Government

Issues ››› Government
  • Why Conservatives Love Trump's Attacks On Journalists

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Over the past five days, the White House chief strategist called the press the “opposition party” and threatened to destroy it, the press secretary barred major news outlets from a press gaggle while opening the door to right-wing outlets, and the administration announced it would be giving a plum Oval Office interview to a Breitbart.com reporter considered among the administration’s most sycophantic media boosters.

    The Trump administration’s press strategy is clear: delegitimize mainstream news organizations, especially those that produce critical reporting that jeopardizes its efforts, while lifting up unabashed propaganda outlets.

    And his fans love it.

    “I want you all to know we are fighting the fake news. It’s fake, phony, fake!” President Donald Trump said in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). “They are the enemy of the people. Because they have no sources. They just make them up when there are none.” His supporters responded to Trump’s six-minute attack on the press with laughter, cheers, and chants of “USA! USA!”

    While some conservative media figures are speaking out against the Trump administration’s efforts to manipulate coverage and damage the institution of the press, many more can’t get enough of the way he treats journalists with utter contempt and grinds them into the dirt.

    And those opinions are mimicked by their audiences. Seventy-three percent of Republican voters approve of the way he talks about the media, according to a recent poll. Nearly four out of five trust President Trump more than the press to tell the truth.

    But those views are wildly out of step with the rest of the American public, which overwhelmingly disapproves of Trump’s conduct and trusts him less than the media.

    This divide is the result of extremely successful efforts by Republican activists, politicians, and conservative media outlets to convince conservatives that the mainstream press is liberal and deceitful and that only avowed right-wing sources can be trusted to provide the facts.

    Those attacks first boiled over at the Republican National Convention in 1964, which followed weeks of vitriolic criticism against the press by Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) and his supporters. Goldwater had been widely castigated by columnists and commentators for his opposition to the Civil Rights Act, generating a backlash from activists who believed (quite accurately) that reporters had taken sides against segregation over the previous decade.

    As conservatives triumphed over the moderates who had controlled the party for decades and installed the Arizona senator as the party’s nominee, activists raged at and even assaulted the purportedly liberal press. Former President Dwight Eisenhower’s exhortation from the podium to “scorn the divisive efforts of those outside our family, including sensation-seeking columnists and commentators” drew wild applause and jeers from the crowd.

    This anti-press animus would enter the White House with Richard Nixon’s election in 1968. As Mark Feldstein detailed in June:

    Just a few months after [Nixon’s] election, he dispatched Vice President Spiro Agnew to launch a public assault on the “small and unelected elite” of journalists who held a “concentration of power over American public opinion unknown in history.” Nixon publicly said that he hadn’t heard Agnew’s speech. In fact, he had privately approved it word-for-word ahead of time, chortling that it “really flicks the scab off.”

    In addition, Nixon invited top broadcast executives to the White House and told them that “your reporters just can’t stand the fact that I am in this office.” Press Secretary Ronald Ziegler declared that all of the TV networks were “anti-Nixon” and would “pay for that, sooner or later, one way or another.” Another top adviser, Charles Colson, told the head of CBS News that Nixon’s administration would “bring you to your knees” and “break your network.”

    “The press is your enemy,” Nixon told Adm. Thomas H. Moorer, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a private meeting in February 1971. “Enemies. Understand that? . . . Now, never act that way . . . give them a drink, you know, treat them nice, you just love it, you’re trying to be helpful. But don’t help the bastards. Ever. Because they’re trying to stick the knife right in our groin.”

    Given his criminal activity, Nixon was right to fear the press. The dogged reporting of Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward eventually forced his resignation -- giving conservatives a new data point in their grievance against the media.

    As conservative politicians lashed out, conservative activists tried to build their own outlets. A central premise of such outlets was that they were needed because, as Agnew claimed, the press was irreparably liberal.

    Two decades before Roger Ailes founded Fox News and began building it into a conservative media juggernaut, the former Nixon aide served as news director of the fledgling Television News Inc., a conservative news outlet that claimed nonpartisanship but was funded and led by right-wingers.

    But TVN was unable to find an audience, bled millions of dollars, and lasted only a couple years. And as Republican presidents racked up victories in the years to come, the impetus behind purely right-wing outlets -- outside of a handful of conservative magazines and journals that largely served elite audiences -- dissipated.

    But in 1992, Bill Clinton unseated President George H.W. Bush, whose campaign spent its final months urging supporters to “Annoy the Media: Re-elect Bush.” Clinton’s victory unleashed a new, grass-roots-focused wave of right-wing talk radio hosts, led by Rush Limbaugh.

