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  • Alex Jones Apologizes For Pizzagate Coverage, Blames Other Media Outlets

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI & TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones was pressured to air an apology for his role in spreading the false “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, which led to a Jones listener firing a gun inside a Washington, D.C. pizzeria. Jones aired a pre-taped video in which he acknowledged that he made commentary about the pizzeria owner that “in hindsight I regret and for which I apologize to him.”

    Watch Jones’ statement here:

    On December 4, Edgar Maddison Welch entered Comet Ping Pong during business hours while wielding an assault weapon to “self-investigate” the false conspiracy theory that the restaurant was helping the campaign of Hillary Clinton traffic children. After patrons and employees fled, Welch fired several shots. On March 24, The Washington Post reported that Welch had pleaded guilty to two violations of federal and local gun laws.

    The New York Times interviewed Welch several days after the shooting, and he told the paper that he was a listener of Jones’ show and that Jones “touches on some issues that are viable,” but that sometimes Jones “goes off the deep end.” The criminal complaint against Welch alleged that he shared a YouTube video with the message “Watch PIZZAGATE: The Bigger Picture.” Alex Jones’ website Infowars published a December 1 article with the headline “Pizzagate: The Bigger Picture” which included an Infowars YouTube video.

    Following the Comet incident, Jones claimed that Welch is an “admitted actor” and that the incident “is classic scripting. I’m not saying it’s scripted -- it has all the telltale signs, they’ve been caught doing it before.”

    Infowars also scrubbed some Pizzagate-related content from its website and YouTube, including a video posted before the Comet incident in which Jones told his listeners to personally “investigate” the conspiracy theory.

    A February Infowars article falsely denied that Infowars had promoted the conspiracy theory.

    Jones, a top media ally of President Donald Trump, is a self-proclaimed founder of the so-called 9/11 Truth movement and has repeatedly alleged that the September 11, 2001, terror attacks were carried out by the U.S. government. He frequently claims that calamities such as natural disasters, mass public shootings, and terror attacks are “false flag” events orchestrated by the government.

    In particular, Jones has promoted conspiracy theories about the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, that left 20 children and six educators dead. Family members have said they have been regularly harassed and threatened by conspiracy theorists, and they have criticized Jones for his smears.

    Jones has close ties to Trump. During a December 2015 appearance on The Alex Jones Show, Trump praised Jones as having an "amazing" reputation and promised, "I will not let you down." Following Trump’s victory, Jones said Trump had called him to “thank” his audience. Jones has also bragged in recent months that the president calls him.

  • Following Dramatic Drop In Coverage, U.S. Senators Condemn Irresponsible Lack Of Climate Change Coverage

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    U.S. senators are calling on broadcast networks to fulfill their duty and bolster their news coverage of climate change, after a Media Matters study found that the networks dramatically decreased their coverage of climate change in 2016, during a campaign in which the U.S. elected a climate denier as president.

    Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) issued statements this week calling on the major broadcast networks to fulfill their responsibility and provide audiences with essential reporting on the impacts of and science surrounding climate change, as well as related policies. The senators’ statements were made in response to a study by Media Matters finding that in 2016, evening newscasts and Sunday shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as Fox Broadcast Co.'s Fox News Sunday, collectively decreased their total coverage of climate change by 66 percent compared to 2015.

    Sen. Whitehouse stated: 

    The Trump presidency has brought into sharp focus the critical responsibility of an independent news media to cover the science and policy of climate change. … Donald Trump ran a campaign blissfully unconcerned about climate change, even referring to it as a "hoax." Now President Trump has an ardent climate change denier who received millions from big polluters running the EPA, the former CEO of ExxonMobil heading up the State Department, and other industry operatives making decisions that affect the health and safety of American families. More than ever, Americans will need the free press to deliver the real facts on climate change. We don’t have time to waste on alternative ones.

    Sen. Schatz echoed Whitehouse’s sentiment, stating: 

    In a year when the American people were deciding who our next leader should be, you would think there would have been more discussions about climate change in our news programs, not less. This isn’t just shameful, it’s irresponsible. The climate is changing, and it’s affecting everything from the weather to our national security and our economy. Its impacts are already being felt and the American people deserve to know more about it.

    Indeed, as Media Matters found, during the campaign, ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox did not air a single segment about the ramifications and impacts of a Trump or Hillary Clinton administration as they relate to climate change. 

  • Advertisers Are Fleeing YouTube To Avoid “Directly Funding Creators Of Hateful” Content

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    YouTube is losing advertisers as big-name companies pull ads from the site because, according to a report from The New York Times, “The automated system in which ads are bought and placed online has too often resulted in brands appearing next to offensive material on YouTube such as hate speech.”

    More and more major companies are abandoning the ad services of YouTube's parent company, Google, amid concerns that ads for their brands are being placed next to extremist material. On March 22, The New York Times reported that AT&T and Johnson & Johnson “were among several companies to say Wednesday that they would stop their ads from running on YouTube and other Google properties amid concern that Google is not doing enough to prevent brands from appearing next to offensive material, like hate speech.” The decision by advertisers comes as Google has struggled in its efforts to prevent websites that peddle fake news from using its online advertising services to profit. It also comes as Google and YouTube have been criticized following a BuzzFeed News report for driving revenue for conspiracy theorists who broadcast to millions and monetize conspiracy theories like “Pizzagate,” which led to an armed confrontation in a DC-pizza shop.

