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Network PropagandaManipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics$

Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris, and Hal Roberts

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190923624

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190923624.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 20 September 2021

Mainstream Media Failure Modes and Self-Healing in a Propaganda-Rich Environment

Mainstream Media Failure Modes and Self-Healing in a Propaganda-Rich Environment

(p.189) 6 Mainstream Media Failure Modes and Self-Healing in a Propaganda-Rich Environment
Network Propaganda

Yochai Benkler

Robert Faris

Hal Roberts

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines how mainstream media operated in a propaganda-rich environment by focusing on its failure and recovery modes. In particular, this chapter analyzes two central attributes of mainstream media and professional journalism that shaped election coverage, and in some cases made them particularly susceptible to being manipulated into spreading right-wing propaganda: balance and the scoop culture. The chapter first considers how internal dynamics of news reporting led mainstream media to emphasize the email investigation over substantive discussion of politics. The chapter then shows how Breitbart exploited the hunger for scoops, along with the public performance of objectivity and critical remove of mainstream journalism, to utilize the credibility of the New York Times, and later other major publications, to propagate and accredit the “Clinton corruption” frame. Finally, the chapter describes the failures and corrective mechanisms surrounding the recipients of President Donald Trump’s Fake News Awards for 2017.

Keywords:   mainstream media, propaganda, professional journalism, media balance, scoop culture, news reporting, Breitbart, New York Times, Clinton corruption, Fake News Awards

IN THE PRECEDING three chapters we examined the propaganda feedback loop, how it forms, and how it facilitates disinformation and the manipulation of beliefs of a population. But our observations about the highly asymmetric nature of the American media environment, and the survey-based evidence we described in Chapter 2, which suggests that no more than 30 percent of the American population inhabits the insular, propaganda-rich right-wing media ecosystem, indicate that whatever one thinks of the result of the 2016 election, it could not have been purely the result of right-wing propaganda. Here, we identify two central attributes of mainstream media and professional journalism—balance and the scoop culture—that shaped election coverage, and in some cases made them particularly susceptible to being manipulated into spreading right-wing propaganda.

Balance and Negativity

Despite the dispersion of attention and the large number of media and channels available to them, as Americans were beginning to tune in to election coverage over the summer and early fall of 2016, one word was repeatedly on their minds when they thought of Hillary Clinton: email. Over the 10 weeks from July 11 to September 18, 2016, Gallup included in their U.S. Daily Tracking poll the question “What have you read, seen, or heard about Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in the past several days?” In eight of those 10 weeks, (p.190) the top word in response was “email” (Figure 6.1), and even during the convention week, it was the second word after “convention.” Comparing the word clouds that Gallup produced from this survey data is one of the most vivid illustrations of how candidates can be framed in entirely different ways.1 “Lie,” “scandal,” and “foundation” were not far behind “emails” in framing Clinton’s candidacy in the minds of American voters.

Mainstream Media Failure Modes and Self-Healing in a Propaganda-Rich Environment

Figure 6.1 Words most used to answer the question: “What have you read, seen, or heard about Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in the past several days?” July 11–September 18, 2016. Created by Gallup.

Republished with permission of Gallup, Inc., from GALLUP, “Email” Dominates What Americans Have Heard About Clinton by Frank Newport, Lisa Singh, Stuart Soroka, Michael Traugott and Andrew Dugan. Election 2016, September 19, 2016; permission conveyed through Copyright Clearance Center, Inc.

We analyzed the text of all the stories that mentioned either candidate’s name in the top 50 media sources measured by media inlinks for the 18 months prior to the election. This list (included in the online appendix) (p.191) features primarily mass-market media. Our findings dovetail remarkably well with Gallup’s public opinion polls about what people associated with each candidate. As Figure 6.2 shows quite clearly, sentences that included both the terms “Clinton” and “emails” far outstripped other meaningful combinations we searched for either candidate, while sentences that included “Trump” and “immigration” outstripped the various other, more scandal-related terms associated with Trump. That does not mean that Clinton coverage outside the right-wing media ecosystem was necessarily negative and that coverage of Trump was neutral or positive. In fact, most of the media coverage was negative for both candidates, as Thomas Patterson and his collaborators showed.2 But the Gallup data strongly suggest that however negative the orientation of the stories, the residual in voters’ minds was that Trump was associated with immigration, and Clinton, with emails. Our results across top-performing media are confirmed by the more detailed and deep analysis of New York Times coverage by Duncan Watts and David Rothschild. Consistent with Patterson’s findings, Watts and Rothschild showed that horse-race-style stories dominated coverage, but that for the remainder, scandals outstripped substantive policy stories. Most damningly, coverage of emails associated with Clinton vastly outstripped discussion of her policy positions. As they put it in reference to the days after the Comey announcement about reopening the email investigation, “To reiterate, in just six days, The New York Times ran as many cover stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails as they did about all (p.192) policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election” (emphasis in the original).3

Mainstream Media Failure Modes and Self-Healing in a Propaganda-Rich Environment

Figure 6.2 Sentences in mass-market open web media mentioning topics related to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election period.

Where did the email coverage come from? We have already seen how central emails were to the efforts to rally the base and harness hatred and revulsion as motivators in the election—in the pedophilia stories and in the stories claiming Clinton was corruptly colluding with Arabs and Muslims. There, the emails offered the quintessential illusory anchor that feeds the pedantry of the paranoid mind otherwise unmoored in reality. But what about the mainstream? A review of the ebb and flow of email-related stories reveals that it was not fake news sites that framed the Clinton candidacy in terms of emails. Nor was it Russian propagandists. Russian propaganda definitely contributed to the email discussion. And Russian hackers obtained and then released the DNC and Podesta emails. But as we look at the pattern of attention to emails over the course of the 18 months leading up to the election, a much more banal story emerges. Figure 6.3 offers a timeline, broken down by quintile, of the number of sentences per day that mentioned “Clinton” and “emails” in the same sentence, from March 2015, when the New York Times broke the story that Clinton had used a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State,4 until Election Day.

Mainstream Media Failure Modes and Self-Healing in a Propaganda-Rich Environment

Figure 6.3 Sentences per day by quintile mentioning both Clinton and emails during the election period.

The first overall feature that the timeline reveals is that there is no significant difference in the pattern of coverage between the top right-wing publications and the top center and center-left publications. The ebb and flow of attention across the media quintiles is highly correlated and, if anything, is led by the professional journalism–oriented outlets. The second overall feature is that while Republican candidates certainly took advantage of Clinton’s woes, and the stories include many instances of Republican candidates referring to Clinton’s emails as a major issue during both the primary and general elections, most of the events are driven by the actions of civil servants that were then covered by professional journalists, each following more or less standard professional norms. Of the 16 coverage peaks, 5 follow email releases or formal reports from the State Department, and 4 more, including the two most significant bumps in coverage, followed the FBI investigation, in particular the July announcement by James Comey that the investigation was closed and the last-minute reopening and reclosing of the investigation around Anthony Weiner’s laptop. Only one peak was associated with the Benghazi committee hearings. Two peaks related to court victories by Judicial Watch, an organization that has been using Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation to go after the Clintons since 1994. Judicial Watch was being funded primarily by the Scaife Foundation, which was founded by Richard Mellon (p.193) (p.194) Scaife, whom the New York Times described as “one of the leading financiers of the right-wing effort to bring down the Clintons.”5 Those court decisions forced first Clinton staff, then Clinton herself, to answer questions about the emails. Two more peaks were media-created events surrounding media interviews with Republican candidates. Outside of the State Department emails, only the Podesta email dump created a real spike in media coverage, and that was the only spike where email coverage was clearly led by coverage on the right wing of the media ecosystem—as we saw with the Hillary-Saudi Arabia-Qatar-ISIS email.

