An Urgent Call for Action to Save Net Neutrality

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On Wednesday, November 22, 2017, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai released his draft order to eliminate net neutrality. In short, this order will eradicate net neutrality rules and abandon the court-approved Title II legal framework serving the basis for the successful 2015 Open Internet Order. These regulations prevented internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or slowing down access to websites or services as well as bans them from offering so-called fast lanes to companies willing to pay extra to reach consumers more quickly than competitors. The proposal’s most significant change is to strip the FCC’s authority to regulate broadband as a utility and shift that responsibility to the Federal Trade Commission, which can’t create the hard and fast rules ISPs must follow. But the FCC will simply require ISPs to be transparent about any blocking, throttling, or pay prioritization which they would evaluate based on whether or not the activity is anti-competitive. However, the proposal will also ban state and local governments from imposing their own net neutrality rules to replace federal regulations or lack thereof. A vote on this measure is scheduled on December 14 and it’s expected to be passed and implemented on a party line 3-2 vote. Ironically called, “The Restoring Internet Freedom Act,” is basically everything that ISPs could want. But it is a policy that will take away every safeguard we need to protect the open internet we’ve always had. Since it will give ISPs the power to kill off their competition, choke innovation, charge more for various content, suppress political dissent, and marginalize voices of racial justice advocates and others organizing for change. Essentially, Pai’s proposal is thin on substance and reasoning, cruel, willfully naïve, as well as not grounded in reality. Yet, should the FCC has its way, Pai’s plan will change how Americans experience the internet and for the worse.

Under the existing regulations the FCC passed in 2015, there are clear hardline rules forbidding telecom companies from unethical business practices. These rules are reinforced with strong but flexible safeguards that the 2015 order built in for other schemes ISPs might use now or invent in the near future to interfere with internet traffic. With the exception of scant transparency rules, Pai plans to “eliminate the conduct rules adopted in the Title II Order — including the general conduct rule and the prohibitions on paid prioritization, blocking and throttling.” This leaves internet users entirely without protections and relying on ISPs to behave and avoid exploiting their internet gatekeeper status. It’s clear in the “The Restoring Internet Freedom Act” that Pai and his fellow Republican colleagues at the FCC want to allow telecom companies to legally block and discriminate internet content. In other words, “restoring internet freedom” means restoring the ISPs’ own freedom to offer “curated services” rather than their broadband customers’ rights. Thus, Donald Trump’s FCC wants to let the most-hated and worst-rated companies in America block and edit online speech.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Pai wants to end net neutrality to enrich his buddies at Verizon where he worked as an attorney. But he’s often used flimsy arguments that even without oversight and prohibitions against blocking and discrimination by claiming, “transparency substantially reduces the possibility that ISPs will engage in harmful practices, and it incentivizes quick corrective measures by providers if problematic conduct is identified.” After all, he states that these large telecom companies have, “publicly committed not to block or throttle the content that consumers choose.” Except that public commitments don’t mean a damn thing to them. Besides we all know these telecom companies want to end net neutrality so they control whatever their customers say or do online. Discriminating against the content consumers to is the whole damn point. Telecom companies have the technology to scrutinize over every piece of information we send or receive online like websites, email, videos, internet phone calls, or data from games or social networks. They can program computers routing information to interfere with the data flow by slowing down or blocking traffic and communication they don’t like while speeding up traffic they do that pays them extra for the privilege. And as far as Tim Wu is concerned, “transparency” is basically a euphemism for “doing nothing.” But the FCC factsheet states that “Internet service providers didn’t block websites before the Obama Administration’s heavy-handed 2015 internet regulations and won’t after they are repealed.” However, before the 2015 order put firm rules on solid legal footing in place, ISPs blocked content, throttled websites, and used their power to rig the market in their favor. These cable and phone companies have taken every chance they could get around net neutrality laws and have already shown us exactly what they’ll do if we let them. Numerous incidents of abuse include:

  • AT&T pressuring Apple into blocking the Skype app on all iPhones, complaining that Skype was being unfair by “not operating on a level playing field,” or in other words, having a better product that AT&T couldn’t compete with. So they just blocked people from using it. And they weren’t the only ones to do so either since ISPs from around the world followed suit and most didn’t just stop at Skype either. In fact, they blocked every program you could use to make online phone calls altogether.
  • Madison River Communications blocking voice-over-internet protocol (VOIP) Vonage which filed a complaint to the FCC after hearing a slew of customer grievances. The FCC stepped in to sanction Madison River and prevent further blocking. But it lacks the authority to stop this kind of abuse today.
  • Comcast, Verizon, and Metro PCS slowing down Netflix. In 2011, Metro PCS sent out an ad boasting that anyone who signed up for their cheapest plan would receive “YouTube access.” Though it might seem good on paper, it actually meant that if you weren’t willing to pay for the expensive plan, the company will block every other video streaming site on the internet. Because they advertised users could “preview trial video content” but not actually watch it for $10 more. And if users paid $20 more, they could access 18 different video streaming websites. Verizon has also been caught slowing down Netflix users. Sure they didn’t make it impossible to watch a movie, but they made it slow enough so no one could waste bandwidth by watching a video in HD. Comcast has done it, too, which is particularly troubling since they own TV networks and have some clear reasons wanting to keep Netflix from succeeding. And they refused to slow down until Netflix paid money. So basically Comcast just blackmailed their competition by sabotaging them and refusing to stop until they paid them. And by the way, this was before net neutrality and thus perfectly legal.
  • Canadian ISP Telus blocking its customers from seeing their workers’ union website called “Voices for Change” which listed their complaints and demands during a 2005 strike. Oh, and they blocked 766 other websites hosted on the same server. In other words, Telus censored an entire section of the Internet because they didn’t like what people were saying. And since there was no net neutrality at the time, the Canadian company suffered zero consequences other than a media tongue lashing.
  • British ISP Plusnet telling charging their customers extra for playing online games. The company set up a tier of different data plans asking their customers to decide if they wanted to be able to surf the internet, stream videos, play video games, or do all 3. And if they weren’t willing to pay for the premium package, they’d be charged extra. And Plusnet didn’t just block video games in the cheaper plans either. They also blocked VPNs, forcing employees who remotely connect to their offices to pay more. And unless you were willing to pay for the most expensive plan, they slowed down peer-to-peer programs like Bit Torrent so badly they hardly worked at all.
  • AT&T censoring words from Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder when he sang “George Bush, leave this world alone” and “George Bush find yourself another home,” on account of preventing youth visiting the website from being exposed to “excessive profanity.” Though the song contained none. Of course, they later blamed it on an external website contractor hired to screen the performance.
  • Verizon cutting off the pro-choice group NARAL text-messaging program since they didn’t want to service programs from any group “that seeks to promote an agenda or distribute content that, in its discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of our users.”
  • Comcast and Cox Communications blocking VPN. In 2001, these companies updated their terms of services declaring from now on that their customers had to agree not to use a VPN unless they were willing to pay for it. Since VPN lets you connect to another network, which for a lot of people means it’s a way to connect to their office from home, this resulted in a lot of people working from home being suddenly blocked off from how they made their livelihood. And when people called and complained, they didn’t receive much sympathy. Comcast basically said that anyone working from home was going to have to upgrade to their “@Home Pro Package” which started at $95 a month. Essentially, if you worked from home, you had 2 options: either start paying for the most expensive plan Comcast had or get a new job.
  • Verizon blocking Google Wallet. In 2011, Verizon developed its own digital wallet which was going to change the way people made purchases by letting people make purchases with a simple wave of their phone. And they were pretty sure they’d make a fortune, too. Except for two things. First, their product’s name was “Isis” which was about to become less marketable for reasons I need not discuss. Second, Google had already released an identical product called Google Wallet which basically doomed Verizon’s Isis from the start. So when Verizon realized they couldn’t beat Google fairly, they blocked Google Wallet on all Verizon phones, essentially making it impossible for their customers to pick their competition over them. Unsurprisingly, Verizon was accused of breaking net neutrality laws. But since they technically blocked Google’s hardware instead of its software, they got away with it. So there’s every reason to believe if Verizon could block an app that’s competing with one of their own, they’d take it.
  • Comcast deliberately blocking BitTorrent. In 2007, Comcast was caught blocking peer-to-peer programs like BitTorrent, eDonkey, and Gnutella through deep packet inspection to block file transfers from customers using these networks. As a result, any Comcast customer trying to share files from one computer to another would find that their internet connection inexplicably kept dropping. At first, Comcast denied it. However, national tests conducted by the Associated Press confirmed the company’s actions as unrelated to network congestion since blocking took place at times when there wasn’t any. Not to mention, enough people had spread proof online, Comcast couldn’t keep up the lie. Though the company wasn’t apologetic either since they claimed that blocking these peer-to-peer programs like BitTorrent was “necessary.” In their defense, Comcast blocked applications often used to trade videos like pirated content, despite that most of what they blocked on these networks was legitimate. And Comcast has strongly hinted that they’ll do it again. After all, they have promised to that they “will not block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content” once net neutrality is repealed. But as far as they’re concerned, peer-to-peer programs like BitTorrent fall under “unlawful content.” So once net neutrality is out of the way, Comcast is shutting these programs down.
  • Verizon shutting down Wi-Fi hot spots. When the technology to turn your phone into a Wi-Fi hot spot came out, Verizon Wireless started offering it as an add-on. For an extra $20 a month, their customers could use their phone’s data plan through another device like computer. Only problem was that there wasn’t any reason to give Verizon that $20. There were already all kinds of apps available letting people turn their phones into Wi-Fi hot spots for free. So since Verizon couldn’t really compete with these apps, they just shut them down. And they put pressure on Google to remove every Wi-Fi hot spot app from the marketplace. Thus, in other words, Verizon literally shut down 11 smaller businesses because they couldn’t compete with them.
  • Windstream and Paxfire redirecting Google Searches. In 2005, Windstream Communications tried to get their own search engine on the market and compete against Google and Yahoo. However, their search engine was so awful that there was absolutely no reason anyone would really want to use it. So they set up a redirect. That way, any Windstream customer who typed something into Google would just be forcibly redirected to the Windstream search engine instead of getting Google results. And Windstream wasn’t the only company to do this. Paxfire started accepting bribes from companies to redirect Google searches. So for instance, if any Paxfire customer googled “apple,” they’d be just forcibly sent to apple.com. Didn’t matter if they were looking for information growing apples or apple pie recipes. Their users would be looking at iPhones and they couldn’t do anything about it.
  • AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and others running zero-rating schemes that advantage their own content. These are sponsored data programs to third party content providers to pay ISPs to exempt their data from customers’ data caps and at less favorable terms than they offer their affiliates.
  • Verizon admitting plans on censoring the internet. While most companies trying to end net neutrality try to hide what they’re up to, Verizon has directly and unambiguously said that they want to end net neutrality so they can censor free speech. In fact, a Verizon attorney told the FCC that they believe as broadband providers, they “transmit the speech of others” and deserve the right to what they call “editorial discretion.” Because the attorney claimed, “Just as a newspaper is entitled to decide which content to publish and where, broadband providers may feature some content over others.” In other words, Verizon doesn’t give a shit that everyone has a right to express themselves on the internet. In fact, they want to decide what goes online and what gets censored. Even when the FCC pushed them and asked if they planned on blocking websites, the Verizon attorney still didn’t deny that his company planned on censoring the internet, claiming, “But for these rules, we would be exploring those types of arrangements.” And that’s what will happen if net neutrality goes away. This isn’t a paranoid fear or a worst-case scenario, it’s straight out of their mouths.

If Pai’s FCC really wanted to guarantee that ISPs can’t charge tolls to access content, prioritize certain websites and services, create fast and slow lanes, and censor political speech, then it wouldn’t repeal net neutrality. In fact, Pai’s plan to end net neutrality doesn’t even conceal this. When it comes to letting ISPs dividing the internet into fast lanes for the few who can pay an extra toll and slow lanes for everyone else, his order actually celebrates the idea. As Pai writes, “We anticipate that lifting the ban on paid prioritization will increase network innovation [because] the ban on paid prioritization agreements has had … a chilling effect on network innovation.” Only the FCC and the ISP boardrooms would call slowing down websites and apps “innovation.” As far as they’re concerned, “restoring internet freedom,” will lead to “better, faster, and cheaper broadband for consumers and give startups that need priority access (such as telehealth applications) the chance to offer new services to consumers.” Except that creating fast and slow lanes will do absolutely no such thing. Yet, this is exactly the “trust the cable company” future Pai envisions for the internet which puts a ridiculous amount of faith in ISP promises.

Since the internet was available to the American people, there have always been a need for laws protecting people’s rights on the internet. Laws protecting these rights are in what’s called Title II of the Communications Act. These were updated on an overwhelming bipartisan basis in both houses of Congress in 1996 to establish the legal definition and duties that still do and still must apply to broadband service. Broadband internet access is what the law refers as a “common-carrier transmission service.” This lets internet users transmit what information they choose to and from the points of their selection and that the ISP must transmit the content without unreasonable discrimination. This is how broadband customers see the service ISPs offer and sell them. That’s the service we all need to have any chance of connecting and communicating with each other and accessing all the internet has to offer. The Obama FCC followed the law and fulfilled its congressionally mandated duties by returning to Title II and to the proper understanding of broadband internet access as a telecom service. A Federal appeals court reviewing the agency’s reason upheld that decision twice. Pai’s draft order fails to assess the proper history as well as the FCC’s steps and missteps past which explain Congress’s true intent and meaning of the law. But the best Pai can think of are ahistorical references to Clinton-era interpretations of an internet ecosystem long since gone, along with a smattering of ISP talking points and legal arguments courts just shot down last year. Talking about how the FCC treated AOL’s dial-up internet service in 1998 and pretending that this reasoning should apply to ISPs like Comcast and AT&T that control the physical networks we use to get online today just doesn’t cut it. Nor does the ridiculous claim that just because ISPs transmit internet speech and information, the broadband access line itself must be an information service, too. Pai’s justifications are simply attempts to ignore the reality of modern broadband internet services that people depend on today. And we still need rules guarding against the ISPs’ incentive and ability to discriminate. By abandoning the Communications Act and possibly punting federal oversight of net neutrality to the FTC, Pai turns back on the FCC’s sound legal framework for preventing discrimination online as well as abdicates its responsibilities and using the worst legal arguments it can find to justify his actions.

Another major argument the Pai order offers for all this upheaval is the supposed harm that a Title II framework has hurt broadband investment, thus slowing the expansion of nationwide internet access. It’s likely that Pai just made it up that’s only backed by a handful of lobbyists and corporate shills willing to lie or concoct supposed evidence for this alleged economic downturn. However, broadband investment doesn’t run on regulation alone. It doesn’t decline because the FCC restores the same kinds of protections against discrimination that have been kept in in place continuously for a wide range of Title II voice and broadband services for the past several decades. If you take the broader view, broadband investment has already been declining before net neutrality was in place. Besides, the stories ISPs tell their investors are very different from what they tell the FCC. In fact, Securities and Exchange Commission filings reveal an increase in internet investment since 2015 according to Free Press. Even so, whether industry investment should be the dominant measure of success in internet policy is kind of irrelevant considering the larger issues at hand.

