Breitbart | Media Matters for America

Breitbart

Tags ››› Breitbart
  • There is no bottom

    Free of oversight and enabled by toadies, the president disappears Puerto Rico’s dead

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico almost a year ago and created a humanitarian catastrophe that continues to this day. The storm obliterated the U.S. territory’s already dilapidated infrastructure, causing an islandwide blackout that still isn’t completely fixed. With many residents denied access to electricity, fresh water, medical care, and other basic services, the death toll from the storm climbed. The official toll stood at 64 until early August, when the Puerto Rican government acknowledged that it was far, far higher -- at least 1,400. A few weeks later, Puerto Rico raised the official death toll to 2,975, based on estimates from an independent study commissioned by the commonwealth government.

    That death toll makes Hurricane Maria one of the deadliest disasters in U.S. history. To President Donald Trump, however, reports that nearly 3,000 U.S. citizens perished on his watch are a personal insult and a conspiracy to undermine him.

    You can read the president’s tweets on the subject if you like, but the gist is that the updated death toll is fake and was invented by unnamed Democrats who manufactured it solely to make Trump look bad. Earlier in the week, the president had been bragging about his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria. “I actually think it is one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about,” Trump said. He also tweeted about the “unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico.”

    This depraved egotism is untouched by any sort of factual merit: To the president, the federal response to Maria was terrific because it was his response, and any suggestion of calamity or incompetence is obviously fake because it can’t be true. “I love Puerto Rico!” Trump declared in the same tweet in which he vanished the island’s thousands of hurricane casualties.

    Just as despicable as the president’s conspiracy theory about dead U.S. citizens was the determined effort by his toadies in conservative politics and right-wing media to defend Trump’s self-serving lies.

    The pro-Trump mercenaries at Breitbart.com insisted that Trump was “correct” to argue that Democrats had created a fake death count to smear him, pointing out that earlier estimates put the death toll at around 1,000 (it’s not clear how that helps the president, who tweeted that the death toll wasn’t much higher than 18). Breitbart complained that “the media reported the new estimate as if it were an actual confirmed death toll,” even though the Puerto Rican government revised the official death toll to align with that estimate. (Breitbart’s explanation for why the governor raised the death toll is that he was “under heavy political pressure due to the slow pace of the island’s recovery,” which makes absolutely no sense.)

    Lou Dobbs, whose Fox Business program functions as a self-debasing exaltation of the gloriously infallible Donald Trump, heaped praise on the president for having “the guts to call out the Dems and national left wing media types, who have blindly accepted an amazing tortured inflation of the death toll.” Dobbs’ explanation for how the death toll rose from 64 to nearly 3,000 was this: “It involves as many academicians as humanly possible in the effort, and then you watch the entire exercise become a farce.” Dobbs later tweeted out a video of the segment, which earned a retweet from the president.

    What Breitbart, Dobbs, and the rest of the president’s sycophants leave deliberately unmentioned is that the federal government’s inadequate response to the hurricane is well-documented. Puerto Rico did not receive the same federal attention or assets other less heavily damaged areas of the country received. A recent Government Accountability Office report identified numerous problems with the federal response, including personnel shortages, insufficient resources, and a lack of proper equipment. A PBS and NPR investigation into the federal storm response characterized the Federal Emergency Management Agency as “a government relief agency in chaos struggling with key contracts, basic supplies and its own workforce.” That chaos is in evidence as the crisis continues and “eighty percent of Puerto Ricans rate Trump’s response to Maria negatively.”

    There is no official reckoning of what happened in Puerto Rico because the people in power are more concerned with maintaining power than they are with figuring out exactly how many people died and why. Congressional Democrats are accusing Republicans of stymieing any real federal inquiry into Puerto Rico’s humanitarian nightmare, and there likely won’t be any real accountability so long as Republicans control both houses of Congress. This ugly truth props up Trump’s conspiracymongering and his supporters’ bad-faith defenses -- absent any sort of definitive federal investigation into the administration’s hurricane response, Trump and his enablers are free to hurl outlandish accusations and claim that the president’s critics are smearing him with fake numbers because no one knows precisely how many people died.

    They want to make sure that no one ever really knows what happened in Puerto Rico. Their most important consideration is that the president not be blamed for the catastrophe, and if that means dismissing a couple of thousand dead Americans as a fiction invented by the Democrats, then that’s what they’ll do.

  • The small chorus of pro-Trump figures defending his disastrous presser with Putin

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Amid bipartisan criticism of President Donald Trump’s capitulation to Russian President Vladimir Putin, some of Trump’s fiercest media allies are standing behind him, even as many of his loyalists defect.

    During a July 16 press conference with his Russian counterpart, Trump questioned the findings of his own intelligence community and legitimized Putin’s false claim that Russia did not meddle in the 2016 election, calling his denial “extremely strong and powerful.” His shameful performance garnered sharp rebukes from intelligence community veterans, Democrats, Republicans, and even friends of Trump who have defended the president through some of his most egregious slip-ups.

    Nonetheless, a group of Trump’s most ardent supporters in the media rejected the overwhelming consensus and defended the president:

    • Fox's Jeanine Pirro: "What was [Trump] supposed to do, take a gun out and shoot Putin?"
    • Fox host Sean Hannity praised Trump for being "very strong at the end of the press conference."
    • Infowars host Owen Shroyer on the press conference: "It just kept getting better in time."
    • Conservative radio host Mark Simone: “The whole idea of a summit is to make peace. That’s what he was doing there.”
    • Fox host Laura Ingraham admonished “mass hysteria” in reaction to the press conference and downplayed Trump’s performance as involving an “unfortunate word choice.”
    • Fox’s Tucker Carlson attacked media for their reactions to the press conference and said it seems like politicians critical of Trump’s actions toward Putin and Russia “seek increased conflict with Russia.”
    • Breitbart’s Joel Pollak: “A day after the media/Democrats/NeverTrump meltdown over Trump-Putin summit, they're still wrong, the world's still here, and the future is bright.”
    • Breitbart’s Charlie Spiering: “Remind me, did Obama forcefully confront Putin for” the 2014 attack on a Malaysian Airlines passenger flight over Ukraine?
    • The Washington Times boosted comments from former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), current host of the web show Liberty Report, who categorized Trump’s meeting with Putin as “significant diplomacy.”
  • Right-wing media praise Trump after he snubbed the British prime minister and voiced white nationalist views

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On July 12, British tabloid The Sun published a wide-ranging interview with President Donald Trump in which he disparaged British Prime Minister Theresa May and espoused white nationalist views. Conservative media figures responded to the interview by praising the president and berating his critics.

    Trump sat down for an interview with the Murdoch-owned paper shortly after the conclusion of the NATO summit, at which he insulted world leaders, missed and was late to a number of meetings, and took credit for convincing other nations to increase their NATO contributions, which he did not actually do. After alienating allies at the summit, the president proceeded in the Sun interview to undermine May and criticize her Brexit blueprint, praise her chief political rival, and threaten and threaten to kill a potential trade deal between the U.S. and Britain. Trump also used white nationalist rhetoric to talk about immigration to Europe, saying, “I think what's happened to Europe is a shame. I think the immigration - allowing the immigration to take place in Europe is a shame. I think it changed the fabric of Europe. And unless you act very quickly, it's never going to be what it was. And I don't mean that in a positive way.”

    Here’s how conservative media figures have responded to Trump’s latest outburst:

    • Fox News contributor Nigel Farage praised Trump for his “bombshell to the establishment” opposition to “globalist structures like the European Union.”
    • Fox's Steve Hilton: “The president is 100 percent right about Brexit.” May is weak and “caved in to the elitist establishment.”
    • Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt: Trump is "allowed to" snub British Prime Minister Theresa May and "he's not afraid of the backlash."
    • Fox host Jeanine Pirro: “I don’t think it matters if [Trump] likes [May] as a person.”
    • Breitbart: “Trump just dropped the Mother of all Brexit Bombs on Theresa May.”
    • Breitbart also tried to legitimize Trump’s white nationalist view by hyping “significant demographic changes being seen across Europe” and fearmongering about the advent of “culturally alien practices” like female genital mutilation in Europe.
    • Anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller: “Reality vs Fantasy: President Trump warns Europe is ‘losing its culture’ by allowing ‘millions and millions’ of migrants, PM Theresa May praises their’ fantastic contribution’: Reality has a nasty way of shattering delusions. Trump speaks as it is. May…”
    • CRTV's Michelle Malkin attacked “media freaks” for overreacting to Trump’s comments, saying he was just “speaking truth” rather than acting like a "doormat.”
    • Fox's Geraldo Rivera: “He’s a great negotiator, the president.”
    • Fox host Melissa Francis: “To be clear… #TheresaMay wanted the President to lie about how he felt about her approach Brexit. And he wasn’t willing to lie. I guess #TheResistance & #NeverTrumpers thinks lying & diplomacy and the same thing.”
    • Asked about Trump’s conduct at the NATO summit and his interview with The Sun, YouTube vloggers Diamond & Silk said, “He’s doing an amazing job. He’s standing up for the American people and for America.”
    • Right-wing blog HotAir dismissed Trump’s comments, arguing they might actually help May.
  • New EPA chief Andrew Wheeler has a fondness for right-wing media and climate-denier blogs

    But will he be as combative toward the mainstream press as Scott Pruitt was?

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Scott Pruitt, ousted administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), had cozy relationships with right-wing media outlets and combative relationships with the mainstream press. Andrew Wheeler, who's stepped in as acting administrator, has also shown a fondness for right-wing media and signs of disdain toward some mainstream media. But Wheeler has not interacted with the press in the same hostile and tribal ways that Pruitt did. Will Wheeler's approach to the media shift now that he's at the helm at EPA?