    Now, The New York Times reports that “the technology underpinning YouTube’s advertising business has come under intense scrutiny” as “other deep-pocketed marketers [are] announcing that they would pull their ads from the service.” According to the Times report, the problem “is particularly jarring” for YouTube specifically, because “YouTube splits advertising revenue with its users, meaning advertisers risk directly funding creators of hateful, misogynistic or terrorism-related content.” From The Times’ March 23 report:

    YouTube is now one of the pillars of Google’s advertising business and the most valuable video platform on the internet. In recent years, advertisers, unable to ignore its massive audience, flocked to YouTube to reach younger people who have started to shun traditional broadcast television.

    But the technology underpinning YouTube’s advertising business has come under intense scrutiny in recent days, with AT&T, Johnson & Johnson and other deep-pocketed marketers announcing that they would pull their ads from the service. Their reason: The automated system in which ads are bought and placed online has too often resulted in brands appearing next to offensive material on YouTube such as hate speech.

    [...]

    That technology, known as programmatic advertising, allows advertisers to lay out the general parameters of what kind of person they want to reach — say, a young man under 25 — and trust that their ad will find that person, no matter where he might be on the internet. This approach plays to the strengths of tech giants like Google and Facebook, allowing advertisers to use automation and data to cheaply and efficiently reach their own audiences, funneling money through a complicated system of agencies and third-party networks.

    But more than 400 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every minute, and while Google has noted that it prevents ads from running near inappropriate material “in the vast majority of cases,” it has proved unable to totally police that amount of content in real time. And that has advertisers increasingly concerned.

    [...]

    While brands have expressed concern about showing up next to unsavory photos and videos uploaded to digital platforms by users — like pornography on Snapchat — the situation with YouTube is particularly jarring. YouTube splits advertising revenue with its users, meaning advertisers risk directly funding creators of hateful, misogynistic or terrorism-related content.

    The revenue-sharing model has minted stars, some of whom gain cultlike followings for edgy and inappropriate content. Last month, the platform cut business ties with its biggest star, Felix Kjellberg, known to his 54 million subscribers as PewDiePie, after The Wall Street Journal reported on crude anti-Semitic jokes and Nazi imagery in his comedy videos. He was part of YouTube’s premium advertising product called Google Preferred — a category of popular, “brand safe” videos on YouTube.

  • Trump’s Proposed Budget Would Cut Support For The Network Leading The Way In Climate Reporting

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    In 2016, PBS NewsHour once again surpassed its nightly news competitors in climate coverage, devoted significant airtime to a range of climate-related issues, and hosted a number of scientists. But President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would take aim at the network that has long been the nightly news leader in terms of climate coverage by cutting vital government support for PBS.

    Trump’s budget blueprint released last week included a proposal to completely defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), an independent agency that partially funds PBS and NPR. CPB CEO Patricia Harrison said the proposed cuts could start "the collapse of the public media system itself and the end of this essential national service.” 

    In addition to funding a portion of PBS’ revenue source directly, about half of CPB’s $445 million budget goes to PBS member stations that broadcast PBS NewsHour -- with stations in rural areas being especially reliant on CPB funding. In a statement to Media Matters, CPB stated, “The loss of this seed money would have a devastating effect [on stations in rural America]. These stations would have to raise approximately 200 percent more in private donations to replace the federal investment.” And Variety reported, “WCTE-TV in Cookeville, Tennessee, is a prime example. ... Station manager Becky Magura told [PBS president Paula] Kerger that the station would shut down if it loses CPB funding, which amounts to about half of its operating budget. WCTE is the only TV station that directly serves the town and surrounding areas in Putnam County, population 73,245 as of 2013.”

    This loss for viewers would be a shame because, as Media Matters has documented over the years, PBS NewsHour has consistently stood apart from its nightly news counterparts in the scale and scope of its climate coverage, dating back to at least 2012, when Media Matters first identified this trend. Once again, Media Mattersannual report on broadcast networks’ climate coverage found that in 2016, PBS NewsHour far surpassed its competitors, airing more climate-related segments (46) than ABC, CBS, and NBC did combined (36) in the same year.

    PBS NewsHour also stands apart from the major networks for the content of its coverage. In 2016, it was the only show to air a segment that discussed the ramifications of a Trump or Hillary Clinton presidency on climate change before the election. The other nightly news shows, however, failed to provide any issues coverage of climate change during the campaign. PBS NewsHour also led the networks in coverage of the impacts of climate change -- on extreme weather, plants and wildlife, and the economy -- and important climate-related policies and issues, such as the Clean Power Plan and the Paris climate agreement and UN climate summits. 

    And at a time when researchers studying climate change are under immense pressure from Trump’s anti-science administration, PBS NewsHour also interviewed the largest number of scientists among the nightly news shows and featured the most segments about climate-related scientific research.

    To cite just a few examples, PBS NewsHour invited scientists to discuss the news that 2015 was the hottest year on record and the consequences of continued global warming; the significance of the Paris climate accord; and climate change’s role in the record-breaking rainfall and flooding in Louisiana last year.