Fortunately, there has been strong opposition to Pai’s terrible plan. During the FCC comment period, 98.5% of individual comments support keeping net neutrality rules. #Net Neutrality has trended globally on Twitter and was the top trending hashtag in the United States. Redditors representing a dizzying range of political philosophies and subcultures spoke out. In fact, the most popular post in the Reddit NASCAR group’s entire history is about the need to save net neutrality. Since last Tuesday, Americans have made over 500,000 calls to Congress urging their lawmakers to condemn Pai’s plan. Now Capitol staffers feel so besieged that a few reached out and asked pro-neutrality groups to make the calls stop. And on Saturday after Thanksgiving, Maine’s Senator Susan Collins became the first GOP senator to publicly oppose Pai’s proposal, joining scores of Democratic leaders who’ve spoken up in the last few months. As of today, there are 600 protests in the works in all 50 states in cities including Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Des Moines, Miami, New York City, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Wichita. And since Pai once worked for Verizon (officially), people are organizing outside corporate-owned Verizon stores all across the country. On Cyber Monday, hundreds of businesses and organizations sent a letter calling on the FCC chairman to reverse course and scrap his plans to repeal net neutrality rules. They wrote, “Without these rules, internet service providers will be able to favor certain websites and e-businesses, or the platforms they use to garner new customers, over others by putting the ones that can pay in fast lanes and slowing down or even blocking others. Businesses may have to pay a toll just to reach customers. This would put small and medium-sized businesses at a disadvantage and prevent innovative new ones from even getting off the ground. An internet without net neutrality protections would be the opposite of the open market, with a few powerful cable and phone companies picking winners and losers instead of consumers. The current rules provide the protections necessary to protect net neutrality and ensure the internet remains a free and open marketplace that encourages innovation and supports robust competition.”

Yet, even if the FCC votes to kill net neutrality, a federal court challenge is inevitable given overwhelming support for a free and open internet. Even if that suit remains in the US Court of Appeals, the outcome could very well drag on for another year and a half or more. And there will certainly be numerous lawsuits filed in reaction to the “Restoring Internet Freedom” Order. While the telecom industry will undoubtedly have an army of lawyers, they don’t have a strong case. For one, allowing ISPs to practice internet censorship akin to the Chinese state by blocking its critics and promoting its own agenda is anathema to the internet’s and America’s founding spirit. In fact, you can argue such censorship is unconstitutional under the First Amendment since it violates freedom of speech. Second, the Pai’s proposal is such a drastic reversal of net neutrality policy and is based on weak evidence to support the change. Government agencies aren’t free to abruptly reverse longstanding rules which many have relied on without good reason like a change in factual circumstances. A mere shift in FCC ideology isn’t enough. Because according to the Supreme Court, a federal agency must, “examine the relevant data and articulate a satisfactory explanation for its action.” Since the 2015 net neutrality rules are a huge success by most measures, the case for killing them would need to be very strong. Except that it isn’t. It’s very clear that Pai’s rationale for eliminating the net neutrality rules is that telecom companies need to earn even more money than they do despite enjoying generous profits for years. Third, because Pai’s FCC is killing net neutrality outright, the chairman will have to explain to a court not just the shift from 2005, but also his reasoning for destroying basic bans for blocking and throttling which have been in effect since 2005 which the entire internet ecosystem has relied on. This will be a very difficult task since there is a long history of (often concealed) anticompetitive throttling and blocking that the FCC has had to stop to preserve the internet economy’s health. Pai needs to explain why we no longer have to worry about this threat and he can’t just say, “you can trust your cable company” either. Fourth, the FCC is acting contrary to public sentiment which may embolden the judiciary to oppose Pai’s plan. While telecommunications policy doesn’t always attract public attention, net neutrality does. And since 76% of Americans support it, the FCC is on the wrong side of the democratic majority. In our times, the judiciary has increasingly become a majoritarian force which can prevent narrow, self-interested factions from getting the government to serve shameful ends.

Nevertheless, net neutrality assures Americans a free and open internet which has become crucial in our everyday lives. It has overwhelming support among the American public. For the FCC to repeal net neutrality rules goes against the will of the people. Pai wants to eliminate the Title II classification of ISPs as common carriers and leave these telecom companies to run the internet as they please. Repealing net neutrality will only give ISPs power to control what users experience online such as deciding who gets heard, which sites we can visit, what connections we can make, and what communities we can create. And they can throttle access, stall opportunity, and censor content that they don’t like. Most Americans believe you should go where you want on the internet without interference from your ISP, which net neutrality guarantees. Repealing net neutrality will only benefit a few giant corporate executives and lobbyists standing to profit from it. And such action will only stand to harm internet users, consumers, and businesses who depend on internet service for their day-to-day lives. No giant telecom corporation should have the power to control what you access online. American voters deserve a free, open, and neutral internet supporting democracy and economic growth. If you depend the internet for your livelihood, you need net neutrality. If you enjoy streaming video, social media, or playing online games, thank net neutrality. If you enjoy shopping on Amazon and want businesses to have a level playing field, net neutrality is for you. If you want to freely surf the web with the same rights and privileges as everyone else, then the assault on net neutrality must be stopped once and for all. The internet is for everyone and is the most important resource in the world with our exchange of information exalted over any physical and social barrier. We must stand together and fight for it.

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The Catastrophe in Puerto Rico

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On Wednesday, September 20, 2017, the powerful Category 4 Hurricane Maria made direct landfall on Puerto Rico, ravaging the entire island with its 150 mph winds and drenching it in a few feet of rain. Save for generators powering only the highest priority buildings like hospitals. In many places there’s no fresh water you can drink, bathe, or use to flush toilets. Food, fuel, and cell service is limited. Reaching remote towns and villages takes several days for reporters and rescue workers. Due to strained communications and severe road damage, the extent of Maria’s damage on the island isn’t yet known. Though photos show who communities flooded streets, houses with torn roofs and second floors ripped apart, people waiting in long lines for clean water and fuel, and a severely crippled infrastructure. Even for Puerto Ricans living in intact houses, survival will be difficult in the weeks and months ahead. Thus, the aftermath of Hurricane Maria has been a humanitarian catastrophe. for the 3.4 million people on Puerto Rico.

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The 2017 hurricane season has been punishing for the island. Hurricane Irma had ravaged several Caribbean islands and left 1 million Puerto Ricans without power. 60,000 on the island were still without electricity when Maria hit 20 days later. Though Maria was a slightly smaller storm, it was far more devastating charted a course directly across Puerto Rico where it hit near peak intensity and passed around 25 miles from its capital San Juan. No landmass could suffer such a direct hit without at least some damage. According to the record books, Maria was the 5th strongest storm to ever hit the US and the strongest to hit the island in 80 years.

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This disaster deserves more coverage and a swifter response. But so far, federal government recovery efforts have been inadequate at best. In some ways this is understandable since few major news organizations have a full-time regular presence on the island. Also lack of wi-fi and cellphone service have hurt local journalists’ ability to report the news from there. But even a communications blackout is no excuse for Puerto Rico’s virtual absence from news coverage in favor of protesting football players and Donald Trump’s latest incendiary Twitter tantrums. Nonetheless, if this kind of devastation happened in mainland United States, you’d see round the clock news coverage from all the cable news channels for days. You’d see the affected states’ congressional delegation appear on major news networks making sure the American public knows and pressuring the president, House, and Senate leaders to take immediate action.

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As a US territory, Puerto Rico doesn’t get electoral votes in general presidential elections or representation in Congress. But Puerto Ricans have been US citizens since President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones-Shafroth Act in 1917. They can travel to the continental United States without a passport and vote in presidential primaries. They’re also protected by the same Bill of Rights as anyone else in the United States. But more importantly in Maria’s wake, Puerto Ricans are entitled to the same federal government response as state residents should a natural disaster like Hurricane Maria arise on their soil. However, though the US has long benefitted from its island territories’ geographical reach, it has taken them for granted and denied their residents full political representation. Hurricane Maria illustrates that this two-tiered system of American citizenship is neither democratic nor tenable to territorial residents. And to make matters worse a survey from the New York Times reports that only 54% of Americans know Puerto Ricans are US citizens.

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Though powerful storms often devastate communities, the true catastrophe was long in the making. Puerto Rico was no different regarding Hurricane Maria. Despite a $103 billion economy, we all knew that Puerto Rico’s government is broke and can’t borrow money to fix it. In fact, the island declared bankruptcy in May and has been trying to restructure more than $70 billion in debt. Thus, even on a good day, its infrastructure is aging and in disrepair. Certain US policies have also contributed to Puerto Rico’s economic deterioration. One is the antiquated Jones Act forcing Puerto Ricans to pay nearly double for US goods through various tariffs, fees, and taxes. The act stipulates that any goods shipped from one American port to another must be on American made and operated ships. Thus, thanks to little competition among freighters, shipping to Puerto Rico is costlier. As former New York State Assembly member Nelson A. Denis noted in The New York Times, “a shakedown, a mob protection racket, with Puerto Rico a captive market.” Economic woes have also contributed to over 8% population loss from 2010. However, since the island’s per capita income is $18,000 (which is half of Mississippi’s), its cost of living is 13% higher than 325 urban areas elsewhere in the US, it’s not much of a surprise. The population drain makes it harder for Puerto Rico’s economy to recover. And as people will likely migrate due to the storm, recovery will be more difficult.

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As Puerto Rico is an island, recovery efforts are more complicated since supplies has to be flown in or shipped over. Residents can’t drive to nearby states or cities for shelter to wait out the worst of it. Here’s a rundown on some of the major problems on the island.

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Electricity: The island’s electric company PREPA has a massive $9 billion in debt and defaulted on an interest payment in July. So it doesn’t have the money to modernize its electrical systems. Even without hurricanes power outages are common. To make matters worse, there aren’t enough workers on the island to fix the infrastructure. Mostly because young people have been leaving in droves since the economy tightened while older workers have retired en masse to secure their pensions.

Hurricane Maria has knocked out 80% of the island’s power transmission lines and as of yesterday, 1.57 Puerto Ricans were still without power. Though generators are being distributed most of them are prioritized to hospitals while most homes and businesses are dark. It could be 4-6 months before power is fully restored on the island. So you have Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents relying on generators for half a year. That means half a year that electrical pumps can’t bring running water to people’s homes. Half a year people will have to make do without air conditioning in a tropical climate. Without power, even the most basic tasks of modern life become difficult.

Taken these factors together, rebuilding Puerto Rico’s power system will be a long and difficult process. According to the New York Times, getting power back on the island “will be daunting and expensive” for “Transformers, poles and power lines snake from coastal areas across hard-to-access mountains. In some cases, the poles have to be maneuvered in place with helicopters.”

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In a disaster situation, health hinges on electrical power and it’s extremely important to get it going to suppress chances of illness. Dialysis, refrigeration for insulin and other medicine, and nebulizers for people with asthma all need electricity to be useful. But electricity also provides for sanitation that prevents many illnesses like typhoid from spreading in the first place. Puerto Ricans need power to run their air conditioning systems and get clean water from the faucet. Without it, people could get sick from dirty water, can’t dispose waste, and suffer from heatstroke. Mental health can also suffer those without access to rapid opportunities for recovery with residents suffering from depression and post traumatic stress disorder.

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Water: No electricity means no power to pump water into homes and no water to bathe, drink, or flush toilets. According to FEMA, 42% of Puerto Ricans are without potable water. One town’s only source of fresh water was a single fire hydrant. Though rescue workers have been distributing bottled water, it’s safe to say that many people haven’t received any yet.

Fuel: Without a working electrical grid, Puerto Ricans must turn to gas-powered electric generators for energy. But it’s so difficult getting fuel on the island that people could wait over 6 hours for gas if they’re lucky. Other stations are completely out of fuel and have been for days. According to NPR, while authorities don’t believe there’s a gas shortage on the island, they’ve claimed Hurricane Maria has disrupted distributing it. But when fuel runs low, lives are endangered. In the central eastern town of Juncos, the Washington Post reported on a diabetic woman afraid that the refrigeration keeping her insulin preserved will soon run out and there won’t be fuel to restart the generator.

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Cellphone Reception: Hurricane Maria knocked out 1,360 out of the island’s 1,600 cellphone towers, isolating many communities from the outside world for days and relying only on radios for news. National Guard members told the Daily Beast they struggled communicating on the ground, which has made their ability to respond to the disaster exceptionally hard. The cellular outage also means that a mainland or abroad Puerto Rican family can’t get in touch with those on the island to find out if they’re safe.
Weather Radar: On Monday, September 25, the National Weather Service reported that its Doppler radar station on Puerto Rico was destroyed. If you don’t know, that’s the radar that helps meteorologists see where thunderstorms and other weather systems move in real time. Without it makes future storms more hazardous.

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Hospitals: According to FEMA, 59 out of 69 Puerto Rican hospitals are “operational with unknown status.” Many now run on generators but there are serious issues with distributing fuel so access to X-ray machines and other diagnostic equipment remains limited. There are few open operating rooms despite an unsurprising influx of patients with storm-related injuries. San Juan’s mayor reported that two people died due to lack of diesel in the hospital they were. And San Juan is among the better places to be in Puerto Rico right now. Still, if power isn’t restored, Puerto’s health crisis will get worse. After all, electricity is involved with almost every interaction with the health system. For you need power to call a hospital, access electronic records, and running lifesaving equipment like hemodialysis and ventilators.

Farms: Agriculture only contributes 0.8% of Puerto Rico’s GDP and employs 1.6% of its labor force. But within hours Hurricane Maria wiped out 80% of its crop value which amounts to a loss of $780 million. Though the island imports 85% of its food, its agriculture sector’s destruction will increase prices and exacerbate the scary prospect of continued food shortages.

Airports: Puerto Ricans have had a difficult time getting off the island. Though San Juan’s Luis Munoz Marin International Airport reopened to commercial flights on Sunday, September 24, they can expect to wait a long time in uncomfortable conditions if they want a flight. There’s no air conditioning. Ticketing computers are out. And due to FAA radar damage, only a limited number of planes take off from San Juan each day while hundreds of flights have been canceled.

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Though Puerto Rico has received government relief, response is still badly inadequate especially as relief supplies wait on the island’s shipping docks. Even as we speak, millions remain without food, water, electricity. And they have no means of getting help. However, instead of doing everything he could to help Puerto Rico, Donald Trump goes golfing in New Jersey. Only to take a tweeting break to attack San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz on Twitter just for speaking out for her people and calling out FEMA for patting itself on the back while the island was still ravaged when Hurricane Maria hit. Disease outbreaks have begun due to murky water and packed shelters. Residents have shown signs of Zika, Dengue, conjunctivitis, cholera, hepatitis A, meningitis, and salmonella. Now Trump says that Puerto Ricans are lazy and want everything done for them. Like they should help themselves instead of asking for a handout. Local officials in Puerto Rico are doing everything they possibly can with the limited help they have. Far from showing “poor leadership” Mayor Cruz has been there for her city almost 24/7 with little to no rest, doing whatever she could. But she knows she doesn’t’ have the resources like the federal government has like FEMA under her thumb. She shouldn’t have to beg for that response for it should’ve arrived already. It’s a shame that she has to beg a man for help who is more likely to step on your hand and leave you to drown when you’re reaching to him to lift you into his yacht. Or at least give you a lifesaver to hold. Of all the things Trump has said and done, letting millions of people suffer for days without adequate response just breaks me. Mayor Cruz wasn’t asking for a handout like the welfare recipients conservatives constantly unfairly demonize. She was asking for a lifesaver because people are dying and Puerto Rico is drowning. The island’s residents are utterly helpless and without help soon, many will die if they haven’t already. But up golfing in New Jersey, Trump tells Puerto Ricans to eat cake without any second thought to their dire suffering. Even George W. Bush’s response to Katrina was better than this.

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It breaks me more that people in my own family, neighborhood, and community will find some way to defend and support this unrespectable man no matter what he does which I feel is so morally indefensible as a Catholic, liberal, and American in that order. I have no capacity to respect Donald Trump as neither a person nor as an authority figure. To have him as president of the United States is absolutely humiliating for I’m deeply convinced that Trump is a narcissistic sociopath doesn’t believe in America, the Constitution, or in any concept of democracy. He is a total failure as a human being, let alone a president which doesn’t surprise me. But I find his cruelty utterly gut wrenching to the point of inhumanity. Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico but Trump’s lack of interest in the island’s plight has resulted in very serious consequences. The people of Puerto Rico deserve better than what they’re receiving. So you’re Donald Trump and you’re reading this, then to quote Lin Manuel Miranda, “You’re going straight to hell.”

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A Cancer on the Local News: The Insidious Nature of the Sinclair Broadcast Group

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You may have noticed how some of my blog posts on the media usually consist of me attacking conservative media outlets like Fox News, Breitbart, and Info Wars. However, understand that I didn’t attack these outlets solely for spouting conservative views alone. Rather, I’ve attacked them due to their stunning lack of journalistic ethics, propensity to spread misinformation, derogatory stereotypes, peddling conspiracy theories, and blatant disregard for the truth when it suits them. Not to mention, the fact these outlets have been so prolific and influential in the media landscape. However, I have to concede that these three media outlets have audiences who know what they’re getting.

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This is a map from the New York Times depicting Sinclair’s reach. The green dots represent the markets where the company has a station. The orange ones represent where Tribune owns one. If Sinclair gets its way, 233 local stations can be under its wing.

This isn’t the case with audience who watch the local news on a station owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group. Called “the most dangerous company most Americans haven’t heard of,” Sinclair is possibly the largest TV station operator in the United States. Owning and/or operating a total of 173 stations across the country covering over 100 markets, this conglomerate reaches 40% of all American households, many of which are located in the South and Midwest along with small and medium sized cities. Thus, it had already hit the 39% cap imposed by the Federal Communications Commission which should’ve effectively barred the company from further acquisitions. But today, the Sinclair Broadcast Group is set to buy Tribune Media for $3.9 billion. The deal is expected to receive FCC approval sometime soon. If Sinclair gets its way, its media empire could cover nearly 72% of the US and an average viewership of 2.2 million households. Some of these Tribune stations are already in markets where a Sinclair one exists. At any rate, it could result in Sinclair creating a media oligarchy in the broadcast television industry with 233 stations under its wing. After all, Sinclair has expanded drastically over the last 2½ decades since it went from owning 3 stations in the early 1990s to 59 in less than a decade. By 2014, its local station ownership had tripled to 162. Still, it’s widely expected that Sinclair’s acquisition of Tribune Media will be approved thanks to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai reinstating the archaic “UHF discount” which allows broadcasters to understate their overall reach. In the meantime, the company has faced criticism over circumventing concentration in media ownership rules, particularly in using local marketing agreements and similar arrangements to take over stations on behalf of preferred third parties. It’s no surprise that so many progressive groups have expressed opposition to the sale. But so have conservative media outlets like Newsmax, The Blaze, and One America News Network perhaps fearing the competition. Though their motives may not be pure, they have a point when they speak about diversity and independence. After all, a larger Sinclair operation would chip into the market for right wing news as well as further diminish media access already dominated by a handful of players thanks to years of media consolidation.

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Sinclair is notorious for trying to inject right wing propaganda into their local news broadcasts. One must-run segment is “Terror Alert Desk” which is mostly devoted to demonizing Muslims than discussing terrorism. Don’t expect any commentary on Charlottesville or white supremacist violence on this segment any time soon.

The Sinclair Broadcast Group has also faced significant scrutiny over promoting its conservative agenda within a news format that’s supposed to be apolitical: local news programming. The company’s stations have been known for featuring news content and programming that promote conservative political positions and have been involved in various controversies surrounding politically motivated programming decisions. From the early 2000s, Sinclair has infected local news coverage with politically-charged programming and turning local news stations into partisan outlets. The company is also known for pushing heavy partisan commentary in the lead-up to elections, often favoring Republican candidates. And it has received plenty of criticism for critical content of Democratic candidates during each presidential election since 2004. Most recently, Sinclair made headlines for striking a deal with Jared Kushner to give positive press to the Trump campaign while heavily criticizing Hillary Clinton. Now promoting their political agenda wouldn’t be much of a problem if Sinclair confined their bias on DC-produced segments, commentary shows, or attack ads. However, what Sinclair does on local news is far more insidious. And since more Americans place high value on their local news, it has become a perfect tool for the company to inject their right-wing propaganda.

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Sinclair regularly produces conservative propaganda pieces before distributing them to their stations like this Mark Hyman’s “Behind the Headlines” commentary bit. Called “must-runs,” local stations are required to air them in their broadcasts. While they may not always feature commentary, they’re nevertheless inflammatory, misleading, and certainly inappropriate for a local newscast.

One practice that stands for are Sinclair’s infamous “must-run” segments. These segments are short pieces of political commentary Sinclair produces at their national headquarters that affiliates are required to air. Every day, Sinclair mandates its stations to air specific reports, segments, and editorials referred to as “must runs.” Sinclair produces these at its Washington DC headquarters and directs its station managers to work them into the broadcast over a period of 24 to 48 hours. And they mainly consist of conservative propaganda presented as news content. In July 2017, the HBO show Last Week Tonight had John Oliver present clips of various anchors using the exact same script describing the FBI as having a “personal vendetta” against Michael Flynn, clips of Mark Hyman editorials in which he compared multiculturalism and political correctness to a cancer epidemic and stated that marriage was a solution to domestic abuse, and joked that the “Terrorism Alert Desk” segments defined terrorism as “anything a Muslim does.” The show also aired content by former Trump adviser Boris Epstheyn alleging Obama won North Carolina due to voter fraud and a clip blaming the Democratic Party for slavery, Jim Crow, and the Klu Klux Klan. Back in the Bush administration, Sinclair required all its stations to air an editorial segment called “The Point,” which Hyman railed against the “angry left,” and “clueless academia,” dismissed peace activists as “whack jobs,” called the French “cheese-eating surrender monkeys,” and supported a host of right wing initiatives from a national sales tax to Medicare privatization. You might expect such commentary from Breitbart or Fox News that are often inflammatory and misrepresent the facts, not your local station. But this is exactly the kind of content Sinclair tells its stations to run on their local newscasts to promote its right-wing agenda. TV journalists have complained about being forced to run these overly partisan segments because as Oliver noted, “with Sinclair they’re injecting Fox-worthy content into the mouths of your local news anchors, the two people who you know, and who you trust, and whose on-screen chemistry can usually best be described as two people.” In one notable incident following the 9/11 attacks, Sinclair ordered its stations to read editorials praising President George W. Bush’s response. The WBFF staff objected, claiming the endorsement would “undermine public faith in their political objectivity.” It’s very clear Sinclair’s must run segments are a concerted effort to turn your local 6 o’clock broadcast into a little Fox News clone without disclosing it to the public. But when they put these segments into local newscasts, they degrade journalistic standards, abuse viewers’ trust, and blur the lines between news and propaganda. Furthermore, they compromise America’s right to be informed on the matters affecting their lives. Of course, Sinclair executives defend their practices citing how the mainstream media is overwhelmingly liberal and that their pieces provide a counterweight but that’s based on an intellectually dishonest interpretation of what journalism is.

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Remember when Montana GOP congressional candidate Greg Gianforte body slammed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs? Well, Montana’s NBC affiliate KECI refused to air the audio recording on account that there wasn’t enough facts on the incident. Despite that the audio clearly shows Gianforte started and that 3 local Fox News reporters watched it. It was later found Sinclair had just bought the station and that its vice president and director had donated to Gianforte’s campaign. So figure it out.

Sinclair also dictates how news stations can present some of the local news and programming is presented aside from the “must run” segments and scripts. Even before the Trump administration, Sinclair had a nasty habit of skewing news stories to fit with their conservative vision, censor content, and promote disparaging and very misleading information on Democratic candidates. In 2004, the company ordered its ABC affiliates to not air an episode of Nightline where Ted Koppel listed the names of soldiers killed in the Iraq War. They argued that the broadcast, “[appeared] to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq” and undermined a then-ongoing effort by its Washington bureau to report on positive “untold” stories from Iraq under occupation mainstream media outlets ignored. ABC responded stating that Koppel’s reading was meant to be “an expression of respect which seeks to honor those who have laid down their lives for this country.” And it was a gesture Arizona US Senator John McCain found “deeply offensive.” That same year, tried to air an anti-John Kerry documentary called, “Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal,” alleging “that North Vietnamese captors used Kerry’s statements about atrocities committed by American troops during the conflict as an excuse to torture U.S. prisoners of war.” But the Democratic National Committee filed a legal motion with the Federal Election Commission stating it was inappropriate for a media organization to air “partisan propaganda” in the last 10 days of an election campaign. Then-Vice President of Corporate Relations Mark Hyman stated that any network refusing to air the anti-Kerry documentary were “acting like Holocaust deniers.” And when Sinclair’s Washington bureau chief Jon Leiberman called the documentary, “biased political propaganda,” he was promptly fired. As for President Barack Obama, well, Sinclair has linked him to Weather Underground founder Bill Ayers, alleged he raised campaign funds from Hamas and labeled him as a socialist extremist. In 2014, its Baltimore Fox affiliate WBFF according to The Baltimore Sun, “misleadingly edited and aired video of a protest march to make it seem as if protesters were chanting ‘kill a cop.’” In reality, the marchers actually chanted to the lead of Tawanda Jones, “We can’t stop ‘til killer cops are in cell blocks” in a non-violent protest against police brutality. Jones would eventually sue WBFF and Sinclair for defamation the next year. Because after that segment aired, she received death threats, lost community support for her protests, and had been reduced to reclusive behavior. In 2017, Montana’s NBC affiliate KECI refused to air an audio recording of GOP congressional candidate Greg Gianforte attacking Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. The station denied Sinclair instructing them on handling the Gianforte incident and essentially framed it as an “he said/she said” situation. This despite that the audio recording covers it, Jacobs ended up in the hospital, and 3 Fox News reporters witnessed it. That and Politico later reported that Sinclair’s vice president and director had donated to Gianforte the day after he was charged with the assault. This July, Sinclair affiliate KBOI used a photo of Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKeeson in several stories he had nothing to do with including an attempted robbery in Idaho.

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Here’s a “must run” segment of “Bottom Line with Boris.” A former investment banker who was born in Soviet Russia, Boris Ephsteyn was a Trump crony during the 2016 campaign and in the White House. On his Sinclair segment, he normally parrots Trump White House commentary which stations are required to air 9 times a week.

But Sinclair’s connection with Republican politicians and operatives doesn’t just extend to media coverage. A 2004 study found that 95% of the company’s political contributions went to Republican candidates. The Center of Public Integrity showed concern on Mark Hyman’s history of government lobbying (such as for the FCC to loosen rules regarding media ownership concentration), along with making its stations provide “anything but fair and balanced news programming.” In 2002, the company gave lots of perks like using its luxury helicopter to former congressman Bob Ehrlich during his run for governor of Maryland. Mostly because Ehrlich pressed the FCC to fast-track its request to acquire more stations. In 2007, 9 Sinclair stations aired public affairs shows without disclosing that “host Armstrong Williams had been paid by an affiliate of the Education Department to make favorable comments about the Bush administration’s ‘No Child Left Behind’ policy.” The FCC issued the company a $36,000 fine for violating “rules against ‘payola punditry.’” In December 2016, Jared Kushner said that the Trump campaign, “struck a deal with Sinclair Broadcast Group during the campaign to try and secure better media coverage” particularly in swing states. As part of that deal, “Sinclair would broadcast their Trump interviews across the country without commentary.” The Washington Post noted that the company scored 15 exclusive interviews with Donald Trump in a year while “news stories and features favorable to Trump or that challenged Clinton were distributed to Sinclair stations on a ‘must-run’ basis.” Of course, Trump would appoint Pai to head the FCC Ajit Pai pushed through a measure that would allow the Sinclair-Tribune merger to go forward. Recently, Pai has further proposed eliminating a rule requiring each TV station to have a main studio in or near the community it serves, arguing that modern technology allows community interaction without one. But critics charge the action as another handout for Sinclair as former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler argues, “will have an open field to replace local voices with national control.” In April 2017, Sinclair hired former Trump official Boris Epshteyn as its “chief policy analyst” whose must run “Bottom Line with Boris” segments air on its local news affiliates 9 times a week. Yet, Epshteyn is a shady character. He’s pleaded guilty to assault in 2014. The House Intelligence Committee has questioned his ties to the Kremlin. In the 2016 campaign season, he dismissed Gold Star father Khizir Khan as a Democratic prop. And during his time in the Trump administration, he crafted the notorious Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that omitting any mention of Judaism. He left the White House that March amid reports that every cable news network hated him.

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The Sinclair Broadcast Group’s rapid expansion and promotion of conservative politics highlights serious consequences of media consolidation. And as John Oliver noted, “Should this Tribune acquisition go through, there are going to be even more good journalists having to see their hard work placed alongside terror desk nonsense, just as there’ll be even more unsuspecting audience members who will be getting a heaping dose of Sinclair’s content, possibly without realizing it.” Perhaps it’s best you google your local stations and find out who owns it. If your local market has a Sinclair station, then expect that station to carry a lot of right wing bullshit. If it’s a Tribune, then pray to God that the acquisition doesn’t go through. For the Sinclair-Tribune merger is a very bad deal for America.

It’s one thing for a news station like Fox News to deliberately mislead the public to advance its own political agenda. But it’s very disturbing for a company like Sinclair to injecting intentionally misleading political diatribes where it has no place. It’s even worse that Sinclair forces news local stations run such content they know is bullshit and undermine viewers’ trust in them. If not, then perhaps warp their minds into accepting right wing talking points as undisputable fact as Sinclair would intend. For as John Oliver said, “The problem is, there is real power in hearing your trusted local newscasters using FBI and personal vendetta in a sentence.” Because after all, most people don’t really know who really owns their local station since they’re often branded with the national network that broadcasts on them, not the real owners. Nor do they seem to critically think about these stories aired on their local station. Scaremongering and propaganda have no place in local news since it’s corrosive to our democratic process. Sinclair’s “must-run” segments and other policies rob viewers of hearing local and opposing viewpoints. Sinclair’s acquisition of Tribune would lead to less competition, threaten media localism, and harm information diversity. Thus, it would best for the country if the Sinclair and Tribune merger doesn’t go through. Sinclair is a cancer on the local news and our democracy as well as should be stopped from buying more stations. No major media company should have that much power, especially if they’re abusing the trust between the public and their local news stations in order to advance their political agenda. But it also means that we must be more careful of what we hear on the news and know who owns them.

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It’s widely said that Americans trust their local TV news broadcasts than any other source. For years, Sinclair has often abused that trust and eroded journalistic standards with their conservative propaganda. Advancing a political agenda has no place in a local newsroom meant to cover actual news stories, sports, traffic, and weather.

The Shadowy World of InfoWars

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I know many people might think I’m being biased over writing posts bashing right-wing news outlets. But though I am a liberal, I don’t just write these articles to score political points. For instance, back in October I criticized Fox News for a lot of the shit they’re being bashed for now like a culture fostering sexual harassment and peddling conspiracy theories. Months later, I attacked Breitbart for its corrosive influence on the conservative media landscape during the 2016 Election, its flagrant demonization against those Steve Bannon doesn’t like, its lack of concern for facts, and its status as the platform for the Alt-Right. Besides, in recent years, white supremacist and far right terror incidents have been on the rise, especially since the presidential election of Donald Trump. Breitbart and Fox News have certainly played a role in implicitly encouraging such attacks whether they’d want to admit it or not.