    On the topic of climate change, it’s easier to predict whether Wheeler will change course: probably not. Like Pruitt, Wheeler has long been skeptical of climate science and climate action, as evidenced not just by Wheeler’s public statements but also by his Twitter account. He has tweeted out links to climate-denying blog posts, including one post that declared, “There is no such thing as ‘carbon pollution.’”

    Pruitt leaned heavily on right-wing media

    Throughout his tenure at the EPA, Pruitt made heavy use of right-wing media outlets to spread his preferred talking points and fight back against media coverage he didn't like. During his first year, Pruitt appeared on Fox News more than twice as often as all other major TV networks combined, Media Matters found, and Fox was less likely than other networks to cover Pruitt's scandals. Pruitt was also a frequent guest on national right-wing talk-radio shows, where he received soft treatment.

    After Pruitt got unexpectedly tough questions during an April interview with Fox's Ed Henry, he retreated to right-wing outlets that were even more likely to give him good press, giving interviews to the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Washington Free Beacon, and a Mississippi talk-radio show.

    Pruitt cultivated a particularly cozy relationship with right-wing outlet The Daily Caller, giving the site exclusive quotes and information. The Daily Caller in turn repeatedly defended Pruitt against scandals and attacked people who released damaging information about him. Even after Pruitt resigned, The Daily Caller continued to act as his attack dog, publishing pieces with headlines including "Source: A torrent of negative press ended Scott Pruitt's career at EPA" and "Jilted former EPA aide with sordid history takes full credit for Pruitt's resignation."

    Pruitt attacked and stymied mainstream media outlets

    Under Pruitt, the EPA press office repeatedly attacked, stymied, and manipulated reporters at mainstream news outlets, as Media Matters documented. The agency refused to release basic information about its activities, blocked journalists from attending official agency events, favored reporters who would provide positive coverage, and publicly insulted and retaliated against reporters and outlets whose coverage officials didn't like.

    One of many such attacks came in September, when the EPA sent out a press release that personally maligned Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker, accusing him of having "a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story." Another attack happened in June of 2018, when EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox called an Atlantic reporter "a piece of trash” after she asked for comment on one of Pruitt's aides resigning. 

    Pruitt appeared to attack the media on his way out the door, too. His resignation letter blamed "unprecedented" and "unrelenting attacks" on him.

    Wheeler liked tweets from right-wing media figures, defended Milo Yiannopoulos

    Wheeler, for his part, has also demonstrated an affinity for right-wing media figures and outlets, but he's done it in a different way -- via his personal Twitter account. He has "liked" many tweets by conservative media figures, including ones that criticize mainstream or liberal media outlets.

    Wheeler "liked" a July 3 tweet by Donald Trump Jr. that linked to a Daily Caller post lauding Fox News's high ratings and mocking CNN's lower ones:

    He "liked" a June 11 tweet by NRATV host and Fox regular Dan Bongino that bashed MSNBC:

    Wheeler "liked" a June 1 tweet by libertarian talk show host Dave Rubin that criticized a HuffPost story: "HuffPo isn’t a place of journalism, it’s a place of Far Left activism." (Media Matters rebutted the misleading claims of right-wing figures who criticized the story.)

    He "liked" a May 22 tweet by NRATV host and NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch that knocked Planned Parenthood.

    He "liked" an April 3 tweet by conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel that inaccurately claimed Obama EPA officials spent as much on travel as Pruitt did.

    He "liked" a January 6 tweet by Fox News personality Brit Hume that mocked Al Gore.

    Wheeler has "liked" tweets from frequent Fox News guests Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens of the conservative group Turning Point USA, including this one:

    According to Daily Beast reporter Scott Bixby, in 2016 Wheeler tweeted out a conspiracy theorist's video that defended Milo Yiannopoulos, an alt-right troll and former Breitbart editor, but Wheeler later deleted the tweet:

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

    Since being named acting head of the EPA last week, Wheeler appears to have deleted 12 more tweets from his feed.

    Wheeler tweeted links to climate-denier blog posts

    While EPA watchers have predicted that Wheeler is likely to differ from Pruitt in his demeanor, Wheeler has displayed the same attitude as Pruitt toward climate change.

    In 2011, when Wheeler was a lobbyist for the Murray Energy coal company, he tweeted a link to a post on the climate-denial blog JunkScience.com. The post, written by the site's founder and longtime climate denier Steve Milloy, argued that information from the American Lung Association should not be trusted because the organization "is bought-and-paid-for by the EPA."

    Wheeler retweeted a Milloy tweet from 2015 that took a shot at Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington and highlighted projections about India's rising coal use.

    In 2009, Wheeler sent a tweeted promoting a climate-denying blog post published on the conservative American Thinker site:

    On at least two occasions, Wheeler has tweeted links to posts on RealClearPolitics that questioned the science of climate change. A tweet in 2009 linked to a post titled "A Reason To Be Skeptical," and the tweet included the hashtag #capandtax, a conservative smear against cap-and-trade policies. The piece he linked to, which also appeared in The Denver Post, promoted “Climategate,” a bogus, manufactured scandal in which conservatives claimed that hacked emails showed climate scientists were fabricating evidence of warming temperatures. 

    And a tweet in 2015 praised a RealClearPolitics essay that argued, "There is no such thing as 'carbon pollution.'”

    This piece, which Wheeler called "great," largely dismissed climate science and criticized the media outlets and peer-reviewed journals that regularly report on climate change:

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

    Wheeler gives interviews and quotes primarily to mainstream outlets

    Though Wheeler's Twitter account seems to show a preference for right-wing outlets, he does not exhibit the same ideological bias when he gives interviews or quotes to media. Most of the interviews he's given during his career in Washington, D.C., have been to mainstream outlets.

    Media Matters has identified eight interviews Wheeler has granted to media outlets since October 5, 2017, when President Donald Trump nominated him to serve as deputy administrator of the EPA:

    During his years as a lobbyist from 2009 to 2017 -- when he worked for coal, nuclear, chemical, and utility companies, among others -- he was quoted at least eight times by E&E News, a subscription-based news organization aimed at professionals working in the energy and environment fields, and he sat for one video interview with E&E. He also gave quotes at least twice to another inside-the-beltway news organization, Politico, as well as to The New York Times and FoxNews.com.

    From 1995 to 2008, when Wheeler worked for Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), he gave at least four more video interviews to E&E News. He was also quoted in a Washington Post article in 2008.

    Right-wing media are already leaping to Wheeler's defense

    Whether on not Wheeler starts giving interviews or information to right-wing outlets, right-wing outlets are likely to defend him against criticism. They've already started.

    The Daily Caller, which had a tight-knit relationship with Pruitt and his press office, published a story on July 5 titled "Pruitt has been gone for less than a day and his replacement is already getting attacked." And Breitbart ran a piece on July 5 that quoted conservatives praising Wheeler and argued that "the media is already attacking him in much the same relentless fashion it did Pruitt."

    What's next for Wheeler and the EPA press office?

    It's not surprising that Wheeler gave quotes and interviews primarily to mainstream and inside-the-beltway publications while he was working for Inhofe and representing his lobbying clients. He was trying to reach influencers and mold public opinion.

    In contrast, Pruitt, who has been rumored to be plotting a run for Oklahoma governor or senator, has spent his time in D.C. trying to raise his profile and burnish his image with GOP donors and the conservative base of the Republican Party. He often turned to highly partisan right-wing outlets to achieve those ends.

    Now that Wheeler is the boss setting the agenda and determining strategy, will he continue his conventional approach of talking to mainstream media, or will he follow Pruitt's recent example and turn primarily to highly partisan right-wing outlets like Fox News and The Daily Caller? And under Wheeler's leadership, will the EPA's press office treat reporters more professionally than it did under Pruitt, or will it continue to be highly combative with the media?

    In the few days since Wheeler was announced as interim EPA chief on July 5, he seems to have taken a more traditional and conciliatory approach. He's given two substantive interviews to major newspapers, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. And according to Politico, Wheeler will be taking a different approach from Pruitt in terms of dealing with the press: "Wheeler will announce where he is speaking or traveling in advance, he will publish his full calendars 'frequently,' without litigation from groups pursuing public records, and he and other top political appointees will hold briefings for the media on major policy announcements."

    But even if the media approach changes, the policy approach won't. "EPA's agenda remains largely unchanged," Politico continued. "Wheeler will still pursue much the same policy platform — fighting the courts to roll back a slate of Obama-era regulations on climate change, air pollution, stream protection and more."

    Ted MacDonald, Evlondo Cooper, and Kevin Kalhoefer contributed research to this post.

  • The big problem with the term “catch and release”

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Over the past few months, as President Donald Trump’s administration works to dismantle protections for asylum-seeking immigrants, the use of the term “catch and release” -- a dehumanizing phrase that describes U.S. policies meant to provide certain rights to vulnerable immigrants -- has skyrocketed on cable news networks.

    “Catch and release” is generally used to refer to any policy that allows immigrants to be released from detention while their cases are being processed. These so-called “catch and release” policies recognize the basic humanitarian rights of unaccompanied minors, asylum seekers, and families with children. One such policy prohibits the detention of families for more than 20 days and enforces other standards for detention; another bars the U.S. government from deporting people back to places where they could be harmed or killed; and a third awards “more cautious asylum hearing proceedings for [unaccompanied children], because it is thought that they are more likely to be victims of human trafficking.” Experts have noted that rolling back these protections would lead to severe trauma for immigrants (and benefits for the private prison industry.)

