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  • Here are the conservative media outlets and figures pushing the outlandish theory that Christine Blasey Ford misidentified her attacker

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Conservative legal commentator Ed Whelan yesterday pushed a theory that it wasn’t Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh who sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford, but another man who looked like Kavanaugh. While many have denounced the speculation, calling it, for instance, “wildly irresponsible,” several mainstream and fringe conservative media outlets and personalities endorsed Whelan’s theory.

    Ford has debunked the claim, saying there’s “zero chance that I would confuse them.” Though Whelan later deleted his tweets and apologized for identifying the supposed doppelganger, he hasn’t retracted his theory.

    In the days before Whelan tweeted his ridiculous theory, other conservative media figures and even a Republican lawmaker speculated that Ford was mistaken about who assaulted her. A Wall Street Journal editorial published on September 17 with the title “The #MeToo Kavanaugh Ambush” claimed, “Mistaken identity is also possible.” The same day, Fox News The Five co-host Jesse Watters speculated, “Maybe it was a case of mistaken identity.” And Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggested Ford is “mixed up.” On September 18, conservative Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker wrote that “as crazy as that sounds, it wouldn't be unheard of” for this to be just a matter of “mistaken identity,” in a column titled “Is there a Kavanaugh doppelganger?”

    But it was Whelan’s now-deleted thread of tweets, posted on September 20, that spread throughout conservative media. Those who promoted it include:

    Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy: Whelan “figured out what house it may have happened at, because it was a house closest to the golf course, and then realized whose house it was and looked at a picture of the young man who lived there at the time who was a classmate of Mr. Kavanaugh's. Put up side by side images, they look a lot alike.”

    Conservative blogger Erick Erickson: Whelan “decided to put up a more compelling story that embraces Ford’s theory of assault.”

    While I am still not convinced there was an assault on Professor Ford, an intriguing theory has come forward that embraces the idea she was assaulted and makes a far more plausible case than that Brett Kavanaugh did it.

    Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center decided to put up a more compelling story that embraces Ford's theory of assault, while filling in the details she provided. And while I continue to find it unseemly to drag another innocent person into a fraudulent claim, the facts are very compelling that this is the location and things make more sense if you assume Ford was assaulted.

    The facts, as Ed Whelan laid them out, are that Brett Kavanaugh did go to school with someone who has a striking resemblance. That person lived within walking distance of the club Ford claims she had been at. The home matches the limited description Ford provided. I suspect more information will roll out as well over the coming days.

    I continue to believe Ford's accusation is not credible. If you find it credible, Whelan's evidence is compelling unless you're just trying to stop Kavanaugh for partisan or ideological reasons.

    Conservative NY Times columnist Ross Douthat: I “assume there’s more reason to believe [Whelan’s] doppelganger theory than just what he just tweeted.”

    Gateway Pundit: Whelan “drops pictures and evidence that blows Christine Ford’s case wide open.”

    Accuser Christine Blasey Ford is waging a war on Trump’s SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh with decades-old, unsubstantiated claims of sexual assault in an effort to derail his confirmation to the Supreme Court.

    Judge Kavanaugh has categorically denied the allegations and even told Senator Orin (sic) Hatch he wasn’t at the party in question.

    Ed Whelan, Justice Scalia’s former law clerk and president of conservative think tank the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), came out in defense of Brett Kavanaugh and said compelling evidence will come out next week exonerating Kavanaugh.

    On Thursday afternoon, Ed Whelan started dropping pictures and evidence that may blow Christine Ford’s case wide open.

    Twitchy: “Ed Whelan’s BOMBSHELL thread takes Ford’s accusations against Kavanaugh apart.”

    Earlier today, Twitchy covered the ‘rumor’ that information had been obtained that some felt would 100% exonerate Kavanaugh. This originally stemmed from tweets Ed Whelan sent out in the first part of this week.

    Welp, looks like Ed made good on his claim and posted a thread of facts that would give anyone pause as to what really did and did not happen to Ford and could eventually prove Kavanaugh’s innocence.

    Keep in mind, we can neither confirm nor deny anything Whelan has stated in his bombshell thread.

