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  • The sinister implication of that Breitbart article that everyone is mocking

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In an article published this afternoon, Breitbart.com Washington political editor Matt Boyle criticizes a New York Times reporter for “soliciting government employees to become leakers” under the hysterical headline “Exclusive -- Deep state teams with fake news: Email evidence proves New York Times soliciting anti-Trump bureaucracy leakers.” Journalists and media critics -- myself included -- who understand that that particular activity is central to reporting were quick to mock Boyle as a fool. And that very well may be the case. But after reading the piece in full, I think there’s something deeper and more sinister afoot.

    If you started reading the piece and didn’t make it past the ridiculous headline and lede, I can’t blame you. The “revelation” Boyle claims to have uncovered in an email from Times environment reporter Coral Davenport and John O’Grady, the president of a union that represents Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) workers, appears to be a fairly standard inquiry seeking to confirm critical stories she had heard about EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt with “first-hand or eyewitness accounts” from EPA workers. As a Times spokesperson told the right-wing outlet, Davenport’s “email demonstrates the process of reporting and gathering facts.” It is Breitbart’s effort to turn such run-of-the-mill communications into a scandal that has drawn so much scorn.

    But those who made it all the way to the end of Boyle’s sprawling, dramatically overwritten 1,600-plus-word piece found what I think may be the real reason Breitbart published this story. O’Grady forwarded Davenport’s email to nearly three dozen EPA employees, telling them what types of stories Davenport was looking to confirm and to “Please feel free to contact Coral directly.” Boyle published the names of all 34 employees. In so doing, Breitbart is serving as the Trump administration's pawn, giving it a roadmap it can use to ferret out potential leakers.

    President Donald Trump has spent much of his first 200 days in office working himself into a lather about leaks to the press from the White House. Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to prosecute those who leak classified information and even to subpoena reporters who publish those leaks, after receiving a steady stream of criticism from the president demanding such investigations. During his brief tenure as White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci promised to fire White House leakers.

    But leaks have also bedeviled the EPA since Pruitt, a climate change denier and close ally of the fossil fuel industry, took the helm. It’s likely no coincidence that Breitbart’s article comes the day after the Times published a draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies which “concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now,” contradicting Trump and Pruitt. According to the Times, the report was leaked because scientists fear Trump will bury it.

    Political appointees at the EPA now have a list of 34 potential whistleblowers, individuals the head of the EPA’s union thought might be willing to confirm negative information about the organization’s chief. They will be internally investigated at best, and indiscriminately punished at worst. They may find themselves reassigned off their current projects, or cut out of important meetings and decisions. A Breitbart story posing as an attack on a Times journalist instead functions as a tool to bolster an internal administration mole hunt.

    Most journalists would likely view enabling an administration’s anti-leak effort as abhorrent behavior. But not Boyle and his Breitbart crew. Boyle is an administration toady, a longtime Trump sycophant who has always been eager to try to torpedo more critical journalists on Trump’s behalf. Formerly run by Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon, Breitbart is institutionally more interested in protecting the Trump administration from criticism and lashing out at unfavored White House factions than providing legitimate reporting.

    Breitbart has regularly cheered on the White House’s efforts to curtail leaks and lashed out at critical leakers and the outlets that publish them. But the latest article takes the right-wing outlets’ typical pro-Trump propaganda to a new level, with Breitbart effectively serving as an arm of the administration, helping its communications team smoke out whistleblowers.

    A few weeks ago, Scaramucci and Boyle joked about the Breitbart editor joining the White House communications staff. But no need: Boyle is more than willing to do the administration’s dirty work without being put on its payroll.

  • Five lies that are ricocheting infinitely within the right-wing media bubble

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Spend enough time on the comments sections of the right-wing internet, and the significant number of people who hold beliefs based on completely false premises will become all too apparent. In this world, fact checks and hard evidence are all too easily flicked away with accusations of liberal bias, making civil discourse increasingly hostile and polarized at the expense of truth.

    That’s because these audiences have been trapped under a tight bubble right-wing media has built, an ecosystem that makes it hard for truth to seep in, while lies ricochet endlessly inside. The bubble holds strong because it’s sustained on the tired trope that the mainstream media is hiding liberal biases under a mask of objectivity. President Donald Trump has taken this worn-out concept to dangerous levels by constantly undermining and antagonizing media outlets that he deems critical of him. Trump’s war on the press has invigorated unscrupulous smear merchants and power-hungry zealots in control of messaging within the bubble to suggest they are an honest alternative to mainstream media -- honest in that they openly acknowledge their right-wing bias -- and present themselves as a solution to a fabricated problem.

    And the bubble becomes increasingly impenetrable by design; the tighter its grip grows over audiences, the more power its purveyors can trade to a political establishment that both needs the bubble for its survival and fears its influence.

