The Drudge Report | Media Matters for America

The Drudge Report

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  • The conspiracy theories being spread about the Las Vegas massacre

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    After a mass shooting in Las Vegas, NV, left at least 58 people dead and more than 500 injured, far-right media, fake news purveyors, and fringe sources including 4chan and 8chan engaged in and spread many conspiracy theories about the shooting including that the gunman may have had an accomplice and was connected to ISIS, antifa, and/or former President Barack Obama.

  • How Matt Drudge became the pipeline for Russian propaganda

    Drudge Report has linked nearly 400 times to RT, Sputnik News, TASS since 2012

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On July 17, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing 298 passengers and crew. The next day, President Barack Obama alleged that the responsible parties were Russian-backed separatists seizing territory in the region following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Obama’s statement came amid a furious effort by Russian propaganda outlets to foster confusion about the act. In their telling, the tragedy had actually been a failed attempt by Ukrainians to shoot down President Vladimir Putin’s plane.

    The Russian propaganda effort received a substantial boost when right-wing internet journalist Matt Drudge highlighted a story on the topic from RT.com, the website of the Russian government-backed English-language news channel RT. Drudge titled the resulting item on the Drudge Report, his highly trafficked link aggregation website, “RT: Putin’s plane might have been target...” in bright red text.

    After Drudge propelled the RT story to his massive audience, it was picked up by right-wing U.S. conspiracy websites. (Others on the right warned that Drudge had gone too far by aiding a Russian disinformation campaign.)

    This was not an anomaly. Drudge has for years used his site as a web traffic pipeline for Russian propaganda sites, directing his massive audience to nearly 400 stories from RT.com and fellow Russian-government-run English-language news sites SputnikNews.com and TASS.com since the beginning of 2012, according to a Media Matters review. Those numbers spiked in 2016, when Drudge collectively linked to the three sites 122 times.

    Drudge’s increasing affinity for and proliferation of Russian propaganda comes amid what The New York Times calls “a new information war Russia is waging against the West.”

    RT and Sputnik News are part of what the Times' Jim Rutenberg has termed “the most effective propaganda operation of the 21st century so far,” a coordinated network of state-controlled TV and online media outlets and social media accounts that take advantage of the traditional protections of Western liberal democracies to undermine public confidence in the governments of those nations. TASS, which has received less attention in the United States, is a Russian news agency similar to The Associated Press but owned by the state.

    Russia’s English-language propaganda operation came under increasing scrutiny from the U.S. intelligence community during and following the 2016 presidential election, during which, according to U.S. intelligence agencies, it was part of an effort to bolster now-President Donald Trump’s campaign. Mixing slanted coverage with outright lies, the state media effort promotes an anti-establishment worldview featuring criticisms of the U.S. from both the far left and far right, packaged with the same strategies used by modern American news outlets to increase viewership.

    When the Kremlin’s interests converge with the right’s interests in undermining Democratic politicians like former President Barack Obama and former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, its outlets find prominent allies in the U.S. conservative media landscape. As Andrew Feinberg, the former White House correspondent for Sputnik News, has explained, the Russian media outlets are part of the “right-wing media ecosystem,” with their stories picked up and promoted by prominent far-right news sites like Breitbart.com and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars.com.

    For decades, Drudge has played a dominant role in that ecosystem. The Drudge Report is one of the most highly trafficked news websites in the country, and because it simply aggregates links, it is the top source of referral traffic to a host of right-wing and mainstream news websites. That ability to create a firehose of traffic leads some reporters, especially on the right, to craft stories for the explicit purpose of getting Drudge links, allowing him to serve as the media’s assignment editor. And the media outlets benefiting from that traffic are not only U.S. traditional media or conservative outlets, but the press organs of one of the nation’s top adversaries.

    To measure this effect, Media Matters wrote a program to crawl through Drudge’s archives and create an index of all instances in which the website linked to pages that included the URLs “rt.com,” “sputniknews.com,” or “tass.com.”

    We found that the Drudge Report has promoted dozens of RT articles every year since 2012. Soon after Sputnik launched in November 2014, it, too, began regularly receiving attention from Drudge. TASS articles receive much less promotion, but Drudge’s website features a permanent link to the TASS main page (listed as ITAR-TASS).

    As the U.S. presidential race and Russia’s machinations both escalated in 2015, the number of Russian propaganda articles promoted by Drudge shot up to 79 for the year. The total jumped again to a high of 122 articles in 2016, before dropping down to 45 this year through September 18.

    The articles Drudge highlighted cover a wide range of U.S. and international topics, but -- as one might expect from the content of Russian propaganda outlets -- many fall into discrete categories that fit the interests of the Kremlin.

    During the 2016 presidential campaign, for example, several of the Drudge-promoted articles reported on the contents of emails and voicemails the U.S. intelligence community says were stolen from the Democratic National Committee or former Clinton campaign chair John Podesta by Russian hackers.

    Others promoted the claims of WikiLeaks founder and former RT host Julian Assange. Drudge highlighted coverage from Russian propaganda outlets of his attacks on Clinton and his contradiction of the U.S. intelligence community over whether Russia was the source of the Democratic emails he published.

    Drudge has also regularly turned to RT and Sputnik for unskeptical coverage of statements from Putin and other Kremlin officials, including their denials of Russian election interference, their criticisms of the U.S. role in Syria, and their efforts to undermine NATO members.

    And he’s frequently highlighted the Russian outlets’ conspiracy theories and hysterics, including their reports on meetings of the “mysterious Bilderberg Group,” debunked claims that Google manipulated its search results to favor Clinton, and warnings of increasing Western support for satanism.

    Drudge’s affinity for Russian president Vladimir Putin and his propaganda outlets is undoubtedly a major asset for the Kremlin. Drudge has rare power as a media gatekeeper due to his unusual ability to push reporting from previously unknown outlets to a massive audience.

    Jones’ Infowars -- also a favorite of the Russian government -- is a case study in the potential impact of sustained promotion from Drudge. A 2013 Media Matters study found that the Drudge Report linked to Infowars hundreds of times over the previous two years, giving the conspiracy theory website crucial exposure to the rest of the right-wing media space.

    As Jones himself put it, Drudge was the “one source who really helped us break out, who took our information, helped to punch it out to an even more effective level.”

    Putin could say the same.

    Research provided by Adama Ngom and Shelby Jamerson.

  • Right-wing media's new voter fraud "proof" is even more asinine than usual

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Right-wing and fringe media outlets and figures, including Kris Kobach, vice chairman of the Trump administration’s election integrity commission, are citing a Washington Times article about several thousand New Hampshire voters using out-of-state driver’s licenses to register to vote to bolster conservative claims of fraud and say that Republicans may have actually won the state. But journalists and election experts shot down these claims of voter fraud and explained that New Hampshire’s voter ID law permits out-of-state driver’s licenses to be used as proof of identity when voting, an option that college students often exercise.

  • 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:

  • 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 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. 

  • Internet Trolls Unleash Attacks On Washington Post Reporter Following Completely Made Up Right-Wing Media Smear

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW LAWRENCE

    A false right-wing media report targeting The Washington Post’s Doris Truong has resulted in what she described as her “own personal Pizzagate” in which she was erroneously identified as being at Rex Tillerson’s confirmation hearing and surreptitiously taking photos of pieces of paper he left behind.

    Following Tillerson’s January 11 confirmation hearing for his nomination to serve as the next secretary of state, a photo of an unidentified woman seemingly taking photos of notes left behind at Tillerson’s empty seat began circulating on Twitter. Notoriously dishonest, and consistently wrong, right-wing blogger Jim Hoft then posted the photo and a video of the incident identifying the woman as Truong. Hoft has since updated his post and admitted that the woman pictured was not Truong, but the URL still reads “sick-wapo-reporter-caught-sneaking-photos,” a reference to Hoft’s original misleading headline. From there, the false claim was pushed by other right-wing media personalities like former Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin and linked to by The Drudge Report, driving even more traffic to the story and leading to widespread harassment of Truong at the hands of internet trolls.

