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  • Univision Helps Anti-Immigrant Hate Group Sanitize Its Nativist Image

    FAIR Is A Nativist Anti-Immigrant Hate Group, But Univision Won't Say So

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Univision has continuously failed to provide proper context to its audience when interviewing members of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), by omitting the fact that the group is an anti-immigrant “hate group” with ties to the nativist movement and white nationalism.

    During a November 29 segment about FAIR’s hard-line anti-immigrant policy proposals on Univision’s Noticiero Univisión, anchor Jorge Ramos and correspondent Janet Rodríguez both helped mainstream the group by labeling it a “conservative organization that opposes undocumented immigrants” and a “conservative anti-immigrant organization.” By simply labeling the group as “conservative,” Ramos and Rodríguez failed to properly identify the group’s nativist origins and extremism while interviewing FAIR spokesperson Jack Martin:

    Translated transcript:

    JORGE RAMOS (HOST): A well-known conservative organization that opposes undocumented immigrants is preparing a series of recommendations for the future Donald Trump presidency. Among the suggestions there is the elimination of the deferred action program and increasing deportations. Janet Rodríguez spoke with a leader of this organization.

    JANET RODRÍGUEZ: If Donald Trump promised to be strict against undocumented immigrants, the organization proposing to advise him on this topic is even stricter. Today, the directors of FAIR, a conservative anti-immigrant organization, put forward a series of recommendations that they're making to the new administration.

    JACK MARTIN: We think they will find these recommendations very favorable.

    RODRÍGUEZ: For the first hundred days of the administration the organization is proposing that the president eliminate deferred action, withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities, restart workplace raids, and start building the wall.

    MARTIN: Just being in the U.S. illegally should be enough for deportation.

    RODRÍGUEZ: They say that during the first year the goal should be to limit reentry permits and Temporary Protected Status (TPS), eliminate the use of ankle monitors and conditional freedom, reviving the 287G program and the secure communities program. The plan is very similar to the one Kris Kobach, also an enemy of immigration reform, and who is looking to become the next secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. He has presented the plan to the president-elect. But these are just recommendations, and the organization recognizes that perhaps the president-elect and the new Congress will never approve a plan as harsh as they'd like it to be.

    This is not the first time Univision has provided FAIR with a platform to air its extremism without providing necessary context. On November 17, the network also featured Martin’s point of view devoid of context.

    According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), FAIR earned the “hate group” label because of its history of “defending racism, encouraging xenophobia and nativism, and giving its all to efforts to keep America white.” FAIR also accepted funding from the Pioneer Fund, “a group founded to promote the genes of white colonials” which also “funds studies of race, intelligence and genetics.” SPLC also noted that FAIR has hired people who are also members of “white supremacist groups” to its top posts and specifically promoted “racist conspiracy theories about Latinos.” The group’s founder, John Tanton -- a current member of FAIR’s national board of advisers -- has “expressed his wish that America remain a majority-white population.”

    In a July 22 report about the nativist influences on President-elect Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, The Daily Beast described FAIR’s work as an effort to “demonize immigrants" and explained that even conservative groups “loathe the Tanton network.” In addition the piece noted that before Trump, “these groups found themselves pushed to the margins of the conservative conversation of immigration.” Yet failures by the media to appropriately characterize groups like FAIR has allowed the group to pass as a mainstream conservative organization with a valid seat at the table in the immigration policy debate.

    Spanish-language media has in the past failed to grasp the influence of white supremacy on anti-immigration sentiments. Regardless of whether the Trump administration implements FAIR’s policy proposals or not, providing hate groups with a platform could have an impact on rhetoric and negatively impact those affected by the immigration policies. As NPR’s Latino USA host pointed out in her coverage of virulent 2016 campaign rhetoric, “words are powerful; they can motivate people in good ways and bad.”

  • In Agence France-Presse, Media Matters’ Angelo Carusone Highlights The Danger Of Alex Jones’ Fabricated Information Seeping Into Trump’s Policies

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    An Agence France-Presse article highlighted the “disturbing” number of instances in which President-elect Donald Trump has “recycled” claims from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his website Infowars and discussed the danger a conspiracy theory-inclined president could present to U.S. policy making.

