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Numerous opinion pieces running in publications like The Hill and Washington Examiner share two things in common: praise for Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposed rollback of net neutrality rules, and millions in undisclosed funding from the telecommunications industry for the writers’ organizations.
Pai announced in an April 26 speech that he wants to roll back net neutrality rules that President Barack Obama’s administration put in place in 2015. Those open internet rules mean that internet service providers (ISPs) “should provide us with open networks — and shouldn’t block or discriminate against any applications or content that ride over those networks.”
Advocates for open internet like the nonprofit group Free Press heavily criticized Pai and President Donald Trump for attempting “to erase one of the most important public interest victories ever at the agency” and “leave people everywhere at the mercy of the phone and cable companies.”
Proponents of Pai’s open internet rollback are supporting the chairman in the op-ed pages of publications like The Hill and Washington Examiner. But their pro-telecom pieces don’t disclose that they have received heavy funding from the telecommunications industry, which has been aggressively lobbying to overturn the 2015 rules.
Leading organizations that have lobbied to overturn the rules include NCTA – The Internet & Television Association and CTIA, a group that represents “the U.S. wireless communications industry.” They have both contributed heavily to groups which are now praising Pai’s rollback of open internet rules.
Here are six examples where outlets published anti-net neutrality pieces without noting that the writers’ organizations have received telecom funding. (Searches were conducted via The Center for Public Integrity’s Nonprofit Network tool of available IRS filings.)
Media Matters previously documented that media outlets have been promoting the anti-net neutrality Free State Foundation without noting it has received heavily financial backing from the telecommunications industry.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and media outlets have been citing the work of The Free State Foundation (FSF) to argue against current net neutrality rules. But media have failed to note that the foundation is heavily backed by the telecommunications industry, which has lobbied against the 2015 open internet rules put in place by former President Barack Obama’s administration.
Net neutrality, as explained by the nonprofit group Free Press, is “the basic principle that prohibits internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down or blocking any content, applications or websites you want to use.”
Corporations and Republicans like Pai have been trying to dismantle those rules since President Donald Trump’s election. Pai delivered an April 26 speech detailing his desire to do that and tried to justify his plans by saying of the Communications Act title related to net neutrality: “According to one estimate by the nonprofit Free State Foundation, Title II has already cost our country $5.1 billion in broadband capital investment.”
Gizmodo staff writer Libby Watson, who previously wrote for the Sunlight Foundation and Media Matters, noted that Pai’s cost argument is bogus, writing that a Free Press analysis found that internet service providers' "capital expenditure increased more after net neutrality was passed than in the two years before it." She added that “ISPs themselves happily boast of investments when they’re not whining to regulators.”
FSF has been pushing pro-telecom research while receiving nearly half a million dollars from telecommunications trade associations in recent years.
CTIA, a group that represents “the U.S. wireless communications industry” and counts AT&T, T-Mobile USA, and Verizon Wireless as members, issued a statement praising Pai’s recent remarks. The group’s IRS 990 forms state that it gave FSF $63,750 in 2014 (the most recent year available), $58,750 in 2013, and $75,000 in 2012.
NCTA - The Internet Television Association, whose members include Charter Communications, Comcast Corp., and Cox Communications, gave the FSF $105,000 in 2014, $100,000 in 2013, and $85,000 in 2012. The group also praised Pai’s remarks.
A statement on the FSF website acknowledges that it receives contributions from “a wide variety of companies in the communications, information services, entertainment, and high-tech marketplaces, among others, as well as from foundations and many individuals.” In an email to Media Matters, a foundation spokesperson said, “All of our support is general support with none earmarked for net neutrality or any other designated project or issue.”
This has become a familiar pattern since Trump’s election. Outlets such as USA Today (repeatedly), The Hill, and Bloomberg have quoted May praising Trump’s plans to curtail net neutrality. And The Washington Times and The Hill have published opinion pieces by FSF employees arguing against regulation on the telecom industry without disclosing the group’s funding sources.
Pai, who formerly worked as a lawyer at Verizon, will speak at FSF’s Ninth Annual Telecom Policy Conference on May 31. Other speakers include executives from AT&T, Comcast, and CTIA. Pai also spoke at the group’s 10th anniversary luncheon last December and praised the group for being “a key voice fighting against the FCC’s regulatory overreach in areas such as net neutrality.”
The telecom industry and anti-net neutrality companies like AT&T have given funding to numerous organizations that criticize regulations and net neutrality in the media (often without disclosure). With the debate over net neutrality reignited, media outlets will have a lot of opportunities to correctly note the funding sources of media-friendly groups that are opposing consumer-friendly rules.
President Donald Trump, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, and former Fox Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes all have at least one thing in common: Multiple women have accused each of them of sexual harassment in the context of the workplace. In addition, they have defended each other over those allegations, with O’Reilly dismissing the accusations against Trump, and Trump reciprocating by defending the alleged harassers at Fox News.
During an interview with The New York Times on Wednesday, Trump took time to single “out Fox News and the host Bill O’Reilly for praise” and to defend the host in light of the recent Times reporting that the network settled five lawsuits with women claiming he engaged in sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior. Trump said of O’Reilly, “I think he’s a person I know well — he is a good person,” and weighed in on the allegations by adding, “I think he shouldn’t have settled; personally I think he shouldn’t have settled. Because you should have taken it all the way. I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”
The president’s defense seemed to come in reciprocation for O’Reilly’s support last fall, when he excused and minimized Trump’s comments about grabbing women by their genitalia. O’Reilly dismissed Trump’s comments as “guy talk” and attacked The Washington Post, the outlet that broke the story.
The Times interview wasn’t the first time Trump has defended an alleged sexual harasser at Fox News. Amid the 2016 scandal in which former Fox host Gretchen Carlson sued Ailes for sexual harassment and several other women came forward with similar complaints, Trump dismissed the serious allegations as “unfounded” during an interview with the Washington Examiner. He told the Examiner, "Totally unfounded, based on what I read." O’Reilly also publicly stood “behind Roger 100 percent,” paying back Ailes for years of protection from public scrutiny.
Despite mounting evidence that Fox News continues to be a “cesspool of sexual harassment,” its white-glove treatment of the Trump administration has clearly guaranteed the network a powerful ally, one whose own history with sexual harassment accusations seems to indicate he cares as little as Fox does about respecting women.
Image by Sarah Wasko
A September 2016 report by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) found that immigrants pay more in taxes than they use in benefits over time, but right-wing media cherry-picked and distorted the findings to claim that immigrants “drain the government,” a claim that President Donald Trump repeated in his February 28 speech to Congress.
Before and since the election, media outlets have repeatedly failed to write headlines that adequately contextualize President Donald Trump’s lies. Simply echoing his statements normalizes his behavior and can spread disinformation, particularly given the high proportion of people who read only headlines. Below is an ongoing list documenting the media’s failure to contextualize Trump’s actions in headlines and sometimes on social media. Some of the initial versions were subsequently altered (and these are marked with an asterisk), but many of the updates still failed to adequately contextualize Trump’s remarks.
The Washington Examiner claimed that new Hillary Clinton emails released by Judicial Watch “appear to contradict her sworn testimony” that she did not recall discussing her private email server with former State Department IT specialist Bryan Pagliano. But the email chain merely showed that four years ago, Clinton asked Pagliano for help receiving emails, not discussing an email server.
The Examiner’s claim comes in the wake of the latest batch of emails released by the conservative and anti-Clinton Judicial Watch on October 19. Singling out two innocuous email chains where Clinton discussed email issues with Pagliano, the Examiner claimed that Clinton lied to the FBI about not recalling her conversations about her email server with Pagliano:
"Secretary Clinton states that she does not recall having communications with Bryan Pagliano concerning or relating to the management, preservation, deletion, or destruction of any emails in her clintonemail.com email account," Clinton testified through her lawyer, David Kendall, after raising objections to the question.
But emails provided to conservative-leaning Judicial Watch through the Freedom of Information Act show Clinton included Pagliano in discussions about her Blackberry, iPad and server when her network experienced problems in 2012.
The two email chains included among 15 pages of documents published by Judicial Watch on Wednesday, show Pagliano wrote directly to Clinton and copied Justin Cooper, a former Clinton Foundation aide who also provided assistance for the email system, in March 2012.
"Let me take a look at the server to see if it offers any insight," Pagliano wrote in an email to Clinton after she complained to him and Cooper of the "troubles" plaguing her Blackberry.
Clinton’s failure to remember a handful of email conversations four years prior discussing a technical issue with an IT specialist does not contradict her sworn testimony to the FBI. The email chain similarly does not show Clinton discussing anything “concerning or relating to the management, preservation, deletion, or destruction of any emails” with Pagliano, but simply discussing her attempting to receive emails to her mobile device. In the email chain, Clinton explained she’s having trouble receiving emails on her BlackBerry and that she took out the battery in an attempt to fix the problem. In replies, Justin Cooper suggested the problem could be with AT&T’s wireless network and suggested she use an iPhone instead. Nowhere in the chain does Clinton say anything that contradicts her sworn testimony.
Conservative media figures have succeeded in setting the bar so low for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump that they were astonishingly able to champion his October 9 debate performance as a success despite his threat to “jail” Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, his admission that he evaded paying federal income taxes and that he hasn’t spoken with his running mate on crucial foreign policy issues, and his claim that his caught-on-tape sexual assault boasts were just “locker room” banter.
Many right-wing media figures have spent the entire election aiding the Trump campaign by lowering the bar for Trump to declare success -- saying that so long as he doesn’t “vomit all over himself and [he gives] a decent” performance, he’ll succeed.
The October 9 debate at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, was no exception. Right-wing media figures declared Trump’s debate performance a “win” despite numerous low points:
Trump threatened to imprison Clinton -- telling her that if he was president, “you’d be in jail,” and that he would “instruct [an] attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into [Clinton’s] situation” if he is elected.
Trump “unprecedented[ly]” threw running mate Gov. Mike Pence “under the bus” by admitting they had not discussed Syria and that they “disagree” on the issue,
Trump admitted to evading paying millions of dollars in federal income taxes.
It's not just right-wing pundits. Even CNN’s Jake Tapper called the debate “a wash” immediately afterwards, saying that Clinton won on policy and temperament while Trump was “erratic,” and CNN’s Michael Smerconish asserted that “the night belongs to Donald Trump” because “he was able to pivot away” from the tape of him boasting about committing sexual assault and was “barely controlled.” Fox News media critic Howard Kurtz said that “when you consider the sheer media hell that Donald Trump has been through in the last 48 hours, [his debate performance] has to be considered at least a moral victory.”
Several conservative media figures championed Trump for “exceed[ing] expectations” of a “crash and burn,” saying he won because he “stayed alive,” and “did well enough to not drop out”:
One way of looking at it is that Trump found a really unorthodox way of winning the expectations game.
— Ramesh Ponnuru (@RameshPonnuru) October 10, 2016
Trump fights back, winning first 30 minutes. Second 30 minutes a draw. Final 30 both lost, no highlights. -BO'R
— Bill O'Reilly (@oreillyfactor) October 10, 2016
Importance of this debate: Americans inundated w vicious, armageddon attacks on Trump, yet he not just survived, he prevailed. That matters
— Tammy Bruce (@HeyTammyBruce) October 10, 2016
Think Trump won that debate, but that just means we're back to where we were 5 days ago in national polls. Which still isn't good for Trump.
— Mark Hemingway (@Heminator) October 10, 2016
Expectations were that Trump was toast after tonight. He isn't. But the toaster is still warm. https://t.co/YYXyjnIEbv
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) October 10, 2016
Trump may have proved that, as terrible as that video was, GOP might have overreacted by all but dumping him off the ticket this weekend.
— Sarah Westwood (@sarahcwestwood) October 10, 2016
Let's face it: Most of us expected a crash and burn, Hindenberg-type disaster. That did not happen. #Expectations
— Heather Wilhelm (@heatherwilhelm) October 10, 2016
Trump stayed alive tonight. No question about it. #debate
— Brent Bozell (@BrentBozell) October 10, 2016
He improved, exceeded expectations, decisively won several exchanges. She could have landed a death blow tonight and did not. #debate
— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) October 10, 2016
Echoing a myth peddled by right-wing media, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump claimed that there was a link between the execution of Shahram Amiri, a nuclear scientist in Iran, and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s private email server, which contained a couple emails that appear to discuss Amiri’s case. But there is no evidence either that Clinton’s server was hacked, which would have been necessary for Iran to see the emails, or that the email discussion of Amiri had any connection to his eventual death.
Conservative media outlets highlighted a section of Khizr Khan’s website that stated he specialized in immigration law to suggest that the real “incentive” for the Gold Star father’s speech criticizing Republicans presidential nominee Donald Trump at the Democratic National Convention was that his livelihood could be threatened under a Trump presidency. Khan subsequently told The New York Times that he had received “hateful messages” in the wake of “insinuations… that he was involved in shady immigration cases,” but that he had no immigration clients.
Breitbart Subsequently Changed Image, But Did Not Issue Correction
UPDATE: Breitbart Issues Correction Blaming "Social Media"
In an August 3 tweet, Washington Examiner staff correspondent T. Becket Adams highlighted Breitbart.com attempting to pass off a picture of Cleveland Cavaliers fans as an image of a Trump rally.
LOL. Okay, guys.
— T. Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) August 4, 2016
In an article hyping “Trump’s Jacksonville Rally Draws 15,000,” Breitbart News used a photo titled “Cleveland parade celebrates NBA title,” taken from a June 23 CNN report. Breitbart News has changed the image without issuing a correction, the original photo remains in a Google cache of the write-up.
Breitbart's deceptive use of an image displaying celebratory NBA fans is consistent with their non-existent editorial practices, as previously seen when they attempted to attack Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and instead devoted an article to attacking a woman of an entirely different race. Breitbart later admitted this error, writing ‘[t]he Loretta Lynch identified earlier as the Whitewater attorney was, in fact, a different attorney.”
[h/t T. Becket Adams]
UPDATE: Breitbart issued the following correction: "A photograph that was incorrectly attributed on social media to the rally in Jacksonville has been removed."
In response to FBI Director James Comey’s announcement that the FBI is not recommending criminal charges in the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of private email as secretary of state, right-wing media fell back on the already debunked claim that former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus was charged in a similar case. Other media outlets pointed out the many differences between the Petraeus case -- which involved the general intentionally sharing classified information with his biographer -- from the Clinton case, noting that it is “flatly wrong” to compare the two.
Right-wing media figures are joining presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in using the name “Pocahontas” as an attack against Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). The line of attack was popularized by Boston right-wing radio host and Trump surrogate Howie Carr.
Fox News contributor Stacey Dash blamed President Obama and Hillary Clinton for “politicizing” the Orlando shooting in order to “advance an anti-gun agenda.”
The June 12 shooting at the gay night club, Pulse, in Orlando, Florida was the worst mass shooting on U.S. soil. Equipped with a handgun, assault rifle, and another “device,” the gunman killed himself, 49 others and injured 53 more.
During an interview with The Washington Examiner, Dash claimed a citizen with a gun “could have stopped this guy … but no, there was no good guy there with a weapon.” Dash claimed “nobody is messing with my Second Amendment” and that stricter laws wouldn’t have prevented the shooting.
An avid Trump supporter, Dash praised the candidate’s call to ban Muslims from entering the US, and claimed President Obama and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is to blame for politicizing the tragedy. From the June 13 article:
Conservative commentator and actress Stacey Dash on Monday hit back at critics who accused her of politicizing the terror attack in Orlando and doubled down on her assertion that more "good guys" with guns could have stopped the carnage.
"I didn't politicize this, the president did and Hillary Clinton did," Dash told the Washington Examiner in a sit-down interview.
She said President Obama and Clinton are using the shooting rampage, which left 49 victims dead, to advance an anti-gun agenda.
"Nobody is messing with my Second Amendment, so my feeling is this: Had there been more people there that were able to carry guns – good guys — they could have stopped this guy," Dash said. "They could have stopped him from killing anyone. But no, there was no good guy there with a weapon."