Matt Gertz

Author ››› Matt Gertz
  • Tucker Carlson's Jim Acosta Analysis Is Brazenly Hypocritical

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Fox’s Tucker Carlson “thoroughly enjoyed” President-elect Donald Trump castigating CNN reporter Jim Acosta for being “rude” during a press conference, which is strange since Carlson previously held up one of his own reporters as God’s gift to journalism for interrupting a President Obama statement by shouting out a question.

    Back in 2012, Neil Munro, then a reporter for The Daily Caller, made a fool of himself when he interrupted an Obama Rose Garden statement on immigration policy by shouting out questions about the administration "employ[ing] foreigners." Munro’s breach of decorum was widely criticized, and both the reporter and the Caller’s publisher issued statements saying that he had attempted to time his question to coincide with the conclusion of the president’s remarks. This was transparently false, but at least they recognized Munro had done something bad.

    But for Carlson, then the website’s editor-in-chief, Munro hadn’t made a simple error -- instead, he was a journalistic hero. According to Carlson’s statement at the time:

    I don't remember Diane Sawyer scolding her colleague Sam Donaldson for heckling President Reagan. And she shouldn't have. A reporter's job is to ask questions and get answers. Our job is to find out what the federal government is up to. Politicians often don't want to tell us. A good reporter gets the story. We're proud of Neil Munro.

    Carlson’s comparison of Munro to Sam Donaldson and his claim that Munro “got the story” are bullshit. But the then-Caller editor had laid down a marker: Interruption in pursuit of reporting is no vice.

    Flash forward to this week’s Trump press conference. After the president-elect lashed out at CNN in response to a journalist’s question, the network’s reporter Jim Acosta yelled out, “Since you are attacking us, can you give us a question?” In an extended back and forth, Trump slammed Acosta’s “terrible” news outlet and rejected his request, calling the network “fake news.”

    Acosta’s interruptions, coming amid the scrum of an actual press conference, would seem like far less of a breach of decorum than Munro shouting out questions in the middle of President Obama’s speech. But for some reason, Carlson isn’t “proud” of the CNN reporter.

    Instead, during an “Ask Me Anything” thread on the pro-Donald Trump subreddit “/r/The_Donald,” Carlson answered a question about what he thought of the Trump/Acosta exchange by writing, “Acosta was rude. Trump rose to it. I thoroughly enjoyed the exchange.”

    “/r/The_Donald” has been described as an “authoritarian [subreddit] full of memes and in-jokes, far right talking points, coded racism, misogyny, homophobia, and Islamophobia, and a hypocritical ‘free speech’ rallying point.” The forum is a hub of the “alt-right” movement, among which Carlson has cultivated a strong following.

    In directly criticizing Acosta, Carlson went further on Reddit than he had on his own show. During an interview with Sean Spicer on Wednesday, Carlson remained silent as the future White House press secretary described Acosta as “rude, inappropriate, and disrespectful” and called on the CNN reporter to apologize.

    Sam Donaldson’s legacy did not come up.

  • Newt Gingrich: Trump Should Use The CNN Confrontation As An Excuse To Break The Press

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Newt Gingrich, a prominent supporter of President-elect Donald Trump and a Fox News contributor, would like to shatter the influence of an “adversarial” press. And he thinks Trump’s press conference confrontation with CNN reporter Jim Acosta has given the incoming administration the opportunity to dramatically reshape White House press interactions to favor journalists who will treat the president-elect more favorably.

    During Trump’s January 11 presser, he lashed out at CNN  and demanded the network apologize for a recent report on his alleged ties to Russia, and Acosta repeatedly called out, seeking to ask a question in response. Trump replied by calling CNN “terrible,” castigating Acosta for being “rude,” and declaring, “I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news!” Sean Spicer, who will serve as Trump’s White House press secretary, subsequently told Acosta that he would be removed if he continued to press for a question, and Spicer later demanded that the reporter apologize to the president-elect.

    Team Trump’s efforts seem intended to both damage the credibility of CNN and cow other networks into shying away from similarly critical journalism -- as Gingrich put it, to “shrink and isolate” the network. But the Fox News contributor wants the incoming administration to go even further and use the incident as an excuse to “close down the elite press.”

    Gingrich laid out this strategy during an interview on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program, one of the most pro-Trump venues available. He urged Spicer to learn “a couple of big lessons” from the incident. First and foremost, he suggested that Acosta be banned from reporting on Trump events for 60 days “as a signal, frankly, to all the other reporters that there are going to be real limits” for proper behavior.

    But Gingrich’s recommendations went far beyond chastising Acosta. He urged Trump to stop prioritizing questions from major news outlets due to their tough coverage and confrontational attitude. Instead, he suggested that he “extend the privileges to reporters from out of town, folks that fly in from all over the country to be allowed to be at a briefing.” Those reporters, Gingrich suggested, would be “a lot more courteous” and “responsible” rather than being “adversarial.”

    Gingrich went on to explain his theory of the press under the Trump administration. “You don't have to think of The New York Times or CNN or any of these people as news organizations,” he explained. “They're mostly propaganda organizations. And they're going to be after Trump every single day of his presidency.”

    “And he needs to understand that that's the case, and so does Sean Spicer in speaking for him. And they simply need to go out there and understand they have it in their power to set the terms of this dialogue.” He added, “They can close down the elite press.”

    Trump has already started to take steps like those Gingrich describes. During the 2016 campaign, he reportedly made a deal with the right-wing Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which owns television stations across the country, to provide more access to its stations in exchange for a promise from Sinclair to broadcast his interviews without commentary.

    He took questions from sycophantic pro-Trump outlets Breitbart.com and One America News Network during this week’s press conference. Right Side Broadcasting Network, which has been described as “the unofficial version of Trump TV,” claims it will be in the White House press briefing room under the new president. Other right-wing outlets like Laura Ingraham’s LifeZette and Alex Jones’ conspiracy website Infowars could be next.

    Alexey Kovalev, a Russian journalist who has covered Vladimir Putin’s annual press conferences, warned of the use of such tactics in a searing “message to my doomed colleagues in the American media” that he authored following Trump’s press conference.

    “A mainstay of Putin’s press conferences is, of course, softball questions,” Kovalev wrote. These include both “hyperlocal issues that a president isn’t even supposed to be dealing with,” which nonetheless provide “a real opportunity for him to shine.” Putin also benefits from “people from publications that exist for no other reason than heaping fawning praise on him and attacking his enemies.”

    “But there will also be one token critic who will be allowed to ask a ‘sharp’ question,” Kovalev added, “only to be drowned in a copious amount of bullshit, and the man on the stage will always be the winner (‘See? I respect the media and free speech’).”

    Of course we are not there yet, but the precedent is unnerving. Gingrich wants nothing more than a cowed, broken press that exists solely to promote the Republican Party’s message. We’ll see soon enough how much of his advice Trump takes.

    UPDATE: Gingrich is not alone in urging Trump to freeze out the press. Following Trump's election, Hannity stated that "until members of the media come clean about colluding with the Clinton campaign and admit that they knowingly broke every ethical standard they are supposed to uphold, they should not have the privilege, they should not have the responsibility of covering the president on behalf of you, the American people." 

    "In other words, the mainstream press should not be allowed to cover Trump," New York University's Jay Rosen wrote in response to Hannity's comments. "A few years ago that was a bridge too far. Now it’s a plausible test of poisoned waters." It looks like we'll see more of those tests in the days to come.

  • In One Day, 17 Signs Of How Bad Press Treatment Will Be Under Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Yesterday’s press conference laid bare President-elect Donald Trump’s strategy for dealing with the press as president: He will seek to delegitimize news outlets that provide critical coverage, try to turn them against one another, reward sycophantic coverage from openly pro-Trump sources, and encourage others to follow in their lead. The candidate who waged an unprecedented war on the press will not be pivoting as president.

    In one day we saw Trump publicly punish members of the press for critical reporting, threatening one outlet with “consequences” for its actions and calling on another to apologize; thank members of the press who behaved in a way he found appropriate; and take a question from an outlet tied to his top aide about what “reforms” he wants to see from the press. We saw Trump aides publicly humiliate and jeer at reporters. We saw one news outlet respond to Trump’s criticism by throwing another under the bus. We saw journalists treat the attacks on the press as a sideshow while praising Trump’s performance. And we saw a U.S. congressman call for a reporter’s firing for being “disrespectful” to the president-elect.

    On Monday, CNN reported that top U.S. intelligence officials had presented information to President Obama and Trump that “Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.” The allegations were based on memos authored by a former British intelligence officer reportedly considered credible by the U.S. intelligence community. CNN obtained the memos and reported on, but did not publish, the documents because it had not been able to verify them. BuzzFeed subsequently published the memos, acknowledging that it had not verified them.

    Trump sought to use yesterday’s press conference to conflate the two stories and employ them to shatter the credibility of the news outlets that published them. The result was a horrifying day for press freedom.

    Here are some of the things that happened over the course of January 11:

    1. Sean Spicer, who will serve as White House press secretary, opened Trump’s press conference by attacking BuzzFeed as a “left-wing blog that was openly hostile to the president-elect's campaign” and calling its decision to publish the memos “outrageous and highly irresponsible.” He then said that both CNN and BuzzFeed were engaging in a “sad and pathetic attempt to get clicks.”

    2. Before introducing Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence declared that there has been “a concerted effort by some in the mainstream media to delegitimize this election and to demean our incoming administration” and accused CNN and BuzzFeed of pushing “fake news” that he said “can only be attributed to media bias, an attempt to demean the president-elect and our incoming administration.”

    3. In his opening statement, Trump thanked members of the assembled press who “came out so strongly against that fake news and the fact that it was written about by primarily one group and one television station.”

    4. Asked about the story during the press conference, Trump said that BuzzFeed was “a failing pile of garbage” and is “going to suffer the consequences” for its actions. He also criticized CNN, which he said was “going out of their way to build it up” and “ought to apologize.”

    5. CNN’s Jim Acosta then sought to ask a question of Trump given that his outlet had been attacked. Trump lashed out at Acosta’s “terrible” news outlet and refused to let him ask a question, declaring, “You are fake news!”

    6. The assembled press responded to Trump’s attack on Acosta by doing nothing.

    7. A few minutes later, Trump turned to Matt Boyle of Breitbart.com, letting Boyle ask a question. Breitbart’s executive chairman is top Trump aide Stephen Bannon, who has bragged about turning the website into the “platform” for the so-called “alt-right,” a noxious collection of white nationalists, nativists, and misogynists.

    8. Boyle, who has provided Trump with sycophantic coverage for years and is effectively an agent of Trump’s house news organ, was the only journalist provided with a reserved seat at the presser.

    9. Boyle had this question for Trump: “This decision to publish fake news and all the problems that we’ve seen throughout the media over the course of the election, what reforms do you recommend for this industry here?”

    10. Trump responded that he didn’t support “reforms,” just reporters who have “some moral compass,” before again saying that some of the reporters sitting in front of him work for “fake news” outlets.

    11. The press conference reportedly ended with Acosta being heckled by Omarosa.

    12. Trump “filled the room with paid staffers who clapped and cheered as he blasted members of the media as purveyors of ‘fake news,’” as Politico reported.

    13. After the press conference, Acosta reported that Spicer had warned him that if he didn’t stop trying to ask Trump questions, he would be “thrown out of this press conference.”

    14. CNN responded to Trump’s attacks on the network by rushing to declare that it hadn’t done anything wrong, and that it was BuzzFeed that rightfully deserved Trump’s wrath. It is telling that when the network came under fire, its executives and journalists sought not just to defend themselves, but to point Trump toward a more palatable target.

    15. The Washington Post reported that Trump had a “decent press conference” in which, “remarkably, he offered kind words for news organizations.” (The Post’s headline was later changed, replacing “decent” with “aggressive.”)

    16. Politico’s influential Playbook reported, “Journalists didn’t like his attacks on them, but for most people who watched Trump yesterday, it was a pretty good performance.”

    17. Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX) tweeted that Acosta “should be fired & prohibited from any press briefings” because he was “disrespectful to Trump.”

    Trump will be sworn in as president in eight days. Things can still get much, much worse.

  • CNN's Russia Bombshell About Trump Deserves More Than Journalistic Navel-Gazing

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    President-elect Donald Trump is dodging serious questions raised by a blockbuster CNN story that top U.S. intelligence officials presented Trump with documents including Russian claims that they have “compromising” information about the president-elect. Instead, he is trying to turn the conversation into a discussion about ethics in political journalism, and some in the press are playing along, helping the president-elect avoid accountability.

    Yesterday, CNN reported that intelligence officials had presented information to President Obama and Trump that “Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump” and that “there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.” The allegations were presented in a two-page synopsis of 35 pages of memos authored by a British former intelligence officer, which CNN obtained but did not publish.

    CNN had not been able to verify the allegations in those memos, which have reportedly been “circulating as far back as last summer,” and the FBI is still reviewing the allegations. But according to CNN, “US intelligence agencies have now checked out the former British intelligence operative and his vast network throughout Europe and find him and his sources to be credible enough to include some of the information in the presentations to the President and President-elect a few days ago.”

    Shortly after CNN’s report came out, BuzzFeed published the memos. The site acknowledged that its own reporters had been unable to verify the contents but said it released them anyway “so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.”

    In their responses, Trump and his allies have either deliberately conflated those two stories -- the raw information published by BuzzFeed and the journalism produced by CNN -- or focused solely on BuzzFeed in order to sidestep the serious questions raised by CNN’s report.

    Last night on Twitter, Trump himself declared the stories “FAKE NEWS” before highlighting an attack on the BuzzFeed story by LifeZette, a fringe website founded by conservative radio host Laura Ingraham that has pushed false conspiracy theories.

    Trump’s pick for White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, opened Trump’s press conference today by lashing out at “outrageous and highly irresponsible” BuzzFeed, then falsely suggested that CNN had also published the memos:

    Trump’s defense has actually included citing the Kremlin’s denial as evidence that the story isn’t true. And yet, some in the media have followed along, conflating BuzzFeed’s work with CNN’s and focusing on BuzzFeed’s decision to release the memo rather than engaging with the troubling implications of the CNN report.

    “Why would BuzzFeed and why would CNN put out these reports that are unsubstantiated and they can't name a source?” Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt asked incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus this morning. “Because it’s irresponsible and it's what's horrible about politics and what’s happening in America,” Priebus replied. “They should be ashamed of themselves.”

    “Right now there’s no story here," Mika Brzezinski said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “The two outlets [Buzzfeed and CNN] that are actually going with this and releasing it are continuing to make the same mistakes they made in the run-up to this election, which is to let their bias get in the way of actually finding out what the facts are and putting them out there.”

    By playing Trump’s game, these media figures are ignoring incredibly important questions that get to the heart of the democratic process.

    CNN’s report suggests that top U.S. intelligence officials suspect that a presidential candidate’s associates may have colluded with a foreign, hostile government to influence the election.

    It suggests that our officials found allegations about Russian claims of possessing “compromising” information about the president-elect to be valid enough to include in briefing documents.

    That information was reportedly delivered to Trump, and given the events of the last day it’s unclear whether he read it.

    The president-elect has responded by siding with that hostile foreign government over the apparent concerns of the U.S. intelligence community.

    Reporters need to keep their eyes on the ball, and off their navels.

  • Trump Just Shot Jim Acosta In The Middle Of Fifth Avenue And The Press Didn’t Blink

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    On the campaign trail last January, President-elect Donald Trump bragged that he “could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters.”

    Today during his press conference, Trump did the rhetorical equivalent to CNN reporter Jim Acosta, and the assembled reporters did nothing.

    After Trump attacked CNN’s report that top U.S. intelligence officials believe Russian operatives may have compromising information about him, Acosta yelled out, “Since you are attacking us, can you give us a question?” In an extended back and forth, Trump lashed out at Acosta’s “terrible” news outlet.

    “I’m not going to give you a question,” Trump said. “I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news!”

    Acosta was left to say that Trump was being “inappropriate” and sink back in his chair as Trump’s supporters clapped.

    And the rest of the press apparently did nothing at all. They watched it happen, then moved on to ask their own questions. Rather than deferring to their CNN colleagues until they had an opportunity to speak or or pushing back against Trump’s attack on a media outlet or even walking out, they acted like it hadn’t happened.

    This is a pattern. Members of the press have repeatedly refused to stand together as Trump has lashed out at their colleagues.

    Trump banned The Des Moines Register from covering his campaign after it printed a critical editorial. There was no collective response from the press. So he banned more outlets when he didn’t like their coverage.

