Of all the candidates trying to unseat California Gov. Gavin Newsom in the recall election wrapping up Tuesday, conservative talk show host Larry Elder has the best chance.
Elder works for the right-wing broadcaster Salem Media Group, an outfit that has quietly become one of the most powerful forces in conservative media, with hosts who peddle discredited claims about COVID-19, last year’s elections and more.
But Salem Media is not merely an employer for Elder; it is a platform, a vehicle and an outright backer for him in this race. Polls suggest the recall attempt will fail. Yet Elder stands out as the candidate likely to post the most votes should Newsom falter. And whatever success he has derives, in large part, from the significant support of Salem Media.
Salem Media Group contributed $35,000 to Elder just last week (under California law, corporations are allowed to give money directly to candidates’ campaigns). On Sunday, Elder was the featured speaker at an annual event sponsored by the conservative website Townhall and KRLA-AM radio in Southern California, the home station for Elder’s nationally syndicated radio show. Both outlets are owned by Salem Media.
Another KRLA host, Jennifer Horn, who was helping to moderate the evening’s event, noted that for legal reasons Salem couldn’t have him stage a true campaign-style rally. But it was at times hard to tell the difference: Elder sat comfortably, microphone in hand, bantering with his colleagues in a way tailor-made to stir last-minute supporters to vote.
“Your question was what would I do when I become governor?” Elder asked, drawing fervent applause as he lingered on the word “when.”
Elder jokes of being “the Black face of white supremacy”
Horn had introduced him to hundreds of cheering fans at a Hyatt Regency in Orange County by his preferred nickname: the “Sage of South Central.” Elder grew up in South Los Angeles, went to Brown University and earned a degree in law at the University of Michigan. Yet he would not make his mark in law.
If his unlikely bid succeeds, Elder would be the first African American governor for the nation’s most populous state. He would also bring a record of years of brashly stated policy beliefs, particularly on matters of race and gender, intended to stir outrage among millions of the liberals who would number among his new constituents.
At the event Sunday, Elder promised to kill any of Newsom’s coronavirus-related mandates, joked with another radio host that he was “the Black face of white supremacy,” and defended himself from earlier criticism that he had argued women were not as smart as men. Elder told attendees that he’s not against the vaccines for COVID-19 and that he himself has been vaccinated, but he questioned the need for government mandates.
On his radio show, he has given ample time to those casting doubt on the effectiveness of the vaccines themselves. And he has also amplified false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump.
Such controversies might inspire rebukes from some employers. Not so at Salem Media, which has welcomed conspiracy theorists into its lineups. As a warmup for Elder’s appearance on Sunday, hosts interviewed a rogue’s gallery of Trump surrogates: former Trump White House adviser Sebastian Gorka, Turning Point USA Founder Charlie Kirk, and Blaze and Fox News host Mark Levin. All of them are employed by various outlets of Salem Media.
Salem Media seeks to appeal to “a voter base of fundamentalist Christians who are urged to the polls, based on their conservative and sometimes socially regressive beliefs, anti-abortion, anti-LGBT, etc.,” says Columbia University scholar Anne Nelson, author of Shadow Network, a book on the political alliance of conservative media and religious and business groups.
Brothers-in-law founded Salem Media as a religious broadcaster
Salem Media’s founders were a pair of brothers-in-law, Stuart Epperson and Edward G. Atsinger III. They established the outfit in 1986 as a religious broadcaster. Their mission has now expanded to incorporate conservative fundamentalist Christianity and to promote victories by like-minded Republicans.
Salem Media, which is publicly traded on Nasdaq, now owns more than 100 stations, making it among the largest radio groups in the country. It says it syndicates its programs to 3,000 stations nationwide. Additionally, it owns a welter of conservative opinion sites, including not just Townhall but also HotAir, PJ Media, RedState and Twitchy. Salem Media claims more than 200 million unique users a month, a figure that’s hard to verify. But Nelson says that through the radio stations and the sites, Salem Media can encourage Trump-minded people to vote, especially in more conservative swing states in the Midwest and South.
