3 years of Popular Information
“Watershed moment in the restaurant industry.” As the pandemic began to take hold of the nation, Popular Information reported that restaurant group Darden Restaurants, the parent company of Olive Garden, was not offering employees paid sick leave unless required by law. Popular Information spoke to several current and former Darden employees who shared stories of workers who would come into work sick to avoid missing a shift. Ten hours after Popular Information published its reporting, Darden, which previously lobbied against paid sick leave legislation, announced that all employees would receive paid sick leave benefits, effective immediately.
“...After the journalist Judd Legum pointed out its long history of fighting sick-leave policies, Darden Restaurants, which runs several restaurant chains, including Olive Garden, said that its 170,000 hourly workers would now get paid sick leave,” wrote Opinion Columnist Farhad Manjoo in the New York Times. Business Insider described the move as a “watershed moment for the restaurant industry.” The story was picked up by the New York Times, The Financial Times, CNBC, and Fox.
'Corporations’ Political Reckoning Began With a Newsletter.' Following the January 6 riot, Popular Information contacted 144 corporations and asked if they would continue to support members of Congress who voted to overturn the election. In response to Popular Information’s inquiry, three companies — Marriott, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, and Commerce Bank — announced that they were suspending their donations to the 147 Republicans who objected to the certification of the Electoral College.
The report had vast ripple effects in the corporate world and was picked up by The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, The Financial Times, Reuters, MarketWatch, Forbes, Business Insider, The Daily Beast, Axios, and other publications.
"One after another, major companies pledged this week to stop donating to politicians whose objections to America’s election results led to a riot at the U.S. Capitol. They were reacting to pressure that began with an article not in the New York Times or Washington Post, but a newsletter called Popular Information," Bloomberg's media reporter, Gerry Smith, wrote.
Eventually, dozens of the world's most prominent corporations — including AT&T, Amazon, Intel, Disney, and Walmart — announced they were also suspending donations to Republican election objectors. An even larger group of companies said they were suspending all corporate PAC donations.
Exposing a massive political disinformation network on Facebook. Popular Information revealed that the "I Love America" Facebook page, which boasted over 1.1 million followers, was run by people in Ukraine. It was part of a vast network of Ukrainian-run pages, including several that focused on cute dogs and Jesus, that had recently begun pushing pro-Trump propaganda on unsuspecting Americans. The reach of these Ukrainian pages was extraordinary, exceeding the Facebook audience of virtually all U.S. media outlets. Eight hours after the report was published, Facebook took down the entire network. The story was covered by The Washington Post, HuffPost, Marketwatch, Newsweek, and others.
Expanded sick leave at the nation's largest supermarket chain. As COVID-19 cases began to soar, Popular Information reportedextensively on Kroger’s inadequate sick leave policies. At the time, many employees told Popular Information that they were not receiving paid sick leave, which created an incentive to show up to work ill. Those who did have paid sick leave explained that it came with significant restrictions. Kroger proceeded to attack Popular Information, telling HuffPost that the newsletter "only serves to divide people at a time when we should all be pulling together to manage this public health crisis.”
The next day, Popular Information reported on Publix’s much more expansive paid sick leave policy for COVID-19. The following weekend, Kroger announced a significantly expanded paid sick leave policy for COVID-19 that largely mirrored Publix’s policy. David Leonhardt of the New York Times credited Popular Information for pressuring Kroger to change its policies and expand leave. The story was also featured in Business Insider as well as the podcast On the Media.
Trump's false Facebook ads. Popular Information provided extensive coverage of Trump's online campaign, particularly on Facebook. The newsletter exposed multiple instances of false and misleading ads promoted by the Trump campaign, including:
Multiple ads that deceptively portrayed a single endorsement from "Howard" as coming from a young man, a middle-aged man, or an old man, depending on who the ad was targeting.
A false ad targeting seniors that claimed Trump was still considering closing the southern border "next week" when he had already publicly announced he would not close the border for at least a year.
An ad scamming its supporters by claiming there was a midnight deadline to enter a contest to win the "1,000,000th red MAGA hat signed by President Trump." The ad was run every day for weeks.
An ad that falsely claimed Democrats are trying to repeal the Second Amendment.