    His campaign threw a New York Times reporter out of an event. No response from the press.

    He confined the reporters to press pens where he could mock them by name to the glee of his supporters, putting them in physical danger. And into the pens they went, day after day.

    His campaign manager allegedly manhandled a reporter. CNN hired the campaign manager!

    Trump treats reporters like conquered foes who he can manhandle at will. If they can’t figure out a way to stand up together and for one another, he will pick them off one by one and grind the free press into the dirt.

    The press conference reportedly ended with Acosta being heckled by Omarosa. Who’s next?

  • Both Of Roger Ailes’ Replacements Have Now Been Accused Of Participating In Fox News’ Culture Of Sexual Harassment

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Fox News’ culture of sexual harassment did not end when founder Roger Ailes was given the boot. Instead, the network seems to have replaced him with men who engaged in or helped cover up similar behavior.

    Last year, longtime Fox executives Jack Abernethy and Bill Shine became the network’s co-presidents, replacing Ailes, who left the network after dozens of women accused him of sexual harassment.

    Abernethy has now been accused of retaliating against an employee who refused a personal relationship with him, while Shine was previously identified as playing “an integral role in the cover up” of sexual harassment allegations against Ailes.

    After the allegations against Ailes came to light, the network’s parent company launched an investigation by a law firm hired to review the allegations and provide legal advice. But in spite of numerous reports pointing to a broader culture of sexual harassment at the network, the inquiry was reportedly never expanded beyond Ailes. Fox got its “revenue machine back on track” and tried to move on, as Vanity Fair put it.

    But in promoting Ailes’ proteges to replace him, the network exposed itself and its employees to more of the same behavior.

    Soon after Ailes’ removal, Fox paid former on-air personality Juliet Huddy “a sum in the high six figures” not to sue the network after her lawyers sent Fox a letter alleging that she had been sexually harassed by host Bill O’Reilly, The New York Times reported today. The details are grotesque, and this is not the first time O’Reilly has been accused of such behavior.

    But the allegations extend beyond the network’s biggest star. The same letter reportedly indicated that Abernethy “had retaliated against [Huddy] professionally after she made clear that she was not interested in a personal relationship.”

    Shine has yet to be publicly accused of the same behavior. But he reportedly played a key role in keeping similar accusations from exploding into the public eye.

    New York magazine writer Gabriel Sherman -- the leading source on the Ailes scandal -- said that Shine “played an integral role in the cover up of these sexual harassment claims.” He explained on CNN that Shine “pushed women into confidential mediation, signing nondisclosure agreements in exchange for their contracts to be paid.” Other reporters confirmed hearing from Fox sources that Shine had known of Ailes’ misconduct.

    Since the initial accusations came out against Ailes, news reports have indicated that he was only part of the problem. At least a dozen other women told the Times in July they had experienced sexual harassment or intimidation at Fox, with many of them citing supervisors other than Ailes.

    It’s long past time for Fox to commission a real, independent investigation into its culture of sexual harassment. The network’s women should not have to live in fear of retribution from executives and hosts seeking sexual relationships.

  • With Finance Hire, Breitbart Tries To Wash Off The Stench Of The “Alt-Right”

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    In a transparent play to give the website a veneer of credibility, Breitbart.com has hired Wall Street Journal reporter John Carney to head up its new finance and economics section.

    Carney will “manage a roster of news contributors that includes former CNBC personality Larry Kudlow” for the Breitbart vertical when it launches following Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, Bloomberg Businessweek’s Joshua Green reported.

    Breitbart is currently defined by its bigoted content and popularity among the white nationalist and misogynist “alt-right.” Progressive activists have successfully urged the platform’s blue-chip advertisers to abandon it.

    Breitbart is ascendant in the political sphere; the candidate the site championed is on his way to the White House, accompanied by the outlet’s chairman, Stephen Bannon. But Breitbart’s position in the cultural sphere is waning due to scrutiny of its work. Its leadership wants to change the site’s narrative -- because, as Andrew Breitbart himself often warned, “politics is downstream from culture.”

    Over the past few years, Breitbart’s reach has expanded in two ways. The site has launched verticals that cover national security, technology, and sports (frequently with a heavy reliance on aggregation and wire service copy) in an effort to convince the members of its hard-right American audience to get their news about those subjects within the same ecosystem where they read about politics.

