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  • Trump Advocated White Nationalism With An "Indoor Voice," And Pundits Loved It 

    Blog ››› ››› LIS POWER

    After President Donald Trump gave a speech to joint members of Congress filled with exaggerations, lies, and policy plans that contained no specifics -- and in many cases were based on propagating fear about and demonizing immigrants -- the takeaway from pundits and talking heads was somehow that he sounded “presidential.”

    That's how low the bar has been set. So low that because the president sounded like an adult for an hour and refrained from transparently attacking people of color, allies, or the press, media figures forgot the glaring abnormalities of Trump’s presidency thus far. To some in the media, the speech was a “reset” for the new president.

    As soon as he finished speaking, the accolades from pundits began to roll in. Fox’s Chris Wallace said, “I feel like tonight, Donald Trump became the president of the United States.” ABC’s Alex Castellanos similarly said Trump “became president tonight. I think we saw the long-awaited pivot.” MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki claimed that Trump had “a more presidential tone, a more optimistic tone,” and Fox’s Chris Stirewalt said Trump “did sound like the president, look like the president, act like the president.” They weren’t the only ones.

    It wasn’t just pundits on TV either. Newspaper headlines also lauded “a more temperate Trump,” his supposed “milder tones,” and his call for an “end to ‘trivial fights.’”

    Essentially, the media set the bar so low for the speech that when Trump, the president of the United States, sounded like the president of the United States, it was lauded as a victory.

    Not only was that an absurd measure, but the praise delivered by pundits across the broadcast and cable news stations, for the most part, entirely lacked context. One prominent example of this failure was the reaction to Trump’s comments about a slain Navy SEAL officer, William “Ryan” Owens. During his speech, Trump acknowledged Owens’ widow and said that “Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity.” That portion of the speech was cited by many as a highlight and an “extraordinary moment”:

    CNN’s Van Jones: “He became president of the United States in that moment, period.”

    Politico’s John Bresnahan: “That was a Reaganesque moment for Trump.”

    CNN’s Jim Acosta: “Powerful moment.”

    But there’s a lot more to this story. As NBC’s Katy Tur properly noted, while it was an emotional moment in the speech, it “came after Trump seemed to blame his generals/Obama for Owen’s death” just that morning, and after NBC reported that “senior intelligence sources dispute” the White House’s “characterization of [the] raid as a success.” As Tur pointed out, NBC’s reporting “would mean that Trump isn’t being honest with a grieving wife. And that is anything BUT presidential.”

    The praise also ignored the actual content of Trump’s address. Those lauding the speech as “normal” ignored what was extraordinarily abnormal about it of it. As The Washington Post’s Fact Checker noted, “President Trump’s maiden address to Congress was notable because it was filled with numerous inaccuracies.” And while large parts of the speech simply featured Trump touting what he’s done so far as president, not much about those actions is normal either. According to a New York Times analysis, most of the significant actions and events in Trump’s presidency thus far have been “abnormal.” 

    Those praising parts of the speech also seemed unable to acknowledge the startling differences between the Trump who gave that speech and the Trump from just that morning. Some examples:

    • Some pundits praised Trump for addressing the recent wave of threats against Jewish Community centers. But just hours prior to the address, Trump seemed to imply that those threats could be false flags -- a suggestion he has made before.
    • Many pundits cheered Trump for honoring the Navy SEAL killed in the Yemen raid. Yet earlier that day, Trump blamed the military for Owens’ death, telling Fox & Friends hosts, “They came to me, they explained what they wanted to do, the generals. ... And they lost Ryan.”
    • And all those cheering how “presidential” and “normal” the speech was must have missed the stark and pervasive demonization of immigrants -- from Trump’s announcement that he would set up an office for “victims of immigration crime” to his decision to bring three guests whose family members had been killed by immigrants.

    These remarks, particularly on immigration, served a clear purpose that the fawning punditry seemed to miss. Bloomberg’s Joshua Green, talking to a “senior White House official,” reported that the aide said the speech was aimed to be “‘nationalism with an indoor voice,’” and that Trump “backed off exactly none of his previous policies.”

    Perhaps because Trump’s speech didn’t indicate any real change in policy, the high praise from the press has apparently even caught some of his aides off guard. According to The Washington Post’s Robert Costa, even “some sources in [the White House] are frankly surprised at how pundits are warming to the speech,” noting that “Trump has not changed,” and there is “no big shift in policy coming."

    It’s not the first time the media has fallen for this ruse. Over the past year, media figures have repeatedly either predicted that Trump would finally start acting more respectable or claimed that it had already happened -- that he had finally pivoted. Yet time and time again Trump has reverted back to his usual style, leaving the media the Charlie Brown to Trump’s football-wielding Lucy.

    So yes, Trump may have sounded more like a president than we expected. But a normal-sounding speech isn’t nearly enough to erase the first month of his presidency, which was distinguished by abnormal -- and extremely problematic -- actions, attacks, and rhetoric. With promises of worse to come, it’s crucial that media stop setting the bar so low and start demanding more.

  • Chris Cillizza Demonstrates Why "Optics" Punditry Is Fundamentally Useless

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Before, during, and after President Donald Trump’s speech last night to a joint session of Congress, political journalists and pundits shamelessly prioritized the speech’s optics over its content. Focusing on the president’s “tone,” they rushed to declare that Trump had finally “pivoted,” giving a “presidential” speech.

    That obsession with style over substance drew swift criticism from other commentators. And Washington Post political writer Chris Cillizza isn’t happy that pundits are being called out for saying Trump did an awesome job:

    These are dumb questions. Of course Trump can be praised for “delivering a good speech.” In fact, you don’t need to be a savvy pundit or political journalist to watch the speech and decide whether the speech is good!

    And that’s the problem. As Greg Sargent suggests, the real question is whether journalists are actually giving their audience useful information when they obsess over the president’s tone instead of the content of his speech.

    Do readers and viewers learn anything, for example, when they see Cillizza praising Trump for giving the best speech of his political life and complaining on cable news that “the worst thing, I think, for our politics is this assumption, and you see it over and over again in a speech like this, is that Donald Trump can do nothing good and nothing can be accomplished while Donald Trump is president”? (Really, that’s the absolute worst thing Cillizza can think of that can happen to our politics?)

    Americans need journalists to dig into whether anything Trump said last night could possibly be converted to policy (nope). They need journalists to interrogate Trump’s claims and determine whether they were true (they weren’t). They need journalists to put Trump’s speech into the context of his actions and explain whether he’s needlessly fearmongering about immigrant communities (my god, yes).

    And it’s helpful to learn that even the White House is shocked at how eager the press has been to praise Trump’s speech:

    Endless discussion of the optics of Trump’s speech, on the other hand, is entirely useless. There is no value in providing the “winners and losers” from last night in a way that treats Trump’s mendacity as a throwaway line.

    Of course, Cillizza’s entire oeuvre is based on the concept that he is a savvy pundit who tells people what they really need to know about politics based on a surface-level, optics-first approach.

    While he’s certainly one of the worst examples of the genre, he’s not alone -- at times, cable news seems to exist solely so Mark Halperin and Joe Scarborough and Gloria Borger and David Gergen and their ilk can pontificate about nonsense. They present value judgments and opinion dressed up as koans of wisdom.

    At best, content like this is ephemeral garbage that lasts a news cycle and is forgotten, but provides traffic that supports the work of actual reporters.

    At worst, this sort of fact-free punditry creates false narratives that can alter the public’s perception of political figures (see: the press’s obsession with Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 election cycle, which paved the way for Trump’s election).

    President Trump’s first weeks have been a shitshow of incompetence and extremism. The American public needs more from the press than meaningless dreck.

  • Media Fall For Trump’s Shameless Act Regarding Failed Yemen Raid

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    President Donald Trump shamelessly and publicly deceived the widow of a fallen U.S. serviceman about her husband’s death in order to diffuse widespread concerns about the raid that resulted in his death, and journalists are rewarding him by praising his actions as “presidential.”

    During his February 28 speech to a joint session of Congress, Trump recognized the sacrifice of William "Ryan" Owens, a Navy SEAL who was killed during a botched January 29 raid on a terrorist camp in Yemen. Trump said that according to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Owens participated in a “highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemy." Trump’s praise of Owens, with the SEAL’s wife in the audience, drew a nearly two-minute long standing ovation from the crowd.

    It was an incredibly moving moment, and a triumph for political optics. It was also a deeply deceptive political ploy aimed at pushing back against numerous criticisms of the Trump administration’s handling of the raid -- the first covert counterterrorism operation of Trump’s presidency. These include:

    • Due to insufficient intelligence and preparation, “the attacking SEAL team found itself dropping onto a reinforced al Qaeda base defended by landmines, snipers, and a larger than expected contingent of heavily armed Islamist extremists.” This led to U.S. casualties and civilian deaths.
    • Trump was not in the White House situation room for the raid -- his Twitter account tweeted and deleted a promotion for an upcoming interview while the attack was ongoing. He approved the action over dinner at a meeting that included political staffers.
    • Contrary to Trump’s claim that the raid was a successful intelligence gathering mission, reports suggest part of its purpose was actually to kill a top leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who “either slipped away or was not at the location.” The raid reportedly produced “no significant intelligence” according to U.S. officials who contradicted Pentagon statements in comments to NBC News. The only intelligence from the raid the Pentagon has produced is a 10-year-old video.

    As these questions have mounted, Democrats on the Hill and Owens’ father have called for an investigation into the raid. And this morning, Trump drew new controversy when he passed the buck, claiming that it “was a mission that started before I got here” and blaming the military for Owens’ death, saying, “They explained what they wanted to do, the generals, who are very respected. My generals are the most respected we've had in many decades, I believe. And they lost Ryan.”

    All of that context has vanished for some journalists, who have instead rushed to praise Trump for his comments during his address to Congress.

    CNN’s panel was full of accolades for Trump following his speech.

    Anderson Cooper kicked things off by praising the “extraordinary moment.” Van Jones declared that Trump “became president of the United States in that moment. Period.” Gloria Borger credulously highlighted Trump’s claims that the raid had been successful. And of course, pro-Trump pundits Rick Santorum and Jeffrey Lord gushed over Trump’s “healing moment” and “soaring … inspirational” speech.

    CNN’s journalists weren’t alone in failing to put the moment in context.

    As Erick Erickson pointed out, this is the response Trump is looking for -- he is deliberately trying to use this speech to neutralize potential criticism of the raid.

    Reporters don’t need to fall into this trap. They can recognize the emotional moment in the Capitol, while still giving their audiences the facts.

  • Media Outlets Cave In To Trump’s Request To Speak On Background Days After He Blasts Use Of Anonymous Sources

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    BuzzFeed News reported that President Donald Trump met with national news anchors “on background,” and that those outlets quoted him as a “senior administration official.” Trump had recently criticized the use of anonymous sources in the media.

    Though Trump has relentlessly and repeatedly attacked the media, many outlets and journalists have bent over backwards to get access to his administration. Trump has blacklisted some outlets for unfavorable coverage and simultaneously propped up right-wing ones. Media Matters President Angelo Carusone issued a statement calling on media to stand up to Trump’s blacklisting. But according to BuzzFeed, national outlets allowed Trump to speak anonymously just days after he criticized some coverage that relied on anonymous sources.

    CNN was the first to quote Trump as a “senior administration official,” with other outlets picking up the story. In its report on the situation, BuzzFeed wrote that Trump “went on background with reporters as a ‘senior administration official’ to discuss issues like immigration.” Afterward, reporters “were allowed to put some of Trump’s comments back on the record.” Just days before, Trump said that the media “shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name,” demanding that “their name be put out there.” BuzzFeed called background meetings between reporters and administration officials “commonplace,” noting that some are even “entirely off the record,” but it also highlighted Trump’s hypocrisy. From the February 28 report:

    Donald Trump on Friday railed against the media’s use of anonymous sources in stories. Four days later, he was one.

    In a private meeting with national news anchors ahead of his address to Congress Tuesday night, Trump went on background with reporters as a “senior administration official” to discuss issues like immigration, telling attendees that it was time for a legislative compromise from both parties.

    “There’s got to be a coming together,” an “official” said, according to CNN. As BuzzFeed News reported, citing attendees at the meeting, Trump was the one to make that remark, among others attributed to the official.

    Reporters were allowed to put some of Trump’s comments back on the record at 6 p.m., according to a person familiar with the terms of the meeting. CNN later updated its story, for instance, with a quote from Trump. “The time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides,” he said.

    [...]

    Tuesday’s meeting comes during weeks of blistering media criticisms from Trump, who in a speech at CPAC on Friday said that some media outlets “make up sources” and have “very dishonest people.”

    Trump took issue in particular with the use of anonymous sources in stories about the administration. “They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name. Let their name be put out there,” he said. “A source says that Donald Trump is a horrible, horrible human being — let them say it to my face. Let there be no more sources.”

  • Economists And Experts Hammer Trump's Plan To Increase Military Spending At Expense Of Nearly Everything Else

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

    President Donald Trump’s plan to beef up the defense budget by an additional $54 billion at the expense of civilian domestic spending, which he will unveil tonight before a joint session of Congress, has been derided by economists and experts for being "wholly unrealistic" and “voodoo” economics.

    Bloomberg reported on February 26, that Trump’s first budget proposal would call for a $54 billion -- more than 9 percent -- increase in defense spending to be paid for with reductions to discretionary domestic spending, which Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) described as the budgetary equivalent of taking “a meat ax to programs that benefit the middle-class.” White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed reports of the president’s budget priorities in a February 27 press briefing, adding that Trump would discuss his budget plan in more detail during his February 28 address to Congress.

    Economists and experts have hammered Trump for months for proposing dramatic and seemingly unnecessary increases in defense spending. An October 19 article in New York magazine described Trump’s promises of new defense expenditures as “a random grab bag of military goodies, untethered to any coherent argument” because he lacked any vision or purpose for increasing funding to the military. According to figures compiled by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, American defense spending already eclipses the military spending of the next seven countries combined:

    The reception for Trump’s new budget outline has been similarly harsh. New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman derided the president’s claim that a “revved up economy” could fund new tax cuts and spending increases as “deep voodoo” -- alluding to Trump’s embrace of trickle-down economics. Washington Post contributor and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) senior fellow Jared Bernstein slammed Trump’s “wholly unrealistic” budget outline in a February 28 column and chided the president for claiming that he can simultaneously increase military spending, cut taxes on high-income earners and corporations, and reduce the federal deficit -- all while leaving vital entitlement programs alone. In order to even approach a balanced budget in 10 years, Trump would have to remove almost everything else in the budget:

    According to a February 27 analysis from the CBPP, Trump's proposal, when coupled with his plan to boost infrastructure investments, would mean nondefense spending would see a whopping 15 percent reduction. The reason for the outsized hit to nondefense discretionary spending is that the programs covered by that part of the federal budget -- education, energy, affordable housing, infrastructure investments, law enforcement, foreign aid, some veterans' benefits, etc. -- only account for a small part of all federal spending. The largest part of the federal budget is mandatory spending for entitlement programs including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, other veterans's benefits, and unemployment insurance. From the Congressional Budget Office:

    Trump’s proposed cuts to the State Department are so onerous that more than 120 retired generals signed an open letter to congressional leaders warning of their ramifications. One co-signer told CBS News that such steep cuts would be “consigning us to a generational war,” and the letter itself quoted Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who argued during his time at the head of U.S. Central Command that “if you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.”

    ThinkProgress blasted Trump’s proposals to cut the State Department along with domestic spending in the name of increasing national defense because such cuts would actually undermine national security. The article cited recent congressional testimony from Center for American Progress senior fellow Larry Korb, who testified that “our national security will suffer” if the federal budget prioritized the Pentagon at the expense of other agencies.

    Trump is notorious for pushing bogus claims about the economy and the federal budget. He has been derided by hundreds of economists for pushing right-wing myths about the economy and the federal debt, and routine criticisms of his unfounded claims were a mainstay of the presidential campaign in 2016. As was the case last year, the budgetary, fiscal, and tax policies Trump has supported since taking office simply don’t add up.

  • Study Finds Right-Wing Media Routinely Criminalize Immigrants In Coverage

    Skewed Portrayals Have Dangerous Effects In Politics

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    The nonprofit Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) surveyed coverage of immigration detention -- or stories about immigrants detained by the U.S. government -- in “a variety of media outlets” from 2009 to 2016 and found evidence that right-wing outlets routinely criminalize immigrants in their coverage. The study also found that the nativist Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) is cited more than other data sources.

    CIVIC’s report demonstrates that while issues surrounding immigration detention are increasingly visible in the media, coverage in right-wing media outlets like Breitbart.com, The Washington Times, and FoxNews.com is more likely than reports in mainstream media to focus on immigrant criminality.

    The survey also found that Breitbart.com reports on immigration detentions at a higher rate than other “new media” outlets do.

    While it’s positive that immigration stories are now more visible in the press, the routine criminalization of immigrants in right-wing media narratives has long been a problem and has dangerous consequences. As a paper from Harvard University’s Kennedy School demonstrated, conservative media portrayals of immigrants have had a profound impact on Republican politics, leaving no room for "compassionate conservatism" and creating a space in which anti-immigrant sentiment can be exploited for political gain.

    Additionally, the study showed that the nativist group CIS outpaces other immigration data sources in terms of press citations, which is problematic given its perspective. CIS, which has been categorized a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), was founded by John Tanton, whose record includes advocating for a “European-American majority, and a clear one at that.” CIS has pushed white-nationalist literature, and, according to the SPLC, in 2016 “the group hit a new low” by commissioning Jason Richwine, whose doctoral dissertation “endorses the idea of IQ differences between the races,” to write reports and blog pieces. The reliance on CIS shows that media are helping to sanitize the group by elevating its voice and providing its leaders with platforms to spew anti-immigrant narratives based on shoddy research

    The study’s authors also pointed out to a “lack of first-hand migrant accounts in media narratives,” an issue Media Matters has documented in the past.

    Find a press release with the CIVIC survey results here, and the full report here.

  • Prime-Time Cable Largely Excluded Town Hall Attendees From "Resistance Recess" Interviews

    Talking Heads Drown Out Personal Stories Of Americans Threatened By Obamacare Repeal

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Cable news outlets dedicated considerable attention to the “Resistance Recess” that swept through congressional town hall meetings over the past week, as tens of thousands of Americans voiced their fear and disapproval of Republican plans to dismantle health care reform, among other issues. Yet evening and prime-time coverage of the grass-roots groundswell largely failed to include perspectives from those attendees opposed to efforts to roll back reforms.

    The week of February 18-26 marked the first congressional recess period of 2017 and created an ideal opportunity for American voters concerned with the trajectory of their government to directly petition elected officials face to face. Americans capitalized on this opportunity by flooding in-district town hall events across the country demanding that representatives on both sides of the aisle stand up to President Trump’s radical agenda. Among attendees’ demands was that elected officials present viable solutions to further the cause of health care reform beyond merely “repealing and replacing” the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

    Cable news outlets used the town hall turmoil as the basis for 53 evening and prime-time news segments from the start of the recess period through February 27 discussing how the demonstrations might affect the future of health care reform in the United States. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these discussions failed to include input from people voicing disapproval with Republican plans to repeal or significantly alter the ACA at those town halls. Media Matters identified 88 guests during evening and prime-time cable programming related to the town halls -- mostly reporters and political pundits. Only three of the 88 guests were town hall attendees affected by the outcome of this health care debate.

