Pam Vogel

Author ››› Pam Vogel
  • On The Firing Of Bill O’Reilly: What Is Gone, And What Is Not

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    It’s official: Bill O’Reilly is out at Fox News. What exactly does that change? What stays the same?

    On April 1, The New York Times wrote that O’Reilly and 21st Century Fox, Fox News’ parent company, have paid out at least $13 million in settlements with five women reporting sexual harassment by O’Reilly. After weeks of relentless activism from progressive organizers including Media Matters, of advertisers pulling their ads from the O’Reilly Factor time slot, of more courageous women coming forward to share their own reports of misconduct by O’Reilly, of hundreds of sexual violence survivors asking Fox to do better, O’Reilly has been deemed too toxic for Fox.

    O’Reilly’s smug on-camera demeanor, his attacks on women for speaking up, and his attempts to blacklist media outlets that reported on his sexual harassment settlements as far back as 2004 will be diminished if not gone for good. The lies he tells about women’s bodies and the blame he lays squarely at women’s feet every night will be silenced, at least for now.

    But what happens to the company, and the culture, that allowed him to thrive for so long? O’Reilly abused the power he was given by Roger Ailes, Rupert Murdoch, Bill Shine, and Jack Abernethy. These are the same men who greenlighted a sham investigation into the workplace culture at Fox News, who oversaw decades of mistreatment of women employees, and who profited when O’Reilly and his peers (including replacement Tucker Carlson) launched racist and sexist attacks on their shows.

    Only one of those men is no longer in the picture, because he, too, abused the power he had to harass women. The rest remain, and thus it also remains to be seen if Fox News will actually change for the women it employs.

    What’s more, the way women move through the world won’t change because of O’Reilly’s firing. The statistics won’t change with the downfall of one man.

    One in three women between the ages of 18 and 34 has been sexually harassed at work.

    More than 90 percent of women who work in tipped wage positions in restaurants have experienced some form of sexual harassment.

    About 70 percent of women who experience workplace sexual harassment do not report it, for fear of retaliation.

    Our culture won’t change this quickly either. The pain of countless women lingers in O'Reilly's wake.

    Bill O’Reilly won’t be around every night to remind me -- and, I’m sure, countless others -- of the men who have hurt and violated us in the past. But the president of the United States will be; in fact, he’s come to O’Reilly’s defense

    Image at top created by Sarah Wasko. 

  • San Bernardino School Shooting Shows Which Crime Victims Matter For TV News

    Television News Ignored The Dangerous Intersections Of Intimate Partner Violence, Access To Firearms, And Black Women’s Lives After San Bernardino School Shooting

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    On the morning of April 10, a man entered a special education classroom at North Park Elementary School in San Bernardino, CA, and opened fire with a revolver. He shot and killed the teacher -- his estranged wife Karen Smith -- and an 8-year-old student named Jonathan Martinez, and injured another student before killing himself. By April 12, national television news had virtually stopped talking about it.

    News media coverage of intimate partner violence has the power to shape public perception of the issue, and inadequate or dismissive coverage can ultimately normalize or perpetuate this epidemic of violence against women.

    In the United States, a woman is assaulted every nine seconds, and “an average of 20 people are physically abused by intimate partners every minute.” One in three women and one in four men have been physically abused by an intimate partner. And access to firearms, like the revolver used to murder Karen Smith and Jonathan Martinez, only increases the likelihood that intimate partner violence will end with a woman dead.

    According to Everytown for Gun Safety, in more than half of U.S. mass shootings from 2009 through 2016, “the perpetrator shot a current or former intimate partner or family member.” One study found that among women living in the United States, “about 4.5 million have had an intimate partner threaten them with a gun and nearly 1 million have been shot or shot at by an intimate partner.” A 2016 Associated Press analysis of FBI data concluded that “an average of 760 Americans were killed with guns annually by spouses, ex-spouses or dating partners between 2006 and 2014.” The connection between intimate partner violence and firearm deaths can also sometimes carry a larger body count: “Many mass shooters have a history of domestic violence,” like the San Bernardino school shooter did.

    And this dangerous intersection of normalized intimate partner violence and access to firearms hurts black women, like Karen Smith, most. As Teen Vogue’s Morgan Jerkins noted:

    It's also important to note that intimate partner violence disproportionately affects black women, like Smith. In 2014, Time reported that black women are nearly three times as likely to experience death as a result of domestic violence than white women. What’s more, in 2014, black women were murdered by men more than twice the rate of white women. And like the murder in San Bernardino, most homicides against black women are committed by men whom they know.

    Yet Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone pointed out that, though “a shooting at an elementary school might be expected to receive outsize coverage due to the shocking nature of the act,” that didn’t seem to happen with the Monday murders of Karen Smith and Jonathan Martinez:

    On Monday night, the three major broadcast evening newscasts led with the San Bernardino school shooting story, but the anchors remained in New York. By Tuesday, the story was already receding from the headlines. Cable morning shows, like CNN’s “New Day” and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” only covered it in passing. And The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Wall Street Journal didn’t run front page stories on it.