    Many observers have pointed out that the term “catch and release” evokes imagery of a fish or other animal being hunted and then released. The book Governing Immigration Through Crime: A Reader explains the disparaging effect of the term:

    Although the term catch and release appears benign, it actually serves to dehumanize immigrants. The term comes from sport fishing, where it refers to the practice of catching fish and then throwing them back into the water. Using such a term in the context of immigration policing essentially reduces the apprehension and incarceration of human beings to a sport.

    But as the Trump administration continues to pick away at these protections, cable news outlets have ramped up their use of the phrase, with Fox News leading the way. An analysis of use of the term “catch and release” on cable news by the GDELT Project using data from the Internet Archive’s Television News Archive demonstrates a huge spike in the term’s prevalence throughout 2018 compared to previous years. Notably, on June 25, use of the term “catch and release” was the highest it has been since at least 2009 across MSNBC, Fox, and CNN:

    Fox and other right-wing outlets have weaponized the phrase to fearmonger about a foreign invasion at the southern border, spreading misinformation about the policy and its effects.

    The Trump administration’s policies to curtail immigrant protections have not deterred immigrants from making the journey to the southern border, as the administration had claimed. In fact, the number of apprehensions of unaccompanied minors at the border jumped 50 percent in May, shortly after Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared an end to so-called catch and release policies. Even so, Fox has argued that the policies encourage unbridled immigration to the U.S.

    Alleged smugglers reportedly make up only .61 percent of the total number of family units apprehended at the border. Nevertheless, Breitbart.com and Fox have pushed the administration’s misleading claim that protections for immigrants enable human smuggling.

    Asylum seekers face a rigorous vetting process to prove their claims and, all too often, those with genuine fear of return are denied asylum. Yet Laura Ingraham argues that immigrants are taking advantage of the policies to falsely claim asylum with the expectation that they will be released and be able to disappear into the system.

    In 2017, 60,000 immigrants attended their court hearings after they were released from custody at the border, compared to 40,000 who did not, and only 25 percent of cases were decided without a defendant in 2016. Yet, right-wing media have perpetuated the myth that the majority of immigrants do not show up for their court dates.

    Like the terms “illegal immigrant” and “chain migration,” “catch and release” is just another tool that nativists use to dehumanize immigrants. And at a time when the president of the United States has painted immigrants as “animals” and immigration as an infestation, mainstream media should avoid using language that might serve to legitimize this deceptive narrative.

  • Conservative media disingenuously demanding context about Trump’s “animals” comment have ignored that same context for years

    Right-wing media have consistently praised Trump’s conflation of immigrants with criminals

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    In the past, right-wing media have praised President Donald Trump’s immigration rhetoric, even as it conflated all undocumented immigrants with gang members. Now, after Trump pivoted from a vague question about MS-13 yesterday to say some undocumented immigrants “aren’t people, these are animals,” right-wing media are attacking mainstream outlets for reporting on the ambiguity of his remark and insisting he was talking exclusively about MS-13 gang members. But those same right-wing media figures, along with Trump, have helped foster an environment in which a mention of the term “MS-13” evokes undocumented immigrants, and this false association is having negative consequences for immigrants across the country.

    During a roundtable discussion about California’s so-called sanctuary laws on Wednesday, a local sheriff said to Trump, “There could be an MS-13 member I know about. If they don’t reach a certain threshold, I cannot tell ICE about them.” In response, Trump talked about “people coming into the country” and made no explicit reference to gang members:

    “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — we’re stopping a lot of them. But we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before. And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get them, we release them, we get them again, we bring them out. It’s crazy.”

    Many in the media reported accurately that Trump had called “some deported immigrants” or “some unauthorized immigrants” animals, and several journalists noted the ambiguity of his comment. But pro-Trump outlets opportunistically attacked mainstream outlets for their coverage, arguing that they had selectively edited his comment or taken him out of context. Infowars described the coverage as a “shocking level of deceit,” and CNN’s Rick Santorum complained that “this is one of the reasons that a big chunk of the country just turn off the media when they start going after the president.”

    Trump’s vague response had made no mention of the gang, and whether he was referring to gang members or undocumented immigrants in general, the dehumanizing effect was the same. As Vox pointed out, Trump’s strategic rhetorical ambiguity allows him to “refer to some specific criminals, call them horrible people and animals, say that their evil justifies his immigration policy, and allow the conflation of all immigrants and all Latinos with criminals and animals to remain subtext.”

    Right-wing media have boosted this type of rhetoric by praising Trump for erroneously hyping MS-13’s presence in the U.S. as a product of lax immigration policies, and many have conflated MS-13 and immigrants themselves. On any given day, trivial news about MS-13 -- a brutal gang founded in Los Angeles that has been able to grow in strength due to stringent deportation policies and mass incarceration -- will be broadcast in the conservative media sphere, almost always laced with complaints about lax immigration policies.

    The reality is that, while many MS-13 members are undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of undocumented immigrants are not MS-13 members, and the right-wing media campaign to conflate the two is having serious consequences.

    Such rhetoric mirrors actual policies being put in place by the Trump administration. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been using dangerously broad criteria to label undocumented immigrants as gang members, giving the agency cover to carry out hundreds of arrests under the auspices of an “anti-gang operation.” Just this week, a federal judge ruled that ICE outright lied to frame one person as “gang-affiliated.” Nonetheless, right-wing outlets dutifully report on the raids, casting ICE agents as heroes and the non-criminal immigrants as animals.

    Whether or not Trump was referring to MS-13 by calling people who cross the border “animals,” right-wing media and agencies like ICE benefit from his irresponsible and coded language, and non-criminal immigrants will bear the brunt of the fallout.

  • Steve Bannon reveals plans to visit Sweden to “learn from” the nation’s far-right party

    But even a party with neo-Nazi roots doesn't want to be associated with Bannon

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Steve Bannon revealed to a Swedish newspaper that he will be visiting the country to “learn from” the Sweden Democrats (SD), an anti-immigration, anti-Muslim party attempting to rebrand away from its neo-Nazi roots. In seeking alliances with Sweden’s most prominent right-wing party leaders, Bannon is trying to dig himself out of the political irrelevance his downfall has brought. But it appears that even the members of a party with neo-Nazi origins are embarrassed to be associated with him.

    In a March 28 interview with Dagens Nyheter, a daily newspaper in Sweden, Bannon revealed his plan to visit the country in the next few months “to learn” from the Sweden Democrats, “some of whom we have studied closely.” When asked what insights would he share with SD members from his time at the White House (he was fired in August 2017), Bannon said he’d urge the SD to continue fighting, increase the party’s contact with the base, and stay away from the so-called “globalists.” He also called SD leader Jimmie Åkesson a “dynamic” politician and characterized SD as an example for “the whole world to study.”

    Bannon’s interest in Sweden is neither new nor surprising, as he has long telegraphed his plans to export his far-right politics to Europe. During Bannon's time at the helm of Breitbart.com, as well as during and after his White House stint, the outlet has shown an obsession with a mythical migrant crime wave in Sweden, particularly as the nation prepares for a general election (Sweden has become a gateway to the anti-migrant agenda in Europe). Bannon’s announcement of his plans comes on the heels of a series of embarrassing setbacks for him -- ranging from a humiliating electoral loss by a Republican politician he championed in a ruby-red state to his ousting from Breitbart, which he helped build. It appears he is looking for a comeback wherever he can find it.

    When asked directly whether the SD party invited him to visit Sweden, Bannon gave a vaguely affirmative answer, stating he didn’t want to make an announcement yet but that he would “definitely come to Sweden ... relatively soon.” But just hours after the interview was published, the secretary of the Sweden Democrats party denied that anyone in the party arranged or even had knowledge of Bannon’s trip and refused to say whether SD will welcome Bannon to Sweden.

    Though SD was born out of neo-Nazi circles in the late ‘80s, it has since attempted to enter the mainstream by distancing itself from the overt white nationalism of some of its past leaders. In 2006, the party changed its logo from the torch used by the U.K.’s fascist National Front to an innocuous blue and yellow flower. Now, Sweden Democrats is the nation’s most established right-wing party and boasts a thriving (if controversial) social media presence. But its polarizing message has pushed its supporters away from the party in recent months.

    Though SD was polling as the nation’s second-largest party last June, a December 2017 poll showed support for SD has dropped to its lowest level since 2015. In February, a local SD member was forced to resign after posting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Facebook. Just last week, the party suffered another self-inflicted wound when one of its members was sentenced for repeated domestic abuse.

    The recently created more extreme far-right party Alternative for Sweden (inspired by the German AfD) serves as an additional threat to SD. AfS hopes to curry favor with SD’s most extreme elements and has successfully recruited several SD parliamentarians in the past few months, including one who was expelled from SD for extremist ties.

    It’s a testament to Bannon’s toxicity that the Swedish party that perhaps most viably embodies Bannon’s ideology has denied any contact with him, seemingly in an attempt to protect its vulnerable credibility. SD’s Åkesson has admitted that in the past, his party has been its own worst enemy, a problem which Bannon might find hard to resist, probably because he can easily relate.

  • Breitbart and other right-wing outlets push claims that compare Parkland survivor David Hogg to a Nazi

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    Right-wing media outlets amplified claims that Parkland survivor David Hogg made a Nazi salute after his speech at the March for Our Lives event in Washington, D.C. But the gesture Hogg made was clearly a raised fist, not the Seig Heil salute.

    The march in D.C. and sister marches around the country drew massive crowds calling for stronger gun safety regulations after the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, left 17 dead. Hogg was one of multiple survivors who spoke during the march, calling for an end to “thoughts and prayers with no action” and pledging to “get rid of these public servants that only serve the gun lobby.”

    Hogg ended his speech by thrusting his fist in the air, and right-wing media outlets quickly spotlighted people comparing it to a Sieg Heil Nazi salute.

