Blog

  • How Years Of The Right-Wing Media’s Obama Hatred Paved The Way For Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    At noon today, Donald Trump will swear the oath of office and become president of the United States. His ascent would not have been possible without the years of vitriol that the right-wing media directed at his predecessor.

    That hatred of President Obama, and the related scorched-earth efforts to smother his agenda, prepared the way for Trump. Many Republican voters became, in the words of one conservative writer, “just increasingly divorced from reality” after spending years in the right-wing echo chamber.

    In the first months after Obama’s election, as the president sought solutions for the most immense economic crisis in decades, conservative media became completely unhinged. Violent, doomsday rhetoric and overt appeals to feelings of anger and paranoia in their audience became regular features of commentary across the full spectrum of the right-wing press. While the level of demagoguery waxed and waned over the years, the hatred and fear that had been unleashed never dissipated.

    The GOP establishment was all too willing to go along with “the rage and unreason of radio talkers” as long as they could keep them pointed at liberals. Then Trump came along, a candidate who had repeatedly questioned whether Obama was eligible to be president in the first place, and stole the base right out from under them.

    And once Trump was a major party candidate, he had a pretty good shot of becoming president, especially after receiving a massive volume of coverage from a press that was unwilling or unable to properly contextualize his candidacy.

    “I Hope He Fails” And Fox As “The Alamo”

    Five days before Obama’s 2009 inauguration, the nation was in dire straights. A financial crisis had sent the economy into a tailspin, triggering massive job losses and a plummeting stock market. The banking system was still on the brink of failure. The auto industry was on the verge of collapse. Americans were rightly frightened of the immense economic insecurity, but broadly supportive of the new president who promised to right the ship.

    But on January 16, 2009, Rush Limbaugh -- one of the most powerful voices in Republican politics -- told his millions of listeners that his “hope for the Obama presidency” was “I hope he fails.” In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity the day after Obama was sworn in, Limbaugh doubled down, saying: "We are being told that we have to hope he succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles, bend over forward, backward, whichever, because his father was black, because this is the first black president."

    Over the next few months, Limbaugh would continue to state that he wanted Obama to fail. When other prominent Republicans offered criticism of the radio host, he would blast them on his show; his audience would flood their offices with calls until they were forced to apologize. In a sign of things to come, even the chairman of the Republican National Committee had to grovel before the man with the microphone.

    That same month, Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes sat down with another right-wing radio host, Glenn Beck. After spending two years at HLN, Beck was about to debut his new Fox show, and he was worried that Ailes might not be willing to give him the leeway to go after the incoming administration. “I see this as the Alamo,” Ailes reportedly told Beck. “If I just had somebody who was willing to sit on the other side of the camera until the last shot is fired, we'd be fine.” A partnership was struck.

    Fox executives later acknowledged that the network took “a hard right turn” after the election and become “the voice of opposition” to Obama.

    As a presidential candidate, Obama had frequently been subject to a hefty dose of conservative media vitriol. Given that Obama was the first black major party nominee and had the middle name “Hussein,” a lot of that vitriol was racist or aimed at falsely suggesting he was a Muslim. The fearmongering took off as the election approached, with conservatives baselessly warning that he would be a dictator.

    But in the first 100 days of his administration, following the lead of Limbaugh, Ailes, and Beck, the floodgates opened.

    One Hundred Days Of Hate

    As the Obama administration took control of the reins of government and began trying to halt the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the right-wing media reviews rolled in.

    The new president was a Marxist. And a fascist. And a Nazi. And a Maoist. And a Bolshevik. And a Trotskyite.

    “Is this where we’re headed?” asked Beck over a montage of photos of Hitler, Stalin, and Lenin.

    Obama’s aim was “destroying our economic system as we currently know it." His financial rescue plan was “Josef Stalin without the bloodshed.” It was also socialism. So was his economic recovery plan (unless that was really communism. Or fascism. It was definitely slavery). The auto industry rescue made him a mob boss. So did his labor proposal. His cabinet secretaries were Soviet commissars.

    According to one CNBC host, the big debate was over whether Obama was “the New Economic Policy Lenin or the initial storm-the-Winter-Palace Lenin.” Obama’s party was trying to create a “political dictatorship.” Possible prosecutions of Bush administration officials who had aided the use of torture were “show trials” that would turn the nation into a “banana republic.”  

    Obama was “enslaving” our children. His education plan was “Maoist.” He was striving to create “chaos and depression” among Americans. He was a vampire “going after the blood of our businesses.” His government was “a heroin pusher using smiley-faced fascism to grow the nanny state." He was “taking every tradition and institution that defined this country's greatness and trying to rip it to shreds.”

    He was “more sympathetic with the long-term goals of world communism, and … Muslim terrorists, than with any legitimate American goals." He was embracing “the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood” and preparing to “sell us out” to the Islamic world.

    He was trying to institute a one-world government by repealing the Declaration of Independence and taking the Constitution apart. “Those crazies in Montana who say, ‘We're going to kill ATF agents because the U.N.'s going to take over’” were “beginning to have a case.”

    Obama was an “existential threat.” He “hates” America and was “raping” it. It was time to talk about impeachment because the president was a “dictator.”

    After weeks of hearing that Obama was planning to destroy the country, right-wing media’s audience members were ready for action. They got their opportunity after CNBC contributor Rick Santelli’s denunciation of Obama’s housing plan from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade went viral on February 19, 2009; Santelli’s rant culminated in a call for viewers to join him to protest at a “Chicago Tea Party” on the shores of Lake Michigan.

    Within days, powerful national conservative organizations backed by corporate interests and wealthy right-wing donors started organizing a nationwide series of “Tax Day Tea Parties” to protest the Obama administration, leading up to and culminating on April 15.