    And a search of Nexis and Snapstream transcripts from the major news networks -- ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- for the week since the shooting has come up almost completely empty on necessary context.

    In these available transcripts from Monday, April 10, through Monday, April 17, not a single segment or report on the shooting shooting mentioned the prevalence of intimate partner violence in the U.S. or hinted at the role guns play in making instances of intimate partner violence deadlier. There were also no mentions of the disproportionate danger to black women that intimate partner violence poses.

    Mainstream media seem unwilling to devote much coverage to intimate partner violence, even when women die. And there is a particular lack of coverage concerning the violence routinely perpetrated on black women’s bodies. When television media silence helps to perpetuate the normalization of violence -- particularly against black women -- it becomes deafening.

    Methodology

    For the time period between April 10 and April 17, Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts for any mentions of the terms “San Bernardino,” “Karen Smith,” or “Karen Elaine Smith.” The search included all available news transcripts for ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. Nexis transcripts include all-day programming on CNN, evening programming on MSNBC and Fox News, and morning, evening, and Sunday news shows on the broadcast networks. Snapstream transcripts were used to analyze daytime programming on MSNBC and Fox News.

    Do You -- Or Does Someone You Know -- Need Help?

    If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

    For anonymous, confidential help, 24/7, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).

    Image at top created by Sarah Wasko.

  • Read Attorney Lisa Bloom’s Letter About Fox News’ Toxic Culture And Why It Should Tank Murdoch’s Sky News Deal 

    Bloom, Who Represents O'Reilly Accuser Wendy Walsh: Fox Has Shown An "Utter Disregard For The Rights Of Women"

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Fox News’ “ongoing culture of sexual harassment, its recent payouts of tens of millions of dollars of hush money, and most egregiously, its role in ending the careers of women who complained has been well documented in American media,” and it reveals an “utter disregard for the rights of women,” according to attorney Lisa Bloom.

    Bloom -- whose firm is well-known for representing clients who report sexual assault and sexual harassment by men in positions of power, including President Donald Trump -- now represents Wendy Walsh, a radio personality who says Fox News host Bill O’Reilly sexually harassed her in 2013.

    Walsh shared her experience in the wake of an April 1 New York Times report revealing that O’Reilly and Fox News’ parent company, 21st Century Fox, have paid a total of about $13 million to avoid lawsuits pertaining to reports of sexual harassment and other misconduct by O’Reilly. Walsh’s account is the latest in a long timeline of reports of sexual harassment at Fox News that reveals a pattern of corporate retaliation, victim-blaming, and million- and million-plus-dollar payouts for silence extending far beyond O’Reilly or former Fox chairman Roger Ailes, who resigned last year after numerous women said that he had sexually harassed them. Activists, including Media Matters president Angelo Carusone, have spurred more than 80 U.S. advertisers to respond to the Times report about O’Reilly by pulling their ads from airing during the O’Reilly Factor time slot.

    Bloom is now joining global activism group Avaaz in laying out the case for why this toxic workplace culture of sexual harassment, discrimination, and silence -- which has festered under the watch of 21st Century Fox owner Rupert Murdoch and his sons -- should disqualify the company from its bid to acquire British satellite broadcasting company Sky.

    21st Century Fox struck a $22.9 billion deal to acquire Sky in December, but they have faced hurdles in getting clearance from British antitrust and media regulators. The U.K. media regulator Ofcom is now charged with reviewing 21st Century Fox and Murdoch’s stakes in British media, and it could “kill the deal if it decides that Murdoch and 21st Century Fox do not meet the standard of ‘fit and proper’ owners.” The standard, as CNN reports, is “broad” and includes consideration of “any relevant misconduct” on the part of Murdoch or the company -- such as, perhaps, his reported resistance to firing O’Reilly and 21st Century Fox’s long-term complicity in violating workplace protections for women and people of color.

    Bloom sent a letter to Ofcom on April 11 detailing the company’s long history of sexual harassment and discrimination under Murdoch’s leadership, which the attorney noted had also spurred her to ask the New York State Division of Human Rights to “open an investigation into the toxic culture for women at Fox News.” New York City public advocate Letitia James has also called on the city’s Commission on Human Rights to investigate Fox for employment discrimination.

    In her letter to Ofcom, Bloom wrote that 21st Century Fox’s silence and “utter disregard for the rights of women” reveal a “lack of oversight, intervention, and decency” at the company.

    Read the full letter to Ofcom below, and Bloom’s dossier on Fox culture sent to the Division of Human Rights here.

    Lisa Bloom letter to Ofcom by Media Matters for America on Scribd

    Image at top by Dayanita Ramesh.

