National Security & Foreign Policy

Issues ››› National Security & Foreign Policy
  • Will Facebook supply data to the inquiries into pro-Trump websites possibly colluding with Russia?

    Russia probes looking into possible Russia collusion with Trump campaign and Trump allies

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A new report from The Guardian claims that Russia probe special counsel Robert Mueller and Congress are likely looking into possible Russian collusion with pro-Trump websites and associates of President Donald Trump’s election campaign in order to spread fake news and misinformation on social media during the 2016 presidential election. The report helps underscore the need for Facebook to show greater transparency and cooperation with experts as part of the company’s efforts to fight fake news.

    On July 5, the Guardian reported that multiple probes about “possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow” are looking into “whether Trump supporters and far-right websites coordinated with Moscow over the release of fake news.” According to the Guardian, the ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, “said there was evidence that this campaign appeared to be focused on key voters in swing states [Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania], raising the question over whether there was coordination with US political operatives in directing the flow of bogus stories.” The article noted that “a huge wave of fake news” that originated in Eastern Europe was impacting the campaign as early as March 2016, with fake stories aiming to harm former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the Democratic Party’s primaries, and then aiming to help Trump during the general election campaign.

    The report is one of several which has suggested possible collusion between Russia, people surrounding Trump’s campaign, and pro-Trump media. In March, a separate report was published claiming that the FBI was looking into Russian bots spreading pro-Trump stories from “alt-right” websites like Breitbart and Infowars, and investigating whether “far-right news operations took any actions to assist Russia’s operatives.” As far back as November 2016, The New York Times reported on Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm hired by the Trump campaign, helping to push “dark posts” on Facebook -- targeted ads that “can only be seen by users with specific profiles” -- during the campaign to “try to suppress the African-American vote.” The firm, which is primarily owned by major Trump donor and Breitbart financier Robert Mercer and in which former Breitbart head and current White House chief strategist Steve Bannon invested, is being investigated by Congress, according to a May report from Time magazine, for its possible ties to “right-wing web personalities based in Eastern Europe who the U.S. believes are Russian fronts.” Notably, Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, who is “under FBI scrutiny in the Russia investigation,was involved with coordinating Trump’s digital operation, which included Analytica.

    As these probes look further into possible collusion between Russia’s operatives, pro-Trump websites, and members of Trump’s campaign to influence the election outcome, Facebook continues to be non-transparent in its efforts to fight fake news. Although the social network platform has taken some steps to combat the problem, those steps appear to be lacking, especially seeing as the company may have information that could show possible Russian collusion that it has not released. Facebook has refused to share its data on fake news with experts and researchers who are trying to track fake news and have called on the company to release it, and it has additionally refused to publicly report on the impact of fake news via its website. As Trump continues to engage in efforts to potentially suppress votes, it is critical for Facebook to maximize opportunities that could prevent future attempts to stop people from voting.

  • Media need to be extremely careful to not repeat their mistakes with Trump and Syria

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump’s administration may launch another military strike in Syria if the Syrian government carries out another chemical attack. If Trump does attack Syria, media must be cautious in their coverage and not repeat the fawning approach much of them adopted after Trump launched an April strike in the country.

    On June 26, the Trump administration issued a statement saying that Syrian President Bashar Assad was possibly preparing for another chemical attack and warning that Assad would “pay a heavy price” if he actually carried one out. The New York Times also noted that military officials were “caught off guard” by the statement.

    If there’s another chemical attack and Trump carries out his threat and launches military action in response, it could be a repeat of what happened just a few months ago. On April 7, in response to the Assad government’s reported chemical attack on a rebel-held Syrian town, Trump ordered the military to fire missiles at the Syrian airbase that launched that attack. Many in media lauded Trump in an over-the-top fashion, calling the strike “beautiful” and “an emotional act by a man suddenly aware that the world’s problems were now his,” saying the strike was the moment “Donald Trump became President of the United States,” and claiming that he had “nailed” his “first test,” that he “made Americans proud,” and that he showed “a level of decisiveness that we have not seen in these past eight years.” Yet that same Syrian base was back in operation less than 48 hours after the attack, and now the administration is claiming it could be the source of another possible attack.

    Thus far, cable news coverage, in particular, has generally been restrained, expressing caution in their interpretation of the administration’s action while also suggesting that it could be a “deterrent” and a “red line” threat against the Syrian regime. (Fox News, perhaps unsurprisingly, used it to criticize former President Barack Obama.) If Trump follows through on his threat, this continued level of cautious analysis will be crucial.

    The commentary about military action does not exist in a vacuum. After Trump’s missile strikes in April, some pundits linked their praise of the strikes to the threat North Korea poses to the U.S. Trump, a huge consumer of cable news, could potentially have felt incentivized to increase tensions with that country as a result, given the positive coverage he has received for taking military action.

    Further, the possible military action could yet again revive the Trump-is-finally-pivoting narrative, a claim that has repeatedly popped up since Trump announced his presidential campaign but that has consistently been incorrect. With Trump’s threats against Syria, media are being given another chance not to repeat the "pivot" mistake that many of them have made time and time again.

