Religion

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  • Fox News Promotes Eric Bolling, Noted Bigot, Conspiracy Theorist, And Muppet-Hater

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY, ZACHARY PLEAT & JARED HOLT

    In the wake of Bill O’Reilly’s departure from Fox News following an advertiser boycott stemming from sexual harassment settlements involving the prime-time host, Fox News announced a new lineup that includes giving host Eric Bolling his own show at 5 p.m. This promotion comes despite Bolling’s history of trafficking in racist stereotypes, promoting fear of Muslims in America, and engaging in conspiracy theories, including the birtherism made famous by now-President Donald Trump.

  • As He Leaves Fox, Here Are Bill O’Reilly’s Worst Moments On The Air

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & KATHERINE HESS

    Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly has helped set the bar for the normalization and dissemination of right-wing hatred, offering incendiary commentary about sexual harassment and assault, gender, race and ethnicity, low-income people, the LGBTQ community, Muslims and refugees, immigrants, and reproductive rights. Now that O'Reilly has been forced to step down from The O'Reilly Factor after an advertiser revolt over revelations that Fox News’ parent company, 21st Century Fox, paid $13 million in settlements to women who came forward with reports that O’Reilly was a sexual predator, Media Matters takes a look back at some of the lowlights of his career, including his history of inaccurate and embellished reporting.

  • Top Media Outlets Have Failed To Accurately Label Designated Anti-LGBTQ Hate Groups

    Six Years of Various Media Matters Studies Show Ongoing Problem With Reporting On Hate Groups

    Blog ››› ››› ERIN FITZGERALD & RACHEL PERCELAY

    For more than half a decade, Media Matters has monitored broadcast, cable, print, and local media coverage of anti-LGBTQ hate groups, designated as such by Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Reporters frequently fail to disclose this designation and provide no context about anti-LGBTQ hate groups and their extremism, instead simply labeling them as “Christian” or “conservative” organizations. Those same outlets, however, often refer to SPLC as an expert in tracking hate and extremism, and often use SPLC’s “hate group” designation when reporting on other extremist ideologies, like white nationalist groups.

    SPLC has long been regarded as an expert in monitoring domestic hate and extremism. Since 1990, SPLC has been releasing an “annual census” of U.S. hate groups. SPLC defines hate groups as organizations that “have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.” But inaccurate or incomplete media coverage has allowed anti-LGBTQ hate groups to peddle the myth that they’re labeled as hate groups only for their conservative or religious beliefs about sexuality and marriage. Yet SPLC has clearly stated multiple times that it designates organizations as “hate groups” when they knowingly spread “demonizing lies,” engage in “baseless, incendiary name-calling,” or actively work to criminalize LGBTQ people -- not because of biblical or conservative beliefs.

    Media Matters' research shows that while major publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post often rely on SPLC’s “hate group” designation to provide meaningful context about white nationalist groups, those same outlets often label designated anti-LGBTQ hate groups only as “Christian” or “conservative.” Similarly, cable news networks have frequently invited anti-LGBTQ hate group representatives to comment on LGBTQ equality without providing context about their respective group’s extremism. Since being designated as a hate group in February 2017, the mammoth anti-LGBTQ legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom has been featured prominently in the media with no reference to its extremism or efforts to criminalize LGBTQ people.

    While some reporters -- like CBS’s Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation -- have provided audiences with meaningful context by accurately identifying anti-LGBTQ hate group leaders as such during interviews, over half a decade of research by Media Matters shows that journalists more often than not fail to identify anti-LGBTQ hate groups as such. Failing to properly contextualize extremism often allows hate group representative to peddle debunked anti-LGBTQ lies, which has led outlets like NPR to acknowledge that “we have to do a better job” in identifying extremists.

    Below are some of Media Matters’ largest studies documenting how journalists report on hate groups.

    NY Times and Wash. Post Failed To Properly Identify Or Contextualize SPLC’s Major Anti-LGBTQ Hate Groups

    A July 2016 Media Matters analysis revealed that between June 1, 2014, and June 30, 2016, The New York Times mentioned four anti-LGBTQ hate groups -- the Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel, the American Family Association, and Westboro Baptist Church --a total of 60 times and never clearly defined any of them as a current hate group. The paper most frequently labeled these hate groups as “conservative” (18 times or 30 percent of the total) or gave them no descriptor at all (14 times or 23 percent of the total). In Times coverage, anti-LGBTQ hate groups were most likely to be called “conservative” or given no designation at all.

