Fake News | Media Matters for America

Fake News

Tags ››› Fake News
  • Neo-Nazis called on Trump to pardon Joe Arpaio. Now Trump is “seriously considering” doing it.

    Infowars and fake news purveyors also pushed Trump to pardon the former sheriff

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    President Donald Trump is reportedly considering a pardon for Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, after neo-Nazi and other fringe media that have supported Trump called for him to do so.

    Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt of court on July 31 after “defying a court order to stop detaining suspected undocumented immigrants.” As The New York Times noted, the order originated from a lawsuit “charging that the sheriff’s office regularly violated the rights of Latinos, stopping people based on racial profiling, detaining them based solely on the suspicion that they were in the country illegally, and turning them over to the immigration authorities.” Arpaio, like Trump, was one of the biggest propagators of the false claim that former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate was fake. According to The Arizona Republic, Arpaio “says he would welcome a presidential pardon” from Trump, although he told the paper that he was “not going to ask.”

    When news of Arpaio’s conviction was revealed, fringe media outlets decried the trial and verdict, and urged Trump to pardon the former sheriff. Jerome Corsi of conspiracy theory outlet Infowars wrote that Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions “must help Sheriff Arpaio,” calling the trial a “travesty of justice” and asking whether Trump and Sessions would “continue to stand by watching.” Additionally, Infowars host David Knight, in a video titled “Pres. Trump, Pardon Sheriff Joe: ‘Guilty’ Of Defying Sanctuary Judge,” said that Arpaio “needs to be pardoned by the Trump administration or the Trump administration will be exposed to massive hypocrisy for allowing someone to go to jail for implementing the very policies that they’re talking about now.” Andrew Anglin of the neo-Nazi blog The Daily Stormer called Arpaio’s conviction “a blatant crucifixion of a man who stood up to the Obama agenda of ‘America for everyone from anywhere as long as they are not white'” and wrote that “Trump should pardon him.” Another neo-Nazi blog, Infostormer, claimed Arpaio had “been convicted of a crime simply because he was enforcing immigration laws,” adding “regardless of what happens, Donald Trump should pardon him.”

    Some fake news purveyors joined the call for a pardon. TruthFeed called Arpaio’s conviction “absolutely ridiculous” and added, “We think Trump needs to pardon Arpaio.” After Arpaio said he was open to a pardon, TruthFeed wrote, “Hopefully, President Trump will soon have time to help his long-time supporter.” Patriots On The Right, calling Arpaio’s conviction “stupid,” urged people to “SHARE this story if you support the idea Joe Arpaio to be pardoned (sic).” World Politicus wrote that Arpaio being open to a pardon “could be good” because Arpaio had been a victim of a “witch hunt against” him and because “the judge had liberal ties.”

    Following the outcry from neo-Nazi, fringe, and pro-Trump media as well as fake news purveyors, Fox News’ Gregg Jarrett reported on August 14 that Trump told Fox News that he was “seriously considering a pardon for Sheriff Arpaio” because he “has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration. He’s a great American patriot and I hate to see what has happened to him.” Jarrett added that the pardon “could happen in the next few days, should [Trump] decide to do so.”

  • Sebastian Gorka responds to criticism by calling his own quotes "fake news 101"

    Gorka: “I was admonishing the journalists of the fake news industrial complex

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to President Donald Trump, immediately ran to Fox News to downplay comments he made criticizing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Gorka blamed the media for misinterpreting his comments.

    In an interview with BBC radio, Gorka called it “nonsensical” for Tillerson to discuss military action against North Korea, saying that it was the job of Secretary of Defense James Mattis to discuss military options. Later that day, Gorka appeared on Fox News and addressed the controversy, denying he uttered those words.

    Buzzfeed transcribed Gorka’s original comments to BBC Radio:

    During the radio interview, Gorka also pushed back on more levelheaded comments by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that Americans should "sleep well at night" and "have no concerns" over the the threat of attacks from North Korea. Tillerson isn't in charge of defense strategy, he said.

