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  • Former Sinclair TV reporter: “Anything that went against anything that corporate wanted was just shot down.”

    Veteran reporter Suri Crowe details to BuzzFeed how Sinclair management insisted on false balance in news stories about climate and guns

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF



    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Former Sinclair reporter Suri Crowe provided BuzzFeed with a detailed account of how Sinclair Broadcast Group’s far-right agenda has affected local news coverage of stories from climate change to gun safety.

    Sinclair is the largest TV station owner and operator in the country, with about 190 stations, including affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC, that reach approximately 38 percent of American homes. The conservative media company is awaiting final approval of its $3.9 billion bid to buy Tribune Media, which owns 42 TV stations, including in the major markets of Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York.

    Media Matters has documented Sinclair’s rapid growth and its alliance with the Trump campaign and administration. If Sinclair completes its planned purchase of Tribune, the company’s right-wing bias and disregard for journalistic ethics could inform what 72 percent of American households see on their local news. Its reach is already so pervasive, Media Matters created a tool to inform viewers about the stations near them that Sinclair now owns or could soon acquire.

    Sinclair takes an aggressive approach to ensuring local viewers are exposed to the company’s agenda, Media Matters has found. It forces local stations to air corporate-mandated “must-runs,” which include segments from the company’s chief political analyst, and former aide to President Donald Trump, Boris Epshteyn.

    Crowe’s account to BuzzFeed about her time at WSET-TV, an ABC-affiliated station owned by Sinclair, provides an in-depth look at how local station operators can undermine or quash stories that run counter to the conservative ideological agenda of the company’s owners and executives. 

    Beginning in 2015, the veteran reporter was reprimanded by news directors who insisted her stories on climate change and gun legislation include more “balance.” Crowe, who won a Virginias Associated Press Broadcasters award in 2016, was ultimately forced out of her job in 2017.

    From BuzzFeed:

    Sinclair Broadcast Group executives reprimanded and ultimately ousted a local news reporter who refused to seed doubt about man-made climate change and “balance” her stories in a more conservative direction.

    [...]

    In one 2015 instance, the former news director of WSET-TV in Lynchburg, Virginia, Len Stevens, criticized reporter Suri Crowe because she “clearly laid out the argument that human activities cause global warming, but had nothing from the side that questions the science behind such claims and points to more natural causes for such warming.”

    [...]

    Crowe told BuzzFeed News that before the October 2015 climate change segment aired, she was ordered by Stevens to include Donald Trump’s opinion on the matter. “When I instructed you to balance the story, by including some of [the] other argument, you insisted there was no need to add such balance to the story,” he wrote in her Jan. 22, 2016, performance review.

    A veteran reporter who has worked at news stations in Texas and Virginia, Crowe said she viewed the story as environmental — not two-sided or political. “I was always covering the flu. I don’t remember a time when for balance I went out to a group of 20 people who are nutjobs that say flu shots kill,” she told BuzzFeed News. The scientific consensus is that climate change is real and humans are largely to blame, but Crowe ultimately read the updated, “balanced” script on air. “That was the moment where I realized how things were going to go there,” she said.

    [...]

    “Your story on proposed gun legislation was not balanced,” Stevens wrote in Crowe’s performance review. “You wrote of the proposed gun restrictions, ‘Sounds like a good idea, right? Well, not to those in charge of passing new gun laws.’ And that tone is carried throughout the story. Another line: ‘Several polls show the majority of Virginians are in favor of tighter restrictions on gun purchases... But Republican lawmakers in Richmond... won’t go for it.’”

    On another gun story about the state attorney general’s decision to revoke a reciprocity agreement with other states for concealed carry permits, Stevens wrote that the sum total Crowe offered the other side was a single sentence: “The NRA on the other hand released a statement condemning the attorney general’s decision.” Stevens added that Crowe “had access to the press release sent by the NRA, yet included nothing from the actual statement... This kind of approach damages our reputation as a fair and balanced news organization.”

  • Six fights on reproductive rights that the media should be prepared to report on in 2018

    ››› ››› REBECCA DAMANTE

    President Donald Trump’s first year in office was particularly damaging for abortion rights and reproductive health. Beyond the Trump administration’s multiple moves to curtail abortion access, anti-choice advocates were also successful on the state level, organizing large-scale protests in North Carolina and Kentucky and implementing a litany of anti-choice policies. Yet with the upcoming Supreme Court case on crisis pregnancy centers, the continuing controversy over abortion access for undocumented minors, a wave of state-level attacks, and Trump’s anti-choice judicial confirmations, 2018 may be an even more dangerous year. 

