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  • Right-wing media are inciting violence against transgender people

    Their actions amount to stochastic terrorism -- public demonization of a group through mass media that incites unpredictable violence

    Blog ››› ››› BRYNN TANNEHILL


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Hate crimes against transgender people have been rising in both the United States and the U.K., and 2017 saw the first federal conviction of a hate crime against a transgender person in the U.S. Meanwhile, members of extreme anti-LGBTQ groups have had regular access to the White House -- and to mainstream media outlets, where they are often uncritically presented as simply offering one side of the debate, rather than as pushing a bigoted and hateful message.  

    Of late, these extremist groups have deliberately shifted their focus toward transgender people and have increased the use of false rhetoric depicting transgender people as sexual predators, claiming they are a danger to not only women and children but also U.S. national security. At the same time, they sometimes hint that violence is an appropriate response to encountering transgender people in public.

    These actions, and their effects, amount to a form of stochastic terrorism.

    The concept of stochastic terrorism is not new; it is the public demonization of a person or group via mass media that incites a violent act that is “statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.” It can be difficult to ascertain the intention behind such rhetoric, making the subject even more complex. When centrist media outlets give uncritical airtime to extreme anti-LGBTQ groups as an effort to present “both sides,” they are either unaware that they are contributing to the promotion of violence, or they do not care if they do. Right-wing outlets in the U.S. and the U.K., meanwhile, routinely publish or air inflammatory material meant to demonize transgender people as dangerous, mentally ill sexual perverts who prey on women and children.

    Such content can incite real-world acts of violence. One of the best-known examples of stochastic terrorism is “Pizzagate,” a conspiracy theory that flourished on message boards 4chan and Reddit alleging that Hillary Clinton and her 2016 campaign chairman, John Podesta, were raping and murdering children as part of a satanic child sex ring in the basement of a pizzeria in Washington, D.C. It was promoted most prominently by Alex Jones of Infowars and Jack Posobiec, now a correspondent for the ultra-conservative One America News Network. Acting on these false rumors, a gunman went to the pizza shop with an AR-15 and a revolver and fired multiple shots into a locked door after panicked customers and employees fled for their lives.

    Additionally, the suspect who allegedly mailed bombs to prominent Democrats and critics of President Donald Trump was similarly radicalized by online media. He believed and spread conspiracy theories, such as the claim that a Parkland school shooting survivor was a paid protester hired by philanthropist George Soros and that there is “100% proof” that Obama is the “Antichrist.” His former boss described him as “anti-gay, anti-black, anti-Jews.”

    There’s little we can do to mitigate speech designed to incite violence except to call it out for what it is. Within the U.S., such speech generally cannot be punished by law due to the 1969 Supreme Court decision in the case of Brandenburg v. Ohio. Clarence Charles Brandenburg was a Ku Klux Klan leader who attacked Black and Jewish people at a televised rally where weapons were present and said the Klan might have to take “revengeance” (sic) against the federal government if it “continues to suppress the white, Caucasian race.” The Supreme Court ruled that since the speech itself was not likely to incite “imminent lawless action,” Brandenburg’s right to free speech protected him from Ohio’s criminal syndicalism statutes. It is telling that the court ruling that would now protect the people targeting the transgender community was first applied to a Klansman.

    In 2015, after it became clear that the cultural and legal fight to prevent same-sex marriage was all but lost, religious conservatives deliberately pivoted to a strategy of fearmongering about transgender people in bathrooms. Using the thoroughly debunked “bathroom predator” myth as justification, leaders of extreme anti-LGBTQ groups have been willing to step up to the same line that Clarence Brandenburg did, this time publicly stoking violence against transgender people.

    After Target publicly announced its policy of welcoming employees and customers in its stores to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity, Anita Staver, president of the influential anti-LGBTQ law firm Liberty Counsel, tagged Target in a tweet saying that she would carry a pistol to the ladies room because “it identifies as my bodyguard.” James Dobson, who helped found extremist anti-LGBTQ organizations Focus on the Family and Family Research Council, wrote in 2016: “If you are a dad, I pray you will protect your little girls from men who walk in unannounced, unzip their pants and urinate in front of them. If this had happened 100 years ago, someone might have been shot. Where is today’s manhood? God help us!”

    Some Republicans and law enforcement personnel have picked up on this message as well. During his (successful) 2016 campaign for sheriff in Denton County, TX, Tracy Murphree posted on Facebook, “If my little girl is in a public women’s restroom and a man, regardless of how he may identify, goes into the bathroom, he will then identify as a John Doe until he wakes up in whatever hospital he may be taken to.” Todd Kincannon, the former executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party, tweeted this past fall that transgender people should “all be put in a camp.” (Kincannon was charged in August for stabbing his mother’s dog to death.) Chuck Wright, sheriff of Spartanburg County in South Carolina, told a meeting of a local Republican women’s group, “If you are a guy and you go into bathroom with my wife, … I’m gonna whip your tail.”

    Trans people are impacted by such rhetoric. A Minnesota teen was harassed in a school restroom, while a congressional candidate in California filmed herself confronting an unidentified individual using a Denny’s restroom, and a gender-fluid person was maced for using a women’s bathroom. There have also been several high-profile cases of cisgender women who have been mistakenly identified as transgender and harassed for using the bathroom.

    Public attacks on transgender people have also extended to parents of transgender children, their supporters, and even the children themselves.

    The conservative tabloid the Daily Mail in the U.K. recently introduced a new line of attack against transgender youth based on an anonymous “whistleblower” teacher who claimed that older transgender students at an unnamed British school “groomed” young autistic students to trick them into believing they are transgender. This narrative of contagion, “grooming,” and recruitment is exactly the same approach used for decades to stir up suspicion and hatred of gay men. For instance, Helen Joyce, the finance editor at The Economist, recently wrote an article at Quillette baselessly asserting that the transgender movement has advanced the interests of pedophiles.

    These messages trickle down to the base. Stories of communities banding together to abuse and discriminate against transgender children have been in the media for years. Last year, parents in Achille, OK, communicating in a Facebook group for students’ parents suggested telling their children to beat a 12-year-old transgender girl and threatened to castrate her. As a result, the girl’s family made plans to leave town.

    Transgender students are being physically assaulted in school for their gender identity as well. The FBI reported that in 2017, anti-LGBTQ hate crimes rose for the third consecutive year. The number of recorded hate crimes is likely a dramatic undercount, given that many, if not most, hate crimes go unreported. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, nearly one in 10 transgender people report being physically assaulted in the past year for being transgender, and almost half reported verbal harassment. Seventy-five percent of transgender students feel unsafe at school, according to another 2015 survey. The proportion has likely grown since then.

    Murders of transgender people have been increasing for years, and stochastic terrorism is likely part of the problem. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that 2017 was the deadliest year for LGBTQ people since it began reporting on hate crime violence against LGBTQ people in 1996. Fifty-two LGBTQ people were killed in hate-related violence, representing an 86 percent increase over 2016. Twenty-seven of those 52 victims were transgender, even though transgender people represent a much smaller portion of the LGBTQ community.

    In 2012, legal scholar Tobias Wolff predicted in his paper “Civil Rights Reform and the Body” that transgender people would become a target and that many of the attacks would center on fear and disgust directed at transgender bodies. He correctly noted that this directed angst would manifest itself as labeling transgender people as sexual predators.

    Wolff also drew direct parallels to the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, when fear of Black bodies was channeled into calls to protect white women and children from sexual predation at swimming pools. Violence directed at Black people during that period was undeniably a direct result of this stochastic terrorism and prejudice. Today, we are seeing the same tactics toward transgender people, used to similar effect, and they are protected by the same case law.

    Brynn Tannehill is a guest contributor to Media Matters. She is a former naval aviator who has written for The New York Times, Slate, Salon, USA Today, HuffPost, The Advocate, and other outlets. She is the author of the recently released book "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Trans* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)."

  • WSJ debunks Murdoch-fueled conspiracy theory on FBI texts and Obama

    The conspiracy theory, which was debunked by WSJ and others, was heavily pushed by Fox News and other right-wing outlets

    ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    The latest right-wing media ‘scandal,’ has completely fallen apart after The Wall Street Journal and others debunked several facets of the story. Fox News spent the day pushing Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-WI) claim that a text message between FBI lawyer Lisa Page and agent Peter Strzok referring to preparing talking points that then-FBI Director James Comey would use to brief then-President Barack Obama, implied an interference by Obama in the FBI’s investigation into Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email server. Right-wing media, heavily led by Fox News, and other mainstream outlets ran with the claim, despite the fact that there was no active investigation into Clinton’s emails at the time the text message in question was sent.

  • Sebastian Gorka was hired by a far-right media outlet. He still works for Fox News.

    Gorka is a conspiratorial bigot and frequent Hannity guest

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Sebastian Gorka, former Trump aide, recently-hired Fox News strategist, and frequent Hannity guest, has been hired by Canadian far-right media outlet Rebel media. Gorka is just the latest bigoted commentator to be hired by a network equally known for its hateful anti-Muslim commentary and sympathy for white supremacists. He’s also still employed by Fox News.

    On February 1, Rebel media promoted the first episode of Gorka’s new and recurring segment for the network, “The Gorka Briefing.” In the video, Gorka claimed to “untangle” various narratives about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections, something he does regularly as a guest on Fox News. Just last night, Gorka appeared on Fox show Hannity, and helped host Sean Hannity further his long-standing campaign against the validity of the Russia probe when he accused former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton of colluding with Russia and the media of advancing a “false” narrative about the issue. Since August 2017, Gorka has appeared on Hannity 46 times, making him one of Hannity’s three most frequent guests, according to a Media Matters analysis.

    Gorka also briefly advised pro-Trump super PAC MAGA Coalition after he left the White House and, as The Daily Beast reported last night, was paid $40,000 for his work. The MAGA Coalition is a political group founded by “right-wing conspiracy theorists,” and was engaged in spreading the almost deadly “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that falsely accused members of Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign of being part of a pedophilia ring operating out of a pizza parlor.

    Aside from Gorka’s penchant for conspiracy theories, he boasts a long history of bigoted and incendiary rhetoric, aimed at Muslims in particular, and has apparent ties to a Hungarian Nazi-allied group called Vitézi Rend. He was also reportedly fired from the FBI for his “over-the-top Islamophobic rhetoric” and was apparently ousted from his role in the Trump administration for partly the same reason.

    With his extreme anti-Muslim views and reported ties to a Nazi-allied group, Gorka may be a perfect match for Rebel media, an outlet that once employed someone who published a “satirical video” titled “Ten Things I Hate About Jews.” After the Canadian outlet lost several other high-profile contributors in the wake of its sympathetic coverage of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, it is now seeking to re-establish its brand and further expand its global platform of anti-Muslim ideology.

    In addition to hiring Gorka, the outlet recently hired former Daily Mail columnist turned far-right agitator Katie Hopkins. Most recently, Hopkins was apparently banned from South Africa for fomenting racial hatred while in the country reporting for The Rebel. But she is perhaps best known for her shameless anti-Muslim rhetoric. Hopkins once called for the use of “gunships to stop migrants,” actively supported a mission to disrupt humanitarian rescues of refugees in the Mediterranean Sea, and floated the idea on Fox News of putting Muslims in internment camps in the wake of the Manchester terror attack.

    Rebel media is also slated to hire extreme “Muslim reform” activist Raheel Raza, who has cheered Trump’s Muslim ban, is affiliated with SPLC-designated anti-Muslim hate groups ACT for America and The Clarion Project, and serves as a senior fellow for The Gatestone Institute, whose founder is a major funder of anti-Muslim activism.

    Despite Gorka’s long history of bigotry and, now, open affiliation with a far-right outlet, one of America’s top cable networks still considers him a trusted "strategist." Gorka’s joint employment is just the latest evidence that Fox News has no interest in distancing itself from the network’s most extreme voices.

  • 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.

  • The fake news that spread about Hurricane Irma

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Websites and social media personalities that traffic in fake news took advantage of Hurricane Irma to spread false information. While the hurricane made landfall in the Caribbean and parts of Florida, many fake news stories that could potentially impede recovery efforts made their way onto social media sites. As during Hurricane Harvey, these purveyors of false information again showed that they will take advantage of any event, no matter how tragic, to promote and exploit fake news with clickbait headlines.

    A “satirical” website claimed that Stan Lee fired Jennifer Lawrence because of comments she made about climate change

    The Last Line of Defense, a website that claims it is satirical but whose pieces have been co-opted by fake news purveyors pushing them as fact, made up a story that legendary Marvel Comics writer and publisher Stan Lee fired actress Jennifer Lawrence from future X-Men movies for comments she purportedly made regarding Hurricane Irma and climate change, with Lee calling her a “little bitch.” The story was then shared by multiple fake news purveyors. The patriotusa.press version of the post was shared the most, drawing more than 4,600 Facebook engagements, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo, and reaching 249,472 people across various social media platforms according to CrowdTangle, another analytics service.

    White House social media director shared fake video of Miami flooding

    On September 10, White House social media director Dan Scavino shared a video on Twitter of what he claimed was “Miami International Airport” flooding during Irma and tagged President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. The airport’s Twitter account responded to Scavino, saying, “This video is not from Miami International Airport.” Scavino, who has previously tweeted articles from known fake news purveyors, later deleted the tweet.

    British tabloid shares fake video of building falling in Caribbean due to Irma

    On September 6, a YouTube account uploaded a video of what it claimed was a building collapsing on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin due to Irma. As BuzzFeed noted, the video was actually from a flood in Tibet. The fake video was subsequently shared by the British tabloid Daily Mail (the paper later deleted its post) and by at least one other blog.

    French-language journalists and Univision share fake photo of Caribbean damage from Irma

    Fake news and hyperpartisan websites shared a fake photo of what they claimed was damage to an airport in the Caribbean due to Irma. As BuzzFeed noted, the photo was actually of a Mexican airport after a 2014 hurricane. Multiple French-language journalists and Univision also shared the image.

    Fake news that Irma could destroy New York City appears to originate from a white nationalist’s blog post

    White nationalist Hal Turner published a piece on his website claiming, “Computer Model Shows IRMA DESTROYING New York City & NJ on Sept. 10.” As PolitiFact noted, there were no such computer models with that prediction. Turner’s false claim was later reposted by News Prepper, another fringe blog, which drew more than 2,600 Facebook engagements and reached 45,575 people, according to BuzzSumo and CrowdTangle, respectively. Fake news purveyor YourNewsWire also reposted the piece.

    Fake news site said Jared Kushner had disappeared and Mar-a-Lago was destroyed during Irma

    Satirical website Freedumjunkshun made up a story that Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and advisor, was missing after Mar-a-Lago was destroyed during Irma (which is also false). The Last Line of Defense's Facebook page and fake news purveyor patriotusa.press also shared the fabricated story. The patriotusa.press post drew at least 224 Facebook engagements and reached 124,704 people, according to BuzzSumo and CrowdTangle, respectively.

    Fake news sites publish claims that FL Gov. Rick Scott was injured during Irma cleanup

    The Last Line of Defense made up a story that FL Gov. Rick Scott (R) was injured during cleanup after Irma. Multiple fake news purveyors shared the story. The most widely shared version, from patriotusa.press, drew more than 2,600 Facebook engagements and reached 124,704 people, according to BuzzSumo and CrowdTangle, respectively.

    Fake news site claims Muslims planned to poison food in grocery stores while people were trying to get supplies to prepare for Irma

    Fake news purveyor Freedom Daily falsely claimed that Muslims had a “disturbing plan” to “poison food in the supermarkets.” As PolitiFact noted, there had been no reports of active plots of poisoning. The Freedom Daily article, which was later deleted, drew at least 564 Facebook engagements, according to BuzzSumo.

    British tabloids and celebrities share fake video of sharks swimming in Florida during Irma

    On September 11, a YouTube user named ViralVideoLab uploaded a video purporting to show sharks “in a flooded street in miami.” The post, as Snopes noted, contained “heavy hints that [the video] was less than authentic” and featured fake fins. The fake video was published by British tabloids Daily Star and The Sun (which reported “animal enthusiasts” casting doubts on the authenticity of the video), along with a West Virginia radio station’s Facebook page. The video was also shared on Facebook by skateboarder Bam Margera and on Twitter by musician AKON (who later deleted the tweet).

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

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

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

  • The Daily Mail's Xenophobic Pseudo-Journalism Is Fueling The “Alt-Right”

    “Alt-Right” Outlets Infowars and Breitbart Regularly Cite Its Content

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    The U.K. tabloid the Daily Mail is mounting a crusade against refugees and immigrants in Europe. The tabloid’s fearmongering, xenophobic claims of immigrant criminality -- which are often completely false and unsourced -- have positioned the outlet as a favorite among American conspiracy theorists and white nationalists.

    The Daily Mail, which is the U.K.’s most popular online and print newspaper, is known for peddling junk science, led the latest right-wing assault on climate change science, and has been accused of racism, sexism, and xenophobia. Even the open-sourced encyclopedia Wikipedia has banned its editors from using articles from the Mail to source its pages, calling the publication “generally unreliable.”

    The Daily Mail’s Katie Hopkins is one of the paper's writers pushing xenophobic misinformation. Hopkins, who is currently being sued for libel, has called migrants “cockroaches” and falsely accused Muslim travelers of being terrorists. In a recent report from Sweden, she claimed without evidence that the country’s news is filled with reports of rape and assault of young women, discussed an unsourced alleged rape of a 12-year-old by an unaccompanied minor immigrant, and told the impossible-to-substantiate story of a girl “terrified of going out alone” because she lives “near a busy shopping centre which draws migrants from no-go zones,” which do not exist in Sweden. Hopkins went on to discuss an “unexploded hand grenade [found] in a bin outside the police station of a no-go area of town, near a mosque.” But Swedish police would not confirm whether the object found was a bomb, and they described the location where it was found as a town square, not as near a mosque.

    After the Mail published Hopkins’ piece, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars reprinted her report with the title “KATIE HOPKINS REPORTS FROM HELLACIOUS SWEDEN, ‘WHERE FEMALES FEAR TO TREAD.’” The anti-immigration hate website VDare.com also amplified her report. In the past week, Infowars has reprinted at least two Daily Mail articles -- the Hopkins piece, along with one about a Swedish policeman who allegedly blamed immigrants for the majority of the country’s rapes and shootings.

    Breitbart.com’s London bureau, which regularly traffics in anti-immigrant sentiment, has similarly found a kindred spirit in the Mail’s xenophobic bent. On March 1, Breitbart London cited the Daily Mail in an article about a “Muslim convert” who allegedly “planned to buy a nine-year-old virgin slave girl after he joined [the] Islamic State.” According to The Guardian, the U.K. citizen the article mentions, Patrick Kabele, was in fact arrested in August 2016 for attempting to travel to Syria, but the Daily Mail 's claim that he wrote in his diary that he “wanted to buy a nine-year-old slave girl” can be found only on other tabloid news sites and the blog Jihad Watch, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as “Muslim-bashing.” It has not been confirmed by mainstream outlets.

    Duncan Gardham, who wrote the piece about Kabele, is another of the Daily Mail authors creating xenophobic content, along with contributor Julian Robinson. The paper's website also has a dedicated tag for news related to the “European Migrant And Refugee Crisis,” which boasts headlines like:

    The Mail’s unsourced, misleading, and sometimes completely fabricated claims about supposed immigrant criminality in Sweden do not exist in a vacuum. After President Donald Trump on February 18 mentioned “what’s happening last night in Sweden” before listing cities hit by terrorist attacks, his media cronies defended him by perpetuating the myth of “no-go zones” in Sweden. While no-go zones in Europe are a discredited construct frequently used for anti-immigrant fearmongering, the Daily Mail “reports” on them regularly. Further, Trump’s claims that the United States’ current immigration system threatens jobs and lowers wages, drains government benefits, and makes communities less safe come straight from nativist groups and fringe right-wing media outlets like Breitbart and Infowars, the same outlets that regularly cite anti-immigrant content from the Daily Mail.

    These false stories are damaging not only to immigrant communities, which are then unfairly viewed with suspicion, but also to actual victims of sexual assault who are seeking justice -- and to members of the general public on both sides of the Atlantic, who often remember only the first headlines they see, even if they’re not true.

    Image by Sarah Wasko.

  • Tucker Carlson Hosted Anti-Muslim Columnist Who Has Called For Gunships To Stop Refugees

    Trump Has Praised Katie Hopkins’ Columns

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY & BOBBY LEWIS

    Fox News’ Tucker Carlson hosted UK Daily Mail columnist Katie Hopkins who wrote a column allegedly detailing the many women in Sweden who fear being assaulted by immigrants. Hopkins’ writing and tweets exemplify hate-mongering anti-Muslim bigotry and in the past she has called for the murder of refugees and referred to them as “cockroaches.”

  • Warning To European Facebook Fact-Checkers: Here's How Conservatives Will Try To Discredit You

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    With Facebook’s recent announcements that it is partnering with fact-checking news organizations in the United States and Germany to fight fake news on its website, conservative media are trying to discredit those organizations by claiming their fact checks -- and fact-checking in general -- are too subjective, suggesting bias due to staffers’ backgrounds or the organizations’ funding sources, launching personal attacks, and making claims of censorship. As Facebook expands its partnerships in France, future fact-checkers in Europe will likely face similar lines of attack.

  • Bogus Daily Mail Story Spearheads Latest Right-Wing Assault On Climate Change Science

    ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    A story by David Rose of the British tabloid Daily Mail falsely alleged that researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) “manipulated global warming data” in order to “dupe” world leaders into agreeing to provisions of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. In reality, the NOAA report’s finding that there was no slowdown in the rate of global warming has since been independently verified by other experts, and it’s the Daily Mail story -- and the GOP politicians and right-wing media outlets like Breitbart News championing it -- that are  distorting climate science to score political points.

  • The Right-Wing Media’s Government Takeover, Via Donald Trump

    Trump Has Picked -- Or Considered -- Over A Dozen Right-Wing Media Veterans For His Administration

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    President-elect Donald Trump has picked -- or considered -- nearly a dozen people who have worked in right-wing media, including talk radio, right-wing news sites, Fox News, and conservative newspapers, to fill his administration. And Trump himself made weekly guest appearances on Fox for a number of years while his vice president used to host a conservative talk radio show.

  • Right-Wing Media Fail Occam’s Razor Test In Continued Push To Scandalize McAuliffe PAC Donation

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    After initially failing to scandalize a Wall Street Journal story about political donations made by Clinton ally and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s (D) political action committee (PAC) to the wife of an FBI official, conservative media are trying to revive the story. Now they’re trying to hype flawed, speculative allegations of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s alleged role in the fundraising for McAuliffe’s PAC in hopes of undermining the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s emails.

    In an October 23 article titled “Clinton Ally Aided Campaign of FBI Official’s Wife,” the Journal reported, “The political organization of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, an influential Democrat with longstanding ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton, gave nearly $500,000 to the election campaign of the wife of an official at the Federal Bureau of Investigation who later helped oversee the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s email use.” The piece implied that the McAuliffe PAC’s donation may have influenced FBI official Andrew McCabe, who is married to the donation’s recipient, Jill McCabe, in his later investigation of Clinton’s email use.

    Not only did journalists deride the piece’s flimsy, “embarrassing” claim, but the Journal’s own reporting also failed to support the idea that there was any impropriety by McAuliffe or McCabe. Indeed, other media outlets noted that “there’s literally nothing” to the story, both because “the timing is complicated if you’re trying to prove a Clinton email connection” and because “McAuliffe’s support of Jill McCabe was part of a much broader effort at the time to try to win back a Democratic majority in the state Senate.”

    That didn’t stop right-wing media figures from hyping the “appearance of impropriety” and claiming that McAuliffe “acted as a bag man to pay off people sniffing around Hillary’s emails.”

    After briefly piercing into the mainstream media current, the toothless story seemed to fade away, until the Daily Mail reported on October 28 that “Clinton headlined a major fundraiser” for McAuliffe’s PAC “before the group steered nearly $500,000 to” Jill McCabe. The paper suggested that Clinton’s involvement in the fundraiser again “raise[s] questions about the impartiality of the FBI's investigation.”

    But just as the initial Journal story fell apart under scrutiny of the timeline -- Andrew McCabe didn’t become involved in the FBI investigation until several months after McAuliffe’s donation to Jill McCabe -- so too does the Daily Mail’s bizarre and complicated suggestion that Clinton headlined a fundraiser because she was able to foresee that resulting donations would months later go to the wife of a man who would later be promoted twice to play a lead role in an investigation that did not yet exist.

    After organizing a timeline of the fundraiser, donation, and investigation -- and lightly suggesting the optics don’t look good (a common media technique employed when investigating many of Clinton's nonscandals) -- Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley wrote:

    What hasn't been proven is that Hillary Clinton did anything improper. Clinton would have had to be a pretty advanced political chessmaster to do a June 2015 fundraiser with the knowledge that, in October 2015, it would benefit the wife of an FBI official who would be promoted to an oversight position into her email investigation the next February. And McAuliffe would have to be an even savvier operator to have recruited Jill McCabe to run for office in March 2015 in the hopes that, sometime down the line, her husband would get promoted to the point of overseeing an investigation that didn't yet exist. There's also no evidence Andrew McCabe actually influenced the email investigation in a way that benefited Clinton. For all we know, he could've been pushing for her prosecution only to be overruled by Comey.

    Indeed, perhaps a much simpler explanation for Clinton’s fundraising appearance and the McAuliffe PAC’s donation is that a leading Democrat raised money for the Virginia state party and the governor's PAC to try to swing the legislature to benefit the Democratic governor -- who is also an old friend -- during one of the few major off-year elections in the country.

    Yet, even though almost nothing about the story has changed, right-wing media are now hyping the Daily Mail’s “exclusive” to suggest impropriety by Clinton and McAuliffe and a compromised FBI investigation. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson said the situation was “sleazy,” and the pro-Trump Breitbart News suggested the donations are “unusual” and raise questions, despite the continued lack of evidence of any wrongdoing.

  • Media Find Overlap Between Arizona Mayor’s Xenophobic Tirade And Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Huachuca City, AZ, Mayor Ken Taylor wrote a bombastic email rejecting an invitation to a meeting of U.S. and Mexican border city mayors because it was written in both English and Spanish, using rhetoric that many in the media are linking to “the anti-immigrant sentiments of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.” Media outlets contextualized the mayor’s response by rehashing Trump’s attacks on people speaking Spanish in the United States, his smearing of Mexican immigrants, and his proposal to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.