Figures 6.4 and 6.5 are bimodal maps; one set of nodes in the map are of specific emails and another set of nodes are the sources that linked to them. These maps make quite clear that there were specific emails in the dumps—both the Podesta dump and the DNC dump—that drew attention outside the right-wing media system. In particular, an email from the Podesta dump involving Hillary Clinton’s statement that “you need both a public and a private position,” and an email from the DNC dump suggesting she had given Clinton questions from town hall events in advance, which cost Donna (p.195) Brazile her position as CNN commentator. The major outlets on the right are still highly influential (network nodes are sized by media inlink count), but the Washington Post, CNN, and Politico in the center-left, and the Huffington Post and Salon on the left also link to one or both emails.

Mainstream Media Failure Modes and Self-Healing in a Propaganda-Rich Environment

Figure 6.4 Media sources that linked to Hillary Clinton’s “public and private position” email. Nodes sized by number of media inlinks.

Mainstream Media Failure Modes and Self-Healing in a Propaganda-Rich Environment

Figure 6.5 Media sources that linked to email suggesting Donna Brazile gave Hillary Clinton town hall questions in advance. Nodes sized by number of media inlinks.

But looking beyond these discrete instances, the overall pattern of coverage in mainstream professional media makes clear that most of the email-related stories were not from the DNC or Podesta email dumps; more coverage was devoted to the slowly unfolding saga of Clinton’s use of a private email server while in office as secretary of state. It is a story of civil servants at the State Department and the Justice Department doing their jobs, first to declassify and release the emails, then to determine whether maintaining the private server had violated Department policy, and finally to determine whether there were grounds for prosecution. One could come up with “deep state” conspiracy theories about how these civil servants intentionally sabotaged the Clinton campaign, and some on the “clickbaity” left indeed tried to do so. But the more likely albeit banal explanation is that a politician made a mistake in office, and her actions collided with professional norms applied conscientiously by civil servants, FBI investigators, and journalists. Her (p.196) political opponents then took advantage of her error and were able to spin, emphasize, and perhaps overblow the importance of that story.

If there is fault in the incessant coverage of emails, it is a fault in patterns of compliance with professional media norms, not in their violation. Patterson’s explanation of the negative coverage he found, aligning with the conclusion of Watts and Rothschild, was that a core driver of the email focus was misapplication of the objectivity norm as even-handedness or balance, rather than truth seeking. If professional journalistic objectivity means balance and impartiality, and one is confronted with two candidates who are highly unbalanced—one consistently lies and takes positions that were off the wall for politicians before his candidacy, and the other is about as mainstream and standard as plain vanilla—it is genuinely difficult to maintain balanced coverage. The solution was uniformly negative coverage, as Patterson and colleagues showed, and a heavy focus on detailed objective facts. The emails were catnip for professional journalists. They gave journalists something concrete to work with. They had the aura of salacious reporting of uncovered secrets, while being unimpeachably factual and professional. And they allowed the mainstream publications to appear balanced in that their coverage of the two candidates was equally hard-hitting and tough. The need to publicly perform balance also exposed mainstream media to the standard practice of “working the ref.” We already saw in Chapter 5 how right-wing outlets complain that the media is biased and liberal. In addition to disorienting their own viewers and denying them alternative pathways to check propagandist claims to which they are exposed, these attacks tend to push mainstream reporters and editors to seek out stories that will exculpate them from the accusation. As a result, the search for publicly performing neutrality becomes a vulnerability that right-wing propagandists can and do exploit. We return at the end of this chapter to what can stand in for neutrality: the pursuit of objectivity as an open, self-correcting pursuit of truth irrespective of its partisan spin or orientation, however one-sided this may seem in an environment that is, by its very architecture, prone to asymmetric patterns of falsehood.

Scoops and Headlines in a Propaganda-Rich Environment: Bannon Harnesses the Times

As the Democratic National Convention wrapped up at the end of July 2016, Hillary Clinton’s poll advantage was at the highest it would ever reach. The normal post-convention bump in polls was enhanced by a powerful speech (p.197) given by Khizr Khan, an immigrant from Pakistan and father of a fallen U.S. Army captain, Humayun Khan. Donald Trump’s response to the speech, in which Khizr Khan offered to lend Trump his copy of the U.S. Constitution, was seen by many as denigrating a Gold Star family. Over the course of August, however, the topic of conversation had shifted to the Clinton Foundation, and in particular to allegations that Hillary Clinton had offered quid pro quo favors, trading State Department access and influence in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation. A review of media coverage related to scandals for either candidate shows quite clearly that the Clinton Foundation story had early prominence in April and May 2015, and then lay mostly dormant until it was picked up again in August 2016 (Figure 6.6). The story’s re-emergence 15 months after its initial publication damaged Clinton and was likely a major factor in her steady decline in the polls, a slide that continued until the debates and the damaging Hollywood Access video improved her standing.

Mainstream Media Failure Modes and Self-Healing in a Propaganda-Rich Environment

Figure 6.6 Sentences per day mentioning various topics over the course of the campaign in open web media. Clinton Foundation spikes are circled. The highest overall peaks correspond to Benghazi, Trump and women, and Clinton’s emails.

As we described in Chapter 5, the Clinton Foundation claims were based primarily on Breitbart editor-at-large Peter Schweizer’s book Clinton Cash. The book had been funded by the Government Accountability Initiative, cofounded by Steve Bannon and Schweizer with funding from Robert Mercer. Schweizer gave the New York Times access to research materials and an advance copy of the book, and the Times published a story that became the most important source of legitimation and validation for the attacks on the Clinton Foundation, entitled “Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal.”6 The Times did not disclose Schweizer’s affiliation with Breitbart or the Mercer funding behind the book, validating him instead as a former fellow at Stanford University’s “right-leaning Hoover Institute.” The headline clearly implied corrupt deal making, while the body was more measured and included an admission, buried in the tenth paragraph, that there was no evidence of corruption.

Despite the Times’s “scoop,” most of the discussion of the Clinton Foundation during the first wave of coverage in the spring of 2015 centered in the right-wing media sphere. Breitbart, Free Beacon, the Washington Examiner, Fox News, Hot Air, Newsbusters, and the Daily Caller were among the media sources that produced the most stories mentioning the Clinton Foundation in May 2015. Politico, Yahoo! News, and The Hill were also in the top 10. By June 2015, the stories that continued to circulate did so almost exclusively in the right-wing media sphere. Despite not making the top 10 in number of stories, the New York Times was third among media sources shared on Facebook in May 2015, while all other top-10 sites were right-wing media. (p.198) (p.199) The Times’s story about the Russian uranium deal was the reason, and it was the second-most shared story on Facebook related to the Clinton Foundation in May 2015. The most shared link was a petition launched by Judicial Watch to “Demand Answers on Clinton Corruption.”

