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  • Major US newspapers ignored the role of fake news in Italy's high-stakes general election

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A far-right party and an anti-establishment party that controls a fake news network won in major upsets in Italy’s general election on March 4 and are now vying to form a majority government. But major U.S. newspapers, some of which had previously covered the threat of fake news in Italy, entirely ignored the likely role fake news played in the election’s outcome.

    Researchers in Italy noted the increasingly alarming role of fake news after Italy’s 2013 election. But the country began paying closer attention to the problem after BuzzFeed and Italian newspaper La Stampa exposed anti-establishment party 5-Star Movement’s foundational role in a network of blogs and social media accounts spreading fake news, conspiracy theories, and Russian propaganda. In November 2017, a year after its original report, BuzzFeed reported on another network spreading hyperpartisan misinformation on Facebook, this one run by “an entrepreneur in Rome with links to a secretive Italian Catholic association.” That same month, former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi asked social media companies, particularly Facebook, to “help us have a clean electoral campaign. The quality of the democracy in Italy today depends on a response to these issues.” In January 2018, the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations summarized the threat of fake news and Russian-backed misinformation in Italy (page 137 of the report) and called on the U.S. government to cooperate with Italy on addressing the issue.

    Despite warnings from the U.S. and Italian governments, investigative reporting from media outlets and, in the case of The New York Times and The Washington Post, major newspapers’ own reporting on the role of fake news in Italian elections, these papers failed to acknowledge the possible links between far-right misinformation campaigns and the March 4 election outcome that was aligned with their message.

    According to a Media Matters analysis of coverage on Italy’s election day and the following two days, major U.S. newspapers including the Post, the Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today engaged in zero significant discussions of the threat of fake news in the Italian election. Two passing mentions of “conspiracy theories” in the Times' op-ed section were the closest the outlet came to discussing the role of fake news.

    The failure of these major outlets to connect widely reported, far-right, election-oriented fake news to far-right electoral outcomes raises serious concerns over their ability to inform readers about the threat of fake news for democracies around the world.

    Methodology:

    Media Matters used Nexis to search for mentions of “Italy” and “election” in the print editions of The Washington Post, USA Today, and The New York Times on March 4 through March 6, 2018. We used Factiva for The Wall Street Journal. We searched the resulting 26 articles for mentions of “news,” “media,” “fake,” “misinformation,” “conspiracy,” and “Russia.”

  • Scott Pruitt appeared on Fox more than twice as often as other major TV networks combined in his first year at EPA

    Fox News, meanwhile, largely ignored controversies about Pruitt’s extravagant travel

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In his first year as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as he did on the other major cable and broadcast networks combined. During the same period, Fox News devoted significantly less coverage to controversies about Pruitt’s costly travel than the other major cable news outlets, CNN and MSNBC.

    Pruitt’s preference for appearing on Fox News is part of a wider trend that extends across the Trump administration, with Fox News serving as the go-to network for administration officials. Fox News’ habit of ignoring unflattering news about Pruitt is also in line with the network’s tendency to ignore negative stories about President Donald Trump and his administration.

    In first year as EPA head, Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as on the other major networks combined

    Scott Pruitt appeared on Fox News 16 times in his first year at EPA. A previous Media Matters study examining Pruitt’s first six months after taking office on February 17, 2017, found that he appeared on Fox News twice as often as he did on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and NBC combined. He continued that trend in his second six months in office, making four more appearances on Fox and only one additional appearance on a non-Fox outlet, CBS. In total, during his first year, he appeared 16 times on Fox and only seven times on the other networks combined.

    Pruitt rarely faced tough questioning during his appearances on Fox, with the exception of two interviews by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. During most of Pruitt's Fox appearances, he advocated for and defended the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, though he also went on the network to defend his rollbacks of other Obama-era environmental protections.

    The Fox program he appeared on most often was Fox & Friends, a show that wields agenda-setting influence with the president. Here are all of Pruitt's Fox News appearances from his first year at the EPA:

    *The segment on Your World with Neil Cavuto on October 17 used footage from an interview Pruitt did earlier on the same day on the Fox Business Network program Cavuto: Coast to Coast.

    Pruitt made just seven appearances on the other major cable and broadcast TV networks combined. In his first year leading the EPA, Pruitt made only seven appearances total on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and MSNBC. In the majority of these, he defended U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, as he did during his Fox appearances. In other cases, he broadly discussed his agenda and priorities and defended rollbacks of environmental regulations.

    Here are Pruitt’s appearances on the major broadcast TV networks, CNN, and MSNBC during his first year:  

    • Two on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos on March 26 and June 4.
    • One on CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer on February 28.
    • One on CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper on June 1.
    • One on NBC’s Meet the Press on June 4.
    • One on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on June 6.
    • One on CBS Evening News on January 17.

    Fox News devoted significantly less coverage to Pruitt’s controversial use of taxpayer money than CNN and MSNBC

    On September 27, The Washington Post published an article about Pruitt taking “at least four noncommercial and military flights since mid-February, costing taxpayers more than $58,000.”