    With the nightly newscasts having significantly decreased their climate coverage in 2016, It's alarming to see the network that provides such essential coverage being threatened with funding cuts. Thankfully, there are promising signs of improvement on the broadcast evening news programs. In early 2017, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News are both on their way to far surpass their climate coverage of 2016; in February, CBS Evening News even featured a week of climate segments from Antarctica for its “Climate Diaries” series. 

    In the meantime, PBS NewsHour still remains the gold standard when it comes to climate change coverage on the nightly news shows. 

    Sign Media Matters’ petition urging Congress to oppose cuts to PBS and other sources of public broadcasting.

  • The Life Cycle Of A Donald Trump Lie

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    On March 4, President Donald Trump declared himself the victim of a scandal on the level of the the Watergate crimes that brought down President Richard Nixon. In an early-morning tweetstorm apparently triggered by reading a Breitbart article, the president claimed that President Barack Obama “had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower” in an October effort to influence the election.

    Over the past three weeks, Obama’s spokesperson, his director of national intelligence, the directors of the National Security Agency and FBI, Trump’s Justice Department, and the bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees have all said that this isn’t true, and the claims have been widely ridiculed by the press.

    But Wednesday, after a bizarre press conference in which House intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) said that he had just learned that “on numerous occasions the Intelligence Community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition” -- an effort he described as “legal” -- Trump’s conservative media allies rushed to declare that the president had been right all along.

    “President Trump vindicated on his wiretap claim,” claimed Sean Hannity, adding, “We’ve been telling you for two weeks, and the rest of the alt-left-propaganda-destroy-Trump media with egg on its face once again.” At Breitbart.com, the headline was “Nunes ‘Unmasking’ Report Vindicates Trump Claims on Surveillance.” Rush Limbaugh declared that Nunes’ remark “is what Trump meant” and that “Trump’s record remains 100 percent; the things he says generally have happened or do happen.”

    On its face, these claims make no sense.

    As The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake noted last week, it is deceptive to suggest that this sort of “incidental collection” is evidence of Trump’s claims because “Trump claimed the surveillance was targeted at him -- and directed by Obama. Incidental collection is, by definition, incidental -- i.e. unintentional. The wiretap wouldn't be of Trump Tower; it would be of whomever was contacting Trump Tower.”

    (Trump associates’ communications could also have been legally collected as part of the FBI’s investigation into “the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”)

    “It's not difficult,” Blake warned, “to see evidence of incidental collection eventually emerging and the Trump team saying, ‘See! We told you they were surveilling us!’”

    And indeed, in an interview with Time magazine conducted after the Nunes press conference and published yesterday, the president declares that Nunes’ assertion “means I’m right.”

    When the reporter noted that the incidental collection Nunes references “would not be wiretapping of you,” and thus would not support Trump’s initial statement, the president responded, “Who knows what it is? You know, why, because somebody says incidental.”

    Hours later, Trump lashed out at NBC and ABC over their “totally biased and fake news reports of the so-called Russia story.” And Spicer spent much of the press briefing later that day attacking the press for its coverage of the story.

    A pattern is emerging:

    This cycle is part of the White House’s effort to delegitimize any source of information that gets in the way of Trump’s propaganda. He appears to believe that everything he says is true, and he treats any information that confirms his biases as accurate -- any information that doesn’t is “fake news” from dishonest people.

    Trump and his team are doing everything they can to create an atmosphere of uncertainty in the which people will trust Trump over all other sources. And so they tear down the media, and the Congressional Budget Office, and federal government employees.

    But this only works if Trump is perceived as honest. And so Trump never admits that he was wrong, never acknowledges if his story has changed, claims that it is the people who say that he’s pushing falsehoods who are the real liars, and kicks up as much dust as possible around his falsehoods.

    This turns every lie he tells into a polarized argument, with him and his media allies on one side and his perceived enemies on the other. The pro-Trump team rallies his supporters to believe him over the facts. Those in the middle, who don’t follow news closely, are confused; the story they end up hearing is that there is a dispute over what the president said, not that he is a liar.

    Trump’s handling of the Time interview is instructive. The president was talking to the magazine for a cover story whose premise was that he lies all the time.  And yet, throughout the interview, Trump never gave an inch to the reporter’s suggestions that he sometimes told untruths. Instead, he claimed that he had been right all along, either because his statements had been accurate or because he had only been citing someone else’s reporting. The interview ends up reading as a debate between one person who is insisting, with increased alarm, that the other person acknowledge that the sky is blue, while the second person blithely claims that, in fact, it is green.

    During the Time interview, the president also helpfully pointed to a few of his past falsehoods that fit the cycle.

    “Thousands And Thousands” Of Americans Celebrated 9-11

    1) At a November 21, 2015, rally, Trump claimed that “I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.”

    2) Fact-checkers and other journalists promptly debunked Trump’s claim.

    3) Right-wing media figures who support Trump assembled scraps of evidence from news reports that they claim “vindicate Trump’s claim of 9/11 Muslim celebrations.” One of these stories was a Washington Post report written by Serge Kovaleski stating that authorities “questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks.” No proof of the “thousands” Trump claimed ever materializes.

    4) Trump followed his allies and cited Kovaleski’s story on Twitter to support his initial claim, saying, “I want an apology! Many people have tweeted that I am right!” Trump was trying to move the goal posts, suggesting that his statement should be considered accurate if there was credible evidence of ANY people celebrating. Kovaleski issued a statement saying that he did not recall “anyone saying that thousands or even hundreds of people were celebrating.”

