Mike Tobin | Media Matters for America

Mike Tobin

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  • Meet The Mysterious, Facebook-Verified Page Pushing Fake News To Nearly 5 Million Followers

    American News Is Perhaps The Largest Facebook Page Regularly Pushing Fake News

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & PAM VOGEL

    This post has been updated.

    The verified Facebook page for American News (also known as The Patriot Review), with its more than 4.7 million followers, is perhaps the largest page regularly pushing fake news on the social media platform and is emblematic of the problem Facebook must address immediately. It shares dozens of posts each day, often topped with false, clickbait headlines that confirm biases and stoke fear in readers.

    American News also has no publicly listed writers, editors, or owners, nor a business address or phone number. That lack of disclosure helps hyperpartisan websites like American News to publish patently false information without accountability. The page’s opacity and role as a fake news purveyor also demonstrate the murkiness of Facebook’s “verification” guidelines, which require that pages have a publicly listed phone number or business documents showing an official name and address that “matches public records.” 

    Fake News Purveyors Like American News Share Both Hyperpartisan And Fake Content, Often Designed To Stoke Fear

    The American News Facebook page exclusively shares content from the AmericanNews.com website, which pushes a combination of fake news stories -- information that is clearly and demonstrably fabricated and that has been packaged and distributed to appear as legitimate news -- and other hyperpartisan, right-wing content. Stories from American News have been repeatedly debunked as totally “false,” most notably the “100% made up” lie that Denzel Washington had switched from supporting Hillary Clinton to backing Donald Trump in the 2016 election, which was shared hundreds of thousands of times. American News also pushed a fake news story in April claiming that President Barack Obama had issued an executive order to have his likeness added to Mount Rushmore and a 2014 story alleging Congress had approved a bill offering free cars to welfare recipients. The Facebook page for Proud To Be Conservative, with more than 1.5 million followers, also exclusively shares content from the AmericanNews.com website.

    American News posts -- whether sharing fake news or pushing highly partisan and heavily spun content -- have several traits that are common to the content pushed by fake news purveyors: They use classic clickbait headlines, actively seek to confirm far-right ideology, and exploit bigotry and biases. Social media analytics site BuzzSumo, which tracks social media engagement levels for websites, shows that half of American News' 10 most shared stories -- which collectively boasted more than 4 million Facebook engagements -- featured fearmongering about Muslims. Among these was an anti-Muslim fake news story claiming that a Texas man was forced to remove the U.S. flag from his house because it was a "threat to Muslims."

    Here are a few posts the page has shared just in the first days of January:

    This January 5 post pushes a fake story on the American News website claiming that a “Government-backed study” found that teachers were choosing not to teach students about the Holocaust in order to avoid offending Muslims. This story is fabricated; it originated with a 2007 email chain letter spinning false information from a report on schools in the U.K.

    This post, from January 2, shared an American News story alleging that a school had demanded “all must wear hijabs.” This story was also false; a student group at the Wisconsin college in question hosted one event in which students were invited to voluntarily wear hijabs for one day.

    This January 8 post pushed a fake news story that Michelle Obama "accidentally expos[ed] that her husband was born in Kenya." The video attached to the story came from a 2010 post on Alex Jones' Infowars.com and showed Michelle Obama calling Kenya her husband's "home country." Barack Obama was born in the United States.

    American News’ content has also been shared on Twitter by a number of right-wing figures, including Trump-supporting Great America Super PAC spokesman Carl Higbie, who shared a “mostly false” story that Muslims demanded the “army change its dress code to include turbans and beards.” Higbie rose to national attention in November when he suggested that the Japanese internment camps of World War II provide “precedent” for a Muslim registry. American News stories have also been shared by Fox News correspondent Mike Tobin and right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party Deputy Chair Suzanne Evans.

    Fake News Purveyors Such As American News Are Often Totally Anonymous, Leaving Them Unaccountable For What They Post

    Right-wing figures have repeatedly attempted to distort and rebrand the term “fake news” to attack credible news they don’t agree with, but the distinct problem of fake news has several unique symptoms, including a startling level of opacity, which is exemplified by American News. Legitimate news outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, and conservative outlets ranging from Fox News to hyperpartisan websites like The Blaze and The Daily Caller -- and even "alt-right" site Breitbart.com -- have accessible public information about their owners and staff. Hyperpartisan pages that push fake news stories, though, like American News, often make it nearly impossible to find any information about the people contributing to their pages or the entities operating them -- even as they rake in tens of thousands of dollars in advertising revenue. This secrecy allows them to remain unaccountable for the content they share, which often includes copied or plagiarized content from other such sites, shared to further spread patently false information.

    On December 15, Facebook announced steps it was taking to combat the epidemic of fake news enabled by its platform, but it did not include any guidelines about verified pages that push fake news stories. Its own verification steps for local businesses, companies, and organizations require that they use either a “publicly listed phone number for your business” or a “business document” that shows “your business’s name and address,” which is then reviewed “to confirm that it matches public records.” There is no publicly available and easily accessible business address or phone number for American News, nor are there any listed staff members for the website.

    A detailed search of articles on AmericanNews.com revealed no posts with a byline other than “by American News” or first names such as "Hank" or "Jeff." The "author" pages linked to these names reveal no details about the alleged writers, including last name, and the URLs for these pages do not match the author names (the URL for Hank's page indicates it is for a writer named "Kyle," and the URL for Jeff's page indicates it is for a writer named "Spencer"). Futhermore, there is no listing of the site's staff or reporters. A search of the online identity database WhoIs shows that whoever registered American News’ domain used a service to mask its street address, owner, and phone number. The only contact information on the website is on its privacy policy page, which says visitors can report violations of the policy to americannewscontact@gmail.com, as well as an inquiries form. American News did not respond to inquiries made through either method. Media Matters additionally consulted a representative from an accredited nationwide business record search engine who was unable to find any additional information about American News or its operations and said it would be nearly impossible given the lack of publicly available information on its website or Facebook page, which do not mention the state where the business is located or a business name other than the domain name.

    Either Facebook has information about American News that is not available for the average user who may encounter the page or Facebook has deviated from its current, perhaps inadequate verification procedure. Whatever the case, the social media giant clearly has more work to do in addressing its fake news problem; without action, it remains complicit in American News’ deceptive fake news tactics.


    BuzzFeed News reported that it determined that American News is owned by American News LLC, a Miami-based company that operates several liberal and conservative hyperpartisan and fake news-purveying websites. American News LLC lists "John Crane and Tyler Shapiro as officers of the company."

  • Cable News Largely Silent On Report Finding “Systemic Racism” In Chicago Police Department

    Fox News Did Not Cover The Report After Frequently Dismissing Concerns Over Police Actions In Chicago

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Cable news only devoted just over two minutes of coverage to findings of “systemic racism” in the Chicago Police Department after a Chicago task force released a “blistering” report. Although the report made the front page of The New York Times, MSNBC and CNN spent less than two minutes each on covering the report while Fox News -- which has regularly dismissed protests over police brutality and systemic racism in Chicago -- failed to cover the report at all.

  • The People Conservative Media Don't Want To Vote


    As the 2014 midterm election draws near, right-wing media figures have worked to discourage certain groups of people from voting, claiming some are too dumb to make an informed decision. But this isn't new -- conservatives have long advocated for onerous voter ID laws and even prerequisite civics tests, policies that work to suppress the vote, even going so far as to say that women shouldn't be allowed to vote.

    Media Matters looked back at the citizens conservative media have deemed unworthy of voting:

  • Fox News Admits WI Voter ID Laws May Disenfranchise Voters

    Blog ››› ››› ALEXANDREA BOGUHN

    Fox News acknowledged that a voter ID law may prevent people from casting votes while discussing the upcoming gubernatorial elections in Wisconsin -- despite the network's sustained campaign to deny the negative repercussions these laws have on voting.

    On September 12, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals dissolved an injunction blocking the state of Wisconsin from implementing voter ID laws that required voters to show photo identification in order to cast their votes. According to Reuters, these new rules are set to go into effect in time for the November general elections.

    During the September 17 edition of Special Report with Bret Baier, Fox correspondent Mike Tobin reported on the upcoming gubernatorial election between Governor Scott Walker (R) and Democratic challenger Mary Burke. During a discussion of polling numbers placing the two candidates at a statistical tie, Tobin acknowledged that the implementation of the state's new voter ID laws could potentially impact the election. Claiming that "there is only a handful of voters who won't get IDs by election day," he went on to say that "even a handful can tip the scales" in this election:

    Although Tobin was correct in claiming that voter ID laws could have a significant impact on the election, his assertion that "only a handful of voters" won't be able to obtain identification downplays the possibility that hundreds of thousands of voters may be disenfranchised by the law's implementation.

    Despite multiple reports showing that the type of voter fraud IDs protect against is virtually nonexistent, Fox News has repeatedly advocated for these laws, even though they have been shown to disenfranchise eligible voters. 

    Voter ID laws have real consequences on elections. As the Brennan Center for Justice reported in a 2013 study, "free IDs are not equally accessible to all voters," and voter ID laws "make it harder for hundreds of thousands of poor Americans to vote." 

  • Heartland Institute's Smoke And Mirrors Attempt To Debunk Consensus Science

    Blog ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL

    Joseph Bast

    Fox News is suggesting a report by the Heartland Institute "debunked" a top climate change report while obscuring the background of the organization, which previously denied the science demonstrating the dangers of tobacco and secondhand smoke.