    The story received extensive mainstream media coverage, including on other cable news networks. During the week after the story broke, from September 27 to October 3, CNN and MSNBC aired 32 and 31 segments on the controversy, respectively, often mentioning other cabinet members' high travel expenses as well. But Fox News aired just seven segments about Pruitt’s costly charter and military flights. In one Fox segment, on the September 29 episode of Your World with Neil Cavuto, correspondent John Roberts stated, “Scott Pruitt took four, maybe five charter flights. Those were all approved by the EPA Office of Ethics, and he has come up with a full explanation for those. … It's my belief that the other departments, Interior, Treasury, EPA, whatever, are allowed to do those private flights, as long as they have pre-approval for that.”

    On February 11, 2018, The Washington Post again detailed Pruitt’s exorbitant spending in an article headlined “First-class travel distinguishes Scott Pruitt’s EPA tenure.” The Post reported that Pruitt racked up $90,000 in taxpayer-funded travel costs during one stretch in early June, and that figure did not include the additional travel costs for Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail. CBS News reported two days later that Pruitt broke with a government policy that officials fly on U.S. airlines by traveling on the luxury Emirates airline on a return trip from Milan, Italy. The story gained further traction after the EPA changed its tune about whether Pruitt had a blanket waiver to travel first class and clarified what security threats justified Pruitt’s use of first-class travel.

    Yet in the week following the Post’s article, from February 11 to February 17, Fox News did not mention the renewed controversy over Pruitt's travel costs even once.* CNN and MSNBC, by contrast, aired four and eight segments on his travel, respectively.

    *Fox News did air two segments on the latest Pruitt travel controversy on the February 19 episode of Shepard Smith Reporting and the February 28 episode of Special Report with Bret Baier, but these segments were aired more than a week after the Post story and fell outside the one-year time frame of our study.  

    On business news networks, Pruitt appeared on Fox Business four times as often as on CNBC

    Pruitt’s preference for Fox extended to the Fox Business Network. On the cable business news channels, Pruitt again demonstrated a predilection for Fox, making eight appearances on Fox Business, while appearing only twice on competitor CNBC. Fox Business Network has exhibited strong pro-Trump leanings, as outlets including USA Today and Business Insider have reported.

    Here are Pruitt's appearances on Fox Business shows:

    Fox Business defended Pruitt by attacking a CNN report. After Pruitt gave numerous interviews to Fox Business, the network did Pruitt a favor. In October, it aggressively and baselessly attacked a CNN investigation into moves Pruitt made to help a proposed mine in Alaska right after meeting with the CEO of the mining company pushing the project. The network aired four segments in two days that criticized CNN's story and defended the mine. On all four segments, the hosts and interviewees did not dispute any of the specific facts reported by CNN, but they used highly charged language to try to discredit the story, calling CNN's investigation a "smear," a "hit piece," and "dishonest reporting." (In January, Pruitt reversed his decision and reinstated restrictions on the mine project. Fox News did not report on this reversal.)

    Pruitt gave numerous interviews to right-wing radio programs and a variety of print outlets

    Pruitt frequently appeared on radio shows hosted by climate change deniers like Brian Kilmeade and Michael Savage. Media Matters' previous study on Pruitt's first six months in office found that he made half a dozen appearances on popular right-wing talk radio programs hosted by people who deny climate science. He continued that pattern in his second six months, making appearances on programs including The Rush Limbaugh Show (where he was interviewed by guest host and climate denier Mark Steyn), The Hugh Hewitt Show, The Savage Nation, The Brian Kilmeade Show, The David Webb Show, and Breitbart News Daily.

    Pruitt's print and online interviews included some mainstream outlets. While Pruitt leaned heavily on right-wing outlets when doing TV and radio, he granted interviews to a wider variety of newspapers, magazines, wire services, and online publications. Some of those interviews were with conservative outlets, including National Review, The Daily Caller, and The Daily Signal. Some were with the business press, like The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. And some were with prominent mainstream outlets, including The Washington Post, TIME, USA Today, Reuters, and The New York Times podcast The Daily.  

    Still, overall, Pruitt heavily favors conservative media when trying to push out his talking points. As Mother Jones recently reported in an in-depth profile of Pruitt, the EPA under his direction "has mostly focused on spreading its message through the right-wing media, talking frequently to Fox News and conservative radio hosts while dismissing less favorable coverage as fake."

    Pruitt's preference for right-wing media is continuing into his second year at the EPA. In the 16 days since his one-year anniversary, he has given interviews to the Christian Broadcasting Network, The Daily Signal, and Fox News.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the following terms in Nexis and iQ Media to find Scott Pruitt's on-air TV appearances from the date of his swearing in as EPA administrator on February 17, 2017, to February 17, 2018: “Pruitt,” “Pruett,” "EPA administrator," "E.P.A. administrator," "EPA chief," "E.P.A. chief," "EPA head," "E.P.A. head," "head of the EPA," "head of the E.P.A.," "head of the Environmental Protection Agency," "Environmental Protection Agency Administrator," or "Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency." We did not count instances of networks airing Pruitt’s appearance at the White House’s June 2 press briefing.

    We also used the same terms to search cable news networks’ coverage of Pruitt’s travel controversies from September 27 to October 3 and from February 11, 2018, to February 17, 2018. We did not count instances of networks airing White House briefings that discussed these controversies.

  • Trump's "shithole" comments are racist. Everyone needs to just say that.

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump did something racist again. At what point will some media outlets just say that? 

    On January 11, The Washington Post first reported that in a meeting with lawmakers about immigration, when discussing "protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal," Trump said, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump reportedly added that he’d rather have more immigrants from countries like Norway.