    Zero Hedge: “Was Kavanaugh accuser almost raped by his doppelganger? A new theory emerges.”

    A new theory has emerged in the case of whether Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted accuser Christine Blasey Ford roughly 35 years ago; it was Kavanaugh's high school look-alike, whose high school house better fits Ford's description, and who kept in touch with the other guy allegedly in the room, Mark Judge.

    The theory was presented Thursday afternoon by Ed Whelan, a former clerk to USSC Justice Antonin Scalia and currently president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), a conservative think tank.

    The Goldwater: “Breaking: Attorney Ed Whelan drops explosive evidence of vindication for Judge Kavanaugh.”

    Ford has been traumatized by the memory of sexual assault for 35 years. She sought therapy in 2012 due to the horrible memories. No one would go to all that trouble for nothing. Something happened to her.

    I couldn’t wrap my head around this story. What happened here? There had to be an explanation. Something I was missing. Then I read a story today that closed some loopholes for me. Below is the story I read.

    Please note that I am in no way stating that this is true. We have no idea what happened to Ford back when she was a teenager. This is just one idea, one possibility. Keep in mind that Ford can’t remember much about the details. It was a long time ago. This is why Kavanaugh should have never been put through this. He and his family are suffering, and Ford has no facts to base her allegations on.

    Ed Whalen’s Theory of Kavanaugh Rape…

    Conservative Firing Line: “It looks like the case brought against Judge Brett Kavanaugh just took another serious hit.”

    It looks like the case brought against Judge Brett Kavanaugh just took another serious hit. The Washington Post reported that Ed Whelan, a former clerk for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the president of conservative think tank the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), said “compelling evidence” which apparently includes photos and maps would exonerate Kavanaugh from allegations brought by Christine Blasey Ford.

    Powerline promoted Whelan’s tweets with headline “Mistake identity?”

    Paul (and Senator Orrin Hatch) has already mentioned the possibility that Dr. Ford’s allegation of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh may be a case of mistaken identity, based in part on Ed Whelan’s cryptic tweets that Kavanaugh is going to be fully exonerated. This has set off a firestorm of rumors and expectations. Whelan has just now (6 pm eastern time) provided one specific scenario of this on Twitter, offering up a specific name (though careful to note that he makes no allegation of implication that the other person, Chris Garrett, assaulted Ford as claimed).

    Read the whole thread—it doesn’t take long, but it is not easily summarized here.

  • Here's what you need to know about the right's theory that the FBI planted a spy in the Trump campaign

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In recent days, many on the right have pushed the claim that the FBI "infiltrated" President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign with a "mole." The claim relies upon the testimony of a co-founder of Fusion GPS, the research firm that hired a former British agent who compiled an intelligence dossier about Trump’s connections to various Russians. The claim also builds off of a recent squabble between the Department of Justice and the chairman of the House intelligence committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), over the release of classified information. Here is what you need to know about the story’s origins:

    • On January 2, Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, the founders of the research firm Fusion GPS, claimed in an op-ed that the FBI had a source “inside the Trump camp” during the 2016 election.

    • On January 9, the transcript from Simpson’s August 2017 Senate testimony was released, revealing that he had told the Senate Judiciary Committee it was his “understanding” that the bureau had an “internal Trump campaign source.” Simpson also testified during the hearing that conversations he had with the author of the dossier about Trump’s Russia connections, Christopher Steele, led him to believe that the FBI had “a human source from inside the Trump organization.”

    • The same day, reporters tweeted that the Trump campaign insider Simpson referred to was George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the campaign, and that the FBI's source was an Australian diplomat who informed U.S. officials that Papadopoulos had mentioned to him receiving Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton in May 2016.

    • Between January 9 and January 10, both The New York Times and The Washington Post reported that the “human source” Simpson had mentioned was allegedly the Australian diplomat, Alexander Downer.

    • On January 18, however, a lawyer for Simpson sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) asserting that Simpson “stands by his testimony.” The lawyer stated that Simpson was not withdrawing his claim that Steele had “believed the FBI had another source within the Trump organization/campaign.”