    And it has sought to expand its audiences in particular geographic areas by launching sections focused on California, Texas, the United Kingdom, Israel, and soon, Germany and France.

    The launch of the new financial and economic vertical sounds like a little bit of both.

    Breitbart has covered finance and economics in the past, but not with any real dedication or rigor; the website wants its audience to stay with it for that news, rather than going elsewhere.

    But Breitbart also seems to be seeking a new audience with the move: Wall Street professionals who are high value for advertisers but currently don’t get much from the website other than an association with the “alt-right.”

    That’s where Carney comes in.

    According to Green, Carney “writes about finance with a populist bent that often mirrors Breitbart’s outlook on politics.” He certainly seems on board with the Breitbart mission, telling Green that the section will promote “the economics of making America great again.”

    But he is also a professional journalist, with the Journal, Business Insider, and CNBC on his resume along with clips from other major publications. That makes him a dramatic departure from the editors the website has previously chosen to launch its new sections, a motley melange of conservative political operatives, conspiracy theorists, and fringe writers, often with a prior relationship with the website.

    Wall Street leaders who have worked with Carney in the past will likely continue to take his calls. Other mainstream journalists may be more willing to entertain offers from Breitbart now that they know Carney is helming part of the site.

    If that strategy holds, Breitbart may be able to generate enough independent reporting and scoops to attract that Wall Street audience. And with that audience comes more traffic and more advertising.

    While Carney suggests that the section will “hold [Trump] accountable,” Kudlow’s presence on the staff gives the game away. The longtime right-wing media personality lavished praise on Trump’s economic plans -- which he helped author -- during the presidential campaign. Trump has reportedly considered naming him to head the Council of Economic Advisors.

    Together, Carney and Kudlow will put a veneer of credibility over the same old Trump sycophancy.

  • Breitbart Has A Literally Unbelievable Response To Its False German Church Story

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    As Breitbart.com prepares to export its brand of anti-establishment xenophobia to Germany, the website has come under fire for a false report suggesting that a “mob” of 1,000 Muslims tried to burn down a German church. Breitbart London’s editor-in-chief has now responded to critics with a 2,300-word rant that does not meet the laugh test.

    Breitbart, which is planning to expand to Germany ahead of national elections this fall, has frequently attacked Muslim communities in European nations and highlighted friction between those communities and white Europeans. The site aggregates instances of crimes allegedly committed by refugees in Germany and suggests German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her refugee policy are to blame -- a strategy that mirrors the political efforts of her far-right opposition, Alternative for Germany.

    Breitbart experienced a setback in this approach when a false story the website published on January 3 drew condemnation from local police and politicians as well as debunks from local, national, and international media outlets.

    Yesterday, Breitbart’s Raheem Kassam responded. According to him, the critics “have railed against Breitbart London’s reporting of an 1,000-strong crowd, many of whom were chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’, and firing fireworks at one of the oldest churches in Dortmund on New Year’s Eve.”

    But that's not what the outlet originally reported. According to the January 3 story, “a mob of more than 1,000 men chanted ‘Allahu Akhbar’, launched fireworks at police, and set fire to a historic church.”

    I can’t believe I need to write this, but there’s a difference between those three discrete facts all occurring -- 1,000 people being present, some of them chanting “Allahu Akbar,” and one of them at some point firing a firework that hit the church -- and 1,000 people who are all chanting “Allahu Akbar” collectively setting fire to said church.

    Breitbart reported the latter. That report was false.

    Kassam triumphantly claimed that media outlets that disputed Breitbart’s story “confirmed almost every substantive fact about the Breitbart London report on the issue: there were 1,000, mostly male, mostly non-native German people gathered in the Leeds Square; there were repeated chants of ‘Allahu Akbar’; the ‘Free Syrian Army’ flag was flown; and there was a fire at the St. Reinold’s Church caused by the fireworks.”

    Again, I can’t believe I actually need to write this, but the relationship that Breitbart claimed existed between those facts is also relevant in terms of whether its story is accurate.  

