Ethics

Issues ››› Ethics
  • CNBC's Squawk Box and Fox’s Fox & Friends Are Friendly Ground for Donald Trump

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on September 12 visited two morning shows, Fox News’ Fox & Friends and CNBC’s Squawk Box, that have a history of giving him kid-glove treatment and softball interviews. Trump was likely expecting more of the same, and he was right.

    During his interview with Fox & Friends, Trump was asked about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s disclosure that she had been diagnosed with pneumonia after she left a 9/11 memorial event early, saying she was overheated. Co-host Ainsley Earhardt said the “press was kept in the dark for an hour and a half,” to which Trump said, “I really just don't know. I hope she gets well soon.” Trump also seemed to reference the baseless Clinton health conspiracy theories that have been spread by right-wing media figures, saying, “The coughing fit was a week ago, so I assume that was pneumonia also. I would think it would have been, so something is going on, but I just hope she gets well.”

    Co-host Steve Doocy later asked Trump about Clinton’s September 9 remark that “you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables” characterized by “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic” views. Despite ample polling that backs up Clinton’s claim, Doocy framed it as “mistake,” asking Trump, “How big a mistake was this for her to say that on Friday night?” Co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed, “Hillary Clinton, in … making these comments and going to these high-ranking fundraisers, in many ways, she seems divorced from the everyday American.” Trump also claimed, drawing no pushback from the hosts, that he would be a “president of all the people,” even though he has repeatedly smeared Muslims, called Mexicans “rapists,” discriminated against African-Americans, and courted the white nationalist movement. Other topics in the interview included the NFL players protesting the national anthem and Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel, which the co-hosts were amazed that he was able to open “two years ahead of schedule.”

    Trump’s half-hour interview on Squawk Box was even friendlier. Co-host Joe Kernen, discussing Clinton’s health, asked Trump if he thought he was “probably correct” that Clinton “didn't have the stamina either mentally or physically to be president.” Kernen also told Trump, “I think your schedule has been more grueling than the one [Clinton’s] been pursuing, and that has been documented,” even though Trump goes back to his home in New York almost every night. Multiple journalists criticized Kernen for the claim. Trump agreed with Kernen, saying, “It has been, and it is a very tough schedule.” Kernen later encouraged Trump to continue bashing President Obama over his recent trip to Asia, asking, “Any additional comments on that?” and criticized The Wall Street Journal for a headline that focused on both Clinton’s and Trump’s health. Co-host Rebecca Quick also told Trump, “You’re known as a great negotiator.” Trump during the interview also baselessly suggested, without drawing any pushback, that Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen was directing policy to help Obama, even though the Federal Reserve is independently controlled. Trump also smeared Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) with the slur “Pocahontas,” without pushback.

    In neither interview was Trump asked about the September 10 report from The Washington Post that Trump’s charitable organization, the Trump Foundation, spent money for Trump himself and violated IRS rules. The shows also failed to ask Trump about the September 10 New York Daily News report that Trump’s company took $150,000 in government aid following the 9/11 attacks while claiming to have helped locals, even though that’s not what the program was designated for, and, as the News noted, “It’s unclear what, if any, help Trump provided to those affected by 9/11.”

    Trump’s softball interviews on these shows continue his cushy history with both Fox and CNBC. For years, Trump had weekly segments on Fox & Friends, giving him a platform to push his baseless claim that Obama isn’t an American citizen. The show’s co-hosts have praised themselves for giving a “ton of time” to Trump before his campaign, and Trump publically lauded the show at a campaign event. The show has repeatedly defended and pushed Trump’s rhetoric throughout his campaign. Trump also had a weekly segment with Squawk Box in 2012. During that time, Kernen pushed Trump’s birther claims by reading a fake quote to Trump from Obama that suggested he wasn’t born in the United States. Kernen in an interview following CNBC’s Republican primary debate in 2015 also allowed Trump to falsely claim, “My relationship with Hispanics is incredible.”

    Trump’s appearance on both shows also follows Trump’s retreat from most news outlets aside from Fox and CNBC. Fox media reporter Howard Kurtz reported in June that Trump was scaling back on interviews outside of Fox. According to a Media Matters review, since Trump’s much-criticized interview with ABC on July 31, in which he attacked a Gold Star family, his only appearance on one of the three broadcast networks was during last week’s NBC Commander in Chief Forum; he has made only one appearance on CNN; and he has not appeared on MSNBC.

  • Florida Newspapers Call For Investigation Of Trump-Bondi Connection

    ››› ››› CHRISTOPHER LEWIS

    Florida editorial boards are calling for federal investigators to look into Florida Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi's connections with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. The calls come in response to news that Bondi choose not to investigate Trump University after soliciting and receiving a donation from him in 2013. Trump was fined $2,500 by the IRS this year for violating the law prohibiting such donations.  

  • MSNBC’s Chuck Todd Sets Impossible Standard For Clinton To "Pivot" Away From Emails

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    MSNBC host Chuck Todd criticized Hillary Clinton’s failure to “pivot off of” the topic of her private email server during her time as Secretary of State, ignoring that Clinton has taken responsibility for her actions and undergone multiple investigations.

    During a Meet the Press Daily panel discussion about NBC’s commander-in-chief forum, host Chuck Todd expressed concern that Clinton has “never figured out a pivot off” the email scandal:

    CHUCK TODD (HOST): When you have your own microphone, you can do what you want with it. And, you know, ultimately she's never figured out a pivot off of it. Normally when there is a controversial thing you have to deal with -- look at Trump, say what you want about him, sometimes he is all pivot. But she has not developed the pivot. "You know I'm glad you asked about that, but let me tell you about the larger issue when it comes to X" -- you know she never figured out how to do that. Why?

    In fact, Todd’s comments come after long and expensive investigations into Clinton’s use of a private email server, none of which have yielded any evidence of wrongdoing.

    And Hillary Clinton has repeatedly apologized, taken responsibility, and answered questions about her private email server from an unrelenting press.

    In the past week alone, NBC has written numerous articles concerning Hillary Clinton’s email server, and NBC’s presidential forum questioned Clinton on her emails in the first 8 of 9 questions. And yet, in response to Hillary Clinton’s attempt to give detailed, thorough answers to the press about her emails, Todd criticized her failure to change the subject.

  • STUDY: Networks Cover Trump's Illegal Pam Bondi Donation Three Times Less Than AP's Clinton Story

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    In just two days, broadcast news networks devoted more than three times as much airtime to baselessly scandalizing a flawed Associated Press (AP) report on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton than covering a story about an illegal donation by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. The AP piece examined meetings Clinton took with Clinton Foundation donors as secretary of state, while the Trump story centered on an illegal donation he made to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

    In the two days after the AP report was published, the broadcast news networks ABC, CBS, and NBC devoted 19 minutes and 10 seconds to covering the flawed August 23 report -- which dubiously hyped “possible ethics challenges” on behalf of Clinton. The same networks devoted merely six minutes of coverage to Trump’s illegal donation to Pam Bondi in the week following the revelation.

    In the report, the AP claimed that “More than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money -- either personally or through companies or groups -- to the Clinton Foundation.” Journalists and media critics widely derided the report for "ignoring well over 1,000 official meetings with foreign leaders and an unknown number of meetings with domestic US officials" Clinton held at the State Department. Some in the media -- including broadcast and cable networks -- nonetheless hyped the report for the “breathtaking” and “disturbing” “optics,” even though the report found “no evidence” of “ethics breaches.” Despite the backlash, the AP issued a statement claiming it was “transparent in how it has reported this story.”

    The Washington Post reported on September 1 that the Trump Foundation paid the IRS a penalty after he illegally donated to a campaign group in 2013 for the re-election of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. The Post explained that Trump paid the IRS a $2,500 penalty for “violat[ing] tax laws” with his donation. Bondi personally solicited the donation from Trump around the same time her office was considering joining the New York attorney general’s fraud investigation against Trump University. Shortly after Bondi received Trump’s donation, she decided not to join the case. Cable news hosts called the episode “ugly” and “a classic example” of pay-to-play politics.

    The Trump Foundation’s donation is also yet another example of Trump’s history of “breaking campaign finance laws” and “evading” legal donation limits, as CNN’s Jeff Zeleny explained. The New York Times wrote that Trump’s donation to Bondi was part of his “decades-long record of shattering political donation limits and circumventing the rules governing contributions and lobbying.”

    Methodology:

    Media Matters searched Nexis and SnapStream for coverage of Donald Trump's donation to Pam Bondi between September 1, 2016, and September 7, 2016, on CBS, NBC, and ABC's morning, evening, and Sunday news programs using the terms: "Trump AND Bondi." Media Matters searched SnapStream for coverage of the AP report on meetings Clinton took with Clinton Foundation donors between August 24, 2016, and August 25, 2016, on CBS, NBC, and ABC’s morning and evening news programs using the terms: “Clinton OR Clinton Foundation.”

  • CBS’ John Dickerson Is Only Sunday Host To Cover Trump Foundation’s Proven Lawbreaking

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    A Washington Post report that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump paid the IRS a $2,500 fine after his charitable foundation illegally gave a political contribution went mostly ignored by the cable and network Sunday political talk show hosts, with only CBS’ John Dickerson questioning a Trump surrogate about the story.

    The September 1 Post article reported that the Donald J. Trump Foundation had “violated tax laws” with a $25,000 political contribution to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who at the time was deciding whether or not to take action against Trump University. The report also highlighted an error, “which had the effect of obscuring the political gift from the IRS.” According to the Post’s article, the Trump Foundation is still out of compliance because “under IRS rules, it appears that the Trump Foundation must seek to get the money back” from the group which should never have received it:

    Donald Trump paid the IRS a $2,500 penalty this year, an official at Trump's company said, after it was revealed that Trump's charitable foundation had violated tax laws by giving a political contribution to a campaign group connected to Florida's attorney general.

    The improper donation, a $25,000 gift from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, was made in 2013. At the time, Attorney General Pam Bondi was considering whether to investigate fraud allegations against Trump University. She decided not to pursue the case.

    Earlier this year, The Washington Post and a liberal watchdog group raised new questions about the three-year-old gift. The watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, filed a complaint with the IRS — noting that, as a registered nonprofit, the Trump Foundation was not allowed to make political donations.

    The Post reported another error, which had the effect of obscuring the political gift from the IRS.

    In that year's tax filings, The Post reported, the Trump Foundation did not notify the IRS of this political donation. Instead, Trump's foundation listed a donation — also for $25,000 — to a Kansas charity with a name similar to that of Bondi's political group. In fact, Trump's foundation had not given the Kansas group any money.

    The prohibited gift was, in effect, replaced with an innocent-sounding but nonexistent donation.

    With the breathless media hyping of every new detail about the Clinton Foundation, despite the lack of anything illegal occurring, one would think that the proof of lawbreaking by a charitable foundation founded and named for one of the two major party presidential nominees would attract significant attention from the media. But Face the Nation host John Dickerson was the only Sunday political talk show host to bring up the Post’s findings.

    During his interview with Trump campaign surrogate Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), Dickerson cited the Post story to ask if it was an example of Trump knowing “how to use political donations to get the system to work for him” because in this situation Trump “gave the money then the investigation didn’t happen”:

    JOHN DICKERSON (HOST): I want to ask you about a report in The Washington Post this week about Donald Trump's foundation paying a fine to the IRS for a $25,000 donation it had given to a political committee supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2013. She was looking into maybe investigating Trump University, ultimately didn't. Donald Trump has said he knew better than anybody how to use the system, how to use political donations to get the system to work for him. Is that an instance of that in that situation, gave the money then the investigation didn't happen?

    ABC’s This Week guest host Martha Raddatz had a similar opportunity to question the Trump campaign about the story when speaking with campaign manager Kellyanne Conway during a 7 minute interview, but failed to bring it up. Fox News’ MediaBuzz and CNN’s Reliable Sources also both failed to even mention the news that Trump paid a fine for his foundation’s illegal act.

    On the other Sunday shows where this story was mentioned, it was up to the guests to mention it, usually in the context of the media’s double standard in reporting on the Clinton Foundation and Clinton’s emails. When Center for American Progress president Neera Tanden said “we just learned this week that Donald Trump was engaged in a pay to play” with Florida’s attorney general, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace repeatedly interrupted her, before casting the story aside.

    On NBC’s Meet the Press, MSNBC contributor Maria Teresa Kumar brought up the report, saying Trump “basically took his foundation money and actually wrote a check to a campaign. That is actually illegal, and he had to pay a fine.”

    And on CNN’s State of the Union, commentator Bakari Sellers was the only one to even allude to the story, saying, “we know that Donald Trump actually had a foundation that was pay to play, and we’re back to [Clinton] emails.”

