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  • NY Times and AP botched their Trump fact checks with logical leaps.

    Punditry doesn’t have a place in fact-checking.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    “Fact-checkers prepare for their version of the Super Bowl,” said Jake Tapper, hours before President Donald Trump would take over network airwaves around the country for a speech urging Congress to approve funding for a border wall, one of his core campaign promises.

    The short speech, read from a teleprompter in the Oval Office, showed a different side of Trump. Straying from his tactic of peppering his words with wild exaggerations, ad-libs, and lies, he spoke like a more conventional politician. That is to say that yes, he still lied -- a lot -- but he incorporated some facts into those lies, referencing semirelated data to support his argument. If it was fact-checkers’ Super Bowl, it wasn’t a terribly exciting game. There were a few highlights, however.

    Toronto Star Washington Bureau Chief Daniel Dale is known for his quick and thorough fact checks of Trump’s rally speeches, tweets, and other public statements. In a recap of the address posted Tuesday night, Dale laid out a few of the immediate factual issues spotted within the speech:

    Among other things, Trump falsely claimed Democrats had asked him to build a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall (an alternative he came up with himself), falsely claimed a wall would be “indirectly” funded through his revised NAFTA deal (which has not been approved by Congress and could not fund a wall), falsely said Democrats would not pony up for “border security” (they have offered to pay for various security measures, just not a wall), and misleadingly suggested a wall would be a significant obstacle to smuggled heroin (most of which comes through legal ports of entry).

    Trump used a series of figures to make his argument that the country is facing a “humanitarian crisis” that can be solved only by building, among other things, a wall along the southern border of the U.S. The issue was that those numbers didn’t actually support the argument being made.

    For instance, he claimed, “Our southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl. Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across from our southern border.” That’s true, but according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the majority of those drugs are being trafficked through existing ports of entry and not areas that would be affected by the creation of a wall. Fact-checking that statement requires nuance, and for the most part, the fact-checkers at news organizations like the The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and others did the claim justice in not rating it outright true or false.

    Other statements, however, were more clear-cut, like when Trump claimed, “The wall will also be paid for, indirectly, by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico.” The trade deal hasn’t yet been ratified by Congress, and there’s no wall-repayment fund or mechanism in place. The claim is false, as was his statement that the wall will be made out of steel and not concrete “at the request of Democrats.” The party’s opposition to the structure has nothing to do with building materials, but with its existence itself. Once again, fact-checkers were, generally speaking, straightforward in the response to these claims.

    In fact-checking the response from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, however, journalists took liberties in determining what can be checked.

    At 10:20 p.m.  Eastern Standard Time, the New York Times Twitter account posted a “fact check” of one of Schumer’s statements. Schumer said, “No president should pound the table and demand he gets his way or else the government shuts down, hurting millions of Americans who are treated as leverage.”

    On its face, this statement, offering Schumer’s opinion on what a president should or should not do, isn’t exactly something one can verify. The Times seemingly took issue with the claim that “millions” of Americans would be hurt by the shutdown, but that is very clearly an accurate statement. There are roughly 800,000 federal employees affected by the shutdown, but when you factor in their families, as well as local economies and people who rely on government services that could be disrupted during an extended shutdown period, the number very easily reaches into the millions -- much of which the paper acknowledges in its "fact check." Even so, the Times rated the claim as “This needs context.”

    Roughly an hour later, the Associated Press Politics account tweeted that Democratic lawmakers blaming Trump for the shutdown aren’t being entirely truthful because the shutdown could come to an end if they would cave to his demands.

    During a December 11 meeting with Schumer and Pelosi, Trump took full responsibility for a potential shutdown, saying that he was “proud to shut down the government for border security,” and adding, “I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down — I’m not going to blame you for it.” Even at the time, the Democratic leaders had been clear on their position: They would not put forward a package that included funding for Trump’s wall. To say “it takes two to tango” without acknowledging that Trump had already taken full responsibility (which he later tried to walk back) for the shutdown, or noting that both chambers of Congress were in Republican control when the government shut down, is factually wrong. More than that, it’s an editorialization, something that really doesn’t have a place in fact checks.

    In a statement to Washington Post media reporter Erik Wemple, an Associated Press spokesperson clarified that the tweet was meant to highlight that "Democrats have refused to accede to President Trump's demands." It's not really clear whether that's any better.

    Editorialization and fact-checking’s unclear mission pose threats to the genre of fact-checking.

    In an ideal world, fact checks would probably simply be part of standard journalism and not a subgenre unto themselves. Fact checks can have benefit as standalone works, but too often they stray from the dry, straightforward approach that makes a good fact check easy to digest in a few quick glances. “It takes two to tango” probably doesn’t have a place in the fact-checking lexicon, if we’re all being honest with ourselves.

    “The fact-checking genre is fine and useful in certain circumstances but it is *woefully* under-theorized as an undertaking, which leads it into all kinds of weird, shoddy, and dubious territory,” tweeted MSNBC host Chris Hayes following the speech.

    Dale responded, suggesting that things like the AP and Times “checks” may be fine if published under a different label:

    I think this particular issue could be addressed with better labeling - calling these ones something else. Like, it’s useful for the AP or others to explain the facts of this dispute, helping people understand the blame game. But that’s just not a “fact check.”

    Fact-check people should ask, “is this a strict assertion of fact?” And then fact-check the Yes ones, and then if they still want to delve into the No ones, it should be under a different heading. I agree it’s bad when they try to “fact-check” subjective claims.

    In a 2013 column in the Columbia Journalism Review, Brendan Nyhan warned of fact-checkers whose personal political ideologies turn their work from a demonstration of proof into outright punditry. Nyhan’s article highlighted the messiness of the process and the importance of being able to separate the semantic from the factual and of eschewing unnecessary adjectives. “Factchecking is an inherently subjective enterprise; the divide between fact and opinion is often messy and difficult to parse,” he writes.

  • Here's a Hurricane Florence environmental justice story that media outlets need to tell

    Spills from coal ash pits and hog manure ponds in North Carolina would hurt low-income people of color

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    A handful of news outlets are reporting about the danger of coal ash and hog manure spilling into North Carolina's waterways when Hurricane Florence hits the state. But so far they're missing an important part of the story -- that African-Americans and other communities of color could be hit particularly hard by such pollution. They're also failing to note that the Trump administration has been loosening regulations and oversight in ways that could make spills of coal ash and hog waste more likely.

