The Drudge Report | Media Matters for America

The Drudge Report

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  • ICE is wrongly designating immigrants as gang members to deport them -- and conservatives are thrilled

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has repeatedly used ambiguous criteria to wrongfully accuse undocumented Latino immigrants of being affiliated with gangs -- often the brutal, Los Angeles-founded street gang MS-13 -- as a pretense to arrest them. Right-wing media outlets have responded by hyping the narrative of the prevalence in the U.S. of MS-13 to promote ICE.

    There have been a number of reports that ICE uses vague and sometimes overly broad criteria to wrongfully label a person as affiliated with a gang, which allows officers to arrest people without a criminal warrant. The result is unjustified arrests of law-abiding undocumented immigrants and overinflated numbers of how many undocumented immigrants are gang members, which right-wing media broadcast to their audiences without proper context.

    Last week, hosts and guests on Fox News mentioned gangs in the context of immigration on at least five different occasions. The Washington Examiner and Drudge Report also hopped on the bandwagon.

    But according to a CityLab report, gang databases maintained by states and ICE are often “riddled with error.” The report pointed to California’s CalGang database as an example, which has been shown to include “unfounded entries” and “hundreds of names that should have been purged years ago.” Many juveniles were added to this database without being notified, and some of the information in these databases may be violating individuals’ privacy rights, the report states. The New Yorker reported that “ICE identifies someone as a gangster if he meets at least two criteria from a long list that includes ‘having gang tattoos,’ ‘frequenting an area notorious for gangs,’ and ‘wearing gang apparel.’” And The Intercept wrote that “gang documentation is a unilateral designation by law enforcement and is extremely difficult to challenge in criminal court. … Challenging gang classification by law enforcement is more difficult during deportation proceedings because defendants cannot compel the government to disclose the evidence against them as they can in criminal court.”

    As a result of these tactics, ICE has been targeting undocumented immigrants who haven’t been shown to be involved in any criminal activity. Daniel Ramirez Medina, for example, who was supposed to be protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, was placed in ICE custody, supposedly for gang involvement, for more than six weeks before being released. According to The Intercept, “the sum of the evidence is a tattoo on his arm that immigration officials believe is gang related, and statements that he allegedly made in custody” about people he spends time with. Similarly, ICE arrested -- and used excessive force against -- Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez after police erroneously identified him as a gang member. He was left with a fractured shoulder and loss of vision in one eye, and was denied proper medical attention while in custody. The New Yorker reported that because of ICE’s “nebulous indicators,” a teenager in Long Island, NY, was put in deportation proceedings for reasons including that he wore a Brooklyn Nets hat and allegedly performed “a gang handshake.” The third reason was his girlfriend: a 16-year-old U.S. citizen who had been kidnapped by a previous boyfriend after she ended their relationship when she found out he was an MS-13 member. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has argued that the tactic of “using unsubstantiated claims of gang affiliation to illegally detain teenagers” encourages profiling of Latinos, and the organization has filed a lawsuit alleging that federal immigration authorities were “wrongfully arresting Latino teens in New York” based on unfounded gang-related charges.

    Right-wing outlets are uninterested in telling such stories.

    Appearing on Fox News’ America’s Newsroom last week, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) pointed to Operation Raging Bull -- an anti-gang operation led by ICE in 2016 and 2017 -- to demonstrate the alleged pervasiveness of immigrant gang members in the U.S. When that operation concluded, the right-wing media sphere was set ablaze with headlines trumpeting ICE’s arrest of between 200 and 300 gang members (the final count was 214 arrests in the U.S.). But the right-wing media outcry breezed over the fact that more than half of those swept up in ICE’s “gang crackdown” were arrested not on criminal charges but on immigration violations.

    Misinformation about MS-13 is particularly prevalent among right-wing outlets, but mainstream media are also sometimes guilty of dramatizing coverage of the gang. Fordham Law professor John Pfaff once called out The Washington Post for “extrapolat[ing]” facts about MS-13’s presence in Long Island, NY, and Northern Virginia “to the nation as a whole” and warned of “the uncritical acceptance of law enforcement’s narrative.”

  • Drudge’s Russian propaganda pipeline pushes Daily Caller op-ed by close Kremlin ally Oleg Deripaska

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

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Conservative website The Daily Caller’s decision to publish an op-ed in which infamous Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska attacks special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into interference with the 2016 presidential election drew harsh criticism from journalists but quickly earned a link on The Drudge Report. Drudge regularly promotes Russian propaganda, providing more than 400 links to the websites of Russian state-media outlets RT, Sputnik, and Tass since 2012.

    The incident points to a confluence of interests: Russians seeking to deflect from the scrutiny brought on by the Mueller investigation find a ready audience in American conservatives looking to excuse the shady and allegedly criminal behavior of Trump associates, helped along by right-wing media outlets.

    In the op-ed -- headlined, “The Ever-Changing ‘Russia Narrative’ Is False Public Manipulation” -- Deripaska argued that the “ever-changing ‘Russia Narrative’ in American politics is today’s 'Wag the Dog' scenario,” referencing a film in which U.S politicians fabricate a war for political gain. Deripaska claimed to be “personally familiar” with the so-called “Deep State,” which he accused of “scurrilously attack[ing] me and others from the shadows for two decades” before moving on to its current goal, “reversing the U.S. presidential election results.”

    The Daily Caller describes Deripaska at the bottom of his piece only as “the founder of UC Rusal, the world’s leading producer of aluminum using clean, renewable hydropower,” while his bio elsewhere on the site calls him the “Founder of UC Rusal, a large Russian aluminum company.” Critics quickly pointed out that Deripaska is far more than a mere mining mogul -- he is a key ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin and a central figure in Mueller’s investigation by virtue of his close relationship with former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, whom Mueller has charged with “a dizzying array of tax, financial, and bank fraud crimes.” Manafort has sizable financial ties to Deripaska and reportedly offered to provide him with private briefings on the election shortly before Trump became the Republican presidential nominee.

    But as The Daily Caller drew criticism, the outlet received a boost from Matt Drudge, the right-wing internet journalist whose highly trafficked aggregation website is the top source of referral traffic to a host of right-wing and mainstream news websites. Drudge linked to the Deripaska op-ed with the title “DERIPASKA:  Russia Narrative is ‘Wag the Dog’ Scenario.”

    Drudge’s decision to boost the signal of an op-ed written by a close Kremlin ally is consistent with his emergence in recent years as a web traffic pipeline for Russian propaganda sites. He has directed his massive audience to 428 stories from Russian-government-run English-language news sites RT.com, SputnikNews.com and TASS.com since the beginning of 2012, according to a Media Matters review. During that period, the increasingly sophisticated Russian sites became part of the U.S. right-wing media ecosystem, with their stories regularly picked up by prominent far-right news sites. Drudge’s promotion peaked in 2016, when the Russian government and the American right wing had a shared interest in bolstering now-President Donald Trump’s campaign by damaging the credibility of Hillary Clinton.

    Drudge’s affinity for Putin and his propaganda outlets is undoubtedly a major asset for the Kremlin, providing a massive, ready-made audience of American conservatives for stories that might otherwise go unnoticed.

    After Media Matters reported in September on Drudge’s tendency to link to Russian propaganda sites, a Daily Caller report criticized our piece, claiming that the study “lacks context about how the Drudge Report operates” because Drudge typically links to “hundreds of websites on any given day.” The Daily Caller report did not indicate what quantity of Russian propaganda promotion that the Daily Caller would find unacceptable.

  • 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.