    Fox News -- the “voice of opposition,” Ailes’ “Alamo” -- became the focal point, megaphone, and chief promoter of the nascent tea party movement.

    The network’s hosts and anchors championed the protests in dozens of segments and promos in the following weeks, hosting protest organizers for fawning interviews, providing their audience with protest dates, locations and website URLs, and encouraging viewers to join them at protests they were attending and covering. At times, these events were openly branded as “FNC Tax Day Tea Parties.” In turn, organizers used the scheduled appearance of Fox hosts to drum up more attendees.

    Fox’s abject support for the tea parties was a crucial element in their success. As we noted at the time, “Dozens of articles about tea parties in various cities reported that Fox News and its hosts helped influence, start, or turn out participants to local protests. In numerous cases, these reports quoted local participants or organizers stating they were motivated to join or start protests because of Fox News.”

    Again, this all happened in the first 100 days of Obama’s tenure.

    The years to come would see right-wing media flirt with a host of absurd Obama conspiracies; claim over and over again that he intended to create “death panels”; and try to bury Obama’s nominees under an avalanche of false smears. Fox News went all-in as the research and communications arm of the GOP. Glenn Beck called Obama a racist, used his paranoid anti-Obama rants to become a conservative grass-roots leader, attacked a liberal foundation with such heat that one of his heavily armed fans tried to storm its offices, lost all his major advertisers, and eventually left Fox. The “end of America as you know it” was always just around the corner.

    President Obama’s Marxist/communist/socialist/Leninist/Maoist/Trotskyite/Stalinist administration resulted in the longest streak of private sector job creation in our nation’s history, with more than 15 million private sector jobs created since the recession’s low point in 2010. Under his tenure, the stock market reached record highs, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average more than doubling since he was sworn into office.

    A Birther In The White House

    In the wake of Obama’s re-election, The Onion proposed that a “shrieking white-hot sphere of pure rage” would be the 2016 candidate “that would tap into Republicans' deep-seated, seething fury” after the GOP failed to oust Obama in 2012.

    It was a very funny joke and we all had a good laugh and then the Republicans nominated Donald Trump and he was elected president.

    Why Trump? Because, better than anyone else in the Republican field, he could appeal to the hatred of Obama that conservatives had spent years stoking.

    Who could do better than someone who had prominently, and repeatedly, questioned whether Obama had been born in the United States?

    Trump launched his recent political renaissance by hitching his wagon to the birther movement, a collection of fringe right-wing figures entranced by a racist conspiracy theory: Obama was not constitutionally eligible to be president because, in spite of all available evidence, he hadn’t really been born in this country. In this twisted worldview, Obama wasn’t just destroying the country -- he also had no right to its highest office in the first place.

    The birther movement would discredit itself again and again over the years, with adherents suggesting that they had uncovered Obama’s “real father,” claiming that the Certificate of Live Birth Obama produced during the 2008 presidential campaign was forged, releasing an obviously fake Kenyan birth certificate for Obama, and declaring that Obama was hiding his birth certificate because it revealed he was Muslim. But a big chunk of Republican voters, including a contingent of GOP members of Congress, still bought into the myth.

    Those conservatives were overjoyed when Trump came forward and became the leading voice of the birther movement, raising questions about Obama’s birth certificate in a series of 2011 interviews. Fox News promoted Trump’s claims in dozens of segments, and several of the network’s hosts joined in, suggesting that Obama’s birthplace was in doubt.

    Obama released his long-form birth certificate later that year. But Trump never backed down. He immediately suggested the document was fake, and he spent years promoting birther conspiracies in interviews and on Twitter.

    After years of listening to anti-Obama vitriol from right-wing talk radio and television hosts, conservatives wanted someone who could match that hate. They found him.

    And today, he’s the president.

  • New York Times: Trump Ally Roger Stone Under Investigation For Possible Russia Ties

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The New York Times is reporting that American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are investigating “intercepted communications” that potentially show ties between longtime Donald Trump ally Roger Stone and Russian officials.

    The report confirming the ongoing investigation comes after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government meddled in the 2016 election by hacking the Democratic National Committee, as well as reports that the FBI and five other intelligence agencies have been investigating whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided Trump’s presidential run.

    In July, reports surfaced that Trump’s foreign policy advisor on Russia and Europe, Carter Page, made almost his entire fortune off of investments in Russia. Soon after, NBC News reported on alleged payments to Donald Trump’s then-campaign manager Paul Manafort from former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from 2007-2012. Roger Stone, a racist, sexist conspiracy theorist -- who has previously claimed that there’s “greater freedom of the press” and expression in Russia than in the U.S. -- has now also been implicated as another one of Trump’s associates currently under investigation. Media Matters first exposed Stone in August 2016, after he claimed to be in contact with Julian Assange regarding an "October Surprise." In early October, Stone reassured anxious Alex Jones listeners that the "motherload" was coming.

    The report, which will appear in the January 20 edition of The New York Times, confirms that intelligence agencies are investigating “intercepted communications and financial transactions” between Russian officials and Trump allies Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and Carter Page. The report notes that the “continuing counterintelligence means that Mr. Trump will take the oath of office on Friday with his associates under investigation and after the intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government had worked to help elect him.” From The New York Times:

    American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, current and former senior American officials said.

    The continuing counterintelligence investigation means that Mr. Trump will take the oath of office on Friday with his associates under investigation and after the intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government had worked to help elect him. As president, Mr. Trump will oversee those agencies and have the authority to redirect or stop at least some of these efforts.

    The counterintelligence investigation centers at least in part on the business dealings that some of the president-elect’s past and present advisers have had with Russia. Mr. Manafort has done business in Ukraine and Russia. Some of his contacts there were under surveillance by the National Security Agency for suspected links to Russia’s Federal Security Service, one of the officials said.

    [...]

