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  • Some journalists can see through Trump's economic ruse. Time for everyone else to catch up.

    Trump wants credit for economic progress, but the continued recovery has little to do with him

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON & ALEX MORASH

    President Donald Trump has been promoting record high valuations on the Dow Jones industrial average as proof of his supposed economic accomplishments and has attacked news outlets for not covering the stock market gains and steady job creation during the first six months of his presidency. In response to both his boasts and his frequent criticism, journalists have been quick to point out that Trump deserves little credit for positive economic trends that predate his administration given his lack of substantive policy accomplishments while in office.

  • Stephen Miller accused Jim Acosta of "cosmopolitan bias," here is the term's ugly history

    In Politico Magazine, analyst Jeff Greenfield explains "The Ugly History of Stephen Miller's 'Cosmopolitan' Epithet"

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In Politico Magazine political analyst Jeff Greenfield explained how President Donald Trump’s senior policy advisor Stephen Miller’s invocation of the word “cosmopolitan” in a White House press briefing to attack a reporter connected him to a long history of the term being weaponized by “anti-Democratic political movements,” often with clear anti-Semitic undertones.

    During an August 2 White House press briefing, Miller defended the president’s support of the RAISE Act, a Republican-sponsored immigration proposal that would prioritize immigration based on the "skills" immigrants bring to the country and favor English speakers over non-English speaking immigrants. Miller, who once reportedly told a classmate they could no longer be friends because his classmate was Latino, has a long history of promoting anti-immigrant policies. Miller also has a close relationship with former Breitbart executive chair and current White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon and shares the same extreme nationalist ideology with him. During a contentious back-and-forth with CNN’s Jim Acosta over the RAISE Act in the press briefing, Miller accused Acosta of harboring “cosmopolitan bias.”  

    As Greenfield explained, the word “cosmopolitan” is something of a “cousin to ‘elitist,’ but with a more sinister undertone.” The word has come to represent “people or movements that are unmoored to the traditions and beliefs of a nation,” and has long been a favorite of “nationalist political figures” as a means of delegitimizing and attacking opposition forces. As Greenfield noted, the term was invoked by Josef Stalin to “purge” the Soviet Union of “dissident voices,” and has often carried strong anti-Semitic connotations. From the August 3 article:

    When TV news viewers saw Trump adviser Stephen Miller accuse Jim Acosta of harboring a “cosmopolitan bias” during Wednesday’s news conference, they might have wondered whether he was accusing the CNN White House reporter of an excessive fondness for the cocktail made famous on “Sex and the City.” It’s a term that’s seldom been heard in American political discourse. But to supporters of the Miller-Bannon worldview, it was a cause for celebration. Breitbart, where Steve Bannon reigned before becoming Trump’s chief political strategist, trumpeted Miller’s “evisceration” of Acosta and put the term in its headline. So did white nationalist Richard Spencer, who hailed Miller’s dust-up with Acosta as “a triumph.”

    [...]

    So what is a “cosmopolitan”? It’s a cousin to “elitist,” but with a more sinister undertone. It’s a way of branding people or movements that are unmoored to the traditions and beliefs of a nation, and identify more with like-minded people regardless of their nationality. (In this sense, the revolutionary pamphleteer Thomas Paine might have been an early American cosmopolitan, when he declared: “The world is my country; all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”). In the eyes of their foes, “cosmopolitans” tend to cluster in the universities, the arts and in urban centers, where familiarity with diversity makes for a high comfort level with “untraditional” ideas and lives.

    [...]

    One reason why “cosmopolitan” is an unnerving term is that it was the key to an attempt by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to purge the culture of dissident voices. In a 1946 speech, he deplored works in which “the positive Soviet hero is derided and inferior before all things foreign and cosmopolitanism that we all fought against from the time of Lenin, characteristic of the political leftovers, is many times applauded.” It was part of a yearslong campaigned aimed at writers, theater critics, scientists and others who were connected with “bourgeois Western influences.” Not so incidentally, many of these “cosmopolitans” were Jewish, and official Soviet propaganda for a time devoted significant energy into “unmasking” the Jewish identities of writers who published under pseudonyms.

    What makes this history relevant is that, all across Europe, nationalist political figures are still making the same kinds of arguments—usually but not always stripped of blatant anti-Semitism—to constrict the flow of ideas and the boundaries of free political expression. Russian President Vladimir Putin, for example, has more and more embraced this idea that unpatriotic forces threaten the nation.

