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  • The bigotry of Sean Hannity's early influencers

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    In a recent profile, Fox host Sean Hannity named three right-wing media figures from the second half of the 20th century -- Bob Grant (1929-2013), Taylor Caldwell (1900-1985), and Barry Farber (1930-present) -- as inspirations for his own political commentary. A Media Matters investigation into content produced by Grant, Caldwell, and Farber revealed a trove of bigotry; Grant “routinely” called black people “savages,” Calwell had a political allegiance with “one of the most virulent anti-Semitic propagandists in the United States,” and Farber is a self-professed "birther" who pushed conspiracy theories about former President Barack Obama.

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

    Parallels, lessons learned, and enduring challenges for 2018

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

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

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

    The case of Twin Falls

    What's happening in Sweden?

    Lessons learned

    Response and enduring challenges

    The case of Twin Falls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What's happening in Sweden?

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Lessons learned

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

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

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

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

    Responses and enduring challenges

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

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

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

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

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

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

    A translation in this post has been updated for accuracy.

  • Meet Tom Tancredo, the white-nationalist apologist and Breitbart columnist running for Colorado governor 

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Former Colorado congressman and onetime presidential candidate Tom Tancredo officially announced his candidacy for Colorado governor on October 31, ending months of speculation about his intentions. Tancredo has a long history of racist and bigoted behavior, and since he left Congress, he has embedded himself in far-right media as a columnist for Breitbart.com and has associated himself with the white nationalist website VDare.

    This will be Tancredo’s third bid for Colorado’s highest office. The former congressman represented Colorado’s sixth congressional district for 10 years, and during his time in the House, he repeatedly proved himself to be a racist, anti-immigrant bigot. Tancredo once said that undocumented immigrants are “coming here to kill you and to kill me and our families” and proposed legislation that would have temporarily barred legal immigration. In 2007, Tancredo suggested that the United States bomb “the holy sites in Mecca and Medina” in Saudi Arabia. And during his laughable presidential campaign in 2007, he aired campaign ads that claimed “open borders” were responsible for “vicious central American gangs” and “jihadists who froth with hate” coming to the United States.

    Since leaving office, Tancredo has embedded himself into right-wing media circles. He is a columnist at the toxic website Breitbart.com and, according to Stephen Bannon, the former chief strategist in the Trump White House and the head of Breitbart, is “one of the top immigration experts in this country” whose columns “are just amazing.” The columns Bannon praised regularly demonize immigrants as dangerous and disloyal invaders, with headlines such as “Mexico Is Sending Us Colonists, Not Immigrants,” “European Colonization, Not Refugee Resettlement,” and “From Jenner to D.C., Multiculturalism Virus Is Destroying the U.S.”

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

    And in September, Tancredo met with Bannon and discussed a possible gubernatorial run. If Bannon does offer his assistance, Tancredo will join a bevy of other far-right candidates whom Bannon has supported, including Roy Moore and Dave Brat, and could become the next soldier in Bannon’s “war” on the GOP establishment.

  • Long-debunked lie that George Soros was a Nazi collaborator resurfaces thanks to Dinesh D’Souza

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Discredited conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza has revived the long-running and debunked claim that billionaire philanthropist George Soros collaborated with the Nazis as a child. The false claim comes as D’Souza has been trying to promote his latest book, which links Democrats to fascism and pushes the Soros lie. The smear, which has been invoked by other right-wing media figures in the past, has been repeatedly condemned by journalists. Nevertheless, other conservative media and GOP officials have run with D’Souza’s recycled and false charge.

  • Anti-abortion media use new smear video to lobby lawmakers before health care vote

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    In the early hours of July 28, Republican senators failed to pass a bill to dismantle key parts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and defund Planned Parenthood on a 51-49 vote. Prior to the vote, the discredited anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) had released yet another of its deceptive smear videos alleging wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood, and anti-abortion and right-wing media circulated the clip as a reason to vote for the Republican bill.

  • Pro-Trump outlets falsely suggest the Clintons murdered a former Haitian government official

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Media outlets that favor President Donald Trump are claiming that former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were involved with the death of a former Haitian government official. The claim is just the latest in a long-running series of unsupported allegations that the Clintons have murdered people.

