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  • Tucker Carlson's descent into white supremacy: A timeline

    ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ

    Since the early days of his tenure as a Fox prime-time host, Tucker Carlson’s unabashed championing of white grievances earned him the accolades of neo-Nazis, who praised him as a “one man gas chamber” and complimented the way he “lampshad[ed] Jews on national television.” While Carlson claims to have nothing in common with neo-Nazis and white supremacists, he constantly echoes their talking points on his show and was very reluctant to condemn white supremacists following their deadly 2017 demonstration in Charlottesville, VA. In fact, Carlson’s racist roots can be traced back more than a decade.

    Here’s a timeline of the public devolution of Tucker Carlson’s thinly veiled racism into full-throated white supremacy (this list will be continually updated):

  • Study: Major media outlets' Twitter accounts amplify false Trump claims on average 19 times a day

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ & ROB SAVILLO


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Major media outlets failed to rebut President Donald Trump's misinformation 65% of the time in their tweets about his false or misleading comments, according to a Media Matters review. That means the outlets amplified Trump's misinformation more than 400 times over the three-week period of the study -- a rate of 19 per day.

    The data shows that news outlets are still failing to grapple with a major problem that media critics highlighted during the Trump transition: When journalists apply their traditional method of crafting headlines, tweets, and other social media posts to Trump, they end up passively spreading misinformation by uncritically repeating his falsehoods.

    The way people consume information in the digital age makes the accuracy of a news outlet’s headlines and social media posts more important than ever, because research shows they are the only thing a majority of people actually read. But journalists are trained to treat a politician’s statements as intrinsically newsworthy, often quoting them without context in tweets and headlines and addressing whether the statement was accurate only in the body of the piece, if at all. When the politician’s statements are false, journalists who quote them in headlines and on social media without context end up amplifying the falsehoods.

    Anecdotally, it’s been clear for some time that journalists have not adjusted their practices for the Trump era in which, according to The Washington Post, the president has already made more than 10,000 false or misleading claims. In recent months, Media Matters has explored how news outlets have passively misinformed the public by passing along misinformation from Trump administration figures on topics like threats of violence against journalists, special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, potential conflict with North Korea, Special Olympics funding, and whether the Obama administration was “spying” on Trump associates.

    But in order to assess the scope of the problem, Media Matters reviewed the more than 2,000 tweets that 32 Twitter feeds controlled by major news outlets sent about Trump comments from January 26, when legislation took effect that ended a lengthy federal shutdown and temporarily funded the government, through February 15, when Trump agreed to a longer extension of federal funding and declared a national emergency on the border.

    We coded all the tweets that referenced a Trump comment for whether it was false or misleading according to The Washington Post’s database, and if so, for whether the tweet had disputed the false or misleading claim. (Read the full methodology here.)

    It's important to keep in mind the narrowness of our scope: We reviewed how media outlets treated false claims only from the president, not from members of his administration who mimic his disregard for the truth. But even then, the results were striking, demonstrating that media outlets have a serious, ongoing problem dealing with passive misinformation.

    Key Takeaways:

    • 30% of the tweets by major media outlets’ Twitter accounts about Trump remarks referenced a false or misleading statement.

    • Nearly two-thirds of the time, the outlets did not dispute that misinformation.

    • That means the outlets amplified false or misleading Trump claims without disputing them 407 times over the three weeks of the study, an average of 19 times a day.

    • The extent to which outlets’ Twitter feeds passively spread Trump’s misinformation depended on the platform in which Trump made his comments. For example:

      • 92% of false or misleading Trump claims went undisputed when he was speaking at a press gaggle or pool spray.

      • 49% of false or misleading Trump claims went undisputed when outlets were responding to comments he made during formal speeches.

    • @TheHill was the worst actor and sent more than 40% of the tweets that pushed Trump’s misinformation without disputing it during our entire study.

     

    Passive misinformation is a problem for outlets across the board

    Trump makes false claims frequently, and the media outlet Twitter feeds we studied frequently repeat his lies.

    Media outlets put a great deal of focus on Trump’s comments -- roughly one out of every five tweets mentioning Trump was about a particular quote. We found that that content strategy leaves outlets vulnerable to passing on the president’s misinformation, as 30% of those Trump quotes contained a false or misleading claim.

    News outlets can report on Trump’s falsehoods without misleading their audience if they take the time to fact-check his statements within the body of their tweets. But we found that that isn’t happening consistently -- in nearly two-thirds of tweets referencing false or misleading Trump claims, the media outlets did not dispute Trump’s misinformation.

    All told, the Twitter feeds we studied promoted false or misleading Trump claims without disputing them in 407 tweets over a three-week period -- an average of 19 undisputed false claims published each day.

    When a tweet about a false or misleading Trump comment included a link -- which often indicates that the tweet’s text is the headline of the article found at that link -- the outlet failed to dispute the misinformation 56% of the time. We found a total of 258 such tweets.

    Media outlets performed even more poorly when they sent tweets about Trump claims that featured embedded video, a format often used to report on comments the president has just made. Outlets tweeting embedded video did not dispute false or misleading Trump comments 94% of the time. We found a total of 143 such tweets.

    Outlets passively spread Trump’s misinformation regardless of his platform

    Trump spews misinformation whenever he speaks or tweets. However, we found that media outlets responded to his misinformation differently depending on the venue where the president made his comments.

    • The Twitter feeds we followed performed the worst when Trump was speaking at a press gaggle or pool spray, passing along his false or misleading claims without disputing them 92% of the time -- a total of 61 tweets.

    • Seventy-three percent of tweets featuring a false or misleading claim Trump made during an interview did not dispute the misinformation. There were a total of 38 such tweets over the course of the study.

    • Two-thirds of tweets featuring a false or misleading claim Trump made during a press conference did not dispute the misinformation. This sample was very small, with only six such tweets.

    • Just over three-quarters of tweets featuring a false or misleading claim Trump tweeted did not dispute the misinformation. We found 166 tweets that fit that category.

    • We found that outlets performed “best” when they were responding to claims Trump made during speeches. In those circumstances, only 49% of false or misleading Trump claims went undisputed, a total of 136 tweets.

    The State of the Union exception

    The data for Trump claims during speeches is likely skewed by the media’s performance during the State of the Union.

    In our March review of the tweets media outlets sent in the 24 hours following that event, we wrote that the State of the Union likely represented a high point for the news media’s performance in responding to Trump falsehoods in real time because the night’s prominence led news outlets to devote substantial resources to fact-checking that speech.

    That hypothesis was supported by the results of our broader study. In the 24 hours after the speech began, outlets disputed 53% of false Trump claims that they tweeted about, compared to only 27% during the remainder of the study. Notably, February 5, the date of the speech, and the day before, when outlets were preparing for the speech, were the only two days over the course of the study when the number of tweets disputing Trump’s misinformation exceeded tweets failing to dispute his claims.

    In particular, some of the outlets we praised for using extensive graphics to point out misleading elements during their coverage of Trump's State of the Union speech did substantially worse in responding to his misinformation over the remainder of the study. The New York Times’ main Twitter feed and politics feed disputed every misleading Trump comment they tweeted about during the 24 hours following the State of the Union, but they did so only 38% of the time over the rest of the period. Similarly, Politico’s feed disputed more than four out of five misleading Trump claims during our March State of the Union study but did so only 8% of the time before and afterward.

    The news outlets that spread the most passive misinformation

    The outlets we studied vary in how often they report on the president’s comments, how often they highlight Trump statements that are false, and how diligent they are in fact-checking those remarks. All of these factors affect how frequently they provide passive misinformation to their audiences on Twitter.

    The Twitter feed of The Hill, which has 3.25 million followers, was by far the worst offender we reviewed, producing more than 40 percent of the tweets that pushed Trump’s misinformation without context over the entire study. It promoted Trump’s falsehoods without disputing them 175 times -- an average of more than eight per day. These numbers are so high in part because the outlet tweets about Trump far more frequently than other outlets, generating about a quarter of the total data. That high volume led to the outlet tweeting about false or misleading Trump claims 200 times. The feed rarely disputes the Trump claims it tweets about, instead simply passing along the misinformation 88% of the time. The Hill also frequently resends the same tweet at regular intervals, not only amplifying his falsehoods, but also making it more likely that the misinformation will stick with its audience through the power of repetition.

    Several Twitter feeds controlled by ABC News that we reviewed also stood out, failing to fact-check the president’s misinformation 71% of the time. Many of these cases came when the feeds tweeted Trump quotes and embedded video without additional context during or immediately following Trump events.

    • ABC News’ main Twitter feed (14.3 million followers) sent 23 tweets promoting false or misleading Trump claims, failing to dispute the president’s misinformation 74% of the time.

    • The network’s politics feed (733,000 followers) sent 25 tweets promoting false or misleading Trump claims, failing to dispute the president’s misinformation 64% of the time.

    • The feed for its evening news broadcast, World News Tonight (1.35 million followers), sent 13 tweets promoting false or misleading Trump claims, failing to dispute the president’s misinformation every single time.

    • The feed for its Sunday political talk show, This Week (166,000 followers), sent 21 tweets promoting false or misleading Trump claims, failing to dispute the president’s misinformation 64% of the time

    CBS News’ Twitter feeds also performed poorly, passing along the president’s falsehoods without disputing them 87% of the time. The network’s general feed (6.71 million followers) and the ones for its nightly news broadcast, CBS Evening News (304,000 followers), and Sunday political talk show, Face The Nation (473,000 followers), passed along Trump’s misinformation in 11, 13, and 16 tweets, respectively, failing to correct it 92%, 72%, and 100% of the time. Notably, the feeds for Face The Nation and CBS Evening News each quoted Trump in their tweets about him more than 41% of the time -- the highest rates of any feeds in our study. Considered together, that data means those two feeds are not only largely failing to assess whether the president's statements are accurate, but also using Trump's misinformation as their lens to cover his administration more than other outlets.

    Other media Twitter feeds we reviewed that sent 10 or more tweets passing on false or misleading Trump comments include MSNBC’s main feed (2.41 million followers, 11 such tweets, failing to dispute 55% of the time); NBC News’ main feed (6.52 million followers, 13 such tweets, failing to dispute 52% of the time); Politico (3.8 million followers, 14 such tweets, failing to dispute 58% of the time); and Roll Call (359,000 followers, 10 such tweets, failing to dispute 83% of the time).

    Notable exceptions

    Some feeds entirely avoided passing on Trump’s misinformation over the course of the study. NPR’s main feed, which tweeted only 20 times about Trump quotes, debunked the misinformation in all four false claims it tweeted about.

    Other Twitter feeds limited the exposure their audience had to Trump’s misinformation by minimizing their focus on Trump’s comments. For example, the feed for Meet The Press, the NBC News Sunday political talk show, failed to dispute Trump’s falsehoods 83% of the time. But it rarely tweeted about Trump comments, with such tweets making up only 9% of the outlet’s total tweets about Trump. CNN’s main Twitter feed similarly referenced Trump quotes in only 11% of the tweets about him, while doing somewhat better at fact-checking Trump, disputing his false claims 75% of the time.

    The Washington Post’s feed disputed Trump’s misinformation at the highest rate of any feed we studied that tweeted about 10 or more false Trump claims. Out of 37 tweets about false or misleading Trump claims, the outlet disputed the misinformation 33 times and failed four times, a success rate of 89%.

    Methodology

    Media Matters reviewed more than 54,000 tweets sent between 12 a.m. EST on January 26 and 12 a.m. EST on February 16 from the following Twitter feeds of U.S. wire services; major broadcast, cable, and radio networks; national newspapers; and Capitol Hill newspapers and digital outlets that cover Congress and the White House: @AP, @AP_Politics, @Reuters, @ReutersPolitics, @ABC, @ABCPolitics, @ABCWorldNews, @ThisWeekABC, @CBSEveningNews, @CBSNews, @FaceTheNation, @NBCNews, @NBCNightlyNews, @NBCPolitics, @CNN, @CNNPolitics, @FoxNews*, @BreakingNews, @MSNBC, @NPR, @nprpolitics, @nytpolitics, @nytimes @politico, @postpolitics, @washingtonpost, @WSJ, @USAToday, @latimes, @axios, @thehill, and @rollcall.

    We chose that time frame both because it involved a period of high-stakes political turmoil in which the information the public received was especially crucial, and because the president made public remarks at that time in a variety of ways, including the State of the Union, other speeches, press gaggles and pool sprays, interviews, a press conference, and innumerable tweets.

    Media Matters narrowed the universe down to the roughly 11,000 of those tweets that mentioned "Trump," and identified of that group more than 2,000 tweets that referenced a comment Trump had made. We then coded those tweets for whether they referenced a remark that’s included in The Washington Post Fact Checker’s database of false or misleading Trump claims. In such cases, we reviewed whether the outlets’ tweets had disputed the Trump claim. We reviewed the text and images embedded in the tweets, but did not review embedded videos.

    *@FoxNews did not tweet during the period of the study.

  • Citing far-right outlet OANN, Trump revives conspiracy theory that caused an international incident with the UK in 2017

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    On April 24, President Donald Trump tweeted that former CIA analyst Larry Johnson has accused the United Kingdom's intelligence agencies of “helping Obama Administration Spy on the 2016 Trump Presidential Campaign.” Trump was apparently tweeting in response to a segment he watched on One America News Network, a conservative cable news channel. In doing so, the president has resurfaced a conspiracy theory from a discredited fraud that -- when Fox News promoted it in 2017 -- helped cause an international incident between the United States and the United Kingdom. 

