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Tag: media

Alex Jones Hit With $45 Million In Punitive Damages For Defamation

Washington (AFP) - A Texas jury ordered far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on Friday to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages for falsely claiming that the deadly 2012 Sandy Hook elementary shooting was a "hoax."

The verdict came a day after the same jury awarded a couple whose child died at Sandy Hook $4.1 million in compensatory damages for the emotional stress caused by Jones broadcasting falsehoods for years on his InfoWars online and radio talk shows.

The huge sum ordered from Jones, who for years gathered a sizable following for his often outlandish conspiracy claims, vindicated the lawsuits against him by families of some of the 20 schoolchildren and six adults killed by a 20-year-old man in one of the country's deadliest school shootings.

The $49.3 million total judgement was far less than the $150 million sought by the plaintiffs in the Texas case, Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, whose six-year-old son Jesse was killed.

Still, Lewis said that Jones had been "held accountable."

"Today the jury proved that most of America is ready to choose love over fear and I'll be forever grateful to them," Lewis tweeted.

Jones, a vocal supporter of former president Donald Trump, claimed for years on InfoWars that the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, was "staged" by gun control activists.

He has since acknowledged it was "100 percent real," but the Sandy Hook families maintained that his denialism, coupled with his ability to influence the beliefs of thousands of followers, caused real emotional trauma.

He was also accused of pulling in massive profits from harmful lies and disinformation.

The judgment is not likely the end of legal woes for the 48-year-old Jones, who is also facing another defamation suit in Connecticut.

He has been found liable in multiple defamation cases brought by parents of the Sandy Hook victims, and the Texas case was the first to reach the damages phase.

He is also under scrutiny for his participation in the January 6, 2021, assault on the US Capitol by Trump supporters.

During the hearing ahead of the decision Friday, Wesley Ball, attorney for the parents who brought the case, urged the jury to take a stand against misinformation.

"You have the ability to send a message for everyone in this country and perhaps this world to hear," he said.

"And that is stop Alex Jones. Stop the monetization of misinformation and lies," he added.

"Stopping Alex Jones stops the root of his message and the root of his message is fear and hate."

The $45.2 million was close to the maximum allowed in relation to the original compensatory damages.

InfoWars declared bankruptcy in April and another company owned by Jones, Free Speech Systems, filed for bankruptcy last week.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers union, which represented the staff at Sandy Hook, praised Friday's verdict.

"Nothing will ever fix the pain of losing a child, or of watching that tragedy denied for political reasons," she tweeted. "But I'm glad the parents of Sandy Hook have gotten some justice."

The Only Fox Host Who Mentioned Eastman Coup Helped Conceive It

Fox News is burying Thursday’s revelations about the plot by then-President Donald Trump and Trump lawyer John Eastman to pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence to illegally reject electors from key states that supported Joe Biden and thus subvert the election to keep Trump in office, detailed during Thursday’s hearing of the House Select Committee investigating the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

The only mentions of that conspiracy during Fox’s prime-time block Thursday night came from Fox host Mark Levin – who apparently worked with Eastman to develop the plot and spoke out on Thursday in support of it.

Former Pence legal counsel Greg Jacob described at Thursday’s hearing Eastman’s scheme for Pence, during the January 6, 2021, joint session of Congress to count Electoral College votes, to either reject the votes from some states outright or send them back to their state legislatures for review. According to Jacob, during one meeting in which Eastman sought to pressure Pence to participate, the Trump lawyer acknowledged that the plot was illegal. The committee also aired video testimonies of other Trump aides saying that they had told Trump the plan was illegal, and produced an email from after the riot in which Eastman sought a presidential pardon.

J. Michael Luttig, a retired federal appeals judge and conservative icon who advised Pence with regard to the scheme, warned at the hearing’s conclusion that “Donald Trump and his allies and supporters are a clear and present danger to American democracy.”

“That’s not because of what happened on Jan. 6,” he added. “It’s because to this very day the former president, his allies and supporters pledge that in the presidential election of 2024 — if the former president or his anointed successor as the Republican Party presidential candidate were to lose that election — that they would attempt to overturn that 2024 election in the same way that they attempted to overturn the 2020 election. But succeed.”