  • Newspaper Chooses To Focus On "Troubled Past" Of The Passenger Who Was Violently Dragged Off A United Flight

    Update: Journalism Experts Call Out The "Irrelevance" Of The Information

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL & JOE STRUPP

    This post has been updated with comments from journalism experts. 

    Days after United Airlines passenger David Dao was violently removed by security officials from an overbooked flight, his local newspaper, The Courier-Journal, published a report detailing the man’s completely unrelated “troubled past” and printed photos of his home and office. This the latest in an irresponsible pattern in which media attempt to recast nonwhite victims as criminals rather than interrogating the institutional structures motivating instances of violence.

    On Sunday, videos emerged online of three Chicago Department of Aviation security officers violently dragging a passenger from an overbooked United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville, KY. The videos, taken by fellow passengers from several different angles, show three officers physically removing the passenger, Dr. David Dao, from his seat, pulling him to the ground and injuring his face in the process, then dragging his limp body off the plane. In contrast to the raw violence captured in the videos, United Airlines’ “lukewarm” response has so far been riddled with euphemisms, and a letter to United employees disparaged Dao as “disruptive and belligerent.”

    By Tuesday morning, the passenger’s hometown Louisville newspaper, The Courier-Journal, had published a report detailing Dao’s completely unrelated criminal record from over a decade ago. The report also included photos of his house and office (the photo of his house appears to have since been removed from the post). This reporting was not a matter of public interest, nor was it relevant to the incident in any way -- instead, it acted as an attempt to redirect public conversation from corporate power, institutional violence, and potential racism to a singular focus on an individual’s past actions.

    Quality journalism holds power to account. But we’ve seen journalists focusing instead on  investigating individuals who have been subject to institutional violence before -- and writers are highlighting the ethical implications of this continuing practice, even as the paper defends its piece and others gear up to engage in the same character assassination:

    UPDATE:

    In comments to Media Matters reporter Joe Strupp, journalism experts and reporters were critical of the Courier-Journal’s decision to publish Dao’s history.

    Tom Fiedler, dean of the College of Communication at Boston University, said he was “appalled that the Courier-Journal would dredge up this passenger’s personal history, which is not only irrelevant to the incident but is tied to a crime that occurred 13 years ago and has been fully adjudicated. The effect of this article is to further victimize the victim.”

    Former NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard said the article was “such an overreach.” She added, “His personal life, troubles, work history is of absolutely no news value. That is one of the clearest invasions of privacy I've heard about in a long time. The Louisville Courier-Journal should be ashamed of itself. I'd love to hear their justification. They and United's treatment are newsworthy because each treated Mr. Dao and his family without any empathy or humanity.”

    "If they took advantage of things in his personal background to make a story, the information would have to be very important for the public to know," according to Bill Kovach, founder of the Committee of Concerned Journalists. "Otherwise it is, in effect, a commercial gimmick to capitalize on a public event to gather eyeballs." Kovach pointed out that the paper "could also have done a story on the personal background of the officer who was dragging him."

    John Ferré, a journalism professor at the University of Louisville, said Dao’s past conviction “had nothing to do with security staff dragging him off a United Airlines flight for which he had purchased a seat. Whether the report has harmed Dr. Dao is unclear, but the irrelevance of the information to this story seems certain.”

    Former Courier-Journal staffer and current University of Kentucky journalism professor Al Cross said, "There is a natural curiosity among the public about a person who would object to this kind of treatment and would be one of the four people bumped who would not cooperate." He added, "That being said, I wouldn’t make this the featured story on the home page. They seem to be overdoing it. I understand the desire to get readership on a story that has international implications. It is a local story, but one of the elements of journalism is proportional. In the age of hunger for audience, it's fairly common for a wide range of news media to make too much out of things.”*

    *Note: This story has been updated to make clear Cross was saying the paper may have been "overdoing it" with the promotion of the story, not the initial reporting.

    Image by Sarah Wasko.

  • Reporters, It’s Time To Investigate DeVos’ Department Of Education

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    In the lead-up to billionaire Republican megadonor and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ confirmation, numerous media outlets published deep-dive investigations into DeVos’ background, significant political contributions, potential conflicts of interest, far-right ideology, and negative influence on Michigan policies.

    But since she formally took over at the Department of Education, the investigative work seems to have mostly dropped off; coverage of DeVos has focused more on her public gaffes than the inner workings of the agency she now runs. It certainly doesn't help that DeVos and her department have struggled with media transparency. As education media writer Alexander Russo wrote, "DeVos takes press questions at events only occasionally, has yet to grant a formal interview with a major national education reporter, and heads a department that only intermittently provides answers in a timely manner – through a spokesperson whose name reporters are forbidden to use. The agency has even struggled to put out her weekly schedule in advance of public events."