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Don’t worry, InfoWars only had press credentials for one day only. By the way, like Alex Jones, Corsi has also made a living pushing conspiracy theories, including the claim of Barack Obama having a fake birth certificate.

But there’s another media outlet I need to discuss with my readers and that is InfoWars, a far right conspiracy-based website created, owned, and operated by Austin, Texas-based radio host Alex Jones. In fact, type InfoWars on Wikipedia and you’ll be directed to an article on Jones. In late May, its Washington Bureau Chief Jerome Corsi broadcast from the White House briefing room after announcing they had obtained a temporary press credential. Fortunately, it was only a one-day pass that was relatively easy to get. And Jones once claimed in a video back in January he had been offered access before which the White House quickly denied. The odds of InfoWars obtaining any press credentials at all from the White House Press Office are highly unlikely or so we hope. Nevertheless, it’s very apparent that the far right website has the Trump Administration’s ear. Trump has appeared on Jones’s show multiple times during the 2016 Election and has welcomed the host’s support as well as parroted his message on numerous occasions. His adviser Roger Stone was a regular guest. During the GOP Convention last July, Stone and Jones co-hosted a pro-Trump rally. Trump campaign aides and Donald Trump Jr. have promoted InfoWars stories on social media. And Trump has often promoted a lot of Jones conspiracy theories at his rallies such as Jersey City Muslims cheering on 9/11 and California drought denial. In exchange, Jones has gained prominence since then.

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Alex Jones and his InfoWars have risen considerably since the 2016 Election thanks to Donald Trump’s candidacy. Jones has endorsed him while Trump has appeared on his show seen here. Still, Trump’s association with Jones should terrify you if you care about facts.

Of course, this article will probably speak more about Alex Jones with InfoWars only being the principal part of his multimedia empire. Aside from his infamous conspiracy-themed website, Jones also hosts a nationally broadcast radio show called “The Alex Jones Show” and runs another similar website called Prison Planet. He also peddles an extensive line of self-produced videos he refers as “documentaries” that claim to prove a whole array of his conspiracy theories. Nonetheless, despite media outlets denouncing him as a fraud for years, Jones retains considerable and widespread influence. His radio show airs on about 100 radio stations and has attracted about 2-3 million weekly listeners.  His subscription only video streaming website Prison Planet has a 3,327 Alexa rank. But his biggest media platform is InfoWars which has a 330 Alexa rank and attracts more than 8 million visitors each month who’ve viewed its pages 50 million times. The biggest of his 18 YouTube channels has 1.2 billion views and his Facebook page has millions of followers. In 2011, Rolling Stone reported that Jones had a larger online audience than Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh combined. For a radical right conspiracy theorist, this degree of popularity is extensive. And it was one of the key conservative news sources for the 2016 Election.

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Alex Jones is one of the most prominent conspiracy theorists in the country best known for saying that 9/11 was an inside job and his “documentary” about it called Loose Change. However, you must remember that this paranoid, hate-filled man is full of some of the stinkiest bullshit you’ll ever hear. Seriously, InfoWars is a flagrant outlet of fake news.

However, we must concede that Alex Jones is a very dangerous man in the US media landscape. He is almost certainly the most prolific conspiracy theorist in contemporary America and possibly the one with the most far-reaching influence in the nation’s history. But there is a very good reason why the Southern Poverty Law Center an extremist file on him. Jones is no ordinary radio host and has lived in his own little world for the last 20 years filled with intrigue, scandals, cover ups, and conspiracies. Called by Rolling Stone as “the most paranoid man in America,” Jones is notorious for his epic rants about “New World Order” plots for world government, enforced eugenics, secret internment camps, militarized police, and behind-the-scenes control by a global corporate cabal. He is convinced that global elites have allied themselves against the United States to destroy the country. The only way to avert this dystopian future as far as he’s concerned is if true patriots resist before it’s too late. Jones is also infamous for his many predictions and never stops reminding his viewers of the one he made in July 2001 that came somewhat close to foreshadowing 9/11. Yet, not surprisingly his overall accuracy rate his infinitesimally low. In February 2010 he stated that at least 15 European nations will collapse within the next 16 months. In March 2010, he declared that there will be staged terror attacks on April 15 or 19 to coincide with anti-Tea Party documentaries releases on Fox, CNN, MSNBC, and HBO. And in May 2010, he predicted that the US dollar will be devalued by 50% within 2 years.

 

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Here are some InfoWars headlines to give you some insight. I’m sure you’ll find a lot of offensive bullshit to get you mad about. With fake news, there’s nothing more unreliable than Alex Jones and InfoWars.

For years, Jones has offered his own version that’s completely unsupported by evidence but often reflect his paranoid, unhinged, racist, and misogynist worldview. Time after time he’s decried terrorist attacks like 9/11, the Boston Marathon and Oklahoma City bombings, and various mass shootings such as those in Columbine, Aurora, Newtown, Tucson, Charleston, and the Washington Navy Yard as actually “false flag” operations by our government or evil “globalist” forces wanting to take over the world. He’s referred to gay marriage as a globalist conspiracy to encourage the breakdown of the family,” “to get rid of God,” and to promote pedophilia. He’s called the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting a “hoax” created by gun control advocates as well as alleged that the victims were child actors and that nobody was killed there. Jones views himself as a libertarian and an “aggressive constitutionalist” defending individual liberties, the Bill of Rights, property rights, and the security of U.S. borders against illegal immigrant hordes being ushered in by evil forces bent on destroying our society. Because to him, illegal immigrants exist in the US to “give corporations subsidized low wages — because they can’t live on the low wages they get, so they give them the welfare, and that’s designed to give the big corporations an unfair trading advantage. They’re using poverty as a tool of control.” He’s even alleged millions of undocumented immigrants of illegally voting in the 2016 Election. Many of his theories could be seen as outright ridiculous such as the notion of the government having weapons that create artificial tornadoes.  Or that the government is poisoning our drinking water through fluoridation. Or that Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl Halftime Show was a Satanic ritual. Or that Bill Gates is a eugenicist trying to wipe out minorities. Or that Hillary Clinton is running a child sex ring at a D.C.-area pizzeria. Actually anything bad about Hillary. Or that “tap water is a gay bomb and they are putting chemicals in the water to turn the friggin’ frogs gay.” Or that Glenn Beck is a CIA operative. Or that the Social Security Administration is buying ammunition to use against the public during unrest. Or that the moon landing was fake. Other claims include claims that “chemtrails” from the backs of planes spread a deadly “weaponized flu,” that juice boxes are turning children gay and that the musician Beyoncé is a CIA plant out to stir racial violence and “literally” eat the brains of children. He’s even pushed the idea that aliens in lizard form secretly orchestrate world events.

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Alex Jones makes a lot of his money through selling supplements like these and other products. Unfortunately, exploiting his fans’ fear and paranoia has been good business for him.

Many might view Alex Jones as a bad joke and a crazy man prone to on air meltdowns. But no matter how crazy his conspiracy theories could be, what makes him dangerous is that legions of his acolytes take him at his every word. Like any conspiracy theorist, Jones manipulates psychological fears of the vulnerable into complete acceptance of nearly anything he says- no matter how outlandish it may be. According to Der Spiegel, 2/3 of Jones’s funding comes from marketing his own products. He sells toothpaste, brain pills, bulletproof vests and guns, sleeping pills, potency supplements, and “recession-proof investments in gold coins and other precious metals offered by his syndicator-owned Midas Resources. And since InfoWars appeals to those believing Armageddon is near, business is doing well as his followers build bunkers, hoard food, and invest in precious metals. Yet, Jones’s rantings have had real impact. In 2015, he helped spark a hysterical reaction to the Jade Helm, a US military exercise designed to help soldiers train for various combat environments. Jones swore it was a cover for the beginning stages of martial law. Enough people believed him that the Army had to send surrogates to calm anxious citizens. He’s also argued that Chobani’s practice of hiring refugees has brought “migrant rapists” and tuberculosis to areas near their factories. This resulted in a boycott and Chobani filing a defamation lawsuit.

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One of the most egregious Alex Jones conspiracy theories was his take on the Sandy Hook shooting at Newtown being a hoax by the liberals to promote gun control. He even alleged that the dead children were child actors and that nobody actually died there. Many of the victims’ families have been harassed by some of his fans. And the Sandy Hook families were furious when they heard that Megyn Kelly would be interviewing him for her NBC Sunday show.

But some of Alex Jones’s fans don’t just buy his supplements, prepare for the apocalypse, or panic over certain stuff they don’t understand. In fact, a few of them have resorted to deadly violence. The SPLC’s Heidi Beirich has referred to Jones as a gateway drug for white supremacy with many leaders crediting his broadcasts for opening their minds to new thinking as they adopted their racist philosophy, including Daily Stormer Andrew Angling and Info Stormer Lee Rogers. The 2009 Pittsburgh cop killer Richard Poplawski was a frequent InfoWars visitor who frequently shared links from the site to others and sometimes even posted on it. The 2011 Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner was a fan of Jones’s film, Loose Change, a gospel source for anyone believing 9/11 was an inside job. 2014 North Las Vegas shooter Jerad Miller was an InfoWars forum member who wrote posts speculating about killing cops and avidly posted links from the site on his Facebook page. He and his wife Amanda ended up killing two cops and an armed civilian at a Cici’s Pizza and a Walmart. In October 2016, two Georgia men were arrested in connection with an alleged domestic terror plot to travel nearly 3,500 miles to a former military research facility in Alaska that they believed manipulates the weather, controls minds and traps souls. Both men had amassed an arsenal of AR-15 military-style assault rifles, four Glock handguns, a rifle and more than 2,000 rounds of ammunition, radios and flak jackets. They planned to use these weapons to attack the Alaska’s High-Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP), a large radio transmitter cited in numerous antigovernment conspiracy theories. And in December of that year a North Carolina man stormed a Washington D.C. pizza joint called Comet Ping-Pong to “self-investigate” rumors that the restaurant was the was the center of child sex-slave ring with connections to the Hillary Clinton campaign. After an FBI complaint showed that gunman Edgar Welch watched an InfoWars “documentary,” Jones scrubbed his site of most of its Pizzagate content in order to distance himself from the impact of this extremely toxic lie. That’s not even talking about all the shit the Sandy Hook victims’ families had to put up with. Nevertheless, Jones’s influence on the radical right is very widespread. Though he hasn’t instigated any attacks, he sure provides many terrorists plenty of inspiration.

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Even before Trump, Alex Jones has somewhat been mainstreamed among the conservative media. Here he is with US Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Yes, you got that right.

While many people could simply write off Alex Jones as a crazy, we must keep in mind that conservative media outlets frequently aggregate and propagate InfoWars stories. In November 2016, the conspiracy website published a piece citing an unverified claim from a former Texas health deputy commissioner that 3 million non-citizens voted illegally which was later linked to the Drudge Report. 13 days later it appeared in Trump’s Twitter account. More recently, in early March an InfoWars editor tweeted an old photo of New York Senator Chuck Schumer acting chummy with Vladimir Putin. 12 hours later it appeared atop the Drudge Report and 12 hours after that, Trump had tweeted it. Even before the 2016 Election, Jones and his theories were already making rapid inroads into the mainstream mainly thanks to the Drudge Report. But Matt Drudge wasn’t the only validator. Other luminaries have appeared on Jones’s show such as Rep. Ron and Sen. Rand Paul, Fox News personalities Lou Dobbs and Andrew Napolitano, and celebrities Ted Nugent and Charlie Sheen. Fox News has aired plenty of his theories for years and he has been a guest on the network. Though the ones Fox airs often aren’t remotely related to the crazier New World Order stuff, they do serve to help promote a certain conservative worldview. And a lot of these seem to pertain to liberals and minorities. For instance, the idea that millions of undocumented immigrants voted for Hillary Clinton was all over the news. During the 2016 Election, the right wing assault on Hillary Clinton comprised of several fake news stories were daily mainstream media headlines despite not having a single shred of evidence to support them. Though to be fair, the modern conservative movement has long been afflicted with conspiracy theorists since its origins in the 1950s and 60s. Even “respectable” elements like Glenn Beck and the National Review have been very happy to manipulate far right conspiracies either to build support for typical Republicans or to make a buck. This strategy made it much easier for someone like Jones to get into the party’s foothold and come into contact with actual Republican legislators and key conservative media figures. So associating with a known right wing conspiracy theorist wasn’t much of a problem for Trump. Jones might’ve started as a fringe figure. But years of mainstreaming allowed him to build a real presence among Republican voters. And Jones’s rise helps explain why the formal GOP leadership had such a hard time disavowing him even during the primary.

Another reason that Alex Jones is dangerous is his association with Donald Trump. Trump has long been a big fan of his and a lot of his lies have come directly or indirectly from InfoWars. When he appeared on the site in December 2015, he declared Jones’s reputation “amazing” and told the internet fabulist, “I will not let you down. You will be very impressed, I hope, and I think we’ll be speaking a lot.” Jones’s support for Trump has elevated many of his fringe conspiracy theories to a mass audience. Trump’s embrace of Jones shouldn’t come as a surprise for us. After all, Trump got his start in politics by promoting “birtherism” and other racist Obama conspiracy theories. He’s a shameless opportunist with no personal ethics. Whether he believes Jones’s diatribes is beside the point. But he surely doesn’t care about the consequences. All that matters to him is that they’re receptive to an audience and give him what he wants. Through accepting Jones’s endorsement and courting the radical right, Trump helped legitimize him and his radical right fanbase. Trump has pushed some conspiracy theories Jones has originated like Hillary abusing drugs, massive voter fraud, that Justice Scalia was murdered, New Jersey Muslims celebrating 9/11, and that Rafael Cruz was involved in the Kennedy assassination. Nevertheless, since Republican leaders and media outlets were too used to conspiracy theorizing to get all worked about it. So associating with a known right wing conspiracy theorist wasn’t much of a problem for Trump. Yet, by embracing Jones, Trump also legitimizes him and all the ugly stuff his fans have done. And it doesn’t help that his administration isn’t cracking down on right wing terrorism which is a serious problem in this country.

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It’s one thing for Alex Jones to influence extremists to become terrorists. But it’s scary as hell that Donald Trump purveys many of his conspiracy theories to the masses. Promoting conspiracies is what dictators do in authoritarian regimes. Not democratically elected presidents.

Nevertheless, a conspiracy theorist like Alex Jones is dangerous enough that his conspiracy theories have hurt people and ruined lives. It’s bad enough that his theories have inspired terrorism and hate incidents. But it’s even worse that Jones is embraced by people in power, especially a president like Donald Trump who pushes his theories and may even make decisions based on them. To have a president like this who legitimizes Jones can undermine democracy and who knows what else. The United States was already led into a war in Iraq over a lie about weapons of mass destruction. We need to understand that when people believe in conspiracy theories in their worldview, there can be very terrible consequences. People might start questioning established facts that don’t confirm to their ideology, perhaps to the point that they may not trust institutions like government, the media, science, and even religion. Marginalized people might be demonized as freeloaders, job stealers, criminals, and even terrorists. Public figures are smeared. And anyone perceived as a scapegoat can be a targeted with violence. When leaders believe such ideas, they can implement them in policies that could undermine the public good. After all, pushing conspiracy theories to the masses is what authoritarian dictators do in order to get the public to do what they want, hate who they hate, hurt who they want hurt, and even give up their rights over perceived threats that don’t really exist. InfoWars isn’t fact-based media and there’s no reason to believe anything Alex Jones says as his dark and distorted view of the world has no basis in reality. But since he has an audience to rival mainstream outlets, plenty of believers, and fans who’ve committed illegal acts based on his claims, we must take him seriously. Because though Jones may not be a violent criminal on the streets, his influence poses a special kind of danger, especially if leaders believe his claims.

Shooting the Messenger

Last week, on the eve of a special congressional election in Montana, Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs pressed Republican candidate Greg Gianforte to answer questions on the American Healthcare Act. In response, Gianforte grabbed his neck, threw Jacobs to the floor, punched him, and broke his glasses. Gianforte’s team tried to blame Jacobs for the altercation and pass him as the aggressor. But the Fox News crew witnessing the incident repudiate him saying, “To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte.” The audio recording clearly illustrates what they saw with the candidate shouting, “I’m sick and tired of you guys. The last time you came here you did the same thing. Get the hell out of here. Get the hell out of here. The last guy did the same thing. Are you with the Guardian?” Gianforte was later charged with an assault misdemeanor (by a sheriff who donated to his campaign, incidentally) which can result in either a $500 fine or a 6 month jail sentence if convicted. The Billings Gazette, The Missoulian, and The Helena Independent Record all rescinded their endorsements of the Republican favorite. However, he still won with 51% of the vote in the state. Though to be fair, he was already expected to win and over 2/3 of Montanans had already cast their vote before the body slamming incident. So whatever Gianforte did at the moment wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Nor does his election mean that Montanans were okay with his actions. Nevertheless, conservatives and supporters were quick to defend the now congressman-elect. Gianforte’s campaign blamed the incident on “aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist.” They alleged Jacobs, “aggressively shoved a recorder” in Gianforte’s face and refused to leave. And that “Greg attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg’s wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground” to defend himself against “badgering questions.” Fox News pundits explained that the Gianforte had merely given Jacobs, a taste of “Montana justice.” Geraldo Rivera remarked that Monatanans “are no strangers to the more robust way of living.” While Laura Ingraham asked, “What would most Montana men do if ‘body slammed’ for no reason by another man?” In addition, Gianforte was even able to reap over $100,000 before the vote with most of it contributed after the incident. Texas Governor Greg Abbott even joked about shooting reporters. Other Republican politicians mostly brushed it off as if his choke-slamming a reporter either didn’t occur or wasn’t a problem.

Gianforte’s assault on Jacobs isn’t the first recent incident involving physical attacks on journalists. On May 18, security guards pinned CQ Roll Call’s John M. Donnelly against a wall during an open Federal Communications Commission meeting. All what Donnelly tried to do was question a commissioner as he recalled, “I could have not been less threatening or more polite. There is no justification for using force in such a situation.” He was held until FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly had passed and was escorted out of the building. And on May 10, police arrested reporter Dan Heyman of Public News Service for “willful disruption of state government processes” at the West Virginia State Capitol in Charleston. What Heyman did was repeatedly ask if domestic violence would be considered a preexisting condition under the GOP healthcare bill to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Price defended the police, saying they did what was appropriate. In March, Trump supporters allegedly assaulted an OC Weekly reporter and two photographers during a rally at Huntington Beach. And in 2016, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was videotaped grabbing Breitbart’s Michelle Fields and pulling her away from the candidate while she was trying to ask Trump a question. Though prosecutors declined to pursue charges for assault. Then a day after Gianforte’s election, there was a criminal mischief shooting at the offices of the Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky which resulted in a window shattered and other minor damages. Not to mention, a fake bomb threat at a printing works 75 miles out of town.

It’s very clear Donald Trump has been responsible for the growing and increasingly dangerous hostility toward the press. Since he began his presidential campaign in 2015, Trump has thrived on demonizing the media as “the enemy of the people” on daily Twitter taunts whenever he can. Throughout his campaign, he’d refer to the press as “dishonest, disgusting, slime, and scum.” He called political reporters the worst human beings on earth. And at rallies, he prompted crowds and thousands of supporters “to turn without fail, to jeer and sometimes curse at the press,” according to CNN. At a rally in Harrisburg to mark his 100th day as president, Trump trashed the media saying, “Their priorities are not my priorities, and not your priorities. If the media’s job is to be honest and tell the truth, the media deserves a very, very big fat failing grade.” According to recent reports, Trump had instructed then-FBI Director James Comey to jail journalists for publishing classified leaks. Yet, the danger isn’t just that Trump speaks of the media with such hostility. Rather it’s that his supporters believe him. It doesn’t help that there’s broad skepticism of the press with recent Gallup polls showing 20% of Americans having confidence in newspapers and TV broadcasts.

We need to understand that Trump’s hostility toward the media has been well-known for years. Not because he hates the press. He doesn’t. But because he absolutely despises whenever anyone says anything undermining his brand or his ego, especially if it’s the truth. Unfortunately for him, Trump has a long history of mind boggling corruption pertaining to unethical business practices, shady ties, personal misconduct, misusing public funds, and little regard for the law when it suits his bottom line. It’s well-known Trump has gone to great lengths to avoid taking responsibility for his actions whether it be through filing or threatening lawsuits, dragging court battles against his victims, framing someone else for them, peddling conspiracy theories, paying off officials, character assassination, appealing to his well-born privilege, or what have you. The news media is no exception for they’ve reported on his misdeeds for decades. Unlike Trump, they’ve often backed their claims with evidence consisting of court transcripts, eyewitness testimony, financial records, or basic facts about him. After all, the media is charged with telling the truth. And the truth is Trump is a thoroughly despicable human being. Trump has often and viciously retaliated in response because he knows the media can turn people against him for exposing him as the kind of horrible man he really is. Or that the media tells the public that his nefarious actions shouldn’t be acceptable, which looks bad on him. Now that he’s GOP leader and president, he can delegitimize the media’s claims all he wants with his lies and people would still defend him for whatever reason. In many ways, Trump’s decrying of the media as “fake news” is a form of character assassination to discredit their reports on him. Or in other words, “shooting the messenger” because he doesn’t like what the messenger has to say. For he feels it’s the media’s job to provide him with coverage so he can dominate the airwaves to reach his fans and to make him look good with unconditional adulation. Yet, since Trump is known for his lack of transparency, lack of self-awareness, and flagrant lies, it’s better to side with the media who at least fact-checks before going on air or print. Whereas, Trump incessantly demonizes the mainstream media as “fake news” for reporting on stuff he doesn’t like. So for me, whenever it’s Trump vs. the media, the media wins every time.

Now it may be news to conservatives. But the media has no obligation to tell the public what they’re comfortable to hear. Sure they may whine about the mainstream media having a liberal bias because it doesn’t cater to their worldview like Fox News does. And while the mainstream media may not always be fair, balanced, or provide adequate coverage of what’s going on in the world, there have been countless time when liberals have been unhappy with the news. Just watch any political satire or comedy show like The Daily Show, Colbert, Last Week Tonight, or Full Frontal. Jon Stewart once devoted considerable Daily Show airtime to CNBC for their coverage on the stock market before the 2008 Recession as well as frequently attacked CNN. Also, the mainstream media has come under constant criticism for ignoring marginalized and more progressive voices like ethnic religious minorities, poor people, social justice activists, and doves. In addition, since a lot of media outlets are owned by huge corporate conglomerate, you’d be hard pressed to find broadcasts pertaining to net neutrality, profiteering in the criminal justice system, labor conditions, or wage theft. Not to mention, the sheer girth of news stories out there that leads to many important stories to fall through the cracks for whatever reason. And how media sensationalism leads many outlets to focus on less important instances for entertainment value and ratings. Or how cable news outlets unintentionally mislead the public by treating politics as a spectator sport. Or even how they endlessly speculate on certain events they don’t know much about. I was especially not happy with media coverage on the 2016 Election, which appeared to devote loads of airtime to Hillary Clinton’s e-mail scandal while barely paying attention to Trump’s far more serious scandals at all (though many major newspapers, magazines, and websites didn’t). Nor was I too thrilled about their coverage on certain domestic terror incidents like the one about a right-wing militia seizing an Oregon wildlife refuge. And don’t get me started on how local news devotes considerably more time to crime stories than local and state politics, especially on policies that affect people’s lives. Yet, despite all of that, my fellow liberals and I have never saw the press as “enemies of the people.” Nor even considered inflicting violence on journalists. Even if they come from right-wing outlets like Fox News as they call themselves. After all, the media is only a messenger to inform the public what’s going on with the world whether they want to hear it or not. Aside from several ideological outlets, it largely serves no partisan agenda but the truth and an audience.

That being said, a politician physically attacking or apprehending a journalist for merely asking a question they don’t want to answer isn’t brave or noble. In fact, it’s an act of cowardice which should never be defended or encouraged. Gianforte’s body slam on Jacobs is no exception. After all, Jacobs was just trying to do his job and was professionally obligated not to fight back. He only asked Gianforte on a cruel policy that could leave 23 million Americans without health insurance as well as result in thousands of personal bankruptcies and highly preventable deaths. In other words, a reasonable and relevant question on a policy Americans want to know where their elected officials stand since it affects their lives. Yet, Gianforte responded with unprovoked violence because he didn’t want to answer it. Whereas most candidates in his place would’ve simply answered the question. Sure they’d probably try to explain their position with dishonest spin, an irrelevant explanation, or an unconvincing argument their opponents would use in an attack ad. But that’s what political candidates have to put up with. We should understand that Gianforte didn’t take a clear public position on the deeply unpopular bill during the special election. Nor apologize to Jacobs until after he won his seat. He also threatened the news media before and spent all election day hiding from reporters. Gianforte’s attack on Jacobs was clearly motivated by fear. He’s for the AHCA and knew his position didn’t represent what most of his constituents thought of it. Since he was running a close race against Rob Quist, he didn’t want voters to know where he stood. So he pummeled a reporter who had the gall to ask about it.

Nevertheless, Gianforte’s attack on Jacobs and the troubling fallout is frightening. Part of an elected official’s job involves answering questions and dealing with journalists is part of the bargain. Even if the questions make them uncomfortable and the exchanges can occasionally be infuriating. But having elected officials take questions and give answers is fundamental to the basic practice of democracy. Only demagogues and wannabe dictators refuse to engage, dodge hard questions, and hide from the media. Using violence to quiet journalists may not make a man like Gianforte a totalitarian monster. But his attack on Jacobs reveals he doesn’t respect the basic rights of reporters or anyone else to ask questions. Nor does he believe he has any obligation to respond to them. In losing his temper, Gianforte illustrated his contempt for anyone taking it for granted that our elected officials owe us their attention and their answers. Too bad too many Montana voters learned too late that their new at-large representative isn’t fit to hold public office in a democracy. After all, most Americans do believe that the politicians they elect to represent them owe an explanation for the decisions they make and the votes they cast. And they should be held accountable for policy decisions that affect their lives. Suppose you went down to City Hall and asked your council representative whether they favor lowering taxes, building a new library, fixing the sidewalk in front of your house. Would you expect an answer or a nosebleed? Most likely an answer. Let’s say you write to your US Representative asking about well, EPA regulations or farm subsidies and they don’t like the question. Would it be okay for that rep to send goons to your house to rough you up a little in order to keep your mouth shut? Of course not.

In many ways, the relationship between the press and politicians is supposed to be adversarial. So much so that journalists should expect an occasional rhetorical attack when covering politics whether be criticism for a lousy story during a rally, shouting on the phone, or tossing off a casual insult about the media. But at the same time, no matter how tense things get, the relationship should be civil. Politicians should have a healthy respect for the press even when they’re annoyed. Or at least enough respect to not beat up reporters whenever they ask a hard question. The worst a journalist should have to fear is a politician’s dirty look or a tsk-tsk from a spouse or child. Not physical assault. After all, without the media how can politicians communicate with their constituents? And how can people know where their elected officials stand or what they’re doing?

Nevertheless, for years Republican politicians and conservatives have attacked the mainstream media for years over alleged “liberal” bias in order to smear and discredit an unflattering news story as well as its author. Casting doubt on someone’s motives whenever they’re an obstacle to your ambitions is part of the game. And yes, it can be fun for awhile. But as we’ve seen in Montana, it can be corrosive over time. The fact Gianforte’s team referred to Jacobs as a “liberal journalist” as an implicit excuse for his violent behavior suggests that the candidate struck out at an enemy instead of a reporter just doing his job. Yet, we should keep in mind that Republicans were perfectly fine with electing a president whose onetime campaign manager assaulted a reporter from a media outlet once led by his closest advisers. And like Jacobs, Fields also got assaulted for trying to ask a question yet a “liberal journalist” she definitely wasn’t. And a president according to University of Pennsylvania professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson, “has contributed to a climate of discourse consistent with assaulting a reporter for asking an inconvenient question.” If you think attacks on journalists just to those in the so-called “liberal media,” it’s not always the case. But we should understand that many media usually fill the messenger role and usually don’t have a partisan motive unless stated otherwise. Nevertheless, while conservatives have criticized the mainstream media for liberal bias for several years, Trump escalated it to full-blown antagonism with terrible consequences.

Trump’s repeated denunciations of critical press has normalized hatred for journalists and by implication even encouraged physical attacks. Though to blame Trump alone may be unfair, but he’s at least broadened acceptance on bullying tactics by embracing and even celebrating resolving differences by force, if necessary. And though Trump hasn’t personally committed violence against reporters, his rhetoric makes such acts much more acceptable to conservative voters. According to University of Maryland professor Lucy Dalglish, “Trump has created an atmosphere where it’s not only okay — it’s encouraged — to disparage and mistreat journalists,” even while journalism is “the only profession” that is “specifically covered by the First Amendment.” She went on to say, “Every time he calls out a reporter for being ‘the enemy of the people,’ he is putting a bullseye on the back of about a dozen reporters. People in oppressed countries know what a free press is. This administration does not.” Doesn’t help that other politicians like Gianforte are following suit. As legal defense director for the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press Gregg Leslie states, “It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the demonizing rhetoric that we’ve seen since the presidential campaign began is starting to have an effect on others, whether they’re candidates, security guards or other officials.” And it can’t be more clear than in the Columbia Journalism Review’s condemnation of Gianforte’s assault writing, “Trump’s rhetoric from the White House–the largest bully pulpit in the world — has implicitly condoned such behavior. Gianforte’s words in the moment, coupled with his campaign’s response to the allegations afterward, paint an alarming picture of a venomous media climate in which the most mundane acts of journalism have been politicized.”

For much of American history, the media has played a pivotal role in informing the public on what’s going on in the nation as well as the world. It is enshrined in our American ethos that a free press is critical to ensuring a free and functioning democracy. After all, the First Amendment guarantees us the inalienable right to question officials and pursue the truth to inform the public. So the public can form opinions and participate in politics whether it be election time or grassroots activism. Press freedom isn’t just important to journalists but also to every American citizen who cares about democracy and free speech. Gianforte’s attack on a reporter for asking him a question is an assault on constitutional rights and democratic norms. In addition, a president to who consistently demonizes the press for informing the public on things he doesn’t like makes journalists more vulnerable to physical violence. When political leaders either defend, condone, or ignore incidents like Gianforte’s assault on Jacobs, they undermine our constitutional rights, democratic values and our ability to hold our elected leaders responsible for the decisions that affect our lives. And as PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel remarked, “That should frighten any American, especially as these attacks could bleed into outright government censorship.  All responsible officials should step forward to reject this corrosion of American values and to defend the essential role of the media in our democracy.”

The Public Menace That Is Breitbart

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There is no doubt that President Evil Cheeto Head’s unanticipated victory during the 2016 Election shook the foundations of American politics. And the media wasted no time trying to find an explanation for it such as Russian hacking and “fake news.” Both are major concerns but neither theories seem to explain the whole story. Some attribute to polarization through social media in which people choose which media outlets to follow. Yet, that doesn’t explain everything either. Nevertheless, if anything’s for certain, it’s that Trump could never have ended up in the White House without the help of Breitbart News. Founded in 2005 by the late Andrew Breitbart, this is a conservative website the New York has described as an organization with “ideologically driven journalists” that generates controversy “over material that has been called misogynist, xenophobic and racist.” And it has a reputation for publishing a number of falsehoods and conspiracy theories, incendiary headlines, as well as intentionally misleading stories. However, it’s a site that makes Fox News seem like the BBC and it’s for people who think the cable news network is too polite and restrained. Yet, thanks to the Trump campaign and the 2016 Election, Breitbart has stepped out from the fringes of American politics and became a leading voice in the conservative media. This March, Breitbart tried become a credentialed member of the Senate Daily Press Gallery alongside mainstream outlets like the New York Times and USA Today. Had it got its way, then they’d have access to the Capitol on par with congressional staff and a place in the White House press pools. So far the Standing Committee of Correspondents has denied their request, for good reason. Because Breitbart News shouldn’t have any press accreditation as mainstream news outlet for various reasons. But first, a bit of background.

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Tracking Facebook and Twitter shares of over 1.25 stories published during the 2016 Election from 25,000 sources, a study at Harvard and MIT showed an insulated right-wing media sphere anchored around Breitbart. This map depicts the Facebook shares though the Twitter scheme looks fairly identical.

This March, a Harvard and MIT study reported in the Columbia Journalism Review offers a less exotic and far more disturbing explanation. Yet, it’s one that makes far more sense. Their study consisted of tracking over 1.25 million online stories from 25,000 sources published between April 2015 and Election Day using an open-source platform for media ecosystems called Media Cloud. They also analyzed hyperlinking patterns, social media sharing patterns on Facebook and Twitter, and content topic and language patterns within the stories. Their work showed a right-wing media network anchored around Breitbart developed a distinct and insulated media system. Harnessing social media as a backbone to transmit a hyper-partisan perspective of the world, this pro-Trump media sphere seemed to not only successfully instill a right-wing media agenda, but also strongly influenced the broader media agenda, particularly in covering Hillary Clinton. Though political and media polarization existed online, the Harvard study suggests that it was asymmetric. According to them, Clinton supporters were highly attentive to traditional media outlets alongside more left-wing sources. By contrast, Trump supporters paid most of their attention polarized outlets catered to affirming their political worldviews. Since one of the right-wing media’s central themes is attacking the “opposing” media’s integrity and professionalism, this shouldn’t surprise anyone. Or at least whenever the so-called “liberal” media published stories containing information the right-wing media didn’t like such as negative press about Trump. And their vehement attacks on traditional journalism usually convince their audience to only trust them as if it’s the mainstream media’s mission to deceive rather than inform.

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Here’s a diagram of Twitter shares from various media outlets across the political spectrum. On the left, you have an even distribution of traditional and left-wing media outlets. On the right, once the threshold of partisan-only attention is reached, the number of right-wing sites dramatically increases.

Although it’s often said that the internet can fragment public discourse and polarize opinions by allowing us to filter news suiting our views, the Harvard and MIT study challenged that simple narrative. They concluded that had technology been the most important driver towards a “post-truth” world, we’d expect to see symmetric patterns on the left and right. But instead, they found that different internal political dynamics within the left and right-wings leading to different patterns in reception and technology use. Sure Facebook and Twitter enabled right-wing media to circumvent the traditional media’s gatekeeping power. But the pattern wasn’t symmetric. And in a way, the Harvard and MIT study seemed to confirm what many of us knew all along. For one, right-wing media outlets like talk radio and Fox News have contributed to increasing political polarization way before Facebook and Twitter even existed. Second, another study by the National Bureau of Economic Research has found polarization increasing faster among those using social media the least: white senior citizens. Third, the fact the Harvard and MIT study found the same asymmetric patterns on Facebook and Twitter suggested that human choices, culture, and politics played more of a role.

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Though “fake news” was often to blame for Trump’s victory in the 2016 Election, it was less about wholly fabricated stories than disinformation. As you can see, Breitbart distinctly fits in the Conservative Utter Garbage category since it specializes in the latter.

Nor did the study find many of the most-shared stories qualifying as “fake news” in the context of wholly fabricated falsities created by politically disinterested parties out to make a buck on Facebook. Rather many of these most-shared stories would be more accurately understood as disinformation. For those who don’t know, disinformation is the deliberate combination of decontextualized truths, repeated falsehoods, and leaps of paranoid logic to create a fundamentally misleading view of the world. Again, this is no surprise since people are much more likely to believe in distorted news stories than fake ones altogether. Disinformation is a classic propaganda technique employed by authoritarian regimes and conspiracy theorists. Though partisan media use of disinformation is neither new nor limited to the right-wing, it is a much bigger problem than mere “fake news.” Nevertheless, over the course of the election, the right-wing media’s use of disinformation turned it into an internally coherent, relatively insulated knowledge community which reinforced their readers’ shared worldview and shielded them from the journalism challenging it. Through repetition, variation, and circulation, these right-wing media outlets made their claims familiar to their audiences. And their fluency with their core narrative gives credence to the incredible. The prevalence of such material created an environment where President Pussygrabber and his White House swamp cronies can tell their supporters anything and they’d still cheer for him. Yet, once again, since the right-wing media sphere has usually functioned this way well before the 2016 election as demonstrated by Fox News and Talk Radio.

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This Twitter share map from February 2016 shows less attention being placed at Fox News, thanks to Breitbart’s attacks of it. This effectively sidelined the cable news channel until after Trump won the GOP primary.

Nevertheless, when the folks at Harvard and MIT mapped their media sources through their methodology, they saw Breitbart as the center of a distinct right-wing media ecosystem, surrounded by Fox News, the Daily Caller, the Gateway Pundit, the Washington Examiner, Infowars, Conservative Treehouse, and Truthfeed. Their maps also show that the hyper-partisan attack pattern was set during the primary season within this right-wing media system. Not only did Breitbart and co. attack opposing candidates such as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio but also media that didn’t support Trump’s candidacy like Fox News. In early 2016, Breitbart aimed to delegitimize Fox News as conservative media’s central arbiter through sustained attacks tying it to immigration, terrorism, Muslims, and corruption. As a result, Fox News was effectively sidelined only to revive and integrate more closely with Breitbart and the rest of the right-wing media sphere once the primaries ended. From then, their target became all traditional media, Hillary Clinton, and immigration.

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During the 2016 Election, Breitbart would alter not just the conservative media ecosystem, but the mainstream media’s agenda as well. And it was because of the right-wing website that media outlets paid disproportionate attention to Hillary Clinton’s scandals and Trump’s stance on immigration. Trump’s scandals received considerably less coverage than they should’ve and I think it was a real shame. And I’m happy that the Washington Post called out the media for portraying Clinton as the corrupt one while Trump’s corruption is absolutely mind-boggling. Check out my post about Trump’s corruption scandals and you’ll see what I mean. I even have source listings.

As Breitbart assumed its role of central arbiter of conservative news, the right-wing media was able to bring focus on immigration as well as Hillary’s e-mails and other scandals to a broader media environment. Trump’s heavily substantive agenda on immigration and his direct attacks on Hillary would dominate public discussions. Coverage of Clinton overwhelmingly focused on her e-mails, the Clinton Foundation, and Benghazi. Whereas, Trump’s stories centered on immigration along with arguments on jobs and trade received more attention than his far more mind-boggling corruption scandals (which the Washington Post appropriately called out). Such coverage gave many Americans impression that Hillary Clinton was corrupt and untrustworthy and that Donald Trump cared for struggling working class whites. But it was a highly misleading one at its core. It was one newspapers, magazines, and several online media outlets immediately saw through, especially if they were extremely familiar with Trump. Because a lot of them wasted no time covering his long record of dirty business practices. However, that false impression convinced enough voters in critical swing states to choose Trump, vote third party, or not vote at all. Why? Because many of these Americans usually get their news from mainstream outlets, TV, radio, and/or the local paper. And while they’ve been familiar with Hillary Clinton’s baggage for decades, they mainly saw Trump as a rich successful businessman and reality TV star instead of the sociopathic con artist and demagogue he truly is.

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During the 2016 Election, Breitbart devoted disproportionate attention to immigration which was framed in terms of terror, crime, and Islam. Seeing this graph, it’s very clear that most of Trump’s supporters were motivated by xenophobia and racism.

Nevertheless, while the mainstream media was often critical, it nonetheless revolved around where Trump and Breitbart had common cause: immigration. Trump’s campaign and Breitbart’s coverage on immigration have made overt racism and xenophobia more acceptable to mainstream conservatism. Breitbart and other right-wing outlets would frame it in terms of terror, crime, and Islam with their immigration stories were among the most widely shared on social media and the site devoted disproportionate attention to it. And it didn’t help that many of the immigration issues they brought up weren’t very well understood. Take sanctuary cities, for instance. According to right-wing media, they’re consistently vilified as criminal hellholes where undocumented immigrants are free to roam around the streets and can get away with murder. The 2015 shooting death of Kathyrn Steinle was a frequent feature in Republican campaign ads, particularly Senator Pat Toomey’s. Sure San Francisco released her shooter from prison who had 5 deportations. But Juan Lopez-Sanchez’s record mostly consisted of unauthorized reentry and drug possession and had no outstanding warrant for his arrest. There was no way San Francisco could foresee Lopez-Sanchez killing someone. Furthermore, it’s possible Lopez-Sanchez killed Steinle by accident, which might explain everything. Yet, when you hear about the Steinle case, you get the impression Lopez-Sanchez was a violent thug whom San Francisco should’ve handed over to ICE for deportation. Trump’s hardline position on immigration has deeply resonated with conservative voters that within a week of Steinle’s death, his poll numbers shot up which placed him as the GOP frontrunner. Along with Breitbart and the RNC, Trump has made “sanctuary cities” a scapegoat embodying injustices falling upon Americans out of a perceived laissez-faire approach to immigration enforcement. Trump would often illustrate this by parading grieving families onstage at his rallies and at the Republican National Convention. And it’s one he’s used to justify shutting the US-Mexican border and deporting America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.

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Though Breitbart is a popular conservative media website, it’s one that makes Fox News seem like the BBC. And recently, thanks to Steve Bannon, it’s shifted to more right-wing extremist ideas and has been identified with the alt-right. Today, you’ll find its comment section as former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro says, “a cesspool of white supremacist mememakers.”

The fact Breitbart has become one of the most popular news outlets on the right as well as played a critical role in the 2016 Election should be particularly troubling. Today, according to Alexa, it ranks as one of the top 1,000 most popular sites on the Internet as well as just outside the top 200 most popular sites in the US. As I’ve said before, Breitbart is a right-wing news website once run by now current Trump adviser Stephen Bannon who openly admitted the site as “the platform for the alt-right.” Under his watch, the outlet had undergone a noticeable shift toward embracing right-wing extremist ideas associated with the alt-right, Bannon’s target audience. I have written before that the alt-right is a loose set of far-right ideologies that share the core belief that “white identity” is under attack through policies prioritizing multiculturalism, political correctness, and social justice. And that white identity must be preserved, usually through white-identified online communities and physical ethno-states. Since 2015, Breitbart has openly promoted the Alt-Right’s core issues and introduced their racist ideas to its readership, much to white nationalists’ glee for they could never dream of reaching a vast audience. Breitbart’s comment section is filled with white nationalist and anti-Semitic language reflects this. Since Bannon took over after founder Andrew Breitbart’s death in 2012, Breitbart has cheered on white nationalist groups as an “electric mix of renegades,” accusing President Barack Obama of importing “more hating Muslims,” and waging a war against the so-called purveyors of “political correctness.” As Occidental Dissent’s Brad Griffin put it, “I think Breitbart has had a positive impact on our culture and politics. It is unwittingly engaging in what I call ‘discourse poisoning’. I assume the profit motive is at work here – anyway, it benefits us to erode taboos, so I don’t really care how much money they make. You could also say that we can look at Breitbart as a model that those of us who are further to the Right ought to be doing instead of writing history lectures or boring essays about obscure philosophers no one cares about.” Throughout the 2016 Election, outlinks to Breitbart steadily grew over the course of 2016 on the most prominent white supremacist websites. By late that year, the conservative website was topping media outlets like the UK’s sensationalist tabloid style Daily Mail and the neo-Nazi The Daily Stormer. It’s said the far-right boards of 4chan regularly linked Breitbart stories over 1,000 times a month.

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Here’s a sampling of inflammatory Breitbart headlines regarding Muslims and immigration. Though Islamophobia exists throughout the political spectrum, these are incredibly offensive. Though Islamic terrorism does exist, American Muslims are more likely to be terror victims than the terrorists they’re stereotyped as. These Anti-Muslim headlines only incite more hate.

Breitbart has always given a platform to some radical right movements even before Bannon took over. And this applied particularly those in the nativist and anti-Muslim set, which given the high rate of American Islamophobia isn’t completely unacceptable. Breitbart organized conferences featuring nativist speakers and published op-eds and interviews with movement leaders. Yet, since 2015, the right-wing news site started publishing more overtly racist diatribes about Muslims and immigrants. In May of that year, Breitbart published an article defending Pamela Geller for hosting a “Draw Mohammed Cartoon Contest” in Garland Texas. Geller’s drawing contest was a tactic many viewed as an act to incite and anger American Muslims. In fact, 2 armed men linked to ISIS targeted the event and were killed by police for attempting to storm the venue. Breitbart’s article was titled, “6 Reasons Pamela Geller’s Cartoon Contest is No Different from Selma” and it came with Geller’s photo alongside that of Martin Luther King Jr. in order to liken the notorious Muslim-basher with the great civil rights leader. Bannon has praised Geller as “one of the leading experts in the country, if not the world,” on Islam, while the Southern Poverty Law Center has listed her American Freedom Defense Initiative as an Anti-Muslim hate group. In February of 2016, Breitbart produced a 51-second anti-Muslim video about South Carolina introducing an anti-Shariah law bill depicting stoning executions and harsh punishments as warning that Shariah Law would undercut American justice. It was a claim echoing similar Anti-Muslim sentiments by activists fearing “creeping Shariah” will preempt the Constitution. A month earlier, Breitbart published an article by longtime anti-immigrant politician Tom Tancredo titled, “Political Correctness Protects Muslim Rape Culture” which almost resembled a white nationalist screed. In it, Tancredo warned about an “epidemic” or rape across Europe and concluded with, “The Muslim rape culture is not a ‘dirty little secret — it is widely recognized as integral to Islam as taught in the Koran and the Hadith. Like honor killings and other parts of Sharia, it will not be wished away. And like honor killings, with massive Muslim immigration on the horizon, it could be coming to a town near you all too soon.” And in September of 2015, Breitbart attacked Pope Francis for his comments about the US welcoming more refugees by invoking a popular Alt-Right novel Camp of the Saints and lauding it with a quote by Pat Buchanan. Now the book depicts an invasion of France and the white Western world by a fleet of dark skinned refugees, characterized as horrific and uncivilized “monsters” stopping at nothing to greedily and violently seize what rightfully belongs to the white man.

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Breitbart is also notoriously racist by likening blacks and Latinos as thugs committing crimes against whites at alarming rates. This headline appeared on Breitbart following the Charleston church shootings of 2015. If I had ever seen an extremely appalling response to a racially motivated mass shooting if there was one. Still, if you don’t think the Confederate flag is racist, then I have an entire article tearing that claim to shreds.

But Breitbart doesn’t just target Muslims and immigrants. Another popular racist conspiracy it propagates is the notion that African Americans are committing crimes against whites at alarming rates. Of course, linking blacks to crime isn’t unusual in right-wing media since Fox News does this all the time like calling Black Lives Matter protestors as a bunch of cop-killing lawless thugs. So does Breitbart which published a piece titled, “A SHORT LIST OF BLACK LIVES MATTER’S COP-KILLING HEROES.” Nor was Breitbart a stranger to this either. In 2009, the news outlet played a central role in promoting the ACORN undercover videos and had one of their reporters dressed as a prostitute, which led to the community organizing network’s demise. In 2010 released the edited Shirley Sherrod video titled “Proof NAACP Awards Racism” which got her fired from the Department of Agriculture. Oh, and in 2014, they reported that then Obama attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch served in Bill Clinton’s defense team during the Whitewater scandal when she didn’t. And they’ve also promoted Obama conspiracy theories like the often repeated falsehood that Obama was a Kenyan-born Muslim.  In July 2015, following the Charleston church shooting, Breitbart published a piece entitled: “Hoist it high and proud: the Confederate flag proclaims a glorious heritage,” reeking of the white supremacist sentiment shooter Dylann Roof embraced. The next month, after the murder of a white journalist and cameraman live on air by a disgruntled African American former co-worker, Breitbart published the race-baiting headline, “Race Murder in Virginia: Black Reporter Suspected of Executing White Colleagues – On Live Television!” It is remarkably similar to ones seen on the white nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens’ website, which his dedicated to spreading falsehood to the public about the black crime “epidemic.” Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof credited the CCC website as being his gateway into white nationalism after stumbling upon it during a Google search on black on white crime. In addition, Bannon has credited now US Attorney General Jeff Sessions who’s referred to civil rights advocacy groups as “un-American” and “Communist-inspired.” And in July 2016, he accused the “Left” of a “plot to take down America,” by fixating on police shootings of black citizens and arguing that the 5 fallen police officers in Dallas were murdered “”by a #BlackLivesMatter-type activist-turned-sniper.” He even accused the mainstream media of an Orwellian “bait-and-switch as reporters and their Democratic allies and mentors seek to twist the subject from topics they don’t like to discuss—murderers with evil motives—to topics they do like to discuss, such as gun control.” He then added, “[H]ere’s a thought: What if the people getting shot by the cops did things to deserve it? There are, after all, in this world, some people who are naturally aggressive and violent.”

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Though Breitbart doesn’t claim to be anti-Semitic as well as hired Jewish reporters and has a bureau in Israel, it hasn’t stopped the site from publishing articles with these headlines. Not to mention, Steve Bannon is a noted anti-Semite as well as a good chunk of Breitbart’s audience.

Though Breitbart editors have repeatedly attacked critics connecting their website to the alt-right’s anti-Semitic elements by pointing to Jewish writers on their staff and embrace for far-right Israeli politics, the comment section analysis shows they don’t have a zero tolerance policy for anti-Semitic views. Of course, this isn’t surprising since Bannon is a well-known anti-Semite. His ex-wife claimed he didn’t want their daughters attending a private girls’ school in Los Angeles because he didn’t want them going to attending a school with Jews. According to her from court documents, “He said he doesn’t like Jews and that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiny brats’.” Bannon has denied these allegations. Nevertheless, anti-Semitic or not, far right extremists like what they see on there. A focus on “globalist elites” was a traditional anti-Semitic dog whistle used by the radical right to a core appeal embraced by American and European right-wing populists. And it’s been a “rolling narrative” Breitbart extensively covers. One of its London pieces attacked Washington Post writer Anne Applebaum referring to her as a “Polish, Jewish, American elitist” with “global media contacts.” It was roundly criticized as being anti-Semitic. Breitbart’s similar inflammatory coverage of the migrant crisis and terrorism resonates with the hard right which includes anti-Semitic fellow travelers. And by 2016, the phrase “Jewish” on the Breitbart comments section had morphed into an epithet used in similar contexts as “socialist” or “commie.”

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Though there are female reporters working for Breitbart, you still see a lot of these very sexist headlines on the site. This one about feminism is among many examples. Not to mention, Steve Bannon’s ex-wife has accused him of domestic violence.

Though right-wing media has a very terrible reputation for sexism, Breitbart has no shortage of deeply misogynistic stories and headlines with feminists regularly targeted. On a story about online harassment, Breitbart published a piece titled, “The Solution to Online ‘Harassment’ Is Simple: Women Should Log Off” which read, “Women are — and you won’t hear this anywhere else — screwing up the internet for men by invading every space we have online and ruining it with attention-seeking and a needy, demanding, touchy-feely form of modern feminism that quickly comes into conflict with men’s natural tendency to be boisterous, confrontational and delightfully autistic. Feminism never brings men and women together in equality. It drives the sexes apart through acrimony, constant suspicion and antagonism like ‘teach men not to rape’ and illogical generalities and conspiracy theories like the ‘patriarchy’.” Though to be fair, former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos has gained notoriety for Gamergate. Nevertheless, this is typical garbage that’s basically blaming telling women to put up or shut up. Not to mention, blaming feminism for men’s conduct toward women that receive little to no consequences which is appalling. We should also account that Bannon’s ex-wife brought charges of domestic violence against him in 1996 as well as referred to feminists as “a bunch of dykes of the 7 Sisters schools.” Or how about birth control? In that case, a 2015 Breitbart article stated that “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy” which stated that, “your birth control injection will add on pounds that will prevent the injection you really want — of man meat.” On women in tech: “There’s no hiring bias against women in tech, they just suck at interviews.” Other headlines consist of, “Does Feminism Make Women Ugly?,” “Would you rather your child had feminism or cancer?,” “Lesbian bridezillas bully bridal shop owner over religious beliefs,” and “Teenage boys with tits: Here’s my problem with Ghostbusters.” LGBT people, the disabled, the overweight, and pretty much anyone who disagrees with Breitbart’s agenda are often targets as well.

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Milo Yiannopoulos is perhaps one of the most famous figures at Breitbart and the alt-right. He’s also known to incite mass trolling attacks on Twitter that he’s been suspended numerous times on there as well as eventually and permanently banned. Yet, for awhile, he seemed to be riding high until he started defending pedophiles.

However, Breitbart’s most disturbing piece to date was its Alt-Right primer published in March 2016. The piece ignores Alt-Right founders Richard Spencer, Jared Taylor, and others’ racist views and referred to them as the movement’s “intellectuals.” Though they do note that these men have been accused of racism. It’s a striking example of how the website has moved over since 2015 and how Breitbart has become the alt-right’s platform. But even to this day, Breitbart’s owners continue to deny their website has any connection to the Alt-Right or has ever supported racist or white supremacist views. Yet, you wouldn’t know from some of their journalists’ Twitter pages who support the Alt-Right’s core tenets. The most notable was former tech editor and star writer Milo Yiannopoulos who was permanently banned from Twitter for his online abuse of Leslie Jones and others. Though to be fair, this is a guy whose claim to fame was leading a massive troll war over misogyny in the video game world called Gamergate. And he was called by the Southern Poverty Law Center, “the person who propelled the alt-right movement into the mainstream.” When asked on how he, Breitbart, and other sites mobilized the alt-right community, Yiannopoloulos replied, “I don’t pander to anyone. I just gave the alt-right a fair hearing. That was considered heretical by the virtue-signaling leftist media, so now they call me a white nationalist and anti-Semite, despite the fact that I’m a gay Jew with a black boyfriend. To the American media, anyone who is not a far-left social justice activist is a racist and sexist. This has had a predictable consequence: no one cares about their name-calling and hysteria anymore.” He’s basically denying that the alt-right is nothing like the white nationalist extremism it certainly is. That’s just the leftist media talking. However, he then added, “Trump’s voters, and I would wager in fact most of America, are repulsed by the Lena Dunham, Black Lives Matter, third-wave feminist, communist, ‘kill all white men’ politics of the progressive left. Which is in large part why this election went the way it did. Some of us saw it coming a while ago. Most didn’t.” This is basically what you’d expect from Yiannopoulos. Yet, it’s disturbing to even imagine what kind of people would attend his campus talks during his “Dangerous Faggot” tour which coincided with a rise of hate crimes around the country following Trump’s victory. But tickets usually sold out fast though his events included security as well as angry protests. And for awhile, his star seemed on the rise since he signed a $250,000 book deal with Simon and Schuster as well as an invitation to speak at CPAC. But he would later suffer a massive fall from grace after his pedophilia comments and be forced to resign from Breitbart as well as have his deals with Simon and Schuster and CPAC cancelled.

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Now I know this Breitbart headline is certainly fake news since Trump is a sexist and racist sociopathic demagogue. Still, Breitbart has supported his candidacy since the beginning which has helped the site make inroads in the mainstream. Nevertheless, having Bannon in the White House gives the conservative website power and opportunities they never had before. And a premiere media outlet for white supremacists, alt-righters, and Neo-Nazis, it’s very troubling.

What’s also disconcerting is Breitbart’s unabashed support for Donald Trump whose campaign helped mobilize and mainstream racist activists online which had internal ramifications for the site. In March 2016, then Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski assaulted Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields and site published an article questioning Fields’ account. Editor Ben Shapiro and a number of journalists including Fields quit as the New York Times said that, “Breitbart’s unabashed embrace of Mr. Trump, particularly at the expense of its own reporter, struck them as a betrayal of its mission.” Former employees accused Bannon of having, “turned a website founded on anti-authoritarian grounds into a de facto propaganda outlet for Mr. Trump.” However, we should know that Breitbart’s support for Trump was known since August 2015 when Buzzfeed reported that several anonymous staffers claimed he had paid for favorable coverage on the site, which management denied. Though Newsweek and The Washington Post have both reported that owners Robert and Rebekah Mercer have deep ties to Trump and were among his earliest and most generous backers as well as recommended Bannon to him. Nevertheless, the partnership was mutually beneficial. Trump would secure the support of Breitbart’s core readership as among his most steadfast supporters. Breitbart’s traffic would more than double while Trump would also appear on Steve Bannon’s Sirius XM radio show as well as cite Breitbart on his website more than any other source. As the Trump campaign’s propaganda machine, Breitbart provided positive coverage for him. They regularly featured opinion pieces by Trump supporter Ann Coulter. They covered his rallies and rarely questioned his policy proposals. They even published some articles bolstering Trump’s claims that independent fact-checkers rated as false. And in July 2016, Trump appointed Bannon to run his presidential campaign which eventually earned him a place in his administration. Having Trump and Bannon in the White House only legitimizes Breitbart’s agenda as well as gives them a direct conduit of power they’ve never had before. Inside the Trump administration, Breitbart is likely to be the most read publications inside the White House over the next 4 years, giving it even more legitimacy and policy. And Breitbart would continue publishing articles espousing the Trump White House views, making it a powerful messaging tool to influence conservatives who voted for him.

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Stephen Bannon may not be working at Breitbart. But his legacy there still remains. But to give this media arm of the alt-right any legitimacy whatsoever is deeply troubling since it’s a site peddling disinformation as well as caters to right-wing extremists. We can’t have that kind of media in the White House.

While Bannon may no longer be at Breitbart, his legacy remains. We must not forget that Bannon’s editorial vision has demonstrably mobilized a grassroots fighting for a white ethnostate and in many cases, another Holocaust. After all, if they consist of neo-Nazis and white supremacists, it’s not surprising. And longstanding far right leaders haven’t ignored Breitbart’s ascension made possible by the Trump campaign who’ve reacted with the shock at how their editorial bent resembles their own. We should understand that these extremists’ hate is real and thriving on Breitbart, which has helped expand their influence on the American political right. And for many their propensity to inflict terror on Americans is a real threat. As a media organization, Breitbart has absolutely no journalistic integrity and its influence in the mainstream press during the 2016 Election was an extremely negative one styles itself as a website catering to the worst in American conservatism. Having Trump appoint Bannon to his administration signals that white supremacists are represented at his White House. I have already written a post on the alt-right and highlighted how their influence might lead to more domestic terror attacks. And the fact the Trump administration has a terror policy focused solely on Islam sends a clear signal that would only embolden these radical right-wing degenerates. Though Breitbart has failed to gain legitimacy in Washington, Trump still uses it as a news source as it becomes the central arbiter in the American conservative media ecosystem and therefore, giving it some degree of mainstream legitimacy. And as long as both things are true, then Breitbart has every opportunity to rear its ugly head and permeate its toxic influence into White House policy.

Hands Off My PBS and NPR: Why We Still Need Public Broadcasting

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Established by the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has ensured universal access to non-commercial, high quality content, and telecommunications services. And does so by distributing more than 70% of its funding to more than 1,300 locally owned public radio and television stations along with the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio. The CPB is part of our nation’s commitment to ensuring culture, learning, and the arts are available to all Americans.

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This cartoon from the Indianapolis Star shows Trump slashing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting from the federal budget. And here we see horrified Sesame Street muppets look on.

This March, President Cheetohead unveiled his federal budget plan proposing to ax the federal funding from several government programs, including the CPB. The reason? According to Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney, “When you start looking at places that we reduce spending, one of the questions we asked was can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs? The answer was no. We can ask them to pay for defense, and we will, but we can’t ask them to continue to pay for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.” His justification to cut public broadcasting in order to increase defense spending by $54 billion makes absolutely no sense. The CPB receives about an annual $485 million from the federal government, consisting of about .00006% of the federal budget. By contrast, annual US defense spending is about $500-$600 billion, consisting of half the federal budget at least (estimated). Yet, Mulvaney also has the audacity and the stupidity to state that we can’t ask a West Virginia coal miner or a Detroit single mom whether we can keep funding public broadcasting programs. It’s like he thinks that public broadcasting plays no role in ordinary Americans’ day to day lives. Does he have any idea parents and children are a key demographic for shows like Sesame Street? Or that PBS Kids is the only educational resource for 3- and 4-year-olds whose parents can’t afford sending them to preschool? And that local public stations may be the only source of free local news and programming in many rural areas? Or when West Virginia’s governor proposed cutting state funding to its public media from its budget, only to change his mind afterwards? Besides, it only costs the average American $1.35 each year for it. People have paid more for overdue library books for God’s sake. And given PBS and NPR’s penchant to air quality program that have been on for years, I consider it an investment well spent. Thus, I think asking single moms and coal miners to pay for public broadcasting is fairly reasonable. Of course, I may be a little biased since I watch PBS on a regular basis because I’d rather watch intellectually stimulating shows than meaningless crap. And I will defend PBS and NPR with my life. But don’t take my word for it since 73% of all Americans oppose cutting federal funding for the CPB including 83% of Democrats and 60% of Republicans.

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On May 1, 1969, Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood would testify before a US Senate committee to defend funding for public broadcasting. His words about how his show benefits young kids still echoes today. Since he’s from Latrobe and his show was based in WQED Pittsburgh, he holds a special place in my area as a local legend.

Critics of public broadcasting often view NPR as a liberal media hotbed and PBS as an obsolete relic of a bygone age. Republicans in particular, don’t think that the federal government should support public broadcasting even if it’s funding represents a miniscule fraction of the federal budget. They believe that we should let the market decide whether it wants science, arts, or music. Besides, if you want quality educational and cultural programming, then cable should be quite sufficient since you have whole channels devoted to education and culture. Or so they say. However, Americans should view their public broadcasting system as a national treasure since it provides a vital public service for local communities as well as the nation. As a media outlet, public broadcasting provides educational and high quality programming for all Americans. Without it, the United States would be a far worse off place. So much that disgraced four-star general Stanley McChrystal called cutting public media for increased military spending, “a false choice.” Nevertheless, American taxpayers pay only a small investment in public broadcasting that pays out big dividends in a way that’s indispensable to society. And as McChrystal said, it should be pitted against the spending more in improving our military. Not to mention, many viewers would miss out on all the intellectual and educational richness public media has to offer. Thus, if Trump should kill public broadcasting, America loses. Because public broadcasting is part of what makes America great. To eliminate federal funding for the CPB would be catastrophic to public broadcasting, especially where local stations rely on CPB funds. And I give you the following reasons why federal funding for PBS and NPR is worth protecting.