One major role of stories from the Times and other traditional professional media was to offer legitimacy to the claims made by Schweizer in Clinton Cash. Breitbart’s top three most shared stories on Facebook in May 2015 were titled:

11 Explosive Clinton Cash Facts Mainstream Media Confirm are Accurate

REVEALED: Washington Post Uncovers 1,100 Hidden Foreign “Clinton Cash” Donations

Devastating Timeline Reveals the Transfer of Half of U.S. Uranium Output to Russia as Hillary Clinton’s Foundation Bags $145 Million

These stories relied on the Times story for confirmation. As the Trump campaign sought to resurface the Clinton Foundation allegations, the early 2015 New York Times story became the second-most shared story about the Clinton Foundation on Facebook in August 2016.

How did this year-and-a-half-old story become so central to the campaign in August 2016? On July 23, the eve of the Democratic National Convention, Breitbart launched the movie version of Schweizer’s Clinton Cash, a version edited to appeal to supporters of Bernie Sanders. The site’s announcement makes this intention as clear as can be. In its initial report on the release, Breitbart quoted MSNBC and the Guardian as sources, asserting that the movie was “devastating” or “designed to stir up trouble” at the convention. The Breitbart story emphasized that “[t]he New York Times, Washington Post, ABC News, and other Establishment Media have verified and confirmed the book’s explosive revelations that Hillary Clinton auctioned State Department policies to foreign Clinton Foundation donors and benefactors who then paid Bill Clinton tens of millions of dollars in speaking fees.”7 Breitbart approvingly embraced Time magazine’s report that it was “aimed at persuading liberals” and “likely to leave on-the-fence Clinton supporters who see it feeling more unsure about casting a vote for her.”8 Throughout August, alongside the New York Times uranium story, the freely available YouTube distribution of Clinton Cash was the next most shared link about the Clinton Foundation on Facebook.

(p.200) Our own analysis of YouTube sharing patterns underscores the extent to which the video version of Clinton Cash did double duty—both aimed to split Bernie supporters from Clinton and rally the party base. We analyzed the most tweeted YouTube videos in our election period Twitter set and mapped them based on how they were tweeted with other videos (Figure 6.7). The location on the map is determined by how often a video link is tweeted with another Twitter video. The size of the node is determined by how often a video was tweeted. And the color, unlike most of our other maps, is determined by a Louvain community detection algorithm, one of the standard algorithms used in network analysis to identify what parts of a network form a community in terms of similar patterns of linking. The map shows not only that the Clinton Cash YouTube video was the most widely tweeted video throughout the election but also that it straddled the line between core Trump supporters (based on its location in the network) and Bernie supporters (based on the (p.201) community detection algorithms, which places it clearly within the Bernie community).

Mainstream Media Failure Modes and Self-Healing in a Propaganda-Rich Environment

Figure 6.7 YouTube videos linked to by campaign-related stories. Nodes sized by number of tweets, edges represent co-sharing by the same Twitter user, and colors by Louvain community detection.

On July 15, 2016, a week before the video version of Clinton Cash was released by Breitbart, Representative Marsha Blackburn sent a letter cosigned by 64 of her House Republican colleagues to the heads of the FBI, FTC, and IRS demanding that they investigate the allegations of corruption at the Clinton Foundation. A week later the commissioner of the IRS wrote a perfunctory response, informing the representative that he had forwarded the letter to the IRS office responsible for examining exempt organizations.9 Four days later, on July 26, the second day of the Democratic Convention, the Daily Caller reported on this letter under the headline “EXCLUSIVE: IRS Launches Investigation of Clinton Foundation.”10 The next day, Fox News, crediting the Daily Caller’s “exclusive,” reported under the headline “IRS looking into Clinton Foundation ‘pay-to-play’ claims” that “[t]he IRS confirmed in a letter it is looking into claims of ‘pay-to-play’ practices at the Clinton Foundation, after dozens of Republican lawmakers requested a review of potential ‘criminal conduct’ at the organization founded by the family at the center of this week’s Democratic National Convention.”11

On July 29 the New York Post published an editorial asking why Hillary had not boasted about the Clinton Foundation at the convention. The Post speculated that it was because the Foundation was being investigated by the FBI over “intersections” between the Foundation and the State Department, “like her role in handing Russia exclusive mining rights to 20 percent of US uranium reserves via a company that donated millions to the foundation.”12 This editorial was, in turn, referred to by Fox News13 and Breitbart.14 The next day Fox News reported that “ ‘Clinton Cash’ Author Doubts IRS Will Thoroughly Investigate Clinton Foundation.”15 The pattern here is important and distinct. The stories are repeated and linked to internally within the network of sites. They receive reinforcement through repetition and variation of sources. Readers within this tightly interconnected network of sites will have encountered at least a headline associating Clinton, the foundation, and corruption several times, from diverse sources. It will make it easier to remember the association, reinforcing recall. The repetition in multiple stories also increases the credibility of the story. It is precisely this architecture of reciprocal citation and reinforcement in a tightly-knit network of media outlets that led us to characterize the phenomenon as network propaganda.

The central role of the Daily Caller, and the legitimating role of the New York Times’ 2015 story, become clear on the map of the Clinton (p.202) Foundation stories in the last week of July 2016 (Figure 6.8). The distinct separation usually evident between the right-wing media sphere and the rest is gone, and instead the Daily Caller, Breitbart, and Fox are all clustered around the New York Times as a result of linking to its 2015 coverage as a source of validation for their current set of stories. The large Scribd node represents links to the IRS letter in response to the Blackburn letter.

Mainstream Media Failure Modes and Self-Healing in a Propaganda-Rich Environment

Figure 6.8 Online linking practices for stories about the Clinton Foundation during the Democratic Convention, July 25–August 1, 2016.

The direction and size of the links in the map also show the extent to which Breitbart and Fox linked to the Daily Caller and also how they all linked to the New York Times and the Washington Post to legitimate the claims. The selective and strategic use of media usually criticized by the right is highlighted by the links from Breitbart, Fox News, and the Trump campaign site to PolitiFact during this week in late July 2016. These links primarily focused on an April 2015 PolitiFact assertion that a specific claim in Schweizer’s book was truthful: Bill Clinton was indeed paid $500,000 or more for each of 13 speeches, only two of which occurred while Hillary was not secretary of state. Needless to say, the links from right-wing sources to PolitiFact did not include a June 30, 2016, report on Trump’s claim that (p.203) Clinton was paid to approve the Russian uranium deal, which they found to be mostly false.16

If we look at the number of sentences that mentioned the Clinton Foundation or Clinton Cash over the period from mid-July to mid-September, when this issue was most salient, the pattern becomes clear: right-wing media coverage of this topic was more extensive during this period and generally preceded coverage by other parts of the media ecosystem by a day or two. And, perhaps counterintuitively, the most pronounced effect was on center-left media—that is, mostly traditional professional media.

Mainstream Media Failure Modes and Self-Healing in a Propaganda-Rich Environment

Figure 6.9 Sentences per day mentioning the Clinton Foundation or Clinton Cash in open web media, mid-July–mid-September 2016.

We see the first bump in right-wing coverage corresponding to the July 23 release of Clinton Cash. It can be seen more clearly if we zoom in on the period just before the August 9 bump.

Because these graphs describe the number of sentences across media quintiles that were published on these days, it does not include the influence of stories published much earlier in the campaign period that were linked to—most importantly, the New York Times story about the Uranium One deal. This influence comes across very clearly when we observe the word cloud that typifies the right-wing media discussion of the Clinton Foundation: the most distinct word in these media is “uranium” (Figure 6.10a). This word is notably absent in coverage of the Clinton Foundation from the left-center (Figure 6.10b).

Mainstream Media Failure Modes and Self-Healing in a Propaganda-Rich Environment

Figure 6.10a Words used most frequently by right open web media mentioning the Clinton Foundation or Clinton Cash, July 23–August 5, 2016.

Mainstream Media Failure Modes and Self-Healing in a Propaganda-Rich Environment

Figure 6.10b Words used most frequently by center-left open web media mentioning the Clinton Foundation or Clinton Cash, July 23–August 5, 2016.

As the sentence-count line chart (Figure 6.9 on the next page) makes clear, the next major movement in the story occurred around August 9, 2016. On August 7, the Rebuilding America super PAC published a 30-second television ad reviving the allegations, in which the Washington Post fact-checking process gave the ad three Pinocchios.17 On August 9, Judicial Watch released a batch of emails it had obtained through FOIA litigation. Judicial Watch alleged that these emails exposed specific communications from Doug Band to Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills at the State Department seeking special access for Gilbert Chagoury, whom Judicial Watch describes in its press release as “a close friend of former President Bill Clinton and a top donor to the Clinton Foundation.”18 As the Figure 6.11 visualization shows, the following day, August 10, was the first time that center-left media covered the Clinton Foundation significantly more than the right media, and Figure 6.12 shows that the words that typified center-left coverage indicate that the story linking Abedin, Chagoury, and Mills were a significant part of that coverage spike.

Mainstream Media Failure Modes and Self-Healing in a Propaganda-Rich Environment

Figure 6.11 Sentences per day mentioning the Clinton Foundation but notClinton Cash in open web media, August 1–August 30, 2016.

Mainstream Media Failure Modes and Self-Healing in a Propaganda-Rich Environment

Figure 6.12 Words used most frequently by center-left open web media mentioning the Clinton Foundation, August 10, 2016.

Fox television coverage played an integral part in propagating the Clinton Foundation frame to broader audiences. Consistent with what we saw (p.204) (p.205) online, the Internet Archive’s selection of television transcripts indicates that television coverage that mentioned the Clinton Foundation before August 10 was seen almost exclusively on Fox News, Fox Business, and local television Fox affiliates. After August 10, CNN joined the Fox networks, but on local channels the story remained primarily the focus of Fox affiliates (Figures 6.13 and 6.14).19

Mainstream Media Failure Modes and Self-Healing in a Propaganda-Rich Environment

Figure 6.13 Percentage of 15-second segments that mention “Clinton Foundation” by national networks, July 30–August 31, 2016.

Mainstream Media Failure Modes and Self-Healing in a Propaganda-Rich Environment

Figure 6.14 Percentage of 15-second segments that mention “Clinton Foundation” by network affiliates, July 15–August 19, 2016.

By August 18, although coverage had declined, the reporting raised enough questions to inspire a formal response; Bill Clinton announced that the foundation would stop taking foreign donations if Hillary Clinton was elected president.20 Bill Clinton’s promise did little to quiet the story. On August 22 Donald Trump publicly called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the claims of a corrupt quid pro quo relationship between the State Department and the Clinton Foundation. That same day, Bill Clinton published a more detailed letter stating that if Hillary Clinton was elected, the foundation would cease accepting foreign donations and transition out of operations that depended on matching funds from countries where its programs operated, and that he would step down from a position on the foundation’s board and stop raising funds for the foundation.21 That same day, Judicial Watch released a second batch of emails. This string of events attracted even more coverage, and most importantly, a broad range of sources outside the right-wing sphere.

The number of sentences referring to the Clinton Foundation was well over twice as large August 22 to 26 as it had been during the prior August 10 to 12 peak. Television coverage, too, was substantially higher (except at the outlier Fox affiliate in Raleigh, North Carolina, which had covered the first round extensively), and this time, among the national networks, CNN (p.206) (p.207) and MSNBC covered the story as much as Fox News did (Figure 6.13). CBS and the other networks’ local affiliates also covered the story extensively (Figure 6.15).

Mainstream Media Failure Modes and Self-Healing in a Propaganda-Rich Environment

Figure 6.15 Percentage of 15-second segments that mention “Clinton Foundation” by network affiliates, July 30–August 31, 2016.

A map of media attention August 22 to 26 shows that while the New York Times and the Washington Post continued to be major nodes, Judicial Watch played a key role in the narrative with its new trove of emails obtained under FOIA (Figure 6.16). CNN and Politico, which were generally prominent in the debates but had not been during the earlier spike in interest in the Clinton Foundation on August 9–10, took a more prominent role. So too did the Associated Press (AP) and the Wall Street Journal, neither of which previously played a significant role. The most linked-to stories in the New York Times on those days included a general background story covering the Bill Clinton announcement about his stepping down if Hillary was elected, the Trump campaign’s emphasis on the foundation, and a story on the Judicial Watch email release.

Mainstream Media Failure Modes and Self-Healing in a Propaganda-Rich Environment

Figure 6.16 Directed linking behavior of media sources within the Clinton Foundation topic, August 22–August 29, 2016.

Social media attention, by contrast, centered on Judicial Watch and, to a lesser extent, Breitbart, as Figure 6.17, with nodes sized by Facebook shares, makes clear.

Mainstream Media Failure Modes and Self-Healing in a Propaganda-Rich Environment

Figure 6.17 Directed linking behavior of media sources shared on social media within the Clinton Foundation topic, August 22–August 29, 2016. Nodes sized by number of Facebook shares.

The stories from traditional professional media over this period underscore the difficulty mainstream media faced in reporting on an issue of such sensitivity and complexity in the teeth of a sustained communications effort (p.208) (p.209) (p.210) (p.211) from a motivated party: the right-wing media ecosystem. Balance demanded hard-hitting reporting. And coverage needed eye-catching headlines. The most linked-to and Facebook-shared story from the Washington Post, for example, was titled “Emails reveal how foundation donors got access to Clinton and her close aides at State Dept.”22 The opening paragraph read: “A sports executive who was a major donor to the Clinton Foundation and whose firm paid Bill Clinton millions of dollars in consulting fees wanted help getting a visa for a British soccer player with a criminal past.” The 16th and 17th paragraphs read:

There is no indication from the emails that Abedin intervened on behalf of Casey

Wasserman, an L.A. sports executive who in 2009 asked Band for help getting a visa for a British soccer star trying to visit Las Vegas. Band indicated that the office of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) had (p.212) already declined to help, given the player’s criminal record. A Boxer spokesman described the request to her office as “routine” but one with that Boxer did not assist, “given the facts of the case.”

“Makes me nervous to get involved but I’ll ask,” Abedin wrote to Band in May 2009 after he forwarded her an email from Wasserman.

Band responded: “then don’t.”

In other words, for those brave few who read past the intervening 15 paragraphs, the story would more accurately have begun: “Emails reveal that donors sought access, but Clinton aides refused them when they deemed the requests inappropriate.” The fifth paragraph, which followed two more claims of potential conflicts, stated: “The emails show that, in these and similar cases, the donors did not always get what they wanted, particularly when they sought anything more than a meeting.” This and many other stories used the three events—the Trump (p.213) call for an investigation, the Judicial Watch email release, and the Bill Clinton email about his role in the foundation—together as evidence that the foundation was an appropriate focus of news coverage. Just as the New York Times had done with the Uranium One story, the Washington Post here led with the insinuation of potential corruption—a much juicier angle—rather than with the absence of evidence of actual wrongdoing, and then it buried that truthful concession deep in the middle of the story. This is simply the framing corollary to the “If it bleeds, it leads” trope. In this case, Judicial Watch and the Trump campaign were doing what media activists have been doing forever: staging events that would motivate professional media as a way of setting the agenda. What we see here is a successful operation to put red meat too juicy to pass up in front of traditional media. And the availability of new emails, this time obtained legally through FOIA rather than by illegal hacking, gives the reporting the grounding in objective fact that satisfies the professional norms and gives cover to the sensationalist framing necessary to publish front-page news.

The fact that the traditional professional media were the targets of intentional manipulation does not absolve them of responsibility for checking the materials put in front of them, much less of supporting a Trump campaign narrative. In this regard, the Associated Press offers an example of particularly poor reporting. The unusually large presence of the AP as a node in the link economy that week is due to a story that appeared on Twitter as follows: “BREAKING AP Analysis: More than half those who met Clinton as Cabinet secretary gave money to Clinton Foundation.” The study was quickly debunked, and within two weeks, the AP had issued a retraction of that assertion and deleted the tweet. The gist of the story was that the AP uncovered 154 people without official positions with whom Clinton had met, and of these 85 had connections with foundation donors. The AP story focused on Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunnus, an introduction to the Kennedy Center’s chairman at a Kennedy Center awards ceremony, and a conversation with the head of the MAC Cosmetics AIDS charity arm about raising funds for an AIDS education campaign. As Matthew Yglesias put it the morning after the story came out: “The State Department is a big operation. So is the Clinton Foundation. The AP put a lot of work into this project. And it couldn’t come up with anything that looks worse than helping a Nobel Prize winner, raising money to finance AIDS education, and doing an introduction for the chair of the Kennedy Center. It’s kind of surprising.”23

But as the preceding figures make clear, by the time the AP issued the retraction of the headline (though not the story itself), the spikes in coverage had already occurred, and the story had made its impact. In particular a big (p.214) spike in television coverage on non-Fox-affiliated local television channels happened on August 24, immediately after the AP story and after New York Times and Washington Post stories on August 22 and 23. This coverage, in turn, brought the issue to a broader public.

The critical lesson of this chapter of the Clinton Foundation story is that the manipulation was not a result of Facebook fake news or of the fragmentation of public discourse. Precisely because the majority of Americans do not get their news from Facebook or from the right-wing media ecosystem, it was necessary for the actors on the right—Bannon and Schweizer through the Government Accountability Institute (GAI), Breitbart, Fox, the Daily Caller, and Judicial Watch—to frame a story that was attractive enough for mainstream media to cover and to provide reason for mainstream voters to doubt Hillary Clinton’s integrity. There simply are not enough voters who get their news largely from the right-wing media ecosystem to win an election. Right-wing media must harness broader parts of the ecosystem to achieve their strategic goals. In this case, they kept the story alive with several distinct media “hits”—the release of a book while offering careful “exclusive” access to major newspapers; a film; multiple releases of email dumps; and responses by political actors to these media events (from the congressional representatives’ letter to the IRS to Donald Trump’s public statements). Right-wing media succeeded in pushing the Clinton Foundation to the front of the public agenda precisely at the moment when Clinton would have been anticipated to (and indeed did) receive her biggest bounce in the polls: immediately after the Democratic convention. And as we saw in Chapter 4, even after mainstream interest receded, the validation from mainstream media continued to add credibility to the much more sinister, tribal narratives surrounding the foundation that we saw emerging in both the pedophilia and Islamophobia narratives.

Truth Under Fire: Error Correction and Self-Healing Among Winners of Trump’s Fake News Awards

In Chapters 3 and 5 we saw that the same Fox News reporters and shows repeatedly played central roles in the various disinformation campaigns. Malia Zimmerman wrote the initial pieces in both the “Lolita Express” Clinton pedophilia story and the Seth Rich story. Hannity, the network’s biggest star, was central to those two as well as Uranium One. Lou Dobbs pushed (p.215) the “deep state” framing and Uranium One. Fox and Friends was central in propagating the Seth Rich conspiracy theory. Bret Baier was central on the Lolita Express. The reporters who played prominent roles in propagating these false stories paid no professional price, because the network they work for is a propagandist, not journalistic, enterprise.

Central to the practice of objectivity as truth seeking is not infallibility but institutionalized error detection and correction. This is as true for journalism as it is for the scientific method, though the speed of publication, sensitivity to markets, and levels of evidence necessary in each enterprise differ significantly and result in different institutional details. And for all the differences between them, the projects of journalism and science are both committed to norms of truth seeking anchored in a reality that is prior to and external to opinion and perspective. It is fundamentally different from the project of denying the possibility of truth beyond partisan perspective.

As we showed in Chapter 5 and return to in Chapter 11, professional journalism has been under sustained attack from right-wing media since the emergence of Rush Limbaugh to national prominence in the late 1980s early 1990s. The presidency of Donald Trump saw an unprecedented escalation in the war on journalism and a challenge to the very possibility of institutionalized truth seeking, as opposed to partisan perspective. In the teeth of this attack, both mainstream and net-native outlets continued to practice mutual checking and verification, as well as relying on internal controls to impose checks, communicate error, and discipline reporters who circumvented these checks.

Here we review what happened to the major media stories that received President Trump’s and the Republican Party’s Fake News Awards of 2017.24 Rather than circling the wagons, in most of these cases news organizations exposed, admitted, and corrected errors over very short timelines, through both internal processes and network processes of mutual monitoring. The dynamic is fundamental to error avoidance, detection, and correction in a well-functioning media ecosystem and is exactly the opposite of the mutually reinforcing roles that entities in a network subject to the propaganda feedback loop exhibit. We lay it out here because, after decades of media criticism from both the left and the right, it is hard for many to accept that there is something very real about the project of objectivity-as-truth seeking and that this has real consequences for the construction of understanding and resilience to bullshit. Even if in theory perfect objectivity is unattainable and truth necessarily provisional, in practice, in the lived experience of media ecosystems, organizations set up to pursue those goals function differently (p.216) and pose different levels of resistance to propaganda and bullshit than those designed to produce a post-truth world.

On December 1, 2017, ABC News’s Brian Ross falsely reported that retired General Michael Flynn would, as part of his plea deal, testify that then-candidate Trump himself had instructed Flynn to contact Russian officials during the campaign. Several hours later, the network issued a correction, in which it explained that its source had contacted the network to explain that the story was inaccurate and that what he had said was that during the campaign the candidate had asked Flynn to find ways to repair relations with Russia, and it was only after the election that then-President-elect Trump asked Flynn to contact Russian officials to discuss working jointly against ISIS.25 That evening CNN reported on the error, emphasizing that the report had caused a major drop in the Dow Jones, that ABC had learned that its story was in error at 6:00 p.m. that evening, and that Ross would issue a correction on-air at 6:30 p.m.26 CNN later described how, under pressure, ABC tweeted and posted a correction, rather than a clarification. The next day the Times, the Post, Politico, and other sites reported on the error and the retraction, and Ross was suspended for four weeks. Raw Story and Newsweek published reports of the original incorrect ABC report, but then appended the ABC correction.27 The only stories we identified in our set that could be considered amplifications or versions of the story that went uncorrected was a Think Progress report on the mistaken ABC claim, that did not later append a retraction,28 and a report in the Palmer Report, published before and without reference to the ABC story, claiming that Flynn “is testifying that Donald Trump and Jared Kushner ordered him to be the point man for communicating and conspiring with the Russian government during the election,” and did so before the ABC report and without reference to it (and also without foundation).29 The basic dynamic we observe is self-correction within hours, extensive reporting by other major outlets within the center, center-left, and left of the mistake and the correction, the disciplining of the reporter who made the error, and minimal detectable repetition of the false report even on marginal sites on the left.30

On December 8, 2017, CNN published a report that mistakenly stated that Donald Trump Jr. had received a website and decryption key to preview emails before they were made public by WikiLeaks. The original report claimed, based on sources, that the email to Trump Jr. was dated September 4, 2016. A few hours later, the Washington Post obtained a copy of the alleged email and reported that it had been sent September 14, 2016, not September 4, and thus came after, not before, the emails had already been reported on (p.217) publicly. By 6:05 p.m. that day, CNN had issued a correction to its story, credited the Washington Post for its find, and linked to the Post story as well as to the text of the email showing the September 14 date prominently. Except for one, every story we could find updated the story to include the correction. Raw Story, a left-wing online news organization founded in 2004, is the one exception we found; Raw Story published a story based on the original CNN report but without reporting on the correction.31 A partisan site like Talking Points Memo issued a blaring, all caps headline that focused on the correction, not the allegation.32 Across major mainstream and left media the report was on the mistake, the correction, and how it handed the right a weapon in claiming that all the reporting against the president was fake news. Reporting on the right did just that.

The next recipient of the fake news awards was a report in Time magazine that President Trump had removed a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. from the Oval Office. Time reporter Zeke Miller mistakenly reported on inauguration day that MLK’s bust had been removed from the White House. He corrected the error and apologized by email, Twitter, and an online correction to the Time story. The story got practically no repetition or amplification, and primarily was reported on the right, as an example of “fake news” by mainstream media, and to some extent elsewhere as an example of how right-wing media or the president use failures to attack the media. A somewhat similar pattern occurred when Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel tweeted out a photo showing a Trump rally in Pensacola, Florida, with seats half empty, a photo that turned out to be premature as the stands later filled up. The photo was not part of an actual story published by the Post. In a tweet the president demanded an apology and retraction. In a response tweet, Weigel responded “Sure thing: I apologize. I deleted the photo after @dmartosko told me I’d gotten it wrong. Was confused by the image of you walking in the bottom right corner.”33 A few more of the Fake News Awards went to trivial stories, such as a Newsweek story that Poland’s first lady had refused to shake Trump’s hand, or a CNN story mocking the president for his boorishness in overfeeding decorative fish during a visit to Japan. Stories of greater significance included a CNN story, prior to James Comey’s Senate testimony, which anticipated that he would refute President Trump’s claim that Comey told him that he was not under investigation. The report was retracted as soon as Comey’s testimony was pre-released and included no such affirmation.34 Another award went to Paul Krugman for writing a blog post at 12:42 a.m. the night of Trump’s election, as stock markets were dropping, in which Krugman flippantly wrote: “It really does now look like President Donald (p.218) J. Trump, and markets are plunging. When might we expect them to recover? Frankly, I find it hard to care much, even though this is my specialty. The disaster for America and the world has so many aspects that the economic ramifications are way down my list of things to fear. Still, I guess people want an answer: If the question is when markets will recover, a first-pass answer is never.”35

Calling this kind of flippant opinion statement “fake news” seems more like taking a victory lap over a mistaken prediction made publicly by a vexing opponent than anything else.

The most dramatic story of significance began on the evening of Thursday, June 23, 2017. CNN had published a report, based on a single anonymous source, claiming that the Treasury Department was looking into a meeting between the chief executive of a Russian investment fund, itself subject to sanctions and under Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, and a Trump transition team official, Anthony Scaramucci, a few days before the inauguration.36 Later that same evening Breitbart and Sputnik each published a detailed criticism of the piece.37 By the next day CNN had disabled links to the story and, possibly under pressure from BuzzFeed to explain why the story had been removed,38 appended an editor’s note that read: “Story did not meet CNN’s editorial standards and has been retracted. Links to the story have been disabled. CNN apologizes to Mr. Scaramucci.”39 The original CNN tweets that pushed out the story were deleted and replaced with links to the editorial note instead. By Monday morning two reporters on the story, and the executive editor of CNN’s investigations unit who was responsible for them, had resigned. As with the other cases we have described, all the reporting that followed, both on CNN itself and on other mainstream outlets, was about the mistake, the resignations, and the importance of maintaining the highest standards and responsibility in the teeth of the sustained attack by the president on the trustworthiness of the media.

It is important to focus specifically on what was wrong about the CNN story. There was no disagreement that Scaramucci had in fact met Kirill Dimitriev in Davos, or that the Russian Direct Investment Fund he headed was under U.S. sanctions. Bloomberg had conducted an interview with Scaramucci in Davos at the time, and he acknowledged the meeting and connected it to intentions to bridge relations.40 The CNN report linked to that Bloomberg interview, which had been published in January under the title “Trump Aid Talks Investment with Sanctioned Kremlin Fund” and correctly quoted Scaramucci’s response to Bloomberg, referring to Dmitriev: “What I said to him last night, in my capacity inside the administration, I would (p.219) certainly reach out to some people to help him.” The CNN report described Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ben Cardin’s demand sent to incoming Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that he investigate the meeting, and linked to Mnuchin’s pro forma response letter, that, if confirmed, he would “ensure that the appropriate Department components assess whether further investigation of this matter is warranted.”41 The error was in relying on a single congressional source, probably a Democratic staffer, to open and frame the entire piece with “Senate investigators are examining the activities of a little-known $10-billion Russian investment fund whose chief executive met with a member of President Donald Trump’s transition team four days before Trump’s inauguration.” The assertion that the Senate was actively investigating the meeting, and the implication, based on a single source, that more facts were emerging than those reported in January, cost the three reporters their jobs.

The sole example we found of substantial diffusion of what remained a fundamentally uncorrected error relates to an August 7 story in the New York Times. The Times reported that it received a leaked draft of the scientific report on climate change by 13 federal agencies, that the conclusions and findings stood in stark contradiction to the administration’s agenda on the environment and climate science, and that the scientists were concerned the administration would suppress it.42 The most extreme follow-on to the story, published on a site called EcoWatch, interpreted the Times story as “while the administration tries to suppress its agencies talking about climate change, a leaked report has concluded that millions of Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now.”43Vanity Fair quoted the Times report under the headline “Damning Federal Climate Report Leaked Before Trump Can Suppress It.”44 Other reports offered somewhat less sensational versions, focused more on the likely true claim that some scientists working for the federal government feared the administration would suppress a report whose conclusions were so directly opposed to the administration’s position on climate change. That same day, one climate scientist involved in writing the report pointed out that there was no leak and that the draft report had been out and available in public during the comment period and remained available on the Internet Archive.45 That evening a political scientist quoted in the Times story as having worked on the report tweeted that the report had been out since January, and the next morning noted that a side-by-side comparison showed that the report the Times obtained was the same one as the version that had been on the Internet Archive since January and that a draft of the report was still available for purchase from the National Academies of Sciences.46 On August 9 (p.220) both the Washington Post online and Fox News criticized the Times for the misleading implication that the draft report had not been made public. They argued correctly that by claiming to have obtained and published a leaked, previously unpublished report, the Times implied that the administration’s failure to publish was evidence that fears that the report would be suppressed were well founded.47 The Times’s correction was minimal. It acknowledged the prior availability of the report and emphasized instead the reporting that government scientists and scientists involved in writing the report were concerned that the administration would not formally release the report. While not an impossible reading of the original Times story, the implication captured by the Vanity Fair headline we quoted above is certainly what gave the Times’s story its claim to be front-page news. The report was ultimately released by the administration in November 2017, and the Times never really acknowledged that its framing had been misleading.