    It's time for investigative journalists to dig deeper and shine light on DeVos' priorities, such as early staffing decisions at the Education Department. There's certainly plenty to explore -- many of the temporary staffers in the Education Department are veterans of the right-wing think tank echo chamber on "education reform," and some have anti-LGBTQ and anti-black track records. Like DeVos, almost none have spent significant time as educators. 

    As ProPublica reported, the Trump administration has installed hundreds of officials across federal agencies including the Education Department (known as “beachhead” teams). Though the positions are designed to be temporary, many are expected to transition into permanent roles, and may have “taken on considerable influence in the absence of high-level political appointees” who need to first be vetted and confirmed by the Senate:

    Unlike appointees exposed to the scrutiny of the Senate, members of these so-called “beachhead teams” have operated largely in the shadows, with the White House declining to publicly reveal their identities.

    [...]

    Much about the role of the beachhead teams at various federal agencies is unclear. But close observers of the early weeks of the Trump administration believe they have taken on considerable influence in the absence of high-level political appointees.

    The beachhead team members are temporary employees serving for stints of four to eight months, but many are expected to move into permanent jobs.

    Several Education Department Officials With Offensive Online Histories May Remain On Staff

    A December Politico report highlighted three newly named Education Department staffers who had previously posted offensive comments about women and people of color online. Two of the staffers still appear to work for DeVos’ agency months after the report. Kevin Eck, a special assistant to Secretary DeVos, had to apologize after he tweeted disparagingly in late 2015 about the “all black cast” of NBC’s The Wiz adaptation. Politico also documented several disparaging tweets by Eck about the LGBTQ community, including at least one post that pushed the dangerous “bathroom predator” myth people use to justify barring transgender individuals (students, in particular) from using the appropriate public facilities. According to his LinkedIn profile, Eck still serves in this role at the department.

    The Politico article identified another staffer, Derrick Bolen, who “has tweeted numerous statements that could be considered insensitive to African-Americans and women.” Bolen’s posts include at least one in which he used a racial slur. He began serving as a confidential assistant to DeVos in the early days of the administration; ProPublica notes that Bolen “appear[s] to have switched departments” and may now be working at the Department of Labor. His LinkedIn profile does not list any past experience in teaching or education policy; instead, Bolen served most recently as a regional field director for the Republican National Committee.

    One "Beachhead" Staffer Was Investigated For Corruption By The Federal Government

    Former Alaska state Sen. Jerry Ward served as a special assistant to Secretary DeVos until his reported resignation last week. Years before Ward worked as the Alaska state director for the Trump campaign or served on Trump’s inaugural committee, he was investigated by the Department of Justice for alleged corruption stemming from “his relationship with private prison advocate William Weimar.” According to local media coverage, federal prosecutors also concluded that Ward had interfered with a witness in a corruption trial in order to protect himself from prosecution. Little is known about Ward's resignation from the "beachhead" team; he has not discussed the matter publicly. 

    Prominent Education Officials Have Serious Ties To The For-Profit Education Industry

    Journalists have already begun identifying new members of the Education Department staff -- beachhead or otherwise -- whose backgrounds raise strong conflict-of-interest questions. In March, The New York Times reported that Robert Eitel, a vice president for regulatory legal services at for-profit college operator Bridgepoint Education Inc., is on leave from the position to work as a special assistant to Secretary DeVos. Ethics experts told the Times that Eitel’s connections to Bridgepoint, in particular his legal work while the company faced several government investigations, could “bump up against federal rules involving conflicts of interest and impartiality.” Eitel was recently granted written permission from ethics officials to work on regulations specifically affecting student loan repayment; under his legal leadership, Bridgepoint paid out “a settlement of more than $30 million over deceptive student lending.”

    Another early member of DeVos’ staff, Taylor Hansen, also has significant financial ties to the for-profit higher education world; he’s both a for-profit college lobbyist and the son of the former CEO of a student loan guarantee agency. As Bloomberg News reports, Hansen resigned from his role at the Education Department in mid-March, just one day after the department announced a reversal on an Obama-era directive related to fees that loan guarantee agencies can charge some students who default on their loans. The change, Bloomberg explained, “is almost certain to hand … a victory” -- and possibly $15 million in additional revenue -- to the company that, until very recently, was operated by Hansen’s father.

    Jerry Falwell Jr. Brings A Handful Of Conflicts And Concerns To The Department

    Jerry Falwell Jr. is the son of televangelist Jerry Falwell Sr. and the president of Liberty University, a Christian college in Virginia founded by Falwell Sr. in 1971. He has also been tapped to head a "task force on higher education” in the Trump administration, reportedly at the insistence of senior White House official and former Breitbart.com executive Stephen Bannon. Falwell Jr. has encouraged students to carry concealed weapons on campus in order to “end those Muslims,” and defended President Donald Trump’s 2005 comments boasting about sexually assaulting women. Liberty University also offers insight into Falwell Jr.’s leadership and priorities -- the school is closely tied to the Liberty Counsel, an anti-LGBTQ hate group, hosts extremist groups and individuals for campus events, and prohibits “sexual relations outside of a biblically ordained marriage between a natural-born man and a natural-born woman.”

