In an editorial for Der Spiegel, Ullrich Fichtner writes: Populists like to claim that they alone have the courage to tell the truth. That only they are bold enough to say what the aloof elite and the politically correct mainstream deliberately hold back. The result are truths such as Mexicans are rapists and North Africans are gropers. And that no upstanding German wants a neighbor with dark skin. And more such nonsense.
Convicted racist Geert Wilders sought to win the Dutch election last week with the truth that Moroccans are “scum.” And now those who don’t share Wilders’ view are relieved that only 13 percent of voters agree with him.
But while Wilders’ election defeat may be pleasing, it is still too early to sound the all-clear. This election too delivered plenty of evidence that right-wing populists dominate the public debate.
As things currently stand, the multimedia circus frequently delivers absurdly distorted images of political reality, particularly here in Europe. In the weeks leading up to the Dutch election, a Geert Wilders festival was celebrated in print, radio, television and internet outlets, almost as though the other 27 parties participating in the Dutch vote didn’t even exist. The same can currently be said of France, where the press makes it seem as though only Marine Le Pen’s ideas are up for debate. And there is hardly an article about Italian politics that doesn’t include images of the slobbering populist Beppo Grillo. Here in Germany, entire media seminars could be held focusing on the hysterical attention being paid to the ups and downs of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.
The dual shock of Brexit and Donald Trump’s election may have magnified the tendency to exaggerate the ugly. In both cases, the inability to see what was coming increased the media’s self-doubt, shook the political classes and unsettled entire societies. But it would be a cardinal error to conclude from Brexit and Trump that the theories and tirades of right-wing troublemakers automatically represent the “voice of the people” and are thus the expression of justifiable concerns. [Continue reading…]
Margaret Sullivan writes: Some people regard Tomi Lahren as a racist.
The social-media star’s past commentary on the conservative website the Blaze, including her disparagement of the Black Lives Matter movement, caused her to be booed when she appeared last year on Trevor Noah’s “The Daily Show.”
Noah acknowledged that — even as he urged his progressive audience to be polite to his guest: “Imagine you’re at Thanksgiving again and your racist uncle walked in.”
But President Trump seems to like her style. He was so taken with Lahren’s recent appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show that he rang her up.
“He called and said, ‘Thank you for your fair coverage of me,’ ” Lahren told Washingtonian magazine, which reported that the president had watched the show live as the 24-year-old waxed enthusiastic about why so many Americans had flocked to Trump: ‘They said: ‘Guess what? This man is doing something amazing.’ ”
Lahren also told Washingtonian that in the 10- or 15-minute conversation with the president, he “was asking about me personally,” but she gave no details about his questions. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: It wasn’t the smoking gun President Trump’s critics had hoped for. Far from it.
Some even thought MSNBC host Rachel Maddow’s apparent scoop on Trump’s leaked 2005 tax return made him look good. After all, the New York Times had once suggested that he had avoided taxes, and others that he was faking the extent of his wealth.
The White House circulated a response before the segment aired, complete with its go-to “dishonest media” broadside.
“You know you are desperate for ratings when you are willing to violate the law to push a story about two pages of tax returns from over a decade ago,” a White House spokesperson said anonymously in a statement.
Donald Trump Jr. seized on the report minutes after the show ended, tweeting, “Thank you Rachel Maddow for proving to your #Trump hating followers how successful @realDonaldTrump is $ that he paid $44mm in taxes!”
The documents revealed nothing about the president’s financial ties, the subject of intense scrutiny from Democrats and others who think Trump may have concealed business relationships in Russia.
All told, Trump seemed to make it through the segment in pretty good shape — so good that a cyberspace chorus wondered for hours after the fact: Did Trump leak his own tax return? [Continue reading…]
The Atlantic reports: The FBI has arrested one suspect in connection with the recent bomb threats against Jewish institutions and Jewish Community Centers, known as JCCs. According to the arrest warrant, a culprit in at least some of the threats is Juan Thompson, a St. Louis native who was fired from his job as a reporter at The Intercept in early 2016 for fabricating stories. The FBI alleged that Thompson “appears to have made some of the JCC threats as part of a sustained campaign to harass and intimidate” a former girlfriend. The details in the FBI arrest warrant against Thompson link him to eight specific threats. But they do not account for the much larger wave of phone calls threatening Jewish institutions.
