Coleman Lowndes

Author ››› Coleman Lowndes
  • VIDEO: Inside The RNC Conspiracy Theorist Rally That Explains The Trump Campaign

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA & COLEMAN LOWNDES

    Two of Donald Trump’s favorite right-wing conspiracy theorists headlined a “Unity Rally” just outside of the Republican National Convention this week. The event further highlighted how Trump’s candidacy has helped bring fringe extremists  into mainstream Republican politics.

    On July 18, just blocks away from the site of the Republican National Convention, Trump supporters attended the “America First Unity Rally,” an event hosted by Citizens for Trump and longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone.

    The rally -- which was not an official Trump campaign event -- was billed as “a massive victory rally & parade celebration of Mr. Trump’s nomination.” In reality, the few hundred attendees were treated to an afternoon of conspiracy theories about the Clintons, 9/11, and the threat posed by anti-American “globalists.”

    Jones, Stone Represent Trump’s Fringe Supporters

    The event’s central headliners were Stone and Infowars.com founder Alex Jones -- two prominent Trump supporters with long histories of peddling bizarre conspiracy theories.

    Stone has claimed the Clintons and Bushes have secretly murdered dozens; the collapse of World Trade Center Building 7 is “suspicious”; President Lyndon Johnson killed President John F. Kennedy; President George H.W. Bush tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan; and the Clintons killed John F. Kennedy Jr.

    Jones is a radio host well-known known for his own brand of conspiracy theories -- he claims the government was behind 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing, mass shootings in Aurora, CO, and Newtown, CT, among other events. Jones claims these “false flag” operations are part of a broader plot by “globalists” in both parties to take away Americans’ guns and take over the country.

    Stone and Jones brought their unique brand of lunacy to the rally. Stone repeated the long-debunked claim that the Clinton’s were involved in a cover-up surrounding the death of White House aide Vince Foster, while Jones celebrated that American voters were finally waking up to the globalist agenda in American politics.

    Trump Is Helping Mainstream Conspiracy Theorists

    It’s tempting to dismiss events like the America First Unity Rally as merely a fringe element of Republican politics, but the Trump campaign has shown a real interest in relying on conspiracy theorists like Stone and Jones to appeal to far-right voters. Stone states he is still in frequent contact with the GOP nominee -- even claiming he was late to the rally because he was meeting with members of Trump’s staff. Trump has appeared on Jones’ show and praised his reputation, promising not to let him or his listeners down. Jones has returned the favor -- many of the attendees at the rally stated that Jones’ praise convinced them to support Trump as the GOP nominee.

    Trump’s willingness to mingle with the most extreme and unhinged factions of the far right helps normalize them, pulling them into the Republican mainstream. Stone has become a regular fixture in mainstream election coverage. The day after appearing at the rally, Stone appeared at a discussion hosted by Politico at the convention.

    It also impacts the way Trump views the world -- as The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin explained in May, Trump’s “whole frame of reference” revolves around the fringe conspiracies peddled by outlets like Jones’ Infowars. Trump has already shown a willingness to make anti-Clinton conspiracy theories -- including the Vince Foster allegations -- a part of his general election strategy.

    This closeness between the GOP nominee and the right’s most extreme conspiracy theorists deserves special attention over the next few months.

    Stone and Jones may have held their rally outside of the Republican National Convention, but Trump’s campaign is helping bring them closer and closer to the Republican mainstream.

  • VIDEO: The Flawed Way The Media Covers High-Profile Rapists

    Why Did News Outlets Highlight Brock Turner's Swimming Abilities After He Was Found Guilty?

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA & COLEMAN LOWNDES

    After a jury found former Stanford student Brock Turner guilty of sexual assault, The Washington Post published an article that highlighted Turner’s accomplishments as an All-American swimmer. The article drew widespread condemnation from critics who argued the Post was irresponsibly emphasizing Turner’s swimming abilities rather than focusing on the crime he committed.

    But the Post’s report isn’t an isolated incident -- it’s an example of a media tendency to treat high-profile sex offenders with kid gloves, even after they’ve been found guilty.

    After two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio, were found guilty of raping a minor, news outlets highlighted their athletic abilities and previously promising futures. After a former college football player in Oklahoma City was found guilty of raping multiple women as a police officer, media outlets highlighted his physical strength and athletic accomplishments.

    News outlets don’t highlight these kinds of details by accident -- they do it because those details run counter to audiences’ expectations about what sex predators look like. People don’t expect sex predators to be successful, popular, rich, or white, so when someone like Brock Turner is found guilty, news outlets jump at the chance to tell a “fall from grace” story.

    The problem with the “fall from grace” narrative is that it can make audiences naturally sympathetic towards offenders. Spend enough time hearing about someone’s athletic accomplishments or academic success, and you might start wondering, “How could someone so great have done something so awful?”

    Taken to its extreme, that framing can produce coverage that ends up treating offenders like victims. The Washington Post’s write-up stated that Turner’s “extraordinary yet brief swim career is now tarnished, like a rusting trophy.” After the Steubenville verdict, CNN’s Poppy Harlow seemed to fixate on what impact the decision would have on the perpetrators, saying they “literally watched as they believed their life fell apart.”

    That kind of sympathetic news coverage is arguably even more dangerous when a trial is still ongoing. Jurors are humans, and this kind of coverage doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Glowing reports about the accused’s prior accomplishments or reputation could influence the biases and assumptions that jurors bring in with them when they enter a courtroom.

    The reality is that all crime reporting can be tricky -- people are innocent until proven guilty, and conflicting testimony means that news networks will always have to worry about sounding sympathetic to either side. But the coverage of Brock Turner’s case is a reminder that a bizarre double standard exists when it comes to high-profile sexual assault and rape reporting -- a double standard that almost works against victims who come forward.

  • VIDEO: Why Are Trump Supporters So Afraid Of Immigrants?

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA & COLEMAN LOWNDES

    Donald Trump has made attacking immigrants a central part of his presidential campaign, tapping into anti-immigrant sentiment that’s been brewing for years thanks to a concerted effort by right-wing media outlets like Fox News.

    Trump’s campaign has been defined by his animosity toward immigrants: he launched his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and criminals, called for a ban on Muslims entering the country, and, most recently, argued that an American-born federal judge with Mexican heritage can’t be trusted to do his job.

    Trump’s attacks on immigrants are copied and pasted from right-wing media, which have spent the better part of a decade warning Republican voters that immigrants are pouring across the border to take their jobs, commit crime, and spread disease. That constant barrage of misinformation has pulled Republican voters to the right -- Fox News Republicans have a considerably more negative view of immigrants than other Republicans.

    That coverage has also had an effect on GOP lawmakers and candidates, who know that sounding too moderate on immigration might make them targets for right-wing pundits. The fear of retaliation from conservative media helps explain why, by the end of the GOP primary, Trump’s opponents sounded a lot like him when it came to immigration.

    The Republican Party’s embrace of Trump’s anti-immigrant bigotry is a dramatic shift from the “compassionate conservative” approach touted during the Bush years, and demonstrates the power of right-wing media to influence Republican voters. A paper from the Harvard Kennedy School last year concluded that conservative media now dictate the direction of the Republican Party on immigration, driving it far to the right.

    Regardless of what happens in November, the Republican Party will need to come to terms with the anti-immigrant monster that right-wing outlets like Fox News have created.

  • VIDEO: The Bogus Panic About Abortion Safety

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA & COLEMAN LOWNDES

    News coverage of laws regulating abortion clinics lends credence to bogus myths about abortion being unsafe, contributing to a wave of clinic closures that’s threatening abortion access across the country.

    Abortion is one of the safest common medical procedures in the United States: safer than childbirth, safer than a colonoscopy, and safer than wisdom teeth removal. In many cases, abortions are non-surgical -- completed through medication rather than surgery.

    Despite the safety of legal abortion, conservative lawmakers across the country are enacting TRAP laws -- Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers. TRAP laws often require abortion providers to meet absurd and unnecessary medical standards in order to stay open. Unable to keep up with the burden of TRAP laws, a number of abortion providers have been forced to close their doors.

    But when news outlets cover TRAP laws, they often uncritically echo anti-abortion activists who claim TRAP laws are necessary to protect patient’s health and safety. Reporters often describe TRAP laws the way anti-choice opponents refer to them, “as safety measures,” without noting that major medical organizations have dismissed these measures as unnecessary and thinly veiled efforts to limit abortion access.

    That kind of shoddy reporting of TRAP laws contributes to abortion stigma -- which is the collection of negative tropes and ideas about abortion as being morally wrong, dangerous, or socially unacceptable -- that pervades even mainstream news coverage.

    Legal abortion is already safe. TRAP laws make it unsafe by burying abortion providers under mountains of unnecessary regulations, putting access to legal abortion out of reach and forcing people to seek out dangerous, self-induced abortions. Any news coverage of TRAP laws that doesn’t make those facts clear to audiences actively contributes to misinformation about abortion safety.  

  • VIDEO: The Repugnant Way The NRA Talks About Hillary Clinton

    Blog ››› ››› COLEMAN LOWNDES & TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    The National Rifle Association will surely attack Hillary Clinton during its annual meeting. Members of the NRA’s leadership have attacked Clinton for years with vile and paranoid claims.

    The NRA is holding its annual meeting from May 19-22 in Louisville, KY. On May 20, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, NRA top lobbyist Chris Cox, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and other conservative figures will speak at the meeting’s biggest event, the NRA Institute for Legislative Action Leadership Forum.

    The NRA began its opposition to Clinton in earnest during its 2015 meeting with a gender-based attack. While addressing the NRA’s members, LaPierre said of the prospect of electing Clinton after President Obama’s term, “I have to tell you, eight years of one demographically symbolic president is enough.” During that year's leadership forum, LaPierre claimed that Clinton “will bring a permanent darkness of deceit and despair” to America.

    While LaPierre supplies many of the NRA’s paranoid claims about Clinton and gun confiscation, the organization’s best-known leadership figure, board member Ted Nugent, offers disgusting attacks. Nugent has called Clinton a “toxic cunt,” a “two-bit whore,” and a “worthless bitch,” among other insults.

    Here is how the NRA leadership talks about Clinton:

     

     

     

  • VIDEO: Megyn Kelly Repackaged A Year’s Worth Of Fox Interview Questions To Trump

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY, COLEMAN LOWNDES & JOHN KERR

    Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly’s widely panned interview with presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump failed to bolster her carefully crafted image as a hard-hitting journalist. Indeed, Kelly recycled a series of softball questions her fellow Fox personalities have previously asked Trump.

    Kelly’s May 17 interview was promoted as an exclusive, hard-hitting exchange and reconciliation between the presumptive nominee and Fox’s primetime anchor after the months-long public feud between Trump and the network over Kelly’s questioning of the candidate. Kelly herself said her goal for the interview was an “interesting, compelling exchange.”

    But the interview not only featured a series of fuzzy, softball questions -- “Has anyone ever hurt you emotionally?,” “Are you going to stop [combatively tweeting] as president?” -- it also mirrored the way other Fox News hosts have engaged with Trump on air, shattering the illusion that Kelly is somehow different than her colleagues. A series of questions that Kelly tossed to Trump last night sounded conspicuously familiar, and for a good reason: they echoed questions that her colleagues have asked the presumptive GOP nominee over the past year.

    Take Bill O’Reilly back in March, asking Trump:

    BILL O’REILLY: Donald Trump now is not speaking as the Art of the Deal guy or The Apprentice guy. You’re not speaking anymore on that level. Now you are speaking for the United States. You may be president. I mean, so your rhetoric means so much more than it used to mean. You know, you’re in a different place. A place you have never been in. I'm just wondering how much you’ve thought about all that.

    And compare with Megyn Kelly last night:

    MEGYN KELLY: You're no longer just Donald Trump, businessman, or Donald Trump, host of Celebrity Apprentice. Now you're steps away from the presidency. Have you given any thought, in this position, to the power that your messaging has on the lives of the people you target and on the millions of people who take their cue from you?

    Megyn Kelly has spent years cultivating a reputation as an unbiased journalist, which has been boosted by a number of laudatory profiles that have largely ignored that her show “is made up largely of the kind of stories you'd find on many other Fox News shows at any other time" and that “her talent for fearmongering may be even more insidious than Trump's own.” 

  • VIDEO: This Conservative Legal Group Wants To Make Gay Sex Illegal Again

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA, COLEMAN LOWNDES & LEANNE NARAMORE

    News networks frequently invite Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) -- one of the most powerful right-wing legal groups in the country -- to defend laws like North Carolina’s anti-LGBT bathroom legislation. But media outlets typically identify ADF as merely a “Christian legal organization,” failing to mention the group’s record of defending laws that would put people in prison for being gay.