    • On May 8, The Washington Post reported that the DOJ was refusing to hand over information requested by Nunes because it could “endanger a top-secret intelligence source.” The source, according to the Post, had developed information that was “provided to the Mueller investigation.”

    • Two days later, The Wall Street Journal’s Kim Strassel published an op-ed in which she speculated that the FBI may have secretly had a source “who used his or her non-FBI credentials” to interact with the Trump campaign.

      • Strassel wrote in the Journal that the DOJ and the FBI “outright hid critical information from a congressional investigation," which could mean that the FBI had a spy linked to the Trump campaign.
      • Strassel wrote that “When government agencies refer to sources, they mean people who appear to be average citizens but use their profession or contacts to spy for the agency,” asserting that the FBI could have secretly planted a source who interacted with the Trump campaign.
      • ​According to Strassel, any such move on the FBI’s part would “amount to spying.”
      • Strassel also concluded that "Now we find [the FBI] may have also been rolling out human intelligence, John Le Carré style, to infiltrate the Trump campaign."
    • Strassel doubled down on her assertion during a May 11 appearance on Fox News, claiming, “The FBI was using human intelligence to spy on a presidential campaign.”

    Right-wing media is pushing the "spy" theory 

    Radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed he knows “who the spy is” and that this person was “like an operative employed by the FBI to basically entrap somebody who worked with the Trump campaign in a peripheral way.” He also said that Papadopoulos “was entrapped by three people, including the person who is reputed to be the spy."

    Fox’s Sean Hannity argued that there was a spy embedded in the campaign and called the Strassel op-ed a “stunning new development” that raises “serious concerns and questions about the possibility [of] the F.B.I. planting a mole inside the Trump campaign.”

    The hosts of Fox & Friends devoted multiple segments to Strassel’s op-ed and also highlighted Limbaugh’s theory that the FBI planted a “spy” to “entrap” Trump associates. Fox’s Pete Hegseth argued that Limbaugh is “on to something,” and co-host Steve Doocy asked, “Was the FBI out to frame candidate Donald Trump?”  

    Trump sycophant and Fox Business host Lou Dobbs tweeted: “#ExposeTheMole- FBI & DOJ planted an spy in @realDonaldTrump’s 2016 campaign & didn’t tell congressional investigators.”

    During an appearance on Hannity’s radio show, Fox’s Sara Carter claimed, “It appears [the FBI] had somebody that was reporting back on information inside the Trump campaign, which would mean that they had a mole connected to people in the Trump campaign or within the Trump campaign.” Carter repeated the report on Hannity’s prime-time Fox News show, claiming, “Yes, I believe [the FBI] did have an informant, somebody that was reporting back to them.”

    The Daily Caller pushed the narrative in an article about Rep. Ron DeSantis’ (R-FL) appearance on Fox News: “Ron DeSantis Says He May Know Who Was Spying On The Trump Campaign: ‘There Needs To Be Follow Up’.”

    Pro-Trump site The Gateway Pundit ran multiple articles by founder Jim Hoft that pushed the claim, including one in which Hoft claimed to know the “probable” identity of the “spy,” and another that argued there were multiple “deep state” sources.   

    Far-right fringe blog Zero Hedge posted Strassel’s op-ed with the headline, “WSJ: The FBI Hid A Mole In The Trump Campaign,” even though Strassel never claimed the “mole” was actually inside the campaign.

  • Facebook is promoting conspiracy theory website Zero Hedge in Trending topics

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Facebook has repeatedly featured the blog Zero Hedge -- which is known for trafficking in conspiracy theories and misinformation -- on its pages for news Trending topics. And at least once in the past week, the blog was the featured news source for a story on the Trending topics section of the news feed.

    Facebook has recently claimed it is taking steps to combat the spread of fake news and misinformation on its platform, which proliferated around and after the 2016 election cycle. One of the key moments leading to Facebook’s misinformation problem was its decision in August 2016 to fire its “news curators” and put the Trending topics section under the control of an algorithm. The appearance of Zero Hedge as a news source in that section shows the algorithm is still struggling with curating credible news sources.

