries of state. The total came to nearly six thousand.

    To date, Tillerson has had almost no interactions. The gates are going down, and the press is being left outside.

    UPDATE: 

    Poynter reported Thursday that “D.C. bureau chiefs from major news organizations, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the wire services, Fox News and CNN sent a letter to the State Department earlier this week protesting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's decision to ditch reporters on his upcoming trip to Asia.”

    Their letter, which was printed in full by Poynter, is below:

    Dear Mr. Hammond and Ms. Peterlin,

    We are the Washington bureau chiefs and editors of major print, wire, television and radio news organizations. We are writing to request a meeting with both of you as soon as possible to discuss press access to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and coverage of American foreign policy going forward.

    We were deeply concerned to hear that Secretary Tillerson plans to travel to Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo to hold key meetings about some of the most important foreign policy issues for the United States without any traveling press. Not only does this situation leave the public narrative of the meetings up to the Chinese foreign ministry as well as Korea’s and Japan’s, but it gives the American people no window whatsoever into the views and actions of the nation’s leaders. And the offer to help those reporters who want to travel unilaterally is wholly unrealistic, given the commercial flight schedules, visa issues and no guarantee of access once they are there.

    But the issues go beyond just the March 14-19 trip and affect the day-to-day coverage of the nation’s top diplomat and U.S. relations with the rest of the world.

    Please let us know when a small group of us could come by to see if we can work out an arrangement that suits all of us.

    Thank you,

    Wendy Benjaminson
    Acting Washington Bureau Chief
    The Associated Press

    Bryan Boughton
    Fox News Channel
    Washington Bureau Chief

    Elisabeth Bumiller
    Washington Bureau Chief
    New York Times

    Edith Chapin
    Executive Editor
    NPR

    Paul Danahar
    BBC Americas Bureaux Chief

    Sam Feist
    CNN Washington Bureau Chief

    Peter Finn
    National Security Editor
    The Washington Post

    Keith Johnson
    Acting Managing Editor, News
    Foreign Policy

    Weston Kosova
    Washington Bureau Chief
    Bloomberg

    David Lauter
    Washington Bureau Chief
    Los Angeles Times/Chicago Tribune

    Yolanda Lopez
    Central News Director
    VOA

    David Millikin
    North America bureau chief
    AFP

  • After Months Of Trump Attacks On CNN, The Network Hires His Former Campaign Adviser

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    CNN’s newest commentator is Jason Miller, a top communications aide to President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign who was originally tapped to be his White House communications director. The Miller hire appears to be an effort to appease the president, who has spent months trying to delegitimize the network.

    The news broke less than 24 hours after CNN president Jeff Zucker decried Trump’s description of news outlets as the “enemy of the people” at a media conference. Zucker called that statement “dangerous, unprecedented, and shocking” and an effort to undermine “aspects of the American system.” He also said it was “shocking to watch how many members of the political establishment have not been willing to stand up to that statement.”

    For months, Trump has been engaged in what he has described as a “running war with the media,” which he claims is “dishonest.” He has described major news outlets -- including CNN -- as “the enemy of the American people.”

    CNN has been a particular target of the president’s vitriol. During a January 11 press conference, Trump attacked the network’s report that top U.S. intelligence officials believe Russian operatives may have compromising information about him. After CNN reporter Jim Acosta tried to ask Trump a question, he lashed out at Acosta’s “terrible” news outlet, shouting, “I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news!”

    Trump continued his attacks on the network during his February 16 press conference, mocking Acosta, suggesting that Zucker owes his job to Trump, and describing the network’s programming as “so much anger and hatred.” He has also repeatedly attacked CNN on his Twitter feed.

    Zucker, who helped revitalize Trump’s relevance when he gave the now-president his prime-time NBC program The Apprentice, has repeatedly spoken out against Trump’s criticism. But now he has apparently rewarded Trump’s actions by putting one of his former top advisers on the payroll.

    Miller served as the Trump campaign's senior communications adviser and spokesman for the president-elect, then was tapped for the role of White House communications director before withdrawing for family reasons. He joins paid Trump advocates Jeffrey Lord and Kayleigh McEnany at the network.

    It’s not the first time Zucker has provided a Trump aide who lost their position in the president’s orbit with a cushy commentator gig.

    After Trump fired campaign manager Corey Lewandowski last year, Zucker quickly swooped in with a hefty contract. The deal was a farce: Lewandowski had a history of open hostility toward the press; he was likely prevented from criticizing Trump due to a non-disparagement agreement; he remained on Trump’s payroll for months after joining CNN; he continued to advise Trump on strategy and travel with the candidate; and he used the platform for egregious shilling on Trump’s behalf. Zucker continued to defend the hire until, in a final humiliation, Lewandowski quit after the election to pursue other options.

    Miller doesn’t have Lewandowski’s history of vitriolic attacks on reporters, but CNN shouldn’t expect him to defend the network from Trump. In October, Wolf Blitzer asked Miller if he was comfortable with the way Trump lashed out at the press and threatened to sue journalists. Miller responded by blaming the “biased” media, claiming that “there are entire networks on TV that, every time you turn them on, it’s one big attack against Mr. Trump.”

    Now when CNN gets attacked by the president, the network will be paying Miller to explain how it deserves the treatment.

  • Politico Highlights “Disappearing” Sean Spicer’s Retreat From Televised Briefings

    White House Would Rather Avoid A “Combative Briefing” And Let Trump “Control The Message Himself”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    After weeks of lying on camera and lashing out at reporters during recorded press briefings (and drawing subsequent public mockery), White House press secretary Sean Spicer is “retreating from the harsh glare of the daily televised briefing,” Politico reported. The publication explained that, as of March 6, Spicer had not held a regular on-camera briefing in seven days -- a period that has hardly been light on news. Since Spicer’s last regular briefing, Trump signed a revised Muslim ban, Trump took to Twitter to float a series of baseless allegations that President Barack Obama had ordered wiretapping at Trump Tower during the presidential campaign, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any Department of Justice probes related to the 2016 election after it was reported he had met with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. twice during the election season.

    Though Spicer is expected to break that streak this afternoon, a White House official told Politico that Trump “prefers controlling the message himself” and that the administration believes “a combative briefing [from Spicer] can take away from the administration’s attempt at orchestrated news.” Instead, Spicer is increasingly relying on smaller, “off-camera ‘gaggles’” with friendly outlets while eschewing traditional briefings, a tactic that appears to be taking hold across the administration

    From the Politico article:

    After two flayings on Saturday Night Live, sustained mockings on late-night shows, and a series of televised confrontations with reporters, White House press secretary Sean Spicer is retreating from the harsh glare of the daily televised briefing.

    The White House has not held a televised briefing in seven days, after regularly holding the traditional on-camera event in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room on weekdays when President Donald Trump was not travelling.

    Instead, Spicer and the press shop is increasingly turning to off-camera “gaggles” that shield the embattled press secretary from scrutiny — both from a fascinated national audience and a certain regular viewer in the Oval Office.

    There is a concern in the White House that a combative briefing can take away from the administration’s attempt at orchestrated news, and the president prefers controlling the message himself, one White House official said.

    [...]

    The retreat from the press has taken place administration-wide. The State Department has curtailed its own briefings, which used to take place daily. The briefings were set to resume this week, but Monday’s was cancelled after the rollout of the new travel ban executive order Monday morning, which included a statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.