    Jones has a long history of making inflammatory, conspiracy theory-laden comments that had previously been confined to far-right arenas. However, Trump made clear early in his campaign that he had sympathy for Jones’ ideas and throughout his campaign appeared or had allies appear on his show. As Jones himself explained, the two are “totally synched” and Trump “finishes” Jones’ sentences when they speak. Media have highlighted how conspiracy theories and “information” make their way from Jones’ show to Trump -- whether it's pushing the false assertion that Trump actually won the popular vote, denouncing “globalism” in his acceptance of the Republican nomination, or claiming that Clinton was “wearing an earpiece” during a campaign forum.

    In a November 30 article, Agence-France Presse discussed Media Matters’ efforts to document many of the more outlandish claims Jones has made, and it noted that though many of them are “pure nonsense,” as Media Matters vice president Angelo Carusone said, Trump seems to be echoing them. "‘What [Jones] is presenting is an alternative universe,’” Carusone continued. “‘He is advancing a broader world view that there is a global world government and every day they are going out there to take away your power.’" From Agence France-Presse:

    Left-leaning media watchdog group Media Matters for America has documented dozens of instances where Trump has recycled claims from Jones and infowars.

    Trump has not repeated some of the most outlandish claims on infowars -- that aliens from space had landed in Florida or that the mass killing of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School was faked to win support for gun control -- but critics say that it would be troubling for the president-elect to rely on the site for information.

    "A lot of what he (Jones) says is just pure nonsense," said Angelo Carusone of Media Matters.

    "What he is presenting is an alternative universe. He is advancing a broader world view that there is a global world government and every day they are going out there to take away your power."

    For Carusone, it remains unclear if Trump believes what was published on infowars or is merely pandering to its readers, but he said either scenario would be disturbing.

    'Fear Of Sharia'

    For example, Carusone said that infowars ran "completely fabricated" stories saying that Muslims were imposing sharia law in US cities.

    "If the president believes that and starts to make policy based on the belief that we have sharia law, we have a problem," said Carusone.

    [...]

    In the most recent incident, Trump appeared to echo the claim by infowars that he would have won the popular vote against Clinton in addition to the Electoral College if votes by illegal immigrants were discounted.

    As it stands, Clinton won the popular vote by more than two million ballots and both experts and officials across the political spectrum have disparaged Trump's unsubstantiated claim of mass fraud.

    Trump was interviewed during the campaign by Jones, who also claimed to have had several phone conversations with the Republican billionaire, raising concerns about influence on policy.

  • Stop Normalizing Hate: Reactionary White Nationalism Doesn't Equal “Populism”

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The process by which the media continue to normalize President-elect Donald Trump and the extreme elements that now define his pending administration is achieved story-by-story, headline-by-headline, and even adjective-by-adjective.

    Language, and the way journalists deploy words during the Trump transition, are a central avenue for downplaying and whitewashing what’s now taking place.

    Just look at some of the recent in-depth, page-one newspaper profiles of Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart.com executive who Trump has tapped to be his chief strategist and senior counselor. I’m sure much to Bannon’s delight he’s been awarded the “populist” label. But that description is wildly misguided, completely inadequate, and continues a long-running problem of the press mislabeling extreme right-wing movements and politicians as populist. (See: The Tea Party.)

    Populism is supposed to represent a running struggle on behalf of regular people against powerful and elite economic forces. Bannon and Trump’s pro-corporate, anti-worker politics pretty much represent the opposite of that.

    Plus, “populist” badly downplays the fact Bannon helped run a race-baiting cesspool, while underplaying Bannon’s own alleged history of anti-Semitism.

    How best to accurately describe Bannon? Vox did a pretty good job of it: “He’s a leading light of America’s white nationalist movement accused of using misogynistic, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, and barely hidden racist language throughout his professional life.”

    How far is that from feel-good “populism”? Very, very far. “Far from populism, this is Revolutionary-era elitism drawn along racist lines,” noted Laurel Raymond at Think Progress.

    Yet the problem persists.