    The dangers of coal ash and hog manure pollution

    North Carolina is home to 31 coal ash pits that power company Duke Energy uses to store an estimated 111 million tons of toxic waste produced by coal-fired power plants. North Carolina is also home to thousands of manure pits, known euphemistically as "lagoons," that store approximately 10 billion pounds of wet waste generated each year by swine, poultry, and cattle operations in the state. This information came from Bloomberg, one of the first outlets to report that Florence could cause the waste pits to spill and create serious environmental and public health risks. The Associated Press also reported on the threats:

    The heavy rain expected from Hurricane Florence could flood hog manure pits, coal ash dumps and other industrial sites in North Carolina, creating a noxious witches’ brew of waste that might wash into homes and threaten drinking water supplies.

    Coal ash pits and hog waste dumps have both leaked and flooded in past years, causing devastating spills in North Carolina -- sometimes in the wake of hurricanes.

    Hurricane Floyd, which struck North Carolina in 1999 as a Category 2 storm, washed 120 million gallons of hog waste into rivers, Rolling Stone later reported. As AP noted this week, that was just one part of the mess caused by Floyd:

    The bloated carcasses of hundreds of thousands of hogs, chickens and other drowned livestock bobbed in a nose-stinging soup of fecal matter, pesticides, fertilizer and gasoline so toxic that fish flopped helplessly on the surface to escape it. Rescue workers smeared Vick’s Vapo-Rub under their noses to try to numb their senses against the stench.

    After Floyd, North Carolina taxpayers bought out and closed down 43 hog factory farms located in floodplains, aiming to prevent a repeat disaster. But in 2016, when Hurricane Matthew hit the Carolinas as a Category 1 storm, at least 14 manure lagoons still flooded.

    Soon after Matthew, The New York Times’ editorial board warned that such flooding could become more of a threat in the future as storms are supercharged by climate change:

    In states where hog farmers use waste lagoons, like North Carolina and Illinois, flooding is a serious hazard that may become more frequent as climate change leads to more severe storms.

    Unless North Carolina and other states require agriculture companies to change their waste-disposal methods, what happened after Hurricane Matthew will happen again.

    In this week’s Bloomberg article, the head of the North Carolina Pork Council dismissed the significance of the 14 breaches in 2016 and downplayed the threat of spills triggered by Hurricane Florence.

    There's an environmental justice component to this story

    Even if they're not widespread, hog waste spills can still be devastating to those who live nearby -- and many of the unfortunate neighbors are low-income people of color.

    Two epidemiology researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill published a paper in 2014 with a straightforward title: "Industrial Hog Operations in North Carolina Disproportionately Impact African-Americans, Hispanics and American Indians." They wrote, "Overflow of waste pits during heavy rain events results in massive spills of animal waste into neighboring communities and waterways."

    Tom Philpott explained more about that research in Mother Jones in 2017:

    As the late University of North Carolina researcher Steve Wing has demonstrated, [North Carolina's industrial hog] operations are tightly clustered in a few counties on the coastal plain—the very part of the state that housed the most enslaved people prior to the Civil War. In the decades since, the region has retained the state’s densest population of rural African-American residents.

    Even when hurricanes aren't on the horizon, activists are pushing to clean up industrial hog operations. “From acrid odors to polluted waterways, factory farms in North Carolina are directly harming some of our state’s most vulnerable populations, particularly low-income communities and communities of color,” Naeema Muhammad of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network said last year.

    Poor and rural communities of color are heavily affected by coal ash dumps as well. The New York Times reported last month on an environmental-justice campaign against coal ash pollution in North Carolina. Lisa Evans, a lawyer with the environmental group Earthjustice, told the Times, “Coal ash ponds are in rural areas, particularly in the Southeast. Those communities have less power and less of a voice.”

    The Trump administration recently loosened rules on coal ash disposal

    The first major rule finalized by Andrew Wheeler, acting head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), loosened Obama-era requirements for coal-ash disposal. The change, which will save the power industry millions of dollars a year, could lead to more dangerous pollution. The Washington Post reported on Wheeler’s move in July:

    Avner Vengosh, a Duke University expert on the environmental impacts of coal ash, said that scaling back monitoring requirements, in particular, could leave communities vulnerable to potential pollution.

    “We have very clear evidence that coal ash ponds are leaking into groundwater sources,” Vengosh said. “The question is, has it reached areas where people use it for drinking water? We just don’t know. That’s the problem.”

    The Trump administration is also going easy on factory farms like the industrial hog operations in North Carolina. Civil Eats reported in February that there's “been a decline in the number of inspections and enforcement actions by the [EPA] against concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) since the final years of the Obama administration.” Last year, more than 30 advocacy groups filed a legal petition calling on Trump's EPA to tighten rules to protect communities from factory farms.

    North Carolina Republicans aren't helping things either -- they've gone easy on coal plants and hog operations. And in 2012, the GOP-controlled state legislature actually passed a law banning state officials from considering the latest science regarding sea level rise when doing coastal planning. ABC reported on the development at the time:

    The law was drafted in response to an estimate by the state's Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) that the sea level will rise by 39 inches in the next century, prompting fears of costlier home insurance and accusations of anti-development alarmism among residents and developers in the state's coastal Outer Banks region.

    ...

    The bill's passage in June triggered nationwide scorn by those who argued that the state was deliberately blinding itself to the effects of climate change. In a segment on the "Colbert Report," comedian Stephen Colbert mocked North Carolina lawmakers' efforts as an attempt to outlaw science.

    "If your science gives you a result you don't like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved," he joked.

    As Hurricane Florence bears down on North Carolina, journalists should make sure that their stories include the people who'll be hurt the most by waste spills and other impacts, as well as the businesses and lawmakers who have been making such environmental disasters much more likely to occur.

  • Study: AP quoted pro-Kavanaugh voices 50 percent more in its Supreme Court coverage

    Associated Press quoted 47 percent more Republicans than Democrats and 53 percent more pro-Kavanaugh than anti-Kavanaugh voices

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Since President Donald Trump announced Judge Brett Kavanaugh as his nominee to the Supreme Court on July 9, The Associated Press has covered Republican lawmakers and others supportive of Kavanaugh much more than Democrats and others opposed to his confirmation in its coverage of the nomination.