Elder had been a nationally syndicated host twice for ABC Radio in Los Angeles. When he was let go the second time in 2015, Salem hired him. Nelson says he’s found ways to align himself with his even more conservative bosses.
“Elder has kind of gravitated towards endorsing these positions and tapping into that voter base with this massive radio network support that’s built under him,” Nelson tells NPR.
The senior executive at Salem Media assigned to handle media inquiries did not respond to three messages left by NPR over five days seeking an interview for this story. Elder’s campaign also did not respond to requests for comment.
In 2018, Salem Media fired writers at RedState who were deemed insufficiently supportive of Trump, according to reports in CNN and elsewhere.
Salem Media puts extreme content behind a paywall
Behind paywalls, some Salem Media commentators offer even more extreme takes. In July, PJ Media Editor Paula Bolyard warned readers that the critical reaction to the site’s coverage of COVID-19, especially its caustic takes on public health officials, had taken a toll. And, Bolyard wrote, there was a reason she was asking readers to subscribe to get past the paywalls: She did not want to subject her site’s most powerful posts to scrutiny.
“Regular readers of PJ Media know that much of our COVID-19 coverage has been behind a paywall, accessible only to our VIP subscribers,” Bolyard wrote. “It’s just not worth our time to have to deal with the fact-checkers, who have been working overtime to discredit us and damage our reputation.”
Behind the paywalls for various Salem Media sites, writers and podcasters have blasted the use of masks and vaccines against COVID-19 and instead promoted discredited cures. Additionally, hosts unleash coarse rants against the media, and glory in their ability to evade not just fact-checkers but social media moderators. On repeated paywalled streaming videos, RedState’s Scott Hounsell raises aloft a middle finger to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey.
To be clear, Salem, an explicitly conservative fundamentalist Christian media company, charges viewers, listeners and readers money to access uncensored and profane content.
Yet unfettered conspiracy theories can be found in free content, too. On the free version of the Townhall podcast Triggered, hosts Matt Vespa and Storm Paglia earlier this year called Congress a disgrace. They mused why anyone should be surprised by the violent Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Moments later, however, they concluded the event wasn’t real but a setup by the FBI.
In July, on his Salem radio show, Elder took a call from a voter urging him to run and suggesting that the vote might be sabotaged against him. Elder laughed at the Trump-like prediction of electoral fraud and said he wouldn’t be surprised.
In more recent days, Elder’s campaign has set up an official site claiming fraud is taking place in the California recall race, even though the election has yet to wrap up. It’s a claim — unsupported by any meaningful evidence — that’s receiving a warm reception throughout Salem Media.
Canada denies Chinese state media report that sailor was stopped in Northwest Passage – Nunatsiaq News
Zhai Mo is attempting to circumnavigate Arctic Ocean
Chinese state media is reporting the Canadian government stopped a Chinese sailor attempting to circumnavigate the Arctic Ocean last week, but Transport Canada says no such thing happened.
“Captain Zhai Mo has not entered Canadian Arctic waters,” Transport Canada stated in an email to Nunatsiaq News on Sept. 17.
Chinese media claim Mo was stopped at Lancaster Sound, in the Northwest Passage.
Mo, along with two crew members, is sailing a 25-metre boat that is fully solar powered and sponsored by Chinese telecom corporation China Mobile.
He is well known in China for his quest to sail non-stop around the Arctic Ocean and his travels are being closely covered by Chinese state media. Mo claims his journey, which he is video-blogging, will be the first of its kind.
Transport Canada told Nunatsiaq News it emailed Mo to relay that foreign boats going through the country’s waters for recreation or pleasure are temporarily prohibited due to COVID-19.
Transport Canada added it had seen reports that Mo now plans to avoid Canadian waters and the department “is monitoring the situation.”
According to Chinese state media, Mo is scheduled to return to China by the end of the year.
Gabby Petito’s Disappearance And Clues Debated On Social Media – Forbes
On Monday, a body thought to be that of missing Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito was discovered, while authorities are still searching for her fiancé Brian Laundrie. The 22-year-old was reported missing on Sept. 11 after she failed to return from a months-long cross-country trip with Laundrie, who as of Tuesday afternoon – when he was named a person of interest – remains missing.
The case has remained in the spotlight on cable news over the past week while there have been nightly segments on the national evening news. “Gabby Petito” has also been trending on social media this week, but some users have even questioned why her disappearance has garnered so much media scrutiny while other cases fail to gain any attention.
Missing White Woman Syndrome
While Petito’s disappearance and possible death should not be taken lightly, many on the social platforms have noted that the media attention is an example of what has been labeled “Missing White Woman Syndrome.” The term is used by social scientists and media commentators to refer to the alleged disproportionate media coverage, especially on TV, of a missing person case that involves a young, white, upper-middle-class woman compared to the relative lack attention towards missing women who are not white and women of lower social classes, as well as missing men or boys.
Jennifer Bendery (@jbendery) of the Huffington Post tweeted, “In the same area that Gabby Petito disappeared, 710 indigenous people— mostly girls—disappeared between the years of 2011 and 2020 but their stories didn’t lead news cycles.” via @MollyJongFast”
Some on social media have also used Gabby Petito’s disappearance to highlight other missing person’s cases. The grass roots organization Occupy Democrats (@OccupyDemocrats) posted, “BREAKING NEWS: While the media obsesses over the Gabby Petito story, Jelani Day, a Black aspiring doctor and Illinois medical school student is also missing, but his disappearance is barely being covered. His abandoned car was found in the woods. Please RT to make this go viral.”
“I’m very sad and angry. Gabby could have been saved. Some are highlighting the media responses. It doesn’t diminish Gabby’s case. It’s an attempt to make sure we search for them all. Still, so many women missing. Use the same outrage to find them all,” added social media user @tbkeith.
Even with those calls to find every missing woman, this case certainly highlights yet another divide in our nation, and it further puts social media in the spotlight for its ability to get people arguing about nearly everything.
“Social media continues to have that potential to be polarizing,” said Saif Shahin, assistant professor in the school of communication at the American University.
“We see this all the time in the political space between liberals and conservatives, but it is evident on social media in different contexts such as this one,” Shahin added.
It also seems that this case has taken social media by storm unlike others, and that could potentially help break the case.
“When you combine that with America’s fascination with true crime – Serial Podcast, Don’t F**k With Cats and the latest Kristin Smart case – this is a perfect storm for the story to go viral,” said Matt Zuvella, VP of marketing at talent management services company FamePick.
“In the case of Gabby, her social media profiles might actually help solve the case, mainly because her fans became accustomed to her style of posting,” noted Zuvella. “So when there is something off or different, her fans immediately took notice and started asking questions.”
Spread Of Misinformation During Investigations
At issue too is where there is a potential for the spread of misinformation that could impact cases such as this one. How much harm it can do is a matter of debate, but past cases have shown that wild theories can stir up individuals and even put some people in harm’s way.
“Over the last few years, we have seen the dark side of social media with the spread of Covid-19 misinformation and political/election agendas,” added Zuvella. “However, in Gabby’s case we can see social media’s positive impact since her fans and fellow influencers jumped to her ‘aide’ and tried to help in any way they could.”
However, in past cases, social media has caused more harm than good, and amateur sleuths ‘debating’ potential suspects during an ongoing investigation could present serious problems.
“This happened after the Boston bombing,” explained Shahin. “There was the sharing of information on Reddit and Twitter, and other platforms. Users on social media were actively trying to figure out who were the Boston bombers.”
And they did so without the knowledge the police and FBI had access to, and as Shahin added, that was a problem as there was a zealous audience seeking information and sharing details without context. Many didn’t have investigative training either.
“They were pointing fingers everywhere,” said Shahin. “That certainly targeted people of color, and some on social media pointed fingers at a young man from India who had gone missing.”
Sunil Tripathi was wrongly accused of being a Boston Bombing suspect on Reddit, as he had been missing for a month prior to the April 15, 2013 bombing. His family had even turned to social media to assist in their search for Tripathi. That included setting up a Facebook page and sharing a video on YouTube.
Instead of helping find Tripathi, the information posted online resulted in his being misidentified as a suspect by users on social media. Thousands of individuals actually jumped on the bandwagon, and his name and details were even shared on Reddit. A BuzzFeed reporter then named the young man, who was born to Indian immigrants, as being a primary suspect.
“That led to threats against his family, while some mainstream media outlets even picked up on the story,” said Shahin. “The family was already in a lot of pain and it exacerbated it.”
In the end, Tripathi had nothing to do with the bombing, and he had killed himself by drowning.
“There is such a potential for the spread of bad information, and that could even distract the police during an investigation,” warned Shahin. “This isn’t new, but the presence of social media brings in such new dynamics.”
Report: Suspected Chinese hack targets Indian media, gov't – 95.7 News
BANGKOK (AP) — A U.S.-based private cybersecurity company said Wednesday it has uncovered evidence that an Indian media conglomerate, as well as a police department and the agency responsible for the country’s national identification database have been hacked, likely by a state-sponsored Chinese group.
The Insikt Group, the threat research division of Massachusetts-based Recorded Future, said the hacking group, given the temporary name TAG-28, made use of Winnti malware, which it said is exclusively shared among several Chinese state-sponsored activity groups.
Chinese authorities have consistently denied any form of state-sponsored hacking and said China itself is a major target of cyberattacks.
The allegation has the possibility of increasing friction between the two regional giants, whose relations have already been seriously strained by a border dispute that has led to clashes this year and last year.
In its report, the Insikt Group suggested the cyberattack could be related to those border tensions.
“As of early August 2021, Recorded Future data shows a 261% increase in the number of suspected state-sponsored Chinese cyber operations targeting Indian organizations and companies already in 2021 compared to 2020,” the organization said in its report.
The Insikt Group said it detected four IP addresses assigned to the Bennett Coleman And Co. Ltd. media company in “sustained and substantial network communications” with two Winnti servers between February and August.
It said is observed approximately 500 megabytes of data being extracted from the network of the privately owned Mumbai company, whose publications include The Times of India.
Insikt said it could not identify the content of that data, but noted that the company frequently publishes reports on China-India tensions, and that the hack was likely motivated by “wanting access to journalists and their sources as well as pre-publication content of potentially damaging articles.”
The Times of India did not answer repeated calls for comment.
The Insikt Group said it also observed some 5 megabytes of data transferred in a similar fashion from the police department of Madhya Pradesh state, whose chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, called for a boycott of Chinese products after June 2020 border clashes with India.
As the group was investigating the Bennett Coleman hack, it said it also identified a compromise in June and July of the Unique Identification Authority of India, or UIDAI, the government agency that oversees the national identification database.
In that case, it detected some 10 megabytes of data downloaded from the network and almost 30 megabytes uploaded, “possibly indicating the deployment of additional malicious tooling from the attacker infrastructure.”
It suggested such a database could be used by hackers to identify “high-value targets, such as government officials, enabling social engineering attacks or enriching other data sources.”
The UIDAI told The Associated Press that it had no knowledge of a “breach of the nature described.”
“UIDAI has a well-designed, multi-layered robust security system in place and the same is being constantly upgraded to maintain the highest level of data security and integrity,” the agency said.
Associated Press writers Krutika Pathi and Chonchui Ngashangva in New Delhi contributed to this report.
David Rising, The Associated Press
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