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Amid bipartisan criticism of President Donald Trump’s capitulation to Russian President Vladimir Putin, some of Trump’s fiercest media allies are standing behind him, even as many of his loyalists defect.
During a July 16 press conference with his Russian counterpart, Trump questioned the findings of his own intelligence community and legitimized Putin’s false claim that Russia did not meddle in the 2016 election, calling his denial “extremely strong and powerful.” His shameful performance garnered sharp rebukes from intelligence community veterans, Democrats, Republicans, and even friends of Trump who have defended the president through some of his most egregious slip-ups.
Nonetheless, a group of Trump’s most ardent supporters in the media rejected the overwhelming consensus and defended the president:
On February 14, Washington Post health care reporter Paige Winfield Cunningham garnered significant attention for tweeting that it was “super weird how people are blaming their diminished sense of well-being on the Trump administration” when “personal events determine [her] quality of life; not who’s in the [White House].” Beyond this insensitive tweet, Winfield Cunningham also has a history of spreading right-wing misinformation about abortion and reproductive health in her reporting.
Former Sen. George Allen (R-VA) regularly appears in the media to push the interests of the manufacturing industry on issues ranging from the environment to taxes. What’s frequently left unsaid is that the Republican works for a leading manufacturing trade association.
Allen is a former Republican Senator and governor who now heads George Allen Strategies LLC, which works for clients “on a range of issues including energy, technology, domestic, and international business development.”
He most recently penned a December 12 Washington Times op-ed claiming that American manufacturers are facing “a formidable new threat: a cabal of activists, cunning lawyers, ambitious politicians and a network of well-heeled benefactors,” which includes philanthropist (and former Media Matters donor) George Soros and environmental activist and philanthropist Tom Steyer.
Allen also wrote a May 24 Washington Times op-ed in which he encouraged lawmakers to reduce the corporate tax rate. In the piece, he cited a “recent National Association of Manufacturers study [which] indicated that smaller-sized manufacturers (under 50 employees) pay $34,671 per employee each year to comply with regulations. The regulatory burden, coupled with the high rates of our outdated tax code, are not the recipe for unlocking positive entrepreneurial growth in Virginia or anywhere in the United States.”
Neither of those pieces disclosed that Allen works for the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). NAM is a trade association that had revenues of roughly $60 million in 2015, according to its IRS 990 form. The group, which describes itself as “the largest manufacturing association in the United States,” frequently works to oppose regulations against the industry and is now working to pass the GOP’s wildly unpopular tax bill. It is headed by Jay Timmons, a veteran Republican operative who worked as Allen’s chief of staff when he was in office.
In October 2013, the group appointed Allen as the co-chair of its “Manufacturing Competitiveness Initiative.” He has done events this year in which business groups have identified him as working for NAM. His corporate biography states that he still works for NAM and he said in a June 2017 interview that he’s “working with the National Association of Manufacturers on their competitiveness initiative.”
NAM’s Manufacturers’ Accountability Project, which is part of NAM’s Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action, tweeted out Allen’s op-ed twice on December 13. Allen’s piece closely resembles the stated purpose of the NAM project, which claims to “set the record straight and highlight the concerted, coordinated campaign being waged by trial lawyers, public officials, deep-pocketed foundations and other activists who have sought to undermine and weaken manufacturers in the United States.”
The Washington Times, George Allen Strategies, and NAM did not respond to requests for comment.
Allen has written other op-eds about the government's involvement with the manufacturing industry in which his ties to NAM were not disclosed.
He has also appeared on television and mentioned the manufacturing industry without noting his ties. For instance, during the June 11 edition of CNN’s New Day Sunday, Allen claimed that President Donald Trump “has done a great job on a lot of regulatory reform issues” and “I think that you see a lot of optimism, for example, amongst manufacturers that this president is going to deliver. Now, the members of Congress need to act too.” He also appeared on Fox Business in March where he mentioned NAM when discussing taxes but didn’t say he worked for the organization; NAM subsequently promoted his appearance and posted video of it.
By contrast, a November 22 op-ed for the Washington Examiner disclosed that Allen works for NAM.
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.
Far-right sources are claiming that thousands of voters “unregistering” in Colorado are evidence of “mass voter fraud”
Thousands of Coloradans have withdrawn their voter registrations in the wake of the Trump administration's election integrity commission’s request for personal voter data. Far-right media are claiming that the people canceling their registrations are “illegal” voters removing themselves from the rolls. In reality, deregistrations have been attributed to voters’ concerns over the confidentiality of their personal data, as well as their distrust of the Trump administration's commission.
Conservative media are pointing to a new report based on a recurring academic survey that was already misused to bolster debunked claims about non-citizen voting to claim that President Donald Trump is vindicated in stating that undocumented immigrants are committing voter fraud en masse.
