The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Mainstream News Outlets Spread Speculation About Bidens While Trumps Escape Scrutiny

Last week, members of Republican House leadership announced plans for bogus show-trial investigations targeting President Joe Biden’s son Hunter, focusing on private business deals that have already been exhaustively covered and where a previous GOP-led investigation found no wrongdoing by Joe Biden. Several major news organizations took the bait and published mostly credulous stories about the upcoming GOP witch hunt, while failing to mention the obvious parallels between the Republican accusations targeting the Biden family and the plethora of shady international business deals by former President Donald Trump and his family.

During Trump’s first run for president in the 2016 election, news organizations reported on Trump’s various Middle Eastern business deals while he questioned Middle Eastern state donations to the Clinton Foundation; Trump had sought investment partnerships with former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s government, and he reportedly had a business relationship with an apparent money-laundering operation associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the Trump administration would later designate as a foreign terrorist organization. Trump had even sought a deal during his presidential run with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

During Trump’s presidency, his daughter Ivanka — who worked as a senior adviser in the Trump White House at the time — received multiple new trademarks in China worth millions of dollars days before her father “vowed to find a way” to save a Chinese telecommunications company from bankruptcy.

This pattern of suspicious business entanglements with hostile and corrupt foreign governments continued after the Trump administration.

In mid-2021, the Saudi Arabian government invested $2 billion into Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s new private equity firm. Kushner had also previously worked as a senior adviser in Trump’s White House and used his government position to build a relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Reporting on the deal revealed that politics played a major role in the investment, with the crown prince overriding Saudi analysts who opposed the investment in Kushner’s unproven business. In what’s not likely to be a coincidence,

Trump had earlier bragged that he had “saved his [Crown Prince Mohammed’s] ass” and made Congress “leave him alone” after the Saudi government’s gruesome 2018 assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. (This past June, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform announced an investigation into whether Kushner used his government position to secure the investment.) In 2022, Trump made a deal with the Saudi-funded LIV Golf tour to host several events at his golf courses. Most recently, as Trump was launching his 2024 presidential campaign, he signed a real estate deal to build Trump-branded buildings in partnership with the government of Oman.

Incredibly, none of these actual Trump family business scandals were mentioned in multiple articles from major news organizations covering the GOP’s planned investigation of Hunter Biden, even though the parallel is obvious. Instead, these outlets ran mostly credulous stories centering the Republicans’ specious narratives that Hunter Biden’s business deals are worthy of yet more congressional investigation:

  • NBC News highlighted House Republicans’ laughable plans to “try to determine whether the family’s business activities ‘compromise U.S. national security and President Biden’s ability to lead with impartiality.’” There was no mention of whether the Trump family’s business activities compromised his impartiality.
  • ABC News noted that the GOP claims are nothing new and that the Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) highlighted during the House Republicans' press conference “do not amount to crimes,” yet failed to mention any Trump family business deals, even the Kushner firm’s $2 billion investment from Saudi Arabia that is currently under congressional investigation.
  • CNN likewise threw cold water on Republican allegations highlighting the SARs but also failed to mention the Trump family’s international business entanglements.
  • Politico noted that the GOP’s efforts are “a probe in search of a problem” but didn’t mention the actual problems created by Trump and his family making deals with foreign governments during his previous campaigns and administration, as well as while he is running for president again.
  • The New York Times highlighted plans by Democratic-aligned groups to counter House Republicans’ investigation yet also didn’t mention the various international business deals engaged in by Trump and his family.
  • NPR promoted GOP claims about Hunter Biden’s business dealings and one Republican’s comparison of them “to those of Michael Flynn” who “lobbied for the Turkish government while advising the Trump campaign,” yet somehow failed to mention foreign business dealings by Trump and his family.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Right-Wingers Celebrate Musk's Renewed Offer To Buy Twitter

After The Wall Street Journalreported that billionaire Elon Musk proposed to Twitter that he buy the company at his original offer of roughly $44 billion — following months of his attempts to back out of the deal, resulting in a recent lawsuit — many right-wing media personalities celebrated the news and expressed hope that banned users would be allowed back on the social media platform.

In a statement released in response to the reported acquisition, Media Matters President Angelo Carusone warned that under Musk’s ownership, Twitter “will become a supercharged engine of radicalization if he follows through with even a fraction of what he has promised.” Musk had “made it clear that he would roll back Twitter’s community standards and safety guidelines, reinstate Donald Trump along with scores of other accounts suspended for violence and abuse, and open the floodgates of disinformation,” he said. NBC online disinformation reporter Ben Collins offered similar warnings in a short Twitter thread, stating that “it could actually affect midterms” because Musk “can elevate any idea or person he wants through recommendations and UX [user experience] choices and there will be no oversight on this as a private company.”

When the purchase deal was first announced in late April, there was excitement among right-wing figures banned from Twitter for violating its terms of service and on right-leaning Facebook pages. Anti-trans figures celebrated by expressing increasing bigotry on the platform in violation of its rules against hateful conduct. Fox News hosts were also ecstatic, with some advising Musk to fire everyone at Twitter while pushing the fake narrative that the platform censors conservatives. (According to reporting from the Los Angeles Times, Musk has often opposed transparency at Tesla and quashed his employees’ freedom of speech.)

Now, right-wing media and extremists are once again celebrating Musk for moving forward with his offer to buy Twitter. They’re especially expressing excitement about the likelihood that Musk would return disgraced former President Donald Trump to the platform, from which he has been banned since inciting violence surrounding the January 6 attempt to overthrow the government. He continues to spread inciting rhetoric, recently against law enforcement.

