Trump Ally Alex Jones Is “The Gateway Drug To White Supremacy In The United States,” SPLC’s Heidi Beirich Tells NPR
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NPR’s Morning Edition interviewed senior editor-at-large Joel Pollak of Breitbart News about Stephen Bannon, the former executive chairman of the outlet -- which he bragged was the platform for the white nationalist “alt-right” -- who was also recently appointed as White House chief strategist and senior counselor to President-elect Donald Trump. The NPR interview failed to tell the full story of Bannon's role in promoting racist and anti-LGBTQ ideologies, adding to the worrisome trend of mainstream media outlets normalizing Bannon and Breitbart's extremism.
The announcement of Bannon’s appointment as a senior Trump White House advisor has been met with considerable concern and criticism due to his past history of championing white nationalism and anti-Semitism. NPR Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep hosted Joel Pollak to defend Bannon from this criticism. Inskeep asked about Bannon’s prejudice by pointing to Breitbart’s legacy of publishing inflammatory content under his tenure. The site posted headlines such as “Hoist It High And Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims A Glorious Heritage” after a white nationalist who fetishized such confederate imagery massacred nine people at a black church in Charleston, S.C. Inskeep also allowed Pollak to defend Bannon’s use of the slur “dykes” by claiming that people in the LGBTQ community use that word.
But the interview failed to contextualize the true extent of Breitbart’s extremism under Bannon’s leadership, evidenced by the site's consistent role in peddling hate speech, promoting white nationalism, and furthering anti-LGBTQ extremism. Inskeep allowed Pollak to brush off Breitbart’s bigotry as “individual articles” and claim that Bannon’s hiring of openly gay, misogynistic, anti-Muslim, alt-right mouthpiece Milo Yiannopolous was evidence that Bannon couldn’t possibly be anti-gay, with no mention that Yiannopolous has regularly used Breitbart as a platform to attack transgender people.
Under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart News heavily promoted white nationalist “alt-right” views. Since 2015, the site has been “publishing more overtly racist diatribes about Muslims and immigrants,” according to an April report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The SPLC report also noted that Breitbart has promulgated the “popular racist conspiracy theory” that “African-Americans are committing crimes against whites at alarming rates.” In addition to racist and nationalist themes, Breitbart regularly uses anti-LGBTQ slurs in headlines, features articles by anti-LGBTQ hate group leaders, and has published multiple articles pushing conspiracy theories about the hate-crime murder of gay teen Matthew Shepard.
As conservative pundits rush to sanitize Bannon’s ties to white nationalism, it’s imperative that other media outlets not become complicit in the whitewashing of Bannon and Breitbart’s extremism, which is far from just a few instances of inflammatory rhetoric. Instead, journalists need to tell the full story of Bannon’s role in promoting Breitbart as a platform for hate-filled rhetoric and alt-right ideologies.
From the November 16 edition of NPR’s Morning Edition:
STEVE INSKEEP (HOST): Now, people have heard a lot the last couple of days about Bannon's statements or statements on Breitbart. But before we get into that, I want you to round out the picture of this guy you know, and what are people missing?
JOEL POLLAK: Steve Bannon is a fantastic manager. He helped Breitbart grow fantastically to the point where we have 250 million page views per month. He is a leader with vision. He's very disciplined. He insists on excellence from those around him. He's also very open to debate and challenge as long as you bring facts and data to the table. And he has no prejudices, he treats people equally, and, in fact, during my time working closely with him at Breitbart for five years, he sought out people from diverse backgrounds and gave them a voice at Breitbart, so I think he's a fantastic choice.
INSKEEP: I want to mention, you know, actually putting controversial opinions out there is a perfectly fine idea. We've had David Duke on this program, but we fact-check, we try to question, we put in context. This particular article goes on to make a string of statements — there's a reference about President Obama and Kenya. There's also a statement, "The Confederacy was not a callous conspiracy to enforce slavery, but a patriotic and idealistic cause." A little bit of research would show that Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, declared the cause was slavery. I mean, why put these things out there
POLLAK: I think that we can talk about individual articles out of the tens of thousands at Breitbart, but, you know, NPR is taxpayer-funded and has an entire section of its programming, a regular feature called "Code Switch," which, from my perspective, is a racist program. I'm looking here at the latest article, which aired on NPR, calling the election results "Nostalgia For A Whiter America." So NPR has racial and racist programming that I am required to, I'm required to pay for as a taxpayer.
INSKEEP: And let me ask another thing, and this is another Bannon quote, and we can pull out quotes, but it's a quote that he made in a 2011 radio interview that gets to maybe what he wants to do inside the country. He criticized feminists, he said, "women that would lead this country would be pro-family, they would have husbands, they would love their children." And I'm just reading the quote here, "They wouldn't be a bunch of dykes that came from the Seven Sisters schools." What's he driving at there?
