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  • "Perfectly legitimate": How right-wing media figures tried to play defense for Roy Moore

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & ZACHARY PLEAT

    After The Washington Post published a report alleging that Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore had initiated sexual encounters with a then-14-year-old girl in 1979, when Moore was 32, several right-wing media figures jumped to his defense, attacking the accuser, asserting that “Roy Moore Did Nothing Wrong,” and demanding that media cover the supposed misdeeds of others instead.

  • Right-wing media provided home for white supremacist before he organized Charlottesville rally

    Daily Caller has now removed Jason Kessler’s work from its site

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Before he organized the recent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, Jason Kessler wrote for The Daily Caller and the white nationalist site VDare and appeared as a purported expert on Alex Jones’ Infowars network.

    Kessler was the organizer for the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville that featured white supremacists and neo-Nazis. President Donald Trump responded to the violence by issuing a generic condemnation of problems "on many sides" and declining to specifically call out white supremacists -- behavior that fits his history of emboldening the white nationalist movement.

    Right-wing media outlets like The Daily Caller have also played a role in cultivating white supremacist organizers like Kessler.

    The Daily Caller contracted with Kessler “to contribute reportage to” the right-wing site this spring. He wrote two pieces in April with the headlines “Trump Supporters Vow To Rally In Berkeley Without Ann Coulter” and “Uncle: MS-13 Gangsters Mutilated Va. Teenager’s Body In Grisly Murder.” Both pieces promoted Kessler’s organization Unity and Security for America and his Twitter account.

    Kessler then wrote a May 14 piece about white supremacists Richard Spencer and Sam Dickson rallying in front of Confederate monuments. ProPublica subsequently reported that the Caller failed to disclose that Kessler “is supportive of white supremacist groups, and on the day of the march had himself made a speech to the protesters in which he praised fascist and racist organizations, thanked a prominent Holocaust denier, and declared the beginnings of a cultural ‘civil war.’” While the Caller suspended its relationship with Kessler, Executive Editor Paul Conner defended Kessler’s work:

    “The story is factually accurate and plainly states what happened at the event,” said Paul Conner, executive editor of The Daily Caller. “But in light of his activism on the issue, we have mutually agreed to suspend our freelance relationship with him.”

    Asked about the substance of Kessler’s speech in Charlottesville, Conner offered no comment on Kessler’s statements. In an email, he said only, “We pay writers for journalism, not their opinions.”

    An editor’s note was appended to Kessler’s article after ProPublica reached out to the Caller about the piece, stating: “The author notified The Daily Caller after publication that he spoke at a luncheon May 14 on behalf of an effort to preserve the monument.”

    Media Matters contacted Daily Caller editors this morning about the outlet’s relationship with Kessler, whether the editors regretted publishing him, and if they would consider publishing him in the future. Shortly afterward, the publication removed Kessler’s author page and all his pieces on the site. Media Matters followed up by asking for a clarification about why the site deleted those pieces. The Caller did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.


    Screenshots of Kessler's Daily Caller work

    Infowars has also had a role in promoting Kessler and his racist work.

    Editor Paul Joseph Watson, who himself has a history of racism, aired a roughly 30-minute interview with Kessler in January to “discuss the insanity of the left and how they have lost all grip on reality.” The interview is featured on Alex Jones’ Youtube channel with the headline “Jason Kessler: Anti-White Racism Must End.” Infowars also posted a roughly 20-minute April interview with Kessler during which he warned Infowars viewers that there’s a “very pressing danger with these people” who are trying to take down Confederate statues. Both interviews promoted Kessler’s nonprofit and Twitter account.

    Alex Jones aired a roughly 15-minute interview with Kessler on August 13, the day after the Saturday rally. During the segment, Jones complained that the media is “penalizing this guy because he’s saying one-third of the racist stuff that I disagree with against the [George] Soros group that’s a total cutout, just make us fight with each other. So how does media say he caused all the violence when clearly antifa was the ones attacking?” (Infowars has been claiming that philanthropist and one-time Media Matters donor George Soros has been purposely funding the Charlottesville violence.) Jones later said during the interview that Kessler walked into a “trap” set by Kessler's enemies by being at the Charlottesville rally this past weekend.