  • 5 things that emboldened far-right trolls in 2017

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Far-right trolls have long occupied the internet with their nihilistic sense of humor and taste for memes, engaged in sophomoric “shit-posting.” But for some, their impact has expanded beyond the fringe corners of the internet. They've shown they're able to influence national conversations, offering twisted narratives and conspiracy theories during major news events, injecting bigotry into the discourse, and challenging harassment policies of social media platforms, all while marketing themselves as legitimate torchbearers of the truth.

    This didn’t happen overnight; rather, a combination of factors made it possible. The far-right trolls learned how to manufacture outrage to mobilize their audiences into action. Their memes transcended “shit-posting” and began shaping political conversations. They found a friendly presidential administration that gave them access and provided them with a veneer of legitimacy. The coverage media outlets gave them failed to cover them in proper context and allowed them to sanitize their extremist brands. And social media platforms were slow in cracking down on their hateful rhetoric, allowing them to gain attention and amass thousands of followers.

    Even politicians have started noticing their reach, with some now imitating their style.

    Here are five factors that fueled the influence of far-right trolls in 2017:

    The politics of manufactured outrage that allow the far right to attract attention and drive narratives

    Trends of online discourse in 2017 showed that the far-right’s practice of using digital tools to affect change, exercise pressure, and punish perceived enemies is best understood as politics of manufactured outrage. Many trolls raised their profiles and gained relevance by criticizing what they saw as liberal over-sensitivity, seeking to provoke “snowflakes” for the sake of generating outrage and supporting Trump because his war against “political correctness” was an essential part of their ethos. Now they’re using social media platforms to command their followers to decry and condemn their critics over social justice issues they openly dismissed before.

    Mike Cernovich, a leading right-wing troll previously known for misogynistic musings and tasteless tweets, including denying the existence of date rape, effectively manufactured outrage to get MSNBC contributor Sam Seder fired from the network for a tasteless joke Seder tweeted in 2008. Though MSNBC rehired Seder, this was not an isolated incident.

    On another occasion, Cernovich targeted journalist Josh Barro and campaigned to get him fired from Business Insider by accusing the journalist of ableism after Barro made fun of Cernovich’s lisp, only stopping after Barro publicly apologized. But Cernovich’s own digital fingerprints make it impossible to believe that he suddenly developed a concern for ableism. In a similar fashion, “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec targeted New Republic’s Jeet Heer, accusing him of defending child pornography by taking a few of Heer’s tweets from  2014 and 2016 out of context.  Posobiec also interrupted a play under the pretense that he was offended by its contents, and sued a theater for its all-female screening of the movie Wonder Woman. And when he couldn’t find something to be outraged about, he simply created the opportunity by reportedly planting a “rape Melania” sign at an anti-Trump rally. Right-wing trolls followed the same playbook to smear protesters and ignite outrage during protests of an event featuring Cernovich by planting a sign that featured the logo of a practically defunct pro-pedophilia organization.

    The trolls are still freely deploying their playbook of haranguing their followers into more campaigns to force media outlets and social media platforms into doing their bidding -- whether to silence journalists and Trump critics by manipulating Twitter’s abuse report protocols and getting them suspended from the platform, or to “weaponize” their followers into harassment campaigns, or to pressure brands into advertising on shows they like.

    As BuzzFeed’s Kate Notopoulos wrote, these trolls “have weaponized taking things literally.” These stunts are often just manipulation disguised as false equivalence, since trolls like Cernovich justify their actions by arguing that media “dictate policy and personnel decisions via social shaming/‘news coverage.'" Mainstream right-wing media also dismiss criticism of these harassment campaigns, claiming that they're legitimate because “both sides” do it (regardless of whether that's true).

    The rise of the meme warfare from fringe message boards

    Right-wing and “alt-right” trolls successfully weaponized memes in support of Trump throughout the 2016 presidential election in what experts documenting troll culture refer to as “The Great Meme War.” Message board users created memes and deployed them on social media daily to attack political candidates. During this phase of meme-ing their favorite candidate into office, factions like the “alt-right” and other right-wing trolls were indistinguishable.

    2017 saw the meme warfare kick into high gear, with many meme campaigns transcending the message boards and becoming a source of harassment on college campuses, or turning into terrifying harassment campaigns against journalists. Such was the case with the “It’s okay to be white” meme, designed specifically to be “tame and inoffensive” yet elicit reactions that would portray any criticism or outcry as absurd. The meme quickly became a battle cry in the campus culture wars, culminating in professional troll Lucian Wintrich’s “It is OK to be white” speech at the University of Connecticut, which spurred disruptions, fights, and arrests.

    Similarly, there was a meme campaign against CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski following his story that an anti-CNN meme tweeted by Trump had been created by a Reddit user with a history of “racist and anti-Semitic imagery.” The campaign quickly transcended the digital world and resulted in death threats against CNN staffers and Kaczynski himself.

