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  • Report: Trump Is Wrong, Media Disproportionately Overreport Terror Attacks By Muslims

    Media’s Unbalanced Coverage Of Terrorism Leaves Americans With “An Exaggerated Sense Of That Threat”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog published a report that found that news media give “drastically more coverage to attacks by Muslims, particularly foreign-born Muslims -- even though those are far less common” than terror attacks committed by non-Muslims. The finding debunks President Donald Trump’s suggestion that the media underreport terror attacks by Muslim perpetrators.

    On February 6, Trump baselessly claimed that terror attacks are “not even reported, and in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn't even want to report it." The White House then released a list of “78 major terrorist attacks targeting the West that were executed or inspired by ISIS since September 2014.” The administration primarily listed attacks committed by Muslims, omitted any mention of right-wing terrorism, and included several attacks that were in fact reported extensively. Trump and White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway also both have referenced terror attacks allegedly committed by Muslims that actually never happened.

    Trump’s false claim is just one facet of his ongoing campaign to demonize and fearmonger about Muslims; he has also on several occasions stated his intent to ban Muslims from the United States. But in fact, Muslims (and others mistaken for Muslims) in the United States are often the target of violence from white supremacists, and their voices are underrepresented in the news media, both generally and also in discussions of issues that directly and disproportionately impact them.

    The authors of the report published in the Post on March 13 found that of the 89 terror attacks identified by the Global Terrorism Database between 2011 and 2015 in the U.S., 12.4 percent were committed by Muslims and 88 percent by non-Muslims, but that attacks by Muslims received 44 percent of news coverage about terror attacks. The disparity was even more extreme in cases where the attacker was a foreign-born Muslim. Even after they controlled for a “host of factors,” attacks by Muslims perpetrators received an average of 4 ½ times more coverage. “In other words,” the researchers wrote, “whether intentional or not, U.S. media outlets disproportionately emphasize the smaller number of terrorist attacks by Muslims — leading Americans to have an exaggerated sense of that threat.” From the March 13 report:

    Of the 89 attacks, 24 did not receive any media coverage from the sources we examined. The small proportion of attacks that were by Muslims — remember, only 12 percent — received 44 percent of the news coverage. In only 5 percent of all the terrorist attacks, the perpetrator was both Muslim and foreign-born — but those four attacks got 32 percent of all the media coverage.

    [...]

    In real numbers, the average attack with a Muslim perpetrator is covered in 90.8 articles. Attacks with a Muslim, foreign-born perpetrator are covered in 192.8 articles on average. Compare this with other attacks, which received an average of 18.1 articles.

    [...]

    But even controlling for [a host of factors], attacks by a Muslim perpetrator get, on average, about 4½ times more coverage. In other words, whether intentional or not, U.S. media outlets disproportionately emphasize the smaller number of terrorist attacks by Muslims — leading Americans to have an exaggerated sense of that threat.

    [...]

    Our own research, and that of our colleagues, shows that people are more likely to consider an attack to be terrorism when the perpetrator is Muslim. That’s true, even though the chance of an American being killed by an foreign-born terrorist, measured over the past 40 years, is 1 in 3.6 million each year, as a recent Cato Institute report noted.

    But since the news media focus so disproportionately on attacks by Muslims, particularly foreign-born Muslims, it’s no wonder that so many Americans think that these groups make our country less secure.

  • Reporting On Trans Rights Supreme Court Case, Major Outlets Failed To Call Alliance Defending Freedom A Hate Group

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    The anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) was quoted in four major publications’ coverage of the Supreme Court’s recent decision not to hear a monumental transgender equality case. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN and Reuters wire services all failed to label ADF as a hate group, instead misleadingly identifying the extremist group as merely a “conservative Christian” organization and effectively erasing the context readers deserve.

    On March 6, the Supreme Court issued a one sentence order announcing it would not hear G.G v. Gloucester County School, which would have been its first major case on transgender equality. In its order, the Supreme Court vacated the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals’ previous ruling -- which stated that a transgender Virginia high school student, Gavin Grimm, had the right to access restrooms and locker rooms appropriate for his gender identity -- and asked the lower court to reevaluate the decision. This ruling was a direct result of President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of Obama-era nondiscrimination protections for transgender students last month.

    In reports on the March 6 Supreme Court order, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Reuters, and CNN’s wire service all quoted a representative of the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom, according to a Media Matters search of four leading papers and three major wire services in the two days following the decision.

    The outlets all published similar variations of a statement from ADF’s communication director Kerri Kupec, who said that anti-transgender policies are needed to “protect” students’ privacy. None of the articles noted that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has designated ADF as an anti-LGBTQ hate group for its well-documented history of working domestically and internationally to criminalize gay sex, as well as spreading dangerous lies and misinformation that harm LGBTQ people and their families.

     A Washington Post blog also quoted an ADF representative, and while it did note that ADF opposes “allowing transgender children to use the bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity,” it similarly failed to contextualize ADF’s long track record of anti-LGBTQ extremism or hate group status. 

    ADF has an undeniably prominent role in leading the fight against transgender student equality. But the group is not merely a “conservative” an organization concerned with protecting “religious freedom” and “privacy.” It’s an extremist organization that has actively worked against protecting LGBTQ students from bullying in public schools. Identifying ADF as only a “conservative” or “conservative Christian” organization -- as the New York Times, The Washington Post, and Reuters did -- only helps ADF pretend its opposition to equality isn’t motivated by anti-LGBTQ animus.

    These dangerous oversights are just the latest in mainstream outlets’ journalistic failure to accurately label anti-LGBTQ hate groups, despite employing SPLC’s designation for other extremist ideologies. And it does a disservice to readers looking for the full story -- to properly asses ADF’s red herring plea for “privacy,” readers need to know up front that the group is disreputable and driven by hate.

    Methodology:

    Media Matters searched major publications The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, CNN Wire, and the Associated Press in Nexis for coverage between 10 AM March 6, through 10 AM March 8, 2017, using the the search terms “Alliance Defending Freedom" OR “Defending Freedom.” OR "Family Research Council" OR "American Family Association" OR "Liberty Counsel." The same search was repeated for Reuters using a site search of the Reuters website, and The Wall Street Journal in Factiva.

    Graphic by Sarah Wasko. 

  • The Ink On Trump's New Muslim Ban Is Barely Dry And Another Xenophobic Hate Crime Is Being Investigated

    Sikh Man’s Shooting Highlights Consequences Of State-Sanctioned Discrimination Spurred By Right-Wing Media Myths

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    As President Donald Trump releases his new Muslim ban, officials are investigating the shooting of a Sikh man in Washington state as a hate crime. The incident underscores the danger of having a government that legitimizes racial and religious profiling, implicitly validates the hatred of extremist groups, and promotes right-wing media myths to criminalize immigrants and refugees.

    Trump signed his revised Muslim ban on March 6, almost six weeks after he put out his original order, which proved indefensible and was blocked by a federal court. According to the Center for American Progress, the policy “not only has nothing to do with preventing terrorism, it also helps the Islamic State, or IS, and makes Americans less safe.” Additionally, leaked Department of Homeland Security memos undercut several administration rationales for the travel ban. Initiatives under Trump’s order, including the recently announced Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office, which will allegedly report on so-called "honor killings" by foreign nationals among other violent incidents, also serve no legitimate public safety purpose and appear to be an excuse to promote the persistent and dangerous right-wing media myths that immigrants and refugees are criminals.

    Despite the Trump administration’s claims that the order does not discriminate on the basis of religion, experts and advocates agree that the intent behind it is the same, and its legitimization of discrimination against an entire group of people based on their country of origin will undoubtedly fuel hatred from the radical right just the same, too.

    Hate groups generally are on the rise in America, a finding that the Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual census of hate groups attributes in large part to Trump’s presidential candidacy and its validation of far-right extremists. The report found that the most dramatic growth was in hate groups that target Muslims (and those perceived to be Muslim, such as Sikhs), which have increased from 34 in 2015 to 101 in total last year. 

    According to The Washington Post, the victim, who has been identified as 39-year-old Sikh man, Deep Rai, was working in his driveway in a town outside Seattle on March 3 when he was accosted by an armed white man in a mask who said, “Go back to your own country,” before shooting the victim in the arm. The victim was not a believer of Islam, but of Sikhism, a Indian monotheistic religion of which there are about 25 million adherents worldwide. As the Sikh Coalition, America's largest Sikh civil rights group, explained to CNN, Sikhs are often targeted for hate crimes in part "’due to the Sikh articles of faith, including a turban and beard, which represent the Sikh religious commitment to justice, tolerance and equality.’" Since the 9/11 terror attacks there have been thousands of reports from the Sikh community about hate crimes, workplace discrimination, school bullying, and racial and religious profiling, but the FBI began including hate crimes against Sikhs in their annual report only in 2016, and many in the Sikh community believe the media is still underreporting hate crimes against Sikhs.

    In his first speech to a joint session of Congress on February 28, Trump remarked, “Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week's shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.” While his apparent commitment to Jewish victims of religious hate is inconsistent and a departure from his previous refusal to denounce anti-Semitism, his failure to denounce xenophobia in his mention of the “Kansas shooting” is a conspicuous omission. Srinivas Kuchibhotla was an Indian immigrant in Kansas who was shot and killed by a white man who, similar to the perpetrator of the Washington shooting, shouted, “Get out of my country" before fatally shooting him and wounding another immigrant, Alok Madasani. The incident, which is being investigated as a hate crime, was largely ignored by broadcast and cable news.

