Fox News did their own ‘catch and kill’ on the Stormy Daniels story to help Trump win the election

Jane Mayer writes:

When [Bill] Shine assumed command at Fox, the 2016 campaign was nearing its end, and Trump and Clinton were all but tied. That fall, a FoxNews.com reporter had a story that put the network’s journalistic integrity to the test. Diana Falzone, who often covered the entertainment industry, had obtained proof that Trump had engaged in a sexual relationship in 2006 with a pornographic film actress calling herself Stormy Daniels. Falzone had worked on the story since March, and by October she had confirmed it with Daniels through her manager at the time, Gina Rodriguez, and with Daniels’s former husband, Mike Moz, who described multiple calls from Trump. Falzone had also amassed e-mails between Daniels’s attorney and Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, detailing a proposed cash settlement, accompanied by a nondisclosure agreement. Falzone had even seen the contract.

But Falzone’s story didn’t run—it kept being passed off from one editor to the next. After getting one noncommittal answer after another from her editors, Falzone at last heard from LaCorte, who was then the head of FoxNews.com. Falzone told colleagues that LaCorte said to her, “Good reporting, kiddo. But Rupert wants Donald Trump to win. So just let it go.” LaCorte denies telling Falzone this, but one of Falzone’s colleagues confirms having heard her account at the time.

Despite the discouragement, Falzone kept investigating, and discovered that the National Enquirer, in partnership with Trump, had made a “catch and kill” deal with Daniels—buying the exclusive rights to her story in order to bury it. Falzone pitched this story to Fox, too, but it went nowhere. News of Trump’s payoffs to silence Daniels, and Cohen’s criminal attempts to conceal them as legal fees, remained unknown to the public until the Wall Street Journal broke the story, a year after Trump became President.

In January, 2017, Fox demoted Falzone without explanation. That May, she sued the network. Her attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, declined to comment but acknowledged that a settlement has been reached; it includes a nondisclosure agreement that bars Falzone from talking about her work at Fox.

After the Journal story broke, Oliver Darcy, a senior media reporter for CNN, published a piece revealing that Fox had killed a Stormy Daniels story. LaCorte, who by then had left Fox but was still being paid by the company, told Mediaite that he’d made the call without talking to superiors. The story simply hadn’t “passed muster,” he claimed, adding, “I didn’t do it to protect Donald Trump.” Nik Richie, a blogger who had broken the first story about Daniels, tweeted, “This is complete bullshit. Ken you are such a LIAR. This story got killed by @FoxNews at the highest level. I know, because I was one of your sources.”

Richie told me, “Fox News was culpable. I voted for Trump, and I like Fox, but they did their own ‘catch and kill’ on the story to protect him.” He said that he’d worked closely with Falzone on the article, and that “she did her homework—she had it.” He says he warned her that Fox would never run it, but “when they killed it she was devastated.” Richie believes that the story “would have swayed the election.”

Officially, Trump’s day begins at 11 a.m., with his national-security briefing. But Matt Gertz, a senior fellow at Media Matters, who has spent more than a year tracking how closely Trump’s tweets correspond to Fox News, told me that “the real briefing is on ‘Fox & Friends,’ four hours earlier.” Judging from the timing of Trump’s tweets, Gertz believes that the President records “Fox & Friends” and views it from the beginning, often with a slight delay. As Trump watches, he frequently posts about points that he agrees with. Since August, 2018, Media Matters has tallied more than two hundred instances of Trump disseminating Fox News items to his fifty-eight million Twitter followers. “Trump serves as a carnival barker for Fox,” Levin says, giving invaluable promotional help to the channel.

Fox hosts sometimes reverse their opinions in order to toe the Trump line: Hannity, who in the Obama era called negotiations with North Korea “disturbing,” now calls such efforts a “huge foreign-policy win.” But Gertz has come to believe that Fox drives Trump more than Trump drives Fox. During the recent standoff with Congress over funding for a border wall, Fox anchors and guests repeatedly pushed Trump to reject compromises favored by Republicans in Congress and by his own staff, and to pursue instead an extreme path favored by Fox’s core viewers. [Continue reading…]

After Cohen’s hearing, the BuzzFeed bombshell that Mueller disputed looks better — and worse

Margaret Sullivan writes:

In mid-January, a BuzzFeed News report hit the news cycle like a mile-wide asteroid landing on Earth.

Its assertion was stunning: that President Trump had directed his fixer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress in 2017 about negotiations the previous year to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. And that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III possessed documentation of this; and further, that Cohen had acknowledged those instructions in interviews with Mueller’s office.

Suddenly, the word “suborning” was wildly trending because to induce someone to lie under oath is to suborn perjury — which happens to be a felony.

But then the explosive story seemed to fall apart. Other news organizations were unable to match it; they could not report their own versions of it with their own sources.

And then, stunningly, Mueller’s office issued a brief, devastating statement disputing aspects of the BuzzFeed report.

From glory to goat: The story once praised to the skies as brilliant, game-changing reporting was disparaged everywhere as altogether wrong. The Washington Post wrote an especially tough piece, positing Mueller’s statement as a takedown of the story generally, not merely a parsing of details.

Predictably, Trump jumped in, calling the story “a disgrace to journalism.” Even “Saturday Night Live” took aim, with Weekend Update co-anchor Colin Jost quipping, “The details were so sketchy that even Mueller’s team had to be like, ‘Okay, fake news.’ ”

But then, on Wednesday, along came Cohen himself in his long-delayed congressional testimony, an all-day television spectacle.

And if you believe him, you might be inclined to think that BuzzFeed mostly got it right. [Continue reading…]

CNN’s hiring of a GOP operative as political editor is even worse than it looks

Margaret Sullivan writes:

A few months before the 2016 presidential election, Sarah Isgur tweeted some advice to Donald Trump: “The only 3 words that should be coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth this week are: ‘Clinton’ ‘foundation’ ‘emails.’ ”

But that kind of helpful counsel wasn’t enough.

In early 2017, Isgur was summoned to meet with President Trump in the Oval Office, where she needed to pledge her loyalty to be named the Justice Department’s spokeswoman by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Now CNN has hired Isgur — who has no journalism experience and once slammed her new employer as the “Clinton News Network” — as a political editor.

The network, under heavy fire for the move, was insisting by Tuesday night that she wouldn’t be directing political coverage, although that surely is what a political editor might be expected to do.

Isgur is helping to “coordinate coverage across TV and Digital,” a spokesman told Vox, and will be “making sure that stories are featured on the right shows and articles get posted online at the right time.”

That sounds a lot like damage control.

But why CNN made this move to begin with is the deeper and more troubling question. [Continue reading…]

Alabama newspaper editor incites murder. Calls on KKK to go to Washington to lynch Democrats

The New York Times reports:

The editor and publisher of a small Alabama newspaper called for the Ku Klux Klan “to night ride again” against tax-raising politicians, prompting a fierce backlash and calls for his resignation.

The editor, Goodloe Sutton, published the editorial in the Thursday edition of The Democrat-Reporter, a weekly newspaper in Linden, Ala., that had about 3,000 subscribers in 2015. The editorial went largely unnoticed until Monday, when two student journalists shared photographs of it online and local news outlets reported on it.

“Time for the Ku Klux Klan to night ride again,” the editorial began, according to the clips posted online. “Democrats in the Republican Party and Democrats are plotting to raise taxes in Alabama.”


In the editorial, Mr. Sutton blamed Democrats for the United States’ involvement in both world wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the nation’s long-running involvement in the Middle East. He confirmed his authorship of the piece in an interview with The Montgomery Advertiser in which he suggested that the Klan “go up there and clean out D.C.”

“We’ll get the hemp ropes out, loop them over a tall limb and hang all of them,” he told a reporter from that publication. Mr. Sutton could not immediately be reached on Tuesday. [Continue reading…]

Egypt turns back veteran New York Times reporter

The New York Times reports:

Egyptian officials detained a New York Times correspondent after he arrived in Cairo on Monday, holding him incommunicado for hours before forcing him onto a flight back to London without explanation.

The move against the correspondent, David D. Kirkpatrick, is an escalation of a severe crackdown against the news media under Egypt’s strongman leader, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Egyptian journalists have borne the brunt of Mr. el-Sisi’s repression, with dozens imprisoned or forced into exile. But of late, a lack of pushback from the United States has emboldened Egypt’s security forces to take stronger action against representatives of Western news outlets, including expulsion.

The Egyptian authorities routinely denounce human rights groups, independent journalists and other critics as agents of foreign powers or purveyors of fake news. Their language often echoes that coming from Washington.


Defenders of press freedom worry that President Trump’s outbursts — such as a Twitter post last weekend that read “THE RIGGED AND CORRUPT MEDIA IS THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!” — embolden autocrats around the globe to take aggressive action against the news media.

Despite growing human rights abuses in Egypt, Mr. Trump counts Mr. el-Sisi among his closest allies in the Middle East and has described him as a “great guy.” During a speech in Cairo in January, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered further praise for Mr. el-Sisi. [Continue reading…]

Private eyes detail inner workings of National Enquirer ‘blackmail’ machine

The Daily Beast reports:

It may have shocked the world when the publisher of the National Enquirer allegedly tried to use nude pictures to coerce Jeff Bezos. But it came as no surprise to three veterans of the Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc.

“The threats, the blackmail, that’s their business model,” one former National Enquirer staffer told The Daily Beast.

That model burst out into public view on Thursday night when Bezos—the world’s richest man, the founder of Amazon, and the owner of The Washington Post—published emails from AMI chief content officer Dylan Howard that threatened the release of a “d*ck pick” if the Post didn’t relent in its investigation of AMI.

It was a familiar moment to Paul Barresi, a private investigator who spent years working on jobs for AMI and other tabloids. “The National Enquirer had some people who would go to a celebrity and say, ‘unless you give in to a one-on-one interview that would amount to a fluff piece with us, we’re going to report XYZ,” he said. “The celebrity would then acquiesce to their demand.”