    Sloppy media coverage that allowed trolls to rebrand away from the toxicity of the “alt-right”

    Journalists have been complicit in aiding right-wing trolls who rose to prominence by riding coattails of the “alt-right” to rebrand away from its toxicity by either writing soft-focus profiles of trolls or by showing up woefully unprepared to interview them. After Richard Spencer -- the original “alt-righter” -- gained national media coverage due to his explicit white nationalistic views, many prominent trolls who were earlier happy to align with the “alt-right” commenced a rebranding campaign that was largely aided by media’s failure to hold them accountable.

    Cernovich, who has shown an inclination for “pivoting” whenever it becomes politically expedient for him, was at the forefront of hijacking the term “new right,” which was quickly adopted by other trolls like Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson, Posobiec, Wintrich, and Gavin McInnes, founder of the violent “Western chauvinist” organization Proud Boys.

    But the figures of the so-called “new right” can’t sanitize their past adherence to the pro-Trump “alt-right” during the 2016 presidential election when they trafficked in anti-Muslim tropes, attacked transgender people, associated with Spencer, or openly pushed dangerous conspiracy theories like “Pizzagate” -- which falsely claimed Democratic operatives close to Hillary Clinton and her presidential campaign were running a child sex ring from a Washington, D.C., family pizzeria. More recently, the appearance of a known “alt-right” troll featuring a swastika flag and Adolf Hitler apologism on Wintrich’s Periscope illustrated that there’s little substantive difference between the “new right” and more extreme factions.

    A complicit presidential administration that gave these trolls further prominence

    In the Trump administration, right-wing trolls found powerful allies who admired and promoted their content and media appearances.

    The White House has been complicit in fueling the trolls’ war on journalists and mainstream media. The Trump administration granted them access to White House press briefings that allowed conspiracy theory websites like The Gateway Pundit to present themselves as legitimate news outlets and provided them with a prestigious platform from which to perform stunts and explicitly troll journalists. Reportedly, Trump’s sons, Eric and Donald Jr., directly provide Cernovich with insider information. It’s clear from Donald Trump Jr.’s Twitter activity that he has a penchant for far-right trolls and their content as he has used the weight of his name to promote right-wing trolls who defend his father and smear mainstream media.

    The president, himself, retweeted a tweet by Posobiec to his more than 44 million followers, resulting in Posobiec celebrating the presidential validation.

    Twitter and YouTube dropped the ball on cracking down on harassment and extremism

    Right-wing trolls largely owe their rise to social media platforms like YouTube and Twitter, which have allowed them to grow their platforms and reach massive audiences. In the process, Twitter was extremely lax in applying its anti-harassment policies, and allowed right-wing trolls’ harassment campaigns to successfully drive targets, like feminist writer Lindy West, off the platform.

    Meanwhile, YouTube provided a platform to white supremacists and conspiracy theorists. Though YouTube launched a demonetization initiative so people wouldn’t be able to profit from uploading extreme content and vowed to take down explicitly extremist content, the platform still remains the “talk radio” for right-wing trolls, allowing the spread of misinformation to a massive audience, often without consequence.

    Similarly, Twitter also just moved to crack down on its most toxic content creators. But it remains to be seen whether these policies will be successful in curbing the influence of MAGA trolls who often operate with the same harassment tactics as extremists. While Twitter removed the verification badges of many far-right personalities and expelled the most offensive users (some more than once), the fact that right-wing trolls remain in the platform only evidences Twitter’s problem with interpreting its own rules and applying them coherently.

    While the right-wing trolls’ current influence is undeniable, it’s not all doom and gloom. Their online influence hasn't translated into other political victories following Trump’s election (the candidates these trolls put their weight behind, Republicans Ed Gillespie in Virginia, and Roy Moore in Alabama, both lost). It could also be an indicator that their influence, at least in electoral politics, might have reached its peak. But whether their influence in inserting divisive cultural and political narratives into the mainstream will wane at all is yet to be seen.

  • Here’s how a 4chan hoax galvanizes, spreads, and creates chaos: Operation Swedistan edition

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    UPDATE: Avaaz has removed the petition from their website, telling BBC Trending: "This small petition is one of thousands started by individuals on the Avaaz platform. ...We've polled our members on it, and the overwhelming majority voted to take it down, so it's now been removed from our site."

    On Monday, November 13, a user on 4chan’s “politically incorrect” (/pol/) message board started a campaign to mock Swedish multiculturalism by ironically referencing a petition hosted by Avaaz, a U.S.-based global activism group that has not endorsed the online effort, to change the cross on the Swedish flag to an Islamic crescent. While the petitioner's motives are unclear, the 4chan post launched a corresponding campaign, which it called “Operation Swedistan,” encouraging users to “create significant traction” for the petition because it would “create the opportunity” to persuade an international audience that multiculturalism is a problem in Sweden, which the post called “the most Cucked nation on earth.” The campaign was a stunt, but it had a real, clear strategy: divide the left, outrage the right, and continue the drumbeat of xenophobic content targeting Swedish society.