    5) Trump mocked Kovaleski’s muscular disorder in a subsequent speech in which he claimed he had “shut a lot of people up” by citing the reporter’s article and that Kovaleski had then been compelled to lie about what he had seen. Trump has since falsely claimed that he did not know who Kovaleski was at the time and that Trump was not mocking his disability on the stump.

    Asked about the claim by Time magazine more than a year later, Trump responded, “Well if you look at the reporter, he wrote the story in the Washington Post.”

    “You Look At What’s Happening Last Night In Sweden.”

    1) During a February 18 rally, Trump “referred to several countries that have taken in a disproportionate number of refugees and that have recently been the target of attacks. ‘We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany. You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?’ Trump went on to refer to Paris, Nice, France, and Brussels, European cities where attacks have occurred in the past two years.” The president was apparently referencing a segment that aired on Fox News the previous night.

    2) The president was widely ridiculed by Swedish politicians who pointed out that there had been no terror attack in the country that night.

    3) A few days later, riots erupted in a Stockholm neighborhood largely populated by immigrants.

    4) Conservative media outlets respond to the riots by stating that Trump was right about Sweden, even though that event happened after Trump’s comments. Trump told Time that the “massive riot in Sweden” was “exactly what I was talking about” and claimed he was “right about that.”

    5) During the Time interview, Trump lists his comments about Sweden as one of the instances where he has been right and the media has been wrong to attack him.

  • The GOP Health Care Bill Actually Does What Conservatives Said Obamacare Would Do -- And Worse

    Blog ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) scheduled the vote on the Republican health care bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), on the seventh anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. Despite seven years of Republicans pledging to repeal and replace the ACA, all they’ve managed to come up with is a bill that is the manifestation of some of the worst myths and baseless critiques that right-wing media leveled against the ACA.

    The Republican Party introduced their health care bill earlier this month. The proposed legislation severely cuts Medicaid, reduces tax credits while giving a massive tax cut to the wealthy, and dramatically increases the number of uninsured Americans, effectively erasing the gains made by the ACA. While right-wing media has spent the better part of a decade demonizing the ACA, three of their biggest myths -- allegations that the ACA hurts seniors, that Democrats rammed the law through Congress, and the never-ending predictions of a “death spiral” -- are actually valid criticisms of the GOP health care law.

    The most famous right-wing media myth surrounding the ACA is the death panel -- the false allegation that the ACA created a panel of government bureaucrats that would ration health care for the elderly. PolitiFact dubbed the falsehood the “Lie of the Year” in 2009. However, right-wing media figures continued to push the myth for years. The specter of a death panel that might euthanize a grandmother fit into right-wing media’s narrative that the ACA would hurt seniors. Conservative media figures forwarded a variety of lies about how Obamacare was “sticking it to the seniors,” ranging from assertions that the ACA’s medical tax would apply to wheelchairs (it doesn’t) to false allegations that the law eviscerated Medicare by raiding its funding.

    In reality, the ACA improved senior care by reducing prescription drug costs for the elderly and extending coverage to key services. The ACA improved access to care by increasing Medicare payments for primary services and instituted crucial protections to improve the “quality and coordination of care.” The health care law also extended the solvency of Medicare by over 10 years, after which “payroll taxes and other revenue will still cover 87 percent of Medicare hospital insurance costs.”

    The AHCA, on the other hand, worsens the health care outlook for seniors. The bill loosens the age-rating protections that limit how much insurers can charge seniors, allowing them to discriminate against the elderly by charging them five times more than younger individuals. While allowing insurers to jack up premiums for the elderly, the AHCA also provides substantially less generous tax credits for purchasing health care, likely far below what would be needed to purchase comprehensive coverage. This disproportionately hurts working-class seniors. According to Vox, a 64-year-old who makes $26,500 a year will see “more than a 750 percent increase in premiums from Obamacare to the Republican bill.” As The Atlantic’s Vann Newkirk explained, “proportionally, the group of people that would see the most coverage losses under the AHCA is the population of people aged 50 and older.” And while the ACA increased Medicare’s solvency, the AHCA repeals the Medicare payroll surtax on the wealthy, which will “weaken Medicare’s financial status” by depleting its funding “three years sooner than under current law,” according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Essentially, despite right-wing media having pushed the image of seniors as one of Obamacare’s main victims, it is actually the Republican health law that actively worsens access to health care while increasing costs for the elderly (just ask the AARP). 

    Another anti-Obamacare talking point featured conservative media figures decrying the allegedly undemocratic process by which Congress passed the ACA, claiming that Democrats were trying to “ram it down America’s throat.” Right-wing media took then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) comment “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it” at the National Association of Counties out of context, to scandalize the health law as a secretive, closed door deal.

    Despite the rampant right-wing smears, the debate over the ACA was “one of the most transparent” in recent history, as Congress debated the legislation for over a year before it was signed into law. The full context of Pelosi’s now notorious speech reveals that her comment was about the need to have conversations about the substance of the ACA outside of the “fog of the controversy,” because negative talking points dominated the discussions of the law.

