Media Structures & Regulations

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  • The Newsroom At Rupert Murdoch's WSJ Is Fed Up With Its "Galling" Pro-Trump Coverage

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    A cloud of “gloom” and “dismay” hangs over The Wall Street Journal’s newsroom, where journalists are reportedly disappointed with the paper’s superficial election coverage and “‘flattering’” treatment of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Reporters at the Journal, whose parent company News Corp. is chaired by Rupert Murdoch, told Politico’s Joe Pompeo that the paper’s Trump coverage has been “‘galling’” and “‘absurd.’”

    Pompeo wrote in Politico’s October 14 Morning Media newsletter that there is “seasonally appropriate gloom in the air” at the Journal’s newsroom over the paper’s “‘galling,’” “‘flattering’” pro-Trump “stories on the front [page]” and the “‘false balance in treating him just like another nominee.’” Pompeo’s Journal sources decried the paper’s superficial “‘process stories about the race, who’s up and down,’” and lamented the Journal’s Trump coverage as “‘neutral to the point of being absurd.’”

    Pompeo also noted that the “sense of disappointment” in the Journal’s newsroom is especially underscored by the performance of the paper’s rivals, The New York Times and The Washington Post, which have published “earth-shattering news-breaks” about Trump.

    “Of course,” Pompeo wrote, the staff “probably saw it coming,” given both that the Journal’s editor-in-chief demanded that his reporters be “‘fair’” to Trump back in May and that the Journal is owned by Murdoch’s News Corp. Murdoch -- who also has played a hands-on role in leading his unabashedly pro-Trump Fox News Channel -- signaled months ago that “he plans to fully back Trump in the general election,” according to New York magazine.

    The report of the newsroom’s “dismay” at its Trump boosting coincides with a Journal article elevating Trump’s defensive claim that a global media conspiracy is working to generate negative coverage of him. The October 13 article notes that Trump is planning to claim that “Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim,” a top New York Times shareholder and Clinton Foundation donor, “is part of a biased coalition working in collusion with the Clinton campaign and its supporters to generate news reports of decades-old allegations from several women.”

    Irony abounds, as the Times’ Alex Burns notes that the Murdoch-owned pro-Trump Journal is helping carry Trump’s water over an alleged media conspiracy of pro-Clinton boosting: 

    The Carlos Slim conspiracy article may be precisely the type of “‘galling’” story that Journal reporters are reportedly upset about. Burns needled the Journal about the piece, tweeting, “Can’t fathom writing this as a hard news lede.” Perhaps the article’s author feels the same way.

  • Trump Is Borrowing Putin's Media Playbook

    Trump’s Use Of “Sock Puppet Websites” And Constant Spread Of Disinformation Echoes “Russian Information Warfare”

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s public flirtation with Russian President Vladimir Putin throughout the 2016 campaign has been met with extensive public interest, skepticism, and criticism. Whether definitive ties exist between Trump and the Kremlin remains to be seen, but the degree to which Trump has seemingly co-opted the Kremlin’s propaganda playbook, and the extent to which conservative media has helped Trump execute a Russian-style media strategy built upon the spread of disinformation, is unnerving and portends trouble for the state of objective truth in American democracy.

    Red flags have been raised about Trump’s alleged relationship with Russia and Putin: Trump has effusively praised Putin; publicly invited the Russian government to hack Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s emails; deliberately lied that Russia was not involved in hacking attempts aimed at interfering with the U.S. election; recited Russian state-sponsored misinformation; and allegedly has Russian investments in his businesses.

    Further, Trump has managed to exploit the fragmented state of American media to seemingly execute the Russian model of “information warfare,” as outlined by NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence’s Keir Giles. The parallels between the Kremlin’s strategy for planting and spreading disinformation -- with the ultimate goal of “undermining the notion of objective truth” -- and Trump’s use of conservative media to spread lies and delegitimize traditional news sources are striking and play out in these ways:

    Disinformation Initially Placed On “Sock Puppet Websites”

    Russian disinformation strategy, which rests on “‘undermin[ing] the very fundamentals of information and credibility that informed debate are supposed to rest upon,’” begins by “placing disinformation” on “sock puppet websites which appear to provide or aggregate news” and “can achieve substantial reach and penetration,” according to Giles. 

    The primary “sock puppet website” at the heart of Trump’s Kremlin-style media campaign is The Drudge Report, the conservative media news aggregator that traffics in conspiracy theories, lies, and anti-Clinton smears. The Drudge Report has been a stalwart Trump cheerleader and a launching pad for a series of smear campaigns and conspiratorial claims meant to undermine Clinton, including long-running conspiracies about her health.