    The campaign continued on Tuesday, when a poster on the message board gave additional instructions for users to spread the stunt on Twitter by showing their support for the petition and using the hashtag “#ForBetterSweden.” The objective, according to the message on the thread, was for “a movement [to] organically form defending the Christian flag of Sweden.”

    Twitter users dutifully obliged, tweeting the hashtag alongside memes created to give the movement an appearance of legitimacy.

    By Tuesday afternoon, the campaign had reached prominent conspiracy theory website Infowars and pro-Trump Reddit forum “/r/The_Donald.” Infowars author Kit Daniels acknowledged the petition might be fake, writing, “Some have alleged the campaign is a troll job by 4Chan, but Sweden is so cucked that the country might actually go along with it anyway.” Daniels basically admitted what we already know: The truth is of little importance. The dissemination of outrage is all that matters.

    The petition gained over 3,700 signatures in a little over three days. Twitter trolls promoted it and some, again taking cues from 4chan, even uploaded images of fake articles presented to look like they had been published by BuzzFeed and Slate, left-leaning outlets, in support of the campaign.

    On Wednesday, the campaign became even more complex when a new 4chan thread claimed that at least two foreign news outlets had picked up the story. The poster put up an image of an article from a Swedish outlet that said that 4chan users were behind a fake petition to change Sweden's flag. The thread also provided further instructions: “Any press claiming they have exposed the 'Alt Right Hoax' should be informed that 'the alt-right hijacked the movement to give it less credibility' and that the petition/ majority of the movement is real.” The comment was a clear attempt to abdicate responsibility for the campaign, sow confusion, and promote skepticism of mainstream media: right out of the pro-Trump media playbook

    The #ForBetterSweden campaign has not been promoted by prominent pro-Trump trolls and far-right websites (other than Infowars), but that could change. Moreover, while this particular xenophobic 4chan campaign is a stunt orchestrated primarily to elicit reactions, it’s worth noting that 4chan has previously launched sincere, anti-immigrant campaigns designed to harm real people. In January, users on the “/pol/” message board encouraged others to trick Twitter users who are undocumented immigrants in the U.S. into publicly outing themselves so they could be reported to the federal government for deportation.

    The 4chan message board is a notorious outrage machine on the front lines of the online culture wars. Users create politically relevant, emotionally salient troll campaigns with the intention of dividing progressive communities and distracting from real social issues. In this case, the issue is a real, growing anti-Muslim backlash to recent upticks of violence in Sweden, including an increase in hate crimes against Sweden’s Muslims and even those perceived to be Muslims.

    Sweden is a popular target of pro-Trump media, fake news websites, and even Fox News, and the country’s historic embrace of multiculturalism has been a source of meme-based bigoted mockery since at least 2012. Operation Swedistan is just one example of the ways various internet trolls and xenophobic ideologues converge to achieve their goal: in this case, by attacking Swedish progressives’ appreciation of diversity in an effort to promote white European ethnocentrism. As the American alt-right movement attempts to expand its reach into Europe, particularly in Sweden, a country with a small but well-connected and decades-old nativist movement, these campaigns, however disingenuous, become all the more dangerous.

    This post has been updated to include a statement from Avaaz on the petition and to clarify that the Swedish article calling the 4chan campaign fake was, in fact, published by the outlet. 

  • Trump and Sessions issue anti-LGBTQ religious exemptions guidance, fulfilling promise to hate group Alliance Defending Freedom

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters
     

    The Trump administration released new guidance on October 6 making it easier for people or businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of “religious freedom.” In July, Attorney General Jeff Sessions promised anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) -- which has been instrumental in passing similar laws across the country -- that the Justice Department would release such guidance.

    According to BuzzFeed, the new guidance “says the government cannot unduly burden people or certain businesses from practicing their faith, noting, ‘The free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one’s religious beliefs.’” The guidance includes “twenty principles” of religious liberty, including one that allows religious employers to “employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employers’ religious precepts.” In other words, it gives license for religious employers to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals, single mothers, divorced persons, and other groups. It also says that protections for so-called “religious liberty” would apply to individuals “providing or receiving social services, education, or healthcare; … seeking to earn or earning a living; … employing others to do the same; … receiving government grants or contracts; or … otherwise interacting with federal, state, or local governments.” A separate principle in the guidance says it applies “not just to individuals, but also to organizations, associations, and at least some for-profit corporations,” and yet another says the government cannot “second-guess the reasonableness of a religious belief.” In sum, the broad memo “could give people of faith -- including government works and contractors -- a loophole to ignore federal bans on discrimination against women and LGBT people,” according to BuzzFeed.