    It is crucial that these individual hate crimes not be lost in coverage of Trump's immigration policies, which are inspired by dangerous right-wing media myths and validate extremist views. In the aggregate, these shootings are simply another form of state-supported hate.

    Illustration by Dayanita Ramesh.

    This post has been updated with additional information about the victims.

  • The Sorry State Of Both-Sides Political Analysis Right Now, In One Blog Post

    The Fix Goes After Bernie Sanders For Saying Trump Lies (He Does)

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    President Donald Trump is a liar.

    This is not a difficult conclusion to draw. You don’t need to be a bitter partisan to come to this conclusion. It’s perhaps the single most banal conclusion to draw from Trump’s behavior over his political life.

    That political life began when he lied about President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. He refused to back down from that lie for years, until he eventually lied about his birtherism.

    Trump lies habitually -- not strategically, as many politicians do, but constantly, on matters great and small. His lies appear to be contagious, with his aides forced to pick up his bullshit and carry it onward.

    “There has never been a serial exaggerator in recent American politics like the president-elect,” wrote Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler in December. “He not only consistently makes false claims but also repeats them, even though they have been proven wrong. He always insists he is right, no matter how little evidence he has for his claim or how easily his statement is debunked.”

    Trump’s actions take a blowtorch to general standards of political discourse.

    And so it was surprising but perhaps not shocking to discover that a writer at The Washington Post’s The Fix blog declared Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) tweets criticizing Trump for “shamelessly” lying were a tragic violation of our political norms.

    At The Savvy House That Chris Cillizza Built, Amber Phillips presents Sanders’ comments as equivalent to Trump’s evidence-free, much-denied claim that Obama illegally ordered his phones tapped (Four Pinocchios, according to the Post’s Fact Checker blog):

    One side of the aisle is accusing the president straight-up of lying. In 2017, that's just another day in politics.

    This is the state of our political discourse right now. Political norms — like, don't accuse the president of the United States of lying without evidence, or don't accuse the former president of the United States of wiretapping your phones without evidence — have been eviscerated.

    Trump says Obama tapped his phones without evidence, Sanders says he’s lying, and Phillips concludes that Both Sides are at fault. Trump's tendency to lie is so brazen that he's actually managed to get Sanders and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) to agree on the subject. But for Phillips, calling Trump a liar is not an accurate diagnosis of reality, but a partisan Democratic tactic. In 2017, that's just another day in political analysis.

    “Plenty of nonpartisan observers would agree that the extraordinary claims Trump is making have no precedent in modern-day politics,” Phillips writes. “Here's the problem with using the ‘L’ word in politics, though. To say someone's lying suggests that you know they don't believe what they're saying.”

    Phillips is channeling the talking points of the Trump administration. Sean Spicer used his first appearance before the press corps as White House press secretary to, in the words of Post columnist Margaret Sullivan, “brazenly lie” to them. Asked at a subsequent briefing if he would “pledge never to knowingly say something that is nonfactual,” Spicer responded that his “intention is never to lie,” but at times he will unknowingly pass along incomplete or inaccurate information, and that it would thus be unfair to “turn around and say, ‘OK, you were intentionally lying.’”

    Kellyanne Conway, for her part, has termed critics calling Trump a liar “dangerous to the democracy,” not too far from Phillips’ declaration that comments like Sanders’ are destroying political discourse and making it harder for Trump to pass legislation.

    “All of that is why we in the media are careful not to call Trump a ‘liar,’” Phillips concludes. “But top Democrats like Sanders feel no such hesitation.”

    The press has at times been hesitant to call Trump a liar, but the hard and fast rule Phillips wants to cite does not exist. At the Post, her colleagues Sullivan, Greg Sargent, Erik Wemple, and Jennifer Rubin have all highlighted Trump’s “lies.” Rubin is a conservative, suggesting that one need not be a partisan to use such terminology; writers at National Review and The Weekly Standard have done the same.

    If what Phillips means is that major news outlets have not referenced him as such in their news coverage, she is closer to the mark -- but still wrong. Several outlets, including the Post, have followed the line of reasoning Phillips uses in explaining why they don’t call Trump a liar in their news pages.

    But not all of the Post’s competitors have taken that path. The New York Times has twice called out Trump for using a “lie” on its front page -- in September when referencing his “‘birther’ lie,” and in January when discussing his “lie about [the] popular vote.”

    Both statements were among those Sanders highlighted as lies.

    It doesn’t make a lot of sense to demand that politicians adhere to the same standards for rhetoric as news reporters. It makes even less sense to say that they should adhere to the standards of the Post and not that of the Times.