"Legum’s reporting has exposed multiple recent violations that Facebook has failed to catch, even though he is an independent journalist and Facebook is a multibillion-dollar company," David Leonhardt wrote in the New York Times.
The intense scrutiny on Trump's false ads forced Facebook to acknowledge it now allows politicians to lie. (Popular Information broke the story on Facebook's new policy on October 3.) News of the policy launched a national discussion, including pointed criticism from Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Later that month, Facebook's own employees began protesting. A letter signed by more than 250 employees blasted the company's new ad policy.
Uncovering the corporate sponsors of voter suppression efforts across the nation. Popular Information identified the top corporate donors to state lawmakers who are aggressively pushing legislation to restrict voting.
In Georgia, Popular Information’s investigation on the corporate cash behind voter suppression bills inspired an advocacy campaign to use the report to pressure corporations to speak out against the bills. Pressure from this campaign resulted in the Georgia Chamber of Commerce releasing a statement in which they expressed their "concern and opposition" to certain provisions in the bill. Coca-Cola and Delta also spoke out. Popular Information's reporting was featured in Reuters, The New York Times, and the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.
Popular Information conducted similar investigations on voter suppression bills in Arizona, Florida, and Texas, prompting corporations like Union Pacific and Prudential Financial to speak out in opposition.
Accountability for a corporate lobbyist attacking the Black Lives Matter movement. Popular Information identified four companies – Verizon, Abbott Labs, Comcast, and Walmart – that publicly expressed their commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement, yet were donating thousands to Matt Schlapp, a lobbyist who is an outspoken critic of Black Lives Matter. In response to an inquiry from Popular Information, Verizon announced that it terminated its contract with Schlapp. Two days after the story was published, Abbott Labs ended its $200,000 annual contract with Schlapp’s lobbying firm. The following week, Comcast told Bloomberg News that it was also severing ties with Schlapp. The three companies had been paying Schlapp a total of $480,000 annually. This reporting was also picked up by Politico.
Facebook removes Trump campaign ads for the first time. Popular Information revealed that the Trump campaign was running more than 1,000 misleading ads on Facebook, encouraging users to fill out a fake "census." Initially, Facebook told Popular Information that the ads did not violate its policy on census misinformation. That morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi condemned Facebook and the Trump campaign for the deceptive ads.
Hours later, Vanita Gupta, a prominent civil rights advocate who helped Facebook create its census policy, emailed top Facebook executives about Popular Information’s report and Trump’s “deliberately deceptive and misleading ads.” Facebook quickly reversed course and told Gupta that the company would be taking down the ads. The story garnered heavy press coverage and was featured in various outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post, AP, CNN, Politico, BBC, Reuters, The Guardian, ABC News, Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times among others.
Major corporations pull advertising from Tucker Carlson’s show. Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has a history of spewing racist vitriol, told viewers that they are not “required to be upset” about the murder of George Floyd. Popular Information exposed a list of corporations that sponsor Carlson’s show, despite professing to support the Black Lives Matter movement. The story went viral and a few days later three of the corporations highlighted in the story – Disney, Papa John’s Pizza, and Vari – pulled their advertising from Carlson’s show. Popular Information’s reporting was picked up by the New York Times, CNN, The Guardian, and CBS, among others.
Profitable steakhouse returns $20 million to taxpayers. Popular Information spoke to Ruth’s Chris Steak House employees across the country and reported that the restaurant secured a $20 million PPP loan, intended for struggling small businesses, despite laying off all of its hourly workers. The restaurant chain drew in $42.2 million in profit in 2019, spent $5.2 million buying its own stock, and paid its CEO $6.2 million. The story went viral, and three days after publication, Ruth’s Chris announced that they were returning the loan. Popular Information’s reporting was picked up by Vox and GQ.
Facebook admits right-wing website was violating its policies. Popular Information exposed a network of racist and violent Facebook pages that were systematically distributing content from The Daily Wire, a right-wing website founded by Ben Shapiro. Initially, a Facebook spokesperson told Popular Information that the company could not determine there was a violation of Facebook’s policies.