Fox “news side” programs Your World and Special Report each ran news packages on the story that day, sandwiched around the “opinion side” panel show The Five, where discussion of January 6 was limited to sympathy for the perpetrators. Then at 7 p.m. ET, the real Fox came on, and the coverage of the hearing essentially vanished.

Eastman’s name was mentioned only once after that – by Levin, who in an appearance on Hannity criticized the select committee for not producing “professors on the left who actually agreed with John Eastman’s position before it was John Eastman’s position.” The Fox host, who has long publicly supported Eastman’s legal theory, went on to allege that “it is not clear under the 12th Amendment what the responsibilities of the vice president of the United States are and how they are limited.”

Neither Levin nor Sean Hannity noted that Levin was not just a commentator who supported Eastman’s plot, but apparently an active participant in its development.

In May, Eastman sought to prevent the release to the January 6 committee of a dozen emails he exchanged with a person matching Levin’s description. According to the filing, Eastman was communicating with Levin in order to collaborate with him on the litigation in Levin’s role as an attorney, and thus the emails should be protected by lawyer-client privilege. Notably, Eastman reportedly first caught Trump’s attention by expounding on a nearly limitless view of Trump’s legal authority during a 2019 appearance on Levin’s Fox program.

Levin’s comments on Hannity were the only meaningful discussion of the coup attempt on Fox’s evening “opinion” block. Jesse Watters, Tucker Carlson, and Laura Ingraham all ignored the substance of Thursday’s hearing on their programs (Ingraham did, however, host Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene [R-GA] to defend the rioters).

On Friday morning, the story was all but absent from Fox & Friends.

It’s not hard to figure out why Fox hosts aren’t covering Trump’s coup attempt – they regret that it didn’t succeed. And when Republicans attempt a similar scheme in the future, as Luttig suggested they would, the network’s propagandists will be actively supporting it.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

The Clumsy Fakery Behind D’Souza’s Big Lie ‘Documentary’

Right-wing pundit, conspiracy theorist, and liar Dinesh D’Souza is releasing a new movie, 2000 Mules, based on false claims about the 2020 election. The movie was made in partnership with conservative media giant Salem Media Group and True the Vote, a Texas-based group that has been pushing conspiracy theories around election fraud and dodging claims of intimidating voters since at least 2012.

D’Souza and True the Vote have promoted the film by claiming it uncovers an army of unidentifiable operatives secretly packing ballot boxes in swing states during the 2020 election. They allege to have proved this activity through geolocation evidence that shows, as The Washington Post put it, “some people may have been near drop-box locations on a given day.” The movie also claims to show individuals dropping more than one ballot into ballot boxes, a common occurrence in 2020 as collecting and submitting multiple people’s ballots was legal in some form in all the states discussed in 2000 Mules.

The claims made in the trailer have been debunked by experts. The Washington Post explained how the geolocation data used by True the Vote has no way to be verified as geofencing data typically only pinpoint a person within approximately 30 feet. The Post article went on to suggest the group likely cherry-picked data based on its predetermined theory.

A fact check by the Associated Press also showed that True the Vote’s research was based on “faulty assumptions, anonymous accounts and improper analysis of cellphone location data, which is not precise enough to confirm that somebody deposited a ballot into a drop box, according to experts.” And beyond the questionable data in this instance, multiple reviews conducted in the past two years have found no evidence of widespread voter fraud occurring during the 2020 election.

High-profile right-wing influencers and politicians have latched onto this farcical theory and have heavily promoted 2000 Mules through social media channels and on radio shows and podcasts. Former President Donald Trump released the movie’s trailer at his April 23 rally in Ohio and issued a statement praising D’Souza’s work and claiming the movie “proves the 2020 Election was Rigged and Stolen.”

Dinesh D’Souza is known for his books and movies, primarily based on conspiracy theories and falsehoods. He pleaded guilty to violating campaign laws in 2014 and was pardoned by Trump in 2018. He has previously released five right-wing conspiracy-based movies. The latest, Trump Card, was released in 2020 and included “racist dog whistles, low-production-value historical re-enactments, and interviews with a dizzying, dubious array of subjects,” according to the AV Club.