    The rest of Kassam’s piece is a painstaking, tiresome effort to prove that each of those individual facts is true, while ignoring that Breitbart’s report distorted and misrepresented their connection. It is also filled with whining:

    Whining about a reporter who wouldn’t help Breitbart with the story in the first place:

    One witness of the event — Peter Bandermann from the Breitbart-critical Ruhr Nachricthen (RN) website — refused to assist Breitbart London in the reporting of the event, despite reporting it at length himself.

    Whining about German journalists acting more like Russian propaganda outlets:

    The effect of journalists refusing, on ideological grounds, to ensure stories are reported across the international press is both a sign of a partisan media, but also protects criminals, police ineffectiveness, and failing state policies. This tactic, usually reserved for state-sponsored news outlets like Russia Today or TeleSUR, are becoming more commonplace in the West, especially in Germany.

    Whining about the German police:

    The police clearly failed in their attempts to stop this happening again, and are now lashing out against news organisations like Breitbart News for drawing attention to the matter.

    Whining that critical news outlets called out the Breitbart piece for pointing the finger at Muslims (we are the real racists, apparently):

    Despite this, outlets such as Mediaite, TeleSur, Sputnik, HuffPo, Media Matters, Deutsche Welle, the Washington Post and others decided to use words like “Muslim”, “migrant”, “Islam”, “Arab”, and “immigration” in their headlines or reporting on our story. Why? To stoke fears and division — and perhaps even to suggest that this behaviour would be somehow representative of all of the members of the aforementioned communities and backgrounds. That, to us, is the real “fake news” and “racism” and I am grateful that my journalists do not engage in that kind of scare-mongering.

    Whining about German politicians:

    Like the Rotherham rape scandal, the Hillsborough disaster, and even Cologne last year, police and politicians often collude in order to mask a true version of events that are inconvenient at best, or institutionally damning at worst.

    Kassam’s posture makes clear that in Germany, Breitbart intends to use the same us-against-them assault on the media and political establishment that it deployed in the United States. Given the results of the past year, German reporters should be extremely wary of what the website has in store for their country.

  • Why We Should Keep Using The Term "Fake News"

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Fake NewsThe Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan uses her latest column to call for journalists to stop using the phrase “fake news,” a term reporters and activists have used over the past few months to describe a form of politicized misinformation that had at least some impact on the 2016 presidential election. She reasons that “though the term hasn’t been around long, its meaning already is lost” in the wake of a deliberate effort by conservatives to co-opt the term.

    Sullivan is one of the best media critics currently working, with a keen sense of the media’s responsibility for calling out lies and a well-earned wide following. That’s what makes her missive so troubling.

    If conservatives succeed in their effort to dilute the meaning of “fake news,” the result will not be the clearer discourse that Sullivan hopes to inspire. Instead, critics will lose a common term used to identify and accurately describe a real and specific problem, while conservatives will take that victory and apply the strategy behind it to other fights, making it even harder to describe the challenges in a “post-truth” news environment.

    “Fake news” describes a unique phenomenon. Sullivan’s definition is “deliberately constructed lies, in the form of news articles, meant to mislead the public.” This largely mirrors Media Matters’ own description: “information that is clearly and demonstrably fabricated and that has been packaged and distributed to appear as legitimate news.”

    The term gained prominence after conservative and “alt-right” social media accounts and Russian intelligence services weaponized fake news during the 2016 presidential election, leading to an extensive discussion in the press over fake news content, its purveyors and beneficiaries, and the information ecosystem that allows it to flourish.

    Some conservatives have been trying to delegitimize the term by broadening it to encompass virtually all information with which they disagree. Breitbart, the right-wing, white nationalist website run by top Trump aide Stephen Bannon, was among the first to adopt that formula; it has deployed it dozens of times since to criticize stories by a litany of legitimate news outlets like CNN and The New York Times as “fake news.”

    For Sullivan, the term has been so “tainted” by these conservative efforts that it’s no longer of value. “Let’s get out the hook and pull that baby off stage. Yes: Simply stop using it,” she writes. “Instead, call a lie a lie. Call a hoax a hoax. Call a conspiracy theory by its rightful name.”

    Sullivan is right that conservative efforts to redefine “fake news” in order to delegitimize the press are a real problem. But her solution is to let the conservatives win.

