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Extremist Michigan Sheriff Defends Alleged Kidnap Plotters

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Barry County, Michigan, Sheriff Dar Leaf defended the actions of men accused of an alleged terrorist kidnapping plot against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in an interview that went viral on Twitter with Fox 17's Aaron Parseghian.

Leaf acknowledged he knows two of the men, Michael and William Null, residents of Barry County, who are facing charges due to their alleged involvement. Leaf described the men as "nice and respectful" and downplayed the kidnapping charges, saying that it's possible the men were justified in their actions: "A lot of people are angry with the governor and they want her arrested, so are they trying to arrest or was it a kidnap attempt, because you can still in Michigan … make a felony arrest."

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Bannon Launches ’National Tour’ To Promote Election Conspiracy Theories

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has kicked off a national speaking tour about the upcoming election titled "The Plot to Steal 2020." It's a thinly veiled attempt to spread conspiracy theories and discredit any efforts to ensure that citizens can vote safely.

Bannon, who recently pleaded not guilty to federal fraud charges, has stated that the tour will take place in select swing states and via digital streaming platforms. In his most recent appearance, he outlined three main prongs of his conspiracy theory: Democrats will use "lawfare," social media, and street protests to supposedly steal the election from Donald Trump. His vague and incoherent conspiracy theories have also featured heavily in recent episodes of his podcast, War Room: Pandemic. Here's a selection from the September 21 episode:

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HHS Flack Caputo’s Podcast Praised White Nationalists, Spread Conspiracy Theories

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

In a podcast unearthed by Media Matters, Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Michael Caputo spread baseless conspiracy theories about the coronavirus, praised white supremacist Milo Yiannopoulos, and said Democrats are "counting" on COVID-19 fatalities in order to win the election against President Donald Trump.

On his now-defunct show Still Standing with Michael Caputo, the current HHS spokesperson pushed the debunked conspiracy theory that the coronavirus was invented "in a bioweapons facility in Wuhan," used racist terms to refer to the virus, and said Democrats are calculating how long they can "actually keep the coronavirus concern ball in the air" in order to win the election. He also praised various white supremacist and "alt-right" personalities, including neo-Nazi Milo Yiannopoulos and Pizzagate conspiracy theorists and "alt-right" Twitter personalities Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec. On his podcast, Caputo also pushed anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about billionaire progressive donor George Soros paying anti-Trump protesters and other conspiracy theories about Democrats, the media, and the Mueller investigation.

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Trump’s New 'Coronavirus Adviser’ Was Almost Always Dead Wrong

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

President Donald Trump announced this week that Dr. Scott Atlas, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, will serve as a new "adviser" to the president on COVID-19. Atlas, whose background is in diagnostic radiology, is not an expert in infectious disease but rather a pundit and frequent Fox guest who has been repeatedly wrong about the pandemic.

Atlas, who has appeared 20 times on Fox News since the end of April, predicted in March that there would only be 10,000 deaths from COVID in America, said in April that the pandemic "appears to be entering the containment phase," and claimed in May that "the curves have been flattened." More recently, he has taken to making unproven claims downplaying the risk of COVID-19 in considering whether to reopen schools for in-person learning.

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On Social Media, Fox News Advertisers Claim To Support Black Lives Matter

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

This is a list of advertisers that have run advertisements on Fox News since May 27. The network's coverage of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and the nationwide uprising following his death has been viciously racist, dehumanizing, full of lies, and disturbingly anti-free speech.

For example, Fox host Tucker Carlson dedicated his opening monologue on June 3 to showing photos of unarmed Black people killed by police and smearing them to justify their deaths.

These advertisers claim to support the Black Lives Matter movement, as evidenced by the following statements they've put out on social media. But they should realize that their money is supporting the hate-for-profit scam that is Fox News.

Amazon

Kraft Heinz

Kraft Heinz CEO Miguel Patricio published a letter to his colleagues on LinkedIn highlighting the corporation's professed commitment to diversity and noting that the "deeply tragic and painful events like the ones we are seeing play out this week" are a reminder "that we are only as strong as the most vulnerable among us. We need to stand up for each other and with each other."

Best Buy

Best Buy CEO Corie Barry published a statement expressing support for Black Lives Matter protests and highlighting the "indelible images of George Floyd and the many who came before him," adding, "It is in their name that we embrace the fight for equality and justice." Additionally, her statement announced Best Buy will be "appointing a diverse group (by demography and level in the company) to challenge one another and, ultimately, our senior leadership team and Board of Directors, with substantive, enduring ways we can address the inequities and injustices to which all of us bear witness every day." The company also participated in #blackouttuesday on Instagram.

Procter & Gamble

Procter & Gamble announced the establishment of the "Take on Race Fund" and an initial donation of $5 million to "accelerate and expand this work alongside organizations that fight for justice, advance economic opportunity, enable greater access to education and health care and make our communities more equitable."

Roman

Poshmark



Verizon

Verizon announced a $10 million donation to various civil rights organizations in a video where the CEO appeared to be on the verge of tears. The company has also published multiple blog posts on its website about racial justice.


Noom

Noom participated in #blackouttuesday and put out a statement quoting James Baldwin and expressing a desire to help "make Black Lives Matter a reality, not just a movement."


Allstate

Allstate published the following statement on LinkedIn:

Systemic racism is pervasive and we must not be complicit by inaction or silence. For our society to eliminate the inequities in America, each of us needs to have the will to change, the heart to trust and the energy to lead. We are conducting a top-to-bottom review of our operating practices, pay and promotions for people of color and women to further promote equity and equality at Allstate. We will also do our part to drive societal change through The Allstate Foundation, which will support those impacted by racial injustice and determine methods for systemic change.

Pfizer

Ancestry

The CEO of Ancestry.com, Margo Georgiadis, put out a statement committing the company to "hold ourselves accountable and ask that our valued members do so as well. Actions speak louder than words when it comes to making real and lasting change."


Honey

Purple

Sanofi



Update (6/6/20): Rakuten has confirmed that it will no longer advertise on Fox News.



Backing Fox News’ Irresponsible Coverage Are Key Advertisers

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

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Bannon Spreads Conspiracy Theories About Origin Of Coronavirus

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon has pushed a debunked theory about the origins of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China on his daily radio broadcast War Room: Pandemic. The claim echoes fake news pushed by G News, a website that has reportedly paid him at least $1 million for consulting and offered him a position as senior editor. 

War Room: Pandemic launched on January 25 as a spin-off to War Room: Impeachment, Bannon’s rapid response operation defending President Donald Trump during his Senate impeachment trial. Since the new show began, Bannon has repeatedly pushed the false narrative that the coronavirus was leaked from a covert biological weapons program at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which includes a secure research facility where scientists study highly contagious and infectious diseases.

The unfounded narrative that the coronavirus was engineered and leaked from the lab has been wholly rejected by experts, with The Washington Post labeling it a “fringe theory,” PolitiFact calling the claim made in the G News article “false,” and Foreign Policy describing it as “an outbreak of nonsense.” Rutgers University professor of chemical biology Richard Ebright told the Post that “based on the virus genome and properties there is no indication whatsoever that it was an engineered virus.”

But evidence is no object when Bannon is on a mission to propagandize. On the podcast, Bannon has repeatedly cited stories by Bill Gertz in the Washington Times that suggest, based on speculations from a single source, that the Wuhan Institute of Virology is researching biowarfare, and that the coronavirus was engineered and leaked from there. Bannon kicked off the show’s inaugural episode by interviewing Gertz to promote his flimsy reporting.

BuzzFeed recently reported on Bannon’s ties to G News, a digital media outlet launched by Chinese billionaire-in-exile Guo Wengui that has also published two false stories about how the coronavirus was first introduced to residents of Wuhan. One G News story falsely alleged that the Chinese government would imminently confess that the virus was genetically engineered and leaked from a lab near the densely populated city. The other included a document purporting to validate a conspiracy theory that the Chinese military spread the disease on purpose.

