THE LATEST:  While the role of right-wing media as a platform for those seeking to discredit the integrity of the 2020 election and promote the Big Lie has been well documented, less appreciated is the way in which officials embedded both in the White House and throughout federal executive agencies during the Trump administration shaped and corrupted public information, including by coordinating with right-wing media.

On the anniversary of January 6, 2021, Democracy Forward released records showcasing how the Trump administration and right-wing media worked to corrupt public information on a range of issues, including COVID-19, tax policy, immigration issues, and environmental policy. The records show that this conduct was not simply confined to the White House or the Cabinet. Rather, it occurred throughout the federal government. Read Records Release here.

 

Background

Within the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, several reports raised substantial concerns about the nature of efforts within the Trump administration to manipulate public information and the administration’s work to do so through right-wing media organizations. The conduct reported also potentially implicated the federal prohibition on covert propaganda, the Anti-Lobbying Act, and the Information Quality Act.

To understand the culture of information dissemination within federal agencies under the Trump administration, Democracy Forward began a public records investigation into the relationship between certain right-wing media organizations and government officials. Agencies initially withheld records and beginning in February 2019, Democracy Forward filed three federal lawsuits against 12 agencies to compel compliance with statutory obligations under the Freedom of Information Act.

To date, we have reviewed approximately 30,000 pages of federal records. Documents received as part of our investigation illustrate the following:

  • Trump-era officials used government agencies to disseminate misleading narratives and information to the American people on major aspects of Donald Trump’s policy agenda, immigration issues, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Throughout the Trump administration, outlets like Fox News and Breitbart appealed to federal agency officials, including by criticizing mainstream reporting and by offering to provide the administration the opportunity to share information to the public without being critically questioned.

Democracy Forward also requested that four federal agencies and the White House investigate the role of federal officials in engaging in prohibited covert propaganda or other unlawful activities through right-wing media organizations as well as to investigate the quality of information being provided to the public.

  • In response to one such request, the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged that Trump-era leaks of individuals’ immigration status to Fox and Breitbart indicate “possible privacy and civil rights violations” and that it is “working to develop training to enhance DHS employees’ awareness of privacy and civil rights protections.”
  • In response to another such request, the Trump administration conceded fault in information it produced to the public, but refused to retract it.

Records continue to be produced in response to our requests and litigation.

Docket - January 6 Records Release