    The F.B.I. investigation into Mr. Manafort began last spring, and was an outgrowth of a criminal investigation into his work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine and for the country’s former president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. In August, The Times reported that Mr. Manafort’s name had surfaced in a secret ledger that showed he had been paid millions in undisclosed cash payments.

    The Associated Press has reported that his work for Ukraine included a secret lobbying effort in Washington aimed at influencing American news organizations and government officials.

    Mr. Stone, a longtime friend of Mr. Trump’s, said in a speech in Florida last summer that he had communicated with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that published the hacked Democratic emails. During the speech, Mr. Stone predicted further leaks of documents, a prediction that came true within weeks.

    In a brief interview on Thursday, Mr. Stone said he had never visited Russia and had no Russian clients. He said that he had worked in Ukraine for a pro-Western party, but that any assertion that he had ties to Russian intelligence was “nonsense” and “totally false.”

  • NBC News Latino Debunks Conservative Falsehood That “The Number Of Uninsured Hispanics” Grew Under ACA 

    Other Publications Uncritically Ran With The American Action Network’s False Claims

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Unlike other media outlets that uncritically parroted the conservative American Action Network’s false claims about Latino coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), NBC News Latino showed evidence disproving the political group’s false statement that “the number of uninsured Hispanics has grown” under the ACA. This statement was based on the group’s misinterpretation of a report that actually found that more Hispanics have gained health insurance under the ACA.

    In an effort to boost the Republican effort to repeal the ACA, the American Action Network -- a conservative political group affiliated with the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC -- announced that in addition to English-language television ads, it would also be launching Spanish-language television ads to garner opposition to the ACA among Hispanics. In the press release, AAN executive director Corry Bliss falsely asserted that “Obamacare supporters claimed this law helps Hispanics, yet the number of uninsured Hispanics has grown.” In reality, the ACA has expanded minority access to free preventive care, improved the overall quality of care in minority communities, and reduced the number of uninsured persons of color.

    The Washington Post repeated Bliss’ claim uncritically, noting that “AAN cited a study last year by the nonpartisan Commonwealth Fund … that found that the share of Latinos without health-care coverage grew from 29 percent in 2013 to 40 percent in 2016, higher than other racial or ethnic groups.” The Hill also echoed AAN’s misinterpretation of the Commonwealth Fund report.

    On the other hand, NBC Latino accurately interpreted the report and corrected AAN’s misleading statement by explaining that “American Action Network's press release points to an NBC Latino story that cites a Commonwealth Fund report that found that the share, though not the number, of uninsured Hispanics grew.” That means that even though Hispanics make up a larger share of the uninsured, the number of Hispanics who gained health insurance under the ACA grew, albeit slower than other groups. The article pointed out that Republican states that “opted to not expand Medicaid under Obamacare” have large Latino populations, which, among other reasons, explained why Latinos’ uninsured rate decreased more slowly than other groups’ rates. From the January 18 NBC News Latino report:

    In a news release, Bliss asserted that "the number of uninsured Hispanics has grown."

    In fact, the number of Hispanics without health care has dropped, meaning the percentage of Hispanics without insurance has gone down.

    [...]

    American Action Network's press release points to a an NBC Latino story that cites a Commonwealth Fund report that found that the share, though not the number, of uninsured Hispanics grew. Latinos are 40 percent of all uninsured, including whites and blacks, a share that grew from 29 percent in part because Hispanics gained coverage at a slower rate than whites.

    The report cites several reasons why Latinos are a growing share of the uninsured, among them:

    - Many uninsured Latinos live in states such as Texas and Florida that opted to not expand Medicaid under Obamacare.

    -- There is a disproportionate share of Latinos who are poorer or lower income but not eligible for Medicaid either because their state didn't expand the program or they are not aware of eligibility.

    -- There are Latinos who are legal residents and their state restricts access of legal immigrants who have not had legal residency for at least five years, as the Affordable Care Act allows. (The uninsured rate among U.S. born Latinos is about 12 percent but for foreign born Latinos, it is 39 percent.)

    -- Many Latinos are immigrants who don't have legal status and therefore are not eligible for Obamacare. Immigrants who benefit from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, program also are not eligible for Obamacare. (Attempts to extend Obamacare to immigrants without legal status drew heavy Republican opposition while the law was being debated.)

    -- There are Latinos who qualify for coverage under Obamacare but won't sign up out of fear that their family members who lack legal status may be found out by the government and detained and deported. The fear of turning over information to the government has increased with the election of Donald Trump.

    These are factors that would have to be addressed in order to make a dent in the number of Hispanics who are uninsured.

  • Corporation For Public Broadcasting: Reported Trump Privatization Plan Would Be “Devastating” To Public Media

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) is pushing back on reported efforts by the Trump administration to privatize it, saying the proposal would have a “devastating effect” and that “the entire public media service would be severely debilitated.”

    CPB is a private nonprofit corporation that receives almost all of its funding from the federal government and distributes those funds as grants to public television and radio stations and their programs. It is the “single largest source of funding for public television and radio programming.”

    “Staffers for the Trump transition team have been meeting with career staff at the White House ahead of Friday’s presidential inauguration to outline their plans for shrinking the federal bureaucracy,” The Hill reported this morning. CPB’s annual federal funding of roughly $445 million -- a minuscule fraction of the federal budget -- is one of the items reportedly on the chopping block.

    In a statement to Media Matters responding to the reports, CPB said that “This thinking and proposals like the one being reported in the mainstream media and elsewhere today have been circulating around Washington for years and have been soundly rejected on a bipartisan basis.”

    While many think only of National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) when they think of public media, it actually consists of “a system of independently owned and operated local public radio and television stations” that air a combination of commercial-free original programming and programming licensed from other stations through organizations like NPR and PBS. This programming includes broadcasts on local issues, children’s education, the arts, and public affairs.

    The stations derive funding from multiple sources, but that funding is often contingent on the federal grants CPB provides to more than 1,041 radio stations and 365 television stations.

    The George W. Bush administration tried to use its authority to swing public programming to the right. Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, Bush’s appointee to chair CPB, used federal funds to examine alleged liberal bias on the PBS program NOW, formerly hosted by Bill Moyers. He also helped raise $5 million to produce a PBS show hosted by The Wall Street Journal’s right-wing editorial board.

    But under Obama, congressional Republicans pushed to eliminate funding for public broadcasting altogether. The found a ready cheering section from right-wing media, which frequently lashed out at “liberal” PBS and NPR. Critics typically say that public media should be able to easily make up the loss of the federal dollars.

    That’s not the case. According to CPB’s statement, “The federal investment in public media is vital seed money -- especially for stations located in rural America, and those serving underserved populations where the appropriation counts for 40-50% of their budget. The loss of this seed money would have a devastating effect.”

    Indeed, “the loss of federal support would mean the end of public broadcasting,” according to a 2012 report commissioned by CPB from Booz & Company.

    The study reviewed alternative funding mechanisms but determined that none could adequately replace federal funding without compromising the mission of public broadcasting. “A reduction or elimination of CPB funding will put 63% (251) of radio stations and 67% (114) of television stations in the public broadcasting system at risk,” according to the report. Many of the stations at greatest risk for shuttering altogether are in rural areas that have more limited programming options -- some are the only broadcast stations available to their audience.

    Booz’s report could not have been more explicit about the “inevitable consequences” of cutting off public funding:

    This report concludes that there is no substitute for federal support of public broadcasting, and that the loss of federal support would mean the end of public broadcasting, and with it the end of an extraordinarily useful national teaching tool, the loss of the most trusted source of news and public affairs programs in the nation, the erosion of our national memory and exceptional culture, the compromise of our civil defense and emergency alert system, and the demise of a federal investment that the American people consider a better use of tax dollars than any other except national defense.

    These are the inevitable consequences of a loss of federal funding for public broadcasting, as this report will demonstrate in detail.

    Booz’s conclusions are consistent with a 2007 report from the federal General Accountability Office, which found that “substantial growth of nonfederal support to offset a reduction or elimination of federal support appears unlikely.”

    Trump isn’t the first U.S. president to go after federal funding for public media. In 1969, President Nixon called for cutting funding for CPB in half. Thanks to the effort of a young Fred Rogers before a congressional committee, those efforts were defeated. Watch:

    You can read CPB’s full statement below:

    Public media is a public-private partnership in the best tradition of America’s free enterprise system. It is one of America’s best investments. It is not a large investment compared to most of what government does – just about $1.35 per citizen per year – but it pays huge dividends in education, public safety and civic leadership to millions of Americans and their families.

    By statute, the majority of the $445 million federal expenditure goes through the Corporation of Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private, nonprofit corporation, which is the steward of the federal appropriation, to more than 1,500 locally owned and operated public television and radio stations across the country.

    From time to time, some argue the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and funding for public media are no longer needed. This thinking and proposals like the one being reported in the mainstream media and elsewhere today have been circulating around Washington for years and have been soundly rejected on a bipartisan basis – most recently by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in 2015. Further, a national survey of 2,000 self-identified Trump voters confirmed that a majority of those voters support level or increased federal funding for public broadcasting.

    The federal investment in public media is vital seed money — especially for stations located in rural America, and those serving underserved populations where the appropriation counts for 40-50% of their budget. The loss of this seed money would have a devastating effect. These stations would have to raise approximately 200 percent more in private donations to replace the federal investment. Moreover, the entire public media service would be severely debilitated. This is because CPB, in addition to direct payment to public media stations, pays for the system’s technical backbone, copyright and other fees, and makes major investments in national content from which all stations and the families they serve benefit. Most critically, public media reaches 68% of all kids age two to eight, providing educational media that’s proven to prepare kids for school, especially low-income and underserved children who do not attend pre-school.

    Indeed, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), as well as others, following comprehensive study, have concluded there is no viable private substitute for the federal funding that ensures universal access to public broadcasting' programming and services.

    We look forward to working with the new Administration and the new Congress in the continued pursuit of our public service missions of education, public safety and civic leadership, which the American people overwhelmingly support.

  • CBS Atlanta Anchor Who Gave “Pizzagate” Conspiracy Theory Credence Previously Worked With Anti-Semitic Outlet

    Anti-Defamation League Criticized Swann’s Former Network For Featuring “Programs Hosted By Anti-Semites”

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Ben Swann, an anchor at CBS Atlanta affiliate WGCL who is under fire for hosting a segment giving credibility to the dangerous “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, previously had a radio show with Republic Broadcasting Network (RBN), a fringe outlet that is a hotbed of anti-Semitism.

    During the January 17 broadcast of WGCL’s evening news program, Swann gave credence to several components of the discredited “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton’s campaign trafficked children through a Washington, D.C., pizzeria. That baseless claim recently inspired a man to enter the pizzeria and fire an assault weapon while “self-investigating” the allegations.

    Swann and his employer have come under criticism for the “Pizzagate” segment. Reporters have also noted that Swann has routinely used reports packaged as real news programming to push conspiracy theories about the 9/11 terror attacks, the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, and other calamities.

    Swann joined WGCL in June 2015. He previously worked at Cincinnati Fox affiliate WXIX, where he also used his airtime to host a “Reality Check” segment that promoted conspiracy theories. Swann left WXIX in 2013. In between those two gigs, he worked at RT, a Russian state-sponsored news outlet, and for several months he hosted a radio show that was broadcast by RBN.