    What would happen next? As she notes, fake news has a “real meaning” and identifies a pernicious form of discourse. No other term currently encapsulates its parameters. If we want to be able to reduce fake news’ influence, we need to be able to identify what it is and how it differs from different, better-known types of misinformation, such as lies, propaganda and conspiracy theories -- or from run-of-the-mill errors in reporting.

    The term “fake news” may be “imprecise,” as Sullivan writes. But that is because it describes an immensely complex ecosystem of actors.

    Moreover, Sullivan errs in assuming that taking “fake news” off the table will allow the press to operate on more favorable lexical battlefields. There is little evidence that the conservatives who deliberately distorted the meaning of “fake news” will simply move on if the term is dropped.

    Why would they? As Sullivan has correctly assessed, Donald Trump’s supporters are engaged in an unprecedented effort to create a “post-truth world.” If they can blow up the term “fake news” with such ease, won’t they learn that similar efforts may be similarly rewarded? Won’t they seek to redefine the very terms Sullivan urges journalists to use instead?

    For a glimpse of where conservatives could move next after spiking “fake news,” I’d recommend “10 Conspiracy Theories That Came True,” an Infowars piece co-authored by Alex Jones. Jones, a Trump ally who has said that the government perpetrated the 9/11 attacks and the tragedies at Columbine, Oklahoma City, Sandy Hook, and the Boston Marathon, has been widely and accurately derided as a conspiracy theorist.

    And so in his 2014 article, he redefines “conspiracy theory” as a term “weaponized by the establishment as a perjorative (sic) slur against anyone who questions the official narrative of any government pronouncement.” He includes the U.S. role in the 1953 coup in Iran and the Gulf of Tonkin among their numbers.

    It’s not only in the interest of conspiracy theorists like Jones to tarnish that phrase -- the Trump administration will also benefit from stretching the term to encompass any criticism of the incoming president.

    Trump himself responded to December reports that the CIA had identified Russian intelligence efforts to bolster his campaign by terming the finding a “conspiracy theory.”

    Sullivan is right that journalists need to be willing to call out lies, hoaxes, and conspiracy theories.

    But “fake news” has a place on that list as well. Let’s defend it rather than folding under the first wave of conservative pressure.

  • Meryl Streep, Trump’s Attack On A Reporter’s Disability, And Reality

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    On November 25, 2015, during a speech before thousands of supporters in South Carolina, Donald Trump mocked the disability of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski.

    This is not a controversial statement, or one up for debate. It is a reflection of reality.

    Here’s the video. The despicable attack came as Trump was attempting to rebut Kovaleski’s work debunking Trump’s false claim that he saw “thousands” of Americans cheering the destruction of the World Trade Center. You can see Trump holding his right hand at an angle while flailing about in cruel mimicry of Kovaleski, who has arthrogryposis, which limits the functioning of his joints.

    Following criticism of his vicious attack on Kovaleski, Trump claimed he had not been mocking the reporter’s disability. He lied. Part of his defense was that he had never met Kovaleski and didn’t know what he looked like. That was false. Here’s PolitiFact’s ruling that his denials were false. Here’s The Washington Post FactChecker’s.

    This is not in question. So why is The New York Times itself helping Trump redefine reality?

    During a speech at The Golden Globes on Sunday, Meryl Streep criticized the “instinct to humiliate” on display during Trump’s attack on Kovaleski. The Times’ Patrick Healy called Trump up for his reaction, then authored an article depicting the exchange as a she said/he said: Streep had called attention to a speech in which Trump was “seeming to mock” its reporter and Trump had “flatly denied” the claim.

    The Times knows better. When Trump first attacked Kovaleski in July 2015, the paper responded, “We’re outraged that he would ridicule the physical appearance of one of our reporters.”

    This is what Trump and his allies do. When Trump says something that exposes a real vulnerability, they outright lie about what he said and why. Trump lies habitually, so unwinding the rationale behind any particular falsehood is difficult. But the result is a news environment in which facts become unstable, reality is constantly under attack, and both journalists and news consumers are unable to process new information within a coherent collective framework.

    If the paper of record won’t stand up for the truth about an attack on one of its own reporters, I have to question whether the Times will be able to do so regarding key issues of policy and politics. And that’s a real concern as the next administration unfolds.