    "The idea that Secretary Tillerson is going to discuss military matters is simply nonsensical," Gorka told the BBC.

    "It is the job of Secretary Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, to talk about the military options. And he has done so unequivocally," said Gorka.

    When confronted with these comments hours later on Fox News, Gorka denied having ever described Tillerson’s comments as “nonsensical,” claiming he “never said that” and attacked the media for reporting his direct quote, calling it “fake news 101.” He pivoted again in the interview and claimed that he "was admonishing journalists" for "forcing our chief diplomat into a position" to make a "statement regarding military options." From the August 10 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto (emphasis added):

    ELIZABETH CLAMAN (GUEST HOST): I would be remiss if we didn’t bring up what just happened at the secretary of state’s spokesperson’s meeting before the press. This morning, and let me just back up here for our viewers who might not know, I believe this morning you gave an interview to BBC Radio during which you said that “it was nonsensical for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to discuss military matters” and that he was “out of line.” Let’s hear what –

    SEBASTIAN GORKA: Never said that.

    CLAMAN: You’ve never said –

    GORKA: I never said that secretary of state was -- that’s fake news 101.

    CLAMAN: Well there’s audio of you saying the word “nonsensical.”

    GORKA: I have the audio. I have the audio as well, thank you.

    CLAMAN: So you’re denying that you said it’s inappropriate, perhaps, for Rex Tillerson to have told the American people to calm down?

    GORKA: Absolutely, absolutely. No, I never said that, I said for reporters to force our chief diplomat, the amazing Rex Tillerson to give details of military options is nonsensical. He is the secretary of state, that means you don’t understand what the words secretaries of state means. It is fake news, classic example.

    CLAMAN: Well, diplomacy does sometimes work hand in hand with military actions.

    GORKA: Absolutely, absolutely but there’s a secretary of defense and there’s a secretary of state.

    CLAMAN: It’s now big enough that Heather Nauert, the spokesperson for Rex Tillerson was asked about it, she even said as she was walking to the press event there that she was told about it.

    [...]

    GORKA: I was admonishing the journalists of the fake news industrial complex who are forcing our chief diplomat into a position where they are demanding he makes the military case for action when that is not the mandate of the secretary of state. That's why we have a Department of Defense. If a journalist doesn't know the difference between the secretary of state and the Department of Defense they should hand in their credentials, it's just absurd lack of understanding. He is our most senior diplomat and he has done an amazing job to get 15 nations of the U.N. Security Council to tell North Korea enough is enough. But when reporters try to force him to make statements regarding military options, they have no idea what they're talking about and if they think that's a story, they're not journalists.

  • Fox News and fake news purveyors praise Trump’s North Korea threat that experts call irresponsible

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & ZACHARY PLEAT

    Various Fox News personalities and fake news purveyors are praising President Donald Trump’s statement that he would unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea should Kim Jong Un’s regime endanger American interests. While pro-Trump media are thrilled with the president’s threat, nuclear experts have explained that “threats from the US will only increase tensions” on the Korean Peninsula, where, should war accidentally break out amid heightened tensions, armed conflict would likely cause “hundreds of thousands of deaths, mostly in South Korea.”

  • 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.

  • Fake news purveyors, Twitter trolls, and Sean Hannity go all in against national security adviser McMaster

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Media in support of President Donald Trump are calling for the ouster of Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, accusing him of being a “globalist” “traitor” who is “aligned with the enemies of Trump and America.”

    Over the past month, McMaster has worked to oust some members of the National Security Council (NSC) who were previously aligned with former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Trump’s chief strategist (and former Breitbart News head) Steve Bannon. On July 21, McMaster dismissed Rich Higgins, a top NSC official who was “seen as an ally of” Bannon, after Higgins wrote a memo claiming that “globalists and Islamists” were trying to undermine Trump, according to The Atlantic. In early August, McMaster pushed out Ezra Cohen-Watnick, whom Flynn had hired for the NSC and McMaster had tried to fire earlier in the year (he was blocked by Bannon and others from doing so).

