Charles C. Johnson | Media Matters for America

Charles C. Johnson

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  • Why The “Alt-Right” Is Getting Scoops From The Trump White House

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The vicious “alt-right” provocateur Mike Cernovich spent the 2016 election cycle claiming that Hillary Clinton had Parkinson’s disease and that her associates were leading a child sex-trafficking ring from a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant. Now he has the ear of enough sources close to President Donald Trump that, at times, he has published legitimate scoops that have later been verified by more credible sources.

    “Big scoops by personalities who rose to prominence online by crossing the line into trolldom have short-circuited a mainstream-media bullshit detector that once spotted fake news by bylines alone,” warned BuzzFeed News’ Charlie Warzel, who has detailed several cases in which trolls linked to the racist and misogynistic “alt-right” have turned out to be unnervingly well-sourced.

    By providing people like Cernovich with this information, the administration sources have created a new state of uncertainty for journalists and news consumers who might otherwise have been able to universally reject stories from “alt-right” sources. And that creates a dismal state of affairs given the willingness of those writers to troll the public by pushing flagrantly false reports and conspiracy theories.

    The wave of more credible stories doesn’t reflect a new commitment to investigative journalism on the part of these figures so much as it reflects terribly on the sort of people in Trump’s orbit, who are feeding information to the dregs of the internet for personal or strategic reasons.

    For Warzel, the rising power of the “pro-Trump media” makes sense because “its people are in the White House,” feeding information to simpatico media figures.

    That is surely the explanation in some cases. According to Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist who frequently brags about his influence with the president and who recently gave Cernovich a regular hosting gig on his radio show, the troll’s sources are “not a secret, it’s [the president’s] sons, especially Donald Jr.”

    Trump Jr. repeatedly drew scrutiny during the 2016 election for his interactions with “alt-right” and white nationalist figures and memes. He follows Cernovich and several other “alt-right” figures on Twitter, and in April he declared that Cernovich deserved to win a Pulitzer Prize for one of his stories.

    Several other current and former members of the White House staff have similar ties to that movement.

    This seems like a plausible pathway for at least some of Cernovich’s stories. But White House staffers don’t need to be his buddy in order to use him -- they may see giving him information as a way to maintain Trump’s support with the “alt-right.”

    In short, there may be a White House strategy to feed the trolls.

    White House chief strategist Steve Bannon turned Breitbart.com into “the platform for the alt-right” during his tenure running the website, seeing the value in gaining fans within that movement. Throughout the election, the Trump campaign could count on people like Cernovich to push conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton. There is certainly value in keeping such people on the White House’s good side and being able to deploy their skill at manipulating the broader discourse.

    In this scenario, sending tips to such figures is of a piece with the White House Press Office’s decision to grant press access to a rotating cast of fringe media figures. It’s a way to reward friendly outlets while keeping the press off balance.

    Finally, there’s the possibility that the end goal of some of these stories is to feed the King Troll: President Trump himself.

    Politico reported today that because the president lacks a structure for receiving information and is willing to believe anything put in front of him, “aides sometimes slip him stories to press their advantage on policy; other times they do so to gain an edge in the seemingly endless Game of Thrones inside the West Wing.” And that can have major consequences: “A news story tucked into Trump’s hands at the right moment can torpedo an appointment or redirect the president’s entire agenda. Current and former Trump officials say Trump can react volcanically to negative press clips, especially those with damaging leaks, becoming engrossed in finding out where they originated.”

    “That is what happened in late February,” Politico continued, “when someone mischievously gave the president a printed copy of an article from GotNews.com, the website of Internet provocateur Charles C. Johnson, which accused deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh of being ‘the source behind a bunch of leaks’ in the White House.”

    Johnson’s piece about Walsh was also cited in Warzel’s article about pro-Trump media figures who had received unusually well-sourced scoops. Johnson openly repudiates many conventions of journalistic ethics and has published numerous stories that were later disproved; he’s also been banned from Twitter. As his notoriety grew, he went from published stories at prominent conservative outlets like The Daily Caller to writing for his own website.

    But President Trump is uninterested in any of this, and so when Johnson’s story passed across his desk it apparently became a “topic of heated conversation in the West Wing, setting off mini internal investigations into who had backstabbed Walsh,” Politico reported.

    In this scenario, the “alt-right” commentariat becomes a way for White House aides to generate news clips that they can give the president, because he does not discern between their work and that of a mainstream newspaper. Unlike more credible reporters, writers for these outlets have no real standards; if you give them something juicy, they will publish it.

    Either senior White House aides and people close to the president share the values of the “alt-right” racists and misogynists, or they’re willing to work with them to achieve their ends. Either way, the “alt-right” isn’t going away -- it continues to grow and metastasize and now has allies at the highest level of government.

  • CNN Adopts Flawed Right-Wing Logic On School Shooting Numbers

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    CNN is adopting flawed right-wing media logic that seeks to downplay the numbers of school shootings in the last 18 months.

    Following an incident at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon where a 15-year-old student armed with an AR-15 assault weapon and a handgun killed a fellow student before taking his own life, gun violence prevention group Everytown for Gun Safety circulated a graphic that identified the locations of 74 school shootings since the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School:

    How Everytown reached the 74 school shooting figure is no mystery. On its website, the gun safety group clearly explains its methodology: "Incidents were classified as school shootings when a firearm was discharged inside a school building or on school or campus grounds, as documented in publicly reported news accounts. This includes assaults, homicides, suicides, and accidental shootings."