    That is a racist statement, and Trump said that because he is racist.

    It’s far from the first overtly racist comment Trump has made in his life or even in his presidency.

    In fact, an undeniable shadow of racial animus hangs over Trump's every action, whether it’s playing footsie with white nationalists or denying black people housing access, picking public fights with black athletes and pundits and public figures or questioning President Barack Obama’s place of birth, calling Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists or calling for the death penalty for a group of innocent black and Latino teenagers.

    News outlets may hesitate to ascribe racist motivations to an individual, even if so many of their readers can see it clearly. That’s a bit understandable -- but describing concrete, individual actions and statements doesn’t require the same sort of divination.

    Yet some print outlets seem, still, to only feel comfortable calling Trump’s actions racist in the opinion section, or including words or sentiments from third parties that are more comfortable calling racist things racist (like many of their colleagues on mainstream cable news, finally) .

    At this point, major national papers are left to perform bizarre word acrobatics to avoid just saying it themselves. The reporting on Trump’s “shithole” remarks is the latest example.

    • In its report about the "shithole" remark itself, the Post wrote that Trump used “racially incendiary language” and described him as having a “long-standing tendency to make racially charged remarks.”
    • The New York Times wrote that Trump used “disparaging words” and “vulgar language” about the countries in “the latest example of his penchant for racially tinged remarks denigrating immigrants.”
    • USA Today said Trump used “a crude description” because he “reportedly grew frustrated.”
    • The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump made “vulgar comments” during a “back-and-forth” on immigration.

    What more horrifying things does Trump need to do or say that would actually be labeled racist in a report? Judging from what’s been sugar-coated so far, I hope we never know the answer.

  • Anti-abortion group that named Trump "Person of the Year” promotes an 8chan conspiracy theorist

    Operation Rescue praised a message board conspiracy theorist for helping "wake up Americans to the barbarity of abortion"

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The extreme anti-abortion group Operation Rescue appears to have adopted a new tactic in its quest to attack Planned Parenthood and undermine abortion access. This time the group is praising an anonymous conspiracy theorist on the 8chan message board for taking the so-called "evidence" of Planned Parenthood's alleged wrongdoing "seriously and bringing it to the attention of an audience that may otherwise never have been exposed to the truth."

    Operation Rescue is an extreme anti-abortion group with a history of spouting violent rhetoric and harassing abortion providers. Headed by longtime extremist Troy Newman, Operation Rescue has been described as an organization dedicated to “shut[ting] down abortion clinics by systematically harassing their employees into quitting” -- a goal that typically involves training anti-choice activists, developing regional spin-off groups, and ultimately assisting with smear campaigns against abortion providers such as the discredited videos created by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. Newman and Operation Rescue have also been Trump supporters; the organization named the president as the “2017 Pro-Life Person of the Year.” 

    Although Operation Rescue has largely stuck to this playbook for its anti-abortion activism, on January 7 the group demonstrated a new tactic: signal-boosting a series of posts from a far-right message board on 8chan that targeted Planned Parenthood.

    8chan is a message board system -- similar to 4chan and Reddit -- that enables users to create and curate discussions anonymously, making them hotbeds of racist commentary and politically motivated harassment campaigns. These forums gained a reputation for being fertile ground for those in the so-called “alt-right” or white nationalist movement. In the past, 8chan has come under scrutiny for its use by certain users involved in the Gamergate movement, which involved the targeted harassment of individuals, including many women, who advocated “for greater inclusion in [video] gaming,” according to The Washington Post.

    Although there has been some discussion of the 8chan sub-forum “politically incorrect” or /pol/, there are many different sub-forums on the platform. The series of posts highlighted by Operation Rescue occurred on a new sub-forum called The Storm. A user who refers to himself as Q and claims to be a “high-level government insider” began posting first on 4chan and then 8chan about a series of "intel drops — which he, for some reason, called ‘crumbs’" in order to "inform the public about POTUS’s master plan to stage a countercoup against members of the deep state.” New York magazine’s Paris Martineau called the forum a "fantasy world" where “all of the far right’s wildest dreams come true”:

    Q promises that Clinton, Obama, Podesta, Abedin, and even McCain are all either arrested and wearing secret police-issued ankle monitors, or just about to be indicted; that the Steele dossier is a total fabrication personally paid for by Clinton and Obama; and that the Las Vegas massacre was most definitely an inside job connected to the Saudi-Clinton cabal. They believe all of this will be coming to a head any day now. That “The Storm” — of arrests, political turmoil, and Republican vindication — is coming.

    On January 7, Q posted on The Storm that followers should “review the Congressional investigation on PP” and “be prepared for what you learn,” ending with the statement, “These people are SICK!”:

    As Operation Rescue explained in its release, the “Congressional Investigation referenced is the results of the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives” -- referring to a politically motivated inquiry into Planned Parenthood by anti-abortion members of the House of Representatives. Although during its 10 months of investigation, the House select panel found no substantiated evidence of wrongdoing, Operation Rescue and other anti-abortion outlets and groups have frequently promoted the panel’s final report.