The complaint tells the story like this. Somewhere in the period of 2015 and 2016, Thompson was in a relationship with a young woman working in the greater New York City area. During the summer of 2016, they broke up. Thompson started sending her false text messages and emails, claiming, for example, that he had been the victim of a shooting and was going to be taken off life support. He emailed her boss, saying she had a sexually transmitted disease. And he sent her nude photographs he had of her, threatening to release them to the public.
Faxes and emails started showing up at her work. One email, allegedly sent by an account that had been used by Thompson, claimed she had threatened to kill him. A series of faxes claimed she was an anti-Semite, and purported to provide evidence that she had made anti-Semitic statements on social media.
Investigators say Thompson sent tips about the woman to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, saying she watches child porn. When the New York Police Department contacted Thompson about these claims, he said his email had been hacked a few weeks prior, even though a month had elapsed since the claims were made. The NYPD warned him that his “conduct must stop,” and that he shouldn’t contact the woman.
Starting in January, investigators believe, Thompson made at least eight threats to Jewish institutions around the country. Some were made in the woman’s name. Others were made in his own name; he later claimed that she had made the calls in an attempt to falsely implicate him in the threats. These allegedly included threatening emails sent to the Jewish History Museum in Manhattan on January 28; Jewish schools in Farmington Hills, Michigan, and New York City on February 1; a JCC in New York City on February 7; and a threatening phone call to the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that tracks anti-Semitism, on February 22. He also allegedly emailed the Anti-Defamation League, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and the JCC in San Diego claiming that the woman was anti-Semitic and planned to carry out violent attacks. These threats included various false details about bombs and explosives that had been planted in these Jewish institutions. [Continue reading…]
Doyle Murphy reports: At the Riverfront Times, we published a cover story about Thompson last February. He was a north St. Louis native who was once a reporter with a job at The Intercept in New York City, a news site best-known for its cache of documents from national security leaker Edward Snowden. But Thompson had been fired after the site caught him making up details and sending bogus emails, including some masquerading as the site’s editor.
Thompson blamed racism and also claimed to have cancer. But we uncovered additional problems with his work, going all the way back to his college days with the student newspaper at Vassar College, a prestigious university in Poughkeepsie, New York. Thompson had overcome an impoverished background to attend college there, but failed to graduate. He still landed a few good media jobs — only to crash and burn when his sourcing didn’t check out.
After our cover story, we followed up later with a short account of his brief tenure for an online news site. I wrote the stories. Thompson was pissed. He emailed my boss and tried to get me fired. When that didn’t work, he emailed me.
“You are a white piece of shit who lies and distorts to fit a narrative,” he wrote me in October. “Thankfully no one reads you or the rft and you will spend the rest of your career aggregating stories about shootings.”
Things were quiet for a while after that, but then came the fake Twitter accounts. My wife and I were sitting on our couch one night when she tapped me on the elbow and showed me her phone. Someone had created a brand-new Twitter profile claiming I was a rapist. The person tweeted at her, my boss and other journalists around St. Louis. It was an insane — and, though it’s hard to believe I even have to say it — completely untrue accusation.
For the next several days, we scrambled to get people at Twitter to pull down the account. They finally did. Then another popped up. We got it pulled down. Another popped up. This went on for weeks, account after account, day after day, and extended to Facebook. Someone created fake Facebook accounts and pages and regularly popped up on RFT stories, accusing me of rape. This person also made reference to my mother, using her first name, and published a social media profile picture of my wife that had been scraped from the internet.
We finally contacted the St. Louis police department’s cyber crimes unit. I still remember the detective stopping me before I could get the full explanation out.
“Does this have anything to do with Juan Thompson?” he asked. [Continue reading…]
Riverfront Times reported in 2016: Journalist Andrew Jerell Jones worked with Thompson for about six months at the Intercept. He says they were “friendly” and, like Thompson, he claims the site has a race problem, though he won’t get into specifics.