    Zero Hedge was initially launched as a financial blog in 2009 and has repeatedly trafficked in the same ecosystem as The Gateway Pundit and Infowars. The latter two are conspiracy theory websites that, along with 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board (commonly referred to as /pol/), are well known for spreading misinformation. Infowars and Gateway Pundit have become so notorious that even some conservatives have spoken out against them. Zero Hedge sometimes pushes conspiracy theories from Gateway Pundit, and Infowars has also often taken stories from Zero Hedge to push conspiracy theories. Infowars figures have also taken part in some of the same conspiracy theories as Zero Hedge.

    Some of the false or dubious claims Zero Hedge has indulged in together with those websites include:

    Additionally, Zero Hedge has pushed multiple false stories from fake news website YourNewsWire and from fake news website True Pundit. It also pushed the conspiracy theory known as Pizzagate, and repeatedly promoted conspiracy theories surrounding slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.

    Despite Zero Hedge’s history of misinformation, between January 22 and January 26, different Facebook Trending topics pages featured it as a news source, including pages about:

    On January 24, the Trending topics section on the main news feed featured the blog as its top story about the Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD), a think tank that tracks Russian influence online. That Zero Hedge article criticized ASD for noting that Russian-linked accounts were pushing #ReleaseTheMemo, a campaign to get a memo written by House Republicans released that allegedly discredits the FBI’s investigation into Trump’s campaign.

    This is not the first time that Facebook has prominently promoted the blog; in October, the social media platform’s crisis response page for the Las Vegas, NV, mass shooting featured a link to an article from a site called antimedia.org that was a reprint of a Zero Hedge post.

    The risk of sites like Zero Hedge finding a platform in Facebook’s Trending news stories section became clear with Facebook’s announcement that it will rely on users to determine which sites are trustworthy: If users have been seeing a source trending often, they will be more likely to trust it when asked.

    Facebook’s misinformation problem will continue to persist if it keeps giving a boost to outlets like Zero Hedge that regularly peddle misinformation. While the platform has made announcements in recent weeks that it claims will lessen the impact of misinformation on the news feed, the continuing problems of the Trending topics section promoting dubious websites as legitimate news sources are just as important. Nearly two years since it fired humans to curate its Trending topics, this section -- and the website as a whole -- continues to fail its users.

  • Las Vegas shooting shows Facebook, Google, and YouTube's misinformation problem

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Google, Facebook logos

    A page set up by Facebook to keep the public up to date on the October 1 Las Vegas shooting, along with searches on Google and YouTube regarding the shooting, show the struggle these platforms still have in combating fake and dubious news.

    During the 2016 election campaign, fake news was widely shared on Facebook, including in its “trending topics” section. In response to intense criticism after the election, Facebook said it tried to take measures to limit the spread of fake news. Yet the company disclosed in September that hundreds of fake Russian accounts bought tens of thousands of dollars worth of advertisements, and reports continue to come out about Russia’s use of Facebook to interfere in the election.

    Following a shooting on October 1 at a Las Vegas, NV, concert that killed at least 58 people, Facebook created a crisis response page called “The Violent Incident in Las Vegas, Nevada,” where people in the area could confirm that they were safe and users could find ways to support the victims. The page also has an “about” section with links to articles about the shooting, which seemed to appear and then disappear after a certain period of time.

    While many of the articles on the page appeared to come from legitimate sources, some did not, and those dubious links even appeared toward the top of the page at certain points. One article that appeared on the page came from TruthFeed, a fake news purveyor that has pushed baseless conspiracy theories and other false claims. Additionally, the page at one point featured a link toward the top to an article from theantimedia.org, which was itself a reprint of an article from fringe blog Zero Hedge. Zero Hedge has a history of pushing conspiracy theories and has shared forged documents targeting then-French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron. At another point, the Facebook page also featured, toward the top, an article from consistently inaccurate far-right pro-Trump blog The Gateway Pundit, which had already been forced to delete a post accusing the wrong man of being the Las Vegas shooter earlier that day. It also featured a link to a blog called Alt-Right News, which wrote about the shooting “from an Alt-Right perspective.”