    Little information has come to light about Falwell’s plans for the higher education task force, but reports indicate that he is “particularly interested in curbing rules that require schools to investigate campus sexual assault under Title IX, a federal law that bans discrimination in education.” Falwell has also said that he wants the task force to “re-evaluate ‘overreaching regulation’ by the federal government,” reportedly in areas such as college accreditation and federal loan cancellation for defrauded students, leading to calls for more information from Senate Democrats who see potential for conflicts of interest. “Mr. Falwell’s personal and financial interests on issues affecting student loan debt, recruitment, and distance education are extensive,” the lawmakers wrote, noting that Liberty University was the third-largest recipient of federal student loans in 2016.

    Numerous “Beachhead” Officials Have Ties To Privatization Groups DeVos Has Supported -- And Almost None Have Ever Worked In Classrooms

    The vast majority of “beachhead” officials within the Education Department have close connections to the right-wing “education reform” media echo chamber bankrolled by billionaires and private corporations -- but little to no experience in the classroom.

    This list includes at least four staffers who have previously worked for education privatization groups led by DeVos in some capacity: Michael Frendewey, a communications staffer at American Federation for Children, which was founded by DeVos and led by until her nomination; and Andrew Kossack, Josh Venable, and Neil Ruddock, all former staffers of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, which counted DeVos as a board member until her nomination.

    The longer list of staffers who come from the dark-money “education reform” echo chamber includes Jason Botel, of the DeVos-affiliated Maryland Campaign for Achievement Now; Michael Brickman, a former staffer with the Fordham Institute and Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI); Gillum Ferguson, a former staffer for conservative outlets Opportunity Lives and The Washington Free Beacon; Alexandra Hudson, who has written education policy pieces at conservative outlets and think tanks like The Heartland Institute, The Federalist, and The Weekly Standard and recently worked as an education policy analyst for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (part of the State Policy Network of right-wing think tanks); Lauren Rigas of the American Conservative Union and the American Enterprise Institute; and Patrick Shaheen, a former staffer at the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity.

    And DeVos’ Brother, Erik Prince, Held A Secret Overseas Meeting To Create A “Trump-Putin Back Channel”

    Let’s not forget the bombshell Washington Post report from April 3: Erik Prince, DeVos’ brother and the founder of the infamous Blackwater security firm, met with “a Russian close to President Vladi­mir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and [then] President-elect Donald Trump” days before Trump’s inauguration. According to officials, Prince “presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump” during the secret Seychelles meeting although he has no formal role with the administration. The meeting took place less than two months after Trump announced he would pick Prince’s sister to head the Education Department. 

  • The Conservative Dark-Money Groups Infiltrating Campus Politics

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    College campuses have long served as unique places for the free exchange of ideas -- but increasingly they’ve also become playgrounds for ideologically driven, right-wing billionaires and the dark-money groups they fund. Media Matters has mapped out some of the biggest actors behind astroturf conservative campus activism, creating an echo chamber of seemingly grass-roots right-wing student media and campus groups that are actually propped up by a handful of the same conservative funders and, sometimes, even prominent hate groups.

  • The Viral Story About Missing Black And Brown Girls In D.C. Reveals A Huge Media Blindspot

    Women's Outlets Explain How These Stories Are Significantly And Routinely Undercovered

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    A social media post about missing black and brown girls in the Washington, D.C., area went viral, but the numbers it cited were incorrect. Women’s outlets -- primarily those geared toward young, black and brown audiences -- took the lead in explaining the underlying reality about media coverage of missing children that made the post so believable.

  • USA Today Report Raises New Questions About Stephen Bannon And The “Breitbart Embassy”

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    White House senior adviser Stephen Bannon’s housing and financial arrangements are unusually complicated. Many reporters have attempted to tackle the intricate and conflicting network of connections between Bannon, the extreme-right Breitbart.com site that he used to run, far-right billionaires, a tangle of small companies and financial holdings, and President Donald Trump. USA Today’s new report on the Washington, D.C., town house near Capitol Hill known as the “Breitbart Embassy” hints at another set of potential conflicts of interest for the senior White House official.

    The “Breitbart Embassy” has been a D.C. staple since Breitbart (then a fringe conservative site) began operating out of the residential property in 2011. As early as 2013, the town house was described as then-Breitbart chief Stephen Bannon’s house -- though it’s actually owned by an Egyptian businessman and politician named Moustafa El-Gindy. Until recently, there have been conflicting reports on the nature of any official relationships between Breitbart or Bannon and the actual owner of the property, including the nature of any financial or leasing agreements among the different parties.