    What follows are five examples of absolute lies promoted by right-wing media figures that will infinitely bounce among right-wing audiences trapped under the bubble, in an impervious layer of chicanery and manipulation that doesn’t allow fact-checking, evidence or reality to penetrate. Even after these lies have been debunked over and over again, we at Media Matters continue to see them pop up online and on the airwaves:

    Fox News host Sean Hannity’s Seth Rich conspiracy theory

    Fox News host Sean Hannity has grossly exploited the murder of a Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer, Seth Rich, to push the baseless claim that Rich provided WikiLeaks with the 20,000 hacked DNC emails released in 2016 to hurt the Clinton campaign, and that his murder was connected to the emails. Even after the allegations were proved false, forcing Fox News to retract its story about Rich, Hannity continued to push the false narrative. Hannity, who said the murder “could become one of the biggest scandals in American history,” claimed that he would stop discussing the story “for now” in response to the Rich family's pleas to stop exploiting Rich’s death. Hannity’s obsession with pushing the lie caused him to lose advertisers, demonstrating the risk his volatility presents to brands that associate with his show.

    On August 1st, a lawsuit filed against Fox News revealed that the baseless Seth Rich story had been pushed by the network and Ed Butowsky, a Trump supporter, with the purpose of deflecting public attention from the Trump administration’s ties to Russia.

    Infowars host Alex Jones: “Pizzagate is real”

    Infowars host Alex Jones relentlessly pushed the lie that a family-friendly pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C. served as a cover-up for a pedophilia ring that involved the top leadership of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. In one instance, Jones invited audience members of his show to take matters into their own hands and “investigate” because “Pizzagate is real.” On December 4, 2016, Edgar Maddison Welch -- a listener -- entered the restaurant armed with a rifle to “self-investigate” the false allegations. Following the terrifying incident, Jones attempted to scrub his website of Pizzagate-related content and falsely denied having promoted the lie; yet he also apologized under pressure to the owner of the restaurant.

    Radio host Rush Limbaugh: NASA lied about finding water on Mars

    Celebrated space scientist (er, talk radio host) Rush Limbaugh told his audience that NASA’s announcement that the agency had discovered evidence of water on Mars was a “technique to advance the leftist agenda … probably something to do with global warming.” The next day, reacting to online criticism, Limbaugh both doubled down, adding that then-President Barack Obama had “turned NASA over to Muslim outreach,” and -- despite transcripts matching “word for word” what he said -- claimed his lie had been taken “out of context.”

    Fox & Friends: “Illegal aliens” are registered to vote

    In an attempt to amplify the narrative that voter fraud is rampant, Fox’s morning talk show (and Trump’s favorite show) Fox & Friends pushed the lie that “voter fraud isn’t really a myth at all.” The segment hyped a flawed and debunked claim about illegal voting in Virginia and speculated that undocumented immigrants were registered to vote. This recurring and widespread lie made its way to Trump’s Twitter feed after the election, where he claimed that millions voted illegally in the election, a claim that holds no truth whatsoever.

    In reality, experts agree that voter fraud in American elections is a myth, as cases of voter fraud are extremely rare. Data also shows that the rates of noncitizens voting are low, only occurring when people are “confused about their eligibility.”

    Breitbart.com: “Mob” of Muslims tried to burn down a German church

    On January 3, Breitbart reported the false story that a “1,000-man mob” had attacked police and set a German church on fire. The story was condemned by local police and politicians as well as debunked by local, national, and international media outlets. The reality was that as 1,000 people were gathered in the streets celebrating the new year, some set off fireworks, and one firework started a small fire -- which was quickly extinguished -- on the netting around the church's scaffolding. Breitbart responded by triumphantly claiming that the outlets debunking the story were in fact confirming it, showing facts won’t get in the way of its ongoing effort to amplify anti-Muslim sentiments.

    This story is cross-posted at BillMoyers.com

  • Trump's toady at Breitbart attacks Jake Tapper, and that should worry everyone

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The White House communications director has changed, but the White House message remains the same. The mainstream press is still viewed as the administration’s enemy. All signs point to the conclusion that at best, the cold war between President Donald Trump and the media will continue, and at worst, we may be entering a new, darker phase where the Trump team turns individual journalists into targets, rather than raging against the press as an institution.

    Anthony Scaramucci, the New York financier Trump hired last week to take over his public relations effort, said in an interview on Sunday that he wants to reboot the White House’s relations with the press and create “an era of a new good feeling with the media.” But his Friday press briefing was filled with warning signs for the reporters who cover the president, and his appearances on the Sunday morning political talk shows featured attacks on “fake news” from mainstream journalists “that do stretch stories or do fabricate things.”

    “I expect that they’re going to want to hold me and the White House accountable,” Scaramucci said of reporters on Fox News Sunday, “but we’re going to sort of want to hold them accountable, too.”

    Scaramucci didn’t explain what he meant by holding reporters accountable, and host Chris Wallace didn’t press him on it. But hours later, after Scaramucci faced a tough interview on CNN, Matt Boyle, a close media ally of the president, fired off a nonsensical hit piece aimed at Scaramucci’s interlocutor, Jake Tapper.

    In their extensive, contentious interview on CNN’s State of the Union, Tapper grilled the new White House official on the investigation into the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia. After one particularly heated exchange, in which Tapper asked why Trump still refuses to accept the intelligence community’s conclusion that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election, Scaramucci suggested that the press is deliberately trying to delegitimize Trump’s presidency by covering the story.