    Facebook’s heavy use of algorithms appears to still be harming the website’s ability to block misinformation and nefarious usage of its platform. Besides its crisis page, Facebook's trending topic page for the shooting featured multiple articles from Sputnik, an outlet funded by the Russian government that is currently under investigation by the FBI for possibly violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

    And Facebook is not the only platform having problems following the Las Vegas shooting. Google featured in its news section a false claim from 4chan's "politically incorrect" message board (commonly referred to as "/pol/"), which Google blamed on algorithms and absurdly referred to as a "4chan story." And on YouTube, which is owned by Google, a conspiracy theory that the Las Vegas shooter was an "Anti Trump Far Left Activist" is one of the top results if the alleged shooter's name is typed into the search bar. If Facebook and Google cannot get a handle on their misinformation problem, more dubious sources will continue to roam their platforms, earning wide exposure for their misinformation.

  • Trump keeps retweeting accounts that promote fake news, conspiracy theories, and message boards beloved by white nationalists

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump has repeatedly quoted or retweeted Twitter accounts that have promoted far-right media trolls, fake news purveyors, conspiracy theories and a message board seen as a haven for white nationalists. This activity comes after Media Matters found last month that many of the accounts Trump had previously quoted were suspicious and that some of them were bots.

    July 27

    On July 27, Trump retweeted a meme from verified Twitter user @JeffTutorials calling CNN the “Fake News Network.” “Tutorials,” according to Paste Magazine, is a “16-year-old MAGA troll,” who has previously been retweeted by Trump and runs a YouTube page dedicated to the video game series Grand Theft Auto. The “Tutorials” account has promoted tweets from far-right trolls Mike Cernovich and Paul Joseph Watson along with @polNewsForever. That since-suspended Twitter account shared material from 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board (commonly referred to as “/pol/”), a haven for white nationalists that has previously helped far-right trolls and fake news purveyors spread misinformation.

    August 15

    On August 15, Trump retweeted a meme of a person with the CNN Logo on its head being run over by the “Trump Train,” from the account @SLandinSoCal. The account previously retweeted far-right troll Jack Posobiec (whom Trump has also retweeted), a Facebook post from Paul Joseph Watson, and an anti-Semitic cartoon that Mike Cernovich used as part of his attacks on national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

    August 24

    On August 24, Trump retweeted the account @JerryTravone, which posted a meme of Trump replacing Obama with the words “The Best Eclipse Ever!” The account had previously retweeted Watson, Posobiec, and fellow far-right troll Stefan Molyneux.

    September 17

    On September 17, Trump retweeted a GIF from account @Fuctupmind that showed Trump hitting a golf ball at Hillary Clinton. The account previously retweeted images of Pepe, the cartoon frog affiliated with the “alt-right,” @polNewsInfinity (another account that shares material from 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board), far-right trolls Cassandra Fairbanks, Posobiec, and Watson, and an article from fake news purveyor TruthFeed.

    September 20

    On September 20, Trump wrote “So nice, thank you!” and quoted a tweet from account @10_gop. The account had previously retweeted Posobiec, Watson, and @polNewsInfinity.

    The same day, Trump retweeted account @DonnaWR8. The account previously retweeted articles from fake news purveyor TruthFeed and fringe pro-Trump blog The Gateway Pundit, an image of Pepe, and content from @polNewsInfinity and far-right trolls Watson and Nick Short.

    Later on September 20, Trump retweeted account @RealEagleBites, which has previously tweeted articles from fringe blog Zero Hedge, fake news purveyors TruthFeed and True Pundit (which played a major role in spreading the baseless fake news Pizzagate conspiracy theory), and which has pushed conspiracy theories from far-right pro-Trump Reddit forum “r/The_Donald” (another forum known for helping far-right trolls and fake news purveyors spread misinformation.)

  • Pro-Trump media and Russian bots push self-debunking story attacking Obama attorney general for using an email alias

    Not only have other officials from both parties used email aliases, but Loretta Lynch's records surfaced through a FOIA request from an organization led by Trump's own lawyer

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fringe media figures and outlets that support President Donald Trump are trying to scandalize former Attorney General Loretta Lynch's use of an alias in her government emails, even though government officials have used the practice before, Lynch’s use of the alias had been disclosed last year, and the emails are still subject to records requests.

