Elections

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  • Politico’s Morning Media: WSJ Editors Reminded To Be “Fair” To Trump

    Reminder Comes After Murdoch Reportedly Becomes “An Official Donald Trump Supporter”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerry Baker instructed editors “to be ‘fair’ to [presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald] Trump” during a recent meeting, according to Politico’s Morning Media tip sheet.

    It was recently reported that Rupert Murdoch, chairman of the Journal’s parent company News Corp., was throwing his full support behind Trump, and that Fox News -- also under the News Corp. umbrella -- “will go easy on Trump.” Murdoch took to Twitter in March to argue the GOP “would be mad not to unify” around the presumptive Republican nominee. And Murdoch’s New York Post was the third newspaper to endorse Trump, following The National Enquirer and The New York Observer (which is owned by Trump’s son-in-law).

    Politico reported that the Journal’s editor-in-chief Gerry Baker “took a couple minutes to remind editors to be ‘fair’ to Trump,” because “no matter what people think of him, Trump’s a serious candidate.” According to Politico, Baker’s comments were taken by some editors “as an insult or admonition,” and opened the argument over whether the Journal, which “is generally seen as impervious” to Murdoch’s influence, will start to signal support for Trump. From Politico’s May 27 Morning Media tip sheet: 

    TRUMP TREATMENT: Now that Rupert Murdoch is reportedly an official Donald Trump supporter (http://nym.ag/1V7TyF5), Murdoch Kremlinologists will be even more hyper-attuned to coverage of the GOP nominee in the News Corp. chairman’s American newspapers. Here’s something that might make their ears perk up: During one of The Wall Street Journal’s recent morning news meetings, editor in chief Gerry Baker took a couple minutes to remind editors to be “fair” to Trump, according to a source with direct knowledge of the remarks, because, Baker said, no matter what people think of him, Trump’s a serious candidate and lots of serious people are going to get behind his White House bid.

    The source described Baker’s Trump talk as a “surreal tangent” in a meeting normally reserved for ironing out the logistics of covering the day’s top stories.The source also said the comments were widely discussed among Journal editors and bureau chiefs, some of whom took them as an insult or admonition. A Journal spokeswoman declined to comment.

    While Murdoch is known for using some of his publications in the U.S., U.K. and Oz to influence politics, the Journal is generally seen as impervious. Plus Murdoch had appeared to be at odds with Trump for much of this election cycle, and Trump has railed against the Journal’s coverage of his campaign. But maybe that’s changing? Last week, the Journal’s right-leaning editorial board—which operates independently of the newsroom—seemed to signal support for Trump’s would-be Supreme Court nominees (http://politi.co/20rZHeK).

  • The Fall Of The GOP Establishment In Jennifer Rubin Headlines, Continued

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    When last we left GOP establishment mainstay and Washington Post opinion writer Jennifer Rubin, she was engaging in a hairpin turn from deriding Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for standing in the way of Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) presidential run to praising Cruz and urging Rubio to drop out in order to stop Donald Trump from gaining the Republican presidential nomination.

    Since then, the establishment’s collapse has only accelerated. Trump has gained enough delegates to clinch the nomination, the Republican Party’s elected leaders are rallying around him, and the #NeverTrump crowd has failed miserably in its efforts to find a “true conservative” candidate willing to run as an independent.

    Rubin has responded with increasingly frantic suggestions, calls, and most recently demands for someone -- anyone -- to step up and save the GOP establishment now that GOP primary voters have kicked it to the curb. Watch the progression through a sampling of headlines from Rubin's Washington Post Right Turn blog over the past 10 days, from her statement that she is “breaking up” with the GOP to today's declaration that Mitt Romney is “out of excuses” not to “save the country” with a third run for president:

    May 16:

     

    May 17:

     

    May 18:

     

    May 19:

     

    May 20:

     

    May 23:

     

    May 25:

     

    May 26:

     
     
  • Mic Highlights The “Sinister Extremists” Ted Cruz Helped Mainstream

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Mic reporter Tom McKay explained that, while Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) “presidential ambitions died” in May, his “large, well-funded and well-connected conservative network” made up of “sinister extremists,” conservative talk radio hosts, and “far-right think tank” leaders will survive long after his presidential bid.

    Cruz’s 2016 presidential bid gained early support from talk radio hosts like Steve Deace and Michael Berry, each who have long records of espousing extremist, bigoted rhetoric. Deace has accused Democrats of leading a “war on whites” and warned of an army of jihadists coming to take over America to argue for a higher white birth rate. Berry has a record of racially charged rhetoric, including describing black people as “jungle animals,” referring to protesting University of Missouri football players as “thugs,” and mocking victims of Chicago gun violence. As Media Matters’ Angelo Carusone explained, “Powerful media hosts like Deace used their ties with the [Cruz] campaign ‘to advance their own cache and appeal to their audiences and reinforce their own relevancy.’”

    The May 26 Mic article highlighted these figures and explained that the rise of Cruz’s network “will likely linger long after the initial rush has faded.” The article also pointed out that “Cruz was part of a ‘cumulative effect’ driving other candidates, including Trump, to the right,” which has allowed Trump’s campaign to have “‘really inspired proper right wing extremists … to climb out from under the political rocks in which they have been hiding.’”  

    From the May 26 Mic piece:                

    Unlike other Republican contenders this year, Cruz busied himself building a large, well-funded, and well-connected conservative network. Some of these boosters and advisers will go on to play a role in the Trump campaign, while others may become future standard-bearers of the ideological conservative movement.

    Cruz "put a lot of emphasis in sort of delegating the organizing to the media figures and to the leaders within those spaces," said Angelo Carusone, executive vice president of progressive media watchdog Media Matters. "People like [radio hosts] Steve Deace in Iowa and Michael Berry in Texas, Glenn Beck, these are people that one, he's pumped a fairly large amount of money into advertising his programming ... they're serving as a validator for him and they're doing their very best to convert their audiences."

    [...]

    Michael Berry is one of the most important figures in talk radio in Houston, Texas, where he uses his platform to spread racially charged opinions on young black kids who have run-ins with the police ("jungle animals"), Islamic culture ("forced genital mutilation") and Black Lives Matter (a "pro-thug narrative"). One of the regularly occurring segments of his show is appearances from a blackface performer using the stage name Shirley Q. Liquor, whose act has been repeatedly protested as racist.

    [...]

    "The more candidates tout him as important (as Cruz does regularly), the more his language becomes commonplace and becomes part of what is considered acceptable on the right," wrote Media Matters Associate Research Director Sal Colleluori in an email to Mic. "This is of extreme value to Cruz specifically, but even Trump. The more we mainstream anti-immigrant and anti-African-American language, the more their base of support is used to hearing — and sympathizing with — these extreme notions."

    [...]

    Steve Deace, a nationally syndicated radio host originally based out of Iowa, boasts an audience of tens of thousands of listeners. They tune in to hear the self-declared alpha male rant about the "manginas" in charge of today's GOP, suggest that a "whole generation of women [is] on the lookout for some alpha males" and cast Republican leadership's mission as "pass Obama's agenda, lie to conservatives, defraud voters and total capitulation."

    [...]

    Deace's influence in Iowa helped Cruz obtain a crucial victory in the state — which plays a crucial role in shaping media perceptions of viability due to its early primary dates — by helping mobilize a small but vocal vanguard of far-right activists in conjunction with other organizers like U.S. Rep. Steve King and evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats. According to the Des Moines Register, Deace was a key leader of a team of 12,000 volunteers who made 25,000 calls and 2,000 home visits daily in the days leading to the vote. He has simultaneously used his prominence to land key appearances on national media, where he tones down the rhetoric to make him and Cruz seem more reasonable.

    [...]

    According to Matthew Feldman, a professor of fascist ideology at Teesside University, Cruz was part of a "cumulative effect" driving other candidates, including Trump, to the right.

    "In most people's lifetimes there hasn't been a frontrunning candidate who has pushed so many far-right buttons as Trump, or for that matter, Ted Cruz," Feldman wrote. "But it is only Trump's campaign that has really inspired proper right wing extremists, who have found the broken taboos around race, political violence and conspiracy theory a real boon for their brand of revolutionary politics. It is the first time in more than a generation they have been able to climb out from under the political rocks in which they have been hiding."
     

  • As Trump Talks Energy, Media Should Recall His Preposterous Track Record

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS & KEVIN KALHOEFER

    Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump is expected to discuss energy policies during a May 26 keynote speech at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference. When reporting on his remarks, media should keep in mind Trump’s long track record of extreme and half-baked positions on energy and environmental issues, including repeatedly denying climate change science, vowing to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency, and pledging to “renegotiate” the landmark Paris climate agreement.

  • LA Times Criticizes Lack Of Climate Change Questions In Presidential Debates

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Los Angeles Times editorial board lamented that climate change has been largely overlooked in presidential election coverage so far, despite it being “the most pressing issue of our time.”

    The Times pointed to a Media Matters analysis, which found that through the first 20 presidential primary debates, moderators only asked 22 questions about climate change, making up just 1.5 percent of the 1,477 questions asked during the debates. Instead, debate moderators have focused on the political horserace and other non-substantive issues. Moderators posed so few climate questions that Democratic candidates brought up climate change unprompted more than twice as often as the debate moderators did.

    Debate moderators’ failure to bring up climate change drew the attention of a bipartisan group of 21 Florida mayors, who urged networks hosting debates in Miami to ask the candidates about climate change. The subsequent debates in Miami featured seven questions about climate change, accounting for nearly one-third of the 22 climate questions asked over the course of all 20 primary debates. The lack of climate questions in the debates also prompted a group of Nobel Laureates and hundreds of other experts to call for at least one presidential debate that is exclusively focused on science, health, technology, and environmental issues.

    From the May 26 Times editorial, titled, “Climate change is the most pressing issue of our time. So why isn't it getting more play in the election?":

    Climate change is, as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently put it, "one of the most crucial problems on Earth."  Yet the issue has been largely absent from the current presidential campaign.

    [...]

    So what forms the core of our political discourse instead? It’s ranged from the size of Trump’s, uh, hands to whether Clinton enabled her husband’s philandering to how to make Mexico pay for a wall the length of the border, along with international trade agreements, under what circumstances the military should be deployed, and whether the multi-nation deal with Iran to freeze its nuclear program was wise or foolish.

    Climate change barely resonates. An assessment in March by Media Matters found that across 20 debates among candidates in both major parties, global warming accounted for only 1.5% of the questions asked – 22 out of 1,477 questions. Nearly a third of the questions came in two Florida debates after some of that states’ mayors asked that the issue be addressed. And voters haven't particularly cared, either. A February Gallup poll found climate change low on the list of issues that voters say matter to them – especially for Republicans, for whom it was the least-significant issue included in the survey.

    That’s a lot of heads in the sand – dangerously so if the sand happens to be near the rising seas.

    [...]

    Confronting the challenges of climate change will require significant political leadership, particularly since a cluster of deniers hold influential congressional positions. Given the severity of the threat, the issue should play a far greater role in the national discussion.

  • Trump’s Kitchen Cabinet: What The Media Needs To Know About The Nominee’s Top Advisers And Supporters

    Blog ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS

    Donald Trump has allied himself with a cast of characters and hangers-on who, should he win the presidency, would likely have his ear. Below is a guide to the people the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has chosen to surround himself with.

    Alex Jones

    Jones

    The Trump Connection

    Conspiracy theorist radio host Alex Jones has been one of Trump’s loudest and most passionate supporters. And the feeling is apparently mutual. In addition to promoting Trump on his show incessantly, Jones hosted Trump for an interview, praised him as a “George Washington” figure, and encouraged listeners to donate to his campaign. (During the appearance, Trump praised Jones for his “amazing” reputation and promised, “I will not let you down.”) Trump confidant Roger Stone has also become a regular on Jones’ show, and the two worked together to organize protests on Trump’s behalf at the Republican convention.  After Trump essentially clinched the nomination, Stone went on Jones’ show and told the host, “Trump himself told me that he has seen so many of your supporters and listeners at his rallies,” adding, “I’m certain that he is grateful for your support.”

    What You Need To Know

    Alex Jones is a self-described “founding father” of the “9/11 truth movement” who believes that the terrorist attacks were a “false flag.” Jones also has promoted conspiracy theories alleging that events like the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing, and the Aurora movie theater shooting were all government-orchestrated attacks.

    Roger Stone

    Stone

    The Trump Connection

    Republican dirty trickster Roger Stone is a longtime Trump ally. Stone worked on his campaign until August of 2015, continues to serve as a prominent advocate for Trump’s candidacy, and regularly speaks with Trump, including recommending top aide Paul Manafort to the campaign.

    What You Need To Know

    In addition to his political dirty tricks, Stone has an extensive history of violent, racist, and sexist comments. He started an anti-Hillary Clinton group in 2008 with the acronym “C.U.N.T.,” and has called for her to be executed. He called cable news commentators a “stupid negro” and “Mandingo,” and he promotes conspiracy theories about the Clinton and Bush families murdering dozens of people. His next book is about how the Clintons purportedly murdered JFK Jr. “because he was in the way.”

    Ed Klein

    Klein

    The Trump Connection

    Disgraced journalist Ed Klein said he has known Trump for 35 years and claimed, “I understand him better than most people outside his immediate family.” Klein recently had lunch with Trump as he campaigned in Indiana. Trump has repeatedly promoted Klein’s books on his Twitter account.

    What You Need To Know

    Journalists have described Klein’s columns and books attacking the Clintons and Obamas as “fan fiction” and “smut.” He has launched numerous unfounded smears, including the claim that Chelsea Clinton was conceived when Bill Clinton raped Hillary (he later walked back the allegation). Publisher HarperCollins reportedly dropped Klein’s Blood Feud because it “did not pass a vetting by in-house lawyers.” Klein has repeatedly distorted quotes in his work, and even conservative figures have expressed skepticism about the veracity of his reporting.

    Rudy Giuliani

    Giuliani

    The Trump Connection

    Trump told Fox News that former New York City mayor and failed presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani might be his choice to head up a commission to review his proposal for a temporary Muslim ban.

    What You Need To Know

    Giuliani has a long history of anti-Muslim comments and statements. He argued in favor of Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) idea that one way to fight terrorism is to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods,” said sexual assault in Germany proved that “these [Syrian] refugees are inherently a problem,” and praised Rep. Peter King (R-NY) for holding anti-Muslim hearings in Congress.

    Jeffrey Lord

    Lord

    The Trump Connection

    Lord, a contributor to the conservative American Spectator, has been a big booster of Trump’s candidacy. CNN hired Lord to present a pro-Trump point of view. According to Lord, Trump helped land him the gig. The Patriot-News reported last year, “Lord said Trump complained to CNN execs that the network only featured commentators who didn't get him, so CNN asked The Donald who in the world of conservative media he would suggest, and he said Jeffrey Lord.”

    What You Need To Know

    Lord infamously tried to prove that a black man who was beaten to death was not technically lynched, a position that was even condemned by his colleagues at the Spectator. During his CNN appearances, Lord has defended Trump’s attack on Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists, excused Trump’s failure to disavow the KKK, and described the Klan as a “leftist terrorist organization.”  

    Ben Carson

    Carson

    The Trump Connection

    Carson endorsed Trump after he dropped his presidential bid and was then tasked with being Trump’s liaison between his campaign and Speaker Paul Ryan. Carson also apparently had some role in Trump’s vice presidential selection team.

    What You Need To Know

    Carson has caused controversy with a series of bizarre and offensive comments as an author, a Fox News contributor, and during his short-lived presidential campaign. During a Fox News appearance, Carson infamously compared marriage equality supporters to those who would advocate bestiality and pedophilia, and argued in his 2012 book that marriage equality could destroy America “like the fall of the Roman Empire.” Carson also claimed that the Egyptian pyramids were built to store grain, said being gay was a “choice,” described Obamacare as “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery,” and argued that Jewish people could have prevented the Holocaust if they had guns.

    Paul Manafort

    Manafort

    The Trump Connection

    Republican strategist Paul Manafort was hired by Trump as a senior aide to his political campaign. Manafort was later promoted to campaign chairman and chief strategist.

    What You Need To Know

    Manafort was partners with Roger Stone in the lobbying and consulting firm Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly. After a congressional investigation, Manafort admitted that the work he performed after receiving consulting fees was “influence peddling.”

    Manafort and his firms have worked with several unsavory clients including “a business group tied to Ferdinand Marcos, the dictator of the Philippines; Viktor Yanukovych, the ousted Ukrainian president and ally of Vladimir Putin; and Lynden Pindling, the former Bahamian prime minister who was accused of ties to drug traffickers.”

    During the Republican primaries, Manafort accused Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign of engaging in “Gestapo tactics” in order to win over convention delegates.

    Michael Savage

    Savage

    The Trump Connection

    Radio host Michael Savage was an early backer of Trump in the conservative media who has described himself as “the architect of Trump’s messaging." Trump has appeared on his program multiple times -- in one appearance, Savage offered himself up to head the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a suggestion that Trump described as “common sense.”

    What You Need To Know

    Savage has a long history of outrageous and violent rhetoric. In 2008, he warned, “I fear that Obama will stir up a race war … in order to seize absolute power.”

    Savage also claimed that President Obama “wants to infect the nation with Ebola” and is gearing up the government to “fight a war against white people.” Savage accused Obama of engaging in “genocide” against the white race.

    Savage has described PTSD and depression sufferers as “weak” and “narcissistic” “losers.” Referencing military veterans suffering from PTSD, Savage said, “no wonder ISIS can defeat our military.”

    Additionally, Savage has called for a “revolution” in response to multiculturalism, said “I’d hang every lawyer who went down toto Guantanamo” Bay, accused President Obama of being the “new Mao,” theorized that Democrats would declare martial law, and said “the radical left and the radical Muslims are natural blood brothers.”

    Savage and Trump swapped notes on the conspiracy theory that Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered.

    Ann Coulter

    Coulter

    The Trump Connection

    Conservative columnist Ann Coulter has repeatedly promoted Trump’s candidacy. Trump called Coulter’s anti-immigrant book, Adios, America! “a great read.” In return, Coulter said she believes that Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric was inspired by her.

    What You Need To Know

    Coulter has developed a reputation over the years for making hateful and disgusting public comments, often with a bigoted message that even conservatives have recoiled from. The conservative National Review dropped her column when, after 9/11, she said America should “invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

    Coulter’s book was apparently modeled on the rhetoric of white nationalists and other anti-immigrant extremists, and she credited white nationalist Peter Brimelow as an “intellectual influence” on her work.

    While defending Trump, Coulter called South Carolina-born Governor Nikki Haley an “immigrant” who “does not understand America’s history,” and made derogatory attacks on Jews while complaining about Trump’s rivals in a primary debate.

    She has also regularly offered bigoted anti-immigrant rhetoric, including the claim that “immigrants are more dangerous than ISIS” and “‘real’ Hispanics are on welfare.”

    Laura Ingraham

    Ingraham

    The Trump Connection

    Radio host Laura Ingraham has been a staunch supporter of Trump’s candidacy and has praised his anti-immigrant rhetoric. She once compared Trump to Abraham Lincoln.

    What You Need To Know

    Ingraham has often used her show to demonize and attack immigrants. Ingraham said Mexicans “have come here to murder and rape our people,” called the children of undocumented immigrants “anchor fetuses,” and suggested that deported immigrants attempting to re-enter the country should be “shot.”

    Chris Christie

    Christie

    The Trump Connection

    New Jersey governor Chris Christie endorsed Trump after he dropped out of the campaign and has served as a leading surrogate for the candidate

    What You Need To Know

    Christie has become infamous for his public arguments with voters and other figures. He told a critical voter he was “a real big shot shooting your mouth off,” called a reporter “a complete idiot,” and told a resident asking about stalled rebuilding efforts after Superstorm Sandy to “sit down and shut up.”

    In addition to his demeanor, Christie’s administration was involved in the Bridgegate scandal, where his subordinates conspired to block traffic on the George Washington Bridge as payback for political slights against the governor.

    Larry Kudlow

    Kudlow

    The Trump Connection

    Larry Kudlow was part of the Office of Management and Budget in Reagan’s first term, and is now a columnist and on-air personality for CNBC. Trump enlisted Kudlow (along with Stephen Moore) to work on changes to his economic plans.

    What You Need To Know

    Kudlow was a big supporter of George W. Bush’s economic policies and was infamous for missing the warning signs of the coming economic meltdown.

    Kudlow dismissed people concerned about the real estate bubble in the mid-2000s as “bubbleheads who expect housing-price crashes.” In December 2007, as the National Bureau of Economic Research marked the beginning of the Great Recession, Kudlow wrote, “there’s no recession coming.”

    Stephen Moore

    Moore

    The Trump Connection

    Conservative economic columnist Stephen Moore was enlisted, along with Larry Kudlow, to tweak Trump’s economic policy in the general election.

    What You Need To Know

    Like Kudlow, Moore has a terrible track record when predicting the effect of both conservative and progressive policies on the economy. He also regularly makes false claims to attack policies like taxes, regulation, the minimum wage, and Obamacare.

    The editorial page director of the Kansas City Star declared she “won’t be running anything else from Stephen Moore” after he used false employment numbers in a column attacking economist Paul Krugman.

    In a column promoting Trump's candidacy, Moore wrote, "It is striking that Trump is the anti-Obama in every way."

    General Michael Flynn

    Flynn

    The Trump Connection

    Retired Army Lt. General Michael Flynn, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, is reportedly “a trusted Trump adviser and go-to man on intelligence and national security.”

    What You Need To Know

    Flynn was forced out of his position in 2014 after clashing with senior officials. He has complained that “‘political correctness’ has prevented the U.S. from confronting violent extremism, which he sees as a ‘cancerous idea that exists inside of the Islamic religion.’”  Flynn accuses the U.S. government of concealing “the actions of terrorists like bin Laden and groups like ISIS, and the role of Iran in the rise of radical Islam.”

    Flynn has publicly supported Trump’s idea that the families of terrorist suspects should be killed, and he also backs Trump’s proposal for a ban on Muslim travel to the United States. Flynn has written that “fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.”

    In 2015, Flynn flew to Moscow and was filmed having a formal dinner with Vladimir Putin. The Daily Beast reported that “Pentagon brass were taken by surprise that he didn’t notify the department.”

    Scottie Nell Hughes

    Hughes

    The Trump Connection

    Scottie Nell Hughes is a cable news pundit who has often spoken in defense of Donald Trump. Glamour notes she “has been on the front line for Trump campaign since she introduced him at a September mega rally in Dallas.”

    What You Need To Know

    Hughes was previously the news director for the “Tea Party News Network.” She uses odd logic to launch defenses of Trump’s actions.

    When some called for riots at the Republican convention in defense of Trump, Hughes told CNN “it’s not riots as in a negative thing.” Hughes said that Trump’s statement that women should be punished for abortions had been “misconstrued,” and that the media paying attention to Trump’s sexist tweets is unfair.

    Images by Sarah Wasko

  • Fox Takes Clinton Out Of Context In Effort To Distract From Trump’s Hope For Housing Crisis

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Fox & Friends deceptively edited a 2007 video of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to claim that Clinton blamed homeowners for the housing market crash and that she is “flip flopping now” to blame Wall Street. But the speech transcript shows that Clinton indeed blamed Wall Street and a host of other financial actors, saying Wall Street “helped create the foreclosure crisis” and bears “responsibility” for the crash. Fox also downplayed Donald Trump’s expressed hope for a financial crisis in 2006, instead blaming former President Bill Clinton for a market crash and historic recession that occurred during the waning days of the Bush administration.

  • Embracing The Clinton Crazies, Trump Becomes AM Talk Radio’s Nominee For President

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Rolling out a 1996-era campaign that primarily targets Bill Clinton instead of Hillary, Donald Trump continues to wallow in all kinds of conspiracies that were once eagerly promoted by right-wing “Clinton Crazies” two decades ago. Those were the hardcore Clinton haters who spent the 1990s absorbing AM talk radio’s chronic toxicity and obsessing over the president’s possibly murderous ways.

    By digging up long-forgotten `90s attack lines and pushing them today, Trump seems content to focus his campaign on the distant past, and on the Clinton who isn’t running for president in 2016. In doing so though, Trump has emerged as right-wing radio’s dream Republican nominee, someone eager to debase public debate and to wallow in not-even-half-baked conspiracy theories.

    So the good news for the Clinton Crazies is that Trump’s running an AM talk radio campaign for president. The bad news for the GOP? Trump’s running an AM talk radio campaign for president.

    “He’s never been involved in policy making or party building or the normal things a candidate would do. … His whole frame of reference is daytime Fox News and Infowars,” Alex Jones’ conspiracy website. That, according to a Republican strategist quoted in today’s New York Times.

    Trump’s unorthodox primary run this year has set off countless intramural spats within the conservative movement, and specifically pitting well-known Republican allies against Trump, at least temporarily. (See: National Review and Megyn Kelly.) But talk radio – outside of some prominent anti-Trump voices like Glenn Beck and Mark Levin -- has largely remained Trump’s key ally and helped normalize his radical behavior.

    As Michael Brendan Dougherty recently wrote in The Week:

    Donald Trump talks about politics the way talk-radio hosts do, like a dramatic clash of personalities. This is a very different view of politics from the one espoused by conservative opinion writers, where politics are questions of policy, popular opinion as it exists, and the structure of institutions that shape the decisions of politicians.

    Media observers outside the talk radio bubble, and from across the political spectrum, shook their heads in amazement at Trump’s decision to resurrect the Clinton Crazies’ fever swamp touchstone: the 1993 suicide death of Vince Foster, a longtime Clinton aide and friend who was serving as the White House’s deputy counsel. 

    “He knew everything that was going on, and then all of a sudden he committed suicide,” Trump said of Foster’s relationship with the Clintons at the time of his death. “It’s the one thing with her, whether it’s Whitewater or whether it’s Vince or whether it’s Benghazi. It’s always a mess with Hillary,” Trump told The Washington Post.

    When even a professional conspiracy theorist like Glenn Beck suggests Trump’s gone too far with the Foster nonsense, it might be time to reel it back it in. “We were joking on the air yesterday, how long before he gets to the list of the people that the Clintons have killed. Well, yesterday, he started with Vince Foster,” noted Beck.  

    The fact Trump reached for the preposterous Foster card just highlights how, within the insular world of right-wing politics, the topic -- like so many Clinton conspiracies -- maintains a strong following.

    In 2007, while preparing for a possible Hillary Clinton nomination, Fox News took the fact-free plot out of storage. Sean Hannity led the charge, suggesting Foster was murdered, asking if there had been a Clinton-led “coverup,” and teasing "the strange and unanswered questions involving the death of Vince Foster."

    Just ugly and reckless stuff.

    More recently, Rush Limbaugh suggested Bernie Sanders was worried Hillary Clinton would have him shot, like Vince Foster. And while promoting his anti-Clinton book on talk radio, author Peter Schweizer was told by host Dana Loesch, "There is always that concern for anyone who goes up against the Clinton machine that they could be Vince Fostered," and asked if he considered that possibility when "getting himself security.” Schweizer responded, "Yeah, I mean look -- there are security concerns that arise in these kinds of situations."

    For those who weren’t around, or weren’t actively engaged in the early '90s, the Vince Foster conspiratorial attack is basically the equivalent to birtherism during the Obama era -- if birthers had also accused Obama of murdering somebody while supposedly growing up in Kenya. (Note that birther architect Joseph Farah from WorldNetDaily was also a vocal Vince Foster conspiracy advocate.)

    Like birtherism and white nationalists, Vince Foster chatter makes professional Republicans cringe when it arises during the campaign season when the party’s trying to put on its best face for November. But Trump has now made the phony `90s claim synonymous with the party. 

    Not surprisingly, there’s been a lot of shorthand this week in terms of the Foster story as journalists try to sum up Trump’s `90s reference in one or two sentences. But that shorthand doesn’t do justice to the Foster story, which means many journalists aren’t doing justice to Trump current lunacy.

    The facts: Foster was the deputy White House counsel who committed suicide in Northern Virginia's Fort Marcy Park on July 20, 1993, not far from Washington, D.C. According to multiple investigations, Foster died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His suicide and the fictionalized plot where the president and his wife hatched some sort of plot to murder their friend (he knew too much!), quickly become one of the more despicable claims that was casually lobbed in the 1990s. Conservatives, led by Limbaugh, incessantly cast doubt on Foster's suicide, suggesting instead that the Clinton White House had murdered Foster and covered it up.

    But there must have been legitimate questions if the right-wing scheme has lived on so long, right?

    Wrong.

    Jamison Foser, writing for Media Matters in 2010 [emphasis added]:

    Like any good conspiracy theorist, they became more and more certain of foul play as time went on -- their certainty only reinforced by facts and evidence and official investigations to the contrary.

    The United States Park Police investigated Foster's death and ruled it a suicide; the conspiracy theorists disagreed and demanded another investigation. Whitewater special prosecutor Robert Fiske (a Republican) investigated the death, concluding it was a suicide. The conspiracy theorists were unsatisfied, and demanded more. Congressional committees investigated (with Republican Dan Burton of Indiana going so far as to shoot up his vegetable garden in a creative if misguided attempt to prove that Foster was murdered) but they, too, failed to produce any evidence of murder. The conspiracy theorists were unswayed. Whitewater independent counsel Ken Starr, leaving no stone unturned in his effort to find something -- anything -- to make Clinton look bad, investigated. Starr, too, ruled the death a suicide. The conspiracy theorists announced that Starr was covering for Clinton.

    The Washington Post noted there were “five official investigations into Foster’s death, conducted by professional investigators, forensic experts, psychologists, doctors and independent prosecutors with unlimited resources” and they confirmed there was “nothing fishy or mysterious about Foster’s tragic suicide.” 

    So of course Trump resurrects it for the 2016 campaign. Because that’s what a talk radio candidate for president does.