David Wohl | Media Matters for America

David Wohl

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  • Here's how a fringe smear targeting E. Jean Carroll reached Donald Trump Jr.

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    After author and advice columnist E. Jean Carroll reported that President Donald Trump sexually assaulted her in the 1990s, the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., pushed a conspiracy theory that the claim was "ripped-off a plot" from a 2012 episode of NBC procedural Law & Order. Before being amplified by Trump Jr., the conspiracy theory was spread by a Twitter account associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory and another account whose content has regularly been shared by “seemingly-automated accounts.” It has also been pushed by the Daily Mail's political editor.

    On June 21, Carroll wrote in New York magazine’s The Cut that 23 years ago, Trump assaulted her in a department store dressing room. According to Carroll, Trump “lunge[d] at me, pushe[d] me against the wall, hitting my head quite badly, and [put] his mouth against my lips.” She wrote that he then pulled down her tights and assaulted her. Carroll told two close friends at the time, both of whom “confirmed the allegations to New York and to [The New York] Times.”

    Even though her friends confirmed that Carroll told them about the incident at the time, social media accounts and message boards have claimed that Carroll “ripped-off a plot” from an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit that dealt with a similar sexual assault against an actor. However, the episode aired in 2012, well over a decade after the incident allegedly occurred.

    Here’s how the smear spread from social media to message boards to some right-wing sites and to Donald Trump Jr.:

    Twitter user @RickMcCargar:

    Twitter user @tksusie:

    Twitter user @thebradfordfile (real name John Bradford Williams) also tweeted about the Law & Order episode. The Outline reported last year that Williams’ account has “more than 100,000 followers, a penchant for spreading far-right propaganda, and a curious network of seemingly-automated accounts regularly amplifying the reach of its tweets.” One of Williams’ former coworkers told The Outline that Williams “farms a significant portion of his engagement from direct-message based group chats on Twitter”:

    8chan’s "/pol/" amplified @thebradfordfile’s tweet:

    Twitter account @Trump454545 posted a clip of the episode in a tweet calling for Carroll to be prosecuted. The account's profile contains a hashtag of the abbreviated slogan for the QAnon conspiracy theory -- “where we go one, we go all” or “WWG1WGA”:

    Reddit forum “r/The_Donald” amplified the smear and @thebradfordfile and @Trump454545’s tweets:

    Twitchy cited @thebradfordfile to push the claim:

    Twitter user @thebradfordfile then dug up this clip from “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” The detectives are interviewing a man who’s hired to play out women’s rape fantasies, and he mentions one in particular that took place … in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room.

    No, for real.

    A user on 4chan’s “/pol/” cited the same link that @thebradfordfile tweeted earlier.

    YouTube conspiracy theorist and far-right troll Mark Dice tweeted another video of the episode (Donald Trump Jr. liked the tweet):

    Model and reality television star Mindy Robinson later tweeted the same video as the account @Trump454545 did:

    Multiple videos of the episode were posted on YouTube to push the smear:

    The Gateway Pundit published a piece headlined “Fraud Gets Caught! Crackpot Trump Accuser’s Story Likely Stolen from Law and Order Episode of Rape Fantasy in Bergdorf Dressing Room (VIDEO).” The article cited both @thebradfordfile and @Trump454545 to push the claim:

    Boston Herald columnist Adriana Cohen quoted tweeted Robinson's post of the video.

    Donald Trump Jr. also quote tweeted Robinson’s post of the video to push the smear, writing, “As long as the media gives these nut jobs unfettered air time they will keep coming”:

    Multiple other conservative figures also pushed Robinson’s tweet, including right-wing commentator David Wohl, the Daily Mail’s David Martosko, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush Ned Ryun, and RedState:

    Additionally, when searching for Carroll’s name on Google (via incognito search), the phrase “e jean carroll law and order” now appears as an automatic search suggestion:

  • Trump-endorsed One America News Network among right-wing amplifiers of Jacob Wohl's attempted smear of Pete Buttigieg

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Far-right network One America News Network and others helped spread a hoax from pro-Trump trolls Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman regarding Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.

    One America News Network has repeatedly pushed conspiracy theories and employs well-known right-wing conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec. President Donald Trump has praised the network, and he regularly watches and cites its programs -- just last week, he pushed a false claim from OANN that the United Kingdom helped the Obama administration spy on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

    On April 29, the network aired a segment about a Medium post purportedly from a man named Hunter Kelly accusing Buttigieg of sexually assaulting him earlier this year.

    Media Matters did not find a segment since then correcting the report.

    The real Kelly has since come forward to deny he wrote the post; he said Wohl and Burkman tricked him after approaching him to ask him to make up the allegation. From The Daily Beast:

    Kelly said that Wohl and his similarly infamous cohort, lobbyist Jack Burkman, booked him a flight from Michigan to Baltimore. From there, they drove to Burkman’s home in Arlington where Wohl showed him a draft of a statement detailing the bogus accusations against Buttigieg.

    Kelly said he expressed concerns about the scheme but Wohl told him to sleep on it. When Kelly woke at around 11 in the morning, Wohl “was already dressed in a suit because he ‘can’t do a Monday if he isn’t in a suit’” and—of more significance—the fabricated statement had been posted to Medium, along with fake Twitter and Gmail accounts in Kelly’s name.

    According to Kelly, Burkman tried to calm his nerves by claiming that he was a “‘star’ and people are eating me up.”

    The trio, according to Kelly, ate Subway sandwiches, during which Kelly continued to express his regrets. Burkman and Wohl tried to calm him down by promising to purchase “any house I wanted” and insisting that his family would “get over it.”

    Wohl has a history of pushing false claims and hoaxes. He told USA Today in February that he aimed to interfere in the Democratic presidential primaries, including with the use of fake social media accounts, and he previously spread a false claim about Democratic candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). The lie about Buttigieg also resembles a similar scheme by Wohl and Burkman involving a fake intelligence service used to fabricate a false sexual assault allegation against special counsel Robert Mueller.

    In addition to OANN, other figures and outlets that pushed Wohl and Burkman’s false claim about Buttigieg include:

    • PJ Media, though the original link has since been updated to note that the story is false

    • Fellow Gateway Pundit writer Cassandra Fairbanks (who has also since deleted her tweet, which was captured via CrowdTangle)

    • Radio host Bill Mitchell

    • Reddit’s “r/The_Donald” subreddit and 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board known as “/pol/”

    According to social media analytics website BuzzSumo, links to articles that pushed the false claim received more than 31,000 Facebook and Twitter shares combined. The original Medium post also received at least 60,000 Facebook engagements.

    Update (5/1/19): OANN has since aired a segment acknowledging that the allegation against Buttigieg was a hoax from Wohl. On the April 30 edition of The Daily Ledger, guest host Alex Salvi talked about Wohl’s “smear effort” without noting that his own network had pushed the same allegation a day earlier, mocklingly saying, “I mean, we were supposed to believe that Buttigieg announced his candidacy and then immediately went and sexually assaulted someone? It makes no sense.”

  • Turning Point USA advisory council member pushes QAnon smear

    Turning Point USA leaders keep pushing QAnon conspiracy theories

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    A member of Turning Point USA’s advisory council, Joel Fischer, pushed a baseless claim about Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) originating from believers of the QAnon conspiracy theory. The claim had been circulating among far-right accounts and figures for a week prior to Fischer pushing it out.

    The smear goes back at least to December 9, when Twitter account @BSpinctor wrote in a since-deleted tweet, “BREAKING: According to congressional sources Representative Adam Schiff used tax payer (sic) money to reach a sexual harassment settlement with a 19 year old made in 2013. As to date there are dozens of settlements being hidden from the American people….developing.”

    The account’s avatar had an image of “Q,” the central figure of the QAnon conspiracy theory. Later that afternoon, another QAnon account, @WeAreOne_Q, tweeted the same claim, adding, “Congress has a ‘hush fund’ & WE THE PEOPLE demand the users be revealed. #QAnon #WWG1WGA.” The tweet went viral, getting tens of thousands of likes and retweets.

    Over the following week, the claim continued to spread on Twitter, along with Facebook, 4chan, the subreddit "r/The_Donald," a QAnon YouTube page, and by conspiracy theorist Liz Crokin on Gab. One Twitter account pushed a video of @BSpinctor’s tweet that received thousands of retweets, including from Breitbart columnist AWR Hawkins. The @WeAreOne_Q tweet and claim was also shared by conspiracy theorist Jacob Wohl and his father.

    Fischer, a member of Turning Point USA’s advisory council, repeated the same claim in a tweet on December 17, writing: “According to congressional sources Representative you @AdamSchiff used tax payer (sic) money to reach a sexual harassment settlement with a 19 year old male in 2013. Congress has a 'hush fund' & WE THE PEOPLE demand the users be revealed. #FullOfSchiff.”

    The day before his tweet accusing Schiff of sexual harassment, Fischer also tweeted that CNN anchor Jake Tapper should question Schiff about the accusations.

    Earlier this month, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk falsely alleged in a tweet that protesters in France had chanted “We want Trump,” something President Donald Trump retweeted despite the false claim originating from a video uploaded by a QAnon-supporting Twitter account.

    Kirk also pushed a false human trafficking statistic from QAnon supporters in July.

  • No crime but a witch hunt: Pro-Trump media’s off-the-wall reactions to Manafort's conviction and Cohen's guilty plea

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    After former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump attorney Michael Cohen were found guilty and pleaded guilty, respectively, each on eight criminal counts, right-wing media immediately rose to President Donald Trump’s defense. Multiple media figures claimed that none of the charges had anything to do with Trump and that Trump’s former associates pleaded guilty to crimes that “don’t exist.”

  • How pro-Trump media are attacking Moore's accusers: claiming a forged yearbook signature, suggesting bribery, and quibbling over a phone's location

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore has come under fire following accusations that he attempted to rape a teenager and engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with other teens, including a then-14-year-old minor. In order to defend Moore, right-wing and far-right media that have also been staunch supporters of President Donald Trump have resorted to pushing conspiracy theories -- some based on discredited Twitter accounts -- including suggesting that Moore’s signature on the yearbook of one of the accusers is forged and questioning the location of a phone another accuser said she used to speak to Moore. Moore’s wife has also pushed some of the conspiratorial claims on Facebook.

    Pushing conspiracy theories

    When Beverly Young Nelson, the woman who said Moore tried to rape her in 1977, showed the media a message signed “Roy Moore, D.A.” in her yearbook from that year, a conspiracy theory began making the rounds. The far-right and consistently unreliable blog Gateway Pundit claimed that the signature was forged in a piece headlined “IT’S A FAKE.” The website cited Twitter account Thomas Wictor as its source, claiming Wictor is “known for his insightful take on politics.” On the contrary, Wictor has a history of pushing false claims, including helping spread a made-up Puerto Rican trucker strike after Hurricane Maria and sharing a fake Facebook post of fallen soldier La David Johnson’s wife criticizing Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL). Despite Wictor’s poor track record, Gateway Pundit’s highly dubious claim has spread among other pro-Trump media and message boards that have previously helped push conspiracy theories. Roy Moore’s wife, Kayla Moore, also posted the article on her Facebook page.

    Before that, shortly after the The Washington Post published its initial report about Moore, Twitter account @umpire43 dubiously claimed that a “family friend” told his wife that “a WAPO reporter named Beth offered her 1000$ to accuse Roy Moore.” The Gateway Pundit and the conspiracy theory outlet Infowars both picked up the tweet, and from there, numerous fake news websites promoted it, as did the far-right-friendly One America News Network. Kayla Moore also posted a link on Facebook to one of the fake news websites pushing the claim. But the Twitter account that launched the rumor has previously made a similar allegation about two other news outlets, has lied about its own background, and has since deleted many of its tweets.

    Pushing irrelevant or inconsequential stories to try to discredit the accusers

    Many pro-Trump media outlets have also jumped on the tangential point that one of the accusers, Deborah Wesson Gibson, was an interpreter for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign and worked with former Vice President Joe Biden at some events. Breitbart, The Gateway Pundit, Infowars, and many fake news websites all jumped on this allegation, and more traditional right-wing media outlets such as Fox News and The Daily Caller hyped it as well.

    Pro-Trump media have also supported a separate effort by Breitbart to discredit the accusers. One Breitbart report claimed that the mother of Leigh Corfman, who was 14 at the time of her encounter with Moore, said that her daughter did not have a phone in her bedroom, though the Post reported that Corfman had spoken with Moore on such a phone. Kayla Moore, The Gateway Pundit and multiple fake news websites promoted Breitbart’s report, which dubiously suggested that Corfman was lying. Another Breitbart report hyped a comment from Corfman’s mother that the Post “worked to convince her daughter to give an interview,” even though the Post had acknowledged that fact in its original report. Gateway Pundit called it “one heck of a revelation,” and fake news website TruthFeed called it a “bombshell.”

    Victim shaming

    Pro-Trump media commentators have also smeared the accusers in other ways. Some have suggested that struggles Corfman faced later in her life meant her accusation was not credible (in fact the Post reported that Corfman hesitated to share her story earlier precisely because she feared her struggles would be used against her). CNN’s Ed Martin suggested that Corfman should not be believed because she had “multiple bankruptcies.” Fox News host Sean Hannity on his radio show said that the accusers could be violating one of the Ten Commandments: “thou shalt not bear false witness.” On the same show, a guest, Daily Mail columnist Katie Hopkins, said that Corfman “disgust[ed]” her because she “spent 38 years thinking about this before [she] said anything” and was “making women poison to work for.” Additionally, radio host Rush Limbaugh called Corfman a “wacky,” “self-admitted mess of a woman,” and frequent Fox News guest David Wohl called Corfman “basically incorrigible” because she “was suffering from drug addiction, alcohol abuse.” As Post columnist Margaret Sullivan noted, these kinds of smears are exactly why so many women are hesitant to report abuse.

  • "Perfectly legitimate": How right-wing media figures tried to play defense for Roy Moore

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & ZACHARY PLEAT

    After The Washington Post published a report alleging that Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore had initiated sexual encounters with a then-14-year-old girl in 1979, when Moore was 32, several right-wing media figures jumped to his defense, attacking the accuser, asserting that “Roy Moore Did Nothing Wrong,” and demanding that media cover the supposed misdeeds of others instead.

  • 10 Times Media Figures Demanded The Recusal Of An Attorney General

    Meanwhile, Calls Grow For Attorney General Jeff Sessions To Recuse Himself From An Investigation of Trump's Ties To Russia

    ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    On March 1, the news broke that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had spoken to Russia’s ambassador to the United States during Trump’s campaign, for which he was an official surrogate, despite his assurance to Congress during his confirmation hearing that he “did not have communications with the Russians.” Sessions is currently overseeing investigations into Russian connections with Trump’s campaign. During the 2016 campaign, media figures were quick to call for then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s recusal from the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server after Lynch met with former President Bill Clinton on an airport tarmac. 

  • Fox's Alternate Reality On New York City's Murder Rate

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Fox News used a misleading chart featuring incomplete data to defend Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s false claim made during the first presidential debate that “murders are up” in New York City. Fox’s chart used data from 2014 to 2015 to demonstrate a rise in murder rates, but did not include complete data showing that murder rates in New York City are down in 2016 from the same point last year.