A week later, upon being presented with additional evidence from Popular Information, Facebook admitted that The Daily Wire was paying the entity that controlled the pages, Mad World News, in violation of its rules. The Daily Wire, which used the illicit practice to achieve extraordinary success on Facebook, was forced to stop. Popular Information’s reporting was covered by Gizmodo and The Daily Beast.
The Trump campaign's fraudulent contests. Reporting in Popular Information forced the Trump campaign to acknowledge that a September contest to have breakfast with Trump in New York City was a fraud. (The campaign, in violation of state law, refuses to answer questions about 15 similar contests.) The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, The Guardian, and Rolling Stone all picked up Popular Information's reporting.
Exposing Facebook's special treatment for climate misinformation. In a joint investigation with HEATED, a climate newsletter by journalist Emily Atkin, Popular Information reported that Facebook exempted an “opinion” piece published in the Washington Examiner promoting climate misinformation from fact-checking. The intervention effectively granted climate change deniers special treatment. The story was covered in The New Yorker’s Climate Crisis newsletter.
A few weeks later, Popular Information and HEATED revealed that a fact-check of a viral climate misinformation article published by The Daily Wire was removed from Facebook. Internal documents obtained by Popular Information showed top executives were alerted of concerns prior to the removal of the fact-check, raising further questions about the integrity of Facebook’s fact-checking processes.
Exposing the corporate donors of Congressman Steve King. After Congressman Steve King (R-IA) endorsed a white nationalist mayoral candidate, Popular Information dug into his corporate sponsors. As a direct result of this reporting, several major corporations highlighted by Popular Information -- including Intel, Purina, AT&T, and Land 'O Lakes -- announced they would no longer support King. CNN, Bloomberg, the New York Times, and the Des Moines Register covered the story, along with many other national and local media outlets. King,
How money flowed from Amazon to 8chan. Popular Information revealed how the owner of 8chan, a message board favored by white supremacists and mass shooters, helped finance the site by running ads for audio books he produced and sold on Amazon. After another mass shooting was linked to an 8chan user, Amazon told Popular Information that it had severed its formal relationship with the audiobook company.
Uncovering corporate America’s attempt to “move beyond” the Jan. 6 riots. Popular Information revealed how the National Association of Business PACs (NABPAC), the trade association for corporate PACs, was advising corporations on how to resume political contributions to the Republican lawmakers who voted to overturn the election. The story was featured on MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes and elicited a public response from Michael DuHaime, a prominent Republican operative who was caught on tape encouraging corporations to “deal with the fallout” of donating to the Republican objectors. The story was also picked up by Business Insider.
A conflict of interest for Facebook's top news executive. Popular Information reported that Facebook's top news executive, Campbell Brown, has her own media outlet — and it was savaging Elizabeth Warren. Hours later, Popular Information's reporting was featured in the New York Times. Facebook also began attacking Popular Information publicly, although the company was unable to identify any errors in the reporting. Kevin Roose, the technology columnist for the New York Times, noted that Facebook "almost never responds to individual reporters from its public Twitter account," adding that Popular Information had "hit a nerve."
Toyota announces it will stop donating to Republican objectors. In April 2021, Popular Information reported that Toyota was the top corporate contributor to Republican members of Congress who voted to overturn the election. Three months later, Toyota announced that it would "stop contributing to those members of Congress who contested the certification of certain states in the 2020 election." The story was featured in The Wall Street Journal.
25 corporations donate more than $10 million to anti-gay politicians since 2019. Popular Information published an extensive report documenting how major corporations have spent more than $10 million on members of Congress that received a zero by the Human Rights Campaign on their latest Congressional scorecard. The story went viral and was covered in the New York Times, the Guardian, Marketplace, MSNBC, Adweek, The Hill, and The Daily News.
Uncovering evidence of actual voter fraud. Popular Information broke several major stories related to the 2018 election fraud investigation in North Carolina's 9th District. The newsletter exclusively obtained 162 absentee ballot envelopes from Bladen county and revealed, for the first time, the participants and tactics of the ballot harvesting operation. Popular Information was also the first to report on the criminal history of the man at the center of the scandal, Leslie McCrae Dowless. This reporting was credited in the New York Times, CNN, the New Yorker, and the Charlotte Observer. The state election board ordered a new election.