    In a March 25 article, Breitbart writer AWR Hawkins positively highlighted several Twitter accounts that claimed Hogg made a Nazi salute, although the image used to illustrate the article debunked the claim:

    Writing for conservative pundit Ben Shapiro’s The Daily Wire, Ryan Saavedra wrote that Hogg “threw up a salute that sent Twitter into a frenzy.” Saavedra claimed it’s “not clear what Hogg meant by his hand gesture” but went on to include nine tweets that called the gesture, among other things, “Hitler-esque.”

    In a March 24 blog post, Alex Jones’ pro-Trump outlet Infowars called the march “the ‘Hitler Youth” invasion of Washington D.C.” and referred to the speakers as “young fascists-in-training,” specifically calling Hogg “the propagandist-in-chief”:

    Echoing the madness of the Third Reich, the propagandist-in-chief of today’s lunatic Left anti-gun movement is David Hogg, a profanity-laced, foulmouthed student who is seething with anger and seems forever on the verge of outright calling for all gun owners to be exterminated by the government.

    [...]

    David Hogg physically resembles Adolf Hitler in fist-pounding salutes, angry speech patterns and more

    In today’s rally, David Hogg became a full-fledged propaganda politician-in-training, reading from an obviously scripted speech, full of flowery words and high ideals that covered over his real goal: The complete disarmament of all law-abiding Americans.

    Hogg is actually calling for a “revolution” against gun owners, reports ABC News.

    What kind of revolution? A violent revolution, of course. “Hogg ended his his speech with the black power salute,” reports The Gateway Pundit.

    During the March 25 edition of The Alex Jones Show, Jones claimed that “Hogg now wears a purple armband like the Nazis.”

    This is just the latest in a string of attacks against the Parkland survivors, who have been maligned by conservative outlets and the National Rifle Association over their calls for stronger gun laws.

  • The newest pro-Trump conspiracy theory: A "secret society" in the FBI is undermining Trump

    These idiots are misreading obvious sarcasm

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox News’ morning show Fox & Friends pushed the conspiracy theory that a “secret society” meant to discredit President Donald Trump might actually exist in the FBI.

    The story originated when Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) claimed on another Fox show, The Story, that in a text message exchange after the 2016 election, FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page said, “Perhaps this is the first meeting of the secret society.” Gowdy omitted any context and offered no evidence to show that such a text, which has not been released, wouldn’t have been facetious.

    Conservative media and Trump allies have repeatedly attempted to scandalize texts between Strzok and Page, who were in a personal relationship, alleging that they and other FBI officials were working against Trump during the election. But as HuffPost noted, “Most of the information that came out of the bureau during the election was damaging to Hillary Clinton, not Trump,” and Strzok and Page “exchanged texts slamming politicians and officials of all ideological stripes, not just Trump.”

    The “secret society” conspiracy theory is gaining traction on other right-wing media outlets as well. Sean Hannity tweeted, "FBI CONSPIRACY? Text Messages Show Anti-Trump 'SECRET SOCIETY' at DOJ." Breitbart published an article suggesting an association between this “secret society” and the recently reported missing text messages between Strzok and Page. The Gateway Pundit ran Fox’s interview of Gowdy as the headlining story on its front page, which was later shared by Lou Dobbs and Bill Mitchell. And The Daily Caller headlined their piece, “What Deep State? Gowdy, Ratcliffe: Texts Uncover Anti-Trump ‘Secret Society’ At FBI.”

    From the January 23 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    [BEGIN CLIP]

    REP. TREY GOWDY (R-SC): The day after the election, the day after -- what they really, really didn't want to have happen, there is a text exchange between these two FBI agents, these supposed to be objective fact-centric FBI agents saying, “Perhaps this is the first meeting of the secret society.” So, of course I'm going to want to know what secret society you are talking about, because you're supposed to be investigating objectively.

    [END CLIP]

    STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Lawmakers outraged as bombshell texts from that anti-Trump FBI agent and his girlfriend suggest a secret society within the agency meant to perhaps discredit the president.

    [...]

    DOOCY: Well that's good. And then, we just saw the sound bite with Trey Gowdy where he’s outraged that in some of the text message with these lovebirds, they’re talking about a secret society out to get Trump.

  • Meet Peter Imanuelsen, aka Peter Sweden, the bigoted conspiracy theorist who is a frequent source for the American "alt-right" on Europe

    Imanuelsen is a xenophobic pseudo-journalist who has denied the Holocaust, called the moon landing a "hoax," and suggested that LGBTQ people be sent to camps

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Peter Imanuelsen (aka Peter Sweden), a bigoted conspiracy theorist and self-professed “Swedish journalist” who made a name for himself by reporting on so-called migrant crime in Sweden, was recently banned from PayPal. Far-right trolls consider getting banned from such platforms a badge of honor, and Imanuelsen’s ban is a stepping stone for him as he seeks their acceptance.

    Imanuelsen is a far-right vlogger who has worked to carve out a niche for himself at the intersection of pro-Trump trolls and the European far-right movement. Despite his Swedish persona, Imanuelsen is a British national born in Norway, who has spent time living in Sweden but has lived more than half of his life in the U.K. An August 2017 profile of Imanuelsen by the U.K. anti-extremism research group Hope Not Hate suggested that his family’s business appears to have committed tax evasion, which may explain their move from Sweden to the U.K.

    Though a relatively obscure figure during his first year on Twitter, Imanuelsen’s notoriety was boosted around August 2017, a month after he participated in a wildly unsuccessful “alt-right” stunt to disrupt refugee rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea (ironically, the group's ship itself had to be rescued on one occasion by a refugee rescue ship). And, recently, he managed to draw the ire of the current curator of the official Swedish Twitter account.

    Though Imanuelsen’s social media activity is now predominantly focused on blaming immigrants in Sweden for crime and complaining about “the left,” his older tweets, many of which have since been deleted, reveal an array of false, conspiracist, and bigoted beliefs. He has said he doesn’t believe in evolution, that feminism “goes against God’s order,” that people should get “capital punishment” as a “consequence” of “being homo,” that Jews are a “seperate (sic) race from Europeans,” that the Holocaust never occurred (though he claims he has revised his views on the Holocaust), and that the moon landing was a hoax perpetrated by freemasons.

    Since Hope Not Hate’s profile, Imanuelsen has pushed the types of stories, often misleading or outright fabricated ones, that serve as fodder for narratives about Sweden among American “alt-right” Twitter personalities and pro-Trump trolls. His Swedish persona affords him a measure of credibility and gives xenophobic comments a sense of legitimacy (whether or not his conclusions are valid), and he understands the American media landscape -- particularly narratives about President Donald Trump -- well enough to exploit them for his own benefit. In fact, two days ago, he appeared on a list of the 20 most retweeted accounts tweeting about antifa. 

    Imanuelsen regularly tweets unsourced or unsubstantiated claims that allege Sweden’s immigrants are responsible for sexual violence, bombings, gang activity, and other criminality, and that such activity is underreported or covered up by the Swedish police. It’s a two-pronged tactic: It provides a foundation for him to advance his ethno-nationalist arguments against immigrants, and it promotes a sense of distrust of mainstream institutions necessary for the continued relevance of Imanuelsen and people like him.


    Screenshot from Peter Imanuelsen's Twitter account

    More recently, Imanuelsen has promoted himself by fearmongering about government censorship and harassment to a level that could reasonably be considered paranoia. Since October, Imanuelsen, who now purportedly resides in Norway, has been claiming the police have visited his parents many times looking for him and have swarmed his house in the U.K. “probably looking” to arrest him for “hate speech.” On January 10, he also claimed (without evidence) that a “country” reported his January 8 tweet claiming (also without evidence) that Sweden is giving immigrants housing priority over native Swedes, writing, “I would guess it is Germany with their new ‘hate speech’ law that has reported me" to Twitter.

    Imanuelsen has, for months, been ingratiating himself into far-right and pro-Trump Twitter circles -- he once tweeted four times in response to a Breitbart article lamenting the lack of Christian symbolism in a supermarket holiday ad -- and it appears that his efforts have begun to pay off. Imanuelsen now has over 85 thousand Twitter followers, 24 thousand YouTube subscribers, and his Periscope videos regularly draw tens of thousands of viewers.

    Imanuelsen’s relationship with Paul Joseph Watson, an Infowars conspiracy theorist who is obsessed with the canard of Swedish migrant crime, illustrates his rise. Their Twitter relationship seems to have started in February 2017, when Watson quote-tweeted Imanuelsen’s tweet about an explosion in Malmo, which Imanuelsen later deleted. He started quote-tweeting Watson aggressively in March and started tweeting directly at him a few months later. Watson has quote-tweeted Imanuelsen many times and has interviewed him on Infowars. Most recently, Infowars.com reprinted a post Imanuelsen wrote for the anti-immigrant European news blog Voice of Europe. Imanuelsen’s* tweets parallel the content of several prominent far-right outlets that report on the subject of crime in Sweden, and an October 2017 post by the far-right Gateway Pundit was based entirely on his tweets. In November 2017, Imanuelsen was cited as a "journalist" who "keeps track of bombings in the country" in an article on the website of RT, a Russian media outlet which U.S. intelligence officials and experts have said is a propaganda arm for the Kremlin.

    Two days ago, PayPal permanently suspended Imanuelsen for violating the company’s user agreement, a veritable badge of honor for white supremacists since the August 2017 events in Charlottesville, VA. Though PayPal didn’t specify which part of the user agreement he had violated, the company has previously frozen the account of far-right group Defend Europe (with which Sweden was associated). Paypal also told a French outlet that it was the company's policy “to prohibit that our services are used to accept payments or donations for organizations whose activities promote hatred, violence or racial intolerance.” Since the ban, Imanuelsen has joined the trend of soliciting donations via bitcoin, a cryptocurrency white nationalist Richard Spencer calls “the currency of the alt-right.”