    Kessler wrote three pieces for the “alt-right” affiliated outlet GotNews from January through March. Trump has reportedly received news from that outlet, which is headed by racist troll Charles C. Johnson.

    Kessler has also written several posts for the anti-immigrant white nationalist site VDare. A June 19 post (his most recent) concludes that the “governments of the West are waging a campaign of slow extermination against their own core populations. It is white genocide.”

    VDare recently announced that it will host a conference next year at Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs, CO. The 2018 event will feature VDare Editor Peter Brimelow, Breitbart.com columnist and former Republican Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, and writer John Derbyshire, who describes himself as a “mild and tolerant” “homophobe” and “racist.”

    Brimelow has also contributed op-eds for The Daily Caller. His website posted a defense of the rally on August 12 by “Charlottesville Survivor,” which concluded that “it’s not Unite The Right that is ‘dividing’ America. Whites who aren’t comfortable with being dispossessed in every single Western country, or with seeing the symbols of their heritage wiped out, gathered to protest peacefully. … Why should Unite The Right apologize for anything? Indeed, how can the ‘Far Right’ be regarded as anything other than an incredibly moderate protest movement against a deliberate campaign of genocide?” (The white supremacists did not actually “protest peacefully.”)

  • Report: GOP researcher who tried to collude with Russia for Trump campaign worked with far-right media figures

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A Republican operative who tried to get emails from Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election campaign and may have worked with people associated with President Donald Trump’s campaign worked with far-right media figures Chuck Johnson, Pax Dickinson, and, possibly, Daily Stormer writer Andrew Auernheimer, along with Russian-linked “Guccifer 2.0,” according to Politico.

    Chuck Johnson, the editor of fringe outlet GotNews, has a history of encouraging harassment and is currently working with fellow far-right troll Mike Cernovich on an effort to target journalists. He is also part of the far-right alternative-media echo-chamber that has worked in tandem with fake news purveyors to spread conspiracy theories and falsehoods. Trump himself is reportedly a reader of GotNews. Dickinson, with Johnson, ran the crowdsourcing platform WeSearchr, which has helped fund far-right causes, such as neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer. Auernheimer, a hacker known as “weev,” has written for Daily Stormer, recently using the site to threaten CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski. And “Guccifer 2.0,” an entity connected to Russian hackers, previously communicated with Trump adviser and Infowars host Roger Stone.

    According to a July 11 Politico report, Republican operative Peter Smith, who worked to “track down copies of Clinton’s emails” from hackers that may have been affiliated with Russia and who may have worked with people associated with Trump’s campaign, asked Johnson and Dickinson “to help him understand the workings of the internet and make contacts in Trump’s orbit.” Johnson told Politico he and Smith “stayed in touch, discussing ‘tactics and research’ regularly throughout the presidential campaign, and that Smith sought his help,” along with Dickinson’s” “tracking down Clinton’s emails.” Johnson claimed he “put the word out to a ‘hidden oppo network’ of right-leaning opposition researchers to notify them of the effort,” and that he told Smith to get in touch with Auernheimer, although he “declined to say whether Smith contacted him.” Additionally, Johnson said that Smith “had people running around Europe, had people talking to Guccifer.” From the report:

    The activists, the journalist-turned-entrepreneur Charles Johnson and his former business partner Pax Dickinson, agreed to help [GOP operative Peter] Smith’s quixotic mission, which failed to track down copies of Clinton’s emails. Johnson is a polarizing figure who was banned from Twitter in 2015 after promoting an effort to “take out” a Black Lives Matter activist but maintains ties to White House officials. Smith also reached out to “Guccifer 2.0”—an alias the U.S. intelligence community has linked to Russian state hackers—and was advised to seek the help of a white nationalist hacker who lives in Ukraine.

    [...]

    Understanding Smith’s relationships could hold the key to the question of whether or not Trump’s campaign colluded with the Kremlin: Federal investigators are probing an apparent attempt by Russian government hackers to obtain the deleted emails and provide them to former national security adviser Michael Flynn through a third party, the Journal also reported. The paper was unable to identify the Russians’ intended intermediary, but suggested it may have been Smith, who had boasted of his ties to Flynn.

    The new details of Smith’s operation, which were shared with POLITICO Magazine by Johnson and others, paint a picture of a determined but ill-equipped activist casting about far and wide in a frantic but ultimately futile quest to get ahold of Clinton’s deleted emails and publish them ahead of Election Day.

    [...]

    Johnson said he and Smith stayed in touch, discussing “tactics and research” regularly throughout the presidential campaign, and that Smith sought his help tracking down Clinton’s emails. “He wanted me to introduce to him to Bannon, to a few others, and I sort of demurred on some of that,” Johnson said. “I didn’t think his operation was as sophisticated as it needed to be and I thought it was good to keep the campaign as insulated as possible.”

    Instead, Johnson said, he put the word out to a “hidden oppo network” of right-leaning opposition researchers to notify them of the effort. Johnson declined to provide the names of any of the members of this “network,” but he praised Smith’s ambition.

    “The magnitude of what he was trying to do was kind of impressive,” Johnson said. “He had people running around Europe, had people talking to Guccifer.” (U.S. intelligence agencies have linked the materials provided by “Guccifer 2.0”—an alias that has taken credit for hacking the Democratic National Committee and communicated with Republican operatives, including Trump confidant Roger Stone—to Russian government hackers.)

    [...]

    Johnson said he also suggested that Smith get in touch with Andrew Auernheimer, a hacker who goes by the alias “Weev” and has collaborated with Johnson in the past. Auernheimer — who was released from federal prison in 2014 after having a conviction for fraud and hacking offenses vacated and subsequently moved to Ukraine — declined to say whether Smith contacted him, citing conditions of his employment that bar him from speaking to the press.

  • Seven ways pro-Trump media and fake news purveyors have smeared James Comey and Robert Mueller

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Over the past month, fake news purveyors and “alt-right”-affiliated figures and outlets have been smearing former FBI Director James Comey and special counsel for the Russia probe, Robert Mueller. The two men have been smeared by this media ecosystem, which has essentially been a propaganda machine for President Donald Trump and which perceives the two investigators as a potential threat to the president. Following Comey’s firing by Trump in May, Mueller’s appointment as special counsel, and Comey’s statement that Trump fired him over the Russia probe, this ecosystem has worked to discredit both and to assist Trump. These are five smears they have pushed.

    Fake news purveyors pushed dubious “alt-right” claim that Comey was imperiled by supposed probe into Susan Rice

    “Alt-right” troll Jack Posobiec claimed Comey dropped a probe of Susan Rice (there’s no evidence any such probe existed) to avoid implicating himself. Shortly after former FBI Director James Comey was fired, Jack Posobiec, an “alt-right” troll with a history of pushing conspiracy theories and misinformation, claimed that an “FBI source” told him that “Comey dropped the Susan Rice unmasking investigation [because] it would have implicated himself.” The tweet was in reference to the dubious claim that former national security adviser Susan Rice violated the law by unmasking Trump aides caught up in surveillance of foreign officials. There has been no corroboration outside of the right-wing fringe that Rice was ever under FBI investigation.

    Fake news purveyors ran with Posobiec’s claim. Fake news purveyors ran with Posobiec’s dubious claim, with TruthFeed claiming it “does logically make sense.” Angry Patriot wrote that it “will only affirm Trump’s decision in giving [Comey] the boot,” and Conservative Daily Post and The Washington Feed published the same article claiming that it showed Comey “was an extremely corrupt individual.” The TruthFeed, Angry Patriot, and Conservative Daily Post articles received at least 1,700, 9,300, and 6,800 Facebook engagements, respectively, according to BuzzSumo, a social media analytics site.

    Fake news purveyors and “alt-right” outlets used Judicial Watch report to claim Mueller “conspired with radical Islamic groups” and should be concerning to Americans

    Judicial Watch claimed Mueller, as FBI director, “caved” to “Islamist groups.” Following Mueller’s appointment as special counsel, right-wing group Judicial Watch published a report claiming that “as FBI director, Mueller bent over backwards to please radical Islamist groups and caved into their demands.” Judicial Watch alleged that the FBI under Mueller “eliminated the valuable anti-terrorism training material and curricula after Mueller met with various Islamist organizations, including those with documented ties too (sic) terrorism.” According to Wired, the FBI had removed those materials because “they were inaccurate or over-broad” or “because they were offensive.”

    “Alt-right” outlet and fake news purveyors used Judicial Watch report to attack Mueller. “Alt-right”-affiliated outlet The Gateway Pundit used the Judicial Watch report to claim Mueller “conspired with radical Islamic groups.” Fake news purveyors joined in; Conservative Fighters and Angry Patriot wrote that it showed “the media’s glowing portrayal of Mueller” was “not true,” The Washington Feed claimed that it showed “the real picture” of Mueller, and Tell Me Now wrote that Mueller “thought it was more offensive than jihadists killing Americans” and that the report “will likely have some Americans concerned” about him being special counsel. The Gateway Pundit, Conservative Fighters, Angry Patriot, and Tell Me Now articles received at least 1,200, 9,500, 13,800, and 231 Facebook engagements, respectively, according to BuzzSumo.

    “Alt-right” outlets and fake news purveyors suggested Comey was biased against Trump because his brother worked at a law firm used by the Clinton Foundation

    Fringe blog Big League Politics suggested Comey was “protecting [Hillary] Clinton” because his brother worked at law firm connected to the Clinton Foundation. After Comey’s firing, fringe blog Big League Politics revived a claim, originating from “alt-right”-promoting outlet Breitbart, that Comey “was clearly protecting [Hillary] Clinton from … espionage and corruption charges” because his brother worked for a law firm that “does the Clinton Foundation’s taxes.”

    “Alt-right” outlet and fake news purveyors ran with charge to discredit Comey. The Gateway Pundit claimed Big League Politics showed Comey’s “ties to the Clinton Foundation and the conflicts of interest that lie there are too close to not raise red flags.” From there it was revived by fake news purveyors, with Angry Patriot writing that it showed “Comey was compromised, so it is a good thing that Donald Trump removed him from office.” TruthFeed wrote that it showed Comey’s “crooked Clinton ties” meant Trump “was 100% correct to remove this shill,” USA Politics Today wondered how “Comey [was] not removed from the Hillary Clinton email investigation,” and Conservative Patriot wrote that it showed Comey was “involved in shady activities with [the] Clinton Foundation.” The Gateway Pundit, Angry Patriot, TruthFeed, USA Politics Today, and Conservative Patriot articles received at least 24,400, 5,800, 2,100, 2,700, and 4,800 Facebook engagements, respectively, according to BuzzSumo.

    “Alt-right” and fake news-purveying outlets used 2009 Wikileaks cable to mislead about Mueller working with Russia

    The Gateway Pundit, via Wikileaks, revived a 2009 cable showing Mueller, with authorization, transported uranium to Russia. After Mueller was named special counsel, The Gateway Pundit pointed to a 2009 cable published by Wikileaks revealing that Mueller delivered a sample of highly enriched uranium -- seized from the nation of Georgia and held in U.S. custody -- to Russia, with authorization from the Georgian government, for forensic analysis. The uranium was referred to by both Wikileaks and The Gateway Pundit as “stolen,” and The Gateway Pundit used the story to suggest that Democrats should be “up in arms over Mueller’s visit to Russia” because “according to the deranged Democrats, any contact with the Russians creates a cloud of suspicion and must lead to an investigation.”

    “Alt-right” outlet and fake news purveyors claimed Mueller “has [a] connection to Russia.” Infowars, a conspiracy theorist website, wrote that the cable showed Mueller “has [a] past connection with [the] Kremlin.” Fake news purveyor USA Politics Today wrote that Mueller “is not … innocent” because he “oversaw the transfer of stolen highly enriched uranium” to Russia. And The Federalist Tribune asked, “Since Obama was president than (sic), does this mean he was acting in a treasonous manner in trying to stop the flow of stolen nuclear materials by cooperating with Russia?” The Gateway Pundit, Infowars, USA Politics Today, and The Federalist Tribune articles received at least 2,300, 206, 832, and 569 Facebook engagements, respectively, according to BuzzSumo.