Some right-wing media figures expressed glee about Musk’s Twitter deal

  • Former Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitanosaid that Musk’s Twitter acquisition would be a “great gift to the American people.”
  • Fox Nation host Tammy Bruceexpressed relief that Musk’s deal to buy Twitter had been rekindled: “As long as he gets it that’s all that matters.”
  • Fox host Dan Bonginospeculated that Musk would “own the libs at Twitter,” and he bid his audience to “enjoy every second.”
  • On his Telegram channel, Stop the Steal founder Ali Alexandersuggested he might be back on Twitter if the Musk deal goes through and said that “firing bad Twitter staff” and allowing every bad actor who has been banned from the platform back on “makes PEACE more probable.”
  • The right-wing political organization Project Veritas — which specializes in "sting" operations aimed at smearing its perceived political opponents — used Musk’s takeover as an opportunity to solicit emails from whistleblowers to “restore trust in Twitter.”
  • On the Great Awakening message board, which is associated with the QAnon community conspiracy theory, users agreed that Musk had played Twitter “like a f**kin fiddle.” As one top commenter ominously wrote: “They're so screwed without the commie censorship crew.”
  • Users on the pro-Trump message board The Donaldsuggested that Twitter is a “MASSIVE democrat bot farm” and that Democrats “won’t be happy” about losing their “psyop, programming machine.”

Other right-wing figures speculated that Musk’s Twitter acquisition will open the floodgates for “free speech”

  • Fox Business reporter Lauren Simonettispeculated that the Musk deal could be positive for Twitter users if he “makes these changes that are more supportive of free speech.”
  • Newsmax host Greg Kellysuggested that Musk might bring Trump back on the platform and said that “we should be able to say whatever the hell it is we want to say.”
  • Newsmax anchor Bob Sellerscommented that the deal “could have a political effect” and Musk might “allow things other people would not have” on Twitter.
  • Conservative media watchdog Newsbusterspublished an article titled “Free Speech Wins, Libs Have Epic Meltdown Over Musk Deal.” On Twitter, the organization’s founder, Brent Bozzell, said that he hoped the deal would go through “for the sake of free speech.”
  • Frequent Fox guest Glenn Greenwald said that the “hysteria” over Musk’s Twitter acquisition derived from liberals' fear that “Musk will stop censoring their adversaries.”
  • On his radio show, founder and frequent Fox News guest Clay Travissaid the deal was a big win for “those of us who want to be able to share our actual opinions on social media.” Meanwhile, published an article praising the deal as “a tremendous win for freedom of speech.”
  • In a Twitter thread, right-wing provocateur Christopher Rufosingled out Media Matters and others for reporting on disinformation and prescribed that Musk “should protect independent voices against the false, manipulative, and destructive game of these ‘disinformation reporters’” upon seizing the company’s reins.
  • On Facebook, right-wing advocacy groupPragerUattributed a quote to Musk bashing “wokeness” as “a shield to be mean and cruel, armored in false virtue.” The post racked up over 100,000 interactions.
  • On Truth Social, right-wing filmmaker and conspiracy theorist Dinesh D’Souzasaid that Democrats are “terrified by the prospect that under Elon musk, Twitter might again become a genuine free speech platform.” On Twitter, D’Souza speculated that his own following on the platform might double “to around 5 million.”
  • Former One America News Network host Liz Wheelerteased that she might voice opinions about elections, COVID-19, or trans people as a “first tweet on FREE SPEECH Twitter” once Musk takes over.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Broadcast Networks Carried Charles III's Speech -- But Not Biden's

The three major broadcast networks all aired live special coverage Friday afternoon of King Charles III’s first speech as the British monarch, following the death Thursday of his mother Queen Elizabeth II at the age of 96. The gratuitous coverage provided by ABC, CBS, and NBC of the ascension of a foreign monarch stood in glaring contrast to each network's refusal to air a presidential address by President Joe Biden just one week ago about growing threats to American democracy.

Indeed, the two speeches could not have been more different in their level of importance to the United States. Last week, President Biden delivered a prime-time address in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in which he condemned former President Donald Trump and his supporters for encouraging political violence and seeking to undermine elections in America. The president made a call for national unity, and pledged to continue to “fight for democracy with every fiber of my being.”

By contrast, the United States has been a separate country from the United Kingdom for nearly 250 years, and is not a member of the modern Commonwealth of Nations that also recognizes the British monarch as a ceremonial head of state. In short, the king’s speech Friday did not have any impact, even a symbolic one, on life in the United States, while the president’s speech last week related to urgently important domestic threats. (Mainstream media outlets have also struggled to address the dangers now facing American democracy.)

Boston Globe opinion columnist and associate editor Renée Graham pointed out this major contrast in the networks’ behavior: “None of them aired President Biden's primetime speech about the ongoing threats to American democracy.”

One might possibly argue in response that this is a comparison of apples and oranges, as the networks on Friday were simply running a live feed of King Charles in the course of their regularly scheduled midday news programming. The American president’s speech last week, by contrast, would have required them to preempt other shows during prime time.

The problem with such a counterargument, however, becomes obvious from actually looking at what they ran last Thursday night during the 8 p.m. ET time slot instead of the president’s speech. Two of the networks, CBS and NBC, aired reruns of the shows Young Sheldon and Law & Order, respectively. ABC did in fact run new programming, namely the game show Press Your Luck, in a specially themed episode titled “Zombie Apocalypse Ready.”

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Fox News Bosses Knew Network Spread Lies About Dominion Voting Systems

Reports from Fox News in mid-November 2020 make it clear that the network knew it was peddling falsehoods about Dominion voting machines, yet many of its personalities continued to overwhelmingly spew conspiracy theories on prime-time cable television.

Dominion is suing Fox for defamation after the right-wing cable channel extensively pushed false claims about the 2020 election and Dominion’s voting machines. In the two-week period after Fox News declared Joe Biden the president-elect, the network questioned the results of the election or pushed conspiracy theories about it almost 800 times, including by using Dominion as a scapegoat. Fox became an outlet that aired Trump campaign lies about Dominion voting machines getting hacked without any evidence. The channel’s coverage of the election mimicked the baseless claims of Trump lawyer and conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell.

For Dominion to prove that Fox acted with “actual malice,” the company must show that Fox knew the allegations made about Dominion were false, or that Fox acted in reckless disregard for the truth. In addition to pursuing how culpable the Murdochs were in this regard, Dominion lawyers are deposing Fox prime-time hosts and appear to have text messages that show employees knew Fox was peddling lies, according to Washington Post reporting.

While these lines of inquiry may be already sufficient to meet the “actual malice” standard, brief moments in Fox’s own programming also show the network was contemporaneously aware the Dominion allegations were lies, even if these few examples were drowned out. The Washington Post noted that Dominion may currently be trying to ascertain “whether Fox personalities who challenged election fraud claims on air faced any repercussions.”

