In 2018, I quit my job to start Popular Information. To be honest, I had no idea if this would work or if anyone would be interested. It's now been one year since the official launch, and more than 75,000 people receive this newsletter!
As it turns out, there is a demand for independent accountability journalism. In the last week, we've seen its power. Reporting in Popular Information has brought down two massive disinformation networks on Facebook that were targeting Americans ahead of the 2020 election.
There are no advertisers or wealthy donors backing Popular Information. True independence is possible because of readers like you.
You can support this work by becoming a paid subscriber. It's just $50 for the entire year.
That means you'll pay less than $5 per month to get original reporting and analysis four days per week.
But your subscription isn't just about getting access to information. It's about supporting journalism that makes an impact. Here are some of the highlights from Popular Information's first year:
The North Carolina election fraud scandal. Popular Information broke several major stories related to the election fraud in North Carolina's 9th District. The newsletter exclusively obtained 162 absentee ballot envelopes from Bladen county, which 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. The North Carolina Board of Election ultimately threw out the results and ordered a new election. Popular Infomation's reporting was credited in the New York Times, CNN, the New Yorker, and the Charlotte Observer.
Trump's Facebook ads. Popular Information has provided extensive coverage of Trump's online campaign, particularly on Facebook. The newsletter has 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. Popular Information's reporting on Facebook was highlighted by Hillary Clinton in a September 2019 speech at the "In Defense of American Democracy" conference.
Popular Information also exposed how the Trump campaign was using stock photo models and pretending they were Trump supporters. This report was picked up by the Associated Press and syndicated in hundreds of papers around the country.
Pro-Trump Facebook ads by The Epoch Times. Popular Information exposed how The Epoch Times, an obscure publication associated with Falun Gong, became one of the biggest political advertisers on Facebook. The Epoch Times was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on pro-Trump videos. A few months later, Facebook banned The Epoch Times from advertising, citing violations of its policies. NBC News, which picked up the story, credited Popular Information's reporting for exposing The Epoch Times' conduct.
Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith's corporate donors. After Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) was captured on video saying she'd attend a public hanging, Popular Information monitored the campaign's 48-hour filings with the FEC and exposedthecorporations who donated to her campaign. Many of the nation's most powerful corporations, including Google, Walmart, Pfizer, and Major League Baseball demanded refunds of their contributions. Popular Information's reporting was credited in the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, CNBC and many other outlets.
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.
Amazon's business relationship with fringe social media site Gab. An exclusive report in Popular Information exposed how Amazon was hosting a fundraising page for Gab, a fringe social media site that caters to white nationalists. A day after Popular Information's report, Amazon terminated its business relationship with Gab. The story was covered by BuzzFeed, among other outlets.
Corporate donors to the politicians backing state abortion bans. Using state campaign finance data, Popular Information identified six corporations who were donating large sums to the politicians responsible for pushing abortion bans in six states. These companies presented themselves publicly as champions of women's rights.
The newsletter also exposed how Netflix CEO Reid Hastings, whose company had threatened to pull out of Georgia over that state's abortion ban, personally donated $143,000 to Missouri politicians who backed a similar bill. The story was covered by Variety, Huffington Post, Gizmodo, and The Washington Post.
The dangerous diabetes scam getting massive distribution on Facebook. Popular Information exposed a right-wing Facebook page, Rowdy Republican, was getting broader distribution on Facebook than major media sites like USA Today. The Rowdy Republican page was using its extraordinary reach to promote a scam that was pushing dangerous misinformation to people with diabetes. The day after Popular Information's report, Facebook forced Rowdy Republican to remove all the links to the scam from its posts.
Red Lobster's advertising on Tucker Carlson. In January, Fox News host Tucker Carlson delivered a sexist rant blaming a variety of societal ills on higher pay for women. Popular Information noted one of Carlson's remaining advertisers, Red Lobster, is led by a woman, Salli Setta, who champions closing the gender pay gap. The next day, Red Lobster announced it would no longer advertise on the show.
Deloitte's contracts with ICE and CBP. Through an analysis of federal contracting records, Popular Information reported on the lucrative contracts that major consulting firms have signed with ICE since Trump took office. Deloitte topped the list with over $100 million in contracts. In response to internal criticism, Deloitte claimed that none of its work involved detaining immigrants, separating families, or the border wall. Popular Information obtained internal emails and other company information demonstrating that was not true.
Rainbow flag-waiving corporations who donated millions to anti-gay politicians. In June, Popular Information identified nine corporations who were publicly celebrating Pride Month by donated $1 million or more to politicians rated zero by the Human Rights Campaign. This reporting was covered by the New York Times, Forbes, and Splinter, among others.
A Nigerian politician's surprise trip to Trump's DC hotel. Former Vice President of Nigeria Atiku Abubakar was barred from the United States for 15 years pursuant to a presidential proclamation targeting corrupt foreign officials. Popular Information scooped that Abubakar, during his 2019 campaign for president of Nigeria, was granted a visa after signing a $1.1 million lobbying contract with a key member of Trump's political operation. He promptly flew to the U.S. and checked into Trump's DC hotel. The scoop was later confirmed by Bloomberg and picked up extensively in the Nigerian media.
Congressman Steve King's corporate donors. After Congressman Steve King (R-IA) endorsed a white nationalist mayoral candidate, Popular Information dug into his corporate donors. 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, who cruised to a 20-point victory in 2016, defeated his Democratic opponent by just 3 points and is considered vulnerable in 2020.
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