    Tapper’s interview quickly drew attention from his colleagues in the press. Numerous media outlets highlighted Scaramucci’s claim to Tapper that an anonymous person had told him that if the Russians had actually hacked Democratic Party institutions, as the U.S. intelligence community has said, “you would have never seen it.” Seconds later, after Tapper pressed him for the source, Scaramucci admitted it was Trump.

    But that embarrassing incident wasn’t why Tapper’s interview drew the attention of Matt Boyle, the bombastic Trump sycophant who serves as Washington bureau chief for Breitbart.com, the conservative organ previously run by the president’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon. Boyle had been rewarded the day before by getting the first interview with Scaramucci as newly minted White House communications director. The pair spent the interview joking about a possible place for Boyle in the administration and lashing out at CNN over their “fake news.”

    In a piece that reads like bad oppo used by someone more interested in nailing a political foe than considering whether his argument holds up, Boyle fixated on Tapper’s statement that he had grown up in a Philadelphia neighborhood “very similar” to Scaramucci's. According to Boyle, Tapper had “been caught misstating his background on live television” because he “puffed up his own credentials trying to link himself back to the middle class and the working class in America -- a link he does not have.”

    But Boyle provided no evidence that Tapper’s statement that he grew up in a middle class neighborhood was inaccurate, instead focusing on the CNN anchor’s tenure at a “private elite high school with exorbitant tuition rates” and at Dartmouth College to claim that he “is in fact an Ivy League elite.”

    These facts are neither new nor contradictory. As Tapper explained on Twitter yesterday -- in a thread that Boyle embedded in the article -- his parents divorced when he was young, and he split time between his doctor father’s suburban home and his mother’s house in a working class neighborhood. Ignoring what Tapper actually said, Boyle suggests the CNN host is lying because Tapper's school was expensive (notably, Boyle knows the current price of tuition, but not the price when Tapper attended decades ago). Moreover, Boyle’s attack on Tapper for attending a pricey “elite high school” downplays a key fact: The school, according to Forward, was a Jewish day school. Criticizing someone as an elite because they attended a religious school instead of a public one is a curious maneuver for a purportedly conservative outlet. (The salt-of-the-earth Scaramucci attended Tufts University and Harvard Law School before joining Goldman Sachs.)

    Notably, the Boyle piece does not challenge Tapper’s reporting in any real way. It’s an attack on him, not on his work.

    It’s certainly not unusual for Breitbart to attack real journalists. But was it simply a coincidence that the president’s house organ published a hit piece on a journalist who engaged in a combative interview with a White House staffer, or is there something more in play?

    Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that “Republican operatives close to the White House” are conducting opposition research on reporters as part of “what could be an extensive campaign” to discredit journalists who report on the Russia story. Feeding negative information to conservative news outlets was seen as a key part of that effort. And Tapper has long been a top target of the White House -- Axios reported back in February that GOP operatives were pushing anti-Tapper hit pieces after a contentious interview with White House aide Kellyanne Conway.

    The Trump administration often seems to divide reporters into two categories: the pro-Trump ones who are praised and rewarded for their loyalty, and the mainstream media “opposition party” who are often undermined and attacked.

    But while the Trump White House’s attacks on the press have been a key element of his team’s messaging strategy throughout the administration thus far, the criticisms have largely targeted the institution of the media at large, or particular outlets that angered the president. (The key exception is CNN’s Jim Acosta, who challenged the president during a February press conference.) By contrast, during the campaign, Trump frequently lashed out at individual reporters by name, on Twitter and on the stump. His most prominent targets received a wave of death threats and hate mail, at times compelling them to hire security guards.

    We’ve already seen cases where the press office uses its media allies to target mainstream outlets. We may be seeing a lot more of that in the days to come. If the White House and its allies begin targeting individual reporters, the consequences could be dire.

  • Trump Jr., Russian collusion, and the pro-Trump media’s bad-faith attack on the press

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Pro-Trump media outlets are attacking the mainstream press in response to the devastating news that the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., met during the 2016 presidential campaign with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer after he was promised she would provide information that would damage Hillary Clinton as part of a pro-Trump effort by the Russian government. More than any other incident in recent memory, this eagerness to hide from reality within the comfort of anti-media rhetoric shows that the right-wing’s media critique is not offered in good faith, but instead is an effort to undermine journalists in the public eye in order to maintain political power.

    Over a four-day period, The New York Times’ journalists painstakingly reported out the story. While their initial stories piecing together the meeting and how it came about were based on anonymous sources, yesterday the reporters produced the actual email chain between Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-linked associate. The messages confirmed the accuracy of their previous reports, as well as Trump Jr.’s eagerness to collude with the Russian government in order to influence the election.

    Meanwhile, Trump Jr. repeatedly changed his story, coming up with new rationales and explanations for the meeting every time the Times reporters came back to him with more evidence that his previous stories were false. Yesterday, he even released the email chain on Twitter, which he claimed was an effort to be “totally transparent.” That, too, was a lie -- he released the emails after being informed that the Times had obtained them and was about to publish a story about them. At this point, it should be impossible for an impartial observer to believe anything Trump Jr. says.