    Pamela Geller, America’s most notorious anti-Muslim extremist who has recently gravitated toward the “alt-right” in an attempt to maintain her own fading relevance, ran to his defense. Jihad Watch Director Robert Spencer, another vocal anti-Muslim propagandist, retweeted him.

    But Imanuelsen isn’t content with Infowars-level infamy. He is desperate for an invitation to Fox News prime-time shows (he has pitched stories to their hosts via Twitter), some of which have been increasingly friendly to white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, internet trolls, and the European far-right, leaving open the very real possibility that a bigoted, racist, anti-Muslim, internet conspiracy theorist masquerading as a journalist could be mainstreamed to Americans by a major cable news network.

    * This name has been updated with its correct spelling.

  • Roy Moore may have lost, but Breitbart’s Steve Bannon has a field of awful candidates ready for 2018 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In the December special election for Alabama’s open Senate seat, Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore. Moore was singularly unfit for office and perhaps the only Republican capable of losing a Senate race in such a deep-red state, a privilege he earned not only due to allegations of child molestation, but also as a result of his long history of unfettered bigotry. Moore built a career on odious opinions, often taking racist, anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim, and misogynistic stances, sometimes doing so while flouting the law. And yet, despite Moore’s obvious and profound flaws as a candidate, he drew loyal and ferocious support from the toxic right-wing website Breitbart.com and its executive chairman, Steve Bannon.

    Bannon was an early and enthusiastic supporter of Moore’s campaign, starting with the Republican primary in which Moore faced then-Sen. Luther Strange. Strange had the backing of the Republican establishment and the endorsement of President Donald Trump, but Bannon continued to stand by Moore, campaigning for him as Breitbart worked to paint Strange as the choice of the swampy Republican establishment.

    On November 9, just over a month before the general election, Breitbart warned its readers that The Washington Post planned on “targeting” Moore by accusing him of “inappropriate conduct with four teenage girls 34 years ago” in an article descriptively titled “After Endorsing Democrat in Alabama, Bezos’s Washington Post Plans to Hit Roy Moore with Allegations of Inappropriate Relations with Teenagers; Judge Claims Smear Campaign.” The outlet functioned essentially as Moore's outsourced public relations partner, enthusiastically defending Moore up until election day, and Bannon even journeyed to Alabama to campaign for him. It was to no avail, of course. Bannon and Breitbart went to the mat for Moore, but they lost.

    In the aftermath of the Alabama election, many conservatives blamed Bannon for the embarrassing loss. Yet Bannon’s attempts, however bumbling, to shake up American politics and wage a “bloody civil war” against the Republican “establishment” didn’t end with Moore. Here are some of the other racist, conspiratorial, and misinforming candidates Bannon has thrown his weight behind.

    Kelli Ward -- candidate for Senate in Arizona

    Michael Grimm -- candidate for the House in New York

    Tom Tancredo -- candidate for governor of Colorado 

    Scott Wagner -- candidate for governor of Pennsylvania

    Corey Stewart -- candidate for Senate in Virginia

    Bannon also supported Paul Nehlen, a Wisconsin House candidate with a record of white nationalism and anti-Semitism, until recently

    Kelli Ward -- candidate for Senate in Arizona

    Former state senator and right-wing favorite Kelli Ward is running for the Senate seat in Arizona currently held by Sen. Jeff Flake, who announced his retirement in October. Ward challenged Sen. John McCain for his seat in 2016 but lost the Republican primary.

    Ward has a long history of cozying up to far-right extremists, conspiracy theorists, and serial misinformers. In March 2016, she appeared on Alex Jones’ extremist show Infowars, where Jones often makes conspiratorial and revolting claims, including that the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was an “inside job.” Ward promised to return to Infowars after her election as a U.S. senator. Several months later, Ward, as a guest on on Trunews, a radio show hosted by Rick Wiles, claimed that Americans living along the U.S. southern border were being “terrorized” by immigrants. Wiles is a conspiracy theorist who, according to Right Wing Watch, argued that the Ebola epidemic could “be a good thing if it ends up giving an ‘attitude adjustment’ to all the gays and atheists, along with people who use pornography or have had an abortion.” Wiles also attempted to cast former President Barack Obama as the “antichrist” and a “stealth jihadist.”

    In July 2016, Ward appeared at the pro-Trump “America First Unity Rally” in Cleveland, OH. The rally featured speakers and hosts who, as Media Matters noted at the time, had previously made racist and sexist attacks against opponents, called for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders’ executions, openly discriminated against minorities, led the movement that claims the 9/11 attacks were an "inside job," and alleged that Obama and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) were not American citizens.

    Beyond her associations, Ward has a history of supporting extremist policies and making inflammatory statements. While serving in the Arizona state legislature, Ward tried to prohibit enforcement of federal gun laws in the state and asked then-Gov. Jan Brewer to send the Arizona National Guard to the state’s borders to “prevent busloads full of illegal aliens from entering Arizona.” In 2015, Ward compared the Affordable Care Act to slavery.

    In the aftermath of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, during which a neo-Nazi allegedly murdered a young woman named Heather Heyer, Ward called for “both sides” to stop the hate, violence, & rhetoric.” Ward’s failure to appropriately condemn white nationalist violence is particularly poignant given that William Johnson, a white nationalist political party leader, claimed that Ward called him during her 2016 campaign to ask for his support.

    In October, Bannon endorsed Ward’s current run for Senate, and has appeared alongside her on the campaign trail. Ward also often appears on Breitbart’s bigoted and misogynistic morning radio show, Breitbart News Daily.

    Michael Grimm -- candidate for the House in New York

    Former Rep. Michael Grimm is running to regain his old House seat in New York after he resigned in 2014 following tax evasion charges.

    In April 2014, Grimm was charged with tax evasion in relation to a Manhattan restaurant he had owned. He initially pled not guilty and refused to resign, even getting re-elected that November. A month after his re-election, however, Grimm  pled guilty to tax evasion and resigned from Congress. He served seven months in prison. Grimm has painted a conspiratorial picture of his indictment. In 2017, he suggested to New York magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi that former Attorney General Loretta Lynch was offered that job in exchange for his prosecution. “Anyone who thinks it’s an accident or a coincidence that two months into my indictment, she’s the attorney general, is not realistic,” he told Nuzzi, who noted that Grimm first aired this theory on a Breitbart radio show. Before his indictment, in 2012, according to The New Yorker, Grimm also “publicly insinuated that political forces arrayed against him had broken into his office to gain access to computer files,” when the break-in was actually the doing of a teenager who did not touch the computers.

    Despite his high-profile resignation, Grimm might be better known for a different controversy. In January 2014, following Obama’s State of the Union address, Grimm was caught on camera threatening to throw a reporter off the “fucking balcony,” saying, “You're not man enough. I'll break you in half. Like a boy.” Grimm later apologized to the reporter for “overreact[ing].” The New Yorker reported that years earlier, during his time as an FBI agent, Grimm had been accused of improperly flashing his weapon in a nightclub, and urging all “white people” to leave as things escalated.

    Despite Grimm’s problematic history, Bannon endorsed him in October.

    Tom Tancredo -- candidate for governor of Colorado 

    Former Rep. Tom Tancredo is running for governor of Colorado in 2018. Tancredo has close ties to white supremacists and has a long history of racist and bigoted behavior.

    This will be Tancredo’s third bid for Colorado’s highest office. During Tancredo’s time in the House, he repeatedly proved himself to be a racist, anti-immigrant bigot. Tancredo once said that undocumented immigrants are “coming here to kill you and to kill me and our families” and proposed legislation that would have temporarily barred all legal immigration. In 2007, Tancredo suggested that the United States declare that if there was another terrorist attack in the country, the U.S. would bomb “the holy sites in Mecca and Medina” in Saudi Arabia. And during his laughable presidential campaign, he aired campaign ads that claimed “open borders” were responsible for “vicious central American gangs” and “jihadists who froth with hate” roaming freely in the United States.

    Since leaving office in 2009, Tancredo has embedded himself into right-wing media circles. He is a columnist at Breitbart, and, according to Bannon, is “one of the top immigration experts in this country” whose columns “for Breitbart are just amazing.” The columns Bannon praised regularly demonize immigrants as dangerous and disloyal invaders, with headlines such as “Mexico Is Sending Us Colonists, Not Immigrants,” “European Colonization, Not Refugee Resettlement,” and “Illegal Alien? Congratulations! You Get a Get Out of Jail Free Card!”

    In addition to his work at Breitbart, Tancredo has also written extensively for right-wing conspiracy site WND (WorldNetDaily), and has been published at VDare, an anti-immigrant site that multiple news outlets and the Southern Poverty Law Center have identified as “white nationalist.” Tancredo had also been scheduled to appear at two VDare conferences, but both events were canceled when the venues learned more about the organization. After the Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado pulled out of an agreement to host VDare’s 2018 conference, Tancredo blasted the state's Republican Party for failing to speak out in defense of VDare’s right to “free speech.” Tancredo told the website Colorado Politics that he was “so mad” at Republicans for failing to speak out that he was mulling a run for governor, claiming that it wouldn’t “take much to push” him into the race.

    While Bannon has not yet formally endorsed Tancredo, he did meet with him to discuss a run before Tancredo announced his candidacy. Breitbart noted the meeting in an article about Tancredo’s decision to run, referring to the former congressman and Breitbart columnist as a “strong advocate against illegal immigration.”

    Scott Wagner -- candidate for governor of Pennsylvania

    Republican Scott Wagner is running for governor of Pennsylvania in 2018 after spending his tenure in the state legislature attacking the media and spreading misinformation.

    In May 2017, police were called after Wagner forcibly took the video equipment of a tracker (a person paid by opposition forces to shadow opposing candidates, a routine practice during campaigns) during a campaign event. After Wagner grabbed the camera, the tracker approached the candidate while filming on his phone. Wagner attempted to stop the man from filming him and the tracker accused Wagner of assault and claimed that the state senator had bloodied his finger. The police were called after the incident, but no charges have been filed. After receiving criticism for his actions, Wagner condemned the “fake news media” for “attacking” him and attempted to use the incident to grow his email listserv.

    Wagner is also a climate change denialist. According to Wagner, climate change may be the result of the Earth “moving closer to the sun,” as well as, “heat coming off” human bodies. (PolitiFact has rated Wagner’s claims as false.) In 2014, the state senator also compared unions to Adolf Hitler and Russian President Vladimir Putin, later apologizing for the “unfortunate analogy." Wagner has also drawn ire for referring to Democratic donor George Soros as a "Hungarian Jew" with a "hatred of America.” Despite being called out for the anti-Semitic remark, Wagner refused to apologize, claiming he meant no offense and that “everyone's getting their knickers around their ankles.”

    Bannon has openly supported Wagner’s run; he told a crowd in September that “we’re going to start taking” back the country “in November when Scott Wagner runs.”

    Corey Stewart -- candidate for Senate in Virginia

    Corey Stewart is running for Senate in Virginia after losing the 2017 Republican gubernatorial primary.

    Stewart, who was Virginia state co-chairman of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, has heavily courted the “alt-right.” Shortly after he was fired from his position in October 2016 for taking part in a protest against the Republican National Committee, Stewart gave an interview to Mike Cernovich, a far-right troll who has a history of promoting conspiracy theories. During the interview, Cernovich said that “he calls establishment Republicans ‘cucks’ because ‘they like to see Trump get screwed over by the media, that's what they get off on.’” Stewart replied, “Yeah, I would agree.” The term “cuck,” short for “cuckservative,” is widely used within “alt-right” circles. Stewart additionally did a question-and-answer session on the subreddit “r/The_Donald,” a far-right forum. In February 2017, Stewart attended an event put on by “Unity & Security for America,” a group run by white supremacist Jason Kessler who would, months later, organize the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA.

    Stewart himself drew condemnation for his response to the rally in Charlottesville. According to The Washington Post, Stewart “said white nationalists had been unfairly singled out for their role in the weekend chaos,” and “blamed ‘half the violence’ on counterprotesters.” Stewart also slammed fellow Republicans who he claimed “couldn’t apologize fast enough” after the rally. Stewart’s comments, which inspired local NAACP leaders to call for his resignation from the Prince William County Board of County Supervisors, are particularly noteworthy in light of his stalwart defense of the confederate flag and other confederate symbols. During his campaign for governor, he brought a confederate flag into a shot while recording a Facebook live segment, and declared, “Folks, this is a symbol of heritage. It is not a symbol of racism. It is not a symbol of slavery.” Stewart later claimed “ISIS has won” after a confederate monument was taken down in New Orleans.

    Bannon has praised Stewart extensively. In November, Bannon claimed that “Stewart is the reason” Ed Gillespie, who defeated Stewart in the Republican gubernatorial primary before losing the general election, “is going to win” because “it was the Trump-Stewart talking points that got Gillespie close and even maybe to victory. It was embracing Trump’s agenda as personified by Corey’s platform.” Bannon also said, “The only way to beat [Virginia Sen. Tim] Kaine next year is with a full-on Trump agenda, and by nationalizing the race with a candidate like Corey Stewart.”

    Bannon also supported Paul Nehlen, a Wisconsin House candidate with a record of white nationalism and anti-Semitism, until recently

    One soldier in Bannon's war on the establishment, Wisconsin congressional candidate Paul Nehlen, recently lost Breitbart and Bannon's public support after a series of explicitly bigoted tweets. Nehlen is running for Congress in 2018, the second time he has tried to unseat Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Breitbart and Bannon enthusiastically supported Nehlen, who has a long and well-established record of unapologetic bigotry and extremism, during his 2016 run against Ryan. In the run-up to that election, Breitbart published close to 30 pieces of content shilling for Nehlen, and Bannon referred to him as the “David to Paul Ryan’s Goliath.” In the aftermath of Nehlen’s overwhelming loss, Bannon hosted him on his radio show, treating him “like a hero” and literally professing his love for him. Breitbart’s love for Nehlen apparently ended, however, after Nehlen fired off a series of anti-Semitic tweets, drawing the condemnation of pro-Trump conservatives. Rebel TV host John Cardillo claimed he’d “spoken to Team Bannon” and said they "were shocked and disgusted.”

    Despite the reported shock of his loyal supporter, Nehlen’s anti-Semitism was anything but sudden. His ties to white nationalism and the “alt-right” have long been clear, as reported by HuffPost and Salon. Nehlen has a habit of aggressively responding to his critics with arguments such as “eat a bullet” or “self deport,” and his bigotry can also be seen in his approach to national security policies. Nehlen even campaigned with Bannon for Moore in Alabama on the night before Moore's defeat.

  • The 10 most ridiculous things media figures said about climate change and the environment in 2017

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    1. Breitbart’s James Delingpole claimed 400 new scientific papers show global warming is a myth.

    Numerous studies have found near-unanimous scientific agreement on human-caused climate change, with perhaps the most well-known study on the matter finding that 97 percent of scientific papers taking a position on the cause of global warming agree that humans are behind it. And this year, a review of the 3 percent of papers that deny climate change found that they were all flawed. Nonetheless, Breitbart writer Delingpole claimed that 400 scientific papers published this year demonstrated that climate change is a “myth,” basing his article on a post on the denialist blog No Tricks Zone.The fact-checking website Snopes roundly debunked Delingpole’s article, giving it a “False” verdict after speaking with authors of some of the cited papers who said their work was grossly misinterpreted or misrepresented.

    2. The Daily Mail claimed government researchers “duped” world leaders with "manipulated global warming data."

    Daily Mail reporter David Rose alleged that climate scientists "rushed" to publish an "exaggerated" paper in an attempt to convince leaders to support the Paris agreement and spend billions to fight climate change. Rose, who has written his fair share of climate misinformation for the Mail, based his story on an “exclusive interview” with and a blog post by retired U.S. government scientist John Bates. The error-ridden article quickly made its way around right-wing media in outlets such as The Daily Caller, National Review, and Breitbart, and was even promoted by GOP members of the House science committee, including its chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). The story’s claims also received “at least 752,300 shares, likes, comments, or other interactions on social media,” according to a Buzzfeed analysis. But the claims in the article were widely discredited by climate scientists, including Bates’ former colleagues and even Bates himself. The errors in the Mail’s article were so significant that the Independent Press Standards Organization (IPSO), an independent media regulator in the U.K., issued a ruling that "the newspaper had failed to take care over the accuracy of the article ... and had then failed to correct ... significantly misleading statements." The Daily Mail was required to publish IPSO's reprimand.

    3. Radio host Rush Limbaugh said he was "leery" of hurricane forecasts because they advance a "climate change agenda."

    As Hurricane Irma barrelled toward Florida, Limbaugh spun conspiracy theories and told his listeners that hurricane warnings are part of a scheme to benefit retailers, the media, and people like Al Gore who want to "advance this climate change agenda." Notably, Limbaugh didn’t have any skepticism about the danger Irma posed when it came to his own well-being, as he fled from his Florida home to Los Angeles before Irma made landfall. It's not the first time Limbaugh has spouted irresponsible conspiracy theories about hurricane forecasts. He was criticized last year for doing the same thing during Hurricane Matthew, earning himself a spot on the 2016 edition of this list.

    4. New York Times columnist Bret Stephens argued that because political operatives were wrong in predicting Hillary Clinton would win the election, people should be skeptical of climate science.

    After Trump’s election, The New York Times launched an ad campaign billing itself as the antidote to Trumpian “alternative facts.” Shortly after that campaign, though, the Times hired Stephens as a columnist -- a serial misinformer who had called climate change a “sick-souled religion” during his time at The Wall Street Journal. In his inaugural column for the Times, Stephens encouraged skepticism of climate scientists and compared those who advocate climate action to Cold War-era authoritarians. Stephens’ column was short on actual facts and science; the one time he cited a scientific report, he got it wrong. The Times added a correction to the column, but numerous scientists pointed out that the correction wasn’t sufficient, and a number of scientists canceled their subscriptions over Stephens’ hiring, his problematic column, and the Times public editor’s dismissive defense of Stephens’ column. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt later cited Stephens' column to defend the Trump administration's decision to pull out of the Paris agreement.

    5. Conservative media commentator Stephen Moore claimed that Trump created tens of thousands of coal jobs in the first few months of his presidency.

    Experts and journalists have repeatedly noted that President Donald Trump's campaign promise to bring back coal jobs is an empty one, since the decades-long decline in coal mining jobs has been driven much more by economic forces, such as increased automation and competition from natural gas and renewables, than by government regulations. But that didn’t stop Moore, a frequent Fox and CNN commentator and former Trump economic advisor, from proclaiming in op-eds in The Washington Times and Breitbart that Trump had already made good on his promise after just a few months in office. Moore cited jobs reports from March and April to claim that Trump had added tens of thousands of mining jobs, thereby restoring the coal industry. But Moore grossly misrepresented the data he cited, which actually included jobs in a number of sectors like oil and gas. Had Moore bothered to look at the actual coal mining jobs category, he would have seen that it had only grown by approximately 200 jobs through April, barely moving since Election Day.