    From Truong’s January 12 account of the episode published by The Washington Post:

    By the time I woke up, trolls had commented on social media channels besides Twitter. My Facebook feed had dozens of angry messages from people I didn’t know, as did comments on my Instagram account. Even my rarely used YouTube channel attracted attention. My emails and my voicemail included messages calling me “pathetic” and a “sneaky thief.”

    A lot of the comments also focused on my Chinese heritage, implying — or outright stating — that I must be spying for China. Some called for an FBI investigation of what they deemed illegal behavior.

    […]

    Even more bizarrely, one Twitter user insisted that “facial software on the video” led to the “almost positive” conclusion that the woman was me.

    But even if people believed that the person at the hearing wasn’t me, they wanted to know who she was. And that’s what’s particularly alarming about this time in our society: Why are people so quick to look for someone to condemn? And during the confusion about the woman’s identity, why is it presumed that she is a journalist? Or that taking pictures of notes in an open hearing is illegal? Or, for that matter, that she was even taking pictures of Tillerson’s notes?

    Despite his admission that he has no idea who the woman is, Hoft is still identifying her as a “reporter” and pushing the unsubstantiated claim that she was “sneaking photos” without any supporting evidence.

    Truong’s encounter with the far-right online fringe shares startling similarities with so-called “Pizzagate,” a fake news conspiracy theory perpetuated by Trump ally and right-wing radio host Alex Jones that eventually led one alt-right adherent to shoot inside a pizzeria in Washington, D.C. and engage in an armed standoff with police. In fact, Jim Hoft credited one of the leaders of the “pizzagate” fake news conspiracy in his original attack on Truong; right-wing blogger and sexual assault apologist Mike Cernovich, who recently directed an online harassment campaign against political satirist and video editor Vic Berger.

    As was the case with “pizzagate,” wherein an armed conspiracy theorist held up a pizza parlor while he “investigated” the veracity of absurd claims he read online, many of Truong’s online harassers are demanding that she get to the bottom of this story, and identify the woman herself, before they’ll accept that it wasn’t her.

  • Matt Drudge Peddles Irresponsible Conspiracy Theory Downplaying Deadly Hurricane Matthew

    Blog ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET

    As millions evacuate the east coast of Florida in preparation for Hurricane Matthew, which has already been responsible for more than 113 deaths across the Caribbean, the curator of the most widely read conservative website, Matt Drudge, irresponsibly peddled a conspiracy theory that federal officials have exaggerated the danger posed by Hurricane Matthew “to make exaggerated point on climate.”

    On October 6, Drudge claimed “the deplorables” were wondering if the government was lying about the intensity of the deadly hurricane and also questioned the legitimacy of the National Hurricane Center’s data:

    [Twitter, 10/6/16]


    [Twitter, 10/6/16]

    Drudge also used his website, one of the most widely read sites on the internet, DrudgeReport.com to put Florida residents in danger and push the conspiracy theory with a banner titled “STORM FIZZLE? MATTHEW LOOKS RAGGED!,” alongside links titled “IT’S A 4?” and “RESIDENTS NOT TAKING SERIOUSLY...”.

    In direct contrast to Drudge, Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott warned those in the hurricane’s path that “this storm will kill you,” while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) described the storm as “dangerous.” Fox News host Shepard Smith warned Floridians that if they did not evacuate “you and everyone you know is dead,” and that “you can’t survive it,” while The National Weather Service for Melbourne, Florida warned residents that the storm was “LIFE-THREATENING,” and “more impacting than Hurricane David and 2004 hurricanes!”:

    Drudge joined Rush Limbaugh in peddling irresponsible conspiracy theories about the hurricane, placing their audience in danger. Earlier, Limbaugh downplayed the storm by ranting about “politics in the forecasting of hurricanes because there are votes,” and previously claimed the National Hurricane Center is "playing games" with "hurricane forecasting" to convince viewers of climate change.