    These radio hosts provided conservative news, opinion, and talking points to a broad audience, while simultaneously targeting individual Democratic lawmakers for defeat. They were an alternative news source that sought to delegitimize both the new administration and the press that covered it. The result was the “Limbaugh Congress” of 1994, which made the radio host an unofficial member of the House Republican caucus.

    Two years later, Fox News was founded. Its “fair and balanced” mantra implicitly suggested that the network’s competitors were not. And the hosts and anchors have spent the last two decades making that subtext text, attacking other journalists and media outlets on a regular basis and constantly suggesting, as Agnew insisted decades before, that the press consists of untrustworthy liberals.

    In Fox’s wake, new outlets like Breitbart have risen, all seeking to mimic Fox’s success in attracting conservative audiences by condemning the rest of the press. The result has been plummeting trust in the press among Republicans.

    Once that effort was complete, the stage was set for Trump’s ascendance.

    “The conservative alternative media, and I'm part of that, grew up and I was very proud of that and I assumed that what we were doing was informing people, making people smart, giving people factual information, telling them the other side of the story,” conservative radio host Charlie Sykes said last year. “And unfortunately what's happened is it has morphed into this alternative reality whereas Joan says, we live in these different silos. And having discredited the mainstream media, now what do we have? We have the InfoWars, we have the Breitbarts, we have the Drudges, in which information is passed, things that that bear no resemblance to reality whatsoever.”

    Trump and his advisers are trying to crystalize those changes. They want to convince as many of their supporters as possible that only Trump can be trusted. And after years of conditioning from this decades-long campaign, they have frighteningly little work to do.

    Click here to tell the White House press corps to stand up to Trump’s media blacklist.

  • On CNN, Journalists Provide Historical Context For Criticism Of Trump's Attacks On The Media

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    On the February 26 edition of CNN’s Reliable Sources, journalists warned about the parallels between attacks on the free press from President Donald Trump and his administration and similar strategies used by President Richard Nixon and authoritarian regimes.

    Wall Street Journal deputy editorial page editor and conservative columnist Bret Stephens stated that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s decision to exclude certain outlets from a February 24 press gaggle is part of a strategy by the administration to “bully the press” and “manipulate coverage,” saying he “would call it Nixonian, except I think that would be unfair to the memory of President Nixon.” Stephens added, “if the administration is going try to boycott certain news outlets, then perhaps we should, as news organizations, return the favor to this administration”:

    BRIAN STELTER (HOST): When you invite a channel called One America News Network, which is so small it doesn't have Nielsen ratings, but then you exclude CNN, it's clearly a premeditated decision. So let me ask you Bret about this, does this feel like part of a strategy by the White House?

    BRET STEPHENS: Yeah, it seems, I would call it "Nixonian," except I think that would be unfair to the memory of President Nixon. This is an attempt to bully the press by using access as a weapon to manipulate coverage. And, I think The Wall Street Journal put out a statement that I thought was very clear: that if we had known what was happening we wouldn't have participated in that meeting with Mr. Spicer. And I think that's the right attitude for the rest of the press to take, that if the administration is going try to boycott certain news outlets, then perhaps we should, as news organizations, return the favor to this administration.

    In a later segment, columnist Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News compared Trump’s relations with the media to that of “right-wing authoritarians in Europe in the 1930s” and “Hugo Chavez in Venezuela on the left in the 21st century,” stating, “the first thing authoritarian governments do is go after the media”:

    STELTER: Will, you wrote for the Philly Daily News that this language, “enemy of the people,” that it has historical parallels. Tell us about that.

    WILL BUNCH: Yeah, absolutely. If you look back, Brian, the last 100 years going all the way back to the rise of right-wing authoritarians in Europe in the 1930s, but follow a straight line all the way to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela on the left in the 21st century, and you’ll see that the first thing that authoritarian governments do is go after the media. And there's been concerns about Donald Trump, going back to the campaign, that he was going to try and run the government in an authoritarian fashion. And I think when he calls the press the "enemy of the American people," I think he’s playing exactly into the worst of what people feared from a Trump administration. Not to get too Orwellian here, but I think what's going on big picture is the Trump administration and his advisers like Steve Bannon and Donald Trump himself are in a war to control what is the truth. When they tell repeated lies like about the murder rate in America or even about little stuff like the number of people at his inauguration, they’re trying to create a scenario where they, and not the media, are the ones defining the truth. And so tearing down the media is also part of the strategy. And some of it doesn’t matter now, but in the months ahead there’s going to be big crises. We’re going to see his signature programs, like mass deportation implemented over the coming months. And the truth is going to become more and more important. And you know, just like Orwell warned in "1984", he who controls the truth is in control and I think that’s the big strategy here.