    The Ben Swann Radio Show was first broadcast in March 2014 and ended in June 2014, with Swann issuing a statement saying he is “grateful to RBN for the opportunity to launch a new platform for our brand” but that “after trying the talk radio format we have made a decision to move away from radio and to an internet broadcast format.”

    In 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center profiled RBN and its owner, John Stadtmiller, as part of a series on the anti-government Patriot movement. SPLC reported that RBN’s “talk radio fare is peppered with warnings about enslavement by a one-world government” and highlighted that RBN broadcasted a show hosted by “Michael Collins Piper, who has written copiously for the anti-Semitic American Free Press and its predecessor, The Spotlight, as well as The Barnes Review, a Holocaust denial journal.” (When Piper passed away in 2015, RBN issued a statement saying he had been subject to “unwarranted criticism by people who disagree with some of his perceptions” but that “he has continued to be the stalwart standard of journalistic truth.”)

    The Anti-Defamation League also criticized RBN in 2010, stating that it “regularly features programs hosted by anti-Semites.”

    In 2009, Stadtmiller aired a “series exposing zionists and elite Jews” that included topics such as “Jewish Money Controls US.” Stadtmiller, who is also the host of an RBN program, interviewed former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard and notorious anti-Semite David Duke “for a conversation about current events” in 2015.

    In 2014, when Swann joined RBN, his colleagues included several anti-Semite radio hosts.

    During Swann’s tenure, the station broadcasted The American Freedom Party Report w/ James Kelso. SPLC calls Kelso “David Duke’s former right-hand man” and describes the American Freedom Party as “a political party initially established by racist Southern California skinheads that aims to deport immigrants and return the United States to white rule.”

    RBN also broadcasted Current Issues w/ Dr. Hesham Tillawi. According to the Anti-Defamation League, a televised version of his radio show “has become a megaphone for Holocaust deniers and white supremacists seeking to broadcast their hatred and anti-Semitism into American homes. Tillawi has hosted a ‘who’s who’ of American anti-Semites on his show, including David Duke, Willis Carto, Edgar J. Steele, Mark Weber and Bradley Smith.”

    Another program on RBN during Swann’s run was Spingola Speaks with Deanna Spingola, a show that has also served as a platform for Holocaust denial. Spingola is the author of the book The Ruling Elite: The Zionist Seizure of World Power. According to a 2012 RBN archive, Spingola discussed topics such as “the alleged holocaust” on her program.

    All three of these programs remain on the air at RBN.

    RBN was also the home of prominent white nationalist radio program Political Cesspool until it moved to Liberty News Radio Network in 2009.

    A cursory review of RBN’s website indicates that it was rife with anti-Semitic and racist material before, during, and after Swann’s association with the outlet.

    Days before Swann began broadcasting with RBN, the outlet published an article complaining about “the constant reminder of the mythical ‘six million jews’ who died in ‘homicidal gas chambers’ at Auschwitz, despite all evidence to the contrary.”

    During Swann’s time with RBN, the outlet published an article on May 4, 2014, with the headline “5 Geniuses who believed in Jewish Conspiracies.” The article featured quotes from prominent anti-Semites, such as Henry Ford’s claim that “Jewish bankers” started World War I. Also during Swann’s tenure, RBN published a racist article attacking President Obama as “some mongrel masquerading as an American.”

    RBN continued to publish anti-Semitic material after Swann left. For example, a 2015 article promotes a video that it claims proves “Hitler saved Jews of Ukraine.”

  • How The Press Never Stopped Blaming Obama For Radical GOP Obstruction

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Right on cue, as President Obama readies his exit from office, The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza this week published a misguided critique of the Democrat’s two terms. His analysis focused specifically on Obama’s broken “promise” and parroted a favorite Beltway media talking point: Both sides are to blame for the federal government being mired in “partisan gridlock” during his eight years, and it’s largely Obama’s fault he didn’t “fix” politics. Obama didn’t create “a government that worked for all of us”; he failed to create “something new, different and better,” wrote Cillizza.

    Cillizza acknowledges that “Democrats immediately point to the fact that congressional Republicans, almost from the first day of Obama's time in the White House, made opposing him a political strategy,” but dismisses it as being the primary cause for the partisan mess. (In Cillizza’s view, it’s both sides’ supposed culpability for the failed “grand bargain” in 2011 that serves as the key event.)

    The erroneous analysis represents a safe refrain that’s been repeated by journalists for years, as they’ve collectively convinced themselves that Obama’s culpable for the radical Republican obstruction that partly defined his two terms. They’re comfortably certain that if Obama had just reached out earlier, or more aggressively, or more sincerely (or “schmooz[ed]" a bit harder), things could have played out more smoothly and Obama could have written a different Beltway script where harmony and progress reigned. 

    It’s pure fantasy, of course.

    Fact: When Republican leadership adopted the radical position that they’d refuse to even hold hearings for Obama's next Supreme Court nominee, the GOP systematically shred more than 100 years of protocol in the process. That’s what Obama faced for much of the last eight years, and the press’s messaging has helped Republicans every step of the way.  

    Still, the bipartisan fantasy endured: Republicans wanted to work with Obama and make serious, good-faith deals, it’s just that Obama wasn’t savvy enough to read their signals (i.e. Why won’t he just lead?).

    What’s so bizarre about this parallel universe that the press concocted is that by the end of Obama’s second term, Republicans weren’t even trying to hide their radically obstructionist ways in closed-door strategy sessions. They bragged about refusing to work with Democrats. (Today, they insist that Trump, who lost the popular vote, somehow secured a “mandate” that Democrats must respect.)

    Yet here’s Cillizza in the face of Republican obstructionist boasts, still pretending Obama’s largely at fault for screwing things up and that he passed up a great chance to forever fix partisan rancor. So desperate is the media’s need to portray the Republican Party as a mainstream institution that has not drastically veered toward the fringes in recent years, that journalists are willing to blame the victim. And they’ve been willing, and eager, to normalize Republican behavior.

    Just logically, why would the president who's had his agenda categorically obstructed be the one blamed for having his agenda categorically obstructed, and not the politicians who purposefully plotted the standoff? It doesn’t make sense, other than because the Beltway press is opting to give in to Republicans and downplaying the party’s radical ways -- in an apparent effort to maintain the preferred media mirage that “both sides” are to blame when the government doesn’t function.

    When Republicans obstructed Obama's agenda, the president was responsible for not changing the GOP's unprecedented behavior. And if it wasn’t entirely Obama’s fault, then "both sides" were to blame for the GOP's extremist actions and the grand gridlock it purposefully produced. 

    And the media blame game started from essentially day one for Obama. On January 29, 2009, the Los Angeles Times reported, "As the House on Wednesday gave President Obama the first big legislative victory of his term, it was clear that his efforts so far had not delivered the post-partisan era that he called for in his inauguration address."

    Meaning, nine days after first being sworn in, Obama was being blamed for not having ushered in a shiny, new "post-partisan era." (Loved that Times headline, too: “Newpolitical era? Same as the old one.”)

    But no, Obama didn’t usher in a new bipartisan era, because Republicans wouldn’t let him -- and that’s according to Republicans. "If he was for it, we had to be against it," was how former Republican Ohio Sen. George Voinovich once explained the GOP’s knee-jerk response to Obama proposals.

    Given a path by the press to obstruct Obama and to also be rewarded for scoring victories over him in the process, Republicans seized every opportunity and soon defied historic norms.

    We saw it with the sequester obstruction, government shutdown obstruction, paid leave obstruction, cabinet nominee obstruction, Hurricane Sandy emergency relief obstruction, the consistent obstruction of judicial nominees, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act obstruction, and of course the 2013 gun bill obstruction.

    That was the expanded background check bill featuring a centerpiece proposal that enjoyed nearly 90 percent public approval, including overwhelming support from Republican voters and gun owners. But Obama couldn’t get most Republican senators to budge. “There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it,” explained Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-PA), who was one of just four Republicans who voted for the compromise bill.

    But most of the context was left out of the gun vote coverage in 2013, as pundits and press rushed in to blame “Obama and his allies” for the actions of obstructionist Republicans.

    For the record, there were some lonely voices in the Beltway wilderness who specifically debunked the “both sides” meme and placed the gridlock responsibility squarely on the shoulders of activist Republicans.

    "We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional," scholars Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein wrote in The Washington Post in 2012 in an essay adapted from their then-new book. "In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party."

    Perhaps not surprisingly, the Sunday morning broadcast network political talk shows and much of the media at large wasn’t interested in their analysis, which Ornstein told The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent was unfortunate given the fact that their assessment “focused on press culpability — it would be hard to find a more sensitive issue for the media than the question of whether they’re doing their job.”

    That simply wasn’t the preferred story the Beltway press wanted to tell during the Obama years.

  • “We Can’t Be Intimidated”: Journalists Speak Out On How The Press Should Cover Trump

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Facing the reality of President-elect Donald Trump’s impending inauguration, traditional media outlets can either band together in the face of Trump’s bullying anti-press tactics or risk being steamrolled by the incoming administration.

    In interviews with Media Matters, journalists and other media experts argue that reporters need to be ready to recommit to solid, rigorous reporting to hold Trump accountable and to stand together in the face of the Trump administration’s inevitable anti-press crusade.

    Since being elected, Trump has continued to lash out at critical media outlets through his Twitter account. At his long-delayed first press conference as president-elect last week, Trump berated CNN reporter Jim Acosta, refused to let him ask a question, and dubbed his network “fake news.” Other journalists who were gathered for the press conference essentially just watched.

    Several experts told Media Matters that the Acosta incident highlights the need for journalists to stand up to Trump.

    “Part of the problem here is the press is walking into a buzzsaw,” said Ken Auletta, media writer for The New Yorker. “There is a large percentage of the population that don’t believe us. Anytime a Jim Acosta raises his hand and tries to get the attention of the president-elect, there is a sizeable part of the population that says, ‘There they go again.’”

    “You don’t get the public to pay attention by caving. We can’t be intimidated,” he said. “The fourth estate has a role to play. That role is we are representatives of the public -- we are supposed to ask the question to better inform the public.” 

    In an open letter to Trump, Columbia Journalism Review Editor-in-Chief Kyle Pope argued that the days of Trump trying to pit journalists against one another “are ending. We now recognize that the challenge of covering you requires that we cooperate and help one another whenever possible.” He added, “So, when you shout down or ignore a reporter at a press conference who has said something you don’t like, you’re going to face a unified front.” 

    Pope elaborated on his proposal in comments to Media Matters, writing, “Working together at press conferences could mean not asking a question until a shunned organization has had a chance to be answered; it could mean actually jointly working on stories that are beyond the capabilities of a single news organization, much like ProPublica and the NY Times do now; it definitely means calling attention to good work from our competitors that may not otherwise get adequate notice.”

    Adam Clymer, a former longtime New York Times political reporter, said press organizations need to unify and keep tabs on Trump’s anti-press treatment, recalling when the National Press Club once issued a report on President Nixon’s lack of press conferences.

    “In a public setting, a little solidarity is probably called for,” he said. “In public, they should not tolerate his picking on one person. That is intolerable.”

    Walter Shapiro, a Roll Call correspondent whose experience also includes stints at The Washington Post and Time, predicts, “It is going to be more anti-press. … It is really important for the press to stand together.”

    Media Matters president Angelo Carusone recently launched a petition on MoveOn.org calling on news organizations to stand up to Trump’s attempts to blacklist or ban critical news outlets. (As of January 19, the petition has more than 285,000 signatures.)