    Social scientists have found Kavanaugh is “an uncommonly partisan judge” who has historically “tended to dissent more often along partisan lines than his peers,” and he has yet to secure pledges of support from a majority of senators. With landmark rights such as reproductive freedom at risk, it is crucial that voters have good information with which to engage their senators on how to vote on Kavanaugh. And The Associated Press plays a major role in supplying information from Washington, D.C., to the rest of the nation. As a 2015 Pew Research Center analysis of news content in newspapers explained, wire services such as the AP “supply the majority of this news to local newspaper readers,” and “the majority, though not all, of the wire content comes from The Associated Press.”

    Local newspaper readers around the country are not getting a straight perspective of Kavanaugh, according to a Media Matters analysis of the past six weeks of the AP’s coverage of the nominee. AP stories have quoted 47 percent more Republicans than Democrats on the topic, 106 to 72, respectively, since July 9. Over the same time period, AP quoted people supportive of Kavanaugh 53 percent more than those opposed to his nomination, 119 to 78, respectively. Those quoted were not only lawmakers, voters, and former law clerks, but also childhood and more recent friends and acquaintances of Kavanaugh.

    Methodology: Media Matters searched the Nexis database for articles from The Associated Press’ news section between July 9, 2018, and August 21, 2018, that mentioned Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in the headline or lead paragraph. We coded every named individual quoted once per article as either Democratic or Republican (if partisan). In addition, we coded each individual based on expressions of support for or opposition to Kavanaugh or his confirmation, or coded them as neutral if they did not express support or opposition.

  • New EPA chief Andrew Wheeler has a fondness for right-wing media and climate-denier blogs

    But will he be as combative toward the mainstream press as Scott Pruitt was?

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Scott Pruitt, ousted administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), had cozy relationships with right-wing media outlets and combative relationships with the mainstream press. Andrew Wheeler, who's stepped in as acting administrator, has also shown a fondness for right-wing media and signs of disdain toward some mainstream media. But Wheeler has not interacted with the press in the same hostile and tribal ways that Pruitt did. Will Wheeler's approach to the media shift now that he's at the helm at EPA?

    On the topic of climate change, it’s easier to predict whether Wheeler will change course: probably not. Like Pruitt, Wheeler has long been skeptical of climate science and climate action, as evidenced not just by Wheeler’s public statements but also by his Twitter account. He has tweeted out links to climate-denying blog posts, including one post that declared, “There is no such thing as ‘carbon pollution.’”

    Pruitt leaned heavily on right-wing media

    Throughout his tenure at the EPA, Pruitt made heavy use of right-wing media outlets to spread his preferred talking points and fight back against media coverage he didn't like. During his first year, Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as all other major TV networks combined, Media Matters found, and Fox was less likely than other networks to cover Pruitt's scandals. Pruitt was also a frequent guest on national right-wing talk-radio shows, where he received soft treatment.

    After Pruitt got unexpectedly tough questions during an April interview with Fox's Ed Henry, he retreated to right-wing outlets that were even more likely to give him good press, giving interviews to the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Washington Free Beacon, and a Mississippi talk-radio show.

    Pruitt cultivated a particularly cozy relationship with right-wing outlet The Daily Caller, giving the site exclusive quotes and information. The Daily Caller in turn repeatedly defended Pruitt against scandals and attacked people who released damaging information about him. Even after Pruitt resigned, The Daily Caller continued to act as his attack dog, publishing pieces with headlines including "Source: A torrent of negative press ended Scott Pruitt's career at EPA" and "Jilted former EPA aide with sordid history takes full credit for Pruitt's resignation."

    Pruitt attacked and stymied mainstream media outlets

    Under Pruitt, the EPA press office repeatedly attacked, stymied, and manipulated reporters at mainstream news outlets, as Media Matters documented. The agency refused to release basic information about its activities, blocked journalists from attending official agency events, favored reporters who would provide positive coverage, and publicly insulted and retaliated against reporters and outlets whose coverage officials didn't like.

    One of many such attacks came in September, when the EPA sent out a press release that personally maligned Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker, accusing him of having "a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story." Another attack happened in June of 2018, when EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox called an Atlantic reporter "a piece of trash” after she asked for comment on one of Pruitt's aides resigning. 

    Pruitt appeared to attack the media on his way out the door, too. His resignation letter blamed "unprecedented" and "unrelenting attacks" on him.

    Wheeler liked tweets from right-wing media figures, defended Milo Yiannopoulos

    Wheeler, for his part, has also demonstrated an affinity for right-wing media figures and outlets, but he's done it in a different way -- via his personal Twitter account. He has "liked" many tweets by conservative media figures, including ones that criticize mainstream or liberal media outlets.

    Wheeler "liked" a July 3 tweet by Donald Trump Jr. that linked to a Daily Caller post lauding Fox News's high ratings and mocking CNN's lower ones:

    He "liked" a June 11 tweet by NRATV host and Fox regular Dan Bongino that bashed MSNBC:

    Wheeler "liked" a June 1 tweet by libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that criticized a HuffPost story: "HuffPo isn’t a place of journalism, it’s a place of Far Left activism." (Media Matters rebutted the misleading claims of right-wing figures who criticized the story.)

    He "liked" a May 22 tweet by NRATV host and NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch that knocked Planned Parenthood.

    He "liked" an April 3 tweet by conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel that inaccurately claimed Obama EPA officials spent as much on travel as Pruitt did.

    He "liked" a January 6 tweet by Fox News personality Brit Hume that mocked Al Gore.

    Wheeler has "liked" tweets from frequent Fox News guests Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens of the conservative group Turning Point USA, including this one:

    According to Daily Beast reporter Scott Bixby, in 2016 Wheeler tweeted out a conspiracy theorist's video that defended Milo Yiannopoulos, an alt-right troll and former Breitbart editor, but Wheeler later deleted the tweet:

    In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”

    Since being named acting head of the EPA last week, Wheeler appears to have deleted 12 more tweets from his feed.

    Wheeler tweeted links to climate-denier blog posts

    While EPA watchers have predicted that Wheeler is likely to differ from Pruitt in his demeanor, Wheeler has displayed the same attitude as Pruitt toward climate change.

    In 2011, when Wheeler was a lobbyist for the Murray Energy coal company, he tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA."

    Wheeler retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington and highlighted projections about India's rising coal use.

    In 2009, Wheeler sent a tweeted promoting a climate-denying blog post published on the conservative American Thinker site:

    On at least two occasions, Wheeler has tweeted links to posts on RealClearPolitics that questioned the science of climate change. A tweet in 2009 linked to a post titled "A Reason To Be Skeptical," and the tweet included the hashtag #capandtax, a conservative smear against cap-and-trade policies. The piece he linked to, which also appeared in The Denver Post, promoted “Climategate,” a bogus, manufactured scandal in which conservatives claimed that hacked emails showed climate scientists were fabricating evidence of warming temperatures. 

