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  • Stefan Molyneux is MAGA Twitter’s favorite white nationalist

    Molyneux has talked fondly about white nationalism. Donald Trump Jr. amplifies him on Twitter.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Update (5/22): This piece was updated with additional information.

    Stefan Molyneux is a virulent misogynist and white supremacist with a penchant for spewing extremist talking points on YouTube and Twitter, but he has become a prominent influencer on the right thanks to the amplification he receives from certain right-wing figures and outlets.

    Last night that amplification came from Donald Trump Jr., who quoted a transphobic tweet from Molyneux to his 3.5-plus million followers.

    CRTV (now TheBlazeTV) has hosted Molyneux repeatedly, while NRATV hosts have promoted Molyneux’s content and appeared on his show to talk about scientific racism, which promotes debunked correlations between IQ scores, race, and crime statistics. On Fox’s Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson has parroted Molyneux’s misogynistic talking points. And last night’s tweet wasn’t the first time Trump Jr. has amplified Molyneux by either retweeting or liking tweets of his that feature hateful content.

    Molyneux has amassed significant influence on Twitter (over 404,000 followers) and YouTube (close to a million subscribers) thanks in part to the amplification of right-wing media figures with huge followings, which suggests that his views have become more the rule than the exception on the right. Some journalists have also pointed out the way prominent conservatives seem to ignore Molyneux's record of extremism when amplifying his tweets:

    Here’s a brief sample of Molyneux’s extremism.

    Molyneux is a white supremacist

    Molyneux often promotes scientific racism. On Twitter, Molyneux has repeatedly pushed statements that link IQ, race, and crime, a basic tenet of scientific racism. An episode of his YouTube show titled “Why Liberals are Wrong About Inequality” centered on discussing IQ differences between races, which earned him the accolades of neo-Nazi outlet The Daily Stormer.

    Molyneux was one of the most prominent promoters of false claims about “white genocide” in South Africa. On his YouTube channel, Molyneux has devoted several episodes to fearmongering about white “genocide” in South Africa, even hosting far-right troll Lauren Southern and appearing with Simon Roche, a South African agitator with ties to American white nationalist Jared Taylor.

    After a visit to Poland, Molyneux talked fondly about “white nationalism.” As reported by Angry White Men, a blog that tracks right-wing extremists, Molyneux “told viewers he was becoming much more sympathetic to white nationalism” after visiting Poland. On his YouTube channel, he recorded a video in which he waxed poetic about the country’s being “99% white” composition and relative lack of crime, and said that while he had previously “spoken out against white nationalism,” he “can’t argue with the reality.”

    Molyneux uses YouTube to promote white supremacist talking points and fearmonger about “population replacement.” The blog Angry White Men has documented Molyneux’s use of YouTube to push white supremacist talking points and racist rhetoric, including framing immigration as “population replacement,” claiming that diversity “means fewer white people,” and advocating for having “people of the same race and culture in a country” in the name of “social cohesion.” On YouTube, he also promoted white nationalist Richard Spencer’s views by calling for people to “listen to his goddamn arguments.”

    Molyneux is a virulent misogynist

    Molyneux regularly attacks feminism. Molyneux often uses his massive Twitter platform to lash out against feminism, once claiming that its purpose was “reducing white Christian birth rates.”

    Molyneux is a men’s rights activist. His YouTube content regularly features complaints about the supposed oppression of men in society, and he strongly championed James Damore, the Google employee who was fired after writing a memo contending that women’s underrepresentation in the technology field is due to biology.

    Molyneux is also an amplifier of idiotic conspiracy theories

    Molyneux once fearmongered that a new film in the Star Wars franchise was about the failure of diversity. As reported by Right Wing Watch, Molyneux devoted one of his YouTube videos to lashing out against Star Wars: The Last Jedi, claiming it was about the suffering of white men caused by increasing diversity.

    On his YouTube channel, he amplified the asinine claim that Democrats were involved in “spirit cooking” rituals. In a video that can still be found on his YouTube channel, Molyneux hosted rape apologist Mike Cernovich, who claimed that John Podesta, former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, was involved in “spirit cooking” rituals during which participants mixed “semen with breast milk” to drink.

    He has claimed “globalism” is a plot to “take money from white males.”

  • 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.

  • CPAC 2019 showcased dangerous and extreme anti-abortion rhetoric ahead of the 2020 elections

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    At the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Republicans and right-wing media figures abandoned any pretense of reality in their description of abortion procedures and instead fabricated increasingly unrealistic and sensationalized scenarios to fearmonger about so-called Democratic “murderers.”

    Though inaccurate anti-choice rhetoric is a staple of conservative commentary, right-wing media have spent the last few weeks in a frenzy -- first claiming that Democrats allegedly want to legalize abortions “up to birth,” and then moving on to the even more sensational claim that Democrats support “murder” during and even after birth. When Republicans and right-wing media figures hit the CPAC stage last week, some on Twitter expressed disbelief that the speakers promoted such obviously inaccurate language. However, the rhetoric on display at CPAC was merely the latest example of conservative and right-wing media figures deploying sensationalized language to fearmonger about abortion.

    Conservative outlets, and Fox News in particular, have been promoting inaccurate and extreme language about abortion for weeks, and President Donald Trump adopted those talking points in his 2019 State of the Union address. Trump and other Republicans are reportedly banking on using anti-abortion extremism to rally voters during the 2020 election -- a strategy that was seemingly tested on the CPAC stage.

    Here’s what Republicans and right-wing media are willfully ignoring about abortions -- particularly those performed later in pregnancy

    Right-wing media’s recent outrage centers on efforts by Democratic lawmakers in several states to ensure access to abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned or to remove unnecessary restrictions on abortion. Republicans seized on these measures to promote myths about abortions that happen later in pregnancy and to advance the inaccurate talking point that there are excessive numbers of so-called “born alive” abortions.

    In an attempt to address the nonexistent instances of abortions “after birth,” Republicans introduced and attempted to force a vote on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act -- a bill anti-choice politicians touted as aiding so-called “abortion survivors” who are “born alive” following an attempted abortion procedure. The bill ultimately failed to advance in the Senate, but it is part of a Republican strategy of “bringing back the issue of very late abortions, perhaps in the hope of energizing their base in advance of 2020” with the goal of getting “Democrats on record opposing it.” By forcing a vote on the legislation, Republicans and right-wing media can then spin opposing votes as evidence of Democrats’ supposed “extremism” on abortion rights.

    Similarly, right-wing media’s depictions of abortions happening up to the “moment of birth” do not conform to any medical procedure happening in the U.S. Abortions later in pregnancy are performed for complicated personal and medical reasons, and the people who anti-choice advocates compare to murderers often have to make the difficult decision to end a wanted pregnancy because of a nonviable fetus or due to their own great medical risk. In other instances, people need abortions later in pregnancy due to anti-choice restrictions on earlier access. In either case, if anti-abortion media really wanted to understand the people who have had abortions later in pregnancy, these outlets and commentators could read actual accounts rather than demonizing those individuals and feeding a manufactured right-wing media outrage cycle.

    The idea of abortions after birth or “born alive” abortions is also not based in any medical standard of care or practice, as Rewire.News reported in 2013. As doctors Daniel Grossman and Jennifer Conti pointed out to The New York Times, it is more likely that the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act would force doctors to pursue treatment options that run counter to patients’ wishes -- such as ensuring that a fetus delivered “at the edge of viability” but unlikely to survive could not receive “comfort care” which would “allow the child to die naturally without extreme attempts at resuscitation.” In addition, as writer Robin Marty explained, the bill could be used opportunistically by anti-choice opponents to prosecute abortion providers.

    Here’s what Republicans and right-wing media figures said at CPAC about abortion

    • Trump: Democrats are embracing “extreme late-term abortion. ... In Virginia, the governor, a Democrat, stated that he would allow babies to be born -- to be born outside, he would wrap them, he would take care of them, then he’ll talk to the mother and the father as to what to be done. And if they didn't want the child, who was now outside of the womb -- long outside of the womb, they will execute the baby after birth. They will execute the baby after birth, and that's one that many people have neber even heard of or thought about. This is a radical agenda by the Democrats.” [YouTube, 3/2/19]

    • Vice President Mike Pence: "With Democrats standing for late-term abortion, infanticide, and a culture of death, I promise you: This president, this party, and this movement will always stand for the unborn. We will always defend the unalienable right to life." [Twitter, 3/1/19]
    • Donald Trump Jr.: “The post-term abortion issue ... anywhere else in the world, at any other point in time" would be “called murder. … This isn't woman's health care. If the baby is born, and it's alive, the woman is no longer at risk.” [Twitter, 3/1/19]
    • Fox News host Laura Ingraham: “Abortions -- about a million a year -- through most of a pregnancy. That’s not enough. Abortion of babies in the womb -- not enough. Now we got to wait to terminate life after birth.” [YouTube, 2/28/19]

    • Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker: “By the way, it's not live-birth abortion. It's not infanticide. It is murder if you take the baby home and kill the baby at home, it's murder. The same thing is true at the hospital.” [Twitter, 2/28/19]

    • Turning Point USA’s Candace Owens: “We have a sick and twisted [New York Democratic] Gov. Andrew Cuomo celebrating that you can rip fetuses -- you can rip infants and babies from their mother's wombs at nine months -- nine months. That's absolutely sickening what we're talking about here. And who is that going to impact the most? In New York City, for those of you who don’t know, more Black babies are aborted than born live.” [Periscope, 3/1/19]
    • Concerned Women for America CEO and President Penny Young Nance: "Sometimes the abortionist doesn't get the job done in the womb and a baby is able to survive and when she is born does she deserve life-saving treatment? We say absolutely yes! 44, 'The Dirty 44' said no." Nance’s invocation of the so-called “Dirty 44” was a reference to the 44 senators who voted against advancing the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. [CBN News, 2/28/19]
    • Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson: For abortions later in pregnancy, “some people feel that it’s OK to murder that baby. And the level of barbarism that that requires -- I quite frankly don’t know how people can do it, quite frankly. … How many of those mothers end up psychologically damaged? They talk about they’re doing this for the health of the mother -- what about the mother’s mental health that she has to endure for the rest of her life?” [YouTube, 2/28/19]

    • Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, claimed Democrats want to “extend abortion to the point when a baby -- when a mother is even in labor. In fact, extend that so-called ‘right’ to the baby’s birthday.” She also inaccurately alleged that Democrats’ mantra on abortion is “if you signed up for a dead baby, you’re going to get one, no matter what.” [Twitter, 2/28/19]

    • Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel: “It's not a late-term abortion; it's murder. … We need to speak about it in those terms.” [C-SPAN, 2/28/19]
    • Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, borrowed a talking point from colleague Sean Hannity: “These heathens are so inhumane and uncivilized that they proudly announce … that they allow the baby a ‘comfort zone’ while the mother is deciding whether the baby should live or die with an up or down like the emperor in the Roman Colosseum. … They call it reproductive health; I call it murder.” [YouTube, 3/2/19]

    • Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk: “We are not going in the same direction as the Democrat Party. I don’t want to live in a country where it’s OK to execute a newborn child.” [YouTube, 2/28/19]

    There are consequences for this kind of extreme, inaccurate, and vitriolic anti-abortion rhetoric

    Anti-abortion violence and harassment are real and ongoing threats in the United States. Eleven people have died as a result of anti-abortion violence since 1993. Numerous others have been injured, and still more have found themselves and even their families targeted with personalized harassment from abortion opponents -- a trend that has intensified in recent years. According to a report by the National Abortion Federation, rates of anti-abortion clinic protests in 2017 were already at the highest levels seen since the organization began tracking such incidents in 1977, and 2017 included “the first attempted bombing in many years.” In 2018, there were additional incidents of violence or threats against clinics reported in New Jersey, Utah, Texas, Pennsylvania, California, Washington, Massachusetts, and elsewhere.

    This isn’t the first time that right-wing media outlets have helped fan the flames of resentment against abortion providers, patients, and clinics with extremist language. Before an anti-abortion extremist murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in 2009, former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly had openly bullied Tiller on his program numerous times. According to Rolling Stone, “O’Reilly had waged an unflagging war against Tiller that did just about everything short of urging his followers to murder him.” O’Reilly repeatedly called the doctor “Tiller the baby killer” and said there was a “special place in hell for this guy.”

    In 2015, an anti-abortion extremist who killed three and injured nine at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, CO, reportedly offered the phrase “no more baby parts” as an explanation for his actions. His comment seemingly referred to an oft-repeated right-wing media talking point based on deceptive videos from the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. The New Republic reported on the admitted shooter’s penchant for right-wing media such as Fox News and Infowars, saying it shaped his paranoid and conspiratorial views about abortion and Planned Parenthood.

    In 2019, right-wing media’s extreme rhetoric on state measures protecting abortion rights has already sparked to harassment. After a video went viral of Del. Kathy Tran (D) speaking about an abortion measure she sponsored in Virginia, Tran told The Washington Post that “she and her family have received death threats through telephone messages, email and social media, leading to extra police protection for her and her family.” Tran also had to postpone a town hall meeting on February 2 because of “security and safety concerns” in the wake of the outrage ginned up by misrepresentation of her bill. ThinkProgress posted audio of a threatening message about the bill sent to the Democratic Party of Virginia and another clip of a racist tirade against Tran, telling her to “go back to Vietnam.” The state party’s communications director told ThinkProgress that “the party has also had to take additional security precautions” as a result of receiving such threats to its members.

    In February, The Virginian-Pilot reported that a man in Virginia was “charged with threatening to assault a U.S. official” because he allegedly threatened “to punch and shoot U.S. Sen. Mark Warner because of his stances on issues like abortion.” On March 4, another man was charged with arson for trying to burn down an empty Planned Parenthood clinic in Missouri in February. The FBI previously said it is investigating the latter incident as a possible hate crime, but it’s currently unclear whether these two events are linked to the recent extreme anti-abortion rhetoric from right-wing media figures.

    Inaccurate rhetoric about abortion from Republicans and right-wing media is dangerous and could lead to additional harassment and violence. Unfortunately, CPAC shows us it’s not likely to end anytime soon.

    Chenay Arberry contributed research to this article.

  • How a myth about journalists telling miners to “learn to code” helped people justify harassment

    Hundreds of journalists lost their jobs, and the darkest corners of the internet were ready to pounce.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Tucker Carlson Tonight / Fox News

    Journalism took a hit last week when BuzzFeed and HuffPost both announced a steep reduction in staff, cutting hundreds of jobs over the course of just a few days. For many journalists, the layoffs meant the end of a job they’ve had for years and, in the case of many BuzzFeed staffers, the separation from a company they had effectively helped build. Jobs in media, especially digital media, are tough to come by and even tougher to keep. And the people who lost their jobs know that they will be joining an already oversaturated talent pool of unemployed industry vets.

    Needless to say, it was a rough few days for those involved. Thanks to a 4chan campaign, it got even worse.

    If you were to scroll through the Twitter mentions of some of the laid-off journalists, there’s one phrase you probably saw more than a handful of times: “Learn to code.” On its own, “learn to code” is a perfectly innocuous suggestion, and few would deny that coding is a strong skill to have in the modern economy. The reason this phrase was being tweeted in such large volumes, however, was not out of a genuine concern for the newly unemployed but as a way to taunt them.

    The “learn to code” narrative sprung out of an impression among some on the right that journalists, whom conservatives have long tried to paint as elitists, had been flippant about layoffs that hit working-class Americans, particularly coal miners, over the last few years. By tweeting “learn to code” -- a reference to government and tech initiatives aimed at promoting STEM education -- at these journalists, Twitter users were trying to give them a taste of their own medicine.

    Talia Lavin, who had a steady freelance gig writing for HuffPost’s now-shuttered opinion section, was one of the first to pinpoint the origin of the “learn to code” campaign: 4chan.

    “Oh the sweet, sweet taste of victory and justice. These vile, soulless pieces of shit are going to have to find actual work now,” wrote one anonymous user on the message board, referring to news of the layoffs.

    “They should learn to code,” wrote another. Others said they were going to create so-called sockpuppet accounts (fake, deceptive, or throwaway accounts) for the specific purpose of tweeting at laid-off reporters.

    “Making them an hero is the goal,” wrote one person, referencing 4chan slang for committing suicide.

    The following day, NBC’s Ben Collins published a story about some of the tweets laid-off journalists received, which included a meme about the “Day of the Rope” (a reference to the day of mass execution in The Turner Diaries, a novel with heavy neo-Nazi themes) and a photo of an ISIS member about to execute journalist James Foley with the text “Shut the fuck up journalist.” These messages were mixed in as part of the larger “learn to code” campaign.

    Then a mangled message from Twitter set off a firestorm among conservative Twitter commentators.

    On Monday morning, The Wrap’s Jon Levine reported that a source inside Twitter told him that “tweeting ‘learn to code’ at any recently laid off journalist will be treated as ‘abusive behavior,’ and is a violation of Twitter’s Terms of Service.”

    Just over two hours later, the company issued a public statement contradicting this report, saying that “just Tweeting ‘learn to code’ is not a violation,” but tweeting the phrase “at an account coupled with targeted harassment, violent threats, intimidation, and/or as part of a coordinated campaign is considered a violation of our abusive behaviour policy.” Given that at least one person on 4chan explicitly stated that the goal of their tweets was to encourage journalists to commit suicide, it made sense that Twitter would view tweets resulting from that thread with at least a little caution. Essentially, Twitter’s official statement clarified that people tweeting “learn to code” weren’t somehow exempt from its rules.

    Levine also tweeted an update to his original post. In a direct message to me, he wrote, “Twitter told me something on background and then backed away from it publicly after they began to take heat. The whole affair suggests that even their own staff are unsure of how to enforce the nuts and bolts of their [terms of service].”

    In fairness, Twitter has what can only be described as an abysmal track record when it comes to enforcing its rules. Moderators routinely ignore posts that clearly violate the site’s terms of service, while marking harmless posts as violations all the time. Conservative media outlets and politicians often argue these inconsistencies are proof of anti-conservative bias at tech companies, but there’s little evidence to back up this claim. Twitter has wrongly taken down tweets from both right-wing and left-wing users, and it has ignored harassment campaigns against people on both sides of the political divide.

    Unfortunately, the confusion arising from Levine’s initial report and then Twitter’s official statement provided a misleading narrative for conservatives in the media to latch onto, even after it had been corrected, making journalists on the receiving end of this brigade look fragile and thin-skinned.

    There’s scant evidence that journalists told laid-off miners to “learn to code.” This has led the campaign’s defenders to engage in a bit of revisionist history.

    The Resurgent’s Erick Erickson wrote that in 2016, “millennial reporters at various online outlets suggested that blue collar coal miners ‘learn to code’ as the Obama Administration hatched plans to close coal mines. More than one outlet suggested as much with the New York Times even going so far as to profile one group that taught unemployed rust belt workers to code.”

    “Well, what’s good for the goose … isn’t working so well for the gander,” he continued. “The internet trolls at 4Chan have encouraged people to tweet out ‘learn to code’ to some of the very same millennial reporters who were suggesting blue collar workers do that.”

    Erickson doesn’t give any example of a single laid-off journalist mocking the plight of coal miners, and there’s a good reason to believe it didn’t happen.

    The 2016 New York Times profile Erickson mentioned wasn’t published as some sort of smug suggestion that miners just suck it up and “learn to code,” but as an empathetic look at the struggles faced by families in Appalachian coal country suddenly finding themselves without a source of income as once-reliable mining jobs vanished for good.

    In September 2018, the Times published an op-ed titled “The Coders of Kentucky,” highlighting bipartisan efforts to revitalize some of the more economically challenged segments of the country. It was, much like the 2016 piece, extraordinarily empathetic to the plight of workers who saw these once-steady careers evaporate.

    Neither article was authored by a millennial. The 2016 piece was written by a baby boomer, born in the 1960s, and the 2018 article was authored by a member of the silent generation, born in 1940. The closest thing to a smug “learn to code” response to miners losing jobs came from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who actually dismissed out-of-work miners as being unable or unwilling to code. Bloomberg, born in 1942, is definitely not a millennial.

    This isn’t to say that there haven’t been articles urging various groups to learn how to code. A 2013 post published on Forbes’ community page suggested that women should learn the skill. People have made a case for including coding classes in K-12 public education, for businesspeople to give it a shot, and for designers to get in on the action. A 2014 interactive BuzzFeed piece by Katie Notopoulos listed various articles handing out this bit of advice broadly. Interestingly enough, none of them were in the oh, you just got laid off -- deal with it and learn to code vein.

    Erickson’s “what’s good for the goose” statement doesn’t apply here. Instead, it simply functions as a release valve for people who might feel a tinge of guilt over targeting those who were laid off or who felt a sense of glee at the news.

    The “learn to code” portion of this campaign is something of a red herring. NBC’s Ben Collins walked me through it.

    According to Ben Collins, the author of NBC’s report on the harassment campaign, smugly suggesting coal miners “learn to code” wasn’t the approach newspapers took when covering those  who lost their jobs. He noted that reports on news about coding programs and statements from politicians aren’t anywhere near the type of arrogant sneer conservatives are making them out to be.

    And Collins has a theory about why some conservatives build on these sorts of myths. “It ... feeds into this larger narrative that ‘the news’ is one homogeneous organism that is all writing the same thing, that we're all one sentient blob,” he wrote in a Twitter direct message.

    The goal of these types of campaigns is to launder actual hate and threats across social media to convince outsiders that the people being harassed are just weak, overdramatic, or perhaps even deserving of whatever they receive. Collins elaborates:

    The learn to code stuff is not the point for [people on 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board] /pol/. They understand when they brigade specific tweets/journalists telling them to do something benign, in this case tweet "learn to code," people on /pol/ will obviously take it too far and send a picture of ISIS executing a journalist instead. Subversion, and the subversion of that subversion, is the very point of /pol/.

    That's why [the recent campaign] was a perfect storm. Center-right blogs could claim plausible deniability, while writing journalists are soft for not being able to take thousands of "learn to code" messages on the day they were fired. But they understand what /pol/ is. They understand trolling culture and harassment campaigns. They are willfully ignoring the admittedly smaller subset of (but real) threats that are baked into the cake when a campaign like this gets started on the most notorious part of the internet that was built on hate.

    On Twitter, Talia Lavin shared examples of the hateful messages she received mixed in with those  telling her to “learn to code.”

    In response to Ben Shapiro’s dismissal of the campaign, she tweeted, “A lot of the people telling me learn to code were also telling me to jump in an oven, talking about gassing all the kikes and celebrating race war. No matter how much cover you run for fascists, they still hate you, Ben.”

    The generally incredulous response to these recent claims of harassment illustrates just how unwilling and out-of-touch social platforms and a sizable chunk of the media world is when it comes to understanding the way information and harassment travels on the internet.

  • EPA nominee Andrew Wheeler is gaming the media ahead of his confirmation hearing

    Wheeler is looking increasingly like Scott Pruitt in his dealings with the press

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Andrew Wheeler, nominated by President Donald Trump on January 9 to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is increasingly following the aggressive media playbook of his predecessor, Scott Pruitt.

    Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, assumed the role of acting EPA administrator in July, after Pruitt got himself booted. He has continued Pruitt's work of rolling back major environmental regulations, a fact that has been well-reported. Less well-known is that Wheeler has also been following in Pruitt's footsteps in dealing with the press.

    Wheeler's EPA press team attacks journalists and media outlets

    The scandal-prone Pruitt had an extremely contentious relationship with the media. His press office retaliated against specific reporters whose stories it didn't like and even attacked them by name in press releases, among other antagonistic moves.

    When Wheeler took the helm, many reporters looked forward to a change in approach. E&E News published a story about the differences between the two EPA leaders in July under the headline "'Night and day' as Wheeler opens doors to press."

    But in the last few months, the EPA press office has returned to some of the same combative tactics used during the Pruitt era. An October 30 press release was headlined, "EPA Sets the Record Straight After Being Misrepresented in Press." Two days later, it got more aggressive with a press release titled "Fact Checking Seven Falsehoods in CNN’s Report." From an E&E News article published in mid-November:

    The [EPA press shop's] combative approach calmed a bit when acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler took over for Scott Pruitt, who resigned over the summer, but now it appears to be intensifying again.

    The agency's actions have been scrutinized in the press in recent weeks, and the public affairs shop has been hitting back.

    Bobby Magill, president of the Society of Environmental Journalists, said the agency seems to be returning to its war-room-style tactics under Pruitt.

    "It looks to me like they're sort of returning to form," Magill said. "This suggests that they are returning to their previous press strategy under Scott Pruitt."

    Wheeler may start feeling even more antagonistic toward the press in the coming months. On December 26, a federal judge ordered the EPA to release roughly 20,000 emails exchanged between industry groups and high-level political appointees at the agency, including Wheeler, after the Sierra Club sued to gain access to the records under the Freedom of Information Act. Similar records requests from the Sierra Club during Pruitt's tenure helped lead to his forced resignation; the group made the emails available to reporters, which led to the publication of many embarrassing articles about Pruitt.

    Wheeler favors right-wing media for his televised interviews

    Pruitt heavily favored Fox News and other right-wing media outlets, giving them far more interviews than mainstream news organizations.

    Wheeler exhibits similar preferences. All four of the TV interviews we've seen him give since becoming acting administrator at the EPA have been with right-wing outlets.

    The first went to the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group. Boris Epshteyn, Sinclair's chief political analyst and a former Trump aide, asked no hard questions and gave Wheeler a platform to make specious claims about automobile fuel economy. Wheeler's second TV interview was with Fox News, the third was with the Fox Business Network, and the fourth went to a Sinclair national correspondent, and those interviewers all went easy on him too.

    Wheeler is getting cozy with the right-wing Daily Caller

    Pruitt and his press office had a remarkably friendly relationship with The Daily Caller, a far-right online publication started by Fox News personality Tucker Carlson, funded by Charles Koch, and sustained through sketchy tax dealings. During Pruitt's tenure, the EPA press office issued a policy statement by sending out a press release that pointed to an interview Pruitt gave to The Daily Caller, while the right-wing outlet frequently defended Pruitt against accusations of wrongdoing, sometimes with "scoops" and "exclusives" based on information that appeared to have been leaked to the outlet by EPA sources.

    Late last year, Wheeler revealed his own affinity for The Daily Caller. After he was criticized for spreading a false attack on the National Climate Assessment, a major government report on climate change, the EPA issued a press release that tried to defend Wheeler by directly citing a Daily Caller article. For its part, The Daily Caller regularly publishes articles defending Wheeler and the actions of his EPA.

    Wheeler embraces right-wing outlets and slams mainstream media via his Twitter account

    Like his predecessor, Wheeler has a fondness for right-wing media outlets and personalities, but he has exhibited that preference in a way that Pruitt never did -- via his personal Twitter account. Or at least he did until a few weeks ago, when Wheeler protected his account to hide his tweets from the public. (Wheeler still has a publicly viewable official Twitter account.) But journalists and activists had made note of many of the controversial tweets from his personal account before he deleted individual ones and then made the whole account private.

    The Daily Beast reported last year on one troubling tweet:

    In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”

    Wheeler has amplified at least two tweets from Fox News' Brit Hume that bashed major newspapers. In December, Wheeler "liked" a Hume tweet that linked to a Wall Street Journal editorial criticizing The Washington Post for alleged anti-Trump bias. In October, he retweeted another Hume tweet that criticized The New York Times and linked to an article in the conservative National Review.

    Wheeler has also "liked" a number of tweets from other right-wing figures who criticized mainstream media outlets, including:

    • a Donald Trump Jr. tweet linking to The Daily Caller and mocking CNN
    • a tweet from frequent Fox guest and former NRATV host Dan Bongino that slammed MSNBC
    • a tweet from libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that bashed HuffPost

    Wheeler promotes climate denial and racist memes via his Twitter account

    Like Pruitt, Wheeler also casts doubt on well-established climate science -- another view he has expressed through his Twitter account.

    In a 2015 tweet, Wheeler praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'” The essay criticized mainstream media outlets and scientific journals that have reported on climate change:

    Of course, we don’t have good data or sound arguments for decarbonizing our energy supply. But it sounds like we do. If you read Scientific American, Science, Nature, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and you take them at face value, you would have to agree that there is a strong likelihood that serious climate change is real and that decarbonization or geo-engineering are our only hopes. ... These are the people promoting a myth that has become deeply ingrained in our society.

    In 2011, Wheeler tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA." Wheeler also retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at HuffPost founder Arianna Huffington. And in 2009, Wheeler sent two tweets linking to climate-denying blog posts.

    HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman has reported on how Wheeler used his social media accounts to endorse or promote other unsavory views:

    [Wheeler] repeatedly engaged with incendiary, partisan content on his personal Facebook and Twitter accounts over the past five years. The online activity included liking a racist image of former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on Facebook and retweeting an infamous “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist.

    Wheeler is turning back to major mainstream newspapers as he faces confirmation hearing

    Though Wheeler has shown a preference for right-wing media in TV interviews and on Twitter, he has also given a number of interviews to mainstream newspapers, wire services, and D.C. publications. In July, after it was announced that he would serve as acting EPA administrator, Wheeler gave interviews to The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today, and The New York Times.

    The pace of his interviews with print outlets slowed down after his first month in office, but then ramped back up in November around the time that Trump announced his intention to nominate Wheeler to permanently fill the top EPA spot. On November 16, Wheeler gave another interview to The New York Times, and then two weeks later sat for a live-streamed interview with The Washington Post. In December, he gave another interview to The Wall Street Journal and then one to The Hill.

    Granting interviews to major newspapers seems to be part of Wheeler's strategy to paint himself with a gloss of mainstream respectability before his Senate confirmation hearing, which is scheduled for January 16. Meanwhile, some of his more partisan views are now out of sight in that locked Twitter account, including insults lobbed at those very same newspapers. 

  • What you need to know about EPA nominee Andrew Wheeler and the media

    Wheeler mimics Scott Pruitt's press strategy ahead of his Senate confirmation hearings

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Note: An updated version of this post was published here on January 10, 2019. 

    Andrew Wheeler, President Donald Trump's soon-to-be nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is more like his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, than most people realize -- particularly when it comes to his interactions with the media.

    It's well-known that Wheeler, who took over as acting administrator of the EPA after Pruitt resigned in July, has continued Pruitt's work of rolling back major environmental regulations. That was no surprise; Wheeler formerly worked as a lobbyist for coal, natural gas, chemical, and utility companies, and as an aide to Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the Senate's most recalcitrant climate denier.

    Wheeler does, however, have a reputation as a more behind-the-scenes, businesslike administrator than the scandal-plagued Pruitt. New York Times reporter Lisa Friedman recently described the acting EPA chief as having a "low-key, under-the-radar style, even as he has worked diligently and methodically to advance Mr. Trump’s deregulatory agenda."

    But Wheeler is now following in Pruitt's footsteps in many of his dealings with journalists and the press.

    Wheeler's EPA press office attacks journalists and media outlets

    Pruitt had a remarkably contentious relationship with the media. His press office retaliated against specific reporters whose stories it didn't like and attacked them by name in press releases, among other aggressive moves.

    When Wheeler took over, many reporters noticed and welcomed a change in approach. E&E News published a story about the differences in July under the headline "'Night and day' as Wheeler opens doors to press."

    But in recent weeks, the EPA press office has returned to some of the same combative tactics employed during the Pruitt era. On October 30, it published a press release headlined "EPA Sets the Record Straight After Being Misrepresented in Press." Two days later, it got more aggressive with a press release titled "Fact Checking Seven Falsehoods in CNN’s Report."

    From an E&E News article published last week:

    The [EPA press shop's] combative approach calmed a bit when acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler took over for Scott Pruitt, who resigned over the summer, but now it appears to be intensifying again.

    ...

    The agency's actions have been scrutinized in the press in recent weeks, and the public affairs shop has been hitting back.

    ...

    Bobby Magill, president of the Society of Environmental Journalists, said the agency seems to be returning to its war-room-style tactics under Pruitt.

    "It looks to me like they're sort of returning to form," Magill said. "This suggests that they are returning to their previous press strategy under Scott Pruitt."

    Wheeler favors right-wing media for his televised interviews

    Pruitt heavily favored Fox News and other right-wing media outlets, giving them far more interviews than mainstream news organizations.

    Wheeler exhibits similar preferences. All four of the TV interviews we've seen him give since becoming acting administrator at the EPA have been with right-wing outlets.

    The first went to the conservative Sinclair TV conglomerate. Boris Epshteyn, Sinclair's chief political analyst and a former Trump aide, asked no hard questions and gave Wheeler a platform to make specious claims about automobile fuel economy. Wheeler's second TV interview was with Fox News, the third was with the Fox Business Network, and the fourth went to a Sinclair national correspondent.

    Wheeler embraces right-wing outlets and bashes mainstream media via his Twitter account

    Like his predecessor, Wheeler has a fondness for right-wing media outlets and personalities, but he's exhibited that in a way that Pruitt never did -- via his personal Twitter account.

    The Daily Beast's Scott Bixby reported earlier this year on one noteworthy example:

    In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”

    Wheeler recently retweeted Fox's Brit Hume when he criticized The New York Times and linked to an article in the conservative National Review. Wheeler has also liked a number of tweets from right-wing figures who criticized mainstream media outlets, including:

    • a Donald Trump Jr. tweet linking to The Daily Caller and mocking CNN
    • a tweet from frequent Fox guest and NRATV host Dan Bongino that slammed MSNBC
    • a tweet from libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that bashed HuffPost

    Wheeler promotes climate denial and racist memes via his Twitter account

    Like Pruitt, Wheeler also casts doubt on well-established climate science -- another view he has expressed through his Twitter account.

    In a 2015 tweet, Wheeler praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'” The essay criticized mainstream media outlets and scientific journals that have reported on climate change:

    Of course, we don’t have good data or sound arguments for decarbonizing our energy supply. But it sounds like we do. If you read Scientific American, Science, Nature, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and you take them at face value, you would have to agree that there is a strong likelihood that serious climate change is real and that decarbonization or geo-engineering are our only hopes. ... These are the people promoting a myth that has become deeply ingrained in our society.

    In 2011, Wheeler tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA." Wheeler also retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at HuffPost founder Arianna Huffington. And in 2009, Wheeler sent two tweets linking to climate-denying blog posts.

    As HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman reported last month, Wheeler has also used his social media accounts to endorse or promote other troubling views:

    Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, repeatedly engaged with inflammatory content on his personal Facebook and Twitter accounts over the past five years, including some in the past month.

    The previously-unreported interactions include liking a racist image of former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama on Facebook and retweeting an infamous “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist.

    Wheeler now turns back to major mainstream newspapers as he faces confirmation fight

    Though Wheeler has shown a preference for right-wing media when he does TV interviews, he has given a number of interviews to mainstream newspapers and wire services. In July, after it was announced that he would serve as acting EPA administrator, Wheeler gave substantive interviews to The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today, and The New York Times.

    The pace of his interviews with print outlets slowed down after his first month in office, but Wheeler now appears to be ramping it back up -- just as he's about to begin the process of trying to earn Senate confirmation.

    On November 16, hours before Trump announced that he would nominate Wheeler to officially fill the top EPA spot, Wheeler sat down for an interview with New York Times reporter Lisa Friedman. And Wheeler is scheduled to do a live-streamed interview with Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin on November 28.

    Wheeler may want to present himself as a mainstream moderate rather than a right-wing partisan as he tries to win over senators, and turning to major mainstream newspapers could be part of his strategy. But that would also present an opportunity for environmental journalists to ask tough questions and push him off his well-rehearsed talking points before confirmation hearings begin. We'll be looking to Eilperin to kick that process off next week.  

  • White supremacists directly linked to pro-Trump media figure Jack Posobiec. Here’s what you need to know about him.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Jack Posobiec, a conspiracy theorist and consummate pro-Trump media figure who often boasts of his access to the White House and other MAGA celebrities, worked as recently as 2017 with white supremacists who advocate for violence. Posobiec has a long record of extremism and ratfucking: He was an outspoken advocate of the “alt-right,” published a book with the help of an “alt-right” figure, and pushed all kinds of smears and misinformation for political gain.

    Posobiec reportedly had links to Jeffrey and Edward Clark, two white supremacist brothers. Jeffrey Clark was arrested by federal authorities in Washington, D.C., for gun charges after relatives contacted authorities about his support for last month’s mass shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue. As reported by HuffPost, Posobiec teamed up with the brothers in 2017 to film documentary footage; a source provided an image of Posobiec alongside the brothers. HuffPost also reported that anti-fascist researcher Laura Sennett said Jeffrey Clark had told her Posobiec both knew of his Nazi beliefs and was sympathetic to them.

    Posobiec is currently a host for One America News Network, a right-wing news outlet that specializes in sycophantic coverage of President Donald Trump and conspiracy theories. He previously worked for far-right Canadian outlet Rebel Media. Posobiec achieved his standing in the MAGA media universe by embracing the “alt-right”​ and its public figures during the 2016 presidential election and, like many other grifters, eventually rebranding as a member of the “New Right” after the extremism of the “alt-right” made associating with it too toxic.

    Despite his continued efforts to sanitize his role in spreading the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, Posobiec repeatedly broadcast to his social media followers and to Infowars audiences the baseless claim that a D.C. pizza restaurant served as a front for a child trafficking ring, showed up at the pizza parlor himself to “investigate,” and then claimed that the arrest of a gunman who also showed up at the pizzeria was a “false flag.”

    Posobiec’s ratfucking record includes spreading forged documents tied to Russia purporting to be then-French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s emails; planting a “Rape Melania” sign at an anti-Trump protest to smear activists; and doxxing one of the women who reported that she was sexually assaulted as a minor by defeated Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. Leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, Posobiec was an administrator in a racist Facebook group that promoted Republican candidates and pushed far-right conspiracy theories.

    He has built his brand by promoting attention-grabbing stunts that masquerade as activism, such as disrupting a theater presentation of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that he deemed to promote political violence, filing a civil rights lawsuit over all-female screenings of Wonder Woman, and trolling a congressional press conference on net neutrality to demand that Democratic senators disavow “satanic” internet pornography. He also gleefully participated in an online harassment campaign that resulted in CNN journalist Andrew Kaczynski receiving death threats.

    Posobiec has ridden every controversy and subsequent media coverage to increase his visibility and online followers. He’s used that branding for political access and promotion of his personal business endeavors, which include his self-congratulatory book about the movement that took Trump to victory, and his most recent book, published with the help of with “alt-right” figure Theodore Beale, who writes under the pseudonym Vox Day. Posobiec promoted this book by linking to Vox Day’s website, a depository of white supremacist grievances.

    Posobiec’s clout in the MAGA social universe has risen high enough to earn him a retweet from Trump himself (when Posobiec wrote an accusatory tweet aimed at the media for focusing too much on the 2017 white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA) and allow him access to the White House. He used temporary White House press credentials in May 2017 to push the debunked conspiracy theory that former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was murdered for leaking DNC emails.

    In his role as OANN correspondent, Posobiec regularly showcases his access to pro-Trump celebrities (including Donald Trump Jr.) and his presence at White House and Trump Hotel social functions. Meanwhile, he’s used his OANN platform to hype smears from the defendant in the Seth Rich lawsuit, as well amplify the wild conspiracy theory known as QAnon, giving virulent far-right troll Microchip a platform and taking his word at face value that he is the anonymous poster known as Q. Microchip is an anonymous and prolific user of Gab -- the social media site known for being “haven for white supremacists” -- where he constantly posts white supremacist grievances and anti-Semitic and racial slurs and invites followers to “fuck shit up” legally by pushing and spreading the misinformation campaign QAnon.

    It is clear that Posobiec’s history of extremism, peddling of conspiracy theories, and ties to white supremacists are not a problem for the network that employs him, nor for the pro-Trump universe that has enabled his professional career. In that universe, misinformation and extremism are not deal breakers. They’re assets.

  • Right-wing media and Trump Jr. peddle debunked, years-old story about illegal voters in Florida

    And one fact-checker explains what she did to fight back.

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Is it true that “nearly 200,000 Florida voters may not be citizens?” No, but that didn’t stop some prominent conservative social media accounts -- including that of the president’s son -- from spreading a since-debunked 2012 story making that claim.

    To understand how this happened, it’s good to know a little background about Florida’s brush with “anti-fraud” initiatives in recent years.

    In May 2012, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced a partnership between the Florida Department of State and Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to remove possible noncitizens from the state’s voter rolls ahead of that year’s election. The departments would cross-check data with each other for voter inconsistencies, flag them, and send them to the state’s Supervisors of Elections for review and, if needed, removal of registrations.

    It was a massive debacle. What began as a review of roughly 2,600 possible inconsistencies at the time the partnership was announced had ballooned to nearly 182,000 names within days. That’s when NBC Miami ran with the somewhat sensational headline “Nearly 200,000 Florida Voters May Not Be Citizens.”

    But the system was embarrassingly rife with false positives, leading to a lawsuit over the disenfranchisement of U.S. citizens who were removed but actually eligible to vote. In the end, out of those 182,000 names, just 85 were found to be ineligible -- an error rate of 99.95 percent. The following year, the state enrolled in Crosscheck, the interstate anti-fraud program championed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Similar to the results of Florida’s 2012 in-state program, Kobach’s Crosscheck program also “gets it wrong over 99 percent of the time,” a Washington Post analysis concluded. In April 2014, Florida exited the Crosscheck program, only to later accidentally release the partial Social Security numbers of nearly 1,000 Kansas voters

    In all, the “nearly 200,000 Florida voters may not be citizens” story turned out to be just 85 ineligible voter registrations. But why let the truth get in the way of a good story?

    This week, as conservative media push the unfounded idea that the current election in Florida is being “stolen,” this old story that confirmed all their worst fears seemed too good to be true: And it was.

    We know by now that most people simply don’t read past the headline of stories they see in their social media feeds. And headlines suggesting that there are an equivalent number of noncitizens voting illegally in Florida as there are people living in Tallahassee are eye-catching. That would be outrageous to people on any end of the political spectrum. But even based on the facts known at the time, the story wasn’t quite accurate.

    Rounding “nearly 182,000” up to “nearly 200,000” is a needless inflation of even the most sensationalized true version of the story, and saying “voters might not be citizens” suggests that these people have actually voted -- when the numbers actually refer to voter registrations. Both points probably could have been more artfully and accurately addressed in the original headline. Also, the word “might” is doing a lot of work here.

    It’s those small embellishments that made the story perfect for the era of weaponized headlines.

    The NBC headline, as some might say, aged poorly. And here’s how it spread:

    On November 10, the link was shared in a number of pro-Trump Facebook groups. On Twitter, the story got a boost from Instapundit, a conservative account which has more than 105,000 followers:

    A bit later, David Wohl, attorney and occasional Fox News guest, shared it on Twitter to his more than 26,000 followers.

    By the next day, commentator and conspiracy theorist Pamela Geller had published a blog post, in which she put the entire text of the NBC report, swapping out the article’s actual publication date (May 11, 2012) with November 10, 2018.

    Harlan Hill, a member of the Trump 2020 campaign advisory board, tweeted, “200,000 non citizens voting in Florida!?!? But I thought Democrats said voter fraud was a myth? We have got a SERIOUS problem on our hands. #StopTheSteal #MAGA”

    Then, in a since-deleted tweet, Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk wrote, “This is an absolute disgrace to our country. Foreign interference in our elections. Every single one of these people should be arrested, deported, and never allowed reentry. RT to spread this!”

    And finally, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted the link out, adding, “Amazing, but not shocking at all anymore.”

    Townhall.com also published a story on the topic that, while updated, still maintains that “200,000 non-citizens might have voted in the state's elections” in 2012.

    While it’s hard to put the #FakeNews (like, you know, actual fake news) toothpaste back in the proverbial tube, one woman tried, and she was actually kind of successful at it.

    Brooke Binkowski is a former managing editor at Snopes, and she currently runs the fact-checking site TruthOrFiction.com. When she saw the post begin to spread, she took quick action. First, she tweeted at people who might have known the article was old and didn’t accurately represent how that story concluded but shared it anyway “for approval and to fit in,” hoping to convince them to delete their posts and stem the spread of misinformation.

    “That headline hijacks intellect and goes straight to the amygdala if you’re fearful,” she tells me over a Twitter direct message. “‘Oh no! 200,000 non citizens trying to STEAL OUR ELECTION! they're gonna turn this country into a banana republic!’ and whatever else people think when they're too busy to click on the story.”

    When that didn’t work, she called the NBC station that ran the original story in hopes of getting the staff to update the article to reflect that it isn’t a current story. She explained the situation as best as she could, asking the station to add “STORY FROM 2012:” in the headline so it would show up in shares across social media.

    “Clickbait is one thing, but when you are actively interfering in what should be an open electoral process -- as I said in my email to them -- that’s quite another,” she adds. She continued:

    People don't realize how much damage buffoons like Jacob Wohl and Gateway Pundit and Donald Trump Jr. and all the rest of those people can do. They push this completely idiotic stuff and then it gets laundered by bots and turned into a story that's used to influence policy. It's now crystal clear that's what they are doing and that it is semi-coordinated, that there's a network of people who are pushing all this information to make it seem respectable, and they are mixing a little tiny bit of truth in to make it seem plausible.

    NBC Miami did end up updating the headline, adding “2012 Election:” at the very beginning. It also added an editor’s note at the top of the article:

    Editor’s note on Nov. 12, 2018: This story was published in May 2012.

    The initial list of 180,000 names was whittled to 2,625, according to the Florida Department of State. The state then checked a federal database and stated it found 207 noncitizens on the rolls (not necessarily voting but on the rolls). That list was sent to county election supervisors to check and it also turned out to contain errors. An Aug. 1, 2012, state elections document showed only 85 noncitizens were ultimately removed from the rolls out of a total of about 12 million voters at that time.

    While the story continues to be shared on social media as fresh news, the updated headline and editor’s note do seem to have had the effect of cooling its spread among influencers. Plus, the added context, including the disparity between “nearly 200,000” figure and the actual total of 85, has given people a way to quickly understand the facts of a somewhat complicated local story.

    Binkowski stresses that it’s important to understand that there are a lot of people who simply are not making statements or arguments in good faith. “If you are a news person, please be aware of this cycle and your massive responsibility. If you are a news executive, please pay your journalists a living wage,” she said, noting that “they are up against something new and nightmarish and trying to inoculate the world against it and could use all the support they can get.”

  • The perfectly incoherent Trumpism of Charlie Kirk's Campus Battlefield

    Does Charlie Kirk hate safe spaces or love them? Depends.

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    It's ridiculous that I even have to write this review. Campus Battlefield: How Conservatives Can Win the Battle on Campus and Why It Matters, by Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk: Why does anyone have to know anything about this book, or about Charlie Kirk? What hideously twisted nightmare reality are we inhabiting in which Kirk -- one of countless opportunistic grifters parasitically leeching money from the conservative movement’s diseased, distended pre-corpse -- is a figure of relevance?

    The answer to these questions can be found in the foreword to Campus Battlefield, which was provided by Donald Trump Jr. “The more time I spent with Charlie Kirk and the more I learned about Turning Point USA, the more I realized there was something unique that we were missing,” Trump Jr. writes of his time on the 2016 campaign trail with the author before exhorting readers to “support Turning Point USA.” Kirk is a friend of the first family and an ally of the president, which gets him on TV and grants him access to dark-money billionaires.

    And so here I am, stuck with the grim task of reading and reviewing Campus Battlefield, which isn’t so much a “book” as it is an advertisement for Kirk’s organization and an artless distillation of the aggressive grievance politics that define Trumpism.

    Much like the president Kirk glorifies, Campus Battlefield is a sloppy and incoherent mess. It valorizes a gauzy ideal of academia -- “colleges are supposed to be a place (sic) of discourse, characterized by thoughtful debate, a search for knowledge, and civility” -- while also casting lazy, haphazard, and atrociously written allegations of academic perfidy. “The Classics, which have survived for centuries because of their enduring relevance, have been pushed aside by the proposition that they are little more than the narrow-minded, racist, misogynist, homophobic ramblings of old white men,” Kirk complains, citing nothing in evidence. “A smug liberal elite has trashed them, arrogantly presuming to know better and smart enough (sic) to create an entirely new explanation of everything.”

    Campus Battlefield is also very difficult to read, given that the text is broken up in random places by quotes of Charlie Kirk’s tweets. Chapter 4 features a self-serving appropriation of counterculture activist Mario Savio’s legacy, which is inexplicably interrupted by an April 2018 Kirk tweet about how “Affirmative action is a racist program.” At one point Kirk quotes himself quoting George Orwell:

    Jamming these tweets into the text is one of several strategies Kirk uses to pad out the book without producing any original content; it also features extensive block quotes of sources and copy-and-pasted material from websites Kirk’s organization operates.

    The general thrust of Campus Battlefield is that the university system is overrun by liberal professors and activists who persecute conservative students. This argument is based on the eager conflation of “professors are liberal” and “professors are indoctrinating students with liberalism.” For Kirk, it’s sufficient to point an accusatory finger at a select group of college professors and denounce them as radicals. The reader is then supposed to arrive on their own steam at the conclusion that professors who espouse leftist viewpoints are propagandizing in the service of Marxism, enforcing rigid conformity of thought, and punishing conservative students for thoughtcrimes. (A conservative academic whose research Kirk cites in the book wrote in 2012 that while “the Right faces special challenges in higher education, our research offers little evidence that conservative students or faculty are the victims of widespread ideological persecution.”)

    Kirk argues that rampant leftism has perverted colleges and universities, which he says should be “safe places for the teaching and expression of all ideas, not just those endorsed by the liberal curia.”

    That’s a lofty ideal, and Kirk’s aspiration to it is outright bullshit. On the one hand, Kirk demands completely open debate of all ideas. On the other, Kirk and his group maintain the Professor Watchlist -- a website that functions as a sort of blacklist for left-wing professors whose ideas Kirk (and his donors) have deemed too “radical.” The statement of purpose for the Professor Watchlist embodies these two warring ideas and makes no effort to reconcile them:

    TPUSA will continue to fight for free speech and the right for professors to say whatever they wish; however students, parents, and alumni deserve to know the specific incidents and names of professors that advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.

    Much of Chapter 3 is devoted to naming and shaming these “radical” professors with copy-and-pasted entries from the Professor Watchlist website. The criteria for inclusion is comically low; one Michigan State professor qualified as radical because she “taught students how to argue with conservatives about issues such as illegal immigration, refugees, and the Dakota Access pipeline when they go home for Thanksgiving.” Professors on the list have reportedly faced harassment and death threats.

    A similarly dissonant take on “safe spaces” drives much of Kirk’s griping. He spends considerable energy mocking liberal students for their “desperate need for campus safe spaces” and derides the idea that words can cause hurt. “Words have become sticks and stones,” he writes. “Colleges have morphed from places of higher learning into playgrounds where name-calling sends children home crying.”

    However, for conservative students, the safeguarding of feelings and protection against name-calling are of paramount importance. Liberals can “call conservatives anything they want. Without criticism. Without penalty. Without rebuke, official or otherwise,” Kirk complains. “Fascist! Bigot! Homophobe! Racist! Birther! Misogynist! Wingnut! Oh, and let’s not forget: Deplorable!” In one paragraph he’ll chide overly sensitive liberals, and in the next he’ll solemnly relive the martyrdom of insulted conservative students.

    “Conservatives don’t live in a liberal fantasy world where they are taken care of by cadres of compassionate folks who feel their hurt,” he writes. Feeling the “hurt” of conservatives students, however, is the reason for Turning Point USA’s existence, and Kirk wants readers to know that he feels that hurt. “Are you a closet conservative? When you walk into the first day of class, do you wonder if the teacher will ridicule you in front of the class if you express your conservative views?” he writes. “This is beyond unfair. It is dangerous.”

    This is why the Trump family loves Kirk; he and his book are pure expressions of Trumpist politics. He leans intensely on white grievance while mocking the plights of minorities (one chapter is titled “Black Victimization Bunco”); he demands the in-group (conservative students) receive protection and status (“safe spaces,” unchallenged expression of any idea) while also demanding that protection and status be denied to out-groups (liberals, minorities); and he makes zero effort to reconcile these contradictions while substituting aggressive combativeness for substantive heft. It’s a simple trick: posture as an alpha tough guy, but when the slightest offense arises, performatively howl like a whipped dog.

    In that spirit of bad-faith victimhood, I am obligated to close my review of this tome on the dangers of suffocating the free exchange of ideas by highlighting the plight of someone whose lust for lively debate has been cruelly quashed by Charlie Kirk: me.

    Earlier this year, Kirk tweeted that a California school has a “graphic mural depicting the President being killed by an Aztec warrior” and warned: “The left no longer just hates Trump. They want him dead.” I was incredulous both at the suggestion that a school mural represented “the left” and at Kirk’s affected outrage, so in the spirit of debate I tweeted back that he’d “strap[ped] on a metaphorical diaper.”

    For this, I was blocked by Kirk.

    How ironic that Kirk, who loves idea-based discourse so much, was scared to debate whether his tweet cowering before the menace of some wall art in California was the figurative equivalent of shitting his own pants. My argument was rooted in fact: One of Turning Point USA’s more famous stunts involved its activists protesting “safe spaces” by wearing adult diapers. How can it be beyond the bounds of discourse to impute this diaper-centric mode of thinking to Kirk when he held up one school’s mural painting as representative of “the left?”

    Maybe Kirk silenced me because the organization reportedly believes the diaper fiasco is “not funny” and is frustrated that “every time Charlie [Kirk] tweets they tweet back pictures of him in a diaper.”

    They are wrong. It is very funny.

    And guess what? Free discourse is supposed to be difficult. How can Charlie Kirk expect to function in the Hobbesian carnage of the marketplace of ideas if he can’t handle it when I confront him with the mainstream viewpoint that he is -- metaphorically, at least -- a diaper lad? Alas, Kirk was triggered by my ideas and swaddled himself in a safe space where he wouldn’t be exposed to new, uncomfortable truths.

  • This far-right online campaign has found an ally in the Trump administration

    By lobbying on behalf of the British anti-Muslim troll Tommy Robinson, the Trump administration is carrying water for the international far-right

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After months of relentless online (and occasional offline) hysteria, the far-right campaign #FreeTommy has found an ally in the administration of President Donald Trump. According to reports, Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom, lobbied Britain’s ambassador to the United States on behalf of the British anti-Muslim troll known as Tommy Robinson. Robinson is imprisoned in the United Kingdom after pleading guilty for contempt of court for disrupting a trial.

    As documented by Hope not hate, an organization that combats far-right extremism, Robinson was arrested for “breach of the peace” while he livestreamed about an ongoing case outside Leeds Crown Court in Britain. By livestreaming and sharing information regarding the case, Robinson violated restrictions on reporting about the case, a common legal practice in the U.K. to ensure that members of the jury aren’t influenced by media pressure or outside information. He pleaded guilty, and his legal representative said Robinson had “deep regret” for what he had done, but many in the online far-right ecosystem have painted him as a free speech martyr through the #FreeTommy online campaign and its offline, sometimes-violent demonstrations.

    By lobbying for his freedom, the administration is putting its weight behind a troll whose prominence derives from his extremist anti-Muslim rhetoric. Robinson, whose actual name Hope not hate reports as Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, is the co-founder of the anti-Muslim English Defense League (EDL), which he built “into the premier street protest group within the far right.” While addressing an EDL audience in 2011, he blamed “every single Muslim watching this video on YouTube” for theJuly 7, 2005, bombings in London, saying, “You got away with killing and maiming British citizens.” A 2013 guest appearance on Fox’s now-defunct show The O’Reilly Factor shows how American right-wing media helped elevate his extremist rhetoric; Robinson claimed on the air that “Islam is not a religion of peace. It never has been, and it never will be.”

    Robinson was once refused entry into the U.S., but he still traveled to the country in 2013 on a friend’s passport. The stunt got him banned from the country. Twitter has also permanently banned Robinson from its platform for reportedly violating its “hateful conduct” policy.

    Before the Trump administration picked up Robinson’s case, the #FreeTommy campaign found acolytes among the American MAGA universe and far-right conspiracy theorists. Alex Jones of conspiracy theory outlet Infowars (which has hosted Robinson as a guest on different occasions) has mischaracterized Robinson as a “political prisoner”; Lucian Wintrich, White House correspondent for the right-wing site The Gateway Pundit, which struggles with getting things right, warned that what happened to Robinson was “what is coming to the United States,” a take similar to that of opportunistic right-wing troll Mike Cernovich. The president’s son Donald Trump Jr. once again displayed his well-documented love for the far-right internet trolls by commenting on Robinson’s situation. Fox host Tucker Carlson hosted anti-Muslim troll Katie Hopkins on his show to advocate for Robinson:

    The developments surrounding the #FreeTommy campaign are illustrative of two notable points: American right-wing media and their prominent online personalities provide a built-in amplification network for the messaging of the international far-right, and the Trump administration is extremely susceptible to its narratives.

    Robinson’s rhetoric reportedly inspired a man to commit an anti-Muslim terror attack in Finsbury Park, London, that left one person dead and 10 others wounded in June 2017.

  • New EPA chief Andrew Wheeler has a fondness for right-wing media and climate-denier blogs

    But will he be as combative toward the mainstream press as Scott Pruitt was?

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Scott Pruitt, ousted administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), had cozy relationships with right-wing media outlets and combative relationships with the mainstream press. Andrew Wheeler, who's stepped in as acting administrator, has also shown a fondness for right-wing media and signs of disdain toward some mainstream media. But Wheeler has not interacted with the press in the same hostile and tribal ways that Pruitt did. Will Wheeler's approach to the media shift now that he's at the helm at EPA?

    On the topic of climate change, it’s easier to predict whether Wheeler will change course: probably not. Like Pruitt, Wheeler has long been skeptical of climate science and climate action, as evidenced not just by Wheeler’s public statements but also by his Twitter account. He has tweeted out links to climate-denying blog posts, including one post that declared, “There is no such thing as ‘carbon pollution.’”

    Pruitt leaned heavily on right-wing media

    Throughout his tenure at the EPA, Pruitt made heavy use of right-wing media outlets to spread his preferred talking points and fight back against media coverage he didn't like. During his first year, Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as all other major TV networks combined, Media Matters found, and Fox was less likely than other networks to cover Pruitt's scandals. Pruitt was also a frequent guest on national right-wing talk-radio shows, where he received soft treatment.

    After Pruitt got unexpectedly tough questions during an April interview with Fox's Ed Henry, he retreated to right-wing outlets that were even more likely to give him good press, giving interviews to the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Washington Free Beacon, and a Mississippi talk-radio show.

    Pruitt cultivated a particularly cozy relationship with right-wing outlet The Daily Caller, giving the site exclusive quotes and information. The Daily Caller in turn repeatedly defended Pruitt against scandals and attacked people who released damaging information about him. Even after Pruitt resigned, The Daily Caller continued to act as his attack dog, publishing pieces with headlines including "Source: A torrent of negative press ended Scott Pruitt's career at EPA" and "Jilted former EPA aide with sordid history takes full credit for Pruitt's resignation."

    Pruitt attacked and stymied mainstream media outlets

    Under Pruitt, the EPA press office repeatedly attacked, stymied, and manipulated reporters at mainstream news outlets, as Media Matters documented. The agency refused to release basic information about its activities, blocked journalists from attending official agency events, favored reporters who would provide positive coverage, and publicly insulted and retaliated against reporters and outlets whose coverage officials didn't like.

    One of many such attacks came in September, when the EPA sent out a press release that personally maligned Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker, accusing him of having "a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story." Another attack happened in June of 2018, when EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox called an Atlantic reporter "a piece of trash” after she asked for comment on one of Pruitt's aides resigning. 

    Pruitt appeared to attack the media on his way out the door, too. His resignation letter blamed "unprecedented" and "unrelenting attacks" on him.

    Wheeler liked tweets from right-wing media figures, defended Milo Yiannopoulos

    Wheeler, for his part, has also demonstrated an affinity for right-wing media figures and outlets, but he's done it in a different way -- via his personal Twitter account. He has "liked" many tweets by conservative media figures, including ones that criticize mainstream or liberal media outlets.

    Wheeler "liked" a July 3 tweet by Donald Trump Jr. that linked to a Daily Caller post lauding Fox News's high ratings and mocking CNN's lower ones:

    He "liked" a June 11 tweet by NRATV host and Fox regular Dan Bongino that bashed MSNBC:

    Wheeler "liked" a June 1 tweet by libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that criticized a HuffPost story: "HuffPo isn’t a place of journalism, it’s a place of Far Left activism." (Media Matters rebutted the misleading claims of right-wing figures who criticized the story.)

    He "liked" a May 22 tweet by NRATV host and NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch that knocked Planned Parenthood.

    He "liked" an April 3 tweet by conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel that inaccurately claimed Obama EPA officials spent as much on travel as Pruitt did.

    He "liked" a January 6 tweet by Fox News personality Brit Hume that mocked Al Gore.

    Wheeler has "liked" tweets from frequent Fox News guests Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens of the conservative group Turning Point USA, including this one:

    According to Daily Beast reporter Scott Bixby, in 2016 Wheeler tweeted out a conspiracy theorist's video that defended Milo Yiannopoulos, an alt-right troll and former Breitbart editor, but Wheeler later deleted the tweet:

    In August 2016, Wheeler publicly defended alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous after the latter was banned from Twitter for encouraging users to harass actress Leslie Jones. In a now-deleted tweet, the lobbyist linked to a six-minute video, “The Truth About Milo,” produced by InfoWars editor-at-large and noted conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, in which Watson posited that conservatives might be “banned from using the internet altogether if they trigger your butthurt.”

    Since being named acting head of the EPA last week, Wheeler appears to have deleted 12 more tweets from his feed.

    Wheeler tweeted links to climate-denier blog posts

    While EPA watchers have predicted that Wheeler is likely to differ from Pruitt in his demeanor, Wheeler has displayed the same attitude as Pruitt toward climate change.

    In 2011, when Wheeler was a lobbyist for the Murray Energy coal company, he tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA."

    Wheeler retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington and highlighted projections about India's rising coal use.

    In 2009, Wheeler sent a tweeted promoting a climate-denying blog post published on the conservative American Thinker site:

    On at least two occasions, Wheeler has tweeted links to posts on RealClearPolitics that questioned the science of climate change. A tweet in 2009 linked to a post titled "A Reason To Be Skeptical," and the tweet included the hashtag #capandtax, a conservative smear against cap-and-trade policies. The piece he linked to, which also appeared in The Denver Post, promoted “Climategate,” a bogus, manufactured scandal in which conservatives claimed that hacked emails showed climate scientists were fabricating evidence of warming temperatures. 

    And a tweet in 2015 praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'”

    This piece, which Wheeler called "great," largely dismissed climate science and criticized the media outlets and peer-reviewed journals that regularly report on climate change:

    Of course, we don’t have good data or sound arguments for decarbonizing our energy supply. But it sounds like we do. If you read Scientific American, Science, Nature, National Geographic, the New York Times, the Washington Post, or any of thousands of newspapers and magazines, and you take them at face value, you would have to agree that there is a strong likelihood that serious climate change is real and that decarbonization or geo-engineering are our only hopes.

    Wheeler gives interviews and quotes primarily to mainstream outlets

    Though Wheeler's Twitter account seems to show a preference for right-wing outlets, he does not exhibit the same ideological bias when he gives interviews or quotes to media. Most of the interviews he's given during his career in Washington, D.C., have been to mainstream outlets.

    Media Matters has identified eight interviews Wheeler has granted to media outlets since October 5, 2017, when President Donald Trump nominated him to serve as deputy administrator of the EPA:

    During his years as a lobbyist from 2009 to 2017 -- when he worked for coal, nuclear, chemical, and utility companies, among others -- he was quoted at least eight times by E&E News, a subscription-based news organization aimed at professionals working in the energy and environment fields, and he sat for one video interview with E&E. He also gave quotes at least twice to another inside-the-beltway news organization, Politico, as well as to The New York Times and FoxNews.com.

    From 1995 to 2008, when Wheeler worked for Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), he gave at least four more video interviews to E&E News. He was also quoted in a Washington Post article in 2008.

    Right-wing media are already leaping to Wheeler's defense

    Whether on not Wheeler starts giving interviews or information to right-wing outlets, right-wing outlets are likely to defend him against criticism. They've already started.

    The Daily Caller, which had a tight-knit relationship with Pruitt and his press office, published a story on July 5 titled "Pruitt has been gone for less than a day and his replacement is already getting attacked." And Breitbart ran a piece on July 5 that quoted conservatives praising Wheeler and argued that "the media is already attacking him in much the same relentless fashion it did Pruitt."

    What's next for Wheeler and the EPA press office?

    It's not surprising that Wheeler gave quotes and interviews primarily to mainstream and inside-the-beltway publications while he was working for Inhofe and representing his lobbying clients. He was trying to reach influencers and mold public opinion.

    In contrast, Pruitt, who has been rumored to be plotting a run for Oklahoma governor or senator, has spent his time in D.C. trying to raise his profile and burnish his image with GOP donors and the conservative base of the Republican Party. He often turned to highly partisan right-wing outlets to achieve those ends.

    Now that Wheeler is the boss setting the agenda and determining strategy, will he continue his conventional approach of talking to mainstream media, or will he follow Pruitt's recent example and turn primarily to highly partisan right-wing outlets like Fox News and The Daily Caller? And under Wheeler's leadership, will the EPA's press office treat reporters more professionally than it did under Pruitt, or will it continue to be highly combative with the media?

    In the few days since Wheeler was announced as interim EPA chief on July 5, he seems to have taken a more traditional and conciliatory approach. He's given two substantive interviews to major newspapers, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. And according to Politico, Wheeler will be taking a different approach from Pruitt in terms of dealing with the press: "Wheeler will announce where he is speaking or traveling in advance, he will publish his full calendars 'frequently,' without litigation from groups pursuing public records, and he and other top political appointees will hold briefings for the media on major policy announcements."

    But even if the media approach changes, the policy approach won't. "EPA's agenda remains largely unchanged," Politico continued. "Wheeler will still pursue much the same policy platform — fighting the courts to roll back a slate of Obama-era regulations on climate change, air pollution, stream protection and more."

    Ted MacDonald, Evlondo Cooper, and Kevin Kalhoefer contributed research to this post.