    Additionally, Circa News, a pro-Trump outlet owned by the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting Group, claimed on August 3 that McMaster had sent a letter to former national security adviser Susan Rice “giving her unfettered and continuing access to classified information and waiving her ‘need-to-know’ requirement on anything she viewed or received during her tenure.” The article noted that “it is common practice for some senior government officials to be given the unfettered access to classified information, and their ‘need to know’ is waived,” but went on to note that some “White House officials” believe Rice’s clearance should have been limited. That’s in large part due to pro-Trump media’s dubious accusation that Rice is guilty of unlawfully “unmasking” Trump officials caught in surveillance, even though officials have said there is no proof Rice did anything wrong.

    In response to McMaster’s ousters and the Circa report, pro-Trump media have attacked the national security adviser. Fox News host and Trump propagandist Sean Hannity asked if “H.R. McMaster need[s] to go” following the Rice report. Conspiracy theory website Infowars claimed McMaster is part of the “deep state coup rooting out patriots from White House,” and Infowars Editor Paul Joseph Watson wrote, “McMaster is an Islamist-sympathizer and a globalist. He has to go.” Breitbart, Bannon’s former outlet, also pointed to a Facebook post from an Israeli columnist accusing McMaster of being “deeply hostile to Israel and to Trump.” Pamela Geller, a Breitbart contributor and anti-Muslim extremist, wrote on her website that McMaster is “aligned with the enemies of Trump and America.” Pro-Trump website The Gateway Pundit called McMaster “a globalist” and questioned “why he is still a top Trump official.” Multiple far-right trolls, including Mike Cernovich, Jack Posobiec, Cassandra Fairbanks, and Stefan Molyneux, called for Trump to fire McMaster (with some using the hashtag “#FireMcMaster”) because McMaster “approved of Susan Rice keeping her top-secret security clearance,” because “its (sic) time for the WH to find a Natl Sec Advisor who supports the President,” and because “H.R. McMaster is a Deep State Plant who Opposes the Trump Agenda.”

    Additionally, multiple fake news purveyors have targeted McMaster, with both Liberty Writers and USA Newsflash calling McMaster a “traitor” due to his Rice letter, as did TruthFeed, which additionally claimed that he may, along with Rice, be “leading a Deep State Coup.” Conservative Daily Post claimed McMaster “gave” Rice “the power to” spy “on political opponents, which is a complete violation of the Constitution,” Mad World News alleged McMaster is a “secret mole” and “a Judas in the White House,” and Right Wing News suggested that Trump “has been stabbed in the back by McMaster” because of his letter to Rice. America’s Freedom Fighters also claimed that “many are demanding to know why McMaster is still even working within the Trump administration while he wrecks (sic) this sort of havoc.”

    Additionally, the think tank Alliance for Securing Democracy’s tool to track Russian-affiliated bots showed that those bots were pushing “#FireMcMaster” on Twitter within the past 48 hours. This is the same hashtag some of the far-right trolls have used against McMaster. These bots have also been spreading some of TruthFeed’s anti-McMaster articles.

    All these articles drew attention on Facebook: The two Gateway Pundit articles had at least 2,700 and 310 engagements, respectively; the Liberty Writers article, 28,200; USA Newsflash, 17,600; Conservative Daily Post, 1,900; Mad World News, 5,400; Right Wing News, 316; America’s Freedom Fighters, 1,100; and the two TruthFeed articles, 612 and 1,700, respectively, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo.