  • The White House press corps should follow up on new communications director’s financial conflicts

    New reports raise questions about Anthony Scaramucci’s promise that his financial portfolio would be “totally cleansed”

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    According to Politico, Anthony Scaramucci “still stands to profit” from his ownership stake in a hedge fund he founded in 2005 despite his assertion that his financial portfolio would be “totally cleansed” of conflicts of interest before he assumed a full-time role as communications director at the White House.

    During a July 21 press conference in which Scaramucci announced his new role in the Trump administration, he claimed that the position would not be encumbered by conflicts of interest tied to his previous business dealings. However, according to a July 26 report from Politico, Scaramucci “still stands to profit from an ownership stake in his investment firm SkyBridge Capital.” The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) stipulates that federal employees “may be directed to divest” from certain stock or property holdings in order to resolve possible conflicts of interest, but Scaramucci was still listed as SkyBridge’s managing partner as of July 27 and, according to a financial disclosure form published by Politico, Scaramucci still expects to receive significant returns from the upcoming sale of his SkyBridge assets:

    According to a July 25 report from Bloomberg citing “people familiar with Scaramucci’s recent thinking,” the incoming communications director “was eager to take another government post” in part so he could benefit from an agreement with the IRS that allows appointees to defer some capital gains taxes when they are forced to liquidate private business relationships in order to assume federal government roles. However, several ethics experts contacted by Bloomberg believe Scaramucci should be disqualified from that tax arrangement because the terms of the sale of his company pre-dated his assumption of a federal government role by several months.

    CNBC reported last week that Scaramucci’s ongoing attempt to close the sale of SkyBridge Capital “delayed his appointment” to the Trump administration earlier this year, but he has technically been an employee of the federal government since joining the Export-Import Bank last month while the SkyBridge deal remained unfinished.

    The SkyBridge deal itself is increasingly raising questions. Bloomberg reported in January that the Chinese government linked foreign conglomerate lined up to purchase SkyBridge is paying significantly more for the firm than it seems to be worth. On July 24, Business Insider described the purchase agreement for the sale of SkyBridge as “a $180 million conflict of interest hanging over [Scaramucci’s] head” because the sale will eventually have to be approved by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, with whom Scaramucci will work closely in his new role as a senior adviser in the Trump administration. (Rumors that Scaramucci may be in line to replace Reince Priebus as the president’s chief of staff may further exacerbate the financial conflict.)

    Given the Trump team’s extraordinary penchant for misleading the press, reporters should continue digging for proof of Scaramucci’s compliance with ethics regulations routinely flouted by the Trump family and other members of the administration.

  • Hate groups from across extremist ideologies are joining forces to discredit their hate group designation

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & DINA RADTKE


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Far-right hate groups across extremist ideologies have united to attack and discredit their hate group designation by Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in an attempt to regain legitimacy and rehab their images. Many hate groups have attempted to delegitimize the SPLC’s hate group label over the years, but their efforts have dramatically ramped up in 2017 in reaction to a series of escalating events including SPLC designating anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and anti-immigrant group Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) hate groups and media outlets accurately labeling these organizations as such in their reporting.

    Who’s who, and why are they hate groups?

    Alliance Defending Freedom

    Family Research Council

    Liberty Counsel

    Federation for American Immigration Reform

    Center for Immigration Studies

    Act! for America

    Timeline

    Who’s who, and why are they hate groups?

    Alliance Defending Freedom

    The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is the largest anti-LGBTQ hate group in the nation, and, according to Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), it “specializes in supporting the recriminalization of homosexuality abroad, ending same-sex marriage, and generally making life as difficult as possible for LGBT communities in the U.S. and internationally.” ADF operates on $48 million-plus annual budget and has what it refers to as a “powerful global network” of over 3,100 ADF-trained “allied attorneys.” SPLC designated ADF a hate group because ADF’s leaders and its affiliated lawyers have “regularly demonized LGBT people, falsely linking them to pedophilia, calling them ‘evil’ and a threat to children and society, and blaming them for the ‘persecution of devout Christians.’” ADF’s influence is widespread. It has played a role in dozens of Supreme Court cases, including regarding abortion, religion, tuition tax credits, and LGBTQ issues; it has special advisory status at the United Nations; it has at least 55 affiliated lawyers serving in influential government positions at the state and federal levels; and it has infiltrated local school boards across the country.

    ADF formally supported the criminalization of sodomy in the U.S. in 2003 when it filed an amicus brief in Lawrence v. Texas defending state sodomy laws which called “same-sex sodomy … a distinct public health problem.” ADF has also worked to criminalize gay sex abroad, including in Jamaica, Belize, and India, and is leading the national campaign for “bathroom bills” targeting transgender youth. One ADF attorney peddled the myth that Matthew Shepard’s violent murder in 1998 was not an anti-gay hate crime. SPLC designated ADF a hate group on February 15, but it wasn’t till early June that ADF started challenging the designation, attacking Judy Shepard, Matthew Shepard’s mother, for penning an op-ed about groups like ADF that “bullying LGBTQ children.” Since then, ADF and its allies have successfully pressured the nonprofit database GuideStar to reverse its decision of putting the SPLC hate group label on 46 nonprofit groups on its website. In a series of media appearances, ADF has also relentlessly attacked ABC and NBC for accurately labeling it a hate group in news reports regarding Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ speech at an ADF event.