    But President Donald Trump’s media allies love his son and hate journalists, so it didn’t take them long to find a way to turn Trump Jr. literally confessing to an attempt to collude with the Russian government into an attack on the press. Trump’s “alt-right” supporters immediately claimed that Trump Jr.’s email release was a brilliant tactic showing that the “lying NY Times fabricated another fake story!” This argument requires either a startling level of stupidity or a willingness to say literally anything in order to achieve a political end. I’d say no one could be that stupid, but Jim Hoft is involved.

    When they aren’t attacking media outlets for the content of their reporting, the president’s friends are lashing out at them for spending too much time on the Russian collusion story. On Fox News last night, before his predictably sycophantic interview with Trump Jr., chief Fox News propagandist Sean Hannity was declaring that the “mainstream media are right now hysterical over the story” and attacking journalists as “overpaid, lazy, rigid left-wing ideologues.” “Russia, Russia, Russia,” Steve Doocy said this morning on Fox & Friends. “The mainstream media's obsession continues.”

    Breitbart.com’s face plant was perhaps the most embarrasing. On Monday, after the Times reported that three sources had told its reporters that Trump Jr. “was informed in an email that the [anti-Clinton] material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy,” Senior Editor-at-Large Joel Pollak criticized the paper for reporting on emails it had not seen, calling it “the latest effort by the Times to bring down President Donald Trump that relies on documents it has not seen and verified.” That was a bad hill to decide to die on, as the emails ended up backing up the story to the hilt. After the emails were released, Pollak reported that they did not “refer to any cooperation, coordination or collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government,” which is an egregious and obvious misreading of the plain language of the emails.

    This morning, after being noticeably silent on the story over the past several days, President Trump praised his son on Twitter for being “transparent” in the face of “the greatest Witch Hunt in political history.” He added, “Remember, when you hear the words ‘sources say’ from the Fake Media, often times those sources are made up and do not exist.” (Trump frequently makes this claim, but, as with many of his lies, he has never provided any examples of such an event occurring. Journalists who are found to have fabricated stories lose their jobs and become cautionary tales for future generations of reporters.)

    The willingness of Trump’s media allies to attack journalists even when those journalists are obviously right demonstrates that there is no piece of information that will shake the pro-Trump media from their mainstream media attacks. The criticisms are not made in good faith -- they are part of a deliberate effort to delegitimize the press in order to undermine its credibility with the public. The pro-Trump critics cannot be satisfied by any action journalists take short of becoming Hannity-style propagandists, and they should thus be ignored.

    The next phase of this assault on the free press, according to The Washington Post, is “an extensive campaign” by pro-Trump Republican operatives to “try to discredit some of the journalists who have been reporting on” the Trump Jr. story. They are combing through reporters’ past work for “mistakes or perceived biases” and routing that information to pro-Trump outlets like Fox News, which will be eager to use the information to bolster its anti-media attacks.

    Reporters make mistakes, and they should be called out when they fail. But it seems significant that the campaign is being rolled out to attack reporters who covered Trump Jr.’s attempt at Russian collusion, given that White House aides, in anonymous comments to reporters, have been frantic about the public relations disaster and unanswered questions surrounding that story (“This is sum of all fears stuff. It’s what we’ve all been dreading,” one White House official told The Daily Beast). They know this is a real problem involving the actions of the president’s son, his former campaign manager, a top White House aide, and God knows who else. But they’re going to blame the media anyway because they want to retain power.

    It’s an incredibly cynical strategy. Which doesn’t mean it won’t work.

  • The White House and Trump’s propagandists teamed up to attack CNN at today’s press briefing

    The purpose of WH press briefings is now to undermine the press. At least one reporter has had enough.

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders used a rare on-camera press briefing to lash out at CNN, claiming that in light of the network’s retraction of a story, “we have gone to a place where ... the media can't be trusted to report the news.” Aided by the pro-Trump media outlets in the room, Sanders sought to further the administration's effort to delegitimize the mainstream press.

    Since late last week, CNN has published, investigated, and retracted a story on ties between Russia and an adviser to President Donald Trump; three journalists involved in the story have resigned. Trump and the pro-Trump media used the incident to buttress their claims that CNN deliberately produces “FAKE NEWS to undermine the president.” That effort is now being echoed from the podium of the briefing room.

    The White House press office teamed up with reporters from two of the president’s staunch media allies to stage an attack on a major press outlet that has provided critical coverage of Trump. Briefers have all but openly discarded the notion that they are supposed to be providing information to reporters and, through them, the American people. Instead, the purpose of the White House press briefings is to aid in the effort to undermine the media’s credibility, shut critical reporters up and make an example of them.

    This was a deliberate, well-choreographed hit by the administration -- Sanders went into the room knowing she wanted to go after CNN, and she had a strategy to get there. After a week of the White House very deliberately refusing to allow the briefings to be videotaped, the cameras were allowed back in the room today. Sanders called on Trump propaganda outlet Breitbart.com’s reporter, presumably knowing that the website has been pushing the CNN story and could be counted on for a softball question. Breitbart’s correspondent basically asked, “Will you please attack CNN,” and Sanders obliged with a well-rehearsed screed against CNN and the rest of the press.

