Media Matters staff

Author ››› Media Matters staff
  • Sinclair Broadcast Group Deepens Its Trump Administration Ties With Boris Epshteyn Hire

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group’s announcement that it hired former White House aide Boris Epshteyn as its chief political analyst suggests a move to deepen its ties with President Donald Trump’s administration.

    During the election Sinclair struck a deal with the Trump campaign for better news coverage and then gave the president a softball question during his second press conference. As Politico reported at the time, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner said in December that Sinclair “struck a deal … during the campaign to try and secure better media coverage” for Trump in exchange for “more access to Trump and the campaign.” In August 2016, Trump debuted a new media strategy which included sitting for an interview with Sinclair..

    During his second press conference as president, Trump called on only two American reporters to ask questions, one of whom was from a Sinclair station (the other one was also from a conservative media outlet). The question was a softball that avoided the main story of the day about former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s possible criminal violation of the Logan Act. This led to criticism from other journalists, including a Fox News reporter.

    A press release highlight Sinclair’s announcement of Epshteyn’s hire as chief political analyst emphasized his short-lived role in the Trump administration and campaign and noted that he "will provide analysis and insight on major political stories":

    Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. (Nasdaq: SBGI) is pleased to announce that Boris Epshteyn, an accomplished commentator and strategist, has joined the company as chief political analyst and will provide analysis and insight on major political stories.

    [...]

    "I am honored and grateful to be joining the distinguished and extremely talented team at Sinclair Broadcast Group," commented Mr. Epshteyn. "I greatly admire Sinclair's mission to provide thoughtful impactful reporting throughout the country. I look forward to contributing my voice to the ongoing dialogue with the American people."

    Mr. Epshteyn most recently served as Special Assistant to The President and Assistant Communications Director for Surrogate Operations for the Executive Office of President Trump. Mr. Epshteyn managed the surrogate operation of the White House and Administration as well as appeared as an on-air spokesman for the Administration. Prior to joining The White House, Mr. Epshteyn served as Communications Director for the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee.

    Mr. Epshteyn was a surrogate and Senior Advisor to the Trump Campaign, where he managed messaging.

  • Huffington Post Explains How Aggrieved White Men Like Curt Schilling Find A Home At Breitbart

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In a profile of former Red Sox pitcher turned Breitbart media personality Curt Schilling, The Huffington Post detailed how “angry white men” who confronted failure in their own lives turn to fringe, right-wing media that persuades them to blame “the political system writ large” for taking “their country” away from them. The profile also outlined how those media outlets encourage them to perceive “women, minority groups and immigrants” as the “undeserving beneficiaries of their troubles.”

    According to the piece, Curt Schilling’s descent into the fringe was marked by his embrace of outlets like Breitbart and Infowars. Though his transphobia, anti-Semitism, and conspiracy theories were ridiculed by traditional media, right-wing personalities defended him, and eventually, Breitbart rewarded his offensive commentary with a radio show.

    In an April 15 profile, The Huffington Post examined how Curt Schilling, who was once a self-identified independent who tended to campaign for “establishment” Republicans, sought validation in “unapologetically ‘politically incorrect’ magazines, radio hosts, and television shows” after his video game startup failed. The article noted that failure was a life event that left Schilling “point[ing] fingers” and blaming the Rhode Island government, which gave him a loan for the startup. Social scientists have called this phenomenon “aggrieved entitlement,” or “the belief that America is ‘their country’ and that it is being taken away from them.” In search of “validation for their worth,” the aggrieved turn to conspiracy theory and fringe media outlets that help them shift blame to others. Schilling, for example, “sought out and found answers in the angrier and more paranoid corners of political thought” and “began to shift further right.” From the article:

    After Obama was elected the nation’s first black president in 2008, social scientists and journalists noted a growing counter-phenomenon: “angry white men” who feel “they have been screwed, betrayed by the country they love, discarded like trash on the side of the information superhighway,” as sociologist Michael Kimmel wrote in his 2015 book.

    The defining characteristic of angry white men ― aside from being white and male ― is that they suffer from what Kimmel called “aggrieved entitlement”: the belief that America is “their country” and that it is being taken away from them. Although they’re angry at politicians, bureaucrats and the system writ large, the primary targets of their ire are women, minority groups and immigrants ― the people they perceive as the undeserving beneficiaries of their troubles. Seeking validation of their worth, they turned to “unapologetically ‘politically incorrect’ magazines, radio hosts, and television shows,” Kimmel wrote. And their rage only intensified when Obama was re-elected in 2012. That contest represented “the demise of the white American male voter as a dominant force in the political landscape,” Kimmel wrote. (They showed otherwise in 2016, when Trump won in part because of his strength with white men.)

    [...]

    Schilling regularly called local radio shows during his playing days to urge fans not to trust sports reporters. After [Schilling’s video game company] 38 [Studios] collapsed, he moved on to the idea that news reporters were also peddling “fake news.” Judging from the links he shared, he was reading right-wing sites further and further from the mainstream. And he was isolating himself: “I don’t seek out people I disagree with,” he said in a 2016 interview. “I don’t seek out the content they create. It’s a waste of my time.”