    Now that Breitbart executive Larry Solov has said Bannon “resigned” from Breitbart “via phone” (though offering no proof, yet, of this separation), USA Today’s Paul Singer investigated potential current or past conflicts of interest and legal liabilities associated with the use of the “Breitbart Embassy” property -- and his findings pose some additional conflict-of-interest questions.

    Is Bannon Still Living At The “Breitbart Embassy”?

    In 2014, a writer for Vice visited the house, which he later described as “a handsome living quarters for Bannon and other company brass” at Breitbart as well as a “workspace for the website's D.C. reporters.” An October 2015 profile in Bloomberg News -- which featured original quotes and photographs of Bannon in the house -- similarly described the property’s dual usage as a workspace and Bannon’s living quarters. A week after the 2016 election, The Washington Post reported that the town house "holds offices sometimes used" by Breitbart but "isn't typically the site of the media organization's day-to-day operations." However, Bannon "would often hold team meetings around its elegant dining table” and “reportedly uses the upper levels of the four-bedroom residence as his Washington crash pad.”

    In his article, Singer implied Bannon no longer lives in the home, but he couldn’t locate documentation to back up Bannon’s living situation. When he knocked on the door of the “Embassy,” a staffer for one of Bannon’s film companies who has also written for Breitbart answered.

    If Bannon was previously living in the space -- which he does not own -- was he paying rent to either the owner or to Breitbart as a subletter? Did he continue to either pay rent to the media outlet or live there on the outlet’s dime after he joined the Trump campaign or even the administration? Could he still be doing so today?

    Did Breitbart Lease The Residential Space For Commercial Reasons?

    Though the residential property is reportedly “still the official address of Breitbart’s Washington bureau,” a Breitbart spokesperson told Singer the site was “transitioning people out of the house” and, soon, into what Singer described as “a regular office in downtown D.C.” He also noted that “the Embassy is in a residential neighborhood where it is generally not legal to run an office.” Singer also spoke with a locally elected official familiar with zoning rules, who explained what commercial uses are allowed in such a residential space and noted that Breitbart’s uses “appear to violate” the rules: 

    Breitbart CEO Larry Solov told the Senate press gallery that the company has a soon-to-expire lease in the building for corporate housing, offices and entertainment. But zoning rules for the block do not allow commercial leases.

    “That area of Capitol Hill is zoned only for residential uses, with a very narrow set of ‘home occupation’ exceptions allowing a resident (as opposed to a rotating group of occasional visitors) to work as an in-home tailor, music tutor, doctor, or the like, or to run a small bed & breakfast,” said Mark Eckenwiler, longtime chair of the zoning committee for the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, the city government unit for that area.

    The uses Solov described to the press gallery “appear to violate the D.C. zoning regulations applicable to that location,” Eckenwiler said. Since the lease is not public, it is impossible to know whether the terms meet the neighborhoods restrictions.

    Does El-Gindy Maintain Residence At The “Embassy,” In Accordance With The Tax Deduction Requirements?

    As the USA Today report also notes, the Capitol Hill home is not technically Bannon’s -- it’s actually owned by an Egyptian politician and businessman named Moustafa El-Gindy. Washington, D.C.’s public records show that El-Gindy purchased the property in 2009 and appears to have been renting to Breitbart since 2011. As reported by BuzzFeed in August, El-Gindy told an Egyptian reporter he is “just a landlord” and that he rents the house because tourism has slowed in Egypt. But the article points out that El-Gindy may stay at the town house sometimes, and appears to get friendly coverage from Breitbart. He’s been quoted in Breitbart articles without any disclosure of his relationship to Bannon or the outlet at least four separate times.

    The nature of any type of lease between El-Gindy and Breitbart -- or Bannon himself, for that matter -- is not clear. Singer’s investigation adds an interesting wrinkle in the story:

    El-Gindy is receiving a homestead deduction on the property, a $72,000 tax credit that requires the owner to maintain residence in the building. He could not be located for comment on this story.

    In Washington, D.C., individuals qualify for this tax deduction if the property is their “permanent home” or if they own the property and consider it to be their “principal residence.” The Washington, D.C., Office of Tax and Revenue website indicates that violations of this tax rule could result in the property owner owing back taxes, interest, and a penalty to the district.

    There are still more questions than answers when it comes to the connections between Bannon, Breitbart, and El-Gindy -- maybe because the answers could point to questionable legal practices, tax violations, and conflicts of interest. 

  • James O’Keefe, Donald Trump, And The “CNN Leaks” Disinformation Attempt

    Sad!

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Self-described “guerilla journalist” James O’Keefe has spent months hyping his plans to take on mainstream media. Today, his launch of a laughably underwhelming “CNN Leaks” project shows that O’Keefe was so eager to validate President Donald Trump’s war on the mainstream media that he hyped a blockbuster revelation before he actually discovered one.