    The right-wing media has sought to debunk this statistic in order to downplay the prevalence of school shootings. Criticism of Everytown's graphic began on June 10 with a lengthy series of tweets from conservative journalist Charles C. Johnson that purported to debunk many of the 74 shootings as "fake shooting[s]."

    Shootings that Johnson believed had been mischaracterized as school shootings included incidents where, in his own words, "A gunman ran onto campus, was chased by police, shot student accidentally," "Honors student shoots self in front of class," and, "Northwest High School principal shot by her ex-husband on campus":

    According to Johnson, "It's not a school shooting when someone goes and shoots a specific person on campus. It's a shooting that happens to take place at school."

  • The Naked Truth: Daily Caller Botches Benghazi Smear

    Blog ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS

    The Daily Caller attempted to attack a New York Times reporter for his work covering the attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, but ended up citing a fake news report.

    Conservatives have dishonestly attacked Times Cairo bureau chief David Kirkpatrick's recent investigation into Benghazi, which debunked several right-wing myths about the attack. Amid that effort, Charles C. Johnson reported for the Caller that he had uncovered embarrassing information about the writer. Johnson reported that while a student at Princeton -- 25 years ago -- Kirkpatrick posed nude for Playgirl magazine.

    That isn't true.

    As Slate's Dave Weigel reports, the Caller cited a spoof issue of Princeton's student newspaper that satirically claimed that Kirkpatrick had posed nude for the magazine. The same issue also claimed that Elvis Presley had been sighted on campus and that a professor had the powers of a "mind-control master."

    There was no "Daily Princetonian" article alleging a Kirkpatrick sideline in porn. The story appeared in a spoof issue, The Princeton Daily News. Two former student reporters for the paper confirmed that the paper would occasionally run a parody section, and that the Kirkpatrick "Playgirl" story was a riff on the well-known nudity arrest of a few months earlier.

    After the false story was brought to the Caller's attention, they retracted their report. But instead of acknowledging that they had promoted a hoax, the article's correction claims only that the Princeton article "appears to have been fabricated" and could not be independently confirmed.

  • Right-Wing Media Defend Reagan Following Death Of Nelson Mandela

    Blog ››› ››› JUSTIN BERRIER

    Mandela ReaganRight-wing media figures have rushed to defend President Ronald Reagan's record on apartheid and South Africa in the wake of Nelson Mandela's death.

    Reagan's record came under increased attention following the death of the former South African president and anti-apartheid activist. In an interview with Salon, Whitman College historian David Schmitz discussed Reagan's policy toward South Africa, which included opposition to Mandela's party, the African National Congress, labelling Mandela and the ANC as "terrorists," and vetoing sanctions against the pro-apartheid government that ruled South Africa at the time:

    What about U.S. policy toward the opposition groups like the ANC and Nelson Mandela?

    They called the ANC terrorists. It was just continuing this notion that the ANC members are the extremists and the South African government has these moderates, and you're going to end up with one extreme against the other if you don't work with the government. Clearly, it never worked. This was a flawed policy.

    [...]

    Would you argue that Reagan's foreign policy extended the life of the regime in South Africa?

    Yes. It gave it life. It gave it hope that the United States would continue to stick with it. It gave it continued flow of aid as well as ideological support. It delayed the changes that were going to come. Then you had the big crackdowns in '86 and '87. So there was harm in the lengthening. There was harm in the violence that continued.

    Despite his history, right-wing media figures defended Reagan's history after Mandela's death. CNN host Newt Gingrich claimed that Mandela's death was "being used inappropriately" by critics of Reagan:

  • Breitbart.com: Obama's Employment By Catholics Shows That He's Anti-Catholic

    Blog ››› ››› ADAM SHAH

    The Breitbart.com crew's promise to provide proper "vetting" of President Obama hasn't been going very well. But as mockable as their campaign has been so far, it is now becoming even more hilarious. Today, Breitbart.com features a post by Charles C. Johnson headlined "Obama's War On Catholic Church Began At His First Job." What evidence does the post provide that Obama is anti-Catholic? In 1985, he worked for "Catholic leftists" and was paid by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the former Catholic archbishop of Chicago.

    You read that correctly. Johnson's thesis is that Obama is anti-Catholic. And part of his evidence is that a Catholic archbishop paid him:

    Obama's first job in Chicago began in 1985 with Jerry Kellman, a Saul Alinksy-trained community organizer who continues to work with the radical Catholic left in the Windy City.

    [...]

    He was paid by these radical Catholic leftists, who in turn had received their money from their parishioners or the larger Catholic church. Obama's travel documents and expenses were signed and approved by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin,a controversial figure in the Catholic church who supported nearly every left-wing movement within it.

    Is this a delayed April Fool's joke?

    Well, it turns out that, in the mind of the Breitbart.com's Johnson, "Bernardin's work undermined many Catholic teachings." Bernardin was a bishop for about 30 years, and at one time served as the president the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference. So this seems a bit unlikely.

    But let's not be too hasty. Maybe Johnson has some evidence of Bernardin's undermining the Catholic Church.