    Kapler, Schilling’s old sparring partner in the Boston clubhouse, noticed the shift in 2013, when Schilling posted a link to a story on InfoWars.com, the conspiracy-driven site run by Alex Jones.

    [...]

    Although Trump never brought the former pitcher on the campaign trail, Schilling became something of a faux surrogate, appearing occasionally on cable to defend the candidate’s positions ― a role he seemed to earn for no other reason than that some viewers might remember him as a ballplayer.

    In October, Schilling landed a daily morning show at Breitbart, which had grown into an online behemoth by stoking the fears of the same white voters that politicians had once used the pitcher to reach. Schilling had long believed that someone else ― Red Sox management, the media, Chafee, ESPN ― was standing in the way of his ultimate success. Breitbart was the place where that kind of belief is a founding principle.

    The site, which was practically a house organ for the Trump campaign, pushed the idea that the American system was broken, especially for white working men, and it blamed immigrants, Muslims, feminists and Obama. In the words of its former chief Steve Bannon, Breitbart was “a platform for the alt-right” ― the white nationalist and racist movements that were supporting Trump.

  • Report Traces How The "Alt-Right" Spread Pro-Assad Propaganda

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A report by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab found that a claim that recent airstrikes in Syria were a “false flag” operation -- an operation that either didn't really occur or that were conducted by a party other than the Syrian government -- which went viral among the "alt-right" actually originated with a Syrian propaganda outlet that supports the current regime and spread to a series of pro-Kremlin conspiracy websites and fake news purveyors before being promoted by “alt-right” figures including Infowars’ Alex Jones and Mike Cernovich.

    The report showed that key claims, quotes, and images that were initially reported by Al-Masdar, the outlet that supports Syrian President Bashar Assad, were used in reports on pro-Kremlin sites, fake news sites, and on Infowars. 

    In addition, the report noted that, after the "false flag" claim was promoted by Jones and Cernovich, Twitter accounts that appear to be bots accelerated the use of hashtags about the attack, which led to the hashtag #SyriaHoax going viral. The report concluded, “The Syrian regime’s reaction to the chemical attack is no surprise,” but “what is noteworthy is the way in which the regime’s response … was translated rapidly and directly into coverage on alt-right websites, most obviously Infowars.” From the report:

    The chemical attack came at dawn, local time, on April 4. It was widely reported and provoked outrage and condemnation, triggering immediate calls for an investigation. Photographs and videos from the scene showed hideous images of dead children and footage of rescuers, including the White Helmets group, washing down victims.

    The same day, website Al-Masdar News, which supports the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, published an article claiming that the story was a “false flag” operation.

    [...]

    Over the next two days, the al-Masdar piece was picked up by a number of pro-Kremlin and anti-Western sites.

    It was reproduced verbatim by at least three conspiracy sites: globalresearch.ca, informationclearinghouse.info and The Lifeboat News. A number of pro-Kremlin sites known for their use of false reporting quoted it at length. These included The Duran and The Russophile (also known as Russia News Now), together with conspiracy site Investment Watch Blog.

    A third group of sites wrote their own reports, but very largely followed the Al-Masdar arguments. These included 21st Century Wire and Before It’s News, both of which ran a video repeating the claims and using the same imagery.

    [...]

    The most influential pickup came on April 5, when US-based conspiracy site Infowars ran its version of the story. Infowars is a highly influential site among the “alt-right” movement in the US; its leading light, Alex Jones, has over 600,000 Twitter followers.

    [...]

    The Syrian regime’s reaction to the chemical attack is no surprise. It has consistently denied all accusations of atrocities, and accused its critics of false claims, as documented in the Atlantic Council’s report “Breaking Aleppo”.

    What is noteworthy is the way in which the regime’s response, launched on a site which has repeatedly amplified Assad’s messaging, was translated rapidly and directly into coverage on alt-right websites, most obviously Infowars.

    Conspiracy website Infowars and its proprietor, Alex Jones, have heavily praised Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent months, with Jones previously bragging about praise from “top Putin advisers” and even Putin himself in regards to his pro-Trump coverage. Jones also claims to have “talked to folks very close to the president” about Trump’s Syria policy. Both Jones and Cernovich, a member of the so-called “alt-right,” have helped popularize numerous conspiracy theories, including the “Pizzagate” story that falsely claimed an underground child sex trafficking ring was run out of a pizzeria in Washington, D.C.

    In March, the FBI opened an investigation into Russian operatives’ use of “bots” to push pro-Trump news from far-right outlets to social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and the Senate Intelligence Committee opened an investigation into Russia’s use of fake news to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Before It’s News, one of the pro-Trump propaganda outlets mentioned in the report, and a site that Media Matters has identified as a fake news purveyor, has denied any connection between Trump and the Russian government.

    Graphics by The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab