Milo Yiannopoulos | Media Matters for America

Milo Yiannopoulos

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  • Facebook just removed six extremists from its platforms. Here's what should happen next.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Facebook just announced the removal of a notable cross-section of extremists from social networks Facebook and Instagram, including neo-Nazi sympathizer Milo Yiannopoulos, anti-Muslim bigot Laura Loomer, far-right YouTuber Paul Joseph Watson, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones (again), and white supremacist Paul Nehlen, a failed Republican congressional candidate, while also removing Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan for his record of anti-Semitic rhetoric. This move by Facebook is a step in the right direction, opening doors to making its platforms safer and inspiring some optimism that the tech company might be capable of taking responsibility for the ways its platforms have empowered extremists. But it is clear that there is more to do.

    A long record of hate

    The newly banned figures owed their influence to the massive reach they were allowed to cultivate through Facebook and Instagram, using their accounts to post content that dehumanized entire communities, promoted hateful conspiracy theories, and radicalized audiences -- all while they profited from directing people to their own websites.

    After being banned from most other social media platforms, including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook itself, Jones found a safe haven on Instagram, where he had continued to post Infowars content that featured hate speech, promoted conspiracy theories, and amplified other extremists.

    Similarly, Laura Loomer used her private Instagram account to post content that violated the platform’s hate speech and bullying policies, consistently spewing dehumanizing anti-Muslim rhetoric.

    For his part, Yiannopoulos was banned from Twitter in 2016 for leading a racist harassment campaign against actress Leslie Jones, but the former Breitbart editor went on to use Instagram and Facebook to spread hateful anti-Muslim rhetoric and mock people of color.

    Watson, who had long been affiliated with Jones’ Infowars outlet, used Facebook and Instagram to push anti-Muslim content, masquerading his hateful rhetoric as thinly veiled irony, and regularly maligning Islam as “incompatible with western society.”

    White supremacist Nehlen -- who has publicly stated that a “race war” needs to be “kick[ed] off” in the U.S. -- had already lost his Instagram account after posting anti-Semitic memes, but he still had an active Facebook page he used to share anti-Semitic dog whistles and screenshots of neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer with tens of thousands of followers, as well as to profit from running ads on the platform.

    What comes next

    It’s a welcome but long overdue step in the right direction that Facebook has now taken definitive action against some of the most glaring examples of toxicity on its platforms -- especially considering the tech company’s record of struggling to enforce policies that are effective in curbing the reach and influence of extremists. The company’s recent attempt to ban white supremacist content from its platforms proved insufficient, as its lack of specificity allowed extremists to continue posting racist content as long as they weren’t too explicit.

    However, there are still a number of achievable measures that Facebook could take to make users safer and to convince the public of the company’s resolve to fight extremism. Shireen Mitchell, who founded Stop Online Violence Against Women and the nonprofit Digital Sisters to promote diversity in the tech industry, has explained how Facebook’s moderation policies have been weaponized to harass women of color -- especially if they’re advocating for social change. Speaking to Media Matters, Mitchell said Facebook has banned people of color and activists like herself as a result of posts that mention white people in the context of racism and white supremacy. Her experience is consistent with a Media Matters analysis of Facebook pages that showed that white supremacist content is often treated as equivalent to content from groups that actually fight oppression, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, seemingly treating white people as a protected group while ignoring the historical context of structural racism.

    Some achievable measures that could help curb extremism while protecting users who experience oppression include:

    • Commit to enforcing standards against more codified white nationalism by more effectively pairing automated and human reviews to better identify violating content. Increasing the number of people tasked with platform monitoring and staffing those positions with culturally competent individuals would help identify white supremacists’ use of the coded extremist rhetoric and insidious false equivalences that artificial intelligence seems to be missing. Doing so would also help curb the uncritical amplification of dangerous content such as video clips of violent hate crimes or the manifestos of their perpetrators.

    • Proactively limit the visibility of content when its traffic is being directed from known toxic sources like anonymous message boards 8chan and 4chan. As reported by NBC’s Ben Collins, platforms are already able to identify traffic coming from toxic sources. In light of recent crimes in which perpetrators have gone on anonymous message boards to link to their Facebook accounts and broadcast mass shootings as extremist propaganda, the platform should more actively limit the visibility and spread of content that starts receiving high influxes of traffic from extremist sites.

    • Extend anti-discrimination policies currently applied to ads to include event pages and groups. Event pages and private groups are often useful tools that help extremists organize and mobilize. Existing anti-discrimination policies should also apply to content in these pages and groups.

    • Reassess fact-checking partnership with Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller, which has ties to white supremacists and anti-Semites. The Daily Caller has a long history of publishing white supremacists, anti-Semites, and bigots; just yesterday it was revealed that The Daily Caller has fired the managing editor of the affiliated Daily Caller News Foundation (DCFN) for his connections to white supremacists. DCFN provides significant funding to the Daily Caller's fact-checking operation, Check Your Fact. Daily Caller founder Carlson constantly echoes white nationalist talking points on his Fox News show. And yet Facebook has teamed up with Check Your Fact as a fact-checker.