POLLAK: I don't know. But there is a political correctness in this country that would say that if you said that once on a radio show that you should be drummed out of public life. I would defy you to find a person in the LGBTQ community who has not used that term, either in an endearing sense or in a flippant, jovial, colloquial sense. I don't think you can judge Steve Bannon's views. What you can judge him is how he's conducted himself at Breitbart, and he brought a gay, conservative journalist like Milo Yiannopoulos on board, and Milo has brought gay conservatives into the media, into the debate. At the Republican National Convention, Breitbart co-hosted a party for gay conservatives. So, that's not something you do if you're anti-gay, and Andrew Breitbart was the same.
UPDATE: In a post responding to critics of the segment, NPR ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen acknowledged that the “framing of the Morning Edition interview was problematic, starting as it did with ‘Let's hear a defense of Steve Bannon.’” Moving forward, Jensen recommended that interviews of white nationalists like Bannon “should not be done live.” Even in pre-recorded future interviews, Jensen stressed the need for NPR to “pay absolute attention that the questions asked are rigorous, the headlines and framing well thought through and the language very clear and precise from the beginning.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) claimed that a letter from FBI Director James Comey indicated that the FBI had “reopened” its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state, triggering a media firestorm. But Comey’s letter says no such thing, and according to CBS News, it’s “premature” and “going too far” to say the investigation has been “reopened.”
This afternoon, Comey released a letter to congressional leaders stating, “In connection with an unrelated case, the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” and “I agreed that the FBI should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation.” Comey noted that he was not sure how long the review will take and the FBI “cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant.”
In other words, all the FBI has announced is that they have found new emails that “appear” related to their investigation and may contain classified information and they are looking at them, but as of yet they don’t even know if the emails are significant.
Rep. Chaffetz, who serves as the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, announced “case reopened” around the time Comey’s letter became public:
FBI Dir just informed me, "The FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation." Case reopened
— Jason Chaffetz (@jasoninthehouse) October 28, 2016
Chaffetz’s spin doesn’t come as a surprise. In an interview with The Washington Post this week, he announced plans to launch years of investigations in the event Clinton is elected president, telling the paper in an interview, “Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up. She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain’t good.”
Chaffetz’s spin has triggered an avalanche of breathless coverage. Many news outlets quickly reported that the FBI had “reopened” their investigation, including Politico, Fox News, NPR, USA Today, among others. All three cable news networks have covered the story non-stop since it broke, often adopting the “re-opening” framing and suggesting the news is a major election bombshell. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump himself subsequently echoed that language, adding that Clinton’s actions were “worse than Watergate.”
But despite the coverage that echoed Rep. Chaffetz’s characterization of Comey’s letter, CBS Justice/Homeland Security correspondent Jeff Pegues reported that sources told him that it was both “premature” and “going too far” to declare that the investigation had been reopened. (While Pegues delivered his report, CBS on-screen text declared “Clinton Investigation Reopened.”
On MSNBC Live, NBC Justice Department correspondent Pete Williams reported that Comey’s July announcement that there would be no charges in the case effectively concluded the case but there are remaining “evidentiary matters” to be resolved before it can be considered fully closed.
But Williams noted that if the review is pertaining to the amount of classified emails sent, it would not change the earlier determination that a chargeable offense had not occurred. Williams also reported that “senior officials” have told him that it doesn’t appear that the Clintons, the Clinton campaign or the State Department had failed to hand over emails to the FBI and that the agency had found them some other way.
Reports that benchmark health insurance premiums will increase by an average of 25 percent from 2016 to 2017 for plans purchased on Healthcare.gov marketplace exchanges have prompted right-wing media outlets to claim the price hike is proof of “the collapse” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and evidence of a so-called Obamacare “death spiral.” In reality, the majority of individual insurance customers will be insulated from cost increases due to proportional increases in the health care subsidies, and these premium increases are still in line with anticipated health care costs initially predicted by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
On September 9, inmates at prisons in at least 12 states began work stoppages and other protest actions to draw attention to unfair labor practices and living conditions in U.S. prisons. The actions have reportedly continued on a rolling basis in many prisons across the country for the last month, yet a Media Matters analysis found virtual media silence on the story.
According to inmate organizers at the Holman Prison in Alabama, who have been leading prison labor actions since 2012 as the Free Alabama Movement, inmates in prisons across the country launched strikes on September 9. The strikes, which were primarily work stoppages but also included hunger striking and other forms of peaceful protest, began on the anniversary of the deadly 1971 Attica prison uprising, which began as a means to call attention to prison conditions. The actions were primarily meant to protest extremely low-wage or forced labor in prisons, though inmate organizers in some facilities chose to focus their actions on living conditions and overcrowding instead of or in addition to labor practices.
