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  • Russian senator and right-wing media agree: Trump is just trying to avoid a war with Russia

    Russian Sen. Alexei Pushkov: “I am amazed at the desire of the US media and a large part of Congress to portray Moscow as an enemy of the US. What do they want? Do they want a war with a nuclear power?”

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media and at least one Russian official are singing from the same song sheet after President Donald Trump’s humiliating press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. As condemnation for Trump’s absurd performance builds, right-wing pundits, administration officials and, now, representatives of the Russian government are suggesting critics of the president are trying to foment war with Russia.

    In an attempt to provide cover for a president of the United States slandering American law enforcement and intelligence agencies while standing on foreign soil next to a despotic kleptocrat who has repeatedly attempted to destabilize western democracies and American allies, some in right-wing media suggested that the president was simply attempting to “avoid war with” the world’s largest nuclear power. Some have even argued that “Democrats” and “establishment media [want] war with Russia,” an argument that was presented by prominent Putin apologist Stephen Cohen (who has regularly been featured on Fox host Tucker Carlson’s show to discuss the relationship between the U.S. and Russia) on the state-run outlet, RT.

    Now, according to BBC’s Steve Rosenberg, a Russian senator is making the same argument.

    Of course, there are a number of options short of armed conflict that the United States and its western allies could take up to counter Russian aggression, but this is not the first time Russian and U.S., pro-Trump media talking points have been in sync. In 2017, Fox News’ senior judicial analyst, Judge Andrew Napolitano, claimed that former President Barack Obama asked the British Government Communications Headquarters to eavesdrop on Trump during the 2016 campaign and the transition period, and to provide the former president with transcripts of Trump's conversations. Media Matters traced the assertion back to an interview on the state-sponsored Russian network RT with a former CIA official who has accused John Kerry of war crimes, spread the 2008 rumor about a supposed recording of former first lady Michelle Obama “railing against ‘whitey,’” and now is floating "sedition" charges against former Obama officials. Also in 2017, Russian state-run media and American pro-Trump media messaging converged after former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s resignation.

  • Will anti-abortion groups follow Cambridge Analytica’s blueprint in Ireland’s abortion referendum?

    Irish Times op-ed warns “it would be naive to think” that the same strategies that “helped both Donald Trump and Brexit to victory” won’t be deployed by anti-abortion groups

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On May 25, Irish voters will decide whether to uphold the country’s constitutional ban on abortion -- and, as an op-ed in The Irish Times warned, “it would be naive to think” that anti-abortion groups won’t leverage the same digital targeting strategies “that helped both Donald Trump and Brexit to victory.”

    Abortion has been almost entirely prohibited in Ireland since 1983, when the passage of the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution outlawed all abortions except for those necessary to protect “the equal right to life of the mother” -- not allowing abortion even “in cases of rape or incest, or when there is a foetal abnormality.”

    As the BBC noted in January, “There have been significant challenges and changes to the law in recent years,” including after the death of a woman in 2012 who was refused an abortion while she was miscarrying. Indeed, in December 2017, an Irish Parliamentary committee released a report arguing for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment because “medical practitioners do not feel supported by the law in providing necessary care for the women of Ireland.” The report continued that the ability to “travel” elsewhere for an abortion “and more recently the availability of illegal abortion pills” made the issue one that lawmakers could not “continue to ignore.”

    Due to Ireland’s strict abortion laws, the country has long been of interest to anti-abortion groups in the United States, which have held up its prohibition as a model for what American groups can hope to accomplish some day. As a result, some Irish media have begun warning about the potential of anti-abortion groups -- from the United States and beyond -- utilizing sophisticated digital marketing tactics to target Irish voters.

    For example, The Irish Times reported that “almost 100 Facebook posts related to the abortion referendum and targeted at Irish users have been identified as having been paid for.” Researchers looking into the advertisements identified the sources of these posts as ranging from “political parties” to “individual politicians” to even U.S. anti-abortion groups such as the Radiance Foundation (although the group disputes its inclusion in this list) and Rachel’s Vineyard (a project of Priests for Life). TheJournal.ie similarly noted that because Facebook was “a main battleground” for public opinion over the referendum, there were already “a number of foreign organisations posting ads aimed at sections of the Irish electorate.”

    Although both sides will surely use Facebook to reach prospective voters, The Independent wrote that former Irish Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte told the paper that “anti-abortion extremists are likely to use social media to spread disinformation in a bid ‘to frighten the population into retaining the status quo.’” He continued: “The anti-abortion shock troops are prepared and have in the past used any means to prevail in the argument.” Rabbitte argued that although this sentiment wasn’t universal among anti-abortion groups, there is “an element of the anti-abortion zealots who believe in shock and awe to frighten the population into retaining the status quo” who “are linked in to international organisations that have very definite views on this."

    Beyond concerns over foreign involvement in social media campaigning before the vote, other outlets have voiced fears that anti-abortion forces will deploy illicit practices like those used by the firm Cambridge Analytica in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, where they stole users’ Facebook data without permission and used it to microtarget content to sway voters. Although there is no evidence that groups on either side have acted improperly, two Irish anti-abortion groups have made recent hires that should make media, good-governance watchdogs, and voters wary.

    On March 26, The New York Times reported that the anti-abortion group Save the 8th Campaign hired Kanto Systems, whose founder, Thomas Borwick, “was chief technology officer for the Vote Leave campaign in Britain, and developed a canvassing app for Cambridge Analytica.” At the same time, the Times said, “the Pro Life Campaign, Ireland’s largest umbrella anti-abortion group, has retained uCampaign, a Washington firm that has developed apps for the Trump campaign, the National Rifle Association, the Republican National Committee and Vote Leave.”

    As the Irish Times op-ed warned, “It is hard to think of a single person who better embodies the transatlantic nexus of right-wing digital influencers” more than Borwick, and his hiring should inspire greater scrutiny and caution with this referendum:

    According to John McGuirk of Save the 8th, Kanto has been hired merely to create a website and track its use. This may well be so, but it is decidedly odd. Kanto is Thomas Borwick. According to its filing with Companies House in London, Kanto Systems has two registered officers, its company secretary, Thomas Borwick, and its company director, Thomas Borwick. There is also Kanto Elect, registered at the same address. It too has two directors: Thomas Borwick and Kanto Systems. Save the 8th hasn’t hired web services. It has hired Borwick.

    And hiring Borwick to create and manage a website is like employing the SAS to run security at a school hop or bringing in Einstein to tot up your shopping bill. He seems awfully overqualified for the job. There are probably thousands of people in Ireland who could create a campaign website that would allow McGuirk and his colleagues to tell, as he puts it, whether “600 people from Tipperary are logging on”. I am sure there are highly motivated anti-abortion idealists who would even do this for free.

    Anti-abortion groups have employed a firm with the experience necessary to personalize their outreach to the interests of specific audiences, making those audiences more likely to engage with the anti-abortion content. The question is: Will this savvy marketer target them with posts that are full of anti-choice lies? And will he be leveraging his relationship with Cambridge Analytica -- and its 50 million records of ill-gotten personal data from Facebook -- so that his microtargeting is even more effective?

  • Alliance Defending Freedom spent big fighting against marriage equality in Latin America and Europe. It's losing.

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Last year, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a designated anti-LGBTQ hate group, fought against marriage equality in Latin American and European courts, including by presenting oral arguments before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) in the Americas. Multinational courts in both countries recently ruled or advised in favor of same-sex marriage and spousal recognition. The international courts’ opinions show that attempting to export anti-LGBTQ bigotry abroad is not always a winning battle, even as ADF gains influence in our court system.

    The IACHR is a part of the Organization of American States (OAS), an organization that “brings together all 35 independent states of the Americas and constitutes the main political, juridical, and social governmental forum in the Hemisphere.” On May 17 of last year, ADF International presented oral arguments before the IACHR against legalizing marriage equality in its member states. The IACHR was reviewing a petition submitted in 2016 by Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis, "who had vowed to increase rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the majority Catholic country.” Talking about the case, ADF International legal counsel Neydy Casillas had said, “While the right for men and women to marry is recognized under international law, there is no corresponding right to same-sex marriage or a name change based on ‘gender identity.’” Casillas continued, “The American Convention on Human Rights does not obligate Member States to recognize same-sex partnerships.”

