National Security & Foreign Policy

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  • The Problem With The Media’s ‘Trump Is Pivoting’ Narrative

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Media figures have repeatedly claimed that presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is “pivoting” to the general election every time he does something that they think makes him look or sound “presidential.” Media’s constant search for Trump’s “pivot” effectively whitewashes all of the racist, sexist, slanderous, and conspiratorial attacks Trump has doled out, and mainstreams the idea that Trump’s past diatribes can be forgiven so long as he assumes a veneer of conventional, tempered behavior.

    Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump and the media have engaged in a cycle wherein Trump launches offensive broadsides and character attacks; He gets bad press; Republican leaders clamor for Trump to tone down his rhetoric; Trump obliges, often using a teleprompter to restrain himself; Media figures claim Trump has “pivoted” and is “becoming more presidential”; and repeat.

    As MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace said, Trump constantly shatters the “pivot” narrative “by trotting out conspiracy theories” -- or, as others have noted, outrageous insults -- within hours of being lauded as “presidential.” 

    In following this pattern, the media are both applauding Trump for having simply mastered “campaign 101,” as CNN’s David Gregory noted, and excusing his past remarks as political maneuvering and electoral showmanship.

    In early June, after Trump launched a multiday racist crusade against Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over Trump University lawsuits, Republican leaders beseeched Trump to “get on message” and “quit attacking … various minority groups in the country.” That very night, Trump delivered a speech -- devoid of any attacks and with the aid of a teleprompter -- that “sought to calm fretful Republicans bolting from his side over his latest controversy,” CNN reported.

    Media figures immediately claimed that Trump’s restraint showed he was “pivoting.” NBC News reporter Ali Vitali wrote that Trump “acted presidential” in the speech, which “finalized his pivot to the general election.” CNN host Don Lemon said the “new, more presidential Donald Trump” is what “people in Washington wanted to see.” Unsurprisingly, Trump also received praise from right-wing media for sounding “more presidential than ever.”

    CNN political commentator Marc Lamont Hill explained the phenomenon:

    “It's kind of a good outcome for Trump, because we're not talking about a Mexican judge anymore. We're not talking about something controversial. We're talking about Trump changing the direction of his campaign. That can only be good news for him, based on what the last three weeks have been.”

    GOP leaders condemned Trump’s repeated “offensive” suggestions that President Obama had sympathies for terrorists, but changed their tune once Trump delivered his next teleprompter-guided speech following the mass shooting in Orlando, FL. Some media figures said Trump sounded “more presidential” and was “behaving like general election nominees behave,” and Trump’s slanderous accusations against the president quickly fell out of the news cycle.

    The “pivot” claim, which has repeatedly surfaced since at least February, has also helped wash away many of Trump’s past actions and comments: his doubling down on his proposed Muslim ban, his accusations that Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) father was involved in the John F. Kennedy assassination, and his questioning of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s faith.

    Some media figures have noted the journalistic malpractice associated with the constant fallback on the “pivot” narrative. New York Times Magazine correspondent Mark Leibovich, calling the narrative “absurd,” wrote:

    But really, how do you pivot away from saying that Mexicans are rapists? (Will he negotiate “great deals” with more moderate Mexican rapists?) If your campaign is a cult of personality, how can you modulate that personality and still have the cult? In Trump’s case, a “pivot” would constitute a complete overhaul of his very essence.

    Similarly, Washington Post opinion writer Kathleen Parker lambasted media’s “softening of criticism” of Trump and warned “the commentariat,” “Nothing makes Trump more acceptable today than yesterday or last week — or six months ago.”

    The "pivot" narrative has become a reset button, allowing media to excuse or forget all of Trump’s past rhetorical assaults. Media figures are essentially condoning all of his racism, sexism, and conspiracies, so long as he sounds and acts subdued and presidential.

    Image by Dayanita Ramesh and Sarah Wasko. 

  • Fox News Praises Trump’s Widely Panned Brexit Response Because He Was “In The Right Place”

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW LAWRENCE

    Fox News’ John Roberts praised Donald Trump’s widely mocked response to the United Kingdom’s vote to exit the European Union, known as “Brexit,” claiming that Trump was “at exactly the right place, at the right time, on the right side of the issue.”

    Following the UK vote which caused worldwide economic turmoil, Trump gave a “bizarre” speech that focused on his new golf course in Scotland instead of the Brexit results. When Trump finally spoke on the referendum after being pressed by reporters, he praised the vote and welcomed the historic crash of the British currency for potentially having a positive financial effect on his Scottish golf course:

    Visiting the golf course he owns in Scotland, he praised the referendum vote, saying the British had chosen to “take their country back,” but only after he touted the sprinkler system, the drains and the luxury suites at his Turnberry resort.

    Even as his campaign sent out a fundraising email hailing the British vote as a “brave stand for freedom and independence,” he seemed at one point to welcome the crash of the British currency that threatened to undermine financial markets, noting that he might gain from it.