    • Pay attention to the cross-platform influence of highly followed users. White nationalists often use platforms like Instagram to sanitize their images with lifestyle content while spreading extremist propaganda on other platforms. As Data & Society research affiliate Becca Lewis told Media Matters, influential extremists on Instagram “will simply mimic fashion, beauty, or fitness influencers, but will espouse white supremacist propaganda elsewhere. In those cases, Instagram acts as a kind of honeypot.” Lewis suggested Facebook emulate Medium’s cross-platform moderation approach, in which users that violate Medium’s content policies on other platforms get banned on Medium.

    • Increase transparency in metrics for third-party auditors. Experts have warned about the risks of Facebook’s most recent privacy initiatives that limit Application Programming Interface (API) access to researchers (or access to the tools that allows individuals unaffiliated with Facebook to build software that uses Facebook data), hide Instagram metrics, and prioritize groups on Facebook (which would allow propaganda and extremism to propagate unchecked). As BuzzFeed’s Jane Lytvynenko pointed out, the move makes it harder for researchers and experts to audit content and metrics on the platforms. While it might save the tech company some bad press, it hinders outside researchers in their efforts to identify and scrutinize security concerns.

  • The white nationalist influencers of Instagram

    Blog ››› ››› NATALIE MARTINEZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Last week, Instagram and its parent company, Facebook, started implementing new content policies purporting to ban praise for white nationalism and white separatism on the social media sites. According to reporting from Motherboard, Facebook’s focuses on explicit mentions, not content which features “implicit and coded white nationalism and white separatism.” The narrow focus of Facebook’s policy has thus resulted in a failure to remove a large amount of extremist content, and while the platform has continued to fine-tune the enforcement of its policy following reports of its ineffectiveness, many extremists might still be able to skirt the rule by simply not using explicit labels while pushing white nationalist and separatist talking points.

    As it stands, Facebook and Instagram’s ban on white supremacy and separatism is a policy designed to fail. Last week, Media Matters published a noncomprehensive list of Facebook pages which are affiliated with prominent white supremacist figures and/or push white supremacist content. Of the 43 pages flagged, only three were taken down following the implementation Facebook’s new policy.

    Like Facebook, Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) has failed to remove major white nationalist accounts. Media Matters reviewed 19 Instagram handles affiliated with white nationalist media outlets and figures and extremist social media figures and found that only a few were regularly posting images, captions, and stories which explicitly praised white nationalist anti-immigrant, anti-semitic, and anti-Muslim stances.

    A majority of these handles affiliated with prominent white nationalists did not regularly post white nationalist content or even any sort of content which would violate Instagram’s community standards. Instead, these figures appear to use Instagram as a promotional platform to direct followers to external sites that contain extremist content. Many of the handles included in our analysis are affiliated with white nationalist YouTubers who appear to use Instagram to promote their YouTube shows.

    And as other tech platforms have come under increasing scrutiny for their complicity in the spread of disinformation, conspiracy theories, and extremist content, Instagram-- which has mostly evaded criticism -- has become a hub for far-right memes and videos. Many of the Instagram handles linked to white supremacy that we reviewed have seen drastic increases in followers over the past nine months, as well as video view increases.

    There are widely followed Instagram handles directly posting white nationalist content:

    Laura Loomer (@loomered), who was banned from Twitter for making anti-Muslim attacks against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), has turned to Instagram to push the same bigoted misinformation. In one post, Loomer called Omar a “hate crime hoax expert” and claimed that she had faked bomb threats made against her. In other posts, Loomer has falsely labeled Omar as “pro sharia law”; claimed that Vogue supported “terrorism and Jew hatred” because the magazine put Omar on a cover; and wrote that Omar’s “lifestyle is bankrolled by Arabs who only have a loyalty to Islam.”

    Loomer’s anti-Muslim, white nationalist Instagram content extends beyond bigoted attacks on Omar. One day after the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, where 49 people were killed by a white supremacist, Loomer published three posts downplaying the anti-Muslim terrorist attack. In the first post, while also referencing smears against Omar, Loomer stated: “The media makes so many excuses for anti-Semitism but then they want us to care about certain groups of people more than others.” In the second, Loomer came after the media again for covering the Christchurch terror attack while allegedly ignoring Christians “murdered by jihadists.” And in the third post, Loomer wrote: “How come the New Zealand mosque shooting video is available online, but pictures from inside Bataclan theatre in paris are not … ? ... Never forget these innocent people in Paris who were so selfishly murdered simply because they were Westerners.” Loomer has over 111,000 followers.

    Former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos (@milo.yiannopoulos), who has connections to white supremacists, has amassed over 406,000 followers on Instagram. Yiannopoulos, who was was banned from Twitter after leading a racist harassment campaign against actress Leslie Jones, now blends personal brand and anti-Muslim content on his Instagram handle. He posted a photo of New Zealand news anchors wearing hijabs in solidarity with Muslim victims after the Christchurch terror attack with the caption “cultural suicide.” Yiannopoulos also claimed that “mainstream Islam” in the West had turned British cities into “hotbeds of radicalization and prejudice.”

    U.K. far-right bigot Katie Hopkins (@_katie_hopkins_) uses Instagram to post videos in which she smears Muslims and immigrants to her almost 29,000 followers. In reaction to the Christchurch attack, Hopkins posted a video with the text “Must we give up our culture? Do we see the same reaction when we are the victims of Islamist attacks?” In another video, Hopkins ranted that Rep. Ilhan Omar was leading the “Islamification” of the U.S. and fearmongered that immigration was leading to a religious “voting bloc” which are “facilitated by the mosque.” And in two posts, Hopkins posted videos criticizing “demographic shifts” and “multiculturalism” in two British towns with substantial Muslim populations, both terms that fit with white supremacist narratives. In one of these posts, Hopkins asked if Muslims “control” the U.K.

    The far-right comedian Owen Benjamin (@owenbenjam) has posted a plethora of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, including posts that push the white supremacist conspiracy theory that Jews “control” the government. He also regularly posts anti-LGBT hate. Benjamin has over 61,000 followers on Instagram.

    Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones (@real_alexjones), who seems to have been banned from every other major social media platform, has recently begun using Instagram to livestream his show and post clips which feature guest appearances by other extremists, as well as white nationalist talking points.

    And the private handle for the social media personality and self-described Islamophobe “The Gay Who Strayed” (@thegaywhostrayed), with over 99,000 followers, regularly posts memes containing anti-Muslim messaging consistent with white nationalism. The accompanying text for one such anti-immigrant meme makes the white supremacist claim that “not all cultures are equal.” It also says: “When you import a third world country, it’s only a matter of time until you become a third world country.” Other posts push white nationalist talking points on “assimilation” and controlling the size of the Muslim population in Western countries.

    Some white nationalists use Instagram as an intermediary between a sanitized media brand and extremist, hateful content.

    Many of these handles seem to almost never, if ever, violate Instagram’s community standards. By avoiding posts that contain explicit hate speech, these white nationalists are able to use Instagram to reach users and direct them to content the accounts post on other platforms, compartmentalizing their extremist messaging across multiple platforms.

    Some of these figures solely use Instagram as a marketing tool to push shows and media outside of the platform. Far-right social media commentators who constantly spew white supremacist content elsewhere, like Stefan Molyneux (@stefanmolyneux) and Jesse Lee Peterson (@jesseleepeterson), both use Instagram to promote their extremist YouTube shows. The white supremacist YouTube channel Red Ice TV (@redicemedia) almost exclusively posts image promos for upcoming live shows.

    Although most posts pass community standards, some videos and descriptions push white nationalist ideas. In one video, Peterson declared July “white history month”; stated that Black and gay people “haven’t done a thing”; and thanked white people for “their” country because “no one else can do this.” One Red Ice image post previewed an episode on the white supremacist “population replacement” conspiracy theory, which stipulates that minorities and immigrants are replacing the white population of Western countries (and which was echoed by the Christchurch shooter in a manifesto titled “The Great Replacement,” which he posted online before allegedly committing the massacre).

    The white supremacist YouTube channel Goy Talk (@_goytalk.com_) also uses Instagram to advertise its show. Goy Talk’s Instagram posts have included racist and anti-semitic images, and its shows have promoted other white supremacist figures such as “Unite the Right” Charlottesville, VA, rally organizer Christopher Cantwell, Paul Nehlen, and former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke.

    Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News (@tuckercarlsontonight) has an active Instagram handle, posting clips and previews for the show usually a couple of times a week. However, most show clips posted on Instagram aren’t necessarily representative of Carlson’s white nationalist programming

    Others are using the platform to blend typical Instagram lifestyle posts with extremist memes and messaging.

    Four prominent white supremacists all mostly use Instagram to post photos of their daily lives, not unlike other “brand-peddling marketers” on the platform. Far-right YouTuber Lauren Southern (@laurencheriie), most recently known for amplifying the white supremacist conspiracy theory of a white genocide occuring in South Africa, almost exclusively posts selfies and photo shoots of herself to her 173,000 Instagram followers. Unite the Right marchers Nick Fuentes (@nicholasjfuentes) and James Allsup (@jamesallsup) also mostly post personal photos on Instagram, occasionally embedding general pro-President Donald Trump messaging or imagery. White separatist Brittany Pettibone (@brittpettibone), who promoted the “Defend Europe” project that intended to disrupt the life-saving work of European humanitarian groups helping refugees cross the Mediterranean, almost exclusively posts apolitical pictures of herself, friends, and her fiancé, the anti-Muslim extremist Martin Sellner, who received almost $1,700 in donations from the white supremacist charged with committing the Christchurch mosque shootings.

    Far-right hack Carl Benjamin, known as Sargon of Akkad (@sargonofakkad100), mostly just posts travel and scenery photos on Instagram, occasionally posting nondescript previews for his YouTube show, racist memes, and anti-Muslim content. And the white supremacist YouTuber Carl Robertson, who goes by the pseudonym Millennial Woes (@millennialwoes) posts pictures of himself and behind-the-scenes-style content of his show.

    Rebel Media personality Martina Markota (@martinamarkota) pots a mix of anti-LGBT jokes and racist memes with personal posts. Nazi-promoter Tim Gionet, known online as Baked Alaska (@bakedalaska), primarily uses Instagram to post joke lifestyle content associated with his brand of far-right humor. And although Gionet recently “denounced” the “alt-right,” he continues to engage with white nationalist figures on Instagram, including liking a post promoting Faith Goldy’s interview with white supremacist Jared Taylor.

    White nationalist fans are flocking to Instagram.

    Figures whose extremism gets them banned from other platforms find in Instagram a helpful tool to continue engaging their audiences, as evidenced by follower counts after bans from other networks. Just before she was banned from Twitter in late November, Laura Loomer had about 38,000 followers on Instagram. As of April, she has over 111,000 -- a 191% increase in followership over just four and a half months. Alex Jones also saw an increase in Instagram followers after his Twitter and Facebook ban, with his numbers jumping by 49%. And since Tucker Carlson began fanning the flames of debunked claims of big tech censoring conservatives one year ago, his show’s Instagram account has seen a 350% increase in followership, from 70,000 followers in March 2018 to over 315,000 followers in April 2019.

    The handles of other extremists are seeing steady but drastic increases in followership as well. In the past six months: Nick Fuentes’ Instagram followership has increased by 140%; Jesse Lee Peterson’s has increased by 57%; and Stefan Molyneux’s has increased by 29%.

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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

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

    Wheeler's EPA press team attacks journalists and media outlets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Wheeler favors right-wing media for his televised interviews

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

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

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

    Wheeler is getting cozy with the right-wing Daily Caller

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

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

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

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

    The Daily Beast reported last year on one troubling tweet:

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

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

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

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

    Wheeler promotes climate denial and racist memes via his Twitter account

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The path to conservative media success is paved with outrage-bait

    We’re all being trolled by attention-starved wannabe media stars

    Blog ››› ››› PARKER MOLLOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    When right-wing pundit Erick Erickson suggested last week that the U.S. cut foreign aid to Central American countries and instead use those funds to “prop up the next generation of Pinochet types,” it didn’t come as much of a surprise. A number of conservatives have a bit of a soft spot for the former Chilean dictator. When Erickson said that he was “hoping for some helicopters in this plan,” though, he raised a few eyebrows, as such a statement is designed to do.

    His reference to helicopters was a nod to Augusto Pinochet’s history of having at least 120 political dissidents thrown to their deaths from helicopters into the “the ocean, the lakes and the rivers of Chile.” On his blog, The Resurgent, Erickson elaborated a bit on that tweet, still straddling the line between being serious and just joking around, and writing that he’s “not actually fully on board” with his own idea.

    Does Erickson actually think helicopters are essential to this tweet, blog post, or political suggestion? Probably not. Certainly, he knows that the extrajudicial murder of political opponents is a reprehensible thing to praise. Why say it, then? Because it gets him attention, and in a sea of political media takes, attention is everything. Anyone who spends any significant amount of time watching political talk shows or cable news channels knows that it’s the loudest and most extreme voices that rise to the top of the punditry food chain. It’s as true for Erickson as it is for more recent additions to our national discourse, Tomi Lahren and Milo Yiannopoulos. The power to provoke has replaced intelligent discussion, and would-be commentators are catching on.

    There’s nothing new about self-styled “provocateurs” in political media, especially among conservatives.

    Erickson, along with the likes of Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, or any number of other conservatives coming out of the world of talk radio, have made entire careers based on saying things so outrageous that the rest of us ask whether they even mean what they’re saying. Does Coulter actually wish that Timothy McVeigh had bombed the New York Times building? Or that politicians who support immigration reform should face “death squads”? Probably not, but her many outrageous statements have helped make Coulter a bestselling author and mainstay in the world of political commentary for two decades running.

    The truth is that you don’t have someone like Erickson or Coulter on your Sunday morning political talk show if you’re interested in an-depth discussion about policy. No, you have them on because of their potential to generate controversy. Their entire brand is built upon being predictably unpredictable.

    The truth is that discussing politics can be boring, and maybe it should be. Deficit discussions and tax talk just aren’t sexy. Foreign policy is probably better considered with a sober seriousness, and the economy is best understood as a complex mess of systems only a technocrat could love. But people like their politics with a side of entertainment. After all, there’s a reason people tune in to CNN over C-SPAN, and this creates a major incentive for would-be commentators to embrace a politics-as-WWE approach.

    Milo Yiannopoulos is one of the more fascinating cases of a commenter embracing the extreme for a taste of fame.

    Before becoming the poster boy for crude offense masked as commentary, Milo Yiannopoulos was the editor of The Kernel, an online tech and culture magazine he founded. Though he was never shy about his conservative beliefs, he was far from the firebrand who’d later publish Breitbart articles under such headlines as “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” and “Teenage Boys With Tits: Here’s My Problem With Ghostbusters.”

    While he’d always had a reputation for his inflated ego and a tendency to pick fights, back in his days writing at The Kernel, Yiannopoulos could actually be -- dare I say -- thoughtful. Based on his writing, 2012’s Yiannopoulos would have almost certainly hated his 2018 self. Take, for instance, a 2012 blog post titled “The internet is turning us all into sociopaths,” in which he describes the rise of a new sort of anti-civility, online and off:

    What’s disturbing about this new trend, in which commenters are posting what would previously have been left anonymously, is that these trolls seem not to mind that their real names, and sometimes even their occupations, appear clamped to their vile words. It’s as if a psychological norm is being established whereby comments left online are part of a video game and not real life. It’s as if we’ve all forgotten that there’s a real person on the other end, reading and being hurt by our vitriol. That’s as close to the definition of sociopath as one needs to get for an armchair diagnosis, though of course many other typical sociopathic traits are also being encouraged by social media.

    In “When ‘free speech’ means defending evil murderers,” Yiannopoulos lambasted social media companies that refused to take swift action against cyberbullying and extremist content. In another blog, he argued that “free speech has its limits,” and in yet another, he took one of his own cyberbullies to task. He called Laurie Penny’s book Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet “terrific,” writing, "We do need to think more carefully about how women are spoken to online."

    In 2013, The Kernel shuttered after being sued by former contributors over unpaid wages. It was acquired by a German company called Berlin 42 before being sold to the publisher of The Daily Dot. By 2014, Yiannopoulos was writing for Breitbart and fanning the flames of Gamergate, a controversy he would use to propel himself to U.S. stardom. The rest is, as they say, history.

    The blueprint to conservative media stardom is obvious to even the casual observer, making it easier than ever for young voices to grab the spotlight.

    Tomi Lahren went from hosting a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, political roundtable show in which she accepted the realities of climate change to becoming a Fox News megastar. The secret to her success: a newfound embrace of the theatrical and outrageous. Her road to stardom was paved with tweets calling the Black Lives Matter movement “The new KKK,” videos in which she said that the U.S. government during the Obama administration had a “be-friendly-to-Jihadis mentality,”  and more recently, a tweet saying that the “highlight” of her Thanksgiving weekend was watching the tear-gassing of migrants (including children) at the U.S.-Mexico border.

    Lahren found a shortcut to success, and she took it. How many of us can honestly say that we wouldn’t act out a more extreme version of ourselves if it meant a one-way ticket to the top? Because if it’s not Lahren filling the rage void in political media, it’d be someone else just as over-the-top and abrasive. If social media has shown us anything, it’s that there are always people waiting in the wings, longing to be discovered.

    The key to longevity is to muster up the ability to be totally earnest on occasion.

    The Yiannopoulos star burned bright, but for now, it’s fizzled. He knows that the only way to stay relevant is to say truly outlandish things, like when he told The Observer in June, “I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight.” He’s become the political embodiment of The Onion’s brilliant 2001 “Marilyn Manson Now Going Door-To-Door Trying To Shock People” article.

    He faded because the blueprint shifted ever so slightly. People got bored of watching an entirely unserious man shout slurs and call it commentary, because he couldn’t take off the “Milo” public persona he’d created for himself, even for a moment. He tried, as in the wake of comments he made that appeared to condone pedophilia, but it came off as hollow and insincere. The trick for media provocateurs is to offer a dash of humanity in with the vitriol. Lahren did this when she opened up about being pro-choice on an episode of The View. Erickson does this whenever he stops by a respectable talk show to promote civility or denounce conspiracy theories.

    As the rules change, so do the players. Uninterrupted trolling no longer has the power it once did. Maybe we can move the bar further still. Maybe the answer to professional trolls is to deny them the attention they so desperately need to remain relevant. Maybe I shouldn’t be writing about Erickson’s “helicopter” tweet at all. Maybe I shouldn’t bother to note when media figures hang a neon “pay attention to me” sign above their heads as they tweet things like “Can someone explain to me why I'm supposed to lose sleep over Saudi Arabia killing an Islamist political opponent?” about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, or when they tweet “I've found my Christmas card photo. #Caring” in response to a photo of a family running from tear gas on the border.

    If the expected response is reactive outrage, maybe deliberate disinterest is the answer. So, why am I writing about this, you might ask. I think it’s important to recognize the patterns at play. Starving the trolls of the attention they seek is a reasonable long-term goal. But in the meantime, we need to recognize that there are people toying with our national political discourse just for a shot at fame and fortune.

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

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

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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

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

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

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

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

    Wheeler's EPA press office attacks journalists and media outlets

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

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

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

    From an E&E News article published last week:

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

    ...

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

    ...

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

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

    Wheeler favors right-wing media for his televised interviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Wheeler promotes climate denial and racist memes via his Twitter account

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • 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.

  • Townhall senior columnist amplifies white nationalist tropes to troll followers

    Kurt Schlichter made multiple tweets with just the phrase "14." "14" is a common neo-Nazi phrase.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Media Matters

    Twice over the weekend, Townhall senior columnist and Rebel Media host Kurt Schlichter tweeted "14" at Twitter users with whom he appeared to be having political disagreements. “14” is a common white nationalist trope that refers to the slogan coined by white supremacist David Lane: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

    Schlichter is not the only right-wing media figure to use rhetoric linked to white nationalism in order to troll progressives. Milo Yiannopoulos, the far-right troll with Nazi sympathies struggling to stay relevant, recently sent a Jewish reporter $14.88, another code tied to white supremacy (the digital money transfer company Venmo kicked him off the platform, and PayPal did as well).  Similarly, a Department of Homeland Security February press release recently raised questions among journalists for echoing the trope.

    By willingly associating with tropes so tightly tied to white nationalism, whether in jest or intentionally, Schlichter is revealing either that he has white nationalist sympathies, or he is comfortable with carrying water for white nationalists in order to “trigger the libs.” As New York magazine laid out, “ironic” trolling using white supremacist tropes has provided cover to genuine acts of hate and violence. 

  • Far-right online message board users celebrate Annapolis newsroom shooting

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    A shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper building in Annapolis, MD, caused multiple injuries and fatalities. Even before anyone knew details about the shooting, message boards known for their far-right vitriol reacted gleefully, echoing the anti-journalist rhetoric President Donald Trump has made so prominent.

    On the “politically incorrect” boards in 4chan and 8chan, users immediately set out to comment on the breaking news, some dismissing it as a “false flag” meant to distract from Trump “winning all week,” or warning of “a parade of crisis actors” was forthcoming, echoing the narrative pro-Trump media pushed to dismiss survivors of the Parkland, FL, school shooting and their calls to reduce gun violence afterward. More disturbingly, a significant amount of users celebrated and encouraged the violent incident, celebrating what they saw as an attack on journalists.

    These disturbing reactions mirror the sentiment Nazi-sympathizer Milo Yiannopoulos expressed when he called for “vigilante squads” to shoot journalists in response to media reporting he disliked. In response to the Annapolis shooting, Yiannopoulos tried to blame his violent comments on the journalists he had made them to and who had then reported it, taking no responsibility for the impact his comments could have on his far-right followers. Media outlets and journalists are a common target of pro-Trump trolls, who have turned “brick a journo” (which refers to throwing bricks at journalists) into a recurring pattern to threaten journalists with violence by tweeting pictures of bricks at them.

  • Alex Jones and his co-hosts have a misogynistic obsession with lesbians

    Alex Jones: “All they want is for us to submit to them”

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Anyone watching Infowars long enough would notice host Alex Jones’ remarkable obsession with a very specific subset of the global population: lesbians. Jones’ unhinged tirades about innumerable topics have rightfully made him a target for online mockery and the protagonist of numerous internet memes. But there’s something more sinister than funny in the way that Jones and some of his guest co-hosts depict, mock, and dissociate from lesbians to Infowars’ hundreds of thousands of viewers.

    Jones’ guest co-hosts -- including Gavin McInnes, founder of the chauvinistic fraternal organization Proud Boys, Infowars contributor Owen Shroyer, and anti-feminist troll Milo Yiannopoulos -- mimic his hateful rhetoric. That treatment ranges from sexist, sophomoric mocking of lesbians for their supposed appearance to the dangerous perpetuation of the absurd idea that lesbians are depressed because they need a man or have turned to women after having a “bad experience with men in their life.”

    Jones shows no qualms about trivializing traumatic issues like child abuse when he asserts that women become lesbians because “daddy beat her up.” He has also used violent imagery to describe romantic and sexual relationships between women, including saying, “If they can’t find a man to smack them around, well, they found them a girl going to do it real good, knock them upside their head.” Jones has even openly suggested he could be personally violent against lesbians too:

    ALEX JONES (HOST): We could take on 500 of you in physical combat, but see, that isn’t what matters -- they’ve got the media and they’ve got our good will and they’re gonna program us. All they want is for us to submit to them.

    Beneath his rhetoric lie toxic elements of misogyny and male supremacy. Jones claims that lesbians “want all the women for themselves,” which both implies that men are entitled to women and that women are not autonomous beings with the capacity to make their own decisions about which individuals they choose as partners. He also claims lesbians “want to be the guy smacking the hot chick around,” reinforcing erroneous assumptions that lesbian relationships follow heterosexual gender roles while trivializing violence against women by saying “some women like it.”  

    Jones’ rhetoric could have the effect of poisoning his audiences’ perceptions of the queer female community, by directly pushing for the further marginalization of a minority that continues to fight for equality under the law.

    Video by John Kerr.​

  • Pamela Geller's anti-migrant video is a hoax. There's even a complete film crew in the shot.

    Geller was purporting to show anti-police violence by migrants in Italy, but the video was debunked in 2014

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Update: Geller removed the video from her YouTube channel and website, but doubled down on her claim of “Muslim migrant violence” in an update:

    "Left-wing propaganda sites and Muslim supremacist terror-tied orgs have taken issue with one of the videos I previously ran saying it wasn’t real. The fact is there are thousands of videos exposing Muslim migrant violence and destruction that elicit no response from the enemedia. Left-wing propaganda sites and Muslim supremacist terror-tied orgs continue to ignore those videos and the widespread horror these migrants have wrought on the countries they’ve invaded."

    Notorious anti-Muslim commentator Pamela Geller uploaded and shared an obviously staged video framing migrants in Italy as anti-police vandalizers in the context of Italy’s highly contested general election.

    On February 11, Pamela Geller’s “Morning News Report” newsletter featured a YouTube video titled “Migrants in Italy” which was uploaded on February 7 to Geller’s YouTube channel, and shared on her personal website. The video shows people (who are actors) vandalizing an Italian police car with bats and sticks. Geller presented the video as real without verifying its authenticity in a shameless attempt to smear migrant men.

    The video, in reality, is an amateur recording of an Italian film shooting. The drama Mediterranea chronicles two friends from Burkina Faso who experience hostility after immigrating to Italy. The allegation that the video depicts Italian migrants engaged in a criminal act has been debunked since as early as 2014, by Italian, French, and German language websites. (A directional microphone and light-diffusion panel are also visible in the frame, though Geller seemed not to have noticed them.) As of this writing, the video has over 5,000 views.

    Pamela Geller is the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible figurehead. Her recent shameless promotion of blatant xenophobic misinformation comes weeks before Italy’s general election in March which is being widely considered a referendum on immigration. After an Italian neo-fascist shot six immigrants in central Italy last week, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called for Italy’s 600,000 undocumented immigrants to be deported, calling them a “social bomb ready to explode.” Berlusconi’s coalition of anti-immigrant parties has a real chance of winning in the March election.

    In addition to spreading anti-immigrant bigotry, Geller is currently crusading against social media companies. In what has been described as one of “the dumbest lawsuits" ever, Geller sued the Department of Justice for social media companies’ “censorship” of her anti-Muslim rhetoric online. Though her meritless case was dismissed, Geller is now taking her so-called censorship stunts to far-right media platforms, like on the show of former Breitbart technology editor and white supremacist sympathizer Milo Yiannopoulos. During her appearance as a guest on Yiannopoulos' podcast on February 11, Geller condemned what she claimed is the censorship of conservative views on social media.

    And, just last week, Geller appeared on a “social media neutrality” panel convened by right-wing trolls and conspiracy theorists who blamed social media censorship for their declining traffic rates. Despite using social media to spread obvious misinformation and hateful speech, Geller accused media of removing content critical of Islam because Sharia law, according to her, mandates that Islam not be criticized.

    Geller’s promotion of an obviously staged video is just the latest example of her exploitation of YouTube’s "radical free speech experiment" to spread racist misinformation in a bid for self-promotion, but this time, amid concerns in Italy about election-related fake news and rising anti-immigrant sentiment, her stunts could have larger consequences. 

  • What men's rights activists and other "anti-feminist" men have in common with white supremacists

    It's not just Breitbart.

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    The "Men's Rights Movement" (MRM) regularly overlaps with and reinforces white supremacy and the “alt-right” through a shared belief that dominant groups in society -- men and whites, respectively -- are actually oppressed. Along with other "anti-feminist" activists, this misogynist coalition seeks to force its regressive viewpoint on the rest of society, from movie releases to federal education policy. From online harassment to deadly violence, the MRM and its activists are an immediate and growing threat.

  • Here's what you need to know about BuzzFeed's Breitbart bombshell

    BuzzFeed confirms Breitbart solicits ideas and gives editorial control to white supremacists and neo-Nazis

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW LAWRENCE

    Buzzfeed News has obtained and published “an explosive cache of documents” confirming Breitbart as the mouthpiece for neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and the racist right-wing movement known as the alt-right. Buzzfeed’s entire report on Breitbart management’s courting of neo-Nazis and white supremacists can be found here.

    Breitbart actively courted and solicited neo-Nazis and white supremacist leaders for stories, even allowing them to contribute ideas and kill stories

    Buzzfeed reports that a March 29th Breitbart article titled “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right” was written with editorial input from numerous white nationalists and neo-Nazis. Prior to writing the article, Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos reached out to the system administrator for the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer, editor of the white nationalist magazine American Renaissance, Devin Saucier, and “neoreactionary” Curtis Yarvin to solicit ideas. All responded at length with suggestions. Saucier, who Yiannopoulos described as his “best friend,” responded that Steve Bannon was “sympathetic to much of it.”

    Additionally, Saucier suggested ideas for articles that were later published on Breitbart, including in an email titled “Article idea: How trolls could win the general for Trump.” Yiannopoulos forwarded the email to a Breitbart writer and ordered him to “Drop what you’re doing and draft this for me.” The following day the article appeared on Breitbart. Saucier also killed a story Yiannopoulos had written on class-based affirmative action. After sending a draft of the article to Saucier, he replied, “I would honestly spike this.” The story never appeared on Breitbart.

    Breitbart articles ghost-written by white supremacists and neo-Nazis have seeped into conservative politics, including the rhetoric of Donald Trump

    In a July speech in Warsaw “that was celebrated by the alt-right,” President Trump used a line from a Breitbart story that Buzzfeed reported was “all but line-edited by a white nationalist.” Referring to remarks about free speech on college campuses, Yiannopoulos remarked that Trump “used phrases extremely close to what I say -- Bannon is feeding him.”

    Furthermore, the Breitbart article written with the help of white nationalists and neo-Nazis, “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right,” received notes from former Reagan and George H.W. Bush staffer James Pinkerton. Buzzfeed also reports the collaboration of “conservative thinkers” with Yiannopoulos that led to Breitbart articles, such as correspondences that included Rachel Fulton Brown, a University of Chicago medievalist, Scott Walter, president of the Capital Research Center, and Ghaffar Hussain of the controversial organization Quilliam.

