Paul Joseph Watson

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  • The right-wing attacks on CNN's Russia story are not actually about ethics in media journalism

    The president and his trolls are not fighting CNN. They're fighting the practice of journalism itself.

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Over the weekend, CNN published, investigated, and retracted a story which reported that the Senate Intelligence Committee was looking into a Russian investment fund whose head met with a close aide to President Donald Trump earlier this year. On Monday, the network announced that the story’s reporter, editor, and the executive editor of CNN’s investigations division had all resigned. A network source told The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple that while the network had not disproved the story, swift action had to be taken because there had been a “breakdown in process.”

    Viewed in a vacuum, this would be an admirable, if harsh, example of a major media outlet working to uphold its standards. But the incident -- and the response from the right, with President Donald Trump and his media allies attacking CNN -- comes amid a months-long effort to brand the network and the rest of the mainstream press as “fake news.” The attacks on CNN that have poured in over the last few days have not been credible arguments made in good faith by people who want a better media. They’ve been the vapid bleatings of the press’s enemies, who want to grind down journalists and narrow the scope of acceptable behavior for mainstream outlets using standards to which they don’t themselves adhere. There is no point in trying to appease the right-wing critics, and responsible journalists should not act as if there’s a way to win them over.

    “Wow, CNN had to retract big story on ‘Russia,’ with 3 employees forced to resign,” Trump tweeted this morning. “What about all the other phony stories they do? FAKE NEWS!”

    “CNN's descent from news organization to political campaign is nearly complete,” Tucker Carlson claimed on Fox last night. For Fox’s Sean Hannity, the incident proved there is a “major credibility crisis at CNN.” Asked about the president’s tweets on Fox & Friends the next morning, Newt Gingrich, a close ally of the president’s, chimed in to say the network needs to get rid of president Jeff Zucker and bring in “an outside analyst” to “review everything at CNN and basically reset it.”

    To be clear, CNN investigated its report, found it did not meet the network’s standards, and the report was not only retracted, but the people involved with its production also no longer work there. At the pro-Trump press outlets like Fox, such consequences simply do not happen.

    If Fox held to CNN’s standard, the network would have fired Special Report anchor Bret Baier over last year’s retracted, anonymously sourced report, presented days before the presidential election, that an indictment was “likely” in the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server. Fox & Friends hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade wouldn’t still have jobs after being scolded by a top network executive and a federal judge for their tendency to credulously report Internet hoaxes and absurd smears. Senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano would have been canned after he claimed that unnamed intelligence sources had told him that late last year, a British spy agency had surveilled Trump on behalf of then-President Barack Obama.

    The reality that mainstream outlets have standards that the right-wing press doesn’t is admirable, but it is also a vulnerability. The president and his media supporters have internalized the lesson that admitting fault is how you lose, and fighting back is how you win. Thus they almost never say they did something wrong -- and certainly never penalize themselves for their failings -- even if, say, tape emerges of the president saying that he likes to sexually assault women. This refusal to apologize has allowed them to prime their audience to feast on opponents who acknowledge failures.

    The right wing’s argument in this case is extremely simple, and it fits with a story its adherents have been telling for quite some time: CNN, and the mainstream media more broadly, is fake news, deliberately producing false stories to damage Trump and the conservative movement. CNN’s argument -- that the network tries hard to get its stories right, and when it fails to meet its own standards, it takes action -- is much more complex. That’s a weakness since the general public simply does not have much trust for journalists.

    And the president’s media allies do not intend to leave it there. Late last night, video propagandist James O’Keefe released a hidden-camera video featuring a supervising producer for the CNN Medical Unit, who said that the network had yet to uncover a Russia “smoking gun” and that the network’s reporting is driven by ratings.

    The claim that CNN has no standards and cares only about getting more viewers is contradicted by the resignations from yesterday, and it's unclear why a health producer would have particular insight into the network’s Russia coverage, or why all network producers should have the same opinions about coverage. But no matter; the point is to tear the network down. The video is being billed as a major scandal by the “alt-right” and pro-Trump media, with Paul Joseph Watson, editor-at-large for the conspiracy theory website Infowars, stating that Trump “must now revoke CNN’s White House press credentials” based on the tape.

    CNN and rest of the media should learn from this. For decades, the right wing has sought to work the press as a way to delegitimize and lessen critical coverage. But the conservative attacks on the media are not made in good faith. The most important tweet the president sent this morning explains what Trump thinks of major news outlets:

    This isn’t an argument over what constitutes good journalism and what doesn’t. It’s a fight over whether a critical press should exist.

    Journalists should do what they think is right in order to adhere to and uphold their standards. But they should make those decisions without paying attention to the bad-faith complaints from the right. They can’t worry about the conservative criticisms as if there is something they could do to make them stop. That will never happen. Firing journalists who mess up won’t help. Neither will hiring pro-Trump sycophants. The conservative goal is a cowed press that pushes the same propaganda that Fox does. Unless the rest of the press is willing to adhere to that standard, the right will never be satisfied.

  • Trump’s media allies use attack on GOP baseball practice to delegitimize the press

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump’s most loyal conservative and “alt-right” media allies are blaming the mainstream press's Trump coverage for Wednesday’s attack on a Republican congressional baseball practice, with one close ally to the president even calling for banning some critical journalists from the airwaves in response. This cynical campaign is the next step in their ongoing effort to delegitimize any source of unfavorable information about the president.

    The shooter has been identified as James T. Hodgkinson, a home inspector and critic of the president with a history of domestic violence.

    Paul Joseph Watson, an editor at Alex Jones’ Infowars site, was among the first to blame media coverage for the gunman’s attack, writing on Twitter just minutes after news broke that the culprit was “Trump derangement syndrome, radicalised by mainstream media hysterics.” He later added of journalists and the left, “The blood is on their hands.”

    This cynical effort to curtail critical journalism spread from the “alt-right” fringe, through the right-wing press, to Trump’s chief propagandist at Fox News. Several of the theory’s proponents specifically pointed to the media’s coverage of the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

    “The fake news media finally got what it wanted,” Mike Cernovich said on Periscope. “They’re getting their mass murderers. They’re getting the mass shooters. This is what they’ve attempted to incite for the past 18 months.” Cernovich, an “alt-right” provocateur and noted misogynist, spent the 2016 election cycle promoting “Pizzagate” smears, and now he has close ties to Trump’s White House and family.

    “I have foreseen this coming,” Rush Limbaugh told his millions-strong radio audience soon after the shooting. “You can’t continue to enrage people the way the left and predominantly the mainstream media has been doing.”

    Michael Savage, a right-wing radio host with a close relationship with Trump who regularly hosts the administration’s top officials, not only blamed the media for the shooting but also suggested that in response, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow and other critical journalists should be removed from the airwaves by the federal government due to their “constant drumbeat of their hatred against Trump and Republicans.” Maddow’s program is notable for its intense focus on the Trump-Russia story.

    At Fox, Sean Hannity declared that “the biggest issue we need to address as a country is what is a record level of vicious left-wing hate that is being spewed day after day, hour after hour, by a left-wing news media that wants to destroy the president.”

    Notably, the critique these pro-Trump media figures are pushing is largely bereft of concrete examples of journalists using extreme or inciting rhetoric about the president. After making his broad indictment against the press, for example, Hannity highlighted the actions of artists and celebrities, not reporters. In other instances, the claims are simply fabricated, as with Alex Jones’ declaration that a host of newspapers have called for Trump’s death.

    Instead, the president’s allies are claiming that negative coverage in general -- and negative coverage about the Russia investigation in particular -- led to violence. This is a patently cynical ploy aimed at bolstering a political strategy that the pro-Trump media have pushed for months.

    Trump has been castigating the press and seeking to delegitimize journalists since the presidential campaign. He’s declared the media the “enemy of the American people.” His allies have been bolstering that effort every step of the way.

    And now they’re using an attack on U.S. members of Congress as a new way to promote that argument.

  • Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson can’t get anything right

    Watson's fans include Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump administration

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Infowars editor Paul Joseph Watson has no credibility. The longtime Alex Jones collaborator has frequently fallen for hoaxes, posted transparently false information, and pushed fringe conspiracy theories about 9/11 and mass shootings.

    Infowars and Watson have become a favorite source for President Donald Trump and his fans. The president and his aides have referred to Watson’s work during the campaign, and Jones claimed senior aides have said they “really want” Watson to be part of the White House press corps.

    Watson is an Infowars editor and writer who has been working for conspiracy theorist radio host Alex Jones since October 2002. He has emerged as his own brand, regularly posting videos to his own YouTube channel. His videos carry headlines like “Why Are Feminists Fat & Ugly?”; “Hillary's Weird Behavior: The Cover-Up”; “F**k Beyoncé"; and “The Deep State War on Trump.”