    “When the pound goes down, more people are coming to Turnberry,” he said.

    Trump’s response was immediately panned throughout the media. MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace said she was “gobsmacked” at Trump’s response, noting that it highlighted the way Trump has been using his presidential bid to further his business interests. CNN’s John Avalon described Trump’s response as “completely insane,” and The Washington Post called it “a widely broadcast infomercial.”

    But on the June 26 edition of Fox News’ Special Report, Fox’s senior national correspondent John Roberts had a different view of Trump’s speech, claiming that the referendum offered Trump “the opportunity to say he has his finger on the pulse of national populism” and praised Trump for being “at exactly the right place, at the right time, on the right side of the issue”:

     

    CHRIS WALLACE: Donald Trump seemed to be at the right place at the right time, but some say HRC’s response could have been sharper.

    [...]

    JOHN ROBERTS: Donald Trump’s trip to Scotland was supposed to be all about business, but it quickly became all about politics in a way that may give him a boost back home. It was a trip that was giving Republican leaders fits, ill-timed and unnecessary, they said. Yet in true fashion, Trump found himself at exactly the right place, at the right time, on the right side of the issue.

  • Amid Economic Turmoil, Right-Wing Media Spin Brexit As Good For Trump

    ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & NINA MAST

    Right-wing media are reacting to the U.K. referendum to leave the European Union -- commonly referred to as Brexit -- by labeling the result a “very, very ominous sign for Democrats in the United States,” saying Donald Trump “looked like a genius” for saying the U.K. should leave the European Union, and claiming that “Hillary [Clinton] lost and Trump won.” Meanwhile, mainstream media warn of economic ramifications from the vote.

  • Fox Business Makes The German Cinema Standoff All About Donald Trump

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In the middle of an unfolding standoff between police and a gunman at a movie theater in Germany, Fox Business host Stuart Varney repeatedly pivoted to promoting Donald Trump, calling the incident “a plus” for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

    On the June 23 edition of Varney & Co., Varney dedicated two segments to the developing situation, speculating in each that the situation might benefit Trump’s campaign. First, Varney and Fox News contributor Monica Crowley, a Trump apologist,  agreed that the situation -- initially reported as a “mass shooting” -- would “absolutely” benefit the GOP front-runner because he has “emphasized the need for strong national security policy.” 

    Next, Varney asked Andrew Napolitano, a Fox News judicial analyst, what impact the incident might have on U.S. immigration policy. Napolitano responded, “When a crisis like this happens, it should benefit Donald Trump,” because “he portrays himself as the stronger, sterner protector of our shores.” He advised Trump to “express outrage and … determination” to “one up Mrs. Clinton.” Napolitano has a history of pushing conspiracy theories and recently used the horrific mass shooting in Orlando to promote debunked right-wing media myths about gun violence. He is also reportedly a likely Supreme Court nominee, should Trump become president.    

    Trump foreign policy adviser Walid Phares echoed Fox’s promotion of the GOP candidate, saying that if the shooting was “politically motivated terrorism,” it will benefit Trump because it will prove that “terrorism is active in Europe.”

    Varney has track record of inserting praise of Trump’s foreign policy positions into his reporting. On May 19, when an EgyptAir flight crashed in the Mediterranean Sea, the Fox Business host framed the tragedy as “a plus” and “politically good for Donald Trump.” On March 22, he also let Phares erroneously claim the United States doesn’t have a vetting process for Syrian refugees, whom Trump has incorrectly labeled as a threat to national security.  

  • CNN Helping Trump Push His Lie That He Opposed The Libya Intervention

    ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Following presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump's speech targeting his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, CNN hosts and analysts repeatedly hailed Trump's attack on Clinton for intervention in Libya's civil war as a line of attack "with substance," failing to mention that Trump "full-throatedly endorsed intervening in the country's civil war" before he started running for president.

  • Trump’s Benghazi Lies Came From Fox News

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump used his June 22 campaign speech to parrot Fox News’ lies about presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s response to the 2012 attack on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.

    In his speech, Trump claimed Ambassador Chris Stevens was a “victim” of Clinton’s actions while she served as secretary of state, claiming that she was asleep throughout the September 11, 2012, attack at the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi. He later claimed that “to cover her tracks,” she “lied about” whether an anti-Islam YouTube video -- which led to widespread protests throughout the Middle East at the time -- inspired the attack.

    DONALD TRUMP: Among the victims of our late Ambassador Chris Stevens, I mean, she, what she did with him was absolutely horrible. He was left helpless to die as Hillary Clinton soundly slept in her bed. That's right. When the phone rang, as per the commercial, at three o’clock in the morning, Hillary Clinton was sleeping. Ambassador Stevens and his staff in Libya made hundreds and hundreds of requests for security. They were desperate. They needed help. Hillary Clinton’s State Department refused them all. She started the war that put them in Libya, denied him the security he asked for, then left him there to die. To cover her tracks, Hillary lied about the video being the cause of death, the famous video, all a lie, another Hillary lie.

    Fox News has long pushed the myth that both Clinton and President Obama were not responsive during the attack. But the fact is, congressional testimony has confirmed that Clinton was in close contact with military officials and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon throughout the night of the attacks. The former deputy chief of mission in Libya testified in 2013 that Clinton called him during the attack to be briefed on developments. Clinton also testified in 2013 that she spoke with administration officials and President Obama from her office at the State Department throughout the night.

    Fox also spent years denying the role the inflammatory anti-Islam YouTube video had in inspiring the attack and suggesting that administrations drawing such a link were politically motivated. But the intelligence community initially indicated that the video played a role in the attack, and interviews with some of the attackers revealed that the attack was “fueled in large part by anger” over the video. Fox News itself even reported -- the night that the attack occurred -- that the attack was “triggered by a movie produced in the United States that … is anti-Muslim.”

  • Media Help Trump Rehab His Comments That Clubgoers Should Have Guns

    ››› ››› CYDNEY HARGIS

    Reporters are helping presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump to rehabilitate his extreme comments that armed clubgoers could have stopped the mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando, Florida. They are erroneously portraying as a clarification his new statement that he was really talking about armed “guards or employees,” when in fact he has completely contradicted his prior remarks. 

  • Former CIA Director Deflates Trump’s Conspiracy Theory That Obama Supported Terrorists

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Former CIA director and CBS contributor Michael Morell debunked the “old conspiracy theory” pushed by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump that President Obama has supported terrorist groups. In a Politico Magazine article, Morrell slammed Trump for reviving “inaccurate renditions of history” that have “no place in our public discourse.”

    On June 15, Trump tweeted a Breitbart News article claiming that in 2012, “Hillary Clinton received a classified intelligence report stating that the Obama administration was actively supporting Al Qaeda in Iraq.” Trump claimed that the Breitbart article vindicated his previous suggestions that Obama may be sympathetic to terrorists -- a charge that was buoyed by a host of conservative pundits, but drew strong rebuke from several other media figures.

    In a June 16 Politico Magazine article, Morell swatted down Trump’s “charge against President Obama and his administration” as a “simply not true” “conspiracy theory.” Detailing from first-hand accounts that “[a]t no time … did the administration make a policy decision—either explicitly or implicitly—to support the Islamic State or its predecessor, Al Qaeda, in Iraq,” Morell explained that “in fact, the policy focus was quite the opposite.” Morell noted that both the 2012 intelligence report and the interpretation of it suggesting that the president supported extremists were “simply wrong in its facts,” and ultimately wrote that “we should not let our understanding of that threat [of terrorism] be hijacked by inaccurate renditions of history”:

    Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, seeking to make the case following the Orlando shootings that the Obama administration was somehow sympathetic to terrorists, resurrected an old conspiracy theory Thursday about the Islamic State, one that has no place in our public discourse. In a tweet, Trump pointed his followers to an article about the 2012 memo titled “Hillary Clinton Received Secret Memo Stating Obama Admin ‘Support’ for ISIS.”

    This is, of course, quite a charge against President Obama and his administration at a time when Clinton was still serving as secretary of state. The problem with the charge is that it is simply not true. I know this, since in my role as deputy director and acting director of the CIA, I participated in nearly every meeting in the Situation Room at the time of the supposed memo regarding the deteriorating situation in Syria.

    [...]

    At no time in any of these meetings did the administration make a policy decision—either explicitly or implicitly—to support the Islamic State or its predecessor, Al Qaeda, in Iraq. In fact, the policy focus was quite the opposite. The administration went to great lengths to ensure that any aid provided by the United States to the opposition would not fall into the hands of extremists, including the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.

    [...]

    [H]ere is the truth about the DIA report and the Flynn interview. The report was written by a DIA official in Iraq. It was his take on the early days of the insurgency in Syria. It was just one person’s view. It was written by an individual who was far from the policy discussion in the Situation Room. And, it was simply wrong in its facts when it indicated that the West was supporting extremists in Syria.

    Most important, when the cable was written in early August 2012, the United States was not yet providing any tangible assistance to the Syrian opposition, and when it began to do so later that fall, the assistance went only to the opposition deemed by the United States to be “moderate.”

    What about the Flynn interview? It is actually worth watching the interview, as opposed to reading the commentary of others about it. When I watched it, I did not see Flynn agree with the interviewer’s assertion that the United States was deliberately supporting extremists. Flynn was critical of the Obama administration on a number of issues, but he did not accuse it of willfully supporting the rise of ISIS.

    The threat posed by the Islamic State to the United States and to our interests is a serious one. But we should not let our understanding of that threat be hijacked by inaccurate renditions of history.

    Other media have also noted that Trump and Breitbart’s interpretation of the 2012 memo is “a faulty reading” that has been “widely debunked.”