    Lynn Walsh, president of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), told Media Matters that her group has heard from journalists who “feel threatened” by Trump’s behavior, and they are “talking internally about how we respond.”

    She also said reporters must support each other, citing Shepard Smith of Fox News' quick defense of Acosta last week. SPJ is one of several journalism groups expected to co-sign a joint letter to Trump that raises concerns about his treatment of the press and his moves and plans to limit access, including possibly evicting journalists from the briefing room in the White House.

    The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) and the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) issued a joint statement of concern last week about Trump’s press treatment following a meeting of 50 such groups last week.

    It said, in part, “In discussing top priorities as the Trump administration takes shape, the group agreed that countering legal threats to reporters – such as leaks investigations, libel suits, and a disregard for the Freedom of Information Act – and promoting a public policy in support of the public’s right to know are crucial areas that require a unified response.”

    The journalists Media Matters spoke to also highlighted Trump’s regular disregard for the truth and his complex conflict-of-interest entanglements as challenges media outlets need to overcome in order to properly cover a Trump administration.

    “I think it is going to be very challenging. We have to develop new ways of getting around” attempts to limit access, said George Condon of National Journal, who has covered the White House since 1982 and served as WHCA president in 1993 and 1994. “We will see how much access we have, how the press conferences are and the daily press briefing. If something becomes a pattern, we’ll react. You have to do your job -- find out what the president is proposing, what it will cost, who it will affect.”

    During the campaign, several veteran political reporters and journalists told Media Matters that one of the main deficiencies of media coverage of then-candidate Trump was a routine failure to follow up on important investigative reporting on Trump in favor of latching onto his outrageous comment du jour.

    Steve Scully, C-SPAN senior executive producer and political editor and a former WHCA president, urged reporters to pick and choose what is important to cover and not get drawn into the outlandish story: “Don’t necessarily go for the shiny object; cover the substance. Is it harder? It is harder because he is very adept at trying to redirect the news cycle. We’ve never had somebody quite like Donald Trump in the White House. It is a whole set of new standards.”

    As Media Matters and others have noted, during the transition, outlets have routinely dropped the ball -- especially in headlines -- by parroting Trump’s spin on current events without providing necessary context.

    Lynn Walsh argued that media outlets need to be aggressive about highlighting falsehoods from the administration.

    “If he is saying something that is incorrect, we have to say that is not true,” she said. “If it is incorrect or false, we absolutely have to say that is not true. We have to be better than we’ve ever been. We have to be accurate in our reporting and don’t put information out there that is false or misleading.”

    “This is, I’m sure, going to be the most difficult administration ever to cover because of Trump, because of the internet, because of his apologists,” said Walter Mears, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press political reporter from 1956 to 2001. “I don’t think there is any question.” 

    “All you can do is listen, write down what he says, and be as aggressive as possible in finding out what’s behind it," Mears added. "He’s already demonstrated that he can misrepresent anything by simply saying his version of truth and he’s got a lot of people who will believe it.”

    Several major news outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Politico, have already announced plans to increase White House staffing, doubling it in some cases.

    David Folkenflik, NPR's media correspondent, said it's going to be “very important to follow his business entanglements and legislation. The important thing is not to let the Trump administration off the hook and keep your eye on the ball. We have not heard a full picture of Trump’s relationship with the Russians.”

    He added, “News organizations are going to have to scrutinize and disentangle some of the business relationships, his foreign entanglements, and policy decisions." Given the "combination of the lack of previous scrutiny of Trump and many of his most important figures and the skepticism to contempt he has for the roles the press plays in accountability and transparency," media will "have to be willing to forgo access in order to serve the larger job.”

  • Donald Trump's Hotel Bans Press For The Inauguration, Raising First Amendment Concerns

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President-elect Donald Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel is banning reporters from its premises during inauguration week, according to Politico’s Daniel Lippman. The move underscores the incoming president’s personal hostility toward the press and raises First Amendment issues, as the hotel space is leased by the president-elect from the federal government.

    Throughout the 2016 campaign and into the transition, Trump has made his hostility to the press a centerpiece of his political strategy. Trump declared war on the press, which included mocking specific reporters as “neurotic,” “dumb,” and a “waste of time.” He retreated to softball interviews during the final weeks of the campaign with largely friendly interviewers, Fox News, and fringe media. Since the election, Trump has lashed out at The New York Times several times for its “BAD coverage.” Trump’s own incoming press secretary also admitted that he threatened to remove a journalist who was trying to ask the president-elect a question, and prominent Trump supporter and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich applauded the threat, calling it “a signal, frankly, to all the other reporters that there are going to be real limits” for proper behavior.

    Moreover, as Politico notes, Trump’s D.C. hotel is under “a 60-year lease with the federal General Services Administration, which owns the property.” Given that arrangement, a blanket ban on the press raises First Amendment concerns. Trump’s D.C. hotel has also been an ethical sticking point during Trump’s transition, as some in Congress have raised concerns about a conflict of interest between the president-elect’s business interests and his administration’s influence over the General Services Administration. From Politico’s January 18 article:

    The Trump International Hotel in Washington is banning the media from its premises during inauguration week.

    “Media is not allowed in this week in respect of the privacy of our guests,” Patricia Tang, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing wrote in an email.

    A POLITICO reporter attempted to enter the hotel Wednesday morning for a previously scheduled breakfast meeting but was stopped at the door. He then identified himself as a journalist and was told “media” was not allowed.

    President-elect Donald Trump and his three adult children own the project after winning a 2012 bid to redevelop D.C.’s Old Post Office. They have a 60-year lease with the federal General Services Administration, which owns the property.