    On Fox News' America's Newsroom and America's News Headquarters, Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast said that "We can't trust what appears in our most prestigious [scientific] journals anymore." Instead, Bast wants Fox News viewers to trust his organization's "Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change" (NIPCC), which puts out a report imitating -- and attempting to debunk -- the consensus report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which forecasts "severe and widespread impacts" from manmade global warming.

    But how much trust should you put in the Heartland Institute? In 1998, Bast was claiming that "smoking in moderation has few, if any, adverse health effects," citing a few "experts." (Simultaneously, he was touting to a tobacco industry funder that "Heartland does many things that benefit Philip Morris' bottom line.") This was left out of Fox News' report. Today, his organization is claiming in the NIPCC that "few (if any) [species] likely will be driven even close to extinction" from climate change and "no net harm" overall will result, citing a few "experts." (The organization's current funders are largely unknown, often funneled through the right-wing's "dark money ATM," but it has received funding from ExxonMobil and Koch-connected foundations in the last decade.)

    While IPCC's dozens of authors are unpaid, at least three of the NIPCC's four lead authors are paid by the Heartland Institute. One of the authors, Craig Idso, used to work for the coal company Peabody Energy and wrote a contracted study for the industry group The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. The IPCC reviews the current state of scientific knowledge, while the NIPCC's references in its Summary for Policymakers include publications that date back to 1904 and few references from this century other than non-peer-reviewed reports from itself and its authors. As climate scientist Donald Wuebbles noted at the end of the Fox News report, the NIPCC report is "full of misinformation" and "not peer-reviewed."

    So far, Fox News has dedicated nearly as much time to the NIPCC (over 4 minutes) as it did to the actual IPCC report (over 5 minutes of disparaging coverage). When Fox News equated the first NIPCC report with the first IPCC report on the physical science basis of climate change, scientist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research told Media Matters it was "irresponsible":

    The NIPCC has no standing whatsoever. It is not a reviewed document, it is not open for review at any point and it contains demonstrable garbage and falsehoods. In contrast the IPCC process is rigorous, open and there are 2 major reviews. This is irresponsible journalism.

  • Fox Attacks Yet Another Effort To End Discrimination

    ››› ››› TERRY KREPEL

    A Fox News report on efforts to ban employers from discriminating against the jobless is just the latest example of Fox figures attacking anti-discrimination efforts as being burdensome or creating a "protected class," or even defending the right of businesses to discriminate against customers based on race.

  • Why Won't Fox News Tell Us More About Its Reporter "Assaulted" In Wisconsin?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Are you seeing the same pattern I am? It's the one where right-wing partisans, desperate to portray union supporters as thugs, loudly denounce acts of alleged violence. But then days later when it turns out the acts of violence weren't really so violent, the same partisans are suddenly completely uninterested in the stories they promoted.


    Today I already documented the case of the Andrew Breitbart blogger who flagged a weekend "assault" in which a Tea Party activist claimed he was hit with a bullhorn and choked by a union thug. But oops, video of the incident shows that did not happen. Now, the story is no longer of interest inside Breitbart World. (Move along people.)

    Simultaneously, we have the case of Fox News and Mike Tobin. In recent days, members of the the Fox News team were beside themselves as they detailed the physical abuse Tobin had to endure while reporting on the protests in Madison, Wisconsin. Megyn Kelly in particular seemed broken up about Tobin's plight, referring to the "assault" he had endured. (Tobin didn't agree with that characterization.) Kelly even wondered on-air why the Obama White House hadn't weighed in on the Tobin matter; why hadn't the president stood up for the press?

    But alas, there may be less to the story than Fox News and its hysterical defenders first thought. Recently released video that captured the incident in which Tobin claimed he was "punched" by a Wisconsin activist shows the "punch" may have been of the invisible variety. And with that revelation yesterday, the right-wing blogosphere suddenly fell silent when it came to the topic of media martyr Mike Tobin. (Who's he?)

    And Fox News? Here's what happened when Media Matters' Joe Strupp tried to get in touch with Tobin, whom he had previously interviewed about the alleged altercation [emphasis added]:

    After the video emerged, Media Matters once again contacted Tobin for comment. This time, he didn't respond.

    Instead, a Fox spokesperson called Media Matters and said that Tobin would have no further comment on the matter.

    Just 48 hours ago Fox News was sure its reporter had been assaulted by thugs in Wisconsin and very much wanted to talk up the story. Today? Not so much. Just like Breitbart's team is now trying to to distance itself from the bogus claim of a union assault.

    Here's a tip for both of them: When you stick to the truth, you don't have to backpedal.

  • Fox's Mike Tobin Talks To Media Matters

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    For the last two weeks, Fox News reporter Mike Tobin has been at the center of his network's coverage of the Wisconsin union demonstrations.

    He is also at the center of a controversy over claims -- called into question yesterday after the release of new video -- that he was "assaulted" by protesters.

    Tobin spoke with Media Matters at length on Monday about the experience, which has included demonstrators repeatedly chanting "Fox News Lies" and waving signs referencing the network's inaccurate reporting.

    On Sunday, Tobin claimed during a live report that he had just been "hit" by one of the protesters.

    Tobin wasn't onscreen at the time, and a Fox anchor later said that the network's cameras had been blocked by protesters during the alleged incident.

    Nonetheless, the Fox Nation website immediately claimed that Tobin had been "assaulted by demonstrator during live shot."

    Tobin disagreed.

    "I was just hit in the arm a couple of times," he said on Fox Sunday night. "To call it assault or anything like that is a bit of an exaggeration."

    On Twitter, Tobin said that he "declined to press charges over a couple little punches in the arm" because doing so would create a "distraction."

    That didn't stop Fox. On Monday, Fox anchor Megyn Kelly asked Tobin about the "assault."

    When Tobin disputed Kelly's characterization, she rephrased: "It is an unwanted touching. Actually, it's a battery, technically, under the law."

    "Yeah, technically, but I got punched in the arm," Tobin responded. "It didn't even leave a bruise. So, I don't want to make too big a deal about it."

    In an interview with Media Matters later Monday, Tobin sought to downplay the incident, which he continued to describe as a "punch."

    "It was a punch. A punch is a punch, but it was just a punch in my arm. I grew up with three older brothers, it's not my first time being punched. I don't want to overdramatize it for the sake of TV or anything like that."

    Then came the video.

  • Breitbart's Sloppy Attempt To Smear Me

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    It's like they're not even trying.

    The excited attack that's going around is that when I appeared on Stephanie Miller's radio show yesterday I made fun of the fact that Fox News reporter Mike Tobin, who is covering the union showdown in Madison, Wisconsin, says he was punched by a local activist.

    Andrew Breitbart's site lied and announced that I thought it was "funny to watch" Tobin get hit.

    Actually, what I said on Miller's show was that "no one should be hitting any reporters or anything like that." And I tweeted the exact same thing last night. So there's no confusion about that point, only attempts by conservatives to concoct confusion. i.e. The same-old, same-old.

    Here's what I did laugh about during the Miller show. It was the fact that Tobin and others at Fox News have expressed total shock that union activists in Wisconsin hold Fox News in contempt [emphasis added]:

    BOEHLERT: Now this is, I was just looking at some clips of this and then later over at some point over the weekend he and this reporter and Geraldo had an on-air pity party and the reporter talked about how these protesters, hate free speech and hate diversity of viewpoint and you can see the hatred in their eyes.

    You just have to laugh. I mean this coming from someone who works for a station that essentially concocts hate on an hourly basis. They're stunned when they go out into the real world when they venture beyond they're right wing bubble you know that people don't like them and they're going to express that with free speech. So yeah, it's been kind of funny to watch.

    I still think it's funny that Tobin is amazed that he'd run into chanting demonstrators who push back against Fox News and its hourly misinformation.

    I hope I'm not the one to break it to Tobin, but Fox News for the last several weeks has functioned, by and large, as an anti-union propaganda outlet. Period. It has been shoving as much one-sided, union-hating rhetoric on the air as possible. And yes, even during its "news" programming, Fox News has been deceiving viewers by inviting GOP officials on the air under the guise of presenting them as merely concerned Wisconsin citizens. And they're invited on the air to do what? To bash the unions.

    Faced with covering union protests (prompted by the the Wisconsin governor's truly radical legislative agenda), Fox News has done everything in its power to portray union members as the cause of civil unrest. Fox News has been guilty of some of the most rancid kind of class warfare and reckless scapegoating imaginable. And yet its reporter in Wisconsin wonders why union supporters there give him an earful and mock the channel during live shots?

    Why shouldn't members of the public exercise their First Amendment right and articulate their disdain for the kind of chronic misinformation that Fox News churns out? It seems to me that that kind of habitual malfeasance brings with it a downside: Members of the public exercising their First Amendment right and articulating their disdain for Fox News.

    I mean, are Fox Newsers really suggesting that people aren't allowed to express their opinion on live television? That doesn't sound very American to me. (But again I'll reiterate: Any attempts to get hands-on with Fox News reporters should remain completely out of bounds.)

    The truth is, if Tobin and his colleague want to throw him a pity party on-air and have Fox News promote him as some sort of right-wing martyr, that's their right. But they ought to stop pretending he works for an actual news organization, or that journalism is being targeted in Madison.

    It's not. But Fox News is. There's a big difference.