IJR | Media Matters for America

IJR

Tags ››› IJR
  • Arizona journalists debunk edited video used by conservatives to smear Democratic Senate candidate Kyrsten Sinema

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Conservative media used an out-of-context video to falsely claim that Senate candidate Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) called all Arizonans "crazy." As local journalists explained, the full context of her remarks shows that Sinema was clearly referring only to Republican lawmakers in Arizona who were promoting extremist legislation, such as the state’s racially discriminatory SB 1070 "papers please" law.

    This smear originated with an October 11 tweet from the Twitter account “The Reagan Battalion,” described by The Associated Press as “an anonymous conservative group,” which published a 65 second-long video with clear edits at the 23 and 30 second marks, stripping Sinema's remarks of necessary context. According to the tweet, Sinema mocked “Arizonans as 'Crazy' and calls Arizona the 'crazy' state."

    As of 11 a.m. EDT today, that crudely edited video had roughly 240,000 views. The Reagan Battalion later posted a full 5 minute 23 second version on its YouTube account, suggesting it had the full context all along. The original, uncut video had only 3,129 views as of 11 a.m.

    Fox News host Sean Hannity ran with this false framing, citing The Reagan Battalion and saying the video showed Sinema "calling Arizonans, the people she wants to vote for her, crazy."
     

    Conservative outlet Independent Journal Review (IJR) embedded the deceptively edited Reagan Battalion video and tweet in a piece that falsely blared in its headline: “Leaked Video Shows Arizona Dem Senate Candidate Mocking Arizonans as ‘Crazy’ While in Texas.” Talk radio host and MSNBC contributor Hugh Hewitt tweeted: “Wow: ‘Sinema Called Arizonans “Crazy” at Texas Democratic Event in 2011,’” linking to a Washington Free Beacon story with a similarly misleading headline, despite the body of the piece acknowledging that she was referring to Republican lawmakers. Fox & Friends also aired an edited version of Sinema’s remarks which included her reference to Republicans lawmakers, yet the show still falsely claimed in an on-air graphic that “Sinema mocked Arizonans as ‘crazy’ in 2011.”

    But local journalists quickly made clear that conservatives were wrong to claim Sinema was referring to all Arizonans as “crazy.” Arizona Capitol Times editor Luige del Puerto called out The Reagan Battalion in a tweet, pointing out the clear edits and demanding it “show the unedited version so we can hear her whole speech.” He also told IJR that it was wrong to promote the misleadingly edited video. And The Arizona Republic published an article on Sinema’s full remarks with the correct context and a factually correct headline: “Kyrsten Sinema in 2011: 'There’s something wrong with the people in public office in Arizona.’” The lede of the article stated: “Rep. Kyrsten Sinema seven years ago ridiculed as ‘crazy’ the Republican elected officials leading the state at the time, and the anti-illegal immigration legislation that began in Arizona and was being replicated in state Capitols across the nation.”

    And Sinema was absolutely correct about the extremist nature of the Republican legislators in Arizona. The 2010 Arizona anti-immigrant bill SB 1070, known as the “papers please” law because it required police to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being in the country without authorization, was so extreme that the Supreme Court struck down three out of four provisions of the law in 2012. The remaining provision that required officers to question people’s immigration status and demand immigration documents was largely rendered moot in 2016 when the state settled a lawsuit brought by immigrants’ rights groups. The Arizona Republic explained that the law “sparked a national outcry” and “led to a torrent of canceled trips to Arizona by would-be tourists and conventioneers, and travel bans by cities and organizations around the country who deemed the legislation discriminatory and in violation of federal law.” The same article pointed out other extreme legislation introduced by Republicans in the state legislature that year:

    In 2011, the year of Sinema’s remarks, Republicans at the Arizona Capitol had introduced other legislation targeting undocumented immigrants.

    One bill would have required hospitals to check a person’s legal status and notify law enforcement if they suspected the person was in the United States illegally. Another would have banned illegal immigrants from going to state universities and community colleges, and from getting federal benefits.

    A third targeted the issue of birthright citizenship.

    All of the bills failed.

    Russell Pearce, who was singled out in Sinema’s remarks and authored the SB 1070 legislation, was forced into a recall election over the bill and lost to another Republican the year after it was signed into law.