  • Trump administration met with a GOP donor and a Fox contributor about a fake story meant to distract from Russia probe

    A new lawsuit alleges that Trump personally helped Fox create fake news regarding Seth Rich, and Sean Spicer admits that he took a meeting with two people involved in the story

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A new NPR report confirms that the Trump administration met with a Republican donor and Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler about a now-debunked FoxNews.com report that pushed false claims about Seth Rich, a deceased Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer. As reported by NPR, according to a subsequent lawsuit filed by Wheeler, the donor gave talking points about the Rich conspiracy theory not only to Wheeler but also to other Fox News employees, messaging that was then parroted on Fox & Friends and Sean Hannity’s show.

    Wheeler's lawsuit also alleges that President Donald Trump helped with the article in order to distract from the ongoing controversy about Trump’s possible ties to Russia. Trump, people in Trump’s inner circle, and Fox News have all previously spread fake news and downplayed and delegitimized efforts to counter the spread of fake news.

    In May, a Fox affiliate in Washington, D.C., claimed that Wheeler, who is a private investigator, said police had told him that they were told to stand down regarding the death of Rich, a DNC staffer killed in what law enforcement has concluded was likely a botched robbery attempt. The affiliate also said that Wheeler said it was “confirmed” that Rich had spoken to WikiLeaks, which published thousands of leaked DNC emails during the 2016 presidential campaign.

    FoxNews.com reporter Malia Zimmerman subsequently published an article on the site quoting Wheeler as saying, “My investigation up to this point shows there was some degree of email exchange between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks,” and, “My investigation shows someone within the D.C. government, Democratic National Committee or Clinton team is blocking the murder investigation from going forward.” According to the lawsuit, in conjunction with the FoxNews.com story, the Republican donor who brought Wheeler and Zimmerman together also suggested talking points to "various Fox News producers" and Fox & Friends on-air personalities, as well as to Wheeler for use on Hannity’s program. Both Fox News shows parroted the suggested messaging within days.

    But the story was quickly debunked, with Wheeler admitting he had no evidence and D.C. police saying Wheeler’s supposed claim was false. Fox News was forced to later retract the story. Yet Hannity, who ran with the report, continued to push the conspiracy theory even after the retraction.

    Wheeler, in an August 1 lawsuit against 21st Century Fox, Fox News, Zimmerman, and the Republican donor, investor/Trump supporter Ed Butowsky, now claims that Zimmerman made up those quotes she attributed to him. Wheeler claims that Trump was given the article in advance to review and urged its publication, and that the supposedly fabricated quotes were published “because that is the way the President wanted the article.” Wheeler added that Zimmerman and Butowsky, who bankrolled Wheeler’s original investigation into Rich’s murder, “had created fake news to advance President Trump’s agenda.” Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer -- who had said in May that he knew nothing about the story -- has now confirmed to NPR that he met with Wheeler and Butowsky to discuss the article before it was published, adding that he did not know of any involvement by Trump.

    Here’s audio of Spicer denying knowledge of the Rich story in May:

    The allegations come after Trump and his inner circle have worked tirelessly to cloud the actual meaning of fake news while spreading fake news stories themselves. Trump and his aides, echoing right-wing media including Fox News, have repeatedly called legitimate news stories and outlets they do not like “fake news.” People close to Trump, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn, have pushed fake news -- as has Trump himself. Additionally, federal investigators are looking into whether Trump’s 2016 campaign digital operation, headed by Brad Parscale along with Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm hired by the campaign, colluded with Russia to target voters in specific states with fake news.

    And this would also not be the first time that Fox News has spread fake news. Last October, Fox hosts Howard Kurtz and Megyn Kelly both reported a fake news story that then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton called supporters of her primary opponent Bernie Sanders a “bucket of losers.” Kelly subsequently apologized for reporting the fake quote. In April, FoxNews.com published an article from the British tabloid The Sun that reported fake news originating from Russian state media; Fox later removed the article after The New York Times asked the outlet about it. Additionally, Fox News repeatedly tried to minimize and dismiss concerns about fake news after the 2016 election, calling them "nonsense” and “a fake story,” and claiming that fake news is actually just “in the eye of the beholder." And when Facebook considered (and later implemented) the idea of partnering with fact-checking organizations to fact-check potential fake news stories on its platform, Fox criticized the fact-checkers for having “a liberal bias” and a “proven” bias “against conservatives.”