The conservative group Just Facts recently published a report based on Harvard data collected regularly to claim that 5.7 million undocumented immigrants may have voted in the 2008 presidential election. Right-wing media seized upon the skewed report to claim that “Trump was right.” Fox & Friends was promptly mocked on Twitter for lifting up the blatantly flawed study:
— Andrés Echevarría (@Politiminds) June 21, 2017
In October 2016, PolitiFact published a piece explaining that the Harvard survey Just Facts relies on has been hotly challenged by experts as proof of voter fraud, and the authors who initially wrote about it themselves warned against using the data for future claims along those lines.
Nonetheless, in November 2016, a man purporting to be the founder of voter fraud reporting app VoteStand alluded to the data to tweet the myth that 3 million noncitizens voted illegally, a claim that right-wing media blindly shared with their audiences. The data was quickly debunked at that time.
Now, Just Facts has taken cues from this past stint and published its own study citing the same flawed data. And once again right-wing media are eating it up.
Meanwhile, experts are responding to the study with reproof. HuffPost spoke to University of Massachusetts Amherst political science professor Brian Schaffner, who explained that the Just Facts study “makes the same error as the old study” by taking survey respondents at their word even when their claim that they voted illegally could not be corroborated. The article also quoted Eitan Hersh, a political science professor at Yale, who called the Just Facts methodology “a crazy extrapolation.”
This is just the latest instance of conservative media pushing facts aside to bolster Trump’s baseless voter fraud claims. And as their defense becomes increasingly desperate, it is becoming obvious that their underlying agenda is to legitimize Republican efforts of voter suppression to help tilt future elections in the GOP’s favor.
Conservative media are reporting on a study claiming that thousands of illegal votes have been cast in Virginia since 1988. However, the study's authors have reportedly used “unreliable methodology” before, its findings go against those of several other studies and experts on voter fraud, and a person inaccurately targeted in it has called it a “gross misrepresentation of the facts.” Additionally, the study was put out by groups known for spreading conspiracy theories and fables about voter fraud and intimidation and which have previously used dubious methodologies in their studies.
Election officials in states across the nation have found no evidence of widespread voter fraud during the 2016 election, contradicting claims from President Donald Trump and right-wing media that voter fraud is rampant in elections.
Several conservative media figures attacked late night TV host Jimmy Kimmel after he shared the story of his newborn son’s successful recovery from surgery to correct a heart defect. Kimmel used his personal experience to explain why insurance coverage of pre-existing medical conditions, which is lacking in Republican lawmakers’ latest attempt to replace Obamacare, must be included in any new health legislation.
On May 1, Kimmel launched a tearful monologue about his son’s birth the previous week, when two heart defects were discovered and one was fixed with surgery. Kimmel then used his son’s condition to criticize President Donald Trump’s proposal to cut $6 billion in funding from the National Institutes of Health and pleaded with Americans to support health insurance laws that cover pre-existing conditions.
Conservatives soon began their attacks on Kimmel for daring to speak about politics. Washington Times columnist Charles Hurt wrote an especially vile piece titled, “Shut up, Jimmy Kimmel, you elitist creep,” stating that Kimmel’s monologue “went horribly awry” for talking about “grubby, dirty politics.” Hurt described Kimmel’s plea to provide healthcare to children as a “slobbering wet kiss to federal bureaucracy,” and called him a “dirty, self-absorbed, narcissistic exhibitionist.” He also demanded Kimmel, “shut your fat trap about partisan politics and go care for your kid, who just nearly died, you elitist creep.”
Washington Times news writer Cheryl Chumley likewise criticized Kimmel for continuing “the left[’s] … uncomfortable habit of slinging around tears to get what it wants,” writing that Kimmel “loses the support” of people like herself who feel for a newborn child with a health problem, but believe that the “emergency care before Obamacare” was sufficient:
Where in America did newborn children not receive the health care they needed?
What hospitals in the country cruelly tossed a child into the street — a newborn child born with a heart defect — and called out, as the door slammed shut, “No health care for you!”
Fact is, Americans received emergency care before Obamacare. Fact is, too, Americans also received treatment from insurers for pre-existing conditions after a certain amount of time had passed.
Maybe they received bills in the mail for the emergency care, and for co-pays and deductibles for other medical services received — but not as large as the bills taxpayers and insurance holders alike are receiving now, post-Obamacare. Pre-Obamacare, the system was more free market; post-Obamacare, it’s a spread-the-wealth, subsidize the poor system.
The Daily Caller’s Jim Treacher also apparently had a problem with what Kimmel said, posting a reader poll on his blog about whether it was appropriate for him to use “emotional coercion for political purposes on a national comedy/variety program.” On CNN, political commentator Margaret Hoover criticized Kimmel's approach, saying it "massively confused the politics at hand and the policies at hand" before falsely claiming that high-risk pools would be successful in covering patients with pre-existing conditions under the GOP health care bill.
A September 2016 report by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) found that immigrants pay more in taxes than they use in benefits over time, but right-wing media cherry-picked and distorted the findings to claim that immigrants “drain the government,” a claim that President Donald Trump repeated in his February 28 speech to Congress.
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A slew of online trolls attacked Rosa Brooks for an article she wrote in Foreign Policy discussing possible consequences of Donald Trump’s historically abnormal presidency.
Before we get to the harassment, it is worth first briefly considering the important point she was making. Brooks, a professor at Georgetown Law who also has served as a senior adviser to the State Department, used the January 30 article to consider various ways Trump’s presidency could end. After discussing the 2020 election, impeachment, and the 25th Amendment, Brooks briefly considered the possibility of a coup in the event that Trump gives an order that is not just imprudent but actually illegal and wildly destructive:
What would top U.S. military leaders do if given an order that struck them as not merely ill-advised, but dangerously unhinged? An order that wasn’t along the lines of “Prepare a plan to invade Iraq if Congress authorizes it based on questionable intelligence,” but “Prepare to invade Mexico tomorrow!” or “Start rounding up Muslim Americans and sending them to Guantánamo!” or “I’m going to teach China a lesson — with nukes!”
It’s impossible to say, of course. The prospect of American military leaders responding to a presidential order with open defiance is frightening — but so, too, is the prospect of military obedience to an insane order. After all, military officers swear to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, not the president. For the first time in my life, I can imagine plausible scenarios in which senior military officials might simply tell the president: “No, sir. We’re not doing that,” to thunderous applause from the New York Times editorial board.
These illegal-order scenarios Brooks mentions have been discussed in regard to Trump in the past year. Brooks chose these over-the-top examples because they involve patently unconstitutional, and thus illegal, orders. This topic is of interest to her: Brooks herself wrote a piece in The Washington Post a year ago discussing whether the military would follow illegal orders issued by a then-potential President Trump.
Military leaders, pundits, and everyday Americans have not just a responsibility to ponder the possibility of Trump giving such an order, but a duty. Famously litigated at Nuremberg, the issue of how to handle illegal orders from leaders has also been an issue in the United States, going back to the first Adams administration; a Vietnam case reaffirmed that members of the military follow illegal orders on their own accord. Duke political science professor Peter Feaver explained this reality during the campaign in regard to Trump’s promises to bring back torture and also “take out” the families of terrorists:
Both of these proposed policies are clear violations of the law. Civilian deaths that occur as collateral damage incidental to strikes aimed at legitimate targets are always avoided but sometimes an unfortunate part of lawful warfare; Trump is talking about deliberately targeting the family members as a matter of policy. I do not know of a single law expert who would say this is legal.
Given that it would be illegal orders, General Hayden is absolutely correct: not only would the senior military leaders refuse to follow those orders, they would be legally and professionally bound to refuse those orders. Democratic civil-military relations theory further requires that they refuse these orders. Refusing these orders would not be a coup. It would be reinforcing the rule of law and healthy civil-military relations.
Put more bluntly: Trump has promised to give illegal orders. Every member of the military is supposed to refuse to follow illegal orders. Trump has begun his presidency by doing the very things his apologists during the campaign assured us that he would not do.
Which finally brings us back to Rosa Brooks and her thoughts about what the military should do should it be presented with illegal orders.
When first released, Brooks’ column got the kind of reaction you would expect, with many praising it as an interesting read and a few criticizing it. It was also briefly mentioned near the end of a Breitbart column defending Trump adviser Stephen Bannon on January 31. But perhaps correctly assuming that its audience does not read past the headlines, on February 2, Breitbart wrote up Brooks’ column again, using the headline “Ex-Obama Officials Suggests ‘Military Coup’ Against Trump.” This time, the post spread quickly among right-wing fringe propaganda outlets and fake news purveyors: Infowars, Gateway Pundit, Pamela Geller, 8chan, Angry Patriot, Mad World News, Eagle Rising, Conservative 101, America’s Freedom Fighters, Natural News, Epoch Times, UFP News, ENH Live, The Washington Feed, Conservative Tribune, Mario Murillo Ministries (whose piece was shared by Trump ally Wayne Allyn Root), Infowars (again), Ammoland Shooting Sports News, Personal Liberty, PJ Media, Before It’s News, and The Political Insider. The story also spread to right-wing outlets like The Blaze and The Washington Times, which attacked her column but did not even bother to hyperlink to it. Neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer also joined in, saying that “the increasing insolence of American Jewry in their brazen calls to kill, overthrow and illegally undermine the election of President Trump must be crushed.” The story was also picked up by Russian state outlets RT and Sputnik.
Brooks described what happened once these posts started:
Within a few hours, the alt-right internet was on fire. The trickle of critical email messages turned into a gush, then a geyser, and the polite emails of the first few days were quickly displaced by obscenity-laced screeds, many in all capital letters. My Twitter feed filled up with trolls.
By mid-afternoon, I was getting death threats. “I AM GOING TO CUT YOUR HEAD OFF………BITCH!” screamed one email. Other correspondents threatened to hang me, shoot me, deport me, imprison me, and/or get me fired (this last one seemed a bit anti-climactic). The dean of Georgetown Law, where I teach, got nasty emails about me. The Georgetown University president’s office received a voicemail from someone threatening to shoot me. New America, the think tank where I am a fellow, got a similar influx of nasty calls and messages. “You’re a fucking cunt! Piece of shit whore!” read a typical missive.
My correspondents were united on the matter of my crimes (treason, sedition, inciting insurrection, etc.). The only issue that appeared to confound and divide them was the vexing question of just what kind of undesirable I was. Several decided, based presumably on my first name, that I was Latina and proposed that I be forcibly sent to the other side of the soon-to-be-built Trump border wall. Others, presumably conflating me with African-American civil rights heroine Rosa Parks, asserted that I would never have gotten hired if it weren’t for race-based affirmative action. The anti-Semitic rants flowed in, too: A website called the Daily Stormer noted darkly that I am “the daughter of the infamous communist Barbara Ehrenreich and the Jew John Ehrenreich,” and I got an anonymous phone call from someone who informed me, in a chillingly pleasant tone, that he supported a military coup “to kill all the Jews.”
My experience is not unusual. Anyone who attracts the attention of the alt-right is in for a rough ride.
As Brooks notes, this type of harassment by the “alt-right” is all too familiar. As I wrote in December:
Harassment is a deeply entrenched aspect of the “alt-right” community. It came to prominence with Gamergate, and then there was a wretched, bigoted campaign against black actress Leslie Jones. “Alt-right” figure Milo Yiannopoulos has now taken his harassment tactics with him on a college tour. Another example is the recent smear campaign against satirist Vic Berger by “alt-right” figure Mike Cernovich. Cernovich is no stranger to such tactics, having bragged previously about his ability to game Google to get other outlets to pick up on his smears, spreading the lies to more false headlines and more viewers. Comedian and producer Tim Heidecker has also spoken out about abuse he has received, including death-threats, as a result of "alt-right" criticism.
Since then, we’ve seen harassment campaigns launched against a journalist who tied a white supremacist to white supremacy, a college professor who sarcastically tweeted about “white genocide”, undocumented immigrants who use social media, and progressive author Lindy West.
Now that Trump and former Breitbart chief Stephen Bannon are in the Oval Office, the “alt-right” sees its chance to break through to mainstream America. The movement’s adherents are huge fans of new Fox News prime-time host Tucker Carlson. Rape-promoting white nationalist Mike Cernovich was given a show on Right-Side Broadcasting Network, which has simulcast on Trump’s own Facebook page. Breitbart is starting to hire people from mainstream outlets.
And yet, Breitbart is still situating itself at the center of these sorts of unconscionable attacks. Will it get away with that? If it does, it’s easy to see how: Since he was first appointed to lead Trump’s presidential campaign, mainstream figures have repeatedly shied away from tying Bannon to Breitbart’s enabling of white supremacy. Mike Allen, a former Politico reporter who recently founded a new media venture called Axios, lavished praise on Breitbart during an appearance on the latter’s radio show. As Breitbart now tries to move into continental Europe, these problems are more salient than ever.
If Trump does give an illegal order to deport all Muslim-Americans, reinstate torture, invade Mexico, or even start a nuclear holocaust, the survival of humanity may come down to where the individuals in charge of executing it get their news.
Image by Sarah Wasko
Media outlets uncritically quoted President-elect Donald Trump’s claim that he saw a “scene” of “thousands” of the group Bikers for Trump traveling to Washington, D.C., for his inauguration, even though BuzzFeed had reported hours before that the photos being shared online were recycled, having been taken years ago. As is well-established, media run the risk of accidentally enabling lies if they repeat Trump's unsubstantiated or false claims without including context or a rebuttal.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s baseless claim that the presidential election will be “rigged” because of widespread voter fraud is based on a series of myths that the right-wing media has pushed for years -- including the arguments that strict voter ID laws are needed to prevent voter fraud, that dead people are voting, and that there is widespread noncitizen voting.