  • New right-wing media talking point: It's no big deal if Trump colluded with the Russians

    Legal experts and Trump’s attorney general agree it would be “improper and illegal”

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Conservative media figures have repeatedly downplayed possible collusion between associates of President Donald Trump and the Russian government, suggesting that “it’s not a crime” to collude with a foreign government to influence U.S. elections. Legal experts and Trump’s own attorney general, however, agree that such collusion would be “improper and illegal.”

  • Trump champion Hugh Hewitt gets his own show on MSNBC

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Conservative talk radio host and Trump supporter Hugh Hewitt will host his own show on MSNBC. Hewitt, who has called himself a “‘reluctant Trump’ voter," has a history of flip-flopping on Trump and his policies. He's been critical of Trump, even calling on him to be removed as the nominee twice during the presidential campaign, but has also defended him during his campaign, transition, and presidency. Hewitt's record suggests he will simply serve as a Republican shill on MSNBC and will continue spreading his right-wing punditry and misinformation.

  • Here's how right-wing media have reacted to months of setbacks for Trump's Muslim bans

    ››› ››› NINA MAST

    As President Trump's executive orders banning immigration from first seven, then six, majority-Muslim nations have moved through the U.S. court system, they've been met with a series of legal setbacks and direct action and have drawn extensive media coverage. What follows is a timeline of events surrounding the ban, with a focus on right-wing media hypocrisy, denial, and defense of the president's increasingly indefensible policy. This post will be updated.

  • Qatari crisis shows grave implications of Trump’s Twitter account

    Yes, the media should take statements from the president seriously, be they on Twitter or any other platform

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters
    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump’s staffers have excoriated the media for covering the president’s tweets and for questioning his use of the platform, claiming that "it's social media," not official government policy. However, the Qatari government’s bewildered reaction to Trump’s tweets criticizing the Persian Gulf state over terrorism financing, followed by the president contradicting his secretary of state’s call to ease a recent blockade against Qatar by other Arab nations, demonstrates that journalists should ignore White House staffers’ admonishments and treat Trump's social media comments as presidential statements.

    On June 5, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and deputy assistant to the president Sebastian Gorka made television appearances where they lectured journalists about their coverage of the president’s tweets. When hosts on NBC’s Today and CNN’s New Day asked Trump’s staffers about tweets he had sent earlier that morning, they derided the hosts for their, as Conway put it, “obsession with covering everything [Trump] says on Twitter.” Gorka also repeatedly told his interviewer that the interviewer was “obsessed” with Trump’s tweets and tried arguing that “a hundred characters is not policy. … It’s not policy. It’s social media.”

    Enter the sudden diplomatic crisis between Qatar, which hosts America’s largest military base in the region, and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Several Arab nations cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and cut off access routes to its territory because of the nation’s supposed support for radical Islamist groups. Trump reacted to the volatile situation by posting a series of tweets taking credit for the move to isolate Qatar -- while also explaining why he uses social media to communicate:

    Trump staffers’ may insist to the media that the president’s tweets aren’t policy and shouldn’t be taken seriously, but the Qatari government apparently feels otherwise. In a June 6 interview with The Daily Beast, Qatar’s ambassador to the U.S., Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani, stated that the Trump administration didn’t express any hostility to Qatar until Trump began tweeting:

    Qatar’s brand new ambassador to Washington was already bewildered, along with much of the rest of his country, at dramatic moves by several Arab nations in the past 48 hours to cut diplomatic and trade ties with the tiny Gulf nation. The hate tweets by Donald Trump only made things worse.

    “We were surprised,” said Ambassador Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani, perhaps the understatement of the year from the diplomat who is just a couple of months into his post here. “No one approached us directly and said, ‘Look, we have problems with this and this and this,’” he told The Daily Beast in his first on-the-record interview since the controversy broke.

    [...]

    President Donald Trump hailed the move in tweets as proof his recent visit to the region was a success. “They said they would take a hard line on funding… extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism,” he tweeted.

    But here’s the strange thing. Trump had hailed the Gulf nation in his landmark summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, calling Qatar “a crucial strategic partner,” and he met with Qatari leader Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani—and raised no complaints, the ambassador said.

    “We participated in Riyadh. We had a good meeting with the president and with [Saudi] King Salman—nothing was raised,” he said. The Treasury Department has praised Qatar’s work on terrorist financing, and the gulf nation plays host to a massive U.S. air base. Its special operations forces fight side by side with American special operators on a number of battlefields.

    “It’s unfortunate to see these tweets,” the ambassador said. “We have close coordination with the United States. They know our efforts to combat financial terrorism and terrorism.”

    So much for the president’s tweets not being government policy.

    Trump’s June 9 press conference underscored the importance of media scrutinizing the president's social media posts. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had publicly defended Qatar just an hour before the presser and had called for the Arab countries that had severed ties with the Persian Gulf state to “immediately take steps to de-escalate the situation and put forth a good faith effort to resolve the grievances they have with each other.” But during a presser with the president of Romania, Trump slammed Qatar, again accusing it of having “been a funder of terrorism at a very high level,” and cited Tillerson’s support of his idea that “the time has come to call on Qatar to end its funding” of terrorism. As it turns out, Trump’s tweets were a clear indication of his thinking at the time and showed that journalists should ignore Conway, Gorka, and anyone else from the administration urging them to discount their importance.

    Just ask the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which just cited a Trump tweet as an "official statement" of the president.