    Family Research Council

    The Family Research Council (FRC) is another anti-LGBTQ hate group that wields significant influence in the current administration; its senior fellow, Ken Blackwell, was officially appointed to President Donald Trump’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which critics have called a voter suppression effort. FRC President Tony Perkins embraced and endorsed Trump as a candidate during the presidential election cycle (and met with him at the White House earlier this month). And at least four people, including Blackwell, who are affiliated with FRC were a part of Trump’s transition team. FRC has a budget of tens of millions of dollars and promotes the idea “that people can and should try to change their sexual orientation” or “just not act on it.” According to SPLC’s extremist file, FRC “often makes false claims about the LGBT community based on discredited research and junk science” in order to “denigrate LGBT people.” FRC’s official position is that “homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large” and “is by definition unnatural.” Former FRC Vice President Rob Schwarzwalder accused gay youth of joining the Boy Scouts of America “for predatory purposes,” and various FRC representatives and publications have repeatedly compared homosexuality to pedophilia. Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at FRC, asserted that LGBTQ youth suicide rates would drop if the teenagers were “discourage[d] from self-identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual” and urged others “not to create a positive social environment for the affirmation of homosexuality.” In a 2010 appearance on MSNBC, Sprigg also said that the United States should “outlaw gay behavior.” In 2011, the FRC called for its supporters to pray for countries that had laws criminalizing sodomy and were being pressured by the U.S. to remove them, and it suggested that homosexuality “has had a devastating impact upon Africans,” citing the AIDS crisis as an example.

    FRC has fought against its hate group designation since SPLC gave it the label in 2010. In that same year, the group launched a “Start Debating, Stop Hating” campaign in response to the label, which it called “slanderous.” FRC also took out a full-page ad in Politico as part of the campaign. After a gunman shot a security guard at FRC headquarters in 2012, Perkins blamed SPLC’s “reckless rhetoric” for the shooting and asserted that the shooter was “given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations” such as the SPLC. More recently, FRC joined other hate groups in sending a letter to GuideStar’s president demanding that he remove the hate group labels from its database and praised GuideStar when it decided to do so. FRC also led the “#SPLCexposed” hashtag campaign on Twitter, which attempted to delegitimize the hate group label and drew a number of hate groups to the campaign.

    Liberty Counsel

    Liberty Counsel is an anti-LGBTQ hate group founded by Mat Staver, former dean of Liberty University School of Law, that “shares a close affiliation with Liberty University,” according to SPLC. Staver has called LGBTQ History Month a "sexual assault on our children," repeatedly warned that the Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage would trigger a revolution and civil war, and claimed nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people will result in the "death of some individuals."

    Liberty Counsel also famously represented Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis in litigation after she refused to issue marriage licenses to same and opposite-sex couples in 2015; Talking Points Memo reported that Staver “compared Davis’ plight to that of Jews in Nazi Germany” during a radio interview. Staver has also compared LGBTQ people to pedophiles, once saying that allowing gay youth and adults in the Boy Scouts will cause “all kinds of sexual molestation” and create a “playground for pedophiles to go and have all these boys as objects of their lust.” Liberty Counsel has called gay sex “harmful sexual behavior” and pushed the myth that LGBTQ people “can change.” Former Liberty Counsel attorney Matt Barber said that LGBTQ people “know intuitively that what they are doing is immoral, unnatural, and self-destructive,” adding that they have “tied their whole identity up in this sexual perversion.” Barber has also called “disease, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide … consequences” of being gay.

    Staver signed the letter that asked GuideStar to remove hate group designations and accused SPLC of using the label as part of its “aggressive political agenda.” On June 28, Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit against GuideStar, saying it and SPLC “are intent on destroying pro-family organizations,” and accused GuideStar’s CEO of “using GuideStar as a weapon to defame, harm, and promote his liberal agenda.” Liberty Counsel’s blog post on the subject also linked to the personal Twitter account of the CEO and his wife. GuideStar’s decision to remove hate group labels was reportedly in part because of “harassment and threats directed at our staff and leadership.”

    Federation for American Immigration Reform / Immigration Reform Law Institute

    The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is a lobbying hate group founded by white nationalist John Tanton. Tanton is currently editor and publisher of the quarterly journal The Social Contract, which, according to SPLC, has “claimed that multiculturalists are trying to replace ‘successful Euro-American culture’ with ‘dysfunctional Third World cultures.’" During his time at FAIR, Tanton wrote a series of memos that warned of a “Latin onslaught” and “depicted Hispanics as hyperactive breeders,” which caused many high-level conservatives to flee his orbit. FAIR has ties to a number of other extremists, including white supremacists Peter Brimelow and Jared Taylor and Holocaust denier Kevin MacDonald.

    Tanton currently sits on FAIR’s board but has retired from the limelight. He was replaced by current President Dan Stein, who frequently appears in right-wing and mainstream media to promote anti-immigrant policies and smear immigrants. In one such interview, Stein claimed that “many [immigrants] hate America, hate everything that the United States stands for.” Stein has defended Tanton and, according to SPLC, “celebrated a new ‘disdain’ in the media and among intellectuals for ‘the political agenda of those who openly attack the contributions of Western Civilization.’"

    In 2009, FAIR published a report titled “A Guide to Understanding the Tactics of the Southern Poverty Law Center in the Immigration Debate,” which smeared SPLC as a discredited entity and claimed that journalists have an unfavorable view of the organization. Since then, FAIR has attacked SPLC on Twitter. Dale Wilcox, president and general counsel of FAIR’s legal arm, the Immigration Reform Legal Institute (IRLI), signed the letter calling on GuideStar to remove its hate group labels. Wilcox also wrote an op-ed in Breitbart titled “Why the Mainstream Media Must Stop Citing ‘Anti-Hate’-Crusader Southern Poverty Law Center,” and his group has attacked GuideStar on Twitter for including the SPLC’s hate group labels.

    Center for Immigration Studies

    Tanton also founded FAIR’s sister organization, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). SPLC labeled CIS a hate group in 2017 for peddling work by discredited white nationalists and eugenicists. CIS works as the research arm of what SPLC has dubbed “the nativist lobby,” the anti-immigrant lobbying effort spearheaded by groups Tanton founded, including FAIR, CIS, and NumbersUSA. CIS frequently publishes skewed research meant to denigrate immigrants and promote anti-immigration policies, claiming, for example, that immigrants are taking jobs away from native-born Americans and disproportionately using welfare benefits.

    CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian has actively disputed the hate group label by defending white nationalists and eugenicist pseudoscience. In an op-ed in The Washington Post in March, Krikorian complained that the SPLC “made a hate figure of John Tanton” and downplayed a CIS contributor’s assertion that Hispanic immigrants may never “reach IQ parity with whites” as merely “contentious.” He also called the “hate group” label “an attempt to delegitimize and suppress views regarding immigration held by a large share of the American public.” Krikorian and other CIS employees have repeatedly sought to smear SPLC, and Krikorian has used his platform to attack GuideStar for using SPLC’s hate group labels.

    ACT for America

    ACT for America has transformed into “the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America,” according to SPLC, which labels it a hate group. The group’s founder, Brigitte Gabriel, has been fearmongering that Muslim immigrants and refugees from the Middle East have transformed Europe into “Eurabia” and has declared that a practicing Muslim “cannot be a loyal citizen of the United States.” ACT often organizes conferences that convene anti-Muslim leaders and groups, including Frank Gaffney, head of hate group the Center for Security Policy. In 2008, ACT launched a campaign called Stop Shariah Now to fearmonger about Sharia “creeping” into western culture and, according to SPLC, “worked closely” with Gaffney “to push anti-Shariah legislation at the state level.”

    Gabriel has attacked SPLC as biased against conservatives, and she was also one of the hate group leaders who signed the letter blasting GuideStar for using SPLC’s hate group labels. She has also penned her own letter to GuideStar defending her group and other hate groups.

    Timeline:

    February 15: SPLC included ADF and CIS in its list of active hate groups in 2016. ADF did not immediately respond.

    March 17: The Washington Post published an op-ed by CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian, who condemned the SPLC list and wrote that the “blacklist” was “an attempt to delegitimize and suppress views regarding immigration held by a large share of the American public.”

    April 18: After more than two months, ADF issued a statement in which it responded to the SPLC designation by not responding to it: “ADF doesn't have time to respond to organizations who do nothing more than call names, create division and incite violence across the country in order to raise money."

    May 15: Judy Shepard, the mother of 22-year-old Matthew Shepard, who was killed in anti-gay homicide, wrote an op-ed in Time magazine about “multimillion-dollar ‘hate groups’” such as ADF “bullying LGBTQ children” in an attempt to ban transgender people from using the restrooms that align with their gender identity.

    May 17: The Federalist published an attack on SPLC’s hate group designation, comparing it to the “burn book” from the movie Mean Girls. The post accused SPLC of using the hate group label “to manipulate the lives of others, smear reputations, control personal relationships, and reap the spoils,” as well as calling it an attempt to “control all speech.” Numerous hate group representatives, including Krikorian, and accounts tweeted out the story. In fact, retweeting this story became one of ADF’s first official attacks on SPLC’s designation.

    June 7: Time magazine updated Shepard’s op-ed with a response from ADF defending its work and bringing up her son’s death:

    True hate is animosity toward others, and it often takes the form of violence. Sadly, Ms. Shepard knows what that is. She lost her son to senseless violence. We at ADF condemn all such manifestations of true hate. They have no place in our society. We remain steadfast in affirming basic human rights and dignity through debate, dialogue, and principled advocacy.

    June 8: Nonprofit database GuideStar flagged 46 nonprofits designated as hate groups by SPLC as such on its website.

    June 9: ADF published a full response to Shepard’s op-ed on its blog, which more forcibly attacked Shepard and accused her of “name-calling and slander” and spreading a “lie.” The post also spread myths about transgender people and said that allowing them to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity “compromises the privacy and dignity of young students who do not want to share overnight facilities, locker rooms, showers, and restrooms with the opposite sex.”

    June 21: Hate groups united to pen a letter to GuideStar asking the nonprofit to remove the hate group labels, writing that the designation is “a political weapon targeting people it deems to be its political enemies” and calling SPLC’s list of hate groups “ad hoc, partisan, and agenda-driven.” Co-signers of the letter included representatives from IRLI, FRC, Liberty Counsel, ACT for America, ADF, and numerous others.

    June 21: On the day the hate groups sent the letter to GuideStar, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by The Weekly Standard’s Jeryl Bier attacking GuideStar and accusing the SPLC of “besmirching mainstream groups like the FRC.” Bier has appeared on FRC President Tony Perkins’ radio show. In the op-ed, Bier asserted that “SPLC’s work arguably contributes to the climate of hate it abhors” and lamented that journalists are citing SPLC’s designation.

    June 23: GuideStar removed the hate group labels from its website, citing “harassment and threats directed at our staff and leadership.” Hate groups including FAIR and FRC celebrated the decision.

    June 26: A Washington Post report on GuideStar’s reversal quoted a number of hate groups sharing talking points about the designation, including that it was linked to the shooting at FRC and “the recent shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.” The report highlighted the hate groups’ letter accusing the designation of being “partisan” and wrote that Christians “said they’d been targeted as hateful for opposing same-sex marriage.”

    June 27: Vice published a profile about ADF “stealthily seizing power in the nation's public school systems,” its “unmistakable effort to make schools hostile to queer students,” and its hate group designation. ADF refused to speak to Vice for the article.

    June 28: Politico magazine published a lengthy article questioning whether SPLC’s hate group designation is “overstepping its bounds.” The article specifically lent credibility to hate groups CIS, which the report noted has “been invited to testify before Congress more than 100 times,” and FRC, which it called “one of the country’s largest and most established Christian conservative advocacy groups.” The right-wing Media Research Center highlighted the piece on its website the same day it was published.

    June 28: Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit against GuideStar, saying it and SPLC “are intent on destroying pro-family organizations” and accused GuideStar’s CEO of “using GuideStar as a weapon to defame, harm, and promote his liberal agenda.” Liberty Counsel’s blog post on the subject also linked to the personal Twitter account of the CEO and his wife.

    July 11: Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave a closed-door speech to ADF at its “Summit on Religious Liberty” in California.

    July 12: ABC and NBC reported on the fallout from Sessions’ speech to ADF and noted SPLC’s “hate group” designation for the group.

    July 13: ADF demanded a retraction and apology from ABC for its report, calling it “defamatory” and “journalistic malpractice.”

    July 13: Sessions’ speech, which the Department of Justice refused to release, was leaked to anti-LGBTQ website The Federalist. In the speech, Sessions compared the so-called battle for “religious freedom” to Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington.

    July 14: ADF began an aggressive media strategy, with its representatives appearing on Fox News’ Fox & Friends, The Story with Martha MacCallum, and Tucker Carlson Tonight to attack the SPLC and attempt to discredit ABC and NBC. ADF’s representatives either repeated the “journalistic malpractice” line during the interview or called the outlets’ reporting “unethical” or “fake news.” Meanwhile, right-wing media also rushed to ADF’s defense.

    July 16: FRC also launched a counteroffensive against the hate group designation aiming to “expose” the SPLC as “a left wing smear group who has become exactly what they set out to fight, spreading hate and putting targets on people's backs.” FRC urged supporters to use the hashtag #SPLCexposed. Hate groups such as white nationalist website VDARE, ACT for America, CIS, and FAIR, or their representatives, all joined FRC on Twitter using the hashtag.

    July 19: The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Edwin Meese, who has worked with FRC and other groups, calling ADF “a respected civil-rights law firm.” In the op-ed, Meese also repeated ADF’s “journalistic malpractice” charge against ABC and NBC for giving “credence to the SPLC’s recklessly defamatory hate list” in their reporting. Meese wrote that their reporting “is a prime reason” for Americans’ distrust of the media and called on reporters to “stop spreading malignant propaganda.”

    July 19: Forbes published an op-ed by Brian Miller of the Center for Individual Rights attacking ABC and NBC’s use of the “hate group” label and arguing that the use of the label was an attempt to “shut down conversation.” Miller concluded that “the very security that is necessary for diverse people to contribute to our social fabric” is at stake “in our climate of heated rhetoric.”

  • Betsy DeVos just perpetuated years of right-wing attacks on rape survivors

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Many have questioned the incomprehensible logic of President Donald Trump’s proposal to collaborate with Russia on cybersecurity policy, but Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appears to be deploying a similar strategy: collaborating with rape deniers on policy regarding campus sexual assault. This comes after right-wing media spent years questioning the severity of sexual assault and attacking the credibility of survivors.

    First reported by Politico, DeVos planned a July 13 meeting with “advocates for survivors of campus sexual assault, as well as with groups representing students who say they were wrongfully accused.”

    Politico identified several invitees as representatives from the men’s rights groups Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE), Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE), and National Coalition for Men -- all of which have dedicated themselves to combating what they believe is rampant false reporting of sexual assault, and the lack of attention paid to the “true victims”: those who are accused.

    As The Daily Beast’s Robert Silverman noted, the Southern Poverty Law Center classified SAVE as an organization that is “promoting misogyny” and "lobbying to roll back services for victims of domestic abuse and penalties for their tormentors.” Jaclyn Friedman, an expert on campus sexual violence, told Silverman that groups like SAVE not only “actively publicize the names of rape survivors in order to intimidate them,” but also “blame women for ‘instigating’ men's violence against them” and believe that “victims' sexual histories should be fair game in rape cases.” According to ThinkProgress and BuzzFeed, organizations like FACE, National Coalition for Men, and the like are no better in their advocacy, nor less extreme in their beliefs.

    Despite posturing from these groups, false rape reports are actually a statistical minority -- representing between 2 and 8 percent of all reported cases. Meanwhile, according to research by the Rape, Abuse, & Incest Network (RAINN), 66 percent of rapes go unreported to law enforcement. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center found that “one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives,” while the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey revealed that “nearly half” of survey respondents “were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.” Survivors already face rampant challenges when reporting sexual assault, and it is unlikely the Department of Education’s invitation to these men’s rights groups will improve these conditions.

    A July 12 press release explained that DeVos would meet with the various groups in a series of “listening sessions” meant to “discuss the impact of the Department’s Title IX sexual assault guidance on students, families and institutions.” In 2011, the Obama administration provided schools with guidance on how to “review and enforce Title IX complaints,” emphasizing the role assault and harassment play in the creation of “a hostile educational environment in violation of Title IX.” Many have speculated that DeVos’ openness to including men’s rights organizations in the meetings is just the latest signal that the department will revoke these protections.

    In April, ProPublica implied that DeVos’ selection of Candice Jackson to head the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) was a sign of bad things to come for Title IX and anti-sexual violence protections, noting that Jackson had previously “arranged for several of Bill Clinton’s accusers to attend a presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton” and that she called women who accused Trump of sexual assault “fake victims.” In June, ProPublica published a memo from Jackson that directed OCR staff to make changes to investigative procedures that “advocates fear will mean less consistent findings of systemic discrimination at colleges.” As ThinkProgress previously reported, DeVos herself has “long donated to organizations that frequently side with students accused of rape and sexual abuse.”

    The men’s rights groups DeVos plans to meet with aren’t alone in waging war on sexual violence protections and survivors. Some of Trump’s favorite right-wing media figures and staunchest cable news supporters have put on a masterclass in how to not report on sexual assault. After an uncovered 2005 audio showed Trump bragging about committing sexual assault, many Fox News employees seemingly made it their jobs to either downplay the severity of his comments or attack the many women who came forward with specific allegations against him.