Comparing the Uranium One, Seth Rich, and Lolita Express and Orgy Island diffusion patterns we observed in earlier chapters on the one hand, and the various winners of the “fake news awards” on the other hand, underscores the fundamentally different dynamics in the right wing as compared to the rest of the American political media ecosystem. When observing right-wing conspiracy theories, we saw positive feedback loops between the core of that network—composed of Fox News, leading Republican pundits, and Breitbart—and the remainder of the online right-wing network. In those cases we saw repetition, amplification, and circling of the wagons to criticize other media outlets when these exposed the errors and failures of the story. By contrast, the mainstream media ecosystem exhibited intensive competition to hold each other to high journalistic standards, and a repeated pattern of rapid removal of content, correction, and in several cases disciplining of the reporters involved. Moreover, in none of these cases did we find more than a smattering of repetition and amplification of the claims once retracted. In the one case where we are not convinced that the retraction was sufficient, the Washington Post published a criticism of the misleading New York Times story, and most of the stories that repeated the claims focused on the likely truthful aspect of the report—that there are government climate scientists concerned that the administration would suppress climate science reports—rather than on the sensationalistic and conspiratorial implication that only through the leak to the New York Times could these scientists prevent the suppression and that the leak was some heroic act of whistle-blowing.

(p.221) As our data show, the fundamental architecture of information flow in the two clusters is different. As the case studies show, the organizational practices and consequences for reporters are different. And the narrative sharing practices of the network of sites that diffuse the stories follow fundamentally different pathways. It would be truly remarkable if falsehoods diffused and decayed symmetrically in two networks exhibiting such fundamentally different structure and dynamics. And, as we have consistently seen throughout this book, they do not. Conspiracy theories, falsehoods, and rumors that fit the tribal narrative diffuse more broadly and are sustained for longer on the right than in the rest of the media ecosystem. As such, it would be surprising if people who occupied the right wing of the network were not more susceptible to such falsehoods, be their origin commercial or political, domestic or foreign. (p.222)


(1.) Frank Newport et al., “‘Email’ Dominates What Americans Have Heard About Clinton,” Gallup, September 16, 2016, http://news.gallup.com/poll/195596/email-dominates-americans-heard-clinton.aspx.

(2.) Thomas E. Patterson, “News Coverage of the 2016 General Election: How the Press Failed the Voters,” 2016.

(3.) Duncan J. Watts and David M. Rothschild, “Don’t Blame the Election on Fake News. Blame It on the Media,” Columbia Journalism Review, December 5, 2017, https://www.cjr.org/analysis/fake-news-media-election-trump.php.

(4.) Michael S. Schmidt, “Hillary Clinton Used Personal Email Account at State Dept., Possibly Breaking Rules,” The New York Times, March 2, 2015, sec. Politics, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/03/us/politics/hillary-clintons-use-of-private-email-at-state-department-raises-flags.html.

(5.) Jonathan Mahler, “Group’s Tactic on Hillary Clinton: Sue Her Again and Again,” New York Times, October 12, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/13/us/politics/judicial-watch-hillary-clinton.html.

(6.) Jo Becker and Mike McIntire, “Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal,” New York Times, April 15, 2015, sec. U.S., https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/24/us/cash-flowed-to-clinton-foundation-as-russians-pressed-for-control-of-uranium-company.html.

(7.) Breitbart News, “11 Explosive Clinton Cash Facts Mainstream Media Confirm Are Accurate,” Breitbart, April 26, 2015, http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/04/26/11-explosive-clinton-cash-facts-mainstream-media-confirm-are-accurate/.

(8.) Breitbart News, “Free Global Broadcast of ‘Clinton Cash’ Documentary Online at Breitbart.Com,” Breitbart, July 22, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/2016-presidential-race/2016/07/22/global-airing-clinton-cash-documentary-breitbart-email-sign/.

(9.) Daily Caller News Foundation, “IRS Response Clinton Foundation July 2016,” July 22, 2016, https://www.scribd.com/document/319384834/IRS-Response-Clinton-Foundation-July-2016. The entire relevant text of the letter was, “We have forwarded the information you submitted to our Exempt Organizations Examinations Program in Dallas. This program considers all referrals and will send you a separate acknowledgement letter when it receives your information.”

(10.) Richard Pollack, “EXCLUSIVE: IRS Launches Investigation Of Clinton Foundation,” Daily Caller, July 26, 2016, http://dailycaller.com/2016/07/26/exclusive-irs-launches-investigation-of-clinton-foundation/.

(11.) Fred Lucas et al., “IRS Looking into Clinton Foundation ‘Pay-to-Play’ Claims,” Fox News, July 27, 2016, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2016/07/27/irs-reviewing-clinton-foundation-pay-to-play-claims.html.

(12.) Post Editorial Board, “Why Didn’t the Democrats Even Mention the Clinton Foundation?,” New York Post, July 30, 2016, sec. Opinion, https://nypost.com/2016/07/29/why-didnt-the-democrats-even-mention-the-clinton-foundation/.

(13.) “Why Didn’t Democrats Even Mention The Clinton Foundation?,” Fox News, July 30, 2016, http://nation.foxnews.com/2016/07/30/why-didn-t-democrats-even-mention-clinton-foundation.

(14.) Breitbart News, “NY Post: Why Didn’t the Democrats Even Mention the Clinton Foundation?,” Breitbart, July 30, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/ (p.411) 2016-presidential-race/2016/07/30/ny-post-why-didnt-the-democrats-even-mention-the-clinton-foundation/.

(15.) “‘Clinton Cash’ Author Doubts IRS Will Thoroughly Investigate Clinton Foundation,” Fox News Insider, July 30, 2016, http://insider.foxnews.com/2016/07/30/irs-launches-investigation-clinton-foundation-clinton-cash-author-reacts.

(16.) Linda Qiu, “Did Clinton Help Russia Obtain Uranium for Donations? Nope,” PolitiFact, June 30, 2016, http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/jun/30/donald-trump/donald-trump-inaccurately-suggests-clinton-got-pai/.

(17.) Michelle Ye Hee Lee, “Pro-Trump Ad Suggests Clinton Foundation Donations Contributed to Clintons’ Net Worth,” Washington Post, August 10, 2016, sec. Fact Checker, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2016/08/10/pro-trump-ad-suggests-clinton-foundation-donations-contributed-to-clintons-net-worth/.

(18.) “Judicial Watch Uncovers New Batch of Hillary Clinton Emails,” Judicial Watch, August 9, 2016, https://www.judicialwatch.org/press-room/press-releases/judicial-watch-uncovers-new-batch-hillary-clinton-emails/.

(20.) Mark Hensch, “Clinton Foundation Won’t Accept Foreign Money If Hillary Wins,” The Hill, August 18, 2016, http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/291911-clinton-foundation-to-alter-donation-rules-if-hillary.

(21.) Clinton Foundation, “Empowering People to Build Better Futures for Themselves, Their Families, and Their Communities,” Medium (blog), August 22, 2016, https://medium.com/@ClintonFdn/empowering-people-to-build-better-futures-for-themselves-their-families-and-their-communities-99d5843391fb.

(22.) Rosalind S. Helderman, Spencer S. Hsu, and Tom Hamburger, “Emails Reveal How Foundation Donors Got Access to Clinton and Her Close Aides at State Dept.,” Washington Post, August 22, 2016, sec. Politics, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/emails-reveal-how-foundation-donors-got-access-to-clinton-and-her-close-aides-at-state-dept/2016/08/22/345b5200-6882-11e6-8225-fbb8a6fc65bc_story.html.

(23.) Matthew Yglesias, “The AP’s Big Exposé on Hillary Meeting with Clinton Foundation Donors Is a Mess,” Vox, August 24, 2016, https://www.vox.com/2016/8/24/12618446/ap-clinton-foundation-meeting.

(24.) Donald J. Trump, “And the FAKE NEWS Winners Are . . . ,” Twitter, January 17, 2018, https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/953794085751574534.

(25.) ABC News, “ABC News Statement on Michael Flynn Report,” ABC News, December 2, 2017, http://abcnews.go.com/US/abc-news-statement-michael-flynn-report/story?id=51536475; Brian Ross, Matthew Mosk, and Josh Margolin, “Flynn Prepared to Testify That Trump Directed Him to Contact Russians about ISIS, Confidant Says,” ABC News, December 1, 2017, http://abcnews. (p.412) go.com/Politics/michael-flynn-charged-making-false-statements-fbi-documents/story?id=50849354.

(26.) Oliver Darcy, “ABC News Corrects Bombshell Flynn Report,” CNNMoney, December 1, 2017, http://money.cnn.com/2017/12/01/media/abc-news-flynn-correction/index.html.

(27.) Brad Reed, “Mike Flynn ‘Prepared to Testify against Trump and His Family’ in Mueller’s Russia Probe: Report,” Raw Story, December 1, 2017, https://www.rawstory.com/2017/12/mike-flynn-prepared-to-testify-against-trump-and-his-family-in-muellers-russia-probe-report/; Linley Sanders, “Who Told Michael Flynn to Talk to Russians? He Will Name Trump, Confidant Says,” Newsweek, December 1, 2017, http://www.newsweek.com/who-told-michael-flynn-talk-russians-728754.

(28.) Casey Michel, “This Is Why Flynn’s Guilty Plea Should Terrify Trump,” ThinkProgress, December 1, 2017, https://thinkprogress.org/mike-flynn-guilty-plea-e5fb7c38a229/.

(29.) Bill Palmer, “Congressmen Say Jared Kushner’s Arrest Is Coming and Donald Trump Will Be Ousted from Office,” Palmer Report (blog), December 1, 2017, http://www.palmerreport.com/politics/congress-kushner-ousted/6387/.

(30.) Based on a review of all stories in our set that mentioned the words “Flynn” and “Russia” in the same sentence in the period following the guilty plea.

(31.) Brad Reed, “Don Jr and Other Trump Campaign Officials Were Offered Secret Link to WikiLeaks Hacks: Report,” Raw Story, December 8, 2017, https://www.rawstory.com/2017/12/don-jr-and-other-trump-campaign-officials-were-offered-secret-link-to-wikileaks-hacks-report/.

(32.) Allegra Kirkland, “CNN Issues Major Correction To Story On Email Pointing Trumps To Hacked Docs,” Talking Points Memo, December 8, 2017, https://talkingpointsmemo.com/muckraker/trump-campaign-sent-email-with-access-hacked-wikileaks-documents.

(33.) Alex Kasprak, “‘Raftergate’ Explained: Was Trump’s Pensacola Rally ‘Packed to the Rafters?,’ ” Snopes, December 9, 2017, https://www.snopes.com/news/2017/12/09/was-trumps-pensacola-rally-packed-rafters/.

(34.) Gloria Borger et al., “Comey Unlikely to Judge on Obstruction,” CNN, June 7, 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/06/06/politics/comey-testimony-refute-trump-russian-investigation/index.html.

(35.) Paul Krugman, “What Happened on Election Day,” New York Times, October 9, 2016, sec. Opinion, paul-krugman-the-economic-fallout.

(36.) The original link was http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/22/politics/russian-investment-fund-under-investigation/index.htm. As we were preparing the book, it was still available on the Internet Archive. It has since been removed.

(37.) Matthew Boyle, “Very Fake News: CNN Pushes Refurbished Russia Conspiracy, Inaccurately Claims Investments Under Investigation,” Breitbart, June 23, 2017, http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2017/06/23/very-fake-news-cnn-pushes-refurbished-russia-conspiracy-inaccurately-claims-investment-fund-under- (p.413) investigation/; “Russian Investment Fund Denies CNN Report of US Sanctions Regime Violations,” Sputnik News, June 23, 2017, https://sptnkne.ws/eHtq.

(38.) Jim Dalrymple II and Jon Passantino, “CNN Deleted A Story Linking Trump And Russia, Then Issued A Retraction After Questions Were Raised,” BuzzFeed, June 24, 2017, https://www.buzzfeed.com/jimdalrympleii/cnn-deleted-a-story-linking-trump-and-russia-then-issued-a.

(39.) “Editor’s Note,” CNN, June 23, 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/06/23/politics/editors-note/index.html; Erik Wemple, “Three CNN Employees Resign over Retracted Story on Russia Ties,” Washington Post, June 26, 2017, sec. Opinion, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2017/06/26/three-cnn-employees-resign-over-retracted-story-on-russia-ties/.

(40.) Ilya Arkhipov and Patrick Donahue, “Trump Aide Talks Investment With Sanctioned Kremlin Fund,” Bloomberg, January 17, 2017, sec. Politics, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-01-17/in-davos-trump-aide-talks-deals-with-sanctioned-kremlin-fund.

(41.) Steven T. Mnuchin, “Mnuchin Response to Elizabeth Warren,” January 30, 2017, https://www.warren.senate.gov/files/documents/Mnuchin_Response-20170130.pdf.

(42.) Lisa Friedman, “Scientists Fear Trump Will Dismiss Blunt Climate Report,” New York Times, August 7, 2017, sec. Climate, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/07/climate/climate-change-drastic-warming-trump.html.

(43.) Oil Change International, “Leaked Government Report Sounds Alarm on Climate Change Before Trump Could Suppress It,” EcoWatch, August 8, 2017, https://www.ecowatch.com/leaked-climate-change-report-2470544185.html.

(46.) Katharine Hayhoe, “Important to Point Out That This Report Was Already Accessible to Anyone Who Cared to Read It during Public Review & Comment Time. Few Did.,” Twitter, August 7, 2017, https://twitter.com/KHayhoe/status/894757321838010368?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.foxnews.com%2Fpolitics%2F2017%2F08%2F08%2Fscientists-call-out-new-york-times-for-incorrect-claim-about-climate-report.html; Katharine Hayhoe, “The 3rd Order Draft of Climate Science Special Report Is Still Available via the National Academy of Sciences Public Access File, on Request,” Twitter, August 8, 2017, https://twitter.com/KHayhoe/status/894932418347634688?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.foxnews.com%2Fpolitics%2F2017%2F08%2F08%2Fscientists-call-out-new-york-times-for-incorrect-claim-about-climate-report.html.

(47.) Erik Wemple, “New York Times Guilty of Large Screw-up on Climate-Change Story,” Washington Post, August 9, 2017, sec. Opinion, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2017/08/09/new-york-times-guilty-of-large-screw-up-on-climate-change-story/; Alex Pappas, “Scientists Call out New York Times for Incorrect Claim about Climate Report,” Fox News, August 8, 2017, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/08/08/scientists-call-out-new-york-times-for-incorrect-claim-about-climate-report.html.