    Sessions promised guidance along those lines in July when he addressed ADF in a closed-door speech that was eventually leaked to the right-wing, rabidly anti-LGBTQ website The Federalist. NBC News reported that during the speech, Sessions said President Donald Trump “has also directed me to issue guidance on how to apply federal religious liberty protections. The department is finalizing this guidance, and I will soon issue it.” Sessions continued, “The guidance will also help agencies follow the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Congress enacted RFRA so that, if the federal government imposes a burden on somebody’s religious practice, it had better have a compelling reason." NBC News spoke with numerous LGBTQ advocates who “suggested Sessions was more interested in protecting the right to discriminate than the freedom of religion.” BuzzFeed also reported that the Justice Department “consulted with religious and political groups with a history of opposing protections for LGBT people,” including ADF. The report noted that ADF has championed and embraced a strategy of “ambiguity in religious policies in the past, believing the scope can be litigated in court.”

    ADF is the largest anti-LGBTQ hate group in the nation and has played an instrumental role in enacting other discriminatory anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom restoration” acts in states across the country, including Mississippi’s law, which is expected to go into effect Tuesday. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has called the Mississippi law “by far the most sweeping and devastating state law to be enacted against LGBTQ people in the country,” adding that “under this law, almost any individual or organization could justify discrimination against LGBTQ people, single mothers, unwed couples, and others.” The Washington Post reported in July 2016 that ADF “played a key role in helping Mississippi’s legislature and governor write, promote and legally justify” the bill. The Post noted that ADF’s involvement was “notable … because state officials did not disclose aid from the organization” and that a lawyer challenging the bill said it “adopted many of the identical passages” in ADF’s “model executive order.” A lawsuit against the law stalled it from going into effect until this month. ADF attorneys “are part of the legal team representing Gov. Phil Bryant in the lawsuits,” according to ADF.

    In Iowa, ADF worked with a state senator on legislation modeled after Indiana’s 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed by now-Vice President Mike Pence. The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa successfully worked with partner groups and businesses to block its introduction. ADF has also fought for and helped enact numerous other such acts in states across the country: It helped write Arizona’s SB 1062, which was ultimately vetoed; one of its lawyers testified in favor of Kansas’ religious freedom act, which passed in 2013; another one of its lawyers testified in defense of a failed religious freedom restoration act in Colorado; it “had a hand in” writing a proposed religious freedom restoration act in Georgia; it promoted a religious freedom restoration act in Arkansas; and it helped “advise” Indiana lawmakers during the state’s debate over its own act. ADF’s Kellie Fiedorek stood behind then-Gov. Pence when he signed the bill into law.

    ADF has supported a number of other extreme anti-LGBTQ positions, including criminalizing homosexuality. ADF (then called the Alliance Defense Fund) formally supported the criminalization of sodomy in the U.S. in 2003 when it filed an amicus brief in Lawrence v. Texas defending state sodomy laws in which it called “same-sex sodomy … a distinct public health problem.” When the court struck down anti-sodomy laws, ADF called the ruling “devastating.”

    The group is also leading the national campaign for “bathroom bills” targeting transgender youth and is representing plaintiff Jack Phillips in the upcoming Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission Supreme Court case. The case may similarly determine whether businesses serving the public have the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of “religious” or “artistic freedom.” On October 6, in what was seen by some as an “unusual move,” the Justice Department filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court siding with ADF and its client in that case. ADF has demonstrated time and time again a commitment to chipping away at LGBTQ equality and turning members of the community into second class citizens, and Friday’s guidance by the Justice Department shows the group has powerful, like-minded allies in the Trump administration.

    Rebecca Damante contributed research to this report. Headline changed for clarity.

  • Here's what you need to know about BuzzFeed's Breitbart bombshell

    BuzzFeed confirms Breitbart solicits ideas and gives editorial control to white supremacists and neo-Nazis

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW LAWRENCE

    Buzzfeed News has obtained and published “an explosive cache of documents” confirming Breitbart as the mouthpiece for neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and the racist right-wing movement known as the alt-right. Buzzfeed’s entire report on Breitbart management’s courting of neo-Nazis and white supremacists can be found here.

    Breitbart actively courted and solicited neo-Nazis and white supremacist leaders for stories, even allowing them to contribute ideas and kill stories

    Buzzfeed reports that a March 29th Breitbart article titled “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right” was written with editorial input from numerous white nationalists and neo-Nazis. Prior to writing the article, Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos reached out to the system administrator for the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer, editor of the white nationalist magazine American Renaissance, Devin Saucier, and “neoreactionary” Curtis Yarvin to solicit ideas. All responded at length with suggestions. Saucier, who Yiannopoulos described as his “best friend,” responded that Steve Bannon was “sympathetic to much of it.”