“The nice way of calling it was quid pro quo, but really it was blackmail,” Barresi said. “I know that the same methodology is practiced today,” he added. “Obviously it’s practiced, because they did it” to Bezos.

And Daniel “Danno” Hanks, who said he worked as an on-contract investigator for the Enquirer “off and on” for 40 years, used the phrase “war of blackmail” to describe the AMI empire’s ethos.

“I’ve known this newspaper’s tactics for years, and I’d rather the truth be told,” Hanks said. [Continue reading…]

Ronan Farrow says he also faced ‘blackmail efforts from AMI’ for reporting on the National Enquirer, Trump

The Washington Post reports:

Ronan Farrow said Thursday that he and “at least one other prominent journalist” who had reported on the National Enquirer and President Trump received blackmail threats from the tabloid’s parent company, American Media Inc., over their work.

Farrow’s allegation came just hours after Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos published a remarkable public post on Medium accusing the National Enquirer of attempting to extort and blackmail him by threatening to publish intimate photos unless he stopped investigating the publication. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)


Last April, Farrow published an article in the New Yorker about the Enquirer’s “catch and kill” practice — in which stories are buried by paying off sources — that benefited Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

AMI did not immediately return a message from The Post about Farrow’s claim.

The allegations from Bezos and Farrow have since prompted other journalists and media outlets to come forward with claims that they, too, had been targeted by AMI for reporting on the Enquirer. [Continue reading…]

Why I’m suing Max Blumenthal and Benjamin Norton

Sulome Anderson writes:

Reporting as close to the truth as possible and correcting inaccuracies when they occur are hallmarks of real journalism. Knowingly publishing lies to serve a political purpose is not journalism. It’s propaganda, and people who deal in that kind of information are not journalists. When their lies put others in danger, there should be consequences.

That’s why I’m about to do something that makes me uncomfortable, as someone with a healthy respect for freedom of speech. I’m going to sue two such people, Max Blumenthal and Benjamin Norton, for libel and defamation. I’m not doing this simply because they published lies that hurt my reputation and career, although they did. Unfortunately, the Internet can be an ugly place. I’ve had much worse things said to and about me without resorting to legal measures.

This lawsuit is about something much more important than my feelings. It’s about fighting a coordinated effort to attack, discredit and endanger journalists whose work counters a certain political line. It’s about protecting reporters in dangerous places at a time when most terrorists and war criminals have Twitter accounts. And it’s about pushing back against the forces that would silence anyone who presents inconvenient truths to the public.

The complaint I’m about to file, with the help of a law firm that has taken on the case pro bono, details a long list of politically motivated attacks against myself as well as many other journalists, rescue workers and activists whose work counters Russian and Syrian propaganda. These coordinated attacks frequently put my personal safety at risk by alleging that I am an agent of the U.S. or Israeli governments. In the places I report, such accusations could result in detainment, deportation, arrest or worse. This lawsuit is not meant to pursue a personal vendetta but instead uncover the motives for Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Norton’s participation in a dangerous campaign of disinformation against people whose work threatens Russian and Syrian interests. [Continue reading…]

Why do people fall for fake news?

Gordon Pennycook and David Rand write:

What makes people susceptible to fake news and other forms of strategic misinformation? And what, if anything, can be done about it?

These questions have become more urgent in recent years, not least because of revelations about the Russian campaign to influence the 2016 United States presidential election by disseminating propaganda through social media platforms. In general, our political culture seems to be increasingly populated by people who espouse outlandish or demonstrably false claims that often align with their political ideology.

The good news is that psychologists and other social scientists are working hard to understand what prevents people from seeing through propaganda. The bad news is that there is not yet a consensus on the answer. Much of the debate among researchers falls into two opposing camps. One group claims that our ability to reason is hijacked by our partisan convictions: that is, we’re prone to rationalization. The other group — to which the two of us belong — claims that the problem is that we often fail to exercise our critical faculties: that is, we’re mentally lazy.

However, recent research suggests a silver lining to the dispute: Both camps appear to be capturing an aspect of the problem. Once we understand how much of the problem is a result of rationalization and how much a result of laziness, and as we learn more about which factor plays a role in what types of situations, we’ll be better able to design policy solutions to help combat the problem. [Continue reading…]

Journalists faced ‘unprecedented’ hostility this year, report says

CNN reports:

More journalists were killed, abused and subjected to violence in 2018 than in any other year on record, with those in the profession facing an “unprecedented level of hostility,” a new report has found.

Murder, imprisonment, hostage-taking and enforced disappearances of journalists all increased compared to last year, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), who criticized politicians and public figures for encouraging disdain for the news media.

A total of 80 journalists were killed, including non-professional journalists and media workers. 61% were murdered or deliberately targeted for their reporting, while 39% were killed while reporting. The report also found that 348 reporters were being detained and 60 were being held hostage.

The findings further highlight the volatility faced by journalists across the world over the past twelve months, a period which has seen high-profile murders and imprisonments as well as verbal attacks on the news media by key global figures, including US President Donald Trump. [Continue reading…]