Estimates from the organizers and allied groups suggest that more than 24,000 inmates in at least 12 states participated in strikes that day. Tracking mechanisms indicate that inmates in several prisons are still continuing acts of protest on a rolling basis, though activity is thought to be “apparently winding down.” These numbers -- if corroborated -- would make the September 9 actions the largest prison strike in U.S. history.
Though it is difficult to know for sure, actions in some facilities appear to be getting results. In Alabama, the epicenter of strike organizing, guards joined the effort, launching an informal labor strike to highlight prison overcrowding -- conditions that make prisons less safe for both inmates and guards. And the U.S. Department of Justice launched a “possibly unprecedented” statewide investigation into conditions in Alabama prisons last week.
Yet a search of Nexis transcripts from the major news networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- and National Public Radio for the last month has come up almost completely empty on coverage of the strikes, aside from a single 20-second mention during a run-through of headlines on NBC’s Today and a three-and-a-half-minute NPR Weekend Edition interview with the Marshall Project’s Beth Schwartzapfel.
Traditional print media outlets did not appear to fare much better, according to a search of the same parameters; Media Matters found one article at The Wall Street Journal reporting on the initial days of the strikes.
Media Matters found no mentions of prison strikes across the major media outlets available in Nexis from September 8 -- the day before the strikes began -- through October 10. Most coverage seemed to come from new media outlets, like BuzzFeed and Vice News, or left-leaning, sometimes niche outlets like The Marshall Project, Mother Jones, Democracy Now!, and The Intercept. Readers who do not rely on these specific types of sources for their news, instead turning to evening broadcasts or major print outlets like The New York Times, may not know the strikes happened at all.
Media scholar and MIT professor Ethan Zuckerman explained why coverage of the strikes may be so difficult to find in a Medium post on September 10. Zuckerman, who studies “the distribution of attention in mainstream and new media” and how activists can leverage media coverage, wrote:
It’s hard to tell what’s going on inside US prisons. While prisoners can reach out to reporters using the same channels they can use to contact friends or family members, journalists have very limited rights of access to prisons, and it would be challenging for an intrepid reporter to identify and contact inmates in prisons across a state, for instance, to determine where protests took place. Wardens have a great deal of discretion about answering reporters’ inquiries and can choose not to comment citing security concerns. Reporters who want to know what’s going on inside a prison sometimes resort to extraordinary measures, like becoming a prison guard to gain access. (Shane Bauer’s article on private prison company CCA is excellent, but the technique he used was not a new one — Ted Conover’s 2000 book Newjack is a masterpiece of the genre.)
Because it’s so hard to report from prison — and, frankly, because news consumers haven’t demonstrated much demand for stories about prison conditions — very few media outlets have dedicated prison reporters. One expert estimates that there are fewer than half a dozen dedicated prisons reporters across the US, an insane number given that 2.4m Americans are incarcerated, roughly 1% of the nation’s population.
Coverage of the prison strikes from progressive outlets often acknowledges the problems of reporting accurately on events occurring in prisons as well; many that cited any data on the strikes noted that the numbers were estimates provided by organizers. As Azzurra Crispino from the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (an activist group helping to coordinate inmate organizing efforts) explained in an interview with WNYC’s On The Media, some reporters are trying to learn more: “It is the case that we have not seen as much media coverage as we would like, but I am getting a lot of emails and phone calls from journalists who are telling me, ‘I’m not seeing this on the mainstream media, but it’s all over my Facebook and my Twitter feed.’” Crispino also noted that violent riots tend to garner more media attention than the peaceful protests and strikes happening in most facilities. “I would ask the mainstream media: To what extent are you complicit in future violence, if it were to arise, if the message you are sending to prisoners is: if nobody dies, we’re not going to cover it?” she said.
Another factor in the halted information flow is that state officials often declined to comment or offered competing narratives about what took place in individual facilities when reporters reached out. Officials in at least two states where inmates have recorded strike activity have publicly denied that any work stoppages occurred, and at least one inmate organizer says he is facing what The Intercept called “disciplinary action” for participating in a radio interview about the strikes.
MIT’s Zuckerman argued that the September strikes are an example of a situation “in which readers can have power by calling attention to events in the world,” and that reader demand could spur “large media organizations” to leverage their resources and existing contacts “to provide a more detailed view of events.” He concluded:
Perhaps the call for the nation’s largest prison strike has failed. Or perhaps we’re seeing the beginnings of a long action that will change incarceration as we know it. It’s a problem that we don’t — and can’t — know. A nation that imprisons 1% of its population has an obligation to know what’s happening to those 2.4 million people, and right now, we don’t know.
Media Matters searched Nexis for any mentions or variations of the term “prison” or “inmate” within 20 words of the term “strike” or “protest” from September 8, 2016, to October 10, 2016. The search included all available news transcripts for CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, and National Public Radio; articles in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today; and abstracts in The Wall Street Journal. Wall Street Journal results were also checked in Factiva.
Image at top from Flickr user Alicia, using a Creative Commons license.
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