    Click here to tell the White House Press Corps to stand up Trump’s media blacklist.

  • Trump Just Blacklisted Media Outlets. We Warned You This Would Happen.

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Hours after President Donald Trump denounced critical journalists as “the enemy of the people” before a cheering crowd of supporters, major news outlets were blacklisted from a White House press gaggle while the administration’s sycophants were ushered in.

    “CNN was not permitted to attend, along with the New York Times, Politico, Buzzfeed and much of the foreign press that regularly attends White House briefings,” CNN reported. Instead, White House press secretary Sean Spicer found room for the pro-Trump outlets Breitbart.com, The Washington Times, and One America News Network.

    The restrictions mark the return of the Trump campaign’s strategy of revoking reporters’ press credentials and denying them access to events following unfavorable coverage of the now-president.

    They also cap off a week of vitriolic attacks on the press from Trump’s administration. Last Friday, Trump tweeted that “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) ... is the enemy of the American People!” Spicer and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus have since defended Trump’s comments, blaming the media for failing to be fair to the president.

    Yesterday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), White House chief strategist and former Breitbart chief Stephen Bannon referred (again) to the press as “the opposition party,” telling the audience that the administration’s feud with the “corporatist, globalist” media will only get worse because they are “adamantly opposed to an economic nationalist agenda.”

    And at CPAC this morning, Trump devoted six minutes of his speech to an anti-media screed, characterizing outlets doing critical reporting as “fake news” and “the enemy of the people.” He described some reporters as “terrible, dishonest people” who “do a tremendous disservice to our country and to our people.”

    The good news is that The Associated Press and Time magazine reportedly stood up for their profession, showed solidarity with their colleagues, and boycotted the gaggle. The bad news is that NBC, ABC, Fox, CBS, The Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg News did not, leaving open the question of whether the administration will face consequences if officials continue to use such tactics to divide and conquer the press.

    The press had no qualms about acting collectively to defend Fox News when the Obama administration excluded the network from a round of interviews in 2009. The other television news networks staged a “revolt” and boycotted their scheduled interviews.

    Eight years later, Fox appeared to have no qualms about walking into a White House press gaggle when other outlets were banned. Reporters from mainstream publications joined the network in ignoring their blacklisted colleagues and attending the gaggle.

    Trump and his administration will happily trample all over the press while giving favorable treatment to outlets willing to play ball. They want propaganda partners, not an adversarial press.

    This is not going to stop until reporters make it stop. Unless they all stand together, things will continue to get much worse.

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

    UPDATE: In a statement to Politico's Hadas Gold, The Wall Street Journal says it would not have participated in the gaggle if it knew others were banned and will not do so in the future.

    UPDATE 2: Politico reported that the BBC and Los Angeles Times were also blocked, Hearst Newspapers joined the gaggle as part of the press pool, and that McClatchy Newspapers also attended. The latter issued a similar statement to the Journal:

    Media Matters president Angelo Carusone issued the following statement on the events:

    "Media Matters sounded the alarm about the clear and present danger Donald Trump presented to a free press.We told White House correspondents that Trump’s blacklist was only going to to get worse over time if they didn’t act. And it wasn’t just us. More than 300,000 people signed a petition urging White House correspondents to stand up to Trump’s blacklist by refusing to participate if Trump banned one -- or more -- of their colleagues.

    "Today’s actions underscore the importance of White House correspondents standing up to Trump’s blacklist. It's no coincidence that the outlets that have been at the forefront in breaking stories about  Trump’s conflicts of interest and his associates’ ties to Russia were banned from today’s gaggle.  Trump is trying to delegitimize and punish news outlets for practicing rigorous journalism while simultaneously giving their spots to pro-Trump propagandists.

    Outlets like Time and The Associated Press did the right thing in standing up to Trump’s blacklist by refusing to participate in the gaggle in solidarity with their banned colleagues.

    “It’s unfortunate and damaging for the profession of journalism that ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News, and Bloomberg chose to support Trump’s blacklist by attending the briefing. It may sound harsh to characterize their participation in the event as support, but that’s what it is. By participating, these outlets not only make it easier for Trump to continue blacklisting journalists, but they also lend legitimacy to a process that is fundamentally inconsistent with a free press."

