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  • The imprisonment and execution of gay men in Chechnya has been virtually ignored by evening cable and broadcast news

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters
     

    In the four months since The New York Times first reported that authorities in Chechnya “were arresting and killing gay men,” evening cable and evening broadcast news programming has virtually ignored the story. Between April 1 and July 31, there were only three significant mentions in total across six networks -- two news packages and one brief exchange -- about the ongoing human rights abuses.

    On April 1, The New York Times reported that “Chechen authorities were arresting and killing gay men.” Citing independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, the Times’ Andrew Kramer wrote that “men were detained ‘in connection with their nontraditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such,’” and that “more than 100 gay men had been detained” so far. The report added that Novaya Gazeta “had the names of three murder victims, and suspected many others had died in extrajudicial killings,” and it noted that authorities posed “as men looking for dates” on social networking sites to lure in victims. Many gay men have fled the region as a result. The Times report quoted a spokesperson for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov who denied the existence of gay people in Chechnya, calling the reports “absolute lies and disinformation.” “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” he said. Kadyrov has since been interviewed for HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel by reporter David Scott, and according to The Washington Post, during the conversation, he “laugh[ed] dismissively at questions about the allegations” and said that gay men “are not people”:

    In his interview with Scott, Kadyrov initially laughs dismissively at questions about the allegations. “Why did he come here?” he says to someone off camera. “What's the point of these questions?” But as Scott presses him, Kadyrov talks angrily about the reporters and activists who write about LGBT rights in Chechnya.

    “They are devils. They are for sale. They are not people,” he says. “God damn them for what they are accusing us of. They will have to answer to the almighty for this.”

    A Media Matters analysis of CNN's, MSNBC's, and Fox News’ weekday evening programming from 5-11 p.m. and ABC's, CBS', and NBC’s flagship evening news programs -- both weekend and weekday -- found virtual silence across the networks regarding the abuse of LGBTQ people in Chechnya. There were only three significant mentions of the story across all six networks between April 1 and July 31 and one short exchange in a broader discussion about the United States’ position on human rights around the world.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Over the last four months, CNN was the only cable network to air a full segment dedicated to the subject, as well as one brief exchange during a separate interview. A special April 24 evening edition of CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper aired a package in which reporter Matthew Chance covered the subject. During the May 4 edition of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, there was also a brief exchange between host Anderson Cooper and guest Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in which Cooper mentioned German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s request to Russian President Vladimir Putin to intervene and help protect gay people in the country. McCain did not comment on the atrocities in Chechnya specifically during the exchange.

    Of the three broadcast flagship programs, there was no significant mention of Chechnya’s abuses on weekdays. On April 23, however, the Sunday edition of NBC Nightly News devoted a segment to the topic featuring reporter Lucy Kafanov. 

    During the segment on The Lead, host Jake Tapper noted that the story was not “getting enough attention,” and Matthew Chance reported that the journalist who broke the story was “fleeing the country” after she received threats for her reporting. He also said that at least five other reporters at her newspaper have been killed since 2000 “in mafia-style hits.” The package also featured video of a victim speaking out about what Chance described as “horrifying abuse,” detailing the torture by authorities:

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They tied wires to my hand and put metal clippers on my ears to electrocute me. When they shock you, you jump high above the ground. [via Nexis]

    NBC’s report also featured interviews with a victim of the abuse in Chechnya, as well as another journalist from Novaya Gazeta. The victim, who used a pseudonym, detailed being “dragged … out of a car,” beaten, and told that “gays shouldn’t exist in Chechnya.” NBC's Kafanov added that in addition to the reporting by Novaya Gazeta, the abuses had been corroborated by human rights groups.

    Prominent world leaders have spoken out against the human rights abuses in Chechnya, including Merkel and newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron. Major human rights groups such as the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Amnesty International, and Outright International have also launched campaigns in support of LGBTQ Chechens. Despite this international condemnation -- and human rights groups’ calls for President Donald Trump to comment -- the president has not spoken publicly about the allegations or condemned Chechnya’s actions. It should be noted that newly appointed United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert have issued statements on the reports.

    Chechnya’s brutal attacks against and murders of queer men in the region have become an international human rights issue, but the American public would not know that by watching the evening news. Though NBC's and CNN’s pieces provided solid reporting, one package on each network's evening programming over a four-month span is not enough, and the utter silence of ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and Fox News does a disservice to their viewers.

    Methodology:

    Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of CNN's, MSNBC's, and Fox News’ weekday 5-11 p.m. programming between April 1 and July 26 for mentions of the words “Chechnya” or “Chechen” or “Kadyrov” or “Russia” within 20 words of the terms “gay” or “LGBT” or “homosexual” or “lesbian” or “bisexual.” Media Matters also searched Nexis transcripts for those terms appearing on ABC's, CBS', and NBC’s nightly news programs ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News, including the Saturday and Sunday editions of those shows. Media Matters also searched iQ media for those terms appearing on MSNBC’s 6 p.m. programming and the weekend broadcast news shows.

    Mentions of those terms were included in the analysis if the human rights abuses of gay, bisexual, and queer men in Chechnya were mentioned as the stated topic of conversation or if there was significant discussion of the topic. “Significant discussion” is defined as a back-and-forth exchange between two or more people; passing mentions were not included in the analysis.

  • Pundits overlook John Kelly's extreme record, instead speculate that he could save Trump

    ››› ››› NINA MAST

    Media figures and political strategists flocked to the Sunday shows to speculate that Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly will promote “discipline” and reduce “chaos” as White House chief of staff, and that Trump will listen to him because he “respects” military officers. What their analyses left out is Kelly’s extreme policy position on immigration and his defense of Trump’s chaotic Muslim travel ban implementation.