    UPDATE: Conspiracy theorist and Trump ally Alex Jones retweeted Matt Drudge, expressing support and agreement with his dangerous hurricane conspiracy while adding the white supremacist “altright” hashtag:

     

  • Media Falsely Equate Trump’s Billion-Dollar Tax Avoidance Scheme With Clinton’s Taxes

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Media figures are inaccurately equating Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a common tax deduction on her 2015 tax return to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s $916 million declared loss in 1995, which, The New York Times reported, he could have used to virtually wipe out his federal income tax obligations over the past two decades. Several media outlets have falsely claimed Clinton “did the same thing” as Trump when, in fact, Clinton’s 2015 tax return shows that she could take only a $3,000 deduction for her reported $700,000 loss, and her campaign reports that she has paid between a 25 and 38 percent income tax rate since 2001.

  • Trump's Debunked Google-Clinton Conspiracy Theory Comes Straight From Conservative And Russian Media

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    In prepared remarks, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump pushed the debunked claim that Google is “suppressing” negative information about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in its search results. The claim, which has been debunked by mainstream outlets and experts as “utter nonsense,” originated in right-wing media and was also pushed by a Russian pro-Kremlin news site and the website of Trump’s campaign CEO.

  • Mainstream Media Echo Conservatives’ Claim That Clinton’s Pneumonia Legitimizes Their Conspiracy Theories

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Media across the spectrum are claiming that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s diagnosis of pneumonia “vindicated” conservative conspiracy theorists who have long made baseless assertions about Clinton’s health. These claims have recently been mainstreamed by non-partisan outlets despite having been debunked time and time again.

  • Limbaugh Cites Fringe Conspiracy Group To Claim Clinton’s Health Is Disqualifying

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    Radio host Rush Limbaugh cited an “informal internet survey” by a fringe right-wing medical group to baselessly claim that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s “health problems” mean she is unqualified to be president.

    The American Association of Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) released a press release on September 8 after conducting an “informal internet survey” of 250 physicians about Clinton’s medical fitness. Seventy-one percent of respondents claimed Clinton’s health concerns “could be disqualifying for the position of the president of the U.S.,” while 20 percent responded that the concerns are “likely overblown, but should be addressed as by full release of medical records.” Almost all respondents said there has not been “enough emphasis” on Clinton’s “health concerns” by the media.

    The results of this “informal internet survey” were reported in notoriously right-wing fringe websites including WorldNetDaily, Infowars, Drudge Report, Zero Hedge and Western Journalism, which linked the results to Clinton’s overly hyped “coughing fit” on September 5. Limbaugh also picked up the survey, claiming it provided a “scientific consensus” that Clinton “is not qualified” to be president.

    From the September 9 edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Rush Limbaugh Show:

    RUSH LIMBAUGH (HOST): Have you heard about these doctors? These concerned doctors, these, I guess they’re neurologists, who think that Hillary has serious health concerns? Did you see this? I’ll read you an upshot of this, and it’s a press release but it has been reported as news. Concerns about Hillary Clinton’s health as serious. And they could be disqualifying  for the position of president. Saying nearly 71 percent of 250 physicians responding to an informal internet survey by the Americans Association of Physicians and Surgeons, otherwise known as the AAPS. So what happened here? The AAPS sent out an informal survey to their membership. Two hundred fifty  doctors. Seventy-one percent percent of them responded that Hillary Clinton’s health concerns could be disqualifying for president of the United States. Twenty percent said that the concerns for her health are  likely overblown but they should be addressed by a full release of her medical records. Only 2.7 percent responded that they were just a political attack. Now, folks, it seems to me here that we have a scientific consensus here. Just as we have  in climate change and global warming, we have a consensus of scientists here. These happen to be doctors. But they wear white coats and they work in labs, which makes them scientists. And 71 percent of them think that Hillary’s health concerns are so bad that she may not be qualified to hold office and an even greater number think that it's so bad that she needs to release her health records. So it's settled. A consensus of scientists have suggested Hillary’s  not qualified. That settles it. She is not qualified.

    The American Association of Physicians and Surgeons is a far-right medical group with a history of espousing fringe views. It has  advised doctors to quit participating in Medicare, advocated against vaccines for children, and defended doctors who provided massive amounts of painkillers to patients who then abused them. The group also promulgated conspiracy theories about the death of former Clinton deputy counsel Vincent Foster, calling for the release of “ten photographs of Foster’s fully clothed body” in an effort to cast doubt over the death, which has been widely ruled a suicide. In 2005, the AAPS' Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons attacked illegal immigrants, claiming that leprosy "was so rare in America that in 40 years only 900 people were afflicted. Suddenly, in the past three years [2002-2005], America has more than 7,000 cases of leprosy." In fact, there had been just 431 reported cases of Hansen's disease, or leprosy, over the "past three years" in question. 

  • NBC News Mainstreams Conspiracy Theories About Hillary Clinton's Health

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    NBC News helped mainstream conservative media conspiracy theories about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s health by devoting an entire article to a "coughing fit" she had. The report -- while widely criticized by members of the media -- was pushed by right-wing media figures who for years have led the charge in spreading debunked conspiracy theories about Clinton’s health.

    On September 5, NBC News reported that Clinton suffered from a "coughing fit" on the campaign trail in an article titled, “Hillary Clinton Fights Back Coughing Attack,” writing:

    Hillary Clinton struggled to fight back a coughing fit while campaigning in Cleveland, Ohio, on Monday.

    [...]

    The former secretary of state has suffered from coughing fits at times throughout the Democratic presidential primary.

    However the frog in Clinton's throat on Monday was one of the most aggressive she's had during her 2016 run and left her almost unable to finish her remarks.

    Clinton’s coughing was also brought up on broadcast morning shows on September 6, including NBC’s Today, ABC’s Good Morning America, and CBS This Morning, where CBS correspondent Nancy Cordes claimed Clinton’s coughing from seasonal allergies “got the better of her.”

    The NBC News report was embraced by right-wing media figures, who have spent years pushing conspiracy theories about Clinton’s health. The Drudge Report linked to the NBC News story on its banner, blaring the headline: “GETTING WORSE: CLINTON COUGH VIOLENTLY RETURNS,” adding Clinton’s “HEALTH STATUS UP IN THE AIR.” The story was also tweeted out by conservative media figures, with Fox Business host Lou Dobbs writing that “it’s time for answers” about Clinton’s health:

    The piece, however, was widely derided by mainstream media figures declaring “this ain’t news” and asking if NBC “seriously ran this story?”:

    As James Poniewozik, The New York Times’ TV critic, points out, the fact Clinton coughed is “news only [because] of a context of rumor, which NBC is indulging.” The NBC News report sent a dog-whistle to right-wing conspiracy theorists and gave legitimacy to their ridiculous claims that Clinton is suffering from serious health problems. For years, right-wing media have obsessed over Clinton’s bodily functions, including coughing fits and using the restroom.

    More dangerously, mainstream media have also hyped these conspiracies, even when their own outlets have debunked them. Even NBC Nightly News previously dispelled the “conspiracy theories” surrounding Clinton’s health.

    Media figures have recently criticized the right-wing figures promoting these myths. CNN’s Brian Stelter said it “does a disservice” to the audience “by peddling these conspiracy theories.” Michael Smerconish argued “it’s unhealthy for us as a society and electorate to all play armchair physician and go on and make some diagnoses,” especially since these claims have been debunked numerous times.