True the Vote was founded in 2009 by Catherine Engelbrecht, who won the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award by the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2011 for her work with the group. More recently, True the Vote was sued by a high-profile donor, who had donated $2.5 million to the group’s election fraud investigation, saying the group did not spend the money as it said it would. Engelbrecht and Gregg Phillips, who has falsely claimed to have evidence of voter fraud in the 2016 election, have taken credit for the research behind the film and have presented their “findings” at a hearing by Wisconsin’s Campaigns and Elections Committee and in other public interviews.

D’Souza secured some right-wing pundits like former Trump adviser and current Newsmax host Sebastian Gorka, right-wing commentator Charlie Kirk, and talk show host Dennis Prager to appear in 2000 Mules. All three of them have shows hosted by Salem Media Group.

Here are some examples of right-wing media figures – including some of those who appear in the trailer – who have promoted the movie through their own channels:

  • Charlie Kirk partnered with D’Souza to provide exclusive showings and had D’Souza on The Charlie Kirk Show to promote the movie.
  • Sebastian Gorka aired the trailer during his show, The Gorka Reality Check, on Newsmax.
  • Conservative talk radio host Larry Elder, who also appears in 2000 Mules and also has a show hosted by Salem Media Group, tweeted his support for D’Souza’s project by sharing WND’s article on the movie titled “Miranda Devine: 'The most compelling evidence' of 2020 vote fraud.”
  • Miranda Devine wrote a column in the New York Post covering the movie and appeared on Fox News’ Fox & Friends where she pushed the false “mules” conspiracy theory and pointed to D’Souza’s movie as evidence.
  • Right-wing site Breitbart published an article covering the release of the movie’s trailer. The piece was titled “Trump Reveals Trailer of Explosive ‘2000 Mules’ Ballot Harvesting Documentary at Ohio Rally.”
  • The Gateway Pundit published an article promoting the release of the movie titled “Dinesh D’Souza Releases Movie Poster for ‘2000 Mules’ on 2020 Election Fraud — Premiere Dates Announced — May 2 thru May 7.” The site later suggested the leak of the draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade was timed to suppress D'Souza's film.
  • Newsmax host Grant Stinchfield called D’Souza’s trailer a “bombshell” during the January 31 edition of his show Stinchfield.
  • OAN has heavily promoted the film, and one host even claims to be traveling to Mar-a-Lago for its premiere.
  • Buck Sexton invited D’Souza to promote the film on his show Hold the Line.
  • QAnon-affiliated Matrixxx Groove Show had D’Souza on as a guest to promote the movie.
  • founder Patrick Byrne, who has heavy ties to QAnon shows and influencers, has promoted the film on his Telegram channel.

On April 30, D’Souza shared a video to his YouTube channel outlining the many ways people can watch 2000 Mules, including in over 300 theaters across the U.S. and a virtual premiere following which the movie will be hosted on a Rumble-owned site. D’Souza went on to claim:

We're releasing this movie in a very novel way because we're in an age of censorship and so the normal places that I put movies, which is you find them in Apple iTunes and Amazon Prime -- no, this movie is not going to be available in those ways.

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

Reporters Group: Online Media Fuel Political Polarization​​ And Global Tensions

London (AFP) - Unregulated online content has spread disinformation and propaganda that have amplified political divisions, fanned international tensions and even contributed to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a media watchdog said Tuesday.

Reporters Without Borders, widely known by its French acronym RSF, presented its findings in the 2022 edition of its annual World Press Freedom Index.

Democratic societies, it said, are increasingly fractured by social media spreading disinformation and media pursuing a "Fox News model", referring to the controversial US right-wing television network.

Autocratic regimes meanwhile tightly control information within their societies, using their leveraged position to wage "propaganda wars" against democracies and fuel divisions within them.

Such polarization is becoming more "extreme," worldwide, RSF's director of operations and campaigns Rebecca Vincent told a news conference in London.