    New York Times headline, November 27: “Combative, Populist Steve Bannon Found His Man in Donald Trump.”

    Washington Post headline, November 19: “For Trump Adviser Stephen Bannon, Fiery Populism Followed Life In Elite Circles.”

    It’s true that both the Times and Post articles did explore in detail Bannon’s controversial past and the fringe nature of his unseemly politics. The Times even detailed how Bannon once discussed “genetic superiority” with a business colleague and suggested that maybe only property owners be allowed to vote.  

    But “populist”? No. Reactionary white nationalist? Yes.  

    Note that Bannon himself this summer called Breitbart “the platform of the alt-right.” And what is "alt-right" synonymous with? White nationalism. “In the past we have called such beliefs racist, neo-Nazi or white supremacist,” wrote John Daniszewski, the Associated Press’s Vice President for Standards, as he outlined to writers how to employ “alt-right” in AP coverage.

    The weird part is that this week the Times published an article looking at how news organizations, including the Times, are using the phrase “alt-right” to describe the radical movement Trump and Bannon have become the face of, and whether the relatively new moniker sufficiently captures the movement’s rough and often offensive edges. “The term has attracted widespread criticism among those, particularly on the left, who say it euphemizes and legitimizes the ideologies of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and white supremacy,” the newspaper reported.

    So, "alt-right" might not properly convey the outlier politics of people like Bannon, but the Times itself this week published a headline labeling Bannon a “populist.”

    Meanwhile, when you thumb through Bannon’s resume it’s nearly impossible to see any threads of “populism” running through it. He is a Harvard Business School graduate who became a Goldman Sachs banker before opening up a boutique investment bank in Beverly Hills, CA, Bannon & Co., which he eventually sold to the French bank, Société Générale. Last decade, Bannon also operated some dubious penny stock ventures, which attracted a number of lawsuits. He has also been a Hollywood movie producer.

    After he exited the world of finance, Bannon became the chairman of Breitbart. Under his leadership, the white nationalist echo chamber called for the hoisting of the Confederate flag (“high and proud”), weeks after shootings at a black Charleston, South Carolina, church. It claimed that political correctness “protects Muslim rape culture.” It has referred to conservative writer Bill Kristol as a "renegade Jew." It ran a piece last year encouraging male readers to tell women that "this isn’t going to suck itself."

    None of that garbage remotely fits under a breezy umbrella of “populism.” 

    Of course, the Bannon “populist” coverage flows from the media’s long-running Trump “populist” campaign coverage, which has been ill-advised for more than year. And it continues to this day.

    Here are highlights of the likely Trump and Republican Party agenda for next year. Good luck finding lots of “populist” proposals aimed at boosting quality of life for regular Americans:

    *Repeal healthcare for 20 million Americans who are insured through Obamacare. 

    *Pass massive new tax cuts for the wealthy. 

    *Drastically cut Medicare.

    *Defund Planned Parenthood.

    *Defund public broadcasting.

    *Vastly expand the Pentagon’s budget.

    *Block overtime pay for workers making less than $47,000 a year.

    *Deport millions of undocumented workers. 

    This is all part of the larger Beltway media failure of playing nice with radical right-wing politics under the auspices of populism.

    Especially during President Obama’s first term, reporters and pundits spent way too much time portraying the Obama-hating Tea Party movement has a "populist" one, when it most certainly was not. Most “populist” movements, as a rule, don’t passionately defend oil companies, insurance conglomerates, and AIG banking executives. And most “populist” movements don’t compare the president to Adolf Hitler and parade around with swastika posters. They don’t claim the president’s a “racist” who wants to put a spike in the heads of babies. And they usually don’t call for a military coup to overthrow the White House.

    But the Tea Party did, and the media rewarded them with the honorary titles of populism.

    And now they’re doing it again with Trump and his white nationalist appointments. 

  • Mainstream Outlets Rush To Give Trump Credit For Vague Tweets About His Business

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Media allowed President-elect Donald Trump to, once again, take over the news narrative with his Twitter activity -- this time with a series of vague tweets in which he claimed he would be leaving his business to avoid conflicts of interest. The announcement, however, provides no details about what will become of his business holdings and distracts from news that highlights the degree to which those holdings are ripe for future conflicts.

    In a series of tweets on November 30, Trump announced that he will be “holding a major news conference” on December 15 to discuss his plans for “leaving” his “great business in total in order to fully focus on running the country.” Trump added that while he is “not mandated” to “do this under any law, I feel it is visually important, as President, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses.”

    As The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake pointed out, “The only real news in those Trump tweets is that he’ll actually be doing a press conference,” given that Trump has already said that he would hand off management of his businesses to his children. The tweets included no new information on how Trump’s business dealings would be handled after he, allegedly, leaves them behind. But that reality didn’t stop media from making a story out of the tweets and leading with it.

    USA Today:

    CNN:

    The Associated Press:

    ABC News:

    CBS News:

    NBC News:

    The tweets do nothing to squash mounting concerns over the conflicts of interest Trump could face as president, and it’s unclear whether his promised response would address these conflicts. Shortly after the election, a Trump Organization spokesperson told CNN that Trump was planning to transfer “‘management of The Trump Organization and its portfolio of businesses to Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump,’” his children. But as ethics experts explained to Politico, “installing Trump’s adult children as caretakers doesn’t eliminate conflict questions, since he’d still know what his interests were, and he’d presumably still be in contact with his children.”

    With his tweetstorm, Trump also continued his pattern of hijacking the media narrative when it suits him. In this case, Trump’s tweets give media outlets an excuse to downplay or ignore reports about the “ethical concerns” raised after the Kingdom of Bahrain reserved space in Trump’s D.C. hotel. Trump also used his tweets to continue to disseminate information on his own terms, which in the past has allowed him to avoid hard interviews and limit his press conferences.

    Media are falling into Trump’s trap again by giving his tweets the front-page treatment.

  • Alex Jones’ Infowars.com Attacks Sandy Hook Principal’s Daughter

    Infowars Reporter: “Don't You Understand That If Your Mother Had A Pistol Or A Firearm She Could Have Prevented Her Death?”

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Infowars.com, the website operated by conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones, lashed out at Erica Lafferty, the daughter of slain Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Hochsprung, for calling on President-elect Donald Trump not to appear on Jones’ show because Jones has pushed conspiracy theories about the 2012 Sandy Hook tragedy.

    In a November 28 Infowars.com video, Infowars.com reporter Owen Shroyer said he wanted to “stand up” for Jones before attacking Lafferty’s advocacy for stronger gun laws as illogical and claiming that Lafferty needs “to address” the theories of Wolfgang Halbig, a leading Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist who has been warned by police against harrasing victims of the attack.

    Lafferty has been outspoken in calling for President-elect Trump not to appear on Jones’ radio program. Before he was elected, Trump praised Jones as having an “amazing” reputation, and Jones said that after Trump’s victory, he called Jones to promise to appear on his show in the near future.

    In a November 16 open letter to Trump, Lafferty wrote, “radio host Alex Jones has fanned the flames of a hateful conspiracy theory claiming that the shooting that took my mother never happened. It’s unthinkable. It’s unacceptable. I’m asking you to denounce it immediately and cut ties with Alex Jones and anyone who subscribes to these dangerous ideas.”

    Indeed, it is well documented that in the wake of the 2012 shooting, which left 20 children and six educators dead, Jones repeatedly suggested that the shooting was a “hoax” that never happened. Jones has reacted to Lafferty’s letter by lying about his past statements while simultaneously doubling down on his conspiratorial claims about the attack.

    Shroyer addressed Lafferty directly in his video, which was posted to Alex Jones’ YouTube channel. He said, “I just have this message to you. Why wouldn't you want a good guy on the scene with a gun when a bad guy comes? I’m just missing this logic. Don't you understand that if your mother had a pistol or a firearm she could have prevented her death? A good person with a gun could have stopped a bad person with a gun and saved lives. Why does this logic escape you?”

    In the video, Shroyer repeatedly cited Halbig, who he said has perhaps “done the best reporting” on the Sandy Hook shooting. According to Shroyer, “All Alex Jones wants is the truth. All Wolfgang Halbig wants is the truth. Why are you butting heads with people that want to find out the truth of what happened to your mother?”

    According to a profile in New York magazine, Halbig, the host of “a semi-regular Sandy Hook Justice Report podcast,” is “the hoaxers’ lead investigator,” and “one of Halbig’s favorite Sandy Hook theories is that Sasha Davidson, who was killed, is in fact alive and living as another Newtown girl named Allison Rodriguez.” (Halbig has appeared as a guest on Jones' program.)

    Shroyer concluded his video with more attacks, claiming, “We are just looking for truth and some of the things that you’ve said in your op-ed are just inaccurate and inappropriate and again I would say as you are now an advocate for gun legislation or gun safety, I ask you, if your mother had a gun ready aimed and ready to be fired at Dylann Roof (sic) when he took your mother's life, do you think she would still be alive today?”

    (Adam Lanza killed Dawn Hochsprung. Dylann Roof is the man alleged to have killed nine African-American worshippers at a South Carolina church during a racist attack.)

  • Former Members Of Senate Credentialing Committee Alarmed At Bannon's "Shady" Relationship With Breitbart

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Breitbart.com’s request for permanent Capitol Hill press credentials is sparking concern from former members of the committee that approves those passes, who say Breitbart executive chairman Steve Bannon’s new White House advisory role could pose a "shady" conflict.

    Politico recently reported that Breitbart, the far-right conservative website headed by Bannon for years, had applied for permanent credentials with the Standing Committee of the Senate Press Gallery, which decides who may receive the coveted credentials.

    The request comes as Bannon, the recent chair/CEO of Breitbart, was named chief strategist and senior counselor for President-elect Donald Trump. (Bannon has been "on leave" from the site since he left to help head Trump's campaign in August.)                 

    The Standing Committee’s policy expressly forbids any news organization with a conflict of interest to receive a credential. This week, Media Matters issued an open letter calling on the committee to reject the credential request "based on Breitbart’s disqualifying inability to demonstrate editorial independence as required" by the committee rules. 

    Given Bannon’s ties to Breitbart, former members of the committee -- which is comprised of Congressional correspondents -- fear it could pose a problem. They requested anonymity due to concerns about retaliation.

    “You would be terribly concerned about conflict of interest and how to guard against this,” said one former committee member. “On the face of it, the question people have is, ‘are we comfortable with the fact that someone in the White House now seems to have potentially this role influencing what appears in a publication?’ You can’t know that until you look at the structure. My first question would be can he reach over any type of firewall in terms of what stories are covered?

    “You have to be editorially independent from anything that’s not a news organization and by virtue of having someone in the White House and having editorial influence over Breitbart, if he did, he would violate the standard.”

     Another former committee member echoed that view.

    “That would be something to be raised by the committee, it won’t be just rubber-stamped for it I assume,” the former member said. “You need to know if there is a clear separation from the ownership. The concern they normally have is if there is a potential for conflict of interest between what the ownership is doing and the reporting.”

    The person added, “If he took a leave of absence, you would have to take his word for it that he would not be interfering, they would have to look at it carefully. I don’t think they would take his word for it. It seems likely they would take a hard look and make sure it is correct.”

    A third former committee member said a Breitbert credential “sounds a little shady.”

    “It sounds like something that if we were on the standing committee, we would have to look at closely,” the correspondent said. “That is the biggest role of the committee, making sure there is that firewall. … The White House and Congress are obviously very closely related, if you are someone who might benefit from what happens on one of those sides and can benefit financially from one of those things it can get really mixed up.”

    Another former committee member said this was the first such conflict to arise in their time in the congressional press corps.

    “I’ve never seen a situation where somebody in the administration had a connection to a news organization that is seeking a credential,” the former member said. “The concern is that if it’s not an independent news organization, the person would be acting as an agent for the administration on the hill. You don’t want someone acting as a lobbyist.”

  • How Mainstream Headlines Have Been Normalizing Donald Trump

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    President-elect Donald Trump is not a normal politician, which is evidenced by his actions, statements, and tendency to make and promote outright lies. But Trump’s break from the norm would not be clear to readers who only glance at headlines, as most do. For months, media have helped normalize Trump with headlines that sanitize his ties to extremists, uncritically echo his lies, and whitewash his incendiary comments. As media prepare to cover a Trump administration, they must work harder to craft headlines that portray Trump’s actions and statements accurately.

    Headlines about the appointments Trump has made to his cabinet and White House staff have helped sanitize his nominees, despite their bigoted rhetoric. After Trump appointed Stephen Bannon, the former head of Breitbart.com, to serve as his chief strategist, newspapers labeled Bannon as a “Conservative flame-thrower,” a “conservative firebrand,” and a “tormenter of establishment GOP.” These descriptions downplay the fact that Bannon ran an unabashedly white nationalist and anti-Semitic website, as well as Bannon’s own history of alleged anti-Semitism. Even when The New York Times reported that Bannon “occasionally talked about the genetic superiority of some people and once mused about the desirability of limiting the vote to property owners,” the headline referred to him as “Combative, Populist Steve Bannon,” ignoring completely his remarks. When Trump appointed Ret. Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn to serve as his national security adviser, headlines downplayed his Islamophobia and his conflicts of interest and branded him as someone who “brings experience and controversy” and is “not afraid to ruffle feathers.” While the headlines may be accurate, they do not give readers the essential information they need to know about the people who will have Trump's ear.

    Headlines have also left out important context about Trump’s lies. After Trump falsely claimed that he “worked hard” to keep a Ford plant “in Kentucky,” media promoted Trump’s spin in headlines, leaving out the fact that the plant in question was never going to close. After Trump lied in a tweet claiming that he would have “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” mainstream media uncritically echoed him in their headlines and on social media. Trump is an unprecedented liar, and by simply echoing Trump’s statements, the headlines might as well have come from a Trump press release.

    This problem persisted before the election as well. When Trump addressed his history with the birther movement, headlines failed to mention that Trump had not apologized for his years-long crusade to delegitimize President Obama and that he lied by asserting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton had started the rumors that President Obama was born in Kenya.

    In the run-up to the election, headlines also helped normalize Trump’s behavior, which would be unacceptable for anyone else, let alone a candidate for president. Following the release of a 2005 Access Hollywood video where Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women, media headlines characterized the conversation as “lewd.” Lewd is correct, but it misses the point. Trump was talking about imposing himself physically on women without consent. That is sexual assault. Media shouldn’t hide behind creative adjectives to normalize this behavior.

    Headlines are indisputably the most important part of an article. As The Washington Post reported, “roughly six in 10 people acknowledge that they have done nothing more than read news headlines in the past week,” and “that number is almost certainly higher than that, since plenty of people won't want to admit to just being headline-gazers but, in fact, are.” By continually refusing to use headlines to call out Trump’s ties to extremists, incessant lying, and his atrocious behavior, media are normalizing his actions. There have been pleas from many in media to stop normalizing Trump. Headlines would be a good place to start.

  • Too Little, Too Late: Weeks After Election, Media See Trump's Conflicts, Potential Self-Dealings, And Corruption

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    New York Times editors and reporters might’ve thought they were going to be congratulated by readers for Sunday’s front-page, six-reporter expose on President-elect Donald Trump’s nearly endless business conflicts. But a chorus of media observers and critics had other ideas.

    Rather than applaud the Times for its report, lots of commentators wondered why the newspaper waited until after the election to wave large red flags about Trump’s obvious conflicts, especially when the Times -- and so much of the campaign press -- spent an extraordinary amount of energy obsessing over potential conflicts of interest, and possible ethical lapses, supposedly surrounding Hillary Clinton.

    Looking back, there certainly seems to be a perception that the political press didn’t really care about Trump’s looming, impossible-to-miss conflicts or the bad “optics” they might produce. And it appears that the press was overly infatuated with conflict questions about Clinton -- questions today that seem quaint compared to Trump’s far-flung business dealings, which represent a possible gateway to corruption.

    That’s not to say the topic wasn’t addressed or that some journalists didn’t tackle it in real time during the campaign season. Kurt Eichenwald at Newsweek produced a helpful deep dive back in September. And the business press was urgent and upfront in detailing the unprecedented nature of Trump’s looming problem. Bloomberg in June: “Conflicts of Interest? President Trump's Would Be Amazing.”

    But in general, the political press seemed less engaged with this issue and appeared reluctant to tag the obvious Trump storyline as a campaign priority. There didn’t seem to be an institutional commitment to pursuing and documenting that storyline, even though the potential problems for Trump were obvious and the story might have disqualified him.

    Even today, the story isn’t being treated with the urgency it deserves. Yes, more new organizations are tepidly acknowledging the colossal conflicts and looming inside deals, but so much of the coverage still lacks resolve. Question for journalists: If Clinton arrived at the White House with open and boundless business conflicts, how would you cover that story? What kind of outraged, lecturing tone would you take? Now treat the Trump story the same way.

    Newsrooms need to learn from their lackluster campaign coverage and treat the unfolding Trump controversy as a permanent beat inside newsrooms for the next four years. It certainly demands that kind of attention and focus.

    Note that aside from the Times’ big Sunday Trump conflict piece, the newspaper also published detailed articles on the topic November 21 and 14, and before the election on November 5. But aside from a few exceptions, in the months prior to Election Day, when voters were assessing the candidates, the intense focus on Trump’s conflicts just wasn’t there. (As Media Matters reported, the same trend played out on network newscasts, which devoted scant time to Trump’s conflicts of interest before the election only to ramp up coverage after Trump’s victory.)

    Where was there lots of media campaign interest? (And also lots of bad journalism?) Trying to detail Clinton’s possible conflicts, a storyline forever deemed by the press to be a Very Big Deal.

    Recall that the Times and The Washington Post considered potential Clinton conflicts stemming from the family charity to be so pressing that both newspapers entered into unusual exclusive editorial agreements with Peter Schweizer, the partisan Republican author who wrote the Breitbart-backed book Clinton Cash. (The Times also breathlessly hyped the book in its news pages.)

    And that was 18 months before Election Day. The topic remained a media priority throughout the campaign.

    Clinton Cash, a hodgepodge of innuendo and connect-the-dot allegations, was riddled with errorsU.S. News & World Report described the book as a "somewhat problematic" look at the Clintons' financial dealings, while Time noted that one of the book’s central claims was "based on little evidence.”

    Yet Clinton’s alleged conflicts were considered to be so important inside newsrooms -- and it was deemed so crucial for the Beltway press to suss out every conceivable detail -- that the Times and the Post were willing to make dubious alliances with GOP operatives.

    Needless to say, no such partisan unions were formed to report out Trump’s massive business conflicts. Indeed, most news consumers would be hard-pressed to suggest Trump’s obvious business conflicts constituted a centerpiece of his campaign coverage for the previous 18 months.

    Meanwhile, recall that lots of media elites demanded Clinton take action before the election in order to eliminate the supposed conflicts surrounding the Clinton Foundation. During August and September, that topic created yet another wave of frenzied Clinton coverage, fueled by the media’s “optics” obsession

    At the time, NBC’s Chuck Todd perfectly summed up the media’s weird pursuit when he announced, “Let’s be clear, this is all innuendo at this point. No pay for play has been proven. No smoking gun has been found.” Todd then quickly added, “But like many of these Clinton scandals, it looks bad.”

    From NPR:

    There's no question the optics are bad for Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. But no proof has emerged that any official favors -- regulations, government contracts, international deals -- were curried in exchange for donations or pledges.

    And from Time:

    If she didn’t do anything wrong, why won’t she defend herself? By avoiding taking responsibility, Clinton only exacerbates the perception she is dishonest and untrustworthy, the primary hurdle on her path to the White House. Optics matter when the issue is transparency.

    According to the media mantra, Clinton’s possible big-money conflicts looked really, really bad. Reporters hammered the theme for weeks and months, while only occasionally glancing over in the direction of Trump’s concrete conflicts.

    Today, coverage of Trump’s conflicts and self-dealing has belatedly arrived. But it often comes with an odd sense of delayed wonder, as if journalists are just now realizing the epic size of the pay-for-play problem at hand for the country, while still hedging their bets. 

    For instance, the headline for the Post’s November 25 article announced, “Trump’s Presidency, Overseas Business Deals And Relations With Foreign Governments Could All Become Intertwined.”

    Could? The president-elect’s business dealing could be a conflict for U.S. foreign policy? That Post framing seems to dramatically underplay what’s currently unfolding. As the Post itself has reported, “Trump has done little to set boundaries between his personal and official business since winning the presidency.”

    Indeed, Trump’s refusal to divest himself from a sprawling array of business interests is certain to create an ethical morass that even Republican attorneys insist will produce endless, possibly debilitating, conflicts for Trump.

    The media mostly missed this pressing story once during the campaign. They can’t afford to overlook it a second time. 

  • Breitbart Uses Nazi-Inspired Anti-Semitic Rhetoric In George Soros Attack

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Breitbart News’ Twitter account used anti-Semitic rhetoric, commonly used in 1930’s Nazi propaganda, to attack philanthropist George Soros’ efforts to combat voter suppression laws. The anti-Semitic attack is in keeping with a troubling pattern of anti-Semitism from Breitbart, which President-elect Donald Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon formerly ran and has bragged is home to the “alt-right,” a racist white nationalist movement.

    Linking to a “flashback” story about Soros’ financial role supporting “legal battles against state voting laws,” the Breitbart Twitter account tweeted on November 28, “Like an octopus.”

    The “octopus” wording is overt anti-Semitic rhetoric dating back to at least the 1930s, when it was a common theme in Nazi propaganda. The imagery of a Jewish octopus engulfing the globe or ensnaring political institutions can be found on other white supremacist and neo-Nazi online forums, as well as on Fox News’ airwaves.

    That Breitbart is attacking Soros with anti-Semitic rhetoric is not surprising -- the white nationalist site was formerly run by Bannon, who has bragged that Breitbart News had become home to the “alt-right” -- which is merely a racist code word for white nationalists. In 2007, Bannon’s ex-wife swore in court that Bannon “said he doesn’t like Jews” and didn’t want his children to go to school with Jews. Under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart attacked media and political figures using anti-Semitic rhetoric, to the point where a former Breitbart employee accused the website of embracing “a movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism.”

    Major media outlets are already whitewashing Bannon’s history of white nationalism and anti-Semitism. Given that Trump also has an extensive relationship with the white nationalist movement and Bannon’s extreme influence in Trump’s White House, media efforts to identify and criticize anti-Semitic rhetoric are more critical than ever.

  • NY Times Reports Steve Bannon Holds Theory Of “Genetic Superiority” While Headline Calls Him “Combative, Populist”

    Blog ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS

    Bannon

    A New York Times profile of incoming Trump chief counselor Stephen Bannon is headlined “Combative, Populist Steve Bannon Found His Man In Donald Trump,” but the most noteworthy bit of information about Bannon is not referenced in the headline.

    Bannon served as CEO of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and led Breitbart.com before leaving to join Trump. As Media Matters and others have reported, under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart became a haven for the white nationalist “alt-right” movement.

    The Times reports in the piece that one of Bannon’s former colleagues said he “occasionally talked about the genetic superiority of some people and once mused about the desirability of limiting the vote to property owners.” The colleague said he told Bannon that such a law would exclude a lot of African-American voters, and he said Bannon responded, "Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.” (The piece also quotes the former colleague in question saying, “Steve’s not a racist … he’s using the alt-right -- using them for power.”)

    This revelation is made in the second half of the piece, and the headline gives no indication that it is in the story.

    The story also discusses Bannon’s history of racially divisive advocacy at Breitbart, as well as that site’s anti-Muslim stance during his time managing its editorial tone and posture. The Times notes, “Breitbart.com’s scorn for Muslims, immigrants and black activists drew a fervent following on the alt-right, an extremist fringe of message boards and online magazines popular with white supremacists, and after Mr. Bannon took control of the website in 2012, he built a raucous coalition of the discontented.”

    Despite the information contained in the story, the headline considerably downplays the subject’s controversial past and present in favor of a generic description.