    The clear differences between the legislative processes for the ACA and the GOP health care bill lays bare right-wing media’s hypocrisy. As Politico’s Dan Diamond noted, “in 2009, Dems took 119 days between introducing [the] bill [and] taking a floor vote,” while “in 2017, [the] GOP will do it in 17 days.” The GOP has pledged to hold a vote on the bill in the House on March 23, despite the fact that the CBO has not finished scoring the substantial amendments released this week. Topher Spiro, the Center for American Progress’ Vice President for Health Policy, highlighted the hypocrisy, pointing out “Republicans *literally* have to pass the bill to find out what it does,” since it is highly likely there would be “no CBO score before the vote.” Instead of defending the democratic process they found so dear in 2009, conservative media figures portrayed the AHCA’s passage as inevitable and allowed guests to insist that the Republicans are using “regular order” to normalize the rush to pass the disastrous bill. The hypocritical treatment of these starkly contrasting legislative processes illustrates how right-wing media fealty to democratic norms only exists when it furthers their own narratives.

    The third manifestation of conservative hypocrisy on health care stems from right-wing media’s continued predictions over the last seven years about the possible collapse of the Affordable Care Act’s insurance markets into a death spiral. Conservative outlets claimed the law was in a death spiral each time premiums increased, when Aetna withdrew from the exchanges, when they alleged there weren’t enough healthy enrollees, and when some of the co-ops failed. None of these alleged death spirals were real -- in fact, the newest CBO report confirms the ACA is not collapsing and will continue to stabilize, despite claims to the contrary.

    By eliminating the individual mandate and replacing it with a much weaker “continuous coverage” requirement, the AHCA seriously risks a death spiral because it “could have the unintended consequence of discouraging healthy people from buying coverage.” Whereas the ACA’s individual mandate incentivizes purchasing insurance to avoid a penalty, under the continuous coverage requirement a healthy uninsured individual is likely to wait until they are sick to join the market, massively increasing costs. The Century Foundation outlined how the AHCA could result in a death spiral because coverage losses and cuts in financial assistance will result in few healthy enrollees. Families USA noted that the only way the AHCA creates stable markets is “by making it nearly impossible for older adults and the sick to find affordable coverage, leaving only the healthy or wealthy in the market.” While the predictions of the ACA’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, the Republican health law might actually lead to the death spiral right-wing media have long been hyping.

    The false claims right-wing media have made over time about the ACA highlight only a few of the ways in which the AHCA would devastate the American health care system. The AHCA pays for a $600 billion tax cut for the wealthy by cutting Medicaid -- the program that provides essential health care for the disabled, the elderly, and low-income communities -- by 25 percent. The newest reported proposal to eliminate the ACA’s essential health benefits package will gut access to substance abuse treatment for victims of the opioid epidemic and likely increase costs for women as insurers can drop maternity coverage. By defunding Planned Parenthood, the AHCA will deprive many low-income communities of their only safety-net health center and result in thousands of additional births per year. If the law passes -- despite the apparent cancellation of the first scheduled attempt -- the AHCA could create the apocalyptic fantasy right-wing media desperately sought to find in the ACA.

    *Image by Sarah Wasko

  • The Press Seemed Amazed By Trump’s Wiretapping Lie, But Trump Lies About Everything

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    What was the tipping point for The Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial page in terms of dealing with President Donald Trump’s increasingly sketchy behavior? We now know: It’s the demonstrable lie Trump told about President Barack Obama having wiretapped Trump Tower.

    Lamenting “the damage that Mr. Trump is doing to his Presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods,” the Journal on Tuesday night belittled Trump for being “his own worst political enemy.”

    Claiming that “the President clings to his assertion like a drunk to an empty gin bottle,” the Journal relentlessly mocked Trump’s evidence-free wiretapping claim, using the type of biting rhetoric the page usually reserved for attacking President Barack Obama or the Clintons.

    The public undressing represents a clear demarcation line that has extended throughout the Beltway media in recent weeks, as pundits and reporters have drilled down deep on the wiretapping lie and demanded answers, day after day. With none forthcoming, Trump’s team continues to be battered by the story. Even more bizarre, the White House stubbornly refuses to move off its scripted talking points about there being imaginary evidence of the nonexistent Obama-driven wiretapping scheme.

    For a presidency that has been defined by falsehoods, it’s the wiretapping lie that seems to be causing the most damage for Trump, mostly because the press remains keenly focused on it.

    That hyper focus only intensified yesterday after House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) took the extraordinary step of going to the White House to brief Trump on an investigation before discussing the information with ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA). Trump and his media loyalists immediately insisted that Nunes’ vague claims of incidental intelligence gathering involving officials on the Trump transition team bolstered the president’s wiretapping claim against Obama. But it does no such thing. (Nunes himself "reiterated" that he "had no evidence of" Trump's wiretapping claim, according to Politico.) All of which means Trump’s still stuck pushing a signature, hollow allegation.

    Here's the key: The kind of focus on the White House’s wiretapping charade should be extended to the rest of the Trump’s fabrications. Trump lies about everything. And Trump’s surrogates lie about everything. So if journalists are going to relentlessly call out the White House for its wiretapping smear -- and they definitely should -- they ought to be equally aggressive in calling out all of Trump’s casual deceits, which now tumble out on a daily basis. (In a new interview with Time about falsehoods, Trump laced his comments with at least 14 falsehoods.)

    In other words, the press is giving Trump a hard time about the Obama wiretap lie, but the media is still too slow and timid about calling out Trump's often more substantial, policy-based lies.

    What journalists continue to struggle with is the obvious realization that not only does Trump lie constantly, but that he doesn’t care that people know it. Trump doesn’t care when his claims are swiftly fact-checked. It gives him no pause. And that represents the burgeoning challenge the press faces in covering the Trump White House, based on its almost chronic attempts to fabricate information, followed by no expression of remorse for the wild dissembling.

    Ten days into Trump’s term, I cautioned that journalists shouldn’t believe anything the White House tells them – ever. And that journalists needed to rip up the old rules in covering this new president, simply because we’ve never had a White House staffed with so many dishonest people embracing so many “alternative facts.”

    Note this exchange from MSNBC on Monday night, as Politico’s Michael Crowley and MSNBC’s Katy Tur analyzed that day’s hearing in the House Intelligence Committee on ties between Russia and Trump, as well as the hollow allegation of Obama wiretapping:

    MICHAEL CROWLEY: Over and over again, Sean Spicer and people around Trump are just making these implausible assertions about the scale of this story. And if they would just give a little ground they would have so much more credibility. If they would take the underlying issue seriously, if they would speak accurately and honestly about the players and the factors involved. But when you get this kind of wild overcompensation you have to ask, what are you afraid of? And what are you hiding? It’s just very strange and it begs more questions.

    KATY TUR: Or are you working on behalf of a president who is so erratic that you don’t know where solid ground is.

    All of that is accurate. But here’s the thing: That critique applies to virtually every topic that the White House tackles. “He lies in ways that no American politician ever has before,” wrote David Leonhardt of The New York Times this week.

    And that really needs to be the prism through which journalists view the president. They need push past the idea that it’s mean or “biased” to call Trump a liar. Just like when the White House unveiled its extremist budget proposal last week. If Trump is going to advocate radical positions, then journalists shouldn’t shy away from detailing his radical positions.

    The same is true for Trump’s lies. His bizarre one about Obama committing a felony in order to listen in on Trump’s phone calls has caught the media’s imagination. But all of Trump’s bogus claims should be highlighted and ridiculed. Yes, Trump rolls out endless falsehoods, and there's a suspicion that he does so on purpose so the press can't keep up. But they have to. It's now a paramount responsibility.

    Whether the lies are about the travel ban, crime statistics, Obama’s birthplace, Jersey City Muslims on 9/11, the unemployment rate, Mexico paying for the border wall, health care for “everybody,” the U.S. murder rate, IRS audits, news coverage of terror attacks, the Electoral College, or voter fraud.

    The press should apply the same relentless attention and detail to those lies as that it has to Trump’s wiretapping lie.

  • NRATV Nonsensically Uses London Car And Knife Attack To Promote "Gun Rights" In US

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    Following reports of a knife and vehicle attack in London, the National Rifle Association’s news show used the incident to promote “how important our gun rights are here in America," suggesting guns could help Americans combat such an attack. But the show's commentary ignored the reality that the United States, which has more permissive gun laws than the United Kingdom, also has a much higher homicide rate, and it is largely driven by gun violence.

    After at least four people were killed and 20 injured in the London knife and car attack, NRATV host Grant Stinchfield claimed Europeans are “unprepared for an attack” because “the government has all but disarmed” citizens and claimed that “this attack should serve as a reminder of how important our gun rights are here in America.”

    From the March 22 edition of NRATV’s Live Updates with Grant Stinchfield

    GRANT STINCHFIELD (HOST): It has happened once again, details are still being revealed but it appears terror has struck in the U.K. An attack on Parliament by a possible terrorist, he apparently used a car to run over as many as 12 people. The suspect then used a knife to stab a police officer. It is still unclear if the suspect who used the vehicle and the suspect who stabbed the cop are the same person. Parliament is in lockdown after law enforcement shot the knife wielding terrorist. This is a stark reminder that our enemies are real. They will do anything they can to destroy us and our allies, using a vehicle now seems to be the new method of choice for these evil holy warriors who kill in the name of Islam. Most citizens in Europe are unprepared for an attack like this as the government has all but disarmed law-abiding citizens. This attack should serve as a reminder of how important our gun rights are here in America.

    After a mass school shooting in 1996, the U.K. enacted highly restrictive measures on gun ownership that banned most military-style firearms and handguns. But while British gun laws are much stricter compared to those in the U.S., the European nation also has drastically lower rates of gun deaths, gun homicides, and homicides by all methods. 

    Firearms are used in more than two-thirds of homicides in the United States. High gun availability has been linked to increased gun homicide rates, with one review of academic research finding that “case-control studies, ecological time-series and cross-sectional studies indicate that in homes, cities, states and regions in the U.S., where there are more guns, both men and women are at a higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide.” (The same trend is seen in comparisons between high-income countries.)

    Academic research has also found that guns are used in the U.S. far more often to commit crimes than to stop crimes.

    A 2000 Harvard Injury Research Control Center found that as a ratio, "guns are used to threaten and intimidate far more often than they are used in self defense. Most self reported self defense gun uses may well be illegal and against the interests of society."

    In fact, the odds of needing a gun to protect yourself are so low that it’s difficult to accurately measure the number of defensive gun uses each year. Meanwhile, gun violence is so frequent in the United States that more than 100,000 gunshot injuries are recorded every year (a figure that does not include crimes committed with guns where no one is shot).

    In contrast to the lack of evidence that civilians effectively use guns to stop mass shootings, terror attacks involving firearms in the United States, often involving AR-15-style assault weapons, have proven incredibly deadly over the years. A December 2015 terror attack in San Bernardino, CA, involved a gunman shooting and killing 14 and wounding 22 at an office holiday party, and the perpetrator of a June 2016 terror attack in a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL, shot and killed 49 and wounded at least 53.

  • TV News Coverage Of Trump’s Policies Overwhelmed By His Wiretapping Lie

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Broadcast and cable news coverage of ruinous economic policies rolled out by the White House last week was overwhelmed by the president’s false accusation that his predecessor illegally wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 election.

    On March 13, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that up to 24 million Americans would lose access to health insurance over the next 10 years if the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare goes into effect. On that same day, the Trump administration unveiled an overlooked executive order that encourages cabinet secretaries and agency directors to create a plan to completely reshape a federal bureaucracy of over 2.8 million employees. And on March 16, the Trump administration unveiled its budget outline for the 2018 fiscal year, featuring proposed “massive cuts” to nondefense spending. The proposed cuts, which would offset an increase in spending on military programs and a border wall, would hit almost every facet of the federal government, but they would come down particularly hard on funding for small programs including Meals on Wheels, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and PBS.

    Yet according to Media Matters research, from March 13 to 17, President Donald Trump’s false wiretap claim dominated TV news coverage, overshadowing discussion of these important policy moves. While Trump’s lie certainly merits extensive media coverage, it’s also crucial to share details of his policymaking with the public.

    Trump ignited a media firestorm in early March when he repeatedly accused former President Barack Obama of illegally wiretapping him in the midst of last year's election. Right-wing media, led by Fox News, sprang to his defense even though the president offered no evidence to support his claim. Meanwhile, legitimate reporters exposed the bizarre accusation’s source as “the right-wing fever swamps” of fringe media and reported that it was pushed by a Russian state-sponsored news network. During March 20 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, FBI Director James Comey put Trump’s wiretapping lie to rest, telling the committee, “I have no information that supports those tweets.”

    Yet nearly two weeks after Trump initially made the claim, his smear of Obama still had such an influence on television news coverage that it overshadowed every other discussion about Trump’s policy agenda last week. Media Matters identified 226 segments from March 13 through 17 that focused on Trump during evening programming on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC and major news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS. Of those segments, 64 focused on Trump’s wiretapping allegations -- a figure that dwarfed every other major issue Media Matters identified. Coverage of Trump’s health care plan came in a distant second place, with 37 segments, and stories related to the portion of Trump’s 2005 tax returns obtained by Rachel Maddow ranked third (26 segments). Trump’s proposed budget outline was discussed in just 14 segments, and his executive order to reshape the federal workforce registered just four mentions.

    With television news forced to dissect and debunk Trump’s outrageous claims, coverage of pressing economic issues was eclipsed. Coverage of the efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act -- which health care experts have said would be particularly harmful to low-income Americans, seniors, and people dealing with illnesses -- could not overtake that of Trump’s wiretapping tweet, even with the Trump administration attempting to smear the CBO numbers in the press. The executive order, which was described by CNN reporter Stephen Collinson as part of Trump’s larger goal to “dismember government one dollar at a time,” barely registered in news coverage at all. And Trump’s budget cuts, which would decimate social safety net programs, were discussed 14 times during evening news coverage on March 16 and 17, while Trump’s lie about wiretapping was discussed 35 times on those two days.

    Trump’s promotion of a discredited lie accusing his predecessor of illegal conduct while in office merits extensive media coverage, but the policies he has enacted or plans to enact can be just as destructive as the misinformation he spreads. Media cannot afford to let Trump's misleading claims dominate the news cycle, drowning out crucial coverage of the pain his policies may cause the United States.

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening news programming (defined as 6 p.m. through 11 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, as well as the major news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS, from March 13, 2017, through March 17, 2017. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: Trump or executive order or federal government or federal employ! or federal worker or federal workers or civil service or government workers or government worker or federal government or budget.

    The following programs were included in the data: ABC's World News Tonight, CBS' Evening News, NBC's Nightly News, and PBS' NewsHour, as well as CNN's The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Tonight, Fox News' Special Report, The First 100 Days, Tucker Carlson Tonight, The O'Reilly Factor, and Hannity, and MSNBC's For The Record, Hardball, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that air reruns, only the first airing was included in data retrieval. This survey includes CNN’s second live hour of Anderson Cooper 360 during the 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. time slot.

    For this study, Media Matters included only those segments that contained substantial discussions of Donald Trump. We defined a "substantial discussion" as any segment where a host dedicates a monologue, or portion of a monologue, to Trump, his activities, or the policies he is pursuing as president of the United States, or any segment where two or more guests discuss Trump, his activities, or the policies he is pursuing as president of the United States. We did not include teasers or clips of news events, or rebroadcasts of news packages that were already counted when they first aired in the 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. survey window.