  • Chris Cillizza Demonstrates Why "Optics" Punditry Is Fundamentally Useless

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Before, during, and after President Donald Trump’s speech last night to a joint session of Congress, political journalists and pundits shamelessly prioritized the speech’s optics over its content. Focusing on the president’s “tone,” they rushed to declare that Trump had finally “pivoted,” giving a “presidential” speech.

    That obsession with style over substance drew swift criticism from other commentators. And Washington Post political writer Chris Cillizza isn’t happy that pundits are being called out for saying Trump did an awesome job:

    These are dumb questions. Of course Trump can be praised for “delivering a good speech.” In fact, you don’t need to be a savvy pundit or political journalist to watch the speech and decide whether the speech is good!

    And that’s the problem. As Greg Sargent suggests, the real question is whether journalists are actually giving their audience useful information when they obsess over the president’s tone instead of the content of his speech.

    Do readers and viewers learn anything, for example, when they see Cillizza praising Trump for giving the best speech of his political life and complaining on cable news that “the worst thing, I think, for our politics is this assumption, and you see it over and over again in a speech like this, is that Donald Trump can do nothing good and nothing can be accomplished while Donald Trump is president”? (Really, that’s the absolute worst thing Cillizza can think of that can happen to our politics?)

    Americans need journalists to dig into whether anything Trump said last night could possibly be converted to policy (nope). They need journalists to interrogate Trump’s claims and determine whether they were true (they weren’t). They need journalists to put Trump’s speech into the context of his actions and explain whether he’s needlessly fearmongering about immigrant communities (my god, yes).

    And it’s helpful to learn that even the White House is shocked at how eager the press has been to praise Trump’s speech:

    Endless discussion of the optics of Trump’s speech, on the other hand, is entirely useless. There is no value in providing the “winners and losers” from last night in a way that treats Trump’s mendacity as a throwaway line.

    Of course, Cillizza’s entire oeuvre is based on the concept that he is a savvy pundit who tells people what they really need to know about politics based on a surface-level, optics-first approach.

    While he’s certainly one of the worst examples of the genre, he’s not alone -- at times, cable news seems to exist solely so Mark Halperin and Joe Scarborough and Gloria Borger and David Gergen and their ilk can pontificate about nonsense. They present value judgments and opinion dressed up as koans of wisdom.

    At best, content like this is ephemeral garbage that lasts a news cycle and is forgotten, but provides traffic that supports the work of actual reporters.

    At worst, this sort of fact-free punditry creates false narratives that can alter the public’s perception of political figures (see: the press’s obsession with Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 election cycle, which paved the way for Trump’s election).

    President Trump’s first weeks have been a shitshow of incompetence and extremism. The American public needs more from the press than meaningless dreck.

  • Media Can't Stop Pining For Another Trump Pivot

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Media seized on President Donald Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress as an opportunity for him to “pivot” or “reset” his administration. This canard that he would at some point change course was repeated throughout the presidential campaign, yet any shifts that occurred were always short-lived.

  • Economists And Experts Hammer Trump's Plan To Increase Military Spending At Expense Of Nearly Everything Else

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH & CRAIG HARRINGTON

    President Donald Trump’s plan to beef up the defense budget by an additional $54 billion at the expense of civilian domestic spending, which he will unveil tonight before a joint session of Congress, has been derided by economists and experts for being "wholly unrealistic" and “voodoo” economics.

    Bloomberg reported on February 26, that Trump’s first budget proposal would call for a $54 billion -- more than 9 percent -- increase in defense spending to be paid for with reductions to discretionary domestic spending, which Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) described as the budgetary equivalent of taking “a meat ax to programs that benefit the middle-class.” White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed reports of the president’s budget priorities in a February 27 press briefing, adding that Trump would discuss his budget plan in more detail during his February 28 address to Congress.

    Economists and experts have hammered Trump for months for proposing dramatic and seemingly unnecessary increases in defense spending. An October 19 article in New York magazine described Trump’s promises of new defense expenditures as “a random grab bag of military goodies, untethered to any coherent argument” because he lacked any vision or purpose for increasing funding to the military. According to figures compiled by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, American defense spending already eclipses the military spending of the next seven countries combined:

    The reception for Trump’s new budget outline has been similarly harsh. New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman derided the president’s claim that a “revved up economy” could fund new tax cuts and spending increases as “deep voodoo” -- alluding to Trump’s embrace of trickle-down economics. Washington Post contributor and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) senior fellow Jared Bernstein slammed Trump’s “wholly unrealistic” budget outline in a February 28 column and chided the president for claiming that he can simultaneously increase military spending, cut taxes on high-income earners and corporations, and reduce the federal deficit -- all while leaving vital entitlement programs alone. In order to even approach a balanced budget in 10 years, Trump would have to remove almost everything else in the budget:

    According to a February 27 analysis from the CBPP, Trump's proposal, when coupled with his plan to boost infrastructure investments, would mean nondefense spending would see a whopping 15 percent reduction. The reason for the outsized hit to nondefense discretionary spending is that the programs covered by that part of the federal budget -- education, energy, affordable housing, infrastructure investments, law enforcement, foreign aid, some veterans' benefits, etc. -- only account for a small part of all federal spending. The largest part of the federal budget is mandatory spending for entitlement programs including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, other veterans's benefits, and unemployment insurance. From the Congressional Budget Office:

    Trump’s proposed cuts to the State Department are so onerous that more than 120 retired generals signed an open letter to congressional leaders warning of their ramifications. One co-signer told CBS News that such steep cuts would be “consigning us to a generational war,” and the letter itself quoted Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who argued during his time at the head of U.S. Central Command that “if you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.”

    ThinkProgress blasted Trump’s proposals to cut the State Department along with domestic spending in the name of increasing national defense because such cuts would actually undermine national security. The article cited recent congressional testimony from Center for American Progress senior fellow Larry Korb, who testified that “our national security will suffer” if the federal budget prioritized the Pentagon at the expense of other agencies.

    Trump is notorious for pushing bogus claims about the economy and the federal budget. He has been derided by hundreds of economists for pushing right-wing myths about the economy and the federal debt, and routine criticisms of his unfounded claims were a mainstay of the presidential campaign in 2016. As was the case last year, the budgetary, fiscal, and tax policies Trump has supported since taking office simply don’t add up.

  • Washington Post: Trump Official Claims Administration Has Compiled “Dossiers” Of Negative Information On Reporters

    White House Correspondent April Ryan Claims Omarosa Manigault Admitted To “Dossiers” Being Compiled On Several African-American Journalists

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Washington Post reported Omarosa Manigault, “who is now a communications official in the Trump administration,” had “physically intimidated” White House correspondent April Ryan and “made verbal threats, including the assertion that Ryan was among several journalists on whom Trump officials had collected dossiers’ of negative information.”

    While Donald Trump’s “war on the press” has been documented throughout his campaign, the revelation that the White House has compiled “dossiers” of “negative information” on reporters represents a frightening escalation. From the February 13 Washington Post report:

    Manigault, who is now a communications official in the Trump administration, got into a heated argument with a White House reporter just steps from the Oval Office last week, according to witnesses. The reporter, April Ryan, said Manigault “physically intimidated” her in a manner that could have warranted intervention by the Secret Service.

    Ryan also said Manigault made verbal threats, including the assertion that Ryan was among several journalists on whom Trump officials had collected “dossiers” of negative information.

    Manigault, a onetime friend of Ryan’s, declined to address Ryan’s accusations on the record, offering only this emailed statement: “My comment: Fake news!” She did not specify what she considered false.

    [...]

    The encounter between Manigault and Ryan took place outside White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s West Wing office late Wednesday. Among the witnesses were White House press office staffers and a Washington Post reporter, Abby Phillip.

    Phillip said she didn’t hear every word of the women’s exchange but said Ryan told her afterward that she felt Manigault’s behavior was so threatening that it was “Secret Serviceable,” meaning that it rose to the level of law enforcement intervention.

    Ryan, a veteran White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks, used the same phrase repeatedly in an interview. “She stood right in my face like she was going to hit me,” Ryan said. “I said, ‘You better back up.’ . . . She thought I would be bullied. I won’t be.”

    [...]

    During their altercation, Ryan said Manigault told her that she was among several African American journalists who were the subject of White House “dossiers.” Manigault has previously said that Trump is keeping “a list” of opponents, though at the time she was referring to Republicans who voted against Trump.

  • Warning To European Facebook Fact-Checkers: Here's How Conservatives Will Try To Discredit You

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    With Facebook’s recent announcements that it is partnering with fact-checking news organizations in the United States and Germany to fight fake news on its website, conservative media are trying to discredit those organizations by claiming their fact checks -- and fact-checking in general -- are too subjective, suggesting bias due to staffers’ backgrounds or the organizations’ funding sources, launching personal attacks, and making claims of censorship. As Facebook expands its partnerships in France, future fact-checkers in Europe will likely face similar lines of attack.

  • Trump Appeared On TV To Talk About Terrorist Attacks He Now Says Were Not Covered

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ

    After President Donald Trump claimed that “the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report” on terrorist attacks, the White House provided a list of 78 attacks that the administration says didn’t receive adequate attention from the media. But Trump himself appeared on at least four segments covering high-profile terrorist attacks included on the list to give his opinion, which counters his claim that the media failed to satisfactorily report on them.

  • The White House Is Using A Fake News Lie To Baselessly Discredit Anti-Trump Protests

    ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    White House press secretary Sean Spicer has resurrected false claims pushed by fake news purveyors that people protesting President Donald Trump are actually bankrolled by well-funded progressive organizations. Spicer told Fox host Brian Kilmeade on February 6 that “protesting has become a profession now” and claimed that the protests have “become a very paid astroturf-type movement,” but reporters and fact-checkers have explained that no evidence exists to support those claims.

  • Media Must Label Anti-Immigrant Nativists Properly

    Now That Nativists Are In The Trump Administration, Media Need To Correct Course

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    In covering President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant proposals and new hires, some mainstream media outlets have been misleadingly identifying groups in favor of more restricted immigration as "conservative" or merely supportive of "stricter" rules, when the groups are actually nativist with members that promote the work of white nationalists.

    The “nativist lobby” is made up of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) -- which the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has designated a hate group -- NumbersUSA, and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), among several other smaller affiliated groups. While these three groups’ ties to white supremacists and their reputation for producing shoddy research to advocate for limiting all forms of immigration are well-documented, media outlets have sanitized their image by repeatedly referencing them and citing their work without mentioning their associations with nativism and white nationalism.

    In the past week alone, several mainstream outlets continued to help normalize these organizations -- specifically the Center for Immigration Studies -- by allowing them to pass as mainstream conservative organizations with a valid seat at the table in the immigration policy conversation. The Washington Post referred to CIS as “a conservative group that calls for added immigration restrictions,” USA Today identified CIS as an institution that “favors stricter control on immigration,” The Tampa Bay Times called it a “Washington D.C., think tank that favors stricter immigration policies,” while the Financial Times took the group’s word, calling it a “self-described ‘low-immigration, pro-immigrant,’” center.

    These characterizations fail to provide not only a full picture of the groups’ nativist, white nationalist ties but also their true intentions, which their "racist architect" John Tanton describes as a “European-American majority, and a clear one at that.” Even some conservatives are hesitant to attach to these organizations, rejecting their extremism and saying they “loathe the Tanton network.” For example, Neil Stevens of the conservative outlet Red State, recently condemned CIS for pushing white-nationalist literature and called on conservatives to “stop pretending CIS and FAIR are groups we can work with, since the last thing we need is to poison our movement.” It might be too late for that, judging from the number of figures linked to these groups currently joining the conservative-backed Republican administration.

    As Trump taps members and supporters of these organizations for his administration or lets them influence its policies, media have a greater responsibility to properly identify these groups and their members, specifically:

    • Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach -- who works as legal counsel to the legal arm of FAIR, the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) -- influenced Trump’s first two anti-immigration executive orders. 

    • The former executive director of FAIR, Julie Kirchner, is set to become chief of staff at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

    • Trump’s pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), was the keynote speaker at FAIR’s advisory board meeting and has credited the organization for helping sink bipartisan plans for immigration reform.

    • Jon Feere, reportedly a potential Department of Homeland Security hire, has a record that includes promoting the work of a white nationalist website and was a legal policy analyst for CIS.

    Given Trump’s recent executive orders and indications that he will be adopting these groups’ ideas it has become imperative for the press to correct course and provide an accurate, full picture of their affiliations and motivations.

  • STUDY: Evening Cable News Devoted Nearly 250 Segments To Wikileaks Emails In The 5 Weeks Before The Election

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & ROB SAVILLO

    In the five weeks before the November 8 presidential election, evening cable and broadcast news, major newspapers, and the Sunday morning broadcast network political talk shows combined to flood the media landscape with coverage of hacked emails released by Wikileaks, according to an analysis by Media Matters.

    After its July release of emails that were stolen from the Democratic National Committee, Wikileaks released a daily stream of hacked emails from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta starting in early October.

    Between October 4 and November 8, weekday evening cable news aired a combined 247 segments either about the emails or featuring significant discussion of them; evening broadcast news and the Sunday morning broadcast network political talk shows aired a combined 25 segments; and five of the country’s most-circulated daily newspapers -- Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post -- published a combined 96 articles about the emails released by Wikileaks in their print editions.

    Following Donald Trump’s presidential victory, the U.S. intelligence community released a report with its assessment that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.” The assessment, which represents the view of the 16 federal intelligence agencies, concluded “with high confidence” that as part of this effort, “Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks.”

    In response to mounting evidence that Russia sought to swing the election in Trump’s favor, in part through allegedly releasing hacked emails through channels like Wikileaks, Trump and his allies have in recent months downplayed the impact of the hacks. Trump, who has repeatedly sought to de-emphasize Russia’s alleged role in the election-related hacking to begin with, has also argued that the hacks had “absolutely no effect on the outcome” of the election. As ThinkProgress noted, “This was not the view of candidate Trump, who talked about Wikileaks and the content of the emails it released at least 164 times in last month of the campaign.”

    And Trump wasn’t alone.

    Media Matters’ review shows that news media treated the emails released by Wikileaks a major news story in the lead-up to the election. (It’s important to note that this is only a quantitative study; Media Matters did not attempt to assess the quality of articles and news segments about the hacked emails. A segment or article criticizing coverage of the emails or highlighting suspicions about Russia’s potential involvement was counted the same as a segment or article breathlessly promoting the contents of the hacked emails.)

    Data-driven news site Fivethirtyeight.com determined that the hacked emails released by Wikileaks were “almost exclusively an October story. Over 72 percent of people who searched for Wikileaks from June onward did so during October or the first week of November. Interest really got going with [Wikileaks Editor-in-Chief] Julian Assange’s press conference on Oct. 4.” We reviewed transcripts and articles beginning on October 4, when Assange first announced during a press conference that Wikileaks would release additional information pertaining to the election, through November 8, Election Day.

    Evening cable news -- defined as shows airing weekdays from 5 p.m. through 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC -- devoted massive coverage to the Wikileaks story, with Fox leading the way. In total, Fox News aired 173 segments over the course of the period studied. Fox also aired teasers 64 times to keep audiences hooked throughout broadcasts. The hacked emails were also mentioned in passing by a guest, correspondent, or host 137 times during additional segments about other topics.

    Fox’s coverage was a near-daily obsession for its evening news hosts. Four of the six programs in the study ran at least one segment every weekday or nearly every weekday between October 7 and November 7. Special Report with Bret Baier ran segments every weekday between October 7 and November 4; On the Record with Brit Hume ran segments every weekday between October 7 and November 7; The Kelly File ran segments on all but four weekdays between October 7 and November 7 (and on those four days, Wikileaks was still mentioned in passing at least once); and Hannity ran segments nearly every weekday between October 7 and November 7 (excluding October 10 and 20, the latter of which featured at least one mention of the story).

    CNN aired the second most Wikileaks coverage, with 57 segments teased to audiences 21 times and an additional 75 mentions during segments about other topics. MSNBC aired only 17 segments teased six times and tallied 23 mentions during additional segments. (MSNBC’s 6 p.m. hour, which at the time aired With All Due Respect, was not available in Nexis and was therefore excluded from this analysis).

    On broadcast network news, the numbers are smaller, but over the course of the period studied, the networks each aired a significant number of segments on their evening news programs and Sunday morning political talk shows. ABC programs World News Tonight and This Week with George Stephanopoulos devoted the most coverage to the Wikileaks emails, with 10 segments and five mentions during additional segments combined. CBS’ Evening News and Face the Nation with John Dickerson followed, with nine segments and three mentions during additional segments combined. NBC’s Nightly News and Meet the Press with Chuck Todd aired just six segments and 12 mentions during additional segments combined.

    The five major newspapers we studied each published numerous articles in their print editions (we did not include online coverage) about the Wikileaks emails in the month before the election, but three stood out from the rest. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal each published 27 articles about the emails and mentioned them in 26 and 10 other articles, respectively. The Washington Post was the third paper in this group with 26 articles about the Wikileaks emails published and mentions in 14 additional articles.

    USA Today published 11 articles about the Wikileaks emails and mentioned them in three other articles while Los Angeles Times ran just five stories and mentioned the Wikileaks emails in only seven other articles.

    As was the case with Trump, conservative media figures who hyped and encouraged reporting on hacked emails quickly adjusted their views on the significance of the hacked emails during the presidential transition period. After touting the release of the stolen emails, credulously reporting on numerous illegally obtained emails published by Wikileaks, encouraging Trump to “just read” the stolen emails at campaign rallies, advising Trump to “study[] Wikileaks,” and repeatedly providing a platform for Assange to promote the publication of the stolen emails, right-wing media figures downplayed the influence the disclosure of the emails had on the 2016 campaign. Taking the lead from Trump's transition team, some right-wing media figures then argued that “no one can articulate or specify in any way that” the publication of the private emails “affected the outcome of our election.”

    Although right-wing media figures have claimed that there is “no indication that” the publication of the private emails “affected the election,” the breathless reporting on the contents of the Wikileaks disclosures by media outlets played into the hands of the Russian government’s “influence efforts to … amplif[y] stories on scandals about Secretary Clinton and the role of Wikileaks in the election campaign,” according to the intelligence community’s report. Days after the first trove of private emails was published by Wikileaks, a group of former top national security officials and outside experts warned “the press … to be cautious in the use of allegedly ‘leaked’ information,” which “follows a well-known Russian playbook.”

    The Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum summarized the strategy in an interview with Slate months before the first disclosure of Podesta’s personal emails:

    I didn’t think about the United States because I thought the United States is too big, American politics isn’t moved by these smaller amounts of money the way that Czech politics are or Polish politics are. But I hadn’t thought through the idea that of course through hacking, which is something they’re famously very good at, that they could try and disrupt a campaign. And of course the pattern of this is something we’ve seen before: There’s a big leak, it’s right on an important political moment, it affects the way people think about the campaign, and of course instead of focusing on who did the leak and who’s interest it’s in, everyone focuses on the details, what’s in the emails, what did so-and-so write to so-and-so on Dec. 27, and that’s all that gets reported.

    The press could have seen this coming. On the August 24, 2016, edition of The Kelly File, then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly interviewed Wikileaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, who used the platform to hype the “material” Wikileaks planned to publish, and announced it would be released in “several batches.” Kelly asked Assange if he thought the information in his “possession could be a game changer in the US election.” Assange said the effectiveness of the release “depends on how it catches fire in the public and in the media.”

    Methodology

    Media Matters reviewed the Nexis database for news transcripts and articles that mentioned Julian Assange or Wikileaks approximately within the same paragraph as variations on any of the following terms: Hillary Clinton, Democratic National Committee, DNC, or John Podesta. We included cable news networks’ weekday evening programming (5:00 p.m. through 11:00 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC; the evening news shows (ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News) and Sunday morning political talk shows (ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS’ Face the Nation with John Dickerson, and NBC’s Meet the Press with Chuck Todd) on ABC, CBS, and NBC; and five of the most-circulated daily print newspapers: Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. (MSNBC’s 6:00 p.m. hour, which hosted With All Due Respect was not available in Nexis and was therefore excluded from the analysis).

    Data-driven news analysis website Fivethrityeight.com determined the hacked emails released by Wikileaks “was almost exclusively an October story. Over 72 percent of people who searched for Wikileaks from June onward did so during October or the first week of November. Interest really got going with Julian Assange’s press conference on Oct. 4.” Therefore, we reviewed articles beginning on October 4, 2016, when Assange first announced during a press conference that Wikileaks would release additional information pertaining to the election, through November 8, 2016, Election Day.

    For television, we coded as “segments” news segments where the hacked emails released by Wikileaks were the stated topic of discussion, and we also coded as “segments” when signification discussion about the hacked emails from Wikileaks occurred during segments with a different initially stated topic or during multi-topic segments. We defined significant discussion as at least two or more speakers discussing the hacked emails to one another during the course of the segment. We determined the start of a segment to be when the show’s host introduced either the topic or guests and determined the end of a segment to be when the show’s host concluded discussion or bid farewell to the show’s guests.

    We coded as “mentions” comments made by a speaker about the hacked emails without any other speaker in the segment engaging. We coded as “teasers” introductions by the host of upcoming segments on the hacked emails where the segment in question did not immediately follow.

    For print, we coded as “articles” news stories and opinion pieces where the hacked emails were mentioned in the headline or the lead of the story or article. If the hacked emails were used as a piece of evidence within a larger story or used to provide context, those were coded as “mentions within an article.”

  • How Reporters And Civil Servants Can Team Up To Thwart Trump’s Anti-Transparency Agenda

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    On January 24, two anonymous sources at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told Reuters that the Trump administration had instructed EPA officials to remove the data-heavy climate change page from the agency’s website, and that the page could be taken down as soon as the following day. A public backlash quickly ensued, and the Trump administration at least temporarily backed away from its plan to shut down the website on January 25, as E&E News reported.

    Whether the Trump-led EPA will ultimately remove the website remains to be seen, but regardless, the episode represents a victory for open data and a guide for how whistleblowers can work with reporters to push back against Trump administration gag orders that have alarmed science and transparency advocates.

    And judging from their initial response, major media outlets seem to recognize that seeking out whistleblowers is particularly important in the current political landscape.

    On the same day that the EPA employees alerted Reuters of Trump’s plan to shut down the EPA climate website, Associated Press science writer Seth Borenstein reminded government scientists and officials that they can “securely and confidentially” send tips and documents to the AP via its SecureDrop service. The Washington Post also ran through its version of SecureDrop in a January 25 article titled, “Here’s how to leak government documents to The Post.”

    Meanwhile, the staff at InsideClimate News (ICN) provided whistleblowers with a list of do’s and don’ts for revealing internal documents and information to ICN without compromising themselves.

    It is safe to say that there is already widespread concern among civil servants about government transparency under the Trump administration, as a series of rogue climate-related tweets from National Park Service employees clearly demonstrates. But this battle over information is really just beginning, and it’s more important than ever that reporters work with whistleblowers to hold the White House accountable.