    He’s also a prolific presence on social media, where he regularly pushes false information and misogyny. Watson has tweeted that the Women's March on Washington would be composed of a “handful of self-entitled, fat, ugly feminists trying to get arrested in desperate attempt to impress any man”; “a feminist is a woman who hates men because she is ugly on the inside and out and no one wants to be around her”; “strident feminists are almost always joyless cunts who are not fun to be around. This is a scientific fact”; and the “stereotype of most feminists being fat, ugly and obnoxious is completely accurate.”

    Watson also rails against purported political correctness and “social justice warriors.” He complained in a June 2 Reddit Ask Me Anything discussion that liberals are anti-science because they won’t accept that African and Middle Eastern people are more aggressive because they have lower IQs, adding: “You can’t deny that there are differences between races when it comes to IQ.” He also said that there’s a “war on men and masculinity” and that popular culture glorifies “being a pussy” and having depression, which Watson falsely alleges is not a real medical condition. And Watson has claimed that “there’s no such thing as moderate Islam. Islam is a violent, intolerant religion which, in its current form, has no place in liberal western democracies.”

    Watson is a conspiracy theorist who has woven tales about the United States government's involvement in tragedies such as 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Virginia Tech shooting. He has also fallen for numerous hoaxes, including fake stories about President Obama grabbing Melania Trump’s butt, President Trump generously allowing a black woman to live in Trump Tower for free for eight years, and a “damaging new Trump tape.”

    Trump and his aides have helped mainstream Watson, Jones, and Infowars, which is aiming to get permanent White House press credentials. Trump has twice retweeted Watson’s account (Watson responded to one retweet by writing that he “can now retire”). Donald Trump Jr. loves retweeting Watson’s account and has done so nearly 40 times since October 2016, according to the Trump Twitter Archive database. Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, Eric Trump, and White House director of social media Dan Scavino Jr. have also retweeted Watson or promoted his work.

    Jones said during a February 22 Reddit Ask Me Anything that he’s “talked to some of the senior Trump people” and they have told him, “‘Hey, we like you, but we really want Paul Watson’” as the Infowars White House correspondent. Jones added that Watson has declined to move to D.C.

    Here are 22 times Watson has pushed false stories and/or fact-free conspiracy theories:

    Watson fell for hoax that "CNN/BuzzFeed" would leak “damaging new Trump tape” before inauguration

    Watson helped start false claim that Trump “almost certainly” won popular vote due to votes “cast by illegal aliens”

    Watson posted fake photos claiming CNN made Fort Lauderdale airport shooter appear white

    Watson fell for fake story that Common Core curriculum taught 6th graders “how to use strap-on dildos”

    Watson posted -- then deleted -- story claiming WikiLeaks “bombshell” revealed that Clinton said she “hates everyday Americans”

    Watson fell for photoshopped picture of Obama supposedly grabbing Melania Trump’s butt

    Watson published false story that Obama executive order “mandate[s] the apprehension and detention of Americans who merely show signs of ‘respiratory illness’”

    Watson published 2011 story claiming “sources” say “bin Laden’s corpse has been on ice for nearly a decade”

    Watson’s Wash. Post-Seth Rich conspiracy theory fell apart

    Watson fell for fake story that trump allowed “homeless black woman” to live in Trump Tower rent free “for eight years”

    Watson falsely claims that depression is a fake condition

    Watson falsely claimed Obama adviser advocated “forced abortions” and “mass sterilization programs” through water supply

    Watson repeatedly connected Chicago attack with Black Lives Matter (police said it wasn’t connected)

    Watson falsely claims Obama’s birth certificate is “fraudulent”

    Watson falsely reported that “Social Security Administration is purchasing the bullets as part of preparations for civil unrest”

    Watson conspiracy theory: “U.S. establishment” “trained, funded and allowed” 9/11 hijackers into country

    Watson conspiracy theory: WTC 7 collapse “was a controlled demolition”

    Watson conspiracy theory: Virginia Tech mass shooting might have been “another government black-op”

    Watson conspiracy theory: Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh carried out attack under the direction of the FBI

    Watson conspiracy theory: Fort Hood mass shooting appears “perfectly staged”

    Watson conspiracy theory: Norwegian shooter “a patsy?”

    Watson conspiracy theory: British government behind 7/7 London bombings

    Watson fell for hoax that "CNN/BuzzFeed" would leak “damaging new Trump Tape” before inauguration

    Watson: “CNN/BuzzFeed to release damaging new Trump Tape 48 hours before inauguration.” Watson reported that a “source claiming to work for NBC has contacted Infowars to warn of a CNN/Buzzfeed plot to release a damaging video tape of Donald Trump just 48 hours before he is inaugurated as president.” [Infowars, 1/16/17, via Internet Archive]

    Watson was tricked by man who wanted to see how gullible he is. BuzzFeed reported that a man named Markus Muir said he tricked Watson into publishing the story. He explained: “It was only two direct messages and I thought he might ask for more confirmation. I went to bed, forgot about it, then I checked his feed on the train to work and it was just him saying there was huge news about to come out. I couldn’t believe it. It was a cut-and-paste job of what I said to him and it was all bullshit -- I made it all up.” He added that his idea came to him after seeing a CNN discussion on fake news. Infowars later took down Watson’s story. [BuzzFeed, 1/18/17]

    Watson helped start false claim that Trump “almost certainly” won popular vote due to votes “cast by illegal aliens”

    Watson: “Trump may have won popular vote.” Watson posted an Infowars piece claiming that “three million votes in the U.S. presidential election were cast by illegal aliens, according to Greg Phillips of the VoteFraud.org organization,” and as a result Trump “almost certainly won the popular vote.” [Infowars, 11/14/16]

    Reality: The claim that millions of “illegal” votes swung the popular vote is a baseless conspiracy. Numerous fact checkers noted that the “three million” “illegal” votes claim is false. PolitiFact wrote that the claim was given oxygen by Infowars, and it is “inaccurate” and “false.” It added that “studies have consistently shown that voter fraud is nowhere near common enough to call into question millions and millions of votes. Indeed, the ability to carry off such a far-reaching conspiracy -- potentially involving millions of people over the course of several months and without being noticed by election administration officials, many of them in states controlled by Republicans -- is ridiculously illogical.” [PolitiFact, 11/18/16, 11/28/16]

    Watson posted fake photos claiming CNN made Fort Lauderdale airport shooter appear white

    Watson tweet: “Why is CNN attempting to make the shooter look more white? bizarre.” After Esteban Santiago was arrested for the deadly January 2017 shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport, Watson tweeted:

    [Twitter, 1/6/17, via archive.is]

    Watson’s photo was fake. As The Daily Beast noted, “In reality, CNN had yet to air a picture of Santiago, let alone lightened a picture of him. The conspiracy also used a picture of an entirely different man named Esteban Santiago -- not the alleged shooter. … A real image of the shooter circulated on the internet hours later, confirming that he is not the 39-year-old Santiago showed in Watson’s tweet and Gateway Pundit’s article.” Watson later deleted his tweet. [The Daily Beast, 1/6/17]

    Watson fell for fake story that Common Core curriculum taught 6th graders “how to use strap-on dildos”

    Infowars story: “6th graders taught how to use strap-on dildo.” Watson wrote in a September 2014 story that “shocking images out of a classroom in Jacksonville, Florida illustrate how 11-12 year olds in 6th grade are being taught how to use strap-on dildos amidst a debate about sexual content finding its way into other Common Core subjects, material which has been attacked by some as pornographic.” [Infowars, 9/15/14, via archive.is; Snopes.com, 1/18/14]

    Watson mistook “satire” article as real news. As The Washington Post noted, “a quick reverse image-search make it pretty clear that the images came from an LGBT event at a college in Canada … and that the story itself originated on Modern Woman Digest, a bad ‘satire,’ i.e. fake-news, site.” Infowars has since taken down the story. [The Washington Post9/19/14]

    Watson posted -- then deleted -- story claiming WikiLeaks “bombshell” revealed that Clinton said she “hates everyday Americans”

    Infowars story: “WikiLeaks bombshell: Hillary Clinton ‘hates everyday Americans.’” Watson wrote an October 2016 piece headlined “Wikileaks Bombshell: Hillary Clinton ‘Hates Everyday Americans.’” He began the story by claiming: “New Wikileaks emails released just moments ago include a shocking admission by Clinton campaign manager John Podesta that Hillary Clinton ‘has begun to hate everyday Americans’. The whistleblower organization dumped part 3 of its Podesta email release today and this has to be the most jaw-dropping revelation yet.” [Infowars, 10/11/16, via archive.is]

    Watson wildly misrepresented Clinton’s comment. As even conservatives acknowledged, Clinton did not say she hated “everyday Americans.” Rather, the email was relaying that Clinton hated the cliché phrase “everyday Americans” -- not people themselves. Infowars later deleted its story. [Media Matters, 10/11/16]

    Watson fell for photoshopped picture of Obama supposedly grabbing Melania Trump’s butt

    Watson tweeted out photo of Obama grabbing Melania Trump’s butt. Watson tweeted out the following photo after President Trump’s January 20 inauguration:

    [Twitter, 1/22/17]

    The image was photoshopped. As BuzzFeed noted, the supposed Obama-Melania Trump image is “a very badly Photoshopped image” and “so bad that you can literally still see some of Obama’s original arm in the photo.” Watson later claimed it was just a “joke.” [BuzzFeed, 1/24/17; Twitter, 1/23/17]

    Watson published false story that Obama executive order “mandate[s] the apprehension and detention of Americans who merely show signs of ‘respiratory illness’”

    Watson: Obama order allows “him to mandate the apprehension and detention of Americans who merely show signs of ‘respiratory illness.’” Watson wrote in 2014: “As the Ebola outbreak continues to cause concern, President Barack Obama has signed an amendment to an executive order that would allow him to mandate the apprehension and detention of Americans who merely show signs of ‘respiratory illness.’” [Infowars, 8/1/14]

    PolitiFact: Order did “not mandate the apprehension and detention of people who show signs of ‘respiratory illness.’” PolitiFact wrote that Infowars’ supposed reporting is “a fundamental misreading of the executive order Obama signed and the power the federal government has. The updates Obama made to a 2003 executive order do not mandate the apprehension and detention of people who show signs of ‘respiratory illness,’ has nothing to do with the current Ebola crisis and only affect people entering the country or crossing state lines. We rate the claim Pants on Fire.” [PolitiFact, 8/6/14]

    Watson published 2011 story claiming “sources” say “bin Laden’s corpse has been on ice for nearly a decade”

    Watson: “Inside Sources: Bin Laden’s corpse has been on ice for nearly a decade.” Watson reported on May 2, 2011, that contrary to the announced death of Osama bin Laden, the terrorist leader had actually been dead for years and the government was merely waiting for “the most politically expedient time” to announce it, according to “sources”:

    A multitude of different inside sources both publicly and privately, including one individual who personally worked with Bin Laden at one time, told us directly that Osama’s dead corpse has been on ice for nearly a decade and that his “death” would only be announced at the most politically expedient time.

    That time has now come with a years-old fake picture being presented as the only evidence of his alleged killing yesterday, while Bin Laden’s body has been hastily dumped into the sea to prevent anyone from finding out when he actually died. [Infowars, 5/2/11]

    There’s no evidence bin Laden’s body was frozen for years. Al Qaeda confirmed that bin Laden had died in the 2011 raid. [The Associated Press, 5/6/11]

    Watson’s Wash. Post-Seth Rich conspiracy theory fell apart

    Watson suggested Wash. Post released breaking story “to distract from Seth Rich bombshell.” Watson suggested on May 6 that The Washington Post “published its dubious story on President Trump leaking classified information to the Russians less than an hour after the bombshell news broke that murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich was in contact with Wikileaks and that DC Police were ordered to cover it up. The coincidental timing has led many Trump supporters to accuse the Post of publishing their story in an attempt to distract the rest of the media from focusing on the massive new revelations in the Seth Rich case.” [Infowars, 5/16/17]

    The Post story went up before supposed “Seth Rich bombshell.” As Post reporter Dave Weigel noted, the Post story went up before the Fox 5 story was published. (The Fox 5 story has since been disproven and the main source for the story has backtracked.) [Twitter, 5/16/17; Media Matters, 5/16/17, 5/17/17]

    Watson fell for fake story that Trump allowed “homeless black woman” to live in Trump Tower rent free “for eight years”

    Watson: “A homeless black woman reveals that she has been living in Trump Tower for eight years with the blessings of the Donald himself.” Watson posted a story with the headline “Black Homeless Woman Says Trump Allowed Her To Live In Trump Tower Rent Free For 8 Years.” He began by writing that a “homeless black woman reveals that she has been living in Trump Tower for eight years with the blessings of the Donald himself” and “this doesn’t quite fit with the media’s portrayal of Trump as a rich, racist bigot.”

    [Infowars, 12/8/16]

    Trump Hotels spokesperson said the story is not true. BuzzFeed reported in response to Infowars that the story is not true, according to Trump Hotels:

    A woman’s claims in a now-viral video that she has lived in Trump Tower rent-free for up to nine years with the blessing of President-elect Donald Trump himself is not true, a Trump Hotels spokesperson told BuzzFeed News Friday.

    “There is no validity to the video,” said Jennifer Rodstrom, a spokeswoman for Trump Hotels, who answered a BuzzFeed News request sent to a transition team spokeswoman. “The woman depicted is not our guest.”

    The video, which first appeared to be posted on YouTube in July, gained traction on Thursday after it was published on InfoWars, a right-wing conspiracy outlet, and celebrated by Trump supporters who said it contradicts criticism that Trump is a bigot.

    The InfoWars link was shared more than 28,000 times on Facebook.

    Infowars later added an editor’s note stating that the story was “unconfirmed,” but was worth reporting “given Trump’s long and documented history of helping those in need.” [BuzzFeed, 12/9/16; Infowars, 12/8/16; Internet Archive, accessed 6/5/17]

    Watson falsely claims that depression is a fake condition

    Watson: Depression shouldn’t be a “medical condition.” Watson posted a January 2017 video attacking people who have depression, complaining that “being weak-minded and emotionally incontinent” has “become a positive personality trait.” Watson concluded that people who have depression have been “misled” because depression is “temporary” and the pharmaceutical industry just wants to “control people” and make money off of them:

    PAUL JOSEPH WATSON: Why is everyone so depressed now when we've got it so much easier? It's because you've been completely misled about what depression actually is. Depression is nothing more than dissatisfaction with life. It's temporary unhappiness, but the dominant culture in the pharmaceutical industry figured out that it could control people and make tons of money by treating depression as a pathological disease. So now depression is not unhappiness but a medical condition which it’s the responsibility of the doctor to alleviate by medical means. And they're only too happy to, often being paid to do so under the insane justification that depression is a chemical imbalance -- which it isn't. [Infowars, 1/4/17; YouTube, 1/4/17]

    Medical professionals: Depression is real. The American Psychiatric Association notes that depression “is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act.” The organization notes that “several factors can play a role in depression” and that “differences in certain chemicals in the brain may contribute to symptoms of depression.” [American Psychiatric Association, accessed 6/5/17]

    Watson falsely claimed Obama adviser advocated “forced abortions” and “mass sterilization programs” through water supply

    Watson: Obama adviser advocated “totalitarian measures of population control, including forced abortions, mass sterilization programs conducted via the food and water supply.” Watson wrote of former Obama science adviser John P. Holdren in 2009:

    President Obama’s top science and technology advisor John P. Holdren co-authored a 1977 book in which he advocated the formation of a “planetary regime” that would use a “global police force” to enforce totalitarian measures of population control, including forced abortions, mass sterilization programs conducted via the food and water supply, as well as mandatory bodily implants that would prevent couples from having children.

    The concepts outlined in Holdren’s 1977 book Ecoscience, which he co-authored with close colleagues Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich, were so shocking that a February 2009 Front Page Magazine story on the subject was largely dismissed as being outlandish because people couldn’t bring themselves to believe that it could be true. [Infowars, 7/11/09]

    PolitiFact: Claim is “pants on fire” false. PolitiFact wrote that many conservatives, including Glenn Beck, were quoting from Holdren’s book “out of context” and concluded he was not advocating those positions:

    But with regard to Beck's claim that Holdren "has proposed forcing abortions and putting sterilants in the drinking water to control population," the text of the book clearly does not support that. We think a thorough reading shows that these were ideas presented as approaches that had been discussed. They were not posed as suggestions or proposals. In fact, the authors make clear that they did not support coercive means of population control. Certainly, nowhere in the book do the authors advocate for forced abortions.

    Some have argued that Holdren's view of the imminent and grave global dangers posed by overpopulation should provide pause, given Holdren's current view that global warming now presents imminent and grave global dangers. That's a matter for reasoned debate.

    But in seeking to score points for a political argument, Beck seriously mischaracterizes Holdren's positions. Holdren didn't advocate those ideas then. And, when asked at a Senate confirmation hearing, Holdren said he did not support them now. We think it's irresponsible to pluck a few lines from a 1,000-page, 30-year-old textbook, and then present them out of context to dismiss Holdren's long and distinguished career. And we rate Beck's claim Pants on Fire! [PolitiFact, 7/29/09]

    Watson repeatedly connected Chicago attack with Black Lives Matter (police said it wasn’t connected)

    Watson was among the first to tie Chicago kidnapping and attack with BLM. On January 4, four black people were arrested after they live-streamed a kidnapping and attack of a white man with special needs in Chicago. Watson repeatedly claimed that the attack was connected to Black Lives Matter, tweeting among other things: “#BLMKidnapping is the hashtag to get this story trending” and “the BLM torture victim was held for 24-48 hours. #BLMKidnapping.” [Media Matters, 1/5/17; Twitter, 1/5/17]

    CNN: “Chicago police say they see no connection between the suspects and the Black Lives Matter activist group.” CNN reported following the attack that “Chicago police say they see no connection between the suspects and the Black Lives Matter activist group, contrary to some reports on social media” and noted that Watson was an early promoter of the connection:

    Chicago police say they see no connection between the suspects and the Black Lives Matter activist group, contrary to some reports on social media.