    One New York Times article in our analysis used the hate group designation for anti-LGBTQ group the World Congress of Families, but it also included a quote from the group denouncing the label. The article also included criticism of SPLC’s authority and questioned its methodology. Finally, in a passing mention of the Family Research Council, the article falsely reported that SPLC designates hate groups based “on their stances on gay issues,” rather than on their propagation of known falsehoods about LGBTQ people. No other article in our analysis attempted to question the authority of SPLC’s classification or gave a platform to a hate group to defend itself. In fact, when reporting on white nationalist groups in the same period, the Times cited SPLC as an expert on tracking hate groups and frequently used the organization’s hate group designation. Note: Not all percentages add up to 100 due to rounding. 

    The Washington Post mentioned anti-LGBTQ hate groups 74 times during the study period. But it labeled them as hate groups only six times and failed to provide any context about their ideology 27 times. When it did label such groups, the paper was most likely (eight times) to call them “conservative” or contextualize them by mentioning their legal work such as with Liberty Counsel -- which represented the Kentucky county clerk, Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court released its marriage equality ruling.

    In 2015, Major News Outlets Failed To Identify The Hate Group Representing Kim Davis

    A September 2015 Media Matters report found that major news outlets almost entirely failed to identify Liberty Counsel -- the group defending Rowan County clerk Kim Davis -- as an anti-LGBTQ "hate group," often referring to the group only as a "Christian" or "conservative" legal organization. The Washington Post was the only paper to identify Liberty Counsel as a hate group. An analysis of coverage from August 8 through September 11, 2015, revealed the following:

    • The Associated Press called Liberty Counsel a “Christian law firm” in four different articles.
    • Reuters characterized Liberty Counsel as a “religious” or “legal” “advocacy” group in five different articles.
    • The Washington Post identified Liberty Counsel as a “hate group” in one article -- but in three other articles, it described the group only as “Christian.”
    • The New York Times twice referred to Liberty Counsel as a “conservative” group -- once mentioning that Liberty “has been on the front lines of the same-sex marriage fight for roughly two decades,” and once calling it a nonprofit that works in “religious exemptions cases.”

    In October 2015, The Associated Press did note that Liberty Counsel has been labeled an anti-gay hate group. In response, Liberty Counsel President Mat Staver delivered a letter to the AP's assistant general counsel, Brian Barrett, that accused the AP of putting Davis and Liberty Counsel at risk of "death threats" and demanded that the article be permanently deleted.

    One Hate Group Leader's Appearances Plummeted On CNN And MSNBC In 2013, But Held Steady On Fox News

    A July 2014 Media Matters study found that Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins appeared significantly less frequently on CNN and MSNBC in the wake of petitions calling on the networks to stop hosting him. Perkins, whose organization has been labeled an anti-LGBTQ hate group, continued to appear frequently on Fox News. Media Matters examined coverage between August 1, 2012, and July 28, 2014. Graph includes data from a prior 2012 study on Perkin’s appearances.

    Cable News Networks Relied On Hate Group Leader For 2012 Primary Election Coverage

    A November 2012 Media Matters analysis of cable news networks’ coverage of the 2012 GOP primary between May 5, 2011, and August 28, 2012, found that the media outlets regularly called upon Perkins to provide commentary on behalf of social conservatives. Perkins made 56 appearances on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC over the course of the primary, but never once was identified as the leader of an anti-LGBTQ hate group.

    More Hate Group Coverage From Media Matters:

    March 2017: Reporting On Trans Rights Supreme Court Case, Major Outlets Failed To Call Alliance Defending Freedom A Hate Group

    February 2017: Major Publications Fail To Identify Anti-LGBTQ Hate Groups In Transgender Policy Coverage

    December 2016: 19 Times Breitbart Cited A Discredited Hate Group To Spread Harmful Lies About Pediatric Medical Care

    September 2016: Trump Just Finished Speaking At A Hate Group Conference; Why Didn’t Top Papers Take Heed?

    August 2016: FL Newspapers Largely Give Rubio A Pass On Scheduled Appearance With Anti-LGBT Extremists

    April 2016: Major News Outlets Largely Fail To Identify The Hate Group Boycotting Target

    December 2015: This Hate Group Leader Has Hosted Most Of The Republican Presidential Candidates On His Radio Show

    August 2014: Megyn Kelly's Cozy Relationship With An Anti-Gay Hate Group Leader

    December 2013: Only 10 Percent Of Louisiana Newspaper Articles About This Hate Group Leader Exposed His Extremism

    April 2012: Meet Todd Starnes, Fox's Mouthpiece For Anti-Gay Hate Groups

    December 2011: Cable News Networks Regularly Promote Anti-Gay Family Research Council On Air

    Graphics by Sarah Wasko.

  • Don't Let Spicer And The Trump Administration Off The Hook For Winking At Anti-Semites

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Media shouldn’t be so willing to let White House press secretary Sean Spicer off the hook for his comments comparing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Adolf Hitler given the implicit and explicit ways President Donald Trump and his administration have embraced white nationalists. No matter how ineffective, Spicer’s comparison is another example of a wink and a nod to the type of hatred that is a part of this White House’s culture.

    During an April 11 White House press briefing, Spicer likened Assad to Hitler, telling reporters that unlike Assad, “you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” When he was asked to clarify, Spicer said that Hitler “was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” when in reality the German SS and police used poison gas to asphyxiate millions of Jews in concentration camps (which Spicer called “Holocaust centers” in his comments). After repeatedly trying to explain his comments, Spicer ultimately apologized, calling them “inexcusable and reprehensible.” Meanwhile, white nationalists cheered the remarks, praising the press secretary for exposing the “Jewish gas chamber hoax.”​

    Media were quick to accept Spicer’s apology and let him off the hook. Fox News’ Kevin Corke called it “heartfelt and … very unequivocal” and added, “he should be able to move on … quickly.” CNN’s Chris Cillizza said, “I’m going to give Sean the benefit of the doubt,” saying Spicer “got himself into a verbal trap and could not get himself out.” On CNN’s New Day, Ari Fleischer, who served as press secretary to former President George W. Bush, accepted Spicer’s apology, adding that “the notion that this is somehow nefarious or indicative of Holocaust denial, I dismiss.” Additionally, CNN commentator David Axelrod tweeted that Spicer has “apologized” for his comments and it’s “time to move on.”

    But this is hardly the first time that Spicer and the Trump administration used obtuse language or offered an implicit nod to the white nationalist community. For instance:

    • Trump hired Stephen Bannon, who previously ran Breitbart, a "platform for the” white nationalist “alt-right" movement as his chief strategist -- a move that was lavishly praised by white nationalists.

    • At the end of the presidential campaign, Trump ran an ad that Talking Point Memo’s Josh Marshall wrote was “packed with anti-Semitic dog whistles, anti-Semitic tropes and anti-Semitic vocabulary.” Naturally, Trump’s white nationalist supporters loved it, calling it “absolutely fantastic.”

    • The White House failed to mention the Jewish people in a statement commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

    This is in addition to the direct contact Trump and his aides have had with members of the white nationalist community. For instance:

    • According to The New York Times, Trump has “retweeted supportive messages from racist or nationalist” supporters, including “accounts featuring white nationalist or Nazi themes.”

    • Trump refused to disavow former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke during an interview with CNN, drawing praise from his neo-Nazi supporters.

    • The Trump campaign gave press credentials to the white nationalist radio show The Political Cesspool. Donald Trump Jr. also appeared on the radio show to complain about “political correctness.”

    • Former Trump adviser A.J. Delgado retweeted a Trump endorsement from the anti-Semitic hate site The Right Stuff.

    • Trump’s senior counselor Kellyanne Conway tweeted “love you back” to an anti-Semitic Twitter account.

    Media figures are wrong to simply dismiss Spicer’s Holocaust comments as a hiccup. The connections between the Trump team and the white nationalist community are too strong for Spicer’s comments to be treated as a one-off. Spicer’s blunder is emblematic of the administration’s continuing effort to wink and nod at -- and sometimes openly embrace -- its white nationalist supporters.

  • Trump Ally Alex Jones Attacks "The Jewish Press" For Reporting On His "Jewish Mafia" Commentary

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Responding to controversy over claims he made about “the Jewish mafia,” conspiracy theorist Alex Jones attacked “the Jewish press” that reported on his claims, saying the outlets are “complicit in covering up the stuff that is going on.”

    During the March 29 broadcast of The Alex Jones Show, Jones, a prominent media ally of President Donald Trump, responded to a caller pushing an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory by saying, “Well there is undoubtedly a Jewish mafia and the [Anti-Defamation League] will say you’re anti-Semitic. No, there’s an Italian mafia, Irish mafia, Jewish mafia, Jamaican mafia, and there’s mafias, there’s Dixie mafia. And absolutely, the Jewish mafia, then, if you criticize it, it says you’re anti-Semitic, but the Jewish mafia is a very powerful mafia.”

    In his remarks, Jones also said that the Jewish mafia “worked with Hitler” and claimed that “the head of the Jewish mafia is [financier and philanthropist] George Soros; he’s out to get Jews.”

    Several Jewish news outlets reported on Jones’ comments. Jones criticized these outlets, saying on his March 30 broadcast, “It really is disgusting what the sell-out media, whether it’s the Jewish press and all this, that always attacks people that expose this. I just have to ask The Forward and everybody else, what the hell, man? I mean, are you really want to be complicit in covering up the stuff that is going on when you know, when any Jews that I talk to that are educated know all about this.”

    Throughout the segment, Jones’ largely focused on reporting from Jewish publication The Forward. Jones falsely claimed, “They don’t give all my quotes or all my comments where I said he was a Nazi that fed on Jews and rounded them up.” (The Forward’s article did include the relevant transcript posted by Media Matters that contextualized Jones’ claims, including quoting him as saying Soros is “out to get Jews.”)

    During the segment, Jones singled out the author of the Forward article by name -- while showing an enlarged image of her face on the online broadcast of his show -- and said the reporter “looks like she’s 12 years old. I’m glad you’re there to expose the anti-Semites, sweetheart.”

    Jones also revived the years-old smear that as a child, Soros, who is Jewish, was a Nazi collaborator and claimed that Soros “had a Hungarian handler and they would send him in when he was 13, 14, 15, 16 to ferret out where Jews were hidden and then they would rob all their stuff and sell them out to the Nazis.”

    This version of history is incorrect, as Tablet has reported:

    After his father made the agonizing decision to split up his family in the hopes of a better chance of its partial survival, Soros was given forged documents and sent to live in hiding with a Hungarian official charged with confiscating property from the country homes of deported Jews. This man occasionally brought the young Soros along, rather than leave him alone in a war-torn city that the retreated Germans were beginning to blow up. This official, who confiscated Jewish property yet also, at incredible personal risk, saved the life of a Jewish boy, is a human contradiction that [Glenn] Beck’s idiot Manicheanism is ill-equipped to handle.

    Jones’ claim echoes comments made by conservative radio host Glenn Beck in 2010 when he said Soros “used to go around with this anti-Semite and deliver papers to the Jews and confiscate their property and then ship them off.” Then-Anti-Defamation League Executive Director Abraham Foxman called those claims “completely inappropriate, offensive,” and “horrific,” explaining that “to hold a young boy responsible for what was going on around him during the Holocaust as part of a larger effort to denigrate the man is repugnant.”

  • 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.

  • IJR Suspends Three Staffers For Pushing "Alt-Right"-Based Conspiracy Theory

    Blog ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET

    Independent Journal Review (IJR) chief content officer Benny Johnson and two other IJR employees were indefinitely suspended after writing and publishing a baseless conspiracy theory -- originally pushed by “alt-right” fringe media -- which suggested that former President Barack Obama’s visit to Hawaii played a role in a ruling by a federal judge based there that froze President Donald Trump’s revised Muslim ban.

    On March 16, under Johnson’s direction, IJR published, then retracted, an article that attempted to “point out the timing and the opportunity” presented by Obama’s presence in Hawaii days before the judge’s ruling. The conspiracy theory was originally pushed by fringe and “alt-right” outlets such as Infowars and The Gateway Pundit, and it seemed to originate from a thread on the online anonymous message board Reddit. The outlandish theory even made its way to Donald Trump Jr., who retweeted a Twitter post that tied the judge to Obama.

    According to reports from Politico and Business Insider, after IJR investigated the publication of the baseless story, the site suspended Johnson and editors Kyle Becker and Becca Lower. In a statement, IJR founder Alex Skatell wrote that “we got it wrong and ultimately deserve all the criticism.” Business Insider noted that Johnson, who has been accused of plagiarism multiple times and has previously pushed false claims, “had been warned earlier that the story about Obama was an unfounded conspiracy theory, but he assigned it to Becker anyway.”

    This is the second recent occasion in which a right-wing media figure has been disciplined for spreading unsubstantiated allegations and conspiracy theories about Obama. IJR’s actions came a day after reports emerged that Fox News’ Andrew Napolitano was being taken off the air “indefinitely” for promoting the false claim that Obama used the British government to spy on Trump.

  • Trump Retweets Flawed Fox Segment Stoking Fear About Religious Visas

    ››› ››› NINA MAST & KATIE SULLIVAN

    President Donald Trump retweeted a segment from Fox News’ Fox & Friends that claimed “jihadis [are] using religious visa to enter US” just days after two federal judges temporarily halted his second attempt at a travel ban targeting a list of majority-Muslim countries. However, the Foxnews.com article the Fox & Friends segment was based on named no incidents of terrorism in the U.S. linked to Muslims here on the R-1 visa for religious workers, and a Media Matters search also found no such reports of terrorism linked to R-1 visas within the last ten years.