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  • Yale Historian Compares America To Nazi Germany, Calling Bannon’s Media Interactions A Major Sign Of The Threat

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In an interview with German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder said the threat posed by President Donald Trump means “we have at most a year to defend the Republic” and highlighted the role chief strategist Stephen Bannon is playing in that threat, including the administration’s interaction with the media.

    The Trump presidency has created no shortage of concerns about the stability of the republic. Trump has waged an unrelenting war on the press for more than a year, personally attacking dozens of journalists, falsely decrying entire news organizations as “fake news,” and even going so far as to shout down CNN’s Jim Acosta for asking a question at a press conference. It’s not just Trump, either -- Bannon, formerly of Breitbart.com, attacked the mainstream media as “the opposition party,” demanding that media “keep its mouth shut” and listen to Trump. Bannon is also known for formerly running a website that pushes pro-white nationalist viewpoints, dog-whistling to neo-Nazis, and infecting the current administration with anti-immigrant policies.

    In the February 7 interview, Snyder commented on Bannon’s interaction with the media specifically, noting that he “says in essence that he misleads the public and the media deliberately” and that Bannon’s goal is “the extinction of the whole political system.” Snyder also says the media is “worse” in America now than it was during Nazi Germany, because it is “very polarized and very concentrated.” In addition, Snyder explains that Bannon’s use of the term “opposition” when describing the media is an indicator of talk about an “authoritarian state” because it suggests some type of regime change:

    How similar is the situation between Germany of the 1930s and today’s United States?

    Of course, not everything is similar. Some things are better now than they were in the 1930s but some things are worse. The media is worse, I would say. It is very polarized and it is very concentrated. In Germany before the state shut down German newspapers, there was authentic variety that we don’t have now. People in the 1930s generally had longer attention spans than we do. On the other side, the United States is a larger country, with pockets of wealth distributed widely, and it is more connected to the world. The main advantage that we have is that we can learn from the 1930s. Again, it’s very important to stress that history does not repeat. But it does offer us examples and patterns, and thereby enlarges our imaginations and creates more possibilities for anticipation and resistance. 

    [...]

    President Trump’s political strategist, Steve Bannon, has said that he wants to „make life as exciting as it was in the 1930s“. The first two weeks have shown how big his influence is, it seems much bigger than Reince Priebus’s or Jared Kushner’s.

    I can’t speak to intra-White House conflicts. I can only say that Mr. Trump’s inaugural address was extremely ideological. During the campaign he used the slogan “America First” and then was informed that this was the name of a movement that tried to prevent the United States from fighting Nazi Germany and was associated with nativists and white supremacists. He claimed then not to have known that. But in the inaugural address he made “America First” his central theme, and now he can’t say that he doesn’t know what it means. And of course Bannon knows what it means. America First is precisely the conjuration of this alternative America of the 1930s where Charles Lindbergh is the hero. This inaugural address reeked of the 1930s. 

    When Bannon calls himself a „Leninist“, do Americans know what is he talking about?

    No, they usually have no idea. It is a good question. Americans have this idea that comes from Jefferson and the American Revolution that you have to rebel every so often. And they sometimes don’t make the distinction between a rebellion against injustice and the extinction of the whole political system, which is what Bannon says that he is after. The American Revolution actually preserved ideas from Britain: the rule of law being the most important. The whole justification of the American Revolution was that the British were not living up to their own principles, were not including Americans in their own system. In a broad way that that was also the argument of the civil rights movement: the system fails itself when it does not extend equal rights to all citizens. So there can be resistance and even revolution which is about meeting standards rather than about simple destruction. What Bannon says correctly about the Bolsheviks was that they aimed to completely destroy an old regime. We can slip from one to the other very easily, from rebelliousness to a complete negation of the system. Most Americans had a rule of law state for most of their lives, African Americans are an exception, and so most Americans think this will be there forever. They don’t get that a “disruption” can actually destroy much of what they take for granted. They have no notion what it means to destroy the state and how their lives would look like if the rule of law would no longer exist. I find it frightening that people who talk about the destruction of the American state are now in charge of the American state.

    [...]

    The White House statement for the Holocaust Day on January 27 didn’t mention Jews. At first it looked like a mistake but now it is official that it was intentional.

    The Holocaust reference is very important on our side of the Atlantic. If Americans have a reference point in world history, it is precisely the Holocaust, the Holocaust and let’s say Normandy, the Second World War, are the one aperture into a broader history, one where republics fall and extremes triumph. So if Steve Bannon turns the Holocaust into talk about “A lot of people have suffered” what is happening is that he is closing that aperture. The next step is to say that mainly Americans are the victims. History then dies completely and we are trapped in myth.

    [...]

    When Bannon calls the press the main „opposition party“ that should make everyone concerned. This is not only intended to cheer up Trump supporters.

    When you say that the press is the opposition, than you are advocating a regime change in the United States. When I am a Republican and say the Democrats are the opposition, we talk about our system. If I say the government is one party and the press is the opposition, then I talk about an authoritarian state. This is regime change.

    Last week Trump called those who take part in demonstrations “thugs” and “paid protestors”. This doesn’t show respect for First Amendment right, it sounds more like Putin.

    That is exactly what the Russian leadership does. The idea is to marginalize the people who actually represent the core values of the Republic. The point is to bring down the Republic. You can disagree with them. but once you say they have no right to protest or start lying about them, you are in effect saying: „We want a regime where this is not possible anymore.“ When the president says that it means that the executive branch is engaged in regime change towards an authoritarian regime without the rule of law. You are getting people used to this transition, you are inviting them into the process by asking them to have contempt for their fellow citizens who are defending the Republic. You are also seducing people into a world of permanent internet lying and [away] from their own experiences with other people. Getting out to protest, this is something real and I would say something patriotic. Part of the new authoritarianism is to get people to prefer fiction and inaction to reality and action. People sit in their chairs, read the tweet and repeat the clichés: “yes, they are thugs” instead of “it is normal to get out in the streets for what you believe.” He is trying to teach people a new behavior: You just sit right where you are, read what I say and nod your head. That is the psychology of regime change.

    Today’s media environment is very different from the 1930s, everything happens so fast.

    This is part of what contemporary authoritarians do: They overwhelm you with bad news and try to make you depressed and say with resignation: “Well, what can i do?”. I think it is better to limit yourself. Read the news for half an hour a day, but don’t spend the whole day obsessing about it. Americans have to pick one thing to be confident about, and then act on it. If you care about and know about refugees, the press, global warming – choose one and talk with people around you about it. Nobody can do everything but everyone can do a little bit. And people doing their little bit will meet others doing the same, and the depression lifts.

  • Spicer Attacks CNN's Multi-Sourced Corroboration Of Dossier On Trump-Russia Ties As "Fake News"

    Sean Spicer: “This Is More Fake News. It Is About Time CNN Focused On The Success The President Has Had”

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    A CNN report that multiple US intelligence and law enforcement officials had independently corroborated “some” of the details in the dossier on President Trump’s connections to Russia was dismissed by White House press secretary Sean Spicer as “fake news” who then insisted CNN instead cover good news for the administration.

    The White House has repeatedly used fake news to support their political agenda, in addition to his family and campaign surrogates’ documented consumption of fake news. The Trump White House has repeatedly attacked unfavorable news coverage and news outlets, especially CNN, as “fake news;” the president even insisted that “any negative polls are fake news.” Trump’s team has also threatened CNN reporters for doing their jobs and previously banned members of the administration from appearing on the network. The administration’s response to unfavorable coverage seems to be to attack it as “fake news,” echoing misuse of the term in conservative media. 

    On February 10, CNN reported that US investigators had “corroborated some of the communications detailed in a 35-page dossier” about Trump’s Russian ties, specifically details relating “to conversations between foreign nationals.” CNN reported that “the corroboration ... has given US intelligence and law enforcement ‘greater confidence’ in the credibility of some aspects of the dossier.” When reached for comment, Spicer lashed out at the network and replied that the White House was “disgusted by CNN's fake news reporting.” Spicer later called back to again assail CNN’s report, which cited “multiple current and former US law enforcement and intelligence officials,” as “more fake news.”:

    For the first time, US investigators say they have corroborated some of the communications detailed in a 35-page dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent, multiple current and former US law enforcement and intelligence officials tell CNN. As CNN first reported, then-President-elect Donald Trump and President Barack Obama were briefed on the existence of the dossier prior to Trump's inauguration.

    None of the newly learned information relates to the salacious allegations in the dossier. Rather it relates to conversations between foreign nationals. The dossier details about a dozen conversations between senior Russian officials and other Russian individuals. Sources would not confirm which specific conversations were intercepted or the content of those discussions due to the classified nature of US intelligence collection programs.

    [...]

    The corroboration, based on intercepted communications, has given US intelligence and law enforcement "greater confidence" in the credibility of some aspects of the dossier as they continue to actively investigate its contents, these sources say.

    Reached for comment this afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, "We continue to be disgusted by CNN's fake news reporting."

    Spicer later called back and said, "This is more fake news. It is about time CNN focused on the success the President has had bringing back jobs, protecting the nation, and strengthening relationships with Japan and other nations. The President won the election because of his vision and message for the nation."

  • Kellyanne Conway's Embarrassing Interview With Jake Tapper Confirms The “Questions About Her Credibility”

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway has drawn criticism from many in the media for having a tenuous relationship with the truth, which led to CNN’s refusal to interview her on the February 5 edition of State of the Union. Conway’s interview on the February 7 edition of The Lead with Jake Tapper serves as an example of why Conway’s credibility has become an issue that news outlets should take into consideration before booking her as a guest.

    On February 6, Conway replied to a New York Times report that CNN had declined to have her on State of the Union due to “serious questions about her credibility” by tweeting that she “could do no live Sunday shows this week BC of family.” CNN replied that Conway “was offered to SOTU on Sunday by the White House. We passed. Those are the facts.” White House press secretary Sean Spicer then shared with the media his “understanding” that CNN had “walked back” the tweet, prompting the network to correct Spicer by stating that “CNN was clear, on the record about our concerns about Kellyanne Conway’s credibility … We have not ‘retracted’ nor ‘walked back’ those comments.”

    [Twitter, 2/6/17]

    [Twitter, 2/7/17]

    Conway did appear on the February 7 edition of The Lead with Jake Tapper, for an interview that only confirmed her credibility issues. Despite Tapper’s pointed questioning, Conway repeatedly ducked the issues to promote the administration’s misinformation, and complain about being attacked by the media.

    When Tapper challenged her on President Trump’s baseless assertion that CNN and mainstream media did not cover major terror attacks, Conway replied by saying Trump really meant that “we just can’t allow ourselves to become inured” to terrorism. Tapper acknowledged “that’s lovely spin, but that’s not what he was saying,” reasserting that Trump accused the media of “some sort of agenda.” Conway replied by attacking Hillary Clinton and discussing the alleged importance of saying the words “radical Islamic terrorism.”

    Tapper asked Conway why Trump was so quick to comment on an attempted terror attack at the Louvre that did not kill anyone, but still had not commented on an attack by an alleged Trump supporter at a Quebec mosque that killed six. Conway did not respond to the question. Rather, she retorted that Trump “believes his executive order is not just within his authority but also his duty and responsibility to do what he sees best.”

    Tapper then asked Conway about Trump’s claim of “the murder rate being at its highest level in 47 years,” a claim that is “not true,” which Tapper highlighted as part of “a larger campaign … to undermine the credibility of everybody in the news media, except for certain supportive outlets.” Conway responded with a complaint about her treatment in the media, saying, “I’m now being attacked by the media, including networks that are familiar to you, and I’m just going to keep soldiering on.” When Tapper again pressed her on the White House’s “war on people who are providing information,” she replied that “it has to go both ways,” and that some coverage “doesn't have a great deal of respect, I think, for the office of the president.”

    Kellyanne Conway’s embarrassing interview was filled with more examples of misleading spin, joining “alternative facts” and the nonexistent “Bowling Green Massacre” as the latest examples of lies and misinformation Trump’s “propaganda minister” exploits to “barrel right past the boundaries of truth.” Kellyanne Conway’s media appearances prove that CNN is right to be wary of her credibility issues. Other media outlets should take note.

  • When Right-Wing Media Was In Love With Paid Protesting

    Current False Accusations Of Paid Protesters Don’t Match Up With Tea Party Adoration

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Many right-wing media figures have accused anti-Trump protesters of being “paid” on a widespread basis to demonstrate against President Donald Trump. Not only do these allegations lack any evidence of a systematic effort, they also ignore the fact that the conservative tea party protests of the early 2010s were “astroturfed” -- heavily supported and organized by large, outside groups.

    Evidence-free claims and suggestions of paid protesters driving anti-Trump sentiment have circulated throughout right-wing media for years but have increased since the inauguration of Donald Trump. Both Trump himself and White House press secretary Sean Spicer have repeated the claim that anti-Trump protests are, in Spicer’s words, a “very paid astroturf-type movement.” Rush Limbaugh warned that the airport protests against Trump’s Muslim ban were “bought and paid for by George Soros, prearranged. … and waiting for the moment to be cued to action.” The Daily Caller wrote that protests directed against a vocal Trump supporter at the University of California, Berkeley were “backed by a progressive charity that is in turn funded by George Soros, the city of Tucson, a major labor union and several large companies.” The claims have also circulated among fake news purveyors and state-owned Russian propaganda

    Despite the charge being leveled at nearly every anti-Trump protest, there is no proof that they protesters were systematically paid by any group. Recently, claims that a group called Demand Protest was paying people $2,500 a month to protest Trump nationwide were exposed as a hoax, much like a viral claim during the election season of craigslist ads offering $3,500 to protest Trump, which ended up being a lie created by a fake news writer to generate profit.

    Right-wing media’s concerns about supposed liberal paid protesters also conveniently forgets times when they were enamored by protesters who were financially supported by outside groups.

    During the 2016 presidential race, Trump ally Alex Jones’ website offered a cash reward to protesters that interrupted Hillary Clinton rallies, an open attempt to pay protesters. Even more significant, right-wing media was also an ally of the Tea Party movement during the first term of former President Barack Obama, which was widely documented to be backed by big money donors.

    The Tea Party, described as “the biggest Astroturf operation in history,” was heavily financed and supported by billionaires, most prominently Charles and David Koch. In addition to financial support from conservative billionaires, the Tea Party enjoyed glowing coverage across right-wing media, most prominently on Fox News, which encouraged its viewers to head to the “conservative Woodstock.” “Party on!” Fox hosts, such as Sean Hannity, attached themselves to and tried to boost the protests, and Tea Party activists even thanked the network for its assistance in spreading their message. 

  • Right-Wing Media Urge A Great Bureaucratic Purge

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Conservative media figures praised President Donald Trump’s firing of acting Attorney General Sally Yates and called on him to further purge the federal government of “Obama appointees” and “lifelong leftists.” Trump has also frozen federal hiring and is reportedly considering a “reduction in force.” His press secretary also suggested State Department employees should “get with the program or … go.”

  • Stop Airing Spicer's White House Briefings Live

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Cable news has given White House press secretary Sean Spicer nearly 15 hours of airtime to spout lies on behalf of the administration in the past two weeks, but it’s time for the networks to stop airing his press briefings live. Spicer has shown that he is incapable of living up to his pledge to tell the truth to the press, and cable news should stop giving him a platform to continue lying to the public.

    During his first official question and answer session with the press in the White House, on January 23, Spicer answered in the affirmative when ABC’s Jon Karl asked if he would “always tell the truth from that platform,” saying, “It is never our intention to lie to you, Jonathan. … I’m gonna come out here and tell you the facts as I know them.” This came two days after Spicer’s disastrous first official statement to the press from the White House briefing room, in which he repeatedly lied to reporters about the size of crowds at President Donald Trump’s inauguration and berated the media for not adhering to his falsehoods.

    At the time, CNN chose to not air Spicer’s statement live, a decision CNN media critic Brian Stelter explained as allowing the network to “monitor the statement [and] then report on it.”

    Unfortunately, CNN’s decision to monitor Spicer’s statements before airing them turned out to be the exception instead of the norm. And in the days since Spicer pledged to tell the truth, he has continued to lie from his spot behind the lectern on a variety of topics:

    • He doubled-down on his claims about inauguration viewers, while changing his tune to say he meant total viewership, not just in-person crowds. He said Trump had “the largest-watched inauguration ever,” even though, as The Washington Post reported, “there’s no evidence” to back up even that narrower claim.

    • He blamed the media for starting the “myth” that Trump had a “rift” with the intelligence community, even though, as Politico noted, there are “several specific instances” where Trump “publicly disparaged the intelligence community.”

    • He hyped Trump’s claim that “millions of people ... voted illegally” in the 2016 election, yet when officials searched for cases of voter fraud, they found “next to none,” as The New York Times reported.

    • He asserted that Trump had an “overwhelming” Electoral College victory, winning the most electoral votes of “any Republican since Reagan,” but his tally actually ranked 46th out of 58 elections in terms of the proportion of the electoral vote he received.

    • And he claimed that there had been no changes to the makeup of the National Security Council Principals Committee from prior administrations, though NPR reported that Trump’s decision to include his chief strategist (Stephen Bannon) on the committee is “a departure from any past administration.”

    Despite the lies the press secretary has told from the lectern, cable news networks are still giving Spicer a platform to spout his falsehoods. In nearly two weeks, Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC have devoted a combined 14 hours, 58 minutes and 49 seconds of uninterrupted airtime to Spicer’s briefings. Of that total, 3 hours, 19 minutes and 41 seconds were spent on Spicer’s introductions, where he reads, more or less, from a press release and spouts the administration’s talking points. Essentially, cable networks have relinquished airtime to show unfiltered White House propaganda. And it’s not just cable news; some broadcast networks have followed suit, breaking from scheduled midday coverage to listen to Spicer’s lies while other outlets stream the briefings live on Facebook.

    While Spicer is far from the only serial liar working in the White House -- that roster includes the president himself -- he is particularly visible. White House press briefings serve a vital role in fostering transparency and keeping an open dialogue between the administration and the press, but that doesn’t mean networks should air them live -- especially when the administration uses them to spread lies and propaganda. The role of the news media is to accurately inform the public. Giving Spicer an unfiltered platform to spout misinformation daily does a disservice to viewers, and cable news must stop this pattern.

  • What The Media Ignore When They Call Gorsuch "Mainstream"

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Some media have called President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, District Court Judge Neil Gorsuch, “relatively mainstream.” But this label is misleading -- if Trump’s nominee is a “mainstream” conservative judge, it is only because conservative legal thought has shifted to the far right, as The New York Times’ Linda Greenhouse explained. That shift is also reflected in the extreme anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ “originalist” decisions Gorsuch has issued, which have radical impacts that some in the media have downplayed.