    The February 27 edition of MSNBC’s All In did feature an impassioned interview with cancer survivor and Boing Boing editor Xeni Jardin, who, though not identified as a town hall participant, outlined how the ACA granted her access to what would have otherwise been prohibitively expensive life-saving treatments. All three of the actual town hall attendees were featured in two segments aired during the February 22 edition of MSNBC’s For the Record, which featured constituents who attended town halls hosted by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA). In the first segment, an Arkansas constituent named Suzie Bell, who co-founded a rural free health clinic, questioned why Cotton wanted to restrict access for the patients she serves. In the next segment, Louisiana constituents Laura Kelley and Shawon Bernard expressed the collective “frustration” of fellow attendees about a laundry list of issues, including the future of the ACA:

    MSNBC featured the most guests (46) and the most segments (29) focused on the town halls, but only two segments featured the three aforementioned town hall attendees. CNN featured 30 guests across 18 segments, but no town hall attendees in prime-time. Fox News lagged far behind the competition, featuring just 12 guests during 6 segments discussing the town hall protests and also failed to include any attendees.

    CNN's failure to book any town hall attendees during evening or prime-time slots is particularly perplexing given that the network did interview town hall attendees outside of the influential prime-time window. On the February 22 edition of CNN Newsroom, host Brooke Baldwin interviewed Rose Perkins, whose dressing down of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) at a town hall the day before had already become a viral sensation. Meanwhile, CNN Tonight host Don Lemon interviewed Kati McFarland, a young woman who credits the ACA with keeping her alive despite her chronic, life-threatening illness and whose heartfelt plea to Cotton created an uproar. But the piece didn’t air until 12:19 a.m. on Saturday, February 25. (McFarland was also interviewed by MSNBC’s Ali Velshi during daytime programming on February 23.)

    The nationwide coalition of demonstrators, which progressive groups like MoveOn.org have dubbed the “Resistance Recess,” found many Republican members of Congress unprepared to face tough questions. That shouldn’t be surprising, given that many constituents stand to lose their health insurance or see their premiums soar if Trump and the GOP succeed in gutting the ACA. Rather than simply reporting on the abstract optics of these demonstrations, media outlets need to focus on the human beings who dedicated their time to safeguard legislation that benefits millions of Americans every day.

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted a Nexis and SnapStream search of transcripts of cable evening and prime-time (defined as 6 p.m. through 11 p.m.) weekday programs on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from February 18 through February 27, 2017. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: affordable care act or aca or obamacare or healthcare or health care or protester or demonstrator or townhall or town hall.

    The following programs were included in the data: The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, CNN Tonight, Special Report, The First 100 Days, Tucker Carlson Tonight, The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, Hardball, For the Record, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. For shows that air reruns, only the first airing was included in data retrieval.

  • Donald Trump Wants Total Subservience From Interviewers

    Breitbart and Fox & Friends Softballs Show How To Win Favor

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    President Donald Trump and his top aides have spent the first weeks of his tenure at war with the press, viciously lashing out at journalists and seeking to delegitimize outlets that produce critical reporting.

    But Trump doesn’t consider every reporter a dishonest member of the opposition party. As he has sought to make clear over the past few days, it is only the “fake news” outlets that he considers to be “the enemy of the people.”

    Such outlets include The New York Times, the broadcast networks, and CNN, among others -- in reality, Trump uses “fake news” as a broad term to cover any report that paints him in a negative light.

    But Trump has his favorites as well. And yesterday he rewarded Breitbart.com’s Matt Boyle and the hosts of Fox & Friends with exclusive Oval Office interviews prior to tonight’s speech before a joint session of Congress.

    It’s no secret why they would be granted such an honor -- Boyle and the hosts of Fox's morning show are known as major Trump fans, and they have provided him with overwhelmingly supportive commentary for years. It is that brand of fervent support and obsequious shilling that Trump appears to expect from journalists.

    Indeed, Trump made a point of praising them all during the interviews, to their obvious pleasure.

    Fox’s Steve Doocy began their interview by thanking Trump for “the shoutout you gave at your press conference” on February 17 (amid more than 30 attacks on the press, Trump called the Fox & Friends hosts “honorable people” who run “the most honest morning show”).

    Trump responded, “That’s true -- you have treated me very fairly,” and said that the other networks “know it’s true.”

    Breitbart’s transcript omits any introductory chitchat, but at one point Trump tells Boyle that “there are some great reporters like you,” citing him and one other journalist as “honorable reporters” who are not part of what he termed “the fake media, where they make up everything there is to make up.” The comment was prominently highlighted in Boyle’s write-up.

    When Trump singles out Boyle and the hosts of Fox & Friends for praise and access, he makes clear that work like theirs is what he expects from journalists. Those who do not fall in line and behave in the same way risk becoming the victim of one of the president’s attacks.

    Based on the interviews Breitbart and Fox produced, all journalists need to do to gain the respect of the White House is become propagandists for the administration. Here’s what that takes:

    Find Time To Praise Trump On Issues He Cares About

    Donald Trump is the world’s most powerful snowflake.

    Perhaps because he has spent his entire life in a wealth and power bubble that has shielded him from criticism, his ego requires careful attention and management.