Bannon’s contracts with the project were first reported in October by Axios, which showed that he had signed on to serve as a consultant for one year starting in August 2018 and was to be compensated at least $1 million. Axios also reported on a second, unsigned contract that specified Bannon would serve as a senior editor for G News starting in August 2019. According to BuzzFeed, “Guo and Bannon frequently appear together in videos on G News that attack the Chinese government.” (According to The New York Times, Guo described his connection to Bannon in a 2018 interview: “We both naturally despise the Chinese Communist Party. That’s why we’ve become partners.”) Episodes of War Room: Pandemic are also cross-posted to the G News website.

From the January 25, 2020, edition of War Room: Pandemic

STEVE BANNON (HOST): Bill Gertz from the Washington Times, Bill Gertz had an amazing piece in the Washington Times about the biological labs that happen to be in Wuhan.

The episode also featured J. Kyle Bass, a China critic and hedge fund investor with connections to G News owner Guo, on the same day that Bass tweeted out a CBC article from July 2019, falsely claiming that “a husband and wife Chinese spy team” smuggled viral samples out of a Candian research facility to Wuhan. “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec, who tweeted the CBC link that day with the same unsubstantiated claim, was also a guest on the episode. 

Later in the show, Gertz and Bannon delved further into the thinly sourced theory. Despite admitting that “we have no evidence that this current coronavirus leaked from that institute,” Gertz speculated that “it’s certainly possible that this outbreak of this animal virus could have come from one of their biological weapons labs.” The U.S. Department of State has raised concerns regarding China’s compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention, but has not affirmatively identified the existence of such a program.

From the January 25, 2020, edition of War Room: Pandemic

STEVE BANNON (HOST): Bill, can you briefly summarize the article that you did yesterday? Talk about these biological labs that are in Wuhan and what aspect do you think they may have in this crisis?

BILL GERTZ: Sure, yeah, good to be on the show, Steve. This is a significant development in the sense that what I’ve identified is the sole declared facility in China capable of handling deadly viruses. In other words, this is the place where they do all of their civilian research. And I spoke with a former Israeli military intelligence officer who studied the Chinese biological warfare program and he says that this institute is clearly linked to this covert Chinese biological warfare program. Now, we have no evidence that this current coronavirus leaked from that institute, but in China and the way secrecy works and the lack of controls, it’s certainly possible that this outbreak of this animal virus could have come from one of their biological weapons labs.

There’s also a second facility in Wuhan that’s also linked to the biological weapons program. Again, that’s a secret program that last year the State Department in it’s annual report on arms compliance stated fairly bluntly that they believe that China is engaged in a covert offensive biological weapons program.

Gertz returned to the show on January 27, claiming, “Obviously, the question of their covert biological weapons program should come into play here.” Bannon replied, “Your point is that there are no coincidences” related to the coronavirus, and the lab facility raises “certain suspicions.”

From the January 27, 2020, edition of War Room: Pandemic

BILL GERTZ: Obviously, the question of their covert biological weapons program should come into play here because, you know, there is only one declared hospital, research center, laboratory in Wuhan — in all of China — and it’s in Wuhan, capable of dealing with this level 4 of infectious diseases. And then you have then —

STEVE BANNON (HOST): Your point is there are no coincidences, if the level 4 [facility] that was built by the French for them in 2007 is in Wuhan, then that leads to certain suspicions.

GERTZ: Absolutely. This has, you know, the Chinese have to respond to this.

Bannon’s guest Dr. Steven Hatfill, an expert who previously worked at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, told the host repeatedly that the theory about coronavirus leaked out of an infectious disease research facility was incorrect, adding, “You know, I’m sitting in an SL4 laboratory right now, and there is no way you could get anything out of here. There’s no way a bad guy could get in.”

From the January 29 edition of War Room: Pandemic:

STEVE BANNON (HOST): Today, The Washington Post is out there, mocking and ridiculing The Washington Times, Bill Gertz, one of our colleagues reporting about the Wuhan level 4 laboratory, saying it’s a fringe theory, that anything could have come out of that laboratory, et cetera. We’re not trying to make an assertion that they were building a biological weapon. But given the fact that there’s now no direct link at least as shown today between patient zero and the market, it maybe some that’s later. How do you think this thing started?

DR. STEVEN HATFILL: I think it was natural. You know, I’m sitting in an SL4 laboratory right now, and there is no way you could get anything out of here. There’s no way a bad guy can get in. The people around me are of the highest professional caliber, both mentally, technically, emotionally, and every other consideration. I’m sorry but I kind of downplay the fact that this came out of a BW laboratories.

BANNON: Well, I think that’s fantastic. I think people need to hear that. I think that’s great. And why do you come to this conclusion?

After this exchange, Bannon ignored Hatfill’s expertise and returned to his irresponsible speculation, declaring that “there are no coincidences.”

From the January 29, 2020, edition of War Room: Pandemic

STEVE BANNON (HOST): Now, people will tell you that’s also where biological warfare are done, those types of places. That’s why there’s so much focus — Bill Gertz’s articles in the Washington Times focus very much on this level four lab that is in Wuhan, right. And I’m not a believer, as you know, I’m not a conspiracy guy, I always tell you it’s out there in plain daylight. The party at Davos, the way they roll is right up in your grill and there are no coincidences.

On February 1, Bannon again asked Hatfill about the theory, and again Hatfill rejected it:

STEVE BANNON (HOST): Also Zero Hedge, who I’m a huge fan of, Zero Hedge has had this analysis of what the Chinese lab and the two Chinese — the Canadian lab in I think Winnipeg, that there are now issues — one of the Chinese scientists took some of the viruses back to Wuhan. I’m not a conspiracy theory guy, not a deep state guy, never have been because I say it’s all up there in your face, the party at Davos, the way the whole thing rolls is in your grill you just have to see it. But there are no coincidences. 

These are the elite institutions in the world the french built one from the ground up for the Chinese, it just randomly happened to be in Wuhan, right? And relatively in geospatial terms relatively close to the market, a mile or two. There’s been tons of things, they’re using HIV serum to cure people there. This report comes out and it’s been tweeted out all over. Bill Gertz, Washington Times, done some good reporting. The Post calls it a fringe kook theory Miles Guo put something up, said he had a report from inside the CCP and Politifact saying he’s lying so it’s all over the map.

But in your assessment, at what you see in [INAUDIBLE], I asked you to look overnight at this,  where do you think we stand as people know the information today? Is this something that’s naturally occurred? Do you think there’s a possibility in what you read so far that it gives you even a scintilla that this could be some sort of weaponization thing gone wrong that somehow got out of the lab.

DR. STEVEN HATFILL: From what I’ve looked at I think the authors of these papers are overreaching a bit. Now that said this is an odd virus its genome. It’s got a very, very, long, very different from the other SARS virus.

Now, the unsubstantiated theory is being repeated by U.S. government officials in a position of power to take action. According to a report from Business Insider, during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) pointed out the proximity of the outbreak to “China’s only bio-safety level four ‘superlaboratory’ that works with the world’s most deadly pathogens to include, yes, coronavirus.”

James Murdoch Slams Climate Denial In Murdoch Media Outlets

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

As its global media empire ignores devastating bushfires in Australia, the Murdoch family has come under fire from an insider critic: Rupert’s son James. A spokesperson for James and his wife Kathryn expressed to The Daily Beast “their frustration with some of the News Corp and Fox coverage” of issues related to climate change. The couple, who have previously made their knowledge of the climate crisis public and committed millions of dollars to fight it, noted they are “particularly disappointed with the ongoing denial among the news outlets in Australia given obvious evidence” that increased temperatures have contributed to the severity of the fires. The Murdochs’ News Corp. accounts for 60 percent of daily newspaper sales in Australia, where the family first began building its massive media conglomerate decades ago.