    Larry Johnson is a conservative conspiracy theorist notorious for pushing the racist smear that there was a tape of former first lady Michelle Obama calling people “whitey.” Johnson appeared on Russian television network RT in March 2017 to argue that “there was some collusion overseas” between U.S. intelligence and the U.K. security agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and that British intelligence gathered information about Trump that it passed to Obama-era CIA Director John Brennan. None of Johnson’s allegations are true.

    Several days later, Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano shared the theory (with anonymous attribution) on two Fox shows. It then spread over right-wing media and ultimately reached then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer. On March 16, 2017, Spicer cited Napolitano’s RT-sourced conspiracy theory in a press briefing to suggest that one of the United States’ strongest allies was illegally spying on Trump on behalf of then-President Barack Obama. The British government was displeased, and GCHQ issued a rare statement denouncing Napolitano’s “utterly ridiculous” claim. 

    After The New York Times confirmed Media Matters’ discovery that Johnson was one of Napolitano’s sources for the conspiracy theory, Fox News suspended Napolitano “indefinitely,” which turned out to be approximately two weeks. (Upon his return to Fox, Napolitano doubled down on the claim that got him suspended.) When the controversy blew back on Trump himself during a press conference, the president ducked all responsibility and blamed Fox News

    A few weeks after this incident, CNN reported that European intelligence agencies, including GCHQ, captured Trump campaign communications “during routine surveillance of Russian officials” and passed them on to U.S. intelligence. However, no agencies involved in this incidental collection were “proactively targeting members of the Trump team,” as Johnson, Napolitano, and Spicer had falsely alleged.

    Now, two years later, the president is pushing the same conspiracy theory that previously damaged the U.S.-U.K. alliance and which the British government has denounced as “utterly ridiculous” for the second time -- all because he was watching TV. 

  • Sinclair's latest Trump interview may as well have been produced by the White House

    Former Fox host Eric Bolling interviewed the president, and it went about how you'd expect

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    This week, President Donald Trump continued his practice of rewarding conservative media outlets he believes are not biased against him, sitting down for an exclusive interview in the Rose Garden with Eric Bolling, a political anchor at the right-wing Sinclair Broadcast Group.

    Bolling interviewed Trump for the third episode of his new show for Sinclair, America This Week, which streams on Sinclair station websites weekly and is promoted and occasionally aired on the stations themselves.

    In one promotional clip, Trump and Bolling discussed the president’s belief that the press is biased against him because of “Trump derangement syndrome.” Trump also said that the term “fake news” is no longer strong enough to convey mainstream media’s supposed bias against him. This clip aired on at least 49 stations in 28 states and the District of Columbia on April 16 and 17, according to the iQ media database.  

    In another clip, the president misleadingly told Bolling (and viewers), “We’re building a lot of wall right now. We’re taking old stuff down that didn’t work, and we’re using -- we’re building beautiful 30-foot barriers and bollards and, in some cases, concrete, depending on what we need. And a lot of wall is being built.” This clip aired on at least 40 stations in 22 states from April 12 through April 15.

    The full 15-minute interview was posted online on April 17, and it was about what you might expect from a former Fox News host who previously said he would work for Trump for $1. Bolling introduced the interview like this:

    I found the president relaxed and confident, just off the Mueller and Barr report release. The busiest and most powerful man on the planet gave me 15 minutes on tape and another 30 minutes walking around the beautiful Rose Garden setting.

    And the interview itself began (after a minute-long monologue from Bolling about Media Matters) with the men stating that they respect each other. Many of Bolling’s questions for the president were more like supportive comments about Trump’s agenda or softball setups for Trump to bash Democrats or the media. Here are a few:

    • “The left wing, the mainstream media seems to love anything that can take a shot at Mr. Trump. But here’s what I want to ask: We’re now going to be aired in 200 stations across the country. Middle America is watching. What type of news diet are they being fed by the mainstream media, all these people?”
    • “The number came out. And the lowest number of jobless claims in 49 and a half years. Almost 50 years. You know, I had to debate with a guy the other day about whose economy is it. I said it’s a Trump economy. He said, ‘No, no, no, this is just Trump finishing up Obama’s economy.’ I beg to differ. I think your GDP is pushing 3% and Obama had point one and a half. Half the GDP.”
    • “Can I tell you, one of the things -- and I’ve done business; I started in the business networks -- one of the things that people ignore and one of the ways I always catch liberals who were attacking me about ‘it was Obama’s economy, not Trump’s’ is: For the first time in maybe 12 years, wages are growing substantially. And that’s a function of a more favorable business environment. Companies feel better about the future, so they’ll pay people more to stay. Whereas in the past, they were, ‘Eh, I’m not sure about the economy.’ So it’s a confidence in the economy that probably is immeasurable, but that’s part of the reason why the number has been so good.”
    • “I remember you came in on a Saturday and started rolling back regulation. I’ll never forget that.”
    • “This new -- on the left -- this new embrace of socialism. You know, AOC comes -- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez -- comes out with a Green New Deal. We’re going to be extinct in 12 years unless we adopt this program?”
    • “Anti-Semitism a growing concern with a couple of new freshman congresswomen, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. Your thoughts on is there a growing tide of anti-Semitism in the country?”

    This sit-down with Bolling is Trump’s ninth on-camera interview of the year. In February, he was interviewed by CBS’ Margaret Brennan, and earlier this month he spoke with KSTP in St. Paul, MN; the other six interviews were with Fox News or Fox Business personalities. He has also sat down for multiple interviews with Sinclair personalities in the past, including for a series of “must-run” segments with Sinclair chief political commentator and former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn last year.

    Bolling previously worked at the president’s favorite network, Fox News, where he pushed the network’s signature misogyny, race-baiting, and anti-Muslim rhetoric, as well as the racist birther conspiracy theory championed by Trump. He left Fox in 2017 amid reports that he sent multiple colleagues unsolicited images of genitalia.

    The first two episodes of Bolling’s Sinclair program were ripped right from Fox News, focusing on common conservative tropes like media bias, censorship, and a border crisis. The program has also already featured a number of right-wing media talking heads and members of the Trump orbit, including: former Trump adviser and Sinclair contributor Sebastian Gorka, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, Sinclair reporter and former Fox employee James Rosen, presidential daughter-in-law and current Trump campaign adviser Lara Trump, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Sinclair chief political commentator Boris Epshteyn and Sinclair commentator Ameshia Cross, and several liberals who are also frequent Fox News guests. It was only a matter of time before Bolling landed an interview with the president himself.

    Rob Savillo contributed research to this post.

  • When conservatives claim censorship, they're often just showcasing their tech ignorance

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Allegations that social media companies are biased against conservatives and censoring right-wing content have become a common narrative on right-wing media and, ironically, recurrent content on the same social media platforms the narrative targets. These claims are just another iteration of the long-term right-wing effort to brand most of the mainstream press as biased against conservatives in an attempt to “work the refs” and get favorable treatment, this time applied to tech giants.