    Additionally, Saucier suggested ideas for articles that were later published on Breitbart, including in an email titled “Article idea: How trolls could win the general for Trump.” Yiannopoulos forwarded the email to a Breitbart writer and ordered him to “Drop what you’re doing and draft this for me.” The following day the article appeared on Breitbart. Saucier also killed a story Yiannopoulos had written on class-based affirmative action. After sending a draft of the article to Saucier, he replied, “I would honestly spike this.” The story never appeared on Breitbart.

    Breitbart articles ghost-written by white supremacists and neo-Nazis have seeped into conservative politics, including the rhetoric of Donald Trump

    In a July speech in Warsaw “that was celebrated by the alt-right,” President Trump used a line from a Breitbart story that Buzzfeed reported was “all but line-edited by a white nationalist.” Referring to remarks about free speech on college campuses, Yiannopoulos remarked that Trump “used phrases extremely close to what I say -- Bannon is feeding him.”

    Furthermore, the Breitbart article written with the help of white nationalists and neo-Nazis, “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right,” received notes from former Reagan and George H.W. Bush staffer James Pinkerton. Buzzfeed also reports the collaboration of “conservative thinkers” with Yiannopoulos that led to Breitbart articles, such as correspondences that included Rachel Fulton Brown, a University of Chicago medievalist, Scott Walter, president of the Capital Research Center, and Ghaffar Hussain of the controversial organization Quilliam.

    Steve Bannon continued his relationship with Breitbart while working on the Trump campaign

    After joining the Trump campaign on August 17, 2016, Bannon “continued to run aspects of Breitbart.” Buzzfeed cites emails from Bannon to Yiannopoulos on September 1, September 3, and attempts to arrange a meeting between Yiannopoulos and digital strategist and Trump supporter Oz Sultan on September 11. Buzzfeed also reports that “there were also signs that Bannon was using his proximity to the Republican nominee to promote the culture war pet causes” of Breitbart.

    Breitbart management was aware the site was courting white supremacists and neo-Nazis and was focused on maintaining plausible deniability

    Buzzfeed reports that for Yiannopoulos,“maintaining a sufficiently believable distance from overt racists and white nationalists was crucial to the machine he had helped Bannon build.” Buzzfeed cites an email chain that had been forwarded to Bannon and Breitbart editor Alex Marlow by an assistant to Yiannnopoulos with a story bylined by Yiannopoulos that was actually written by his deputy and ghostwriter Allum Bokhari. Yiannopoulos replied with instructions not to “forward chains like that … everyone knows; but they don’t have to be reminded every time.” In another email, Yiannopoulos admitted that it was important for him to remain “clean enough” in his public interactions with white supremacy, despite his courtship of the movement.

    Republican patrons the Mercer family, funds Breitbart and maintains editorial control

    Hedge fund billionaire, Robert Mercer and his family who Buzzfeed describes as “a major funder of Breitbart” are described as having control over articles that are published on the website. In one instance detailed by Buzzfeed, Robert’s daughter Rebekah emailed Steve Bannon to demand an article she wanted written about a phone app game mocking Hillary Clinton that was rejected by the Apple App Store. Mercer wanted “an article up detailing his 1st amendment political persecution.” Breitbart published two articles about the app and Bannon described Apple’s reversal of their original decision a “Huge victory.”

    In 2016, Yiannopoulos sang “America the Beautiful” for alt-right neo-nazis, who gave him a “sieg heil” salute

  • PewDiePie is the troll that far-right trolls aspire to be

    The YouTuber is a valuable asset to right-wing online personalities trying to push their narratives to a growing global audience of young people

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Felix Kjellberg, a Swedish YouTube star who goes by the name of PewDiePie and garnered international fame through his videos about gaming and his mocking critiques of popular culture, has developed a symbiotic relationship with politically influential far-right trolls who support and promote him in an attempt to influence his content and reach his massive base of followers.

    PewDiePie, who recently used a racist slur while livestreaming himself playing a video game, has YouTube’s most popular channel, with more than 57 million subscribers. His popularity had earned him a lucrative partnership with Disney, but the company dropped him earlier this year following the Wall Street Journal’s reporting that he had “posted nine videos that include anti-Semitic jokes or Nazi imagery.”

    While PewDiePie’s fall from grace might have cost him a lucrative deal, his following has continued to grow; reports in February put his following at 53 million subscribers, but he has gained nearly 4 million more as of this writing. Among his followers and fans are politically influential far-right trolls, including Brittany Pettibone, Stefan Molyneux, and Infowars’ Alex Jones, Paul Joseph Watson, and Mike Cernovich. These trolls have repeatedly defended and supported PewDiePie while helping him push the narrative that the backlash he has received for his racially insensitive remarks is the result of unfair targeting by the mainstream media and by those offended, whom they pejoratively call “social justice warriors,” or “SJWs.”