  • IJR Suspends Three Staffers For Pushing "Alt-Right"-Based Conspiracy Theory

    Blog ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET

    Independent Journal Review (IJR) chief content officer Benny Johnson and two other IJR employees were indefinitely suspended after writing and publishing a baseless conspiracy theory -- originally pushed by “alt-right” fringe media -- which suggested that former President Barack Obama’s visit to Hawaii played a role in a ruling by a federal judge based there that froze President Donald Trump’s revised Muslim ban.

    On March 16, under Johnson’s direction, IJR published, then retracted, an article that attempted to “point out the timing and the opportunity” presented by Obama’s presence in Hawaii days before the judge’s ruling. The conspiracy theory was originally pushed by fringe and “alt-right” outlets such as Infowars and The Gateway Pundit, and it seemed to originate from a thread on the online anonymous message board Reddit. The outlandish theory even made its way to Donald Trump Jr., who retweeted a Twitter post that tied the judge to Obama.

    According to reports from Politico and Business Insider, after IJR investigated the publication of the baseless story, the site suspended Johnson and editors Kyle Becker and Becca Lower. In a statement, IJR founder Alex Skatell wrote that “we got it wrong and ultimately deserve all the criticism.” Business Insider noted that Johnson, who has been accused of plagiarism multiple times and has previously pushed false claims, “had been warned earlier that the story about Obama was an unfounded conspiracy theory, but he assigned it to Becker anyway.”

    This is the second recent occasion in which a right-wing media figure has been disciplined for spreading unsubstantiated allegations and conspiracy theories about Obama. IJR’s actions came a day after reports emerged that Fox News’ Andrew Napolitano was being taken off the air “indefinitely” for promoting the false claim that Obama used the British government to spy on Trump.

  • Report: Top Pence Adviser Is Partial Owner Of Independent Journal Review

    Blog ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ

    BuzzFeed News is reporting that a political adviser to Vice President Mike Pence is also a “major investor” in the conservative media outlet the Independent Journal Review (IJR), which has gained exclusive access to the administration as the only media outlet allowed to travel with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on his trip to Asia. 

    The IJR is a conservative, pro-Trump outlet which recently faced criticism for publishing, then retracting, an article suggesting former President Barack Obama had the “timing and the opportunity” to influence the judge that halted President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. The outlet also faced criticism after Tillerson’s “decision to bring only Erin McPike of Independent Journal Review” with him on his first trip to Asia. According to Politico:

    McPike has been with IJR for only a few weeks and doesn’t even cover the State Department: She’s its White House reporter and is often in the briefings. McPike won’t be acting as a pool reporter for the rest of the diplomatic press corps, meaning she won’t be sharing information about the trip with other reporters, which is what would normally happen if there were limited space for reporters and only a few were chosen.

    On March 17, BuzzFeed News reported that a “top strategist” for Vice President Pence, Nick Ayers, is a “major investor” in IJR. Ayers also works for America First Priorities, a political group that works to push Trump’s agenda. While the article notes that “there is no indication” that Ayers played a role in IJR receiving favorable treatment from Tillerson, the Ayers connection reinforces the “close ties between Trump’s orbit and a favored media outlet.” From BuzzFeed News:

    Nick Ayers, Pence’s top strategist outside of the White House, confirmed to BuzzFeed News that he owns part of IJR. He is also playing a major role in America First Priorities, a political group launched by Trump campaign advisers to trumpet the president’s message. He joined Trump’s campaign when Pence was tapped as the vice presidential nominee and later acted as a senior advisor for the vice president-elect during the transition. Ayers previously worked as a political consultant and as campaign manager for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s presidential bid in 2012.

    There’s no indication that Ayers was involved in this week’s controversial State Department decision to grant the sole press spot on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s trip to Asia to IJR’s White House correspondent. The move, a break from tradition, has enraged the State Department press corps as Tillerson makes big diplomatic news without a traditional pooler tagging along.

    Ayers’ investment in IJR is another example of close ties between Trump’s orbit and a favored media outlet. Steve Bannon, the president’s top strategist, ran Breitbart News for years and has brought with him to the administration a handful of ex-Breitbart staffers. The company has said that it no longer has financial and editorial ties to Bannon. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner transferred his ownership of The New York Observer to a family trust.

    There’s no sign that Ayers has had any editorial involvement with his investment, and a person involved in the company noted that IJR notably didn’t benefit from insider leaks during the campaign.

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

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

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

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

  • State Department Rewards Reporter Who Wrote Tillerson Puff Piece With Sole Seat On His Plane To Asia

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The only reporter traveling with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during this week’s trip to Asia recently authored a puff piece on Tillerson’s close relationship with President Donald Trump that was based almost entirely on an anonymous Tillerson aide.

    Last week, the State Department announced that Tillerson would not allow the press to travel with him on his government plane during his trip to Japan, South Korea, and China, an extremely unusual step that will reportedly make it “exceedingly difficult, if not impossible” for journalists to cover the proceedings.

    D.C. bureau chiefs from a host of major news outlets sent a letter to the State Department last Tuesday protesting Tillerson’s decision. According to the letter, “Not only does this situation leave the public narrative of the meetings up to the Chinese foreign ministry as well as Korea’s and Japan’s, but it gives the American people no window whatsoever into the views and actions of the nation’s leaders.”

    At yesterday’s State Department press briefing, just hours before Tillerson was scheduled to take off, spokesperson Mark Toner was still unwilling to divulge whether any reporters would be traveling on the plane. But eventually, news broke that one reporter would be on board when the plane lifted off: Erin McPike, the White House correspondent for the conservative website Independent Journal Review.

    According to IJR founder Alex Skatell, who previously worked for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican Governors Association, McPike got the spot because of her “tenacious, detailed brand of reporting.” According to the State Department’s Toner, the agency wanted to “take a journalist from an outlet that doesn’t normally travel with the Secretary of State, as part of an effort to include a broader representation of US media.”

    But it sure seems likely the State Department rewarded McPike because she was willing to help a Tillerson aide burnish the secretary's reputation.

    The glowing beat-sweetener, published two weeks ago, is a rebuttal to the widespread narrative that Tillerson has been largely sidelined by the White House, lacks influence with the president, and is unwilling to engage with the press or the public. Based on her interview with an unnamed “aide to the nation’s top diplomat,” who boasts that Tillerson frequently speaks with Trump on the phone, McPike decides that this is all Tillerson’s “strategy to keep his head down while he sets out to make the State Department more efficient.”

    McPike grants the aide anonymity to give quotes like, “If Trump closes the deal, Rex is the person who makes the deal.” She goes on to praise the aide’s statement: “It's a comment that suggests Tillerson may have figured out how to ingratiate himself well with his TV star boss: eschew the cameras and make the boss look better.”

    McPike appears to have figured out how to ingratiate herself with the State Department: Make the boss look better.

    The State Department Correspondents Association responded by saying that that it was "disappointed" Tillerson chose to travel to Asia “without a full contingent of the diplomatic press corps or even a pool reporter.” According to the association, several reporters “have traveled commercially to meet Secretary Tillerson on the ground in Asia.”

    “I covered State for more than nine years,” The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler said on Twitter in response to the statement. “What just happened is shocking -- and counterproductive for US diplomacy.”

    For its part, IJR is not interested in solidarity with the rest of the press corps; McPike reportedly is not filing pool reports from the plane. It’s the second time this month the site has been rewarded with exclusive access while the rest of the press was shut out; when Trump ditched the press for a dinner at the Trump Hotel, the website’s Benny Johnson had been tipped off and filed a fawning report after sitting at a nearby table.

    And there’s little reason to think that this will be the last time Tillerson -- or another member of the administration -- ditches the press in favor of hand-picking a reporter from a right-wing outlet who has proved willing to play ball.

    “I want to make the point going forward that we’re going to make every effort in future trips to have a contingent of press onboard that plane,” State Department spokesperson Toner said at the press briefing yesterday.

    Why should reporters believe this?

    If the administration wanted to have the diplomatic press corps accompany Tillerson to Asia, officials could have arranged that. But they haven’t.

    According to the State Department, while the secretary has access to an Air Force Boeing 757, Tillerson “prefers to travel on a smaller plane” which has no room for the press corps. That personal preference apparently outweighed any responsibility the secretary feels about providing the press with access. Part of the rationale is that this is “a cost-saving measure” because news outlets only “pay a degree” of the costs associated with sending journalists to travel with the secretary.

    None of this will change the next time Tillerson leaves the country on the nation’s business. His personal preferences about the size of his plane presumably will remain the same. So will the cost structure for bringing the press.

    There are only two plausible options. Either circumstances will remain the same, and the press will still have limited access to Tillerson when he travels.

    Or Tillerson will switch back to a plane that can accommodate the diplomatic press corps, suggesting that the decision with regard to the Asia trip was arbitrary, intended to send a message to journalists: Act more like McPike, and you, too, can have access to the secretary.