    Although Operation Rescue acknowledged that Q is a conspiracy theorist, or at least inspires conspiracy theories -- the anti-abortion group still praised him when one of his posts aligned with its agenda, claiming that “#Qanon is now taking on Planned Parenthood in his uniquely enigmatic way.” Most notably, the Operation Rescue report closed with a quote from Newman, seemingly lauding Q:

    “We are grateful to Q and the Trump Administration for taking the evidence against Planned Parenthood seriously and bringing it to the attention of an audience that may otherwise never have been exposed to the truth. We hope the Qanon exposure helps wake up Americans to the barbarity of abortion,” said Newman. “Planned Parenthood is a corrupt enterprise that makes their money off the backs of dead babies and taxpayers. We urge Congress to defund Planned Parenthood immediately, and are praying for their speedy prosecution.”

    While Operation Rescue praised mysterious poster, the post itself inspired a number of responses -- ranging widely in tone and focus. Some users generally celebrated the news and asked for more information about when “Planned Parenthood is going down”:

    Others shared information from the Congressional investigation, and encouraged followers to read the full report:

    Some users even went so far as to suggest wider conspiracies about Planned Parenthood’s “blood sacrifice to Moloch and Lucifer” and the alleged use of fetal tissue in vaccines and food products:

    Operation Rescue has long been extreme in its tactics, but if this latest development is any indication, the organization may be preparing to lurch into the fever swamp of far-right conspiracy theories and harassment peddled on The Storm and similar communities across various message boards. Anti-abortion harassment has already grown worse over the past few years -- and if Operation Rescue is really pivoting to the far-right message board echo chamber, there’s little reason to believe that trend will abate.

  • Local Virginia TV station’s fact check misses major problems with Gillespie's anti-immigrant ads

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    WAVY News 10’s fact check of Republican Ed Gillespie’s ads in the Virginia gubernatorial race correctly identified one factual inaccuracy but failed to note the anti-immigrant falsehoods the ad pushed as well. The advertisements, which President Donald Trump parroted in his endorsement of Gillespie, have been called out as “racist” and “fear-mongering.”

    In an October 5 segment, reporter Andy Fox of Portsmouth, VA’s NBC affiliate WAVY News 10 fact-checked a series of advertisements Gillespie released attacking his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, over his support for sanctuary cities. Fox explained that while “Gillespie is correct that Northam voted for and supports sanctuary cities,” Northam’s nay vote on a bill, which was defeated, to outlaw sanctuary cities in Virginia “was not the deciding vote as stated in Gillespie’s ad.”

    The bill Gillespie referenced, House Bill 2000, initially failed in the Virginia state Senate earlier this year thanks to what The Washington Post’s editorial board called an act of “political trickery” in which Senate Leader Tommy Norment voted with Democrats against the bill, thus forcing Northam to cast a tiebreaking vote. Republicans later called for a revote, and Norment switched his vote to support the measure. The bill was defeated nevertheless when the Virginia state House failed to muster the votes to override Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s veto.

    While the fact check did correctly note that Northam’s vote “was not the deciding vote as stated in Gillespie’s ad,” Fox missed a few additional opportunities to fact-check Gillespie. Contrary to claims made in the ad, fewer crimes are committed in sanctuary areas compared to nonsanctuary municipalities. This is at least partly because, as NPR explained, witnesses and victims in sanctuary areas are more likely to aid police. Additionally, The Economist wrote that law enforcement found that sanctuary policies “allow [police departments] to fight MS-13,” a criminal gang that Gillespie brought up in his ad, “more effectively.”

    Those aren’t the only problems with Gillespie’s ads. As the Post reported, the men meant to portray MS-13 member in the ads “were not MS-13 members and were photographed in a prison in El Salvador.” Additionally, as Washingtonian pointed out, “there technically aren’t any” sanctuary cities in Virginia, although, as ThinkProgress noted, “some areas of the state do have sanctuary city-like policies protecting immigrants from deportation.”

    While Gillespie’s ad has been criticized for “fear-mongering” and being “super racist," it does seem to have at least one fan: President Donald Trump. Trump echoed the messages in Gillespie’s ad in an October 5 tweet announcing his support for the Republican, which was tweeted eleven minutes after the ad ran during Fox News programming:

    Even though Gillespie is trying to downplay Trump’s support, it’s difficult to ignore that both he and Trump are relying on right-wing media’s anti-immigrant playbook.

  • 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.

  • Press group slams "blatantly irresponsible" NRA for releasing videos that "may incite violence against journalists"

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    A trade group representing publishers including The New York Times, The Associated Press, 21st Century Fox, and dozens of other major news outlets sent a letter to the National Rifle Association (NRA), slamming the gun organization’s “incendiary language” against the media and calling their actions “un-American.”

    Through its online news outlet NRATV, the gun group has launched a series of attacks against the New York Times in recent months with videos featuring NRA national spokesperson Dana Loesch and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. In the video, which was released in April but resurfaced in recent weeks and caused controversy, Loesch said to the Times staff: “Consider this the shot across your proverbial bow. We are going to fisk the The New York Times and find out just what ‘deep and rich’ means to this old gray hag, this untrustworthy, dishonest rag that has subsisted on the welfare of mediocrity for one, two, three, more decades. We're going to laser-focus on your so-called ‘honest pursuit of truth.’ In short, we're coming for you.”