    During her response, Sanders said there is a “constant barrage of fake news directed at this president,” and she urged “everybody across the country to take a look” at stunt videographer James O’Keefe’s hit on CNN, adding the caveat that she doesn’t know “whether it’s accurate or not.” She went on to scold outlets for using anonymous sources about what she termed the “Russia-Trump hoax.”

    Sanders was rebuked from the floor by White House reporter Brian Karem, who interrupted the proceedings to criticize her for being “inflammatory” toward reporters who are “just trying to do their job.”

    Later in the briefing, Sanders called on a reporter from Trump advocate Laura Ingraham’s LifeZette, who asked if the media “should go back and look at anonymously sourced stories on Russia and Trump and, you know, maybe start a review process and retract where necessary.” Sanders replied, “I think that would be a great idea.”

    Roughly a third of the 17 minutes of question time provided by Sanders was devoted to hammering CNN.

    I warned in January of the danger of the White House’s plan to flood the briefings with sycophants and propagandists and its effort to single out individual reporters and crush them. Brian Karem has had enough. Will the rest of the press corps respond, or will they let the administration pick them off one by one?

  • Right-wing media bury stories on Senate GOP delaying vote that would gut American health care

    Blog ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN

    Conservative media outlets buried Senate Republicans’ announcement that they would delay the upcoming vote on their struggling health care bill, instead prominently covering stories about former President Barack Obama’s vacation, the European Union fining Google, and right-wing attacks on CNN.

    On June 27, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the Senate would delay a vote on its deeply unpopular health care bill. The bill, which would kick 22 million people off of health care, faced opposition from both moderate and far-right Republicans and had no Democratic support, making it unclear if it would pass through the Senate.

    After the announcement, right-wing media decided to keep its focus on other stories, as was pointed out on Twitter:

    Twitterati didn’t miss the irony of Fox highlighting Obama’s vacation either:

  • How conservative, far-right, and fringe media figures are defending Trump’s "tapes" threat to Comey

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    After President Donald Trump admitted in a June 22 tweet that “I did not make, and do not have” any “‘tapes’ or recordings of my conversations with [FBI Director] James Comey,” conservative and pro-Trump media figures and outlets tried to defend his original threat that claimed, “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” The media figures and outlets insisted the move was “brilliant,” “impressive,” and “a victory” and said it was a “smart way to make sure [Comey] stayed honest” in his congressional testimony.

  • Fox's Ed Henry falsely claims Comey lied under oath about leak of Trump memos

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Fox News correspondent Ed Henry misleadingly recounted May 3 testimony provided by then-FBI Director James Comey during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to falsely suggest that Comey had lied under oath. Henry’s flawed version of Comey’s responses to a Republican senator’s line of questioning mirrors a May 12 Breitbart.com article, which made the same misinformed suggestion.

    On the June 11 edition of Fox News’ MediaBuzz, Henry quickly rattled off a series of questions posed to then-FBI Director James Comey by Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) during a May 3 hearing. After quoting Grassley’s questions from a transcript, Henry then paraphrased Grassley, claiming the senator asked Comey “whether he had allowed others to leak anything,” to which Comey responded, according to Henry’s erroneous account of the May 3 hearing, “no, no, no.” Henry suggested that this supposedly misleading testimony from Comey stood as evidence that the ousted FBI director was no “white knight” before claiming that Comey seemed “like someone who had been leaking a lot before”:

    ED HENRY: This idea that he's a white knight, this idea that oh he's shocked, shocked by leaks. I went back and looked at the record, and I think a lot of people have missed this. May 3, he was under oath, Senate Judiciary Committee before he was fired, and James Comey was asked by Chuck Grassley, "have you ever been an anonymous source in news reports about matters related to the Trump investigation or Clinton investigations?" "Never." Followed up, "have you ever authorized someone else at the FBI to leak information in either of those?" He says, "No." And then finally he said, "are you aware of any classified information related to the president or his associates leaking out?" "Not to my knowledge." This was before he got fired. "Not to my knowledge” is kind of an odd answer, number one. But number two, the idea that Grassley asked him whether he had allowed others to leak anything, and he said, under oath, "no, no, no."

    Hang on a second. Now, the playbook according to James Comey in this latest hearing is, "I can use somebody over at Columbia." You didn’t really believe that was the first time James Comey did that? It sounded like someone who had been leaking a lot before.

    In fact, according to a transcript from the May 3 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Comey, under oath, did not answer misleadingly to a broad question that Henry claims was posed to him by Grassley about “whether he allowed others to leak anything.” Comey only specifically denied that he: 1) was “an anonymous source in news reports about matters relating to the Trump investigation;” 2) that he “ever authorized someone else at the FBI to be an anonymous source in news reports about the Trump investigation;” and 3) that “any classified information relating to President Trump or his ... associates [had] been declassified and shared with the media”:

    SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY: Director Comey, have you ever been an anonymous source in news reports about matters relating to the Trump investigation or the Clinton investigation?

    JAMES COMEY: Never.

    GRASSLEY: Question two, relatively related, have you ever authorized someone else at the FBI to be an anonymous source in news reports about the Trump investigation or the Clinton investigation?

