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Tag: local news

Hometown Papers Demand Expulsion Of GOP Lawmakers Who Stoked Insurrection

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Newspapers around the country are demanding punishment for Republican lawmakers who helped fuel last week's deadly attacks on the Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump.

At least five people died on Wednesday, Jan. 6, including one law enforcement officer, when thousands of Trump's supporters violently stormed the Capitol building as a joint session of Congress met to certify the results of voting in the Electoral College in the 2020 presidential election.

The editorial boards of at least 13 newspapers have called for the expulsion, resignation, or retirement of lawmakers who voted to reject President-elect Joe Biden's victory or otherwise pushed false conspiracy theories that Trump was the real winner.

The Colorado newspaper called on Thursday for Reps. Lauren Boebert and Doug Lamborn and "other Trump insurgent abettors" in Congress to resign.

"Both should immediately resign their seats for having knowingly participated in yesterday's gruesome failed coup. If their excuse was ignorance, that, 'who knew such a thing could happen,' either would be too dimwitted to hold such important offices," the editorial said. "If they persist in believing their pursuit against election fraud is valiant, they are too corrupt to be members of this nor any government."

Danville Register & Bee

The editorial board of the Virginia newspaper urged Rep. Bob Good to resign his seat for violating his oath of office and being "unfit to serve," noting it would make the same request of Reps. Morgan Griffith, Ben Cline, and Rob Wittman "if they represented us."

"Your actions on Wednesday in objecting to the verification of the Electoral College's vote to certify Joe Biden as the new president was a violation of the oath above you swore on Sunday," they wrote on Saturday. "We had reached the conclusion that you must resign based on the demerits of your decision to join the coalition of Republicans who decided that party was more important than democracy and signed your name to the protests of verified votes by American citizens."

Decatur Daily

In an editorial published on Sunday, the Alabama outlet urged Rep. Mo Brooks to step down from his seat in Congress.

"We have had our differences with Brooks in the past, but he is, for better or worse, the duly elected congressman from Alabama's 5th District. On Wednesday, however, he disgraced his office. He encouraged protesters to start 'kicking ass,' and lo and behold they did. Ideas have consequences. He aided Trump's illegitimate effort to stay in office. ... Brooks should resign."

Houston Chronicle

The editorial board of the second-largest newspaper in Texas on Saturday published an editorial titled, "Resign, Senator Cruz. Your lies cost lives."

Arguing that Sen. Ted Cruz deserves "special condemnation": "A brilliant and frequent advocate before the U.S. Supreme Court and a former Texas solicitor general, Cruz knew exactly what he was doing, what he was risking and who he was inciting as he stood on the Senate floor Wednesday and passionately fed the farce of election fraud even as a seething crowd of believers was being whipped up by President Trump a short distance away."

Noting that Cruz's lies helped spur the assault on the Capitol, the board wrote, "You are unlikely to be prosecuted for inciting the riots, as Trump may yet be, and there is no election to hold you accountable until 2024. So, we call for another consequence, one with growing support across Texas: Resign."

Kansas City Star

The Kansas City, Missouri, newspaper's editorial board published two editorials on Thursday: one titled, "Assault on democracy: Sen. Josh Hawley has blood on his hands in Capitol coup attempt" and the other, "If Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley had a conscience, he'd resign. He'll have to be removed."

In the second editorial, the board wrote, "If Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley had shown any evidence that there's a conscience in there somewhere, underneath the ambition and the artifice and the uncommon combo of striving and laziness that he's somehow made work for him, then we wouldn't be where we are right now. We wouldn't, that is, be wondering what to say to a man who, having so disgraced his office, and our state, must either resign or be removed from the U.S. Senate."

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

On Thursday, the Milwaukee outlet called for Sen. Ron Johnson, Rep. Scott Fitzgerald, and Rep. Tom Tiffany to either resign or be expelled "for siding with Trump against our republic."

"Fitzgerald and Tiffany were the only members of the House of Representatives from Wisconsin who joined in an insurrection built upon a foundation of ignorance and lies," the editorial board wrote.

