Coleman Lowndes

Author ››› Coleman Lowndes
  • VIDEO: Trump And The Power Of Fear

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA, COLEMAN LOWNDES & JOHN KERR

    Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency was defined by fear, paranoia, and a distrust of the government and mainstream media. And it succeeded thanks, at least in part, to right-wing media outlets, which have spent the past few years competing for Republican voters’ attention by terrifying them with increasingly apocalyptic horror stories about the state of the country.

    This brand of right-wing paranoia poses a real threat to American democracy -- radicalizing voters and lawmakers alike. And if journalists can’t figure out how to effectively dispel that paranoia, Americans are going to keep seeing their government hijacked by hucksters who are more interested in profiting from a shtick than they are in actually improving lives.

    Researcher Dina Radtke contributed research to this report.

  • VIDEO: Strict Voter ID Laws Are The New Jim Crow Laws

    Right-Wing Media Falsely Cry “Voter Fraud” To Keep Citizens From Voting

    Blog ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH, COLEMAN LOWNDES & JOHN KERR

    Thirty-four states currently have voter ID laws, and 32 will be in effect on Election Day. These laws require voters to present some form of identification document when going to vote -- a step beyond the "non-documentary" identity verification requirements used across the country. Right-wing media have played an important role in making it hard for certain Americans to vote. They tout the necessity of the most restrictive voter ID requirements to supposedly thwart voter fraud, while dismissing the risk of voter disenfranchisement that accompanies these strict voter ID laws as a “myth.”

    Just as Jim Crow laws denied the right to vote through literacy tests, poll taxes, the grandfather clause and violence, strict voter ID laws unfairly target minorities, especially Latinos and African-Americans. Communities of color are more affected than other groups by these unnecessary and redundant voting restrictions because many Latinos and African-Americans disproportionately lack access to the required form of photo IDs or the personal documentation needed to obtain them, or they just don’t have the necessary information on how to get them. This is how strict voter ID laws harm voters:

    1. Strict voter ID laws target the poorest voters, according to the Brennan Center for Justice: “More than 1 million eligible voters [in states with the most restrictive laws] fall below the federal poverty line. … Birth certificates can cost between $8 and $25. Marriage licenses, required for married women whose birth certificates include a maiden name, can cost between $8 and $20,” compared with the poll tax during the Jim Crow era, which “cost $10.64 in current dollars.”

    2. Strict voter ID laws target minorities, the Brennan Center reports: “In the 10 states with restrictive voter laws, ... 1.2 million eligible black voters and 500,000 eligible Hispanic voters live more than 10 miles from their nearest ID-issuing office open more than two days a week.” Plus, many of these offices that issue IDs maintain limited business hours, making it harder for those “in rural regions with the highest concentrations of people of color and people in poverty” to get there during open hours.

    3. Strict voter ID laws can cause serious confusion. For example, in Texas, “half of the residents who said they didn’t vote in 2014 because they lacked a voter ID actually had an acceptable ID and didn’t know it.”

    Lawmakers in states with voter ID laws echo right-wing media by claiming they are preventing voter fraud, but many have openly admitted that these laws are just meant to prevent people from showing up, so as to sway an election. In addition, these photo requirements would prevent only voter impersonation -- a type of in-person voter fraud that is virtually nonexistent. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted to protect voters from barriers to voting and was used to challenge these overly restrictive laws, but it’s been under attack, and those efforts have drawn support from Chief Justice John G Roberts and a conservative majority of the Supreme Court. Roberts questioned the necessity of the act, claiming that “nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically.”

    Expanding the right to vote to include all Americans has been a long process, requiring excluded communities to clear countless barriers and hurdles to ensure that all people can make their voice heard on Election Day.

    Video transcript:

    It's almost Election Day, so let's talk about the right to vote in the United States.

    Right-wing media have long claimed that the integrity of elections in the U.S. is at stake due to rampant voter fraud and have called for more requirements to vote, like voter ID laws, for example.

    Voting is a right, but it’s not always easy for some people to get to the voting booth.

    As you might know, the right to vote began in America as a legal privilege exclusively available to white, property-owning Protestant men.

    And all white men would gain the right to vote with the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868.

    The 15th Amendment passed in 1870, giving freed male slaves the right to vote.

    However, many states enacted Jim Crow laws, which were a formal, codified system of racial apartheid that also systematically denied the right to vote through the use of literacy tests, poll taxes, the grandfather clause and other racially motivated criteria.

    People also threatened black voters with violence if they tried to enter a polling station.

    Or worse, acted on these threats.

    Women gained the right in 1920, and it wasn’t until 1965 that the Voting Rights Act was signed, which helped strike down Jim Crow laws and enforced the 14th and 15th amendments.

    But while states can no longer force people to take literacy tests, they can still pass voter ID laws.

    And just like Jim Crow laws, strict voter ID laws intentionally and unfairly target communities of color, because, more often than other groups, they lack the resources to get proper IDs.

    Today, 34 states have voter identification laws requirements on the books.

    Lawmakers in states with additional identification requirements claim they are preventing voter fraud, but many have openly admitted that these laws are just meant to prevent people from showing up -- as a way to sway an election.

    Former North Carolina GOP precinct chair Don Yelton: “The law is going to kick the Democrats in the butt. If it hurts a bunch of college kids that’s too lazy to get up off their bohunkus and go get a photo ID, so be it. If it hurts the whites, so be it. If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that wants the government to give them everything, so be it.”

    In-person voter fraud -- which strict photo voter ID laws are supposed to stop -- does not exist. A recent study found 31 incidents of in-person voter fraud out of more than 1 billion ballots cast.

    Another study from the Brennan Center for Justice found that the chance of someone impersonating someone else to vote is less likely than you getting struck by lightning.

    Attacks on the Voting Rights Act have drawn support from Chief Justice John G Roberts, who questioned the necessity of the act, claiming that, quote, “nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically.”

    Strict voter ID requirements are dangerous, misguided and a step backward. These laws present substantial barriers to voting and negatively affect voter participation.

    The history of the United States is characterized by a gradual expansion of voting rights.

    As democracy continues to evolve, the right to vote has been expanded to include more and more Americans.

    Don’t take your right to vote for granted.

  • VIDEO: Debunking The "Rigged Election" Horror Story

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

    Donald Trump’s “rigged election” shtick is the product of years of conservative fearmongering about voter fraud and election stealing, and it poses a unique challenge to journalists who want to ensure voter confidence in the election process.

    Faced with dismal polling numbers in the final weeks of his presidential campaign, Trump has resorted to telling his supporters that the election will be “rigged” -- stolen from him because of widespread voter fraud. He’s repeated that warning frequently on the campaign trail, and nearly half of his supporters now believe him.

    The voter fraud talking point – the idea that Democrats will use voters who lie about their identities, dead voters, or undocumented immigrants to cast fraudulent ballots -- has been debunked ad nauseum in research, court decisions, and expert testimony. Politifact rated Trump’s “rigged election” claim a “pants on fire” lie, stating there’s simply no evidence that widespread voter fraud is a real problem, especially in presidential elections.

    But even before Trump’s campaign, a growing number of primarily Republican voters began to believe that voter fraud is a widespread problem.

    That’s thanks in part to conservative media’s near-constant, baseless fear mongering about voter fraud over the past few election cycles. Right-wing outlets, and especially Fox News, have bombarded audiences with exaggerated or misleading claims of voter fraud to create the impression that Democratic victories at the ballot box are largely the result of illegal election rigging. Stories about dead or non-eligible or non-existent voters appearing on voter rolls are regularly touted as proof of nefarious activity, even though those voter registrations never actually translate into votes.

    The most memorable example of this kind of fear mongering came during the 2008 controversy surrounding the non-profit group ACORN. A number of ACORN voter registration employees had been discovered submitting false or duplicate voter registration forms (the laws in many states require third parties who register voters to submit all forms they receive). Fox News devoted countless segments to the story in order to hype hysteria about widespread voter fraud, despite the fact that those forms never produced an actual fraudulent vote. ACORN was eventually cleared of charges of orchestrating voter fraud, but half of all Republican voters still believed ACORN helped steal the election for President Obama in 2012 -- two years after ACORN had closed down.

    Misinformation about voter fraud isn’t only the fault of conservative media. As GOP statehouses across the country have pushed for restrictive voter ID laws -- laws aimed at disenfranchising typically Democratic voters -- local news outlets have repeated Republican talking points about the threat of voter fraud without fact-checking them.

    That kind of round-the-clock saturation helps explain why so many voters have started to doubt the integrity of elections without evidence that it is a problem. And that doubt poses a real threat to a democracy, which relies on voters trusting and accepting the outcomes of elections.

    Trump’s “rigged election” shtick is just one element of a broader problem with media coverage of voter fraud. Regardless of who wins in November, journalists are going to have to be a lot more aggressive about fact-checking right-wing horror stories if they want to restore voter confidence in the election process.

  • VIDEO: CNN Has A Trump Surrogate Problem

    The Network Is Paying Professional Trump Supporters To Derail Negative Segments About Trump

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

    CNN’s decision to hire and pay full-time Trump apologists -- supporters who are willing to go on air and defend Trump’s missteps -- has resulted in some of the most explosive and viral news segments of the election. But it’s also turned CNN’s election coverage into a series of ridiculous, uninformative screaming matches that mainstream bullshit in the name of “balance.”

    Over the course of the 2016 election, CNN hired four Trump supporters -- Kayleigh McEnany, Scottie Nell Hughes, Jeffrey Lord, and Corey Lewandowski -- to act as full-time Trump surrogates and defend their candidate on-air. CNN has defended its hirings by suggesting that surrogates like Lewandowski are needed to provide “balance,” especially after several of CNN’s traditional Republican commentators expressed their opposition to the GOP presidential nominee.

    CNN’s decision to hire professional Trump apologists has made for some fascinating -- if not excruciating -- television. Their appearances frequently result in screaming matches, with hosts and other panelists trying desperately (and fruitlessly) to deal with the surrogates’ barrage of talking points, misdirection, and blind stubbornness. The Trump surrogates do a masterful job of avoiding being pinned down -- they change the subject, argue in circles, make things up, and generally do whatever they can to sidetrack any negative discussion about Trump.

    So a segment about Trump’s hesitance to disavow David Duke turns into an absurd argument about whether Democrats used to support the KKK.

    A segment on Trump’s attacks on Alicia Machado’s weight becomes a debate about whether it’s actually offensive to be called an “eating machine.”

    And a segment about Trump’s recorded comments describing sexually assaulting women gets sidetracked into a decade-old smear about Hillary Clinton’s work as a court-appointed defense attorney in the 1970s..

    By the end of most segments, everyone else on the panel is yelling, in shock, or has been flustered to the point of giving up.

    This isn’t entirely the fault of the professional Trump surrogates. CNN pays them to be Trump apologists; their jobs depend on them defending their candidate regardless of how ridiculous it makes them sound. In other words, the network incentivizes them to be intractable.

    That’s especially true in the case of Lewandowski, who is still effectively working for -- and, until recently, being paid by -- the Trump campaign while being employed at CNN. Lewandowski likely signed a non-disparagement agreement with the Trump campaign, meaning he can’t speak ill of his former boss on CNN even if he wanted to.

    None of this is meant to suggest that Trump gets a free pass on the network. CNN’s Trump surrogates are regularly grilled and challenged, both by other panelists and by hosts.

    And it all makes for highly entertaining reality television.

    But for a news network, these segments are a disaster. These constant screaming matches offer nothing of substance to audiences who want to make sense of the election. Instead, they desensitize voters to bullshit -- elevating ridiculous and even blatantly dishonest defenses of Trump’s campaign into mainstream political debates. The presence of CNN’s Trump surrogates makes any segment they appear in more likely to devolve into the kind of absurdist bickering that makes many viewers tune out or give up on being politically engaged altogether.

    If CNN wants to feature pro-Trump voices in its election coverage, it can rely on guests who actually work for the campaign. But rewarding professional bullshit artists like Hughes, McEnany, Lord, and Lewandowski with CNN salaries and job titles sets a dangerous precedent for a news network: a move toward “balance” even when it comes at the cost of reasonable, useful coverage.

  • VIDEO: Alex Jones Melts Down After Julian Assange's Failed October Surprise

    Blog ››› ››› COLEMAN LOWNDES
  • VIDEO: Trump Is Dodging Interviews With Spanish-Language News Networks

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

    Donald Trump hasn’t done an interview with a Spanish language news network in 14 months, magnifying a dangerous rift between the Republican Party and networks like Univision and Telemundo.

    The last time Trump sat down for an interview with a Spanish language news network was in June 2015. Trump had just launched his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants “criminals” and “rapists,” and Telemundo’s José Díaz-Balart was ready for him. Díaz-Balart grilled Trump on his comments, using statistics to debunk his fearmongering about immigrants and asking “is this what you think of the Latino community in the United States?”

    Since then, Trump has essentially declared war on Telemundo and Univision, the two largest Spanish speaking news networks in the country.

    He filed a $500 million lawsuit against Univision after the network dropped its coverage of Trump’s Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants. When Univision’s Jorge Ramos sent Trump a handwritten letter asking for an interview, Trump published the letter -- along with Ramos’ personal cellphone number -- and mocked the network for “begging” him for an interview.

    At a July 2015 press conference, Trump shouted down Díaz-Balart after being asked again about his immigration comments, calling the question a “typical case of the press with misinterpretation” and saying “Telemundo should be ashamed.” In August 2015, Trump infamously threw Jorge Ramos out of a press conference, telling Ramos to “go back to Univision.” His campaign went on to deny press credentials to an Univision correspondent in October 2015.

    The standoff has continued into 2016, with the Trump campaign denying the networks’ repeated requests for interviews and even taunting Ramos’ interview requests by soliciting him for a campaign donation.

    The lack of outreach to Spanish speakers goes beyond just interviews -- Politico noted that Trump’s “English-only campaign” has failed to create a Spanish-language version of Trump’s website or purchase any Spanish-language ads.

    But the problem extends beyond Trump. RNC officials are growing increasingly skeptical of their relationship with Spanish-language networks. For the first time in 3 election cycles, Republicans didn’t have a presidential forum hosted by Univision. And the RNC tried to pull the plug on a Telemundo Republican primary debate, citing concerns about fairness. Telemundo eventually joined with CNN to host a Republican debate, during which Trump answered a question about his support with Latino voters by declaring “I don’t believe anything Telemundo says.”

    Given how anti-immigrant extremism -- has come to define the GOP front runner’s campaign, it’s not surprising that Trump has avoided contact with Spanish-language news networks. But blacklisting Spanish news networks means not talking to a huge chunk of American voters and setting a troubling precedent for Republicans who want to avoid answering tough questions.

  • VIDEO: Trump Backers Alex Jones And Roger Stone Humiliated Themselves During Their Debate Coverage

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

    Trump supporter Alex Jones and Trump adviser Roger Stone pushed bizarre conspiracy theories about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s health during Jones’ coverage of the first presidential debate.

    During the live-stream of the debate at Jones' Infowars.com, Jones and Stone told viewers that Clinton suffered a series of medical incidents before, during, and after the debate, even as the footage of the debate belied their claims.

    Jones, one of the founders of the 9/11 truther movement and America’s leading conspiracy theorist, has been at the forefront of pushing conspiracy theories about Clinton’s health that have spread to conservative media and in some cases been legitimized by mainstream outlets. Stone, a longtime Trump adviser, has claimed that Clinton suffers from amnesia and other serious medical conditions.

    Following the September 26 debate, political observers, focus groups, and scientific polls all concluded that with her confident performance, Clinton won a decisive victory over Republican nominee Donald Trump.

    But Stone, Jones, and other members of the Infowars.com broadcast team claimed that Clinton, suffering from an “advanced form of epilespy,” arrived in a “medical van,” that the debate started several minutes late because Clinton was having a “diaper change,” that Clinton was “hopped up” on “anti-seizure medication” causing her to “barely keep her eyes open” during the debate, and that after the debate Clinton could “barely walk” so she “immediately” left the stage to go on an “oxygen tank.” Infowars’ own live-stream of the debate contradicted these descriptions. For example, instead of leaving “immediately” following the debate, Clinton was seen on the Infowars stream talking and shaking hands on the stage.

    Clinton’s performance in the debate has left Clinton health conspiracy theorists scrambling. The morning after the debate, the Drudge Report published a video titled “HILLARY MORNING AFTER: Both hands on rail…” In the video, a smiling Clinton is seen briefly placing both of her hands on the railing of an airstair before removing her hands to gesture toward a member of the press as she ascends the stairs:

  • VIDEO: Lester Holt Proved We Need Fact-Checking In Debates

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

    Lester Holt challenged Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on claims he made during the first presidential debate, highlighting the value of having moderators who are willing to fact-check false claims in real-time.

    During the September 26 presidential debate, moderator Holt challenged Trump on inaccurate claims the candidate made about releasing his tax returns, promoting the birther conspiracy, and supporting the war in Iraq:

    Holt stayed out of much of the debate, but intervened when Trump made glaring factual errors about his own record. Holt’s restraint made his fact-checks more powerful, drawing significant attention to Trump’s falsehoods, and tripping up the candidate before he could turn those lies into attacks on his opponent.

    Holt’s fact-checking likely had a significant impact on the millions of voters for whom the debate was a first hard look at the candidates. But it’s just one battle in the larger struggle over whether moderators should fact-check the candidates in real-time. Both campaigns have argued over the issue, with Trump’s campaign predictably arguing that moderators should stay out of factual disputes during the debates.

    That argument has gained some notable supporters -- NBC’s Matt Lauer was harshly criticized for failing to fact-check Trump’s claims about opposing the Iraq War during this month’s presidential forum. Fox News’ Chris Wallace, who will moderate the final presidential debate, has already said he doesn’t believe it’s job to be a “truth squad.” Even the executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates told CNN recently that moderators shouldn’t be fact-checkers.

    But leaving the fact-checking to the candidates, rather than the moderators, can contribute to spreading misinformation among voters. Research suggests that audiences that watch this kind of “he said/she said” debate end up feeling less capable of figuring out the truth, causing some to give up trying to resolve factual disputes altogether. Moderators who can carefully choose to intervene during important factual disputes offer a powerful antidote to that kind of passive misinformation.

    Lester Holt’s performance set a powerful example of the value that measured fact-checks can have in keeping candidate’s honest. If the other debate moderators follow his lead, they’ll be doing voters, and the whole of campaign journalism, a real service.

  • VIDEO: Inside The “Alt-Right’s” White Nationalist, Pro-Trump Press Conference

    “We Have Not Been Made By Trump, But We Want To Make Trump”

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

    On September 9, three of the country’s most notorious white nationalists held a press conference in Washington, D.C., titled “What Is The Alt-Right?” The event, organized by the white nationalist “think tank” the National Policy Institute (NPI), came in response to growing media interest in the “alt-right” movement. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has helped mainstream the racist movement, including by hiring Breitbart News executive chairman Stephen Bannon as his campaign CEO. As the Southern Poverty Law Center has noted, under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart has “has been openly promoting the core issues of the Alt-Right, introducing these racist ideas to its readership.”

    The press conference, which mixed plainly racist propaganda with praise for Trump’s campaign, highlights the “alt-right’s” desire to become a mainstream, professional, and legitimate part of American politics. Trump’s extreme position on immigration and other issues has propelled members of the “alt-right” into the spotlight, giving them unprecedented access to news networks and national audiences.

    But while the speakers at the conference acknowledged that the movement had been “riding [Trump’s] coattails,” they also made clear that they weren’t interested in being a “Trump cheerleading squad.” For them, this election is an opportunity to make the case for a pro-white political agenda that goes far beyond 2016. “The ideas of the alt-right are gaining ground rapidly, Trump or no Trump,” said one speaker. “We are gaining ground because we are right.”

  • 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.