    On July 12, the Miami Herald reported that Klaus Eberwein, a former director of the Haitian government’s economic development agency, “was found dead Tuesday in a South Dade motel room in what the Miami-Dade medical examiner’s office is ruling a suicide.” According to the Herald, Eberwein “had fallen on hard times” and "faced allegations of fraud and corruption," and he was scheduled to testify before a Haitian anti-corruption commission. While neither the Clintons nor the Clinton Foundation were mentioned anywhere in the article, some fringe outlets and figures and fake news purveyors drew a connection, claiming that Eberwein’s expected testimony would have implicated the foundation. Far-right troll Mike Cernovich tweeted that Eberwein was “Found Dead Before Testifying Against Clinton Foundation” (discredited filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza promoted the claim), and fake news purveyor YourNewsWire claimed Eberwein was going to “testify that the Clinton Foundation misappropriated Haiti earthquake donations from international donors” (which conspiracy theorist Kim Dotcom and pro-Trump radio host Mark Simone promoted).

    Those claims were, of course, false. According to Snopes, a quote attributed by YourNewsWire to Eberwein attacking the Clinton Foundation actually came from someone else, and before his death, “no reports said or even hinted that any probe in which [Eberwein] was involved targeted Hillary Clinton or the Clinton Foundation”:

    As it turns out, however, the article from YourNewsWire from which the Haiti Sentinel piece was written is suspect, containing a “quote” from Eberwein — the only part of the article that linked him to the Clintons to begin with — that was actually spoken by someone else:

    “The Clinton Foundation, they are criminals, they are thieves, they are liars, they are a disgrace,” Eberwein said at a protest outside the Clinton Foundation headquarters in Manhattan last year.

    Someone did say that outside Clinton Foundation headquarters in Manhattan in November 2016, but YourNewsWire appears to have, for some reason, confused one person of Haitian descent with another. The actual person who spoke this phrase is a community activist and New York area radio host named Dahdoud André, and this comment originally appeared in a BBC article[.]

    [...]

    Before news of Klaus Eberwein’s suicide was reported on 12 July 2017, no reports said or even hinted that any probe in which he was involved targeted Hillary Clinton or the Clinton Foundation. The claim originated on the frequently disreputable YourNewsWire.com, and was uncritically repeated and amplified by readers and blogs. However, we have found no specific information tying Eberwein to Clinton before his July 2017 death.

    Since the Snopes report, not only have outlets and figures not retracted their false reporting, but the claim has spread. Pro-Trump TV network One America News (OANN) claimed Eberwein was “due to appear in court this week to testify in the Haitian senate against the Clinton Foundation for alleged corruption.” OANN went so far as to link Eberwein's death to the suicide of a GOP operative who sought Hillary Clinton's emails from Russian hackers and the murder of a Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer, saying, "Now with three mysterious deaths all leading back to the Clintons in some way, it's only a matter of time before the authorities connect the dots and see the pattern of a Clinton cover up."

    Far-right conspiracy outlets Zero Hedge and Infowars both published the same piece claiming “deaths seem to follow the Clinton’s (sic) around, and this one especially is probably something – considering since the mainstream media is silent about this death.” Conspiracy outlet WorldNetDaily alleged Eberwein “told acquaintances he feared for his life for his fierce criticism of the Clinton Foundation,” and pro-Trump website The Gateway Pundit suggested Eberwein was “another victim of Clinton Arkancide.” Fake news purveyors Right Alerts, American Today, Conservative Fighters, USA Politics Today, Global Politics Now, TruthFeed, and Right Wing News also all suggested or outright alleged a connection between the Clintons and Eberwein’s death. Their pieces have received hundreds to thousands of Facebook engagements apiece, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo: YourNewsWire (419,200), Infowars (7,800), Zero Hedge (20,400), WorldNetDaily (13,500), Gateway Pundit (11,000), Right Alerts (1,800), American Today (400), Conservative Fighters (10,400), USA Politics Today (1,400), TruthFeed (18,300), and Right Wing News (931).

    Conservative media figures have falsely alleged for years that the Clintons have killed several people, including then-White House deputy counsel Vince Foster, despite multiple investigations concluding that his death was a suicide. Recently, some in conservative media, including OANN, have baselessly suggested that the Clintons were connected to the death of the DNC staffer, Seth Rich, even though law enforcement has concluded he was likely the victim of a botched robbery.