Noting that Johnson had ultimately voted against overturning the election results, they blamed him for "Sen. Ron Johnson decided to vote against both baseless challenges to certified votes only after our nation's Capitol was sacked as Congress gathered to perform its simple constitutional duty to recognize the Electoral College vote. But Johnson had been shilling for Trump and this moment for days, adding kindling to the megalomaniac's fire, so his last-minute switch does nothing to absolve his role in stoking this shameful day in American history."

Orlando Sentinel

An editorial published by the Florida paper's editorial board on Thursday called Sen. Rick Scott and Reps. Katherine Cammack, Mario Diaz-Balart, Byron Donalds, Neal Dunn, Scott Franklin, Matt Gaetz, Carlos Giménez, Brian Mast, Bill Posey, John Rutherford, Greg Steube, and Daniel Webster "enemies of democracy" who "brought shame on themselves, on their offices and on Florida": "Each is unfit for office and none should be returned if they have the audacity to seek reelection in 2022."

Philadelphia Inquirer

The editorial board of the Philadelphia paper published an editorial Thursday calling for "Republican lawmakers who were complicit in sparking a coup attempt by their continued support of Trump's baseless lies of a rigged election" to "face consequences."

Noting the eight Pennsylvania Republican congressmen who had backed efforts to throw out their constituents' votes — Dan Meuser, Scott Perry, Lloyd Smucker, Fred Keller, John Joyce, Guy Reschenthaler, Glenn Thompson, and Mike Kelly — the board wrote, "In speeches into the night, Perry and his Republican colleagues from the commonwealth and elsewhere repeated easily disputed lies — including those about Pennsylvania voting law that originated in the Republican General Assembly — that have been already debunked or dismissed by the courts."

"If they believe so strongly in election fraud that they're calling to overturn the presidential race, how can they serve with confidence that their own elections were legitimate?" the board asked. "If they don't resign, they should take responsibility for the damage that they inflicted to American democracy, and at the very least, apologize. But we won't hold our breath."

San Antonio Express-News

On Saturday, the San Antonio publication urged impeachment for Trump and "expulsion for enabler Cruz" based on "his efforts to undermine the presidential election."

"It was Cruz who gathered support of other senators and senators-elect to object to the formal counting of electoral votes, not because there was voter fraud but because of the 'unprecedented allegations of voter fraud, violations and lax enforcement of election law, and other voting irregularities,'" the editorial board noted. "It was Cruz who cynically said to Democrats on the Senate floor before the mob descended: 'I understand your guy is winning right now.'"

"It remains to be seen if the assault on the Capitol is a warning sign or a turning point for this nation. If we seek a turning point in support of democracy, then those who have damaged it must be sanctioned and repudiated," the board wrote.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The St. Louis newspaper's editorial board published an editorial on Thursday calling for Sen. Josh Hawley to "do Missourians and the rest of the country a big favor and resign now."

"Sen. Josh Hawley had the gall to stand before the Senate Wednesday night and feign shock, shock at what happened — hours after he had fist-pumped and cheered the rioters as they arrived on Capitol Hill," the board wrote. "Hawley's tardy, cover-his-ass condemnation of the violence ranks at the top of his substantial list of phony, smarmy and politically expedient declarations."

University of Virginia Cavalier Daily

The campus newspaper of the University of Virginia also called out Virginia Reps. Cline, Good, Griffith, and Wittman on Thursday and urged their removal.

"Only three days into his term as congressman, Rep. Good has already significantly contributed to the same dangerous rhetoric that caused the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville — the very community he was sent to Congress to represent," the editorial board wrote. "Those who objected to the election certification have proven their blind loyalty to Trump over the will of the American people. Their indulgence in conspiracy theories warrants immediate expulsion from their roles as representatives of the people."

Wichita Eagle

In an editorial published Wednesday, the Kansas paper's editorial board wrote that Sen. Roger Marshall and Reps. Ron Estes, Jake LaTurner, and Tracey Mann "share the blame" for the "calculated, premeditated, violent assault on democracy and our country's commitment to the peaceful transfer of power."

"Remember them, Kansas voters," the board urged. "Hold them accountable."

York Dispatch

On Thursday, the Pennsylvania outlet demanded the resignation of Rep. Scott Perry.