  • Trump's toady at Breitbart attacks Jake Tapper, and that should worry everyone

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The White House communications director has changed, but the White House message remains the same. The mainstream press is still viewed as the administration’s enemy. All signs point to the conclusion that at best, the cold war between President Donald Trump and the media will continue, and at worst, we may be entering a new, darker phase where the Trump team turns individual journalists into targets, rather than raging against the press as an institution.

    Anthony Scaramucci, the New York financier Trump hired last week to take over his public relations effort, said in an interview on Sunday that he wants to reboot the White House’s relations with the press and create “an era of a new good feeling with the media.” But his Friday press briefing was filled with warning signs for the reporters who cover the president, and his appearances on the Sunday morning political talk shows featured attacks on “fake news” from mainstream journalists “that do stretch stories or do fabricate things.”

    “I expect that they’re going to want to hold me and the White House accountable,” Scaramucci said of reporters on Fox News Sunday, “but we’re going to sort of want to hold them accountable, too.”

    Scaramucci didn’t explain what he meant by holding reporters accountable, and host Chris Wallace didn’t press him on it. But hours later, after Scaramucci faced a tough interview on CNN, Matt Boyle, a close media ally of the president, fired off a nonsensical hit piece aimed at Scaramucci’s interlocutor, Jake Tapper.

    In their extensive, contentious interview on CNN’s State of the Union, Tapper grilled the new White House official on the investigation into the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia. After one particularly heated exchange, in which Tapper asked why Trump still refuses to accept the intelligence community’s conclusion that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election, Scaramucci suggested that the press is deliberately trying to delegitimize Trump’s presidency by covering the story.

    Tapper’s interview quickly drew attention from his colleagues in the press. Numerous media outlets highlighted Scaramucci’s claim to Tapper that an anonymous person had told him that if the Russians had actually hacked Democratic Party institutions, as the U.S. intelligence community has said, “you would have never seen it.” Seconds later, after Tapper pressed him for the source, Scaramucci admitted it was Trump.

    But that embarrassing incident wasn’t why Tapper’s interview drew the attention of Matt Boyle, the bombastic Trump sycophant who serves as Washington bureau chief for Breitbart.com, the conservative organ previously run by the president’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon. Boyle had been rewarded the day before by getting the first interview with Scaramucci as newly minted White House communications director. The pair spent the interview joking about a possible place for Boyle in the administration and lashing out at CNN over their “fake news.”

    In a piece that reads like bad oppo used by someone more interested in nailing a political foe than considering whether his argument holds up, Boyle fixated on Tapper’s statement that he had grown up in a Philadelphia neighborhood “very similar” to Scaramucci's. According to Boyle, Tapper had “been caught misstating his background on live television” because he “puffed up his own credentials trying to link himself back to the middle class and the working class in America -- a link he does not have.”

    But Boyle provided no evidence that Tapper’s statement that he grew up in a middle class neighborhood was inaccurate, instead focusing on the CNN anchor’s tenure at a “private elite high school with exorbitant tuition rates” and at Dartmouth College to claim that he “is in fact an Ivy League elite.”

    These facts are neither new nor contradictory. As Tapper explained on Twitter yesterday -- in a thread that Boyle embedded in the article -- his parents divorced when he was young, and he split time between his doctor father’s suburban home and his mother’s house in a working class neighborhood. Ignoring what Tapper actually said, Boyle suggests the CNN host is lying because Tapper's school was expensive (notably, Boyle knows the current price of tuition, but not the price when Tapper attended decades ago). Moreover, Boyle’s attack on Tapper for attending a pricey “elite high school” downplays a key fact: The school, according to Forward, was a Jewish day school. Criticizing someone as an elite because they attended a religious school instead of a public one is a curious maneuver for a purportedly conservative outlet. (The salt-of-the-earth Scaramucci attended Tufts University and Harvard Law School before joining Goldman Sachs.)

    Notably, the Boyle piece does not challenge Tapper’s reporting in any real way. It’s an attack on him, not on his work.

    It’s certainly not unusual for Breitbart to attack real journalists. But was it simply a coincidence that the president’s house organ published a hit piece on a journalist who engaged in a combative interview with a White House staffer, or is there something more in play?

    Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that “Republican operatives close to the White House” are conducting opposition research on reporters as part of “what could be an extensive campaign” to discredit journalists who report on the Russia story. Feeding negative information to conservative news outlets was seen as a key part of that effort. And Tapper has long been a top target of the White House -- Axios reported back in February that GOP operatives were pushing anti-Tapper hit pieces after a contentious interview with White House aide Kellyanne Conway.

    The Trump administration often seems to divide reporters into two categories: the pro-Trump ones who are praised and rewarded for their loyalty, and the mainstream media “opposition party” who are often undermined and attacked.

    But while the Trump White House’s attacks on the press have been a key element of his team’s messaging strategy throughout the administration thus far, the criticisms have largely targeted the institution of the media at large, or particular outlets that angered the president. (The key exception is CNN’s Jim Acosta, who challenged the president during a February press conference.) By contrast, during the campaign, Trump frequently lashed out at individual reporters by name, on Twitter and on the stump. His most prominent targets received a wave of death threats and hate mail, at times compelling them to hire security guards.

    We’ve already seen cases where the press office uses its media allies to target mainstream outlets. We may be seeing a lot more of that in the days to come. If the White House and its allies begin targeting individual reporters, the consequences could be dire.