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  • Des Moines Register Demands Specifics About So-Called “Alternatives” To Planned Parenthood

    Register’s Editorial Board Showed Local Papers What Questions To Ask When Anti-Choice Lawmakers Threaten Access To Essential Care

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    As conservatives on Capitol Hill threaten to defund Planned Parenthood under dubious pretenses, Iowa’s Des Moines Register is modeling how state papers should handle efforts by local anti-choice lawmakers to do the same.

    The Register’s editorial board called on Gov. Terry Branstad (R-IA) to “sit down and write the names of the entities that can provide comprehensive family planning services in Iowa” before following through on his budget plan to eliminate state funding for Planned Parenthood. The paper quoted Branstad saying that his plan “redirects family planning money to organizations that focus on providing health care for women and eliminates taxpayer funding for organizations that perform abortions.”

    Branstad’s plan comes from a familiar anti-choice playbook. To justify defunding Planned Parenthood, right-wing media and anti-choice politicians in a number of states have wrongly claimed that the organization uses taxpayer money to subsidize abortion services. Although in reality, the government reimburses Planned Parenthood only for non-abortion services, and that money is provided via Medicaid, lawmakers use this incorrect allegation to demand that funds be shifted to so-called “community health clinics” (CHC). Lawmakers believe these CHCs could absorb patient demand should access to Planned Parenthood be eliminated -- a claim experts call “a gross misrepresentation of what even the best community health centers in the country would be able to do.”

    By demanding specifics from conservatives who claim that there are numerous “alternatives” to Planned Parenthood, the Register modeled the kind of reporting local outlets should be doing about threats to defund essential health care in their communities.

    1. Demand To Know What So-Called “Alternatives” To Planned Parenthood Are Available

    Planned Parenthood is an essential care provider for millions of Americans nationally, 60 percent of them low-income patients covered through Medicaid. In Iowa, this process is facilitated through the Iowa Family Planning Network (IFPN) waiver program, which gives patients the option to receive “a form of limited insurance coverage” through Medicaid that covers “basic family planning services.”

    As the Register noted, Branstad “must know that many of the more than 30,000 Iowans obtaining services made possible by the waiver receive them from Planned Parenthood,” which means that if he “rejects this particular organization, he should specify exactly who has the statewide ability to take its place.”

    There’s ample reason to believe that this task will prove impossible for the long-serving anti-choice governor. As the Register reported, providers have already warned state officials that there “are not enough providers in Iowa to absorb the patients Planned Parenthood of the Heartland currently serves.”

    Rather than taking Branstad or other anti-choice lawmakers at their word about the viability of so-called alternatives, the Register performed a critical journalistic function and demanded to know what these facilities were, and whether they have the capacity to meet the medical needs of low-income patients across the state.

    2. Ask About The Types Of Services “Alternatives” Can Actually Provide

    Beyond asking Branstad to name specific alternatives to Planned Parenthood, the Register also asked that the list exclude clinics that are “no longer in business” and include only facilities that “actually provide family planning services.”

    This may seem like an odd stipulation, but the Register’s specific question about alternative providers’ actual services is exactly the kind of scrutiny local outlets should apply when lawmakers threaten to radically alter the infrastructure of essential health care systems.

    Across the country, anti-choice lawmakers have conflated the total number of CHCs with the much smaller number of those facilities that are actually equipped to provide primary care and family planning services. As the Register explained:

    Florida lawmakers learned that lesson the hard way. After passing an anti-Planned Parenthood bill last year, they sought to demonstrate there were numerous, alternative providers. Their list became a national joke because it included the names of elementary and middle schools, dental practices and at least one eye clinic.

    While Planned Parenthood clinics all offer preventive and basic care services, CHCs can qualify for that classification while providing more limited care -- making direct comparisons between the overall numbers a misleading measure of actual health care provision capacity.

    By demanding specific answers about threats to defund Planned Parenthood, The Des Moines Register’s editorial board provided a model for local outlets to critically interrogate claims by lawmakers about so-called alternatives -- questions that are essential when access to health care is on the line.

  • CBS Atlanta Affiliate Gives Credibility To Debunked Pizzagate Conspiracy

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    A CBS affiliate in Atlanta gave credibility to the dangerous conspiracy theory known as Pizzagate, which falsely claimed that Hillary Clinton’s campaign trafficked children through a Washington, D.C. pizzeria, with an anchor reporting that it’s wrong to say “there’s nothing to this story.”

    The conspiracy, which started on fringe and fake news-purveying websites before conspiracy theorists like radio host Alex Jones and the son of Donald Trump’s national security adviser promoted it, alleged that hacked emails from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta showed that Washington, D.C., restaurant Comet Ping Pong was involved in a peophilia ring. The baseless claim spurred at least one death threat for the restaurant’s owner, and in December a gunman opened fire inside the pizzeria in order to “self-investigate” the conspiracy.