    Kim Dotcom, a dubious figure known for spreading conspiracy theories, claimed on August 4 that Lynch may have used the alias Elizabeth Carlisle “to communicate with DOJ officials.” Dotcom based his claim on emails given to the conservative group American Center for Law And Justice (ACLJ) -- where Trump attorney Jay Sekulow is the chief counsel -- as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. In his tweet, he added, “Dear Internet, investigate!” The next day, a user on the pro-Trump Reddit forum “r/The_Donald,” a forum known in the past to spread conspiracy theories, claimed that a death certificate showed that Lynch “used her grandmother's maiden name as alias.”

    The implication of wrongdoing by Lynch then reached Jim Hoft of the pro-Trump website The Gateway Pundit, who wrote that “internet sleuth” Dotcom “dropped a bomb on Twitter,” and pointed to the “r/The_Donald” user who “discovered that Loretta Lynch used her grandmother’s maiden name ‘Lizzie Carlisle’ as her alias.” He added that Lynch “told Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) under oath that she only uses official email in November 2016 — after these above emails were sent,” concluding, “Lynch committed perjury.” The allegation also reached far-right conspiracy theory outlet Zero Hedge, which claimed that Lynch “has been busted”; far-right trolls Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec; and discredited birther Jerome Corsi of the conspiracy theory website Infowars. A few also alleged that Lynch had committed perjury. Another forum known for pushing conspiracy theories, 4chan’s “/pol/,” also hyped the alias and perjury allegation.

    According to the think tank Alliance for Securing Democracy, which has a tool to track Russian-affiliated bots on Twitter, the stories targeting Lynch have been popular among those bots, which pushed both of The Gateway Pundit’s articles and Zero Hedge’s post.

    Despite the nefarious implications, it was already public knowledge that Lynch used an alias with her government email. Additionally, the practice was routine for previous government employees. In February 2016, a Justice Department spokesperson said that Lynch “uses a government email account but also ‘does not use her given name in the handle of her email address,’” according to The Hill. In 2015, the Justice Department revealed that then-Attorney General Eric Holder used multiple email aliases in his government emails, and noted that because it was still a government email, “it is still preserved for recordkeeping.” (Indeed, this Lynch alias allegation came about specifically because ACLJ received the emails in a FOIA request.) Aides in President George W. Bush’s administration also used “secret alternate” addresses for emails, some of which were nongovernmental, according to Mother Jones.

    Multiple fake news purveyors also hyped allegations of wrongdoing, with Mad World News calling it a “smoking gun” against Lynch, TruthFeed writing that Lynch “lied under oath” in “a clear case of perjury, completely intentional,” America’s Freedom Fighters claiming Lynch is “heading to prison,” and Liberty Writers urging readers to “share this everywhere to help bring Loretta Lynch down.” Other previous purveyors of fake news hyping the allegation included RedStateWatcher, Freedom Daily, USA Politics Today, World Politicus, Patriots On The Right, and GOP The Daily Dose.

    All of these articles drew attention on Facebook: The two Gateway Pundit articles had at least 15,900 and 9,100 engagements, respectively; the Zero Hedge article, 3,300; Mad World News, 1,000; TruthFeed, 4,100; America’s Freedom Fighters, 1,300; Liberty Writers, 12,800; RedStateWatcher, 809; Freedom Daily, 11,000; World Politicus, 1,100; and GOP The Daily Dose, 93, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo.

    The far-right trolls, fringe outlets, and fake news purveyors teaming up to spread this allegation (aided by bots) provide yet another example of how fringe sources work together to spread dubious claims, conspiracy theories, and lies while attacking perceived enemies.

  • 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.

  • Right-wing media conveniently forget GOP's role in Obamacare losses

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Right-wing media are hyping a survey that found the number of American adults without health insurance has increased “by some 2 million this year” and claiming that it shows the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is in a “death spiral.” But these reports fail to note that insurers have said uncertainty around the future of Obamacare -- caused by President Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress -- has spurred premium increases and dwindling options in markets and that Republicans have been working for years to sabotage the law.

  • Right-wing media hype flawed report on illegal voting pushed by serial conservative misinformers

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Conservative media are reporting on a study claiming that thousands of illegal votes have been cast in Virginia since 1988. However, the study's authors have reportedly used “unreliable methodology” before, its findings go against those of several other studies and experts on voter fraud, and a person inaccurately targeted in it has called it a “gross misrepresentation of the facts.” Additionally, the study was put out by groups known for spreading conspiracy theories and fables about voter fraud and intimidation and which have previously used dubious methodologies in their studies.

  • Fake News And The "Alt-Right" Are Pushing Forged Documents To Aid Marine Le Pen In France's Election

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Forged documents originating on 4chan alleging that French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron was evading taxes spread online thanks to an ecosystem that includes social media, “alt-right” outlets, and fake news purveyors. The campaign was seemingly aided by Russian-linked entities, and it subsequently reached Macron’s opponent, who aired the claim in a public debate.

    Macron is competing in a May 7 runoff against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. On May 3, hours before a scheduled debate between Macron and Le Pen, an anonymous user on 4chan posted documents purporting to show that Macron used a shell company to dodge taxes. Users on the forum responded that the documents should be sent to “independent journalists” and “the alternative media” like “Cernovic (sic), Breitbart, and so on,” and encouraged each other to “spam” the documents “on social media” such as Twitter to get “it trending.” They also said to “send it to Le Pen.” The documents soon spread on Twitter, with many of the Twitter accounts promoting them appearing to have connections to Russia, according to a Belgian researcher. The claim was promoted by “alt-right” media figures such as Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec.

    That these figures would attempt to smear Le Pen’s opponent is not surprising given that Le Pen is widely admired by much of the “alt-right” and closely tied with Russia.

    Along with Twitter, 4chan’s campaign was picked up by forums on 8chan and Reddit; “alt-right” fringe outlets The Gateway Pundit, Got News, Zero Hedge, and Daily Stormer; and fake news purveyor Before It’s News.

    The 4chan-based documents eventually reached Le Pen herself. During her debate with Macron, she said, “I hope that we will not find out that you have an offshore account in the Bahamas.” Le Pen later backed down on her claim, and Macron filed a legal complaint against her for the statement. Multiple outlets have reported that the documents were fake, with The Telegraph noting that they were “widely denounced as crude forgeries.” Additionally, following Le Pen's accusation, the French prosecutor's office has opened an investigation regarding “suspicions of fake news being spread to influence Sunday's presidential vote.”

    The case is yet another example of the way the misinformation ecosystem involving the “alt-right” and fake news purveyors amplifies fringe falsities and lies (and even Kremlin-connected conspiracy theories). The network has often succeeded in pushing those false claims into more traditional conservative and mainstream outlets and, thus, the public realm.

    Image by Dayanita Ramesh

  • 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.:

  • Pro-Trump Websites In Denial After Reports Confirm Parts Of Trump Russia Dossier Were Corroborated

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Fringe outlets and fake news purveyors are attacking a decision from a judge on the secret court that oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to issue a warrant to monitor the communications of President Donald Trump’s campaign adviser Carter Page. They're claiming the ruling was based on a dossier that detailed some alleged associations between the Trump campaign and Russia, which they say was largely without merit. But the FBI would have had to corroborate the information on its own to obtain a FISA court warrant, and the agency confirmed in February that pieces of the dossier were confirmed through other sources.

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

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

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

  • Pro-Trump Media Defend President After He Included Sweden In List Of Terrorist Targets

    ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    President Donald Trump’s media allies rushed to bolster and clarify his remarks after he called on rally-goers to “Look at what’s happening last night in Sweden” during a February 18 speech before listing three non-Swedish cities recently attacked by homegrown terrorists. Trump later clarified that he was referring to a Fox News report hyping immigrant criminality in Sweden from the prior night, not a nonexistent attack, while conservative outlets, fringe blogs, and fake news purveyors declared that “actually, Trump was right” that Sweden is “experiencing a migrant crime wave,” despite widely cited data that proves otherwise.