  • Major Publications Fail To Identify Anti-LGBTQ Hate Groups In Transgender Policy Coverage

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Major news outlets have failed to label the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Family Research Council -- groups praising President Donald Trump’s repeal of nondiscrimination protections for transgender students -- as anti-LGBTQ hate groups. This failure is part of a larger trend of major news outlets failing to properly identify anti-LGBTQ hate groups or acknowledge their extremism.

  • CPAC Is Trying To Wash The “Alt-Right” Stench Off Breitbart

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    The term “alt-right” is toxic. It should be. The loose confederation of neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and misogynists have spent the last year spreading fear, hatred, and conspiracy theories.

    The problem for conservatives is that the movement is directly connected to the major right-wing news outlet Breitbart.com; its former executive chairman, Stephen Bannon; and Bannon’s new boss, President Donald Trump.

    “The de facto merger between Breitbart and the Trump Campaign represents a landmark achievement for the ‘Alt-Right,’” Hillary Clinton said last year after Bannon was hired by the Trump campaign, highlighting the website’s promotion of “race-baiting ideas, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas, anti-woman [ideas].” “A fringe element has effectively taken over the Republican Party,” she added.

    That “fringe element” is now in the White House. But direct association with racists and misogynists isn’t great for the conservative movement’s brand -- or Breitbart’s bottom line. So the organizers of this week’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) are working hard to redefine the term “alt-right” in order to retroactively separate that movement from the White House and the website.

    In cable news interviews and speeches from the conference lectern, CPAC’s organizers have condemned the “alt-right” -- even having security very publicly remove from the premises Richard Spencer, the white nationalist who originally coined the term.

    But at the same time, they have vouched for Bannon, are hosting seven Breitbart staffers and accepting a sizable donation from the website, and they even claimed that the “alt-right” is really made up of liberals. Bannon’s “alt-right” ties went unmentioned this afternoon when he sat alongside White House chief of staff Reince Priebus for a fawning “conversation” with Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, which organizes CPAC.

    In a speech this morning titled “The Alt Right Ain’t Right at All,” the ACU’s Dan Schneider claimed that the term “alt-right,” which he claimed had previously “been used for a long time, in a very good and normal way,” had been “hijacked” by a “hate-filled, left-wing fascist group” that “stole the term specifically to confuse us.”

    The ACU is having trouble getting its story straight -- Schlapp claimed during an MSNBC interview this morning that he had never heard of the term before last year -- according to him, it is a “new term.”

    But Schlapp did want everyone to know that Bannon is definitely not associated with the “alt-right.” “Today, [Bannon] would repudiate what these people stand for,” he said. “He’s a good man, and he’s a tolerant man.”

    “I know Steve Bannon well. He's a good man; he is not a racist,” Schlapp added on CNN. “Yes, the conservative movement and voices in the conservative movement are changing. But I do not believe that he is associated with the ‘alt-right’ at all.”

    This is all bullshit. Bannon himself described Breitbart last year as “the platform for the alt-right,” and he led the website in an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, misogynistic, ethno-nationalist direction that appealed to that movement. He hired Milo Yiannopoulos and had no apparent problem with the despicable commentary and activism he wrought -- or the way he championed the “alt-right.”

    Notably, when Breitbart produced a list of “20 lies” in Clinton’s speech on the “alt-right,” it made no effort to distance itself from the movement or suggest that she erred in linking it to the website and its former leader.

    When Bannon was hired by Trump’s presidential campaign, white nationalists cheered. When his move to the White House was announced, they were ecstatic.

    Bannon was very happy to be associated with the movement when it was boosting Breitbart’s traffic, influence, and revenue. But now things have changed, as companies and ad vendors have pulled their advertising from the site in huge numbers due to its association with racism and misogyny.

    And so CPAC is helping the website out, repeatedly condemning the “alt-right” while very deliberately separating it from Bannon and Breitbart.

  • The Breitbartification Of CPAC

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    “My biggest fear is that later this week I will be among the legions at CPAC rearranging the furniture,” wrote Andrew Breitbart just days before the first Conservative Political Action Conference of President Barack Obama’s administration. “Instead, the conservative movement needs to think in revolutionary terms.”

    Eight years later, Breitbart has passed away, but the revolution he started is at its peak: the media company he founded is everywhere at CPAC, and his successor is in the White House working for Breitbart.com’s chosen candidate.

    Former editor Milo Yiannopoulos is no longer on the program, but seven Breitbart editors and reporters will participate in panels and or give speeches at the conference this week. (In an almost certainly related note, Breitbart is a “Partnering Sponsor” of the event, the highest level.)