  • Fringe media target new Minneapolis hate crime hotline as imposing “Shariah” and “fascism”

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    “Alt-right”-affiliated outlets and fake news purveyors are targeting Minneapolis, MN, after the city installed a hotline for residents to report possible hate crimes, baselessly claiming it is imposing "Shariah" law, that the move amounts to "fascism," and that it’s related to a United Nations resolution.

    On June 19, the Star Tribune reported that Minneapolis had “set up a hot line for residents to report hate-crime incidents and other acts of intolerance.” Though the report mentioned that the hotline “comes amid signs of a recent surge of such incidents affecting Muslims and Jews across the country, many of which go unreported,” neither the news report nor the city’s press release suggested that the hotline is meant for people who subscribe to a specific religion.

    Nonetheless, “alt-right”-affiliated outlets and fake news purveyors jumped on the announcement to suggest the hotline was a front for a Muslim takeover. WorldNetDaily published a piece, which Infowars cross-posted, calling it a “Shariah hotline” for “snitches,” and The Gateway Pundit alleged that the hotline was set up in response to “false stories.” Fake news purveyor Freedom Daily called it the “anti-blasphemy hotline,” comparing it to blasphemy laws in other countries which “followers of Islam” can use to “have people who speak out or criticize their religion thrown into prison.” It said that the hotline was “only the beginning of Democrats’ plans for full-blown fascism in our country,” and also suggested that it is connected to a U.N. resolution pushed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “that encouraged nations to criminalize a person who defames or criticizes a person’s religious views,” a claim also suggested by WND.

    In addition, fake news purveyor USA Newsflash also claimed the new hotline is “fascism” against “opinions deemed forbidden by the state,” and fake news purveyor Conservative Daily Post called the hotline “Gestapo-like.” Fake news purveyor The Washington Feed accused the city’s “loony” mayor of “embrac[ing] … Islamic culture” at the expense of the First Amendment, and fake news purveyor TruthFeed criticized the idea of “taxpayer dollars and energy being wasted on this hateful, foreign religion.” A contributor for fake news purveyor Before It’s News accused the city of “surrender[ing] to the supremacism” of Muslims.

    The WorldNetDaily, Infowars, Gateway Pundit, Freedom Daily, Conservative Daily Post, and TruthFeed articles have drawn numerous Facebook engagements, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. There were at least 2,200 engagements with WorldNetDaily's article, 140 with Infowars' article, 319 with Gateway Pundit's article, 65,400 with Freedom Daily's article, 7,200 with Conservative Daily Post's article, and 1,100 with TruthFeed's article.

    The absurd attacks come as the “alt-right”/fake news ecosystem continues to push Islamophobic smears against anyone associated with Islam. This ecosystem has also repeatedly targeted brands and public figures who seek to promote unity, and it has amplified other dubious claims, baseless conspiracy theories, and lies.

  • How a discredited anti-abortion group used the anti-choice media ecosystem to do its dirty work

    CMP seemingly tried to avoid an injunction by circulating video footage to anti-choice and right-wing media outlets, rather than publishing it

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN & JULIE TULBERT

    On May 25, the discredited anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) circulated an unlisted YouTube link to a new smear video against the National Abortion Federation (NAF) and Planned Parenthood. This footage was removed that evening because a district judge had “barred it from release.” Given this injunction, it seems notable that CMP didn’t publicly release or promote the video, and instead relied on anti-choice and right-wing media outlets to spread its claim.

  • “Alt-Right” Outlets And Fake News Purveyors Hype Fox Analyst's Claim That Obama Wiretapped The Supreme Court

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    “Alt-right” fringe outlets and fake news purveyors are hyping an unsubstantiated suggestion from Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano that the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia thought former President Barack Obama spied on the Supreme Court. Napolitano previously pushed the false claim that British intelligence spied on President Donald Trump on behalf of Obama.

  • Right-Wing Media Turn To Misinformers, Hacks, And Extremists To Defend Trump's Voter Suppression Commission

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Following President Donald Trump’s announcement that he is setting up a commission to review voter fraud allegations -- which experts have decried as a pathway for voter suppression -- right-wing media repeatedly hosted and quoted guests to promote the commission and Trump’s (false) allegations of fraud. These guests and sources are noted liars, nativists, and extremists.

  • Right-Wing Media Portray May Day Demonstrations As Violent Anarchy

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Labor rights advocates and progressive political activists commemorated May Day with marches in the United States and around the world in solidarity with immigrants and workers, but their mostly peaceful demonstrations were smeared by right-wing outlets, which painted them as violent outbursts led by anarchists.

    May 1 or May Day has been commemorated internationally as a workers rights holiday for over 100 years and this year it happened to roughly coincide with the culmination of President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office. Trump’s tenure thus far has been typified by toxic anti-immigrant rhetoric and aggressively anti-worker policies and hundreds of thousands of activists peacefully marched this May Day in Washington, D.C. and across the country demonstrating their opposition to his agenda. While clashes broke out in some cities, most marches in the U.S. and around the world were peaceful.

    In response to the demonstrations, fringe right-wing outlets like The Gateway Pundit, ZeroHedge, and Infowars, along with the Russian government propaganda outlet RT, used the few isolated instances of violence to paint a picture that all protesters were violent communists and anarchists. Right-wing conspiracy site WorldNetDaily warned, “Movements like this always end in death, poverty and misery.” Breitbart.com had a bevy of articles on May Day that claimed protesters were “radical left-wing activists,” alleged the crowd sizes at the protests did not live up to expectations, hyped violence that broke out in Portland as being endemic to other demonstrations and mocked Facebook for letting workers take the day off to join up with “communists and Black Bloc enforcers” at May Day protests.

    Fox News’ portrayals of the May Day rallies depicted a similar dystopia. On the May 2 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, Fox Business host Stuart Varney discarded the notion that the demonstrations had anything to do with “workers, or workers rights, or trade unions” and claimed May Day had been hijacked by “the violent left” to protest Trump. Varney continued to lambast May Day protesters on his Fox Business program while guest Tom Sullivan claimed the demonstrators were actually communist agitators who “just changed their names” to blend in with progressivism. From the May 2 edition of Fox Business’ Varney & Co.:

  • It Wasn't Just Alex Jones -- Smears Against Chobani Were Also Driven By Fake News And The “Alt-Right”

    How Smears Against A Yogurt Company Illustrate The Connection Between Fake News And The “Alt-Right”

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    A Greek yogurt company has filed a lawsuit against a prominent fringe conspiracy outlet influential among the "alt-right" and its founder for baselessly connecting the company and its owner to an assault on a young girl in Idaho and to the spread of tuberculosis in that area. While the lawsuit specifically targets the one outlet, the smears were also propagated by others in the increasingly close ecosystem of fake news and the “alt-right.”

    In June 2016, reports emerged claiming that Syrian refugees “gang-raped a child at knife-point” in a Twin Falls, Idaho, apartment, according to the Idaho Statesman. A country prosecutor corrected the reports, saying that although, as the newspaper put it, “an incident did occur,” the refugees were not Syrian, there was no knife, and there was no gang rape. The paper said that according to officials, two boys were “charged after authorities obtained video shot on a cellphone” of the assault. Ultimately, three boys -- a 7-year-old from Iraq and 10- and 14-year-old brothers from Eritrea -- pleaded guilty in early April to felony charges for assaulting a 5-year-old girl.

    On April 24, the yogurt company Chobani filed a lawsuit against fringe conspiracy outlet Infowars and its founder Alex Jones for defamation. The Idaho Statesman described the suit as saying that Jones used his outlet to repeatedly push “false information linking Chobani, owner Hamdi Ulukaya,” and his Twin Falls, ID, plant -- which employs a number of refugees -- to that assault. The New York Times reported that according to the prosecutor in that case, “the assault case had nothing to do with Chobani.” The lawsuit from Chobani stated that Infowars pushed videos and articles that falsely connected the company to the assault incident and to tuberculosis in the area. 

    Infowars has repeatedly launched attacks against the yogurt company. In June, the outlet republished a piece from “alt-right” outlet Breitbart connecting Chobani to the incident. In August and September, the website ramped up its attacks on Chobani, connecting the company to “a 500% increase in tuberculosis and two high profile refugee rape cases in the last two months, including the gang rape of a 5 year old girl.” (As The Daily Beast noted, the supposed connections are baseless.)

    The outlet has continued to hype a connection between the company and the assault as recently as this month. An April 11 YouTube video specifically cited in the lawsuit was titled "[Mainstream Media] Covers For Globalist's Refugee Import Program After Child Rape Case.” An Infowars Twitter account subsequently tweeted out the site’s video, saying, “Idaho Yogurt Maker Caught Importing Migrant Rapists.”

    In response to the lawsuit, Jones doubled down on his claims, suggesting that the “information” Infowars reported was “part of the public record,” and that billionaire George Soros, with his “Islamacist-owned and backed U.S. company,” was behind the lawsuit. Jones was not wrong that he was not alone in his attack on Chobani. The smear that Jones adopted and amplified had already been pushed by others in the fringe and by purveyors of fake news.

    Breitbart in late August had suggested Chobani was linked to the assault, writing that the assault “led to a look at the wider conditions that led to refugee resettlement in the state of Idaho, a situation connected to the drive for cheap labor by the local food processing industry that Chobani is a major part of.” The website also pushed the baseless insinuation that an increase of tuberculosis cases in the area was due to Chobani, writing that the number of tuberculosis cases in Twin Falls “jumped 500 percent between 2011 and 2012,” the year “Chobani opened the world’s largest yogurt factory.” Fringe outlet WorldNetDaily (WND) also attempted to link the assualt to Chobani, noting in April that the family of the assaulted girl “is still considering filing a civil suit against the families of the assailants, as well as refugee boys and possibly against the College of Southern Idaho, which places refugees from several Third World countries into the Twin Falls area. Many of them work at Chobani.”

    Fake news purveyors also pushed these claims, with Before It’s News suggesting the assault was “not getting the attention it deserves” because of “someone … who happens to be a Muslim, makes Chobani yogurt in the Twin Cities and who has a hankering for bringing in hundreds of these barbarians as worker bees.” The Angry Patriot wrote that Chobani's “headquarters in Twin Falls, Idaho has endured some problematic assimilation challenges because of Ulukaya’s globalist agenda,” noting the assault that took place. Other fake news purveyors also suggested a connection.

    Chobani has long been a target for “alt-right” media and outlets that push fake news. Fake news purveyor Freedom Daily republished a piece from Breitbart contributor Pam Geller in January 2016 that accused Ulukaya of “stealth jihad” because he encouraged more people to hire refugees. Fake news purveyor Before It’s News republished a January 2016 WND piece that originally attacked Ulukaya as “call[ing] on [the] biggest American companies to join [an] Islamic surge.”

    Anonymous “alt-right” forums, such as on 4chan and Reddit, were also complicit in pushing these claims. One such post stated, “Twin Falls Refugee Rape Special Report: Why Are The Refugees Moving In? - Breitbart CHOBANI YOGURT is owned by Turkish muslim.”

    This is not the first time Infowars has gotten into legal trouble for spreading conspiracy theories. Jones was forced to apologize for pushing the fake news conspiracy theory known as “Pizzagate,” which claimed that a Washington, D.C., restaurant named Comet Ping Pong was helping Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign traffic children, in order to avoid a lawsuit from that pizzeria.

    The Chobani case also highlights fringe and fake news purveyors’ ongoing campaign of anti-Muslim fearmongering. In the last few months, these outlets have targeted activist Linda Sarsour, smearing her as a terrorist who supports Sharia law, and former National Security Council staffer Rumana Ahmed, baselessly accusing her of being a spy.

    The smears on Chobani are emblematic of the misinformation ecosystem that features fake news propagators and “alt-right” outlets and forums. This network spreads lies and innuendo that harms people, spurs harassment, and contributes to potential economic losses. Just ask Chobani and its founder.

  • Birthers And Fringe Outlets Claim NSA Documents Back Up Trump’s Wiretap Lie

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    In order to back President Donald Trump’s false allegation that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, fringe outlets and fake news purveyors -- along with some right-wing media -- are hyping a claim from Infowars’ Jerome Corsi and Alex Jones that supposedly reveals National Security Agency (NSA) documents that show Trump was spied on for years. Corsi and the “sources” he and Jones rely on have been major proponents of the debunked myth that Obama’s birth certificate is fake.