    ADF is a right-wing legal powerhouse that’s been linked to nearly every recent attack on LGBT equality and women’s reproductive health care. The group has testified against Planned Parenthood and was a major player in the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby case. Legislation like North Carolina’s bathroom law and Indiana’s “religious freedom” law are the products of ADF’s behind-the-scenes legal work. The group shops extreme model legislation to state lawmakers across the country, testifies in favor of those laws, and then defends them in local and national media.

    But news networks that host ADF often identify them as a “Christian” or “conservative” legal organization, failing to mention the group’s history of smearing the LGBT community and working to criminalize homosexuality. ADF has helped defend laws in Belize and Jamaica that would put people in prison for engaging in gay sex. The group opposes anti-bullying efforts, which it believes will indoctrinate “impressionable” children into homosexuality. Alan Sears, the group’s current president, co-wrote a book which claims that homosexuality and pedophilia are “intrinsically linked.” At a recent conference, one ADF attorney claimed that the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard had been falsely depicted as an anti-gay hate crime in order to advance the “homosexual legal agenda.”

    News networks that choose to give ADF airtime to defend rolling back LGBT and abortion rights should be honest with their audiences about who ADF is, rather than letting them get away with posing as a reasonable conservative legal group.

  • VIDEO: Stop Calling Donald Trump “Controversial”

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA & COLEMAN LOWNDES

    News networks frequently use the word “controversial” to describe Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican comments, and it’s setting a dangerous precedent for the way the media talks about bigotry in American politics.

    Trump’s candidacy has brought religious and racial bigotry to the forefront of Republican presidential politics. He’s repeatedly demonized Muslims and Mexicans on the campaign trail, scapegoating them as security threats to justify calling for mass deportations, government surveillance, and travel bans.

    That has put news networks in the uncomfortable position of trying to remain “impartial” while covering Trump’s increasingly deplorable rhetoric. Instead of plainly labeling his campaign as “bigoted,” networks have used neutral-sounding terms like “controversial” to avoid making editorial judgments about Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican positions.

    But calling Trump’s comments “controversial” is lazy and dangerous. It treats racial and religious intolerance as just a quirk of Republican politics. It normalizes that intolerance, turning it into an unremarkable and routine partisan disagreement. It lets Trump’s defenders spin his comments as just evidence of his “tough” stance on immigration or border security. And it makes it easier for Trump to reinvent himself as a serious “presidential” candidate as he prepares for the general election.

    Failing to call out Trump’s bigotry also makes it harder for news networks to accurately tell the story of Trump’s rise in Republican politics. As PBS’s Tavis Smiley explained on Democracy Now in January:

    Trump is still, to my mind at least, an unrepentant, irascible religious and racial arsonist. And so, when we talk about how Donald Trump is rising in the poll, you can’t do that absent the kind of campaign he’s running, the issues that he’s raising. And for us to just say, "Donald Trump is rising in the polls," and not connect that to the base message that he’s putting out there, I think, just misses the point.

    Religious and racial bigotry deserves to be treated differently than other campaign trail stories, especially by journalists. News networks that shy away from making editorial judgments about Trump’s extremism are setting a dangerous precedent -- one that could last long beyond this election cycle.

  • VIDEO: How The Media Turns Black Rage Into The Enemy

    Media Images Of Violence Distracted From A History Of Disenfranchisement And Structural Racism In Baltimore

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA & COLEMAN LOWNDES

    It’s been a year since the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old black man who died while in police custody. Gray’s death sparked major protests from local residents and activists, but it wasn’t until some of those protests turned violent that Baltimore captured the attention of national news networks.

    In the days that followed, media images of the events in Baltimore fixated on scenes of violence, looting, and property damage, drawing criticism from local residents who rejected what they saw as sensationalized and misleading media coverage.

    One of those residents is Lawrence Grandpre, the Assistant Director of Research and Public Policy at Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle -- a grassroots think tank that advances the public policy interests of Black people in Baltimore. Talking to Media Matters, Grandpre criticized corporate media’s tendency to highlight the most sensational images during events like the Baltimore protests.

    “You have a kind of race-to-the-bottom in terms of corporate media looking for the most spectacular incidences of violence, the biggest names, and what they think will drive the media cycle forward in their favor,” Grandpre explains. “In a corporate media environment, the spectacle drives views, drives retweets, and thus drives profits.”

    That focus on sensationalized images comes at a cost. Images of violence and property damage distracted viewers from understanding the long-term problems in Baltimore that fueled the outrage over Gray’s death, making it difficult for audiences to fully grasp what was motivating protesters.

    “The reality is the frustration you saw in April of 2015 wasn’t just about Freddie Gray,” says Grandpre. “It was about a system that had left a large chunk of Baltimore politically abandoned in terms of people who genuinely represent their interests and structurally in the line-of-fire for systemic poverty, hyper policing, and structural racism.”

    Without understanding the history of inequality and disenfranchisement in Baltimore, news viewers were more likely to see images of violence and property damage and conclude that protesters were acting irrationally.  And that made it easier for commentators on major news networks to dismiss the protesters as “thugs” and “criminals.”

    “An audience that doesn’t know Baltimore will just assume these are irrational young people all over the city who are taking out their anger on the streets,” says Grandpre.  “When you see black folk as an irrational threat, or responding in ways that are irrational, all you need to do to assuage your fear is put them down, either by quelling the riot or taking violence against those people. And that prevents you from actually interrogating the structural conditions which produced that rage.”

    That depiction of black protesters as irrational, dangerous, and out-of-control helped turn public opinion against protesters, making it less likely that audiences would hear protesters’ grievances as legitimate or credible. And Grandpre argues those kinds of images play on deeply ingrained fears about black rage.

    “In this country, there are certain psychological tropes that relate to blackness that the media is going to exploit in these incidences. In reality, there are fears in Baltimore not just of urban revolts going back to the 60s, but really honestly slave revolts going all the way back to Nat Turner in the 19th century. So the idea of black people having these types of uprising produces this deep fear within the collective psyche of many in America, in terms of ‘there’s this black rage that threatens to consume this country that folks have built up, could that black rage be turned on to me and my family?’”

    The media’s focus on sensationalized depictions of violence shaped how audiences imaged a resolution to the crisis in Baltimore. Just as images of violent protests came to define the “problem” in Baltimore, ending that violence became the “solution,” so news networks fixated on whether protesters would disperse rather than asking if the conditions that had brought the protesters onto the streets in the first place had changed.

    “We have this discourse and representations that are strategically designed to make it so that the discussions about changing conditions in society that could actually hurt the material interests of many of the folks who are in power, are not centered in political discourse,” Grandpre explains. “Instead what’s centered is the threat, the spectacle, and can we have a bonding moment with the reestablishing of security. But that reestablishing of security is really just reestablishing the status quo which was never secure when you’re talking about black people in places like Baltimore.”

  • VIDEO: Here's The Truth About The Anti-LGBT "Bathroom Predator" Myth

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA & COLEMAN LOWNDES

    North Carolina is the first state in the country to pass a law aimed at broadly controlling transgender people’s access to public restrooms. Proponents of the law claim it’s needed to prevent sexual predators from sneaking into women’s bathrooms by dressing up as women and pretending to be transgender.

    That “bathroom predator” talking point is a myth. Law enforcement experts and people who work with victims of sexual assault have called it “beyond specious” and “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.” There have been zero proven incidents in the more than 17 states and 200 cities where transgender people are currently protected from discrimination and allowed to use public bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.

    But the “bathroom predator” myth has dominated news coverage of the fight for transgender equality. Reporters repeat the talking point without debunking it, so viewers are left thinking that LGBT nondiscrimination protections might lead to sexual assault.

    Chase Strangio, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, criticized news networks’ uncritical repetition of the “bathroom predator” talking point, telling Media Matters:

    Journalists who talk about this as two co-equal sides are essentially letting proponents of these talking points get away with mythic narratives about trans predators or non-trans predators having access to bathrooms and locker rooms. And that story is incredibly damaging and really undermines efforts to protect trans people and the whole LGBT community.

    […]

    When the media doesn’t point out that the bathroom talking points are complete bullshit, what they’re doing is participating in a falsehood that allows trans people to be associated with intrusions into privacy, with violence, and with harm to other people. The reality is none of these things are true.

    Instead of focusing on mythic stories about bathroom predators, news networks should ask how “bathroom bills” like North Carolina’s will be enforced. As Strangio explained, these laws “would open the door to major intrusions into people’s privacy and people’s medical information, … allow[ing] for policing of people’s gender every time they walk into a restroom.”

    Republican politicians are using imaginary horror stories about bathroom predators to pass creepy, invasive laws policing the gender of anyone who goes to the bathroom in a public place. That’s the story media outlets should be telling when covering “bathroom bills” like North Carolina's.

    Video by Coleman Lowndes and Carlos Maza.