    White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who took over the website following its founder’s death, will appear alongside White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp today for a “conversation” intended to show that the Republican Party establishment and the fringe outsiders who pushed President Donald Trump to victory in the 2016 presidential primaries are united.

    And of course, after he pulled out of speaking at last year’s conference following a backlash from conservative critics, Trump himself will loom over the conference, with an address scheduled for Friday morning.

    Andrew Breitbart himself dominated CPAC in the early years of the decade. He strode through the conference like a rock star, granting media interviews, greeting cheering supporters, confronting liberal provocateurs, and scouting for new talent. His annual speech-screeds drew large audiences far more interested in hearing his rants against journalists and other elites than they were a sober speech from a Republican politician or think-tanker.

    “I'm old, so I remember CPAC before Andrew Breitbart: Quiet,” wrote David Weigel in 2012. “Since 2010, the first CPAC after Breibart's Big Government released James O'Keefe's ACORN video investigations, Breitbart's appearances at the conference have begun with media interviews, continued with assorted people confronting him on video, and ended with his own speeches, full of nostalgia for the stuff that just happened.”

    Weeks after his 2012 CPAC appearance, at which he famously freaked out at liberal protestors, Breitbart suddenly passed away. Bannon took the reins, and began turning the website Andrew Breitbart founded into “the platform for the alt-right.”

    The following year, CPAC celebrated the first anniversary of Breitbart’s passing. Hundreds of CPAC attendees showed up for events intended to remember the right-wing media mogul. A standing-room-only showing of his final documentary was followed by a panel featuring his former colleagues and friends, followed by a cocktail party. In 2014, the paeans continued as CPAC rolled out the Andrew Breitbart First Amendment Award (radio host Mark Levin was the first recipient; Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson was the second).

    But even as CPAC showered love on Andrew Breitbart’s memory, under Bannon’s leadership, the website he founded was suggesting that the conference was too politically correct and overly dominated by the establishment. In 2013 and 2014, Breitbart.com hosted “The Uninvited” sessions during CPAC featuring anti-Muslim, anti-immigration, and fringe figures that were not welcome at the conference itself.

    Notably, The Uninvited sessions featured Frank Gaffney, the founder of the Center for Security Policy -- which the Southern Poverty Law Center characterizes as “a conspiracy-oriented mouthpiece for the growing anti-Muslim movement in the United States.”

    Andrew Breitbart once hired Gaffney to help run his national security website; he still contributes to Breitbart.com. And Bannon loves Gaffney, calling him “one of the senior thought leaders and men of action in this whole war against Islamic radical jihad.” But Gaffney was persona non grata at CPAC for years because he is a paranoid conspiracy theorist who accused two members of CPAC’s board of being secret supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood (he has returned in recent years and is on the 2017 agenda).

    The situation was bad enough that after he became chairman of the American Conservative Union, which oversees CPAC, Matt Schlapp invited Breitbart editor Matt Boyle to the ACU’s headquarters for a lengthy interview in February 2015. Schlapp and his staff, in fairly obsequious fashion, pitched Boyle on how that year’s CPAC would be more responsive to Breitbart.com’s concerns.

    CPAC had “drifted away from the core values of conservatism” but now, “concerted efforts by the ACU to listen to grassroots concerns about the direction of the landmark conference, the organization is now emerging as stronger, more conservative and more united,” Boyle concluded following the presentation.

    In the two years since, the Republican establishment has been routed by the Breitbart-led forces who pushed Trump to the front of the Republican presidential primary field and supported him at every step of the way. Bannon moved seamlessly from head of Breitbart, to head of Trump’s campaign, to Trump’s top White House aide.

    In addition to Trump and Bannon, attendees at this year’s CPAC will have the opportunity to see Breitbart Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow interview a Republican congressman on tax reform. They can watch Breitbart UK chief Raheem Kassam introduce Nigel Farage, his former boss at the right-wing UK Independence Party. Breitbart’s Frances Martel and John Carney will be moderating panels on “China’s Expansion” and “Repealing Obama’s Banking Monstrosity,” while Joel Pollak and Sonnie Johnson are on panels discussing trade policy and how the left hates cops. James Delingpole will be leading “CPAC Conversations” on energy.

    Breitbart.com spent years shilling for Trump’s candidacy. Now Trump will swagger through the conference that Andrew Breitbart once owned, while the news site he created is a dominant force at CPAC. An ascendent Breitbart.com and President Trump are truly Andrew Breitbart’s greatest legacy.