That doesn’t excuse bad journalism, he says.
“There are some fundamental problems at the Intercept with race, as there are in media in general, including liberal online media,” Jones writes in an email. “But what Juan did was something that is TABOO for all of us journalists of ALL color and something that does not make him look like the martyr he is sadly trying to portray himself as.
“What he did was made it worse for all of us minority journalists, especially black, who have legitimate issues with race in newsrooms and media as a whole.” [Continue reading…]
Trump administration sought to enlist intelligence officials, key lawmakers to counter Russia stories
The Washington Post reports: The Trump administration has enlisted senior members of the intelligence community and Congress in efforts to counter news stories about Trump associates’ ties to Russia, a politically charged issue that has been under investigation by the FBI as well as lawmakers now defending the White House.
Acting at the behest of the White House, the officials made calls to news organizations last week in attempts to challenge stories about alleged contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, U.S. officials said.
The calls were orchestrated by the White House after unsuccessful attempts by the administration to get senior FBI officials to speak with news organizations and dispute the accuracy of stories on the alleged contacts with Russia.
The White House on Friday acknowledged those interactions with the FBI but did not disclose that it then turned to other officials who agreed to do what the FBI would not — participate in White House-arranged calls with news organizations, including The Washington Post.
Two of those officials spoke on the condition of anonymity — a practice President Trump has condemned. [Continue reading…]
Who is Nils Bildt? Swedish ‘national security advisor’ interviewed by Fox News is a mystery to Swedes
The Washington Post reports: In a segment on Fox News’s “The O’Reilly Factor” that aired Thursday, host Bill O’Reilly spoke with two Swedish nationals about allegations that Sweden had become a more dangerous place in recent years because of immigration.
One guest, Swedish journalist Anne-Sofie Naslund of the Expressen newspaper, pushed back against O’Reilly’s comments, suggesting that her country was far safer than it was being presented.
Nils Bildt, billed as a “Swedish defense and national security advisor” by Fox News, told O’Reilly that Naslund was “rather incorrect” and that there had been big problems with integrating immigrants into Swedish society. “These things are not being openly and honestly discussed,” Bildt said.
It was only a brief segment, but it quickly caused controversy back in Sweden, where reporters and experts suggested that Bildt was unknown within the Swedish national security world.
The Dagens Nyheter newspaper reported Friday that neither the Swedish armed forces nor the Foreign Ministry had heard of Bildt. Johan Wiktorin, a fellow at the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences, took to Twitter to suggest he had not heard of Bildt either. [Continue reading…]
Adam Serwer writes: The White House’s admission that it asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to publicly dispute stories in the New York Times describing contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials raises serious ethical questions, according to former Justice Department officials.
“It’s quite inappropriate for anyone from the White House to have a contact with the FBI about a pending criminal investigation, that has been an established rule of the road, probably since Watergate,” said Michael Bromwich, a former Department of Justice inspector general and director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management under Obama. “When I was in the Department in the ‘90s, that was well understood to be an inviolable rule.”
CNN reported on Thursday that the FBI had rejected a request from White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to “publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump’s associates and Russians known to US intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign.” That communication would appear to violate ethical guidelines in place in one form or another since the Watergate Scandal, which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon over his role in the coverup of the burglary of Democratic National Committee headquarters by Nixon operatives. Nixon had sought to block the FBI’s investigation into the break-in. [Continue reading…]
CNN reports: The FBI rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump’s associates and Russians known to US intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign, multiple US officials briefed on the matter tell CNN.
White House officials had sought the help of the bureau and other agencies investigating the Russia matter to say that the reports were wrong and that there had been no contacts, the officials said. The reports of the contacts were first published by The New York Times and CNN on February 14.
The direct communications between the White House and the FBI were unusual because of decade-old restrictions on such contacts. Such a request from the White House is a violation of procedures that limit communications with the FBI on pending investigations.
The discussions between the White House and the bureau began with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on the sidelines of a separate White House meeting the day after the stories were published, according to a U.S. law enforcement official.
The White House initially disputed that account, saying that McCabe called Priebus early that morning and said The New York Times story vastly overstates what the FBI knows about the contacts.
But a White House official later corrected their version of events to confirm what the law enforcement official described. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: It’s pretty clear what President Trump is doing by going after the media. He sees someone who is tough on him, with a lower approval rating, and he sets up a contrast. It’s like making yourself look taller by standing next to a short person.
“You have a lower approval rate than Congress,” he needled reporters at last week’s news conference, making clear he had done the math.
Except maybe it’s not really working.
A new poll from Quinnipiac University suggests that while people may be broadly unhappy with the mainstream media, they still think it’s more credible than Trump. The president regularly accuses the press of “fake news,” but people see more “fake news” coming out of his own mouth. [Continue reading…]
Jim Rutenberg writes: Way back on Friday, President Trump declared that several news organizations — ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, The New York Times — were “the enemy of the American people.” You know who’s not the enemy, in his book?
Mr. Jones, in case you aren’t aware, is the conspiracy-theorizing, flame-throwing nationalistic radio and internet star who’s best known for suggesting that Sept. 11 was an inside job, that the Sandy Hook school shooting was “completely fake” and that the phony Clinton child-sex trafficking scandal known as Pizzagate warranted serious investigation (which one Facebook fan took upon himself to do, armed with an AR-15).
Mr. Jones, 43, has been around for a while. Like every media outfit in the Trump era, his platforms have gotten record traffic and, he told me last week, seen increases in revenue, with ads for water purification systems and for supplements to enhance “brain force” and virility.
But he is apparently taking on a new role as occasional information source and validator for the president of the United States, with whom, Mr. Jones says, he sometimes speaks on the phone.
Millions of listeners and viewers tune in to Mr. Jones on his websites (Infowars chief among them), on Facebook and through old-fashioned radio, and their loyalty partly explains how Mr. Trump maintains a hard-core faithful who don’t believe a word they read about him in a newspaper like this one. [Continue reading…]
Hannah S. Chapman writes: This week, President Trump’s first solo news conference since taking the presidency was fodder for late-night television. But that’s just an extension of what we’ve seen since he took office. Under Trump and press secretary Sean Spicer, the near-daily White House news briefings have changed from routine interactions with a professional press corps to a high-profile media spectacle. The briefings frequently beat soap operas in daytime TV ratings and have been immortalized on “Saturday Night Live.” While that’s a shift away from normal U.S. politics, it resembles Russian President Vladimir Putin’s media strategy.
Under Putin, the Kremlin has built a media empire centered around the idea of information as entertainment. Access to the president is limited to circuslike news conferences attended primarily by regime supporters who ask the president softball questions. The most recent of these conferences, held in December, included questions about stray animals, chess and kvass, a traditional drink made from fermented bread. One reporter even asked Putin how it felt to be “the most influential person in the world.”
These news conferences offer the facade of genuine dialogue and the illusion of freedom of the press while giving the president the tools to control the political dialogue and distract the media from important issues.
What might the Russian example tell us about the White House’s communications strategy? [Continue reading…]
David Graham writes: Friday morning, the Associated Press dropped a bombshell report: “Trump administration considers mobilizing as many as 100,000 National Guard troops to round up unauthorized immigrants,” the new agency’s Twitter account announced.
The hubbub that followed, as the White House denied the report, is a case study in the strange dance between the press and the Trump administration, and the complicated environment of information asymmetry, and misinformation, that characterizes the current moment in American politics. And it shows how the Trump administration deflects genuine reporting by caricaturing it, sometimes clumsily, as “fake news.”
The AP tweet came at 10:12 a.m. Eastern time, with the full story coming a few minutes later:
The Trump administration is considering a proposal to mobilize as many as 100,000 National Guard troops to round up unauthorized immigrants, including millions living nowhere near the Mexico border, according to a draft memo obtained by The Associated Press.
The 11-page document calls for the unprecedented militarization of immigration enforcement as far north as Portland, Oregon, and as far east as New Orleans, Louisiana.
The story is a classic Trump administration story: a sweeping, surprising move; a leaked memo substantiating the story, emerging from a very leaky administration; and a policy in keeping with the president’s campaign promise to deport illegal immigrants.
The story quickly mushroomed online and in social media, with stunned reaction at the idea of the U.S. government deploying a hundred thousand armed troops around the country, away from the border. Reporters scrambled to figure out what the legal authority for the move would be, and to figure out how state governments might react.
And yet some people immediately sensed that something about the story seemed off:
How long before this turns out to be highly exaggerated/not true at all? https://t.co/inuI9vIhYL
— neontaster (@neontaster) February 17, 2017
Within minutes, in fact, Trump officials denied the story, on the record, to reporters. Press Secretary Sean Spicer spoke to a White House reporters as President Trump prepared to leave for a trip to South Carolina, saying, “That is 100% not true. It is false. It is irresponsible to be saying this. There is no effort at all to round up, to utilize the National Guard to round up illegal immigrants.”
But Spicer’s comment added two interesting wrinkles. First, he scolded the AP for not seeking comment before publishing the story. But as a reporter responded, the AP had asked both the White House and the Department of Homeland Security for comment multiple times before publication, and had received nothing. [Continue reading…]
The bureaucracy, the press, the judiciary, and the public are fighting back against Trump with some success
Peter Beinart writes: Nothing Donald Trump has done since becoming President is particularly surprising. The attacks on judges and the press, the clash of civilizations worldview, the ignorance of public policy, the blurring of government service and private gain, the endless lying, the incompetence, the chaos — all were vividly foreshadowed during the campaign. The Republican-led Congress’ refusal to challenge Trump was foreseeable too. The number of Republicans willing to oppose Trump’s agenda pretty much equals the number who refused to endorse him once he became the GOP nominee.
Less predictable has been the response of other elements of the American political system: The bureaucracy, the press, the judiciary and the public. Here, the news is good. So far, they’re not only pushing back, they’re having some success.
The latest example is the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Flynn’s resignation is a welcome development both because he held crudely bigoted views of Muslims and because he was unable to competently manage the foreign policy process. But that’s not why he lost his job. He lost his job because of an independent bureaucracy and a vigorous press.
CNN’s Brian Stelter has reconstructed the chain of events. On January 12, a “senior U.S. government official” told Washington Post columnist David Ignatius that, “Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the [Russian] hacking” of the presidential election. Three days later, CBS’ John Dickerson asked Vice President Mike Pence about the call, and Pence insisted that Flynn had not discussed “anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.”
But the Washington Post followed up, citing “nine current and former officials” who claimed that Flynn had discussed exactly that. The New York Times reported that there was a transcript of the call. Eventually, it became impossible to deny that Flynn had lied, and caused Pence to lie. If the Trump administration had been able to deny reality, as it so often does, Flynn would likely still have his job. But good reporters, aided by government sources, made that impossible. As the Columbia Journalism Review notes, “it wasn’t the lying that got him [Flynn] fired; it’s that his lying leaked to the press.” [Continue reading…]
Dana Nuccitelli writes: Wikipedia editors recently voted to ban the Daily Mail tabloid as a source for their website after deeming it “generally unreliable.” To put the severity of this decision in context, Wikipedia still allows references to Russia Today and Fox News, both of which display a clear bias toward the ruling parties of their respective countries.
It thus may seem like a remarkable decision for Wikipedia to ban the Daily Mail, but fake news stories by David Rose in two consecutive editions of the Mail on Sunday – which echoed throughout the international conservative media – provide perfect examples of why the decision was justified and wise.
On February 5th, Rose ran a story alleging scandalous behavior by NOAA scientists in a 2015 paper. The story was based on an interview with retired NOAA scientist John Bates, who was not involved in the study. However, in follow-up interviews with real science journalists, Bates clarified that he was in no way disputing the quality or accuracy of the data, even going as far as to make this damning comment:
I knew people would misuse this. But you can’t control other people.
Most importantly, the scientific integrity of the NOAA data is indisputable. The organization’s global temperature data is nearly identical to that of other scientific groups like NASA, the Hadley Centre, and Berkeley Earth. [Continue reading…]