    6. Radio host Hugh Hewitt recommended appointing Rush Limbaugh to a national commission to study climate change.

    In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Hewitt proposed creating a “national commission led by men and women of impeccable credentials” to determine whether and how the U.S. should address climate change, arguing that the country needs a group of “[d]iverse, smart non-scientists who are going to listen to the scientists -- all of them -- and report back on what ought to be done.” But Hewitt’s proposal instantly lost all credibility when he suggested including Rush Limbaugh as one of the commission members. Limbaugh has repeatedly called climate change a hoax, promoted dangerous climate-related conspiracy theories, misrepresented research in an attempt to dispute that global warming is happening, and even criticized a TV show for portraying climate change as a reality.

    7. Fox hosts attacked a journalist and called him "stupid" for asking a Trump official about the links between hurricanes and climate change.

    2017 was a record year for hurricanes, as Harvey, Irma, and Maria wreaked havoc along their respective paths. A number of climate scientists have explained how climate change exacerbates some of the worst impacts of hurricanes. While CNN and MSNBC frequently aired segments discussing the link between climate change and hurricanes like Harvey and Irma, Fox News hosts almost exclusively covered the climate change-hurricane link by criticizing others who raised the issue. The September 11 episode of Fox's The Five, for example, featured a lengthy discussion in which hosts criticized CNN's Jim Acosta for asking Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert whether there's a link between climate change and powerful hurricanes. The hosts said that Acosta was “anti-science” and looked “stupid” and “dumb,” and they called his question was "politically opportunistic." Fox's Jesse Watters said concern about climate change stems from liberal “guilt” and a desire to control people’s lives. Likewise, on the radio show Breitbart News Daily, host Alex Marlow pushed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to deny the link between climate change and hurricanes, which Pruitt did, stating, “For opportunistic media to use events like this to, without basis or support, just to simply engage in a cause-and-effect type of discussion, and not focus upon the needs of people, I think is misplaced."

    8. Rush Limbaugh argued that the historic BP oil spill caused no environmental damage.

    Limbaugh cited an article in the right-wing Daily Caller headlined “Bacteria Are Eating Most Of The 2010 BP Oil Spill” and concluded, “The BP spill didn’t do any environmental [damage].” The Deepwater Horizon spill, which leaked oil for 87 days, was the largest accidental spill of oil into marine waters in world history. Researchers have documented a wide array of negative environmental impacts from the disaster. For example, a 2016 study found that the BP spill may have caused irreversible damage to one of the Gulf shore’s most important ecosystems. The spill is believed to have killed tens of thousands animals in 2010, and for years afterward, dolphins and other animals in the area continued to die at higher-than-normal rates.

    9. Fox News’ Jesse Watters claimed, “No one is dying from climate change.”

    During a discussion about Al Gore’s warnings on climate change, Watters, a co-host of Fox News’ The Five, declared, “People are dying from terrorism. No one is dying from climate change.” Rush Limbaugh also made the same assertion this year. But an independent report commissioned by 20 governments in 2012 concluded that climate change already kills more people than terrorism, with an estimated 400,000 deaths linked to climate change each year.

    10. Radio host Alex Jones said it was "suspicious" that Hurricane Irma came along shortly before the release of a climate disaster movie.

    Jones briefly speculated about the possibility that Hurricane Irma was “geoengineered” or created by humans before stating, “Meanwhile, though, right on time with these superstorms, we have the new film Geoengineering (sic) 2017, coming soon on October 20. Oh, just a little bit more than a month or so after Irma is set to hit. Isn’t that just perfect timing? Like all these race war films they’ve been putting out. This is starting to get suspicious. Here it is, Geostorm.” The action movie Geostorm featured satellites that controlled the global climate. Jones' speculation about the film is just one of the countless conspiracy theories he has promoted over the years.

  • In urban Sweden and heartland America, xenophobic fake news looks the same

    Parallels, lessons learned, and enduring challenges for 2018

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In 2016, the story of a juvenile sex crime in an Idaho town swept through the national right-wing media ecosystem, picking up fabricated and lurid details along the way; several months later, the newly inaugurated President Donald Trump falsely suggested that a terrorist attack had recently taken place in Sweden, baffling the country. The two incidents, though seemingly unrelated, were spurred by the same sentiment: rabid anti-immigrant bias fueled by a sensationalistic, right-wing fake news ecosystem.

    In the global culture wars being waged online and in real life -- from Twin Falls, Idaho, to Malmo, Sweden -- influencers successfully mobilize anti-Muslim extremists, far-right media, and fake news websites in coordinated campaigns to promote misinformation. Their motivation may stem from an ideological agenda, the desire to create chaos, the intention to profit from emotionally resonant website content, or a combination of all three. And though misinformation is usually later debunked, the truth generally fails to travel as far or penetrate as deep as the original story, allowing a steady drumbeat of misinformation to continue. In the cases of Twin Falls and Sweden, this misinformation was fueled by xenophobia and sought to manipulate people into associating immigration and violent crime.

    The case of Twin Falls

    What's happening in Sweden?

    Lessons learned

    Response and enduring challenges

    The case of Twin Falls

    The Twin Falls, Idaho, case was the perfect story for anti-immigrant activists and far-right media. For the rest of us, it was the perfect example of how these anti-immigrant (and, specifically, anti-Muslim) activists and media seize on a story, elevating it, and twisting the facts to push their agenda.

    In June 2016, two refugee boys, ages 7 and 10, and a white 5-year-old girl were discovered partly clothed in the laundry room of an apartment complex. The incident was filmed on a cell phone borrowed from one of the boys’ older brother. A year later, the two boys and the older brother whose phone they used, were charged, pleaded guilty, and were sentenced.

    The incident had all the hallmarks of a crime story fit for the far-right echo chamber: sex crimes committed by refugees against white children in a historically white town with a growing Muslim population; a lack of sustained national media attention, creating an opening for accusations of a media cover-up; local politicians unable to get ahead of the narrative; and the backdrop of a highly politicized presidential election.

    Misinformation about the case was initially spurred by anti-Muslim activist groups, such as ACT for America and Refugee Resettlement Watch, as well as anti-Muslim media figures and various white nationalists who had been seemingly preparing for an incident to exploit in Twin Falls since a local paper reported in early 2015 that the city would soon be accepting Syrian refugees. After the incident, far-right websites including Breitbart, Infowars, The Drudge Report, The Rebel Media, WorldNetDaily, and fake news website MadWorldNews ran with the story, fabricating new details for which there was no evidence, including that the young boys were Syrian (they weren’t), held the girl at knifepoint (they didn’t), and their families celebrated afterward (they didn’t).

    In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, Breitbart produced daily content on the story and sent its lead investigative reporter, Lee Stranahan, to investigate the “Muslim takeover” of the town. Infowars attempted to link the assault to Chobani, an immigrant-owned yogurt company that employs several hundred refugees, in a report headlined “Idaho Yogurt Maker Caught Importing Migrant Rapists.” Chobani sued Jones over the claim, and eventually settled; Jones issued an apology and a retraction. The story also bled into mainstream conservative news. Former Fox host Bill O’Reilly claimed the national media chose to not cover the local crime story because they “want[ed] to protect the refugee community.” O’Reilly pushed the narrative that sexual assault is committed frequently by Muslim refugees, saying, “the cultural aspect of the story is valid” in response to a Fox News contributor claiming that “we're seeing sexual assaults happen across the world from refugee populations” in Germany and Norway.

    The story showed how a local crime story can become a breeding ground for right-wing fabulation in service of pushing an anti-Muslim agenda. And, when repeated frequently enough, these narratives become coded, so that a single word or phrase can conjure a version of reality that may not exist at all.

    In the case of Twin Falls, many commenters explicitly extrapolated the mythical migrant crime wave of Europe to the American heartland. The Times quoted one American woman writing, “My girl is blond and blue-eyed. ... I am extremely worried about her safety.” It is therefore not surprising that the vast majority of Trump voters think illegal immigration is a very serious problem for the country, particularly in the context of crime. And thanks to “alt-right” outlets like Breitbart, which consistently use crime in Europe to fearmonger about immigration into the U.S., local crime can have policy implications across continents. As the so-called “alt-right” attempts to expand its reach internationally, these high-profile crime stories are powerful fodder.

    What's happening in Sweden?

    In February, Trump told rally attendees in Florida to “look at what’s happening last night in Sweden” while talking about cities where terror attacks have occurred. The statement baffled most Americans, as no terror attack had occurred in Sweden the night before; Trump later clarified that his comment was in reference to a Fox News segment about “immigrants & Sweden.” The segment, according to The Washington Post, was likely an interview with an American filmmaker who “has blamed refugees for what he says is a crime wave in Sweden.” His “documentary,” part of which was aired during the Fox segment, was deceptively edited and pushed debunked claims of a surge of refugee violence.

    If you gleaned your news about Sweden from far-right or conspiratorial websites, as many Americans do, Trump’s dog-whistle would have resonated clearly. The far-right sites have created a narrative that Sweden is the “rape capital of the world,” is in the throes of a cultural civil war, and that there are areas of the country so dangerous that even police don’t dare enter. As Media Matters and others have documented, influential far-right websites, white nationalists, right-leaning tabloids, fake news websites, and even more mainstream conservative outlets have cultivated an obsession with the mythical migrant crime wave in Sweden, publishing nearly daily content on the subject.

    What is happening in Sweden is, actually, nothing close to the hellscape far-right media attempts to portray. The country’s crime rate pales in comparison to the United States’, and while high levels of immigration have created social and economic anxieties for native Swedes and immigrants alike (anxieties driven in no small part by anti-Muslim activists), no data shows that immigration is causing such problems in the country.