Some articles and newsletters on from November 2020 includedstatements from Dominion rejecting the baseless conspiracy theories or Fox staffers mocking the conspiracy theories. On the channel’s programming, some Fox personalities made the effort to debunk what their own colleagues were pushing and encouraged the Fox audience to accept the election. This included directly fact-checking lies about Dominion, labeling such claims as disinformation, and explaining that no evidence for these conspiracy theories had been presented. Unfortunately, vastly outnumbered by Fox lies about the election, these moments were brief and few:

  • Fox correspondent Eric Shawn debunked Trump lies about Dominion, citing cybersecurity experts at the Department of Homeland Security to call it an example of “disinformation.” [Fox News, Special Report, 11/12/20]
  • Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy debunked guest Jonathan Turley’s claim that Dominion voting software “had glitches.” Doocy said: “With that Dominion software: Five counties in Michigan and Georgia had problems. And the Dominion software was used in two of the counties. And in every instance, largely, it was human error – a problem, but the software did not affect the vote counts.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 11/13/20]
  • Days later, Doocy and Turley acknowledged that there was no evidence for the Dominion conspiracy theories. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 11/16/20]
  • Shawn offered to “clarify the election facts as we know them right now,” debunking several baseless claims of voter fraud on-air, reading off the response from Dominion to one particular claim about the company. Shawn also noted that the conspiracy theories are “designed to undermine your faith in American democracy.” [Fox News, America’s News HQ, 11/15/20]
  • Fox correspondent Rick Leventhal said Rudy Giuliani “offered no evidence” for his claims that Dominion is “a radical left company with ties to Venezuela, outright accusing it of fixing the 2020 results.” [Fox News, Fox News at Night, 11/16/20]
  • Fox News anchor Dana Perino and contributor Karl Rove recognized on-air that the accusations were all potential grounds for lawsuits by Dominion against Giuliani and Powell. [Fox News, The Daily Briefing, 11/19/20]
  • Shawn interviewed Dominion representative Michael Steel for nine minutes to debunk specific right-wing allegations against the company. [Fox News, America’s News HQ, 11/22/20]
  • Just two days before the Jan. 6 insurrection, Doocy repeatedly pointed out that Trump’s supporters have shown no evidence to support Dominion conspiracy theories. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 1/4/21]

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Far-Right Conspiracists Deny Russian Atrocities In Bucha

Right-wing media influencers have spread narratives denying the Russian military’s involvement in reported war crimes committed in the town of Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, Ukraine.

Following the withdrawal of Russian troops from the region, mainstream media outlets have reported on satellite images from the region that show mass graves, bodies that show signs of execution, and streets of the once-quiet town “littered with burned-out tanks and corpses.” PBS and The Associated Press have identified four potential war crimes committed by the Russian military since April 3, and their collaborative War Crimes Watch Ukraine resource has verified 113 potential war crimes overall.

The Russian government has denied responsibility for these atrocities. An official Russian Telegram channel denied accusations that Russian soldiers killed Ukrainians in Bucha and claimed that “the photos and video footage from Bucha are another hoax, a staged production and provocation by the Kiev regime for the Western media.”

Far-right influencers took to podcasts, interviews, and social media to boost the Russians’ denial that the massacre was staged or faked, blaming a number of different countries and global organizations.

Conspiracy theory site Infowars has been a hotbed of conspiracy theories related to the atrocities in Bucha. On April 5, Alex Jones took to the show to promote articles on the Infowars site that “clearly show a lot of this was fake.”

The next day guest host Robert Barnes continued to spout similar claims. Barnes asserted that the Russian forces did not control Bucha while they stayed in the city and did not “cut off any civilian infrastructure.” He then repeated assertions that atrocities in the area were not reported until days after Russian forces exited, claiming that fact showed the massacre was a false flag.

On its website, Infowarstouted remarks by Tucker Carlsonforeign policy muse Douglas Macgregor. Macgregor told a YouTube podcast that he was “extremely suspicious” at the “brilliant timing” and unanimous condemnation in the media of Russia's actions in Bucha, likening the condemnation to the lies used to sell the Iraq War. In the same podcast, Macgregor later said of the Bucha massacre that “it’s hard for me to believe that this was a deliberate act done by the Russian military” and that “I looked at both sides of this and I couldn't come away with a certain conclusion one way or the other. There were things that didn't make a lot of sense.”

During the April 4 broadcast of Human Events Daily with Jack Posobiec, the Pizzagate conspiracy theorist claimed “we can’t tell what happened” in Bucha and “both sides have their grievances.” The comments were boosted by The Post Millennial, a right-wing blog. Posobiec has a history of boosting Russian-backed conspiracy theories about the war in Ukraine.

Former presidential candidate Ron Paul claimed on the April 5 edition of the Ron Paul Liberty Report that he’s “very suspicious of what we're hearing, just who has been doing what.” His co-host Daniel McAdams repeated denial narratives, saying, “We do not know what happened in this small town,” and went on to describe a timeline of events that implied Russian forces were not behind the massacre.

During a livestream on Rumble, the right-wing alternative to YouTube, militia-linked radio host Pete Santilli claimed the massacre was faked and the CIA was behind it. The episode also included a video sourced from Infowars that supposedly proved the massacre was faked.

On CrossTalk, a Christian nationalist show hosted by QAnon conspiracy theorist Lauren Witzke and Edward Szall, the co-hosts claimed Russian forces in Bucha were “helping the Ukrainians; they weren’t abusing them, they weren’t doing terrible things to them,” as evidenced by images of food packaging alongside the dead.

Witzke also claimed to have heard rumors Ukrainians are accepting help from Russian forces and said she has “nothing but respect for Putin. And you know what, it’s a daggum shame that they’re doing this crap to people, that they’re murdering people, just so they can paint him as this horrible leader, this tyrant.” The episode, which was cross-posted to the “Stew Peters Network” page on Rumble, is titled “Ukrainian War Crimes in Bucha Exposed: Zelensky’s MI6 Nazi False Flag Murdered Kids.”