    O’Keefe, a partisan activist who styles himself as a “citizen journalist,” purports to “investigate and expose corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud, and other misconduct in both public and private institutions” through his nonprofit, Project Veritas. Under the guise of this mission, O’Keefe has spent years hyping and releasing secretly recorded and heavily edited videos aimed to discredit and attack almost exclusively progressive organizers, leaders, and government officials.

    O’Keefe’s videos often fall flat and rarely match their billings. He has had to issue public apologies, been arrested for trespassing, and foiled his own plots, yet his videos have been promoted by the president. O’Keefe also regularly incites his loyal internet followers to practice their own brand of “investigative journalism.”

    Since the election, O’Keefe has expanded his sights beyond progressive targets to “main stream media” and issued categorical threats of surveillance aimed at CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, among other figures. “The media is a huge target of mine right now,” O’Keefe told CNN’s Brian Stelter as he previewed his new “CNN Leaks” project earlier this week. O’Keefe also hyped “CNN Leaks” in a radio appearance with Fox’s Sean Hannity and in social media posts. The Associated Press also wrote about the anticipated release -- not to mention the numerous conservative blogs that breathlessly follow O’Keefe’s so-called investigations. Politico’s Hadas Gold wrote, “Some staffers at CNN were legitimately alarmed that O'Keefe would be releasing tapes that could be embarrassing for the network.”

    And then the release happened.

    What The “CNN Leaks” Don’t Show

    On Thursday morning, Project Veritas released 119 hours of raw audio recordings from inside CNN’s headquarters (with “more than 100 hours” yet to be released). The recordings were taken in 2009, and given to Project Veritas by an anonymous source. O’Keefe said his group has not had the time to review and transcribe all of the recordings, instead telling his supporters to listen, transcribe, and send tips about the hours of footage to him. These full audio recordings were not available until the late afternoon due to issues with Project Veritas’ website.

    O’Keefe did post a nearly eight-minute video on YouTube explaining the project and highlighting a few excerpts from the tapes that he claims show “profound liberal bias” and “CNN's misrepresentation of polling data.” As Politico explained, these assertions “fall flat.”

    O’Keefe’s press release led with two segments from the recordings that he suggests “show CNN's misrepresentation of polling data.” As Gold points out, the first section actually depicts “two producers talking about the use of certain polls and why then-CNN polling director (now NH1 News political director and anchor) Paul Steinhauser declined to use a poll by Rasmussen, a group whose polling methods are still not widely accepted.” The recordings did not, by any stretch, confirm Trump’s claim that CNN polls are “fake news,” as O’Keefe suggested.

    O’Keefe also described this accurate statement about the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change from the former news desk editor for CNN’s “The Wire” as “profound liberal bias”:

    That issue, climate change, I mean science is pretty much on board and there are a few dissenters. There's no debate. It's like you know, born-agains saying there's a debate over, you know creationism, and all that stuff. There is no debate.

    Speaking of bias, while this CNN editor was correctly describing the consensus on human-caused climate change in 2009, a Fox News executive was instructing staff to undermine that consensus on air.

    Among the supposedly incriminating statements O’Keefe singled out for the “CNN Leaks” press release was this from CNN’s Richard Griffiths, now a vice president and senior editorial director at the network (from Project Veritas transcript):

    If we are journalists, what is our role as a journalist? What is the fundamental role as a journalist, for us to do? Tell a story. Tell what's going on. There's a secondary corollary to that, right? Aid the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. To a degree, right? Is that not part of the traditional role of a journalist. It's actually one of the things I can be most proud of as a journalist. You know we try to show the ugly side of humanity so we can do something about it. It's hard, very hard.

    Shocking stuff.

    Trump, O’Keefe, And “Fake News”

    As Gold points out, it’s certainly possible something embarrassing from the network will be uncovered in the hours of footage. But right now, there’s no there there. The real story of the “CNN Leaks” -- at least in terms of what O’Keefe deemed newsworthy in his press release -- is how explicitly the "overrated" release seems aimed to confirm Trump’s anti-CNN assertions.

    On the campaign trail, Trump specifically cited distortions from O’Keefe’s videos, and his charitable foundation gave thousands to Project Veritas in 2015. Trump also personally validated and encouraged “new media” (as O’Keefe likely imagines himself to be) to combat “the total dishonesty of the press” during a Reddit discussion. The similarities between Trump’s attacks on the media (and CNN, specifically) and O’Keefe’s distortions of the concept of journalism are striking, and seemingly create an anti-fact echo chamber among the internet masses, O’Keefe, and the White House. The purposeful twisting of the term “fake news” is the latest iteration.

    O’Keefe’s video release for the “CNN Leaks” began with a clip of his announcement, made at the Deploraball Inauguration event, that he would “investigate and expose the media -- particularly the mainstream media." Before O’Keefe showed any excerpts from the 2009 audio recordings, he rehashed clips of Trump calling CNN and mainstream media “fake news.” After playing Griffiths’ quote about journalists’ duty to “aid the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” O’Keefe questioned whether the statement “now applies to President Trump.”

    The potentially ongoing anti-media mindmeld between Trump, O’Keefe, and other self-styled citizen journalists who follow them now includes O’Keefe’s newest offering (or, as the Drudge Report gleefully calls it, a "bounty"): a “citizen journalist” award of $10,000 to “anyone who comes forward with legally obtained materials exposing media malfeasance.” There are hours of years-old CNN recordings that have yet to be reviewed by his followers, but based on the highlights, Trump is sure to love whatever they decide is there.

    In fact, O’Keefe says the president already thinks the project is “so cool.” 

  • Conservatives Shocked To Discover That Milo Yiannopoulos Is A Terrible Human Being

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Update: Simon & Schuster has cancelled the publication of Yiannopoulos' book.

    Just two days after news broke that Breitbart.com’s serial harasser Milo Yiannopoulos would speak at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the conference’s hosts have rescinded his speaking invitation after video circulated of Yiannopoulos “condoning pedophilia.” While CPAC is now trying to do damage control, there were any number of reasons not to elevate Yiannopoulos before the video resurfaced. And anyone familiar with Yiannopoulos’ persona -- including the leadership at CPAC -- should have known that continuing to ally themselves with a champion of the so-called “alt-right” would eventually lead to something like this.

    Milo Yiannopoulos is a senior editor at Breitbart.com, the “alt-right” website formerly run by Stephen Bannon, President Donald Trump’s chief strategist (Bannon is still set to speak at CPAC this year). Yiannopoulos has spent years positioning himself as the poster boy for radical “free speech,” traveling on speaking tours and doing publicity stunts that target, hurt, and harass women, people of color, undocumented students, and the transgender community, among other already at-risk groups.

    He was a key figure in the 2014 “Gamergate” harassment campaign, and was also permanently banned from Twitter for his role in the targeted online attacks on black actress Leslie Jones after she starred in an all-female remake of Ghostbusters. More recently, Yiannopoulos targeted a transgender student during an appearance on his college tour, displaying the student’s name and photo on a giant screen, as the Breitbart livestream of his speech featured a camera with crosshairs scanning across the audience (a “trigger cam”). 

    This behavior is typical of the Breitbart senior editor -- Yiannopoulos and his misogynist “alt-right” fans encourage each other constantly within smaller online communities, repurposing cartoons, speaking in code to one another, and seeking out new individuals to target outside of their “alt-right” white nationalist base.

    CPAC was apparently ready to reward Yiannopoulos’ dangerous behavior with more speaking time at its conference than the sitting vice president was offered. On Saturday, the Hollywood Reporter broke news that Yiannopoulos was reportedly set to deliver the keynote speech at CPAC next weekend; Yiannopoulos said the speech would focus on his "experiences in America battling feminists, Black Lives Matter, the media, professors and the entertainment industry.” Some conservatives were not pleased. Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, the group that hosts CPAC, subsequently released a statement clarifying that Yiannopoulos was not the conference’s keynote speaker but would remain one of 75 speakers in total.

    Then, on Sunday night, video emerged on Twitter that “appeared to show the far-right agitator defending pedophilia.” The shared videos, in which Yiannopoulos seems to defend sexual relationships between 13-year-old boys and older men or women and joke about sexual abuse, “weren't new, they were repackaged and published on Twitter by a conservative account clearly critical of the CPAC invite.”

    The conservative Twitter account behind the original video, “The Reagan Battalion,” has since posted several more videos of Yiannopoulos, including another in which he makes light of sexual assault and a longer, unedited cut as well as the full original video (in response to Yiannopoulos’ original defense that the video was “selectively edited.”) After the videos made the rounds on Twitter, more conservative figures belatedly expressed disappointment and horror at Yiannopoulos’ CPAC role. And now, just two days after the initial reports of his planned speech broke, CPAC has rescinded Yiannopoulos’ invitation due to the “offensive video.”

    But Schlapp, and the larger conservative movement that’s increasingly relied on heinous “alt-right” harassment bros to drum up support, knew what they were doing when they invited Yiannopoulos to speak at their annual conference. It is worth reiterating that the Reagan Battalion videos were not new, and neither are any of the other things Milo Yiannopoulos has said and done over the years.

    It’s not news that Yiannopoulos thinks the campus sexual assault epidemic is a “fantasy” or that he will say literally anything for attention, no matter how out-of-bounds. It’s not a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to the “alt-right” white nationalist movement Breitbart has supported that Yiannopoulos repeatedly frames targeted harassment campaigns of transgender individuals, black women, and undocumented students as some disgusting testament to his own conveniently warped understanding of the First Amendment.

    While Yiannopoulos is no longer speaking at the event, CPAC did announce another speaker on Monday: someone who was caught on tape bragging about sexual assault and then managed to win a presidential campaign.