    And a tweet in 2015 praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'”

    This piece, which Wheeler called "great," largely dismissed climate science and criticized the media outlets and peer-reviewed journals that regularly report on climate change:

    Of course, we don’t have good data or sound arguments for decarbonizing our energy supply. But it sounds like we do. If you read Scientific American, Science, Nature, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and you take them at face value, you would have to agree that there is a strong likelihood that serious climate change is real and that decarbonization or geo-engineering are our only hopes.

    Wheeler gives interviews and quotes primarily to mainstream outlets

    Though Wheeler's Twitter account seems to show a preference for right-wing outlets, he does not exhibit the same ideological bias when he gives interviews or quotes to media. Most of the interviews he's given during his career in Washington, D.C., have been to mainstream outlets.

    Media Matters has identified eight interviews Wheeler has granted to media outlets since October 5, 2017, when President Donald Trump nominated him to serve as deputy administrator of the EPA:

    During his years as a lobbyist from 2009 to 2017 -- when he worked for coal, nuclear, chemical, and utility companies, among others -- he was quoted at least eight times by E&E News, a subscription-based news organization aimed at professionals working in the energy and environment fields, and he sat for one video interview with E&E. He also gave quotes at least twice to another inside-the-beltway news organization, Politico, as well as to The New York Times and FoxNews.com.

    From 1995 to 2008, when Wheeler worked for Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), he gave at least four more video interviews to E&E News. He was also quoted in a Washington Post article in 2008.

    Right-wing media are already leaping to Wheeler's defense

    Whether on not Wheeler starts giving interviews or information to right-wing outlets, right-wing outlets are likely to defend him against criticism. They've already started.

    The Daily Caller, which had a tight-knit relationship with Pruitt and his press office, published a story on July 5 titled "Pruitt has been gone for less than a day and his replacement is already getting attacked." And Breitbart ran a piece on July 5 that quoted conservatives praising Wheeler and argued that "the media is already attacking him in much the same relentless fashion it did Pruitt."

    What's next for Wheeler and the EPA press office?

    It's not surprising that Wheeler gave quotes and interviews primarily to mainstream and inside-the-beltway publications while he was working for Inhofe and representing his lobbying clients. He was trying to reach influencers and mold public opinion.

    In contrast, Pruitt, who has been rumored to be plotting a run for Oklahoma governor or senator, has spent his time in D.C. trying to raise his profile and burnish his image with GOP donors and the conservative base of the Republican Party. He often turned to highly partisan right-wing outlets to achieve those ends.

    Now that Wheeler is the boss setting the agenda and determining strategy, will he continue his conventional approach of talking to mainstream media, or will he follow Pruitt's recent example and turn primarily to highly partisan right-wing outlets like Fox News and The Daily Caller? And under Wheeler's leadership, will the EPA's press office treat reporters more professionally than it did under Pruitt, or will it continue to be highly combative with the media?

    In the few days since Wheeler was announced as interim EPA chief on July 5, he seems to have taken a more traditional and conciliatory approach. He's given two substantive interviews to major newspapers, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. And according to Politico, Wheeler will be taking a different approach from Pruitt in terms of dealing with the press: "Wheeler will announce where he is speaking or traveling in advance, he will publish his full calendars 'frequently,' without litigation from groups pursuing public records, and he and other top political appointees will hold briefings for the media on major policy announcements."

    But even if the media approach changes, the policy approach won't. "EPA's agenda remains largely unchanged," Politico continued. "Wheeler will still pursue much the same policy platform — fighting the courts to roll back a slate of Obama-era regulations on climate change, air pollution, stream protection and more."

    Ted MacDonald, Evlondo Cooper, and Kevin Kalhoefer contributed research to this post.

  • The top 6 tricks Scott Pruitt uses to outfox the media

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

    Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt might just be the most ruthlessly effective member of the Trump administration -- much to the ire of environmental activists, who recently launched a #BootPruitt campaign. One of Pruitt's trademark strategies is trying to tightly control media coverage of himself and his agency, a way to tamp down criticism of his industry-friendly agenda and extreme rollbacks of environmental protections.

    Pruitt has lost control of the media narrative in the past week, as numerous outlets have reported on his snowballing ethics scandals. But if he keeps his job -- there are reports that President Trump still has his back -- you can expect him to double down on his media machinations.

    Here are the key ways Pruitt manipulates and hampers the press:

    1. Pruitt goes to right-wing news outlets to push his messages out

    During his first year as head of the EPA, Pruitt appeared on Fox News, Trump's favorite network, 16 times -- more than twice as often as he appeared on the other major cable and broadcast networks combined. Fox hosts and interviewers tend to lob softballs at him and gloss over his numerous controversies and scandals.

    Pruitt gives interviews to other conservative outlets, too, from Breitbart News Daily to The Rush Limbaugh Show to the Christian Broadcasting Network. Last month, Pruitt went on conservative talk-radio shows to spread misleading talking points as he attempted to defend his extravagant travel spending.

    And when Pruitt announced a plan in March to severely restrict the kinds of scientific data that can be used in policymaking -- a change decried by scientists, environmentalists, and public health advocates -- he gave an exclusive interview to conservative news site The Daily Caller about it. The resulting article painted the shift in a positive light, of course.

    2. Pruitt gives interviews to generalists instead of environmental reporters

    Pruitt grants some interviews to mainstream news outlets, but when he does it's often with political reporters or generalists instead of reporters on the environmental beat who would know the right tough questions to ask.

    For instance, in February, Pruitt appeared on The New York Times' podcast The Daily. The interview was largely light and fluffy, letting Pruitt spout his talking points with little pushback, including a false claim that Congress would have to change the law in order for the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. After the interview, it fell to Times environmental reporter Coral Davenport to point out that the Supreme Court had already granted authority to the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. Too bad she wasn't the one who conducted the interview. The following week, when another Times environmental reporter, Lisa Friedman, asked for a comment from Pruitt for a piece on his views on climate science, an EPA spokesperson instead referred her to the interview with The Daily.

    The EPA administrator sat for another soft interview with a Washington Post political reporter that was published in the Post's political newsletter The Daily 202. The resulting piece quoted Pruitt defending his enforcement record -- “I don't hang with polluters; I prosecute them" -- and praising Trump for his "tremendous ideas."

    Contrast that with what happened when Pruitt gave a rare interview to two Post reporters, Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin, who've been doggedly covering his agency. They produced a substantive article on how Pruitt has been shifting the EPA to serve the interests of regulated companies; quotes from Pruitt in the piece are interspersed with quotes from experts and with reporting on Pruitt's moves to roll back environmental protections and enforcement.

    3. Pruitt's EPA withholds basic information from the press and the public

    Under Pruitt, the EPA has become extraordinarily secretive.

    Unlike previous EPA administrators, Pruitt has refused to publicly release his full schedule in anything close to real time. The EPA has barred reporters from attending events where Pruitt speaks, even threatening to call the police to remove them. Most recently, on April 3, the EPA blocked numerous journalists from attending his announcement about the loosening of auto fuel economy standards, enabling Pruitt to avoid hard questions.

    It's so hard to get information out of the agency that the Society of Environmental Journalists sent the EPA public affairs office a letter in January asking for such fundamental things as open press briefings, responses to reporters' inquiries, and distribution of press releases to everyone who requests them.

    As New York Times reporter Friedman said in October, "Covering the EPA is like covering the CIA. It is so secretive. It is so difficult even to get basic information.”

    It's no surprise, then, that Freedom of Information Act lawsuits against the agency have soared under Pruitt.

    4. Pruitt's EPA sends reporters articles by climate deniers instead of useful information

    Over the last month, the EPA has sent out at least four "press releases" that did nothing more than promote articles or opinion pieces by right-wing figures that painted Pruitt in a positive light, as ThinkProgress reported.

    The most eye-popping press release was headlined "The Hill: Scott Pruitt is leading the EPA toward greatness." It pointed to a fawning opinion piece co-written by the head of the Heartland Institute, a notorious climate-denial think tank.

    But perhaps the most vexing to reporters was a press release that promoted the aforementioned Daily Caller article on Pruitt restricting the EPA’s use of scientific data. The agency sent it out in lieu of an informative press release and otherwise refused to answer reporters' questions about the action. This prompted the National Association of Science Writers to send a letter of protest to the head of the EPA press office, calling on her to "take steps immediately to prevent this unprofessional and unethical behavior from occurring again." The Society of Environmental Journalists followed up with a similar letter of its own.

    5. Pruitt repeats disingenuous, misleading talking points

    Unlike his boss, Pruitt is disciplined and on-message. In interviews, he turns again and again to the same tightly scripted talking points, many of which are misleading.

    Like this one: "We've seen an 18 percent reduction in our CO2 footprint from 2000 to 2014. We're at pre-1994 levels," Pruitt told Fox News Sunday in June, while defending Trump's decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement. It's one of Pruitt's favorite lines. He's repeated it ad nauseum during his 13 months at the EPA.

    When he spouts this statistic, Pruitt is essentially bragging that the U.S. has already done a lot to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. That might sound good on the surface, but Pruitt's claim is misleading -- he ignores the fact that emissions went down in part because of Obama-era policies that Pruitt and others in the Trump administration are now undoing. It's also just a really weird thing to boast about if you're a climate denier like Pruitt.

    Does Pruitt actually think it's a good thing that the U.S. reduced carbon dioxide emissions? Does that mean he acknowledges that CO2 is a dangerous pollutant? Does he then think it would be good for the U.S. to continue reducing CO2 emissions? Is he aware that CO2 emissions are projected to rise this year?

    These are follow-up questions that an interviewer who's knowledgeable about climate change might ask, but so far we haven't seen any such pushback. No wonder Pruitt keeps repeating the line.

    6. Pruitt's EPA retaliates against journalists

    Under Pruitt, the EPA's press office has taken the unprecedented step of personally attacking reporters whose work the leadership dislikes. In September, the office issued a press release bashing Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker over a story he co-wrote. "Biesecker had the audacity to imply that agencies aren’t being responsive to the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey," the release read. "Unfortunately, the Associated Press’ Michael Biesecker has a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story." The EPA then dropped Biesecker from its email press list.

    The agency's press office has also attacked New York Times reporter Eric Lipton, who's done deep-dive investigative reporting into Pruitt's EPA. In August, the office put out a press release that accused him of reporting "false facts." In October, Liz Bowman, head of the EPA's Office of Public Affairs, gave a snarky reply after Lipton requested information on agency actions, accusing Lipton of having a "continued fixation on writing elitist clickbait trying to attack qualified professionals committed to serving their country.”

    The bottom line: Why Pruitt’s media manipulation matters

    When Pruitt gets more positive media coverage for himself and the EPA, or at least less negative coverage, it can sway public opinion in favor of his right-wing agenda and make it easier for him to continue eviscerating environmental protections. His successes then help him curry favor with oil companies, the Koch network, and other monied interests that could fund a future Pruitt campaign for senator, governor, or even president. After all, the EPA administrator is notoriously ambitious.

    If Pruitt does ascend higher, you can expect to see a lot more anti-regulatory fervor and a lot more media manipulation and maltreatment.

  • The mainstream media missed big climate stories while getting played by Trump

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A version of this post was originally published on Grist.

    The media spent a ton of time in 2017 puzzling over whether Donald Trump thinks climate change is real. That was a ton of time wasted. His stance has long been clear, thanks to more than a hundred tweets and loads of comments dismissing or denying climate change.

    The fact that Trump has called global warming a "hoax" was mentioned in nearly a quarter of all segments about climate change on the nightly news and Sunday morning programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC in 2017 -- and in more than a third of those instances, the networks didn't push back by affirming that human-driven climate change is a reality. Network journalists did numerous interviews asking Trump administration officials for clarity on the president's stance. And outlets from Time to CNN cited the hoax claim and tried to make sense of Trump's nonsensical climate views.

    This misfire by mainstream media follows on the heels of a different sort of failure in 2016. That year, broadcast networks spent way too little time on climate change overall and completely failed to report during the campaign on what a Trump win would mean for climate change.

    Now the networks are covering climate change but squandering too much of that coverage in trying to read Trump's Fox-addled mind and divine whether he accepts climate science. That's crowding out reporting on other, more critical climate-related news, from how the Trump administration is aggressively dismantling climate protections to how climate change makes hurricanes and wildfires more dangerous.

    It’s bad enough that outlets waste all this time on old news about Trump’s climate views. What makes it even worse is that they too often get the story wrong.

    Consider this example: Last June, Trump's U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, did the rounds on TV news to defend her boss' decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement. When asked to clarify Trump's views on climate change, she said more than once that he "believes the climate is changing” and "he believes pollutants are part of that equation."

    Haley was employing Republicans' favorite obfuscation technique on climate change -- what savvy observers call "lukewarm" climate denial. The obfuscators try to sound reasonable by admitting that the climate is changing, but then get all squishy about why it's changing or how it will play out or what we could possibly do about it. (In fact, there is overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is the primary cause of climate change, a fact that U.S. government experts again confirmed just three months ago.) You’d think that journalists who've been covering national politics would be thoroughly familiar with this gambit by now. Trump nominees made liberal use of it during confirmation hearings last year, and other Republicans have been employing it for longer still.

    But ABC News completely fumbled the story. Splashing the words "BREAKING NEWS" and "CLIMATE CHANGE FLIP" across the screen, ABC's World News Tonight made Haley's comments seem like big deal in a June 3 segment:

    Anchor Tom Llamas reported that her remarks represented a "dramatic switch" and "major concession" with "the administration saying the president does believe that the climate is changing." Correspondent Gloria Riviera described Haley's remarks as "a stunning reversal."

    There was no reversal. There was just a stunning incident of ABC falling for Trump administration spin.

    Other networks and outlets have made similar mistakes, failing to properly identify the Trump team's lukewarm climate denial and put comments in context. Like when The Associated Press declared, "Trump changes his tune on climate change," though in fact he had done no such thing, as Grist pointed out at the time.

    Instead of continuing to fixate on (and misreport) Trump's personal views about climate change, journalists should be taking the story to the next level with more reporting on the consequences of having a president who disregards climate science and opposes climate action. Those consequences include: policies that encourage dirty energy instead of clean energy; less innovation; fewer jobs in renewables and energy efficiency; diminished national security; more destructive storms and dangerous wildfires, and communities that are less prepared to cope with them.

    Topics like these got dramatically less coverage last year than they deserved, at least in part because so much climate reporting was centered on Trump. A new Media Matters analysis found that when corporate broadcast TV news programs reported on climate change last year, they spent 79 percent of the time on statements or actions by the Trump administration -- and even that included little coverage of efforts to roll back the Clean Power Plan and other climate regulations. Issues like how climate change affects the economy or public health got even less attention. And in a year when hurricanes and other forms of extreme weather hammered the U.S., the networks hardly ever mentioned climate change in their coverage of those disasters.

    Rather than trying to analyze Trump's well-established refusal to accept climate science, media should be telling stories of how climate change is happening here and now, how it’s affecting real people, and how the EPA and other agencies are ripping up climate regulations. When they chase Trump around and let him set the agenda, the hoax is on all of us.

  • Media keep calling the GOP's corporate tax bill a "win" for Trump

    The extraordinarily unpopular bill is built on lies and ignores what we know about economics

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    President Donald Trump and his Republican congressional allies are enjoying a round of praise from media commentators for finally getting a legislative “win” on the board as their tax bill closes in on passage before the end of the year. The budget-busting corporate giveaway will enrich the superwealthy and do little for Americans who have to work for a living.

    Republicans finally unveiled the finished version of their tax legislation last Friday evening, and -- despite the public having just days to absorb its 1,097 pages -- both chambers of Congress plan to vote on the bill before the end of the week. If everything goes according to plan, the president will sign the bill into law just in time for members to head home for the holidays.

    After a year plagued by self-destructive outbursts, failed policy changes, unprecedented legal troubles, embarrassing scandals, humiliating legislative defeats, and nationwide political upheaval, many in the press are framing the GOP tax proposal as a crucial “win” for Trump and his party.

    On the December 18 edition of CNN Newsroom, co-host Poppy Harlow wondered how anyone could argue the past year “hasn’t been a win for the president on some big fronts,” given a handful of recent accomplishments, including the new tax bill. Reporter Caitlin Huey-Burns agreed with Harlow’s assessment while noting that such favorable framing fits “the way that the White House has been messaging their own achievements”:

    During an earlier segment on CNN’s New Day, guest A.B. Stoddard suggested that the Republican tax bill, which the Economic Policy Institute has labeled “a scam,” could count as “a great boon for Republicans” and “a win on the board,” if the bill actually fulfilled its over the top promises. (It won’t.) Commentary framing the expected party-line vote as a major victory for the GOP also cropped up in The Associated Press, Politico, The Hill, and The New York Times. Reporters have seemingly gone out of their way to pat Republicans on the back for endorsing legislation so historically unpopular it registers significantly less support than some previous tax hikes:


    FiveThirtyEight.com

    In a December 15 video, Eric Schoenberg of the activist group Patriotic Millionaires explained how the GOP tax bill overwhelming favors wealthy people like him (and the Trump family) while doing little for lower- and middle-class people. Trump and the Republicans continue falsely claiming that the bill will spur business development, boost wages, and stoke renewed economic growth, but the message is such a fantasy even Fox News had to admit there was nothing to it. Previous studies from the Congressional Research Service and the Brookings Institution have demonstrated little relationship between tax cuts for the wealthy and invigorated economic activity, which Trump and the GOP have promised will result from this tax bill.

    The bill permanently cuts taxes for corporations while giving only modest, temporary relief for working people. It loosens tax structures affecting the wealthiest Americans while threatening funds for Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, and other initiatives that guarantee basic economic security to low-income families. The bill promises to add another $1.5 trillion to federal budget deficits over the next decade despite years of hysteria about Obama-era revenue shortfalls. The bill also senselessly repeals the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which will likely result in millions of Americans dropping out of the insurance market.

    Rather than praising the Republican Party for ending a remarkably unproductive year by managing to cobble together a tax giveaway to the super rich, journalists should report on what is actually in the bill. Trump and the GOP have definitely enjoyed some "wins" this year, but reporters need to point out that the Republican Party's successes have often resulted in pain and suffering for millions of Americans.

  • Report: Sean Hannity’s attacks on the press are concerning colleague Chris Wallace

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    According to a recent article by The Associated Press, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace is put off by his colleagues' support for President Donald Trump’s attacks on the press. As the AP notes, it’s not hard to extrapolate that one of the hosts Wallace is upset with is Sean Hannity, who “is the president’s fiercest defender on Fox,” and often references the “destroy Trump media” and “fake news” in his campaign to delegitimize the press for the sake of defending Trump.