    On September 5, Digital Content Next called out the NRA's videos in a letter addressed to Loesch, stating that while it is her right to express “disagreement” with the Times and other publications, “it is our right to suggest in the strongest terms that your behavior is blatantly irresponsible” and that it is “un-American to threaten journalists.” A CNN.com article about the letter noted that the NRA “has increasingly criticized media outlets” and that experts believe this is being done “to motivate existing members and recruit new members”:

    A trade group that represents The New York Times, the Associated Press and other major publishers is calling out the NRA, accusing the gun rights group of crossing a line and threatening journalists.

    "We were taken aback by your recent criticism of The New York Times," the group Digital Content Next wrote in a letter to NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch on Tuesday.

    In a viral video last month, Loesch harshly attacked the Times as an "untrustworthy, dishonest rag." She said her video was a "shot across your proverbial bow."

    "We're going to laser-focus on your so-called honest pursuit of truth," Loesch said. "In short: We're coming for you."

    The video received ample attention in conservative media circles. Fox News said the NRA was "targeting" the Times.

    [...]

    Without a Democratic president in power to be a focus of its messaging, the NRA has increasingly criticized media outlets like The Times. Analysts have speculated that the group is doing so to motivate existing members and recruit new members.

    Michael Luo, editor of NewYorker.com, wrote last month that Loesch's web videos are "strikingly bellicose even by the standards of the association."

    Launched in October 2016 as a rebranding of NRA News, NRATV has frequently attacked journalists, showed disregard for the concept of a free press, and spread blatantly false pro-Trump propaganda.

    In July, NRATV host Grant Stinchfield released a video accusing The Washington Post of playing a “role in the organized anarchy of the violent left,” and claimed the Post's reporting has done “more damage to our country with a keyboard than every NRA member combined has ever done with a firearm.”

    In previous comments on his NRATV show, Stinchfield has called critical reporting on Trump and his transition team “anti-patriotic” and a plot by the media to “destroy our republic” and claimed that reporting on allegations of sexual assault against Trump was part of “the mainstream media’s assault against freedom and the Constitution.”

    Loesch also caused controversy this summer for narrating another video released on NRATV in which she claimed the left uses the media “to assassinate real news” and that “the only way we save our country and our freedom is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.” Vox.com called the video “chilling” and the Washington Post called it “an ad designed to provoke fear, if not incite violence.” 

  • After Charlottesville attack, anti-LGBTQ hate groups attack media outlets for accurately calling them hate groups

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In response to the violent August 12 white nationalist and neo-Nazi protests that occurred in Charlottesville, VA, a number of regional and national media outlets published pieces that informed their readers about regional and national hate groups from various extremist ideologies. Anti-LGBTQ hate groups and their allies in right-wing media responded to these stories by attacking the media outlets that published them, some of which have since deleted their stories.

  • "Personal Gestapo," "witness intimidation," and "a witch hunt": How pro-Trump media reacted to the Manafort raid

    ››› ››› KATHERINE HESS

    After President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was issued a search warrant regarding the Russia investigation, pro-Trump media -- including Fox personalities, fringe blogs, neo-Nazi sites, and fake news purveyors -- lashed out, stating that it was “not about Trump,” and insisted that this was a witch hunt and another attempt to undermine the 2016 presidential election. Others claimed the FBI was acting as “someone’s personal Gestapo,” and that the raid was a form of “witness intimidation.”

  • How Trump's lawyers, Sean Hannity, and a Sinclair outlet tried to cover up Trump Jr.'s Russia meeting

    Trump's legal team suggested giving Trump Jr. meeting details to Circa, spinning meeting as "setup” by Democrats

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President Donald Trump’s legal team proposed using the Trump-friendly media outlet Circa to promote the evidence-free claim that Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russians during the 2016 presidential election was a Democratic “setup.” Not only did Circa run with the story on July 8, two days later, Fox News host Sean Hannity was more than happy to further the story with Circa’s Sara Carter and John Solomon, frequent guests on Hannity’s shows.

    On July 31, The Washington Post reported that when Trump’s legal team recently discovered incriminating details about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a possible Russian agent, the lawyers proposed an alternate version of the encounter “be given to Circa, an online news organization that the Kasowitz team thought would be friendly to Trump.” The Post additionally noted that “the president’s legal team planned to cast the June 2016 meeting as a potential setup by Democratic operatives hoping to entrap Trump Jr.”

    Circa’s Carter wrote about Trump Jr.’s meeting with the Russian in a July 8 article which included a statement from a spokesman for Trump’s legal team, as well as the assertion that “the president’s legal team said Saturday they believe the entire meeting may have been part of a larger election-year opposition effort aimed at creating the appearance of improper connections between Trump family members and Russia.”

    On July 10, Fox host Sean Hannity invited Carter and then-fellow Circa reporter John Solomon to discuss whether “this whole meeting with Donald Trump Jr” was “possibly a setup” (emphasis added):

    HANNITY: All right, Sara Carter, let's go to you and your reporting along with John. Good to have you both back, by the way. Let's start with your reports about was this possibly a setup? In other words, this whole meeting with Donald Trump, Jr. -- is this a very different story than the American people are being told?

    SARA CARTER: Yes, I think there's a story here that people aren't getting from the mainstream media. And one is this. Natalia Veselnitskaya -- she was the attorney that Donald Trump, Jr., met with -- was actually connected to a company called Presevan Holding, which was run by a Russian named Dennis Katzik . And Dennis Katzik actually hired Fusion GPS. Remember, this was the security investigative firm behind the Christopher Steele dossier. So the Christopher Steele dossier, which has been disreputable, which people have not been able to prove anything, that tried to connect, you know, Donald Trump to the Russians, was actually the company that this woman was working for.

