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  • After apologizing for toxic remarks, HHS official now claims she was the target of a “smear campaign”

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) official Ximena Barreto issued a statement last month saying she “deeply” apologizes for making “generalized comments regarding race relations and radical Islam.” Barreto is now backtracking by claiming that she is the victim of a “smear campaign.”

    Barreto is a former right-wing pundit who joined HHS in December 2017 as a deputy communications director. Media Matters reported on April 9 that Barreto (who also goes by the surname Barreto-Rice) has a history of making toxic remarks. She claimed that “African-Americans are way more racist than white people,” labeled Islam “a fucking cult” that has “no place” in the United States, pushed the false Pizzagate conspiracy theory, and attacked the “retarded” 2017 Women’s March. Here is a video of some of her worst remarks: 

    Following the publication of Media Matters’ report, HHS issued a statement saying Barreto “has been placed on administrative leave while the matter is reviewed.”

    CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski, Chris Massie, and Nathan McDermott additionally reported on April 13 that Barreto “shared an image in 2017 that said ‘our forefathers would have hung’ Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for treason.” CNN also “found that Barreto also repeatedly used the hashtag #BanIslam” and pushed other conspiracy theories, including about murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.

    In May, HHS announced that it would not fire Barreto and reassigned her to the department’s Administration for Children and Families. HHS also provided an apology from Barreto for her remarks, which stated, in part: “Comments I made as I private citizen before I was hired at HHS were brought to light by concerned members of the press. In the heated and hyper-passionate political campaign environment, I made generalized comments regarding race relations and radical Islam. I fully understand that these emotionally-charged comments were hurtful, and I deeply apologize to members of both communities.”

    That apology appears to be a sham -- at least, according to a recent tweet from Barreto herself. Mediaite's Caleb Ecarma reported today that Barreto recently attacked CNN for purportedly conducting a “smear campaign” against her (CNN did not smear Barreto). She tweeted on June 14: “Locked my account after CNNs (sic) smear campaign, received too many threats and packages delivered to my home.” After Ecarma asked her for comment, Barreto reportedly deleted the CNN tweet and shut down her private Twitter account. 

    Mediaite also “conducted an extensive review of her social media posts and found that the HHS appointee pushed the baseless Pizzagate conspiracy theory even more than previously reported. … In total, Mediaite found that Barreto tweeted about variations of the Pizzagate conspiracy at least 17 times.”

    A Media Matters request for comment to HHS was not immediately returned as of posting.

  • Local Virginia media failed to report that the newly elected GOP Senate nominee is a neo-Confederate with connections to white supremacists  

    Evening news programs virtually ignored Corey Stewart’s extremism. Virginia newspapers did only slightly better.

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters 

    On June 12, neo-Confederate Corey Stewart was elected to be the Republican nominee to challenge Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). Stewart is an ardent defender of Confederate symbols and a staunch opponent of immigrants’ rights, and he has been affiliated with white supremacists. Unfortunately for Virginians, local TV news in the state largely failed to mention Stewart’s extremism while reporting on his victory. While some Virginia newspapers did a better job in giving the context of Stewart’s background to audiences, others largely failed to mention his bigotry.

    Stewart, who is currently a member of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, was the Virginia state co-chairman of President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, has been described as a “mini-Trump,” and heavily courted the “alt-right” and figures who have self-identified with the movement. Shortly after he was fired from his position with the campaign in October 2016 for taking part in a protest against the Republican National Committee, Stewart gave an interview to Mike Cernovich, a far-right troll who has a history of promoting conspiracy theories. During the interview, Cernovich said that “he calls establishment Republicans ‘cucks’ because ‘they like to see Trump get screwed over by the media, that's what they get off on.’” Stewart replied, “Yeah, I would agree.” The term “cuck,” short for “cuckold,” is widely used within “alt-right” and pro-Trump circles.

    In January 2017, Stewart spoke out in support of Paul Nehlen, a white nationalist congressional candidate who holds and espouses deeply racist views, calling him one of his “personal heros.” According to CNN, Stewart later paid almost $800 to the "pro-White" Nehlen as a “fundraising commission.” And in February 2017, Stewart attended an event put on by “Unity & Security for America,” a group run by Jason Kessler, the white nationalist who would months later organize the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA. According to The Washington Post, Stewart himself claimed that white nationalists were “unfairly singled out” for their role in the rally. Stewart has since disavowed both men, but as The New York Times reports, Nehlen at least already had a history of making anti-Muslim slurs when Stewart initially praised him.

    Stewart is also a stalwart defender of Confederate symbols and has helped spearhead the movement against immigration and immigrants’ rights in Virginia. During his 2017 campaign for Virginia governor, he displayed a Confederate flag while recording a Facebook live segment, declaring, “Folks, this is a symbol of heritage. It is not a symbol of racism. It is not a symbol of slavery.” Stewart later claimed that “ISIS has won” after a Confederate monument was taken down in New Orleans, LA. During his time as a member of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, Stewart has supported aggressively anti-immigrant policies. He helped pass legislation to bar undocumented immigrants from receiving county services and often fearmongers about immigrants in Virginia, warning residents about the “scourge of illegal aliens who are preying on law-abiding United States citizens here in Fairfax County,” incorrectly stating that the city of Fairfax has “declared itself a ‘sanctuary city.’”

    Local TV news dropped the ball on acknowledging Stewart’s extremism

    Eight major TV news stations in two of Virginia’s largest media markets largely failed to inform viewers that the Republican nominee for Senate is an anti-immigrant, neo-Confederate extremist with ties to white supremacists. Media Matters reviewed local TV coverage of Stewart’s win during nighttime (11 p.m.; 10 p.m. for Fox affiliates) and evening (6 p.m. or 7 p.m.) news programing from 9 p.m. on June 12 (when Stewart was declared the winner) through June 14. Of the four stations carrying local news in the Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News media market, not one mentioned Stewart’s extremist past. Coverage in the Roanoke-Lynchburg media market wasn’t much better; two stations mentioned Stewart’s position on immigration and his advocacy for Confederate monuments, but none highlighted his relationships with white nationalists.

    • In the Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News media market, WVEC (ABC 13), WTKR (CBS 3), WAVY (NBC 10)and WVBT (Fox 43) all failed to mention Stewart’s advocacy for Confederate symbols, his extremism on immigration, and his previous association with white supremacists.  

    • In the Roanoke-Lynchburg, WDBJ (CBS 7) and WFXR (Fox 27) both mentioned Stewart’s defense of Confederate monuments and referenced his stance on immigration, though neither highlighted his extremism on the topic; instead they noted, respectively, his interest in “cracking down on illegal immigration” and his “focus” on “illegal immigration.” Neither station acknowledged his history of associating with white nationalists.

    • WSET (ABC 13, a station owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group) and WSLS (NBC 10) failed to mention any aspect of Stewart’s extremist past.

    Some Virginia newspapers did better than TV news, but others missed the mark

    The Richmond-Times Dispatch did an admirable job detailing Stewart’s bigotry, The Roanoke Times failed to mention certain aspects of Stewart’s extremism, and The Virginian Pilot almost entirely dropped the ball. Media Matters reviewed three major Virginia newspapers’ coverage of Stewart’s victory from June 12 until June 15.

    • The Richmond Times-Dispatch ran five stories mentioning Stewart’s win. Three of those articles mentioned Stewart’s defense of Confederate symbols, or else branded him “pro-Confederate.” Two noted his focus on “illegal” immigration, and four discussed his connections with white supremacists and anti-Semites.  

    • The Roanoke Times ran only one story, an article it re-ran from The Richmond Times-Dispatch, announcing Stewart’s victory, and while it mentioned his association with both Kessler and Nehlen, it failed to identify his support for Confederate symbols or his anti-immigration stances. The Times did, however, run an editorial that accused Stewart of playing “footsie with white nationalists,” and mentioned his backing of Confederate symbols. 

    • The Virginian Pilot ran two articles, one partially re-published from The Washington Post, that mentioned Stewart’s victory. The Post article actually did mention Stewart’s support for Confederate monuments, his immigration stance, and his extreme associations, but this section of the article was taken out when it ran in the Pilot. The other article neglected to definitively acknowledge any aspect of Stewart’s extremism, instead noting that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has accused him of “cozying up to purveyors of dangerous white supremacy or anti-Semitic views."


    Using iQ media, Media Matters analyzed Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News and Roanoke-Lynchburg, two of the largest local news markets in Virginia, for “Corey Stewart,” “Stewart,” or “Republican primary” from 9 p.m. on June 12 through June 14. Relevant segments were reviewed during the stations' nighttime news program (11 p.m.; 10 p.m. for WVBT and WFXR) and during the 6 p.m. (7 p.m. for WVBT, which doesn't air 6 p.m. news) block of their evening news coverage (WFXR does not air evening news coverage).  

    Using Nexis, Media Matters searched three widely circulated Virginia-based print newspapers, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Virginian Pilot, and The Roanoke Times, from 9 p.m. June 12 to June 15 and reviewed relevant print articles that included the terms “Stewart” or “Republican primary.”

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

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Rep. Steve King elevates a neo-Nazi on Twitter

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    On June 12, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) quote-tweeted an anti-immigrant tweet from British neo-Nazi Mark Collett. It's not the first time King has elevated white supremacist talking points on Twitter.

    Media Matters reported on Collett’s history when Fox News host Laura Ingraham quoted him in a tweet in January. At the time, we noted that Mark Collett is a former chairman of the youth division of the British National Party (BNP), a far-right political organization in the United Kingdom, who was eventually dismissed from the party and arrested for death threats against its leader, a political rival. Collett has repeatedly collaborated with former Ku Klux Klan leader and radio host David Duke, who has endorsed Collett’s book. Collett once expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler, has said that he considered AIDS a “friendly disease because blacks, drug users and gays have it,” and has referred to asylum seekers as “cockroaches.” Collett also campaigned in support of Brexit with his girlfriend, who has multiple Nazi tattoos.

    Angry White Men, a blog that tracks far-right people and groups, flagged King’s quote-tweet and shared a number of pieces laying out Collett’s racist extremism in a Twitter thread.

    King has a record of pushing white supremacist narratives on Twitter. He once tweeted that "we can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies" and then doubled-down on his statement after receiving backlash. Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke praised King for his tweet:

    As Vice documented, King’s bigotry has been on display beyond Twitter as well. He’s compared undocumented immigrants to livestock, pushed the birther conspiracy theory that claims Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and referred to the former president as “very, very urban,” and said that only Europe and the U.S. have contributed to civilization.

  • Right-wing pundit and congressional candidate Seth Grossman posted bigoted commentaries about Black and Muslim people

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Seth Grossman, a Republican pundit who is running for Congress, repeatedly posted bigoted commentaries about Black and Muslim people online. Grossman claimed he knew “of many Africans who wish their ancestors had been taken to America as slaves,” promoted an anti-Black piece on a white nationalist website, and called Islam “a cancer" that has "already infected a billion people."

    Grossman is a lawyer who has also been a radio host and a newspaper columnist. He heads the nonprofit organization Liberty and Prosperity 1776 Inc. and writes commentaries on its website. Grossman won the Republican nomination for New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District on June 5.

    The Republican commentator has been under scrutiny this week because of recently released remarks he made at an April forum in which he said, “The whole idea of diversity is a bunch of crap and un-American.” That remark was captured by American Bridge 21st Century PAC (American Bridge founder David Brock is also the founder of Media Matters).

    Before he started running for Congress, Grossman also frequently posted bigoted and racist remarks about Black and Muslim people in commentary pieces and on social media, according to a Media Matters review. Here are numerous examples:

    “Blacks were not enslaved by whites. They were enslaved by other blacks and then sold to whites. … I do know of many Africans who wish their ancestors had been taken to America as slaves.” From a March 7, 2017, post on Grossman’s Facebook page:

    Fifty years of welfare programs, public and college ‘education’, and media and Hollywood pop culture run by ‘progressive’ Democrats did far more long term damage to blacks in America than 230 years of slavery.” From a July 17, 2016, post on Grossman’s Facebook page:

    “Democrats today constantly talk of wrongs done by some whites to some blacks more than a hundred years ago. The purpose is for blacks to blame whites for their problems instead of the liberal officials and policies that are truly responsible.” From an April 4, 2012, piece by Grossman in the Current and Gazette newspapers of Atlantic and Cape May counties, which was also posted on libertyandprosperity.com:

    As I got older, I paid attention to the conversations of the adults at the Passover dinner. My grandmother was always amazed at how much our family enjoyed both holidays, and how lucky we were to live in America.

    In bits and pieces I learned how my experiences with these holidays were so different from hers. To my grandmother who lived in Moldavia, a Romanian-speaking province in the old Russian Empire, Passover and Easter were holidays of fear and death.

    There was no First Amendment in Russia. The government and the churches were run by a dictator called the Czar. His officials used the churches to get people angry at Jews, rather than the corruption and incompetence of the government.

    What they did was like how Democrats today constantly talk of wrongs done by some whites to some blacks more than a hundred years ago. The purpose is for blacks to blame whites for their problems instead of the liberal officials and policies that are truly responsible.

    Grossman promoted a piece from a white nationalist site that claimed Black people “are a threat to all who cross their paths, black and non-black alike.” On December 30, 2014, Grossman posted a link to a piece on the white nationalist website American Renaissance. The piece’s author wrote that he is “a public defender in a large southern metropolitan area” and his “experience” has taught him “that blacks are different by almost any measure to all other people. They cannot reason as well. They cannot communicate as well. They cannot control their impulses as well. They are a threat to all who cross their paths, black and non-black alike.”

    “Islam has nothing in common with other modern world religions like Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, or Hinduism.” Grossman wrote a July 18, 2016, piece on libertyandprosperity.com that purported to explain why Muslims “attack and kill us” by listing “12 simple facts about Islam.”