    During the January 17 edition of CBS Atlanta affiliate WGCL’s evening news program, anchor Ben Swann said that while “not one single email in the Podesta emails discusses child sex-trafficking or pedophilia, … there are dozens of what seem to be strangely worded emails dealing with pizza and handkerchiefs.” Swann claimed “self-described online investigators say that those words in the emails … is code language used by pedophiles.” Swann also claimed there were “some very strange connections” between Comet Ping Pong and another pizzeria nearby, comparing that pizzeria’s logo to an alleged FBI report on peophile signals. Swann concluded by saying, “Investigators have already proven there's nothing to the story, right? Well actually, no,” and questioning why police were not investigating.

    The segment has since been hyped on 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit -- which were among the websites that first pushed the conspiracy theory -- with users calling Swann’s commentary “fucking amazing” and an “unbiased report about Pizzagate.”

    Swann has a history of pushing conspiracy theories. In 2013, he questioned the “official narrative” of the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the 2012 Aurora, CO, shooting. According to The New York Times, he has also “raised questions about the collapse of one of the buildings at the World Trade Center.”

  • Donald Trump Wants An Army Of Jeff Gannon Shills In The White House Press Briefing Room

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The Trump administration’s reported proposal to move the White House press briefing to a large room that can accommodate pro-Trump sycophants and propagandists is brazen and destructive. But it’s also not entirely new -- the Bush administration adopted a similar strategy in 2004, granting press briefing access to a shill working for a right-wing outlet who they could rely on for softball questions.

    That shill’s name was Jeff Gannon. Actually, that shill’s name was James Guckert. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

    Gannon parlayed a two-day, $50 broadcast journalism workshop at the right-wing Leadership Institute into a job reporting from the White House briefing room for Talon News. Talon News was a shell organization run by a GOP political operative that used articles written by right-wing activists to drive traffic to another conservative website run by the operative.

    Thanks to the access the White House press office provided, Gannon had a platform to draw plaudits from Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, get his work published by the American Enterprise Institute, and even attend White House Christmas parties.

    The White House got something in return: Gannon became the lifeline for Bush’s press secretary at the time, Scott McClellan.

    Here’s how it would work: Other journalists would be grilling McClellan over the Bush administration’s activities. McClellan would call on Gannon for a question. And Gannon would bail McClellan out, frequently with a leading question ladened with false assumptions.

    In August 2004, for example, after taking several questions from a reporter about whether American forces had killed any innocent people in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and another seeking President Bush’s opinion of the disgraced Ahmad Chalabi, McClellen turned to Gannon. And Gannon came through: He asked McClellan about a new “piece of evidence showing the direct terror ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda” and followed up by asking “how damaging” a New York Times story had been “to our war on terror.”

    In June 2004, McClellan escaped from a series of tough questions about Bush’s foreign policy record by calling on Gannon, who offered up the following question: “Why hasn't the administration made more of the U.N. inspectors' report that says Saddam Hussein was dismantling his missile and WMD [weapons of mass destruction] sites before and during the war? And doesn't that, combined with the now-proven Al Qaeda link between Iraq -- between Saddam Hussein and the terrorist organization -- unequivocally make the case for going to war in Iraq?”

    The list goes on and on.

    Gannon even got to ask a question at Bush’s January 26, 2005, White House press conference. He used that opportunity to inquire how the president would be able to “work with” Democratic leaders given that they had, in Gannon’s words, “divorced themselves from reality.”

    But that appearance was the beginning of the end for Gannon. He drew tremendous scrutiny from Media Matters and others, and with his schtick (and the fact that “Jeff Gannon” was a pseudonym) exposed, he was forced to resign within two weeks.

    Thirteen years later, the landscape has shifted. Incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer is openly discussing moving the press briefings to a larger space in order to accommodate “talk radio, bloggers and others.” While the White House Correspondents Association currently determines who gets the 49 seats in the briefing room, the White House Press Office handles credentialing and distributes daily press passes, giving Spicer significant control over the composition of the press room.

    In practice, that means that Spicer could have a sea of Jeff Gannons on which to rely -- “reporters” from openly pro-Trump propaganda outlets who will side with the president over their colleagues in the press.

    If ABC News gives him trouble during the briefing, he could turn to the reporter from Breitbart.com. When The Washington Post tries to pin him down, he could retreat to the representative from Right Side Broadcasting Network. If The Associated Press and CNN and NBC News are all pressing him for answers, he could take questions from Laura Ingraham’s LifeZette or One America News Network or Infowars to stall.

    We could even see our first all-shill press briefing, with reporters from mainstream outlets entirely shut out while Spicer calls on the sycophants.

    Meanwhile, Trump is warning that there will be repercussions for the press if they fight back against the move, suggesting that his administration will use the limited space in the current briefing room as an excuse to deny access to credible news outlets and grant it to more supportive ones. “There’s too many people for this small room,” he said this morning during an interview on Fox & Friends. “We have so many people that want to go, so we'll have to just pick the people that go into the room.” He added that if that happens, the press will “be begging for a much larger room very soon. You watch.”

    Trump has already deployed the Gannon strategy as president-elect. During his press conference last week, he pivoted away from a series of questions about the intelligence community’s fears about his interactions with Russia to take one from Matt Boyle from Breitbart, the conservative website previously run by his chief strategist and that spent the election pushing his candidacy. Boyle’s softball sought Trump’s opinion of what “reforms” the media industry should undertake to avoid the “problems” of its election coverage. We should expect Trump to continue to use his platform to lift up such supportive outlets.

    It gets worse. Gannon was forced out because he and his outlet could not withstand the light of scrutiny, and because he was an outlier in a press corps that made his continued presence untenable. Once it became clear that he was acting as the press secretary’s safety net, it was no longer a plausible strategy for him to do so.

    Those inhibiting factors no longer hold true under a Trump administration. The sheer number of pro-Trump shilling operations means that the Gannon strategy will be extremely difficult to sequester and stop. And neither Trump nor those outlets have enough shame to care how obvious the practice will be.

    When the press is the enemy, taking briefing questions from propagandists makes perfect sense.

  • Trump Speaks With Foreign Diplomats, Regales Them With Fake News Story

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    During the Chairman’s Global Dinner pre-inauguration event, President-elect Donald Trump bragged about the “record crowds coming” to celebrate his inauguration, including a group called “bikers for Trump.” Trump regaled his audience with tales of photos showing thousands of bikers purportedly making their way to Washington D.C., a fake news story uncovered by BuzzFeed hours before Trump went on stage. 

    Trump's comments were made during the event dubbed the "most exclusive event" preceding the inauguration which gives nearly 200 foreign diplomats the opportunity to meet the president-elect and his team. Footage of the event aired on the January 17 edition of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 which included Trump's remarks to the diplomats and guests at the dinner (emphasis added):

    DONALD TRUMP: I also want to tell you, you know, so many people are talking about what's going on and now they’ve just announced we're going to have record crowds coming. I saw the bikers for Trump. Boy, they had a scene today. I don't know if I'd want to ride one of those, but they do like me. That's like additional security with those guys. They're rough when they get on that Harley, usually a Harley, made right here in America. And they had a scene today where they had helicopters flying over a highway someplace in this country and they had thousands of those guys coming into town. And let me tell you they are great people. And we are getting -- I think I must have gotten 100% of their votes between the military and the police.

    CNN host Anderson Cooper did not comment on Trump's remarks during the dinner due to technical difficulties with the video, but according to a BuzzFeed report, the photo Trump claimed purportedly showed a group of 5,000 motorcyclists on their way to Washington D.C. among various other photos, were actually photos taken years ago. BuzzFeed’s report explains that “several pro-Trump accounts on social media are using pictures and videos that falsely claim to show large groups of bikers on their way to the inauguration in Washington” and that, although pro-Trump bikers have requested a permit to attend the inauguration, no permit has been granted to date. 

    Trump has a history of sharing false claims or fake news that originate from fringe right-wing media sites

  • NY Times Distorts Food Stamp Data, Saying Recipients Buy Lots Of “Unhealthful Foods”

    In Fact, Report Shows SNAP Beneficiaries Have Similar Purchasing Habits To Non-SNAP Shoppers

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    A recent article in The New York Times grossly misinterpreted the findings of a government review of nationwide grocery purchases by participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as “food stamps.” The article incorrectly portrayed the study as showing that “a disproportionate amount of food stamp money is going toward unhealthful foods,” when in reality it showed that Americans across the board purchase similar items and that overall, everyone could be eating in healthier ways. The suggestion that SNAP recipients are somehow guilty of wasting money on frivolous food purchases is a tired right-wing media attack, and the Times’ sloppy handling of the recently released data is sure to embolden opponents of federal anti-poverty programs.

    On November 18, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which administers the federal food security program, released a report analyzing purchases at “a leading grocery retailer” in 2011. A key finding in the data was that “food purchases, consumption patterns, and dietary outcomes among SNAP participants and higher income households are more similar than different.” Recipients of SNAP benefits spent slightly more of their grocery budget on meats and “sweetened beverages” (which include many juices and soft drinks) while non-SNAP households spent slightly more on vegetables and “high fat dairy” items. Overall, “differences in the expenditure patterns … were relatively limited” across all major grocery categories:

    According to the USDA’s summary of its findings, households that receive SNAP benefits and households that do not receive benefits have similar consumption habits, including the habit of purchasing food items like “sweetened beverages,” “soft drinks,” “salty snacks,” and other junk foods that “may not be fully consistent with” preferred dietary guidelines. Indeed, according to the full November 2016 report, the seven most common grocery purchases of SNAP and non-SNAP consumers are virtually the same, with “soft drinks” ranking first for SNAP households and second for all other customers and “bag snacks” ranking fourth for SNAP households and fifth for others:

    However, The New York Times published a headline that seems to condemn low-income Americans for buying soft drinks -- “In the Shopping Cart of a Food Stamp Household: Lots of Soda” -- and its piece noted that advocates of healthy living “have called for restrictions so that food stamps cannot be used to buy junk food or sugary soft drinks.”

    Rebecca Vallas and Katherine Gallagher Robbins of the Center for American Progress slammed the article in a blog for Talk Poverty, noting that the misleading article was accompanied by an image “of a grocery cart overflowing with 2-liter bottles of soft drinks and a store aisle that is nothing but a wall of soda.”

    Talk Poverty cited several examples of research refuting the Times’ stance along with experts who “took to social media to highlight the study’s actual findings”:

    • University of Minnesota sociologist Joe Soss called the article “a political hack job on a program that helps millions of Americans” and said it  “peddled harmful myths and outright lies” in a Facebook post as well as a January 16 column for Jacobin magazine;
    • University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen analyzed the data and reported on Twitter that SNAP recipients were only slightly more likely than others to buy “sweetened beverages” but more than three times more likely to buy “baby food” because so many users have young children; and
    • The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) found in a June 2016 report that increasing SNAP benefits, rather than restricting their use, addresses food insecurity more broadly while also helping low-income families afford healthier (and more expensive) food items.

    Aside from missing the point of the USDA study, the Times’ report has several other issues. From the outset, the article defines SNAP as a “$74 billion food stamp program,” which makes the program sound extremely large even though it actually comprises a relatively small piece of the $3.6 trillion federal dollars spent in 2011. Reporting incomprehensible raw numbers in this way is not informative, it’s a scare tactic, and The New York Times publicly committed in October 2013 to improving its reporting on exactly this issue.

    The Times also quoted a professor who erroneously claimed that “SNAP is a multibillion-dollar taxpayer subsidy of the soda industry.” The amount of SNAP dollars going to the purchase of soft drinks was $357.7 million in 2011, far shy of “a multibillion-dollar” giveaway.

    Furthermore, by promoting the misleading premise that SNAP users are wasting tax dollars on junk food, the Times provided ammunition to political interests set on destroying the program. Right-wing media outlets have spent years demonizing SNAP and other food assistance programs based on the premise that these outlets know better than the recipients themselves what the latter should be eating. This misinformation campaign has already impacted public policy, spurring Republican lawmakers in several states and in Congress to pursue unnecessary restrictions that hurt working families.

    Finally, buried in the eighth paragraph of the Times piece, the paper quotes a USDA spokesperson who points out that the question “Are we consuming too many sweetened beverages, period?” can be applied to “all households,” not just SNAP recipients.

    Even after admitting 15 paragraphs down that “food stamp recipients and other households generally made similar purchases,” the Times pivoted back to claiming the data are “deeply troubling” to public health experts focused on the pervasiveness of a sugar-rich diet on obesity. The Times quoted obesity expert Dr. David Ludwig, who called for restrictions against using SNAP on food items “that are demonstrably going to undermine public health.” The article chose not to cite an April 2014 report by public health experts affiliated with the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), which found that childhood access to food stamps in their current form actually already contributes to “a significant reduction” in obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes later in life.

    If the Times wanted to tackle the problems created by the traditional American junk food diet, the paper could have followed the example set by comedian and Last Week Tonight host John Oliver, whose excellent October 25, 2014, takedown of the sugar industry addressed the issue without targeting a single low-income family.

  • Right Side Broadcasting, The "Unofficial Version Of Trump TV," Hires Racist YouTube Prankster "Joey Salads"

    Salads: You’ll Get “Shot” If You “Steal A Niggas Food Stamp”

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Right Side Broadcasting Network (RSBN) has hired YouTube personality Joey Saladino, who produced a hoax video which purported to prove that the “black community is very violent toward” Trump supporters. Saladino, who also uses the moniker “Joey Salads,” has also tweeted racist remarks on his Twitter account, including that you’ll get “shot” if you “steal a niggas food stamp” and “Facebook is for old people and niggers.”

    The Washington Post wrote in October that RSBN “has been the unofficial version of Trump TV since last summer, streaming the Republican nominee's campaign events in all their unedited glory online.” The Post noted that the fledgling outlet had received a “boost of legitimacy … when the billionaire's campaign teamed up with Right Side to produce pre- and post-debate analysis shows that streamed on Trump's Facebook page.”

    Following Trump’s victory, RSBN announced it would be expanding operations by becoming “a 24-hour network very soon” and participating in White House press briefings. Politico Magazine reported on January 14 that Joe Seales, founder and CEO of the network, “messages regularly” with senior Trump officials and that the network “will be at the inauguration and inaugural balls.”

    RSBN has been expanding its operations by hiring new personnel, including former Infowars reporter Joe Biggs, who has tweeted his approval of date rape, sexual violence, and punching women and transgender people. He also threatened to release revenge porn of a “bitch” who allegedly cheated on him. The network also features discredited anti-immigrant filmmaker Dennis Michael Lynch.

    RSBN announced in January that it will begin airing The Joey Saladino Show and claimed that “this guy is awesome. You will love this guy.” On his January 6 show for RSBN, Saladino said that Black Lives Matter is “worse than the KKK. They are the new KKK” and "worse than" terror organization ISIS. On the January 13 edition of his RBSN show, he said that Black Lives Matter protests are “started on lies.”

    RSBN CEO Seales told Politico Magazine last week that the company claims to not “stand for” offensive rhetoric against minorities after a staffer suggested that Islam is an inferior religion. But Saladino has made a living off of attacking minorities, especially African-Americans.

    In October 2016, Saladino published a racist video purporting to show that the “black community is very violent toward” Trump and his supporters. The video showed black men destroying a car that was adorned with pro-Trump messages. However, as The Daily Beast noted, the “entire video was staged”:

    After the intro, 30 minutes pass, according to the video. Then, captured by what appears to be hidden-camera footage, a black man with his face blurred walks up to the car. He calls up friends, and within 15 minutes the man is joined by four other black men.

    After opening the doors and trunk of the inexplicably unlocked car, the group spends about 30 seconds attacking the car with a metal pipe and a rock, smashing the car’s windows while ripping off some of the Trump signs attached to the car. Then, as quickly as they arrived, they run away.

    “As you can see from this video, the black community is very violent toward Trump and his supporters,” Salads says earnestly at the end of the video.

    Within hours of its posting to Salads’ more than 1.4 million YouTube subscribers, the video went viral, racking up more than a million views. It was even featured at the top of The Drudge Report.

    Saladino later apologized and said, “I thought I could of got away with it, but I didn’t.” The Daily Beast wrote of his other videos:

    Salads once dressed up as an Islamic terrorist and threatened people with fake bombs in a video uploaded just one day after the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando. He’s put on a wig and a dress and entered public bathrooms to “dress and act like a transgender,” concluding that “most women are not comfortable sharing a bathroom with a trans person.” He’s filmed nearly a dozen “Funny Public Hood Pranks,” where he attempts to anger black and Latino men on camera by tricking them into thinking he has called them racial slurs. 

    Saladino has repeatedly posted racist commentary on his Twitter account over the years. Here is a sampling of his social media activity:

    UPDATE (1/18): Saladino deleted several of his racist tweets and wrote on his Twitter account, “When they find your bad tweets from 5 years ago, the fact they took all that times shows I must be doing something right.” Screenshots of those deleted tweets can be found here and here.

  • Trump Wants To Flood White House Press Briefings With Sycophants And Propagandists

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Donald Trump has a message for the White House press corps: The press briefing room the journalists have used since the 1970s belongs to him, and if he wants to take it away, he can.

    On Saturday, Esquire reported that the incoming Trump administration has discussed evicting the press from the briefing room and holding the daily briefings with the press secretary in a space outside of the White House. "They are the opposition party," a senior official told the magazine. "I want 'em out of the building. We are taking back the press room."

    But something is happening here that is more insidious than Trump and his administration lashing out at perceived enemies. According to CNN’s Brian Stelter, the administration is interested in potentially “stacking press conferences with conservative columnists and staffers from pro-Trump outlets.”

    “The current briefing room only has 49 seats,” Trump press secretary Sean Spicer told Stelter, “so we have looked at rooms within the White House to conduct briefings that have additional capacity to accommodate members of media including talk radio, bloggers and others."

    I’m generally skeptical of the current structure of White House press briefings; while it’s important for a top White House aide to be answerable to the public on a daily basis, the fact that the briefings are televised live seems to encourage everyone involved to grandstand and limits the amount of actual news created by the practice. As former press secretaries have noted, this practice created a “theater of the absurd,” with journalists and staff alike subject to perverse incentives that prioritize optics over substance.

    But retaining the daily, televised briefings while opening them up to a panoply of Trump sycophants will make them much, much worse, taking time away from real journalists and giving it to pro-Trump propagandists.

    Urging the incoming Trump administration to adopt a similar plan in November, Newt Gingrich hinted at the effort’s real purpose: undermining the traditional press. “They should rethink from the ground up the whole concept of the White House press corps, come up with a totally new grass-roots model, and not allow the traditional media to dominate and define White House press coverage,” he told Sean Hannity

    In other words, in order to limit the number of potentially fraught questions from professional journalists, the Trump administration will open the doors to hacks and charlatans.

    Jeffrey Lord, one of CNN’s resident Trump supporters, previewed how this could work last night. He told Anderson Cooper, “I think a lot of members of the press are perceived as thinking, ‘This is ours.’ What happens, for instance, if Sean Spicer comes out one day and says not only is [Trump] going to Twitter, but we’re giving the first six seats in here to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, et cetera, et cetera. And then we’re giving the rest, the next five, to various bloggers, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.”

    The White House press corps has and should remain welcoming to journalists of all political stripes. But White House press briefings will change dramatically if a vastly increased pool allows Spicer the opportunity to avoid damaging news revelations by directing questions to loyal outlets like Breitbart.com, Infowars, Right Side Broadcasting Network, One America News Network, Ingraham’s LifeZette, or the National Enquirer.

    We saw how this could work in practice at Trump’s press conference last week. Trump had rarely publicly interacted with the press since his election, so there were a wide variety of pressing issues worthy of reporters’ attention. But the president-elect was able to soak up some of the precious question time by pivoting to softball questions from Breitbart and OANN.

    Trump’s press conference behavior mirrored his general practice of using his platform to lift up outlets devoted to his success; for instance, over the past week, he has used his Twitter feed to promote LifeZette and OANN and to attack NBC News and CNN.

    Overseas precedents demonstrate how this method, taken to the extreme, can be used to discredit the media and damage their ability to provide oversight. Alexey Kovalev, a Russian journalist who has covered Vladimir Putin’s annual press conferences, noted in the wake of Trump’s press conference last week that the Russian dictator has been able to defang the media by alternating questions between “people from publications that exist for no other reason than heaping fawning praise on him and attacking his enemies” and “token critic[s].”

    As Gingrich’s November comments suggest, the floated plan to alter White House press briefings is based in a general denial of the media’s historical responsibility to inform the American public. We should expect Trump’s administration to do everything it can to do to hinder journalists’ efforts and reduce their credibility. He and his team treat the press as an enemy to be defeated and destroyed.

    “You don't have to think of The New York Times or CNN or any of these people as news organizations,” Gingrich explained last week. “They're mostly propaganda organizations. And they're going to be after Trump every single day of his presidency.”

    Sean Hannity took this line of argument to its logical extreme in the wake of the election, stating that until the traditional press admit that they were “colluding” with the Clinton campaign (this is laughable), “they should not have the privilege, they should not have the responsibility of covering the president on behalf of you, the American people.”

    Trump’s potential plans for the White House press briefings should be seen as a part of that strategy of delegitimizing journalists. It is a tangible step he can take to damage the press corps. The White House Correspondents Association has spoken out against the proposed move, but the group can’t stop the move if the administration really wants to go through with it.

    The potential bright side is that journalists may respond to the Trump administration’s declaration of open war against the press by finding new ways to critically cover the new president without being so reliant on the access they have traditionally received from the White House. If they don’t take that opportunity, though, they’ll be following the rules of a game that no longer exists.

    Sign Media Matters’ petition urging the White House press corps to “close ranks and stand up for journalism” against Trump’s attacks.

  • NRATV: Martin Luther King Jr. "Would Be Ashamed Of John Lewis"

    NRATV Employees Use MLK Day To Bash Lewis As “Anti-American,” “Unpatriotic,” And “A Threat To Democracy”

    Blog ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, NRATV host Grant Stinchfield accused Georgia congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis of “race-bait[ing]” and claimed King “would be ashamed” of him after Rep. Lewis (D-GA) said he would not attend President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.

    Lewis said he plans to skip the inauguration, explaining that he believes Russian interference helped get Trump elected and that he is not a “legitimate president.” Two days before MLK Day, Trump wrote a series of tweets attacking the congressman, suggesting he “focus on the burning and crime infested inner cities of the U.S.” and calling him “all talk, talk, talk -- no actions or results.” Lewis, who marched with King in Selma, AL, and led the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s, is largely revered as a civil rights hero.

    During the January 16 edition of the National Rifle Association’s NRATV Live Updates with Grant Stinchfield, Stinchfield claimed that in “the decades since Lewis” marched with the civil rights leader, he has “forgotten what Dr. King stood for.” Stinchfield questioned why the congressman continues to “divide this nation” and said that is not what “Martin Luther King was about”:  

    GRANT STINCHFIELD: (HOST): Today, on Martin Luther King Day, I believe Dr. King would be ashamed of John Lewis. I’m saddened to say that because Lewis marched with Dr. King. But apparently the decades since Lewis has marched with Dr. King, he’s forgotten what Dr. King stood for: freedom. Freedom for all Americans, even Americans you disagree with.

    [...]

    STINCHFIELD: You want to talk about freedom? We had freedom to elect the leader that we wanted, to serve America, to lead our military, to fight for what we believe in. Things that maybe he doesn’t believe in. But I ask you this, John Lewis, why do you call Donald Trump a racist? Why do you race-bait? Why do you follow the lead of Barack Obama and continue to divide this nation? That is not what Martin Luther King was about.

    During an interview with NRATV commentator Dana Loesch that same day, Stinchfield admitted that Lewis is a “civil rights hero,” but he called his refusal to attend the inauguration “anti-American,” “unpatriotic,” and “sad.” Loesch agreed that Lewis is a civil rights “icon,” but she called his comments “unfortunate” and “a threat to democracy”:

    GRANT STINCHFIELD (HOST): Yesterday on Meet the Press, John Lewis, the congressman who really is a civil rights hero, comes out and he says that Donald Trump’s presidency is illegitimate. He is doing this to delegitimize Trump’s entire presidency, I think it's anti-American, it's unpatriotic, and it's sad coming from a guy -- especially today, it's Martin Luther King Day, Lewis is a guy who marched with Martin Luther King. I think it's sad.

    DANA LOESCH (NRATV COMMENTATOR): I think it is as well, and while I believe that Lewis is a civil rights icon, it's unfortunate that he chose to behave in this particular manner.

    [...]

    LOESCH: John Lewis, by his actions is -- he is posing to be a threat to democracy by refusing to acknowledge the results of this election, by refusing to acknowledge the results of the Electoral College. The individuals spoke, and it's not their fault if they refused to vote as John Lewis would have had them voted.

    During the January 17 edition of Live Updates, Stinchfield added he was “very glad” to see that Trump had met with King’s son, Martin Luther King III, “at a time when so-called black leaders are coming out and doing everything they can to derail Donald Trump’s presidency before he even takes office.”

    This is not the first time the NRA has attacked Rep. Lewis; NRA radio host Cam Edwards compared participants in last summer’s U.S. House of Representatives sit-in to protest GOP inaction on gun violence, led by Lewis, to “criminals and terrorists” because he said that, like terrorists, the representatives were not following the rules. 

  • When The New York Times Helped Trump By Putting The Brakes On The Russian Hacking Story

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Talk about strange bedfellows joining forces to produce an unlikely media alliance.

    That’s what happened when The New York Times reported on October 31, 2016, that FBI officials had not been able to uncover any evidence that Russian operatives, through allegedly hacking Democratic emails, were trying to help elect Donald Trump.

    “Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia,” read the October 31 Times headline which relied on unnamed “law enforcement officials.”  

    Acting as an almost unofficial time-out, and one that came with the Times’ seal of approval, the article helped put the media brakes on the unfolding Russian hacking story; the same Russian hacking story that has now morphed into a full-scale Trump scandal.

    The message on October 31 from the Times’ sources was unmistakable: There’s no conclusive connection between Trump and the Russians, and the Russians’ efforts were “aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.” (Question: How do you not pick sides in a two-person election if you only undermine one of the candidates, the way Russian hackers only undermined the Democrat?)

    The Times piece set off audible cheers within the conservative media, which usually holds the Times in contempt for its supposed “liberal media bias.”

    In fact, pointing to the newspaper’s alleged Democratic leanings, conservative claimed that if even the liberal New York Times determined there was no Trump-Russia story, then it definitely must be true.

    “And as far as liberals are concerned, the Democrats are concerned, when the New York Times clears you, you are cleared,” Rush Limbaugh told his listeners on November 1. “The New York Times carries as much weight as the FBI, and if the New York Times says there’s nothing to see between Trump and Russia and Putin, then there’s nothing to see.” 

    All across the conservative media landscape, the Times report was held up as putting the Trump-Russia story to bed.

    However, to suggest the Times’ influential October 31 report “hasn’t aged well,” as MSNBC’s Chris Hayes recently put it, may be an understatement, as the unfolding hacking scandal continues to gain momentum and more evidence tumbles out regarding claims that Russians were trying to help Trump. (Hayes also correctly recalled that "At the same time the FBI was leaking like a sieve about Clinton, people around it went out of their way to dampen the Putin talk.")

    The problems with the Times article are many. First off, Sen. Harry Reid’s spokesman claimed that Reid had been interviewed for the Times’ article, pushed back against its timid premise about there being no connection, and that Reid’s comments were omitted from the story. 

    More recently, we’ve seen all kinds of information revealed that contradicts the Times’ often-quoted October 31 report. For instance, FBI Director James Comey testified in December that Russia had “hacked into Republican state political campaigns and old email domains of the Republican National Committee,” but did not release information from those hacks. As Reuters pointed out, that allegation “may buttress the U.S. intelligence view that Moscow tried to help Trump against Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign.”

    More recently, the BBC reported that “a joint taskforce, which includes the CIA and the FBI, has been investigating allegations that the Russians may have sent money to Mr Trump's organisation or his election campaign.” Also last week, the Guardian reported that FBI investigators were so concerned with a possible Trump-Russia connection that they asked for a foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) warrant to monitor Trump aides during the campaign. (The warrant request was reportedly denied.)

    Meanwhile, Britain’s The Independent reported that the former intelligence officer who wrote the recently revealed Trump dossier was frustrated that the FBI had “for months” ignored the information he passed along to the bureau about a possible Trump-Russian connection.

    Note that just four weeks after the election, the Times itself reported, “Both intelligence and law enforcement officials agree that there is a mountain of circumstantial evidence suggesting that the Russian hacking was primarily aimed at helping Mr. Trump and damaging his opponent.” (Emphasis added.)

    And from NPR: “FBI, CIA Agree That Russia Was Trying To Help Trump Win The Election.”

    Here’s the larger context for the Times report and why it was seen as such a game-changer at the time.

    On October 31, the FBI was dealing with two breaking news stories that were spinning out of its control and reflecting poorly on Comey.

    The bureau was under withering criticism from legal experts, journalists, Democrats, and even some Republicans after Comey inserted insert himself into the final days of the campaign by informing Congress that the FBI was reigniting its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of private email while secretary of state. That last weekend in October the bureau was also battling damaging news stories that suggested its leadership had been slow to respond to the Russian hacking controversy as it pertained to Donald Trump. 

    Comey’s letter to Congress about the emails was dispatched October 28. In the days that followed, a steady stream of revelations undercut his actions. On October 30, CNN reported that the FBI had known about the new emails for “weeks” before Comey decided to go public with the information just days before the election. 

    The following day, news outlets reported that Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) had sent Comey a blistering letter , insisting the FBI director was sitting on “‘explosive’ information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisers, and the Russian government.”

    That same day, Mother Jones, foreshadowing the news last week about a dossier collected on Trump, reported that, “a former senior intelligence officer for a Western country” had provided to the FBI with “memos, based on his recent interactions with Russian sources, contending the Russian government has for years tried to co-opt and assist Trump—and that the FBI requested more information from him.”

    And that same day, CNBC reported, “FBI Director James Comey argued privately that it was too close to Election Day for the United States government to name Russia as meddling in the U.S. election.”

    The contrast was startling: Comey had publicly reinvigorated the Clinton email investigation based on emails the FBI hadn’t even read (the emails turned out to be irrelevant), yet at the same time Comey allegedly sat on new information regarding claims that Trump had ongoing ties with Russia because Comey thought the optics would look bad.

    Given all this, the FBI needed a way to stop the public relations bleeding. And late in the day on October 31, the Times provided the respite. 

    Specifically, the article helped push back on reports Comey didn’t want to go public with any Russian information close to Election Day.

    “The reason Comey didn’t announce the existence of this investigation wasn’t because it was it was ‘explosive’ and could impact the election,” announced the conservative site, Hot Air, pointing to the Times article. “It was because the FBI had already figured out it was a dud.” 

    In other words, FBI PR problem solved. The problems with the Times report, however, were just beginning.

  • VIDEO: The “Alternative” To Roe Will Put Lives On The Line

    Trump And Right-Wing Media Are Demanding Greater State Control Over Abortion -- Even If It Causes Harm

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN, DAYANITA RAMESH & JOHN KERR

    Forty-four years ago, Roe v. Wade determined that the constitutionally protected right to privacy ensures an individual’s ability to make personal, medical decisions without interference from politicians -- including the decision to have an abortion.

    But now, President-elect Donald Trump and anti-choice politicians who have made careers from promoting scientifically dubious and medically harmful anti-abortion laws want to eliminate Roe’s protections.

    During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump promised to appoint “pro-life justices” who would “automatically” overturn Roe. After the election, Trump told CBS’ Lesley Stahl that he would prefer control over abortion “go back to the states” even it it meant that women would “perhaps have to go … to another state” to obtain necessary reproductive health care.

    This may sound like hyperbolic campaign rhetoric, but the threat is very real -- and it’s impossible to overstate how dangerous losing federally protected abortion rights would be.

    Right-wing media have consistently argued that greater state control over abortion clinics and providers is necessary to “protect women’s health.” The Supreme Court rejected this allegation in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which rebuked states for attempting to baselessly regulate abortion clinics under the guise of improving public health and safety.

    Legal abortion is one of the safest and most common medical procedures. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “Where abortion is legal, it is extremely safe. … In contrast, historical and contemporary data show that where abortion is illegal or highly restricted, women resort to unsafe means to end an unwanted pregnancy.”

    In contrast, life before Roe v. Wade -- without federally protected abortion rights -- was dangerous and difficult. Women traveled to neighboring states or even other countries to receive an abortion, often alone, in secrecy, with just enough money pooled together from friends or roommates. Some even saw their friends die from what can and should be a safe and simple procedure.

    Trump and anti-choice lawmakers seem to think a return to this grim reality would constitute “protecting women.”

    Even without attacks on Roe, accessing reproductive health care is already difficult -- especially for marginalized communities. Between rules like the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion, and the targeted restriction of clinics meant to increase logistical barriers to abortion access, essential reproductive care is already tenuously out of reach for many.

    Conservatives are already putting people’s lives at risk with medically unnecessary laws that restrict abortion access. If they succeed in eliminating the federal and constitutional protections guaranteed by Roe v. Wade, people will get hurt.

    Anyone trying to spin that as “protecting women’s health” is lying to you.