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  • Meet The Mysterious, Facebook-Verified Page Pushing Fake News To Nearly 5 Million Followers

    American News Is Perhaps The Largest Facebook Page Regularly Pushing Fake News

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & PAM VOGEL

    The verified Facebook page for American News (also known as The Patriot Review), with its more than 4.7 million followers, is perhaps the largest page regularly pushing fake news on the social media platform and is emblematic of the problem Facebook must address immediately. It shares dozens of posts each day, often topped with false, clickbait headlines that confirm biases and stoke fear in readers.

    American News also has no publicly listed writers, editors, or owners, nor a business address or phone number. That lack of disclosure helps hyperpartisan websites like American News to publish patently false information without accountability. The page’s opacity and role as a fake news purveyor also demonstrate the murkiness of Facebook’s “verification” guidelines, which require that pages have a publicly listed phone number or business documents showing an official name and address that “matches public records.” 

    Fake News Purveyors Like American News Share Both Hyperpartisan And Fake Content, Often Designed To Stoke Fear

    The American News Facebook page exclusively shares content from the AmericanNews.com website, which pushes a combination of fake news stories -- information that is clearly and demonstrably fabricated and that has been packaged and distributed to appear as legitimate news -- and other hyperpartisan, right-wing content. Stories from American News have been repeatedly debunked as totally “false,” most notably the “100% made up” lie that Denzel Washington had switched from supporting Hillary Clinton to backing Donald Trump in the 2016 election, which was shared hundreds of thousands of times. American News also pushed a fake news story in April claiming that President Barack Obama had issued an executive order to have his likeness added to Mount Rushmore and a 2014 story alleging Congress had approved a bill offering free cars to welfare recipients. The Facebook page for Proud To Be Conservative, with more than 1.5 million followers, also exclusively shares content from the AmericanNews.com website.

    American News posts -- whether sharing fake news or pushing highly partisan and heavily spun content -- have several traits that are common to the content pushed by fake news purveyors: They use classic clickbait headlines, actively seek to confirm far-right ideology, and exploit bigotry and biases. Social media analytics site BuzzSumo, which tracks social media engagement levels for websites, shows that half of American News' 10 most shared stories -- which collectively boasted more than 4 million Facebook engagements -- featured fearmongering about Muslims. Among these was an anti-Muslim fake news story claiming that a Texas man was forced to remove the U.S. flag from his house because it was a "threat to Muslims."

    Here are a few posts the page has shared just in the first days of January:

    This January 5 post pushes a fake story on the American News website claiming that a “Government-backed study” found that teachers were choosing not to teach students about the Holocaust in order to avoid offending Muslims. This story is fabricated; it originated with a 2007 email chain letter spinning false information from a report on schools in the U.K.

    This post, from January 2, shared an American News story alleging that a school had demanded “all must wear hijabs.” This story was also false; a student group at the Wisconsin college in question hosted one event in which students were invited to voluntarily wear hijabs for one day.

    This January 8 post pushed a fake news story that Michelle Obama "accidentally expos[ed] that her husband was born in Kenya." The video attached to the story came from a 2010 post on Alex Jones' Infowars.com and showed Michelle Obama calling Kenya her husband's "home country." Barack Obama was born in the United States.

    American News’ content has also been shared on Twitter by a number of right-wing figures, including Trump-supporting Great America Super PAC spokesman Carl Higbie, who shared a “mostly false” story that Muslims demanded the “army change its dress code to include turbans and beards.” Higbie rose to national attention in November when he suggested that the Japanese internment camps of World War II provide “precedent” for a Muslim registry. American News stories have also been shared by Fox News correspondent Mike Tobin and right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party Deputy Chair Suzanne Evans.

    Fake News Purveyors Such As American News Are Often Totally Anonymous, Leaving Them Unaccountable For What They Post

    Right-wing figures have repeatedly attempted to distort and rebrand the term “fake news” to attack credible news they don’t agree with, but the distinct problem of fake news has several unique symptoms, including a startling level of opacity, which is exemplified by American News. Legitimate news outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, and conservative outlets ranging from Fox News to hyperpartisan websites like The Blaze and The Daily Caller -- and even "alt-right" site Breitbart.com -- have accessible public information about their owners and staff. Hyperpartisan pages that push fake news stories, though, like American News, often make it nearly impossible to find any information about the people contributing to their pages or the entities operating them -- even as they rake in tens of thousands of dollars in advertising revenue. This secrecy allows them to remain unaccountable for the content they share, which often includes copied or plagiarized content from other such sites, shared to further spread patently false information.

    On December 15, Facebook announced steps it was taking to combat the epidemic of fake news enabled by its platform, but it did not include any guidelines about verified pages that push fake news stories. Its own verification steps for local businesses, companies, and organizations require that they use either a “publicly listed phone number for your business” or a “business document” that shows “your business’s name and address,” which is then reviewed “to confirm that it matches public records.” There is no publicly available and easily accessible business address or phone number for American News, nor are there any listed staff members for the website.

    A detailed search of articles on AmericanNews.com revealed no posts with a byline other than “by American News” or first names such as "Hank" or "Jeff." The "author" pages linked to these names reveal no details about the alleged writers, including last name, and the URLs for these pages do not match the author names (the URL for Hank's page indicates it is for a writer named "Kyle," and the URL for Jeff's page indicates it is for a writer named "Spencer"). Futhermore, there is no listing of the site's staff or reporters. A search of the online identity database WhoIs shows that whoever registered American News’ domain used a service to mask its street address, owner, and phone number. The only contact information on the website is on its privacy policy page, which says visitors can report violations of the policy to americannewscontact@gmail.com, as well as an inquiries form. American News did not respond to inquiries made through either method. Media Matters additionally consulted a representative from an accredited nationwide business record search engine who was unable to find any additional information about American News or its operations and said it would be nearly impossible given the lack of publicly available information on its website or Facebook page, which do not mention the state where the business is located or a business name other than the domain name.

    Either Facebook has information about American News that is not available for the average user who may encounter the page or Facebook has deviated from its current, perhaps inadequate verification procedure. Whatever the case, the social media giant clearly has more work to do in addressing its fake news problem; without action, it remains complicit in American News’ deceptive fake news tactics.

  • CNN Paul Ryan Town Hall Illustrates Need For Aggressive Fact-Checking On Obamacare

    Blog ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    During CNN’s town hall with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), Jake Tapper showed the value of fact-checking conservative misinformation on health care policy -- even in a conversational setting -- by providing strong pushback about funding for Planned Parenthood. But there were several other moments during the event when Ryan pushed false information about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that Tapper could have fact-checked. Going forward, more media outlets should adopt an aggressive approach to addressing conservative misinformation on health care policy, given the severe consequences of ACA repeal.

    During the town hall discussion of the fight over the ACA, the final question on health care came from an audience member asking where the millions of women who use Planned Parenthood to access women’s health care services will go if the Republican Congress defunds the network. When Ryan falsely tried to claim that providing federal funds to Planned Parenthood “commit[s] people’s taxpayer dollars to fund” abortion, Tapper correctly noted that the Hyde Amendment bans taxpayer money from funding abortions.

    Tapper also noted the hypocrisy in Ryan’s earlier statements emphasizing the necessity of choice in health care policies, asking, “You believe in providing more choice for people when it comes to health insurance, except for Planned Parenthood?”

    But there were also many other opportunities for Tapper to fact-check Ryan as he used the town hall to reiterate stock talking points and push false narratives about the ACA. When asked whether “the government should guarantee health care” for Americans, Ryan falsely claimed that the ACA is failing and that premium spikes were proof that “the law is collapsing.” In reality, during the most recent open enrollment period, more people signed up on the ACA insurance marketplaces than during the previous year, contradicting the conservative claim that people are fleeing the market. Ryan’s claims about premium hikes omit the crucial context that subsidies rise in proportion to premium hikes, mitigating the impact for the majority of enrollees. While the ACA clearly has problems, claims that the law is “collapsing” or in a “death spiral” are clearly false and should be rebutted as such.

    When an audience member who survived cancer asked Ryan how the GOP’s plans would impact individuals with pre-existing conditions, Ryan claimed that “state high-risk pools are a smarter way of guaranteeing coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.” While high-risk pools sound like a good idea in theory, they have a long history of problems, as they are typically chronically underfunded, are prohibitively expensive for customers, and provide inadequate coverage. Similarly, Ryan’s claims about the benefits of refundable tax credits and health savings accounts should prompt substantive follow-up questions, as legitimate critiques raise questions about their effectiveness in reducing costs and maintaining coverage.

    While Tapper illustrated the value of fact-checking conservative misinformation during the discussion on Planned Parenthood, he ought to have also provided substantive follow-up questions and pushback on some of Ryan’s policy claims. Going forward, media outlets should use any interview, in any format, to hold conservative politicians’ feet to the fire on the issue of the ACA -- to prevent the further spread of false narratives and to investigate the efficacy of proposed GOP policies. The lack of consensus on what a replacement plan might look like, combined with the massive impact repeal will have on the millions who have obtained insurance through the Affordable Care Act, makes it especially vital for the media to ask substantive questions about conservative claims on health care policy.

  • 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.

  • Morning Joe Still Loves Donald Trump

    Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & LEANNE NARAMORE

    MSNBC host Joe Scarborough and his Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski have been criticized repeatedly for their “softball” coverage of President-elect Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign and into the transition, and they’ve lashed out in response. And yet, since the beginning of 2017, their Trump reporting has been nothing less than fawning.

    After a New York Times article noted that Scarborough and Brzezinski were present at a New Year’s Eve party at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and a reporter suggested Scarborough may have “partied” with the president-elect, Scarborough resorted to smearing the reporter instead of setting the record straight. The MSNBC host “blew up,” “accused [the reporter] of lying” and “pushing fake news,” and “sought to undermine [his] credibility." This “over-the-top response,” according to The Washington Post’s Callum Borchers, was in line with Scarborough’s sensitivity “to any suggestion that he is too cozy with” Trump.

    And yet, while Scarborough has insisted that he and Brzezinski have “treated” Trump “tough” throughout the campaign, he has chosen to spend the first two weeks of 2017 bragging about how he and Brzezinski have “known and have been friends with Donald Trump for a decade,” praising him as “the master of many things,” and attacking journalists who apparently “aren’t doing their jobs” while covering Trump. Watch: 

  • Yes, CIA Director Nominee Mike Pompeo Needs To Answer Questions About Climate Change

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    After Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) grilled CIA director nominee Mike Pompeo on climate change during his January 12 Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing, Fox News responded to Harris’ inquiries with mocking condescension. But the fact is, the intelligence community has taken climate change very seriously under both the Bush and Obama administrations, and Harris has every reason to press Pompeo on whether that will remain the case in the Trump administration.

    During the hearing, Harris began by asking Pompeo whether he has “any reason to doubt the assessment” of CIA analysts that climate change is one of the “deeper causes of rising instability in the world.” Pompeo responded that it’s the CIA’s role to gather foreign intelligence and understand global threats, and that “to the extent that changes in climatic activity are part of that foreign intelligence collection task, we will deliver that information to you all and to the president.”

    Harris then pointed out that Pompeo has previously “questioned the scientific consensus on climate change,” and asked whether he has any reason to doubt NASA’s statement that multiple studies show “97 percent or more of actively published climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.” Pompeo responded by claiming that his political commentary has been primarily focused on critiquing the effectiveness of climate policies, and he added that he hasn’t “looked at NASA's findings in particular” and couldn’t give Harris “any judgement about that” during the hearing.

    Pompeo also made this very telling remark: “I, frankly, as the director of CIA, would prefer today not to get into the details of climate debate and science. It just seems my role is going to be so different and unique from that.” In doing so, Pompeo signaled that climate change will not be a focus of the CIA under his leadership, which “could leave the CIA without crucial context as it evaluates threats around the world,” as Climate Central reported.

    At the same time, Pompeo’s remark has inspired several Fox News pundits to mock Harris for choosing to ask about climate change -- beginning with Fox News contributor and Libre Initiative spokesperson Rachel Campos-Duffy, who like Pompeo himself, has deep ties to the oil billionaire Koch brothers.