    So it makes sense. And I know that congressional investigators are looking into this. What was her connection to Fusion GPS? And how does that play out with the meeting that she held with Donald Trump, Jr., which he said he did not know prior to that meeting exactly who she was and what she was representing. So that is a very, very important part of this story.

    [...]

    HANNITY: Do you believe that this was a setup by the DNC and this Fusion group that we're talking about?

    JOHN SOLOMON: You know, there's not enough facts and evidence to assume that yet. I think there is clearly a lot of people that were working at once, and what overlays they have and what intersections they have, we don't know in part because Fusion GPS hasn't answered a lot of the questions that the Senate has put to them. Until we find out who was funding the dossier, until we find out who brought Natalia into the country, until we learn those sort of questions, we're not going to know the full picture, and I think it's too soon to make any assumptions. [Fox News, Hannity, 7/10/17]

    The Trump team narrative, with the help of Hannity and Circa, was quickly picked up and spread throughout right-wing media and fake news purveyors.

    Circa is owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, which is known for its conservative bias and connections to Trump associates. During the 2016 campaign, Sinclair made a deal with Trump’s team to push stories favorable to the future president. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Carter and Solomon have used Hannity’s platform to do just that.

  • Pundits overlook John Kelly's extreme record, instead speculate that he could save Trump

    ››› ››› NINA MAST

    Media figures and political strategists flocked to the Sunday shows to speculate that Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly will promote “discipline” and reduce “chaos” as White House chief of staff, and that Trump will listen to him because he “respects” military officers. What their analyses left out is Kelly’s extreme policy position on immigration and his defense of Trump’s chaotic Muslim travel ban implementation.

  • Trump is reportedly considering fulfilling a months-long right-wing media fantasy to fire Robert Mueller

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President Donald Trump and his legal team “are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest,” according to a Washington Post report. The president’s right-wing media allies have waged a months-long campaign against Mueller and his team, calling for Mueller to be fired or his investigation “to be shut down,” and citing supposed “conflicts of interest” among members of Mueller’s investigative team and even of Mueller himself.

  • Media coverage almost entirely whitewashed GOP health care rollback

    People of color have been ignored during the health care debate

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Republican Party’s plan to gut the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will disproportionately hurt people of color -- a fact television and print news outlets have almost completely ignored in their coverage of ongoing health care debates.

    On May 4, President Donald Trump held a White House celebration with a predominantly white group of Republican members of Congress after the House of Representatives voted to fund tax cuts for high-income earners by cutting health care subsidies and loosening patient protections benefitting low- and middle-income Americans. On May 8, The New York Times reported that 13 white Republican men would draft the Senate’s version of a health care reform bill, which remained shrouded in secrecy until it was released on June 22. Almost as if taking their que from the GOP, broadcast and cable news outlets made little effort over the same time period to invite diverse guests to discuss the health care bill despite dedicating significant coverage to the issue.

    In fact, according to new research from Media Matters, news outlets have almost completely ignored how GOP health care plans would disproportionately impact people of color. A Media Matters review of the major broadcast and cable news providers available via Nexis (ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC) found only three significant stories from May 4 through July 9 on the health care bill’s disproportionate impact on communities of color. All three stories appeared on MSNBC's weekend program Politics Nation. Media Matters conducted the same analysis of five major print newspapers via Nexis and Factiva (Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal) and found only four print articles -- three in the Times and one in the Post -- highlighting that the GOP plans to repeal and replace the ACA would harm these already disadvantaged communities.

    One of the few pieces discussing communities of color was an in-depth June 6 report (published in-print on June 11) in The New York Times on an overlooked HIV epidemic in African-American communities in southern states. Phill Wilson, president of the Black AIDS Institute, told the Times that ACA repeal would halt momentum for treating HIV and that he feared people would die if coverage was taken away. From the article:

    “The key to ending the AIDS epidemic requires people to have either therapeutic or preventive treatments, so repealing the A.C.A. means that any momentum we have is dead on arrival,” said Phill Wilson, chief executive and president of the Black AIDS Institute, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit. “For the most vulnerable, do we end up back in a time when people had only emergency care or no care and were literally dying on the streets? We don’t know yet, but we have to think about it.”

    The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected the Senate’s health care overhaul would result in 22 million fewer people with health insurance by 2026, including 15 million fewer low-income Americans being enrolled in the Medicaid program. Communities of color are disproportionately likely to receive Medicaid and restrictions could leave millions of people in disadvantaged communities at a loss. The Commonwealth Fund reported in August 2016 that communities of color benefitted greatly from the ACA’s provisions aimed at reducing health care inequality, and those communities could be hammered by GOP proposals to roll back successful reforms:

    According to HuffPost contributor Richard Eskow, a senior fellow with the progressive group Campaign for America’s Future, Republican plans to gut the ACA “will disproportionately harm people of color” while the 400 wealthiest families in the United States would receive an average tax cut of $7 million. It is because GOP plans so directly harm people of color that journalist Vann Newkirk wrote in The Atlantic that health care is a civil rights issue for millions of Americans. On the July 10 edition of MSNBC’s Politics Nation, Newkirk discussed the importance for expanding access to health care as a means of reducing economic and health disparities that have existed along racial lines for generations:

    Republican plans to repeal the ACA will exact an extraordinary toll on millions of Americans, and will have a disproportionate impact on people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community. That is why it is more important than ever for news outlets to contextualize this human cost.

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted a Nexis and Factiva search of print editions of the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal from May 4 through July 9, 2017. Media Matters also conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of broadcast and cable news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC over the same time period.

    We identified and reviewed all broadcast and cable news segments and non-editorial articles that included any of the following keywords: black or African-American or African American or hispanic or latina or latino or Asian or racism or racial or native american or people of color or indian or pacific islander within 10 words of health care or healthcare or health reform or AHCA or Trumpcare or American Health Care Act or ACA or Obamacare or Affordable Care Act or CBO or BHCA or Medicaid.

  • New MSNBC host Hugh Hewitt is Sean Hannity in glasses

    The Trump supporter puts an intellectual shine on partisan hackery

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    “It is hard work to read widely and broadly, and on both sides of the political aisle,” conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt wrote in a July 2014 explanation of why he had decided to, in his words, “embarrass” a young Huffington Post journalist during an interview on his radio show by quizzing him about what books he had read about the war on terror. “Time consuming. Not very fun actually. But necessary. If you intend to be taken seriously. More importantly, if you intend the country to endure.”

    Since then, NBC hired Hewitt as a political analyst, The Washington Post brought him on as a contributing columnist, and MSNBC has now announced that it is handing Hewitt a weekly show airing on Saturday mornings. These media outlets fell for the idea that he is a different type of conservative talker, the “antidote” to “bombastic personalities” like Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh. In reality, his actions during the 2016 presidential election campaign and the early months of the Trump administration have showed that he simply puts an intellectual gloss on their same brand of partisan hackery.

    In recent weeks, while pundits who share Hewitt's reputation for erudition have castigated the president as dangerously unlearned and incurious, Hewitt has instead stood alongside the president's media sycophants, laying down cover fire for Trump. Hewitt supported Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating his campaign's connections to the Russian government; he downplayed reports that Trump had revealed highly classified information in a meeting with Russian officials; after numerous outlets reported that Comey had kept notes of a meeting with Trump in which the president suggested he halt an investigation into a Trump aide, Hewitt's focus was on whether Comey, not Trump, had behaved appropriately. 

    A breakout media star of the campaign, Hewitt garnered numerous glowing profiles stressing his intellectual heft and curiosity: the “necessary bookshelf” of national security tomes he promotes on this website; how he opens interviews by asking his guests if they know who Alger Hiss is and have read Lawrence Wright’s book The Looming Tower*; his friends on all sides of the political debate; his regular interviews of prominent mainstream journalists; his experience in politics, law, and academia; and in particular the way those features make him distinct from other conservative radio and cable news hosts.

    But Hewitt set aside his concern for the life of the mind and voted for Donald Trump for president, a man of manifest ignorance and intellectual laziness who is unaware of basic historical facts and legal principles, uninterested in policy nuance or detail. As Hewitt had noted in demolishing a 31-year-old journalist, it is “hard work to read widely,” and Trump never bothered to try -- it seems plausible he has read fewer books as an adult than he is credited with writing. Asked to name the last book he had read in an interview last May, Trump commented, “I read passages. I read -- I read areas, I read chapters. I just -- I don't have the time."

    For Hewitt, reading widely was necessary to credibly comment on foreign policy, but not to make it.

    Hewitt, who remained neutral during the Republican presidential primary, frequently provided Trump with friendly access to his audience; he was “the very best interview in America,” according to the host. In none of those interviews with a man who was seeking to be the potential next leader of the free world was Hewitt nearly as aggressive as he had been in his interview with a young Huffington Post reporter.**

    In their first interview, in February 2015, Trump acknowledged that he hadn’t read The Looming Tower, couldn’t name any works of fiction that he’d read, and admitted that he could not speak about nuclear submarines in any real detail (“I just know this. Military is very important to me.”). None of this seemed to strike Hewitt as a problem.

    Hewitt could perhaps be forgiven for not going after Trump with guns blazing at that time, before Trump had announced he was running for president, when many commentators thought that his potential run was a joke. But as the months passed and Trump became and remained the Republican front-runner, Hewitt never pivoted to consistently scrutinizing Trump’s intellectual stature.

    Hewitt drew attention and praise for their seventh interview in September 2015. Saying that he was finally going to give the Republican front-runner “commander in chief questions,” the radio host quizzed Trump about major terrorist leaders and international events. “I’m looking for the next commander-in-chief, to know who Hassan Nasrallah is, and Zawahiri, and al-Julani, and al-Baghdadi. Do you know the players without a scorecard, yet, Donald Trump?” Hewitt asks at one point. “No, you know, I’ll tell you honestly, I think by the time we get to office, they’ll all be changed. They’ll be all gone,” Trump replied.

    Commentators praised Hewitt for having “stumped” and “tripped up” Trump. Hewitt himself takes issue with those characterizations, and indeed, if you review the interview transcript, you’ll find Hewitt repeatedly bringing Trump back from the ledge that the candidate’s ignorance put him on.

    Hewitt let Trump get away with saying it was appropriate for him not to learn about foreign policy issues until he’s elected and claiming that he wasn’t willing to talk about hypotheticals because he didn’t “want the other side to know” what he would do. At one point Trump openly rejected the entire premise of Hewitt’s purported worldview, saying that because he’s a “delegator” who hires “great people” it’s “ridiculous” to ask him specific questions about prominent figures and world events.

