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  • How conservative, far-right, and fringe media figures are defending Trump’s "tapes" threat to Comey

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    After President Donald Trump admitted in a June 22 tweet that “I did not make, and do not have” any “‘tapes’ or recordings of my conversations with [FBI Director] James Comey,” conservative and pro-Trump media figures and outlets tried to defend his original threat that claimed, “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” The media figures and outlets insisted the move was “brilliant,” “impressive,” and “a victory” and said it was a “smart way to make sure [Comey] stayed honest” in his congressional testimony.

  • Roger Stone is calling for Robert Mueller and Rod Rosenstein to be fired for their “witch hunt” against Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Roger Stone says President Trump should fire special counsel Robert Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for “wasting the taxpayer’s money” in what he called, a “witch hunt” to take down the president.

    During an interview with CNN Money, Stone, a close ally and longtime adviser of Donald Trump blasted the investigation into alleged collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Russians calling it a wasteful “witch hunt.” Stone’s comments come after Trump tweeted similar remarks earlier in the day calling the investigation a “witch hunt” and cryptically claiming he is being investigated by “the man who told [him] to fired the FBI Director,” an attack presumably accusing Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein of investigating him for firing former FBI Director Comey at his direction.

    Stone sells himself as Trump’s inside man and has openly talked about his official and unofficial roles in Trump’s presidential campaign. He has been under FBI scrutiny for his role in allegedly “colluding with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton and put his friend in the White House.” Stone maintains his innocence despite the investigation and continues to downplay his role in coordinating with the Russians during the election.

    JEFF ZELENY: Now as the president returns to the White House in this hour, one question above all that he's facing is what is his relationship with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein? Now, the president has said through his aides he does not plan, at this time, to try and fire the special counsel Bob Mueller, but there's one person recommending he does just that. Jake [Tapper], Roger Stone, the president's longtime friend and associate told CNN Money earlier today this, “I'd fire Mueller and Rosenstein for wasting the taxpayer's money. This is a witch-hunt.” Those words sound familiar.

  • Here's how right-wing media have reacted to months of setbacks for Trump's Muslim bans

    ››› ››› NINA MAST

    As President Trump's executive orders banning immigration from first seven, then six, majority-Muslim nations have moved through the U.S. court system, they've been met with a series of legal setbacks and direct action and have drawn extensive media coverage. What follows is a timeline of events surrounding the ban, with a focus on right-wing media hypocrisy, denial, and defense of the president's increasingly indefensible policy. This post will be updated.

  • NY Times' Farhad Manjoo shows how disinformation moves from message boards through Twitter and ends up on Hannity

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    The New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo reported on the ecosystem that allows disinformation to spread through Twitter and to mainstream and right-wing media, including a conspiracy theory surrounding the murder of a Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer that was cooked up in message boards and eventually promoted by Fox News host Sean Hannity.

    Though Facebook has enabled a fake news ecosystem that empowers total lies, anonymous Twitter bots have also played a part in undermining discourse and truth. Former FBI agent Clint Watts testified in front of the Senate intelligence committee in March about “how Russians used armies of Twitter bots to spread fake news using accounts that seem to be Midwestern swing-voter Republicans,” as NPR described it. And according to a McClatchy report, the FBI is investigating Russian operatives and far-right news websites for their use of bots to spread misinformation.

    In a May 31 report, the Times’ Manjoo detailed the role of Twitter in spreading disinformation, fake news, and conspiracy theories, using the story of murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich as one example. The report noted that though “Hannity pushed the theory the loudest, … it was groups on Twitter -- or more specifically, bots on Twitter -- that were first to the story and helped make it huge”:

    [T]he biggest problem with Twitter’s place in the news is its role in the production and dissemination of propaganda and misinformation. It keeps pushing conspiracy theories — and because lots of people in the media, not to mention many news consumers, don’t quite understand how it works, the precise mechanism is worth digging into.

    We recently saw the mechanism in action when another baseless conspiracy theory rose to the top of the news: The idea that the murder last year of Seth Rich, a staff member at the Democratic National Committee, was linked, somehow, to the leaking of Clinton campaign emails. The Fox News host Sean Hannity pushed the theory the loudest, but it was groups on Twitter — or, more specifically, bots on Twitter — that were first to the story and helped make it huge.

    Hannity’s obsession with Rich’s murder is a strong example of how this ecosystem shapes media narratives. Hannity has come under fire and lost a number of his advertisers for his relentless promotion of a conspiracy theory alleging that Rich’s 2016 murder was a result of his leaking DNC emails to WikiLeaks. Hannity’s promotion of the theory continued after Fox News retracted an online story making similar claims and after Rich’s family requested that Hannity stop pushing the story. Hannity has a long history of pushing conspiracy theories.

    Manjoo quotes an expert on internet propaganda who said Twitter bots amplify groups’ messages and allow them to “use Twitter as a megaphone” and eventually “manufactur[e] consensus” for ideas. Manjoo contextualized how that works for conspiracy theories. First, groups take to message boards like Reddit or 4chan or Facebook groups to “decide on a particular message to push.” Then bots “flood the network, tweeting and retweeting thousands or hundreds of thousands of messages in support of the story.” These tweets often include a “branding hashtag” such as #sethrich. The report noted that “the initial aim isn’t to convince or persuade, but simply to overwhelm,” and that as stories become Trending Topics, reporters are forced to respond, thereby aiding the propagandists’ spread of the story even as media outlets debunk it. Others, like Hannity, pick up the weaponized disinformation, attempt to legitimize it, and put it on a larger platform like his prime-time Fox News show or radio program:

    “Bots allow groups to speak much more loudly than they would be able to on any other social media platforms — it lets them use Twitter as a megaphone,” said Samuel Woolley, the director for research at Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project. “It’s doing something that I call ‘manufacturing consensus,’ or building the illusion of popularity for a candidate or a particular idea.”

    How this works for conspiracy theories is relatively straightforward. Outside of Twitter — in message boards or Facebook groups — a group will decide on a particular message to push. Then the deluge begins. Bots flood the network, tweeting and retweeting thousands or hundreds of thousands of messages in support of the story, often accompanied by a branding hashtag — #pizzagate, or, a few weeks ago, #sethrich.

    The initial aim isn’t to convince or persuade, but simply to overwhelm — to so completely saturate the network that it seems as if people are talking about a particular story. The biggest prize is to get on Twitter’s Trending Topics list, which is often used as an assignment sheet for the rest of the internet.

    I witnessed this in mid-May, just after the Fox affiliate in Washington reported that a private investigator for Mr. Rich’s family had bombshell evidence in the case. The story later fell apart, but that night, Twitter bots went with it.

    Hundreds of accounts with few or no followers began tweeting links to the story. By the next morning, #SethRich was trending nationally on Twitter — and the conspiracy theory was getting wide coverage across the right, including, in time, Mr. Hannity.

    [...]

    Because they operate unseen, bots catalyze the news: They speed up the process of discovery and dissemination of particular stories, turning an unknown hashtag into the next big thing. A trending hashtag creates a trap for journalists who cover the internet: Even if they cover a conspiracy theory only to debunk it, they’re most likely playing into what the propagandists’ want.

  • If you appear as a guest on Tucker Carlson Tonight, there's a good chance you'll be a target of online harassment

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    After appearing on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, several guests have reported that they were subject to waves of harassment, usually from “alt-right” and white supremacist trolls. Tucker Carlson has become cable news’s most favored hosts among neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and those in the “alt-right.” 

  • Comey Firing Coverage Shows Right-Wing Media Has Lost Its Grip On Reality

    Fake News Purveyors Joined Conservatives In Lauding Comey's Firing

    ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ

    Right-wing media praised the Trump administration’s egregious decision to fire FBI director James Comey. Conservatives trumpeted the move as long overdue, while other media outlets lamented Trump’s move as “obstruction” and called his rationale for the firing “implausible.”

  • The White House’s Favorite Misogynistic Rape Denier Is Coming To Friday’s Press Briefing

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Internet troll Mike Cernovich, who has previously been promoted by persons within and close to President Donald Trump’s administration, announced on Twitter on April 24 that he had been approved for a “press pass” to visit the White House on April 28.

    In a since-deleted tweet, self-proclaimed “new right” leader Cernovich sent a message to President Donald Trump telling him that “some very dishonest people” at the White House “pulled my press pass,” warning that the action “will not go over well.” Hours later, during a live broadcast on YouTube (which has subsequently been removed) in which he ranted against the administration for denying him access, he told his audience that he just discovered his press pass has been approved. Cernovich followed up with a tweet:

    Cernovich’s presence at the White House comes as no surprise given the praise and access to information given to fringe and far-right outlets by White House officials. For example, Cernovich seemingly received special access to information involving the widely debunked smear that Susan Rice improperly unmasked Trump campaign staff under investigation and advance information that Trump would strike Syria. In addition, Cernovich has received praise from those close to Trump including Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway and the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., who both amplified Cernovich.

    In this case, while it appears that Cernovich received a day pass, not a permanent press pass like the ones given to credentialed journalists, Cernovich’s appearance at the White House, and most likely at the press briefing, reflects a larger pattern of outspoken Trump supporters and defenders getting increased access.  A similar pass was given to The Rebel Media’s Lauren Southern, who grew to fame as an “alt-right” media personality who denied rape and demonized minorities. The Trump White House briefing room has also become a hotbed for fringe pro-Trump media writers such as The Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft and Lucian Wintrich, who flashed an “alt-right” hand signal inside the briefing.

  • Punditry On Syrian Airstrikes Is Encouraging Trump To Escalate Tensions With North Korea

    Similar Media Support Helped Enable Iraq War

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    After President Donald Trump launched airstrikes against Syria in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack in that country, media figures from across the political spectrum praised his “beautiful” attack, with many also linking the action to the growing threat that another country -- North Korea -- poses to the United States. Effusive media support of military conflict was a key precursor to the Iraq War; the danger of such uncritically hawkish commentary has multiplied under Trump, who sources policy ideas -- and defenses for his conduct -- directly from media.

  • Syndicated Radio Host Joe Walsh Says President Obama Was Held To A Lower Standard Than Trump Because He’s Black

    CNN Commentator Angela Rye Explains Why He Is Wrong

    Blog ››› ››› MADELINE PELTZ

    CNN hosted Joe Walsh, a syndicated radio host, to defend his claim that former President Barack Obama was held to a lower standard by the media because he is black. Despite CNN commentator Angela Rye pointing out the racism in his comments, Walsh steadfastly argued his position that President Obama was held to a lower standard by the media because of his race and even doubled down on the claim after the CNN appearance.

    Walsh’s ongoing dispute with Rye made news on March 28, when Walsh claimed that the media “lowered the bar for Obama … cuz he was black”:

    Rye and Walsh were invited on the March 29 edition of CNN’s CNN Newsroom to discuss Walsh’s tweets. During the exchange Walsh claimed his comments were not racist, but reiterated that Obama was held to a “very low standard” and “coddled” by the media. Rye explained that Walsh’s bigoted comments ignore the fact that Trump became president despite his long history of racism and sexism. Watch:

    BROOKE BALDWIN (HOST): Do you agree? Do you think the original comments were either racist or sexist?

    JOE WALSH:  Hey, Brooke. No, I'm rolling my eyes right now. Because this is what the left always do, does. They always go to racism. Now, assume for a minute, Brooke, that Sean Spicer was a condescending jerk yesterday. And I think he probably was. But what does that have to do with race? And what does that have to do with sex? Brooke, Sean Spicer has been a condescending jerk to white male reporters a whole heck of a lot. And April is a great reporter, but doesn't she want to be treated equally? Why does this always have to do with race and sex? It's ridiculous. 

    BALDWIN: Angela, how do you feel about it?

    ANGELA RYE: I don't know if Sean Spicer is a racist. I don't know if Donald Trump is a racist. I don't know if the fallout that April experienced with Omarosa, who's a White House staffer, has challenges because of racial animus. What I do know is that April Ryan was disrespected yesterday and it was unwarranted. What I do know is that Sean Spicer is not April Ryan's father, so he should not tell her what she should and should not do. What I do know is that I'm sick and tired of this White House, as I was sick and tired of the campaign, treating people less than. Whether they're different because they are black or they're different because they cross the border, or they're different because they worship a different god or their god is known by a different name. I am tired of difference being disrespected and mistreated by this White House.

    [...]

    RYE: Sure, I think it speaks for itself. This president has been in turmoil since the campaign. He talked about grabbing women by their private parts. This is a man who -- let's put the shoe on the other foot. Barack Obama, a black man in this country running for president with not one, not two, but three baby mothers. Let's, you know, put the shoe on the other foot. Someone who took a loan from their father that they call a small loan of $1 million. Let's talk about all of those things. Someone who discriminated against people who were trying to just find spots in his housing facilities. Someone who took out full-page ads calling for the death of five young black and brown boys. If Barack Obama would have done any of that, Brooke, he would have never even made it to the general election. And that is the point. We're talking about a double standard. We're talking about lowering a bar. Barack Obama hurdled every bar that was put in front of him. When Michelle Obama talked about going high when they go low, they did it at every turn. This is a woman who was called an ape. Who -- they put pictures up of Barack Obama looking like a monkey. These are the people I'm talking about. They hurdled everything that came their way, every obstacle, and this man, it's asinine to even think that this man is now in the White House. Here we are in the middle of an investigation, but Hillary Clinton's e-mails. So, yeah, I mean, it's very frustrating and I'm tired of people telling me that black people are beneath a standard when we have to be twice as good all the time. And that is why I said, I'm not interested in having a dialogue with someone like Joe who has demonstrated a propensity towards bigotry. And he did that on Twitter yesterday in 140 characters or less.

    [...]

    BALDWIN: I want to understand why you had such a problem with what Angela said, and you took to Twitter and you let everyone know about it. I want to understand what your issue is with that. 

    WALSH: And Brooke, thanks. My disagreement had nothing to do with Trump. When Angela was making her case, she said that Barack Obama somehow had to live up to this perfect Jesus Christ standard that no other president had to live up to. My disagreement, Brooke, was about that. Because I find that laughable. And it's got nothing, again, to do with race. Never in our country's history have we had a president so like coddled and pampered and protected by the media like Barack Obama. You talk -- that's not a high standard, Brooke. He was held to a very low standard, because the media so loved him. 

    RYE: Did you or did you not say that you lowered the standard because he was black? Did you or did not say that the standard was lowered because he was black? Did you or did you not say that? 

    WALSH: Absolutely

    RYE: That is what makes you a bigot, Joe.

    After the CNN broadcast, Walsh repeated his racist claim on Twitter, writing, “Everyone made excuses for [Obama’s] inexperience simply because he’s black.” 

    Walsh has a history of making racist and discriminatory statements. After the July 2016 murders of five officers of the Dallas Police Department, Walsh tweeted that President Obama and “black lives matter punks” had better “watch out,” because “Real America is coming after you.” Walsh also told black people to “quit complaining about slavery & inequality,” insisted the media focus after Trayvon Martin’s murder should be “black-on-black crime,” and rewrote Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech to focus on his own “dream that black America will take responsibility for improving their own lives,” and “cease their dependency on the government plantation.” Walsh was suspended from his radio show in 2014 for repeatedly using racial slurs on air.

  • Trump Embraces Fringe Conspiracy That Equates Chuck Schumer Eating Krispy Kreme Donuts With Allegations Trump's Campaign Had Ties To Russia

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    President Donald Trump tweeted a photo of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer eating a donut alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin to defend himself from scrutiny of his possible ties to Russia. The photo was previously posted on the blog The Gateway Pundit, which Trump has indirectly cited before. The site has a history of publishing false information but was recently given White House press credentials.