The epidemic of climate denial at Fox News and News Corp. outlets is a global problem. Personalities on their payroll across the world have promoted dangerous conspiracy theories and false punditry obfuscating the role of climate change in the devastating bushfires.

Two weeks into the new year, Fox News has already advanced anti-science talking points multiple times. On the January 13 edition of Fox News’ The Five, co-host Greg Gutfeld blamed the media for the Australian wildfires, saying reporters are “chasing memes instead of actually fact-checking” and said they should instead “be questioning why there are so many arsonists.” The role of arsonists in the Australian bushfires has been greatly exaggerated and, according to climate expert Will Steffen, “The evidence is overwhelming that climate change is playing a prominent role” in the bushfires.

The Daily Beast’s story on James and Kathryn Murdoch’s public criticisms of News Corp. and Fox News’ climate denial noted that a regular guest on Fox host Laura Ingraham’s prime-time show has also hyped the false arson story. On January 7, Fox’s Sean Hannity also promoted disinformation on the role of arsonists in spreading the bushfires. Fox Nation’s Tomi Lahren claimed, “The fact of the matter is this: Australia has an arson problem you can’t pin on global warming, climate change, or whatever title you’re giving your environmental boogeyman these days.”

Even though 2020 just started, Fox News personalities are already working overtime to poison the climate change discourse in media this year. Fox’s Mark Levin yelled that “climate change is BS” and politicians who rightly recognize the threat “are praying to idols” because “you never heard about climate change 10 years ago” (this is false). On January 10, Ingraham bizarrely dismissed the problem of receding glaciers, saying, “The glaciers in the Rocky Mountains receded, which is why we have the Rocky Mountains.” In response, regular guest Raymond Arroyo said, “It’s called nature. It happens.”

Fox host Mark Levin also has been screaming about climate change:

Murdoch-owned media properties have promoted climate denial well beyond Fox News, and his Australian media empire has turned a blind eye to the climate crisis. The family’s national newspaper The Australian has hyped the story about the role of arsonists in spreading the bushfires. Conservative pundits on Sky News Australia have also used the ongoing fire season to push climate misinformation and denial, including Chris KennyPeta Credlin, and habitual climate denier Andrew Bolt. In the past, newspapers owned by News Corp. have been criticized for their role in spreading climate denial.

James Murdoch remains financially and legally involved in both News Corp., where he sits on the board of directors, and the Fox Corporation, the parent company of Fox News. (His father reportedly “had made sure that none of his children would be able to sell their voting shares to an outsider”  after he tried to cash out in 2018 following 21st Century Fox’s merger with Disney and a massive restructuring of assets.) His criticisms are just the latest installment of a decades-long power struggle within the family to shape the media empire’s political influence according to each man’s ideological vision. But because James was effectively forced out of the business after the Disney merger, he’s been relegated to lobbing criticisms from the sidelines as Rupert and rumored climate denier Lachlan Murdoch hold the reins.

Why Fox News Exposing Whistleblower Won’t Derail Impeachment

Let’s be perfectly clear at the start: It makes no difference who the whistleblower is. That stopped even being a potential issue weeks ago once the intelligence inspector general validated the report about President Donald Trump’s call with the new president of Ukraine.

The only reason we’re still talking about this at all is because right-wing media are hoping to use the person’s identity as a silver bullet to kill the entire Trump-Ukraine scandal that has led to an official impeachment inquiry.

And it’s no surprise that at the forefront of this bogus campaign lies Fox News.

Conspiracy theories are nothing new to Fox News, but with a potential impeachment on the horizon, the president’s favorite network is going full speed ahead in efforts to defend its most important audience. In its latest attempt to discredit the impeachment investigation, Fox recently picked up a razor-thin piece from Real Clear Investigations (RCI) that claims to identify the whistleblower by name. Unfortunately for Fox, RCI’s reporting is just another desperate attempt by right-wing media to distract from Trump’s abuse of power.