    Yet in less than 24 hours, the hashtag #BLMKidnapping was mentioned more than 480,000 times on Twitter and became one of the top five Twitter trends across the country Thursday.

    Paul Joseph Watson, editor at large of the website "Infowars," was among the first to tie the attack to Black Lives Matter, a social justice movement that protests violence and racism against African-Americans. "Infowars" is known for promoting conspiracy theories, saying the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre was a government hoax and claiming the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by the US government. [CNN.com, 1/5/17]

    Watson falsely claims Obama’s birth certificate is “fraudulent”

    Watson: “National security threat: Obama’s birth certificate proven fraudulent.” Watson wrote a July 2012 piece concluding that “Obama’s birth certificate betrays innumerable instances clearly indicating that the document has been tampered with in an effort to manufacture the myth that Obama was born in the United States. The manifestly logical conclusion that he was not creates an urgent national security threat and represents one of the biggest cover-ups in U.S. political history.” [Infowars, 7/18/12]

    Former President Obama’s birth certificate is not fake. Obama’s birth certificate is authentic and he was born in the United States. [PolitiFact, 7/1/09; FactCheck.org, 4/27/11]

    Watson falsely reported that “Social Security Administration is purchasing the bullets as part of preparations for civil unrest”

    Infowars suggested “Social Security Administration is purchasing the bullets as part of preparations for civil unrest.” Watson wrote in August 2012: “It’s not outlandish to suggest that the Social Security Administration is purchasing the bullets as part of preparations for civil unrest. Social security welfare is estimated to keep around 40 per cent of senior citizens out of poverty. Should the tap run dry in the aftermath of an economic collapse which the Federal Reserve has already told top banks to prepare for, domestic disorder could ensue if people are refused their benefits.” [Infowars, 8/15/12]

    AP debunked Infowars’ claim. The Associated Press wrote at the time that the administration isn’t building up arms “to defend against unruly senior citizens”:

    The clamor became such a distraction for the agency that it dedicated a website to explaining the purchase. The explanation, it turns out, isn't as tantalizing as an arms buildup to defend against unruly senior citizens.

    The bullets are for Social Security's office of inspector general, which has about 295 agents who investigate Social Security fraud and other crimes, said Jonathan L. Lasher, the agency's assistant IG for external relations.

    The agents carry guns and make arrests — 589 last year, Lasher said. They execute search warrants and respond to threats against Social Security offices, employees and customers. [The Associated Press, 9/4/12

    Watson conspiracy theory: “U.S. establishment” “trained, funded and allowed” 9/11 hijackers into country

    Watson: 9/11 “was an inside job.” Watson wrote in his 2003 book Order out of Chaos: Elite Sponsored Terrorism & The New World Order that he can prove 9/11 "was an inside job,” writing:

    Initially we will document the overwhelming amount of evidence indicating that the US knew the attacks were about to take place. The question of why the attacks took place despite the fact that they could have been prevented runs parallel throughout this extended section of the book.

    It is important to note that the official story of 9/ 11 can be dismantled from two or more different angles. If we are to believe that nineteen suicide hijackers carried out the attacks on behalf of Al-Qaeda then it can be proven that these men were trained, funded and allowed into the country by the U.S. establishment. They were tracked and traced and their intentions were well known by the authorities, many months and even years before that fateful day. I will present the evidence to verify these claims in this chapter. In the following chapter I will switch to the second and more cutting edge angle of research, namely that the Al-Qaeda plot was merely a smokescreen to shadow who really carried out the attacks and what methods were used.

    […]

    One of the biggest smoking guns to indicate that the terrorist attack was an inside job is the CIA’s direct connection with the hijackers via Pakistan ISI Director General Mahmoud Ahmad. General Mahmoud Ahmad instructed Ahmad Umar Sheikh to hotwire $ 100,000 to the 9/ 11 lead hijacker, Mohammad Atta. On September 11th, Ahmad was a guest of former clandestine CIA officer and CFR member Rep. Porter Goss and Skull and Bones/ CFR member Senator Bob Graham. Since September 4th, he had met with top brass at the CIA, the Pentagon and the White House, including Colin Powell, Richard Armitage, Joseph Biden and George Tenet.

    Condoleezza Rice lied in a May 16th 2002 press conference when she claimed ignorance of Ahmad's visit and the $ 100,000 transfer. Ahmad had already resigned from the ISI and the FBI had confirmed the circumstances behind this. Rice stated, "I have not seen that report, and he was certainly not meeting with me."

    What was the money man behind the terrorists doing in the halls of the US government before, during and after 9/ 11? This is just one example of the firm alliance running through the CIA, which in turn controls the ISI, which in turn controls Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. [Paul Joseph Watson, Order out of Chaos: Elite Sponsored Terrorism & The New World Order, 2003, via Kindle]

    Watson conspiracy theory: WTC 7 collapse “was a controlled demolition”

    Watson: “Building 7 was a controlled demolition.” Watson concluded in an October 13, 2010, article that the collapse of World Trade Center Building 7 was actually a “controlled demolition”:

    How much more evidence do we need to conclude that Building 7 – which was not hit by a plane and suffered limited fires across just a handful of floors – could not have simply crumbled into its own footprint within seven seconds without the aid of additional explosives?

    Of course, if authorities were ever forced to admit that WTC 7 was deliberately demolished it would then tarnish the credibility of the entire 9/11 official story, which is why NIST has engaged in an obvious cover-up to firstly withhold and then edit some of the footage in an attempt to hide the self-evident fact that Building 7 was a controlled demolition. [Infowars, 10/13/10]

    Watson conspiracy theory: Virginia Tech mass shooting might have been “another government black-op”

    Watson: Purported ties between shooter and CIA are “arousing increased suspicion.” Watson wrote an April 2007 article arguing that Seung-Hui Cho, who perpetrated the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, “was a mind-controlled assassin, whether you believe he was under the influence of outside parties or not.” He wrote of the shooter’s alleged connections to the CIA:

    Questions about the sequence of events on Monday, VA Tech, as well as the profile of the killer are arousing increased suspicion.

    We have been receiving numerous calls and e mails alerting us to the fact that VA Tech is pulling links from its website concerning their relationship with the CIA. Reports from November 2005 confirm that the CIA was active in operating recruitment programs based out of VA Tech. Several professors from VA Tech are involved in government programs linked with NASA and other agencies.

    Wikipedia also pulled a bizarre recently taken photograph of Cho wearing a U.S. Marines uniform.

    Such details only fan the flames of accusations that Cho could have been a Manchurian Candidate, a mind-controlled assassin.

    The CIA's program to create mind-controlled assassins that could be triggered by code words, MK ULTRA, is not a conspiracy theory, it's a historical fact documented by declassified government files and Senate hearings. President Bill Clinton himself had to apologize for the program before he left office. [Prison Planet, 4/19/07]

    Watson: “This could very well be another government black-op.” Watson wrote of the shooting:

    Early details about the horrific school shooting at Virginia Tech strongly indicate that these events represent a Columbine-style black-op that will be exploited in the coming days to push for mass gun control and further turning our schools into prisons.

    Eyewitness Matt Kazee told the Alex Jones Show that it was a full two to three hours after the shootings began that loudspeakers installed around the campus were used to warn students to stay indoors and that a shooter was on the loose.

    Quite how the killer was afforded so much time before any action was taken to stop him is baffling, especially considering the fact that the campus, according to Kazee, was crawling with police before the event happened due to numerous bomb threats that had been phoned in last week.

    […]

    The details that are beginning to emerge fill the criteria that this could very well be another government black-op that will be used as justification for more gun control and turning our schools into prisons, festooned with armed guards, surveillance cameras and biometric scanning to gain entry. [Prison Planet, 4/16/07]

    Watson conspiracy theory: Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh carried out attack under the direction of the FBI

    Watson: “A plethora of evidence” shows FBI directed McVeigh to bomb federal building. Watson wrote in 2010 of the Oklahoma City bombing:

    In reality, as anyone who has done five minutes research into the OKC bombing will understand, the official story crumbles on the merest hint of casual examination.

    While the media, the SPLC, the ADL and similar organizations are happy to play the Timothy McVeigh card over and over again, they are less enthusiastic to mention the fact that McVeigh planned his deadly assault on the Alfred P. Murrah building under the intimate direction of a high-level FBI official, according to McVeigh’s co-conspirator Terry Nichols, a claim voluminously backed up by a plethora of evidence that has been presented in court on several occasions. [Infowars, 4/19/10]

    Watson conspiracy theory: Fort Hood mass shooting appears “perfectly staged”

    Watson: “Everything about Nidal Malik Hasan screams ‘patsy.’” Watson wrote that Nidal Malik Hasan, who was convicted of the fatal 2009 Fort Hood mass shooting, appears to be a “patsy” and the shooting was “staged”:

    The Empire strikes back – right when when public support for the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan sinks to all time lows, an anti-war Islamic extremist with links to suicide bombers goes on a shooting rampage at a U.S. army base, reinvigorating support for the war on terror and demonizing opposition to it as anti-American extremism. The scam would be believable if it wasn’t so perfectly staged.

    Without getting into convoluted conspiracy theories about mind control and whatever else, not that they aren’t without merit, the facts we already know about Hasan and his behavior prior to the deadly shootings just screams out “patsy” and “set-up” and almost exactly mirrors other terror scams the Empire has run in the past.

    Just like the would-be liquid bombers that were supposedly planning on bringing down multiple airliners in August 2006, who were caught on CCTV buying bulk supplies of cake in the very hours before the plot, Hasan’s pre-shooting behavior contradicts completely the idea that he was preparing for a deadly rampage.

    […]

    When the dust settles on yesterday’s tragic events at Fort Hood it may indeed turn out to be the case that Nidal Malik Hasan was a lone nut seeking to exact revenge for what he saw as perpetual war crimes being carried out against the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. If that is the case, it doesn’t make such crimes acceptable nor does it mean all people who oppose the war on terror are likely to go on a shooting rampage.

    However, from all the evidence that has emerged thus far, and in comparing it with other terror scams in the past where patsies have been deliberately groomed and set up to be the fall guys for false flag attacks, everything we know about yesterday’s events suggests that there is infinitely more to the story of Nidal Malik Hasan than meets the eye. [Prison Planet, 11/6/09]

    Watson conspiracy theory: Norwegian shooter “a patsy?”

    Watson: “Anders Behring Breivik: Manufacturing a patsy?” Watson has suggested that Anders Behring Breivik, who was convicted of murdering 77 people in a Norwegian mass shooting, was “a patsy.” He wrote a July 2011 article headlined “Anders Behring Breivik: Manufacturing a Patsy?” which claimed that “Breivik’s character of an enraged psychopath intent on butchering as many people as possible in the name of his cause is also contradicted by people who knew him personally” and concluded:

    A plethora of other questions continue to circulate surrounding Breivik and his motives. Why did this supposedly anti-Muslim crusader slaughter dozens of white Norwegian teenagers? Why didn’t he target a mosque? Why did this supposed “Christian conservative” list a television series that glorifies vampirism (True Blood) as his favorite show? How did Breivik’s ties to freemasonry and his obsession with the Knights Templar play into his rampage? Why did Breivik lift entire portions of leftist Unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s manifesto and incorporate them into his own screed?

    Just like the Oklahoma City bombing, which the case has been obsessively likened with, the evidence is starting to point to a wider plot, but concurrently there seems to be a deliberate effort to manufacture a profile of Breivik as a lone-nut psychopath who was influenced by racism, nationalism, Christianity, and a hatred for Europe’s predominantly neo-liberal elite, who coincidentally will reap the greatest political benefits from this tragic massacre. [Infowars, 7/25/11]

    Watson conspiracy theory: British government behind 7/7 London bombings

    Watson wrote an article claiming British government was behind London bombings. On July 7, 2005, as The New York Times noted, 52 civilians were killed and 700 people were wounded when “four suicide bombers linked to Al Qaeda detonated explosives on a London bus and on three subway trains in the attacks.” Watson wrote a 2005 article purporting to explain how the British government “staged the London bombing,” which included: “Hire four Arabs and tell them they're taking part in an important exercise to help defend London from terrorist attacks. Strap them with rucksacks filled with deadly explosives. Tell the Arabs the rucksacks are dummy explosives and wouldn't harm a fly.” [The New York Times, 7/7/15; Prison Planet, 7/13/05

  • Right-wing media cheer Trump withdrawing United States from the Paris climate agreement

    Business leaders and experts agree decision to pull out of agreement “would harm every American” and "devastate [America’s] international credibility"

    ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET & NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media figures cheered President Donald Trump’s decision to remove the United States from the Paris climate agreement, which sought to reduce international greenhouse gas emissions. But experts and business leaders condemned the decision, calling the move a “historic mistake” and “a gratuitous thumb in everyone’s eye.”

  • How the murder of a DNC staffer turned into a right-wing conspiracy

    The story goes through nearly everyone in right-wing media: Sean Hannity, Roger Stone, Louise Mensch, Megyn Kelly, Jim Hoft, Julian Assange, and more

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    It started with a late night walk on July 10, 2016. Seth Rich was talking with his girlfriend while walking through the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington, D.C., when there was some sort of altercation. Rich was shot multiple times and died shortly thereafter.

    Nearly a year later, his death has become a cause célèbre among right-wing media and the fringiest elements of pro-Trump media, simply because he worked as a staffer for the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

    The conspiracy theories started immediately. The day after Rich was killed, a Twitter user connected the murder with a lawsuit filed by Bernie Sanders supporters against the DNC. (This lawsuit would later be the subject of right-wing conspiracy theories after the death of a process server that the coroner would later conclude was caused by accidental polypharmacy, or a combination of drugs.)

    The first right-wing version of the conspiracy theory was about confirming right-wing allegations against the Clinton Foundation. On July 13, conspiracy theory website WhatDoesItMean.com (previously cited by pro-Trump media) ran a piece, sourced to the Kremlin, claiming that Rich thought he was on his way to meet with the FBI about the Clinton Foundation when a “hit team” put in place by the Clintons killed him. The article also linked the conspiracy theory with two Russian diplomats who were expelled by the United States two days before Rich’s murder, and it concluded by claiming the hit team was captured on July 12 in Washington, D.C. The actual police events of July 12 had nothing to do with any of this. On July 14, Snopes debunked this conspiracy theory.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On July 22, WikiLeaks released 20,000 emails that had been stolen from the DNC, and Redditors immediately started guessing that Rich was the source of those emails. Heat Street, a News Corp. publication then run by Louise Mensch, ran a roundup of these rumors. In the post, Heat Street simply went through the “r/The_Donald” subreddit, listing different conspiracy theories that users had come up with, even comparing one theory to the work of mathematician John Nash and the movie A Beautiful Mind. Heat Street had also mentioned the FBI rumor in the bottom of a previous post about Rich’s murder, noting that there was no evidence to substantiate it.

    The one entity that did claim to be the WikiLeaks source was Guccifer 2.0. As The New York Times explained on July 27, while American intelligence services believed Guccifer 2.0 to be a front for Russian spies, the hacker claimed to be Romanian. In the report, the Times detailed evidence linking the emails to Russia, including “metadata hidden in the early documents indicating that they were edited on a computer with Russian language settings.”


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Notorious dirty trickster Roger Stone, a contributor to Alex Jones' conspiracy theory website Infowars, and WikiLeaks began pushing the conspiracy theory in earnest in August. In an August 8 tweet, Stone included Rich in a group of four murdered people for whom he blamed the Clintons, referencing the FBI version of the conspiracy theory. A day later, WikiLeaks announced that it was offering $20,000 for information, and founder Julian Assange himself brought up Rich unprompted on a Dutch TV program, implying that Rich was a source. The host was taken aback by Assange’s suggestion and tried to push him on what he was implying, but Assange did not clarify his remark:

    Pro-Trump media jumped on the interview. Mike Cernovich immediately promoted the interview while stating point-blank that Rich was the source -- something that even Assange never said. On August 10, Hannity discussed the interview on his radio show, saying that it wasn’t the Russians who gave WikiLeaks the information. Later in the show, he discussed the matter with Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft and Townhall’s Rachel Alexander. Hoft was befuddled as to why the Rich family would not want the matter politicized, saying that it could only increase the information about the murder.

    Also on August 10, Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson published a video about Assange’s implication, expressing concern that Assange could be assassinated:

    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also jumped on Assange’s interview on the same day, telling Mike Gallagher on August 10 that the conspiracy theory was “worth talking about.”

    WikiLeaks also issued a similarly vague statement on August 10.

    On August 11, WikiLeaks started sowing distrust in Rich’s family when it tweeted that the family’s spokesperson was a “professional Democrat” -- even though the same could be said for Rich himself.

    In the days that followed, Infowars ramped up its coverage. Watson cited a “source close to the Democratic party” who said his reporting was “on the money.” Infowars dutifully picked up Gingrich’s interview and used it to confirm its own assertions. The conspiracy theory site was particularly incensed that the Rich family would hire a spokesperson to quash conspiracy theories. And it went on to publish multiple pieces about Rich that included accounts of WikiLeaks’ assertions and implications about Rich.

    Assange would resurface and again hint that Rich was his source on the August 25 edition of The Kelly File, again declaring his interest in the case without actually saying anything about Rich himself. While Laura Ingraham and some others ran with what Assange said to Kelly File host Megyn Kelly, Fox host Greg Gutfeld hit Assange for pushing the conspiracy theory -- to the distaste of fellow Fox host Eric Bolling:

    The conspiracy theory machine would turn away from Rich for most of September and October, though during this time Hannity frequently talked with Assange on his radio show, eager for new leaks that could be damaging to Clinton. In September, Rich’s girlfriend and his family spoke with Chris Hansen of Crime Watch Daily about the case, condemning the claims. GOP lobbyist Jack Burkman also began working with the Rich family at this time, offering more than $100,000 in rewards for information. Burkman would later say that he could “rule out attempted robbery” based on his canvassing of the neighborhood.

    On October 7, The Daily Beast reported that “Russia’s senior-most officials” ordered the DNC hack. On November 2, fake news purveyor DC Gazette published a post saying that WikiLeaks’ source was neither Russia nor Seth Rich, but instead dissatisfied government staffers. On December 9, The Washington Post reported on a CIA assessment that Russia was behind leaks targetting the DNC, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.

    This Post story would touch off a new round of conspiracy theories about Rich, and once again they began with Louise Mensch’s Heat Street. On December 14, the site aggregated comments on Twitter saying that it was Seth Rich and not Russia that provided WikiLeaks with the emails. The piece offered no theory as to how Rich could have gotten access to DCCC or Podesta emails; indeed, it’s unclear from the story if the author even understood that there were multiple hacks, even though Mensch herself turned up in the hacked Podesta emails (which the piece did not disclose). Weeks after this post, it was announced that Mensch had left Heat Street in “mid-December.” There is no indication if Mensch was still at Heat Street when this post was published.

    On December 15, Craig Murray, a “close associate” of Julian Assange, told the Daily Mail that he was a middleman for the leaks and that the handoff took place in D.C. in September. People immediately began tying Rich to Murray, even though Murray’s supposed handoff date (of which there was no evidence) took place months after Rich was murdered.

    Later that day on the radio, Hannity would cite Murray’s account as evidence that Russians were not behind the hacking. Later in the program, Hannity brought up Fox contributor John Bolton’s conspiracy theory from December 12 that if something looked like it was the Russians hacking, it might actually be a false flag in which someone made it look like it was the Russians. Assange agreed with the theory on Hannity’s show: 

    Hannity also called Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) an “idiot” for saying that Russians were involved in hacking:

    Weeks later, on January 3, Hannity returned to Rich, again saying that Rich may have been the source for Wikileaks:

    On January 6, U.S. officials released a report saying that Russians were behind the hacking. Suddenly, Hannity admitted that Russians have been hacking Americans for years:

    On January 12, Guccifer 2.0 denied the report that Russia was behind the hacking.

    Once again, the conspiracy mill died down, with occasional posts on 4chan and Reddit keeping the conspiracy theory alive.

    On February 27, Jack Burkman, the GOP lobbyist who at one point was allied with the Rich family, told the Daily Mail that he had evidence that the Russians killed Rich because Rich had evidence that they were the ones behind the hacking. Burkman’s only source was a “former U.S. intelligence officer” -- “an older man, 65-70 years old, who claims to have been a contractor in Iraq in the 1970s.” None of Rich’s friends or family members have given any indication that Rich had such an explosive secret.

    In mid-March, Stone admitted contact with Guccifer 2.0, but he claimed it was innocuous.

    On March 23, Burkman talked to Sinclair station WJLA in Washington, D.C., about launching a new investigation. Claiming that the investigation would be launched out of “the Seth Rich Center for Investigations” in Arlington, VA, Burkman now claimed to have a team including “a forensic physiologist, a security specialist and George Washington grad students.” But the piece also noted that the Rich family had no part in this effort.

    On April 8, a new conspiracy theory emerged alleging that Guccifer 2.0 was the middleman between RIch and WikiLeaks. Model Robbin Young published screenshots on her website of a purported direct message conversation she had with Guccifer 2.0 from August 25. In it, Guccifer 2.0 claimed that the DNC leak came from someone named “Seth” and responded affirmatively when Young talked about Rich’s murder. WikiLeaks, the subreddit “r/The Donald,” Gateway Pundit, Heat Street, and others immediately ran with the claim.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The conspiracy theory came to its most public stage on May 15. That was a week after Obama intelligence chief James Clapper and former acting attorney general Sally Yates testified before the Senate partially on issues relating to Russian hacking, days after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey as a result of the Russian investigation, and hours after The Washington Post reported that Trump gave highly classified information to Russian diplomats in the Oval Office that compromised a valuable intelligence source.

    On that day, Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler told Fox 5 DC, a station owned and operated by Fox News’ parent company, that he had evidence that Rich was in contact with WikiLeaks.

    Sean Hannity pushed the story on his Twitter account shortly after midnight, including by quote-tweeting a vague allegedly hacked email of Podesta’s:

    After retweeting a video of the Fox 5 segment, Hannity affirmatively quote-tweeted someone claiming that Assange had previously said that Rich was his source (which, again, Assange had never actually said).

    The story exploded as conservatives latched onto a tale that ostensibly showed that the focus on Russia was misplaced. Drudge put the story on the top of the site. The subreddit “r/The Donald” went crazy. Pro-Trump media pushed the story hard. Fox News joined in on Tuesday morning. By 10 a.m., Hannity was lashing out at CNN's Oliver Darcy for noticing the trend.

    Hannity then quote-tweeted Robbin Young, whose story about Seth Rich was different from the one Wheeler was pushing and that Hannity was touting. (Guccifer 2.0 claimed that they served as the middleman between Rich and Wikileaks; Assange had implied and Wheeler had stated that Rich was in touch with WikiLeaks directly.) At no point then or later did Hannity ever seem to notice the discrepancy.

    At one point, Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson even claimed that the Washington Post story about Trump giving highly classified information to the Russians was a hoax intended to cover up the Rich story -- a claim based on Watson completely misreading time stamps on the stories (the Post’s went up before the Fox 5 piece did).

    But soon, the Rich story fell completely apart. The Fox station admitted on May 16 that D.C. police said that Wheeler’s claim was false. Wheeler’s contact with the Rich family turned out to be frequent Fox News guest and Breitbart author Ed Butowsky. Wheeler himself admitted to CNN that he actually had no evidence. Wheeler instead claimed that his comments were reflective of the FoxNews.com piece that ran. Fox News’ piece, by Malia Zimmerman, cited Wheeler as the source of the claim.

    And yet, the transparent bullshit was still enough for pro-Trump media. On May 16, echoing Benghazi conspiracy theories, Gateway Pundit claimed there was a “stand down” order given to police regarding the Rich investigation. An “alt-right” troll asked Trump himself about Rich in the White House, getting no response. Anonymous posts on 4chan linked Rich to Pizzagate, Antonin Scalia’s death, Michael Hastings’ death, and even Media Matters. An anonymous post on 8chan even suggested that Rich was illegally surveilled and then improperly unmasked by former national security adviser Susan Rice.

    Lou Dobbs on Fox Business picked up the line of attack on Rich’s family that had previously begun with WikiLeaks and Infowars, saying there was “a partisan shroud” on Rich’s family:

    Later on May 16, Hannity even declared that Rich’s murder “could become one of the biggest scandals in American history”:

    Later in the show, Hannity talked with American Center for Law and Justice’s Jay Sekulow and former Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie, focusing on the media being wrong about Russia. Hannity continually brought Rich into the conversation:

    Hannity then had Wheeler himself on the show. Wheeler continued pushing the conspiracy theory, even while admitting that he never had seen the evidence.

    The next day, even more claims collapsed. Newsweek reported that the FBI is not investigating Rich’s death, contra Wheeler’s claims, and a family spokesperson confirmed that D.C. police found no evidence of stolen emails ever being on Rich’s laptop. Fox 5 added an editor’s note that Wheeler had backtracked from claims that he made, but it did not retract the story. The story was in shambles. The Rich family demanded full retractions from Fox 5 and Fox News.

    Still, conservative media persisted.

    On May 18, after Mediaite published a post highlighting people mocking Hannity, Hannity again tweeted his belief in the conspiracy.

    Hannity then discussed the case at length on his show, re-airing Assange’s Dutch TV interview and previous radio interviews.

    On May 19, the Rich family sent a cease-and-desist letter to Rod Wheeler.

    The Russian Embassy in the U.K. trolled everyone when it stated as a fact that Rich was WikiLeaks’ source. Meanwhile, Infowars claimed that The Washington Post was reporting on the Comey memos only as a distraction from the Rich story.

    May 19 is also when Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom inserted himself into the story. Dotcom alleged that he had bombshell information on the case. As Dotcom, who lives in New Zealand, is fighting extradition to the United States to avoid trial for charges including conspiracy to commit racketeering, nearly everyone on the planet saw through the ruse, save for Sean Hannity.