    On January 9, Reuters reported that the IACHR ruled “that countries in the region should legalize same-sex unions.” According to AFP and Costa Rica’s Tico Times, the ruling “said gay married couples should have the same rights as heterosexual ones existing under each country’s laws.” The court also ruled that transgender people should be able to change their names on identification documents. In response, Costa Rica’s government said that it “would take steps to adopt the court’s criteria ‘in its totality.’” And on January 17, Panama’s government also “signaled it plans to comply” with the ruling, according to the Washington Blade.

    ADF International showcased this work in its Annual Report 2017, writing that its team argued “in defence of Costa Rica’s definition of marriage.” ADF and another anti-LGBTQ hate group, C-Fam, both participated in the 47th annual session of the OAS General Assembly.

    In a separate international case, ADF submitted an intervention in April to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) against a married Romanian and American gay couple who were fighting for their right to live together. The couple challenged Romanian authorities’ decision to refuse the American husband’s residence permit. On January 11, a senior adviser to the ECJ backed legal residency for same-sex couples under the definition of “spouse.” According to the BBC, “ECJ Advocate General Melchior Wathelet said the term ‘spouse’ included, under the freedom of residence of EU citizens and their family members, spouses of the same sex.” “Opinions given by ECJ advocate generals are non-binding on the court’s judges,” The Guardian noted, “but are normally followed by the full court.” The court decision, which is expected in a few months, “could have wider repercussions for the range of benefits and rights” same-sex married couples can claim.

    As expected, ADF saw the repercussions of the decision in a very different way. In April, ADF International legal counsel Adina Portaru, the “leading lawyer on the third party intervention,” released a statement saying, "Forcing a Member State to amend its national law to legally recognize same-sex relationships means deliberately ignoring a national democratic process." The statement also claimed that the ECJ "runs the risk of undermining the law" in many EU countries and "creating legal chaos as a result."

    ADF International also highlighted its work before the ECJ in its Annual Report 2017. Additionally, ADF gave legal assistance to a “Coalition for Family” in Romania that worked to collect 3 million signatures across the country in order to get a referendum “to amend the constitution to prohibit gay marriage” up for a vote. Anti-LGBTQ hate group Liberty Counsel also gave legal assistance and organized for Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to LGBTQ couples in 2015, to visit the coalition. The United Nations has granted ADF a special consultative status, which allows its attorneys access to treaty and convention drafting meetings. C-Fam also has the same status.

    ADF is the largest designated anti-LGBTQ hate group in the nation, and the group and its representatives have supported a number of extreme positions, including criminalizing gay sex both domestically and abroad. According to a major investigative report by The Nation’s Sarah Posner, ADF has “redoubled its efforts to portray its views as mainstream” amid its growing influence, including its role in the U.S. Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. ADF’s international arm has grown to “50 team members in 8 countries,” with a budget of more than 3.5 million euros, and engagement in “580 ongoing legal matters in 51 countries.” Its work in international courts proves that ADF is not simply interested in “free speech” and is in fact dedicated to eroding every aspect of LGBTQ equality both in the U.S. and abroad. It is to be seen whether ADF’s arguments prove successful in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case before our own nation’s high court, but failures abroad illustrate that international courts aren’t falling for them.

  • What you need to know about Fox News' newest hire, Sebastian Gorka

    Gorka has deep ties to the far-right, recently floated the idea of executing Hillary Clinton, and was fired by the FBI for “over-the-top Islamophobic rhetoric”

    ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT

    On Wednesday, Sean Hannity announced that former White House national security aide Sebastian Gorka would be joining Fox News as a national security strategist. Experts have repeatedly questioned Gorka’s supposed national security expertise. He has apparent ties to a Nazi-allied Hungarian group and has a long history of using incendiary, conspiratorial, and racist rhetoric. Here is what you need to know about Fox News’ newest hire.

  • 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.

  • Contra right-wing media, US officials have verified core aspects of the Trump dossier

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    Right-wing media have waged a months-long attempt to discredit the 35-page dossier produced by a former British intelligence officer that contains allegations of coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Various right-wing commentators have described its contents as “unreliable,” “discredited,” “largely debunked,” and "evidence of ... collusion between Democrats and Russian disinformation," including a Washington Times story that Trump promoted this week. But, according to numerous reports, American intelligence officials have “verified” various “core” aspects of the dossier.