    Steve Bannon continued his relationship with Breitbart while working on the Trump campaign

    After joining the Trump campaign on August 17, 2016, Bannon “continued to run aspects of Breitbart.” Buzzfeed cites emails from Bannon to Yiannopoulos on September 1, September 3, and attempts to arrange a meeting between Yiannopoulos and digital strategist and Trump supporter Oz Sultan on September 11. Buzzfeed also reports that “there were also signs that Bannon was using his proximity to the Republican nominee to promote the culture war pet causes” of Breitbart.

    Breitbart management was aware the site was courting white supremacists and neo-Nazis and was focused on maintaining plausible deniability

    Buzzfeed reports that for Yiannopoulos,“maintaining a sufficiently believable distance from overt racists and white nationalists was crucial to the machine he had helped Bannon build.” Buzzfeed cites an email chain that had been forwarded to Bannon and Breitbart editor Alex Marlow by an assistant to Yiannnopoulos with a story bylined by Yiannopoulos that was actually written by his deputy and ghostwriter Allum Bokhari. Yiannopoulos replied with instructions not to “forward chains like that … everyone knows; but they don’t have to be reminded every time.” In another email, Yiannopoulos admitted that it was important for him to remain “clean enough” in his public interactions with white supremacy, despite his courtship of the movement.

    Republican patrons the Mercer family, funds Breitbart and maintains editorial control

    Hedge fund billionaire, Robert Mercer and his family who Buzzfeed describes as “a major funder of Breitbart” are described as having control over articles that are published on the website. In one instance detailed by Buzzfeed, Robert’s daughter Rebekah emailed Steve Bannon to demand an article she wanted written about a phone app game mocking Hillary Clinton that was rejected by the Apple App Store. Mercer wanted “an article up detailing his 1st amendment political persecution.” Breitbart published two articles about the app and Bannon described Apple’s reversal of their original decision a “Huge victory.”

    In 2016, Yiannopoulos sang “America the Beautiful” for alt-right neo-nazis, who gave him a “sieg heil” salute

  • Before he joined Trump, Bannon bragged he made Breitbart the home of the "alt-right." Now he's back.

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Stephen Bannon, former White House chief strategist and restored executive chairman of Breitbart.com, orchestrated and supported many of the worst elements of the campaign and presidency of Donald Trump. Before, during, and after his direct involvement with Trump’s political ambitions, Bannon used his experience -- and his extensive and complicated financial connections to the far-right billionaire Mercer family -- to stoke the flames of nativist anger, encourage Trump’s most racist and misogynistic rhetoric, support far-right political candidates across the globe, and attack all perceived enemies of Trumpism, potentially including Trump himself.

  • With Bannon gone, the far-right media trolls are ready to break up with the White House

    The anti-establishment trolls have lost their biggest White House ally and are starting to go after Pence. Prepare for the right-wing media food fight.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Stephen Bannon is no longer the White House chief strategist. His departure, in addition to furthering the narrative of a Trump administration in constant chaos, is likely to become a source of acrimony between right-wing anti-establishment outlets and online trolls and those who remain in the Trump administration.

    Bannon’s departure has prompted a shift in amongst pro-Trump outlets and far-right trolls -- like The Gateway Pundit and Mike Cernovich -- who are now reporting that the White House is being taken over by a “deep state” coup led by Vice President Mike Pence. Cernovich is a right-wing opportunistic troll who rode to prominence by supporting President Donald Trump but has recently announced “a big pivot” away from the president. In response to the news about Bannon getting fired, Cernovich took to Periscope to claim that “there’s a full-on coup” organized by Pence but that Trump doesn’t deserve any sympathy because he’s “a 71-year old man” who chose to listen to his daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner instead of Bannon. Pro-Trump troll Jack Posobiec (who has also recently tried to move away from the “alt-right” movement) pushed the coup narrative as well, suggesting that the “RNC is counting impeachment votes from Congress against Trump,” adding, “They want rid of him.” Milo Yiannopoulos, a right-wing troll who was formerly employed by Breitbart.com, celebrated Bannon’s departure by launching Bannon 2020 merchandise on his online store and saying he looks forward to “having Steve back in the trenches again.” Yiannopoulos also said he wants to see “Bannon the Barbarian crush his enemies.”

    Bannon’s departure has other possible impacts for the far-right media universe. According to reports, Bannon might be returning to Breitbart, the Mercer-funded outlet he once claimed was “platform for the ‘alt-right,’” a term its current editors (much like former proud supporters of the movement) are trying to move away from. With Bannon in the White House, Breitbart behaved like any other pro-Trump outlet, showing little editorial independence and supporting Trump’s agenda (including his war on the press). But this support lasted as long as Trump’s agenda aligned with Bannon’s: Breitbart did not shy away from attacking Kushner, who is a White House senior adviser, to defend Bannon. With Bannon out, it seems like Breitbart will hold no punches in a war against a White House it now perceives as controlled by globalists.

    The right-wing media landscape is about to shift once more, putting the Bannon-loyalists, nationalist ideologues, and opportunistic trolls in a war against an establishment Republican Party faction they think is being led by Pence and, likely, Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of Fox News and owner of the Wall Street Journal. It remains to be seen whether Trump and his White House will be caught in the middle.