    Grossman’s list including virulently anti-Muslim claims, including that the religion has “nothing in common with other modern world religions”; “Islam is stuck in the barbaric, cut-throat world of Arabia 1,400 years ago”; and “Good Muslims who believe and support these principles of Islam cannot be good Americans. Only ‘bad’ Muslims who reject their religion can be good Americans.”

    "Islam is a cancer. The fact that it already infected a billion people is even more reason to fight it every way we can.” From a March 27, 2016, post on Grossman’s Facebook page:

    “Why are we inviting thousands of Muslim immigrants to our towns and neighborhoods when we are in the middle of a war with Islam?” From a February 28, 2015, post on Grossman’s Facebook page:

    Grossman shared a graphic that attacked then-President Barack Obama for having “flooded our cities with Muslims.” From a January 10, 2016, post on Grossman’s Facebook page:

  • Fox News suggested Trump could take on prison reform, but his administration’s policies are worsening mass incarceration

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    After President Donald Trump commuted the excessive sentence for a nonviolent, first-time drug offender, Fox News speculated that he could lead an initiative for bipartisan prison reform. In reality, the drug policies enacted by the Trump administration are more likely to worsen mass incarceration.

    After Trump met with celebrity Kim Kardashian West on June 6, he commuted the life sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, who had spent 21 years in prison for two drug charges. The Johnson commutation, part of Trump’s arbitrary clemency spree, led Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer to suggest that the government could do “prison reform under this president.” Fox headlines anchor Carley Shimkus responded, saying that according to the ACLU, “there’s 3,000 nonviolent, first-time offenders in prison right now” and that there could be “some common ground” across the political spectrum on this issue because “this is something that the anthem-kneelers are always preaching about.”

    In reality, Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has adopted several policies that will actually worsen mass incarceration, especially for the nonviolent, first-time offenders Shimkus was talking about. 

    Even before he was in office, analysts predicted that Trump would grow the federal prison population. Although that population has been decreasing since 2013, the rate of decrease has slowed significantly under the Trump administration. According to Bureau of Prisons statistics, the total number of federal inmates dropped by only around 6,500 in 2017, as opposed to more than 13,500 the year before. Since the current number of federal inmates is already only around 1,500 lower than last year’s total, Trump seems likely to preside over the first growth in federal prison populations in half a decade.

    Contributing to Trump’s reversal of declining prison populations is his punitive immigration and drug policies. Trump’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has made a very high-profile habit of imprisoning immigrants (or people who simply appear to be immigrants) and trying to deport them, including by falsely accusing them of being affiliated with gangs. 

    On drugs, the Trump administration’s extremely regressive policies have flown under the radar and allowed Trump to grab occasional credit for entertaining “prison reform,” even as he and Sessions shovel more people into the maw of mass incarceration. Sessions’ tenure as attorney general makes a mockery of the concept of criminal justice reform; he threatened to prosecute marijuana businesses operating legally under state law and reversed an Obama-era guideline to avoid pursuing charges for first-time nonviolent drug offenders that would trigger mandatory minimum sentences, instructing prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges possible.

    In addition, Sessions ended an Obama-era program investigating abusive police forces, and his Department of Justice made a months-long attempt to federally prosecute a woman for laughing at him. On Trump’s part, his administration has been an unprecedented boon for the scourge that is private prisons, he has reauthorized police departments to use military surplus gear and weapons, and Trump himself has repeatedly expressed a desire to execute drug dealers.

  • Michelle Obama and the bad faith of right-wing media regarding Melania Trump

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Right-wing media and President Donald Trump have united in attacking rhetoric regarding first lady Melania Trump disappearing from public view for several weeks around the time of her reported kidney surgery. This outrage is disingenuous given the awful right-wing coverage of former first lady Michelle Obama.

    Trump tweeted his displeasure of media coverage of the first lady on the morning of June 6:

    On Fox News, many personalities attacked reporters for simply talking about the fact Melania Trump hadn’t made a public appearance for nearly a month. Fox co-host Katie Pavlich called questions about Melania “disgusting,” “beyond the pale,” and “horrifying.”

    Yet many of these same people spent years pushing dumb, misogynistic, and racist attacks against Michelle Obama. From criticizing and mocking her childhood obesity initiative, to disparaging her physical appearance and clothing choices, to attacking her for where she went shopping, conservatives were obsessed with Michelle Obama. The absurdity of their attacks included attempts to lip-read during a September 11 commemoration ceremony, distorting her college senior thesis from 1985, portraying her as overweight, and for applauding her husband during a presidential debate. There was also that whole Oscars thing. These and other right-wing media smears went on for years. And one constant right-wing media attack on Michelle Obama consisted of smearing her for family vacations -- a smear Trump also repeatedly engaged in.

    Just watch how sexist conservative media were in their discussion of the former first lady: