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  • Morning Shows Largely Ignore Trump Adviser's Possibly Illegal Communications With Russia

    Fox News And NBC Ignored The Reports, While CNN’s Coverage Led The Way

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Morning news programs on cable and broadcast television largely ignored reports that President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn seemingly engaged in “inappropriate and potentially illegal” communications with the Russian government, spending less than 30 minutes on it across 15 hours of programming.

    The Washington Post reported on February 9 that Flynn “privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States during the month before President Trump took office.” The Post explained that “Flynn’s communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were interpreted by some senior U.S. officials as an inappropriate and potentially illegal signal to the Kremlin.” The New York Times pointed out that the conversations “raise the prospect that Mr. Flynn violated a law against private citizens’ engaging in diplomacy, and directly contradict statements made by Trump advisers.”

    However, the story was all but neglected on morning shows across broadcast and cable news networks, with the exception of CNN. The February 10 editions of ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’ CBS This Morning, and NBC’s Today spent a combined total of 2 minutes and 26 seconds on the story, with Good Morning America spending 1 minute and 32 seconds on it and CBS This Morning devoting only 54 seconds to the story. The story wasn’t mentioned at all on NBC’s Today.

    On cable news, Fox News’ Fox & Friends also spent no time on the reports during the February 10 edition. MSNBC’s Morning Joe barely fared better, discussing the story for only 3 minutes and 3 seconds during the three hour show. CNN’s New Day, on the other hand, led the pack, spending 20 minutes and 2 seconds discussing the new reports.

    Fox News and NBC’s decisions to ignore a story that is problematic for the Trump administration on their morning shows also fits into their patterns of providing favorable coverage to Trump and normalizing his incredibly abnormal administration.

    During the campaign, broadcast and cable news were reluctant to devote a significant amount of time to investigative reports about Trump and those around him. Instead, outlets consistently allowed Trump to hijack the media narrative and drown out negative coverage through his tweets and antics.

    Graphs by Sarah Wasko

  • Hugh Hewitt Wants To Put Rush Limbaugh On A Commission To Study Climate Change

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt has proposed the creation of a “national commission led by men and women of impeccable credentials” to determine whether and how the U.S. should address climate change, arguing that the country needs a group of “[d]iverse, smart non-scientists who are going to listen to the scientists -- all of them -- and report back on what ought to be done.” However, any credibility that Hewitt’s proposal may have had disappeared instantly when he suggested that the commission include Rush Limbaugh, a vocal climate science denier and conspiracy theorist who is among the least likely people imaginable to “listen to the scientists.”

    Hewitt proposed the commission in a February 9 op-ed in The Washington Post, in which he asserted that “we don’t know enough” about the cost of addressing climate change or “the nature of the risk.” He also declared, “We are told so many things about climate change, in a conclusory and often condescending fashion. As a result, both the town criers of apocalypse and the town cynics who wear a never-ending sneer have lost the ability to be heard by, much less move, the center.”

    Those claims themselves are dubious -- there is a wealth of research from both governmental and non-governmental organizations about the risks posed by climate change, and lumping proponents of climate action together with (often fossil fuel industry-funded) climate science deniers is false balance 101. But even if Hewitt is correct that a commission of non-scientists could help move the climate conversation forward, his proposal can’t be taken seriously when he suggests the commission include Limbaugh, simply because it ought to include “luminaries of left and right” and Limbaugh has created one of the “largest audiences of the past 30 years.”

    Limbaugh has long been a promoter of some of the most over-the-top and fringiest climate science denial and climate-related conspiracy theories. Among other things, Limbaugh concocted a conspiracy theory that the federal government was overstating Hurricane Matthew’s severity in order to manufacture concern about climate change; claimed that NASA’s announcement that it found water on Mars was part of a climate change conspiracy; and distorted a study from Duke University, claiming it shows that "there isn't any [global] warming going on." For Hewitt to believe that Limbaugh belongs on a climate change commission requires a willful ignorance of Limbaugh’s long track record of climate science denial and overt disdain for science and scientists.

    From Hewitt’s February 9 op-ed in the Post:

    Imagine, if you will, an August 2017 Post headline: “McChrystal Commission report surprises, energizes and outrages.” The first paragraph reads:

    “The much-anticipated and closely guarded final report of the McChrystal Commission on Climate Change released Tuesday shook nearly every interest and player in the capital. The commission, headed by retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal and including such luminaries of left and right as Oprah Winfrey and Rush Limbaugh and such captains of industry as Bill Gates and Peter Thiel, kept its work secret and its executive summary short and accessible. President Trump tweeted: “THANK YOU General McChrystal and colleagues. Great work. All must read and think on your report carefully!”

    This is a not-yet-established commission, of course, and I don’t know whether the remarkable McChrystal would agree to lead it or if Trump would empanel it. I only know the country needs such a body, just as it needed the National Commission for Social Security Reform more than three decades ago.

    [...]

    [The “insurance policy” theory of combating climate change is] a good argument — but only an argument — because when it comes to climate change, we don’t know enough about the cost of the premium or the nature of the risk. Thus, a national commission led by men and women of impeccable credentials and also populated with visible and controversial opinion leaders of left and right would serve us well. We are told so many things about climate change, in a conclusory and often condescending fashion. As a result, both the town criers of apocalypse and the town cynics who wear a never-ending sneer have lost the ability to be heard by, much less move, the center.

    So what, if anything, ought to be done in light of what, if any, significant dangers lurk — especially if either or both of China and India continue on their emissions trajectory? That would render U.S. actions at best noble gestures and at worst moot and economically self-destructive gestures. Yes, I know about the Paris Accord and the “undertakings” of the big emitters but — the key — I don’t trust it or them.

    I don’t know who to trust actually on these issues. But I would take very seriously the recommendations of a such a commission, and tens of millions would at least pay attention if it is populated in part by big names from entertainment. Winfrey and Limbaugh built and sustained the two largest audiences of the past 30 years after all. Dismiss them if you will, but only two people have accomplished that. Add on a Sheryl Sandberg if you’d like, provided there was also a Thiel to complement the Facebook chief operating officer. You get the picture: Diverse, smart non-scientists who are going to listen to the scientists — all of them — and report back on what ought to be done.

  • Reporters Roast Sean Spicer’s Breitbart Interview: “Most Awkward Thing Ever,” “Insanely Cringey”

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s “exclusive interview” with Breitbart.com crashed and burned. Reporters mocked the two-and-a-half-minute sit-down as “the most awkward thing ever” and “a glorious two-minute comedy of errors” that suffered from terrible production values.

    Breitbart.com had announced on February 8 that Spicer would appear in an interview the following day with White House correspondent Charlie Spiering, who regularly produces fawning coverage of President Donald Trump. Breitbart is a leading defender of Trump, and several White House staffers are Breitbart alumni, including chief strategist Steve Bannon, who formerly chaired the website.

    Spicer gave a short interview to the pro-Trump outlet last evening following the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ unanimous decision to not reinstate Trump’s travel ban targeting seven majority-Muslim countries.

    The interview produced little of value; Breitbart.com was not even promoting the interview’s results on the top of its homepage as of posting time (the site is instead attacking comedian Rosie O'Donnell).  

    Reporters reacted to the interview by noting its “moments of awkward silence,” comparing Spiering to “a 10-year-old who snuck into 1600 Penn,” and calling it a “total disaster” from a “production standpoint”:

    The Washington Post’s Callum Borchers: “Sean Spicer’s Facebook Live interview with Breitbart News is the most awkward thing ever. … From a production standpoint, it was what Spicer's boss likes to call a ‘total disaster.’”

    The Huffington Post’s Rebecca Shapiro: “The interview suffered from moments of awkward silence, unpleasant background noises and some strange camera angles.”

    Esquire’s Sammy Nickalls: “This Breitbart interview was...not good.”

    Death and Taxes’ Candace Bryan: "The interview is rife with awkward silences, harsh changes in sound levels, abrupt push-ins, and a reporter that looks like a 10-year-old who snuck into 1600 Penn after hiding behind the colonnades until Secret Service went on break and is now terrified he’s about to have his cover blown. ... Spicer himself looks as though he’s isn’t certain he isn’t being trolled." 

    Fusion’s Katherine Krueger: The interview was “insanely cringey.”

    The A.V. Club’s Clayton Purdom: It was “a glorious two-minute comedy of errors, with production qualities rivaling the cringe-inducing crap cinema of Fateful Findings, A Talking Cat!?!, and even The Room.”

    The Daily Beast’s Marlow Stern:

    ThinkProgress’ Ned Resnikoff:

    Gizmodo's Ashley Feinberg:

    BuzzFeed’s Ryan Broderick:

  • Donald Trump's Rejection Of Critical Coverage Is Literally The Same As A Murderous Dictator's

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Adopting a tactic deployed by conservatives in the United States to dismiss credible mainstream reporting, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rejected a report that showed “evidence of torture and mass hangings in one of his military prisons” by calling it “‘fake news.’”

    Assad spurned “a new Amnesty International report estimating that between 5,000 and 13,000 [Syrian] prisoners were killed in a ‘calculated campaign of extrajudicial execution,’” telling Yahoo News chief investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff that the “biased and politicized” evidence was “fake news.” Assad also claimed that the “propaganda” from Amnesty International calls “into question the credibility of” the international human rights advocacy organization. 

    Isikoff also reported that Assad "appeared to lend support" to President Donald Trump's Muslim ban by claiming that there "'definitely'" are "terrorist sympathizers embedded among Syria's 4.8 million refugees." 

    Like Assad, conservative media figures, as well as Trump and his White House press secretary Sean Spicer, have been calling negative reporting from credible mainstream outlets “fake news.” Since his inauguration, Trump has derided media outlets and journalists as “fake news” at least ten times. Spicer said a New York Times article about Trump’s adjustment to living in the White House was “‘literally the epitome of fake news,’” and Trump deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka warned that the White House will continue to attack media outlets as “fake news” until “the media understands how wrong” it is “to attack” Trump.

    The trend of strongmen delegitimizing unfavorable but legitimate reporting as “fake news” is disconcerting: Russian propagandists working on behalf of President Vladimir Putin also reportedly undercut evidence of carnage in Aleppo as “fake news.”

    Misappropriating the term “fake news,” to mean anything Trump and his allies in both the White House and conservative media circles disagree with, helps Trump degrade the mainstream media, which, in effect, helps chip away at the biggest barrier to his effort to gaslight his way through his presidency. Dismissing legitimate reporting as “fake news” effectively opens a space for disinformation to compete with objective fact and for propaganda to thrive. If multiple top world leaders are misappropriating the concept of "fake news" to push their own agendas, perhaps the war on information is bigger than we thought. 

  • The White House Is Gaslighting The Media (And The Entire Country)

    Blog ››› ››› DAYANITA RAMESH & JOHN KERR

    President Donald Trump’s administration is gaslighting America. He lies, reporters fact-check him, then he and his team spin the lies to blame the "biased" and "dishonest" media. Trump's team wants to create a world where no one knows what to believe, where facts and reality are irrelevant, and all that matters is what Trump says matters. Gaslighting reporters is one part of the administration’s war with the press -- just another way for his team to try to make the media's role as truth-tellers obsolete.

    And here’s the kicker: It’s not just the Trump administration. It’s also propaganda outlets tied to Trump. They rush to reinforce Trump’s false narratives with his base, which only puts mainstream outlets in a tougher position.

    Some journalists, like Teen Vogue's Lauren Duca, have already made it clear they won't fall for Trump's ploy. It's important that the rest of the media learn that same lesson. The future of American democracy depends on journalists, reporters, and everyday Americans rising above Trump’s gaslighting and calling the president out on his lies. It’s not the Trump administration’s place to decide what is true or false or set the frame of reference. In America, that role belongs to the free and fair press.

  • Trump’s TV Star Fades: He’s No Longer A Ratings Magnet

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    President Donald Trump might have been cheering the New England Patriots’ historic comeback on Super Bowl Sunday, but he couldn’t have been happy about his own contribution to the day. His sit-down interview with Bill O’Reilly, which aired during Fox’s pre-Super Bowl coverage, turned out to be something of a ratings dud. And for a president who obsesses over TV ratings and uses them to validate his own identity, the Sunday interview seemed to be the latest example of his fading personal appeal. 

    Trump’s Q&A with O’Reilly drew approximately 12 million viewers. That’s a respectable number, but when President Barack Obama sat down for the traditional pre-Super Bowl interview in 2009, his first year in office, almost 22 million people tuned in, nearly double Trump’s audience. (And it wasn't a matter of who was playing later; game viewership ratings in 2017 were substantially higher than those in 2009.) Even Obama’s pre-Super Bowl interviews during his second term in office easily outpaced the audience size for Trump’s recent sit-down. Obama drew 18 million viewers in 2014, 16 million in 2015, and 15 million last year.

    That’s been the pattern in recent weeks, as Trump, who spent 2016 chronically boasting about his ability to spike TV news ratings, clearly falls short of the ratings successes Obama posted early in his presidency. As the least popular new president in modern American history, Trump seems to having trouble connecting with the masses.

    For instance, on January 25, ABC News’ David Muir conducted the first prime-time interview with Trump following his inauguration. The show “didn’t set the Nielsen charts aflame,” drawing just 7.5 million viewers and weakly performing in the "advertiser-coveted" 18-49 demographic, as Variety reported. How many viewers watched Obama’s first prime-time interview as president? Seventeen million, or 10 million more than tuned in for Trump.

    At the end of last month, when Trump turned his announcement of a Supreme Court nominee into a prime-time production, 33 million people watched. In contrast, Obama’s first prime-time event was a press conference he held on the night of February 4, 2009, when nearly 50 million Americans watched.

    And then there was the size of Trump’s inauguration audience, which became a topic that drove the White House to distraction. After bragging that his swearing-in would perhaps draw the largest crowd in Washington, D.C., history, only to have a modest-sized audience show up, Trump began wildly inflating the estimates. The crowd “looked like a million, million and a half,” he announced at a speech the day after inauguration, while a crowd-science expert estimated that Trump's audience was about one-third the size of Obama's approximately 1.8 million-person crowd in 2009.

    Then -- after continuing to stew over crowd size numbers throughout the day -- Trump sent White House press secretary Sean Spicer to the White House press briefing room to angrily tell reporters that Trump’s swearing-in attracted “the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period. Both in person and around the world."

    Trump himself tweeted about how large his inauguration TV audience was, bragging that more people watched his swearing-in than Obama's four years earlier.

    But Trump's citation of Obama's second inaugural was a red herring; here are the facts: Across 12 television networks, 31 million people watched Trump’s inauguration, which was 7 million fewer than watched Obama’s first inauguration. That represented a nearly 20 percent decline in viewership. (Trump also garnered fewer viewers than both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.)

    Some caveats: Trump’s Fox News interview with Sean Hannity last month was a big success. So we know that within the right-wing media bubble, Trump remains a star attraction.

    And the topic of Trump is still driving viewers to television news teams. The 2016 election cycle delivered a ratings bonanza for cable news, with all three networks enjoying robust audience gains: Fox was up 36 percent in 2016 compared to 2015, CNN, 77 percent, and MSNBC, 87 percent. (MSNBC posted its best year ever, and CNN its best since 1995.) And their ratings remain strong in 2017.

    Note also that as it rides a wave of Trump mockery, Saturday Night Live is posting its best numbers in 22 years.

    But the idea that Trump himself stands as some sort of cultural phenomenon and that Americans flock to their TVs every time he appears in front of a camera is simply not accurate. (Television news producers, please take note.)

    In television-speak, viewer fatigue seems to have set in and the plot line already appears to be running thin. Keep in mind that Trump just made history by losing the popular vote tally by nearly 3 million votes and remains the least popular new president since modern-day polling was invented. 

    Trump’s tepid Nielsen numbers are bad news for the president since he’s utterly obsessed with television ratings. Even before entering politics, he routinely took to Twitter to tout the numbers for his show Celebrity Apprentice. (“For Trump, Everything Is a Rating,” noted a recent New York Times headline.) For years, Trump has turned to ratings as a way to both validate himself and to undercut his foes.

    And yes, Trump has openly lied about ratings when they didn’t convey the storyline he preferred -- when they didn’t confirm his status as a winner.

    From Adweek:

    Former (and now deceased) Celebrity Apprentice publicist Jim Dowd told PBS' Frontline in 2015 that even as the show's ratings plummeted, Trump demanded he call the TV reporters at major publications and tell them, "'No. 1 show on television, won its time slot,' and I'm looking at the numbers and at that point, say Season 5, for example, we were No. 72."'

    Last year, Dowd told CNN that in his 20 years in the television business, he’d never seen anyone “who cared as deeply about ratings, positive or negative, as Donald Trump."

    On the eve of the inauguration, Bill Scher, writing in New Republic, suggested there was no better way to rattle a man “uniquely obsessed with being seen” than to tune out his swearing-in and deprive him of a big TV audience to brag about. “A mass refusal to watch Trump on TV will deprive him of big ratings, which he routinely uses to create a false impression of widespread popularity.”

    There hasn’t yet been a mass refusal to watch Trump in recent weeks, but the shoulder shrug does seem to be spreading.

  • Fox News Hosts “Professional Muslim Basher" To Attack Ninth Circuit's Stay On The Muslim Ban

    Brigitte Gabriel Is The Founder Of An Anti-Muslim Extremist Group

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    On February 9, Fox News hosted Brigitte Gabriel to give commentary on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ refusal to reinstate President Trump’s Muslim. Gabriel, the founder of an anti-Muslim extremist organization, used the opportunity to propagate Islamophobic lies. 

    Gabriel is the founder of ACT! for America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) says has "eagerly tapped into a groundswell of anti-Muslim rage and done what it could to fan the flames." She appeared on Fox several times after the Charlie Hebdo attack, despite her history of extreme Islamophobia. Gabriel was a guest on the January 7, 2015, edition of Hannity, where she said that Muslims in Europe "started multiplying" after World War II and did not assimilate and that Europe is "paying the price" because it "ignored the cancer growing within its body when it was at Stage Two." In her appearance on the January 8, 2015, edition of The Kelly File, she argued that the "Islamic religion" forbids Muslims to assimilate.

    In September 2014, Gabriel told an audience at the Values Voter Summit that "180 million to 300 million" Muslims are "radical Islamists who are willing to strap bombs on their bodies and walk into this room and blow us all up to smithereens." In June 2014, Gabriel berated a Muslim student who had criticized members of a Heritage Foundation panel on Islam, calling her a liar and saying, "Your loyalty is somewhere else. It's time we see more patriotism from the Muslim community and less terrorism." During the 2016 presidential campaign, Gabriel accused Hillary Clinton of trying to “appeal to the Islamic vote” because the father of a Muslim mass shooter was seen at one of her rallies. In July 2016, Gabriel also claimed that “the majority of Muslims around the world … do not believe in man-made law” and are thus “not compatible with our constitution.” A prominent Middle East expert and editor of The Oxford History of Islam called Gabriel "a professional Muslim basher." From the February 9 edition of Fox News’ The First 100 Days:

  • When Discussing Trump's Muslim Ban, Cable News Excluded Muslims

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN & NINA MAST

    Prime-time cable news shows virtually ignored Muslim voices when they hosted guests to discuss the fallout from President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. This failure fits into a larger media pattern of ignoring Muslims when discussing issues that are particularly impactful to them, while at the same time painting false portraits based on stereotypes. Given how few Americans actually know a Muslim person -- and that the religion is already incredibly vilified -- cable news would do better to follow the precedent set by print media and highlight personal stories from Muslims who have been impacted by the ban.

    On January 27, Trump signed an executive order that banned people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for at least 90 days. While the order does not specifically single out Muslims, media figures and experts agreed that it’s a Muslim ban. That intent seems particularly clear given that during the campaign Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” and that Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani boasted on Fox News that Trump asked him to show him “the right way” to “legally” implement a “Muslim ban.”

    In the week after Trump signed the executive order, prime-time cable news programs hosted 176 guests (some repeat) for significant discussions about the policy, but only 14 guest appearances were Muslim. CNN hosted seven Muslim guests while MSNBC hosted two. Fox News hosted five Muslims, all during the February 3 edition of The First 100 Days. Of CNN’s guests, anchor Fareed Zakaria accounted for two of the seven appearances.

    This failure falls into a broader pattern of cable news neglecting to present representative voices, especially of Muslims. In the 24 hours after the June 12, 2016, mass shooting in Orlando, FL, in which a Muslim man killed 49 people and injured 50 after opening fire at an LGBTQ nightclub, cable news hosted only a few Muslim guests. In the month after the election, only 21 percent of the guests who appeared on evening cable news to discuss Islam were Muslim.

    A 2014 Pew Study found that only 38 percent of Americans know someone who is Muslim, and it’s likely that even fewer know anyone impacted by Trump’s ban. Thus for many Americans, media portrayals are the only way they can get to know the Muslim community, yet the media often falsely frame Muslims as criminals. A 2015 YouGov poll found that 55 percent of Americans have a “somewhat unfavorable” or “very unfavorable” opinion of Islam, while 50 percent said they understand the religion “not too well” or “not well at all.”

    There were several segments on cable news -- not just during prime-time -- discussing the ban that could have used a Muslim guest to add perspective and personal experience to the conversation. On Fox News’ The Five, for example, hosts suggested that those who were affected by Trump’s ban “don’t have rights”:

    CNN hosted Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, which is part of what the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has designated “the nativist lobby.” Krikorian used his platform to defend the ban and baselessly claim that “there are plenty of people with Iraqi nationality who want to commit terrorist acts in the United States”:

    On his show, Fox’s Bill O’Reilly stated that he doesn’t care if “any Muslim … is alienated by the United States” due to the ban while speaking to two non-Muslim guests:

    While cable news has utterly failed at providing a representative view of people impacted by the ban, online and print media have done a much better job speaking to Muslims who experienced firsthand the impact of this policy and reporting their stories:

    • The New York Times put together a series of vignettes about people impacted by the ban, including Fuad Shareef, who worked with American officials as a translator after the invasion of Iraq. After selling the family home and car and spending $5,000 on flights, he was told that he could not go as planned to resettle in the United States.

    • BuzzFeed collected stories from LGBTQ refugees who “felt their dreams crushed as they heard the news” of the ban. Hamid, a gay man who fled his home in Iran and was cleared to resettle in the U.S., told BuzzFeed that he was “going to die here” while hiding out in Turkey.

    • ThinkProgress relayed the story of Roozbeh Aliabadi, a soon-to-be doctoral student who said the “order is keeping him from his wife, who lives in Iran.” Aliabadi told ThinkProgress, “‘I haven’t seen my wife for about seven months, and this, in a way, gives us two options. Number 1: I have to move out of the U.S. Or we have to get divorced. I don’t think the latter is an option.’”

    Methodology

    Media Matters used Nexis to search for all guests appearing on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. from January 30 through February 3 in segments where there was significant discussion of Trump’s travel ban, using the phrases "refugee," "ban," "Muslim," "Islam," and "vetting." Network anchors like Fareed Zakaria who appeared as a guest on a program that they did not anchor were coded as guests in the analysis. Network analysts were also included as guests. Network correspondents and reporters were not counted as guests. Pre-taped interviews where there was no significant dialogue between the reporter and guest were excluded from the analysis. Reruns of interviews from previous programming were excluded from the analysis. Guest appearances were coded for whether the guests self-identified as Muslim either in the segment or prominently elsewhere in the media. Guests were counted once per episode.

    Graph by Sarah Wasko

  • The Daily Caller Used The White House Press Briefing To Advocate Gutting The CFPB

    Right-Wing Media Complain About CFPB Salaries As An Excuse To Destroy Financial Oversight

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

    Daily Caller reporter Kaitlan Collins recycled tired right-wing media complaints about employee salaries at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) as an excuse to float the prospect of gutting the agency during today’s White House press briefing, neglecting to mention that the financial industry watchdog is not funded by taxpayers. The CFPB has long been a target of right-wing media misinformation campaigns aimed at undermining support for objective oversight of Republican-aligned special interests on Wall Street.

    During the February 9 press briefing, Collins asked White House press secretary Sean Spicer if President Donald Trump has “plans to revamp” the CFPB in light of recent reports that some of its employees stand to earn higher salaries in 2017 than Vice President Mike Pence. Collins further begged the question of whether or not Trump believes “he should be able to fire the head of the agency,” Richard Cordray, who has been under fire from congressional Republicans since assuming his position as director of the CFPB in January 2012. Spicer responded by saying “one of the things that you are going to continue to see from this president is a respect for taxpayers’ dollars, the money they spend and how they’re spent” and that federal employees should be paid “a fair wage for their service to this country.” From MSNBC Live:

    As part of a broader hit piece on the CFPB, The Daily Caller reported on February 7 that the agency pays 39 employees more than $230,000 -- the current annual salary for the sitting vice president of the United States. Other right-wing outlets -- RedState and the Washington Free Beacon -- joined in condemning the CFPB both for its higher salaries and for its supposed operation outside “normal government oversight,” obscuring the purpose behind the agency’s structure.

    While Spicer’s expressed concern for demonstrating “respect for taxpayers’ dollars” is welcome, the CFPB is not funded by tax dollars. The CFPB is funded entirely by the Federal Reserve System, which is also not taxpayer funded and actually serves as a source of additional revenue for the Treasury (emphasis added):

    The Federal Reserve does not receive funding through the congressional budgetary process. The Fed's income comes primarily from the interest on government securities that it has acquired through open market operations. Other sources of income are the interest on foreign currency investments held by the Federal Reserve System; fees received for services provided to depository institutions, such as check clearing, funds transfers, and automated clearinghouse operations; and interest on loans to depository institutions. After paying its expenses, the Federal Reserve turns the rest of its earnings over to the U.S. Treasury.

    Right-wing media have been complaining about CFPB salaries for years, but those complaints will carry extra weight if congressional Republicans find a willing accomplice in the White House to sign legislation cutting CFPB pay. A December 22 report from Bloomberg Law outlined how Republican-backed legislation would cut pay to CFPB employees by “as much as 25 percent” while pointing to October 2013 congressional testimony from AFL-CIO lawyer Daniel Silvers explaining the importance of the CFPB payscale:

    “Congressman, all the bank regulators have this ability,” Silvers said. “It’s impossible to be an effective banking regulator without the ability to hire competitively in the banking sector.” Congress has exempted the CFPB, the Fed, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and some other financial regulators from the GS system, resulting in generally higher scales at those agencies.

    Today’s anti-CFPB talking points follow a Wall Street Journal editorial calling for CFPB head Cordray’s termination based on bogus charges of cost overruns in building renovations and discrimination on the part of his management team. The symbiotic, years-long campaign by right-wing media and their GOP allies to gut the consumer watchdog agency has been well-documented, and they make perfect sense given that the agency remains as “one of the few adversaries of Wall Street” left in government after Trump’s election victory.

  • Sean Spicer Grants “Exclusive Interview” To Breitbart.com

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    White House press secretary Sean Spicer will participate in an “exclusive interview” with “alt-right” website Breitbart.com -- a development that underscores the growing relationship between the Trump administration and the notoriously inflammatory outlet.

    Breitbart announced the interview in a February 8 post, touting an “exclusive interview” with Spicer to be streamed on Facebook at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on February 9. Breitbart White House correspondent Charlie Spiering will conduct the interview. The post encouraged Breitbart readers to suggest questions for Spicer in the website’s infamous comments section, which has been called “a sewer of mindless hatred and racism.”

    Ties between the White House and Breitbart.com run deep. The website was formerly run by chief White House strategist Steve Bannon, who previously termed Breitbart “the platform for the alt-right.” Other current Trump administration employees who used to write for Breitbart include deputy assistant to the president Sebastian Gorka and Bannon assistant Julia Hahn.

    During Trump’s first press conference as president-elect, the only reporter given a reserved seat was Breitbart reporter Matthew Boyle, and Trump called on him in short order to ask a sycophantic question about what “reforms” the new president would recommend for the media industry.

    Trump and his allies have engaged in an unprecedented war on the press, dating back to his campaign. A day after being sworn in as president, Trump referenced his “running war” with mainstream media. Bannon later called mainstream press “the opposition party” and suggested that “the media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for awhile.” Meanwhile, the White House has repeatedly elevated pro-Trump propaganda outlets like Breitbart. Laura Ingraham’s LifeZette, a website that frequently publishes false reports, received the first question at a recent White House press briefing. The Gateway Pundit, a notoriously sloppy conservative blog, and conspiracy theory outlet Infowars have both claimed they will soon be credentialed by the White House.

    In contrast to the widespread derision Spicer has drawn because of his tendency to lie from the press briefing room lectern, Breitbart’s coverage of Spicer’s briefings has been fawning, amplifying perceived victories over the press. Here’s a sampling of recent Breitbart Spicer headlines, all of which ran atop articles written by Spiering: