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  • 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

    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.

  • Sinclair’s Boris Epshteyn laughably claims that Donald Trump Jr. “is the farthest thing from a racist or anti-Semite”

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In his latest defense of everything Trump, Sinclair Broadcast Group chief political analyst Boris Epshteyn claimed that Donald Trump Jr. “is the farthest thing from a racist or anti-semite” after the president’s son retweeted an anti-Semitic claim by comedian Roseanne Barr. Trump Jr. has promoted bigoted material online, given a radio interview to a white nationalist and anti-Semite, and retweeted a leading anti-Semitic writer.

    Epshteyn is a former aide to President Donald Trump who now hosts “must-run” commentary segments that air on local news broadcasts on Sinclair-owned or -operated stations across the country. His tenure at the White House was brief and rocky.

    His body of work at the White House included a statement he helped write commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day that “set off a furor because it excluded any mention of Jews.” (The White House defended itself by stating -- in a reference to Epshteyn -- that the message was written “with the help of an individual who is both Jewish and the descendent of Holocaust survivors.”) He also gained, as Politico reported, a reputation at all three cable news networks “as someone who is combative and sometimes difficult to work with, even when he arrives at studios as a guest of a network. He has offended people in green rooms with comments they have interpreted as racially insensitive and demeaning.”

    Epshteyn’s analysis at Sinclair has been vapid and serves as little more than pro-Trump propaganda.  

    On May 29, Epshteyn defended Donald Trump Jr. after he retweeted Barr’s false smear that philanthropist (and prior Media Matters donor) George Soros “is a nazi who turned in his fellow Jews 2 be murdered.” That claim from Barr, who is Jewish, has long been part of an anti-Semitic smear campaign against Soros.

    The New York Post’s gossip section Page Six wrote up Trump Jr.’s retweets with the headline “Donald Trump Jr. retweeted Roseanne Barr’s racist tweets.” Trump Jr. responded by claiming, “They know full well that I did not RT anything that was anti-semitic, but I guess facts don’t matter when you’re a dishonest, clickbait rag.” Epshteyn responded by tweeting that Trump Jr. is “the farthest thing” from a racist or an anti-Semite:

    But in reality, Trump Jr. has, as Vox.com’s Libby Nelson put it, “a white supremacist problem.”

    In March 2016, Trump Jr. gave an interview to James Edwards, a white nationalist and anti-Semite. The interview aired on the Liberty RoundTable, which is hosted by Edwards’ syndicator, Sam Bushman. Edwards appeared on the program as a guest and questioner. During that interview, Trump Jr. agreed with Edwards that the media is "the enforcer of political correctness."

    In August 2016, Trump Jr. retweeted anti-Semitic writer Kevin MacDonald, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has described as “the neo-Nazi movement's favorite academic.” According to SPLC, “MacDonald published a trilogy that supposedly ‘proves’ that Jews are genetically driven to destroy Western societies.”

    In September 2016, as The Washington Post noted, Trump Jr. posted an image celebrating “Pepe the Frog, a symbol that has been co-opted by white supremacists and nationalists.”

    In September 2016, Trump Jr. told a radio program that the media had been letting then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton “slide” on everything and “if Republicans were doing that, they'd be warming up the gas chamber right now.” The Anti-Defamation League criticized Trump Jr. for his “trivialization of the Holocaust and gas chambers” (Trump Jr. claimed he was referring to capital punishment).

    In September 2016, as Talking Points Memo wrote, “Trump Jr. borrowed an analogy popular among anti-immigrant activists and white nationalists for his meme likening Syrian refugees to poisoned Skittles.”

    Unsurprisingly, neo-Nazis hailed Trump Jr. during the campaign for his efforts.

    Following the campaign, Trump Jr. has continued to embrace the far-right.

  • Roseanne has been channeling 4chan's racism, anti-Semitism, and conspiracy theories on Twitter

    On 4chan, users call her "our girl." She tweets screenshots of content from the message board

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Roseanne Barr, star of the now-canceled ABC sitcom Roseanne and prominent supporter of President Donald Trump, took to Twitter on Monday to make the racist suggestion that Valerie Jarrett, former adviser of President Barack Obama, was a product of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Planet of the Apes. Her tweet prompted celebrations among right-wing trolls, in part because she has become a useful amplifier of the extremism, conspiracy theorizing, and racism that can be found in certain online platforms.

    After receiving criticism on Twitter, Barr tried the defense right-wing media figures often attempt following racist remarks: claiming it was a joke. When that didn’t stop the backlash, Barr attempted another apology:

    However, the apology feels empty, not only because Barr has tweeted racist comparisons of black people to apes before, but also because of Barr’s record of using Twitter to amplify far-right conspiracy theories, including Pizzagate and the pro-Trump fake narrative known as #QAnon. The #QAnon narrative claims Trump has a master plan in motion to kneecap members of the “deep state” and dismantle pedophilia rings with links to powerful politicians and celebrities. And #QAnon and Pizzagate aren’t the only insane right-wing talking points Barr is recycling. As recently as this morning, she broadcast a false, anti-Semitic attack on George Soros in an attempt to smear Chelsea Clinton, a “heinous lie” that earned her a retweet from one of the president’s sons, Donald Trump Jr.  

    Right-wing trolls on the 4chan message board /pol/ (known as “politically incorrect”) are in the habit of calling people who they feel represent their values “/our guy/” or “/our girl/,” and a 4chan member celebrated Barr’s anti-Semitic tweet, referring to her as “our girl” (and not for the first time).

    Barr’s tweets have proven she is “our girl” to 4chan trolls, not only because her tweets are reflective of the kind of content that can be found on these sites at all times, but also because she sometimes amplifies users’ narratives by literally disseminating the screen captures of actual 4chan posts. On a now-archived 4chan thread from May 15, users pointed out that Barr has tweeted screenshots clearly obtained from the message board:

    And Barr’s Twitter feed isn’t the only pipeline to the mainstream for conspiracy theories and extremist and racist content from sites like 4chan. Fox’s Tucker Carlson has dedicated airtime during his prime-time show Tucker Carlson Tonight to defending a racist campaign that originated on 4chan. Trump Jr. also has a history of amplifying content linked to 4chan. And whether wittingly or not, de facto presidential advisor Sean Hannity has also amplified #QAnon content on his Twitter. The content of fringe message boards like 4chan and 8chan is seeping into mainstream narratives, and right-wing figures are to blame.

  • Donald Trump Jr.’s hilariously strained explanation for why there was “no collusion”

    Apparently collusion isn’t “collusion” if you’re totally nonchalant about it

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The common refrain across Fox News, talk radio, and the rest of the conservative media is that the investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia is a giant waste of time because there’s been no evidence of “collusion” yet unearthed. It’s a message that’s driven primarily by President Donald Trump, who seldom wastes an opportunity to append the catchphrase “No Collusion” to his frequent, manic Twitter assaults on the special counsel investigation.

    The chief weakness in this narrative is the evidence lying everywhere that points to active and enthusiastic attempts by the Trump campaign to coordinate with Russians. Among the more damning incidents is the now-infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between several Russian nationals and senior members of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, including the president’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr.

    Trump Jr.’s position on that meeting has forever been in flux -- he went from denying it ever happened, to insisting that it was about adoption policy, to admitting that the real impetus for the meeting was an offer from sources linked to the Russian government to turn over damaging information about Hillary Clinton. At every step of this process, the president’s son (with some direct assistance from Trump himself) has lied and been determinedly vague in his recollections of what happened.

    The particulars of how this meeting came to be and what the parties involved discussed were a chief focus of Trump Jr.’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a transcript of which was released yesterday. During his testimony, Trump Jr. tried to explain how it was that a meeting he participated in between Russian officials and senior Trump campaign officials (pitched explicitly as an offer from the Russian government to help his father’s campaign) wasn’t “collusion”: He was “skeptical” of the offer and barely even thought about it at the time.

    Before we get too far into what Trump Jr. said before the committee, let’s quickly revisit what he wrote to Rob Goldstone, the publicist who pitched the meeting. Goldstone emailed Trump Jr. that the “Crown prosecutor of Russia … offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia.” The “very high level and sensitive information” was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” Goldstone added.

    Here’s Trump Jr.’s response, in full:

    Thanks Rob I appreciate that. I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer. Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back?

    Best,

    Don

    In his opening statement to the committee, Trump Jr. led off by saying: “As will become clear, I did not collude with any foreign government and do not know of anyone who did.” Recognizing the trouble this email could cause him, Trump Jr. specifically addressed it in his statement. He said he was “somewhat skeptical of [Goldstone’s] outreach” but “nonetheless, at the time I thought I should listen to what Rob and his colleagues had to say.” Referring to the “if it’s what you say I love it” portion of his response, Trump Jr. tried reframing it as a sort of polite brushoff, a courtesy to someone he didn’t really take seriously. “It was simply a colloquial way of saying that I appreciated Rob’s gesture,” he said.

    Under questioning from Senate staff, Trump Jr. again insisted that “I love it” was actually a heretofore unknown New York colloquialism used to convey polite disregard. “As I said in my statement, it was a colloquial term used to say, hey, great, thank you. I didn’t want to deal with anything right now,” he said.

    That’s obvious nonsense. The correct, plain reading of that phrase is that Trump Jr. was excited at the prospect of receiving dirt on Hillary Clinton from a foreign government source, and he basically acknowledged as much when pinned down by a Senate lawyer:

    LAWYER: All right, but more specifically you say "If it's what you say, I love it." What was the "it" that you loved in that e-mail?

    ...

    TRUMP JR.: Potential information about an opponent.

    LAWYER: Potential incriminating information on Hillary Clinton?

    TRUMP JR.: Yes.

    More inconsistencies abound. Asked if he was “surprised” or alarmed that someone had reached out to him with an offer of incriminating information sourced to a foreign government, Trump Jr. insisted he didn’t really take it seriously and barely even thought about it. “I don’t know that it alarmed me, but like I said, I don’t know and I don’t know that I was all that focused on it at the time,” he said. “I don’t remember thinking about it at the time.”

    That’s when the Senate lawyer pounced:

    LAWYER: So you responded in 20 minutes to an e-mail that on its face offered sensitive information but is part of Russia and you didn't think about it at the time?

    TRUMP JR.: I may have thought about it at the time. I don't recall thinking about it at the time. And I responded in 20 minutes because if I get an e-mail I respond to it. If I see it, I respond. And, again, I didn't follow up. I don't know that I ever followed up other than in response to Rob following up with me three days later.

    It gets still more confounding. After insisting that he was skeptical and not really invested in Goldstone’s offer, Trump Jr. acknowledged that a meeting was set up just six days later that involved the most senior-level staffers of the Trump campaign: himself, his brother-in-law Jared Kushner, and campaign chairman Paul Manafort. At the same time, though, Trump Jr. insisted that none of them knew what the meeting was about or who was going to be there, and no one really cared enough to figure it out, ask any questions, or even talk about it among themselves. “I then asked Jared and Paul if they could attend, but told them none of the substance or who was going to be there since I did not know myself,” Trump Jr. testified. “Because we were in the same building Paul, Jared, and I would routinely invite one another to attend meetings at a moment's notice.”

    Once again, Trump Jr.’s explanation fell apart under the slightest pressure, and he had to retreat into claims of forgetfulness:

    LAWYER: You got an e-mail with a title "Russia- Clinton, private and confidential," you didn't mention that to Paul Manafort?

    TRUMP JR.: Other than I forwarded the e-mail to him to invite them to the meeting, I didn't discuss it with him to my recollection, no.

    LAWYER: And you said you forwarded it. That was the only time you recall discussing it with him?

    TRUMP JR.: That's the only time I recall, yes.

    LAWYER: And Exhibit 1 which you reviewed with my colleagues indicates that you forwarded it on June 8, 2016. At that point there's just a reference to "Meeting got moved to 4:00 tomorrow at my office," Mr. Manafort responds "See you then." Had you not discussed the meeting with him before that time?

    TRUMP: JR.: I don't recall discussing it with him at that time, but I may have.

    LAWYER: How would he have known what this meeting was about if you had not discussed it with him?

    TRUMP: JR.: I don 't know.

    LAWYER: Did he ever ask you about it?

    TRUMP JR.: Not that I recall.

    Trump Jr. tried mightily to paint a picture of blithe disregard for the offer from Russia because he thinks it disproves the idea that the Trump campaign had any interest in or intention of colluding with Russians. But at each point logic and documentary evidence proved him wrong: He and the Trump campaign expressed clear interest and moved with alacrity to see what “very high level and sensitive information” they could get their hands on.

    They also proceeded without much in the way of caution, requiring Trump Jr. and everyone else involved to attempt a rewrite of what the evidence shows. That’s left them and their conservative media allies in the strained position of barking “no collusion” at their rigorously documented attempts at collusion.

  • Sebastian Gorka repeatedly bragged about how effective he and Steve Bannon would be outside the White House

    Sebastian Gorka and Steve Bannon: The alpha male power duo is no more

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN KERR

    Sebastian Gorka worked with Stephen Bannon at Breitbart.com both before and after his brief stint in Trump's White House. In numerous television appearances since leaving the White House, Gorka bragged that he and Bannon are “far more dangerous on the outside,” that “the alpha males are back,” and that he and "Steve" would be great at "the long game" of working outside the White House.

    Bannon has since been fired from Breitbart after reportedly suggesting that Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a group of Russians in Trump Tower was treasonous.

    Gorka was inexplicably hired as a Fox News "national security strategist" in November. He has no real expertise in foreign policy and famously has links to Hungarian neo-Nazi groups.

  • 5 things that emboldened far-right trolls in 2017

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Far-right trolls have long occupied the internet with their nihilistic sense of humor and taste for memes, engaged in sophomoric “shit-posting.” But for some, their impact has expanded beyond the fringe corners of the internet. They've shown they're able to influence national conversations, offering twisted narratives and conspiracy theories during major news events, injecting bigotry into the discourse, and challenging harassment policies of social media platforms, all while marketing themselves as legitimate torchbearers of the truth.

    This didn’t happen overnight; rather, a combination of factors made it possible. The far-right trolls learned how to manufacture outrage to mobilize their audiences into action. Their memes transcended “shit-posting” and began shaping political conversations. They found a friendly presidential administration that gave them access and provided them with a veneer of legitimacy. The coverage media outlets gave them failed to cover them in proper context and allowed them to sanitize their extremist brands. And social media platforms were slow in cracking down on their hateful rhetoric, allowing them to gain attention and amass thousands of followers.

    Even politicians have started noticing their reach, with some now imitating their style.

    Here are five factors that fueled the influence of far-right trolls in 2017:

    The politics of manufactured outrage that allow the far right to attract attention and drive narratives

    Trends of online discourse in 2017 showed that the far-right’s practice of using digital tools to affect change, exercise pressure, and punish perceived enemies is best understood as politics of manufactured outrage. Many trolls raised their profiles and gained relevance by criticizing what they saw as liberal over-sensitivity, seeking to provoke “snowflakes” for the sake of generating outrage and supporting Trump because his war against “political correctness” was an essential part of their ethos. Now they’re using social media platforms to command their followers to decry and condemn their critics over social justice issues they openly dismissed before.

    Mike Cernovich, a leading right-wing troll previously known for misogynistic musings and tasteless tweets, including denying the existence of date rape, effectively manufactured outrage to get MSNBC contributor Sam Seder fired from the network for a tasteless joke Seder tweeted in 2008. Though MSNBC rehired Seder, this was not an isolated incident.

    On another occasion, Cernovich targeted journalist Josh Barro and campaigned to get him fired from Business Insider by accusing the journalist of ableism after Barro made fun of Cernovich’s lisp, only stopping after Barro publicly apologized. But Cernovich’s own digital fingerprints make it impossible to believe that he suddenly developed a concern for ableism. In a similar fashion, “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec targeted New Republic’s Jeet Heer, accusing him of defending child pornography by taking a few of Heer’s tweets from  2014 and 2016 out of context.  Posobiec also interrupted a play under the pretense that he was offended by its contents, and sued a theater for its all-female screening of the movie Wonder Woman. And when he couldn’t find something to be outraged about, he simply created the opportunity by reportedly planting a “rape Melania” sign at an anti-Trump rally. Right-wing trolls followed the same playbook to smear protesters and ignite outrage during protests of an event featuring Cernovich by planting a sign that featured the logo of a practically defunct pro-pedophilia organization.

    The trolls are still freely deploying their playbook of haranguing their followers into more campaigns to force media outlets and social media platforms into doing their bidding -- whether to silence journalists and Trump critics by manipulating Twitter’s abuse report protocols and getting them suspended from the platform, or to “weaponize” their followers into harassment campaigns, or to pressure brands into advertising on shows they like.

    As BuzzFeed’s Kate Notopoulos wrote, these trolls “have weaponized taking things literally.” These stunts are often just manipulation disguised as false equivalence, since trolls like Cernovich justify their actions by arguing that media “dictate policy and personnel decisions via social shaming/‘news coverage.'" Mainstream right-wing media also dismiss criticism of these harassment campaigns, claiming that they're legitimate because “both sides” do it (regardless of whether that's true).

    The rise of the meme warfare from fringe message boards

    Right-wing and “alt-right” trolls successfully weaponized memes in support of Trump throughout the 2016 presidential election in what experts documenting troll culture refer to as “The Great Meme War.” Message board users created memes and deployed them on social media daily to attack political candidates. During this phase of meme-ing their favorite candidate into office, factions like the “alt-right” and other right-wing trolls were indistinguishable.

    2017 saw the meme warfare kick into high gear, with many meme campaigns transcending the message boards and becoming a source of harassment on college campuses, or turning into terrifying harassment campaigns against journalists. Such was the case with the “It’s okay to be white” meme, designed specifically to be “tame and inoffensive” yet elicit reactions that would portray any criticism or outcry as absurd. The meme quickly became a battle cry in the campus culture wars, culminating in professional troll Lucian Wintrich’s “It is OK to be white” speech at the University of Connecticut, which spurred disruptions, fights, and arrests.

    Similarly, there was a meme campaign against CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski following his story that an anti-CNN meme tweeted by Trump had been created by a Reddit user with a history of “racist and anti-Semitic imagery.” The campaign quickly transcended the digital world and resulted in death threats against CNN staffers and Kaczynski himself.

    Sloppy media coverage that allowed trolls to rebrand away from the toxicity of the “alt-right”

    Journalists have been complicit in aiding right-wing trolls who rose to prominence by riding coattails of the “alt-right” to rebrand away from its toxicity by either writing soft-focus profiles of trolls or by showing up woefully unprepared to interview them. After Richard Spencer -- the original “alt-righter” -- gained national media coverage due to his explicit white nationalistic views, many prominent trolls who were earlier happy to align with the “alt-right” commenced a rebranding campaign that was largely aided by media’s failure to hold them accountable.

    Cernovich, who has shown an inclination for “pivoting” whenever it becomes politically expedient for him, was at the forefront of hijacking the term “new right,” which was quickly adopted by other trolls like Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson, Posobiec, Wintrich, and Gavin McInnes, founder of the violent “Western chauvinist” organization Proud Boys.

    But the figures of the so-called “new right” can’t sanitize their past adherence to the pro-Trump “alt-right” during the 2016 presidential election when they trafficked in anti-Muslim tropes, attacked transgender people, associated with Spencer, or openly pushed dangerous conspiracy theories like “Pizzagate” -- which falsely claimed Democratic operatives close to Hillary Clinton and her presidential campaign were running a child sex ring from a Washington, D.C., family pizzeria. More recently, the appearance of a known “alt-right” troll featuring a swastika flag and Adolf Hitler apologism on Wintrich’s Periscope illustrated that there’s little substantive difference between the “new right” and more extreme factions.

    A complicit presidential administration that gave these trolls further prominence

    In the Trump administration, right-wing trolls found powerful allies who admired and promoted their content and media appearances.

    The White House has been complicit in fueling the trolls’ war on journalists and mainstream media. The Trump administration granted them access to White House press briefings that allowed conspiracy theory websites like The Gateway Pundit to present themselves as legitimate news outlets and provided them with a prestigious platform from which to perform stunts and explicitly troll journalists. Reportedly, Trump’s sons, Eric and Donald Jr., directly provide Cernovich with insider information. It’s clear from Donald Trump Jr.’s Twitter activity that he has a penchant for far-right trolls and their content as he has used the weight of his name to promote right-wing trolls who defend his father and smear mainstream media.

    The president, himself, retweeted a tweet by Posobiec to his more than 44 million followers, resulting in Posobiec celebrating the presidential validation.

    Twitter and YouTube dropped the ball on cracking down on harassment and extremism

    Right-wing trolls largely owe their rise to social media platforms like YouTube and Twitter, which have allowed them to grow their platforms and reach massive audiences. In the process, Twitter was extremely lax in applying its anti-harassment policies, and allowed right-wing trolls’ harassment campaigns to successfully drive targets, like feminist writer Lindy West, off the platform.

    Meanwhile, YouTube provided a platform to white supremacists and conspiracy theorists. Though YouTube launched a demonetization initiative so people wouldn’t be able to profit from uploading extreme content and vowed to take down explicitly extremist content, the platform still remains the “talk radio” for right-wing trolls, allowing the spread of misinformation to a massive audience, often without consequence.

    Similarly, Twitter also just moved to crack down on its most toxic content creators. But it remains to be seen whether these policies will be successful in curbing the influence of MAGA trolls who often operate with the same harassment tactics as extremists. While Twitter removed the verification badges of many far-right personalities and expelled the most offensive users (some more than once), the fact that right-wing trolls remain in the platform only evidences Twitter’s problem with interpreting its own rules and applying them coherently.

    While the right-wing trolls’ current influence is undeniable, it’s not all doom and gloom. Their online influence hasn't translated into other political victories following Trump’s election (the candidates these trolls put their weight behind, Republicans Ed Gillespie in Virginia, and Roy Moore in Alabama, both lost). It could also be an indicator that their influence, at least in electoral politics, might have reached its peak. But whether their influence in inserting divisive cultural and political narratives into the mainstream will wane at all is yet to be seen.