Its editorial board blasted him for "leading a gang of Republican congressmen in an ill-advised, ultimately fruitless attempt to disenfranchise his own constituents by objecting to the counting of the electoral votes from 'my beloved commonwealth of Pennsylvania.'

"If Perry truly believes that the election that returned him to the Capitol for a fifth term was illegal and the results should be overturned, he does have a personal recourse. He can and should resign. Immediately."

So far, no Republican lawmakers have acknowledged that their actions helped fuel the mob attacks.

Asked by reporters on Thursday if he believed he bears any of the blame for the rioting the previous day, Ted Cruz answered, "Not remotely."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

As Local Newsrooms Wither, Right-Wing Disinformation Is Burgeoning

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

In a year when local news has been arguably more important than ever, newsrooms across the country have faced drastic cuts. The decimated industry has left many Americans without a clear avenue for getting relevant and reliable information about their communities -- and nefarious actors have taken advantage of this opportunity to fill the void with hyperpartisan narratives and conservative misinformation. While this tactic is not new from right-wing media, the stakes were higher and the consequences greater in 2020.

The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic was particularly devastating for an industry already in decline before the virus hit. Newsrooms strained by shrinking ad revenues and consolidation found they could not weather the pressures of COVID-19 without cutting staff or shuttering entirely. Thousands of outlets have been impacted this year, according to the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, which maintains a database tracking these cutbacks. Local newspapers were hit much harder than local TV newsrooms, according to the Pew Research Center and NiemanLab.

In the absence of trusted local reporting, partisan commentary and right-wing misinformation can thrive. Conservative activists have already proven willing to seize on the decline of local news -- and the perceived trustworthiness of local outlets -- to further their agenda. For example, Media Matters has previously reported on the dark money-fundedFranklin Center's network of state "watchdog" sites, which provided partisan coverage of state governments earlier in the decade. A similar strategy is now taking hold in Georgia as the state heads into contentious January runoff elections that will determine control of the U.S. Senate.

We are seeing the likely consequences of this dynamic already, as many stories were missing from the pages of local newspapers and the airwaves of local broadcast news in 2020. Local news outlets failed to warn viewers about health risks of political rallies, declined to inform people that a politician running for national office was making racist statements, and omitted right-wing extremist violence from their reporting. While local outlets fail to cover vital stories in their community, right-wing media have plenty of room to fill the gaps with misinformation via local talk radio, news stations owned by conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group, and hyperpartisan local sites.

Local Broadcast TV Falls Dangerously Short

Months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and especially after it began affecting the 2020 presidential campaigns, local TV news stations sometimes failed to give important public health context in their coverage -- potentially putting viewers at risk. This has ranged from omitting new local COVID-19 developments in stories about national pandemic policy, ignoring problematic decisions by local governments or federal institutions with local impacts, or neglecting to report when local representatives spread misinformation related to the pandemic. Local news stations in several states repeatedly failed to connectPresident Donald Trump's superspreader political events to their area's status in the ongoing pandemic -- even failing to warn viewers about the health risks of attending these Trump rallies after several had been tied to infections and even deaths.

There were also serious failures in local TV coverage of voting procedures and controversial candidates for federal office. In Florida, most TV news coverage in the state failed to properly explain how a new court ruling would make it nearly impossible for residents with former felony convictions to vote -- a measure that disproportionately targets Black potential voters. Broadcast news stations in Pennsylvania and Minnesota also mostly neglected to explain proper procedures in the immediate aftermath of court rulings which changed how mail-in votes can be counted close to the presidential election. Local TV news coverage also largely overlooked the reported sexual misconduct and bigotry of then-candidate and now Rep.-elect Madison Cawthorn (R-NC). They also neglected to mentionprint reports with new information about Sen. David Perdue's (R-GA) stock trading scandals before voting for the Georgia runoffs began (newspapers throughout the state also failed to cover this in their print editions).

Sinclair Broadcast Group Spread Misinformation

Sinclair Broadcast Group owns one of the largest concentrations of local television stations in the United States and uses it to broadcast conservative propaganda to unwitting local news audiences. In recent years, it hired Fox News castoffs who were fired for sexual misconduct to push right-wing misinformation.

Stations owned or operated by Sinclair have had their own unique failures related to the pandemic and the election. Around the end of August, at least 55 Facebook posts and 36 Twitter posts from Sinclair stations' social media accounts shared articles from their own or other Sinclair stations' websites which lacked context about data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, effectively misleading people into believing COVID-19 isn't as deadly as it's proven to be. And when it came to broadcasts, the Sinclair station in the Florida congressional district where bigot Laura Loomer won her Republican primary election failed to mention the anti-Muslim hatred she is known for while covering her victory. Georgia's Sinclair stations in May similarly failed to cover recent insider trading news about Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, while non-Sinclair stations in the state did multiple times.

Locally produced newscasts are not the only way Sinclair has spread misinformation through the country this year. Sinclair employs several national correspondents who produce short news segments which are distributed throughout its network of local TV stations to air around the country in local news broadcasts. Over the summer, many of these national Sinclair news segments hid violence by police and others against protesters who were marching against police killings of Black Americans and repeated debunked falsehoods about the topic. On the weekends, the company also airs two news-like programs, Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson and Eric Bolling's America This Week, which have spread similar -- and at times more dangerous -- misinformation.

Sinclair's COVID-19 Misinformation Was Pulled Twice

Earlier in the pandemic, Sinclair's national correspondents would cover the right-wing protests against COVID-19 precautions without including warnings from health experts against the consequences of lifting those restrictions too early. Later on, these news reports amplified Trump's attempts to downplay how dangerous the novel coronavirus is and his lies about his mishandling of the pandemic, or distracted from his attempts to politicize the coronavirus vaccine effort. One of Sinclair's weekend programs, Full Measure, also touted the discredited use of hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus treatment.

But it was on Sinclair's America This Week where the really deadly misinformation happened. The program started out by downplaying the threat of the pandemic, using racist terms, and pushing conspiracy theories about the origin of the coronavirus. As the pandemic grew worse and worse, host Eric Bolling repeatedly agreed with his guests that public health restrictions needed to end. Bolling brought up a Trump-boosted conspiracy theory downplaying the deadliness of the coronavirus. He aired a segment advocating for a "natural herd immunity" strategy that would kill millions -- and later interviewed the White House adviser who proposed that strategy to the president while failing to bring it up. Bolling also allowed Trump to spread COVID-19 misinformation via the town hall interview he conducted in October. In November, he floated a partisan conspiracy theory after Pfizer announced on November 9 that it had developed an effective vaccine, calling for a congressional investigation and suggesting the timing of the announcement was politically motivated.

On two occasions, Bolling's COVID-19 misinformation was so dangerous that Sinclair simply pulled it off its stations' airwaves. The first time was in late July, when he interviewed a conspiracy theorist from the Plandemic viral video which had been banned from social media platforms for its harmful misinformation. After widespread criticism, Sinclair pulled the entire episode after it aired on one station -- though not before defending the interview as an expression of free speech. The second occasion was in mid-October, when Sinclair cut a part of Bolling's opening monologue in which he falsely claimed face masks and lockdown precautions do not help slow the spread of COVID-19, though The New York Times reported that the Sinclair host "stood by his unsubstantiated claims that Chinese scientists had tampered with the virus."

Sinclair Also Spread Misinformation About Voting

As the presidential election approached, Sinclair spread misinformation about voting from both its national correspondents and its weekend program America This Week. In late June, a Sinclair news segment pushed Trump's debunked lies about fraud in absentee voting and included so little pushback against the lie that one local anchor had to more thoroughly explain the security features of mail-in voting following the prerecorded segment. In mid-July, Bolling used his program to amplify Trump's attacks on mail-in voting by using his interview of a former secretary of state in Washington state to validate claims that voter fraud is rampant. And a series of Sinclair national news segments which covered Trump's false attacks on mail-in voting made no mention of his deliberate weakening of the Postal Service prior to the election.

After the election, Sinclair stations also spread debunked misinformation that originally came from right-wing video group Project Veritas, which is known for infiltrating progressive organizations, campaigns, and nonpartisan institutions and heavily editing recorded undercover footage to allege wrongdoing. For example, multiple Sinclair stationsspread their lie that a post office was illegally backdating ballots in Michigan the day after local and national media debunked it.