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A lot of these educational cable networks may have started off with high quality programming. But they later degenerated into airing crap in order to appeal to a larger 18-34 audience and sponsors. As you can see from these charts, it tells you what The Science Channel, National Geographic Channel, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel air nowadays.

Most attempts at providing quality educational and cultural programming to cable television have failed.– Out of all the cable stations providing quality educational and cultural programming, only Turner Classic Movies and the Smithsonian Channel continue to do so 24/7. Other channels like National Geographic and the Weather Channel can also have educational content. But they can also feature a lot of crap. Nevertheless, there was a time when cable had a real chance of replacing PBS, but that was back in the early days. We should remember that the Discovery Channel, A&E, The History Channel, and TLC were created to provide such programming. A&E stood for Arts and Entertainment as well as used to show content relating to arts, dance, theater, history, literature, and nature. TLC once stood for The Learning Channel which used to feature science and nature documentaries and was co-owned by NASA. The Discovery Channel also featured science programming while the History Channel broadcasted documentaries on history. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, conservatives could use networks like TLC, A&E, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel, to argue that we don’t need PBS anymore. Nowadays, try to argue that point and all you get is a room full of obnoxious laughter. Today you will find that A&E is best known for airing Duck Dynasty, Dog, the Bounty Hunter, and Love Prison. TLC’s programming centers around trashy reality shows exploiting toddler beauty pageants, obese people, people who need therapy, and families who don’t mind putting children in the spotlight. The Discovery Channel may still have Shark Week but they feature reality shows like Amish Mafia and Naked and Afraid. As for the History Channel, well, basically they’ve devoted timeslots to reality shows as well as programming featuring pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. PBS, meanwhile, still shows the same type of programming throughout its existence at the same quality. So why did these cable networks departed so far from their original programming concepts while PBS didn’t? Mostly because these cable networks are for-profit businesses that exist to make money. Many times a cable channel’s management might add shows they feel that a larger audience wants to see, leading to additional profits. And by producing irrelevant or low-quality programming, they can increase their ratings to a target audience, increase viewership, and increase revenues. This is a process known as Network Decay or Channel Drift. The degree of channel drift may vary with some nonconforming programming retaining some degree of association with the channel’s original purpose like Pawn Stars on the History Channel. Yet, other programming may have no association whatsoever such as whatever you see on TLC. PBS, by contrast, primarily exists to provide programming of social benefit to their viewers that may not be commercially viable to the mass market like public affairs shows, documentaries, and educational shows. Many have been on the air for years, if not decades. In fact, one of the principles of public broadcasting is to provide coverage for interests for which there are missing or small markets. Quality educational and cultural programming would usually fit the bill. PBS’s non-profit status allows them to do so while not being obligated to appeal to the lowest common denominator, advertisers, or profits. Furthermore, PBS relies on government and private funding sources because it strives for the kind of independence in order to fulfill its educational and cultural mission to the public.

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In 2013, WNET New York released a series of ads of fake reality shows both on posters and in commercials. This was at a time when reality shows were very popular. Nevertheless, Bayou Eskimos is probably as realistic as Duck Dynasty or Amish Mafia. But since a lot of cable networks many thought would replace PBS now have hours of reality shows, I think it shows a lot about our culture.

Just because a TV show is commercially viable, doesn’t mean it’s good.– As much as I hate reality shows, I have to concede that networks find them particularly attractive. They’re relatively cheap to produce than a scripted series as well as is often said to be more authentic and engaging to viewers. Reality shows were very popular among audiences during my adolescence with the primary demographic being teenagers and young adults. Sponsors like them since they provide an opportunity for product placement, giving more time to market their products. However, reality shows aren’t quality entertainment as well as be rather exploitative and offensive regardless of popularity. Nor do they reflect “reality” as we know it since such shows use a lot of behind the scenes trickery. Yet, popular reality shows seldom ever get cancelled. Nevertheless, we need to understand that popularity among the masses doesn’t translate into quality. As a writer who enjoys old movies, I understand this concept incredibly well. Not every bestseller becomes a literary classic. And not every box office hit will be held as a cinematic masterpiece. Trash culture has always existed whether it be porn, penny dreadfuls, pulp novels, exploitation films, B-movies, and reality shows. Each generation has its own form of mindless entertainment. Nevertheless, the fact channels like A&E, TLC, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel switched from their educational programming to sleazy entertainment demonstrates how some good quality shows aren’t always commercially viable. Many of the shows PBS airs like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, NOVA, Nature, and others wouldn’t have a chance on other channels. Nor would they be able to otherwise compete what’s available on other channels if it weren’t for PBS. For example, when Fred Rogers addressed the US Senate in 1969, he’d say that he knew his haircut decision could excite kids once he was in front of them. But he also knew it would be hard to compete for their attention as on-screen violence and special effects became ever more present outside public media. He also talked about how watching two men working through their emotions is much more important, relevant, and dramatic than guns firing. Cable channels may air marketable content but it doesn’t mean such shows are good.

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While the federal government provides some of the CPB’s funding, most of it comes from private along with state and local government sources. And it is because public broadcasting receives money from a variety of public and private sources that it’s able to air quality programming and exist as an independent non-profit entity.

Public broadcasting is not beholden to anyone but its mission and its viewership.– While public broadcasters may receive some funding from state and local governments, most financial support comes from underwriting from foundations and businesses ranging from small shops to corporations, along with audience contributions via pledge drives. They may rely on advertisers, but not to the same degree as commercial broadcasters or at all. Nor are they owned or operated by the government either. Rather many owned by non-profit groups affiliated with a local school district, a college, a non-profit organization, or by state or local government agencies. Stations receiving CPB funds must meet certain requirements such as the maintenance or provision of open meetings, open financial records, a community advisory board, equal employment opportunity, and lists of donors and political activities. And most of PBS’s national programming is produced by member stations, particularly WPGH Boston, WNET New York, and WETA Washington providing most of them. Though my local PBS station WQED Pittsburgh produced the iconic Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. NPR also broadcasts content from national providers like Public Radio International or American Public Radio. Yet, they also can air from other stations as well. For instance, the celebrated “Car Talk” was produced by WBUR-FM Boston while Minnesota Public Radio brings “A Prairie Home Companion.” Nevertheless, PBS is a great station for those who would rather teach lessons and enrich minds than make money. As long as it’s quality programming benefitting the public, PBS doesn’t care much about ratings as it does about access and viewers like you.

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Though kid shows exist on commercial networks, they often don’t alleviate parents’ and teachers’ worries since they may show violence, teach terrible lessons, and advertise junk food. PBS shows like Sesame Street have a great reputation since they aim to put kids’ interests first. And the fact parents and young children enjoy this show so much over the years has made it one of the most beloved on TV.

What’s good for the market isn’t always what people want.– Despite what public media opponents may say, there is a demand for educational and cultural programming no matter how small that may be. While networks like A&E, TLC, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel weren’t as commercially viable while airing such programs, they did have an audience. When they embarked on the long road through network decay, that audience abandoned them. Nevertheless, a classic example of this is in children’s programming. Though commercial networks often air kid shows as well, parents and teachers have often expressed concern on what children watch on them. The fact cartoons can depict violence while sponsors air ads possibly promoting unhealthy eating habits doesn’t help. But above all parents and teachers worry whether kids are learning the right lessons from the stuff they watch. By contrast, PBS’s educational mission and commercial free programming earns a lot of trust from parents and teachers in regards to children’s TV in preparing them for lifelong learning. Not to mention, public broadcasting often puts kids’ best interests first. Of course, most of their kids’ programming aims for young children. But in a way it makes sense, since early childhood is a very vulnerable age where fostering a lifelong love of learning is vital. And a lot of them aren’t yet in school. Besides, most of PBS’s adult shows are usually appropriate for children anyway. Schools frequently show a lot of PBS documentaries and the network’s website often features lesson plans to go with them. After all, airing shows like Nova, Nature, and the occasional Ken Burns documentary should inspire kids to value learning and make a difference. PBS and NPR also provide news coverage from local events to international affairs and with as little bias as possible. Public radio stations even feature music like jazz, classical, and indie music you might not find on other radio channels. We should also account that PBS currently ranks #6 among all broadcast and cable networks for primetime household ratings, is watched by 82% of American households, and a monthly audience of over 95 million.

CPB Budget

This is a diagram of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s operating budget from 2014. As you can see most of it goes to supporting local TV and radio stations. Many of these are in impoverished rural areas and serve as the only source for local news and other services.

Local NPR and PBS affiliates put local audiences first.– As of 2015, PBS maintains current memberships of 354 stations across encompassing 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 4 US possessions. This gives PBS the distinction as the only TV broadcaster in the United States, commercial or non-commercial with station partners in every US state. By contrast, none of the 5 major commercial broadcast networks has affiliates in certain states where PBS has members with the most significant example being New Jersey. PBS’s estimated reach is 93.74% of all US households (or 292,926,047 Americans with at least one set). Along with national programming like Nova, Nature, Frontline, and Antiques Roadshow, local PBS stations also air a lot of locally produced content they probably wouldn’t see anywhere else. My local PBS station WQED Pittsburgh has aired locally produced documentaries, cooking shows, and film shorts. WQED has also hosted local forums on local issues as well as debates in important statewide election races. In rural areas, local PBS stations serve an important role in their communities that larger state and even national outlets can’t replace. For these residents, their PBS station might be the only place to see their county fair or their neighbors talking about their WWII service. They may also support local initiatives regarding education, adult literacy, and workplace development. In some areas, their public broadcast station might be the only source of news, entertainment, and emergency broadcast service available. And a lot of their poorer residents can’t even afford cable. Since many of these areas don’t have wealthy members like Pittsburgh’s WQED and WESA do, their rural stations rely on government funding for support. Even in the most conservative areas of the country, people usually have high esteem for their public broadcast stations which they might see as a neighbor or friend. And these stations often benefit their communities tremendously.

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From its debut in 1975, the PBS NewsHour has earned a reputation for excellence in its in-depth coverage on issues and current events. And it’s one of PBS most popular shows as one of the closest to a truly objective news source on the media landscape.

More people trust PBS and NPR than most government and media institutions. – In a nation where public trust in American institutions are on the decline such as the government and the media, PBS and NPR have consistently ranked as among the most trusted. Sure your local PBS and NPR stations won’t cover local sports, weather, and crime, but their commitment to viewers, listeners, and their mission has considerably helped their reputation. Not to mention, both PBS and NPR are among the only media outlets to have high public trust among Americans across all demographics as well as the political spectrum. Though both PBS and NPR have been criticized for showing liberal bias, most can at least name something they like about either. For instance, whenever conservatives criticize PBS and NPR, it usually has more with their national news content than anything. Though it’s not all they do. And there are plenty of conservatives who might think NPR is liberal but would certainly riot if you did anything to their public radio station. Parents and teachers trust PBS have consistently rated PBS as the #1 educational media brand for kids under 18 in the nation for very good reason. Hell, the American Academy of Pediatrics pointed to PBS Kids as a leading resource for educational programming. After all, PBS Kids puts greater emphasis on quality over quantity. As for news, PBS has highly acclaimed programs like the News Hour and Frontline. NPR is currently the most trusted news source in the nation with an audience that doesn’t just consist of white college educated liberals. Furthermore, PBS and NPR have been the only media outlets reporting on climate change during the 2016 election. PBS’s news programming has won 14 News and Documentary Emmys in 2016 which is more than any other organization. And Frontline took 7, which is more than any other individual series.

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PBS plays an especially critical role in educating young children, particularly those in low-income families unable to afford preschool. Without it, there would be no way for many children to prepare for kindergarten.

PBS is highly committed educating all children, especially those most at risk. – As a public station, PBS strives to make sure all Americans have access to free, evidence-based, high quality, and educational programming. Nowhere is their mission more important than in their kid shows that they added the PBS Kids channel available for everyone. As a result, PBS Kids reaches more young children and more kids from low-income families than any other children’s TV network. On air, PBS Kids attracts higher proportions of minority and low-income homes. Whereas more than 2/3 of children from 2-8 watch PBS. Not only that, but PBS also provides over 120,000 Pre-K-12 digital resources along with more than 1.8 million users with registered access to PBS Learning Media. Recent studies confirm that 9 out of 10 parents use PBS Kids resources for school preparedness while three-quarters say their kid engages in more positive behavior and higher critical thinking skills after engaging with the network. PBS Kids programming provides a vital service in school readiness to more than half of America’s 3-4 year-olds who don’t have the opportunity to attend preschool. For these children, PBS Kids is the only source of educational media content supporting school readiness which could boost their long-term educational opportunities. Such PBS Kids content supports a whole child ecosystem addressing core needs such as social-emotional learning, math, engineering, literacy, and science. And early childhood education is absolutely crucial in life that PBS understands. For older children, PBS and member stations have partnered for the “American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen” initiative. This program brings public media together with key community stakeholders to help students stay on the path to on-time high school graduation and future success. This partnership consist of PBS stations in over 30 states partnered with more than 1,400 community leaders, local organizations, and schools to help students succeed from Pre-K to high school graduation and beyond. Not to mention, PBS Learning Media includes content from award winning shows like Nova, Nature, American Experience, and Frontline that educators and parents could access at any time. PBS’s commitment to educating children of all ages has made the network absolutely essential.

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Cutting funding for PBS and NPR won’t free up a lot of money for military spending. But a United States without public broadcasting wouldn’t be a nice place to live. PBS and NPR have informed, educated, and inspired people as well s made our nation smarter, stronger, and safer. There are so many stories from viewers on how public media has made a positive impact in their lives. The fact Trump and his swamp cronies are willing to eliminate the CPB really illustrates how he values American greatness and values. Like not at all.

Public broadcasting creates makes Americans better citizens. – Though providing early childhood education and molding young children to be intellectually curious, empathetic, and prepared for school and life, it’s only one of the ways PBS enriches people’s lives. Unlike commercial TV stations, PBS treats its viewers as citizens instead of simply consumers as well as promote education, public trust in institutions, and civil discourse. Public broadcasting makes our country smarter, stronger, and safer. PBS and NPR both can inform, educate, and inspire people. And they both push us into elevating us and our sights. They both also encourage us to think and understand as well as bring us together. Today trust among Americans and for many national institutions is at its lowest in generations. Stereotyping, prejudice, and anti-intellectualism have proliferated that the US has elected a narcissistic sociopath as president who thinks little of America and embodies the country at its worst. Since PBS is ranked #1 in public trust, it can help build connections between different groups of people as well as promote a civil society. And we should note that most Americans oppose cutting federal funding for public television. Still, if Congress and Trump eliminate CPB funding, America would be a much more inhospitable place since PBS and NPR have played an essential role in millions of Americans’ everyday lives as well as benefited our country in so many ways. Even Fred Rogers realized this back in 1969 that he testified before Congress to defend PBS funding when Nixon wanted to cut it. More than ever we need a media outlets that value people over profits as well as enrich our lives. $1.35 a year is a small price to pay. Besides, the fact Trump is willing to cut PBS and NPR funding means he doesn’t value what’s great about America.

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