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The President of the United States woke up at 5:30 AM on Tuesday morning and claimed that Google was illegally “rigging” the search results for his name, including only “FAKE NEWS” and censoring conservative outlets. He claimed “96%” of results were from “national left-wing media.” (He deleted the original tweet but posted a nearly identical one a few hours later.)
Google search results for “Trump News” shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal? 96% of....August 28, 2018
Trump: "Google has taken advantage of a lot of people...if you look at what is going on at Twitter, look at what is going on in Facebook, they better be careful..Google and Twitter and Facebook, they're really treading on troubled territory" pic.twitter.com/6SR2eFUOtgAugust 28, 2018
The birth of a conspiracy theory
Trump’s outburst was based on an article from PJ Media, a right-wing website, entitled “96 Percent of Google Search Results for 'Trump' News Are from Liberal Media Outlets.”
What is a “liberal media outlet”? The PJ Media article adopts a definition from Sharyl Attkisson, a TV host for Sinclair Broadcast Group, the media conglomerate that mandates local TV stations read pro-Trump propaganda verbatim.
It’s not surprising that using Attkisson’s definition results in a high percentage of content from “liberal” media. Attkisson defines numerous centrist, non-ideological publications including USA Today, Reuters, Bloomberg, ABC News, CNBC and Fortune as “liberal.”
Attkisson’s website includes links promoting the debunked conspiracy theory that vaccines cause autism. For more information on media bias, she refers readers to InfoWars, the conspiracy website that claimed the victims of Sandy Hook were child actors.
The power of Diamond and Dobbs
Trump probably is not a regular reader of PJ Media. But he does watch lots of Fox News. On Monday night, Fox Business anchor Lou Dobbs touted the study.
Dobbs said the article proved Google was “blatantly suppressing conservative media outlets from Americans searching for Trump.”
Trump’s language echoed two of Dobbs’ guests, the Trump-supporting duo Diamond and Silk, who said that the government needed to step in and stop Google and other tech companies from censoring conservatives.
“I am not for big government but I really do believe that the government should step in and really check this out because this is again going to turn into tyranny. We don't need dictatorship; we don't need people controlling what we can and cannot see,” Diamond told Dobbs.
Larry Kudlow gets his marching orders
When Diamond talks, Trump’s chief economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, listens. Kudlow, a former pundit for CNBC, which Attkisson defines as a “liberal” outlet, told reporters at the White House that the administration is “looking into” Google’s censorship of conservative voices.
Diamond and Silk’s history of deception
Diamond and Silk, who are apparently now setting the nation’s technology policy, have a history of making false claims about social media censorship.
The duo famously claimed they were “banned” by Facebook for supporting Trump.
Diamond and silk were never banned. While many other media outlets saw their distribution reduced as Facebook changed their algorithm to favor “friends and family,” Diamond and Silk’s reach remained constant.
Their claims can be definitively debunked by data from CrowdTangle, a social analytics company now owned by Facebook.
Diamond and Silk repeated their false claims, under oath, in congressional testimony about social media bias. “Facebook censored us for 6 months,” Diamond said. (They also claimed they had never been paid by the Trump campaign, which is also a lie.)
The pair was praised repeatedly by Republican Senators.
The real tech scandal
The real scandal is not that technology companies are censoring right-wing news. It’s that right-wing media gets enormous distribution on tech platforms, even if their content is inaccurate or misleading.
Facebook claims it limits the reach (but does not ban) “fake news” on its platform. During the Trump era, Fox News has effectively become a state-run propaganda outlet, regularly peddling false and dubious stories to defend and promote Trump.
A few days ago, Fox News hosted a QAnon conspiracy theorist who claimed the Parkland school shooting was faked. Last week Tucker Carlson parrotted white nationalist talking points about land seizures in South Africa. (Trump joined in.) Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett said that former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, “told the truth and was prosecuted by Mueller for lying.”
But which site gets more distribution than any other on Facebook? Fox News.
Tuesday morning on Fox and Friends, Fox News contributor Charlie Kirk claimed “tech giants collude together” to suppress conservative voices. If that’s what they are doing, they are doing a terrible job.
The real death toll in Puerto Rico
According to official government estimates, 64 people died in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island in September 2017.
A new study by the George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health, commissioned by the Governor of Puerto Rico, found the actual number of deaths attributable to the hurricane was 2,975. The study “looked at historical death patterns from 2010 to 2017 to estimate how many people would have died had Hurricane Maria not hit the island.”
In the 9/11 attacks, 2,997 people died, excluding the hijackers.
Not a “real catastrophe”
In October 2017, Trump visited Puerto Rico and said that residents of the Island are lucky that the hurricane was not “a real catastrophe, like Katrina.”
“What is your death count as of this moment? Seventeen? Sixteen people certified, 16 people versus in the thousands,” Trump said.
The death toll of Hurricane Katrina was 1833.
Back in DC a few days later Trump graded himself a 10 out of 10 for the administration's response to Puerto Rico. “I give ourselves a 10. … We have provided so much, so fast. We were actually there before the storm hit,” Trump said in an event with Puerto Rico’s Governor at the White House.
Good public relations, bad disaster response
Independent assessments of the Trump administration’s response in Puerto Rico were less laudatory than Trump’s rosy self-assessment.
Hurricane Harvey struck Texas about a month earlier. An exhaustive report on the response to Hurricane Maria by Politico found “the Trump administration — and the president himself — responded far more aggressively to Texas than to Puerto Rico.”
Trump “spent the first weekend after the Puerto Rico crisis tweeting repeatedly about NFL players kneeling for the national anthem.”
According to sources that spoke to Politico, Trump focused “less on the details of the relief effort [in Puerto Rico] than on public appearances, repeatedly using conference calls and meetings designed to update him on the relief effort to direct FEMA Administrator Brock Long to spend more time on television touting his agency’s progress.”
Helicopters were slow to arrive, fewer federal personnel were sent, and much of the island remained without power for months. More resources were sent to Texas even though the damage to Puerto Rico was far greater.
On the ground, “mass confusion and little coordination among the dozens of different nonprofit groups and federal, state and local officials involved in the response, most of whom had little ability to communicate with one another.”
Even today, the federal government is funding permanent fixes to Texas’ infrastructure but has yet to begin such investments in Puerto Rico.
Hunting for an excuse
Representative Duncan Hunter was recently indicted for gross misuse of over $250,000 in campaign funds. In November 2015, according to the indictment, Hunter “spent $14,261.33 (including airfare) in campaign funds to pay for a family vacation to Italy.” He also allegedly spent $462.46 in campaign cash for 30 shots at a bachelor party. According to prosecutors, he even used campaign cash to pay for his kids’ private school tuition.
Hunter is running for reelection anyway.
On Tuesday, Hunter lashed out, imploring the media to leave his wife, who served as his campaign manager, out of it.
“Leave my wife out of it, leave my family out of it. It’s me they’re after anyway. They’re not after my wife; they want to take me down… So let’s get this in the arena and have this settled,” Hunter said.
Strong words. But just a few days ago, Hunter blamed his wife for his legal troubles.
“She handled my finances throughout my entire military career and that continued on when I got into Congress. ... She was also the campaign manager. Whatever she did, that'll be looked at too, I'm sure, but I didn't do it,” Hunter said five days ago.
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