    “Alt-right” and fake news purveyors used 2015 AP article to falsely claim Comey covered up for Chattanooga shooting

    Gateway Pundit spun a 2015 article on the shootings in Chattanooga, TN, to claim that “Comey colluded with Obama on radical Islamic murder of US marines.” The Gateway Pundit claimed that in 2015, “the FBI under Comey was completely baffled” about the motivation of a man who killed U.S. marines at a military recruiting center and at a naval base in Chattanooga, TN, in July of that year. The fringe website claimed, “No doubt this was the conclusion Obama wanted” and spun a November 2015 Associated Press article that quoted Comey saying, “We’re still trying to make sure we understand Abdulazeez, his motivations and associations, in a really good way.” Later, in December 2015, Comey told reporters that the shooter “was inspired by a foreign terrorist organization's propaganda.”

    Fake news purveyors run with Gateway Pundit’s claim. Fake news purveyors ran with The Gateway Pundit’s claim, with some additionally lying that the report was new. The Washington Feed called it “Comey’s sickest secret,” while USA News Flash said it was “sickening” because “the public record will never be revealed.” Freedom Daily claimed Comey did a “sickening thing” to “cover up the murder.” Red Rock Daily News claimed it showed “Comey and Obama are criminals.” The Gateway Pundit, USA News Flash, and Freedom Daily articles received at least 1,900, 12,400, and 16,800 Facebook engagements, respectively, according to BuzzSumo.

    “Alt-right”-affiliated outlet and fake news purveyors falsely claim Mueller intentionally lied about spying on antiwar groups

    “Alt-right”-affiliated outlet GotNews alleged Mueller misled Congress about spying on antiwar groups. GotNews, an “alt-right”-affiliated outlet, claimed in May that a Justice Department inspector general report showed Mueller “misled Congress in 2006 about FBI surveillance of peaceful anti-Iraq War groups.” However, as the inspector general report noted, Mueller did not know at the time the information was incorrect.

    Fake news purveyors used report to falsely claim Mueller is “a liar.” Fake news purveyors used the GotNews report to falsely claim Mueller lied to Congress. Angry Patriot and Conservative Fighters both wrongly wrote that Mueller “falsified testimony about the bureau’s surveillance on an anti-war protest in 2002” and that he is “a liar who illegally spied on Americans.” The GotNews, Angry Patriot, and Conservative Fighters articles received at least 637, 6,200, and 4,700 Facebook engagements, respectively, according to BuzzSumo.

    “Alt-right”-affiliated outlets and fake news purveyors claim Mueller is connected to Democratic organization Civis Analytics

    GotNews reported Mueller worked with law firm representing a “big Democrat group.” GotNews in June alleged that Mueller was “partnered” with a law firm, WilmerHale, that represented the “leftist analytics firm Civis Analytics,” which it also described as a “big Democrat group.” The GotNews report ignored the fact that WilmerHale also represents three Trump affiliates: former campaign manager Paul Manafort, daughter Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

    The Gateway Pundit and fake news purveyors ran with the report to question Mueller's "impartiality." The Gateway Pundit wrote that GotNews showed Mueller had “ties to a particularly dangerous DNC megadonor.” Fake news purveyors also ran with the report, with Angry Patriot and Conservative Fighters writing that “Mueller’s bipartisanship seems doubtful given that his law firm worked with the Left-wing Civis Analytics,” and a Before It's News contributor wrote that the report was “raising questions about Mueller’s impartiality in his so-called ‘Russia probe’ into President Donald J. Trump’s campaign.” The GotNews, Gateway Pundit,  Angry Patriot, and Conservative Fighters articles received at least 55, 3,200, 6,200, and 4,700 Facebook engagements, respectively, according to BuzzSumo.

    This piece has been updated.

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

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Graphics by Sarah Wasko