    “The key to keeping Trump’s Twitter habit under control, according to six former campaign officials, is to ensure that his personal media consumption includes a steady stream of praise,” Politico reported last week. “And when no such praise was to be found, staff would turn to friendly outlets to drum some up — and make sure it made its way to Trump’s desk.”

    Interviewers who want to remain off of Trump’s “enemy of the American people” list can help their cause by piling on the praise.

    During the Fox & Friends interview, both Doocy and Brian Kilmeade sought to feed Trump’s ego by stressing his popular support. Kilmeade claimed that tonight’s speech will have the biggest audience of any “State of the Union-like address” ever. Doocy told Trump that there are “people who are counting on you all across the country and all around the world.” “The love is great,” Trump replied.

    Doocy even made a point of complimenting Trump’s “beautiful hotel.”

    Boyle avoided this sort of direct praise in the transcript. But given that he literally appeared at Trump’s election victory party in a “Make America Great Again” hat, he probably didn’t need to offer any more.

    Give Trump Space To Bash The Media -- And Join In If You Can

    If you want to avoid being one of the journalists Trump hates, you better not show solidarity with outlets he’s criticized.

    That means that when Trump starts ranting about the press during an interview, you cannot defend your colleagues. The hosts of Fox & Friends put on a clinic this morning on how to do nothing while the president is lashing out at the “dishonest media.”

    Boyle went even further during his interview, siding with Trump to attack the Times for what he called a “pretty embarrasing story,” and even raising the question of whether Trump should retaliate against “CNN’s pretty bad behavior” by opposing its parent company’s merger. Trump responded to this explicit call for authoritarian action by refusing to rule it out.

    BNN: “Right and that’s what I wanted to zone in on with you because I know you made that very clear in your CPAC speech. Can you kind of more clearly define what standards and quality we should expect from those who are doing reporting?”

    POTUS: “It’s intent. It’s also intent. If you read the New York Times, if you read the New York Times, it’s—the intent is so evil and so bad. The stories are wrong in many cases, but it’s the overall intent. Look at that paper over the last two years. In fact, they had to write a letter of essentially apology to their subscribers because they got the election so wrong. They did a front page article on women talking about me, and the women went absolutely wild because they said that was not what they said. It was a big front-page article, and the Times wouldn’t even apologize and yet they were wrong. You probably saw the women. They went on television shows and everything.”

    BNN: “Yes, it was pretty embarrassing for the Times.”

    POTUS: “[They said] ‘we really like Donald Trump and he [the Times reporter] totally misrepresented us. He said he was going to say good and it was absolutely bad.’ This was a front page article, almost the entire top half of the New York Times, and it was false. It was false. Did they apologize? No. I call them the failing New York Times and they write lies. They write lies. Nobody would know that. For instance, when people read the story on the women—first of all, the reporter who wrote the story has a website full of hatred of Donald Trump. So, he shouldn’t be allowed to be a reporter because he’s not objective. It’s not all, but it has many negative things about Donald Trump. But he shouldn’t be allowed to write on Donald Trump. And, he writes that story. But that’s one of many. So, when you read the Sunday New York Times, it’s just hit after hit after hit. And honestly, I think people are wise to it because if you look at the approval rating, you see it’s down. You know, it’s gone. There’s very little approval.”

    BNN: “Now, during the campaign, one of the things you and a lot of your campaign guys like Peter Navarro talked about was breaking up some of these oligopolies in the media. If you look at the media, part of the problem seems to be that a vast majority of the media companies are owned by just a handful of different companies. Obviously, there’s a looming merger between AT&T and Time Warner. I wanted to see what your thoughts are on that and if CNN’s pretty bad behavior over the course of—they really don’t seem to be making an effort to get it right—does that give you hesitation in terms of approval of the deal?”

    POTUS: “I don’t want to comment on any specific deal, but I do believe there has to be competition in the marketplace and maybe even more so with the media because it would be awfully bad after years if we ended up having one voice out there. You have to have competition in the marketplace and you have to have competition among the media. And I’m not commenting on any one deal, but you need competition generally and you certainly need it with media.”

    Provide An Open Platform For Trump To Lash Out At His Enemies

    Trump has a lot of perceived enemies outside of the press. He appreciates it when interviewers give him an open-ended chance to attack them, and don’t follow up.

    Here’s Brian Kilmeade doing that with regard to President Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and the protestors who are resisting Trump’s agenda.

    Boyle similarly asked Trump what his “thoughts are on the new Democratic chair.”

    Don’t Question Trump’s Facts

    Trump lies constantly, on matters great and small, for political reasons or for none. It’s nearly impossible for an interviewer to keep up with the sheer volume of falsehoods Trump spews.

    And if they want to stay on Trump’s good side, they won’t try.

    The Fox & Friends and Breitbart interviews were both characterized by a dearth of fact-checking -- or even follow-ups. The toughest question in either encounter was probably Doocy’s inquiry about how Trump intended to pay for additional defense spending -- and Doocy completely rolled over as Trump offered some pablum about how economic growth will fill in the gaps.

    Dubious statements from Trump on immigration policy, Obamacare, and a raid in Yemen that the president ordered were all treated with aplomb. Trump wants interviewers to give him a platform to get his message out without impediment, and these three provided that chance.

    Stay Away From Difficult Topics

    Trump-friendly interviewers know to skip pesky questions about topics the president would rather avoid.

    While both Breitbart and Fox & Friends made time to discuss the Oscars ceremony, neither mentioned mounting concerns about the new revelation that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus asked the FBI to publicly rebut reports that Trump campaign officials had been in contact with Russian intelligence agents.

    There was no mention of retired Lieut. Gen. Michael Flynn, who stepped down as national security advisor when it was revealed that he had lied about a phone conversation he had with the Russian ambassador to the United States late last year. Other Trump nominees who have stepped down amid controversy also didn’t come up.

    Neither interview featured discussion of Trump’s unprecedented conflicts of interest, or the floundering executive order targeting refugees and travelers from majority-Muslim countries, or the wave of anti-Semitic attacks that have occurred during the first weeks of Trump’s presidency.

    The best thing journalists can do to curry favor with Trump is to ask him only about topics he wants to be asked about.

    Or they can do their jobs.

  • Oklahoma City Fox Affiliate Reveals EPA Chief Scott Pruitt Lied To Senate About His Emails

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    An investigative report by FOX 25 in Oklahoma City revealed that EPA administrator and former Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt lied to a Senate committee about his use of a private email account during his Senate confirmation hearing.

    As part of Pruitt’s January 18 confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) asked Pruitt in writing, “Have you ever conducted business using your personal email accounts, nonofficial Oklahoma Attorney General email accounts, text messages, instant messenger, voicemails, or any other medium?” Pruitt submitted a response that read, “I use only my official OAG [Office of the Attorney General] email address and government issued phone to conduct official business.” During the hearing itself, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked Pruitt to explain why a nongovernment email with Pruitt’s name was listed as a business email. Pruitt replied, “There are no other email addresses, if that’s your question, Senator.”

    But on February 24, KOKH’s Fox 25 Primetime News at 9 aired an investigative report confirming that Pruitt had in fact used a private email account to conduct official state business. In the segment, investigate reporter Phil Cross reported that an email he had obtained “shows Pruitt was not only receiving copies of official emails but also conducting state business using an email address his office wants to hide,” adding that “[t]he [Oklahoma Attorney General’s] office confirms Pruitt did use a private email account for public business.”

    After airing the clip of Pruitt denying his use of a private email account during the Senate confirmation hearing, Cross explained, “Documents recently obtained by FOX 25 indicate his statement was a lie.”
     

    FOX 25’s report aired a week after Cross first revealed that documents obtained from the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office showed Pruitt “may have used a private email account to conduct state business.” Specifically, Cross noted that “on multiple documents both to and from Pruitt the email addresses for Pruitt are blacked out,” whereas “[t]his type of redaction does not occur on the email addresses from Pruitt’s official government email account.”

    The findings of FOX 25’s investigative report were subsequently corroborated by The Associated Press on February 27. The AP reported that “[a] review of Pruitt emails obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request showed a 2014 exchange where the Republican emailed a member of his staff using a personal Apple email account,” and added that “Pruitt's use of the private account appears to directly contradict statements he made last month as part of his Senate confirmation.” Both FOX 25 and the AP obtained Pruitt’s emails through public records requests.

    Pruitt is also facing scrutiny for a large batch of emails showing that he closely coordinated with fossil fuel companies to undermine federal environmental safeguards. The Center for Media and Democracy had requested those emails more than two years ago, but Pruitt’s attorney general’s office only turned them over after CMD filed a lawsuit and an Oklahoma judge ruled that Pruitt had been illegally withholding the documents. Senate Democrats had called for the Senate Republican leadership to postpone Pruitt’s EPA confirmation vote until the emails were released, but the Republicans refused to do so and he was confirmed by a 52-46 vote.

  • The White House Correspondents' Association's Feckless Response To Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    On Friday, President Donald Trump told a crowd of cheering supporters that major news outlets are “the enemy of the people” because they make up critical stories about his administration. Press secretary Sean Spicer followed up that rhetoric by barring credible journalists from a press gaggle while making room for pro-Trump reporters.

    While collective action remains in short supply, the moves drew quick denunciation from the press. "I find it deeply disturbing and completely unacceptable that the White House is actively running a campaign against a constitutionally enshrined free and independent press," National Press Club President Jeffrey Ballou wrote in a statement. "The action harkens back to the darkest chapters of US history and reeks of undemocratic, un-American and unconstitutional censorship.”

    But as criticism of the White House poured in, one party proved noticeably timid: the White House Correspondents’ Association, which represents the very White House press corps that remains constantly in the administration’s sights.

    After an initial statement in which he said the WHCA was “protesting strongly against how today's gaggle is being handled by the White House,” the organization’s president, Jeff Mason, embarked on a media tour in which he has seemingly run damage control for the White House press office. In several interviews, Mason has paired tepid criticism of the Trump administration’s actions with praise for the access the administration has granted reporters.

    “We’re not happy with how things went today,” Mason told The New York Times the same day. “But it’s important to keep in mind the context of how things have gone up until now.” Stressing that the White House continues to do daily press briefings, he added: “I don’t think that people should rush to judgment to suggest that this is the start of a big crackdown on media access.”

    “I think it’s worth noting that since Sean became press secretary, he`s been having regular briefings in the White House press room on television. I would -- I’m reluctant to draw conclusions from what happened today,” he said on MSNBC’s For the Record that night. “We don`t like what happened today, but I want to look at the full record and also say we’ve had pretty good access so far. We hope that that is the trend that continues and not a trend of excluding news organizations.”

    “It's important, I think, for viewers to know that despite that rhetoric, we have worked well with the Trump White House. We have had many opportunities for journalists to ask questions of the president and of his press team,” he added on today’s Morning Joe.

    He later added: “I want to put it in the larger context of what has happened during this first month. During the first month, Sean Spicer has been briefing regularly from the briefing room and on television and that is what we asked for. And so that is important not to forget. The fact that they did not include a bunch of organizations on Friday is certainly a concern. And, of course, it comes in the context of President Trump saying things like the fact that he believes the media is the enemy of the American people. We absolutely do not believe that.”

    Taking questions from journalists at daily press briefings is not some special privilege that Spicer has provided. It is literally the least that any journalist could expect from a press secretary. And the vitriol that Trump wields on a daily basis deserves more than mild disagreement.

    Either Mason is truly unconcerned with the attacks the Trump administration has heaped upon the press or he is desperately fighting to preserve the very basics of press access.

    As Poynter’s James Warren wrote of Mason’s comments to the Times:

    It was disappointing and suggested an underlying craving by some for peace and moderation and press-White House harmony. Intentional or not, it suggested how a bully can intimate his victims and make some of them cower.

    Friday's outrage over the gaggle in Spicer's office is a hint of things to come. It was a toe in the water. It's like, as a friend puts it, "The Trump administration is basically boiling the frog, and the frog is better off not being tepid when the water turns lukewarm."

    During an era in which the president and his officials have attacked the press in unprecedented fashion -- with Trump himself declaring that he is in “a running war with the media” -- Mason has repeatedly been called upon to respond. And again and again, he has seemed more concerned with preserving his relations with Spicer and the press office than with defending journalism in the age of Trump.

    At times, Mason’s interviewers have seemed shocked at Mason’s willingness to downplay the Trump administration’s efforts to delegitimize journalism.

    On January 22 -- the morning after Spicer used his first appearance before the press corps as White House press secretary to attack reporters for accurately reporting on the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration -- Mason appeared on CNN’s Reliable Sources. While Mason acknowledged that Spicer’s comments had been “stunning,” he praised the White House for keeping the press briefings in their current location and allowing a pool to observe Trump signing an executive order (again, the bare-minimum expectations for what the White House should do).

    Watch host Brian Stelter try to get Mason to admit that the White House’s actions against the press have been extreme, and his response.

    BRIAN STELTER:There's clearly some anxiety here. What are you telling the White House correspondents about how to approach this?

    JEFF MASON: Well, for starters, I think it's important to reinforce the point that we've already made here at the panel, which is that there's always going be a level of tension between the White House and the press corps. That is normal, that is healthy, and that is something that we expect to continue here. That level of tension may have gone up a little bit --

    STELTER: May have?

    MASON: OK -- did.

    STELTER: He said there's a running war with the media. He's using war analogies. He's referencing combat.

    MASON: Yes, you're right. You're absolutely right. And we recognize that. And so, it puts some strain on the relationship. But it's in the interest of the White House Correspondents' Association to try to continue to be an honest broker and a good interlocutor between the press corps and the White House. And that's why it's important for me to keep meeting with Sean and our board to keep meeting with his team.

    In the weeks that followed, the Trump administration regularly attacked the press, with Trump himself repeatedly calling the media and various outlets “fake news,” “a disgrace,” “the opposition party,” “failing,” “dishonest,” and “the enemy of the American people.”

    But during a CNN International interview last week, Mason praised the access reporters have gotten to the White House, while saying only that “the tone set by the President has been a challenge.” That led to this exchange with host Hala Gorani (accessed via Nexis):

    HALA GORANI: But, Jeff, it's not every day the President of the United States calls reporters the enemy of the American people. This is the type of thing we expect to hear in the Middle East or in regimes, you know, that have not a great democratic sort of track record. I mean, did this send a chill in the White House press corp when you heard that?

    JEFF MASON: Well, it's not the type of tone that I would choose to set, but it's up to the President to decide what kind of tone he wants and to use the language that he wants. You know, I've said repeatedly, we don't influence the language --

    GORANI: It's not innocuous language, though. I mean, this is pretty serious, or actually it is --

    MASON: I agree.

    Mason is acting like he has no cards to play, as if the White House press corps exists by the sufferance of the administration. As long as the press corps engages in such open display of weakness, the White House will continue to see what it can get away with.

    Click here to tell the White House press corps to stand up to Trump’s media blacklist.