    Even before Trump, right-wing media were especially adamant in their campaign of misrepresenting the severity of sexual assault and harassment. Beyond disputing the veracity of campus sexual assault statistics, right-wing media figures have called reporting on statutory rape “whiny,” claimed sexual assault victims have a “coveted status,” blamed feminism for encouraging sexual assault, and said attempts to curb sexual assault harm men and constitute “a war happening on boys.” Although she has since fled the network in an attempt to rehab her image at NBC, former Fox News star Megyn Kelly was a chief proponent of the “war on boys” talking point -- which was just part of her long history of criticizing sexual assault prevention measures and minimizing the credibility of survivors.

    Fox itself has spent the better part of the past year -- when not providing the ultimate safe space for Trump and his administration -- embroiled in a series of sexual assault allegations after years of harassment at the network. Such allegations ultimately led to the ouster of both the late Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and longtime host (now aspiring podcast provocateur) Bill O’Reilly, as well as the recent suspension of Fox Business host Charles Payne.

    Although right-wing media have engaged in some of the most overt attacks on survivors, many other outlets are far from magnanimous in their coverage of sexual assault. As coverage around former Stanford student Brock Turner showed, media have a bad habit of sympathetically highlighting the past accomplishments of the accused, or bemoaning the costs to their lives and careers.

    The New York Times fell into this very trap in a July 12 article about the meetings. The Times began its report by highlighting the “heartfelt missives from college students, mostly men, who had been accused of rape or sexual assault” before going on to describe the consequences they faced, ranging from “lost scholarships” to expulsion. In one case, as the Times noted, a man had tried to “take his own life” but “maintained he was innocent” and “had hoped to become a doctor.” In another example, the Times highlighted the comments of the father of an accused student who complained that his son’s “entire world [was] turned upside down” and that, as the paper put it, he had been “forced to abandon his dream of becoming a college wrestling coach.” Reporting like this -- although seemingly benign -- not only perpetuates victim blaming, but also downplays the severity of allegations by treating offenders as the real victims.

    Slate’s Christina Cauterucci described DeVos’ planned meetings as “a classic case of false balance, because the two sides here do not have equal merit.” She noted that one side includes “advocates for sexual-assault victims” while the other is made up of “trolls who have made it their lives’ work to defend domestic violence.” She concluded that however unfortunate the decision to invite these men’s rights groups to meet, it was unsurprising. After all: “As a representative of an administration run by a man with an interest in protecting sexual harrassers, DeVos has every reason to side with the latter.”

    Undeterred, survivors aren’t letting DeVos off the hook that easily. While she meets with men's rights groups that have systematically tried to silence and shame survivors, organizations that advocate for them will be outside the Department of Education making their voices heard.

  • 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.

  • Despite conservative media claims, James Comey didn't leak classified information to NY Times

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Right-wing media, pro-Trump internet trolls, and fake news purveyors are boosting a report from a right-leaning journalist in a way that suggests former FBI Director James Comey might have intentionally leaked classified information to The New York Times. The report presents already-known information about Comey’s memos that recounted his interactions with President Donald Trump. Politico also reported that the source that passed along the memo to the Times confirmed that it did not contain classified information.

  • Media shouldn’t fall for Trump’s infrastructure scheme

    Don’t be fooled: Trump’s “$1 trillion” infrastructure agenda is actually just a $200 billion tax giveaway

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    President Donald Trump is back on the campaign trail today promoting his infrastructure agenda, which the White House has falsely labeled as a $1 trillion plan to stimulate the economy and upgrade American infrastructure. Media outlets should avoid accepting the administration’s characterization of its scheme, which falls short of its already inadequate price tag and would saddle Americans with additional tolls and user fees.

    On June 7, Trump is scheduled to appear at a rally in Cincinnati, OH, where he will promote his plan for American public infrastructure. The White House has billed its infrastructure agenda as a $1 trillion plan to upgrade and revitalize failing public works around the country. But, as The Associated Press (AP) and CNN reported, the plan outlined in Trump’s budget request for fiscal year 2018 just called for $200 billion in tax cuts spread over nine years meant to “leverage $1 trillion worth of construction.” The plan would establish a nationwide system of so-called “public-private partnerships” -- sometimes referred to as P3s -- that could impose new cost burdens on taxpayers. An article in The New York Times outlined how P3s “may result in near-term savings” but “there is little hard evidence that they perform better over time.” Eventually, taxpayers end up paying for infrastructure via taxes or tolls whether it is controlled by the government or leased to a private for-profit firm. A June 7 column in Politico went into even more details of the potential pitfalls of Trump’s pursuit of a public-private partnership model:

    The government can reap huge benefits from public-private partnerships—but only if they are structured correctly. All too often, though, government officials lack the knowledge and experience necessary to negotiate good deals, ultimately costing taxpayers millions, if not billions, of dollars. In their attacks, Democrats may be misusing the word “privatization” when describing Trump’s infrastructure plan but the risks they describe are very real.