    Following the interview, as pundits criticized Trump for his performance, the candidate lashed out at Hewitt as a “third-rate radio announcer.” After initially defending his own performance, Hewitt said that it was his fault that Trump had "misunderstood" his question.

    Trump's criticism got results, as the host adjusted his interview style to get back on Trump’s good side. Hewitt interviewed Trump eight more times over the course of the presidential campaign. He never again asked Trump a question intended to demonstrate whether the candidate had specific knowledge, instead focusing on open-ended foreign policy hypotheticals, process questions, and softballs about Clinton’s alleged misdeeds.

    In the end, the erudite Hewitt, who cast aspersions at a reporter for commenting on foreign policy without first reading the right books, ended up supporting Trump just as Limbaugh and Hannity did, and for much the same reasons. In the end, Hewitt was a partisan, towing the Republican line and supporting the party’s nominee in spite of Trump’s manifest ignorance.

    “Of course I am voting for Donald Trump. You should be too if you are a conservative,” Hewitt wrote in July. His case was a raw appeal to the need to ensure that Republicans gained access to the levers of power. Conservative dominance of the U.S. Supreme Court outweighed all other factors, according to Hewitt; his other arguments included the claim that “Hillary Clinton is thoroughly compromised by the Russians,” that Trump will appoint conservatives to positions of power, and that he definitely really “isn’t a racist, or a dangerous demagogue, a Mussolini-in-waiting, a Caesar off-stage.”

    When Hewitt did speak out against Trump -- at times even calling for the Republican National Committee to take action to prevent him from being nominated and urging the nominee to drop out -- his argument was again partisan: that Trump should be replaced because he could not win. Trump was on the ticket on Election Day, and so Hewitt voted for him.

    This sort of naked partisanship -- the belief that one’s party is better for the country than the alternative, and thus should be supported as long as its candidate can meet some bare minimum standard (“isn’t a racist, or a dangerous demagogue”) -- is a defensible position. But it’s certainly not the position one would expect from someone with Hewitt’s exalted reputation, especially with that bare minimum very much in question.

    Trump’s rise was a revelatory moment that separated out the conservative commentators who had a political principle beyond ensuring the Republican Party gained power from those who did not. Several of Hewitt’s colleagues who are similarly regarded as intellectuals distinguished themselves by condemning Trump, saying that they could not in good conscience support someone with his history of ignorance, bigotry, vulgarity, and demagoguery. Hewitt failed this test, in a manner that clashes with the story Hewitt tells about himself, and the one that others tell about him.

    Since Trump clinched the Republican nomination, some in the conservative press have blamed right-wing commentators like Limbaugh and Hannity for being willing to set aside principles and carry water for the candidate. But that behavior was completely in character for the right-wing talk radio hosts, who have long served as standard bearers of the Republican Party.

    While his megaphone is much smaller than those of Limbaugh and Hannity, Hewitt presents a bigger problem for the conservative movement. He was one of the few with a reputation as an intellectual force who was willing to sacrifice his principles to back the GOP nominee -- and was rewarded with new posts at The Washington Post and MSNBC as an in-house Trump supporter.

    Like other pro-Trump pundits, Hewitt is regularly called upon to defend the indefensible, and he frequently rises to the challenge. His recent missives at the Post include columns headlined "It's time to relax about Trump," "Stop the Trump hysteria," and "Trump’s first 100 days give conservatives a lot to celebrate."

    But unlike the Jeffrey Lords and Kayleigh McEnanys, and perhaps because of his strong relationships with mainstream journalists and pundits, Hewitt has largely managed to keep his reputation intact. He doesn’t deserve to.

    “I would not go through life ignorant of key facts, especially important facts. So many of the people writing under bylines are willing to do just the opposite today,” Hewitt concluded in his essay about why he embarrasses journalists. “It cannot end well when a free people are choosing leaders based upon the reporting of a class of people both biased and blind as well as wholly unaware of both or if aware, unwilling to work at getting smart enough to do their jobs well.”

    Fair enough. But surely it also “cannot end well” when the leaders we choose are also “unwilling to work at getting smart.” That is, perhaps, a key fact of which Hewitt remains ignorant.

    Hewitt got his Supreme Court justice. All it cost him was his dignity.

    Shelby Jamerson provided additional research. Images by Sarah Wasko.

    *Hewitt says he asks about Hiss “because the answer provides a baseline as to the journalist’s grasp of both modern American political history and to a crucial fault-line through it,” and about The Looming Tower because “It is almost journalistic malpractice to opine on any aspect of the West’s conflict with Islamist radicalism without having read Wright’s work, which won the Pulitzer Prize and which is the standard text.” For the record, the author knows who Hiss is, believes the evidentiary record supports the conclusion that he was a Soviet spy, and has read The Looming Tower.

    ** Hewitt has interviewed Trump 15 times during the campaign, for the following editions of his radio show: February 25, 2015; June 22, 2015; August 3, 2015; August 12, 2015; August 26, 2015; August 29, 2015; September 3, 2015; September 21, 2015; October 22, 2015; November 5, 2015; December 1, 2015; February 4, 2016; February 22, 2016; June 23, 2016; and August 11, 2016.