The Russian-backed misinformation problem extends beyond far-right media in the English language. The Venezuelen-owened TV outlet Telesur shared a video to its 1.5 million YouTube subscribers on April 4, that called the events in Bucha a farce and included the claims the images were taken following the exit of Russian forces as proof of the falsehood.

In right-leaning private Facebook groups, users have both expressed skepticism about the atrocities in Bucha, suggesting that they have been staged by the “Kiev regime” or “a Liberal faction.” Some posts linked to Infowars and Summit News (an affiliated project of Infowars), while others linked directly to Russian statemedia sites RT and TASS. We found only one instance where Facebook flagged such posts as “False Information.”

Far-right communities on fringe social media platforms have also spread Russian denial.

Gab CEO Andrew Torbaposted to his platform a video from RT that implied the images and videos coming from Bucha were faked. The post amassed over 1,800 likes, comments, and reposts. Another post shared to Gab, known as a haven for white nationalists, on April 5 by @Corvid1984 also questioned the reality of the massacre based on the images and videos coming out of the region. The post received over 1,500 engagements.

A post on the QAnon forum claims, “The National Guard of Ukraine filmed its entering into the town north of Kiev where the alleged massacre took place. They were first in the town after the withdrawal of Russian troops. The video clearly shows no dead bodies on the streets.”

Messaging platform Telegram was also rife with the narrative that reports of potential war crimes in Bucha were Ukrainian propaganda. QAnon-affiliated Telegram channel We The Media reposted a different video originally published by Intel Slava Z, a Russian Telegram news aggregator, and claimed it shows “staged footage of the Ukrainian psyop unit from Bucha.”

On April 4, holocaust denier and leader of the fascist “America First” movement Nick Fuentes posted a link to his livestream decrying the “Fake ‘Bucha’ massacre.” During the stream, Fuentes also said the West “needs an excuse to escalate the war just as much as the Ukrainians, and how do they do that? Well they do a handshake deal, and the Ukrainians fake the massacre and the Western media eats it up, they feed that to the population.”

Printed with permission from Media Matters.

Fox News Replaces Chris Wallace With A Parade Of Partisan Misinformers

Fox News will reportedly replace Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace, who recently announced his departure from the right-wing propaganda channel, with rotating anchors from its “news” side. But most of these figures have extensive histories of pushing conservative misinformation.

On December 12, Wallace announced that he would be departing Fox News, to join CNN after 18 years of hosting Fox News Sunday, stripping one of the last veneers of respectability from the network’s blatant and deadly right-wing propaganda. According to The Wall Street Journal, “rotating anchors will fill in for Mr. Wallace until a permanent replacement is named, including Bret Baier, Dana Perino, Bill Hemmer, Jennifer Griffin and John Roberts.” NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik said Shannon Bream, Neil Cavuto, Martha MacCallum, and Harris Faulkner will also serve as rotating Fox News Sunday anchors.

But nearly all of these Fox personalities have proved that they’ll peddle misinformation to viewers on many topics.

Bret Baier

Baier has been the anchor of Fox News’ Special Report since 2009. He has regularly spread conservative misinformation on his program and in multiple Fox special documentaries. He pushed misleading information about a food assistance program and the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack, and he falsely claimed just prior to the 2016 election that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was likely to be indicted.

More recently, over the past year -- among other things -- he has downplayed the threat of climate change, allowed a Fox contributor to repeatedly spread skepticism of COVID-19 vaccines, and downplayed both the January 6 insurrection and former President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 presidential election:

  • Baier aired misleading graphs about fossil fuel prices to critique the Biden administration. To further the narrative that commodities prices have increased dramatically under the Biden administration, Baier aired graphs showing oil and natural gas prices from 2019 to 2021, a notably short snapshot in time. A 10- or 20-year graph would’ve shown a much more accurate picture that these energy prices have fluctuated a lot in the past. [Media Matters, 9/29/21]
  • During 12 years of Baier’s tenure, nearly 88% of Special Report’s climate segments either spread misinformation or perpetuated false or misleading narratives. [Media Matters, 6/16/21]
  • Special Report downplayed the United Nation’s sixth climate change report and turned to a climate science denier for commentary. On Baier’s show, Fox foreign affairs correspondent Benjamin Hall claimed in a report that “some experts have cast doubt” on the report’s “conclusions.” The “expert” Hall relied on was Steve Koonin, a theoretical physicist with no formal background in climate science and a frequent Fox guest who has used his controversial history within the scientific and political climate change community to contradict established scientific consensus. Baier’s program also allowed former Trump official Mike Pompeo to spin the Trump administration’s failures on climate change and misled viewers about support for clean energy investments. [Media Matters, 8/10/21, 4/23/21, 4/7/21]
  • Baier allowed a Fox contributor to spread skepticism about COVID-19 vaccines on Special Report. On Special Report, Fox contributor Ben Domenech referred to the COVID-19 vaccines as an “experimental treatment” and dubiously blamed mask requirements for some people’s hesitancy to get vaccinated. Baier then moved on to a related topic. In an earlier episode, Domenech denied that any Americans had died as a result of vaccine misinformation. [Media Matters, 7/19/21, 7/16/21]
  • Baier whitewashed Trump’s election lies while covering them. On July 12, Baier reported on Trump’s comments at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), during which he lied about the 2020 presidential election. Baier aired a clip of Trump’s lies without offering any context or pushback. Baier has also previously played a role in Fox’s promotion of Trump’s election lies, and he previously aired a misleading graphic comparing voting laws in Colorado and Georgia amid media coverage of Georgia’s new restrictive voting laws. Earlier in the year, Baier reported on former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell pushing election lies without noting Fox’s involvement in spreading those lies. [Media Matters, 7/13/21, 5/14/21, 4/7/21, 3/24/21]
  • A day before the January 6 insurrection, Baier claimed Democrats “did try to overturn an election” by impeaching Trump. [Media Matters, 1/5/21]
  • Baier downplayed the January 6 insurrection as it was happening: “It's not like it's a siege. ... It seems like they are protesting.” The next day, Baier downplayed Trump’s incitement to insurrection. [Media Matters, 1/6/21, 1/7/21]

John Roberts

Roberts joined the channel in 2011 after leaving CNN and currently co-anchors the daytime Fox program America Reports. During his time at Fox News, he has provided cover for Republican politicians, even incredulously claiming during the 2016 election cycle that Trump had “become a champion” for the LGBTQ community. And in 2021, Roberts misled about President Joe Biden's policies, COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, and voting rights and immigration:

  • Roberts described the news of Biden signing a law that supports law enforcement and the Justice Department giving a grant to hire more police officers as an “amazing … reversal by Democrats” on “this whole defund the police movement,” which Biden never supported. In fact, the grant was part of a campaign promise by Biden to provide funds for hiring and training more police officers. [Twitter, 11/18/21, PolitiFact, 8/5/20, U.S. Department of Justice, 11/18/21]
  • Roberts has both spread vaccine hesitancy and blamed it on Democrats. In a tweet he later deleted, Roberts wrote of former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s death: “The fact that Colin Powell died from a breakthrough COVID infection raises new concerns about how effective vaccines are long-term.” Robert did not mention that Powell had a serious underlying health condition. Months earlier, Roberts had blamed Democrats for “a lot of vaccine hesitancy in the United States.” [Media Matters, 10/19/21, 7/23/21]
  • Roberts pushed the lie that migrants don’t show up to their immigration court hearings. In a conversation with his co-anchor Shannon Bream, Roberts agreed with her assertion that most undocumented migrants fail to show up at their court hearings. In fact, by some measurements, as many as 81% of families attend all their hearings, with the rate reaching 99% for families with legal representation. [Media Matters, 9/22/21]
  • Roberts pushed a ridiculous spin of Biden’s leaked phone call with the former Afghanistan president. Roberts pushed a dishonest spin of a phone call that Biden had in July with then-President Ashraf Ghani, discussing ideas for the government of Afghanistan to survive against the Taliban’s takeover of the country. Roberts joined other Fox personalities in comparing the call to Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president -- a real political scandal in which Trump had threatened to withhold military aid from Ukraine unless its government acted as a political tool against Trump's own domestic opposition. [Media Matters, 9/2/21]
  • Roberts pushed dishonest talking points about Texas’ voter suppression bills. In June, Roberts joined other Fox hosts in pushing dishonest talking points about Texas’ bills to make voting more restrictive by incorrectly comparing the proposed restrictions to voting conditions in Delaware. [Media Matters, 6/2/21]
  • Roberts pushed a blatant lie that Biden wanted to ban hamburger consumption, before airing a correction that blamed graphics and script. Roberts distorted a University of Michigan study that showed reducing meat consumption could lower greenhouse gas emissions to falsely claim Biden’s climate plan included limiting Americans’ meat consumption. He opened a segment on the topic by declaring: “Say goodbye to your burgers if you want to sign up for the Biden climate agenda. That’s the finding of one study.” The segment included chyrons such as “Bye-bye burgers under Biden’s climate plan,” “Study: 90% of red meat out with Biden climate plan,” and “Biden’s climate plan burns all-you-can-eat burgers.” Roberts later issued a correction, blaming “a graphic and a script” for the error. [Media Matters, 4/26/21]

Martha MacCallum

MacCallum joined Fox News in 2004 and is currently the anchor and executive editor of The Story. During her time at Fox, she has become known for regularly adoptingRepublican positions on the topics she covers. In 2021, MacCallum has attacked vaccine mandates; and programs for feeding children at school; and spread election lies:

  • MacCallum suggested that COVID-19 vaccine mandates could “ruin” the U.S. In a September 30 interview with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, MacCallum said: “If you designed a way to sort of ruin the United States, right, you'd go after the economy with this terrible virus that has killed so many people. … Then you get a vaccine. Then you make people — you mandate it and then you've got those same teachers and health care workers and the border patrol backing out of their jobs.” Earlier in the year, she cast doubt on the efficacy of masks in an interview with Brett Giroir, former assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services. [Media Matters, 9/30/21, 3/9/21]
  • MacCallum attacked school lunch programs. MacCallum said: “One of the things that kills me is that now, you know, there's a free lunch program in New Jersey. And it's for everyone. … So, those kids are all going to grow up thinking, well, school lunch is free, right? And then God help the person who comes along and tries to take that away. … Once that happens, right, once it's baked in there -- never going to end.” [Media Matters, 9/30/21]
  • MacCallum pushed baseless suggestions that the California recall election outcome could be “fraudulent.” During a September 14 interview, MacCallum cited candidate Larry Elder’s suggestion “that there might be a fraudulent outcome to this election” and asked her guest, “Do you think that there is anything to not trust in this system?” [Media Matters, 9/14/21]
  • MacCallum allowed a Republican lawmaker who voted against certifying the election to lie about the House investigation of the insurrection on Fox News Sunday. When MacCallum was guest anchoring Fox News Sunday on July 25, MacCallum failed to question Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) about his support for overturning the 2020 presidential election results. Instead, she allowed him to falsely blame House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for the breakdown in security on January 6. And as Trump’s supporters were ransacking the Capitol building on January 6, MacCallum said it was “a huge victory” for them because “they have disrupted the system in an enormous way.” [Media Matters, 7/26/21, 1/6/21]
  • MacCallum suggested that a New Jersey town removing holiday names from a school calendar is leading us down the path of communist China. [Media Matters, 6/14/21]
  • MacCallum argued that the Trump administration’s policy of taking children away from parents who crossed the southern border without authorization was “more humane” than the Biden administration policy of not deporting children who crossed the border. [Media Matters, 3/22/21]

Dana Perino

Perino was the press secretary for Republican President George W. Bush prior to joining Fox News in 2009. She currently co-anchors a news program for the channel with Bill Hemmer and co-hosts the opinion program The Five. She became known for her failed efforts to rehabilitate Bush’s record on terrorism while at Fox, most notably her incredible 2009 claim -- which she had to walk back -- that the U.S. “did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush's term.” During the past year, she continued to push misinformation about Democratic policies and priorities:

  • Perino bizarrely claimed windmills aren’t “green” because “you cannot recycle” wind turbines. [Media Matters, 10/21/21]
  • Perino misinformed about a proposed IRS reform to crack down on tax evaders. On October 1, Perino claimed Biden’s “new tax plan” has “a financial spying operation. The requirements mean that the IRS would track activities in every single American's bank account with at least $600, leading to concerns this could destroy financial privacy.” In fact, an expert explained that the $600 threshold would make it difficult for tax evaders to hide income across multiple bank accounts, and it would empower the IRS to more effectively target auditing toward those making a lot of money. It was also designed to protect privacy, not violate it. [Media Matters, 10/1/21, 10/8/21]
  • Perino interviewed disgraced author Steve Hayes about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and failed to note that Hayes was at the forefront of creating a discredited link between former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, which was cited by the Bush administration. [Media Matters, 8/18/21]
  • Perino blamed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for Arkansas’ low COVID-19 vaccination rate. In an August 3 interview with Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Perino asked the governor if “confusion from the CDC ... frustrated your efforts” to increase vaccinations in his state. Perino also suggested that Biden’s mask wearing undermined faith in COVID-19 vaccines. [Media Matters, 8/3/21, 4/30/21]
  • Perino pushed Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R-UT) false claim that Biden had a “de facto child separation policy” at the southern border. [Media Matters, 3/22/21, PolitiFact, 2/25/21]
  • Perino helped gin up fake outrage over Democrats’ COVID-19 relief spending. Perino pushed a Republican demagogic talking point that the American Rescue Plan will provide stimulus payments to inmates in prison, without mentioning that this provision was also included in the previous COVID-19 relief packages passed under Trump. Perino showed mug shot images of a white-supremacist mass murderer and Boston Marathon bomber, saying: “They remain behind bars — but they’re going to get the money, anyway.” [Media Matters, 3/8/21]

Bill Hemmer

Hemmer co-anchors a morning news program on Fox with Perino, after he briefly anchored his own show in the afternoon. Like his former co-anchor Martha MacCallum, Hemmer has a history of pushing Republican talking points as facts, which he continued to do during the past year:

  • Hemmer spread a baseless anti-vaccine rumor about the California governor’s low public profile after his COVID-19 booster shot. According to Hemmer, “He got a booster shot two weeks ago, then he went out of — he was on camera for the booster shot, then he disappeared for two weeks, and we don’t really know why. But that was the first rationale we were given, is that it was Halloween.” [Media Matters, 11/10/21]
  • Hemmer invited a guest to attack a daycare chain over its “diversity, equity, and inclusion” plan. Hemmer and a guest mischaracterized KinderCare's “diversity, equity, and inclusion” plan, which includes reading multicultural books, as teaching kids as young as six weeks “they're an oppressor.” His guest claimed the daycare chain was “indoctrinating little children.” [Media Matters, 11/5/21]
  • Hemmer misled his viewers by characterizing the Department of Justice response to disruptions and violence at school board meetings as an attack on parents. While speaking to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Hemmer disregarded the context of the situation and asked, “Can you stop this move against parents?” [Media Matters, 10/8/21]
  • Hemmer dismissed concerns about climate change amid the destruction of Hurricane Ida. In September, Hemmer cut out of a news conference on the aftermath of Hurricane Ida in New York, saying, “ We're going to pop out of this. You know, it's turned political quite quickly. It didn't take long to put the focus on, quote-unquote, ‘climate change’ here in New York. In the meantime, though, we're dealing with at least 14 people who have died between New York and New Jersey based on the reporting we're getting now.” In November, Hemmer provided no pushback to a guest saying, “Climate change panic is so overblown that it is hyperbolic and silly.” [Media Matters, 9/2/21, 11/1/21]
  • Hemmer fear-mongered about terrorist groups crossing the border with no evidence. While discussing the withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Afghanistan, Hemmer said, “The Taliban — Al Qaeda is devious. Who's to say that they're not already taking advantage of that? When a family from Ghana can walk across the border into Texas, sky is the limit here.” [Media Matters, 8/23/21]

Harris Faulkner

Faulkner anchors her own program, The Faulkner Focus, on Fox News and also co-hosts the opinion program Outnumbered. She has made some bizarre choices as an interviewer, such as the time she apologized to viewers for her co-hosts who interrupted Fox contributor Newt Gingrich’s anti-Semitic tirade against George Soros. And after a terrorist attack in which a Trump supporter mailed pipe bombs to Democrats, Faulkner partially blamed a Democratic member of Congress for it. In 2021, Faulkner supported Republican attacks on elections and voting rights and helped to push conspiracy-laden claims:

  • Faulkner praised the “very deep” analysis of a Fox host who said infrastructure bills are about “compliance” from “overlords.” On Faulkner’s show, Fox & Friends Weekend co-host Will Cain described the infrastructure bill as “a solution to the fear that [Democrats] peddled … for over 18 months, and what we get at the backend of this is a redrawn relationship — with our elites, with our overlords, with our government, and so what they ask for in the end really won't be our government.” Faulkner provided no pushback and instead praised his “very deep” analysis. [Media Matters, 9/30/21]
  • After Faulkner’s co-host said Biden's “puppeteer” made the decision to fire Trump appointees from military advisory boards, Faulkner asked, “Which marionette is it?” This rhetoric echoes messaging from the Trump campaign in 2020, some of which was antisemitic, that Biden is a “puppet” of the left. [Media Matters, 9/9/21, 9/16/20, 8/20/20]
  • Faulkner helped conservatives lie about Georgia’s election restriction law on the air. Fox contributor Newt Gingrich and Fox host Kayleigh McEnany both distorted Georgia’s election law and compared it to Colorado’s election laws after Major League Baseball decided to move its All-Star Game in protest. Faulkner provided no pushback to Gingrich and McEnany for their claims and later echoed Gingrich’s point. [Media Matters, 4/14/21]
  • Faulkner helped Trump lie about immigration and his own border policies during an on-air interview with him. During a phone interview with Trump, Faulkner and Trump attempted to pin blame on Biden for undocumented immigrants attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, through an alleged abandonment of key Trump policies. The pair claimed that Biden had repealed a specific Trump border policy, when in reality much of the policy remained intact. [Media Matters, 3/22/21]
  • Faulkner told Republican Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) that the effort to throw out election results “benefits everybody.” Johnson was speaking to Faulkner about his plan to contest the 2020 election results. In response, she said, “You know what's interesting? And I've had voters ask me this very question. I'll put it to you. If this were a situation where others were disenfranchised — and it weren't Republicans — what you're doing benefits everybody. Because you've got to take a look at those areas that are broken, so going forward everybody has more faith.” [Media Matters, 1/5/21]

Neil Cavuto

Cavuto anchors shows on both Fox News and Fox Business, and he is also a senior vice president and managing editor of business news for the network. He has demonstrated a clear bias in favor of corporate executives over the rights and welfare of workers and has repeatedlyopposedunions and spread misinformation about minimum wage increases. In some of his 2021 coverage, Cavuto ignored his own network's role in lies about COVID-19 vaccines and the 2020 presidential election:

  • In an interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci, Cavuto hid Fox’s role in pushing lies about Fauci and COVID-19 vaccines. During a December 3 interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci, he and Cavuto worked to educate viewers about the need for COVID-19 vaccination. But Cavuto failed to point out that many of the narratives they were trying to dispel had been given a platform on his own network. [Media Matters, 12/3/21]
  • Instead of stating Biden was the legitimate president, Cavuto asked a guest: “In your gut, is Joe Biden the legitimate president of the United States?” During an interview with former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson almost three months after Biden was inaugurated as president, Cavuto asked Carson “do you agree” with Trump and other Republicans that “the wrong person won the presidential election.” Cavuto later asked: “So, in your gut, doctor, is Joe Biden the legitimate president of the United States?” Cavuto never mentioned that Fox News had also extensively pushed this lie. [Media Matters, 4/21/21]
  • Cavuto criticized the passage of COVID-19 relief. Before Congress passed the American Rescue Plan, Cavuto claimed in February that the economy is doing so well, “we might not need it.” After it passed, he continued to spin the legislation as wasteful, saying: “Wall Street doesn't seem to care whether it's wasteful spending or not. Stimulus is stimulus, money is money. They seem to embrace it.” [Media Matters, 2/25/21, 3/12/21]

Shannon Bream

Bream anchors Fox News’ late night program Fox News @ Night, and prior to that, she was a Supreme Court correspondent for the network. Bream has a long history of amplifying anti-abortion lies. She has serially misgendered trans people, has attacked their rights, and has suggested businesses have a right to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Bream has repeatedly hosted the anti-LGBTQ organization Alliance Defending Freedom. Bream's attacks on trans people continued in 2021:

  • Bream has repeatedly allowed guests to advocate for oppression of transgender people on her show. During March, Bream provided a platform to three Republican lawmakers who lied about the 2021 Equality Act, which aims to protect LGBTQ Americans from discrimination. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) claimed that the Equality Act will “replace mom and dad with bureaucrats.” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) made the absurd claim that “serial sexual predator Harvey Weinstein could transition to being a woman tomorrow, and the Equality Act would require the government to put him in a women's prison.” And Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) fearmongered that the Equality Act would “require our schools to expose girls in a junior high locker room to ... the penis of a boy who identifies as a girl.” On Bream's program, Fox reporter Trace Gallagher spread a pervasive right-wing lie that LGBTQ nondiscrimination measures will force doctors to perform “sex reassignment surgeries on minors.” [Media Matters, 5/11/21, 5/13/21]
  • Immediately following the January 6 insurrection, Bream hosted a Republican lawmaker who voted against certifying the 2020 election and responded approvingly to his proposed legislation to roll back voting access. On the night of January 6, Bream interviewed Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), a lawmaker who had just voted to object to the electoral votes from Arizona, a state Biden won. When Banks said that he was planning to propose legislation to roll back voting access — such as banning all mail-in ballots — Bream responded approvingly, saying that Trump supporters had “a great deal of frustration” about the election. “And I think that's something that people across the political spectrum wants for Americans to have confidence in their elections,” she concluded. [Media Matters, 1/8/21]
Reprinted with permission from Media Mattters

Right-Wing Media Won’t Stop Lying About Afghan ‘Hanged’ From Chopper

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Multiple right-wing media figures, outlets, and social media users falsely claimed that a viral video showing a man in Afghanistan suspended from a helicopter was an execution by the Taliban. Other footage of the flight showed the man alive and well, and reportedly he was attempting to fix a flag.

This narrative is just one example of multiplefalsehoods spread by conservatives to attack President Joe Biden following his decision to withdraw U.S. military forces from Afghanistan.

As Media Matters previously wrote, Fox News host Sean Hannity aired the footage on the August 31 edition of Fox News' Hannity, falsely claiming it showed the Taliban dangling a hanged man from a Black Hawk helicopter in Afghanistan. But Hannity's claim had been debunked before his show aired.

Conservative media personalities and politicians — including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO) — also repeated the false claim on Twitter, using it to criticize the Biden administration's decision to remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Cruz later deleted his tweet, writing that the information in it "may be inaccurate."

A tweet by Rep. Jason Smith that reads "On the day that we see innocent people hanging from an American helicopter, the Biden Administration decides to pull out early leaving behind hundreds of Americans and even more innocents to die at the hands of the Taliban. It's unacceptable and heartbreaking."

A Fox anchor along with multiple contributors and guests have also engaged with the false claim, as have other right-wing cable channels like One America News Network and Newsmax, other media organizations and users on fringe social media platforms.

Fox News and Fox Business

  • On August 30, a day before Hannity himself pushed this lie, Hannity guest Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) said that "we had a video today of one of our Blackhawk helicopters with somebody hanging from it as it moves through the sky."
  • Also on August 30, guest Elliot Ackerman said on The Ingraham Angle that "we just saw the Taliban flying a Blackhawk helicopter above Kandahar with a dead body hanging from its bottom."
  • On August 30, Fox Business guest Stephen Yates said: "We have today the Taliban hanging someone from a helicopter."
  • On August 31, Fox Business guest Sam Brown said, "We're seeing the reality of the Taliban now flying Blackhawk helicopters over Kabul, hanging their enemy."
  • Later the same day, Fox contributor Katie Pavlich said on The Five, "They are hanging people from our helicopters." Pavlich repeated this later in the show, saying the Taliban have "been using" weapons left behind "to execute our allies who helped us on the ground. … They hung a guy with a helicopter."
  • That evening, Fox Business anchor David Asman was discussing the helicopters U.S. forces left behind and said: "At least one was used yesterday in horrific fashion to hang a human being. We don't know the circumstances of that. We don't know who that person was that was hanging from the helicopter. But in one of the typically sick dimension of the way that these -- the Taliban think, or whoever was piloting that helicopter, that's how they used it."
  • And on September 1, Fox News contributor Charles Hurt said on Fox Business, "The image of our Blackhawk helicopter flying around Kabul with the body of what appears to be a dead person hanging from the bottom of it -- those images get seared into people's minds, and they never forget it."


  • On the August 31 edition of the morning show Wake Up America, Newsmax's Alex Kraemer showed and read a tweet claiming that the Taliban "are now hanging innocent civilians from [helicopters] for the world to see." Later in the show, co-host Rob Finnertysaid: "We saw someone hanging from a helicopter on video. This person was dead."
  • During Newsmax's August 31 midday show John Bachman Now, the host said there are "U.S. Blackhawks reportedly being flown by the Taliban with people hanging from them."
  • Later that day on American Agenda, Newsmax host Grant Stinchfield said the Taliban were "flying people hanging from Blackhawk helicopters yesterday." Later in the show, former Trump spokesperson Jason Miller referenced people in Kabul risking being "flown around the city hanging by their neck off of a helicopter."
  • On September 1, Finnerty repeated this lie on Wake Up America, saying: "We saw somebody hanging from a U.S. military helicopter over Kabul just a couple of days ago."

One America News Network

  • On August 31, the host of OAN's In Focus with Stephanie Hamill said: "There's video circulating online of them in an American helicopter with a man hanging by his neck off of the helicopter." Her guest, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), replied: "That's sick. That is sick."
  • Later on Real America, host Dan Ball previewed the video he claimed shows "the Taliban flying one of our Blackhawk choppers in Kandahar with a body hanging from it" with a long-winded warning about graphic content. He added: "Now, have we vetted it all out? Can I confirm it happened yesterday? I don't know when it happened. It's all over the web. It's from Kandahar. I can't read what that says, but we're getting this from multiple sources of folks that were there on the ground. They confirm it's one of our choppers, they confirm it's from Afghanistan. I don't know who's hanging there, but -- you want to see this stuff come over here? And I'm not trying to fearmonger one bit. I'm keeping it real, folks."

Other right-wing outlets and social media

  • On August 30, Gateway Pundit shared a screenshot of the video on its website along with tweets containing versions of the video, incorrectly claiming that "today the Islamists used US helicopters to hang 'traitors' in Kandahar Afghanistan" and argued that the Taliban was "openly mocking" the U.S.
  • On August 31, the New York Post published the video on its website along with an article that said "it is not immediately clear exactly how [the person in the video] is attached or if he is alive." The piece then quoted "some journalists" who it says "insisted that it showed someone who had been hanged — and then paraded in the skies."
  • The video of the helicopter and screenshots from the video also spread on several fringe right-wing social media platforms between August 30 and September 1, including Gab, 4chan, and This content was also shared widely among right-wing users on the messaging app Telegram. Many of these posts criticized the Biden administration, with one user claiming, falsely, that the Taliban was "flying [a] Biden-provided Blackhawk helicopter…while hanging someone from it." This post quoted a tweet stating that "it's an absolute shitfest to see the Taliban now actually flying US BlackHawk helicopters, hanging people by the throat from them!! The American President will never be forgiven for this!!"
Research contributions from Leo Fernandez and Bobby Lewis

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 timesmore 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 repeatedlyagreed 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 Journalfalsely 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 deepties 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.

Secession And Martial Law Obsess Right-Wing Media Outlets

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

After the Supreme Court on Friday declined to hear a lawsuit from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to overturn the election, many far-right pro-Trump media figures, social media personalities, Republican Party officials, and former congressional candidates expressed support for secession from the United States or the use of the military to overturn the election which President Donald Trump lost.

The lawsuit sought, in a "seditious abuse of judicial process," to invalidate the election results from several swing states that contributed to President-elect Joe Biden's victory. This extreme attempt to overthrow our democracy garnered mainstream Republican support, with 17 GOP state attorneys general and more than half of House Republicans signing on in support of it.

Read NowShow less

Major Media Parroted Trump Doctor’s Misleading Claims

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

The administration and the medical team of President Donald Trump have offered misleading and contradictory information about his health since he announced early Friday morning that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. But on Sunday, many major news organizations took at face value and highlighted their claims that Trump may be discharged from the Walter Reed medical center on Monday.

On Saturday, Trump's doctors made confusing statements about the timeline of his coronavirus diagnosis and treatment, and a memo from the White House aimed at clarifying these statements itself contained errors and inconsistencies. Trump's physician Dr. Sean Conley had also been cagey about whether Trump had been given oxygen as part of his treatment. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has also issued contradictory statements to reporters, at first expressing grave concerns about Trump's health after the Saturday press briefing by the president's doctors, but later claiming Trump "is doing very well."

Read NowShow less

On Texas TV Outlets, Rep. Gohmert Claimed Mask Caused His Illness

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, who represents the 1st Congressional District in Texas, tested positive for the novel coronavirus on Wednesday. Gohmert has regularly failed to wear a protective face mask, and after he absurdly blamed his infection on the times he did wear a mask, TV news coverage from outlets in his district failed to correct his dangerous misinformation, potentially misleading viewers -- Gohmert's own constituents -- about the necessity of wearing masks to protect themselves and others.

Read NowShow less

Network Sunday Shows Ignore Bombshell Report On Trump’s Pandemic Failure

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

The New York Times on April 11 reported that various officials in President Donald Trump's administration sounded the alarm on the novel coronavirus in January, but the president "was slow to absorb the scale of the risk and to act accordingly." While medical experts appeared on Fox News Sunday and State of the Union to discuss the story -- with Dr. Anthony Fauci acknowledging that lives could have been saved had Trump acted sooner -- and Meet the Press discussed it as well, This Week and Face the Nation failed to cover the Times report at all.

According to the Times' reporting, Trump repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of the outbreak even as experts were making clear that aggressive action was needed:

Read NowShow less