    Other than the pitfalls of public-private partnerships inherent to Trump’s plan, it is also woefully inadequate to address the needs of public infrastructure in the 21st century. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), public infrastructure in the United States earned a D+ grade in 2017 and is in need of over $2 trillion of new investments over the next decade. Even in the best-case scenario, Trump’s plan would fall far short of these necessary investments -- and as some Democratic lawmakers have pointed out, Trump is actually cutting more from existing infrastructure programs than he plans to spend on tax cuts for new infrastructure. In contrast to Trump, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) does have a plan to make up for the roughly $2 trillion infrastructure funding gap, which it believes would create millions of new jobs and meet America’s infrastructure needs. The CPC proposal released last month stresses the need to “prioritize public investment over corporate giveaways” while addressing the need to “prioritize racial and gender equity and environmental justice” while stoking economic growth.

    Far from being a $1 trillion plan to inject desperately needed federal investments into ailing public works, the Trump plan is little more than trickle-down economics loaded with tax giveaways for business and it is inadequate at best. Media coverage of his proposal needs to reflect those facts and would benefit from including expert perspectives and opposing views to better inform the infrastructure debate.

  • House Science Committee Dems tell Trump: Stop falling for fake news

    Democrats are alarmed that the president was duped by a climate-denier internet hoax

    Blog ››› ››› LISA HYMAS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump fell for an internet hoax and popular right-wing myth about global cooling, and that has Democrats on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology worried.

    "We are concerned about the process by which you receive information," seven committee Democrats wrote in a May 18 letter to Trump, first reported by Popular Science. "Disseminating stories from dubious sources has been a recurring issue with your administration."

    The letter cited an anecdote from a May 15 Politico story: Deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland put a printout on the president's desk with two Time magazine covers, one from the 1970s about a "coming ice age" and one from 2006 about climate change. "Trump quickly got lathered up about the media’s hypocrisy," Politico reported. "But there was a problem. The 1970s cover was fake, part of an internet hoax that’s circulated for years." The hoax and the broader global cooling myth have been thoroughly discredited.

    That's what you get when you take a Fox News analyst and give her a job she's not qualified for, as was the case with McFarland. "That views on climate change at the highest level of government are being shaped by this nonsense is ... horrific," wrote David Roberts at Vox.

    McFarland, who spouted numerous misleading and bizarre comments during her time at Fox, is so unsuited for her deputy national security adviser position that retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward, an accomplished and decorated Navy vet, refused Trump's offer to serve as national security adviser because he didn't want her on his team. McFarland is now slated to be ousted from the National Security Council and nominated as ambassador to Singapore; she has already been "largely sidelined" at the agency, Politico reported, as she waits for a successor to be put in place.

    The committee members' letter also cited examples of Trump "peddling fake news" promoted by right-wing media, like when he charged that there was massive voter fraud in the November 2016 election "after reading about subsequently-debunked 'research' pushed by alt-right websites."

    The representatives offered a suggestion to help Trump avoid being influenced by fake science news: "If you appoint a qualified [Office of Science and Technology Policy] Director, you will have a reliable source of policy advice for matters related to science and technology, which forms the bedrock of our national security and economic power."

    Don't hold your breath. Trump has been removing qualified science advisers, not hiring them.

    Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency dismissed several members of a major scientific review board; administrator Scott Pruitt is considering replacing them with industry representatives. Also, the Interior Department recently froze the work being done by more than 200 advisory boards, committees, and subcommittees, about a third of which work on scientific issues. Meanwhile, dozens of science and technology positions in the administration remain unfilled, and the Trump cabinet is stacked with officials who reject or distort mainstream climate science.

    When the Trump administration does hire science advisers, it prefers the unqualified kind -- like Sam Clovis, a climate-denying radio talk show host with no scientific background, who is Trump's reported pick to serve as chief scientist at the Department of Agriculture. That post is traditionally filled by a scientist with a background in agricultural research.

    Even if Trump did appoint a qualified director for the White House science office, it wouldn't help. He prefers to get his advice from Fox News, right-wing media figures, and conspiracy theorists.

  • These Are The Candidates Right-Wing Media Are Floating To Head The FBI

    ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Following President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, conservative media floated extreme right-wing personalities to lead the FBI. These possible FBI director replacements have a history of racist and anti-Muslim comments often made on Fox News, and their records demonstrate they can’t be trusted to lead the bureau impartially through the ongoing FBI investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia in 2016.