Blog

  • The Dean Of Yale’s Law School Just Schooled The Washington Post On Exxon And The First Amendment

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Yale Law School Dean Robert Post took to The Washington Post to completely dismantle the bogus claim that the attorneys general investigating ExxonMobil for fraud are trampling the company’s First Amendment rights. And in doing so, he pointed to one of several opinion writers who have misinformed the Post’s readers by advancing this “free speech” defense of Exxon's alleged deception on climate change. 

    Writing in The Washington Post on June 24, Robert Post criticized “ExxonMobil and its supporters” in the media for deceptively “[r]aising the revered flag of the First Amendment” to condemn attorneys general who are investigating Exxon. The attorneys general are looking into whether the oil company committed fraud by deliberating withholding truthful information about climate change from shareholders and the public in order to protect its profits. As Post explained, Exxon and its allies are “eliding the essential difference between fraud and public debate,” and if Exxon has indeed committed fraud, “its speech would not merit First Amendment protection.” He added: “Fraud is especially egregious because it is committed when a seller does not himself believe the hokum he foists on an unwitting public.”

    One of the conservative media figures that Post called out for distorting the Exxon investigations was The Washington Post’s own George Will, who penned an April 22 column peddling the false claim that the attorneys general pursuing Exxon are seeking to “criminalize skepticism” about climate change. And that wasn’t the only basic fact that Will butchered, as the Climate Denier Roundup explained at the time:

    George Will used his column in the Washington Post to offer a lesson on how this campaign [against Exxon] is part of a larger progressive strategy to shut down debate. But apparently it’s Will that needs a history lesson, as he uses as evidence a story about a 2013 IRS investigation accusing the agency of targeting conservatives. But that investigation “found no evidence” that the IRS actions were politically motivated.

    Unfortunately, Will is not the only voice on the Post’s opinion pages who has misrepresented the facts to defend Exxon.

    As the Climate Denier Roundup noted, the same day that Will’s column ran, the Post also published an op-ed by two officials at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a think tank that peddled climate science denial while receiving funding from Exxon. The CEI op-ed repeated the falsehood that the attorneys general are seeking to “run roughshod” over Exxon’s First Amendment protections and prosecute “dissent.” It also engaged in carefully crafted legalese about CEI’s relationship with Exxon, as the Climate Denier Roundup observed:

    Worth noting CEI’s careful phrasing about its relationship with Exxon, which CEI says “publicly ended its support for us after 2005.” With Donors Trust and others making it possible to anonymize giving, the key word is “publicly.”

    Flashback to November 2015, and the story at the Post is much the same. Like Will, the Post’s Robert Samuelson claimed in a November 8 column that investigations of Exxon are an “assault” on free speech, and that the “advocates of a probe into ExxonMobil are essentially proposing that the company be punished for expressing its opinions.” Samuelson also repeated Exxon’s bogus talking point that a 1989 Exxon document proves that groundbreaking reports about Exxon by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times "'cherry-pick[ed]' their evidence."

    Then there’s the Post editorial board itself, which prematurely concluded in a November 15 editorial that Exxon “didn’t commit a crime.” Perhaps the Post will reconsider after hearing from Robert Post on that matter. 

    From Robert Post’s June 24 op-ed in The Washington Post:

    If large oil companies have deliberately misinformed investors about their knowledge of global warming, they may have committed serious commercial fraud.

    [...]

    ExxonMobil and its supporters are now eliding the essential difference between fraud and public debate. Raising the revered flag of the First Amendment, they loudly object to investigations recently announced by attorneys general of several states into whether ExxonMobil has publicly misrepresented what it knew about global warming.

    The National Review has accused the attorneys general of “trampling the First Amendment.” Post columnist George F. Will has written that the investigations illustrate the “authoritarianism” implicit in progressivism, which seeks “to criminalize debate about science.” And Hans A. von Spakovsky, speaking for the Heritage Foundation, compared the attorneys general to the Spanish Inquisition.

    Despite their vitriol, these denunciations are wide of the mark. If your pharmacist sells you patent medicine on the basis of his “scientific theory” that it will cure your cancer, the government does not act like the Spanish Inquisition when it holds the pharmacist accountable for fraud.

    The obvious point, which remarkably bears repeating, is that there are circumstances when scientific theories must remain open and subject to challenge, and there are circumstances when the government must act to protect the integrity of the market, even if it requires determining the truth or falsity of those theories. Public debate must be protected, but fraud must also be suppressed. Fraud is especially egregious because it is committed when a seller does not himself believe the hokum he foists on an unwitting public.

    [...]

    If ExxonMobil has committed fraud, its speech would not merit First Amendment protection. But the company nevertheless invokes the First Amendment to suppress a subpoena designed to produce the information necessary to determine whether ExxonMobil has committed fraud. It thus seeks to foreclose the very process by which our legal system acquires the evidence necessary to determine whether fraud has been committed. In effect, the company seeks to use the First Amendment to prevent any informed lawsuit for fraud.

  • Wash. Post Slams Paul Ryan’s “Flimsy” Health Care Reform Plan

    Editorial Board Concludes Ryan’s “Better Way” Could Lead To “Much Higher Costs” For Many, Allow States “With The Skimpiest Regulations” To “Set The National Standard”

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    The Washington Post blasted Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) outline for replacing Obamacare, which could cut health care for millions of Americans and might lead to more rapidly rising insurance costs for an inferior product.

    Ryan released a health care reform plan on June 22 under the “Better Way” brand that he hopes will become a fixture for Republican policy making in the next Congress. The plan seeks to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- commonly referred to as Obamacare -- and replace it with a series of tax credits for Americans to purchase private insurance. The Post picked apart Ryan’s health care agenda in a June 26 editorial, saying the plan would be “hard on the poor, old and sick” and adding that “those in late middle age could face much higher costs.” The editorial board also derided the plan, which offers no cost projections or estimates for the number of Americans who could lose their ACA-compliant insurance, for being yet another vague proposal from a Republican Party that “has no excuse for blank spaces” after so many years of fruitless opposition to the health care law.

    The Post noted that “the rate of uninsured Americans has plummeted to a historic low” since Obamacare was enacted, and Ryan’s plan does not appear capable of maintaining the same low rate. Instead, the plan would create tax credits that increase as Americans age, but it would also let insurers “raise premiums with age much more than the ACA currently allows.” Since “the proposal gives no sense that the two will come close to matching up,” it is possible that the tax credits proposed in the Ryan plan could be much smaller than the actual cost of insurance, making the reform agenda costlier for millions of middle-aged Americans currently benefitting from Obamacare. From The Washington Post (emphasis added):

    House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) seemed to promise better when he announced that he would roll out an ambitious policy agenda this summer. Instead, last week he released an Obamacare alternative that is less detailed in a variety of crucial ways than previous conservative health reform proposals. The outlines that the speaker did provide suggest that it would be hard on the poor, old and sick.

    Mr. Ryan’s plan would replace Obamacare with a tax credit available to people buying insurance plans in markets regulated by the states, not the federal government.

    [...]

    The proposal hints that the credit would be sufficient to cover the cost of plans that existed before the ACA. This is not reassuring: Pre-ACA, individual-market insurance plans were often thin, with limited benefits, extensive cost-sharing and other elements designed to deter anyone who might actually need care. Without strong coverage requirements, insurers would have limited incentive to offer plans that appealed to people who may be — or may become — sick. States would be hampered in responding to these issues: The proposal would allow insurers to sell plans across state lines, so the state with the skimpiest regulations would likely set the national standard.

    People with money to put into health savings accounts (which the proposal would expand), could cover gaps in thin insurance coverage with tax-advantaged out-of-pocket spending — but this would not be a realistic option for low-income people. As for the old, the plan would scale up the tax credits with age, but it would also permit insurers to raise premiums with age much more than the ACA currently allows. The proposal gives no sense that the two will come close to matching up; as in other conservative plans, those in late middle age could face much higher costs. For the sick, meanwhile, Mr. Ryan’s plan would offer an ultimate backstop by funding high-risk insurance pools. But health-care experts caution that this approach would cost a massive amount of federal money — a fact that has caused Republican lawmakers to balk at policies like it when fleshed out.

    This harsh treatment of Ryan’s health care reform agenda mirrors the tone of criticism he drew from various quarters for each of his recent attempts to rebrand misleading Republican economic talking points as a “Better Way” forward. Ryan’s “Better Way” anti-poverty reform agenda, which was based almost entirely on right-wing media myths rather than professional economic research, was slammed by critics as being “doomed to fail” and “based on faulty assumptions.” His health care reform agenda seems to be drawn from the same right-wing media perspective, which considers the full repeal of the ACA to be of paramount importance despite the law’s continued success and the failure of every right-wing prediction of its demise to come to fruition.

  • Media Experts Rip CNN For “Profoundly Disturbing” Lewandowski Hiring

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Veteran journalists and media ethicists are slamming CNN for hiring former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as a paid contributor, saying his hostile treatment of the press and the lack of clarity over whether he signed a nondisparagement agreement with the campaign make his hiring a “new high of immorality.”

    Lewandowksi, who was fired by Trump on June 20, has long had a troubling relationship with reporters, including being investigated by police in March after grabbing the arm of reporter Michelle Fields, threatening to pull credentials of CNN’s own Noah Gray, and being accused of making “unwanted romantic advances” and “sexually suggestive and at times vulgar comments to -- and about -- female journalists.”

    CNN has already been widely criticized for hiring Lewandowski. In interviews with Media Matters, several media observers and veteran journalists added their voices to the chorussaying the move raises ethical issues and harms CNN’s credibility.

    “CNN’s decision to hire Lewandowski is problematic in a number of ways,” said Tom Fiedler, dean of the College of Communication at Boston University and former editor of The Miami Herald. “First, and perhaps most important, is his failure to respond to the question about signing a nondisparagement agreement, which can only be interpreted as meaning that he did sign one.”

    Lewandowski was asked in his first interview as an official CNN contributor whether he signed such an agreement, and he dodged the question.

    “Unless and until he can counter that interpretation, he must be perceived as being totally compromised in his commentary -- put bluntly, a Trump shill,” Fiedler added. “But even putting that issue aside, the fact that CNN would give a prominent platform (not to mention a paycheck) to an individual whose personal and professional behavior includes bullying and misogyny at best and assault at worst, baffles me. Can his insights into the presidential campaign and into the candidates be so valuable as to enable CNN to overlook this well-documented record?” 

    Former CNN White House correspondent Frank Sesno, who is currently director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University, said hiring Lewandowski is different from other former political operatives joining a network.

    “In this case, CNN has hired an outspoken adversary of journalism,” Sesno said. “Someone who has challenged its role, attacked reporters and represented a candidate who was openly hostile to journalism and the First Amendment itself.”

    Paul Levinson, a professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University and author of the book New New Mediasaid hiring Lewandowski “is a new high of immorality in the relationship between our media and our political system.”

    He later added, “It would be one thing if he had just been fired for whatever reason, things happen. As we know, and CNN covering all of the details, Corey Lewandowski was investigated" for the incident with Fields. "The police got into it, it was a serious issue and that combined with the fact that Lewandowski’s relationship with the Trump campaign even now isn’t clear.”

    For Tim McGuire, former Arizona State University media professor and past president of American Society of News Editors, CNN’s hiring of Lewandowski is “profoundly disturbing. The terms of that agreement are crucial. If it truly is a nondisparagement agreement this hire is totally wrong.”

    Clark Hoyt, former New York Times public editor and one-time Washington Bureau chief for Knight Ridder, said he was “surprised that any news organization with aspirations to credibility would hire Cory Lewandowski in any capacity.”

    Hoyt also said, “His well-documented hostility to journalists and the role of a free press aside, he comes to his new role as a paid political commentator bound by some kind of contract with Donald Trump. Whether it contains a nondisparagement clause or not, it bars Lewandowski from disclosing exactly the kind of information that a news network should be trying to get to help inform voters. CNN ought to put up a disclaimer every time he appears on camera.”

  • For Clinton, All News Is Bad News: Brexit Edition

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Deciding that a national referendum staged thousands of miles away offers deep insight into America’s pending presidential election -- and that Hillary Clinton’s campaign in particular may be damaged by a vote in Europe -- several pundits in recent have days have stressed the Bad News angle for the Democrat.

    Reading all kinds of American implications into the United Kingdom’s vote to exit the European Union, known as “Brexit,” commentators seemed to be straining in order to stick to their preferred all-news-is-bad-news pattern when covering Clinton.

    Meet The Press host Chuck Todd insisted that in the wake of Brexit, Clinton “has to learn a lesson here” because she represents “the establishment.” Or “the status quo,” as The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza suggested during the same segment.

    On ABC’s This Week, Greta Van Susteren agreed that the “status quo really needs to be worried” and that Brexit “hurts Secretary Hillary Clinton, because she is going to be pinned with status quo.”

    And because Clinton’s such a supposedly stagnant candidate with so little vision, the vote in the U.K. set off “panic” inside “Democratic circles,” according to Time.

    But does that framing of the Brexit vote reflect reality? Clinton’s the first woman to ever win a major party’s presidential nomination in American history and her party’s newly drafted platform is the most aggressively progressive in decades, yet the press depicts her as “status quo” and out of touch with voters urging change. 

    The New York Times seemed to take the lead over the weekend in ringing the Brexit alarm bells for Clinton. On Sunday’s front page, the Times insisted the U.K. outcome casts a “shadow” over Clinton’s White House run, which seems odd since Clinton played no role in the British vote. But the Times was certain the referendum represented the type of outcome she “fears” in November.

    Additionally:

    According to their friends and advisers, Mrs. Clinton and former President Bill Clinton have worried for months that she was out of sync with the mood of the electorate, and that her politically safe messages — like “I’m a progressive who gets results” — were far less compelling to frustrated voters than the “political revolution” of Senator Bernie Sanders or Mr. Trump’s grievance-driven promise to “Make America Great Again.”

    Fact: Clinton just defeated Sanders by approximately 3.7 million votes in the Democratic primary, and she leads Trump by 12 points in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. But the Times hypes anonymous concerns her "safe" message isn’t resonating? (What would the polls look like today if Clinton’s message was resonating?) More importantly, since when is the candidate who tallies the most votes depicted as being out of touch with voters?

    In a strange attempt to prove its point, the Times noted, “Mr. Sanders and Mr. Trump won a combined 25 million votes during the primary season, compared with 16 million for Mrs. Clinton.”

    Clinton won more votes than either Sanders or Trump this year. But because combined they tallied more than her that means a referendum in Europe is bad news for her; that she’s “out of step.” That seems illogical.

    More Times oddities:

    In swing states like Ohio, many Democrats and Republicans yearn for an economic comeback and are not confident that Mrs. Clinton understands their frustrations or has the ideas and wherewithal to deliver the sort of change that could satisfy them.

    Democrats in Ohio aren’t sure Clinton “understands” their concerns, even though three months ago Democrats in Ohio selected Clinton as the winner of the state’s primary contest by almost 14 points.

    Meanwhile, since when are national votes in foreign countries even considered to be precursors for American elections? Or is the press only leaning on that angle now because pundits think it represents bad news for the Democrat?

    If that’s the rubric, journalists ought to be consistent. If votes in foreign countries, and specifically countries that resemble the U.S. population, are deemed to be bellwether events for U.S. presidential elections, shouldn’t the press treat other recent votes as being preludes to U.S. election results?

    For instance, what was the lesson Clinton was supposed to have learned from Canada last October when voters there overwhelmingly elected a liberal prime minster? Or did that referendum not matter since the results were in sync with Clinton’s campaign message of inclusion and progress?

    If for some reason Clinton had made Brexit a central issue in her American campaign, or if overseas referendums served as well-established indicators for U.S. election results, pundits might be safe in drawing sweeping conclusions about the Democrat’s chances in the wake of the U.K. vote.

    Instead, lots of the commentary looks and sounds like a kneejerk attempt to assume big news is bad news for Clinton’s White House hopes.

  • Dick Morris Says He Sends The Trump Campaign “A Lot Of Memos And A Lot Of Ideas”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Discredited political pundit Dick Morris claims he’s sending Donald Trump’s campaign “a lot of memos and a lot of ideas.”

    Morris previously worked as a Fox News contributor and as a columnist for The Hill. He is now chief political correspondent for the National Enquirer. Morris is an ethically challenged pundit with a long history of making erroneous political forecasts, which has drawn him widespread ridicule.

    Morris is backing the presumptive Republican nominee and spoke to the conservative Daily Caller about whether he's interested in joining the Trump campaign in an official capacity:

    Earlier this month, reports suggested Morris was actually on the verge of officially joining Trump’s campaign. Morris knows Trump well. His father served as a real estate attorney for both Trump and Trump’s father Fred, and Morris has interacted with Trump socially at Trump’s Palm Beach club Mar-a-Lago and elsewhere.

    “Donald came to dinner at our house frequently when I was growing up,” Morris said, explaining just how far back his relationship goes with The Donald. (Morris says he has not, however, talked to Trump in at least a year.)

    While Morris says he sends “several” memos to Trump campaign staffers “each day,” the 69-year-old claims he has no interest in joining the campaign in any official capacity.

    “When you say join, I’d say join is a different word,” he explained. “I’m not and I never have been looking for a full-time job, 9-5, advising the campaign. Yes, I am interested and I do send them a lot of memos and a lot of ideas and in fact wrote a book for them filled with advice as to what they should do. In a sense, this book is very much of a public communication to the Trump campaign of what they need to do in order to win.”

    The Trump campaign told TheDC in an email that it welcomes Morris’s contributions.

    “To my knowledge, he has no association with the campaign,” campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said. “We appreciate his support and contributions, which are presumably made in an unofficial capacity.”

     
  • CNN And Fox News’ Sunday Media Criticism Shows Note Ethical Issues With CNN’s Lewandowski Hire

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Media figures on CNN’s Reliable Sources and Fox News’ MediaBuzz criticized CNN’s decision to hire Corey Lewandowski, former campaign manager for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Hosts and guests on the two media criticism programs highlighted the various “ethical” and “controversial” issues surrounding Lewandowski’s hiring, including Lewandowski’s history of aggressively handling the press and the ambiguity surrounding his possible non-disparagement agreements with Trump.

    On June 23, CNN hired Lewandowski as a salaried political commentator days after he had been fired as Trump’s campaign manager. CNN employees and other reporters immediately raised concerns over the various potential ethical problems associated with Lewandowski’s hiring.

    There are still several unknowns about Lewandowski's new position: whether he signed a non-disparagement agreement with Trump, which would preclude Lewandowski from criticizing his former boss; whether Lewandowski’s history of aggressive behavior toward journalists was taken into account during the hiring process; and whether an ongoing defamation suit against Trump and Lewandowski is a conflict of interest for CNN.

    CNN’s Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s media criticism program Reliable Sources, said on June 26 that Lewandowski is “the most controversial addition to CNN in several years,” noting that his “hostile” behavior toward reporters and the uncertainty regarding any non-disparagement agreements raise “ethical questions.”

    Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik shamed CNN on Reliable Sources for hiring a “weasel to tell you about” “what’s going on inside the Trump campaign,” and told CNN to “give your money back.”

    Fox News’ media critic Howard Kurtz also slammed CNN on his program MediaBuzz, calling the decision a “sad move” that doesn’t help “CNN’s credibility in covering Donald Trump.” Kurtz specifically noted Lewandowski’s non-disclosure agreement and “rough relations with some reporters.”

    CNN’s own staff have heavily criticized Lewandowski for his “inexcusable” and “unprofessional” behavior. Media Matters has noted, though, that Lewandowski’s hire is at odds with how the network has responded to previous attacks on employees: in February, Trump ally Roger Stone was banned from the network after he wrote a series of offensive, incendiary tweets attacking CNN media figures.

  • A Year After Marriage Equality, It's Time For Media To Stop Giving Anti-LGBT Liars A Pass

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    In the year since the Supreme Court struck down state-level same-sex marriage bans, anti-gay extremists have continued to peddle misinformation about LGBT equality in the media. After more than 12 years of pushing lies and wildly inaccurate predictions about the consequences of marriage equality, it’s time for the media to stop letting anti-gay activists comment on LGBT rights without disclosing their proven track record of dishonest extremism.

    It’s been a year since the Supreme Court’s June 26, 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges decision which found state-level same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional. In the decade leading up to the decision, anti-LGBT extremists and hate group leaders peddled specious talking points about the consequences of “redefining traditional marriage.” In media appearances, these figures predicted that allowing same-sex couples to marry would cause a “slippery slope” to legalized bestiality, incest, and pedophilia; pushed the myth that gay men are more likely to engage in pedophilia than straight men; and hyped claims that pastors and churches were in danger of being forced to perform same-sex marriages.

    Several of these groups were so deceptive that in 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), designated them anti-LGBT “hate groups” for “propagating known falsehoods” and pushing “demonizing propaganda.” One of these groups was the Family Research Council (FRC), whose officials have accused gay people of trying to "recruit" children into homosexuality and endorsed a Uganda law that would have imposed the death penalty for engaging in gay sex.

    For years, major cable news networks have hosted FRC representatives to comment on LGBT equality without identifying FRC as a hate group. Despite the efforts of progressive Christians to stop outlets from letting FRC representatives conflate their extremism with mainstream Christianity, the group continues to have a significant media presence. Since last June’s Obergefell decision, mainstream media outlets have continued to call on FRC to discuss LGBT rights, including:

    • The New York Times, NPR, and USA Today all cited FRC’s commentary on the Obergefell marriage equality decision without noting the group’s history of hate.
    • ABC's This Week invited FRC's Ken Blackwell -- who previously blamed same-sex marriage for a mass murder -- to discuss the court's decision.  
    • NPR featured FRC’s Senior Fellow for Policy Studies Peter Sprigg -- who spent 10 years as a "professional actor" before joining FRC -- to debate same-sex parenting.
    • FRC’s President Tony Perkins appeared on MSNBC to discuss meeting with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump assemble an “Evangelical executive advisory board,” featuring anti-LGBT extremists.

    In the past year, the media have given other anti-LGBT hate groups similar passes. In September, mainstream news outlets like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Reuters failed to identify Liberty Counsel, the anti-LGBT hate group representing Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, instead calling it merely a “Christian” or “conservative” organization. In April, major news outlets largely failed to identify the American Family Association (AFA) -- the group organizing a boycott of Target over its transgender-inclusive restroom policy -- as an anti-LGBT hate group.

    The few instances when mainstream media like The Associated Press and CBS News’ Bob Schieffer did properly identify hate group leaders, anti-gay conservatives were predictably outraged. Right-wing anger at journalists who expose anti-LGBT extremism illustrates why it’s so vital to disclose when sources or commentators represent hate groups. The public has a right to know that the same groups with a track record of fearmongering about children’s safety to oppose marriage equality are now those peddling the anti-LGBT movement’s new favorite myth that LGBT nondiscrimination protections endanger the safety of women and children in bathrooms.

    A year after Obergefell, it’s time for the media to stop letting the same extremists use media appearances to float new lies and recycle mythical talking points to oppose LGBT equality. Outlets seeking to provide balanced coverage of LGBT rights ought to find commentators who don’t have a decade-long track record of spreading hateful lies about LGBT people. 

  • The Problem With The Media’s ‘Trump Is Pivoting’ Narrative

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Media figures have repeatedly claimed that presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is “pivoting” to the general election every time he does something that they think makes him look or sound “presidential.” Media’s constant search for Trump’s “pivot” effectively whitewashes all of the racist, sexist, slanderous, and conspiratorial attacks Trump has doled out, and mainstreams the idea that Trump’s past diatribes can be forgiven so long as he assumes a veneer of conventional, tempered behavior.

    Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump and the media have engaged in a cycle wherein Trump launches offensive broadsides and character attacks; He gets bad press; Republican leaders clamor for Trump to tone down his rhetoric; Trump obliges, often using a teleprompter to restrain himself; Media figures claim Trump has “pivoted” and is “becoming more presidential”; and repeat.

    As MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace said, Trump constantly shatters the “pivot” narrative “by trotting out conspiracy theories” -- or, as others have noted, outrageous insults -- within hours of being lauded as “presidential.” 

    In following this pattern, the media are both applauding Trump for having simply mastered “campaign 101,” as CNN’s David Gregory noted, and excusing his past remarks as political maneuvering and electoral showmanship.

    In early June, after Trump launched a multiday racist crusade against Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over Trump University lawsuits, Republican leaders beseeched Trump to “get on message” and “quit attacking … various minority groups in the country.” That very night, Trump delivered a speech -- devoid of any attacks and with the aid of a teleprompter -- that “sought to calm fretful Republicans bolting from his side over his latest controversy,” CNN reported.

    Media figures immediately claimed that Trump’s restraint showed he was “pivoting.” NBC News reporter Ali Vitali wrote that Trump “acted presidential” in the speech, which “finalized his pivot to the general election.” CNN host Don Lemon said the “new, more presidential Donald Trump” is what “people in Washington wanted to see.” Unsurprisingly, Trump also received praise from right-wing media for sounding “more presidential than ever.”

    CNN political commentator Marc Lamont Hill explained the phenomenon:

    “It's kind of a good outcome for Trump, because we're not talking about a Mexican judge anymore. We're not talking about something controversial. We're talking about Trump changing the direction of his campaign. That can only be good news for him, based on what the last three weeks have been.”

    GOP leaders condemned Trump’s repeated “offensive” suggestions that President Obama had sympathies for terrorists, but changed their tune once Trump delivered his next teleprompter-guided speech following the mass shooting in Orlando, FL. Some media figures said Trump sounded “more presidential” and was “behaving like general election nominees behave,” and Trump’s slanderous accusations against the president quickly fell out of the news cycle.

    The “pivot” claim, which has repeatedly surfaced since at least February, has also helped wash away many of Trump’s past actions and comments: his doubling down on his proposed Muslim ban, his accusations that Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) father was involved in the John F. Kennedy assassination, and his questioning of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s faith.

    Some media figures have noted the journalistic malpractice associated with the constant fallback on the “pivot” narrative. New York Times Magazine correspondent Mark Leibovich, calling the narrative “absurd,” wrote:

    But really, how do you pivot away from saying that Mexicans are rapists? (Will he negotiate “great deals” with more moderate Mexican rapists?) If your campaign is a cult of personality, how can you modulate that personality and still have the cult? In Trump’s case, a “pivot” would constitute a complete overhaul of his very essence.

    Similarly, Washington Post opinion writer Kathleen Parker lambasted media’s “softening of criticism” of Trump and warned “the commentariat,” “Nothing makes Trump more acceptable today than yesterday or last week — or six months ago.”

    The "pivot" narrative has become a reset button, allowing media to excuse or forget all of Trump’s past rhetorical assaults. Media figures are essentially condoning all of his racism, sexism, and conspiracies, so long as he sounds and acts subdued and presidential.

    Image by Dayanita Ramesh and Sarah Wasko. 

  • Fox News Praises Trump’s Widely Panned Brexit Response Because He Was “In The Right Place”

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW LAWRENCE

    Fox News’ John Roberts praised Donald Trump’s widely mocked response to the United Kingdom’s vote to exit the European Union, known as “Brexit,” claiming that Trump was “at exactly the right place, at the right time, on the right side of the issue.”

    Following the UK vote which caused worldwide economic turmoil, Trump gave a “bizarre” speech that focused on his new golf course in Scotland instead of the Brexit results. When Trump finally spoke on the referendum after being pressed by reporters, he praised the vote and welcomed the historic crash of the British currency for potentially having a positive financial effect on his Scottish golf course:

    Visiting the golf course he owns in Scotland, he praised the referendum vote, saying the British had chosen to “take their country back,” but only after he touted the sprinkler system, the drains and the luxury suites at his Turnberry resort.

    Even as his campaign sent out a fundraising email hailing the British vote as a “brave stand for freedom and independence,” he seemed at one point to welcome the crash of the British currency that threatened to undermine financial markets, noting that he might gain from it.

    “When the pound goes down, more people are coming to Turnberry,” he said.

    Trump’s response was immediately panned throughout the media. MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace said she was “gobsmacked” at Trump’s response, noting that it highlighted the way Trump has been using his presidential bid to further his business interests. CNN’s John Avalon described Trump’s response as “completely insane,” and The Washington Post called it “a widely broadcast infomercial.”

    But on the June 26 edition of Fox News’ Special Report, Fox’s senior national correspondent John Roberts had a different view of Trump’s speech, claiming that the referendum offered Trump “the opportunity to say he has his finger on the pulse of national populism” and praised Trump for being “at exactly the right place, at the right time, on the right side of the issue”:

     

    CHRIS WALLACE: Donald Trump seemed to be at the right place at the right time, but some say HRC’s response could have been sharper.

    [...]

    JOHN ROBERTS: Donald Trump’s trip to Scotland was supposed to be all about business, but it quickly became all about politics in a way that may give him a boost back home. It was a trip that was giving Republican leaders fits, ill-timed and unnecessary, they said. Yet in true fashion, Trump found himself at exactly the right place, at the right time, on the right side of the issue.

  • Before Hiring Corey Lewandowski, CNN Cared About Attacks Against Its Staff

    CNN Banned Roger Stone After He Lashed Out At Network Personalities

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    CNN hired Corey Lewandowski despite the former Trump campaign manager reportedly “pushing a CNN reporter” and making “sexually suggestive and at times vulgar comments to -- and about -- female journalists.” CNN’s actions are at odds with how it handled Roger Stone: the network banned the Trump ally as a guest in February after he wrote a series of incendiary tweets attacking network personalities.

    Stone is a longtime friend and former employee of Trump. He had become a favorite guest on the network to provide a pro-Trump point of view (unlike Lewandowski, Stone was not on CNN’s payroll). Media Matters noted at the time that Stone had attacked CNN political commentator Ana Navarro and former CNN analyst Roland Martin on Twitter with racist and sexist slurs. The network subsequently stated that Stone would no longer appear on its airwaves.

    Media Matters at the time praised CNN for correctly handling Stone by removing him from its airwaves. But CNN has reversed course in how it handles on-air Trump supporters with histories of wretched behavior toward journalists by hiring Lewandowski as a paid contributor.

    BuzzFeed reported in March that Lewandowski made “unwanted romantic advances” and “sexual comments about female journalists.” The outlet also reported that he was “accused of pushing a CNN reporter who tried to ask the candidate a question.” In November, CNN reporter Noah Gray tweeted video of Lewandowski threatening to pull his press credentials if he didn't return to the media "pen" during a campaign event.

    Reporters told Politico in March “that Lewandowski has made sexually suggestive and at times vulgar comments to -- and about -- female journalists who have covered Trump’s presidential bid. One reporter who was on the receiving end of such comments described them as ‘completely inappropriate in a professional setting.’”

    Due to this behavior, Lewandowski’s hiring has drawn harsh criticism from journalists across the political spectrum, including at CNN. Politico reported yesterday that “Some CNN staffers were privately grumbling on Thursday about Lewandowski's hiring, especially in light of how he has treated journalists. Lewandowski personally placed a POLITICO reporter on the campaign's ‘blacklist’ and earlier this year, he was charged with misdemeanor battery for forcibly grabbing reporter Michelle Fields as she tried to ask Trump a question following an event in March (prosecutors ultimately declined to pursue the case).”

    The Daily Beast similarly reported that one “insider, speaking on condition of anonymity, described CNN staffers as ‘furious with [CNN head] Jeff [Zucker]’ for hiring Lewandowski.” Another insider “described some CNN staffers” as “simply resigned to the new hire.”

    Michelle Fields said: “My heart goes out to all his new female coworkers who will have to deal with him daily. I imagine CNN HR will be busy this year.”

    Stone and Lewandowski are nemeses despite their support for Trump. Stone said today on The Alex Jones Show that Trump was correct to fire Lewandowski and that CNN is “the most anti-Trump” network.