She pointed to the deaths of journalists in the Netherlands and Greece as well as the case of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who risks extradition and trial in the US for the publication of secret files.

The report showed how Russia, where state-run media overwhelmingly dominates and independent outlets are largely stifled, waged a propaganda war before its invasion of Ukraine.

Evgeniya Dillendorf, a correspondent for the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper, said the main reason for lack of media diversity in Russia "is not pressure but lack of independent business which would finance it, and the lack of independent judicial system that would defend it".

Novaya Gazeta has suspended publication for the duration of Moscow's military intervention to avoid being shut down.

"The creation of media weaponry in authoritarian countries eliminates their citizens' right to information but is also linked to the rise in international tension, which can lead to the worst kind of wars," RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said.

The "Fox News-isation" of Western media also posed a "fatal danger for democracies because it undermines the basis of civil harmony and tolerant public debate", he added.

Deloire urged countries to adopt legal frameworks to protect democratic online information spaces.

Record 'Very Bad'

The situation is "very bad" in a record 28 countries, according to this year's ranking of 180 countries and regions.

The lowest ranked were North Korea (180th), Eritrea (179th) and Iran (178th), with Myanmar (176th) and China (175th) close behind.

Russia (155th) and its ally Belarus (153rd) were also among the most repressive.

Based on the previous calendar year, this does not reflect Russia's massive media crackdown since President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine.

Hong Kong's position plummeted dozens of places to 148th, reflecting Beijing's efforts to use "its legislative arsenal to confine its population and cut it off from the rest of the world", RSF said.

"It is the biggest downfall of the year, but it is fully deserved due to the consistent attacks on freedom of the press and the slow disappearance of the rule of law in Hong Kong," Cedric Alviani, head of RSF's Taiwan-based East Asia bureau, told AFP.

Just eight countries were ranked as "good", down from 12 last year.

Nordic countries Norway, Denmark and Sweden again topped the index, while the Netherlands fell from sixth to 28th after top crime reporter, Peter R. de Vries, was gunned down on an Amsterdam street last July.

The Free Press Unlimited group called the fall in the Netherlands "alarming news" and unprecedented, as the country had always been in the top 10 since 2002.

RSF commended Moldova (40th) and Bulgaria (91st) this year due to government changes and "the hope it has brought for improvement in the situation for journalists".

But it noted "oligarchs still own or control the media" in both.

Media polarization was "feeding and reinforcing internal social divisions in democratic societies" such as the United States (42nd), it said.

That trend was even starker in "illiberal democracies" such as Poland (66th), a European Union country where RSF noted suppression of independent media.

The NGO, launched in 1985 and which has published the yearly index since 2002, has become a thorn in the side of autocratic and despotic regimes around the world.

This year's listing used five new indicators to define press freedom -- political context, legal framework, economic context, sociocultural context, and security -- to reflect its "complexity".

Study Finds ‘Change In Attitudes’ Among Fox Viewers Who Watched CNN For 30 Days

One of the things that makes Fox News and Fox Business effective indoctrination tools for the MAGA far right is the fact that so many of their gullible viewers don’t consume non-MAGA media outlets and live in a far-right bubble. So, when Fox News’ Tucker Carlson says something ridiculous — such as claiming that that COVID-19 vaccines make one more likely to get COVID-19 or praising Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and the January 6 insurrectionists — they don’t question what they’re hearing.

But according to researchers David E. Brockman and Joshua L. Kalla, Fox News viewers developed better critical thinking skills when exposed to CNN.

Brockman and Kalla, journalist Sravasti Dasgupta reports in The Independent, conducted an experiment in September 2020 and published the results in late March. The researchers explained, “Of 763 qualifying participants, we then randomized 40 percent to treatment group. To change the slant of their media diet, we offered treatment group participants $15 per hour to watch seven hours of CNN per week, during September 2020, prioritizing the hours at which participants indicated they typically watched Fox News…. Despite regular Fox viewers being largely strong partisans, we found manifold effects of changing the slant of their media diets on their factual beliefs, attitudes, perceptions of issues’ importance, and overall political views.”

According to Dasgupta, the experiment, “found changes in attitudes and policy preferences about COVID-19, evaluations of then-President Donald Trump and Republican candidates as well as elected officials.” The researchers also “found that participants became more likely to agree that if Donald Trump made a mistake, Fox News would not cover it.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, has killed more than 6.1 million people worldwide — including over 982,000 people in the United States. Hopkins data shows how deadly the pandemic has been. Yet Fox News and Fox Business, compared to CNN and MSNBC, repeatedly downplayed the pandemic’s severity in 2020.

The Brockman/Kalla experiment, Dasgupta notes, “found that Fox News gave viewers information about why the disease is not a serious threat, while CNN provided a lot more information about the disease itself.”

Brockman and Kalla said of their project, “We found large effects of watching CNN instead of Fox News on participants’ factual perceptions of current events — i.e., beliefs — and knowledge about the 2020 presidential candidates’ positions. They discovered changes in attitudes about Donald Trump and Republicans as well as a large effect on their opinions about COVID.”

Printed with permission from Alternet.

Chasing Clicks, Media Struck By Post-Trump Slump

One year after Trump lost his re-election bid by seven million votes, the media hangover lingers.

“Last year’s cocktail of Donald Trump, a deadly pandemic, the US presidential election and historic racial protests drove a record interest in following the news — propelling cable TV channels, newspapers and other journalistic enterprises to soaring heights of viewership and revenue,” the Financial Times recently noted. “Now, these groups face an equally breathtaking fall back down to earth.”

Call It The Trump Slump, Which Followed The Trump Bump

Between October 2020 and October 2021, according to Nielsen data, CNN ratings were down 73 percent, MSNBC was down 56 percent, and Fox News had fallen 53 percent, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. The same grim statistics can be found for sagging news sites.

At one point in 2019, nearly all of the 50 most popular articles on the Washington Post’s home page were related to politics, vs today where just three of the top 10 are connected to politics, the Wall Street Journal recently reported.

Here’s the fundamental problem: Following Trump’s chaotic and radical presidency, news consumers have changed their behavior, but the press — addicted to the high of the Trump bump — has been slow to adjust. After Biden’s inauguration, many Americans decided they no longer have to monitor the news throughout the day, every day; they don’t have to doom scroll late at night because there is now an adult in the White House.

That has translated into fewer news clicks and viewers. And that’s a good thing. Large chunks of the population should not live in fear of what their out-of-control president will do, and forced to tune into the news out of a sense of daily panic.

The glitch has been that the press doesn’t want to go back to ‘normal’ because the press became addicted to that incessant sense of Trump theater. (Not to mention the lucrative book deals.) Rather than viewing the Trump bump as an anomaly that does not need to be repeated, the press longs for that era’s constant drama.

That’s been the hurdle — Biden is the anti-Trump. He’s a polite, professional, and effective politician. He doesn’t surround himself with sycophants, he doesn’t fire staff at a record pace, he doesn’t get impeached, and there aren’t nonstop leaks about the daily chaos unfolding inside the West Wing. The Beltway press though, suddenly has little patience for a “boring” president.

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Numbers Shows Joe Biden's Economy Is Actually Beating The World

The U.S. economy is expanding at a seven percent rate over the last three months, up by five percent from the beginning of the year. That number isn’t just three times the expected growth rate in Europe, it almost doubles the rate of growth in China. As reported in The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. economy is genuinely a world-beater. It’s doing so well that for the first time in years, “The force of the American expansion is also inducing overseas companies to invest in the U.S., betting that the growth is still accelerating and will outpace other major economies.”

Less than two months into his presidency, Biden pushed through the American Rescue Plan. That plan provided emergency payments to every American, an increase in the Child Tax Credit, extended unemployment payments for those nearing the end of their benefits, lowered the cost of health care subsidies, picked up 100 percent of COBRA costs, and offered a host of benefits for small businesses that included outright grants. It took the better part of a year to get the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act through Congress, but by that point the economy—bolstered by Biden’s policies, a renewed confidence from business leaders, and a robust rollout of vaccines against COVID-19—had cut unemployment numbers by a full two percent.

Rolling into the holiday season, America is enjoying record low levels of unemployment and levels of economic growth that exceed the wildest unfulfilled promises of Donald Trump. But at the same time, CNN reports that President Biden’s approval levels for handling the economy are at record lows. The best economy in 50 years enjoys just a 44 percent approval rating.

Because a disaster-addicted media will find disaster, even if it has to create it.

The front page of Wednesday’s New York Times contains nothing about the record pace of the economy. It does contain dire warnings about supply chain issues affecting Christmas gifts and what seems to be an obligatory feature on the threat posed by inflation. Cost of baguettes is up in Paris! Sacré bleu! CNN offers up the story about Biden’s bad economic ratings but nothing on the booming economy. The Washington Post is economy-free when it comes to their front page—either on paper or internet.

For most of the year, the Times has led the way pounding on the drum about inflation. It doesn’t matter if the focus was the cost of burritos or the end of the $1 pizza slice, the Times has been there to keep the inflation hysterics running at an extra-high pitch. The New York Times even hosted an online chat so that people could share how they were “victims” of rising inflation. That story about $1 pizza? A phenomenon that largely existed only in New York City to begin with? That was page one.CNN and other outlets have certainly not been slackers on the economic doom front. Every penny increase in the price of gasoline became a screaming headline. And repeatedly—repeatedly—outlets ran stories in which they quoted people making outrageous claims of 30 or 40 percent inflation without bothering to correct those claims.

There are no headlines to report that gas prices are down. There are no headlines to report that America is enjoying the best economy in 50 years under Biden.

There are no headlines to report a simple truth: The economy is not just booming because of Biden’s economic policies, or even because Biden’s work in fighting the pandemic has reassured business about the future. The economy is booming because, under the control of Donald Trump, no one knew what was coming next. Trump’s policies were utterly dependent on who had most recently kissed his butt, what industry he vaguely connected with a political enemy, and what he thought would piss off people who had not invited him to the best parties in New York City.

The economy is not just booming under Biden because Biden’s policies are good—even though those policies are good. The economy is booming under Biden because the economy was repressed under Trump, squashed under a weight of fear and uncertainty spawned by Trump’s erratic, spite-based approach. Trump handed out money to companies that had no evidence of potential, and he denied to it industries that he saw as aligned with his enemies.

Rationality turns out to be a better economic stimulus than owning the libs. But you wouldn’t know it from the media.

Five years of dealing with Trump demonstrated to the media that there was no better way to grab eyeballs than reporting the daily lies, insults, and disruptions. But what to do when there is no stream of verifiable lies? No Twitter rants filled with threats and childish names? What does the media do without their predigested disaster of the day?

Well, they can always create one. For the moment, the swelling omicron wave is satisfying the need to fill the page with legitimately downbeat articles. But don’t worry. There are Times reporters hard at work gathering unverified anecdotes to explain why inflation is going to make your next meal require a mortgage.

In the meantime, America is enjoying an economy that’s the envy of the world. And a press … that isn’t.

And when it comes to that issue with supply chains, here’s a part that isn’t getting much coverage:

Major U.S. ports are processing almost one-fifth more container volume this year than they did in 2019, even as volumes at major European ports like Hamburg and Rotterdam are roughly flat or lag behind 2019 levels. The busiest U.S. container ports are leaping ahead of their counterparts in Asia and Europe in global rankings as volumes surge.

Article reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Spikes Asia Announces Full Jury Line-Up for 2022

The Juries will judge work in 24 awards categories to set the region's benchmark in creative excellence and marketing effectiveness Singapore, Dec 8, 2021 - (ACN Newswire) - Spikes Asia has today announced the full jury line-up of industry leaders set to judge the Spikes Asia Awards, Asia Pacific's most prestigious creative communications accolade. Now in its 35th edition, the Spikes Asia awards will bring 106 jurors together to judge work in 24 awards categories, including new awards developed in response to the region's shifting creative trends: The Creative Data Spike, the Social & Influenc...