  • Fringe media and Fox News push conspiracy theories regarding arrested former House IT staffer

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN & BRENDAN KARET

    Following the arrest of former Democratic information technology staffer Imran Awan, far-right media and Fox News pushed multiple conspiracy theories about him, suggesting he was behind WikiLeaks getting hacked Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails, that he had damaging information on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and that the Clintons were somehow involved in the situation.

  • Trump voter fraud commission member Ken Blackwell has pushed fake news

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a member of President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission, has pushed fake news and false claims originating from fringe media and seems to rely at least partially on disreputable sources for news.

    On May 11, the Trump administration announced that it was forming a “bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Integrity,” and listed Blackwell as one of its members. Blackwell, a conservative columnist, a senior fellow at the anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council, and a board member of the National Rifle Association, has previously claimed that climate change concerns could lead to forced abortions, suggested gay marriage was the reason for a 2014 California mass shooting, and suggested that then-Attorney General Eric Holder was “clear[ing] the path for shariah law.” He has also lent credence to Trump’s false assertion  that there is widespread voter fraud in the United States, saying the system creates “real potential for fraud” and that there may have been fraud in the last election.

    Since he was announced as a member of Trump’s commission, Blackwell has pushed multiple false allegations leveled by fringe media. On July 17, he posted on Facebook a link to a story suggesting a connection between the Clintons and a deceased former Haitian government official. The fake news, which was first published by a fake news purveyor and was widely hyped by the fringe and pro-Trump media, has been debunked. A week later, Blackwell posted on Facebook an article from fringe pro-Trump website The Gateway Pundit, which is regularly wrong in its claims, stating that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered Robert Mueller, now special counsel on the Russia probe, to give uranium to Russia in 2009. The claim, pushed by Gateway Pundit and fake news purveyors, suggests nefarious action even though the uranium had been seized from the nation of Georgia and held in U.S. custody and was being transported to Russia for forensic analysis with authorization from the Georgian government.

    Additionally, Blackwell has repeatedly posted articles from the fringe blog Conservative Tribune, an outlet that fact-checkers have repeatedly criticized for pushing false and misleading claims. The website has also promoted far-right troll Jack Posobiec’s dubious claim that former FBI Director James Comey violated the Espionage Act by releasing the memos he wrote about his meetings with Trump before the president fired him.

  • Hate groups hide years of extremism behind baseless "fake news" accusations

    Blog ››› ››› ERIN FITZGERALD

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A news site run by anti-LGBTQ hate group American Family Association defended the Alliance Defending Freedom, also a hate group, from being labeled by ABC News and called the outlet “fake news.”

    One News Now (ONN) ran a July 17 article titled “'Fake news' fraternity welcomes a new member” that reported on Alliance Defending Freedom’s (ADF) response to an ABC report that labels the organization as a hate group. The outlet -- like NBC -- was using the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) “hate group” designation in its coverage of the controversy surrounding Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent speech at an ADF event. Both reports drew a right-wing media outcry. SPLC designated ADF a hate group in February for “regularly demoniz[ing] LGBT people” and supporting “the criminalization of homosexuality in several countries.”

    In her interview with ONN about SPLC’s designation and recent news reports using the “hate group” designation, ADF director of communications Kerri Kupec described SPLC’s claim that ADF supports “recriminalization of homosexuality abroad” as “fake news.” She said: “I have no idea where that came from.” Despite trying to hide behind accusations of “fake news,” ADF has a longstanding history of supporting the criminalization of LGBTQ people and a body of work that is well-documented in the media. That work has included filing amicus briefs in the landmark 2003 Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas, one of which argued that “sodomy is criminally punishable conduct and not a constitutionally protected activity.” ADF’s international efforts are far-reaching and include previously supporting anti-sodomy laws in Jamaica and India, as well as offering legal assistance to a group working to keep criminalization laws on the books in Belize.

