Craig Harrington

Author ››› Craig Harrington
  • Vox Slams Media For Placing Style Over Substance In Aftermath Of Trump's Debate Meltdown

    Ezra Klein: Trade “Was Trump’s Best Portion Of The Debate … But He Didn’t Know What He Was Talking About”

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Even as they criticized the rest of his performance for its lies and a general incoherence on basic policy specifics, mainstream and conservative media personalities are largely in agreement that Republican nominee Donald Trump earned more style points than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the first half of their presidential debate on September 26, which focused on the economy and international trade.

    But as Vox editor-in-chief Ezra Klein argued in a September 27 blog, the belief among journalists and pundits that Trump “won” the opening economic portion -- or any portion -- of the debate only holds water if you grade the candidate’s braggadocious style as more important than his vacant substance (emphasis added):

    This is how it felt to me, too. Stylistically, this section was Trump’s best portion of the debate. He kept slamming Clinton on NAFTA — "the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere” — and spoke with the confidence of a man who knew what he was talking about.

    But he didn’t know what he was talking about.

    What was stylistically Trump’s best portion of the debate was substantively among his worst (I say among his worst because it is hard to beat the section where he said he both would and would not honor the NATO treaty, and then said he both would and would not adhere to the first-strike doctrine on nuclear weapons). Trump was arguing the central economic theory of his campaign — and he was just wrong. In a section that began with him demanding solutions for our economic woes, he showed himself completely confused as to the nature of not just our economic problems, but the underlying labor market.

    The tone of his voice and the confidence of his delivery shouldn’t distract us from the hollowness of his remarks.

    From his introductory remarks, Trump unleashed a torrent of falsehoods during the first presidential debate of the general election. Journalists and commentators from across the political spectrum slammed the GOP nominee for his seeming lack of preparation and inability to execute a clear debate strategy. Focus groups of undecided voters conducted by CNN and by conservative pollster Frank Luntz agreed that Clinton trounced Trump on the stage, and a national poll fielded by CNN showed that debate viewers came away thinking Trump had lost “overwhelmingly.” Trump was even needled by reporters for revealing “his famously thin skin” and for failing to control his impulses and “los[ing] the battle against himself.”

    And yet, somehow, numerous professional debate-watchers seemed to think Trump actually performed well during the opening portion of the debate, when he attacked Clinton and President Obama on the economy. Ignoring that the country Trump was describing doesn’t actually exist, journalists largely seemed to agree that Trump’s jeremiad was nonetheless effective.

    Professional economists who watched the debate, on the other hand, savaged Trump for his repeated lies about the American economy. Trump falsely claimed the American labor market is being hollowed out by trade even when job creation is steady, he reiterated a false right-wing media claim that American incomes are stagnant when they are rising, he repeated his own false claim that the Federal Reserve is acting “politically” to prop up the economic recovery while claiming at the same time that the economy isn’t really recovering, and he lied about his impossible plan to pay down the national debt. And Trump did all of these things during a segment of the debate that commentators currently argue he won.

    For months, media critics have lamented how Trump is often graded “on a curve” for his performances and public statements, noting that he is “held to a different standard than Clinton” and his other political counterparts. The widespread perception that Trump outdid himself during the opening minutes of the debate while spouting a laundry list of lies about the economy and trade, proves how persistent this problem remains.

  • Census Report On Median Income, Poverty Gives Broadcast News A Chance To Prove Itself

    Generally Strong Coverage Of Census Data Shows TV News Outlets Can Still Cover The Economy Well When They Try

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    The major broadcast evening news programs each provided great examples of how network news can still be a source of concise and informative coverage on the economy this week when they covered new data releases from the Census Bureau.

    On September 13, the U.S. Census Bureau released annual updates to its ongoing reports on income and poverty and health insurance coverage in the United States. The reports revealed stunning positive news about the state of the American economy: a record-setting 5.2 percent increase in median household income from 2014 to 2015, median income at its highest point since before the Great Recession, a drop in the official poverty rate of 1.2 percentage points, more than 3.5 million Americans lifted out of poverty, a 1.3 percentage point drop in the uninsured rate, and roughly 4 million fewer uninsured Americans. In response to the data, Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) noted that 2015 marked just the second year since 1988 “that brought simultaneous progress on poverty, median income, and health insurance.”

    Print and online coverage of the Census data was overwhelmingly positive, with CNNMoney writer Tami Luhby and Washington Post contributor Paul Waldman both noting that the data undermine a key (albeit, “false”) talking point frequently used by Republicans: that there has been wage stagnation, and President Obama is to blame.

    Just as importantly, the positive coverage continued during the September 13 editions of major nightly broadcast news programs on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS, which collectively draw more than 20 million daily viewers. Only ABC failed to note all three of the key Census data findings -- the increase in median income, the drop in poverty, and the drop in the uninsured rate -- during its reporting.

    As is often the case, PBS NewsHour offered the most in-depth and detailed discussion of the Census reports. Correspondent Lisa Desjardins spent just under three minutes detailing the data and discussing its possible political ramifications and effect on the upcoming election. The segment even included some cautionary notes, including reasons that some Americans have not seen a boost in take-home pay despite the surge in median earnings and some potential problems faced by customers on the private insurance market.

    Next in terms of quality of coverage were CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News, both of which discussed all of the key takeaways from the data. CBS anchor Scott Pelley said the Census reports were “great news” and stood as proof that “more Americans are cashing in on the recovery.” NBC anchor Lester Holt added that “middle class incomes had their fastest rate of growth ever recorded” and “incomes increased across all racial groups.”

    ABC’s World News spent the least amount of time on the topic, mentioning the Census data as just part of a discussion about the stock market, but anchor David Muir still noted that the 5.2 percent median income increase was “the largest rise in nearly 50 years.”

    The individual segments might not seem like cause for celebration, but, according to recent Media Matters analyses of broadcast news coverage, each segment should serve as an example of how these programs can adequately discuss the economy.

    Overall coverage of the economy fell considerably from the first to second quarter of 2016, as the major networks focused more of their limited time on horse-race political coverage detached from the economic issues that actually drive voter behavior. Coverage of economic inequality and poverty also decreased from the first to second quarter of the year overall -- only ABC and CBS focused more attention on those crucial subjects from April through June than they had in the first three months of the year:

    Unfortunately, throughout the first half of the year, major news outlets have been focusing less and less attention on the economy, creating a void that can easily be filled with misinformation. As broadcast and cable outlets retreated from covering the economy, misleading and biased stories emanating from Fox News and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump accounted for a higher proportion of coverage.

    Broadcast evening news shows face considerable challenges in trimming segments down to fit abbreviated commercial schedules, but their coverage on September 13 demonstrated that the flagship programs can still balance brevity and substance when they try.

  • Fox Business Cherry-Picks Economic Data To Accuse Obama Of "Cherry-Picking" Economic Data​

    Panelists Ignore The Entire Bush Administration And Great Recession

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    A Fox Business panel attempting to downplay the latest round of positive economic indicators devolved into self-parody. The host and guests misleadingly framed median income data to omit the economic calamities of the Bush administration while accusing President Obama of “cherry-picking the time frame” and “playing with the numbers” related to other examples of economic improvement.

    On the September 14 edition of Fox Business’ Varney & Co., host Stuart Varney and guests Elizabeth MacDonald and Tammy Bruce slammed President Obama for defending his economic legacy during a campaign stop in Pennsylvania. The segment began with Varney and MacDonald lamenting that new median household income data released yesterday by the Census Bureau is “still below the peak back in 1999,” with MacDonald mockingly adding, “You’re nearly [as] rich as you were 17 years ago.”

    Varney complained that Obama was “cherry-picking” data to claim his administration has created nearly 15 million net new jobs, and MacDonald added, “He’s not factoring in 2009, … so he’s playing with the numbers.” MacDonald further claimed that a “majority of net new jobs” during the Obama administration have been in “low-paying fast-food or health sector” industries. Bruce concluded the segment by lamenting the administration’s so-called “spin” and “theater” while citing evidence from outside sources that she claimed contradicts the significant increase in median household income from 2014 to 2015.

    The complaint that Obama is “not factoring in 2009” is particularly telling, given that the segment began with Varney and MacDonald ignoring all of the reasons that median incomes remained lower in 2015 than at their 1999 peak. What happened between 1999 and 2015 to cause this income stagnation? The answer is simple: two recessions, both of which occurred during the Bush administration and neither of which was Obama’s fault. From the Census report:

    Contrary to Varney’s claim, President Obama was not “cherry-picking” data to prop up his economic legacy. Even Fox’s complaint about shifting the “time frame” on net job creation carries little weight. CNNMoney explained last January that the president is basing his calculation on net jobs created since the low point of his presidency. He does not include 2009, because the economy the president inherited that year was rocked by recession and “it took time for the administration’s policies to take effect.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the Obama administration has overseen the creation of 15.1 million private sector jobs since that indicator bottomed out in February 2010 and 10.9 million private sector jobs overall since he took office in January 2009.

    The Census report showed major improvements in the poverty rate and the health care insurance rate and revealed broadly shared income gains across all racial and ethnic groups and by workers at every level of income. The gender wage gap narrowed slightly, with women earning roughly 80 percent as much as men in 2015, up from 79 percent the year before. The Census deemed that increase not to be “statistically significant,” and more work remains to be done to achieve equal pay, but the latest data still reveal the narrowest pay gap in history. Meanwhile, the year-to-year median income increase of 5.2 percent represented “the largest single-year increase since record-keeping began in 1967,” according to The New York Times.

    Fox News and Fox Business have a long history of cherry-picking data to frame the Obama administration and progressive economic policies in the worst possible light. The economy continues to improve despite their protests.

    View the full segment from Varney & Co. here:

  • Fox Falls For Trump Lie: Clinton’s Child Care Plan Has Been Available For More Than A Year​

    Journalists Called Trump Out In Real-Time, While Fox Repeated His False Claim On Air As If It Was News

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Fox News correspondent Carl Cameron repeated a false claim pushed by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during a policy speech in Aston, PA, intended to outline the candidate’s newly-proposed reforms to child care and maternity leave. Trump attacked Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for producing no such policy proposals -- a lie which Cameron then repeated on air.

    During Trump’s September 13 speech, in which he attempted to flesh out the details of his convoluted reform agenda for child care and maternity leave, Trump falsely claimed that Clinton “has no child care plan.”

    Journalists immediately slammed Trump’s claim. Political reporters Ben Jacobs of The Guardian, and Dan Merica of CNN called the statement “patently untrue” and “patently false.” And both noted that Clinton’s comprehensive child care reform agenda, which is far more detailed and expansive than Trump’s, has been online since June 2015.

    Despite Trump’s false claim, Fox News correspondent Carl Cameron repeated the lie during a speech recap with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. Cameron claimed that Trump’s speech was aimed at the “moderate voters” he needs to win swing states like Pennsylvania. He then added that Trump “has laid out his child care policies before Hillary Clinton has done anything in serious detail”:

    CARL CAMERON: He’s both trying to get ahead of Hillary Clinton while she’s taken ill, but he’s also checking off boxes one of which Hillary Clinton has claimed to be a leader on. He has laid out his child care policies before Hillary Clinton has done anything in serious detail. As of earlier this morning, there wasn’t the types of policy statements on the Hillary Clinton web page that will soon be on the Trump web page. So, he’s going to places that Republicans don’t often go: he’s talking about policies that Republicans don’t often talk about, in order to expand his electorate, expand his support.

    As of the end of his speech, Trump’s campaign website does contain a link to his child care policy fact sheet as well as a transcript of tonight’s speech. By comparison, the Clinton campaign published specific proposals to expand early childhood education and child care opportunities to American families on June 15, 2015 (one day before Trump announced his candidacy). The campaign expanded on those proposals with a renewed K-12 education reform agenda on March 10, and proposed an expansion of paid family and medical leave on May 23.

    According to an August 29 review by the Associated Press (AP), Clinton’s campaign website contains pages filled with policy proposals on 38 different “issues,” totaling more than 100,000 words -- Trump’s site at the time covered just 7 issues in “just over 9,000 words.” AP reported on September 13 that “by any measure, Clinton has released far more specific plans on far more topics than her GOP rival.”

    Perhaps Cameron, who claimed to have checked Clinton’s website “earlier this morning,” just got confused.

  • STUDY: Networks Focus Less On Poverty As Coverage Of Inequality Drops

    PBS Sets Itself Apart From Broadcast Outlets On Inequality And Poverty, Fox News Remains Major Source Of Misleading Coverage

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    In the second quarter of 2016, prime-time and evening weekday news programs on the largest broadcast and cable outlets dedicated significantly less time to economic inequality and poverty than they had in the first quarter of the year. The weekday drop-off was led by CNN and MSNBC, which dramatically reduced their programming on inequality. PBS remained the gold standard among broadcast outlets in terms of covering inequality and poverty, while Fox News remained a prevalent source of misinformation on the same topics.

  • Media Figures Praise Optics Of Trump’s Mexico Visit, Ignoring Trump Campaign’s Bigotry Toward Mexicans

    ››› ››› NINA MAST & CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Media figures across the political spectrum praised Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s joint press conference in Mexico with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, which Trump’s aides reportedly said was specifically designed as a “photo opportunity” to make Trump appear “presidential.” Numerous figures accordingly praised Trump as “presidential.” Regardless of optics, Trump has a long history of anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican rhetoric and xenophobia.

  • NBC Reveals Yet Another Contradiction In Trump's Tax Plan

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON & ALEX MORASH

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was blasted by NBC after it was revealed that the candidate’s latest campaign ad cites two distinct and contradictory tax plans, neither of which are Trump’s current plan. This “confusion” follows months of Trump contradicting himself on economic policy.

    On August 29, MSNBC and NBC News political reporter Benjy Sarlin reported that Trump's new campaign ad, which is part of a $10 million ad buy in key swing states, seems to make promises about lower taxes, boosted job creation, and economic growth that are "generic enough for a Republican politician." Yet, on closer inspection, Trump's promises are actually buttressed by citations linking to two different tax plans that he has either disavowed or has not endorsed.

    The ad's promises of wage growth and a thriving business community are based on a September 2015 analysis by the conservative-leaning Tax Foundation of Trump's original tax plan, which he replaced with a different and less detailed plan on August 8. Meanwhile, the ad's promise of tax relief for working families and increased job creation is based on a Tax Foundation analysis of the 2016 tax reform plan outlined by House Republicans, which Trump has yet to endorse. From NBC News:

    Trump has not endorsed the House GOP plan outright, but his new proposal,announced earlier this month, has some similarities. Most notably, they both advocate collapsing the tax code into three brackets with rates of 12%, 25%, and 33%. But there are also important differences: Washington Post columnist Allan Sloan reported that Trump's plan would preserve a deduction on business loans that the House GOP plan would scrap that would save up to $1.2 trillion in revenue over 10 years.

    NBC’s Sarlin later reported that the Trump campaign was still issuing press releases containing the tax policy discrepancies even after they were revealed, and noted a half-hearted defense from the Trump campaign’s deputy policy director:

    Numerous other journalists picked up on Trump’s contradictory campaign ad, noting that it was “odd for Trump to cite the House GOP’s plan as if it were his own,” and arguing that the confusion might stem from Trump’s refusal to “fill[] in all the details” for his latest plan.

    Trump's inconsistency with the facts and noncommittal approach to his own economic policy outlines has become a feature of his presidential campaign. Trump’s latest tax plan was blasted by the media for being “light on details” and “ridden with more of the same empty tropes” exemplified during his previous economic policy speeches. Economists trashed the plan as “nonsense” and an attempt to re-write his previous tax and economic policy plan into just more of the “standard voodoo” economics frequently pushed by Republican supply-side advocates.

    At the outset of his campaign last year, Trump frequently said he would raise taxes on wealthy people like himself, but his initial plan overwhelmingly favored the very rich. Despite publishing a tax plan that included tax cuts for millionaires, he spent months falsely claiming the opposite was true. Trump has claimed for months that the only reason he has not released his tax returns is because they are under audit from the IRS, but the candidate has actually released his returns in the midst of an audit before, and continues to defy media inquires into tax years that are no longer under IRS review.