    But these anti-immigrant narratives have created space for fabricated claims to fester. And in this ecosystem, as in the Twin Falls case, real stories can take on a life of their own. In December 2016, for example, Swedish local news outlet Kristianstadbladet reported that “new clientele” had been frequenting a church often visited by those experiencing homelessness and some people had desecrated the church pews. Despite a lack of information about who the new clientele were, Swedish hate site Fria Tider leapt to claim that it was a reference to refugees and they were the ones urinating, defecating, and masturbating in the church’s pews. MadWorld News, an American fake news website known for its anti-Muslim content, amplified the story in the United States, adding claims that “migrants scream Islamic chants and smash liquor bottles on the floor in an attempt to silence Christian worshippers from praying to God” and that “a migrant even tried to kidnap a child from a baptism ceremony.” The article was shared over 4,700 times. The story was also published on Focus News, a fake news website run by a 25-year-old Macedonian, and from there shared thousands of times in Macedonia, Georgia, and Kosovo. The story was fact-checked and debunked but by then the claim had already spread.

    Stories like these, driven by far-right media and anti-Muslim activists, helped lay the narrative foundation for Trump’s Sweden reference. After his statement, right-wing media, fake news websites, and at least one neo-Nazi website clamored to defend him, using his comment to amplify a crime narrative that, up until then, had sparked limited interest outside the far-right media landscape. And while online attention to the country peaked after Trump’s claim, his amplification of the contrived and bigoted narrative took it from the fringe to the mainstream and effectively primed a larger audience to believe that, even if nothing has happened in Sweden, it could.

    Sweden’s commitment to an open, democratic society is also a vulnerability. According to a late 2015 internal memo, Swedish police were instructed not to report externally the ethnic or national origin of suspected criminals. The decision, while an admirable attempt not to stoke racial tensions, has raised suspicion. Many far-right outlets perceived the move as an attempt to cover up what they deemed a migrant crime wave, and the controversy became so salient that the Swedish government had to respond. Now these same websites are targeting the Swedish government over its proposal to restrict the accessibility and distribution of personal sensitive data related to criminal offenses. Sweden’s open and progressive crime reporting practices that discourage unnecessary emphasis on people’s ethnicity or religion allow fake news purveyors to speculate on a suspected criminal’s ethnic background with impunity, as well as manufacture an inflated perception of criminality.

    Lessons learned

    These examples illustrate that in a politically and culturally charged media environment, completely fabricated stories packaged to look as if they were published by a reputable news agency and partially true stories sensationalized by ideological or bad-faith actors alike can spread with such a degree of virality that by the time the truth is reported and the fake news fact-checked, the damage is already done. The articles themselves are left uncorrected and continue to be shared and referred back to as cautionary tales of the supposed crime wave and general societal degradation spurred by Muslim immigration and refugee resettlement. They are exceedingly easy to manufacture and disseminate, but difficult to disprove until all facts are available, which can be months or years later.

    There is also evidence that Russian actors are attempting to sow political discord offline. In March, in the wake of Trump’s comments about alleged crime in Sweden, a Russian TV crew reportedly tried to pay young people in Sweden to riot on camera with the intention of portraying a nation roiled by violence. And a Facebook event called “Citizens before refugees,” which was created by what is now known to be a Russian actor, attempted to organize an anti-refugee rally in the town of Twin Falls, Idaho.

    It’s easy for mainstream news consumers to dismiss these reports as misinformation-filled rants by white supremacists and various far-right ideologues (which they are), but in the aggregate, they act as a powerful rallying cry for an entire swath of Americans who yearn to see their deep-seated cultural and economic anxieties rationalized, their biases validated.

    What's happening in Sweden is what's happening in sleepy towns in the United States. The ideologies, tactics, and goals are all the same. There will be another case like the Twin Falls assault and another story like that of the Swedish church, and in the context of a media landscape eager to exploit these situations and a presidential administration that encourages xenophobia and has deep ties to the far-right and a burgeoning fake news ecosystem, the impact of the next viral story could be much worse.

    Responses and enduring challenges

    In order to confront the problem of anti-immigrant sentiment flamed by misinformation and fake news, mainstream media and governments alike need to be realistic about the challenges and possible solutions. In a recent report released by the Swedish government, the authors noted, “One important question is where the limit is for which expressions are harmful to society in large and its citizens.” It’s a question that may never have a perfect answer, but seeking to understand the ecosystem and its players, ideologies, relationships, and methods is a good start.

    In that report, which focused on “white hatred,” experts outlined several far-right commentators and websites (many of which are American), suggesting that these groups be researched further in an effort to counter their racist, anti-immigrant, anti-feminist ideology. The report also detailed the role of tech companies like Facebook and Google in limiting distribution of their content online. Sweden has also ramped up its efforts to fight fake news through elementary school media literacy programs, news outlet initiatives, and bilateral law enforcement partnerships, including with the country’s Scandinavian neighbors.  

    In the United States, the commitment to identifying and solving the problem has been far less sustained. Trump himself has regularly pushed anti-Muslim sentiment and misinformation, and he’s known to get his information from the types of outlets that push bigoted misinformation. The administration has also decided that fake news is actually news that is unfavorable to it, and it’s officials have on multiple occasions pushed fabricated stories, and Trump himself has told over 100 lies in less than one year in office.

    The antagonistic attitude that this administration has taken means the burden for combating anti-immigrant sentiment and fake news largely falls on media, local authorities, and other institutions. For example, fake news in Twin Falls may have been better combatted had the local authorities been more engaged in getting out accurate information. A local Twin Falls newspaper editor told The New York Times’ Caitlin Dickerson that, while local reporters attempted to correct falsehoods about the story, city officials refused to write guest editorials doing the same out of fear of political backlash:

    “Behind closed doors, they would all tell you they were pro-refugee, and we wanted them to step forward and make that declaration in a public arena, and it just never really happened,” he told me. “That was frustrating to us especially at the beginning because it really felt like the newspaper was out there all alone.” He continued: “There were days where we felt like, Godammit, what are we doing here? We write a story and it’s going to reach 50,000 people. Breitbart writes a story and it’s going to reach 2, 3, 4, 5, 10 million people. What kind of a voice do we have in this debate?”

    In the era of “alternative facts,” American news outlets and their fact-checking arms have stepped up their game, but the U.S. would be smart to develop interdisciplinary domestic and international partnerships, as Sweden has. This year, four states passed bills mandating media literacy be integrated into school curricula, and others are considering following suit. It would be worth considering Sweden’s dedicated media literacy program, taught to teens and young adults, as a model.

    A translation in this post has been updated for accuracy.

  • Pruitt’s war on the press continues as EPA hires firm to create media-tracking "war room"

    Mother Jones reports on EPA’s contract with a Republican firm that specializes in oppo research

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    While Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt enjoys being feted by conservative and alt-right media outlets such as Fox and Friends and Breitbart.com, he and his top aides at EPA are openly hostile toward other journalists. An investigative report published by Mother Jones demonstrates just how committed Pruitt is to waging and winning his war against the press.

    Reporters Rebecca Leber, Andy Kroll, and Russ Choma write about the EPA hiring a GOP-linked public relations firm, Definers Corp., to track and influence media coverage of the agency. From their December 15 article:

    According to federal contracting records, earlier this month Pruitt’s office inked a no-bid $120,000 contract with Definers Corp., a Virginia-based public relations firm founded by Matt Rhoades, who managed Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. Following Romney’s defeat, Rhoades established America Rising, an ostensibly independent political action committee that works closely with the Republican National Committee and Republican candidates to mine damning information on opponents. Other higher-ups at Definers include former RNC research director Joe Pounder, who’s been described as “a master of opposition research,” and senior vice president Colin Reed, an oppo-research guru billed as “among the leaders of the war on [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren.”

    The PR firm will equip the EPA with sophisticated “war room”-style media technology, the story reports:

    The company also specializes in using the press and social media to “validate your narrative.” According to the company’s website, one of the tools to help do this is its “Definers Console” media-tracking technology. Reed said his firm contracted with Pruitt’s office at the EPA, which is the first governmental client to pay for the Definers Console. The technology promises “war room”-style media monitoring, analysis, and advice, according to marketing materials. A brochure for the Console assures users that they will be able to “monitor for potential crises, as well as to track their message dissemination, relevant responses to their messaging, and what competitors’ actions have been.”

    Media Matters has previously reported on Trump officials’ tendency to appear on far-right and right-wing outlets and stations. Pruitt has been a key player in this trend; during his first six months at the EPA, he gave more interviews to Fox News than to all other major television networks combined.

    At the same time, Pruitt’s EPA has publicly displayed hostility toward reporters at mainstream outlets. In late October, New York Times reporter Eric Lipton asked for comment on a story about the agency’s decision to make it harder to track the health consequences of certain industrial chemicals. EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman emailed this response: “No matter how much information we give you, you would never write a fair piece. The only thing inappropriate and biased is your continued fixation on writing elitist clickbait trying to attack qualified professionals committed to serving their country.”

    In September, Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker co-wrote a story about flooded toxic waste sites in Houston. The EPA then made the unprecedented move of criticizing the reporter by name in a press release:  “Unfortunately, the Associated Press’ Michael Biesecker has a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story.”

    Pruitt's EPA has also barred reporters from events, dropped them from press release distribution lists, and refused to give them his schedule.

    Pruitt’s decision to hire Definers Corp. again demonstrates his willingness to go all-in on the Trump administration’s larger campaign to manipulate and undermine the free press.

    The backing of this high-tech media firm will empower Pruitt to continue rebuffing basic public transparency, spinning the consequences of his deregulatory agenda, and muddying his climate science denial. The press will need to be ever vigilant, even while it's under attack.