    PewDiePie has attempted to distance himself from both his neo-Nazi following (a neo-Nazi publication, The Daily Stormer, once declared itself “the world’s #1 PewDiePie fansite”) and other explicitly racist elements of the self-declared “alt-right” by claiming he wants “nothing to do with that.” But he has shown no qualms in becoming closer with the freshly rebranded far-right trolls who say they’re not “alt-right.” In July, he followed conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on Twitter after Jones and Infowars made public attempts to contact him for a collaboration. PewDiePie has also indicated he likes rants in which Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson defends him.

    Watson has celebrated PewDiePie’s content on several occasions, once claiming he “red-pilled” -- a term popularized by message boards like 4chan and co-opted by the far-right to signify awakening someone to reality -- his followers with far-right messaging like denying the existence of the wage gap between genders. Watson also lavished praise on PewDiePie when he criticized celebrities for emphasizing the influence of man-made climate change on extreme weather events like hurricanes.

    PewDiePie has found validation and justification for his antics in the trolls’ support for his hateful and offensive rhetoric, which they back under the guise of defending free speech. He's also found them to be common allies in his battle against the media, which he blames for the backlash he gets after his actions are reported. In hopes of continuing to have his grievances validated, he caters to the far-right's tastes by deviating from his regular gaming content to troll “SJWs.”

    At the same time, far-right trolls lionize PewDiePie as a hero of free speech and validate his antics. To them, his worth lies in his vast reach, which they aspire to weaponize by influencing his content and using it as a gateway to introduce unsuspecting, not-yet-politicized young audiences to the far-right narratives of the “culture war.”

    The trolls recognize PewDiePie's style of hiding offensive rhetoric behind layers of irony and then claiming those who object are just taking it too seriously -- because it's straight from their own playbook. New York magazine's Noreen Malone explained as much when profiling the "alt-right": "If you take them seriously, they'll claim you missed the joke." It is this playbook that has allowed trolls to push for further expanding the boundaries of what’s acceptable discourse, as Screener’s Jacob Clifton explained in an article for BuzzFeed.

    In PewDiePie’s screeds against the press, the far-right trolls see a vastly influential ally in their own efforts to “destroy media” and become the primary source of cultural and political information for captive audiences. In the same way that candidate Donald Trump proved to be a valuable ally of the far-right trolls in mainstreaming the white male grievances and anti-social justice rhetoric of the troll swamps, PewDiePie’s coattails also look like a promising ride toward normalization, this time with a powerful global reach among audiences who can’t even vote yet.

  • Before he joined Trump, Bannon bragged he made Breitbart the home of the "alt-right." Now he's back.

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Stephen Bannon, former White House chief strategist and restored executive chairman of Breitbart.com, orchestrated and supported many of the worst elements of the campaign and presidency of Donald Trump. Before, during, and after his direct involvement with Trump’s political ambitions, Bannon used his experience -- and his extensive and complicated financial connections to the far-right billionaire Mercer family -- to stoke the flames of nativist anger, encourage Trump’s most racist and misogynistic rhetoric, support far-right political candidates across the globe, and attack all perceived enemies of Trumpism, potentially including Trump himself.

  • Report: Top Pence Adviser Is Partial Owner Of Independent Journal Review

    Blog ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ

    BuzzFeed News is reporting that a political adviser to Vice President Mike Pence is also a “major investor” in the conservative media outlet the Independent Journal Review (IJR), which has gained exclusive access to the administration as the only media outlet allowed to travel with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on his trip to Asia. 

    The IJR is a conservative, pro-Trump outlet which recently faced criticism for publishing, then retracting, an article suggesting former President Barack Obama had the “timing and the opportunity” to influence the judge that halted President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. The outlet also faced criticism after Tillerson’s “decision to bring only Erin McPike of Independent Journal Review” with him on his first trip to Asia. According to Politico:

    McPike has been with IJR for only a few weeks and doesn’t even cover the State Department: She’s its White House reporter and is often in the briefings. McPike won’t be acting as a pool reporter for the rest of the diplomatic press corps, meaning she won’t be sharing information about the trip with other reporters, which is what would normally happen if there were limited space for reporters and only a few were chosen.

    On March 17, BuzzFeed News reported that a “top strategist” for Vice President Pence, Nick Ayers, is a “major investor” in IJR. Ayers also works for America First Priorities, a political group that works to push Trump’s agenda. While the article notes that “there is no indication” that Ayers played a role in IJR receiving favorable treatment from Tillerson, the Ayers connection reinforces the “close ties between Trump’s orbit and a favored media outlet.” From BuzzFeed News:

    Nick Ayers, Pence’s top strategist outside of the White House, confirmed to BuzzFeed News that he owns part of IJR. He is also playing a major role in America First Priorities, a political group launched by Trump campaign advisers to trumpet the president’s message. He joined Trump’s campaign when Pence was tapped as the vice presidential nominee and later acted as a senior advisor for the vice president-elect during the transition. Ayers previously worked as a political consultant and as campaign manager for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s presidential bid in 2012.

    There’s no indication that Ayers was involved in this week’s controversial State Department decision to grant the sole press spot on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s trip to Asia to IJR’s White House correspondent. The move, a break from tradition, has enraged the State Department press corps as Tillerson makes big diplomatic news without a traditional pooler tagging along.

    Ayers’ investment in IJR is another example of close ties between Trump’s orbit and a favored media outlet. Steve Bannon, the president’s top strategist, ran Breitbart News for years and has brought with him to the administration a handful of ex-Breitbart staffers. The company has said that it no longer has financial and editorial ties to Bannon. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner transferred his ownership of The New York Observer to a family trust.

    There’s no sign that Ayers has had any editorial involvement with his investment, and a person involved in the company noted that IJR notably didn’t benefit from insider leaks during the campaign.

  • Trump Embraces Fringe Conspiracy That Equates Chuck Schumer Eating Krispy Kreme Donuts With Allegations Trump's Campaign Had Ties To Russia

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    President Donald Trump tweeted a photo of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer eating a donut alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin to defend himself from scrutiny of his possible ties to Russia. The photo was previously posted on the blog The Gateway Pundit, which Trump has indirectly cited before. The site has a history of publishing false information but was recently given White House press credentials. 

  • Media Respond To White House’s Blacklist; Calls To Join AP, Time, And USA Today

    "The Society Of Professional Journalists Stands By Those News Organizations That Chose Not To Participate In The Briefing"

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Media are criticizing as "unacceptable" the Trump administration’s blacklisting of outlets from a White House briefing and some are considering joining the boycott of AP, Time Magazine, and USA Today immediately. Unlike those outlets, ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox News accepted the invitation to join the briefing and attended. 

  • How Right-Wing Media Are Lying To Protect Trump's Muslim Ban

    ››› ››› NINA MAST

    Since President Donald Trump signed a controversial executive order banning visitors and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, conservative media figures have defended him as being “within his mandate” as president and claimed the constitutionality of the order is “crystal clear,” but the recent federal appeals court decision against his order proves otherwise. Here are some of the right-wing media myths -- and the corresponding facts -- on Trump’s Muslim ban:

  • How Media Outlets Helped Trump Push A Fake News Story About Bikers And His Inauguration

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Media outlets uncritically quoted President-elect Donald Trump’s claim that he saw a “scene” of “thousands” of the group Bikers for Trump traveling to Washington, D.C., for his inauguration, even though BuzzFeed had reported hours before that the photos being shared online were recycled, having been taken years ago. As is well-established, media run the risk of accidentally enabling lies if they repeat Trump's unsubstantiated or false claims without including context or a rebuttal.

  • Trump Speaks With Foreign Diplomats, Regales Them With Fake News Story

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    During the Chairman’s Global Dinner pre-inauguration event, President-elect Donald Trump bragged about the “record crowds coming” to celebrate his inauguration, including a group called “bikers for Trump.” Trump regaled his audience with tales of photos showing thousands of bikers purportedly making their way to Washington D.C., a fake news story uncovered by BuzzFeed hours before Trump went on stage. 

    Trump's comments were made during the event dubbed the "most exclusive event" preceding the inauguration which gives nearly 200 foreign diplomats the opportunity to meet the president-elect and his team. Footage of the event aired on the January 17 edition of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 which included Trump's remarks to the diplomats and guests at the dinner (emphasis added):

    DONALD TRUMP: I also want to tell you, you know, so many people are talking about what's going on and now they’ve just announced we're going to have record crowds coming. I saw the bikers for Trump. Boy, they had a scene today. I don't know if I'd want to ride one of those, but they do like me. That's like additional security with those guys. They're rough when they get on that Harley, usually a Harley, made right here in America. And they had a scene today where they had helicopters flying over a highway someplace in this country and they had thousands of those guys coming into town. And let me tell you they are great people. And we are getting -- I think I must have gotten 100% of their votes between the military and the police.

    CNN host Anderson Cooper did not comment on Trump's remarks during the dinner due to technical difficulties with the video, but according to a BuzzFeed report, the photo Trump claimed purportedly showed a group of 5,000 motorcyclists on their way to Washington D.C. among various other photos, were actually photos taken years ago. BuzzFeed’s report explains that “several pro-Trump accounts on social media are using pictures and videos that falsely claim to show large groups of bikers on their way to the inauguration in Washington” and that, although pro-Trump bikers have requested a permit to attend the inauguration, no permit has been granted to date. 

    Trump has a history of sharing false claims or fake news that originate from fringe right-wing media sites