    COMEY: No.

    GRASSLEY: Has any classified information relating to President Trump or his association — associates been declassified and shared with the media?

    COMEY: Not to my knowledge.

    On June 8, Comey testified to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that he used “a good friend … who’s a professor at Columbia Law School” to provide information to The New York Times. Comey was not the anonymous source, nor was “someone else at the FBI,” and Comey established in his June 8 testimony, during a back and forth with Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), that the information eventually provided to the Times by an intermediary was not classified material. And of course, this New York Times report was published on May 11, a week after Comey’s Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, and two days after Trump fired him as FBI director.

    Suggesting that Comey lied under oath in response to Grassley’s line of questioning is false, and Henry’s misconstrued paraphrasing of Grassley’s question matched earlier attempts to defame Comey from Breitbart.com and other fake news purveyors.

  • Is Breitbart doomed?

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Media Matters / Sarah Wasko

    I guess you either die an edgelord, or you live long enough to see yourself become the cuckservative. That’s the takeaway from the last six months at Breitbart.com, the right-wing website previously led by White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. Breitbart became a conservative media juggernaut by riding the rising tide of the racist, misogynistic “alt-right” and Donald Trump’s bigoted presidential campaign. But amid a massive advertiser boycott and faltering website traffic, the site has been forced to backpedal -- at least somewhat -- from the reputation that was responsible for its popularity in the first place.

    And that’s placed the website in an untenable position between its dwindling fringe-right audience and the advertisers it needs to survive.

    Signs that Breitbart’s editors had become nervous with their public status as “alt-right” champions began appearing as far back as November, when one of the site’s most virulent commentators left, saying the site had become “more controlled.” But the pace of cosmetic change quickened after progressive activists began destroying the site’s business model by urging advertisers to abandon it.

    The Washington Post outlines four such changes: the removal of Breitbart staffers Milo Yiannopoulos and Katie McHugh, who departed amid media firestorms over their commentary; the elimination of the website’s regular spotlight on purported instances of “black crime”; and the delay of a planned expansion to France and Germany.

    Putting aside the European expansion, which is less about addressing vulnerabilities than simply struggling to move forward, these efforts fall into two categories -- staffing and content. In each case, Breitbart’s interests in attracting traffic and retaining advertisers are at cross purposes, leaving the website vulnerable to its competitors.

    Breitbart was happy to attract traffic from bigots with articles such as “Five Devastating Facts About Black-On-Black Crime” and “Black-On-Black Crime: Blame It On The System And Ignore The Evidence.” But this sort of content is racist on its face, and as Breitbart’s profile rose, being associated with naked bigotry became untenable for the site’s advertisers. Breitbart likely pulled the plug on this sort of content to assuage the advertisers, but at the cost of opening the site up to the critique that it had knelt at the altar of “political correctness.”

    Likewise, when media attention settled on Yiannopoulos and McHugh, their histories of bigoted commentary made them radioactive to advertisers. But each had a strong individual fan base and close ties to the “alt-right” network because of that very virulence, which had previously made them valuable assets to Breitbart by building the website’s audience.

    As the site has sought to downplay its relationship with the “alt-right” and the fringe, commentators from those movements saw weakness and began attacking Breitbart for turning its back on its fans and supposedly becoming mainstream. In recent months, this far-right alternative media echo chamber has gained an increasingly large audience by presenting its adherents as completely dedicated to President Donald Trump and as savage foes of “political correctness” and “SJWs” -- in other words, by trying to out-Breitbart Breitbart.

    This dynamic came to a head on Monday when Breitbart fired McHugh after she responded to the London Bridge terror attack by tweeting that "there would be no deadly terror attacks in the U.K. if Muslims didn't live there” and attacked a critic’s perceived ethnicity. The far-right immediately rallied around McHugh and lashed out at her former employer, with leading fringe figures declaring that the website had given in to “political correctness,” castigating the site for supposedly seeking “to try to pivot to the mainstream,” and declaring that “Breitbart is over.”

    None of this is to say that Breitbart has suddenly become a beacon of moderation. Yiannopoulos spent years promoting bigotry with the site’s full approval before he apparently crossed the line. McHugh didn’t suddenly start tweeting racist things over the weekend -- she first drew attention for this behavior in September 2015. Asked about her racist tweets in March 2016, current Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow replied, “We’re considering giving Katie a weekly column.”

    And while “black crime” reporting seems to have died away, Breitbart still regularly publishes the same type of anti-Muslim commentary that got McHugh fired, and continues to employ white nationalist reporters with long records of racism who have yet to experience a media flashpoint.

    If the site’s leaders were cleaning house, they would clean house. Instead, they’re taking steps to minimize advertiser blowback when public attention is focused on their staffers’ awful behavior. The day after McHugh was fired, Digiday reported that Breitbart had lost nearly 90 percent of its advertisers over the previous three months, along with seeing a steep decline in traffic.

    Those simultaneous crises have put the website in a precarious position. If its editors can’t demonstrate a drastic change in behavior, there’s no chance their advertisers will return. But if they do try to become more mainstream, the site will come under fire from other members of the alternative media echo chamber who want to carve off some of Breitbart’s audience.  

    This dynamic has been a part of the right-wing media for years. There is constant pressure for commentators to push the envelope and become ever more extreme, accusing liberals of dire behavior to indulge the worst pathologies of their audience. During the Obama administration, right-wing media figures faced a series of decision points where they could either choose to enable the conservative movement's increasingly destructive behavior, or speak out and put their standing with that movement in jeopardy. Trump’s campaign, with all its bigotry and authoritarianism, held a mirror up to that system. Some of its members were horrified and decried what they had built, while others stood by the future president and attacked those “NeverTrumpers,” in part to steal their audiences.

    Indeed, Breitbart itself used these tactics against Fox News during the 2016 election, building up its own massive audience in part by lashing out at the network for being insufficiently loyal to Trump. Fox responded to that pressure, and its commentators have largely avoided attacks from the right during the Trump administration by emerging as the president’s most devoted propagandists.

    Now Breitbart is under the same pressure, and there’s nowhere for it to go without risking its financial security.

  • Sweden is the gateway to the “alt-right” anti-immigrant agenda in Europe

    Fake news is their method for attracting followers to the cause

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Sweden is known as a bastion of progressive values and policies, but underneath the dominant ideology, there is a motivated, well-connected nativist movement that has existed for decades and is now re-emerging, armed with fake news.

    With a population of just under 10 million, Sweden is a small, historically ethnically homogenous country that in recent years has accepted the largest number of asylum seekers per capita of any European nation. Sweden’s white nationalists, once relegated to the fringe, have been re-energized by a global so-called populist movement and a relatively progressive immigration policy that is anathema to their agenda. And there are signs that they may be succeeding in their efforts. Xenophobic hate crimes are up, stricter immigration policies have been imposed, and Sweden Democrats, the far-right political party, with ties to neo-Nazism is, for the first time ever, polling as the second most popular party in the country. To top it off, there is evidence that the media discourse on immigration has taken a dark turn to portray migrants “as a problem,” and fake news is on the rise.

    Enter the Swedish “alt-right,” a movement that sees progressivism as having been imported into Swedish society as an experiment in cultural Marxism and views Sweden’s relatively small size and homogeneity as having contributed to a sort of "unitarian zeitgeist" of liberal thought.* The members of this movement see it as a fight to “diversify” the Swedish media landscape while promoting a decidedly racist agenda. Together, these attributes have created an environment ripe for the spread of “alt-right” ideas, and the most well-known white nationalist of the American "alt-right" has taken notice.

    Richard Spencer, president of the white nationalist “think tank” the National Policy Institute (NPI), after having been recently alienated from a movement he named, is looking for legitimacy in a country he has dubbed “the most alt-right.” According to BuzzFeed, Spencer recently began a partnership with two Swedish “alt-right” outlets, Arktos Media, a publishing house that prints white nationalist literature in English, and Red Ice, a Swedish white nationalist video and podcast platform that often features international guests. The partnership, the AltRight Corporation, which has been called an attempt at a “more ideological Breitbart,” also has its own website and, until May 23, also had its own podcast, AltRight Radio. Soundcloud has since banned the podcast for violating its hate speech policy. But this movement is not confined to the internet. For the past nine years, Sweden has hosted an “alt-right conference” which is attended by members and sympathizers from all over the world. One prominent American “alt-right” figure (whose name was not divulged) told AltRight.com’s Daniel Friberg that Sweden’s annual alt-right conference was the most “well-attended” he’d been to and, notably, the "most radical," too.*

    Migrant crime is a favorite topic of the “alt-right” in Sweden, in part because the outlets that promote this content know they’re speaking to an audience favorable to their ideological agenda, not facts. (Media Matters previously documented Breitbart's use of a racist meme to categorize stories about migrant crime in Sweden, most of which also had little basis in reality). Journalists know this is happening but remain ill-equipped to respond to it. A recent study found that eight out of 10 Swedes believe fake news is altering their “perception of basic facts.” Sweden has acknowledged the rise of “inaccurate information” and, in March, the country’s prime minister announced a plan to combat fake news ahead of Sweden’s 2018 general election. Yet, Sweden remains vulnerable to fake news and, as the education minister admits, there is “some naivety when it comes to the information society.” Often the flow of misinformation looks something like this: A Swedish or British tabloid reports on a study or crime with a sensational headline and few details or context; “alt-right” or far-right outlets cite the original source but add new details to further sensationalize the story; these outlets promote each other to amplify the story; and eventually the story makes its way to a more mainstream news outlet. Sometimes, the news that a story is false makes its way back to Swedish media, but by then, the damage is already done.

    Last year, American film producer Ami Horowitz made a deceptively edited film rife with false claims about migrant crime in Sweden. In February of this year, after having been promoted by U.K. tabloid the Daily Mail and conspiracy theorist website Infowars, he was invited for an interview with Fox’s Tucker Carlson, not once but twice, and one of the segments was later cited by President Trump as the impetus for his fact-free suggestion that something “was happening last night” in Sweden, which he couched amid discussion of terror-hit cities. The interview received so much attention that the Swedish police and embassy pushed back, one Swedish newspaper responded by fact-checking each of Horowitz’s assertions, and another criticized Trump’s complicity in the “Sweden-bashing by the hard-core American right.” But how equipped is Sweden to deal with xenophobic fake news that doesn’t reach the pedestal of the president of the United States, and, thus, does not grab international attention?

    In another, more recent example, Swedish tabloid Dagens Nyheter published a study titled, "Young Men Who Commit Shootings Often Have A Foreign Background," which found that 90 out of 100 shooting suspects had at least one foreign-born parent. Of course, these findings are concerning, but a closer look illustrates problems that are not unique to Sweden: Unemployment, lack of educational opportunities, and mental illness were all identified by experts as important contributing factors to gun violence. It is also worth noting that almost half of the individuals counted in this study were merely suspected, not convicted, of perpetrating these crimes. Of course, this context was missing from the misleadingly titled article that notorious Islamophobe Virginia Hale later wrote for Breitbart. Alex Jones’ Infowars also engaged with the story, citing the Swedish fake news purveyor and “alt-right” outlet Fria Tider (which has been called the "Breitbart of Sweden"*) in its report, with an even more misleading headline: “SWEDEN: MIGRANTS RESPONSIBLE FOR 90% OF SHOOTINGS.” Both articles used the opportunity to push debunked claims about crime in Sweden.

    Though they’re false, these claims are repeated so often that they begin to exist as facts. For example, the fact-checking website Snopes has debunked many stories on Sweden and even issued a three-part series debunking the most common misleading narratives on Swedish migrant crime. But the narratives persist. There are a few reasons for this. It’s now widely known that sensational headlines get more clicks, and the effect is especially heightened when they play on a person’s deep-seated emotions like anger and anxiety. Sweden has not become the “rape capital of Europe,” but real or imagined, Sweden’s historically liberal refugee admissions policy has created enough tension to make people vulnerable to fake news about the population. Another universal reason for the rise of fake news, as it relates to Sweden, is disaffection from mainstream outlets and increasing preference for alternative sources. A 2016 study in Sweden found half of media consumers get their news from sources other than Sweden’s traditional news sources and around 20 percent have “no confidence” in them.

    There are uniquely Swedish reasons for why the country is susceptible to fake news. These include the well-intentioned ways crime is defined and reported and the language barriers to understanding Swedish news. For instance, according to a late 2015 internal memo, Swedish police were instructed not to report externally the ethnic or national origin of suspected criminals in order not to appear racist. The decision, while admirable and also not unique to Sweden, has raised suspicion. Many far-right outlets perceived the move as an attempted cover-up, and the controversy became so big that the Swedish government responded to the contention. Another Swedish practice that has unintentionally created the illusion of increased crime is the way Sweden defines and categorizes crime and the culture around crime reporting. For example, Sweden defines sexual assault much more broadly than the U.S. and other European countries do, and records every single offense as a separate crime, even if they are committed by the same perpetrator. The country has also created a culture in which victims are encouraged to report crimes rather than stigmatized. Sweden’s open and progressive crime reporting practices, when viewed comparatively, allow fake news purveyors to speculate on a suspected criminal’s ethnic background with impunity, as well as manufacture an inflated perception of criminality.

    From the reader’s perspective, the fact that most “alt-right” outlets and fake news purveyors link to Swedish language news stories in order to validate their claims forces even the most critical reader to either know Swedish or rely on rough translations to discern the validity of the source. Knowing this, outlets can wrongly attribute or incorrectly paraphrase quotations from Swedish sources that advance their narrative without fear of retribution.

    The intersection of fake news and the “alt-right” is a particularly troubling one. It is ever-shifting, beholden neither to facts nor ideology and, in the realm of the internet, almost totally unaccountable. What we do know is that its adherents are white men who are targeting everyone else, that it’s not going away, and that we must remain vigilant. Sweden is the favorite target of the American “alt-right” as it expands to Europe, desperately looking for legitimacy, and armed with total lies. 

    *These quotations were taken from the now-deleted AltRight Radio podcast, "Eurocentric #2: Killing Captain Sweden."

  • For Right-Wing Media, The Big News From Trump's NBC Interview Is That Lester Holt Is Mean

    Boo Hoo.

    ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Right-wing and fringe media attacked NBC anchor Lester Holt for his May 11 interview with President Donald Trump, which dealt with Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey. They claimed Holt was “disrespectful” and a “rude Negro” who “interrupted” and “spoke over” Trump, calling the interview “an interrogation” during which the president was treated “like a damn criminal.”

  • Trump Lied About Why He Fired Comey, And Right-Wing Media Helped Him Sell It

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE & NICK FERNANDEZ

    In a letter explaining his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, President Donald Trump cited “letters from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States recommending [FBI Director James Comey’s] dismissal as the Director of the” FBI. After removing Comey, various White House officials and right-wing media figures pushed the claim that Trump “took the recommendation of his deputy attorney general” and fired Comey, but days later, Trump himself admitted that he was thinking of "this Russia thing with Trump" and “was going to fire [Comey] regardless of [a] recommendation” from the Department of Justice or the deputy attorney general.