  • GOP Uses Flawed AP Report To Call For An Investigation Into The Clinton Foundation

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Republicans are using a flawed Associated Press report -- that baselessly alleged Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton granted special State Department access to Clinton Foundation donors -- to justify calls for an investigation into the Clinton Foundation. Even though the report included no evidence of wrongdoing, numerous media figures hyped it as a scandal, claiming “the optics are disturbing” for Clinton.

  • Vox’s Matthew Yglesias Explains The Need For Journalists To Contextualize Clinton Stories

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Vox’s Matthew Yglesias used the example of former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s charitable organization to show that journalists need to properly contextualize their reporting on Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation because such scrutiny “can be misleading” in a media environment where Clinton is presumed to be corrupt and “every decision she makes and every relationship she has is cast in the most negative possible light,” while others who pursue similar actions are given “the presumption of innocence.”

    Over the past few weeks, new information about Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation has been scandalized by the media, with coverage focused on “optics when outlets find no evidence of wrongdoing, and misrepresenting stories that lack proper context. The sensationalist reporting on Clinton has sparked serious criticism of the media coverage, illustrating double standards and flawed reporting.

    In an August 30 article, Yglesias argues that the media must properly contextualize stories about Hillary Clinton, because while “it’s natural to assume that where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” in the instance of the Clinton Foundation, “the smoke … is not a naturally occurring phenomenon” but rather “the result of … editorial decisions by the managers of major news organizations to dedicate resources to running down every possible Clinton email lead.” He criticizes the media for extending the “presumption of innocence” to politicians like Colin Powell, who turned his charity -- which accepted corporate donations -- over to his spouse while he served as secretary of state, while they depict Hillary Clinton as “a uniquely corrupt specimen operating with wildly unusual financial arrangements and substantive practices” because “people ‘know’ she is corrupt”:

    The value of the presumption of innocence

    Because Colin Powell did not have the reputation in the mid- to late ’90s of being a corrupt or shady character, his decision to launch a charity in 1997 was considered laudable. Nobody would deny that the purpose of the charity was, in part, to keep his name in the spotlight and keep his options open for future political office. Nor would anybody deny that this wasn’t exactly a case of Powell having super-relevant expertise. What he had to offer was basically celebrity and his good name. By supporting Powell’s charity, your company could participate in Powell’s halo.

    But when the press thinks of you as a good guy, leveraging your good reputation in this way is considered a good thing to do. And since the charity was considered a good thing to do, keeping the charity going when Powell was in office as secretary of state was also considered a good thing to do. And since Powell was presumed to be innocent — and since Democrats did not make attacks on Powell part of their partisan strategy — his charity was never the subject of a lengthy investigation.

    [...]

    The perception that Clinton is corrupt is one of her most profound handicaps as a politician. And what’s particularly crippling about it is that evidence of her corruption is so widespread exactly because everyone knows she’s corrupt.

    Because people “know” that she is corrupt, every decision she makes and every relationship she has is cast in the most negative possible light. When she doesn’t allow her policy decisions to be driven by donors, she’s greeted by headlines like “Hillary Blasts For-Profit Colleges, But Bill Took Millions From One.”

    [...]

    Hillary Clinton is running for president. Her opponent, Donald Trump, is unusually weak and will probably lose. Scrutinizing her, her activities, and her associations is appropriate, and it’s difficult for any responsible citizen to argue that the likely next most powerful person on the planet is under too much scrutiny.

    But the mere fact of scrutiny can be misleading.

    It’s natural to assume that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. But the smoke emanating from the Clinton Foundation is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. It is the result of a reasonably well-funded dedicated partisan opposition research campaign, and of editorial decisions by the managers of major news organizations to dedicate resources to running down every possible Clinton email lead in the universe.

    Whatever one thinks of that decision, it’s at least appropriate to ask editors and writers to put their findings on these matters into some kind of context for readers’ benefit. To the extent that Clinton is an example of the routinized way in which economic elites exert disproportionate voice in the political process, that’s a story worth telling. But it’s a very different story from a one in which Clinton is a uniquely corrupt specimen operating with wildly unusual financial arrangements and substantive practices.

    Much of what we’ve seen over the past 18 months is journalists doing reporting that supports the former story, and then writing leads and headlines that imply the latter. But people deserve to know what’s actually going on.