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Jones Has Claimed He Was Previously Told That Putin Is A “Big Listener” And The “Russian Government Listens To” His Show
Radio host and prominent Donald Trump ally Alex Jones was told by an RT host that Russian President Vladimir Putin asked him to "say hi to Alex.” Jones has claimed that he was told years ago that "Putin’s a big listener" and was previously informed that the “Russian government listens to" his show and the Kremlin partially “modeled” RT off of his Infowars network.
Scrutiny of Trump and his allies’ alleged ties to the Russian government have increased since the U.S. intelligence community released an unclassified document finding with “high confidence” that Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election,” and that “Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.” CNN recently reported that senior intelligence officials presented a “two-page synopsis” to Trump and President Obama that “included allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government, according to two national security officials.”
Jones has said that he talks to the president-elect on the phone to give advice and stated that it’s “surreal to talk about issues here on air and then word for word hear Trump say it two days later.” Trump has appeared on Jones show and is reportedly a viewer. Prominent adviser Roger Stone is a regular contributor and guest host for Jones’ program.
Kremlin-connected commentators have made clear in recent weeks that they view Jones as an important part of a campaign benefiting Russia.
Jones recently appeared on Tsargrad TV, which was founded by Putin ally Konstantin Malofeev. The Russian tycoon is reportedly “one of Vladimir Putin’s favorite businessmen” and has “close ties to the Kremlin elite.” During the appearance, Tsargrad TV editorial director Alexander Dugin praised Jones as “a hero of this campaign” because he “told the truth while everyone else lied.” Dugin has been widely referred to as “Putin's Rasputin” because of his ties to and influence on the Russian president and his political apparatus. Jones himself bragged about appearing on “Vladimir Putin’s favorite TV show” and with “top Putin advisers.”
Jones has also recently claimed that he’s been praised by Putin himself. On his December 8 program, Jones hosted RT broadcaster Max Keiser. Slate profiled Keiser in 2013 and wrote that he’s “become an eccentric hero of a certain ultralibertarian, 9/11-conspiracy-espousing, gold-bug-loving corner of alternative media.”
Keiser and Jones spent time discussing Putin’s interest in Jones, with Keiser stating: “Vladimir Putin says to say hello, by the way.” Jones responded, “Wow,” and claimed that he was “told by the head of RT America, before they even launched it, like eight, nine years ago, Putin’s a big listener.” Jones then added that “years ago” he was told by unnamed people that “Putin wants to come on” and talk about hunting (the appearance appears to have not materialized).
From the December 8 discussion:
MAX KEISER: Vladimir Putin says to say hello, by the way.
ALEX JONES: Did that really happen?
KEISER: Oh yeah. He said, when you see Alex, tell him I said hello.
JONES: That’s crazy. I better not go over there, though.
KEISER: I’m going to introduce -- interview Putin this year.
KEISER: Yeah. Going over there.
JONES: Now I am interested in this because I was told by the head of RT America, before they even launched it, like eight, nine years ago, Putin’s a big listener and by the way, he likes how you play --
KEISER: He loves my show. He imitated me at the 10-year anniversary dinner.
JONES: Let’s get back to the Putin thing. This will be newsworthy. Let me hear this. What did he say?
KEISER: Well I’m just telling you what he said. He was imitating me and Jesse Ventura was there at the dinner, and --
JONES: [unintelligible] told me that. So he said, “Say hi to Alex?”
KEISER: Yeah, he said, “Say hello to Alex Jones.” He’s going to come on my show this year, Moscow is beautiful in the springtime.
JONES: We actually got reached out to years ago by some people and I checked and it was like, “Yes, Putin wants to come on. But he wants to talk about hunting ‘cause you’re from Texas.”
Jones has repeatedly hosted Keiser on his program, and he has also frequently appeared on RT over the years, including recently on Keiser’s program. (Jones said during the Kesier segment that he's "probably been on" RT "200 times.") In a separate edition of his RT program, Keiser referred to Jones as his “good friend” who helped elect Trump.
The U.S. intelligence community’s recently released report stated that the “rapid expansion of RT's operations and budget and recent candid statements by RT's leadership point to the channel's importance to the Kremlin as a messaging tool and indicate a Kremlin-directed campaign to undermine faith in the US Government and fuel political protest.”
Jones told his audience on a July 20, 2014, show that “the basic Russian government listens to my show” and said he was told that they “started” and “modeled a little” bit of RT off of Infowars. From that show:
ALEX JONES: I’m not bragging when I tell you this, because I knew about this years ago. When I was at RT headquarters in New York and then in L.A., the head of RT at the time, who was replaced because the State Department freaked out and threatened to shut him off if I was ever allowed back on there. Because I'd go on national Russian TV and criticize communism, criticize Stalin, criticize the New World Order, say whatever I wanted. The head of RT was a huge listener. And they were -- I was told they literally started it, modeled a little bit off Infowars. That was part of it. And that the basic Russian government listens to my show. And I never really said that on air because it sounds so wild, but it’s confirmed. It’s come out in communiques and cables and stuff like that. It’s been in the London Telegraph that Assad also, they hacked his emails and the government was reading our analysis at Infowars.com. My analysis. And I’m not saying that arrogantly, but when the Russian government’s listening to you, you might as well just say that that’s going on. I mean it’s no mistake that -- now I’ve been invited on national Russian TV repeatedly to be on with Vladimir Putin’s best buddy, I forget his name, that runs the state-run media over there, and I’ve said no. The crew’s had the request come in, I’ve said no, because this is getting too close to war and I’m not going on Russian media.
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Jones Was Feted As A “Hero” By “Putin's Rasputin”
Radio host Alex Jones recently appeared on a Russian television program where he was feted by pro-Kremlin commentators as a “hero” who exposed "the war crimes of Hillary Clinton” and “told the truth while everyone else lied” during the 2016 presidential campaign. The station’s editorial director, who has been nicknamed "Putin's Rasputin," also described Donald Trump’s electoral win to Jones as “when you and him and all of us won.”
Jones, a prominent conspiracy theorist and one of President-elect Donald Trump’s key media allies, appeared on a late December broadcast of Tsargrad TV’s Our Point of View. In a segment on his show about the appearance, Jones bragged about the alleged influence of the Tsargrad TV program, claiming it was “Vladimir Putin’s favorite TV show” and “it’s private media -- a couple of these guys are Putin advisers, I mean, top Putin advisers.”
Foreign Policy wrote in October 2015 that the recently launched Tsargrad TV aims “to put a conservative yet modern spin on global news.” Founder Konstantin Malofeev is a Russian tycoon who is “one of Putin’s loudest ideological supporters.” The magazine reported that “while some oligarchs who tried to get involved in TV in the early 2000s were exiled or jailed under Putin’s new regime, Malofeev is so far enjoying carte blanche with his channel, which he boasts is even more patriotic than the Kremlin’s own state-run TV stations.” Slate called Malofeev “one of Vladimir Putin’s favorite businessmen” and said he has “close ties to the Kremlin elite.”
Alexander Dugin is the editorial director for Tsargrad TV. He has been widely referred to as “Putin's Rasputin” because of his ties and influence on the Russian president and his political apparatus. The Guardian’s Matthew d'Ancona wrote of Dugin’s influence in Russia:
The extent of Dugin’s personal access to the Kremlin remains opaque: it has certainly waxed and waned over the decades. What is beyond dispute, however, is the influence his geopolitical vision has enjoyed in the general staff academy and the Russian ministry of defence. Putin’s intervention in Georgia in 2008, his invasion of Ukraine in 2014, and his tightening grip on Syria are all entirely consistent with Dugin’s strategy for Mother Russia.
All of which is alarming enough. But what makes Dugin so suddenly significant is his growing influence in the west. It has long been alleged that he acts as a covert intermediary between Moscow and far-right groups in Europe, many of which are believed to receive funding from the Kremlin.
Jones celebrated Tsargrad TV’s coverage during his December 28 show and played clips from the program, which were translated by an Infowars staffer. Jones’ appearance on the network began with a pre-taped package hailing the “legendary” Jones as a “journalist who had the true courage to show the truth of what is really going on in the United States” by “exposing the war crimes of Hillary Clinton.” The show praised Jones for discussing “the WikiLeaks dumps” and concluded that “Infowars.com was practically the only resource where the elections were covered thoroughly and objectively.”
Our Point of View called Clinton a “war criminal” and claimed Trump’s words had been “taken out of context” by the media. It also called the former secretary of state “the lady kingpin of the world financial elites.”
Dugin told Jones during the program that he’s a “hero” who “changed our view of who a real American is.” He began by stating that they “have been following" Jones "for many years” and he has “marveled at” the American broadcaster. Dugin said that Jones is “a hero of this campaign” because he “told the truth while everyone else lied.” According to Dugin, “When Donald Trump won, whom you supported and whom we were all also in solidarity with, when you and him and all of us won, I said this: Anti-Americanism is over.”
He added that Jones is “a true American man” and “from the bottom of our hearts we thank you for being the genuine face of real America.” Here is Dugin’s monologue to Jones, which Infowars translated into English:
ALEXANDER DUGIN (Infowars translation): I’m very happy that Alex Jones is live with us right now. We have been following you, Alex, for many years, including myself personally, and when you became truly celebrated in this new era of Donald Trump, I marveled at you. The fact that such people as yourself, who embody such free and independent points of view which are shared in reality by millions of people, Americans and worldwide, and millions of Russian people, how you became a hero of this campaign. How you told the truth while everyone else lied. How you held your ground fearlessly against all the attacks and all the dirt that they were throwing your way. And whether it be Russians, Europeans, Asians, or Turks, for us, you were an example of a true American man. The true American spirit. You, Alex, have changed our view of who a real American is. If the American people are anything like you, then the attitude toward your country, toward your people, will be radically changed. And when Donald Trump won, whom you supported and whom we were all also in solidarity with, when you and him and all of us won, I said this: Anti-Americanism is over. Now the people of the free United States, free Russia, and all the anti-globalist powers worldwide have to build a new world, new architecture. We are exceedingly glad to see you on our program broadcasting live right now and from the bottom of our hearts we thank you for being the genuine face of real America.
Dugin previously said that Infowars is “the most powerful resource of true information in the U.S.” ThinkProgress’ Justin Salhani wrote that Dugin has links to white nationalists and his “ideology has infiltrated white nationalist circles in the United States and parts of Europe.”
Andrey Afanasiev, another Tsargrad TV personality, praised Jones for playing “such an important role” in Trump’s victory and attacked Clinton supporters for not having the “strength of mind” to accept defeat.
Infowars promoted the Russian show under the headlines “Must See: Russian Coverage Of The Infowar” and “Alex Jones Instrumental In Changing Russians’ Perception Of Americans; Russian TV hosts praise Alex for fighting Globalism in a recent interview.”
Jones has claimed that the U.S. government perpetrated the 9/11 attacks and the tragedies at Columbine, Oklahoma City, Sandy Hook, and the Boston Marathon, among others. During the 2016 election, he frequently pushed false stories and conspiracy theories in a successful attempt to help elect Trump.
Trump went on the Jones program in December 2015, and he reportedly thanked Jones’ audience after the election for helping him win. Trump has reportedly watched the show and he has repeatedly echoed Jones’ theories and rhetoric, prompting Jones to remark that it’s “surreal to talk about issues here on air and then word for word hear Trump say it two days later.”
Top intelligence officials recently alleged that Russia orchestrated efforts to undermine the 2016 presidential election. The Washington Post also recently reported that “senior officials in the Russian government celebrated Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton as a geopolitical win for Moscow, according to U.S. officials who said that American intelligence agencies intercepted communications in the aftermath of the election in which Russian officials congratulated themselves on the outcome.”
The German government announced it will use "all possible means" to investigate the spread of fake news online following Russian hacks and a dubious Breitbart news story that falsely claimed Muslim immigrants attacked a church.
Reuters reported that German officials announced the government’s plan to investigate the “unprecedented proliferation” of fake news online amid growing concerns within German intelligence that Russia may attempt to interfere in the 2017 German parliamentary election.
The announcement came following the backlash of a fake news story published by Breitbart.com that falsely claimed a “mob” of 1,000 Muslims attacked police and attempted to set a church on fire during New Year's Eve celebrations. German police immediately quashed the false story, and German newspaper editorial boards called out Breitbart for using “exaggerations and factual errors” to create “an image of chaotic civil war-like conditions in Germany, caused by Islamist aggressors.”
In November, Breitbart announced it would open new bureaus in France and Germany to “help elect right-wing politicians” in the countries facing upcoming elections in environments where “anti-immigrant sentiment has been on the rise." Since that time, Breitbart has published a number of stories attacking Angela Merkel and German immigration policies.
German officials also expressed concerns about Russian use of fake news in the country. The New York Times reported that Russia was behind the hacking into the German Parliament’s computer network in 2015 that left nearly 1 million Germans without internet access and increased fears that Russia will use fake news to “corrupt public debate and democratic processes.”
A chyron during MSNBC Live erroneously claimed that President-elect Donald Trump had acknowledged Russia’s alleged role in hacking designed to swing the 2016 election in his favor, but during the same segment his repeated refusal to do so was the main topic of conversation.
Trump has repeatedly and publicly refused to acknowledge Russia’s alleged hacking, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. On Friday, after being briefed about the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia sought to tilt the election in Trump’s favor, Trump released a muddled statement that largely downplayed Russia’s alleged actions. But you wouldn’t know that from MSNBC’s on-screen text.
During the 3pm edition of MSNBC Live on January 9, on-screen text read, “Trump, Team Acknowledge Russia’s Role In Election Hacks.”
But in the accompanying segment, host Kate Snow and guest Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff at the Department of Defense, were largely focused on Trump’s repeated refusal to accept the findings presented by U.S. intelligence agencies.
Snow noted comments from senior Trump aide Kellyanne Conway indicating that Trump may roll back some of the sanctions imposed by President Obama in retaliation for the alleged election interference, and explained that other Republicans -- like Sen. John McCain -- have not shown the same reluctance to accept the conclusions of the intelligence agencies.
Snow also displayed a tweet Trump sent this weekend, in which he brushed off concerns about the hacking and said that “the only reason” it is a topic of conversation “is that the loss by the Dems was so big that they are totally embarrassed.” She then asked Bash if Trump would keep up “this kind of rhetoric” and continue “to be skeptical of all this” as he takes office.
In response, Bash told Snow that “in some ways, [Trump’s] statement Friday was a little better, because he actually didn’t dispute the core finding that Russia did try to hack our election, but I do think Trump team members will tell you -- and I’ve heard directly from them -- they see this in a political context.”
Trump’s official statement, issued immediately after his briefing on the topic, refused to place direct blame on Russia, instead muddling both their potential involvement in the hacking and the allegation that they did so with the intention of aiding Trump’s candidacy: “While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.”
As Politico reported, despite RNC chairman Reince Priebus’ statement that Trump accepted reports of Russia’s behavior, “Trump has only indirectly acknowledged the intelligence community's conclusion that Russia interfered in the election and has consistently downplayed its significance — and the president-elect has a history of later contradicting what his surrogates tell the media.”
Yet MSNBC’s chyron told a different story, one at odds not only with Trump’s repeated statements on the topic during the campaign but also with his behavior since the first details of the intelligence community’s findings began to be publicized. The chyron focused the conversation on Trump’s fleeting, begrudging, and inadequate reference to Russia’s potential role in hacking, letting him off the hook for his months of obfuscation and avoid the larger question of why Russia wanted to help him.
As Brendan Nyhan, an assistant professor in the Department of Government at Dartmouth College who has “conducted several studies on fact-checking in recent years” explained to Poynter during the 2016 campaign when CNN began using chyrons to fact-check Trump in real time, it is crucial chyrons relay accurate information "because cable news chyrons often reinforce misleading messages or create doubt over relatively settled questions."
After top United States intelligence officials testified before Congress and confirmed reports that Russia orchestrated efforts to undermine the 2016 presidential election, right-wing news figures deflected from the report by falsely blaming John Podesta’s email password for cybersecurity breaches.
Before and since the election, media outlets have repeatedly failed to write headlines that adequately contextualize President-elect Donald Trump’s lies. Simply echoing his statements normalizes his behavior and can spread disinformation, particularly given the high proportion of people who read only headlines. Below is an ongoing list documenting the media’s failure to contextualize Trump’s actions in headlines and sometimes on social media. Some of the initial versions were subsequently altered (and these are marked with an asterisk), but many of the updates still failed to adequately contextualize Trump’s remarks.
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The Wall Street Journal reported Donald Trump plans to “restructure and pare back” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence due to his belief it has become “bloated and politicized.” Trump’s belief that the DNI has become politicized echoes right-wing media conspiracies attempting to delegitimize intelligence reports that found Russian government directed compromises of emails during the 2016 election cycle.
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After a presidential campaign season that seemed unprecedented in its length and ferocity, on Election Day 2016 there were two contenders vying to become the most powerful person in the world.
One was a conventional politician who had spent decades in public service. Her positions, philosophy, and actions were well within the norm for an American presidential candidate.
The other was a racist misogynist who ran a campaign based on hatred and vitriol and was described by leading conservatives as a proto-fascist whose rise was “perilous to the republic.” He openly undermined press freedoms, threatened the nation’s decades-long alliances, lifted up white nationalist elements to new prominence, lied constantly and brazenly, mocked the disability of a reporter, attacked a Gold Star family, was caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women and was accused of doing so by several, showed a frightening lack of familiarity with public policy, promised to imprison his opponent, and drew support from Russian intelligence services. He represented a fundamental break with virtually every norm in American public life.
The press plays an essential agenda-setting role in American politics. Every day of the campaign, news executives, editors, TV newscasters and bookers, reporters, and pundits made thousands of independent decisions which, collectively, determined both the stories included in the nation’s papers, websites, and broadcasts, and how those stories were covered. Those journalists could, through the volume and tone of coverage, turn a story into a major scandal for a politician, treat it as a witch hunt against that politician, or let it languish and be forgotten as new stories replace it in the public consciousness. Over and over during the 2016 campaign, the political press chose wrong.
The campaign broke political journalism. Despite the vast differences between the two candidates, the message media consumers heard from journalists was that to an equal extent, both candidates were flawed.
In fact, according to Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics and Public Policy, which reviewed an analysis of news reports in major newspapers and cable and broadcast networks from January 1, 2015, through November 7, 2016, the conventional candidate actually received a higher proportion of negative coverage over the course of the campaign.
The study also reveals that during the general election, “on topics relating to the candidates’ fitness for office, Clinton and Trump’s coverage was virtually identical in terms of its negative tone” -- 87 percent negative for both. “Were the allegations surrounding Clinton of the same order of magnitude as those surrounding Trump?” asks the study’s author, Professor Thomas Patterson. “It’s a question that political reporters made no serious effort to answer during the 2016 campaign.”
Yes, Clinton had personal flaws and ran an imperfect campaign. No, it was not the press’s responsibility to deliver Clinton a victory. But in such a close race, where it is impossible to disaggregate one ultimate “cause” of the results, it seems likely that the choices news outlets made over the course of the election played a role in her defeat.
In a prescient July 2015 essay, reporter and Clinton biographer Jonathan Allen explained that over the course of her career, “coverage of Hillary Clinton differs from coverage of other candidates for the presidency,” and warned that the “difference encourages distortions that will ultimately affect the presidential race.” He pointed out the reason public perception of Clinton is distorted: because “the media assumes that Clinton is acting in bad faith unless there’s hard evidence otherwise” and outlets are willing to serve as a vector for unhinged, unfair, or false attacks on her character.
Allen’s warning played out over the course of the 2016 election, as the press’s discussion of Hillary Clinton overwhelmingly focused on three stories that news outlets consistently depicted as major scandals for her campaign. And all related to emails: the private email server she used as secretary of state; emails regarding the Clinton Foundation’s operations that were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and dribbled out by conservative organizations; and emails that hackers reportedly linked to Russian intelligence agencies stole from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, which were released through third parties.
Each story was worthy of press coverage -- measured coverage that put the facts in proper context. But context was washed away in a sea of often-inaccurate reporting that turned the stories into scandals. The evening network news broadcasts, for example, spent three times as much time on the Clinton email server story as on all in-depth campaign policy coverage combined. As the Gallup Working Group noted in reviewing polling data from July 11 through the election, what Americans reported they had read, seen, or heard about Hillary Clinton was “focused almost entirely on a single theme, email.” From its report:
Coverage of Clinton’s server frequently confused basic legal and factual issues regarding both the server’s creation and the information that flowed through it. Clinton Foundation stories, driven by deceptive presentation from partisan operatives, downplayed the organization’s effectiveness and the millions of lives it has saved in favor of concocting evidence of purported ethical conflicts. The gossipy tidbits journalists reported from the Podesta and DNC emails overshadowed the real concern the emails suggested -- that foreign actors were trying to sway the election.
In each case, as Allen had warned, journalists operated under the assumption that Clinton was acting in bad faith and had behaved unethically unless the allegations could be “proven completely and utterly false.”
As Gallup’s data show, the email coverage reached a crescendo when Comey announced on October 29 that the bureau planned to review additional emails that “appear to be pertinent to the investigation” of Clinton’s use of a private email server. Reporters rushed to trumpet Republican spin that the letter was a major development indicating that Comey had “reopened” his investigation, and they flooded newspaper front pages and broadcast and cable news programming with endless discussion that was frequently obsessed with optics and devoid of substance.
Two days before the election, Comey announced what had been obvious from the moment the story had broken -- that the review of additional emails would not change his conclusion that Clinton’s server had not violated the law (the emails reportedly turned out to be almost entirely duplicates of previously reviewed emails). But the damage was done: The email story garnered substantial negative media coverage over the last 10 days of the election while crowding out potential negative coverage of Trump.
“Did journalists create Trump? Of course not — they don’t have that kind of power,” wrote Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan in her election postmortem. “But they helped him tremendously, with huge amounts of early, unfiltered exposure in the months leading up to the Republican primary season. With ridiculous emphasis put on every development about Hillary Clinton’s email practices, including the waffling of FBI Director James B. Comey.”
As Sullivan suggests, the overwhelming, carnival-like coverage Trump received in the early days of the election gave him a huge advantage that played a key role in his rise to the Republican nomination. Trump received nearly $2 billion in media coverage through February, almost three times as much as Clinton and roughly six times as much as that of his closest Republican opponent.
“The media greatly enabled Trump, embracing the spectacle to give him vast swaths of real estate on air, online and in print,” NPR’s David Folkenflik wrote at the conclusion of the primary season.
While Trump dominated news coverage across the board, the problem was particularly apparent on the cable news channels. “Producers at several networks said they initially treated his candidacy as a joke, albeit a highly entertaining one,” BuzzFeed reported in March. “Trump's rallies became must-see daytime and primetime television on cable, pre-empting regularly scheduled newscasts and driving day-to-day news cycle.”
In a particularly noxious example, CNN ran a live shot of Trump’s empty podium for 30 minutes when the candidate was late for a March event. This “illustrated the vacuity of the celebrity-driven frenzy that defined Trump’s early campaign,” according to Politico’s Glenn Thrush. Trump “was so much more important than any of his rivals that even his absence was more newsworthy than their presence, and the networks did nothing to dispel that view, airing his speeches in their entirety when no other candidate or even President Obama was afforded that privilege.”
Trump’s dominance on cable and broadcast news shows also came about because those programs allowed him to make regular appearances by phone, rather than appearing in person or by satellite. Media ethicists panned this unprecedented practice because it granted Trump a number of unusual benefits -- he could steamroll through tough questions while tightly controlling his own image, and doing the interviews by phone allowed him to easily flood the airwaves in the morning and thus dictate what reporters covered for the rest of the day.
It’s no secret why cable and broadcast networks were so eager to highlight every aspect of Trump’s campaign, newsworthy or not: An unfiltered Trump provided great ratings and, subsequently, ad revenue. As CBS chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves put it, Trump’s candidacy “may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS.”
“The money's rolling in and this is fun," he said in February. "I've never seen anything like this, and this [is] going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It's a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going."
Too often, these incentives resulted in softer interviews and coverage than was justified. Frequent false statements were allowed to sail by. At CNN, executives hired a series of Trump surrogates -- including the candidate’s just-fired campaign manager, who was likely under a nondisparagement agreement and remained on Trump’s payroll for months -- to derail campaign segments with wild, implausible, and offensive spin. Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin fawned over the candidate on Trump’s plane and helicopter and even on a Zamboni. At MSNBC, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski’s cozy sitdowns with the candidate drew criticism from aghast media critics. And Fox News gorged itself on softball Trump interviews from its opinion hosts, including a soft-focus sitdown with Megyn Kelly.
Rather than deeming him a unique threat to democracy who was engaged in racist demagoguery, for much of the campaign, journalists all too frequently simply termed Trump “controversial.”
As Harvard’s study shows, the tone of Trump’s coverage grew increasingly negative during the general election. But at the same time, political reporters and pundits were frequently giving Trump outs, holding him to the low bar his campaign preferred and repeatedly imagining potential “pivots” and moves to campaign “discipline” in spite of the outrageous, extreme, and false things he was saying on a daily basis. Trump surrogates ran wild, distorting and outright lying about the candidate’s commentary in often-absurd ways that undermined the possibility of a reasoned debate. Reporters returned again and again to Trump advisers with long records of bigotry, giving them space to explain what the candidate really meant without calling them on their histories of misogyny and racism.
Many of the best investigative reports into Trump never got the attention they deserved, even as reporters mulled over, at length, every possible news hook about purported Clinton scandals. Political journalists can’t say enough about the brilliance of Washington Post reporter David Farenthold’s deep dives into Trump’s foundation, but his stories frequently failed to get the sort of full-spectrum attention granted to what seemed like every possible suggestion of an ethical scandal surrounding the Clinton Foundation. If reporters had provided fairer reporting on the Clinton Foundation, the contrast with the corruption of the Trump Foundation -- which actually was a slush fund for Trump’s personal interests and really did break the law -- would have been more clear to the public. And it was only after Trump was already elected that the press followed his lead and finally turned its attention to the billionaire’s business empire in depth; at that point, reporters discovered endless conflicts of interest that the president-elect shows little interest in trying to resolve.
Election coverage was not all dark. Many reporters did provide diligent and hard-hitting reviews of Trump’s extremism, shady business dealings, bigotry, and lies. In addition to Fahrenthold, Media Matters praised NBC News reporter Katy Tur for her brave and insightful reporting from the Trump campaign trail; BuzzFeed/CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski for his decimation of Trump’s repeated lie that he had opposed the Iraq War since its inception; and Guardian columnist Lucia Graves for her early, prescient, and careful stories on Jill Harth, who was one of several women to accuse Trump of sexual harassment.
Overall, however, editors and executives at major media outlets failed in their responsibility to present to their audience the full picture of the election in proper context, instead providing disproportionate scrutiny to relatively minor Clinton “scandals” in a way that ultimately resulted in a skewed picture of the election.
And that's because the political press was unable to adapt its methods and practices to a dramatically different election season. In typical elections, news outlets often treat both major presidential candidates as relatively similar -- comparing their flaws, scrutinizing their respective scandals, and framing the vote as a choice between two comparable options.
But this was not a normal election between two comparable choices. That sort of equivalency could not hope to provide viewers and readers with an accurate picture of this unusual race. And on balance, the press did not rise to this unique challenge.
Even after 16 months on the campaign trail, political journalists never figured out how to accurately depict the unprecedented nature of Trump's candidacy. Now they must find a way to reckon with and report on a president who has no regard for the freedom of the press or the norms of his office.