    Drudge frequently aggregates stories from notoriously right-wing fringe and conspiratorial websites including WorldNetDaily (WND), Zero Hedge, and Gateway Pundit. At its height in July, Drudge had 1.47 billion page views.

    As The Washington Post notes

    Drudge is an ideal landing place for hard-hitting opposition research on one of your political opponents. He's more likely to simply take it and post it rather than looking for where the holes are — as a more mainstream site would do. And, because of Drudge's traffic, which isn't just big but also influential (think reporters, cable TV bookers and other campaigns), everyone you want or need to see it will see it.

    To underscore The Drudge Report’s jolting parity to Russian “sock puppet websites,” the website has openly embraced Putin himself and has linked to Russian propaganda sites at least 91 times thus far in 2016.

    InfoWars, a fringe conspiracy website led by 9/11 truther Alex Jones, has also been the birthplace of nonsense claims and anti-Clinton attacks.

    Trump has praised Drudge and InfoWars and repeated their conspiracy theories on the campaign trail, effectively mainstreaming the reputation of otherwise unsound sources and giving widespread credence to a variety of baseless claims. Jones himself once announced on his radio show that it has been “surreal to talk about issues here on air and then word-for-word hear [Donald] Trump say it two days later. It is amazing.”

    New Media Exploited To “Plant, Disseminate, And Lend Credibility To Disinformation”

    In his report, Giles notes that “pro-Russian trolls and bots” also “exploit specific features of the relationship between traditional and social media in order to both plant, disseminate and lend credibility to disinformation.” They utilize “a range of fora including online discussion boards, Twitter and more” to “act as a force multiplier for driving home the Russian message.”

    New and non-traditional online forums like Reddit, 4Chan, and Twitter have served as effective tools for Trump supporters to coalesce and subsequently blast out conspiracy theories and anti-Clinton attacks in unison.

    As The New York Times highlighted:

    [I]f major social media platforms are where Mr. Trump amplifies his pronouncements, sites like Reddit and 4chan have become a sort of proving ground, where an extreme, Internet-amped version of Mr. Trump’s message is shared and refined.

    [...]

    [Reddit] users promote favorable stories, feud with foes and rally support through phone-banking or “Facebanking” — campaigning to Facebook friends. On The Donald, the message is relentless — as are the insults. Opponents are referred to as “cucks,” which is short for “cuckservative,” as in “cuckold” — now used as a derisive term for liberals and moderate Republicans recently popularized by far-right online commentators and white nationalists, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group shares content and tone with parts of 4chan, the infamous and anonymous message board that traffics in shock, and where Mr. Trump — who regularly scorns “political correctness” — has found substantial, if oblique, support.

    Bogus anti-Clinton attacks, like the claim that the Clintons did “the same thing” with their taxes as Trump -- who “used a $916 million loss that he reported on his 1995 income tax returns to avoid paying personal federal income taxes for years” -- by claiming a “$700,000 loss” on their 2015 tax return, originated on the pro-Trump reddit page “The_Donald” and subsequently rocketed through right-wing media.

    Disinformation Then Is “Fed Into The Mainstream News Flow”

    After Russian propaganda is placed on aggregate sites and gains traction among these "pro-Russian trolls and bots," writes Giles, the disinformation is then “fed into the mainstream news flow” and “picked up and reported by reputable traditional media.”

    Similarly, disinformation in the American media track often jumps from fringe websites like Drudge and InfoWars (frequently after and precisely because Trump cites them) to Fox News, the unabashedly pro-Trump cable network that nonetheless brands itself as “fair and balanced,” and other right-wing media outlets.

    Seemingly attempting to stay in sync with Trump, Fox has mainstreamed fringe right-wing conspiracies and elevated anti-Clinton smears about Clinton’s health (which Trump has promoted), character, and leadership style (which Trump has echoed) -- while also promoting fringe claims of a “rigged” election (which Trump is hyping), “garbage” online polls that favor Trump (which he loves to cite), allegations that Clinton has her foes murdered (which Trump nodded to), and claims regarding the Clintons’ personal marriage (which Trump has floated), all sourced from the fever-swamps of conservative fringe websites.

    As Trump’s own campaign manager Kellyanne Conway once said, “You can draw a straight line from a Drudge link to what gets covered on cable that night.”

    Credible Outlets Not Wanting “To Be Left Behind” Repeat The Disinformation

    Once disinformation pierces the mainstream news flow “at one or more points,” “others will follow,” Giles notes. “Even in the new climate of awareness, major news media do not wish to be left behind on a story which has made it to the news agenda.”

    Credible mainstream American outlets and journalists, perhaps concerned “they will be labeled ‘biased,’” as claims John A. Tures, adopt stories that often are cultivated in the right-wing echo chamber and given life by Trump. After Clinton’s September pneumonia diagnoses, several mainstream outlets went all-in on hyping how “talk of Clinton's health [is] no longer just the stuff of conspiracy theorists.” Media outlets have time and time and time again parroted right-wing pseudo-scandals about Clinton’s use of a private email server and about the Clinton Foundation (stories that were also hyped by right-wing outlets like Drudge and Fox News).

    Conservative shaming of the “liberal media” also is often intended to induce mainstream coverage of an otherwise fringe or unsubstantiated story. Speaking about hacked emails from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, Fox host Ainsley Earhardt exclaimed, "Do you think the mainstream media will talk about it?" Co-host Steve Doocy added, "Or at least Donald Trump?" Guest Steve Hilton replied, "I don't think so, so that's why [Trump] needs to talk about it. Because otherwise, it's just going to disappear into the ether."

    Ultimate Goal Of “Undermining The Notion Of Objective Truth”

    In his assessment of “Russian objectives” behind the Kremlin’s “information warfare” strategy, Giles writes, “it has as one aim undermining the notion of objective truth and reporting being possible at all,” which ultimately “‘undermines the very fundamentals of information and credibility that informed debate are supposed to rest upon.’”

    In executing a similar media strategy, Trump and the conservative media have worked to discredit historically legitimate sources of truth. Both by planting, cultivating, and bolstering disinformation and through an unprecedented war on the press, Trump and right-wing media have ushered in an era of post-truth politics where voters have “been successfully persuaded that everything is a lie, so the only political choice you have is to select the fiction that most fits your self-conception,” as explained by journalist Ned Resnikoff.*

    Just as how “credibility is not always a metric of success for Russian information warfare campaigns” and that Russian disinformation thrives despite its “lack of plausibility,” as Giles writes, Trump’s promotion of lies and conspiracies are not depressed by the overwhelming number of fact-checks he receives, precisely because truth may not be the measure of success he is seeking.

    Indeed, as CNN’s Brian Stelter warned, “Trump and his supporters ... are delegitimizing institutions the United States holds dear” -- which, frighteningly, is exactly what Giles notes was the goal of Soviet propaganda campaigns that the current Kremlin “information warfare strategy” is emulating.

    * Resnikoff is a former employee of Media Matters. Image by Sarah Wasko

  • The Hill: Trump Campaign CEO Stephen Bannon Gave “Explicit Orders” For Breitbart Staff To “Destroy” Paul Ryan

    The Hill: Former Staffer Said Bannon “Has Alex Jones-Level Paranoia About Paul Ryan”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Newly released internal emails provided to The Hill show that Stephen Bannon, CEO of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign and former Breitbart News executive chairman, had directed Breitbart staff to attack Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), declaring that the “long game is [ Ryan] gone by spring” in a preview of the Trump campaign’s current war with the congressman.

    The Hill reported that although “Bannon’s disregard for Ryan has been recorded in other reports, this is the first time emails have emerged that showed [Bannon] setting a timeframe for trying to get rid of the Speaker.” With Bannon now “giving Trump advice as his campaign CEO,” the nominee “on Tuesday unleashed a series of tweets directing scorn at the Speaker, who on Monday said he would no longer defend Trump.”

    The Hill also reported that a former Breitbart staffer claimed “Bannon has Alex Jones-level paranoia about Paul Ryan,” referring to the Trump ally and conspiracy theorist radio host, and that he “thinks Paul Ryan is part of a conspiracy with [billionaires] George Soros and Paul Singer, in which elitists want to bring one world government”:

    Steve Bannon, the chairman of the right-wing news outlet Breitbart who became CEO of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, gave explicit orders to his staff to destroy Speaker Paul Ryan(R-Wis.).

    On editorial conference calls, the Breitbart chairman would often say “Paul Ryan is the enemy,” according to a source who worked with Bannon at the news organization.

    In December 2015, weeks after Ryan became Speaker, Bannon wrote in an internal Breitbart email obtained by The Hill that the “long game” for his news site was for Ryan to be “gone” by the spring.

    [...]

    Bannon: “Long game is him gone by spring.”

    Bannon’s disregard for Ryan has been recorded in other reports, but this is the first time emails have emerged that showed him setting a timeframe for trying to get rid of the Speaker. Bannon is now giving Trump advice as his campaign CEO.

    Trump on Tuesday unleashed a series of tweets directing scorn at the Speaker, who on Monday said he would no longer defend Trump and would instead focus on electing Republicans to the House.

    [...]

    A former Breitbart staffer said Bannon used to rage against Ryan all the time.

    Bannon views Ryan as a leader of an elite globalist cabal determined to sell out America by opening its borders on immigration and trade.

    “Bannon has Alex Jones-level paranoia about Paul Ryan,” the source said, referring to the right-wing radio host and conspiracy theorist who runs the pro-Trump website Infowars.Z

    “He goes on these amazing rants,” the source added of Bannon. “He thinks Paul Ryan is part of a conspiracy with George Soros and Paul Singer, in which elitists want to bring one world government.”

  • The Guide To Donald Trump's War On The Press (So Far)

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has an extensive history of attacking the media, and his campaign and supporters have joined in the fight throughout the election. The nominee, his surrogates, and his supporters have called media outlets and reporters across the spectrum “dishonest,” “neurotic,” “dumb,” and a “waste of time,” and until recently, the campaign had a media blacklist of outlets that weren’t allowed into campaign events.

  • Matt Drudge Peddles Irresponsible Conspiracy Theory Downplaying Deadly Hurricane Matthew

    Blog ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET

    As millions evacuate the east coast of Florida in preparation for Hurricane Matthew, which has already been responsible for more than 113 deaths across the Caribbean, the curator of the most widely read conservative website, Matt Drudge, irresponsibly peddled a conspiracy theory that federal officials have exaggerated the danger posed by Hurricane Matthew “to make exaggerated point on climate.”

    On October 6, Drudge claimed “the deplorables” were wondering if the government was lying about the intensity of the deadly hurricane and also questioned the legitimacy of the National Hurricane Center’s data:

    [Twitter, 10/6/16]


    [Twitter, 10/6/16]

    Drudge also used his website, one of the most widely read sites on the internet, DrudgeReport.com to put Florida residents in danger and push the conspiracy theory with a banner titled “STORM FIZZLE? MATTHEW LOOKS RAGGED!,” alongside links titled “IT’S A 4?” and “RESIDENTS NOT TAKING SERIOUSLY...”.

    In direct contrast to Drudge, Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott warned those in the hurricane’s path that “this storm will kill you,” while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) described the storm as “dangerous.” Fox News host Shepard Smith warned Floridians that if they did not evacuate “you and everyone you know is dead,” and that “you can’t survive it,” while The National Weather Service for Melbourne, Florida warned residents that the storm was “LIFE-THREATENING,” and “more impacting than Hurricane David and 2004 hurricanes!”:

    Drudge joined Rush Limbaugh in peddling irresponsible conspiracy theories about the hurricane, placing their audience in danger. Earlier, Limbaugh downplayed the storm by ranting about “politics in the forecasting of hurricanes because there are votes,” and previously claimed the National Hurricane Center is "playing games" with "hurricane forecasting" to convince viewers of climate change.

    UPDATE: Conspiracy theorist and Trump ally Alex Jones retweeted Matt Drudge, expressing support and agreement with his dangerous hurricane conspiracy while adding the white supremacist “altright” hashtag:

     

  • Hannity Lashes Out At Colleague Megyn Kelly For Pointing Out Trump’s Media Retreat To Hannity’s Show

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Fox News host Sean Hannity took a swipe at his colleague Megyn Kelly after she called out Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for retreating to Hannity's show and avoiding interviews with other media outlets and interviewers. Hannity almost immediately lashed out at Kelly on Twitter by calling her a Clinton supporter. 

    Kelly noted on her October 5 show that Trump "will go on Hannity and pretty much only Hannity, and will not venture out to the unsafe spaces these days, which doesn't exactly expand the tent for either one of them." 

    Almost immediately, Hannity tweeted back to Kelly: 

    Kelly is correct: Trump has retreated almost exclusively to the Fox News bubble, with Hannity largely being his go-to show. As CNN's Brian Stelter wrote, Trump is likely avoiding other networks to limit his "exposure to hard-hitting questions." Trump's insistence on staying in the Hannity cocoon is no surprise, given that Hannity has been one of his biggest cheerleaders throughout the election, using his prime-time show to openly shill for Trump and advance his lies. Hannity also gave Trump far more interview airtime than other GOP presidential candidates during the Republican primary.