  • Amid Economic Turmoil, Right-Wing Media Spin Brexit As Good For Trump

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & NINA MAST

    Right-wing media are reacting to the U.K. referendum to leave the European Union -- commonly referred to as Brexit -- by labeling the result a “very, very ominous sign for Democrats in the United States,” saying Donald Trump “looked like a genius” for saying the U.K. should leave the European Union, and claiming that “Hillary [Clinton] lost and Trump won.” Meanwhile, mainstream media warn of economic ramifications from the vote.

  • Fox News Co-Hosts "Haven't Heard Of Any" Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes

    Eric Bolling: "Are There A Lot Of A Hate Crimes Against Muslims In The United States, Because I Haven't Heard Of Any?"

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTIANO LIMA

    Fox News co-hosts Eric Bolling and Kimberly Guilfoyle questioned whether hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S. actually exist, despite numerous reports showing that attacks on Muslims in America have been on the rise for years.

    During the February 4 edition of Fox News' The Five, co-hosts Juan Williams, Eric Bolling, and Kimberly Guildoyle discussed President Barack Obama's recent speech at a U.S. mosque. Co-host Juan Williams pointed out that Obama's visit to the mosque comes as hate crimes against Muslims in America have increased, to which Bolling asked whether there were many hate crimes against Muslims "because I haven't heard of any." Guilfoyle echoed Bolling, demanding Williams produce evidence:

    KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE (CO-HOST): Yes, I think that Christians are being driven out of the Middle East in droves, being raped and tortured, murdered. Religious Christian sites and churches not being allowed to be rebuilt. What is the president doing to stand for them? Instead every time he gives one of these speeches we hear a little excerpt from the book of Obama of how Christians should be living their life and that Muslims is a religion of peace. Show me the evidence.

    [...]

    JUAN WILLIAMS (CO-HOST): The challenge at the moment has to do with the spike in attacks, hate crimes against Muslims in the United States. And don't forget you've had Donald Trump say we should ban --

    ERIC BOLLING (CO-HOST): Are there a lot of a hate crimes against Muslims in the United States, because I haven't heard of any?

    GUILFOYLE: Where are the numbers for that?

    The Washington Post reported on February 3, that, "Hate crimes against Muslims are five times more common today than they were before 9/11. And they've been edging steadily upward over the past few years." A previous report on December 4, 2015, also found that "American Muslims ... feel growing anti-Muslim sentiment after the recent Islamic State attacks in Paris and this week's San Bernardino shootings."

    The Southern Poverty Law Center noted that the FBI's hate crime statistics found that "reported hate crimes [are] down nationally, except for Muslims," adding that hate crimes against Muslim Americans "rose about 14 percent over the prior year." The Huffington Post recently launched a project to track anti-Islamic acts in the U.S., declaring that "Islamophobia is real. And it's not going anywhere":

    After last year's terror attacks in Paris and mass shooting in San Bernardino, California -- and amidst a surge in anti-Muslim rhetoric from U.S. politicians -- reports about Muslims in America facing violence, harassment, intimidation and bigotry have become omnipresent. Many Muslims say Islamophobia is worse now than it's ever been -- even worse than it was after 9/11.

    A comprehensive list of discriminatory acts against American Muslims might be impossible, but The Huffington Post will document this deplorable wave of hate for all of 2016 using news reports and firsthand accounts. The breadth and severity of Islamophobia in America can no longer go unnoticed. Enough is enough.  

  • Media Explain That Frank Gaffney, Whose Poll Inspired Trump's Proposed Ban On Muslim Immigration, Is A "Notorious Islamophobe"

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Multiple media outlets documented the Islamophobic and conspiratorial views of Frank Gaffney, the president and founder of the right-wing Center for Security Policy (CSP), after Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump cited a CSP poll to justify his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

  • Right Wing Media Attack Loretta Lynch For Condemning Anti-Muslim Rhetoric That Leads To Violence

    But Muslim Hate Crimes On Rise In US And Around The World

    ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET, BRENNAN SUEN & DAYANITA RAMESH

    Right-wing pundits criticized Attorney General Loretta Lynch for advocating action against anti-Muslim rhetoric that "edges towards violence" at the 10th annual Muslim Advocates dinner. Conservatives called the comments "sedition," but crime data shows anti-Muslim hate crimes on the rise in U.S.