    But many of the episodes used to push allegations of censorship or bias can actually be explained through technical arguments in which political motivations play no role. And that showcases, at best, a preoccupying level of digital illiteracy among those making the allegations and, at worst, the inherent bad faith of these claims.

    As explained previously by Media Matters’ Parker Molloy, this playbook has been working for conservatives for over half a century, at least since “Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater gave reporters covering his campaign pins that read ‘Eastern Liberal Press.’” The strategy of putting the onus of proving neutrality on the mainstream press worked -- media have since over-represented conservatives, engaged in false equivalences, offered platforms to far-right hacks in the name of balance, and prioritized negative coverage of Democratic politicians -- and the same playbook is now being applied to tech giants.

    This, too, seems to be working: These platforms have groveled in response to accusations of bias by tapping extremist figures and far-right grifters as advisers or by having their leadership appear on right-wing propaganda shows to appease right-wing audiences.

    Moreover, in what seem like efforts to avoid accusations of right-wing content censorship, tech platforms have let racism proliferate undeterred, making social media both an unsafe space for members of vulnerable communities and a valuable tool for dangerous far-right radicalization and recruitment.

    But many of the episodes that have been used to help right-wing media built a useful narrative can actually be explained by technical reasons unrelated to bias or censorship, including anti-spam policies used on tech platforms to combat inauthentic behavior or digital illiteracy on the part of users. What follows is a noncomprehensive list of examples:

    • A conservative site complained of bias because autocomplete search results on Google didn’t show the lack of new indictments stemming from the Trump-Russia investigation, ignoring the platform’s autocomplete policies against character denigration.

      As Media Matters’ Parker Molloy pointed out on Twitter, right-wing site Washington Free Beacon accused Google of bias against President Donald Trump because its search bar autocomplete results didn’t point users to the news that there had been no new indictments related to the special counsel investigation on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Google search liaison Danny Sullivan directly addressed the complaint, explaining that to avoid character denigration, the platform’s autocomplete policies specifically avoid offering predictions that contain “indictment” next to a person’s name. Sullivan had to reiterate his explanation after Washington Free Beacon promoted its article again without clarifying political bias was not playing a role in the autocomplete results.
    • Those alleging that a temporary loss of Twitter followers was indicative of the platform’s bias against anti-abortion movie Unplanned failed to understand Twitter’s “ban evasion” mechanisms. On April 1, a number of right-wing media figures and politicians accused Twitter of deliberately censoring anti-abortion movie Unplanned after the Twitter account for the movie lost followers temporarily. As explained by NBC’s Ben Collins, Twitter responded that the temporary loss of followers wasn’t about the Unplanned account itself, but came because an account linked to the Unplanned account had violated Twitter rules, triggering the platform’s automated “ban evasion” mechanisms, which aim to limit users banned from the platform from coming back by using alternative accounts. As Collins pointed out, Twitter’s ban evasion systems identify accounts that could be linked in different ways, including by shared IP or email addresses. Shortly after, Twitter manually overturned the automated system and restored the Unplanned movie account, noting that follower counts can take time to replenish.

    • Conservatives incorrectly interpreted temporary account activity limitations meant to stave off inauthentic, spammy activity as censorship. Platforms are known to limit the number of comments or likes single accounts can make in a determined period of time to stave off spam, automated behavior, and inauthentic activity; authentic accounts managed by real people can be affected by these limitations whenever their behavior matches automation patterns. Reportedly, different limits apply to different accounts depending on how old they are. Yet Donald Trump Jr. and White House social media director Dan Scavino have claimed they’re being censored when this has allegedly happened to them.

    • There have been accusations of “#censorship” based on “a crazy drop in new followers,” but there are unrelated reasons for altered follower counts. Trump Jr. has also claimed that drops in followers or stagnant follower counts amount to “#censorship.” However, Instagram has experienced glitches that have affected follower counts for many accounts, and the platform’s policies that aim to reduce inauthentic activity have in the past caused account purges that result in diminished follower counts for users displaying automated behavior. President Donald Trump made a similar accusation against Twitter, claiming to have lost followers. As Mashable pointed out, users across the political spectrum lose followers as a result of purges, or removals of “inactive accounts and fake profiles.” In fact, a Twitter purge in the summer of 2018 cost former President Barack Obama more followers than Fox’s Sean Hannity.

    • A Republican lawmaker complained that a Google search mainly returned negative results about unpopular Republican legislation, saying it was evidence of bias, but in fact it was likely reflective of an overwhelming amount of criticism. During a December 11 hearing before Congress, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) cited “a firsthand experience” to ask Google CEO Sundar Pichai why the first few pages of results he found on Google about the Republican bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act showed so much negative criticism. Chabot also questioned why the majority of results of Google searches for the Republican tax cuts criticized them as favoring the rich. As Pichai explained, search results are not based on political ideology. What Chabot seemed to not understand was that Google search returns are actually based on rankings (a site that is ranked high appears higher on search results) that depend on factors like domain authority, which is calculated by the number and reliability of sites that link to it, among other things. Which is to say, negative results are evidence that sites with high domain authority are referring to the search term in negative ways -- something that has more to do with the substance of the search term than the search engine itself.

    • Another legislator complained to Google that an iPhone displayed negative language about him, implying it was evidence of Google’s bias, but the phone was manufactured by Apple. During the same December hearing in which Google’s Pichai testified, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) -- whose extremist record includes explicit endorsements of white supremacists -- complained that his 7-year-old granddaughter had been exposed to negative language about him on her iPhone. King said, "And I’m not going to say into the record what kind of language was used around that picture of her grandfather, but I’d ask you: How does that show up on a 7-year-old’s iPhone, who’s playing a kids game?” As Pichar said, Google does not manufacture iPhones; Apple does. Moreover, even if the hardware in question had been a Google-manufactured Android, King’s complaint displayed his own digital illiteracy more than any possible tech platform bias directed against him.

    • A congressman alleged that Google is biased because it showed negative information from his Wikipedia page in its search results, while his own staff’s edits to his page were not approved by Wikipedia editors. While questioning Google’s Pichai during the December hearing, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) took issue with Google’s search results displaying details from his Wikipedia page when his name is searched, because the “liberal editors around the world” of the free encyclopedia “put up a bunch of garbage” about him, while the “proper, honest” edits his own chief of staff made to Gohmert’s page were not approved. As Motherboard’s reporting on this matter has explained, what’s displayed on Google’s knowledge panels isn’t evidence of bias, but of the tech giant’s “cynical, damaging, and unfair over-reliance on Wikipedia’s volunteer editors.”

    • PragerU alleged that removal of far-right content on platforms was based on “deliberate censorship of conservative ideas,” but an expert found “plausible, non-ideologically motivated explanations” for the removal. After online propaganda machine PragerU accused platforms of “deliberate censorship of conservative ideas” for removing PragerU videos (and then reinstating them after admitting a mistake), an expert “reviewed several of the videos” and found explanations for their removal that had little to do with political bias. As Data & Society’s Francesca Tripodi explained, some videos contained language that could have been picked up by platforms’ automated systems and then -- when reviewed by third-party moderators that are sometimes outsourced to the Philippines -- the reviewers placed more importance on the specific language than on the political substance of the video. Tripodi also pointed out that the platforms’ lack of process transparency could have contributed to right-wing cries of censorship and bias.

    • Right-wing outlets affected by a Facebook purge claimed it was evidence of anti-right-wing bias. In fact, it was evidence of spammy behavior. Right-wing outlets claimed that the removal of right-wing content pages showed Facebook was biased against the right. Yet Facebook explained in an October 11 blog post that the reasoning behind the removal of over 800 pages and accounts was based on user violations of the platform’s rules against spam and “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” According to Gizmodo’s report at the time, Facebook pointed out that while the spammy behavior the platform targeted for removal seemed financially motivated, the pages were “at least using political content to drive traffic to their ad-supported websites.” Prominent amplification networks of right-wing content were affected by the purge -- but it was because the pages were in violation of the platform’s guidelines regarding “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” which had nothing to do with the pages’ political alignment.

    • An allegation that Facebook “deboosts” right-wing content was not supported by hard evidence. A Media Matters study found right-wing political pages and left-wing political pages on Facebook have about the same amount of interactions. Donald Trump Jr. has devoted media appearances and columns to pushing generalized claims of censorship from Big Tech. In a March 17 column published by The Hill, Trump Jr. pointed to Facebook documents published by serial bullshitter James O’Keefe to allege that the site targeted conservative posts for “deboost”-ing. A new Media Matters study of content from 395 Facebook pages that regularly post about American political news between July 2, 2018, and March 17, 2019, shows that not only did left-leaning and right-leaning pages have roughly the same engagement numbers, but -- between January 14 and March 17, the weeks leading up to this new wave of conservative censorship claims -- right-leaning pages on average actually received more interactions than left-leaning pages.

    Alex Kaplan and Natalie Martinez contributed research for this piece.

  • Fox News discussed the Green New Deal more often than CNN and MSNBC combined

    And Fox's coverage of the plan was riddled with misinformation, mockery, and climate change skepticism

    Blog ››› ››› TED MACDONALD


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In the last week of March, Fox News aired more than twice as many prime-time segments discussing the Green New Deal as MSNBC and CNN combined, Media Matters found. Fox ran 22 segments on the Green New Deal, and only half of them even mentioned climate change. MSNBC and CNN aired 14 and five segments, respectively, but all of those discussed climate change.

    Fox aired more Green New Deal segments than CNN and MSNBC combined from March 25 to 31

    Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed. Markey (D-MA) introduced the Green New Deal on February 7, thrusting the issue of climate change into the national political conversation. On March 26, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called a procedural vote on the resolution, attempting to embarrass Democrats by forcing them to take a stance on it before senators had a chance to hold hearings and debate the measure. Almost all Senate Democrats banded together to call McConnell's bluff by voting "present" instead of yes or no. 

    Media Matters analyzed prime-time cable news coverage of the Green New Deal during the week of the Senate vote. From March 25 to 31, Fox News ran 22 segments discussing the Green New Deal on its weekday and weekend prime-time shows airing between 5 p.m. and midnight. Across this same period, MSNBC aired 14 prime-time segments discussing the Green New Deal, and CNN aired five.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Only half of Fox's Green New Deal segments mentioned climate change, 11 out of 22, despite the fact that the plan is designed specifically to address the climate crisis. In contrast, all segments about the Green New Deal on MSNBC and CNN discussed climate change.

    Media Matters did a similar analysis in February in the days after the Green New Deal was introduced. It found that Fox covered the Green New Deal more than three times as often as MSNBC and CNN combined from February 7 to 11; Fox aired 34 segments that mentioned the proposal, MSNBC aired eight, and CNN aired three. And during that period, Fox mentioned climate change in 41% of its Green New Deal segments, MSNBC mentioned climate change in 62%, and CNN mentioned it in 67%. 

    Comparing those earlier findings to our new ones, Fox ran fewer segments on the Green New Deal in the last week of March than it had during that stretch in early February, and a similar proportion of the segments mentioned climate change. MSNBC and CNN, in contrast, both improved their performance, airing more segments on the Green New Deal and discussing climate change in all of them. And in the case of MSNBC in particular, many of the segments were longer and more substantive and informative.

    But the overall trend of Fox covering the Green New Deal more than its cable competitors continued, and that's a significant problem because Fox's coverage is so bad. 

    Fox's coverage of the Green New Deal was rife with misinformation and mockery

    In the last week of March, many of Fox’s 22 segments mentioning the Green New Deal contained misinformation. A number of them falsely suggested or stated that the plan would ban airplanes or cars, which it would not. Others claimed that the Green New Deal would cost $93 trillion or $100 trillion, though both figures have been debunked. In four cases, the misinformation came directly from President Donald Trump; he maligned the Green New Deal during a speech in Michigan, and Fox aired footage of that speech without rebutting Trump's false statements. Donald Trump Jr. spread false information too. On the March 25 episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight, he mocked the plan and said, "we don't exactly have $93 trillion to spend to say you're going to take a bus to Hawaii."

    Another classic example of a Fox discussion about the Green New Deal came on the March 30 episode of Watters' World, in which Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale was interviewed:

    JESSE WATTERS (HOST): Good, now, what is the data telling you about socialism? The Green New Deal, are people responding to that? Or is this a killer at the ballot box?

    BRAD PARSCALE: I mean, look, I think it’s a great issue for the president. I think it's just, as he said last -- as he's been trying to say all week, I think it’s incredible how much they just want $100 trillion, destroy the economy, turn us into Venezuela.

    WATTERS: He wants to run against the Green New Deal.

    PARSCALE: Oh yes. Oh yeah.

    WATTERS: He is licking his chops.

    PARSCALE: Yeah, it's like a juicy steak. I mean, getting rid cows, airplanes, no more Hawaiian senators --

    WATTERS: Right, yes, it's like the Big Mac president running against the vegans. It's not going to fly.

    Two of Fox's prime-time Green New Deal segments cast doubt on the scientific consensus around climate change. One came from Tucker Carlson on the March 27 episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight, during which he said, “The climate seems like it is changing. Climate changes a lot, always has, maybe human activity is causing it.” In the same episode, he also made the false claim that “nobody is dying from global warming in this country.” The next night on Hannity, guest Rush Limbaugh was more explicit in his climate denial, claiming, “We don't even have the power to impact the climate. We can't change it for better or worse. But it is constantly changing. All we can do is adapt to it. We're the best in the world at that.”

    But both Tucker Carlson Tonight and Hannity, Fox's flagship evening opinion shows, spent less time on the Green New deal in the last week of March than they had in early February, when they both aired rants about its allegedly oppressive nature.

    In contrast, Fox News @ Night with host Shannon Bream, which Fox bills as a straight "news" program, aired more segments on the plan in the last week of March than it had in early February. The Fox News @ Night segments also spread misinformation, like the false claim that the plan would cost $100 trillion. Fox News @ Night also gave a platform to Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) on March 27 to continue the ridiculous attack he had made on the Green New Deal on the Senate floor earlier that day; on the show, Lee mocked the plan further, saying, "The Green New Deal is its own punch line."

    MSNBC aired strong coverage of the Green New Deal and climate change, thanks in large part to Chris Hayes

    MSNBC aired 14 segments on the Green New Deal in the last week of March, and nine of them ran on All In With Chris Hayes. All of MSNBC's segments discussed the plan within the context of climate change.

    Hayes produced standout coverage of the Green New Deal, including substantive discussion of what it aims to do and why climate action is critical. After the Senate vote on March 26, Markey appeared on All In With Chris Hayes to explain the reasoning behind the Democrats’ strategy to vote “present”:

    SEN. ED MARKEY (D-MA): I voted “present” because Mitch McConnell and the Republicans, who are making a mockery of the legislative process, they gave us no hearings. We could have no expert witnesses. We could have no scientists. We could have no people from the states which have been affected by the massive climate-related damage, which has occurred from forest fires in California to the storms across the Midwest, the hurricanes sweeping through Texas and Florida. None of that was allowed to be presented as part of a hearing process.

    CHRIS HAYES (HOST): Today illustrated to me the enormous gap -- I mean, I think the Republicans by and large, your fellow colleagues, they see it all as a joke, as a stunt. I mean, the gap between what the actual physics are -- what the science says, what the scale of the challenge is -- and where the Republicans are, it almost seems un-overcomeable to me. Does it to you?

    MARKEY: It is pretty big. I mean, the United Nations and their scientists at the end of 2018 said that climate is warming so rapidly that it now poses an existential threat to the planet. The 13 federal agencies with jurisdiction over climate issued their own report at the end of 2018. They came to a conclusion that said this is very serious and we had to do something about it.

    On March 29, All In With Chris Hayes aired a special episode in which Hayes interviewed Ocasio-Cortez and a host of others about climate change and the Green New Deal. This episode accounted for four of MSNBC's segments about the Green New Deal in the last week of March. Hayes also aired segments about how Republicans are failing to substantively engage on climate change and how climate change is already affecting residents of the Bronx, among others.

    According to a recent Public Citizen analysis, Hayes discussed climate change more than his MSNBC peers over the past 24 months -- even though he called climate change a “palpable ratings killer” last July. He was criticized for that comment, and since then he's aired climate coverage more often. Public Citizen is now calling on Hayes to commit to cover climate change at least once a week.

    Other discussions of the Green New Deal on MSNBC came during interviews with politicians, including Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) on MTP Daily, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) on Politics Nation, and Markey again on The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell.

    One MSNBC segment included a guest who argued against taking dramatic steps to combat climate change. On the March 26 episode of MTP Daily, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens warned that we could "bankrupt ourselves in the process of ensuring ourselves against the potential risk." Host Katy Tur and NBC analyst Heather McGhee both pushed back against Stephens' claim that climate change isn't serious enough to warrant bold action. 

    CNN infrequently mentioned the Green New Deal, but connected it to climate change when it did

    CNN aired only five prime-time segments that discussed the Green New Deal in the last week of March. Climate change was brought up in all of them.

    Three of these discussions occurred during interviews with Democratic presidential candidates. On the March 26 episode of Erin Burnett Tonight, Julián Castro, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said he was a "fan of the Green New Deal." Though he did not say the words "climate change" or "global warming," he spoke about the climate crisis, noting the need to "protect our planet" and the promise of renewable energy. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper appeared on CNN Tonight on March 26 and said he does not support the Green New Deal, but he thinks climate change is "one of the defining issues of our times." And during a CNN town hall on March 27, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) restated his support for the Green New Deal and emphasized the importance of fighting climate change.

    Fox is distorting the public conversation about the Green New Deal

    It is good news that MSNBC and CNN have been discussing the Green New Deal in the context of climate change, and in some cases examining its policy ideas in-depth.

    Unfortunately, Fox News is still talking about the Green New Deal more than its cable competitors, and often in dishonest and destructive ways. By spreading misinformation about the proposal, Fox is distorting the national dialogue about it. Sean McElwee -- co-founder of Data for Progress, a progressive think tank that helped to shape the Green New Deal -- made this point in a March 27 op-ed in The New York Times:

    The core challenge the Green New Deal faces is not so much on the merits of the concept or even its political feasibility; it is that many of its Democratic supporters have met an aggressive and one-sided onslaught from the right with very little by way of response.

    Though many components of the Green New Deal are popular, the Republican propaganda machine has already reshaped the narrative, and it has done so with virtually no coordinated pushback from progressives, or certainly nowhere near enough, a worrying pattern.

    Progressive pushback has emerged more often in recent weeks, especially on MSNBC. But Fox, by covering the Green New Deal so aggressively and negatively, is already prejudicing many voters against it before they have a chance to learn what it actually calls for and why. McElwee cited polling by the progressive project Navigator that found Republican Fox viewers were more likely than other voters both to have heard a lot about the Green New Deal and to have seen negative coverage, and a recent poll by Navigator found that Fox News viewers were more inclined than others to deny that human-made climate change is happening.

    Fox is unlikely to change its approach, so other media outlets need to step up with more frequent, honest, and probing coverage of the Green New Deal and other proposals for addressing the climate crisis. Failure to do so will distort the overall discourse around climate change and hinder the process of finding solutions.

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted Nexis and IQ Media searches for mentions of "green new deal" in programs that aired on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC between 5 p.m. and midnight from March 25 to 31. We then searched within those transcripts for mentions of “climate” or "global warming." We counted any segments that were devoted to the Green New Deal or made substantial mention of it. We did not count teasers, passing mentions, or rebroadcasts.

  • Report: Sean Hannity worked with Trump and Republicans on health care policy

    This latest example of a Fox host advising the president further proves there is little separation between Fox News and the Trump administration

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    An excerpt from a book on the Trump administration titled “The Hill to Die On” revealed that Fox News host Sean Hannity was a participant in a conference call on health care between President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers.

    The Washington Post reported that in the book, which “chronicles Congress in the age of Trump” and will be released April 9, Hannity “makes several appearances, including on a health-care conference call with Trump and a few Republican lawmakers where, ‘much to everyone’s surprise,’ Hannity is also on the line.”

    Hannity has repeatedly encouraged Republicans to help President Donald Trump repeal Obamacare -- at one point offering former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) both of his shows to promote Republican health care legislation -- and recently he applauded the Trump administration’s decision to try overturning the entire health care law, which would strip access to health care for tens of millions of Americans. In 2013, Hannity aired a special on "Obamacare horror stories." A subsequent investigation found that none of Hannity's guests even attempted to shop on the exchange. Hannity was also one of the biggest proponents of the "Death Panel" lie. And he's pushed numerous other Obamacare lies as well.

    While shocking, it should not be surprising that Hannity was dialed in to the meeting. Fox News has long been intertwined with the Republican Party. The network has served as the GOP’s communications arm. Numerous Fox personalities have helped Republicans by campaigning for them or attending their fundraisers. Fox has even served as a warming bench for Republican presidential aspirants.

    But this relationship has grown much closer since Trump became president. Hannity and Trump talk on the phone regularly. Reports show that Hannity has advised Trump and those close to him on immigration policy, general strategy and messaging, and on the Trump/Russia investigation. A senior Trump economic adviser revealed that the president interrupted an economic briefing to call Fox Business host Lou Dobbs. Both Hannity and Doobs advised Trump on the most recent government shutdown. And Trump invited Hannity and fellow Fox host Jeanine Pirro on stage at one of his rallies to thank them for their support. These examples only scratch the surface of the depth of ties between Fox News and the Trump administration -- which has hired multiple Fox employees.

    The book’s example of the closeness between the conservative network and Trump comes at a crucial time for Fox’s reputation. Fox has attempted to differentiate its “news” and “opinion” sides after the Democratic National Committee rejected the network as a presidential primary debate host. But there is little difference between the two sides of Fox News when it comes to conservative misinformation, just as there is little separation between Fox and the Trump administration.

  • Media outlets somehow make Trump the savior of Special Olympics funding that his budget aimed to cut in the first place

    Sloppy headlines and tweets that simply quote the president without context are just good PR for Trump

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Trump administration last week made a particularly cruel show of defunding the Special Olympics program in its annual proposed budget -- a largely symbolic gesture that was nonetheless indicative of the administration’s wholesale disregard for people with disabilities. After Secretary of Education Betsy Devos made a series of inept attempts to defend or address the proposed cut amid mounting public pressure, President Donald Trump finally walked back his administration’s line, saying he would change the proposal. In reporting Trump’s remarks, sloppy headlines, tweets, and cable news chyrons that simply quoted the president inherently gave him credit where absolutely none was due. It's part of a larger pattern in which context-free framing can undermine the substance of otherwise good reporting, reducing complex stories to overly simplistic headlines or lead sentences that ultimately mislead the public. 

    What happened? 

    Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos appeared twice before Congress last week to discuss her department’s proposed budget for the 2020 fiscal year, and she faced tough questions about a proposed $17.6 million cut that would eliminate federal funding for the Special Olympics.

    Presidential administrations typically release a proposed annual budget every year as a recommendation and a way to indicate policy priorities -- the federal budget is ultimately under the purview of Congress alone, which can take the presidential proposal under advisement. Indeed, Politico noted that the administration had proposed defunding the Special Olympics in its last two budgets as well. As s.e. smith wrote for Vox, the proposed cut illustrated the underlying threat to people with disabilities that the administration poses -- and distracts from other proposed budget cuts and previous administration activities that could harm students with disabilities and limit their access to quality public education.

    DeVos faced strong pressure to reconsider the budget line, both in the hearings and from media, and was asked clarifying questions about the reasons for the defunding proposal. She struggled to defend the decision, completely and awkwardly ignoring questions from at least one CNN reporter and engaging in the Trump administration’s signature deflection tactic of attacking the media instead. Meanwhile, a Trump campaign spokesperson pivoted to bizarrely attacking Democrats’ support for abortion.

    Eventually, after multiple days of negative public attention, Trump reversed his administration’s long-held position on cutting the funding. The president told reporters last Thursday that he had “overridden” his own administration and had “authorized a funding of the Special Olympics,” saying that he had “heard about it this morning.” At best, this means Trump had no idea what his own administration was up to until reporters and members of Congress pointed it out. At worst, Trump was well aware of the cut and didn’t care about it until he looked bad publicly -- and was willing to throw DeVos under the bus to fix things.

    This episode showcased, once again, not just the Trump inner circle’s signature moral repugnancy but also its overwhelming ineptitude.

    How was it framed by some in media? 

    After Trump abruptly announced the proposed budget change, some blue-checkmarked reporters and media figures immediately started tweeting his breaking news quotes for impact and virality -- a common industry-wide practice. The unintentional effect was a series of tweets that together reframed the news story positively for Trump.

    Rather than making clear that Trump was reversing his own proposed budget, which does not determine actual funding levels regardless, the tweets portrayed Trump as the savior of the program -- a hero willing to fight his own bureaucracy to protect what he cared about. It amounted to passively spreading misinformation.

    And news organizations also piled on.

    Some headlines and cable news chyrons followed the same pattern: they either quoted the president with no context on the shameless pivot or actively framed him as heroically bucking bureaucracy.

    [The Hill, 3/28/19]

    [USA Today, 3/28/19]

    [CNN, 3/28/19]

    [Time, 3/28/19]

    [CNN, The Lead, 3/28/19]

    [MSNBC, Deadline: White House, 3/28/19]

    Surely not all context about the issue can fit in a headline or a tweet. But a few extra words can go a long way in better serving news audiences; some news organizations were able to do it just fine.

    Every tweet, headline, push notification, and chyron counts. Even if context is provided in subsequent reporting, or in different chyrons or an accompanying discussion, that is not enough. The essential framing has to be right.

    Media have a responsibility to serve an audience that we know is trying to catch up on the news by glancing at the TV screens (maybe in public, with the sound off, even) and scrolling quickly through tweets, push notifications, or headlines. Reporters covering this should distill what’s most relevant and accurate to a busy, distracted public that’s relying on them. Otherwise, they’re doing the work of the president’s communications shop.

  • Sunday shows ignore report that Trump may have committed bank fraud

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Sunday news shows of four of the major broadcast networks and CNN ignored new reporting from The Washington Post which detailed how President Donald Trump may have committed bank fraud.

    The Post reported on March 28 that congressional and New York investigators are examining whether Trump had used misleading documents called “Statements of Financial Condition,” in which he inflated his wealth or “omitted properties that carried big debts,” to fraudulently obtain loans from lenders or low premiums from insurers. The Post report revealed some details about how Trump lied about his properties and wealth in these statements:

    These documents sometimes ran up to 20 pages. They were full of numbers, laying out Trump’s properties, debts and multibillion-dollar net worth.

    But, for someone trying to get a true picture of Trump’s net worth, the documents were deeply flawed. Some simply omitted properties that carried big debts. Some assets were overvalued. And some key numbers were wrong.

    For instance, Trump’s financial statement for 2011 said he had 55 home lots to sell at his golf course in Southern California. Those lots would sell for $3 million or more, the statement said.

    But Trump had only 31 lots zoned and ready for sale at the course, according to city records. He claimed credit for 24 lots — and at least $72 million in future revenue — he didn’t have.

    He also claimed his Virginia vineyard had 2,000 acres, when it really has about 1,200. He said Trump Tower has 68 stories. It has 58.

    These two investigations have stemmed from “testimony last month by Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, who told Congress that Trump had used these statements to inflate his wealth — and then sent them to his lenders and his insurers.” The Post also explained, “Trump is far from the first real estate developer to inflate his projects or wealth. But there are laws against defrauding insurers and lenders with false information.” It is also unclear if Trump will face any legal consequences.

    Yet none of the Sunday shows of ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox Broadcasting Co., or CNN covered the story, according to a closed captioning search of mentions of Trump in the Grabien video database. Three of these shows invited senior Trump administration officials as guests but failed to bring up the ongoing investigations: Both ABC’s This Week and CNN’s State of the Union interviewed acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and Fox’s Fox News Sunday talked to counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway.

  • Major news organizations amplified Trump’s misinformation about Mueller's report

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Twitter accounts of major national newspapers, cable, and broadcast news outlets spread -- without any context -- President Donald Trump's misinformation, outrageous characterizations of, and responses to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his Russia investigation.

    Over the course of more than six days since news broke on March 22 that Mueller had delivered his report to Attorney General William Barr, the Twitter accounts of major national print, digital, wire, cable, and broadcast news outlets sent at least 45 tweets which parroted misinformation from Trump, his administration, or his campaign. Many of these tweets included quotes from the president which contained false information about the Mueller report and/or lacked the necessary context to fully inform any news consumers who get their news only via social media posts. And then there were other tweets that didn't contain misinformation, but instead failed to provide context to Trump’s answer to reporters about the Mueller report. Examples of the most glaring failures of these major news organizations are embedded below:

    As Barr explained in a letter he wrote to Congress summarizing Mueller’s findings, the report “does not exonerate” the president on whether he obstructed justice. Nevertheless, Twitter accounts of The Hill, CNN, The Washington Post, Vox, ABC News, ABC’s World News Tonight, ABC’s This Week, ABC Politics, NBC Politics, and Politico all repeated Trump’s false claim that the Mueller report is a “complete and total exoneration” of him.

    Barr’s letter also explained that Mueller’s report left “unresolved whether the president's actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction.” Yet The Hill sent the same tweet three times uncritically repeating Trump’s claim that the Mueller report showed “no obstruction.”

    Many news outlets embedded a brief snippet of Trump responding affirmatively to a question about whether Mueller “acted honorably,” but failed to give basic context that Trump spent the last year savaging Mueller’s reputation by criticizing him, his actions, and his team. NBC Nightly News, NBC News, ABC’s World News Tonight, ABC News, ABC Politics, ABC’s This Week, MSNBC, NBC Politics, and NPR Politics all did this. The Hill tweeted Trump’s comment five times.

    Multiple news organizations also tweeted out Trump’s outrageous characterizations of Mueller’s investigation without any pushback. CBS News, The New York Times, and The Hill repeated Trump’s statement that the Mueller investigation was “an illegal takedown that failed.” CNN (twice), CNN's New Day, CNN Politics and MSNBC’s 11th Hour all repeated Trump’s quote that the Mueller investigation was an “attempted takeover of our government.”

    Parroting Trump’s misinformation is an ongoing problem with major news outlets; in the 24 hours after Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address, 13 major news organizations wrote 49 tweets which promoted false or misleading comments from the president. It’s not enough for news organizations to fact-check and explain Trump’s comments in their articles. In this era of unprecedented lies from the president about virtually everything, news organizations must rethink how they draft their headlines and social media posts to make sure they include factual information in them.

    It is possible to report on Trump’s misinformation and also provide context in the limited space of headlines and tweets. Here are some examples of tweets in which outlets did just that, thus providing accurate information to their audiences:

  • We shouldn't become desensitized to Trump's extreme anti-press incitement

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On March 21, Cesar Sayoc pleaded guilty after mailing explosive devices to the offices of CNN, several Democratic officials, and other progressive leaders. Sayoc, a superfan of President Donald Trump whose van was plastered with anti-media images, was arrested while reportedly working through a list of more than 100 potential targets, including other journalists.

    One week later, at a rally in Grand Rapids, MI, the president accused the media of working with Democrats and the “deep state” intelligence community in a “sinister effort… to sabotage the will of the American people” by reporting on connections between his campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election. Trump further claimed that “all of the Democrat politicians, the media bosses, bad people, ... crooked journalists, the totally dishonest TV pundits” who had promoted the Trump-Russia “hoax … have to be accountable.”

    The crowd responded by chanting, “Lock them up!”

    Trump’s campaign of incitement against the press will never stop. The president has received repeated warnings that his actions threaten the safety of journalists in the United States and around the world. He does not care -- or at least, he does not care enough to change his behavior. His political strategy of delegitimizing any individual or institution that pushes back against his lies and his personal need to respond to any perceived grievance with maximum force both require him to attack the press. And so those attacks will continue, no matter the consequences.

    Over the last week, he has returned to his Stalinist description of journalists as “the Enemy of the People,” baselessly suggesting that they fabricated sources as part of a campaign of deception to take down his presidency, and in so doing damaged the country. In the hours before Trump’s rally on Thursday, The Atlantic reported that the Republican National Committee and the pro-Trump super PAC America First are planning to respond to critical journalism by assailing individual reporters using digital ads.

    At a minimum, this behavior inevitably intensifies the constant stream of harassment and threats which journalists have been subjected to since Trump’s political rise began.

    At worst, it puts reporters in physical danger.

    Trump’s vicious attacks on the press during his campaign rallies have had violent consequences -- a BBC cameraman was assaulted while simply doing his job and filming one last month. And law enforcement has stepped in to prevent even more dire repercussions. At least two people were arrested last year after allegedly threatening to murder reporters in messages that mimicked the president’s rhetoric; in September, the director of the FBI reportedly said that six federal investigations were then underway into threats on journalists.

    Sayoc isn’t even the only person to allegedly assemble a hit list of journalists. In February, the FBI arrested Christopher Hasson, a Coast Guard officer and self-described white nationalist whom prosecutors termed a “domestic terrorist.” Hasson, who faces federal charges of illegal possession of a firearm and possession of a controlled substance, had amassed an arsenal he allegedly planned to use to murder hosts at CNN and MSNBC and Democratic politicians.

    Asked at the time if the president planned to ratchet down his rhetoric in response to Hasson’s arrest, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied, claiming Trump hasn't "at any point” done anything “but condemn violence, against journalists or anyone else." Her claim was simply fantastical given Trump’s public encouragement of supporters who harass -- and even assault -- members of the press.

    The president’s words on the stump matter much more than the mealy-mouthed statements coming out of Sanders’ office. And his message of incitement against the press is ringing through, loud and clear.