  • Breitbart Is Tagging Articles With A Bigoted "Alt-Right" Meme That Attacks Swedish Multiculturalism

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    Breitbart’s xenophobic “Sweden YES” tag is a dog whistle to the “alt-right,” and the misleading articles marked with the label serve as the foundation for the outlet’s anti-immigrant campaign in both Europe and the United States.

    In a March 17 interview with NBC News, Breitbart.com’ Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow attempted to distance his site from the “alt-right,” claiming that it’s “not a hate site.” But one of the website’s new favorite content tags -- “Sweden YES!” -- is an “alt-right” catchphrase that began as an effort to mock Sweden’s multiculturalism, gender equality, and positive stance on immigration.

    According to Know Your Meme, “Sweden Yes” began on a German international messageboard, Krautchan/int/, in 2012. From there, it became a subreddit, which is currently “quarantined” due to its “shocking or highly offensive content.” The phrase is also popular on the anonymous online message board 4chan, where there is currently an archived Sweden Yes thread on the /pol/ page, with activity as recent as March 20. The meme is associated with Captain Sweden, a series of Swedish webcomics named for an anthropomorphized multicultural Sweden, often depicted engaging in interracial intercourse or featuring immigrants engaged in criminal behavior.

    The Breitbart content organized under the “Sweden Yes” tag is written almost exclusively by Chris Tomlinson, a Breitbart London contributor who often retweets far-right French political leader Marine Le Pen and far-right, anti-Muslim Dutch political leader Geert Wilders, as well as Lauren Southern, an “alt-right” media figure who was recently allowed into a White House press briefing. Virginia Hale, a white nationalist Breitbart reporter with a history of using anti-Muslim rhetoric, has also written “Sweden Yes” content in recent weeks.

    The first Breitbart content tagged “Sweden Yes” was published in November 2015. But that article was one of only five pieces of content given the tag before President Donald Trump’s February 18 speech in which he instructed the audience to “look at what’s happening last night in Sweden,” which he said “took in large numbers” of Muslim immigrants and refugees. Trump followed up his remarks about Sweden by mentioning three French and Belgian cities attacked by domestic terrorists over the past two years. Trump’s comment was a clear suggestion that Muslims and refugees are responsible for a so-called “crime wave” in Sweden. Multiple fact-checkers have debunked both Trump’s seeming implication of an attack the night before he spoke and his claim about migrant crime in Sweden. But the damage had already been done. Since his speech, Breitbart has labeled 32 pieces of content (of a total of 37) with the “Sweden Yes” tag.

    The site’s “Sweden Yes” content often makes evidence-free claims, exaggerates unrelated past incidents of crime to report on recent events, or exploits incidents in other countries to stoke fear about immigrant crime in Sweden. For example, a March 8 Breitbart article fearmongered about the takeover of Malmö due to “mass migration, predominantly from Middle Eastern nations” to claim that  the the city’s longtime residents are leaving the city, possibly due to an “explosion in crime” and “warring gangs.” But the words “warring gangs” are hyperlinked to another Breitbart article about these so-called gangs, which cites a Reuters article. Reuters makes no mention of whether the perpetrator of the gang shooting of a 16-year-old boy in Malmö was an immigrant.

    Another Breitbart article, about a Swedish program to train asylum seekers from the Middle East to work in correctional facilities, acknowledges that “so far the program has not run into a glaring issue that plagues many prisons across Europe, the growth of radical Islam and radicalization of inmates,” before claiming that French and British prisons have becoming a “breeding ground for radical Islamic indoctrination.” But the training program is in Sweden, not France or Britain, and while it places recently arrived immigrants in jobs within prisons, these program participants are guards, not inmates. The article also claims, “In HMP Gartree, a maximum security prison in the UK, entire cell blocks are run under a variation of Islamic sharia law according to reports.” The words “Islamic sharia law” link to another Breitbart article, which cites a Sun article to claim “Muslim extremists … are running an entire [cell] block under sharia law.” However, the Sun quotes a prison spokesman in the U.K. saying, “There is no evidence to back-up any of these claims about HMP Gartree."

    The exploitation of longstanding anti-Muslim tropes in the context of Swedish crime is merely the latest iteration of Breitbart’s anti-immigrant crusade in Europe. A false report Breitbart published in January alleging that a "mob" of Muslims attacked a German church spurred the German government to investigate what it deemed the “unprecedented proliferation” of fake news, a phenomenon which the Swedish prime minister recently mentioned as a concern his government is committed to investigating.

    The Trump administration has drawn criticism for its seeming embrace of the anti-immigrant "alt-right" movement. The incoming Trump administration was criticized in December 2016 because "A senior member of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team and a delegation of US Republican and European lawmakers canceled a briefing [] with Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely over a refusal to allow a Swedish far-right member of the group into the meeting[.]" Nevertheless, President Trump in January gave former Breitbart head Stephen Bannon a seat on the National Security Council's principals committee, which affords him access to meetings with senior-most national security officials. While Bannon is no longer formally associated with the outlet, according to a former Breitbart spokesperson, the site is still heavily influenced by Bannon’s editorial guidance.

    Trump’s baseless February 18 claim about immigrants committing crimes in Sweden is just one more example of how his administration both validates outlets like Breitbart and mainstreams “alt-right” narratives under the guise of keeping Americans safe.