Government

Issues ››› Government
  • One Month Later, Press Failing Trump Transition Test

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    In a December 2 tweet that rattled embassies on the other side of the world, President-elect Donald Trump shredded nearly four decades of U.S. diplomatic protocol when he announced he had accepted a congratulatory call from Taiwan’s president. Seen as a public slight to China, which views Taiwan as a breakaway province, Trump’s move set off a flurry of international speculation and concern about America’s relationship with China, which boasts one of the most important economies in the world.

    The next day, The New York Times heralded the news on the front page: “Trump Muddies China Relations With Taiwan Call.” What was so odd about the article -- yet what’s become such a hallmark of Trump transition coverage to date -- was that the Times was unable to provide any insight into why the president-elect had made such a baffling move. “Mr. Trump's motives in taking the call, which lasted more than 10 minutes, were not clear,” the paper conceded.

    The Times didn’t publish a single quote, either on or off the record, from any Trump aides or advisers shedding light on the diplomatic controversy. Instead, the Times was left to quote Trump’s tweets on the topic of Taiwan tweets which, of course, are public and anyone can read.

    That’s extraordinary. Yet sadly it’s also become the norm during the one month since Election Day. It wasn’t as if the Trump team, by its own standards, was being unusually secretive about Taiwan. It’s simply been unusually secretive about everything, leaving the press with few avenues of information. (Remember the time, days after the election, when the caught-in-the-dark press corps didn’t know where Trump was?)

    Recall the Times’ front page on November 22, when the paper touted as the day’s biggest news offering a newly released YouTube clip from Trump in which he discussed the goals of his first 100 days. There again, locked out from any advisers with insights, reporters were reduced to transcribing the two-and-a-half-minute infomercial and treating it as breaking news (i.e. “Mr. Trump offered what he called an update on his transition”).

    Question: Isn’t that more how monarchs and figureheads are covered, not presidents of the United States? I kept asking myself that question last Wednesday when CNN’s daytime coverage for hours revolved around the image of Trump’s plane sitting on a runway in preparation for his trip to Ohio. Is the nation that eager to catch a glimpse of Trump, who lost the popular vote in November and boasts a miserable favorable rating for a newly elected president?

    Soon after the election, I warned that if journalists’ game plan in dealing with Trump was wishing and hoping that he’d change, then they’d be doomed, and so would news consumers. One month after the election, the doomsday appears to be looming larger.

    And yes, the stakes are that high. “The Trump transition has put in stark relief the very foundations of the profession of journalism in modern America,” writes historian Rick Perlstein.

    From Politico, here’s a quick reminder about how Trump openly disrespected the press this year, and will likely continue to do so:

    He did not allow the press to travel with him on his plane, which meant they were not in his motorcade and often, because of travel snafus, were left behind. He’s banned outlets for months at a time and called out specific reporters he didn’t like. And despite the years of tradition that the White House allows journalists into the building, has them travel with the president in a protective pool and that the press secretary holds a daily briefing, none of that is guaranteed in any sort of law. It is just tradition, and not many believe a Trump White House will keep that going.

    And don't forget, Trump hasn't held a press conference since late July.

    Instead of Trump’s historic lack of access prompting the press to be even more aggressive and vigilant in its coverage, we seem to be entering Stockholm Syndrome territory, where too many battered journalists seem to think that if they’re nice to Trump and paint him as a success -- as taking on big business and scoring a big Carrier jobs victory -- that he’ll stop bullying them. They hope he’ll grant them access and won’t shred all White House press protocols starting next year.

    But that ship has sailed, my friends. The best way for journalists to cover Trump moving forward is to assume they’ll never have any access. That means news organizations can, and should, stop fretting about possibly offending Trump. That opens up possibilities for detailed reporting on his sprawling web of conflicts. (Even if it arrives a bit late.)

    And they should stop dancing around the fact that he constantly tells bald-faced lies. When Trump pushed out his fantasy that if it weren’t for “millions” of people who voted “illegally” he would’ve won the popular vote, way too many news outlets simply typed up the assertions without properly stressing that Trump’s claim was categorically false. (Even Trump’s attorneys don’t believe it.)

    If the press can’t swiftly and collectively knock down this nonsense, journalists are opening the door to every conceivable crackpot claim in the near future. Is the press really prepared to play he said/he said with Trump and his surrogates about whether the earth is flat, or the moon is made of cheese? Because that’s the direction we’re heading in if Trump’s team is allowed to advance its preferred “post-truth” presidency, where there’s “no such thing” as facts.

    Meanwhile, the timid press corps really needs to stop normalizing the outlier and radical nature of Trump’s transition and the people he’s appointing. During the first month of transition coverage, when not erroneously tapping Trump adviser and white nationalist Steven Bannon as a feel-good “populist,” journalists for weeks turned away from the dark, hateful rhetoric of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has been tapped to become Trump’s national security adviser.

    One week before Election Day, Flynn, a high-profile Trump surrogate in the press, tweeted out a fake news article claiming Hillary Clinton was linked to “sex crimes with children.” That, of course, is insanely irresponsible behavior for any adult, let alone a retired general, let alone Trump’s soon-to-be national security advisor.

    But for weeks, while profiling Flynn, the press politely looked away from the specific instance of him hyping a rancid allegation about Clinton. Instead, in long articles about Flynn, news consumers were told about Flynn’s “outspokenness,”  his “fiery temperament,” how he throws “sharp elbows,” and isn’t afraid to “ruffle feathers.” Those were some ways that The Washington Post, CNN, the Times and NPR categorized Flynn’s erratic behavior. Yet none of those profiles mentioned his "sex crimes with children" tweet, which seems like a glaringly obviously example of Flynn's at-times shocking behavior.

    Right after the election, the Post’s Margaret Sullivan rightfully urged her colleagues “to keep doing our jobs of truth-telling, challenging power and holding those in power accountable.”

    Raise your hand if, over the last four weeks, you’ve been awed by the Beltway media’s tireless drive to hold Trump accountable.

    Not me.

  • The Right-Wing Media’s Government Takeover, Via Donald Trump

    Trump Has Picked -- Or Considered -- Over A Dozen Right-Wing Media Veterans For His Administration

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    President-elect Donald Trump has picked -- or considered -- nearly a dozen people who have worked in right-wing media, including talk radio, right-wing news sites, Fox News, and conservative newspapers, to fill his administration. And Trump himself made weekly guest appearances on Fox for a number of years while his vice president used to host a conservative talk radio show.

  • News Outlet Owned By Trump Son In-Law Posts Op-Ed Calling For FBI Investigation Of Anti-Trump Protests

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW LAWRENCE

    The Observer, a news site owned by President-elect Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, posted an op-ed calling for an FBI investigation into the “political thuggery” of anti-Trump protests taking place in the wake of the presidential election.

    Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump threatened and criticized protesters during campaign events, saying of one that he’d like to “punch him in the face” and reminiscing of the “good old days” when protesters would be “carried out on a stretcher.” Trump even threatened to “start pressing charges” against protesters after demonstrations during a Chicago campaign rally caused the event to be postponed after fights broke out between demonstrators and Trump supporters. Now Trump supporters want an FBI investigation of of anti-Trump protests.

    On December 2, the Observer posted an op-ed written by University of Texas in Austin adjunct professor Austin Bay, which called for FBI Director James Comey to conduct a “detailed investigation” into the anti-Trump protests taking place across the country. To make his point, Bay invokes “Kristallnacht,” a 1938 incident in which Nazis burned synagogues, vandalized Jewish-owned businesses and homes, and resulted in 30,000 Jewish men being sent to concentration camps. Bay even cites notorious conspiracy theorist Jim Hoft’s blog post claiming anti-Trump protesters were paid to protest, a claim that gained traction based on a fake news story.

    The posting of the op-ed is extremely concerning given the influence Kushner has on his father-in-law. In July, The New York Times reported that Kushner had “become involved in virtually every facet of the Trump presidential operation” and wrote that many viewed him as the “de facto campaign manager.” Following the election, Kushner also explored legal loopholes that would allow him to bypass federal nepotism laws and join the Trump administration in an official capacity:

    Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of President-elect Donald J. Trump, has spoken to a lawyer about the possibility of joining the new administration, a move that could violate federal anti-nepotism law and risk legal challenges and political backlash.

    […]

    Mr. Trump is urging his son-in-law to join him in the White House, according to one of the people briefed. The president-elect’s sentiment is shared by Stephen K. Bannon, the chief strategist for the White House, and Reince Priebus, who was named chief of staff. Mr. Kushner accompanied Mr. Trump to the White House on Thursday, when the president-elect held his first in-person meeting with President Obama.

  • AP Got This Trump Headline Right; Other Mainstream Outlets Didn't

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Multiple media outlets published headlines that uncritically echoed a claim from President-elect Donald Trump’s spokesperson that Trump had sold his stocks, even though Trump’s team offered no actual proof that he had done so. The Associated Press correctly characterized the news by noting the lack of evidence in its headline, but many others continued a disturbing pattern of uncritically parroting false or unsubstantiated claims by Trump and his aides in their headlines, in effect giving Trump favorable coverage when he offers vague details or even spouts verifiable lies.

    Trump on December 6 tweeted that the aircraft manufacturer Boeing was “building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion,” adding, “Cancel order!” In a conference call later that day, a reporter asked Trump spokesperson Jason Miller if Trump “had investments in Boeing,” and Miller “said the president-elect had sold all of his stocks in June,” according to The Associated Press (AP).

    But there is no proof that Miller’s claim is true, given that Trump has not submitted any kind of financial disclosure since May and that, as the AP noted, Trump didn’t announce he was selling his stocks at the time. Transition officials have also refused to provide evidence of the sales:

    Trump's campaign did not announce the sell-off at the time, despite the fact that it could have been politically advantageous for the businessman to be seen taking steps to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

    Miller, as well as other transition officials and lawyers from the Trump Organization, did not respond to requests from The Associated Press to provide evidence of the transactions.

    The AP published this report with a headline that accurately paired Miller’s claim with the crucial context that he “provides no evidence”:

    But other major outlets did not note the lack of evidence in their headlines, instead reporting Miller’s comments without necessary context:

    Reuters:

    The New York Times:

    The Washington Post:

    The Wall Street Journal:

    CNN:

    These headlines continue a mainstream media pattern of publishing article titles that are favorable for Trump and that promote his claims, even when those claims are false or unsubstantiated. When Trump on November 18 falsely claimed that he prevented a Kentucky Ford plant from moving to Mexico -- even though there were never plans to move the plant -- multiple headlines ran with Trump’s bogus statement. When Trump on November 27 falsely claimed that “millions of people” illegally voted in the election, multiple mainstream outlet quoted Trump’s words in headlines and on social media without noting that they were false. And when Trump on November 30 sent a series of tweets claiming he would be leaving his business to avoid conflicts of interest, headlines ran with his statement, even though Trump offered no new information on how he would actually carry out the plan. As ThinkProgress’ Judd Legum noted, Trump has been “able to generate whatever headlines he wants based on substance-free tweets” and claims.

    It is crucial that headlines accurately explain a story because, for most people, the phrase at the top of a piece is the only part of the article they will actually read. As The Washington Post reported, “roughly six in 10 people acknowledge that they have done nothing more than read news headlines in the past week,” and “that number is almost certainly higher than that, since plenty of people won't want to admit to just being headline-gazers but, in fact, are.”

    Trump has been a documented liar throughout the course of his presidential campaign and transition. When his claims lack proof or are demonstrably false, headlines should reflect that reality, rather than giving a serial misinformer the benefit of the doubt.

  • Washington Post Corrects "Inaccuracies" In Trump's Air Force One Tweet

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler broke down the numerous errors in a tweet sent out by President-elect Trump calling for the cancellation of the building of an Air Force One plane claiming that “costs are out of control.”

    In a December 6 tweet, Trump said the cost of a new Boeing 747 Air Force One plane would be “out of control, more than $4 billion,” and called for the government to cancel the order.

    Later in the lobby of his New York Trump Tower, the president-elect called the alleged price of the plane “ridiculous … We want Boeing to make a lot of money, but not that much money.” But Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler found that Trump’s tweet is incorrect. Boeing will design a replacement “for the aging pair of Air Force Ones” but is technically not building the jet, and the cost of the project has not been set. The Department of Defense estimates “a cost of $2.9 billion over the next five years,” with a possible additional $1 billion “to complete and procure the aircraft.” Kessler explained Trump cannot “cancel the order” because nothing has been ordered yet. From the December 6 Washington Post article:

    Trump is not a stickler for accuracy, but there are number of inaccuracies in his tweet. Let’s break them down one by one.

    “Boeing is building . . . ”

    Earlier in 2016, Boeing received a $170 million contract to design a replacement for the aging pair of Air Force Ones used by the president. Boeing is not actually building the jet, though logically it is the only U.S. manufacturer with the capability to build such an aircraft.

    “ … a brand new 747 Air Force One … ”

    At a minimum, there would be two Air Force Ones. You need a spare in case there is a problem with one. The jets generally have a life cycle of 30 years.

    A plane only receives the call sign “Air Force One” when the president is on board. This is actually a highly modified version of the Boeing 747-8 jet.

    “Costs are out of control, more than $4 billion”

    Cost have actually not been set. The Defense Department’s five-year plan indicates a cost of $2.9 billion over the next five years for design and development. It’s logical to assume at least another $1 billion in additional expenses to complete and procure the aircraft.

    So an estimate of $4 billion — for design, testing and manufacture of at least two jets — is not completely out of line. But the budget is subject to approval by Congress and the actual design of the aircraft. Boeing literally needs to re-engineer the plane from the ground up, so there are many one-time expenses.

    [...]

    “Cancel the order!”

    Nothing has been ordered yet. But the program could be eliminated. This may not be a problem for Trump, but certainly would affect his successors, especially if no order is placed before Boeing stops making 747s. The current aircraft were delivered in 1990, and as we noted, the life cycle is about 30 years. The Pentagon says the current fleet “faces capability gaps, rising maintenance costs, and parts obsolescence as it reaches the end of its planned 30-year life-cycle.”

    Boeing seemed to “shrug off” the tweet, which caused the company’s stocks to dip about one percent in the morning, but bounced “back in the black” later that same day.

  • Here Are 5 People Close To Trump Who Have Propagated Fake News

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & CHRISTOPHER LEWIS

    Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and continuing into the transition period, President-elect Donald Trump has surrounded himself with people who have helped propagate fake news, which got more attention than real news did on Facebook toward the end of the election cycle. That list includes two of his sons, his former campaign manager, his pick for national security adviser, and the adviser’s son, who was involved in the transition until recently. The fake news stories they pushed included a piece claiming Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton paid people to protest Trump’s election and a fake claim that Clinton and her campaign were involved in a child trafficking ring.

  • Trump Picks Former Fox News Contributor Ben Carson To Serve As Secretary Of Housing And Urban Development

    Carson Has Repeatedly Expressed Opposition To Government Aid For Poor Americans

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & CAT DUFFY

    President-elect Donald Trump has selected Dr. Ben Carson to serve as his secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Carson, a former Fox News contributor, has repeatedly said he opposes government efforts to eradicate poverty, and he has a long history of making off-color and offensive remarks during his stint with the network.