    On the January 12 edition of Outnumbered, Campos-Duffy declared that Harris had asked a “dumb question.” Later that evening, The Five co-host Eric Bolling said Harris’ question was “ridiculous,” adding, “This is a spy agency. They are supposed to gather intel on bad guys, not the weather.” And on the January 13 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy joked, “Maybe [Harris] thinks the C in CIA stands for climate, but it doesn't. It stands for Central.”

    What these Fox pundits either don’t understand or are unwilling to acknowledge is that evaluating climate change impacts is a critical component of the CIA’s mission. According to a September 2016 report prepared by the National Intelligence Council and coordinated with the U.S. intelligence community, “Climate change and its resulting effects are likely to pose wide-ranging national security challenges for the United States and other countries over the next 20 years.” As Harris mentioned, current CIA director John Brennan has also spoken to the importance of the agency accounting for climate change, stating in a 2015 speech that climate change is aggravating existing security problems and “is a potential source of crisis itself.”

    And lest you think that only the Obama CIA views climate change as a priority for the intelligence community, a 2008 National Intelligence Assessment completed under the Bush administration also concluded that climate change poses a national security threat, as Grist reported at the time.

    This is far from the first time that Fox News has dismissed the national security implications of climate change, but if the CIA itself adopts that misguided view, it will be a dramatic shift that should concern all Americans.

  • 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.

  • Watch CNN's Jake Tapper Correct Paul Ryan's False Claim That Taxpayers Fund Abortions Through Planned Parenthood

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    During a CNN town hall with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), moderator Jake Tapper corrected Ryan's faulty claim that federal funds to Planned Parenthood "commit people's taxpayer dollars to fund" abortion. Tapper explained that the Hyde Amendment bans the use of tax dollars to fund abortions. Although Tapper fact-checked Ryan's baseless claim that taxpayer dollars fund abortion services, he failed to correct the unfounded allegation that "community health centers" (CHCs) could absorb patient demand should Planned Parenthood clinics close. In reality, experts agree that CHCs lack the capacity, experience, and resources to replace Planned Parenthood. From the January 12 edition of CNN's Town Hall: Paul Ryan:

  • Media Reports Contradict Top Trump Aide: FBI Director Briefed Trump On Alleged Russian Dossier

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    CNN and CBS are now reporting that FBI Director James Comey did, in fact, brief President-elect Donald Trump on unsubstantiated claims that Russians have a dossier of information against him. The information corroborates earlier CNN reporting that intelligence chiefs presented Trump with claims of Russian efforts to compromise him. According to The Hill:

    FBI Director James Comey briefed President-elect Donald Trump on a two-page summary of an unverified dossier claiming Russia had compromising information on the real estate mogul, CNN reported Thursday.

    That contradicts claims by members of Trump’s transition team and other news outlets that intelligence officials never briefed Trump on the two-page addendum to a classified report given to President Obama and leaders in Congress about Russian efforts to interfere with the presidential election.

    From the January 12 edition of CBS' CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley:

    SCOTT PELLEY (HOST): Sources tell CBS News that F.B.I. Director James Comey personally briefed President-elect Trump last Friday about scandalous tales about Mr. Trump that were never proven, and were nonetheless attached to an official U.S. intelligence report. Major Garrett has been looking into this.

    MAJOR GARRETT: CBS News has confirmed that Christopher Steele, seen in this photo, produced the memo containing unsubstantiated claims that Russia had compromising personal and financial information about President-elect Donald Trump. Steele is a former British intelligence officer who works for Orbis Business Intelligence, a private investigation firm in London. Orbis was originally hired by Fusion G.P.S., a D.C.-based research firm working for an unknown client. The unverified claims circulated widely in political and media circles. Last week, the U.S. intelligence community included a summary of the information in a classified briefing with Mr. Trump, who said the memo was phony.

    DONALD TRUMP: I think it's disgraceful, disgraceful, that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out. And that's something that Nazi Germany would have done, and did do.

    GARRETT: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper phoned Mr. Trump last night. In a statement, Clapper said he expressed his "profound dismay" at the leaks and emphasized the unverified document is not a U.S. intelligence community product. President Obama and Vice President Biden also received the briefing. On MSNBC, the vice president was asked if including the claims was appropriate.

    JOE BIDEN: It was their obligation to inform not only us, but the President-elect that this was out there, so that it didn't come out of the blue and have any impact on-- on the conduct of our foreign policy.

    GARRETT: House Speaker Paul Ryan told CBS News he understands Mr. Trump's frustration, calling the leaks and subsequent media frenzy unfair. But, Scott, the speaker said he would not have suggested U.S. intelligence agencies used Nazi tactics in this or any other matter.

    From the January 12 edition of CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront:

    ERIN BURNETT (HOST): We begin with breaking news. U.S. Officials tell CNN the FBI director James Comey personally briefed Donald Trump on unsubstantiated claims that the Russians may have compromising information on Trump. Now, Comey had a brief, one-on-one conversation with the President-elect last Friday during an intelligence briefing.

    The FBI Director at that time presented Trump with a two-page synopsis of the Russian claims. The nation's top intelligence chiefs have decided that Comey would be the one who would handle this sensitive discussion. Now, this is a very significant development because it appears to contradict what Trump's senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway, has been saying over the past several days.

    [...]

    BURNETT: Evan Perez is part of the team that broke this story, he's OutFront tonight. As Evan, as we said, a significant development because you heard Kellyanne, they said that this briefing didn't happen. You are reporting it was a one-on-one conversation between James Comey and the president-elect, and it did happen.

    EVAN PEREZ: It did, and this helps correct the record, really, of what exactly happened here. Now, we know there were four intelligence chief who is met with the President-elect last Friday. The purpose of this briefing overall was to bring him up to date on the findings of the Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, the 2016 presidential election.

    Now, at the end of this, the four chiefs were finishing their work and Comey decided to do a one-on-one with the President-elect. The chiefs had decided that Comey should be the one to handle this, after all, it's the FBI counterintelligence division that is doing the investigation to take a look at these claims, and it's also their job to -- to take a look at what foreign intelligence services are up to in this country. In this case Russia, if the Russians are targeting or trying to target the President-elect, it was very important for the President-elect to know about this. That was the purpose of this.

    We're told that this was a cordial briefing, that Trump appreciated the information that he was given, and so we're a little puzzled, really, by the reaction over the last couple days in various stages of denial by the Trump transition team about what really was the FBI and the intelligence chiefs doing their job to make sure he was informed before he took office.

    BURNETT: Right, because Evan, just to underline this, they are -- you've heard them repeatedly say this briefing did not happen.

    PEREZ: Right. We've heard various different versions,I mean, we don't really know where they're at at this point, but we know this information was brought to the briefing and of course we also know from Vice President Joe Biden today, he met with reporters at the White House there, and mentioned that he and president Obama were both briefed on this information, that they got this information from the two-page -- synopsis.

    He even said that he read the entire 35-page document this thing was based on, Erin, and so he said that the intelligence chiefs told him that the reason was they were going to make sure that Donald Trump knew about this very important information.

  • Internet Trolls Unleash Attacks On Washington Post Reporter Following Completely Made Up Right-Wing Media Smear

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW LAWRENCE

    A false right-wing media report targeting The Washington Post’s Doris Truong has resulted in what she described as her “own personal Pizzagate” in which she was erroneously identified as being at Rex Tillerson’s confirmation hearing and surreptitiously taking photos of pieces of paper he left behind.

    Following Tillerson’s January 11 confirmation hearing for his nomination to serve as the next secretary of state, a photo of an unidentified woman seemingly taking photos of notes left behind at Tillerson’s empty seat began circulating on Twitter. Notoriously dishonest, and consistently wrong, right-wing blogger Jim Hoft then posted the photo and a video of the incident identifying the woman as Truong. Hoft has since updated his post and admitted that the woman pictured was not Truong, but the URL still reads “sick-wapo-reporter-caught-sneaking-photos,” a reference to Hoft’s original misleading headline. From there, the false claim was pushed by other right-wing media personalities like former Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin and linked to by The Drudge Report, driving even more traffic to the story and leading to widespread harassment of Truong at the hands of internet trolls.

    From Truong’s January 12 account of the episode published by The Washington Post:

    By the time I woke up, trolls had commented on social media channels besides Twitter. My Facebook feed had dozens of angry messages from people I didn’t know, as did comments on my Instagram account. Even my rarely used YouTube channel attracted attention. My emails and my voicemail included messages calling me “pathetic” and a “sneaky thief.”

    A lot of the comments also focused on my Chinese heritage, implying — or outright stating — that I must be spying for China. Some called for an FBI investigation of what they deemed illegal behavior.

    […]

    Even more bizarrely, one Twitter user insisted that “facial software on the video” led to the “almost positive” conclusion that the woman was me.

    But even if people believed that the person at the hearing wasn’t me, they wanted to know who she was. And that’s what’s particularly alarming about this time in our society: Why are people so quick to look for someone to condemn? And during the confusion about the woman’s identity, why is it presumed that she is a journalist? Or that taking pictures of notes in an open hearing is illegal? Or, for that matter, that she was even taking pictures of Tillerson’s notes?

    Despite his admission that he has no idea who the woman is, Hoft is still identifying her as a “reporter” and pushing the unsubstantiated claim that she was “sneaking photos” without any supporting evidence.

    Truong’s encounter with the far-right online fringe shares startling similarities with so-called “Pizzagate,” a fake news conspiracy theory perpetuated by Trump ally and right-wing radio host Alex Jones that eventually led one alt-right adherent to shoot inside a pizzeria in Washington, D.C. and engage in an armed standoff with police. In fact, Jim Hoft credited one of the leaders of the “pizzagate” fake news conspiracy in his original attack on Truong; right-wing blogger and sexual assault apologist Mike Cernovich, who recently directed an online harassment campaign against political satirist and video editor Vic Berger.

    As was the case with “pizzagate,” wherein an armed conspiracy theorist held up a pizza parlor while he “investigated” the veracity of absurd claims he read online, many of Truong’s online harassers are demanding that she get to the bottom of this story, and identify the woman herself, before they’ll accept that it wasn’t her.

  • RT Host To Alex Jones: Putin Told Me, “Say Hi To Alex”

    Jones Has Claimed He Was Previously Told That Putin Is A “Big Listener” And The “Russian Government Listens To” His Show

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Radio host and prominent Donald Trump ally Alex Jones was told by an RT host that Russian President Vladimir Putin asked him to "say hi to Alex.” Jones has claimed that he was told years ago that "Putin’s a big listener" and was previously informed that the “Russian government listens to" his show and the Kremlin partially “modeled” RT off of his Infowars network.

    Scrutiny of Trump and his allies’ alleged ties to the Russian government have increased since the U.S. intelligence community released an unclassified document finding with “high confidence” that Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election,” and that “Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.” CNN recently reported that senior intelligence officials presented a “two-page synopsis” to Trump and President Obama that “included allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government, according to two national security officials.”

    Jones has said that he talks to the president-elect on the phone to give advice and stated that it’s “surreal to talk about issues here on air and then word for word hear Trump say it two days later.” Trump has appeared on Jones show and is reportedly a viewer. Prominent adviser Roger Stone is a regular contributor and guest host for Jones’ program.

    Jones has claimed that 9/11 was an “inside job” by the U.S. government and that Osama Bin Laden was “a CIA asset.” He and his Infowars network have heavily praised Putin in recent months.

    Kremlin-connected commentators have made clear in recent weeks that they view Jones as an important part of a campaign benefiting Russia.

    Jones recently appeared on Tsargrad TV, which was founded by Putin ally Konstantin Malofeev. The Russian tycoon is reportedly “one of Vladimir Putin’s favorite businessmen” and has “close ties to the Kremlin elite.” During the appearance, Tsargrad TV editorial director Alexander Dugin praised Jones as “a hero of this campaign” because he “told the truth while everyone else lied.” Dugin has been widely referred to as “Putin's Rasputin” because of his ties to and influence on the Russian president and his political apparatus. Jones himself bragged about appearing on “Vladimir Putin’s favorite TV show” and with “top Putin advisers.”

    Jones has also recently claimed that he’s been praised by Putin himself. On his December 8 program, Jones hosted RT broadcaster Max Keiser. Slate profiled Keiser in 2013 and wrote that he’s “become an eccentric hero of a certain ultralibertarian, 9/11-conspiracy-espousing, gold-bug-loving corner of alternative media.”

    Keiser and Jones spent time discussing Putin’s interest in Jones, with Keiser stating: “Vladimir Putin says to say hello, by the way.” Jones responded, “Wow,” and claimed that he was “told by the head of RT America, before they even launched it, like eight, nine years ago, Putin’s a big listener.” Jones then added that “years ago” he was told by unnamed people that “Putin wants to come on” and talk about hunting (the appearance appears to have not materialized).  

    From the December 8 discussion:

    MAX KEISER: Vladimir Putin says to say hello, by the way.

    ALEX JONES: Did that really happen?

    KEISER: Oh yeah. He said, when you see Alex, tell him I said hello.

    JONES: That’s crazy. I better not go over there, though.

    KEISER: I’m going to introduce -- interview Putin this year.

    JONES: Really?

    KEISER: Yeah. Going over there.

    JONES: Now I am interested in this because I was told by the head of RT America, before they even launched it, like eight, nine years ago, Putin’s a big listener and by the way, he likes how you play --

    KEISER: He loves my show. He imitated me at the 10-year anniversary dinner.

    […]

    JONES: Let’s get back to the Putin thing. This will be newsworthy. Let me hear this. What did he say?

    KEISER: Well I’m just telling you what he said. He was imitating me and Jesse Ventura was there at the dinner, and --

    JONES: [unintelligible] told me that. So he said, “Say hi to Alex?”

    KEISER: Yeah.

    JONES: Wow.

    KEISER: Yeah, he said, “Say hello to Alex Jones.” He’s going to come on my show this year, Moscow is beautiful in the springtime.

    JONES: We actually got reached out to years ago by some people and I checked and it was like, “Yes, Putin wants to come on. But he wants to talk about hunting ‘cause you’re from Texas.”

    Jones has repeatedly hosted Keiser on his program, and he has also frequently appeared on RT over the years, including recently on Keiser’s program. (Jones said during the Kesier segment that he's "probably been on" RT "200 times.") In a separate edition of his RT program, Keiser referred to Jones as his “good friend” who helped elect Trump.

    The U.S. intelligence community’s recently released report stated that the “rapid expansion of RT's operations and budget and recent candid statements by RT's leadership point to the channel's importance to the Kremlin as a messaging tool and indicate a Kremlin-directed campaign to undermine faith in the US Government and fuel political protest.”

    Jones told his audience on a July 20, 2014, show that “the basic Russian government listens to my show” and said he was told that they “started” and “modeled a little” bit of RT off of Infowars. From that show:

    ALEX JONES: I’m not bragging when I tell you this, because I knew about this years ago. When I was at RT headquarters in New York and then in L.A., the head of RT at the time, who was replaced because the State Department freaked out and threatened to shut him off if I was ever allowed back on there. Because I'd go on national Russian TV and criticize communism, criticize Stalin, criticize the New World Order, say whatever I wanted. The head of RT was a huge listener. And they were -- I was told they literally started it, modeled a little bit off Infowars. That was part of it. And that the basic Russian government listens to my show. And I never really said that on air because it sounds so wild, but it’s confirmed. It’s come out in communiques and cables and stuff like that. It’s been in the London Telegraph that Assad also, they hacked his emails and the government was reading our analysis at Infowars.com. My analysis. And I’m not saying that arrogantly, but when the Russian government’s listening to you, you might as well just say that that’s going on. I mean it’s no mistake that -- now I’ve been invited on national Russian TV repeatedly to be on with Vladimir Putin’s best buddy, I forget his name, that runs the state-run media over there, and I’ve said no. The crew’s had the request come in, I’ve said no, because this is getting too close to war and I’m not going on Russian media.