The identity of the whistleblower is far beside the point of the impeachment investigation. They could be a longtime right-wing operative, a committed left-wing activist (probably not), or someone in between: It wouldn’t change the cornucopia of evidence confirming that the president abused the powers of his office. Not only has the intelligence community inspector general debunked the lies pushed by Trump and his right-wing media allies, but damning testimony from the ongoing House investigation and reports from multiple whistleblowers have revealed that the president engaged in quid pro quo with a foreign leader to gain political advantage over an opposition candidate.

The RCI piece supposedly naming the whistleblower was written by far-right reporter Paul Sperry, the former Washington bureau chief for fake news outlet WorldNetDaily (now known as WND). Sperry’s journalism career had largely consisted of spreading anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, including writing a book on the Muslim Mafia. He’s also been at the center of pushing the conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama is running a “shadow government” aimed at undermining the Trump administration.

RCI has already walked back the article’s headline multiple times to soften its claims. Additionally, the individual named in Sperry’s “report” has been the target of far-right conspiracy theorists for years and was reportedly driven out of his White House post after receiving death threats.

This hasn’t stopped both Fox’s “straight news” and opinion sides from leaning into Sperry’s reporting. On day two of this manufactured distraction, anchor Martha MacCallum hosted a panel in which boy genius Charlie Kirk called the whistleblower a “highly politically motivated individual.” The previous day Brit Hume and MacCallum discussed the story without repeating the name reported by RCI, including a chyron that read: “Brit Hume on Whistleblower Being Named.” MacCallum suggested that the whistleblower’s identity “might reveal motivations, might reveal relationships, might reveal bias” against the president, echoing a line of attack from the network’s opinion side. Hume added that the whistleblower’s identity “would be embarrassing to House Democrats who are trying to mount an impeachment inquiry if it turns out that they, in some respects, had helped to trigger the whole thing.

On Tucker Carlson Tonight, Jeanine Pirro, who is always, as they say, “on one,” called the whistleblower a “Brennan acolyte” and“someone who loves Susan Rice,” claimed he or she colluded with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, and lamented the unlikelihood that we will “see people go out in cuffs.” Carlson emphasized that he doesn’t know who the whistleblower is but the person identified in the RCI report “appears to be” him. He also called the whistleblower a “nakedly partisan political actor” in his opening monologue.

Frequent Tucker Carlson Tonight guest Ned Ryun inaccurately stated that The Washington Examiner and The Federalist had their own reports on the identity of the whistleblower when in reality the outlets had simply aggregated the original story from RCI. The conspiracy theory was also elevated across multiple other Fox personalities in the last two days, including Greg Gutfeld and Mark Levin.

When it comes to right-wing conspiracy theories, Sean Hannity reigns supreme. He opened his Halloween night show by spooking his audience about the threat of the whistleblower: “We are now looking down the barrel of yet another national crisis, clearly orchestrated by the deep state” and vowed the “hit job” against Trump “will not go unchallenged.”

The day before, Hannity claimed that a “massive, huge mystery out of our nation’s capital” is “reaching a fever pitch.” Although he repeatedly emphasized that Fox News cannot independently confirm Sperry’s reporting, Hannity also underhandedly endorsed his story, saying, “I can confirm to you after making numerous calls in the last hour, this is the individual that has been most talked about in Washington as the whistleblower.” He added that Republican lawmakers “must demand to know if, in fact, the whistleblower was a deep state operative.”

This is the lesson Hannity and his colleagues at Fox have learned since the backlash to his disastrous Seth Rich coverage that wreaked havoc on a grieving family: push the far-right conspiracy theory du jour as hard as you can, but try to maintain enough plausible deniability to avoid a lawsuit.

But the top-rated cable news network engaging in public speculation about the whistleblower’s identity is wildly reckless, discourages others from coming forward, and could put lives in danger — just this week we learned that there have been death threats made against the whistleblower’s legal team.

No one should be surprised that Fox News has stooped this low — the network has no editorial standards, and the distinction between the “news division” and opinion side is nothing more than a fig leaf. Right-wing hacks are throwing whatever they can get their hands on at the wall out of desperation to see what will stick. It couldn’t be more important that credible media outlets do not fall for it.