    In the October 19 article, the AP reported that Wallace takes issue with the way many of his Fox colleagues attack the press, noting that while Wallace “doesn't call out press-bashing colleagues by name,” “it's no secret that prime-time star Sean Hannity is the president’s fiercest defender on Fox.” Citing a Media Matters study on Hannity’s authoritarian approach to defending Trump, the AP explained that “Hannity criticized the press in 90 percent of his monologues from May 15 to Sept. 1, according to the liberal media watchdogs Media Matters for America, and used the term  ‘fake news’ 67 times.”

    The AP’s reporting shows that even Hannity’s colleagues are starting to get fed up with his sycophancy and propaganda, and for that reason and many others, Media Matters has been taking action to address and highlight Hannity’s toxic distortion of reality.

    From the October 19 Associated Press article:

    Sunday host Chris Wallace generally lives in peaceful co-existence with Fox News Channel's opinion folks, except when he hears some of them echo President Donald Trump's criticism of the news media.

    Fake news? He's fighting back.

    "It bothers me," Wallace said in an interview. "If they want to say they like Trump, or that they're upset with the Democrats, that's fine. That's opinion. That's what they do for a living.

    "I don't like them bashing the media, because oftentimes what they're bashing is stuff that we on the news side are doing. I don't think they recognize that they have a role at Fox News and we have a role at Fox News. I don't know what's in their head. I just think it's bad form."

    [...]

    He doesn't call out press-bashing colleagues by name. It's no secret that prime-time star Sean Hannity is the president's fiercest defender on Fox, with frequent references to the "destroy Trump media." Hannity criticized the press in 90 percent of his monologues from May 15 to Sept. 1, according to the liberal media watchdogs Media Matters for America, and used the term "fake news" 67 times. [The New York Times, 10/19/17]

  • News outlets promote ISIS' evidence-free claim of connection to Las Vegas shooting

    Intelligence officials quickly debunked story linking terror group to worst mass shooting in American history

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON


    MSNBC / Screengrab

    In an October 2 dispatch, The Associated Press promoted the terror group ISIS’ claim that it was responsible for a mass shooting in Las Vegas that left more than 50 dead and 500 others injured, even though the AP acknowledged ISIS provided no evidence to support the assertion. Other outlets rushed to parrot the AP’s report over the next few hours, until the FBI stated the shooter has no connection to ISIS or any other terrorist group.

    A 10:15 a.m. EST dispatch from the AP’s Cairo, Egypt, bureau carried the headline “Islamic State Claims Las Vegas Attack” followed by a single sentence noting that ISIS provided “no evidence” to support its claim. Moments later, a corresponding tweet from the AP reiterated the claims:

    Following the AP’s lead, Newsweek and the New York Post ran with the same misleading headline, providing varying degrees of clarification demonstrating that the claim of ISIS involvement was completely unsubstantiated. Bloomberg reposted the AP report with no alterations, while Time amended the headline to reflect that ISIS “didn’t give any proof” to support its claim. Just a few minutes after the AP flash, Fox News correspondent John Roberts also promoted the claim, speculating about how ISIS involvement, if confirmed, might change the tone of President Donald Trump’s response to the incident. Roughly one hour after AP pushed the story, NBC News legal analyst Pete Williams also discussed the unsubstantiated link to ISIS on MSNBC, but stressed that federal law enforcement and intelligence sources he has spoken with “have absolutely no reason to believe” the supposed link “is true”:

    At a press conference at roughly 11:45 a.m. EST, Aaron Rouse, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s field office in Las Vegas, said that federal officials have found “no connection to an international terrorist group.”

    After a series of extensive updates, the AP article now mentions that ISIS “often claims attacks by individuals inspired by its message but with no known links to the group.” A similarly styled report from CBS News also reflects, after several updates, that the Las Vegas gunman demonstrated “no early signs of any ties to radical Islamic groups or signs of radicalization,” and notes that ISIS “offered no proof of a link with” the gunman.

    In a series of tweets shortly after the AP published its initial report, CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank explained that ISIS is a notoriously unreliable source of information and noted that it has a history of claiming a connection to unrelated shootings and attacks. Rather than simply running with ISIS’ self-aggrandizing propaganda for the sake of adding new angles to developing stories, news outlets should refrain from publishing until all the facts are in. 

  • For months, pundits have called Trump a populist, but his policies have been about giveaways to the rich

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Several media outlets are suggesting that President Donald Trump’s August 30 speech calling for tax reform was a “populist pitch,” and dozens of media figures and outlets have been calling the president a “populist” since his inauguration. A closer examination of Trump’s policies, however, show a pattern of decisions that will create devastating impacts on Americans, particularly low-income residents, while providing handouts to corporations and the wealthiest citizens.

  • Pro-Trump trolls silent after "alt-right" ship detained in Mediterranean for apparent human trafficking

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Defend Europe, an anti-immigrant group that attempts to disrupt humanitarian search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea, recently chartered a boat that was stopped in a Cyprus port, where several members were arrested for forging documents and engaging in potential human trafficking. Since then, pro-Trump media trolls associated with the campaign have been conspicuously silent.

    The members were stopped in and deported from a sea port in the self-declared Turkish state of Northern Cyprus Thursday after spending two days in detention for document forgery and potential human trafficking of 20 Sri Lankan nationals who were aboard the C-Star, the campaign’s ship. Turkish Cypriot authorities deported nine crew members, including the ship’s captain and a German “second captain” believed to be neo-Nazi Alexander Schleyer. The authorities also transferred the director of the company that owns the ship, Sven Tomas Egerstrom, to Greek-controlled Cyprus for further questioning.

    Refugee Rights Association advocate Faika Pasha told The Associated Press that some of the Sri Lankans on board reported having paid a trafficker to be taken to Italy and confirmed that five Sri Lankans remained in Cyprus to claim asylum. (Defend Europe claims the Sri Lankans were actually bribed by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to claim they were seeking asylum.)

    Defend Europe is a campaign by anti-immigrant, “alt-right” activists to disrupt humanitarian search and rescue missions of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. The effort is the brainchild of Generation Identity, a pan-European “Identitarian” movement known for its members’ high-profile political stunts.

    Since the arrest and deportation of the C-Star’s crew members, Defend Europe has been doing some damage control on Twitter, claiming the ship was “released” and that “lies and #fakenews from NGOs have been exposed once again.” The next day, the account pinned an image of the group’s alleged goals on its feed, one of which was to “save migrants in danger of drowning and making sure they get to the nearest non-European safe port.”

    However, Generation Identity’s Austrian co-founder, Martin Sellner, has repeatedly claimed that Defend Europe’s goal is to take migrants from North Africa back to Libya -- a violation of the non-refoulement principle of the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention against sending refugees back to their county if they would be in harm’s way. In June, Sellner said, “We want to face those human trafficking ships on the sea. We want to disrupt their doings. And, of course, if you meet an account of people in distress on the sea, save them but bring them back to where they started from.” He reiterated his stance a month later, saying that Defend Europe will “do everything in our power to make sure that they go back to Africa, where they belong.”

    Since the detainment of Defend Europe members and their subsequent expulsion from Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus, the movement’s right-wing media allies and pro-Trump trolls have been noticeably mum. As of this piece’s publication, Brittany Pettibone, who has actively been reporting in support of Defend Europe from Catania, Sicily, had tweeted only twice on the subject since the incident, both times promoting Defend Europe’s conspiratorial narrative that NGOs are propagating fake news and “hiding something” about their alleged collusion with international human trafficking rings.

    Even more notably, Lauren Southern, a Canadian media troll who made a name for herself denying the existence of rape culture and demonizing minorities and who has been actively involved in the Defend Europe campaign, has not tweeted a single time about the recent incident (though she has retweeted in support of Defend Europe). Online payment service Patreon recently suspended Southern’s account for violating the crowdfunding platform's terms by soliciting donations for the Defend Europe campaign; Southern has since resorted to using PayPal. PayPal previously froze Defend Europe's account, saying in a statement, “Our policy is to prevent our services being used by companies whose activities promote hatred, violence or racial intolerance."

    Peter Sweden, a previously vocal Holocaust denier who reversed himself in mid-July, has been similarly silent on the recent controversy surrounding Defend Europe. Sweden has bragged about disrupting search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean and has also been interviewed by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, taking the opportunity to fearmonger about crime in Sweden.

    Katie Hopkins, a columnist for British news site MailOnline who regularly appears on Fox News to voice her Islamophobic, anti-immigrant views, has also been silent on Twitter about the C-Star’s deportation from Cyprus. Hopkins recently tweeted a photo of herself with Sweden, which she later deleted. Her involvement with the Defend Europe campaign has been documented by the anti-extremism research and education group HOPE Not Hate.

    Tara McCarthy, who hosts a YouTube show alongside Pettibone and who has said, in a since-deleted tweet, that she hopes “zero” migrants crossing the sea to Europe “make it alive,” has also not commented on the C-Star’s seizure.

    According to HOPE Not Hate, pro-Trump propaganda outlet Breitbart, white nationalist site AltRight.com, racial nationalist organization American Renaissance, Nazi website The Daily Stormer, and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke have also voiced support for Defend Europe’s mission. As of noon on July 28, none of these outlets or individuals had responded to the latest developments.

    The silence of these pro-Trump trolls exposes their opportunism and cowardice. They engage in high-profile stunts to profit and promote themselves and then back away when the going gets tough, as prominent troll Mike Cernovich did when he attempted to deny involvement in the “Pizzagate” conspiracy. The pro-Trump trolls subscribed to the Defend Europe campaign for donations and foreign Twitter followers, but now they’re stuck in a sordid relationship with a movement that is endangering innocent lives and potentially violating international law. It remains to be seen how they will meme their way out of this one.

  • No, Fox News, Nevada did not declare a “state of emergency" over marijuana

    Fox News’ inaccurate report on Nevada marijuana sales is lazy reporting at best, reefer madness at worst

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On July 11, FoxNews.com published an article claiming that Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) had “declared a state of emergency on Friday” over inadequate supplies of marijuana for retail sales. In reality, the governor had “authorized state regulators to consider an emergency regulation” to deal with a marijuana shortage.

    On July 10, Fox’s Salt Lake City affiliate, Fox 13, reported that the Nevada Tax Commission issued a statement that it will, according to the report, “consider emergency regulations … to provide a structure for marijuana distribution to retailers.” The piece also said that Nevada’s governor had “endorsed” the “statement of emergency declared for recreational marijuana regulations.” 

    The next day, Fox News’ website published an article citing Fox 13’s story to report that “Gov. Brian Sandoval, R-Nev., issued the state of emergency on Friday” with the intention of allowing the state’s Department of Taxation to “contemplate emergency regulations that would permit liquor wholesalers to cash in on the marijuana sales.” The New York Post, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch along with Fox News, also claimed that “Gov. Brian Sandoval is calling for a ‘state of emergency’.” But the governor has categorically not “declared a state of emergency,” as FoxNews.com and the New York Post claim.

    In reality, as The Associated Press reported, Sandoval only (emphasis added) “authorized state regulators to consider an emergency regulation that would allow officials to determine whether the state has enough marijuana distributors to keep its retail shops supplied.” Several Nevada-based news outlets reported accurately on the possible “emergency regulation,” with The Nevada Independent explaining that the regulation would “pave the way for opening up the distribution role to more than just liquor distributors.” Even Fox News’ Las Vegas affiliate reported that “Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) endorsed an emergency marijuana regulation on behalf of the Department of Taxation's Statement of Emergency that is set to be considered for adoption on July 13 by the Nevada Tax Commission.”

    For over a decade, Fox News has made embarrassingly inaccurate marijuana claims, including to smear academics, poor people, and criminal justice reform. In 2005, Sean Hannity called an illegal marijuana-growing facility a “secret liberal lab” because it was underneath a State University of New York campus. In 2012, Steve Doocy criticized Amendment 64, Colorado’s legalization of marijuana, by falsely claiming it offers “nothing” to stop people from “getting all potted up on weed” and driving, even though the bill states that “driving under the influence of marijuana shall remain illegal.” In 2014, Fox’s Martha MacCallum ignored statistics that show that black people are arrested for using marijuana more often than white people even though they have similar rates of usage, when she suggested that the real problem was black people smoking too much weed. 

    The effect of Fox’s marijuana smears has even been felt in Congress. In 2014 the network successfully brought into the mainstream narrative an absurd urban myth that Colorado allowed people to buy marijuana with food stamps, spawning a misinformation campaign that resulted in two proposed congressional bills and is referenced by Fox guests to this day. 

  • If you appear as a guest on Tucker Carlson Tonight, there's a good chance you'll be a target of online harassment

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    After appearing on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, several guests have reported that they were subject to waves of harassment, usually from “alt-right” and white supremacist trolls. Tucker Carlson has become cable news’s most favored hosts among neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and those in the “alt-right.”