Talk Radio Undermined Public Confidence

For decades, local conservative talk radio has served as a source of hyperpartisan commentary on community issues and as a breeding ground for conspiracy theories. Without trusted local sources to provide the facts or hold these hosts accountable, misinformation and dangerous rhetoric can run rampant on local airwaves.

Throughout the pandemic, talk radio hosts have attempted to undermine the work of local officials to control the spread of the virus. In the spring, right-wing hosts across the country were at the forefront of efforts to promote protests against stay-at-home orders. Local radio hosts in Arizona rejected mask mandates implemented by cities there in June, when COVID-19 cases were surging. When coronavirus numbers surged in Wisconsin this fall, the hosts in the state downplayed the spike and complained about new public health orders.

Listeners' faith in the electoral process was also under attack ahead of the 2020 election. After Trump claimed "bad things happen in Philadelphia" during a debate, local radio hosts in the city suggested that local Democrats were planning to steal the state's election, and some even helped local Republican leaders recruit poll watchers. As Pennsylvania continued to count votes following Election Day, conservative hosts across the state suggested that the additional time needed to count mail-in ballots was actually a sign of a widespread conspiracy by Democrats engaged in election fraud.

Hyperpartisan "News" Pages Were Misinformation Superspreaders

In the days after the 2020 election, a site called the Milwaukee City Journal falsely claimedthat certain wards were reporting more votes than registered voters. A site called Peach Tree Times added to the ever-growing pile of voter fraud conspiracy theories by suggesting that ballot rejection rates in Georgia portended election shenanigans. Ahead of Georgia's runoffs in January, Georgia Star News -- a new website with deep ties to Trump and his former adviser Steve Bannon -- began to pepper audiences with stories of election fraud and conspiracy theories aggregated from the right-wing fringe.

Georgia Star News is the latest project of Star News Digital Media, which was founded in 2017 by tea party activists and now operates half a dozen conservative news sites. From the beginning, the company's explicit aim was to flood residents of battleground states with pro-Trump propaganda and to coat local news in the same grievance- and conspiracy-filled venom as used by outlets like The Daily Caller and Breitbart.

Metric Media, which runs the Milwaukee City Journal and Peach Tree Times, operates nearly a thousand such pages. A New York Times investigation revealed that the company's sites amount to little more than content farms for right-wing political groups and PR firms.

Those sites and hundreds of others like them are part of a growing trend of hyperpartisan "news" pages designed to look like legitimate local news outlets that have taken advantage of the collapse of the local news industry. Such sites have been around for nearly a decade, but their numbers have grown dramatically over the past few years.

It's hard to overstate the importance of the local news industry in providing critical on-the-ground reporting that cannot be replicated on the national level. Cuts to funding and to whole newsrooms and outlets during the pandemic present a crisis point that will continue to be exploited by social media echo chambers and right-wing news outlets filling the void with misinformation.

Social media's replacement of local news outlets as the primary source for community information will likely contribute to an absolute deluge of conservative misinformation and the spread of local conspiracy theories in the years ahead, both issues we have already seen play out this year during the election cycle and the pandemic. The year 2020 has proven yet again that protecting resources for local reporting is essential -- and could even save lives.

WATCH: John Oliver’s Depressingly Accurate Report On Local News, ‘Stoplight’

John Oliver, like many other political satirists before him, bristles at being called a “journalist.” That’s because, as he explained Sunday, the real journalists fueling his show with sordid details of corruption and mismanagement get short shrift for the work they do in the public interest.

Oliver’s show, Last Week Tonight — as well as many blogs and newsletters (ours included) — relies on the tenacious work of local journalists to keep an eye on where the rubber of local government meets the road. In fact, the same shift in media preferences that gave rise to websites like this one has weakened local outlets, especially print outlets, by cutting into advertising revenue and re-centering lots of potentially local readership towards national stories.

Stoplight, Oliver’s dramatization of a future journalism held captive by Internet fluff pieces, illustrates a point that journalists and news outlets have tried to warn news consumers about for years now: where we’re going isn’t pretty.

Video: HBO