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  • Congressional Credentialing Committee Deals Breitbart A Devastating Rebuke

    Website’s Bid For Congressional Credentials Was Just Rejected -- And Reporters Will Lose Their Temporary Passes

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The credentialing committee for congressional reporters has denied Breitbart.com’s bid for permanent press credentials and declined to extend its temporary passes, a dramatic rebuke for the website, which has sought in recent months to burnish its reputation as an independent, legitimate news source.

    Since late last year, Breitbart has been seeking permanent credentials from the Standing Committee of Correspondents of the Senate Press Gallery, which would have allowed it to join the White House Correspondents’ Association and participate in the White House press pool. Obtaining the credentials would have represented a substantial step forward for a website that has recently sought to downplay its role as a platform for the white nationalist and misogynist “alt-right” movement.

    But Breitbart has been stymied by the Senate Press Gallery’s requirement that news outlets be editorially independent of other organizations; the committee turned down their bid last month, seeking more information. Breitbart is actually part of a web of self-dealing, conflicts of interest, and corruption, as Media Matters has documented, with top editors using the site to promote nonprofit organizations, for-profit companies, and personal clients who in turn pay them hefty salaries.

    Breitbart is inextricably linked to its former executive chairman, White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon; the major right-wing donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer, who are part owners of the website; and the Government Accountability Institute (GAI), a nonprofit funded by the Mercers and previously run by Bannon, which employed several top Breitbart staffers. For these reasons among others, Media Matters called on the standing committee to deny Breitbart’s application.

    At a hearing this morning, the committee again rejected Breitbart’s bid, and said they would not extend their temporary passes, which expire May 31:

    The committee expressed concern that Breitbart had repeatedly offered inconsistent information about its operations, specifically about the end dates of employment for Bannon and Wynton Hall, the Breitbart managing editor who had simultaneously served as GAI's communications specialist. According to Breitbart CEO Larry Solov, Hall resigned in February, but he was listed in a masthead Solov provided to the committee in late March. As Media Matters reported last week, Hall created a mammoth conflict of interest by frequently using his position at the website to promote his private and nonprofit communications clients.  

    UPDATE: CNN's Oliver Darcy reports that according to a source, Hall is still "very involved" at Breitbart and plays a role in assigning stories. 

  • Breitbart’s Managing Editor Used The Site To Promote His PR Clients

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Breitbart.com managing editor Wynton Hall has frequently used the website to promote a nonprofit that employs him as a communications strategist, as well as at least one client for a separate communications firm he runs.

    Hall, a conservative writer and activist, began writing for Breitbart in 2011. He became the right-wing website’s managing editor in 2013 as part of an effort to help ensure “a 24/7 editorial team focused on the site.” He is second only to Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow, according to a masthead provided last month to the congressional credentialing committee.

    But while Hall’s title suggests that he plays a key role at Breitbart, that is not his only job. He also serves as the communications strategist for the Government Accountability Institute (GAI), a conservative advocacy organization.

    Breitbart and GAI are inextricably linked: Breitbart Senior Editor-at-Large Peter Schweizer serves as the nonprofit’s president, White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon led both organizations from 2012 to 2016, and GAI’s main funders, hedge fund magnate Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, are partial owners of the website.

    Members of the Senate Press Gallery's Standing Committee of Correspondents have questioned whether Breitbart is editorially independent given these overlaps. The committee is currently reviewing Breitbart’s bid for permanent congressional credentials, but has to this point denied its application.

    At GAI, where Hall received a six-figure salary and worked 40 hours a week from 2012 to 2015, according to the group’s publicly available IRS filings. He is responsible for engineering public relations strategies that ensure that the organization’s dry research achieves maximum impact.

    Hall has capitalized on his role at Breitbart to boost GAI’s efforts. Hall wrote 151 Breitbart posts that promoted GAI or Schweizer, according to a Media Matters review of all 1,382 posts Hall authored between 2011 and 2015.

    In addition to his work at GAI, Hall also has private communications clients. He owns his own self-named celebrity ghostwriting and branding agency; he claims its client list features major figures in politics, business, sports, and the arts, presumably creating a wealth of conflicts of interest with his work at Breitbart. Hall is also senior strategist at Oval Office Writers, the communications agency that Schweizer co-owns.

    Hall has used his Breitbart platform to promote at least one of his clients: The website published several stories on one of the books he ghostwrote without mentioning his financial ties to the book. Because neither Hall or Oval Office Writers publishes a client list, it is impossible to tell how frequently this occurs.

    It’s unclear how Hall could work full time at a nonprofit while also serving in a senior editorial role at Breitbart, running a third business, and working for a fourth. Critics say this apparent inconsistency “raises serious questions of private inurement and excessive compensation.”

    Indeed, Hall’s malfeasance is only a small part of a massive web of self-dealing and interconnected conflicts of interest linking Mercer, Bannon, GAI, Breitbart, and for-profit companies.

    Hall Uses Breitbart To Weaponize Research For The Conservative Advocacy Organization That Employs Him

    Hall’s work at GAI is both lucrative and extensive; according to the group’s IRS filings, Hall worked 40 hours a week at GAI from 2012 to 2015 and received a total of $600,000.

    At GAI, Hall is the “creative mind through which all its research flows and is disseminated,” with a mandate to “transform dry think-tank research into vivid, viral-ready political dramas that can be unleashed on a set schedule, like summer blockbusters,” according to an October 2015 Bloomberg Businessweek profile of Bannon.

    His strategy, as he described it in an interview with the magazine, is to “anchor left” by placing the stories with reporters at mainstream publications, then “pivot right” by turning those stories into narratives at conservative outlets. “We don’t look at the mainstream media as enemies because we don’t want our work to be trapped in the conservative ecosystem,” Hall says.

    Trying to get reports written up by major news outlets is a typical communications strategy for a nonprofit. What’s unusual is that Hall, Bannon, and Schweizer have been able to implement the plans Hall designs in his role with GAI through their leadership positions at Breitbart. Hall typically plays a key role in producing content at Breitbart that promotes GAI’s research.

    In August 2012, Schweizer’s book Throw Them All Out, which alleges widespread financial corruption by members of Congress, hit the stands. Hall, who has worked with Schweizer since at least 2007, when they co-authored a book as fellows at the Hoover Institution, joined Breitbart to promote the work.

    In fact, Hall’s first 17 pieces at Breitbart, and 22 of his first 24, authored over the span of six weeks in late 2011, all promoted Schweizer’s book, a 60 Minutes segment on the book that “anchored” it in the traditional media, and the legislative fight its publication spurred, according to a Media Matters review.

    Hall’s posts were clearly geared toward building support and readership for the book on the right. His work included a series of press-release-style summaries of the book’s “bombshell revelation[s],” sometimes branded as “EXCLUSIVE”; criticism of media’s failure to report on the book’s claims; and reports on politicians and media outlets that praised the book or pushed for legislation in response to it. The constant stream of posts helped maintain a drumbeat on the right around its publication.

    Hall has continued to promote GAI’s work in his writing for Breitbart. He authored 1,382 posts between November 2011 and July 2015, at times writing three a day; a whopping 151 of them referenced Schweizer or a GAI product. In addition to 51 posts mentioning Throw Them All Out, Hall wrote 18 posts on Schweizer’s 2013 book, Extortion; 10 or more pieces on GAI’s reports on presidential daily briefs, food stamps, and presidential meetings; and multiple articles on GAI’s work on campaign finance violations, Justice Department decisions, and the growth of wealth in Washington, D.C.

    Here is a sampling of headlines from Hall’s pieces about Schweizer and GAI:

    Hall’s promotion of GAI reports typically followed the same pattern: a blitz of press-release-type pieces before or immediately after the report’s release, highlighting its premise, exclusive tidbits, and any “anchoring” press; write-ups of Schweizer appearances on TV or radio shows talking about the work; and a long tail of follow-up posts that use news hooks to reiterate the premises of the GAI report and remind the audience about it.

    After Hall became managing editor and gained additional responsibilities at Breitbart, other Breitbart writers who were not employed by GAI joined in his effort to promote the nonprofit’s work. In 2015, Schweizer authored Clinton Cash, a trainwreck of sloppy research alleging corruption by Bill and Hillary Clinton that received widespread media attention for its claims even though it contains numerous falsehoods and fabrications. Breitbart played a key role by pushing the book’s claims in more than 400 posts, none of which were authored by Hall.

    Hall Works At Private Communications Firms -- And There’s No Way To Know Who His Clients Are

    When Martin Greenfield, a Holocaust survivor who had tailored men’s clothing for more than 60 years out of a factory in Brooklyn, was looking for someone to help him tell his story, he turned to Hall. The result was Measure of a Man: From Auschwitz Survivor To Presidents’ Tailor, a memoir released November 10, 2014, with both of their names emblazoned on its cover.

    “Thank you, Wynton, for helping me gather my scattered thoughts and keeping me focused. This book could not have been assembled without your laser vision and talent,” Greenfield writes in the book’s acknowledgments. “He became me,” reads Greenfield’s testimonial on the website of Wynton Hall & Co., the celebrity ghostwriting firm that Hall has owned and operated since 2008.

    Hall’s client list consists of politicians, business leaders, and top figures in sports and the arts, according to his firm’s website. In addition to writing memoirs, Hall and his team of two offer comprehensive brand management, speechwriting, and media training services.

    But when Greenfield hired Hall, he didn’t just get someone who could help him organize his thoughts, or even just a talented ghostwriter who could also help him promote the book. Whether he knew it or not, Greenfield was also getting the full support of Hall’s other employer, Breitbart.

    The conservative website published at least six stories on the book in the three days following its publication, running two of them on the top of its front page for a total of 18 hours. The front page posting claimed that "Martin Greenfield has been hailed 'America’s greatest living tailor' and the 'most interesting man in the world.'"

    Five of the stories were published without bylines, including two excerpts from the book, aggregated stories from other outlets about it, and a post featuring audio of Mark Levin reading from the book during his radio show in what the piece claims was a “rhapsodic radio performance ... that was at times operatic in its tone.”

    The sixth, bylined by Hall, purports to be a written Q&A with Greenfield -- described as “America’s greatest living suit maker” and a “legend.” Hall's hard-hitting questions included, "Why did you write Measure of a Man?" and "Talk about some of the other men you’ve made suits for."

    Several of the pieces include Amazon links to Measure of a Man. None includes a disclosure that Breitbart’s managing editor had helped write the book -- even the post authored by Hall. In fact, every piece lists only Greenfield as the memoir’s author, even though Hall’s name appears on its cover. This practice has continued in the months and years since the book’s publication

    None of Breitbart’s competitors in the conservative media have provided anything close to that level of coverage of Greenfield’s book. Then again, none of them employ Greenfield’s co-author.

    It’s unclear how often Hall has used his top editorial position at Breitbart to promote his clients. The firm’s website provides testimonials from some of the subjects of “Wynton Hall’s books,” but it does not provide a comprehensive list. And Hall’s brand management clients are completely opaque -- he appears to offer an exclusive list of 12 clients services that include biweekly marketing strategy calls, speechwriting, talking points for media appearances, and ghostwritten books and articles.

    In addition to his personal communications firm, Hall is also a senior strategist at Oval Office Writers, the four-man group that was co-founded by Schweizer and former Bush White House speechwriter Marc Thiessen. Oval Office Writers does not list any of its clients, but its website’s list of services suggests that they are corporate leaders and politicians.

    Images by Sarah Wasko, Shelby Jamerson contributed research.

  • Smoking Gun: Breitbart Publicity Campaign Backed Obscure Bannon-Mercer Film

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Breitbart.com published nearly two dozen articles last year promoting a virtually unwatched documentary whose production company is owned by the website’s partial owners Robert and Rebekah Mercer and its then-executive chairman, Stephen Bannon.

    The website’s advocacy of the film is a case study in how Bannon and the Mercers use Breitbart to promote a web of nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies. The credentialing body for congressional reporters is currently investigating these ties as part of a review of whether the conservative website is sufficiently editorially independent to obtain official press credentials to cover Congress.

    Torchbearer is a Phil Robertson (of “Duck Dynasty” fame) vehicle whose thesis is that “God is the only meaningful anchor to a civilized society” and that purported efforts by progressives to cut God out of public life are destroying Western civilization. It received a limited October 7 release in 31 U.S. theaters.

    Stephen Bannon, the Breitbart chief and conservative filmmaker who took over Donald Trump’s presidential campaign last summer and is now a top White House advisor, wrote, directed, and produced the documentary.

    One of the film’s production companies was Glittering Steel LLC, which was founded and is owned by Bannon, hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, and his daughter Rebekah.

    Bannon says he left Glittering Steel and Breitbart when he moved to the Trump campaign, but there’s reason to doubt that this is true, as Breitbart’s CEO has contradicted his claim, and Bannon retains an ownership stake in Glittering Steel worth between $100,001 and $250,000 (which he currently intends to sell), according to federal filings.

    The Mercers are also partial owners of Breitbart, and Rebekah Mercer reportedly “often points out areas of coverage [to the website’s editors] that she thinks require more attention.”

    Torchbearer attracted little attention from the public and was ignored by film critics. Robertson is a conservative media darling, but apart from a few scattered articles, the movie failed to make a big splash with Breitbart’s right-wing media competitors. After its brief turn in theaters, it moved to streaming services, where it was promptly forgotten (the film has 154 reviews on Amazon Video, for example, roughly one tenth as many as right-wing productions like Joel Gilbert’s Dreams From My REAL Father and Dinesh D’Souza’s Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party).

    But at Breitbart, where the site’s leaders had a financial stake in the film’s success, promoting it was a priority worthy of mentioning in at least 22 stories.

    In the months leading up to its debut, Breitbart highlighted the film’s trailer, its screening at the Republican National Convention and at the Cannes Film Festival, and news of its theatrical release. Robertson plugged the film in numerous interviews on Breitbart’s Sirius XM radio show that were then promoted on the website, sitting down with host Bannon -- or “Mr. Director,” as Robertson called him -- to discuss the “overwhelming feeling” of making the documentary and his support for Trump.

    Breitbart’s promotion of the film culminated with a pair of glowing reviews published shortly before the theatrical release.

    According to Breitbart’s Thomas D. Williams, the documentary was “groundbreaking” and “visually riveting,” with its Duck Dynasty star serving as “an unapologetic witness to the Christian faith as the cornerstone of Western Civilization” with such skill that “even his critics will be forced to reckon with a man whose simple, rough-hewn appearance masks a subtle intellect and a keen grasp of perennial truths.”

    For Ken Klukowski, the website’s senior legal editor, the “epic” film was “a clarion call for Christians” that “gives the viewer a whirlwind tour of world history with a focus on the Christian experience from apostolic times to the present, showcasing the pattern of how godless humanity descends into depravity, in stark contrast to the sublime virtues with which God’s people adorn their lives in the face of adversity—all narrated in the iconic voice of the Duck Commander.”

    Breitbart’s outlier coverage was not a typical editorial judgment, but rather the result of a conflict of interest in which figures with heavy influence over the website also stood to reap financial benefits from the film’s success through their ownership of Glittering Steel.

    And it’s not the only time Breitbart has been called upon to promote a Glittering Steel production. The company also produced the documentary Clinton Cash, based on a book authored by Breitbart Senior Editor-at-Large Peter Schweizer and a screenplay by Bannon (Schweizer, Bannon, and Rebekah Mercer all received executive producer or producer credits).

    Breitbart writers authored at least 103 stories referencing the film, according to a Media Matters review of the website’s “Clinton Cash” tag. This includes articles alerting their audience to broadcasts of the documentary by the website and on the conservative One America News Network; endorsements of the film by conservatives like Fred Barnes, John Stossel, and Matt Drudge; and pieces hyping how many times the film had been viewed online.

    This web of financial interests playing out in the website’s editorial decisions should concern the Standing Committee of Correspondents of the Senate Press Gallery, the credentialing committee reviewing Breitbart’s bid for permanent congressional access.

    The body has to this point denied the website permanent credentials because it has failed to prove that it is fully independent of Bannon, the Mercers, and a nonprofit group that employs several top Breitbart editors.

    The committee is seeking more information from the website and will next convene on April 25.

    Glittering Steel has also drawn attention from campaign finance watchdogs that say it may have been used to subsidize Bannon’s salary on the Trump campaign. The payments in question originate with Make America Number 1, a super PAC led by Rebekah Mercer and heavily funded by her father.

    Images by Sarah Wasko, Shelby Jamerson contributed research.

  • Breitbart Is Not Independent, It's The Communications Arm Of The Mercers' Empire

    Top Editors Use Their Roles At Breitbart To Flack For Other Mercer Ventures They Also Work For

    ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Media Matters investigates the web of self-dealing, conflicts of interest, and corruption surrounding Breitbart.com. Its top editors have used the site to promote nonprofit organizations, for-profit companies, and personal clients who in turn pay them hefty salaries.​

  • Right-Wing Media’s New Favorite Immigration Statistic Reflects Misguided Policy

    ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    Right-wing media celebrated a new report from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that showed a significant drop in border apprehensions since President Donald Trump took office, suggesting that fewer immigrants are making the journey to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump campaigned on preventing dangerous criminals from entering the country, but officials and experts report that the drop reflects the administration's focus on women and children and that the new policies incite fear in noncriminal immigrants and largely deter asylum seekers fleeing violence. In fact, these policies fail to address the proliferation of transnational crime organizations that Trump promised to tackle and undermine counter-crime operations within the United States.

  • To Defend Bannon, Breitbart Has Opened Fire On The President's Son-In-Law

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Breitbart.com, the pro-Trump propaganda outlet previously run by White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, is now being deployed against President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top White House staffer Jared Kushner as part of an internal power struggle.

    Over the past week -- as Kushner and Bannon have reportedly feuded -- the website has published articles highlighting Kushner’s meetings with the Russian ambassador, questioning the ethics of his business dealings, criticizing his “thin resume in diplomacy,” and speculating about whether he is leaking negative stories about Bannon.

    Those attacks represent a U-turn in the website’s coverage of the president’s family. Following Trump’s election and in the early days of his administration, Breitbart provided Kushner and his wife, Ivanka, with soft-focus celebrity coverage. The website chronicled their search for a home and synagogue in Washington, D.C., and lashed out at their critics.

    Kushner’s then-positive relationship with Bannon seems to have been a factor in Breitbart’s coverage -- in mid-February, the website aggregated a piece claiming that Kushner has “become a backer of chief strategist Steve Bannon’s nationalist-populist agenda” and that “Kushner has even proposed knocking down the walls between his and Bannon’s office, a sign of how close the two are.”

    But in recent days, the Kushner-Bannon relationship has reportedly soured. The New York Times and Politico both published April 5 stories detailing clashes between the two. The stories, which were driven by anonymous sources who seem to be part of Kushner’s camp, portray Kushner as deeply concerned with Bannon’s priorities and the way he “plays to the president’s worst impulses.”

    While Kushner seems to be using traditional media outlets to aid an internal fight with Bannon, the White House chief strategist’s defense has come from his former website. Breitbart -- which previously targeted White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan -- has trained its guns on the president’s son-in-law over the past week.

    Breitbart’s campaign against Kushner began with a March 28 aggregation of a Times article detailing how a Senate committee plans to question Kushner “concerning meetings he held with Russian officials close to the Kremlin, including an executive with Russia’s state-owned development bank.” The unbylined item stuck out at a website that has portrayed stories of ties between Russia and the White House as a conspiracy pushed by the so-called deep state.

    Two days later, Breitbart News Senior Editor-At-Large Peter Schweizer -- who also serves as president of a nonprofit that was until recently chaired by Bannon -- appeared on Breitbart’s SiriusXM radio show to criticize Kushner’s business dealings. Schweizer raised concerns that Kushner could use his role in the Trump administration to seek “sweetheart deals with foreign government entities,” calling the situation “worrisome.”

    Then on April 5 -- the same day the Times and Politico published their stories detailing Kushner’s burgeoning feud with Bannon -- Breitbart published four different stories attacking Kushner.

    One article detailed the “five surprisingly delicate problems” Trump has assigned Kushner -- including ending the Israel-Palestine dispute and destroying ISIS -- even though Kushner “boasts a thin resume in diplomacy.” The website also aggregated a column from the Times’ Frank Bruni making the same point. A third story highlighted Trump adviser and all-around-terrible-person Roger Stone’s theory that Kushner “is leaking negative stories” about Bannon. And Breitbart aggregated the Politico story on Kushner’s clashes with Bannon.

    Bannon still talks to staffers at Breitbart, though it's unclear if he asked for the attacks on Kushner or if his former employees knew to turn on his emerging rival without such a request. A “close Bannon ally outside of the White House” told Axios that following the Kushner camp’s attacks on Bannon, “I see some bad press in [Jared's] future." Bannon has reportedly told associates, "I love a gunfight."

    Breitbart’s attacks on its former boss’s White House rival come as the website seeks permanent congressional press credentials, a precursor to gaining access to the White House Correspondents’ Association and joining the White House press pool. The credentialing committee has raised concerns about Breitbart’s ties to Bannon and questioned whether the outlet is editorially independent of the White House.

    Graphic by Sarah Wasko.

  • Someone Tied To Breitbart Is Lying About When Stephen Bannon Left

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Breitbart.com’s bid for the press corps big leagues has become ensnared by the shifting series of stories told about how -- and when -- the site’s leader officially left to work for President Donald Trump.

    White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon served as executive chairman of Breitbart.com “until resignation on August 16,” the day before he joined Trump’s presidential campaign, according to his financial disclosure forms.

    But that claim contradicts a Breitbart press release dated August 17, which stated that Bannon was taking “a temporary leave of absence from Breitbart and will resume work with Breitbart the evening of November 8, 2016.”

    And last month, as many have noted, Breitbart CEO Larry Solov sent a letter to the credentialing committee for Capitol Hill reporters claiming that Bannon had resigned “on or about” November 13 -- the date Bannon’s White House role was announced.

    Bannon’s date of resignation and possible ongoing ties to the website are key issues in the website’s bid for permanent congressional press credentials, a precursor to gaining access to the White House Correspondents’ Association and joining the White House press pool. The members of the Standing Committee of the Senate Press Gallery have been skeptical of Solov’s February claim that Bannon had resigned by phone and of the letter he produced last month. The committee continues to deny the website’s bid for credentials and is requesting more information from Breitbart by April 14.

    Bannon’s financial disclosures show that the standing committee was right not to take Solov’s word; either Bannon lied on his forms, or Solov lied to the committee.

    Moreover, for roughly a month after even November 13 -- the date Solov claims Bannon resigned -- Breitbart staffers continued to identify Bannon as “on leave” from the website. Joel Pollak, the website’s senior editor-at-large, regularly referred to him using that language in articles defending Bannon from criticism -- meaning that if Bannon had left the website, that information was unknown even at the highest levels of the outlet’s staff. Breitbart did not consistently identify Bannon as a former employee until mid-December -- four months after Bannon claims in his disclosures that he resigned.

    From a November 17 article:

    (Bannon remains on a leave of absence from Breitbart after joining the Trump campaign as CEO in August.)

    November 20:

    Bannon has been on leave as Executive Chairman of Breitbart News since being appointed CEO of the Trump campaign in August.

    November 21:

    In two separate interviews conducted since Bannon — on leave from Breitbart — was appointed Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to President-elect Donald J. Trump, Bannon has made his views explicit.

    November 22:

    Bannon is on leave as Executive Chairman of Breitbart News, and was recently appointed by President-elect Donald J. Trump as Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor.

    November 24:

    Though Breitbart’s former Executive Chairman Stephen K. Bannon is on a leave of absence to serve as President-elect Donald Trump’s chief strategist, [Politico’s Nahal] Toosi writes that “foreign and domestic” observers “will likely scour Breitbart every day for clues about what the administration will do.”

    November 28:

    Bannon is currently on leave from Breitbart News.

    December 1:

    (Bannon is currently on leave as Executive Chairman of Breitbart News.)

    December 1:

    (Bannon has been on leave from Breitbart since being appointed CEO of the Trump presidential campaign in August.)

    December 5:

    He also repeated false charges against Stephen K. Bannon, the Executive Chair of Breitbart News (on leave) who was appointed CEO of the Trump campaign in August and has been named incoming White House Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor.

    December 8:

    So when Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon (on leave as Breitbart News Executive Chairman) gives his first interview to the Hollywood Reporter and says, “The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan,” there is a method to the madness.

  • How Cable TV Inadvertently Shined A Light On The Obstacles Women Of Color Face In The Workplace

    Blog ››› ››› DINA RADTKE

    The intersectional discrimination women of color often face while doing their jobs was put on full display this past week when Fox host Bill O’Reilly and White House press secretary Sean Spicer attacked Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and veteran journalist April Ryan on their appearance and body language, respectively. The incidences, which both occurred in unusually public settings, inadvertently shined a light on the discrimination women of color too often face in their workplaces, while the subsequent reactions from right-wing media underscored the problems that hold women of color back.

    This week, cable TV viewers watched as O’Reilly mocked Waters’ hair, saying, “I didn’t hear a word she said. I was looking at the James Brown wig.” That same day, Spicer lashed out at Ryan -- who had previously been at the receiving end of President Donald Trump’s overtly racist remarks -- interrupting their back-and-forth to comment, “Please stop shaking your head again.” The same week, The New York Times reported that two female African-American Fox News employees were suing the network over “top-down racial harassment” that was “reminiscent of the Jim Crow era.”

    The pile-on of attacks revealed a unique obstacle women of color confront in their daily lives: the compounding effects of gender and racial discrimination. Researchers acknowledge that there is a dearth of research examining the intersection between sexist and racist attacks in the workplace. A number of studies, however, have revealed concerning statistics about barriers to success that women of color face. CNN reported on a University of California Hastings College of the Law study, writing, “While 66% of the women scientists [professor Joan] Williams studied (including white women) reported having to provide more evidence of competence than men, 77% of black women said they experienced that.” There have been multiple studies that highlight “unconscious bias” against women, and others that reveal more overt discrimination -- both of which have serious consequences in the long run.

    Additionally, research shows that sexual harassment is more prevalent for women of color than it is for white women. Researchers at Fordham University School of Law attributed this phenomenon to “racialized sex stereotypes that pervade sexual harassment.”

    Studies and anecdotes continue to reaffirm the double hurdle women of color must clear in order to get hired, get promoted, and earn equal pay.

    The problems surrounding equal pay exemplify the issues unique to women of color. Recent research on the gender pay gap by the American Association of University Women found that “progress” to close income disparities between genders “has stalled in recent years” and that the pay gaps between genders and between racial/ethnic groups “cannot be explained by factors known to affect earnings and is likely due, at least in part, to discrimination.” The Center for American Progress recently found that while women overall earn 79 cents for every dollar a man earns, that gap widens by 19 cents for black women compared to white men. This “translates into an average lifetime earnings gap of $877,480 for each African-American woman versus her white male counterparts.” Latina women appear to fare even worse than other minorities; Pew Research Center estimated that in 2015, Latinas earned 58 cents for every dollar a man earned compared to the 82 cents per dollar that white women earn.

    Furthermore, conservative media outlets often obfuscate the issue of gender and racial discrimination in the workplace, which creates an obstacle in addressing the root of the problem. Right-wing media have repeatedly justified -- or denied the existence of -- the gender pay gap and have attempted to undermine progress in closing the gap.

    And while many people rallied in support of Waters and Ryan, many conservative figures ignored, defended, or even cheered on the assailants. USA Today pointed out that “Breitbart, the news site with ties to Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon, didn't appear to mention O'Reilly's comment, but published a post called ‘Maxine Waters: Something is “wrong” with Trump “He doesn't deserve to be president.”'” One conservative pundit covered up for O’Reilly’s sexist and racist commentary, falsely equating his attack on Waters to liberals calling Trump “orange.” Spicer received a similar wave of support from conservative outlets for his attacks on Ryan.

    Experts say that the discrimination that women of color face while doing their jobs is difficult to prove. But this past week, cable TV viewers witnessed them firsthand. Impunity for O'Reilly and Spicer after their attacks on Waters and Ryan could make it even more difficult for women of color to eliminate barriers to their success.

    Illustration by Dayanita Ramesh.

  • Daily Beast: Ex-Breitbart Staffer Alleges Illegal Relationship Between Outlet And D.C. Landlord

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A new report from The Daily Beast reveals that a former writer for the extreme-right website Breitbart.com filed a complaint with the Department of Justice alleging the site “was acting as an illegal influence operation for its Washington, D.C. landlord,” the Egyptian businessman and politician Moustafa El-Gindy.

    The Daily Beast reports that the complaint, which it uncovered through a Freedom of Information Act request, was filed by an unidentified ex-writer for Breitbart with the Justice Department’s National Security Division “as the 2016 presidential campaign kicked into gear.” As explained by The Daily Beast, the complaint alleges that “Breitbart was acting as a de facto foreign agent for El-Gindy by providing him with friendly coverage.” The complaint also alleges that Breitbart is likely “benefiting from some substantial discount in its leasing costs” for El-Gindy’s property, which The Daily Beast notes could amount to an in-kind payment from a foreign official for friendly media coverage.

    Questions about Breitbart’s use of El-Gindy’s residential D.C. property as an office space were among the reasons cited when Breitbart was denied permanent press credentials to cover Capitol Hill earlier this week. 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. El-Gindy previously told an Egyptian reporter he is “just a landlord” and that he rents the house because tourism has slowed in Egypt and he needed additional income. But El-Gindy may stay at the town house sometimes (or at least is claiming the property as a primary residence for a tax deduction), and he has been cited positively in Breitbart -- without any disclosure of his landlord relationship -- at least four times. The Justice Department complaint adds further credibility to conflict-of-interest concerns about El-Gindy’s relationship with Breitbart as the outlet's attempts to receive permanent press credentials stall.  

    From the March 29 article (emphasis added):

    Two sources with direct knowledge, including one former Breitbart writer, say a reporter for the pro-Trump news organization was behind a complaint to the Department of Justice implicating then-chairman Steve Bannon and Moustafa El-Gindy, an Egyptian businessman and former legislator and the owner of Breitbart’s Washington office.

    Concerns about about (sic) that office, nicknamed the Embassy, dogged the organization Monday as it unsuccessfully sought permanent congressional press credentials. Breitbart faced conflict-of-interest questions regarding Bannon’s new role as one of President Donald Trump’s top advisers, a probe into its investors and corporate structure, and questions about El-Gindy and his property.

    [...]

    A complaint filed with the Justice Department’s National Security Division as the 2016 presidential campaign kicked into gear alleged that Breitbart was acting as a de facto foreign agent for El-Gindy by providing him with friendly coverage. The Daily Beast obtained a copy of the complaint through a Freedom of Information Act request.

    [...]

    Even as Breitbart gave him favorable coverage, the DOJ complaint alleged that the media site was likely paying El-Gindy below-market rental rates on the site. If true, that would have amounted to an in-kind payment and, taken with friendly coverage of El-Gindy, could be seen as payments from a foreign government official in exchange for supportive media coverage.

    [...]

    It “appears [Breitbart] has been disseminating what FARA [the Foreign Agent Registration Act] would regard as propaganda on behalf of a foreign principal for financial benefit, and not merely as a financially unconnected news source,” alleged the complaint, which was sent to DOJ from a FedEx Office franchise in Arlington, Virginia, on July 2, 2015. It named both Breitbart generally and Bannon individually as alleged perpetrators.

  • Did News Outlets Finally Learn Their Lesson About Trump’s Exaggerated Jobs Announcements?

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Since his election, President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed credit for private businesses’ decisions to invest in the United States. His flimsy and misleading boasts have been routinely amplified by compliant media outlets before the claims eventually collapse under scrutiny. Yet the response from mainstream journalists to the president’s latest jobs boast seems to indicate that perhaps some outlets have “caught on” to Trump’s exaggerated pronouncements and have stopped taking them at face value.

    On March 27, The Detroit News broke the news that the Ford Motor Co. has announced an investment of “$1.2 billion in three Michigan facilities” and that most of the investment was brokered in 2015 as part of the company’s contract with the United Auto Workers union. Roughly $350 million of that total investment represents new money, but Ford is expected to “add or retain” only 130 jobs -- a marginal amount compared to the 201,000 people the company employs worldwide.

    Trump moved early the next day to take credit, tweeting that Ford would announce an investment “in three Michigan plants” and that “car companies [are] coming back to the U.S.” before concluding, “JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!” Later in the day, White House press secretary Sean Spicer pointed to the Ford announcement as proof that “the president’s economic agenda is what American businesses have been waiting for.”

    In the past few months, Media Matters has chronicled dozens of occasions when outlets stumbled over themselves to credit Trump for creating new American jobs based on his misleading claims of playing a role in private sector business decisions that he had little to do with. (See: Alibaba, Carrier, Ford, SoftBank.)

    Trump’s tweet about Ford seemed poised to inspire more of the same media fawning, but journalists who covered the news largely downplayed Trump’s role rather than falling for his boast. The Washington Post, USA Today, Bloomberg, and Reuters all reported that the majority of the Ford investment plan far predated the Trump administration and was part of the company’s long-term restructuring plan for its American factories.

    New York Times columnist and MSNBC contributor Steven Rattner noted that “The big news ended up being only 130 jobs” and asked of the president, “When will he stop misleading [people]?” CNBC reporter Jacob Pramuk reported that the “White House on Tuesday promoted a Ford investment in American plants” even though “most of [the money] was part of a plan the automaker first announced in 2015.” Vox senior correspondent Matt Yglesias highlighted that CNBC article on Twitter and commented that reporters were “catching on” to Trump’s game. Washington Post reporter Michelle Ye Hee Lee pointed out that the Ford investment “had nothing to do [with] Trump’s election.” Meanwhile, New York Times correspondent Binyamin Appelbaum mocked Trump by writing that the president’s tweet contained “three more exclamation points … than the number of new jobs that Ford created today.” In his write-up of Trump’s announcement, CNNMoney senior writer Chris Isidore added that “Ford isn't bringing any work back to the United States from Mexico, or any other foreign country” -- a blow to Trump’s claim that automakers are “coming back to the U.S.”

    In contrast to the sober reporting from mainstream media, right-wing outlets that are aligned with Trump continued to promote his unsubstantiated role in creating jobs for American workers. The “alt-right” website Breitbart.com promoted the Ford story under the banner “TRUMP JOBS BOOM CONTINUES” while the sycophants at Fox News called the investment deal “another win for American workers” and Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy hyped the investment plan by stating, “Oh, it’s so much winning.” From the March 28 edition of Fox & Friends:

    As the White House has become embroiled in scandal and legislative failure, Trump has flooded the news cycle with lies far more outrageous than his attempt to take credit for jobs he didn’t create. Journalists, therefore, still need to be mindful of the administration’s attempts to build up the myth of Trump as a unique dealmaker and economic leader.

  • Trump Just Blew A Hole In Breitbart’s Case For Editorial Independence

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    President Donald Trump this morning urged supporters to watch a Fox News segment that was based on research overseen by White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon in his prior role as chief executive of the conservative group Government Accountability Institute (GAI).

    Last August, Bannon promoted the GAI report in an article he co-authored at Breitbart.com, which he was simultaneously running as chief executive. Breitbart is now fighting to gain permanent reporting credentials from the Senate Press Gallery in the face of criticism that the website lacks editorial independence because of its entwinement with GAI.

    This morning Trump tried to defuse criticism of his ties to Russia by encouraging his followers to “Watch @foxandfriends now on Podesta and Russia!”:

    During the segment in question, conservative activist Peter Schweizer detailed connections between former Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and a Kremlin-backed bank.

    Schweizer is both president of GAI and a Breitbart senior editor-at-large, and he and Bannon promoted the Podesta allegations last year in their roles with both. Their story provides a case study in how top Breitbart editors use the website to promote the work of a conservative group that pays them hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

    The Podesta claims were first raised in a July 31 GAI report titled “From Russia with Money: Hillary Clinton, the Russian Reset, and Cronyism,” which purported to detail unsavory connections between Clinton and her associates and Russia. On August 1, Bannon and Schweizer co-bylined a story breaking the news on Breitbart, and discussed it on the Bannon-hosted SiriusXM program Breitbart News Daily.

    “It’s gonna cause a firestorm because they’re going to have to answer the question, and Mr. Podesta’s gonna have to answer the question, why he failed to disclose this, and we’re going to drill down on what all this means,” Bannon commented at the time. “We’ve got a lot more of this coming.”

    The GAI report and Breitbart article were released amid a slew of news stories detailing the Trump campaign’s friendly stance toward the Kremlin, and just days after The New York Times reported that “American intelligence agencies have told the White House they now have ‘high confidence’ that the Russian government was behind the theft of emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee.”

    Sixteen days after the GAI report was released, Bannon took a leave of absence from Breitbart to become the Trump presidential campaign’s chief executive.

    Between its initial promotion of the GAI report and Election Day, Breitbart produced at least six more reports on GAI’s Podesta story. Meanwhile, the Bannon-headed Trump campaign issued a statement calling on Podesta to provide more information or step down.

    Following Clinton’s defeat, conservatives largely dropped the story. But after FBI Director James Comey announced during a March 20 congressional hearing that the bureau is investigating “whether members of President Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election,” right-wing politicians and media outlets began casting about for angles they could take to mitigate that damaging narrative.

    The next day, fringe gadfly Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) called for a congressional investigation into Podesta, relying on information in the August GAI report. Over the past week, Breitbart has produced two reports on the allegations, both citing GAI’s August report as the original source of the claims. The story has apparently gained enough attention on the right to catch the eye of Fox & Friends producers, generating this morning’s Trump-promoted interview with Schweizer.

    The new revelation about Breitbart’s overlap with GAI comes at a bad time for the outlet.

    Yesterday, the Standing Committee of the Senate Press Gallery announced that it would not approve Breitbart’s request for permanent Capitol Hill credentials, citing in part concerns that key editors on the masthead have received payments from GAI. This suggests that the website falls short of the Senate Press Gallery’s requirement that outlets be “editorially independent of any institution, foundation or interest group that lobbies the federal government.” The committee has sought more information from the conservative outlet, with a deadline of April 14.

    Schweizer received $778,000 from GAI between 2012 and 2015 while simultaneously appearing on Breitbart’s masthead. And while serving as chief executive of both institutions, Bannon received $376,000 from GAI.

    As the Podesta reports show, top editors at Breitbart are getting paid by another organization and using their platform to produce and oversee reporting based on that organization’s work. This violation of the press gallery’s bylaws should lead to the rejection of Breitbart’s application.

  • Breitbart Denied Permanent Senate Press Gallery Credentials

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The credentialing committee for Capitol Hill reporters announced today that it will not grant Breitbart.com’s request for permanent credentials at this time, citing the website’s failure to demonstrate editorial independence from key supporters of President Donald Trump.

    Members of the Standing Committee of the Senate Press Gallery referenced several concerns with Breitbart’s bid for permanent status at a hearing this morning. These included the lack of evidence proving that former Breitbart chief executive and current White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon had actually separated himself from the website; questions about whether Rebekah Mercer, who owns part of the outlet and was a key funder of Trump’s presidential campaign, also plays an editorial role; the fact that some on the masthead have also received payments from the Government Accountability Institute (GAI), a nonprofit group funded by Mercer and previously led by Bannon; and issues surrounding Breitbart’s apparent use of office space not zoned for commercial leases.

    The committee is requesting more information from Breitbart by April 14.

    For Breitbart to receive a permanent congressional press pass, its leaders must follow gallery rules by demonstrating that the website’s principal business is "the daily dissemination of original news and opinion of interest to a broad segment of the public" and that it is “editorially independent of any institution, foundation or interest group that lobbies the federal government.”

    Breitbart fails these standards in a number of ways, as Media Matters documented in a December letter urging the members of the standing committee to reject its application. Bannon’s position in particular raises significant concerns, as even if he did actually separate himself from the publication, the possibility that he could return to his position after serving in the Trump administration suggests that Breitbart News cannot be editorially independent. Moreover, Bannon, at-large editor Peter Schweizer, and managing editor Wynton Hall each have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary from GAI while simultaneously working for Breitbart.

    These ties between Bannon, Mercer, and GAI suggest that Breitbart is and will remain a propaganda arm for President Trump, not an editorially independent news outlet.

    The conservative operation’s status as a provider of “original news and opinion” is also in question -- according to a Media Matters review of Breitbart’s October 2016 content, only 17 percent was original; 78 percent of the website’s articles were wire copy, and the remainder were aggregated.

    Permanent congressional credentials would represent a substantial step forward for Breitbart. As BuzzFeed reported: “For newer outlets in Washington, winning permanent congressional press passes is a tedious process — but an important one. The hard passes are seen as the first step towards joining the White House Correspondents’ Association, where member news organizations rotate their reporters to travel with the president at home and abroad. Reporters also use the hard passes to get into other events around Washington.”

    Below is the full text of the letter Media Matters president Angelo Carusone sent the standing committee in December:

    To the members of the Standing Committee of the Senate Press Gallery:

    Breitbart.com has reportedly come before the Standing Committee of the Senate Press Gallery seeking permanent Capitol Hill credentials. We urge you to reject the request based on Breitbart’s disqualifying inability to demonstrate editorial independence as required by your rules.

    According to Rule 4 of the standards for issuing a permanent congressional press pass, if an outlet does not have General Publication periodicals mailing privileges under U.S. Postal Service rules and publishes daily, then the outlet's principal business must be "the daily dissemination of original news and opinion of interest to a broad segment of the public."

    Additionally, “publications must be editorially independent of any institution, foundation or interest group that lobbies the federal government.” In rejecting the application of the Supreme Court reporting outlet SCOTUSBlog, the committee explained that editorial firewalls are insufficient when personnel are inextricably connected between the federal government and an applying publication.

    Breitbart fails these standards in several ways:

    a. Media Matters analyzed all content published on Breitbart.com in the month of October and found that Breitbart published 82.7 percent unoriginal content. In fact, 78 percent of all Breitbart.com articles in October were wire copy. By contrast, just over 17 percent of Breitbart's content was original.

    b. Breitbart Executive Chairman Stephen K. Bannon is on leave while working as the top adviser for President-elect Donald Trump, and he has been appointed chief strategist and senior counselor to Trump once he is sworn in as president. Bannon also serves on the board of the data mining company Cambridge Analytica, which is reportedly seeking White House contracts.   

    c. Even if Bannon completely severs his position with Breitbart, his likely financial interest and the possibility that he could return to his position after serving in the Trump administration suggests that Breitbart News cannot be editorially independent.

    d. Many of Breitbart's top staff members have regularly been involved in other activities that raise questions about their editorial independence. They are intertwined with the Government Accountability Institute, a non-profit conservative research organization

    • Stephen Bannon served as chief executive of both institutions, receiving $376,000 from GAI from 2012-2015.  

    • At-large editor Peter Schweizer received $778,000 over that term to serve as GAI's president, secretary and treasurer.

    • Managing Editor Wynton Hall received $600,000 from GAI over the same period to serve as its communications strategist.

    e. Additionally, Wyton Hall is the owner of Wynton Hall & Co., a celebrity ghostwriting agency. His website claims he has worked for "NBA stars, White House presidential officials, Hollywood producers and movie stars, Fortune 500 CEOs, college presidents, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks, NCAA Hall of Fame coaches, top international motivational speakers, TV celebrities, and fashion models," all of which could presumably be written about at Breitbart.

    f. Numerous media observers and former employees suggest that given Bannon’s position in the Trump administration, Breitbart could serve as a state-allied propaganda outlet.

    g. Rebekah Mercer, daughter of a major Breitbart investor, is reportedly serving on the executive committee of the Trump transition team, and could end up serving in the Trump administration.

    h. Breitbart has already engaged in similar conduct internationally. Notably, Breitbart London editor in chief Raheem Kassam left the website to become chief of staff to UK Independence Party’s Nigel Farage during the 2015 UK General Elections; rejoined the website following the elections and spent the next year using his editorial post to support and advocate for UKIP’s signature policy initiative, Brexit; then briefly ran for UKIP leader.

    It is simply not credible for an outlet to claim the editorial independence required under your rules given that their longtime executive chairman is about to become the closest advisor to the president.

    In addition to these documented, inextricable, and disqualifying links between the outlet and the Trump administration, Breitbart has secretive business ties that it refuses to disclose as a matter of policy, including financial ties to foreign businessmen that are kept equally secret. The Committee should also be wary of granting additional credibility to an extremist website -- Bannon himself called it “the platform of the alt-right,” an ideology that features white nationalism.

    Given these facts, I urge the Standing Committee to reject the Breitbart application.

    Respectfully,

    Angelo Carusone

    President, Media Matters for America

  • Conservative Media Cracking Under The Pressure Of Trump Era

    Internal Divisions Flare Up At Fox, Breitbart, The Blaze, IJR

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Peering into his laptop camera while filming a fidgety monologue for his Periscope audience last week, Breitbart.com investigative reporter Lee Stranahan spelled out an internal crisis that was unfolding at the "alt-right," pro-Trump media hub.

    Convinced he was sitting on "the biggest political story in the world," Stranahan announced that his boss, Washington political editor Matthew Boyle, had ordered him to stay away from future White House briefings, which meant Stranahan couldn’t ask press secretary Sean Spicer about the supposed blockbuster. (Short version: Stranahan has strung together a conspiracy theory that would suggest the Russian hacking narrative is a complete fabrication by so-called deep state actors and a firm called Crowdstrike.)

    “I’m probably going to lose my job,” Stranahan lamented during his televised update, noting “I have five kids to feed. … But I’m not going to let this story get killed.”

    Indeed, by week's end, Stranahan was gone from Breitbart. He said he will now team up with The Gateway Pundit, the hyper-dishonest “alt-right” site that now boasts a White House press pass and commits itself to trolling journalists on the presidential beat.

    The weird public Stranahan meltdown was just the latest example of far-right media outlets seemingly cracking under the strain of the Trump era. Along with at Breitbart, internal dramas have recently played out publicly at Fox News, TheBlaze and Independent Journal Review, as right-wing media sources struggle to find their footing with Trump now in charge, and with the attention that comes with that.

    Accustomed to robotically blaming Democrats for all the supposed evils in the world, conservatives now have to deal with a political landscape where Republicans control the White House, the Senate, the House, and, possibly soon, the Supreme Court.

    Is dissent allowed? Or is the new role to simply cheer whatever Republicans do, and serve as a convenient shield for the administration?

    “For years, conservatives breathlessly accused the media of being too easy on President Barack Obama and acting like a bunch of sycophantic boot-lickers for his administration. Turns out, some only wanted the chance to try it out for themselves once a Republican was in office,” conservative commentator Amanda Carpenter wrote in Politico. “Some of those who used to be the conservative movement’s most loyal government watchdogs are nothing but lapdogs now for Trump.”

    At Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze, popular conservative host Tomi Lahren was temporarily suspended after she went on The View and made comments critical of anti-abortion activists. (Lahren: “I can’t sit here and be a hypocrite and say I’m for limited government but I think that the government should decide what women do with their bodies.”)

    In an usual display of newsroom friendly fire,  Lahren’s comment was immediately condemned by her own colleagues at TheBlaze:

    Soon after Lahren’s tweet, a reporter at The Blaze, Kate Scanlon, tweeted, “There is no ‘my truth.’ There is only the truth.”

    Another reporter at The Blaze, Kaitlyn Schallhorn, tweeted soon after: “Even Hillary Clinton didn’t call pro-life conservatives hypocrites.”

    Beck himself soon joined the pile-on. “It takes intellectual honesty, and it takes a willingness to actually think these things through and to do more than just read Twitter or Facebook to get your news and your political opinions,” Beck said on his radio show while denouncing Lahren, according to The Daily Caller.

    Beck has now reportedly fired the host. “Glenn is reminding the world of his conservative principles by sidelining Tomi after she insulted conservatives by calling them hypocrites,” one Beck "insider" told the New York Post.

    Over at Fox News, executives were recently left scrambling when the White House pointed to Fox senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano as a source for the inexplicable claim that former President Barack Obama had asked British intelligence to spy on Trump during the campaign. It was part of the White House’s larger failed attempt to support Trump’s baseless claim that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential election.

    The claim of British involvement sparked an international incident.

    Initially, a Fox News spokeswoman reported that Napolitano “stands by his report on FOX & Friends,” but then the full-on retreat began. By March 20, Fox had taken the extraordinary step of yanking Napolitano off the air “indefinitely.”

    Vanity Fair's Sarah Ellison spoke with a "Fox News insider" who told her: “The key thing Judge Napolitano did was to say ‘Fox News is reporting that ... ,’ and he can’t say that.' That breaks the trust, and you saw what it cost him. He is not a reporter and knows he's not a reporter." The source claimed that Napolitano’s comments, and Trump’s championing of them, had created what Ellison described as "an internal headache" for Fox News: “It’s a disaster," said the source. "It’s a nightmare.”

    Speaking of headaches, Independent Journal Review (IJR) handed out suspensions last week after the GOP-friendly news site published a bizarre column suggesting Obama might have pressured the federal judge in Hawaii whose ruling halted Trump’s latest attempt to establish a travel ban for six Muslim-majority countries. (IJR column headline: "Fmr President Obama Made 'Surprise Visit' to Hawaii, Days Before Judge Issued Travel Ban Ruling.")

    IJR editors later apologized for and retracted the story, but not before one staffer reportedly quit over the embarrassing episode. The site then suspended its chief content officer and two editors. (On March 27, Politico’s Hadas Gold reported that IJR video producer Colin Chocola also reportedly quit, citing issues he had with the “direction” of IJR that predated the Hawaii conspiracy theory flap.)

    The dust-up was significant because the conservative-leaning IJR, founded in 2012 by former Republican operative Alex Skatell, was the only media outlet allowed to accompany Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on his recent trip to Asia -- a trip that yielded a laudatory puff piece published by IJR.

    The move to invite IJR was "part of an effort to include a broader representation of U.S. media,” according to the State Department.

    “If willingness to tar a former president with conspiratorial garbage constitutes an element of media diversity, then the State Department succeeded,” quipped Erik Wemple at The Washington Post, after IJR published its conspiratorial column about Obama.

    Last week, Business Insider provided a detailed look at the internal dissension swirling within IJR since Trump’s election, as editorial factions battle over how far to the right the site should tilt. “It's basically becoming a giant native ad for the Trump administration," one former IJR staffer complained.

    For eight years, Obama bashing largely unified the right-wing media in America. Now without that security blanket to cling to, they’re finding life in the spotlight’s much more complicated.

  • 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.