  • Des Moines Register Demands Specifics About So-Called “Alternatives” To Planned Parenthood

    Register’s Editorial Board Showed Local Papers What Questions To Ask When Anti-Choice Lawmakers Threaten Access To Essential Care

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    As conservatives on Capitol Hill threaten to defund Planned Parenthood under dubious pretenses, Iowa’s Des Moines Register is modeling how state papers should handle efforts by local anti-choice lawmakers to do the same.

    The Register’s editorial board called on Gov. Terry Branstad (R-IA) to “sit down and write the names of the entities that can provide comprehensive family planning services in Iowa” before following through on his budget plan to eliminate state funding for Planned Parenthood. The paper quoted Branstad saying that his plan “redirects family planning money to organizations that focus on providing health care for women and eliminates taxpayer funding for organizations that perform abortions.”

    Branstad’s plan comes from a familiar anti-choice playbook. To justify defunding Planned Parenthood, right-wing media and anti-choice politicians in a number of states have wrongly claimed that the organization uses taxpayer money to subsidize abortion services. Although in reality, the government reimburses Planned Parenthood only for non-abortion services, and that money is provided via Medicaid, lawmakers use this incorrect allegation to demand that funds be shifted to so-called “community health clinics” (CHC). Lawmakers believe these CHCs could absorb patient demand should access to Planned Parenthood be eliminated -- a claim experts call “a gross misrepresentation of what even the best community health centers in the country would be able to do.”

    By demanding specifics from conservatives who claim that there are numerous “alternatives” to Planned Parenthood, the Register modeled the kind of reporting local outlets should be doing about threats to defund essential health care in their communities.

    1. Demand To Know What So-Called “Alternatives” To Planned Parenthood Are Available

    Planned Parenthood is an essential care provider for millions of Americans nationally, 60 percent of them low-income patients covered through Medicaid. In Iowa, this process is facilitated through the Iowa Family Planning Network (IFPN) waiver program, which gives patients the option to receive “a form of limited insurance coverage” through Medicaid that covers “basic family planning services.”

    As the Register noted, Branstad “must know that many of the more than 30,000 Iowans obtaining services made possible by the waiver receive them from Planned Parenthood,” which means that if he “rejects this particular organization, he should specify exactly who has the statewide ability to take its place.”

    There’s ample reason to believe that this task will prove impossible for the long-serving anti-choice governor. As the Register reported, providers have already warned state officials that there “are not enough providers in Iowa to absorb the patients Planned Parenthood of the Heartland currently serves.”

    Rather than taking Branstad or other anti-choice lawmakers at their word about the viability of so-called alternatives, the Register performed a critical journalistic function and demanded to know what these facilities were, and whether they have the capacity to meet the medical needs of low-income patients across the state.

    2. Ask About The Types Of Services “Alternatives” Can Actually Provide

    Beyond asking Branstad to name specific alternatives to Planned Parenthood, the Register also asked that the list exclude clinics that are “no longer in business” and include only facilities that “actually provide family planning services.”

    This may seem like an odd stipulation, but the Register’s specific question about alternative providers’ actual services is exactly the kind of scrutiny local outlets should apply when lawmakers threaten to radically alter the infrastructure of essential health care systems.

    Across the country, anti-choice lawmakers have conflated the total number of CHCs with the much smaller number of those facilities that are actually equipped to provide primary care and family planning services. As the Register explained:

    Florida lawmakers learned that lesson the hard way. After passing an anti-Planned Parenthood bill last year, they sought to demonstrate there were numerous, alternative providers. Their list became a national joke because it included the names of elementary and middle schools, dental practices and at least one eye clinic.

    While Planned Parenthood clinics all offer preventive and basic care services, CHCs can qualify for that classification while providing more limited care -- making direct comparisons between the overall numbers a misleading measure of actual health care provision capacity.

    By demanding specific answers about threats to defund Planned Parenthood, The Des Moines Register’s editorial board provided a model for local outlets to critically interrogate claims by lawmakers about so-called alternatives -- questions that are essential when access to health care is on the line.

  • CBS Atlanta Affiliate Gives Credibility To Debunked Pizzagate Conspiracy

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    A CBS affiliate in Atlanta gave credibility to the dangerous conspiracy theory known as Pizzagate, which falsely claimed that Hillary Clinton’s campaign trafficked children through a Washington, D.C. pizzeria, with an anchor reporting that it’s wrong to say “there’s nothing to this story.”

    The conspiracy, which started on fringe and fake news-purveying websites before conspiracy theorists like radio host Alex Jones and the son of Donald Trump’s national security adviser promoted it, alleged that hacked emails from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta showed that Washington, D.C., restaurant Comet Ping Pong was involved in a pedophilia ring. The baseless claim spurred at least one death threat for the restaurant’s owner, and in December a gunman opened fire inside the pizzeria in order to “self-investigate” the conspiracy.

    During the January 17 edition of CBS Atlanta affiliate WGCL’s evening news program, anchor Ben Swann said that while “not one single email in the Podesta emails discusses child sex-trafficking or pedophilia, … there are dozens of what seem to be strangely worded emails dealing with pizza and handkerchiefs.” Swann claimed “self-described online investigators say that those words in the emails … is code language used by pedophiles.” Swann also claimed there were “some very strange connections” between Comet Ping Pong and another pizzeria nearby, comparing that pizzeria’s logo to an alleged FBI report on pedophile signals. Swann concluded by saying, “Investigators have already proven there's nothing to the story, right? Well actually, no,” and questioning why police were not investigating.

    The segment has since been hyped on 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit -- which were among the websites that first pushed the conspiracy theory -- with users calling Swann’s commentary “fucking amazing” and an “unbiased report about Pizzagate.”

    Swann has a history of pushing conspiracy theories. In 2013, he questioned the “official narrative” of the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the 2012 Aurora, CO, shooting. According to The New York Times, he has also “raised questions about the collapse of one of the buildings at the World Trade Center.”