    ONN is an affiliate of American Family News Networks (AFN), a media conglomerate run by the hate group American Family Association (AFA). AFA operates a large network of media outlets, action arms, and engagement campaigns aimed at individuals who “are alarmed by the increasing ungodliness and depravity assaulting our nation, tired of cursing the darkness, and ready to light a bonfire.” AFN describes itself as a “Christian news service - with more than 1,200 broadcast, print, and online affiliates in 45 states and 11 foreign countries - that exists to present the day's stories from a biblical perspective.” The SPLC designated AFA a hate group in 2010 for spreading “demonizing propaganda” and “known falsehoods” about LGBTQ people.

    Update: The language of this post has been updated for clarity. 

  • 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.

  • Far-right media are now accusing Obama of spying on John Roberts

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Pro-Trump media websites are pushing the doubtful allegation that former President Barack Obama “hacked” Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. These fringe websites, that often peddle fake news and conspiracy theories, have also previously alleged that Obama has surveilled and targeted Trump Tower and the Supreme Court overall, and some of these websites have claimed that Obama is trying to take down President Donald Trump by forming a “shadow government.”

    On July 12, the pro-Trump alternative-media blog Big League Politics claimed that Roberts “was ‘hacked’ by a Deep State surveillance operation overseen by Obama administration CIA director John Brennan and Obama director of national intelligence James Clapper.” The blog pointed to audio supposedly from a “real estate billionaire” explaining the program to former Maricopa County, AZ, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and associate Mike Zullo and saying, “John Roberts, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, was hacked.” (Arpaio and Zullo are discredited figures who have pushed the false conspiracy theory that Obama’s birth certificate is fake). The author of the piece, Patrick Howley, also wrote that this supposed hack “by Obama officials provides some more context” for why Roberts voted in 2012 to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, suggesting the two are related. The blog, which also employs pro-Trump troll Cassandra Fairbanks, has previously pushed other dubious claims hyped by the alternative-media ecosystem.

    The report was picked up by pro-Trump website The Gateway Pundit, which called the tapes “evidence” that Roberts was hacked. Following suit, fake news purveyors ran with the story, with Before It’s News and YourNewsWire republishing at least parts of the Big League Politics article, Conservative Patriot and The Washington Feed calling the report a “bombshell,” and American Today calling Roberts “the latest victim of the Obama hacking.” The Big League Politics, Gateway Pundit, and Conservative Patriot articles have received at least 1,900, 7,300, and 3,600 Facebook engagements, respectively, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo.

    The conspiracy theory comes after the pro-Trump fringe previously hyped Fox analyst Andrew Napolitano’s claim that Obama spied on the Supreme Court, and after fringe media outlets staunchly defended Trump’s false claim that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. Fringe media outlets have also repeatedly charged that Obama is trying to thwart Trump’s presidency by forming a “shadow government.”

  • Pro-Trump media claim “shadow President” Obama is violating the Logan Act

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Fringe media supporting President Donald Trump have claimed that former President Barack Obama violated federal law and is acting as a “shadow president” because he has talked to former and current foreign leaders since the end of his presidency. The claims, which have at least partially been parroted on Fox News, are an extension of conservative media’s ongoing conspiracy theory that Obama runs a “shadow government.”

    Since Trump’s inauguration, conservative outlets have baselessly claimed that Obama is running some kind of “shadow government,” a conspiracy theory which has since been invoked by a Republican congressman and by one of Trump’s attorneys. The right-wing hysteria took on a new level of feverishness after Obama met with a handful of former and current world leaders, some of whom he worked closely with as president.

    Pro-Trump fake news purveyors were quick to attack Obama for his post-presidency activities. Several websites, including American Today, Patriots On The Right, US Postman, and USA Daily Time, claimed in June that Obama was “undermining President Trump” while “advertis[ing]” his “shadow government.” They suggested that Obama had “committed treason” and “violated” the Logan Act, a law barring private citizens from interfering with American foreign policy and for which no one has ever been prosecuted. The Federalist Tribune and The Washington Feed also asserted that Obama would get “a lengthy jail sentence” as a consequence of the law. Eventually, more fake news purveyors continued to push the false narrative, with Mad World News, USA Newsflash, GOP The Daily Dose, The Angry Patriot, Global Politics Now, Freedom Daily, US Advisor, ENH, and Before It’s News joining in.

    Additionally, “alt-right”-affiliated Infowars and fake news purveyors Conservative Fighters, TruthFeed, and Red Rock Tribune hyped a Daily Caller piece suggesting Obama was a “shadow president.” “Alt-right”-affiliated The Gateway Pundit also called Obama a “shadow president” who “may be breaking the Logan Act.” There has also been some discussion regarding Obama and the Logan Act on the “alt-right”-affiliated forum 4chan /pol/.

    According to social media analytics website BuzzSumo, these claims being peddled by the pro-Trump fringe ecosystem, including American Today, Mad World News, USA Newsflash, GOP The Daily Dose, The Angry Patriot, Freedom Daily, Infowars, Conservative Fighters, TruthFeed, and The Gateway Pundit, have drawn numerous Facebook engagements that rise well over the thousands, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. There were at least 380 engagements with American Today's article, 41,900 with Mad World News’ article, 122,500 with USA Newsflash’s article, 6,500 with GOP The Daily Dose’s article, 7,000 with The Angry Patriot’s article, 48,300 with Freedom Daily’s article, 58 with Infowars’ article, 10,200 with Conservative Fighters’ article, 8,700 with TruthFeed’s article, and 5,000 and 6,900 for The Gateway Pundit articles, respectively.

    Some of the narrative has now gained cable news visibility by reaching Fox News, with host Lou Dobbs on July 6 attacking Obama for “shadowing” and trying to "undercut" Trump, and Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade on July 7 wondering why Obama was “shadowing” Trump and wondering whether Obama was trying to “swamp him.”

    The spread of these baseless claims yet again illustrates how the pro-Trump "alt-right"/fake news ecosystem has been used to push lies, conspiracy theories, and falsehoods.

  • Yahoo News aggregates a right-wing fake news website

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Yahoo News aggregated a highly misleading article with fake news, raising the question of how the company ended up treating a fake news purveyor as a legitimate news source.

    On July 5, Yahoo News aggregated an article on its website from Conservative Daily Post (CDP) headlined “U.N. Chief Makes Stunning Paris Agreement Admission: ‘President Trump Was Right.’” The Yahoo News page linked to CDP for the full article, which does not include a mention of United Nations Secretary General António Guterres saying the phrase quoted in the headline. In fact, it appears that Guterres has never said “President Trump was right” at all; on the contrary, in May he stated, “We believe it would be important for the US not to leave the Paris agreement.”

    The CDP article aggregated by Yahoo News also claimed that people opposed to Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement "are going to go to any lengths to convince you, even lie to you on CNN” because they “are losing a lot of money.” Additionally, the article pushed climate denial, falsely claiming that the agreement “aims at guilt tripping and deceiving people into believing that human CO2 is responsible for rising temperatures on Earth” and that “there is a very strong case that the sun is mostly responsible for rising CO2 levels, not human beings.”

    CDP is a serial fake news purveyor. During the 2016 presidential campaign, it falsely claimed that the FBI was looking into “at least 6 members of Congress and several leaders from federal agencies that partake in" a "pedophile ring, which they say was run directly with the Clinton Foundation as a front,” citing the “alt-right”-affiliated and conspiracy-driven 4chan forum /pol/. Later that month, the website falsely claimed that Trump would seek to criminally charge those who burn the American flag. Last August, it reported a satirical article claiming then-President Barack Obama would move to Canada if Trump won the presidential election as fact. And last July, it appeared to make up a story about an undocumented immigrant being fired from McDonald’s for telling police officers, “We don't serve pigs." The website recently also pushed a dubious claim from “alt-right” troll Jack Posobiec that then-FBI Director James Comey dropped an investigation into former national security advisor Susan Rice for allegedly “requesting the ‘unmasking’ of ... identities” of “US individuals” who were connected to Trump and had been caught in surveillance. And it used photographer Laura Hunter’s name and photo as a byline for some of its articles, turning Hunter, who leans “a bit more to the liberal side,” into a “fake far-right blogger.” In response, Hunter sued the website.

    Yahoo News is a regular aggregator of other news sources, including The Associated Press and Reuters, but it would be a highly alarming and unfortunate editorial choice for Yahoo to aggregate fake news. As other platforms such as Google and Facebook continue to struggle in their fight against fake news, it is critical for major websites like Yahoo to not drive traffic and give credibility to websites that push fake news and misinformation.

  • Will Facebook supply data to the inquiries into pro-Trump websites possibly colluding with Russia?

    Russia probes looking into possible Russia collusion with Trump campaign and Trump allies

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A new report from The Guardian claims that Russia probe special counsel Robert Mueller and Congress are likely looking into possible Russian collusion with pro-Trump websites and associates of President Donald Trump’s election campaign in order to spread fake news and misinformation on social media during the 2016 presidential election. The report helps underscore the need for Facebook to show greater transparency and cooperation with experts as part of the company’s efforts to fight fake news.

    On July 5, the Guardian reported that multiple probes about “possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow” are looking into “whether Trump supporters and far-right websites coordinated with Moscow over the release of fake news.” According to the Guardian, the ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, “said there was evidence that this campaign appeared to be focused on key voters in swing states [Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania], raising the question over whether there was coordination with US political operatives in directing the flow of bogus stories.” The article noted that “a huge wave of fake news” that originated in Eastern Europe was impacting the campaign as early as March 2016, with fake stories aiming to harm former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the Democratic Party’s primaries, and then aiming to help Trump during the general election campaign.

    The report is one of several which has suggested possible collusion between Russia, people surrounding Trump’s campaign, and pro-Trump media. In March, a separate report was published claiming that the FBI was looking into Russian bots spreading pro-Trump stories from “alt-right” websites like Breitbart and Infowars, and investigating whether “far-right news operations took any actions to assist Russia’s operatives.” As far back as November 2016, The New York Times reported on Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm hired by the Trump campaign, helping to push “dark posts” on Facebook -- targeted ads that “can only be seen by users with specific profiles” -- during the campaign to “try to suppress the African-American vote.” The firm, which is primarily owned by major Trump donor and Breitbart financier Robert Mercer and in which former Breitbart head and current White House chief strategist Steve Bannon invested, is being investigated by Congress, according to a May report from Time magazine, for its possible ties to “right-wing web personalities based in Eastern Europe who the U.S. believes are Russian fronts.” Notably, Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, who is “under FBI scrutiny in the Russia investigation,was involved with coordinating Trump’s digital operation, which included Analytica.

    As these probes look further into possible collusion between Russia’s operatives, pro-Trump websites, and members of Trump’s campaign to influence the election outcome, Facebook continues to be non-transparent in its efforts to fight fake news. Although the social network platform has taken some steps to combat the problem, those steps appear to be lacking, especially seeing as the company may have information that could show possible Russian collusion that it has not released. Facebook has refused to share its data on fake news with experts and researchers who are trying to track fake news and have called on the company to release it, and it has additionally refused to publicly report on the impact of fake news via its website. As Trump continues to engage in efforts to potentially suppress votes, it is critical for Facebook to maximize opportunities that could prevent future attempts to stop people from voting.