    Hannity brought up the conspiracy theory again that night on his show with Jay Sekulow, apparently just for the purpose of saying that it is important because if true, it would clear Russia entirely.

    Over the weekend, it got even stranger.

    Stone escalated attacks on Rich’s parents, claiming on his radio show Stone Cold Truth they were engaging in “suspicious” behavior.

    Stone also told obvious lies. For instance, he claimed that Craig Murray said Rich was his source. First, Murray did not mention Rich in his comments about serving as a middleman for the emails. Second, Murray said he met his source in September, months after Rich had already been murdered. Third, nothing about what Murray actually did say is credible in the least -- there’s no evidence and nothing has been corroborated. There were other factual errors as well, though “Roger Stone says something factually incorrect” is the rule, not the exception.

    “Dumbest man on the internet” Jim Hoft jumped head-first into the Dotcom conspiracy, even one-upping Hannity by picking up an anonymous 4chan poster whose only claim to knowledge is “I work in D.C.” The post claimed there’s a “panic” in D.C. over the Rich conspiracy theory that right-wing media had been pressing.

    The following day, Hannity would echo this post:

    Hannity even admitted that it was about the Russia story:

    Also on Sunday, Newt Gingrich joined Fox & Friends Sunday and stated outright that Rich was WikiLeaks’ source for DNC emails, even though he had avoided that conclusion in August. Pro-Trump media jumped to promote the interview.

    Another Gateway Pundit post took a video that the Rich family did thanking donors to a GoFundMe campaign and stated that it was actually done to thank conservative media for pushing the conspiracy.

    Elsewhere, self-described “rogue journalist” Caitlin Johnstone said that someone had edited Rich’s Reddit posts. Soon after, she added a “retraction” note to the post following a statement from the Pandas For Bernie Facebook group.

    Early on May 22, Assange was still playing coy about Rich and WikiLeaks

    But by this point, the story was getting attention in the mainstream media -- but only as a conspiracy theory run amok in right-wing media. As Hannity’s conspiracy-mongering had drawn attention, he became a focal point of criticism. The Daily Beast ran a story about Fox News personalities embarrassed by Hannity’s actions.

    Hannity was undeterred:

    On his radio show, Hannity said that he was right about Rich because he had been right about Trayvon Martin, the black teenager shot and killed while walking through a Florida neighborhood:

    (He wasn’t right about Trayvon Martin, by the way.)

    Geraldo Rivera, a perpetual gadfly when it comes to pushing terrible things, also jumped on the conspiracy.

    Elsewhere, the subreddit “r/The Donald” announced plans for a march on D.C. about Rich’s death on its anniversary, claiming 1.1 million people could show up.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On May 23, everything came to a head. Rich’s brother personally asked Hannity to stop pushing the conspiracy theories. Shortly thereafter, Fox News retracted its story about Rich, the one that Rod Wheeler originally cited as the basis for his story. A statement from Fox News said that the story did not meet the site’s editorial standards.

    And yet after all of this, Hannity continued to push the story on his radio show.

    On Twitter, Hannity ecstatically promoted Kim Dotcom’s “revelation,” which was a big nothingburger.

    The Rich family then published an op-ed in The Washington Post begging commentators to stop pushing conspiracy theories about their son.

    Hannity then tweeted about the op-ed as if it wasn’t just about him

    Shortly before his television show, Hannity tweeted that he still stood behind everything he had said on the topic, but also that he just was on a call with three of his attorneys:

    On his show, Hannity said that he was stopping talking about the matter “for now” at the request of the Rich family:

    And yet before his show was over, Hannity hinted on Twitter that he was still looking at the story.

    He even retweeted gratuitous praise from Kim Dotcom.

    Meanwhile, Oliver Darcy, who followed the story closely from the beginning, had a list of good unanswered questions for Fox News about Hannity’s despicable and ghoulish actions.

    Hannity then begged for fans to spread the conspiracy theory.

    By morning, a Republican congressman was echoing Hannity.

    Newt Gingrich, after pushing the conspiracy both in August and again on May 21, suddenly said that he didn’t know anything about it, telling The Washington Post, “I don’t know anything about it. … I know exactly what has been said on the various blog sites. ... I think it is worth looking at.”

    The retractions and hedging were much too little and far too late. In the bowels of pro-Trump media, Hannity had become a martyr and the Seth Rich conspiracy theory was gospel.

    The enduring tragedy of the episode is that the Rich family will likely have to live with this delusion bubbling up for a very long time. Even worse, pro-Trump media will say that they are part of it.

    No family deserves that.

    Research assistance provided by Bobby Lewis

  • Here Are The Excuses Right-Wing Media Are Using To Defend Trump Asking Comey To Drop Investigation Into Flynn

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Right-wing media figures -- particularly the hosts of Fox & Friends -- defended President Donald Trump after revelations that he asked former FBI Director James Comey to end the investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Conservative figures attacked Comey, even suggesting he broke the law, cast doubt on the accuracy of Comey’s memo quoting Trump, and parsed Trump’s words to suggest that he did not request an end to the investigation.

  • How A Fox Affiliate And Contributor Fueled Fringe Conspiracy Theories About Murdered DNC Staffer

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    A Washington, D.C., Fox News affiliate’s shoddy reporting purposefully validated right-wing conspiracy theories about the murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich when the station published unproven claims that Rich directly communicated with WikiLeaks regarding the leaked committee emails published on that site. Following the publication of the Fox 5 DC story, Fox News hosts Bret Baier and Sean Hannity further fueled the conspiracy theories when they retweeted new conspiracies about the Rich story, including a false claim that a Washington Post report on Trump sharing classified information with Russia was published to drown out Fox 5's story. 

    In a May 15 article and subsequent newscast, Fox 5 DC’s Marina Marraco quoted Rod Wheeler, a private investigator once hired to assist the Rich family’s search for Rich’s killer, who claimed that “a source inside the police department” told him that the department was “‘told to stand down on this case.’” Wheeler also said it was “confirmed” that Rich had links to WikiLeaks. Alex Griswold, a reporter for right-wing publication the Washington Free Beacon, pointed out that Fox 5’s story was “entirely hearsay” and chided the news station for failing to disclose that Wheeler is a vocal Trump supporter and a paid Fox News analyst.

    The article was updated on May 16 to include a note that the station had spoken to D.C. police since publication and was told that Wheeler’s claim was false. The Rich family issued a statement saying family members had seen “no facts” and “no evidence” to suggest Rich had worked with WikiLeaks. It also noted that a “third party” paid Wheeler for his investigative work and that he was “contractually … barred from speaking to press.” But the updates came too late to prevent the unsubstantiated claims published in Fox 5 DC’s report from becoming fuel for the right-wing conspiracy theory machine. (Marraco’s article even acknowledged that the claims she was publishing “could prove these theorists right.”)

    By the next morning, fringe right-wing media and conspiracy theory websites had run full speed with the false allegations made in the Fox 5 DC article. Breitbart.com ran an article on its home page claiming that Fox’s shoddily sourced article may prove that the hack of DNC emails was “an inside job.” The Drudge Report ran a screaming banner on its site claiming Rich “had contact” with WikiLeaks and linked to the Fox 5 DC article:

    The Gateway Pundit published a “BREAKING” piece about the conspiracy theory linking to the Fox 5 DC article. Fringe conspiracy theory sites World News Daily and ZeroHedge also regurgitated the Fox 5 DC article to claim a conspiracy theory. The baseless speculation quickly jumped to more established outlets, as FoxNews.com made it the lead morning story on its website, and Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Circa News and Fox News’ Fox & Friends also promoted the story:

    Some conspiracy theorists, including InfoWars' Paul Joseph Watson, even spread claims that The Washington Post’s report about President Donald Trump sharing highly classified information with Russian officials was printed to drown out the “bombshell news” story reported by the Fox affiliate. Fox News hosts Bret Baier and Sean Hannity retweeted this false claim. But Washington Post political reporter Dave Weigel set the record straight, noting that the Washington Post story went up before the Fox 5 story was published.

    This isn’t the first local news station to lend legitimacy to a fringe conspiracy theory that resembled fake news. In January, a CBS Atlanta affiliate ran a segment promoting the debunked “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that a Washington pizza parlor was the headquarters of a child sex-trafficking ring involving the Clinton family.

    Update:

    White House credentialed "alt-right" troll Jack Posobiec posted video in which he asks President Trump for comment on the conspiracy theories surrounding Rich's murder in a video uploaded to Twitter May 16:

  • After Enabling Trump, Right-Wing Media Campaign For Marine Le Pen

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    United States right-wing media figures have rallied behind “far-right populist” Marine Le Pen in France’s presidential election by endorsing her, positively comparing her to President Donald Trump, and attacking her opponent Emmanuel Macron with anti-Semitic smears and comparisons to former President Barack Obama.

  • A Look At The Incestuous Alternative-Media Echo Chamber Winning Over Online Audiences

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    On the coattails of President Donald Trump’s successful election campaign and an anti-"political correctness" wave, an alternative right-wing media echo chamber successfully reverberated itself into virtual relevance on social media, where it now reaches millions of people every day. This new-media ecosystem exists outside of traditional newspapers and cable news networks, instead taking to social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Periscope, Reddit, and YouTube to promote its far-right nationalist politics and conspiracy-laden worldviews to an audience it has isolated and now dominates as its preferred news source.

    Key players in this circular far-right alt-media echo chamber, such as online troll Mike Cernovich and Infowars’ Alex Jones, have successfully crafted a false impression of credibility. They have synthesized a “new right” echo chamber from “alt-right” ideologies and orchestrated a media machine that disseminates content across multiple media platforms with extreme efficiency.

    Key voices in this ecosystem often work a redundant media circuit across allied platforms to reinforce each other’s worldviews and concepts of reality, cast doubt on mainstream media, and suggest widespread conspiracies along the way. Cernovich demonstrated this tactic as he circulated a faux scandal story that suggested Susan Rice, who served as national security adviser to former President Barack Obama, was responsible for improper unmasking of Trump officials caught in surveillance of foreign officials.

    Cernovich toured the Rice story around the alternative media sphere he occupies until it eventually broke into mainstream media. On April 2, Cernovich first tweeted the “breaking news” that Rice had ordered the unmasking. Later that day, Cernovich published his full story about the explosive allegations. On April 3, Cernovich promoted the story in a livestream broadcast to his tens of thousands of Periscope followers. The same day, “alt-right” thought leader Richard Spencer publicly slammed Cernovich in his own broadcast, granting the story a direct platform into the "alt-right" fanbase. On April 4, Cernovich took his story through the alternative media circuit, appearing on Infowars and Free Domain Radio and earning shoutouts from Stefan Molyneux, Lee Stranahan, and Donald Trump Jr. After riding the wave, Cernovich continued his self-promotion in a Reddit AMA thread and a post-story interview with Rebel Media.

    Members of the echo chamber attract and maintain a fan base by developing an abusive relationship with their audience members -- a process they label “redpilling.” They gaslight their audiences until readers and viewers feel unable to trust any media other than those particular outlets to deliver them “the truth.” As a result, these new-media companies have groomed rabid fan bases that turn to them as beacons of honesty in a media world that they believe is orchestrated to distract the public from this echo chamber’s version of “the truth.”

    Many media outlets disregard this new-media echo chamber, continuing to speak about the movement with the same blanket terms and condescension they used before the so-called “new right” distanced itself from “alt-right” leaders. But now, months later, this far-right alternative media apparatus is encroaching on its mainstream competition online. For example, Infowars recently surpassed CNN in its number of subscribers on YouTube, which marked a major milestone in far-right alternative media's encroachment on the video site’s news ecosystem.

    According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in early 2016, about half of people age 49 and under said they get their news online. And as cable news viewership declines and as Americans’ trust in news media sinks to an all-time low, alternative new-media stars have leveraged a unique opportunity to redefine right-wing media and reach mass audiences once loyal to established journalism outlets. The alternative media ecosystem has also benefited from attention from top government officials and those close to them; presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway recently elevated Cernovich on Twitter, Donald Trump Jr. pushed an Infowars conspiracy theory, and Michael Flynn Jr., the son of Trump’s former national security advisor, has promoted Infowars and conspiracy theories like “Pizzagate” sourced from the alternative media sphere.

    Graphics by Sarah Wasko

  • The “New Right,” Brought To You By Former Allies Of The “Alt-Right”

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    Online personality Mike Cernovich fabricated the existence of a “new right” movement to downplay his active relationships with “alt-right” media personalities and white nationalist thought leaders. But like the nonsense diet supplements and self-help books that Cernovich hawks to his audience, the “new right” should be treated for what it is: a load of marketing bullshit.

    The truth is that although Cernovich and his media pals will claim they don’t advocate white nationalism in the same way that “alt-right” leaders like Richard Spencer do, the so-called “new right” has actively parroted the “alt-right” to build its brands. It is a mistake to give the “new right” a chance to disown the relationships that helped it blossom.

    Cernovich coined the term “new right” last year after he banned “alt-right” media personality Tim Treadstone, known online as Baked Alaska, from attending an inauguration party Treadstone had assisted Cernovich in planning called “The Deploraball.” Treadstone had published several tweets about the “Jewish Question” -- an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that suggests Jewish people scheme to dominate global media and governments. Cernovich replaced Treadstone with equally terrible “alt-right” personality Milo Yiannopoulos, who had been banned from Twitter for inciting a racially motivated harassment campaign and was later disinvited from the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) after a video surfaced in which he appears to condone pedophilia. The drama fractured the “alt-right” media landscape into factions, with some hoping to rebrand and distance themselves from the openly white nationalist fan base they had used to inspire their brands.

    After uninviting Treadstone, Cernovich introduced the concept of the “new right” in an interview with Paul Joseph Watson, editor-at-large of the conspiracy theory website Infowars, denouncing white supremacist messages spread by some members of the “alt-right." After the interview, Watson also peddled the concept of a “new right” to his fan base on social media, claiming that “there are two ‘Alt-Rights’” and that one faction is “more accurately described as the New Right.” Watson claimed the “new right” includes people who wear Trump hats, “create memes [and] have fun.” This group, he wrote, is entirely separate from “a tiny fringe minority” of people under the “alt-right” banner who “obsess about Jews, racial superiority and Adolf Hitler.”

    The public relations move worked, and soon many other notable pro-Trump new-media personalities were clustered under the “new right” brand coined by Cernovich. They included Vox Day, who wrote a manifesto on what it means to be “alt-right” that claimed “diversity + proximity = war”; “alt-right” poster boy Milo Yiannopoulos, who praised the group's membership; The Gateway Pundit’s Lucian Wintrich, who made an “alt-right” hand signal in the White House briefing room; and blogger Stefan Molyneux, who receives wide praise among white nationalist groups.

    Cernovich told The Atlantic that he “for sure” pictured himself as the leader of the “new right” and that he and his media partners “want to do nationalism without white identity politics.” Cernovich explained to New York magazine that his initial support for the “alt-right” was based on a misunderstanding: He “didn’t realize it was, like, a white, ethno-nationalist thing.” Right Side Broadcast Network (RSBN), which hired Cernovich to host a program on the pro-Trump news stream, defended Cernovich and allowed him to whitewash his track record of vile statements.

    But Cernovich and his new-media allies openly pandered to a growing pro-Trump “alt-right” media audience during the 2016 election by publishing media meant to promote fear of Muslims and pieces that attacked “social justice warriors” and others who speak out against the sexist, misogynistic, and racist rhetoric Cernovich and other “alt-right” personalities spew. Cernovich also once announced that his next project would be “part alt-right, part fitness, part anti-cuck,” and he has praised the “alt-right” movement as “sophisticated, suspicious, and combative” and declared it “woke.” The ignorance defense the “new right” is using is soiled by these figures’ year-long track record of employing such rhetoric to bolster one another's public profiles.

    Cernovich and his new-media allies are snake oil salesmen who adopt whatever controversial punditry will earn them publicity and let them promote their bogus products. For example, Cernovich uses his platform to sell copies of his self-help book for men and promote his in-development “experimental nootropic” pills that he claimed will regrow neurons inside the brain and build a “supercharged mind” that most people can’t handle.

    The “new right” is nothing more than a shallow attempt to legitimize commentary that draws upon the “alt-right” philosophy, which has been used to promote conspiracy theories like the “Pizzagate” claim that top Democratic officials were complicit in a Washington, D.C., child sex-trafficking ring run out of a pizza restaurant. Media should not grant Cernovich and his colleagues a free pass to abandon the “alt-right” talking points that they used to force themselves into media relevancy in the first place.

  • Right-Wing And “Alt-Right” Media Mischaracterize VOA Report To Lie About Russian Hacking

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media are attacking CrowdStrike, the cybersecurity firm that in June 2016 “was the first to link last year’s hacks of Democratic Party computers to Russian actors,” in an attempt to discredit the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to aid President Donald Trump. In fact, CrowdStrike’s apparently erroneous findings are in reference to a different example of Russian hacking, and have no bearing on the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusions, which have independently “identified Russian officials who fed material hacked from the Democratic National Committee and party leaders to WikiLeaks.”

  • New "Alt-Right" Theory: Obama Was Secretly Behind Judicial Halt Of Trump's Muslim Ban

    Donald Trump Jr. Retweets Right-Wing Radio Host Pushing The Conspiracy Theory

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Pro-President Donald Trump outlets and “alt-right” outlets pushed a conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama was the reason a federal judge in Hawaii blocked Trump’s revised Muslim ban executive order. The president’s son Donald Trump Jr. retweeted the claim, which seems to have originally spread on Reddit. The conspiracy is yet another variation of right-wing media’s theory that Obama is running a “shadow government.”